America’s Pro-Choice Majority Speaks Out

by Amy Goodman

The leadership of the Catholic Church has launched what amounts to a holy war against President Barack Obama. Archbishop Timothy Dolan appealed to church members, “Let your elected leaders know that you want religious liberty and rights of conscience restored and that you want the administration’s contraceptive mandate rescinded,” he said. Obama is now under pressure to reverse a health-care regulation that requires Catholic hospitals and universities, like all employers, to provide contraception to insured women covered by their health plans. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League said, “This is going to be fought out with lawsuits, with court decisions, and, dare I say it, maybe even in the streets.” In the wake of the successful pushback against the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood, the Obama administration should listen to the majority of Americans: The United States, including Catholics, is strongly pro-choice.

Rick Santorum most likely benefited from the 24-hour news cycle this week with his three-state win. Exactly one week before the caucus/primary voting, on Jan. 31, The Associated Press broke the story that Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a $2 billion-per-year breast-cancer fundraising and advocacy organization, had enacted policies that would effectively lead it to deny funding to Planned Parenthood clinics to conduct breast-cancer screenings and mammograms, especially for women with no health insurance. Linked to the decision was a recently hired Komen vice president, Karen Handel, who, as a candidate for governor of Georgia in 2010, ran on a platform to defund Planned Parenthood. The backlash was immediate, broad-based and unrelenting. By Feb. 3, Komen reversed its decision. On Feb. 7, Handel resigned from Komen.

Adding fuel to the ire was news that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had issued the regulation requiring employer insurance plans to provide contraception. The coup de grace, on primary/caucus day, was the decision handed down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturning California’s controversial Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages.

For Santorum, in a primary battle with Mitt Romney, it was “three strikes, you’re in.” As a conservative Catholic and father of seven, Santorum has long waged the culture war, with a focus on marriage, abortion and sex. He once likened homosexuality to bestiality.

According to the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health issues globally, in the United States, “among all women who have had sex, 99 percent have used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same among Catholic women (98 percent).” According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll, 58 percent of Catholics believe that employers should provide employees with health-care plans that include contraception.

Catholic activists who acknowledge the broad use of contraception among their church members, despite its official prohibition, suggest women can “go elsewhere” to get the preventive care. And if they can’t afford to? Loretta Ross, national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in Atlanta, told me: “This rule really allows low-income women, women who are dependent on their health care, to access birth control—women of color, in particular ... if you don’t want to use birth control, don’t buy it, don’t use it. But don’t block others who do want to use it, who cannot afford it, from accessing it.”

One possible solution to the debate came from a surprising quarter. Michael Brendan Dougherty, a Catholic commentator, was in church a couple of weeks ago when he heard the priest read out a letter from Archbishop Dolan encouraging Catholics to oppose the president. Dougherty, who supports the church’s opposition to the regulation, suggested to me that a single-payer health-care option could solve the problem: “It would solve this particular problem of conscience, as it has in Europe. The bishops don’t like that the government subsidizes abortion or contraception, but they are not in full mode of fury, because they are not being asked to formally cooperate with things they view as sinful.”

Loretta Ross agrees with the single-payer solution, but says the current contraception controversy masks a “war on women with all this rhetoric about religious freedom and care for not only the pre-born, but now, with the attack on contraception, you’re attacking the preconceived. ... We’re not going to take it lying down. And as the fight with the Komen Foundation proved, we are a force to be reckoned with. And we’re actually going to work to strengthen President Obama’s stand in supporting contraceptive access.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2012 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Contraception Controversy Boils Down to Workers’ Rights

by Roger Bybee

The great new religious battle over the proposed new federal rule requiring contraception coverage for women actually boils down to the basic precept that worker rights apply across all of society, including within religious institutions. But it also reveals the political machinations of the right, the suspect motives of the Catholic bishops and another crucial weakness in the much heralded Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act passed by the Democrats and signed by President Obama two years ago.

First, it is striking how America’s all-male Catholic hierarchy has seemingly colluded with Republicans in miraculously conceiving this issue as a potential “wedge” issue to mobilize blue-collar Catholics against President Obama and the Democrats.

Second, it is almost amusing to see bishops, now pretending to launch a last-ditch effort to prevent a sudden and unique incursion by the Obama administration against the freedom to practice their religion. The Catholic hierarchy has decisively “lost the war at home “ already, as Gail Collins notes, but is choosing to pick a political fight. The majority of Catholic women use birth control. Federal rules required contraception's inclusion for more than a decade, as Daily Kos reports:

"In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn't provide birth control were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. That opinion, which the George W. Bush administration did nothing to alter or withdraw when it took office the next month, is still in effect today."

With more than half the states also requiring insurers to include contraception in women’s health care packages, Catholic universities, schools and hospitals are obligated to provide birth-control services to their employees. (Most states have an exemption for churches.)

Further, Catholic doctrine is trumped by the Constitutional principle that members of all faiths must obey the law. Noted attorney David Boise explains that freedom of religion as outlined in the Constitution is quite different from the bishops’ version:

"Everybody is free to exercise the religion that they choose. [But] there isn`t anything in the Constitution that says an employer, regardless of whether you are a church employer or not, isn`t subject to the same rules as any other employer."

The fundamental point is underscored in this exchange between Boise and his MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell:

O`DONNELL: So, this is just simple labor law. …Labor [law] requires certain conditions in the work place and so forth. This is one of those.

BOIES: And tax law and workman's comp law. I mean, there are all sorts of laws that apply to every employer in this country, and you don`t exempt religious employers just because their religion. You are not asking anybody in the Catholic Church or any other church to do anything other than simply comply with a normal law that every employer has to comply with.

Employers who provide health insurance are currently required in 28 states to provide contraceptive services and other reproductive care as part of a strategy of preventive care, which coincides with the conclusions reached by the medical experts consulted in writing the Affordable Care Act.

But the contrived issue of contraception is being perceived by the Republicans as a chance to split working-class Catholics voters from Barack Obama.

It appears to be a textbook case of the Right developing what Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, diagnosed astutely as an “election-season” issue. The Republicans have been immensely creative in inflating issues like gay marriage and gun rights to immense proportions to attract the votes of working-class and low-income voters, facilitated by the frequent Democratic failure to tenaciously push economic justice with the same level of conviction shown by the Right.

For the Republicans and the Right, the notion of including contraception as a standard part of women’s health insurance offers yet another chance to demonize Obama for “overt hostility to faith,” according to Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum. Pulling out all the stops, Santorum even raised the specter of Obama unleashing savage anti-religious forces that would literally re-introduce the “guillotine” of the French Revolution for the faithful and patriotic.

For the Catholic bishops, this conflict re-ignites their hope of rolling back contraceptive rights, established in a 1965 Supreme Court decision, and also trying to further shrink abortion rights. While the strongly-held sentiment of Americans for contraceptive rights is obvious, the Catholic leaders are trying to regain lost ground by lining up with a retrograde movement. As journalist Barbara Miner observed five years ago:

"The movement against birth control has moved beyond the fringe. Across the country, many pharmacists won't fill birth control prescriptions, some hospital emergency rooms refuse to dispense emergency contraception and some state legislatures are cutting funds for family planning."

The Catholic bishops hope somehow to add fuel to this movement and thus turn the clock back a century or two, with this anti-contraception push being wrapped up with anti-abortion rules in the name of protecting "religious freedom." Feminists like Barbara Miner and Katha Pollitt are appalled by this campaign. As Miner told In These Times,

"The medical community accepts that contraception is an integral part of medical care for women. If the Catholic Church and its institutions are serious about promoting healthcare, they should follow the best practices and give their employees the best quality care, and that includes contraception."

For the Republicans, it also provides another chance to castigate Obama’s healthcare plan, which they previously stigmatized with preposterous lies about creating “death panels” and staging “a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy.”

But we must recognize that the Republicans would have had no opportunity to raise the issue if America had a single-payer healthcare system instead of the current employer-based structure.

Workers would thereby have a standard package of benefits that would not be tied to their employers’ beliefs and they could choose their own doctors and hospitals.

Instead, the Affordable Care Act retains citizens’ dependence on their employers choices, opening the door for the Catholic bishops to seek to dictate women’s options. The ACA also enshrines and subsidizes the insurance corporations that maximize profits by minimizing care, as well as still leaving out 30 million Americans from health coverage, as O’Donnell drove home emphatically.

Reflecting on the ACA's flaw that allows the Right and the Catholic bishops to attack women’s right to contraceptive care, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) points out

"We`d be better off if we had a single-payer health care system where you didn`t have employers involved."

A more recent struggle offers hope of the public rallying behind women's reproductive rights, "I think we can learn from the way that people rallied behind Planned Parenthood when the Susan G. Komen Foundation tried to cut off their funding," Miner says.

© 2012 In These Times

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Common Dreams, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Religious "Freedom" Denies Women Healthcare: Ham Sandwich Defens

Religious "Freedom" to Deny Women Health Care: The Ham Sandwich Defense
by Jodi Jacobson

In his testimony at the February 16th, 2012 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the contraceptive coverage mandate under health reform, the Most Reverend William E. Lori, the Bishop of Bridgeport and spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), defended the claim of "religious freedom" by comparing the provision of essential primary health care for women to a kosher deli being forced to serve pork.

I'll call it the "ham sandwich defense."

This was but one of a series of you-had-to-be-there-to-believe-it episodes during a hearing on women's health care that featured nine male members of the religious right and only two female witnesses, all of whom in any case are opponents of the birth control mandate, and the majority of whom oppose the use of contraception per se; saw the constant and intentionally misleading re-definition by the religious right of modern methods of contraception as "abortifacients"; shut out not only the many religious leaders who support both the mandate and women's moral agency, but also medical and health professionals and witnesses who'd experienced denial of contraceptive care; and also featured constant and strident chiding by the Committee Chair, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), of his Democratic Party counterparts that the hearing was "not about women's health, contraception, or health reform," while allowing all the anti-contraception, anti-health reform witnesses to speak about nothing but denying women health care, contraception, and health reform. The Democratic women representatives walked out of the hearing in protest.

Moreover, not a single witness provided a compelling case for granting "conscience rights" to institutions, for why providing women insurance coverage for birth control would violate religious freedom, nor for why the accommodation created by the Obama Administration to make sure women working in religiously-affiliated organizations that object to contraception can still get coverage of birth control without a co-pay created a burden for said institutions. In fact, not a single one provided any compelling reason whatsoever that any one's "conscience rights" trump access to a proven health intervention.

Which brings us back to pork.

To illustrate the basic premise of his argument, Bishop Lori told what he called "The Parable of the Kosher Deli.” In summary, Bishop Lori's parable told of a new law requiring that "any business that serves food must serve pork."

He continued:

There is a narrow exception for kosher catering halls attached to synagogues, since they serve mostly members of that synagogue, but kosher delicatessens are still subject to the mandate. The Orthodox Jewish community—whose members run kosher delis and many other restaurants and grocers besides—expresses its outrage at the new government mandate. And they are joined by others who have no problem eating pork—not just the many Jews who eat pork, but people of all faiths—because these others recognize the threat to the principle of religious liberty. They recognize as well the practical impact of the damage to that principle. They know that, if the mandate stands, they might be the next ones forced—under threat of severe government sanction—to violate their most deeply held beliefs, especially their unpopular beliefs.

I'll let you read the rest of it here.

Bottom line: as the leading witness for the religious right, Bishop Lori made an astonishingly weak case by urging the nation to compare a fictitious law to override religious traditions governing whether or not to eat a certain type of meat with an actual law intended to dramatically expand access to contraception, a necessary, and often life-saving, essential public health intervention that the Bishops and other religious right denominations desperately do not want women to have.

While Congress is often swimming in "pork" (and there are many members these days who are, to put it mildly, full of baloney when it comes to facts) there is no foreseeable reason any government body in the United States would mandate that kosher delis must serve pork. There are, however, rational and compelling public health, medical, social, and economic justifications for providing universal health insurance coverage without a co-pay for birth control.

Modern contraception is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and virtually every major medical association as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. It enables women and men to voluntarily plan, space, and limit pregnancies and determine the ultimate size of their families. By reducing unintended pregnancies access to contraception also reduces the need for abortion. In fact, the use of contraception as a voluntary, responsible, and effective means of planning families is, as we have noted here repeatedly, virtually universal in the United States, where 99 percent of all sexually-active women and 98 percent of sexually-active Catholic women have used contraception.

Access to contraception also enables vulnerable women to avoid potentially life-threatening pregnancies (i.e. a woman with a serious heart condition or cancer might be advised to avoid pregnancy). It has been proven to dramatically reduce maternal death and disability, and increase infant and child survival. And it is a critical intervention for often painful, sometimes crippling conditions such as dysmenorrhea and polycystic ovary syndrome, which can affect young girls as early as age 11, and which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates affects as many as 5 million women of childbearing age in the United States.

Contrary to the recent protestations of many a male member of the United States Congress and many a male presidential candidate, contraception is not "available everywhere" nor is it "cheap." Paying for birth control pills can run a woman well over $600 per year, not including visits to the doctor for primary care and to obtain a prescription. Insertion of an IUD may carry a high initial cost of well over $1000.00. For students and low-income women, cost is the single most important factor impeding consistent access to birth control.

Providing birth control without a co-pay, however, yields enormous savings both for insurance companies and the public, something one could fairly assume to be attractive to those many bloviators talking about government spending. And yet... no.

By comparing coverage for a major public health intervention to a law mandating that kosher delis serve pork, Bishop Lori revealed just how out of touch the USCCB and the religio-patriarchy writ large are with the needs and rights of women to live as normal human beings, and profoundly trivialized the experiences of women who struggle to manage their fertility, their health, and the well-being of themselves and their families.

If nothing else, the ham sandwich defense underscored just how shallow legally, philosophically and practically is the "religious freedom" argument against access to contraception. It revealed just how desperate male patriarchal religious bodies and their political surrogates are to curtail the ability of women to make decisions about their bodies and their lives. And it laid bare once again the sheer digust and contempt many of them hold for actual, living, breathing women.

Legally, the claim of "religious freedom" to deny women health care doesn't have a leg to stand on. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has noted:

"[N]othing in the rule prevents anyone from espousing their beliefs about birth control or attempting to persuade others not to use it. The high courts of California and New York have rejected claims that requiring coverage of contraception somehow violates the First Amendment, and our courts have long held that institutions that operate in the public sphere are not above the law."

Moreover, as has been noted frequently at this point, 28 states already require insurance plans to include contraception, several with the same house-of-worship exception adopted by the administration and several with no exception at all. In several states, Catholic universities and other institutions already comply with state law in providing coverage for contraceptive care. In those that do not, women are often denied access to contraception even when their health and potentially their lives are at risk. How it can be viewed as moral or righteous to deny women basic health care is beyond me.

To my knowledge, unlike contraception, the decision of whether or not to eat pork due to religious edicts does not involve major public health implications. Somehow the sheer banality of this parable escaped whomever it was that drafted Bishop Lori's testimony.

Contraception is not a side of bacon in a kosher deli, but maybe if it were pork in a barrel we'd get universal access.

© 2012 RH Reality Check

Jodi L. Jacobson is a long-time leader in the health and development community and an advocate with extensive experience in public health, gender equity, human rights, environment and demographic issues. She is currently Editor-in-Chief of RH Reality Check.

"Religious Liberty" Claim vs Contraceptive Coverage Is BS

Four Ways to Show How the "Religious Liberty" Claim Against Contraceptive Coverage Is Nonsense
by Amanda Marcotte

Nancy Scola has a piece at Salon on the Republican delusion that the newly loud anti-choice war on contraception can somehow be repackaged as “religious liberty” and sold to the public, accomplishing the real goal--undermining women’s fundamental right not to just basic health care but also to make their own sexual and family decisions--and dressing it up as a fight for freedom. The strategy is to cast “religious liberty” as such a broad right, held only by fundamentalist Christians, that it actually extends far past their noses and right into your face and beyond, into your uterus. In this view, women securing equal rights to fair compensation from employers and to comprehensive basic health care coverage is framed as a violation of the right of religious misogynists to control and punish them. It’s a bold tactic, and while many liberals, who are used to rolling over for the right and letting them have whatever they want, fear it’s going to work, there’s reason to be skeptical.

Well, some reason to be skeptical. It is true that if we roll over and let the right define religious liberty as the right to interfere with other people’s personal and religious choices, then we will lose. But if we fight, we can win. We just need to be clear on the arguments here. So I put together a quick rundown of how to argue for women’s basic right to equal protection under the Constitution in light of these new HHS regulations.

1) Women’s right to be sexual beings is protected under the First Amendment’s religious liberty clause. Yes, Catholic bishops and their teeny group of avid followers have a right to believe that God wants women to either be virgins or non-stop baby factories. But women have a right to believe that God has a different plan for them---or to not believe in a God at all. Women have equal rights to their own religious beliefs around sex and reproduction. The Catholic bishops demanding the right to force women not to be able to go directly through insurers for contraception coverage---in essence, giving them extra-governmental power to levy a fine against women for being sexual---is a direct violation of a woman’s religious freedom. These employers cannot require women to attend Catholic mass as a condition of their employment, so why should they be able to require women to pay what amounts to a penance for what the church teaches is a sin as a condition of their employment? Religious liberty exists for all Americans, even women.

2) Religious liberty certainly doesn’t give you a right to tear down entire social systems because someone in them might differ from you on a matter of theology. Since Obama exempted Catholic hospitals and universities from covering contraception directly, the argument conservatives are making to attack women’s access to contraception is that if you pay into a system, you have the right to ban coverage for disliked services for every other person in that system. While they’re pretending to limit this principle to the employees of misogynist employers, if you think about it, believing this means that any single individual who gives an insurance company any money has the right to veto any procedure for any reason, as long as they dress it up as “moral." Which means that if a Catholic hospital buys insurance from a company, if, say, Planned Parenthood does too, under this principle, the Catholic hospital should be able to deny Planned Parenthood the right to coverage contraception for their employees. Or, heart disease treatments, for that matter, if they dress it up in enough religious garb.

And that would extend beyond just employers. Employees pay into the system, too, so presumably if a single dollar from your wallet goes to an insurance company and gives you ultimate veto power over how all the money is spent, then any random person anywhere in the system has this power. In essence, this principle would mean that insurance companies couldn’t function at all.

3) Insurance isn’t a gift your employers give you; it’s a part of your compensation package. If your employer has the right to force you not to use your compensation package in this way on general (and suddenly invented) principles, then why not in other ways? Once the principle that your compensation is your employer’s “money” and that they get to control it is established, then why can’t they step in and stop you from spending your salary on contraception? After all, if health insurance money is still theirs after they write the check, then your salary is, too.

4) Conservatives’ claim to support the right of the religious to intrude on others is an inch deep. While conservatives are claiming that the First Amendment is so broad that it gives your employer a right to discriminate against you for having different religious beliefs regarding sexuality, they don’t generally believe that religious liberty trumps generally applicable laws. For instance, last year a Muslim man in Pennsylvania was accused of assaulting another man who was dressed as zombie Mohammed. The judge dismissed the case, citing a lack of evidence, and the right wing media went wild, accusing the judge of “sharia law” for supposedly letting off the defendant because he took offense at a slight at his religion.

Regardless of the facts of the case, let’s look at the right wing argument. They claim, correctly, that having religious faith should not be grounds for having an exception to a generally applicable law against assault. Because you’re religious, they argue, doesn’t mean you have a right to force your faith on someone who doesn’t share it, especially in direct violation of the law.

By their own reasoning, therefore, employers should not be allowed under the guise of “religious liberty” to opt out of federal regulations requiring employers to compensate their employees fairly for their work. Nor should “religious liberty” give anyone a right to try to force their beliefs on others by withholding medical care. As it stands, conservatives are trying to argue that employers should be able to force women to pay twice for their birth control---once when they paid for it through labor/money when they got their insurance and again when they pick it up---to appease someone else’s religious sensibilities. If their right to religious belief continues well past where their nose ends and where yours begins, then by the same logic, laws against assault should also have religious exemptions, even for Muslims.

They’re obviously not going to sign on to that claim, demonstrating that this isn’t and never was about “religious liberty,” but about finding inventive ways to get between women and their access to contraception.

© 2012 RH Reality Check

Amanda Marcotte blogs every day at, and contributes a weekly podcast to RH Reality Check. She lives in Austin, TX with her two cats, boyfriend, and environmentally correct commuter bicycle.

The Unfinished Fight Over Contraception

by Louise G. Trubek

Can we still be arguing about a woman’s ability to control her own fertility? Almost 50 years ago in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court struck down state restrictions on contraception because they violated a right to privacy. But the issue has not gone away. Rick Santorum injected it into the presidential race by indicating that Griswold should be overturned so that states could ban contraception altogether. And the Senate just voted down a Republican effort to allow employers and health insurance companies to refuse coverage for contraceptives if they had moral or religious objections.

Why are issues that the courts decided so long ago still unresolved? Maybe it is time to recognize that law alone is not enough to effect social change. It must be linked to social activism on behalf of women’s rights.

I should know. Fifty-five years ago, I had an opportunity to take a stand in favor of the right of women to control their fertility — and I did so through the courts.

It was 1957, and fresh out of the University of Wisconsin I enrolled in the Yale Law School — one of only six women in my graduating class. In my second year at Yale, several of our professors asked my husband and me to join a lawsuit challenging Connecticut’s birth-control law, which outlawed the sale and use of contraceptive materials and prohibited a doctor from prescribing birth control even to married women. One goal of the lawsuit was to remove the statutory obstacle to opening Planned Parenthood clinics in Connecticut so that poor families could have access to family-planning services.

I immediately agreed to join the case. Others did as well, but my husband and I were the only ones to use our real names. Because people used pseudonyms, the lead case came to be called Poe v. Ullman, but there was a companion case called Trubek v. Ullman. Poe raised a variety of grounds for challenging the statute and eventually landed in the Supreme Court.

I was proud to put my name on the case. To serve as a plaintiff, though a largely passive role, suited my vision of my future as a social justice lawyer. I supported Planned Parenthood. I believed women should have access to birth control so they could have both a career and a family. I wanted those things for myself. I was no sexual radical: I was married, a “good girl” uninterested in sexual freedom, and I thought of abortion as frightening. But I was planning to have a family and a career as a lawyer. I believed I should be free to choose the timing of my children’s births so I could do both.

Poe was thrown out by the Supreme Court on a technicality. To force the issue, Planned Parenthood opened a clinic, leaving the state with no choice but to close it down. This landed the issue back in the Supreme Court — this time with different plaintiffs, as Griswold v. Connecticut — which found the statute an unconstitutional intrusion on marital privacy.

The privacy argument in Griswold led to the legalization of contraception. But it also had a much larger impact: the privacy doctrine played a central role in Roe v. Wade (1973), which declared some barriers to abortion unconstitutional; was used by the court in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down bans on consensual same-sex sexual activity; and has been cited in state court decisions upholding same-sex marriage.

We can celebrate Griswold, Roe and all the cases that stemmed from the Poe litigation. They are important landmarks in American jurisprudence. But as I look back I am dismayed by how few of the issues I was fighting for at the time of Poe are resolved. To be sure, we have important rights and more legal privacy. But we still have not provided all the support women need to combine rewarding careers and healthy families. Planned Parenthood is under siege and poor women who are seeking comprehensive reproductive care are still at risk. Presidential candidates can get away with saying that all contraception should be outlawed. Comprehensive child care services are difficult to locate, and fully financed family and medical leave is still controversial.

In short, we won the legal battle but not the war. Women are still not guaranteed control over their lives, because the necessary social supports were never secure. The initial goal of Griswold was to help women — and even though the precedent has helped with same-sex marriage laws, those initial needs, especially of poor women, have been left largely unmet.

The universal coverage plan outlined in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is a good step forward, and we should do all we can to ensure it. Perhaps if activism had been linked to the lawsuits, the aims I fought for would have been secured, and we would be spared the spectacle of Republican candidates threatening, yet again, a woman’s right to control her own fertility.

Louise G. Trubek is a public interest lawyer and an emerita professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Copyright 2012 The New York Times

A Sex Ed 101 Curriculum for Conservatives

by Amanda Marcotte

Recent national kerfuffles over abortion and contraception access bring up many important questions: Should employers retain control over your wages and benefits after they sign them over to you? Is contraception, a service used by 99 percent of American women, really so controversial? How much state regulation should there be over women’s most private decisions? But amidst all those questions is one overarching one: Do conservatives need a crash course in sex ed?

Usually, when we think of the sex education debate, we think of junior high and high school kids putting condoms on bananas. But recent events indicate that this country needs remedial sex education for adults, specifically social conservatives who wish to hold forth on reproductive rights without seeming to know the basics regarding who has sex and how it works in 2012. With that in mind, I designed a quick curriculum for these surprisingly necessary courses.

Intercourse 101: It Takes Two to Tango. After voting for a mandatory ultrasound bill that serves no other purpose than to shame abortion patients for their sexuality, Virginia delegate David Albo complained in the legislature that he’s not getting the sex he feels entitled to from his wife. CNSNews columnist Craig Bannister shamed women on the pill for being “sex-crazed co-eds” who exhibit too much “sexual zeal” — before ending his piece by wistfully wishing he could have sex with all the sexually active women he just insulted. Rush Limbaugh, who is on his fourth marriage and is an admitted Viagra user, called Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who testified before Congress about her use of contraception, a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

In this first section of the remedial sex education course, we will discuss this sexual double standard: When having sex, men are behaving well and women behaving badly. The midterm will be an essay on the following prompt: “If women are supposed to say no to sex, whom do you propose straight men sleep with?”

Contraception 101: History as Prologue. Many conservatives appear to believe that prior to the Obama administration requiring employers to fully cover contraceptive care as part of their health plans, contraception wasn’t considered a medical service, but something more like a party item you pick up with your beer and cigarettes. Tina Korbe of Hot Air argued that supporters of the new regulation “labor under the illusion that contraception is a medical necessity.” Limbaugh argued that health insurance covering contraception means women are “paid to have sex.” The reaction on the right suggests that this is the first time in history someone has suggested that contraception care be included in general health benefits.

During this portion of the class, we will look at the history of medicalized birth control. Students will learn (in conjunction with another mandatory class, The Pill 101) that the birth control pill has always been controlled by doctors and pharmacies, and that insurance companies treat it as medical care by offering the drug with a co-pay. Special attention will be paid to the 28 states that already require contraception coverage, the existing Medicaid coverage of contraception, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision that found that contraception coverage is a normal part of women’s healthcare that should be covered by healthcare plans.

Premarital Sex 101: A Quantitative Look. Underlying many of the arguments over women’s reproductive healthcare is a widespread fear of women using these rights to have sex outside of marriage. During the Arizona Republican primary debate, Rick Santorum blamed contraception for the problem of teen pregnancy, presuming that teenagers in a contraception-free world would instead abstain. Utah Republican state representative Bill Wright defended a bill banning discussion of contraception in schools by saying: “Why don’t we just be honest with them upfront that sex outside marriage is devastating?”

Contrary to students’ expectations, there is no high-level math prerequisite for this course. The statistics involved are relatively straightforward. Students will learn that 95 percent of Americans have premarital sex and have done so for decades without bringing ruin to the nation. In addition, students will read literature showing that the teen pregnancy rate actually declined after the sexual revolution, leaving it at half the rate it was in the 1950s. Students will be asked to research why it is that blue states, where residents are more likely to use contraception and delay marriage, have lower rates of divorce and teen pregnancy.

The Pill 101: A Scientific Look. The ignorance on display on the right regarding the birth control pill, which has been around as a contraceptive for over 50 years, has been astounding. Limbaugh’s comment — “she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills” — indicates that he believes there’s a correlation between the number of sexual encounters and the number of pills necessary. Limbaugh also seems to think mothers and women who use birth control are mutually exclusive categories, saying: “How do you become a mom if you’re into birth control?” Additionally, with words such as “slut,” “prostitute” and “sex-crazed” flying around to describe women on hormonal contraception, it appears many conservatives believe that the drugs exist primarily for use by single women with multiple partners.

Students in our remedial sex ed course will take their time learning about hormonal contraception. They will learn that women on the pill must take one every day for it to work, no matter how much sex they’re having. Students will discover that monogamy isn’t enough to prevent unintended pregnancy, and thus married and monogamous women use the pill just as single women do. To drive home what not using contraception would mean for women, married and otherwise, students will be asked to watch the TLC show about the Duggar family, with its 19 children, and then offer a five-minute presentation in class.

As evidenced by the ignorant rot tumbling out of various right-wing mouths in response to these controversies, a curriculum of this kind is sorely needed. Perhaps female Democrats in Congress can write a bill funding Sex Education for Grown-Up Pundits and help elevate the conversation with a little basic understanding.

© 2012 Reuters

Amanda Marcotte blogs every day at, and contributes a weekly podcast to RH Reality Check. She lives in Austin, TX with her two cats, boyfriend, and environmentally correct commuter bicycle.

Contraception: The New American Soap Opera

by Ruth Rosen

For weeks, bewildered Americans have witnessed politicians debate whether or not contraception should be covered by President’s Obama’s new health care plan. On March 1, after some of the most bizarre theatrical antics remembered in this nation’s political history, the U.S. Senate finally interrupted this surreal soap opera with a cliff hanger. By only two votes, they defeated an amendment that would have allowed religious employers to refuse to pay for the contraception of their employees.

The pilot episode of the drama began on February 16, when President Obama announced that all the employers of all institutions, regardless of their religious affiliation, would have to pay for contraception. When the Catholic Church and right-wing fringe went ballistic, he compromised and said that if an institution felt it was violating its religious beliefs, then the insurance company would have to pay.

But even that compromise was insufficient. In the weeks that followed, the Republicans launched a war on contraception. They told women that the appropriate birth control pill was an aspirin held by tightly-grasped knees; they created a religious “hearing” on contraception made up of all men; and right-wing radio pundit Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student, who had defended contraception, a “slut” and a “prostitute.” “No drama Obama” only intensified the plot when he personally called the student and thanked her for supporting his health plan.

Every day brought new and unbelievable episodes in this weird melodrama. In Virginia, the legislature passed a bill that would require a pregnant woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound probe inserted into her vagina so she would really know she was carrying a human being. The Governor at first agreed, but then, attacked for humiliating pregnant women, dithered about what kind of bill he would sign. Some opponents, of course, genuinely believe that contraception is the same thing as abortion—the murder of a human being. Some may even realize that less contraception results in more abortions and more government expenditures for unwanted children. The Republicans certainly know that the vast majority of Americans, including Catholics, support birth control, but they just couldn’t stop themselves. They thought they had found a way to defeat the President.

But they were wrong.

Women and independents tend to support birth control. In fact, by March 1, 63% of those polled supported the President’s compromise. Liberal groups mobilised all across the country, noting that the right-wing wants an unobtrusive government unless it involves inserting a probe into a woman’s body for an ultrasound. Senator Barbara Boxer launched “one million Strong for Women,” to make women’s voice heard. Democrats, realising that the Republicans had truly overreached, became positively giddy at how much they had to gain if they could keep the debate simmering.

So, part of this soap opera was simply politics as the loopy, right-wing fringe Republicans became intoxicated with the possibility of electing one of two candidates, both of whom oppose contraception and abortion. (Although former Governor Mitt Romney flip-flopped when he backed away from his support of contraception and joined the Republican opposition a few hours later).

So what’s really going on?

The Republican party, for its part, framed the fight as one of religious freedom and freedom of speech, protected by the first amendment to the constitution. Democrats and women’s rights advocates responded that it was exclusively about women’s health care.

The media, with all its stenographic sophistry, uncritically quoted the language of both sides. The New York Times, for example, said that “ the furor over President Obama’s birth control mandate has swiftly entered a new plane, with supporters and opponents alike calling the subject a potent weapon for the November elections and taking it to the public in campaigns to shape the issue---is it about religious liberty or women’s health?”

Actually everyone has missed the real story.

What neither side wants to say is that this is a counter-reformation, an attempt to return women to the early 1960s, before birth control pill existed and the Supreme Court, in Griswold v.Connecticut (1965), established the right of contraception in the United States. In short, it was a nostalgic effort to return to a time when a middle class man could support a family, women knew their place, Georgetown University law students were mostly men, and African Americans could not vote, let alone become President. It was a time of male and racial supremacy, before the civil rights and women’s movements changed the political culture of this country and economic changes made a two-income family necessary.

At stake in 2012 is the right of a woman to control her own fertility, her own reproductive choices and therefore, to lead an independent life. This is a battle that has raged since the late 19th century. After abortion became legal in 1973, the Republican party inserted an anti-abortion plank into its 1980 platform and ever since, every Republican candidate has had to pass a litmus test of opposing abortion in order to run for president.

For most of human history, sexuality and reproduction have been intricately yoked together. Birth control, particularly the Pill, ruptured that link and gave women the right to enjoy sex without the goal of reproduction. When the Supreme Court formally ratified that rupture by making abortion legal in Roe v. Wade, (1973), many people in this country trembled at the possible changes women’s sexual independence might bring. By then, the women’s movement had challenged and changed laws and customs that governed the daily lives of women in both the work place and at home. The idea of women’s sexual freedom polarised the nation, with both men and women advocating for different choices.

In short, the war over contraception during the last bizarre month was never about religious freedom or women’s health care. It was about controlling women’s right to control their own bodies and to make their own sexual and reproductive choices.

Hardly anyone feels free to say this. Opponents of women’s sexual freedom talk about free speech or religious freedom when what they really want to do is to repeal everything the women’s movement’s changed. Supporters of women’s right to make their own sexual and reproductive choices know they must emphasise women’s health care. Even though contraception and abortion are a central part of that health care, they know they must remain mum about women’s sexual freedom.

This soap opera is hardly over. In fact, we are now seeing re-reruns of this never-ending drama. Some of us remember that in 1969, a feminist group called Redstockings disrupted a New York State hearing on whether abortion should be legal. The panel included a dozen men and one nun. The women’s effort to be heard was thwarted when the hearing was moved.

Today, contraception and abortion are legal, but state by state, laws are chipping away at women’s access to both contraception and abortion. The truth is, this is the last gasp of a patriarchal counter-reformation that is still alive, mobilized and, most importantly, well-funded. Stay tuned, as they say. The soap opera is far from over.

© 2012 Open Democracy

Ruth Rosen, a journalist and historian, is professor emerita of history at the University of California, Davis and a visiting professor of public policy and history at UC Berkeley. For 11 years, she wrote op-ed columns for the Los Angeles Times, and from 2000-2004 she worked full-time as a political columnist and editorial page writer at the San Francisco Chronicle.

KS to Pregnant Women: "A Little Lie from Your Doctor Won't Hurt"

by Jennifer Dalven

It's what every pregnant woman I know dreads. Going into that big ultrasound, having the ultrasound tech, who had been so chatty, suddenly go silent. Having her do sweep after sweep across your belly without saying another word, until finally, she gets up and solemnly says, "I am going to get the doctor."

As far as pregnancy nightmares go, I thought that was one of the worst. But now politicians in Kansas are giving pregnant women and their partners something new to worry about. Buried in a sweeping anti-abortion bill is a provision that would immunize a doctor who discovers that a baby will be born with a devastating condition and deliberately withholds that information from his patient. That's right. If the bill passes, a doctor who opposes abortion could decide to lie about the results of your blood tests, your ultrasound, your cvs or your amnio. Lie to you so that you won't have information that might lead you to decide to end your pregnancy or that might lead you to learn more about your child's condition so that you are prepared to be the best parent you can be to your child.

Now, I have been working for a long time defending the right of a pregnant woman to make the best decision for herself and her family, whether that is continuing the pregnancy, adoption, or abortion, based on full, accurate information. I thought I had seen just about every manner of government intrusion into those fundamentally personal and private decisions. I thought I was past the point of being shocked and outraged. But as a mother who has been through those ultrasounds myself, the thought that my doctor could choose to withhold this information from me and take this decision away from me and my husband ... well, let's just say it really touched a nerve.

And, unfortunately, it's not just Kansas. Other states motivated by anti-abortion zeal are jumping on the it's-ok-for-doctors-to lie-to-their-patients-to-prevent-them-from-having-an-abortion bandwagon. Oklahoma recently passed a similar law. And, the Arizona legislature is considering a similar bill.

But I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Despite the rhetoric of anti-abortion politicians about how all these restrictions are necessary to ensure that women's decisions are well-informed, it's never been about that. Doctors who provide abortions already work hard to ensure that every woman has the information she needs to make the best decision for herself and her family. What these bills are about is politicians who think they know better than women and who are trying to impose their own views on abortion on a woman and her family regardless of the circumstances: That's what's behind those now infamous ultrasound bills in places like Virginia, Idaho, and Pennsylvania. That's what's behind the bills in Georgia and Arizona that would ban abortion at the point when a woman often learns about a devastating diagnosis. And that is what is behind so many of the other bills working their way through the state legislatures right now. The Kansas bill is, in a way, just more upfront about it.

Well, enough is enough. We may not all agree about abortion, but we can all agree that these decisions ought to be made by a woman and her family, not a politician. So, whether you are a man or a woman; whether you are already a parent or think you might become one in the future; whether you are blissfully pregnant or unhappily so, if you care about your right to make your own decisions, I ask that you help get the word out. Share this blog on Facebook and Twitter. Send an email with this link to the President of the Kansas Senate ( Tell the politicians all over the country to stop interfering in a family's personal and private decisions.

© 2012 ACLU

Jennifer Dalven is the deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project.

Pro-Life or Just Pro-Sperm?

by David Morris

Recent events make clear the need for a new language to describe the raging debate about sex and birth. Consider the problematic word that dominates our conversation: pro-life.

Most pro-life organizations more accurately should be labeled pro sperm. For they insist the sperm has the inalienable, indeed the God-given right to pursue the egg without human enabled interference. Joseph M. Scheidler, the National Director of the Pro-Life Action League memorably declared, “I think contraception is disgusting-people using each other for pleasure.” Judith Brown, President of The American Life Lobby asserts its opposition “to all forms of birth control with the exception of natural family planning.”

The Catholic Church is fervently pro-sperm. Decades before the Church mobilized against abortion it mobilized against contraception. As late as 1960, many states outlawed sales of contraceptives. The Catholic Church was the driving force behind these laws. In the 1940s, Connecticut legislators introduced bills allowing physicians to prescribe contraceptives only for married couples if a pregnancy would be life threatening. The Catholic Church swung into action. One historian describes the process; “priests became heavily involved…Their efforts were not confined to anti-birth control sermons on Sundays. They engaged in voter registration drives, they encouraged parishioners to support anti-birth control candidates for the legislature, and they actively campaigned to defeat any changes in the birth control laws”. The bills failed.

Prior to 1930, all Christian denominations held that contraception was contrary to God's will. Then one by one, beginning with the Church of England they began to accept birth control.

Many expected the Catholic Church to follow suit. In the mid 1960’s Pope Paul VI appointed a commission on birth control to advise him on the issue. An overwhelming majority of its members favored lifting the ban. In his 1968 Encyclical, Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) the Pope summarized the argument of the majority.

“world population is going to grow faster than available resources, with the consequences that many families and developing countries would be faced with greater hardships… not only working and housing conditions but the greater demands made both in the economic and educational field pose a living situation in which it is frequently difficult these days to provide properly for a large family…(we need to take into account) a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society, or the value of conjugal love in marriage and the relationship of conjugal acts to this love…

…if one were to apply here the so-called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth? Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act? A further question is whether, because people are more conscious today of their responsibilities, the time has not come when the transmission of life should be regulated by their intelligence and will rather than through the specific rhythms of their bodies…”

Pope Paul VI decided that the rights of the sperm transcended any and all of these arguments. The use of contraception, he concluded results in “an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life.”

But the biological facts make God’s design less than clear. Consider that when artificial birth control or abortion is not used, more often than not God chooses death, not life. A third to a half of fertilized eggs do not implant. Some doctors believe this figure could be as high as 80 percent. A third of those that do implant end up in spontaneous miscarriages. Does the pro-life movement believe this makes God a mass murderer?

In 1965 the Supreme Court overturned state laws that prohibited married couples from buying contraceptives. In 1972 it extended this ruling to cover unmarried individuals. A few months later, in Roe v. Wade, it determined that states could not prohibit women from intervening in the reproductive process after the egg is fertilized.

Every year pro-life organizations gather to condemn Roe v. Wade but it may be instructive to point out that the typology used by the Court was very close to that which guided the Catholic Church and many other major religions for thousands of years.

The early Christians adopted Aristotle's framework that embryos pass through three distinct stages and only become fully human in the last stage. Saint Augustine, one of the most influential Catholic theologians, proposed that abortion in the first trimester should not be regarded "as homicide, for there cannot be a living soul in a body that lacks sensation due to its not yet being formed."

At the beginning of the 13th century Pope Innocent II declared that "quickening" (the time when the woman first feels the fetus move within her) was the moment at which abortion became homicide. In 1591, Pope Gregory XIV proclaimed that quickening occurred after 116 days, that is, into the second trimester. That guidance remained Church policy until 1869 when Pope Pius IX eliminated the distinction between the animated and non-animated fetus and required excommunication for abortions at any stage of pregnancy.

In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court took a page from Aristotle and permitted increasingly severe restrictions by the state depending on the age of the fetus. In the first 12 weeks, the Court prohibited states from imposing any restrictions on a woman's right to an abortion. In the second trimester, states may regulate abortion procedures to protect the health of the woman. In the third trimester (after 27 weeks), when fetuses may be viable outside of the womb, states may restrict abortions.

Nearly 90 percent of all abortions occur in the first trimester. Six in ten are undertaken in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. About 9 percent occur in the second trimester, but many of these are a result of a delay caused by a lack of financial resources or state enacted stalling laws. About .01 percent of abortions are performed after the 20th week.

For many Republicans, it is often said, life begins at conception and ends at birth, although I might amend this perspective given the recent evidence that for many life begins before conception. Consider that all but one of 47 Republican Senators voted in favor of a bill allowing any employer to deny coverage of birth control in the company’s insurance policies. In any event, it is clear that pro-life Republicans seem remarkably unconcerned with the health of newborns. A comprehensive review of abortion and child welfare policies in all 50 states found that states with the most restrictive abortion laws spend the least on education, on facilitating adoption and on nurturing poor children. These states also have fewer mandates requiring insurance providers to cover minimum hospital stays after childbirth.

A recent case in point. The Texas legislature has slashed its family planning budget from $111 million to $38 million, cuts that would eliminate services for nearly 284,000 women.

All four current Republican presidential candidates would eliminate Title X created in 1970 with Republican support from President Nixon and the elder George Bush, then a congressman. Title X does not pay for abortions. Only some of it covers birth control.

It appears that today’s Republican Party will pull out all the stops to protect the rights of the sperm but all but turn its back on the rights and needs of babies. This is what the term pro-life has come to mean in 2012, and the reason we need to change the language we use when we talk about the issues surrounding reproduction.

David Morris is Vice President and director of the New Rules Project at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is based in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. focusing on local economic and social development.

'We Have No Choice': One Woman's Ordeal w/ TX Sonogram Law

The painful decision to terminate a pregnancy is now — thanks to Texas' harsh new law — just the beginning of the torment.

by Carolyn Jones

Halfway through my pregnancy, I learned that my baby was ill. Profoundly so. My doctor gave us the news kindly, but still, my husband and I weren’t prepared. Just a few minutes earlier, we’d been smiling giddily at fellow expectant parents as we waited for the doctor to see us. In a sonography room smelling faintly of lemongrass, I’d just had gel rubbed on my stomach, just seen blots on the screen become tiny hands. For a brief, exultant moment, we’d seen our son—a brother for our 2-year-old girl.

Yet now my doctor was looking grim and, with chair pulled close, was speaking of alarming things. “I’m worried about your baby’s head shape,” she said. “I want you to see a specialist—now.”

My husband looked angry, and maybe I did too, but it was astonishment more than anger. Ours was a profound disbelief that something so bad might happen to people who think themselves charmed. We already had one healthy child and had expected good fortune to give us two.

Instead, before I’d even known I was pregnant, a molecular flaw had determined that our son’s brain, spine and legs wouldn’t develop correctly. If he were to make it to term—something our doctor couldn’t guarantee—he’d need a lifetime of medical care. From the moment he was born, my doctor told us, our son would suffer greatly.

So, softly, haltingly, my husband asked about termination. The doctor shot me a glance that said: Are you okay to hear this now? I nodded, clenched my fists and focused on the cowboy boots beneath her scrubs.

She started with an apology, saying that despite being responsible for both my baby’s care and my own, she couldn’t take us to the final stop. The hospital with which she’s affiliated is Catholic and doesn’t allow abortion. It felt like a physical blow to hear that word, abortion, in the context of our much-wanted child. Abortion is a topic that never seemed relevant to me; it was something we read about in the news or talked about politically; it always remained at a safe distance. Yet now its ugly fist was hammering on my chest.

My doctor went on to tell us that, just two weeks prior, a new Texas law had come into effect requiring that women wait an extra 24 hours before having the procedure. Moreover, Austin has only one clinic providing second-trimester terminations, and that clinic might have a long wait. “Time is not on your side,” my doctor emphasized gently. For this reason, she urged us to seek a specialist’s second opinion the moment we left her office. “They’re ready for you,” she said, before ushering us out the back door to shield us from the smiling patients in the waiting room.

The specialist confirmed what our doctor had feared and sketched a few diagrams to explain. He hastily drew cells growing askew, quick pen-strokes to show when and where life becomes blighted. How simple, I thought, to just undraw those lines and restore my child to wholeness. But this businesslike man was no magician, and our bleak choices still lay ahead.

Next a genetic counselor explained our options and told us how abortions work. There was that word again, and how jarring and out-of-place it sounded. Weren’t we those practical types who got married in their 30s, bought a house, rescued a dog, then, with sensible timing, had one child followed by another? Weren’t we so predictable that friends forecast our milestones on Facebook? Suddenly something was wrong with our story, because something was wrong with our son. Something so wrong that any choice we made would unyoke us forever from our ordinary life.

Our options were grim. We learned that we could bring our baby into the world, then work hard to palliate his pain, or we could alleviate that pain by choosing to “interrupt” my pregnancy. The surgical procedure our counselor described was horrific, but then so seemed our son’s prospects in life. In those dark moments we had to make a choice, so we picked the one that seemed slightly less cruel. Before that moment, I’d never known how viscerally one might feel dread.

That afternoon, my husband and I drove through a spaghetti of highways, one of which led us to a nondescript building between a Wendy’s and a Brake Check. This was Planned Parenthood’s surgical center, part of the organization constantly in the news thanks to America’s polarizing cultural debates. On that very day, Planned Parenthood’s name was on the cover of newspapers because of a funding controversy with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. These clinics, and the controversial services they provide, are always under scrutiny. The security cameras, the double-doors and the restricted walkways assured us of that fact.

While my husband filled out the paperwork, I sat on a hard chair in the spartan reception area and observed my fellow patients. I was the oldest woman in the waiting room, as well as the only one who was visibly pregnant. The other patients either sat with their mothers or, enigmatically, alone. Together we solemnly marked time, waiting for our turn behind the doors.

Eventually we were called back, not to a consulting room, but to another holding area. There, the staff asked my husband to wait while a counselor spoke to me in private. My husband sat down. Posters above him warned women about signs of domestic abuse.

Meanwhile, I was enclosed with a cheerful-looking counselor who had colored hair and a piercing in her nose. Feeling like someone who’d stumbled into the wrong room, I told her between choked sobs how we’d arrived at her clinic on the highway.

“I am so sorry,” the young woman said with compassion, and nudged the tissues closer. Then, after a moment’s pause, she told me reluctantly about the new Texas sonogram law that had just come into effect. I’d already heard about it. The law passed last spring but had been suppressed by legal injunction until two weeks earlier.

My counselor said that the law required me to have another ultrasound that day, and that I was legally obligated to hear a doctor describe my baby. I’d then have to wait 24 hours before coming back for the procedure. She said that I could either see the sonogram or listen to the baby’s heartbeat, adding weakly that this choice was mine.

“I don’t want to have to do this at all,” I told her. “I’m doing this to prevent my baby’s suffering. I don’t want another sonogram when I’ve already had two today. I don’t want to hear a description of the life I’m about to end. Please,” I said, “I can’t take any more pain.” I confess that I don’t know why I said that. I knew it was fait accompli. The counselor could no more change the government requirement than I could. Yet here was a superfluous layer of torment piled upon an already horrific day, and I wanted this woman to know it.

“We have no choice but to comply with the law,” she said, adding that these requirements were not what Planned Parenthood would choose. Then, with a warmth that belied the materials in her hand, she took me through the rules. First, she told me about my rights regarding child support and adoption. Then she gave me information about the state inspection of the clinic. She offered me a pamphlet called A Woman’s Right to Know, saying that it described my baby’s development as well as how the abortion procedure works. She gave me a list of agencies that offer free sonograms, and which, by law, have no affiliation with abortion providers. Finally, after having me sign reams of paper, she led me to the doctor who’d perform the sonography, and later the termination.

The doctor and nurse were professional and kind, and it was clear that they understood our sorrow. They too apologized for what they had to do next. For the third time that day, I exposed my stomach to an ultrasound machine, and we saw images of our sick child forming in blurred outlines on the screen.

“I’m so sorry that I have to do this,” the doctor told us, “but if I don’t, I can lose my license.” Before he could even start to describe our baby, I began to sob until I could barely breathe. Somewhere, a nurse cranked up the volume on a radio, allowing the inane pronouncements of a DJ to dull the doctor’s voice. Still, despite the noise, I heard him. His unwelcome words echoed off sterile walls while I, trapped on a bed, my feet in stirrups, twisted away from his voice.

“Here I see a well-developed diaphragm and here I see four healthy chambers of the heart...”

I closed my eyes and waited for it to end, as one waits for the car to stop rolling at the end of a terrible accident.

When the description was finally over, the doctor held up a script and said he was legally obliged to read me information provided by the state. It was about the health dangers of having an abortion, the risks of infection or hemorrhage, the potential for infertility and my increased chance of getting breast cancer. I was reminded that medical benefits may be available for my maternity care and that the baby’s father was liable to provide support, whether he’d agreed to pay for the abortion or not.

Abortion. Abortion. Abortion. That ugly word, to pepper that ugly statement, to embody the futility of all we’d just endured. Futile because we’d already made our heart-breaking decision about our child, and no incursion into our private world could change it.

Finally, my doctor folded the paper and put it away: “When you come back in 24 hours, the legal side is over. Then we’ll care for you and give you the information you need in the way we think is right.”

A day later, we returned to the clinic for the surgery that had us saying goodbye to our son. On top of their medical duties, the nurses also held my hand and wiped my eyes and let me cry like a child in their arms.

Later, in reviewing the state-mandated paperwork I'd signed, I found a statement about women who may opt out of the new sonogram edict. It seemed that minors, victims of rape or incest, and cases in which the baby has an irreversible abnormality might be spared the extra anguish. I asked the Planned Parenthood staff about this and, after conferring privately, they thought that my child’s condition might have exempted me from the new sonogram rules. They apologized for their uncertainty, explaining that the law was so new they’d not had a chance to understand what it means in practice. “Could I have skipped the 24-hour wait, too?” I asked, wondering whether that extra day of distress might have been avoided. “No,” a staffer replied, “the mandatory wait applies to everyone.”

A few weeks later, I decided to clarify this for myself. I asked the Department of State Health Services, the agency responsible for implementing the sonogram law, who exactly is exempt. The department responded by email: “A woman would still be subject to the sonogram but would not be required to hear an explanation of the sonogram images if she certifies in writing that her fetus has an irreversible medical condition as identified by a reliable diagnostic procedure and documented in her medical file.” Based on this reply, it seems that the torturous description I'd borne was just a clerical mistake.

However, in looking through the paperwork I signed for Planned Parenthood, I noticed that the Department of State Health Services had issued technical guidelines four days after I'd been at the clinic. So for three weeks, abortion providers in Texas had been required to follow the sonogram law but had not been given any official instructions on how to implement it. Again, I asked the agency about this, and a spokesman replied as follows: “No specific guidance was issued during that time, but clinics were welcome to ask questions or seek guidance from their legal counsel if there were concerns.”

My experience, it seems, was a byproduct of complex laws being thrown into the tangled world of abortion politics. If I'd been there two weeks earlier or even a week later, I might have avoided the full brunt of this new law’s effect. But not so for those other young women I saw in Planned Parenthood’s waiting room. Unless they fall into one of those exemption categories—the conditions under which the state has deemed that some women’s reasons for having an abortion are morally acceptable—then they'll have politicians muscling in on their private decisions. But what good is the view of someone who has never had to make your terrible choice? What good is a law that adds only pain and difficulty to perhaps the most painful and difficult decision a woman can make? Shouldn’t women have a right to protect themselves from strangers’ opinions on their most personal matters? Shouldn’t we have the right not to know?

Carolyn Jones is a freelance writer based in Austin. Read more of her work at

Copyright 2012 The Texas Observer

NOW's "Enough Rush" Campaign Directed @ Local Advertisers, Radio

April 19, 2012
12:59 PM

CONTACT: National Organization for Women (NOW)
Mai Shiozaki, 202-628-8669, ext. 116; cell 202-641-1906

NOW Launches "Enough Rush" Campaign Directed at Local Advertisers, Radio Stations

WASHINGTON - April 19 - Today, the National Organization for Women is launching the "Enough Rush" campaign, which aims to deliver the powerful message to Rush Limbaugh and his apologists that bullying is no longer profitable.

Since Limbaugh's three-day attack on law student Sandra Fluke, scores of advertisers have left the show and two radio stations have dropped Limbaugh's show. Now, through the "Enough Rush" campaign, grassroots activists across the U.S. will reach out to local businesses that continue to advertise on The Rush Limbaugh Show and local radio stations that broadcast it.

"For more than two decades, Rush Limbaugh has degraded women, people of color and anyone who doesn't look or think like him," said NOW President Terry O'Neill. "Like bullies everywhere, Limbaugh uses the age-old tactic of savaging one woman for the purpose of intimidating all women away from the public square. Rush's hostile, hateful speech is destructive to our public discourse, our communities and our democracy."

The Rush Limbaugh Show is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide, syndicated by Clear Channel's Premiere Networks. Clear Channel pays Limbaugh an astounding $38 million a year to spew his hate across the airwaves, and its CEO has, thus far, refused to terminate his contract. NOW activists across the country will picket at some of the local radio affiliates that broadcast the show.

The National Organization for Women first took on Rush Limbaugh with its Flush Rush campaign in the mid-1990s, when NOW succeeded in convincing the Florida Citrus Commission not to renew its million-dollar contract with the radio host. Founded in 1966, NOW is the largest group of feminist activists in the country, with hundreds of chapters nationwide, many of which are taking part in this latest Enough Rush campaign.

"NOW is proud to stand with Sandra Fluke and everyone Limbaugh has degraded and insulted over the years," O'Neill added. "We hope that women's rights and social justice supporters around the country will join us in this campaign."

Some of the cities where protests will be held include Washington, D.C., New York City, Phoenix, Ariz., Indianapolis, Ind., Columbia, Mo., Toledo, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Mich. and West Palm Beach, Fla.


The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States. NOW has 500,000 contributing members and 550 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

National Organization for Women (NOW) Links:

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