Georgia (and AL, KY, OH, TX …) On My Mind – and Out of My Uterus

It’s all over everywhere on social media: Women, leave Georgia. Leave Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Kentucky. And: No rights, no sex! We at Indivisible East Bay respectfully wish to say: that’s not a plan.

Running away, starting over, is only a fantasy for most women. Most women don’t have the privilege, or the money, or the support, to be able to pick up and leave their home state if it enacts legislation that deprives them of their reproductive rights. And if those with the means to leave do leave, then those left behind are the most vulnerable (and those who thought the restrictions were hunky dory to start with). As for “no rights, no sex”: it’s classic – literally – but we were under the impression that abstinence-only was a tool of the religious right, not the progressive left. Why should hetero women become celibate because they can’t get reproductive freedom? And please, let’s not forget our queer sisters – they need reproductive rights too, and you know that they’re in the crosshairs of the same folks behind the abortion bans.

And then there are calls to boycott. Boycotts are a powerful economic tool, but they’re also a double-edged sword. Don’t forget, industries in these states hire … women in these states. And people of color, and LGBTQI people … none of whom benefit from boycotts in the short term. These are the same people who are losing their rights – and possibly their health, or even risking their lives – because of these insane anti-choice bills. They don’t need to lose their financial well-being, too. Analogies to the grape boycotts of the 1960’s and 70’s aren’t accurate: the farmworkers’ union called for those boycotts. If women workers of Alabama, Georgia, etc., aren’t calling for boycotts now, please think twice before you do.

So, what’s best to do? Empowerment is more realistic and compassionate than telling people to move, less potentially harmful than boycotting, and a damn sight better than enforced chastity. And all told, helping our sisters is way better than telling them how to run their lives (which, after all, is what we’re fighting against, right?). In sum: Below are ways to respond to the abortion bans by supporting pro-women organizations that will fight for women’s rights and fight to get the controlling bastards out of power:

  • Take action to help disenfranchised and inactive voters in GA by signing up with Reclaim our Vote (ROV), a national group working with Black Voters Matter and NAACP. ROV focuses on empowering under-represented voters, particularly in communities of color. Email Andrea at andrea@indivisibleeb.org and sign up if you want to get involved with IEB efforts and/or sign up for one of ROV’s weekly Thursday Zoom orientations here.
  • Support Fair Fight in Georgia: through this ActBlue fundraiser, all donations during the month of May will be split evenly among “organizations that have been fighting and will continue to fight for reproductive rights.”
  • Here’s an amazing thread with lots of great organizations that provide abortion and health care for women in Georgia and throughout the southeast, women of color- and queer/trans/people of color-led organizations working to advance reproductive justice, organizations fighting for fair and honest elections, and more!
  • This site (which is regularly updated) can connect you with local, grassroots organizations in Ohio, Alabama, and throughout the Southeast that serve women; organizations fighting for Asian-Pacific Islander women, including transgender and non-binary folk; and ways to become a clinic escort at women’s health care clinics.

Do you know of more ways to help women in embattled states? Ways to support progressive candidates or get involved in GOTV (Get Out The Vote) efforts? Support shelters? Help women’s groups that will take back the power? We want to hear from you! Email us at info@indivisibleeb.org!

Graphics: Soulless elephant by Mr Spark and uterus by Uterus Magna 

 

Repeal the Hyde Amendment for EACH Woman

In 1973, abortion was legalized throughout the US in Roe v. Wade. A short three years later, low-income women all over the country effectively had that right put out of reach by the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal Medicaid funding for almost all abortion services. The Hyde Amendment has been an impenetrable fortress in Congress year after year. But this might be the year it finally falls – thanks in large part to Members of Congress from the East Bay.

The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Woman Act would in effect overturn the Hyde Amendment. In the House, H.R. 771 is sponsored by Representative Barbara Lee, who first introduced it in 2015. Our other East Bay Representatives, Eric Swalwell and Mark DeSaulnier, have signed on as cosponsors. The bill was introduced in the Senate on March 12, 2019 as S. 758, with Senator Kamala Harris as an original sponsor. Senator Feinstein is not yet a cosponsor – however, she has a long history of being pro-choice. (IEB is talking to Sen. Feinstein’s staff about her position on the legislation and we’ll update this article as soon as we have any news.)

As the fact sheet about the EACH Woman Act says:

1. First, it sets up the federal government as a standard-bearer, ensuring that every woman who receives care or insurance through the federal government will have coverage for abortion services. The EACH Woman Act restores abortion coverage to those:

  • enrolled in a government health insurance plan (i.e., Medicaid, Medicare), including those who live in the District of Columbia;
  • enrolled in a government-managed health insurance program (i.e., FEHBP, TRICARE) due to an employment relationship; or
  • receiving health care from a government provider or program (i.e., Indian Health Services, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Veterans Administration).

2. Second, it prohibits political interference with decisions by private health insurance companies to offer coverage for abortion care. Federal, state and local legislators will not be able to interfere with the private insurance market, including the insurance marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act, to prevent insurance companies from providing abortion coverage.

Said Senator Harris:

No woman should ever be denied her fundamental reproductive rights. The Hyde amendment disproportionately targets the most vulnerable populations. I’m proud to co-sponsor the EACH Woman Act, protecting reproductive rights and increasing access to critical health care for all women.

And Rep. Lee:

No woman should be denied the full spectrum of reproductive health care because of her zip code or income level – yet that is the reality for too many low-income women and women of color. The EACH Woman Act ensures that every woman is empowered to make critical decisions about her own pregnancy – and has coverage for all pregnancy-related health care, including abortion – regardless of her financial situation. I am proud to reintroduce this bill with the support of my colleagues and the trailblazing women leading the fight for reproductive justice around the country.

This push for pro-choice, pro-woman legislation is good news indeed. And the timing couldn’t be better, coming hard on the heels of the decision of the Sixth Circuit in Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio v. Hodges that the state can cut funding to Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions. That decision was handed down by six judges, four of whom were appointed by the Current Occupant. Boys and girls, in case you haven’t figured it out by now – this is why voting matters.

What you can do:

You better believe that the anti-choice forces will be screaming about the EACH Woman Act, and will have their members screaming at all the cosponsors. Our MoCs need to hear from us that they’re doing the right thing. Thank them and tell them that part of the reason you support them is that they are pro-choice – and you want them to be proactive about it!

What to say:

For Senator Harris:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for sponsoring S. 758, the EACH Woman Act. We need this legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment. I support you because you’re pro-choice and I want you to keep being a leader to improve reproductive rights and make things better for women in California and throughout the U.S.

For Senator Feinstein:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want Senator Feinstein to cosponsor S. 758, the EACH Woman Act. We need this legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment. I support Sen. Feinstein because she’s pro-choice and she’s been a strong advocate for women’s rights and reproductive rights. I hope she will sign on to S. 758 very soon.

For Representative Lee:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for sponsoring H.R. 771, the EACH Woman Act. We need this legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment. I support you because you’re pro-choice and I want you to keep being a leader to improve reproductive rights and make things better for women in California and throughout the U.S.

For Reps. Swalwell and DeSaulnier:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for cosponsoring H.R. 771, the EACH Woman Act. We need this legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment. I support you because you’re pro-choice and I want you to be a leader to improve reproductive rights and make things better for women in California and throughout the U.S.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 981-9369 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 • DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 • DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 • DC: (202) 225-5065

When abortion was illegal: Looking backward and forward at once

Have you heard the one about the back alley abortion?

Yeah, it isn’t a joke. And it sure as hell isn’t funny. It’s an actual question: Have you heard it? Roe v. Wade made abortion legal throughout the USA in 1973 – so as of the last census in 2010, slightly over 60% of the population never knew a time when abortion was illegal. And as the population ages, many of those people may never even have known anyone who lived through those dark, bloody times.

Federal judges on all levels are increasingly willing to deny women their reproductive rights. Appeals court judge and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would have denied access to abortion for an undocumented teenager, writing that undocumented youth in custody are not entitled to “abortion on demand” – favorite words of the anti-choice movement. His view didn’t prevail in the appeals court – but will it prevail, sooner or later, in the Supreme Court?

All of this means it’s time to tell the stories. Again.

Let’s start with this chart:

The number of deaths from abortion has declined dramatically since Roe v. Wade.

Source: The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Trends in Abortion in the United States, 1973-2000, January 2003.

Remember, there is no way to give an accurate number of deaths from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade, because abortion was a crime and a scandal and abortion deaths were usually covered up. The National Abortion Federation estimates up to 1.2 million illegal abortions per year, with thousands of women who died or were grievously injured from back alley or self-induced abortions. And hospital emergency rooms stopped seeing these patients after abortion became legal.

But as with anything, statistics don’t tell the story. Human stories tell the story. As one article said about gathering the stories of Holocaust survivors, “The act of absorbing history often requires peering backward and forward at once,” and stories of illegal abortion matter for the same reason: so that we understand, and so that we never go back.

We ask you to share these stories. Tell people who don’t know what it was like. Tell your elected representatives that you’re not willing to give up any of your reproductive rights, and you’re not willing to accept judges who would be willing to compromise them:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: email(415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: email(415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

And if you have a story, or if you know someone who has a story, we invite you to share it hereAll submissions will come to us anonymously and we will publish everything anonymously. It’s crucial to show how many of these stories there are – so that we keep there from being more of them.

  • It was an honest to God back alley abortion, in an honest to God back alley, on a dirty kitchen table covered with a not very clean sheet. He had alcohol on his breath and his hand wasn’t very steady. He told her to spread her legs and told her not to spread them next time, which he found very funny. She had an infection and was horribly sick but she survived and later had a family. Some of her friends weren’t so lucky.
  • He was successful and well-known and nearly fifty when his elderly Irish Catholic mother told him: when he was a toddler, she and her husband just couldn’t afford another kid, and she had an abortion. She had never told anyone before, but the Supreme Court kept issuing anti-abortion rulings and people were telling their stories – and she asked him to tell hers.
  • It was the 1950s. She and her friends were young working women in New York. They had the name of a doctor in Pennsylvania who was very expensive but was supposed to be clean and reputable. When anyone in their crowd needed an abortion, they all pooled their money and went without lunch for a while. And the women who went to him came back. She said she had no idea what they would have done if they hadn’t had jobs and a support network.
  • It was the 1940s. She and her husband were Italian Catholic and dirt poor, and they had several very young children and couldn’t afford another. The illegal abortion killed her. In those days, when a mother died, the father rarely raised the children; at least one of the little girls was brought up by relatives who treated her badly, and when she had children, she had never really had a mother of her own.

And more:

  • The Academy Award-nominated documentary When Abortion Was Illegal features powerful stories of women who had abortions, their families, and the health care providers who witnessed the devastating effects of illegal abortion. Available here in English and Spanish, for purchase or on Vimeo.
  • Actress Sally Field discusses her illegal abortion in Tijuana in her recent memoir, In Pieces, and talks about it in her September 11, 2018 NPR interview.

Say something, before the gag goes in

You have until July 31.

TL;DR: That’s the end of the period for you to comment on the “gag rule” that the Administration has proposed to try to destroy Planned Parenthood.

Of course, that’s not what the proposal says … in a nutshell, as the Sacramento Bee put it:

The proposal would deny federal Title X funds for birth control, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease tests to any clinic that also provides abortions or even refers a patient for the procedure. Just to be clear, it’s already against the law to use federal money for abortion; Title X recipients undergo frequent audits to ensure their funds go where they’re supposed to.

Sound better? Nope. It’s still a blatant attempt to destroy Planned Parenthood and any other clinic that provides a full range of reproductive health services, if the clinic dares to provide, or discuss, or refer patients for abortion as well as keeping them from getting pregnant, keeping them healthy, or even seeing them through healthy pregnancies.

Your reproductive rights don’t mean much if you can’t exercise them. That means YOU need to speak up, and NOW. Here’s the comment link for Proposed Rule 2018-11673.

Some points you can make:

  • Title X focuses not on ending unwanted pregnancies, but preventing them. It’s the nation’s oldest family planning program.
  • More than a million low-income Californians, most of them women of color, annually use Title X health care.
  • Women’s health clinics are the only health care sources available in some rural areas of California.
  • This proposal would put the health care of the four million people who depend on Title X at risk by defunding clinics that provide birth control, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease tests.
  • If enacted, the gag rule would prohibit ANY Title X health care provider from referring patients for abortion — even if that’s what the patient wants, and even if withholding that information threatens their health.
  • This would destroy the trust between patients and doctors.

Read our earlier article for more info.

Oh, and also: if you have any friends in Maine or Alaska, tell them to talk to Senators Collins and Murkowski, who could make the difference in whether an anti-choice Justice gets confirmed for the Supreme Court.

Spit out Trump’s “gag rule” – don’t make doctors lie to patients

More than any other, two social issues have defined the conservative political agenda: no gun control and no abortions. A cynic might interpret this as conservatives being more concerned about the rights of fetuses than protecting children in our schools from getting shot — but let’s put that aside for the moment. Instead, let’s focus on the latest proposed effort by Donald Trump to trample on a woman’s reproductive freedom: a “gag rule” executive order (presumably so named because it will make you want to throw up).

Roe v. Wade still remains the law of the land. But this has not stopped conservatives from passing legislation and issuing executive actions that restrict access to abortions to a point that comes dangerously close to functionally negating the Supreme Court decision, including limiting abortions to the first few weeks of pregnancy, requiring pregnant women to visit so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (that strongly advocate against choice) before they can terminate a pregnancy – even outright, unconstitutional criminalization of abortion – and the list goes on.

At the federal level, the battle over reproductive rights has centered on Title X funding. Enacted when Nixon was President (when – ironically – many of the social programs under attack today were created), Title X provides funding for family planning services, especially targeted to low-income or uninsured patients. Under the currently modified rules, such funds cannot be used to pay for an abortion. However, clinics that provide abortions can still receive Title X funds for non-abortion services, including contraceptives and Pap tests. They can also advise women about the risks vs. benefits of an abortion and refer women to places that provide abortions.

Congress has frequently sought to place more draconian limits on Title X funding, with an ultimate goal of preventing family planning services from even offering advice regarding an abortion. At dead center of these attacks is Planned Parenthood, which has been conservatives’ main target for years and years. The most recent proposed legislation cropped up as part of Congress’s ill-fated attempt to repeal Obamacare. Fortunately, this was not enacted.

Stymied in Congress, Donald Trump has inserted himself into the fray via a threatened executive action — a “gag rule” that would enforce domestically what is already the case for clinics outside the U.S. In essence, reproductive health providers would be required either to stop discussing abortion with their patients – most specifically, they would not be able to discuss abortion as an option or refer patients to abortion providers – or stop receiving Title X money.

According to an NPR report, the proposed executive order would also “require facilities receiving federal family planning funds to be physically separate from those that perform abortion.” This could force the closing of facilities that currently provide both services within the same building.

While Trump had sent the proposal to the Office of Management and Budget for review last week, he officially went public with it Tuesday night, announcing it at the Susan B. Anthony List’s 11th annual Campaign for Life Gala.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU previously filed lawsuits against the Trump administration over enacting “guidance” that forces family planning services to prioritize practices such as the rhythm method over alternative contraception methods. You can expect these organizations to similarly challenge the gag rule in court. While exact wording of Trump’s executive order remains uncertain for the moment, one thing is clear: If the gag rule is enacted, retaining federal funding will require that physicians essentially lie to patients regarding abortion options. That’s one big reason why the rule needs to be blocked.

Legislative opposition to this latest effort from Trump is strong and growing. On May 14, over forty senators, including both California senators (Feinstein and Harris), sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warning of the potentially disastrous impact of a domestic gag rule. More than a hundred members of the House sent a similar letter; Barbara Lee was one of the first to sign, and Representatives DeSaulnier and Swalwell also signed, completing our East Bay contingent.

What you can do:

You can voice your opposition to the gag rule by emailing HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Here’s a suggestion for what to say:

Dear HHS Secretary Alex Azar,

I’m writing in opposition to President Trump’s announcement of a “gag rule” on health care providers that participate in Title X. If enacted, the gag rule would prohibit ANY Title X health care provider from referring patients for abortion — even if that’s what the patient wants, and even if withholding that information threatens their health. This would destroy the trust between patients and doctors. And it would put the health care of the four million people who depend on Title X at risk. I urge you to express your opposition to this rule.

You can also thank our Senators and Representatives for taking a prompt, strong stance on this important issue:

My name is ______, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for signing on to the letter to the Department of Health and Human Services opposing a gag rule on health care providers receiving Title X funds. Women need need access to health care and they need to trust their health care providers to give them full and accurate information. The proposed gag rule would be dangerous and destructive. I’m counting on you to keep working to protect women’s health.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Do No Harm, Mostly: Federal Government Opening New Doors to Denial of Health Care for Women

In January 2018, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its decision to offer support to medical professionals who decline to provide care – primarily abortion- and transgender-related healthcare – because of their personal beliefs. These beliefs don’t have to be written down anywhere, don’t have to be part of an organized religion or group, and don’t even have to be beliefs that anyone else holds. The person just has to say, “This goes against my conscience,” and the newly-empowered HHS Office of Civil Rights will get to work on finding ways to help them defend that belief by denying care.

This opens a valley-sized doorway to denial of care. This isn’t religious freedom: it’s a taxpayer-funded tool that will allow caregivers to hurt people who might depend on them.

While this might sound like a huge change or an affront to the Hippocratic Oath, belief-motivated denial of care isn’t a new concept in American health care. In fact, since 2010, more and more women have been reporting that they were denied abortion care or tubal ligation (having your “tubes tied” to ensure sterility), even in cases of emergency, right from their hospital bed.

Tamesha Means sits in a living room with two other people, one of them a young boy. Family photos crowd two large frames on the wall above them.
Tamesha Means suffered a miscarriage at 18 weeks; the miscarriage, a painful and traumatic experience, lasted days. Rather than offer abortion care that could have saved Tamesha from untold suffering, her Catholic hospital sent her home with Tylenol three times. Image: ACLU.

The reason behind the denials is simple: these women are in Catholic hospitals that follow the Catholic Directives, a series of rules laid out by bishops that specify what Catholic hospitals can and cannot do. In 2016, one in six hospital beds in the United States was in a hospital bound to the Catholic Directives; in California, it’s almost precisely that percentage, with the Directives covering 15.9% of all beds. It gets worse when you talk about health-related emergencies: Catholic hospitals control at least 40% of all acute care beds in five states. Ten of the nation’s 25 largest health system are Catholic-owned. And the situation only grows worse every time a Directives-bound organization buys up another hospital or health system. If you weren’t aware of any of this, you’re not alone: you can blame the fragmented and opaque structure of the American health care system for the largely unnoticed proliferation of Catholic hospitals.

On the ground, this translates directly into a significant reduction in the number of reproductive care procedures women receive. There are health systems in the country where women, particularly those in rural areas, don’t have access to a hospital that will care for their reproductive needs. This impacts their lives in countless ways.

Crucially, these hospitals also refuse to train new doctors in how to perform abortion, which is a very safe and relatively straightforward procedure for someone with the right expertise to perform. In Texas, for example, there are barely any clinics or universities left that offer courses in abortion. Volunteer groups like Medical Students for Change are doing what they can to train practitioners and keep this knowledge alive, but they face incredible challenges in their work. 

We’re going to see more and more of this, too, as HHS gets more familiar with its new powers.

This situation has led to devastating consequences for women seeking care. This report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) details case after case where women were subjected to painful and traumatic miscarriages, some of them lasting days, which would have been alleviated by abortion care in any non-Catholic hospital. There are cases where women who have reached their ideal family size, or who need to avoid pregnancy for medical reasons, were denied sterility procedures. Weaving throughout the stories are statements from doctors and nurses who wanted to provide the best care for their patients, including abortion care, but who were kept from doing so by hospital administrators.

A close-up of Mindy Swank sitting in a family room.
Mindy Swank was thrilled to discover she was pregnant a second time; she was devastated when she miscarried, and sought medical help when her body couldn’t complete the process. Her Catholic hospital refused to perform an abortion despite multiple hemorrhages and undeniable proof that Mindy’s baby wouldn’t survive. They finally induced labor at 27 weeks, when Mindy was hemorrhaging severely and after she had endured weeks carrying a baby she knew couldn’t live. Her baby died a few hours after delivery. Image: The Journal-Register.

This isn’t how health care should operate. Patients have the right to determine what happens to their body, and they have a right to have that spectrum of care include procedures and medicines that are safe and readily available, without having some options foreclosed because the practitioner objects to them. The ACLU and others have struggled to prosecute cases around denial of care based on religion or morality for numerous reasons, including the complexity and narrowness of medical malpractice law.

As with all things, the best way to remedy this situation is to elect lawmakers and local officials who will stand up for their constituents’ right to access health care with no strings attached. We hope you’ll join us in 2018 as we put in the work that will lead to a future where this ridiculous, discriminatory, and potentially life-threatening rule is completely rescinded, and Catholic hospitals are required to provide a complete spectrum of care to their patients.