Women As Out Of Control Breeders

A recent article in the Sacramento Bee discussed the forced sterilization of female inmates in a California prison after the Center for Investigative Reporting found that at least 148 women received tubal litigations which violated prison rules.

Females thought likely to return to prison were the targets of coercion, according to former inmates. Also, when discussing the payment he received for performing the tubal ligation, the institution’s OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich stated that: “Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more.”

I have heard plenty of comments accusing women of breeding wildly and irresponsibly. Statements such as the one by Heinrich confirms such believes and in many cases, for example when discussing abortion and reproductive choices and rights, women are accused of becoming pregnant and by extension are expected to carry the responsibility of pregnancy all on their own while the men involved, and the responsibilities they carry, are not even mentioned. It is so rarely discussed that the father of a child is just as responsible as the mother of a child. It should not have to be mentioned, but unfortunately it does. [Read more...]

Good News About Teen Birth Rates

A recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics reports that teen birth rates in the U.S. have hit a record low: “31.3 births per 1,000 girls and women” between the ages of 15 and 19. These rates have been going down for a number of years, but this represents an eight percent decline in a single year (2010 to 2011), which is pretty impressive. Overall, teen birth rates have fallen 49 percent since 1991.

While the study just looks at the numbers, and not factors that may have led to the drop, researchers have suggested several reasons that could be contributing to the decline. Teens are delaying the age at which they begin having sex, and it is becoming more common for teenagers to use contraception—including methods that were once recommended primarily for older women, such as the IUD.

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40 Years Later–What the Roe?

For Khan ArticleJanuary 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. But 40 years later, does the ruling matter? The easy answer is no. While American women still have the right to have an abortion, many cannot exercise that right. Abortion opponents have successfully reduced women’s access to clinics that perform the procedure and placed unneccesary restrictions on many of the clinics that do. Four states have only one abortion clinic, the past two years have seen a record amount of antiabortion legislation passed in state legislatures, and 2013 is already promising more of the same.

But easy answers never tell the whole story. If they did, we would have stopped arguing about abortion ages ago–right around the time “Abortion is Murder” met “My Body, My Choice.” The uneasy answer is that Roe v. Wade very much matters in 2013 … except when it doesn’t.

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Good News in New York

Teens at thirteen New York City high schools have had access to emergency contraception for over a year–but it wasn’t news until the New York Post got wind of it in an “exclusive” report on Sunday. In other words, the program did not make any of its critics’ wildest fears come true. No crazy rise in teenage sexual shenanigans. No rash of teens stricken with any of Plan B‘s side effects, real or imagined. The Post and fair-weather parental advocates like Cardinal Timothy Dolan would never have passed up the opportunity to fan even the slightest concern into a full-blown controversy.

Now the belated hand wringing has begun, and as long as the schools keep following the state law that allows doctors to prescribe emergency contraception pills to women fourteen or older without parental consent–yes, once again, New York state is ahead of the curve–I don’t mind in the least.

Okay, maybe I do mind, but I can also hope that the special provision included to protect parental rights (how I want to put quotations around that phrase), will force the parents who are really only fighting for the right not to think about teenage sexuality at all, to consider the possibility that their child may have the same feelings that have been making adolescents infamous for ages, even if only for the moment it takes them to ”opt-out” of the program. Best case scenario, it starts an honest dialogue between parent and child. Worst case scenario, at least the child knows where his or her parent stands, if and when the poor kid needs to talk to a grown-up.

Elsewhere in New York state, the news in teenage reproductive health hasn’t been good. A recent investigation by the NYCLU revealed “glaring inaccuracies about basic anatomy, reinforced negative gender stereotypes, and stigmatized LGBT students and families” in Sex Ed classes statewide. In one district, the ignorance reaches Todd Akin proportions: definition of vagina–”a sperm deposit.” No word on whether it shuts down or not. (Maybe it has bankers’ hours? Get it?)

I have every sympathy in the world for parents, and the argument about school nurses needing a parent’s permission to dispense Tylenol is at least as old as I am. But I’m still pretty sure teenage girls don’t use Tylenol (or aspirin, anywhere) to prevent pregnancy. (“Not now, I have a headache,” comes much later.) Maybe today’s parents are less hung-up about sex than my parents were back in the day. It wouldn’t take much. But I have a hard time believing even the coolest parents in the world have figured out how to make their children believe they’re always “easy to talk to” about sex. (I’d be impressed and probably a little creeped out, but I wouldn’t believe.) I’m too uptight to say I think the taboos we have about sex are a good thing; but I do think they’ve survived thousands of years because they’re powerful. If loosey goosey New Yorkers with all their culturally elite street cred can still get tongue-tied–or willfully blind–about teens and sex, I, for one, am glad city teens have professional health care providers looking out for them while their parents work out their feelings.

 

Raging Grannies Vs. Todd Akin

Recently, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin received tremendous criticism for stating that rape did not result in pregnancy if it is a “legitimate rape,” since “the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

Now, the Raging Grannies , a peaceful protest group created a response video addressing Todd Akin’s nonsense.

Here are the lyrics:

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De-Queering the Fetus

recent article by Alice Dreger, Ellen K. Feder, and Anne Tamar-Mattis documents the controversial application of prenatal dexamethasone in pregnant women. The impetus for this pharmacological therapy is to stop virilization in female fetuses that may be affected by a form of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) called 21-hydroxylase deficiency or 21-OHC CAH.

Don’t allow the medical jargon to turn you away from what’s taking place here: the steroid is administered to pregnant women with the goal of stamping out intersexed bodies while ultimately minimizing the likelihood that a female will grow to be butch, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender. Yes, you read that right. This is an ongoing medical project that is motivated by homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and cissexist ideals. Let’s back up a bit and unpack some of the medical jargon that complicates our understanding of systemic hate.

CAH is a disease of the endocrine system (the hormone regulating mainframe of the body). There are variations of CAH and the one of interest here is 21-OHC CAH. 21-OHC CAH leads to an over production of androgens, which could lead to a genetic female fetus “developing along a more masculine pathway neurologically and genitally” (5). The term for this masculinization is virilization, which manifests in many ways but can lead to masculinized female genitalia, of which is a surface motivation (e.g. justification on grant applications) for the use of prenatal dexamethasone. CAH is a serious disease and as such, every U.S. state requires that newborns be screened for it. However, at case here are fetuses that may be affected by CAH, not newborns that are affected by it. The authors expose that 87.5% of those fetuses that are exposed to prenatal dexamethasone stood no chance to benefit from the therapy at all.

Prenatal dexamethasone is a steroid that is theoretically used to stop the effects of 21-OHC CAH. However, the drug is experimental and there is no substantial support for its use. In the U.S. it is categorized as “off-label,” which means that it is not FDA approved. As it stands, there is very little known about the impact of the therapy but it may alter “fetal programming,” which can result in serious metabolic problems that may not be apparent until adulthood. For 30 years, the steroid has been used to combat virilization in female fetuses and yet, little is known of its impact because there are few long-term studies that explore its impact—of those, the populations are not representative and the protocol does not meet national or international scientific standards. In fact, the Endocrine Society set up a task force to look at the effectiveness of the pharmacological therapy. The task force found very little support for the use of the steroid and “could not even say with confidence whether prenatal dexamethasone works to reduce genital virilization” (2).

Nonetheless, it has been administered to pregnant women on false pretenses. The pregnant women were/are not informed that the “off-label” steroid is experimental, that benefits and risks have not been established due to lack of adequate testing and scientific protocol, and that exposed fetuses are studied retrospectively effectively rendering moot any correlation between the drug and the fetus born one way and/or raised another.

The “most prominent promoter” of this therapy is Maria New, a pediatric endocrinologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. By 2003, New has “treated” more than 600 pregnant women with dexamethasone in order to prevent virilization in CAH-affected female fetuses. That number is as high as 2,144 fetuses. This is where the story turns sour and scary—or more sour and scarier.

Despite a lack of support for prenatal dexamethasone Maria New insists that it “has been found safe for mother and child” (15-16). The authors of the article do some bold investigative work and turn to New’s grant applications discovering some interesting motivations for the continued use of the steroid.

Those few studies that do exist show that girls affected with 21-OHD CAH exhibit “behavioral masculinization.” These girls are on average “more interested in boy-typical play, hobbies, and subjects that non-affected females, less interested in becoming mothers, and more likely to grow up to be lesbian or bisexual” (6). Some clinicians find that of those females with 21-OHD CAH, 5% may ultimately identify as male. “Behavioral masculinization” is a euphemism for non-traditional gender performance or expression in women, females, and/or girls. It seems that the underlying motivation has less to do with ambiguous genitalia (which is problematic itself) and more to do with minimizing “tomboyism,” non-heterosexuality, and trans* embodiment.

Interestingly, the U.S. National Institutes of Health have funded Maria New’s work in figuring whether or not prenatal dexamethasone works to stop “behavioral masculinization.” Said another way, the U.S. government funds New’s work in stopping queerness and/or trans*ness in those potentially affected with 21-OHD CAH. Please, read that again for the sake of letting it sink in.

One justification for using prenatal dexamethasone is to minimize the chances of having a child that is intersex so that “corrective” surgeries will not be necessary. However, such “corrective” surgeries are elective and yet this reason is used as grounds to administer this potentially dangerous drug.

The unknown effects of prenatal dexamethasone are as potentially damaging and traumatic to intersex bodies as invasive “corrective” surgeries that claim to “fix” a problem when the problem isn’t the fetus at all. The inspiration for this pharmacological therapy is stigma and anxieties surrounding intersexed and/or queer bodies. It is a medical intervention that works to ensure the production of relatively normative bodies no matter the cost to those that are at risk of teetering between cissex and intersex embodiment. The anxiety/fear-inspired application of prenatal dexamethasone points us to the intersection of sex, gender, and sexuality and those systems that work to keep them aligned more nicely.

Speaking to parents of children with CAH, Maria New “showed a picture of a girl with ambiguous genitalia and said: The challenge here is to see what could be done to restore this baby to the normal female appearance which would be compatible with her parents presenting her as a girl, with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother. And she has all the machinery for motherhood, and therefore nothing should stop that, if we can repair her surgically and help her psychologically to continue to grow and develop as a girl” (italics mine 6).

For New, the prominent cheerleader in prenatal dexamethasone therapy, girl/female/woman are one and the same and are heterosexual desiring motherhood and marriage. For New, queer variation is inconceivable. For New, prenatal dexamethasone is the ultimate in conversion therapy because it gets at the “problem” before it is a problem. It does so even though the long-term impact is unknown and potentially fatal. New, and her supporters, will do whatever it takes to ensure that queerness is squashed at every chance. For the record, you can contact Maria New at maria.new@mssm.edu.

An Expectant Mother’s Guide to Preparing for Delivery

This article was written by Katie Moore. Katie is an active writer within the blogging community who discusses maternity, motherhood, prenatal health, childbirth and other topics within this niche. If you have any questions or would like to connect with Katie please contact her via twitter @moorekm26.

Expectant mothers who take the time to prepare for the birth of their baby will be more relaxed when their due date arrives. To prepare for the arrival of their newborn, expectant mothers should develop a birthing plan, make childcare and pet sitting arrangements if necessary, and pack an overnight bag they can take to the hospital or birthing center.

Create a Birthing Plan
One of the first things women should do is develop and discuss a birthing plan with their doctor or midwife. A typical birthing plan will include information such as how the expectant mother should contact her doctor or midwife when she has gone into labor, full details on what type of pain medications the expectant mother would like administered before, during and after delivery, and any other important information.

Come Up With a List of Questions [Read more...]

The Pregnant Body

As a pro-choice activist (and person who reads the news), the fact that women’s bodies are objects of public discourse is no surprise to me. From birth control to abortion, our reproductive systems take the stage, front and center. We are put under the proverbial microscope, scrutinized and criticized on a regular basis for taking control of our bodily integrity and fertility. Continuing a decades-long trend (or centuries-long, even), this public inspection is at an all-time high, completely fixated on when we – gasp! – choose not to conform to gendered expectations and bear children when we “ought” to.

But what about when we do decide to become mothers?

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A Short History of How Obstetricians Replaced Midwives

A midwife measures the height of the mother's fundus at about 26 weeks to determine the probable gestational age of the fetus Author:eyeliam (licensed under the Creative Commons At tribution 2.0 Generic license)

Why do women give birth lying on their back?

Sounds like some sort of a stupid riddle, right? We all know that (at least in movies and most hospitals) women always give birth on their back (while screaming their lungs out and cursing the guy whose sperm led to the unfortunate event). The actual answer might surprise some of you. In most medical institutions women give birth on their back because it’s the position which is most comfortable for the attending doctor! A women lying on her back with her legs in stirrups gives the doctor an easy access to where the action is. Significantly, the majority of doctors examining the birthing woman will have gained all their knowledge about birth from books and hospitals and may have absolutely no idea that this position can be the most painful and inappropriate for birth (gravity, anyone?).

Currently, the average American obstetrician is male (in 2001 only 38% of obstetricians were female), has only seen medicated childbirth, and firmly believes that birth is a life-threatening condition and not a natural process. Ahem …they’re wrong! For comparison’s sake: according to The National Geographic, the lifetime risk of dying of heart disease is 1 in 5, cancer is 1 in 7, in a motor vehicle it’s 1 in 84 and due to a fall is 1 in 214! Pregnancy is far behind all these. The lifetime risk of a woman dying from childbirth  is 1 in 3,750 in North America! (That calculation includes dying of complications during pregnancy, birth, or abortion, not just birth itself.) You don’t need to be a math whiz to see that’s pretty slim. What’s more, it’s even lower in Europe, e.g. in Sweden (1 in 11,400 according to the UN) and the Netherlands (1 in 7,100 according to the UN).

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Home-Based Testing Method Detects Sex of a Baby

A home-based test can detect the biological sex of a baby as early as seven weeks of pregnancy.  Although these tests have been available for several years, their accuracy has been questionable – until now.  According to the Associated Press, researchers “analyzed 57 published studies of gender testing done in rigorous research or academic settings — though not necessarily the same methods or conditions used by direct-to-consumer firms.” According to the study, the blood test is 95% accurate at detecting the biological sex of the baby.

Many critics of the Pink or Blue test (yes, that’s the actual name) say that the blood test will contribute to higher abortion rates when women discover the sex of their baby. I don’t take this criticism seriously, since there is very little evidence that sex-selective abortion is common in the United States, despite what Arizona’s state legislators would like us all to believe.

My criticism of Pink or Blue is printed right there in the name – pink, or blue? The test reinforces a binary gender model that fails to account for the multiple permutations of biological sex that can occur. Intersexuality is far more common than most of us realize. So is transsexuality. A simple blood test is hardly conclusive – and the 95% “accuracy” rate is questionable if it only looks at two possible biological outcomes.

What’s your take? Do you trust a home-based test, or the squiggly sonogram pictures at the doctors’ office for that matter? Do you wonder about pink, or blue?