Ross Douthat’s European Vacation

Earlier this week, the New York Times’s Ross Douthat wrote an op-ed about the “Texas abortion experiment.” While the conservative columnist acknowledged that Texas’s new law could make “first-trimester abortions harder to obtain,” he spent much of the piece downplaying the very real threats this law poses to women’s health and talking up similarly restrictive laws in Europe.

Douthat looks to the example of a number of European countries, including Ireland, for how the Texas law could play out. Yet he rejects comparisons between the United States and other certain countries that enact restrictive abortion laws. According to Douthat, concerns that “Women’s lives will be endangered, their health threatened, their economic opportunities substantially foreclosed” in America stem from similar outcomes in poorer and more conservative areas of the world and therefore are not appropriate sources to examine. He also adds that it is difficult to determine if “those bans actually hold back progress and development.”

Actually, it’s not that difficult. Studies have shown that when abortion is illegal, women still terminate their pregnancies—they just do so in unhygienic and dangerous conditions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank whose work Douthat also links to in his column:

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I Believe in Wendy

Texas governor Rick Perry may have called another special session to pass the anti-abortion legislation Senator Wendy Davis successfully blocked last week, Stand with Texas womenbut that’s no reason to stop celebrating the senator’s filibuster.  She didn’t just show us that one woman could make a difference from within, even when the insider rules are ridiculous. (No leaning? No brace-touching?) She showed us how one woman making a difference from within is always already much more than “just one woman” without conceding an ounce of her own authority.

It was a living, breathing performance of a decidedly feminist construction of power.

Senator Davis did all the speaking because that was what the law required.  But while she was up there, she read the words of women who had sent her their abortion stories to fulfill her procedural obligation to stay on topic. She filibustered for 11 hours, but when the lieutenant governor went ahead and called the vote anyway, women in the gallery started chanting, making it impossible for him to get the votes on record. In both cases, Davis became, almost literally, in a whole French theorist sense, a woman who was not one. She was many.

I can’t think of a better way to use a rule that was quite obviously designed to keep any but the strongest-bladdered, hardiest-lunged individuals from speaking.

I don’t think it was an accident that Governor Perry decided to talk about Senator Davis’ personal history at the National Right to Life convention the next day. Or rather, I do, at least in the sense that I don’t think it required much calculation on his part. There’s no need when the sexism is ingrained. Senator Wendy Davis, leader of the “angry mob” the lieutenant governor groused may be a nuisance, but she’s a nuisance who has to be reckoned with. Wendy Davis the poor single mother, daughter of single woman herself, is categorically deficient by virtue of having a vagina. Of course his remarks went over like gangbusters at the Right to Life conference. Women have served as object lessons for that lot since Eve gummed up the works in Eden.

The good news for the rest of us is that Wendy Davis is still speaking, and she understands what assumptions are dressed up in Perry’s seemingly complimentary narrative. Turns out Davis is long past being shamed by her femininity or hoodwinked into giving credence to antiquated notions of nice little ladyhood. In fact, Davis’ response to Perry’s comments uses his own macho swaggering ideal of personal freedom against him by casting it as a virtue that transcends gender.

“It demonstrated that they just don’t understand how very personal these issues are,” she explains. “My story, my personal story, is my story. I have the ability to make choices and I had opportunities that I was able to take advantage of in my life. Other women of course should be able to define their own destinies and this idea that the heavy hand of government should somehow come in and tell her how to do that is deeply resented in [a] state like Texas. It’s deeply resented everywhere, but if you know anything about Texas, we hold very strongly to our traditions and our values where personal liberties are concerned.”

I don’t doubt that Perry has a brilliant staffer who will come up with an effective rebuttal. I don’t even doubt that that staffer is a woman. But during this week where we celebrate our nation’s independence, I’m grooving on Senator Davis’ message. “Anti-choice isn’t just anti-American, America, it’s anti-Texan!”


The New York Times Tackles Abortion Stigma

As reproductive rights activists in Texas gear up for another special session and Ohio governor John Kasich signs a budget that will make it much more difficult for women in that state to access reproductive health services, the New York Times‘ “Room for Debate” series is tackling abortion stigma. In specific, would increased openness around who has abortions, and why they make this choice, translate into increased public support for the procedure?

You can read each of the seven perspectives offered to get some answers, which encompass both pro- and anti-choice viewpoints. While I was especially inspired by Sonya Renee’s powerful entry, I also found myself nodding my head at points made by Aspen Baker and Kierra Johnson.

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“Doonesbury” Takes on Ultrasound Laws

Image courtesy Universal Uclick

Over the past forty years, Garry Trudeau’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip “Doonesbury” has tackled its fair share of controversial topics. But this week marks the first time that Trudeau will address abortion, and as a result newspaper editors across the country are refusing the run the six-day series.

The series will focus on mandatory ultrasounds, such as the ones in Virginia and Texas that have drawn national scrutiny in recent weeks. “I chose the topic of compulsory sonograms because it was in the news and because of its relevance to the broader battle over women’s health currently being waged in several states,” Trudeau said in a recent interview. “For some reason, the GOP has chosen 2012 to re-litigate reproductive freedom, an issue that was resolved decades ago. Why [Rick] Santorum, [Rush] Limbaugh et al. thought this would be a good time to declare war on half the electorate, I cannot say. But to ignore it would have been comedy malpractice.”

In 1985, Trudeau created a Doonesbury series that dealt with the anti-choice film The Silent Scream. But, as Trudeau explains in the same interview, the president of the company that syndicated Doonesbury “felt that it would be deeply harmful to the feature, and that we would lose clients permanently. They had supported me through so much for so long, I felt obliged to go with their call.” That series was never given wide release in newspapers.

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Texas Continues War on Women

Brace yourself for more crappy news out of Texas. As both Sarah and I have previously written (see here and here), Texas is moving closer and closer to a restrictive abortion law, which will require doctors to perform an ultrasound on women seeking abortions 24 hours prior to the procedure. More specifically, doctors must make the sonogram visible, the heartbeat audible, and describe fetal development. In other words, Texas doctors will be legally required to treat women like unintelligent children incapable of making their own decisions.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) has been challenging this law from the get-go, but has been met with obstacles every step of the way. Last month, a panel of judges from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a preliminary injunction blocking key provisions of the law. Now, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks has decided he can not grant the CRR’s request to permanently halt enforcement. However, it appears that he is as disgruntled with the decision as we are:

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Texas Moves Closer to Restrictive Abortion Law

Texas is poised to enforce a new mandatory ultrasound law. Earlier this week, an appeals court overturned a previous court decision that had blocked enforcement of the law, which will require women to have an ultrasound 24 hours before the abortion and requires doctors to display the sonogram, make the fetal heartbeat audible, and describe the fetal development to the woman. Although the woman may choose not to view the image or hear the heartbeat, she must listen to the development description. Women that claim they are victims of reported rape and incest, or can prove that the fetal has a fatal abnormality, would be exempt from the development requirement.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged the constitutionality of the law on behalf of both women and doctors, although it is not yet clear if the Center will challenge the appeals court’s recent decision. The law itself will return to federal district court for further consideration, given that a larger case challenging the law is still pending and that there are additional aspects regarding constitutionality that have not yet been considered.  [Read more...]

Amy McCarthy Describes the Potential of Online Activism

This month we’ve been spotlighting the Feminists for Choice writers as part of our Feminist Conversations series. I’m personally very grateful for all of the awesome feminists who make up our team. Amy McCarthy has been especially helpful when it comes to our social media presence. Amy helped us figure out how to make our Facebook page more interactive – and she’s always good for some snark on the Twitter.

Find out more about this fabulous Texan and how she has integrated online tools into her feminist activism.

1. When did you first call yourself a feminist? And what influenced that decision?
I think in college. I was on the debate team and hanging out with a bunch of crazy hippies and took a women’s studies class. I really didn’t get more actively interested in feminist causes until I started blogging here, actually. It’s all your fault, Feminists For Choice! When I got involved with social media it became clear that I wanted to use those channels to talk about feminism and issues that affected women. I’ve met a lot of amazing feminists and a lot of terrible trolls through social, but it really has been for the best.

2. How did you get started doing social media work?
Accidentally, actually. I was a nanny and hated my life and nannying and I responded to an ad for a “social media writer” at a local nonprofit. It didn’t pay well, but I learned a lot and got to do some good work. I was sad to leave. I languished at a couple of pretty terrible “social media” jobs for about a year, and then finally started editing/doing social for an online parenting publication. It’s excellent – I get to be 100% pro-woman and pro-child without being political in any way. [Read more...]

Judge Blocks Texas Forced Sonogram Bill, Texas Women See Glimmer of Hope

NOTE: This is an update to fabulous Feminists For Choice blogger Maureen’s post. You can read it here.

I’m sure you read the horrific news coming out of Texas over the last few months. Our governor (and GOP presidential candidate) Rick Perry signed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to view a sonogram of their fetus. And that’s not even the bad part – these women would be forced to watch the sonogram with their physician describing the images to them and listen to an audio of the fetus’ heartbeat.

Yeah. Pretty terrible stuff, right? Luckily for Texas women (and children) though, the Texas Independent has reported that U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks has blocked the bill and struck down 2 of its more egregious provisions. In response to a petition from the Center for Reproductive Rights petition, Judge Sparks found that provisions of the bill violated the free speech rights of both patient and physician.  [Read more...]

Update on Texas Forced Sonogram Law

Last month I wrote about the new Texas sonogram law and the Center for Reproductive Rights’ lawsuit challenging it. Since then, there have been updates, which brings me to today’s post!

This past Wednesday, the CRR’s lawsuit saw its first hearing at a U.S. District Court in Austin. According to the Houston Chronicle, the State of Texas urged the judge (who was appointed to the bench by George H.W. Bush, by the way) not to throw out the entire law, even if he finds parts of it unconstitutional:

“The severability clause cannot be ignored and must be applied,” Assistant Texas Attorney General Erika Kane told the judge.

The legislation states that if any provision in the law is found by a court to be invalid, the remainder may not be affected.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, of Austin, offered little indication how he will rule in a request for an injunction to stop Texas from implementing the new law requiring doctors to provide images of a fetus and sounds of a heartbeat before providing an abortion.

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Texas Ultrasound Law Challenged

The bad news: Texas recently passed a mandatory ultrasound law. The good news: the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) has filed a class action lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of Texas medical providers performing abortions and their patients.

Let me backup a minute to explain what the Texas law entails. In a nutshell, it requires doctors to show women seeking abortions a sonogram. Specifically, as the CRR points out:

The doctor must personally place the images where the woman can see them, and describe the images in detail, regardless of her wishes. The woman must then wait at least 24-hours before she can obtain an abortion (the waiting period is two-hours for women who live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider).

In essence, this bill is not about health care or providing medical information to patients. It is about political interference and sends a clear, misogynistic message: that women are too stupid — or untrustworthy — to make decisions regarding their own body and futures. As CRR president Nancy Northup poignantly puts it, “When you go to the doctor, you expect to be given information that is relevant to your particular medical decisions and circumstances, not to be held hostage and subjected to an anti-choice agenda.” [Read more...]