On International Women’s Day, Tell Congress to Fund International Family Planning


Check out today’s guest post on 9 Ways.  It comes to us from The Population Institute. I highlight it because the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day is being celebrated at events around the world today. The best way I can think of to celebrate IWD is to petition the U.S. Congress and other world leaders to make good on their commitments to fund international family planning. In No Excuses, I show why reproductive self-determination is essential for women to have any other kind of power. But the Republicans are trying to eliminate or drastically cut family planning funds in the U.S. and globally. The political and social justice consequences of such a short sighted policy are stunning.

Even if you don’t have time to read the whole post, please click here to sign the petition now. You’ll be saving women’s lives.

Watch this video called “Empty Handed” to see just some of the reasons why you’ll want to join me in signing the petition and become one of a million for a billion–telling Congress to fully fund international family planning:

 

Discussing Reproductive Health on EmpowHer.com

EmpowHer: Women’s Health asked me to discuss several aspects of reproductive health care, including insurance coverage for contraception, and how to talk to your daughter about birth control. Here’s the video of my interview, which is broken up into several segment.

How Did Women Advance in the Oughties?

Katha Pollitt, The Nation columnist and author of a new book of poetry, The Mind Body Problem asked a great question today on a media listserv we’re both on. She wanted to know what we thought were the places where women and/or feminism made advances, went backward, or were treading water.

How do you think women advanced during the last decade? (We can deal with the backward steps in another post…at the beginning of a new year and new decade, let’s start with a nod to the advances.)

Here are my two top-of-mind, unfiltered answers that I sent to Katha, mostly to the positive.

1. The rise of social media has given women the opportunity for a much bigger voice individually and collectively. The asynchronous, information-rich technology and the ability to create “rooms of one’s own” appeal to women who have for so long been overtalked by louder male voices. As a result women are over 50% of bloggers and 57% of the people on Facebook and Twitter. Social media offer a way to connect, share, find support systems, and organize. Women tend to isolate and think they have to solve their problems–often problems caused by systemic barriers–alone. But with social media, they can find answers to their questions and if they choose they can organize to solve problems whether in the private sector or politically. Having been recognized by advertisers as the purchasers of  over 80% of all consumer goods, women could also use their online and social media presence to reshape the consumer economy.

The bad news is that this power remains largely in the potential category because women have not used it strategically to mass their voices.  Power unused is power useless. This is the name of a chapter in the book I’m writing now and I am sad to say I have all too many examples.

2. Reproductive health advanced despite George W. Bush. A few of my personal fave highlights:

a) Mifepristone, the early abortion pill, was approved by the FDA in 2000 just before Bush was sworn in. This was an important political victory as well as giving women an option for very early pregnancy termination without surgery. Ostensibly Mifepristone would make abortion access more widespread, and it probably has but it definitely has not been the panacea some people assumed it would be. For the most part, it is only administered by doctors who were already performing abortions because its medical protocol requires that surgical abortion be available as a backup in case of an incomplete abortion via Mifepristone. Of course, anti-choice harassment and intimidation of doctors has also played a part in limiting access.

b) Plan B emergency contraception was FDA approved for over-the-counter use for women 18 and over in 2006. Increasing public knowledge about EC and easier access to it have been instrumental in lowering the rate of unintended pregnancy and abortion. Restrictions on over-the-counter EC for teens 17 and under are unnecessary, according to medical experts including the FDA’s own scientific advisory committees.

c) there have been a number of additions to the variety of birth control methods available to women and tweaks to older methods aimed at making them more palatable or effective.

d) Following on initiatives started in 1998 to get insurance plans to cover contraception, during the early “oughties”, the number of states requiring such coverage rose to 27. With that, plus the requirement that Federal employees’ insurance plans cover contraception starting in 1998 and several successful lawsuits challenging exceptions to contraceptive coverage within large self-insured company plans, contraceptive coverage went from rare to routine.

OK, your turn. Let’s talk about what you think the advances have been.

Does Palin Trump Biden?

I had intended to blog throughout the Democratic Convention. But there came a moment when I just wanted to be a spectator. Partly this was motivated by the fact that my husband Alex and I were simultaneously shopping for (and finally picking) a new apartment, an endeavor that diverts one’s attention considerably.

So I took a couple of days off from writing just to soak up the historic events. I especially enjoy lavishing myself with the rich sounds and sights of major speakers’ rhetoric, turning every nuance of what was said or not said around in my mind and analyzing their delivery.   

Last night, Alex and I went to watch Obama’s speech with a group of friends who were all charged up and ready to go out and work for him. Dawn, a young woman who’d attended the first few days of the convention, had brought hats and placards, and the flags we frequently waved to signal our approval of some speaker’s point, were provided by the host, Loretta, along with all-American Chinese food and ice cream sandwiches for sustenance.

That afternoon, a wave of sadness had washed over me unexpectedly. Yep, I thought I’d gotten over the fact that the Democratic nominee wouldn’t be a woman, and that not even the vice presidential candidate would be a woman. For so long, I thought sure….

I wanted to be in total celebratory mode that America would have its first African American major party nominee. And I do celebrate this incredible advance, but not without a dash of bittersweetness.

After all, the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and 70’s awakened my social justice instincts and drew me into the front line activism that led me to work for women’s civil rights and reproductive justice for over three decades. But it was also the way civil rights organization leaders, virtually all men, tended to treat gender-based injustice as having lesser importance, that made me realize we needed a women’s rights movement too.

Obama’s speech was excellent, but not quite great, comforting if not moving. Strong on substance as it needed to be, yet not as strong on the rhetoric as he can be. I don’t remember any of his specific lines, which is a  clue.  And though the warm-up speeches by Al Gore and Dick Durbin touched on reproductive rights, Obama’s spoke only in a downplayed, appeasing way about reproductive justice, even though he stood on the podium in a state with a pending ballot initiative that intends not just to outlaw abortion but to take down many kinds of birth control with it, granting fertilized eggs full personhood status while demoting women to second class citizenship:

What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose, and that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.

The — the reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.

I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.

(I left in the gun control part to illustrate that women’s rights to reproductive self-determination and gay rights get equated to just another policy issue that it’s ok for people to disagree on. Would he say the same about civil rights based on ethnicity or religion? I think not. And pray tell, why didn’t he mention his co-sponsorship of the Freedom of Choice Act?)

I’d thought all along that a ticket with both Clinton and Obama on it, in whichever order, would be the American dream ticket that would affirm for me the reason my grandparents came to this country from Eastern Europe almost 100 years ago.And if he didn’t go with Clinton, that he should choose another women such as Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius or Arizona’s Gov. Janet Napolitano, women who clearly have stellar executive experience, if he wanted to attract those 18 million voters–especially the majority of them who are women–who cast their lot with Hillary during the primaries.

Now that John McCain has chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, the already immense rock Obama was pushing up a steep hill to garner those women’s votes just became infinitely heavier. Though Palin is staunchly anti-choice, pro-gun, and anti-gay rights,  she

is a young, attractive woman whose presence on the ticket coupled with the absence of strong pro-choice rhetoric from Obama will lure many voters into the complacency about reproductive rights that contributed mightily to George Bush having two terms. The Rush Limbaugh and evangelical hard right are gleeful about this pick.

It’s probably a good thing I took a few days off. Looks like there will be no rest for the foreseeable future.

Obama Caint Choose Kaine

In Texas where I come from, “caint” is a perfectly good word. If it’s not already in the dictionary, it should be.

Definition: what someone must not do, as in “Barack Obama caint choose Virginia’s anti-choice Gov. Tim Kaine as his running mate.”

Think about it. If Obama had won vastly more popular votes than Clinton, he might have more leeway in his vice presidential choice while still hoping to keep progressive women who form the core of Clinton supporters.  But he didn’t. Clinton and Obama were nearly even in the aggregate primary votes.

If August 26, the first full day of the Democratic National Convention, were not the anniversary of women’s suffrage, and if August 28—the night Obama will accept the nomination–not the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the symbolic significance of women’s right to reproductive self-determination within the larger struggle for gender equality and civil rights for all Americans, might not be quite so sharply highlighted.

And were women—especially prochoice women—not around 60% of the Democratic voter base, had Hillary not won the majority of those women, and were women voters not so likely to be the pivotal voters who can turn the race in swing states, then perhaps Obama could consider the slap-in-the-face choice of Kaine, an early Obama endorser, as his running mate with less risk to his political future.

But it is astonishing, if not downright insulting, that Kaine’s name is even floated for the vice presidential slot, let alone being seriously considered. While the relative importance of the vice presidency has been called “not worth a bucket of warm spit”, or perhaps some other bodily fluid, still, whoever is wearing those shoes is significant. He or she is still the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency. Recent presidents have utilized the skills of their second-in-commands increasingly—Dick Cheney and Al Gore being examples. And the vice presidential choice delivers a strong message about the president’s own priorities.

Will the Democrats make the devastating strategic mistake of believing they must put the bulk of their efforts into wooing more conservative white men while taking women for granted, as they did in 2000 and 2004? If that’s what they are thinking, then Hillary Clinton is the best vice presidential candidate hands down, based on her vote-getting performance from both of those groups during the primaries.

Do the Democrats want a popular Democratic governor of a “red” state, someone who’s successfully moved a progressive agenda despite a conservative Republican legislature? Then they’d be better off choosing Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius or Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona .

But mostly, Obama should not choose Kaine because Kaine opposes a woman’s most fundamental human right to decide her own destiny by making her own childbearing decisions.  Kaine opposes a long-standing central tenet of the Democratic party platform; in fact, the platform committee just adopted its strongest pro-choice language yet. I mean, how do the Democrats think they attracted all those women they are now taking for granted in the first place?

Kaine’s statement that abortion shouldn’t be criminalized, as in this Meet the Press interview is a step in the right direction, but not nearly sufficient. Women are too close to losing reproductive justice overall, as illustrated by the Bush administration’s move to redefine contraception as abortion.  We’re not talking a minor policy issue over which there can be legitimate disputes. As Linda Hirshman wrote so compellingly in Slate, we need to consider the value of a woman’s life.

No, Obama caint choose Kaine. A woman’s right to her own life stands too close to the abyss. Obama must choose a running mate with a full-hearted belief that women are equal citizens with moral and legal autonomy over their own bodies.  Someone who, like Obama, supports the Freedom of Choice Act guaranteeing women the right to make childbearing decisions without fearing government discrimination or criminalization would be just the ticket.

Why Hillary Will Lead More Women To Partake in Politics

Like Kristen said in her post at Girl With Pen, “Now That The Dust Has Settled (Sort Of)”, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president  is still fascinating to ponder. I was recently asked to write an article on the topic for the ILF Digest, the journal of  a think tank I’ve been a fellow of (I find this terminology amusing, but have never come up with an acceptable alternative—can you?) for some years. It won’t be published for a few weeks but I’d like to share an excerpt here because takes up where Kristen’s questions were leading:

Despite many problems with sexism in the culture and media that made themselves self-evident during Hillary Clinton’s campaign, there are even more reasons to be optimistic that Clinton’s presidential run will be a net plus in motivating women to enter politics. I predict a sea change in women’s participation in politics up and down the ticket and in non-elective political roles as well, for these reasons:

1.    Seeing gives the potential for being. The message chanted at Clinton’s rallies: “Yes she can!” has clearly been delivered to younger generations.  All young girls hereafter will grow up knowing it is possible for a woman to be president.  And Clinton’s willingness to stay in the race despite all the challenges, despite constant calls for her to bow out, despite what must have been intense exhaustion and disappointment, is exactly what women of all ages with political aspirations need to see. In her speeches, she often mentioned “two groups who move me: women in their 80’s and 90’s who come out in walkers and wheelchairs and say they just want to live long enough to see a woman elected president, and families who bring their children and lean over and whisper in their daughter’s ear, ‘Honey you can be anything you want to be.’” Now they know they can.

2.    Women were energized as never before.  Rep. Carolyn Maloney said at a recent event sponsored by Lifetime Television, which along with three major women’s magazines has spearheaded a massive multimedia campaign called “Every Woman Counts”, that even though Clinton lost the primary campaign to Obama, “I think she lifted up the self esteem of women across the country, across the world.” Observing that Clinton raised $190 million in the primary race, Maloney said. “I think she helped all of us..”  One measure of how much she has helped women become more engaged in politics is that in past races, women’s financial contributions amounted to less than 30% of the total. For the first time, fueled by excitement over Clinton’s candidacy, half of the contributions to a presidential candidate came from women. And, in fact, over 40% of Obama’s contributions came from women as well, demonstrating women’s importance to the Democratic party and women’s understanding about the strategic importance of giving their fair share of the proverbial mother’s milk of politics in order to get their fair share of influence on the public policies they want. As North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue pointed out, “Everybody is involved in politics whether they realize it or not.” Since men have little motivation to change the power structure, women have little choice but to become the change we want to see. Clinton’s willingness to put herself out there will motivate more of us to try.

3.    Media sexism has been called out, and that roots it out. Rep. Maloney went on to say at the Lifetime event that there was “a big undercurrent of sexism, misogyny and stereotyping” against Hillary Clinton during her campaign for president. But the point here is Maloney made her claims at a public, mainstream media-sponsored event. That would not have happened in the past. The nonprofit Women’s Media Center mounted a campaign called “Sexism Sells, but We’re not Buying It”  in collaboration with several media justice organizations They got the attention and the responses of major media executives and producers, as well as on-air apologies from Chris Matthews, David Schuster, and others. Even Katie Couric—too late, sadly, to make a difference in this year’s primary reporting but with luck influential enough to change the way women candidates are treated in the future—finally had enough and spoke out publicly on the subject. Change will be slow and imperfect, but it will happen.

4.    Hillary’s post-primary awakening led her to embrace her leadership role as a woman and on behalf of other women. Throughout the campaign, she downplayed the importance of her gender, saying as she did at her Beacon Theater birthday bash early in the campaign when she was still considered the front runner, “For me it is a great honor and humbling experience to be the first woman president. But I’m not running because I am a woman but because I am the most qualified. “ Since the campaign, she has been much quicker to champion women’s rights. For example, she led the charge to challenge the Bush administration’s proposed new regulations an-outrageous-attempt-bush-adminstration-undermine-womens-rights  that would redefine many birth control methods as abortion and allow medical providers to refuse to provide them. She seems to have learned a lesson about being her true self; other women will take courage from that.

At Hillary’s birthday event almost a year ago now,Elvis Costello performed to a standing ovation. Then the Wallflowers joined Elvis onstage; the decibel level elevated ten-fold, whipping this audience of aging rockers into frothy enthusiasm.

When comedian Billy Crystal came up to close the evening, little did he know just how prescient he was when he said, ““Hillary is making this campaign not so much for the old rockers but for the new ones.”

If Bush Decides Contraception is Abortion, it Must Be True, Right?

Why would anybody be surprised that the Bush administration plans to propose new federal regulations allowing health care providers to run roughshod over established scientific and medical  principles, even when they are doing it with your taxpayer money?

After all, Bush’s first official act after taking office was to issue an executive order reinstating the global gag rule, which prevents international family planning programs receiving U. S. Funding from even uttering the word abortion.  Why would anybody be surprised that an administration willing to breach medical ethics by preventing doctors from giving patients full information about their health care options is also willing in its waning days to go the second mile for its zealous anti-choice base and redefine medical ethics to suit their ideology? Even to redefine important forms of contraception as abortion?

The right has made sexual matters unspeakable while the left and center have made it a central tenet to keep these matters private. No wonder that even the public discussion of reproductive issues so often gets giggles and Bush’s minions get a free ride as they go about their merry way to steamroller science with their ideology.

Here’s some of the text of the proposed regulations, explained by Cristina Page’s excellent analysis on RHRealityCheck:

In a spectacular act of complicity with the religious right, the Department of Health and Human Services Monday released a proposal that allows any federal grant recipient to obstruct a woman’s access to contraception. In order to do this, the Department is attempting to redefine many forms of contraception, the birth control 40% of Americans use, as abortion. Doing so protects extremists under the Weldon and Church amendments. Those laws prohibit federal grant recipients from requiring employees to help provide or refer for abortion services. The “Definitions” section of the HHS proposal states,

Abortion: An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. There are two commonly held views on the question of when a pregnancy begins. Some consider a pregnancy to begin at conception (that is, the fertilization of the egg by the sperm), while others consider it to begin with implantation (when the embryo implants in the lining of the uterus). A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that 49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term “abortion.” Those who believe pregnancy begins at implantation believe the term “abortion” only includes the destruction of a human being after it has implanted in the lining of the uterus.

The proposal continues,

Both definitions of pregnancy inform medical practice. Some medical authorities, like the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association, have defined the term “established pregnancy” as occurring after implantation. Other medical authorities present different definitions. Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, for example, defines pregnancy as “[t]he state of a female after conception and until the termination of the gestation.” Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines pregnancy, in relevant part, as “the condition of having a developing embryo or fetus in the body, after union of an oocyte and spermatozoon.

“I will do everything in my power to restrict abortions.” George W. Bush said in Oct 22, 1994 when he was running for governor or Texas. No one should be surprised then at this latest assault. He is merely continuing to deliver on his promise.

But do not be confused by what the real agenda is, because it’s not about abortion at all.  If you’re a woman, it’s about you.

More on this and what you can do about it next. Meanwhile, here’s the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association’s action alert with a letter you can send to DHHS Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Update on Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 05:58PM by Registered CommenterGloria Feldt
Update and Action Item from National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
Congressional Leaders Decry Draft HHS Regulations—and How You Can Take Action
As you know, it became public last week that in its final hours in office, the Bush Administration is considering promulgating regulations that, if implemented, could drastically restrict access to contraceptive services and severely harm women’s health. The draft regulations radically expand the scope and reach of provisions in federal law that give individuals the ability to refuse to provide abortion and sterilization services, re-writing these laws to permit health care facilities and insurance plans to refuse to provide many of the most common forms of birth control.

Last Friday, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and Representative Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), held a press conference at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, vowing to fight what Senator Clinton called “a gratuitous, unnecessary insult to the women of the United States of America.” Earlier in the week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), also spoke out publicly against the draft regulations, saying that “if the Administration goes through with this draft proposal, it will launch a dangerous assault on women’s health.” These comments from Congressional leaders have not gone unnoticed – when Speaker Pelosi’s statement was linked to on a social networking website, the resulting flow of web traffic crashed the Speaker’s homepage!

Today, a letter signed by more than 100 House members was delivered to President Bush and Michael Leavitt, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, urging them not to proceed with efforts to restrict access to contraceptive services. The letter was circulated by a coalition of pro-choice and pro-life advocates of family planning, including Reps. Nita Lowey, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). A similar letter is circulating in the Senate, led by Sens. Clinton and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). NFPRHA continues to work with our allies on the Hill to ensure that the Administration gets the message that Congress will stand up to these efforts to limit access to contraceptive services.

Please write HHS Secretary Leavitt demanding that he halt all efforts to proceed with these draft regulations: send this letter today! And tell your friends and colleagues, as well. Thanks.