Romney Skewered by Candidate He Endorsed?

Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock told debate viewers last night that he opposes abortion even in the case of rape, because pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended to happen.” This occurred just as Mourdock’s campaign unveiled a new on-camera endorsement from Mitt Romney.

To his credit, Mourdock’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, later said that Mourdock’s comments didn’t reflect what “my God or any God” would intend to happen. And it’s no secret that most Americans, including Romney by own official campaign statements, reject such extremist views.

But Mourdock’s comments can’t help but damage Mitt Romney by association. Such a wild-eyed position by a candidate he has endorsed drives one more nail into Romney’s campaign coffin by revealing the stark truth about the extreme anti-woman positions the Romney campaign has been forced to take by the extreme right-wing of his party.

Just as Todd Akin did with his misogynistic attempt to parse what kind of rape is “legitimate” and what is not, Mourdock cruelly dismissed women’s moral autonomy and even their right to defend their own bodies against the assaults of their attackers. He even invokes God’s name to justify his position.

This is just one more illustration that the right-wing war on women’s fundamental human right to reproductive self-determination remains in full battle array. This conflict has nothing to do with abortion or babies or what God wants; it is a full-out culture war and its objective is to take away the economic, social, and political gains women have made over the last 50 years. It’s the ultimate way to keep women powerless—locked physically in those binders Mitt talked about.

Sadly, the formerly moderate Mitt Romney has proactively chosen to align himself with retrograde thinkers like Mourdock, and he is likely to pay the price.

This post was originally a response to a question asked in Politico Arena. My answer is here.

 

Margaret Sanger’s Obscenity?

Happy birthday, Margaret Sanger!

This column is in honor of either the 133rd or the 130th birthday of the founder and best known leader of the American birth control movement. Ever vain, she lopped three years off her age in the family Bible.

But her strengths far outweighed her foibles. Last night, I went to a screening of “Half the Sky”, a documentary film made from Nick Krisof and Sheryl WuDunn’s blockbuster book. While Kristof and WuDunn are lauded for saying women’s rights are the great moral imperative of the 21st century in their new book, Margaret Sanger said the essentially same thing 100 years ago.

Yet the same battles over women’s bodies and lives are still being fought today.

I wrote the column below (originally published in the New York Times in 2006 ) to mark the 90th anniversary of her first birth clinic. It seems a worthy tribute to Margaret Sanger today, regardless of how many candles should be on her cake.

By the way, the Times gave the column its title, and I hated it. I added the question mark today. Let me know what you think, about that and about the rest of the story.

 

When you tour the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s restoration at 97 Orchard Street, you walk through the experience of the immigrants who arrived in waves at the turn of the 20th century, often to live five or six to a tiny room. According to the 1900 census, the 18 wives in the Orchard Street building had given birth to 111 children altogether, of whom 67 were then alive.

A 40 percent infant and child mortality rate sounds shocking now. Back then it was the norm. Maternal mortality was 99 percent higher than it is today; 40 percent of those deaths were caused by infection, of which half resulted from illegal or self-induced abortion. Birth control was to revolutionize women’s health. But it would take a social revolution to get there.

In 1912, Margaret Sanger was a nurse serving poor Lower East Side women like Sadie Sachs, a mother of three who had been warned that another pregnancy would kill her. When Sadie asked her doctor how to prevent pregnancy, he told her to tell her husband to sleep on the roof. Pregnant again, Sadie self-induced an abortion, contracted an infection and died.

Sanger began to address women’s lack of information about birth control by writing a sex education column called “What Every Girl Should Know” for The Call, a socialist newspaper. But in 1914, a warrant was issued for Sanger’s arrest. She stood accused of violating the Comstock law, which made it a crime to circulate “obscenity” through the mail.

Passed in 1873 in response to pressure from a crusader named Anthony Comstock, the law defined information about contraception or abortion as obscenity. Comstock boasted that he destroyed hundreds of tons of “lewd and lascivious material,” including 60,000 “obscene rubber articles,” otherwise known as condoms.

In place of Sanger’s column, The Call ran an empty box that read: “What Every Girl Should Know — nothing, by order of the United States Post Office!” Never intimidated, Sanger published “The Woman Rebel,” a periodical intended to challenge Comstock laws directly. She then fled to Europe, where she visited a birth control clinic in the Netherlands and began to envision setting up a network of clinics throughout the United States.

By the time she returned to America, public opinion was swinging her way, and she sensed the time was right for action. On Oct. 16, 1916, Sanger opened America’s first birth control clinic in the Brownsville district of Brooklyn. Her sister, Ethel Byrne, was the nurse; it would be some time before they could get a doctor to join the effort. Handbills in English, Yiddish and Italian advertised the clinic throughout the neighborhood.

The police closed that clinic 10 days and 464 patients later. But Sanger, who would go on to establish the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, had founded something much larger than a clinic: she ignited a movement for women’s reproductive freedom.

During the 20th century, this movement won such decisive victories that today many people cannot believe they could ever be reversed: birth control and then abortion were made legal; better contraceptive methods, like the pill, were developed; and the government started financing family planning for low-income women. Today, more than 99 percent of Americans have used birth control.

When Sanger opened her clinic, women wouldn’t get the vote for four more years. And yet the debates of her day over suffrage and contraception sound strikingly familiar to modern ears. Would such policies promote women’s equality or destroy the family? Would they advance justice or spread promiscuity? Where was the line between medical care and pornography? The answers, then as now, depend on your views about women, sex and power.

The current struggle over birth control, abortion and sex education make clear that courageous actions like Sanger’s are as necessary now as they were 90 years ago. For if anyone doubts that women’s reproductive freedom has been crucial to American progress, I recommend a short walk through the lives of the women of 97 Orchard Street.

 

 

 

How Far Women Have Come and Where They’re Going

“As an activist for women through almost four decades, I know that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.”  

Today, March 8, is celebrated around the globe as International Women’s Day .  Some decry its commercialization, as corporate sponsors have realized it’s in their best interests to appeal to women who make over 85 percent of consumer purchases around the globe.
But it’s a day whose meaning inspires me to think back to a very special moment on September, 1995.

I was attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, where hugely ambitious and thrilling goals were set for improving the lives of women, and by extension their families and the world.

The official conference was in Beijing, but the much larger convocation of activists from nongovernmental organizations—40,000 enthusiastic women and a few good men like my husband—was literally stuck in the mud in Huairu, a suburb an hour’s drive from the city.

Thousands of sleepy people had arrived at dawn on the morning of Sept. 6, to stand packed together under a roof of brightly colored umbrellas, jockeying for the few hundred seats inside the auditorium where then first lady of the United States Hillary Clinton was slated to give a speech.

Thanks to my training in clinic defense, which had taught me how to form a wedge and move expeditiously through even the most aggressive crowd, I was fortunate not only to get inside but to get a seat. The program was running late; Hillary was running even later and the crowd was getting restless.

Just as it seemed a revolt might be brewing, Shirley May Springer Stanton, the cultural coordinator of the conference, sauntered onto the stage and began to sing a capella, ever so softly: “Gonna keep on moving forward. Never turning back, never turning back.”

Then she asked the audience to join her. Pretty soon the house was rocking. By the time the first lady arrived and gave her brilliant “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech, it truly felt like the global movement for women’s rights was unstoppable.

Hillary Clinton, Beijing 1995

It was, you might say, an ovular moment.

Where are women today? How far have we come?

Here in the United States, that moment can seem long ago. Today, women are aghast that presidential candidates are railing against birth control (yes, birth control!) access for American women, and members of Congress argue against funding for international family planning services that could reduce the millions of unsafe abortions and risky pregnancies that cause 500,000 unnecessary deaths each year globally.

But the U.S. women’s movement can take inspiration from working in sisterhood with women from around the globe. When the United States failed to meet its commitments to the global public-health community, many developing countries began funding these essential women’s health services beyond all expectations and the European nations stepped in to fill much of the void left by America’s abdication of leadership.

Women’s economic development projects are also fueling economic growth around the world while bringing greater equality to the women in their societies. Sex trafficking and other acts of violence against women, long merely routine facts of life for women, are becoming subjects of international media attention and human rights action. And female heads of state have been elected in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

  18 female elected heads of state

And though the U.S. has yet to follow suit, Hillary Clinton almost broke through that “highest and hardest glass ceiling,” is serving the country with great distinction as Secretary of State. And that puts her in a position not just to talk about, but to implement her declaration that women’s rights are human rights at the highest policy levels.

As an activist for women through almost four decades, I know that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.  All of us who support it must have the political will, courage, commitment, stamina and a never-ending creation of inspiring initiatives that touch real people’s lives. A movement, after all, has to move. Power and energy come from moving into new spaces, not from standing still.

On this Women’s Equality Day, we can proudly acknowledge that women have changed the world, much for the better in terms of justice and equality. That’s exactly what scares our adversaries and causes the kind of backlash from those who do not want women to be able to stand in our power and walk with intention to our own unlimited lives, as the Power Tools in my book No Excuses show how to do.

One of those Power Tools, “Employ Every Medium” was used very effectively by a group of African women who attended the Beijing conference and told their story about how they stamped out spousal abuse in their village when they had been unable to get their local law enforcement officers to do it.

The women banded together, took their cooking pots, and took up positions outside of the homes of men who had committed violent acts against their wives. They banged on those pots so loudly that the whole neighborhood came out and took note. And after a while, the men came out of their homes and agreed to change their behavior.

Each country today has different reasons to bang their pots on this International Women’s Day 2012. But the refrain for all of us who aspire to global justice for women is the same.

Gonna raise our voices boldly, Never turning back. Gotta keep on moving forward, Never turning back, Never

This article originally ran in a blog post for WOMEN ON THE FENCE. Check it out here.

Has the “War on Women” Gone Too Far?

Surely Politico jests. I’m sure you can add to my examples:

Politico Arena asks:

Democrats are raising money with a petition against the “Republican War on Women.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, repeated the jibe Sunday on “Meet the Press” when asked about Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments on contraception.

Now that Limbaugh has apologized, will voters see “war on women” language as overkill? Particularly those who oppose the Obama administration’s contraception coverage policy on moral/religious grounds?

My Response:  You’re kidding, right? There’s hardly even a truce.

Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute as she asked her university to cover hormonal birth-control and the subsequent fury that caused many of his advertisers to abandon him (and his very lame non-apology apology) was one small skirmish in the much larger and ongoing war on women being waged by an ideologically driven minority who would much prefer that women had remained barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

Just this past week, Roy Blunt and other Senate Republicans sought to pass legislation that would allow any employer to deny preventive contraceptive health services to their employees on the basis of any religious or “moral” objections. As though women are wanton hussies with no morals or religion.

Senator Carolyn Maloney pointed out the obvious during a House hearing called to discuss Obama’s contraception mandate: “What I want to know is, where are the women? I look at this panel, and I don’t see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventative health care services, including family planning.”

At another all-male hearing on the now-tabled Blunt Amendment to limit access to contraception, Rep Barbara Boxer limned, “Not one man suggested that men shouldn’t have their Viagra, but we’ll put that aside”

When an all-male news crew can un-ironically discuss the all-male panel, women’s voices are marginalized, excluded even from discourse surrounding issues that exclusively affect their lives. In another shocking media moment, Fox news broadcaster Ross Shimabuku suggested that female NASCAR athlete Danica Patrick was a “bitch” because she complained about being publicly called “sexy.”

If more proof that the War on Women continues apace, note that three Democrats voted against tabling the Blunt amendment. So women should be very careful about sending money to the party that allows its members to violate cover values in its own platform. Personally, I’m supporting only pro-woman, pro-choice candidates. Because I’m in this to win, not merely to live to fight another day.

Women See Red, Get Over Komen Pink, and Embrace Power

This commentary was published yesterday on the Daily Beast with the title “Komen Incites Women’s Tahrir Square Moment.” If you haven’t read it there, please hop on over  and give me a share, stumble, and/or comment. There’s quite a lively conversation going on. Then come back and tell me what you think here.

Mostly, I’d like to start a conversation about taking the great passion this kerfluffle between Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood has generated and catapult it into a more vibrant, durable, and most of all proactive women’s movement. Clearly, the huge outpouring was about more than the two organizations themselves. There was a lot of pent up readiness for activism and just plain demanding respect as women–as persons–with brains, hearts, and moral autonomy–not as subjects of society’s political whims or social narratives that we did not write.

Let me get off my soapbox and let you read on….

“I am off to feed my daughter (with breasts that were examined by Planned Parenthood doctors when I had no health insurance).”

Allie Wagstrom, a young mom in Minnesota whom I know only via Facebook, posted this on my page after she heard the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, parent of the ubiquitous pink-ribboned “Race for the Cure,” bowed to political pressure from the right and announced last week that it would no longer fund breast exams and breast health education at Planned Parenthood clinics. Komen’s astonishingly sloppy handling of the situation (for which they have now apologized and semi-retracted) put a black mark in indelible ink on their sweet pink ribbons.

Planned Parenthood Supporters
Planned Parenthood supporters demonstrated following a press conference by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) outside at a Planned Parenthood Clinic on Feb. 3, 2012 in Seattle, Washington., Stephen Brashear / Getty Images

Facebook popped a picture of Cynthia Nixon, the lead actor in the Broadway drama about ovarian cancer, Wit, next to Allie’s comment in an advertising tactic. Nixon’s bald head and gaunt face shocked the breath out of me, while social media exploded with the wrath of millions of women who felt scorned by a charity for which they had raced and purchased pink products they didn’t need.

Why this outpouring, even from women who had never openly supported Planned Parenthood? Abortion politics remain an uncomfortable abstraction to many. But we all have breasts. What woman hasn’t had that moment of fear when your heart skips a beat and you’re sure you’ve found the lump of doom?

Fear. Komen’s handling of this debacle is a case study in it. Republican members of Congress and far right anti-choice activists have been using fear of retribution to bully Komen into dropping Planned Parenthood for years, just as Congress held up the federal budget over funding to Planned Parenthood last year and groups like Project Mustard Seed threaten to boycott businesses and funders who support Planned Parenthood.

Komen finally buckled. Spokeswoman Leslie Aun told the media Planned Parenthood was dropped because of an investigation (read: witch hunt) by an arch-Republican House member, Cliff Stearns from Florida. And despite the frivolousness of many inquiries (in my 30 years with Planned Parenthood, congressional investigations were such a routine method of intimidation that we joked our offices should provide permanent space for federal auditors), Komen had a new policy prohibiting funding groups under federal investigation.

At least one of Komen’s corporate funders, Bank of America, is under federal investigation, and many suggested that the “new rule” should work both ways.

But by Brinker’s failed damage-control interview two days later with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, the story had changed. Congressional investigations had no impact on Komen’s decision, claimed Brinker, herself a top Republican donor and former Bush appointee.  No, Komen dropped Planned Parenthood after a 20-year relationship because the foundation would no longer support groups that do screening and referrals but not mammograms, Brinker said, as if none of us had been following the story.

Gloria discusses Komen Foundation’s Epic Public Relations Fail and the Rise of a New Feminism on WORQ710, NY City Interview

The political dots connected directly: from the appointment of avidly anti-abortion activist, former Georgia secretary of state, and failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel as a Komen senior executive to Rep. Stearns’s conveniently timed investigation, to the new policy announced then retracted by Brinker. The Republican right is out of control, the War on Women is in full battle formation, and it was finally time for women—and men—to be mad as hell and stand up to the bullies. To have our Tahrir Square moment.

That Wagstrom and so many others are furious enough to vow spontaneously to stop Racing for the Cure, boycott Komen’s corporate sponsors (see which household names like Kitchen Aid, Yoplait, and Crayola you want to stop patronizing) and rip up those pink ribbons that have become badges of intolerance tells me something bigger is happening than whether any one organization gets funded.
If this were just about Planned Parenthood or yet another battle over abortion, the outrage would be dissipating. Women’s groups would have screamed their righteous indignation, raised a lot of money, and made no systemic change. Soon, the same Kabuki drama would be played out with another congressional attack or another worthy organization defunded.
But as a friend e-mailed me, “This is not a time to forgive, this is a time to find an alternative.” The American Association of University Women cancelled plans to incorporate a Race for the Cure into their National Conference for College Women Leaders.

When I asked AAUW Policy Director Lisa Maatz whether they’d reinstate the race since Komen changed its position, she replied AAUW is “staying the course” until they see what Komen does long term. She added, “we hope everyone has taken note of what women’s solidarity can accomplish—in the press, on the web, and in our nation’s capital. AAUW hopes to continue to harness this energy and sense of purpose…to turn out the women’s vote in 2012.”

At last, women saw enough red to get over the pink, the fear and the preference to play victim rather than to embrace our own power.

And that’s exactly how to stand down both ideologues who are terrified of women getting a fair shake, and the small but powerful fringe obsessed with other people’s sex lives. Embracing our power is how to overcome the shaming and false allegations toward women’s human right to make their own childbearing decisions and reproductive health services that have saved the lives of everyday women, pro-life in the largest sense of that word. It is how to overcome the right’s demonization of anyone who doesn’t toe its narrow conservative line, whether it’s racist attacks on President Obama’s citizenship, intolerance of gays and lesbians, or disrespect for the moral capacity of women. To borrow the right-wing’s favorite book, Atlas isn’t going to take it anymore; we’re making a collective shrug on this one.

No excuses. No more fear. This is the moment for women to say, over and over and over, “You will pay a price if you try to get your way on our backs.” To win elections in the short haul, and fight forward with a progressive feminist agenda in the long haul.

Now that will be the real race for the cure.

 

Is World Population Day of 7 Billion Scarier than Halloween?

Today, on Halloween no less, the Earth welcomed the baby who tipped world population over the 7 billion mark.

I probably wouldn’t have known much about the topic of world population but for a fluke as I prepared to graduate from the University of Texas Permian Basin the summer of 1974. To my surprise, I was told I needed three more hours of science.

YouTube Preview Image
National Geographic video showing population growth

It had been a long 12-year road for me, what with three children to care for, a five-year stint teaching Head Start, and other detours along the way. Finally, I thought, I’d be done by the end of June.

Once I got the bad news, I looked for the easiest science course I could find, preferably one without the usual fourth hour for lab. Ecology, yes! The class was co-taught by Professor Ed Kurtz, now retired, who remains a great friend and a wonderful role model for someone who still “wears the shirt” of his convictions by volunteering for environmental and reproductive rights causes.

Yes, they were talking about world population back in 1974, when there were only 4 billion people inhabiting planet Earth. We’ve almost doubled in less than 40 years.

What’s more striking, it took from the beginning of time until 1800 for the world’s population to reach the one billion mark. The rapid growth since then is because we have given ourselves a great deal of death control–we’re living longer and lowered infant mortality significantly—and that’s good.  But we haven’t balanced that out with equal attention to birth control, food and other resources, and ecological conservation to sustain the growing population.

There have been many any successes to be sure, but the world will strain to support the 9 billion people who will probably be living here by 2050, if current trends continue.

Over the past few weeks, there have been many news reports on this Day of 7 Billion. One of the best was by AP’s Dave Crary.

But I especially want to share with you in full this piece written for RH Reality Check by Roger-Mark De Souza, Vice President for Research and Director of the Climate Program for Population Action International. De Souza personalizes the story. It’s clear that population issues are really about people, and that the status of women in society is central to determining the future.

Sex and Sustainability: Reflections for My Son Nick

“Are we going to talk about sex again?!” screamed my 12-year old son, Nick, as he ran down the stairs, away from me. That was five years ago and I had just sat down with him to have one of our father-son talks, this time about sex and sustainability.

Now Nick, a rising senior, is preparing for college at the same time as the global community is preparing for an important landmark of its own: the United Nations predicts that by October 31, world population will reach 7 billion.

The confluence of these two events gives me reason to think about the world Nick is inheriting from my generation, and makes me consider what I can say to him as he heads off to college.

This World of 7 Billion
I try to get my head around it. It’s a world of 7 billion people. With greater connectivity than I could have ever dreamed possible. A world of widening disparities and growing environmental degradation. A world with a changing climate. A world of crashing economic markets and changing debt ceilings.
It’s also a world of finite resources and growing demand.

Consider water. As the world’s population grows, the demand for water mounts and pressure on water resources intensifies. Unfortunately, the areas where water is most scarce are typically those with high population densities and rapid population growth. Population growth limits the amount of water available per person, and drives people into marginal regions – which are also water-stressed.

Consider forests: The top 10 countries experiencing the greatest loss of forest cover generally have large, fast-growing populations. Increased demand for fuel wood is driving a great deal of deforestation in the populous regions of East Africa and South Asia. Often, forests are cleared by migrant families that have been forced out of their crowded areas of origin.

Consider habitat loss: Global population is projected to grow to anywhere between 8 billion and 11 billion by the middle of the century, with much of that growth expected to take place in the humid tropics that harbor the planet’s richest biodiversity. Habitat loss is generally greatest where population density is highest. Urbanization also takes a toll: sprawling cities have led to the disappearance of numerous habitats. And city-dwellers consume more, increasing pressures on ecosystems.

Consider changing climate: An analysis by the organization where I work, Population Action International, identified 33 population and climate change “hotspots.” These fast-growing countries are extremely vulnerable to climate change, in part because they face water shortages and declining agricultural production. The average number of children born to each woman in hotspot countries is five, and the average population growth rate is 2.5 percent – a rate that, if unchanged, would result in a doubling of the population in just 29 years.

But continued population growth is not inevitable: In these hotspot countries, an average of one in four married women would like to avoid pregnancy, but is not using modern family planning. Addressing that “unmet need” for contraception would slow growth, reduce pressure on resources, and increase resilience. Investing in a woman’s right to decide how many children she can have, when she can have them, and ensuring that she can have them safely is fundamental.

Reflections for Nick
These challenges may seem remote to my son, Nick, growing up in suburban Virginia. But they will shape the world he inhabits in profound ways. So what can I share with Nick as he launches into this world of seven billion?

“Son, as you continue to develop into a young man who will assume responsibility in the world, recognize the following:”

1. Understand the complexity of the world as you feel it. The starting point for your career and your contribution must be to recognize the world’s complexity and find your place within it. The United Nations projects that when you are 56 years old, in 2050, world population may have reached 9.3 billion. The size, shape, and form of that population matters to you as it will affect your health, well-being, and security.

2. Recognize the value of women. I know that you already know the value of young women. I want you to know that the decisions these women make have a profound effect on the world. Ensuring that women can decide how many children they want, when to have their children, and the ways that they invest in those children is one of the most important moves we, as a society, can make. It is at the core of our lives. Recognize this and play your part as a man, particularly if you’re lucky enough to get married, and perhaps even be the father to a daughter.

3. Incorporate the needs of communities to ensure value-added. As you think of your areas of study and learning, be sure to respond to real demands in order to add value. Don’t assume that you know what others need. Discover the genuine needs both of individuals and communities, and then respond.

4. Size (and scale) matter. Your world is inherently more complex and connected than I could ever have imagined. It will only get more so. Determine where your impact can be most felt, and focus on the best way to have an impact at that scale. And, be sure to recognize how you can leverage innovation to maximize your impact.

5. Do the right thing. You know in your heart what’s right. Infuse that sensibility in your contributions to the world. Individual rights are fundamental to human well-being. Don’t confuse rights and wants. Make your contribution one that’s based in a rights approach, but make it practical and palatable. Go with your convictions.

As I share these reflections with Nick, the world reaches the seven billion population landmark, and my family reaches a personal landmark of launching a child out into this expanding world, I’m reminded of a question from my younger 16-year-old son, Miki. Standing at the front door as he signed for a package from the mailman, he screamed: “Dad, did you order these condoms with endangered species slogans on them?”

The conversation continues….

I strongly encourage you to read RH Reality Check’s series on the Day of 7 Billion and related topics. Share your thoughts about global population and its challenges here. Are you an optimist or pessimist about what the future holds? What do you think are the most pressing problems and best solutions? Is population growth scarier than Halloween or do you think we will achieve balance between population and the resources necessary to sustain ourselves?

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.

Leadership Question of the Day–Please Reply

I’ve often written about what I like to call Obama’s leadership leaps. The president has a unique capacity to catch the wave of events, especially controversial ones, and turn them into amazing rhetorical moments in which he teaches and leads people to their higher selves.

Once again in the last two days, I’ve been profoundly moved by the brilliant leadership leap the president showed the world during his visit to Muslim countries. It was the same kind of action he took when he spoke on race during last year’s presidential primary after controversy fomented by his former pastor threatened to deep-six his quest for the Oval Office.

He knows how to do this on the toughest and most seemingly intractable of issues; his sense of timing and tone has usually been impeccable.

That’s why I ask this leadership question today: why in the world does Obama not take the leadership leap when it comes to advocating simple justice for women?

Note that I didn’t say “abortion” or “reproductive rights” or even “reproductive and sexual health.” That’s because when you peel back the layers of the debate about these issues, it comes down plain and simple to competing worldviews about women’s power and women’s rightful place in the world.

The question etched itself sharply into public view last week when Obama issued such a tepid statement in response to the cold-blooded assassination of Dr. George Tiller while that courageous doctor–whose mantra was “Trust Women”–was serving as an usher in his Lutheran church. And indeed, Obama has even failed to acknowledge the lapses in basic Federal law enforcement that might have prevented such a devastating crime–a basic executive leadership action, one would think.

To be sure, the president made a point of signing the Lilly Ledebetter Fair Pay Act his first such act after he took office. It was a grand symbolic gesture that should not go unheralded. Still, he has stated the Freedom of Choice Act is not on his priority list–though during his campaign he said he looked forward to signing it– and his quest for “common ground” on abortion has led him to create a task force rather than stake out his own position as he has done for other issues. In an unusually tone-deaf move in the wake of Tiller’s murder, he appointed someone unalterably opposed to women’s reproductive rights and justice to lead the DHHS Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

In two radio programs I participated in after the Tiller tragedy (Your Call and On the Issues) I was struck by the recurring “does he just not get it?” theme among the panelists, and a budding idea that President Obama should take a tour of health facilities where abortion is performed.

What do you think of that? How would you organize it if so? What other thoughts do you have for how to bring Obama to the place where he’ll take the leadership leap for women as he has so brilliantly and courageously done for other issues?

Please tell me your thoughts by posting in the comments section below. I think it is time for us to take a leadership leap.

Justice Ginsburg’s Right About Roe, Wrong About Solution

Several people have e-mailed me today to ask what I thought about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments about the Roe v Wade decision in today’s New York Times.

“The court bit off more than it could chew,” Justice Ginsburg said in remarks after a speech at Princeton in October. It would have been enough, she said, to strike down the extremely restrictive Texas law at issue in Roe and leave further questions for later cases.

“The legislatures all over the United States were moving on this question,” she added. “The law was in a state of flux.”

Roe shut those developments down and created a backlash that lasts to this day.

“The Supreme Court’s decision was a perfect rallying point for people who disagreed with the notion that it should be a woman’s choice,” Justice Ginsburg said. “They could, instead of fighting in the trenches legislature by legislature, go after this decision by unelected judges.”

It’s also old news that Ginsburg believes, as many others have said over the years that the Court’s decision in Roe leapfrogged over public opinion that was heading in the prochoice direction anyway, so they should have just waited for the legislative process to work.

Seems to me that if you buy that, then you would also buy the notion that the court should not have decided Brown v Board of Education when they did, and in both cases you would be totally wrong from a social justice perspective.

If your goal is not to upset the applecart, then maybe you could make the argument that Roe was too much too soon. But as they say, justice delayed is justice denied. And pray tell, why should women so often be the ones who are told they should wait?

Ginsburg has long been on record also that she thinks the Roe decision wasn’t a sustainable one because it wasn’t based in women’s rights but in privacy. I agree with her completely on that score and in the interest of efficiency, here’s a link to an article I wrote for Democracy Journal on why Roe was necessary but not sufficient, and why I believe we must build a human rights basis for reproductive justice legally and culturally.

Interestingly, the article in which Ginsburg was quoted about Roe today was relating the “wait till the legislatures catch up with you” the same notion to gay rights an same sex marriage. And it’s just as wrong-headed there as it is in regard to any other civil right, if for no other reason than American citizens shouldn’t have to deal with a patchwork of state laws where some states respect them as equal citizens and some don’t.

And she shares her opinions on why she thinks it is appropriate for the U.S. to consider rulings by foreign courts in its decisions in another Times article today. Perhaps she might want to take a look at Supreme Courts in countries such as Mexico that are increasingly ruling in favor of reproductive rights to see that the U.S. is in good company.