Sunday, February 28, 2010

RH Reality Check: Utah Bill Criminalizes Miscarriage

By Rachel Larris

Created Feb 20 2010 - 9:00am

A bill passed by the Utah House and Senate this week and waiting for the governor's signature, will make it a crime for a woman to have a miscarriage, and make induced abortion a crime in some instances.

According Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, what makes Utah's proposed law unique is that it is specifically designed to be punitive toward pregnant women, not those who might assist or cause an illegal abortion or unintended miscarriage.

The bill passed by legislators amends Utah's criminal statute to allow the state to charge a woman with criminal homicide for inducing a miscarriage or obtaining an illegal abortion. The basis for the law was a recent case in which a 17-year-old girl, who was seven months pregnant, paid a man $150 to beat her [2] in an attempt to cause a miscarriage. Although the girl gave birth to a baby later given up for adoption, she was initially charged with attempted murder. However the charges were dropped because, at the time, under Utah state law a woman could not be prosecuted for attempting to arrange an abortion, lawful or unlawful.

The bill passed by the Utah legislature would change that. While the bill does not affect legally obtained abortions, it criminalizes any actions taken by women to induce a miscarriage or abortion outside of a doctor's care, with penalties including up to life in prison.

"What is really radical and different about this statute is that all of the other states' feticide laws are directed to third party attackers," Paltrow explained. "[Other states' feticide laws] were passed in response to a pregnant woman who has been beaten up by a husband or boyfriend. Utah's law is directed to the woman herself and that's what makes it different and dangerous."

In addition to criminalizing an intentional attempt to induce a miscarriage or abortion, the bill also creates a standard that could make women legally responsible for miscarriages caused by "reckless" behavior.

Using the legal standard of "reckless behavior" all a district attorney needs to show is that a woman behaved in a manner that is thought to cause miscarriage, even if she didn't intend to lose the pregnancy. Drink too much alcohol and have a miscarriage? Under the new law such actions could be cause for prosecution.

"This creates a law that makes any pregnant woman who has a miscarriage potentially criminally liable for murder," says Missy Bird, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Utah. Bird says there are no exemptions in the bill for victims of domestic violence or for those who are substance abusers. The standard is so broad, Bird says, "there nothing in the bill to exempt a woman for not wearing her seatbelt who got into a car accident."

Such a standard could even make falling down stairs a prosecutable event, such as the recent case in Iowa [3] where a pregnant woman who fell down the stairs at her home was arrested under the suspicion she was trying to terminate her pregnancy.

"This statute and the standards chosen leave a large number of pregnant women vulnerable to arrest even though they have no intention of ending a pregnancy," Paltrow said. "Whether or not the legislature intended this bill to become a tool for policing and punishing all pregnant women, if enacted this law would permit prosecution of a pregnant woman who stayed with her abusive husband because she was unable to leave. Not leaving would, under the 'reckless' standard, constitute conduct that consciously disregarded a substantial risk," Paltrow explained.

While many states have fetal homicide laws most apply only in the third trimester. Utah's bill would apply throughout the entirety of a woman's pregnancy. Even first trimester miscarriages could become the basis for a murder trial.

Bird said she is also concerned that the law will drive pregnant women with substance abuse problems "underground;" afraid to seek treatment lest they have a miscarriage and be charged for murder. She said it directly reverses the attempts made, though a bill passed in 2008, to encourage pregnant women to seek treatment for addiction.

Paltrow added that the commonly thought belief that pregnant women who use drugs are engaging in behavior that is likely to cause a stillbirth or a miscarriage is wrong.

"Science now makes clear that drug use by pregnant women does not create unique risks for pregnant women, although it is likely that among those targeted for prosecutions by this statute will be women who go to term under drug usage," she said.

The bill does exempt from prosecution fetal deaths due to failure to follow medical advice, accept treatment or refuse a cesarean section. Bird said this exemption was likely because of a 2004 case where a woman who was pregnant with twins was later charged with criminal homicide after one of the babies was stillborn, which the state deemed due to her refusal to have a cesarean section.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Utah worked together to "amend the hell out of the bill," Bird said. One of their few accomplishments was at least dropping the legal standard of "negligence" from the bill, a much lower standard than "recklessness."

Bird was shaken with emotion after the Senate vote. "I broke down and cried," she admitted. "I normally never let these kind of [legislative] battles get to me."

"What really sucks is that we had three supposed allies in the Senate, three [Democratic] women, who voted for the bill," Bird said, adding she didn't yet know why the three senators switched votes.

Marina Lowe is legislative and policy counsel for the ACLU of Utah. She worked in tandem with Bird on trying to derail or at least mitigate the worst aspects of the bill. Lowe says at this point she doesn't know if there is a potential constitutional challenge to the law once it is signed by the governor.

But she points to cases like the one in Iowa [3] as exactly the kind of situation that might arise once this law is put into place.

Paltrow says this bill puts a lie to the idea that the pro-life movement cares about women.

"For all these years the anti-choice movement has said ‘we want to outlaw abortion, not put women in jail, but what this law says is ‘no, we really want to put women in jail.'"


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sunday Business Post: Fighting for the rights of women

Sunday, February 21, 2010

By Helen Boylan

Loretta Ross became pregnant by her 27year-old cousin when she was 15-years-old.

Forty-five years later, Texas-born Ross tells calmly how her cousin ‘‘decided that it would be a lark to have sex with me’’ while he was babysitting her one day.

Crucially, the occurrence was pre-Roe v Wade - the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion in the United States - meaning Ross had no choice but to have the baby.

Now approaching her 60th year, Ross, who is the national coordinator of Sister Song: Women of Colour Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta, Georgia, tells how she planned to give the baby up for adoption on birth. ‘‘It was definitely not the way I was planning on becoming a parent. I mean, who wants to become a young teenage mother through incest?” she says.

But the morning after the delivery, the nurses brought all the babies who had been born the night before to their mothers for breastfeeding.

‘‘They brought my baby to me and he had my face,” she says. ‘‘I couldn’t go through with the adoption.”

At the time, Ross was in 11th grade in a Texan school. ‘‘It was the policy of the school system at the time to expel girls who had been pregnant,” she says. ‘‘That policy disproportionately affected the black girls.

It wasn’t race-based - it was just that it was common for the white girls who got pregnant to go off, secretly have the baby and come back and pretend nothing happened. But it was more common for black girls to keep their babies. So for those who kept their babies, there was proof that we had fallen from grace,” Ross says with a wry smile. ‘‘And so we were pushed out of school.”

A bright student with an interest in science, Ross fought hard for her right to return to school. She successfully sued the school authorities and was allowed to return. Upon graduation, she was granted a full scholarship for Howard’s University in Washington DC.

Although she didn’t know it at the time, this fight against the system would be the first of many which would forge a dynamic international career in women’s rights.

As the coordinator of SisterSong, she oversees 76 separate organisations supporting ‘women of colour’.

The term ‘woman of colour’, she says, is an important one. ‘‘We were tired of being called ‘minority women’.

When we were together, we weren’t a minority at all,” she says.

‘‘It’s not a biological designation, like being born Chinese or native American. You adopt the term for yourself when you choose to work in solidarity with other oppressed women.”

At 16,Rossmoved to Washington DC to attend college. It was here she faced what she describes as another human rights issue, when she was denied access to birth control.

‘‘Back then, if you were under 18 you had to have parental consent to use birth control,” she says. ‘‘But my mother wouldn’t sign a permission form for me. I got pregnant again, this time with my boyfriend.

I decided to have an abortion because Washington DC was one of the few US jurisdictions which legalised abortions before Roe v Wade.”

In order to avoid another pregnancy, Ross was fitted with a contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) called the Dalkon Shield, which has been on the market for ten years. However, the device was found to have been designed with a fault which had a sterilising effect in Ross and thousands of other users of the device worldwide.

‘‘It was a piece of plastic with a string hanging down from it. The only purpose for that string was for the doctor to pull it out when they tried to remove it,” Ross says.

‘‘But the string acted like a bacterial wick, leeching all kinds of bad stuff up into the uterus.”

Her doctor at the time refused to remove the IUD, instead treating her for repeated venereal diseases.

‘‘He accused me of sleeping with soldiers coming from Vietnam - saying that I had some kind of Vietnam VD - it was unreal. I said ‘I don’t know anybody who’s been to Vietnam.’ I told him that my boyfriend who was in law school hadn’t been to Vietnam.”

Ross’s infections eventually caused severe pelvic inflammatory disease and she lapsed into a coma.

She was rushed to hospital, only to be confronted with a new nightmare.

‘‘When I woke up, the same doctor was standing over me at the hospital bed basically saying, ‘Ooops’ and ‘I’m sorry, I had to perform a complete hysterectomy to save your life’. Then he said it shouldn’t be a problem because I already had a kid.” Ross was 23 years old.

Spurred by what she describes as unbelievable anger, she brought her medical records to a private physician.

‘‘He took one look at them and said ‘this doctor has mistreated you’. He told me that the doctor should have immediately removed the IUD when I was diagnosed with pelvic infection, but instead he left it in for another six months. He said he could have avoided the hysterectomy.”

Once again, a massive hurdle in Ross’s life became an impetus for change. She was one of the first women to win a suit against the company that marketed the IUD, along with a ruling of medical malpractice against the doctor who treated her.

‘‘I settled at a little over $100,000, which sounded like a huge amount at the time,” says Ross. ‘‘But I later learned that because the company was trying to keep so many of their lawsuits hush-hush, several women [who had been sterilised by the Dalkon Shield] had each been paid several million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.

I think that the advantage the other women had was that they were white, and several of them had not had children already.”

So why does she believe that colour made a difference? ‘‘There’s a stereotype against young black mothers, in particular. We’re accused of being sexually irresponsible, a burden on society, unwilling to take care of our children and unwilling to work.

‘‘I, of course, tried my best to live down all those stereotypes, but that didn’t seem to matter. The fact that I’d had a child as a teenager seemed to write a script for what I deserved.”

In 1979, Ross began to turn her experiences into a positive force, when she began to volunteer at the Washington DC rape crisis centre.

In 1976, she became the centre’s director and was the first African American woman to fulfil this role in the US.

For the next decade she worked steadily for women’s rights, all the while resisting the tag of ‘feminism’.

‘‘I even used to drag my boyfriend along to meetings with me to prove that I was heterosexual. And I couldn’t burn my bra. My breasts would have flopped too much,” she says smiling.

Ross has spent the past 20 years travelling in pursuit of furthering human rights. ‘‘I have known for years the restrictions that are placed on women in Ireland,” she says. ‘‘We[in SisterSong] pay particular attention to any country that is dominated by the Catholic Church because the women in these countries live under a special degree of oppression that isn’t necessarily experienced in more liberal countries.”

The problems she sees in Ireland include abortion being against the law, that there is often a shame attached to sex and sexuality, and that ‘‘there is a gender-based prohibition in society because boys are expected to be boys and girls are expected to be saints.”

Having spoken with many Irish women’s rights activists, Ross says she ‘‘often hears about the fact that they can’t even get a conversation in Ireland about the human right to accurate sex education and information.

‘‘They cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube. The information is there and wherever women have sex, they should be allowed to control their own fertility.”

Undivided Rights: Women of Colour Organized for Reproductive Justice by Loretta Ross, Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried and Elena Gutierrez, is published by South End Press and is available online from (£15, €17)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New York Times Editorial: Respect for Women in Uniform

February 15, 2010

The Pentagon’s decision to begin making so-called morning-after emergency contraception available at military bases around the world marked welcome, if overdue, progress in meeting the health needs of women serving the United States in the military.

The decision followed a recommendation by the Pentagon’s Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee. The medical advisory panel voted in November to add emergency contraception, which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, to the list of drugs required to be stocked at every military facility.

A similar recommendation by the panel in 2002 was blocked by the Bush administration, which chose to ill-treat servicewomen — including victims of sexual assault — to placate antiabortion extremists who view emergency contraception as a form of abortion.

In 2006, after a protracted fight, the Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sale of the morning-after pill to adults. That made the military’s policy of denying its soldiers access even harder to justify. The turnaround on emergency contraception is all the more significant given the serious, continuing problem of sexual assaults among service members.

Next, Pentagon officials and members of Congress need to address the callous treatment of servicewomen with regard to abortion. Under current rules, military doctors may perform abortions only in cases of rape, incest or when the women’s lives are endangered. And even in cases of rape and incest, the women must pay.

It is outrageous that politics is allowed to interfere with the health care decisions of women who wear the nation’s uniform.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Irish Times: Can Kissing Make You Pregnant?

Tue, Feb 16, 2010

Are dads getting better at discussing sex with their children, writes BRIAN O'CONNELL

ABOUT THREE months before leaving primary school in the late 1980s, I, like many others of that generation, was officially told the ins and outs of the birds and the bees. This was pre-internet and cable television days, and without an older brother or sister to fill me in, there was a lot of sexual and biological ambiguity that needed clarifying.

The majority of us in the class in the Christian Brothers’ primary school in Ennis knew that a meeting on the “facts of life” would be called towards the end of school term. This happened every year and so there was little surprise when notes about the meeting were sent home. A few nights later, we all filed into the school hall, along with our parents, while a nun with a flip chart proceeded to take us through who did what to whom and why. It was mortifying. At one point, a basket was passed around and we were allowed to write any questions we wanted answered on a piece of paper for the nun to address.

“Can you get pregnant by French-kissing, sister?”, “Is toothpaste good for curing love bites?”, “Sister, do you think Kylie and Jason will ever do it?” were some of the tamer offerings. It was a very awkward, shoe-staring evening for most present.

These were not issues we discussed with our parents in what was still a relatively sexually closed society. My father asked me after if there was anything else I wanted to know. I lied and said no, and that was that. Big phew. But what of today’s pre-teens and their need to be filled in on the facts of life?

Are Irish men much more comfortable discussing issues of sex and biology with their children in Ireland of 2010? Or has the internet and influence of mass media made having “the chat” largely unnecessary?

Retired school principal Aidan Herron, who wrote a guidebook on the facts of life in the mid-1990s, says that whereas society may have changed significantly in the past two decades, the need for information on this issue hasn’t. Despite our presumed openness around issues of sex, Herron believes we still have hang-ups when it comes to informing our children of the “facts of life”. “We need to normalise sex education and bring it out of the realms of textbook and into normal conversation in the home,” he says.

“Conversations about the facts of life should not be prompted by something on television. It should be part of normal developmental conversation in the home. The same way perhaps as answering questions about why does the sun come up or how does the rain fall.”

And although much of the relaying of information is now incorporated into the school curriculum, Herron argues that there is still avoidance of the issue even there.

“Teaching of this is now part of the primary and post-primary school syllabus through the social and personal health programmes and it’s covered in co-operation with parents. I know that some schools still bring outsiders in to do this part of the course. I think the teacher should teach it. There is still some avoidance there, and not biting the bullet on the subject is making it harder.”

One Irish male who has been there is Cork-based father of two, Greg Canty (44), who draws comparisons between the attitudes of present day fathers and those of past generations.

“I don’t even think there was a time in our school days when we sat down and had it explained to us. It was stuff you learned as you went along. I don’t ever remember a class in school or a conversation with my parents. When it did come around with my own kids, I’d got the response of, ‘Don’t be silly, Daddy – we know all that’. I remember thinking, ‘Great, this is all covered already’!”

Canty believes that for the next generation the same hang-ups about imparting sex education won’t be as prevalent. “I think it is getting easier and easier. My sense is that parents and children are having conversations about it and it’s not as big a deal. Also, parents have gotten younger-minded and kids have gotten more sophisticated, with access to more information. There are a lot more ways for them to satisfy their own natural curiosity. Back in our day, you couldn’t even buy condoms.”

But do today’s young people appreciate this social progression and how au fait are they with discussing matters of sex with their parents?

Canty’s son Brendan (21) says that while society may be more tolerant, some things never change. “I went to a country school and I think as a kid you always know more than you let on. I think boys always have a tendency to say, ‘I don’t fancy girls’. I remember being about five years old and having a crush and not letting on. You were always interested in that and fancied girls. I wouldn’t have been comfortable in primary school talking to my parents about sex. I would have been a bit awkward with my parents sitting me down.”

By the time Brendan had moved onto secondary education, much of the material traditionally left to parents was included on the curriculum. “We had a class in secondary school – basically it was once a week and we’d deal with these topics. It was more someone talking to us or they would show us a video. I learned off my own back really. Nowadays kids learn it from media all around them. I mean to be honest I probably learned a lot from TV. Books are a bit old fashioned.” Brendan says that parents should be wary of telling their children too much too soon. Despite the rapid maturing of many aspects of children’s experience, innocence still has its role to play.

“I don’t think kids need to understand the full-on facts of the birds and the bees too young,” he says. “A lot of kids will get the gist of it. That’s all they need to start out with. It’s only when they’re about 13 or 14 when they need to understand the full facts of life. That’s when the real fun starts!”

© 2010 The Irish Times


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

EU Parliament Press Release: Male-female equality: tackle violence and guarantee paternity leave, say MEPs

10 February 2010

In its annual resolution on equality between men and women in the EU, Parliament called on Wednesday for greater efforts to tackle violence against women, for pater- nity leave to be addressed at EU level and for equal pay legislation to be revised. A majority of MEPs also say women must have control over their sexual and reproduc- tive rights, through easy access to contraception and abortion.

The resolution, drafted by Marc Tarabella, (S&D, BE), was adopted by 381 votes to 253, with 31 abstentions.

Eradicating violence against women

MEPs call on the Commission to draft a comprehensive directive on preventing and com- bating all forms of violence against women. They call for a European Year of Combating Violence against Women, pointing out that almost one in four women in the EU suffer physical violence and more than 10% sexual violence. MEPs also endorse the Spanish Presidency's proposals to introduce an EU-wide "European protection order for victims" and a common EU-wide telephone helpline for victims.

Sexual and reproductive rights
Parliament believes recognition of the full physical and sexual autonomy of women is a first step for any policies designed to combat violence against women. Women must have control over their sexual and reproductive rights, notably through easy access to contraception and abortion (this point was adopted by 412 votes to 212, with 36 abstentions) and abortion consultations must be free of charge. A majority of MEPs thus backed measures to improve women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.

Fighting human trafficking
So far, only 16 EU Member States have ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which is the strongest European legal instrument in the fight against trafficking in human beings, a modern form of slavery. MEPs call on the Member States that have not yet done so (i. e. the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden) to ratify this Convention.

Establishing paternity leave entitlement
The EU has a directive on maternity leave and a directive on parental leave, but no legislation on paternity leave. The House therefore calls on the Commission "to support any moves to establish paternity-leave entitlement on a Europe-wide basis" and says that maternity and paternity leave should be linked so as to afford better protection to women in the labour market. MEPs regret that the Social Partners' Framework Agreement on Parental Leave from July 2009 fails to address the issue of paid leave as a way of achieving male-female equality.

Equal pay
Parliament deplores the fact that the Commission has not responded to the EP's request that it present draft legislation revising the existing law on application of the principle of equal pay and that it present such a proposal without delay.

Gender balance in high-level positions
A better gender balance in corporate, administrative and political positions of responsibility in the Member States should be encouraged, say MEPs, pointing to the Norwegian Government's decision to increase the rate of female members on the boards of private and public companies to at least 40%.

As to the composition of the Commission, a majority of MEPs call on Member States, in future nominations, to put forward two candidates, one of each gender, so as to facilitate the composition of a more representative Commission.

Migrant women
Migrant women, especially Romani women, regularly experience multiple forms of discrim- ination and national equality bodies should address this matter, says the report. MEPs also ask the Member States "to provide social security cover for female workers in domestic and other sectors where it is not available, with a view to promoting the integration of migrants".


Marie Stopes: Unplanned pregnancy is as much a risk for older women than teenagers

Tuesday, 09, Feb 2010 12:00

Research highlighted today (Tuesday 9th February) by the fpa as part of their Contraceptive Awareness Week campaign conceivable? reveals that unplanned pregnancies do not just happen to teenagers; in fact, abortion rates are the same for women aged 40-44 as for the under 16 year olds1. Leading sexual health charity Marie Stopes International makes the following statement:

“We welcome the fpa's latest campaign, which importantly highlights that unplanned pregnancies do not just happen to teenagers. Unplanned pregnancy is a risk for any woman of reproductive age, and we at Marie Stopes International see women of all ages, including those over the age of 35, seeking advice and treatment for unplanned pregnancy.

Older women facing an unplanned pregnancy are often shocked to find themselves in this position - many assume that their age protects them against unplanned pregnancy, and are surprised to learn that they are in fact pregnant. The current storyline surrounding Lynette in Channel Four television series Desperate Housewives realistically portrays the shock, confusion and unhappiness an unplanned pregnancy can bring to older women, particularly those who consider their family to be complete. It is therefore vital that women of all ages are provided with medically accurate and non-judgmental information and advice, and are supported through an unplanned pregnancy.

The fpa's campaign also reveals the importance of making sure women of all ages can access contraceptive advice and services. Many of the educational campaigns in the UK target younger women, which although important, may leave older women unaware of the full range of contraceptive options available to them. It is vital that all women are fully informed about their contraceptive choices, so that they can choose the method most suited to their personal circumstances and lifestyle, and protect themselves not just against unplanned pregnancy but also sexually transmitted infections.

Personal choice is very important, as individual circumstances can vary greatly for women in their thirties and forties – some women over 35 may have completed their family, so might prefer a longer term method of contraception such as the contraceptive implant to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Other women over 35 may be planning a family in the not-to-distant future, so for them a long-acting method may not be suitable. We advise women of all ages to visit their local Marie Stopes International clinic or their healthcare provider for further information.

For women who have had unprotected sex and think they might be pregnant, our advice would be to bite the bullet and seek advice from your healthcare provider or specialist centre such as Marie Stopes International as soon as possible. Within five days of unprotected sex, emergency contraception is available. A test for sexually transmitted infections is also advisable.”

1. Abortion statistics, England and Wales: 2008 showing that under 16s have an abortion rate of 4 per 1,000 women and women aged 40-44 have an abortion rate of 4 per 1,000 women.

All quotes are attributable to Emily James, Marie Stopes International.

- Ends -


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Irish Times: Concern over deaths linked to pregnancy in Afghanistan


Thu, Feb 04, 2010

THE DEATH rate among women and girls in Afghanistan due to pregnancy and childbirth is like a “silent tsunami”, an Oireachtas committee was told yesterday.

Dr Shinkai Zahin Karokhail, an Afghan MP, addressed the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging members to press the Government and the EU to direct aid towards non-military and women’s organisations in Afghanistan.

Her visit to Ireland comes against the backdrop of concern among Afghan women’s groups at an EU plan to offer the Taliban a share of $500 million if they lay down their arms.

“For sure it is the women in Afghanistan who are best placed to improve the situation of all people there. But no one is thinking about how to invest in women’s and girls’ education.”

She said despite improvements in the situation of women and girls in her country since the fall of the Taliban, women’s rights remained a low priority.

Some 90 per cent of women suffered some form of domestic violence while the country had the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. “The death rates among women and girls caused by unsafe pregnancies and deliveries is like a silent tsunami.

“My concern is how to get the message to the Irish Government and the EU to support the Government of Afghanistan and how the aid should be non-militarised and spent by non-military NGOs.”

Se├ín Ardagh TD said he was “absolutely horrified” at the report that 90 per cent of Afghan women suffered domestic violence. Senator David Norris said some of the information given “calls into question the moral authority of President Karzai.

Ireland has committed €20 million in aid to Afghanistan over the next three years.

© 2010 The Irish Times