Friday, January 27, 2012

I'm Not a Gynecologist But...

Our society has stuck with the “division of labor” concept because it works. Most people become skilled at one job or type of work and contract with others for different sets of expertise. Very few people can be doctors, fundraisers, lobbyists, lawyers, and politicians—at least, not with success. That is why, when I need a medical opinion, I go to my doctor. When I have a political concern, I call my representative. This isn't new, and it isn't rocket science. I don't think anyone has ever felt their water break and exclaimed, “Quick, call Warren County State Representative Kathy Rapp!”

This is one of the reasons House Bill 1077 is so infuriating. Sponsored by Rep. Rapp, this bill, currently under review in the state House Health Committee, is another effort by politicians to tell doctors what to do-- an irrational step beyond a politician's area of expertise that only anti-choice measures regularly seem to demand. The bill makes ultrasounds mandatory for all women seeking abortions. The bill demands a 24-hour wait period between ultrasound and abortion. And the bill requires, ridiculously, that the ultrasound screen be positioned so that women can see the image-- whether they want to or not.

While this bill is less extreme than similar bills that require women to look at the ultrasound as a condition for obtaining an abortion, the difference between the two is miniscule. It's like anti-choicers sit around and think, “Well, nobody seems to like it when we force women to look at the screen, so maybe we can just require that it be put in front of her and then she'll have to see it whether she wants to or not-- and it won't sound quite so bad because she could have just kept her eyes shut!” Aside from the fact that making a woman look at the unwanted bundle of dividing cells in her uterus is medically unnecessary and purely intended to guilt women into changing their (carefully considered) decisions, the fact that it pits the desires of patients against the would-be legal obligations of their doctors decreases trust for no good medical reason. And it's downright condescending.

Even more problematic is the mandatory 24-hour wait period. The vast majority of counties in Pennsylvania lack an abortion provider, so most women seeking this legal reproductive service have to travel a substantial distance to obtain it. They may have to take off work, find childcare, and arrange transportation to and from the clinic. How many low-income women can afford to do this on two separate days without serious consequences for their jobs or their incomes?  I don't see Rep. Rapp sponsoring any legislation that provides paid leave for government-mandated-but-medically-unnecessary appointments. The wait period serves two purposes: One, to make women go home and essentially sit in time-out in the hopes that they'll reconsider their perfectly reasonable choice, and two, to serve as just enough of a barrier that some women won't be able to make it back to their clinic for the abortion procedure itself. Who needs to ban abortions when you can just make it really, really hard to get to the clinics that provide them?

Nobody can deny that doctors are better-informed about good medical practice than politicians. So it's only rational to let them advise their patients-- without anti-choice politics meddling in the process. There's a reason I don't head to the State House when it's time for my yearly Pap smear-- frankly, I don't think those guys would even know where to begin. They are not doctors. But my gynecologist is. Why don't we all just stick to what we're good at. 

Janna Frieman is an intern with the ACLU-PA’s Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project. She is pursuing a master's in Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.

Friday, January 20, 2012

From generation to generation, Roe v. Wade protects women’s lives

Women who experienced first hand the injustices that made up the daily lives of American women before the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the U.S., surround us daily. These women are our mothers, our grandmothers, our neighbors, and our teachers, many of them unassuming and too humble to realize the essential role that they played in the freedoms that we enjoy today. 

My mother is one of these women. Her current life as a suburb-dweller and family therapist combined with her excessive modesty hardly scream abortion activist. But her role in the movement has offered me a much greater connection to the issue of safe abortion.

My mother worked at a free clinic as an abortion counselor in the late 1960s and early 1970s when abortion was illegal. What she most remembers about the experience is how afraid women were and how powerless they felt over their bodies.

“Women were performing abortions on themselves on a daily basis,” she recalls. Many were seriously injured or died because they had no choice but to take matters, literally, into their own hands. She spoke of the difficulty of getting a woman to a legal, out-of-state abortion clinic before 1973. She remembers the anxiety in the air, as the clinic staff called names off of a list of women who would be sent to New York by bus, where abortion was legalized in 1970. This process was complicated and dangerous for the women and the volunteers involved, but they did what they had to do without flinching, because they firmly believed in our right to choose.

Despite my mother’s knowledge and care in the realm of reproductive health, she was totally unprepared for a pregnancy that occurred when the Dalkon Shield,* a form of intrauterine device (IUD), failed her in 1974 one year after Roe was passed.  She has no doubt that the excellent care that she received from the staff at Planned Parenthood while undergoing the procedure may not have been possible just one year earlier.

Today, 39 years after the Roe v. Wade decision, several new and proposed laws in Pennsylvania threaten to send us back to the days of unsafe and unavailable abortion care. Let’s not sit back and let legislators take away the rights that my mother fought so hard for. We owe it to our daughters and granddaughters to fight back. 

*The Dalkon Shield was found to cause severe injury to a disproportionately large percentage of its users which and led to numerous lawsuits and juries awarded millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages to thousands of women.
Katherine Bisanz is pursuing a master’s degree in Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and interning at the ACLU-PA’s Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

This post is part of the We've Had Enough Campaign's Roe v. Wade Blog Carnival.  See other posts on the importance of Roe and the attacks against women's health here:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Roe v. Wade anniversary message: Don't tread on me

“Don't Tread On Me.”

It's a favorite saying of anti-government tea partiers and libertarians alike. Dating back to the Revolutionary War, this motto-- paired with the image of a rattlesnake coiled to strike-- summons along with it a call to defend certain natural rights to privacy and autonomy, a fundamental resistance to the authoritarian impulses of state power. Leave me alone, the snake glares, or else. Though the iconic phrase has been co-opted for many causes over its long existence,  today it seems as though only right-wing small-and anti-government advocates wave the Gadsden flag (as it is historically named) with pride.

But it’s no secret that tea partiers and the politicians who pander to them don't actually believe in freedom from government regulation -- at least, not without notable exceptions. For all their talk about financial, educational, and environmental deregulation, the glaring inconsistency of smaller-government activists and politicians lies in their fierce opposition to the deregulation of a most fundamental site-- the (female) body. My body. And this isn't just a back-burner issue. This is a priority. In the first six months of 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers spent 30 percent of their days at the Capitol working to restrict access to safe, legal abortion when they should have been solving real problems.

Actually, that's small-minded of me. For some voters, activists, and lawmakers, my bodily autonomy is a “real problem.” They are so uncomfortable with the idea that I currently can choose whether or not to have a baby that even my right to use birth control is coming under fire in popular discourse. Iowa caucus runner-up Rick Santorum has infamously said that contraception is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” It's no stretch of the imagination to think that if elected president, Santorum or any one of his like-minded colleagues will continue to push these paternalistic, religious, anti-sex, anti-liberty agendas.

And to them I say: don't tread on me.  Writing under a pseudonym in 1775, Ben Franklin commented on the appropriateness of the rattle snake as a symbol for the freedom-loving American spirit:
She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders... she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?

As the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade  approaches and my reproductive rights increasingly come under fire, I think it’s time to re-appropriate the Gadsden flag for its original purpose -- the symbolic defense of civil liberties against the creeping authoritarianism of the state.  Like the Gadsden flag's rattlesnake, American women have generously given notice that these onslaughts against our basic bodily autonomy are unacceptable. So let this year be a year filled with pro-choice visibilities, actions, and activism -- a shot across the bow for opponents of personal liberty and reproductive privacy. Consider this fair warning: don't tread on me.

Janna Frieman is an intern with the ACLU-PA’s Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project and a Master of Social Policy candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.

This post is part of the We've Had Enough Campaign's Roe v. Wade Blog Carnival.  See other posts on the importance of Roe and the attacks against women's health here:

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Friday, January 06, 2012

2011 in Review: Detained, shackled, and imprisoned over Arabic flash cards

The United States government asserts the authority to interrogate, shackle, and imprison travelers who possess Arabic flash cards in the Philadelphia International Airport.  If sanctioned, this claimed power will have far-reaching consequences for our First and Fourth Amendment rights.

In the summer of 2009, Pomona College senior Nicholas George looked forward to starting his final year in college. He was scheduled to return to California on Southwest Airlines. At the Philadelphia International Airport, however, he was interrogated, handcuffed and confined in a jail cell because he passed through airport screening with Arabic-English flash cards (i.e., study aids) and a book critical of American foreign policy. The flash cards included, among dozens of words, the Arabic translations of “bomb” and “explosives” – facts emphasized by the U.S. government in its failed attempt to dismiss Nick’s lawsuit.

Two TSA officers detained the college student and a third TSA agent posed him a series of abusive questions, including, “how do you feel about 9/11,” do you know “who did 9/11,” do you know “what language [bin Laden] spoke” and “do you see why these cards are suspicious?” 

At TSA’s behest, a Philadelphia police officer cuffed Nick, took him to the airport police station, and locked him in a jail cell.  Hours later, Joint Terrorism Task Force agents questioned Nick about his personal and religious beliefs, educational background (including why he was studying Physics at a liberal arts college), and associations (including whether he was a member of “pro-Islamic” or “communist” groups on campus).  The JTTF officers then told Nick he was not a “real threat” and indicated he was free to leave. 

TSA has the authority, under the Fourth Amendment, to search a traveler’s belongings for weapons and explosives; but those searches cannot last longer than reasonably necessary to achieve that end.  TSA’s search of Nick’s person and luggage – which was quite thorough – revealed no evidence that Nick carried any weapons or explosives. Once the search turned up nothing that would endanger airline safety, TSA’s authority was exhausted.  TSA agents, however, continued to detain Nick without reasonable suspicion of criminality, the standard required under the Fourth Amendment to justify an investigative detention. Compounding this injustice, TSA directed Philadelphia law enforcement to restrain and imprison Nick – without probable cause to believe he had committed or was committing a crime, the existence of which is essential to justify the constitutionality of an individual’s arrest and imprisonment. 

TSA also retaliated against Nick for possessing First Amendment protected materials. Airport officials are not free to burden a traveler’s right to study certain books, or to summon police officers to arrest a traveler who carries an Arabic language news article, or, perhaps, the New York Times, which reports on a daily basis about explosives detonated around the world.  What is more, TSA’s actions, if authorized, would chill students from studying Arabic, whose fluency is a prerequisite for many fields of employment, including high-level national security positions. 

The ACLU-PA and co-counsel initiated a lawsuit in U.S. federal district court against the U.S. government, Philadelphia police officers, and individual TSA employees for violating Nick’s clearly established Fourth and First Amendment rights.  All the federal defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit; the court recently denied the motions in full, and the case is now proceeding to discovery.

Our Nation’s founders understood the human instinct to sacrifice freedom in times of national crisis.  That is why they enshrined our essential freedoms in the Bill of Rights.  At the ACLU-PA, we aim to safeguard these fundamental liberties. It is only with your help that we can continue to do so.  We thank you deeply for your support.

Seema Saifee, Legal Fellow, Philadelphia