Speaking of Women's Rights: 01/10

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Super Bowl Skirmish: CBS isn't scoring any points with decision to air anti-abortion ad.

You may remember a number of super bowls ago, a decision made by CBS not to air a particular advertisement during the oh-so-coveted commercial time. The ad was created by the United Church of Christ and highlighted its acceptance of gays and lesbians and other groups who are often not welcome in more conservative congregations. CBS claimed that it wouldn’t run the ad because of its policy against advocacy ads.

Those who rallied against the decision were recently befuddled by CBS’s recent choice (no pun intended) to air an anti-abortion ad, produced by right-wing zealots Focus On the Family.

To make matters worse, CBS doesn’t find anything about the ad to be contentious. "There's nothing political and controversial about it," a CBS spokesman said. "When the day arrives, and you sit down to watch the game on TV, those who oppose it will be quite surprised at what the ad is all about. They are just celebrating families.”

CBS says they’ll consider other “responsibly produced” advocacy ads for any remaining spots during this year’s super bowl. Spokesman Dana McClintock had this to say: “We have for some time moderated our approach to advocacy submissions after it became apparent that our stance did not reflect public sentiment or industry norms.” Yet it seems that all other networks still have non-advocacy rules on the books.

Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest of decisions to bend the rules for a thoroughly intolerant organization like Focus on the Family. If CBS is truly going to begin allowing advocacy advertisements on its network, maybe they could’ve started with something slightly less polarizing than abortion? Did CBS really sit down and rethink its policy? Or could it be that they’re under the impression that football fans tend to lean to the right, and would thus be more supportive of anti-abortion sentiment than pro-gay. And is this a dangerous precedent to set, allowing marketing departments to support one side of a political debate by airing ads that they deem “responsibly produced?” Sure sounds like it to me.

Women’s rights groups have started a couple of Facebook pages calling for the removal of the ad from the super bowl line-up. Consider writing a letter to CBS, signing this petition, or sitting the Super Bowl out this year.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The "Doctor" Will See You in a Moment. Well, Not Exactly.

Imagine going into a car dealership and being told the automobile you covet has only 25,000 miles on it. You joyfully close the purchase, only to discover that the odometer had been rolled back, and the car has actually been driven more than 100,000 miles. Could that happen? Not under Washington law, and if it did, you’d be able to sue the dealership and recover for your losses.

Now picture yourself walking into a clinic to see if you are pregnant. You aren’t sure what you will do if you are; you just want to understand all your options and the possible ramifications of pregnancy. The person in the white coat who greets you takes your urine sample, tells you it will be some time before she can give you results, and then starts telling you:

· Your risk of breast cancer almost doubles after one abortion
· 28% of women attempt suicide after an abortion
· The AIDS virus easily slips through condoms

Two hours later, she tells you the results of your test, but she won’t give you anything in writing to verify those results. She tells you the clinic reserves the right to withhold test results if they believe the woman would use the results to obtain an abortion. (And did I mention the ‘lab analysis’ was actually an over-the-counter home pregnancy test the volunteer conducted on your sample?)

Do you have any recourse? Nope.

Can someone explain to me why we are more protected when buying a car than when trying to find out if we are pregnant, and deciding what to do about it? Every one of the statements above, and more, have been documented at Limited Services Pregnancy Centers (also called Crisis Pregnancy Centers) in Washington and around the country.

And they are FALSE. The myth of links between abortion and breast cancer has long since been debunked by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. A December 2009 article in American Psychologist, the official publication of the American Psychological Association, comprehensively evaluated studies on abortion and mental health, and concluded that the risk of adverse mental health complications after abortion is no greater than after carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. And please, we know condoms are the most effective method of preventing transmission of sexually transmitted infections for people engaging in intercourse. So give that one a rest, already!

Seriously, though: what does it mean that we tolerate risking the health of women by permitting these ‘clinics’ --- most of which do not have medical personnel, do not comply with federal health privacy laws, do not tell the truth, affirmatively lie to and mislead women and their partners --- to operate completely free from regulation? It just doesn’t make sense.

Legal Voice and our allies are asking the Washington Legislature to pass Senate Bill 6452, which would impose reasonable requirements on these centers: disclose what services they do and do not perform; protect the privacy of health care information they collect; provide the pregnancy test results immediately, not hours later after they’ve scolded, scared and misled the woman; and protect consumer health by requiring that all reproductive health information be medically accurate.

Here at Legal Voice we’ve spent nearly six years researching the activities of these centers, and exploring ways to protect women’s health and rights when they enter one. This bill would make Washington the first state in the country to regulate these centers and ensure the public health is protected, so that women get accurate information and can make decisions based on medical reality and their own moral and ethical beliefs.

It won’t put these centers out of business, and that’s not our goal. They’re entitled to proselytize about their beliefs. But they’re not entitled to lie to or mislead women, or refuse to give women information about their own test results. Just as we require sexuality education in our public schools to be medically accurate, it’s appropriate to require these centers, which claim to be clinics with medical information and procedures, to be up-front about their mission and to honor women’s health and privacy.

If you’d like your health rights – and those of the women you care for – to be as protected in these centers as you are on the lot of a car dealership, contact your Washington state Senator and Representatives and ask them to support SB 6452 if --- make that when --- it comes before them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Changing Economics of Marriage – Hogwash, or Progress?

A new report has caused a stir: the Pew Research Center found that compared with their 1970 counterparts, more men experience economic gains from marriage than women do.

It used to be that fewer wives worked, and marriage enhanced the economic status of women more than that of men. But now, in married couples, the percentage of women whose income outpaces their husbands’ has more than quadrupled over the past 40 years, from 4 percent to 22 percent. As a result, the study concludes, these changes have contributed to a “gender role reversal in the gains from marriage.”*

There is a lot to unpack in the report, but here are some nuggets:

- Education plays an important role in income. And women now constitute the majority (53.5%) of college graduates. That is good news – though of course some women still experience discrimination that inhibits their full ability to participate in educational opportunities.

- Overall, the higher their education level, the more that all adults’ household incomes have risen since 1970. Accordingly, women’s earnings have gone up since 1970 (inflation-adjusted), and by a larger percentage than mens’ – 44 percent, compared with 6 percent for men. However, in 2007, women with full-time jobs still earned only 71 percent of what men earn (compared with 52 percent in 1970). (Note: by 2009, the wage gap had closed slightly more, to about 77%).

- Within each education level, married adults have seen larger gains than unmarried adults – with one exception: women without a high school diploma. Among that group, household incomes slipped 2% from 1970 to 2007, while incomes of unmarried women without a diploma grew 9%. Researchers attribute this lack of income growth for women without diplomas to the poor job prospects of less educated men in their pool of marriage partners.

- With more married women in part of the workforce (indeed, women are projected to soon be the majority) – women’s incomes are increasingly critical to household income.

Of course, no one’s suggesting that either women or men should get married solely because it may provide an economic benefit. Even the report’s co-author acknowledges, “There are plenty of single people doing great, and who can do well on their own and want to do well on their own.”

And there are plenty of people who would, but can’t get married – the report makes no mention of same-sex or opposite sex couples in marriage-like relationships, or people for whom it makes more economic sense to remain unmarried (for example, some widows or some divorced women who would lose benefits upon remarriage).

Ultimately, though, the more that women are economically independent, the less likely they are to feel it is financially necessary to stay in bad marriages. And – although as personal finance expert Michele Singletary rightly notes, money should not dictate the amount of power any partner has in a relationship – to the extent financial contribution does bring power, is it a bad thing for women to have more of it in a relationship?

The fact is, not every woman will end up in a stable, safe marital relationship that brings with it financial security. But every woman should have equal opportunity to the education, and then to the employment that can bring with it financial security.

* While there may have been a “gender role reversal” in some respects, the media’s presentation has managed to perpetuate other stereotypes, even while reporting on these changing trends. The New York Times article declares, “More Men Marrying Wealthier Women” and, oddly, focuses on how it is harder for more educated women – particularly African-Americans – to find mates. And the Seattle Times trumpeted, “Wives bringing home more of the bacon” – evoking a memorably stereotyping perfume ad campaign of the ‘70s (for those of you old enough, you can get your the blast from the past here.) The actual report is entitled “New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Helping Haiti: help its women

It’s been hard to focus on day-to-day work this week: our minds are continually shifting to the havoc and devastation in Haiti. With all the good will in the world (actual as well as metaphorical) and even with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid promised, the prospects for recovery are gloomy and distant.

Of course, first you have to define “recovery”. The soul-shattering poverty, massive corruption and virtually non-existent infrastructure are just the most obvious barriers. When you consider that the UN, in the form of both peacekeepers and aid workers, has had a large presence in the country for many years, yet the situation remained so very stubbornly resistant to improvement, it’s difficult to summon much optimism about the next few years.

Now, I don't pretend to have expertise, or even deep knowledge, in international affairs, but I can’t help believing that we need a strong voice throughout our country to demand that the principles underlying the eloquent analyses of Nicholas Kristof (due credit also to his co-author and wife, Sheryl WuDunn) should be brought to bear from the outset as the world works to bring not just order, but progress and strength to the people and economy of Haiti. Let’s put the well-being of women and their families front and center as a plan is crafted, and make sure that principle permeates the rebuilding (face it, it’s building more than rebuilding) effort.

We know, as Kristof and WuDunn and many other scholars and thinkers have shown, that when women’s and girls’ fundamental rights are protected, when they are safe, educated, have economic security, and can choose when to have children, the well-being of everyone in a country, and the stability of the country itself, improve. That’s why the NoVo Foundation, in partnership with the Nike Foundation (no, that’s not a typo) launched “The Girl Effect” last year. They want to spread the word about the profound impact that making girls’ lives better has on a country, a society, and the world.

Yet I suspect most people in this country think about countries with patriarchal societies and “documented” oppression of women when this subject comes up. If starvation, no access to family planning and homelessness are not oppression, we need to have a conversation about what oppression really is.

I’m not underestimating the magnitude of the work ahead in Haiti, though I am sure I do not fully understand it. But it’s an idea, a chance, a straw at which to grasp as we look mournfully at (or away from) those haunting pictures of the Haitian people struggling to stay alive.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Faux Fear vs. The Real Deal

Lindsay C. Harmon was stabbed in the eye last week. The attack is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Gay marriage opponent Hak-Shing William Tam filed a motion last week to withdraw from the Prop 8 court case because he is ”fearful for (his) personal safety and the safety of (his) family.” Tam claims that several incidents have caused this concern for his safety. Here’s the list:

• Tram’s car was vandalized.
• Someone tried to remove a Prop 8 sign from his front yard.
• Threatening comments were left on a You Tube video featuring him.

Certainly threats are nothing to celebrate; however, when juxtaposed with stories like that of a young woman who was stabbed in the eye last week, Tram's fears simply pale in comparison. The newest data collected for 2008 showed 2,424 victims of bias-motivated crimes against LGBT people nationwide, 28 of which were murders. I bet the victims of these crimes would love to file a motion to withdraw too. If only it were that simple for them.

After a fair amount of searching, I have yet to come across one story of a gay marriage opponent having been harmed in any way. Yet we’re hearing gay marriage foes imply that they are being “hunted down” by “the homosexual activists.” It is this unfounded idea that has prompted the R71 campaign to fight against disclosing the names of those who signed the anti-equality referendum last summer. Protect Marriage Washington’s Larry Stickney testified in front of the Public Disclosure Commission in August, in an attempt to block the release of donor information from the Reject R71 campaign. The examples that were used to demonstrate the threat to contributors ranged from a phone call to a pastor threatening the presence of the transgender community at their next church service to Stickney finding someone in his yard photographing his house (needless to say, their request to withhold donor names was denied by the PDC).

With no evidence of any actual violence committed against them, it makes a person think that these folks just can’t hack the label “bigot.” And what can you say to that? If the shoe fits…

Photo credit: Bill Wippert/Buffalo News

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Giving birth in chains

Today the BBC posted a powerful news segment on the degrading, inhumane practice of shackling pregnant prisoners during labor.

Video: US state reviews female prisoner shackling laws

Legal Voice strongly opposes the practice of shackling pregnant and laboring women - it’s a horrifying human rights violation. We recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of Casandra Brawley, a woman whose experience resembles what the woman in the BBC video describes. Read more about that lawsuit here: Press Release (PDF)

Although six states in the US have outlawed this practice (California, Illinois, Vermont, New York, New Mexico, and Texas), it is unfortunately still legal in the state of Washington. Legal Voice is currently working on a new law that will change this senseless practice.

There is more information about our work to end the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners on our website.