Speaking of Women's Rights: 07/13

Monday, July 22, 2013

What is a right without access? As states whittle away at abortion rights, is the right meaningful anymore?

By Laurel Jones

The past few weeks have been exceptionally tumultuous for reproductive rights advocates around the country as many state governments have hurried to finish their legislative sessions. While some states have struggled merely to pass budgets, others have called for extended special legislative sessions solely for the purpose of passing controversial laws that severely impede a woman’s right to seek safe and legal abortion care. Texas House Bill 2 was passed by the state legislature on July 12, 2013, despite an almost 11-hour filibuster by Rep. Wendy Davis and massive public backlash. The Texas bill is only one of several significant laws that have been enacted in the 11th hour of states’ legislative sessions over past month. In particular, four states – Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin – have all spent the last few weeks pushing through restrictive laws that hinder the ability of women in those states to access to abortions.

These laws are the latest, and frighteningly successful, efforts of anti-choice officials to chip away at the rights of women who seek abortion care. These unnecessary regulations create a myriad of new barriers, including a ban on all abortion procedures past 20 weeks, requiring that all clinics be certified as ambulatory surgical centers, barring public hospitals from entering into emergency care agreements with abortion clinics, and requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

A multifaceted attack on abortion rights: Two types of laws, same effect for women

Gestational-age bans

Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, abortions could be restricted to protect potential life after the point of fetal viability (at or around 24 weeks, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.) The Supreme Court has yet to hear a challenge on any of the many recent laws, such as Texas HB 2, that restrict abortions well before the point of fetal viability. Despite the fact that these early-gestational bans impose significant restrictions on the right to an abortion well before the point of fetal viability, these laws will remain in place until they are successfully challenged and struck down by the courts; similar gestational-age bans have already been overturned by an Idaho district court and in Arizona by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But for women living in states where these laws are still valid, those who require abortion services after the point at which the law takes effect (e.g., 20 weeks) will be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, travel out-of-state in order to seek a safe abortion elsewhere, or seek an illegal abortion.

Legislative attacks on abortion clinics

Similar to the gestational-age bans on abortion services, these new attacks on abortion clinics requiring new and unnecessary services, certifications, permits, zoning permission, and other regulations have a significant effect on the ability of women to seek the medical care they require.

Texas HB 2 will likely cause all but 5 of the state’s abortion clinics to close for no other reason than the imposition of unnecessary regulatory requirements that clinics will not be able to comply with before the law takes effect. This means that women will have to travel over 300 miles in order to reach the nearest abortion clinic, which requires time, money, and the ability to leave home, possibly for days at a time.

In Fairfax, Virginia, for the city’s sole abortion clinic, a new law changing the zoning and permitting requirements for abortion clinics may prove to be financially and logistically prohibitive. The clinic is already being forced to relocate after having their current lease terminated due to the disruption caused by anti-choice protesters. With the new municipal regulations in place, the clinic may not be granted the permits necessary to reopen in a new location.

Bottom line: the impact of these state and local laws may prove to be that clinics are forced to close their doors, making abortions either illegal or inaccessible to women.
These laws may be passed under the guise of “protecting maternal health”, but statistics have repeatedly shown that abortion is 14 times safer than carrying a pregnancy through to labor and delivery. These new laws dictating additional certifications and requirements are not about protecting women as anti-choice lawmakers would have us believe – they are about preventing abortions.

Women have the right to decide when – and if – to have children, including the right to terminate a pregnancy. But this right means nothing if it is in words alone. The right to make these intrinsically private decisions about one’s life, body, and family is being systematically stripped away by denying women access to the safe, legal abortion care they deserve. As reproductive justice advocates, we have a responsibility to fight back against these laws – to protect the clinics dedicated to providing safe, legal abortion care, and to guarantee that women have the ability to exercise their legal right to choose. 

Laurel Jones is a rising third-year law student at the University of Washington, and is loving her experience as a summer intern at Legal Voice. She has spent over four years working to provide housing and human services for Seattle’s homeless population, and is committed to using her legal career to fight for reproductive justice, economic equality, and human rights. Laurel has a BA from the University of Washington in International Studies. 

photo credit here

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

California calls it "a favor", we call it racism.

by Kelsey Ryland

One of the most intimate and complex decisions a person can make is when, or if, to have children.  A recent report out of California exposed the state’s practice of preventing women from making such a decision by sterilizing incarcerated women through coercion and force. 

By evaluating prison records, the prisoner and women’s rights group Justice Now discovered that nearly 150 women were surgically sterilized from 2006-2010 in violation of state law. It is possible that nearly 100 more women were sterilized dating back to the late 1990s.  Women who witnessed this practice have reported that the procedure was largely forced upon women of color much more often than onto white women. One woman reported being told that she had a medical condition that required a hysterectomy, only to find out after being released from prison that she no longer had symptoms of the condition, making sterilization medically unnecessary. Women who were pregnant during their time in prison were repeatedly pressured into being sterilized during labor and delivery by doctors that treated the practice of tubal ligation as standard, routine care. Like any medical decision, the decision to be sterilized should be made with informed consent between a patient and her doctor. Coercing incarcerated women into making irreversible decisions about her reproductive health by presenting misleading information about a condition that arguably does not exist or asking her to make important health decisions during labor is both unethical and illegal.

The mass sterilization of women in prison was outlawed in 1979.  The fact that these practices still exist, even with clear laws banning them, is shocking.  What is equally shocking is that prison officials have purported that they were doing these women – and California tax payers – a favor by promoting sterilization in the prison system. One doctor who was paid $147,460 in a thirteen-year period to perform the procedures justified his actions by stating that he was saving the taxpayers more than that by saving money in welfare for these “unwanted children.”  But this begs the question, “unwanted by whom?” The attitude taken by this doctor harkens back to a shameful time in our history when people in power believed that some lives were more important than others.  In fact, California’s history of eugenics is notorious for having influenced the practices of the Nazi regime in Germany.

This is undeniably an issue of reproductive choice and reproductive justice.  Every person should be afforded the freedom and resources to decide whether to have children, to not have children, and to parent the children they have.  The California prison system violated the rights of these women, and robbed them of their ability to make personal reproductive decisions. While incarcerated, woman are stripped of their connection with their families and the ability to exercise their most basic decision making power. To rob someone of her ability to make the decision to continue having children, even once she is no longer incarcerated, is further unwarranted punishment and is an abhorrent abuse of power.

This should outrage all of us who advocate for the right to decide when to have children and to do so with dignity, free from coercion and violence. As one formerly incarcerated woman said, state prison officials are the real repeat offenders, they repeatedly offended me by denying me my right to dignity and humanity."

Kelsey is a summer intern at Legal Voice and a rising 3 year law student at Seattle University School of Law.  Kelsey has her undergraduate degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies from Seattle Pacific University.  She is a California native who loves the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why the Movement for LGBT Justice Means So Much More than Marriage Equality…

by Darcy Kues

As Megan beautifully said in our last Legal Voice blog post, same-sex couples won a great victory last week when the Supreme Court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Justice Kennedy wrote powerfully about the disparaging effect of DOMA on couples that States seek to protect and treat with dignity. The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor does have far-reaching effects; for example, the fall of DOMA (Section 3, at least) removes a critical barrier to binational couples seeking to live together without fear of separation in the United States. (In fact, a New York City immigration judge stopped a removal proceeding moments after hearing the news on DOMA’s unconstitutionality.)

And yet, we must recognize that the movement for justice for queer folks does not end with marriage equality. Although marriage is an important institution for many people regardless of sexual orientation and therefore should be accessible to every adult citizen in America, it is not enough. It is not nearly enough to fight for marriage equality without fighting against injustice on every front.

Queer people in America face significant barriers to access to health, access to education, and access to justice. Young LGBT people (especially those that are bisexual or transgender) are disproportionately represented in homeless populations, due at least in part to hostility or exclusion from their families. Young queer people are also disproportionately under the care of the state, either in foster care or juvenile justice facilities, and many states have no policies in place to protect young people under their care from harassment or discriminatory treatment by staff or other youth. Queer people are overrepresented in prison populations, and face severe harassment while incarcerated (from both staff and other prisoners). For many queer people, health care is not only inaccessible because of cost, but also because of the harassment and judgment they face when attempting to receive critical health care. Young LGBT people still face harassment and violence at school, and often receive education that further stigmatizes their own identities if it doesn’t ignore them altogether. In New York City, many transgender women of color are being arrested for prostitution simply because they are transgender and condoms are found in their bags when police search them. Many trans folks cannot even go to the restroom in public with experiencing discrimination and harassment; let’s not forget that just this past Spring an Arizonan legislator introduced a bill in the Arizona state legislature that would made using the bathroom in accordance to your gender identity/expression a crime.

Marriage does not solve these issues. We should be proud that another discriminatory law is off the books; we should celebrate this victory, but we should not become complacent or satisfied until everyone receives full protection under the law and everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
Just as loudly as we celebrated the fall of DOMA, we should have protested the Supreme Court’s dismantlement of the Voting Rights Act and its weakening of Title VII. Thanks to the Court’s decision in Vance v. Ball State University, now it will be even harder for women and LGBT folks to bring a successful employment discrimination claim.

The fight for LGBT justice means mobilization against injustice on all fronts; in order to truly break down barriers for queer people in America, we must commit to breaking down barriers for people of color, people with disabilities, women and feminine-identified folks, immigrants, working class people, people experiencing poverty and/or homelessness, and young people. One identity does not live in isolation to others, and we all have wonderfully complex identities that uniquely position us in American society.

As Audre Lorde once said, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” In other words, LGBT rights are women’s rights. And, until we all work together to dismantle systems of injustice for all communities and for all people, none of us will ever truly be free. 

Darcy Kues is a third year law student at University of Washington School of Law and is currently interning with the New York Legal Assistance Group LGBT Law Project in New York City. She interned with Legal Voice in Spring 2013, where she researched the potential implications of the overturning of DOMA, as well as information on emergency contraception availability and issues of standing in the Supreme Court marriage cases. She is so thankful for everything she learned at Legal Voice, and is excited to take the knowledge she gained and apply it to her future work in legal advocacy for LGBTQ folks.