Speaking of Women's Rights: 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Everyday Sexism: Kids' Edition

By Chloë Phalan

Everyday sexism alert! The other day I was perusing the greeting cards at a local drug store, looking for a birthday card for my nephew who was turning three. He’s a doll—so fun and cheerful and bright! I was looking for a card that would make him smile, make him feel special, and have room for a packet of stickers. The section full of brightly colored birthday cards for kids offered only two choices for a 3-year-old: “Birthday Boy – 3” read one tag, and “Birthday Girl – 3” read the other. Guess which was which! I’ll give you one guess!

I think you could have gotten that one even if the pictures were in black and white. The messages are pretty clear:
Boys, you’re strong and smart and generally awesome—feel good about yourself for being YOU.
Girls, you’re pretty and sweet—feel good about yourself for pleasing others.

Yes, this was my experience at just one store. And yes, they’re just birthday cards. Kids open them, maybe shake them out for any dollar bills (or stickers) that may be inside, a grown-up makes them read it, and then in to the recycle bin they go. But the messages kids get from friends and family—the questions you ask, your tone of voice, your compliments, the games you propose, the chores you assign, the gifts you give, and yes, EVEN THE CARDS—is a huge piece of the personal-identity puzzle kids are constantly working on. A puzzle that shows them a picture of who they are, who they will grow up to be, and where they stand socially.

As “Suz” says in this piece, “All children are born a seed. These seeds carry in them all the predispositions we house in our genes, a massive tree with branches sprouting off at all sides. But from the moment that pink or blue swaddling hits our skin, those branches begin being pruned. What should little girls look like, do, be? What about little boys?”

And the pink and blue surely doesn’t stop with swaddling blankets. Gendered messages are propagated in toy stores, many of which have segregated aisles for “girl toys” and “boy toys.” The girl aisles are overwhelmingly pink, and promote the idea that girls are domestic, maternal, and princesses-in-the-making; the boy aisles are predominantly blue, black, and silver and feature toys that indicate boys as strong and destructive, as well as scientifically and mechanically inclined.

Dinosaurs? That’s a boy thing. Cooking and baking? So girly. Cars and trains? Boys only, through and through. But according to who?

A few young people are challenging the “girl toy” v. “boy toy” status quo, and I tip my hat to them (and their families!):  

Six-year-old Parker Dains penned a letter to ABDO Publishing Company, creators of The Biggest Baddest Book of Bugs, after she read (and loved!) the book, but flipped it over to discover it was part of the company’s Biggest Baddest Books for Boys series. In her letter she recommended that the company change the series to Biggest Baddest Books for Boys and Girls because “some girls would like to be entomologists too.” The company listened, and dropped the “For Boys” part of the name. Sweet!

Seven-year-old Charlotte Benjamin took issue with Lego’s portrayal of girls. Not only was she disappointed that there were “barely any” Lego girls in the kits, but the ones that were included didn’t really do much. “All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks,” wrote Charlotte. “I want you to make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun, ok!?!” YES.

Twelve-year-old McKenna Peterson wrote a similar letter to Dick’s Sporting Goods after flipping through the company’s basketball catalog and noticed a glaring lack of females in the publication. “There are NO girls in the catalog,” wrote McKenna. “Oh wait, sorry. There IS a girl in the catalog on page 6. SITTING in the STANDS.” Burn.

It’s not to say that it’s impossible to find gender-neutral greeting cards, toys, and books. (Technically, that “boy” card was generic, but still filed under “Boy”, so…) It’s also not to say that there is anything wrong with a girl loving the color pink or a boy loving the color blue. But there is really no need to choose that for them.

In the end, I found a card with happy animals and a message that read, “Wishing you a stupendous birthday!” It took about five additional seconds to find it—five seconds that I commit to taking each time I make a choice for a child in my life. I take the time to ask myself not just ‘will it hold stickers' but also 'am I telling them what they should be, or am I telling them what they can be?’

Chloe Phalan is Program Assistant at Legal Voice, where she works to advance justice for women and girls by scheduling meetings and keeping files properly labeled.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bodily Autonomy Matters to Everyone

By Legal Voice Staff

The notion of bodily autonomy should not be a difficult concept to grasp. It isn’t radical: it is simply that each person should have control over his or her own body. Yet we continue to see policies that deny this autonomy to individuals, particularly women, through rationales often based on religion or other personally held moral objections.

Over the last few years, women’s basic reproductive rights have been trampled through systematic discriminatory legislation on the state and federal levels. This backward motion shows no signs of slowing, especially in conservative states that use women’s reproductive autonomy as a political bargaining chip. State legislatures enacted 205 abortion restrictions from 2011–2013, more restrictions than the total number enacted in the entire previous decade. Then, earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. favored corporations’ religious freedom at the expense of women’s access to contraceptive care, a decision that has led to a fresh onslaught of religious exemption lawsuits and requests.

Some of these challenges follow in Hobby Lobby’s footsteps and seek exemptions specifically from the ACA contraceptive care requirement. But, troublingly, others are using the Hobby Lobby decision as leverage for exemptions from other legal requirements, such as the group of religious leaders who urged President Obama to include a religious exemption to his LGBT anti-discrimination executive order.

The aftermath of Hobby Lobby proved what we’ve known for years—an attack on women’s rights can very easily translate into an attack on everyone’s rights. So while bodily autonomy is at the core of the reproductive justice movement—women and their families should be able to decide how, when, and with whom to form their families—Legal Voice is also working in other issue areas to change systems that deny women (and men) the right to control, protect, and make decisions for their own bodies.

For instance: health care coverage for transgender people. In the health care system, transgender people have repeatedly been denied the opportunity to have control over their health care decisions. Both public and private health insurance policies routinely include clauses that specifically prevent transgender people from having the same coverage for medical services that is provided for other policy holders. Some plans exclude coverage for surgical or non-surgical services for medically necessary transition-related care, while in other cases, insurance companies outright deny coverage to the individual. We are currently representing a transgender woman who was denied coverage for gender reassignment surgery by her insurer on the grounds that it was “cosmetic”—despite the fact that her health care providers unanimously regard the surgery as medically necessary under well-established standards of care.

Bodily autonomy is also at the core of end-of-life decision-making and care. Death with Dignity laws provide options for elderly and terminally ill individuals to control their own end-of-life care. People living in states with these laws—Washington, Oregon, and Vermont—have access to one of the greatest human freedoms: to live, and die, according to their own desires and beliefs.

But people living in states without Death with Dignity laws—or people whose secular, taxpayer-supported hospitals have merged with Catholic hospital chains—lack the ability to control what happens (or does not happen) to their bodies at the end of their lives. You may have heard of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and who wanted to die on her terms—without suffering and surrounded by the people she loved. Living in California at the time, Brittany lacked the legal right to request that her physician aid her in dying. To obtain the right to control her end-of-life care and to access appropriate medication legally, Brittany and her family moved to Oregon and, in an act of complete autonomy, Brittany ended her life on November 1.

We believe all people have the right to make decisions regarding their bodies without politicians, insurance companies, employers, hospital policy-makers, or anyone else telling them what decisions to make or how to make them. We have actively worked to change culture and policies that threaten individuals’ autonomy over their own bodies by:
·         Sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminal penalties for women on the basis of pregnancy.
·         Working with the Seattle City Council to pass a resolution calling on federal lawmakers to repeal all bans on public insurance coverage of abortion, including the Hyde Amendment.
·         Engaging in civil discourse about sexual abuse, street harassment, non-consensual pornography, and other violations to women’s bodies.
·         Advocating for Washington’s Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) to provide inclusive health benefits for transgender people covered by PEBB plans, which they approved earlier this year.

When a woman has the power to decide when and how to get pregnant—or when and how to not get pregnant—she has control over her body. When transgender people have the ability to receive the medical treatment they need without the fear of discrimination, they have control over their bodies. When a woman approaching the end of her life has the ability to make important decisions for herself, she has control over her body.

A woman’s right to her body is her right alone.

Photo courtesy of Steve Rainwater.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Whose (Health Care) Conscience Is It, Anyway?

By Janet Chung
Originally published by Huffington Post
More and more, we live in a world where the religious beliefs of those who want to refuse health care services trump the rights of patients who deserve and need those services. This is untenable. The time has come to return the focus to patients, and an important first step is to protect those health care providers whose consciences tell them that they are obliged to provide health care at least as much as we protect the rights of their colleagues to refuse it.

How did we get here? It's important to understand that this state of affairs has been a long time coming. The U.S. Supreme Court's now notorious decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is only the latest salvo in an ongoing campaign that makes health care providers' beliefs—not patients' needs—the basis for determining what services will be offered.

A mainstay in this assault is a fresh barrage of laws containing so-called "conscience clauses," designed to give health care providers the right to refuse to offer services that they personally disapprove of, regardless of patient needs. In recent years, such state and federal laws have been expanding their reach in troubling new ways. Where they once focused on the right of providers to refuse to participate in specific services, primarily abortions and sterilization, they are now even broader in scope. For example, pharmacists in many states have the right to refuse to dispense any medication—and some have exercised that right to deny women emergency contraception based on the categorically false belief that such contraception causes an abortion.

Longstanding exemptions for not just individual providers, but also religious institutions further widen the gap between what patients need and what providers are required to offer. For example, in my home state of Washington, the insurance code provides that religiously sponsored plans can opt out of including legally mandated insurance benefits in their plan offerings, based on conscience. Elsewhere, hospitals that generally are required by law to provide emergency contraception to patients who have been sexually assaulted may refuse to do so on religious grounds. Similarly, even before the Hobby Lobby decision, religious institutions, such as houses of worship, were exempt from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage requirements, and nonprofits with religious objections to ACA coverage requirements could refuse as well. The Hobby Lobby Court then further extended this doctrine, adding for-profit employers with religious objections to the list of entities exempt from providing otherwise mandated health care benefits.

While the Hobby Lobby decision focused on contraceptive coverage, it would be a mistake to think that its reach stops there. By recognizing a for-profit corporation's religious free exercise rights, the Court opened the door to religiously-based refusals of services of all sorts. For example, some providers object to aid in dying, or providing health care services of any kind to LGBT patients. Some religions proscribe vaccinations or blood transfusions. What's more, courts, not wanting to become arbiters of spirituality, do not question the sincerity of claims of religious belief. Thus, a religious objection might just prove to be the trump card justifying denials of such health care services.

This situation is unacceptable. The time has come to accord legal protection to other forms of "conscience." Providers should be protected if their religion or conscience compels them to provide care, not only when they choose to refuse it.

This broadened frame for conscience clause protection is especially needed in light of the precipitous rise in religiously affiliated health care systems; the number of Catholic-run acute-care hospitals increased by 16% from 2001-11. These hospital systems usually come with accompanying restrictions on services based on religious institutional doctrine. To comply with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, a Catholic-affiliated hospital may require its employees, as a matter of policy, not to provide certain services, including non-emergency pregnancy termination, medication for aid in dying, and infertility treatment. These prohibitions can extend not only to employees of the hospital itself, but also to affiliated clinics, hospices, physicians with admitting privileges—even separately owned medical practices that lease office space from a religiously affiliated health system. Studies of physicians at religiously affiliated hospitals have found over half (52%) of ob-gyns and one in five primary care physicians experienced conflict between the care they wanted to provide and hospital policies.

Institutional policies should not be allowed to prevent health care professionals from exercising their professional judgment, to practice evidence-based medicine, and to provide comprehensive care to their patients.

At best, privileging the conscience of providers who refuse care results in inconvenience to the patient and delay of care. At worst, it results in a complete barrier to timely access to health care -- such as when there is a time-sensitive medication that a pharmacist refuses to provide, or a procedure that no hospital in the region will provide.

It is time to recognize the hypocrisy of protecting only the moral beliefs of those providers who use their beliefs as a basis for refusing to provide care. We need to also protect the providers who believe it is their duty to provide care, and thus, protect the patients who need care. A core ethical obligation for medical professionals is nonmaleficence—do no harm. That form of conscience deserves protection, too.


Janet Chung is Legal and Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, where she works to advance reproductive and economic justice for women through advocacy, litigation, and legal rights education. She is a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Step Backward for Sexual Assault Survivors

By David Ward

For years, sexual assault survivors and advocates have worked to change the legal system’s response to sexual violence. We’ve fought to ensure that survivors of sexual assault are able to report crimes without fear that their conduct will become the focus of the case. But a ruling last week by the Washington Supreme Court threatens to move us backward.

In its decision in the case of State v. W.R., the Court reversed 25 years of Washington precedent concerning the burden of proof in rape cases. And the ruling raises serious concerns that it will become even harder to obtain justice for survivors of sexual assault, which is already one of the most underreported and under-prosecuted crimes.

To understand the impact of the ruling, it helps to understand how the law has changed in Washington over the years.

Washington significantly reformed its sexual assault laws in 1975. Before then, rape was defined as sex “committed against the person’s will and without the person’s consent.” As a result, the State had the burden in rape cases of proving that the victim had not consented—a standard that focused on the victim, rather than on the perpetrator.

But in 1975, the Legislature changed the law to remove the victim’s non-consent as an element of the crimes of first or second degree rape. Instead, the Legislature required the State to prove the use of forcible compulsion by the defendant. This change in the law was intended to ensure that the focus in rape cases would be on the defendant’s conduct, rather than on the victim's.

In 1989, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that if a defendant asserted consent as a defense to a charge of rape by forcible compulsion, the defendant had the burden of proving this defense by a preponderance of the evidence. The Court reaffirmed this ruling in another case in 2006.

But by a 6-3 margin last week, the Washington Supreme Court reversed its previous rulings. The Court held that if a defendant is charged with rape by forcible compulsion and asserts that the victim had consented, the State must now bear the burden of disproving the victim’s consent beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant will no longer have any burden of proving a defense of consent.

Legal Voice joined with our allies at the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, and the Sexual Violence Law Center to submit an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in this case. We argued that requiring the prosecution to disprove that the victim had consented would turn the clock back by shifting the focus of rape cases to the victim's actions, rather than on the defendant's conduct.

Justice Susan Owens agreed with our argument in a powerful dissent, which was joined by Justices Steven González and Charles Johnson. The dissent noted that “placing the burden on the State to disprove consent wrongfully puts the victim’s actions and reputation on trial” and would “invalidate years of work undertaken to properly refocus our rape law.”

The dissent also warned that “if victims believe the trial will focus on their behavior rather than the perpetrator’s actions, they will be less likely to report the rape” and that “if they do report the rape, they may feel that they themselves are on trial when the focus shifts to their actions rather than the crime against them.”

Needless to say, we agree with the dissent and we are disappointed by the Court’s ruling. We cannot go back to the days when rape trials focused on survivor’s conduct rather than on the defendant’s actions. The ruling makes it all the more necessary for us to keep working on all fronts to ensure that the law provides justice for sexual assault survivors and that their voices are heard.

You can help by encouraging friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and students to sign up to receive our messages and together we can work to change our culture and how survivors of sexual violence are treated.

David Ward is Legal & Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, where his work focuses on gender violence, family law, and LGBT rights.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Your Voice, Your Choice, Your Vote

On August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment secured American women the fundamental right to vote, women's lives were greatly changed. The women who came before us rallied behind a shared understanding that women are equal citizens, and stopped at nothing to secure our right to vote.

So today, we ask you to use that right that women fought so hard to give us. The easiest way to ensure your values are prioritized by your local and national government is by voting into office legislators who stand with you on important issues.

Ask legislators and candidates, Where do you stand on ensuring...

...women have paycheck fairness? Do you support legislative improvements, including:

  • requiring employers to demonstrate that wage disparities are based on factors other than sex? 
  • prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers' wage practices or disclose their own wages? 
  • strengthening penalties for equal pay violations? 
...providers and patients together decide what is best care, without interference from restrictive hospital system policies controlled by religious directives?
  • If your local hospital system and your providers are contemplating a transaction with a religious-based health system, what limitations will the legislator or candidate agree to? Are they committed to providing access to a full range of comprehensive reproductive health care and counseling, nondiscrimination against LGBT patients, and—for Oregon and Washington—counseling and referrals for requests for information about the Death with Dignity Act? How are they demonstrating that commitment? 
...businesses don't have license to discriminate based on their own beliefs and to deprive patients of access to insurance coverage to comprehensive health care services? Are you looking for ways to guarantee:
  • employers do not follow Hobby Lobby's example and deprive women of access to basic contraceptive health care? 
  • employees' access to other needed services (e.g. HIV treatment, vaccination, infertility treatment) are not subject to the religious beliefs of individual employers? 
  • LGBT people will not be discriminated against in access to healthcare services, employment in health care, and other public accommodations? 
...survivors of sexual assault receive justice? Will you work to protect women from:
  • the family laws that allow perpetrators to assert parental rights to children who are conceived through rape?
  • the school system, which routinely overlooks its obligation under Title IX to address sexual harassment and assault, and to take immediate action to ensure equal educational opportunity? 
  • the criminal justice system, which consistently refrains from testing rape kits and allows rapes to go uninvestigated if alcohol is involved?
The issues that matter most to you should also matter to whoever you vote for. For more information about the candidates on your ballot—as well as logistical voting information specific to your area—type your address in the box below. Remember, it's your voice, your choice, your vote. Use it!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Entitled to Women:
When "No" Leads to Violence

By Jennifer Knutson

I'm oscillating between rage and tears.

At 10:45 this morning, one of the students at my friends' kid's school shot fellow students, and then himself. According to the Seattle Times, another student, "Jarron Webb, 15, said the shooter was angry at a girl who would not date him, and that she was shot."

This has got to stop.

A friend reminded me of all of the other recent shootings/stabbings/ violence like this. "Jesus f*cking Christ," she says. "Was it always like this and we're only hearing about it more now? (The girl stabbed to death for not going to prom with someone, the woman whose throat was slashed for not talking to someone, the woman who was shot after a funeral for refusing to give her number to someone, etc, etc, etc)."

Let's not forget the abhorrent acts of Elliot Rodger earlier this year at Santa Barbara and the terrifying manifesto that detailed his hatred of, and feelings of entitlement to, women.

I don't know the answer to my friend's question. But I think we finally might be admitting to ourselves and our community that culturally we have a BIG PROBLEM with violence against women that goes along with the harrowing belief that men are entitled to whatever they want from women, whenever they want it.

Arthur Chu, in his brilliant piece, Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds (in response to the Santa Barbara shootings), sums up reality brilliantly:

We’re not guaranteed to get laid by the hot chick of our dreams as long as we work hard enough at it... And when our clever ruses and schemes to “get girls” fail, it’s not because the girls are too stupid or too bitchy or too shallow to play by those unwritten rules we’ve absorbed.

It’s because other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned—they can be given freely, by choice, or not.

Meanwhile, violence like this is reinforcing women's fear that if they say "no," acts of violence—up to and including death of themselves and their friends—is a perfectly reasonable outcome.

In the last three hours, I thought what I was feeling was anger.

But that's not quite right.

I feel helpless.

Jennifer Knutson is the Development Officer at Legal Voice. She is committed to gender equity and fighting for physically and emotionally safe spaces in our homes and throughout our community for children, young people, and adults alike. Outside of work, Jennifer enjoys urban micro-farming and travelling to Portland to indulge in food carts, restaurants, and coffee houses galore.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

That Was Us!
Recognizing Battered Woman Syndrome as a Defense with Judith Bendor

By Judith Bendor

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

In the early 1980s, Legal Voice (then known as the Northwest Women’s Law Center) was only a few years old, and was very concerned about domestic violence. In the 1980s battering was a deep secret, one of shame for the person who was beaten. Legal Voice wanted to change this.

Attorney Ellen Yaroshefsky represented defendant Sherrie Allery, who had been convicted of second degree murder in the death of her abusive husband. Yaroshefshy (now a distinguished Professor of Law and formerly with the Center for Constitutional Rights) asked Legal Voice to do an amicus brief. The trial court had not permitted the introduction of evidence of Battered Woman Syndrome, which was offered to explain why Ms. Allery had stayed with her husband even though he had beaten her badly; essentially, that the fact she stayed did not mean she was lying about the battering. Legal Voice agreed and I, then a recent law graduate, wrote the brief.

It was a privilege to write the brief—a really transformative experience. While working on the brief I learned about battering. I hoped that the Supreme Court judges could make their own journey on behalf of battered victims. At oral argument they asked probing questions. Yaroshefsky was magnificent. And it worked, as Sherrie Allery's conviction was overturned unanimously (682 P.2d 312 (Wash. 1984)). The case has been cited 440 times. Hooray!

But it is now 30 years later. The issue of battering is still very much with us—may there come a day when this is no longer true.

Judith Bendor was a member of Legal Voice’s Board of Directors from 1980-86, serving as Vice President, Chair of the Legal Committee and co-chair of a fundraising committee. She was an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, then appointed by Governor Gardner to serve on the Pollution Control and Shoreline Hearings Boards to 1992 and for almost two decades served as administrative hearings examiner for a variety of public entities in land use/environmental law. She is now an active Legal Voice volunteer.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Flag on the Play:
Off-the-Field Violence and the NFL

By Josh Bam

Domestic Violence Awareness Month began as a day in 1981 and evolved into a week-long observance soon after that. The first Domestic Violence Awareness Month occurred in October of 1987, the same year the first national domestic violence hotline became available.

This year, Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes at a revealing time in American history and women’s rights. One particularly visible series of events should be the starting point as we reflect on our fight against domestic violence.

It began with the Rice incident, where Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his wife in an elevator, knocking her unconscious. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell initially responded by suspending Rice for two games, but increased the sanction once a video of the assault became public. The increased punishment was indefinite suspension and termination of his $35 million contract.

Oh good, then it’s all sorted out.

Wrong. Even before this incident, the NFL had a long history of leniency when faced with domestic violence charges and convictions. Rice only received a strong penalty because his crime was caught on tape and released to the public.

Goodell and the League as a whole came under fire for the mishandling Rice’s punishment. The pressure led to a flurry of moves that seemed focused at saving the NFL’s reputation. In a letter from Goodell to league owners, Goodell made it clear that domestic violence and sexual assault “have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances.” He also introduced a new policy—six-game suspension for a first offense and a banishment of at least a year for a second offense. The letter then outlines a plan for League personnel to undergo training on the risk factors of domestic violence.

Less than a week later, the NFL was tested on its ability to follow-through with its new policies when San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on felony domestic violence charges. Under the League’s personal conduct policy players don’t have to be convicted of a crime to be disciplined, so McDonald was allowed to play the following week while the case was investigated.

The NFL also made substantial donations to domestic violence resources—including the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which says phone calls to the hotline spiked after the Rice incident—and hired two new consultants. Tony Porter, who works with A Call to Men, a violence prevention organization, and Beth Richie, a University of Illinois at Chicago gender studies professor, will begin working on a new domestic violence education and prevention policy for the NFL.

Policies and education only tackle one part of the problem. We also need to engage in open dialogue about the current culture of domestic violence complacence and what we can do about it.

In a self-penned essay for The Players Tribune, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said, “This issue is much bigger than NFL suspensions. Domestic violence isn’t going to disappear tomorrow or the next day. But the more that we choose not to talk about it, the more we shy away from the issue, the more we lose...For those of us in the NFL, there’s no excuse for violence off the field.”

While increased awareness isn’t the entire solution, a spotlight on the NFL and a public conversation about domestic violence needs to happen. We face a culture of leniency and blissful ignorance and to make progress requires open dialogue about real issues. This is the month those conversations should start.

More than one-third of women in the United States (approximately 42.4 million) have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. If you or someone you know is a survivor of physical, mental, sexual, or emotional, domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or visit TheHotline.org.

For help in Washington, you can reach the Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-562-6025. Self-help legal resources for domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking victims are available in the Tools to Help You section of the Legal Voice website.

Josh is an attorney in Seattle who works on a variety of corporate, business, and tax law issues. He also writes and edits for firms and nonprofits in the Seattle area and thoroughly enjoys preparing taxes with United Way of King County Free Tax Preparation Campaign. Josh currently serves as the Secretary for Seattle Select Attorneys Association and is involved in a few projects with Legal Voice’s Self-Help Committee. He is committed to working on access to justice and accessibility of the law issues.

Photo courtesy of babyknight.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Need Some Inspiration?

By Jamila Johnson

Each year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announce the MacArthur Fellows. This prestigious group is comprised of superbly creative people—the folks who have made a unique impact on the world, but who could do even more with the $650,000 genius grant each receives. This year, the MacArthur Foundation recognized 21 individuals, nine of whom are women sure to inspire.
These are the women who little girls should dream about growing up to be. Shucks, these are the women that all women should dream about growing (more) up to be.

Meet civil rights lawyer Mary L. Bonauto. Her job is essentially about eliminating double standards in the law. In her role as Civil Rights Project Director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston, she strives to create a world where everyone has freedoms and opportunities regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status. Bonauto has been instrumental in social reform litigation across the country for marriage equality as GLAD has been a true leader in the nation’s steps forward.

While most of Bonauto’s work has been in the courtroom, Sarah Deer—a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota—has been making her mark with trailblazing legislation. Deer focuses her work on gender violence on Indian reservations. A citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, Deer has been instrumental in the passage of The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Both laws hope to combat the problems in the legal structures that led to the under-prosecution of violence against native women.

Speaking of prosecution, Stanford professor and social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt has been changing views on criminal justice through her groundbreaking research on how stereotypes of African American criminal behavior impact much more than one might think. In the simplest terms, she focuses on how the association of African Americans with crime might matter at different points in the criminal justice system. From this lens she has contributed to conversations on various parts of the system, from “stand your ground” laws to prison inequities.

Cartoonist and graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel spent 25 years authoring and cartooning Dykes to Watch Out For—a paradigm-shifting comic that has been labeled one of the earliest ongoing representations of lesbians in pop culture. It was through a 1985 issue of this comic that Bechdel introduced us to what would later become known as the Bechdel test, a simple, three-question test that sets a baseline for gender parity in film. She has gone on to address a number of personal stories in book-length graphic memoirs and is changing society’s notions of the contemporary memoir and expanding the graphic form while telling her unique story.

While Bechdel expends memoirs, labor organizer Ai-jen Poo is expanding rights for domestic or private-household workers. Poo is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance where she fights for the estimated 1–2 million domestic workers—housekeepers, nannies, caregivers for the elderly or disabled—in the United States today that are excluded from most federal and state labor laws. Poo is sparking a movement seeking improved working conditions for millions of workers across the nation.

Physicist Danielle Bassett may be only 32, but she is causing quite a stir with her research. Basset is using tools from network science and complex systems theory to enhance our understanding of connectivity and organizational principles in the human brain. Her work is uncovering insights on learning, disease diagnostics and therapeutics, and treatment of brain injury. Additionally, she is contributing to numerous other disciplines as faculty at University of Pennsylvania.

University of Washington alumna Tami Bond is taking on a tricky problem. She is working to unravel the global effects of black carbon emissions on climate and human health, which may have the potential effect of helping millions breathe cleaner air. A professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Bond is developing research that may discover the role of energy in our climate system and just might save the world.

Curious about engineering in Rome during the late Sixteenth Century? Seventy-one year old Pamela O. Long is the expert. This independent historian focuses on the history of science and technology in the fifteenth and sixteenth century and has had great success with her books Openness, Secrecy, Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance (2001) and Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Sciences (2011). The grant will help her finish her latest book on the infrastructure development of Rome and the way society interacts with the creation of infrastructure.

But Long is not the only historian on the list—Professor of East European History Tara Zahra focuses on the history of modern Europe challenging the idea that there is anything inevitable about national conflict or the development of national identity and belonging. She has been getting at this question through the lens of children and by delving into the mobilization of children. She is currently working on a book about immigration from East Central Europe. Zahra is looking at how it affects a society to have one tenth of a population leaving during the course of one generation. She hopes to take more risks and go to new archives to figure out how better to link her work to present day challenges in migration.

These women are truly transformative and an inspiration for all.

Jamila Johnson serves on the Board of Directors at Legal Voice and eagerly awaits the release of MacArthur Foundation genius grants each year collecting role models.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

That Was Us!
Reinterpreting Immigrant Provisions of the Violence Against Women Act with Grace Huang

By Grace Huang

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

In 2002 and 2003, in my capacity as a steering committee member of what was then known as the National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women (NNEVAIW), I had the privilege of working in partnership with Laura Luis Hernandez, Legal Voice (or Northwest Women's Law Center, as it was then called), and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), in a case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case involved the interpretation of the provisions of the 1994 federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that allow for someone to defend herself against deportation if she is married to a U.S Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident, and that spouse has physically abused her or subjected her to extreme cruelty.

In Ms. Luis Hernandez' case, her permanent resident husband was violent and abusive, but all of the physical abuse took place in their home country, and she had fled to the United States. Under the law at the time, a VAWA applicant was required to prove he or she was physically abused or subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S. (the law has since changed), and her case had been denied by an immigration judge, who had found that none of the relevant abusive behavior had taken place in the U.S.

It was clear to Sara Ainsworth (staff attorney at Legal Voice) and the attorneys at NWIRP that the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Immigration Judge had misapplied the law, based on their lack of understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence, which involves an ongoing pattern of controlling and coercive behavior, including the physical violence.

However, to even get to the merits of the Immigration Judge's decision, Ms. Luis Hernandez had to overcome a jurisdictional hurdle disallowing review of this misapplication of the law. Federal immigration law specifies that there is no judicial review of decisions that are left in the "discretion" of the Immigration Court. Through the amazing collaborative efforts of Legal Voice, its pro-bono counsel Kay Frank, Rima Alaily, and Angela Niemann, NWIRP, and NNEVAIW, we were able to persuade the Ninth Circuit in Hernandez v. Ashcroft. In the end, the Court agreed with us that the interpretation of what constitutes "extreme cruelty" is a legal determination and not a purely discretionary decision, that the Court had jurisdiction to review the erroneous decision of the Immigration Judge, and that Ms. Luis Hernandez had been stalked and subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S., and was therefore eligible for the protections under VAWA.

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to see Ms. Luis Hernandez again in person, and am thrilled to say she is thriving and continues to be grateful for the efforts that Legal Voice and the legal community put in to assist not only her, but immigrant survivors of domestic violence throughout the country.

Grace Huang is the Public Policy Coordinator at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a statewide organization of over 70 domestic violence shelter and advocacy programs. At WSCADV, Grace has had the opportunity to work alongside Legal Voice, in partnership with amazing survivors of domestic violence, to bring their experiences to the legislature, court system, and administrative agency policy making processes. In between meetings, Grace enjoys watching her child cheer on the Seattle Mariners, WSCADV's strong partner in the 'Refuse to Abuse' domestic violence prevention campaign.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seattle to Join National Movement Affirming a Woman's Right to Abortion Shouldn't Be Decided by How Much Money She Makes

By Jenny Dodson Mistry

Since 1976, federal dollars have been withheld from covering abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant woman. That precludes even a health exception for women who qualify for federal insurance plans, jeopardizing the well-being of women with serious medical complications during pregnancy.

These unfair limitations are imposed not only on families who use Medicaid, but also on women who qualify for other government-sponsored insurance programs, including military personnel, female veterans who receive coverage from the VA, federal employees, Native American women who utilize the Indian Health Service, women in federal prison and Peace Corps volunteers.

Discrimination in benefits for eligible women threatens what is, for many, an already precarious financial situation. The unexpected expense of an abortion can have devastating consequences, particularly on low-income families who already struggle to pay for basic necessities like food and rent.

Out of frustration with this insidious inequality in access to reproductive health care that effectively puts abortion out of reach for many women, a national movement to restore funding for abortion has evolved. Cities across the country are leading that charge, both through grassroots efforts and local government action. On the grassroots front, the All* Above All “Be Bold Road Trip” is traveling to cities across the nation, engaging scores of activists who are fed up with politicians withholding health care benefits from women for political reasons.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health has worked with cities and localities across the country— such as Travis County, Texas; New York City; Philadelphia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts—to pass local resolutions advocating for coverage of all pregnancy-related care, including annual check-ups, prenatal care, maternity care, family planning and abortion. We are so excited that Seattle could be next on that list! Seattle City Council is currently considering a resolution urging President Obama and Congress to repeal all federal bans on public coverage of abortion. Championed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell and sponsored by Legal Voice and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, this resolution would encourage federal lawmakers to reinstate insurance coverage for abortion services for women enrolled in public insurance programs—including the more than 4,000 Seattle women of reproductive age insured through the federal government.

The State of Washington is already a leader on this issue, as one of just 17 states that uses its own funds to provide coverage for abortion. By calling on the federal government to follow its example, Seattle is seizing the opportunity to demonstrate the full impact that autonomy in medical decisions has not only on women’s health, but also on the economic stability of our most vulnerable communities.

By joining the growing chorus of communities calling for decisive action to eliminate health care inequality, Seattle is taking a bold stand to improve the lives of women across all 50 states.

Jenny Dodson Mistry is the Manager of Local Initiatives at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, where she gets the opportunity to support organizations doing proactive work on the city and county level all across the country. She is inspired by the resolute and creative activists that have made cities a beacon for the progressive movement, and in her spare time, likes to travel to as many of these cities as she can.


Do you want to take a stand and affirm the idea that all women deserve access to insurance coverage of abortion? Here's how you can get involved:
- Talk about it: Tell your family, friends, and Congress why this issue matters to you. Join us in a Tweet Storm on Thursday, September 4, from 1-2 p.m. PDT. For sample social media posts, please email Sarah MacDonald, Legal Voice Marketing & Communications Manager.

- Write a Council Member: The best way to ensure decisions coming out of your local city council are aligned with your values is to tell your local council members what your values are! We encourage you to write to Seattle City Council Members and tell them why they should pass this resolution. Whether you share a personal story or use our sample letter (also available by emailing Sarah), your voice matters.

- Sign the petition: Join the national movement by signing All* Above All's petition asking members of Congress to support lifting all restrictions on coverage of abortion care.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Are You a Woman Against Women Against Feminism? Maybe There's More To It

By Kelsey Martin

Recently, a “Women Against Feminism” webpage has outraged feminists on the internet. On this Tumblr page, young women hold up signs expressing their discomfort with modern feminism. Their critiques vary, but include ideas such as feminism is sexist against men, feminism makes women into victims, feminism does not address other kinds of discrimination, and the patriarchy does not exist.

Some feminists have responded to this website with their own satirical messages poking fun at how outrageous they think it is for women to be against feminism. They’ve written articles explaining why the women are wrong to say that feminism creates victims, responded with their own signs defining feminism, and even photographed their feline friends next to signs proclaiming an equal hatred of all humans. But while the snarky comments of "Confused Cats Against Feminism" made me chuckle, I started to wonder if there’s another way to respond to people questioning the validity of feminism.

It would be remiss to ignore the fact that feminism itself is what grants women the opportunity to be against feminism—feminists who came before us paved the way for women to be able to speak out about why they don’t need feminism. (Is your head spinning, yet?) While it is easy to just get angry and brush off those with differing opinions—They’re misguided! They’re uninformed! They’re wrong!—I think we could have a much more productive conversation by engaging the Women Against Feminism. Their opinions could teach feminists how to reach larger audiences and dispel some of the persistent myths about feminism. Having real conversations with people who see some issues with the movement could actually benefit the movement as a whole.

Many of the women featured on the site expressly mention that they identify as pro-equality, which is a core definition of feminism. Some reflect on the problems with feminism’s association with mainly white, privileged women, and call for a more inclusive movement. If we were to listen to their issues with the feminist movement, maybe we could start to change the stereotype of the bra-burning, men-hating feminist, and build solidarity among those striving to achieve gender equality.

I’d like to talk with the Women Against Feminism and ask why they think that patriarchy is a fiction. I’d like to probe into their opinions about men’s issues and suggest that working for equality of the sexes includes addressing the struggles that men face as well as the ones women face. I’d like to support those women who chose to be stay-at-home mothers and housewives; feminism is all about choice, and I’m happy they had the ability to choose the path that fulfills them. More than anything, I’d like to show these women the feminism that I have experienced: a welcoming movement that empowers me to strive for my own chosen goals and fight for everyone else’s ability to do the same.

Perhaps it’s not just the Women Against Feminism who I would engage in this conversation. To break the stereotypes and reach a common understanding of what it means to be a feminist, the conversation could use more voices—women of color, immigrant women, transgender women, women from a variety of religions, and men. Maybe together, we can fight for a world with equal rights for all.

Kelsey Martin is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising third-year student at the University of Washington School of Law. She has big dreams of single-handedly dismantling the patriarchy through her legal career.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

That Was Us!
Taking Down Montana's Deviate Sexual Conduct Law with Rosemary Daszkiewicz

By Rosemary Daszkiewicz

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

Sometimes, the fates put you in the right place at the right time. In mid-April, 2013, I happened to be in my company’s offices in Columbia Falls, Montana for a few days when I learned of an important update in a case I handled between 1993 and 1997, first as a Legal Voice employee, then later as a Legal Voice volunteer attorney. The case, Gryczan v. State, involved the successful attempt to declare unconstitutional Montana’s Deviate Sexual Conduct law, commonly referred to as a “sodomy law.” The law was not actually a sodomy law in the traditional sense. Instead, enacted in the 1970s, it did not prohibit any specific type of sexual conduct, it simply prohibited any sort of sexual conduct engaged in by two adults of the same gender. It was considered “progressive” in the 1970s because it did not restrict heterosexual couples from performing any consensual sex acts, as traditional sodomy laws had done.

These days, with marriage equality reaching more and more of the citizens of the U.S., it’s hard to imagine a time when such laws were common. And even though there wasn’t a current history of enforcement, every LGBTQ person in Montana knew, in the back of their mind, that such enforcement was possible. Legal Voice partnered with Montana attorney Holly Franz to challenge that law. At the start Holly and I road tripped across Montana, meeting potential plaintiffs and attempting to gain their trust to convince them that it would be worth the risk to put their name on a lawsuit. We were asking them to “come out” in a very public way. Our approach worked, and three brave women and three brave men agreed to be named plaintiffs. Lead plaintiff Linda Gryczan knew she was taking on an especially public role, but she was an activist through and through and was willing to do whatever she could in the fight for justice.

We filed suit in December 1993. Ironically, I was visibly pregnant at two important moments in the case, including during our argument before the Montana Supreme Court on April 11, 1997. (My second daughter, Emma, was due on May 11, though she waited until May 28 to actually arrive.) Our opponents weren’t quite sure what to make of me under the circumstances. Was I a lesbian who had conceived via turkey baster? Was I a straight woman silly enough to align herself with “those kinds of people?” You could hear them praying for my salvation whenever I walked by.

The oral argument was great fun. Each year the Montana Supreme Court arranges for one civil and one criminal case to be argued at the University of Montana Law School in Missoula, rather than at the Court’s chambers in Helena. They chose our case. There wasn’t an empty seat in the room with the number of mostly-supportive law students in attendance, something as close to a media frenzy as I’ll ever participate in—Holly and I were interviewed by the local NPR radio station!—and plenty of good choices for our post-argument merriment. My husband was even able to miss a few days of work to join in the fun. Though I can’t remember the context for the question, at one point I was asked about the circumstances in which you might be able to assume a person had engaged in sexual relations, even if you hadn’t seen the sexual act itself. I decided to answer by mentioning that my present condition certainly made an assumption of sexual activity pretty easy to make. Oddly, the justice did not have a follow up.

We won on July 2, 1997, in a beautifully written decision that played a role in some future legal decisions on gay rights. But because the forces of evil are strong, for many years the Montana legislature refused to remove the laws from the books. Out of spite, pure and simple. Typically, the attorney general presents a single bill each legislative session with updates to laws that are the result of Montana court rulings. Time and again it was not possible to include changes to the sodomy law using that approach.

Finally, with the help of many in the progressive community in Montana, the legislature passed a bill that repealed part of the deviate sexual conduct statue dealing with consenting adults. On April 18, 2013, Governor Bullock signed the bill into law.

The signing occurred in the rotunda of the Montana Capital building. It was another standing-room only event, with crowds filling the main floor and leaning over from the balconies. Many dignitaries were introduced, and special recognition was given to a Republican senator who ultimately agreed to change his position and support repeal. Every potential applause line was greeted with long rounds of applause, happy hoots—the works. The room thundered for minutes after the Governor put ink to paper.

One of the leaders of the repeal effort was our lead plaintiff Linda Gryczan. Linda also played a prominent role in the festivities. I know this because I was able to make a last minute change to my work plans, and to fly to Helena for the signing event. I saw many other familiar faces in the crowd, LGBTQ activists from the ‘90s, Holly Franz and her partner, who remain dear friends, etc. It wasn’t my victory this time around, but I was part of the chain that led to that glorious signing ceremony.

I treasure every moment of working on that case, and the friendships and relationships I developed during those years. It was a team effort from start to finish with many high and low moments to savor. What an experience for an emerging lawyer; I had only been practicing for 11 years when I gave that oral argument. And I cannot believe how lucky I was to play a meaningful role in the efforts to secure justice for the LGBTQ community. It makes writing an annual check to Legal Voice easy to remember, to help it support the work that needs to be done today.

Rosemary Daszkiewicz is a senior director, law with Plum Creek Timber Company. Her responsibilities include ethics and compliance, litigation oversight, and supporting the manufacturing operations and the human resources team. A former Legal Voice employee and long-time volunteer, Rosemary’s proudest non-legal accomplishment is raising two young women who know their way around whatever wave of feminism we’re currently living through.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

(Mis)Informed Consent:
Exposing a Prevailing Injustice in Access to Abortion

By Deborah E. Klein, M.D.,
based on questions posed by Andrea Greenstein

As a physician and longtime reproductive health advocate, I have been disturbed and incensed by the increasing number of states that require special mandated counseling prior to an abortion. Allowing legislators to insert their own scripts into informed consent counseling subverts a standard medical practice that is an essential component of every medical procedure. So I sat down with Andrea Greenstein, my Legal Voice work group colleague, to answer some questions about informed consent.

One of the major concerns surrounding anti-choice legislation has to do with informed consent. As an advocate for reproductive health and justice, what are some things I should keep in mind when reading about recent attacks on abortion access and services?

Informed consent is based on truth. The provider-patient relationship is based on trust. Truth and trust go out the window when state-mandated misinformation is injected into abortion counseling.

Informed consent is a cornerstone of medical ethics, and is required by law, for all medical procedures in all 50 states. Informed consent requires that patients and their providers discuss the benefits and risks of a medical procedure in order to arrive at a sound medical decision.

The principles of informed consent include:
1. The provider must disclose all relevant medical information needed to make the decision, including risks, benefits, expected outcomes and alternatives
2. The patient must have the ability to understand and process the information
3. The patient must make the decision free from coercion or unfair incentives

Women’s health services, including abortion, seem to be treated differently than most other medical procedures. Why is that? How might additional restrictions affect the relationship between a healthcare provider and her patient?

Under the guise of informed consent, many states have enacted additional requirements unique to abortion. In some cases the required information is outdated, biased, or false—some states require women seeking abortions be told that personhood begins at conception, be provided with information on the ability of a fetus to feel pain, or be presented with inaccurate medical information, such as:

• Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas require that a woman seeking an abortion be told there is a possible link between abortion and breast cancer.

• Arizona, Kansas, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia require that a woman seeking an abortion be told there is a link between abortion and infertility.

• Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia require that that a woman seeking an abortion be told there is a link between abortion and long-term psychological harm.

All these assertions are inaccurate.

Legislators without medical expertise can require that providers deliver medically inaccurate materials, undermining the provider-patient relationship, and putting patients at risk for making medical decisions based on false information. These special laws, required only for abortion procedures, not only provide deceptive information, but are an attempt to disrupt and invalidate the provider-patient relationship, and to undermine the integrity of the medical and scientific evidence that informs medical decision making.

Is there any reason abortion procedures should be subject to different informed consent requirements?

There is no reason that abortion procedures should be singled out for unique informed consent requirements. Anti-choice forces rely on the fact that the public may be unaware of the rigorous informed consent protocols already in place. Since these laws apply only to women, there is the suggestion that women need special protections with regard to medical decisions, and do not have the capacity to engage in medical decision making. State-mandated counseling is further intended to suggest that clinicians might not provide accurate information to patients without specific legislation requiring them to do so. In fact, informed consent is a process that is tailored to each procedure, and the clinician who will perform the procedure is the one who has the greatest expertise to appropriately counsel the patient.

As a women’s healthcare provider, what is your approach to building trust with patients and helping them make decisions about their health?

Shared decision making is a relatively new concept, and is at the heart of the patient-provider relationship. It’s a collaborative process that allows patients and their providers to make health care decisions together, taking into account the best scientific evidence available, as well as the patient’s values and preferences. The patient is placed at the center of the decision making process; patient preferences are honored, and the process is an open dialogue that enhances patient autonomy and confidence.

How can women’s health advocates frame informed consent and abortion counseling as a problem? What is your opinion on these requirements as a healthcare provider who is familiar with advocating for your patients’ health and well being, and helping them make healthcare decisions?

The requirement for unique informed consent counseling for abortion is different from the counseling required for all other medical procedures. It distorts the informed consent process, imbuing it with often medically incorrect, politically driven, coercive, discriminatory, and dangerous statements. This violates medical ethics, and may result in women making decisions that compromise their health.

As a healthcare provider, I believe healthcare decisions should be informed by medical evidence, using standard informed consent and shared decision making processes that protect patients and help them arrive at decisions that are right for them. Politicians should have no authority to obstruct safe medical practice and no right to interfere in the relationship between the provider and the patient.

Deb Klein has practiced family medicine in Seattle for 21 years, and serves on the Legal Voice Reproductive Justice Work Group.

Andrea Greenstein is a women’s health advocate, Seattle young professional, and graduate of the University of Washington where she studied Law, Societies, and Justice. Andrea volunteers with Legal Voice on the Reproductive Justice Work Group.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Health Care is Not a Hobby:
Legal Voice Interns Take to the Streets

Legal Voice's interns, clockwise from top left:
Kelsey Martin, Margaret Hazuka, and Alyssa Sappenfield.  
By Margaret Hazuka
In the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, one has to wonder how we got here. How did we get to the point where “closely held corporations” can make completely false statements about birth control (no, IUDs do NOT cause abortion), and SCOTUS would rely on those statements to deny countless women the right to control their own health care choices? How is it that, in the 21st century, so much is misunderstood about birth control and the women who use it? We all remember Sandra Fluke’s run-in with Rush Limbaugh after admitting she used birth control. More recently, we witnessed the conservative backlash toward Rep. Lucy Flores after owning the fact that she just wasn’t ready for a child at age 16. We live in a culture that shames women for their reproductive choices, including using contraceptives that 99% of sexually active women (married and unmarried) currently use or have used, many for reasons wholly unrelated to preventing pregnancy.

There is a reason Sandra Fluke and Rep. Flores stand out for speaking up. Women are taught to be embarrassed and secretive about their sexuality and their reproductive decisions. We are afraid of the judgments that are associated with birth control, and afraid of men who think that women who use it must do so in order to sleep around.

Maybe if women are open about their contraceptive use, we can transform the conversation. It has worked before—breast cancer was largely stigmatized until survivors like Shirley Temple Black and Betty Ford began speaking up about their experiences and encouraging other women to take action. There was a culture shift. Women realized they were not alone, the reality grew harder to sweep under the rug, and the general public became much more accepting once they were forced to acknowledge the fact that someone close to them had or was at risk for breast cancer. Our cultural views of breast cancer changed by women speaking about their experiences publically.

By that measure, talking publically about birth control and the reasons we take it just might convince others that not all women who use contraceptives are sluts or prostitutes (sorry, Rush). At least that is what I and the other female interns from Legal Voice decided when discussing the odious Hobby Lobby decision one afternoon. So last weekend, the summer interns performed an experiment—in the same vein as the BuzzFeed post and Lena Dunham’s tweet, we made t-shirts announcing our personal reasons for using birth control to demonstrate that women shouldn't be ashamed or uncomfortable about their health care choices:
  • Kelsey: I use birth control because I don't want kids (yet)
  • Margaret: I use birth control because I am in charge of my own uterus
  • Alyssa: I use birth control to keep my PCOS in check

    (The back of each shirt said "My health care is NOT a hobby")
Our original intention was to provoke reactions (like those that occurred in response to the BuzzFeed post) and document them. We wandered through the Seattle tourist sites, and although no one directly confronted us, we got our fair share of stares that ranged from approving to reproachful. But upon reflection, what really informed the experience was not the reaction of others, but my reaction to them. At first, all I could focus on was other people. Did he notice? Did she grimace? Did that mother just avert her teenage daughter’s eyes? But once I started getting used to the attention, I had a realization—the point of speaking out isn’t just about making a statement to everyone else; it also serves as a way for us to take personal ownership of our choices, regardless of external pressure or judgment. It is about knowing that I shouldn’t be ashamed, even if media pundits, politicians, and employers insist otherwise. It was empowering to walk around Seattle knowing that my choices were my own, despite the attempts of business and politics to get in my way. And recognition of that empowerment will hopefully have the side effect of changing others’ minds. Once it is a mainstream part of our society to share our reproductive choices without shame, it will be impossible for others to ignore our voices.

Margaret is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising second-year student at Harvard Law School. She hopes to help shatter all of the glass ceilings and contribute to a future of gender equality.