May 14, 2013
Posted by Leigh Hofheimer under Politics
| Tags: abortion
, birth control
, Emergency Contraception
, President Obama
|  Comments
Not exactly on point, but I got what my teenager was asking. Even she gets the double-standard of the Obama administration’s position on emergency contraception. She asked, “If they think that making it easy for girls to get emergency contraception means that they are going to have more sex, then why do boys get to buy condoms without any problems?” This is mind-boggling coming after President Obama’s speech at the Planned Parenthood Conference: “When it comes to a woman’s health, no politician should get to decide what’s best for you.”
Why do I have a problem with the government policy? Because of all the barriers: you must be 15, you must have a government-issued or photo id (not something all schools provide), you must purchase it in a store that has a stand-alone pharmacy (rare in rural and remote communities), and it is expensive—even though Medicaid covers other over-the-counter medicines like condoms.
We have plenty of evidence-based scientific studies proving that emergency contraception is safe, prevents ovulation, and cannot terminate an existing pregnancy. We have research that shows the dramatic decline in unintended teen pregnancy and abortion rates when teens learn how to use contraception more effectively.
We also know that teens who are abused experience birth control sabotage, pressure to get pregnant, and significantly higher rates of unintended pregnancy. Emergency contraception is important because negotiating birth control methods is awkward in any relationship, but it’s nearly impossible if you’ve got an abusive partner who wants control.
February 19, 2013
Lately, I have been learning about reproductive coercion—all the ways someone could interfere with your birth control, or pressure you to get pregnant or end a pregnancy. I read this surprisingly personal post by a doctor sharing her experience with a female patient where she missed identifying that her boyfriend was preventing her from using birth control.
I asked my friend who is a doctor if she’s had similar experiences. She said she routinely underestimates the lack of control women have around their reproductive choices. “I talk to my patients as if they have control and they may not.” She told me doctors need scripted, short questions, like “Are your decisions around birth control and pregnancy respected? Do you want information on birth control that can’t be interfered with?”
When I was pregnant, health care staff didn’t wait for me to ask about things that could happen, like preeclampsia, they just routinely gave me the info I needed to be safe and healthy.
Reproductive coercion is far more common than preeclampsia. Healthcare providers are missing an opportunity. They don’t have to ask patients to disclose abuse. They should just routinely tell every woman of reproductive age about birth control that can’t be seen, felt, or interfered with, and places they can get support if they, or a friend, might need it.
My doctor friend and I both have teen daughters. Our girls roll their eyes when we try to talk to them about birth control. So we need someone else to do it. It would be a relief to know that their doctors will tell them about undetectable forms of birth control and emergency contraception—not wait for them to ask.
January 8, 2013
Eggs, toast, and a side of emergency contraception. Not exactly like that but pretty close. My girls and I were listening to a morning radio story about a pharmacist who refused to sell EC to a man whose condom broke while having sex with his girlfriend (who happened to be a law student). The pharmacist said “I can’t sell it to men. Who knows what they could be doing with it?” The law student girlfriend told the pharmacist that her boyfriend was allowed to purchase EC under the law—actually, any male or female 17 or older can purchase it without a prescription.
My girls were confused. “Isn’t that the pill you take right after sex if you don’t want to get pregnant?” (How do they know about this??) My exterior demeanor was calm but my insides were sweaty. Try giving clear and simple information in 5 minutes while flipping eggs over easy. The girls asked why the pharmacist would not give the boyfriend medicine that was legal? I explained that some people think that taking emergency contraception was like having an abortion.
The truth is that the EC pill slows down ovulation and prevents the egg and sperm from fertilizing. If you wait too long to take it and fertilization happens, it can’t undo the pregnancy and it won’t hurt the person taking it.
After my mini-medical lecture, it turned out what the girls really wanted to know was, why was I so upset about the pharmacist’s response? I tell them (with just a little passion) that I want them to have control over their bodies and be able to make their own decisions without any additional barriers—like a pharmacist who won’t follow the law. I say that I want them to have accurate information (which I hope they will share with their friends).
“Yeah,” they say, “I bet that boyfriend felt weird.” Okay, don’t forget your lunch bag, give me a kiss. Hustle, you’re gonna be late to school.
November 20, 2012
Posted by Leigh Hofheimer under Politics
| Tags: charter schools
, marriage equality
, Representative Jim McDermott
, Senator Cantwell
, Senator Murray
|  Comments
“Hey mom, I’ll be voting in the next presidential election!”
I had to stop and think about that for a second. Besides my initial reaction of “oh my god, you will be an adult in four short years,” this was an exciting moment. Look around you, if you have any 14-year-olds in your life, imagine them voting in 2016. What do you want them to know about the political process? I want my teenagers to engage politicians and tell them what they think. This is part of their political capital.
I asked my daughters if they knew who their representatives were. They knew Senators Murray and Cantwell but not Representative Jim McDermott. That’s more than I knew when I was 14—I wasn’t even thinking about voting. Young voters are a powerful bloc, but only if we encourage them to vote.
I can think of a couple of practical ways to do this. Take them to one of the many lobby days in Olympia. Walking around the capitol and talking directly to politicians demystifies the political process. Encourage the 14-year-olds you know to send an email asking their representative about an issue that’s important to them. And, just plain old conversation: talking around the dinner table, in the car, or on the bus. In our family, we just talked about healthcare issues that are important for women, marriage equality, legalizing marijuana, charter schools, and the presidential candidates. These conversations are lively and I always learn something new about how my kids look at the world.
October 9, 2012
My newly minted high school teenagers just attended their first homecoming dance and complained grinding was the dominant form of dancing (video spoiler alert—parents prepare to be perplexed or horrified). I’m glad to know there are some good suggestions out there of how schools can prohibit grinding and promote equitable relationships among teens. Yet, as a parent, talking to teenagers about grinding is difficult and frustrating.
I do it because I want to them to believe in their own power and know that they deserve respect. But talking about grinding with your mom is gross, awkward, and not appreciated. I want to yell “No, no, no! Those boys do not deserve to touch you in that meaningless way!” or something equally unhelpful. Instead, I say things like, “Grinding treats you like a body part, not a person; and he doesn’t even have to look you in the eye.”
While I can’t protect my children—gone are the days I could literally lift them out of harm’s way—I can have influence. I can ask the school why they don’t have a no grinding policy, instruct the DJ to play a variety of music, ask kids who are grinding to leave (not just momentarily separate them with a beam of a flashlight), and openly talk about the policy at school.
I think the attitude “kids will be kids” is an excuse for parents to avoid the whole issue. Yes, you do have to talk to boys about their power, objectifying girls, curiosity and arousal, and the best ways to build friendship and intimacy. Yes, you do have to talk to girls about all of these same things. Oh, so much easier said than done. But if we are willing to initiate a conversation about grinding then hopefully our kids will continue to talk to us about things that make them uncomfortable.
July 31, 2012
Does life get any better that this? I’ve worked in the anti-violence field for a bazillion years and it was fabulous to watch my daughters, their friends, their moms, their dads, my husband, and 980 other people I didn’t know all running and walking and having a good time at the first Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field. Everyone was having a blast because healthy relationships are fun for everybody. So much more fun than the grim side of unhealthy relationships.
In the span of one day, a mix of people who’ve probably never thought much about domestic violence, became excited and eager to promote healthy relationships. As runners and walkers streamed by me, it was remarkable to hear “thank you for what you do, it’s important that you are here.” The goodwill I felt all around me was tremendous.
It is thrilling to imagine how we can build upon the goodwill and connection of the race participants to spread the word for change right here in Seattle. People talking about our shared hopes for our children and loved ones—happy, fun, and joyful relationships today, this minute, this moment—what a difference a day can make!
June 5, 2012
Was your first thought a beauty treatment? Did a celebrity cross your mind—say Ashley Judd? Maybe some Ashley Judd outrage is a good idea, but it’s not what I’m talking about today. The Ashley Treatment actually consists of these steps: 1. Being given hormones at age six to stunt your growth so you will stay permanently small and easy to care for; 2. Have your breast buds and uterus removed so you can’t get pregnant or be sexually abused (How does this prevent sexual abuse??); 3. Have no say in this because you can’t give permission or even be asked if this is okay with you.
This is what happened to Ashley X and possibly 100 other children (so far). How can this happen? Because we view people with disabilities as less than human. People with disabilities rarely sit on ethics committees of hospitals. They rarely get to give input on whether to withhold, deny, or impose treatment on children and adults with disabilities. The hospital that performed the procedures on Ashley later admitted that her civil rights had been violated and agreed to make changes, including adding a person with a disability to their ethics committee and requiring a court order prior to doing this type of treatment.
What people with disabilities think about the Ashley Treatment
Disability Rights Washington and The National Disability Rights Network just released a report that uses the Ashley X decision as a case study. It asks how we can make medical decisions that “uphold the constitutional rights and inherent dignity of people with disabilities.” Everyone has the right to choose what will happen to their body—including people with disabilities, battered women, young women and men who want access to birth control. We have to believe that people are experts of their own lives and have the right to make their own decisions―even those who can’t speak for themselves.
What would our community look like if we all had the curiosity and willingness to listen to what has worked for people who’ve had experiences we haven’t had? How would things be different if people with disabilities had a leadership voice in our hospitals, schools, and communities?
April 24, 2012
Photo by Léna
When Adrienne Rich died last month, it made me think back to my twenties when she rocked my world. Ms. Rich wrote incisively and shockingly about the complexities of women’s lives. She dared us to use our power (personal and political) to upend everything that was understood or accepted as ‘for women.’ It was the early 1980’s and I was trying to figure out the mundane stuff like how I was going to pay the bills. I wanted to do it on my own terms. I wanted a future that was rich in creativity and productivity―not just marriage and motherhood.
I wanted to live a ‘feminist worthy’ life but I wasn’t sure what that meant. Adrienne Rich is one of the women’s voices that made a searing impression. The essay titles in her book of nonfiction, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence were provocative : “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying;” “Motherhood in Bondage;” “Conditions for Work: The Common World of Women.”
She held up a vision of a social movement that I wanted to be a part of “a politics of asking women’s questions, demanding a world in which the integrity of all women―not a chosen few—shall be honored and validated in every aspect of culture.” I wanted to find a community of women (and later men) who shared my aspirations. Without the dreaming and writing of women like Adrienne Rich, I would not have known what I was missing or what was possible.
I and all the women and girls I hold most dear owe a debt of gratitude to Adrienne Rich because she made me brave, and encouraged me to question and think. And now I’m teaching my girls to do the same; Ms. Rich would expect nothing less.
March 13, 2012
Posted by Leigh Hofheimer under Politics
| Tags: contraception
, health care
, healthy relationships
, Rush Limbaugh
, Sandra Fluke
| Leave a Comment
Photo by Gage Skidmore
It’s 6:45 am and the morning hilarity is on. My back is to my teenage daughters as I scramble eggs, yell out reminders about packing up homework, and try to listen to the morning news on NPR. Wait a minute, what are they talking about? Who is a prostitute, who is a slut? My girls are both talking at once, reacting to a snippet of the morning news roundup. They want to know why Rush Limbaugh is apologizing for calling a college student names and wanting to watch her have sex. They’re confused. Isn’t contraception a good thing? Isn’t it smart to prevent a pregnancy that you’re not ready for?
Thanks Rush, really. I spend lots of time with my daughters trying to untangle the double messages they receive. Like, what is considered beautiful and sexy; when is having sex appropriate; who controls their body; and what is a healthy and respectful relationship. And now this.
If Sandra Fluke, a smart, thoughtful, law student advocating for women’s access to contraception is publically called hateful names historically used to silence women’s voices, what does it mean for my girls? What will they think about the next time they want to speak up for themselves? What will they think about the role of women in the public discourse? I don’t want them to believe or even think for a minute that because they are female their opinions, experiences, and actions are in any way diminished.
Come on, can’t we have a discussion about access to health care and contraception without vilifying women and girls’ choices? After all, last I heard, the use of Viagra was a legitimate medical option for people without ovaries.