Why aren’t they restricting condoms?

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.”condoms

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.

Reproductive justice

We rarely talk about unintended pregnancy as one of the consequences of domestic violence. But of course it is. Rape and coerced sex are a very, very common part of survivors’ experience. Most of us assume that pregnancies are either intended or “accidents.” But that doesn’t account for the kind of rape that happens in abusive relationships, or the host of tactics batterers use to control when and how their partners get pregnant: forcing her to have unprotected sex; pressuring her to get pregnant; refusing to use condoms; sabotaging her birth control.

According to the CDC, 1 in every 21 women in the U.S. has had a partner try to get her pregnant against her will. Women and teen girls with abusive husbands or boyfriends are five times more likely than other women to get pregnant when they don’t want to be. These are not accidents—there is no better way for an abuser to secure the financial and legal bonds that make it much more difficult to leave safely and nearly impossible to leave completely.

Recent political conversations about “legitimate rape” are willfully ignorant not just of medical science, but of women’s experience. Women choose abortion for many complex reasons, among them rape and battering. For some women, ending a pregnancy is the safest and most life affirming choice they can make. Access to abortion and emergency contraception is fundamental. But it is not enough.

Reproductive justice means defending women’s control over their own bodies and at the same time fighting for the resources communities need to support families. A woman can’t truly have free choice without the conditions that allow her to raise a child with dignity: relationships free from violence and coercion, quality health care, economic opportunity, access to education, safe and affordable housing, strong neighborhoods, clean water and air. We should channel some of our anger over politicians’ comments about rape into demanding policies that value all women, children, and families.

Silenced

Silenced. A word often associated with domestic violence and how victims feel. So while scanning my Facebook wall the other day, the title of a link caught my eye: Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage. It’s an infographic (which is apparently a schmancy graph) showing a glaring gap in major media outlets’ use of quotes from women—including on issues that by and large affect women!  I sound surprised, I know. Some of you might say, Traci, really this shouldn’t be so shocking. It’s still a man’s world. Blah blah blah. I know.

Even on “women’s issues”—historically regarded as less important and thrown aside only to surface when politically hot—women don’t rise to the level of legitimate sources of information. So what makes the media go to men for expertise on Planned Parenthood, birth control, abortion, and women’s rights? I think sexism is the obvious answer. Our voices are perceived as invalid, even on issues that affect us more.

Why is this such a big deal? Because the media shapes what we think about and how we think about it. It is an extremely powerful tool, and if you, your mom, and that weird cousin of yours, are not hearing from women as well as men, you are not really getting the whole picture. None of us are. Decisions are being made, opinions are being formed, and without the voices of women.

But we can’t let this get us down. We have to continue to speak up. About domestic violence and all the other issues in this infographic. And also about the economy, workers’ rights, and everything else not considered a “women’s issue” because really, all issues are women’s issues, and what women have to say about them matters.

It matters to me

What an interesting crazy-making time we live in.

We have a country blowing up about birth control and rolling back reproductive rights at the same time as fashion trends and pop culture role models continue to impose sexy sexy sexy on our girls.

I am so tired of the heavy burden girls bear; to be sexy, young-looking sex objects, but not have sex. But if you do have sex, don’t get pregnant. But don’t use birth control. And definitely do not have an abortion.

Photo by michelleavitia@gmail.com at SoCalFeminist

We are giving girls the message: we only care about your uterus and what might grow in it. What happens to you before a pregnancy―rape, relationship violence, poverty, lack of access to sex education and birth control―does not matter. What happens to you during your pregnancy―besides the continued growth of the fetus―does not matter. What happens to you and the baby after it’s born―does not matter.

Why are the dominant messages so simplistic, so binary, so… stupid? How are we as a populace putting up with ourselves for being such liars―professing to value families, while simultaneously whittling away all the resources that support families?

I am eager to see us shift towards talking about healthy, positive sexuality, based on individual preferences and (where applicable) faith. Without imposing one (tiny, revealing) size fits all.

Seeing pink

When the news broke last week that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation would stop funding cancer screening at Planned Parenthood, the internet ran pink with shock and outrage. Outrageous, absolutely. But shocking?

Much has been made of the fact that the decision came shortly after Karen Handel became Komen’s Senior VP for Policy. Just a glance back at Handel’s unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Georgia takes the surprise out of the Komen decision. What should be shocking, outrageous, and frankly unthinkable is that an organization dedicated to women’s health would choose a leader with a political agenda that undermines that work. Handel “doesn’t support Planned Parenthood’s mission.” Have you read Planned Parenthood’s mission? It has to do with “the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility, regardless of the individual’s income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence.”

It is that mission―supporting men and women to make informed choices about their sexuality and reproduction―that is under attack. Last week’s decision by Komen, like the vast majority of the political bullying directed at Planned Parenthood, had nothing to do with abortion. Abortion is the sharp point of the wedge that divides us from the people that ought to be allies; it is the tip of a big, ugly political iceberg. The bulk of the agenda beneath the surface is anti-birth control, anti-sex education, anti-sexual freedom, anti-self-determination, anti-woman, and anti-gay. Whether or not it is explicitly racist and anti-immigrant, it is people of color and immigrants who get hit the hardest.

So Komen quickly reversed its decision in response to the enormous backlash. Good. But I for one hope that it is not so easy to regain support from breast cancer survivors and women’s health advocates. I hope the many thousands of runners and walkers and fundraisers Komen relies on won’t let the foundation retreat into safe, apolitical territory where breast cancer awareness is an uncontroversial brand with a massive pink product line. Because women’s health is political. Cancer is political, and so are toxic chemicals, and the corporations producing them, and those corporations’ money. The collective gut reaction of anger and disgust at the Planned Parenthood decision should remind us to connect the dots between access to health care and sexual freedom and environmental justice and racial justice. And demand that any organization that claims to honor women’s lives does the same.

My choice? Healthy families.

I don’t think I can read one more article about how Planned Parenthood is being defunded. So I’m writing about it instead. (Don’t test the logic of a woman seven months pregnant!) It seems that there are a few misconceptions out there about what Planned Parenthood spends most of their time doing (hint—it’s not abortions). 

This makes my heart heavy. I personally owe my ability to plan for my family to Planned Parenthood. And they’ve been vital to many women’s ability to stay healthy.

What does this have to do with violence in relationships? A lot. Many abusers sabotage birth control or make the consequences of not having sex too scary. This limits a woman’s choices around getting pregnant and increases her risk of sexually transmitted infections. Basically, this kind of abuse can affect a woman’s plan for her life and overall health.

For a lot of uninsured folks, Planned Parenthood is one of the only times they see a medical professional. I’m not an expert on how Planned Parenthood screens for abuse, but I have been to clinics in Georgia, North Carolina, New York, and Washington State, and can say that there was information in all those clinics about local domestic violence programs. I fear that the defunding of Planned Parenthood will mean one less place a survivor of abuse might get help.