News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

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.

Don’t ask, just tell

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.

reproductive-coersion-flyerI 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. 

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.

Do you know about the Ashley Treatment?

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?

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.

Unplanned Parenthood

I was an accident.

My mother would never say that, but let’s face it. My older brother was hell on wheels as an infant and when he turned 6 months, I can’t imagine my mother thinking “oh, wow, I’m getting good at this―I think I’ll have another!”

But 9 months later … ta-da!

That was 1953. I know that unplanned pregnancies were a big part of my parents’ generation, but I kind of assumed by now they were ancient history. Wrong. I just read that 65% of pregnant women surveyed said their pregnancy was unplanned.

What sparks my interest in this whole thing is Traci’s great post from last week and, serendipitously, a visit from a dear friend. I’ll call her Suzie.

She’d just been to visit her niece―let’s call her Kelsey. Kelsey is in her mid-20’s and lives with her fiancé who’s in his late 30’s. Things sound bleak. Kelsey slapped her boyfriend on the butt and he “spanked” her in retaliation leaving bruises and mass confusion. Another time he choked her when they were arguing. Kelsey was asking Aunt Suzie if she should stick with the plan to get married.

Um ….. NO!

Even if Aunt Suzie can’t persuade Kelsey to call off the wedding, they have got to have a heart to heart about the pregnancies. Kelsey has been pregnant twice―neither one intended (at least on her part). She miscarried the first, and terminated the second. It sounds like it’s time for some Aunty-strength advice about getting stealth birth control.

There are countless private battles going on behind closed doors where women are fighting for their sexual health and reproductive autonomy. But each battle is part of the larger war on women’s sexuality, family planning, and access to contraceptives. At least we’ve had one win: the Obama administration just decided to require health insurance companies to cover birth control.

But WE have a lot more work to do. Luckily, the accident of my birth has me here now doing just that.

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.

Aunty-strength advice

It was 97 degrees in Baltimore last week. I was sweating my guts out watching all the beloved high-school graduates tripping down and then back up the aisle. In between, a tad more than too many people gave advice:

It’s okay to fail; explore a variety of career options; and, your parents have never been prouder so now would be a good time to ask for money.

It was lovely and despite the heat, a great joy to see my niece get her diploma.

Days later, I woke up thinking “oh man, they forgot some of the most important advice.” Aunty-strength advice.

Honey, sit down so I can tell you a few things.

First of all, sex is supposed to be fun*. If it’s not, that’s not good sex. If you find yourself needing to get drunk to have sex, then you are missing out. And Jello shots? A really bad idea—here’s why.

When you go to parties, go with your friends and watch out for each other. If you see a guy friend dragging a girl off drunk, yell at him to knock it off. Or just grab her and get her out of there. Ask your friends to do the same for you.

And lastly, are you on birth control? No? Honey, do you think you want to have kids? Is now a good time to do that? Have a baby when you want to have a baby. And trust your gut. If a guy gives you even a little tiny uh-oh, tell him he has to go talk to your aunty.

Aunties everywhere. Figure out what you want to say and speak up! This is what we are for. Believe me, our nieces and nephews want realistic advice and need someone to talk to.

How about it?

*this website appears with a scary warning you have to click past. Fear not, this is a super thoughtful and well written blog.