Monthly Archives: February 2017

The problem with Indiana’s ‘abortion reversal’ bill

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A woman protests outside Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, Minnesota. / Photo courtesy (cc) 2012 Fibonacci Blue

The Indiana House legislature passed a controversial bill on Monday known as the “abortion reversal bill.” The bill would mandate that health care providers tell women that their drug-induced abortions could be reversed within a couple days by receiving high levels of progesterone—a process that has not been scientifically proven.

The bill passed the House 53-41. Only six out of the 21 female lawmakers present voted in favor of the bill.

“At this point, the only certainty is confusion,” Republican Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer told The Indiana Times. “I do not believe forcing medical professionals to provide medical advice on something that is not proven and incomplete is by any means the right thing to do.”

Lawmakers who supported the bill argued that women who immediately regret their abortions have the right to know the option to reverse it is out there—even though that option may not actually work.

“We’re just saying you have the right to try,” Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburnt told The IndyStar. “We’re not saying it’s going to work.”.

The fact that 53 people thought this bill was a good idea is mind-boggling. Why on Earth would we mandate health care providers tell their patients information that may or may not be true? What are the benefits to that?

We would never force health care providers to tell patients with cancer that an experimental pill that has never been tested might possibly cure them of their illness. So why would we demand that doctors tell women they can undo their abortions with a practice that is based solely on the anecdotal evidence of a handful of people?

Misinformation can not be allowed to spread when it comes to something as important and life-or-death as people’s health. It is wrong of the government to encroach on the medical sphere to advance their political agendas. Health care must stick to what the industry actually relies on—science.

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The legacy of Norma McCorvey

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Left, Norma McCorvey with her lawyer Gloria Allred on the Supreme Court steps in 1989. / Photo courtesy (cc) 2017 Lorie Shaull 

Norma McCorvey, better known as the anonymous plaintiff Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade (1973)died Saturday at 69 years old from heart failure. McCorvey is a controversial figure in the abortion rights movement at best: She was the impetus for the national legalization of abortion, yet she would end up working the rest of her life to overturn the landmark Supreme Court case.

Whether you love her or hate her, there are two indisputable things about McCorvey: one, she did not have an easy life and, two, she was used by pro- and anti- abortion activists alike.

McCorvey’s obituary in The New York Times expanded more on some of the hardships she faced throughout her life:

Her early life had been a Dickensian nightmare. By her own account, she was the unwanted child of a broken home, a ninth-grade dropout who was raped repeatedly by a relative, and a homeless runaway and thief consigned to reform school. She was married at 16, divorced and left pregnant three times by different men. She had bouts of suicidal depression, she said.

Ms. McCorvey gave up her children at birth and was a cleaning woman, waitress and carnival worker. Bisexual but primarily lesbian, she sought refuge from poverty and dead-end jobs in alcohol and drugs.

She was 22 and pregnant when she joined the abortion rights struggle, claiming later that she had not really understood what it was all about. When she emerged from anonymity a decade later, strangers shrieked “baby killer” and spat at her. There were death threats. One night, shotgun blasts shattered the windows of her home.

After the Supreme Court handed down the Roe decision—which was three years after she birthed a child she gave up for adoption, the pregnancy at the center of the court case—McCorvey worked in women’s clinics, joined pro-abortion marches and was the center of countless documentaries and newspaper articles.

In the late 1990s, McCorvey was baptized as a born-again Christian after striking up an unlikely friendship with a reverend who protested the clinic she worked at.

“I am dedicated,” McCorvey said in a 1998 Senate hearing, “to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name.” In a 2012 Florida TV advertisement, she urged Americans not to vote for Barack Obama because he “murders babies.”

Truthfully, McCorvey was never the ideal spokesperson for either side of the abortion movement. But that’s because McCorvey was more than a perfect symbol to be paraded around by feminists or the religious right. She was a human being who was flawed and contradictory

And no one knew that better than McCorvey herself, who wrote (pre-conversion) in her 1994 book “I am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade and Freedom of Choice”:

“I wasn’t the wrong person to become Jane Roe. I wasn’t the right person to become Jane Roe. I was just the person who became Jane Roe, of Roe v. Wade. And my life story, warts and all, was a little piece of history.”

Northeastern journalism students give virtual reality a try

Students in Dan Kennedy’s Digital Storytelling and Social Media class got a treat on Tuesday morning with a field trip to Northeastern’s Virtual Reality Lab. Located in Meserve Hall, the Virtual Reality Lab offered students a chance to use the Oculus Rift, a headset that completely immerses the user in a virtual world, and a more advanced headset that allowed users to see the world around them along with virtual reality components.

Jason Duhaime, Northeastern’s applications system architect, showed students how to use the technologies, and Kennedy even tried out a couple virtual reality games himself.

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Left, student Owen Pence waits as Jason Duhaime sets up the virtual reality headset. 

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Left, student Fernanda Hurtado plays a game in which the user’s eyes act as the controller.

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A student uses the Oculus Rift, which completely immerses her in the game.

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Dan Kennedy plays a game in which the user pinches his/her fingers to shoot lasers at virtual bugs.

 

Federal judge blocks Texas from cutting Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood

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Prevention Park, located in Houston, Texas, is the largest Planned Parenthood facility in the country. / Photo courtesy (cc) 2011 Hourick, Wikimedia Commons

On Tuesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked Texas from cutting Medicaid funding to the 30 Planned Parenthood health centers in the state.

This is especially important because low-income Americans account for an overwhelming majority of Planned Parenthood patients, with nearly 80 percent living with incomes of 150 percent of the federal poverty level or less.  Medicaid is a federal social program that provides funding to low-income citizens for health care purposes. In Texas, Planned Parenthoods serve an estimated 12,500 Medicaid patients, according to The New York Times.

By attempting to bar Medicaid funds, the Texas government targeted its most vulnerable residents and sought to cut them off from valuable life-saving services, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, contraception and tests and treatments for sexually-transmitted infections and HIV. After all, the Hyde Amendment of 1976 prohibited Medicaid funds from being used for abortions, with exceptions being made only if the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.

The Texas inspector general issued a termination notice of Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding on Dec. 20, 2016, claiming that the health centers were unable to provide medical services “in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner.”

As proof of Planned Parenthood’s alleged incompetence, some lawmakers pointed to videos secretly recorded more than a year ago by anti-abortion activists that purported to show Planned Parenthood doctors attempting to profit from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the videos were deceptively edited.

Judge Sam Sparks, the U.S. District Court for the Western District Judge, explicitly addressed these claims in Tuesday’s ruling, writing:

“A secretly recorded video, fake names, a grand jury indictment, congressional investigations—these are the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program. Yet rather than a villain plotting to take over the world, the subject of this case is the State of Texas’ efforts to expel a group of health care providers from a social health care program for families and individuals with limited resources.”

Sparks’ words hit the nail on the head, and hopefully his ruling will be upheld as the case proceeds through the appellate level. If not, it could be disastrous for the thousands of Texas residents who rely on Medicaid and Planned Parenthood.

Oklahoma lawmaker introduces bill requiring written consent for abortions; calls pregnant women ‘hosts’

A bill requiring written permission from male sex partners for abortions was introduced in Oklahoma, shaded in red on the map. / Photo courtesy (cc) 2011 Wikimedia Commons

A bill requiring written permission from male sex partners for abortions was introduced in Oklahoma, shaded in red on the map. / Photo courtesy (cc) 2011 Wikimedia Commons

In the first month of the new year, U.S. state legislators introduced 167 anti-abortion bills—71 percent of which were sponsored by white Republican men. Considering the large volume of bills proposed by men seeking to control women and their bodies, there were bound to be plenty of bills laden with implicit misogyny. But it seems that Justin Humphrey, a member of the Oklahoma state House of Representatives, may take the cake for the most overt sexist and twisted ideals.

Humphrey had the audacity to introduce a bill stating that women should be required to receive written permission from their male sex partner before having an abortion, later calling women “hosts” who have proven they’re “irresponsible” by getting pregnant.

The bill, H.B. 1441, explicitly states: “No abortion shall be performed in this state without the written informed consent of the father of the fetus.” If the man denies being the father, he can demand a paternity test from the women. The bill wouldn’t apply to pregnancies conceived as a result of rape or incest, or if doctors conclude continuing with the pregnancy would be life-threatening  for the woman.

H.B. 1441 is horrifying on its own, reducing women to young girls who must receive written permission from men in order to make the choice of whether they want to be mothers. The bill, which is less than two pages long, also fails to outline what would happen if, say, the man refuses to permit the woman to have an abortion. Would the woman be forced to carry the fetus to full-term, birth it—and then what, exactly? Is the woman who didn’t want this child and the man who denied her of her bodily autonomy now going to be one big happy family raising this child together? Or does the woman have to receive permission again from the man to give her baby up for adoption?

Even considering all its flaws, the bill was nowhere near as unbelievable as what came next: Humphrey’s interview with The Intercept, in which he tried to justify his bill by saying that men being excluded from pregnancy decisions is “one of the breakdowns in our society.”

“I understand that they feel like that is their body,” Humphrey said of women. “I feel like it is a separate—what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant…So that’s where I’m at. I’m like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you’re irresponsible then don’t claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you’re the host and you invited that in.”

Let’s make two things clear: one, women are not ‘hosts’ once they become pregnant and, two, pregnancy is not a punishment for sex.

Women are fully functioning, capable human beings. They do not feel that that is their body, it really is their body. Just because a woman is in a relationship (or not) and becomes unexpectedly pregnant, that does not mean she was irresponsible. It does not mean she has suddenly willingly sacrificed her humanity— or”invited that in”—and now adopted a status as a living incubator.

Here lies the problem with many anti-abortion bills that Humphrey made abundantly clear: some of the (mostly white Republican male) lawmakers crafting the bills truly do not see women as human beings.

Photo courtesy (cc) 2011 Wikimedia commons 

Protesters, counter-protesters rally outside Planned Parenthood in Boston for national day of action

Dozens of anti-abortion protesters lined Commonwealth Avenue Saturday morning calling on President Donald J. Trump and Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. The protest, organized by 40 Days for Life Boston and Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, was part of a national day of action held at 225 Planned Parenthood clinics across 45 states.

Next to them, dozens of pro-abortion protesters, organized by the Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump (C.O.M.B.A.T.), demonstrated against their counterparts. The Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts publicly asked C.O.M.B.A.T. in its Facebook event multiple times to move the counter-protest away from outside the doors of their health center. 

“While it is exciting to see so many supporters eager to take action, we strongly discourage these types of counter-protests directly outside of our health centers,” Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts wrote. “Any form of protest outside of our health centers, even in support of our mission, is not beneficial to our patients. Our patients are simply trying to access their health care so having demonstrators of any kind outside the health center can be intimidating for them.”

Still, C.O.M.B.A.T. members decided to proceed with the protest. There were some tense moments, but the demonstrations were peaceful and both sides expressed that the other side had the right to voice their opinions, even if they strongly disagreed with them.

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Anti-abortion protesters braced freezing flurries in Boston on Saturday morning to participate in a national day of action calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Beside them, pro-abortion demonstrators rallied against them, chanting, “racist, sexist, anti-gay, right-wing bigots go away!”

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Despite the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts publicly asking multiple times that people not counter-protest outside their health center, pro-abortion demonstrators, organized by the Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump (C.O.M.B.A.T.), lined the sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue.

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Kristen Martin, 25, a first-year Boston University graduate student studying education, chose to counter-protest even though Planned Parenthood advised against it. “I respect Planned Parenthood incredibly—I’m a patient myself,” Martin said. “But I don’t think that letting the bigots go out here unopposed is an effective strategy to save abortion.”

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Doug, a 68-year-old Lawrence, Massachusetts, resident who declined to give his last name, said defunding Planned Parenthood was the first step on the road to overturning Roe v. Wade—the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. “We’re standing up for human rights,” he said. “The right to life and the wasted taxpayer dollars on Planned Parenthood.”

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Right, a Boston police officer acts as a barricade separating the pro-abortion and anti-abortion protesters. Left, a man clutches a rosary while he prays aloud next to a box filled with signs calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

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A Boston police officer and two volunteer clinic escorts guard the entrance of the Planned Parenthood to ensure that protesters do not cross the police barricade and that patients are able to safely enter the clinic.

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Akuna Eneh, 34, a 2005 Northeastern alumna, was among the pro-abortion protesters. “I’m hoping that people become more confident about defending abortion,” said Eneh, who works as a librarian at the Dudley branch of the Boston Public Library. “I think that we’ve been told it’s a moral thing—it’s kind of a bad choice to make, sometimes you have to make it—and I think it’s just a regular medical procedure and I think I want that idea to grow.”

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Anti-abortion protesters place several signs—some depicting fetuses—in the snow on Commonwealth Avenue outside the Planned Parenthood health center.

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Pro-abortion protesters moved away from the crowd to unfurl a nearly six-foot banner reading, “Abortion on demand and without apology.”

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Left, Micah Jasny, 25, a stewardship manager for the Esplanade Association in Boston, says the pro-abortion protesters have the right to demonstrate, just as the anti-abortion protesters do. “When people look at this Planned Parenthood, I want them to see…not just pro-life protesters standing outside it,” Jasny said.