A small victory for reproductive rights: GOP health care bill defeated

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House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the GOP health care bill from the floor Friday. / Photo courtesy (cc) 2011 Gage Skidmore 

The GOP health care bill that threatened to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding was pulled from the House floor Friday without a single vote being cast.

The move was a crushing defeat for President Donald J. Trump, who requested that Speaker Paul Ryan remove the bill after it became apparent that Republicans did not have enough votes to pass it. A portion of the bill sought to bar patients from using Medicaid payments to access a range of services offered by abortion providers, including contraceptives, cervical and breast cancer screenings and tests and treatments for sexually-transmitted infections including HIV. It is already illegal for American women to use federal funds to pay for abortions under the Hyde Amendment of 1976.

The bill’s failure was a small, temporary victory for Planned Parenthood and women’s clinics across the country. Unfortunately, the health care bill was just one of many legislative proposals targeting women’s rights and bodily autonomies.

Just a day before the bill’s defeat, a photo tweeted by Vice President Mike Pence managed to simultaneously capture the issue with the GOP’s health care bill, while enraging a number of Twitter users.

The photo shows Pence meeting with the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative House members, to encourage the passing of the bill. The issue that the Twitter world was quick to point out? There is not one woman in the room to discuss proposed legislation that would significantly infringe upon women’ reproductive rights. It also doesn’t appear that a single person of color is present.

It seems that the Grand Old Party has already tired of health care reform, but staffers at Planned Parenthood likely aren’t breathing any sighs of reliefs. After all, it’s not a matter of if there will be another attack on women’s health and rights, but when.

And when the next challenge does come, it will probably come from a room looking a lot like the one our vice president proudly tweeted out.

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Lucy Ethiopian Cafe offers unique coffee, dining experience

Most Bostonians looking for an extra pep in the morning will likely visit one of the dozens of Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts that line the city streets. For something new, one might check out a hipster coffee shop like Pavement or Render. But if you’re looking for a unique experience, then look no further than Lucy Ethiopian Cafe, a restaurant beloved by customers for its strong coffee, spicy Ethiopian food and authentic African decor.

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Lucy Ethiopian Cafe, located at the corner of Huntington and Massachusetts avenues, serves Ethiopian coffee and food.

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The restaurant is decorated with African decor and artworks, which are available for purchase.

Lucy Ethiopian Cafe, located at 334 Massachusetts Ave., has become a popular spot among college students for its coffee—and for good reason. Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee, and the country today is the fifth largest producer of coffee in the world.

Mahi Goshime, a 19-year-old waitress at Lucy, said coffee holds special significance in Ethiopian communities. Whereas people in the United States will meet up at bars to grab beers, old and new friends gather in Ethiopia over cups of coffee.

“Coffee is you get together and then you talk about anything,” said Goshime, who immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia about a year ago. “It’s a way of communicating with their friends.”

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Mahi Goshime, 19, said people meeting for the first time in Ethiopia often bond over coffee. “Even like when some new people meet up, it’s just, ‘Can we get coffee together?” she said.

Traditionally, coffee in Ethiopia takes around two hours to make, and people will sit around sipping for another hour or two. “It’s a very long ceremony,” Goshime said. But don’t worry, the staff at Lucy have sped up the process for you.

The Ethiopian Buna Be-Jebena is a special hot drink on the menu that, for $7.50, includes Ethiopian coffee in a traditional pot and small cups called “cini” served on a tray, along with a container of sugar and burning incense.

The drink is not for those who are ambivalent about coffee. It is much stronger and more bitter than you’ll be used to getting from Starbucks—but Ethiopian coffee is clearly superior to any American cup of Joe. And the experience of sitting down to enjoy the coffee with a friend is leagues beyond hurriedly grabbing a styrofoam cup from Dunkin’.

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Ethiopian coffee is poured from a traditional pot into “cini,” small decorative cups.

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Burning incense is part of the coffee ceremony in Ethiopia.

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Ethiopian coffee is stronger and more bitter than traditional American coffee.

If you’re not interested in drinking an entire pot, you can also purchase single cups of coffee—espressos, macchiatos and cappuccinos—for $2.99 each. For the coffee haters out there, there are several incredible non-coffee special hot drinks, including the Peanut Tea. Described on the menu as “a special house recipe” of milk, honey and peanuts, the hot Peanut Tea tastes like a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup melting in your mouth.

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Peanut Tea is offered at Lucy hot or iced for $3.75.

I would be remiss to review Lucy without once mentioning its amazing food—and wow, is it amazing. You won’t find any paninis or pizza slices here. The menu is exclusively comprised of authentic Ethiopian food, including a number of options for vegetarian diners.

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The lega tibs is a spicy beef dish served with rolls of injera.

One of the best dishes is the lega tibs—beef chunks sautéed in oil and seasoned in onions, green peppers, jalepenos, tomatoes, garlic and rosemary cooked with awaze hot sauce. The lega tibs are $11.95 and can be prepared mild or hot.

Served with rolls of injera (Ethiopian flatbread), lega tibs (like all Ethiopian food) are eaten with your hands.

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Diners eat lega tibs by rolling the beef chunks and vegetables into balls with the injera.

Whether you’re looking for a cup of coffee, lunch or dinner, Lucy Ethiopian Cafe will not disappoint. As an added bonus, the restaurant is incredibly convenient—located right above the Symphony Green Line T station and easily handicapped-accessible via an outdoor ramp.

Lucy is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, give Lucy a call at (617) 536-0415 or check the restaurant out on its Facebook page.

And for some more great coffee shops in Boston, check out this map:

Canadian prime minister stands up for women’s health

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves a gay Pride flag. / Photo (cc) 2011 Justin Ling

International women’s health organizations received a helping hand from everyone’s favorite prime minister earlier this month.

Throughout the semester, I’ve been writing about the Mexico City Policy—an executive order that President Donald J. Trump signed just three days after his inauguration that cut off federal funds to nongovernmental organizations that perform or provide information on abortions.

Since the Mexico City Policy—also known as the “global gag rule”—was enacted by Ronald Reagan in 1984, it has been repealed by every successive Democratic president and reinstated by every Republican president.

The policy is expected to cause a shortfall in NGO funding of $600 million over the next four years. Earlier this month, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, held a last-minute international conference to raise money for the NGOs that would be affected by Trump’s executive order. They raised $190 million—still less than half of what was needed to bridge the gap.

That’s where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau swooped in. Trudeau pledged $650 million over the next three years for women’s reproductive health and sex education worldwide.

Thankfully, NGOs now won’t be too affected by the Mexico City Policy. While our president aimed to sever women’s health rights abroad, condemning millions to unwanted motherhood and sometimes even death, Trudeau stepped in and proved that he is the progressive hero this world needs right now.

Tomi Lahren ‘comes out’ as pro-choice

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Tomi Lahren, center, speaks at the 2016 Politicon in Pasadena, California. / Photo (cc) 2016 Gage Skidmore

The abortion rights movement just earned its most surprising supporter—Tomi Lahren.

Lahren is the 24-year-old host of the show “Tomi” on the conservative website TheBlaze. She is infamous for her fast-talking rants against feminism and Black Lives Matter, and she has come to serve as a symbol of the conservative millennial generation. She often yells about her right to speak her mind, regardless of whether her opinions piss people off.

Usually, however, she’s just angering liberals. Last week, she pissed off the the wrong people—the conservatives who watch her show—and her show was suspended for a week as a result.

Here’s what happened: During an appearance on The View on Friday, Lahren shocked audience members by “coming out” as pro-choice.

“I’m pro-choice and here’s why…As someone that loves the Constitution, I am someone that is for limited government,” Lahren said on The View. “And so I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies…So stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.”

Over the course of the past week, the once darling conservative sweetheart has been berated by the same Grand Old Party that claims to be staunch defenders of free speech. Apparently, that freedom only extends to guys like Milo Yiannopoulos, who spread hateful words about women and minorities, and not Lahren, who holds a view that differs from the conservative norm.

Funny enough, this might be the one area in which Lahren and I agree. Conservatives are hypocrites for advocating for a small government, while imposing strict regulations on women’s bodies. And although I’m often not a fan of what Lahren has to say, I believe her being punished for publicly stating her position on abortion is ludicrous. Even as a conservative webshow host, Lahren should be able to stand on the side of women’s rights and women’s health without fear of retribution.

Final project proposal: What reproductive justice means to women of color

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A spray painted fist imposed on a female symbol adorns  a sidewalk in Paris, France. / Photo courtesy (cc) 2017 Dean Bocquet

The very phrase “reproductive justice” was coined by a group of black women in 1994 after they attended the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt—where world representatives agreed that the right to plan one’s family was critical to global development.

Following this conference, the group of black women met in Chicago to discuss how the women’s right’s movement was being led by white middle- and upper-class feminists who were often blind to the challenges faced by women of color in the reproductive rights movement.

“I’d had a number of conversations with black women’s organizations who were totally convinced that [abortion] was a white women’s issue,” Loretta Ross, co-founder of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, said of the 1980s in a MAKERS video.

For my final project, I would like my article and video project to analyze the different ways in which the fight to access reproductive services is more challenging for women of color than it is for white women. I would interview experts in Boston such as professors, lawyers or nonprofit workers who study the hurdles that women of color must leap over to access abortion. I would like to dive into this topic because, more than two decades after the creation of the “reproductive justice” movement by black women, the pro-abortion side often fails to highlight the unique perspectives of black women in the movement.

I reached out to Boston University law professor Khiara M. Bridges, who studies the intersection of race, class and reproductive justice, as well as Northeastern’s women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Moya Bailey, who studies race and feminism with an emphasis on how marginalized groups use digital media for social justice purposes.

For my photo story, I would like to use photographs from “No Turning Back,” a conference hosted by Northeastern’s women’s, gender and sexuality studies program on Friday that addressed the history of the abortion movement and its legal impediments.

Just from my preliminary research, I have find some shocking statistics and information about the disparities faced by women of color in regards to reproductive health. According to a 2008 study by the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate in the United States is five times higher for black women than for white women. This higher rate is largely credited to black women’s higher rates of unintended pregnancies due to limited reproductive health education and services. Because of this, black women are often targets of hatred by the anti-abortion side, who charge that they are committing genocide against their own race.

According to a study by Bridges, black women are also much more likely to die in childbirth than white women—no matter what their class is. And black motherhood has also been historically criminalized, culminating in the War on Drugs and the “crack babies” phenomenon in the 1980s, in which black female drug addicts were disproportionately locked up for crimes like child abuse and even murder for birthing alleged crack-addicted babies. Only years later would we learn that crack cocaine did not have long term effects on infants, and that the shaking that was commonly shown by “crack babies” was likely a result of the babies being born prematurely to mothers who maintained harsh lifestyles.

The black mother has so often been demonized that black feminists argue that reproductive justice includes the right to have children in addition to the right to not have children.

“It’s about abortion but it’s not just about abortion,” Ross said. “Because we are women of color that come from communities always subjected to population control schemes, we fight equally hard for the right to have our children.”

Clearly, access to reproductive health is not the same for black women as it is for white women. I would like to explore this topic further with my article and video.

The GOP health care bill is a serious danger to reproductive health

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican, champions the GOP health care bill. / Photo courtesy (cc) 2012 Tony Alter

In the wake of a damning report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the U.S. House of Representatives moved forward with a Republican health care bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) and gut Planned Parenthood of its federal funding.

Specifically, the bill would bar patients from using Medicaid at Planned Parenthood to receive contraceptives, cervical and breast cancer screenings and tests and treatments for sexually-transmitted infections including HIV. American women already can not use federal funds to pay for abortions under the Hyde Amendment of 1976.

The bill narrowly passed the House Budget Committee with a vote of 19-17 on Thursday. The next step is for the bill to be voted on by the House Rules Committee. The vote came just three days after a report by CBO, a nonpartisan analysis office for the U.S. Congress, found that 24 million fewer Americans would be insured by 2026 under the GOP health care plan.

Planned Parenthood is not taking the bill lying down.

“The fact is, one in five women in America has relied on Planned Parenthood, and their health care shouldn’t get caught up in Republican leadership’s’ extreme agenda,” Dana E. Singiser, the vice president for public policy and government affairs at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement Thursday. “There’s a reason so many members of Congress have faced angry town halls back at home: The American people do not want to see their health care taken away.”

The passage of the bill specifically targeting abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood is the only part of the bill that deviates from tackling the Affordable Care Act directly.

It should go without saying that having 24 million less people insured would be disastrous for the country. Access to affordable health care should be considered a basic human right. No one should be dying from easily preventable diseases, and the situation is especially mind-boggling in a developed, industrialized country such as the United States that clearly has the resources to treat its people.

The pointed attack of Planned Parenthood by GOP lawmakers is equally egregious. For many Americans, Planned Parenthood may be the only way to access reproductive health services. In addition to its affordability for low-income patients, 54 percent of Planned Parenthoods are in areas where there is a shortage of health care professionals, namely in rural areas. Additionally, Planned Parenthood provides sexual and reproductive health care and information to nearly 5 million women, men and teens annually.

Why do Republican congresspeople seem to be on a mission to strip their constituents of life-saving health care? If politicians truly cared about the health and well-being of American women and men, then they would leave the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood alone.

Feministing offers diverse perspectives from young feminists

Feministing.com is an online community that was founded in 2004 by sisters Jessica and Vanessa Valenti.

A site that has proved to be invaluable as I blog about the reproductive justice movement in Trump’s America is Feministing.com. Feministing describes itself as “an online community run by and for young feminists.” The blog offers feminist analyses of pop culture, social justice and politics, among other things.

I love Feministing mainly becomes it offers a diverse array of perspectives on important current events. The site employs columnists of different races, genders, sexual orientations and class backgrounds—which is especially helpful for issues that disproportionately affect those specific subgroups.

It also offers the “Daily Feminist Cheatsheet,” which is great if you’re looking for a place to quickly skim the day’s most important headlines and find convenient links to those stories on other accredited news sources. While I do like the “Daily Feminist Cheatsheet,” I wish the descriptions of the day’s stories had a bit more substantial information rather than just a sentence.  It would be helpful if it was more similar to the daily newsletters that major news sites publish so that the reader is not required to read each individual article to get the full story (or at least the important facts in it).

Other than that, I am not a huge fan of the capitalized bolded headlines for the articles, but I understand the point that it’s trying to make. In a society where women’s voices are so systematically silenced, this blog seeks to scream women’s opinions in your face and make sure the feminist perspective is heard.

Promoting engaging conversations among its audience is perhaps what Feministing does best. The site has a “Community” tab that is open to submissions from anyone. However, the site is clear about its submission guidelines. “Anti-feminist posts will not be published, and we believe that racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and hate speech constitute anti-feminism and have no place on the site,” the “Community” section guidelines read.

In an attempt to cut down on harassment in the comments section (which feminist sites are especially vulnerable to), Feministing using Disquis—a worldwide blog comment hosting service that prompts users to first sign in with their Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Disquis account. Although not a perfect system, this service aims to take away the anonymity that emboldens so many misogynist trolls to publish their hateful comments. The Feministing team is also clear that it reserves the right not to publish any posts or comments as it sees fit.

Feministing was founded in 2004 by sisters Jessica and Vanessa Valenti. The blog was inspired by Jessica Valenti, who worked at a women’s organization at the time, perceiving a lack of young women voices in the feminist movement. Jessica Valenti would later skyrocket to feminist fame in 2007, when she published her book “Full Frontal Feminism.” Most recently, she published a memoir in 2016 entitled “Sex Object,” which provides an honest and blunt portrayal of the not-so-good things that coming of age as a woman in America brings. Jessica Valenti is also a columnist at The Guardian US, which is another source I frequently turn to for blogging inspiration about relevant problems facing the reproductive justice movement.

After 10 years, the Valenti sisters have stepped down from running the day-to-day operations of Feminsting, leaving it to a trio of executive directors—Lori Adelman, Maya Dusenbery and Jos Truitt. The site is financially supported by the Center for Sex & Culture, a cultural center in San Francisco that aims to provide “non-judgmental, sex-positive sexuality education,” according to its mission statement on SanFrancisco.com.

According to SimilarWeb, Feministing.com receives about 240,000 visits per month. The average visit duration is not very long, at just 37 seconds, and users visit about 1.46 pages per visit. Just a little more than half of the website’s traffic is from the United States, and the traffic was higher in the couple months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, seeming to steadily decline since. Social media counts for an incredibly small amount of it’s traffic, at just around 6 percent, while direct searches takes the cake for highest source of traffic at 60.6 percent.

Regardless of its traffic, there is a reason why Feministing.com has been called “the largest online feminist community in the world.” It provides a platform for the sharp, intelligent, well-informed opinions that today’s young women in the feminist movement care about, while also supplying a communal outlet for engagement about those issues.