Reproductive Health Goes Environmental

Carole Joffe

Both the reproductive health and the environmental justice communities operate in a political climate in which the integrity of science is under attack.

One does not expect a featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals to begin her lecture with a glowing tribute to Rachel Carson. The ARHP, after all, is a group mainly composed of clinicians who offer the full range of reproductive and sexual health services–-prenantal, contraceptive and abortion care, sex education,
treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and so on. While Carson, who wrote The Sea Around Us in 1951, was one of the pioneers of environmentalism and remains a revered figure in sectors of that movement, it is safe to say that she is no longer a household word in American culture.

But the presence of the speaker, Charlotte Brody–-there to receive ARHP’s “Preserving Core Values in Science Award”–-and the connections she drew between Carson’s legacy and the concerns of ARHP members reflect a very promising new direction for the reproductive health movement. Brody, a distinguished environmental health advocate, is the executive director of Commonweal, a nonprofit health and research institution in Bolinas, California, and a founder of the group, Health Care without Harm.

Brody took the audience through Carson’s early work on the dangers of pesticides and other chemical agents. When she mentioned the rage Carson evoked from various quarters, including the chemical industry-–she was called “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature,” a “Communist,” and a “spinster” who had no right to “worry about genetics”–I thought of the similar demonization of Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman, some of the earliest voices for reproductive freedom in this country, and of course the harassment and abuse directed at contemporary ARHP members who are involved in abortion care.

But the most relevant part of Brody’s talk for this audience was her discussion of the specific threats to reproductive health posed by various widely used chemicals in the United States. There is mounting concern in the scientific community about the impact of these chemicals on rising infertility rates and on hazards to early fetal development. Consider the chemical compound bisphenol A (BPA), used in many plastic products, including baby bottles and microwave containers. BPA has been under increasing scrutiny because of its alleged health effects, and animal studies have linked this compound to a host of reproductive problems.

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Indicative of ARHP’s increasing involvement in the world of environmental health, Dr. Beth Jordan, the organization’s medical director, recently testified at a government hearing on BPA. She stated, “Research indicates that BPA may be related to increased trends in humans regarding abnormal penile/urethral development in males and early maturation in females, increased neurobehavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity and autism, increased childhood and adult obesity….regional decreases in sperm count.”

The BPA hearing, before the National Toxicology Center, moreover revealed another point of common ground between the reproductive health community and the environmental one: both operate in a political climate in which the integrity of science is under attack. Just as reproductive health professionals have had to contend with Bush operatives posting distorted information on government websites (about the alleged link between abortion and breast cancer, about condom effectiveness, etc), so too has the environmental health community seen scientific results trumped by political concerns, with the Bush administration’s egregious behavior on global warming being the best known example. (As has been well documented, government scientists who came up with unwelcome findings found their work either censored on “edited” by political appointees). In the former case, the Bush administration is catering to its religious right supporters, in the latter case, to its economically conservative, anti-regulatory supporters. But the net effect in both cases is the same: the health and well-being of Americans is jeopardized because of political considerations. With respect to BPA, numerous scientific groups, including the ARHP, have accused the National Toxicology Program of relying disproportionately on industry-funded studies-–which somehow found no problems with BPA–-as it prepared its final report on the safety of this chemical.

ARHP’s incorporation of environmental health concerns once again shows how important it is for groups working in the reproductive sphere to reaffirm the broadest possible mandate for this work. Becoming visible players in campaigns for environmental health allows groups like ARHP to make the point which should be obvious, but after thirty-four years of polarization around abortion, sadly appears lost on many Americans. Those clinicians who provide abortion and contraception also are profoundly committed to helping people have the families they want.

News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

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The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to OhioAbortionFacts.org, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights. 

News Family Planning

House GOP Votes Against D.C. Reproductive Health Bill

Christine Grimaldi

The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act protects employees from being fired for their choices to use birth control, have a baby, or obtain an abortion.

Republicans led the U.S. House of Representatives in a late Thursday vote to repeal a District of Columbia law that protects employees from retaliation over their reproductive health-care choices.

The 223-192 vote occurred on an amendment to the fiscal year 2017 financial services appropriations bill, which subsequently passed the House that night. The amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL), claimed that the amendment to repeal the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA) would protect employers’ religious liberty.

Only two Democrats, Reps. Dan Lipinski (IL) and Collin Peterson (MN), voted in favor of the amendment.

RHNDA amends the District’s Human Rights Act, which deals with employment discrimination. It adds that an employer cannot discriminate in “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” because of an employee’s or a dependent’s “reproductive health decision making, including a decision to use or access a particular drug, device or medical service.” In other words, the law protects employees from being fired for their choices to use birth control, have a baby, or have an abortion.

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NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue condemned the vote.

“A woman should never fear being fired for her decision about whether, when, and with whom to grow her family. That decision should be a woman’s alone and not decided for her by an employer or by Congress,” Hogue said in a statement. “Every single person who voted for this should be ashamed, regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on.”

Two dozen Republicans voted against repeal, but they are the outliers in a party that has consistently attacked the law since the Washington, D.C., council unanimously enacted it at the end of 2014. Republicans last year sought to overturn RHNDA through a resolution of disapproval they pushed through the House and another attempt through the budget process.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a non-voting congressional delegate, vowed to again block Republicans at every turn.

“Last year, I was able to remove the harmful rider that blocked RHNDA after it was included in the House bill, and I will be waging another vigorous fight this year,” she said in a statement.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, released a separate statement expressing Democrats’ opposition to the amendment.

“Under the guise of ‘religious liberty,’ this amendment is an unprecedented intrusion into D.C. residents’ personal health choices, and cannot be a part of any final [a]ppropriations law,” she said.