My Body, My Tweets

Sarah Seltzer

Who knows how many young Erykah Badu fans knew nothing about natural childbirth, and learned something from her tweets?

"Morning im in labor"

That’s how soul songstress Erykah Badu and her partner,
rapper Jay Electronica, kicked
off their live-tweeting of the natural home birth of their daughter last week.
According to Badu’s twitter account, the healthy newborn girl is named Mars
Merkaba.

Although both musicians have "locked," or private, twitter
accounts, they each have thousands of followers, and several news organizations
pounced on their tweeting. So in essence, Badu’s birthing process was broadcast
to all, in all its details, from the length of her contractions – Badu’s last
"tweet" before she handed over the virtual reigns to her partner was
"contractions are 3 min. apart….. breathing" – to how it felt to look at her
daughter hours later: "her eyes are looking right into mine . she struggles to
focus . so much ♥ in her."

While Badu went on tweet-hiatus to give birth, Electronica
provided up to the minute updates. Mtv news described it thus:

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The rapper told followers he was
sending the tweets between watching contractions and rubbing Badu’s feet. He even
blogged about Badu’s water breaking, how far along she was dilated and when she
started pushing.

"I see the head, full of
hair," he wrote. Just over 20 minutes later, Badu gave birth…

Many fans were excited to be let in on the home birth, as
the number of twitter users who flocked to follow the pair during the process
indicates – not all of them could have purely voyeuristic.

But Badu’s choice to relay her story online was particularly
interesting given the fact that she had already come
under attack for her pregnancy from commenters on a hip-hop message board

(because this pregnancy was her third child with a third long-term partner).
Badu shot back with a long, poetic response, saying that "I am an excellent
mother and resent all of the negative comments and insults on my character" as
well as questioning the modern conception of marriage and praising her children
and their fathers.

As brave as her response was, the incident showed that like
all celebrities – particularly female ones and particularly females of color – her
body was already considered public territory. Perhaps Badu’s tweets were a way
of reclaiming that public aspect in a positive way, celebrating a pregnancy
that had been decried.

Of course that message was lost on most. The publicity that
followed the live-tweeting was inevitably marked by a note of beffudlement or
condescension. "Artists have always done strange things to win our attention,
right? And lately, we’ve seen how musicians are using micro-blog site Twitter
as an über-marketing tool. This weekend, one pair of artists took things
further than we expected," wrote
MTV News’ Jayson Rodriguez.

Over on dudely
indy-website Pitchfork.com
, Tom Breihan wrote that "Great news about the
baby and all, but… the sense of mystery and remove that great artists once
projected has now given way to this rampant, almost pathological oversharing,
and now pretty much anyone with an internet connection can learn about every
squishy moment of Erykah Badu’s labor. Maybe it’s time for the artists of the
world to get off the damn computer."

Okay, so some people didn’t entirely embrace the idea, and
in the responses, it’s hard to thoroughly sort out the threads of misogyny from
threads of backlash against our YouTube, livejournal, everything goes-culture
(but there’s plenty of the former to be found). But Badu’s choice to share her
experience has a huge positive value, particularly since she is a celebrity
with influence, and already one of the few female role models in the music
industry who projects self-actualization.

Who knows how many young men and women who are Badu’s fans
knew nothing about natural childbirth or childbirth in general, and learned
something from her tweets? Or the women who had chosen natural birth, sometimes
frowned upon, who felt validated by Badu’s choice? Or finally, the couples who
are inspired by the loving, relaxed partnership the two musicians displayed?
Ultimately, as second-wave feminists aimed to do with "consciousness-raising,"
the more women’s stories are out there, the more the variety of our experiences
becomes normalized.

Badu’s choice of medium was also interesting. YouTube and
blogging can expose users to harsh responses. But new streamlined forms of
social media like Twitter and Tumblr have freed women to selectively share
information about their reproductive health using miniature soundbites and
scattered thoughts, without being swarmed by hostile commenters.

And Badu wasn’t even the first woman to tweet her
childbirth, or to get flak and appreciation for it.  California blog "valleywag" mentioned
a local LA woman tweeting her childbirth
and received a barrage of comments
either begging all woman to keep such tweets to themselves, or in telling
detractors not to read the tweets, and one
from the tweeter herself
expressing bewilderment that it was considered
newsworthy.

Oddly enough, before the recent trend of childbirth tweets
was the mini-trend of abortion tumbls. Last spring, a woman started using Tumblr (a cross between Twitter and blogging) to describe the lead-up and
aftermath of an abortion, including her hatred for anti-choice politicians but
also her frustrations with the clinic she used and her loneliness. She was soon
followed by another (and here’s
two more using the traditional blogger
format). At first glance, the concept of sharing the two procedures seems
wildly different: childbirth is celebrated in our culture while abortion is
taboo. But if you look at
the responses
to both the abortion and childbirth cyber-chronicles, the essence of the split
is parallel: it’s "eww, TMI" vs. "the more that’s out there, the better." And
while motherhood is lauded in our culture, there’s a squeamishness about the
messy, corporeal, female-centered process itself (see "Knocked Up") that is
linked to squeamishness about women’s bodies and therefore abortion.

Bo one is forcing women to share their intimate
reproductive processes with the world. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that
personal stories have a different, sometimes more potent, effectiveness than
op-eds or political campaigns. While these sometimes-graphic accounts are easy
to ignore, the service they provide the curious is valuable. And the
communication that online media forges between women can be valuable too: as one
baby blogger said
, "The more we know each other, the more likely we’ll be to
realize that we’re all in this together."

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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