Peace Through Pro-Voice?

Amanda Marcotte

A "pro-voice" approach has a tremendous amount to offer those of us working for reproductive freedom. But it won't bring peace, because hard-core anti-choicers are not and never have been in this to protect fetal life.

Regular readers of RH Reality
Check have no doubt encountered recent thought-provoking articles contributered by
Exhale leader Aspen Baker.

Aspen promotes a radical new approach to the abortion debate, which
is to get past the political camps known as "pro-choice" and "pro-life"
to forefront the stories of actual women who’ve had abortion, asking
them what they want and need and shaping our national conversation,
and law, in response.  Aspen calls it the "pro-voice" solution. 
I’m deeply impressed with the results you can get when you treat the
voices of women who need or have had abortions as if they matter most. 
At minimum, it’s a major step up from watching disturbing videos of
Sam Brownback rubbing his uterus-free stomach protectively while implying
that fetuses can talk.   

Taking women’s stories out
of an ideological context has great potential.  Now, many pro-choice
women feel they can’t admit to any mixed feelings about having had
abortions for fear of fueling anti-choice fire.  And, of course,
we have the growing problem of anti-choicers coaxing suffering women
into blaming every problem they’ve had, from failed relationships
to toe-stubbing, on previous abortions.  The reactions women have
to abortions are as individual as the women themselves, and it’s time
our public discourse on the subject reflected that. 

I think the pro-voice approach
has radical potential to change the debate.  But there are some
things that it just can’t do, and where we still need the more traditional,
rights-based pro-choice movement. 

Pro-choicers could really benefit
from dwelling on pro-voice methods—many of us are admittedly uncomfortable
acknowledging the experiences of women who, while knowing that they
had to end their pregnancies, mourn the loss of the potential child,
and may even use language that implies that the potential child was
real to them.  (It’s a feeling well captured in Gwendolyn Brooks’ "The Mother": "Believe me, I knew you, though
faintly, and I loved, I loved you/All.") By refusing to face this
reality, we make many women seeking help and support feel they can’t
find it in the pro-choice community.   

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Pro-voice is having the courage
to believe that our convictions can handle the messiness of the real
world.  Really, we have nothing to lose.  Our nation already
embraces a pro-voice attitude about divorce.  Most people are intimately
familiar with the highs and lows of divorce, that it can be a relief
a gut-wrenching loss, or both, and it’s precisely because we
know about people’s stories that most Americans support the pro-choice
view on divorce, known generally as no-fault divorce.  

A pro-voice approach to abortion
can help the mushy middle better understand the issue, for this reason. 
Generally pro-choice Americans who support measures like parental notification
might reconsider their positions if they heard women’s stories. 
One law about parental notification or waiting periods can’t adequately
deal with the diversity of women’s experiences, but how will average
voters know this if they don’t hear stories from women who were injured
by "commonsense" regulations? 

Pro-voice could have a dramatic
impact on those who naïvely identify as "pro-life," but are unaware
of the misogynist and racist history of the movement, or don’t realize
that the movement actively fights common sense measures to spare women
unintended pregnancies, such as increased contraception access or sex
education.  Rank-and-file pro-lifers often see a few pictures of
disembodied fetuses and sign up to protest or fund-raise without giving
much thought to the women they could be hurting.  Perhaps more
exposure to the real experiences of real women could encourage them
to take a more nuanced view, and put their efforts into more productive
areas (like fighting for sex education or Title X funding expansion).   

But where I must disagree with
Aspen is on the issue of whether or not this strategy will do anything
to bring peace to the abortion wars.  At best, it would help drain
the pro-life side of the energy of naïve activists.  That might
be enough to marginalize the movement.  But it won’t shut up
the hardcore anti-choicers, who are not and have never been in this
to protect fetal life so much as reinstitute a patriarchal society that
stifles women’s hopes and dreams, rewarding "good" women who practice
submission with wifehood and punishing the rest with ostracism and poverty. 
As such, we can expect the anti-choice movement leadership to use women’s
stories for poster child purposes if they can be manipulated to their
own ends, or condemned if they conflicted with their ideology.  

We don’t even have to dwell
on figures that could, with straining, be dismissed as fringe (like
Leslee Unruh) to prove this point. Rick Warren, major political player
and of course, a shining star of the pro-life movement, is someone who
has declared that his opposition
to abortion rights is non-negotiable.
His views about abortion are inextricable from the larger tapestry of
pro-patriachy views–Warren also believes wives
should submit to their husbands
that gay marriage is immoral and should be illegal, and that victims of domestic
violence should stay with their abusers.
Abortion bans function as part of this tapestry, a way to control and
punish women.  People who view women as things to controlled and
punished aren’t going to be swayed by women’s voices, when they
don’t respect them in the first place. 

The national conversation over
abortion feels like war because it isn’t about
abortion per se. It’s the most important battle in the struggle over
the existence of the patriarchy.  The dictionary defines patriarchy as, "a form of social organization
in which the father is the supreme authority in the family, clan, or
tribe and descent is reckoned in the male line, with the children belonging
to the father’s clan or tribe."  This explains why abortion matters
more than anything else–if we believe that "life" begins at conception,
then the father gets all the credit for making children, and this in
turn justifies male authority over women and official "ownership"
of children.  If we believe that "life" begins at some other
point in fetal development, then the credit for new people goes to women,
and patriarchal justifications dry up. 

That said, the pro-voice approach
could have a powerful effect on all the mushy middle people who identify
as "pro-life" even though they don’t have the stomach to ban abortion
or may even use abortion services themselves.  At the end of the
day, the feminist side can only reach peace if we manage to dwindle
the numbers of patriarchy enthusiasts until they are officially a marginal
group that can be safely ignored.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.


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