Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cristina Page

Commentary Human Rights

Silencing Debate on Women’s Lives: It’s Happening in Wisconsin, Too, and the Catholic Church Is an Accomplice

Lon Newman

Victims and witnesses to reproductive coercion, intimidation, and bullying must try to speak up, seek help, or intervene as the situation requires. When it comes to public and political behavior, calling reproductive coercion what it is the first step to ending it.

Redux – The personal is political

Teaching children to understand and cope with bullies is essential, but bullying isn’t limited to elementary school. Bullying may not be physical or direct. It is persistent, intimidating, and it flourishes when victims and witnesses are afraid to speak up or speak out. It is time to identify reproductive coercion for what it is and call the bullies what they are.

Reproductive coercion” includes sabotage of birth control by abusive partners and occurs in all social and economic groups and most frequently to unmarried sexually active women. Male partners seek control over their partner’s reproductive options, even whether and when to have sex, to assert and maintain power.

Just as the pattern of intimidation, harassment, aggression and control is not limited to schools, reproductive coercion is not limited to interpersonal relations. It is ubiquitous at public forums, health care settings, legislative discourse, and campaign politics. This bullying is intended to intimidate, to silence people who disagree, to deny people access to health care they want or need, to pass legislation that denies reproductive justice, and to maintain power by opposing reproductive rights and justice.

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Last week, one of Family Planning Health Services’ (FPHS) employees was participating in a health fair sponsored by our local United Way and county health department. It happened to be hosted at a Catholic hospital. One of the medical directors required the employee to remove information on emergency contraception. The doctor then used post-it notes to obscure “prescription contraception” and “non-prescription contraception” on the FPHS display.

The hospital has been recognized for its work with sexual assault victims and the hospital president is on the state attorney general’s sexual assault task force. We can assume the hospital is in compliance with state law to provide emergency contraception in the emergency room and we know that many of the physicians provide prescription and non-prescription contraception to their patients. But, like the classic elementary school bully, the physician used position and status to censor and deny information to participants.

Victims and bystanders might excuse the bully; “I should have known this would provoke him,” or “I should have known better than to be in this neighborhood,” but motivation does not excuse intimidation, bullying and harassment.  On a public level we may understand religious objections, but using status, position, power, volume or force to control someone else’s reproductive health and behavior must be challenged and condemned if the culture of sexual coercion is to change.

Several days ago, Wisconsin’s State Senator Mike Ellis used the power of the majority and the gavel to silence debate and fast-track a bill that requires women to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound procedure and morality message before they can have an abortion. In our state assembly, our state representative shared her experience as a child rape victim and spoke very personally to how she felt as a victim and as the mother of three daughters, to a law requiring victims to undergo a re-invasion of privacy and self-control. On-line bullies vilified and harassed her for speaking out as a victim against the “pro-life” legislation.

There are self-styled “prayer warriors” standing outside our family planning clinics for a few months each year. They know that many of our patients and WIC participants/children are intimidated by their presence, but they justify the bullying on the basis of their religious beliefs about abortion, which we do not provide.

Victims and witnesses to reproductive coercion, intimidation and bullying must try to speak up, seek help, or intervene as the situation requires. When it comes to public and political behavior, calling reproductive coercion what it is the first step to ending it.

News Sexual Health

New Report from CDC Finds Drop in Risky Sexual Behavior

Martha Kempner

This week the CDC released a report that suggests that Americans are practicing fewer risky behaviors when it comes to HIV transmission.

This week the CDC released a report that suggests that Americans are practicing fewer risky behaviors when it comes to HIV transmission. Researchers analyzed data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) collected between 2006 and 2010 and compared it to data collected in for the same survey in 2002.  The NSFG measures HIV-risk with questions that ask about oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse, same-sex sexual behavior, condom use, and drug use. 

The report found that in 2006–2010 approximately 10 percent of men and 8 percent of women reported at least one of the HIV risk-related behavioral measures examined.  This represents a decline from 13 percent of men and 11 percent of women who reported one or more of these measures in 2002.  Researchers believe that the decline appears to be due to a decrease in sexual risk-taking behaviors.   For example:

  • In 2006‒2010, 3.9 percent of males and 1.8 percent of females had five or more sexual partners compared to 4.6 percent of males and 2.4 percent of females in 2002.
  • In 2006‒2010, 0.7 percent of males and 0.8 percent of females had a partner who injects illicit drugs compared to 2.3 percent of females and 2.9 of males in 2002.  
  • In 2006‒2010, 1.4 percent of females had a male partner who had sex with other men compared to 2.3 percent in 2002.  

According to Anjani Chandra, the report’s lead author, the reasons for the decline in risk behaviors is not clear. She notes that “some of the public health messages might be getting through. It also could be that people are reluctant to disclose that they engage in risky behaviors.  But, it could be real and reflect actual changes in behavior.”

Chandra also points out that the improvements are not the same across all demographics.  For example, 16 percent of young black men ages 15 to 24 reported at least one HIV risk-related sexual behavior, compared with 8.7 percent of Hispanic men and 6.5 percent of young white men. In addition, men who had served time in prison were far more likely (27 percent) to engage in at least one HIV risk-related sexual behavior than men who had not (7 percent) been in prison. 

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Approximately 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV and new cases have leveled off at about 50,000 per year though it estimated that 20 percent of HIV-positive individuals do not know their status.  

Chandra explained that this study was valuable because it looked at behaviors on a “household level” rather than just looking at high-risk populations as HIV research has often done.  Not everyone, however, agreed that this was a new or beneficial approach.  Philip Alcabes, an associate professor in the School of Health Sciences at Hunter College/City University of New York, told USA Today that he thought this report was still looking at ADS through the “moralizing lens” of 1981: “Having failed to advocate for structural changes that would actually reduce risk of HIV acquisition and having failed to implement widespread, easily accessible syringe exchange programs, federal agencies instead spend their time studying personal behavior.”