The Right to Privacy and the Right to Speak Out

Sarah Seltzer

Feminists stand firm on never telling women what they should do, allowing them full choice about their bodies and lives.  But we need to better support women when they speak about their experiences. 

Our right to abortion is couched, legally and often socially, as a right to privacy, the right to keep our medical decisions to ourselves. This appeals to a certain American libertarian streak, and so it perhaps can be effective politically. But does the fact that the decision must be allowed to be made in a personal, private context mean that women ought keep their experiences with abortion to themselves?

Clearly, some people think so. Those are the terms with which many wavering people are comfortable being legally pro-choice. Your body, your choice, leave me out of it. In our age of “TMI,” live-tweeting births and deaths and general over-sharing, the idea of public discussion of abortion may seem to some folks to be a herald of an era in which privacy no longer exists.

The #livetweetingabortion controversy which we covered last week attracted its share of rabid anti-choicers declaring Angie Jackson to be a pawn of Satan– and now threatening her in alarming, serious ways but there were also plenty of people who just said ewww. That’s private.

But that’s the point, explained Jackson, who has blogged and tweeted about a number of intensely personal issues:

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I think that secrecy is unhealthy. We don’t get help when we don’t talk about things. For women who do need counseling or support or love or understanding after an abortion, if they have to stay quiet out of shame, then they won’t get that help. I think talking about things really can make a huge difference.

Legally, privacy and bodily autonomy remain the standards we promote as pro-choicers. But socially and culturally, the pushing of abortion into a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” limbo has been truly damaging for women. Whether it’s shows like “16 and Pregnant” which ignored the truth of teen girls who abort, movies like “Knocked Up” which can’t even say the word “abortion”, and more, our prevailing attitude of it’s your choice, but keep it to yourself has had a direct link to the chipping away of our rights. When people don’t see their friends, neighbors and selves as being hassled, inconvenienced or threatened by mandatory ultrasounds, counseling and waiting periods, these things don’t seem like a terrible idea.

So yes, it’s a private decision, but it shouldn’t be a silenced decision. That’s the difference. Women should feel free to mourn or rejoice, breathe a sigh of relief or cry from exhaustion, keep it to themselves or blog or tweet about it, as they do with other personal choices–where to send kids to school, when, where, how and if to get married, whom they’re dating and how they survive cancer, motherhood, or bereavement.

Unfortunately, as Robin Marty’s touching story shows, without other women’s stories, without the reality of abortion being portrayed in the media, the extremely common procedure can be incredibly isolating. By sharing her story, Angie Jackson is a  heroine, because she chose to tell her story to help others, and she got so much invective for it, just as women who tumbled and blogged about their abortions have gotten before.

Just as gay rights have advanced by people coming to know their gay relatives, friends and neighbors and no longer seeing people without rights as a “them” so abortion rights can benefit hugely by the acknowledgement that these women are all of us. And there’s a more practical side to it as well, which was Jackson’s original intention. In her now-infamous Youtube video

I am doing this to demystify abortion so other women know that it is not nearly as terrifying as I had myself worked up thinking. It is not that bad. This is nothing compared to child birth, compared to labor for me. This is the best choice. It is not that bad and I want people to know that it is out there if you need this.”

Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory wrote that this sharing on Jackson’s part has a useful, practical side to it, which the abortion tumblrs also fulfilled: helping women understand what’s happening to them, medically, physically, psychologically. If anyone has looked up birth control on the internet they can see that women’s ability to share the side effect, advantages, and reactions to different contraceptives has the kind of benefit that even a doctor can’t give you, the benefit of crowd-sourcing. Clark-Flory notes:

In fact, before I went in for what felt like terrifying oral surgery…I went on YouTube and watched footage of similar procedures and video blogs of people’s recovery process. It replaced all of my far-fetched nightmarish visions with concrete, factual information. Without that, I might have gone running for the hills — or at least passed out in the waiting room. Considering that abortion is so prone to politicized distortions and outright lies, Jackson is doing women a real favor. This isn’t another case of overshare-itis, it’s an example of how amid all the frivolous cacophony of Facebook, Twitter and the like, some folks are, like, actually doing good.

As feminists we stand firm on the side of never telling women you should, allowing them full choice about what to do with their bodies and then what to say about what they’ve done. But we need to really support women like Jackson and the others at websites like I’m Not Sorry and publications like Exhale’s Our Truths express our undying gratitude and tell them how proud we are of them. It shouldn’t take a tragedy the death of Dr. Tiller to make these kinds of stories public–we need positive motivation to bring more stories out of the shadows.
Live-Tweeting Abortion from Feministe

Internet Reacts (Predictably) To Woman Live-Tweeting Her Abortion from Jezebel

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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