Roundup: “Shut the F— Up” About Abortions?

Robin Marty

Choice advocates told to "shut the f--- up" in Canada, and one Florida legislator has his own interest in female bodily autonomy.

If there’s one thing that reproductive rights advocates here in the U.S. have lived to regret, it was not making enough noise when Stupak-Pitts entered the healthcare debate.  We were told to be quiet, to not rock the boat, and to recognize that sometimes sacrifices have to be made in order to ensure that healthcare becomes an option for everyone.  And, if that sacrifice was our bodily autonomy, so be it.

Sound familiar, Canada?

The G8 Summit is getting closer, and maternal health will be the focus of the event.  But thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s declaration that abortion will not be discussed as an option, battle lines are becoming more definite as the deadline draws near.  And tempers are starting to flare.

The Liberals are seeking an apology from Ottawa after a Conservative senator told international development advocates Monday to “shut the f— up” on the issue of making abortion part of Canada’s foreign maternal-health strategy.

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During a meeting on Parliament Hill, Senator Nancy Ruth argued it would be best to leave the subject alone or risk having it become an election issue.

“We’ve got five weeks or whatever till the G8 starts, shut the f— up on this issue. Let it roll out,” she told a group of aid experts who came out to discuss the government’s direction on foreign-aid funding in light of its recent decision not to support abortion programs in developing nations.

“It’s just if you push it, there will be more backlash. This is now a political football. It’s not about women’s health in this country,” she added. “Canada is still a country with free and accessible abortions. Leave it there. Don’t make it an election issue.”

By all accounts meant to be friendly – albeit blunt – advice, the longtime women’s rights advocate and trained United Church minister’s comments came as a shock to many in the room.

They certainly came as a surprise to Liberal status of women critic Anita Neville, who was among the 80 or so international-development advocates at the meeting.

“I think women have been told too often to be quiet, be good and then you’ll get what you want,” Neville said after question period, adding there was a “hush in the room” after Ruth let the F-bomb slip.

“I guess my argument is when have women ever made progress and got what they want by keeping quiet.”

So why should the pro-choice community shut up?   According to Ruth, more fighting will just lead to Harper becoming more anti-abortion in his stance.

What, because just not allowing in funding for abortions isn’t really that bad?

Sadly, yes.  One source says Ruth believes that by antagonizing Harper, reproductive health activists might lose family planning assistance like contraception all together, too.

Her comments were a suggestion of strategy, not a threat. She was arguing that if the activists let the abortion issue alone, there is a better chance the maternal-health plan will include programs for family planning and contraception.

“Let it roll out. I hope I’m not proven wrong, but I have every confidence that it will include family planning and so on … and I hope I’m right,” she said.

In fact, the further the G8 planning progresses, the more of a disappointment it seems to become, eventually rendering it all show, no substance — at least when it comes to true maternal health.

The Canadian G8 initiative to improve maternal and children’s health has thus far been a disappointment.

From the initial lack of clarity on what such an initiative might mean, to the announcement that Ottawa would be reducing its foreign aid budget significantly over the next five years, to the controversy over abortion, the plan has quite rightly failed to create the positive momentum that the Conservative government was hoping for.

And while some might suggest that the apparent consensus reached by the G8 development ministers recently in Halifax is a step in the right direction, a closer look at the results of that meeting suggests otherwise.

Based on the comments coming out of Halifax, the debate over whether access to abortion is a necessary part of any program that aims to improve maternal and children’s health in developing countries seems to be over. Each donor country, the ministers announced, could pursue the Canadian initiative in its own way. More details are expected in Toronto in June.

And while the apparent resolution is attractive politically, it does little to ensure aid effectiveness, the true goal of any credible development assistance program. In fact, the ministers’ agreement might even hold the development agenda back.

So, is Canada losing its interest in promoting maternal health in light of the endless debate on the G8 plan?  Some are speculating they could be.

bout 500,000 women die due to childbirth and pregnancy-related complications across the globe each year. But the distressing figures are not being taken that seriously by the Canadian government, a fact substantiated by Canada’s attitude in not yet responding to an invitation to attend a global conference on the subject in Washington.

The three-day conference, beginning June 7, is being organized just weeks before the G8 gathering where ironically Canada has expressed a desire to champion the issue of maternal, reproductive and child health.

At the Washington meeting, being organized by the advocacy group Women Deliver, more than 3,500 maternal health policy-makers, experts and leaders are expected to put their heads together for pregnancy-related deaths. The focus would be on developing political, economic, social and technological solutions to help reduce the death rates of women and children in the developing world.

Notably, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals also include reducing by two-thirds the number of child deaths under five years of age and bringing down by 75% the casualties of women during childbirth.

Mini Roundup: While most Florida Legislators were debating the ultrasound bill, one senator was doing his own form of “getting more information” on the female reproductive system.  Remember, these are the people who are making decisions about our bodily autonomy.

Rather splendidly, as cameras catch Bennett in flagrante delicto, fellow Senator Dan Gelber can be heard to protest: “I’m against this bill, because it disrespects too many women in the state of Florida.”

May 3, 2010

A fetus is not a person – Ottawa Citizen

Safe abortion is oxymoron from child’s perspective – Ottawa Citizen

Abortion law isn’t fair, says lawsuit – Tulsa World

Abortion Under Siege in Oklahoma – AlterNet

The abortion debate – The Kubatana

Florida Legislature & The Damage Done –

Abortion Law Temporarily Halted– KOKI FOX 23

Kansas Legislature Fails to Override Abortion Bill Veto – Ms. Magazine

Florida Legislature Sends Controversial Abortion Bill to Crist –

Harper defends maternal health project funding minus abortions for third world … – Montreal Gazette

Kansas House to take last vote on governor’s veto of new abortion restrictions – Kansas City Star

Women who had abortions report more depression, drug abuse: Study – Montreal Gazette

Abortion: The debate about the debate –

Planned Parenthood moving abortion clinic, HQ to Midway area – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Oklahoma is Abortion Battleground – Wall Street Journal

Kansas House votes to override abortion veto – The Associated Press

Why parental consent laws are necessary – Chicago Tribune

The Christian Right: Wrong on AIDS –

New Okla. anti-abortion law temporarily blocked – Atlanta Journal Constitution

State of the World’s Mothers report: Norway is the best place to be a mom … – Kansas City Star

Hating the Pill – Big Think

School segregates sex education classes in single mother hotspot in bid to cut … – Daily Mail

Candidates dispute NKY Right to Life ratings –

Why I hate the pill –Salon

Birth Control Pill Anniversary: Does It Matter To You? – EmpowHer

Let’s talk more openly about sex – Daily Monitor

Aid groups advised to ‘shut the f— up’ on abortion – Toronto Star

The pill: 50 years after – Los Angeles Times

HIV-positive women are less likely to find work than men affected by the virus – EurekAlert

Some HIV mortality rates are decreasing –

MDs Contribute to the HIV Epidemic. Seriously. – Huffington Post

Mali can serve as example to Africa on halting HIV, say top UN officials – UN News Centre

A South African initiative has been praised as having the potential to break … – Irish Times

It’s all about the states – Politico

HPV vaccine being offered in schools – The Reporter

Healthy Mothers Nurture Hope – Huffington Post

NM woman sues, alleges HPV vaccine hurt daughter – The Associated Press

Maternal Health: A New Study Challenges Benefits of Vitamin a for Women and Babies – New York Times

More midwives – good news for New Zealand women and their babies – New Zealand Doctor Online

Crist has privacy concerns about the abortion bill – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Tory senator drops F-bomb on abortion debate – Vancouver Sun

Kansas House Overrides Abortion Bill Veto – WIBW

New Okla. anti-abortion law temporarily blocked – The Associated Press

Christie, Shunning Precedent, Drops Justice From Court – New York Times

Feminist senator Nancy Ruth tells aid groups to drop abortion fight – Globe and Mail

Scoop: GOP abortion wars heat up. CA Pro-Life Council to endorse Fiorina over … – San Francisco Chronicle

Abortion clinic will move; foes will, too – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Oklahoma: Abortion Law Delayed for 45 Days – New York Times

500 families mourn death of a newborn every day – The News International

WETZSTEIN: When ‘the pill’ was just an idea – Washington Times

‘The pill’ notes its 50th as hunt continues for foolproof contraceptive – Seattle Times

It Started More Than One Revolution – New York Times

Baltimore Becomes First City in US to Require Crisis Pregnancy Centers to …  – Huffington Post

HIV/AIDS endangers 17.5m Nigerian kids – The Guardian – Nigeria

India among worst places to become a mother: Survey – Times of India

Australia second best place to be a mum –

Abortion-rights advocates outraged with last-minute legislation requiring … – Naples Daily News


May 4, 2010

News site spies naughty pics on lawmaker’s laptop – CNET

Planned Parenthood to open new building in St. Paul – Pioneer Press

Tory Senator Nancy Ruth to aid experts on abortion strategy: ‘Shut the f— up’ – Vancouver Sun

Kansas House overturns governor’s veto of late-term abortion legislation – Kansas City Star

No one seems to care what aid recipients need  – Ottawa Citizen

State senator eyeballs smut during abortion debate – Register

The Pill linked to low desire for sex, claims study –

“Hypocritical” Green Party Calls for Abortion in Canada’s Maternal Health Plan  – Lifesite

It’s a golden anniversary for the pill – Hamilton Spectator

Prevention is primary message in Knox County’s abstinence approach to teaching – Knoxville News Sentinel

The Pill could put women off sex – Times of India

FDA probes risks of HIV, prostate, other drugs – Reuters

Mali: UNDP Chief Hails Progress in Country –

HIV Positive Cases Decrease in Kashmir – TopNews United States

Fiji President: Taboos Cause Of HIV Spread In Pacific – AHN | All Headline News

That sound you hear is your biological clock ticking – Reading Eagle

Finland is Seventh-Best Country for Mothers – YLE News

Canada Cold to Maternal Health? – TopNews United States

Analysis Law and Policy

Justice Kennedy’s Silence Speaks Volumes About His Apparent Feelings on Women’s Autonomy

Imani Gandy

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s obsession with human dignity has become a hallmark of his jurisprudence—except where reproductive rights are concerned.

Last week’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was remarkable not just for what it did say—that two provisions in Texas’s omnibus anti-abortion law were unconstitutional—but for what it didn’t say, and who didn’t say it.

In the lead-up to the decision, many court watchers were deeply concerned that Justice Anthony Kennedy would side with the conservative wing of the court, and that his word about targeted restrictions of abortion providers would signal the death knell of reproductive rights. Although Kennedy came down on the winning side, his notable silence on the “dignity” of those affected by the law still speaks volumes about his apparent feelings on women’s autonomy. That’s because Kennedy’s obsession with human dignity, and where along the fault line of that human dignity various rights fall, has become a hallmark of his jurisprudence—except where reproductive rights are concerned.

His opinion on marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, along with his prior opinions striking down sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas and the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, assured us that he recognizes the fundamental human rights and dignity of LGBTQ persons.

On the other hand, as my colleague Jessica Mason Pieklo noted, his concern in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action about the dignity of the state, specifically the ballot initiative process, assured us that he is willing to sweep aside the dignity of those affected by Michigan’s affirmative action ban in favor of the “‘dignity’ of a ballot process steeped in racism.”

Meanwhile, in his majority opinion in June’s Fisher v. University of Texas, Kennedy upheld the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ affirmative action program, noting that it remained a challenge to this country’s education system “to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”

It is apparent that where Kennedy is concerned, dignity is the alpha and the omega. But when it came to one of the most important reproductive rights cases in decades, he was silent.

This is not entirely surprising: For Kennedy, the dignity granted to pregnant women, as evidenced by his opinions in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Gonzales v. Carhart, has been steeped in gender-normative claptrap about abortion being a unique choice that has grave consequences for women, abortion providers’ souls, and the dignity of the fetus. And in Whole Woman’s Health, when Kennedy was given another chance to demonstrate to us that he does recognize the dignity of women as women, he froze.

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He didn’t write the majority opinion. He didn’t write a concurring opinion. He permitted Justice Stephen Breyer to base the most important articulation of abortion rights in decades on data. There was not so much as a callback to Kennedy’s flowery articulation of dignity in Casey, where he wrote that “personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education” are matters “involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy.” (While Casey was a plurality opinion, various Court historians have pointed out that Kennedy himself wrote the above-quoted language.)

Of course, that dignity outlined in Casey is grounded in gender paternalism: Abortion, Kennedy continued, “is an act fraught with consequences for others: for the woman who must live with the implications of her decision; for the persons who perform and assist in the procedures for the spouse, family, and society which must confront the knowledge that these procedures exist, procedures some deem nothing short of an act of violence against innocent human life; and, depending on one’s beliefs, for the life or potential life that is aborted.” Later, in Gonzales, Kennedy said that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban “expresses respect for the dignity of human life,” with nothing about the dignity of the women affected by the ban.

And this time around, Kennedy’s silence in Whole Woman’s Health may have had to do with the facts of the case: Texas claimed that the provisions advanced public health and safety, and Whole Woman’s Health’s attorneys set about proving that claim to be false. Whole Woman’s Health was the sort of data-driven decision that did not strictly need excessive language about personal dignity and autonomy. As Breyer wrote, it was a simple matter of Texas advancing a reason for passing the restrictions without offering any proof: “We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that, compared to prior law, the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.”

In Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s two-page concurrence, she succinctly put it, “Many medical procedures, including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients, yet are not subject to ambulatory-surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements.”

“Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like H.B. 2 that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion,’ cannot survive judicial inspection,” she continued, hammering the point home.

So by silently signing on to the majority opinion, Kennedy may simply have been expressing that he wasn’t going to fall for the State of Texas’ efforts to undermine Casey’s undue burden standard through a mixture of half-truths about advancing public health and weak evidence supporting that claim.

Still, Kennedy had a perfect opportunity to complete the circle on his dignity jurisprudence and take it to its logical conclusion: that women, like everyone else, are individuals worthy of their own autonomy and rights. But he didn’t—whether due to his Catholic faith, a deep aversion to abortion in general, or because, as David S. Cohen aptly put it, “[i]n Justice Kennedy’s gendered world, a woman needs … state protection because a true mother—an ideal mother—would not kill her child.”

As I wrote last year in the wake of Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell, “according to [Kennedy’s] perverse simulacrum of dignity, abortion rights usurp the dignity of motherhood (which is the only dignity that matters when it comes to women) insofar as it prevents women from fulfilling their rightful roles as mothers and caregivers. Women have an innate need to nurture, so the argument goes, and abortion undermines that right.”

This version of dignity fits neatly into Kennedy’s “gendered world.” But falls short when compared to jurists internationally,  who have pointed out that dignity plays a central role in reproductive rights jurisprudence.

In Casey itself, for example, retired Justice John Paul Stevens—who, perhaps not coincidentally, attended the announcement of the Whole Woman’s Health decision at the Supreme Court—wrote that whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a “matter of conscience,” and that “[t]he authority to make such traumatic and yet empowering decisions is an element of basic human dignity.”

And in a 1988 landmark decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, Justice Bertha Wilson indicated in her concurring opinion that “respect for human dignity” was key to the discussion of access to abortion because “the right to make fundamental personal decision without interference from the state” was central to human dignity and any reading of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1982, which is essentially Canada’s Bill of Rights.

The case was R. v. Morgentaler, in which the Supreme Court of Canada found that a provision in the criminal code that required abortions to be performed only at an accredited hospital with the proper certification of approval from the hospital’s therapeutic abortion committee violated the Canadian Constitution. (Therapeutic abortion committees were almost always comprised of men who would decide whether an abortion fit within the exception to the criminal offense of performing an abortion.)

In other countries, too, “human dignity” has been a key component in discussion about abortion rights. The German Federal Constitutional Court explicitly recognized that access to abortion was required by “the human dignity of the pregnant woman, her… right to life and physical integrity, and her right of personality.” The Supreme Court of Brazil relied on the notion of human dignity to explain that requiring a person to carry an anencephalic fetus to term caused “violence to human dignity.” The Colombian Constitutional Court relied upon concerns about human dignity to strike down abortion prohibition in instances where the pregnancy is the result of rape, involves a nonviable fetus, or a threat to the woman’s life or health.

Certainly, abortion rights are still severely restricted in some of the above-mentioned countries, and elsewhere throughout the world. Nevertheless, there is strong national and international precedent for locating abortion rights in the square of human dignity.

And where else would they be located? If dignity is all about permitting people to make decisions of fundamental personal importance, and it turns out, as it did with Texas, that politicians have thrown “women’s health and safety” smoke pellets to obscure the true purpose of laws like HB 2—to ban abortion entirely—where’s the dignity in that?

Perhaps I’m being too grumpy. Perhaps I should just take the win—and it is an important win that will shape abortion rights for a generation—and shut my trap. But I want more from Kennedy. I want him to demonstrate that he’s not a hopelessly patriarchal figure who has icky feelings when it comes to abortion. I want him to recognize that some women have abortions and it’s not the worst decision they’ve ever made or the worst thing that ever happened to him. I want him to recognize that women are people who deserve dignity irrespective of their choices regarding whether and when to become a mother. And, ultimately, I want him to write about a woman’s right to choose using the same flowery language that he uses to discuss LGBTQ rights and the dignity of LGBTQ people.  He could have done so here.

Forcing the closure of clinics based on empty promises of advancing public health is an affront to the basic dignity of women. Not only do such lies—and they are lies, as evidenced by the myriad anti-choice Texan politicians who have come right out and said that passing HB 2 was about closing clinics and making abortion inaccessible—operate to deprive women of the dignity to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term, they also presume that the American public is too stupid to truly grasp what’s going on.

And that is quintessentially undignified.

News Politics

Trump University ‘Preyed Upon the Elderly and Uneducated,’ Claims Former Trump Staffer

Ally Boguhn

The almost 400 pages of documents released Tuesday included Trump University’s “playbook,” detailing techniques the so-called university’s salespeople were instructed to use. The book told employees to identify seminar “buyers” by sorting through student profiles based on their liquid assets.

Recently unsealed court documents from a class action lawsuit against Trump University—a for-profit company founded by presumptive presidential Republican nominee Donald Trump—revealed the tactics employed by the business to aggressively push their classes.

The almost 400 pages of documents released Tuesday included Trump University’s “playbook,” detailing techniques the so-called university’s salespeople were instructed to use. The book told employees to identify seminar “buyers” by sorting through student profiles based on their liquid assets, CNN reported. Staff members were told to address buyers’ doubts about going into debt with scripted responses:

I don’t like using my credit cards and going into debt: “[D]o you like living paycheck to paycheck? … Do you enjoy seeing everyone else but yourself in their dream houses and driving their dreams cars with huge checking accounts? Those people saw an opportunity, and didn’t make excuses, like what you’re doing now.”

Testimony from former Trump University Sales Manager Ronald Schnackenberg uncovered by the New York Times claims that staff were pushed to exploit those struggling financially. Schnackenberg claimed in written testimony that he was once “reprimanded” for not pushing a couple he felt was in a “precarious financial condition” to buy a $35,000 real estate class using their disability income and a loan.

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Schnackenberg said he believed “Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

Some of the released documents were later ordered to be resealed after U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, who is presiding over two of the three lawsuits against Trump University, on grounds that they were “mistakenly” released to the public. Trump University faces a second class action lawsuit as well as a $40 million lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Schneiderman on Thursday told Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos that Trump University had engaged in fraud. “We have a law [in New York] against running an illegal, unlicensed university,” Schneiderman said. “This never was a university. The fraud started with the name of the organization, and you can’t just go around saying this is the George Stephanopoulos Law Firm/Hospital/University without actually qualifying and registering, so it was really a fraud from beginning to end.”

Trump’s pending Trump University lawsuits have been under increasing scrutiny. The Republican made headlines again Friday for lobbing “racially tinged” attacks on Curiel.

“I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater,” Trump said at a campaign rally in San Diego, going on to speculate that the judge may be “Mexican.”

Trump nevertheless vowed in a Thursday tweet to reopen Trump University once the pending lawsuits against the business have concluded.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign wasted no time this week blasting the presumptive GOP nominee for his role in Trump University after the release of the case’s documents. Speaking about the matter during a campaign rally at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Clinton called out Trump’s for-profit school.

“This is just more evidence that Donald Trump himself is a fraud. He is trying to scam America the way he tried to scam all of those people at Trump U,” Clinton said. “Trump and his employees took advantage of vulnerable Americans, encouraging them to max out their credit cards, empty their retirement savings, destroy their financial futures—all while making promises they knew were false from the beginning.”