Obama to Women: I am not your friend


On Thursday, the news broke that the Obama administration included a ban on abortion coverage that basically meets the notorious Stupak restrictions that had been the focus of attention months ago within the health care reform debates. This means that the compromise that was satisfactory enough to the anti-abortion Democrats months ago to push through the "reform" has been surpassed with this measure; leaving many pro-choice activists asking "why did he do that? he didn't have to!"

On Thursday, the news broke that the Obama administration included a ban on abortion coverage that basically meets the notorious Stupak restrictions that had been the focus of attention months ago within the health care reform debates. This means that the compromise that was satisfactory enough to the anti-abortion Democrats months ago to push through the “reform” has been surpassed with this measure; leaving many pro-choice activists asking “why did he do that? he didn’t have to!”

Here’s the answer, women, short and sweet: Obama is not your friend, advocate, or representative. He represents the US empire. And while the Democrats’ program has some significant differences compared to the Republicans, when faced with the pressure of maintaining social cohesion “at home” while sustaining years of occupation in 2 countries, ongoing military strikes in at least one other (Pakistan), extreme economic instability and the prospects of domestic upheaval from those committed to racism, religious obscurantism, the subordination of women in every public sphere and ignorant answers to every important question of the day (from the destruction of the Gulf to the ongoing economic crisis), who do you think he’s going to go to bat for? You? Sorry to break it to you, but you are easy to throw under the bus. Your faithful loyalty to the Democrats (“ask Obama why?”) means you will never get the change you need and want. 

For more on what this new ban means, here’s the ACLU:

“[T]he White House has decided to voluntarily impose the ban for all women in the newly-created high risk insurance pools. What is disappointing is that there is nothing in the law that requires the Obama administration to impose this broad and highly restrictive abortion ban. It doesn’t allow states to choose to cover abortion and it doesn’t even give women the option to buy abortion coverage using their own money…

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“Unless the Administration reverses this decision, some of America’s most vulnerable women—those with pre-existing conditions who have been denied health care coverage on the individual market—won’t be able to purchase abortion coverage except in the case of rape or incest or to save the pregnant woman’s life.”

Operation Save America

 Above: Operation Save America in action in front of Charlotte clinic. The shirt reads:  Jesus is the Judge, therefore: 
Abortion is Murder
Homosexuality is a Sin
Islam is a Lie
Evolution is a Delusion
Feminism is Rebellion
Liberalism is a False Religion
Conservatism is Pretend Salt

Meanwhile, in Charlotte, NC, violent anti-abortion activists affiliated with Operation Save America are gathering for a week of protests aimed at closing down the long-standing clinic there, Family Reproductive Health (there are other clinics as well, but this is the focus of their attack). On Saturday morning, 50 of them showed up (with their kids in tow), pushing their message of hate and yelling into the faces of about 14 abortion rights defenders. One anti-abortion protester was arrested when he tried to build a scaffolding against the wall of the clinic. This group of “fringe lunatics” (ones with political initiative and connections to money and power though) has been postering neighborhoods of Charlotte and stalking doctors with Family Reproductive Health – threatening not just their livelihoods but their lives, and upholding the murder of doctors like Dr. George Tiller. This mobilization continues throughout the week in Charlotte, and local organizers estimate next Saturday, the 24th will be the largest day of protest. 

Then, Operation Rescue, the Wichita-based anti-abortion group with demonstrated links to the admitted murderer who killed Dr. Tiller, is sending “missionaries” to Albuquerque, NM, this summer to spearhead a new campaign targetting Dr. Curtis Boyd there. They might be hoping to tap into the whipped up anti-immigrant fascist mood in the southwest but thankfully local activists are not taking a “wait and see” approach. Already they are calling for a preemptive protest rally on July 30, and the NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice has started circulating a petition

Abortion Providers Are Heroes

Above: in front of the clinic, World Can’t Wait’s banner reads: A fetus is not a baby… Abortion is not murder…Women are not incubators… ABORTION PROVIDERS ARE HEROES!

People on the ground in Charlotte and Albuquerque (as well as in front of countless clinics across the country) are acting to do what must be done to protect clinics from violence and threats. But the majority of the pro-choice movement, which thought that electing Barack Obama would allow a respite from the constant (and constantly slipping) struggle for the right to have control over one of the most basic decisions affecting women’s lives needs to face facts. Obama and the Democrats are in power. And power, as Fredrick Douglass said, concedes nothing without demand. 

Commentary Law and Policy

Here’s What You Need to Know About Your Birth Control Access Post-Supreme Court Ruling

Bridgette Dunlap

Yes, the Zubik v. Burwell case challenged the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage mandate. But that shouldn't stop you from getting your reproductive health needs met—without a co-payment.

In May, the Supreme Court issued a sort of non-decision in Zubik v. Burwell, the consolidated case challenging the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage. The ruling leaves some very important legal questions unanswered, but it is imperative that criticism of the Court for “punting” or leaving women in “limbo” not obscure the practical reality: that the vast majority of people with insurance are currently entitled to contraception without a co-payment—that includes people, for the most part, who work for religiously affiliated organizations.

Two years ago, hyperbole in response to the Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby—that, for example, the Court had ruled your boss can block your birth control—led too many people to believe the contraceptive coverage requirement was struck down. It wasn’t. The Zubik decision provides a good opportunity to make sure that is understood.

If people think they don’t have birth control coverage, they won’t use it. And if they don’t know what coverage is legally required, they won’t know when their plans are not in compliance with the law and overcharging them for contraceptives or other covered services, perhaps unintentionally. The point of the contraceptive coverage rule is to make it as easy as possible to access contraceptives—studies show seemingly small obstacles prevent consistent use of the most effective contraceptives. Eliminating financial barriers isn’t enough if informational ones undermine the goal.

The most important thing to know is that most health plans are currently required to cover reproductive health services without a co-payment, including:

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  • One version of every kind of FDA-approved contraception—that is, only the generic or the brand-name version of the contraceptive could be covered, but at least one must be. So you shouldn’t be paying a co-payment whether you use the pill, the patch, the shot, or want long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) like an IUD, which is more expensive, but most effective.
  • Screening for HIV and high-risk strains of HPV
  • An annual well-woman visit
  • Breastfeeding counseling and supplies like pumps

There are exceptions, but most plans should be covering these services without a co-payment. Don’t assume that because you work for Hobby Lobby or Notre Dame—or any other religiously affiliated employer—that you don’t currently have coverage.

The original contraceptive coverage rule had an “exemption” for church-type groups (on the somewhat dubious theory that such groups primarily employ individuals who would share their employers’ objection to contraception). When other kinds of organizations, which had religious affiliations but didn’t primarily employ individuals of that same religion, objected to providing contraceptive coverage, the Obama administration came up with a plan to accommodate them while still making sure women get contraceptive coverage.

This “accommodation” is a workaround that transfers the responsibility to provide contraceptive coverage from the employer to the insurance company. After the employer fills out a form noting it objects to providing contraception, the insurance company must reach out to the employee and provide separate coverage that the objecting organization doesn’t pay for or arrange.

This accommodation was originally available only to nonprofit organizations. But dozens of for-profits, like Hobby Lobby, sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—arguing that their owners were religious people whose beliefs were also burdened by the company having to provide coverage.

The Hobby Lobby decision did not say your boss’s religious belief trumps your right to a quality health plan. What the Court did was point to the existence of the accommodation for nonprofits as proof that the government could achieve its goals of ensuring coverage of contraception through a workaround already in place to give greater protection to objectors. Basically, the Court told the government to give the for-profits the same treatment as the nonprofits.

The Hobby Lobby decision states explicitly that the effect of this on women should be “precisely zero.” The Obama administration subsequently amended the contraceptive regulations, making coverage available to employees of companies like Hobby Lobby available through the accommodation. Hobby Lobby added some headaches for administrators and patients, but it did not eliminate the contraceptive coverage rule.

Next, however, the nonprofits went on to argue to the Supreme Court and the public that the accommodation the Court had seemed to bless in Hobby Lobby also violated RFRA—because having to fill out a form, which notified the government that they objected to contraceptive coverage and identifying their insurers, would substantially burden their religious beliefs.

Following oral arguments in Zubik, the eight-member Supreme Court issued a highly unusual order: It asked the parties to respond to its proposed modification of the accommodation, in which the government would not require objecting nonprofits to self-certify that they oppose contraception nor to identify their insurers. The government would take an organization’s decision to contract for a health plan that does not cover contraception to be notice of a religious objection and go ahead with requiring the insurer to provide it instead.

The petitioners’ response to the Court’s proposed solution was “Yes, but…” They said the Court’s plan would be fine so long as the employee had to opt into the coverage, use a separate insurance card, and jump through various other hoops—defeating the goal of providing “seamless” contraceptive coverage through the accommodation.

When the Court issued its decision in Zubik, it ignored the “but.” It characterized the parties as being in agreement and sent the cases back to the lower courts to work out the compromise.

The Court told the government it could consider itself on notice of the petitioners’ objections and move forward with getting separate contraceptive coverage to the petitioners’ employees, through the accommodation process, but without the self-certification form. How the government will change the accommodation process, and whether it will satisfy the petitioners, are open questions. The case could end up back at the Supreme Court if the petitioners won’t compromise and one of the lower courts rules for them again. But for prospective patients, the main takeaway is that the Court ruled the government can move forward now with requiring petitioners’ insurers to provide the coverage that the petitioners won’t.

So—if your plan isn’t grandfathered, and you don’t work for a church or an organization that has sued the government, your insurance should be covering birth control without a co-payment. (If your plan is grandfathered and your employer makes a change to that plan, then those formerly grandfathered plans would be subject to the same contraceptive coverage requirements.) If you do work for one of the nonprofit petitioners, the government should be making contraceptive coverage available even before the litigation is resolved. And in some cases, employees of the petitioners already have coverage. Notre Dame, for example, initially accepted the accommodation before being pressured by off-campus contraception opponents to sue, so its insurer is currently providing Notre Dame students and employees coverage.

Don’t despair about the Supreme Court’s gutting access to contraception. Assume that you have coverage. The National Women’s Law Center has great resources here for finding out if your plan is required to cover contraception and how to address it with your insurance plan if it isn’t in compliance, and a hotline to call if you need help. The fact that equitable coverage of women’s health care is the new status quo is a very big deal that can be lost in the news about the unprecedented litigation campaign to block access to birth control and attacks on Obamacare more generally. Seriously, tell your friends.

Culture & Conversation Media

Exploring Jewish Identity Through the Eyes of Women Artists

Eleanor J. Bader

According to scholar Tahneer Oksman, women illustrators from the United States and Canada use their drawings to make sense of their religion, culture, and sometimes complicated relationships to Israel.

The seven women whose graphic autobiographies are deconstructed in Marymount Manhattan College professor Tahneer Oksman’s “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs” are all successful North American artists. But to a one, they have had to confront and surmount anti-Semitism and sexism. Alongside common decisions about career and lifestyle, each illustrator has had the added task of determining how, or if, she wants to relate to contemporary Jewish life, and how, or if, she wants to align herself with the state of Israel.

Oksman’s narrative presents these conundrums honestly, if academically. She analyzes how the graphic works address the complications of being part of a secular, often-contentious, and non-monolithic Jewish community. Indeed, “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” showcases the wide diversity among those who call themselves “cultural Jews,” women linked to their ancestors by blood rather than faith. Differences are highlighted, and the book asks important questions about bones of contention that the Jewish community must confront, from the conflation of Judaism with Zionism to the challenges that arise from persistent stereotypes about female Jews.

But as provocative as it is, the book also has deficits.

The book would have been enriched, for example, by a discussion of art created by women enmeshed in religious life, such as devout British cartoonist Keren Keet, who humorously depicts the high-wire juggling it takes to balance raising children with paid work and religious obligations. Similarly, there are no depictions of women who are minimally observant but not devout in either Oksman’s text or the accompanying visuals. Furthermore, it is unclear how Oksman selected the artists she featured, since there are many other Jewish women in the graphic arts—among them Leela Corman, Miriam Katin, Diane Noomin, Racheli Rotner, Ariel Schrag, and Ilana Zeffren.

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The book opens with a discussion of “the serial selves” of Aline Kominsky Crumb, who was born into an upper-middle-class Long Island family in 1948. Her multiple self-portraits illuminate key developmental milestones, from her refusal to get a nose job or straighten her hair—acts that separated her from every other ninth-grade girl in her class—to her relief at finding other “freaks” in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the late 1960s and ’70s. One 1989 illustration looks back at the cookie-cutter sameness that marked her adolescence and pointedly asks why “boys get to keep their noses.”

This seemingly innocent question straightforwardly pinpoints the sexist expectations of the early 1960s and reveals an astute observation about the double standards that young women—indeed all women—faced then, and continue to face today. In fact, one of Kominsky Crumb’s earliest cartoon alter-egos, Goldie, became an exemplar of sass when, in 1972, she declared that “after years of trying to please other people, I set out to live in my own style.”  She is smiling in the drawing, driving off in a sports car “void of fear.”

Aline Kominsky Crumb illustrated her personal journey of moving from fear and uncertainty to freedom.

(Aline Kominsky Crumb/Columbia University Press)

Then there’s the issue of having and being a Jewish mother. “As an identity that has been chosen by her, like becoming a wife and artist, motherhood has the potential to signify a role that allows Kominsky Crumb to feel free and further indulge in her own style,” Oksman writes. “Yet as her comics reveal, motherhood is always inevitably associated with inheritance—the inherited relationship she shares with her own mother as well as stereotypes about Jewish mothers, not to mention mothers more generally, that characterize much of popular North American art and literature.” For Kominsky Crumb, this requires taking on the smothering Jewish mama stereotype at the same time that she grapples with her own fraught relationship with an overbearing mom.

Additionally, the anti-Semitic trope that describes Jewish women as gold-digging, self-centered, vain, and materialistic is fodder for Kominsky Crumb. She pokes fun at this hackneyed notion while simultaneously critiquing her Jewish peers for elitist and “princesslike” behaviors. It’s a nuanced and critical posture revealing her placement both within and outside Judaism.

Other Kominsky Crumb drawings present what Oksman calls “the struggle to negotiate between inherited and chosen identities,” that is, responsibility to the tribe—the large Jewish diaspora—versus responsibility to the self.

This stance is taken by other Jewish feminists as well. In fact, Kominsky Crumb’s younger counterparts mine similar turf—and from a similarly distanced place. In Vanessa Davis’ 2010 graphic memoir Make Me a Woman, she reflects on her bat mitzvah’s material excess. According to Oksman, when Davis discovered the class privilege of her upbringing, she had to come to terms with the “realization that it was not a universal background for all American Jews.” This understanding reoriented Davis “in relation to her own history and [set] her on a path to understanding her Jewish identity as highly individualized or a matter of location.”

Similarly, artists Miss Lasko-Gross and Lauren Weinstein explore what it means to be culturally Jewish and connected to the community by ancestry while choosing to remain non-religious. How this stance has influenced their values, morals, and relationships throughout their lives is described and analyzed.

The goal of their autobiographical stories seems geared to evoking the reader’s empathy, and Oksman’s narrative and the accompanying graphics are deeply resonant. Still, it’s standard coming-of-age stuff, and despite the specific cultural angel, it will feel familiar.

More compelling is the book’s look at how Sarah Glidden and Miriam Libicki tackle the subject of Israel. Glidden’s 2010 How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less and Libicki’s ongoing jobnik! series address the ambivalence of many secular American and Canadian Jews toward the Jewish homeland. 

For Glidden, a free ten-day trip to Israel sponsored by Taglit-Birthright, an organization that brings scores of 18-to-26-year-old Jews to the “promised land” for a highly orchestrated tour, is an opportunity for adventure, albeit one rife with political discomfort. Expecting a “regional propaganda tour,” the self-described progressive humanist initially remains aloof from her fellow travelers. Later, however, she realizes, as Oksman puts it, that “approaching a so-called unfiltered look at Israel requires not isolation but connection with others. Avoiding the biases of people around her is not enough; she must explore them as well as consider them in relation to her own biases,” especially as a U.S.-born critic.

Two illustration panels from chapter 3 of How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, p. 77. Copyright © Sarah Glidden 2010.

(Sarah Glidden/Columbia University Press)

Miriam Libicki, on the other hand, served in the Israeli Army subsequently produced issues of the jobnik! comic series since 2003. As a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, she volunteered for the Israel Defense Force in the late 1990s, and her graphics present her transition from gung-ho militarist to anti-occupation “peacenik.”

Libicki also addresses gender discrimination. She was not only sexually harassed by male IDF soldiers, but was assigned mundane secretarial duties rather than the more challenging work she craved. In addition, Libicki writes that her contemporaries saw her as bizarre: “For the Israelis, being in the army is an inevitable fact of life,” Oksman notes. “Their identities as soldiers are, by necessity, integrated into their identities as young people socializing with one another. For Miriam, growing up in Ohio, being in the Israeli army is a significant act. It represents a sacrifice she has chosen to make .… Miriam’s unquestioning affiliation to Israel and the Israeli army therefore actually distanced her from those around her,” and left her with ample time to think about both her isolation and politics.

There is pain in Libicki’s account, just as there is pain in the other stories featured in ”How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” Indeed, as each woman’s story unfolds, a profound sense of disequilibrium surfaces. This is too bad, since the joy of belonging—the comfort found in repeated rituals, food preparation and consumption, and sisterhood—is missing from most of the accounts. Oksman writes that the seven cartoonists featured “adopt notions of Jewish difference to establish an encompassing metaphor for Jewish American women’s marginalized status within an already tenuously defined and situated community.” Sadly, in focusing almost exclusively on distance, the connections that bind Jewish women to one another, and that exist between Jews and the rest of humanity, fall by the wayside.