News Abortion

MTV Won’t Run Heroic Media Television Ads

Robin Marty

The station has stated that it will reject any ads from the organization known for its racist billboard campaigns.

Well, I finally came up with a reason to watch MTV.  The television channel may finally make up a little for launching the career of Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy by announcing it will turn down any ads that Heroic Media attempts to purchase during their shows.

The Florida Independent writes:

At an April 30 anti-abortion fundraiser in Bethesda, Md., headlined by Sarah Palin, Heroic Media announced that this spring’s Northeast marketing campaign would include television ads on MTV and BET, but an MTV spokesperson has since told The American Independent that it would not be airing the Heroic Media ads due to the organization’s recent billboard campaign that has sparked controversy.

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Now the question is what do they have to do to make up for turning Jenny McCarthy into a celebrity?  That might take a little more effort.

News Abortion

What the ‘Abortion Drone’ Will (And Won’t) Mean for Reproductive Rights (Updated)

Emily Crockett

The Poland "abortion drone" is causing a splash in the media and excited buzz in the reproductive rights community, but it has also become a source of misinformation and anxiety.

UPDATE, June 29, 2:59 p.m.: The first-ever abortion drone flight was a success Saturday, Women on Waves founder Rebecca Gomperts told Rewire. Two women in Poland received and took abortion pills that were delivered to them via drone from Germany. While German police failed to stop the flight, Gomperts said, they threatened criminal charges, and also confiscated the drone controller and some personal iPads belonging to activists. It is “totally unclear on what grounds” criminal charges could be brought, Gomperts said, and official charges could take months. The group’s lawyer is looking into the case.

The first-ever “abortion drone” is scheduled to launch Saturday and deliver abortion pills to women in Poland, getting around that country’s restrictive abortion laws.

The action is causing a splash in the media and excited buzz among reproductive rights advocates, some of whom envision a future in which reactionary state legislatures are no match for nimble robots armed with mifepristone and misoprostol. But the drone has also become a source of misinformation and anxiety, with some media reports garbling the facts and some activists questioning the project’s methods.

The innovative and unusual use of technology has the media’s attention, with Gizmodo raving that “Abortion Drone is the Best Drone” and comparisons being made to Amazon and Google’s proposed drone delivery services. Meanwhile, anti-choice groups in Poland have reportedly vowed to shoot the drone down if they can find it.

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The headline-grabbing campaign is the brainchild of Women on Waves, a Dutch group known for keeping ships in international waters to give safe medication abortions to women living in countries that have outlawed abortion care.

Many media reports have been confused and inaccurate about how the drone’s pill distribution will work, Rebecca Gomperts, founder and director of Women on Waves, told Rewire in an interview.

Some reports have said that the pills will go to women’s groups who will then distribute the pills to women in need, or that the drones will drop packages over the Polish town.

“It’s not going to drop boxes full of abortion pills over Poland,” Gomperts said, laughing. “That’s ridiculous. It’s not how we work.”

Another report said Gomperts refused to say who the pills would go to and how.

But Gomperts set the record straight to Rewire in no uncertain terms: The pills will go directly from the drone to the women who are seeking an early abortion, with no intermediaries, she said. That means the local women’s groups openly participating in the action won’t be putting themselves at risk by illegally distributing the medication.

The women seeking abortion care are involved with those local groups, Gomperts explained, but only the women who are taking the pills will handle them. Women on Waves will confirm the women’s identities both in person and with a camera on the drone.

The drone will be small, less than five kilograms, and it won’t travel far—just a quick jump across a river and an international border, from Frankfurt an der Oder in Germany (where abortion is legal) to the town of Słubice, Poland (where it isn’t), staying within eyesight the whole way to comply with drone regulations.

The drone will carry mifepristone and misoprostol, a combination of drugs approved by the World Health Organization for safe termination of a pregnancy of up to nine weeks. Only two or three women are expected to take the pills—as long as they are still ready and willing to take the drugs on the day of the launch.

“We want to give space to them to decide to do it or not to do it,” Gomperts said.

The drone’s mission, Gomperts said, is twofold: providing a few women access to needed services, and raising awareness about the social injustices of illegal abortion.

That awareness serves both to inform women that they have the power to safely terminate their own pregnancies, Gomperts said, and to put pressure on governments to change their draconian anti-choice policies. Poland prohibits abortion except in very limited circumstances, and even then allows doctors to opt out of performing the procedure.

The drone operation is legal, or at least not technically illegal. The scale is small enough that no authorization is needed from either the German or Polish governments. And since Poland only criminalizes doctors who perform illegal abortions, not women who abort their own pregnancies, the women who will take the pills on the other side of the river shouldn’t be in any legal danger.

Gomperts said the local women’s health activists in Poland, who she has been in contact with since an earlier ship campaign in 2003, jumped at the chance to participate in the drone campaign.

“The Polish groups are very excited, and they are very happy to do this,” Gomperts said.

Some reproductive rights activists in other countries, however, are less enthused about the idea of an abortion drone coming to their borders.

The Global Post reported that Gomperts plans to try the drone program in other countries where abortion is illegal or restricted, such as Ireland, Brazil, and Mexico, if Saturday’s delivery is a success.

Sonia Correa, co-chair of the global research forum Sexuality Policy Watch and a longtime reproductive rights activist in Brazil, told Rewire that she and several other activists in her network were “horrified” at the prospect of abortion drones coming to Brazil.

“It’s just going to be an additional problem to cope with,” Correa said. “We need people to understand the conditions in which we are operating, and whatever type of support they provide needs to be in tandem with an understanding of the context and in negotiation with us. It cannot be parachuted.”

Correa said the electoral victories of conservative political segments in Brazil have become so regressive and sexually repressive that the risk of backlash from such a splashy media event would be too great.

Women are already being prosecuted as smugglers for taking misoprostol, which is illegal in Brazil, Correa said. She envisions police staking out a previously advertised abortion drone site to make arrests, or anti-choice groups capitalizing on the event to demonize feminists as using “weapons of mass destruction,” drones, against unborn children.

“For those of us who have been for so many years struggling for abortion rights within a solid human rights frame, a health rights frame—to see the right to abortion be so intimately associated with an instrument that in the popular imagination is correctly seen as an instrument of war … that imagery is very troubling and negative,” Correa said.

Gomperts clarified to Rewire that Women on Waves doesn’t have plans right now to go to Brazil or the other countries mentioned by the Global Post, and that the organization always consults closely with local groups before taking action. She mentioned those places as potential candidates for future actions, she said, but she recognizes that a country like Brazil with more restrictive policies would require a different approach.

“I really want to focus on what’s going to happen here [in Poland],” Gomperts said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, so we have to really learn from this moment and then make decisions on where and how and what we can do in the future.”

She added that drones are also increasingly used for humanitarian and commercial purposes, and she urged activists not to restrict their strategies based on fears of backlash.

“The anti-abortion groups will say whatever they want. They will use anything,” Gompert said. “I think it’s more important to stay positive and creative and try to find indeterminate legal spaces where you can actually move ahead and create change … than to be afraid of backlashes.”

Other reproductive rights advocates are cheering the campaign as an innovative action that could help expand access to safe abortion.

“I think it’s a really excellent way of calling attention to the fact that women want access to safe abortion, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get it,” Alice Mark, senior clinical advisor to the international reproductive rights group Ipas, told Rewire. “This is one possible way of getting the safest medications into their hands.”

Writing for Dame Magazine, reproductive rights journalist Robin Marty fantasizes about a “drone-led abortion revolution” that wouldn’t just work within the increasingly restrictive anti-choice regime in the United States, but instead “break it wide open.”

Gomperts said the United States is unlikely to see a Women on Waves drone, even though she decries the “desperate” and “unbelievable” situation where women in states like Texas are running out of options for safe abortion access. Her organization prefers to focus on countries in which abortion is illegal and women have even fewer options, she said.

Still, she hopes abortion rights groups in the United States might follow her lead someday. She’s excited about the possibilities for the technology, and she hopes it might give a boost of positive energy to activists who are burned out by relentless attacks on women’s human rights.

“It also has something fun about it,” Gomperts said. “Of course you’re not allowed to say ‘fun’ when you’re talking about abortion, but it’s not just negativity and heaviness and suffering. I mean, abortion is also a positive experience for a lot of people.”

Commentary Media

Young Muslims Aren’t Villains—But You Wouldn’t Know It From the Media

Nashwa Khan

The vilification of Muslim children is not new, and it is far from limited to fictional instances. These media portrayals can translate into real-life repercussions in the lives of Muslim youth.

American Sniper, this winter’s controversial biopic about a Navy SEAL serving in the Iraq War, depicted four Muslim children, total. As AlterNet Senior Writer Max Blumenthal noted on Twitter, three out of four of these characters were either terrorists or the children of terrorists; the fourth was tortured to death. Journalist Rania Khalek made similar observations, saying that the film showed Iraqi “children as soulless monsters who Chris Kyle is forced to kill to protect invading US soldiers.”

Such vilification of Muslim children is not new. But it is far from limited to fictional instances—and these media portrayals can translate into real-life repercussions in the lives of Muslim youth.

Recently, a student named Asmaa Bana went missing from Toronto, Ontario. Bana, a young Muslim university student much like myself, had her story covered in the Toronto Star by Michelle Shephard. Shephard, the author of Guantanamo’s Child and the Star’s national security reporter, typically writes on drones, terrorism, bombings, and the Islamic State (ISIS). Furthermore, Shephard does not often cover other missing women in the Greater Toronto area; in fact, two went missing within the same month as Bana and were covered by someone else. So the editorial decision to assign her this piece seemed strange—unless Bana’s story had been assumed to fit Shephard’s beat, because Bana was visibly Muslim. Shephard herself linked to the Toronto Star feed covering ISIS’ activities within the piece, asking Bana’s family whether there was a possibility she had joined the fringe group. (The other two non-Muslim missing women’s families were not asked the same questions.)

Bana was thankfully found; she contacted the police the same day the story ran and met with them at a restaurant. Like many young people who “go missing” in their teens and 20s, she had left home for a personal reason and not to join a terrorist group, as insinuated by Shephard and the Star.

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The Star and Shephard are not alone in framing stories on young Muslims in a much different light from their non-Muslim peers. When a group of four non-Muslim young people allegedly planned a Valentine’s Day massacre in Halifax this year with an end goal to kill shoppers at the mall and then commit suicide, Justice Minister Peter McKay informed reporters that the plot “was not motivated by terrorism.” By contrast, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police deemed Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Muslim convert with mental health concerns who had sought help but fell through cracks of the mental health system, a terrorist for the shooting he committed in October. Clearly, these were both horrifying incidents; the discrepancy in officials’ approach to them, however, is indicative of the prevailing narrative disproportionately blaming extremist ideology for Muslim actions.

Commentators and the public even made jokes rooted in stereotypes when 22-year-old Zayn Malik left the band One Direction for a mental health break. Islamophobic commentary ensued, implying that Malik had either gone to join ISIS or to recruit young girls to the group, demonstrating that Muslim kids do not get breaks, even when they are half white like Malik. This, after the Daily Show arguably insinuated that he was a terrorist—an implication the show later dismissed.

Meanwhile, CNN continues to suggest that Muslim children and young women can be enticed to join ISIS by Nutella, kittens, and emojis. This kind of newscast feeds into a simplistic narrative that paints young Muslim women as gullible, derailing the real reasons people are lured to join a group like ISIS. Max Abrahms, a Northeastern University professor who studies jihadist groups, has stated “the vast majority of Westerners joining up with ISIS are extraordinarily ignorant when it comes to religion.” Nutella and kittens are not a driving force in the small number of Muslims joining ISIS; CNN’s oversimplification implies that many Muslims are just a few steps away from allying with extremist groups at every moment.

How are we meant to live and thrive in a world that uses any excuse to paint us as violent criminals from a young age and that, as a result, punishes us for others’ crimes? This puts Muslims in real, present danger. For example, France faced a surge in Islamophobic attacks after the shooting at Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris. I do not condone the acts of violence, but all Muslims in that community are being asked to repent for the actions of those two Muslim men. Young white men as a whole, meanwhile, have never been asked to apologize and explain their identities in relation to violence. This is because we have accepted non-Muslim school shooters, serial killers, bombers, and rapists as individuals, not representative of all white people.

This continuous questioning of our every action has lasting, real-life consequences on young Muslims. Being a young Muslim and growing up as an object of hyper-surveillance by default of identity, we represent a whole people, rarely given room to grow up and make mistakes. Mental health concerns are not always addressed in the Muslim community due to stigma, a lack of culturally competent services, and other confounding factors such as immigration and socioeconomic adjustment taking priority over health concerns. And because we are held to unrealistic standards from a young age, our mental health needs are often overlooked outside of our communities as well as within them. Given that mental health needs remain stigmatized in non-Muslim communities too, a dual identity of Muslim and mentally unwell can cause a greater burden on an individual, particularly one who feels the pressure to be “perfect” lest they or others be treated with suspicion. Take the aforementioned Zehaf-Bibeau, who wanted to go to jail to get the medical help he needed. Instead of the administration acknowledging his record of mental health concerns, they labeled him a terrorist. In the media and the public eye, Muslims are implicated as terrorists, whereas white individuals are motivated by other factors.

The trend of framing stories with subtext alluding to Muslim youth joining radical groups like ISIS is exposing an entire generation to stereotypes we will not be able to break free from anytime soon. As witnessed with Bana, we cannot even go missing without commentary and national attention being given by a reporter who typically covers terrorism. We automatically are presumed guilty; lack of evidence or context does not negate this guilty presumption. Innocent until proven guilty may only apply to white, non-Muslim boys and girls.

This hyper-surveillance manifests itself as a fracturing of identity in many young Western Muslims on a day-to-day basis as well. Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and Its Impact on American Muslims, a report that was produced to summarize surveillance in New York City after 9/11, had findings that resonated with many on a national scale. The report noted, “almost all our interviewees noted that appearing Muslim, or appearing to be a certain type of Muslim, invites unwanted attention or surveillance from law enforcement.” One interviewee stated, “There’s always been a sense of stereotyping about dress. But now the veil thing has become more than just about being different. It has become charged with suspicion.”

The report continues, “Interviewees stress that the ever-present surveillance chills—or completely silences—their speech whether they are engaging in political debate, commenting on current events, encouraging community mobilization or joking around with friends. Political organizing, civic engagement and activism are among the first casualties.” This personally resonates with me and my Muslim peers: Our parents have discouraged us from taking bold public political stances, because our Muslim identity already speaks volumes. I, too, wonder frequently about whether I will face backlash for my points of view that non-Muslims would not.

The writer Tasbeeh Herwees recently tweeted about the work that goes into debunking stereotypes and the stigma that is often affiliated with a Muslim identity. She said, “so much of my daily emotional energy is spent smiling and joking to disarm people who may be guarded in my presence & it’s exhausting.” In subsequent tweet, she stated, “the hijab walks into the room before I do. sometimes ppl mistake me for other hijabi because they’ve never bothered to look at our faces,” concluding with, “it’s just safer to be bubbly than it is to be serious when you’re visibly muslim.”

Being young and Muslim, I am coming to terms with how I have been enlisted in a war of image that I never signed up for. If I run away, my country’s most popular newspaper may have their national security reporter ask my parents and friends about ISIS prematurely because of my name. They will face a type of psychological violence by way of premature profiling.

Our accomplishments are not necessarily highlighted concurrently with our Muslim identities. Our Muslim otherness will always haunt us, never emerging when we contribute to society in positive ways but a key component of any headline when one Muslim out of more than 1.5 billion commits an act of violence—or even disappears.