Commentary Politics

Take Your Foot Off My Neck

Charlotte Taft

The glee with which male politicians are willing to strip women of their most basic rights is staggering. And it is crushing to recognize that so many smart, caring women will spend their time, precious energy, and scarce resources begging men to please, please harm women just a little bit less.

I am furious. As the Director of the Abortion Care Network, a non-profit organization that supports independent abortion providers and challenges stigma, I know more than I want to about the recent attacks on women’s reproductive choices. The Congress of the United States should be ashamed for passing HR 3, which would impose permanent bans on federal funding of abortion. HR 3 will also make it nearly impossible to obtain healthcare insurance for abortion care and even some forms of contraception.

The glee with which male politicians are willing to strip women of their most basic rights is staggering. It is devastating to read the dozens of e-mails that come to me every day detailing the myriad ways in which women’s lives, well-being, and health are being savagely attacked in Congress and in state legislatures across the country. And it is crushing to recognize that so many smart, caring women will spend their time, precious energy, and scarce resources begging men to please, please harm women just a little bit less. We want to believe that they do not hate us—that they respect us as full human beings, and yet every day the evidence mounts that this is not the case. I realize that I’m not supposed to say that. I’m not even supposed to notice.

In 1837, Sarah Moore Grimke an early feminist who lived at a time when women had no right to own property or to vote, or to have custody of their children, or even to speak in public said, “I ask no favors for my sex…All I ask is that our brethren take their feet from off our necks…”

Almost two centuries later the legislation, the pontificating about morality, the pretend defense of taxpayer dollars, is all a disguised symptom of the continued deep seated bedrock belief of Patriarchy that women are evil and dangerous and that their power must be contained. Patriarchy is a worldview that enshrines the rule of the fathers—the idea that there is a God-given superiority of men, which gives them the license to control and use women and everything on the planet for their own purposes. I understand that some women find their value and safety in identifying with those in command, but my heart aches when I see women joining the club to hate women and control their choices. Some days I think there has been a time warp and I have woken up an old world with the view that there are good women and bad women. Good women are the ones within a man’s racial, religious, and class group who behave themselves as expected. The bad women—anyone of a different race or class, or who doesn’t know her place– is subject to whatever treatment the men can get away with.

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Just as Patriarchy isn’t only for men, Feminism isn’t only for or about women. Feminism is a worldview that adopts the radical idea that there is intrinsic value in both women and men. In the Feminist view, a just society recognizes the full humanity of both, and includes policies that enable both to live as full human beings. Allowing women to fulfill their potential means at minimum creating reproductive justice, excellent affordable childcare, the ability to keep themselves and their children safe from violence or sexual predation, and opportunities to develop their full potential (social characteristics that also benefit men).

In the nineteen seventies women had a brief and powerful experience of transforming the system in which we live. Millions of women of all races, classes and cultures began to question assumptions about their place in society. We learned about the women who had worked for social justice before us—we pressed for changes in laws and federal priorities. Women shared stories of our lives, our hopes and our dreams. Many recognized that feminism didn’t mean having a larger piece of a scarce thing called ‘power’—but experiencing the power within us—the power to create a world in which all are honored and included. But something happened that dissipated that extraordinary energy. In 1985 Ellen Goodman wrote a column in the Boston Globe:

Sisterhood May Be Losing Out to Equality: …The question—What has happened to that always tenuous bond called sisterhood?…There was a time, and not that long ago, when women began to focus on what they had in common, what they had suffered in common. There was a sense of community created out of this fresh awareness—out of anger, too, and a belief in change. A certain population of women thought of themselves as women first, and found some self-conscious assurance in the slogan, “Sisterhood is powerful.”

Today much of that energy has been dispelled in the best possible way: by success. The head of steam from women has been dissipated by new opportunities…”

Can it be that the incredible momentum of feminism was derailed at least in part by opportunities?–by the illusion of equality? Whatever the causes of the derailment, our work was by no means finished, and our need for Sisterhood was by no means done. The Equal Rights Amendment—the most basic call for equality for women– had been defeated; the 1971 Comprehensive Child Development Act which would have provided child care for all women had been vetoed by Richard Nixon; rape and domestic violence were still endemic in the society; there was no equality in political representation. As the feminist movement was declared to be over, we were encouraged once again to view our successes and failures as our personal problems and not as associated with continuing systemic gender discrimination. With each new President—each new Congress, we assess the rise and fall of our freedom and our well-being—like investors watching the stock market go up and down—helpless to do anything about it. Today we watch as men who lay claim to morality deny fundamental healthcare and fundamental human choices to the poorest women in our society (who are of course the mothers of the poorest children in our society).

But it is not only the poorest most vulnerable women who are attacked today. As these legislators make it nearly impossible for women to secure health insurance coverage for abortion and possibly even birth control, they now tread on the imagined ‘rights’ of women who thought we had actually earned respect—who thought we were protected, entitled—white women—middle class women–women with husbands–women with good jobs and good families—women who are part of the majority culture. As long as any women are vulnerable, all women are vulnerable. 

I am heartened that there are good men who stand with us—who recognize that creating a partnership of masculine and feminine principles is desperately needed for the survival of the species. But they are far too few, and we don’t hear their voices from the seats of power. 

For centuries women have done everything we can think of to be included, accepted, respected, not harmed. There have obviously been many changes in women’s lives and people may argue that feminism is no longer needed—it’s passé. But even in our modern day when women in the U.S. have the right to vote and to be part of the full life of the nation, we are second-class citizens. And competing for a piece of this pie is like ‘fighting’ for peace. You cannot get there from here.

I know that women who point this out are likely to be dismissed as ‘man haters’. So dismiss me if you can’t handle the painful truth. If you think I am overstating the case, let’s just look at one tiny awful piece of evidence. In the United States an estimated 250,000 rapes of women are committed by men every year—a woman is raped every 2 minutes. Can we deal with the almost unbearable reality that we have not been able to stop men from raping women for one day in one city in one country on the planet? Let’s face the fact that after 5,000 years, our brethren will not, in fact, remove their feet from off  our necks.           

Those in power do not give it up. Way back in 1987, Sonia Johnson wrote about this in Going Out of Our Minds:Roe vs. Wade has won another victory for patriarchy: it has kept women focused upon and deeply emotionally invested in the system. Since the moment the decision was handed down, men have forced feminists in dozens of states to spend among them millions of hours trying desperately not to lose it piece by piece. Now, regardless of which party is in power, the groundwork has been laid:…women are being subsumed into and consumed by the state function of motherhood, and their hopes for help are bound firmly once more to the state. The Supreme Court will continue, now that the decision has accomplished its purposes, to gut Roe vs. Wade, perhaps retaining as much as is necessary to keep feminists still trusting the system, still under control. …When will we learn that, since they depend for their very existence upon keeping us colonized, we cannot depend on patriarchal institutions to give us self rule.”

So as we watch our human rights—our rights to make the most personal of all choices—stripped away bit by bit, we must resist the pressure to narrow our concerns to single issues. We must redefine Reproductive Justice to include every aspect of women’s reproductive lives including abortion, adoption, parenting, contraception, childcare, miscarriage support, childbirth education and services, and infertility. Women must reach out to each other again— reminding ourselves and each other of our intrinsic value. This the most risky and uncharted path to the transformation of power that was begun by our foremothers so many years ago—and is, perhaps, the next step to true human civilization.

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.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

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