News Abortion

Chicago Abortion Fund and African American Leaders Criticize Racist Anti-choice Billboard Campaign

Jodi Jacobson

Reproductive justice leaders continue to speak out against the racist anti-choice billboard campaigns being launched around the country.  The Chicago Abortion Fund is leading the effort to oppose anti-choice efforts to target black and low-income neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago.

Nicole Goss speaks out against the racist billboards that have cropped up in Chicago. Click on the image to watch the news clip in a new window.

Recently, CUNY TV’s Independent Sources went to Chicago to talk with reproductive justice leaders from the Chicago Abortion Fund about the community response to the racist, antichoice billboards targeting predominately black and low-income neighborhoods on the South side of Chicago:

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“The most dangerous place for an African American baby is not the womb,” says Nicole Goss of the Chicago Abortion Fund .”It’s the neighborhood that they’re growing up in, where they don’t have the resources that they need in their schools, they don’t have access to the necessities to become productive human beings in society.”

As Gaylon Alcaraz, Executive Director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, stated in The Crocodile Tears of Anti-Choice Billboarders, “we help young poor women because our communities are among the least likely to have regular access to health care, family planning and reproductive health education.”

For more information on the outrageous billboards cropping up around the country, follow the series at Rewire, and for more background on the organizations that are funding these billboard campaigns, check out Miriam Zoila Pérez’ article in Colorlines.

Commentary Sexual Health

If Sandra Fluke’s a “Slut,” What Am I? HIV and (Institutional) Violence Against Women

Naina Khanna

As a woman living with HIV and working with HIV-positive women throughout the U.S., I know all too well what character assassinations, funding restrictions, and the overall environment can do to women.  

Cross-posted with permission from the Positive Women’s Network.

I still feel sick thinking about the Blunt amendment. Not two weeks ago, a bill that would have exempted employers from having to pay for birth control failed to pass the male-dominated Senate (83 men to 17 women) by a vote of 51 to 48 – entirely too close for this woman’s comfort.

Following her testimony at a Congressional hearing about employer-covered contraception, law student Sandra Fluke came under vicious public attack by Rush Limbaugh, media darling of the conservative right – whose show has now been dropped by 140 advertisers and counting.

Arizona is currently considering a law that would actually allow employers to fire women using contraception for non-medical reasons (and no, preventing pregnancy does not qualify as legitimate medical use!).

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Funding for sex education and family planning has been under consistent attack. And lawmakers in South Dakota introduced a bill last month that if passed, could have justified state-sanctioned murder of doctors performing abortions.

This is just a smattering of the vicious, violent and utterly insane attacks on women that have occurred over the last few months.

Does anyone else feel like they are living in an episode of the Twilight Zone?

Thank goddess for Gary Trudeau, and his ability to make humor out of the most depressing situations.

As a woman living with HIV and working with HIV-positive women throughout the U.S., I know all too well what character assassinations, funding restrictions, and the overall environment can do to women.

At a recent meeting of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), national leaders in HIV prevention, care and research spoke eloquently of the HIV crisis among women in the United States and of the need to better integrate sexual and reproductive health services with HIV services, and to address child sexual abuse and violence against women as key aspects of our national HIV response.  

Every single expert – researchers, medical doctors, psychiatrists, trauma experts, women living with HIV, and community-based advocates; from entities as diverse as the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and Sisterlove, Inc., a women-led community based organization in Atlanta – every single expert keyed in on the relationship between HIV and violence against women as a factor that increases women’s vulnerability to acquiring HIV and that makes women likely to suffer poor health outcomes once diagnosed with HIV.

Dr. Laurie Dill, Medical Director of Medical AIDS Outreach of Alabama, shared a story from her clinical practice of trying to conduct a research study comparing the health outcomes of HIV-positive women who had experienced violence (the study group) with HIV-positive women who hadn’t (the control group). She could not recruit enough women to form a control group. That is, Dr. Dill was unable to find enough women living with HIV who had not suffered violence in their lives to undertake a scientifically legitimate comparative study.

If every expert at this national meeting from Alabama to Chicago to Atlanta to Washington, DC identified addressing violence against women as a major component of our HIV response, how did the National HIV/AIDS Strategy completely fail to articulate the relationship between HIV and violence for women? Similarly, how did the Strategy fail to identify securing sexual health and reproductive rights as pivotal to addressing the HIV epidemic?

Nor did the Strategy articulate a single goal to explicitly reduce new infections among women or to increase HIV-positive women’s access to care or quality of care (e.g. by ensuring integration of sexual and reproductive healthcare services in HIV care settings). Just last week, new data from the HIV Prevention Trial Network’s ISIS study showed that rates of HIV incidence among Black women in some geographic hotspots are five times higher than the estimated national average.

And while President’s Obama’s FY 2013 budget was relatively good for domestic HIV funding overall, he called for a reduction in funding for the only program specifically designed to keep women and youth affected by HIV care – the Ryan White Part D program; the only part of the Ryan White program to receive a cut in the President’s proposed budget.

These forms of violence are inextricably linked. Interpersonal and institutional violence cannot be seen in silos. Institutional violence, state-sanctioned violence against women, in the form of denial of medically necessary services, denial of equal pay, and failure to protect women’s bodily autonomy – paves the way for interpersonal violence. Media rampages attacking women pave the way for misogyny, for intimate partner violence, and ultimately for poor health outcomes that can complicate HIV vulnerability and disease progression.

Thankfully we have an opportunity to begin to rectify these serious omissions from our domestic HIV response and our transgressions against women. Today, the White House hosted a meeting to commemorate National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day by examining the intersection between violence against women, HIV, and gender-related health disparities. Let this be an opportunity to begin systematically incorporating an understanding of gender-based violence, sexual health, socio-economic factors, and reproductive rights into national and regional HIV prevention and care plans as well as concrete metrics for evaluation to which federal and regional responses will be accountable.

To achieve this, women will need to be present in meaningful and visible leadership at every step of policy and decision-making. Women’s rights, health care for women, women’s leadership, economic justice, and the HIV crisis among Black and Brown women are not separate issues. The lack of women, especially women of color, in decision-making roles inside and outside the HIV community, is no coincidence.

Let’s be clear: if Limbaugh would call Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute”, he would call women living with and vulnerable to HIV a lot worse. It’s time the HIV community took a clear stand for women-centered services and to support women’s leadership.

Commentary Race

The Triumph Over Racist Billboards in Oakland: We Did It Together

Eveline Shen

On behalf of all of us who have worked on the campaign to remove the racist, anti-choice billboards in Oakland, I want to say thank you for all you did. There's more work to do, but the billboards are gone. And we did it together.

For extensive coverage of anti-choice billboard campaigns over the past two years, click here.

On behalf of all of us who have worked on the campaign to remove the racist, anti-choice billboards in Oakland, I want to say thank you for all you did. So many of you emailed CBS Outdoor and spread the word about the action that we were able to generate thousands of emails to CBS Outdoor insisting on the removal of the billboards.  At the height of the action, over 500 emails an hour were going into their local and national offices.

When the billboards were removed early Monday morning, all of us were relieved, and held our heads high as we walked our own streets. It is critical for us to name and claim Oakland as a place where each woman’s right to access the reproductive health care she needs is preserved, no matter her race, income, or immigration status. We are honored that several elected officials have joined their voices with ours. Congresswoman Barbara Lee reacted with a powerful statement condemning the billboards, and Mayor Jean Quan worked closely with us to ensure CBS Outdoor knew we had the full support of her administration.

Our coalition accomplished so much in a few weeks…from reaching out to thousands of supporters, to talking with local and national media, publishing our own OpEds and blog posts, and engaging elected officials. And in the final days of the billboards’ presence on our streets, we took a camera and a microphone and headed out to hear from Black women themselves what the billboards meant to them. These powerful videos were the result.

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The racist billboards are part of a nationwide effort to wedge communities of color, and divide us from each other. Oakland reacted powerfully, with a unified voice to say, “Not here!”

But as we look around the country, we see a different picture. In addition to the highly-publicized attacks on reproductive and civil rights at the national level, in the first six months of 2011, states enacted 162 new provisions restricting reproductive health and rights.

Many of these laws and regulations are about how abortions are paid for, with limitations on Medicaid, insurance exchanges, and other funding sources. We all know that these limitations hit women of color and low-income women the hardest. The billboard campaign has reminded us of the myriad ways in which our opposition continues to limit access to health care, including abortion, and how these attacks deeply impact communities of color. The billboards are a visible reminder of the strategy to stir up feelings of stigma and shame, and to try to turn families, congregations and communities against each other.

But that didn’t happen here. A multi-racial coalition stood together and said no. Two of our most powerful elected officials, both women of color, raised their voices loud and clear, with no apologies, and stood up for the right for women to access all the reproductive health care they need.

Black women on the street said it, Trust Black Women said it, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, Access WHR, and Law Students for Reproductive Justice said it.  NARAL-CA, Generations Ahead, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice and Strong Families all said it. Our allies in Los Angeles including California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, Black Women for Wellness, and California Black Women’s Health Project said it. Individuals who gave their time, energy and creativity, including Alicia Walters, Melinda James and Mervyn Marcano said it.  Allies who joined us, including California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and the Center for Media Justice said it.

All of you who called, wrote, posted and tweeted said it. We stand together against these attacks, and we will work together to ensure that all women can access the care we need.

The billboards could have been a distraction, but our small and mighty group was able to turn them into a powerful opportunity to reach out to each other and all of you, and raise our voices in support of women, families and communities in Oakland.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you.  We are not done, but we are together.