News Politics

Wisconsin’s “Mad As Hell” Rally A Call to Women Voters on Reproductive Rights

Andy Kopsa

Tanya Atkinson, Executive Director of Wisconsin Planned Parenthood kicked off a rally of pro-choice, pro-women supporters on the steps of the state capital in Madison today with this simple and important call, “If you’re mad as hell, say hell yeah!”  The crowd of over 400 responded with an overwhelming, “Hell Yeah!” They gathered on the west steps to protest the Republican held legislature on the last day of this 2012 session.  

Tanya Atkinson, Executive Director of Wisconsin Planned Parenthood kicked off a rally of pro-choice, pro-women supporters on the steps of the state capital in Madison today with this simple and important call, “If you’re mad as hell, say hell yeah!”  The crowd of over 400 responded with an overwhelming, “Hell Yeah!”

They gathered on the west steps of the capitol to protest policies of the Republican-dominated legislature on the last day of this 2012 session.  

“We’re mad as hell today because here we are on the last day of the legislative session and our legislators have to jam every single anti-women’s health bill on the schedule today,” said Atkinson.

The three bills she is referring to are AB 337 which repeals the comprehensive sex ed Healthy Youth act allowing failed abstinence only programming into schools with medically- inaccurate information, AB 154 which bans private insurance coverage of abortion services and AB 371 which bans telemed abortion services as well as doubling down on an already existing “anti-coercion” statute.

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The bills are assured passage and will go on to be signed by Governor Scott Walker who will face a recall election come late May or early June.

All though the rally may seemingly be coming too late, it is, as Lisa Subeck of NARAL Wisconsin calls it, “just a starting point.”  According to Subeck and representatives from Planned Parenthood and other organizations speaking today, the next logical – and imperative step – is to get women out to vote and to get them into office. 

Emerge Wisconsin is part of a national organization which exclusively trains Democratic female candidates to run for office at the state and local level.  Executive Director of Emerge WI Wendy Strout spoke to the alarming under-representation of women in the Wisconsin legislature, “Just here at the capital there is only twenty-five percent of the legislature is women and that is both parties.” Of course this is an issue that is nationwide.

Emerge Wisconsin’s success rate for propelling women into the state house is good. Strout told Rewire that four women serving so far are, “Alumni of the Emerge Wisconsin program.”  Two won over incumbent GOP senators in Wisconsin’s legislative recall election. 

Atkinson speaking again to the crowd aptly said, “The great thing about women is we don’t just get angry, we take action.”  The first chance they will get will be in the recall of Governor Walker.  The exact date of the special election will be determined on Monday, March 19th.  

Commentary Human Rights

Silencing Debate on Women’s Lives: It’s Happening in Wisconsin, Too, and the Catholic Church Is an Accomplice

Lon Newman

Victims and witnesses to reproductive coercion, intimidation, and bullying must try to speak up, seek help, or intervene as the situation requires. When it comes to public and political behavior, calling reproductive coercion what it is the first step to ending it.

Redux – The personal is political

Teaching children to understand and cope with bullies is essential, but bullying isn’t limited to elementary school. Bullying may not be physical or direct. It is persistent, intimidating, and it flourishes when victims and witnesses are afraid to speak up or speak out. It is time to identify reproductive coercion for what it is and call the bullies what they are.

Reproductive coercion” includes sabotage of birth control by abusive partners and occurs in all social and economic groups and most frequently to unmarried sexually active women. Male partners seek control over their partner’s reproductive options, even whether and when to have sex, to assert and maintain power.

Just as the pattern of intimidation, harassment, aggression and control is not limited to schools, reproductive coercion is not limited to interpersonal relations. It is ubiquitous at public forums, health care settings, legislative discourse, and campaign politics. This bullying is intended to intimidate, to silence people who disagree, to deny people access to health care they want or need, to pass legislation that denies reproductive justice, and to maintain power by opposing reproductive rights and justice.

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Last week, one of Family Planning Health Services’ (FPHS) employees was participating in a health fair sponsored by our local United Way and county health department. It happened to be hosted at a Catholic hospital. One of the medical directors required the employee to remove information on emergency contraception. The doctor then used post-it notes to obscure “prescription contraception” and “non-prescription contraception” on the FPHS display.

The hospital has been recognized for its work with sexual assault victims and the hospital president is on the state attorney general’s sexual assault task force. We can assume the hospital is in compliance with state law to provide emergency contraception in the emergency room and we know that many of the physicians provide prescription and non-prescription contraception to their patients. But, like the classic elementary school bully, the physician used position and status to censor and deny information to participants.

Victims and bystanders might excuse the bully; “I should have known this would provoke him,” or “I should have known better than to be in this neighborhood,” but motivation does not excuse intimidation, bullying and harassment.  On a public level we may understand religious objections, but using status, position, power, volume or force to control someone else’s reproductive health and behavior must be challenged and condemned if the culture of sexual coercion is to change.

Several days ago, Wisconsin’s State Senator Mike Ellis used the power of the majority and the gavel to silence debate and fast-track a bill that requires women to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound procedure and morality message before they can have an abortion. In our state assembly, our state representative shared her experience as a child rape victim and spoke very personally to how she felt as a victim and as the mother of three daughters, to a law requiring victims to undergo a re-invasion of privacy and self-control. On-line bullies vilified and harassed her for speaking out as a victim against the “pro-life” legislation.

There are self-styled “prayer warriors” standing outside our family planning clinics for a few months each year. They know that many of our patients and WIC participants/children are intimidated by their presence, but they justify the bullying on the basis of their religious beliefs about abortion, which we do not provide.

Victims and witnesses to reproductive coercion, intimidation and bullying must try to speak up, seek help, or intervene as the situation requires. When it comes to public and political behavior, calling reproductive coercion what it is the first step to ending it.

News Abortion

Sweeping TRAP Law Passes Alabama House in the Name of “Women’s Rights”

Robin Marty

Nothing says true women's rights like shutting off her access to safe abortion services.

The Alabama legislature has begun voting on portions of the state GOP’s platform, known as “Dare Defend our Rights,” a blueprint for promoting “religious freedom, gun freedom, and school freedom,” among other things. The platform also focuses on limiting women’s freedoms when it comes to choice in childbearing: It includes a sweeping TRAP law that could force all clinics in the state that provide abortions to be shuttered if they cannot meet new onerous and medically-unnecessary regulations. The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Representative Mary Sue McClurkin recently received national attention when she referred to an embryo or fetus as “the largest organ in a woman’s body” (NB: embryos and fetuses are not organs), and is eagerly pushing the legislation to a vote.

Rep. McClurkin insists that the bill is a key part of the GOP’s “defending our right to life” agenda.  Nonetheless, according to Eric Johnston, the president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, the main focus of the bill is to require hospital admitting privileges for those who provide abortions, a requirement that should be simple to fulfill, according to Johnston, who claims hospitals never deny privileges to qualified doctors out of fear of abortion opponents. 

“If a doctor is qualified, hospitals admit them. They can’t discriminate against them and say, ‘Oh, you do abortions,'” Johnston told Mike Cason of AL.com.  “If he has appropriate licenses and credentials, and has insurance, then he can get admitting privileges at the hospital.” Johnston conveniently overlooks the saga in Mississippi, where a number of hospitals cited not wanting to get involved in the abortion debate out of fear of reprisals as their reason for not considering admitting privileges for the providers at Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

To ensure that doctors weren’t turned down for privileges simply because they work in centers that provide abortions, an amendment was proposed to prohibit that from being used as a factor for denying requests. The amendment failed 29-64.

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As HB57 came to the floor for debate, the Alabama Pro-Woman Coalition sought to deliver seven boxes of petitions signed by citizens opposing the new regulations. When members of the group arrived to make the delivery, they were refused entry because… they did not have the “proper cover letter on letterhead,” one of the Coalition members told Rewire. “We have never been denied the opportunity to submit petitions before due to a ‘lack of a proper cover letter on letterhead,'” said Mia Raven, who brought the boxes to the capital. “I personally feel that a cover letter was included on the top page of the petition, although it was not on ‘letterhead’ from an organization. Isn’t grassroots activism supposed to be just that—organic & not sponsored by corporate/organizational overlords? I also feel this is nothing but an attempt of the Alabama Republican Party to keep us from having our voices heard, since they were voting on the bill only 5 hours later.”

The group was eventually able to distribute some of the petitions with assistance from the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Montgomery, which offered them letterhead to create cover letters. But that rebuke was only the beginning of what would become a contentious debate over the bill and its implications, a debate that ended in the Speaker of the House being questioned to name how many women had died in facilities that did not currently meet the standards presented in the new bill. The Speaker responded, “Somebody dies in every abortion,” before finally admitting he could not provide an answer. Bill Sponsor Rep. McClurkin was just as confused, calling her bill “truly… a women’s rights bill,” during debate, yet being unable to explain or support either the Lilly Ledbetter Act or the Violence Against Women Act, two other bills that would be considered quintessential to women’s rights.

“This is the type of ignorance we are dealing with in Alabama,” said Raven. “Women here are treated like second class citizens today.”

HB eventually passed the House on an 73 to 23 vote. A companion bill is in the Senate awaiting a vote. The House also passed “The Religious Liberty Act,” a bill that would let employers refuse to allow birth control to be covered in an employee’s health plan. Both are expected to pass easily into law.

(Thank you to Heather Parker for assistance due to a technical audio error)

 

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