Roundups Media

Global Roundup: Catholic Church Opposes Women’s Health Care in the Philippines; Have Anti-Choice Extremists Invaded Britain?

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: Philippines' Reproductive Health Bill could finally pass; Saudi Arabia makes moves to let women play in the Olympics; first national abortion study in Rwanda released; anti-choice zealots in the UK get a bit louder.

Welcome to our new Weekly Global Reproductive Justice Roundup! Each week, reporter Jessica Mack will summarize reproductive and sexual health and justice news from around the world.  We will still report in depth on some of these stories, but we want to make sure you get a sense of the rest and the best.

Catholicism V. Condoms in the Philippines

The elusive Reproductive Health Bill, a policy drafted decades ago and which has languished in limbo since then, may soon see the light of day in the Philippines – changing the lives of an entire population. The historic bill, which would guarantee access to contraception and sexuality education for much of the population, has presidential support for the first time, and could be put to a vote within months. About 80 percent of the Philippines’ population of nearly 100 million is Catholic, and the Church wields tremendous power in social and political sectors – adamantly opposing access to modern contraception. In 2000, an Executive Order banned the sale and distribution of contraception in the capital of Manila. A systemic lack of access to birth control has contributed to countrywide poverty and hunger issues, as well the burden of unsafe abortion. One reproductive health activist called the bill a “silver bullet” to improve the health and lives of Filipinos, but the window to pass it is small and may be minimized further by powerful Church opposition. “If it doesn’t get voted on in June, we may have to wait another two years,” said a Manila-based lobbyist. Via Bloomberg.

Anti-Choice Uprisings in the United Kingdom?

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The war on women and choice rages on in the US, and seems to be spreading East. Britain, a country where abortion has historically been left largely out of the political arena may be getting a taste of American-style politics. A Scottish Cardinal last week said he wants the national health system in Britain to introduce mandatory ultrasounds as bulwarks against coercion. Meanwhile, Guardian columnist Zoe Williams has been tracking a number of strategic anti-choice policies which have failed, but not before creating “a huge amount of static […] that abortion providers were snake-oil salesmen and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists were mercenary.” In other words, drumming up attention and opposition to a service that has otherwise been offered accessibly, widely, and quietly for decades. In October, a global group of anti-choice elites launched the San Jose Articles, a mock-up of a global doctrine decreeing that life begins at conception. Several signatories were prominent Brits. Just this month, the website of British Pregnancy Advisory Services (BPAS), a nationwide abortion provider, was hacked by an anti-abortion extremist.  A BPAS staffer has said of clinic protesters from the 40 Days for Life annual anti-choice campaign (ongoing now through April 1): “They’ve become emboldened recently. I think because they’ve detected a shifting climate on abortion.” Cue scary organ music, a definite situation to watch. Via Care2.

A Picture of Abortion in Rwanda

The first-ever national study on abortion in Rwanda was published last week by the National University of Rwanda and The Guttmacher Institute. There is little reliable and up-to-date information about abortion, unsafe or safe, in Africa and this latest study is an important piece of the puzzle. Abortion in Rwanda is legal to save a woman’s life or physical health, though it is too often portrayed as being  entirely illegal. Study findings suggest Rwanda’s national abortion rate is lower than the overall regional average, 25 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age in Rwanda compared to 31 in sub-Saharan Africa and 36 in East Africa. Yet unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion remain major obstacles for a country heralded as an “aid darling,” and which elected a majority-female Parliament just a few years ago. Nearly half of abortions in Rwanda are unsafe. Via AllAfrica.

Update: Saudi Women Play!

Following a Human Rights Watch report which publicized the systematic discrimination that women in Saudi Arabia face in sports, and a clarion call for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to pressure the country to field their first women’s team, we may have a breakthrough. Saudi and IOC officials met recently to review a list of potential Saudi female players and move forward with plans to field the first-ever female Saudi team at the Olympics this summer. The elevation of this issue has once again highlighted the critical – but tenuous – role of women in sports at all levels. In June, Title IX, the US legislation that qualified women’s high school and collegiate athletics for funding, will celebrate its 40th anniversary. You can hear President Obama speak about the significance of this policy for girls and for the United States here. Sadly, comments on ESPN’s feature story on the momentous anniversary is riddled with misogynist comments from angry male sports fans. The road has not been easy, and continues not to be, but breakthroughs like Saudi women in the Olympics are important events for women everywhere. Via CNN.

Roundups Politics

Trump Taps Extremists, Anti-Choice Advocates in Effort to Woo Evangelicals

Ally Boguhn

Representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to its shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the organization's president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance at a question-and-answer event on Tuesday.

Making a play to win over the evangelical community, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump met with more than 1,000 faith and anti-choice leaders on Tuesday for a question-and-answer event in New York City and launched an “evangelical advisory board” to weigh in on how he should approach key issues for the voting bloc.

The meeting was meant to be “a guided discussion between Trump and diverse conservative Christian leaders to better understand him as a person, his position on important issues and his vision for America’s future,” according to a press release from the event’s organizers. As Rewire previously reported, numerous anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ leaders—many of them extremists—were slated to attend.

Though the event was closed to the media, Trump reportedly promised to lift a ban on tax-exempt organizations from politicking and discussed his commitment to defending religious liberties. Trump’s pitch to conservatives also included a resolution that upon his election, “the first thing we will do is support Supreme Court justices who are talented men and women, and pro-life,” according to a press release from United in Purpose, which helped organize the event.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, told the New York Times that the business mogul also reiterated promises to defund Planned Parenthood and to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at that point in a pregnancy.

In a post to its website, representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to their shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the group’s president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance. “I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened.” The post went on to note that Trump had also said he would appoint anti-choice justices to federal courts, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Just after the event, Trump’s campaign announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board. The group was “convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America,” according to a press release from the campaign. Though members of the board, which will lead Trump’s “much larger Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee to be announced later this month,” were not asked to endorse Trump, the campaign went on to note that “the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.”

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Much like the group that met with Trump on Tuesday, the presumptive Republican nominee’s advisory board roster reads like a who’s-who of conservatives with radical opposition to abortion and LGBTQ equality. Here are some of the group’s most notable members:

Michele Bachmann

Though former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that “women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care” while arguing against the ACA during a 2012 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, her views on the government’s role in restricting reproductive health and rights don’t square away with that position.

During a December 2011 “tele-town hall” event hosted by anti-choice organization Personhood USA, Bachmann reportedly falsely referred to emergency contraception as “abortion pills” and joined other Republican then-presidential candidates to advocate for making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. During the event, Bachmann touted her support of the anti-choice group’s “personhood pledge,” which required presidential candidates to agree that:

I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.

Such a policy, if enacted by lawmakers, could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception. A source from Personhood USA told the Huffington Post that Bachmann “signed the pledge and returned it within twenty minutes, which was an extraordinarily short amount of time.”

Bachmann has also claimed that God told her to introduce a measure to block marriage equality in her home state, that being an LGBTQ person is “ part of Satan,” and that same-sex marriage is a “radical experiment that will have “profound consequences.”

Mark Burns

Televangelist Mark Burns has been an ardent supporter of Trump, even appearing on behalf of the presidential candidate at February’s Faith and Family Forum, hosted by the conservative Palmetto Family Council, to deliver an anti-abortion speech.

In March, Burns also claimed that he supported Donald Trump because Democrats like Hillary Clinton supported Black “genocide” (a frequently invoked conservative myth) during an appearance on the fringe-conspiracy program, the Alex Jones show. “That’s really one of my major platforms behind Donald Trump,” said Burns, according to the Daily Beast. “He loves babies. Donald Trump is a pro-baby candidate, and it saddens me how we as African Americans are rallying behind … a party that is okay with the genocide of Black people through abortion.”

Burns’ support of Trump extended to the candidate’s suggestion that if abortion was made illegal, those who have abortions should be punished—an issue on which Trump has repeatedly shifted stances. “If the state made it illegal and said the premature death of an unborn child constituted murder, anyone connected to that crime should be held liable,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal in April. “If you break the law there should be punishment.”

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), which, according to its mission statement, exists to “teach Christians worldwide who they are in Christ Jesus and how to live a victorious life in their covenant rights and privileges.” Outlining their opposition to abortion in a post this month on the organization’s website, the couple wrote that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. “As the author of life, God considers an unborn child to be an eternal being from the moment of its conception,” explained the post. “To deliberately destroy that life before birth would be as much premeditated murder as taking the life of any other innocent person.”

The article went on to say that though it may “seem more difficult in cases such as those involving rape or incest” not to choose abortion, “God has a plan for the unborn child,” falsely claiming that the threat of life endangerment has “been almost completely alleviated through modern medicine.”

The ministries’ website also features Pregnancy Options Centre, a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) in Vancouver, Canada, that receives “financial and spiritual support” from KCM and “its Partners.” The vast majority of CPCs  regularly lie to women in order to persuade them not to have an abortion.

Kenneth Copeland, in a June 2013 sermon, tied pedophilia to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, going on to falsely claim that the ruling did not actually legalize abortion and that the decision was “the seed to murder our seed.” Copeland blamed legal abortion for the country’s economic woes, reasoning that there are “several million taxpayers that are not alive.”

Copeland, a televangelist, originally supported former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) in the 2016 Republican primary, claiming that the candidate had been “called and appointed” by God to be the next president. His ministry has previously faced scrutiny about its tax-exempt status under an investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) into six ministries “whose television preaching bankrolled leaders’ lavish lifestyles.” This investigation concluded in 2011, according to the New York Times.

James Dobson

James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family (FoF), previously supported Cruz in the Republican primary, releasing an ad for the campaign in February praising Cruz for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” As Rewire previously reported, both Dobson and his organization hold numerous extreme views:

Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the … Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.

Dobson’s own personal rhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,

Dobson has:

Robert Jeffress

A Fox News contributor and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress once suggested that the 9/11 attacks took place because of legal abortion. “All you have to do is look in history to see what God does with a nation that sanctions the killing of its own children,” said Jeffress at Liberty University’s March 2015 convocation, according to Right Wing Watch. “God will not allow sin to go unpunished and he certainly won’t allow the sacrifice of children to go unpunished.”

Jeffress spoke about the importance of electing Trump during a campaign rally in February, citing Democrats’ positions on abortion rights and Trump’s belief “in protecting the unborn.” He went on to claim that if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Hillary Clinton were elected, “there is no doubt you’re going to have the most pro-abortion president in history.”

After Trump claimed women who have abortions should be punished should it become illegal, Jeffres rushed to defend the Republican candidate from bipartisan criticism, tweeting: “Conservatives’ outrage over @realDonaldTrump abortion comments hypocritical. Maybe they don’t really believe abortion is murder.”

As documented by Media Matters, Jeffress has frequently spoken out against those of other religions and denominations, claiming that Islam is “evil” and Catholicism is “what Satan does with counterfeit religion.” The pastor has also demonstrated extreme opposition to LGBTQ equality, even claiming that same-sex marriage is a sign of the apocalypse.

Richard Land

Richard Land, now president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, was named one of Time Magazine‘s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005 for his close ties with the Republican party. While George W. Bush was president, Land participated in the administration’s “weekly teleconference with other Christian conservatives, to plot strategy on such issues as gay marriage and abortion.” Bush also appointed Land to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2002.

According to a 2002 article from the Associated Press, during his early academic career in Texas, “Land earned a reputation as a leader among abortion opponents and in 1987 became an administrative assistant to then-Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who fought for laws to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion” in the state.

Land had previously expressed “dismay” that some evangelicals were supporting Trump, claiming in October that he “take[s] that [support] as a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”

Commentary Media

Raymond Moore May Have Resigned, But His Comments About Women’s Tennis Betray a Broader Problem

Shireen Ahmed

What this situation makes clear is the glaring reality that women's tennis players often don't have institutionalized support or solidarity from their male colleagues.

Just before the final match of the BNP Paribas Open Tournament in Indian Wells, California, on March 20, tournament director Raymond Moore stunned the tennis world with misguided, sexist comments regarding women’s tennis. The aftermath is somewhat reminiscent of a shoddy political campaigncomplete with inappropriate gaffes, a deluge of critiques, apologies, and then a resignation.

Sexism in sports is quite prevalent, so women are accustomed to seeing reports of asinine commentary. The frequency of such attitudes does not mean that such remarks are not harmful to women’s sports or that they ought to be taken lightly. What this situation makes clear, however, is the glaring reality that women’s tennis players often don’t have institutionalized support or solidarity from their male colleagues. This is discouraging, as tennis is widely regarded by members of the media as the sport that other federations should look to as an example of pay equity and camaraderie. Women consistently fight battles on their own with little backup from male players, men’s tennis associations, and other athletes. This is part of the problem in a system that allows sexism to flourish in women’s sports.

Moore chose to make mind-bogglingly misplaced comments to the usual media scrum that precedes the final match. His comments were unprovoked and unrelated to any specific issue. Instead, he simply offered his observations on female players: “I think the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] … you know, in my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men,” Moore said. “They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have.”

To add insult to injury, Moore proceeded to comment on—wait for itthe level of physical beauty of specific players. Moore named Eugenie Bouchard of Canada and Garbine Muguruza of Spain as being among the “attractive prospects” on the tour. When asked to clarify about what he meant by attractive. Moore replied, “They are physically attractive and competitively attractive,” he said. “They can assume the mantle of leadership once Serena [Williams] decides to stop. They really have quite a few very, very attractive players.”

As a fan of tennis, I was aghast. And as a feminist sports writer, I was horrified.

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In addition to being inappropriate and insulting, Moore’s comments were factually incorrect. When I think of this sport, I think of a legendary history of advocacy coupled with enthralling athleticism displayed by female tennis superstars. In 1956, Althea Gibson became the first Black woman to win a major international tournament after years of being shut out by the all-white U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. She battled racist systems and even against hotels who would refuse to book a space in their establishments for a luncheon to honor her and her accomplishments. Gibson certainly helped to elevate the standards of the game.

Perhaps Moore also forgot about Billie Jean King. King engulfed herself in advocating for women’s rights after realizing that a woman’s place in tennis was economically restricted. When King won Wimbledon in 1968, she received £750, but her male counterpart Rod Laver won £2000. In 1973, she famously accepted a challenge from self-proclaimed “male chauvinist” Bobby Riggs and won in three straight sets. Not only did an estimated 50 million people across 37 countries watch the epic “Battle of the Sexes,” but King drew much-needed attention to financial inequality and created the WTA. Former professional tennis player Chris Evert has said of King’s contributions: “Everybody should thank her and shake her hand. She put money in our pockets and provided a living for hundreds and hundreds of female athletes.”

And then there is Serena Williams, who was competing at the tournament in question and who has been hailed by tennis pundits as the best player the United States has ever produced of all time. The 21-time Grand Slam winner is not only a champion of women’s sports; she is a one of the female athletes who routinely speaks up about issues that affect them. Williams has been the target of ruthless and racist sports media. She has been maligned, yet still uses her platform to connect with important organizations such as Equal Justice Initiative and has boycotted major tournaments because of her convictions. And Williams enthralls and inspires million of people with her grace, strength, and top form.

Thanks in part to the work of Gibson, King, Williams, and others, gender inequity is not as stark in tennis as it is in other sports. Tennis associations are reputed to be the most even-salaried for women and their male counterparts. However, if Moore’s comment and others are any indication, it seems as if ingrained sexist ideologies simmer under the lid.

The reactions to Moore’s comments, from King, Evert, and Martina Navratilova, to name a few players, were swift and appropriately angry:

Williams, meanwhile, was very eloquent in her reaction to Moore’s comments: “You know, there’s only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man, which is not—we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point.”

Williams reiterated the point that the 2015 U.S. Open women’s finals sold out before the men’s. It is not the case that men shoulder more responsibility or interest in tennis more so than women. And, as Jane McManus of espnW noted, Moore’s comments call into question his ability to be an effective tournament director for a co-ed event that relies on the celebrity of the women’s game. “You can’t have a tournament director for a men’s and women’s tournament who doesn’t believe the women carry their weight,” McManus wrote.

In the midst of this criticism, Moore issued an eager apology.

While Moore was trying to navigate through the mess he created, sports media outlets asked other prominent players what they thought of his comments. Very unfortunately, the world’s number-one ranked male player, Novak Djokovic, used the opportunity to lecture awkwardly about how pay inequality would be justified because men garner more income than women on the tennis circuit.

“I think that our men’s tennis world … should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches,” Djokovic said. “I think that’s one of the, you know, reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.”

Djokovic also added in some inexplicable comments about women’s bodies and their hormones—yes, hormones—going through “different things.” He ended his obtuse statement with the very subtle: “Ladies know what I am talking about.”

The stream of off-the-cuff sexist remarks and subsequent apologies is very popular, apparently. After being counseled by fellow tennis player Andy Murray, Djokovic insisted in a Facebook post that he never meant any offense or “negative connotations.”

But his knee-jerk reaction was also to insist that his comments were taken out of context. Instead of stating that he was wrong and will not repeat the same mistake, he placed the burden on others who might have been offended for taking his comments “the wrong way.”

I don’t believe his comments were interpreted incorrectly; I believe he, like many male sports stars, was simply unwilling to own up to his comments.

Sports writer and tennis enthusiast Lindsay Gibbs reported for ThinkProgress that when the Association of Tennis Professionals was asked to comment on Moore or Djokovic’s remarks, its statement was a baffling argument against equal prize money.

“That’s right—given a very obvious opportunity to take a strong stand against sexism and promote equality, men’s tennis instead decided to make the argument against equal prize money,” Gibbs wrote. “This cycle is as exhausting as it is self-defeating.”

There are those who avoid these messes by educating themselves and properly articulating their support of women’s tennis. Former pro tennis player Patrick McEnroe said he was “livid” at Moore’s comments and publicly called for him to resign.

WTA Tour Chief Executive Steve Simon also declared his unwavering endorsement of equal pay for female players before the start of the Miami Open. And Murray was quick to denounce Djokovic’s position and insisted that his words “do not stack up.” He mentioned that quite often, tennis fans come to watch Williams specifically.

Overall, though, the advocacy offered to women is unstable and inconsistent. While discussing how women mobilized to earn a proper salary, King told espnW during an interview at Wimbledon last year, “The men will never give us credit.”

The dim silver lining of all this seems to be that wider discussions of gender inequality in pay and institutionalized sexism have been prevalent in mainstream, male-dominated sports media, which would otherwise seldom address such topics. But so long as there are men in positions of power asked to comment on issues in women’s sports—as is the case with tennis—they also need to participate in vocalizing their support for female athletes. Solidarity with women, which includes not maligning the efforts of female athletes, is important to ensuring consistent growth of the sport. For men at all levels to reiterate that women’s sports are powerful and exciting goes a long way in dismantling sexist ideology suggesting women’s sports do not hold broad appeal, that they are somehow less “interesting” than men’s sports, or that, like Moore suggested, they are piggybacking off male athletes’ success.

While men remain in the roles of executive directors, administrators, and decision makers, it is crucial for them to back up female playersparticularly because that recognition is well deserved.

So many women’s tennis players have brought issues of social justice to the forefront. They are addressing pressing issues of sexism but also of race, class, and gender identity. These feats go far beyond only winning trophies. These women are fostering change in society through sports.

How unjust and ignorant of Moore to erase these accomplishments.

On March 21, Moore resigned as tournament director of Indian Wells. I sincerely hope that the next tournament director is far more enlightened of the enormous contributions to tennis and sports that female players have had.

Moore’s initial comments ballooned into an issue involving other men and highlighted the recurring sexism that plagues sports. Their mea culpas ring hollow at a time when women’s tennis features brilliant female players. The point is certainly not to avoid making sexist comments in front of the cameras. It is to understand that sexist comments are doing a disservice to the sport and are incorrect and unjust, and must be addressed and corrected by everyone, not just the women they affect directly.

It was not only Title IX nor the “coattails of men” that created the genius and success of women’s tennis; it was the women themselves.