News Contraception

Iowa Legislature: Traffic Cameras Are Invasion Of Privacy. Forcing Cameras into Your Vagina? Not

Robin Marty

Iowa legislators are rallying for the right to privacy--except when it comes to your body.

What is the difference between a traffic light camera and a mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound?  One is a violation of privacy, according to Iowa legislators.

Can you guess which?

The Iowa legislature is considering banning traffic cameras due to “privacy concerns.”  And those who are arguing for the ban are the same who think all women should be forced to undergo forced ultrasounds prior to an abortion.

As Kay Henderson reports at Radio Iowa, Des Moines Democrat Representative Janet Petersen said:

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“Some of the same people who want to ban traffic cameras to protect the liberty and freedom of Iowans also support government forcing women to have cameras inserted in their vaginas. So much for protecting personal liberty.”

Also not a part of protecting “personal liberty?” Allowing low-income women easy access to affordable contraception and sexual health screenings.  The House is planning a “defund Planned Parenthood” amendment that will pull $6 million in tax reimbursements from the health care provider to “protect” taxpayers.  The bill, which is being supported by anti-gay, anti-birth control conservative “family values” group The Family Leader, would allegedly “move that money away from people like Planned Parenthood and to comprehensive, full-service health care providers… It would not cut any funds. It would redirect them to those that can provide more and better services to needy women,” according to The Family Leader’s Chuck Hurley.

Hurley cites that Indiana and Texas have already passed the same bill, ignoring the fact that both states have been sued by the federal government and/or lost all funding over their own bills. But what else can you expect when a group that doesn’t believe in contraception is pushing policy on how contraception funding should be allocated?

But at least when the women are driving all of their extra children to school or daycare in between and working two or more jobs to support them, they won’t have to worry about a bunch of tickets for running red lights.

Commentary Race

Sandra Bland in Her Own Words

Tanya Steele

In the media, Sandra Bland’s views and political beliefs have been overshadowed by the one police encounter that ended in her death, and by her alleged suicide. We have not been given a rounded view of who she really was, which can be found, among other places, in the 29 #SandySpeaks videos she left behind.

On July 13, Sandra Bland was found hanging in her jail cell. The mystery surrounding the 28-year-old Black woman’s death, along with the recent spate of murders of unarmed Black individuals in this country, has many concerned citizens wondering if we are living the lynching narratives we learned in history class. Narratives of Black lives being taken publicly and without remorse, narratives that some people in this country have felt were long gone. Black Americans and our allies have known, for some time, that these narratives are still alive and well. The rest of America may now be catching up.

Traditionally, the murders of unarmed Black Americans have been endured by families outside of public view, and with assistance from community-based anti-racist movements. However, because of the Internet and the amazing organizing under #BlackLivesMatter, these murders are being brought to wider attention. Other individuals in our society, even presidential candidates, can no longer afford to look away.

In the media, Sandra Bland’s views and political beliefs have been overshadowed by the one police encounter that ended in her death, and by her alleged suicide. We have not been given a rounded view of who she really was, which can be found, among other places, in the 29 #SandySpeaks videos she left behind.

This is not the first time a Black woman has been misrepresented in the media, but if we are to learn anything from Bland’s story, hopefully, it can be a distrust of sources that fail to portray Black individuals as whole people.

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Sandra Bland had been in Prairie View, Texas, for one day. She interviewed for and was subsequently hired to work in community outreach at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. Early morning on July 10, Sandra Bland sent a text to her sister, saying, “I GOT THE JOB,” according to reports. She and her sister were to speak by telephone that afternoon. That call never happened. At around 4:30 p.m. Sandra Bland was pulled over for a routine traffic stop: a failure to signal during a lane change. As Texas trooper Brian Encinia’s dash-cam video shows, the officer spoke with Sandra Bland through her passenger side window for just a few minutes before forcefully removing her from her vehicle. A routine stop quickly escalated into a series of events that would end in Sandra Bland’s arrest on the grounds that she assaulted the officer.

Officer Encinia transported Bland to the Waller County jail, where she remained until she was found dead.

On July 13 at 7:05 a.m., Bland reportedly told the jailer that she was fine. About 50 minutes later, according to Texas authorities, she used her intercom to ask if she could make a phone call. There is no record of her making that call. At 8:55 a.m., a jailer went to ask Bland if she wanted to go to the recreational hall. The jailer then noticed that Sandra was hanging from the “privacy partition” in her jail cell with a plastic trash bag gripped around her neck.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been combing through Sandra Bland’s Facebook profile. I was fortunate to see the profile before her timeline was made private. Her passionate posts piqued my curiosity, provoking me to learn more about her life, and that is when I encountered her #SandySpeaks videos. I was surprised by what I discovered, not just because of how different she seemed on her own platform compared to the news reports and the now renowned mug shot. There was so much more to Sandra Bland’s story that I personally found to be familiar and haunting.

Sandra Bland began #SandySpeaks in January 2015 because of the unrelenting police brutality against Black Americans. The series includes commentary about current events, information about Black history, and insight into the creator’s life. With each of the 29 posts, she addresses her viewers as “Kings and Queens.” She clearly saw it as her duty to uplift and assist her viewers, given the tremendous hurdles they are facing as Black people in America.

Here are five videos that really resonated for me, as they show a side of Sandra Bland that challenges the suicide narrative.

1) On #BlackLivesMatter: “You can stand there, surrender to the cops, and still be killed.” In this video post, she relays the importance of #BlackLivesMatter. In an effort to address her white viewers, she speaks to them about the devaluation of Black life as evidenced in police violence. She implores her white viewers to adopt another perspective and stop labeling her a racist because she states that Black lives matter.

Throughout many of her videos she is unwavering in her position to uplift Black America and willing to explain to white America why that is so. She implores, “Show me, in history, where all lives matter. Show me, in history, where there has been liberty and justice for all.”

Bland, it appears, has a deep level of consciousness around racial and social justice. She is thoughtful. Her videos remind me of the many posts that my friends and I have created over the course of the last few years since the death of Trayvon Martin. The ubiquity of Black death has moved many to a soapbox, a platform, to see if we can provide a salve, a balm, a lifeline to our fellow Black people through this continuous roll call of unarmed Black people being murdered. Her voice, then, can be viewed as part of a collective of voices rising through this wilderness of trauma, seeking light in the midst of extreme darkness. Like many of us, Bland is taking a stand through her videos, sowing the seeds of activism.

Until Amerikkka can show me otherwise #BlackLivesMatter #SandySpeaks

Posted by Sandra Bland on Wednesday, April 8, 2015


2) On race and religion: “This whole race thing, this race game, I think, for African-Americans—that truly is the test from God.” Sandra posted her videos in venues other than her Facebook page. At one point, she attempted to post a #SandySpeaks video on her high school’s Facebook page. The video was removed and she was called a racist. As a result, there are several #SandySpeaks videos where she addresses race relations. She states, “You’ve got to conquer hate with love. And, any time you’re presented with a situation where somebody is being racist or giving false information, really, that’s your time to educate.”

She puts this very thing into practice in her advocacy work. It seems important to Bland to build a bridge between the racial divide in her videos. She informs her viewers who labeled her racist that she “was the only Black cheerleader on an all-white cheerleading squad.” She chooses to focus more on her racial politics and gaining understanding from her viewers than what was being said of her in response to her videos.

She states: “If you call yourself a Christian, I really truly believe how we handle people of other races is going to be that one question, you know, that God truly asks us about.”

She was a Christian who felt, it seems, that racism was an evil that had to be dealt with through the lens of her Christian faith.

#SandySpeaks is a great way to start the day

Posted by Sandra Bland on Monday, March 23, 2015


3) On interactions with the police: “So, you want to call the police. Every single minute of this thing is ‘bout to be recorded.” Sandra Bland stood her ground in an incident that she caught on camera, which was eerily reminiscent of her final encounter with Officer Encinia. Posted on March 10, 2015, the video shows two security guards threatening to call the police on her as she sits in a local (mainly white) shopping mall. She was seeking signatures for a petition from her church to reinstate a title to the Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team in Chicago. In her estimation, the Little League players had experienced an injustice by having their title removed due to zoning.

Security guards approached her and asked her to leave. She did not back down.

It is clear that Bland was committed to her actions. She did not cower because the guards stated they would call the police. She was courageous. In the comment section of this video, she has a brief exchange with a friend about knowing one of the security guards. It is heartening to learn that the guard secured a copy of the petition for himself and his girlfriend. This was a positive outcome.

This video is haunting because it demonstrates how when it comes to interactions with the police, there are outcomes other than death that are possible. Those outcomes, unfortunately, were not made possible for Bland by Officer Encinia.

GAME ON racist mall cop #LEGGO #SandySpeaks

Posted by Sandra Bland on Saturday, March 28, 2015


4) On the importance of safety and self-reflection. Sandra Bland used her car as a space for her advocacy work. In her car, she recorded many of the #SandySpeaks videos. And in those videos, she speaks to the camera with an ease that shows the viewer her car provided a fortress of protection where she could address racism, gang violence in Chicago, her hair, and her life, including her personal struggles, in an effort to connect with and help others.

A car represents so much to women. It provides a sense of escape and privacy that other spaces in women’s lives do not. A car is freedom.

From her car, Bland spoke to her viewers from a place full of love. “I do just want to let you Kings and Queens know that there is somebody out there who loves you and that is praying for you,” she said.

This video helped me understand why Bland objected to an officer asking her to extinguish a cigarette while she was in her car. I can see that the intrusion by the officer was an extreme violation of her personal space.                           

Short & sweet #SandySpeaks

Posted by Sandra Bland on Wednesday, March 4, 2015


5) On personal transformation. Sandra Bland was in a period of transition. The inaugural video for #SandySpeaks, posted on January 14, 2015, may be the most painful to watch, because we learn that she started the videos as a way to educate Black youth on how to interact with police officers to escape violence.

“Through #SandySpeaks we are going to open up a door, open up a gateway for the kids. What I would like you all to do, if you’ve got kids, and it doesn’t even have to be just for the kids. Um, you know, some things they may not be able to comment on. But, now would be the perfect time, if you feel like your child is too young, to kind of start opening the door, to them, and educating them on interacting with police. I don’t think it’s ever too early, honestly,” she said.

At one point, she even invites cops, who may be watching, to participate in the conversation. It is distressing to know that six months later, she would be involved in an interaction with a police officer that would cement her legacy within the embittered framework between Black Americans and U.S. police officers.

It is important to note that whenever she spoke of police violence in her videos, she only referenced Black men. Her legacy has helped to move that conversation to be more inclusive of police violence experienced by Black women.

I only selected five videos for this piece but there are 24 others. In one, she cries into the camera because she had just escaped injury or death after a motorcycle plowed into her car. Her cry is not sorrowful; it is joyful as she praises God that she and the motorcyclist were unharmed.

In another video, she talks of how she missed church on Sunday because she went to a Maroon 5 concert with her sister the night before.

Six months after her first #SandySpeaks video, Sandra Bland would be found hanging in a jail cell.

She was a woman who was unfolding in her videos. Bland found her purpose and was putting it into practice. She states, “I am here to change history. I am ready to do what I need to do for this next generation. It’s time for me to do God’s work.”

I do not know what happened to Sandra Bland. Honestly, I am afraid to know. What I can say is that the media portrayal of her is limited. She was full, complex, awakening. Sandra Bland was becoming.

Sandra Bland’s #SandySpeaks videos are available for viewing on her Facebook page.

Commentary Law and Policy

Abortion Providers Are Not Sex Offenders—No Matter What the Alabama Legislature Implies


Alabama legislators have pushed forward a bill that will make reproductive care harder to access while perpetuating erroneous and harmful stereotypes about providers.

Alabama politics have become a laughingstock across the nation, often for good reason. But let me be clear: The realities of reproductive rights in Alabama—and the extreme anti-choice bills that enable the climate of injustice there—are no laughing matter.

Earlier this month, forced-birth activists in the Alabama legislature pushed three bills from committee to the house floor. HB 405, the “fetal heartbeat bill,” will mandate transvaginal ultrasounds for any woman seeking an abortion. Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) thinks it is important for women to hear a heartbeat before making a decision about abortion, apparently and egregiously assuming that women choose to have an abortion lightly. HB 491, meanwhile, is a “Health Care Worker Conscience Bill” that would allow any health provider, from doctor to pharmacist, to opt out of providing birth control, abortion, or any reproductive freedom to women if the worker personally objects, even if it means that someone will not be performing the functions of their job. Written by Alabama attorney Eric Johnston, who also helped craft the state’s anti-same sex marriage laws, this bill is quite literally grounded in a work of fiction. Johnston said it himself: “Abortion, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and sterilization. Those are all ‘Frankenstinian’ kinds of things. Like Dr. Frankenstein, he didn’t mind doing what he did, but there are those of us who do mind doing certain things.”

The anti-choice legislation is capped off, though, with HB 527, a bill stating that clinics providing abortion services cannot operate within 2,000 feet of a K-through-12 school. The state’s Christian Coalition, a lobbying group, drafted the legislation. According to member and former leader James Henderson, “We were advised by counsel that a good approach was to use the same standard of keeping sex offenders from public schools, which is 2,000 feet. … That is what the bill is based on.”

That’s right: Henderson likened abortion providers to sex offenders. In doing so, he pushed forward a bill that will make reproductive care harder to access in the state while perpetuating erroneous and harmful stereotypes about providers.

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Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle), who sponsored the bill, stated that he didn’t realize that the legislation would fundamentally mean that the only abortion clinic in Huntsville would be closed. But that was obviously the bill’s goal: The Alabama Women’s Center, which includes abortion care among the many services it offers to women and men who seek reproductive freedom, is the only clinic in the state that will be affected by such a rule, and anti-choice agitators will stop at nothing to close it.

You may or may not recall that the Huntsville clinic voluntarily closed down in late June 2014 in order to comply with the state “Women’s Health and Safety Act” that went in effect on July 1 of last year. Clinic administrator Dalton Johnson surrendered the license of the clinic rather than fall into a state of noncomplicance with targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) that require Alabama clinics to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Johnson reopened the clinic on Sparkman Drive in Huntsville, the site of a former chiropractic clinic that, in fact, meets the building standards outlined in the Women’s Health and Safety Act. This clinic, now operating, is located across the street from Ed White Middle School, which officially closed in 2014 but will return next year as a magnet school.

Yes, the school in question is not even a school anymore. Yet that has not stopped Henderson, the Alabama Christian Coalition, and many lawmakers from using it as leverage to try to close the Huntsville clinic through outrageous, misleading legislation that showcases the climate of restricted access in the state.

Victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence already face so many obstacles, here and around the country, when it comes to seeking legal justice for crimes perpetrated against their bodies. But even if it is never prosecuted, a crime has still occurred when a person is raped. Abortion, however, is perfectly legal, even if it is restricted by mandatory waiting periods, parental consent laws, and time limits on when it can be performed. But forced-birth advocates are conflating sex offenders, who are criminals, and abortion providers, who are not, because they know they can get away with it: After all, the bill has already moved from committee to the house floor. It is very likely that it will become law, too, because Alabama politicians have a very long history of standing behind horrendous anti-abortion legislation that puts women’s lives at risk.

Many of these politicians, as well as those in the Alabama Supreme Court, work very closely with the state Christian Coalition and other anti-woman, anti-choice organizations. Operation Save America, for example, will hold its national convention in Montgomery beginning July 11. This group proudly supports Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, whom they identify as a “poet, warrior, statesman,” and will descend upon the state capitol because “Alabama has five remaining death camps (abortion mill) [sic] defiling your state. OSA believes that abortion will come to an end in America when the Church of Jesus Christ makes up her mind it will come to an end― and not one second sooner. We are asking you to join with us in helping to make your state abortion free.” Moore is opening the week-long rally, presenting a speech entitled “One Nation Under God.”

According to Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocate (ARRA) director Anathalee Sandlin, “When the anti-abortion fanatics descend on Montgomery in July, Roy Moore will be there to greet them, proving once again he is more concerned with promoting his own agenda than representing the people of Alabama. He continues to be a disgrace to the state Supreme Court and those who have cases before it.”

This is just a single example of how the unconstitutional and highly visible marriage of church and state in Alabama makes it impossible to work with legislators. To be honest, we reproductive rights activists have largely given up on state legislation and courts, working instead through the federal courts. There we have found success, such as the overturning of some TRAP regulations in Planned Parenthood v. Luther Strange. But while this strategy is sometimes effective, it denies and leaves vulnerable women who need access to abortion clinics in the meantime.

“These bills are an affront to women and limit their access to a constitutionally protected medical procedure,” Susan Watson, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement last week. “Politicians need to stop meddling in medical affairs and putting a woman in harm’s way. Regardless of how we feel about abortion, we can all agree that a woman needs and deserves the highest quality medical care possible. And we can also all agree that Alabama’s pocketbook can’t afford any more unnecessary litigation.”

Beyond the bill’s harmful effects on women who need care and the state’s finances, it is also dangerous to equate abortion providers to sexual predators, a conflation that could arguably incite violence against the doctors. It is also indicative of the attitude toward abortion providers in the state. Judge Myron Thompson, in his decision on Planned Parenthood v. Luther Strange, noted as much: “Although the vast majority of those who oppose abortion do so in non-violent ways, this court cannot overlook the backdrop to this case: a history of severe violence against abortion providers in Alabama and surrounding regions. Abortion providers in this case were so frightened that they testified in open court only behind a black curtain.” And as so many of us clinic escorts, defenders, and advocates know, anti-choicers will enact violence, even murder, in the name of “life.”

Even when they do not go that far, they will clearly engage in linguistic acrobatics to stop abortion providers. If successful, this legislation will give forced-birth activists another way to target clinics when TRAP laws and other shenanigans will not suffice.

Abortion providers do not harm children. Indeed, by participating in a comprehensive approach to women’s—and men’s—sexual health, they are actually helping children, modeling what a truly comprehensive spectrum of sexual health may look like. They are not predators who menace and traumatize young women and men, preying on their insecurities and insisting on their silence. They are operating within the confines of the law. Their work is completely legitimate, even under continued legal attack.

It remains necessary, now more than ever.


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