Commentary Law and Policy

Here We Go Again: House Proposes Slashing International Family Planning Programs and Reinstating Global Gag Rule

Chloe Cooney

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee proposed to cut funding for international family planning programs and impose harmful restrictions on women’s access to essential health care — including the global gag rule and prohibiting U.S. contributions to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. 

A change was made to this article at 3:36 pm, Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 to correct an error. The earlier version incorrectly identified Congresswoman Rosa  DeLauro as a representative from New York. The Congresswoman represents Connecticut.

The recent arrival of Chinese human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng has focused the world’s attention on the scourge of coercive reproductive policies in some countries. Now more than ever, U.S. foreign assistance should be directed toward those working to advance human rights. Yet, once again, the House Appropriations Committee voted to let politics interfere with lifesaving health care for women.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee proposed to cut funding for international family planning programs and impose harmful restrictions on women’s access to essential health care — including the global gag rule and prohibiting U.S. contributions to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. 

While this trifecta of funding cuts and restrictions now seems par for the course in the House, it comes in striking contrast to new evidence released the day prior by leading health organizations. A report from the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UNFPA, and the World Bank, once again confirms that birth control and reproductive health services are essential to saving women’s lives around the world. Thanks to these interventions, the report finds, maternal deaths declined by nearly 50 percent over the last 20 years.

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As the report’s authors state, “[W]hen governments take a strategic approach to the safe motherhood challenge — by deploying trained midwives, ensuring adequate essential supplies, making family planning accessible and providing timely obstetric care to women with complications, we are getting results.”

In other words, evidence shows that family planning prevents the needless deaths of women worldwide.  One would think this would be cause to sustain or even increase U.S. investments in these programs.

Unfortunately, the House bill contains $149 million in funding cuts and would roll funding levels back to 2008 levels. These cuts would result in nearly eight million fewer women being able to access birth control, 745,000 more unsafe abortions, and nearly 6,000 more maternal deaths, according to recent Guttmacher Institute analysis.

In an effort to find common ground and protect women’s health, Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), each offered amendments to the bill that would allow continued support for targeted programs. All three were voted down by the House majority (with Republican Representatives Charlie Dent (PA) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ) crossing the aisle to support all three).

That the House majority rejected all three of these compromise solutions reveals the extreme nature of their views and the lengths to which they will go to avoid working with UNFPA.

Critics of the agency claim that UNFPA’s work in China reinforces the Chinese government’s harmful one-child policy and the illegal practices of forced abortion and coerced birth control reported in some localities. In fact, as the Bush Administration’s own specially appointed fact-finding team confirmed, UNFPA’s work to promote voluntary family planning programs empowers women and families and works toward eliminating coercive practices. If we are serious about promoting a rights-based approach to reproductive health in China, we should be supporting UNFPA, not vilifying it.

The House proposal serves as an opening offer in the congressional debate over the FY13 budget.  This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee is presenting and debating their version of the bill, which increases support for international family planning without attaching restrictions that would undercut these efforts. The impact of the decisions made by this Congress will be felt in the lives of women and families around the world.

Commentary LGBTQ

You Can’t Go Home Again: North Carolina’s HB 2 Criminalizes Trans Life

Mina Carpenter

On Wednesday, I became illegal in my home state.

On Wednesday, I became illegal in my home state. I can’t go home to see my mother or my sister or my uncle or my friends from high school. I can’t go back to my favorite restaurant. Because the systematic eradication of transgender people from North Carolina is now the law of the land.

That’s not what the headlines said, but it’s the truth. A law that criminalizes trans people using the bathrooms of our actual genders criminalizes trans life.

That might seem like a big leap to you. So let’s break it down.

North Carolina’s HB 2, signed into law last week, overturns local anti-discrimination laws, bans cities or counties from setting a minimum wage for private employers, and dictates that access to restrooms in schools and publicly owned buildings be restricted to the gender on a person’s birth certificate. The law applies to schools and all state- and locally owned public buildings—public universities, rest areas, airports, courts, jails, social services, and the like. The law also defines public accommodations such that private property owners who wish to discriminate against trans people are protected; it just doesn’t force them to do so.

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Using the wrong bathroom as the law demands isn’t a realistic solution for most trans people. Most trans people can’t walk into the bathroom the law says we should use without the risk of someone deciding we’re in the wrong place. A lot of trans people can’t walk into any bathroom without the risk of someone deciding we’re in the wrong place. Complying with the law wouldn’t work out very well, but that’s beside the point. Saying that it’s legal to be trans so long as you use the wrong bathroom is like saying it’s legal to be Christian so long as you don’t set foot inside a church. It makes it illegal to be trans in practice—illegal to live your gender.

If you could make us cis by making it illegal for us to live as who we are, don’t you think it would’ve worked by now? We were illegal when we rioted at Compton’s, we were illegal when we rioted at Stonewall, and we persisted despite being illegal for 100 years before that. A lot of us are still de-facto illegal, and we’re still here. Yes, sometimes trans people have to hide or compromise on who we are in order to survive in a world that wants us dead. Sometimes it means letting the system rob you of your dignity so that it doesn’t rob you of your freedom or your life, just as sometimes it means dying rather than let it rob you of your dignity. That’s the choice that trans people in North Carolina have right now: Dignity or freedom. Choose one—and probably get neither.

So it is absurd to say that what this law does is force trans people to use the restroom corresponding to the gender on our birth certificates. This law gives North Carolinian trans people three choices: risk legal penalties and police harassment for using a gendered bathroom, find a way to do without, or leave the state.

But bathrooms aren’t optional. Having them available is a requirement to access public space and public life. Could you hold down a job if you couldn’t pee at work? Could you go to school if a round trip to the only bathroom you could use took eight minutes, but you only had seven minutes between classes? Could you go on a date if you didn’t know whether you’d be able to pee at the restaurant, at the movie theater, at the bar—at all—until you got home? Could you keep yourself healthy by exercising at the gym without using the locker room or the bathroom? Could you fly home to visit your family if you had to get to the airport, check in, get through securityand board your flight before you had access to the plane’s gender-neutral restroom?

Bathrooms are an essential part of public infrastructure, and if you can’t access them safely and reliably, you can’t leave the house safely or reliably.

It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.

The reality for transgender people in this situation isn’t that we have to use the wrong bathroom. The reality is that unless we leave and never come back, we either imprison ourselves metaphorically in our homes or risk being imprisoned literally. These are conditions calculated to bring about our destruction as a people. That’s genocide.

North Carolina isn’t alone in what it’s trying to accomplish. Security personnel already harass and arrest trans people for using the bathroom even without any laws to back them up. Because any time we interact with a representative of the state, there’s what the law says they can do, and then there’s what they actually do.

Laws like these justify and expand practices that already exist to eliminate and subjugate transgender people. Airport scanners are designed to deny trans people freedom of movement for the sake of security theater for cis people. A majority of states make trans people’s legal rights and access to accurate documentation dependent on genital surgery—which amounts to coerced sterilization.

Like many other trans people, I’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted in order to confirm a cis person’s suspicion that I’m trans—and I’ve never heard of anyone being punished for it unless the victim turned out to be cis. While this law doesn’t explicitly provide legal cover to expand the practice of transphobic sexual assault and harassment, it’s hard to imagine that that won’t be the effect. Those most vulnerable will be trans women and femmes—whose demonization has been the justification for the law—and people of color whose bodies are already criminalized and subject to additional scrutiny.

Police departments across the country use relentless profiling for sex work to criminalize condom use. In a climate where rampant discrimination can make sex work the best available survival strategy, that criminalization is an incredibly effective strategy for infecting Black and Latina trans women with HIV. Whether it was planned that way or not, the effect is absolutely genocidal. Years of activism culminated in laws banning the practice in New York and California less than two years ago, but it’s still commonplace elsewhere in the country. And then there’s the blunt instrument of murder, which seems to be gaining in popularity as we gain visibility.

We’re not going away. In the words of queer and trans activists of color protesting the bill Thursday night: This is not over. Cis people have been trying to eliminate us for more than 500 years, so for anyone hoping to get rid of us without getting blood on their hands, too bad. But the fact that this fits into a broader context and a longer history doesn’t make it less terrifying or less awful; it makes it worse. It’s another attack on an already threatened community. It’s a huge expansion of criminalization that makes trans people illegal as a matter of law, not just practice.

But personally? I just want to go home.

News Politics

Senate Republicans Are Reminded: ‘Banning Abortion Doesn’t Make It Go Away’

Nicole Knight Shine

Anti-choice activists testified at a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks' gestation, although an exhaustive scientific review says that's simply not the case.

The Senate Judiciary Committee considered a new set of federal abortion care restrictions at a Tuesday hearing, less than two weeks after the Supreme Court heard arguments on Texas’ clinic shutdown law.

Although Republicans on the committee have stated they will block any potential Supreme Court nominee, the Senate panel, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), carved out time for a two-hour hearing on “Late-Term Abortion: Protecting Babies Born Alive and Capable of Feeling Pain.”

At hand were two anti-choice bills. S. 2066 amends the Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 to impose criminal penalties on abortion providers who fail to properly “care” for a fetus “born alive” when a pregnancy is terminated, despite a total lack of evidence from at least 38 state attorneys general that this is happening. S. 1553 revives a previously unsuccessful federal 20-week abortion ban.

This is the second go-around in the Senate for the 20-week ban, which Democrats blocked in September 2015. The bill is likely unconstitutional, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, has pointed out, because it bans abortion before viability and fails to include exceptions for the patient’s health.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who introduced the 20-week ban, said Tuesday that the United States is among a handful of countries that permit abortion care later in pregnancy and he wants “to get out of that club.”

Dr. Diana Foster, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, told the committee that such bans are accompanied by higher rates of maternal mortality.

“Banning abortion doesn’t make it go away, it makes it more likely that women will have an illegal abortion,” Greene Foster said.

Committee Democrats, and some from the medical community who were called to testify, said the bills politicize complex medical decisions, intimidate doctors, and punish patients, particularly those without the means to travel great distances or make repeated trips to access abortion services.

Anti-choice activists testified that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks’ gestation, although an exhaustive scientific review says that’s simply not the case.

Feinstein recounted recent reports of pregnant people resorting to coat-hanger abortions that harken back to the pre-Roe v. Wade era. Economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz stated in a ​New York Times article this month that there were about 700,000 Google searches “looking into self-induced abortions in 2015.” An analysis by the Guttmacher Institute indicates that states have enacted 231 laws designed to limit or end access to legal abortion.

“Women of America I think want the ability to consult with their physicians, to follow their faith, and to make their own decisions,” Feinstein said.

Jodi Magee, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told the committee that the rash of anti-choice measures passed by Republican-majority state legislatures has had an outsized impact on marginalized communities.

“Existing restrictions on abortion care disproportionately impact the most vulnerable women,” Magee said. “A woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion should not depend on her zip code. We are already seeing women taking matters into their own hands.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) pointed out the U.S. House has voted to gut family planning spending while decrying abortion. “That makes no sense to me whatsoever,” Durbin told the panel.

Senate Democrats and pro-choice organizations were swift to denounce the GOP-led panel.

“While the Republicans on that committee say they won’t take up the time to do their most important actual job, they were happy to spend their time this morning on their favorite hobby: do everything they can to turn back the clock on women’s access to healthcare,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told Politico: “Apparently Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell are too busy playing doctor to uphold their constitutional duty to consider a Supreme Court nominee when named. Instead, Republican leadership wants to waste taxpayer time on a rejected piece of legislation that leading doctors flatly oppose.”

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify the length of the hearing.