Commentary Abortion

Response to Time: What Choice? *Our* Choice

Charlotte Taft

Like so much journalism, the Time magazine article seemed determined to focus on conflict and failure, rather than on the extraordinary energy and transformative gifts of the movement for women’s reproductive choice have yielded over these past 40 years.

It is always exciting when one of our colleagues is featured in an important article such as Time Magazine’s Cover article What Choice? Many thanks to Abortion Care Network member Tammi Kromenaker and all her staff and patients at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, ND for inviting this journalist into their daily routine and letting her see firsthand both the caring provided by an independent abortion provider, and the ridiculous hoops that patients have to jump through. Tammi made sure that the journalist understood some of the complex reasons that women choose abortion. Pickert noted that when a patient wasn’t sure about her choice she was given more time to consider what she wanted to do. She shared many statistics that the public may not be aware of, for example that independent clinics provide the majority of abortions, and that most of the women who have abortions already have children.

But I was sorry to see that, like so much journalism, this article seemed determined to focus on conflict and failure, rather than on the extraordinary energy and transformative gifts of the movement for women’s reproductive choice have yielded over these past forty years.

I know Kate Pickert had access to another perspective of the movement because I had a lengthy interview with her. I shared the fact that there is really nothing new about the Reproductive Justice concept—that what the early women’s movement worked for was a panoply of changes including access to excellent child care; health care; housing; freedom from violence; access to credit; equal pay; progressive divorce laws; an end to forced sterilization; access to understandable consent information for any medical procedures; safe birth control; and, yes, safe and legal abortion. Of course we didn’t see abortion as separate from other aspects of women’s’ lives. What we wanted is what we still want—a society that supports the ability of women to make real choices about their lives—not one in which women have children they don’t want to have because they don’t have access to abortion; or have abortions they don’t want because they can’t afford to have children. I acknowledged that over the years political and legal attacks on abortion have backed us into a corner in which we have often felt we have to protect the most fundamental right to an abortion, and the movement for Reproductive Justice reminds us that we cannot sacrifice any of our fundamental rights without putting them all in jeopardy.

I shared the reality that women have been bombarded by a well-funded 40 year old campaign to shame and control them, no matter what their choices. Women face stigma when we have children at what someone thinks is the wrong time or in the wrong circumstances; when we don’t have children; when we have abortions; when we place children for adoption; when we have miscarriages for which we can be blamed; when we want to give birth with dignity and autonomy regardless of the edicts of the medical establishment; and when we struggle with motherhood under impossible circumstances without the support anyone would expect in a civilized society. Every far right wing faction from the Tea Party to the Taliban seeks to control women by shaming them and creating rules for every aspect of their lives, beginning with their sexuality and reproductive lives.

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I was dismayed to see Pickert give space to the idea that “…a rebellion within the abortion rights cause—pitting feminists in their 20’s and 30s against pro-choice power brokers who were in their 20s and 30s when Roe was decided—threatens to tear it in two.” Obviously there are profound changes in any movement from generation to generation. It is the deep caring about these issues from people of all ages that is the enduring story. What I see is an extraordinary working together of feminists of all generations, especially in clinics and statewide coalitions. What I see is a movement that has room, and a need for all of us. The Board of the Abortion Care Network is made up of the voices of young women who bring their perspectives of political change and ways to harness the power of current technology and social networking, as well as the wisdom and experience of those who have been in this movement for four decades. We benefit from all these perspectives. But the movement is much more than the organizations that have battling for women since Roe. It is also the bottom-up power of people who will not be controlled or silenced by politicians. An example is the extraordinary outpouring of human outrage at the antics of the right-wing dominated legislatures in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, that represented women and men of all ages and cultures. I dispute unequivocally the idea that those who support illegal abortion “are more where the American people are.” We who provide abortion see every day that Americans of all ages, nationalities, cultures, and religions vote for legal abortion by the choices they make.

I also must take exception with the idea that illustrating that abortion is normal is counterproductive, as Frances Kissling is quoted as saying. We are not ‘normalizing’ anything—as if that is somehow making up a story. We are simply pointing out that abortion is normal and has been since the dawn of time. Women yearn to be able to determine when and whether to bring new life into the world through their bodies. The fact that it is normal doesn’t mean it is trivial. And because it is not trivial, most women consider their decisions very carefully. Because it is not trivial, women don’t choose to have children when they feel that cannot nurture them properly. No matter what accusations could be made that the ‘movement’ is afraid of the nuances around abortion, it is clear that most abortion providers are not just aware of the complexity of pregnancy issues, but have worked hard to assist women to come to their own choices working through those nuances. The Time article didn’t share the movement to challenge stigma, or the powerful message of ACN’s You Are a Good Woman, or the Pregnancy Options Workbook or the Guide to Spiritual Resolution After Abortion. I was disappointed that this voice of abortion care didn’t have a central place in this piece. Women and men deserve to know that we who provide abortions are their partners and allies—not another ‘side’ that they have to negotiate in order to make their own decisions.

The idea that trusting women to know whether or not it is best for them to have a child in their circumstances is ‘hard line’ makes no sense to me. Whom else can we trust to make this most fundamentally personal decision? Abortion providers know very well that even the women who have been picketing our clinics the day before their abortion are very clear that their situation is special and no restrictions are appropriate. Which woman’s choice should we give up on —the young woman? The poor woman? The woman who feels she can’t bear a child with profound handicaps? The woman who had an affair? The woman whose reasons aren’t ‘good enough’? The woman who was raped in a way that some politician thinks wasn’t legitimate? And when we care about and support women, we are also supporting their children. This fact has been invisible in the national conversation on abortion.

With the election of 2012 we have turned an important corner. We watched as abortion and birth control became topics of conversation in every news media and political race, and hence at every kitchen table. Secrets were told and women claimed their rights, and the world didn’t fall apart. Men and women from all walks of society became more comfortable demanding that women must have authority over their own health options. The antis have been clever and found ways to align themselves with political power. But no movement can truly call itself ‘pro-life’ when it has wantonly murdered doctors and others in the abortion care community. No movement can truly call itself ‘pro-life’ when it seeks to make abortion illegal, thus ushering in illegal abortion as has been shown all over the globe. And no movement based on tactics of spreading stigma, fear, and shame can prevail in the long run. This is our time to reach out to all our partners and allies who understand that what are dismissed as ‘social issues’ affect us economically and politically, and emotionally, and spiritually. Our strength comes in our honesty; our respect for women and all those who care about them; and our deep recognition that all the issues of our lives are connected.

What Choice? Our choice!

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.