Commentary Human Rights

Roe is About Women’s Rights

Soraya Chemaly

Roe also acknowledges a related fact: until its passage women’s bodies, legally speaking, functioned like production facilities, holding tanks, regulated environments, the property of the men who impregnated them.

“Most Americans under 30 don’t know Roe was about abortion.”  

According to the Pew Research Forum, the majority of survey respondents under 30-years old answering questions about abortion attitudes revealed the following:

  • 41 percent thought the case might have to do with the death penalty, the environment or could not name the subject matter and 16 percent thought it had to do with school desegregation,
  • Here’s the really depressing kicker: 68 percent of Republicans under 30 knew the content of the Roe decision compared with only 57 percent of Democrats,
  • A full 74 percent of those who support overturning Roe consider abortion a “crucial issue” or “one of many crucial issues.”
  • Among supporters? 31 percent.

Both Michelle Bornstein and Sarah Kliff had to type these words out, see them on a screen and push a “send” button after they wrote them for The Washington Post.  I just did it and think I’m breaking into hives. 

Just to be clear, Roe V. Wade IS NOT, to quote a Twitter friend, “Two ways to cross a river.”

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As Gail Collins once pointed out, in 1912, maybe in between the jail time she served for breaking the law and providing safe birth control to women, Margaret Sanger (also charged with obscenity for talking about her work) wrote an article called Things That Every Girl Should Know. They’re things Every BOY SHOULD KNOW,  too. And this is one of them.

Forty years ago today, Roe v Wade legalized abortion. It established every American woman’s constitutional right to an abortion at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Our bodies, we get to decide what happens to them. It’s a right.  This took time and involved several constitutional interpretations. But, Roe extended several constitutional rights that were denied to women having to do with privacy, autonomy and due process.  Which sounds abstract but isn’t.

Roe means we are far, far less likely to DIE.

Or be mutilated, suffer from infections or any number of other horrible things related to pregnancy, birth and abortion.

It means, not only do we not have to die, but no one can “let us” die if we desperately want to live.

It means doctors can save our lives if we have ectopic pregnancies or cancer. 

It means we don’t have to be tied for life to abusive, violent spouses

Or to men who deliberately sabotage our birth control.

It means we can use modern medicine and procedures to intervene and end miscarriages safely and quickly.

It means we can manage, to a small degree, heartbreak.

It means we can plan our families and take care of them.

It means that we cannot be forced to carry rape pregnancies against our wills even when our rapists want us to.

It means we don’t go to jail for something all women, by virtue of having female bodies, must seriously think about during 30 years of fertility.

It means that you, or people you know, (at least one-third of all women by the age of 45) who have had one—for whatever reason—have been able to safely and legally.

Turns out that these facts are a really tough pill for some people to swallow. Which is why some states, like Mississippi, have made it all but impossible for a woman to actually find an abortion clinic or doctor. And other states, like Texas, North Dakota, Virginia, Arizona are doing the same.  In Alabama last week, the Supreme Court ruled that fetuses are “children.”  Both 2011 and 2012 were record years in legislative attempts to erode or eliminate Roe.

Prior to Roeaccording to the Center for Reproductive Rights, “between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegally induced abortions occur[red] annually in the United States. As many as 5,000 to 10,000 women died per year following illegal abortions and many others suffered  severe physical and psychological injury.

Roe is a critically important interpretation of our constitution that extended rights to women that they were previously deprived of. Just because we’re humans born in the United States doesn’t mean we miraculously don’t have human rights issues. The right to choose, if and when and how, to reproduce is a fundamental human right. Roe protects that right for American women. Something they did not have before.

And, Roe did more than that. The right to make decisions regarding our own bodies, to manage our own reproduction has practical pluses. We get to participate in the world more equally. Go to school. Get degrees. Get and keep jobs. Run for office. Take care of our families to the best of our abilities. Leave abusive spouses. Not be prey to the vagaries of other people’s actions or wills.

The degree to which we’ve failed to educate people, as we clearly haven’t, on the legal ramifications of overturning or whittling away at Roe, is shocking.

Some people, usually the can’t tell a pregnancy test from a swizzle stick set, think Roe should be overturned as a matter of state rights. Please. What about, say, interracial marriage? Want to do that, too?  Or maybe slavery. THAT’s a good idea.

I know that the ethics of pregnancy are complicated. All people do, especially pregnant people. According to Roe, restrictions on abortion in second and their trimesters could only be established if the state could demonstrate a “compelling interest” in potential life. But, while everyone might agree that ethical compassion is a necessary component of decisions regarding how pregnancies are managed, to date, Roe‘s opponents have yet to demonstrate that they understand that women themselves have “compelling interests”—like life, liberty, autonomy. The only way you can justify a position in which a woman does not make her own abortion decisions is if you believe she is not ethically and morally capable as a matter of her gender. It is THIS idea—that women are fully autonomous, morally independent, capable human beings, that opponents of Roe have been continuously attacking since the dawn of recorded time. The last 40 years of relentless legislative, judicial, religiously-injected conservative political activism focused on women and their bodies is just this generation’s fundamentalist backlash against a modernity that seeks not only to say women are equal, but allow them to act and be equal.

My intuition, based on these surveys, is that many people are assuming that women’s fundamental rights are and always have been as inalienable and fundamental as men’s in this country. History clearly demonstrates that this is not the case. Why do you think we don’t talk about “reproductive rights” for men? The “norm” (ie. just plain old “rights”) is male. We have to qualify the rights with a “reproductive” only when we’re talking about male-deviant females. Simply because fetuses are not part of men’s bodies does not make them any less part of women’s. All of our laws are structured to reflect a world in which reproduction takes place and is managed outside of a body. Yet that is only the case for men. Roe acknowledges the difference. It refuses to pit the rights of a fetus against those of the woman for this reason. Roe also acknowledges a related fact: until its passage women’s bodies, legally speaking, functioned like production facilities, holding tanks, regulated environments, the property of the men who impregnated them. Do I really have to go on here???

The fact remains today, in regard to Roe, as it did in 2005 only perhaps even more true, that the rights I am describing remain secure, really secure, in only 20 US states. It doesn’t inspire confidence that the younger a survey respondent was, the less important they thought a woman’s right to an abortion was. This is entirely understandable result of not teaching the history of women’s rights as civil rights, applauding the accomplishments of those that fought for women’s freedoms and equality, or acknowledging in mainstream media that feminist activism as ongoing.

It’s especially important now because the problem we have is not that Roe will be overturned. It is that opponents have been degrading and dismantling Roe by proxy since 1973. And the more public opinion seems to turn against them, the more aggressive and systematic they seem to be. They are using laws never intended to apply to women and abortion to intimidate, investigate, arrest, prosecute and imprison us based on the same views that inform their anti-Roe agenda. So, while Roe should have meant that Angela Carder didn’t die, she did. Or that Laura Pemberton wasn’t taken from her home, tied to a bed and forced to have Cesarean surgery, she was. Or that Bei Bei Shuai wouldn’t face murder charges because she was filled with despair while pregnant and tried to commit suicide, but she is. Roe was originally based on “four constitutional pillars” of which only two remain today. The result is that states can, and are, proposing and passing fetal “rights” statutes in defiance of women’s constitutional rights, medical facts, scientific research and with no regard for the complicated, often dangerous, urgent contexts that are unique to every pregnancy. Poorer, darker women pay the highest price.

There should be posters on every school campus that read: Roe is what allows American girls and women of childbearing age to plan their families and live without fear of unwanted pregnancies, debilitating infections or death caused by illegal abortions or complications caused by pregnancy and childbirth.

Given the fact that one in three U.S. women will have an abortion by the time they are 45 either you or someone you know has had or will have an abortion. It’s no one’s business why. Roe v. Wade isn’t about women’s choices, it’s about their rights. All girls and women have the right to make decisions for themselves. That’s what Roe is. 

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.