Commentary Abortion

The Pope, Pregnant Children, and Violence Against Girls and Women

Soraya Chemaly

The Pope's rationale is that his "age means he lacks strength to do job." You could use the exact words to describe the nine-year old girl the Pope excommunicated for having a life-saving abortion after being raped and impregnated, with twins.

I find it strange that Pope Benedict XVI chose a week that will culminate in a global strike to protest violence against women to retire. And for health reasons no less. Orange smoke and irony and all that. On Thursday of this week, all over the globe, people will gather and dance for One Billion Rising, a day dedicated to striking against violence against women. As Eve Ensler, the founder of  V-Day which has organized the strike knows better than most, “violence against women is a global, patriarchal epidemic.

Part of that epidemic is compulsory pregnancy. The Pope’s rationale is that his “age means he lacks strength to do job.” You could use the exact words to describe the nine-year old girl  whose family the Pope excommunicated for having a life-saving abortion after being raped and impregnated, with twins. It seems to me that her age meant she lacked strength to do the job, too. Actually, the job would have killed her.  These things happen. She and 16 million other pregnant adolescent girls a year, two million of whom are under age 15, strike me as 16 million good #reasonstorise.

As does this girl: last Thursday a friend posted a story on Facebook, “Dafne, 9-Year-Old Girl, Gives Birth To Baby Girl In Mexico.” Millions read and shared it over the weekend.  The link appeared with this caption: “The girl reportedly delivered a 5.7 pound baby by Caesarian section on January 27. She was 8-years old when she became pregnant.” Picky, picky feminist wordsmithy me thinks the caption should read, “The girl underwent a dangerous Caesarian surgery to delivery a 5.7 pound baby on January 27. She was 8-years old when a 17-year old boy forcibly inseminated her.”  Eight-year olds cannot consent to sex. They also cannot consent to having contraceptives implanted in their arms, but that’s now happened too. Just in case she gets ideas. On the same day, by coincidence, a 12-year old in Argentina gave birth to twins after she “fell pregnant.” Like she tripped by accident. 

While nine is very young, girls this age having babies is not as rare as we’d like to think. The United States has more “teen” births than any industrialized nation, including girls as young as 10,  and our rates have been climbing.  However, 95 percent of teen births take place in poorer countries. According to W.H.O., “Half of all adolescent births occur in just seven countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and the United States.” Many girls die because they do not have control over their bodies and their own reproduction.

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Last year, after a 10-year old in Columbia gave birth, experts blithely explained that “a C-section delivery for such a young mother is not unusual.” Given global trends (researchers, armed with competing theories, have noted that the average age of the onset of menstruation for girls has been steadily declining for decades) we can reasonably expect to see instances involving younger and younger girls. Little girls, and women who find themselves raped and pregnant often “want to die.” It’s only one reason why raped people shouldn’t be forced to carry pregnancies to term. Guess what else, besides the Papacy, of course, is a “job or life with no retirement age?” Whereas the Pope is retiring to “go back to his priesthood,” girls who are raped, pregnant and give birth or die cannot go back to their childhoods.

This was the conclusion reached by a doctor last year in the case a mentally-disabled girl, 10-years old, in Kansas, who had to have an abortion after becoming pregnant as a result of rape.  The Kansas medical review board that revoked the girl’s doctor’s license.

In Mexico, authorities “don’t know if [the girl] is being entirely truthful.” Mainly because of her age, but interesting choice of words. Is she saying she was raped? Or is she saying she wasn’t? The article linked to doesn’t say which. Turns out she’s saying that the boy was her “boyfriend.” As one commenter speculated, the child “may have even had feelings for” her rapist.  Authorities, in a perverse game of “he said/she said,” acknowledge that they are looking for the missing father, a 17-year old boy, “to acquire his own account of what occurred between the two.” In case he reveals that she was wrong in her assessment and wants to make it clear that he raped her?

Besides, it’s probably her parents fault, not his. “The new mother is one of 11 children… and her parents were unable to watch her while they worked.”  It wouldn’t have mattered, as her mother explained that her daughter had sex willingly and she “didn’t report it because she was not aware” it was a crime.

“Who has 11 children, anyway?” many people wondered. This is perhaps the most important question because another way of asking it is, “Who insists on compulsory pregnancy that impoverishes millions?” Globally, historically, that has been been the Catholic Church, which continues to put girls and women at risk worldwide through bullying policies that ensure that they will be poor and unhealthy as the result of unregulated childbearing and rearing.  This is the same Church that excommunicated a mother and doctors for saving a 9-year old victim’s life by when they ended her pregnancy with twins. Guess who the Church didn’t excommunicate? That’s right, her rapist stepfather.

Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, the retiring Pope of the Catholic Church, should be tried in the International Criminal Court of law for human rights abuses, not only for being head of an organization that has shielded and enabled child rapists, but for the deadly and systematic global obstruction of girls’ and women’s rights to life and health. 

In the hospital where Dafne gave birth, 25 percent of the births are to teenage girls.  She lived, but pregnancy is THE leading cause of death for girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide.  A thoroughly unholy international alliance between American evangelicals and the Vatican has resulted in the death of millions. While President Obama quickly repealed the “global gag rule” put into place by George Bush, which prohibited even the mention of abortion where US funds were being used for women’s health care abroad, the Helms Amendment, which restricts the use of US aid for the purposes of providing abortions, even in conflict zones where rape is endemic, still stands. It is in no small measure the result of this policy and the influence of the Catholic church that 150 million women cannot get the birth control they need or safe abortions that would save their lives.  We know how to stem these deaths— family planning, including both.  

Meanwhile, here in the US, where Catholic Bishops and friends refuse to comply with the law and religiously-inspired Republican legislators spew venomous mythologies about rape, race, poverty, and women, the rate of maternal mortality has DOUBLED in 25 years. We now rank 50th in the world for pregnancy related morbidity.  In New York City, black girls and women, are eight times more likely than white ones to die from pregnancy related causes. The girls and women dying globally often our poorest, darkest, young girls, regardless of what country they live in. 

“Someone’s 10 years old, and they were raped by their uncle and they understand that they’ve got a baby growing in their stomach and they don’t want that,” explains the doctor in the Kansas case, Dr. Ann Neuhaus. Here, we don’t excommunicate people, we harass them and terrorize them, in some cases, we kill them. Have you seen The Assassination of Dr. Tiller?  Abortion clinic violence wrought by anti-abortion groups is constant and debilitating to those who do this work. In what can only be described as an archaic witch hunt, Kansas revoked Neuhaus’ medical license last year.  They had to take a break from praying that the Violence Against Women Act won’t pass to do it.

When these religious beliefs conspire with political ambition, it’s girls and women who pay the highest price.  Consider the eight men who all voted to block passage of the Violence Against Women Act on Monday. Every woman in the Senate with the exception of Sen. Deb Fisher (R-NE) co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is now being held up by concerns  that largely hinge on the color of the people involved in cases of abuse and the color of the authorities with jurisdiction over them.  Which is interesting, because in the case of the young girl who gave birth last week, many people think it’s a “Mexican” problem. Hmm.

“What kind of person would sleep with an 8-year old?” (No one was sleeping.)  The kind that has created what Mia Fontaine recently called, “America’s Incest Problem.”  Fontaine rightfully and cogently suggests how it is possible that our institutional rape tolerances have their roots in family and household rape tolerances.  No one wants to model our government more on an abusive, father-knows-best, privacy of the family, patriarchal unit than conservative Republicans using proxies like “states rights” and “lying bitches.” It’s not a random coincidence that people who obstruct the reauthorization of VAWA are those who object to family planning and women’s abilities to control their own bodies and fates.

Just a little more than a month after Governor Rick Scott of Florida held a lovely party at the Governor’s Mansion celebrating the passage of four new abortion restriction laws in that state (a state dedicated to faith-based abstinence programs), a 14-year old girl stuffed a towel into her own mouth, gave birth in her bathroom, feared her parent’s reaction, strangled her newborn, hid it in a shoe box, was discovered and charged with murder as an adult. She faces life imprisonment. She apparently didn’t know she was pregnant when she went into labor.  Before you laugh and think that’s impossible, one study found that in one out of every 7,225 pregnancies a woman is in this situation until the moment of birth.  There are many reasons a woman might be in “pregnancy denial.”

As in Mexico, no one knows where the boy or man involved is either. He does not face murder, nor do the parents, teachers, state legislators or others who failed her.  The girl may, like many kids in abstinence-only situations, not even have known how she got pregnant.  Even if she did she may have taken this to heart:  As one abstinence teacher put it in a Texas classroom, “Go ahead and use a condom. You’ll still be known as a slut.”  If her tragic case isn’t a clear enough example of girl hatred, degradation and misogynistic abuse wrought by a system of oppression, I don’t know what is. And she’s white. And in a wealthy country.

For girls and women, the Pope represents an inconvenient morality.

 

 

This post was updated since it’s original publication. 

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”

News Human Rights

Remaining Charges Dropped Against Officers in Freddie Gray Case

Michelle D. Anderson

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Three Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray will not go to trial as originally planned.

Chief Deputy State Attorney Michael Schatzow of the Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office said during a court hearing Wednesday that his office would not prosecute Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White or attempt to retry Officer William Porter, whose case ended in a mistrial in December.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had charged Miller, White, and Porter, along with Officer Edward Nero, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., and Lt. Brian Rice, in Gray’s May 2015 death in police custody.

The officers faced an array of charges, ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder and reckless endangerment to second-degree assault and involuntary manslaughter.

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All of the officers pleaded not guilty.

Judge Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Nero, Goodson, and Rice during bench trials that ended in May, June, and July, respectively. Miller’s trial was set to begin Wednesday; White, October 13, and Porter, September 6.

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Mosby, in filing charges against the officers, attempted to hold law enforcement accountable for failing to secure Gray in a seat belt after transporting him in a police van following his arrest, among other alleged negligent acts. Prosecutors charged that Gray was illegally detained before police officers found a knife in his pocket.

Mosby stood by her decision to bring charges against the six officers during a brief press conference held near the Gilmor Homes public housing project, where Gray was taken into police custody.

“We stand by the medical examiners determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby said.

She touted her team’s success during the trials, including an appellate court victory that led some officers to testify against one another and asserted that a summary judgment was among many reasons she had “legitimate reasons” to pursue criminal charges.

Mosby praised the reforms that had come over the past year, including a new “use of force” policy Baltimore police instituted this year. The new policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability. It marks the first rewrite of the policy since 2003.

“For those that believe I am anti-police, that’s simply not the case. I am anti-police brutality,” Mosby said.

The conference was the first time Mosby had spoken in months, since a gag order imposed by Williams had kept prosecution and defense alike from commenting on the police trials.

The decision to drop charges stemmed from “an apparent acknowledgement” that convictions were unlikely for the remaining officers, the Baltimore Sun reported.

This was because the prosecution would face major challenges during Miller’s trial since they wouldn’t be able to use anything he said on the witness stand during Nero’s trial in an attempt to convict him. Miller had spoken during Nero’s trial in an immunized testimony and with protections against self incrimination, the Sun reported.

Williams said in previous trials that prosecutors failed to show sufficient evidence to support their stance that the officers acted recklessly and caused Gray’s death. He said prosecutors wanted him to rely on “presumptions or assumptions” and rejected the notion that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride” in the police vehicle, according to numerous news reports.

The decision to drop charges drew criticism from many activists and citizens alike, but drew praise from the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 union, which had repeatedly urged the prosecution to drop charges.

Baltimore Bloc, a local grassroots group, said in a statement this spring that Mosby should be removed from office for failing to secure convictions against officers and continued to criticize her on Twitter after the announcement that charges would be dropped.