Abortion law in Thailand is very ambiguous, and as a result, I do most of my work helping women access safe abortion care out of the public eye. At a recent workshop, I responded to public requests for information on safe abortion by first confronting my own fears.
Women on Web works with partners around the world to spread information about medical abortion in countries where there is limited or no access to safe abortion care. In Thailand, abortion laws are ambiguous. More than 15 clinics provide abortion care somewhat openly, but high maternal mortality from complications of unsafe abortion persists throughout the country. Supecha Baotip founded the Tamtung.wordpress.com abortion blog and a safe abortion hotline in Thailand, with support from Women on Web. These are remarks from a recent training conducted by Supecha.
When I was first contacted from Khlong Ton hospital to conduct a workshop on unplanned pregnancy prevention organized by the Police Housewife Association and the Bangkok Police department, I jumped at the opportunity to make deeper contact with this particular hospital. Tamtang.wordpress.com and the safe abortion hotline sends many women to Khlong Ton, as it is the only hospital in Thailand that provides safe abortion care legally to women between 12 and 24 weeks without many questions or restrictions. The hospital, however, is very expensive, so I thought, “If I do them a favor, I would be able to ask for their favor later when I am working with a woman who cannot pay her fee.”
With colleagues, I created a training with three sections: Contraception, talking about sex, and abortion. Our goal was to train 200 participants out of the 1200 students who would attend the training.
But the person who learned the most from this training experience was me.
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My task was to overcome my own fear of talking publicly about abortion. For this half-day training with 200 students ages 16 to 18, I had to think about how explicit I should be about abortion. I began by using a banner to explain the Women on Web service. I knew I wanted to show the email contact and website, but I had to be careful; sharing information publicly on these services was already a step further than I had ever gone before. I also put some statistics about deaths from unsafe abortion on the banner I used in my presentation. But what else? Should I discuss the regimen for how to use medicines? What would people think if they saw this? To lessen the tension, I included the regimen in English, even though I knew many people would be unable to read it. I even put the WHO logo there to make it more reputable. I began to realize how much fear I had about being so open about this topic in a public presentation, because in Thailand, I feel like I don’t have much backup. Even safe abortion clinics are not safe from the police, so I usually only give info to women about these via emails and telephone. I am afraid I will be caught by the police, the actual organizers of this event!
But when the training event began and the police came to investigate the activities, they knew exactly what I was talking about–and avoided me. They instead went to the session on ‘talking about sex’ and ‘contraception.’ The feelings of relief I had made me realize how much fear I have in my mind even though I know the information I am giving out is backed up fully by the international organizations and even though our government should provide this information.
I found that this is the Thai way to deal with things. I think the police don’t know what to do with me. I am the invited trainer and I did tell them I will talk about abortion. Now I am doing it. They might not like it very much, but they didn’t show their feelings. They just turned their eyes away. I think this also shows their fear that they will need to do something about the very controversial issue.
This was the very first time I spoke about abortion to people publicly, outside my network, and I came to realize my own fear. I saw it in myself. But I realized my fear would just push me forward to speak even more about safe abortion, and I thought to myself, “ The more you speak about it loudly, people tend to listen and will not stop you. Because you show no fear which means that you know you are doing the right thing.” It seemed to me that this is the same dynamic as a gay or lesbian person coming out in public. The more we talk about it, the less discrimination there will be for us.
I also learned that women want direct information. Because of my own fears, I started out being indirect. I talked about how one could know they are pregnant, how to date a pregnancy, the need to be careful of unsafe abortion, to be careful of fraudulent websites, and how to decide what to do when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. I tried to be careful.
Then came the Q&A. And girls just ask simply the direct questions they have.
“How can I get the medical pill?”
With all the teachers and police around I said “ You can contact the local hospital for One stop service crisis center (OSCC) “ In reality, I actually never refer women to this service because I know they won’t direct them to safe abortion quickly. “Oh, what I am doing?” I thought to myself.
“How is the pill is used, how do you insert them?”
Now I explain about women’s anatomy, which was easy. I was even proud to give them a tip of ‘wet the pill first’
“How many pills are needed to do this? ” came next. Oh, this stubborn girl!!! She comes up with the challenge to me!!!
I challenged myself:, Will I talk about this directly or I will sneak away. But then I overcame my fear..
I turn to the Women on Web flag stand and say,
“Ok, now I will do the translation here. You will find the info from this website, but this is the regimen recommended by WHO….” And after that it was easy enough!! Just the same old thing I have repeated many times on emails, but wasn’t daring to talk about before. I told them about dosages for mifepristone and misoprostol, how to use these drugs, and what to expect.
The girls listened to it attentively, even to the last moment in the session, their eyes glowing. And I thank the brave girl whose questions helped me to overcome this fear!!!
So, this is how I did the workshop. I tried to be indirect but then realized I had to give direct information to those people who needed it. And once I did it directly enough, I seem to be more able to relate to all the girls sitting there.
Thanks for this opportunity that I can look closely into my fear which turns me into the indirect informant and even slip in to be one of those people who scare women away from abortion by talking only about unsafe abortion but not talking clearly about the safe options for abortion that exist.
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
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.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.
Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.
“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.
The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.
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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”
Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”
Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”
Clinton’s campaign toldRewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”
The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care.
The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.
When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”
When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”