Commentary Abortion

Fighting Abortion Stigma in Thailand While Fighting My Own Fears

Supecha Baotip

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.

I grow a little more and fear a little less.

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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