LGBTQ Hate Group on Pompeo as Secretary of State: ‘A Very Smart Move by President Trump’

Advocates for reproductive health and LGBTQ equality are concerned about CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination to helm the U.S. Department of State, while a prominent anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice hate group lauded President Trump for his pick.

Trump announced on Twitter Tuesday that Pompeo “will become our new Secretary of State,” bringing Rex Tillerson’s contentious tenure at the agency to an end. Tillerson, who once reportedly called the president a “moron,” wasn’t aware that he had been fired until he was shown the tweet.

Tillerson was no friend to global policies that support evidence-based reproductive health and LGBTQ populations. Under his leadership, the State Department implemented Trump’s expansion of the anti-choice global gag rule. Language addressing family planning and discrimination in the department’s upcoming annual report on global human rights is in danger, according to a recent Politico report. And LGBTQ equality groups repeatedly condemned Tillerson for remaining silent about violence against gay and bisexual men in Chechnya.

Advocates fear that Pompeo could up the ante on the Trump-era State Department.

As a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas’ fourth congressional district from 2011 to 2017, Pompeo consistently voted against reproductive rights, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

The Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ hate group that also opposes abortion rights, praised Pompeo’s nomination. Tony Perkins, the organization’s president, called it “a very smart move by President Trump.”

Pompeo’s record on LGTBQ rights, according to a report in the Advocate, includes supporting a precursor to the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a “religious freedom,” or religious imposition, bill. The version that Pompeo backed in 2015 sought to shield people and groups that receive federal funds from penalties for discriminating against LGBTQ people, as Rewire.News reported. Senate Republicans this month reintroduced FADA.

At the State Department, Pompeo could force religious imposition around the world with help from former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Trump’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom. If the U.S. Senate confirms Pompeo, the secretary of state will be the religious imposition ambassador’s boss.

Those who work to advance reproductive health and LGBTQ equality had the opposite reaction.

“As the United States’ chief diplomat, Pompeo will have been given a platform to export this dangerous agenda around the world,” Rebecca Dennis, senior legislative policy analyst for PAI, a reproductive health nongovernmental organization, told Rewire.News.

The day before Tillerson’s ouster, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations’ reproductive health and rights agency, announced that the State Department had decided to withhold its funds for the second year in a row. The Trump State Department claims that UNFPA’s work violated the “Kemp-Kasten Amendment” prohibiting coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization; UNFPA denies it.

As a lawmaker, Pompeo supported federal legislation to defund UNFPA. Sarah Craven, director of UNFPA’s Washington office, encouraged Pompeo to reconsider the organization’s “lifesaving work”—and the department’s decision.

“We’re aware of Mr. Pompeo’s record of opposing funding for UNFPA. But we’re also aware of Mr. Pompeo’s military service and he may be interested that the U.S. Military forces in Iraq, Operation Inherent Resolve, tweeted favorably in January about the work UNFPA does for the health and safety of women in post-ISIS Iraq,” Craven said in a statement to Rewire.News.

“We welcome Mr. Pompeo, in any capacity, to visit ou[r] staff and programs in any of the 155 countries where we work. If he sees the work we do for the health and safety of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, we are confident he will come away a champion of UNFPA.”

GLAAD, an LGBTQ media advocacy organization, has been monitoring Pompeo as part of its Trump Accountability Project. His nomination to the State Department only increased GLAAD’s concern.

“We have already seen a State Department under President Trump that has stayed silent and refused to take necessary steps to combat and condemn the growing epidemic of anti-LGBTQ violence around the world, and now that department will be helmed by someone with an extensive anti-LGBTQ record,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement.

“This extremism should have no place in the U.S. State Department.”

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correctly identify the name of PAI.

For Those Struggling With Endometriosis, the Pain Goes Beyond the Physical

For years, I’d had mystery pain and unruly periods.  But when I started law school at 22, my cramps started coming a full two weeks before my period—they bore through every over-the-counter medication I tried. I was lightheaded constantly.

So, when a doctor first mentioned the possibility that I might have endometriosis, without explaining what that was or what it meant, it was almost a comfort. I finally had a name and a reason behind my symptoms.

But after a quick Google search, that relief gave way to anxiety and fear. Endometriosis is a chronic reproductive health disease that occurs when tissue similar to but not the same as the endometrial lining of the uterus grows where it shouldn’t. Scanning the WebMD page after my appointment, my eyes stopped on one symptom in particular: infertility.

That night, my mom and I were talking about my new potential diagnosis when I broke down in tears.

“The infertility—that’s what scares me,” I said through sobs.

I have always said that marriage is an if for me, but having children is a when; I have always known that no matter what, I would want them. But suddenly, this plan I had for the distant future was right in front of my face. A pit formed in my stomach whenever I entertained the possibility of compromising something I’d always assumed to be a given. It was a set of emotions and anxieties that were completely unfamiliar to me, but that I would later come to realize were much more common than I thought—and that as an endometriosis patient, I was far from alone in having them.

That same year, a doctor recommended I consider removing my ovaries to “treat” my endometriosis. I was in daily, agonizing pain. An ablation surgery and subsequent hormone treatments, which had been promised to provide relief, not only had failed to do so, but only made things worse. My doctor suggested we first wait to see if the current treatment I was on—an incredibly high five milligrams of synthetic progesterone a day—would work. But if it didn’t it, my options were removing my ovaries or Lupron: a drug so strong it is given to sex offenders, sometimes as part of a court order to lower their sex drive.

I was desperate. I remember leaving the hospital that day and telling my mom that I didn’t want to try Lupron; that if the current hormone treatment didn’t work, I wanted to remove my ovaries.

Not long afterward—and by what felt like some divine intervention—I came across a Facebook group run by Nancy Petersen, a nurse who has dedicated her life to providing and fighting for better care for endometriosis patients. There I learned that endometriosis may not be treated or cured with hormones, removing the ovaries, or as so many women are led to believe, through a hysterectomy. While such strategies, like the ones my doctors tried, can sometimes treat endometriosis symptomatically, the disease produces its own estrogen—it can continue to grow in a body without a uterus or where hormones are being chemically suppressed.

On the group, I read about excision surgery, the gold standard in endometriosis care: where the disease is excised or cut out. I learned how patients were finding long-term, even indefinite, relief, many going on to have successful pregnancies, after undergoing the procedure with one of the handful of skilled surgeons in the country that can perform it correctly.

So, I tracked one down and underwent a successful, nearly five-hour excision surgery. My doctor confirmed that the hormones I had been taking to treat my disease were doing nothing of the sort: Lesions continued to grow even in the presence of hormone suppressants, and my reproductive organs had started to fuse as a result. But I was incredibly lucky. He was able to remove all the disease and scar tissue without damage to or loss of my organs, and I’ve been assured my future fertility outcomes will likely not suffer as a result.

But as my physical health recovered, my mental health lagged, and I found myself being triggered by seemingly innocuous remarks about pregnancy, fertility, and reproductive health. A family loudly huddled around a sonogram photo in my OB-GYN’s office sent me into a rage; a humorous comment by a friend about cutting her uterus out when she had bad period cramps made me want to unfollow her on Instagram entirely. I realized that all those nights I stayed up worrying how I would pay for in-vitro fertilization or freezing my eggs, all that anxiety and sadness I felt worrying about never giving my parents grandchildren—it had all taken a toll.

Of course, infertility does not mean that parenthood isn’t possible—I knew adoption was always an option, and have, in fact, always hoped to become a foster parent or adopt when the time was right. But adoption is not the right choice for everyone. And for individuals struggling to get pregnant, or facing the possibility of infertility, that option often does not mitigate the pain or anxieties they live with.

“I Cry a Lot in Public”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 12 percent of women experience some issues with infertility, and between 2011 and 2015 more than seven million women used infertility services. Endometriosis patients struggle with infertility for a number of reasons: Many have had a hysterectomy, or have had their reproductive organs removed after being told by a doctor it would help their pain. Others have had so many failed surgeries with doctors not properly equipped to treat the disease that their reproductive organs are too compromised to successfully get pregnant without IVF, or at all. And many have adenomyosis—a similar but distinct illness where disease is present in the lining of the uterus—for which a hysterectomy is the only curative treatment.

It’s well documented that reproductive health for people with uteruses, and female pain in general, is incredibly stigmatized, mistreated, and underdiagnosed, even within the medical community. People struggling with infertility live at the crossroads of social stigma that disallows honest and open conversations about reproductive health, while at the same time being informed at every turn—whether it be via peers on Facebook, pop culture figures, or just traditional social mores—that the most important thing they can become is a mother. And so many often suffer in silence, feeling as though they are insufficient while at the same time wrestling with the grief of wanting to become pregnant and being unable to do so.

“Whichever way you turn, it seems reproductive health for people who menstruate … is a crapshoot,” Sarah Gay-O’Neill, an illustrator and multimedia artist who recently lost an ovary to endometriosis, told me in an interview. She, along with a number of endometriosis patients, talked with Rewire.News about their experiences with infertility, and the related emotional toll and stigma.

“Despite living in the 21st century, reproductive health for menstruating bodies still feels like the taboo of witchcraft in the 17th century,” she said. “You just simply do not talk about it. It’s a mystery; it’s ‘unclean.'”

Endometriosis does not necessarily mean infertility: Many endometriosis patients can, and do, have successful pregnancies. But accessing proper treatment is crucial to preserving fertility, and for endometriosis patients, that is often an uphill battle. They first have to find a doctor who understands and believes their pain—a process that leaves patients waiting an average of ten years for a diagnosis. After that, they have to wade through an avalanche of misinformation, often perpetuated by doctors using outdated methods to treat the disease, which can do more harm than good.

Rachel Davis, a Massachusetts-based social worker by training, underwent a hysterectomy after being told it would alleviate her endometriosis pain. But the procedure did not provide the relief she was led to believe it would, and she has since required a subsequent excision surgery to properly treat the disease.

“Ever since I was 5 years old, I always wanted to be a mom,” she told Rewire.News. “I used to take basketballs and soccer balls and put them under my shirt pretending I was pregnant.”

“I feel like my life’s purpose has been taken from me,” continued Davis. “As my friends begin to get married and start families, I am grieving.”

Brenna Power, a stay-at-home mom with adenomyosis and endometriosis who has one daughter from a successful round of IVF, said the whole process was “pretty traumatic.”

“I started questioning what I wanted to do with my life if I never had children,” she said. “Would it be enough … my father passed away right before we started treatment and I found myself wondering what would happen if I never had kids. I felt like my life would have been invisible. I felt invisible.”

Stacy Bauer, a paralegal with endometriosis and adenomyosis, has not had a successful pregnancy; she cannot afford IVF. She was pregnant once, but a few weeks after finding out, she was told she was experiencing a “tubal pregnancy,” where the fetus grows not in the uterus, but in the fallopian tubes. As a result, she had to terminate the pregnancy.

“I went into a deep depression,” she said, about the aftermath of losing her pregnancy. “I couldn’t eat, sleep, talk to anyone, I contemplated suicide.”

Infertility patients say that the pressure to have biological children isn’t just internalized—everyday people can trigger anxiety and grieving too with seemingly innocuous questions.

Davis, for example, explains that because of ongoing comorbid pelvic pain generators she experiences what’s called “endo belly”—significant bloat that causes her to sometimes look “five months pregnant.” She says as a result, people often ask her if she’s expecting. “That question really stings.”

Elizabeth, a designer who requested that Rewire.News use a pseudonym for her, has struggled with endometriosis since she was 14. She believes her endometriosis is too advanced to have success with IVF, which she says would also not be financially viable for her. She says the process of trying to become pregnant, and being told by doctors it is unlikely she would have a successful pregnancy, has been exhausting and depressing, and triggers are everywhere. She said that mothers often ask whether she’s considered IVF, or surrogacy, “as though I could somehow make it to this point without being aware there are other ways to make a family.”

“Many take it upon themselves to convince me that giving up is the worst possible choice I could make, and that having a baby should be pursued at all costs, regardless of the risks, because I will regret it. Others try to empathize, by comparing the pain of endometriosis to the pain of child care: a sort of pain Olympics if you will,” she continued.

She says everyone—from cab drivers, to family members at weddings—pose probing questions about her “ticking [biological] clock.”

“It happens in grocery store lines, on public transit, sitting on a park bench,” she said. “I cry in public a lot, as a result.”

Nicole Price, a hairdresser who has been diagnosed with both adenomyosis and endometriosis, has undergone fertility testing and considered a hysterectomy to treat the former. She talked to Rewire.News about related discord between her and her family.

“The worst part is that my extended family pretty much does not see me as an adult because I am unmarried with no children,” she said. “They leave me out of certain conversations … and have made comments in the past stating that I don’t need to be a part of things or shouldn’t have an opinion over what matters because I’m just me.”

She also says social media compounds the sadness she feels about her struggle with infertility.

“The other part for me that is the hardest is birth announcements on social media. I started unfollowing people,” she said. “While I’m happy for them, sometimes it’s just too hard to watch.”

Dr. Michael D. Fox, a fertility specialist says infertility takes a significant emotional toll on couples as well.

“Women and couples feel somehow defective, or less of a woman or man when their roles as parents are not fulfilled in a timely or normal fashion. People turn inward and become less social. They are devastated by family and friends who are becoming pregnant … as family and friends they desperately want to be supportive, yet they are torn apart by the way society puts reproduction in your face at every turn.”

He says these couples “desperately” need allies—friends and loved ones with whom they can talk to and confide in. Others, he says, need to consider the way they talk about these issues—that they should never joke to couples struggling with infertility about how children drive them crazy or jokingly offer up one of their own children. He says he hears from his patients all the time that these kinds of comments are all too common, and incredibly devastating.

Jordan Davidson, the editorial director of News and Lifestyle at the Mighty—a website that covers issues related to disability, disease, and mental health—says that the way fertility and pregnancy are talked about on social media can be triggering for those struggling with it, and suggests people be cognizant of that before they post.

“If you care about the well-being of your friend, and you know that your friend is going through a difficult time, instead of having them do the legwork of having to screen their social media experience, try and do that for them,” she said. “And try and do that for them in real life too.”

Whether it’s sharing ultrasound photos on Facebook, or inviting friends to a baby shower, Davidson says to acknowledge what your friend is going through—tell them you understand if they can’t come to the baby shower, so they know they’re supported and understood. She suggests considering blocking your friend who you know is struggling with infertility from seeing those social media posts and says it’s also important to consider how we talk about pregnancy and parenting in front of people struggling with it. Think about how saying things like, “Pregnancy is the most meaningful thing you can do” or “There’s nothing like being pregnant,” might feel to someone reading it who knows that can never happen for them, she advises.

“It’s difficult for a lot of people going through infertility to have their pain feel valid, so be proactive,” she said.

What About Those Who Don’t Want to Become Parents?

Meanwhile, it’s also important to remember that endometriosis patients often aren’t given a choice of whether to think about their fertility. Even patients who don’t want to become parents experience constant societal and medical pressure to define themselves by their reproductive choices, and to constantly consider and prioritize those outcomes, whether they want to become a parent or not.

Of endometriosis patients specifically, Davidson said, “There’s no way to treat endometriosis without thinking about your reproductive future.”

Abby Norman, founder of Ask Me About My Uterus, and author of the new book by the same name, says she experienced this firsthand. She says even early on, before fertility was even on her radar, it became part of the conversations about her treatment.

“At 19, it was really hard to be having these conversations, when I had no idea what kind of life I wanted and whether or not that included children,” she told Rewire.News.

Norman, who lives with endometriosis and a number of related illnesses, said fertility has never been her top priority: “What was important to me, and still is, has not necessarily been in the realm of fertility.”

She said when she underwent her first surgery, a massive endometrium was found on her left fallopian tube that had displaced her ovary. Instead of removing it, though, her surgeon, who she suspects did not have the skill to properly treat the disease, wrapped it in surgical mesh.

“I was really upset when she hadn’t taken it out,” Norman said. “She said, ‘Well it could have impacted your fertility.'”

She says when she asked if the surgery would alleviate her pain, her doctor was unsure; it did not do so. In fact, the illness and pain have impacted much of Norman’s life. She has gastrointestinal issues that have greatly impacted her diet; she has had to give up dance, which she went to school for. She says all of her sexual experiences have been colored by her illness, and the isolation, sheer debt, and depression of living with chronic illness weigh heavy. She remembers becoming frustrated when she had a serious boyfriend with whom she couldn’t have penetrative sex.

“I just kept asking doctors, ‘Why do you keep asking about this? Why does fertility have to be my biggest concern when I can’t even have sex in a way that would get me pregnant?”

She says her overall quality of life suffered at the expense of her fertility, and she feels she never really had a say in that.

“It’s been that way since the beginning,” she said.

We live in a dichotomy: a society in which the pain and grief of infertility patients is stigmatized, largely because it exists under the umbrella of reproductive health and female pain, an issue already fraught with mistreatment and shame. At the same time, the roles of parenthood and pregnancy are elevated to the highest visibility and importance. On an interpersonal level, this manifests as a simple question about when a newly married couple plans to have children. On a more nuanced level, though: The way society still designates motherhood as a necessary role for someone assigned female at birth creates a culture where pregnancy is a given. This leaves those who struggle with infertility feeling like an outlier, even a failure.

And so, while an immense amount of pressure is put on people who can become pregnant to do so, at the same time, their suffering when they want to and cannot is diminished. By failing to recognize the pervasiveness and the pain of these experiences, we overlook the ways in which everyday conversations or social norms are triggering.

It’s important to remember, then, that everything from asking a friend or co-worker when they’re going to start a family, to making a casual joke about not wanting a uterus because your period cramps are hard, can cause someone pain. One in eight couples experience infertility, and the conversations we have about parenting and pregnancy must include their needs and their experiences. At the same time, we need to reconsider the way we frame motherhood and gender roles so those who choose not to or who cannot become pregnant can live without shame or stigma.

In Fight Against Abortion Rights, Fetuses Could Soon Have Legal Standing in Indiana

The Republican-held Indiana legislature last week approved final passage of bill that would allow a anyone who causes the death of a pregnant person to be charged for the death of her fetus. Reproductive rights advocates charge this continues the trend of criminalizing pregnant people for negative pregnancy outcomes.

SB 203, sponsored by state Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis), provides that the crimes of murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and feticide, may be committed against a fetus in any stage of development.

Prosecutors under current state law are permitted to file charges if the fetus had attained viability.

Thirty-eight states allow a person to be charged with homicide if they are alleged to be responsible for the unlawful death of a fetus, and at least 23 states have fetal homicide laws that apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This year lawmakers in 15 states have introduced fetal homicide bills: Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told Rewire.News that fetal homicide laws are intentionally drafted to curtail reproductive rights. “They are attempting to create a legal framework that could be used to support a rollback of abortion rights—by essentially giving a fetus legal standing,” Nash said. “That is incredibly important if you’re trying to protect abortion rights.”

These laws have been used to prosecute people for negative pregnancy outcomes. The GOP legislation comes in the wake the prosecution of Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman who was convicted of feticide and felony neglect of a dependent for a self-induced abortion and sentenced to 41 years in prisonPatel’s conviction of feticide was later vacated by the Indiana Court of Appeals, and in September 2016, Patel was released from jail after being incarcerated for more than 18 months.

Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel for the SIA Legal Team, told Rewire.News that legislation expanding the definition of a fetal victim to include earlier stages in pregnancy are one of the many tools abortion rights foes deploy in their coordinated effort to establish legal personhood.

“If they are successful in securing the same constitutional rights for a pregnancy as for a pregnant person, they could potentially nullify the right to abortion completely,” Diaz-Tello said.

The bill had broad bipartisan support, and was passed by the senate with a 42-6 vote and passed by the house with a 96-0 vote. The bill has been delivered to Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), who is expected to sign the bill into law. 

There were some lawmakers and reproductive rights advocates who raised concerns about the bill’s unintended consequences.

During a senate committee hearing on the bill, Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) was the only lawmaker to speak out in opposition to the bill, reported the Indianapolis Star.

“If you believe in a woman’s right to choose, there is a distinction between a viable and nonviable fetus,” Lanane said.

Freeman told Indiana Public Radio that the bill is not intended to restrict access to abortion care or target pregnant people who self-induce an abortion. “This bill has nothing to do with two things. One is a woman’s legal right to an abortion,” Freeman said. “And two, it does not have anything to do with a woman who would terminate her own pregnancy.”

Meanwhile, Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, said in a statement that the bill was a “powerful step forward” in laying the legal groundwork to challenge Roe v. Wade.

“We are committed to doubling down on efforts to bring about a majority on the Supreme Court that will strictly interpret the constitution, dismantle Roe, and provide full protection for all unborn children, including those who are targeted for abortion,” Fichter said.

“If proponents’ statements about the bill not having anything to do with abortion were true, then why are abortion opponents celebrating its passage?” Diaz-Tello asked.

Jill Adams, founder and chief strategist of the SIA Legal Team, told Rewire.News that exceptions included in the legislation should protect people who have lost or ended their own pregnancies from arrest and prosecution. “However, overzealous police and prosecutors could ignore the law and criminalize people nevertheless,” Adams said.

Without clear exceptions, bills that expand criminalization of fetal harm have the potential to result in the punishment of people who suffer miscarriages or stillbirths, as well as those who self-manage abortion.

“Sometimes people who end pregnancies outside the formal health-care system rely on loved ones for support during the process,”  Adams said. “These family members and friends could potentially be arrested and prosecuted under these expanded fetal harm laws.”


New Hampshire GOP Legislator Sees Fetus ‘Running,’ ‘Playing,’ in Justifying Anti-Choice Bills (Updated)

UPDATE, March 16, 9:53 a.m.: HB 1787, a religious imposition bill, was defeated on Thursday in a 218-109 vote. The other bills will be considered next week.

“I saw a video of a tiny, tiny, little baby, tiny little baby, running up the uterine wall, playing.” 

That’s how one New Hampshire Republican legislator last month described a sonogram of a fetus the size of a kidney bean.

Rep. Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack) is one of the GOP sponsors of four bills that seek to block or deny access to birth control and abortion services, that reproductive health advocates have deemed “outrageous.” 

By medical standards, a fetus is the size of a bean at eight weeks, long before it has recognizable features like hands and feet. Notter’s description fits a pattern of anti-choice legislators describing fetuses as having the features and abilities of fully-formed people. In 2013, for example, a Texas congressman said abortion care should be outlawed since fetuses can be seen masturbating in the womb. 

Notter made her comments about the “running” fetus last month, during a hearing for a bill to establish fetal viability at eight weeks. The bill has been defeated, but Notter’s comments were captured on video and released last week by Granite State Progress, a New Hampshire-based advocacy organization. 

Representative Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham), an outspoken critic of these anti-choice bills, told Rewire.News that the attacks on reproductive rights have been “relentless and never ending.”

“It’s true, if you’re an American woman, you’ve never lived a day in this country without someone trying to legislate what’s going on with your reproductive system,” Altschiller said. “And usually it’s people who don’t have a uterus, and also don’t have a medical degree.”

That was the case in recent committee hearings where health professionals presented facts to counteract the anti-choice myths perpetrated by these bills and their sponsors, from denying the practice of informed consent to labeling women as “vulnerable persons” who are not able to take care of themselves, she said.

Bill HB 1787 would allow a physician, nurse, or pharmacy employee to refuse to provide contraception or abortion care, mirroring the stance of the Trump administration’s health-care discrimination wing in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“When you read the legislation, it essentially allows this 17-year-old clerk at CVS to claim a right of conscience in not selling one of their peers condoms. It is not just for the pharmacist. It’s for anyone who works at a pharmacy in any capacity,” Altschiller said.

The Republican bill will have a full house vote Thursday, along with HB 1707, which seeks to establish forced 24-hour waiting periods for those seeking abortion care; HB 1721, which would restrict access if a family member can label the pregnant person “vulnerable”; and HB 1680, which would prohibit abortion care after viability without any basis in medical standards.

“In a time when Vice President Mike Pence openly says access to safe, legal abortion will soon end and Governor [Christopher] Sununu is co-hosting fundraisers with him, any attack on women’s reproductive health is a slippery slope back to the days of back alley abortions and limited options for women,” Granite State Progress Executive Director Zandra Rice-Hawkins told Rewire.News in an email.

Sununu’s office did not respond to emails seeking comment. The Republican governor had been openly anti-choice despite New Hampshire being a pro-choice friendly state but has not recently discussed the issue, advocates said.

Passage of these bills would prove disastrous for reproductive health care in New Hampshire, said advocates.

“The anti-choice lobby in DC and New Hampshire have made it clear they are willing to take away not only abortion care, but also contraception coverage to prevent unintended pregnancies to begin with,” Rice-Hawkins told Rewire.News. “This is not about choice, this is about a worldview that puts women back in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. Governor Sununu and state lawmakers have a responsibility to publicly denounce this legislation and make it clear they will not support attacks on women’s reproductive rights.”

Jeanne Hruska, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, told Rewire.News it’s heartening that three of the four anti-choice bills come with negative recommendations in the state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. The house has already defeated two bills this session that would have threatened reproductive rights, including one that would have defined fetal viability at eight weeks.

“These bills do not reflect New Hampshire’s strong history of protecting privacy rights, including women’s reproductive rights,” she said. “We are encouraging legislators to continue to champion women’s rights and to uphold New Hampshire’s commitment to privacy.”

It’s Time to be Honest About Stephen Miller, Whose Radical Vision of U.S. Immigration Is Spreading

It’s not easy to draw a straight line from a policymaker to a hate group when that policymaker is adept at speaking in dog whistles, at using parsed phrases that sound fine to most but serve as a carefully crafted wink of the eye to radicals who speak the language.

Connecting those dots—being able to say that a lawmaker or high-ranking official is espousing the rhetoric of a hate group—is often impossible. One can analyze it all they want, but short attention spans and lack of familiarity with hate group ideology often prove insurmountable in making the connection.

But it’s not hard with Stephen Miller, the 32-year-old senior White House adviser who engineered the Trump administration’s Muslim ban and has used his platform to inject radical white ethno-nationalism into the country’s immigration debate. Recognizing Miller’s echoing of white supremacist talking points and phrasing is more important than ever, now that a White House aide considered a Miller protégé was just appointed to a key State Department post overseeing refugee admissions.

Andrew Veprek’s selection as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is the latest sign that Miller’s anti-immigrant influence has metastasized. In an administration that has seen an exodus of the president’s most trusted advisers, Miller remains—and the way he and his policy prescriptions are discussed have to change if the news-consuming public is going to fully grasp Miller’s radical vision for U.S. immigration.

Veprek, meanwhile, has been a vocal advocate for slashing legal immigration into the United States, Politico reports“My experience is that [Veprek] strongly believes that fewer refugees should [be] admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” a former U.S. official told the publication. 

Miller in August echoed a familiar white nationalist refrain about the poem on the Statue of Libertythe one about “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—being added to the structure well after its construction. Miller’s response to a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta about the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty was straight out of the online white supremacist playbook: 

So the notion that speaking English wouldn’t be a part of immigration systems would be actually very ahistorical. Secondly, I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and light in the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring that was added later is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty. 

Peruse any corner of the white power internet and you’ll find this fact trumpeted time and again, (though the history of Emma Lazurus’ famous poem is, of course, far more nuanced than Miller’s version). The poem was written by a Jew, they shout. The statue has nothing to do with immigration, they charge, and the United States should not be interested in anyone’s “wretched refuse” of humanity seeking relief.

David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan and avid supporter of President Trump,  harps on the Statue of Liberty’s poem, The New Colossus, in his book, Jewish Supremacism. Inviting the huddled masses to the shores of the United States, Duke writes, is part of a grand conspiracy to unleash “demographic Armageddon” on unsuspecting white folks in the United States. Duke believes Lazarus, in writing her famous poem, longed to make the United States a “refuge for the castoffs of the world,” somehow weakening its institutions and destroying what he calls the nation’s European-American heritage.

People posting on far-right white nationalist message boards take every opportunity to smear Lazarus and decry her poem as an attempt to transform the United States into a dumping station for undeveloped countries (or as the president might say, “shithole” countries). And yes, that media-savvy white supremacist, Richard Spencer, was giddy about Miller’s remarks on Lady Liberty’s poem, reportedly declaring the surreal August presser “a triumph.”

Spencer became friends with Miller when they attended Duke University, where they fundraised and promoted an immigration debate with famed white nationalist Peter Brimelow, Mother Jones reported. Miller, of course, denies having had a relationship with Spencer before the latter became known as the guy who got cold-cocked during a TV interview.

Miller’s influence—and extremism—is seen in Trump administration officials’ flippant use of the term “globalist,” a racist dog whistle term used to smear Jewish people as disloyal to a nation. The president laughingly used the term to describe his outgoing chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, who is Jewish. Miller has long dismissed the idea that the United States should embrace membership of a global community, preferring instead who he calls the “real flesh-and-blood citizens who together create this body politic, this nation, this home, represented by that flag.”

Scroll through a recently leaked white supremacist message board and you’ll find dozens of references to “globalists” who stand in the way of achieving a nationalist utopia through a wide-ranging ethnic cleansing agenda. The term is often couched in racism and violence against political opponents.

Miller has also deployed the term “cosmopolitan,” which seems exceedingly innocent to the untrained ear, but is, in fact, an egregious wink and a nod to white supremacists everywhere. The term is used to label the “other,” the internationalist who undermines the ultra-nationalist project. “‘Cosmopolitans’ tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with ‘untraditional’ ideas and lives,” Jeff Greenfield wrote for Politico. There “is no evading the unhappy reality that to label someone a ‘cosmopolitan’ carries with it a clear implication that there is something less patriotic, less loyal … someone who is not a ‘real American.’”

The term was weaponized against vulnerable people in both Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, labeling them as rootless and not part of the legitimate citizenry. White supremacists today use “cosmopolitan” as a slur. Miller’s denouncement of political opponents as “cosmopolitan” is no coincidence.

Miller’s white supremacist rhetoric has hardly gone unnoticed by those who understand his sly usage of the parlance. Seventeen Jewish groups in February released an open letter calling for the Trump White House to fire Miller. “Miller was a frequent warm-up act at Trump’s campaign rallies,” the letter says, “revving up the crowd by invoking the image of immigrants as criminals.” Miller, the Jewish groups wrote, has played a key role in changing the “nation’s entire immigration system from one based on family unification to one based on speaking English and being light-skinned.”

The calls to remove Miller from his White House perch have come from congressional leaders too. The heads of the Hispanic, Asian, Black, and progressive caucuses demanded the president fire Miller and former White House advisers and white supremacists Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon after a white supremacist allegedly killed counter-protester Heather Heyer at an August 12 hate rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Miller, the congressional leaders wrote, “has a long history of both denying systemic racism and promoting multicultural segregation.”

Some in the national media have noted that Miller, a one-time ally of the since-dispatched Bannon, has migrated to what’s known as the Ivanka-Jared power axis. This suggests that Miller is part of a reasonable wing of the White House not linked to horrors cooked up by neo-Nazi internet trolls. But we know about Miller’s background and the rotten politics of hate in which he has participated. Pretending Miller has moderated his policy stances based on shifting alliances within a tumultuous administration is nonsensical at best, and dishonest at worst.

Dubbing Miller nothing more than a senior White House adviser doesn’t tell the whole story to the public. Miller’s naked espousing of white power ideology and his links to the hate movement should be mentioned in every story on Miller and his role in the Trump administration. This is not normal, as the cable news talking heads are so wont to say, so media outlets must adjust how they operate to fit this abnormal era. Omitting Miller’s background and well-documented ideology should be considered an egregious error.

It’s high time to write and speak honestly about Miller, who has an outsized role in shaping U.S. policy. No more sugarcoating: He’s a mouthpiece for white supremacist radicals, he has the ear of the president, and his influence is spreading throughout the federal government.

North Carolina Has a Policy Against Shackling Prisoners Giving Birth—So Why Is It Still Happening?

What should have been joyous occasions for two expecting parents in North Carolina instead turned into an ordeal involving handcuffs, restraints, and a refusal to recognize birthing as a medically significant process that also carries unexpected risks and dangers.

Why? Because these two people giving birth were under the custody of North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety, which operates the state’s prison system. The Department has had a policy prohibiting the use of restraints during childbirth since 2015.

And yet, the two still had to undergo labor in January while restrained.

On two separate days, the individuals incarcerated at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women (NCCIW) were brought to the local hospital to give birth. They were restrained throughout their labor.

Medical staff asked the accompanying officers to remove the restraints. The officers refused. When medical staff referred to the Department’s policy prohibiting restraints during labor, officers told them that the department defined labor as actual pushing.

North Carolina does not have legislation restricting shackling during pregnancy. What it does have is a 2015 policy, one that is vague enough that officers can—and, in at least these two instances, did—define as they see fit. The lack of clear policy means that countless people face the possibility of giving birth in some form of restraints. In 2017, 81 people in North Carolina gave birth while incarcerated. According to Pamela Walker, spokesperson for North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety, 50 pregnant people are currently incarcerated in North Carolina’s state prisons.

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety has not yet answered Rewire.News‘ questions about this policy or about the January incidents.

Across the nation, jail and prison staff routinely shackle people whenever they are taken out of the facility, a practice commonly known as shackling. In most cases, shackling involves not only handcuffs, but also leg irons and a heavy chain looped around the belly. Chains attach the handcuffs, the belly chain, and the leg iron, leaving little ability for movement.

Restraining a person during pregnancy has many medical risks. It can increase the person’s risk of falling, causing injury to the fetus. It also heightens the risk of blood clots, which is a major cause of maternal death. Restraints can also delay access to medical treatment during an emergency. Medical professionals and organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association and the American College of Nurse-Midwives, have publicly condemned shackling pregnant people during labor and delivery as unsafe and dangerous.

Twenty-two states currently have laws that prohibit the shackling of pregnant prisoners during labor, delivery, or postpartum recovery. (Lawmakers in Kentucky and Connecticut are now considering anti-shackling bills.) Several state laws extend the prohibition to the second or third trimester of pregnancy. However, as people who have given birth behind bars in New York and Massachusetts can attest, laws on paper are not always put into practice. But in states that lack legislation, there is little recourse to either learning more about the pervasiveness of the problem or pressuring correctional staff to keep handcuffs and chains off people in labor.

In North Carolina, health-care workers later alerted SisterSong and Forward Justice, advocacy organizations that work around reproductive, racial, and economic justice. Alarmed, advocates wrote to both Erik A. Hooks, the head of the Department of Public Safety, and the department’s medical director, Dr. Armayne Dunston, outlining their concerns, the medical implications of shackling during childbirth, and how shackling could not only violate a person’s constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, but also their human rights under the United Nations. They received a response from the department’s assistant counsel acknowledging their letters and stating that department officials would be making revisions to the policy.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, prison officials are currently consulting with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (which banned shackling during labor and delivery in 2008 and has control over federal prisons but no control over state ones), the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and the American Correctional Association to help develop a revised policy. However, advocates’ repeated requests to be part of the policy revision process or to meet with Department officials have been denied.

Alongside this effort, advocates have formed a coalition to help stop shackling—and to address other prenatal and reproductive issues facing people in prison, beyond policy and legislative change.

“The policy win is only one step,” reflected Omisade Burney-Scott of SisterSong, which is taking the lead on the anti-shackling campaign, in a phone interview with Rewire.News. “You have to have implementation and monitoring and accountability. You can never rest on policy change as the end of the process. We’ve learned that with voting rights and with reproductive rights.”

“Experience teaches us that policy change on paper isn’t going to mean anything,” added Nia Wilson. Wilson is the co-director of SpiritHouse, a grassroots organization led by Black women, which has long worked around issues of mass incarceration, policing, and abolition in North Carolina. “The interpretation of the policy that exists is left up to them,” she reminded Rewire.News.

At the same time, Burney-Scott and Wilson know that shackling is only one of many concerns facing pregnant people in state prisons. “What do they have access to eat? What is their medical care? Do they have access to prenatal vitamins?” asked Burney-Scott. “We don’t know these things.”

Miea Walker spent four years at NCCIW (followed by another five years at the minimum-security Raleigh Correctional Center for Women, which has since merged with NCCIW). Though she was never pregnant while behind bars, she spent her first weeks in the prison’s reception area with pregnant people. Her bunkmate was pregnant and gave birth while Walker was her roommate.

In the prison’s reception unit, everyone was required to wake at 4:30 for breakfast, Walker said. After breakfast, women returned to their housing units where they were required to clean the living areas, bathrooms and bunk areas. “You could not lay down until 2 or 3 o’clock that day,” she told Rewire.News. “Remember, we’d have been up since 4:30.”

Pregnant women, including her bunkmate, were exempt from the prohibition against resting until mid-afternoon. They were also given extra food and extra milk. But, Walker added, as soon as they gave birth, they were immediately subject to the same taxing manual labor and lack of rest as everyone else. In addition, they had to contend with the abrupt separation from their newborn, a separation for which she never saw the prison offer counseling or support services.

Walker remembers being surprised when her roommate returned to the prison less than 72 hours after she was taken to the hospital to give birth. “It was very painful for her,” she recalled. “You’re incarcerated and have to deal with not being with your child day to day.” Shortly after giving birth, that roommate was transferred to another part of the prison. Walker recalled that some of the pregnant women in that dorm had been sentenced to prison terms as short as 90 days to one year.

Furthermore, both Walker and Burney-Scott note that, like everything pertaining to mass incarceration, these policies have a greater impact on people of color. “We know that people of color are disproportionately incarcerated,” pointed out Burney-Scott. In 2016, Black people made up 22 percent of North Carolina’s population but, inside its prisons, they were nearly half the population.

“Of the people who are pregnant [in prison], how many are people of color?” asked Burney-Scott.

In addition, throughout her interview with Rewire.News, Burney-Scott pointed out several times that not every person in a women’s prison identifies as a woman. But, she continued, how does the prison treat trans and/or gender non-conforming pregnant people? “We don’t know what that looks like in a prison.”

Walker now works as an advocate with Forward Justice. Reflecting on her years inside—and the invisibility of pregnancy behind bars during those nine years—she remembers, “It was never spoken about. I can’t give you one sister who spoke about what happened—giving birth, being shackled, having less than 72 hours before having to give her baby up.” In addition, the women inside often felt powerless and invisible, not only around pregnancy and birth, but about all of the other issues they encountered while incarcerated. “No one cares once you are fingerprinted, once you have a number. That’s what you’re labeled as.”

That’s what organizers want to change. As part of SisterSong’s anti-shackling campaign, they’re embarking on a storytelling project to identify and collect stories from people who have been either formerly incarcerated or employed at NCCIW.  Their goal is to increase public awareness and education around the Department’s practice and policy around shackling during pregnancy. “Our ultimate goal is a policy shift and a revision to the policy that is reflective of what we consider a human rights and reproductive justice framework and, of course, a high standard of medical care,” said Burney-Scott.

How the Current White House Is Harming Asian-American Communities

Current White House policies and rhetoric are harming Asian-American communities in a multitude of ways. President Donald Trump’s suggestion, for example, that Asian immigrants are more desirable than others perpetuates the idea that our communities are beneficial to society only when they are the “model minority,” or as the Atlantic’s Adia Harvey Wingfield defined it, “a group whose hard work, initiative, personal responsibility, and success offer proof that American meritocracy works as intended.” Despite its seemingly complimentary connotation, the label is reductive and keeps communities from reaching their full potential.

Asian-Americans have tried to shift policymaking in the White House to more accurately reflect the needs of their communities, but they’ve unfortunately been met with challenges from the current administration. Last year, two-thirds of the president’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders resigned amid an increase in rhetoric and policy proposals that were antithetical to the stances of the commission’s respective communities.

Among the committee’s concerns was opposition against President Trump’s proposals to limit the number of federal resources being funneled into sanctuary cities across the nation. There was also opposition against the repealing of the Affordable Care Act, which has been shown to benefit communities of color, including Asian-Americans.

Rejecting the proposals of Asian-Americans in politics maintains the status quo and fuels the notion that the community is reliable and hard-working, yet voiceless (thus a “model minority”). This notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Public figures like New York Times op-ed writer Wajahat Ali and CNN Contributor Jeff Yang are challenging the model-minority stereotype on behalf of their communities, using their platforms to address concerns like immigration reform and lack of racial diversity in politics.

If the ideas of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities continue to be rejected in the White House, the president will have failed to demonstrate these needs are important. Further, if the White House continues to overlook these concerns, it will serve as a model for the way people of color are treated by their white counterparts in everyday life.

Research compiled in 2014 confirms that 37 percent of Asian-American families identify school bullying by white people as “a very serious problem,” with the problem being most significant in the South Asian community. (I can attest to this myself: As a kid, I was constantly told that I smelled like curry, and to “go back” to my own country, despite being born and raised in New York).

The bullying isn’t confined to schools, though. Just in February, three hate crimes against members of the Sikh American community occurred in three different states across the nation. The crimes involved the shooting, killing, and holding at gunpoint of Asian-Americans by non-people of color. In fact, Asian-Americans—currently the fastest-growing community in the country—are experiencing a rise in hate crimes, which have been linked to the Trump era.

“It’s become impossible to say, as a member of the federal government, ‘I encourage you to report hate crimes and bullying to the government because we’re here to help you,’ when in fact this administration does not seem to have made that a priority,” actor and former committee member Maulik Pancholy told NBC News.

Unfortunately, evidence shows there is little public access to mental health services for Asian-Americans. Aside from the fact that they are bullied due to their skin color and religious garb, being seen as the “model minority” comes with dire consequences, including the nearly insurmountable societal pressure placed on adolescents to succeed academically and financially.

Some Asian-Americans do ultimately give in to such pressure. Pushed to pursue “acceptable,” high-achieving jobs, they become medical professionals, software developers, engineers, and scientists, making them among the highest earning demographic of any in the country. But it is because Asian-Americans are both among the highest and lowest earners in the country that they need access to mental health services, like other communities of color.

There is, however, a large cultural stigma attached to receiving treatment for mental health among AAPI communities. And not only that: Schoolteachers may be more likely to ignore Asian-Americans in classroom settings. Because of the model minority stereotype, teachers may make assumptions about their performance and what their needs might be. In turn, these assumptions discourage Asian-American students to seek the help they might need to succeed healthily.

For a few reasons, pro-immigrant rhetoric in the White House, along with the elimination of anti-immigrant rhetoric, is needed now more than ever. Positive Asian-American representation must start at the top to truly shift culture on this issue. Specifically, the current administration must provide more funding to effectively disaggregate research on AAPI communities to understand how policymaking influences their professional trajectories.

During the Obama era, the administration launched the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Data Disaggregation Initiative, which sought to better understand the disparities among this vast population. However, there has yet to be any real progress made on representation of all subcommunities. Current data does not accurately reflect the “many voices and experiences” of all AAPI communities, which continues to hinder them from receiving the resources they need to succeed. For example, as Sefa Aina, who served on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, explained in a 2012 blog post, “only 13 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 25 years of age and older have a bachelor’s degree.” Aina further explained:

While at UCLA, I was fortunate to work with a group of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) students who took it upon themselves to create a tutoring and mentoring program for NHPI high school youth in Los Angeles called PIER (Pacific Islander Education and Retention). Falling under the larger AAPI umbrella and the pervasiveness of the model minority myth, it was difficult for these NHPI students to advocate for resources to support PIER. Through their persistence they not only secured that support, but PIER joined with other Asian American student leaders at UCLA and created the successful “Count Me In” campaign which lobbied the University of California system to disaggregate their AAPI data.

The White House should also radically change its rhetoric to focus more on dismantling the “model minority” myth, by pushing for an expansion of mental health services and anti-bullying resources, along with advocating for workplace diversity. In particular, more diversity in media would mean that Asian-Americans would hear and see more people who look like them, which could ultimately help raise their self-esteem, and possibly even curtail bullying, as more people become comfortable with communities unlike their own.

Shifting our culture in this way would ensure that all Asian-Americans have equal rights and opportunities, which would lead to increased diversity overall and benefit everyone. A more diverse White House staff, for example, would help to increase perspectives on the best plan for improving the experiences of all people in the United States. And a more diverse workplace would lead to a better understanding of Asian-Americans among non Asian-Americans, which could have the added benefit of people diversifying their circle of friends, co-workers, and romantic partners, leading to the radical integration of communities our society needs.

Salvadoran Woman, One of ‘Las 17,’ Freed After Spending 15 Years Behind Bars Following a Miscarriage

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín, who was convicted of aggravated homicide after a miscarriage in 2003, was freed from prison in El Salvador on Tuesday after her 30-year sentence was commuted to 15 years. Figueroa is one of the “Las 17,” a group of Salvadoran women imprisoned following obstetric emergencies with sentences of up to 40 years.

“I’m so happy to be free and with my family. We need to keep fighting so all the other women can be freed, too,” Figueroa told Rewire.News on Wednesday.

The conviction itself still stands. The 2017 decision of the Supreme Court of Justice in El Salvador took into account the extreme poverty in which she lived and the fact that she was pre-literate when the events occurred in 2003.

Figueroa’s story is similar to many other women still behind bars in the country. At the age of 19, Figueroa experienced a miscarriage in the home where she was employed as a domestic worker. She hemorrhaged heavily, and her employer took her to a public hospital. There, she was accused of having provoked an abortion—illegal in all cases in El Salvador—but because the pregnancy had advanced beyond 20 weeks, the charges were amended to aggravated homicide. She was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The local activist organization Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) became involved in her case in 2013. She was one of the women for whom the Agrupación requested pardons in 2014; only two were granted. Figueroa’s was not among them.

In January 2017, the Agrupación presented the petition for commutation of sentence to the Minister of Justice, arguing that in her original trial, “her version of the events was never heard and her right to a presumption of innocence was not respected due to patriarchal prejudices and [prejudices based on] the current legislation that criminalizes all forms of abortion, including therapeutic and ethical.”

The petition described how “Maira did not have an adequate defense since in the initial hearing the assigned lawyer abandoned the courtroom, and Maira had to testify without his presence.” A new defense lawyer was named the same day, the petition noted, further violating her right to an adequate defense.

As with many other women, the Agrupación alleged, “the prosecutor did not comply with the principle of impartiality established under Salvadoran law, which requires that in criminal cases the prosecutor must investigate not only the facts and circumstances that prove the responsibility of the accused, but also those that exempt, extinguish or attenuate the accused.”

According to the Agrupación, Figueroa “was convicted without direct proof, only by speculation, as affirmed by the statement of the trial court, which said that although there was no direct proof, ‘there exist demonstrated facts that if taken together can lead to a conclusion.'”

As the Agrupación and other allied groups celebrate Figueroa’s freedom, they continue to fight for the liberation of the more than 20 other women who remain imprisoned under circumstances similar to Figueroa’s. They also continue to fight to change the absolute ban on abortion.

In 2015, the Agrupación and the Center for Reproductive Rights presented the cases of Figueroa and eight other women before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for violations of their rights. Those violations of rights, as the Agrupación said in a statement, included “the right to due process, the right to health, and the right to non-discrimination.”

The case before the IACHR asks for structural changes to El Salvador’s law and practices, in order to guarantee “there will not be a repetition of the conditions that led to these situations.” The IACHR has not yet issued a ruling.

Although Figueroa and the others were not convicted of abortion, the ban and the prejudices that accompany it form part of the social fabric that allow these cases to exist.

“El Salvador’s total abortion ban is causing pain and suffering to countless women and girls and their families and clearly violates their human rights. El Salvador must decriminalize abortion without delay, and immediately and unconditionally release all women and girls imprisoned for having had an abortion or having suffered obstetric emergencies,” said Amnesty International in a statement.

The next few weeks are critical because on May 1, the newly elected and much more conservative legislature will be sworn in. Any window for change that exists will shrink to a sliver.

Meanwhile, while Figueroa is excited about leaving the Ilopango Women’s Prison, she feels “nerves” about finding a job after spending more than a decade behind bars. Upon her release, she met with her friend Teodora Vasquez, another member of Las 17, who was freed with a commutation of sentence on February 15. They told Rewire.News they had always hoped to be freed at the same time in order to support each other through the transition.

“We know some people discriminate against us on the outside,” said Figueroa.

Finding Little Help From the Federal Government, Tribes Are Making Their Own Ways to Fight Trafficking

Frustrated with the slow response of federal, state, and county law enforcement agencies to the devastating toll of sex trafficking in their communities, several Native tribes are addressing the problem for themselves.

“The U.S. government has forgotten about us for centuries. We are always last on the list when it comes to funding. Why should we wait for them to help us?“ asked Mike Diver, interim chief of the Fond du Lac tribal police department in Minnesota.

Diver made the remarks during a presentation at a January conference against sex trafficking in Indian Country held in Palm Springs, California. Coordinated by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Violence Against Women, the meeting was the first national DOJ conference on sex trafficking in Indian Country, according to the DOJ in response to an email from Rewire.News.

Diver and fellow Fond du Lac police officer Kelly Haffield presented information at the conference about the new Minnesota tribal sex trafficking coalition, Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking (TRUST), comprised of representatives from the 11 Minnesota tribes.

Supported by a two-year grant from the Minnesota Department of Health, TRUST members are working on training tribal police, casino surveillance staff, and staff at local hotels to recognize instances of sex trafficking and help tribes create a coordinated method of responding to the crime and helping victims. Haffield serves as Fond du Lac’s representative with the TRUST coalition.

Accurate data about rates of sex trafficking in Indian Country is difficult to come by. The DOJ recently came under fire during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for its failure to collect data about this activity.

A March 2017 Government Accountability Office report about action needed to identify numbers of sex trafficking victims found that there were 14 investigations and only two federal prosecutions of sex trafficking in Indian Country between 2013 and 2016. The authors noted that this data fails to reflect the actual numbers of sex trafficking victims.

Haffield and others in tribal law enforcement say the 2016 findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) are better indicators of the numbers of victims of sex trafficking in Indian Country. “People are more likely to respond truthfully to a survey than during a police investigation,” noted Haffield. She explained that if people are not under the threat of criminal charges, they are less likely to withhold information.

NIJ’s 2016 report found that 84.3 percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetimes. Over 56 percent are victims of sexual violence, and 96 percent of these victims experienced violence by non-Native perpetrators. Haffield noted that trafficking victims frequently fall into the victims of violence categories cited in the NIJ report.

TRUST coalition members are in the early stages of creating a unified response to sex trafficking in their communities. Although coalition members have yet to discuss enacting tribal laws, tribes have the option of writing their own law codes specifically addressing trafficking.

To date, four tribes—the Snoqualmie Tribe in Washington, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation in North Dakota, the Fort Peck Tribes of the Assiniboine and Sioux in Montana, and the Navajo Nation of Arizona and New Mexico—are known to have passed their own laws prohibiting sex trafficking on their reservations.

The Navajo Nation passed their human trafficking law in August 2017. Nathaniel Brown, Navajo tribal council delegate, first introduced the legislation to the Navajo tribe in April 2017 after attending a conference with several other Arizona tribes coordinated by the Arizona Governor’s office.

“I saw that we have a breeding ground on Navajo for this crime. We have high rates of poverty, sexual violence, and drugs. Many of our people go missing. What we didn’t have was a word to describe sex trafficking,” Brown said.

“We are hearing stories in our communities about gang activity. Some Navajo people have come forward with stories about being taken by sex traffickers,” he added.

At first, leaders were reluctant to believe that sex trafficking was occurring on the Navajo reservation, explained Brown.

“Members of the Navajo Law and Order Committee told us since we had no data, the crime didn’t exist. So the law was rejected,” Brown said.

Brown went back to meet with members of the Sexual Assault Prevention Subcommittee. “We put our heads together with Eric Gale of the Navajo Department of Social Services,” Brown said.

“Eric helped us explain [to the Law and Order Committee] that we don’t know how many cases of sex trafficking aren’t being reported and we currently have no way to collect or compile data,” Brown noted.

In August 2017, Navajo President Russell Begaye signed the Navajo Nation law against human trafficking. The law expressly criminalizes traffickers and creates a category under which to gather data relating to trafficking. In the past, trafficking activities may have been included under arrests or investigations of prostitution or sexual abuse. To date, there have been no arrests under the sex trafficking law.

According to Brown, the Nation intends to use the law to charge non-Native people who may be engaged in sex trafficking on the reservation.

If used to charge and prosecute non-Natives, this law presents a direct challenge to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Oliphant v. Suquamish, in which tribes lost the authority to prosecute non-Natives in Indian Country. No tribe has yet successfully overturned the Oliphant v. Suquamish decision. The Navajo are clearly taking a national stand.

“We are a sovereign nation. We will continue to fight against these outdated laws made by non-Native people. We want to make our laws more powerful to help Native people,” Brown stated.

In an emailed response to questions from Rewire.News about the Navajo Nation’s intent to prosecute non-Natives under the new law, Wyn Hornbuckle, deputy director of the DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs, wrote, “Regarding the Navajo Nation, we’re aware of the report and will decline to comment at this time.”

It’s clear, however, that tribes are not waiting for permission from the federal government to move forward in protecting their members.

Speaking Out to Help Others

Deanndra Yazzie, 19, of the Navajo or Dine’ tribe described via telephone interview with Rewire.News her ordeal when she was lured into the car of an alleged serial rapist in December 2017. The man, who allegedly kidnapped and assaulted her for several days, told her he was going to force her into sex trafficking, Yazzie said.

After Yazzie moved to Phoenix from the town of Chinle, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation, she lost her job and struggled with drug use. She was homeless when some non-Native women she thought were friends invited her to join them on a trip to the grocery store in the car of a man who was a stranger to Yazzie.

The car stopped abruptly and the friends jumped out. One said to her as she exited, “Hey, you’re a pretty girl; you should talk him into giving you some money.”

Suddenly Yazzie was alone with the man, who locked the doors. Tightening her seat belt, he pulled out a gun and pointed it at her head, she said. “If you try anything I’m going to kill you,” he told her, Yazzie recalled.

For the next 48 hours, the man kept her locked in his home where he alternately beat and raped her, she said, sometimes burning her with a meth pipe. Yazzie said he injected her with drugs to keep her quiet and told her of his plans to traffic her out to others for money.

When he spoke of driving to the store, she convinced him to take her along. The moment he took his eyes away, she jumped out of the car and rushed into a convenience store screaming for the clerk to call the police. Frightened, the man drove away.

Although the clerk ignored her pleas to call police, she made her way to a friend’s house. Later police tracked her down and took her report. Police arrested and charged 33-year-old Jonathan Rouzan, accusing him of kidnapping, burning, and assaulting Yazzie, as well as three other women in separate incidents.

“I had really bad PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] after the attack and started using heroin heavy,” she said. Eventually, finding herself sick with no money to buy more drugs, she walked to a local hospital and went into the detox unit.

“I’m going to counseling now and doing better,” she said.

Yazzie told Rewire.News that she is speaking out publicly about her ordeal to help others. “No one wants to talk to the police; they call you a snitch if you do,” Yazzie said.

She has shared her story with other media, including the Navajo Times.

“In the Navajo tradition, women are supposed to be private. Talking about something like this is seen as flaunting yourself,” she said. But each time she tells her story she grows stronger. “A huge weight comes off me.”

“Maybe it will help other women come forward and tell their stories,” Yazzie said. Moreover, Yazzie hopes her story helps put a stop to men like Rouzan who prey on women like her.

Dismantling “Sex Trafficking Circuits”

Native people experience several risk factors such as poverty, homelessness, sexual violence, and substance abuse that make them more vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking. Traffickers also target Native people because they are easy to market as exotic or as representatives of other races, according to law enforcement.

Sex trafficking, by definition of Minnesota state law, is a problem in the Fond du Lac community, where Interim Chief of Police Diver and Patrol Officer Haffield have found that the majority of women arrested for drug offenses on the Fond du Lac Reservation admitted to being coerced to exchange sex for drugs.

“Sex trafficking and drugs go hand in hand. Drugs offer a means to control victims,” according to Diver.

Minnesota has become a leader in the nation in its response to sex trafficking perpetrators and victims. Minnesota state law defines trafficking as “receiving, recruiting, enticing, harboring, providing, or obtaining by any means an individual to aid in the prostitution of the individual” or “receiving profit or anything of value, knowing or having reason to know it is derived from [sex trafficking].” The state also enacted a Safe Harbor law, a victim-centered law that excludes juveniles engaged in sex work from prosecution and includes a service model called No Wrong Door, aimed at ensuring that all people who enter the system, via law enforcement or social services, are offered victims services.

Minnesota is also a public law 280 state. Under this law, states in which tribes are located have primary responsibility to prosecute crimes on reservations.

Although tribal leadership may shy away from connection in the public eye between tribal casinos and sex trafficking, it is a problem that tribes now realize needs to be addressed, according to tribal law enforcement representatives at the conference.

“The casinos and reservations are in fact part of sex trafficking circuits,” Diver said.

The 11 tribes in Minnesota operate a total of 14 casinos. Most have hotels attached to the properties.

“Before I understood how to recognize the signs of sex trafficking, I never would have thought in a million years that it was present in my community,” Diver said.

For instance, casino staff now take notice when a young woman from three states away accompanying an older man checks into a casino hotel without any luggage. “When tribal police check up on these women sometimes we find they have no identification and no additional clothing beyond several pairs of underwear and bras,” Diver said.

Tribal police are finding that traffickers move women and girls continuously through the casinos. “New girls mean new customers; the girls are so terrified of their pimps that they seldom disclose anything against them,” Diver said.

Traffickers also recruit Native people from reservations where vulnerable victims of sexual violence and/or drug users make easy targets. “The stories are usually similar. A young person, often a victim of sexual violence already, gets involved with drugs, runs away with a ‘boyfriend’ who is selling drugs. The boyfriend begins pimping the person out,” Diver said.

Many traffickers are lured to reservations by the belief that all Native people receive large per-capita casino payments from their tribes. Thus potential victims provide traffickers with the additional allure of having cash that can be extorted from them. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows tribes to issue per-capita payments to members from casino funds, but only about half of the tribes offering payouts distribute the large windfalls often featured in media.

Most payouts are minimal, amounting to less than $1,000 per year.

“I guarantee that there are criminals in Chicago, Milwaukee, and other major cities who know exactly when members receive their per cap payments, “ Haffield said.

Criminals may also be aware that law enforcement resources are scarce in Indian Country. The Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) was enacted in 2010 as a means for the federal government to help and support tribes in policing, prosecuting, and providing victims services for tribal citizens. But, according to a 2017 report by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) regarding the DOJ’s enforcement of TLOA, law enforcement remains severely inadequate in Indian Country, limiting tribes’ ability to address crime. The OIG report exposes the DOJ’s failure to meet some of the most basic mandates of TLOA. Limited resources and geographic isolation are significant challenges for tribal communities in addressing crime.

One solution to this trafficking-associated problem may lie in the fine print of regulations of tribal lands. Carla Fredericks of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation (MHA) published a paper with colleagues from the American Indian Law Clinic at University of Colorado suggesting that tribes could make use of their regulatory authority over companies doing business on the reservation. For instance, the Fort Berthold reservation—home to the MHA tribe, which oversees leasing to non-Native owned companies of its oil and gas holdings—in North Dakota has extensive lands included in the Bakken oil boom development. And crime rates in the Bakken region are rising. In 2013, the number of people charged in federal courts in the region rose by 31 percent.

Tribes could potentially increase taxes for corporations doing business on their lands to help cover the costs of additional law enforcement and victims services associated with increased crime on the reservation. In their paper, the authors point to a U.S. State Department report about the link between extractive industries and sex trafficking. Due to insufficient funding, tribal law enforcement is woefully unprepared to address rising crime rates.

The disparity between law enforcement resources for tribes and the rest of the United States is glaring. For instance, according to a 2013 report, “A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer,” created by the Indian Law and Order Commission, the national average ratio of law enforcement officers to residents in rural areas is 3.5 per 1,000 residents. Indian Country, however, was staffed at 1.9 officers per 1,000 residents in 2013; tribal governments do not receive comparable federal financial support for law enforcement as do surrounding states and counties.

And according to a 2016 University of Colorado report, “MHA Nation law enforcement does not currently have the jurisdiction or capacity to address this burgeoning problem, along with the traffic violations and regulatory issues that have increased with development. At the most basic level, there are not enough officers to effectively police the vast stretches of the reservation …. While the MHA Nation desires to protect their community by preventing trafficking and holding offenders accountable, the limits imposed by federal Indian law restrain their ability to act decisively and effectively.”

As Native leaders await change at the state and federal levels, tribal law enforcement sent a strong message during the Palm Springs conference. They are not waiting for the federal government to take action against sex traffickers in their communities.

“Our main goal is to help tribal nations and victims,” Diver noted.