The anti-choice group Live Action has been making quite a stink over the past few weeks, releasing heavily edited videos that purport to catch abortion clinic employees and abortion providers making inflammatory statements about abortion. In their latest video, two pregnant women took hidden cameras into appointments with Dr. LeRoy Carhart and asked him about the recent death of a woman who was seen at the Maryland clinic where Dr. Carhart practices.
As a cable-deprived child growing up near the Detroit-Windsor border in the 1980s and 90s, my television choices were limited to the networks, PBS, a few syndication channels, and the CBC, or Canadian Broadcasting Company. This short list was further narrowed by my parents’ dislike for many of the networks’ offerings and general belief that their children shouldn’t watch a lot of TV.
One show that did meet my parents’ criteria for worthwhile entertainment was the Canadian teen show “Degrassi Junior High,” which evolved into “Degrassi High” and, after an extended break in the late ’90s and early ’00s, lives on today as “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” Revolving around a group of students at the titular school, all of the “Degrassi” iterations dealt with a range of teen issues including, but in no way limited to, drug abuse, depression, eating disorders, suicide, sex, and peer pressure. [Read more...]
Abortion in Popular Culture: Dirty Dancing
This is the resurrection of a short series I did in 2010 for Feminists for Choice. I’ll occasionally examine how abortion is portrayed in film, television, books, and music. Feel free to offer suggestions via Facebook or Twitter.
The first time I saw Dirty Dancing was at Space Camp. All of us campers were in a large room while the staffers attended to various administrative duties, and someone had the bright idea to fire up the VCR and distract us from the general boredom and disorganization with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. This plan worked pretty well, until a counselor decided to hold a piece of paper over the television during the racy scenes. That was when a room full of pre-adolescents, most of whom had been half-watching the film, decided that we really, really wanted to see what was going on behind that lined notebook paper. There were catcalls and complaints and then the movie was swiftly turned off.
Johnny and Baby in bed may have been deemed too adult for a group of middle school kids, but it is a testament to the creative team behind Dirty Dancing that a movie whose plot point hinges on illegal abortion was so skillfully done, most people forget that abortion is even an element of the film. Yet Penny’s illegal abortion is the very reason that Baby and Johnny were thrown together in the first place.
As a long-time New York Times reader, I was thrilled that a letter I sent to the opinion page editor was chosen for publication!
On Sunday, April 14 the Times published “Courage in Kansas,” an op-ed in support of Julie Burkhart and the South Wind Women’s Center. My response, which can be found online and in the April 17 print edition, read:
To the Editor:
“Courage in Kansas” (editorial, April 14) presents a compelling picture of reproductive rights in this country. It is to be hoped that law enforcement officials will take the threats against Julie Burkhart and her clinic seriously and provide any necessary protection.
That those who provide a legal medical service may require federal protection speaks volumes about how stigmatized abortion is in our society.
One in three women will terminate a pregnancy by 45, and many of these women express gratitude for their ability to obtain safe abortion care. Yet too often they remain silent about the importance of ensuring that others have the same access.
A different but no less potent form of silence is found in many abortion rights organizations, which continually allow the opposition to dictate the terms of the debate and discussion.
As long as such silence persists, abortion will remain stigmatized and politicized. Julie Burkhart and those committed to protecting reproductive choice deserve better. It’s time to break the silence.
Washington, April 14, 2013
The writer is the author of “Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement.”
A federal judge has blocked part of a state law that could have closed Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only clinic in Mississippi. Last year, the state passed a law that would have required that physicians at abortion clinics have admitting privileges at local hospitals. While the physicians at JWHO tried to comply with that mandate, no area hospital would grant the privileges. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which has represents the clinic, “the physicians responsible for vast majority of the clinic’s patients were not granted privileges by any of the hospitals in the area-with several hospitals refusing to even process the physicians’ applications, citing hospital policies on abortion care.”
Today’s ruling by District Court Judge Daniel P. Jordan III blocks the remaining forms of enforcement of this requirement, and prevents the state Department of Health from revoking the clinic’s license for being unable to comply with the admitting regulation. In his opinion, Judge Jordan wrote that “Closing its doors would — as the state seems to concede in this argument — force Mississippi women to leave Mississippi to obtain a legal abortion.” The judge also stated that Mississippi’s position in the case “would result in a patchwork system where constitutional rights are available in some states but not others.”
The South Wind Women’s Clinic in Wichita may offer a place for women to receive abortion care, but anti-choice legislators in the state are hoping to impose new restrictions on the procedure. Both the state House and Senate have passed a bill that would define life as beginning at fertilization, and anti-choice Governor Sam Brownback is expected to sign it into law.
The bill does more than include language about when life begins. It would also mandate what information clinics must give women about abortion risks—including the medically inaccurate claim of a possible link between breast cancer and abortion—and fetal development; prohibit clinic employees from providing sex education in schools; ban terminations performed solely because of the sex of the fetus; and prohibit the use of tax credits, tax preferences, and public funds for abortion services, as well as prevent public health-care services provided by the state from being used in any way to carry out abortions.
A recent op-ed by Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post shows off the anti-choice movement’s flair for using emotionally manipulative language and glossing over the facts. In “Planned Parenthood’s Defense of Infanticide,” Thiessen claims that a Planned Parenthood representative was “caught on camera defending infanticide.”
During a recent political hearing in Florida, Planned Parenthood’s Alisa LaPolt Snow was asked what the organization’s response would be if, in the case of a failed abortion, the fetus was born alive. Snow’s answer? “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician.”
That seems like a perfectly reasonable response to me. After all, who else should be asked to make a decision in that moment? Isn’t that what happens with any child, whether they’re five minutes old or five years old? Let’s say that a five-year-old was gravely ill. Who would be in charge of making his medical decisions? His parents and physician. That doesn’t mean that I’m advocating killing five-year-olds. It means that in America, as in much of the world, parents are the ones that make medical decisions for their children.
An abortion clinic opening in any U.S. city would make news these days, but the imminent opening of South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas has garnered a special kind of attention. The clinic, which will provide abortions until the 14th week of pregnancy as well as a wide range of other women’s health care services, will be located in Dr. George Tiller’s former clinic.
South Wind is owned by the Trust Women Organization, a nonprofit that was founded in 2010 by Julie Burkhart, who worked with Dr. Tiller for seven years. “We’re going to provide Pap smears, pelvic exams, well-woman care, contraceptive care, pregnancy confirmation and consultation, and STI (sexually transmitted infection) treatment” Burkhart has said. “We want to work with women who are having trouble getting pregnant and women who have been pregnant — the full range of services.” There are three physicians on staff—one local, two that will travel in from out of state—and a social worker that will offer both miscarriage and post-abortion counseling as well as lactation consultation.
Two very different but equally thought-provoking pieces about the North Dakota’s draconian new anti-choice laws were published today. In the Washington Post, Sarah Kliff’s interview with Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, discussed the challenges faced by both the clinic and the women in the state. The New York Times’s Motherlode blog published a guest post by Alison Piepmeier that focused on one particular aspect of these laws: that women will not be allowed to terminate pregnancies for reasons of genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome.
I’ve long admired Kromenaker and her staff, so was happy to see her interviewed by such a prominent publication. North Dakota’s attempt to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which could be as early as the sixth week of pregnancy — has not gone into effect yet, and it is highly likely that the law be enjoined while it is challenged in the courts. But the very fact that it did pass is a clear sign that legislators in North Dakota have complete disregard for the realities of women’s lives. “The women who were actually in the clinic, the day it was signed, were just outraged,” Kromenaker tells Kliff. “They were just like, this is ridiculous. They have no idea what my life is like.”
In her Motherlode essay, Piepmeier offers readers a glimpse of what her life, as the parent of a child with Down syndrome, is like. She also discusses some of the reasons that women do decide to terminate pregnancies after receiving a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome, and as thought-provoking as both of these sections are, I was particularly interested in her take on how North Dakota really could welcome people with disabilities. Piepmeier’s suggestions are almost breathtaking in their rationality: provide early intervention services and medical care. Work to make schools more inclusive. Improve the housing options for adults, and strengthen rape prevention efforts.
Of course, a lot of those ideas run counter to the ideology promoted by the very politicians that supported North Dakota’s anti-choice laws. They’d prefer to just tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies and lavish support on fetuses, rather than the children that are actually living in their state today.
Yesterday I had to drive from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore during rush hour. This already long drive was made even longer thanks to missing a critical exit and remaining stuck on a local road for many more miles than were necessary, so I had lots of time to listen to the radio as I inched along in thick traffic. My station of choice is always National Public Radio – I’m pretty sure I’d memorized the “All Things Considered” theme song before my third birthday – and yesterday, not surprisingly, the lead story was about the gay marriage cases heard by the Supreme Court that day and the day before.
Listening to the reports and snippets from the arguments themselves, I marveled at the relatively swift strides made by LGBT activists, and the wide-ranging support for gay marriage in this country. Regardless of the ruling handed down by the Court this summer, it seems just a matter of time before the number of states that have legalized gay marriage outnumber those that have not.
Parallels have been made to the fight to legal abortion. In the early 1970s, a handful of states had legalized abortion in specific circumstances; a smaller number had legalized it in all cases, and a larger number of states were considering loosening their own restrictions. With their ruling in Roe v. Wade, the Court ensured that all states legalized abortion to the same degree at the same time. This was an important and long-overdue decision, but it also created the modern anti-choice movement, providing a very high-profile symbol to rally against and continually try to overturn.
But I haven’t heard a lot of concerns that a Court ruling in favor of gay marriage will lead to the same backlash. (That’s not to say that individuals and organizations won’t continue to advocate for so-called “traditional” marriage – they will; unfortunately, our society will never be 100% tolerant of same-sex marriage.) And I wonder if that’s because gay marriage, and LGBT issues in general, have become so accepted and normalized.
One of the NPR stories I heard, about how “courtroom” LGBT issues have been addressed in movies and television shows, mentioned the 1994 movie Philadelphia. I remember how controversial this film was when it premiered, how there were protests outside movie theaters. Can you imagine that now? That a movie about someone with AIDS, a man that never shares more than a chaste on-screen kiss with his devoted boyfriend, could inspire such outrage? But because of movies like Philadelphia — because of all the pop culture representations of gays and lesbians, all the diverse portrayals that run the gamut from nuanced to broadly stereotypical — have helped move our society in a more tolerant and accepting direction, one in which being gay or lesbian or transgender is considered normal and even unexceptional.
Pop culture isn’t the only reason for this evolution, of course. But the more that people see LGBT issues being discussed or even alluded to in all sorts of mediums, the more normal, personal, relatable, and unremarkable those issues become. The more they become not even “issues,” and just parts of life.
With Roe, the Court asked society to catch up with the law. Perhaps in a few months, we will see that when it comes to gay marriage, the law is finally catching up with society.