Monthly Archives: September 2010

Anti-Choice Candidate Sharron Angle Attacks Maternity Leave

When Nevada GOP candidate for Congress Sharron Angle isn’t insisting that young rape and incest victims be forced to carry their assailant’s baby, she’s targeting one of the very things that can make it easier for a woman to choose to continue her pregnancy: maternity leave.

Though Angle has been doing a better job lately of keeping her self-incriminating mouth shut, audio and video footage of her gung-ho anti-woman stance keep inconveniently popping up. In the latest, as Brie Cadman reports on the health blog, Angle speaks to Tea Partiers about the outrage she considers maternity leave coverage to be. (She also has some charming air quotes surrounding the word “autism.”) “How about maternity leave? I’m not going to have any more babies, but I sure get to pay for it on my insurance. Those are the kinds of things we want to get rid of.”

Well isn’t that nice. Just because Angle is, I assume from her age and statement, past menopause, nobody else should get any kind of support in raising children. (Don’t even get me started on the abysmal state of maternity leave in this country to begin with.) I mean, when Angle was having babies, maybe that would be a different story, why should she have to pay? In fact, why should insurance cover anything she isn’t expecting to happen to her?

When Angle says rape is “part of God’s plan,” and if impregnated by your rapist, you should just make “lemons into lemonade,” she doesn’t actually want to lift a finger to help you with that tasty drink. It says a lot about anti-choicer claims that they’re “just pro-life, not anti-women,” when attacks on reproductive rights go hand-in-hand with a refusal to support mothers. Instead, Angle wants to heap more lemons on survivors, without giving them a spoonful of sugar necessary to making lemonade. And, honestly, I think she’s handing them some rotten fruit at that.

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Canadian Court Rejects Laws That Endanger Sex Workers

Sex work isn’t illegal in Canada, except when it is. Though Canada hasn’t out-and-out prohibited voluntarily selling sex, it has criminalized a slew of aspect of the trade that essentially add up to a sex work ban.

Now, Ms. Magazine’s blog reports that a high-level Ontario court has ruled against this de facto criminalization of the legal profession after a lawsuit brought by three current and former sex workers. The women complained that Canada law against working indoors and communicating with potential clients infringed upon their ability to practice in a safe work environment. Justice Susan Himel agreed, citing high rates of violent crime against sex workers as evidence of their vulnerability and need to protect themselves, and stating, “I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public.”

Critics of the anti-prostitution laws argued that, whatever society’s moral feelings toward sex work, keeping people safe should be the government’s top priority. While anti-prostitution laws are often touted as beneficial anti-trafficking measures, they can also have the effect of compromising sex workers’ rights and safety. Justice Himel determined that, though her ruling would allow a sex worker to report to someone who managed sales and clients, an abusive pimp (or trafficker) could still always be punished under other aspects of Canada’s criminal code. Sex workers advocates intend to take this decision and move forward to secure labor rights for their profession.

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Maternal Death Clock: 8,000 Deaths and Counting

Amnesty International’s Maternal Death Clock has only been ticking for a week, but it’s already passed 8,000 deaths. Around the world, a woman dies in childbirth every 90 seconds, and the Maternal Death Clock is keeping count. Even if you’re a speedy reader, you can expect at least one woman will be counted by the time you finish this blog post. All it takes is a minute-and-a-half. At the end of a year, the tally will be up at 358,000.

When the new millennium appeared on the horizon, it seemed like a good time to make some lofty goals for improving our world. Among the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was a massive decrease in the maternal death rate. But things aren’t looking too good: we’ve only accomplished a 34 percent decrease since 1990, while the target is 75 percent. And the deadline’s coming up in 2015. If we want to reach our goals and make a real change for women of the world, we need to step it up. Every minute-and-a-half matters.

The online clock began in a physical incarnation at New York City’s Union Square on September 20th, ticking away for three days as world leaders gathered at the United Nations to talk poverty. Maternal deaths, of course, are largely related to poverty and the inability to afford access to decent medical care. During that three day period, the clock tallied up 3,700 deaths. Amnesty International proclaims: “Giving life should not mean risking death.” Word.

Americans for UNFPA have a petition asking President Barack Obama to put his weight and charm behind putting a real dent in maternal mortality rates.

Photo credit: *Melody*

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VICTORY! Colorado Prisons Stop Degrading “Labia Lift” Searches

In Colorado prisons, female inmates will no longer have to pull back their labia or the skin of their clitoris with a guard’s face inches away.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado charged the Colorado Department of Corrections with strip search policies that were not only far more invasive than those of other states, but also could be challenged on constitutional grounds. After hearing of this degrading “labia lift” strip search policy, hundreds of Change.org members took action demanding an end to the practice.

These humiliating and unnecessary searches were carried out even when there was no reason to suspect that the inmate was attempting to smuggle contraband. Furthermore, while for any women this kind of search can be extremely dehumanizing and borders on sexual assault, it could be especially traumatic for the as many as 80% of female prisoners who are rape and sexual abuse survivors. Some inmates stopped seeing family or friends, because a visit would require this strip search, which further cut them off from society and undermined the prison’s stated goal of rehabilitation.

Now, the ACLU reports that the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility has changed their policy to prohibit such extreme body cavity searches. This puts their strip search policy back in the realm of reasonableness and on par with those of other states. Women can resume visitation with friends and family without being frightened into isolation by the threat of a traumatic vaginal search. Rape and sexual abuse survivors won’t have to worry about setting off PTSD-related symptoms. And the prison will still be as safe and secure as any other prison in the country.

Photo credit: bfick

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Read Something Feminist and Censored for Banned Books Week

I just discovered the best reason I’ve heard yet for reading the Twilight series: It’s number five on the American Library Association’s list of Top 10 Challenged Books in 2009. Though I’ve resisted friends’ attempts to join the Twilight craze, nothing makes a book quite so appealing as finding out somebody wants to keep you from reading it. Especially when that “someone” is so often a bunch of intolerant religious far right-wingers. (I completely understand why Arizona’s ethnic studies enrollment spiked after the curriculum was banned.)

Banned Books Week is top on the list of favorite holidays for a bookworm like me. And while Twilight might not top most feminist reading lists, the latest list of books “they” don’t want you to read includes a seminal novel about black women and rampant racism and sexism in the early 20th century South. The book opens with 14-year-old Celie’s repeated rapes by her father, resulting in two impregnations. I’m talking about Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, a volume that definitely belongs on a feminist/womanist book list. Reasons challenged: “offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.”

There’s also a couple of teenage girl coming-of-age books: Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, which, as you can no doubt guess from the title, deals with body image issues; and, at the top of the list, Lauren Myracle’s ttyl; ttfn; and l8r, g8r, a series written in instant messages conversations that address such troubles for girls hitting puberty as boyfriends and the unwanted sexual advances of teachers. But some people would prefer that our nation’s youth deal with related issues blindly without the book-learning that can help them navigate a tricky time.

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Texas Wants “Pro-Islam” Content Out of Textbooks

After getting racial minorities and liberals out of their American social studies curriculum, Texas has a new target: Muslims. Should have seen that coming.

As Carol Scott reports on Education, a new proposed resolution would deal with the egregious anti-Christianity, pro-Islam bias of social studies textbooks, a clear conspiracy and sign of a Middle Eastern takeover. Examples (pdf) include “thrice charging medieval Christians with sexism.” Not, once, not twice, but thrice. That is some serious Christian hate going on. Who would ever accuse the medieval Christian Church (or the modern-day one, for that matter) with sexism? And I don’t want to hear any silliness about women being banned from the priesthood or treated as vile Eve temptresses who caused all suffering in the world. That’s not sexism, it’s just fact.

There’s also the clear discrimination of 139 lines devoted to “Christian beliefs, practices and holy writing,” while Islam got 37 more lines. I’m sure the textbook manufacturers also counted up on the lines on these two religions to make certain Islam was getting more facetime. While I don’t know what the textbooks cover in those segments, the mountains of extra time spent on Islam couldn’t be related to the fact that American readers are assumed to have a larger base knowledge of Christianity to begin with.

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Abortion Does Not Cause Mental Health Problems in Adults or Teens

One popular falsehood promoted by the anti-choice movement is that having an abortion will cause women mental health problems, which they like to dub “abortion trauma syndrome.” In 2008, the American Psychological Association (APA) debunked that claim with a study that found absolutely no evidence of an abortion-mental health link in adult women. Now, a new study that will appear in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health finds that this holds true for teenagers as well.

Crisis pregnancy centers, which particularly prey on teenage and young adult women, regularly use scare tactics related to non-existent consequences of abortion to attempt to manipulate pregnant women out of exercising their legal rights uncoerced. By making up lies about the negative consequences of abortion, pretending side effects from an increased risk of breast cancer to severe depression, they are trying to deny women the ability to make an informed choice about their bodies. These studies of both adult and teenage women, which finds that neither depression nor self-esteem problems are more prevalent in people who have an abortion than those who keep the pregnancy, reveal what a pack of lies this is.

But, unfortunately, crisis pregnancy centers aren’t the only ones in involved with this campaign of misinformation. As the Guttmacher Institute points out, 34 state require pre-abortion counseling, and 7 mandate warning women of potential psychological risks from choosing abortion. Must suck to be a doctor required by law to tell patients something he or she knows to be untrue.

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Brothers Who Served in Vietnam Fight Deportation

At 62, Valente Valenzuela faces deportation back to a country he left as a child. Wounded in Vietnam, issued a Bronze Star for bravery, and a sufferer of post traumatic stress disorder, Valente cannot believe that the country he served with honor now wants to turn its back on him. His brother, Manuel, who also fought in the Vietnam war, has also been ordered out of the country.

The way our nation treats immigrants who have fought under the American flag shows a deep disrespect for the sacrifice our servicemembers make. The Valenzuelas are not the first immigrant veterans to find that this country attaches little value to the shedding of their blood. “I have been dealing with post traumatic stress disorder for 42 years. I have Agent Orange on my hands,” Valente told the Texas Insider. “My skin is discolored from Agent Orange from burying the canisters. I have bullet burns on my belly and have undergone three surgeries.”

The Department of Homeland Security: yawn.

As children, the Valenzuela brothers, whose mother was an American-born citizen, moved to the United States as legal permanent residents. After serving in the Vietnam war, both got into trouble with the law, which they believe was a result of their war-related PTSD. Though these crimes were committed years ago and have already been dealt with by the criminal justice system, this triggered removal proceedings against the brothers.

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In North Carolina, No Changing Your Mind About Having Sex

Welcome to North Carolina, where rape is legal!

If you begin having sex in the great state of North Carolina, want to stop, and your partner forcibly restrains you to continue having intercourse, well, you should have made up your mind beforehand. Once you’ve initially consented to the act, you relinquish the right to your own body, according to a 1979 state Supreme Court ruling: “no rape has occurred though the victim later withdraws consent during the same act of intercourse.” If your partner ignores your pleas to get off you or causes physical injury to keep you from leaving, that’s still just not rape.

In effect, this is a court decision legalizing rape.

Using this ruling, a district attorney recently decided to drop a rape case against a high school football player, which brought this disturbing state of affairs to light. As Cara at The Curvature points out, there are additional issues with this particular failure to prosecute sexual assault charges, because the victim told reporters that she never agreed to have sex with her boyfriend the boy she was dating in the first place. Regardless of this additional dimension of wrongfully ignoring the accusations of rape survivors (a not unusual practice in law enforcement), the rationale utilized to dismiss the case exposes a major legal problem. Even if you accept that the victim withdrew consent, the law says that’s just kosher.

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Bringing Sex Education Back to School

When it comes to sex education, America is seriously backwards.

The American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a recent policy statement denouncing the continued misinformation that guides our decisions about sex ed. We can probably thank the Religious Right for making us the one and only Western country that believes (or at least, pretends to) that education about birth control will increase sexual activity, teen pregnancy, and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. We can also thank them for the abstinence-only education that actually does raise the rate of teen pregnancy and STIs to a point higher than our more sexually chatty peers, while failing to keep youth from having sex.

Planned Parenthood of New York City’s blog, ‘NYC Unrated & Unfiltered, points out that sex education is “the one subject in school that could potentially save your life.” Whether you engage in sex in committed relationships or have casual sex with different partners, getting tested for STIs and always using protection when you don’t know the sexual health status of your partner is a must. Often people who only have sex in monogamous relationships believe they are safe, but all it takes is unprotected sex with one infected person to catch an infection that can range from itchy and annoying to life-threatening. And because a person can be an asymptomatic carrier or delay in showing signs of infection, it’s easy to unwittingly pass on a disease when you’re not in tune with you’re sexual health.

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