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That Clinic Escort Is a Fake!

It’s bad enough that women can’t just show up at clinics that provide abortions, for whatever reproductive health need they have, without getting harassed by anti-choicers. It would be nice if these clinics didn’t need to have volunteer escorts to walk patients past anti-choice protesters until they’re safely inside. (Actually, it would be nice if they didn’t have to go to special clinics at all.) And it’s downright frustrating — and, c’mon, really should be illegal — when anti-choicers start donning fake escort vests to trick women seeking reproductive health services into listening to their diatribes.

But you just have to laugh when they allege that people volunteer at reproductive health clinics as escorts because they enjoy waking up early on a Saturday and having an excuse to be mean.

After Jos posted on Feministing on anti-choicers impersonating escorts in Louisville, KY, one of the anti-choicers featured in their video decided to speak up against being “misrepresented” (by visual and audio footage of you?). She claims that escorts insult the antis for “simply say[ing] good morning or hello.” Bullshit. Harassing women, who may or may not be there for an abortion — not that it’s any of your business — while they are clearly trying to walk away from you, imposing your religious views and God on them, and telling them what’s going on in their bodies (are you their doctor?) is not a simple hello.

The post quotes from another article on a Florida clinic, where one of the anti-choice harassers claims, “We’re trying to have them take the time to think about what they are doing.”

Jos hits the nail on the head with her response: “These antis have such a low opinion of patients entering the clinic they think these women haven’t thought about their abortions, an expensive and unfortunately controversial medical procedure, before showing up for their appointments? And they think dishonest, cruel, and sensationalist posters and rhetoric will help?”

Photo credit: IntangibleArts

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Don’t Throw Women Under the Bus: Take Action

Think women are getting thrown under the bus with in health reform? Well the Women’s Media Center agrees with you. Their on-going campaign, Not Under the Bus, want women educated and taking action to stand up for their rights — and make the new health bill actually live up to the name of “reform.”

Today marks the campaign’s Day of Action. They want you to demand that women’s abortion rights are not sacrificed in the final health care bill. They want you to Tweet: #notunderthebus. They want to you to use your Facebook status for a good cause. (Hey friends! Protecting women’s rights is cool!) They want you to watch and share their video (watch below to see the animated women go down like dominos under the bus — until superwoman stands up for women’s rights).

And they want you to sign the petition on Change.org telling Congress not to deprive women of abortion coverage.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUtLTB6zKbo&w=697&h=576]

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Health Reform Doesn’t Benefit Immigrants

Health care reform won’t do a thing for 12 million people in our country.

Over on Change.org’s Health Care blog, Nancy Lee has a post on how health care reform harms undocumented immigrants, cutting them off from benefits. Some legal migrant workers also slip through the gaps — we tell them to live here and work for us, but brush aside their health and well-being. Yeah, we’re a stand-up country.

Lee also calls attention to an issue that’s been getting some mainstream media coverage: hospitals that provide services to undocumented immigrants and low-income persons shutting down their regular dialysis treatment services. Ouch.

Photo credit: gwire

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D.C. Police Confirm Condom Policy that Endangers Public Health

Washington, D.C.: home to the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the country. So you’d think they’d do everything possible to prevent the spread of the epidemic, such as promoting safe sex techniques. Why, then, do police do exactly the opposite by using condoms as evidence that prostitution is occurring?

DCist contacted the Metropolitan Police Department for comment on its policy after they reported on an article I wrote last week about the use of condoms as evidence in “Prostitution Free Zones.” According to DCist, MPD spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump confirms that condoms can be used as a factor leading “an officer to suspect (reasonable suspicion) that a person is engaged in prostitution,” but stresses that possession of rubbers alone isn’t sufficient cause for an order to disperse or arrest.

This mirrors the San Francisco police’s position: they have defended a similar practice by saying that “a pocket full of condoms alone is not a basis for arrest.” This defense of the policy appears to be motivated by the desire to dodge privacy concerns and outrage from the many women who like to prepare for a night out (seriously, that’s a lot of women they’d be calling sex workers). However, it doesn’t address the major problem with this practice: the danger to the health of sex workers and the public.

Considering condoms as even one factor for arrest deters sex workers from using protection. “The risk of catching something is better than being arrested,” according to Patricia West, a sex worker and outreach volunteer for San Francisco’s St. James Infirmary, which provides health care for members of the world’s oldest profession.

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Are We Setting Women Up to Be Raped?

Who has control over your body? Who gets to decide who does and does not get to touch you, and how, and when? My answer would be: you do. But is this really what we teach women? Maybe not.

A post on the “Yes Means Yes” blog,  “Good Touch, Bad Touch,” discusses those annoying cheek-pinches and hugs from relatives in a light I’d never considered before. It argues that when society — and parents in particular — teaches girls to accept unwanted touching of any kind, it sets them up to not fight back against sexual assault or rape. It tells them that somebody else gets to make the decision about what is appropriate touching of their bodies, not them. (I’m reminded of the scene in Sixteen Candles when the grandmother give the growing breasts of her shocked teenage granddaughter a good squeeze.)

I’m sure everybody’s seen a child trying to squirm out of a relative’s enthusiastic hug. Most people probably laugh. But is it really that funny? When we tell our children to put up with undesired touching, can we expect them to report when the “line” is crossed? Maybe, for them, they feel that the line has already been passed.

The post asks: “what’s the point of alerting children to how they feel about inappropriate touch if we also teach them that there is nothing they can do about it?”

It also links to some other excellent pieces about the issue. Rebecca at City of Ladies argues, in a moving personal letter, that the different between an unwanted kiss or hug and rape is only a matter of degree: “So he put his penis in your vagina without your consent. Oh my god such a big deal.”

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Spike in Female Ambassadors to the United States

In what the Washington Post refers to as the “Hillary effect,” D.C. is playing host to a record number of female ambassadors. More points to Secretary of State Clinton for improving the position of women from around the globe!

The 25 women currently posted in the United States include Oman ambassador Hunaina Sultan al-Mughairy, a trailblazer in cracking into the boy’s club of Arab ambassadors. And they get those cool diplomatic immunity license plates! I wish I had one of those.

But I wouldn’t break out the champagne just yet. (Unless you’re trying to drink another diplomatic under the table — I hear they enjoy that game.) These women, who make up a mere fraction of the 182 ambassadors stationed in the United States, have to put some serious chinks on the male-dominated diplomatic profession to get the respect they deserve.

Even when identifying themselves as an ambassador, these powerful women continue to be mistaken for the “wife-of.” Especially ironic since, in many cases, their husbands don’t come along for the ride — while an ambassador’s wife is still expected to make boring dinner conversation with a bunch of stuffy politicians, ambassadors’ husbands have better things to do, like their own jobs.

And there’s another disappointing nugget: Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, worries, “Is the relative feminization of diplomacy indicative of its decline as a center of power and influence?”

If only equality could finally catch up to the point where a profession gaining women wasn’t taken as a sign that it was going down the tubes.

Photo credit: rubberpaw

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Working for Uncle Sam Screws Over Immigrants

You’d think that serving the United States’ military — even giving up your life for the country — would be one of those things that helps you or your loved ones gain legal status here, right? Two recent stories let us know how wrong that assumption would be. Turns out, serving the country doesn’t carry much weight with immigration officials.

Michael Ferschke, a U.S. Marine, was slain in the line of duty. And now his wife and one-year-old son have been deported.

When Ferschke’s son was born in Japan last January, he’d already lost his father to an ill-fated mission in Iraq. But the Marine had wanted his son raised as an American, and Ferschke’s parents were eager to bring his wife and their new grandson into their Tennessee home.

Unfortunately, the State Department refused to recognize the marriage, which took place by proxy (a longstanding military tradition) while Ferschke was deployed, because it was never consummated — he died before he could see his bride again.

Ridiculous. Hello, people! The couple consummated it in advance. How exactly do you think they ended up with a son? Do I need to explain the birds and the bees?

Immigration law requires consummation to avoid potential sham marriages — but if sexual intercourse is the standard for marriage, clearly that wasn’t a problem there. Immigration lawyer Brent Renison says the 1952 law is from “a different time” and must change to recognize prior consummation of a marriage.

At least the Marines got it right: the military does recognize this marriage and has been sending survivor benefits to the widow.

But wait, there’s more! In another “let’s deter people from serving our country” story, an Iraq refugee has been denied a green card for working as a translator for the U.S. Army.

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Dr. Tiller’s Killer Could Get Less Than 5 Years Prison Time

What should have been a straight-forward case against late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller’s confessed killer took a frightening twist last week, when a judge ruled that Scott Roeder’s lawyers can present a “voluntary manslaughter” defense.

The sentence for voluntary manslaughter can be a pitiful five years, and the maximum sentence is set at less than 13 years.

Katherine Spiller, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, says that this move could lead to “open season on doctors.” Another late-term abortion doctor, Warren Hern, says, “‘This judge has basically announced a death sentence for all of us who help women.”

Rev. Don Spitz, who maintains the website for the Army of God, an extremist anti-choice group that promotes the use of violence, was himself (pleasantly) surprised at the decision. Spitz agrees with Spiller and Hern that removing the risk of a death sentence or life imprisonment for killing a doctor “may increase the number of people who may be willing to take that risk.”

Kansas law defines voluntary manslaughter as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” Prosecutors warn of far-reaching implications for this decision: “Taken to its logical extreme, this line of thinking would allow anyone to commit premeditated murder, but only be guilty of manslaughter, simply because the victim holds a different set of moral and political beliefs than the attacker.”

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A Special Visa Just for Abused Immigrants

The New York Times reports on what an immigration advocate refers to as “island of niceness” in the United States’ generally unfriendly policies toward undocumented immigrants.

Under the U visa, victims of abuse — frequently domestic violence — are relieved of the fear of deportation for four years and allowed to apply for legal resident status. Police say this law protects communities, because it encourages victims to bring to light crimes that occur behind closed doors. Since law enforcement has found that domestic violence offenders with one victim often has abused other women as well, making the crime especially important to uncover.

Yet this remain a bittersweet story. Take the story of one woman, an undocumented immigrant brought to the U.S. by her mother at age 14. At 16, she met her husband to be, who turned out to be a bad egg: keeping her from attending school, refusing to file for citizenship on her behalf, subjecting her to mental and, finally, physical abuse and attempted rape.

Now that he’s in jail, and she’s been permitted to stay in America under the U visa, she says, “Of course, I would have preferred another way to stay here. But this was the way it happened, and it was worth it.”

No one should ever be put in the position of calling physical and sexual assault “worth it.” Our twisted immigration laws put her in danger as an undocumented girl under the power of her husband in the first place. In the Times’ words, her husband “beat her bloody.” Our twisted laws make suffering that violence worth it?

Photo: U.S. Army

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Nevada Personhood Initiative Tossed Out

Why go through all the trouble of getting abortion, birth control, stem cell research, and in-vitro fertilization banned separately when you can knock them all out with one fell swoop? That’s the motivation behind the “personhood” initiatives launched by anti-choice right-wing groups.

In Nevada, a judge last week scrapped a proposed egg-as-person ballot initiative to define a “person” as  “everybody possessing a human genome,” deeming it too vague and unintelligible, in addition to violating laws prohibiting a single initiative from targeting multiple issues. The attorney for the losing side claimed that “any eight-year-old” would be able to comprehend the proposal. I’m sure the judge appreciated having his mental ability compared with a fourth grader’s.

In “now wouldn’t that be nice” land, if these personhood initiatives were written to say that a “person” must possess a human genome — though the mere existence of DNA does not cells a person make — that would be another story. Then maybe we could get rid of some of this “corporate personhood” nonsense.

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