Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hope Pregnancy Center and the Domain Debacle

Have you ever ended up at the wrong website by putting a ".com" at the end instead of a ".org"? The scheming anti-choice rascals at a CPC called Hope Pregnancy Resource Center decided to use this common mix-up to their advantage by buying the domain name "fphs.com" to purposefully redirect people from the Family Planning Health Services website "fphs.org."

"The agencies are less than two miles apart in Wausau, but could hardly be more different.
FPHS is about low-cost contraception, reproductive health and nutrition for pregnant women and their young children; it does not provide abortions. Hope is a pro-life
organization and visitors to the Hope web site won’t find the word
“contraceptive” anywhere."

Find out more about this story here

Buying out domain names just to deceive women? It makes you wonder: How far will CPCs go to deter women from pursuing their reproductive health options?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Quick and Quippy: The Weekend Edition

Jessica Valenti recently wrote a fantastic article for the UK Guardian titled "How the web became a sexists' paradise:"

"When women are harassed on the street, it is considered inappropriate. Online, though, sexual harassment is not only tolerated- it's often lauded. Blog threads or forums where women are attacked attract hundreds of comments, and their traffic rates rocket. Is this what people are really like? Sexist and violent? Misogynist and racist?"

I would imagine that anyone with any sort of social-networking account has encountered misogynistic groups, comments, etc.--I know I have. But what do you do when you come across misogyny on the web? Is there any sort of culpability or social etiquette in place that addresses this issue?


Do You Have Five Minutes?

As April winds to a close, so does Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) created SAAM as an opportunity to talk about rape and rape prevention. Currently, one in every six women will be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime. And in the two minutes it takes you to read this, a person in the US will be sexually assaulted (RAINN statistics)

So in honor of SAAM, how about taking a few minutes to do something positive? Here are 5 ways you can use 5 minutes today to prevent rape and sexual assault:

1: Learn...and comment:
Did you know that Maryland law up until recently held that if a woman withdrew consent during a sexual act and their partner continued, the act could not be defined as rape? This hideous law was recently overturned so that if a women withdraws consent and is forced to continue, it is legally rape.

The Baltimore Sun published this article by Julie Bykowicz which explains the original law as well as why and how it was overruled. Here's just a sample of some of the comments attached to this:

"It's clear who's getting raped here, and it's not the woman"-John
"It's becoming dangerous to be a man."
"I put it in, and then you change your mind, feminism gone mad." -Larry g

Take five minutes. Read the article and leave a comment that shows the Johns and Larry Gs out there that if it's so difficult for men to stop when their partner wants to end the intercourse, they probably shouldn't be having sex at all. That's not "feminism gone mad." That's just common sense.

2: Protect yourself:
Learn about ways to reduce your risk of sexual assault by going to this section of RAINN's website. You can also find new ways to protect yourself through taking a self defense class. The Campus Recreation Services at the University of Maryland will be holding a self defense class on May 4 from 4-7:00. For more information, you can contact Mary Mires at mmires@umd.edu.

3. Contact Natalie Shank:
When University of Portland student Amy Kerns reported to school authorities that she had been raped, nothing happened to her rapist for a year. She called to find out why and was reprimanded by Natalie Shank for underage drinking. According to Kerns

“[Shank] decided since we were both drinking, rape couldn’t have occurred. . .
It was like she was the one deciding consent—not me.”

You can learn more about this at feministing. You can also contact Natalie Shank at shankn@up.edu and demand that action be taken in Amy Kerns case.

4. Find help online:
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) recently released a new counseling service to support sexual assault victims. RAINN's online hotline allows victims to receive anonymous help from a trained crisis support volunteer. If you or someone you know could benefit from this free, confidential service, visit the national sexual assault online hotline website.

5. Sign Up to Volunteer:
There are 21 Rape Crisis centers in Maryland and all of them are looking for volunteers. Check out this complete list of Maryland rape crisis centers. You can also visit RAINN's website as well as the DC Rape Crisis Center's website to find out about other volunteer opportunities.

These are just a few ways you can make a difference. Do you know other positive ways to use five minutes to combat sexual assault and rape? Leave a comment and let us know so we can add them to this list. In the next few weeks, we'll re-post the updated list and send it out to all of our online groups. Yes, by then SAAM will be over. But the problem won't. So take five minutes. Tell us some of your ideas.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thank you, Rep. Sarbanes! What a difference a great new freshman class in Congress makes!

Today, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held its first oversight hearing on Bush’s failed “abstinence-only” policy. What a difference pro-choice leadership in Congress makes!

As I’m sure readers know by now, President Bush and his allies in Congress have spent more than $1 billion of our tax dollars on “abstinence-only” programs that censor information about contraception. They’ve done so, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that at least one in four teenage girls nationwide has a sexually transmitted infection. Yikes! One in four is no joke.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that President Bush has decided to turn a blind eye to the facts, and the many other reports which disprove the effectiveness of “abstinence-only” programs. Instead he continues to push taxpayer dollars into these programs that simply don’t work. Not unexpected, given his legacy, but definitely not good.

Thankfully, today, new members of the Oversight Committee exposed these ineffective programs, and even better for Marylanders, one of those new members is our very own freshman, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-03).

Rep. Sarbanes spoke as a pro-choice lawmaker and father of a 17-year old, 14-year old, and nine-year old. During the hearing he said that he, too, is concerned about what information is taught to his children. He made the observation that, based on the testimony he heard at the hearing and the research he’d seen previously, the best way to protect young people is by giving them comprehensive sex education that includes all the facts about abstinence and contraception. Every panelist but one (brought by the anti-choice side) agreed.

Pro-choice Marylanders should be proud of Rep. Sarbanes for shining a spotlight on President Bush’s discredited “abstinence-only” policy and protecting us, American taxpayers, from wasteful, ineffective programs. With new strong leaders like Rep. Sarbanes, pro-choice Americans are seeing a real difference in Congress’ approach to reproductive-health issues.”

Click here to read the testimony, submitted by Nancy Keenan to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Session's Out for Summer...and Fall

From January to April, the streets of Annapolis fill with the hustle and bustle of elected officials and their grossly underpaid staff. Fundraising is put on the back burner (by force, mind you) so legislators can focus on the issues for three full months. And, oh, what issues they focus on! From cake (congrats to Smith Island Cake on your legislative victory) to protecting women from lies, there is by no means a shortage of sweets or controversy.

What was one of the most controversial issues this legislative session? Yup, you guessed it, crisis pregnancy centers. Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Roger Manno were friends to the women of Maryland once again and introduced the “Limited Service Pregnancy Center Disclaimer Act.” The bill would have done three things:

1.) Require crisis pregnancy centers to state that they are not medical clinics.
2.) Require crisis pregnancy centers to tell their clients to see a medical professional about their pregnancy options
3.) Require crisis pregnancy centers to say that they are not required to provide medically accurate information.

Holy cow! Did CPCs around the country go ballistic! Infuriated, they charged that we were trying to shut them down by destroying their credibility. I mean, how DARE we require them to tell clients that they aren’t medical clinics, shouldn’t be confused for doctors, and aren’t required to provide medically accurate information.

I’d like to address their moral indignation in three parts:

1.) You ARE NOT medical clinics.
2.) You ARE NOT medical professionals and are not qualified (or even good at) providing adequate counseling or having an honest discussion about real pregnancy options.
3.) You ARE NOT legally required to provide medically accurate information. Consumer protection laws don’t include free service providers. As long as you don’t charge a fee, YOU ARE LEGALLY ALLOWED TO LIE TO WOMEN.

The bill in no way aimed to shut CPCs down. The bill only required CPCs to be upfront about their qualifications for working with women. Instead of waiting in a CPC, a woman looking for an abortion can move on in the phone book and look for someone who can provide her with a comprehensive discussion about parenting, adoption, and abortion.

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Fund’s report on CPCs, “The Truth Revealed,” turned some heads in Annapolis. Pro-choice and mixed-choice legislators were inflamed by the stories. Even anti-choice officials were shocked by the report and began to question crisis pregnancy centers on their practices and accountability.

The bill received hearings in the Senate Finance Committee and House Health and Governmental Operations Committee. NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland staff, volunteers, and student activists testified at each and received positive reactions from committee leadership and members. Most likely, the testimony that got to them the most was when one volunteer spoke about being locked in a room with a counselor at one center she visited. Or it was the testimony about one CPC that told a volunteer that birth control was dangerous and she should start natural family planning. Or it was the one where the CPC told the volunteer that “birth control is ‘next to aborting your baby.’”

Perhaps MY favorite part about this legislative session is that the anti-choice forces were being pushed around finally. For once, they were the ones having to defend themselves. And it felt pretty great when they got cornered by their lies.

Something anti-choicers have yet to understand – after years and years of lobbying in Annapolis - is that legislators have a limit. A person can only sit still and listen to testimony after testimony for so long. After 6 hours of this, someone is going to crack. So when you parade 40 people in front of a committee, when your opposition only did 12, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Anti-choicers seem to be deluded into thinking more testimony means more support. But when 30 people say the same exact thing, it ticks legislators off. If you want to show widespread support, get people to write letters to the committee or call their legislators. Don’t waste everyone’s time with the same old story. Committee hearings are meant to give you the opportunity to present a substantive argument for supporting or opposing a bill. Repetition has no place here.

While the bill did not make it out of either committee, it’s important to know that it normally takes two or three years to make really good policy and have it passed. With a little more finesse, a little more force, some more coalition building, and encouragement of our legislators, the “Limited Service Pregnancy Center Disclaimer Act” has a real shot in 2009.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Quick and Quippy: Reproductive Justice Week!

The first National Reproductive Justice week started yesturday! Check out some of these awesome events around the country! There's also a great Youtube video called "What is Reproductive Justice?" from the Third Wave Foundation.

So what do you think? What is reproductive justice?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Affordable Birth Control

How do sky-rocketing birth control prices effect you? Are you perhaps feeling:

a) Annoyed?
b) Irritated?
c) Outraged?

Or perhaps all of the above plus

d) Broke?

There is an easy fix to sky-rocketing birth control costs. Congress needs to pass the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act to close the loop-hole at no additional cost to tax-payers. How can you make this happen? Sign NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland's petition to show Congress that you support affordable birth control!

Also, check out this awesome video on the current birth control crisis from Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. It's funny and very smart.

Still feeling outraged? Join NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland in a meeting with Representative Steny Hoyer where you can tell him how the campus birth control crisis is effecting you and urge him to support the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act! For more information, check us out on Facebook

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pregnant? Need Fear?

There are two grammatically incorrect questions that you have most likely encountered at one time or another. Maybe they stared down at you from a billboard during your morning commute. Maybe they were plastered across the ads section of your college newspaper. For many women, the answer to these two questions is positive: Pregnant? Yes. Need Help? Absolutely.

But what happens when a young woman goes to one of these centers that claim to offer help? Will they receive fair and unbiased counseling? Will they be treated by medical professionals? Will they receive information on the range of options they have for their unintended pregnancy? Not quite. These centers with their blaring “NEED HELP?” smeared across billboards and newspapers might need to edit their questions to “Pregnant? Need Fear?”

Crisis Pregnancy Centers are staffed by volunteers who, while not remotely certified or trained in reproductive health, are well versed in anti-choice rhetoric. They may not be trained on how to give counseling or sonograms. Don’t worry though, that doesn’t matter to them, so why should it matter to the women they claim to serve? The staff at your local crisis pregnancy center is willing to offer your average extremely vulnerable, young, lower-income woman all sorts of help. But their version of help ranges from troubling to dangerous.

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, a grass-roots activist group, recently published a report on their undercover investigation of CPCs in Maryland. 100% of the CPCs investigators visited provided misleading or false information. At one center, an investigator received a brochure, which claimed “if you have a family history of breast cancer and have an early abortion at a young age, your chances of getting breast cancer before the age 45 are increased by 800%!” When CPCS aren’t offering women medical facts gleaned from the University of Hyperbolic Anti-Choice Lies, they’re using delay tactics and harassment to pressure them into not exploring their options. When one investigator tried to cancel an ultrasound appointment, she received this response:

“...when the investigator called to cancel an ultrasound appointment, the phone operator became very aggressive when the caller stated that she was still undecided about the pregnancy. The operator yelled at her for making a “terrible decision” for herself and her baby by opting to follow her parents’ advice and see her own doctor instead of returning to the CPC.” (“The Truth Revealed: Maryland Crisis Pregnancy Center Investigations”)

Many CPCs purposefully schedule sonogram appointments two to three weeks after the initial appointment for pregnancy testing. In some cases this can reduce a woman’s choice in regard to an unplanned pregnancy. A CPC counselor told one investigator not to worry about making any decisions because abortion is legal through all nine months in Maryland, which is completely untrue. Another counselor informed an investigator that she should not rush in for another appointment because it was likely she would miscarry anyway.

While Crisis Pregnancy Centers do everything in their power to prevent women from having abortions, they also refuse to offer birth control and offer limited to no information on adoption and parenting. When one investigator requested information on birth control, a volunteer informed her that birth control was “next to aborting your baby.” The two centers that offered information on birth control claimed that it caused cancer and infertility. For women who visit CPCs and choose to parent, the advice they receive is equally flawed. The centers provided little guidance in regard to parenting past infancy and did not have any information on realistic parenting concerns such as childcare, housing and education. One counselor told an investigator “Even so, having a baby isn’t that hard. I’m sure you can handle it” when she was questioned about childcare options for a young mother who wanted to continue her education.

Young, lower-income women facing unplanned pregnancies deserve comprehensive reproductive health care from compassionate and medically trained professionals. Their vulnerability makes them easy prey for anti-choice centers that promise to offer them help. There are pregnant women who pass that billboard, who open that newspaper, who read those two questions and want that help that Crisis Pregnancy Centers pretend to offer. And for those women to respond to that offer of help and receive nothing but lies and harassment is cruel. It is time for CPCs to stop extending an offer of assistance that is nothing more than an invitation into an intricate web of anti-choice coercion. It is time for these centers to be held accountable for their actions.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Support ACOG!

TAKE ACTION: Tell ACOG, Don't Back Down!

The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology(ACOG) is currently a target of criticism from a group of anti-choice doctors who want ACOG to weaken their stance on conscientious refusals

ACOG currently requires conscientious refusals. This means that doctors who will not provide abortions or contraceptive services must still offer their patients medically accurate information on reproductive health as well as referrals for patients who wish to pursue these services. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has expressed "strong concern" over conscientious refusals which has spurred anti-choice physicians to pressure ACOG to weaken their conscientious refusal standards.

Speak out against this loud anti-choice minority by clicking here to take action!