Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Common Ground, Common Sense

When Notre Dame President John Jenkins invited President Obama to give a commencement address at his prominent Catholic college, the move quickly became intensely controversial. Yet despite the kerfuffle, the speech that President Obama gave last week was graceful and poised, discussing the conflict at hand while emphasizing the importance of common ground.

Obama’s speech was consistent with the work of the pro-choice community to reduce the need for abortion by preventing unintended pregnancies. We can all work together to reduce the need for abortion without jeopardizing safe and legal abortion or stigmatizing the women who have abortions. His repeal of the global gag rule, revision of a broad and vague refusal clause, commitment to family planning, and work to support comprehensive sex-ed in schools all speak to his commitment to women’s health and autonomy.

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and the pro-choice community have worked for years to prevent unintended pregnancy. We recently discussed this issue with the Gazette. Every year in Maryland thousands of women experience unintended pregnancies, many of which lead to hardship for women and their families, tough choices, and for some, the decision to terminate. Common ground can be found. Education about and access to contraception are proven strategies for reducing unintended pregnancy. NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland supported a bill last session that would have expanded access to family planning for low-income women. While many groups testified in support of the legislation, “pro-life” groups were noticeably absent. Unfortunately, to date their efforts have been directed at restricting access to abortion. It should not be only the pro-choice community supporting these common sense measures.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back to Second Grade: "Timeouts" are Harmful and Condescending

The last time you got a timeout was probably in elementary school, when Teacher sent you to sit in the corner of the classroom for stealing Bobby’s crayons. Yet in 24 states, a grown woman can be sent to the timeout corner if she dares to consider abortion.

These 24 states have “informed consent” laws on the books, which mandate:
a) scripted “counseling” chock-full of anti-choice rhetoric, and/or
b) a waiting period of at least 24 hours between counseling and abortion procedure, hence the “timeout.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute’s recent study, the waiting periods “likely increase both the personal and the financial costs of obtaining an abortion, thereby preventing some women from accessing abortion services.” These mandated timeouts delay access to abortion care, making it more difficult for women to obtain abortions and more likely that they will require a more complex, more expensive second-trimester abortion. Mississippi, a state with so-called “informed consent” laws in place, has seen an increase in both out-of-state and second-trimester abortions – costly procedures that are relatively accessible for well-to-do women, but much more difficult to obtain for low-income women. In fact, there is considerable evidence that these policies disproportionately affect disadvantaged women, who struggle with the logistics: time off from work, childcare arrangements, longer and more frequent travel times - sometimes hundreds of miles in areas with few abortion providers. This “double whammy” is grossly unfair and unconscionable.

In addition, these laws are infantilizing, reinforcing the still-pervasive image of women as childlike, passive, and too frivolous to make decisions for themselves. These policies are, as NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Kelli Conlin points out, “really ruses to block access. They reinforce the myth that abortion is a decision that women take lightly. The unmitigated truth is that women facing unwanted pregnancies will have already carefully weighed their options before even picking up the phone to make an appointment with a provider.” Grown women do, believe it or not, have the ability to make critical decisions for themselves – yet “informed consent” laws try to place them back in the realm of teachers, crayons and “timeouts.”

Maryland is fortunate not to be one of those 24 states. Yet over the last two years, anti-choice activists have attempted to pass biased counseling provisions involving ultrasound imaging for women seeking abortion care; NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland is working to keep "timeouts" from coming to our state.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Souter's Retirement Raises New Questions

Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a consistent supporter of safe and legal abortion, has announced his impending retirement – prompting Court observers to wonder who Souter’s replacement will be.

The Supreme Court is a critical arena for reproductive rights issues. Yet today’s Court is, as NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan points out, in a tenuous position. Justices Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts are all anti-choice, and Justice Anthony Kennedy – widely considered the Court’s swing vote on the issue – voted with the majority in Gonzales v. Carhart, a case that weakened protections for women’s reproductive health.

As Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights notes, “since Justice David Souter joined the bench in 1990, there’s been a substantial shift in the acceptance and protection of reproductive rights worldwide. More countries, courts, and human rights bodies around the world have recognized that reproductive rights are human rights. Even countries that have historically neglected women’s reproductive health and freedom have affirmed that women’s health is vital to their societies’ health and committed to justice.”

The retirement of Justice Souter provides an opportunity for President Obama to nominate a justice who has a strong understanding of the realities of women’s lives. President Obama has expressed his commitment to nominate justices with “empathy.” It is crucial that President Obama select a nominee who will support the precedent of Roe v. Wade and empathize with women who need access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion.