Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Blog for Choice 2013: More than my uterus

Nanako Tamaru, Guest Blogger (Boston University Law Students for Reproductive Justice)
This post is part of Blog for  Choice 2013, launched by the Boston Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (BSSRJ).

I am a 30 year old woman, unmarried and child free.  Over the past 12 years, I have lived an amazing life of independence and adventure.  I have moved across the country; I have travelled abroad.  I have lived with reckless abandon and I have lived with passion.  Don’t get me wrong – while I may have been a free wandering soul, I am also incredibly ambitious and focused; it has just taken me a while to find the right path.  Someday, I hope to be both a wife and a mother; granted a fiercely independent, feminist, and well-educated wife and mother.  I am just a woman that likes to move at my own pace.

As a law student, I understand that Roe v. Wade is a fairly narrow ruling; the Supreme Court upheld the right to privacy as justification for the legality of abortion.  At face value, the ruling only addresses abortion – the court does not make decisions about contraception or gender equality more generally.  But, symbolically, the ruling speaks volumes about women’s rights in the United States – in fact, the Roe v. Wade decision tells the story of my life and the lives of countless other women and the freedoms and privileges that we enjoy.

Roe respects my body as my temple. Roe supports the notion that I am capable of making decisions and acting autonomously. Roe understands that while my mother had 2 children at my age, I am simply not yet ready for that type of life.

I am incredibly thankful for these rights and privileges; not just those strict legal rights, like the right to privacy, I feel a deep gratitude for the social and cultural transformation that has taken shape across the bodies of our mothers, our grandmothers, our heroes. Roe v. Wade is an important reflection of this greater fight and also highlights how much work remains.

Despite being forty years on, abortion and reproductive rights are still at the forefront of our domestic social and political discourse.  At times, it’s hard to believe that we have come so far to gain so little.  Yet, it is times like these that I remind myself – I am a single, 30 year old woman and I still have my entire life in front of me.

Blog for Choice 2013: On Choice

Taylor Stanton, Guest Blogger (University of Ilinois College of Medicine at Rockford '15, Medical Student for Choice)
This post is part of Blog for Choice 2013, launched by Boston Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice.

            Somehow, my medical school curriculum has timed out perfectly that right now we are studying female reproduction.  So far it has been mostly my own independent study, preparing for upcoming lectures, so I can first read it all in my objective terms of zona pellucidas and acrosomes, blastocysts and syncytiotrophoblasts, implantation and the corpus luteum, before the inevitable retelling of the story of the “Mother” and the “Baby.”  It is an understandable interpretation- most of my professors are mothers or fathers, I too want to be a mother someday, and what is more humbling and tremendous to a parent than the gift of life?  But in my reading of the process, in my study of this insanely complicated chromosomal dance, it is impossible for me to believe that the acts of fusion and implantation are the sudden catalysts that would so automatically catapult one from “Woman” to “Mother.”  I have had an informal independent study of motherhood during my life: watching my school refuse to teach us sexual education and then stigmatizing the many teen mothers who had relied on high school myths for contraception, fighting the rising panic during my own scares, even when I was careful, celebrating babies as friends joyfully welcomed them into the world.  Now, I know that not every single pregnancy can be planned down to the last detail, and unplanned is not always synonymous with unwanted- but sometimes it is.  Sometimes the glorious danger of just being in this world translates into uninformed decisions, mistakes, and things out of our control happening to us.  But that should not then force us to transition so indelicately into the role of Mother.  Keeping Choice within the world of Women does not guarantee perfect Mothers every time, but it does give us the agency to make the decision to attempt to be one.  On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I recognize that there is still a million miles of a march ahead in reaching the right we as Women deserve, and it terrifies me that we have let the conversation surrounding Choice to become so convoluted and detached that it seems impossible at times.  But the choice of America to uphold this decision 40 years ago, that was a choice to look at Women as whole, stunning beings and move toward the respect Women certainly deserve.  It was vote of confidence that makes it possible for me, as a Woman 40 years later, to keep fighting the fight for Choice.

Blog for Choice 2013: Its more complicated than that

Jennifer Rosenbaum, Guest Blogger (Boston University School of Medicine '15, Co-President, Medical Students for Choice)
This post is part of Blog for Choice 2013, launched by Boston Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (BSSRJ).

The first political position I can remember having is pro-choice.  I have this vivid memory of coming out into the backyard one day when I was in elementary school to see my mother putting a bumper sticker on our newly-cleaned car that read “A World of Wanted Children Would Make a World of Difference.”  I didn’t understand.  She explained to me that there was a procedure that allowed doctors to stop a baby from being born, if the mother wanted it.  Some people didn’t like this procedure.  “And you do, ” I said, content in my childhood vision of all issues as binary. “It’s more complicated than that,” she replied. 

It’s more complicated than that.  If there’s one phrase that sums up the horror of the politicking, opinion-mongering, slurs, reducto ad absurdum images, and vitriol of the abortion battle that’s it.  Somewhere in all this mess is often lost that each woman who considers terminating her pregnancy is her own unique story – none of them straightforward.  She may want that child desperately, but know she’s unable to care for it at this moment in time.  She may be adamantly anti-choice, a strong political pro-lifer, but know that being pregnant or having a child right now will dramatically alter her life for the worse.  She may be adamantly pro-choice, but still feel that she has some responsibility to her partner, her parents, her potential motherhood to carry to term.  It’s more complicated than that.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the women who made these choices could tell us about the confusion, the guilt, the sadness, the relief, the anger, the frustration, or the comfort of their processes?  Wouldn’t it be better if we could agree that no one plans to get an abortion, and we could focus instead on making them as comfortable and non-scary as possible?  Shouldn’t we, as future medical professionals, learn to create a safe space for airing all these thoughts and issues – no matter the end decision?  At the very least, as we commemorate the struggles behind us and the ones still to come, let’s acknowledge that this is, finally, about choices women make mostly alone and mostly after much painful and difficult thought.  It is a choice that is very, very much more complicated than that.  

Blog for Choice 2013: Choice in the New Year

Dr. Megan Evans, Guest Blogger (OB/GYN Resident, Boston) 
This post is part of Blog for Choice 2013, launched by Boston Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (BSSRJ).

It’s funny when you hear something so outrageous on the radio or read it online.  Just for a moment, you feel like you accidently stumbled upon a faux-article from The Onion or you completely misread the piece on your smart phone before your morning coffee.

And then you realize- no, somebody actually said those words. And maybe you feel a little sick to your stomach, angry, or sad.  That’s how many of us felt this past year when it came to stories about women’s reproductive rights and health.  Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, another statement was said more outrageous than the next.  These statements were almost always said by men, completely devoid of fact, and always brought women I’ve met and cared for to the forefront of my mind.

When Todd Akin (R-MO) said “from what I understand from doctors…if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” I felt angry.  When I was a medical student, I cared for a woman who was raped by a coyote while trying to cross the border into the United States and had become pregnant.  She found her way to our clinic and desired to terminate this pregnancy.  She was so traumatized; she immediately started uncontrollably shaking at the sight of any male, even the anesthesiologist there to care for her.  She was raped, and like 32,000 other women each year who have been raped, she became pregnant.  Mr. Akin, in one sentence, you discounted this woman’s experience and all women like her.  In one statement, you suggested she must have not had a legitimate rape or she must have enjoyed the assault if she became pregnant.  

When Joe Walsh (R-IL) said there should be no abortion exception for life of the mother because with “modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance” in which a woman would actually die, I was shocked.  While Walsh made this outrageous claim, we had a patient on our labor floor with extremely high pressures and a pre-viable pregnancy.  As we tried to balance continuing her pregnancy with keeping her safe, her blood pressures became so elevated; we were concerned she could have a stroke.  After much counseling, the patient decided to terminate the pregnancy.  This was a difficult decision for the patient, but her health and her life were in danger.  Mr. Walsh, I have found your one instance and have many more.  Pregnancy is safe, but can be extremely dangerous for some patients and they should always have access to safe, legal abortion if their health or life is ever in danger. 

Unfortunately for both Mr. Walsh and Mr. Akin, voters and women everywhere would not tolerate these false and outrageous claims and both candidates lost their elections to strong, pro-choice women. 

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I think of how far we have come-over the counter Plan B, contraception without co-pays, and increased access to family planning services.  We still, however, have a long way to go.  Abortion and contraception access is always under attack-whether it is attempting to defund Planned Parenthood, budget cuts to women’s health services, or new, limiting legislation. 

As Roe turns 40, let’s remember all we have and all we have to fight for.  Just as we defeated Joe Walsh and Todd Akin, let’s make a New Year’s Resolution to keep our voices loud, fight for what we believe in, and stand up for all women’s reproductive health and choices everywhere.   Roe is counting on it. 

Blog for Choice 2013: A Little Brother

Anonymous Guest Blogger (Member, BSSRJ)
This post is part of Blog for Choice 2013, launched by Boston Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (BSSRJ).

When pro-choice advocates say “it’s not a baby, it’s just a bunch of cells,” I wonder whether they know what the joy of a wanted pregnancy feels like, and whether they’ve witnessed the pain of losing a child.  I wonder if they can understand why for me, being pro-choice is entirely compatible with thinking of pregnancy as the start of life.  I wonder whether it’s possible for pro-choice advocates to understand how the right to abortion is just as important for people who want to get pregnant as for those who do not.
I was supposed to have a little brother.

When I was a toddler, my parents were thrilled to conceive again.  After years of fertility problems, they hardly believed their luck -- first a healthy girl, and now with my mom nearing 40, a little boy on the way.  They named him after a beloved grandfather and shared the news with family and friends.

I can imagine my father’s face when he first heard about the results of the genetic test, because over 20 years later he still lowers his voice and looks pained when he tells me.  “The doctor said he had never seen a baby with such severely malformed chromosomes survive past birth.  He said even if our son was born alive he would die soon after, probably in pain.”

Although my mother’s health was not in danger, my parents decided to terminate the pregnancy late in the second trimester.  They hoped this would be more humane for my brother, and would allow them more time to heal and maybe try again. Though I never saw him in person, my mother showed me photos of my brother’s misshapen body and face when I asked about him years later.  She keeps them with his death certificate and her hospital bracelet in a small album in her study.  He was buried with other miscarried and aborted babies at the hospital.

Without Roe v Wade, my parents would have been forced to continue a doomed pregnancy, and to watch their child suffer and die in labor or shortly thereafter.  The loss of this precious time may have even prevented them, as older parents, from being able to conceive my sister the next year.
I was supposed to have a little brother, but I have a wonderful little sister instead.  And I have parents who still mourn their lost child, but who were free to do what they thought was best for their family because our laws protected their freedom of choice.

Blog for Choice 2013: Scared

Betty Yang, Guest Blogger (Boston University School of Medicine '15, Medical Students for Choice)
This post is part of Blog for Choice 2013, launched by Boston Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (BSSRJ). 

The term “pro-life” sounds like it should have a nice sentiment. It conjures up the pursuit of health and wellness, the prevention of disease, ambitions not unlike the themes of the Hippocratic Oath. As a future physician, though, the words “pro-life” evoke a very different, less wholesome feeling.

I feel scared. Scared for the women in the world who don’t have access to safe abortions and resort to alternative means. Scared for the girl who is shamed into a life she is not prepared for. And most personally, scared for what might happen to me or my family when I stand up for my beliefs and become an abortion provider. The history of violence against abortion providers and their communities is long and world-wide. There have been countless death threats, physical assaults, kidnappings, and even cold-blooded murders, all in the name of having a “right to life”. Do these abortion clinic security guards, receptionists, and physicians not also have a right to life? Are their futures worth any less than that of an embryo that has never “seen” the light of day?

Wanting all living things to live is a beautiful thought. And, according to my definition of life—which takes into consideration the life of a woman unprepared to care for, or to birth and subsequently give up a child, and the life of a doctor who stands up for a woman’s right to choose, and a definition which excludes bodies of life that cannot independently live without a supplemental blood, immune, and digestive system—I am of the same opinion. But to believe bombing, or suffocating, or shooting others based on their beliefs, all under the guise of an “Army of God” is where the title “pro-life” falls apart.

Thanks to Roe v. Wade, I am lawfully able to provide women a reproductive choice, but until the anti-abortion, “pro-life” culture of violence abates, I will not be able to do so without fearing for my life and the lives of those I love.

Blog for Choice 2013: Do It For Jane

Daine Stevens, Guest Blogger (UIC-College of Medicine '14, Medical Students for Choice)
This post is part of Blog for Choice 2013, launched by Boston Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (BSSRJ).

The 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is likely to bring as many protests as it brings celebrations. While American culture tends to be liberalizing in its attitudes toward civil rights, those of us in the pro-choice movement find ourselves forced to once again defend positions we thought we’d long ago settled. While the concept of reversing gains and re-instituting a ban on inter-racial marriages, for example, seems utterly absurd, we have seen serious attempts to make contraception more difficult to obtain, to ban abortion outright, or to make abortions de facto illegal, expensive, and professionally risky. 

Yet despite the personal, legal, and professional challenges, we can never forget that vacating the rhetorical battleground only strengthens those who seek to ban a woman’s right to choose. Those who seek to end Roe too often resort to violence, threats of violence, and outright lies to advance their position. These threats can cow those who support a woman’s right to choose into silence and secrecy, clearing room for prominent conservatives to openly opine about which rapes should be considered “legitimate” and which ones we shouldn’t be horrified by. While we can take temporary comfort in the defeat of Mississippi’s “personhood amendment” and of such anti-choice blowhards as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, we should also be scared that the margins in Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio weren’t even larger; there’s still much work to be done. 

I fully admit that as a future physician I am a biased source. It is patently contrary to medical ethics to force a patient to accept greater physical risk to themselves against their will, and pregnancy is at least 14 times more dangerous than an abortion. Even in cases where another life is at stake—like an innocent child who needs a kidney transplant—the legal structure for forcing a person to submit to medical risk—to forcibly take an organ—simply does not exist. In those so-called compromise positions where exceptions graciously exist in cases of rape and incest, anti-choice advocates presuppose a right to force women to disclose personal details of their sex lives to a body which will then judge them by moral, rather than medical criteria. Nowhere else in medicine, whether in heart disease, COPD, or even sexually transmitted infections, do we ever ask whether a patient is worthy to make their own choices or if they somehow deserve the consequences of their behavior before we grant them medical autonomy.

Abortion can only stay safe, legal, and available as long as we are willing to stand up and defend choice from those who seek to curtail it. Civil rights have moved forward because individuals have met and interacted with those who were affected, and because more people openly defended their rights; pro-choice individuals must come out to their friends and families and stand proud. This year we are celebrating the demise of the back-alley and coat-hanger abortion. Forty years on, our mission is to ensure that we never allow it to go back.