Monthly Archives: October 2011

In Remembrance: Illegal Abortion Kills

Tuesday, October 18th, Pittsburgh pro-choice advocates marched on the office of Senator Jane Orie, one of the PA Senate’s strongest supporters of the dangerous SB 732, which could put most of Pennsylvania’s abortion clinics out of existence by legislating compliance with unnecessary and expensive Ambulatory Surgical Facility (ASF) guidelines. Unlike the lively We’ve Had Enough rally in Harrisburg, the Pittsburgh protest was somber. Its aim was to remind Senator Orie how many women have perished from desperate measures taken when safe, sanely-regulated abortion was not accessible.

The National Organization for Women lists brief biographies for some of these women on their website.  Clara Bell Duval, a Pittsburgh native with five children, died in 1929 from self-abortion with a knitting needle. Geraldine Santoro, separated from her abusive husband and pregnant by another man, tried to perform the procedure in a hotel room with the father of her child, and bled to death. In 1977, soon after the passage of the Hyde Amendment which denied abortion coverage to women on Medicaid, Rosie Jiminez died from a botched illegal abortion, too poor to afford the procedure at a private clinic.

To this list we can now add Karnamaya Mongar, the 41-year-old Nepalese refugee with whose murder the infamous Dr. Kermit Gosnell is charged. Mongar allegedly died from an overdose of anesthesia at the hands of an unlicensed employee at Gosnell’s unsafe, unsanitary, and poorly monitored “Women’s Medical Society.”

Dr. Gosnell  allegedly sold prescription drugs during the day and performed illegal abortions at night, primarily for clients who were poor, immigrants, and women of color. For over 16 years the Health Department ignored complaints about the facility, including a hand-delivered complaint from a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The Health Department and other regulating agencies had cause to be concerned about Dr. Gosnell’s clinic, but they did not investigate repeated complaints from patients and other providers.

The problem with Dr. Gosnell’s clinic was not the lack of regulations, but the lack of enforcement of those regulations.  The Pennsylvania legislature, rather than improving inspection procedures and ensuring that consumer complaints are appropriately investigated and acted upon, is using Dr. Gosnell as an excuse to push for unnecessary and cumbersome regulations that could effectively close down most freestanding abortion clinics in Pennsylvania.

SB 732, Pennsylvania’s “answer” to Dr. Gosnell’s house of horrors, would require all health facilities that offer abortion care to comply with Ambulatory Surgical Facility regulations. These complicated and expensive regulations have the potential to shut down nearly every freestanding abortion clinic in the state of Pennsylvania at least temporarily, and only those with the resources to redesign their facilities in accordance with ASF regulations – such as quadrupling the size of their operating rooms for no added safety benefit, and installing unnecessary hospital-grade elevators capable of lifting the equivalent of a small car – would be able to reopen. Those surviving clinics would have to increase the cost of an abortion out of reach of many women.

Karnamaya Mongar didn’t die because the elevators in Gosnell’s clinic were too small. She died because the regulations already in place were ignored.  If the cost of a safe, legal abortion increases or the number of safe providers decreases as a result of SB 732, stories like Mongar’s will become a lot more common in our state. Making abortion harder to access for all women is, to paraphrase David Bowie, like fighting fire with gasoline. These regulations are a backdoor tactic to severely limit abortion care, a hypocritical and disingenuous response to the atrocities allegedly committed by Dr. Gosnell. 

The heartbreaking stories of Clara Duval, Geraldine Santoro, Rosie Jiminez and now Karnamaya Mongar send a message that ought to be loud and clear: when safe abortion care is made illegal, unaffordable, or too difficult to access, women who are desperate to end their pregnancies seek other options, as dangerous or unsavory as they might be because the alternative—remaining pregnant—is untenable.   Far too often, those women die. It is our responsibility to remember their lives as we continue to fight for fair, reasonable reproductive health care legislation. Learn more about SB 732 here.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Undocumented Women in Custody Forced to Give Birth in Chains

The Huffington Post recently published an expose on the barbaric treatment of some undocumented women who are incarcerated while pregnant. Being shackled during childbirth is illegal in 14 states including Pennsylvania (except in cases where it is determined that the woman “represented a substantial risk of imminent flight” or “other extraordinary medical or security circumstances”) and The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy discourages the practice. However, women can “still legally be handcuffed to their hospital beds by state authorities in the 36 other states. Those women can also be denied the right to have a family member in the birthing room, or to hold their newborns for longer than 24 hours.” Several undocumented women have recently come forward with stories of being forced to give birth in chains while incarcerated.

While many immigration related violations are civil cases which would not entail incarceration, the ICE defines other immigration related violations (such as re-entry after deportation) as criminal offenses. Undocumented women who are apprehended for a non-violent immigration related criminal offense may be shackled and forced to remain so even during labor. Even though the ICE has a policy against shackling during labor, in 36 states imprisoned women are still at the mercy of the state correctional facility’s discretion as to whether or not they must be chained during childbirth.

Alma Chacon and Juana Villeges are two undocumented women whose experience of being dehumanized during, before, and after childbirth is indicative of how dangerous not having a state law mandating decent treatment of pregnant inmates can be.

Chacon was detained for a non-violent criminal offense and shackled to her hospital bed. Chacon was allegedly not allowed to nurse or hold her baby until she was released from immigration custody almost 70 days later when she gave birth in.

For Juana Villegas, going into labor while in prison meant that her ankles were cuffed together on the ride to the hospital, and that she was denied a breast pump by local authorities after she was given one by medical professionals. Without a breast pump, “she was in great pain” after she gave birth and had trouble sleeping in prison, [Elliott] Ozment, her attorney, said in a phone interview.

We have blogged before about the negative health implications of being chained during labor and the utter senselessness of forcing women to give birth in this inhumane way. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ oppose shackling during labor since this poses an increased risk of clotting due to the inability for the woman to properly position herself during labor, decreased blood flow to the fetus, interference with the mother’s ability to breastfeed her child after delivery, and delays that are presented from having to remove shackles before an emergency procedure. In addition to the health benefits of unshackling women before, during, and for a reasonable amount of time after labor, doing so presents no security risks. Women in labor are obviously a low-flight risk and no inmates in labor have ever attempted escape.

Shackling during labor is a cruel and inhumane practice to subject women to. Unfortunately, in 36 states no law prohibits this treatment and undocumented women are particularly vulnerable to being mistreated in this way. To learn more about the plight of pregnant undocumented women in America’s prisons, read the entire Huffington Post expose here.

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Filed under Childbirth, Immigrants, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Shackling, Women's health

Guttmacher Report Shows Increase in Unintended Pregnancies Among Low-Income Women

According to a recent Guttmacher report, the overall rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States stayed the same between 1994 and 2006, but this is no neutral statistic.  While the rate of unintended pregnancies has gone down among high-income women, the rate of unintended pregnancies among poorer women has gone up.

Women aged 15-44 with incomes below the federal poverty line were having unintended pregnancies at a rate of 88 per 1000 in 1994; by 2006, that rate was 132 per 1000.  Meanwhile, women whose incomes were at least twice the federal poverty line saw a decrease in their rate of unintended pregnancies, from 34 per 1000 in 1994 to 24 per 1000 in 2006. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the high unintended pregnancy rates among low-income women also lead to higher rates of abortion and unplanned births.

This story has been blogged about at Ms. Magazine and at the Washington Post where columnist Jennifer LaRue Huget points out a positive finding: unintended pregnancies among women aged 15-17 have gone down. Still, the income discrepancies highlighted by the report are perhaps its most striking findings. Guttmacher Institute President and CEO Sharon Camp commented on the disturbing nature of those findings:

The growing disparity in unplanned pregnancy rates between poor and higher-income women—which reflects persistent, similar disparities across a range of health and social indicators—is deeply troubling. Addressing them all requires not only improved access to reproductive health care, but also looking to broader social and economic inequities.

 Another Guttmacher article, Wise Investment: Reducing the Steep Cost to Medicaid Of Unintended Pregnancy in the United States, shows that unintended pregnancies cost Medicaid a conservatively estimated $11 billion a year. On the other hand, every dollar spent in family planning saves four dollars by avoiding those later Medicaid costs.

From an economic standpoint as well as a reproductive health issue for all women, there is no denying the importance of continued funding for family planning programs and education efforts to ensure that all women have access to the knowledge and resources necessary to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

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Filed under Childbirth, Contraception, Family Planning, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Topeka, Kansas Decriminalizes Domestic Violence

Amid a dispute between three arms of government over which would be responsible for paying for the prosecutions of those accused of a misdemeanor case of domestic violence, the city of Topeka, Kansas has decriminalized it. The city commissioners believed that by decriminalizing domestic violence, the city would force the district attorney to take on responsibility for the cases as domestic violence remains a crime under state law, “a conclusion with which he [the district attorney] grudgingly agreed.” This comes after the district attorney stated that with a decreased budget he could only focus on felonies and not misdemeanors, meaning that the city had the responsibility to prosecute misdemeanors.

Since negotiation about which agency would be responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence cases began in September, eighteen people in Topeka have been arrested on charges of domestic violence and released without charges as no agency was accepting new cases. Becky Dickinson, program director for the Topeka YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment told the Los Angeles Times that “in an abuse situation…abusers are often the most dangerous after they’ve been arrested. They come home looking for revenge. Needless to say… ‘victims were concerned’ about the budget spat.” Dickinson also said that in the past month she has seen an increase in the number of women needing help at the YWCA since “‘It became a very scary and dangerous time for victims to get law enforcement involved,’…. Dickinson told The [Los Angeles] Times, adding that victims ‘were calling the police and seeing their abusers being arrested but getting released in 48 hours.’”

Now, after a month, finally one arm of the government is responsible for prosecuting domestic violence cases. However, the fact that the city of Topeka decriminalized domestic violence in order to force the district attorney to pay for the cost of holding abusers accountable sends an unconscionable message. Maya at Feministing noted “regardless of how this ultimately gets resolved, the message has already been heard loud and clear: Not one, not two, but three arms of government in Topeka don’t care enough about prosecuting domestic violence to pay for it unless they are absolutely, positively, back-against-the-wall forced to.” Additionally, while there is currently at least one arm of government that said it will now take responsibility for holding abusers accountable, the Los Angeles Times noted, “whether the county prosecutor’s announcement that it is resuming prosecutions will fix the problem remains to be seen; the prosecutor’s office is expected to lay off almost a fifth of its staff by the end of the year.”

This news comes during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and comes as a sobering reminder that while much has been done in the effort to make sure that every abuser is brought to justice and, ultimately, that domestic violence is eradicated entirely, there is still much work to be done. Indeed, President Obama, upon proclaiming October 2011 to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month, said

During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we recognize the significant achievements we have made in reducing domestic violence in America, and we recommit ourselves to the important work still before us. Despite tremendous progress, an average of three women in America die as a result of domestic violence each day. One in four women and one in thirteen men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

To read President Obama’s entire proclamation, click here.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Family Violence, Violence Against Women

Report: Single-Sex Education is Ineffective

A new report by the Board of the American Council of Coeducational Schooling (ACCES), The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling, recently published in Science magazine  reveals (pdf)  that “placing children in single-sex learning environments is ineffective, misguided and may actually have harmful effects on children.” This data comes at a time when the number of single-sex classrooms in the U.S. is growing.  There were only two single-sex public schools in the 1990s but today there are more than 500 public schools that either offer single-sex classes or that are entirely single-sex.

The popularity of single-sex schooling has grown partially because of misinformation spread by proponents of single sex public schooling that boys and girls should be taught separately because of differences in their brains.  One of their proponents, Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, relying on research on rats, claims that boys need to be stressed in order to learn and therefore they must must be taught in cold classrooms in aggressive, confrontational styles.  Girls, according to Sax, require quiet warm classrooms, where they can take off their shoes and cuddle in a blanket brought from home.

Dr. Diane F. Halpern, the lead author of the report and past president of the American Psychological Association who holds a chair in psychology at Claremont McKenna College in California, said in an interview with the New York Times that Sax’s logic is faulty. She stated,

“A loud, cold classroom where you toss balls around, like Dr. Sax thinks boys should have, might be great for some boys, and for some girls, but for some boys, it would be living hell”…She said that while girls are better readers and get better grades, and boys are more likely to have reading disabilities, that does not mean that educators should use the group average to design different classrooms. “It’s simply not true that boys and girls learn differently…”

Indeed, the report argues that not only is single-sex schooling ineffective at improving educational outcomes, but it is actually harmful. The report states that “sex-segregated education is deeply misguided and often justified by weak, cherry-picked or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.” It argues that “single- sex education reduces opportunities for boys and girls to interact together, which serves to reinforce negative gender stereotyping.”

The report “calls on the Education Department to rescind its 2006 regulations weakening the Title IX prohibition against sex discrimination in education.” These regulations allow single-sex classrooms provided they are voluntary, the school believes single-sex education will provide a better education for students, and that “students have a substantially equal coeducational option.” 

The Women’s Law Project has fought against discrimination in education. To learn about our work to prevent single-sex classrooms, click here.


Filed under Education, Sex Discrimination, Single-Sex Schools, The New York Times, Title IX

More Teens Having Unprotected Sex

A recent poll reveals rising rate of unprotected sex among young people around the world. Notably, in Britain the rate of unprotected sex among teenagers has increased 19% and in France it has increased a whopping 111%. Here in the U.S., the rate has increased 39%.

The study also took note of young peoples’ reasons for not using contraception. As Jezebel noted, “their reasons for forgoing protection are pretty depressing.” There were many reasons young people cited for not engaging in safe sex practices, but

The most common reason for not using contraception was not having any available — teens mentioned running out of contraceptives, fearing that parents would find them, or being too embarrassed to ask doctors about obtaining them. Other reasons included a partner who preferred not to use it (the second most common reason in Asia and the US), preferring not to use it themselves, getting drunk and forgetting, and feeling that contraception is not “cool.” Both preferring not to use protection and seeing it as uncool were most often reported by men…

While the results of the study are disheartening, experts see a solution to the problem: education. Denis Keller, a member of the World Contraception Day task force, told Reuters that “No matter where you are in the world, barriers exist which prevent teenagers from receiving trustworthy information about sex and contraception, which is probably why myths and misconceptions remain so widespread even today.” Jane Woodside, spokeswoman for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, added,

What young people are telling us is that they are not receiving enough sex education or the wrong type of information about sex and sexuality…How can young people make decisions that are right for them and protect them from unwanted pregnancy and STIs, if we do not empower them and enable them to acquire the skills they need to make those choices?

Education could be the key to making sure all genders are invested in using contraception and therefore that everyone is protected. Jezebel argues that the fact that “preferring not to use protection and seeing it as uncool were most often reported by men” shows that education about safe-sex practices should not be limited to women. Indeed, there is a “need to teach men as well as women the importance of safe sex. It doesn’t do any good to teach girls to insist on condoms if their partners are going to refuse. And gynecologists can’t be the only source of contraceptive information — someone needs to give this information to boys and men as well.”

Here in Pennsylvania, schools are not mandated to teach sex education nor are they required to provide medically accurate information.  In place of comprehensive factually-based sex education, many Pennsylvania schools rely on abstinence-only programs that clearly put our teens at risk. To learn about efforts to ensure that every person in Pennsylvania is given comprehensive sex education and what you can do to help, click here.

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Filed under Abstinence Only, Contraception, Pennsylvania, Sex Education, Sexually Transmitted Disease, Sexually Transmitted Infections

Wage Gap Still Exists, Census Shows

Recently released 2010 census data shows the gender gap unimproved from the year before—women still make only 77 cents to every dollar a man makes. For women of color this discrepancy is even larger. African American women earned only 67.7 cents and Latinas earned 58.7 cents to the male dollar.  Despite the fact that women are becoming more educated than men on average, they still continue to have significantly lower salaries. As we have blogged before, this wage discrepancy is caused by numerous factors, but two significant ones are thought to be discrimination in the workplace and difficultly in balancing work and family life.

Unfortunately, this news is further evidence that progress towards wage equality is stalling. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that “over the past decade, the wage gap narrowed by less than one percentage point, compared with four percentage points between 1991 and 2000. In the decade prior to that, 1981 to 1990, the gap closed by even more: ten percentage points…”

To help women break the glass ceiling and to help the businesses they work for in the process, Editorial Director of Working Mother magazine, Jennifer Owens, suggests that companies start offering more flexible work schedule hours to help women  balance their work and family lives. If more companies offered flexible schedules the effect on narrowing the wage gap could be significant. Owens notes that

Pay levels are, in general, equal for men and women until about the age that women begin to have children. Once the pressures of family appear, women’s comparative pay shrinks, in part, because too many women are forced either to leave the workforce or dial back their careers to take over childcare duties. Once they return to work, women find their pay rate diminished. In fact, studies find the pay gap is actually worse between working mothers and women without children, than between women and men.

More flexible work hours would not only help female employees who continue to work after motherhood, but the companies they work for as well. Owens stated that “Flexibility has a direct connection to the bottom line in terms of reduced turnover and thus, lower costs for recruitment and training of replacement employees…it also ties directly to lower absenteeism.” Working Mother recently published a list of 100 Best Companies for mothers in the workforce. These businesses, as a result of offering paid maternity leave and flexible schedules, have benefitted from “higher productivity, increased engagement, lower turnover, and better health” of their employees.

To find out more about the struggle for pay equity and what you can do to advocate for fair wages, click here.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Employment, Equal pay, Wage Gap