The first thing I learned about Sex Ed was from my friend Amanda Garabaldi. Amanda told me that: “boys can only make boy babies while girls can make boy or girl babies”. That fact stayed with me from age 5 to at least age 9 or 10. And yes I can hear it now – if only she had only been right, there would be none of the humiliating degrading restrictions currently being placed on women now.
But that is not the point of today’s post. Really it goes back, as it often does, to a Willie Parker quote. To paraphrase a bit: No one ever wakes up and says this is a great day for an abortion”. By definition no wants an “un-wanted” pregnancy. This is the one thing both pro and anti choice sides can agree on. Incomplete Sexual Education is probably the top cause of unwanted pregnancies in the US. The power to stop 10’s if not 100’s of thousands of abortions over the years is right in front of you: real sex education.
Someone sold the right wing a bill of goods when they told them that teaching true sex ed means you are giving a green light to sex at any age. As I said when I waded into a church full of abortion protesters in Kentucky: what is the lesser of two evils – encouraging abortions by teaching falsehoods or preventing a few people from having sex in HS because they understood the truth? I have nothing against saying abstinence is the safest course but I do think it is crazy when your sex ed course ignores the use condoms or leaves out any mention of a woman understanding her body or a boy understanding the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy.
When I was in college there was a book that swept the campuses – it was called Our Bodies Ourselves. Unfortunately we have regressed as a society to the point where the book is virtually unknown in the campuses in the South I visited. Now we get our information in two minutes or less on You Tube shared by social media. Can’t someone make some videos that are both humorous and teach? Can’t someone please put the fun into Sex and take some of the danger out of it. 10’s of thousands of un-wanted pregnancies hang in the balance.
In the 1950’s – consensual love for another person could land you in jail and subject to chemical castration – witness the prosecution of Alan Turing who brought us the modern day computer. While Turing was being castrated for “gross indecency” – Rock Hudson was emerging as one of the top leading men in Hollywood. His fame continued into the 1960’s and 70’s as one Hollywood’s biggest sex symbols and carefully crafted lies.
When he died of aids and it was revealed he was gay, it changed the way America viewed gay men just as much as Ellen coming out changed the way the lesbian community was viewed by main street America. Marriage equality was un-thinkable before then,
So why bring this up in a blog on reproductive rights? Simple. As the movement says– if more women would shout out their abortions perhaps we could remove the stigma and begin reversing the 1,000 or so laws passed in just the last 20 years designed to humiliate and impede a woman’s right to a legal procedure. One in three women have had an abortion – so if you know more than three women chances you know someone who has had an abortion. Imagine if all the women who have had an abortion not only announced but voted locally to repeal those laws. This blog would not be necessary and 12 year old incest victims would not have to beg the court to free them selves of an un-wanted fetus.
With all the noise in and around this White House it’s easy to miss that the alt right now has the support to undermine most of your basic rights. Frankly I am a lot more concerned that women in Texas are about to be humiliated further and forced to have a ceremony which they will have to pay for to bury their aborted fetus, than 45 inane tweets or ogling the first lady of France.
Lost in all the scandals is that is not enough for some to try to outlaw a woman’s right to choose an abortion, now they are after your right to have sex without getting pregnant. Over 50,000,000 US women may soon have their access to birth control sharply curtailed or eliminated for economic reasons. There is now a panel trying to take birth control off insurance coverage. This article in the NYT just blew me away: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/10/us/politics/birth-control-contraception-health-care-bill.html?_r=0
I close with a poem that you all know. Please say it with me. I am not kidding. Repeat this out loud:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
FACT ONE: Here is a shock: both the pro- choice and anti-choice groups arguing about abortion have the same ultimate goal: no more abortions. Nobody wakes up and says: “Gee I would like to go through possible community humiliation and harassment to spend money I cannot spare to have a procedure that at best is just painful”.
FACT TWO: Abortions are a direct result of an unwanted pregnancy. One way to avoid that is not to have sex, and as we found out yesterday, for most that is simply not going to happen. Nor should it if we want to continue as a human race. The other way is through contraception.
So if we all can agree that no abortions are a good goal – how about a way to get there? Ever since we started to reproduce there have been forms of contraception. In fact this blog is named for a 3,500 year old document on contraception. There are now a number of pre- and post-sexual intercourse forms of contraception and a recent blog post by Brewster Kahle puts it succinctly: http://brewster.kahle.org/2017/07/09/family-planning-is-now-be-easier-on-women-plan-c-pills-telemedicine-internet/#comment-199560
Now it is just a matter of telling people what their options are – and that is up to you!
Was searching for an article on birth control for what will be tomorrow’s blog post and found one instead that said that 50% of teen-agers are having sex. Ok – duh. But it is good to see research $$ being put to good use. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/health/united-states-teenagers-sexual-activity.html
My take away: On the one hand teens are doing exactly what they are told in ads and on prime time TV. Consensual sex is supposed to be enjoyable (that is how we got here). And according to an episode of Two and a Half Men I happened to see in my hotel last night – it occurs between strangers shortly after hello.
On the other hand – if you had traveled to Louisiana and met Kim you may start to worry. Kim told me that she was taught in high school that condoms are 0% effective – yes you read that right – she was taught not to use condoms in her high school sex ed class. Or how about the DA of Wisconsin telling teachers that teaching contraception could get you arrested: http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/04/07/da-to-teachers-new-sex-ed-course-could-get-you-arrested/comment-page-7/.
Teens are having sex before they are old enough to vote – that’s a fact. And thanks to high school curriculums that emphasize only abstinence, a lot of that sex is un-protected. Contrast this situation in the United States with France, where Sex Ed is mandatory and taught over a 30 hour course. A course which spends a lot more time on a 3D clitoris* than on abstinence. The result: the US of A has a teen pregnancy rate five times higher than France and I will bet you next month’s wages that it is not because the French are avoiding sex. If you really want to reduce the number of abortions in the US – educate our kids on the many ways to avoid getting pregnant in the first place, and provide birth control for all who ask. Oh and a 3D explanation on the clitoris* would not be so bad…..
The stakes are high in Louisville and both sides are dug in. As I am driving into Kentucky I hear an interview with a US Senator named Tom. Tom recounts his fundamentalist background and says that a top agenda item is to… “repeal Roe vs. Wade…and defund those killing our youngest citizens.” For the first time in Kentucky’s 225-year history Republicans hold a super majority, and despite campaign promises not to go after non monetary issues, state legislation on reproductive rights is coming fast and furious. There are bills requiring ultra sounds, extending waiting periods, and defunding Planned Parenthood. And the list is growing rapidly.
Luckily the team at the ACLU has been studying the restrictive bills being passed and is well prepared. I love their determination but given the current political climate they have their work cut out for them.
Like its neighbor West Virginia, Kentucky, which had 17 clinics in the 1970’s, is recently down to just one clinic. On the ground Meg and a team of other volunteers escort women who wish to avail themselves of these services past protestors and into the clinic. In fact they do so much more in providing assistance but that will be on another post.
Amazingly Meg has been doing this for 17 years. Being new to all this I think about that. What cause would I believe in enough to donate a significant amount of my time for 17 years? You just do not see volunteer commitment like that every day!
Meg tells me about what women have to endure entering the clinic. Aside from the catcalls and guilt trips, she says: “in a small state many women are recognized and the protestors will actually call their mothers and friends to tell them that they saw so and so entering the clinic”. Since the clinic is 3 hours away from some border towns, Meg tells me stories about the hardship women, often traveling with small children, had to endure to exercise their reproductive rights. She even tells me of a survivor of sex trafficking that needed extra help.
One of the most important ways to help is to supply gas cards for those who need them. So if you have any lying around please contact me and I will get them into the right hands.
Note: The powerful picture above is from an exhibit at 21c in Louisville The exhibit is called the Future is female: https://www.21cmuseumhotels.com/museum/exhibit/the-future-is-female/
Talked with the folks at WV FREE – http://www.wvfree.org/. Like many choice advocates offices you will see no sign on their building. In fact unless you know exactly whom to ask, it is almost impossible to find them. A sad fact for an organization that does so much good in helping West Virginia women know what their rights are. Not only do they have cool t-shirts (pictured above) but they are probably the best place to work I have ever seen. They are dog friendly, have cool decorated offices, great tea and in-house Pilates classes.
My warm reception by their head and staff stands in great contrast to what I learned some women have to go through. There is now only one clinic in West Virginia that offers all reproductive right options. As one staffer points out, this could mean a 4 hour trip. Then, when you do get to Charleston, as in many cities, there is a fake clinic next to the one you’ve been traveling so far to get to. If, like many women do, you wander into the wrong clinic by mistake, one can only imagine the conversation.
Amy (not her real name) a congenial key staffer at WV FREE tells me that if a woman is convinced not to have a procedure and does not have the means to support the child, some groups will offer to put her on a point system. Point system you ask? Say you need diapers, that could be two points, formula maybe 5 points. And how do you get these points? On a sliding scale these groups may give you the most amount of points for attending bible training, or perhaps convincing others not to have a procedure.
I can only think of Orwell’s book: 1984, and his vision of state control. What would you call it?
The sign you see is a trick. As Amy (not her real name) explains to me: “First they see the sign and then we show them the ultrasound of the life they are about to kill and explain that not only are they killing their baby but God will send them to hell for all eternity”. I imagine myself as a pregnant woman, scared, un-sure, and, according to statistics, likely to already have a child but without the resources to care for another one. We do not have a good safety net in our country. In this fragile state of mind I am tricked and harassed till the tears well. Being neither pregnant nor a woman my heart breaks and can not imagine what they feel.
The clinic opposition in Toledo is well organized, and well funded. In addition to the billboard they raised over $300,000 to purchase a portable ultra-sound truck to lure un-suspecting women in to what must truly be – hell on wheels. The only thing standing between total humiliation and the clinic is Krys, her sister Julie (not real names), and the team of brave women they have organized to escort women into the clinic.
I meet Krys and Julie in a local diner. They are both slight and super determined. Krys is the organizer and has been at this for three years, which is surprising for someone so young. In the beginning volunteers were scant. As she says: “who can take off 9-5 to stand in cold and rain to protect women who want to exercise their legal options?” Many women have no place to leave their children so Krys and the other volunteers have had stand outside the clinic for hours in the cold to look after their children. The average woman only tells 1 to 2 people when they decide to have a procedure. So their support network is small and the sisters tell me that usually their economic means are extremely limited. Julie’s eyes flash with true anger as she describes how the opposition bought the house next door so they can legally scream at people getting out their cars. While the opposition can spend $300,000 on a sonogram bus, her group of un-paid volunteer guides are selling t-shirts to raise enough money for a new security camera system and: “just trying to keep us from going back to the coat hanger days”.
Since Planned Parenthood in Toledo does not do to procedures, and the other medical clinics in town have closed, there is only one clinic in the city and it is in jeopardy. Just this week the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to rule on a law that could close it. Considering one of judges just spoke at a pro-life meeting and refused to recuse herself – Krys is not sure how good the odds are. But whatever the case these two sisters assure me they will not stop advocating for a women’s right to choose the option that best fits her needs and circumstances.
West Virginia (WV) is one of the friendliest places I have been. It is also a maze of contradictions; I eat lunch in a hipster place, being served by a man who would be at home in Haight Ashbury circa 1968, and sitting next to a conservatively dressed woman who asks me in the nicest tone: “when will we northerners stop complaining and realize America needs to go back its bible-focused values”.
Later I walk by a group of people wearing “Yayy God” t-shirts and run into Millennial Meg who has joined every protest since Nov 8. Meg is one the first people I have met to sense that what ever reproductive rights the good people of WV enjoy now may go the way of a calving glacier in Greenland. Meg is married and a native West Virginian, but worried that she might have to migrate north to “have the same rights my mom did”.
While a married millennial is worried that her rights will be trampled, Alice (not her real first name) is all for laws restricting access. Alice, is super friendly and charming. As a result of an un-planned, un-wanted (at-time) pregnancy she was the victim of domestic violence and had her economic mobility severely restricted. Despite that, she believes that millennials: “are popping abortion pills at any opportunity, and that has got to stop”. Alice is sort of ok with abortions up to 12 weeks but not sure they should be preformed the way they are. I am sure if someone surveyed her they would find her both pro choice and for closing the clinics that provide them. The amazing thing is that all sides seem to like each other and accept that they are on different ends of reproductive rights question.
Told ya this is complex, but perhaps the tolerance and friendliness in Charleston could be a model to get a dialog going with those in political power.
Being a wonky data type I thought I would start out with a statistic. According to a CDC study, 50% of pregnancies in the US are un-planned. I am sure most are welcome news, but what of those that are not? In the US, unlike China till recently, we have the unfettered right to reproduce. We also have a less protected right not to reproduce, and that is where it gets tricky. Obviously, abstinence works. But there are two issues: 1) If everyone practiced it there would be no more human race, and 2) Depending on your views, we are either designed by God or genetics to want to have sex at some point in our live. So what do we do?
I am thinking about all this as I am driving through rural Pennsylvania on my way to West Virginia. These are overwhelmingly red counties I am visiting, but right now none are more than an hour from a clinic. Fittingly PA has the most incongruous motto for my road trip: Virtue, liberty, and independence. So far no one I have met in PA actually knows the virtue part of the state motto. The focus seems to be on independence. Regardless of age or gender, everyone I talk to is against an intrusive government. However, if you are on the right the commitment ends with regards to your sex life.
My just-past-millennial waitress thinks anything beyond a first trimester abortion should be punishable by prison, and people pop over the counter plan b pills rather than “being responsible for their actions”. Whereas, the millennial woman in the ice cream parlor bemoans the lack of easy access to plan b or c medication. She recounts a friend who ended up having a medical procedure because it was too difficult to obtain a pill. Despite the lower income status of both women neither thinks price is an obstacle.
What ever your views on reproductive rights or religion are, for most people consensual sex is fun. If it were not, then we as a species would have died out long ago. This is probably why we have been having this debate for over 3,000 years.
On to West Virginia….