Category Archives: Women’s Issues

Religious directives dictating healthcare

Occasionally I have discussions with people about whether it is a such a big deal that Catholic hospitals follow their own set of religiously-inspired directives when treating patients. Shouldn’t a private institution be able to do whatever they want? Isn’t a breach of religious freedom to tell religious organizations how to operate? This is how I respond.

On December 9th, the New York Times Editorial Board summarized the issue regarding Catholic hospitals and standard of care:

Beyond new state efforts to restrict women’s access to proper reproductive health care, another, if quieter, threat is posed by mergers between secular hospitals and Catholic hospitals operating under religious directives from the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops. These directives, which oppose abortions, inevitably collide with a hospital’s duty to provide care to pregnant women in medical distress.

They go on to describe a case from 2010 in which a pregnant woman from Michigan had her water break at 18 weeks. The doctors at the only hospital in her county – a Catholic hospital – did not inform her that her fetus had almost no chance of survival, and that terminating the pregnancy was the safest option. Despite the danger to her life, the woman was sent home twice. The doctors had been following the religious directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which apply to all Catholic hospitals in the nation.

Catholic hospitals account for about 15 percent of the nation’s hospital beds and, in many communities, are the only hospital facilities available.

This isn’t the first time that religious directives have conflicted with proper medical treatment in the US or abroad. In 2010, a nun at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix was excommunicated for approving a life-saving abortion for a pregnant mother-of-four. Last year, in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar died of blood poisoning because doctors weren’t permitted to perform the abortion that would save her. In short, Catholic directives require that doctors withhold information or withhold treatment from patients, and the consequences can be tragic.

No hospital should be allowed to operate this way. There are standards of care that healthcare institutions must adhere to, and the ACLU is currently suing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for enforcing directives which contravene those standards. No one knows if they’ll win the suit, but I applaud them for trying. The bishops are right to call this is a matter of religious freedom; specifically, it’s a matter of whether our healthcare system will be free from the bishops’ religion.

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Filed under Catholic Church, First Amendment, Government, News, Reproductive Rights, Women's Issues

Some advice for teenage girls, and boys, and… everybody

My friend Carsie pointed me to a blog post in which a mother gives teenage girls some advice. Kimberly Hall asks young women not to post scantily-clad pictures of themselves on social media, because that would encourage her sons to only think about girls in a sexual way! Oh no!

Carsie tweeted an appropriate response, as well as coined the hashtag #solidarityselfie. So I’m uploading my own solidarity selfie here (because I don’t use Twitter).

#solidarityselfie

Man, I look so slutty in this picture.

I encourage you to blog/tweet your own #solidarityselfie! Hall’s sons, as well as all people, need to learn to control their responses to other people’s choices, rather than control other people’s choices.

And the funny thing about Hall’s post is that she says she’s trying to raise her sons with a strong moral compass. The thing about compasses, though, is that they always point north. It doesn’t matter what else lay to the south, east, or west – the compass always points north. That’s what it means to have a strong moral compass – you follow your conscience no matter what others are doing. Why doesn’t Hall try that?

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Filed under Women's Issues

Missoula’s new anti-sexual assault ads

Anti-rape poster

She was on her own, so I made my move… and told the guys hassling her to back off. They were really crossing the line.

These are some excellent anti-sexual assault posters from Missoula, Montana. They not only discourage assault, but encourage bystanders to help out others who look like they might be in trouble.

We have good reason to believe that ads like this are effective, even when the ads are directed at the rapists themselves. A Canadian campaign similar to this one seems to have decreased the rate of sexual assault in Vancouver by 10 percent. This isn’t surprising, given what activists are always saying about rape – it’s supported by culture. If it weren’t, then changing the culture wouldn’t have any effect on the incidence of rape. That it does shows that rape is not some biological inevitability, but a social issue we can do something about.

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Filed under Rape, Women's Issues

Beatriz lives

I’m really happy that this woman lived.

Beatriz is a 22-year-old mother of one. She waited months for the government of El Salvador – a highly Catholic country – to approve a medically necessary abortion. They would not approve, even though Beatriz’ fetus was non-viable. Many people, including myself, signed a petition by Amnesty International to change the government’s decision.

In the end, the government didn’t approve of the abortion. However, the fetus became old enough that doctors could deliver it and it would count as a “birth.” The baby died within hours (it was missing most of its brain), and Beatriz is recovering.

I’m happy that Beatriz lived, but I’m angry that this ever became a problem. El Salvador’s laws on abortion are the kind of laws that organizations like the Catholic Church would like to have in America. Even though there’s no evidence that such laws do any good whatsoever, people still push for them to become reality. (For a look at the harm that El Salvador’s abortion laws do, see this harrowing report from the NY Times.)

As someone who used to be anti-abortion, I can say that many abortion opponents do not display half of the humanity that is displayed in that NY Times article. We are taught by our religions or our cultures to think in absolutes, to ignore grey area, and to believe something because somebody told us to. We should never make decisions for other people based on so little understanding of their experiences. Doing so leads to the death of women with hopes, plans, fears, lived experiences, and social and familial ties to others.

If anyone disagrees, I’d love to hear what you think here or in private (you can email me through my Google+ profile).

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Filed under Catholic Church, Human Rights, Morality, News, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Women's Issues

A Catholic sister writes questionable things about contraception

The other day, a Catholic friend of mine shared a blog post written by one Sister Clare Hunter. Sister Clare is a contributing writer to the Diocese of Arlington’s Encourage & Teach blog. The blog’s mission is to “encourage all readers to find out more about their faith and to embrace the fullness of the truth that the Catholic Church offers.” But the truth Sr. Clare penned in her post wasn’t very… well, truthful, so I left a comment. As of this writing, Sister Clare hasn’t responded (I will update this post if she does). Regardless, I decided that since there’s a good amount of information in the comment, I should share it here as well.

In her post, Sister Clare argues against the benefits of contraception, asserting that contraception hasn’t helped us decrease abortion rates, or increase women’s health or happiness. She also implies – citing a rather dubious non-medical source – that birth control pills are unhealthy for women, or at least that they do more harm than good. If you’ve read any of the research on contraception, you know that these claims aren’t true.

I’ll leave it up to readers to take a look at Sister Clare’s full post for context. Without further ado, here is the comment I left her (slightly edited after proofreading). Note that my comment starts with a quote by Sister Clare about how contraception hasn’t decreased abortion rates:

I am BEGGING someone to help me wrap my mind around this anomaly! …WHY, WHY, do we still have 1.2 million abortions a year? 52% of pregnancies are unintended.

I can help you with that!

It’s simple, really – there are still lots of abortions because 95% of all unintended pregnancies in the US are a result of women who do not use contraceptives, or who use them inconsistently. The women who do use contraception correctly and consistently account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies (scroll down to the first graph here).

The reason many women don’t use contraception or don’t use it correctly is because they don’t have the money, don’t have adequate knowledge about contraceptives, and don’t have access to effective contraceptive services (See Guttmacher’s report here.)

When women are given the tools to regulate their reproduction effectively, they make the choice to use those tools. As a result, unintended pregnancy rates and abortion rates drop sharply. A study done in the St. Louis area gave 9,000 women and teens their choice of no-cost birth control. A year later, this had cut abortion rates by 62-78% of the national rate.

So it really is simple. If you want to decrease unintended pregnancy and abortion rates, contraception and comprehensive sex education are the way to do it.

As for your concerns about women’s health, it seems like you’re less well-informed than the women who are using the pill. Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) offer a host of health benefits in addition to contraception. Fourteen percent of OCP users rely on the pill exclusively for noncontraceptive purposes, including 762,000 women who’ve never had sex.

I agree that women (nay, everyone!) should be duly informed of the risks of any drug or medical procedure they may undergo. But they should be informed by doctors and other relevant experts – not the questionable sources pushing their own health products that you linked to.

Really, this entire post is very misinformed. It seems like you’re just throwing up whatever arguments you can to support the view you already hold, rather than doing your research about contraception or anything else. And it makes me angry when I think of the college students who might be taking your advice.

Though I didn’t comment on it, Sister Clare also argued in her post that overpopulation isn’t really an issue (and therefore contraception isn’t important to control it). I’m no expert on overpopulation, but my understanding is that, globally, it is an issue. And what did Sister Clare cite as a source for her claim? A pro-life organization called the Population Research Institute. I’m sure they aren’t biased in any way!

The facts are in: contraception is important, and contraception works. The only people who claim otherwise are those with a conflict of interest, who have to ignore certain facts in order to reach conclusions they were wedded to from the get-go.

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Filed under Catholic Church, Reproductive Rights, Women's Issues

Standing at a crossroads

It was only last month that the verdict was handed down in the Steubenville rape case, in which two boys raped a girl while she was unconscious, and seemingly an entire school community played a part in publicly shaming and harassing her via social media. The case was notable for its demonstration of rape culture, as well as the cruelty and insensitivity of mass numbers of people.

Rehtaeh Parsons

Rehtaeh Parsons

This week, a disturbingly similar case was reported in Canada. 15-year-old Rehtaeh (ruh-TAY-uh) Parsons was allegedly gang-raped by four boys at a party. The boys took pictures, and distributed them in their school and community. Rehtaeh was then relentlessly bullied and harassed via social media. 17 months later, at the age of 17, Rehtaeh hung herself.

It’s hard to know how to contextualize or understand these tragedies. Teenage suicides due to bullying have reached seemingly epidemic levels in the past few years, and the details of each case are always appalling. According to Rehtaeh’s mother, one of Rehtaeh’s rapists was giving a “thumbs-up with a big smile” in the picture of him raping her. Somehow the circulation of this picture resulted in Rehtaeh being harassed. As a classmate explains in the article above, students at her school were “putting the blame on Rehtaeh.” I don’t know what on earth they were blaming her for, but apparently her faults were enough to justify unrelenting harassment, in the form of boys asking her to have sex with them since she “had sex with their friends,” and girls texting Rehtaeh just to call her a slut. The mind boggles at the level of cruelty and insensitivity. Is there not a point at which even a callous person has a moment of conscience, and declares “this has gone on long enough – I won’t be party to it any longer”? Sadly, we know from cases like this that if those moments of conscience do come, they are too few and far between.

The next question then is what can we do about it.

To begin with, a great deal of educating needs to be done on the subject of rape. Many people frankly do not know much about rape – what it is, who it is perpetrated by, what emotional scars it leaves. The popular discourse is full of comments from people who think that if you penetrate a woman’s vagina with your finger it isn’t rape, or that if a person is drunk it isn’t rape, or that as long as she didn’t say “no” (regardless of whether she had the chance) it isn’t rape. A high school English teacher, Abby Norman, writes about the time she discovered this moral confusion among her own students. Her class was discussing the Steubenville rape case:

I realized then that some of my kids were genuinely confused. “How can she be raped?” they asked, “She wasn’t awake to say no.”

Well there you have it! The girl was out cold – clearly anything you do to her couldn’t be considered an assault!

Norman continues…

These words out of a full fledged adult would have made me furious. I did get a good few minutes in response on victim blaming and why it is so terrible. But out of the face of a kid who still has baby fat, those words just made me sick. My students are still young enough, that mostly they just spout what they have learned, and they have learned that absent a no, the yes is implied.

Clearly, our teenagers need to be having these conversations now.

And they are done a disservice by adults who minimize the consequences of rape, as many news organizations did in their coverage of Steubenville, or who perpetuate the myth that rape is committed only by evil criminals who will stop at nothing. Most rapists are their victims’ friends, boyfriends, neighbors, or classmates – people they know and trust. Most rapes are committed by people who could have acted better, had they been taught more about compassion and less about entitlement. We know that telling rapists not to rape works. So let’s do that, and not accept any attempts to distort the issue.

There is also the need to take bullying more seriously. From the description of Rehtaeh’s case, it sounds like there was no small number of students making hell for her over the fact that she was raped. You mean to tell me that her school knew nothing? They were able to do nothing? Throw an assembly! Sit the entire school down for a talk! There couldn’t have been a more important teachable moment than the time when an entire community gangs up on a child. Let no one repeat the lie that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never hurt us. The results are in on that experiment, and it is hogwash. How many more children have to take their lives, or come close to it, before adults decide that we are not going to let this happen?

The hard-to-face truth about the bullies and the rapists that we’ve seen in the international media is this: they’re normal teenagers. They aren’t monsters, or psychological outliers. They’re the kids we knew growing up – our neighbors, our friends, and our classmates. They are a manifestation of human possibilities. Here’s Amy Norman again:

It is a strange thing about looking into the face of a 15-year-old, to really see who they are. You still see the small child that their mother sees. You see the man or woman they will be before they graduate. They are babies whose innocence you want desperately to protect. They are old enough to know better, even if no one has taught them.

So we have to teach them.

Adolescence is a formative time in a young person’s life – every teenager will make decisions about what paths to take. We need to do a better job of pointing the way.

Image source: Youtube

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Filed under Bullying, Human Rights, News, Psychology, Rape, Women's Issues

Well here’s a novel concept

The internet is bursting this week with great things to share on sex and relationships. Following up on the sex education video I posted yesterday, here’s a wonderful article on communication, titled…

Un-memorizing the “silence is sexy” date script.

An excerpt:

What a wonderfully radical idea.  But I mean, isn’t it strange that this idea is so radical?  Women saying yes.  It’s not radical because women never want sex or agree to have it, but because the typical “sexy” date script society expects and encourages from us usually involves a man trying whatever he wants and a woman either putting the brakes on, or consenting…by not putting the brakes on.  Sound familiar?

We’ve gotten the idea from movies and magazines that silence is sexy.  Ultimate romance means fireworks and fairy dust sprinkling down from the heavens and instilling in us some magical intuition where both people suddenly just know what the other wants.  Speaking out loud in full sentences would break the rhythm, ruining the mystical thrill of the spontaneous moment.  And GOD FORBID you ask permission to do anything.  I mean, come on, major boner killer.

Here’s an idea.  Give women some agency by pausing now and then and allowing them to say YES and ask for what they want!  I swear,  it is sexy as hell to give somebody exactly what you know they want, without wondering if you’re guessing wrong.

Silence is only sexy because we like to assume that everybody is on the same page!  Imagine how much sexier it would be if you didn’t have to assume, if a woman said, “Yes, please do that.  I like that.” To have a woman actively pursue what she wants, and not just passively receive what someone assumes she wants, guarantees more fun and more pleasure for both parties.  Just think of all the pornography that depicts women screaming “yes!”  Consent is sexy; giving someone what they want is sexy; knowing without a doubt that your partner is satisfied is sexy.

I didn’t realize how much I agreed with this until someone put it into words!

What do you think? Do you talk explicitly with your partner(s) about what you want? Do you wish you didn’t have to talk about it?

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Filed under Relationships, Sex, Women's Issues