It’s the end of year wrap-up! Ten major stories in sexual and reproductive health, and good news may actually outweigh the bad.
Links in this episode:
This is the last podcast of the year, and so I’ll be doing something a little different than the usual format. This episode, I’ll be reviewing 10 of the biggest stories in sexual and reproductive issues of 2008. This list is not comprehensive, so if I missed something important, I apologize. Along the same lines, I’ll be avoiding ranking these. The order I’m presenting them in is, in other words, pretty arbitrary. But one thing I’m happy to report is that in a field where it seems we’re always fighting an uphill battle, 2008 was actually packed full of good news.
Let’s make #1 some good news. A problem is slowly fixing itself. Here’s Dan Savage on the nature of the problem.
- savage ab-only *
The good news? More and more states are turning down abstinence-only funds. This is tremendous, because states usually aren’t the biggest fans of just turning down money. But there’s money and then there’s money. And money spent to make people more stupid about sex isn’t money worth spending. And now half of the states in the union are saying, "Thanks but no thanks" to ignorance pretending to be education.
Speaking of lies and deception, pro-choicers made other gains against crisis pregnancy centers this year. Crisis pregnancy centers are those anti-choice places that try to lure women in who are looking for abortions, and then they feed them a bunch of lies to try to scare them out of it. We did a Reality Check video about the subject.
- crisis pregnancy centers *
Our #2 story from 2008 is that some members of Congress are pushing back against the lies and deceit streaming from crisis pregnancy centers. Through a lot of finagling, many crisis pregnancy centers have managed to get federal funds to tell women that abortion will give them breast cancer and that they shouldn’t be using condoms. In lieu of unwinding all the funds, Senator Robert Mendez instead offered the Stop the Deceptive Advertising in Women Services bill, forcing Congress to pay attention to this problem. The bill wouldn’t stop crisis pregnancy centers from existing, but it would stop them from lying. Of course, in their eyes, not being able to lie is basically ceasing to exist, because without lying and deception, anti-choicers got nothing.
Story #3 is unfortunately pretty depressing but nonetheless important. The United Nations reviewed the United States’ compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and found that we’re falling far short of our promises, especially with regards to sexual and reproductive health. Women of color experience poorer STD and pregnancy outcomes than white women in nearly every way, but what may have been the most shocking finding is discovering that black women contract HIV at 23 times the rate of white women.
The good news is that the mainstream media is paying attention to the problem. CNN did a decent report on it.
- black women hiv *
AIDS is the number one killer of black women between 25 and 34.
Stories #4 and #5 should be bundled together, because this is the year that more people began to wake up and smell the coffee, and realized that the anti-choice movement opposes not just abortion, but contraception, especially contraception controlled by women. They were woken up to this news by two right wing assaults on contraception access. The first one is the personhood amendment that would have defined fertilized eggs as rights-bearing people under Colorado state law.
- personhood amendment *
It’s kind of confusing, but this was an assault on the right to use the birth control pill, as well as abortion. It’s confusing, because in reality, the birth control pill works by preventing fertilization. But anti-choicers prefer to believe that it works by preventing implantation, even though there’s no evidence that it does. But once one fact-less belief was enshrined in the state constitution, it was just a matter of moments before anti-choicers move to make their unscientific belief about how the birth control pill works a matter of law.
The good news is that people learned that anti-choicers are eager to ban the pill. The bad news is now people are confused about how the pill works. Please listen carefully and repeat to your friends: The pill works by stopping ovulation. We even made a video to clarify this issue.
- suppressing ovulation *
Seriously, if a sperm touches an egg, it’s usually days after you have sex. Which is why pills work by making sure there’s no eggs there.
The 5th story in our countdown was another story that woke people up to the fact that anti-choicers, including the anti-choice President Bush, are hostile not just to abortion, but to contraception and sterilization. And this is a story that RH Reality Check had a huge hand in pushing into the national consciousness, with help from MoveOn dot org. Here’s Hillary Clinton talking about it.
- hhs regs *
In case there was any doubt about what the people behind the personhood amendment were intending to do, this HHS regulations situation should banish all doubt. First the anti-choice movement wants it written into law that preventing pregnancy is terminating pregnancy. Then they want to ban terminating pregnancy, and hope to ban preventing pregnancy with it. Whatever it takes to get the uteruses of America out of the control of the women who own them and into the control of the hard right.
Luckily, hundreds of thousands of Americans registered their discontent with the HHS attempting to redefine the meaning of the word "abortion" to encompass contraception. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has made it clear they don’t care what we think on this issue.
Stories 6, 7, and 8 are election-related stories from what has been quite possibly the longest, biggest, and most expensive election season in American history. #6 is a debate incident that sent jaws to the floor in living rooms nationwide.
- health of the mother *
The pundits seized it immediately, too.
- health of the mother 2 *
Thank you, John McCain, for doing this. For years and years people like me have been straining ourselves trying to prove to the mushy middle that anti-choice sentiment is grounded in this strong contempt for women, and this belief that we’re just trying to get away with something. McCain made the case for us in 15 seconds with the assistance of air quotes.
Story #7 is an unabashed triumph.
- south Dakota abortion ban *
And they weren’t willing to ban it this time around, even with the phony exceptions that were written specifically so no one could use them. The 2006 ban went down 56 to 44, and this one went down 55 to 45. But South Dakota wasn’t the only state to see the voters completely reject anti-choice nuttery. California voters shot down a parental notification law for the third time. And Colorado voters overwhelmingly voted down a law that would extend personhood status to fertilized eggs. So you can still menstruate in Colorado without fear of prosecution.
#8 is the one sour note in this trifecta of election stories.
- prop 8 *
Ha, it’s going to be a long time before that gets old. They played the whole 3 minute Prop 8 musical before the screening of the movie Milk at the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin. I’m fairly certain everyone had seen it, but we all laughed anyway.
But of course, the reality behind the video is pretty damn sad. After a fortune of money was spent on Yes On 8, much of it donated from out of state churches and conservative organizations, California voters passed Prop 8. And now, they’re having buyer’s remorse. Companies that gave financial support to Prop 8 are being targeted for protests and boycotts. And conservatives are whining that it’s unfair, because apparently being religious means that you get to be a jerk without being called on it. It’s written in the Declaration of Independence and in the Bible! I swear!
Story 9 may not seem like the biggest thing in the world now, but I have my suspicions it’s going to be increasingly important.
- post abortion syndrome *
Problem with it? Post-abortion syndrome is all made up. It’s been known that there’s no such thing as post-abortion syndrome for roughly as long as anti-choicers have started to wail about it, but this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins reviewed all the studies on abortion and depression and found there’s no link. This is important, because anti-choicers have exactly zero compunction about lying about this, and it’s nice to have a really big study to show that they’re wrong.
Why do I think this is important? It’s clear to me that the anti-choice movement has really come around to seeing that the misogyny that is the gasoline of their engine turns people off, and that they need to find a way to hide it better. One tactic is putting more women out as spokespeople for the movement. Another is to pretend they want to force women to bear children against their will for their own good. Already the mainstream media handles the anti-choice movement with kids gloves, and this new strategy could make it worse. It’s good to be able to push back.
And the final story on the countdown is one that I’m somewhat skeptical about. But the mainstream media is all puppy eyes and tails over it, so it’s something that we ignore at our own risk.
- new evangelicals *
Yep, the new evangelicals. These are supposed to be the softer, kinder version of evangelical Christians, and we’re supposed to be able to work with them on some issues, even if they still can’t understand that the laws about abortion cannot be crafted around religious dogma. This isn’t about liberal-leaning evangelicals, which have been around forever even if they’re quieter. These are conservative Christians. You’re hearing a lot about them, and you’ll be hearing more in the future, because they’re beginning to see how unpopular they’ve become, and they need a better image.
Why am I skeptical? Because I suspect the only changes we’re going to be seeing are surface changes. Less fire and brimstone, but not less abusive attitudes towards gays, women, or anyone who doesn’t want to live under a patriarchal theocracy. If their policy ideas haven’t changed, then a kinder, gentler face might be even worse than the mean-spirited one we see now. Because then they’ll be able to earn people’s trust and drive the knife in deeper.
But the good news is that we’ve got a pro-choice nation right now, and probably will soon be seeing a more solidly pro-choice court. So they can shift PR strategies, but they won’t get very far.
Whew! That was a lot of stories, and there’s many I didn’t even get a chance to cover. PEPFAR, the growth of the home birth movement, the backlash against the HPV vaccine, the global spread of HIV, various experiments with making the birth control pill over the counter. I guess it’ll have to wait until next year, when I start up the podcast again. That’s right. After this, I’m taking a week off and I’ll be back on January 5th with bright eyes and perky ears. Until then, have a happy holiday.