Gender & Sexuality

Mississippi's Last Abortion Provider

Flickr/kbrookes
T welve years ago, Dr. Willie Parker was at home listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” sermon. Parker had heard the words many times before. But this time, he found himself focusing on King’s interpretation of the Bible story of the “good Samaritan,” who stopped to help a man who had been left for dead by robbers. Though others had passed the man by, the Samaritan stopped, King explained, because he didn’t think about the harm that might befall him if he did. Instead, he asked what might happen to the dying man if he did not. Parker, an ob-gyn who had been practicing for 12 years at the time, suddenly felt that King’s words held meaning for his own work. Having grown up in a religious family that was active in the Baptist church (Parker was “born again” and preaching the gospel at 15), he had been brought up to believe that abortion was wrong. Up to that point, he had never provided one. He’d refer women to other providers, but was too conflicted about...

The Demographics of Abortion: It's Not What You Think

Why does the ’70s-era image of the white, middle-class teenager as the typical abortion patient persist?

AP Photo
In the 40 years since Roe v. Wade , quite a bit has changed about the abortion debate. Evangelicals have taken the helm of the anti-choice movement, once dominated by Catholics. The movement has shifted strategies repeatedly—from stoking moral outrage and blocking abortion clinics to feigning concern for women’s health and, most recently, passing innocuous-sounding building regulations aimed at eliminating access to abortion. For its part, the pro-choice movement has mellowed since the days radical feminists crash ed town halls into a professionalized juggernaut of lobbyists and lawyers with a mighty service arm known as Planned Parenthood. But one thing that hasn’t changed since 1973 is the public image of what a typical abortion patient looks like: A middle-class, white high-school or college student with no children whose bright future could be derailed by motherhood. Hollywood portrayals of abortion patients are few and far between, but largely reinforce this understanding; Juno...

Looking Back at Pro-Choice's Battles

AP Photo/Nick Ut
(AP Photo/Doug Mills, file) In this April 5, 1992 file photo, pro-choice demonstrators gather on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington. For many abortion-rights activists, the debate over health care reform has been frustrating, even disheartening, as they see their political allies on the defensive over the issue and their anti-abortion rivals on the attack. It's been 40 years since the Supreme Court's landmark decision over a woman's right to choose in Roe v. Wade . How has the landscape over the issue of abortion and the politics of reproductive health changed since? Here's a round-up of our best coverage over the past decade on the changing climate, both in public opinion and in legislatures inside the Beltway and out, over abortion. 2012's War on Women , E.J. Graff "For the ladies, the year’s sound track could have been a strangled gasp, followed by snorting and laughing out loud. The attacks on women’s health, on contraception, on abortion, on the definition of rape—it...

The Line between Roe and Wade

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
F orty years after the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to abortion in the Fourth Amendment on behalf of “Jane Roe”—a 25-year-old single mother in Texas named Norma McCorvey—America is as unsettled as ever on the issue. This is for two reasons that, by their nature, are at odds with each other. The first is that abortion is a metaphysical enigma to which neither wisdom nor experience provides a definitive answer; we’re therefore left to fashion an imperfect political response to a question that’s fundamentally spiritual. The second is that, as with other more banal political matters these days, into the vacuum of what human beings can know about the soul rush ideological extremes that concede nothing to ambiguity let alone another point of view. At the center of the dilemma over terminating a pregnancy is this consideration: At what point does a biological entity initially part of a woman’s body cross into the realm of its own humanity? Merely asking this is anathema to...

What's Left of Roe

Barack Obama's re-election might make the landmark decision safe for now, but its meaning has eroded over the years.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file)
Since the ruling was handed down 40 years ago today, Roe v. Wade— which held that the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy included a woman's right to choose to have an abortion—has been subject to an ongoing legal and political assault. This assault has not succeeded in getting the decision overturned. But it has caused the scope of the opinion to become narrower in ways that have disproportionately affected the rights of women of color, poor women, and women in isolated, rural areas. The re-election of Barack Obama might make Roe safe for the time being, but it is worth taking stock of how its meaning is being eroded and what the future battles would be. The first major conservative victory in the struggle to narrow Roe v. Wade was the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited Medicaid funds from being used to provide abortion services. The Hyde Amendment split the pro- Roe v. Wade coalition on the Supreme Court, and was ultimately upheld in a 1980 5-4 decision . Three of the...

Who Has Abortions and Why it Matters

Guttmacher Institute
The Guttmacher Institute has a useful set of charts detailing the state of abortion in 2013, apropos of Roe ’s 40th anniversary. The short story is that abortion is far more widespread than Americans tend to think; by age 45, almost half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy, and nearly one in three will have an abortion. Sixty percent of women who have abortions already have one child, 44 percent are married or have a partner, and 69 percent are economically disadvantaged. Conservative rhetoric notwithstanding, the vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, and 73 percent of women who have abortions are “religiously affiliated.” Unintended pregnancies and unplanned births are highest among African Americans and Latinos, and accordingly, those groups have the highest abortion rates—40 percent for blacks, 29 percent for Latinos. The most interesting facts—and the ones which should complicate the conservative message on reproductive rights—are on the economic...

Roe v. Wade Was About ... the Environment?

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file
Of course most young people don’t know what Roe v. Wade is. Why should they? I know nothing about the battle of Dunkirk or the fields of Verdun. Most people have a vague idea about the battles of the past; they care most about the battles they’re fighting today. And for young people, the abortion battle is over; why do they need to know its name? Here’s the background: Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released a poll on American attitudes toward Roe v. Wade on its 40 th anniversary year. Among the findings: while upwards of six out of ten Americans know the historic decision was about abortion, fewer than half of those ages 18-29 did. Just 44 percent, in fact. Numbers are higher if you’ve been to college or graduate school, of course, where you’re likely to have been forced into some public policy or contemporary issues class or conversation. But once they know what it is, they want it to stay legal. Less than one-third—27 percent—of that age group wants it overturned. Young people...

Millenials Don't Know Much About Roe v. Wade

Pew Forum
The rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage, and the growing acceptance of marijuana legalization, has a lot to do with the changing demographics of the country. As a class, young people are just more tolerant and less prohibitionist than their older counterparts. To a degree, this extends to abortion. According to the most recent survey from the Pew Forum, 68 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 oppose overturning Roe v. Wade , as opposed to 27 percent who want to see it overturned. The only other group as supportive of Roe are 50 to 64 year olds, who were teenagers or young adults at the time that Roe was decided. It’s worth noting that while Millenials are broadly supportive of Roe , relatively few know that the ruling has to do with abortion: What’s more, the public remains deply divided on the moral question of abortion: 47 percent say that it’s morally wrong, while 13 percent say its acceptable, and 27 percent disagree that it’s a moral issue at all. This, I think, points to...

The Matriarch

Remembering Gerda Lerner, one of the founders of women’s history

AP/Wisconsin State Journal, Sarah B. Tews
AP/Wisconsin State Journal, Sarah B. Tews Gerda Lerner in 2001 A letter written by the incorrigible muckraker Jessica Mitford in November 1975 contains an amusing portrait of Gerda Lerner, a founder of the field of women’s history. The unlikely pair had been thrown together by overlapping residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center on Lake Como. The journalist recounts their collision to her daughter in an epistle that takes the form of a five-act comic play—with “grim” Gerda the object of one of the Mitford sister’s notorious teases. “Sample tease,” Mitford writes. ‘Gerda: ‘I’m here trying to structure my book...’ Me: ‘Really? How very quaint, I’m trying to write mine.’ I’ve got her so she doesn’t know which end is up,” writes Mitford, delighting in what was surely an unfamiliar posture for the formidable Lerner. The women’s differences are attributable to a clash of styles, not of their similar leftist principles. Mitford found the historian’s unrelieved earnestness...

Did Jodie Foster Just Come Out?

Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP
On Sunday night, as Jodie Foster accepted her Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes, made an awkward and extremely peculiar speech. No one seems to be entirely sure what she was saying. Was she retiring from acting? Was she coming out even though she didn’t actually say she’s a lesbian—and even though she’s made out-ish comments and gestures in the past? Here are the parts that suggested coming out most clearly: So I'm here being all confessional and I guess I just have the sudden urge to say something that I've never really been able to air in public, so a declaration that I'm a little nervous about. But maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now, huh Jennifer? Um, but uh, you know, I'm just gonna put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I'm gonna need your support on this — I am single. Yes I am, I am single. No, I'm kidding. But I mean I'm not really kidding, but I am kind of kidding…. I hope you’re not disappointed that there won’...

Faster and Faster: The Same-Sex Marriage Momentum

Flickr/Lost Albatross
For those involved in state-level battles for gay rights, timelines are getting shorter. Take Delaware: The state's first bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation was introduced back in 1998. The state’s gay-rights community had to fight for 11 years to finally see it pass in 2009. Just two years later, however, the legislature passed a civil-unions law by a relatively large margin less than two months after it was introduced. Now, as activists turn their attention to marriage, they’re hoping lawmakers will continue to step up the pace and pass a bill this session. “We are confident that we will have the votes in both houses to pass marriage,” says Lisa Goodman, president of the state’s leading advocacy group, Equality Delaware. Across the country, marriage-equality advocates are getting their first taste of something sweet—momentum. A majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage and the number continues to rise as younger folks enter the...

To Stop Rape Culture, Ring the Bell

Very few men are rapists . Very few men are abusers. Or stalkers. Predators are the minority. The vast majority of men are decent people who want to do the right thing. What would it take to shift from a rape culture to a respect culture, and end violence against women? You have to involve the decent men. You have to let them know they are our allies, not our enemies. You have to let them know what they can do to help—to interrupt violence, to help spread new norms—without having to call themselves feminists or become full-on activists. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about some such efforts in the United States. Bystander-intervention efforts, in which groups train young men and women in what it takes to derail a situation that could lead to rape. Today I spoke with Mallika Dutt, founder of the binational organization Breakthrough, which works in both the U.S. and India to build a respect culture and prevent all kinds of violence against women—one by one, at the local, personal level,...

To Stop Rape, Fix the Police Force First

AP Photo/Manish Swarup
AP Photo/Manish Swarup in New Delhi, India, policemen stand guard at the judicial complex where a new fast-track court was inaugurated Wednesday to deal specifically with crimes against women. I n the past few weeks, the brutal murder of a young woman in New Delhi has consumed international media and fomented a social rebellion in India. The victim, a 23-year-old medical student, was gang raped in a public bus, then mutilated with iron rods and thrown out onto the street; she died on December 29. As a woman born and raised in India, I can attest to the ubiquity of sexual violence. I myself avoided being gang-raped by a group of drunk men through sheer providence. I was 20, a junior in college here in the United States, and doing a field project on rural cooperatives in India. My guide—a local girl my age—and I had decided to stay overnight at a one-room guesthouse in a village hosting a traditional, all-night festival. Sometime in the middle of the night, we awakened to what sounded...

Building a Respect Culture

AP Photo/A.M. Ahad
So much is disturbing about the Steubenville video , released by Anonymous, in which Michael Nodianos makes horrifying jokes about the raped woman, that I can hardly begin. Here’s one: the guy saying “that’s not cool.” Oh, I’m glad he’s saying that rape, and joking about rape, aren’t funny. But “ that’s not cool ” isn’t enough. If two football players took the body of a drunk and unconscious young woman and used it as a plaything all night, why didn’t someone intervene? For god’s sake, even if it was too hard to take her body away from them, why did no one call the police? I know, that’s easy for me to say. I wasn’t there; I don’t have to live in that town where football is the primary industry, where football is the central social currency, where standing up to football bullies could mean social death and physical danger, not just at the time but later as well. Those social norms were already in place—enforced, Jessica Valenti at The Nation contends , not just by the town’s football...

Purity Culture Is Rape Culture

AP Photo/ Dar Yasin
AP Photo/ Dar Yasin Indian women offer prayers for a gang rape victim at Mahatma Gandhi memorial in New Delhi. H er intestines were removed because the six men used a rusty metal rod during the “rape.” That fact—the rusty metal rod—is what’s haunted me about the violent incident that has outraged India and the world. Six men held a 23-year-old woman and her male friend in a private bus for hours while they assaulted her so brutally that, after several surgeries to repair her insides, she died. What happened to this young woman was a gang assault. It can be called a sexual assault because among other things, they brutalized her vagina. Or it can be called a sexual assault because it was driven by rage at the female sex . Since Susan Brownmiller first wrote Against Our Will — the landmark feminist reconceptualization of rape — feminists have worked on clarifying the fact that rape is less about sex than it is about rage and power. Too many people still conceive of rape as a man’s...

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