Category Archives: reproductive rights

I saw mommy mounting Santa Claus! Ick.

The Office Christmas ‘do seems to be a uniquely tragic and tacky British affair. Perhaps this happens around the world, but since many folks here seem to take pride in “having a piss up” and stumbling about in the gutter as a distinct badge of national pride, I can only assume that this advert from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS has special holiday resonance in the UK.


This eye-catching, decorum-eluding advert’s meant to catch the eye and remind women to stock up on the morning after pill. Usually on offer at the chemist (pharmacy) for £26, the BPAS is giving the pill along with condoms and contraceptive advice in a special Chrimbo pack.

The media reportage was, of course, hysterical and one-sidedly sexist. Women shouldn’t use the morning after pill for contraception! Shouldn’t they be thinking about contraceptive before they get so blindingly drunk at the office Christmas party and cop off with Stewie from IT that they don’t need the morning after pill?! This story, along with one about Devon police handing out flip flops to drunk women on ridonculous heels, created a regular little tempest in a teapot about female impropriety, trampy women of today, and raising the alarm about unwanted babies clogging up the Social (services).

And what of men? You know, the ones who also participate in the unexpected, unprotected sex? What responsibility does Santa have in this scenario? Just shimmy on down the chimney?


I suggest Dr. Miranda Bailey’s approach because a) I love her, b) she is the only moral compass I have since Homicide’s Detective Frank Pembleton, and c) the media makes me as weary as the residents of Seattle Grace make her.


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Filed under reproductive rights, sexual health, sexuality, Uncategorized, women

Parliament on the road to eugenics

The U.K. media today is reporting that Ministers of Parliament are trying to push GPs to give the contraceptive jab to girls to stem the tide of teenage pregnancy. The hysterical, scare quotes media is putting emphasis on age (“girls as young as 13!!!”) and rasising the spectre that there’ll be a crazed Nurse Ratchett running around school sticking girls with anti-baby drug-filled needles.

In fact, when you look more closely at the reports, what the Ministers are advocating are school-based contraceptive clinics and developing sexual health services. Callers to BBC Radio London were egged on by the host’s characterization of the jab as “mandatory for all girls age 13 without parental consent leading to unfettered promiscuous sex.” Way to extrapolate (read: tell bold face, yellow journalism lies). There’s, of course, no mention in news reports of better, sustained sex education or even a gender-conscious approach to respectful and consensual sexuality education.

Far more disturbing, however, is the complete absence of concern about the eugenicist air of such a scheme. Take, for example, the report in The Times:

“The policy of offering [the contraceptive jab or implants] to teenagers is likely to prove controversial. In the past, some doctors have been criticised for offering them to poorer women and those from ethnic minorities without explaining possible side-effects, which include headaches and weight gain [emphasis mine].”

Erm…can we just stick with the first part of the last sentence for a mo? While side-effects are of concern, perhaps we might draw on histories of women of color and poor women effectively being sterilized without consent as the real issue here? Given that the jab makes one sterile for up to three years, I think explaining the primary effect of sterilization might take precedence as a human rights issue over weight gain.

I’m far from advocating doing nothing, but this sounds like an unethical attempt to revisit sterilization abuse in hopes of saving money on social services.

The blog Mississippi Appendectomy is doing great archival work on sterilization abuse.

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Filed under African Americans, race, reproductive rights, sexual health, sexuality, Social Justice, Uncategorized, women

Bush’s Last 77 Days

A New York Times editorial published today discusses the damage that Bush intends to inflict in his last 77 days in office. Restricting access to abortion is among his goals, the Times says:

Soon after the election, Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, is expected to issue new regulations aimed at further limiting women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and information about their reproductive health care options.

Existing law allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. These changes would extend the so-called right to refuse to a wide range of health care workers and activities including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of birth control pills or emergency contraception, even for rape victims.

Doctors were recently denied the right to restrict access to medical services based on religious beliefs by the California Supreme Court. In that case, a doctor refused to provide in vitro fertilization to a lesbian, and claimed the right to deny services because she is a Christian fundamentalist, under free speech and freedom of religion protections. It’s chilling to see a law sanctioning denial of service broadened on the federal level, and dispiriting to realize that if the California Supreme Court case makes it to the Supreme Court, the doctor who denied services will likely prevail, no matter the result of today’s presidential election.


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“No One is Pro-Abortion”

Obama said it in the last debate, just as countless apologetic ‘pro-choice’ politicians have before him: ‘No one is “pro-abortion.”’ Probably Obama has to say things like this if he wants to win, and certainly I’ll take his Supreme Court nominees over McCain and Palin’s any day. But it is a strangely illogical stance for someone who supports abortion rights to take. Think about it: arguing that abortion should be legal but rare implies that, while we think it shouldn’t be against the law, there is definitely something wrong with it. It’s a sort of ‘pro-choice-but-anti-abortion’ position, which preserves the legality of choice only by insisting that abortion is a horror that should be avoided at all costs.

In terms of logic, this obviously makes no sense. If you accept the pro-life position that the abortion is murder, then why should it be legal? If, on the other hand, you accept that the fetus is not a person but in fact a collection of cells inside an actual person’s body, then why should abortion be more any more problematic or ‘rare’ than other kinds of elective surgery? Of course it’s not ideal to undergo elective surgery: it’s expensive, it requires recovery time, and it involves some health risks. But surely the culture that brought us breast implants and the use of neurotoxins to fight wrinkles has made its peace with the downsides of elective surgery?

In fact, I think the ‘legal but rare’ stance probably serves Obama well precisely because it reflects a view held by many pro-choice voters. This is a stance that accepts the legality of abortion but shrouds it in secrecy, guilt and shame. It’s a view more common than you would think, even among Lefties who would never take a publicly anti-abortion stance. Just try substituting the words ‘my abortion’ for ‘my hernia operation’ or ‘my caesarean section’ in conversation with a group of progressives and see what kind of reaction you get.

The blogger over at ‘What To Expect When You’re Aborting’ (WTE) recently found out the high cost of foregoing the usual guilt and shame. (Many thanks to my friend JW for bringing this blog to my attention.) This witty, foul-mouthed and clever young woman referred to her abortion as Best. Period. Ever. and, in one of my favorite posts, compared the photo that came up when she searched a stock-image bank for ‘abortion clinic’ (a sad looking woman sitting in a darkened hospital room, holding her head in her hands) with a photo illustrating how she expected to feel after her abortion: like Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club.

Rolling like Judd Nelson

Rolling like Judd Nelson

Although I don’t always agree with the WTE blogger (I think she should lighten up on Planned Parenthood, for one thing), WTE did a great job of calling the bluff of people who say they’re pro-choice but still expect abortion to be a guilty secret, with predictable results. Here’s a sample response from

She’s gleefully blogging the countdown to her abortion, and she’s nicknamed her fetus “the tumor.” Though there’s nowhere to leave feedback, there is an email address, and she swears she’s received mostly supportive comments. We’re tempted to call shenanigans on this whole blog, but if it’s real, it’s kind of amazing. And by amazing, we mean horrifying. We’re pro-choice, but on this, we’re conflicted. And if you’re not, you’re surer of your ideals than we are.

And WTE’s characteristic response:

Horrifying? Gleefully? You know if my iPhone was waterproof I would go wrist deep and take a picture of the former zygote’s malicious wiggling toes. And then an after picture of me in the recovery room busting the “this guy” move.

In a way, hits the nail on the head: the WTE site requires that you are sure of your ideals. It assumes that if you think abortion is fine, you actually do think it’s fine, rather than thinking it’s sort of OK provided you skulk around like you’ve been branded with a scarlet A, acting all weepy and guilty. It assumes that if you are really pro-choice, you (unlike the noxious Juno) don’t really give a fuck if the zygote has toenails or not, because the fetus is not a person and the woman getting rid of it is.

In fact WTE had to pull the archives of her site for a few weeks after some other, non-anonymous women bloggers were accused of having secretly authored it. These other women received death threats, so WTE locked the site in order to protect them. (See the perfectly named post ‘I am Spartacus’ for details.) She’s recently unlocked the archives but hasn’t yet provided details about the decision.

For me, WTE is a reminder of what we lose when we compromise in order to win people to our cause. Yes, presenting abortion as something most women will reject themselves if given the choice probably brings some people into the Democratic fold. Yes, the stakes of this election are so high that I understand why Obama has taken this road. But the pro-choice-anti-abortion position in effect argues that, although abortion is evil, it’s OK that it’s legal because women will recognize this evil for themselves—and either reject abortion or feel self-loathing about having one. When she provokes readers with her joy that her ‘tumor’ has been removed, WTE points out the way that the legal right to abortion comes attached to an implicit demand that women act like dutiful, responsible vessels for unborn children, even when they’re deciding not to have them. She shows up the ideology that makes abortion technically legal while insisting that women who have one view and represent themselves as secret criminals. As Leftists from Marx onward have reminded us, you don’t need the law to stop people from doing something if you can convince them to stop themselves.



Filed under reproductive rights, women

Vampire Babes Against Choice

What is it with right-wing Christians and vampires, anyway? No, I’m not talking about the whole ban-Harry-Potter crowd; it’s the ones that like the occult that are worrying me. Everywhere you look these days there seems to be a new and unholy alliance between sexy gothic vampires and those god-fearing Main Street folks we keeping hearing so much about. Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, goes to church to protect her soul in evil times, the vampires of the HBO’s True Blood series operate in some mirror world Maybury, and, last but most certainly not least, we have the phenomenally successful Twilight saga, penned by Brigham Young University grad Stephanie Meyer.

For those of you who have somehow missed the Potter-esque towers of Twilight books in every bookstore in America and the UK, the Twlight saga has now run to four books (Breaking Dawn, released last summer, was supposed to be the last) and features a love story between a high school girl named Bella and her gorgeous vampire beau Edward. The synopsis may say ‘Buffy’ but the actually recipe is more Harelquin Romance: a heroine who doesn’t know how beautiful she really is, an inscrutable male who finds her unawareness of her beauty irresistible, an equally hunky rival who smoulders with jealousy–all mixed together in a steamy soup of overwrought teen angst.

Meyer uses the romance vehicle to take her heroine into some very un-Buffy territory. Edward insists that he and the virginal Bella only kiss until they get married, which they do immediately after she graduates from high school. It’s disturbing enough that Bella’s entire life’s ambition is to be with Edward (she disdains college, has no career ambitions and can barely be bothered to finish high school), but the real horror comes when she realises she is pregnant. Bella’s half-vampire baby is so strong that it is destroying her insides, and it will physically claw its way out of her when it reaches full term. Edward begs her to abort, but Bella is literally dying to sacrifice herself for her little hellion, and she puts measures in place to ensure that none of her loved ones can end the pregnancy and save her life.

Of course, self-sacrifice is a fixture in the sort of romance novels that Meyer draws on: the only time it is OK for romance heroines to display strength is when it helps others and hurts themselves. But Meyer goes one further by locating this maidenly masochism in precisely the place that anti-abortionists would most like to see it: the body of a pregnant teenage girl. Not only do readers get to witness Bella protect her demon seed even as it breaks her ribs and damages her organs, but they get to hear its thoughts as well. Yes, that’s right: the thing is sentient and already talking (through vampire telepathy) even though it’s still in Mommy’s womb.

It’s the anti-abortionist’s wet-dream, wrapped up in pseudo-gothic trappings: a young woman who is basically a walking womb, devoid of all desire except for the determination to protect her foetus, and a foetus that is already a fully formed person, with wills and wishes of its own. The foetus is turned into a person, while the woman is turned into a collection of baby-sustaining cells.

Just to round out the anti-choice fantasy, the baby’s birth brings all good things to Bella. In order to save her life, Edmund finally makes Bella a vampire, thus fulfilling her greatest wish. She and Edmund and the little monster retire to a perfect wee cottage owned by his hugely rich vampire family. They will never have to work, and they don’t really have to take care of the baby since it emerges half grown and ready to take care of itself. Oh, and just in case that wasn’t enough, becoming a vampire makes Bella freakishly beautiful as well. The message, hammered home with the force of a pneumatic drill, is that as long as young women never put themselves first, they’ll eventually have everything they want.

From her soulful picture on her books’ dust jackets to the indie playlists that she posts on her website, Meyer seems determined to make sure that everyone knows that BYU grads can be just as hip as the next person. Her anti-choice vampire saga is hardly the first attempt to make the religious Right seem cool, but, judging by the series’ mammoth sales figures and the upcoming movie, her attempt is going over a lot better than Christian rock ever did. I can’t help but think that a cultural mythology that brought us Buffy in the 1990s and onscreen sex between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in the 1980s deserves better than to be turned into the latest window-dressing for right-wing propaganda. But I guess, given the fate the religious Right would choose for young pregnant women, vampire lovers who turn teenage girls undead is probably the right metaphor after all.



Filed under fiction, reproductive rights, sexuality, women

HPV Vaccine: big pharma sucks

After a number of years as an ex-pat, I’ve embraced many UK terms and phrases. Faves include: up-the-duff (preggers), gaff (home), rubbish (trash), toilet (restroom), tablets (pills) etc. However, jab (shot) always strikes me as a bit off-putting.



But my wariness of the HPV vaccine (brand name: Gardasil) is more than semantic squeamishness about all things needle-y.  Today the Food & Drug Administration announced it’s allowing for Gardisil to be used to prevent against vaginal and vulva (vulvicular?) cancers. My skepticism hmmms…

Dare I say, for once, I can appreciate the U.S. drug company advertisements that riddle television day and night? True, those Gardasil (and it’s U.K. rival, Cervarix) adverts are making most Americans over-prescribed hypocons (and a great source for sleepytime pills). And, undoubtedly, they contribute to a spike in teen prescription drug abuse (Charlie Bartlett, you scamp!). However, at least the U.S. adverts, by being commercials designed to sell product, are overt in their links to profit as the expense of girls’ and women’s sexual health/freedom.

The U.K. campaign, on the other hand, is being spearheaded by the Department of Health Services (DHS). But trust: the positioning of this vaccine as a public health service is only because U.K. Big Pharma hasn’t weasled it’s way onto ITV or Channel 4.

What both U.S. Big Pharma and U.K. NHS are allowing the media to do is continue to pimp their drug as a vaccine against cancer and not a vaccine against a significant health issue that leads to cancer (reportedly 70% of the time). As a result, issues arise around parental consent (control) and stigmatization of girls’ sexual health with obvious moral judgments. U.K. schools offer the vaccine to 12- and 13-year-olds without parental consent, while there’s pending legislation in many U.S. states to require the vaccine.

Requiring a vaccine only for girls is creepy. But in an interesting turn, gay men have been approaching private doctors for Gardasil in hopes of preventing HPV that leads to anal and penile cancer. This might stymie some folks who are all for putting the onus on girls, while leaving boys to stick their willies hither and yon unprotected.

As Dr Anne Szarewski (Cancer UK) told the Beeb, “It is bad enough suggesting to people that their 12-year-old daughter might need a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection. I would be interested to see the response of suggesting to parents that they should vaccinate their boys at 12 in case they become gay.”

Or in case they are at risk for anal cancer, as some of us heteros are. I’d be interested in that response, too, Dr Anne.


Filed under reproductive rights, sexual health, sexuality