War on Women update: Todd Akin doesn’t believe in pregnancy resulting from ‘legitimate rape’

I barely knew that such a thing was possible, but Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin has given Americans another reason not to vote Republican in the upcoming election by claiming that women cannot get pregnant as a result of ‘legitimate rape’.

Todd Akin legitimate rape pregnancyUnsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before both Todd Akin and #LegitimateRape became trending topics worldwide on Twitter.

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An Obamacare victory for women: the Affordable Healthcare Act

Since my last post contained a disproportionate amount of anger, even for me – and I have been accused of having columnist’s rage – it’s nice to focus on something positive for today’s blog: Obamacare 1, patriarchy 0.

Obamacare regulations giving women access to greater healthcare and general wellbeing-related services came into effect yesterday. Under the Affordable Care Act, access to contraception and a number of other services will be included in medical insurance provisions without co-pays – ie. without having to contribute to the cost.

Under the new regulations, women will gain:

Annual well-woman visits*

Screening for gestational diabetes

Testing for HPV (human papilloma-virus)

Counselling for sexually transmitted infections

Counselling and screening for HIV

Contraceptive methods and counselling

Breastfeeding support, supplies and counselling

Screening and counselling for domestic and interpersonal violence

This is a particularly important step forward for American healthcare because:

Obamacare contraception women's healthcare regulations - Beckie Smith

The fact that such a huge number of women delay treatment or forgo basic necessities in order to pay for treatment shows just how urgent these new provisions are. It seems ludicrous to me that this should be a problem in a developed nation, and the fact that women have access to free contraception in the UK is one of the reasons I love the NHS. As someone who is often critical of the American healthcare system, I had been aware that this was a major problem even before seeing the helpful infographic above (provided by the Center for American Progress), but even so, the numbers are staggering.

I believe that universal healthcare should be a basic human right. This means free access to medical help, regardless of wealth, class or social status. Since women make up a hefty proportion of the population, it’s pretty vital to include women in this. Screening for conditions such as HIV, HPV and gestational diabetes means that conditions can be caught before the situation is desperate, allowing treatment to be administered in order to either save lives or dramatically improve someone’s standard of living. The changes, of course, not only affect women, but will have a knock-on effect on wider society.

This is not simply a question of women’s right to health. It has deeper consequences – when women are healthy and in control of their reproduction, they have more freedom and greater control over their lives. Family planning is now a key element in several NGOs’ poverty reduction strategies in developing countries, and could potentially have similar same economic benefits in the US.

The American healthcare system may still have a long way to go – and yes, I am aware that even the NHS also has its flaws – but this is a significant victory for women and American society in general. It is also a sign that the power of the religious right in US politics, which aims to curtail women’s rights and acts as a threat to secular decision-making – is diminishing. Because of this, the reforms highlight just how crucial the presidential election will be later this year:

Women's reproductive healthcare - Mitt Romney Republicans threat - Beckie Smith

These statistics are worrying, and raise questions about what would happen to American healthcare should Mitt Romney win the election in November – though this may be one of the policies which prevents them from gaining power. It might just be possible that the ‘Republican war on women‘ – which includes attacks on Planned Parenthood, the proposal of extreme anti-abortion laws as well as opposition to providing free contraception – has damaged their campaign sufficiently to prevent that from ever happening. One can only hope.

*whatever that means

Reddit discusses rape, and the importance of ‘yes means yes’

Content warning: rape. Links include detailed accounts of sexual violence and rape apology.

Earlier, while reading through a thread on Reddit, I was struggling to think how I would articulate my reaction. The thread in question begins with an invitation for perpetrators of sexual abuse to share their experiences:

Reddit’s had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations? Do you regret it?

The question had received thousands of responses – some of them extremely disturbing or upsetting. I have deliberately said that before adding a link, as the content could be triggering even for those who have not experienced sexual assault. The discussion can be found here.

I have added a few thoughts below, but rather than write a long and in-depth analysis, after reading around I have decided instead to refer you to an insightful and very well-written post by Miriam of Brute ReasonInside the Mind of a Serial Rapist. She has managed to put into words very effectively much of what I was thinking.

The one conclusion I successfully drew from reading some of the responses is that we urgently need to review the manner in which young people are taught about sex. This is something I am sure I’ll come back to in a later post, because it’s something I feel very strongly about. The sex education I received was minimal until the age of about 15, and was largely technical. When the subject came up, we were firmly told that we had the power to make decisions about sex and our bodies; armed with the maxim ‘no means no’, we were taught that we should never feel pressured into sex.

At the time I felt that this was a positive message, but I have since come to think that it is deeply flawed. I now firmly believe that rather than ‘no means no’, we should be teaching young people that ‘yes means yes’. The former places all of the responsibility on the potential victim rather than the perpetrator. Several responses I read on Reddit appeared to take the stance that someone who had physically abused another person was absolved of responsibility because they were not asked to stop. This is, of course, highly problematic, as a girl (as victims are usually, though not exclusively, female) may be afraid to actively stop someone who assumes that they are willing, or may feel pressured to continue. In order to remove the weight of responsibility from the victim – and to avoid victim-blaming – it is imperative that we move away from the mentality that someone is inviting a sexual encounter unless they explicitly say otherwise or put up a fight.

On ‘This is my abortion’

Content warning: abortion; pro-life propaganda.

What would your first reaction be to hearing that a woman used a camera on her mobile phone to secretly take photographs during an abortion procedure? It’s likely that you may experience something like I did: surprise, and confusion, and an instinctive desire to recoil slightly?

My reasons for these feelings, as for most feelings, are complex. Abortion is, after all, highly personal and can be highly upsetting for those directly affected by them (the most obvious being the women undergoing the surgery, and the would-be father of the unborn child).

And yet, the more I read about thisismyabortion.com and the anonymous photographer’s explanation for her actions, the more the idea began to make sense to me.

The idea that abortion is horrifying and taboo is ingrained in our society. In conversation, the word makes people uneasy, and people are usually keen to steer away from the discussion of any personal experience of abortion, just as they would from the subject of rape or sexual abuse.

None of this detracts from the fact that the decision and process of having an abortion remains highly personal, or that many women may be deeply emotionally affected by it.

But the author of ‘This is my abortion’ addresses head-on one of the main issues which contributes to the idea that abortion is ‘horrifying’.

Just past the bulletproof security doors, the graphic nature of that imagery haunted me in the waiting room. What would my abortion look like? I decided to secretly document my abortion with my cell phone.

My intention in documenting and sharing my abortion is to demystify the sensationalist images propagated by the religious and political right on this matter. The perverse use of lifeless fetus photographs are a propaganda tool in the prolife/prochoice debate in which women and their bodies are used as pawns to push a cultural, political, and religious agenda in the United States.

It is a sad fact that even in this age of education and information that many anti-abortion campaigners use what is essentially emotional bullying and intimidation to dissuade women from terminating their pregnancies. As this blogger has pointed out, the most graphic and disturbing images are used in order to shock people into shame and, I suppose, a kind of twisted empathy.

I am not sure exactly what the motive is behind these kind of tactics; whether particular ‘pro-lifers’ hope to stir a deep compassion for the life (as they see it) that might be cruelly ended prematurely, or such guilt and revulsion that women cannot bring themselves to go through it. Doubtless, there must be people who feel both. Whichever response they might achieve, it is a manipulated emotion; it will not bring about a decision informed by facts, and may force a woman into a mental state she would not otherwise experience. The following is from the author’s op-ed in the Guardian’s Comment is free:

Experiencing my own abortion and photographing the result was a sobering experience. As a woman, I reckon with the power of images every day. But after my abortion, I realised images are literally being used as a weapon to petrify and assault viewers into fear, shame, and isolation. The protesters’ heartless use of lifeless foetus images made me feel cheated, lied to and manipulated. It was just propaganda: intended to shake the core of my deepest biological, intellectual and emotional foundation.

The images shown on ‘This is my abortion’ do not seek to manipulate in the same way that many of the ‘pro-life’ images do. The author, as she explains, intends to ‘demystify’ the process in order to allow women to better inform themselves about what really happens during the abortion procedure.

This is crucial to women’s freedom in deciding whether or not to continue a pregnancy. It is so important that we fight any movement which aims to force any group of people into a particular decision through the use of this kind of propaganda. It is unjust, unethical and utterly inhumane to attempt to bully a person out of a medical procedure, and I hope that these images will help to disempower those who aim to do so.