Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"March For Life" Takes Over D.C.

For nearly four decades, January 22 has marked the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. And nowhere in the United States will you find people commemorating quite like the nation's capital.

The Supreme Court case legalizing abortion is remembered annually at the steps of the very building where second wave history was made. Each year, a vigil is held by the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and others to remember the ruling enabling women's reproductive freedom.

But choice, rather predictably, draws a crowd from both sides.

The decision was made in 1972, and anti-abortion individuals immediately desired a way to publicly demonstrate their outrage over women's new found body autonomy. As soon as they could get organized, they hit the streets:
On January 22, 1974, the first March for Life was held on the West Steps of the Capitol. An estimated 20,000 committed prolife Americans rallied that day on behalf of our preborn brothers and sisters.
That same year "the March for Life was incorporated as a non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian organization." Today, they accept virtual donations in exchange for buttons or copies of their annual report-- a "how we're doing," of sorts. The protest now boasts 200,000 participants, which organizers believes is a "testimony to the increasing ranks of prolife Americans and to the importance of the March's work."

The March for Life also offers a list of "Life Principles," providing "guidance and purpose to the grassroots prolife volunteers in [their] efforts to be effective through [their] education and action programs." While the website tries to remain secular, the religious undertones are glaringly obvious:
Although a pregnant mother and/or her preborn child may die, there is no justification in the law of God or man for the intentional killing of even one innocent born or preborn human in existence at fertilization. NO EXCEPTION! NO COMPROMISE!
While the life of the mother is dismissed as inconsequential, this admittedly uncompromising organization has the audacity to demand "human life" be protected by a genetically specific amendment. They believe:
An important step is adoption of a Mandatory Human Life Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Such an amendment would be simple and require that individuals and society provide protection for the right to life of each human in existence at fertilization. It would require that State laws conform to the Constitution and provide the same protection. 
And those are the goals of the "pro-life" movement, in a nutshell. Despite rape, incest, women's health, or any other unpredictable circumstances surrounding pregnancy, no abortions for anyone, ever.

Who would be so inflexible? USA Today recently reported 45 percent of Americans identified as "pro-life" in a Gallup poll, while 49 percent said they were "pro-choice." The nation is quite literally divided. And seldom is the conflict visible-- unless you drive past an abortion clinic.

But each year, political rivals can be seen facing off on the steps of the Supreme Court. Working a short distance from the national mall, I was promised a front row seat to the largest "pro-life" spectacle of the year. And as a waitress, I would have the distinct pleasure of serving them food.

This year's march fell on a Monday. We were forewarned they would come all at once; cold, wet, tired, and hungry. Hundreds of tourists nearing the end of their national pilgrimage, still riding the self-righteous high from the day's events.

As promised, Washington D.C. exploded with "pro-life" propaganda and those passionate enough to wear it, hold it or distribute it to others.

Priests were everywhere, collars as far as the eye could see. Nuns sported habits, as well as "Abolish Abortion" hats. And there were kids in reflective vests claiming they were "Life Guards." Men and women of all ages wore pink sweatshirts displaying the march's official logo; a single red rose wrapped around the Capital Building.

Rosaries in one hand, grotesque fetus pictures in the other, and sensible shoes on both feet, these religious crusaders were ready to march to the ends of the earth for their cause. But first, they needed to nosh.

As the March for Life began to fill the seats of my tables, I noticed they were awkward, overly-friendly people-- and anything but diverse. This was a white, Christian movement. Maybe another testament to white privilege, as the few here attempted to decide what was best for the many.

They were everywhere, eating, drinking and congratulating each other on another great turnout. Bleak signs proclaiming "Life Counts," "Defend Life," and "End Abortion" fought for our attention. One brave girl maneuvered through the crowd, proudly wearing her "Keep Abortion Legal" sticker outside her coat for all to see. She moved quickly, like a breath of fresh air, while the rest of us choked on judgement.

But as darkness fell, the regular clientele returned and the marchers began to leave, I noticed they were generously over-tipping.

Though it was a week ago, a few characters from this surreal production remain fresh in my memory-- especially a priest whose 50 percent tip was accompanied by a hi-five, as well as an enthusiastic "God bless you." Also, a group of teens huddled around an order of calamari and sodas. They tipped me 12 dollars on 20 dollar check. I'm not sure if they were compensating my service or their embarrassing attempt to order beers without proper identification.

Either way, it was an especially lucrative day for the feminist waitress, thanks to the "pro-life" movement.

All sorts of reminders were left behind. I found a stack of post cards with a short bio about an eighth grade class from a Catholic school in middle America traveling thousands of miles to attend the march. Apparently they were passing the pre-postaged mail out to fellow marchers, requesting recipients send it back with their own stories from the road.

In the United States, eighth grade is made up of 12 and 13-year-old children. They can't vote, let alone imagine the gravity of an unintended pregnancy. They don't really understand intercourse, contraception, the legal system, or the value of money. Most of them haven't even started puberty yet.

But these young soldiers are just following orders. And kids actually make up the majority of this march. Organizers estimated 20,000 young people attended the youth rally held at the Verizon Center Arena Monday morning. I imagine it looked something like that scene from Saved, begging the question "are you down with G-O-D?"

According to the U.S, Census, there were 173.4 million Christians living in the United States in 2008. Of those, 57 million were Catholic; by far the largest demographic. But even with 200,000 attendees, not all Catholics are "marching for life." In fact, some might be visiting the feminist's vigil instead.

In 2008, the Association of Religious Data found 37.6% of Catholics supported abortion "for any reason." And some of those individuals are undoubtedly involved with the alternative non-profit Catholics for Choice (CFC), "founded in 1973 to serve as a voice for Catholics who believe the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health," is a refreshing alternative to the rest of the church. 

This group not only recognizes "the Catholic hierarchy's powerful lobby plays a huge role in influencing public policy and affects everyone  Catholic or not  by limiting the availability of reproductive healthcare services worldwide," but also aims to change this global injustice.

As CFC works to change the perception and the practice of modern-day Catholicism, they counter the "March for Life" by promoting the "Trust Women Week." This online march encourages progressive individuals to donate to the Silver Ribbon Campaign and protect reproductive rights.

American women's access to abortion is limited by the most restrictions we've seen since 1972-- and there are plenty of reasons it could get worse. Anti-choice legislators dominate both the house and the senate at federal and state levels. Currently, there are 29 anti-choice governors, compared to 17 pro-choice governors. 26 states enacted 69 anti-choice measures in 2011, with many more in the works.

And as republican candidates fight to prove who is more anti-abortion, we're reminded of the ultimate danger Roe v Wade is facing, given our current political environment.

Speaking on last week's increasingly important anniversary, President Obama vowed to protect a woman's right to choose. Describing abortion as a  "fundamental constitutional right," Obama said "we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters."

Ho-ho. Hey-hey. Let's hope our rights are here to stay. But let's also preemptively do something about it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Mouths of Babes

"Why do all the girls have to buy princesses?"

"The companies who make these try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of stuff the boys want to buy."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

FBI Finally Understands Rape

by cliff1066
Last week, something wonderful happened. Yes, the sixth day of January, in the year 2000 and 12, will forever be remembered as the day the FBI's prehistoric definition of  rape was changed forever.

Until recently, the FBI's 83-year-old understanding of rape was "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will." Seriously, it sounds like it was borrowed from the Old Testament.

So where does one even begin dismantling such archaic language?

For starters, the misleading word "forcibly" was finally dropped. This alone is worth celebrating, because an "un-forced" rape only paves the way for victim-blaming. And the last thing we need is law enforcement debating different types of rape and whether they're valid-- like they have for so many years.

According to the old definition, men cannot be raped. An unconscious individual cannot be raped. Anyone under the influence of mind-altering drugs or alcohol cannot be raped. And unfortunately, many sexual assaults   have been ignored because the circumstances fell outside the FBI's narrow qualifications for a crime.

The new definition, ""penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim," is a massive victory for victims who were unable to take legal action against their rapists in the past. 

This clearer understanding of sexual violence also generates hope for dismantling rape culture in the future.

But the FBI didn't just change their mind. They had to be convinced-- by roughly 160,000 people. And there is no one more deserving of a very special "thank-you" than the lady who got them all riled up.

Stephanie Hallet, blogger for the Huffington Post sat in on an early morning conference call between representatives from the FBI, the White House and the Department of Justice, ready to break the news. Later that day, she said this:
In Ms.[Magazine], I wrote about all the sexual assault survivors who were excluded from the FBI's official count -- including all men and boys, those raped with fingers or objects, and women with physical and mental disabilities, among others. 
I wrote about how having the word "forcible" in the definition allowed police to exclude rapes of women who were intoxicated or unconscious when they were assaulted: Police told me that a woman who is out cold can't be "forced" into sex. This despite the fact that at least 22 percent of rapes are committed using alcohol and drugs, and some studies put that number as high as 77 percent. 
I called on the FBI to take swift action for change, and asked readers to write to FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder demanding a more accurate definition.
And they did. Like, whoa. More than 160,000 responses arrived telling the FBI every rape should count.

Way to go Steph! Feminists everywhere are so very grateful for your movement within the movement. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Florida Abortion Clinic Firebombed by Drifter

by ddw1272
A Pensacola abortion clinic fire started New Year's Day has been linked to a homeless man. The fire caused $300,000 in damage to the American Family Planning Clinic; a frequent target for anti-abortion terrorists.

The blaze was set around midnight by a firebomb made from a beer bottle, gasoline and a shirt. No one was hurt.

Potential arsonist Bobby Joe Rogers was arrested Wednesday night. He was charged Thursday and faces up to 20 years in prison. Awaiting conviction, Rogers is being held without bond and another court date has not been set.

The 41-year-old drifter with a criminal past was inspired to burn the building down after watching the comings-and-goings of clinic patrons alongside protesters during the day. He told authorities he has a strong disbelief in abortion.

The Pensacola facility is plagued daily by protesters carrying signs, crosses and other religious paraphernalia. In the midst of the bible belt, seems to be a favorite for anti-choice attacks. The clinic has already suffered at the hands of extremists twice in the past.

In 1984, the clinic was bombed on Christmas day. The two men responsible were reportedly "giving Jesus a birthday present."

Then, in 1994, Dr. John Britton and a clinic escort were murdered by gunman Paul Hill. In 2003, Hill was the first prisoner to be executed for crimes against abortion providers.

The National Abortion Federation has been tracking clinic violence since 1977. Over the years, there have been 175 other cases of arson, as well as 8 murders and 17 attempted murders of clinic personnel.

By the looks of these most recent headlines, the religious war on reproductive rights doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon. And unfortunately, Florida has become a particularly lethal battleground for the pious aggressors-- and their (homeless) supporters.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Withdrawing from Afghanistan's Women

A 15-year-old Afghan girl was rescued last Wednesday with several fingernails removed and her left eye badly burned by an iron. The child bride was close to death, held captive for months and tortured by her in-laws after refusing to prostitute for them.

Though the country's legal age for marriage is 16, Sahar Gul was married to an Afghan soldier, dowry and all, at 14-years-old. Because they had paid for her, the in-laws reportedly felt they could use Gul however they pleased.

She was found with both her hands broken, hair ripped out and body heavily bruised.

Doctors say she is recovering, but traumatized. This weekend, finally well enough to give her first interview, Gul said she wants her assailants in jail.

Sources say she managed to escape once before and told neighbors to alert the authorities. When the police arrived, they were bribed to ignore the abuse and Gul was left in the custody of her captors.

During a December visit, an uncle found Gul in the basement, beaten and starved, and called the police. She was finally removed from the home last week, in critical condition, with multiple visible injuries.

While she recuperates in a Kabul hospital, the young girl's husband is on the run. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law have been arrested and the Afghan government is promising to prosecute, claiming they were unaware of Gul's case until now.

Meanwhile, international troops are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, leaving everyone wondering-- what will happen to the women?

Experts claim, despite this tragedy, women's rights are improving in Afghanistan.

By the numbers, violence against women is increasing. But these new statistics are a direct reflection of the progress being made. Women finally feel empowered to report these crimes because there is hope for justice.

Ten years ago, their efforts would have been futile. Under the Taliban, women weren't allowed to work or attend school. They weren't even allowed to leave their homes unaccompanied by a male family member.

With these harsh restrictions in place, women were often used to rationalize America's occupation of Afghanistan. The burqa became a symbol of why the country so desperately needed us, equality and democracy.

While women were never the real reason the United States ventured into Afghanistan-- or stayed so long-- it made the overly patriotic mission appear completely noble, but more importantly,completely necessary.

In reality, the ethnocentric notion of American troops teaching this revoltingly patriarchal society modern day feminism is laughable. But this is the image our media offered whenever civilians started to lose faith, reminding us what, or who, was supposedly at stake.

With Uncle Sam's "help," President Hamid Karzai was elected in 2004, supported by a bicameral National Assembly and a 9 judge Supreme Court. However, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan supports a legal system that mixes civil, customary and Islamic law. So even with democracy successfully in place, we hesitate.

What will become of the Sahar Guls when we're gone?

"Part of the problem is the ingrained attitudes of police and courts that cause them to turn a blind eye or even send women back to their abusers," said Latifa Sultani, coordinator for women's protection with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. 

Cooperating with the United Nations, this byproduct of the 2001 Bonn Agreement keeps a close eye on women and understands their horrifying reality.

For instance, fleeing marriage is considered a "moral crime" worthy of imprisonment. The UN estimates half of Afghanistan's female prison population is made up of women who attempted to leave their husbands.

But many never get the chance to leave. And while prison is terrible, the alternative can be much, much worse.

So what will the future hold for the daughters of Afghanistan? 

With the entire world watching, only time will tell.