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March 26, 2008

Reproductive Rights: The Right to Reproduce?

Reproductive Freedom

Today "Reproductive Rights" has come to mean "Abortion Rights" (or at least "Contraception Rights"). Yesterday we wrote about Reproductive Freedom as it applies to Birth Control and Emergency Contraception and the day before that, it was Abortion - a topic we've addressed many, many, many times.

Today we're going to go one step further and address an aspect of Reproductive Freedom that people often over look - the right to reproduce. That includes not only a woman's right to her own fertility, but also the right to have a safe delivery, the right to have a healthy baby and the right to raise and keep custody of your child. While Reproductive Freedom is about access to safe, affordable contraception and abortion, it is also about protection from forced or coerced sterilization or abortion.


The Right to Fertility

Sterilization Abuse

For many years women (especially women of color, poverty, or "genetic defect") were surgically sterilized without their consent or sometimes even knowledge.

Eugenics is a social philosophy advocating the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of "intervention" such as selective breeding, prenatal testing, genetic engineering, etc. Now I suppose it doesn't sound that bad when put that way, however this philosophy led to discrimination, forced sterilization, and euthanasia of "genetically defective" populations. Eugenics might be most familiar to people in regards to Nazi Germany, however it took place right here in the United States many years before the Holocaust.

In the 1880s, much was blamed on defective genes - including prostitution, alcoholism, ignorance, poverty, crime. A radical brand of eugenics argued for the government to "weed out" degenerate members of society to be sterilized, segregated, imprisoned, manipulated, etc. in order to to prevent them from reproducing more "defective" individuals. In 1907 Indiana was the first state to pass a law permitting involuntary sterilization of the "socially inadequate" on eugenic grounds (at least 30 states would soon follow). By the mid-1920s, more than 3,000 people had been sterilized against their wills, including the homeless, orphans, epileptics, the blind, the deaf, the "promiscuous", the "insane", and the "feeble minded".

Luckily scientists soon began disproving the claims of eugenicists and the movement lost most of it's financial support, however involuntary sterilizations continued in the U.S. until the late 1970s. (More than 65,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized by 1979).

Sterilization abuse first gained national attention in 1973 with the case of Relf v. Weinberger:

Mary Alice was 14 and Minnie was 12 when they became victims of the abusive practice of sterilizing poor, black women in the South. Their mother, who had very little education and was illiterate, signed an "X" on a piece of paper, expecting her daughters, who were both mentally disabled, would be given birth control shots. Instead, the young women were surgically sterilized and robbed of their right to ever bear children of their own.

The [Southern Poverty Law] Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Relf sisters and exposed the wide-spread sterilization abuse funded by the federal government and practiced for decades. The district court found an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 poor people were sterilized annually under federally-funded programs. Countless others were forced to agree to be sterilized when doctors threatened to terminate their welfare benefits unless they consented to the procedures. The judge prohibited the use of federal dollars for involuntary sterilizations and the practice of threatening women on welfare with the loss of their benefits if they refused to comply.


An example of the most blatant form of sterilization abuse would be sterilization without knowledge (as was the case of the Relf sisters). However, sterilization abuse - in the form of deception and coerced consent - still continued for poor, Black, Latina and Native American women on many other levels:
  • Misinformation: Some women were not told that the operation was permanent/irreversible or that the procedure was somewhat dangerous or risky. Some women were not informed about other birth control options.

  • Threats: Some women were threatened with losing their welfare benefits, being deported, or being otherwise punished if they did not comply.

  • Language Barriers: Consent forms existing only in English or the lack of interpreters made it impossible for many women to give informed consent. Additionally, some consent forms were not in compliance with health service regulations.

  • Impaired Judgment: At some hospitals women were routinely asked for consent during labor, immediately prior to undergoing childbirth, or while under the influence of heavy medication. You can hardly be expected to make informed consent when you're under that kind of mental/physical stress and exhaustion. (Some women were also denied labor drugs for pain - or even delivery itself - until they consented).

From the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CESA)'s 1975 Statement of Purpose:

In the United States today there is a massive drive to convince people that social evils such as poverty, overcrowding, increased crime, poor education, poor health care, etc. are all due to overpopulation.

Population control programs have been pushed by the U.S. for people in the United States as well as in many countries abroad to do exactly that: control people and keep us from understanding the real causes of our suffering and thus keep us from dealing with the problems by eliminating oppression and exploitation. By pushing population control programs, the United States government and corporations hope to stave off the struggles of people for liberation from direct and indirect domination by the U.S.

Sterilization of women, and to a lesser extent of men, is on the increase in the United States. Sterilizations have tripled in the last five years. This is the result of an increase in sterilizations of women who are Black, Puerto Rican and Chicano and of all working women.

Many sterilizations are done without women knowing that the result is permanent, that there are complications, or that there are other methods of birth control. Many are done on women who are coerced by threats of withdrawal of services such as welfare, the right to abortion, medical services and the like.

In Puerto Rico, under the guise of needed population control, the U.S. with the collaboration of the colonial government, has carried out programs for the past thirty years which have resulted in the sterilization of fully one third of Puerto Rican women of childbearing age.


Overuse of Hysterectomy

In addition to the blatant sterilization abuse described above, sometimes an "unnecessary" hysterectomy (the removal of a woman's uterus or "womb") is performed with less malicious intentions. A hysterectomy is the second most common surgery among women in the United States (the most common being cesarean section delivery) and are used to treat fibroids, endometriosis, uterine prolapse, chronic pelvic pain, and cancer.

There are often other options that can be tried before resorting to surgery and some doctors have been criticized as recommending hysterectomy without fully informing patients of all potential treatment options. One study indicated of insurance programs requiring 2nd opinions, indicated that about 8% of recommended hysterectomies were later determined to be "not needed at the time"; a 1981 study done by the Centers for Disease Control that 15% of hysterectomies were "questionable" and a 1990 Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois study showed about one-third to be medically unnecessary.

Hysterectomy is sometimes recommended for pain and abnormal bleeding issues which is more of a "quality of life" issue than a medical necessity. More recently, experts have suggested that of the 600,000 hysterectomies performed every year in the U.S. (that's twice the rate of other industrialized countries by the way) more than two-thirds may be unnecessary.


The Right to Healthy Pregnancy/Safe Delivery

Donor Insemination

Many single women, lesbian couples, or heterosexual couples unable to conceive on their own often turn to sperm donor insemination. If a woman purchases anonymous donor sperm from a sperm bank, the donor will not have any legal rights to the child. However, sperm banks are often very expensive and do not allow the children to have the opportunity to contact their genetic fathers (upon adulthood) if they'd like more information on their background.

If a woman decides to use a known donor however, they should check with their state's laws about donor insemination in order to protect themselves legally. Some states have specific statutes that state that sperm donors are not "legal fathers" if the donor provides his sperm to a physician (and not to the woman directly), however many of these statutes only explicitly apply to married women. This puts single women and lesbian couples at an additional disadvantage, leaving them more open to potential paternity suits.

From Donor Insemination: A Legal Perspective:

The risk to the mother(s) is that a man they never intended to be a parent to the children will have an enforceable right to visitation – or even to shared custody – against their will. Again, this is a very real risk, especially for single mothers (given strong public policies in many states favoring two parent families) and for lesbian couples in states that do not offer the non-biological mother the opportunity to forge a legal relationship with the child through second-parent or co-parent adoption.

Forced or Coerced Abortion

Forced or coerced abortion is a violation of a woman's human rights, just as much as being denied access to safe, legal abortion is. Being "pro-choice" isn't about advocating abortion; it is about letting women make that decision for themselves.

From the website "Abortion Concern":

Some claim an abortion is only ‘forced’ if physical force — eg, kidnapping — is involved, and that all other abortions have been ‘chosen’ by the women concerned, even where women have been harassed or brutalised to cause them to comply.

Abortion Concern considers the distinction between ‘forced’ and ‘coerced’ abortions irrelevant, as both are internationally recognised as human rights abuses.

What concerns us about the ‘forced’ versus ‘coerced’ argument is that it (a) dismisses the fact that coerced abortions are human rights abuses, and (b) legitimises abuse of women by implying that any woman who had an abortion because she was unable to withstand being psychologically or physically abused, got what she deserved.

Abortion may be legal in many developed countries, but abuse of pregnant women is not. Both ‘forced’ and ‘coerced’ abortions should be opposed as fundamental human rights abuses.

Disclaimer: I don't know how much of what is on the site "Abortion Concern" is accurate or not, but it is clear that they have a strong pro-life/anti-abortion bias. We wouldn't be surprised if many of their "facts" and "statistics" have been misrepresented or twisted to support their stance. However, we found some of their points about forced or coerced abortion to be valid (and moving).

Since we have chosen to quote them here, it's only right to give them credit for their words and link back to their website AbortionConcern.org (we've recently been the victims of copyright violation that was justified by our apparent "lack of morals" so we'd never do that to another site, regardless of our personal differences of opinion). However we did want to make it clear that we do not necessarily advocate, support, or even agree with much of what you will find on their site other than what we have quoted above.

We now return to your previously scheduled discussion of reproductive rights...


Recent court rulings have allowed the killing of a fetus (regardless of the stage of development), to be prosecuted as murder, although the laws do not apply to abortions. The courts have ruled that state laws declaring a fetus - even before it reaches viability - an "individual with protections" do not conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right to abortion.

These laws have been enforced in the cases of the murder of a pregnant woman or the forced miscarriage of a fetus without the mother's consent. The courts have justified this based on the premise that a woman undergoing a voluntary abortion consents to the procedure.

Prenatal Care and Testing

"Prenatal care" refers to medical care and other health-related services during pregnancy to ensure the well-being of the mother and her future child. Unfortunately, minority women and impoverished women are less likely to received adequate prenatal care and therefore are more likely to have low-birthweight babies or lose their babies. One major barrier to the use of prenatal care is financial. Medicaid and certain insurance reforms have helped to get medical care to those who cannot afford it, but the system is still lacking.

Consistent and quality maternity care increases the chances of having a healthy baby, so prenatal services would actually reduce health care costs in the long run (an estimated $14,000-30,000 in hospitalization and long-term health costs saved per every low-birthweight baby prevented by prenatal care, based on statistics from the 1990s).

There have been numerous abuses of women in medical research. The two most known ones may perhaps be research on DES (1940s-50s) and thalidomide (1960s). Both medications were intended to prevent miscarriages, however a large percentage of the women who took thalidomide had babies with birth defects (such as deformed limbs) and the daughters born to women who took DES (diethylstilbestrol) ended up with a much higher risk of developing cancer or having malformed reproductive organs.


Labor and Delivery

Many women's health care activists feel that childbirth has been over-medicalized and that there has been an overuse of procedures such as cesarean section delivery and episiotomy (a surgical incision through the perineum to enlarge the vagina), which is routinely practice without strong evidence that it actually protects the perineum. Some research has actually linked episiotomy to an increased risk of HIV transmission, perineal tears, fetal distress and painful sexual intercourse. Additionally, there is an apparent overuse of drugs (such as the labor-inducing drug oxytocin/Pitocin(R)).

Now obviously sometimes these and other procedures or drugs are necessary (or at least extremely helpful). However, there has been evidence of inappropriate or unnecessary use and just as there had been a surge of unnecessary hysterectomy... perhaps doctors aren't giving women the benefit of the doubt that they can have a safe and healthy pregnancy naturally. (During my own labor and delivery, the surgeon and anesthesiologist were hovering in the doorway, tapping their feet and glancing at their watches, waiting to get in there already and cut me open. However, my midwife wasn't having it and I delivered naturally, without the risks of being put under anesthesia and operated on, ensuring a much easier recovery).

In the recent past, women and their newborn infants - particularly those with no or poor medical insurance - were quickly discharged after childbirth (sometimes merely a few hours after giving birth). This was often referred to as "drive-through delivery". In the 1970s and 80s "third-party payers" (i.e., insurance companies, state aid services, etc.) pushed for earlier discharges, both to keep costs down but also under the believe that patients were better off returning home as quickly as possible. In 1970 the average length of stay average length of stay for all delivers was 4.1 days; by 1992 it as down to 2.5 days (C-section deliveries went from 8 days to 4 days over the same time period).

In the mid-90s some women were discharged as soon as 12-24 hours following an uncomplicated vaginal birth! It was finally determined that longer postpartum hospital stays were more cost-effective and often safer for both mother and child. The Newborns' and Mother's Health Protection Act of 1996 required a minimum stay for healthy postpartum mothers and newborns of 48-hours after vaginal delivery and 96 hours after birth by cesarean section.



The Right to Raise Your Child

Reproductive rights continues over into the rights of parenthood - that is the right to raise and maintain custody of your children - and do so in a manner that both fits your personal beliefs and is in the best interests of the children.

Poverty

In 2006, 12.8 million children under the age of 18 were in poverty and 12.6 million children lived in "food insecure households" (at a rate almost double that of those households without children). Although only 20% of all families are headed by single mothers, families headed by single mothers make up half of all families living in poverty.

Despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act many years ago, women are still not receiving equal pay for equal work compared to men. If women received the same as men (assuming the number of hours, education, union status, age, and region of the country were all the same) these women's annual family income would rise by $4000 and poverty rates would be cut in half.

With stats like those, it's no surprise that many women cannot afford to give their children the basic care they require (e.g., food, medical care, etc.)

In 2004 the infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 6.78 infant deaths per 1,000 births, with non-Hispanic black women with the highest infant mortality rate in the country (13.60 per 1,000 live births). The U.S. has the second worst newborn mortality rate in the developed world; American babies are three times more likely to die in their first month than children born in Japan and 2.5 times higher than those born in Finland, Iceland, and Norway.


Loss of Custody

In 2003, a woman was arrested and her children were taken from her custody. Why? Because of a snapshot of her breastfeeding her 1-year-old son was determined to be "child pornography". This was not the first case of women losing custody what seemed to many to be a ridiculous reason. Studies show that in approximately 70 percent of challenged cases women have lost custody of their children to abusive spouses with histories of violence or sexual abuse, according to a report published by the American Judges Foundation (2001).

And although there are many laws that indicate that rapists do not have parental rights over children conceived due to their sexual assaults, a certain number of states have either failed to address the issue, give the rapists some say regarding adoption proceedings (which may be used as a threat), or even require that the mother go through a lengthy, expensive process in order to have the rapist's rights terminated.

Other women who have been denied the right to have or keep their children (or who had to fight a long difficult fight in order to maintain custody) over the years include poor women, lesbians, women with disabilities, and female prisoners.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not all humans are created equal- and others' rights to a modest dignity of life over-ride the selfish reproductive interest of the individual.
China has from the 1950's exploded in population from 400 million to over 1300 million despite increasingly less proportionately less wealth and resources to go around.
The unpalatable truth is the world is overpopulated- there are simply too many empty hands and mouths to fill- and nowhere near enough money to solve intractable poverty issues.
In my nation, a a developing nation with over 50 million over-breeding peasants eking out a miserable existence below the UN poverty line of less than $1 US dollar per day will certainly change your mind- our own poverty and population experts argue vociferously against well-meaning fluffy-headed ignoramus and religious fanatics that overpopulation, and birthing children without adequate resources for that child is the SOLE cause of endemic, intractable poverty.
Most pregnancies among the poor are accidental. Social, cultural or religious stigma, more so than accessibility to contraceptives (here male and female condoms are available free from local health clinics, as is the EC pill)- thus blame cannot be placed on wider society or uncaring government- but the Leftists' beloved slack-knee peasant. We have free and culturally sensitive sex education- bt idiotic silly high-schoolgirls who still get all broody and horny immature boys unable or unwilling to keep it locked in their trousers- result in a situation of a pregnancy- and inseminator long since absconded- refusing to remain entrapped in her self-made web.
These ignorants lack the economic resources let alone the emotional ability and family/peer assistance to raise a child adequately.
UN studies clearly prove children of poor background, single mothers most especially blacks in the USA, but also peasants in other nations- especially India and China- have higher rates of criminality, drug use, lower education, higher unemployment and low enjoyability.
The street child disaster in India, with over 50 million unwanted waifs is an excellent argument for the enforced sterilisation of those who lack the mental, economic or social capacity to birth and raise positive contributors to society.
In my home nation of Indonesia- we a have unmanageable 235 million (in 1950's our total population was about 100 million), 100 million are very poor and they breed like rabbits- expecting the few rich- a continually shrinking percentage of population to provide a hand out to subsidise their unwanted existence
The poor and underclass are not some romantic dispossessed- they are the hooligans, rapists ruffians, sluts, crack whores and scumbags- basically the shit of society- and are a net burden to society and the poor are solely to blame for their own continued miserable existence. Even Mother Theresa herself complained Indians couldn't keep their legs shut.
It is grossly unfair for the few who obey societal norms and rules to be perpetually enslaved by the masses of over-breeding idiots.

Anonymous said...

Not all humans are created equal- and others' rights to a modest dignity of life over-ride the selfish reproductive interest of the individual.
China has from the 1950's exploded in population from 400 million to over 1300 million despite increasingly less proportionately less wealth and resources to go around.
The unpalatable truth is the world is overpopulated- there are simply too many empty hands and mouths to fill- and nowhere near enough money to solve intractable poverty issues.
In my nation, a a developing nation with over 50 million over-breeding peasants eking out a miserable existence below the UN poverty line of less than $1 US dollar per day will certainly change your mind- our own poverty and population experts argue vociferously against well-meaning fluffy-headed ignoramus and religious fanatics that overpopulation, and birthing children without adequate resources for that child is the SOLE cause of endemic, intractable poverty.
Most pregnancies among the poor are accidental. Social, cultural or religious stigma, more so than accessibility to contraceptives (here male and female condoms are available free from local health clinics, as is the EC pill)- thus blame cannot be placed on wider society or uncaring government- but the Leftists' beloved slack-knee peasant. We have free and culturally sensitive sex education- bt idiotic silly high-schoolgirls who still get all broody and horny immature boys unable or unwilling to keep it locked in their trousers- result in a situation of a pregnancy- and inseminator long since absconded- refusing to remain entrapped in her self-made web.
These ignorants lack the economic resources let alone the emotional ability and family/peer assistance to raise a child adequately.
UN studies clearly prove children of poor background, single mothers most especially blacks in the USA, but also peasants in other nations- especially India and China- have higher rates of criminality, drug use, lower education, higher unemployment and low enjoyability.
The street child disaster in India, with over 50 million unwanted waifs is an excellent argument for the enforced sterilisation of those who lack the mental, economic or social capacity to birth and raise positive contributors to society.
In my home nation of Indonesia- we a have unmanageable 235 million (in 1950's our total population was about 100 million), 100 million are very poor and they breed like rabbits- expecting the few rich- a continually shrinking percentage of population to provide a hand out to subsidise their unwanted existence
The poor and underclass are not some romantic dispossessed- they are the hooligans, rapists ruffians, sluts, crack whores and scumbags- basically the shit of society- and are a net burden to society and the poor are solely to blame for their own continued miserable existence. Even Mother Theresa herself complained Indians couldn't keep their legs shut.
It is grossly unfair for the few who obey societal norms and rules to be perpetually enslaved by the masses of over-breeding idiots.
Quite frankly, you need to come to the real world outside the selfish privilege of the West to have those immature emotionally self-indulgent Armchair Socialist sleeve-badges and rose-tinted pince-nez forever removed