News: Regulating the Female Body

Recent legislative storm threatens reproductive rights

The fight for control over women's bodies must be foremost in the minds of politicians. Since the current session of Congress began last fall, 850 pieces of legislation focusing on reproductive rights have been introduced, 800 of them addressing abortion restrictions, according to Molly Galvin, Western Ohio field organizer for Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

By comparison, 450 pieces of similar legislation were proposed over the past 10 years, Galvin said. She spoke April 3 at a meeting of the Cincinnati Chapter of the National Organization for Women.

The onslaught of legislation comes in spite of the fact that most people are pro-choice, Galvin said. She defined "pro-choice" as believing "decisions about preventing a pregnancy, ending a pregnancy or having children should be made by a woman in consultation with her loved ones, her doctor, her god.

"The majority of the United States and Ohioans are pro-choice insofar as they believe these are the most intimate, private decisions that a person can make and that they should be made without interference by the government."

Vengeful viruses
Ohio received an "F" in the 2005 NARAL Pro-Choice America review, Who Decides? A State-by-State Review of Abortion and Reproductive Rights ( Ohio's grade was so poor because of such restrictions as a ban on using state funds for abortion counseling, a 24-hour waiting period, limits on health insurance coverage for abortions for state employees and the fact that 91 percent of Ohio counties have no abortion providers.

More restrictions might be on the way:

· House Bill 228 would make it illegal to perform any abortion in Ohio. It would also increase the penalties for unlawful abortions and unlawful distribution of an abortion-inducing drug, create the offense of "facilitating an abortion," place felony penalties on an individual who coordinates an abortion for a minor and make it a felony to transport a woman across state lines for an abortion.

· House Bill 392 would require physicians to submit an individual report to the Ohio Department of Health for every abortion performed. The bill is also known as TRAP — Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.

· House Bill 469 would provide protection from civil liability to pharmacists who refuse to distribute medication that might result in an abortion.

· Ten days after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that parents of children with birth defects can sue doctors for failing to identify abnormalities during pregnancy, House Bill 287 passed, banning such suits.

· House Concurrent Resolution 80 would recognize Youth Sexual Abstinence Month and set Feb. 14 as Day of Purity.

Galvin calls such proposals "anti-choice."

"I would say the opposite of pro-choice is no-choice or forced pregnancy, coercive or censored counseling, incomplete and sometimes dangerous education programs," she said. "It's also characterized by the attitude that unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection are punishment for bad behavior. It's anti-choice."

Anti-choice education and legislation adversely effect women and children, according to Galvin. Citing Mississippi as a state with the most anti-choice legislation, she said it has experienced higher unemployment rates and lower educational levels for women, increased infant mortality, a decline in childcare and a decrease in child health care and nutrition programs. She says this is a national trend, putting Ohio on track for the same unintended consequences.

The consequences for people with money are negligible because, as one participant put it, "Rich people can always take care of themselves."

The trend is hardly new.

"What's very important to note is this has been going on since 1980," Galvin said. "They said, 'People don't like us hanging out in front of clinics and harassing women, so we're gonna put ourselves in some suits and we don't care if the majority of Americans are pro-choice. Who cares, as long as the majority of decision makers are anti-choice, because the majority of Americans don't pay attention to politics or policy.'

"They learned a long time ago that a wrecking ball to Roe isn't going to earn them any popularity contest. It's going to be a slow, chiseling erosion."

Silencing sex ed

Abortion isn't the only issue. Galvin pointed to the results of a report by the Guttmacher Institute (visit statecenter/ccfs.html).

"We rank 48th when it comes to state efforts to help women avoid unintended pregnancies," Galvin said. "You would think, as a state that is so opposed to abortion, we'd really be supporting those efforts that are most proven to prevent abortion, which are family planning services and health services for women. We'd also be advocates of comprehensive sex education and contraception. But we aren't."

Ohio didn't spend any money on sex education prior to the federal government's tying financial support for sex ed to an abstinence-only curriculum, Galvin said. Now Ohio receives $8 million a year in federal funds and provides matching money for "Just Say No" sex education.

These programs have been proven to perpetuate misinformation, such as HIV being transmitted through tears and sweat, and ignore girls who say no but are raped or sexually assaulted, according to Galvin.

When teens who participate in abstinence-only programs do become sexually active, they often fail to use contraception. Students in comprehensive sexuality education classes don't engage in sexual activity more often or earlier but do use contraception and practice safer sex more consistently when they become sexually active, Galvin said.

California is the only state that hasn't accepted federal abstinence-only money. Over the last decade, that state has seen the teenage pregnancy rate drop more than 40 percent.

In addition to stopping the flow of reproductive health information to the most vulnerable U.S. citizens, the anti-choice coalition has extended its ban to aid to poor countries, resulting in the loss of health care for men, women and children because those nations refuse to be bullied, Galvin said.

"Outside of the major abortion bans is the global gag rule that we have," she said. "It is an executive policy that says we will not provide any U.S. aid money to countries or facilities around the world that either counsel for, provide or lobby for abortion services, even if they do it with their own separate money. ... It's just killing people. Pregnancy continues to be a number one killer of women around the world." ©

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