Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

November 16, 2012

Savita Halappanavar’s Death from Being Denied an Abortion Leads to Shame and Searching

The story of Savita Halappanavar, who died last month as a result of Ireland’s abortion ban, has sparked much debate over Ireland’s abortion laws and, in a broader sense, the issue of access to reproductive health care.

Savita went to a hospital in Ireland while experiencing severe back pain. The medical staff diagnosed her with miscarriage of a fetus with no chance of survival, but refused to perform an abortion because they detected a fetal heartbeat.

Several days passed before the heartbeat ceased and removal was allowed. But by this point, Savita had developed an infection that led to her death.

This is a tragic example, but one that unfortunately is quite predictable when women are unable to obtain legal abortion care. Abortion has been banned in the Republic of Ireland since 1983 by constitutional amendment, but traces back to an 1861 law. According to the Irish Family Planning Association, more than 4,000 women living in Ireland traveled to England and Wales for abortions in 2011, because the service is not legally available in Ireland.

Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that despite apparent declines in this number, more women may simply be disguising their home country, as “The number of women contacting a charity that helps people in Ireland seek abortions in Britain is set to double for the third year in a row.” (For more on the history of abortion law in Ireland, see this timeline, and “Ireland’s abortion ban: a history of obstruction and denial.”)

Here are some of the articles and analysis stemming from Savita’s death:

  • Justice for Savita — Jessica Valenti gets to the bottom line for The Nation: “It’s not just our lives and health that are in danger, but our human dignity.”
  • Hospital Death in Ireland Renews Fight Over Abortion – Douglas Dalby at The New York Times writes of a state of Irish politics that will not be entirely unfamiliar to U.S. readers: “Given the divisiveness of the abortion issue in Ireland, which has prompted two bitterly fought referendums, successive governments have avoided passing any legislation.”
  • Death in Ireland is a Wake Up Call to Fight Bans on Later Abortion Here at Home – Susan Yanow at RH Reality Check contemplates the U.S. implications and concludes: “We have a sobering lesson to learn from Ireland — when doctor’s medical judgement is compromised by restrictive abortion laws, it is women’s health and women’s lives that suffer.”

Several writers have referred to the “X case” in covering this story. This was a controversial 1992 Irish Supreme Court case in which a 14-year-old girl expressed suicidal thoughts after being raped by a neighbor and becoming pregnant as a result. The girl planned to have an abortion elsewhere, but was prevented from doing so. The court eventually ruled that women have the right to seek abortions in life-threatening situations, including possible suicide.

Despite this 20-year-old ruling, Irish legislators have not passed a law to codify this right, leaving women in dangerously uncertain territory.

A Choice Ireland spokesperson explained:

Today, some twenty years after the X case we find ourselves asking the same question again — if a woman is pregnant, her life in jeopardy, can she even establish whether or not she has a right to a termination here in Ireland? There is still a disturbing lack of clarity around this issue, decades after the tragic events surrounding the X case in 1992.

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore has said that the government would act “to bring legal clarity to this issue as quickly as possible.”

See also these additional commentaries on the failure to pass relevant laws after the X case to make abortions clearly legal in life-threatening situations.

Emer O’Toole writes at The Guardian about the struggles of pro-choice activists in Ireland, pointing to the culpability of doctors, legislators, journalists, and others in perpetuating the lack of justice in abortion laws. She issues an apology to Savita’s family that is also a call to action to supporters of abortion rights:

To her family, I want to say: I am ashamed, I am culpable, and I am sorry. For every letter to my local politician I didn’t write, for every protest I didn’t join, for keeping quiet about abortion rights in the company of conservative relations and friends, for becoming complacent, for thinking that Ireland was changing, for not working hard enough to secure that change, for failing to create a society in which your wife, your daughter, your sister was able to access the care that she needed: I am sorry. You must think that we are barbarians.

Related: Study Examines How Inability To Obtain Abortion Care Affects Women’s Lives

March 14, 2012

Reading Religion and the Body and Private Bodies, Public Texts

It’s been too long since I visited The Scholar & Feminist online, a webjournal published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW), but I’m glad I chose now to get reacquainted. The current issue is “Religion and the Body,” and it’s well worth a visit.

Guest editor Dominic Wetzel asks in the introduction: “What role does gender, sexuality and the body play in producing the idea that religion, and particularly politicized religion, is equal to conservatism, while secularism is progressive?”

Originally posed during a 2007 conference, “The Politics of Religion and Sexuality,” the question frames this journal issue in both expected and unexpected ways. Divided into three parts, the issue tackles Science, Bodies and the Christian Secular; Islam, Bodies, Politics; and The Art of Queer(ing) Religion.

All articles can be read free online. The issue also includes a related reading list and online resources. And don’t miss the art gallery, featuring a provocative mix of video, mixed media, cartoons and photos. I was particularly struck by “Phallometer,” a deceptively simple piece by Ins Kromminga that captures the restrictive boundaries that define one’s sex.

Plus: BCRW is hosting a public event March 21 that readers in the New York area may be interested in attending. The focus is Karla FC HollowayPrivate Bodies, Pubic Texts ‘s new book, “Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics.” From the event description:

This important and groundbreaking work examines instances where medical issues and information that would usually be seen as intimate, private matters are forced into the public sphere, calling for a new cultural bioethics that attends to the complex histories of race, gender, and class in the US.

Holloway, the James B. Duke Professor of English and Professor of Law at Duke University, will take part in a conversation that also includes:

* Tina Campt, Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Director of the Africana Studies Program at Barnard College.
* Farah Griffin, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies and Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University.
* Saidiya Hartman, Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.
* Rebecca Jordan-Young, Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Barnard College.
* Alondra Nelson, Associate Professor of Sociology and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.

The salon starts at 6:30 p.m. in Sulzberger Parlor, 3rd Floor Barnard Hall. I’m seriously hoping Holloway’s book travels take her to Chicago sometime soon …

February 3, 2012

Now, About Planned Parenthood and the Bishops …

by Ellen Shaffer and Judy Norsigian

This week, we all learned a lot about Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Planned Parenthood, and breast cancer. Now that Komen has caved (sort of; Planned Parenthood’s response), we might start to learn what it will take to mobilize an outcry to really stop the attacks on women’s health.

As Komen was committing a huge PR failure, it became clear via Facebook, Twitter and a new Tumblr site, Planned Parenthood Saved Me, that many women value and rely on Planned Parenthood for breast cancer exams and other preventive health services. A slam-dunk week for Planned Parenthood.

We need to make it a slam-dunk month. What Komen, and the evangelicals, and Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns, who launched the pointless political inquiry, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are really mad at Planned Parenthood about is this:

Part of what they do is help people plan. Parenthood. You know. They support birth control. In some cases, they provide it. Like your corner drugstore, but better.

And this week, the bishops are howling about it because the Obama administration refused to grant a broad religious exemption to contraception coverage.

Never mind that virtually all Catholics use birth control, that the Church itself only began to oppose it in 1968, that the Pope recently conceded that condoms are useful, and approved condom use for stopping the transmission of AIDS.

Never mind that most Catholic-affiliated hospitals, schools and charities cover birth control in their health plans — health plans that come out of the wages employees earn themselves.

Never mind that undergraduate and graduate students are fighting for coverage — and are still being denied, even for medical reasons.

Close to every cent the Church has not spent settling lawsuits against priests who sexually molested children has gone into this week’s media campaign to rile up opposition to covering birth control.

So far they’re doing a pretty effective job of it. The Obama administration is standing firm, but Congress is still on the warpath.

You can send a message that you stand against attacks on birth control and with Planned Parenthood. The organization just launched a TV ad campaign in support of contraception coverage (watch below).

And learn more about the men behind the war on women. They’re not going away anytime soon.

Ellen Shaffer is co-director of the Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign, a project of the Center for Policy Analysis. Judy Norsigian is co-founder and executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves.

May 5, 2010

Sisters of St. Joseph Punished for Supporting Health Care Reform Legislation

A group of Catholic nuns who broke with the bishops by supporting health care reform legislation has garnered the wrath of some leaders in the Catholic Church.

Earlier this year the nuns signed a letter to members of Congress from the National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. The letter stated that:

The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.

A recent editorial in the New York Times, which praises the “Courage of the Sisters” who demonstrated “courage and compassion when they spoke out for reform,” notes that at least one Bishop has decided to take action against the Sisters. Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt of Greensburg, PA, according to reports, “has directed diocesan offices, parishes and the diocesan newspaper not to promote the ‘vocation awareness program of any religious community’ that was a signatory to a letter urging members of the House of Representatives to pass the health reform bill.”

The Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, PA, who signed on to the letter, have therefore been denied their request to promote a vocational program through parish bulletins. As one poster at U.S. Catholic asks:

Is this really necessary? Even had I not been personally in support of health care reform, I would be outraged that a bishop was blocking the recruitment efforts of a women’s religious community. I’d like to ask the bishop, does he really think this is a prudent use of his energy? What kind of effect does he think it will have on the Sisters of St. Joseph? Will they learn their lesson and not speak up for causes they think go a long way in protecting life?


Thanks to the Sisters for standing up for better access to health care for women!

April 20, 2009

Double Dose: Bed Commercial Draws Praise from Home Birth Activists; Meet Disney’s New Princess; $10 million if You Can Transform Health Care; Quiverfull Movement Takes Root …

You Know You’re Not in the U.S. Anymore When …: posted an incredible video of a Barcelona couple’s at-home birth — a video made all the more amazing because it’s a commercial for a Spanish mattress company. The tagline: “Your bed, the most important place in the world.” Swoon.

Snow White, She’s Not: Almost three quarters of a century after the debut of Snow White, Disney is about to release a film starring its first black princess, Tiana. Neely Tucker writes in the Washington Post:

Her appearance this holiday season, coming on the heels of Michelle Obama’s emergence as the nation’s first lady, the Obama girls in the White House and the first line of Barbie dolls modeled on black women (“So in Style” debuts this summer), will crown an extraordinary year of visibility for African American women.

But fairy tales and folklore are the stories that cultures tell their children about the world around them, and considering Disney’s pervasive influence with (and marketing to) young girls, Princess Tiana might well become the symbol of a culture-changing standard of feminine beauty.

“If this figure takes off, you’re looking at 30 or 40 years of repetition and resonance,” says Tricia Rose, a Brown University professor who teaches both popular culture and African American studies, citing the enduring popularity of Disney princesses at the company’s theme parks, on Web sites and in videos.

Not only that, but Tiana learns that she needs love and a career to find happiness. Finally, my wish has come true.


Fan Club for Non First Lady Fans: “A first lady whose entire bearing says, “Here I am!” and who by all appearances is living comfortably in her own body is a compelling symbol of female agency,” writes Rhea Hirshman in the New Haven Register. “Even as she is being made into a fashion icon, Michelle Obama is subverting the status quo, thus pulling off the neatest trick of all.”

Plus: More on Michelle Obama from Patricia Williams.

Deadly Silicone: A 43-year-old woman died a day after receiving silicone injections from an unlicensed practitioner. The New York City Health Department is concerned that illegal use of silicone as an alternative to cosmetic surgery is on the rise, reports The New York Times.

Drugmakers Spend Less on Advertising in 2008: “Drug makers cut their spending on consumer advertising of prescription drugs by 8% in 2008 to $4.4 billion, the first pullback since at least the late 1990s,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Pharmaceutical-ad experts blame last year’s spendng decline on fewer new-drug introductions and heightened congressional scrutiny of drug marketing. Critics say the ads, which are permitted in few other countries, inflate health-care costs by prompting patients to request brand-name medicines, rather than cheaper generic alternatives. The industry’s trade group, however, cites a 2003 statement from the Federal Trade Commission that argues that the ads educate consumers about drug options and haven’t been shown to lead to higher prices.

In the U.S., ads aimed at consumers typically account for only about 40% of the total marketing budget for prescription drugs, according to the pharmaceutical industry. The majority of manufacturers’ promotional efforts are directed at doctors.

Spending on drug ads peaked in 2007 at $4.8 billion, according to IMS Health. The market researcher last month reported that annual U.S. prescription sales grew 1.3 percent in 2008, to $291 billion.

Plus: FDA rules designed to clarify pharmaceutical companies’ online ads — such as paid Google ads — and provide more consumer information are causing more confusion than before, say industry officials. How do you list side effects in 95 words or less?

Plus 2: The AP reports that drug makers “spent more than $2.9 million on Vermont’s doctors, hospitals and universities to market their products in the last fiscal year, according to a report issued Wednesday by the state attorney general’s office.” The reports’ findings note that 25 doctors and nurses each got more than $20,000 in cash or benefits from the companies; 10 got more than $50,000; and one psychiatrist received $112,000.

$10 Million if You CanTransform Health Care: The X Prize Foundation is offering $10 million to the winner of a contest that aims to transform healthcare in a small U.S. community:

The Grand Challenge for the Healthcare X PRIZE is to create an optimal health paradigm that empowers and engages individuals and communities in a way that dramatically improves health value. The proposed prize is designed to improve health value by more than 50 percent in a 10,000 person community during a three year trial. In order to effectively compete for this prize, teams will need to fundamentally change health financing, care delivery, and create new incentives that will result in achieving the required improvements in health value for both individuals and communities.

Reuters has more.

“Be Fruitful and Multiply”: NPR’s “Morning Edition” reports on the small but growing Quiverfull movement. These conservative Christians shun birth control and advocate for large families. The agenda is political as well as religious.

“They speak about, ‘If everyone starts having eight children or 12 children, imagine in three generations what we’ll be able to do,’” said Kathryn Joyce, author of the new book “Quiverfull: Inside The Christian Patriarchy Movement. “”We’ll be able to take over both halls of Congress, we’ll be able to reclaim sinful cities like San Francisco for the faithful, and we’ll be able to wage very effective massive boycotts against companies that are going against God’s will.’”

Eight-Year-Old Denied Divorce: From Akimbo: “Earlier this week, a judge in Saudi Arabia refused for the second time to annul the marriage between an eight year-old girl and a 47 year-old man. The girl’s father promised her hand in marriage to a friend as payment for financial debts. The girl’s mother brought the case in an attempt to free her daughter from the forced marriage. While this disturbing case has made headlines, it is not uncommon.”

Read the full post for steps advocates and governments should take to eliminate early and forced marriage.

September 18, 2008

Healthy Information Takes a Holiday

Earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune reported on a religious fast by a 17-year-old:

For more than a month, the only thing Eva Mehta put in her body was water, and never after dark.

At times, the 17-year-old was so weak and nauseated that her parents had to use a wheelchair to bring her from their van to their Jain temple in Bartlett. When the hunger pangs hit hard, she would pinch her ears. But she kept up her fast, even when she went to bed hungry and dreamed of food.

“I would just say in my mind, ‘No, it’s not real. I just won’t eat it. I’m not going to eat this until I’m done fasting,’ ” she said.

Her fast ended Sept. 3 after 34 days. By then the 5-foot-4 Evanston teen had lost 33 pounds, her weight dropping to 119.

Jains are a small religious minority in India. The religion teaches a path to enlightenment through a life founded on nonviolence to all creatures.

The story notes that Mehta’s fast was a temple record, “a triumph of discipline and devotion, say Jain leaders, who plan to hold a celebration Saturday at the Bartlett temple for Mehta and others who fasted.”

That may be the case in the eyes of worshippers, but to me the story was a little too congratulatory on the drastic weight loss, without offering any perspective on the health risks.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. One of the Trib’s health columnists wrote a blog post the same day the story ran that explains the effect a month-long fast can have on your body. Yet it basically adopts a don’t-try-this-at-home tone. More analysis about the media coverage is warrented.

December 7, 2007

Pledges and Power: At Purity Balls, Fathers Hold the Key

The Chicago Tribune reports on a purity ball in Peoria, Ill. (video included), one of many purity balls held around the country at which daughters promise their virginity to their fathers until marriage.

“Girls are going into marriage with 12 sexual relationships. That brings so much baggage and regret that it breaks down the marriage,” said Janet Hellige, a volunteer who organizes the biannual Father-Daughter Purity Ball sponsored by The Christian Center in Peoria. “Girls have a wonderful gift to give, and we don’t want them to give all of themselves away. What we want them to do is present themselves as a rose to their husband with no blemishes.”

Nothing like the shaming of young women to spark a movement.

The story thankfully includes a thorough assessment of the failure of abstinence only programs — noting, for example, that teen pregnancy rates have dropped 36 percent since peaking in 1990, largely because teens are having safer sex, not no sex. (A side note: check out this story published Thursday on the increase in the birth rate for teenagers age 15-19 — the latest numbers show that the birth rate increased 3 percent in 2006, the first increase since 1991).

Interestingly, the founder of the first purity ball said promoting abstinence wasn’t the focus.

“This was birthed out of our home, not the abstinence movement,” said Randy Wilson, who has five daughters and two sons, and who with his wife, Lisa, founded Generations of Light, a Christian ministry in Colorado Springs. “It is a fatherhood event, not a virginity or abstinence event. We don’t think it’s appropriate to put that weight on the daughter’s shoulders.”

But Generations of Light is hardly offering a radically enlightened experience. At its purity balls, each father pledges to “cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”

The father refers to himself in the pledge as “the high priest in my home,” while daughters are to be “cherished as regal princesses.”

Not exactly the terminology that comes to mind when advocating for healthy father-daughter relationships.

Mary Zeiss Stange, a professor of women’s studies at Skidmore College, offers a feminist critique that gets to the heart of the problem:

“These events represent an idea that there is something about female sexuality that needs to be controlled by dominant men in the household,” said Stange. “That relates to a patriarchal position in the evangelical movement that not only defines female sexuality but females themselves as property. What happens with purity balls is, in effect, the daughter becomes her father’s property until he hands her off to her husband.”

November 16, 2007

Double Dose: Sexism in the ICU; Time Spent On Housework Linked to Women’s Pay; Paging Dr. Cliche; Ricki Lake’s Documentary on Birth – The New “Inconvenient Truth”?

Is There Sexism in Lifesaving?: “Want a surefire prescription for dreading old age? Delve into every study that explores the gender gap in medical care,” begins Carol Lloyd, who cites several studies, including one published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that found “women over the age of 50 are one-third less likely to be admitted to ICUs, and then once in ICUs are far less likely to received lifesaving medical interventions like mechanical ventilation and pulmonary artery catheterization than their male counterparts.”

Future Nobel Prize Winner?: Jennifer Block, author of “Pushed Birth,” notes that Ricki Lake’s documentary, “The Business of Being Born,” is such a hit in Australia, it’s being likened to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Legalization Opens Doors for Women in Mexico City: “Abortion remains illegal in the rest of Mexico, as it is in nearly all of Latin America,” writes Hector Tobar in the L.A. Times. “But in Mexico City, legalization is bringing a profound, if quiet, change to the way thousands of women lead their lives. In a country where unwanted pregnancies often strip women of their independence and ambitions, the extraordinary number of legal abortions taking place every day is beginning to diminish the procedure’s considerable cultural stigma.”

Plus: The New York Times profiles abortion doctor Susan Wicklund. “In her forthcoming book ‘This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor” (Public Affairs), Dr. Wicklund describes her work, the circumstances that lead her patients to choose abortion, and the barriers — lack of money, lack of providers, violence in the home or protesters at clinics — that stand in their way,” writes Cornelia Dean. “But she said her main goal with the book was to encourage more open discussion of abortion and its prevalence.”

Plus 2: Roman Catholic bishops this week approved voting guidelines for Catholics that are somewhat less rigid on abortion. Neela Banerjee writes in the Times:

“Abortion is among a few evils greater than others, the document asserts. But it also concedes that Catholics face difficult decisions when voting and in some cases might be able to vote for those who support abortion rights or stem cell research. ‘There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons,’ the document says.”

More Money = Less Housework: “In married working couples, the more money a woman earns, the less housework she will do, regardless of how much money her spouse makes, says Sanjiv Gupta, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst,” according to this release based on a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. “Gupta goes further and says, based on his newest research, that for every $7,500 in annual earnings a married woman working full time makes, she can expect to do one hour less of routine housework each week.”

Paging Dr. Cliche: Disability Studies blog critiques a couple of recent episodes of “ER,” but as Penny L. Richards writes, the NBC series used to do much better by the disability community. “Characters with physical, mental and sensory disabilities have been presented as rounded human beings with full civil rights, at least as well as any other 44-minute network TV drama has done (admittedly, that’s a low standard to achieve).”

Geneticist Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Dies at 100: I only learned about Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch this week when I came across her obit. After fleeing Nazi Germany, she first worked as a researcher at Columbia University and later became chair of the department of genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. And that’s not the half of it. Meet an underappreciated “truly great woman of science.”

Plus: There are approximately 40,000 Americans who are 100 years old or older, according to the New England Centenarian Study — and 85 percent of these centenarians are women. More from the L.A. Times.

September 30, 2007

Double Dose: Photos of Nursing Babies Deleted by Facebook; Few LGBT Characters on TV; New Studies on Black Women and Maternal Health

Black Women and Maternal Health: Molly M. Ginty, writing at Women’s eNews, covers the findings of five reports released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies on black maternal health and racial inequities:

The center’s 19-member Courage to Love: Infant Mortality Commission — funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and partnering with the UCLA School of Public Affairs and the University of Michigan’s NIH Roadmap Disparities Center — says the health problems of black women and black infants stem not just from inadequate medical care but from stress, racism, poverty and other social pressures.

Released during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference from Sept. 26 to 29, the reports also coincide with a meeting organized by the Joint Center and the Washington-based Black Women’s Agenda for 250 representatives of black women’s organizations in Washington, D.C. Attendees will discuss the reports and preview “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” an upcoming PBS television series that explores race and health.

In the five reports — one on breastfeeding, one on nutrition, two on infant mortality and one summarizing the others — commission members address the possible reasons for black women’s negative birth outcomes.

Continue reading Ginty’s story here.

For Starters, Try Talking to Women: Laura L. Mays Hoopes, a writer and molecular biology professor at Pomona College, offers 10 suggestions aimed at men who want to help retain women working in the sciences. The Scientist magazine published the suggestions online last week, ahead of publication in the magazine’s January issue, to spark a discussion of gender bias in science. Suggestions and comments are encouraged.

Using a Breast Pump from the Start: Chicago Tribune health columnist Julie Deardorff writes about skipping breastfeeding directly and going straight to using a breast pump. Predictably, debate follows. Earlier entries on breastfeeding, including a history of La Leche League International, are here.

Plus: “Facebook is getting an online scolding after the social networking site deleted pictures of nursing babies it considered “obscene content” and closed the account of at least one Canadian mom,” reports the Toronto Star. (via Aetiology, which has lots more good links and analysis.)

Condom Accusations Spark Anger: The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique, Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio, angered AIDS activists last week after telling the BBC he believes some European-made condoms and some anti-retroviral drugs have been deliberately infected with HIV “in order to finish quickly the African people.”

According to the BBC, it is estimated that 16.2 percent of Mozambique’s 19 million inhabitants are HIV positive. The Catholic Church’s official doctrines oppose condoms.

Plus: Broadsheet did a wrap-up Friday of other condom-related news …

Rural Mothers Have Higher Employment Rate: A new study by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire shows that rural mothers with children under age 6 have higher employment rates than their urban counterparts, but have higher poverty rates, lower wages, and lower family income.

The Happiness Gap: Is there a growing “happiness gap” between men and women? Researchers seem to think so, reports The New York Times.

What’s Missing on TV: “Your chances of seeing a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender character on the broadcast networks in prime time this new TV season are about the same as your chances of seeing a talking fish or caveman,” writes Washington Post TV critic Lisa de Moraes.

The latest “Where We Are on TV” report, created by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, found that there are only seven regular LGBT television characters this season, out of 650 regular lead or supporting characters, featured in just five scripted programs.

“On the new prime-time schedules, LGBT characters represent just 1.1 percent of those 650 characters,” adds de Moreas. “In real life, based on U.S. Census projections, LGBT marketing companies estimate 15.3 million adults identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, which would be about 6.8 percent of the population.”

July 30, 2007

Double Dose: Reports from BlogHer, Welcome Back to The Sponge, And a Slow Recovery in New Orleans Goes Even Slower Without Hospitals

Viva La BlogHer: Great posts from the BlogHer ’07 conference up at Viva La Feminista. And Women in Media & News points to video of closing keynote speaker Elizabeth Edwards discussing media reform.

Welcome NYC Unrated and Unfiltered: Planned Parenthood of New York City just launched a new blog with a snazzy name. Check it out.

A Super-Size Troupe Attracts Super-Size Praise: “Formed a decade ago by Juan Miguel Mas, this company of obese dancers has become a cultural phenomenon in Cuba, breaking stereotypes here of dance, redefining the aesthetics of beauty and, along the way, raising the self-esteem of heavyset people,” writes James C. McKinley Jr. in The New York Times. “While the troupe is not the first to employ larger dancers, its popularity comes as a surprise in a country known for its muscular, lean dancers in every genre from classical ballet to salsa.”

Recommended Reading: “Reading ‘The Invisible Cure’ is like traveling into remote and hard-to-comprehend territory with an unblinking and sure-footed guide,” writes John Donnelly, in a remarkably enticing review of Helen Epstein’s book about the fight against AIDS in Africa. “Epstein had unearthed a rare copy of a detailed study on the sexual behavior of Ugandans in the late 1980s and early ’90s, a period that coincided with the country’s historic drop in H.I.V. rates. In short, Epstein knew, the research done by Maxine Ankrah, an African-American academic, would give invaluable insights into what had halted the epidemic — insights that could then be applied to other countries with high rates of H.I.V. and AIDS.”

Read the review here, or skip right to chapter one.

Speaking Terms: The Guardian reports on language lessons in the UK — sex workers in London are teaching English to migrants working in the sex industry. “I do not do anything without a condom” is required learning. “Our aim is to give women the skills to get out of certain situations they may not want to be in. So much of sex work involves language, and not having language stops people from negotiating with bosses and clients,” said a founder of the x:talk project, which is supported by the International Union of Sex Workers and is funded by the Feminist Review Trust.

Hey, Elaine!: The Today Sponge contraceptive is back on the market. “The new package is meant to have a more modern look: instead of a pink flower and a conservative-looking typeface, the box has drawings of hip-looking women, playful typography, and colors that Synova officials call ‘fuchsia and wine,’ writes Jane L. Levere at The New York Times. But keep this in mind:

Lawrence B. Finer, director of domestic research for the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that does research and policy analysis on reproductive health, said Synova’s new campaign will bring its method of birth control “to the attention of a lot of women, and help place it in context along with other methods that have been advertised lately,” like the Ortho Evra contraceptive patch.

But health professionals agree that one of the Today Sponge’s biggest problems is its efficacy: research by Princeton University found that 16 percent of American women who had never given birth and may have used the sponge incorrectly or inconsistently became pregnant within a year, while 32 percent of women who had given birth and used the sponge this way became pregnant. The pregnancy rate for women who relied on condoms for birth control and may have used them incorrectly or inconsistently was 15 percent, while the rate for women using birth control pills in this way was 8 percent.

“For all the sponge’s cultural popularity, it isn’t as effective as many other methods,” said Dr. Katharine O’Connell, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and a family planning specialist at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

Why Do Men Kill Their Wives?: A Boston Globe Magazine story wonders if murder is a substitute for divorce.

Potentially Hazardous Home Chemicals: Women’s Voices for the Earth, a Montana-based nonprofit working to eliminate or reduce toxic chemicals in the home, released a report(PDF) last week that highlights health risks associated with cleaning products. Some products contain chemicals that are linked to fertility disorders in lab animals, according to the group. Here’s coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Amnesty International Set to Affirm New Abortion Policy: “Despite an outcry from Roman Catholic and conservative leaders worldwide, Amnesty International seems likely to affirm a new policy supporting greater access to abortion when its top decision-making body meets next month,” reports The AP. Here’s Amnesty’s statement from June, defending access to abortion for women at risk.

Pioneer Feminist Theologian Dies: The Rev. Letty Russell, considered “a foremother of feminist theology,” and one of the first women hired to the faculty of Yale Divinity School, died July 12 at her home in Guilford, Conn. The cause was cancer, reports the L.A. Times. Nancy Richardson, a senior lecturer at Harvard Divinity School and a longtime friend, said, “She was teaching [feminist theology] before it had a name.”

“Feminist scholarship was not looked on as scholarship in seminaries,” Richardson said. “To be in academia and be a feminist at the same time wasn’t easy.”

A Slow Recovery, Slowed Down Even More: Part four of a NYT series on the recovery of New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina looks at the impact of closed hospitals. “Doctors’ offices sit empty behind five-foot-high water marks, and nearby clinics wait to be demolished. In back of one medical building, a gaping refrigerator still holds jars of mayonnaise and Mt. Olive Dill Relish,” writes Leslie Eaton. “Harder to see, but just as tangible, people here say, are the other ripple effects of the flood and the closed hospital: workers displaced, houses for sale and, of course, patients forced to seek health care many miles away. If they have returned to New Orleans at all, that is, given the grave wounds to the health care system.”

May 9, 2007

Life v. Dogma: Lay Teachers and Catholic Schools

Cynthia L. Cooper has written an excellent article for Women’s eNews about teachers running up against dogma and discrimination at Catholic schools.

The story opens with Kelly Romenesko of Appleton, Wis., a French teacher who was fired by the ACES/Xavier Educational System in Appleton for violating a “morals clause” in her contract to “teach and act in accordance with Catholic doctrine and Catholic moral and social teachings.”

Her crime? Her twin daughters were conceived through in vitro fertilization.

“Romenesko argued that a male teacher whose wife gave birth after in vitro fertilization had not been similarly disciplined, and that she was fired after the pregnancy, not after the fertilization treatment,” writes Cooper.

An administrative law judge from the state’s Department of Workforce Development issued a finding of probable cause that the Catholic school system had engaged in pregnancy discrimination back in February, and Romenesko’s case will be heard this spring before the state’s Equal Rights Division.

There are more examples, of course, of women being dismissed for their pro-choice views or stances on reproductive technology. It’s impossible for there not be conflicts, when you consider that there are 150,502 lay teachers at Catholic schools throughout the United States, and 75 percent of them are women, according to the National Catholic Educational Association in Washington, D.C.

Yet teacher retention is hard enough already, and with Catholic schools traditionally paying less than the local public school system, you’d think that private decisions that have no effect on students would not be grounds for dismissal.

According to a survey by Catholics for a Free Choice, 97 percent of Catholic women use artificial birth control, writes Cooper, and Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as non-Catholics.

“The sad thing about a crackdown on teachers is that it is part of day-to-day living in a hypocritical situation,”
said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for a Free Choice.

Also frustrating is the level of scrutiny directed at Catholic colleges with regard to invited speakers an on-campus student performances. Cooper writes:

The Cardinal Newman Society, headquartered in Manassas, Va., monitors the nation’s 224 Catholic college campuses and issues condemnations on speakers or activities that take positive positions on reproductive freedom, gays or sexuality, including performances of Eve Ensler’s play, “The Vagina Monologues.”

In February, the group protested a lecture at Loyola University in New Orleans by Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. In March, it objected to a film festival at the University of San Francisco for screening “Rosita,” which shows the difficulties of Nicaraguan parents in seeking an abortion for their 9-year-old daughter after she was raped.

The group is also releasing a list of 2007 commencement speakers to whom it objects. Some university presidents and politicians are named because they support stem-cell research, or are “pro-gay.”

Dr. Daniel Maguire, a tenured professor at Marquette University, is a popular target of the Cardinal Newman Society because of a 2001 book he wrote: “Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions.” As you could imagine, that didn’t go over so well with the U.S. Conference of Bishops

“They are impaled on pelvic orthodoxy, fixating on all sexual reproductive issues,” Maguire told Women’s eNews. “Eight-five percent of all the calls I get concern only one issue: abortion. Not peace, not poverty, not racism, not sexism. And I think that is an unwholesome fixation.”

April 16, 2007

Washington Post Hosts Live Online Discussion on Access to Abortions in Mexico

Head over to the Washington Post today at noon ET for an online discussion with WaPo Mexico City bureau chief Manuel Roig-Franzia about the abortion conflict in Mexico. You can submit questions and comments before or during the discussion — and if you’re reading this at a later date, you can still view the transcript.

Roig-Fanzia had a very good story in Sunday’s paper about two proposals to expand access to abortions and the fierce political and cultural debate it has sparked:

Much as in the United States in the 1960s, in Mexico it is the state legislatures that have become abortion flash points. Abortion rights advocates scored their biggest victory in 2000 in the state of Yucatan, northwest of Cancun. Yucatan now allows abortions for women who already have three children and can prove that they cannot afford another child. All Mexican states permit abortions for rape victims, though a study by Human Rights Watch found that local officials frequently find ways to deny the procedures.

The proposed law in Mexico City, which is a federal district and functions much like a state, is potentially broader than the law in Yucatan. The measure would permit abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy if having a child would be “incompatible” with a woman’s “life project,” a standard that could allow abortions for pregnant women who don’t want to interrupt school or work. It is backed by the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, which holds a large majority in the city legislature.

The national legislation, also sponsored by the PRD, faces a more difficult challenge because the ruling National Action Party, or PAN, staunchly opposes abortion. President Felipe Calderón said in an interview last month that he considers the current law “adequate” and would oppose changes.

Despite current restrictions, a university study estimated there are 1 million abortions every year in Mexico, writes Roig-Fanzia, and few prosecutions.

As many as 3,000 women in Mexico die each year from botched abortions, according to abortion rights activists, and as many as 10,000 women are hospitalized.

“The rich either go to the United States for abortions or to private clinics in Mexico, where their doctors are the sole judges of whether the procedure fits the parameters of the law,” writes Roig-Fanzia. “The poor, who can seldom get abortions at public hospitals, go to what critics refer to as back-alley ‘charlatans,’ who openly advertise their services.”

“Abortion has been privatized in Mexico,” Sen. Pablo Gómez, sponsor of the national abortion proposal, tells the Washington Post. “It’s a bad joke.”

March 16, 2007

Patching Up the “Fall”: Reverend Says Homosexuality is Genetic, Blames it on Adam & Eve

The culture wars against homosexuality are failing, most notably with younger demographics. So what’s an evangelical pastor to do? Switch tactics. Claim homosexuality is biological. Put the blame Adam and Eve (heck, why not?) and suggest curing homosexuality in the womb with an infusion of hormones.

Oh, yes, he did.

From The Seeker, the Chicago Tribune’s blog on religion:

Earlier this month, [Rev. Albert Mohler Jr.], president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, acknowledged that homosexuality might be biological, adding it should come as no surprise.

“Given the consequences of the Fall and the effects of human sin, we should not be surprised that such a causation or link is found,” Mohler wrote on his blog. “After all, the human genetic structure, along with every other aspect of creation, shows the pernicious effects of the Fall and of God’s judgment.”

Citing scientists who claim they can change the sexual preference of lambs before they’re born, he challenged his flock to imagine the possibilities of detecting homosexuality in the womb and a hormone patch that could change it.

Conservatives cringed at Mohler’s suggestion that babies might be born with a sexual orientation, a significant departure from the church’s teachings. Meanwhile gay rights activists bristled at Mohler’s relentless quest for a “cure.”

You know, we can’t say we’re all that shocked by the reverend’s ignorant suggestions. But more disappointing is that Chicago Tribune chose to make his intentionally provocative comments the basis of an online poll that asks, “If you could know your baby is gay before birth, and hormone treatments were available to change the orientation, would you use them?” Followed by: “Do you think it is morally justifiable for others to use such treatment?”

What if the reverend had suggested being born black was a curse? Or a type of disability? Would the Trib have parroted that language? Why is it OK to treat homosexuality as though it were a genetic disease?

The comments that follow are the predictable back-and-forth about the origins of homosexuality, what the bible supposedly says, etc. There are some who think being gay is just so god-awful that the patch would be a blessing.

“If such a test and treatment was possible I would absolutely take advantage. Why would anyone want other than the best for their child? Being born gay may not be a ‘sin’, but why force someone to deal with the difficulties that would certainly arise? If science is showing a way to identify the spcecific [sic] gene that makes someone gay then a method to remedy this is not far off – and I say that’s a very good thing,” wrote Jon, who added he’s expecting a son in May (editor’s note: Hey, good luck!).

There are also plenty of comments from readers who find the whole issue offensive.

“Could you also post a poll to survey the public about whether any of us would choose to cure offspring of being straight? That only seems fair!” wrote David Greene.

Or, as AL simply noted, “Too bad there isn’t a patch for intolerance.”

March 14, 2007

Jesus Would be a Radical Feminist

It always made sense to us, but it’s nice to hear that a well-known Catholic priest thinks so, too. From the Arizona Daily Star:

It’s a notion that’s earning journalist, best-selling author and Catholic priest Andrew M. Greeley even more attention of late: If Jesus were alive today, he’d be a radical feminist.

So does that mean Jesus would be donating money to Planned Parenthood and working to break the proverbial glass ceiling in corporate America?

“No, that’s not what it means. It means that he would endorse the complete equality of women,” Greeley wrote in an e-mail. “But since I’m not his press spokesman, I can’t say where he would stand on issues that did not exist in his day.”

Greeley is making the rounds to discuss his new book, “Jesus: A Meditation on His Stories and His Relationships with Women.” Here’s an excerpt from the Publishers Weekly write-up:

Focusing largely on the parables, the book brings fresh meaning to these familiar stories, infusing them with what Greeley terms “the good news of a Great Surprise,” the marvelous revelation of God’s love and acceptance of women in a largely male-dominated society. Many of the women are unnamed — the Samaritan woman, the woman at the well, etc. — and some are named, like Mary of Magdala, who may have had a romantic relationship with Jesus. Greeley is certainly a prolific author — he’s written some 50 works of fiction and more than 100 works of nonfiction — and this book illustrates why he is so popular. He takes the familiar — in this case, the parables of Jesus — and infuses it with new life and meaning.

March 8, 2007

International Women’s Day


In honor of International Women’s Day, we take a look at coverage of women from around the globe.

Have an IWD-related post or story to share? Link to it in the comments section!

For starters, provides some historical background and maintains a search-by-country listing of events.

World Marks International Women’s Day by Honoring Women — and Pledging to Improve Their Status: From China to Afghanistan to London, the AP goes around the globe, gathering quotes from world leaders and looking at the status of women:

In Bangladesh, men — celebrities, athletes, students — vowed to fight the disfiguring and often deadly practice of attacking women with acid as a means of punishment.

In Mumbai, India, a company launched a new taxi service for women with female cabbies at the wheel, and in Vietnam, men bought their wives and girlfriends bouquets, turning Thursday into the communist nation’s version of Valentine’s Day.

In Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with women lawmakers.

“I want to take this opportunity to send my regards to you and hope you are all successful in your career and have a happy life,” Hu said, shaking their hands in the Great Hall of the People.

However, in Iran, women released after being detained for holding a peaceful gathering earlier in the week were warned Thursday not to attend a women’s day protest outside parliament.

Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: MADRE released this report Tuesday on the incidence, causes and legalization of gender-based violence in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion. The report condemns the Bush administration for refusing to protect women’s rights in Iraq.

Here’s more on the report from Frida Berrigan, who writes at WIMN’s Voices about the lack of media coverage of gender-based violence and discusses the links between the “systematic oppression that women are experiencing in Iraq with the systematic de-funding of every education, health care, welfare, housing, childcare and food assistance programs aimed at women here in this country.”

Making Women’s Health an International Priority: “It has been said that the health of a society is measured by how it treats its women,” writes Lucinda Marshall. Looks like we have a crisis.

A Snapshot of the Status of Women: Roxanne notes the lack of U.S. media coverage of IWD and also points to this U.N. snapshot on the status of women, as part of this year’s focus on “Ending Impunity for Violence Against Women and Girls.”

World Fails to Treat Rape as Crime: “Rape is weapon of war and the world fails to treat it as a crime, two U.N. agencies said on Wednesday as the Security Council called for justice for women and girls who are victims of violence,” reports Reuters. “The U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that while 104 out of 192 countries in the world had made rape a crime, these laws were poorly enforced.”

News from the Feminist Peace Network: FPN points to stories from Moscow, Afghanistan and Pakistan; World Pulse Magazine’s special IWD edition; and the arrest earlier this week of 32 Iranian women who were protesting in front of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court.

As of this morning, three of the women remained in prison; an electronic vigil in solidarity with the detainees is underway.

The Japan That Can’t Say Sorry: “By denying that Japan’s military coerced women in conquered countries into sex slavery between 1937 and 1945, and by refusing to issue an official apology for those crimes against humanity, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has added fresh insult to old injuries suffered by ‘comfort women’ who are still alive today,” begins this Boston Globe editorial. The New York Times has a story today on how former sex slaves are coping with the denial.

Blank Noise Action Heroes: Check out this blog-a-thon for women’s stories about how they’ve dealt with street sexual harassment — and emerged feeling like a hero. Here’s some background on the blog-a-thon.

Plus: It’s also Blog About Sexism day. While describing her own call-to-feminist-consciousness, Amanda poses some questions for readers to consider.