Archive for February, 2011

Why Are So Many Black Women Being Forced to Register as Sex Offenders?

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, in Louisiana’s Orleans Parish “seventy-five percent of the people registered as sex offenders for solicitation of a crime against nature (SCAN) conviction are women, and 80 percent of them are African American.” What’s SCAN, and why is it putting so many Black women on the sex offender registry?

Louisiana’s SCAN statute increases existing penalties on soliciting oral or anal sex in exchange for money, and classifies them as a serious sex crime. As a result, a SCAN conviction forces women to register as sex offenders, putting those women at risk for the loss of their jobs, children, and homes, as well as other forms of harassment and violence. Additionally, the people most likely to be charged under the SCAN statute are women engaged in survival sex and street economies — low income women, women of color, and transgender women.

Women With A Vision, the New Orleans based advocates for women’s reproductive and sexual health and justice and a recent Third Wave grant partner, have been working to educate the public about the effects of SCAN on their communities:

“Since our founding in 1991, Women With A Vision has been standing with the women of New Orleans no questions asked. We’ve been let into worlds that few others see, and trusted with stories that traditional public health workers rarely, if ever, hear. But little could have prepared us for that day when ‘J’ arrived at one of our Our Space events. Barely saying hello, she pulled out her photo I.D. card, which read ‘SEX OFFENDER’ in block red letters. She is only 23 years old, and one month clean from a heroin addiction; the ‘sex offender’ label will remain on her ID until she turns 48.” - Women With A Vision, “No Justice

This week, supported by Women With A Vision and their “No Justice” campaign, the Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a Federal civil rights suit challenging the constitutionality of the SCAN statute. Women With A Vision’s executive director, Deon Haywood, said in support of this suit:

“I work with the people directly affected by this statute every day: the toll it takes is devastating. Many of these women are survivors of rape and domestic violence themselves, many have struggled with addiction and poverty, yet they are being treated as predators.What this law does is completely disconnect them from our community and from what remains of a social safety net, making it impossible for them to recognize and develop their goals and dreams.”

We’ll be following the developments in this case closely and letting you know ways you can support Women With A Vision to protect the rights and freedom of low-income women, women of color, and transgender women. Their policy brief “Just A Talking Crime” was released this week.

Announcing Reproductive Health & Justice Initiative Grant Partners

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

We’re proud and excited to announce that this year, Third Wave’s Reproductive Health & Justice Initiative will support 23 organizations across the United States, representing an investment of over $500,000 in young people’s innovative approaches to reproductive freedom.

For Third Wave, reproductive justice work is premised on principles of self-determination and equity related to our decisions around bodies, sexuality, health and well-being, and reproduction. This expansive framework means that social justice work often includes a reproductive justice component.

Our 2010 RHJI grant partners are:

Multi-Year Grant Partners
Different Avenues
Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network, Inc. (JASMYN)
Kalpulli Izkalli
Khmer Girls in Action
New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice
St. James Infirmary
Young Women’s Empowerment Project
Young Women United

Discretionary Grant Partners
Brown Boi Project
Chicago Abortion Fund
Colorado Anti-Violence Program
Gender JUST
Justice Now
Media Literacy Project
National Sex Worker of Color Network
Power U Center for Social Change
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
Women with a Vision
Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition

In Partnership with the Catalyst Fund
Choice USA
Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR)
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW

Moving Beyond “Pro-Life” & “Pro-Choice”

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

La'tasha Mayes and Bekezela Mguni of New Voices Pittsburgh
(La’tasha Mayes and Bekezela Mguni of New Voices Pittsburgh, via NVP Facebook)

At The Root La’Tasha Mayes, executive director of Third Wave grant partner New Voices Pittsburgh, breaks down the ways our beliefs around abortion go beyond the oppositional frame of “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice:

La’Tasha Mayes, executive director of the activist group New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, says that frequent descriptions of African Americans as conservative and pro-life are an overgeneralization. She argues that it’s time the country moved beyond the pro-life versus pro-choice binary of the abortion debate.

“It’s a limiting concept that says the choices that black women make are black and white. It’s not that simple,” Mayes told The Root, adding that the broader reproductive-justice movement — for access to health insurance, family-planning services and abortion — includes women with nuanced positions who identify as both pro-life and pro-choice.

“I’ve learned that it’s about people’s individual experiences,” she says. “Regardless of her politics and religion, if a woman does not want to have a child, she will not have a child. But the message from opponents of abortion is that we can’t be trusted to make these decisions for ourselves and our families. They want to shame black women for the choices we have to make, mostly out of survival.”

Mayes rejects the idea that black women are being targeted for abortion, arguing that the conversation lacks a full sense of perspective. “The leap from abortion to black genocide is missing many steps in between,” she says. “We can’t look at abortion in isolation, as if it’s a choice made independently from the context in which black women live.

“After years of doing this work, I’ve realized that abortion becomes a choice for women when they have been socially, economically and politically marginalized in complex systems of oppression,” she continues. “If you’re not talking about race, class, sex and gender issues before you start talking about abortion, then you’re missing the larger context.”

Feminism Was Here: Choices in Childbirth

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Feminism Was Here: Choices in Childbirth

From Third Wave community member Kelly Ren!

I wanted to send you two photos of some feminism in action. Attached is a photo of the 2011/2012 edition of The Guide to a Healthy Birth NYC Edition. This guide is a free resource for the public and it is produced by Choices in Childbirth. The guide is to help expectant parents access education and resources regarding pregnancy, birth and postpartum and to help the public become more aware of maternity rights and choices in our society. I was present at their guide launch on December 20th, with President, Elan McAllister, Executive Director Lisa Malley, Program Manager Malorie Schecter and staff Julia Jolly and new admin assistant Debbie.

Thanks for sending me the stickers, I will definitely be getting them out in 2011. Keep up the good work!

Smith Bill Update: Rape Redefinition Removed

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Chalk one up to the many activists, organizations and political commentators who took on Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for their attempt to redefine rape as part of a new bill Smith introduced, the “No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act” [PDF]. As originally drafted, the bill proposed to narrow the Medicaid funding exception that currently provides coverage for abortions in the case of rape to only cover a new category of “forcible” rape. Now, after five days of whirlwind outrage, such as the #DearJohn Twitter campaign and Jon Stewart’s segment on “Rape Rape” vs. “Rapish” (below), the clause was finally removed this morning.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Rape Victim Abortion Funding
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Let’s not breathe a sigh of relief yet. There is so much yet left to challenge in the Smith Bill that would damage our ability to determine what happens to our bodies. The “forcible rape” clause was only one in a series of attacks on our reproductive and health options, especially for young people, low income people, and people of color.

The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), and the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) released a statement that calls the bill on its racist ramifications.

This bill would strip a woman of her right to decide which options best suit her health care needs and would add cruel restrictions for victims of sexual violence. Access to abortion is critically important for women of color and immigrant women who are disproportionally poor. Presently, 25% of poor women who want to choose abortion can’t because the federal government refuses to pay for it.

Among a slew of other attacks on women’s access to healthcare, the bill would destroy private insurance coverage of abortion with broad reaching impact.

Mother Jones explains that although the proposal “has a stated aim of making the Hyde Amendment (a rule that has to be renewed every year that prohibits federal funding of abortions through Medicaid) into permanent, government-wide law” it could be “a Trojan horse for the elimination of private insurance coverage for abortion.” Specifically,

Smith’s bill would create a huge incentive for employers to only offer health insurance that doesn’t cover abortion. Insurers would respond to what their customers wanted, and the percentage of health plans offering abortion coverage—currently 86 percent—would undoubtedly plummet.

…The employer tax exemption for health insurance is the government’s largest tax expenditure. It affects nearly every American who gets health insurance through their employers. If the abortion rights advocates are right, the tax section of Smith’s bill would affect far more people (and more money) than any other portion of the law.

We need to see this win — the removal of the “forcible rape” clause — as only the first step of many in knocking apart the Smith bill. My greatest fear is that we allow ourselves to celebrate or to be distracted: this is not a compromise. As a community of activists who care about protecting the health and well-being of the people who are most vulnerable to the harsh impacts of abusive legislation, we need to see the larger picture.

Every part of this bill is a systematic attack on our access to safe, high quality and affordable healthcare, and we need to sustain our efforts to change it.

Redefining Rape, Forcing Pregnancy: Push Back on HR3

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This weekend, feminist activists ramped up their opposition to HR3, the so-called “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act.” Speaker of the House John Boehner has called passing this act “one of our highest legislative priorities.” With a coordinated campaign to call Congressional representatives quickly underway (organized over the Twitter hashtag #DearJohn), it’s clear reproductive justice activists are determined to push back hard.

If passed, HR3 would put the burden on survivors of sexual assault to prove their rape was “forcible” in order to qualify for any public assistance for abortion. As Mother Jones reported last week, this Republican plan to redefine rape isn’t just a hateful attack on survivors of violence. It marks a shift in anti-abortion tactics with devastating implications:

“Since 1976, federal law has prohibited the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman. But since last year, the anti-abortion side has become far more aggressive in challenging this compromise. They have been pushing to outlaw tax deductions for insurance plans that cover abortion, even if the abortion coverage is never used. The Smith bill represents a frontal attack on these long-standing exceptions.”

So in addition to rolling back almost all of the (very few) exceptions for Federal funding of abortion, House Republicans (and a handful of Democrats) are attempting to redefine rape in order to restrict abortion access.

Reproductive justice activists have long recognized that sexual violence and abortion access are deeply connected. As a matter of body autonomy, we all should have the power to decide when we want to have sex and when to have children.

These attempts to regulate reproductive and sexual health access out of existence aren’t just an attack on our rights. They are a form of institutional violence, and they disproportionately impact people of color, low income people, and young women, transgender and gender nonconforming youth.

HR3 has 173 co-sponsors. You can find out if your Congressional rep has backed HR3, and give them a call to let them know how HR3 will impact you and your community if it passes. Right now, HR3 is sitting in committee — there’s still time to have your voice heard. Once you’ve made your call, drop us a comment here, or chime in on #DearJohn on Twitter.