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The Dark Logic Behind Alabama’s Abortion Ban

A gaffe is not when a politician tells a lie, according to a famous adage by journalist Michael Kinsley. “A gaffe,” he explained, “is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

When Alabama, Ohio and Missouri enacted broad abortion bans with no exception for cases of rape and incest, they made the same sort of mistake. Their measures gave the public an accurate but alarming picture of how many “pro-life” advocates see the issue. By showing how far they would take their logic, they dramatized the weakness of their case.

In signing the bill, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey cited “Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious & that every life is a sacred gift from God.” If every life is a sacred gift from God, how it came into being — by consensual sex or by rape — shouldn’t matter. In either case, the fetus is not to blame and is entitled to protection.

This may sound like a radical position. But it’s more common than you might realize. Last year, a Gallup Poll found that 43 percent of Americans who call themselves “pro-life” don’t favor exceptions for rape or incest.

The Republican Party’s national 2016 platform asserts, “The unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed,” with no mention of exceptions. The Texas Republican Party leaves no wiggle room when it says it wants to “completely abolish legal abortion.” Officials of several organizations have signed a letter urging the Republican Party to ban all abortions.

The absolutists have a point. If the life of the fetus is the sole consideration, other factors don’t matter. What matters least of all are the interests of pregnant women. By rejecting any exceptions, anti-abortion advocates starkly reveal their belief that each uterus belongs to everyone except the person in whom it resides.

If a fetus conceived in rape were granted all the rights of personhood at conception, the pregnant woman would forfeit control over her body, compelled to carry a fetus created without her consent. A vicious criminal could enslave her to bear his offspring — and to endure the lasting consequences of becoming a mother.

Or suppose that a child needs a liver transplant. “Even if, because of tissue type, only her father can provide a segment of liver that her body will not reject, our laws have never required any such sacrifice of him,” wrote Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe in his book, “Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes.”

The fact that the father chose to conceive the child makes no difference. His willingness to engage in behavior that leads to a pregnancy and birth does not obligate him to make such a sacrifice.

The logic of “pro-lifers,” however, would justify even greater violations. Thirteen people die every day in this country awaiting kidney transplants, according to the National Kidney Foundation. We could prevent those deaths by requiring kidney donations to those in need, from anyone whose organs would be suitable. But we don’t.

And we’d all agree that if someone needing a kidney tried to extract one from someone without her consent, she would be justified in using force in self-defense, including deadly force.

That’s not because we put no value on the lives of those who would be saved. It’s because we put a higher value on the personal freedom and bodily integrity of those who would be compelled to save them.

Someone impregnated through consensual sex, of course, would be subject to the same constraints. The difference, significant to some, is that she can be said to have incurred the obligation by her own choices.

But compulsory birth in the case of rape is only slightly more objectionable than in other cases. In either, the woman has to surrender her basic physical autonomy for the benefit of someone else, against her own will.

Under other comparable circumstances we would never impose such onerous obligations. Suppose that a man has defective sperm that are certain to produce only fetuses with horrific conditions that will cause death in utero. We could avert these grim outcomes by forcing him to get a vasectomy. But the intrusion on his body and the burden on his freedom would be too radical to accept.

To force women to go through pregnancy and give birth is a violation of the most severe and intimate kind. It’s not an affirmation of life. It’s a denial of the humanity of women.



For Women, What Comes Next?

International Women’s Day is a once-a-year acknowledgment of what women do every day of the year, which is to keep the world afloat with our labor — paid and unpaid.

March 8 fell on a Wednesday this year. Here in the U.S., some of the organizers of January’s Women’s March encouraged women to wear red and take to the streets again. In addition to protesting, we were to avoid shopping — except at female-owned businesses — and boycott our jobs to show the impact of “A Day Without a Woman.”

An admirable cause, no question, but it’s one that brings out the crankiness in me, I confess. One of the challenges of showing support for women in America is how to do this without excluding most of the women in America who need it most.

Many women who take care of patients, for example, couldn’t take the day off without potentially harming those they’ve committed their lives to helping. My friend Amy Johnson responded to my post about this on Facebook, and she said it better than I ever could:

I am a nurse in an OB/GYN office completely run by women. The only males are two of our physicians who are amazing advocates for women, having devoted their entire careers to their care. There can be no ‘Day Without A Woman’ day-off here because we would not be able to serve the 60 women we will see today for prenatal care and GYN-related issues like Pap tests, breast exams, and STD treatment if there were. We will consider our work serving the healthcare needs of women to be our contribution to the cause — today and every day.

Women who take care of children, such as teachers and day care workers, very likely added an additional burden to the lives of other women who had to scramble to find alternative child care, often at extra cost, if they chose to boycott work. Some of these school communities reportedly organized volunteers for alternative child care, but I understand why some parents would balk. For 10 years, I was a single mother with a job and no family nearby. Safe, reliable child care was a constant source of stress and worry, but I would never have entrusted the care of my child to strangers. Now a seasoned grandmother, I know that for all of my outdated ways, I am still in sync with most of today’s parents on that one.

Now let’s consider hourly wage earners, who are the backbone and the beating heart of labor in this country. They cannot take off work without fear of losing their jobs. After years of interviewing such women and writing about their lives, I thought I understood the full burden of their work. It took only 10 minutes today in a national chain store to discover a new depth to my cluelessness.

I approached three different female employees to talk about Wednesday’s protest, and each balked at the sight of my notebook. One of them told me, “I know you think you’re helping, but if corporate finds out I talked to you without permission, I’m fired.”

Think about that. They couldn’t even describe what it means to be a woman right now without fear of reprisal from their bosses. Never have I felt more privileged for getting paid to say whatever’s on my mind.

Also, let’s keep this in mind: A high percentage of hourly wage labor is performed by women who are not white. Optics matter here. When public protests are populated by mostly white women who have control over their schedules and their lives, even the most honorable of causes can come off as a lucky hobby.

I have been thrilled by the throngs of women marching in the streets of America for the women of America. Makes me feel the weight of my years, in a good way.

But if there’s one thing age hasn’t cured in me, it’s my impatience.

Let’s figure out what comes next.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism.

IMAGE: Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Labor And Women’s Rights Activists Plan Mass Protests To Fight Trumpism

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Sectors of the U.S. labor movement are throwing their weight behind an International Women’s Day call for mass actions to protest the gendered violence wrought by neoliberalism, from workplace harassment to environmental destruction to the gutting of welfare systems.

Timed for Wednesday, March 8, the global day of action was “organized by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism directed towards working women, women of color, Native women, disabled women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian, queer, and trans women,” according to the International Women’s Strike, which describes itself as a grassroots movement.

The mobilizations also have the backing of the organizers of the January 21 Women’s March, the largest inaugural protest in U.S. history. While Women’s March organizers have termed March 8 “a day without women,” actions will include rallies, protests, direct actions, and teach-ins, in addition to a more traditional work stoppage. Similar actions are slated to sweep nearly 30 countries, from Mexico to Bolivia to Russia.

Tithi Bhattacharya, who is active with the U.S. arm of the International Women’s Strike, is a longtime activist for Palestinian justice, a professor of South Asian History and the director of Global Studies at Purdue University. She told AlterNet, “We knew very well when we used the word ‘strike’ that women (and men) in the vast majority of workplaces will not be able to go on strike. How could they? Union density is currently at its lowest in this country. Moreover, even where unions exist, they usually carry no-strike clauses in their contracts. A vast number of people work in states where striking has been criminalized for years.”

“But despite these challenges,” Bhattacharya continued, “the involvement of labor unions and labor groups has been amazing.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools just announced it will close down March 8 because it expects large numbers of employees to go on strike.

Under the banner, Women Workers Rising, major unions and workers’ organizations are calling for a demonstration at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., to “end workplace violence and harassment and promote pay equity, one fair living wage, paid leave, and labor rights at work.” The action is being organized by One Billion Rising in coalition with at least eight union or worker organizations, including National Nurses United, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, OUR Walmart, the American Federation of Teachers, Jobs with Justice, the Domestic Workers’ Alliance, and other labor and social justice groups.

“Every day, we see the Trump administration’s attack on women’s bodies and lives, especially immigrants and women of color,” Andrea Cristina Mercado, the campaign director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told AlterNet. “Our work, contributions, and humanity continue to be undervalued. That is why we endorsed A Day Without Women—as a way of showing opposition to the terrorizing and criminalizing of our communities.”

“While some domestic workers are participating, we did not call on members to strike, because it’s hard for many who are caring for elders or children to take a day off,” Mercado continued. “But there are so many ways to show resistance, and on March 8, we will stand together, and embody radical sisterhood.”

The day of action has earned the endorsements of union locals and workers’ organizations, including Labor for Palestine, Rutgers AAUP-AFT and UAW Local 2325 — Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. Among the endorsers is the SEIU Lavender Caucus, which describes itself as “the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender (L/G/B/T) Caucus of the Service Employees International Union, whose purpose is to facilitate open and respectful communication between the L/G/B/T community and the labor movement.”

Megan Moskop is a New York City teacher and an organizer with the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers. Moskop said MORE officially endorsed the March 8 day of actions “because 70 percent or more of the teaching profession in New York City is women. Sexism in our profession is rampant. We only have the most basic family medical leave. Part of the reason it is such a hard job is because it’s a job women have traditionally done.”

“When women are standing up in the international community and saying sexism is real, we want to stand alongside them,” Moskop said.

The U.S. platform for the International Women’s Strike includes calls for labor rights, a halt to gender violence, environmental justice, and an “anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism,” stating: “This means that movements such as Black Lives Matter, the struggle against police brutality and mass incarceration, the demand for open borders and for immigrant rights and for the decolonization of Palestine are for us the beating heart of this new feminist movement.”

In addition, the platform calls for “full social provisioning” and issues the demand “that the welfare system work to support our lives rather than shame us when we access such rights.”

Organizers say they draw inspiration from mass protests far beyond U.S. borders. “Following the example of Icelandic women in 1975, Polish women went on a day-long strike to halt plans for criminalizing abortion and miscarriage on Oct. 3, 2016,” the International Women’s Strike writes. “That planned legislation was immediately withdrawn by the government. Similar issues brought Korean women to protest several times that same month against introduction of higher penalties for doctors performing abortions. On Oct. 19, 2016, Argentine women responded with massive hour-long strikes and rallies to an inhuman femicide and brutal repression [by police] of the Women’s National Meeting.”

Union members told AlterNet that these kinds of mass protests are sorely needed in the United States, and that labor’s participation is often driven by the rank and file. “It’s important to see labor use its power to move protests further and go from demonstrations to strikes,” Peter Lamphere, a member of MORE-UFT and a teacher in New York City, told AlterNet. “We’ve seen that already in the immigrant community and with New York City taxi workers.”

On February 16, thousands of people across the United States walked off the job, shut down their stores and restaurants and stayed home from school to participate in an immigrant strike against the deportation policies of the Trump administration. The strike was accompanied by mass protests in cities and towns across the country, including Chicago, Raleigh, Austin, and San Francisco.

Those mass protests followed a one-hour strike on January 28 by the New York Taxi Workers, in solidarity with large-scale protests against Trump’s travel ban targeting Muslims. “Drivers stand in solidarity with thousands protesting [the] inhumane and unconstitutional Muslim ban,” the 19,000-member strong union declared over social media.

“We see the Trump administration as posing an existential threat to the labor movement, so right after the election we immediately got involved in pushing UFT to take whatever action it could to challenge what Trump was doing,” Lamphere emphasized. “So we pushed for the union to endorse the Women’s March and sent buses. The women’s strike is the next step coming out of that.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.

IMAGE: People gather for the Women’s March in Washington. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Don’t Believe Ivanka: Trump Doesn’t Fight For Gender Equality

While Ivanka Trump introduced her father on Thursday as a “gender-neutral” candidate who champions women’s equality in the workplace, the Republican nominee’s campaign operations, platform, and stated political beliefs tell a different story.

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put in place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce,” Ivanka said during her speech at the final night of the Republican National Convention. “He will fight for equal pay for equal work.”

Contrary to her comments, though, the party platform passed earlier this week with Trump’s approval — and under the observation of his advisors — does little to combat issues like wage inequality or family leave. In fact, it doesn’t mention either one of those topics at all.

Instead, much of the language on gender issues in the Republican platform looks to “affirm the dignity of women” by opposing abortion, a practice that it rejects as a health care measure.

More specifically, the GOP opposes using government funds to perform or promote abortion, including funding Planned Parenthood and similar organizations — who, according to the RNC, “sell fetal body parts rather than [providing] health care.” That comment is a sly reference to a video hoax which purported to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue prices.

It’s not just abortion that Republicans find dangerous, though: According to the document, certain over-the-counter contraceptives (not named by the platform) are also a threat to women’s health.

And the only workplace the platform mentions with regard to gender equality is the military, though Republicans in fact want to keep enlisted women from performing the same work as men; they oppose “unnecessary policy changes” that would make women eligible for the draft and keep them away from the front lines of combat — a shift that was approved by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in March.

While the platform is officially the expression of the Republican Party and not its presidential nominee, it still reflects on Trump and his priorities. His campaign added aggressively protectionist trade policies (to the point that many in the GOP aren’t on board) — it also took a decidedly hands-off approach on social issues.

Besides calling for the appointment of judges who oppose abortion, the Republican platform stands against the U.N. Convention on Women’s Rights, a historic document ratified by 189 countries (but not yet the U.S.) that looks to secure political, economic, social and marriage rights for women.

During Ivanka’s Thursday RNC speech, she also hailed her father for promoting gender equality in his own business, declaring that wage equality has been “a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

Though statistics aren’t public about the Trump empire itself, his campaign operations don’t match up with Ivanka’s claim.

A Boston Globe investigation in April found that men in Trump’s campaign made on average $1600 more than women per month, or 35 percent more — that’s larger than the national gender pay gap. (For comparison, the gender pay gap between men and women in Hillary Clinton’s campaign is an average of $70.)

Ivanka claimed that more women than men are executives in Trump’s businesses, but, again, that doesn’t apply when it comes to his campaign: Just two of the highest-paid officials in his campaign for the month of April were women.

The Globe’s numbers are consistent, however, with Trump’s rare public comments on the issue.

Last July, he hinted on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” that he opposes adjusting women’s pay in order to achieve equal pay.

“When you have to categorize men and women into a particular group and a particular pay scale, it gets very — because people do different jobs,” he said. “It’s very hard to say what is the same job. It’s a very, very tricky question.”  By fighting to remove gender from the picture, rather than fighting for women’s rights, his views only seem to perpetuate gender inequality.

On paid family leave, he’s expressed a similar hesitation towards actually pushing for a change to the established, but unfair, system. “I think we have to keep our country very competitive, so you have to be careful of it,” he said on Fox News in October.

But both the platform and his own campaign lack any specific policies on these issues. It’s difficult to see a President Trump achieving anything approaching an equal workplace for women.


Photo: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump greets his daughter Ivanka as he arrives to speak during the final session  at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder