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‘Your Call’ Podcast: ‘Vessel’ and the Ways Women Counter Anti-Choice Laws

Rewire Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson joins Your Call‘s Rose Aguilar and Diana Whitten, director of the feature-length documentary Vessel, to discuss the current state of abortion access worldwide and the different ways women’s health activists are combating anti-abortion laws. [via KALW]

Press Call: Maternal Health Advocates to Challenge Wisconsin Law That Tramples Pregnant Women’s Rights

This past summer, Wisconsin resident Tamara Loerstcher sought help at a local hospital after she began self-medicating for depression and a thyroid problem. After discovering Loerstcher was 14 weeks pregnant, hospital workers had her jailed. On December 11, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Carr Center for Reproductive Justice, and Perkins Coie hosted a teleconference to share her story and announce their plans to file a civil rights complaint in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Wisconsin law “that deprives pregnant women of their personhood and human dignity, and puts their health at risk.”

‘False Witnesses’ Media Conference

On Thursday, Rewire hosted a press call to discuss the False Witnesses project: an investigation into 14 individuals who have pushed false information designed to mislead the public, lawmakers, and the courts about abortion. Listen to Rewire’s Sharona Coutts, Jodi Jacobson, and Sofia Resnick discuss the project with reporters.

From Nicki Minaj to ‘House of Cards’: How Is Abortion Portrayed in Pop Culture?

Making Contact Radio produces programming about social justice issues as they relate to civil liberties, globalization, the economy, human rights, and more. This episode, a special collaboration with Bitch Magazine and Feministing, explores pop culture representations of abortion and reproductive decision-making—and discusses why those stories really matter.


Press Call: Forced Cesarean Section Is the Newest Threat to the Personhood of Pregnant Women

Rewire joined Rinat Dray and medical professionals and legal advocates for the rights of pregnant women on a press call on Friday. Listen to a recording of the call above.

Rinat Dray, a 32-year-old mother of two, went to Staten Island University Hospital with the hope of delivering her third child vaginally after two prior cesarean surgeries. Instead, according to Ms. Dray, after several hours of labor, the attending physician told her that he would not examine her unless she agreed to have surgery. When she refused surgery, the hospital made a decision, without consultation with the hospital’s bioethics department and without engaging the hospital’s patient advocate, to deny her the right to medical decision-making and to force her to undergo the surgery. According to records in the case, the surgery was approved by the hospital’s legal department over Ms. Dray’s explicit objection. A physician noted in her medical records: “The woman has decisional capacity. I have decided to override her refusal to have a c-section.” Dray has filed suit against Staten Island University Hospital and two physicians for being forced to undergo a cesarean surgery against her will.

Forced cesarean is one among a growing number of threats to the personhood of pregnant women. While an increasing number of women like Ms. Dray seek to have a vaginal birth after cesarean surgery (VBAC), they are often pressured and sometimes forced by doctors and hospitals to undergo cesarean sections. A 2010 National Institutes of Health Consensus Statement acknowledged that women face significant barriers in finding physicians and hospital-based care that will support VBAC.  Ms. Dray’s desire to have a vaginal birth was based on her understanding of the potential risks of surgery. In fact, according to the complaint filed in the case, her bladder was punctured during the cesarean. Amid national concerns about the overuse of cesareans and increasing reports of doctors threatening their patients with the use of court orders to force surgery, this case involves a hospital’s express decision to override a patient’s medical decision.  The doctors did so without a court order and despite concluding that the patient was mentally competent to make medical decisions for herself.

Ms. Dray was joined in an audio press call by her attorneys as well as medical professionals and legal advocates for the rights of pregnant women including Élan McAllister (Executive Director of Choices in Childbirth), Prof. Mary Faith Marshall, Ph.D., FCCM (Director, Program in Biomedical Ethics, University of Virginia School of Medicine), Fara Diaz-Tello (Staff Attorney and Birth Justice project leader, National Advocates for Pregnant Women) and Dr. Katharine Morrison, MD, FACOG (Director of Buffalo WomenServices).


Tennessee Advocates Speak Out Against Pregnancy Criminalization

Read more of our coverage on the Tennessee Pregnancy Criminalization Law here.

On April 15, Rewire hosted an audio press call on the Tennessee Pregnancy Criminalization Law, SB 1391, and was joined by representatives from SisterReach, Healthy & Free Tennessee, and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Use the player above to listen to an audio recording of this call or click here to download the recording.

Click here for a press packet containing the advisory, press releases, an open letter signed by dozens of allied organizations, and contact information.

A coalition of Tennessee groups is calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to veto SB 1391, the Pregnancy Criminalization Law (also HB 1295) because, according to the coalition, “neither the born nor the unborn are protected when police and prosecutors can decide what is best for pregnant women and new mothers.”

“This law is bad medicine for Tennessee families,” said Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach. “It was promoted by prosecutors against the recommendations of medical professionals, permits arrest and incarceration of women who cannot guarantee that their newborn is in perfect health, and creates a separate and unequal law for women allowing their arrest if they are pregnant and struggling with addiction.”

“Making matters worse,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, “treatment for pregnant women in Tennessee is largely unavailable. So pregnant women seeking help are put into a double bind, subject to arrest but not able to seek treatment.”

“Criminalizing pregnancy outcomes scares women away from prenatal care and drug treatment,” said Farah Diaz-Tello, staff attorney with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, “and mandates separating mothers from their babies just when they need each other the most. Women who cannot afford private treatment for their addiction and who fear arrest and separation from children they already have may feel as though abortion is the only way to keep their current families together.”

The Pregnancy Criminalization Law does nothing to expand services so that low-income parents can obtain treatment, though it costs less than a third as much as jailing them. It is also out of step with Tennessee’s Safe Harbor Act, passed last year to lessen the threat of punishment and encourage women to seek treatment. Pregnancy criminalization on these terms could cost families months or even years of irreplaceable time together, while the state pays outrageous bills for unnecessary incarceration and foster care.

What Is Happening on the Front Lines of the Abortion Fight?

On Your Call, an NPR show on San Francisco’s KALW, Rewire Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson joined a conversation about the most recent round of abortion clinic closures around the country. This month, the closure of two clinics in Texas will force women to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest facility. And in Kalispell, Montana, one of four clinics was forced to close after it was vandalized.


Lenzi Sheible, founder of Fund Texas Women

Jodi Jacobson, editor in chief of Rewire

Susan Cahill, physician assistant and owner of All Families Healthcare in Kalispell, Montana

Audio Press Conference: Koch Brothers, Other Billionaire Corporate Leaders Fueling Anti-Choice Movement

Rewire has unveiled a new investigative report by Senior Washington Correspondent Adele Stan revealing that so-called “free market” organizations linked to the Koch brothers, including the Center for Protect Patient Rights (CPPR) and Freedom Partners, are dispensing tens of millions of dollars to groups working to end reproductive rights and undercut the rights of pregnant women. Anti-choice beneficiaries of largesse from organizations and wealthy donors in the Koch network have used these funds to support laws seeking to eliminate women’s rights to abortion and contraception and establish the “personhood” of fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses.

Click here to read the full report.

“Over the past ten years, so-called pro-life groups and legislators such as Congressman Paul Ryan have increasingly been involved in efforts to deny women their rights while simultaneously shredding the social safety net on which the most vulnerable in this society depend. It is a marriage of ‘church and commerce’ not previously seen in the United States,” said Jodi Jacobson, President and Editor-in-Chief of Rewire.  “Now it is clear that the Koch brothers are pouring money into a policy agenda that recognizes both corporations and fertilized eggs as people, but not the personhood of women. Koch money is directly fueling anti-choice battles in states like Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Nebraska, and contributing significantly to a dangerous push for a national 20 week abortion ban at the federal level as well.”

Freedom Partners, called “the Koch brother’s secret bank” by Politico, acts as a a “pass-through group” funneling money to other pass-through groups like the Center to Protect Patient Rights and anti-choice organizations in order to obscure the original source of funding. Since November 2011, Freedom Partners gave CPRR $115 million dollars, which they parceled out to groups with anti-choice agendas.

Run by longtime Koch political operative Sean Noble, the Center to Protect Patient Rights has provided the following anti-choice funding:

  • In 2011, they donated $1.5 million to the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee (CWALAC) working to lobby for the Texas anti-choice law and similar bills in other state legislatures. Freedom Partners has gifted CWALAC directly with more than $8 million from late 2011 to the present.
  • In 2010, they granted more than $1 million to the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, accounting for nearly 15 percent of the group’s funding that year. The SBA List spent about $2 million in advertising to support anti-choice candidates across the country.
  • In 2010, they provided Americans United for Life Action (AULA) with 39 percent of the group’s operating budget that year.
  • In 2009, they dispensed $250,000 to Independent Women’s Voice, which opposes the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act and the Nebraska Right to Life, which helped pass the state’s first 20-week abortion ban the following year.

Of the top ten outside spending “social welfare” groups engaged in the 2012 elections, all but one was either right-wing or conservative. Though the Koch brothers and other donors in their network signal disinterest in fighting against abortion rights, they share an interest with anti-choice groups in depleting the power of Democrats, who are more inclined to support reproductive rights. In fact, in most states, the same legislators who champion the right’s pro-business, anti-regulatory agenda, also advanced destructive regulations on abortion clinics and restricting women’s rights generally.

Some examples of this electoral ripple-effect include:

  • The $32 million Freedom Partners gave to Americans for Prosperity (AFP)—purportedly focusing on economic policy—was nearly all deployed in support of anti-choice candidates, as was the $15.7 million bestowed on 60 Plus, a “free-market,” anti-Obamacare group that claims to represent senior citizens.
  • Americans for Prosperity and 60 Plus received windfalls from the Center to Protect Patient Rights. Americans for Prosperity pocketed $2.25 million from CPPR in 2009 and $1.9 million in 2010, while 60 Plus won $2.6 million in CPPR money in 2009, a whopping $9 million in 2010, and another $2.4 million in 2011.
  • Art Pope, former chairman of the board of David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, helped propel North Carolina’s recent anti-choice bill as his family foundation funds the North Carolina Family Policy Council that lead the charge.

Report author Adele Stan exposed the connections through analysis of tax records, pulling apart a multi-layered non-profit structure that that protects the Kochs from revealing their donors while pumping millions into political fights to restrict access to abortion and contraception.

“The Koch brothers would have you believe that they have little interest in rolling back reproductive rights,” said Stan.  “But the proof is in their network’s spending patterns, which shows their willingness to deliberately harm women in pursuit of their goals.”

Native American Activists Fight for Plan B One-Step Access

The following piece was originally posted on, a Reproductive Justice Reporting Project of the Media Consortium and the Association for Alternative Newsmedia that focuses on the accessibility of Plan B.

“Every other race of women in this country has access to emergency contraceptives as an over-the-counter, except for Native women,” says Charon Asetoyer, executive director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, who is fighting to change that reality.

Most press coverage celebrating recent changes to the federal law around Plan B One-Step has left at least one group behind: Native Americans. That’s why Native American activists are still pushing the slow-moving bureaucracy at the Indian Health Service to make Plan B available over-the-counter for women of all ages. And while progress is being made, challenges to accessing emergency contraception remain in Native communities, where high rates of sexual assault make the need particularly dire.


Sarah Mirk: This is Sarah Mirk. I’m in the Walgreens on the corner of 33rd and Killingsworth in Northeast Portland, and I’m looking for Plan B One-Step, which is supposed to be available over-the-counter. And I’m in the aisle that has lots of condoms and lube and Vagisil and somewhere around here should be Plan B. There it is, right there. It’s on the top of the aisle in a purple box. Plan B One-Step emergency contraception: $51.99. You can just take the box to the counter. That was easy.

My visit to Walgreens in Portland, Oregon was how getting Plan B is supposed to go. In June 2013, the Food and Drug Administration approved the brand-name emergency contraceptive to be stocked on pharmacy shelves across the country for women of all ages. No prescription needed, no asking someone to get it from behind the counter. No age limits. Just grab it like some aspirin, and be on your way.

But for some women, getting emergency contraception is not so simple. …

Audio: Pow-wow drumming

SM: This is the Dancing in the Square pow-wow, an annual Native American gathering put on by the Northwest Portland area Indian Health Board. It’s a celebration that brings together local tribes. But it’s also a chance to raise awareness about important issues facing Indians living in Oregon and connect them to healthcare resources. For many Native women, getting emergency contraception isn’t always as easy as walking into Walgreens.

Jessica Leston: People don’t know the difference between emergency contraception and medical abortion, and there is a lot of non-education around the subject.

SM: That misunderstanding is the first problem, says Jessica Leston. She’s the clinical programs manager at the Northwest Portland area Indian Health Board, the group that helps put on the pow-wow. Plan B and other types of emergency contraception, actually prevent pregnancy from happening if taken within three to five days of unprotected sex. They do that by delaying or disrupting ovulation, which means they’ve helped millions of women avoid accidental pregnancies.

In Native American communities, access to Plan B is crucial, says Charon Asetoyer, executive director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, based in South Dakota.

Charon Asetoyer: There is an extremely high rate of sexual assaults that occur on reservations in this country. And one in three Native women will be sexually assaulted at least once in her life. And it’s important that women know that these services are available. I’ve always said that emergency contraceptives help to reduce the residual effects of sexual assault, one being an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy from the sexual assault. So, it reduces the trauma, the added trauma that can result from sexual assault.

SM: But despite that need, access to emergency contraception lags in Native communities. Native Americans receive free healthcare through the Indian Health Services (HIS), a federal agency that runs clinics all over the country. And although federally managed facilities must follow FDA regulations, the reality doesn’t always live up to the law. While the FDA ruled in 2009 that Plan B should be available over-the-counter to women over age 17, Indian Health Services did not work that change into its policies until this year, under pressure from Native women and the ACLU. However, they have still not caught up to the recent all-ages ruling and, meanwhile, Indian health centers managed independently by tribes have the authority to decide what products they carry.

All of this means that Native women have unequal access to emergency contraception—whether or not they can easily get the legal drug depends in part on where they live.

CA: Every other race of women in this country has access to emergency contraception as an OTC except for Native women within our health care system.

SM: Research conducted by Asetoyer and others found that many Indian Health Services’ pharmacies did not carry any emergency contraception, nor did they not offer it over-the-counter. A 2012 survey from the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center found that 43 percent of the clinics serving Native American women did not carry any emergency contraception at all. Only 11 percent of the pharmacies surveyed carried emergency contraception over-the-counter.

Here’s a not-so-unusual story from Micha Bitsinnie. She was raised on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, and now lives in New Mexico.

Micha Bitsinnie: Well, I had my first child in 2009. And after having a baby, they ask you, “Do you want to get on birth control?” And if you don’t want a baby right after, you’re going to get on birth control. So I got on birth control—the day-to-day pill. And I was a new mom, forgot pills, and, you know, for, I think maybe, a week, I had forgotten to take my day-to-day pills. So I went into the Indian Health Hospital and asked for an emergency contraceptive, and I learned that they do not offer it over-the-counter, so I had to go see a doctor. And so when I went in to see the doctor, I was treated like I wasn’t supposed to be using emergency contraceptives at all. I was told, “You need to use condoms. You need to take your birth control. It shows on your chart that we issued you birth control—why aren’t you taking it? What are you doing here? What is the purpose of this?”

And on top of that, when I had initially called, I was told, “Well, we don’t have any walk-in appointments. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.” So the 24-hour period was already gone, and I had to get it the next day within that 48-hour period. And as you know, emergency contraception is most effective the sooner you take it. Up to 72 hours.

SM: Bitsinnie also worked as a community health worker and realized her own experience was similar to what many of her clients were facing.

MB: So when I started to do my own research, I decided, well, where best to start than to call my own the clinic where I’m from in Monument Valley? I have nieces who have friends who are sexually active and don’t access birth control because they don’t want their parents to find out. The emergency contraceptive, it’s not a birth control, but it was an option I was talking to my niece about. So I called over to the clinic and I asked them, I want to know if I can get the emergency contraceptive pill. And I was asked, “Who is this?” You know, “What do you need? What do you need this for? Who are your parents? May I ask who’s calling?” And I said, “No, I don’t want anybody to know. I’m just asking can I access it there.” And they, you know, again, “Who is this, who is this?” And I said, “Do you need to know my name?” And he’s like, “Yes.” And I said, “OK, well, when I come into the clinic I will give you my name.” “Well, who is this? Who are your parents?” You know? And so then I just started to realize, whoa, this is a really huge barrier to get access to this Plan B, when it shouldn’t be.

JL: I think that on a very human level, no matter what your race is, it’s hard to talk about sexual health.

SM: Again, Jessica Leston, with the Northwest Portland area Indian Health Board.

JL: And so when you are a Native person in a rural community and the only access to care you have is the IHS or tribal clinic and you go there for care—and you know most people in the clinic, you grew up with them and they’re your aunts or your neighbors, they’re your tribal members—being able to bring up the subject of sex, of your sexual health, of needing to get tested for an STD or about wanting to go on the birth control pill, or anything like that is really embarrassing. It’s uncomfortable.

SM: IHS wouldn’t comment on tape for this story, but in a written statement, said that Plan B is currently available at all federally run facilities from the pharmacy window for women 17 and over, and will be for all ages once FDA labels on the packaging have changed. They noted that a verbal directive has been issued to all IHS pharmacies. But advocates for access say an official policy needs to be put on paper, as a verbal directive can easily be changed. And tribal-run facilities need to evolve as well. Traveling to an off-reservation pharmacy means coming up with transportation, gas money, and having to pay for emergency contraception—whereas it’s free at IHS clinics, if they carry it.

Pam Kingfisher: We feel like this is still step one to make sure that the women are, their human rights are, just as equal as other women who have the access to go to the pharmacy and buy it for 50 dollars.

SM: Pam Kingfisher, who lives within the Cherokee nation of Oklahoma, has been one of the leaders of the campaign for access to emergency contraception. She says its taking time, but things are changing.

PK: We have gotten the IHS to roll over and start providing it. When we went before the National Congress of American Indians last year and got a reservation of support from them, it was like black and white from six or seven years ago where women’s issues were not talked about through the podium.

SM: While Kingfisher, Asetoyer and others keep up they pressure on the bureaucracy, they’re also working to educate women about contraception on a grassroots level by creating thousands of small informational cards that can be distributed at clinics, community centers, and between friends. The most important thing, say advocates, is educating women themselves about Plan B, how it works, and where they can get it.

For Making Contact, I’m Sarah Mirk with Bitch Magazine in Portland, Oregon.

Rewire’s Jodi Jacobson, Sharona Coutts Discuss Exclusive Analysis Showing Abortion Is Highly Regulated, Safe

In a call with reporters Tuesday, Rewire Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson and Director of Research and Investigations Sharona Coutts discussed Rewire’s new investigative report of thousands of pages of documents from state health departments and attorneys general. The analysis reveals that abortion care in the United States is already highly regulated and overwhelmingly safe.