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CIR Prison Investigation Opens Another Chapter on Sterilization of Women in U.S.

We learned this week of an appalling story involving coerced sterilization of women — an issue that never seems to disappear completely from view despite a long and painful history.

The Center for Investigative Reporting found that at least 148 female inmates in two California prisons were sterilized between 2006 to 2010 — and there may be 100 more incidents dating back to the late 1990s.

Due to supposedly strict limits on sterilization of inmates, state approval was supposed to be obtained prior to these procedures. CIR reports that not only were approvals not obtained, but former inmates report being coerced into agreeing to sterilization.

CIR reporter Corey G. Johnson writes:

The women were signed up for the surgery at the same time as they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men’s prison.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison someday.

Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison’s infirmary all through 2007, said she frequently overheard medical staff asking inmates who had served multiple prison terms to agree to be sterilized.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” Nguyen, 28, said. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

Pressure was applied particularly to women with multiple children, and doctors it sounds as if tried to bypass the required approval process. CIR reports that when Daun Martin, the Valley State Prison medical manager between 2005 and 2008, became aware of the restrictions, she and the prison’s OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, worked around them:

“I’m sure that on a couple of occasions, (Heinrich) brought an issue to me saying, ‘Mary Smith is having a medical emergency’ kind of thing, ‘and we ought to have a tubal ligation. She’s got six kids. Can we do it?’” Martin said. “And I said, “Well, if you document it as a medical emergency, perhaps.’”

The story prompted The Sacramento Bee to call for a full review into whether “anyone ought to have been disciplined,” and to “make sure all the necessary safeguards are now in place.”

Forced sterilization is unfortunately nothing new in the United States: 33 states at one time allowed it for “eugenic” purposes, frequently targeting people of color and people with mental illnesses.

The phrase “Mississippi appendectomy” has come to describe much of this abuse, referring to the sterilization of poor black women — especially in the South — who were sterilized without their consent and infrequently without their knowledge.

Back in 2002, Oregon’s governor issued an apology for forced sterilizations carried out on women who were in state care (including, according to one article, “wayward teenage girls”). North Carolina only formally repealed its last forced sterilization law in 2003. The Winston-Salem Journal did a detailed series on these abuses in 2002. West Virginia repealed a law allowing sterilization of those deemed “mentally incompetent” only a few months ago, and it just took effect.

While these states tend to claim that sterilization abuses stopped in the late 1970s, political fighting continues in many states about whether to compensate and how to recognize sufferers.

Where laws have ended forced sterilization practices, on the other hand, it sounds as if that coercion has continued to thrive.

CIR asks that anyone with knowledge of the sterilization abuses in California prisons — whether as a victim, family member, or medical or prison employee — to share their experience via this form or to contact CIR’s Corey G. Johnson directly (916-504-4085, ext. 202 or cjohnson AT

State by State: Laws Restricting Abortion and Family Planning as of Mid-2013

 abortion restrictions enacted at midyear for 2007 through 2013

If you’re having trouble keeping up with the assault on abortion rights across the states, you’re not alone.

While we’ve been hearing a lot out of Texas, and some from North Carolina and Ohio, many other states have enacted regulations restricting access to healthcare.

These include obstacles such as requirements for hospital admitting privileges for providers, bans on medication abortions by telemedicine and abortion after 20 weeks, and biased counseling laws — requiring, as an example, that women be provided with information falsely linking abortion to breast cancer.

Other new laws, such as restrictions on circle of relatives planning funding, have further affected women’s access to reproductive health products and services.

How bad is it? According to up to date information from the Guttmacher Institute, states enacted 106 provisions related to reproductive health and rights in the first six months of 2013 alone. This includes 43 restrictions on access to abortion — the second one-highest number ever at the mid-year mark, and as many as were enacted in all of 2012.

Guttmacher points out a glimmer of sunshine as well: Among the a lot of restrictions, some states saw new laws to expand comprehensive sex education, make STI remedy of partners easier, and increase access to emergency contraception for women who have been sexually assaulted.

Rachel Maddow this week looked at the overall have an effect on of state-by-state anti-abortion laws, showing how states under Republican keep an eye on since the 2011 elections are restricting access. Maddow also provides more information on one of the vital individual states.

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Women Make Movies: New Releases Include Films on Virginity, Women in Prison and Body Image

Tired of not seeing women’s stories, told by women?

Women Make Movies, a non-profit founded in 1972 to address the representation of women in media, has just released it’s 2013 catalog of films.

We haven’t seen these yet, but here are a couple of films that might be of interest:

“A Girl Like Her” by Ann Fessler: The haunting story of over a million women in the US who were pressured into surrendering their babies for adoption in the 1950s and 60s when “nice girls” didn’t get pregnant.

“The Grey Area: Feminism Behind Bars” by Noga Ashkenazi: Female inmates at a maximum women’s security prison in Mitchellville, Iowa, share their diverse experiences with motherhood, drug addiction, sexual abuse, murder, and life in prison.

“How to Lose Your Virginity” by Therese Shechter: Shechter reveals myths, dogmas and misconceptions in the back of this “precious gift.” Sex educators, porn producers, abstinence advocates, and outspoken teens share their own stories of having — or not having — sex.

“Mothers of Bedford” by Jenifer McShane”: Shot over four years, “Mothers of Bedford” follows five women — of diverse backgrounds and incarcerated for different reasons — in dual struggles to be engaged in their children’s lives and change into their better selves. It shows how long-term sentences have an effect on mother-child relationships and how Bedford’s innovative Children’s Center helps women deal with and beef up bonds with children and adult relatives awaiting their return.

“Saving Face” by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject), “Saving Face” is a harshly realistic view of some incredibly strong and impressive women. Every year in Pakistan, many women are known to be victimized by brutal acid attacks, with a lot of cases going unreported.

“The Fat Body (In)Visible” by Margitte Kristjansson: In this insightful short documentary, Keena and Jessica speak candidly about growing up overweight, and the size discrimination they have got faced. Their stories detail the intricacies of identity and the intersection of race and gender with fatness — and how social media has helped this community enact visibility on their own terms.

In other film news, PBS’s Frontline has released “Rape in the Fields,” an investigation of abuses of U.S. immigrant agricultural workers. The accompanying website has interviews, live chat transcripts (including a Spanish-language chat), and additional information. The film was once a partnership between Frontline, Univision News, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Comprehensive Sex Education in Illinois Not All That

One-third of all sex education teachers in Illinois don’t seem to be providing comprehensive instruction, according to a new study.

The survey by researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center appears in the February 2008 issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology (here’s the abstract). Among the findings: 30 percent of the state’s sex-education teachers had never received sex-education training. The national average is 18 percent.

“For this study, we set the bar for comprehensiveness moderately low relative to what most medical and public health organizations recommend,” said senior creator Stacy Tessler Lindau, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and medicine at the University of Chicago, “and one out of three programs failed to clear it.”

“Our children learn many of the skills they wish to be healthy citizens and to take responsibility for their own health in school,” she said. “That should include information about sexual aspects of health. Physicians who care for adolescents wish to know what students are, or don’t seem to be learning, in school in order to fill gaps caused by deficits in program content, quality and teacher training.”

The survey of 335 sex education teachers in 201 public middle and high schools was was funded by the Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education, a project of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and Planned Parenthood Chicago Area. The survey found that seven percent of the schools did not off any sex education. Here are one of the vital curriculum details from those that do:

The most continuously taught topics, covered by 96 percent of teachers, were HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Almost 90 percent of teachers covered abstinence. Among those who taught abstinence, 57 percent emphasized that it was the “best alternative,” 39 percent said it was the “only alternative,” and four percent described it as “one alternative.”

Practical skills — such as contraception, condom use, decision-making and communicating with a partner — and morally debated topics, such as abortion or sexual orientation, were a few of the least continuously taught. Teachers who had not received sex-education training were less likely to spend time on practical or morally debated topics.

Of the 17 topics, emergency contraception was mentioned least, taught by only 30 percent of teachers. Only 32 percent of teachers brought up homosexuality or sexual orientation, 34 percent taught how to use condoms, 37 percent taught how to use other forms of birth keep an eye on, 39 percent discussed abortion and 47 percent taught students where to access contraception and sexual-health services.

The most common reason for omitting a topic was “not part of the curriculum.” Those who omitted condom use, alternatively, most ceaselessly cited “school or district policy.”

Bush’s 2009 Budget Request Includes Health-Related Cuts, Increased Abstinence Funding

Earlier this week, President Bush released his $3.1 trillion 2009 budget request, which contains freezes and decreases for the budgets of many health programs, alongside massive defense spending. The budget documents are difficult to sift through, but a couple of health-related proposals are worth noting.

Among the cuts and loss of increases:

  • No increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health, which funds a vast amount of medical research
  • A $412 million (~4.5%) decrease in program funding for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • An $995 million (~14%) reduction in program funds for the Health Resources and Services Administration, including flat funding for Title X circle of relatives making plans and decreases in funding for healthcare staff development.
  • A $198 million (~6%) decrease for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • Flat funding for child welfare and child abuse prevention under the Administration for Children and Families
  • Nearly 30% reduction in international circle of relatives making plans and reproductive health funding

The kicker? The budget includes $191 million for abstinence-handiest education in the course of the Administration for Children and Families, a $28 million increase (~17%).

Additional coverage of and reactions to the 2009 proposed budget:

  • Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report
  • Daily Women’s Health Policy Report: Medicaid circle of relatives making plans cuts and abstinence and AIDS relief
  • Planned Parenthood
  • AIDS Action

Note: If you find additional relevant changes within the 2009 budget proposal, please tell us within the comments.

Double Dose: The Big Push for Midwives; Seasonal Affective Disorder; Same-Sex Marriage Ruling; Health Cuts Trigger Crisis in Chicago; HIV Studies Discussed at Boston Conference

The Big Push for Midwives: Great post by Amy G. about the campaign for the regulation and licensure of certified professional midwives. Amy mentions a number of blog posts on the issue, including ours.

Metabolic Syndrome Is Tied to Diet Soda: “This is interesting,” said Lyn M. Steffen, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota and a co-writer of the paper, which was posted online in the journal Circulation on Jan. 22. “Why is it happening? Is it some kind of chemical in the diet soda, or something about the behavior of diet soda drinkers?”

I don’t know, but it makes me see red ….

Feeling Bad?: Those susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, take note: Chicago had 11 — count ’em — 11 minutes of sunshine all through the first eight days of February. Chicago Tribune health columnist Julie Deardorff writes that she is going to check out a sauna that that “uses infrared energy to warm the body and release toxins.” Readers, if you have suggestions for coping with a long gray winter, please leave them in the comments.

Why I am an Abortion Doctor: “I can take an anxious woman, who is in the biggest trouble she has ever experiences in her life, and by performing a five-minute operation, in comfort and dignity, I can give her back her life.” — Canadian abortion doctor Garson Romalis, who has survived being shot and stabbed on account of his work.

NYT Op-Ed on Same-Sex Marriage Ruling: “In a decision at once common-sensical and profound, a New York State appeals court ruled Friday that same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions are entitled to recognition in New York. It was common sense because it simply accorded same-sex marriages the same legal status as other marriages. It was profound on account of the way it could transform the lives of gay people.” Continue reading …

A Health Law With Holes: “This idea of an individual mandate absent comprehensive reform – how to say this with politeness? – is nuts. It makes a social failure the problem of the individual,” writes Robert Kuttner in an op-ed published in the Boston Globe about health care in Massachusetts.

Health Cuts Trigger Crisis in Chicago: In a front-page story on Friday, the Chicago Tribune reported on what doctors are calling “an emerging health crisis” in the city, with “hundreds of women with bizarre Pap smears, extraordinary bleeding, pelvic masses and other worrisome symptoms are waiting for weeks or months to see gynecologists in the Cook County health system.”

“The longer women wait for care, gynecological experts warn, the more likely it is that untreated medical problems could worsen, exposing the women to severe pain, cancers that are harder to treat or even life-threatening emergencies.”

Breastfeeding and HIV-Infected Mothers: “An antiretroviral drug already in widespread use in the developing world to prevent the transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their newborns all through childbirth has also been found to substantially cut the risk of subsequent HIV transmission all through breast-feeding,” according to this release from the John Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education. Approximately 150,000 infants are infected through breastfeeding each year.

The findings were made public all through the 15th Conference on Retroviruses and and Opportunistic Infections held in Boston this past week.

Another study presented at the conference found that the risk of HIV transmission decreased by 90 percent within couples in which one person is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative — if the HIV-positive person took antiretrovirals, which drive down the level of HIV in the blood.

“Getting an early diagnosis, and getting remedy to drive down viral load, is going to be good for prevention,” said Dr. Rebecca Bunnell, a researcher for the CDC in Kampala, Uganda, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

SF Chronicle creator Sabin Russel described the study as “one of the most few rays of hope” to come out of the conference, “a meeting that has been dominated by discussions of setbacks, such as the failure of a major AIDS vaccine trial that was impulsively ended in September.”

And The New York Times reports on yet another study that was discussed, one that showed that male circumcision did not result in a lower risk of transmission for female partners. “Although the findings did not reach statistical significance, they still underscore the need for more effective education among men who undergo circumcision and their female partners, the authors of the study said,” reports the Times.

See a Great Film and Support OBOS Too!

While struggling to bear in mind her own life and issues, filmmaker Jennifer Fox traveled all over the world to peer how other women defined and understood their lives.

The result’s Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman, a nearly 6-hour documentary that gives an intimate look into the lives of girls from many countries, from South Africa to Russia to India to Pakistan.

The film is currently to be had on DVD, and now (for a limited time handiest!), if you purchase a copy through this link, the filmmakers will donate $3 to OBOS for each DVD purchased.

Happy viewing!

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