Thursday, August 14, 2014

Are You a Woman Against Women Against Feminism? Maybe There's More To It

http://womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com/submit
By Kelsey Martin

Recently, a “Women Against Feminism” webpage has outraged feminists on the internet. On this Tumblr page, young women hold up signs expressing their discomfort with modern feminism. Their critiques vary, but include ideas such as feminism is sexist against men, feminism makes women into victims, feminism does not address other kinds of discrimination, and the patriarchy does not exist.

Some feminists have responded to this website with their own satirical messages poking fun at how outrageous they think it is for women to be against feminism. They’ve written articles explaining why the women are wrong to say that feminism creates victims, responded with their own signs defining feminism, and even photographed their feline friends next to signs proclaiming an equal hatred of all humans. But while the snarky comments of "Confused Cats Against Feminism" made me chuckle, I started to wonder if there’s another way to respond to people questioning the validity of feminism.

It would be remiss to ignore the fact that feminism itself is what grants women the opportunity to be against feminism—feminists who came before us paved the way for women to be able to speak out about why they don’t need feminism. (Is your head spinning, yet?) While it is easy to just get angry and brush off those with differing opinions—They’re misguided! They’re uninformed! They’re wrong!—I think we could have a much more productive conversation by engaging the Women Against Feminism. Their opinions could teach feminists how to reach larger audiences and dispel some of the persistent myths about feminism. Having real conversations with people who see some issues with the movement could actually benefit the movement as a whole.

Many of the women featured on the site expressly mention that they identify as pro-equality, which is a core definition of feminism. Some reflect on the problems with feminism’s association with mainly white, privileged women, and call for a more inclusive movement. If we were to listen to their issues with the feminist movement, maybe we could start to change the stereotype of the bra-burning, men-hating feminist, and build solidarity among those striving to achieve gender equality.

I’d like to talk with the Women Against Feminism and ask why they think that patriarchy is a fiction. I’d like to probe into their opinions about men’s issues and suggest that working for equality of the sexes includes addressing the struggles that men face as well as the ones women face. I’d like to support those women who chose to be stay-at-home mothers and housewives; feminism is all about choice, and I’m happy they had the ability to choose the path that fulfills them. More than anything, I’d like to show these women the feminism that I have experienced: a welcoming movement that empowers me to strive for my own chosen goals and fight for everyone else’s ability to do the same.

Perhaps it’s not just the Women Against Feminism who I would engage in this conversation. To break the stereotypes and reach a common understanding of what it means to be a feminist, the conversation could use more voices—women of color, immigrant women, transgender women, women from a variety of religions, and men. Maybe together, we can fight for a world with equal rights for all.


Kelsey Martin is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising third-year student at the University of Washington School of Law. She has big dreams of single-handedly dismantling the patriarchy through her legal career.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

That Was Us!
Taking Down Montana's Deviate Sexual Conduct Law with Rosemary Daszkiewicz

By Rosemary Daszkiewicz

Sometimes, the fates put you in the right place at the right time. In mid-April, 2013, I happened to be in my company’s offices in Columbia Falls, Montana for a few days when I learned of an important update in a case I handled between 1993 and 1997, first as a Legal Voice employee, then later as a Legal Voice volunteer attorney. The case, Gryczan v. State, involved the successful attempt to declare unconstitutional Montana’s Deviate Sexual Conduct law, commonly referred to as a “sodomy law.” The law was not actually a sodomy law in the traditional sense. Instead, enacted in the 1970s, it did not prohibit any specific type of sexual conduct, it simply prohibited any sort of sexual conduct engaged in by two adults of the same gender. It was considered “progressive” in the 1970s because it did not restrict heterosexual couples from performing any consensual sex acts, as traditional sodomy laws had done.

These days, with marriage equality reaching more and more of the citizens of the U.S., it’s hard to imagine a time when such laws were common. And even though there wasn’t a current history of enforcement, every LGBTQ person in Montana knew, in the back of their mind, that such enforcement was possible. Legal Voice partnered with Montana attorney Holly Franz to challenge that law. At the start Holly and I road tripped across Montana, meeting potential plaintiffs and attempting to gain their trust to convince them that it would be worth the risk to put their name on a lawsuit. We were asking them to “come out” in a very public way. Our approach worked, and three brave women and three brave men agreed to be named plaintiffs. Lead plaintiff Linda Gryczan knew she was taking on an especially public role, but she was an activist through and through and was willing to do whatever she could in the fight for justice.

We filed suit in December 1993. Ironically, I was visibly pregnant at two important moments in the case, including during our argument before the Montana Supreme Court on April 11, 1997. (My second daughter, Emma, was due on May 11, though she waited until May 28 to actually arrive.) Our opponents weren’t quite sure what to make of me under the circumstances. Was I a lesbian who had conceived via turkey baster? Was I a straight woman silly enough to align herself with “those kinds of people?” You could hear them praying for my salvation whenever I walked by.

The oral argument was great fun. Each year the Montana Supreme Court arranges for one civil and one criminal case to be argued at the University of Montana Law School in Missoula, rather than at the Court’s chambers in Helena. They chose our case. There wasn’t an empty seat in the room with the number of mostly-supportive law students in attendance, something as close to a media frenzy as I’ll ever participate in—Holly and I were interviewed by the local NPR radio station!—and plenty of good choices for our post-argument merriment. My husband was even able to miss a few days of work to join in the fun. Though I can’t remember the context for the question, at one point I was asked about the circumstances in which you might be able to assume a person had engaged in sexual relations, even if you hadn’t seen the sexual act itself. I decided to answer by mentioning that my present condition certainly made an assumption of sexual activity pretty easy to make. Oddly, the justice did not have a follow up.

We won on July 2, 1997, in a beautifully written decision that played a role in some future legal decisions on gay rights. But because the forces of evil are strong, for many years the Montana legislature refused to remove the laws from the books. Out of spite, pure and simple. Typically, the attorney general presents a single bill each legislative session with updates to laws that are the result of Montana court rulings. Time and again it was not possible to include changes to the sodomy law using that approach.

Finally, with the help of many in the progressive community in Montana, the legislature passed a bill that repealed part of the deviate sexual conduct statue dealing with consenting adults. On April 18, 2013, Governor Bullock signed the bill into law.

The signing occurred in the rotunda of the Montana Capital building. It was another standing-room only event, with crowds filling the main floor and leaning over from the balconies. Many dignitaries were introduced, and special recognition was given to a Republican senator who ultimately agreed to change his position and support repeal. Every potential applause line was greeted with long rounds of applause, happy hoots—the works. The room thundered for minutes after the Governor put ink to paper.

One of the leaders of the repeal effort was our lead plaintiff Linda Gryczan. Linda also played a prominent role in the festivities. I know this because I was able to make a last minute change to my work plans, and to fly to Helena for the signing event. I saw many other familiar faces in the crowd, LGBTQ activists from the ‘90s, Holly Franz and her partner, who remain dear friends, etc. It wasn’t my victory this time around, but I was part of the chain that led to that glorious signing ceremony.

I treasure every moment of working on that case, and the friendships and relationships I developed during those years. It was a team effort from start to finish with many high and low moments to savor. What an experience for an emerging lawyer; I had only been practicing for 11 years when I gave that oral argument. And I cannot believe how lucky I was to play a meaningful role in the efforts to secure justice for the LGBTQ community. It makes writing an annual check to Legal Voice easy to remember, to help it support the work that needs to be done today.


Rosemary Daszkiewicz is a senior director, law with Plum Creek Timber Company. Her responsibilities include ethics and compliance, litigation oversight, and supporting the manufacturing operations and the human resources team. A former Legal Voice employee and long-time volunteer, Rosemary’s proudest non-legal accomplishment is raising two young women who know their way around whatever wave of feminism we’re currently living through.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

(Mis)Informed Consent:
Exposing a Prevailing Injustice in Access to Abortion

By Deborah E. Klein, M.D.,
based on questions posed by Andrea Greenstein

As a physician and longtime reproductive health advocate, I have been disturbed and incensed by the increasing number of states that require special mandated counseling prior to an abortion. Allowing legislators to insert their own scripts into informed consent counseling subverts a standard medical practice that is an essential component of every medical procedure. So I sat down with Andrea Greenstein, my Legal Voice work group colleague, to answer some questions about informed consent.

One of the major concerns surrounding anti-choice legislation has to do with informed consent. As an advocate for reproductive health and justice, what are some things I should keep in mind when reading about recent attacks on abortion access and services?

Informed consent is based on truth. The provider-patient relationship is based on trust. Truth and trust go out the window when state-mandated misinformation is injected into abortion counseling.

Informed consent is a cornerstone of medical ethics, and is required by law, for all medical procedures in all 50 states. Informed consent requires that patients and their providers discuss the benefits and risks of a medical procedure in order to arrive at a sound medical decision.

The principles of informed consent include:
1. The provider must disclose all relevant medical information needed to make the decision, including risks, benefits, expected outcomes and alternatives
2. The patient must have the ability to understand and process the information
3. The patient must make the decision free from coercion or unfair incentives

Women’s health services, including abortion, seem to be treated differently than most other medical procedures. Why is that? How might additional restrictions affect the relationship between a healthcare provider and her patient?

Under the guise of informed consent, many states have enacted additional requirements unique to abortion. In some cases the required information is outdated, biased, or false—some states require women seeking abortions be told that personhood begins at conception, be provided with information on the ability of a fetus to feel pain, or be presented with inaccurate medical information, such as:

• Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas require that a woman seeking an abortion be told there is a possible link between abortion and breast cancer.

• Arizona, Kansas, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia require that a woman seeking an abortion be told there is a link between abortion and infertility.

• Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia require that that a woman seeking an abortion be told there is a link between abortion and long-term psychological harm.

All these assertions are inaccurate.

Legislators without medical expertise can require that providers deliver medically inaccurate materials, undermining the provider-patient relationship, and putting patients at risk for making medical decisions based on false information. These special laws, required only for abortion procedures, not only provide deceptive information, but are an attempt to disrupt and invalidate the provider-patient relationship, and to undermine the integrity of the medical and scientific evidence that informs medical decision making.

Is there any reason abortion procedures should be subject to different informed consent requirements?

There is no reason that abortion procedures should be singled out for unique informed consent requirements. Anti-choice forces rely on the fact that the public may be unaware of the rigorous informed consent protocols already in place. Since these laws apply only to women, there is the suggestion that women need special protections with regard to medical decisions, and do not have the capacity to engage in medical decision making. State-mandated counseling is further intended to suggest that clinicians might not provide accurate information to patients without specific legislation requiring them to do so. In fact, informed consent is a process that is tailored to each procedure, and the clinician who will perform the procedure is the one who has the greatest expertise to appropriately counsel the patient.

As a women’s healthcare provider, what is your approach to building trust with patients and helping them make decisions about their health?

Shared decision making is a relatively new concept, and is at the heart of the patient-provider relationship. It’s a collaborative process that allows patients and their providers to make health care decisions together, taking into account the best scientific evidence available, as well as the patient’s values and preferences. The patient is placed at the center of the decision making process; patient preferences are honored, and the process is an open dialogue that enhances patient autonomy and confidence.

How can women’s health advocates frame informed consent and abortion counseling as a problem? What is your opinion on these requirements as a healthcare provider who is familiar with advocating for your patients’ health and well being, and helping them make healthcare decisions?

The requirement for unique informed consent counseling for abortion is different from the counseling required for all other medical procedures. It distorts the informed consent process, imbuing it with often medically incorrect, politically driven, coercive, discriminatory, and dangerous statements. This violates medical ethics, and may result in women making decisions that compromise their health.

As a healthcare provider, I believe healthcare decisions should be informed by medical evidence, using standard informed consent and shared decision making processes that protect patients and help them arrive at decisions that are right for them. Politicians should have no authority to obstruct safe medical practice and no right to interfere in the relationship between the provider and the patient.


Deb Klein has practiced family medicine in Seattle for 21 years, and serves on the Legal Voice Reproductive Justice Work Group.

Andrea Greenstein is a women’s health advocate, Seattle young professional, and graduate of the University of Washington where she studied Law, Societies, and Justice. Andrea volunteers with Legal Voice on the Reproductive Justice Work Group.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Health Care is Not a Hobby:
Legal Voice Interns Take to the Streets

Legal Voice's interns, clockwise from top left:
Kelsey Martin, Margaret Hazuka, and Alyssa Sappenfield.  
By Margaret Hazuka
 
In the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, one has to wonder how we got here. How did we get to the point where “closely held corporations” can make completely false statements about birth control (no, IUDs do NOT cause abortion), and SCOTUS would rely on those statements to deny countless women the right to control their own health care choices? How is it that, in the 21st century, so much is misunderstood about birth control and the women who use it? We all remember Sandra Fluke’s run-in with Rush Limbaugh after admitting she used birth control. More recently, we witnessed the conservative backlash toward Rep. Lucy Flores after owning the fact that she just wasn’t ready for a child at age 16. We live in a culture that shames women for their reproductive choices, including using contraceptives that 99% of sexually active women (married and unmarried) currently use or have used, many for reasons wholly unrelated to preventing pregnancy.

There is a reason Sandra Fluke and Rep. Flores stand out for speaking up. Women are taught to be embarrassed and secretive about their sexuality and their reproductive decisions. We are afraid of the judgments that are associated with birth control, and afraid of men who think that women who use it must do so in order to sleep around.

Maybe if women are open about their contraceptive use, we can transform the conversation. It has worked before—breast cancer was largely stigmatized until survivors like Shirley Temple Black and Betty Ford began speaking up about their experiences and encouraging other women to take action. There was a culture shift. Women realized they were not alone, the reality grew harder to sweep under the rug, and the general public became much more accepting once they were forced to acknowledge the fact that someone close to them had or was at risk for breast cancer. Our cultural views of breast cancer changed by women speaking about their experiences publically.

By that measure, talking publically about birth control and the reasons we take it just might convince others that not all women who use contraceptives are sluts or prostitutes (sorry, Rush). At least that is what I and the other female interns from Legal Voice decided when discussing the odious Hobby Lobby decision one afternoon. So last weekend, the summer interns performed an experiment—in the same vein as the BuzzFeed post and Lena Dunham’s tweet, we made t-shirts announcing our personal reasons for using birth control to demonstrate that women shouldn't be ashamed or uncomfortable about their health care choices:
  • Kelsey: I use birth control because I don't want kids (yet)
  • Margaret: I use birth control because I am in charge of my own uterus
  • Alyssa: I use birth control to keep my PCOS in check

    (The back of each shirt said "My health care is NOT a hobby")
Our original intention was to provoke reactions (like those that occurred in response to the BuzzFeed post) and document them. We wandered through the Seattle tourist sites, and although no one directly confronted us, we got our fair share of stares that ranged from approving to reproachful. But upon reflection, what really informed the experience was not the reaction of others, but my reaction to them. At first, all I could focus on was other people. Did he notice? Did she grimace? Did that mother just avert her teenage daughter’s eyes? But once I started getting used to the attention, I had a realization—the point of speaking out isn’t just about making a statement to everyone else; it also serves as a way for us to take personal ownership of our choices, regardless of external pressure or judgment. It is about knowing that I shouldn’t be ashamed, even if media pundits, politicians, and employers insist otherwise. It was empowering to walk around Seattle knowing that my choices were my own, despite the attempts of business and politics to get in my way. And recognition of that empowerment will hopefully have the side effect of changing others’ minds. Once it is a mainstream part of our society to share our reproductive choices without shame, it will be impossible for others to ignore our voices.


Margaret is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising second-year student at Harvard Law School. She hopes to help shatter all of the glass ceilings and contribute to a future of gender equality.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

That Was Us!
Access to Abortion Clinics with Jill Bowman

By Jill Bowman

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
 
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

More than 20 years ago, just before Thanksgiving, Lisa Stone talked me into “helping out” on a pro bono matter for the organization then known as the Northwest Women’s Law Center. Back then, Lisa was an associate at my law firm, Stoel Rives LLP, and I was a junior partner. Today, Lisa serves as the Executive Director of Legal Voice.

Anyway, back to the story. The Law Center had learned that protesters calling themselves “Operation Rescue” were planning to block access to abortion clinics in King County. The Center wanted to do what it could to prevent that interference. So, on behalf of a coalition of health care providers, organizations, and individuals who wanted to protect the right of women to obtain legal abortions, we brought suit and obtained a temporary restraining order from the King County Superior Court.

That was just the beginning—little did I know that this matter would end up absorbing much of my time over the next few years, as I assisted Lisa in her supervision and coordination of a statewide effort to protect health care providers and their patients. The case had a number of twists and turns—we were removed to federal court, we pursued civil contempt sanctions, we defended the sanctions before the Ninth Circuit of Appeals (Aradia Women’s Health Center v. Operation Rescue), and we negotiated settlements. Throughout the process, we were assisted by lawyers at other firms in Seattle and all around the state. It was an amazing collaborative effort and, in the end, we did manage to stop the protesters from blocking access to clinics (through the legal process and, eventually, through state legislation). When I look back, I am proud of what we were able to accomplish.
 
 
Jill Bowman is a partner of the law firm Soel Rives LLP, where she handles federal and state court cases and appeals involving a broad range of corporate and commercial matters, including state unfair practice laws, business torts, and labor and employment issues. Jill was a joint recipient of the Northwest Women's Law Center Founder's Award in 1990 for her work in Aradia Women's Health Center v. Operation Rescue.