Friday, November 16, 2012

Please don't do nothing.

Dear Citizens of the WORLD,

Here's how you can protest the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland from the comfort of your own home, without having to tell facebook you care about Human Rights.

If you'd like to do something about the barbaric laws in Ireland regarding women's health, you can simply copy and paste this email below and send it to the following recipients. It's literally THE LEAST YOU CAN DO, especially if you're like many of my friends and family who don't want the world to know that horrible things are happening in Ireland right now that can easily be stopped. 

To: Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Irish Prime Minister) 
cc: Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore (Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs) 


Re: Death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway 
Honourable Taoiseach, 

We are writing to you to express our concern about the recent death of Savita Halappanavar, who was repeatedly denied an abortion in Galway. This tragic case demonstrates once again that the prohibition of abortion in Ireland is not just undermining the autonomy of the women across the country, it is leading to unacceptable suffering and even death. 

Savita Halappanavar made repeated requests for an abortion after presenting at University Hospital Galway on 21 October while miscarrying during the 17th week of her pregnancy. Her requests were refused, and she died one week later after several days in agonising pain and distress. 

The situation of Savita Halappanavar provides the clearest possible evidence that laws that permit abortion only to save the life of a woman, such as the Irish law, are clinically unworkable and ethically unacceptable. There are numerous clinical situations in which a serious risk posed to a pregnant woman's health may become a risk to her life, and delaying emergency action only increases that risk. There is only one way to know if a woman's life is at risk: wait until she has died. Medical practitioners must be empowered by law to intervene on the grounds of risk to life and health, rather than wait for a situation to deteriorate. 

You will be aware that the European Court of Human Rights, as well as a number of United Nations human rights bodies, have called upon the Irish government to bring its abortion law in line with international human rights standards. Had these calls been heeded before now, the death of Savita Halappanavar would have been prevented. 

With the death of Savita Halappanavar, Ireland joins the ranks of countries worldwide where abortion is denied to women and leads to their deaths. 

We call on your government to take urgent and decisive steps to reform the legislation that led to the death of Savita Halappanavar. Until the Irish legal system is reformed the lives, health and autonomy of women across Ireland are in jeopardy. 

Yours faithfully, 

Copy also to the Irish Embassy in your country. Find contact details HERE

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stop being afraid of admitting you are Pro-Choice. We need you.

When I was a teenager in the late 1980s, I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic teacher, Mrs. Christenson, who taught a Women's Studies in our very small public high school. How she managed to convince the school in our conservative little town to teach such a progressive course, I'll never know, but I felt incredibly honoured and privileged to take part. A book she recommended was Our Bodies, Our Selves, by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. This book became my health bible, answering questions I wouldn't have dreamed of asking another human being, let alone my doctor. It allowed me to hear women's voices, read women's real life experiences, and opened a door into how feminism matters in the lives we lead, not just as a concept.

Today, I'm reminded that feminism's primary concern is one of human rights. But because so many of the rights that are denied women are tied to our reproductive organs, people shy away from talking about it. Abortion is not a pleasant thing. Most people, including me, don't enjoy bringing up the subject. However, abortion rights are some of the most basic rights that women have fought for and still need to keep fighting for.

In Ireland, a woman cannot get a legal abortion for any reason. Not if being pregnant is endangering her life. Not if she was raped. Not if she was raped by a family member. Not if her foetus has a fatal abnormality and will die the minute it is born. Not for any reason. Twenty years ago, a fourteen year old girl who was pregnant from being repeatedly raped by her neighbor won a historic case against the attorney general for the right to an abortion because her pregnancy caused "a real and substantial risk to her life." But no legislation was ever enacted. In other words, although the legal right technically exists, there is no way to actually avail of that right. Women still cannot, even to save their own lives, obtain an abortion in Ireland.

It doesn't take Einstein to figure out what results: the unnecessary deaths of women. This morning, a news story broke telling a horrific tale of a 31-year-old woman named Savita Halappanavar  who presented with a miscarriage. It was quite clear that the pregnancy was not viable. However, despite international recommendations to the contrary, and despite the woman's desperate pleas to terminate her pregnancy, the medical staff refused to remove the foetus until it died inside of her, citing that "This is a Catholic country." She developed an infection and died a painful death. Now a family is mourning for a woman who should be alive today.

Of course today the media is flooded with this story. However, while the story was held up in the Irish Times' legal department for at least 24 hours or more, they decided to run an opinion piece entitled, "Abortion is Never the Basis for a Humane or Compassionate Solution"  knowing full well that the next day they'd be running a gigantic story about a woman who died as a result of being denied abortion services. Today, in tandem with this story, they have also decided to run an article headlined, "Death as a result of infection during miscarriage rare" as if to say, "Hey guys! This, like, almost never happens, so what's the big deal?"

Another thing you should know is that abortion is not just unavailable. It's actually outlawed in the actual Irish Constitution. So to legalise it in any capacity, we can assume, would require a change in to the 8th Amendment. This past weekend, there was a referendum to change the constitution of Ireland for another issue, called the Children's Referendum. Turnout for that vote was very low, but it was passed. What do you think The Irish Times made of that? Why, this of course: "Low Turnout a Lesson Not to Tinker with Constitution." Keep in mind that this "analysis" was printed with their full knowledge of the floodgates that were about to be unleashed by the news of Savita Halappanavar's tragic death. So while they report the news, they manage to get their propaganda into the message, which is that we shouldn't legislate on the X case and we shouldn't allow women avail of their rights to abortion services, not even to save their lives.

I can't help but think back to my experiences during the 1992 Brookline Massachusetts clinic shootings.  It felt horrible and wrong to hold up the death of someone I knew and worked with as a rallying cry. But I knew that it was necessary, and it was right. Today, we must all remember that Savita Halappanavar was a person, a person who was loved, and who is now being grieved for. But we must also think of all the women we know living in Ireland of child bearing age, and speak out so that this doesn't happen anymore. No matter how rare they claim it is, it happens. Women die because their rights are being denied. Basic health care is being denied. And everyone, all around the world, needs to start talking about it.

Like I said, abortion is not a fun subject. No one enjoys having to talk about it. But talk we must. March we must. And shout. And write. Do your part, even if it's just sharing Savita's story. Even if you think everyone already knows. Have the courage to bring up this sore subject. Stop being afraid of what people will think of you. Start thinking about the people you love who are trying to have families, like the Halappanavars. What if this happened to me? What would you do then? Now, do it.

If you are in Ireland, come to the Dail today at 6pm, or to the vigil on Saturday. Make your voice heard!

Monday, November 12, 2012

In lieu of a political rant...

Something strange is happening to me. Since last week, I can't stop thinking about US politics. This is strange because a) I don't even live in the US and b) I've never really cared about it that much before. So what's changed? I can tell you exactly: facebook.

In the last election, I was a facebook user, but a lot of my immediate and extended family did not. And we definitely did not use it as often or as reliably as we do now. And in elections before that, facebook wasn't even a thing. The reason why it matters is that if you didn't want to talk politics with your family, you just didn't bring it up. Don't want to know that your cousin or your sibling is a bigot? Don't ask them their stance on immigration. Easy peasy.

But now, it's different. We have all had to make choices about whether to remove members of our own family from our facebook news feed so we don't have to read their infuriating political updates. And that's after facebook's nifty news feed filters, which, without you even knowing it, conveniently hide the facebook activity of people whose views aren't your own. Sometimes, it's all just a bit too much and you think, "I love you Aunt Sally, but I can't read about your obsession with _____ anymore," and you reluctantly deselect "Show in News Feed." Good-bye, Aunt Sally. See you at the next wedding or funeral. And isn't it great that we can do that? But what if you just can't help yourself and you take a peek back at Aunt Sally's facebook page and you are horrified at what you see?

If you're me, you ruminate on it.  You start to wonder how on earth Aunt Sally could feel that way, and so strongly. You start thinking Aunt Sally needs to read a book. And get a dictionary. You start to worry for Aunt Sally's children. You start plotting how you're going to expose Aunt Sally for the fascist that she is. You start having evil thoughts about Aunt Sally.

And then you realize wait a minute! I love Aunt Sally! She bought me my very first teddy bear! She's the one that loaned me money so I could buy my first car. She has a big heart and she's got a funny sense of humor, not to mention that cool spoon collection.

Herein lies the rub. I want so much for my family to have the same values as me, because obviously I think they're the best. But we're all different, and while I could spend loads of time pointing out inconsistencies in their beliefs, their ideas about humans, poverty, government systems, etc., I know, deep in my heart, that it would only drive a further wedge between us. And what I really want is for Aunt Sally to know that I love her no matter what, no matter how she voted or how she feels about the election. It's easy to forget sometimes, when you feel so strongly about certain issues, that the people on the other side are just that: people. People that you love.

So before you make that post on facebook, get your anger in check and think about how we can help each other understand each other's points of view rather than shoot virtual arrows at each other. We can try to educate each other without insults. We can lovingly disagree with respect and we can humbly question our own beliefs. Because after all, that's really the only way for two opposing views to agree. But in the absence of consensus amongst family members, our first focus should not be on rallying the war cry, but on loving the enemy. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Because you were wondering what I thought about the elections...

Super Tuesday has come and gone. Everyone else seems to feel ok about sharing their opinions on the matter, so I've decided to weigh in.

Before I begin, you should know the following:
  • I am an American citizen who moved to Ireland nearly four years ago in December 2008 at the age of 35. Obama was inaugurated in January, 2009 so I haven't lived in the US since he took office.
  • I voted for Obama in 2008.
  • While I'm a registered Independent, philosophically I am an Anarchist.

Most people reading this will be a little confused, a little alienated, and a little scared by that last one. So let me pause briefly to explain what that means. Anarchism, “a political theory which aimsto create a society within which individuals freely co-operatetogether as equals” is not to be confused with Anarchy, a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority. In other words, anarchists get this reputation for being randomly violent punks, but actually anarchism as a movement encompasses a broad range of actions – academic, social, artistic, and subversive. But anarchism is not chaos. It's the strong belief that we should organize against inequalities and oppressions of all kinds.

ANYHOO...about the matter at hand. Back in August, when I was visiting the United States, the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, was in the news for saying, “rape is just another form of conception” -- in other words, we shouldn't give rape victims a pass on abortion. This came on the heels of Senator Todd Adkin saying, five days earlier, that when women are victims of “legitimate rape” their bodies “shut down” and conception doesn't occur. The implication was that rape victims don't need abortion and any pregnant woman claiming to be so because of rape is actually lying about being raped. Normally I don't talk politics with people I know don't agree with me, but I couldn't help complaining about these statements out loud to a family member who happened to be in the room. His first response was that while he agreed that a woman should have the right to choose, still, “No one cares about that stuff. They're just going to vote over issues of the economy.” He further added that I shouldn't believe everything I read. I knew I was wasting my time and energy arguing, but the idea that no one cared about social issues such as women's access to health care (including abortion) really haunted me. Maybe he's right, I wondered. What did I know? I only live in the US vicariously through facebook!

When the voting began on Tuesday, I started to get very nervous. Being five hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time, I went to bed hours before the results. I dreamt all night long about the election. I dreamt that it was really true, that people in America don't care about anything but the economy.

If people only care about the economy, then we can assume that they only care about their own bank accounts. Now we all know that every Republican party member has a job. I mean, unemployment doesn't exist in Republican circles because they all work, right? Joking aside, I guess I don't understand how so many people who have enough money to live on, quite comfortably, don't look around at the world around them and feel compassion for those living in poverty. Why is it easier to think that poor people who don't work are spongers asking for handouts than it is to think of rich people wanting tax cuts as spongers asking for handouts? And I'm not asking for an explanation of the trickle-down theory. I'm asking for an explanation of the moral outrage being expressed about disadvantaged populations who benefit from government policy over privileged ones. If you make a million dollars by, say, investing your money in stocks or real estate (ie sitting on your backside, pushing papers around), it's a pat on the back for you. But if you earn a few hundred dollars a month from social welfare, then you're a giant asshole.

Now let's look at that for a brief moment. I'll choose my home state of New Hampshire, a small, traditionally conservative state in the northeast. Check out this website by National Public Radio. An infinitesimal 2.7% of households receive assistance. According to NPR, “In order to receive cash benefits continuously, you have to be either poor and blind; poor and old (over the age of 65); or poor and permanently and totally disabled.” For example, “In order to be eligible for any assistance including federally funded food stamps, a mother with two children must be earning less than $675 per month.” So how much money are we talking here? “Recipients of cash assistance receive an average of about $215 a month. In total, this represents about 1.7 percent of the state’s total annual revenue.” Now let's compare that to the state's millionaires. There are over 27,500 of them. That's 5.34% of the NH population. Doesn't that inequity bother you? If you're up in arms about welfare spongers, aren't you being just a little bit hysterical? So this idea that people care most about the economy is truly problematic. I don't think they do. I think they care about themselves. They care about the fact that they might have to pay more if the government decides to increase aid to disadvantaged people. But what doesn't make sense to me is that they'd rather make those people suffer than increase taxes for the richest members of society. And why should we do that? Because no one gets rich without exploiting the poor. NO ONE.

Today, the Irish news is reporting that Obama is proposing to increase taxes on the very rich. Now I know what my Republican kin are claiming, as they have been doing: that he's a scary socialist.

On that August trip home, while sitting fireside on the lake, I overheard the aforementioned person claim, “Bono (lead singer of the band U2) is a wicked socialist.” (Wicked is Northeast slang for “big time.”) I couldn't let that one go. I mean, as a resident of Bono's homeland, I felt more qualified to evaluate that claim. “No, he's not!” I said. “Yes he is,” he insisted, “And he's best friends with that Obama.” My words fell on deaf ears. That's when I started to wonder, first of all, if a stinking rich tax dodger like Bono can be considered a socialist, what on earth do Americans consider socialism? While in Florida two years ago, when Obamacare was being debated, I passed by a group of people on a street corner holding signs about how we can't allow socialism in America. Which makes me wonder, second of all, what is so bad about socialism? Did I miss that lesson in history class?

In a critique of Obama, “Compromising Positions,” published in Harper's Magazine, Thomas Frank makes the point that , “by insisting with such unanimity on the absurd charge of 'socialism,' [Republicans] have actually done a very canny thing: they have defined whatever Obama embraces—bank bailouts, kill lists, herding the public into the arms of private insurers—not as the Democratic mainstream, but as the outermost fringe of the party.” In other words, if you're one of those people calling Obama a socialist, you've probably been suckered into believing something you don't know jack shit about. If you're going to criticize Obama, at least do it for the right reasons.

In Ireland, where I live, there is a Socialist Party, and its members are actually elected to public office. There is no picketing against socialism. People understand what it is, and do not fear it even if they themselves do not agree with it. I think the error people in America make is confusing socialist policies with communist regimes. Socialism aims to distribute wealth equally. Consider the Nordic model. The Scandinavian countries are considered some of the most egalitarian societies in the world. And what's the problem with that, exactly? Seriously. What is the problem with that? The mistake that people are making in their hatred of socialist policies is that they view the enemy as the very poor, not the very rich. (But I'm not here to convert anyone to my anarchist views. I mean, the sad irony is that most or all of the people who will read this aren't the people I am speaking to. If anyone has read this far, I'm amazed and thankful.)

I'm not done, though. Back to Obama. He's not my hero. But here's the thing. You know the story of the frog and the scorpion? You can't expect a person who becomes the President of the United States to be an animal he is not. The President of the United States is going to do some reprehensible shit. He's going to do things like order a drone attack on Yemen hours after he's re-elected. He's going to fail to deliver on promises. He's going to keep Guantanamo Bay open. Because, let's face it, there are three branches of the US government. The President, no matter who he or she is, can never be our savior. The office simply doesn't have the kind of power that people give it credit for.

But let's talk about the power he does have. If Romney had won, what would the victors be celebrating? Ending Roe vs. Wade? Outlawing same-sex marriage? Eliminating social welfare programs? Sending jobs overseas? Getting rid of FEMA? Lower tax rates for millionaires? Drilling for oil? Increasing military spending? What kind of victories would those be? I'll tell you what kind: shitty, selfish ones.

So while I can't get very excited about any US President, there are a few things that I personally found exciting about President Obama: how excited people are that he's come forward to speak against discrimination. He actually came out and said that he supports same sex marriage! He even made an “It Gets Better” video. “Don't ask, don't tell” was repealed. He supports upholding Roe v. Wade. He supports Planned Parenthood. He lifted Bush's ban on stem cell research. He actually reduced military spending. He issued Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (admittedly not much, but at least a start). He made it so Cuban Americans can visit their family. In fact, he's done a bunch of pretty cool stuff. Does that take away from the massive disappointments? Well, it depends on how you look at it.

Some people believe that it doesn't matter who is President – they're all the same sort of evil. The USA Patriot Act is one of the most terrifying (and unconstitutional) laws I've ever heard, and I can't believe it was ever passed, let alone extended by Obama in 2011. You could write a list a mile long of the atrocities committed by the American government around the world in the past four years. But still, I can't subscribe to the belief that all Presidents are equally bad. And I actually wholeheartedly agree with that family member who said, “Don't believe everything you read.” But what scares me more is the things we don't read because they aren't being reported. And I don't mean that in a conspiracy theory way, but rather in the most practical and realistic way possible.

When I woke up on Wednesday, I was happy that my nightmares hadn't come to pass. I haven't mentioned all the other elections and referendum decisions that happened on Tuesday. Actually, those elections, maybe more than anything, have proven to me that people do actually care about things other than the economy. An openly gay senator! Legalization of marijuana! Women in office! There is a lot of celebrating, and celebrating that kind of progress can't be a bad thing. But as long as Americans worship wealth over equality we'll never unburden ourself from our own oppression.