Acts of Desperation: Violence Enacted, Violence Taken

We don’t kill our children. We love our children. We fight for our children. But we believe in fighting for our children not just through the 9 months to make sure that a woman’s right to birth justice is ensured. We want to make sure that women have the necessary support to be good parents. That schools are funded. That health care is offered. That women and families are raised out of poverty to be effective mothers, family members, and at large, a community. – Heidi Williamson, National Advocacy Coordinator for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.


This week, I want to highlight three cases that caught my eye. They come in and around the same timeframe as the FDA’s most recent decision to deny emergency contraception to minors, a fatal blow, and as Katha Pollitt blatantly put it, “pure politics.”

Republicans Introduce Race And Sex Selection Abortion Bill

Representative Trent Franks, a Republican based out of Arizona, has sponsored and introduced H.R.3541: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011 (PRENDA). The bill’s stated purpose is to “prohibit discrimination against the unborn on the basis of sex or race.” To put this simply, the bill means denying women of color abortions based on the claim that such abortions are discriminating against a fetus. Not only will these women be thoroughly questioned and potentially denied the right to have an abortion based on the potential race and sex of their fetus, but abortion providers will be thoroughly investigated and criminalized on: 1. Providing an abortion under this context, and 2. Their failure to recognize whether or not these women are having an abortion based on of these criteria. From Thembi Ford at Clutch Magazine:

In other words, any woman pregnant with what may be a black or female fetus can only be granted an abortion if her doctor is sure that she’s not seeking the abortion simply because the fetus is black or female. This would mean at the very least a series of questions aimed at any black woman seeking an abortion, and at worst the reluctance of doctors to treat certain patients at all for fear of prosecution.

At a Tuesday hearing, Franks called the fight to give female and minority babies the same right to life as white male babies the “civil rights struggle that will define our generation,” and presented well-worn anti-choice statistics likening the abortion rates among black women to genocide. Keep in mind that Franks is the same representative who once argued that, because of the disproportionally high rate of abortion in the black community, African-Americans were better off during slavery.

Woman Is Charged With “Self-Abortion” After Fetus Is Found In Trash

Twenty year old Yaribely Almonte was charged with “self-abortion,” a first-degree misdemeanor charge, when it was discovered that she had intentionally self-aborted her fetus. Almonte then disposed of the fetus by wrapping it in plastic and placing it in the trash receptacle of her Washington Heights apartment building. From Susan Yanow and Steph Harold at RH Reality Check:

The prosecution of this woman echoes similar cases in Idaho, Massachusetts and South Carolina. In spite of ever-increasing restrictions, abortion is legal through the second-trimester throughout the United States, although it is inaccessible to many women. Yet if women safely end their pregnancies without medical supervision, they face criminal penalties. The key word here is “safely.” There are many misconceptions about what happens during a non-surgical abortion. In fact, abortion with medications (such as misoprostol alone or in combination with mifepristone) causes a miscarriage. The symptoms of abortion with medicines in the first trimester are exactly the same as a miscarriage, and as safe. Rarely do women who have a miscarriage need medical attention; the same is true for women having a medication abortion.

In the second trimester, the risks of a complication after a miscarriage, whether occurring spontaneously or provoked by medicines, is somewhat higher. However, it is notable that the woman in New York City, like the women prosecuted in three other states, was in the second trimester and did not require any kind of medical intervention after her abortion. We have to ask then ““ is the outcry when women choose to self-induce truly driven by the need to protect the health and safety of the woman? Or is this another example of over-regulation because of the politics of abortion?

The choice to self-induce an abortion in New York City raises important questions. The most recent prosecution of a woman for making this choice was in Idaho, in the spring of this year.  Jeanne McCormack was between 20 and 24 weeks pregnant, obtained medicines over the Internet and ended her pregnancy. She was charged under an Idaho law that forbids abortions unless performed by an Idaho physician, and the original charges carried a possible five-year prison term. Ms. McCormack, a low-income mother of three, said she ordered the medicines because the closest abortion provider was in Utah, and she had no money for travel or for the procedure.

 Texas Woman Denied Food Stamps, Kills Self, Injures Children

In Laredo, Texas, a thirty-eight year old mother who had been denied food stamps took a Texas Health and Human Services Commission office supervisor, as well as two other employees, hostage. The woman had brought her two children with her, a ten-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. SWAT teams were called and after two hours of negotiation, the woman allowed the original office supervisor to go free, shot both of her children, and then herself. The mother died at the scene and her two children, who were both listed as being in critical condition, were airlifted to a nearby hospital. As of Wednesday night, the twelve-year-old girl died. From Marie Diamond at Think Progress:

Relatives say Grimmer had a history of mental illness. It certainly seems to be a story of a mentally unstable woman who made a tragic decision. But the case also illustrates the depths of despair many families have been driven to during the economic downturn.

A record one in seven American families is currently on food stamps. In 2011, more than 46.2 million people received a total of $75.3 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But many families in need of government aid often have difficulty getting it as more and more obstacles are erected. In 2008, the Food Research and Action Center noted that given the scope of hunger in America, “it is of great concern that the Food Stamp Program is missing one of every three eligible people.” That means less nutrition for needy families and less economic activity – because according to the USDA, every dollar in federal food stamp benefits generates nearly twice that in economic activity.

Republican governors and legislatures have enacted plans like mandatory drug testing of all welfare recipients to reduce the welfare rolls and make it more difficult to secure benefits, just as rising energy and food costs are exacerbating the squeeze on middle class families. They willfully ignore evidence that these requirements cost more money than they save and welfare recipients actually use drugs less than other groups.

What is the common thread here? All of these are acts of desperate preservation. The women, preserving their own humanity, health and well being, by whatever means necessary and Representative Franks, lobbying for an act of institutional preservation, one that disguises discrimination under the thinly veiled guise of two civil rights pioneers. The cases all reflect the serious violence towards women, particularly poor women and women of color. These situations come from compounded abuses and are frank proof that there exists a system that is very much against women, by not only making the decision to carry a child to term one of public business, but then supplying very little protection for their children and themselves.

As predictions come rolling in that the U.S. economic situation is only going to get worse, those who will suffer under it the most are women and their children. Out of the estimated 37 million Americans living in poverty, over half of them are women, a gap that is wider than anywhere else in the Western world. The startling charts from ThinkProgress:







Not only are political leaders in a absurd race with each other to see who can pass the most draconian law to limit reproductive rights, but the odds are already stacked high against women, especially when poor or of color. Women are paid less than men: White women averaging around 78 cents to a man’s dollar,  Black women making 69 cents, and Hispanic women making 59 cents. So not only are women paid less, but they are paid less in occupations that are historically underpaid, are more than likely to do the majority of child-rearing, and are more affected by pregnancy, whether intended or not. The odds are staggering.

This is about financial access. It is the lack of trust towards some women that is based in racism, sexism, and a reeking disdain for the poor, especially poor women. It is about larger institutional systems that ignore the forms of violence enacted towards women, whether intentional or not (though often very, very intentional). Whether it’s denying women basic access to food for when they are struggling or access to abortion or even the right to do it themselves, it is a form of violence that is enacted daily. So when there is a failure to understand why women take matters into their own hands, it’s like saying we can’t understand why stomping on someone’s foot hurts.

We can’t scratch our heads anymore. We can’t wonder why. All the whys are right here, smack in front of our faces, screaming for everyone to pay attention.

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