Shaking the Foundation of Privilege: The Fight for a Fair Vote, from Seneca Falls to the 2018 Midterms

In the 19th century, ample water and rich soil made Seneca Falls a town full of thriving farms and optimistic people. Idealism took hold in the many calls for progressive political reform and utopian community-building, as residents of the small New York town committed to causes like the abolition of slavery, harmony between indigenous people and settlers, and even the dismantling of church hierarchy.


The deadline to register to vote in the Arizona primary election is July 30.


Seneca Falls’ flowing streams also gave it the water power to build industry at a time when industry was transforming family structure. Children could be assets to farm families that needed more hands to share the labor of harvests and animal husbandry, but in industrial settings, they could be a liability, bringing costs to the home in the form of food, clothing, medical care, and education. Many women tried to avoid pregnancies by using the family planning methods of that era, which included spermicidal douches and abortion, as well as pills and tonics advertised for the “stoppage of nature” and other veiled references to contraception. As women became less involved in childbearing, their roles in the home — and society — began to change as well.

Water mill, New York State. Photo: Wikipedia.

Amid those influences, the women’s rights movement coalesced in Seneca Falls, spearheaded in large part by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They were reformers who met through the anti-slavery movement but turned their attention to the emancipation of women. Stanton evoked the parallels between those causes in a speech she gave before the New York Legislature, in which she decried how color and sex had put many “in subjection to the white Saxon man.” Thus, from the beginning, reproductive freedom and women’s rights were closely linked, and they were connected with anti-racism and other social justice movements. Continue reading

Bearing the Burden of Injustice: Black Maternal Mortality

Mother and babyWhen it comes to maternal mortality, American women don’t all live in the same country. While white women live in Qatar, black women live in Mongolia.

Maternal mortality is death related to complications from pregnancy or childbirth. Most of us don’t come from a time or place where the prospect of dying in childbirth is a tangible possibility — in the past century, as medicine has advanced, maternal mortality rates have plummeted.


To raise healthy families, we need access to general and reproductive health care, including preventive care, prenatal care, and maternity care.


The United States, though, hasn’t come as far as would be expected. Although its wealth should have put it on par with other developed nations like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and those in Scandinavia, women in these countries fare far better than those in the United States. So do women in Libya, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Bulgaria, and Kazakhstan, indicating that national priorities — and not necessarily national wealth — are key to ensuring maternal health.

The United States’ high maternal mortality rate is heartbreaking no matter how you look at it, but is even worse for women of color. African-American women are 3.5 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth than white women. Between 2011 and 2013, the maternal mortality rate for white women was 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. Comparing that to 2015 data from the World Health Organization (WHO), that rate puts white women’s maternal mortality on par with mothers in Qatar and Bahrain, two wealthy Persian Gulf nations. African-American women, however, suffered 43.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, putting their maternal mortality on par with those of Turkmenistan, Brazil, and Mongolia. Continue reading

STD Awareness: The HIV Epidemic at Home

In the United States, we understand HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — using a common narrative, one that gives us the impression that its deadliest chapters belong in decades past or distant places. It goes like this:

The disease emerged in the 1980s, cutting down young gay men in their primes and blindsiding scientists as they scrambled to unravel the virus’ mysteries. While AIDS initially whipped up mass hysteria among the general public, LGBTQ folks demanded equality, pushing to find treatments and a cure. AIDS activism and scientific research eventually led to the development of antiretroviral drugs, which tamed the plague by turning a death sentence into a chronic disease. Now, with the right medication, people with HIV can live long, healthy lives. The hysteria has died down, as most people realize viral transmission is preventable, and the infection is manageable.

One thing hasn’t changed, however: Just as it was in the 1980s, AIDS is still thought of as a disease of the “other.” Back then, it was a disease of gay men, a population cruelly marginalized by the general public. Today, it’s thought of as a disease of sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV prevalence is highest.

That narrative, however, doesn’t tell the whole story. Right here in our own backyards, the HIV epidemic continues to spread in the face of chilling indifference from those not affected. African-American MSM — men who have sex with men, who may or may not self-identify as gay or bisexual — have an HIV prevalence that exceeds that of any country in the world. In Swaziland, for example, 27 percent of adults are living with HIV/AIDS, but if current transmission rates hold steady, half of African-American MSM are projected to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. Instead of taking this projection as a wake-up call to invest in lifesaving health policies, however, state and federal responses are poised to let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Contrary to racist and homophobic stereotypes, data show that black MSM aren’t more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, use drugs and alcohol, or withhold their HIV status from partners. So why are they burdened with higher HIV rates? The answer lies beyond mere behavior, embedded in policies and practices that disproportionately harm people based on race, sexuality, and geography. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 2: Race and Abortion from Roe to the Reagan Years

This article is our second installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series examined how fears of immigration — and racist notions that associated abortion with the barbarism of so-called “savage” races — fueled the opposition to abortion that led to its prohibition in the late 1800s. This installment examines the social forces that helped racism and opposition to abortion converge again in the first years after Roe v. Wade.

Replica of a banner used at NAACP headquarters from 1920 to 1938

A principle of democracy holds that while majority rule should serve as the guiding force of government, at times it must be reconciled with the rights of individuals and minorities. It was an idea Thomas Jefferson captured in his inaugural speech of 1801:

All … will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail … that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect.

With that understanding, the framers wrote the Constitution to include provisions for a judicial branch, composed of judges whose lifetime appointments would free them from the pressures of elections and afford them greater independence in their decisions. The branch would serve as the nation’s highest judicial body, above state and local courts.


Before his obsession with abortion and Tinky Winky, Jerry Falwell fought civil rights and integration.


For much of U.S. history, local, state, and federal judicial systems existed alongside another judicial system, one far less formal and conceived not in the interest of protecting minorities, but often in meting out the harshest possible punishments for them. It was the vigilante justice of lynching, sometimes known as Lynch law. Named after the Virginia plantation owner Charles Lynch, it was a form of mob justice that took root in the Revolutionary War era, before an official court system was fully established. It came to mean quick trials that ended in public hangings.

Though lynching was initially used against British loyalists, eventually Southern blacks became the overwhelming majority of its victims. Many Native Americans, Asians, Jews, and Mexicans were also lynched. According to the NAACP, between 1882 and 1968, in the period of racial tension in the post-slavery and civil rights years, 4,743 lynchings took place, and 3,446 of its victims were black. Rather than taking place under the cover of night or in countryside seclusion, many lynchings were staged in broad daylight, even in front of courthouses, and they were often advertised beforehand in newspapers — a blunt assertion of their existence as a separate judicial system for people of color. Though associated with the South, they took place in the North as well. In fact, only a few states — Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island — had no lynchings between 1882 and 1968. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • John McCainJohn McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins broke from the degenerate cretins of the GOP and helped DEFEAT the repeal of Obamacare. I can’t believe I’m typing this. (CNN)
  • As we’ve all said umpteen times, the GOP succeeding at defunding Planned Parenthood would have overwhelmed other clinics and left women with few options — which is the opposite of what anyone with a heart should want. (WaPo)
  • An interesting new study of 358 gay male couples showed that HIV-positive men who are on treatment that makes the virus undetectable do not transmit HIV to their partners during condomless anal intercourse. (NBC News)
  • ICYMI: No. 45’s administration is cutting funding for teen pregnancy prevention and 148 members of Congress are demanding answers. I doubt they’ll get them, but appreciate the effort. (Rewire)
  • As a black woman, this broke my heart and seared my soul: The No. 1 cause of death among black women under 35 is intimate partner violence. Men are killing us. Frequently. Brutally. (The Root)
  • Proenza Schouler did a video love note to Planned Parenthood. I dig it. (The Cut)
  • Did you know that since since January, 49 states have introduced almost 600 pieces of legislation to protect and advance access to reproductive health care services?! (Elle)
  • The controversy over the effects of Essure (a permanent method of sterilization for women) continues to rage on. (WaPo)
  • When it comes to trying to undercut women’s access to reproductive heath care, Texas will not S T O P. (Guttmacher)
  • They also passed their unconscionable “bathroom bill.” Ugh. (The Daily Beast)
  • Another state choosing to burden women with more abortion restrictions? Missouri. Like Texas, they’re becoming notorious for this crap. (Jezebel)

2016 in Review: Our Bloggers Boost Their Favorite Posts

How can we put it? 2016 was a doozy. When we rang in the New Year on January 1, the Supreme Court was gearing up for one of the most important abortion-rights cases in years. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, President Obama named a replacement — and Congressional Republicans refused to hold hearings for the nominee, disregarding their job description. Both the Democratic and Republican parties were running exciting primaries — but, as we swept away the New Year’s confetti, Donald Trump was still considered by many to be an unfathomable joke.

While we did bask in a summertime victory, when the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ draconian anti-abortion laws, we were blindsided by Donald Trump’s Electoral College win — especially given that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of nearly 3 million. As we say goodbye to 2016, we are unsure of what the future holds for reproductive rights, with a president-elect and Congress that are hostile to our cause, and the next Supreme Court nomination in unfriendly hands.

Throughout it all, our amazing volunteers stood by our side, never afraid to speak against current injustices or share important lessons from the past. As we enter 2017, we’ll need our volunteers more than ever! Our blogging team is made up of Planned Parenthood volunteers, who will be standing at the ready to document the events that unfold over the coming year — and to demand justice. But for now, our bloggers are looking back on their favorite posts from 2016. Please check them out!

rosa-parks-arrestMatt had no problem picking his favorite post of 2016: his piece on the long history of African-American women bringing sexual harassment to light. As Matt says, “the background reading for that one was really fascinating. Hopefully my synthesis did all of the source material justice!” It was only 30 short years ago that the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in sexual harassment law. Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson was just one chapter in a long history of black women spearheading the fight against sexual harassment — from Rosa Parks to Anita Hill. Read Matt’s post to learn more about these brave women.

Tex-Supremes thumbnailAnne spent much of 2016 following the Supreme Court — including the deliberations and final ruling in this year’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. When laws that purport to protect women’s health don’t actually do so, something has gone terribly wrong. Luckily, in June, the Supreme Court stood up for facts, logic, and the scientific method when they overturned Texas’ HB2, which wrote obstacles to abortion into law — under the guise of “protecting women’s health.” Anne’s pieces on the Supreme Court underscore how very important it is to have a president who will appoint justices who will uphold our constitutional right to control our own bodies.

shout-your-abortion-thumbnailGene had a clear candidate in mind when asked to share his favorite post of 2016: “That’s easy,” he told us, “Shouting My Abortion.” Gene, who has never had a uterus, ponders what it would be like if he could get pregnant — and have an abortion. Would abortion stigma start to fade away if cisgender men could get pregnant? Or would their bodies become heavily politicized battlefields as well? Regardless of your ability to become pregnant, statistics show that someone you love has had an abortion. Yet stigma keeps us silent. Read Gene’s thoughts on destigmatizing this common, legal, and important medical procedure.

Crosshairs thumbnailRachel kicked off 2016 by helping us fulfill our New Year’s resolution to read more when she reviewed “Living in the Crosshairs,” an enlightening, shocking, and enraging book that documents anti-abortion terrorism in the United States. The violence and threats routinely leveled at abortion providers not only heavily influences their lives, it also impacts all of us by making the full spectrum of reproductive health care more difficult to access. Now that November’s presidential election has put the United States on the brink of further dwindling access to safe abortion, this book will be — unfortunately — more relevant than ever. Understanding the obstacles abortion providers face, and the sacrifices they make, is important, making “Living in the Crosshairs” required reading.

Anna usually writes about the single-celled organisms that torment our nether regions in the form of sexually transmitted infections, but this year, her favorite post was about the history of contraception. When it comes to contraception, we’ve come a long way — from fish bladders to latex condoms, from womb veils to diaphragms, and from stem pessaries to IUDs. We can also use the morning-after pill rather than resorting to dangerous methods like douching with harsh chemicals to attempt to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. Even better, we don’t have to buy our condoms and other contraceptives on the black market! Read Anna’s post to learn some fun facts about the history of birth control.

pride flagsKelley is a PPAA employee who moonlights as a blogger. This summer, they wrote about the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which set the modern LGBTQ rights movement into motion. When the cops busted Stonewall Inn in June of 1969, it wasn’t a typical police raid — this time, the LGBTQ folks they were harassing fought back. While the riots themselves only lasted three days, the fight for equality continues into the present. Whether patronizing Stonewall in 1969 or Pulse in 2016, the LGBTQ community deserves safe spaces free of violence. Read Kelley’s favorite piece of 2016 to learn about this important chapter in the enduring struggle for human dignity.

The Roots of Resistance: The Social Justice Context of Sexual Harassment Law

wga_posterEarlier this year, Scandal star Kerry Washington brought sexual harassment into the spotlight with her portrayal of the embattled Anita Hill in HBO’s Confirmation. The movie dramatizes how Hill herself made sexual harassment a topic of high-profile, nationwide debate when she came forward to speak out against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Hill’s testimony gave resolve to others who had experienced similar treatment in the workplace, ushering in a 40-percent increase in the number of sexual harassment claims filed with state and federal agencies in 1991 and 1992. But as inspiring as her testimony was, Hill stood on the shoulders of brave women before her who confronted sexual harassment and helped advance a body of law that makes workplaces, schools, and other institutions safer spaces. That body of law now protects people against “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission summarizes.


The fight against sexual harassment is closely connected to the long struggle for freedom among African Americans.


The breakthrough cases in sexual harassment law provide a revealing look at the short and surprising history of the battles, both in and out of court, that brought the issue into public consciousness. It is a history that shatters popular perceptions of feminism’s second wave and brings to light an overlooked dimension of another fight for social justice: the Civil Rights Movement.

Two Landmark Legal Decisions

When Mechelle Vinson applied for a job at Capital City Federal Savings in 1974, she was only 19 years old, but she had already had part-time jobs at several businesses around Washington, D.C., including a shoe store and an exercise club. For Vinson, lessons in supporting herself had come early. A strained relationship with her father had led her to drop out of high school and make repeated attempts to run away from home. She got married at “14 or 15,” because, as she recounted later, “I thought if I get married, I don’t have to go through problems with my father.” Continue reading