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South Texas Women Now Have Access To Abortion — But For How Long?

When Whole Woman’s Health closed in March, the women living in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas were left without an abortion clinic. For the last six months, women who needed to terminate a pregnancy had to either travel more than 200 miles north to San Antonio, or cross into Mexico for an illegal procedure — yes, in 2014. That will change this week when Whole Woman’s Health reopens its McAllen abortion clinic following a ruling by a U.S. district judge striking down part of an onerous law that forced the clinic — and nearly two dozen others — to shut its doors in the first place.

“It feels surreal,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operated six abortion clinics in Texas before the controversial anti-abortion law was enacted last fall. Known as HB2 and made famous by state Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster,the law is a package of regulations that target abortion providers, including a requirement that doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and a mandate that abortions are performed only in ambulatory surgical centers. Before being blocked by a district judge, the latter requirement was going to be enacted Sept. 1; the admitting privileges provision is already in effect.

Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen, a fairly large city located at the southernmost tip of Texas, couldn’t comply with either requirement. Miller closed the clinic, which performed between 40 and 45 abortions each week, in March. She later closed Whole Woman’s Health clinics in Austin and Beaumont, but was able to keep open a clinic in Fort Worth and two clinics in San Antonio — one of which was already an ambulatory surgical center.

The McAllen clinic should be back in business by this weekend, Miller said Wednesday in a teleconference. In fact, she was already taking appointments.

Read full story here.

Anonymous asked: Just mentioning re your article about heart disease vs ALS donations: Heart disease is overwhelmingly caused by lifestyle choices and is largely preventable. Most people know this as the efforts to educate have been continuous and extraordinary for many years. Diseases, such as ALS, are of unknown etiology. This is the difference.

Thanks for reaching out. I’ve mentioned that aspect in the article — that there’s a bias against diseases stemming from “unhealthy lifestyle choices” such as smoking, drinking, etc. I don’t think that bias is necessarily fair, though, especially when these diseases kill an extraordinary amount of people each year. We shouldn’t care about treatment for former smokers? We shouldn’t continue researching better treatment for diabetes, even type II diabetes is largely caused by so-called unhealthy lifestyles? I think, too, we tend to forget the contributing factors that lead people to smoke, drink and eat unhealthy foods; in fact, in many cases it’s not really a choice at all.

Donating to diseases such as ALS is a worthy cause, but so is donating to foundations for heart disease, COPD, diabetes, and even suicide prevention (suicide is also up there in leading cause of death). Also, I believe many of these foundations are also working on prevention — not just treatment — which is worthwhile.

After Buffer Zone Ruling, Massachusetts Abortion Clinics Prepare For More Protesters

At 11 a.m. Saturday, about 40 anti-abortion protesters remained on the sidewalk outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston. Some camped out in lawn chairs, wearing visors and wide-brimmed hats, while others kneeled as they prayed the rosary. A group of children and teens in matching “Stop Abortion Now” T-shirts held colorful hand-drawn posters depicting aborted fetuses. As six Boston police officers patrolled the sidewalk, a man crossed over the yellow line that once established a protest-free buffer zone. Just two days after the Supreme Court struck down the buffer zone law, the man was free to pass. 

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned a 2007 Massachusetts law mandating fixed 35-foot buffer zones at reproductive healthcare facilities throughout the Commonwealth, clinic officials are preparing for the worst: larger protests, increased harassment and more pressing threats of violence. “The Supreme Court [took] away an essential measure to protect public safety and healthcare access in our state,” Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts CEO Marty Walz said Thursday in a teleconference.

As anti-abortion opponents inch closer to clinic doors, Planned Parenthood and local police departments have begun taking measures to heighten security and create a less-hostile environment for patients and their companions. These measures include expanding the Planned Parenthood corps of volunteer clinic escorts and increasing the presence of law enforcement officers.

Read full story here.

Supreme Court Buffer Zone Case Is The Biggest Abortion Clinic Battle You’ve Never Heard Of

While walking past the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Boston neighborhood of Allston Wednesday morning, an elderly woman in a white visor asked if I would like a flower — a red rose. Nearby, a small group of people prayed the rosary, red roses in hand, while a priest held a large placard proclaiming: “It’s Not Too Late To Seek Help.” They all stood behind a painted yellow line on the sidewalk — the buffer zone currently being debated in the Supreme Court that keeps anti-abortion protesters 35 feet from the clinic entrance. 

The Supreme Court will deliver its ruling on McCullen v. Coakley this June. At the center of the case are: a 2007 Massachusetts law that established a 35-foot buffer zone at every abortion clinic in the Commonwealth; and Eleanor McCullen, a 77-year-old anti-abortion protestor who regularly conducts “counseling” outside the Planned Parenthood Allston clinic. But the case extends outside of Boston. 

If the high court strikes down the law, it may mean a return to the anti-abortion violence that prompted buffer zones nationwide more than a decade ago.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

Since Roe v. Wade, abortion clinics have been the targets of extreme violence, ranging from arson to bombings and bioterrorism. According to the National Abortion Federation, there were roughly 1,800 incidences of violence against abortion providers and more than 630 clinic blockades between 1977 and 1994. The violence reached its peak during the ’90s, when two doctors and a clinic escort were murdered in Pensacola, Fla., in two separate incidents.

The anti-abortion extremism soon spread to Massachusetts. On Dec. 30, 1994, 22-year-old John Salvi entered the Planned Parenthood in Brookline, an affluent town that borders Boston, and shot and killed receptionist Shannon Lowney. He then traveled about two miles down the road to Preterm Health Services, where he killed receptionist Lee Ann Nichols and injured two others. 

“Protesters were dressing up as police officers, blocking doors at clinics, standing in front of cars, photographing patients and very aggressively throwing literature,” Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, tells Bustle. Amundson added that at Planned Parenthood in Springfield, a protester used a fireplace prodder to pass anti-abortion literature into cars, “hurting a number of people.”

Read my full feature on the SCOTUS case here.

Wisconsin Abortion Clinics Are In Danger — All Four Of Them

As admitting privileges laws threaten to close dozens of abortion clinics across the South, a similar fate may be on its way up north in Wisconsin. A U.S. District Judge heard arguments this week on a Wisconsin law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital — a provision that abortion providers say will shutter their clinics. Currently, there are only four abortion clinics left in Wisconsin, and only one —Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee — provides abortions after the 19th week of pregnancy. AMS, along with Planned Parenthood Wisconsin, filed a lawsuit after the law was approved last summer by Gov. Scott Walker. 

Read more at Bustle.

Recently found my embarrassing column picture from my days at USC’s Daily Trojan. I’ve since lost the bangs. 

Recently found my embarrassing column picture from my days at USC’s Daily Trojan. I’ve since lost the bangs. 

Let Priests Marry, Italian Mistresses Beg Pope

American Catholics know that there’s one thing they’ll never see in their parish: A priest saying “I do” to his lawfully wedded wife. But with the help of 26 “Vatican mistresses,” there could possibly be wedding bells ringing through cathedrals: Pope Francis has received a letter from 26 Italian women wanting to marry their priest lovers. The women, who say they hail from “all over Italy” and “further afield,” have called on Francis to make celibacy — a long-held Catholic law — optional among clergy. 

Because celibacy has been required of all clergy in the Roman Catholic Church since the 12th century, it looks like these women are fighting an insurmountable uphill battle. But the 26 women, each of whom claim to be either in a loving relationship or would like to start one with a priest, are passionate about their illicit affairs. The women write:

As you are well aware, a lot has been said by those who are in favor of optional celibacy but very little is known about the devastating suffering of a woman who is deeply in love with a priest. We humbly place our suffering at your feet in the hope that something may change, not just for us, but for the good of the entire Church.

“We love these men,” the women continue. “They love us.” They add that they’re just a “small sample” of women in Italy and beyond who are currently in love or carrying out a relationship with a priest in secret. 

Although councils tried mandating celibacy during the Church’s early years, it wasn’t until the Second Lateran Council in 1139 that established the ban. The tradition was reaffirmed in the 16th century, and supported well into the 21st century by popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. 

Celibacy was long considered holier than the sacrament of marriage, as Pope Paul VI wrote in his encyclical defense of celibacy in 1967. Attitudes among Catholics, however, have been changing for quite some time. In recent years, there have been movements for married clergy, especially as more priest scandals come to light. Just last month, a German Catholic priest sent Francis a letter asking to be released from his vow of celibacy after admitting he fathered a child.

“There is a human right to partnership, marriage and starting a family, even if you can voluntarily waive it for religious reasons,” priest Stefan Hartmann wrote on his Facebook page. 

Read more at Bustle.

Story from the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Ms. magazine

Story from the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Ms. magazine

Jill Abramson Thanks Anita Hill at Wake Forest Commencement, Emphasizes All They Have In Common

The camaraderie between Abramson and Hill is noteworthy, and not just because Abramson co-authored a book on the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings (Abramson was even interviewed in the  documentary Anita: Speaking Truth to Power)Although the two women have very different tales of workplace sexism and harassment, the parallels of their public fallouts reveal how far women in the workplace haven’t gone in the last 20 years. 

The conversation around Abramson’s abrupt firing, the details of which still remain vague and murky, has been incredibly gendered. Although spokespeople from The New York Times deny that Abramson’s termination was over unequal pay, which was first reported by Ken Auletta at the The New Yorker, that hasn’t curtailed media speculation. However, the conversation has become less about Abramson’s salary and that of her male predecessor, and more focused on her demeanor as both managing and executive editor, which has been characterized as “brusque” and “pushy,” to name a few. 

“’She confronted the top brass,’ one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect,” Auletta wrote. 

Auletta is certainly correct in that respect: After news of Abramson’s firing broke, the former executive editor and long-time reporter suddenly found her character, rather than her leadership, under assault. While some claimed that her personality made her too difficult to work with, many women in the media saw this as another case of a woman who broke the rules to succeed — and get punished for it.

Read full story at Bustle.

MISSISSIPPI HAS ONE ABORTION CLINIC LEFT, AND IT’S FIGHTING DESPERATELY TO STAY OPEN

One week after Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a harsh 20-week abortion ban with no exceptions for incest or rape, Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic is back in court Monday fighting to remain open. It’s the latest legal battle for the clinic, which has weathered numerous attacks by anti-abortion activists and lawmakers ever since it became Mississippi’s sole pro-choice beacon. But as clinics across the southeastern United States continue to shutter thanks to similar restrictions, the fate of abortion access for thousands of Mississippi women hangs in the balance. 

You wouldn’t suspect Jackson Women’s Health Organization — housed in a bright pink building in the state capital’s Fondren neighborhood, and surrounded by vibrant cafes and shops — was an abortion clinic, except for the crowd of protesters patrolling the sidewalk with signs and crosses. Some even bring their own plastic lawn chairs as they keep vigil in front of the embattled clinic. Only a few blocks away is the ”Memorial to the Missing,” a monument made up of pennies that honors the unborn.

The tension has made it easier for lawmakers to pass anti-abortion measures — and they’re winning. 

Read full story at Bustle.