3 posts

Clinic Violence Is Violence Against Women

The following is a guest blog post by Tess Koenigsmark. Tess is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut and currently works for a small but awesome reproductive rights non-profit. Her interests include intersectionality, exploring nature, and spending too much time watching funny cat videos.

Please note that views expressed by guest bloggers represent solely their own. CT NOW believes in open dialogue and multiple perspectives and welcomes (civilly worded) thoughts different from our own, but we do not necessarily endorse any writing done by the author here or elsewhere.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that challenges the legality of a Massachusetts buffer zone law. While there are different types of buffer zones, they generally create a space around the clinic (35 feet in the case of Massachusetts) in which only patients and staff are allowed. Prior to the buffer zone, Massachusetts found that protesters posed not just an inconvenience, but such a serious issue that they prevented women from accessing abortion care and other medical services.

Buffer zones are intended to protect patients at reproductive health clinics from anti-abortion protesters that routinely harass, obstruct, intimidate, and even assault patients attempting to enter clinics. They may not solve every problem, but clinics with any sort of protection are among the lucky ones. Reproductive health clinics have endured arson, bombings, death threats, and even the murders of staff. That is terrorism, plain and simple.

And while these acts are certainly the most heinous, and most newsworthy, the everyday harassment of patients is also a significant hindrance to women seeking medical care. Women already in a vulnerable position are confronted by protesters who scream in their faces, display graphic images of aborted fetuses, shove literature through car windows, record them, and obstruct their entry into the clinic.

Given this state of affairs, many reproductive rights advocates were justifiably furious that mainstream media outlets bought into the characterization of anti-choice protesters as gentle, peaceful people. Eleanor McCullen, the plaintiff in this case, is a harmless-looking grandmother who claims she just wants to speak to the women entering clinics. I don’t know enough about her to determine that her behavior is never harassing, but regardless, McCullen is not representative of the climate outside the average clinic. As the Supreme Courts arguments were taking place, Erin Matson, editor of RH Reality Check, was tweeting anti-choice protester behavior that she personally witnessed as a clinic escort. Below are just a couple of her many tweets:


What was most shocking was how people – mostly women – repeatedly had to share their personal stories to prove that the violence, harassment, and general obstruction of women’s access to healthcare are indeed real. As mainstream news outlets overlooked this side of the story, instead painting clinic protesters as benign grandmothers, stories of harassment poured out onto Twitter and elsewhere. How loud do women have to collectively shout in order to be believed?

While watching the story of this Supreme Court case play out was frustrating for its own reasons, it was even more maddening to have the feeling that I had seen this movie before. For as much as this court case is about the constitutionally protected right to abortion, it is perhaps just as much about violence against women. Debate about the former has, perhaps strategically, clouded any discussion of the latter.

The way this case has played out so far is reminiscent of other forms of violence and harassment faced by women. Women can say, repeatedly, that street harassment restricts their movement and activities, at times creating a legitimate emotional burden. And yet many men will not take their female friends at their word on this subject. It is only when a woman tells them about the time that she was not sure if the hostile, aggressive man in an empty subway car was going to take no for an answer that they scratch their heads and reconsider.

It is the burden of every marginalized group to be denied credibility in talking about their own experiences. It is simply not good enough for women to say, “Yes, this happened to me.” They must expose the raw, gory details whether they would like to or not, almost as a penance for bringing their experiences into the light of the public.

When the media and Supreme Court justices deny the violence that happens at reproductive health clinics, it is no different than when our society dismisses women’s experiences with sexual assault, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. The characters in this case may be different, but the story is still the same.

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January 7-13 Weekly News Round Up

A round up of current news stories on the state and national level, with a focus on feminist issues

By Tess Koenigsmark

Governor Malloy has created a new cabinet-level disability advocate position. The responsibilities of the new position include making policy recommendations and outreach to people with disabilities.

Thursday, an all-male House of Representatives subcommittee held a hearing on the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act. And why yes, it IS already illegal for federal funds to pay for abortion. But, anti-abortion supporters has never let logic stop them before, and they’re certainly not going to start now. The proposed bill would ban private insurance plans sold through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges from providing abortion coverage and tax small business owners who want to provide their employees abortion coverage. Since this bill will never leave the House, the hearing was simply an excuse for anti-choice representatives to engage in some terribly ill informed grandstanding.

Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro is awesome, but you already knew that.

The Supreme Court will hear an anti-choice challenge to a Massachusetts “buffer zone” law. Buffer zones were created to protect abortion clinic patients from harassment and violence at the hands of anti-choice protestors.  The zones generally strike a compromise between free speech and the safety of patients, prohibiting protesters within a certain number of feet from clinics while still providing a space for them to continue with their regularly scheduled activity of screaming terribly offensive things at women. Anti-choicer activists will argue that such laws violate free speech.

Connecticut’s health insurance exchange expands coverage for Hartford residents.

Watch Katie Couric get schooled (gracefully) after she asks two transgender TV celebrities offensive and inappropriately invasive questions.

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October 13-19 Weekly News Round Up

A round up of current news stories on the state and national level, with a focus on feminist issues

By Tess Koenigsmark

On last Friday, two sexual assaults were reported at UConn. The two female victims were led off into the woods near a party on Hunting Lodge Road by two men, where one man raped one of the women and the second man “attempted to engage in non-consensual sexual contact” with the other woman.

During an October 7th concert for UConn’s Homecoming Week, students erupted in cheers when a rapper from the group Timeflies mentioned the “rape trail” in a rap that incorporated elements of UConn culture. The “rape trail” is a wooded path that connects the UConn campus and several off-campus apartment complexes. Student sexual assault prevention advocates have promoted calling the path “Celeron Trail,” but the unfortunate nickname still holds. Sexual assaults have happened on and near the trail, making the name even more appalling.

East Haven, Connecticut has met the deadlines for reforms imposed on the city after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found that the police department was discriminating against Latinos. Deliberations began this week in a case against two East Haven police officers accused of profiling Latinos. Meanwhile, Hispanic police officers in Bridgeport have accused their assistant police chief of not taking action when a criminal justice professor used racial slurs in a training session.

National attention has shifted to Maryville, Missouri, after a teenage girl went public with the story of her sexual assault and the subsequent persecution her family faced at the hands of the town. In January of 2012, two older high school boys raped 14-year old Daisy Coleman and her thirteen-year old friend, yet prosecutors dropped the case despite the existence of a recording of the attack. The case is already being called the “next Steubenville.”

Colorado will have a “personhood” amendment on the ballot in 2014, thanks to the efforts of anti-choice group Personhood Colorado. Personhood measures seek to define fetuses as people at all stages of development in order to outlaw abortion. Anti-choice groups have attempted to push personhood bills in other states, but fortunately none have succeeded. What personhood advocates conveniently decline to mention is that these amendments hurt not only women who want to have an abortion, but also infringe on the rights of women carrying wanted pregnancies to term. For example, if a pregnant woman becomes ill and needs to have a medical procedure that would harm her fetus, doctors could refuse to provide treatment because the fetus and its incubator – sorry, mother – would have the same legal status.

While the government has reopened, Congress will face another budget deadline in just a few months, meaning that birth control coverage could potentially be on the chopping block once again.

In New Haven on Tuesday, activists protested the decision to relocate female inmates from a federal prison in Danbury. CT Senators Murphy and Blumenthal are still attempting to stop the move, which critics say would harm women by taking them away from their families. Although our current criminal justice system seems to have forgotten, the goal of incarceration is not just punishment, but rehabilitation. Removing what may be prisoners’ only connections to the outside world is not conducive to that goal.

An update on Connecticut’s healthcare exchange, Access Health CT, which opened October 1.

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