Rape in the Fields

There are approximately 600,000 women working in US agribusiness, many of whom are undocumented workers. While much has been written about the effect of global food on human health and much attention given to the obesity epidemic in the US, less attention has been given to the women working on US farms who are subject to wide-spread sexual exploitation.  Several studies suggest that between 25-40% of these women have been the victims of sexual aggression or assault. Most cases are never reported. 85% of the victims who filed federal complaints were subject to retaliation on the job.

For details on this scandalous assault on women, see “Rape in the Fields.”

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“They all wanted it done”: Eugenics — Now Showing In A State Prison Near You!

In 1924, Adolph Hitler wrote the following words:

I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would in all probability be of no value or injurious to the racial stock.

What he was referring to was the development of the Nazi eugenics program  —  and its roots in California’s (among other states) forced sterilization programs for the “unfit”. Indeed, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes infamously reasoned in Buck v. Bell 274 U.S. 200 (1927),

It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

Even though forced sterilization in California came to a de jure end in 1979, the practice seems to be back.  According to Slate.com, a report from the Center for Investigative Reporting, California prisons  — in 2010  — were employing coercive methods to permanently sterilize female inmates and ignoring the requisite protocols that would, ostensibly, make such coercion impossible.  Specifically,

In California, a health care committee is supposed to authorize prisoner tubal litigations in order to prevent abuses, but from 2006 to 2010, 148 women were sterilized by doctors who just skipped that step. CIR says there may be as many as 100 more cases dating back to the 1990s.

The comments the CIR was able to elicit from participating physicians are a further cause for serious worry:  Dr. James Heinrich, OB-GYN, accused of multiple instances of inmate badgering (about sterilization) noted that the resources spent on these procedures

“Over a 10-year period[…]isn’t a huge amount of money[…]compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children—as they procreated more.”

In fact, Christina Cordero, who spent two years for auto theft in Valley State Prison, recalled that Heinrich was rather insistent in pressuring her to agree to a tubal ligation:

“As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it…He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn’t do it.”

Slate further notes that “the top medical manager at Valley State Prison from 2005 to 2008 characterized the surgeries as an empowerment issue for female inmates, providing them the same options as women on the outside.  Daun Martin, a licensed psychologist, also claimed that some pregnant women, particularly those on drugs or who were homeless, would commit crimes so they could return to prison for better health care.”

The horror of this situation, and the utter moral failure of institutions and the individuals who run them, are devastatingly clear and obvious.  Yet in this climate of an all-out war on women’s health care taking place in a state near you, the necessity of calling attention to these abuses  —  abuses against those with the least power to respond or even to be heard  —  could not be more urgent.  Is this an inhumane way to save money?  Is this naked, unvarnished misogyny, disguised as economic (or moral!) imperative?  Is this fueled by racism, classism  —  a cacophony of all the ugly isms that tend to gather in those dark corners, such as our prison system, where few want to look, and even fewer want to know?

I don’t know.  But I suspect all of the above, and what is more, I am not sure that those eagerly engaging in these practices would be overcome by unbearable shame even if accused of the worst transgressions.  After all, they were doing their jobs, trying to save the state money, trying to keep the moochers off the state dole.  Somewhere, Hannah Arendt is not smiling.

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Austerity Kills

The title of this review speaks for itself, and the issues are monumental for us and for anyone who cares about human welfare–not to mention logic, facts, and consistency:

Austerity Kills

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Stress and Your Health
Source: Best Psychology Degrees

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The American Way of Birth: Higher Costs and Poorer Outcomes

While dozens of states in the US continue to make efforts to undermine reproductive rights, less attention has been given to the high cost and relatively poor outcomes for childbirth in the US.

This New York Times article details the exorbitant costs, poor insurance coverage, overtesting, and higher rates of Cesarean births to which American women are subject.  Despite the high cost of care, the US has one of the highest rates of maternal and infant death among industrialized nations.

This is yet more evidence that the political forces trying to deprive women of their right to make their own reproductive decisions really care very little about the health of women and children.

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Women, politics and feminism: we need to watch our backs

The times are tough, both for women in politics, and regarding political decisions affecting women. Three recent events are particularly noteworthy. The first was the overthrow last week of the first female Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. While I was scouring news sites for comment and analysis on that sorry affair, I noticed the extraordinary effort of Texan senator Wendy Davis to filibister a Senate Bill that aimed to introduce regulations with the potential to close 37 of the 42 clinics that provide abortions in Texas and to ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation. Her courage and tenacity have proved to be a lightening rod, attracting swelling support in the aftermath of her marathon speech. The contrast could not be greater between this event and the actions of Ohio’s governor in signing into law major restrictions on women’s reproductive rights in that state a few days later. As Steve Benen reports, Governor Kasich was surrounded by middle-aged white men as at the stroke of a pen, he introduced wide-ranging and draconian measures that will make seeking abortion, for women including those pregnant following rape, a far more onerous, expensive and difficult event than it needs to be.

How are these events linked?

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Dimitri Smirnov

Canada has rejected the application for permanent residency of a Russian man who has been living and working in Canada since 2006.  Dmitri Smirnov was born deaf and speaks American Sign Language, but was unable to demonstrate proficiency in either of Canada’s official languages, which is a requirement for permanent residency. He was determined to be exempt from speaking and listening tests, but completed the writing and reading portions of the International English Language Testing System; these latter marks were used to “nationalize” (I believe this means “guess”) his speaking and writing marks. According to the National Post, though, Mr. Smirnov scored extremely high on Canadian Hearing Society sign language tests for both “expressive skills” (analogous to “speaking”) and “receptive skills” (analogous to “listening”).

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Tuesday night, Senator Wendy Davis, a very vocal supporting crowd at the Texas capitol, and very engaged online communities fought for women’s reproductive rights in Texas.

And won.

The issue, if you haven’t heard — and you may not have, as mainstream media ignored this yesterday (most hilariously on CNN, where the caloric value of blueberry muffins were discussed during the climax in the TX Senate) — the issue was Texas Senate Bill 5. This bill would make illegal any abortions “at or later than 20 weeks post-fertilization” on the basis that “substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization” (SB5). This, along with other restrictions about meeting ambulatory care facility standards, would restrict the number of abortion providers in the state of Texas by 80-90%, leaving just five. FIVE PROVIDERS. For the entire state of Texas.

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What role do gender and sex play in the provision of health care?

The excellent Nursing Clio blog has an entry  by Ashley Baggett called “The Battle of the Sexes in Health Care.”  In the entry, Baggett critiques a NPR commentary on a recent scholarly article in The Lancet on gender and public health in a global context.  The issue of whether or not—and if so, the degree to which—there is gender-based discrimination in health research, public health programmes, and patient-provider relationships is a critical one.  The role that gender and sex may play in disease more generally is also one worth attending to, as Mary Ann G. Cutter did in her recent book The Ethics of Gender-Specific Disease (if interested, see my review in the Spring 2013 APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy).  It’s worth giving thought to any or all of these considerations of the role that gender and sex play in the provision of health care in any nation and globally.  And  then, to how much of a role they ought to play.

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Thoughts on Surveying the News

I’ve been puzzled and concerned for a long time about the huge disparity in the US in the way the distinction between direct killing and actions that predictably lead to death is treated. For those who espouse a critically important distinction here, it is always wrong to end a pregnancy, just as it is always wrong to end a life in case of dreadful illness. For many this issue appears to eclipse all others.

Those whose alleged main moral concern appears to be preventing such direct killing (in the centrally bioethical context) maintain a powerful and well-funded campaign to get their own way. (I say alleged because, as we all know, many have no problem with capital punishment and/or war). Where the law fails to reflect their views, they find ways to ensure that the relevant services are unavailable anyway, by intimidation, violence, or economics. This state of affairs supplies an unending series of dramatic cases where the principle is maintained at all costs, even where no lives are saved, cases that, not surprisingly, draw to themselves an enormous amount of attention from those who do not accept the unvarying wrongness of direct killing.

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International Bioethics?

There’s an interesting discussion at the Impact Ethics blog.  In response to concerns raised by Carol Collier and Rachel Haliburton about the extent to which Canadian bioethics is shaped by the American model, Kirstin Borgerson argues that Canadian bioethics is alive and well.  She concludes by suggesting that, while local contexts can certainly make a difference in some cases, we also want to avoid being too parochial in our concerns and she speculates that perhaps “the best thing for bioethics is a combination of a strong local bioethics and more comparative and collaborative international bioethics.”  I suspect that she’s exactly right about this.  Given that FAB is an international organization, readers of this blog should have interesting things to say about this recommendation.  What might such a local/global bioethics look like?  And how would taking an explicitly feminist perspective shape its development?

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Involuntary Treatment of the Mentally Ill

recent story in Mother Jones highlights the issue of the decrease in psychiatric beds nationwide, reductions in support for the severely mentally ill, and the terrible price paid by both the severely mentally ill and their families. Several times in the article McClelland refers to E. Fuller Torrey’s arguments that in addition to funding services for the severely mentally ill, states also need to change involuntary commitment laws to make committing people against their will depend on things in addition to imminent dangerousness. These issues take on a new salience with the recent mass murders perpetrated by people believed to be psychotic at the time of the murders, and often previously diagnosed with serious mental illness, and with the responses in the media that call for curtailing the rights of the mentally ill.

From a feminist bioethical perspective I find this issue quite perplexing. On the one hand, severely mentally ill women are often left to live on the streets where they are victims of sexual violence and live in deplorable conditions. Yet at least in some cases they choose this over available treatment and other assistance, including assistance from loved ones. Some severely mentally ill women and many severely mentally men end up in prison, which is more and more becoming the primary treatment locus for the severely mentally ill. Also of concern is that some mentally ill people are violent, most often towards family members, and in particular towards their mothers. Yet under the current system family members have no recourse until violence is perpetrated, and that recourse is typically, in the first instance, to involve law enforcement. Mothers and other family members of severely mentally ill adult children still love these adult children and recognize that they will likely end up on the streets without the care of their families. Yet at the same time they are afraid of their sometimes-violent adult children and are left with nowhere to turn for help.

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