Sadomasochism isn’t a dirty word.

Today Planned Parenthood supporters and opponents spoke out on Twitter with the hashtag #SexEd. The tweetfest was organized by the anti-abortion organization, Live Action, to denounce the Lurid! Disgusting! Immoral! Dangerous! advice given by Planned Parenthood counselers to a young woman who pretended to have honest questions for them about BDSM. She filmed the clinic workers – without their knowledge – answering the questions openly and honestly. Live Action calls this “undercover investigation.” I call bullshit. The film that Live Action is so very proud of can be seen on YouTube.

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Sex Ed – We’re Doin It Wrong

I was recently accepted as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota-North Dakota-South Dakota. One of the requirements for becoming a volunteer was attending four classes. The first two were introductions to the organization; the third and fourth were educational sessions focused on the basics of sexual transmitted infections (STIs), reproductive health and contraception. It makes a lot of sense to train volunteers in these topics, as the majority of what Planned Parenthood does is provide family planning and sexual health advice, education and health services.

After having attended these last two courses with a group of my peers, I say this: We need to do better at providing the people of this country standardized, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education.

Remember: All of the attendees of these courses want to be there. All of us believe in reproductive planning, promoting sexual health, positive sexuality, and supporting a woman’s right to  have an abortion. We are all supposedly “the good guys”. But goddamn there were some ridiculous beliefs that were shared in that classroom! There were misunderstandings about how common forms of birth control work, what happens during puberty, how certain STIs are spread, how communication with partners can limit the spread of STIs, how to bring up the issue of STIs with a new partner. There were prejudices, preconceptions and privileged opinions about issues such as sex before marriage, how many partners people “should” have, relationship status (monogamous vs. polygamous vs. open marriages, etc.), gender identity, how young someone should be before they have sex, if parents should have a say in whether an underage girl is allowed to have an abortion.

In a country that allows parents to pull their children from classrooms during sex ed…

When sex “education” still seems to come primarily from friends or the internet or those first fumbling encounters…

When sex, birth control, reproduction and sexual autonomy remain taboo subjects that aren’t discussed in “polite” company…

When these things happen we find ourselves in a climate where people speak the right words and espouse the right positions, but we still don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. A lot of people in that room probably walked in thinking they knew all there was too know about the basics of reproduction, contraception and STIs.

Planned Parenthood seems to understand the reality of sex education in this country, and they have taken steps to extend their educational outreach to their volunteers as well as their clients. We can do better.

Minnesota 2011 Annual Abortion Report

Last Tuesday several news sources reported some version of this headline:

Minnesota abortions at 37-year low

That particular headline came from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Every year since Abortion reporting has been in place since 1973 when Roe v. Wade made the procedure legal in the United States. States have their own unique reporting laws for abortions performed in each state, and in 1998 the Minnesota Legislature  updated their requirements and the types of questions that are asked of doctors and patients. In Minnesota it is required that all physicians liscensed and practicing in Minnesota who perform abortions, and all MN facilities in which abortions are performed to complete and submit a report for each procedure to the Minnesota Department of Health. All of that information is compliled into an annual report called the “Report to the Legislature: Induced Abortions in Minnesota”. Two Fridays ago, the 2011 annual report was released by the MDH.

The report is a fascinating read – in a dry “I’m reading 28 pages of statistics” kind of way – especially if you have an interest in who is getting what type of abortions, who is performing them, and even reasons why people say they are seeking abortions. This is a list of some of the information collected:

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Giving God the Heisman

I’ve been really disgusted with the Kalley Yanta’s Minnesota Marriage Minute videos. Mostly because they make bigotry, fear and hate look so damn good, professional and reasonable. I’ve been meaning to post about them, but it’s been a chore to watch her maple syrup-sweet, disingenuous arguments. This morning I was going to do it. I even made it through the first three (of 10, now) videos and had started deconstructing the calmly-delivered fallacious vitriol (damn this woman brings to mind the saccharine evil of Delores Umbridge), but then YouTube helpfully directed me to this and my head exploded:

In this video Yanta’s professionalism slips a couple of notches from her MN Marriage Minute videos. Her sugar-coated sarcasm is the epitome of the tongue-in-cheek “Minnesota Nice”, which, for those who haven’t heard the term, is often used to describe passive-agressiveness. She also confirms that her social conservatism is based in religious ideology, which she doesn’t do in MN Marriage Minute.

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Why We Need Sex Ed NOW

I was sent this infographic by a new group called Public Health Resources. According to their website, the group’s purpose is to provide a source of information and resources for people who are interested in pursuing a degree in public health. The infographic is called Why We Need Sex Ed Now. Here’s what the creators have to say about the project:

Today it’s pretty clear that abstinence-only education doesn’t work — and scientific studies prove it. Not only does it not work though, it actually worsens the problems that it claims to solve. States where abstinence-only education reigns supreme have the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the United States. At the same time, states that favor comprehensive sexual education — the type that teaches students about birth control — have the lowest levels of teen pregnancy.

Teen pregnancy rates are often closely mirrored with a nation’s public health status because high rates of pregnancy suggest a lack of protection during sex. And of course, a lack of protection leads to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Every two minutes in the United States 3 teens get pregnant, and more than 80% of these pregnancies are unintended. We need sex ed now: not just as a matter of public health, but as a matter of sustaining the robust society that America has built over time. This graphic lays out all the facts and makes the case for protection.

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10 Things Amanda Marcotte Would Tell Anti-Choicers

This is a genius list. But first, recent abortion wars news:

Every day I read about absurd pieces of legislation that are specifically written to limit access to abortion or reproductive choice. Today’s Bill-O’-Fun-and-Oppression comes out of North Carolina.

Earlier this week the NC House managed to override the state governor’s veto on a bill that would require all women who seek an abortion to undergo a a 24-hour waiting period, an ultrasound, a detailed description of the fetus and state-mandated “counseling”. Today, the NC Senate  passed that bill 29-19.

This intrusive government-mandated health care now requires that every women have her ultrasound 24 hours in advance of the procedure, regardless of whether the woman is a victim of incest or rape or medical necessity, and regardless of whether she wishes to accept the state’s kind offer to waste her time with unsolicited, unnecessary medical procedures and lectures about “other options”. Book your hotel room now if you’ve traveled a distance to one of the eight cities in North Carolina that currently have abortion clinics – you’re going to be there for a few days. And so sorry if you can’t find the money for a hotel, or obtain transportation, or find childcare for several days, or take time off of work. Maybe you’d just better have that kid; in the short term it will be much easier than terminating your pregnancy. The pro-lifers in the North Carolina legislature can assure you of that.

And now on to Amanda Marcotte’s Awesome List of Awesome. Here are 10 very good points which people entrenched in the anti-choice movement ignore completely. But if you’re one of those people who have always identified as pro-life (then you’re probably not reading this blog, but just in case), but you’ve never really given the issue a lot of thought, check out Ms. Marcotte’s full article on AlterNet, in which she goes into detail about why each of the statements below is true. Or if you support reproductive rights, read her piece to brush up your knowledge on why abortion isn’t evil.

10 Things Amanda Marcotte Would Say to the Anti-Choice Fanatics Trying to End Access to Abortion

  1. Most abortions take place early in pregnancy.
  2. If not for anti-choicers, even more women would get abortions much earlier in their pregnancies.
  3. Doctors perform late term abortions because of medical indications, often on women who desperately wanted the baby.
  4. Women who get abortions aren’t afraid of being mothers.
  5. Abortion is physically safe.
  6. Abortion is mentally safe.
  7. Women who get abortions take responsibility for their decision.
  8. Abortion providers are responsible medical professionals who work to make sure their patients are healthy and avoid future unintended pregnancies.
  9. Women get abortions because they’re being responsible.
  10. Conservative policies cause the abortion rate to be higher than it needs to be.

Planned Parenthood on Good Friday

Good Friday protesting is a tradition at the Highland Park Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, MN. Every year on this day a prayer vigil is held and hundreds of anti-choice supporters gather to pray to God for an end to abortion. In response, hundreds of pro-choice supporters gather to walk and cheer their support for the services that Planned Parenthood provides and a woman’s right to reproductive choice.

This is the first year that I’ve participated in the solidarity event, and the first time I have visited the Highland Park Planned Parenthood. I arrived at 7:30am and found a parking spot not too far from the clinic. Everything was very well-organized with cones, mobile fencing and plenty of uniformed police. An area for protesters was set up on one side of the clinic’s driveway, PPFA (Planned Parenthood Federation of America) supporters were on the other. There was a division between the two groups of about the length of the clinic itself, and the only people who were allowed to stop in this neutral zone were police and on-duty Highland Park clinic escorts.

The police and escorts were very good about keeping people from both groups off of the sidewalks and property unless they were walking through (that’s my way of saying I was wrist-slapped twice during the day for standing on the sidewalk while I took photos).  

Both groups were setting up when I arrived. I signed in at the pro-choice supporter’s booth, grabbed a sign (“Women’s Health Matters”) and joined a small group which had started walking clockwise around our “pen”.

The PPFA supporter sign-in area was in the clinic parking lot, but escorts did a great job of keeping the driveway entry clear for patients and staff.

At around 7:30am, the walk begins!

One of the first things I noticed as I was getting in line was a nearby run-down white building with a sign out front that said “Highland LifeCare Center”. I walked down to take a look.

Ugh. Yup – Crisis Pregnancy Center. CPCs usually position themselves close to clinics that provide abortions. This isn’t a medical clinic, but a “counseling” center. CPCs exist to try to keep women from getting abortions, and they have been known to use some pretty sneaky and underhanded tactics to achieve that goal. Bummer that this one is here.

8:00am and the crowds grow larger:

As time went on, more and more people showed up for both sides. There was no drama that I saw; both sides kept to themselves. The protesters chanted bible verses, sang hymns and church leaders showed up to give sermons and lead prayers. There were a few anti-choice signs, but nothing graphic, no bloody fetus replicas or yelling or screaming. I think that for most of them this was a pretty solemn occasion.

Okay, I swear that the appearance of the DQ Chicken Strip sign is purely coincidental and was not an attempt at humor. But it does kinda look like one of the marchers could be carrying it, doesn’t it? Pro-lifers for Chicken Strips!

There was little to do except chat, walk and cheer – which was a blast! I had a chance to meet some interesting people, including a lovely, charming woman who has been involved in the pro-choice movement since 1991. She told me about the illegal abortion she obtained back in the day, and how years she later she tracked down the doctor who had provided her abortion in order to thank him. I spoke with a gentleman who is interning with the MN National Organization for Women, and who I had met at the much chillier Walk4Choice back in February. And then I ran into some friends who I hadn’t even known were pro-choice supporters!


Walking at PPFA solidarity events is a great way to make new friends…


…and a good place to have surprise meet ups with current friends!

We were walking on Ford Parkway and there was a lot of passing traffic, a lot of supportive horn honking, and very little heckling. I did see one woman make a cross with her fingers (what are we – vampires? And get your hands back on the steering wheel, lady!), and I heard another walker exclaim, “I think that woman just hissed at us!” and start giggling. The supporters who drove by were very vocal and wildly waved out of their car windows or gave thumbs up. For those who didn’t agree with our message, well…Minnesota Nice kept them most of them politely disdainful and quiet.

Around 10am some of the PPFA supporters held a non-denominational service and sing-along.

And that was about it for me. There was a little drizzle, and the weather was cool, but not not horribly uncomfortable. I ended up leaving at around 11:30am when the crowds swelled so much that we could hardly move around our allotted space. I ran off to have lunch with the Hubby, and on the way back to his office we drove by and added some of our own honking and waving to the mix.

All in all, it was a really good experience and I’m glad I participated.

Clinic Escorting

In March I underwent clinic escort training for a women’s health center in Minneapolis. I am a strong supporter of a woman’s right to obtain affordable, confidential and safe abortions, and I believe that all people should have access to and information about sexual and reproductive health care. Being a clinic escort is one way for me to show my support for these issues and for the people who take advantage of these rights.

At the women’s health clinic at which I volunteer, a pro-life group has paid staff who stand outside and intercept women who have come to the clinic to have an abortion. These staff members hand out pamphlets filled with pictures of bloody tissue, stories from women who were “crippled by dispair and depression” because of their decision to have an abortion, and dubious or disproven claims about the links between abortion and breast cancer or future reproductive and sexual health. They walk alongside potential clinic patients and quote statistics at them or tell them to consider adoption or other alternatives to baby killing.

The women and men who come to the clinic often become exasperated, angry or distressed when these protesters get in their personal space and start speaking at them about abortion. They may yell back at the protesters, making a tense situation even more loaded. And as a clinic escort, do you know what I get to do in this situation?

I get to smile.

When a client approaches the clinic and is accosted by a protester, I get to stand off to the side in my bold yellow jacket that proclaims “clinic escort” on the front and smile, open the door to the clinic and motion them inside. That’s it. Nothing really world-saving there. I’m an unpaid doorwoman and it’s really easy work. But the relief on the clients’ faces at seeing a friendly, welcoming smile and having a guide past the aggressive in-your-face tactics of the protesters is the most incredible thing.

Last Saturday was my first day of escorting. There were  two of us escorting and four protesters, all of them regulars who are well-known to the clinic. We were all pretty nice to each other, considering we were diametrically opposed about the issue at hand. It felt very much like “you’re here to do your job, I’m here to do mine.” (and again – they’re *paid*, so they very literally were there to do their jobs).

At some point one of the ladies gently tried to hand me a pamphlet and I said “Look, while we’re out here together I’ll talk to you about anything you like except abortion.” She shrugged and we actually talked about the weather! She tried to slip abortion back into the conversation now and then, but each time I averted my gaze and sealed my lips. Then she’d sigh and go back to talking about her garden or grandkids. When a person or couple would approach the clinic, I would walk right next to the client(s) and distract them with chit-chat so the protester was relegated to speaking loudly at our backs. As soon as the client was inside the protestor and I would go back to discussing the weather.

It was an odd detente and I imagine a pretty good protester experience to have on my first day of escorting. I’m guessing they won’t all be this genial.

I learned about volunteering as a clinic escort from a twitter user named – appropriately enough – @clinicescort. Many Saturdays @clinicescort posts a tweet or two from the front lines about protests occurring at the clinic where she or he volunteers. I am always astounded by the spiteful, ignorant, close-minded vitriol that @clinicescort endures, but I am grateful that she or he is there to play interference for the clients of the clinic so that they can go about their day with less harassment. So far it seems like the protesters at my clinic are pretty benign – they don’t scream or unduly harrass, so small favors.

If you want more information about escorting, let me know in the comments or shoot me an email. And if you’re ever in downtown Minneapolis and you see me standing around in front of a building wearing a bright yellow jacket, make sure to give me a smile. I’ll certainly smile back.