What You Need to Know About Michigan’s Anti-Choice Bill

In mid-December of 2013, Michigan passed a new anti-choice bill. Amid the sea of anti-abortion measures that Michigan already has in place, you may be wondering what new restrictions the pro-life sector could have come up with. In short, this bill prevents insurance – both public and private – from covering most abortions, except for women who purchase an extra rider on their plans. The only exception is when the mother’s life is in danger. Governor Snyder vetoed the bill, but it was allowed to pass anyway due to a petition led by the anti-abortion activist group Right to Life.

The bill is controversial for a number of reasons. First of all, it further restricts women’s access to what many believe should be standard women’s health care. The bill is particularly harmful to women in lower income brackets, who make up the majority of women seeking abortions. For many of these women, no insurance coverage means no abortion.

The kicker is, even if you’re pro-life, the bill has a patently misogynistic flavor. With this law, insurance will only cover abortion if the woman had the foresight to buy the extra package. It reflects a mindset that women should be able to anticipate whether they’re likely to have an unplanned pregnancy, based on their sexual practices.

But here’s a newsflash, Right to Life: unwanted pregnancies are not planned. The way I see it, this bill is scary for three reasons:

1. It sends a clear message to women who get pregnant as a result of rape: if you didn’t plan ahead and get insured for the possibility of being sexually assaulted, the pregnancy is your problem.

2. It assumes that unwanted pregnancy only results from irresponsible sexual behavior, completely ignoring the fact that crises of health or finances can turn a planned pregnancy into an unwanted one.

3. It punishes women for being sexually active for reasons other than procreation. The state doesn’t require men to plan ahead for any unwanted pregnancies they may cause – this law targets women specifically.

Unfortunately, this is part of a national trend in women’s reproductive health policy. As you can see in the graph above, the states have accumulated a mountain of abortion restrictions over the past two decades, especially in the last three years. Eight states besides Michigan already have laws that restrict insurance coverage for abortion. Last year alone, 22 states made 70 new restrictions on abortion. These included targeted regulation of abortion providers (making providers jump through hoops to stay in business), bans on abortion, and curbing the use of medication abortion. While a few states have moved to make abortion more available, the overwhelming trend is in the opposite direction.

If you live in Michigan, I can’t tell you whether you should buy one of the new abortion riders, or even whether they’re available to you – it turns out that in Michigan, many insurance providers don’t even offer them. But I can tell you that this bill is bad news for women, whether you believe women should have free access to abortions or not. We can help fight back against laws like this one by keeping informed, spreading the word, and voting for laws and representatives that will protect the rights and dignity of women. Women should not be punished for unwanted pregnancies, and this should not be tolerated.

More background on the law and how it was passed here

Colleen Smythe
University of Michigan


Featured Fem: Gayle Rubin at the University of Michigan

I know it isn’t Thursday (and this isn’t Instagram), but I still think it’s the perfect time for a #throwback. One of the most amazing women who attended the University of Michigan did so in the late 1960’s. But wait! This isn’t purely a throwback! She still teaches here in the Anthropology, Women’s Studies and Comparative Literature departments.  Who is this mystery Michigan woman, and why is she this week’s Featured Fem?

Gayle Rubin attended the University of Michigan in the late 1960’s and early 70’s – in the heat of the American Feminist movement. Rubin wrote feminist articles for the Ann Arbor Argus in 1968, and co-founded an early Lesbian Feminnist group, the Radicalesbians in 1970.

Well what else did she do?

In 1975, Rubin published an essay called “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex“, and it really put her name on the map. This paper is one of the most quoted essays in contemporary Feminist history. In 1984, Rubin wrote another groundbreaking essay, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality“.

What do these revolutionary essays say??

“The Traffic In Women”

[33] Rubin, G. (1975). The traffic in women: notes on the ‘political economy’ of sex. In R. R. Reiter (ed.). Toward an anthropology of women.

In this essay, Rubin investigates the origins of female oppression. Is capitalism to blame? This was a hugely popular idea of the day, but Rubin notes that it’s important not to forget that women are oppressed in societies that are not capitalist as well. As she searches for the source of a “political economy” in sexual systems, she also examines Lévi-Strauss’s writings about kinship. The idea of kinship notes the distinction between the roles of “gift” and “giver”, such as how women are given as “gifts” by their fathers, the “givers”, to their husbands in marriage. The kinship system turns biological males and females into the roles of “men” and “women”, and allocates a different set of rights to each, directly contributing to the oppression of women. Kinship helped Rubin come up with her innovative thesis on the distinction between sex and gender.

Gayle Rubin talks about this in her now classic theoretical essay, Thinking Sex. In fact, she has a whole graph designed that shows what is deemed “good” and “bad” types of sex. Heterosexual vanilla monogamists—are good. Not being married, doing it for non-reproductive reasons is like middle ground but not bad. Via http://krystalfawn.com/

“Thinking Sex”

The thesis of this essay is that the sexual is political.

Basically this means that a person is treated differently and inferiorly solely based on his or her gender or sexual orientation. Rubin defines a few specific terms that build up her argument. The first is “sex negativity”, the idea that if marriage, reproduction or love are not involved, sexual behavior is considered bad. Stemming from the Christian hold on Western culture, sexual activity is seen by the public as sinful. The second term is the “misplaced scale”, which is the idea that anything considered sexual is given an excessive amount of significance. For example, sentencing a man who engaged in child pornography to 50 years in jail and giving a man who murdered a woman 10 years jail time. Not to say that both crimes are not worthy of lengthy punishment, but looking at an example of the “misplaced scale” means that our society sees actions with sex involved as more intense than any other action. Both legally and culturally, a person cannot express sexuality without being scrutinized, while that same person can talk about religion or politics as much as he or she would like.

What else did this brilliant woman do?

In 1978, Rubin was living in San Francisco and she helped found the first known Lesbian SadoMasachism group, Samois. She became a sex activist and spoke at the 1982 Barnard Conference on Sexuality. In 1994 Rubin completed her PhD in anthropology at the University of Michigan.

Rubin recently published a book, Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader, on lesbian history, the feminist sex wars, sadomasochism, prostitution and pornography; it’s the next thing on my reading list and should definitely be on yours.

Tori Wilbur
University of Michigan

Melissa Harris-Perry at Rackham Auditorium Thursday

The Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) and the William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center (TMC) is kicking off Black History Month with a keynote lecture from the legendary Melissa Harris-Perry.  Make sure to RSVP and attend this special event with such a revered guest.  As one of the icons of black feminism and social commentator, this will be a must see presentation.  For any die hard fans out there– there will be a Q&A session after her talk, so make sure to attend the event this Thursday at Rackham from 6-7:30 pm.

This event is being co-sponsored by National Center for Institutional Diversity, Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and Trotter Multicultural Center, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, Ross School of Business, Institute For Research on Women & Gender, Spectrum Center, Program on Intergroup Relations, Office of Academic and Multicultural Initiatives, Center for Educational Outreach, the School of Social Work, the Dean of Students Office, Center for Campus Involvement, Literature Science and Arts Newman Advising Office, University Housing Diversity & Inclusion, University Library, Visiting Professors Program, and the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.

More information here.

Let’s Talk About Menstruation

    What do you know about your period?  I mean, we’ve all been taught that it happens because of ovulation.  But beyond that, what do you really know about menstruation?

    I faced this question in my physiology class last term.  To my chagrin, I learned I actually knew very little about this monthly visit.  Previous “sex ed” courses never fully explored the hormonal and physical changes that occur.  So, here goes a brief explanation about the fascinatingly complex gift Mother Nature bestows upon us:

  1. A follicle is a group of cells in which the egg is stored.  10-25 follicles are initially chosen to undergo development.

  2. Estrogen levels rise, and the endometrial layer of the uterus thickens.

  3. One dominant follicle, from the previous 10-25, is chosen to be ovulated.  The other follicles and eggs die.

  4. The level of the hormone LH rises drastically, in what is known as the LH surge.  The LH surge causes ovulation to occur, around day 14 of the cycle.

  5. Progesterone levels rise during ovulation.  The glands of the endometrium become filled with glycogen (a storage form of sugar).  The number of blood vessels in the uterus increases.  These changes prepare the uterus for potential implantation of a fertilized egg.

  6. If the egg isn’t fertilized, progesterone and estrogen levels decrease around day 25 of the cycle.

  7. Blood vessels in the uterus constrict, lowering blood flow to the uterus.  Endometrial cells degenerate, which causes bleeding to occur as the endometrium is sloughed off.

  8. The first day of bleeding is counted as the first day of the menstrual cycle.

     Sorry, I know that was a lot of science terminology I just threw at you.  To make up for it, I’ll highlight some important, but less jargon-filled, implications of this cycle.

    First, hormonal birth control does not prolong a woman’s reproductive lifespan.  Although The Pill prevents the ovulation of an egg, it does not save this egg from dying.  With hormonal contraceptives, none of the follicles can mature enough to reach the “dominant” stage.  Therefore, all 10-25 follicles (and the eggs they hold) die.

    Second, counting the number of days in a cycle is not an entirely reliable method of birth control.  Bleeding starts on day 1, and ovulation usually occurs around day 14.  However, cycles vary.  The LH surge ovulation can occur anywhere from day 3 to 27.

    Overall, it’s fascinating to consider the changes the female body naturally goes through.  Our body maintains the intricate fluctuations of estrogen, progesterone, and LH each month.  It automatically prepares our uterus for possible fertilization, and quickly adapts when fertilization doesn’t occur.  Periods are complex, sometimes painful, and well worth demystifying.

Michelle Torby
University of Michigan
English Language and Literature

Identity: How I Learned to Connect with my Roots

Representing and understanding my identity was always a concept that was important to me; I just didn’t exactly realize it until later in life.

Growing up as one of two Sikh Americans in my school, the other being my brother, I always had a strong sense of identity. My mother raised me with the idea that I had to live each day as if the people I interacted with would never meet another Sikh again. Sure, it may have seemed like a lot of pressure to place on a six-year-old girl, telling her that the representation of an entire faith rested on her shoulders. But, for me, it was empowering.

My mother would come in several times a year to give presentations on Sikhism to my classmates. People not only understood the basics of my Sikh identity, but even more deeply than I could have possibly imagined. If a new student ever came to the school and made even the slightest remark about my faith, there were thirty-five kids standing up to defend me before I could even open my mouth. It was, truly, a wonderful feeling.

Unfortunately, not all good times last. Towards the end of eighth grade, I found out I would be moving to Michigan because of my dad’s job, and so I started at Northville High School as a freshman. Although the student body may have been a tad bit more diverse than Wisconsin, I felt hundreds of times more isolated than before. I hadn’t grown up with any of these kids. They hadn’t had my mom’s delicious home-cooked rajma chawal or daal roti. Mostly, they had no idea who I was or where I came from. And so, I decided to leave it that way.

I went through my high school years sort of “undercover.” I never talked about my faith or what I did on Sundays. When someone asked why I had never cut my hair, I would give a quick, “Oh, it’s against my religion” and move the conversation along. With this mentality, I made it through four years of high school without even my best friends learning much about my faith. Whether or not this was a victory depends on if you ask high-school Harleen or college Harleen, but I do have to say that I left high school very satisfied with my experience.

Meanwhile, I had become even more committed to my faith, outside of my high school façade. In Sikhism, there is no mandatory ceremony to commit oneself to the faith as exists for other religions. Instead, when a Sikh feels that they are ready to commit to all aspects of a Sikh lifestyle, they partake in amrit chakna, and are essentially initiated into the faith. I decided to do this during my sophomore year of high school. But again, I shared this with no one and continued to blend into the crowd, just as I wanted.

When I came to the University of Michigan, I was shocked to realize that I was going to school with dozens of other Sikhs, and I wasn’t even related to any of them. I still stayed relatively quiet about my identity as a Sikh American, but I slowly became stronger with the help of the Sikh Student Association on campus. They are the ones who helped me transition in so many ways beyond faith, and I left campus freshman year feeling that I had a community that I could rely on.

However, the summer after my freshman year, the unthinkable happened: a man who prescribed to neo-Nazi beliefs entered the gurdwara, or Sikh place of worship, that I had attended in Wisconsin. He started shooting and killed six members of the congregation, as well as himself, in the process.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time the Sikh community experienced violence, nor was it the last. Sikhs have continuously been targets of hate crimes in America, mostly because of our distinct physical identity. That, combined with the media’s portrayal of the “turban-and-beard” look as what a terrorist looks like, has made the Sikh community, especially its men, an easy scapegoat. Many times a year, Sikh men are beaten and harassed, Sikh boys are physically and verbally assaulted in schools, and gurdwaras are vandalized. The events in Oak Creek, Wisconsin were the first time this bias received national attention, and although it was a new concept for most Americans, it was old news for the Sikh community.

Even more frustrating than the history of Sikh hate crimes was the FBI’s refusal to acknowledge the problem. At the time of the Oak Creek shooting, the FBI did not track hate crimes against Sikhs in their system because they were only concerned with the bias of the crime. Their thought was that any hate crime committed against a Sikh was done with anti-Muslim or anti-other bias, because not enough Americans recognize the Sikh identity to commit an “anti-Sikh” hate crime. This was not only insulting to the Sikh community but also made it extremely difficult to measure the extent to which Sikh Americans were being targeted. Thankfully, due to the hard work of many organizations and individuals, the FBI has decided to start tracking crimes with an anti-Sikh bias starting in 2015, but there is still a lot of work ahead.

The Oak Creek shooting is something that I continue to struggle with. It is incredibly difficult for me to understand the hatred that one individual could have towards a group of people, and how one person could destroy so many lives. I also struggle daily to forgive, and to see the good in everyone. However, there have been certain experiences and opportunities that have allowed me to channel this frustration into something meaningful.

Earlier that summer, I had been selected to participate in an advocacy-training program with the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States. Although this experience gave me the skills that I needed to do advocacy work, the shooting was the final push – building upon years of discrimination and bias – that I needed to take action. Seeing my childhood gurdwara and safe haven attacked made me realize my passion for social justice and advocacy, allowing me to start on my journey as an advocate for the Sikh community.

Going into my sophomore year at Michigan, I was looking for a way to become more engaged on campus and keep this momentum going. I had all these frustrations with how the government and societal constructs affected my community, but I had no place to voice my concerns or talk about what I could do to make a difference. I struggled. How could I, a nineteen-year-old college student, affect meaningful social change? Conveniently, this was also the moment that I stumbled upon another organization on campus, SAAN.

SAAN, or South Asian Awareness Network, is a social justice organization geared towards increasing awareness of social justice issues, particularly those that are salient to the South Asian community. I was first introduced to the organization through its 2011 conference, and then returned in 2012 as a facilitator. The issues covered were diverse, such as sexual assault in the U.S. military to the lack of creative spaces for students in public education. I not only felt free to express my own opinions, but also was able to spend two days hearing from experts in their fields, including some Michigan alumni. Beyond that, the dialogues that occurred were not only inspiring, but also thought provoking. Each person I interacted with had a different perspective on the issue and came from a different background. I felt like I was becoming more socially aware simply from being around them.

It’s hard to find your place on a campus as big as ours, and I am happy to say that I have. Through an organization like SAAN, I have no doubt that I am leaving my mark on this campus – through the conference, through service learning events, and through simple, day-to-day interactions with my fellow Wolverines. The impact that SAAN has already had on me is incredible, but I look forward to the progress I will continue to make over the next two years. I know that SAAN will have a lasting impact on me, on my career, and on the way that hundreds of people see their community and the world.

Harleen Kaur
The 2014 SAAN Conference will be held January 17th and 18th. To learn more about SAAN and register for the conference, check out http://www.umsaan.umich.edu. If you have any comments about the article, questions about SAAN, or simply want to talk, feel free to send Harleen an email at harleen@umich.edu.