Friday, August 15, 2014

Contraceptives of the Future!

I know this is kind of old news, but a friend of mine sent me this story and I've been meaning to blog about it for weeks.

Future contraceptives will let women remote-control their fertility

The gist is that the Gates Foundation is backing a biotech company specifically to design and build a contraceptive device straight out of science fiction. Here's the scoop:

MicroCHIPS has been testing the "intelligent drug delivery system" with osteoporosis patients who would otherwise require a daily barrage of injections. Bill-and-Melinda Gates and MIT's Robert Langer, however, believe that the technology could solve the family planning crisis that exists in the world's poorest countries. Reservoirs of levonogestrel, a contraceptive hormone would be kept inside the 1.5cm device, and could be activated and deactivated at the whims of the user with some sort of wireless device. 

So - that's a thing. Here are my thoughts.

1. I love that the Gates Foundation is just quietly on the forefront of every new BC technology lately (so it seems, anyway) - and more often than not, it's not just a birth control/family planning focus but a real bodily autonomy concern - of marginalized bodies - that is their motivation. Like I really am into the Gates Foundation in a big way.

2. Hippie granola concern: having a drug dispenser inside of me for 16 years doesn't really appeal to me, but I guess it's not really me that it would be targeted at. I just feel like we should be moving away from long-term drug-based contraceptives because we don't really know yet all the ways it fucks up our bodies and the environment. It worries me that people are on hormonal birth control from 14 to 44, only stopping to have a couple kids.

3. Security seems like a really big hurdle to get over with this - how are they going to ensure that it can't be screwed with? It's one thing to poke a hole in a condom, or replace a pill with a sugar pill; it's another thing to control the drugs being pumped into someone's bloodstream. This could be a suuuuuuuper easy way to kill someone and get away with it.

4. I would love to see less focus on the fancy technology of birth control and more on simpler ways of making it available and accessible to people and educating folks about their options. I feel like that's the greater need. Like I could see this being great for Western middle-class women, but if you're in a position where birth control is societally condemned and/or not available, this won't really help that much.

Mostly I'm all about concerns #3 and #4. I do applaud the Gates Foundation for being forward-thinking and all, but I feel like they need to back up a few steps and find a more productive way to use all that money. Let's assess the real problem vis-a-vis contraceptives in the world right now: the technology is not the problem. Inequality is the problem - unequal access, a lack of education, and oppressive systems that keep people from determining what they want for their bodies, and being informed enough - and free enough - to ask for that. I am oversimplifying it but there you are.

Thoughts? Is this something you would use (once they figure out the glaring security issue)?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Call Out to Public Abortion Storytellers

Signal boost for the Sea Change Program - if you are a public abortion storyteller (or know someone who is), read on:

Hi Friends, 
I'm writing you to announce an exciting new project that I am working on with The Sea Change Program! 
As you may know, I have been sharing my abortion story publicly for several years. This experience has brought great joy, a feeling of empowerment, and connection to other people who have had abortions across the country - especially other storytellers. While this has been wonderful, it also brings harassment, both online and off, threats of violence, and thus has highlighted the missing pieces of support for abortion storytellers in our movement. 
To ensure that storytellers are truly supported, I am conducting a survey and interviews with public abortion storytellers to look at what support systems have been working for them, and what we as a movement could do better to ensure their needs are met. 
To that end, I am asking you to complete this survey, if you're a public abortion storyteller, and forward it to any and all people who previously and currently share their abortion story in public forums including: journalism, media, video, workshops and panels, nonprofit advocacy campaigns, lobby visits, and interviews. I want to hear about all the best (and worst) practices so we can crowdsource a list of recommendations on how to best support our public abortion storytellers emotionally, mentally, and physically. 
The survey can be found on The Sea Change Program's website at: 
Please feel free to tweet and post the link to the survey on your Facebook pages and blogs. This is a public survey and I'm hoping to share reach as many public abortion storytellers as I can. 
The survey should take 20-30 minutes and we're taking responses through August 10th. 
Got questions? Email me at 
Let's make sure the people we're asking to share on the front lines, get the best support our movement can offer! And, thank you for your support!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Movie Review: Obvious Child

Ok so I saw 'Obvious Child' last night, and I adored it, and I'm not just saying that because it's an "abortion movie".

You may have heard a little about this film - I actually remember seeing the short film version online a couple years ago - basically it is the story of Donna, who is in a really shitty place in her life, hooking up with a dude, getting pregnant, and deciding to have an abortion. I know it doesn't sound like super feel good rom-com material, but hear me out.

Donna is a stand-up comedian at a rough bar in Brooklyn (this is not her day job). When we first meet her she is doing a pretty funny bit about underwear stains that was TOO REAL. Shortly afterwards her boyfriend dumps her (in the bathroom!!) and shortly after that, she finds out the bookstore she works at is closing, and she will soon be out of a job. The breakup is clearly the hardest on her heart, but it's all kind of a terrible spiral. Fortunately she has a great (and predictably quirky) support network - her divorced parents, feminist roommate, gay bestie, etc.

Donna meets Max, who is totally square. They have a fun and hilarious night together. They are very drunk and may or may not have correctly used a condom. Donna finds out she is pregnant, immediately decides to have an abortion, goes to Planned Parenthood (realest scene in the movie) and continues to spiral into awfulness thanks to her impending unemployment and the $500 cost of the abortion - which she has scheduled for Valentine's Day.

You have to watch the movie, it is just so lovely. There were definitely some rom-com staples (aforementioned gay bestie comes to mind, although totally worth it for his line about getting a guy's mouth pregnant), and everyone was pretty white, and there were too many fart jokes for my personal taste. But those were seriously the only criticisms I had.

What I love most about the movie is that it isn't really about the abortion (or the pregnancy) at all - even the scenes that are about it. It's about Donna. It's about her life and her friends and the circumstances around the abortion, but this movie doesn't feel the need to spend any time on the actual decision-making process, and that's awesome. It makes sense that this character would make this choice. It is consistent with who she is, that she would not agonize over maybe having the baby.

Some viewers might find some of it preachy - the roommate does use the word "patriarchy" at one point, and the mother's confession is a little convenient - but overall I think that even if you don't give a shit about abortion, you will probably enjoy this movie. Jenny Slate is extremely likeable and creates a Donna that we can get behind.

The scene where she talks about her abortion in her stand-up is the bravest shit I have seen in a movie in a long time, maybe ever. My heart, you guys! I cried and cried. Please see this movie.

If you're in Toronto, it's playing at the Cineplex at the Manulife Centre (at Bay and Bloor). Otherwise I guess check your local listings.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If Not Now, Then When?

Today it was announced in Fredericton that the Morgentaler Clinic will be shutting its doors after 20 years. From the press release:

The Morgentaler Clinic is closing for the following reasons:
Many women are unable to pay for their abortions. As a result, the clinic revenue has never met expenses. Shortfalls were made up by Dr. Morgentaler personally.  In the past ten years the clinic has contributed over $105,400 to subsidize abortions for women unable to pay the full amount.
The 2008 flood caused damage to the clinic totalling more than $100,000.  Many downtown businesses received some compensation but the clinic was denied any because it was not owned by a resident of New Brunswick.  Had Dr. Morgentaler not paid for the required repairs to keep the clinic open, the clinic would have closed in 2008.
The clinic cannot continue to provide abortion services that are not publically funded.
As a former employee of the clinic, I can vouch for all three of these reasons. Every week I made appointments for women who didn't have any of the money to pay, or only had part of it. Of course we tried as much as possible to help direct them to funds, and we even sometimes tried payment plans, although of course this was a futile effort. I'm actually surprised the amount subsidized was not more than $105,400.

After the 2008 flood we spent hours in the basement of the clinic, trying to rescue as many patient files as possible, and using a borrowed ShopVac to frantically bail out the water. The city was compensating businesses affected by the flood; I was there when the government employee charged with inspecting the damage pulled up to our building, and, upon learning what kind of business it was, got back into his car and drove away without conducting the inspection. 

A clinic like this could never continue unfunded in a province like New Brunswick, and anyone who believed it could was dreaming. I think the provincial government may feel a sense of relief upon hearing the news of the clinic closing, but what they don't recognize is that this will only hurt the province - socially and economically - in the long term. 

The silver lining is that the clinic's closure may be the impetus needed to finally push the province into action. We must strike when the iron is hot; it is time for the people of New Brunswick to organize. In the wake of this news I would love to see two things:

1. Some kind of referral/support network for providing folks seeking abortion with the immediate care they need, just like in the bad old days when abortion was illegal. There needs to be a network where people can go and find out: sympathetic referral doctors; doctors who will provide medical abortions (when RU486 becomes available); funds to travel out of province for abortions; and people who can help with transportation and accommodations in that regard. It is important that people who need abortions continue to be able to access them.

2. Grassroots, hardcore protest action. Not standing outside the clinic with candles, because why would any legislator give a shit? I mean identifying specific targets and taking actual, stand-up-and-take-notice action. Set up a tent on the lawn of the Legislature and start providing abortions in it. Hang bloody coat hangers on the mailboxes of anti-choice MLAs. Abortion caravan that shit, chain yourselves to seats in the Legislature. They won't listen to reason, so get radical. Lives are at stake.

I hope that New Brunswick finds the energy and the spirit to fight back. If not now, then when?