The Peace Corps Equity Act: A Step Forward in Expanding Abortion Access

Peace Corps AfricaLast month, President Obama signed into law the new budget for 2015, which includes coverage for Peace Corps volunteers who need abortions in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Why is this news item a big deal? Because 63 percent of Peace Corps volunteers are women, a first-trimester abortion costs more than a Peace Corps volunteer makes in a month, and sexual assault is a risk for Peace Corps volunteers. Of course, abortion and sexual assault are difficult subjects, and when you put them both together and remind the public that, until now, Peace Corps volunteers who became pregnant as a result of sexual assault while on the job were subjected to undue financial burdens on top of everything else, you might see a lot of criticism of the Peace Corps. And, for returned Peace Corps volunteers, that criticism might sting.


The Peace Corps Equity Act represents an important step forward.


As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I have a hard time writing this piece. I feel like I am airing our dirty laundry.

In my experience, most people are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps. And when all that makes the news is that the Peace Corps “fails” its female volunteers with respect to abortion and sexual assault, it’s hard for those of us who know and love the Peace Corps to talk openly about these issues.

The Peace Corps, however, has failed no one — they have had their hands tied by rules put into place decades ago by our government. The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. funds to pay for foreign abortions, including those of Peace Corps volunteers. The first time I ever heard about it was during training, when we were told that it meant we could not discuss abortion with locals or counsel around abortion as an option. Continue reading

Bye, Bye, Bystander! It’s on Us

The following guest post comes to us via Kate Thomas, community sexuality educator for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Kate has her master’s degree in public health from the University of Arizona and a passion for ensuring that people of all ages have access to the information, resources, and support they need to be sexually healthy.

it is on usIn October, the It’s on Us campaign launched a PSA about stopping sexual assault. In it, a guy at a party gets up to help when a girl who has been drinking is being harassed and grabbed by a male party-goer. The voiceover (provided by the amazing Jon Hamm) says, “This isn’t a PSA about a sexual assault. It’s about being the guy who stops it.”

You may have heard a lot about “bystander interventions” in the media coverage about how to prevent sexual assault. But not everyone knows what this term means. A bystander is someone who just stands by as something happens. They see something bad is happening, but do nothing to stop it. However, “bystander interventions” encourage individuals to intervene in situations instead of standing idly by.

Most of the time, it’s easy to intervene and prevent sexual assault. But not everyone takes that intervention in the best way. You could be told to back off, get called mean names, or even be threatened. That’s why it’s important to have others help you intervene if it isn’t safe to intervene on your own.

I have a lot of personal experience with bystander interventions.  Continue reading

HeForShe: Why We Need Gender Equality

Emma WatsonOn September 20, a declaration was made to all male-identifying individuals worldwide: Feminism is for you, too. I am, of course, referring to the speech given by Emma Watson launching the HeForShe Campaign, a solidarity movement for gender equality backed by UN Women. When any celebrity endorses a social cause, they are putting themselves in the line of fire for critique, often coming from both sides of an issue. This issue is no different in that powerful messages for social justice frequently become overshadowed by critical rhetoric.


What we do today is what will help us achieve gender equality for the generations that follow.


As a feminist, I am grateful that Emma Watson has used her privilege to deliver this message, but like many, I also believe this is just the start of many conversations that must be had before this movement can see progress. Feminist ideals by and large have made considerable strides in the last several decades, but as Ms. Watson pointed out, we are absolutely not where we need to be. As a woman who was born in Arizona and has lived in the Valley her entire life, I can attest to the accuracy of that statement.

While it is easy to pick apart what Emma Watson didn’t say, and how she said what she did, I believe it is more important to reflect on her call to action, and how we all can embrace gender equality and what that looks like in our individual circles. Continue reading

The Golden Rule of Consent … Ask

The following guest post comes to us via Erin Callinan, who is the training and technical assistance manager at the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

holding handsWhen we look at the issue of sexual violence and prevention, we cannot do so without talking about consent. But what does that actually mean? What does consent look and sound like? Ultimately, yes means yes!

Consent works best centered in communication in words; words in whatever language everyone involved can use and understand. Consent means that an agreement has been made between individuals prior to any sexual activity that clearly communicates what each person is comfortable doing.

Obtaining consent is an ongoing process of mutual communication as sexual activity progresses, regardless of who initiates it. So once somebody consents, are you good to go? Not necessarily. Because consent is a continuous process, it’s a good idea to keep checking in with your partner. Continue reading

The State of Girls in the World: International Day of the Girl Child

Content note: This article discusses sexual assault and violence against women and girls.

afghan girlOctober 11, 2014 will be the third International Day of the Girl Child. UNICEF began this day in 2012, a day that focused on the issue of child marriage. Last year, the subject was education for girls. This year the theme is Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence.

I am excited that violence is this year’s focus. When I worked in another state as a child therapist in an inner-city neighborhood, I once had a 14-year-old girl bring in two friends for her session. She and another girl around her age wanted me to talk to their 11-year-old friend, who was thinking about having sex with her older boyfriend. The boyfriend was insisting on it. The older girls agreed with the general idea that “spreading your legs” (in their words) is part of having a boyfriend, but were worried that their friend was too young. Though they could not see any coercion in their own lives, even they could tell that in their 11-year-old friend’s case, something was wrong. At one point I asked them, “Do you enjoy it?” All three looked at me as if I were talking a foreign language. The idea that sex could be pleasurable had never occurred to them.


We need to work to prevent violence against girls where it begins — with the perpetrators and their enablers.


These girls were not alone, and although they reflected a particular cultural setting, partner violence is not unusual anywhere. According to the United Nations, one in three women worldwide experiences partner violence, many of them as children and teens. The statistics in this article include countries where teenage girls are often married, and in several countries the proportion exceeds 50 percent.

Violence against girls is often considered acceptable where the social structure gives men dominance over women. Practices like female genital mutilation, which is often strongly supported and facilitated by the women of a culture group, reinforce violence as a social norm. Female genital mutilation is restricted to a group of northern African countries as well as Iraq and Yemen, but the practice has been carried by immigrants into Western countries, including our own. While the practice was made illegal in the United States in 1996, the law was not amended until 2012 to include transporting girls abroad to have the procedure done; this was done as a provision of the Defense Authorization Act that year. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Supreme_Court_protectI’ve spoken about my experiences as a clinic escort and the importance of buffer zones around abortion clinics many times on this blog. We at Planned Parenthood are staunch supporters of buffer zones and believe they’re crucial in protecting our patients from potential harm and harassment. So, imagine our collective dismay yesterday when the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision calling the 35-foot clinic buffer zone in Massachusetts “unconstitutional” on the basis that it violates the First Amendment of those who wish to “counsel” clinic patients. Pretty infuriating to say the least. (Mother Jones)
  • Will SCOTUS also throw women under the bus in the upcoming Hobby Lobby decision? (RH Reality Check)
  • Four years ago, Aaron Gouveia and his wife had to make the heartbreaking decision to abort their non-viable, very much wanted child. His story describes how the presence of anti-abortion protesters made the saddest day of their lives exponentially worse. (Time)
  • President Obama is the first Commander in Chief to help advance transgender rights! (Associated Press)
  • Women who volunteer in the Peace Corps are now able to receive insurance coverage for abortion (albeit in limited circumstances: rape, incest, or life endangerment). Better to have baby steps than no steps, I guess. (RH Reality Check)
  • Check out this fascinating piece on the history of sex-ed films shown in schools over the years. (Truth-out)
  • The headline might sound sensational, but it’s the truth — Abortion Clinics Are Closing Because Their Doors Aren’t Big Enough. (Vice)
  • The Vatican is aware their teachings on contraception aren’t followed or even highly regarded by most Catholics, but apparently, it’s easier to keep the doctrine stale and irrelevant than to evolve because they’re not likely to make any changes. (Toronto Star)

The 45th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots: Still Here, Still Queer, Still Not Used to It

The Gay Liberation Front, pictured here in 1969, formed in response to the Stonewall Riots. Image: PBS

The Gay Liberation Front formed in 1969 in response to the Stonewall Riots.

In 1969, homosexuality was illegal in 49 states. It was classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and it was not unheard of for those who identified as homosexual or transgender to undergo extreme treatments such as lobotomies or castration in an attempt to “cure” their conditions. If it was discovered that you were gay, you were blacklisted. Doctors and lawyers lost their licenses. Your home address was published in major newspapers. You were dishonorably discharged from military service. Non-gender-conforming people were refused service in public establishments, found it difficult to receive health care, and were routinely arrested for indecent behavior — behavior that was often simply being transgender. Society expected that you assimilate with heteronormative ideals by presenting as the gender you were born with, marrying the opposite sex, and having children.


Saturday will be the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. We have come a long way since then, but still have more work to do.


In the late 1960s, Greenwich Village was a progressive neighborhood in New York City that also served as a respite for the LGBTQ community of the time, including the poorest and most disenfranchised. The Village was also home to numerous establishments frequented by LGBTQ patrons in a time when they could not publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation or identity, lest they be arrested. These establishments — which included the Stonewall Inn (a mafia-run bar) — were often the subject of police raids.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by the New York City Police Department, just as it had been many times before. This time, Stonewall patrons did not allow themselves to be shoved into the backs of police cars. Forty-five years later, details of the riot remain conflicting and vague, but what is agreed upon is that Stormé DeLarverie — also known as King Stormé, a drag king in the drag group Jewel Box Revue — is credited with throwing the first punch in reaction to being shoved by police. With this punch, the Stonewall crowd exploded into a full-blown violent demonstration. Participants saw the violence of which they were so often the recipients suddenly being turned back on their oppressors. Continue reading