Not All Hospitals are Created Equal

If something was wrong, like really wrong, you’d go to the nearest hospital, right?

Well, if you’re female and the nearest hospital is affiliated with the Catholic Church, you should probably reconsider.

Remember Savita Halappanavar, the woman who died needlessly last month in an Irish hospital because she was denied a medically necessary abortion? Not to be shown up by the British, the US now has its own spin on the story. In Arizona, a Catholic Bishop has excommunicated a nun and revoked a hospital’s church affiliation for saving a woman’s life by giving her the abortion she needed. (That’s admittedly far preferable to what happened to Savita, and in fact I’m thrilled there’s one fewer Catholic hospital – but it’s still not ok.)

This is not an isolated issue. In 2010, a Bishop in Oregon stripped a hospital of its church affiliation because it provided tubal ligation. (Tubal ligation, aka having one’s tubes tied, is a method of surgical sterilization often used as a form of permanent contraception, like a vasectomy.)  In 2009, two hospitals in Texas stopped performing tubal ligations under threat from a local Bishop. 

Quoting Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times article linked above, “The National Women’s Law Center has just issued a report quoting doctors at Catholic-affiliated hospitals as saying that sometimes they are forced by church doctrine to provide substandard care to women with miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies in ways that can leave the women infertile or even endanger their lives.”

Personally, I’d rather avoid religiously-affiliated hospitals regardless of the religion or what’s wrong with me, because I’m not a fan of religion. But I’m sure as shit not going to allow my medical care to be determined by whichever religion’s hospital I happen to be closest to in an emergency.

So ladies, educate yourselves and your friends and family on the location of the nearest non-Catholic hospital. Your life may depend on it.

“Don’t forget, we’re crazy!” – Michigan

Thanksgiving is over. So what’s next?


Good answer, but not this time. There will be no Christmas this year, nor ever again, because the world is ending on December 21.

I watched a show this weekend about people who believe that – like, A LOT – so I’m now all a-flutter trying to decide how best to witness their reactions to waking up on December 22 with dishes in the sink. (Though I do hope no one kills themselves or their families, which apparently some people are considering. Please no one do that.) 

I bring up the whole nutty apocalypse thing as a segue between the holiday break and today’s Vagina News – KooKooPants Edition. You may recall my prediction that, in light of the election’s likely consequences for The Supreme Court, we’d see a decrease in nutty state laws aimed at outlawing abortion. Boy, was I wrong.

Michigan is considering a law that would allow a fetus (of a minimum of 12 weeks development) to be claimed as a dependent on state income taxes. That’s a $3700 credit. (Thanks to my husband for sending me this story.)

This sparkly-new take on personhood comes on the heels of Michigan slashing state funding for child-care and the Earned Income Tax Credit, both of which helped children in low-income families. (And Michigan has a lot of low income families; The state ranks 44th in the US for number of children living in poverty.) So aside from the ‘when you’re a fetus, you’re valued, but once you’re born, you’re fucked’ message Michigan is trumpeting, I have a few pesky logistical questions. 

If the mother suffers a miscarriage, does she have to pay the money back? (I assume they’d make her pay it back if she had a legal abortion, but Michigan would much rather just make abortion illegal. (In fact, it was during debate of Michigan’s extreme anti-abortion bill that State Representative Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor for saying “vagina”, the story of which led to the birth of Vagina News.) Are any tests required to confirm the viability of the fetus in order to be eligible? Wouldn’t this create a financial incentive for low-income adults to get pregnant for the short-term tax benefit? And wouldn’t that family then be much more likely to need government assistance when child care costs kick in, especially in light of the recent aforementioned budget cuts?

The answer to all of those questions, of course, is ‘We didn’t think about any of that because it’s not really about taxes, it’s about defining a fetus as a person so we can overturn Roe v. Wade.‘ I’m still hopeful that this kind of nonsense is just the sad final trickle of what was put into the pipeline by those who were preparing for Romney’s crushing victory. Then again, if I’m wrong, the “slut vote” may have another chance to make itself heard in 2014. That would be fun, no?

Incidentally, I wonder how much overlap there is between those who were preparing for Romney’s crushing victory and those who believe the world will end on 12/21. And while we’re at it, those who actually went shopping on Black Friday, which would make very little sense in light of the end of the world. I plan to mull it all over at brunch on December 22.

The Bechdel Test

It’s Thanksgiving Friday. I’m going out on a limb and guessing you’re not going to the mall today. Apparently a lot of people do that, but I don’t think that’s you. I think you’re probably staying in your pajamas all day, and if you do put on pants, it’ll be because you’re going to a movie.

That’s what this post is about.

There’s a thing I just learned about called The Bechdel
Test. It’s a ridiculously simple way of measuring whether a movie represents
women in any sort of reasonable way. Here’s where I learned about it.

Basically, ask these three questions about any movie (or tv show, I’ve decided.)

  1. Are there more than two women in it?
  2. Do they have names?
  3. Do they talk to each other about
    something other than men?

It’s incredible how many movies don’t pass. The last movie I saw was Skyfall, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t. Before that was Argo, which might pass. Before that was Finding Nemo in 3D, which when I think about it doesn’t pass either. Fuck.

(I’ve just decided to create my own movie test. It’s called the Vagina News Movie Test. There’s just one question -does a woman get sexually assaulted in this movie as a mechanism for demonstrating that one of the male characters is a bad guy?

If so, I hate your movie.)

Vagina Variety

It’s almost Thanksgiving. I don’t feel like learning anything depressing, do you? Instead, a quick vagina kumbaya.

I write about issues that affect people with vaginas. Often, I refer to those people as “women.” But there are people with vaginas who don’t identify as women, and I don’t intend to exclude them. Well, sometimes I do, but not out of ignorance.

Much of the time, when I talk about “women”, it’s in contrast to “men.” While gender is a spectrum/gamut/continuum, most people identify as female or male, so when talking about big social issues, it’s easiest to use those terms. I also think it’s often appropriate,
because people who don’t identify as female or male are likely to experience
social issues differently than those who do, so I don’t want to lump them
together. (Those experiences are important and interesting, they’re just not
what this site is about.) I’ve thought about substituting ‘PWVs’ (people with
vaginas) for ‘women’ when I especially want to avoid excluding anyone, but then
I’d have to explain what it means all the time, and that just seems silly.

The Vagina News Ground Rules states,
“Vagina News trusts its readers to decide for themselves whether they wish
to continue participating in Vagina News, and respects that decision.”
Similarly, Vagina News respects its readers’ gender identities, and trusts them
to decide whether and how  what’s here applies to them.

Just know this, non-binary gender types – All vaginas are
welcome here, regardless of what the rest of you calls yourself.

Standing Vagina Ovation for the UN!

It’s Thanksgiving week. Let’s keep it short and upbeat.

Last week, the UN issued its annual State of World Population report. This year, the report is subtitled “By choice, not by chance: family planning, human rights and development,” and it declares voluntary family planning to be a basic human right.

“Studies have shown that investing in family planning helps reduce poverty, improve health, promote gender equality, enable adolescents to finish their schooling, and increase labourforce participation.

When a woman is able to exercise her reproductive rights, she is more able to benefit from her other rights, such as the right to education. The results are higher incomes, better health for her and her children and greater decision-making power for her, both in the household and the community.

Addressing the unmet need for family planning worldwide would avert 54 million unintended pregnancies and result in 26 million fewer abortions… Research also shows that where family planning supplies, information and services are widely available, abortion rates are lower.”

Well holy crap, United Nations, nice work!

More Women in Government! Yay! Yay… Right?

The election dust has settled a bit, we’ve read and tweeted articles about how women were the big winners this time around, we’ve patted ourselves on the back for the progress we’ve made.


  1. How does the United States rank, among all 196-ish countries, for parity between the number of female representatives in government and the number of women in the population?
  2. Name 2 countries doing about as good a job of representative gender parity as we are.

Got your answers ready?

The US ranks about 79th. That’s up from 80th, thanks to this election. We shared 80th with Morocco and Venezuela, and our step up means we bump Slovakia.

Now, there are a number of variables to consider before drawing conclusions; population data is always inexact, some countries at the top are quite new to representative democracy, so their high rank may be misleading, etc. But it’s safe to say we’re not at the front of the pack. 

Which leads us to the larger question – is parity something we should give a crap about? The answer is yes. (Duh.) It’s been a matter of concern since the very beginnings of our government. To quote a recent article by Soraya Chemaly (of whom I’ve become a fan):

Alexander Hamilton raised the issue in the Federalist Papers when he asked if legislatures made of up “landholders, merchants and men of the learned profession” could be legitimate. He may have been talking about an elite and not gender, but today’s elite are men for these purposes.

The New York Times recently conducted a study, accompanied by an article, on the effects of gender parity in groups, and found that it has a significant effect on decision making. Specifically, women are much more likely “to mention the needs of vulnerable populations when asked about the nation’s problems.” 

But this only happens when women achieve true parity. In the study, when women made up 20% of a group, as they do in Congress:

  • The average woman took up only about 60 percent of the floor time used by the average man.
  • Women were perceived — by themselves and their peers — as more quiescent and less effective.
  • They were more likely to be rudely interrupted.
  • They were less likely to strongly advocate their policy preferences.

Those things were true regardless of political ideology or income, and were not true for men, whose behavior did not change significantly when they were in the minority. (Those findings are  mirrored in real-world groups, as explained in the article, and are mirrored by a 2011 American University study on parity.) 

So what’s keeping us from true gender parity in government? The American University study focused on that question, and found a number of factors that discourage women from choosing a career in public life:

  • Women perceive anti-woman bias in politics (aggravated by Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s recent candidacies.)
  • Women are less likely than men to believe themselves qualified for public office.
  • Women are less confident, less competitive, more risk-averse, and more turned off by modern campaigning than their male counterparts.
  • Women are far less likely than men to be encouraged to run for public office.
  • Women are still primarily responsible for household issues and childcare, even in families  with two working adults in high-level careers, and regardless of political affiliation.

There are a number of organizations working to change all that. (These links are from the Soraya Chemaly article.) She Should RunPolitical ParityThe White House ProjectRutgers Center for American Women and PoliticsCAWP 2012 ProjectEmerge America, and Name It. Change It.

Here’s what I’ve taken away from all of this; There IS value in considering gender as a factor when choosing a candidate, and voting for women in small local elections is an important step in encouraging them to run for higher office. Gender will never trump policy as grounds for choosing whom to support, but if there’s a woman running whose positions I agree with, she’s getting my vote  – and I’m going to make an effort to vote in the small elections I admit to often skipping. I may not care much where the new dog park goes, but I care a lot about letting a local woman know I think she deserves to serve.

Cocktail Friday Post – A lie and a rant

I went to a Gender Sympisoum so you didn’t have to. 

No I didn’t. I totally didn’t. Geena Davis did. I mean, it was her symposium, so she had to. I would have gone, if I’d known about it and been invited. And had the day free. I’m so sorry I lied to you.

Anyway, she ‘live-Facebooked’ it on her fantastic Facebook page, and now I’m summarizing a particular part of the live-Facebooking. That’s so many levels of social media curation, I might have just turned into a hashtag. 

Whatever, cue Vagina News; This comes from a panel on how women are represented, related to work, in film and television. Bearing in mind that in 2011, 47% of the workforce was comprised of women:

  • Of the characters depicted with jobs in family films, 20% are female.
  • Of the characters depicted with jobs in prime time entertainment, 34% are female.
  • Of the characters depicted with jobs in children’s shows, 25% are female.
  • Only 29% of speaking characters in G/PG movies are female.


Here’s something my husband has heard me rant about a lot of times. You know how it’s commonplace  to hear someone say “are we ready for a woman president?” or “so-and-so is a woman-playwright”? That makes me INSANE, and here’s why. “Woman” is a noun, not an adjective. So on some level, your brain hears that and says, “woman president? That sounds wrong.” And it IS wrong, because it’s bad grammar. But unless you take the time to stop and think about why it’s wrong, you’ll just think “woman president” is icky somehow. We’re discriminating against professional equality linguistically.

Now, I know this might make me sound a little nutty, but here’s the proof. When we talk about men doing jobs that are traditionally performed by women, do we do the same thing? No, we don’t. We say “male nurse,” not “man nurse.” “Male cheerleader,” not “man cheerleader.” Right? So what the fuck?

I truly believe this is a form of deeply socially ingrained and profoundly impactful sexism, and I’ve made myself a one-woman army against it. I’ve also convinced my husband, so he’s in too. Join us. It’s easy. When you need an adjective for the condition of being a woman, use “female.” That’s it. Easiest form of protest ever. (If you explain it to someone else, you get a sticker.)

Why Choice is the only choice

I had a different post planned for today, but Savita Halappanavar’s story intervened.

Her tragic death illustrates the problem with ‘life/health of the mother exceptions.’ The details of such policies are rarely discussed, but they inevitably includes a provision that says the doctor, not the patient, decides whether a woman’s health or life is jeopardized by a pregnancy. That means two things. One, the definition of ‘health’ is up to the doctor, not the patient. For example, if a woman faces incontinence as a result of a pregnancy, she may feel that’s enough of a compromise to her health to warrant an abortion, but her doctor may not. Two, the patient’s care will be influenced by how concerned that particular doctor is about the various potential legal repercussions of the decision; In Savita’s case, the hospital felt they ran a greater legal risk by giving her an abortion than by letting her die as a result of denying her one. ‘Life/health of the mother’ exceptions make such situations inevitable.

‘Rape exceptions’ have similar problems. (Many are laid out in an excellent blog post by a former prosecutor and expert on sexual assault cases who usually writes about classic literature, but felt compelled to speak out on this issue.) Restricting abortion access to those who have been victims of a crime means involving the legal system in a patient’s care. Do we intend to require a woman to prove she was raped before being allowed to have an abortion? Let’s set aside the fact that that’s exactly what was rejected by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, and look at why it doesn’t work. Does she only have to prove she was raped, or does she have to identify her rapist? We can’t require that the rapist be found and convicted, because there are many cases in which a rape clearly took place, but the rapist is never caught (even when the victim files a report, has a medical exam, and the DNA matches a convicted rapist.) If she just has to prove a rape occurred, what if the she didn’t immediately report it, so there’s no physical evidence? (Rapists often threaten further violence if the victim reports the assault.) Would the alleged victim be the plaintiff or the defendant, and who would argue against her? Is this a civil or criminal issue, and what’s the burden of proof? It takes longer than 24 weeks (the current limit on legal abortion) to bring a case from charge to verdict (or whatever this would be, in the absence of a charge) – how would we expedite these cases so an abortion could take place? What about the appeals process? Long story short, this approach is unworkable.

The alternative is to allow women to have abortions based on claims of having been raped, and then put them through some legal process afterwards to determine whether they were telling the truth. (This time we’ll set aside the fact that the “pro-life” movement would probably reject this as vehemently as full legalization.) Many of the same problems apply, plus some new ones. If a woman is found not to have been raped, but she had an abortion, what do we charge her with, and what’s the sentence? If life begins at conception and the unborn have the same rights as everyone else, is she eligible for the death penalty? Is the doctor who performed the abortion an accessory to murder? What if it’s a case of incest or statutory rape in which the sex was consensual, but still illegal? If the alleged victim is a minor, who will be punished if the rape claim is found to be false – the minor or her parents or guardians?

It all brings me back to the same place – the only workable solution is to allow women to make their own decisions, and live with the consequences. 

This is what happens when women are not allowed to make their own medical choices.

I generally stick to domestic Vagina News, but is too important not to share.

On October 21, a 31-year-old dentist named Savita Halappanavar went to the hospital in Ireland. She was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child, and was experiencing extreme back pain. Doctors told her to go home, but she refused. Soon, her water broke and it became clear she was having a miscarriage. Doctors told her the fetus had no chance of survival and it would be over in a few hours.

It wasn’t. Over the next 3 days, she developed a fever, was unable to walk, was in agonizing pain, vomiting, shaking violently, and passing out. All this time, her cervix was open, exposing her to infection akin to an open head wound. She repeatedly asked for an abortion, which would have allowed the cervix to close and made treatment possible, but was told that Ireland is a Catholic country, and that the hospital could not perform an abortion while the fetus had a heartbeat. (Savita was Hindu.)

Two days after being told her fetus had no chance of survival, the fetal heartbeat stopped, and the fetus was removed – but it was too late. On October 28, Savita died of septicemia (blood poisoning) and E.coli, as a direct result of the abortion not being performed when she asked for it.

The Guardian reports that “Just two months ago, a consortium of Irish doctors got together to
declare abortion medically unnecessary. They claimed that abortion is never needed to save a pregnant woman’s life, and stated: “We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.””

Sound familiar, American readers? It should.

The BBC provides this summary of abortion law in Ireland; “… the country’s abortion laws are a mess and have been for 20 years since what was called the ‘X case’.

‘X’ was a suicidal pregnant 14-year-old school girl, the victim of a rape who was initially prevented from leaving the state to terminate her pregnancy. The Irish Supreme Court ruled that the mother and child have an equal right to life but that the threat of suicide was grounds for an abortion.

However, no government has enacted legislation to give certainty to doctors as to when terminations can be carried out and under what circumstances.”

As a result, doctors fear losing their license and insurance or being jailed for performing an abortion, per the Offences against the Person Act of 1861. (Yes, 1861. The same law dictates penalties for things like impeding a person trying to save himself from a shipwreck, failing to provide servants with food, and “Casting Stone upon a Railway Carriage, with Intent to endanger the Safety of any Person therein.”)

Much of the ambiguity in Irish law governing abortion is a result of the availability of legal abortion in neighboring Britain; Many in Ireland avoid confronting the problems that result from denying  women abortions, reasoning that those who truly want or need the procedure can travel to England.

But in cases of medical emergency, like Savita’s, that’s not an option. 

Her death is now the subject of two investigations, and pressure is mounting for the Irish government to finally clarify the laws governing abortion. Earlier this year, the United Left Alliance (an Irish political party, as far as I can tell) tried to pass a bill to legalize abortion, but it was rejected.

The Invisible War


We’ve talked about the massive and little-discussed issue of military sexual assault.

There’s a documentary about it that I was to see (and dread seeing.) Here’s the trailer.

Please visit the film’s website, and consider sharing this video. This kind of issue feeds on secrecy, but can be pushed to the forefront through public pressure – and that starts with awareness.