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Posts Tagged ‘Abortion’

Using a Historical Lens to Teach About Roe v. Wade

January 22, 2015

At Answer we often talk about how sexuality intersects with every other core topic taught in schools. Health and physical education teachers aren’t the only ones fielding questions about sex or finding sexuality pop up in their lessons. That’s where Answer’s blog series—Inter(sex)tions—comes in. We are kicking off a series of blog posts highlighting resources, lesson plans and tips to support health educators in teaching about sexuality through the lens of other core content areas. We see an opportunity for health educators to collaborate with their colleagues who teach other subjects and promote cross-curricular learning. Not to mention, integrating other subjects into the health classroom helps support students with varying learning styles and academic interests.

Our inaugural post on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade focuses on how history can be used to teach about abortion. Over the coming months, we’ll be covering how not only history, but also math, science and English can be used to teach about sexuality.

A Focus on History

Lots of educators may understandably shy away from teaching about the still controversial topic of abortion; they may even be barred from discussing the procedure in their health classes. In cases like this, we at Answer think a really great way to address the topic is by studying the landmark case that made abortion legal in the United States. By using a legal or historical lens, students can study the case and explore their values related to the procedure. While the topic of abortion itself may feel easier to explore in this way, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to know where to start. But, not to worry, we’ve got you covered with resources, videos and lesson plans from trusted resources below.

Stick to the facts. A great place to begin with students is learning about the Supreme Court’s decision—who concurred and who dissented—and what amendment to the constitution they believe upheld the right to abortion. Here are some resources to help you teach the history of Roe v. Wade.

  • The Oyez Project is a wonderful database of Supreme Court recordings and decisions. Get your students engaged by having them listen to the oral arguments. The audio files and documents here can be adapted for different age groups and learning levels.
  • Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court has something for educators looking for a quick activity or several days to fill with this topic. Educators can sign up to access the answers to the questions and activities as well as differentiated-instruction suggestions. Please note that these lessons tend to skew older and would probably best for high school students.

Help students explore their values. Once students have a basic understanding of the case, they can begin to explore values about abortion. Have students debate as the lawyers in the case or write their own concurring or dissenting opinions. If you’re looking to use video, PBS LearningMedia has a short documentary-style video that offers some historical context to the case and great questions to begin discussions of values. Questions like “Why was the issue of abortion important to the women’s movement?” are a good way to have students examine their feelings and values. These questions also create the space for some critical thinking and values development.

Utilizing this approach not only addresses abortion—a pregnancy option that is often overlooked—but also provides history teachers a way to meet the National Standards for History that require students to identify issues and problems from the past and analyze different values and viewpoints.

You’ve hopefully discovered a new way to teach a tough topic or a new resource or lesson if you’ve taught Roe v. Wade before. Looking at sexuality through different disciplines can be an exciting way to enliven lessons. We’ll be back with more in this series in the coming months!

Warren Buffett’s Wise Words about Women

August 6, 2010

Hey, Eve, are you there? I think you’re going to love these wise words. They may make you feel a lot better about those caustic comments hurled at you through the ages about eating the apple and getting booted from Eden to go work by the sweat of your brow.

The words?

“Women all over the world get shortchanged.”

Warren Buffett said them. He’s “the Oracle from Omaha,” Nebraska, who heads up Berkshire Hathaway and is one of the foremost philanthropists on the planet. They were relayed by his former wife, philanthropist Susan Thompson Buffett, on The Charlie Rose Show.

“Warren feels that women all over the world get shortchanged. That’s why he’s so pro-choice,” she said.

How true the statement, especially when you think about the situations and conditions that place women at a disadvantage in their lives. A recent case in point: Governor Christie’s veto of a bill to add $7.5 million in state funding for 58 family planning clinics. A move that now unfairly affects women’s ability to control their fertility and protect against unplanned pregnancy.

I read about Buffett’s statement in the compelling New York Times magazine piece “The New Abortion Providers.”

This is an important piece by Emily Bazelon, a senior editor at Slate and the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School. It explores a dramatic new turn in the abortion struggle thanks in large part to the largess of Warren Buffett.

According to Bazelon, “This abortion-rights campaign, led by physicians themselves, is trying to recast doctors, changing them from a weak link of abortion to a strong one. Its leaders have built residency programs and fellowships at university hospitals, with the hope that, eventually, more and more doctors will use their training to bring abortion into their practices. The bold idea at the heart of this effort is to integrate abortion [not surgical, but primarily medical, administered no later than nine weeks into a pregnancy] so that it’s a seamless part of the health care for women.”

Warren Buffett is the brave person at the heart of this new strategy, according to the anonymous sources in Bazelon’s article. His money has funded a series of fellowships in the most prominent academic institutions that make it possible for OB-GYNs and family practice doctors to receive graduate training in abortion procedures.

The money comes primarily from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. She died in 2004, and two years later, writes Bazelon, “Warren Buffett gave the foundation about $3 billion. He said that he expected the gift to increase the foundation’s annual expenditures by $150 million.”

Although the article reports that “Warren Buffett has never spoken publicly about his views on abortion,” we now know through his former wife that he feels strongly that “women all over the world get shortchanged.”

American women are getting shortchanged because the availability of abortion providers has shrunk dramatically, since “most of the OB-GYNs left the stage” after Roe v. Wade, says Bazelon. She explains that “the shadow of the greedy, butchering ‘abortionist’ continued to hover, and many doctors didn’t want to stand in it.”

Women’s opportunities to have abortions in hospitals dried up, and instead they had to turn to “stand-alone clinics” for the procedure. By the mid-1990s, 90 percent of abortions in the U.S. were performed at clinics, and “feminist activists” get credit for their development.

“When the clinics became the only place in town to have an abortion, they became an easy mark for extremists,” said Carole Joffe, author of Doctors of Conscience and Dispatches from the Abortion Wars. Bazelon reports that the number of OB-GYNs providing abortions were either “graying” or “drying up.”

Fellowships provided by grants to academic medical centers from the Susan Thompson Buffett foundation are beginning to reverse the trend; they will help women who need an abortion get one in the privacy of the office of a well-trained OB-GYN or a family practice physician.

Several years ago, I received a letter from a physician at the Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula, Montana.

Although Blue Mountain bills itself as a “family practice” clinic, the doctor who wrote me said that the free-standing clinic was the only one in the state to provide abortions.

He told me that many women in Montana have to travel hundreds of miles to utilize their right to choose, and some can’t afford the time or money to make such a long journey. I’ve always been pleased to support the work of this clinic, because I do not think that any woman in Montana, or any other state, should be shortchanged from using rights guaranteed to them by the law of the land.

To date, Warren Buffett hasn’t felt the intense ire of the anti-abortion forces. Bazelon wonders if “his plainspoken Midwestern persona and his enormous wealth may make him the wrong enemy for anti-abortion advocates.” She quotes from a letter that he sent with the $3 billion gift to the foundation in 2006. He wrote that the gift was “to focus intensely on important societal problems that had very limited funding constituencies.”

This week’s news also brought another example of how women’s sexuality is shortchanged not by denying them the right to choose an abortion, but by failing to help them protect themselves from HIV during sex.

This time the example comes from Sub-Saharan Africa. In that part of Africa, more adult women and young girls than men are infected with HIV. The difference in infection levels between women and men are most pronounced among young people aged 15 to 24.

There was a glimmer of good news about women and HIV. South African scientists working in two AIDS-devastated communities say they have found a “vaginal microbicidal gel containing an antiretroviral medication used to treat AIDS, tenofovir,” which shows promising results for protecting women from HIV.

If the gel continues on this track, it means that for the first time women can control their own bodies and protect themselves from HIV. “They do not have to ask the man for permission to use it,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of the United Nations AIDS agency.

However, it will take years before the gel is publicly available. And it will take years to see if Warren Buffett’s words and generosity bear fruit. His words are indeed wise, as are the scientists’ efforts, which can positively affect women’s health in every corner of the world.

Because when it comes to sex, women everywhere are very often shortchanged.

Right, Eve?

From N.J. to D.C.: How – and Why – I Lobbied to Stop the Stupak Amendment

December 11, 2009

Some women like to go shopping when they want a break from their busy lives; others like to lunch. Not me. I like to lobby. In particular, I like to lobby my Congressional representatives in Washington, D.C., on causes I care about.

I love the give and take of reasonable argument and discussion; I like learning facts; I like testing my ideas; I like to plant the seed of change in another person’s mind or heart; I like to understand the reasons why they oppose my views; I like to try to make a difference in the formation of public policy.

Last week was a banner one for me. I went to Washington, D.C., with eight friends to participate in National Lobby Day to “Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban,” organized by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and other women’s reproductive health and rights groups after the passage of the House of Representatives’ bill containing the Stupak amendment.

The amendment would prohibit millions of women from purchasing health insurance coverage that includes abortion in the new exchanges, even with their own money.

The day’s purpose: for women across the nation to lobby their Senators to “Pass Health Care and Stop Stupak!” and to ensure that language similar to the Stupak amendment would not be included in the Senate bill.

The organizers didn’t want anti-choice groups to use abortion coverage as a way to hijack health care reform. They wanted to counter with their own overwhelmingly female lobbying force. (After all, women do hold up half the sky.)

As we sat on the early morning train from Trenton to Washington, my friends and I agreed that we supported the passage of health care reform legislation to cover the millions of Americans who have no insurance and to reduce the ever-growing health care cost burden on our economy.

But we also agreed that we did not want this bill hijacked by anti-choice forces and new restrictions placed on a woman’s right to choose.

The energy in the auditorium of the Dirksen Senate Office Building could have lit the White House Christmas tree without a switch. The room was brightened by Planned Parenthood staffers’ pink T-shirts proclaiming “Health Care for Every Community.” We picked up a packet of papers, pasted “Pass Health Care! Stop Stupak!” stickers on our chests, and attended one of several Lobby Day trainings. We learned the essentials of lobbying in a nutshell: “Be Concise, Compelling, Relevant, and Credible.”

Cecile Richards, the friendly, low-keyed president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, thanked us all for coming. She told us that we represented every region of the nation and that busloads had come from as far away as Maine, Wisconsin, and “the deep South.”

The morning speakers were diverse: African-American women, Latina women, old women, young women, and even a smattering of men. I most appreciated the fiery Billie Avery, a longtime grassroots organizer for black women’s health, who urged us to tell our legislators that “women demand to have control over our own bodies. … If they turn their back upon their female constituents, you tell them, ‘You are in danger of losing your base.’ ”

Luckily, we caught Senator Frank Lautenberg as he left his office for a meeting on the health care legislation; he stopped and greeted us warmly. He knew why we were clustered outside his door: our stickers spoke volumes. Always a friend of reproductive choice over his many years of public service, he didn’t have to tell us his position on the bill. But he said that we would meet with his aide on health care and she would pass along all our ideas.

In Memory of Dr. Tiller

June 3, 2009

“A doctor who performs abortions shot in a church. Isn’t that terrible?”

“They got the baby killer. Isn’t that great?”

Sexuality educators may have heard these types of statements from students in their classrooms this past week after the murder of Dr. George Tiller. Tiller, who was one of a handful of doctors who perform late-term abortions in the country, was gunned down in the Reformed Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, last Sunday morning, and his story has circled the globe.

How to respond to students? I don’t envy you: Abortion is one of the toughest issues to discuss rationally and reasonably. But after what happened on Sunday, it seems to me that it desperately needs to be discussed with young people—right now.

Yet many schools simply forbid its discussion. If a student asks about abortion, many teachers are instructed by the administration to say, “I can’t discuss that. Go home and ask your parents.” My reaction to that dictum is that if kids felt like they could ask their parents about sexual and other controversial issues, they wouldn’t need to ask their teachers.

Many schools shy away from including abortion in their health and sexuality education curriculum, because administrators are afraid of igniting adult controversy. If a student goes home and reports having had a discussion about abortion, administrators—and, to some extent, teachers—shake in their shoes waiting for a parent to pick up the phone and demand to know what was said about abortion, whether the teacher gave his or her personal opinions, and whether he or she favored the pro-life or pro-choice side.

Between the rock of silence and the hard place of controversy, our students’ need for intellectual and emotional catharsis about this issue gets lost. Because of adults’ fears, many young people cannot speak about the topic or work together to find common ground on reducing the need for abortion, which our president has challenged us to do.

We once held a roundtable on abortion with our Sex, Etc. teen editors here at Answer. I was fascinated because the teens—who were pretty evenly divided between the pro-choice and pro-life sides—came up with exactly the same arguments for their respective points of view that I had heard from adults. The discussion confirmed for me that it makes good sense to high school students the opportunity to tackle even the most controversial subjects about sexuality and morality in classrooms. Their wisdom is often equal or superior to the adults around them.

I hope that in the next couple of days and weeks you’ll take one of those questions you’ve heard about Dr. Tiller, suspend the lessons you have planned for the day, and let the discussion rip. (As a way of preparing, you can Google the following topics: late-term abortions, Operation Rescue, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, which are all mentioned in this New York Times story.)

As discussion closers, you might ask your students to take up President Obama’s challenge and brainstorm ideas for increasing common ground to reduce the need for abortions. The United States has the highest rate of abortion in the Western industrialized world. Countries such as Sweden, France, England, Italy, and the Netherlands have much lower rates. Students might want to research reasons for the discrepancies between these countries’ rates and ours.

The work you do this week in your classroom might in the future prevent a zealot with a handgun from walking into the sanctuary of a church and murdering a doctor in cold blood.

Sex Education: Forgotten, or Ignored?

March 11, 2009

It always amazes me how frequently the phrase “sex education” is omitted from important articles or statements about reproductive health, family planning and abortion. Sexuality education plays a crucial role in prevention, and it deserves much more recognition than it receives.

Just consider these two recent examples from the national press:

The National Council of Catholic Women recently bought a full-page advertisement in The New York Times. The ad reproduced a statement on the Freedom of Choice Act by Cardinal Francis George, of Chicago, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The Act, if passed, would ensure Roe v. Wade’s protections and guarantee a woman’s right to choose. The statement from the USCCB was a stinging attack on the Act, and it included no mention of efforts the USCCB would support to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S.—not even a reference to abstinence-only programs. The USCCB focused on how the Act would threaten “prenatal human life,” rather than on ways that we, as a nation, can work together to reduce the number of abortions. Comprehensive sexuality education provides such a way.

The second example is the Times op-ed “This Is the Way the Culture War Ends,” by William Saletan. Saletan, Slate’s national correspondent and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War, presents his solutions on ending the culture wars that currently rage over abortion, same-sex marriage and birth control.

On birth control, he writes:

“This isn’t [about] a shortage of pills or condoms. It is a shortage of cultural and personal responsibility. It is a failure to teach, understand, admit or care that unprotected sex can lead to the creation—and the subsequent killing, through abortion—of a developing human being.”

Now you may consider me naïve, but I was certain that Saletan’s next sentence would be about the importance of high quality, balanced sexuality education in our pubic schools.  But, you guessed it, he simply moved on without mentioning any instruction that might help young people understand the concept of personal responsibility about sexual behavior.

Maybe Saletan hasn’t heard a crackerjack high-school educator instruct students about the need to use contraception each and every time they decide to have sex, or if they one day decide not to be abstinent. Perhaps he doesn’t understand that for years and years, young people in the majority of states have only been given negative or false information about contraception through federally support abstinence-only programs.

Perhaps what Saletan wants all educators to tell students is “abortion kills a developing human being.” He apparently won’t settle for educators saying, “Most people believe that abortion is killing a developing human being, but some people believe otherwise.”  A balanced statement like this wouldn’t detract from Saletan’s point that students need to learn about, discuss and understand the importance of taking personal responsibility, when or if they have sex.

To his credit, Saletan breaks with traditional Catholic doctrine by saying that a “culture of life requires an ethic of contraception” and that birth control offers people “a loving, conscientious way to prevent conception…” I just wish he had added, “Public schools with students of all different religious denominations should teach about birth control in their sexuality education classes.” Period.

That would have made me happy—that, and a land where the phrase “sex education” is as commonplace as Mom and apple pie.