The perfect human is Puerto Rican

Recent news of James Watson’s auction of his Nobel Prize medal has unearthed a very unpleasant memory for me.

In March 2004 I attended an invitation only genomics meeting at the famed Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. I had heard legendary stories about Banbury, and have to admit I felt honored and excited when I received the invitation. There were rumors that sometimes James Watson himself would attend meetings. The emails I received explaining the secretive policies of the Center only added to the allure. I felt that I had received an invitation to the genomics equivalent of Skull and Bones.

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Man Dresses as Woman in Egypt

Man Dresses as Woman in Egypt

I was thinking of doing this New York. But it is a serious issue in Egypt and it was great they raised awareness. Even girls who wear hijab are harassed.

Posted by Karim Metwaly on Monday, February 29, 2016

A serious issue in Egypt. Women are sexually harassed. Even girls who wear hijab are harassed.

The Brazilian carnival queen deemed ‘too black’

The Brazilian carnival queen deemed 'too black'

Nayara Justino thought her dreams had come true when she was selected as the Globeleza carnival queen in 2013. But some in Brazil regarded her complexion to be too dark to be an acceptable queen

Posted by The Guardian on Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Nayara Justino thought her dreams had come true when she was selected as the Globeleza carnival queen in 2013. But some in Brazil regarded her complexion to be too dark to be an acceptable queen

I am Not the Average Black Girl, Video

Ernestine Johnson kicks off the show with an amazing and moving performance of “The Average Black Girl.” You will get chills from this performance


Ernestine Johnson is a compelling actress, performance poet and event host. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Ernestine, or  EJ as some call her started acting at ten years old, appearing on shows such as Seventh Heaven, Sabrina The Teenaged Witch, and Parent Hood. In 1998, Ernestine knew she wanted to act after watching Cicely Tyson in the film Mama Flora’s Family. Ernestine was a thespian throughout high school and college. Some of her theater credits include, Local Celebrity, Grease, A Raisin in The Sun and Fools.She trained in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, perfecting her craft.

Ernestine is also known in the spoken word community, infamous for being uncensored and untamed on the microphone, speaking on matters dear to the heart. Ernestine was the Red Carpet host for McKinley Presents Ent. in Las Vegas, conducting interviews with various celebrities which led to her hosting a sports segment on KCEP Power 88.1. Continuing her journey, Ernestine resides in Atlanta, Georgia. She can be seen on GMC’s original stage play Sugar Momma’s and her latest film Reckless.

Coming Out As Black, When You Were Hispanic

I-HAVE-AFRICAN

Teen Elaine Vilorio spent years trying to make sense of her racial identity. She describes herself as Hispanic, but other people see her as black. Vilorio speaks to guest host Celeste Headlee about her recent HuffPost Teen blog, ‘Coming Out As Black.’


CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I’m Celeste Headlee. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, a celebrity chef shares some tasty summertime recipes and juicy stories about his clients. But first, we’ll turn to the issue of race and identity. The question of, what am I, is one that a lot of teens ask themselves and the answer can be quite complicated for multiracial kids.

It’s something that Elaine Vilorio has thought a lot about. She’s a high school senior, originally from the Dominican Republic. Over the course of her life, people assumed she was black and that bothered her. But two years ago, after she stopped chemically straightening her hair, the change in her appearance made her rethink her roots. She wrote about that in a Huffington Post piece titled “Coming Out as Black,” and Elaine Vilorio is now here to tell us more. Welcome to the program, first of all.

ELAINE VILORIO: Thank you, I’m happy to be here.

HEADLEE: First of all, let me ask you, why did you phrase it that way, coming out as black?

VILORIO: Well, people have always asked me, you know, like you said, you know, if I was black consistently, and I’ve always denied that. So I thought that was a very fitting way, a very dramatic way to say that I finally have admitted, you know, this Afro identity, so to speak, when it’s always been there. Coming out, I finally can say it out loud, and I can finally explain to people, yes, I have African roots in me and that’s okay.

HEADLEE: Well, when you talk about racial identity, it’s something you’ve written about quite a bit as well.

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: What is racial identity for you? Is it about the way you see yourself or how others see you?

VILORIO: I mean, it’s a combination of both. I think people perceive me and they separate Afro-descendancy from, you know, the Hispanic identity. Hispanic identity doesn’t really take into account that African racial root. You know, I see myself as a predominantly black Hispanic. And then other people, you know, they just see a mixed person, just mixed. Blackness isn’t really, you know, acknowledged.

HEADLEE: You know, the Dominican Republic has kind of an uneasy relationship with race and…

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: …and the darkness of one’s skin. What did you learn about this issue, black versus Latina, during your time in the Dominican Republic?

VILORIO: When I came here, you know, I was really, really small. I never had gotten the question of what I was. I never really understood what that was. So when I encountered, you know, other kids who had grown up here more than I had and they asked me, you know, what was I?

And I was a little confused. I was like well, I’m from Dominican Republic and you know, they always said, oh well, you know, I thought you were black. And I had never gotten that. I’d never, for you know, for Dominican kids it’s always, you know, you’re Dominican. So national identity was placed above racial identity, whereas here I found that racial identity was pinpointed first.

HEADLEE: Although Dominicans, they identify – if you want to talk about black, they usually identify black as equivalent to Haitian.

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: And that’s not seen as a positive thing. Being black is not considered to be positive in the Dominican Republic. How did that attitude affect the way you answered that question?

VILORIO: I had never consciously thought about it until a couple years ago when I stopped chemically straightening my hair. But I had always, you know, grown up with those subtle phrases like, stop being such a Haitian and you know, that’s an equivalent to, let’s say, stop being so stupid. The other day, I came home really, really tan and my mother was like, oh my goodness, you look like a Haitian, this is horrible. So you know, my mother was…

HEADLEE: What did you say to her?

VILORIO: Oh, I was like, oh my goodness, mother, you know, it’s not a big deal, I’m just a little tan. But I was – it’s something that I was used to. And I was thinking about this. I was like, man, you know, this just keeps coming up, this whole, you know, subtle racism type of thing. I’ve seen, you know, Afro-Latinos to use that phrase, Latinos who have obvious, you know, Afro descendancy separate themselves from blacks by putting them off, you know, using stereotypes like, oh my goodness, they’re so uneducated and blah blah blah.

And I’ve always thought, well, you look like them. And they’re referring to, you know, American blacks. I’m just thinking, so you look like them. You’re putting these people in, you know, this category but what about you? And that’s always been something that’s bothered me.

HEADLEE: Well, when you say you acknowledged it, last year you actually wrote an article, “Another Latina Nerd Tells Her Story.” In that, you talked about the confusion you’ve had over your racial identity and you identified very proudly, very firmly as Latina and Hispanic.

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: This year, you wrote another very firm, very confident, again, article, again in the Huff Post, in which you say, I am black.

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: So what changed?

VILORIO: I mean, I still identify strongly as a Hispanic because, you know, that is my culture. I – you know, my parents raised me on the values that they grew up with. And then also I had, you know, growing up in America and in the American school system. So I had, you know, that bicultural influence. But racially I’m black. You know, I can say that I’m black. And being black and being Hispanic, Hispanic being a culture and black, you know, being associated with a culture, yes, but also with a race, you can be racially black and you can be, you know, culturally Hispanic. And that was something that I wanted to combine and that I want to explore further and talk about more.

HEADLEE: I’m glad to hear you say explore this more, Elaine, ’cause, I mean, as a 40-something mixed race person, I can tell you that your journey into the world of racial identity is just beginning. Where do you go from here? What’s your next step in kind of determining this? Or is there going to be a point at which you say, look, call me what you will, I know who I am?

VILORIO: I would like to educate people and breaking down, you know, a little bit of the stereotyping and the racism that goes on with people that are Hispanic and are racially black but then try to separate themselves from, you know, other black people here in the United States.

HEADLEE: Are you about to graduate, Elaine?

VILORIO: I am, yes. This June.

HEADLEE: Well, congratulations.

VILORIO: Thank you.

HEADLEE: Moving on to college?

VILORIO: Yes, that’s right.

HEADLEE: Well, good luck in the future.

VILORIO: Thank you.

HEADLEE: Elaine Vilorio, a high school senior, for just a few more days, from New Jersey. She was kind enough to join us from our New York bureau. Thanks so much.

VILORIO: Thank you for having me.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

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RACE, IDENTITY & PERCEPTIONS: This Latina Wants You to Stop Denying Her Her Blackness

IDENTITY

This Latina Wants You to Stop Denying Her Her Blackness – Because Race Is Complicated

(Content Warning: racial slurs)

Originally published on Vanessa Martir’s Blog and republished here with the author’s permission.

I’d been in Wellesley for all of a few weeks when it first happened.

It was the fall of 1989, my first year in boarding school. I was walking with another ABC (A Better Chance) student back to our dorm on the outskirts of the Wellesley College campus.

We were the “scholarship kids”— her a St. Lucian girl from Flatbush, me a Boricua-Hondureña [Puerto Rican-Honduran]* from Bushwick. We were walking along Washington Avenue, the main street that runs through the town, past the Town Hall that looks like a castle, and the duck pond.

I don’t remember what we were talking about or if we were even talking, but I remember his face, bloated and red and angry.

He stuck that face out of the truck that slowed down as it passed, then he threw a lit cigarette at us, two teenage girls – her 16, me 13 – and said, “Go home, n*ggers.”

We jumped away to avoid getting burnt and stared at the truck as it sped off. She started crying, a quiet, blubbering cry that shook her shoulders. I stayed quiet the rest of the walk home.

The following year, a black girl who was all of a shade darker than me told me I didn’t know prejudice – “because you’re not black.” She pursed her lips and shook her head. I thought back to that lit cigarette and that bloated, red face.

***

In the summer of 1985, my mother took us to Honduras for the first time.

One morning, my brother Carlos and I were picking naranjas [oranges] off the tree whose branch extended out into our family’s patio.

We were just kids – I was nine, Carlos was 13. We just wanted some oranges.

Suddenly the neighbor came running out of her house screaming. She called us malditos prietos, thieves and criminals for picking fruit off her tree. She said she’d rather they rot than have us eat them.

My brother pulled open an orange with his fingers, put it to his mouth and sucked on it while he stared at that woman. She sneered and called him, “un prieto sucio” [a dirty dark-skinned/Black person].

My brother laughed, juice dripping down his chin, grabbed my hand, and walked off. I gave her the universal fuck you sign – the middle finger.

***

I didn’t grow up talking about race. There was no time for that.

There were other more important issues – like keeping the fridge full and making sure that crack, the drug that ravaged our neighborhoods in the late 80s and 90s, stayed outside our doors.

It was hard enough keeping the family together, but I look back now and can see the ways that race influenced my life: in how my sister was always called the pretty one “con su pelo rubio” [with her blond hair]; that black girl in seventh grade who said, as my friends and I were walking by, “I hate these little Spanish bitches swearing they all that.”

Sure, there were some racial tensions in the largely black and Puerto Rican neighborhood I grew up in in Brooklyn, but the pervasive issue was poverty.

We were all poor.

We all lived in the rubble and crack that was 1980s Bushwick.

***

The summer before my senior year, I participated in the LEAD Business Program at UPenn’s Wharton School of Business for three weeks.

One day, we were talking about who knows what when I started talking about my sister, how amazing she was, how I looked up to her, how gorgeous she was.

“She has this straight blonde hair and light eyes. She’s just beautiful.”

A black boy I had a thing with said, “You talk like she’s all that because she’s white, Vanessa.”

I didn’t know what to say, but I look back on that moment as a key step in my awakening to my racial consciousness and the ways that the European ideals of beauty were instilled in me.

***

Years ago, my mother told me a story of when we kids were really little.

She went to a “face to face” (pronounced “fay tu fay”) appointment at the welfare office and brought us in tow – my sister, la gringa [the light skinned/white one] who then had almost-white-blonde hair; my brother, el moreno [the dark-skinned/black one]; and me, la india [the Indian/Indigenous/darker-skinned but not as dark-skinned person as morenos].

The case worker stared at us then back at mom. “Those are your children?” she asked.

“Seguro,” [of course] mom said, without blinking.

“Those are not your kids!”

The woman said we didn’t even look like we were related to each other, much less to her. She accused mom of trying to cheat the system, and even called security, threatening to bring her up on fraud charges.

Mom said, “Yo le quería meter en la cara con las actas de naciminto de ustedes,” [I wanted to hit her on the head with your birth certificates]. And if I know my mom, she would have done exactly that, smack that woman upside her head with her paperwork.

***

We hear so much about those Latinos who straight out negate their blackness.

Like my ex-boyfriend’s Dominican mother who whispered with pride that Trujillo was her distant cousin. I heard this woman say, “Yo soy india”  [I’m Indian/Indigenous] several times over the six year relationship I had with her son.

I remember staring at her full lips, wide nose, and coarse hair, her dark skin that she took caution with, staying out of the sun, walking around with an umbrella on especially beaming days, “Ay no, ese sol me va ‘cer prieta y yo no soy prieta,” [Oh no, this sun is going to make my dark/black but I’m not black.”

It all made sense when I learned the history of the Dominican Republic and how Trujillo would put make up on his face and hands to lighten his skin.

***

In an interview in the March 2015 VONA newsletter, Mat Johnson wrote:

I thought the mixed race advocates were sellouts at first, just trying to run away from their own blackness. Over time, though, I began to feel that by just saying I was black I was denying half of my family and my own cultural influences. Also, I was being forced to fit into an archetype that visually I didn’t fit. The constraint and struggle of that started to wear me down, so I had to reexamine my identity.

Your proclaimed identity should fit you, not the other way around.

I’ve been thinking a lot about race, as a Boricua-Hondureña[Puerto Rican-Honduran] who identifies as both black and indígena [indigenous], because I am both and neither is mutually exclusive.

Here’s the thing, I’m all for conversations about blackness. They are necessary. But to have a complete conversation, we need to talk about how some people, African American and even my own Latino people, have denied me my blackness because “you don’t look black,” they’ve said.

The issue is that people like me do not fit into their construct of what race is.

I’m writing this as I stare at a picture of my deceased brother and I to the left of my computer screen. When you negate my blackness, you deny him as my brother. I can’t have that. I won’t have it. I will respond viscerally.

I get that this essay is going to get some folk riled up and shifting uncomfortably. I’m cool with that. These conversations are necessary and long overdue.

Yes, I am black. I am also indígena.

It is not up to the world to decide my identity for me. Seriously, what’s good with this policing of one’s racial and cultural identity? To say that I have a “choice” is to say that I can “choose” to deny my black brother and my black aunt and my grandmother and my great grandmother and the long history of blackness in my blood.

Not gonna happen.

This construct of race is much more layered than people want or care to admit.

I’m cool with dialogue. I am not cool with some cualquiera [whatever] claiming dominion over my identity.

You can take several seats with that pendejada [bullshit]. I’ll open an auditorium full of seats for you, if you wish.

 ***

I had someone, an academic, try to impose the label of “afro-latina” on me. Friends have asked me, “Why don’t you call yourself afro-latina?”

It’s an accusation.

They are saying I am denying my blackness.

Here’s the thing: Yes, I am black, but that’s not all of who I am.

It’s problematic to impose an identity on someone. It’s problematic when my blackness is denied of me because “you don’t look black.”

Because my hair is curly and my skin is that of my Mayan ancestors, because, see, I’m not just black, tambien soy indígena [I’m also Indigenous]. One does not negate the other. Why does it have to?

I think of my great-grandmother Tinita, her skin brown like the frijoles [beans] she shelled in the patio for hours, her waist-length hair pulled back into a braid that hung over her shoulder.

When she heard about what the neighbor had said to my brother and me, she laughed her toothless laugh and pulled us into her chest. “Si somos prietos, y que?” [Yes, we’re dark-skinned/Black, and so what?]

Then she sat us down and served us tortillas and frijoles with her specially made crema and the white cheese she soaked all day to remove some of its saltiness.

***

One time, when I was in my mid-twenties, I went to a barbecue at my mom’s house with my boy, an African American writer.

Mom greeted him politely and showed him how to climb out the window of her first floor apartment into the backyard where the grill was already on and people were milling around eating and sipping on beer.

When he was outside, Mom pulled me aside and said: “Tu no estaras con un moreno, Vanessa.” [You are not going to be with that black man, Vanessa.]

I gasped and said, “Ma, you know we’re black, right?”

She rolled her eyes and went back to seasoning the meat.

***

When was eight or nine, I was playing with a black boy from around the corner named Damon. We were playing scully in the street with the bottle caps we filled with wax.

My second mom Millie, a Boricua straight from the campos [rural area] of Lares, was sitting on the stoop of our building peeling an orange with her pocket knife.

She called me over, feigning to offer me a piece.

When I reached for it, she pulled me closer and whispered, “No te atrevas enamorarte de uno d’esos prietos, ¿oistes?” [Don’t you dare date one of these black guys, you hear?]

I ate that orange slice slowly, trying to hide my frown.

When I was done, I told Damon that I had to go inside. I didn’t play with him much after that.

***

Race is a complex thing.

It’s been a unique experience for me as a Latina who looks more like her indigenous roots, but who is one of only five light-skinned people in my family, my mom, my sister and me, and our kids.

Once, when I was pregnant with my daughter, my daughter’s father said some shit to me that still shocks me ten years later.

We were on our way home after having dinner at my grandmother’s house with the rest of my family. I was rubbing my huge belly when he looked over at me and said, “Our kid could be black, V.”

He sounded exasperated.

An “Oh my God” lingered in the air like one of those fogs in scary movies that portends some shit is about to go down.

“And?” I said, all Brooklyn attitude and what the fuck.

“Nothing, I’m just saying, ma.” He knew he was in trouble.

“You know your mother’s black, right?” I said and glared at him.

He sucked his teeth and rolled his eyes. “Ay, forget it,” he said.

We never talked about it again, but I wondered what crossed his mind when he saw our daughter for the first time. I wonder if he said a silent prayer thanking God for her having inherited his lighter skin.

***

This essay has been simmering in me for a long time, but I knew I had to write it when the other day a black poet attacked VONA for not including any black alumni in the line-up of a faculty-alumni reading at an AWP event entitled Consequences: VONA/Voices Generation One.

There are multiple issues with the accusation (including an assumption of maliciousness without knowing how the alumni were selected), but this essay addresses one: the negation of my blackness and that of another Latino writer on the line-up.

This woman talked about the invisibility of blacks without realizing (or perhaps, not caring) that she too was imposing invisibility on Latinos like me who have time and again been denied their blackness.

I took that rage and put it into this essay.

Race is such a layered, complex thing.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers. I won’t pretend to know fully how to confront and talk about race in ways that will make everyone happy.

I understand that my views on race are complicated by my experience being one of two or three Latinas in the entire boarding school I attended, at a time where race was polarized into white and black (which is still very much is).

I had too much melanin and was too Latina to fit into the white world, and I was poor to boot. I didn’t have enough melanin to fit in with the black kids, so where did I belong? I didn’t.

I had to learn how to pave my own path. Create my own little niche, which largely meant solitude. That solitude gave this rage time to gestate.

This is what I know at almost 40:

1. I cannot and will not deny my indigenous blood to fit a construct of race that’s not inclusive of the layers that make me me, especially since my appearance is clear evidence of that Mayan blood.

2. To deny a Latin@ her blackness just because she doesn’t “look black” or has a different experience because she’s not African American, is to be ignorant of history.

There were millions more Africans taken to the Caribbean and Latin America in the African slave trade. You think racism is bad in the US? Go to Latin America, and then we can talk.

This attempt to erase my history and my blood because it doesn’t fit into your construct of race is problematic on numerous levels, and must be included in these oftentimes uncomfortable conversations about race.

3. I’m done being politically correct and trying to tiptoe around these conversations because I’m often attacked or dismissed. That shit’s been happening to me since I was a kid, and I’m tired of it.

I have my story and you have yours. A dialogue is possible, albeit probably uncomfortable, but for you to impose your view of blackness on me is a single story, and we already know what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has to say about that: it’s dangerous.

This is why I penned this here essay: because I’m tired of the divisiveness within our own communities.

I counter and confront it in the way I do best: by writing about it, screaming and raging and crying on the page. Es con hablar que nos entendemos. [It is by talking that we understand each other.] I’m ready to talk when you are.

SOURCE

KARMA: 2 Abortion Foes Behind Planned Parenthood Videos Are Indicted

Picture: David Daleiden. Secret videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were both indicted on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden received an additional misdemeanor indictment under the law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs.

Picture: David Daleiden.
Secret videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were both indicted on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden received an additional misdemeanor indictment under the law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs.

A county grand jury here that was investigating allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood has instead indicted two anti-abortion activists who made videos of the organization.

In a statement, the Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said Monday that the director of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, had been indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs.

Another center employee, Sandra Merritt, was indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record.

The Center for Medical Progress had covertly shot videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the provision of body parts from aborted fetuses for research. Mr. Daleiden, 26, had posed as a biotechnology representative to infiltrate Planned Parenthood affiliates and surreptitiously record his attempts to procure tissue for research.

The activists have claimed that Planned Parenthood has engaged in the illegal sale of body parts — a charge the organization has firmly denied.

Ms. Anderson said in the statement that grand jurors had cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. She did not specify in the statement what record or records were allegedly tampered with.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Ms. Anderson said. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

The case started in August, when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican and an outspoken opponent of abortion and Planned Parenthood, asked the Harris County district attorney to open a criminal investigation into the organization. His request came after the release of an undercover videotaped at a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast office in Houston with a research official for the organization. Mr. Patrick said the video showed the group “discussing the gruesome and barbaric work of Planned Parenthood and what appears to be its profiteering from selling body parts from aborted babies.”

indict-carlyIn a statement at the time, Mr. Patrick said, “This newest video makes it clear it is time for prosecutors to launch a criminal investigation in Harris County immediately.”

Ms. Anderson described the investigation on Monday as “lengthy and thorough,” and said it involved her office, the Houston police and the Texas Rangers. She said grand jurors reviewed the joint investigation for more than two months and cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of breaking the law. She declined to provide details about the case against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, including any documents or evidence presented to the grand jury, citing state law on the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.

Gov. Greg Abbott said on Monday that the inspector general of the state’s Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas attorney general’s office were continuing to investigate Planned Parenthood’s actions.

“Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement. “The State of Texas will continue to protect life, and I will continue to support legislation prohibiting the sale or transfer of fetal tissue.”

Mr. Daleiden has been praised as a hero by some religious opponents of abortion. On Thursday, Mr. Daleiden was a featured guest at an Evangelicals for Life conference and was interviewed by Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family.

Asked by Mr. Moore whether it was morally consistent to engage in lies and deception to obtain information, Mr. Daleiden said that undercover work is “fundamentally different from lying,” according to BaptistNews.com, because its underlying purpose “is actually to serve the truth.”

Ms. Anderson, a Republican, was appointed district attorney by Gov. Rick Perry in Sept. 26, 2013, and was later elected to the office.

SOURCE

Abortion Is as Old as Pregnancy: 4,000 Years of Reproductive Rights History

2016_0122roe

Art from a 13th-century illuminated manuscript features a herbalist preparing a concotion containing pennyroyal for a woman. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, 22 January 2016 00:00 By Katie Klabusich, Truthout

Truthout will never hide stories like this behind a paywall or subscription fee. Help us continue publishing free and uncensored news by making a donation today!

Abortion has always existed. The earliest written record of abortion is more than 4,000 years old. Pregnancy has always been accompanied by the seeking and sharing of methods for ending pregnancy.

The United States’ history with abortion is complicated and currently in flux. Up until 1821, abortion simply existed and, like pregnancy and other “woman-related” business, was entrusted to midwives and other caregivers. The transition to outright criminalization of abortion would take more than 50 years; prohibition would last a century.

Because Roe v. Wade – which turns 43 today – decriminalized abortion through a right to privacy framework, states have been allowed to enact some restrictions on later-term abortions since 1973. We are in yet another new era – one of decreased access to safe, legal abortion care, which has sparked a collaborative effort of grassroots activists and large, national organizations to reverse this dangerous trend.

Abortion in Times of Old

Instructions for inducing an abortion appear in the Bible. In Numbers 5:11-31, God is described as instructing Moses to present “The Test for an Unfaithful Wife” (NIV) – a ritual to be used by priests against women accused by their husbands of unfaithfulness. The ritual involves the drinking of “bitter water,” a potion that will abort any pregnancies that result from “having sexual relations with a man other than your husband.”

Rickie Solinger, historian and author of Reproductive Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know and What Is Reproductive Justice?, which will be published next year, described the scope of methods used over time to Truthout.

“In Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance, John Riddle showed, through extraordinary scholarly sleuthing, that women from ancient Egyptian times to the 15th century had relied on an extensive pharmacopoeia of herbal abortifacients and contraceptives to regulate fertility,” Solinger said.

The comprehensive timeline from 4000 Years for Choice, an organization which celebrates the reproductive roots of abortion and contraception through art and education, tracks abortion all the way back to the 3000s BCE, referencing the Royal Archives of China, which holds the earliest written record of an abortion technique.

“Women always have and always will have abortions,” Heather Ault, 4000 Years for Choice founder and graphic designer, told Truthout. “It’s fundamental to human existence, and all human societies around the world have practiced forms of controlling pregnancy, to various degrees of effectiveness with the tools and knowledge they had available at that time, whether it be toxic herbs, early surgical methods or magic and spells.”

Ault’s US timeline picks up in the 1600s when enslaved African women were using the cottonwood plant to abort fetuses in a moment when many pregnancies were the result of rape by slave owners, and colonial women used “the savin from the juniper bush, pennyroyal, tansy, ergot, and seneca snakeroot to abort pregnancies.” Until the early 1800s, abortion was legal through common law before “quickening,” when the baby’s first detectable motion in the womb indicated it was alive (approximately the fourth month). After quickening, inducing a miscarriage was a common law misdemeanor.

In 1821, however, Connecticut passed the country’s first abortion restriction to make using “poison” after quickening a crime punishable by life in prison. (The sentence would later be reduced to 10 years.) Several states followed suit and by the end of the 19th century, every state except Kentucky – which waited until 1910 – had passed anti-abortion legislation. The American Medical Association, which formed in 1857 and immediately set out to make all abortion illegal, provided legitimacy to the incremental infringement on bodily autonomy.

Then, the politician and “morality” advocate Anthony Comstock began his crusade against birth control, sex workers and eventually abortion. In 1873, the “Comstock Law” outlawed contraception and abortion with limited exceptions for health. With the passage of this law, women lost what had been their common law right.

“Anthony Comstock was the main anti-choice person who, in the late 1800s, starting burning books and made it illegal for anything to be sent through the mail having to do with sexuality,” Ault said. “He later jailed Margaret Sanger [for defying the contraception prohibition] and was on her case until he died.”

By the late 1920s, some 15,000 women a year died from abortions because safe, legal procedures were nearly impossible for most to obtain. According to 4000 Years for Choice, dangerous self-induction methods included using knitting needles, crochet hooks, hairpins, scissors and buttonhooks. With the death toll rising, physicians in the 1930s began providing abortion care through underground clinics and in subsequent decades individuals and doctors banded together to work around and protest the prohibition.

According to David Grimes, former chief of the Abortion Surveillance Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the 1950s, approximately 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal, unsafe abortions were performed per year.

The horror stories of the pre-Roe back-alley days are well documented. Brave people have increasingly been telling their stories as they’ve watched the flurry of anti-abortion laws passing in states across the country bring back flashes of the bad old days. Their words bring the mortality statistics of the abortion prohibition days into stark focus, but our elected officials have largely brushed them aside.

Abortion After Roe v. Wade

Finally, after 100 years without access to safe, legal abortion in the United States, Dallas area resident Norma L. McCorvey’s (“Jane Roe”) case claiming a Texas law criminalizing most abortions violated her constitutional rights arrived at the Supreme Court. On January 22, 1973, the court’s 7-2 decision found that the Texas law violated four separate constitutional amendments and declared an individual’s “zone of privacy” extended to their doctor’s office, thus lifting the ban on abortion. Justice Harry Blackmun’s decision stated that more narrow state laws could be constitutional after the point of viability for the fetus; this, unfortunately, has allowed the onslaught of state-level restrictions that has intensified since 2011.

The United Nations may have declared that “unnecessary restrictions on abortion should be removed and governments should provide access to safe abortion services,” but US legislators seem not to have gotten the message. The Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health and rights research and education group, reports that in just the past four years, 231 abortion restrictions have been enacted at the state level. The Population Institute‘s latest “50 State Report Card” grades the US overall at a D+ in overall reproductive rights and health – a slip from 2014’s C rating. Guttmacher now ranks 27 states as either “hostile” or “extremely hostile” to abortion.

While 17 states have introduced 95 measures designed to expand access to abortion – more positive measures than in any year since 1990 – these laws aren’t passing at a rate that rivals the effectiveness of the anti-abortion movement and its legislators. As Heather D. Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute’s director of public policy, wrote at The Hill, “for many women in the United States, safe and legal abortion has long been out of reach.”

This year, reproductive rights and justice groups as well as grassroots activists are pushing for new legislation – like Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-California) Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act – to “Reclaim Roe” and begin reversing the trend of restrictions that disproportionately affect the poor and communities of color.

Reclaiming Roe

The real test for whether Roe is reclaimable comes this March when the Supreme Court hears its first abortion case in eight years: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case concerning a Texas law designed to close down more than 75 percent of clinics that provide abortion services in the state, which was made famous by the filibuster in the Texas Capitol in 2013. The law has been described by many opponents as a de facto abortion ban.

With a historic set of 45 amicus briefs submitted to the Supreme Court, including expert legal, legislative and medical opinions as well as the abortion stories of a wide variety of people – attorneys, legislators, stay-at-home parents, immigrants, undocumented people and youth – the justices will have all the data ahead of arguments on March 2. This decision will determine whether reducing abortion clinic numbers into single digits for a state the size of Texas constitutes an “undue burden,” and will possibly set new precedent for the country.

“The Supreme Court has never wavered in affirming that every woman has a right to safely and legally end a pregnancy in the US – and this extreme abortion ban was a direct affront to that right,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We now look to the justices to ensure Texas women are not robbed of their health, dignity and rights under false pretenses and strike down the state’s deceptive clinic shutdown law currently under review.”

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