Warren Chisum and Women Who "Try Things on Their Own"
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Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 05:28:43 AM EST
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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketTexas State Representative Warren Chisum made national news in February by endorsing the idea that teaching the theory of evolution in public schools is unlawful: Copernicus got it all wrong, and the rumor that the Earth rotates around the Sun is only a Kabbalistic plot.  His hasty assertion that it was all a misunderstanding is belied by his effort to force Texas high schools to teach a Bible curriculum full of misrepresentations and outright lies.

Chisum's stunning ignorance of science and American history is surpassed by his bland disregard for the lethal nature of another of his current initatives. Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, Chisum's HB 175 would make abortion a crime. Illegal abortion currently kills at least 68,000 women each year -- somewhere in the world, another woman dies in the time it takes to read this story -- but for Warren Chisum, that's not worth worrying about.  

Martin Luther showed no concern about pregnancy's horrific death toll among women of the 16th Century: "If they become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are there."  And in some quarters, religious opinion on that subject hasn't changed much in the intervening 500 years. According to Warren Chisum, it's expected that women die from illegal abortion: "I'm not sure that doesn't happen even today. I suspect women try things on their own."

Yes, he really said that. I heard him.

The doctors who were there tell us that when abortion was illegal in this country, most injuries and deaths resulted from desperate attempts at self-abortion with makeshift instruments, or with caustic substances that left women mutilated. Possible means of self-abortion have expanded with the times, but that doesn't necessarily mean it has gotten any safer.

Misoprostol, an ulcer drug sold here and in other countries as Cytotec, is commonly used by women attempting to self-abort. Often it works, though sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes, when used without professional medical supervision, it can leave a woman dead.

Last week a gynecologist in Kenya, where abortion is as illegal as Warren Chisum and his Christian right base want it to be in Texas, said "it is alarming that there are women out there using the drug without supervision." Another OB/GYN, Dr Paul Ngumbi, "concurred that the use of misoprostol is dangerous." A third, Dr Olakhi Odongo, "warns that previous usage of the drug to induce labour has resulted in frequent contractions that have led to the patients' rupturing their uterus."

[Y]oung college and high school girls are increasingly turning to the ulcer drug to terminate pregnancies.

But doctors now warn this could lead to serious health complications.  
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Misoprostol is a prostaglandin and what it does is block the hormone needed to sustain the pregnancy.

The uterine lining begins to shed and the cervix softens, leading to miscarriage.

Upon taking the drug, one will experience cramping, bleeding and clotting may begin within 20 minutes.

Within the next six to eight hours, most women will miscarry and the bleeding is quite heavy.

"When the uterus ruptures the woman will bleed to death unless they can reach the hospital on time," says Odongo.  

In a case where abortion does not occur successfully you may require surgery to complete the process and blood transfusion. The risks of foetal deformities are doubled.

Divine punishment, no doubt, and just as it should be.

On April 2, the House State Affairs Committee held an all-night meeting to hear testimony on a number of bills to further restrict women's rights in Texas. Witnesses registering in favor of "protecting women" from reproductive freedom included numerous representatives of religious right organizations such as the Texas Catholic Conference, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Texas, Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Eagle Forum, Concerned Women of America, the Texas Conservative Coalition, Texans for Life,  the Texans for Family Values PAC, the Justice Foundation, Operation Outcry and the Free Market Foundation.

The voice of rationality was raised by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the League of Women Voters, ACLU of Texas, the Texas Council on Family Violence, Legacy Community Health Services, the National Association of Social Workers, Texas Business and Professional Women, NOW, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, the Texas Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, the Texas Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Texas physicians submitted testimony that illegal abortion once posed serious risks to women here in Texas, and would again, should the Christian right's push for criminalization succeed. Doctors with active consciences and intact memories signed their names to an unequivocal warning of the lethal consequences of substituting religious fantasy for medical reality.

From the beginning of recorded history, no society has existed in which abortion was not a part of women's reproductive lives. Although sound public health policy--including comprehensive sex education and access to affordable  family planning services--can and does reduce the incidence of abortion, it is not possible to abolish abortion by governmental edict. Such policy can only eliminate safe, professional abortion care, exposing women to the risks of illegal, and therefore unsafe, abortion.  
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Mexico and other countries to our south are seeking to end their own toll of needless injury and death by moving to make safe and professional abortion care a reality, while our own country creeps back toward a lethal fantasy of abolition. In Latin America, as here, the only societal factions advocating the sacrifice of women's health and lives are those insisting that their own religious beliefs be institutionalized as law and governmental policy.

As a physician with my own indelible memories of the needless death and suffering of women in Texas, I recognize any proposal that we return the women of our own state to such a condition in the name of "defending life" as the barbaric and unconscionable horror that it is.

Rep. Chisum asserted that he wasn't "trying to game the system" but that Texas must "err on the side of life," adding that his bill "says we're going to have more children born. That's what we're about."

Then Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), the only woman on the State Affairs Committee, asked Chisum a question: "Do you believe criminalizing abortion will stop it? Do you have any concern about women who could be killed by illegal abortion?"

Chisum didn't even pause to think about his answer, quite calmly responding, "I'm not sure that doesn't happen even today. I suspect women try things on their own."

While his suspicions about Copernicus are unfounded, women do try things on their own when people like Warren Chisum leave them no safe choice. The reality is that they always have, they always will, and that sometimes -- as once was true here, and as is true 68,000 times a year "even today" -- that reality can look like this.

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Her name was Gerri Santoro.

She was just 28 years old. She was a sister, a daughter, and she was the mother of two daughters when she died a very painful and frightening death.

This New York Coroner's picture first appeared in MS Magazine in April 1973. When Gerri's picture appeared in MS, no one knew her name or all the circumstances that surrounded her death from an illegal abortion. While it was assumed that she died at the hands of a back alley butcher, the family later confirmed that she died the way most women died before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion in this country in 1973; she died from a self-induced abortion.

Gerri's children didn't really know how their mother had died until they were teenagers.  Her daughter, Joanie Griffin, spoke of her own feelings about what happened to her mother in the 1995 PBS film, Leona's Sister Gerri.

When I first saw this picture in the magazine, I was shocked.  Especially when I thought of how could they print this picture without my permission or somebody's permission in the family. ... But as years went by and I thought of it from time to time, I thought, it was good that it was printed.  And that it was an honest thing and that people should see this.
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I would want people to still remember her as beautiful.  I wouldn't want anybody to have an ugly image of her.  And you look at some woman lying there dead and those who are against abortion think of her as some scum and she was not.  She was a beautiful, beautiful woman and that can happen to anyone.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketYes, Joanie Griffin's mother was a beautiful, beautiful woman. And yes, it can happen to anyone. And yes, if Warren Chisum, the joint authors and co-authors of HB 175 in the Texas House, and the rest of the Christian right have their way, it inevitably will happen again, to other mothers and daughters and sisters.

Three years ago, over a million of us traveled to Washington, DC for the March for Women's Lives -- the lives of women like Gerri Santoro.

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Gerri's daughter Joanie was there, too.

"My mother was just one of countless women who died in this lonely and desperate way prior to Roe vs. Wade. ... The only thing that made my mom outstanding was the publication of a photograph of her dead body, bloody and naked and speaking volumes of undeniable truth. She was dead on the hotel floor where they found her." She said her mom's image symbolizes every woman who died without choice. "How else can we show our daughters and their daughters what can happen to women when they have no reproductive rights?"

But how can we show anything to people like Warren Chisum, who see nothing but their own peculiar vision of God?

This piece appeared at Talk to Action, Texas Kaos and Culture Kitchen as a contribution to Blog Against Theocracy, April 6-8, 2007. Special thanks to First Freedom First.




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