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An Abortion of Rights: The Problem with Poland’s Newest Ruling

By: Sarah Ansari

Protests have been raging in Poland since October 22, when the court passed a ban on abortions for fetal anomalies, which made up the majority of legal abortions within the country in 2019. With the ban in place, abortions are now only allowed under Polish law in the cases of incest, rape, or threat to the parent’s health. Poland’s ties with the Catholic Church, however, also enable the doctors themselves to refuse abortions or contraceptives on the grounds of religion. While this mass of demonstrations is one of the largest the country has seen in decades, it is not the first surrounding the matter of abortion. Government officials in Poland have repeatedly attempted to make the legislation regarding the termination of pregnancy stricter, but have been met with opposition and protests each time.

The most common argument besides religious beliefs against the termination of pregnancy in the case of fetal defects is that it’s cruel to tamper with potential life simply because of disability. However, this sentiment projects blame entirely onto the parent without looking at the situation that led to them making their choice. 

So, What is the Situation?

Although there’s no way to pry into the mind of every person who decides to get an abortion, we can come to an educated guess about the factors that play into the decision to terminate a pregnancy due to fetal anomalies by looking at the numbers. 

Most countries rule that abortion is permitted until the 12th or 20th week of pregnancy. After the 12th week, doctors willing to perform the procedure are harder to find, except in some rare circumstances. The first trimester screening which looks for fetal defects, however, occurs between the 11th and 13th weeks of pregnancy

Many pregnancies are unplanned, and may go undetected for a bit longer than usual, especially since symptoms vary between individuals– with some experiencing them after a few weeks, and others not experiencing them for months. An estimate for the amount of time it takes to be alerted to an unplanned pregnancy is 4 weeks, a.k.a the time it would take to notice a missed period. Between awareness of the pregnancy and the 12th week, therefore, the parent has 8 weeks (around 2 months) to make their choice. Abortion is a life-altering decision, and one that does take time to consider, although it turns out that only 10-18% of women who approached an abortion clinic for information were uncertain about getting one.

Compiling all this information, it’s safe to say that at the point when the first trimester screening is performed, enough time has passed to deduce that the parent wants to keep the child. To flip that decision is not something that they would take lightly; it doesn’t take a study (but here’s one anyway) to show that the parent is far from apathetic about the fetus (as some in opposition to abortion would believe), but undergoes severe trauma and grief.

Then, Why Do They Choose to Abort?

While it’s easy to say that the parent should have the child regardless of the fetal anomalies, some parents simply can not afford to accommodate a kid with disabilities. A study regarding the costs to raise a child with a disability until the age of 18 revealed added expenses ranging from $180-$8,000 a year (NOTE: the definition of disability is this study was very broad, so the minimum costs could be higher, depending on criteria). The cost of raising a child in the United States until age 18 is approximately $233,000. Going with a median number of about $4,000/yr ($72,000 over 18 years) for the added costs of raising a child with a disability in the U.S., we discover that it’s approximately 31% more expensive.

The average cost of raising a child in Poland is 49,000 pln. Assuming that Poland’s healthcare system is not as bad as the United States’ (although I will talk more later about how it still is not the best), I will give a rough estimate of about 20% higher expenses for raising a child with a disability– bringing the grand total to 58,800 pln. The average salary in Poland is around 5,000 pln/yr.  Raising a child with a disability costs about 12 years of salary versus the typical 9 years worth.

Enough with the Numbers, What Does this Mean?

It’s simple, really; as much as a person might want to have a child (although it’s okay if they don’t), they sometimes do not have the means to provide the kid with the life they deserve, and should not be shamed for that.

People desperate enough to get abortions will find a means to obtain one regardless, and may resort to dangerous methods. Ultimately the fixation upon restricting access to abortions comes down to one thing: a prioritzation of prenatal life, and a disregard for the already-born.

Abortions are allowed if the parent’s health is in danger. I’m sure you recall me saying that at the beginning of this article, unless the big mass of numbers in the middle made your eyes go all fuzzy. The toll of working tirelessly just to make ends meet to provide for both parent and child is in itself a detriment to health for both parties. While the Polish government does provide some assistance for those raising children with disabilities, the stipends granted are still not nearly enough, and often only cover the child’s bare necessities. The age-old (and totally true) saying is that disability is a product of environment, rather than the fault of an individual. The expenses behind caring for a child with a disability points towards systemic problems with how countries deal with disabilities, and blame should be placed upon the system, rather than the individuals who fall victim to it.

Back to Poland

With all the information gathered about the reasons someone might choose to undergo an abortion for prenatal defects, the outrage felt by protestors is justified. However, the government is attempting to shift the rhetoric of blame back to the people, rather than holding themselves accountable.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, gatherings of more than five people are prohibited in Poland, yet the protests break this rule. The Polish government blames the recent spike in coronavirus cases on protestors, choosing to villainize them rather than listen to what they’re saying. Yes, protesting during a pandemic is less than ideal, but without action, the people would have to watch their rights stripped away in front of their eyes. Many believe that the Polish government even took advantage of the pandemic in the hopes that the law would pass without a fight.

In fact, the government is the primary actor to blame for the surge of COVID cases, not the people. As recently as the end of October (around the time when the protests began), the German government reached out to Poland to offer aid in dealing with the pandemic. While Polish officials thanked Germany, they insisted that they need no outside help, and that they are self-sufficient.While some may argue that this statement was made before the protests began to grow, and that perhaps Poland was self-sufficient at the time their refusal of aid was made, that notion is incorrect. Poland has been having issues dealing with the coronavirus for months now, almost since the virus began (take this article written in April as an example). To that end, officials are using the virus as an excuse of convenience to silence protestors, rather than taking active measures to stop the spread. 

Amidst the villainization of protestors, Poland has also mobilized riot police to monitor the crowds. While protestors did partake in vandalism, the demonstrations were largely peaceful. Either way, property damage does not justify the pepper spraying of protestors and excessive use of force. Here are links to some twitter posts that capture instances of brutality, but please be aware that footage can be graphic. These examples are also not meant to sensationalize violence, but to provide evidence for people who would argue in favour of the Polish police. (x, x, x, x)

The most recent update regarding the abortion ban in Poland has it that the ruling will be delayed, which is only a minor victory for protestors. Officials still intend to carry through with their plans, although they are willing to engage in “dialogue” with the citizens. Polish president Andrzej Duda has attempted to placate protestors by offering a “compromise” that will allow abortions in the case of fatal fetal defects. Such a compromise is only lip-service to attempt to mitigate backlash, rather than a substantive acknowledgment of the reasoning behind the protests. The Polish government and its abortion rulings are, ultimately, just another instance in which a majority (cis) male-dominated body places restrictions upon women and others with reproductive capacities without letting the people who are affected voice their own opinions.

If you wish to help protestors, this website provides some resources that you can contribute to: https://www.bustle.com/life/how-to-help-protestors-against-anti-abortion-laws-in-poland

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The USPS and the Delivery of Democracy

By: Atmanah Parab

The spread of the Coronavirus has forced a reevaluation of society at large for many. Among the myriad of questions being asked, one that stands out is: what is an essential service? What is a service so valuable that its provision trumps protection of health, safety and the bottom line? With an election, medicine deliveries and affordable shipping on the line, the USPS emerges as an example. Due to the fact that it is a service of massive value to Americans, its dissolution could be another nail in the coffin of American democracy. 

In the era of online communication, physical mail can feel antiquated and maybe even unneeded but the reality is that physical mail and services like the United States Postal Service are of vital importance to the function of the nation. However, the future of the USPS is highly uncertain between the unprecedented attack of COVID-19, restrictive legislation that weakens its functionality and the general neglect and dismissal from the Trump Administration. Not everything can be run as a business where the primary standard for value is profit and avoiding debt, and the USPS is one of the only egalitarian services offered by the United States government. 

As an article from The Economist puts it, the USPS is suffering “one acute and two chronic” ailments. The “acute” one being the exposure of USPS employees to Coronavirus resulting in tens of thousands of quarantined workers and in some cases, death. In addition to this, the threat of COVID-19 and the limitations placed upon the normal operations of businesses have resulted in less mail, exacerbating the trend of consistent financial losses by the USPS. 

The “chronic” issues with the USPS are structural and widespread patterns in function, that have only been worsening over time. First, the decline of first-class mail –“the most popular and economical way to send standard postcards, letters, large envelopes, and small packages”–is one of the most obvious issues for the USPS. With the advent of the internet, it is less efficient and more costly to communicate through mail. Second, the USPS has struggled as its services are gradually outpaced by technology but the agency is one of the most favored parts of the United States government. Despite being clearly valued by Americans, legislation and financial regulation has served to punish the USPS for its struggle to stay afloat and limit its function even further. An example of a bill passed in 2006 that requires the agency to provide for retiree healthcare up to decades in advance, this places a great deal of financial stress on the agency. 

There has been a historic movement to defund or privatize the USPS and orient its structure towards generating a profit rather than providing service the way it does. However, if the USPS and its status has been an issue warranting concern for decades, why is its current status so precarious? A recent and alarming continuation in this vein are the rhetoric espoused and actions taken by the Trump Administration in regards to the USPS. In the past month or so, Trump has gone from dismissing the USPS as “a joke” to blatantly admitting that the defunding of the USPS will have a derailing effect on the 2020 election to the random removal of mail processing machines in key states. When economic supplement funds were allocated to businesses and government entities alike to soften the blow of COVID-19 through the CARES Act, the proposed infusion into the USPS was cut down and debt relief was denied. In addition to this, the newly appointed Postmaster General has implemented several changes that have contributed to further degradation of services, “Internal Postal Service documents obtained by The Washington Post show that postal employees have been barred from working overtime hours and instructed to leave mail behind if it is processed late.” 

However, the point at which these delays become especially terrifying and apparent is when the 2020 election is concerned. Due to COVID-19 the safest way to cast a ballot (and hopefully the most popular way) is to mail it in. However, if the USPS is being purposefully hindered to the point of delay during regular volume mail traffic, the election could be a set up for disaster. It is also worth noting that due to the hyper-politicized nature of discourse about the coronavirus that people more likely to use absentee ballots as opposed to showing up to physically vote lean towards certain party identifications and demographics. These specific inclinations follow existing trends of wherein certain populations (conservative, older, rural etc.) are more likely to vote and not have their votes suppressed through the disproportionality of the electoral system, voter ID laws and systematic disenfranchisement. What’s worse is that there is an existing precedent of mail-in-ballots being arbitrarily discounted. That being said, to counter this effect and ensure democratic expression, voters who wish to vote by mail-in-ballot must be conscious of delivery times and send their ballots off far in advance. Other advice floating around the internet advises the determined voter to drop off their mail-in-ballots in person and to go as far as to get in contact with election supervisors to minimize the effects of Trump’s attacks on the USPS. 

Beyond the 2020 election, the USPS is integral to the function of this nation. Certain rural communities and regions are only brought mail, medicine and deliveries due to the USPS’s extensive service network. The absence of this agency or weakening to the point where more and more offices are forced to shut down will actively end chains of communication and medical delivery in places like Alaska. Even private alternatives such as UPS and FEDEX are significantly more expensive and often hand off their “hard to deliver” items off to the USPS as a national connector. In the absence of the USPS small businesses will likely suffer most with the lack of affordable delivery services. It is truly unfortunate but, the USPS, one of the largest forces that works to equalize a country that seems to be fracturing at the seams is now under attack.

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What’s Happening in Lebanon?

By: Sarah Ansari

Early in the morning last week, I opened up Instagram to mindlessly scroll through memes and came across a recording of a Tik Tok video. The girl in it smiled, looking as though she were about to break into song. She just made her way outside when something on the horizon caught her attention. Her eyes widened for a brief moment before she turned and ran back into the house. Her formerly amiable expression contorted to one of fear as she screamed. 

The explosion in Beirut, caught live. 

Lebanon has been caught in the crossfires of humanitarian, political, and economic crises, and to protestors, the explosion is yet another sign of governmental neglect and corruption. The ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion had been impounded as cargo back in 2013, and although worries were voiced about the safety of the chemicals, no action was taken by officials to address the concerns. Blame for the tragedy was passed around, with no one wanting to bear the brunt of responsibility(*1).

In the streets, the righteous anger of protestors steeped to an inferno. Security forces were sent to quell the protests, and videos circling online display an excessive use of force– particularly tear gas and rubber bullets– by the dispatched units (*2). The brutality used by security forces on protestors displays the intention of the government to silence rather than to listen.

But how could a government not expect retaliation from its people when it boasts a 25% unemployment rate, pervasive poverty, a trash crisis, lack of clean drinking water, and unreliable power? All these issues existed before the worldwide spread of the coronavirus and have only been aggravated since. The devaluation of the Lebanese pound and poorly-dealt with wildfires only fueled the growing resentment for the government(*3). Meanwhile, the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics prevented any decisive maneuvers to address the people’s concerns. 

With eighteen religious groups dividing power based on their population, and the inability to make any “major decisions [..] without the consent of all major religious communities, even the election losers”(*4), the political atmosphere within Lebanon remains stagnant and prone to the decay which it is and has been experiencing. Think of the deadlocks that can come with a divided Congress in the U.S., but multiply the discordant parties by nine. Without major reforms to the political system, the troubles in Lebanon will continue to grow, since the government will spend more time debating than fixing the issues. However, to bring about changes to the distribution of power and to hold officials accountable for their actions, the same officials have to agree to the reforms, something which they have had little incentive to do until recently (*5).

Following the explosion in Beirut, calls for the prime minister, Hassan Diab’s, resignation multiplied, and finally culminated in the resignation of himself and his cabinet on Monday, August 10. In an interview with npr (*6), blogger Gino Raidy discussed the incompetence the Lebanese government displayed following the blast, and noted that “the people […] took charge of the search and rescue, the relief effort, fundraising, and campaigning”. In other words, the resignation of the current officials places Lebanon in the same state they were in before; reforms and other efforts (humanitarian, environmental, etc.) are spearheaded by the people, rather than their representatives. 

Raidy does mention the near-certainty of widespread reform now that the government has been dismantled, although if foreign aid gets funneled through the officials, funds will likely go directly into their pockets, rather than to rebuilding and rehousing efforts. Because of this, the humanitarian aid offered to Lebanon comes on the condition that definitive reforms are made to combat the issues discussed earlier (*7). With the stage set for the reconstruction of the Lebanese government, the actions taken now, at this tipping point, will decide the country’s future.

If you wish to send aid to Lebanon, make sure to donate to the Lebanese Red Cross. Various people from Lebanon have said online that it is the most reliable organization to ensure humanitarian aid goes directly to the people.

SOURCES/FOOTNOTES:

This article acts primarily as a simplified overview of what’s happening in Lebanon for people who are unfamiliar with the crises. For further reading into the cited issues, I recommend reading through these articles, which discuss the issues in more depth.

  1. https://www.npr.org/2020/08/07/899776352/beiruts-explosion-looks-like-an-accident-and-a-sign-of-the-country-s-collapse
  2. https://www.hrw.org/blog-feed/lebanon-protests
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53390108
  4. https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-02-22/why-lebanese-politics-are-so-messed
  5. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/lebanon-pm-hassan-diab-resigns-anger-beirut-blast-200810135202076.html
  6. https://www.npr.org/2020/08/10/901064416/lebanese-government-resigns-in-response-to-protests-over-explosion-in-beirut
  7. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-security-blast/change-needed-in-lebanon-after-beirut-blast-says-german-foreign-minister-idUSKCN258189
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An Ongoing Reflection on COVID-19 from Six Feet Away

By: Christina Lee

Our world during the coronavirus pandemic is on hold, yet constantly moving.

As for me, I’ve found it difficult to harmonize my position as someone who stays home (or where I’ve been for the past two months, honestly) while I know that out there, the whole world partakes in a global fight against unprecedented circumstances. I don’t know how to reconcile the stressful but quiet stagnation of my social, academic, and work life with the dynamic bustle of the larger world as they cope with new government regulations, social issues rising to the forefront, and the glaringly global nature of the current pandemic.

As someone who is privileged enough to work and study from the comfort of my home, what I am about to express might not feel justified. I almost feel guilty for having the leisure to reflect, to point out my observations when I know that there are others occupied with holding onto life, risking their health and safety everyday. Nonetheless, I cannot help but believe that reflection might be one of the more productive things I can do as of now, to recognize lessons beyond not panic-buying toilet paper, disinfecting surfaces, and social distancing.

These lessons relate to the numerous social issues that appear unrelated to the virus at first glance but are actually relevant and quite predictable consequences to the coronavirus’s impact on our world. Only now under the guise of the effects of an unexpectedly rampant virus are we starting to shed light on some of the more headline-worthy issues—from increased numbers of daily domestic violence calls to hotlines in Colombia ever since their lockdown to one-dimensional regulations in Panama that failed to accommodate the identities of their transgender population, as well as government orders in Malaysia suggesting that housewives wear makeup and try not to nag their husbands.

The most striking aspect to these headlines are that they are all part of the process of disillusionment; we only let these social issues come to our attention now because firstly, they may give us a new way of looking at the coronavirus, but most importantly, we oftentimes fail to realize that these events actually originated from existing, systemic problems present all over the world. These problems are ingrained in our culture, yet we fail to acknowledge them until a worldwide crisis pushes our limits and the next journalist needs a headline that people will read.

We can’t find temporary interest in issues like these only because they are timely, and we certainly shouldn’t forget about these issues once the pandemic subsides. If anything, the resurgence of these topics is a sign that tells us what values and mistakes society has built up so far, and these are now exacerbated by the virus. Domestic violence, discrimination, or inequality isn’t something that just happens within a day; these are all results of systemic, habitual, and ongoing sociocultural shortcomings that always need consideration, regardless of whether we are in a pandemic or not.

Hopefully, there will come a time where we will be able to view the coronavirus in the same emotionally distanced state as we view the diseases of our past, but we cannot let the lessons we are constantly unearthing and bringing to the forefront become as ephemeral as the virus.

Yes, the pandemic is ongoing, and there are no solid conclusions to be made just yet. But we can only hope that we come out of this more enlightened, aware, and cognizant of the world we have created—and we must carry that with us into the future.

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Why Feminism is Inherently Intersectional

By: Claire Armstrong

A few years ago, if you were to ask me who my feminist icons were, you would have thought I grew up in the seventies. Early on in my exploration of feminism, I read Gloria Steinem’s book, My Life on the Road, and it inspired me to do my research into second wave feminism and learn about the feminists who came before me. I was so inspired by women like Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Betty Friedan, and I would have loved to go back in time to join their ranks. I still think the work they did was incredibly valuable, but now I see issues with the second wave feminist movement as a whole. 

My biggest problem with second wave feminism, and what I think most significantly distinguishes it from my own definition of feminism, is that, at the forefront, it often was not intersectional. There was a lot of debate among activists about the inclusion of Black and lesbian rights in the Equal Rights Amendment and in the goals delineated at the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. Some second-wave feminist leaders, such as Friedan (who authored The Feminine Mystique, which is often hailed as the work that kick-started second-wave feminism) felt that including explicit demands for racial or sexual equality would make the goals of second-wave feminism seem too radical and alienate potential supporters. It is important to note that there were women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and active allies of marginalized groups who did advocate for the inclusion of rights for women who were not cisgendered, white and straight. However, their voices were not at the forefront of the movement. The mindset that the feminist movement should obtain equality for cis, straight women before including the needs of any marginalized women made white feminism all too pervasive. 

In 2020, we can make no more excuses for white feminism. We never should have, so now is our chance to draw the line. Feminism is inherently intersectional. It is connected to all issues of inequality. If white women want to fight for equity for themselves, they must also fight for equity for racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, the differently-abled, and all other marginalized groups. For too long, many women have not felt included in the movement that claims to champion equal opportunity for all. White women must remember that for so many women, achieving gender equity would still not place them on a level playing field, because they also face other forms of discrimination. Feminists must advocate for equal opportunity for all marginalized groups so that when we do at last achieve gender equity, women of all walks of life will be able to access the opportunities they deserve.