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Bans Off Our Bodies Protest

October 6, 2021

Some say the pen is mightier than the sword. With just a pen and paper in his hand, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has yielded the power to indefinitely change the lives of individuals who can have children. The latest abortion ban in Texas is setting new precendents for government intervention in the choices individuals can make regarding their bodies. 

The Texas abortion ban, signed into law on September 1, prohibits the termination of a pregancy after fetal cardiac activity is detected. For many pregnancies, this happens around six weeks- a period of time in which experts say most women do not know they are pregnant yet. With this signing, many Texas women are left grappling with their constitutional rights being stripped away right before their own eyes. 

On Friday, dozens of pro-choice protestors dressed head-to-toe in orange flooded the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. The protestors, a performance based group called Ban Off Our Bodies, travelled from Texas to challenge the new abortion ban from their home state. 

Amy Arrambide, an attendee of the protest who identifies as a second generation Filipino-Mexican woman, had her first abortion at a young age after knowing she could not support the child due to mental health issues. A few years later, now married with two children, Arrambide had a second abortion. She says she was done having children and made her husband get a vasectomy. Despite this procedure, Arrambide still got pregnant. “I attribute both of my abortions to saving my life,” she says.

Exchange student Ana Lee says being a minor at the age of 17, she could not be prescribed the pill because her parents were unable to consent to it living in a different country. After a condom broke during intercourse, Lee went to a local pharmacy in Texas to buy Plan B, an emergency contraceptive for unprotected sex. Lee was denied the purchase by a pharmacist. Two weeks later, Lee found out she was pregnant. “I had to appear before a judge to get permission to have an abortion. I had to explain that I am a responsible student who gets good grades and this was a mistake,” Lee says.

Dr. Joe Pojman, Executive Director of Texas Alliance for Life, a pro-life activism organization, says that hundreds of pregnancy centers and maternity homes throughout Texas are expanding their capacity and resources to meet the needs of women facing unplanned pregnancies. “We celebrate the lives of unborn children who will be protected from abortion as a result,” he says. 

Even with the extra resources, many women are still left feeling mentally unprepared to have an unplanned pregnancy. Sarah Lopez is a storyteller with We Testify, an organization dedicated to the leadership and representation of people who have abortions. She says abortion can be “confusing and deeply stigmatizing.” According to Lopez, abortions in Texas are more expensive than anywhere else in the country. The upcharge is “racist and classist,” says Lopez. 

Many activists have pointed out that the new Texas law does not make exceptions for survivors of rape or incest. When questioned about this, Governor Abbott said he will “eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.” Abbott has not offered any legislation or strategic plans on how he will do this.

“We will never stop fighting for our communities because we know abortion is essential healthcare,” says Lopez.

D.C.’s Push to Legalize Prostitution Will Not Help Human Trafficking Says Human Rights Statistician

December 10, 2019

Davina Durgana fights human trafficking and modern slavery and could not imagine life without freedom or liberty. Descending from a family in which her ancestors were indentured servants on sugar cane plantations in Guyana, Durgana knew it was her personal calling to advocate for individuals who do not have the platform to stand up for themselves. 

She works as a world-renowned human rights statistician who calculates the occurring percentages of human trafficking and modern slavery. 

“I work in this field where I am an educated, young woman when my own grandmother never finished high school because she was married and unable to go back [to her country],” says Durgana, who strongly believes privileges are a trade-off. She believes those privileged enough to have freedom need to fight for those who do not. 

Currently in Washington, D.C., the city where Durgana has worked for years, there is a progressive movement to decriminalize prostitution through the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019. The ideal outcome of decriminalizing sex work would be to lower the existing rates of human trafficking. 

According to D.C. Councilmember David Grosso, “it is long past time for D.C. to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex—and move from one of criminalization to a new approach that focuses on human rights, health and safety.”

In 2016 Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization that protects human rights, originally came out with this suggestion because “sex workers are among the most vulnerable people in society and are routinely subjected to violence, discrimination and harassment,” according to Sara Schmidt, a representative for Amnesty International. 

Schmidt cited four cases from Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, Norway and Buenos Aires, Argentina, that exemplify the vulnerability that sex workers face. 

In Papua New Guinea, sex workers suffer from a negative stigma from their profession because “within a six month period, 50% of sex workers in the capital, Port Moresby, had been raped by clients or by the police.” 

In Hong Kong, the purchase of sex is not illegal if the person operates from a private apartment, which puts workers at risk of exploitation, rape and theft. 

In Norway, landlords can be prosecuted for renting property to sex workers if sex is sold there. 

In Buenos Aires, sex workers are criminalized through various laws that fail to distinguish the difference between consensual sex work and human trafficking. 

Durgana, on the other hand, is not so convinced that this movement will effectively lower the rates of human trafficking. “I believe that sex slavery victims will be hidden more because their traffickers would not want them to be protected,” she said, referencing the notion that if prostitution were to be decriminalized that sex workers would gain protections in law enforcement and healthcare. 

“It is not like sex workers and human trafficking victims can operate in the all same circles if sex workers are going to be protected and able to report incidents to law enforcement,” she added. 

Durgana, who recently went to the Dominican Republic and spoke with some survivors about their experiences, voiced concerns about the lack of inclusion this movement has for unique circumstances. “It is very easy to be in a quasi-state of exploitation that is quite voluntary sex work but isn’t quite full trafficking, given your personal spectrum and your ability to leave,” she said. 

“I do not envy the people making the choice. I think either way, there can be negative repercussions,” Durgana said, in regards to the lack of accountability for people exploiting sex workers and human trafficking victims. 

In the end, she believes “for the large majority of sex workers, I think legalizing sex work is probably the best move.”  

Durgana, 31, has already received numerous awards and achievements in her time in the workforce. After graduating from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs with a concentration in conflict and security in 2010, Durgana earned  master’s degrees from The American University in Paris for conflict resolution and civil society development and the Sorbonne for political science, and a doctorate in international affairs from the American University in Washington, D.C. 

Nationally recognized by former First Lady Michelle Obama and included in the Forbes “30 Under 30” list, Durgana believes these achievements have created a platform for her to engage with other young women. “I spend about three to four hours a week answering emails or trying to mentor other young women in the [stem] field. It is important to me because they are our future,” said Durgana. 

For many young women, Durgana is an inspiration. One such instance of inspiration was her trip back to her alma mater, the George Washington University in April 2019. She was a keynote speaker for the She’s the First Champions of Change Gala, an organization that fights gender inequality through education. Chapter President Sarah Sem said Durgana “left myself, members of She’s the First and our guests incredibly inspired and motivated. Her reputations and credentials precede her, but have nothing on her positive presence in a room… her positivity and genuine interest in me and my organization made me more motivated than ever to advocate for the issues about which I care.” 

Durgana urges the public to prevent against human trafficking and modern slavery by educating themselves about these topics. She says consumers should choose wisely the products they are purchasing in regards to fair wages and ethical employment practices. “Communities can grow stronger to prevent against human trafficking by making sure to take care of people in our society and try our best that there are not groups who are vulnerable to attacks,” said Durgana. 

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