Category Archives: Personal Autonomy

Speaking of Abortion..

Yesterday’s blog ended with a question about the motives of the anti-abortion culture warriors. Although there are obviously many sincere people who have moral or religious objections to reproductive choice, the punitive measures advanced by many others (together with their utter lack of concern about what happens to the babies so “saved” once they are born) raises legitimate questions about their real agenda.

I’m not much for conspiracy theories; I tend to agree with a colleague from my days in city government who often remarked that incompetence explains so much more than conspiracies. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a fair number of the men who have staked out anti-abortion positions (and yes, they’re disproportionately male) aren’t as opposed to abortion as they are to women’s full equality. (Keep ’em barefoot and pregnant, like God intended…).

After all, if you are truly anti-abortion, you’d support programs that reduce the need for and incidence of abortion.

The New York Times recently reported on the GOP’s war on contraception and Planned Parenthood:

One would imagine that congressional Republicans, almost all of whom are on record as adamantly opposing abortion, would be eager to fund programs that help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

That would be the common sense approach, anyway.

And yet since they took over the House in 2011, Republicans have been trying to obliterate the highly effective federal family-planning program known as Title X, which gives millions of lower-income and rural women access to contraception, counseling, lifesaving cancer screenings, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

A House subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services has proposed to eliminate all Title X funding — about $300 million — from a 2016 spending bill.

The bill would also slash funding by up to 90 percent for sex education, specifically President Obama’s teen-pregnancy prevention initiative. The only winner was abstinence-only education, whose funding the subcommittee voted to double, despite the fact that it has basically no effect on abstinence and has been associated with higher rates of teen pregnancy.

Federal law prohibits the use of any federal dollars for abortion or abortion-related services, and has for many years. That inconvenient fact hasn’t prevented the “pro-life” posers from insisting that their efforts to eviscerate reproductive health programs serving poor women–programs that save the lives of many of those women–are “pro life.” Of course, they aren’t “pro” anything. They are anti-woman–and fiscally irresponsible.

What Title X grants actually do is help prevent unwanted pregnancies — more than one million in 2012, which translates to about 363,000 abortions avoided. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization, every public dollar spent on family planning services saved about $7 in costs related to pregnancy, birth and infant care, as well as sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer. So the proposal to slash the program’s funding is not just inhumane, it’s also fiscally dumb.

A genuine opposition to abortion would require support for family planning programs that reduce abortions. A genuine concern for “life” would include concern for the lives of poor women. A genuine commitment to fiscal conservatism would mandate support for programs that demonstrably save tax dollars.

The operative word is “genuine.”

 

What the Numbers Show

It used to be that references to the culture wars brought to mind the various efforts to marginalize the LGBT community. Over the last several years, as attitudes about homosexuality and gender identity have changed dramatically, fundamentalist culture warriors have increasingly reverted to an older battle: restricting women’s right to control their own reproduction.

State after Red state has passed measures restricting access to abortion, defunding Planned Parenthood, even criminalizing “suspicious” miscarriages. Many of the more draconian measures have been struck down, but many others have not.

Activists holding passionate attitudes about the issue are unlikely to change their positions. The policy question is: where should this battle take place? In the court of public opinion, or in legislative chambers?

Political philosophy holds that legislation is unworkable and seen as illegitimate when there are deep divisions within a polity. (Even when there is wide acceptance of a rule, experience tells us that changing public attitudes can be more effective than legal mandates–just compare the dramatic change in public behavior effected by MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to the effectiveness of DUI laws.)

So the AP’s recent report that abortions have declined nationwide raises an interesting question.

Abortions have declined in states where new laws make it harder to have them — but they’ve also waned in states where abortion rights are protected, an Associated Press survey finds. Nearly everywhere, in red states and blue, abortions are down since 2010.

Most observers credit the drop to a sharp reduction in teen pregnancies and the availability of affordable, effective contraception. Interestingly,

The only states with significant increases in abortions since 2010 are Republican-led Louisiana and Michigan, which have passed laws intended to restrict abortion. Louisiana — where abortions increased 12 percent between 2010 and 2014 — was recently honored by Americans United for Life as the No. 1 state in taking steps to reduce access to abortion.

The question is: do the (mostly male) legislators sponsoring these laws really want to reduce the incidence of abortion? Or–as many feminists suspect–are they equally opposed to effective birth control?

To put it another way, is their objection to abortion, or to women’s autonomy? I’ll consider that question tomorrow.

Tell Me Again How There’s No War on Women…or Common Sense

This makes me crazy.

The Nation reports:

In 2009, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation donated over $23 million to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a five-year experimental program that offered low-income teenage girls and young women in the state long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)—IUDs or hormonal implants—at no cost. These devices, which require no further action once inserted and remain effective for years, are by far the best method of birth control available, with less than a 1 percent failure rate. (The real-use failure rate for the Pill is 10 times higher.) One reason more women don’t use LARCs is cost: While they save the patient money over time, the up-front price can be as high as $1,200. (Even when insurance covers them, many teens fear the claim forms sent to their parents would reveal they are sexually active.)

So–this sounds great, right? And the results?

The results were staggering: a 40 percent decline in teen births, and a 34 percent decline in teen abortions. And for every dollar spent on the program, the state saved $5.85 in short-term Medicaid costs, in addition to other cost reductions and the enormous social benefit of freeing low-income teens from unwanted pregnancies and what too often follows: dropping out of school, unready motherhood, and poverty.

In June, the original grant will run out, so the state legislature had to decide whether to continue funding the program. One would think continued funding for so successful a program would be uncontroversial–but one would be reckoning without today’s GOP.  After the bill providing  funding passed the Democrat-controlled House, Senate Republicans killed it.

And what were the highly principled reasons for refusing to continue a program that reduced teen pregnancies, reduced abortions, and saved money? According to Republican State Senator Kevin Lundberg, using an IUD could mean “stopping a small child from implanting.”

Besides, teenagers shouldn’t be having sex. “We’re providing this long-term birth control and telling girls, ‘You don’t have to worry. You’re covered,’” said Representative Kathleen Conti. “That does allow a lot of young ladies to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places.” (Because the fear of pregnancy has worked so well to keep girls virginal.)

Let me amend that “War on Women” accusation. These moral scolds aren’t waging war against women, they are waging war against women having sex. Especially sex without “consequences.”

If these lawmakers were really “pro-life,” they would support programs that substantially and demonstrably reduce the incidence of abortion.

As this travesty in Colorado clearly shows, however, their real objective is to punish women. Preferably, at taxpayer expense.

Indiana’s General Assembly–the Gift (to Bloggers) That Keeps On Giving

Doug Masson, one of the most thoughtful bloggers around, follows our legislature rather closely. Recently, he described one of the (many) stupid/scary bills that might actually become law, given the collective acumen of that not-so-august body.

You’d think the General Assembly that caught so much crap for trying to define pi would be a little careful with its definitions, but HB 1136 has a reckless swagger about its medical definition. Specifically, it says that “”Fetus” means a
human being produced by a human pregnancy from fertilization through birth, including a zygote, blastocyst, and fetus.”

The inaccuracies are part of a bill requiring Doctors to “talk to” women, to ensure that we sweet, dumb little things understand what we’re doing.

All in a day’s work for the men who think they were elected to be obstetricians.

Let’s acknowledge Masson’s point that the definitions used in HB 1136 have no scientific validity; fetus, zygote and blastocyst are not interchangeable terms, nor are any of them “human beings” in any meaningful sense of the word.

Far more annoying than this added evidence of legislative ignorance, however, is the persistence of efforts to control women’s bodies, to insert government into what should be personal and family decisions, and to make some people’s religious beliefs (no matter how uninformed, unscientific or unrepresentative) the law of the land.

We live in a state that ranks at the bottom of many indices: civic health, education, job creation, child poverty. Rather than making an effort to improve the lives of Hoosiers–including children already born–rather than enacting measures that would feed hungry children, rather than providing (or even regulating the safety of) daycare facilities, our elected officials are focused like lasers on controlling women’s “lady parts.”

News flash, autocrats: that Constitution you’ve never studied says that directing my most intimate personal decisions is not part of your job description.

Knowing the meaning of the words you use probably is, though.

 

This Makes Me Very Uncomfortable

File this one under there’s a right way and a wrong way to get to a desirable result.

A federal district court in Oregon has declared Secular Humanism a religion, paving the way for the non-theistic community to obtain the same legal rights as groups such as Christianity.

ThinkProgress quoted Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain on the decision. “I really don’t care if Humanism is called a religion or not, but if you’re going to give special rights to religions, then you have to give them to Humanism as well, and I think that’s what this case was about.”

I agree that Humanism deserves equal status with religion under the law. But the First Amendment requires neutrality; it doesn’t simply require equal treatment of religions, it forbids government from privileging religion over non-religion.

Here’s the danger I see in achieving parity by labeling humanism as just another religion: for years, religious literalists have pushed for “equal treatment” in science classes, arguing that secular humanism is a religion, that it is being privileged, that fundamentalist Christianity should be entitled to “equal time,” and so creationism should be taught in science classes. Up until this point, federal courts have refused to take that bait, properly noting that secularism is the absence of religion, and that it would be improper to teach religion in public school science classes.

Science is not a matter of faith, or belief. It is a method, an approach to determining the nature of empirical reality. Science cannot explain everything–it is limited to areas that can be falsified–and there are multiple aspects of human existence where faith or ideology  has a role to play. But drawing that line between matters of fact and opinion is only muddled by confusing a non-theist philosophy with religion. (I know there are non-theistic religions, but in those cases–Buddhism, etc.–their adherents claim the label.)

Courts struggled with the definition of religion in cases involving conscientious objectors, but finally recognized that sincere pacifism should entitle someone to claim that status whether or not that pacifism stems from a “recognized” (established?) religion or not. Similarly, the Oregon court could have–should have–found Humanists entitled to equal treatment for purposes of the prison program at issue under well-settled Establishment law principles.

I hope I’m wrong, but this “win” has the potential to be a real loss. How you get to a result is every bit as important as the result itself. Sometimes more so.