Tag Archives: birth control

Sometimes, There Really Are Conspiracies

Or at least, co-ordinated efforts that look pretty conspiratorial.

At first glance, the co-ordinated effort to hobble government efforts to provide for the “general welfare”–to work on behalf of the common good–would seem to have little or nothing to do with a widely reported incident at a Wisconsin Walgreens. A married couple on vacation realized that the wife had left her birth control at home, so she went into the drugstore, picked a box of condoms from the shelf, and took them to the register. A  pompous little prick at the register refused to ring them up, citing his “faith.”

As a contributor to Daily Kos noted,

There’s no law in America against being an ass, so this Walgreens clerk was entirely within his rights to behave like one. But, because of five Republicans on the Supreme Court, it now is problematic — and soon could be against the law nationwide, if Clarence Thomas gets his way — for Walgreens to fire him for “exercising his faith” when working in a drugstore.

The vast majority of Americans, opinion research shows, think a situation like this is absurd. As Jennifer Brooks notes in an article about the Pentz’s experience for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “When the Pew Research Center surveyed American attitudes about birth control, just 4% viewed contraception as morally wrong. 

The writer then connected this exhibition of religious nuttery to the broader–and far more concerning–longterm effort to neuter the authority of government.

The rightwing billionaires and the corporations and foundations aligned with them knew back in 1971 — when Lewis Powell laid out their strategy in his infamous Powell Memo the year before Nixon put him on the Supreme Court — that most Americans wouldn’t happily vote to lower billionaires’ taxes, end unions and regulation of gun manufacturers, or increase the amount of refinery poisons in our air.

So the strategy they came up with to capture control of our government was pretty straightforward:

  1. Convince Americans that taxes aren’t “the cost of a civil society” but, instead, a “burden” that they were unfairly bearing. 
  2. Convince Americans that regulations that protect consumers and the environment are also “burdens” from an out-of-control “nanny state.” 
  3. Convince Americans that unions aren’t “democracy in the workplace” that protect workers’ rights but, instead, an elaborate scam to raid workers’ paychecks to the benefit of “corrupt union bosses.”

As he writes (and many others have documented) they spent five decades and billions of dollars to subsidize think tanks and policy groups at both the federal and state level. As a result, there’s now an extensive network of them reaching from coast-to-coast, all turning out copious policy papers and press releases.

They also sponsored rightwing talk radio– and Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch rolled out Fox “News” to compliment the propaganda campaign. Social media bots and trolls came later, as did literally thousands of websites pretending to be newspapers.

They hooked up with the NRA, which helped sponsor the Reagan Revolution and was richly rewarded with laws that forbade the federal government from compiling gun death statistics and gave complete immunity from lawsuits to weapons manufacturers and sellers for the damage their products cause (the only industry in America that enjoys such immunity).

And they finally got a lot of Americans to go along with their plan, because they’d added in a religious “secret sauce.”

As the writer tells it, Jerry Falwell was a critical part of that “secret sauce.”

Falwell was an inveterate grifter, hustling Jesus to build a multi-million-dollar empire while ignoring Jesus’ teachings about humility, poverty, and the need to care for others. A new, muscular Jesus — a Jesus who endorsed assault weapons and private jets for preachers — came to dominate much of America’s protestant Christianity.

This Jesus wanted you to get rich — riches are a sign of God’s blessing — and in the 1980s, the “prosperity gospel” was all over TV and in megachurches. 

The televangelists became multimillionaires, churches openly defied IRS regulations and preached politics from the pulpit, and millions of mostly non-political church-goers were suddenly evangelists not just for Jesus but also for the Republican Party…

To keep the rubes coming to the churches where they’d hear that GOP message, Republicans on the Supreme Court had to throw them the occasional bone. Giving bakers the right to tell gay people wanting a wedding cake to screw off was one of them, setting up the “religious right” of pharmacists to refuse to sell condoms.

I’m dubious that these efforts were as intentional and strategic as the author clearly believes, but the degree of coordination is really irrelevant. The results–the major problems America now faces– are indisputable.

And as he says, they were all made possible by an unholy alliance of church and state that the Founders warned us against.

What’s Next?

I recently had a disquieting political discussion during an otherwise lovely lunch with my youngest son.

It probably won’t shock readers of this blog to learn that our children and grandchildren are pretty political…and I’m happy to report that they all have developed what I consider to be excellent values. The differences arise from our views of America’s probable future. One son has already moved to the Netherlands, a granddaughter lives in northern England, and this son–our youngest–expects that America’s descent into autocracy and White Supremacy will prompt his children to eventually relocate as well.

Our discussion wasn’t exactly an argument, but we had very different predictions about the likely political fallout when–not if, since we agreed it will happen– the Supreme Court eviscerates or overrules Roe v. Wade. I opined that their “victory” will lead to a reduction in the passion of the pro-fetal-life movement, and energize women who have previously felt protected by Roe. My son disagreed–he sees the anti-choice zealots taking their fervor to state legislatures and–thanks to gerrymandering–tightening their red state control.

I should mention that this son is a lawyer, and a very good one. He knows how to frame and present a convincing argument….Needless to say, I left lunch depressed.

A few days after that conversation, I was a guest on a podcast called Who Gets What–the brainchild of two longtime friends, Morton Marcus and John Guy. After the recording stopped, Morton and I were talking, and he made an observation that I found both fascinating and relevant to the consequences of a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Morton said he’d been looking for a truly objective, scholarly analysis of the multiple ways in which women’s “liberation”–the growth/emergence of women’s participation in all the “nooks and crannies” of society–has changed that society. As he noted, there’s been a lot written about the subject, but it’s mostly advocacy (pro and con), or focused on relatively small parts of the bigger picture. He’d found no analysis encompassing the truly monumental social changes triggered by the steady expansion of women’s participation in all parts of our society.

Morton’s observation is accurate, at least so far as I can tell–I’m unaware of any scholarship that addresses the entirety of the immense social changes that have occurred as a result of women’s emancipation from the confines of “barefoot and pregnant.”

However one defines the “women’s movement,” however, its power depends on reliable birth control.

Yes, we can look to history and find examples of powerful women; we can point to the suffrage movement and similar efforts to assert or enlarge women’s rights–but real change, I submit, came only with the ability of women to control our reproduction. Only then could we enter fully into workplaces (most of which no longer required brute strength), an entry that gave us another form of choice: the economic means to leave unsatisfactory marriages, or to renegotiate the terms of more agreeable ones.

There’s a reason the people who want to return the U.S. to the social structures of the 1950s are so focused on controlling women’s reproduction. (It isn’t just abortion; if you don’t believe birth control is next, I refer you to the Hobby Lobby case…)

The future of American democracy may well depend upon the extent to which American women understand the far broader implications of a loss of control over their reproductive lives. Yes, there are compelling medical, economic and psychological reasons to allow women to exercise the self-determination men take for granted. Yes, the arguments advanced by pro-fetal-life activists are inaccurate gaslighting. But if women lose control over their bodily integrity, they won’t just lose the momentum that has been building toward their full participation in American society, they’ll do a U turn.

Women’s equality will lose considerable–critical– ground.

I think that–deep down, if not consciously–activists on both sides of the issue understand that this fight is really between continuing inclusion of half the population in the life of the nation, or a return to some version of male social dominance. The question is whether the majority of non-activist women understand the actual nature of the debate, care about continuing their progress toward equal civic participation, and are sufficiently motivated to protect the hard-won improvements in women’s prospects and status.

What happens next–whether my son’s predictions or my own hopes prove accurate–ultimately depends on the answer to that question–and upon who wins those statehouses.

Who Decides?

Can you stand a few more observations about the Supreme Court’s birth control decision and women’s reproductive rights in this, the 21st Century?

The amount of disinformation about abortion–and the use of that disinformation by cynical Republican operatives–is fairly widely known. I’ve previously quoted religious historian Randall Ballmer for the actual genesis of the “pro life” movement.

Ballmer points out that it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, goaded by Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion as “a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term.” Being against abortion was “more palatable” than what was actually motivating the Religious Right, which was protection of the segregated schools they had established following the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

So much for the “moral outrage” that presumably prompted the movement.  A number of political scientists and sociologists attribute its continued salience to an equally unlovely motive: keeping those uppity women in their place: the kitchen and bedroom. (When women are able to plan their families and manage their reproduction, they can enter the workforce, and if necessary, leave abusive husbands.) 

Those pious concerns about women’s health have always been dishonest; abortion is far safer than childbirth. A recent study reported by the New Yorker further confirms that claims about later regrets or emotional problems following abortion are simply fabrications.

If there was any doubt about the pro-Republican, anti-woman animus motivating attacks on women’s reproductive autonomy, the Supreme Court’s birth control decision should dispel it. 

As both Justice Ginsberg and the New York Times Editorial Board pointed out, between 70,500 and 126,400 women will immediately lose access to no-cost contraceptive services.

The Trump administration has been attacking both the A.C.A. and access to birth control since the moment President Trump took office. On the latter front, its most successful effort before this week was to gut the nation’s decades-old family planning program, called Title X, in an explicit effort to cripple Planned Parenthood. All of the administration’s efforts on this front have most directly affected poor women and women of color.

As Nancy Papas noted, in a trenchant comment to my previous post on the subject, denying women access to birth control makes no sense (unless, of course, your goal is to erect barriers to female equality). Less birth control means more unwanted pregnancies and abortions, more unwanted children (and increased levels of child abuse). Employee health declines; employee absenteeism rises–and more children on a family plan means higher cost health insurance premiums.

There’s another cost that rarely is factored in: these decisions are “exceptions” to the American concept of liberty.

The Bill of Rights is often described as a list of decisions and behaviors that government must respect: individuals have the right to decide for ourselves what books we will read, what–if any–Gods we will worship, who we will marry and whether and how often we will procreate, among other things. The Courts have routinely referred to such decisions as “intimate” and ruled that government interference with them is illegitimate and unconstitutional. Those same Courts have carved out de jure exceptions for abortion, and now, what amounts to a de facto exception for birth control.

Here’s a thought: states with progressive legislatures (not Indiana, unfortunately) should partner with health insurance companies to establish a fund that would provide low-or-no cost birth control for women who work for these anti-woman “religious” companies. The women should apply directly, eliminating the need for the “religious” owners to be “complicit.” (I guess it doesn’t bother them to be “complicit” in worsening the health of women who take birth control medication for reasons other than contraception–but then, logic and honesty aren’t involved in these decisions.)

Here’s another thought: if America had a single-payer system like the 36 countries that pay less for health outcomes superior to ours, government wouldn’t allow employers to impose their religious beliefs on employees who don’t share them.

 

We Aren’t Going Back

Friday night, I spoke at a local synagogue about women’s rights. They were very nice to me. Here’s my talk. (Apologies for the length.)

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I don’t know how many of you remember when it was considered tactful to refer to older women as “women of a certain age.” I’m one of those women, having attained and then passed that “certain age,” and I’ve seen a significant evolution in women’s rights in my own lifetime. Not too long ago, someone asked me if I had experienced discrimination because I’m a woman. I responded that I’ve really been lucky; I’ve been able to do pretty much anything I wanted to do. But when I began to think about it, I realized that my entire life has played out against the restrictive laws and patriarchal social expectations of the times. A number of options that were available to males simply weren’t options for me. As noted, some of those options were legally unavailable, but many other limitations were products of prevailing, deeply-rooted social attitudes. To the extent women accepted those attitudes, we didn’t see discrimination—we just saw “the way things are.”

My mother—who was born the year women finally got the vote–didn’t work, although she was a woman who would definitely have been much happier pursuing a career. But for middle-class women, participation in the workforce was seen as evidence that one’s husband  wasn’t an adequate breadwinner—so it wasn’t an option.

When my sister and I were in grade school and high school, there were no women’s sports. Girls were cheerleaders, boys played team sports. When I went to college, my parents wanted me to choose a profession I could “fall back on” if my eventual husband died. I could choose among the three professions suitable for women—I could be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. Three times in college, I switched into the school of Liberal Arts, and three times my father switched me back into the School of Education. (I get nauseated at the sight of blood, and I was never a good typist—so voila—I was a teacher!).

When I got married the first time, women still couldn’t get credit or establish a credit rating separate from that of their husbands. Later, when I went to law school, my sister’s brother-in-law told me I should be ashamed that I was taking the place of a man who would actually practice law. A cousin who was a lawyer was more supportive; he told me that if I really excelled, I would probably get hired, but the only lawyer job I could expect would be in the “back room” of a large firm, doing research. I wouldn’t be allowed to work directly with clients. A “friend” told me that my selfish decision to go to law school meant that my children would end up being drug addicts.

When I was interviewing for my first job as a lawyer, the EEOC was only a few years old, but lawyers at the firm knew that certain questions were off-limits. I had three small children, a fact disclosed by my resume, so I volunteered my childcare arrangements. (It seemed reasonable.) One of the lawyers was so visibly relieved that I evidently wasn’t going to burn a bra then and there that he blurted out “Not that there’s anything wrong with being a woman! We hired a man with a glass eye once!”

When Bill Hudnut appointed me Corporation Counsel, I was the first woman to head the city’s legal department. That deviation from the norm evidently triggered a lot of speculation. The Indianapolis Star identified me as a “divorcee” and the Indianapolis News ran a “gossip” item, asking “Did a city official just appoint his most recent honey to a high city position?” Evidently, the notion that a woman might be a good lawyer never crossed their minds.

When I ran for Congress in 1980, I was told by a number of people that they wouldn’t vote for a woman with young children, because my place was at home with those children. (I don’t need to remind you that men with young children are never the subject of similar sentiments—nor do I need to share my strong suspicion that they wouldn’t have voted for any woman, with or without small children.) When I joined a small law firm after losing that election, one of the partners suggested that I stick to wills and divorces, which were areas deemed appropriate for women lawyers. That actually represented progress, since by that time there were at least some limited areas in which it was acceptable for women to be lawyers …

Virtually all of these examples seem ridiculous today, when girls excel at sports and law school classes are more than 50% female. So there has been progress—actually, a lot of progress.  I am always bemused when female students assure me that they aren’t feminists—a word that some of them evidently associate with beefy women who don’t shave their legs.  The young women who don’t think of themselves as feminists simply take for granted that they will get equal pay for equal work, that they won’t have to “put out” for the boss in order to get that promotion, that they can choose the number and spacing of their children, and that there might even be a pediatrician whose office hours don’t reflect the assumption that mom is home all day.

As the commercial says, we really have “come a long way, baby.” But as the “me too” movement, the persistence of the glass ceiling, and depressing statistics about earning discrepancies all attest, we still have a long way to go.

And that long way to go was before the hard-won gains for women’s equality came under sustained attack. At the Women’s March, an elderly woman carried a sign saying “I can’t believe I’m still having to protest this shit.” A lot of us old broads feel that way.

The unremitting attacks on Planned Parenthood are particularly troubling, because women owe an enormous amount of our progress to the availability of reliable birth control. Only when we are able to plan our families, only when we are able to be more than baby factories, is it even possible to talk about having both a family and a career. Once women were in control of their reproduction, they entered the labor market in huge numbers, and became less economically dependent upon their husbands. A woman with a decent job could leave an abusive or unfulfilling relationship and support herself. Economic independence is the first step toward equal treatment, and the ability to decide for ourselves the number and spacing of our children is what makes economic independence possible.

That independence is also what has triggered the backlash we are experiencing from insecure men and especially from the Christian fundamentalists who believe that God made women to be submissive to men. Let me be very clear: there are sincere and admirable people who have principled objections to abortion—but anyone who believes that the anti-Choice movement and the assaults on Planned Parenthood are really about abortion is naïve. The real focus of this attack is on access to birth control and self-determination. It is an effort to deny the equal moral status of women. Let me share just one illustrative example—there are many, many others.

In 2009, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation donated over $23 million to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. That was a five-year experimental program offering low-income teenage girls in the state long-acting reversible contraceptives—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 failure rate for the Pill is higher.) One reason more women don’t use these devices is cost: While they save the patient money over time, the up-front price can be as high as $1,200.

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.

When the original grant ran out, the state legislature had to decide whether to continue funding the program. Now, you would think continued funding for so successful a program would be uncontroversial–but you would be wrong. The bill continuing funding for the program passed the Democrat-controlled House, but the Senate Republicans killed it.

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

Another said, “We’d be allowing a lot of young ladies to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places.”

If these lawmakers were really “pro-life,” they would support programs that substantially and demonstrably reduce the incidence of abortion. As the travesty in Colorado clearly shows, however, their real objective is to deprive women of self-determination. If necessary, at taxpayer expense.

A full list of the ongoing assaults on birth control and reproductive rights, from the Hobby Lobby decision to   Mike Pence’s effort to require funerals for miscarried fetuses to the constant efforts of state legislators around the country to outdo each other’s transvaginal probes and other punitive measures would take hours. Just in Indiana, the ACLU is currently challenging at least three anti-choice laws. I want to believe that what we are seeing is a last convulsion of old men who are frantic to retain their male privilege…but the jury is still out.

The ferocity of the pushback against women’s autonomy and reproductive rights is particularly dangerous to those of us in the Jewish community, because it represents the belief that fundamentalist Christian dogma should be the law of the land—that government should favor the beliefs of one segment of the Christian community over the theologies of other religions and other Christians.

One reason that the United States has been hospitable to Jews—and Muslims and Sikhs and other minority religions—is that the Bill of Rights not only separates Church from State, but forbids government from making decisions that are properly left to individual citizens. As I tell my students, the Bill of Rights is essentially a list of things that government doesn’t get to decide. The American constitution and legal system are based upon respect for personal autonomy and the primacy of the individual conscience—not upon conformance with majoritarian religious beliefs. I don’t think it is an accident that so many of the “family values” politicians who seem intent upon keeping women barefoot and pregnant are also anti-Semites who insist that the United States is a Christian nation.

Opponents of measures requiring equal pay for equal work, pundits who excuse predatory sexual behavior in the workplace (or by the occupant of the Oval Office), voters who reject female candidates for public office simply because they are female, and the politicians and public figures who talk about “making America great” like in the “good old days”—want to take us back to a time when women’s voices were discounted and our aspirations ignored. They want to go back to the “good old days” when women were second-class citizens—a time when being a straight white Christian male conferred automatic social dominance.

I lived through those “good old days.” They are the days I described at the beginning of this talk. They aren’t the reality I want my granddaughters—or my grandsons—to inhabit. We all deserve better.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

File Under “Duh”

I know that evidence and data–let alone logic–are irrelevant to single-issue voters. This is especially true of the more rabid anti-choice warriors intent not just on preventing abortion but also on limiting women’s access to birth control.

Even reasonable anti-choice activists agree with the majority of Americans that easier access to birth control will reduce the incidence of abortion.

A recent study once again confirms that assertion.

Countries with the most restrictive abortion laws also have the highest rates of abortion, the study by the Guttmacher Institute found. Easier access to birth control drives down abortion rates, the report also finds.

Despite the fact that in his former life, Trump declared himself pro-choice , his Health and Human Services Department has reversed Obama era policies that made contraception more freely available and that used evidence-based approaches to fight teen pregnancy — over the objections of career health officials.

A 2012 study of more than 9,000 women found that when women got no-cost birth control, the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions fell by between 62 and 78 percent. But political appointees at HHS advocate for abstinence-only approaches, which have been shown not to affect unplanned pregnancy rates.

Confirmation that more birth control equals fewer abortions ought to elicit a “no shit, Sherlock” reaction. Abortions typically terminate pregnancies that were unwanted; avoid those unwanted pregnancies and you avoid their termination. Duh.

Given that both logic and evidence support measures to reduce the incidence of abortions by making birth control widely available and easy to access, the obvious question becomes: why are anti-choice zealots so determined to restrict access to contraception?

The only answer to that question that passes the smell test is opposition to women’s autonomy.

The belief that women are “lesser vessels” is often rooted in fundamentalist religious beliefs about the proper roles of men and women. In those communities, men are to rule and women are to submit. But non-fundamentalist culture also plays a role; for eons, prior to the development of reliable birth control, women of childbearing age were dependent upon men, and the social roles that evolved reflected that dependency. It hasn’t been all that long, in historical terms, that contraception freed women from biological inevitability, and allowed us to choose the trajectories of our own lives.

There are sincere people among those who oppose abortion, people who genuinely believe that a zygote or fetus is morally equivalent to a human person. They are entitled to their beliefs, and entitled to try to convince others of their validity (although in a religiously diverse country, where different religions take very different approaches to this issue, they are not entitled to impose those beliefs upon women who do not share them.)

The people who want to restrict women’s access to contraception, however, are not genuinely anti-abortion. They’re anti-woman.