My Cousin’s Intriguing Comparison

I periodically post about insights shared with me by one of my cousins, who recently forwarded a recent blog post of his own, containing an intriguing comparison between America’s battle over reproductive rights and prohibition. With his permission, I’m sharing much of what he wrote.

Prior to 1920, there were few restrictions on the production and consumption of alcohol. But after that, the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States was made illegal until 1933 under the terms of the Eighteenth Amendment. Major support for this amendment was provided by groups with strong religious ties that included many Protestants, together with a national grassroots base comprising the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Ironically, most of the ardent supporters of prohibition were located in rural areas, and they were, to a large extent, pitted against a majority of urban dwellers.

But most Americans have always objected to the removal of a widely available right, and this resulted in widespread flouting of the law banning alcohol, especially in urban areas. Finally, under pressure from a national majority, the twenty-first amendment permitting alcohol was passed, which then ceded responsibility for alcohol policy to the individual states, and as we now know, this has resulted, with few exceptions, in the widespread national acceptance of alcohol.

From these experiences derived from prohibition, we have learned two important lessons that should attract the attention of all, especially those who are anti-abortion: 1) Americans are loath to give up established rights, and 2) religious groups, even if large in number, cannot impose their will on a reluctant majority for extended periods.

And now we are presented with an eerily similar circumstance: For a half century, the general population was enjoying freedom of choice through rights granted by the Supreme Court (Roe vs Wade), and now this right has been abruptly revoked, and this responsibility was passed on to the individual states. And if history is any guide, the vast majority in most states will press for return to something resembling their previous freedom… 

The rest of his column looked at the likely outcome of allowing individual states to regulate reproduction. I think it is far more likely that Congress will ultimately codify Roe v. Wade–but only if Democrats win control of both houses. 

And that brings me to Indiana, and our open Senate seat.

Marc Carmichael has pledged to work for codification of Roe. (As he frequently notes, he has granddaughters who deserve fundamental rights.) Jim Banks not only supports a national abortion ban with no exceptions–not for rape, incest or the life of the mother–but actively opposes measures that would facilitate or protect access to birth control. He was one of the Republicans who voted against the Right to Contraception Act, a bill intended to “protect a person’s ability to access contraceptives and to engage in contraception, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information related to contraception.” 

The Right to Contraception Act was essentially an effort to codify Griswold v. Connecticut. Griswold was a precursor case to Roe, in which the court held that a couple’s decision to use birth control was none of government’s business–that individuals have a constitutional right to personal autonomy, aka privacy.

I’ve linked to the text of the bill, passage of which was blocked by Republicans.

In the wake of the Dobbs decision, GOP operatives hastened to assure voters that the party wasn’t coming for contraception–that, to the contrary, with abortion banned, access to birth control would be expanded. Their actions, however, proved how hollow–indeed, dishonest– those assurances were. Red states rushed to pass “personhood” amendments that enabled the recent theocratic attack on IVF in Alabama. The decision in the Hobby Lobby case continues to allow employers with “sincere religious objections” to deny birth control coverage to employees whose “sincere religious beliefs” differ.

I believe my cousin was exactly right to compare the politics of the Republican war on reproductive liberty to prohibition. In both cases, self-appointed “god squads” have tried to enlist government to impose their views on everyone else.  In both cases, huge majorities of Americans disagree with those views. Those majorities defeated prohibition, and I am confident will vote to secure women’s rights to birth control and abortion.

The battle reminds me of that famous line from Network. To paraphrase, American women are mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore; we’re not going back to being submissive, barefoot and pregnant.  We’re going to defeat Jim Banks and his fellow misogynists and send allies like Marc Carmichael to the U.S. Senate.

I think I’ll go drink to that…..


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.


Your Religion, My Body….

There has been another attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic–this time, in Colorado. I’ve never quite understood how ostensibly “pro life” men (and they are almost always white Christian men) justify killing for life, but however they understand their Deities to compel these acts of domestic terrorism, their incidence has been growing since the release of the doctored Planned Parenthood tapes.

Ironically, these murderous attacks are far less effective at limiting abortions than the considerably more mundane and seemingly inexorable consolidation of hospitals around the country.

For example, the experience of women needing medical care in Michigan is increasingly being replicated throughout the U.S.

In October, the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of their members against Trinity Health Corporation, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country, for its repeated and systematic failure to provide women experiencing pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.

In response to the lawsuit, the hospital submitted a brief arguing that state and federal law allow Trinity to “refuse to allow abortions to be performed on hospital premises,” in the context of emergency miscarriage treatment when the woman’s life or health is at risk.

Trinity is legally exempt from having to perform elective abortions. But emergency situations such as those that triggered the ACLU’s lawsuit are another matter; indeed,  refusing to provide emergency care in these situations is medical malpractice. (I couldn’t find any information in a cursory search, but I would be surprised if doctors refusing to adhere to a medical standard of care in such situations aren’t being sued.)

The policy question is simple, although the appropriate resolution is anything but.

Virtually all hospitals depend for their existence upon federal dollars. Those dollars come from taxpayers of all religions and none. Are such institutions entitled to deny people medically appropriate care on the basis of their own religious doctrine? The question is gaining urgency as more and more of the nation’s hospitals have become part of Catholic health-care systems–currently, 10 of the 25 largest hospital systems in the U.S. are Catholic. As the ACLU’s Reproductive Rights project newsletter noted

We know, for example, that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which sets the rules for all Catholic hospitals, has said that its hospitals should let a woman die rather provide an emergency abortion. The bishops made their policy crystal-clear when a Catholic hospital in Phoenix defied the bishops’ rules and saved a woman’s life by providing an abortion. The bishops excommunicated a nun who was on the committee that approved the abortion, and the hospital was stripped of its Catholic status.

There are plenty of doctrinal questions raised by such examples, but those are matters for internal Catholic debate. The question for the rest of us is the same question that is raised in other conflicts pitting civic equality and access to public services against the religious beliefs of people claiming their faith exempts them from treating others as they would wish to be treated–as autonomous persons entitled to make their own moral decisions.

That question is: at what point do the obligations of citizenship in a diverse nation that celebrates civic equality override the “sincerely held religious beliefs”of those who believe they are entitled to be more equal than others?


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.


I Was Wrong

Yesterday I blogged about something I’d gotten right. Today, I’m going to admit being wrong.

When people first began talking about a “war on women,” I thought the rhetoric was over the top. Sure, there were some retrograde legislators in statehouses around the country–not to mention Washington–but that’s always been the case. Attacks on Roe v. Wade have been a staple since the case was first decided, and the persistent efforts to roll back a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy have long been an unpleasant but relatively minor part of the political landscape.  I never believed those who insisted that–given a chance–the attacks would intensify, and even extend to contraception.

Boy, was I wrong!

The elections of 2010 that swept conservative and Tea Party Republicans into office were evidently seen as authorizations to engage in a full-scale and increasingly demeaning attack on women’s reproductive rights.

It wasn’t just the offensive transvaginal ultrasound bill that has been characterized as “legislative rape.” During the first six months of 2011, 19 states enacted 162 new provisions aimed at reproductive health. There were “counseling” and extended waiting periods for abortions–including a South Dakota measure that requires “counseling” to include risk factors even when those risks are not supported by medical evidence. In Kansas and Arizona, laws working their way through their respective legislative processes would allow doctors to withhold accurate information about fetal abnormalities or risks posed by the pregnancy from women who might decide, on the basis of that information, to abort.

Fifteen states banned abortions after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is endangered. Ohio went even farther, banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually between six and ten weeks. Still others passed measures making medication abortions difficult or impossible.

Then there have been the truly bizarre efforts aimed squarely at birth control and women’s health.

The recent Congressional effort to characterize contraceptive coverage as a religious liberty issue has been widely debated, but there have been other, less publicized efforts to deny women access to birth control. Several states have considered so-called “personhood” amendments that would effectively ban the most effective forms of contraception by equating a fertilized egg to a “person.” There have been repeated efforts at both the federal and state level to de-fund Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that huge numbers of poor women depend upon the organization for basic health services like pap smears and breast exams.

The (male) politicians who favor these and other punitive measures used to pretend they were operating out of a concern for women’s “informed” consent–since, as we all know, women are too stupid to make these intimate decisions unaided. But even that pretense is disappearing. We have a Republican Presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, on the record saying contraception is wrong because it allows people to do “wrong” things–i.e., engage in non-procreative sex.

If this avalanche of misogyny isn’t a “war on women,” I’d hate to see the real thing.

Gail Collins recommends investing in burqa futures. I think she’s on to something.