Archive for the ‘Reproductive rights and choices’ Category

Today’s Doonesbury

Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

Today’s Doonesbury made me laugh out loud.

The scary thing is that it’s a real study, by Philip Longman. I wonder if New America will put up a link to the Doonesbury.

Prevention first (but not last)

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

Today is NARAL’s Prevention First action dayClick here to take action.  It’s easy to get so focused on what’s going on in South Dakota that we forget that basic access to birth control is under attack as well, with the FDA still delaying on approving emergency contraception, pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, and the NIH apparently sharing inaccurate medical information.

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the ways in which society hasn’t changed as much as I think it should.  But it’s important to also remember how much it has changed.  And while I reject the claim that second wave feminism was simply a by-product of the pill, I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate the impact of reliable birth control on women’s lives.  Today, when childbearing is often postponed until the 20s or 30s (or foregone entirely), and when women can expect to live for decades past menopause, it’s hard for me to imagine what it must have been like to spend essentially your entire adult life either pregnant or breastfeeding.

Here we go again

Sunday, January 8th, 2006

As some of you may recall, last year a Virginia delegate introduced a really stupid bill that would have required women to report all miscarriages to the police within 12 hours.  Largely due to a bunch of really ticked off infertility and parenting bloggers, the sponsor was flooded with outraged emails and calls, and soon withdrew the bill.

Do you think we can do it again?

The new legislative season is about to begin in Virginia, so it’s time for more idiocies.  As Julie reports at a little pregnant, Delegate Bob Marshall has introduced a bill that would ban doctors and nurses (anyone "licensed by a health regulatory board") from performing or assisting an unmarried woman in any form of assisted reproduction "that completely or partially replaces sexual intercourse as the means of conception."

I feel compelled to point out that Marshall is the author of Virginia’s stringent anti-gay marriage law, which prohibits "other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage."  So, lesbians are out of luck, unless they can find a man willing to enter into a sham marriage with them, in which case everything is fine and dandy according to Mr. Marshall.

But it’s not just lesbians who are affected, or single women who want to have babies without finding someone to hook up with for a night.  As Maura pointed out at Julie’s site, Marshall has links to the American Life League, which believes that all reproductive assistance is an affront to human dignity.  Fine, he’s entitled to believe that.  Even to do his best to convince others that it’s true.  But he’s not entitled to make it the law of the land.

Via Landismom, I read Trey’s post last week about gay and lesbian families moving away from hostile states, like Virginia.  I certainly can’t blame anyone for making that choice.  But I do believe that those of us who aren’t directly threatened by bills like this (as a married, fertile woman, I’m not) have an obligation to fight against them as hard as we would if we were personally affected.

I’m confident that my delegate will be as opposed to this bill as I am, but I’ll drop him a note anyway.  If you live in Virginia, please contact your delegate.  And all of us can give Mr. Marshall a piece of our mind.

Emergency Contraception Rally

Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

I think the FDA’s non-decision on Emergency Contraception (EC, the morning-after pill) is bullshit.  All of their scientific advisory panels have recommended approving it.  They’re full of it for saying that an age-based decision is unenforceable; as Fred at Stone Court points out, if that were the case, tobacco shouldn’t be available.  This is a purely political decision.

So why wasn’t I more enthusiastic when got the following email from NOW and the FMF?

Dear DC Activist,

We wanted to make you aware of an important National Day of Action and rally for Emergency Contraception (EC). We hope to see you there!

WHO: National Organization for Women, along with other women’s rights organizations and activists

WHAT: National Day of Action on Emergency Contraception

WHERE: Outside U.S. Department of Health and Human Service 200 Independence Avenue, S.W. ยท Washington , D.C. 20201

WHEN: Tuesday, August 30 @ 12:00 pm. Come during your lunch break!

WHY : To demand that emergency contraception (EC) be made available to all women, over the counter and without a prescription NOW! After more than two years of foot-dragging, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has failed women once again! In a report issued today, the FDA demanded more time before announcing a decision to broadening access to "the morning after pill". NOW activists and others who support the health and safety of girls and women will hold a rally outside the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service office to insist that the FDA allow the sale of Emergency Contraception without a prescription. Please come during your lunch break and bring signs!

Well, for one thing, I work at 200 Independence Avenue.  There’s something incongruous of walking out at my lunch hour to protest in front of my own building, then returning to my desk to put in an afternoon’s work.  But more generally, this seems like an incredibly ineffectual action.  The FDA isn’t even based downtown — all its staff are out in Rockville.    And I’m sure the scientists who work at FDA are even more pissed off about this than I am.  Waving signs in front of the HHS office building may make you feel like you’re doing something but is highly unlikely to change anything.

[Updated] So, if you’re angry about the EC decision, the first thing to do is to send in your opinion using the official comment form.

Then, if you’re up to it, write letters to:

  1. Lester Crawford, FDA Commissioner
  2. Mike Leavitt, HHS Secretary
  3. Your Representative and Senator. 

Make a stink about politics affecting decisions that should be made based on science.

While you’re at it, if you’re female, the next time you’re at your OB/GYN, ask for a prescription for EC.  It’s a useful thing to have around the house, and the request also helps draw medical attention to the issue.

And if you need EC now, try your local Planned Parenthood, or or call 1-888-NOT-2-LATE.  (Thanks to Mary for the last.)  You may also be able to use a high dose of regular birth control pills for EC, if you happen to have access to a pack.

Further update:  Susan Wood, Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health at the FDA, has resigned in protest.  Read her resignation letter here.

Susan Anne Catherine Torres

Friday, August 5th, 2005

This week, Susan Anne Catherine Torres was born.  Her birth has gotten a lot of attention because her mother died several months ago, of bleeding due to a previously undiagnosed brain tumor.  Her body has been kept on life support since, in order to give the fetus a chance to develop.  However, the cancer was spreading, so they were out of time.  The baby was born at a gestational age of 27 weeks, tiny, but with a good chance of survival.

Several feminist bloggers have been highly critical of this choice, while others have focused their ire on the tone of the media coverage.  I agree that the press has been a bit overwraught, but it’s probably asking to much to expect them to resist the combination of tear-jerker and science fiction.  And the Torres family sought publicity, in order to raise the funds needed for the medical bills. 

I basically see this choice as comparable to organ donation, or embryionic stem cell research.  Susan Torres was gone in May; I see only an affirmation of hope and life in the family’s choice to use her body in this way.  It’s just that we’re not used to having dead bodies be warm and with beating hearts. 

To the extent that I have any reservations about this story, it’s my usual issue that there’s something strange about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep one baby alive, when thousands of children are dying, in Niger and elsewhere, for lack of food, clean water, basic vitamins, and vaccines that cost pennies.  But that utilitarian framework is unrelenting and impossible to live up to.  Pretty much everything anyone in the US spends money on — from bottled water to luxury SUVs, from this Typepad account to my son’s asthma medication — is immoral if you weigh it in such a calculus. 

For what it’s worth, I basically agree with "Mrs. Coulter" that, under comparable circumstances, I’d probably want the same.  In fact, my living will includes the following statement:

"In spite of the above, I am willing to receive treatment under the following conditions:

  • If I am pregnant and life-prolonging procedures will result in a reasonable probability of the child being delivered viably and having an acceptable quality of life.
  • If keeping my body functioning is necessary to allow my organs to be transplanted. I do not wish to receive treatment for more than one week on this basis."

That’s not to say that I think this is the only reasonable choice.  Especially given how early in Torres’ pregnancy she collapsed, I could well imagine her husband making the decision that, under the circumstances, his living child (they have a 2-year-old as well) needed his full attention and emotional energy.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Torres family tonight.

Child support enforcement

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

Just in time for Father’s Day, the Washington Post today has a story on a study that found that states with more successful child support enforcement programs had lower overall rates of out-of-wedlock births.

This is interesting, because theory doesn’t predict which direction child support laws should affect non-marital births.  Strong child support enforcement should make it less desirable for men to father children whom they will be forced to support, regardless of their relationship with the child’s mother, but at the same time should make it more desirable for unmarried women to have children, because they’re less likely to bear all the cost themselves.  If I remember correctly, Charles Murray attacked child support laws in Losing Ground, because he thought they overall promoted nonmarital childbearing.

I haven’t read anything more about this study than what was in the newspaper, but the researchers are fairly well-respected types.  If the finding hold up, this suggests, first, that the negative incentives for men are greater than the positive incentives for women and second, that the men have a significant degree of influence on the decision.  The latter implication surprises me.

TBR: Moral Politics

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

Today’s book is Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, by George Lakoff, better known these days for his slim spin-off volume, Don’t Think of an Elephant.  In this book, Lakoff attempts to answer the question that I was left with after reading What’s The Matter with Kansas?, namely why are Christian conservatives willing to mobilize to lower taxes?

Lakoff is a linguist, specifically a "cognitive linguist." This means that he studies how the language that we use to discuss things, and the implicit metaphors behind our choice of language, are shaped by — and in turn shape — how we think about the world.  His core argument is that the real difference between conservatives and liberals in contemporary American politics is that they use different models of the family as their central metaphor for thinking about society.  Conservatives use a "Strict Father" model, a metaphor that supports belief in authority, self-discipline and self-reliance, reward and punishment; liberals use a "Nuturant Parent" metaphor, a metaphor that supports belief in empathy, openness, cultivation of interests, promotion of opportunity, and second chances.  Lakoff argues that moderates (and swing voters) are those who apply both models at different times, depending on the specific issue at hand.

Lakoff acknowledges that there’s no real way to prove the accuracy of a cognitive model.  Instead, he suggests that readers evaluate his hypothesis by examining whether the model is a convincing explanation for the world we see around us.  I found Lakoff’s argument a plausible explanation for many aspects of American politics, including many conservative positions that I fundamentally find incomprehensible.  (For example, why do many conservatives feel that same-sex marriage is a "threat" to "traditional marriage"?   Lakoff argues "Metaphorically, someone who deviates from a tried and true path is creating a new path that others will feel safe to travel on.  Hence, those who transgress boundaries or deviate from a prescribed path may ‘lead others astray’ by going off in a new direction and creating a new path.")  I’d be very interested in knowing whether conservatives feel that Lakoff’s description is generally accurate.

The public debate regarding which Lakoff’s analysis seems least illuminating is that about abortion.  Lakoff accurately states that pro-life advocates view the fetus as a human life, and abortion as the destruction of that life, while pro-choice advocates view abortion as a simple medical procedure.  But his attempt to tie these positions back to the Strict Father v. Nuturant Parent models seems both weak, and deeply cycnical: he implies that adherents to the Strict Father model want to punish women for the lack of self-discipline and morality shown by having sex when they’re not prepared to parent, and therefore decide that the fetus is a baby, while Nuturant Parent supporters decide that the fetus is just cells because they believe in sex out of marriage, second chances, and heavy investments in all children.  This doesn’t ring true to me, and certainly doesn’t explain pro-choice Catholics like Frances Kissling or pro-life feminists like Hugo Schwyzer.

As someone who spends my professional life helping improve the research basis for social policy, I found Lakoff’s dismissal of the role of evidence in affecting policy choices both disheartening and plausible.  He argues that there is a small subset of both conservatives and liberals who are pragmatic enough to be moved by evidence, but that most people are too wedded to their cognitive models to listen to any evidence against the policies they support.  Much to my chagrin, I think that’s probably right.  Conservatives like full-family sanctions even thought there’s no evidence that they are more effective than partial sanctions, but because they seem morally right.  Liberals hate marriage promotion programs because they think it’s an illegitimate use of government power, even though the evidence that kids do better in married-parent families is fairly strong.

I want to talk a bit about Elephant, and the political implications of Lakoff’s arguments, as well as of the significance of the two models of families for parenting, but I think I’m going to save both topics for another day.

Child well-being and unwed parenthood

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

Someone emailed me after reading yesterday’s post and asked me about the statement that children born to unmarried parents do worse than their peers on a range of measures.  The measures include things from physical health, to how well the children do at school, to drug use, to how early they start having sex and becoming parents themselves.  Here’s a link to a set of charts from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and here’s a summary of the literature by MDRC, a moderately liberal research organization.

There are two important caveats to keep in mind as you look at these studies.  First, all of the studies are looking at group averages.  So they don’t tell you anything about any given individual who is a member of a group.  There are millions of children of single parents who are healthy, do well in school, have healthy relationships, don’t get involved in any sort of criminal activity, etc. 

Second, there is a huge correlation between single parenthood and low incomes.  This is both because single parents typically only have access to one person’s earnings and because people with lower earnings are more likely to have children while not married.  And so, when you just look at the simple average differences between children of single parents and children of married parents (as Heritage does in the link above), most of the gap is probably driven by differences in income.  However, more sophisticated studies do suggest that marital status matters, even after controlling for income.  (One particularly interesting study supporting this comes from Sweden, which has a much more generous economic safety net for single parents than the US.)

Maybe I’ve been working for the Bush Adminstration too long, but I don’t think their Healthy Marriage Initatiive is an inherently evil notion, as most mainstream feminist organizations do, although I do think it is overly narrowly focused.   Instead, I support the Marriage-Plus proposals, which combine support for marriage and stable relationships with job training and other economic supports as well as programs to combat teen pregnancy.  (Heritage and its ilk consider Marriage-Plus to be heresy.)  During the CLASP audioconference last week, Kathy Edin mentioned a "service-learning" program that had suprisingly good results at reducing teen pregnancy; she suggested that it was because it gave the participants a sense that they could contribute to society in a way other than parenting.  That seems like a worthy goal.

Thoughtful discussion of abortion

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005

Via and I wasted all that birth control, I found this truly thoughtful discussion at Arwen/Elizabeth’s site about a key question behind the abortion debate, namely when does a fetus become a human being with rights of its own. I’m not sure anyone’s opinion was changed, but people were listening, not shouting past each other.  (And Cecily is one of the world’s classiest people.)

I was particularly intrigued by the comments that some people made about how their positions on this issue were affected by their experiences of pregnancy.  I found that having my children made both the reality of the potential life growing within and the horror of forcing a woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy more vivid to me.  It didn’t change my position on what I think the laws should be, however.

The NYTimes today has an article on how pro-life counseling centers are buying ultrasound machines to use to convince women not to have abortions.  I know such centers sometimes (often?) get women in under false pretenses and put a lot of pressure on them.  But, if you’re going to trust women to make these decisions, I don’t think it’s right to protect them from reminders of the potential for life.  (Although personally, I couldn’t see a thing on any of my sonograms; the simple heartbeat was much more impressive to me.)

Hugo Schwyzer has an interesting post this week on what it means to be male, pro-feminist, and pro-life.  He concludes that his most important work is in the area of changing men’s attitudes and of supporting male responsibility. 

The Nation had a powerful piece a couple of weeks ago on how Mississippi laws have made abortion "out of reach, buried under state laws that make the process unnecessarily difficult, discouraged by a sense of shame enforced by practically every public authority, and inaccessible for many who lack money to pay for it."  This is clearly the strategy being used in Virginia as well.   Unfortunately, this approach makes the sort of honest back and forth discussed above almost impossible.


Rad Geek People’s Daily is promoting a bit of googlebombing to ensure that searches for Roe v. Wade get you to the text of the decision rather than to an advocacy site. 

Empathy, and its limits

Saturday, January 15th, 2005

In her essay on being pro-choice and still valuing the fetus as a potential human life (Is There Life After Roe: How to Think About the Fetus), Frances Kissling suggests that people who wore Planned Parenthood’s "I had an abortion" t-shirt were bragging.  While I think a lot of what she wrote makes sense, I think she’s missed the point on this one.  The t-shirt campaign was designed to make women who have abortions less a faceless anonymous other, and instead remind people it might be the proverbial girl next door.  As all good lobbyists know, putting a specific human face and voice behind a problem is often more effective than all the fancy statistically valid studies you could possibly put together. 

But right now I’m thinking about the limits of empathy.  Because the people who commented on Wednesday’s post have convinced me that we’re only guessing when we try to imagine how we’d feel in someone else’s situation.  And because I think that control over our own reproductive choices are too fundamental to depend on something as random as whether or not someone finds our story sympathetic.  I fear a world in which someone gets to decide that Ayelet‘s abortion is allowed because she was appropriately agonized about it but Amy‘s is not because she was too casual in talking about it.