There’s Hope for Reproductive Justice

Art by Megan Smith

Art by Megan Smith

Let’s hear it – one more time – for the Millennials. Especially the youngest Millennials, just now reaching or approaching voting age. A generation unto themselves.

Invited to speak at a recent “Awareness into Action” day at Drew School, a private college preparatory day school in San Francisco, this writer went with some trepidation into a classroom set up for about ten high school students. Who – when she hasn’t been a high schooler in more than a half century – knows high school students today?

My workshop was on Reproductive Justice. Other choices the students could make included workshops on Mindfulness, Parks Conservancy, Anti-Racist Dialogue, LGBTQ issues and Immigration Law (to name a few.) I figured if 5 or 6 girls showed up it would be fine. By the time we were ready to start there were 14 girls and two brave (and handsome) guys around the table and sitting on chairs and tables in the back corner, plus one teacher keeping an eye on it all.

For openers, I’d written several facts on the whiteboard:

A woman dies of cervical cancer almost once every two hours. HPV vaccine prevents most cases of cervical cancer.

17 states mandate that women be given counseling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (5 states); the ability of a fetus to feel pain (12 states); long-term mental health consequences of abortion for the woman (7 states.) None of the above are true.

Then I told my own story. The story of a 22-year-old who had never had sex – after all, nice girls did not have sex before marriage in 1956. A victim of what would today clearly be workplace rape, I did all the dangerous things that women desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy are increasingly doing today. When nothing else worked, I had a back alley abortion by an untrained man who probably had not even washed his hands.

“I think,” I said to the roomful of attentive faces, “we’re going straight back to the dark ages.”

Not if these young people have anything to say about it.

Aware that they are among the lucky ones, they are concerned about the unlucky. They seemed a little taken aback by statistics like this one:

In 2006, 49% of pregnancies were unintended. The proportion of unintended pregnancies was highest (98%) among teens younger than 15.

. . . and by other data about how widespread is the denial of access to reproductive healthcare for poor women and girls (and men and boys) in more than half of the U.S. “It’s just wrong,” said one student.

So what do you think you can do to change things, I asked.

“Vote,” came the first answer, before I even finished the question.

“We have to learn to listen to people we disagree with,” said another student, who had been rather vocal in her description of political villains. “You may have to bite your tongue,” I said. “Yeah, I know,” she replied. “Because we have to learn how to have dialogue.”

“We just have to know the laws,” said another, “and work to change them.”

“We need to support these organizations, too,” commented another student, tapping the table with some of the materials I had distributed from groups like Advocates for Youth, Planned Parenthood and Sea Change.

For this writer, who lived through the worst of times, the workshop brought hope for the future of reproductive justice in the U.S. Returning to the worst of times is not on the agenda for these Millennials.

 

 

Wanted children, planned families… Why not?

This article first appeared on Huffington Post

The wanted child, the planned family. Can anybody argue that the wanted child and the planned family are not infinitely better off for everyone: child, family and society in general?

So why are we fighting these battles?

The Supreme Court, for example, is taking up the question of whether Hobby Lobby — which presumably prefers unwanted children and unplanned families — can refuse to provide contraceptive insurance for its employees because doing so would somehow offend (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act uses the word “burden”) the religion of its corporate soul. Assuming corporations have a soul, which may or may not be true for Hobby Lobby — this is subject to individual opinion. The RFRA is, of course, also about people, but the Court has already hopelessly blurred the line between people and corporations.

This writer is not a Supreme Court judge, which most U.S. citizens would deem a good thing. But can we think this through? Hobby Lobby goes to a church that thinks sex should occur strictly for purposes of procreation, and conception should therefore never be prohibited. Never mind any Hobby Lobbyists who may have planned their own families; Hobby Lobby still finds it offensive that he should be required to help an employee plan his or her own family. Excuse me?

In particular, Hobby Lobby does not want poor people to plan their families. People of means (and Hobby Lobby is definitely a corporate person of means) have plenty of access to contraceptives enabling them to plan their families. Poor people could use a little help. According to a report recently completed by the Guttmacher Institute (full disclosure, this writer supports the Guttmacher Institute; Hobby Lobby does not), almost nine million disadvantaged women every year get help protecting their health and planning their families through the successful U.S. family planning effort. This effort — which includes funding for contraceptives — substantially reduces the rates of unintended pregnancy. In the process it saves us taxpayers some $10 billion per year.

Some of the details of the Guttmacher report, excerpted below, are worth noting:

• Nearly nine million women receive publicly funded family planning services each year. Three-quarters of these women (6.7 million) received this care from safety-net health centers and about 2.2 million from private physicians. Of these nine million women, 4.7 million obtained care from a health center that receives some funding through Title X.

• Publicly supported contraceptive care enables women to avoid 2.2 million unintended pregnancies each year; absent these services, U.S. rates of unintended pregnancy, unplanned birth and abortion would be two-thirds higher than they are.

• Underscoring the critical role these safety-net providers play in women’s lives, six in 10 women receiving contraceptive care at a health center consider that provider their usual source of care. For four in 10 women who visit a reproductive health-focused health center despite having other options, that provider is their only source of medical care throughout the year.

• Every public dollar invested in helping women avoid pregnancies they did not want to have saves $5.68 in Medicaid expenditures that otherwise would have gone to pregnancy-related care; in 2010, that amounted to a net government savings of $10.5 billion. Safety-net providers that receive some funding from Title X accounted for $5.3 billion of those net public savings.

Dollars saved, wanted children, planned families, individual rights and everything else aside, Hobby Lobby insists that provision of contraceptive coverage infringes upon its religious rights.

It is encouraging to note, though, that 47 religious organizations, through their leaders, have weighed in on the side of wanted children and planned families. They are Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others.

This Presbyterian is proud to join them.

Roe v Wade: an anniversary to celebrate

right to choose

Photo Courtesy: CRoberts5, ieTheRevolution

The day has just passed, but it’s worth celebrating for a while. Especially while “Marches for Life” are going on around the country.

Aren’t we all wanting the same thing? Life?

Even those whose focus is only on the life of the fetus: many of them are at least interested in the lives of women and girls, some of them support education, family planning, healthy people. Some of them will talk about contraception, our mutual wish to make abortion rare, our mutual interest in everyone’s health. Life.

Forty-one years ago the Supreme Court made it legal: women (and girls) like me would never again face the shame, danger and often death that came from trying to end an unintended pregnancy. Though it came too late for me, I was lucky; I survived a back-alley abortion, even to have healthy, wanted children. I mourn those who did not, or who wound up maimed. I am saddened and dismayed by the efforts today to send us straight back to those dark days. It is my hope and prayer that we can find ways to make abortion rare — through diligent work on things like education and contraception — while keeping women and girls safe, healthy and autonomous with protection of the right to choose what happens to their own bodies.

Which brings us back to the celebration, of Roe v Wade.  Of life.

You and your brain are in the crosshairs of neuromarketing

Why does this not seem altogether good news? Details have recently been revealed about new insights into the human brain — and how marketers can make use of them to sell more stuff.

Just in from Daily News & Analysis — which reportedly “has fast entrenched itself in the lives of a young and dynamic readership in India’s commercial capital Mumbai” and from that position offers its readers “a composite picture of India and the world” — is a story about new discoveries in neuroscience that are expected to revolutionize the marketing world. How? By using tests to measure, with a high degree of accuracy, your brain’s responses to whatever catches your eye. Well, maybe not your brain, but focus groups of brains enough like yours that sellers will be homing in on you as never before. It’s called EEG-based neuromarketing.

It’s all covered in a new book titled The Buying Brain: secrets for selling to the subconscious mind, by A.K. Pradeep, founder and CEO of NeuroFocus Inc and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur whose MySpace page says that his brain research company is going to change the world as we know it forever.

“Companies around the world, including the largest and most successful global giants”, reports DN&A, “are increasingly turning to EEG-based neuromarketing that measures the whole brain because it offers far more accuracy, reliability, and actionable results than conventional market research methods.” That “actionable results” business refers to you and me, Mr. & Ms. Target Market.

But to move from the Daily News & Analysis over to Amazon.com, here are a couple of tips from its Product Description segment which says “The Buying Brain is your guide to the ultimate business frontier – the human brain.”

1) Your brain gets scared in some stores. Your conscious mind doesn’t know it, of course, but your subconscious mind views sharp corners as a threat. Who knew?

2) Too much of one thing can make your brain go blind. “Repetition blindness” sets in when we see too many of the same objects. (The TV department of Best Buy either has not figured this out yet, or has found that TV buyers like to buy blindly.)

3) Men and women are hard-wired to shop differently. Men shop by looking for targets; women shop by looking for landmarks. Women explore their territory; men make maps.

There are fewer and fewer secrets. You may indeed be able to improve your memory or strengthen brain function, but marketers are probably going to be one step ahead of you. That caveat emptor phrase has morphed from “buyer beware” to Be Very Afraid.

Medicinal pot, Yes. Legal pot, bad idea

Wafting around California these days is a lot of rhetoric about legalizing marijuana, a proposition (#19) that will be on the ballot in November. Californians being Californians — I’m one; I know — and pot being pot, there is no shortage of heated opinion. Here is one more.

Countless Americans suffer from chronic or short-term conditions which could be relieved by marijuana. To deny them such relief simply makes no sense at all. The sooner everyone wakes up to the logic of marijuana as comfort care, and it becomes universally legal and available, the better.

Legalizing the weed for recreational delight, though — essentially making it available to all comers — makes very little sense at all. It’s an addictive substance, folks. It messes with your mind. All we need is a whole new population of messed-up folks to add to the messes we already have.

This is just one addict’s opinion. But if one addict’s opinion is only anecdotal, some others, below, are worthy of serious consideration. They were offered by the California Society of Addiction Medicine in an op ed piece by the Society’s president, Dr. Timmen Cermak, in the San Francisco Chronicle, August 22. The Society is taking no position on Prop. 19, Cermak explains, “but we wish Californians would look at the research before they make up their minds on how to vote.” This space applauds that suggestion.

The Society of Addiction Medicine is made up of “the doctors who specialize in the treatment of drug abuse; we work every day with people addicted to drugs, including alcohol,” Cermak writes. “We are a diverse group of doctors committed to combining science and compassion to treat our patients, support their families and educate public policy makers.”

Since very few of the Society of Addiction Medicine’s 400 physician members believe prison deters substance abuse, legalizing marijuana would have that small, back-handed benefit. “Most (of us) believe addiction can be remedied more effectively by the universal availability of treatment,” Cermak writes. “When, according to the FBI, nearly half – 750,000 – of all drug arrests in 2008 in the United States were for marijuana possession, not sales or trafficking, we risk inflicting more harm on society than benefit. Prop. 19 does offer a way out of these ineffective drug policies.”

But other research should raise alarm bells. Cermak’s essay is excerpted below, with a few points worth pondering bold-faced:

“Two-thirds of our members believe legalizing marijuana would increase addiction and increase marijuana’s availability to adolescents and children. A recent Rand Corp. study estimates that Prop. 19 would produce a 58 percent increase in annual marijuana consumption in California, raising the number of individuals meeting clinical criteria for marijuana abuse or dependence by 305,000, to a total of 830,000.

“The question of legalizing marijuana creates a conflict between protecting civil liberties and promoting public health… between current de facto legalization in cannabis clubs and revenue-generating retail marijuana sales… The society wants to make sure voters understand three basic facts about how marijuana affects the brain:

“– The brain has a natural cannabinoid system that regulates human physiology. The flood of cannabinoids in marijuana smoke alters the brain’s delicate balance by mimicking its chemistry, producing a characteristic “high” along with a host of potential side effects.

“– Marijuana is addicting to 9 percent of people who begin smoking at 18 years or older. Withdrawal symptoms – irritability, anxiety, sleep disturbances – often contribute to relapse.

“– Because adolescent brains are still developing, marijuana use before 18 results in higher rates of addiction – up to 17 percent within two years – and disruption to an individual’s life. The younger the use, the greater the risk.

“Marijuana is a mood-altering drug that causes dependency when used frequently in high doses, especially in children and adolescents. It’s important that prevention measures focus on discouraging young people from using marijuana.

“Prop. 19 erroneously states that marijuana “is not physically addictive.” This myth has been scientifically proven to be untrue. Prop. 19 asks Californians to officially accept this myth. Public health policy already permits some addictive substances to be legal – for instance, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. But good policy can never be made on a foundation of ignorance. Multiple lines of scientific evidence all prove that chronic marijuana use causes addiction in a significant minority of people. No one should deny this scientific evidence.”

So we could use the tax revenues from legalized pot. But it may surely be worth thinking twice about what the concurrent costs will be, in illness and crime and human lives.

Spain wins World Cup, but not TV; Soccer from a soccer mom view

pivot soccer

Image via Wikipedia

Would soccer catch on in the U.S if our TV screens were bigger? Maybe so, but I still doubt it. Twenty-two — until you start tossing them out for misbehavior  — guys kicking a tiny ball up and down a field at warp speed without even the excitement of racking up a goal in regulation so you can stop and catch your breath, or a commercial break so you can go to the bathroom, I’m just not sure soccer will ever make it in America. Of course, your TV screen is probably bigger than ours, which is OK. On the giant screens at bars and coffee shops all along San Francisco’s Fillmore Street Sunday there was an awful lot of hoopla. There may have been some business for the restaurant owners, but it looked like a great deal more hooping and hollering than drinking.

It is safe to say that this space has been into soccer longer than any other T/S space. Dating, actually, from the day that #1 son came home from hanging out at some local playground circa 1968, and we said, “You’ve been doing what? A round, black-&-white ball you just kick? Soccer moms had not yet been invented, but this one was, at that moment. Three kids, a combined total of about 36 years at a minimum of 2 or 3 games per week; you do the math. The in-house soccer dad coached so many of them that he and his co-coach had to coach the local high school coach, who had never heard of soccer until then either. But our scruffy, inner city team beat the hoity-toity suburban high school for the state title in 1970-something (it’s all a blur) so it was certainly worth it.

Pro soccer, though, that’s another whole deal. By now every kid in the U.S. has kicked around a soccer ball, half of them are addicts, and still they grow up to be non-fans. Go figure. I think it boils down to the screen size, the warp speed and the lack of bathroom commercial time.

And it’s too bad. The primary emotion I recall from about a century-worth of soccer-game watching was empathy: everybody felt sorry for the goalie’s mom. Didn’t matter if your team scored the goal, you still felt sorry for the goalie’s mom.

The world needs a little more empathy. Meanwhile this space has to quit typing and send condolences to our good friends in Amsterdam.

Marriage = procreation, Prop 8 backers say

It’s all about procreation, the Proposition 8 lawyers said; marriage between a man and a woman who produce babies to be raised by their biological parents, and thus insure the survival of the human race. Those arguments were the closing of an historic case that went to a federal judge in San Francisco yesterday.

During more than two hours of intense and sometimes skeptical questioning by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, attorney Charles Cooper maintained that society is entitled to reserve its approval of marriage for those who can naturally conceive children.”The marital relationship is fundamental to the existence and survival of the race,” Cooper said in closing arguments before a packed San Francisco courtroom. The reason the state regulates marriage, he said, is to steer “procreative sexual relationships” into a stable family environment so that children can be raised by their biological parents.

It’s an argument that has worked before, but supporters of same-sex marriage hope this time might be different.

Walker, who presided over the nation’s first federal trial on the issue, sounded dubious. He noted that the state allows couples unable or unwilling to have children to marry, suggesting that the institution has a broader purpose that same-sex partners might equally fulfill.

“Marriage is a right which extends fundamentally to all persons, whether they’re capable of producing children, incarcerated or behind in their child-support payments,” Walker said, citing Supreme Court rulings that allow people in all those situations to marry.

People marry not to benefit the state, but because they believe that “I’m going to get a life partner, who I’m going to share my life with and maybe have children,” the judge said. “Why don’t those same values apply to gay couples and lesbian couples loving one another?”

Cooper replied that same-sex couples are incapable of “irresponsible procreation,” which he said marriage laws are designed to discourage.

He also said California has provided equal treatment for all couples in its domestic-partner laws. But even a discriminatory marriage law would be valid, Cooper said, because the U.S. Constitution offers no special protection to gays and lesbians and “we don’t have to submit evidence” to justify treating them differently.Theodore Olson, lawyer for two same-sex couples who sued for the right to marry, responded indignantly. Prop. 8, he said, “takes a group of people who have been victims of discrimination” historically and prevents them from “participating in the most fundamental relationship in life.”

Gays and lesbians, Olson said, seek to wed for the same reasons as everyone else, to be in a committed, socially accepted family relationship with the one they love. “Tell me how it helps the rest of the citizens of California to keep them out of the club,” he said.

Walker’s decision, in whichever direction, is certain to be appealed.

Prop. 8 backers: Marriage promotes procreation.