Abortion wars: pro-choice forces question accuracy of new poll

However the “pro-life” tag for all those anti-women’s-rights people came to be co-opted, it was a stroke of genius. It is, of course, more devious than truthful. Anti-abortion forces, as this space has raged about from time to time, piously support the life of a fertilized egg, while ignoring the lives of mature women. But the loaded label is firmly set.

Most recently, a Gallup poll has brought it to the forefront once more. That poll, released early this month, showed that slightly more Americans call themselves “pro-life” (47%) than “pro-choice” (45%.) The figures are about the same as shown in a similar poll last July, though the pro-life leanings are actually weaker than the percentages a year ago (51% to 42%.) Writer Amanda Marcotte, blogging at RH Reality Check, argues that the poll numbers don’t reflect the political strength of pro-choice Americans. Rather, she says,

the term “pro-life” is more of a tribal identifier or a feel-good term than it is a political stance.  This becomes only clear when you consider that pro-life activists tend to follow the lead of the Vatican (even if they’re Protestant) and object to all forms of fertility control that offer women a reasonable amount of control over their own bodies.

Marcotte interviewed Jessica Grose, whose article on Slate.com about the poll also questioned whether the pro-life numbers reflect a trend against women’s choice, or might be attributable to other factors. Republicans not wanting to be counted as pro-choice because it might align them with Democrats, or Obama; the general movement of Gen Y away from pro-choice. Grose does not, in the long run, see the poll numbers as a voice of doom.

The notion that more and more Americans are embracing the pro-life label is pretty terrifying for pro-choicers. But what does it really mean to call yourself pro-life or pro-choice? Do the labels actually track people’s views about the legality of abortion? The answer may be yes, but not in a simple or neat way. Though more people are calling themselves pro-life, the percentage of Americans who say abortion is morally wrong is down six points from last year. But at the same time, a Pew poll from last August showed that slightly more people are also saying that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, though the gain is only 1 percent from the previous September.

The upcoming Supreme Court nomination process could potentially shift things back to the pro-choice label. It’s not about Elena Kagan per se, but Gallup senior editor Lydia Saad says that when the abortion issue is raised in relation to the Supreme Court, the issue tends to help the pro-choice side—because, in the end, most people don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Recent data back up the second part—according to a CBS News/New York Times poll from April says that 58 percent of Americans still believe that Roe v. Wade was a good thing.

A hopeless optimist to the core, I wish I could join these wise observers in finding any glimmer of hope in the whole scene. From where I sit and what I know — and I am among the steadily dwindling few who know first hand the horrors that women faced pre-Roe v Wade — the hard core anti-abortionists are pulling every trick in the book to gain ground, and it’s working. If they ultimately do win, women will suffer an unfathomable loss.

Pope denounces abortion, gay marriage

With all due respect to the Catholic faith, and to the legions of good people, clergy and laity alike,who are among its believers, this space takes serious issue with the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI used a famous Portuguese shrine to the Virgin Mary on Thursday as a stage to denounce abortion and gay marriage, just days before Portugal is expected to join five European countries that have legalized same-sex weddings.

In a speech (in Fatima, Portugal) to Catholic social service groups, Benedict called for initiatives aimed at protecting “the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today’s most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”

He also said he expressed his “deep appreciation for all those social and pastoral initiatives aimed at combating the socioeconomic and cultural mechanisms which lead to abortion, and are openly concerned to defend life and to promote the reconciliation and healing of those harmed by the tragedy of abortion.”

The common good, according to the pope, would suffer from individuals being allowed to marry those whom they love. And tragedy? What he and his allies are invoking — in this drive to dictate what women may or may not do with their own bodies — is a return to the brutal reality of back-alley abortion. That will be the tragedy beyond healing.

The pope’s remarks came on the third day of a four-day visit (to Portugal) aimed at shoring up Christian belief in increasingly secular Europe, although it has been somewhat eclipsed by the sexual-abuse scandal confronting the Vatican in recent weeks. Benedict also has used the visit to signal a more forceful tone in confronting the abuse, which he has called a “sin inside the church.”

Although it is 90 percent Catholic, Portugal has seen a notable shift away from Catholic teaching in recent years. The country legalized abortion in 2008 and its Parliament recently approved a bill permitting same-sex marriage. President Aníbal Cavaco Silva is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.

The church has opposed the measure, but Portuguese society appears to be largely supportive.

Portugal would be the sixth country in Europe to legalize same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway and Sweden. France and Denmark recognize same-sex unions, which convey many but not all of the rights enjoyed by married couples.

Individual rights, women’s rights and gay rights are slowly going forward in a few places around the globe.  Pope Benedict XVI would like us all to go backward.

Pope Decries Gay Marriage in Portugal Visit – NYTimes.com.

Abortion foes winning with fear tactics

This is the way abortion rights end (apologies to T.S. Eliot): not with a bang, but with something worse than a whimper. The steady, relentless chipping away of those rights, state by state. And where a straightforward denial of women’s rights might face opposition, abortion foes are stooping to emotion-twisting, privacy-invading, fear-inducing tactics the likes of which have not been seen in a half century.

The “pro-lifers” (which is to say, the people who worry about some potential, unwanted life but don’t give a tinker’s dam for the lives of grown — often just barely grown — women) want abortion absolutely banned in this country. They are pushing closer to that goal every day. They like to talk about “protecting the unborn,” but the big losers in this dangerous game will be those who most need protection: poor, disadvantaged, un-empowered women.

New York Times editorial writer Dorothy Samuels offered a sharp overview of the dangerous times ahead for women’s rights, after reporting on a recent lunch celebrating the 40th anniversary of New York’s becoming the first state to fully legalize abortion. That law, Samuels notes, “began to reduce the death and injury toll from back-alley abortions and set the stage for the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which made abortion legal nationwide and recognized a constitutional right to privacy.

But abortion-rights groups are newly anxious about new assaults on women’s reproductive rights, including a fight over abortion that snarled the last days of the health care reform debate. Anti-abortion groups are newly emboldened.

The health care reform law contains advances for women’s reproductive health care, including enlarged access to insurance coverage for maternity care, contraception and other services. But President Obama and pro-choice Congressional lawmakers made abortion coverage vulnerable as part of the effort to secure the measure’s passage.

Kelli Conlin, head of Naral Pro-Choice New York, told guests at the lunch that “anti-choice forces are mobilizing in every single state to limit a woman’s access to abortion in more insidious ways than we can imagine.”

As Ms. Conlin was speaking, members of the Oklahoma House were getting ready to override vetoes of two punishing abortion measures. The state’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry, rightly viewed these intrusions into women’s lives and decision-making as unconstitutional.

One of the measures, which seems destined to spawn copycat bills in other states, requires women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion and further mandates that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and hear a detailed description of the fetus.

The other law grants protection from lawsuits to doctors who deliberately withhold fetal testing results that might affect a woman’s decision about whether to carry her pregnancy to term.

Several states have either passed or are considering bills that would ban abortion coverage in insurance plans sold through the state exchanges established by the federal health care law.

A new Utah law criminalizes certain behavior by women that results in miscarriage. Embarking on a road that could lead to the Supreme Court, Nebraska last month banned most abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy based on a questionable theory of fetal pain.

About two dozen states are looking at bills to increase counseling requirements or waiting periods prior to abortions. About 20 states are considering new ultrasound requirements. This is on top of an already onerous regimen of state restrictions that has drastically cut down on abortion providers and curtailed a woman’s ability to exercise a constitutionally protected right.

Draconian laws will not stop unintended pregnancies. Once abortion foes succeed in eliminating a woman’s right to privacy and ability to make her own, often difficult, choices the lucrative business of back-alley abortions will once again thrive. And women will die.

Editorial Observer – A Spreading Peril for Women’s Privacy and Freedom – NYTimes.com.

OMG: Texting drivers crash, maim, kill — to the tune of 1.6 million annual accidents

Nearly 28% of crashes, some 1.6 million per year according to the National Safety Council, can be attributed to drivers who are talking on cell phones or texting. Crossing the intersection of Clement Street and Arguello Blvd in San Francisco an hour or so ago I almost made it 1.6 million plus one: driver on phone, self on foot, alert driver blasted horn at talking driver with whom I thought I’d made eye contact (apparently not) or this space would’ve been toast. Are we a nation of nuts, or what?

The issue has gotten the attention of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association, folks who see the reality of these abstract statistics every day. The two groups have joined forces to launch a print and PSA campaign designed to staunch the wound.

The campaign features a bloody, shattered windshield accompanied by the words:  OMG! Get the message. Texting while driving is a deadly distraction.

It’s definitely time. According to the AAOS release, “general statistics on distracted driving are startling:

  • 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involve some type of distraction. (Source: Virginia Tech 100-car study for NHTSA)
  • Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. (NHTSA)
  • The worst offenders are the youngest and least-experienced drivers: men and women under 20 years of age. (NHTSA)
  • Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

Wall Street Journal “Driver’s Seat” blogger Jonathan Welsh posted a commentary somewhat courageously including himself in the Bad Guy category in discussing the billboard camapaign:

So, when did you stop texting behind the wheel? It’s a loaded question, but appropriate for many if not most of us. I don’t think I know anyone with a mobile phone and a driver’s license who doesn’t tap out the occasional message while driving.

In the era of multitasking and rapid communication, driving and texting are a tempting combination. Too bad it’s so dangerous.

“To say this habit can be deadly is the truth. It is an outcome we unfortunately see every day,” said AAOS president John J. Callaghan. “The problem with the use of 24/7 communications devices is that every driver believes he or she is immune to slip ups, but isn’t.”

Of course many people are so immersed in typing or reading their handheld screens that they might miss the billboards as they drive past. We have all seen — or even performed — outrageous driving maneuvers after distractions caused us to stray from our lane, miss an exit or nearly run a red light. I find that once I get over the initial anger I always feel at least a touch of empathy.

This space feels no empathy at all. It’s easy to be righteous when you never got into the phoning/texting/driving habit, and easy not to have done so if you were grew up in the dark ages before cell phones were invented.

Still, staying alive is good. I hope the lady driving the beige SUV through the intersection of Clement and Arguello gets the message before it’s too late.

Texting While Driving: Medical Groups Speak Out – Driver’s Seat – WSJ.

Girl drivers more aggressive than boys – and texting, loud music now the norm

My 19-year-old granddaughter, who totaled her car a few months ago, swears she wasn’t texting at the time. Well… maybe the music was playing a little loud. She was unhurt, didn’t hit anyone else or damage anything other than her late lamented car, so there are a lot of blessings to count. But does she text occasionally? “Everybody does.” And in general, besides the decibel level, and the phone which is an extension of her left hand, a shrinking violet she is not. I hasten to say this is a young woman I greatly love and admire; she may also be typical of today’s teenage girl drivers.

Some big auto insurers are raising the rates they charge to cover teenage girls, reflecting the crumbling of conventional wisdom that young women are more responsible behind the wheel.

In a survey of teenage drivers, Allstate Insurance Co. found that 48% of girls said they are likely to drive 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. By comparison, 36% of the boys admitted to speeding. Of the girls, 16% characterized their own driving as aggressive, up from 9% in 2005. And just over half of the girls said they are likely to drive while talking on a phone or texting, compared to 38% of the boys.

The results were “a surprise to many people,” says Meghann Dowd of the Allstate Foundation, an independent charitable organization funded by Allstate which sponsored the survey.

While teens fessed up about their own bad behavior, they also said their friends drive even worse. The study found that 65% of the respondents, male and female, said they are confident in their own driving skills, but 77% said they had felt unsafe when another teen was driving. Only 23% of teens agree that most teens are good drivers. This suggests teens recognize in their friends the dubious and dangerous behavior they won’t admit to indulging in themselves.

A few interesting findings of the new survey:

16% of girls describe their driving as aggressive, up from 9% in 2005.

84% of girls are likely to adjust music selection or volume while driving, versus only 69% of boys.

82% of teens report using cell phones while driving.

23%of teens admit they have felt unsafe with another teen’s driving.

23% of teens agree that most teens are good drivers.

More teens (22%) consider parents in the car more distracting than having their friends in the car (14%).

OK, geezer drivers (this one is still working on the DriveSharp program we all hope is building neurons in my brain and helping me expand my useful field of view) are an admitted hazard on the road. But this new data about our grandchildren isn’t terribly encouraging either. It’s a scary road out there.

Girls Say They Speed, Drive Aggressively More than Boys – WSJ.com.

Medical marijuana: a boon & a challenge

When my sister Mimi found that marijuana could relieve her severe gastrointestinal distress, years ago, one joint after dinner was all it took. Unfortunately we couldn’t keep up the supply. After one foray into the rather scary realm of pot-dealing in a state (Georgia) where we could have wound up in jail very quickly, we decided that not even such clear relief was worth the risk.

Today, at least in California and 14 other states — with the District of Columbia possibly to be added soon — the risk is minimal but the dosage is fuzzy. The conundrum was outlined by writer Lena K. Sun in the San Francisco Chronicle:

On Tuesday, District of Columbia officials gave final approval to a bill establishing a legal medical marijuana program. If Congress signs off, D.C. doctors – like their counterparts in 14 states – will be allowed to add pot to therapies they can recommend to certain patients, who will then eat it, smoke it or vaporize it until they decide they are, well, high enough.

The exact dosage and means of delivery – as well as the sometimes perplexing process of obtaining a drug that remains illegal under federal law – will be left largely up to the patient. Doctors say that upends the way they are used to dispensing medication, giving the straitlaced medical establishment a whiff of the freewheeling world of weed.

Even in states where marijuana is allowed for medical use, doctors cannot write prescriptions because of the drug’s status as an illegal substance. Physicians can only recommend it, and have no control over the quality of the drug their patients acquire.

Because there are no uniform standards for medical marijuana, doctors have to rely on the experience of other doctors and their own judgment. That, they say, can lead to abuse.

California’s “quick-in, quick-out mills” that readily hand out recommendations have proliferated, worrying advocates. The state, the first to legalize medical marijuana 14 years ago, allows for a wider range of conditions, including anxiety.

To guard against abuse, some doctors say they recommend marijuana only after patients exhaust other remedies. Some doctors perform drug tests as part of pre-screenings.

Mimi died over a year ago. Her last decades, like almost all of her adult life, were spent in the State of Georgia, where medical marijuana is still against the law. I know what her required dosage was; legalization and proper oversight would allow doctors to learn dosages that work for their patients. It seems worse than cruel that thousands of other sick and dying citizens continue to be denied the potential relief that legalized medical marijuana could bring.

Dispensing medical pot a challenge for doctors.

Mike Huckabee jumps on anti-abortion bandwagon

The goal: criminalize abortion, make it impossible for a physician in the U.S. to perform an abortion or for a woman in the U.S. to obtain a safe, legal abortion. The progress: excellent. The methods: distortion, sensationalism and more than a few outright lies. The concern for women: zero.

But it’s working. Obviously it’s going to get a lot of conservative Republicans elected.

This just in from Georgia Right to Life:

Today (May 3) Governor Mike Huckabee announced his support for SB 529 in a message that is going out to Georgia constituents asking for their support for SB 529. Governor Huckabee noted the importance of this bill, “SB 529 is a simple bill that prevents a woman from being forced to have an abortion against her will and prohibits the use of abortion as a means of race or gender discrimination. I’m asking you to support SB 529 and to ask your representative to support SB 529.”

Two weeks ago the Georgia Senate passed SB 529 with overwhelming support. On Tuesday, April 13, 2010, SB 529 had a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, but no vote was taken.

SB 529 was drafted by some of the leading pro-life attorney’s in the nation and was reviewed positively by the American Center for Law and Justice, Liberty Counsel, the Thomas Moore Law Center, Americans United for Life, and Focus on the Family.

Here are just a few interesting factoids: Mike Huckabee is the former governor of Arkansas, currently a regular on Fox News, formerly a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Presumably his “constituents” are those who will now support his next presidential — or whatever — bid because of this brave stand against “forced abortion.” Focus on the Family is a Christian organization that is not averse to messing around in political campaigns. The un-subtle message of that “as a means of race discrimination” is the bizarre hook with which abortion foes are seeking to manipulate African Americans, by equating abortion with Black genocide.

It is simply not so. Women do not need pious white guys protecting them from being marched in droves into abortion clinics. African American women do not need anybody telling them what they may or may not do with their bodies.

What we need is the right to life, our lives. The right to choose. The right to control our own bodies. Once the abortion foes win this battle — which gets scarier by the day — those basic human rights will be taken away from American women. Because women get pregnant. Sometimes that pregnancy is a mistake, a threat, a danger. When abortion becomes illegal, women will have no option but the back alley abortionist.

Decreasing numbers of us know what that was like, but I can tell you. Before Roe v Wade, legions of women, for countless valid reasons, needed to terminate a pregnancy. A few found doctors willing to risk their license in order to give a woman a safe choice. But uncounted thousands of us wound up in the filthy, unsafe, demeaning hands of back alley abortionists. Uncounted thousands died. Those who died were white, Black and all shades in between.

Would Mike Huckabee like to see his daughter go through that tragic indignity? That’s where we are headed.

Dr Oz worries about cell phones too

More on cell phones and brain tumors: a reader yesterday sent along a link to an earlier commentary by Mehmet Oz, the cardiac surgeon/author/media guru who has also weighed in with advice that links between cell phone use and cancer are indicated.

We rely on them to connect us to the people we love, to help us stay organized, and, in an emergency, to keep us safe. But more and more experts are saying that cell phones may pose a very serious health risk – increasing your chance of developing a brain tumor.

That means that over 270 million Americans may be playing Russian roulette with their cell phones every day. Each year, more than 21,000 adults and 1,500 children are diagnosed with brain tumors, and researchers believe some of them may have been caused by talking on a mobile phone.

A new study examined a decade’s worth of research and concluded that people who use cell phones for more than 10 years are up to 30% more likely to develop brain tumors than people who rarely use them.

Nothing has shown proof — yet — that if you use a cell phone often enough, long enough, you’re going to get brain cancer. Dr. Oz lists ways to improve your chances — keep your phone in your pocket, use it on speaker (and Lord help us all when everyone’s not just on cell but on speaker…), use wired rather than wireless when possible. And however much some of us vow we’ll resist texting to the bitter end, atrophied thumbs might still be preferable to brain cancer.

Still, the cell phone industry is not going to issue credible warnings. The FCC should do so.