Abortion foes stoop to new lows, and new absurdities

Two pregnant women. One has someone behind her holding a gun to her head. The other one, a Black woman, is being led by a white man. They are entering an abortion clinic.

Wait! Saved by Georgia Right to Life!

It could soon be against the law to force someone to have an abortion, or to have an abortion that is “racially motivated” in the state of Georgia. SB 529, the Coercion and Prenatal Non-Discrimination Ban sponsored by Senator Chip Pearson and lustily supported by Georgia Right to Life, passed a couple of weeks ago by a vote of 33 to 14. The bill now goes to the House, where HB 1155 will send the same message into the world: Thou shalt not “coerce” someone into having an abortion; thou shalt not abort “on the basis of race or gender.”

If you have not noticed forced or racially motivated abortions being rampant in this country you may wonder what’s up with Georgia Right to Life.

I happen to think I know. My crystal ball says if the rather ridiculous law passes this is what will follow: GRTL will find some poor woman willing to declare, after seeking a perfectly legal abortion, that her doctor actually forced her to have the procedure. A high profile case will ensue, the doctor may or may not be convicted — that part really doesn’t matter — but more and more doors will close against abortions. Once enough doors are closed, GRTL and others eager to dictate what women may or may not do with their own bodies will have achieved their goal. Legal abortion will be denied the women of Georgia.

So, you say, they can just go to another state (until the method proves effective and other states follow along. Other states are watching.) If they have money and resources, that will be true. But the poor and un-empowered women of Georgia will be left without safe choices. And you can believe that there will be plenty of back-alley abortionists in business by then.

A diminishing number of us know what it was like in the heyday of back-alley abortions. The right-to-life people, who are so worried about embryos but don’t believe women have rights, won’t tell you. I will. Filthy men (and sometimes even women) made big money butchering desperate women who had no other choice. So the women lay on kitchen tables or gurneys bought cheap at hospital supply warehouses, had unsterilized objects puncture their bodies and went home — often to die.

There are two problems with the RTL people. One is their righteous zeal. The Alabama Pro-Life Coalition Education Fund, for example, “cooperates with God and other Christians…” Hmm. I, a committed Christian, have talked with God about a lot of things and She never told me She wanted to consign mature women to barbarity. The second problem is with mature women. The RTLers believe a fertilized egg has more rights than the woman within whose body it is harbored. If you find that as hard to believe as the notion that women in Georgia are being herded into abortion chambers against their will — check out Ohio Right to Life‘s opposition to the current H.B. 333. ORTL opposes the morning-after pill because “it may cause early abortion” on the morning after.

If the RTLers could, for one moment, stand in the shoes of just one poor, desperate, pregnant woman from the days before Roe v Wade they might get a tiny glimpse of the terror that comes from being without choices. The RTLers say, Choose Life, which I do, every day, for myself and everyone else humanly possible. If abortion becomes criminalized, as is the RTL aim, uncounted thousands of women will have no choice but the deadly back-alley abortionist.

Russian orphan Artyom, & another orphan story

Artyom and Vasya came from the same part of the globe as adoptive Americans — but the similarities end right about there. This is a personal perspective on another, happier-ending orphan story.

Seven-year-old Artyom Savelyev found himself at the center of an international incident recently, after being put on a plane by himself, with a one-way ticket back to Moscow and a note from his adoptive mother, 33-year-old Torry Hansen. “I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself,” the letter said, “I no longer wish to parent this child. As he is a Russian national, I am returning him to your guardianship.”

She also said, “He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues”

Russian authorities were outraged, and suspended adoptions of Russian children. Some of the mom-for-a-year’s neighbors in Shelbyville, Tennessee, and many others who knew nothing more than what was reported in sound bites, were quick to condemn Torry Hansen and, in at least one instance, to say she deserved to go to jail. Investigations are ongoing.

Seventeen-year-old Vasya is the grandson of my friend Sally, who sent an e-mail today reminding everyone that there are not only two sides to every adoptive story, but some stories with hard-won happy endings. I’ve been following Vasya’s saga, via Sally’s e-mails, for over four years. There were two years (or perhaps a little more) of agonizing struggles with the red tape of the Ukranian government before Vasya finally arrived in the U.S. in 2007 at the age of 14, speaking no English and having an education at 5th grade level.

As reported today by his grandmother, Vasya is now fluent in English, finishing 9th grade in a private school, playing outstanding soccer, “an outgoing kid so proud of his newly-acquired driver’s license, a nice looking young man with a great personality. He is also an American citizen.”

All this, Vasya’s family emphasizes, “did not come about quickly, easily or smoothly.” They want others to know that adoptive families, as well as adopted children from abroad, can use a lot of support.

What about the future of adoptions of Russian children, currently on hold for U.S. citizens? The Joint Council on International Children’s Services, a membership-based advocacy organization, reported today,

The Department of State has received no information to confirm a suspension of adoptions from Russia to the United States.  Our Embassy in Moscow and other Department of State officials are talking with Russian officials to clarify this issue.

The Department of State is sending a high-level inter-agency team to Russia this weekend to meet with senior Russian officials, including officials from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Justice.  The U.S. delegation will emphasize the importance of this issue to the United States, and will discuss our mutual concerns about how to better protect the welfare and rights of children and all parties involved in intercountry adoptions.

Many thousands of Russian children have found loving, safe and permanent homes in the United States through intercountry adoption.   Families in the United States have adopted more than 50,000 children from Russia.

The good news is, despite governmental red tape and countless hurdles, there are far more Vasyas than Artyoms. Maybe Russia will remember that.

Two rapes, two unhappy endings

Several generations ago, at a college in Northern Virginia, a young woman I’ll call Hannah woke up in a fraternity house bedroom very early one morning, a party still going on downstairs. She remembered, vaguely, going upstairs with a young man she barely knew. She couldn’t remember what she had had to drink, other than too much of it; she couldn’t remember why she had gone with him — she didn’t even find him particularly attractive — or much of anything else except that she had tried to fight him off and been raped.

Hannah managed to get downstairs and go home. She was filled with remorse and recrimination. She told no one, she said, until she shared the story with me three years later. It never occurred to her to cry foul, because in those days it was pretty much okay for young men to “sew wild oats” but too bad if an unwilling woman reaped the results. It was unacceptable for young women to complain, since it was either the woman’s responsibility to look after herself or the woman’s fault that things “got out of hand.” As soon as she found she was not pregnant, Hannah told me, she “just tried to put it out of mind.”

Some things have changed, some things are better, some things stay the same. Here’s a story by Amanda Hess in today’s Washington City Paper, forwarded to me by a friend. It’s about another “Hannah,” in another, but contemporary, college story that happened not far from the one above.

On Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006, Hannah* woke up in her Howard University dorm room with a piece of her life missing. Hannah, a 19-year-old sophomore, had unexplained pain in her rectum and hip. Her panty liner, which she had worn the night before, was missing. Vomit dotted her gloves and coat. Her friend Kerston lay beside her in the skinny dorm room bed. Kerston told Hannah not to shower—they had to go back to the hospital to secure a rape kit. That weekend, Hannah claims that she was provided the following excuses for why she could not receive a sexual assault medical forensic examination: She was drunk; she ate a sandwich; she was a liar; she didn’t know her attacker’s last name; the police had to authorize the exam; she was outside the hospital’s jurisdiction; she wasn’t reporting a real crime; she was blacked out; she changed her story; her case was already closed.

This is the story of the night Hannah was not officially raped. And so far, Hannah has not officially accused anyone of raping her. In the summer of 2007, she filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia, Howard University Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, both universities, and several doctors she says denied or interfered with her medical care. She seeks damages for medical malpractice and negligence from the medical defendants and the D.C. police, which she says resulted in “the probable loss of the opportunity to see her assailant brought to justice.” Across the board, the defendants denied Hannah’s claims. The parties in the case, which has yet to go to trial, were not interviewed for this story; this account is reconstructed from sworn deposition testimony taken in Hannah’s suit.

The now-elderly Hannah never speaks of her experience. The contemporary Hannah is filled with anger and a sense of injustice. The contemporary story is complex and unlikely to come to any satisfactory conclusion… but then, these stories seldom do.

Test Case: You’re Not a Rape Victim Unless Police Say So – Washington City Paper.

Guns as art and in the world

At my granddaughter’s art school, student work features what struck me as an awful lot of weapons: handguns, automatic rifles, daggers. “Well, Gran,” she replied to my comment on this high degree of angst, “we are teenagers.”

OK, I know it’s been two generations and at least 70 light years since I was a freshman art student myself, but I do miss the landscapes, still lifes and quiet figure studies. And I lament the angst.

I draw NO parallel, absolutely NO parallel between the excellent training and remarkable students at today’s art schools and the angst-level of terrorism. It is still both unsettling and heart-wrenching to pick up today’s New York Times and be greeted by a front page photo of a pretty,  baby-faced, all-innocence young girl pointing a gun upwards behind her head while in the casual embrace of her boyfriend, who is holding a larger handgun.

The boyfriend, as it happens, is a handsome young Russian who was killed by government forces a few months ago. The young woman, hardly more than a child, blew herself up in a Moscow subway on Monday, killing a lot of other innocent human beings. What is striking, among all the other ironies and tragedies of this picture, is the wealth of warmth and promise that seems to shine out of those two faces… if you cover up the guns. But those faces, and the bodies to which they were attached, are now dead.

I am holding onto my Brady Campaign membership.

Texting/phoning drivers meet ghostly end

Call it unfair if you want, but those of us wishing we could get texting/phoning drivers off the road are pulling for Car #1453.

POLICE car No. 1453 drifted along with the afternoon rush, unnoticed and unhurried. Even, perhaps, unfinished.

Car 1453 looks as if it rolled off the assembly line a few minutes too soon, before arriving at the machine that puts the siren on the roof and the colors on the door decals. But this look is the whole point of No. 1453, which is known throughout the Westchester County police department by its catchier nickname: the ghost car.

“Can you see it?” an officer joked, standing in front of the car in the department’s parking lot.

The police hope that the answer among drivers texting or chatting on cellphones, or speeding or driving drunk, is no.

The car, a 2009 Crown Victoria, joined the fleet two months ago. It is not an unmarked police car, but rather a barely visibly marked police car. It bears all the same decals as a regular police car, but they are white, colorless, like the car itself. The markings really are noticeable only upon close inspection — and hardly noticeable at all, the thinking goes, to a driver who is calling in his pizza order.

“You’re seeing more of what the common man sees,” Officer Brian Tierney, 32, said about the advantage the car bestows. “Everyone’s on their best behavior when the teacher’s in the room.”

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, six states plus the District of Columbia and Virgin Islands currently ban handheld cell phone use while driving, and 19 states plus D.C. and Guam ban texting while driving. Kansas and Alaska are among states currently considering a ban on one or the other. But catching violators, and proving the violation, is another matter.

“It’s really, really, really difficult to enforce that,” said Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association. “You can’t have a law that the public doesn’t support.

“It’s a lot like drunk driving. Twenty years ago, it was hard to do anything about it because it was being done in such wide numbers.”

The goal of the ghost car is to make enforcement less difficult. The department did not want a fully unmarked car, because motorists can become spooked by what may seem to be a fake police officer pulling them over.

The idea came from Officer James O’Meara, 27, who holds a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts and computer design. “I heard about it,” Officer O’Meara said of the car’s white-on-white design, although he could not recall which department was involved. While “low profile” police cars — with no light rack on the roof — are widely used, it is unclear how common ghost cars are.

Uniformed officers drive Westchester’s ghost car, which, while intended to look like a taxi, down to its livery license plate, is clearly a police car when seen close up. “I thought you were a taxi” is commonly heard from drivers.

In case you think texting while driving is just fine, and you yourself are perfectly able to drive safely while doing so, you are invited to try the little game below:

Game: Gauging Your Distraction

This space welcomes your comments on how you did. I’m also open to hearing how you should be entitled to drive while texting or phoning or committing other ridiculous automotive crimes against civility. I’ll just continue to hope you’re not doing them in my ‘hood. We don’t have the ghost car, but maybe we can get one.

In Westchester County, a ‘Ghost’ Police Car Is on Patrol – NYTimes.com.

Abortion foes stoop to new low

Not satisfied with the use of fear and intimidation to deprive women of their right to choose an abortion, or closing clinics by murdering dedicated doctors, anti-abortion forces have now taken on a new mission: to convince African American women that pro-choice is really a plot to exterminate their race. In other words, desperate, vulnerable young women will now get a new message: You must always bring an accidental, unwanted child into the world — forget the cost or damage to its mother (and often to the child) — because it is your ethnic duty.

When these people achieve their goal of eliminating abortion rights altogether, it will be these women who will die from butchered, back-alley abortions. Is anybody considering that? Or do they really believe the twisted rhetoric they are employing in the damn-the-torpedoes drive  to abolish a woman’s fundamental right to control her own body?

For years the largely white staff of Georgia Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, tried to tackle the disproportionately high number of black women who undergo abortions. But, staff members said, they found it difficult to make inroads with black audiences.

So in 2009, the group took money that it normally used for advertising a pregnancy hot line and hired a black woman, Catherine Davis, to be its minority outreach coordinator. Ms. Davis traveled to black churches and colleges around the state, delivering the message that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill off blacks.

The idea resonated, said Nancy Smith, the executive director. “We were shocked when we spent less money and had more phone calls” to the hot line, Ms. Smith said.

This month, the group expanded its reach, making national news with 80 billboards around Atlanta that proclaim, “Black children are an endangered species,” and a Web site, www.toomanyaborted.com.

Across the country, the anti-abortion movement, long viewed as almost exclusively white and Republican, is turning its attention to African-Americans and encouraging black abortion opponents across the country to become more active.

A new documentary, written and directed by Mark Crutcher, a white abortion opponent in Denton, Tex., meticulously traces what it says are connections among slavery, Nazi-style eugenics, birth control and abortion, and is being regularly screened by black organizations.

Black abortion opponents, who sometimes refer to abortions as “womb lynchings,” have mounted a sustained attack on the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, spurred by a sting operation by young white conservatives who taped Planned Parenthood employees welcoming donations specifically for aborting black children.

“What’s giving it momentum is blacks are finally figuring out what’s going down,” said Johnny M. Hunter, a black pastor and longtime abortion opponent in Fayetteville, N.C. “The game changes when blacks get involved. And in the pro-life movement, a lot of the groups that have been ignored for years, they’re now getting galvanized.”

What’s giving it momentum is a history of ugliness on both sides of the issue, especially ugliness and worse suffered by African Americans. Hunter, of course, cannot understand the desperation of a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. But adopting a tactic of this sort can do nothing for understanding — and a lot to increase the future suffering of women of all colors.

Many black anti-abortion leaders, including Ms. Davis and Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life, often recount their own abortion histories (each woman had two).

Shaila Dewan’s New York Times story detailing this new campaign does not point out the fact that Davis and King had access to safe, legal abortions, which theirs presumably were. Had that not been the case, either or both might well not be here today.

Those who support abortion rights dispute the conspiracy theory, saying it portrays black women as dupes and victims. The reason black women have so many abortions is simple, they say: too many unwanted pregnancies.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Loretta Ross, the executive director of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta, listing a lack of access to birth control, lack of education, and even a high rate of sexual violence. “There’s an assumption that every time a girl is pregnant it’s because of voluntary activity, and it’s so not the case,” Ms. Ross said.

But, she said, the idea that abortion is intended to wipe out blacks may be finding fertile ground in a population that has experienced so much sanctioned prejudice and violence.

Black opponents of abortion are fond of saying that black people were anti-abortion and anti-birth control early on, pointing to Marcus Garvey’s conviction that blacks could overcome white supremacy through reproduction, and black militants who protested family planning clinics.

But that is only half the picture, scholars say. Black women were eager for birth control even before it was popularized by Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and black doctors who provided illegal abortions were lauded as community heroes.

“Some male African-American leaders were so furious about what they perceived as genocidal intentions that in one case they burned down a clinic,” said Carole Joffe, the author of “Dispatches From the Abortion Wars.” “But women were very resolute, saying, ‘We want birth control.’ ”

Sanger was not perfect, and Planned Parenthood employees have made reprehensible statements at times. Crutcher’s documentary, “Maafa 21”, (the name is a Swahili word used to refer to the slavery era) weaves a few threads of truth into a vicious, two-hour screed tying the pro-choice movement to the Nazis and a “great conspiracy,” proclaiming pro-choice as “Black Genocide.” It was screened recently at Morris Brown College, a historically black institution in Atlanta.

“Before we saw the movie, I was pro-choice,” said Markita Eddy, a sophomore. But were she to get pregnant now, Ms. Eddy said, “it showed me that maybe I should want to keep my child no matter what my position was, just because of the conspiracy.”

Eddy at least knows that she still has a choice. The goal of the anti-abortion movement is to eliminate that choice. I would fight for her right to have and keep her baby. But the choice should not be made by some angry white man in Texas, or by someone else’s patriarchal religion or politics. It should be made by her, the owner of her body. To have that choice removed, now that is like slavery. Show me one member of the movement who has had a back-alley abortion and I will discuss that point with her. To promote these tactics, to foster this sort of hate-based rhetoric is almost as cruel as the fate to which the anti-abortion movement would consign American women. Of every color. It makes my heart ache for us all.

(A note: If you find this appalling, check out the subsequent post, and learn what’s going on in Poland. Women’s choices are under attack around the globe.)

To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case – NYTimes.com.

A Random Act of Kindness

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” the victim recalls. The mugger was a teenager, the victim a 31-year-old social worker named Julio Diaz. As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

So goes a story that my daughter Sandy somehow discovered and posted on her Facebook page recently. It was on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in May, 2008.

Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn. He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

So Diaz gave him his wallet and his warm coat, invited him to dinner, and… well, you’ll have to read the story for yourself.

Sandy’s post evoked a long list of responses. Her husband, a hard-nosed newsguy T/S contributor who will remain nameless here, had the audacity to wonder aloud if the story might have been invented. (His wife and son threw something at him.)

I dug up the story, but surely didn’t ask NPR if it had been fact-checked. I mean, if you can’t believe NPR, who can you believe? Plus, with the relentlessness of today’s bad news, is a little good news welcome, or what?

Without giving it all away, we can report that the piece concludes,

“I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”

This space argues that we can use all the news we can get about people treating people right. If you Google Julio Diaz, may he live long and prosper, you discover multiple pages of people who were inspired by, or even skeptical of, that story when it first appeared. But unless it’s wayyy down the scroll, no one has discredited it. If you should do so, by some cruel twist of historical revisionism, please don’t tell Sandy or me.

A Victim Treats His Mugger Right : NPR.

Roadkill: geezers, texters at the wheel

His father-in-law, aged 91, got a new 5-year driver’s license from the State of California, with zero proof of intact driving skills. The family was worried, but without much power. According to an op ed piece by Santa Cruz, CA writer John Moir, the community was saved from potential disaster at the hands of an age-challenged driver only when a mild heart attack prompted his physician to order him away from the wheel.

Meanwhile, a nationwide population of licensed drivers young enough to be his great-great-grandchildren are navigating our roadways with one eye on the intersection and full attention on a text message in progress. Another op ed piece not long ago, this one by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Cynthia Tucker, told of accidents caused by phoning/texting drivers that are estimated at close to a quarter of a million per year. There is a growing movement to address this truly scary problem. And it is scary: if you walk in cities much you know how often only your own wits (Can’t make eye contact? Don’t trust that driver) keep you alive. In Nebraska, for example, activist teens, largely motivated by the horrific BBC YouTube video now gone viral, are pushing for a state ban on phoning/texting while driving. A national organization, FocusDriven, was started by a group of individuals who had lost loved ones to drivers on phones; they offer support for victims and tips for advocacy. FocusDriven is patterned after MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving.)

But the issue of geezer drivers gets sticky. My own father was fond of pointing out, well into his 80s, that he had never had an accident. We bit our tongues not to comment on the disasters that probably followed in his wake. But the Commonwealth of Virginia continued to renew his license and none of his four out-of-state daughters was able to convince him that his driving was not in others’ best interest. It took a family friend, who pointed out how much money could be saved on gas, upkeep and insurance coverage, to get my father to sell his car.

The primary problem with aging drivers is the ease with which they are (in California, at least) re-issued a five-year license. Not long ago, at the ripe age of 75, I renewed my own. My eyes tested just fine — although prescription distance glasses make me way safer behind the wheel, especially at night. I studied for the written test (same test as anyone gets at any age) because it is full of trick questions, often concerning factoids that have little to do with public safety.  Presumably, if one is not mentally acute one would fail the written test — but you can retake it the next day. There was no road test of any sort, so if I were becoming prone to miss road signs, clip corners or misjudge parallel parking distances nobody would know. (I hope I’m not.)

Mandatory age limits for driving, such as commercial pilots have, probably aren’t going to happen, and probably shouldn’t. Many seniors must drive their own cars for endless reasons. Time and manpower required for road tests may put them beyond what states can afford these days. But why aren’t other answers possible?

Why couldn’t AARP put its considerable muscle and money behind a volunteer training program that would set in motion volunteer-led senior driving sessions? Why couldn’t states then require completion of such sessions before licenses were renewed after a certain age? Why couldn’t some insurance agency — AAA comes to mind — get behind a state-mandated program of this sort, offering the lower rates for graduates that are commonly offered graduates of safe-driving programs? Why couldn’t safe-driving seniors be offered a small compensation for running such programs, in return for the savings in lives and ER costs?

My license expires on my 81st birthday. I’ll happily sign up for a seniors class. Meanwhile I will remain on the alert for texting juniors.