The Guns-Everywhere Law Comes

This essay first appeared on Huffington Post

Some of my favorite people live in Georgia. Old friends, family, two gorgeous pre-teen granddaughters, some greatly beloved others. As far as I know none of them are currently packing heat — but it does look like everybody else in Georgia will be doing so if they choose, as soon as Gov. Nathan Deal signs the Guns Everywhere law recently passed by the Legislature.

Is this the new reality for American weaponry?

Photo Courtesy: Steve LaBadessa/ZUMA Press

Probably so. Those who hold the Second Amendment holy have a ferocity unmatched by all the peaceable kingdoms of the world combined. This writer, a peaceable Pollyanna if there ever were one, posted an essay suggesting stricter gun control laws might not be all bad several years ago on a news aggregate website. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Threats were made. So taking on the Georgia guns-everywhere legislation has little appeal.

Pieces of it, though, do invite consideration. The following is offered purely as food for thought.

For example, the law will not necessarily mean the worshipers in the pew behind you have brought along their AK-somethings — unless your church or synagogue “opts in.” Having sat on a few governing boards of religious organizations, this writer can only imagine the discussions ahead. They are not likely to focus on What Would Jesus Do. One appropriate comment did come from Episcopal spokesman Dan Plummer, who was quoted in a Los Angeles Times story as saying that allowing guns in churches was “bad theology.”

At kids’ schools? Why not. Schools will be authorized to arm their staff members. This assumes that staff members will be quicker on the trigger than recent school shooters, and hopefully will shoot the shooters rather than innocent others. Still…

If you want to hang out in a gun-free bar, no problem. Just find one that has opted out and posts a No-Guns-Here sign. Otherwise, the law is fine with your carrying a loaded Glock into a crowded bar, you are just not supposed to drink alcohol. This law, therefore, will be easy for all those teetotalers who like to go to bars.

Best news of all, for the 75.9 million people who go through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport every year, there will probably be a stranger packing a loaded gun nearby in case you need one. He or she is not supposed to go past the security people, but if it happens — and you know, gun-carriers can be forgetful — it’s only a misdemeanor.

None of this is to imply that the Georgia law is a bad thing! Please, NRA and gun enthusiasts don’t come after me again.

The Brady Campaign is still at work in Georgia.

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.

Laboratories of the States: The good… and then, the very bad and ugly

This essay first appeared on Huffington Post

Will a few states rule the United States? Or fundamentally change it? And if so, who are the winners and losers? Depending on your point of view, this “laboratory-of-the-states” business is good news today… or not.

The metaphor dates to the dissenting opinion of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in a 1932 case, New State Ice Company v. Liebmann and is often used today to assert the success of one social program or another. The best most recent — and decidedly successful — laboratory-of-the-state demonstration is Oregon’s Death with Dignity law. This writer’s extraordinary attorney friend Kathryn Tucker published a paper in the 2008 Michigan Law Review, when she was Director of Legal Affairs for Compassion & Choices, titled “In the Laboratory of the States.” Tucker wrote, “Because Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act has proven both useful and harmless, this Article concludes that it is time for other states to follow Oregon’s lead and enact their own legislation to allow their citizens an alternative to what otherwise could be a prolonged and painful death from terminal illness.”

Tucker deserves much of the credit for expanding the Oregon law into the movement that now seems a clear national trend, along with Compassion & Choices (full disclosure: this writer has long been a C&C supporter, volunteer and local board member). Washington and Vermont have passed similar bills and Montana wisely concluded that it’s none of the state’s business what a doctor and patient decide to do, making physician aid in dying now legal in those states. A handful of other states have pending bills and still others are mounting strong movements. So Oregon’s laboratory of success is likely to be the nation’s overall policy in the foreseeable future, and we’re all better off for that. (Opposition has come from religious and political forces that hold onto a belief that God requires some sort of existential suffering be visited upon Her dying creatures.)

The laboratory-of-the-states pathway is both effective and well trodden, said San Jose State Professor/author Larry Gerston at a recent Commonwealth Club political panel event. The panel was looking at other current trends, but Gerston specifically cited the Oregon Death with Dignity model as an example of how it all works.

Now — what if Texas becomes a laboratory for the denial of reproductive rights?

In Texas, just for a rough overview, recent laws have passed requiring parental notification and now parental consent; requiring abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers with hospital-grade operating rooms; requiring women who seek abortions to submit to ultrasounds and then wait 24 hours for the procedure. The list of harsh, medically unnecessary restrictions and requirements is long, and a clear violation of both ‘best medical practice’ and women’s rights.

It is worth noting who are the winners and losers in these state laboratories. In Oregon, the winners are we the people everywhere. Few of us would turn down the right to a humane and compassionate death, which is made a possible choice by death-with-dignity laws. Losers? No one. No one is compelled to choose a hastened death, anywhere, any time.

In Texas, however, the scorecard is seriously skewed. The winners are archconservatives that have learned that this is a good way to get votes. Winners also include those, men and women alike, whose religion teaches that life begins at conception and thus all abortion is wrong. This writer can appreciate those who hold such views, but it is not possible to uphold the rights of a fetus without denying the right of the woman in whose body it resides. Many of us come down on the side of already-alive women and on the doctrine of church/state separation.

And the losers in Texas: women. All women. Primarily they are women without money or resources, who are frequently disadvantaged and disproportionately women of color. These women are already turning to desperate measures to end unwanted pregnancies; increasingly they are turning up in emergency rooms with failed attempts to self-abort. To a lesser degree, but still worth considering, the losers include those — men, women, boys, girls — who need the other services provided by rapidly closing clinics: birth control, sex education, STD testing, breast cancer screening and many other critically important needs that will now go unmet.

It’s hard to contemplate the win-lose picture of this Texas laboratory. But if it indeed becomes a laboratory-of-the-states argument in upcoming Supreme Court cases, and elsewhere, the losers will be all of us. You and me. We the people.

About those women in Boston

I don’t personally know Eleanor McCullen, so I have no reason to believe she is not a sincere, well-meaning woman who honestly believes it is her Christian duty to inject herself into the lives of perfect strangers. Ms. McCullen — if you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few weeks — is lead plaintiff in a case now before the Supreme Court. She and her fellow “Operation Rescue” protesters argue that they should not be prevented from encountering women trying to enter a clinic in Boston where abortions are performed. And that the 35-foot buffer zone currently protecting such women interferes with the protesters’ free speech right to speak directly into their faces.

Lord help us all.

Courtesy:  Keesa McCoy, 4/25/12
Eleanor McCullen (Courtesy: Keesa McCoy)

But first, back to Ms. McCullen. According to NPR’s Nina Totenberg, she “looks like a cheery grandmother.” McCullen told Totenberg that she asks women to “just talk a minute before you rush in. You rush in so quickly, and then you come out in tears.” She tells women: “There’s another option other than taking the child, the small boy or girl, from the womb.” On her refrigerator she keeps pictures of the “babies she has saved.” That has to make her cheery. Perhaps every one of those babies is healthy, happy and well-fed, and living in a warm, loving home. One hopes.But I am still inclined to wonder about the other women. The women (and girls) who might appreciate the buffer zone because on that particular day in their very private lives they would prefer not to be accosted by a perfect stranger. Suppose you were one of them.

Suppose, for instance, you are a 14-year-old (who might look older to Ms. McCullen) who had been raped — probably repeatedly — by an uncle, or some other family favorite. Already traumatized beyond imagination, you might wish not to spend the next 6 or 7 months with this ugly reminder of unspeakable abuse, but rather try to struggle back into some sort of a life of your own. Is it really Ms. McCullen’s business if you want to make this choice?

Or suppose you have an eagerly anticipated, greatly wanted pregnancy, but have learned of a fetal anomaly that will mean it can only face a few hours or days of terrible suffering. Do you need to explain the wrenching decision to spare your child that suffering to a perfect stranger?

Possibly you are a young mother unable to care for too many children already, or perhaps a woman with so many drugs in your system you’re not willing or able to handle a drug-addicted infant. Maybe you’re a strong, independent woman with a promising career and complicated life, or maybe you’re an older woman who had difficulty with your last pregnancy and know another could be fatal. Does Ms. McCullen need to be let in on all of these details?

If Ms. McCullen needs baby pictures on her refrigerator, could she not go to the homeless shelters of Boston, or hang around the police stations where abused and neglected infants regularly turn up?

I don’t personally know any Operation Rescue people. So I have no reason to doubt their Christian commitment, even if my own Christian commitment is somewhat different. Their web site declares they seek “to restore legal personhood to the pre-born and stop abortion in obedience to biblical mandates.” Several of those words and phrases could be called into question, but the Supreme Court is only concerned, for now, with Ms. McCullen’s right to speak loudly in the face of innocent women, and odds are they’ll vote in favor of the cheery grandmother.

This cheery grandmother wants to weep.

Faces of hope for women’s rights

The universe may, after all, be unfolding as it should (apologies to Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata.)

This could be encouraging.

Within the past several days I’ve been to a number of events concerning our rapidly disappearing reproductive rights; I’ve discussed end-of-life options with a friend newly diagnosed with ALS; and — this one puts things into a new perspective — listened to the remarkable nuclear arms experts Eric Schlosser (Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety) and Joseph Cirincione (Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late) explain how easily we could obliterate one another.

StethoscopeMore on compassionate dying and nuclear weaponry later. I just finished talking with about 40 young medical students and healthcare professionals about reproductive rights. Many are students, and members of an excellent organization, Medical Students for Choice. They are committed to protecting women’s health, educating other healthcare providers and the general public about women’s health needs, and making sure that women everywhere have access to safe, legal abortion.

These young people can make believers of you. Belief, that is, that women’s rights will indeed be protected and that lack of access will not lead again to women dying from botched abortion. The articulate president of MSFC (who bought a copy of Perilous Times and said everyone should know these stories; no wonder I’d follow him anywhere) told me he was certain that each and every member of MSFC would continue to provide safe procedures even if abortion becomes illegal again; but he also said, “I don’t believe that will ever happen.”

I wish. But even though I am a hopeless optimist I’m not optimistic about Roe v Wade staying in place once it’s challenged at the Supreme Court level, which is likely to happen soon. Many of the young healthcare professionals were also upbeat with the belief that women don’t stand to be harmed as severely as pre-Roe “because medical abortion is so simple now, and misoprostol (the abortifacient pill) so readily available.” I wish again. Many, many women today are already facing harm because they take misoprostol without proper supervision, in improper dosages or too late. But these women are — as obvious in the statements of the young professionals at this seminar — essentially invisible. They are poor, disempowered and living in remote (even not so remote any more) areas where they have no access to safe abortions. They’re not dying in droves — one of the things that prompted passage of Roe v Wade — but they are often harming themselves… or having more unwanted babies.

I’m siding with the students. Their dedication and commitment are an inspiration and their hope for the future admirable. My hope is just that they are right… and the universe will continue unfolding, with justice, as it should.

Juries of one’s peers

Newly out of a San Francisco jury pool, though I hardly got wet, I am reflecting on this being-judged-by-a-jury-of-one’s-peers business.

The defendant, turning to face us as we filed into the courtroom, was a 60-something man with a kind face and gentle demeanor. I knew from the color of his skin and the neighborhood he called home that I had had advantages in life which he had not. I knew from the well-known attorney handling his case that causes I support were supporting the defendant. I was in the defendant’s pocket. But — a peer?

In short order, however, we were told the case involved heroin and handguns, causes I do not support. As a card-carrying Brady Campaign member, and someone intimately acquainted with addictions – even if only, happily, nicotine and alcohol – I am disinclined to be sympathetic to those who go around with hard drugs and 9 mm hardware. Plus, I was impressed with the prosecuting attorney; you could say I felt peer-ship with her. The two sides were a wash, and I figured I could be fair as the law requires.

About halfway through the first round of questioning one prospective juror brought up California’s three strikes law. No way, one after another of us said, could we convict someone of a relatively minor crime (details of which of course we did not yet know) when we knew he’d be effectively in the slammer forever. The judge rather pointedly explained we were forbidden from considering punishment – but the specter had been raised. DNA, someone asked? Uh oh, a whole row of scientist types had opinions. And don’t even get us started on what we think of police in general (vehement pros and cons, nobody near neutral) – the case is going to rest on who believes whom, and an awful lot of the who’s will be officers of the law. The eliminations began.

By the time we were thanked and excused, either by the court because we had obvious reasons we should be sent home, or by the opposing attorneys for reasons known only to opposing attorneys, dozens of seemingly level-headed citizens had come and gone, most of them peers whom I thought I’d want for my judges. It seemed worrisome.

Who was left? I don’t know precisely, since I was not among the remnant that remained. But in hindsight this is the group I believe was there: Quite likely at least one or two people from the defendant’s ’hood. At least one or two who believe cops are good guys and one or two who think anyone in a uniform is brutal and corrupt. Probably a recovering alcoholic, a marijuana smoker, and at least one or two people who think it is none of the government’s darned business what we citizens put in our bodies. A hunter. Someone who had been mugged. I met them all in the pool. Peers. The case is in good hands.

Which does beat having some autocrat chop off your head.