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.

The (Abortion Docs) Holiday that Wasn’t

This post first appeared on Truthout.com as a SpeakOut essay

With abortion providers and abortion rights fast disappearing, it is particularly regrettable that the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers came and went on March 10 with little fanfare. It was well worth celebrating and its passage is worth noting.

The day did indeed get some good coverage, including at least one excellent blog post noting the degree of vilification and abuse that providers suffer today. And it raised the hackles of a few on the right fringe: a blogger on Free Republic, for example, called it “the most disturbing holiday of the year,” – tossing in the opinion that abortion providers are “people who make lucrative piles of money for tearing babies apart.”

Not exactly. Abortion providers, many of whom work hard to keep services available to the mostly poor and voiceless women who are victims of today’s fringe politics, would be surprised to hear themselves described as making “lucrative piles of money.” What they do is in fact poorly compensated in dollars but richly rewarded by the gratitude of women who seek their services.

A National Year of Appreciation for Abortion Providers – while their ability to provide this fundamental women’s healthcare need remains – would be appropriate.

Celebrating abortion providers

This essay first appeared on Huffington Post

You’d think, what with the incessant campaigns to hobble, harass and vilify them, that abortion providers would be somewhere right up there with ax murderers, and at least lying low under the radar. But you would be wrong.

The National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers is at hand. It is officially celebrated on March 10 by Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice, assorted other reproductive rights organizations and every woman whose life has been honored and restored following the decision to have an abortion. The day comes exactly 21 years after the murder of Dr. David Gunn at his clinic in Pensacola, Florida, a tragedy that was followed by the killings of Dr. John Britton and clinic escort James Barrett in 1994, Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998 and Dr. George Tiller in 2009.

The irony of such losses is that abortion providers – who still face serious risks – save the lives of countless women every day. Is a day of appreciation enough? One day, in return for all the millions of days of life returned to millions of women? I vote for celebrating at least throughout the month of March.

My own abortion, a back-alley experience following a 1956 workplace rape, was emblematic of a time when there were no such people to honor. Luckily, I got my life back. No one will ever know how many women did not, how many were left maimed or dead because they had no safe, legal option. Since 1973, thanks to passage of Roe v Wade (but no thanks to those who are trying to send us back to the dark ages) they have had trained professionals motivated by compassion – and stories of women like me.

Early on there were individuals like Dr. Harry S. Jonas, now retired after long years of medical practice, teaching, and advocacy for family planning. Jonas speaks of a woman he met when doing an Ob/Gyn residency some years before Roe v Wade. She was dying of massive infection and multiple abscesses from a botched self-induced abortion after having endured 14 pregnancies. “I still remember that patient,” Jonas says, “I remember what she looked like. I remember the bed she was in on Ward 1418. I will never forget it.”

Today there are providers in heavily regulated states – most of whom remain anonymous for very good reasons – with similarly tragic stories. They tell of women who misuse abortion-inducing drugs because they can’t get to a clinic, or girls barely past puberty too frightened by protesters to access care that is their constitutional right. Of a 14-year-old incest victim pleading for help to reach the nearest clinic many miles distant. Of a sick, troubled mother of five having to choose between multiple required – and unnecessary – trips to the clinic and the job she desperately needs to keep. The physicians who are there for these women often face the need to treat their souls as much as their bodies.

Among those who choose to be open in their activism is my personal hero, Willie J. Parker. I have never met Dr. Parker, an African-American Ob/Gyn, other than on phone calls while researching Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade. He speaks with passion and conviction. Currently Associate Medical Director of Family Planning Associates Medical Group in Chicago, Parker grew up Southern Baptist, in a community which taught that abortion is wrong. His own views changed on hearing a sermon about the Good Samaritan preached by Martin Luther King, Jr. “(King) said that what made the good Samaritan ‘good’ was that instead of thinking about what might happen to him if he stopped to help the traveler, he thought about what would happen to the traveler if he didn’t stop to help. That led me to …place a higher value on compassion. I couldn’t stop to weigh the life of a pre-viable or a lethally flawed fetus against the life of the woman sitting across from me.” In addition to his day job, Parker offers help in other parts of the country where help is critically needed. He shrugs off questions about personal risk.

Almost any one of today’s providers could make more money, and have a far easier life, in another job. Instead, they choose to do what they do, so women can choose to control their bodies and their lives. That’s worth celebrating.

So light a candle. Write your congressperson. Send a few bucks to the nearest clinic and the organizations that fight for women’s reproductive rights. One national day is just a fraction of the appreciation abortion providers deserve.

Shameless theft from ThinkProgress: a great source for progressive truth, and some new insight into Arizona craziness

Every now and then, when you’re dismayed and distressed about having zero time to put down any thoughts worth someone else’s time, you remember the excellent thoughts of someone else. In this case, a blog about recent goings-on in Arizona that was posted last week by my friend and very astute reporter on reproductive justice, Tara Culp-Ressler, Health Editor of ThinkProgress.org.

Arizona actions are a little difficult to follow, but they have to do with large issues. Issues like: when does your right to your religion trump my right to be who I am? Or, can your religion control my life? As in, does your religion have the right to determine whether or not I may choose to abort an 8-week fetus?

There is also a great deal of word-play going on (see ‘On choosing one’s words’ below.) As a general rule in these Arizona debates, “religious liberty” can be translated “I really don’t like gay people.” And “protecting women’s health” usually refers to limiting access to abortion. It’s easy to get lost in the wording and inuendo, and that’s why I appreciate others’ careful reporting and analysis. Here is the beginning of a thorough explanation of recent happenings in Arizona, lifted from Tara Culp-Ressler’s ThinkProgress page, which you may want to bookmark.

“All eyes were on Arizona this past week, after the legislature approved an anti-gay bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals under the guise of preserving religious liberty. The intense national backlash culminated in Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) decision to veto the legislation. But that doesn’t mean the lawmakers in the Grand Canyon State are putting controversial social issues to rest.

“Just one day after Brewer’s widely publicized veto, lawmakers in Arizona advanced new legislation to attack abortion rights. HB 2284, misleadingly named the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” would allow for surprise inspections at abortion clinics to try to catch them violating state law. The measure also stipulates that abortion clinics need to “report whenever an infant is born alive after a botched abortion and report what is done to save that child’s life,” inflammatory language that the anti-choice community often deploys to suggest that some doctors are committing infanticide.

“HB 2284 is being spearheaded by the Center for Arizona Policy, or CAP, the same right-wing group that was behind the controversial “right to discriminate” bill.

“State lawmakers gave the measure preliminary approval on Thursday. “I mean, for goodness’ sake, we even do unannounced inspections of Burger King and McDonald’s, but we’re not allowing them at abortion clinics?” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R), the bill’s sponsor, said during the legislative hearing on the measure.

“In reality, Lesko’s legislation is seeking to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist. Abortion is already one of the safest medical procedures in the country, and the clinics that perform these procedures are already highly regulated. There’s no good reason to single out abortion providers for this additional red tape. Enacting these type of laws simply gives abortion opponents the opportunity to trigger state investigations — and, depending on the political affiliations of the people who serve on state health boards, this can be an avenue to force clinics out of business.

“’As an organization, we support bills that truly protect patient safety, but House Bill 2284 opens the door to provider and patient harassment,’ Jodi Liggett, the director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Arizona, told ThinkProgress in a statement.

“HB 2284 is part of a coordinated strategy to close abortion clinics that’s advancing across the country. And it’s also a clear reminder that, regardless of Brewer’s recent veto, the fight against “religious liberty” legislation isn’t over. This line of argument is driving efforts to restrict LGBT rights in other states across the country — and it’s directly related to attacks on reproductive freedom, too.”

For the rest of the story, surf over to ThinkProgress. Click those buttons at the top of the page if you appreciate it as much as this writer.

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.

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.

The curious world of cyberspace

Disappearing from cyberspace is a little like being a tree that falls in the forest. A very small tree. Having disappeared from cyberspace myself for a couple of weeks, I am comforted by the fact that the forest is very large.

It’s not that this space disappeared, just that Boomers and Beyond disappeared. Boomers and Beyond is a blog primarily about issues critical to over-50 generations, and it came to pass on  True/Slant.com a couple of years ago. It dealt with health care and fitness and housing choices and brain exercises and driving safety, and often diverted into rants about gay rights and abortion rights and gun control and other miscellany — because the True/Slant folks were a free-wheeling bunch and why should anybody quit worrying about rights and justice when they turn 50? All those profound words are archived in this nifty blog (this WordPress one right here) created by incredible friend-of-B&B-&-this space Mary Trigiani, so that if anyone stumbles into the forest and wants to study a small bush those twigs — OK, enough with the metaphor — are there to be read.

True/Slant didn’t actually disappear; it got bought by Forbes, and is gradually reappearing (as a New And Improved Forbes blogsite) there. Boomers & Beyond is reportedly going to reappear thereon, as soon as a contract appears. In the interim, it is just sitting there inert, and after several watchful readers noticed its inertia (posting anything new isn’t an option at True/Slant any more) I decided to venture once more into cyberspace.

It’s pleasant to meet you here. I hope we’ll meet again soon.

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