“Personhood” by any other name

Personhood

A recent report by the Guttmacher Institute took a new look at an old game being played – anew – by anti-abortion, anti-women forces. It is called the Personhood Game. If anti-women forces win, a fertilized egg becomes accepted as a person. Which means that every fertilized egg is accorded rights above those of the woman in whose body it is housed – fine for eggs, but pretty dismal for women.

Not a lot of rational people, including rational people who vote, think it makes sense for eggs to be deemed persons. This was made clear last year by the failure of such bills in several state legislatures. Not to be dismayed, players of the Personhood Game have simply switched their energies to fighting contraception. The more contraception bans succeed, the stronger the eventual case for declaring fertilized eggs sacrosanct. Why? Because contraception bans are based on religious doctrines that hold such a view. Though keeping their distance on personhood politics for now, anti-abortion groups including Americans United for Life, the Heritage Foundation, Susan B. Anthony List and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are among those working hard and widely to ban access to contraception.

Is there a disconnect here? Since effective contraception lessens the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thus the number of abortions? Well, yes. But the people playing the Personhood Game simply have their eye on the prize: Fertilized egg wins, woman loses.

Writer/blogger Joanne Valentine Simson, who is credentialed in both science and poetry, has posted a number of thoughtful and informative essays on contraception. Simson points out three critical factors seldom considered in all the arguments for and against contraception: women’s physical wellbeing, women’s social wellbeing, and overall environmental impact. “These are larger issues about long-term human survival,” Simson writes, “(than) the false debate about whether a cell (or cluster of cells with 46 chromosomes) is a human being.” To conflate contraception with abortion simply bypasses every one of them.

But the Personhood Game players are as adept at bypassing reality as they are at steering the debate.

“The influential organizations behind this anticontraception agenda,” writes Joerg Dreweke in a recent, comprehensive Guttmacher policy review, “have compartmentalized the debate, which allows them to pick and choose when contraception should be viewed as abortion and when it should not. They are essentially able to pursue a “personhood” argument in areas where doing so is politically feasible, but at the same time feign moderation by keeping the full-fledged, politically toxic “personhood” agenda at arm’s length. This deception is part of a deliberate, long-term strategy to limit women’s access not only to safe and legal abortion, but to common methods of contraception as well.”

If this seems devious, and underhanded – well, it is. But it’s the way the game is being played.

For women – who are both pawns and victims – it is a dangerous game.

Abortion in Texas: The small fraction

Medievalpreg

Only a small fraction of Texas women will suffer.

With the closing of thirteen abortion clinics in Texas, one out of six Texas women seeking an abortion will have to travel 150 miles or more, and never mind all the other obstacles about waiting periods, increased costs, hassling protesters and having to listen to medically incorrect messages. But one out of six? That’s only a small fraction, according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

“In our circuit,” wrote Judge Jennifer Elrod, a George W. Bush appointee, “we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes. We do not doubt that women in poverty face greater difficulties.”

What a bother, those “women in poverty.”

Judge Elrod argued that the court had to find that “a large fraction” of women would be affected by the law – the medically unnecessary requirement that all abortion clinics in the state meet the same building equipment and staffing standards as hospital-style surgical centers. And those 900,000 women in rural Texas the judge acknowledged would be affected, well, they’re just a “small fraction.”

Judge Elrod may not know a lot about what it feels like, being part of the small fraction. Born in 1966, she grew up in the Houston-area city of Baytown, Texas, which bills itself as a city “where oil and water really do mix.” She graduated from Baylor and Harvard Law School. Her Wikipedia and Judgepedia pages make no mention of marital or family status, but presumably she never sought to have an abortion. If she had, she would have definitely been in the large fraction – women with money who always have access to safe and legal procedures, even in Texas.

This writer was in another large fraction: women without access to safe or legal abortion in the days before Roe v Wade. Much like today’s small fraction, faced with no viable options we took desperate measures to end unwanted pregnancies. Some of us survived, countless others did not.

This is the fate to which the three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit is consigning the small fraction. Danger, expense, family trauma, health risks and occasional death. Even for a small fraction, that seems hardly what America is about. And hardly in tune with the antiabortion forces’ proclaimed wish to “protect women.”

Some in the small fraction will face primarily family distress and exorbitant costs (usually upwards of $1,000 or $1,500) like “Maria,” whose story is recounted by RH Reality Check Senior Political Reporter Andrea Grimes. Some will face very real danger traveling to Mexico for drugs that can cause permanent injury or death if improperly created or improperly used. Some will maim or kill themselves in efforts to self-abort.

There will be hundreds of women like Elvia Yamell Hamdan, whose story was reported in a recent New York Times article by Laura Tillman and Erick Eckholm. Ms. Hamdan, 44, showed up at the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, TX with her husband after a three-hour drive from their home, only to find that clinic professionals could suddenly no longer provide abortions. Ms. Hamdan already has four children and three grandchildren, and seeks to end an unplanned pregnancy. The U.S. Constitution says she has a right to make that choice – but Texas law says her best remaining option is an appointment three weeks later in San Antonio, 240 miles north.

Denise Burke, Vice President of Legal Affairs for Americans United for Life, is quoted in the New York Times story as saying the Fifth Circuit decision endorses anti-abortion forces’ argument that “abortion harms women, and states may regulate in the interest of women’s health.”

“Maria” and Ms. Hamdan seem likely to secure, eventually and at significant risks to their own health and wellbeing, the safe and legal abortion guaranteed to American women. How many others will now, instead, wind up sick, maimed or dead because of this latest ruling will never be known.

Because those others are just part of “the small fraction.”

Devious ways to cancel rights

A Supreme Court decision in 1973 affirmed the right of women in the U.S. to make their own choices about reproduction, including the choice of having an abortion.

But oh well, never mind.

Those who oppose this constitutional right have chosen to negate it by going around the law: forcing clinics to close, layering restrictions, inserting unnecessary road-blocks, passing medically inappropriate or erroneous state laws, denying access to women who might want to exercise their right. So the right remains, but the justice is gone. If a woman has money and resources she may still choose to have an abortion. But if she’s poor, or without power, in well over half of the country she effectively is forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy no matter what. Or to try something that can leave her sick, maimed or dead.

“I think it is more difficult to get an abortion in the country today,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, in one of the better understatements of the year so far. To the members of this organization, this is very good news.

To poor, suffering, desperate women unable to exercise their own right — life and liberty included — the news is increasingly bad.

But it’s another group that’s getting me down. The New York Times reported in a recent story that Americans United for Life sees this flood of new laws as “life-affirming legislation designed to protect women from the harms inherent in abortion.”

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PROTECTING WOMEN. This has strictly to do with elevating the right of zygotes and fetuses above and beyond the right of women. HARM IS NOT INHERENT IN ABORTION. (It’s very hard not to scream.) Harm is inherent in the denial of women’s right to control their own bodies. Can these good folks not learn ANYTHING from history? Millions of women were maimed, sickened, left sterile — or dead when abortion was illegal. It will happen again. It’s already happening in much of the country.

Meanwhile, about that constitutional right to choose? Oh, well, never mind…

Abortion ‘Industry’? What’s in a word?

Molécule de tenofovir
Molécule de tenofovir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Opponents of reproductive rights are doing pretty well with their campaign to imbed a phantom image in the public consciousness: The Abortion Industry.

Excuse me?

Dingy, windowless, cavernous rooms filled with grim-faced workers on assembly lines featuring a never-ending procession of dead babies? Add background images of a horde of grinning men and women counting their money, and you have the overall image that seems to be the goal.

Charmaine Yoest, the attractive and articulate head of Americans United for Life advanced the image considerably with her persistent references to “The Abortion Industry” during a recent appearance on PBS NewsHour. Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America made a lot more sense and stuck a lot closer to facts — a large majority of Americans believe the complex decision about abortion should be made by a woman and her doctor, rather than by politicians; a probably larger majority do not believe that life begins at conception or that fetuses must have across-the-board “protection.”

It’s a catchy phrase, but the “abortion industry” is a myth.  Here’s the reality:

A virtual army of highly trained, compassionate men and women who believe in the constitutionally mandated right of a woman to make her own reproductive choices does indeed exist.

They work, often for very little pay and against daunting odds, to protect that right.

They teach, they offer advice on contraception and family planning, they counsel and console, they work to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, they serve in countless ways to make life better for men and women in need — and yes, occasionally they perform abortions.

Where, in all this, does one come up with “The Abortion Industry”?

 

 

 

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.

Menopausal Militia Mobilize for Choice

Bart Stupak is probably a nice, regular guy. It’s just that he belongs to a sub-species which cannot fully understand the need for a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. As it turns out, a growing number of the other sub-species don’t fully understand it either. This is because that right has existed since before they were born. One person who does understand is Representative Louise Slaughter, for whom the right to choose is not just an abstract. The battle now being fought by Slaughter and others is detailed in a New York Times article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg:

In the early 1950s, a coal miner’s daughter from rural Kentucky named Louise McIntosh encountered the shadowy world of illegal abortion. A friend was pregnant, with no prospects for marriage, and Ms. McIntosh was keeper of a secret that, if spilled, could have led to family disgrace. The turmoil ended quietly in a doctor’s office, and the friend went on to marry and have four children.

Today, Louise McIntosh is Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York. At 80, she is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus — a member of what Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, calls “the menopausal militia.”

The militia was working overtime in Washington last week, plotting strategy for the coming debate over President Obama’s proposed health care overhaul. With the Senate set to take up its measure on Monday, a fight over federal funding for abortion is threatening to thwart the bill — a development that has both galvanized the abortion rights movement and forced its leaders to turn inward, raising questions about how to carry their agenda forward in a complex, 21st-century world.

Not all stories such as that of Louise McIntosh’s friend had happy endings. More of them ended in doctors offices only after botched abortions left women permanently scarred and frequently barren, although last-minute treatment led to survival. Still more of them ended in terrible pain, isolation and death. But because those stories slowly faded into abstractions, even the women who will write new ones when legal abortion is denied them have a hard time understanding how critical this fight for health and sanity is.

It has been nearly 37 years since Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established a right to abortion, and in that time, an entire generation — including Mr. Obama, who was 11 when Roe was decided — has grown up without memories like those Ms. Slaughter says are “seared into my mind.” The result is a generational divide — not because younger women are any less supportive of abortion rights than their elders, but because their frame of reference is different.

“Here is a generation that has never known a time when abortion has been illegal,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who studies attitudes toward abortion. “For many of them, the daily experience is: It’s legal and if you really need one you can probably figure out how to get one. So when we send out e-mail alerts saying, ‘Oh my God, write to your senator,’ it’s hard for young people to have that same sense of urgency.”

Polls over the last two decades have shown that a clear majority of Americans support the right to abortion, and there’s little evidence of a difference between those over 30 and under 30, but the vocabulary of the debate has shifted with the political culture. Ms. Keenan, who is 57, says women like her, who came of age when abortion was illegal, tend to view it in stark political terms — as a right to be defended, like freedom of speech or freedom of religion. But younger people tend to view abortion as a personal issue, and their interests are different.

The 30- to 40-somethings — “middle-school moms and dads,” Ms. Keenan calls them — are more concerned with educating their children about sex, and generally too busy to be bothered with political causes. The 25-and-under crowd, animated by activism, sees a deeper threat in climate change or banning gay marriage or the Darfur genocide than in any rollback of reproductive rights. Naral is running focus groups with these “millennials” to better learn how they think.

“The language and values, if you are older, is around the right to control your own body, reproductive freedom, sexual liberation as empowerment,” said Ms. Greenberg, the pollster. “That is a baby-boom generation way of thinking. If you look at people under 30, that is not their touchstone, it is not wrapped up around feminism and women’s rights.”

Abortion opponents are reveling in the shift and hope to capitalize. “Not only is this the post-Roe generation, I’d also call it the post-sonogram generation,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, who notes that baby’s first video now occurs in the womb, often accompanied by music. “They can take the video and do the music and send it to the grandmother. We don’t even talk anymore about the hypothesis that having an abortion is like having an appendectomy. All of this informs the political pressures on Capitol Hill.”

Well, I am the grandmother. Those videos are not the baby. They are images of an embryo in the body of a sentient human being whose life does not belong to Bart Stupak.

The women who will suffer and die if the right to choose a legal abortion is denied, though, are not women who get pretty little sonogram videos made for their grandmothers and their scrapbooks. They are the very young, the desperate, the poor. They deserve respect. They have rights.

The pressures relating to abortion had seemed, for a time, to go dormant. Mr. Obama, who campaigned on a vow to transcend “the culture wars,” even managed to win confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, without the usual Washington abortion uproar. Most of his political energy around abortion has been spent trying to forge consensus on ways to reduce unintended pregnancies.

The quiet was shattered this month, when the House — with surprising support from 64 Democrats — amended its health care bill to include language by Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, barring the use of federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. Lawmakers like Ms. Slaughter, who advocate for abortion rights, found themselves in the uncomfortable position of voting for the larger health bill even though the Stupak language was in it.

Proponents of the Stupak language say they are simply following existing federal law, which already bars taxpayer financing for abortions. Democratic leaders want a less restrictive provision that would require insurance companies to segregate federal money from private premiums, which could be used to purchase plans that cover abortion.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida and chief deputy whip of the House, blames what she calls the complacency of her own generation for the political climate that allowed Mr. Stupak to prevail. At 43, the mother of three children, she has taken up the abortion rights cause in Congress, as she did as a state legislator.

But if she had to round up her own friends “to go down to the courthouse steps and rally for choice,” she said, she is not certain she could. When older women have warned that reproductive rights are being eroded, she said, “basically my generation and younger have looked at them as crying wolf.”

Unfortunately, reproductive rights have already been eroded, and it’s about to get worse.

The question now is whether the Stop Stupak coalition can succeed. Ms. Wasserman Schultz sees the debate as a chance to rouse women of all generations, and Ms. Slaughter warns that if Mr. Obama signs a bill including the amendment, it will be challenged in court. She says she has worried for years about what would happen “when my generation was gone.”

At the moment, her concern has diminished. “Right now, I’ve never seen women so angry,” Ms. Slaughter said. “And the people that were angriest with me were my three daughters.”

Being a member of Ms. Slaughter’s generation myself, my concern is still pretty high. My concern is for those women who don’t have the education, access and opportunities of our own daughters and granddaughters, those women who will suffer and die if their rights are taken away. If we have to cave to the likes of Bart Stupak — and the ultra-conservatives, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — in order to get a health bill, then so be it. But once we get a bill, the Menopausal Militia will continue to fight for those women threatened with suffering and death. Because we remember the stories, and they are terrible stories.

In Support of Abortion, It’s Personal vs. Political – NYTimes.com.