Judge Janice R. Brown on family planning

Janice Rogers Brown
Janice Rogers Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In her words, it is “a repugnant belief.” That would be family planning.

Excuse me?

Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has an interesting opinion about birth control: Thou Shalt Not. It is fine with me if Judge Brown chooses not to plan her family (she had one child by her first husband) but not so fine to impose that personal belief on the rest of us.

But that’s where we are headed. Judge Brown recently ruled that the government should not require Freshway Foods to cover birth control for their employees because that would have Freshway affirming “a repugnant belief,” and force them to be “complicit in a grave moral wrong.”

Some of us do not see family planning as morally wrong. By and large we tend to believe that strong families with children who are loved, wanted and cared for make sense. By and large we also believe that adult women are competent to make decisions about their eggs. But once that egg is fertilized, Judge Brown believes, along with many others including the Freshway founders, that it becomes something sacred and that’s where our beliefs diverge.

All of this increasingly matters. New York Times writer Jeremy W. Peters explains it in a thorough and thoughtful piece about how abortion cases in courts such as Judge Brown’s served as the tipping point for recent action by Senate Democrats to call an end to the filibuster. It’s hard to blame them. Democrats joined with Republicans to put Janice Brown — who was highly distasteful to liberals and moderates — on the bench, assuming Republicans would later join Democrats to put mildly distasteful others on the bench. Wrong. Republicans simply dug in and refused to confirm any Obama nominee.

Which puts us in a situation of majority rule without much minority right… but then, we have been for some time in a situation of minority rule without much majority power.

Democracy is a mess when extremists take over. Extremists have taken over reproductive rights: no contraception, no abortion, no choice, no access, no rights for countless women across the country. Extremists leave no room for dialog, mutual respect or compromise; it’s simply My Way or the Highway.

When a federal judge holds extremist opinions there isn’t a lot of room for optimism.

Three cheers for Pope Francis

Dove peace
Dove peace (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Pope with the good name is all over the news these days with his remarks about the church being too obsessed with social issues, notably including abortion and birth control. And I say hooray for Pope Francis.

Not because I have any insight into his intentions, or any links with Catholicism beyond a bunch of good friends and an MFA from that fine Jesuit institution, the University of San Francisco. But because the Pope seems to be espousing peace and justice and inclusiveness, even going so far as to put them above dogma.

In case you missed it, Pope Francis told a fellow Jesuit interviewer, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. We have to find a new balance.”

Subsequent reports and commentaries and punditries have hastened to clarify that nothing has changed. Contraception is still forbidden, abortion is still a sin, and the remarkable folks of Catholics for Choice are presumably still in limbo. But compared to his predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, who were never noted for liberalism, this pope has a real heart.  His tone throughout the interview is conciliatory, and the message is all about mercy and compassion, love over dogma.

Dogma hasn’t been working very well. It’s an invitation to I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong conversations that end as fast as they begin: My Church Knows Best. My Religion Is The Only Religion. I’m Right And You’re Wrong. Let The Government Default.

If there are answers to the challenging issues of today, they are not being found in these sorts of exchanges. But if we were to start substituting kindness for meanness, conciliation for rigidity, collaboration for obstinacy, imagine what might happen. World peace.

You go, Pope Francis. Even if you spell it with a different vowel, I’m proud to share your good name.

Surprise! Contraception reduces abortion rates

Much is being made of a recently completed study by Washington University in St. Louis that showed use of contraceptives reduces abortion rates. Well, duh. All those teenagers who didn’t get pregnant subsequently didn’t need abortions. Nor did they need to wreck their lives bringing unwanted children into the world, and there might have been an instance or two wherein some young person avoided contracting HIV, though these issues were not studied in the study.

Could someone point this out to all those folks who want to ban contraceptives? You know, inhabitants of that parallel universe wherein no one ever has sex except to procreate?

The two-year Contraceptive Choice Project enlisted more than 9,000 women in St. Louis, many of them poor and/or uninsured, and offered them a range of free contraceptives. The results? As reported in the New York Times, there were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study, compared with the national average of 34 births per 1,000. There were 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 per 1,000 women in the St. Louis area. The national rate is close to 20 per 1,000 women.

There seems to be a triple-disconnect loose in the land: Sex happens, even when the participants aren’t thinking about making babies. Unwanted pregnancies happen, especially when people can’t get contraceptives. Abortion happens when women — and teenage girls — get caught in human biology.

Why would it not make sense to quit shouting obscenities, making judgments and trying to force one group’s belief on everyone, and focus instead on these realities? Who knows, fewer tragedies of messed up lives and unwanted children could result.

New 'morning after' pill meets opposition from abortion foes

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 27:  In this photo i...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

With global overpopulation among the most critical problems of the 21st century, news of a highly effective contraceptive becoming available in the U.S. would seem very good news indeed. But as health writer Rob Stein reports in the Washington Post, it may not happen:

A French drug company is seeking to offer American women something their European counterparts already have: a pill that works long after “the morning after.”

The drug, dubbed ella, would be sold as a contraceptive — one that could prevent pregnancy for as many as five days after unprotected sex. But the new drug is a close chemical relative of the abortion pill RU-486, raising the possibility that it could also induce abortion by making the womb inhospitable for an embryo.

Plan B (the last emergency contraceptive vetted by the FDA), which works for up to 72 hours after sex, was eventually approved for sale without a prescription, although a doctor’s order is required for girls younger than 17. The new drug promises to extend that period to at least 120 hours. Approved in Europe last year, ella is available as an emergency contraceptive in at least 22 countries.

“With ulipristal (ella), women will be enticed to buy a poorly tested abortion drug, unaware of its medical risks, under the guise that it’s a morning-after pill,” said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, which led the battle against Plan B.

Plan B prevents a pregnancy by administering high doses of a hormone that mimics progesterone. It works primarily by inhibiting the ovaries from producing eggs. Critics argue it can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb, which some consider equivalent to an abortion.

Ella works as a contraceptive by blocking progesterone’s activity, which delays the ovaries from producing an egg. RU-486, too, blocks the action of progesterone, which is also needed to prepare the womb to accept a fertilized egg and to nurture a developing embryo. That’s how RU-486 can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting and dislodge growing embryos. Ella’s chemical similarity raises the possibility that it might do the same thing, perhaps if taken at elevated doses. But no one knows for sure because the drug has never been tested that way. Opponents of the drug are convinced it will. “It kills embryos, just like the abortion pill,” said Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

A federal panel will convene this week to consider endorsing the drug. Those favoring approval are worried that the ambiguous sentiments, and the power of abortion foes who seem poised to weigh in against it, will influence the outcome.

“FDA should be a ‘Just the facts ma’am’ organization,” said Susan F. Wood, an associate professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services who resigned from the FDA to protest delays in making Plan B more accessible. “I’m hoping the FDA will take that position.”

There is an great unmet need out there for emergency contraception that is effective as this for so long,” said Erin Gainer, chief executive of HRA Pharma of Paris. Studies involving more than 4,500 women in the United States and Europe show that ella is safe, producing minor side effects including headaches, nausea and fatigue, she said.

The company has no plans to test ella as an abortion drug, but it did not appear to cause any problems for the handful of women who have become pregnant after taking the drug, she said.

“The people who are opposing this are not just opposed to abortion,” said Amy Allina, program director at the National Women’s Health Network. “They also opposed contraception and they are trying to confuse the issue.”

Back to the issue: the planet has a finite amount of space for human beings. When one human being (and often two human beings acting as one) seeks not to add an unwanted human being, would it not make sense to furnish all available safe, legal tools to assist in that humanitarian effort?

Stay tuned for the answer from the FDA.

New ‘morning-after’ pill, ella, raises debate over similarity to abortion drug.