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.

Reading the data on declining abortion rates

This essay first appeared on HuffingtonPost.com

Recently released figures from the Guttmacher Institute show a drop from 1.2 million abortions in 2008 to 1.1 million in 2011, and that’s something to cheer about.

The question is, who’s cheering, and why.

Anti-abortion forces are not even cheering very loudly. Instead, as reported in National Right to Life’s News Today, they are proclaiming that the new report “downplayed the role that public debate over the rights of unborn children have played in this trend.” Well, that role is, in itself, debatable. I would suggest that those on all sides of the issue might do well to put aside the fringes — “Abortion on demand and without apology!” as well as “The unborn must have rights!” — and focus instead on the good news: Fewer women are having abortions. Unintended pregnancy rates have dropped. Abortion has decreased to its lowest level since 1973 when Roe v Wade was decided.

As a woman who had a back-alley abortion in 1956, I hear that as good news on many counts. No one, I repeat, no one, has an abortion without anguish. The decision is always complex, difficult, unique and intensely personal. One woman may have been raped, another impregnated under equally horrendous circumstances. One woman might already have more children than she can adequately care for and know that continuing her pregnancy will threaten her own health and her children’s future. Another woman could have learned her pregnancy has severe fetal anomalies, leaving her heartbroken at the prospect of bringing a child into the world who will only suffer and quickly die. If she’s poor, her choices rapidly disappear. Like the young woman denied access and unable to end a tragic pregnancy in 2009 who told me tearfully, “we couldn’t raise the money.”

A decrease in stories like these is great good news.

But it will not happen by continuing to deny access to safe procedures or creating more and more layers of restrictions. It will not happen by rolling back access to the very things that can limit the unintended pregnancy rate in the first place, like sex education and birth control. Insisting that every woman in the U.S. must be compelled to carry every pregnancy to term will not prevent unintended pregnancies, and unintended pregnancies will always drive up abortion rates.

When I began work on my recently published book, Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade, I spoke first with women like me who had had no access to safe and legal abortion. Our stories are of frightening trips in strange cars, blindfolded and defenseless, to kitchen-table abortions performed by untrained criminals. But soon I began hearing equally distressing stories from young women today, like the distraught woman above who “couldn’t raise the money.” Or the pregnant 14-year-old who was rescued by Loretta Ross of SisterSong in Atlanta after the abused child — “she was still sucking her thumb,” Ross said — had been unable to terminate her pregnancy because of time limits in her home state.

Lower abortion rates will come from more widespread use of more effective contraception. And from educating women, and men, about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

How can effective, non-judgmental, accurate education happen? Not through the organizations that run “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” and spread misinformation, while telling women that abortion is “murder.” If education is to be effective, it can only happen in an arena of full truth, and be built on scientific fact.

Physicians for Reproductive Health is a good place to start. This professional organization keeps its focus on women’s health. Remember when trained doctors and healthy women were the heart of the debate rather than unscientific data and political rants? The National Abortion Federation, which has a strong educational arm, is another. And finally there is — gasp — Planned Parenthood. Targeted as the Essence of Evil by anti-abortion forces because some Planned Parenthood health centers offer safe and legal abortion, in reality Planned Parenthood is the logical place to begin advocating for… planned parenthood: safe, informed ways to avoid unintended pregnancies and promote healthy women and children. The organization is already providing extraordinary services. According to PPFA’s website, “every year, more than 700 Planned Parenthood health centers provide birth control to more than two million patients from all walks of life.”

The latest Guttmacher report could be a catalyst for change. But only if those on both sides of the highly polarized and overly emotional abortion issue will use it for the good of women. And I, an eternal optimist, am not holding my breath.

Dr. Ken Edelin: Warrior for women’s rights

Women everywhere suffered a loss on December 30 with the death of Kenneth Edelin, retired ObGyn and longtime champion of reproductive justice. Dr. Edelin died of cancer at his home in Florida. He was 74.

Photo Courtesy:  LifeNews.com
Photo Courtesy: LifeNews.com

Ken Edelin’s obituaries all lead with the story of his sensational manslaughter trial in 1973.  As the New York Times reports, “Dr. Edelin (pronounced EE-da-lin) was charged with causing the death of the fetus of an unwed 17-year-old during an elective abortion in her sixth month of pregnancy. In a six-week trial in Boston that explored uncharted legal ground and made headlines across the country, Dr. Edelin, who was black, was vilified as a baby-killer and defended as a victim of racial and religious prejudice being tried for an action that had never been defined as a crime: killing a fetus that may or may not have been a “person,” and whose rights had never been specified by law.” He was convicted, but later acquitted of all charges.

Edelin’s long career, though, was much more than that event. It included teaching, writing, mentoring, and advocating for reproductive justice, especially for poor women of color. Among other honors and awards, he received the Margaret Sanger Award, its highest honor, from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 2008.

In the several times I spoke with Ken Edelin during research for Perilous Times (about his story, which appears on pages 109-111) and after its publication (to thank him once again) he was gracious, generous and supportive. He was particularly proud of the book he wrote about the Boston trial, Broken Justice: A True Story of Race, Sex and Revenge in a Boston Courtroom, and understandably a little miffed that it had not received the recognition he felt it deserved. It may have been too exhaustively detailed to find a major publisher or a host of readers, but Broken Justice makes certain that the full story of that episode is preserved.

It was an honor to have encountered Ken Edelin, even only in phone calls. He will be missed.

All kinds of greetings this season

Christmas bells

Christmas bells (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing that dropped out of the Christmas card was a front page torn from The Flint (MI) Journal of September 5, 2013:

ABORTION CLINIC CLOSES; ONE REMAINS IN AREA read the banner headline at the top of the page.

My friends keep track of things for me. News and notes get saved — sometimes for three months — because holiday cards are still my generation’s catch-up communication of choice. Who went off to college, got married, landed a new job, took an exotic trip, (got sick or died) — news of the old year comes with good wishes for the new. This year’s news, for me, tended to focus on reproductive rights. Thus the clipping from The Flint Journal (on whose payroll Bud Johns appeared as a kid, and a young reporter.)

The story wasn’t one that would have made lasting news much beyond Genessee County, Michigan. An ugly report about a woman saying she was “forced” to have an abortion, a lawsuit, and that was the end of the Feminine Health Care Clinic.

It’s still possible to obtain an abortion in the area, though obviously now more difficult. The closing of FHCC brought the number of abortion-providing clinics in the area down from four not long ago to, currently, one. And that, according to Flint Area Right to Life Director Judy Climer who’s been leading this effort, “makes us feel we’re on the right track.” Climer’s track leads to total denial of abortion access. And the interesting point of the whole long, sad story is summed up later in the article:

Lori Lamerand, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan points out toward the end of the story that all of these things “were not done solely in the best interest of the patient.”

This week will bring more cards. Next week will bring a new year. If miracles happen — and isn’t this the season of miracles? — the new year will bring some sort of rational public dialog about protecting the patient, i.e. pregnant woman, while somehow respecting those who blindly hold that her fetus is all that matters.

Miracles do happen.

 

The season of giving/funding/etc

Cedar Christmas Wreath

Cedar Christmas Wreath (Photo credit: wilsonevergreens)

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year — Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or just getting an annual new start — you are undoubtedly receiving daily invitations to help others get their own new start. With dollars. It’s a tradition of the season. And despite all the despair about consumerism and commercialization, answering all those year-end appeals has an upside.

Your dollars can do good.

Just in case you can’t decide where to send them, this space would like to suggest a few possibilities:

In the end-of-life arena, your dollars can double their value if you send them in the next 10 days to Compassion & Choices, a great organization with a dollar-for-dollar match currently available. Full disclosure: I’ve been a volunteer, board member etc for Compassion & Choices NCA for well over a decade; more disclosure: it has Charity Navigator‘s highest rating.

Planned Parenthood! So some of their facilities offer abortion services — which is making this excellent organization the target of every right-wing anti-women group in the U.S. They also perform invaluable services across the full spectrum of reproductive care, for women and men alike. I get weary with their solicitations, but still send money because they do good. They also have a match waiting for you to double your dollars between now and the end of the year.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, check them out. If you want to support legislative action (and not get a tax deduction) you can send much-needed dollars to the activist group. But the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation also does good, and is a 501(c)3.

On a smaller scale — and the small-scale organizations often need your money the most and do every bit as much good — here are just a couple of suggestions:

SisterSong — mobilizing women of color (and well worth the support of women of all colors) for reproductive justice.

The Women’s Information Network — Many different iterations in different parts of the country, but WIN members: young, progressive, professionals, are the women who will create change as well as the age group with the most to lose as reproductive choice disappears.

Catholics for Choice — just because Catholic officialdom opposes abortion, contraception, women’s reproductive choice and everything else (end-of-life choice included) rational, countless good Catholics do not. My favorite Catholics, a lot of them at least, are pro-choice. And this one Protestant for choice thinks Catholics for Choice is a great group.

These are just a few of the places where your dollars can help make a difference, and a happier new year for many.

A glimmer of sanity in Kansas

Scales of justice

Scales of justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Associated Press reports that the Kansas Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended the law license of anti-abortion crusading former KS Attorney General (2003-2007) Phil Kilne. During his time as Attorney General, and throughout a subsequent stint as Johnson County District Attorney, Kline aggressively attacked Planned Parenthood and abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. The intensity of that relentless battle led to the killing of Dr. Tiller by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder on a Sunday morning in May, 2009.

No one is pinning blame for the murder of the widely-beloved physician on the anti-abortion obsessed former attorney. But Planned Parenthood supporters and pro-choice activists have to be cheering the small light that’s now shining on Kline’s egregious misconduct. The 154-page Supreme Court decision lists 11 specific violations of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct committed by Kline while he was in office. As county D.A., for example, he filed 107 criminal charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic, all of which were subsequently dropped.

Third-trimester abortions, which are performed by fewer than a handful of providers in the U.S., are in many ways the hardest to defend, for those of us committed to protection of women’s reproductive rights. But I can absolutely promise that no one chooses a late-term abortion without strong, urgent and very personal reason. It’s a complex procedure with attendant complex effects. But Dr. Tiller chose to offer this procedure to women in need, and others are working hard to preserve the right as part of his legacy.

A new documentary, “After Tiller,” just opened in the San Francisco Bay area. It focuses on the four physicians who now openly offer late-term abortions. Film maker Martha Shane, co-director with Lana Wilson, is in town and speaking at a Q&A session following today’s showing at the Roxie Theater (where I’ll simultaneously be signing copies of Perilous Times.) The event is sponsored by Trust Women Silver Ribbon campaign.

Which brings me full circle back to Phil Kline. Obsessed with his conviction that abortion is a sin and must be banned, Kline brought excessive, unnecessary and costly disruption to Planned Parenthood services — which extend far, far beyond abortion: counseling, breast cancer screening, free screening for STD, contraception, countless services critical to boys and girls, men and women in the area. It was cruelty bordering on the insane to those countless innocent people in need of such services. So as I head over to the Roxie I am personally grateful for the Kansas Supreme Court and the note of sanity it has now brought to the state.

Who’s fighting for reproductive rights?

lisaalone1AC-TI-VIST: Vigorous advocate for a cause. Or, Lisa Lindelef (among a lot of others. )

As Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion rights, turned 40 early this year, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 7 out of 10 Americans want the law to stand. Those who believe otherwise, though, have been working to make abortion access difficult in many states, and are reportedly preparing a case that will lead back to the Court and potential repeal of Roe v Wade.

Enter the activists. They include the staff and countless volunteers for Planned Parenthood, the forces of groups like Trust Women Silver Ribbon campaign, the people of National Abortion Federation, National Organization of Women and…

NARAL Pro-Choice America. NARAL Pro-Choice is the one that’s drawn the interest and energies of Lisa Lindelef, one of the panelists on the Commonwealth Club of California’s October 17th program, Women at Risk: What’s Ahead for Reproductive Rights. She’ll be adding the perspective of a long-time activist to that of other panelists; if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, come join the discussion. Lisa currently serves on the board of the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, whose mission is “to support and protect, as a fundamental right and value, a woman’s freedom to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices through education, training, organizing, legal action, and public policy.”

About her personal motivations, and decision to work with NARAL, Lisa has this to say:

“I’ve been involved with the pro-choice and reproductive rights movement since before Roe, ever since I saw young women I knew “disappear” and never reappear.  As choice gradually, and now increasingly, has become threatened by restrictions designed to weaken the Roe decision without actually undoing it, I decided it was time to put serious time and resources into the fight.  The pro-choice coalition has many admirable and steadfast members but NARAL Pro-Choice America has been, and remains, the political leader of the pro-choice movement.  With its combined state and federal organization structure, it is uniquely positioned to lead the fight to protect a woman’s right to choose.

Since 1973, safe and legal abortion has been offered by physicians across the U.S., including members of Physicians for Reproductive Health, and through clinics maintained by Planned Parenthood and other groups such as the Feminist Women’s Health Centers in Atlanta, GA and Washington. Those who oppose abortion rights have been whittling them away, state by state, through restrictive laws and regulations, putting women with unintended pregnancies often at considerable risk; having been one of those women in the days before 1973, I know the risks.

Which is why I applaud the activists for choice like Lisa Lindelef.