Decisions Congress shouldn’t make

English: View of Capitol Hill from the U.S. Su...
English: View of Capitol Hill from the U.S. Supreme Court Česky: Pohled na Kapitol z budovy Nejvyššího soudu Spojených států (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recent New York Times op ed piece by Judy Nicastro tells the wrenching story of an abortion she had at 23 weeks.

The decision — which involved aborting a fetus that would have faced only suffering if it survived — was made after agonizing weeks. It was informed by sonograms, an M.R.I., tests, studies and extensive discussions between Nicastro, her husband and many medical professionals.

The decision to tell her story was prompted by the House vote on June 18 to ban abortion after 22 weeks. No one among those who voted for the bill (which is not expected to pass the Senate) has experienced anything like the agonizing struggle Nicastro and her husband went through, or even just a troubled pregnancy — most of the votes were cast by men, after all.

The decision was anguished, soul-searching, unique — and above all, private.

Which raises the question:

Should a decision about an unintended or unadvised pregnancy be made by the woman involved, with advice from medical professionals, after discussion with her partner, in consideration of the unique circumstances that apply?

Or by the U.S. Congress?

Rape doesn’t cause pregnancy? Excuse me?

Trent Franks
Trent Franks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, according to Rep. Trent Franks, the incidence of pregnancy resulting from rape is negligible, so probably we don’t need to consider allowing abortion when rape or incest is involved.  Franks is not big on considering women at all, or the issues women face.

Franks would have us consider only the fetus. His Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, currently being discussed by himself and a lot of mostly men in Washington, would ban abortion after 22 weeks.

Franks was himself unborn when I became pregnant after an incidence of workplace rape. Such occurrences are probably less common today, progress having been made in workplace protection since 1958. But I would be willing to bet they still happen. I wonder if Franks cares. I wonder if he has heard about sexual abuses in the military? Or unreported date rape? They happen; unintended pregnancies happen.  I wonder if Franks is able to get his mind around the fact that there is a woman before there is a zygote?

I appreciate Franks’ concern with the unborn; I just want him to consider the already-born. They are real, live women facing difficult, complex issues that no one — NO ONE — could possibly understand but they themselves.

Abortion is a difficult and complex issue. I personally wish it would never be necessary. But for Franks and his fellow ideologues to inch it back toward criminalization, as they would like, is a violation of the basic rights of the women whose existence they prefer to ignore.

One campaign, $68 million and counting

SUNNYVALE, CA - APRIL 27:  Former eBay CEO and...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

California gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman made a bundle as head of eBay. Where she spends it, her supporters say, is a matter of personal choice. She is currently choosing to spend it on buying her way into the governor’s office. Recent reports list her total costs closing in on $70 million — no big deal, since she has been quoted as saying $100 million on this phase wouldn’t pose any problem. This phase is still just the June primary.

Whitman has spent $68 million of her own money on the race so far, the Los Angeles Times reports. Whitman blasted the California airwaves with ads in March, according to the LA Times, but (opponent Steve) Poizner eventually made his own investments and gained traction with damaging attacks against Whitman’s stance on illegal immigration (he called her too soft on the issue). As a billionaire former business executive, Whitman was also hurt by the focus put on her ties to Goldman Sachs.

This space isn’t going to get into political endorsements or heavy-duty oppositions. And in any event, as a registered Democrat married to a confirmed Decline-to-state, votes from here are unlikely to affect the California Republican nomination.

But at what point does the investment of personal wealth throw up red flags about one’s motivations? Is wanting political office any different from wanting a Rolex watch or a ranch in Montana? When someone has no legislative experience, no known stands, no voting record (Whitman never bothered with voting much), how are we supposed to know what’s really driving the reach for power? Ross Perot spent about the same amount of his own money on his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Presidency in 1992 as Whitman has thus far on a gubernatorial primary race. Perot dropped a little less on a similar adventure in 1996. He did have somewhat of a record of his convictions, and he was defended both times with arguments that it is a personal right to do whatever one wants with one’s personal wealth.

That is undoubtedly so. It’s a personal right. Why does it somehow feel wrong?

Palin, Pelosi & the politics of scorn

Much ado is being made over two lady politicos these days, Sarah Palin for her six-figure fees and Nancy Pelosi for her legislative expertise. Both are commendable — depending on how one chooses to commend — but unfortunately they are continuing to feed the politics of scorn. Which is unlikely to lead to bi-partisanship or collegiality any time soon. Maybe both are dead.

Palin’s usefulness to her party is a matter of dispute. According to two prominent speakers at a Wednesday breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor (as reported by Monitor writer Dave Cook), Palin’s rise is great good news for the Democrats.

“Look at this dynamic that is produced with Sarah Palin,” said Stanley Greenberg, chairman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “You have John McCain having to have Sarah Palin to save him [in a primary election race]…”

In the aftermath of the passage of healthcare reform, the ongoing discussion is “Barack Obama against Sarah Palin on healthcare,” he said.

Mr. Greenberg, who served as President Clinton’s pollster, argued that “The face of the Republican Party to the country is not the ‘tea party,’ it is Sarah Palin.”

James Carville, President Clinton’s campaign manager and the other speaker at Wednesday’s breakfast, suggested a test to the assembled journalists. “Do me favor. Call five Democratic consultants and leave a message and say I am doing a story on Sarah Palin and call five Republicans, and see who returns the phone call. I think we all know the answer to that. The Democrats will be on the phone so fast.”

Much as some of us do not admire Sarah Palin, the sneer factor employed by her detractors can be oppressive. (Come on, if you’re an anti-Palin, think of the slurs you have slung her way.) She is, herself, a master of derision in a by-golly sort of fashion, and it is this that brings loud huzzahs from her audiences when she takes on the Democrats.

Not to be outdone, Speaker Pelosi (whom I appreciate and respect) was heaping scorn upon the Republicans in speeches to California audiences this week,

… saying they “have nothing to sell” to the American people except a crude caricature of her as the midterm elections approach.

Pelosi, D-San Francisco, was surrounded at the Phillip and Sala Burton Center by ardent advocates of health reform, who cheered when she was cheerful and roared when she was defiant. And she was proudly defiant.

“I couldn’t care less,” she said of GOP efforts to use her as campaign fundraising bait. “I should be thanking them. … It really helps me with my fundraising.”

The issues are real, and occasionally that is made clear:

“This is a bill about the middle class. This is a bill about small businesses. This is a bill about affordability,” Pelosi said.

Still, Pelosi warned Democrats that the fight isn’t over, saying Republicans “are unabashed in wanting to rid us of this … and one way they think they can do it is by making gross misrepresentations to senior citizens” with what she called a “campaign of fear.”

Appearing before a crowd dominated by seniors carrying signs of appreciation – “Thank you, madame speaker” – Pelosi was lauded by a parade of admirers, including Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, doctors and senior advocates who praised her tireless push for the measure.

Admittedly, Pelosi was in friendly territory this week, as Palin has been in recent days herself.

Palin last weekend put Pelosi and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the center of her campaign-style speech to Tea Partiers attending a rally in Searchlight, Nev., Reid’s hometown. “You’re fired,” she said of the two Democratic standard-bearers.

This may be the way politics works. But wouldn’t it be nice if occasionally, some way could be found for opposing sides at least to be civil in the interest of the common good.

Defiant Pelosi scorns Republicans.

Health reform: Are we there yet?

Nancy Pelosi is known around San Francisco — and in a few other spots — as one tough politician. She likes being Speaker of the House, and she doesn’t much like losing. So this week’s do-or-die health reform bill is going to get all the muscle she can manage. It is, Pelosi has declared, “a moral and political imperative.”

Okay, it’s not what we hoped, it’s too complicated and too fraught, it’s going to be full of little gifties given to get votes. If we don’t get something America will be stuck with a non-functional system and millions will remain without health care at all. So I for one am on Pelosi’s side.

The plan is for the House to pass the Senate version and send it to Obama for his signature and enactment. Certain fixes the House is demanding for passage of the more conservative Senate bill will be included in a separate, special measure that will go to the Senate for an up-or-down vote that avoids a filibuster.

But once the House passes the base legislation and Obama signs it, the measure becomes law regardless of what the Senate does.

Democrats do not yet have the votes in hand and Pelosi will not call a vote until they do. Liberal lawmakers have deep reservations about the Senate bill, and fights over abortion and immigration have yet to be resolved. But Pelosi has set the legislative train in motion, even as Republicans have publicly begun to express doubt that they can stop it.

Pelosi laid down the law to wavering Democrats who are threatening to bolt. “It’s not about abortion, it’s not about immigration,” she said. “The only reason, therefore, to oppose the bill is that you do not support health care reform.”

A lot of people don’t support health care reform. The Republicans, the insurance industry, the anti-abortion folks and the anti-immigration folks and more than a few people who feel pretty much okay with what they’ve got and frankly don’t care a lot about what others don’t have.

But health care reform is a moral imperative.

Pelosi: Dems will have votes to OK health care.

End-of-life counseling stays in health care bill

Here’s a piece of very good news just in from Associated Press reporter Ricardo Alonzo-Zaldivar:

It’s alive. The Medicare end-of-life planning provision that 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said was tantamount to “death panels” for seniors is staying in the latest Democratic health care bill unveiled Thursday. The provision allows Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling to help beneficiaries deal with the complex and painful decisions families face when a loved one is approaching death.

The business of thinking ahead toward end-of-life decisions and making  one’s own wishes known through legal documents such as advance directives has long been encouraged by federal policies. But when coverage for talking things over with one’s doctor was incorporated into health reform it was quickly distorted by Republicans.  Sen.Charles Grassley led the successful campaign to strike it from the Senate bills. But saner heads have prevailed in the House.

“There is nothing more basic than giving someone the option of speaking with their doctor about how they want to be treated in the case of an emergency,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR. “I think the outrageous and vindictive attacks may have backfired to help raise awareness about this problem, which is why it’s been kept in the bill.” The legislation would allow Medicare to pay for a counseling session with a doctor or clinical professional once every five years. The bill calls for such sessions to be “completely” voluntary, and prohibits the encouragement or promotion of suicide or assisted suicide.

The counseling provision is supported by doctors’ groups and AARP, the seniors’ lobby. It was not included in health care bills passed by two Senate committees.

It’s alive! End-of-life counseling in health bill.

Obama plays the Medicare card

President Obama, with Vice President Biden and Speaker Pelosi behind him, delivers a joint address to Congress on September 9 (Alex Wong/Getty)
President Obama, with Vice President Biden and Speaker Pelosi behind him, delivers a joint address to Congress on September 9 (Alex Wong/Getty)

For almost anyone over 50, the central issue of health care boils quickly down to Medicare. Will I keep it? Will it be there when I need it? Will it change?

In his address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, President Obama looked straight at the camera while saying he wanted “to speak directly to seniors: Medicare has been here for four decades, and is a sacred trust that must be passed down” to future generations. Then he pointed out to those seniors that the legislators opposing his reform plan are the same “folks who voted against Medicare in the beginning” and this year voted for a budget that would privatize it. He said also that much of the plan will be paid for by reducing waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid. Anybody who’s had (and thank you, I have) Medicare coverage for more than 15 minutes knows about waste and inefficiency. So cut those, and leave the system, and we should all be happy.

We should all be happy, that is, if such care extends to everyone. And if Mr. Obama’s references to the U.S. being the only developed country that lets its citizens suffer daily for want of adequate health care didn’t communicate the moral wrong that reform will attempt to right, you weren’t listening. What we heard was outline, and the president’s throw-away line about a few details yet to be worked out got an expected congregational chuckle. Some of us are more optimistic than others about whether any substantive change for the common good will remain by the time the final bill is drawn.

The details are ahead for the devil to be in, and he/she is surely ready. Whether public support will be forthcoming seems likely to boil down to a whom-to-believe game. Obama repeatedly stressed that “nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.” But in delivering the Republican response immediately after the speech, Representative Charles Boustany of Louisiana promised listeners that they would be in for “replacing your family’s current plan with government-sponsored healthcare.” Boustany also tossed in references to “rationing care” and to general “fear and anxiety,” giving a distinct impression that battle lines are still drawn.

About those battle lines: Republicans sat on their hands as Obama once again proclaimed the rumors about bureaucrats who would kill off senior citizens — he skipped dignifying Sarah Palin by using the death-panel words — to be “lies, plain and simple.” And although he got the other side of the aisle to stand when he insisted there must be reform of medical malpractice laws, there were no smiles when he pointed out that the cost of health reform will be less than the tax breaks for wealthiest Americans passed during the previous administration.

Somehow, what truths and certainties do exist must be kept alive in the fray: Medicare is not going away. End-of-life conversations won’t kill off grandma. (Sadly, this provision may be already dead anyway.) The plan’s not going to cover illegal immigrants or pay for abortions. Medical malpractice laws must be reformed. Nothing will adequately replace the public option. A health care plan that offers access to all, imperfect or not, is only common decency.

This senior’s trust is still in Barack Obama.