Life begins… when? Come talk about it

Life begins… when? Come talk about it

 

Life begins… at conception? at birth? somewhere in between?

It’s not a question anyone can answer with absolute certainty, or a question likely ever to be agreed upon by everyone currently alive. But it’s a question many philosophers, theologians and — not always happily — politicians have been debating recently. And it’s a question sure to come up at the Commonwealth Club program Women at Risk: What’s Ahead For Reproductive Rights October 17th in San Francisco.

English: *Description: Scotty McLennan Author ...
31 December 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Scotty McLennan, the Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University (and model for Doonesbury‘s Dude of God) will be one of four panelists tackling this and other thorny — but pertinent — issues during the hour-long event. Here’s a bit of what McLennan has to say, excerpted from Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade:

“I’ll never forget the sight of each of my children emerging into the world blue and lifeless, being struck on the back by the doctor, taking their first breath, and becoming ruddy-colored as they began crying their way into life.” Those images, and a biblical reference to the “breath of life,” reinforce McLennan’s belief that “the Supreme Court got it right” in ruling that decisions about abortion should be left to the woman and her physician until the fetus might indeed be able to survive outside the womb.

McLennan also believes, as do I, that abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

It’s a critical issue a long way from being solved, either by Roe v Wade, or by those of us who are pro-choice, or by those who would ban abortion entirely in the belief that banning it would somehow make unwanted pregnancies never happen.

How about you? If you’re going to be in the San Francisco Bay Area on October 17th, join us at the Commonwealth Club. It’s going to be informative, engaging, useful — and a lively time.

Sonia Sotomayor gets my vote

English: Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court j...
English: Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am definitely voting for Sotomayor. Oh, wait, she’s not running for anything. That’s a pity.

A little late — since it’s already got 931 reader reviews on Amazon — I just got around to reading My Beloved World. it is a tale told incredibly well, with kindness, humor and self-analysis so clear and so unpretentious it must fill every one of her Jesuit instructors with pride and joy. It certainly fills the reader with joy. Sotomayor makes you proud to be on the same planet.

With almost everyone and every institution in Washington too painful to watch these days, at least the justices of the Supreme Court (with the notable exception of Clarence Thomas) seem to be working. Unfortunately, half of them are working in directions — think Citizens United — that are downright scary, but we have to hope that justice will prevail among the justices.

Anti-choice forces are racking up laws so blatantly unconstitutional there’s no doubt where they want to wind up: back before the Supreme Court in hopes of overturning Roe v Wade. And THAT’s scary. Because they clearly expect to win, and to send American women straight back to the dark ages.

I have a sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach about that prospect. I have no idea how any of the justices would vote. But because she radiates warmth and compassion and the brilliance of a gentle intellect, my vote would go to Sotomayor.

Do yourself a favor: pick up a copy of My Beloved World.

Justice O’Connor still has opinions

Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor (Photo credit: kyle tsui)

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, speaking at a sold-out event in San Francisco October 22, aimed the bulk of her remarks at the school children and law students in the balconies:  study hard, keep your eyes and ears open, and spend a lot of time at iCivics.

Founded by O’Connor in 2009, iCivics is designed “to reverse Americans’ declining civic knowledge and participation” and keep democracy secure by educating and enlightening the next generation, and the groundbreaking justice means to get this done.

In addition to plugging what is clearly her primary passion, O’Connor got around to a few other issues dear to her heart, such as states that elect their judges to federal courts. “Which means they have to campaign,” she noted. “Campaigns cost money. Guess who contributes campaign money? The lawyers who will appear before those judges.” Bad idea. Admitting that California is one of those states, moderator Mary Bitterman said, “I guess we should look into that.” “Yes, you should,” O’Connor shot back.

Dozens of audience questions concerned the Supreme Court, past (Citizens United,) present and future. Could she envision an all-female court some day? “Certainly.” But for the most part she declined to comment on decisions, or speculate on the future as it relates to details like the Republican commitment to overturning Roe v Wade.

So this report can only direct readers to iCivics, a fine spot indeed. Games will teach you about juries, voting, balance of power — citizenship. It’s designed for students of all ages, with special pages for teachers, and it’s perfectly OK for adults, O’Connor remarked, “if you’re a dum dum.” Whereupon I visited the site, played a couple of games, learned a little more about democracy.

Retired, perhaps, but Justice O’Connor is in no way retiring. May she live long and prosper.

Abortion foes are winning, folks

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 22:  A pro-choice advocat...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Will women in the U.S. soon be unable to have a safe, legal abortion? That scary possibility becomes more likely every day. Does anyone really understand the pre-Roe v Wade horrors which abortion foes want to see returned? Not really. That’s because huge numbers of women who could have told the horror stories died at the hands of back-alley abortionists, and those of us who did survive are dying off fast, unheard.

This space welcomes writer John Leland’s front page article in today’s New York Times to the voices crying in the wilderness — just in case someone other than Nancy Keenan might care to listen.

At least 11 states have passed laws this year regulating or restricting abortion, giving opponents of abortion what partisans on both sides of the issue say is an unusually high number of victories. In four additional states, bills have passed at least one house of the legislature.

In a flurry of activity last week, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi signed a bill barring insurers from covering abortion in the new insurance exchanges called for under the federal health care overhaul, and the Oklahoma Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Brad Henry of a bill requiring doctors who perform abortions to answer 38 questions about each procedure, including the women’s reasons for ending their pregnancies.

It was the third abortion measure this session on which the Legislature overrode a veto by Mr. Henry.

At least 13 other states have introduced or passed similar legislation this year. The new laws range from an Arizona ban on coverage of abortion in the state employees’ health plan to a ban in Nebraska on all abortions after 20 weeks, on the grounds that the fetus at that stage can feel pain.

Fetal pain is a subject of debate in the medical community, and the United States Supreme Court has recognized the government’s right to ban abortions only after a fetus becomes viable, which is more than a month later.

“Fetal pain” is just one ploy; its determination can easily go from 20 weeks backward to ban the morning-after pill. Other ploys? Forcing a pregnant woman to look at ultrasound pictures, prohibiting a physician from discussing fetal abnormalities with his/her patient, and “in Utah, after a pregnant 17-year-old paid a man $150 to beat her in an effort to induce a miscarriage, legislators passed a law that would allow a woman in such circumstances to be charged with homicide.”

Unwanted pregnancies happen. When they do, the man involved can simply walk away, as countless millions have done and will continue to do. Why, then, should so many men purporting to have such omnipotent wisdom be empowered to eliminate a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body?

It’s going to get worse. Unless people — and that includes males of the species who still have brains and some concern for the future of womankind — start paying attention, and standing up to the fundamentalists of all stripes, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the religious factions who claim authority over all women, it’s going to get worse than many people in today’s society can even begin to imagine.

Opponents of Abortion Advance Cause at State Level – NYTimes.com.

Justice Souter's Retirement Housing

It turns out not even Supreme Court justices are exempt from the dilemmas of senior housing. Too many steps? Too many books? What’s a retiree to do?

When he retired from the Supreme Court in June, it was expected that Justice David H. Souter would return to his beloved family farmhouse in Weare, N.H., a rustic abode with peeling brown paint, rotting beams and plenty of the solitude he desired. While the new home is only eight miles from his rustic farmhouse, the two could be worlds apart.

But Justice Souter, an individualist on and off the bench, decided to move.

On July 30, he bought a 3,448-square-foot Cape Cod-style home in neighboring Hopkinton listed at $549,000. The single-floor home, for which he paid a reported $510,000, sits on 2.36 well-manicured acres.

This is not going to work for the downsizers who don’t have access to a cheap, reliable lawn service. But it’s easy to pinpoint a few of Justice Souter’s upgrades in the downsize:

The farmhouse has no phone lines; the Hopkinton house has “multiple,” according to the real estate listing. The farmhouse’s lawn was spotted with brown; the Hopkinton house has a verdant lawn and neatly trimmed hedges. And for Justice Souter, 69, who is known to be a fitness buff, there is a home gym as well as a spa bath.

Or, he can just mow his own lawn. The core issue, however, is closer to those reported by hundreds who are opting for retirement apartments, urban condos and other housing choices mentioned in earlier columns.

Justice Souter told a Weare neighbor, Jimmy Gilman, that the two-story farmhouse was not structurally sound enough to support the thousands of books he owns, according to The Concord Monitor, and that he wished to live on one level.

Perhaps Justice Sotomayor will want to keep a lid on her library shelves.

Off the Bench, Souter Leaves Farmhouse Behind – NYTimes.com.