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Follow-up on the First Amendment license plate case

Last week, I discussed how North Carolina's "Choose Life" license plate program was designed in a way that ran afoul of the First Amendment.

Pro-choice politicians in other states with pro-life license plate programs are going to use the court decision as a platform to challenge their own state programs. A legislator in Georgia is on the case already.

Defenders of the pro-life-but-not-pro-choice-plate programs will try to distinguish their policies from North Carolina's, but I am skeptical. The key would be to argue that their program, unlike North Carolina's, does not discriminate within a government-created public forum (license plates) where 'private' speech takes place, but instead is a direct expression of a government viewpoint.

If other courts issue rulings that uphold other state programs, the issue is likely to end up at the United States Supreme Court.

Links:

Article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle (December 12, 2012): Georgia lawmaker may seek…

Did "tax-funded abortion pills" cause the Newtown tragedy?

Of course not. But this is the kind of nonsense we get when people shamelessly piggyback on a tragedy to score political or culture war points. We also get this kind of analysis when someone is paid to analyze events on cue but has nothing of substance to say regarding something terrible and complex.

Watch Mike Huckabee's statement here:


I understand Huckabee is trying to make a larger point about the culture, rather than drawing a direct line from the ACA's contraceptive mandate-- which does not mandate taxpayer funding of abortion pills, by the way-- to the Newtown massacre.

Still, this is what happens when a tragedy occurs:
We extrapolate from an isolated event and determine that it encapsulates, or is the ultimate representation of, something about our society that must be addressed. It is possible, however, that an event is sui generis and cannot then serve as a platform for useful long-term policy reform. We reduce the cause of a tragedy-- which may ultimately be an unex…

How to maintain the Japanese population?

This is a nice essay, by Alexandra Harney, on ways to address population decline in Japan. It goes a little sideways at the beginning-- it implies that the Japanese government could not focus on infrastructure projects and population maintenance at the same time, like they are mutually exclusive-- but makes standard and sound recommendations at the end.

Refreshingly, the author of the essay does not recommend reinforcing or returning to 'traditional family values'-- in other words, limited birth control and women out of the paid workforce-- as a means of addressing Japanese population decline. As the author and many others note, increased gender equity, supported through government policies, is good in and of itself and also tends to produce replacement-rate birth rates.

Links:

Essay in The New York Times (December 15, 2012): Without Babies, Can Japan Survive? 

A holiday break

The politics of abortion, contraception, and family planning never stops. I, on the other hand, do stop occasionally and take a break! I will be away from my computer for much of the rest of December, so my postings will be intermittent until the first week of January, 2013.

Thanks for reading and responding. Enjoy the holidays.

The symbolism of coat hangers

The coat hanger made its appearance-- or reappearance-- in American culture this week in two odd ways.

First, the show American Horror Story-- which defies brief description-- recently featured a woman attempting to perform a self-abortion with a wire coat hanger. You'll have to read the Salon article about the episode, but, intentionally or not, the show's producers built a case for abortion-as-necessary so over the top that it almost undermines itself.

Second, the owner of a dry cleaning business in Ohio placed pro-life messages on the coat hangers that go back to customers with their clothes. The owner of the business seemed genuinely obtuse regarding the symbolism at work, although there is some evidence that people had been complaining about the hanger messages for a couple of years. A blogger who broke the story called this "the worst marketing decision ever." I posted a link to the article on a Facebook page I maintain for my students, and one of them said th…

Public support for the contraceptive mandate

A new survey indicates that the contraception mandate is popular:
Most Americans support the Obama administration health reform mandate that requires business owners and faith-based non-profits to offer insurance coverage of contraception for employees, even when doing so conflicts with their [the employer's] religious principles, according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research. (Source: USA Today) How popular?
-- 63% of American adults say businesses should be required to provide their employees with free contraception and birth control, even if it runs counter to the owners' religious principles.-- 56% say nonprofits, such as schools, health facilities and charities should be required to provide the coverage.-- 53% say Catholic and other religious schools, hospitals, and charities should be required to [provide the coverage]. (Source: USA Today) LifeWay polled about 1191 people, so the margin of error is a little less than +/- 3%. Of the three results reported above, the onl…

"Choose Life" license plates and the First Amendment

Like many states, North Carolina allows different groups to promote their view of the world by developing their own specialty license plate, thereby getting their message out and, through specialty plate fees, raising money for a favored charity. We have this program in Pennsylvania, where one sees many university-themed plates (Edinboro alumni, for example). In North Carolina, approximately 150 specialty plates have been authorized.

North Carolina legislators wanted to allow pro-life groups to use the specialty plate program to 'promote life'-- but not allow pro-choice groups the opportunity to promote their views. In opening up the specialty license plate program to pro-life groups, the North Carolina government explicitly banned pro-choice plates or the use of specialty plate fees for any pro-choice organization or activity.

For this reason, federal District Court judge James C. Fox placed a permanent injunction on the "Choose Life" plate program.

The First Amend…

Higher contraceptive use and abortions in Russia

I haven't had a chance to read and analyze this study, but I wanted to pass it on to you in the meantime. The study, which compares contraceptive use and abortion rates in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, is making pro-life activists happy.

From what I can gather on a quick reading, the authors compared declining abortion rates in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, and noted that Russia's abortion rate is not declining as quickly as it is in the other two countries and remains high. They also determined that Russian women are more likely to use "modern" methods of contraception than women in Belarus and Ukraine.

These observations, taken together, appear to validate the pro-life assertion that more contraceptive use = more sexual activity = more contraceptive failure and unintended pregnancies = more abortions. In other words, the promotion of contraceptives, rather than abstinence as a means of preventing pregnancy, leads to more abortions.

Note that, from what I read, the…

Oklahoma ultrasound and drug laws struck down

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has surprised me.

Like many conservative state governments, Oklahoma passed laws making it more difficult for women in the state to obtain abortions. While pro-life advocates and analysts, in public statements, push for additional abortion regulations as a way of gumming up the abortion process, state officials have to pitch the regulations in a different way.

The 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case Casey v. Planned Parenthood allows states to regulate abortions if the intent of the regulations are a) to express respect for potential life, and/or b) assist women in making an informed choice regarding whether to terminate or continue a pregnancy.

At the same time, abortion regulations are not allowed to create an "undue burden" on women attempting to obtain an abortion, meaning that any law that, by design or effect, creates substantial obstacles to obtaining an abortion is unconstitutional. In applying the Casey decision, the Supreme Court and other cour…

Should teens be given emergency contraception in advance of sex?

In late November of this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a policy statement on emergency contraception that is sure to be rejected outright by the pro-life community.

Emergency contraception (EC) is just that-- various pharmacologic methods of preventing pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected or under-protected sex. Plan B and ella are two well-known brands of emergency contraceptives; there are three major chemical methods for achieving the desired result.

As it is now, most states require that adolescents under the age of 17 get a doctor's prescription to obtain emergency contraception. Given that EC works best the earlier it is taken, the prescription requirement could delay its effective use, or prevent a teen from accessing it altogether.

As a result, the AAP published its policy statement as part of an attempt to continue to lower the teen birth rate in the United States. Their major recommendations are
"encourage" doctors to engage i…

Should Secretary Clinton talk about abortion in Ireland?

Irish expatriates living in the United States want Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to talk abut abortion when she meets with Irish government officials and gives a scheduled speech in Ireland today.

I'm not sure what they think is to be gained. Generally speaking, I think it is bad strategy for someone to attempt to get involved in producing an outcome-- here, first-step liberalization of abortion laws-- when that change is already in process, albeit in fits and starts. There is little potential upside and lots of potential downside.

Despite being very personally popular in Ireland, Secretary Clinton is an outsider. She is also, like a majority of Americans, much more liberal on abortion laws and rights than Irish lawmakers. If she attempts to use her public platform to push the Irish government forward, it could give ammunition to liberalization opponents, who could argue that any attempt to open up Irish abortion law is really setting the country on a slippery slope to an Am…

Planned Parenthood as top campaigner

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPAF) was more effective in spending its money and getting positive results than any other political action group in the 2012 election. "Over 98 percent of its spending was in races that ended in the desired result, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation" (Washington Post).

One might conclude that they were effective because the election swung to the Democrats in many key races and that Planned Parenthood money was simply chasing winners. Sarah Kliff of The Washington Post, who analyzed how and why PPAF used its money and resources, instead concludes that Planned Parenthood actually moved the meter in races, one example being John Tester's unexpected reelection to the U.S. Senate from Montana.

If you accept Kliff's analysis, one of the reasons why there was such a tremendous gender gap this election cycle is that PPAF saw that reproductive politics issues were registering as important for women (particularly after rep…

Abortion and the CRPD

Another example of how abortion affects every aspect of American politics:
A United Nations treaty to ban discrimination against people with disabilities [the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or CRPD] went down to defeat in the Senate on Tuesday in a 61-38 vote. The treaty backed by President Obama and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kansas) fell 5 votes short of the two-thirds needed for confirmation as dozens of Senate Republicans objected that it would create new abortion rights and impede the ability of people to home-school disabled children. (Source: The Hill) Note that 61-38 means 61 Senators voted for confirmation of the CRPD. (Treaties, by constitutional requirement, must be passed by a two-thirds vote in the Senate.) The treaty was signed by President George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama, and has been signed by more than 150 countries and ratified by more than 120. Seven Republican Senators, including John McCain, also voted for the trea…

Update on family planning in the Philippines

The debate in the Philippines continues over a proposal for government-subsidized contraception and sex education. The Catholic Church is going all out to prevent the government from approving the program. Kathy Zeh, writing in The Huffington Post, discusses and refutes the argument of a Catholic archbishop that the legislation would spell doom and gloom for the country.

In an earlier post, I noted that Church representatives in the Philippines argued that increasing the population is the key to reducing poverty, a rather counterintuitive argument. In the most recent speech discussed by Ms. Zeh, the Catholic representative argues that government corruption, not lack of access to family planning, exacerbates poverty. This theme-- that there is nothing wrong with a large family, per se, only in the context of poverty that is caused by something else, namely, bad politics-- is one promoted by population control skeptics, like the Population Research Council. For a review of their argumen…

Concern that 'abortion may widen in Ireland'

I saw this headline as I was reading the news about reproductive politics: "Bishop, pro-lifers concerned that abortion may widen in Ireland."

The headline is from an article in the Catholic News Service. The pro-life activists and Catholic religious leaders quoted in the article say all of the things one would expect. In particular, they take the position that the recent controversy over Ireland's abortion law and concomitant guidelines for physicians are clear enough as is and therefore do not need to be revised-- and were not the cause of Dr. Savita Halappanavar's death from a miscarriage.

Like many people, I've been watching and analyzing events in Ireland with close interest, and perhaps we are getting to diminishing returns in discussing it. Still, it seems to continue to yield insights about reproductive politics generally.

For example, the situation in Ireland shows how the terms of the debate over reproductive politics can differ so widely from country t…

Does America need more babies?

Ross Douthat, in his latest The New York Times column, offers a fairly balanced view of why birth rates might be declining in the United States (outside of the immigrant population) and what can be done about it.

He raises the familiar alarm about the dangers of declining populations, and worries that the United States, normally reliable for having a birth rate at or above replacement level, might start to go the way of countries such as Germany and Japan. We have been buoyed in recent years by the higher birthrates of immigrants, but falling rates in Latin America might spell trouble for us as well.

There are problems when a population shrinks, particularly when older people live longer and a society provides expensive healthcare and some kind of taxpayer-funded retirement income to its aging population.

That being said, in the United States, the developing problems of Social Security and Medicare are not primarily due to the increasing size of the retirement population relative to …

Mississippi's only abortion clinic is TRAPed

The state of Mississippi has enacted a classic "TRAP" law and it might shut down the state's only abortion clinic.

A TRAP law is a targeted regulation of an abortion provider-- essentially, imposing regulatory requirements on an abortion clinic that the clinic cannot meet. Instead of directly outlawing abortion, one regulates abortion providers out of existence. The regulations are framed as common sense medical protections for the women that would receive abortions. This is a popular conceit and a favorite of pro-life activists, who charge that the uncaring abortion industry injures many women through shoddy medical practices.
Mississippi's version would achieve its intended effect by requiring all abortion doctors operating in the state to have hospital privileges, on the premise that this would be useful in case a problem occurred during the abortion procedure that would require a women to receive emergency or follow-up treatment at a hospital. 
The problem is th…

How exceptions to abortion bans work in practice

The much awaited report of the Irish government "Expert Group"recommending how to implement exceptions to Ireland's abortion ban was issued this week. I have yet to read it, but when I do, I'll provide an analysis.

In the meantime, one of the attorneys who participated in the famous "A, B and C" case has written an interesting essay about legal exceptions to abortion bans. In A, B and C v. Ireland (2010) the European Court of Human Rights, consistent with the Supreme Court of Ireland, demanded that Ireland adopt at least a life-saving exception to its total legal ban on abortion-- which the Irish government has not done.

In the wake of the death of Dr. Savita Halappanaver and resulting public pressure, the Irish government has finally produced a set of recommended legal and medical guidelines for doctors for implementing a "life" exception.

The attorney and author of the Slate article, Julie F. Kay, expresses skepticism that a narrow life excepti…

The Ohio heartbeat bill is dead

The proposed Ohio law that would have banned abortions of any fetus that had a heartbeat-- in other words, after about six weeks of gestation-- has been set aside by the Ohio legislature.

That is the right move. The law had no chance of being upheld as constitutional. From the time of the Roe era, pro-life groups have been trying to use scientific evidence of the humanity of the unborn to restrict abortion, and it has largely been a failure, in particular when used to justify near-total bans on abortion. As I discussed in my own dissertation, the 'humanity' of the unborn is one consideration but not the primary or major consideration regarding abortion rights or restrictions. To point that out drives pro-life activists crazy and sounds terribly unfeeling toward the unborn. Still, that is the way the law has been structured and interpreted, and the many consequences (intended and unintended) that would result from changing the paradigm have kept judges cautious.

The 'scien…

Is overpopulation a myth?

It is, according to the Population Research Institute (PRI), a pro-life organization "which works to end coercive population control, and fight the myth of overpopulation which fuels it." The current president of PRI is Steven W. Mosher, a well-known pro-life activist who cut his teeth exposing and protesting the problems of China's one-child policy, in particular forced abortion.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, the idea that there is no population problem is one of the pro-life 'narratives' that crops up all over the place. Here is the first of six videos in a PRI-produced series (for the complete series, visit the video series home page):


So let's look at the major assertions:
The population scare prompted the creation of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).Those who support population control are the "haves" trying to wipe out the undesirable "have nots."The world population will peak in a 30 years or so and then start to decline. All o…

A Catholic EU health commissioner

The European Union Parliament approved a controversial choice for their top health official:
The European Parliament backed a devout Catholic as EU health commissioner on Wednesday, brushing off critics who fear the Maltese politician could row back on EU policies on stem cell research, abortion and gay rights.

Greens, Liberals and Socialists in the European Parliament had said they would vote against Tonio Borg, a former foreign and justice minister in Malta, saying his beliefs could influence EU policy.

As commissioner, Borg's remit would include access to healthcare and contraception and the control of sexually transmitted diseases.

Borg, who was in Malta on the day of the vote according to an EU Commission official, told EU lawmakers before the vote that his personal views would no…

The irony of the inquiry into Dr. Halappanavar's death

The Associated Press (via The Washington Post) reports that the composition of the panel that is investigating Dr. Savita Halappanavar's death in Ireland has changed:
Prime Minister Enda Kenny told lawmakers he hoped the move — barely 24 hours after Ireland unveiled the seven-member panel — would allow the woman’s widower to support the probe into why Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist, died Oct. 28 while hospitalized in Galway.Kenny’s U-turn came hours after her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said he would refuse to talk to the investigators and would not consent to their viewing his wife’s medical records because three of the Galway hospital’s senior doctors had been appointed as investigators.Kenny said that the three doctors would be replaced by other officials “who have no connection at all with University Hospital Galway. In that sense the investigation will be completely and utterly independent.” This makes sense. Why conduct an inquiry at all if it can be ac…