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Showing posts from October, 2012

Abortion and the rape exception

It seems like the news lately has been dominated by stories involving fights over abortion and rape. I think abortion in the case of rape draws so much attention because it forces consideration of what is, really, the primary question of abortion: What is the value or status of the 'unborn' relative to the value or status of pregnant women? Whose interests or status is primary and superior to the other?

Many people who self-identify as "pro-life" nonetheless believe that women should be able to have an abortion in cases of rape, despite the fact that the ontological status of the unborn child is same regardless of the circumstances of conception. Put another way, many people who oppose abortion accept a victim of rape obtaining one, even though a fetus is a fetus regardless of how it is conceived.

Furthermore, the question of whether a pregnant woman should bear responsibility for the consequences of engaging in sexual behavior is set aside in cases of rape. (Whethe…

Poland, rape victims, and abortion

In Poland, abortion is generally prohibited but the law does allow for them in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother.

That does not mean that it is easy to have an abortion under an approved exception.

In 2008, in Poland, a 14-year-old rape victim encountered tremendous trouble terminating her pregnancy. She was turned away from two hospitals due to pro-life pressure on doctors and administrators, and was even separated from her mother and placed in a shelter by police at one point:
In accordance with the law, she got a certificate from the public prosecutor confirming that her pregnancy was as a result of unlawful sexual intercourse. The girl, named only as "P" went to two different hospitals with her mother in her hometown of Lublin in south-east Poland to try and obtain an abortion. At one, a Roman Catholic priest attempted to convince her to have the child. Hospital management then issued a press release saying they would not perform the procedure, lea…

Denying family planning services for religious reasons

Sorry for the delayed posting this morning-- the big storm knocked out my Internet.

Here's an interesting poll: The group Catholics for Choice commissioned a survey to find out whether Americans think that religious-affiliated institutions should be able to avoid providing family-planning-related health care benefits (like free contraception) and similar services based on religious beliefs.

The poll results indicate that a high percentage of Americans don't like the idea of religious or conscience exemptions. If the poll is accurate, this would appear to be a blow to those objecting to the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

Is the poll accurate? I leave that to the reader, although I am generally skeptical of polls commissioned by an advocacy group. They polled enough people (the margin of error is +/- 3%, and the results are outside the margin of error). The questions that they used are contained in the report, so you can read them and decide if they might pus…

Should people be shocked by Mourdock?

Pro-choice journalist Amy Sullivan, reviewing Richard Mourdock's statements about rape and abortion law, sees nothing new and wonders about the pro-choice outrage. She does not agree with Mourdock. Instead, "I was just shocked why anyone was shocked."

Sullivan, writing in The New Republic (she also gave an interview to NPR), essentially argues that what Mourdock said has always been a central part of pro-life thinking:
God creates life and, if a life exists, then it is not our place to question the circumstances under which it is brought into being. Therefore, while rape is evil, a life that is conceived of rape is still fully human, intended by God, valued by God, and entitled to life.  What makes Mourdock novel, maybe, is not that he opposes a rape exception, but that he spelled out the reason why clearly:
Lots of Republican politicians oppose rape exceptions. Paul Ryan, for one, opposes abortion in the case of rape. Rarely does anyone bother to offer an explanation for…

A pro-life Catholic who will vote for Obama

Here's one!

Unusual? I imagine so. I suspect many more pro-choice Catholics will be comfortable supporting President Obama than pro-life ones.

What is a little unusual is that the author of this essay, Charles J. Reid, Jr., is a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, a Catholic institution. My impression is that strongly Catholic employers are not terribly happy about these kinds of public dissensions on abortion.

Professor Reid is pro-life, but he argues that President Obama's attempts to address poverty and reform the health care system are more likely to save unborn lives than a single-minded focus on overturning Roe v. Wade, especially when coupled with a  political philosophy of "Randian individualism and the unfettered quest for riches above every human value."

"Fight poverty, and you fight abortion. So, I am voting for life-- Obama-Biden 2012."

Professor Reid also spends time describing President Obama's earlier life connections…

Free abortion and contraception in France

Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Uruguay have all been in the news lately because of controversy over modest attempts to move away from restrictive (or total) bans on abortion.

The context in France, meanwhile, is completely different. Abortion is available 'on demand' in France through the first trimester of pregnancy then more restricted after that. The French government is expected to pass a law that provides free contraception for all and funds all abortions, even for minors. One gets the sense that this move is not terribly controversial. Furthermore, minors in France already have widespread access to contraceptives and are not required to seek parental consent to have an abortion.

The differences between French and American political cultures are interesting, too. In France:
The link between free access to contraception and lower abortion rates is accepted.Not only is it appropriate that minors have access to contraception and abortion, it especially important that they hav…

Planned Parenthood ban in Texas stopped

The fighting over funding Planned Parenthood continues.

In an earlier post, I observed that these fights over taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood are being won less over grand constitutional principles and more on legislative and regulatory arguments.

In this case, Planned Parenthood in Texas is attacking the state ban (on federal funds going to organizations that provide abortions) on two fronts. First, they have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the ban violates the free speech rights of Planned Parenthood. The case is going to go to trial in federal court but Planned Parenthood lost its request to have a temporary injunction on the funding ban while the trial goes on.

Second, Planned Parenthood argues that a provision of Texas's administrative code prevents the state from doing anything that costs the state federal funds:
Under the Texas Human Resources Code, which governs the women’s health program, any provision is “inoperative if it causes Texas to lose federal matchin…

Planned Parenthood and mammograms

Pro-life groups like Live Action love to charge Planned Parenthood with lying when it comes to whether the organization provides women with mammograms.

Does Planned Parenthood provide mammograms? The literal answer appears to be "no," they do not. That being said, Planned Parenthood provides a) many breast exams a year (according to The Hill, 750,000), and b) referrals to organizations that do provide mammograms, much like many basic health care organizations.

As with negative political advertising, then, the activists attacking Planned Parenthood are indulging in myopia, which allows them to focus on something that is literally true while failing to see the bigger and more relevant picture. The larger and more relevant picture in this case is that Planned Parenthood provides, among other preventative and primary care, access to breast exams and mammograms for women. If those women are poor and in areas (like in rural Texas) where Planned Parenthood is one of the only place…

De-funding of Planned Parenthood blocked

An Indiana law that attempted to block all federal and state Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood (or any organization that provides abortion as one of its services) was struck down by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The importance and scope of the decision should not be overstated. While supporters of Planned Parenthood are touting this (correctly) as a victory, the grounds on which the law was struck down were fairly narrow.

Federal law requires that Medicaid money be given to any organization that is able to provided quality medical services to Medicaid recipients. Planned Parenthood meets the threshold definition of a qualified medical facility; therefore, it can't be denied Medicaid money by a Medicaid-participating state like Indiana.

Here is a relavant excerpt from the decision (via Politico):
"The defunding law excludes Planned Parenthood from Medicaid for a reason unrelated to its fitness to provide medical services, violating its patients' statutory righ…

Mourdock, abortion, and 'God-intended' rape

Question: How many candidates for office can make incendiary remarks about abortion in a single election season?

Answer: One more than we expected, apparently.

From The Hill:
Republican Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said Tuesday night that pregnancy caused by rape can be "something God intended to happen." "I struggled with it myself a long time but I came to realize that life is a gift from God, that I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen," Mourdock said during a debate with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). Mourdock attempted to clarify later:
"God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick," he said. Even if one accepts this modification, Mourdock's statement is contemptible. What is Mourdock saying? Does he mean that G…

Catholic views on abortion

Despite the Catholic Church's strong stance on abortion and contraception, American Catholics are not all that different from other Americans regarding these issues.  Polls tend to show that Catholics have a diversity of opinion on abortion and contraception that is not all that different from everyone else.

The clarity and absolutism of the official Church position prompts heated fights between a) those that see the Church teachings on the family and sexual behavior as organically linked to all other social justice issues and central to what it means to be Catholic, and b) those who appreciate many other aspects of Catholic doctrine (like its teachings on social justice) and wish there could be less of an emphasis on abortion and contraception.

Three recent news items illustrate this.

First, a poll just released by the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that a majority of Catholics would like to see the Church focus more of its attention on social justice and poverty iss…

Is Planned Parenthood too political?

The Washington Post published an article that suggests that all of the partisan wrangling over Planned Parenthood funding might have fatally damaged the public legitimacy of the organization. The article is informative. However, assuming its thesis is accurate, the author subtly seems to assign fault to Planned Parenthood itself for this current condition:
Planned Parenthood has become so embroiled in partisan politics that its mission to provide health care and family planning services to women is threatened. I don't see how Planned Parenthood's quest to maintain government grants or to locate alternative forms of government funding by appealing to a political party that supports its mission is an improper foray into "partisan politics." Planned Parenthood only seems to be partisan because one political party has focused a lot of negative attention on them. If you ran an organization that became a bete noire of one political party, what would you do? Would you r…

Medically necessary abortions: The battle of the experts

Apparently, Representative Joe Walsh is not entirely alone! The assertion that an abortion is never medically necessary has been floating around in the pro-life universe for at least a little while.

We are now witnessing a battle of the experts.

One the one side is Joe Walsh and friends.

Walsh himself released a pdf document with quotations from several doctors-- including some historically prominent pro-choice doctors, like Alan Guttmacher-- making the 'never medically necessary' claim seem quite reasonable.

Also on Walsh's side are several doctors who particpated in a recent "International Symposium on Maternal Health" in Dublin. Ireland, despite a European Court of Human Rights ruling in 1992, has a total ban on abortion. Irish pro-lifers want the country's politicians to resist pressure to implement even a life exception, so the question of medical necessity is directly relevant there.

The "Dublin Declaration," released after the September symp…

Abortion in Latin America

This article, from Time, is an excellent short review of abortion conditions in Central and South America, in the context of Uruguay's modest attempts to liberalize its abortion laws and the recent difficulty of an Argentinian woman to obtain a legal abortion after being raped.

When it comes to abortion, contraception, and family planning, Central and South American countries are a bundle of sorry contradictions. While strongly Roman Catholic in culture, this region has very high abortion rates compared to the U.S. and Western Europe and high numbers of unsafe abortions. Would this be, in part, because of cultural and socioeconomic conditions that make effective use of contraception difficult?

Those that support total bans on abortion-- like American House member Joe Walsh-- should consider the experience of women in the countries that have 'no exceptions' laws: "El Salvador, Nicaragua,  Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Chile." El Salvador perhaps goes the …

Representative Walsh's alleged backtrack

Representative Joe Walsh, after his recent statement that abortions are never medically necessary, has supposedly "backtracked." I'm not so sure.

Read his "backtrack" (from CBS News):
"When it comes to having an abortion to save the life of a mother, I will say again that, outside of the very rare circumstances such as ectopic pregnancies, during which both the mother and baby will die if the baby is not aborted, and other rare health issues, the research is pretty clear that with the advances in modern medicine, an invasive and traumatic procedure like an abortion is not necessary to save the life of a mother. "In those very rare cases where a mother's life may be in danger past the point of viability for the baby, today's doctors work to induce labor or perform a caesarean section in an attempt to save BOTH lives," the statement continued. "These cases are extremely rare, and they unfortunately are used by the militant …

Abortions are never medically necessary?

There are a few things about abortion that I think are simply inarguable. Here's one: Performing an abortion is sometimes necessary for saving the life of a pregnant woman.

I stand corrected! Joe Walsh, a member of the House of Representatives from Illinois, wants to criminally ban abortions "without exception." What about abortions that are required in order to save the life of the pregnant woman? No problem: Rep. Walsh asserted that abortions are never medically necessary due to "modern technology and science."

What? Does anyone besides Rep. Walsh believe this?

Now, resisting an explicit life exception to a general abortion ban is not all that unusual (although still on the extreme end). Pro-life activists make two arguments. First, they think that performing an abortion in order to save a woman's life falls under the criminal defenses of self-defense and/or necessity (i.e., the choice of evils defense). Therefore, a life exception is implicit in any ab…

Abortion clinic opens in Northern Ireland... general confusion.

If nothing else, Marie Stopes pushing forward with a modest offering of abortion services (medical abortions within the first nine weeks under limited circumstances) is going to force the government to do something about the legal confusion that seems to reign in Northern Ireland.


Associated Press article, reprinted in the New York Daily News: Ireland's 1st abortion clinic opens to protests in the mostly Catholic and Protestant country

Op-ed in the Belfast Telegraph that summarizes the issues nicely and calls for government action: Time to clear up legal position on abortions

Free contraceptives and STDs

An essay by Jennifer Fulwiler in the National Catholic Register criticizes the recent Obstetrics & Gynecology study (the St. Louis study) on the connection between free contraceptives and pregnancy and abortion rates.

Her critique does not focus on the methodology of the study or its specific results. Instead, she focuses on the possibility that using certain types of contraception may increase STD rates.

She does not describe the causal links, but she is implicitly floating two hypotheses:
Women who rely on IUDs or hormonal implants are less likely to use condoms during sex and therefore are more likely to be exposed to STDs.Some studies indicate that hormonal implants increase the likelihood of contracting an STD. Therefore, use of hormonal implants makes STD contraction all the more likely, given hypothesis 1.  Given what Ms. Fulwiler cites as high rates of STD contraction in the study area (St. Louis), she thinks the researchers were ethically irresponsible for promoting IUD a…

Abortion law in Uruguay

The process of liberalizing abortion law in Urugruay continues. This article, in The New York Times, does a little comparing of Uruguay with other South American countries.

Uruguay's law tracks what I think is the general American consensus on abortion: abortions in early pregnancy generally allowed, abortions in middle-and-later stage pregnancy generally prohibited with exceptions for rape and health concerns. (Americans would also likely endorse a right to choose abortion in cases of incest or severe fetal deformity.)

Its regulations 'around' abortion (a five-day waiting period of reflection, for example), however, would be strongly opposed by pro-choice groups in the United States.

Another difference is how the language of the law frames abortion. The original version of the bill indicated that abortion in the first trimester was a 'right.' The modified bill removes that reference to cast the change in abortion law more as a form of 'decriminalization.'…

The economics of contraception

University of Massachusetts economics professor Nancy Folbre, in an Economix (New York Times) blog post, nicely combines several observations about the benefit of providing women with free contraceptives.

Her observations?
"[U]nintended pregnancy costs American taxpayers roughly $11 billion each year."The cost of unintended pregnancies affect poor young women more than others and exacerbates the cycle of poverty for the mother and her child(ren). Insights from the field of behavioral economics suggest that simply expecting women/couples to engage in perfectly strategic behavior when it comes to preventing unintended pregnancy-- in particular, securing and using contraception effectively-- is unrealistic. 'Pre-emptive' birth control, like LARCs (long-acting reversible contraceptives), that have very low use error (i.e., people don't mess up using it properly), overcome this problem. As a result, it is not surprising that the recent St. Louis study published in Obs…

Contraception and the second presidential debate

During the second presidential debate, President Obama promoted the idea of requiring most employee health care plans to offer free contraception. Mitt Romney's response was as follows (from The Washington Post):
“I’d just note that I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not,” Romney said. “And I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.” This just does not compute. In what way does the ACA's contraception mandate require women to use contraceptives or give the government the power to deny women access to contraceptives? In what way do employers under the ACA gain the power to deny women contraceptive care?

As a way of ducking an issue, this was a nice flip-around: I'm going to pitch the contraceptive mandate as an example of government and employer coercion of women. In reality, however, the co…

Romney's new abortion spot

Yes, I would call this tacking back on abortion.

The question is, what would Romney really do as President? I was talking to a colleague about this the other day, and our speculation is the following: Given Romney's 'evolution' on the issue over time, what might drive his agenda on abortion is less his own personal view than what his allies in Congress and activists within the party might want him to do-- which would be to sign conservative abortion legislation, nominate anti-Roe/Casey judges, etc.

So, if we assume that Romney's view on abortion has 'evolved' to become more conservative, then he will do conservative things as President. If his views on abortion at any given time are more a matter of political expediency, then he will act as an agent for others among his allies and constituents who see abortion as of primary importance. The result is the same, given that he is allied with people want to take a very conservative line on abortion.

In short, despi…

A post-Roe world

Among all of the policy areas where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney clash, their views on abortion present some of the starkest contrasts, despite what some see as an attempt by the Romney campaign to dial back its conservatism on abortion.

(UPDATE: Just as I posted this, I came across this article on a new Romney ad. So much for "what some see." It's what it is.)

The New York Timespublished an editorial predicting what would happen if the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade (actually, Casey v. Planned Parenthood). In short, around half of the states would enact much more restrictive abortion laws within a legislative session after the undoing of Roe/Casey.

One thing that I wonder about in a post-Roe/Casey landscape is how states would attempt to ban medical abortions, in particular self-abortions by women using drugs like Cytotec, which is an anti-ulcer medication but is also effective in causing a miscarriage early in pregnancy. (The active ingredient in Cytotec is mi…

What do Catholic women think about contraception?

The organization "Women, Faith, and Culture" intends to tell us:
Our preliminary report, What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception, probes the views of church-going Catholic women and analyzes their knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes about the Catholic Church and her teachings on family planning. This Preliminary Report is part of a larger research effort, the Women, Faith, and Culture Project, that explores the perspectives of church-going Catholic women on a wide array of issues related to faith, sexuality, and reproduction. The preliminary report can be found on the Women, Faith, and Culture web site. It takes a little bit of hunting around, but you can download a pdf copy of the report from there.


Women, Faith, and Culture web site

HPV vaccine and promiscuity

The journal Pediatrics just published a study about the HPV vaccine. Human papillomavirus virus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that can make certain types of cancer more likely. There is a vaccine to prevent one from getting it.

The vaccine itself is not controversial, but the federal government's recommendation that tweens (age 11 and up) receive it-- i.e., at an age before the onset of sexual activity- was. Some parents are worried that giving their children the vaccine will encourage them to go out and have sex.

But is this true? USA Today reports:
Preteen girls who received the HPV vaccine were no more likely than unvaccinated girls to get pregnant, develop sexually transmitted infections, or seek birth-control counseling, finds the latest study to discount concerns that vaccination against the human papillomavirus encourages promiscuity. The logic that leads people to resist the HPV vaccine is similar to that used by people who argue against sex education that includ…

"Arlen Specter is a jerk, but he's our jerk."

So said Paul Weyrich.

His career was remarkable in that, while doing something at one point or another to make everyone across the political spectrum angry with him, he had incredible staying power.

One of the stranger things about Arlen Specter was that he was a pro-choice Republican in a state that has many pro-life Democrats (e.g., Governor Casey and Senator Casey).

Farewell, Senator.


The New York Times article: Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Senator, Is Dead at 82

Cytotec and medical self-abortion

I just came across this August 2012 article in The New York Times. It describes how women in Mexico and the U.S. purchase Cytotec, and anti-ulcer drug, to self-abort. (Cytotec is misoprostol, which can effectively induce abortions in early pregnancy.) There are few barriers to obtaining the drug in Mexican pharmacies. For Mexican women, this may be their only option to abort-- relatively safely-- given that abortion is largely illegal outside of Mexico City. For women who live in Texas, Cytotec from a Mexican pharmacy may be an attractive option given increased regulations on abortions in Texas and the reduction of state funding for family planning clinics.

One problem is that pharmacists are reluctant to provide instructions on how to use Cytotec to effectively self-abort.


The New York Times article on Cytotec and Mexican pharmacies: Looking to Mexico for an Alternative to Abortion Clinics

Doubling down on the Catholic focus on contraception

Janet E. Smith, Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Seminary and defender of Humanae Vitae, thinks that part of the gap between Catholics and the Church on contraception has to do with not enough discussion of the topic during the homily.

Smith thinks that more Catholics would turn against contraception (beyond 'natural family planning') if the seamless nature of the Church's life views and its social justice views were emphasized. She also asserts that Catholics would find a renewed emphasis on "moral issues" strange at first but ultimately admirable and refreshing. 
Are you skeptical? 
It seems implausible that the reason why most Catholics reject the Church's teaching on contraception is ignorance of the theological argument against it. 
Essay in the National Catholic Register (October 7, 2012): Contraception, the Election and the New Evangelization

Implementing exceptions to abortion bans

Around the world, countries that are slowly moving away from very restrictive abortion bans are struggling to implement legally-mandated exceptions (for example, for rape). In several countries their judiciaries are the prime movers, requiring more exceptions to general prohibitions on abortions.

The struggle then becomes drafting of rules to govern the exceptions and their implementation.

For example, in Argentina, the country's supreme court held that women must be allowed to obtain abortions in cases of rape. Provincial and city governments are apparently in charge of developing their own rules to effect the exception, and are struggling to do so in the face of pro-life opposition.

Recently, a Buenos Aires woman who was raped while a victim of human trafficking has had her abortion delayed due to activist outcry and a local judge's order. Anti-abortion activists shamed themselves by protesting outside the woman's home. The reason her case became public at all was becau…

The VP candidates on abortion

Overall, I thought that Martha Raddatz did a good job moderating the VP debate. The question she asked on abortion, however, was a big nothing sandwich and could have wasted an opportunity for the voters to learn more.

I know that candidates themselves like to personalize policy, telling heartfelt or tragic stories about individuals they've met on the campaign trail, etc. But generally I think we are better served by learning about what candidates propose, specifically, to do in a given policy area. Raddatz asking the candidates to speak about their personal, rather than policy, views on abortion was the softest of softball questions.

Ironically, both candidates actually pivoted over to policy! Biden used the question to focus on Catholic "social" policy and Ryan, clearly prepared to be challenged on 'daylight' between him and Romney on abortion, gave the answer to the question he thought he was going to be asked.

This was one of the least contentious parts of t…

Do pro-life activists get abortions?

I've read several accounts of abortion doctors and clinic workers who state that they have performed abortions on pro-life activists (or their wives, girlfriends, etc.).

Here is an example of a pro-life Republican Member of Congress who pressured his mistress into having an abortion, in order to avoid the breakup of his marriage. The allegation seems to be confirmed by a phone recording taken by the Congressman himself. Jeesh. 
Article in The Huffington Post: Scott DesJarlais, Pro-Life Republican and Doctor, Pressured Mistress Patient to Get Abortion 

Did Romney say something new about abortion?

Not really, although you would think he had, given the coverage of one rather innocuous remark he made about his agenda.

Romney, in an interview with the DesMoines Register, did not state any change in his views on abortion-- he's already done that enough times in the past. Instead, he appears with this remark to be placing abortion farther down on his list of priorities. This just looks to me like a fairly typical dodge-controversy maneuver in the weeks before the election:
“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” the GOP presidential candidate told The Des Moines Register’s editorial board during a meeting today before his campaign rally at a Van Meter farm. Some news coverage is treating this like a big deal. Really?

Martin Bashir suggested that this 'flip flop' was going to make things difficult for Paul Ryan in the vice-presidential debate tonight. It won't. Ryan and Romney already have substanti…