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Showing posts from 2013

Fights over medical abortion

The newest front in the legislative war over abortion access is the regulation of "medical abortion" performed in the first eight weeks or so of pregnancy.

Pro-life activists express many concerns about medical abortion (questions about its safety, for example). Their true cause for alarm is that medical abortion allows for abortions to occur outside of the clinic structure-- the abortion experience occurs largely at home, and, in some states, family planning doctors are prescribing the drugs remotely (through a kind of Skype-like arrangement).

Anti-abortion legislatures have been achieving a measure of success against clinics by passing TRAP laws. In other words, legislatures are restricting abortion access by regulating clinics out of business. Medical abortion rewrites the rules because it allows abortions to be decentralized and privatized, so a pillar of recent American pro-life strategy will be severely undermined with its proliferation.

Michelle Goldberg and Emily Ba…

Squishy fetus dolls

Where do you stand on the Great Squishy Fetus Doll Debate of 2013?

This is not one of the most important issues out there, but it is interesting.

I recommend all of the linked sources below, if nothing else for the great titles, word choices, and, well, odd pictures of squishy fetus dolls.


Article in The Huffington Post (July 26, 2013): Fetus Dolls Are a Thing, Were Given to Kids by Anti-Abortion Group at North Dakota State Fair

Blog post by Rob Port on SayAnythingBlog (July 21, 2013): Dear Pro-Lifers: Can You Stop Being a Bunch of Weirdos? 

Article in Jezebel (July 24, 2013): Worst State Fair Ever Has Squishy Fetus Toys for Unsuspecting Kids

Page at Heritage House (aka Target for pro-life merchandise) for "The Precious One" 10-12 week fetal model

A second page at the Heritage House web site, at which pro-life activist Abby Johnson explains how fetal models help her with her "sidewalk counseling" work

The decline in abortion clinics

As one might suspect, there has been a rather dramatic decline in the number of abortion clinics nationwide in the past few years.

Pro-life activists attribute this decline to three things (the first two, I think, having a real and concrete impact):
State legislatures passing "TRAP" laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers) that require unnecessary and expensive changes to abortion clinics, which the clinics cannot afford. TRAP laws also sometimes require clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, which local hospitals refuse to provide. State legislatures "defunding" family planning clinics (that also perform abortions) by passing laws ensuring that no state money goes to places that perform abortions. Prayer vigils and other forms of direct action at clinics themselves, like the 40 Days for Life campaign.  Because abortion services in the United States are so heavily dependent on the clinic system, attacking clinics legally and financ…

Surgery to restore sexual pleasure after female circumcision

There was a fascinating article in The Guardian over the weekend about a surgeon who performs surgery to help restore genital (in particular, clitoral) sexual sensation to women who have undergone female circumcision.

The article as a whole is definitely worth reading. The first part of the article is a bit too focused on the background of the people organizing and offering the surgery: the doctor who performs the surgery is transsexual and the activist who has organized the service is a member of a goofy religious sect called the Raelians.

It would be hard for any journalist to ignore the background of the people offering the service-- it is just interesting, if nothing else-- and the author of the article has a legitimate concern about the surgery service being a front for evangelization (she concludes it is not). But the author seems to go out of her way to heap disdain on the Raelians, perhaps to ensure the reader that the article is not a product of her being duped by a 'cul…

How many countries allow for abortion after 20 weeks?

Many, but it depends.

The fact check site PolitiFact did a nice job analyzing the question and, in doing so, providing a clear summary of the major differences between abortion laws among countries.

Politicians love to use a certain rhetorical technique when conveying information: They make a statement that draws a narrow frame around just the set of facts that they want the listener to hear.

In this case, Carly Fiorina (former CEO and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate) asserted that only four countries in the world "legalize abortion after five months" (about 20 weeks), including the United States. Two of those countries have 'bad' governments-- North Korea and China-- and the other is our 'socialist' neighbor to the north, Canada. If you want to get people fired up over a government policy, comparing us to China and North Korea is the way to do it. (People on the left tend to do the same thing, just on different issues.)

At any rate, is Fiorina's st…

Proposed virginity tests in Indonesia

From The Guardian:
A plan to make female high school students undergo mandatory virginity tests has been met with outrage from activists, who argue that it discriminates against women and violates their human rights. Education chief Muhammad Rasyid, of Prabumulih district in south Sumatra put forward the idea, describing it as "an accurate way to protect children from prostitution and free sex". He said he would use the city budget to begin tests early next year if MPs approved the proposal. "This is for their own good," Rasyid said. "Every woman has the right to virginity … we expect students not to commit negative acts." The test would require female senior school students aged 16 to 19 to have their hymen examined every year until graduation. Boys, however, would undergo no investigation into whether they had had sex. It always fascinates me how the terms of the debate over various sexual and reproductive issues are so different from country to country.


Sarah Terzo and the challenge of being a pro-life atheist

If you missed it, I recommend you read Sarah Terzo's cri de coeur about the frustration she faces as someone who is a pro-life atheist. Her experiences confirm that the American pro-life movement is overwhelmingly Christian in orientation. While many non-Christians, atheists, or agnostics likely self-identify as pro-life, my impression is that the activists largely approach reproductive politics as an outgrowth of their Christian faith and theology.

Ms. Terzo publishes an absorbing blog, ClinicQuotes, that focuses on the stories and statements of people who have changed from being pro-choice to pro-life. As far as I can tell, her body of work and her methods of activism betray nothing that would make her undesirable as a pro-life ally.

Recently Ms. Terzo contacted several 'crisis pregnancy centers' to ask if they would let an atheist volunteer at their center, and they were pretty clear in rejecting her offer of help. I get the impression that she was doing this to confir…

How to increase the German population

The New York Times published a story that illustrates the trickiness of managing population growth or, in the case of Germany, decline.

Germany's birthrate is well below replacement rate. Still, they are wealthy and, unlike the United States, for example, willing to spend money to help families with day care and enact policies to encourage couples to have children (like legislated family leave). It is not working:
So far, though, even while spending $265 billion a year on family subsidies, Germany has proved only how hard it can be. That is in part because the solution lies in remaking values, customs and attitudes in a country that has a troubled history with accepting immigrants and where working women with children are still tagged with the label “raven mothers,” implying neglectfulness. If Germany is to avoid a major labor shortage, experts say, it will have to find ways to keep older workers in their jobs, after decades of pushing them toward early retirement, and it will have …

Choosing to not have children in America

Should we be worried that some Americans and British couples are choosing to go through life without kids?

Kathleen Parker, writing in The Washington Post, surveys a bunch of articles and news stories and sees a cultural trend of foregoing parenthood to live a life of high disposable income, full nights of sleep, and  worry-free adulthood.

It is, overall, a really great column and worth reading in full, and I agree with her primary thesis, which is that parenthood can be a pain (in the neck, rear end, and in other places and ways), but is worth it:
Mysteriously, the inevitable pain, suffering and sacrifice of parenthood are also part of that joy. What is a rose without thorns? Life without death is imponderably meaningless. I would argue that without death, there would be no love. Indeed, what makes parenthood so relentlessly amazing — both the beauty and the beast of it — is the possibility of losing the thing you love more than your own heartbeat. Putting someone else’s interests abo…

Teen girls are not getting the HPV vaccine

Why not? Doctors are not talking to their patients about it.

As reported by The New York Times, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has concluded the following:
The very low vaccination rate for teenage girls against the human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection and a principal cause of cervical cancer — did not improve at all from 2011 to 2012, and health officials on Thursday said a survey found that doctors were often failing to bring it up or recommend it when girls came in for other reasons. Only 33 percent of teenage girls had finished the required three doses of the vaccine in 2012, officials said, putting the United States close to the bottom of developed countries in coverage. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on a call with reporters that coverage for girls “has not increased at all from one year to the next. Zero.” Coverage rates for new vaccines typically increase by about 10 percentage points a y…

Ariel Castro and addiction to pornography

In the wake of Ariel Castro being sentenced to prison for the next millennium (literally), James D. Conley (an American Roman Catholic bishop) wrote a column of the "what does this represent about the culture" variety in First Things. 

Conley's thesis:
Pornographic addiction is powerful, destructive, and all too typical. Ariel Castro’s addiction is no excuse for his actions, but it points to a deep and sobering reality: Free, anonymous, and ubiquitous access to pornography is quietly transforming American men and American culture. Are Ariel Castro's crimes the direct or indirect result of contemporary American porn culture? Readers posting in the First Things "comments" section raised a lot of thoughtful and pertinent objections to Conley's analysis. I summarize here and add my own thoughts:
Are incidents of sexual assault in fact on the rise, and, if so, in a way that correlates with a rise on the use of pornography? Is it possible that incidents of rep…

Catholic institutions already survive under contraceptive mandates

Many times when I am writing one of these blog posts-- or just watching the news or discussing it with my students-- I wonder, "Why isn't X being made more of? Why can't people see how important X is?"

I wonder that a lot when it comes to religious opposition to the ACA "contraceptive mandate." In the face of the many accommodations made by the Obama administration and the HHS, I find the objections of the Catholic Church and other organizations (like Hobby Lobby) to be specious. (To review my various musings on these things, click on the "ACA" label, below.)

Encountering a specious argument in politics is, by itself, nothing to get worked up about. That would be like objecting to french fries because they have potatoes in them. What is galling in the case of the contraceptive mandate is to assert that it's a fundamentally intolerable threat to the conscience rights of Christians and represents sign-of-the-apocolpyse changes in the American c…

The decision to let a premature baby live

The New York Times published a thoughtful op-ed by doctor who works with severely premature babies. She raises the tricky ethical question of whether and when parents and their doctor should fight to save a severely premature baby. The column is an antidote, to an extent, to the simple "always save every baby, no matter what" thinking about children who are born severely premature (those hovering right at the edges of fetal viability).

The author, Dr. April R. Dworetz, suggests that doctors need to do a better job helping parents understand the consequences of engaging in heroic measures to perpetuate the life of some children. She also suggests, in some cases, a bit more:
Sometimes, I think we doctors need to do more than inform. On occasion, I’ve offered to make a life-or-death decision for parents. If they agree, they are essentially making the decision, but are shifting the burden to me. It’s harder for parents to say, “I unplugged my baby,” than to let the doctor do it.L…

Are American abortion extremists really extreme?

Salon reporter and analyst Katie McDonough wrote a short and interesting article listing what she labeled the top five "extreme lawmakers behind some of the most draconian reproductive rights restrictions grabbing headlines in recent months."
In 2013, all the glory goes to legislators in states that have been in the vanguard of piecemeal assaults on abortion rights: Texas, Arkansas, North Dakota, Alabama, and Arizona.

If one is pro-life, the article naturally has little appeal or value. If one is pro-choice and/or an interested observer of the culture wars, then the article has a "can you believe these crazies?" kind of appeal.

I am not taking the article too seriously-- it is what it is. Still, Ms. McDonough raises an interesting question. Are what we consider "extremists" in the United States all that extreme? More to the point, how does one define extremeness, and on what scale?

One could measure the extremeness of legislators in two ways:
The content o…

Fetal pain and 20-week abortion bans

The New York Times has been doing some great reporting on reproductive politics lately. There is a lot of material to work with (!) but the paper has been great at getting behind the surface of events and providing context and analysis.

Speaking of which: The NYT published a story today on the pro-life push to use the theory that fetuses feel pain before the point of viability to drive legislative bans on abortions at 20 weeks and beyond.

What is accomplished by a 20 week ban based on the theory of fetal pain?
This kind of ban largely meshes with public opinion. While these bans tend to not allow abortions that threaten the "health" of the pregnant woman, they do allow for abortions after 20 weeks that threaten the "physical" "life" of the pregnant woman. (The U.S. House version, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (PCUCPA) also has a rape and incest exception.) As long as women who have life-threatening pregnancies can have abortions at this stag…

Brandi Kostal, Logan College, and missing class for childbirth

Earlier this summer, my university sent around an email to faculty reiterating the federal government's Title IX policy-- and, by extension, our policy-- regarding accommodating the needs of pregnant and parenting students. They did not explain why we were, at that moment, being reminded of it, beyond 'FYI.' 
Having read a story today published in (IHE), it now makes more sense. A student studying to be a chiropractor at Logan College missed the latter part of an academic term due to a difficult birth and recovery process. When she asked her professors how and when she might make up missed assignments, she was told that her absence from school-- to give birth and recover-- was not excused. The student, Brandi Kostal, eventually contacted the National Women's Law Center and filed a complaint against the College. 
The question that most interests me here is what the professors and administrators at the College were thinking in failing to accommodate a…

Legislative activity on abortion in 2013

Does it seem like every day you are hearing or reading about one state or another attempting to pass some sort of legislative restriction on abortion? That's because it is true. The last four years or so have seen a dramatic increase in the number of legislative attempts to do the following:

Attack the framework of Roe and Casey directly; North Dakota falls into this category, for example.Chip away at the Roe/Casey jurisprudentialframework, with fetal pain legislation, bans on abortions after 20 weeks, and so on. This kind of legislation does not directly defy the Supreme Court's major abortion decisions-- although they are inconsistent with them-- but attempt to encourage judges to subtly rework the Roe/Casey doctrine. This is what pro-life activists successfully achieved with the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 and the Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Carhart.Enact regulations that, on the surface, look like they are consistent with Roe/Casey but make it harder …

Misreading pro-life legislator Brian Nieves

In the last few election cycles, pro-life Republican lawmakers and candidates have regularly fed the public diet for controversy, with statements about abortion and rape, medically necessary abortions, and related topics.

There is no need, therefore, to gin up an outrageous statement where it does not exist.

The blog Little Green Footballs (LGF), along with The Raw Story and The Huffington Post,reports that a Missouri state senator, Brian Nieves, got into an argument over Facebook with a priest whom he thought was a reporter. Mr. Nieves has a history of mixing it up with constituents and critics and using rather tactless language and imagery when lashing out at those who criticize him.

In the ensuing exchange, according to LGF, The Huffington Post, and The Raw Story, Senator Nieves threw women under the bus by asserting that the life of a pregnant woman faced with a life-threatening abortion is just a "matter of convenience."

Outrageous! Yet what 'we' knew all along…

The fight over Chen Guangcheng and the maelstrom of American reproductive politics

Chen Guangcheng is the Chinese lawyer and human rights activist who famously managed to escape house arrest and the country of China to land in New York City and a fellowship at New York University to study law. The fact that he is blind (and quite telegenic in his dark sunglasses) made his escape even more remarkable and compelling.

The American dream honeymoon is over. He is leaving New York University after a year and he is looking for a new position, and there are conflicting stories as to what happened. What is more clear is that Mr. Chen is struggling to adjust to the polarized atmosphere of American politics and how that polarization is represented by, and intensified by, divisions over reproductive politics.

Mr. Chen's story involves reproductive politics because of his activism against forced abortion and government abuses associated with China's one-child policy. Pro-life activists strongly oppose China's one-child policy in itself. They also are outraged by the…

Is there a federal power to ban abortions after 20 weeks?

The state of Texas thrust late-term abortion bans into the national spotlight because of legislation passed there over the heroic/infamous filibustering of state senator Wendy Davis. State laws that ban abortions after the point at which a fetus becomes viable are explicitly constitutional under Roe and Casey, so the fact that Texas wants to ban abortions later in pregnancy is itself not a big deal.

Texas' ban is controversial because
it bans abortions after 20 weeks, which is pegged to a specific time (rather than to a specific fetus' attainment of viability) and also weeks earlier than when any fetus is minimally capable of being viable (about 23 weeks); andthe argument for having bans set at 20 weeks is that science has now determined that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks and so aborting a fetus that feels pain is cruel and should be prevented. This is the hot flavor in anti-abortion legislation, because fighting for the right of women to have abortions this late in pregnancy m…

Sex is life in disguise?

From Kristen Luker, When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex-- and Sex Education-- Since the Sixties (18):
In the nineteenth century, Sigmund Freud famously thought that life was sex in disguise. A joke, a pun, a slip of the tongue, a symptom, were all silent expressions of forbidden wishes in nineteenth-centure Vienna, and the forbidden was very often the sexual. By looking at sex and sex education today, I want to argue the other side of that equation: that sex is life in disguise. When Americans talk about sex, we are simultaneously and covertly talking about all the things going on in our world outside of the bedroom. Gender, power, conflict, cooperation, religion, culture, the future, and even (bear with me) the global economy are there . . . This is a fundamental insight about reproductive politics. Luker is well equipped to identify and communicate it, as she made the same point regarding abortion in her 1984 book Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood.

Many reproductive…

What does the contraceptive mandate actually require?

Paige Winfield Cunnigham published an interesting report in Politico about limits on women receiving free contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act.

Set aside for a moment the politics of which organizations are exempted from the mandate and possible constitutional problems with the ACA. Cunningham reports that the administrative language of the mandate allows insurers to partially limit what specific contraceptives a woman can receive without a copay:
[A] woman with employer-sponsored coverage generally doesn’t have free access to every kind of FDA-approved contraception, with some exceptions if her doctor gives a specific prescription for health reasons. And backers of the requirement are concerned that insurers are imposing limits on coverage that go beyond what HHS intended.  The most in-depth guidance to date — released by the administration earlier this year — doesn’t detail exactly which birth control the health plans must cover without a co-pay.  Instead, the rule permits pla…

Enforcing laws against adultery-- in the U.S.?

One of the candidates for the governorship of Virginia would like to occasionally prosecute people for extramarital affairs. Politico reports:
Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli once suggested that society would benefit from enforcing anti-adultery laws, according to a report dating to the Republican’s days as a state senator.  Speaking to Richmond’s Style Weekly magazine back in 2008, Cuccinelli defended laws criminalizing extramarital sex, saying that such restrictions “ought to stay on the books.”  “Frankly it wouldn’t hurt to enforce them more,” Cuccinelli is quoted saying. The magazine paraphrased Cuccinelli drawing a comparison to “perjury inasmuch as the occasional prosecution or two would get people thinking twice.” Cuccinelli's spokesperson issued the following statement to Politico: Ken Cuccinelli is someone who believes in and supports the institution of marriage. The campaign for the governorship in Virginia is about the concerns of voters, which include fir…