Category Archives: Personal Autonomy

About Those Dire Predictions…

Today is the second annual Women’s March.

The first one was followed by an eventful year for women–from #metoo to vastly increased civic activism to record numbers of women running for political office. Those activities haven’t been universally applauded, but that’s nothing new. Every time we women assert ourselves, we are met with the usual warnings: children will be neglected or traumatized, marriages will fail, society will suffer, we women will enter old age embittered and alone.

I know the defenders of patriarchy will be disappointed, but it really doesn’t work that way.

A couple of weeks ago, I referenced Stephanie Coontz’ book The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, in which–among other things–Coontz reminded us that “Leave it to Beaver” wasn’t a documentary. In 2016, she updated the book, and the Council on Contemporary Families, a research institute she heads, issued a report on some of the data that would be part of the revision. That data just goes to show how often all those dire predictions about the effects of social change turn out to be wrong.

A few examples:

In the early 1990s, there was much hand-wringing about “scarlet women” and rising out-of-wedlock births; the warning was that the children would become juvenile “super predators,” morally-impoverished and violent.

But between 1993 and 2010, sexual assaults and intimate partner violence dropped by more than 60 percent. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, the murder rate in 2013 was lower than at any time since the records began in 1960. Since 1994, juvenile crime rates have plummeted by more than 60 percent, even though the proportion of children born out of wedlock has risen to 40 percent.

We were warned that women who were selfish enough to pursue both motherhood and careers would inevitably “outsource” our maternal responsibilities and/or neglect our children. We can skip the guilt. (Now they tell me!)

Today, both single and working moms spend more time with their children than married homemaker mothers did back in 1965. And, according to David Cotter, Joan Hermsen, and Paula England’s brief report on Moms and Jobs, educated professionals – the women most likely to work outside the home – spend many more hours in child care than their less-educated counterparts.

Remember when pundits and scolds warned that no-fault divorce laws spelled the end of the American family?

In each state that adopted no-fault, the next five years saw an eight to 16 percent decline in suicide rate of wives and a 30 percent drop in domestic violence. Although no-fault divorce is now universal, divorce rates are actually falling.

Well–so maybe no-fault divorce didn’t destroy the institution of marriage, but legal recognition of same-sex marriage will surely do it; for one thing, it will never be accepted by the American public; for another, think of the children!

As late as 1996, 65 percent of Americans opposed same sex marriage, with just 27 percent in favor. Yet by 2011, 53 percent favored same-sex marriage, paving the way for its legalization in 2015. Definitive, long-term studies now show that children raised by two parents of the same sex turn out fine.

There’s much more, but you all get the drift. Bottom line: keeping marriage and the unequal relations between the sexes “the way they always were” is neither necessary nor desirable.

Ironically, although the public has adapted, politicians and government haven’t.

Since 1993, the federal government has made no substantive progress toward policies that help women and men reconcile work and family obligations, while other countries have leapt ahead. In 1993 the Family and Medical Leave Act gave workers in large companies up to 12 weeks unpaid job-protected leave. But 23 years later, only 13 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave, and 44 percent don’t even have the right to unpaid leave. By contrast, every other wealthy country now guarantees more than 12 weeks of paid leave to new mothers, limits the maximum length of the work week, and mandates paid annual vacations. Most also offer paid leave to fathers. The result? American workers express higher levels of work-family conflict than their European counterparts. And the U.S. has fallen from 6th to 17th place in female labor participation among 22 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development since 1990. The one exception to this backwardness? The Pentagon, which runs the best affordable and universal childcare system in the country and just instituted 12 weeks paid maternity leave.

Other things that haven’t improved in the past quarter-century? Women’s reproductive rights and wage inequality. And as the #metoo movement has illustrated, sexual harassment.

In her speech at the Golden Globes, Oprah predicted that “change is coming.” As far as I’m concerned, it can’t come soon enough.

Meanwhile, I’m going to the March.

“Pro Life” Really Isn’t

Those of us who champion individual autonomy and the right of a woman to make her own reproductive decisions often point to the hypocrisy of a movement that labels itself “pro life,” but expresses concern only when that “life” precedes birth.

Many of the same people who express touching concern for a blastula or fetus consistently oppose measures to ameliorate threats to the lives and health of the already-born. This disconnect strongly suggests that their real goal is control of women, not protection of life or the unborn.

Well, we have a new bit of evidence strengthening that claim of hypocrisy, and –unsurprisingly–it involves Mike Pence, Indiana’s contribution to the disaster that is the Trump Administration.

A bipartisan effort to stabilize the U.S. health-insurance markets collapsed last month after anti-abortion groups appealed directly to Vice President Mike Pence at the 11th hour, The Daily Beast has learned.

Amid opposition from conservatives in the House of Representatives, a group of pro-life activists met with Pence to lobby the Trump administration against supporting a health-insurance market-stabilization bill on the grounds that it does not contain sufficient language on abortion restrictions, according to sources with direct knowledge of the meeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was also in attendance at the Dec. 19 meeting, three of the sources said.

The next day, key lawmakers involved in crafting the legislation announced they were punting on the issue until 2018.

You may be wondering what the stabilization measure–which is intended to prevent thirteen million people from losing their health insurance due to a provision of the tax bill–has to do with abortion. And of course, in a sane world, the answer would be, nothing. But the supposedly “pro-life” activists who met with Pence last month were opposed to the bill because some of the subsidies in the stabilization legislation (known as cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments) might go to health plans that fund abortions.

This is how Pence’s Party–formerly known as the GOP–protects “life.”

These lawmakers are willing to see thirteen million Americans lose their health insurance if that’s what it takes to prevent private-sector insurance companies from covering abortions (many of which are medically indicated in order to save the life or health of the mother).

There are numerous studies which estimate the number of deaths that are a direct consequence of lack of health insurance.

A 2012 familiesUSA study shows that more than 130,000 Americans died between 2005 and 2010 because of their lack of health insurance. The number of deaths due to a lack of coverage averaged three per hour and the issue plagued every state. Other studies have shown those statistics to be high or low, but all studies agree: In America the uninsured are more likely to die than those with insurance.

So how, exactly, is blocking a measure that would prevent these very predictable deaths “pro life”? Elevating the value of the unborn over the value of existing men, women and children isn’t “pro life”–even if you believe that human life begins at the very instant that a sperm and egg unite–it is rather obviously “pro fetal life.”

More accurately, it’s a war on women’s autonomy. And like all wars, it will take the lives of many innocent, already-born people.

There are certainly people who are truly pro-life. They oppose abortion–but they also oppose the death penalty. They support full funding for CHIP.  They support programs to feed hungry children.

Fanatics like Pence aren’t pro-life in any meaningful sense. They are anti-women and pro-paternalism.

Texas Tells Heidi To Go Yodel

I do love Texas. Whenever I need examples of really stupid government behavior for classroom use, I can count on the Lone Star State to supply them.

A recent example, courtesy of the AP: Texas has been an enthusiastic participant in the war against Planned Parenthood, and in 2011 it banned the organization from a women’s health program meant to provide low-cost breast exams, contraception and cancer screening. Instead, the state contracted with inexperienced providers, notably the Heidi Group, an evangelical nonprofit started in the 1990s and best known for promoting alternatives to abortion.

The Heidi Group fell well short of serving the 70,000 women it had promised to reach, and for which it had been paid 1.6 million dollars. Its failure to perform under that contract, however, paled in comparison to its failure to meet the goals in a much larger state contract under which it was to provide family planning services.

More than $5 million in taxpayer funds pledged to the Heidi Group was for family planning services. But the small nonprofit hasn’t met their goals and now plans to serve only a fifth of the nearly 18,000 women originally projected, said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Texas has now reduced the contract from $5 million to $1 million. That will save some tax dollars, but it won’t provide needed health services to Texas’ women.

According to the AP, “The Heidi Group is led by Carol Everett, a prominent anti-abortion activist and influential conservative force in the Texas Legislature.”

Most sentient people have figured out that the unremitting assault on Planned Parenthood is part of a larger war being waged against women’s autonomy–our right to control our own reproduction and make our own moral and medical decisions. That broader assault is usually veiled by rhetoric against abortion (which is a tiny percentage of the services Planned Parenthood provides).

So how is Texas doing? Is the legislature’s willingness to deny poor women life-saving pap smears and breast exams translating into fewer abortions?

Not so much.

With the goal of eliminating abortion, Texas Republicans have stripped Planned Parenthood of funding and steadily obstructed patient access to care over the past few years. Turns out, their ideological, anti-choice crusade is having the opposite effect. A new study shows abortion rates have jumped since Planned Parenthood was blocked.

During the three years after the Texas legislature defunded Planned Parenthood, teen abortions increased 3.1% and teen births spiked by 3.4%  The legislature shuttered more than 80 family planning clinics altogether, action which not only decreased access to preventive women’s health care and low-cost contraception, but led to a spike in unintended pregnancies, especially among teens, and substantial increases in Medicaid expenditures.

Packham reports that 2,200 teens would not have given birth if the Legislature hadn’t cut family planning, slowing the overall progress of a decreasing birth rate. With an average taxpayer cost of $27,000 per birth, the price tag of the cuts total an estimated $80 million, outweighing the funds saved by the drastic cuts – a figure self-avowed fiscal conservative Republicans may want to heed. Other research bolsters Packham’s work: Last year, the UT-based Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that in East Texas’ Gregg County, abortion rose by a whopping 191% in the two years after the county lost 60% of its family planning funding. Similar results appeared in neighboring counties.

Will anyone who thinks Texas legislators learned anything from their Heidi experience please yodel?

Freedom to Oppress

A week or so ago, I shared the questions on my Law and Policy take-home final, and a couple of commenters wondered whether I would share student responses.

Although I won’t share others, I was struck by one student’s essay on the second question, which involved the principle of religious liberty. The question read:

The First Amendment protects religious liberty. Over the past few years, Americans have engaged in heated public debates about the nature and extent of that liberty. Some people argue that requiring employers to provide health insurance that includes contraception, or requiring businesses like florists or bakers to serve same-sex customers, is a violation of the religious liberty of those whose religions teach that contraception or homosexuality is a sin. Others disagree. What is the proper definition of “religious liberty”—that is, how far should the free exercise of religion extend in America’s diverse religious landscape? What religiously-motivated actions can government legitimately limit, and what are the justifications for those limits?

This student suggested that many people confuse “freedom” with “freedom to oppress,” and went on to explain the difference.

I hadn’t seen it phrased quite that way before, but I think he’s on to something.

I thought about his essay when I read in the Washington Post that Vice-President Mike Pence had told participants at a World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in D.C. that “no other faith group faces more persecution than Christians,” and lauded Trump’s recent RFRA-like Executive Order.

Mike Pence shares a definition of “persecution” with other fundamentalist believers that beautifully illustrates my student’s observation: “persecution” in Pence-speak goes well beyond the actual mistreatment of Christians abroad; for him, “persecution” has always included the inability to use the coercive power of the state to impose his particular version of Christianity on others here at home.

Think of the horrors: the nasty courts have prevented public schools from requiring (Christian) prayer in classrooms occupied by children of diverse faiths, and have upheld the teaching of science, rather than the Christian doctrine of Creationism, in public school science classes.

Those same courts have required government to recognize marriages by sinful same-sex couples  (who can now file joint tax returns, just like real married couples), and they’ve insisted that when retail establishments open for business, they actually do business with anyone willing to pay for their merchandise.

These “persecuted” Christians must live under a legal regime that accords Jews and Muslims and Hindus and atheists the same civil rights that bible-believing Christians have! A society where stores like Target can allow transgendered people use the bathroom when nature calls! A society that allows women to follow their own religious and moral beliefs about reproduction, rather than the Word Of God as Revealed to Mike Pence and his fellow fundamentalists.

I’m sure it is only by the grace of their God that these poor, persecuted Christians can continue to live here.

I would completely understand if they moved en masse to somewhere like Ghana or Uganda, where the government understands the threat posed by homosexuality and uppity women. But of course, the inhabitants of those countries are black, and a lot of  Pence Christians aren’t too sure God likes black people…

 

The Worst-Case Scenario

Okay, thanks to some despicable behavior by the self-styled “moralists,” and millions of Koch brother dollars, Neil Gorsuch is now the newest Supreme Court Justice. So–aside from occupying Merrick Garland’s seat and a worrisome tendency to favor the arguments of corporate and “religious” litigants– what is the worst thing that can happen?

He manages to get Roe v. Wade overturned.

What would happen then?

Several red states would immediately pass laws making abortion illegal, something the Constitution currently prevents. Other states, however, would leave the decision where it belongs– with the woman, her family and her doctor. Women living in states prohibiting abortion– those who could afford it– would travel to states where it remained legal, and would have their abortions there. Others would go back to the remedies available in the “good old days”–coat hangers and dangerous “potions”– and many of them would die or become sterile.

Hopefully, there would be groups formed to raise money to cover the costs of poor women’s travel to states where abortion remained legal. We might expect the war on Planned Parenthood to abate somewhat–or at least devolve to the states– since the national anti-choice movement wouldn’t have Roe to kick around any more.

The political tsunami, however, would be the most interesting consequence of such a decision.

Survey research confirms that substantial majorities of Americans do not want to see Roe overturned. They may or may not support a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy, but they are appropriately leery of allowing government to dictate that decision. It is only a rabid anti-choice constituency that has maintained the political potency of reproductive choice as an issue. (I have a sneaking suspicion that most of these folks believe overturning Roe would end abortion in the U.S. It wouldn’t–it would simply leave the issue up to the states.)

Research suggests that anti-choice citizens are far more likely to be single-issue voters than pro-choice Americans. But that could change once a right that has been taken for granted is revoked. Pro-choice voters–especially women, who are already more likely to vote Democratic– would be more than irate; they would blame the GOP for the loss of reproductive liberty, and would be very likely to vote in even greater numbers against a party that so vividly demonstrated its contempt for women’s right to self-determination.

Anyone who participated in the Women’s March on Washington–in the nation’s capital, or in any of the multitude of other venues–and looked out over the sea of “pussy hats,” saw the signs being carried and heard the passionate speeches being made–understands the extent of the fury that would be unleashed by a Supreme Court  retreat from Roe v. Wade. Anti-choice activists have been a (generally marginal albeit important) asset to theocratic Republican candidates, but the pro-choice legions that would erupt after such a Court decision would create political blowback of massive proportions.

The GOP has used the issue of abortion to turn out a relatively small but very intense constituency in election after election.

If Roe is gone, the national GOP will no longer be able to rely on the issue of abortion to generate turnout, or to obscure or outweigh the party’s retrograde positions on other issues. If decisions about the legality of abortion devolve to the state level, the passions will also devolve. Some states will respect women’s right to autonomy, some will not. But in the absence of Roe v. Wade, abortion would lose its potency as a national right-wing wedge issue.

And Democrats would solidify their position as the party protecting and promoting women’s rights.

Republicans should be careful what they wish for.