Tag Archives: abortion

“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.

Compelling Honesty

It’s interesting how many people indignantly wrap themselves in the Free Speech provisions of the First Amendment in order to justify behaviors that–properly understood–aren’t really speech at all.

In all fairness, it can be difficult to distinguish between actions that are intended to communicate a message (protected) from actions that are committed through speech (not protected).

If you describe that cubic zirconium you are selling as an expensive diamond, the fact that your fraud involved the spoken word won’t turn your deception into a free speech issue. On the other hand, if you burn an American flag (assuming it’s yours to burn), you are clearly doing so in order to convey a message. (The content of that message is precisely why people get so angry.)

This little exercise in First Amendment philosophy is an introduction to an interesting case involving Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are pro-life organizations that often offer women incorrect, incomplete or misleading information about their reproductive options.

In response, some localities have passed legislation requiring CPCs to make disclosures to their clients. California, for example, passed the Reproductive FACT Act in 2015. Under this law, CPCs must notify clients of public resources available to prevent or terminate pregnancies. It also mandates that CPCs inform their patients if they are not licensed as a medical facility.

Anti-choice advocates have taken issue with these requirements. The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates has sued California’s attorney general on behalf of CPCs. In November 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it would hear the case.

The question the Court will have to decide is deceptively simple: does requiring Crisis Pregnancy Centers to disclose accurate information that counters or undermines their beliefs violate their First Amendment right to free speech?

At first blush, the idea of requiring speech to be truthful seems like a great idea. (Fox “news” anyone?) In practice, it’s difficult if not impossible to separate opinion from flat-out lying. After all, most lies aren’t as obvious as those constantly being told by Donald Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. In the case of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, however, the intent to mislead is pretty transparent.

A 2016 paper published in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology found that nearly half of the 85 websites surveyed promoted abstinence-only sexual education. Over 60 percent of these websites provided negative facts about condoms, including minimizing their efficacy and suggesting they break often, and less than 10 percent encouraged the use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

A larger examination of 254 CPC websites, published in Contraception in 2014, found that 80 percent provided at least one item of false or misleading information — most commonly, claiming links between abortion and mental health concerns.

A study published in 2017 in Women’s Health Issues focused on the websites of crisis pregnancy centers in Georgia. It reviewed all of the accessible websites of the CPCs in the state and found that more than half had “false or misleading statements regarding the need to make a decision about abortion or links between abortion and mental health problems or breast cancer.” Eighty-nine percent of sites did not indicate that their centers do not offer contraceptives or direct patients to resources where they might find them.

There is considerably more abortion research at the link.

The question that the Justices will have to weigh, however, is unrelated to the issue of reproductive choice–although attitudes about abortion will undoubtedly play an outsized role.

The legal issue to be resolved will apply in areas far removed from reproductive rights. What level of harm to the public justifies government interference with an advocacy organization’s communications? Do the lies being peddled rise to the level of fraud, as in our cubic zirconium example? Or should the risks to the “consumers” of these services be governed by the doctrine of caveat emptor–let the buyer (or in this case, the pregnant woman) beware? Should the imposition of government sanctions require intent–that is, should a finding of culpability require evidence that the people making the false claims know better?

I personally think that organizations willing to lie to women who are already distraught are despicable. But legal analysis must consider the consequences of a decision based upon that sort of emotional reaction.

Can the Supreme Court craft a decision that limits the ability of dishonest folks to prey on vulnerable women, without handing government a cudgel with which to beat the merely opinionated? And if so, what should be the burden of proof?

 

Tax Policy Winners And Losers

I’ve posted previously about the GOP’s tax “reform” plan, and some of the truly despicable provisions hidden in the fine print. As more details emerge, it appears that my list–like the one below–barely scratches the surface.

Whatever the arguments in favor of the $1 trillion in corporate tax breaks contemplated by the measure, the original idea–the justification for reducing the rate– was that the rate could be lowered if the loopholes that allow large profitable corporations to pay little or no tax despite the published rate were eliminated. Somehow, however, the current version of the “reform” bill leaves corporations with both lower rates and their loopholes.

Speaking of corporations, Dana Milbank reported a revealing exchange in a recent Washington Post column.

Individuals lose the ability to deduct state and local taxes, tax preparation, moving expenses and most medical expenses. But corporations — think of them as Very Important Persons with superhuman privileges — can still deduct these same expenses.

At Monday’s markup, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) quizzed a tax expert on this corporate exceptionalism:

“Will a teacher in my district who buys pens, pencils and paper for his students be able to deduct these costs from his tax returns under this plan?” He will not.

“Will a corporation that buys pens, pencils and papers for its workers be able to deduct those costs from its tax returns?” It will.

“Will a firefighter in my district be able to deduct the state and local sales taxes that she pays from her tax return?” She will not.

“Will a corporation be able to deduct sales taxes on business purchases?” It will.

“If a worker in my district had to move because his employer was forcing him to relocate . . . can he deduct his moving expenses under this plan?” He cannot.

“Can a corporation under this plan deduct outsourcing expenses incurred in relocating a U.S. business outside the United States?” It can.

We Americans just love our corporations….they’re people, you know.

And isn’t it nice that Republican Americans are so “pro-life”? (Well, they’re pro pre born life; once that little bugger emerges from the womb, they are considerably less solicitous.) Among the non-fiscal measures in the tax “reform” bill is one intended to “protect babies”–aka fetuses and fertilized eggs. You’d think these pro-life men (they’re all men) would do anything they could to support  adoption as an alternative to abortion. But you’d be wrong.

The House Republican tax reform bill would completely eliminate the adoption tax credit, which has been in the tax code since 1997. It was a bipartisan achievement pushed through by former Texas Republican Rep. Bill Archer, who was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Designed to help cover “reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and other expenses,” the credit is available for up to $13,460 per child.

Some employers also offer adoption assistance in the form of financial aid and paid leave time. As of now, this type of assistance is tax-exempt, but the proposed bill would make such benefits subject to taxation.

The bill would also make adoption assistance from employers — which usually takes the form of financial aid and paid leave time — taxable.

Words fail.

I’m less surprised by the measures that would effectively destroy graduate education; the current crop of Republicans considers educated people snotty elitists. GOP officeholders sneer at scientists, oppose research funding, and think college professors are unAmerican.

Most graduate students get through their degree programs depending on assistantships, tuition waivers and lots of ramen noodle dinners. As Forbes reports,

Currently, these tuition waivers are paid by the college directly to itself, on behalf of the graduate student, and are not counted as taxable income. Under the current “reform” proposal, tuition waivers would be taxed as regular income, making graduate school an unaffordable proposition except for those already independently wealthy.

And then there’s that pesky little detail that the Congressional Budget Office finds problematic: this monstrosity will add 1.7 trillion to the deficit. (And that’s evidently after robbing Medicare and Social Security…) If you are looking for some of those Republican “deficit hawks” of yore, you are probably out of luck.

On the other hand, if you’re wondering why Paul Ryan is reportedly optimistic about passing this Thanksgiving turkey, Representative Chris Collins explained it the other day.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) got points for honesty Tuesday while advocating for Republicans’ tax bill to slash the corporate tax rate and eliminate the estate tax, among other things.

“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Collins said.

I’m sure those donors are selfless patriots who simply want to see middle-class Americans get some tax relief. (And if you believe that, I have a swamp in Florida to sell you…)

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?

The Bully Pulpit

I recently attended the bat mitzvah of a cousin’s daughter at the synagogue in which I grew up.  My cousin’s daughter did a great job with her Torah portion, but I was particularly struck by the sermon, in which Rabbi Dennis Sasso forcefully and eloquently connected those ancient teachings to America’s contemporary challenges.

I sometimes need to remind myself that for every judgmental scold or religious con-man, there is a religious leader like Rabbi Sasso wrestling with the nature of human community and authentic moral behavior.

He was kind enough to share a copy of his remarks.

 Judaism is not just a set of general principles or lofty ideals. It is the living out of those values in the here and now, in the everyday of human encounter between a person and his/her neighbor, a man and woman, parents and children, elected officials and the people, nation and nation.

And so, in this week’s Torah portion, entitled Mishpatim (“Ordinances”), we have the fleshing out of the Ten Commandments. We find here the beginnings of a constitutional biblical tradition, upon which future post-biblical (rabbinic) legislation will evolve, not just as a faith tradition but as a religion of ethical nationhood.

The Rabbi noted that the book of Exodus contains many laws that mirror those of our civil state, including, most significantly, “laws forbidding the oppression of the powerless, the weak, the widow, the orphan, the poor and the stranger — the disenfranchised members of society.”

The commandment to “love your neighbor” occurs in Leviticus 19. However, the commandment to “love the stranger,” the foreigner, the immigrant, (a much more difficult task) – occurs here twice and 36 times in the Torah (“Love the stranger…” “for you know the heart of the stranger, as you were strangers in the land of Egypt”).

The heart of the sermon–at least to me–was the explicit application of Jewish teaching to matters pending at the Indiana legislature.

Reading through this week’s portion we can find guidance regarding many bills currently before our State and Federal Legislatures.

There is SB 439 – regarding Hate Crime Laws – likely not to pass in Indiana because of the pressure of conservative forces that feign to promote themselves as religious.      Well, they are quite out of sync with the biblical heritage they purport to uphold – a heritage that teaches – “You shall not hate your neighbor in your heart.”

The growing vitriol expressed in words and acts of anti-Semitism, Islamphobia and other ethnic and gender directed prejudice speak of an epidemic of hate that must be contained. We should be alarmed by what is happening to words in our times – particularly in the political and religious arenas. Language has become shrill, offensive and misleading. Words, angry and hostile weapons.

Then there are legislative initiatives to curtail rights for LGBTQ+ citizens and to impose doctrinal understandings of reproductive health and abortion rights. Interestingly, this week’s Torah portion contains the key passage that defines miscarriage and abortion not as murder, but as a civil matter (Ex. 21:22-24).

Abortion is a painful and serious decision to be made by a woman in consultation with her physician, loved ones and in keeping with her religious values. In the Jewish legal and moral tradition, termination of pregnancy is never defined as homicide, and it is not only permissible, but required to protect the life and health of the mother, in some cases even her mental health. In Jewish law, the fetus is not defined as a “person,” with independent legal and moral status, until the moment of delivery. Judaism does not share the view that human life begins at conception. Throughout pregnancy the fetus is potential life, to be honored and protected, but dependent on and subordinate to the life of the mother.

To impose particular doctrinal restrictions on abortion constitutes not only a violation of privacy and civil rights, but a limitation of religious rights, by imposing beliefs and values that counter the faith traditions of others. And certainly to muddle legislation with unscientific and potentially injurious information is a pious fraud.

Consider the higher health risks for women and infants that proposed legislation – which includes threats to cut funds for Planned Parenthood – would involve. Our state’s infant mortality rate, already among the highest in the country, would rise dramatically.

Ironically, some of the same groups that counter hate crime laws, and advance restrictions on health care and civil rights, piously advocate for prayer in public schools and, paradoxically, promote liberalization of gun laws – guns that can kill in schools, domestic settings and hateful social encounters…

Today, our nation struggles with the issue of immigration, our response and responsibilities to the stranger in our midst. Our deepest Jewish convictions tell us that protecting the humanity of immigrants, who have come to the United States to better lives for themselves and their children, puts our communities on a path towards strengthening families and society and ultimately, the moral values of our nation. By all means, we need to ensure the safety of the homeland, and guard the security of our borders, but not in ways that discriminate, intimidate and create a siege mentality and police state.

Keeping families together, allowing immigrants to fully contribute to our communities, providing relief for millions of aspiring Americans from unnecessary deportation and family separation, these are at the heart of the Jewish legislative and moral traditions. It is also the best of the American tradition which we as Jews have helped to shape and from which we have benefited.

The Rabbi closed with this profound and increasingly relevant quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:

When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; … its message becomes meaningless.

Words applicable to both religion and political ideology–and definitely worth pondering.