Category Archives: Personal Autonomy

America’s Heartless–And Misogynist– Administration

The Washington Post headline really says it all: “The U.N. wanted to end sexual violence in war. The Trump Administration had objections.”

BERLIN — When Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, and Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidiwere awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last October for their work to stop the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, there was widespread praise from all parts of the world, including the United States.

But when the Trump administration was asked this month to do its part, and to pass a U.N. resolution to end sexual violence in war, things suddenly looked a bit more complicated.

Until the end, international politicians and celebrities urged the United States to “stand on the right side of history,” as actor George Clooney said, and to “ensure [victims’] voices are at the center of our response,” as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and actress Angelina Jolie wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

But to no avail.

The U.N. Security Council finally passed a resolution, but it was significantly watered down, thanks to the Trump Administration’s insistence on deleting key portions. Needless to say, our European allies are furious. (Not that this administration has ever given any evidence of caring what our democratic and civilized allies think. Trump only kowtows to dictators and autocrats.)

So why, you might be asking yourself, would the U.S. government–even with Donald Trump in the Oval Office–object to a resolution against sexual violence as a tool of warfare?

If you think about it for awhile, it will make (sick) sense.

This utterly immoral position is entirely consistent with the misogyny and contempt for women and women’s rights that characterize today’s GOP. The administration objected to  references to reproductive and sexual health, references which might be understood as support for abortion.

The initial version of the draft resolution had stated that victims of sexual violence should be able to access services, which specifically included “sexual and reproductive health.” Amid objections, a subsequent version referred only to “comprehensive health services” for victims of sexual violence.

But for the Trump administration, even offering vaguely defined “comprehensive health services” for sexual violence victims went a step too far.

The U.S. position is thus that a woman who has been raped as an act of war and who finds herself pregnant as a result has no right to terminate that pregnancy.  Once again, we see that the “religious” doctrine espoused by the President, his Vice-President and his entire party classifies women as incubators, not humans entitled to and capable of self-determination.

Also removed from the final resolution were references to expanded U.N. monitoring that would keep track of violations of the resolution. That, in practice, could mean that perpetrators will have to fear less international scrutiny than originally planned.

To avert a U.S. veto, the passed resolution included only watered-down references to the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is supposed to prosecute war crimes but has recently found itself in a clash with the Trump administration after it considered investigating U.S. troops over the war in Afghanistan. Unlike most of the world, the United States never ratified the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty.

Although there has always been rape in war, the use of sexual violence as a systematic intimidation tool mostly emerged in the 20th century, and has grown alarmingly.

Between 1992 and 1995, Serb troops systematically raped at least 20,000 girls and women, according to the European Commission, which in a 1996 report detailed that “impregnated girls have been forced to bear ‘the enemy’s’ child,” thus exposing them to lifelong psychological scars.

“Sexual violation of women erodes the fabric of a community in a way that few weapons can,” the United Nations’ State of the World’s Children concluded the same year.

By 2008, U.N. member states had acknowledged in a landmark resolution that sexual violence in conflict had “become systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality.”

The administration of America’s despicable President–himself a serial abuser and accused rapist–has shamed the country once again.

Indiana’s Arrogant Legislature

Here we go again.

Indiana’s legislature–more accurately, its Republican Super-Majority (courtesy of gerrymandering)–has a habit of making decisions it is unequipped to make. In the past,  friends who are schoolteachers have seethed as lawmakers who never spent a day in a classroom prescribed the precise methods they should use to teach reading.

Now, lawmakers propose to tell medical doctors what methods they can and cannot use to terminate a pregnancy.

HB 1211 would ban the most common method used in second trimester abortions, usually called “D and E” for dilation and evacuation. The only alternative to D and E, which is generally considered the safest and most medically-appropriate way to terminate a second-trimester pregnancy, is induction, which requires a woman to go through labor. It must be done in a hospital-like setting, is far more expensive–and has a higher risk of complications than D and E.

Also, most hospitals don’t offer the procedure.

Now, you might be asking yourself, why would the sponsors and proponents of this bill think they–and not the woman’s medical doctor–should make this sort of decision? Why would they only allow second-trimester abortions to be performed using a procedure that is both more painful and more risky?

You know why. As Planned Parenthood points out, passage of HB 1211 would effectively end second trimester abortions in Indiana.

What is particularly ironic, previous legislative measures that have made it difficult for women to obtain safe, legal abortions are the reason for many of the delays that push the procedure into the second trimester: waiting periods, fewer clinics with longer waits for appointments and other barriers erected by lawmakers who want us to think they know more than medical professionals do, and who believe they are entitled to have their religious dogma become the law of the state.

Recent polls suggest that 70% of Americans want to keep Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. Thanks to the Electoral College, Donald Trump has been able to put right-wing judges on the Federal Bench, up to and including the Supreme Court, to ensure that the preferences of that significant majority won’t count for much. Until Roe goes, Indiana’s paternalistic legislature can’t ban abortions outright, but it continually tries to achieve that result by subterfuge. HB 1211 is just one example.

So let’s see: this bill would insert government between a woman and her doctor;  impose the religious beliefs of certain Christian denominations on nonbelievers and adherents of the many religions and denominations that allow abortion; and in the rare cases where a doctor and hospital are willing to use induction, subject the woman to unnecessary pain and an elevated risk of complications.

Nicely done, “Christian” warriors.

HB 1211 has been scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wed. March 27th at 9 am.

Sen. Randall Head is the chair of the committee and he has the power to stop this bill.

I hope everyone who finds this cynical measure appalling will call Senator Head and ask him to kill this travesty of a bill.

You might also remind him and other “limited government” Republicans –the guys who don’t think government belongs in their boardrooms–that government also doesn’t belong in a woman’s uterus.

The issue really isn’t abortion–it’s who gets to make the decision. And the answer  to that question shouldn’t be government.

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

It really is hard to keep up with all of the Trump Administration’s assaults on modernity–its disavowal of science, its attacks on public education, immigrants and poor people, and of course, its persistent efforts to turn back the social clock to “times gone by,” when straight white Protestant men were kings.

One aspect of that relentless attack on equality–what you might call the “Mike Pencification” of policy–is the administration’s current determination to de-fund Planned Parenthood. After all, women who have access to birth control and Pap smears are free to enter the workforce and even the political arena. Their ability to plan their pregnancies even allows them to engage in lustful sex without incurring God’s disapproval in the form of an unplanned child.

Shades of Margaret Atwood. As Michelle Goldberg recently opined in the New York Times, 

Donald Trump’s administration turns the Gilead model upside down. Its public image is louche and decadent, with tabloid scandal swirling around the president and many of his associates. This can make it hard to focus on the unprecedented lengths the administration is going to curtail American women’s reproductive rights and enrich the anti-abortion movement.

On Friday, the Trump administration escalated its war on Planned Parenthood and the women who use it. It released a rule prohibiting Title X, a federal family-planning program that serves around four million low-income women, from funding organizations that also provide abortions. Further, the administration instituted an American version of the global gag rule, barring doctors and nurses receiving Title X funds from making abortion referrals to their patients except in certain emergency situations.

The new approach mirrors what Pence did in Indiana–it diverts funding from organizations operating on the basis of sound medical science and sends the monies instead to religious groups, many of which are not just anti-choice, but anti-contraception.

The administration appears to think that religious anti-abortion groups, including those opposed to contraception, will fill some of the gaps. The new regulation jettisons a requirement that Title X clinics provide “medically approved” family planning services. That means that funds that once went to Planned Parenthood could flow instead to anti-abortion groups that promote so-called natural family planning. Unless the courts halt the new policy, struggling women who need refills on their birth control pills could get federally funded lectures on the rhythm method instead.

Goldberg calls this a “move to turn a lifesaving women’s health program into pork for the religious right.” (She’s right on the money; that was also Pence’s motive for Indiana’s voucher program, which takes millions of dollars from the state’s public school system in order to prop up the religious schools that make up 95% of the institutions accepting vouchers.)

The assault on Planned Parenthood joins the successful effort to pack the federal courts–including the Supreme Court– with anti-choice judges, and it doesn’t bode well for the continued viability of Roe v. Wade.

Ironically, sending the legality of abortion back to the states, as a decision to overturn Roe would do, would fall into the “be careful what you wish for” category. Republicans have benefitted greatly from the one-issue voters they cynically created. Should Roe be overturned, the zealots in states that continue to allow abortions  would turn their attention to those legislatures, but those would mostly be deep blue states where they would be unlikely to prevail. Anti-choice activists in red states with compliant legislatures would mostly cease to be activists; they would consider their “job” accomplished.

The majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproduction, however, would be highly likely to take their outrage to their polling places. Most of them have been complacent until now, assuming the courts would continue to protect women’s autonomy.

A “victory” for opponents of reproductive rights would be likely to do two things: tamp down the passions of the anti-choice warriors, and “activate” millions of Americans who would rightly see that victory as a theocratic threat. If survey research is to be believed, the latter group is much larger than the former.

Those people vote. And they sure  won’t be voting Republican.

 

 

“Ethical Objections” And Women’s Rights

As I have previously noted, Doug Masson is one of Indiana’s most thoughtful and knowledgable bloggers; his essays are particularly helpful when the legislature is in session, because in addition to being a lawyer, he was once on the staff of Legislative Services, the agency charged with drafting bills that will actually do what lawmakers want to accomplish (assuming, of course, that those measures are passed).

Doug recently looked at one of the anti-choice measures that are repeatedly and inevitably introduced in Indiana.

S.B. 201 provides that pharmacists and nurses can’t be required to administer or dispense an “abortion inducing drug” if they claim to have an ethical objection. (Evidently, according to Doug, the statutory definition of an “abortion inducing drug” excludes Plan B, for whatever comfort that might provide.) But analyzing which medications would fall under the bill’s parameters and which ones wouldn’t is really beside the point.

As Doug puts it:

Beyond that, of course, there is the impact on women who want control over their own bodies. And there’s the question of why abortion should be entitled to special pleading when it comes to employee’s ethical concerns over their employer’s operations. What if a health care provider finds drug use immoral and objects to treating addicts? What if a gun store employee objects to selling firearms to guys who abuse their wives? What if a bank employee objects to their employer’s lending practices? Usually we tell employees to go work somewhere else, but this legislation seeks to carve out a special exception for a medical service that, for the time being anyway, remains a Constitutional right.

That is, of course, the crux of the matter. The male legislators who simply cannot abide the notion that a woman should control her own reproduction evidently assume that ethical principles are limited to situations that offend their personal religious beliefs (or threaten patriarchal dominance.)

The Bill of Rights limits the decisions that government can properly make. The issue isn’t abortion. The issue is who has the right to make that decision. In our system, the government doesn’t get to decide what prayer you say, or if you pray at all; it doesn’t get to decide what book you read or what political positions you endorse. Government doesn’t get to decide who you can love, whether you can use contraception, or whether a woman will carry a pregnancy to term.

The real issue is power.

A government that can tell women they can’t abort has the power to tell women they must abort. (See: China) Our system doesn’t give government the authority to make those decisions for individual citizens.

Government also doesn’t get to decide whose “ethical objections” deserve to be honored and whose can be ignored.

If a pharmacist’s religious beliefs interfere with his ability to dispense medications, he needs to find another profession. And if a lawmaker’s religious commitments outweigh his fidelity to the U.S. Constitution (despite the oath he takes when he assumes his position) he shouldn’t be in the legislature.

Looking For My Inner Pollyanna–Roe v. Wade Edition

Along with all the other legal mayhem we can now expect from the most reactionary Supreme Court in over a century, most observers predict the demise of Roe v. Wade, despite polling that suggests most Americans would strongly disapprove.

If Roe is overruled, there will certainly be some horrendous consequences. But there may also be some unanticipated positives. Bear with me, here.

We have all recognized the intransigence of the “one issue” anti-choice voter. Without Roe, it’s conceivable (no pun intended) that the wind will go out of that sail. (It will be much more difficult to energize a national movement against birth control, which is actually a target of the most rabid anti-choice activists.) Anti-choice voters have been a mainstay of the GOP–and they will arguably be considerably less motivated.

If Roe is no longer the law of the land, the issue will revert to the states, and a number of states will opt for reproductive choice. Those of us who care about women’s autonomy will need to do some serious fundraising to make it possible for poor women in Red states to travel to states where abortion is legal, and that’s a pain. But even now, with abortion theoretically legal, there are many places in the U.S. where clinics are few and far between; women have to travel long distances, put up with bogus “counseling,” and deal with other barriers to the exercise of the currently constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

What the confirmation of Kavanaugh and the de-nationalization of Roe might do–should do–is redirect liberal and pro-choice energies from national to state-level political action. And that could be a huge game-changer.

The current dominance of the Republican Party doesn’t reflect the desires of the American majority–far from it. GOP numbers have been shrinking steadily; some 24% of voters self-identify as Republican. Their dominance is due primarily to the 2011 gerrymander, and that was made possible because they controlled a large number of state governments. The GOP vote suppression tactics that depressed Democratic turnout and disenfranchised Democratic voters have also been facilitated by state-level control.

The next redistricting will occur in 2021. Between now and then, women, Democrats, liberal-leaning Independents and new voters need to focus their efforts on statehouses around the country. We need to eliminate gerrymandering wherever possible, and we need to put an end to vote suppression tactics.

There will be other strategic decisions necessitated by a rogue Supreme Court. Lawsuits implicating civil rights and civil liberties, for example, may have better prospects in state courts interpreting state constitutions than in the federal system. (When the Supreme Court was less open to arguments from the LGBTQ community, the ACLU and Lambda Legal had some considerable successes in state courts.)

The next few years will be critical. Success will depend upon the “staying power” of those Americans for whom the 2016 election and the travesty of Kavanaugh’s confirmation have been wake-up calls. It’s one thing to post despairing messages to like-minded friends on social media; it’s another thing entirely to continue the day-to-day drudgery of organizing and registering our fellow citizens, and getting out the vote.

If we are going to reclaim the America we thought we had, however, anger and determination are great motivators.