Tag Archives: abortion

The Non-Abstract Effects Of Gerrymandering

It’s hard not to be bitter in the wake of the Supreme Court’s intellectually dishonest refusal to protect the legitimacy of democratic governance.

For one thing, over the past couple of years, as I have delved more deeply into the research, I’ve discovered that gerrymandering–aka partisan redistricting–does more than skew election results. A lot more.

I’ve previously pointed out that here in Indiana, where partisan redistricting has carved up metropolitan areas and subordinated urban populations to rural ones, gerrymandering has given us distribution formulas favoring rural areas over cities when divvying up dollars for roads and schools, among other inequities.

And a recent article in The Guardian has connected gerrymandering to the recent spate of radical abortion laws.

Fifty-four thousand votes out of nearly 4 million. That’s what separated Stacey Abrams from Brian Kemp in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, a sign of how closely contested this once reliably red, southern state has become.

Earlier this month, however, Georgia’s legislature responded to the state’s closely divided political climate not with thoughtful compromise but by passing one of the most restrictive abortion bansin the United States.

An April poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 70% of Georgians support the landmark Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion. The new state ban is opposedby 48% of Georgians and supported by only 43%. So why would the legislature enact such an extreme measure?

For that matter, why would Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and other states establish similar “fetal heartbeat” laws that are far more restrictive than their constituents support?

One important answer is gerrymandering: redistricting voting districts to give the party in power an edge – making it almost impossible for the other side to win a majority of seats, even with a majority of votes. Sophisticated geo-mapping software and voluminous voter data turned this ancient art into a hi-tech science when the US redistricted after the 2010 census.

Give credit where it’s due: the GOP has been far more adept at using these new tools than the Democrats (probably because Republicans recognize that they are increasingly a minority party and must cheat if they are going to win).

As the Guardian reports, gerrymandering has allowed the GOP to control state legislatures with supermajorities even when voters prefer Democratic candidates by hundreds of thousands of votes. Gerrymandering thus nullifies elections and insulates lawmakers from democratic accountability.

Despite lacking any mandate for an extreme agenda in a closely divided nation, Republican lawmakers have pushed through new voting restrictions, anti-labor laws, the emergency manager bill that led to poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, and now, these strict abortion bans. Electorally, there’s little that Democrats can do to stop it.

The article outlined evidence of extreme gerrymandering in several states where legislatures have passed laws not supported by voters.

In Ohio, the article pointed to “zero evidence” that voters hold extreme opinions on abortion, and noted that polls show more voters opposed to that state’s new “heartbeat” bill than supportive of it. A University of Chicago study showed that barely half the total vote in Ohio gave Republicans more than 63% of the seats– simply because the maps were “surgically designed” to ensure that few seats would be competitive.

There’s a lot more data, and I encourage you to click through and read the entire article. But (as I have repeated endlessly) the bottom line is simple: the only way to overcome the unfair advantage Republicans have built for themselves is massive turnout. As I posted yesterday, unusually high turnout in the 2018 elections was enough in many districts to overcome built-in advantages as high as 5-8 points.

We need to remind discouraged voters that gerrymandering is based upon prior voting behavior. If people who rarely or never vote show up at the polls, a significant number of supposedly safe seats can change hands.

It has never been more important to get out the vote. America’s future–and that of our children and grandchildren–depends upon it.

Sex And The State

Indianapolis’ Pride Celebration gets bigger and better every year–this year, the parade was so crowded with people enjoying the lovely day and the multiple marchers and floats that the “usual subjects”–with their signs proclaiming the sinfulness of “homo” sex– almost escaped notice.

Those “usual subjects”–the scolds who come out of the woodwork to tell LGBTQ folks that God disapproves of them, and the “good Christians” who scream invective at women entering Planned Parenthood clinics–are reminders that Americans have always had a real problem with sex. Not just gay sex, either. Any sex.

Residents of more laid-back countries (no pun intended) have found both America’s excessive religiosity and famous prudishness puzzling, and both of those elements of our political culture are barriers to reasonable policymaking. Most of the country has finally  recognized that statutes forbidding fornication, sodomy and the like didn’t prevent those behaviors, but simply allowed police who were so inclined to harass marginalized folks with what lawyers call “arbitrary and capricious” enforcement.

The gratifying disappearance of these silly statutes, however, doesn’t mean we Americans have lost our obsession with sex. The fights have simply moved to other venues, like abortion, transgender bathrooms and especially sex education policy, where “family values” warriors continue to insist that only abstinence should be taught in the classroom.

Sex education has been a controversial subject for decades as public school officials and parents have debated the best ways to help teenagers avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Not all states require schools to teach sex ed. But many states require sex education instructors to discuss or stress abstinence from sexual activity, with some schools offering abstinence-only programming, which urges kids to wait until marriage and often excludes information about contraceptives.

So-called “comprehensive” sex education programs teach students about abstinence, but (in a nod to hormones and reality) also teach about contraception, sexual health and how to handle unwanted sexual advances. Such curricula are gaining ground in some states.

In 2019, sex education continues to make headlines even as teen pregnancy rates continue to fall. Policymakers in Colorado, California and Alabama have pushed for big changes in the way sex education is taught there. In Colorado, a bill that would ban abstinence-only education in public schools awaits the governor’s signature. The legislation, which also requires that sex education be inclusive for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ), was “one of the most contentious battles of the 2019 legislative session,”according to the Colorado Times Recorder.

In Alabama–home of the recent law banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest– the state’s sex education law requires teachers to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” (A bill has been introduced that would change that requirement, but as this is written, it’s still on the books.)

As of 2016, abstinence was a required topic of instruction in states such as Arkansas, South Dakota and Texas…. 29 states, including Florida, Montana and Pennsylvania, did not require their sex education curricula to be based on medically accurate information. In some schools, teachers have been accused of inflating condom failure rates to discourage use.

I know that basing policy on evidence is out of favor in the Age of Trump, but the research is instructive: abstinence-only education results in higher teen birth rates. (And those “virginity pledges” that fundamentalist dads brag about? Researchers found that girls who took pledges were more likely to become pregnant outside of marriage when compared with girls and young women who did not take abstinence pledges.)

Facts are such inconvenient things.

I know it’s heresy, but maybe–just maybe–schools should teach kids medically-and-age appropriate information about their bodies, rather than inaccurate, incomplete or counterproductive information intended to mollify prudes and religious fundamentalists.

Alabama, Georgia And The War On Women

For the past few days, my Facebook feed has been dominated by posts about Alabama and Georgia and other draconian efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Here in Indiana, former statehouse reporter and current columnist for The Statehouse File, Mary Beth Schneider, has dubbed these efforts by fundamentalist Republicans “The GOP’s ‘Mourdock moment,”a reference to Indiana’s then-Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s  statement to the effect that pregnancies caused by rape are something God intended, so the rapist’s baby shouldn’t be aborted.

Mourdock–like Todd Akin in Missouri (who claimed that women’s bodies could “shut the whole thing down” in cases of “legitimate” rape)– lost that election. In deep-red Indiana.

I can only hope these desperate attempts to put women back in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, do turn out to be “Mourdock moments.”

I have written before that reversing Roe would be a gift to the Democratic Party–that the single-issue voters the GOP have relied upon for decades would become less politically active, while the rage of the rest of us would benefit Democratic prochoice candidates. Whatever the political fallout, however, it’s important to call these efforts what they are:  frantic efforts by white “Christian” men to preserve their dominance–a dominance that is threatened by women, as well as by black and brown people.

These attacks on reproductive autonomy–including, increasingly, efforts to deny women access to birth control–demonstrably have nothing to do with reverence for life. As many others–including genuinely “pro life” people– have pointed out, once those babies are born, any concern for their welfare disappears. In Alabama, 26.5% of children live below the poverty line. Over 30 percent of kids under five are impoverished; 22.5 percent face food insecurity; and 250,000 children in the state are destitute.

Alabama is ranked:

– 46th in health care
– 50th in education
– 45th in economy
– 45th in opportunity
– 45th in crime and corrections
– 49th overall

The Alabama legislature appears untroubled by these statistics. They are hysterical, however, about the prospect of allowing women to control their own reproduction.

I used to disagree with prochoice advocates who claimed that efforts to curtail abortion were part of a larger war on women. I was–and I still am–willing to believe that there are some people who genuinely believe that those early clumps of fertilized cells represent potential humanity, and deserve protection–although it is still hard for me to understand why they want that protection to trump the health and well-being of the already-alive woman who is carrying them.

But as time has gone on, it has become very clear that the people to whom I was extending the benefit of the doubt are few and far between. Most “pro-life” activists are only pro-birth, and they have made it quite obvious that their motivations have very little to do with protecting life. (If they were really pro-life, they’d feed hungry kids and pass reasonable gun control laws, for starters.)

No, I think these draconian laws are triggered by deep-seated misogyny and resentment of “uppity” women.

Once medical science developed reliable birth control, women became free to enter the workforce. We were able to plan our adult lives. We were no longer prisoners of our biology. Birth control has allowed women to compete with men in business and in the political arena– and to become yet another perceived threat to white male dominance.

As any dispassionate observer will confirm, successful, self-confident men aren’t threatened by strong, confident women, or by women determining their own futures and living in accordance with their own values. Frightened, insecure men (and women)–people who are disoriented and intimidated by modernity and social change–are threatened.

Bigly.

Some social changes, however, aren’t going to be reversed, and women’s equality is one of them. Women aren’t submissively going back to the kitchen.

We also aren’t returning to back-alley abortionists. As many people have pointed out, laws like this don’t prevent abortions; they never have. They just prevent medically safe abortions. They guarantee that many women will needlessly die–thus making another mockery of proponents’ “pro life” protestations.

Rational people understand what this is really about. That’s why I think Mary Beth is right: this is the GOP’s “Mourdock moment.”

 

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.

 

“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.