Tag Archives: reproductive rights

Your Religion, My Body….

There has been another attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic–this time, in Colorado. I’ve never quite understood how ostensibly “pro life” men (and they are almost always white Christian men) justify killing for life, but however they understand their Deities to compel these acts of domestic terrorism, their incidence has been growing since the release of the doctored Planned Parenthood tapes.

Ironically, these murderous attacks are far less effective at limiting abortions than the considerably more mundane and seemingly inexorable consolidation of hospitals around the country.

For example, the experience of women needing medical care in Michigan is increasingly being replicated throughout the U.S.

In October, the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of their members against Trinity Health Corporation, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country, for its repeated and systematic failure to provide women experiencing pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.

In response to the lawsuit, the hospital submitted a brief arguing that state and federal law allow Trinity to “refuse to allow abortions to be performed on hospital premises,” in the context of emergency miscarriage treatment when the woman’s life or health is at risk.

Trinity is legally exempt from having to perform elective abortions. But emergency situations such as those that triggered the ACLU’s lawsuit are another matter; indeed,  refusing to provide emergency care in these situations is medical malpractice. (I couldn’t find any information in a cursory search, but I would be surprised if doctors refusing to adhere to a medical standard of care in such situations aren’t being sued.)

The policy question is simple, although the appropriate resolution is anything but.

Virtually all hospitals depend for their existence upon federal dollars. Those dollars come from taxpayers of all religions and none. Are such institutions entitled to deny people medically appropriate care on the basis of their own religious doctrine? The question is gaining urgency as more and more of the nation’s hospitals have become part of Catholic health-care systems–currently, 10 of the 25 largest hospital systems in the U.S. are Catholic. As the ACLU’s Reproductive Rights project newsletter noted

We know, for example, that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which sets the rules for all Catholic hospitals, has said that its hospitals should let a woman die rather provide an emergency abortion. The bishops made their policy crystal-clear when a Catholic hospital in Phoenix defied the bishops’ rules and saved a woman’s life by providing an abortion. The bishops excommunicated a nun who was on the committee that approved the abortion, and the hospital was stripped of its Catholic status.

There are plenty of doctrinal questions raised by such examples, but those are matters for internal Catholic debate. The question for the rest of us is the same question that is raised in other conflicts pitting civic equality and access to public services against the religious beliefs of people claiming their faith exempts them from treating others as they would wish to be treated–as autonomous persons entitled to make their own moral decisions.

That question is: at what point do the obligations of citizenship in a diverse nation that celebrates civic equality override the “sincerely held religious beliefs”of those who believe they are entitled to be more equal than others?


What the Numbers Show

It used to be that references to the culture wars brought to mind the various efforts to marginalize the LGBT community. Over the last several years, as attitudes about homosexuality and gender identity have changed dramatically, fundamentalist culture warriors have increasingly reverted to an older battle: restricting women’s right to control their own reproduction.

State after Red state has passed measures restricting access to abortion, defunding Planned Parenthood, even criminalizing “suspicious” miscarriages. Many of the more draconian measures have been struck down, but many others have not.

Activists holding passionate attitudes about the issue are unlikely to change their positions. The policy question is: where should this battle take place? In the court of public opinion, or in legislative chambers?

Political philosophy holds that legislation is unworkable and seen as illegitimate when there are deep divisions within a polity. (Even when there is wide acceptance of a rule, experience tells us that changing public attitudes can be more effective than legal mandates–just compare the dramatic change in public behavior effected by MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to the effectiveness of DUI laws.)

So the AP’s recent report that abortions have declined nationwide raises an interesting question.

Abortions have declined in states where new laws make it harder to have them — but they’ve also waned in states where abortion rights are protected, an Associated Press survey finds. Nearly everywhere, in red states and blue, abortions are down since 2010.

Most observers credit the drop to a sharp reduction in teen pregnancies and the availability of affordable, effective contraception. Interestingly,

The only states with significant increases in abortions since 2010 are Republican-led Louisiana and Michigan, which have passed laws intended to restrict abortion. Louisiana — where abortions increased 12 percent between 2010 and 2014 — was recently honored by Americans United for Life as the No. 1 state in taking steps to reduce access to abortion.

The question is: do the (mostly male) legislators sponsoring these laws really want to reduce the incidence of abortion? Or–as many feminists suspect–are they equally opposed to effective birth control?

To put it another way, is their objection to abortion, or to women’s autonomy? I’ll consider that question tomorrow.

I Was Wrong

Yesterday I blogged about something I’d gotten right. Today, I’m going to admit being wrong.

When people first began talking about a “war on women,” I thought the rhetoric was over the top. Sure, there were some retrograde legislators in statehouses around the country–not to mention Washington–but that’s always been the case. Attacks on Roe v. Wade have been a staple since the case was first decided, and the persistent efforts to roll back a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy have long been an unpleasant but relatively minor part of the political landscape.  I never believed those who insisted that–given a chance–the attacks would intensify, and even extend to contraception.

Boy, was I wrong!

The elections of 2010 that swept conservative and Tea Party Republicans into office were evidently seen as authorizations to engage in a full-scale and increasingly demeaning attack on women’s reproductive rights.

It wasn’t just the offensive transvaginal ultrasound bill that has been characterized as “legislative rape.” During the first six months of 2011, 19 states enacted 162 new provisions aimed at reproductive health. There were “counseling” and extended waiting periods for abortions–including a South Dakota measure that requires “counseling” to include risk factors even when those risks are not supported by medical evidence. In Kansas and Arizona, laws working their way through their respective legislative processes would allow doctors to withhold accurate information about fetal abnormalities or risks posed by the pregnancy from women who might decide, on the basis of that information, to abort.

Fifteen states banned abortions after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is endangered. Ohio went even farther, banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually between six and ten weeks. Still others passed measures making medication abortions difficult or impossible.

Then there have been the truly bizarre efforts aimed squarely at birth control and women’s health.

The recent Congressional effort to characterize contraceptive coverage as a religious liberty issue has been widely debated, but there have been other, less publicized efforts to deny women access to birth control. Several states have considered so-called “personhood” amendments that would effectively ban the most effective forms of contraception by equating a fertilized egg to a “person.” There have been repeated efforts at both the federal and state level to de-fund Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that huge numbers of poor women depend upon the organization for basic health services like pap smears and breast exams.

The (male) politicians who favor these and other punitive measures used to pretend they were operating out of a concern for women’s “informed” consent–since, as we all know, women are too stupid to make these intimate decisions unaided. But even that pretense is disappearing. We have a Republican Presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, on the record saying contraception is wrong because it allows people to do “wrong” things–i.e., engage in non-procreative sex.

If this avalanche of misogyny isn’t a “war on women,” I’d hate to see the real thing.

Gail Collins recommends investing in burqa futures. I think she’s on to something.