a bird and a bottle

Gimme a Break, Bill

William Saletan (who may or may not be known as Bill) is Slate’s grandaddy of abortion. He’s written a book on the topic, and it’s fair to say that he’s pretty knowledgable. But that doesn’t mean he always gets it right. And his column today is a bright flashing indicator of that.

Today Saletan takes on the ultrasound, and, more specifically, the rash of laws forcing abortion providers to offer women an ultrasound of their fetus prior to an abortion. These laws, which have no doubt been enabled by the recent Gonzales v. Carhart decision, are an extension of the “women are stupid” rhetoric that was on full display in Kennedy’s opinion in that case. Women are stupid and don’t think through decisions so we should take away a medical option. Women are stupid and don’t think through their decisions – even about abortion – and so we should shove an image of their fetus in their faces. That’s pretty much what these laws are saying.

And though Saletan acknowledges the coercive and condescending tone of such laws, he still can’t bring himself to fully condemn them. He writes:

Critics complain that these bills seek to “bias,” “coerce,” and “guilt-trip” women. Come on. Women aren’t too weak to face the truth. If you don’t want to look at the video, you don’t have to. But you should look at it, and so should the guy who got you pregnant, because the decision you’re about to make is as grave as it gets.

Ugh. He gives the head nod to women’s autonomy and strength but then tells women exactly what to do. A chauvinist wolf in sheep’s clothing if I ever saw one. Yes, he says, these ultrasounds are mostly desired as a tool to coerce, but they’re also informative! Yes, because when a woman is about to have an abortion – a moment often filled with high emotions and sometimes moral conflict -that’s just when she should be getting a biology lesson. And just because these ultrasounds are the lesser of many evils (the Fetal Pain Bill, for example), doesn’t mean they’re ok.

But Saletan thinks ultrasounds might be. And he says he’d support an ultrasound bill if it came with these requirements:

If I were a legislator, I’d offer four amendments to any ultrasound bill. First, the government should pick up the tab. Second, the woman should also be offered a six-hour videotape of a screaming 1-year-old. Third, any juror deliberating whether to issue a death sentence should be offered the chance to view an execution. Fourth, anyone buying meat should be offered the chance to watch video from a slaughterhouse. If my first amendment passed but the others failed, I’d still vote for the bill.

I’m with him on number 2 – as a balance to an ultrasound (though still, why even defend such a bill!?!?) But the rest, while defensible in other contexts, only serve to (1) distract attention from the real issues at stake here and (2) draw a stronger connection between a young, nonviable fetus and fully formed human life.

I have to say, this “I support abortion rights, but…” is starting to wear pretty thin.


Equal Justice For All?
April 29, 2007, 9:19 am
Filed under: civil rights, criminal justice, law, news, politics

I complain a lot about the criminal justice system. About the bad policies of mass incarceration, about the drug war, about the racism. And with good reason.

But this takes the cake.

According to yesterday’s NY Times, California has implemented a pay for prison system, in which wealthy people who have been convicted of non-violent crimes can pay about $82/day to live in what amounts to a dormitory, instead of the overcrowded and dangerous state jails to which they would normally be sent.

Here’s how it works (from the Times):

Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the corrections world. You have to be in the know to even apply for entry, and even if the court approves your sentence there, jail administrators can operate like bouncers, rejecting anyone they wish.

Ah yes, the velvet rope of the prison system. Just what we need. To divert precious money and other resources from the state’s breaking prison system to house a relatively small number of low level offenders in posh digs. Sure, their fees offset their costs, but $82/day doesn’t go far in an expensive state prison — it’s a few hours of a corrections officer’s time, if that.

Certainly there have been white collar jails for a long time, and the wealthier incarcerees have often been offered their pick of “housing.” Even the Onion has poked fun at so-called white collar prisons, which are usually fairly posh and have minimum security. But this system seems particularly egregious.

And while I am all in favor of reducing the stigma against people who are incarcerated, this seems to offer that benefit to the very few:

For roughly $75 to $127 a day, these convicts — who are known in the self-pay parlance as “clients” — get a small cell behind a regular door, distance of some amplitude from violent offenders and, in some cases, the right to bring an iPod or computer on which to compose a novel, or perhaps a song.

I think the thing that struck me most about the article is that even the National Sheriff’s organization seems to think this is unfair:

“It seems to be to be a little unfair,” said Mike Jackson, the training manager of the National Sheriff’s Association. “Two people come in, have the same offense, and the guy who has money gets to pay to stay and the other doesn’t. The system is supposed to be equitable.

But then again, I think we gave up the farce that the system was equitable a long time ago. California’s adoption of this pay to stay program just makes it all the more obvious.

Taking on Abstinence Only “Education”

Seems that last week’s report that abstinence only “education” programs are totally ineffective has emboldened some of ab-only’s opponents.

Earlier this week, Salon’s Broadsheet reported that the ACLU (full disclosure: where I will work this summer), Advocates for Youth, and SIECUS, hot on the heels of last week’s report, have sent a letter to the director of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), warning him that if HHS doesn’t comply with federal law (which the groups claim abstinence only programs violate), they’ll file a lawsuit challenging the Federal abstinence programs. Salon tells us that the case would be based on:

evidence that 1) many federally funded abstinence-only programs are filled with medically inaccurate information about condoms, HIV and other sexual health issues and 2) the programs have not proved to be effective in preventing teens from having sex.

But it’s not only the advocacy groups that are getting on the case now. Even the NYT is getting in on the action, though they did bury their editorial in the little-read Saturday paper. In their Editorial this morning, the paper writes:

Reliance on abstinence-only sex education as the primary tool to reduce teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases — as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress — looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.

I take issue with the fact that the Times is totally hedging here — these programs are not becoming “increasingly” foolish or indefensible. They always have been, but no one was willing to stick out their neck before this report came out and made support of abstinence only a losing game. I appreciate that the Times is helping make this an issue. But their “eh” language won’t help much.

The truth is, it’s on Congress now to defund these programs. Congress has been complicit in their expansion for too long (the Republican Congress, I might add). Now, led by Democrats and changing the priorities, this Congress needs to use the recent report as support for its decision to defund these programs and mandate real, comprehensive sex ed in all our schools.

Violence Against Abortion Clinics Up; Media Attention Still Nonexistent
April 27, 2007, 9:40 am
Filed under: civil rights, education, media, news, politics, reproductive justice, wingnuttery

Via WIMN’s Voices:

Yesterday, an explosive device was found at an Austin, TX women’s health clinic. A clinic that performs abortions, of course. The place was shut down, people evacuated, and even a portion of the highway roped off.

Oh, didn’t hear about it? Yeah, didn’t think so.

There’s a reason for that — the nonexistent (or trifling) media coverage of violence against women, particularly when such violence brushes up against politically touchy subjects like abortion.

With the exception of this short AP article (mainstream national media did cover the spree of abortion provider shootings in Buffalo, NY and bombings around the country in the 1990s. But that was ten years ago. One would particularly expect the news antennae to go up over this violence and attempted violence today, with the fear level ratcheted up and the 24-hr coverage of terrorism, war, and anything else violent or salacious.

So why is it that stories about violence against women and women’s health is being ignored? Is it the politics? Or just a sense that because we don’t make a big deal out of it, the news machine doesn’t have to?

WIMN’s Keely Savoie suggests that the lack of news media attention is harming all feminist causes, and making feminists who do make a stink seem like chicken littles (or worse, like the stereotypical shrill women’s libber). Zuzu posits that there’s a real, actual, danger in the MSM non-reaction to such violence, and that it was also reflected in the lack of action after the first shooting at Virginia.

I’m not sure that I buy these theories. But I am disturbed by the lack of national concern about such violence.

Do Confirmation Hearings Matter?
April 26, 2007, 10:21 am
Filed under: 2008, civil rights, law, news & views, politics

One of the things I’ve found particularly striking in thinking about last week’s federal abortion ban decision was how stark the contrast has been between Chief Justice Roberts’s rhetoric during his confirmation hearings and his behavior on the bench.

During the confirmation hearings, Justice Roberts promised to respect precedent, to promote judicial restraint, and to build consensus. But a recent string of 5-4 opinions betrays this promise.

So what are we to do? For me, the abortion decision as well as the other close decisions have driven home the idea that confirmation hearings are, at this point, pretty worthless. The nominees don’t really reveal anything and the hypothetical “how would you have ruled” questions don’t push them to.

TAP’s Michael Tomasky suggests that the answer is harsher hearings, with real questions about ideology and beliefs. That’s what the President uses to decide whom to nominate, Tomasky reasons, so why shouldn’t the Senate consider these issues too. He writes:

So, next time, what should Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee do? They cannot ask the next Bush nominee, if there is one, how he or she would have decided on X. That’s a weak invitation to an easy side-step: I can’t say, didn’t read the briefs, et cetera.

What they need to do is ask such a nominee what he or she believes, using real-world examples. This fiction that judges have no beliefs and only interpret law this way or that way is transparent. Democrats need to say so and press hard for a nominee’s beliefs.

The Court is about to hear cases from Louisville and Seattle on school integration. A true conservative should support integration in this case, because in both localities the policy was set by legislatures (the direct representatives of the people) at the local (that is, non-federal) level. Democrats must ask a nominee, well, which are you more committed to? Local legislative decisions, or aversion to racial remedies of any sort

Such a move could be a double edged sword; it could be political suicide for the democrats but would help ensure that we’re not getting any rude surprises once people are appointed the Court. That said, Justice Stevens, now one of the most liberal justices on the Court (and god love him, the oldest), was appointed by a Republican as a conservative. So maybe surprises are just part of the game.

I’m curious — what do you all think?

My Favorite Response Thus Far to Gonzales v. Carhart
April 25, 2007, 4:39 pm
Filed under: civil rights, feminism/s & gender, funnies, reproductive justice

From yesterday’s NY Times letters to the editor section:

To the Editor:

Re “A Sharp Turn for the Supreme Court on Abortion” (letters, April 20):

I am a rheumatologist caring for a patient whose lupus nephritis is flaring. Her creatinine is rising as her platelet count falls, and she has failed to improve with pulse methylprednisolone and intravenous cyclophosphamide. I am contemplating using rituximab. I would like to refer this case to the United States Supreme Court for its guidance.

Richard Zweig, M.D.
Santa Rosa, Calif., April 20, 2007

via Grace.

Stop Moping and Pick Up the Phone
April 25, 2007, 11:21 am
Filed under: activism, feminism/s & gender, reproductive justice

via Jessica

Today is NARAL Pro Choice America’s National Call in Day to Support the Freedom of Choice Act (discussed here). Here’s how it’s done:

Call 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to both of your senators and your representative. You can even use the following script:

“Please cosponsor the Freedom of Choice Act (H.R.1964/S.1173) to codify Roe v. Wade and guarantee the right to choose for future generations of women.”

Pick up the phone. Stick it to SCOTUS.