a bird and a bottle

Why “Slippery Slope” Is A Meaningful Concept Not Just An Annoying Legalism

Over the last few years there has been a drumbeat of paternalistic rhetoric in American politics, particularly in the realm of women’s health and reproductive justice. In South Dakota, which last year passed an abortion ban that made exception only if the woman’s life was in danger, those who supported the ban touted it as necessary to protect women from the emotional and medical perils that supposedly would befall them if they had an abortion. The line was such bunk that anti-abortion wingnuts (er, activists) “>had to recruit fake doctors to make an ad in support of it. (The South Dakota law was subsequently rejected by popular ballot.) The siegelin South Dakota (pdf). But for perhaps the first time, it gained adherents. And it seemed to work.

Then, of course, there was the Supreme Court’s truly horrendous decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which exalted the paternalistic, daddy state knows best language about abortion rights and echoed the rhetoric used to support the South Dakota ban. As Linda Greenhouse noted in the NY Times, the language of the decision was groundbreaking:

But never until Wednesday had the court held that an abortion procedure could be prohibited because the procedure itself, not the pregnancy, threatened a woman’s health — mental health, in this case, and moral health as well. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy suggested that a pregnant woman who chooses abortion falls away from true womanhood.

And then there’s news today, via Broadsheet, that a pharmacy in Montana refused to dispense the birth control pill to a local woman because they were trying to “protect” her health. Nevermind that the woman was 49, unable to conceive, and using the pill for medical purposes (I really don’t think that should matter, but it’s worth mentioning). According to Broadsheet:

When the woman called the pharmacy to inquire why the pills were being discontinued, the owners claimed that the pills are dangerous for women.

This from the same pharmacy that ran a Mother’s Day ad that included this language:

On this Mother’s Day 2007, we wish to express our gratitude to all mothers for their unselfishness in our behalf. As health-care professionals, we call upon the American people to once again reaffirm the right to life for future generations of the unborn and join with us in our efforts to restore respect, dignity and value to each human life — born or unborn.

Apparently, this pharmacy, under new ownership, has decided across the board to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions. Daddy state (or daddy pharmacist) apparently knows what’s best for his women clients. And now he’s got a Supreme Court decision to back him up. And, in keeping with the paternalistic, anti-woman slant underlying the decision of both the Court and the pharmacist, such decisions are ok. Because, dammit, if a woman is going to open her legs for sex, she better be willing to open them for labor.


A Haiku
May 31, 2007, 9:35 pm
Filed under: frivolity, me, NYC

A Haiku that will give you some insight into my current extracurricular activity:

Manhattan Island
Apartment Hunting Is A
Bummer in Summer.

Taking Spitzer to Task
May 30, 2007, 10:39 pm
Filed under: activism, civil rights, criminal justice, drug war, muzak, news, video

I’ve never fully understood why people get so angry when famous Hollywood stars throw their celebrity behind an important social issue. That’s probably because they’re usually championing progressive policies with which I agree (well, except for Patricia Heaton who makes my skin crawl). Why not cheer when people who are overpaid and often overhyped actually use their fame for positive ends?

Case in point: Rapper Jim Jones’s recently released single excoriating the drug war and putting pressure on NY Governor Elliot Spitzer to live up to his campaign promises and reform New York’s harsh Rockefeller drug laws. The song, “Lockdown,” which Jones wrote with the help of the Drug Policy Alliance for an upcoming documentary of the same name, highlights the racially imbalanced effects of the War on Drugs . And Jones isn’t coy. He’s released a music video:

And here’s what he has to say for Spitzer:

“This one goes out to the governor. Gov. Spitzer. Eliot Spitzer, you say you want to make change? Well, we waitin’ on it. Matter of fact, we’re dependin’ on it.”

The Rockefeller laws were first reformed in 2004 with the passage of NY’s Drug Law Reform Act, but those reforms, touted as groundbreaking, have meant little practically:

Prisoners sentenced under mandatory minimum Rockefeller drug laws now number more than 13,000, and an astonishing 91% of them are black or brown. The reforms enacted in 2004 have resulted in the release of only 300, leaving thousands of prisoners serving mid-level mandatory minimum sentences still in purgatory.

So Spitzer’s got to keep his promise and push for real change. If not, because of Jones’s song, a lot more people will be ready to take him to task.

Bad Bean
May 28, 2007, 11:10 pm
Filed under: frivolity, laziness, me

I keep promising more posts — at least daily — and I keep failing to deliver. Alas.

Here’s the scoop: I am working full time this summer. I can’t blog during the workday. I try to blog either in the early morning or late night hours, but I don’t always get to (sleep, the gym, a social life get in the way).

But I’ll make you a deal: I’ll continue to post as often as possible, though maybe not every day. And you keep reading, looking forward to the day later this summer when posting will resume at its breakneck pace. Mmmkay?

NYC Lowers Bar to Hold People Behind Bars
May 28, 2007, 11:08 pm
Filed under: civil rights, criminal justice, law, news, NYC

The NYC prison reform community has been up in arms for the last month or so over proposed changes to the city’s minimum standards for its jails. In April, the New York Board of Correction, supposedly the watchdog over prison conditions in the city and the manager of all of the city’s jail facilities, suggested changes to the requirements it sets for city jails. In addition to allowing the city to eavesdrop on telephone conversations between incarcerated men and women and their friends and families and to censor their mail, the new standards would allow for:

# More crowding: Open dormitory housing units would hold up to 20% more prisoners.
# More round-the-clock cell lock-in: Virtual solitary confinement-cell lock-in all day except for an hour for exercise and a shower-would be applied to prisoners who are removed from general population for their own protection or for administrative reasons. Prolonged cell confinement of this sort has been linked to prisoner suicides.
# Less assistance for Spanish-speaking prisoners: The amendments would repeal the requirement that the jails have sufficient Spanish-speaking staff to assist Hispanic prisoners, and would provide only that the Department of Correction must implement Aprocedures@ to ensure that they can understand communications from staff. There is no requirement or even hint as to what those procedures might be.
# Denial of personal clothing: The amendments would allow jail officials to require pre-trial detainees, in addition to sentenced prisoners, to wear uniforms, despite their having been convicted of nothing, and would deprive their families of the ability to provide them with clothing to protect them from the extremes of temperature often found in the jails. They would have to wear uniforms at all court appearances except actual trials, stigmatizing them before the court.

There are so many problems with these standards that it’s hard to know where to begin. New York Civil Liberties Union Director Donna Lieberman is on the right track:

“For the Board of Corrections to proceed down this path would do a fundamental disservice to prisoners and their families and would make all New Yorkers both less safe and less free,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director.

Why would these standards do a disservice? First, they would continue the degradation and humiliation of incarcerated women and men and perpetuate some of the problems that lead to recidivism. Second, it will violate the privacy rights of both incarcerated people and their families. Third, as Legal Aid noted in a recent press release, the new proposed standards allow the Board of Correction to deflect the proposed improvements to carcereal policy, including ending disability discrimination, providing G.E.D. education for incarcerees, and renewing a court order protecting incarcerated men and women from abusive searches.

The human rights of incarcerated men and women are not just an issue for those of us concerned with prison reform. It’s a women’s issue too. As Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Professors notes (quoting a report of the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project):

*As of January 2007, 2,859 women were incarcerated in New York’s prisons – 4.5% of the state’s total prison population of 63,215. An additional 26,600 were parole (about 3,100) and probation (roughly 23,500).
* From 1973 to 2007, the number of women in New York’s prisons increased by 645%.
* Almost 69% of the state’s female inmates are women of color: about 47% are African American, roughly 22% are Latina, and 30% are Caucasian.
* New York’s general public is 30% women of color and almost 69% Caucasian.
* 84% of women sent to New York State prison in 2006 were convicted of non-violent offenses.
* As of January 2007, 33% of New York’s female inmates were incarcerated for a drug offense. Almost 80% of women drug offenders were women of color.

The fact that we are expending energy fighting against proposed bad changes instead of in support of proposed positive steps is both frustrating and alarming. I keep wondering when we will realize that the U.S. is not the beacon of righteousness in the area of human rights that we claim to be. Certainly there have been wake up calls in recent years (hello Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo) and yet the U.S. still holds itself out to the world as a model. A little melodramatic? Maybe. But these days I’m not so sure rationality gets us anywhere.

If you want to do something, head over to petition online and sign the petition against the proposed changes.

Scratch the Surface of the UVVA

The UVVA. Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Laci & Conner’s Law. Sounds nice enough, right? We want to be able to punish people who commit violence against pregnant women, because we are concerned both about the heightened risks of violence against pregnant women and about doing as much as we can to ensure a healthy birth outcome.

If only it were that simple…UVVA’s, as many of you probably know, were imagined and implemented with a much more political and much more suspect purpose — to establish fetal personhood and support anti repro justice crusaders.

Want more evidence? Well, around the country, prosecutors have attempted to rely on UVVA’s to prosecute pregnant women for not ensuring a perfect birth outcome.

Last week, RH Reality Check’s Amie Newman took on the issue, in the context of Kansas’s new UVVA, which was signed into law by the state’s “pro-choice” governor, Kathleen Sebelius. And what’s funny about Kansas, and what makes the UVVA’s political purposes so blindingly clear, is that the state already had a law protecting pregnant women. Newman has more:

In fact, in Kansas, this law repeals statutes already on the books that criminalize injury inflicted upon a pregnant woman. Twelve years ago, Kansas enacted “Motherhood Protection” laws (K.S.A. 21-3440 and K.S.A. 21-3441) that, according to the reproductive justice advocacy organization ProKanDo, “recognize the particularly heinous nature of crimes against pregnant women by providing separate criminal charges for those who interrupt a pregnancy in the commission of a crime.” These laws were put into place over a decade ago as the result of anti-choice advocates who, at the time, desperately wanted a UVVA in Kansas. What they got instead were laws that heightened the consequences of intentionally harming pregnant women, recognizing the atrocious nature of this type of crime, without defining fetuses as full people.

Fast forward to 2007 when anti-choice advocates in Kansas were finally able to pass the full UVVA that mirrored their ideology while serving their political purposes. Kansas’ law, according to Julie Burkhardt, executive director of ProKanDo, “contains extreme language when talking about life beginning at fertilization or conception — similar to about fifteen other states’ UVV laws.” So what reason can there be for repealing legislation already in place that ensures that perpetrators of violence against pregnant women will be prosecuted uniquely for their crimes? And why did the law pass now — with a pro-choice Governor and five failed attempts in previous years? There may be many reasons; though none have anything to do with justice, protection or concern for the victims of violent crimes.

Some evidence that the UVVA is neither meant to really address violence against women nor effective at preventing such violence: as Newman notes, in none of the 30 states that have state UVVA laws has violence against pregnant women declined. Not only do the laws not help women, but they put women’s reproductive lives in to jeopardy:

Perhaps what is most disturbing about the steady stream of laws like these around the country is their insidiousness. Julie [Burkhardt, director of ProKanDo, a pro-choice political action committee in Kansas] says, “With this type of bill, anti-choice advocates are hitting the spectrum of women’s reproduction.” While many reproductive justice advocates have wondered for years how anti-choice activists could scream so loudly for the punishment of abortion providers while somehow absolving women who access the abortions, it is no longer a puzzle.

“There is a real disconnect — when people think of reproductive health we think about abortion because that’s the hot button issue. It drives voters. But it’s also good for everybody to look at laws like Kansas’ law – it doesn’t just hurt women who need abortions but hurts women who want to continue their pregnancies and be mothers,” Julie says. Women who get abortions are women who chose to become or are already mothers at different points in their lives. Laws like these punish women across the entire reproductive continuum.

So what next? When supposedly pro-choice governors are signing UVVAs into effect, can we really have hope that we can stop their passage? Well, I don’t know. And I’m not particularly optomistic, particularly since these laws appear to protect both women and fetuses, at least on their face. What will it take to get the message across about the perils of the UVVA? How many women will have to end up in jail and how many others will have to end up injured or worse?

From Zeus to Hammerheads
May 23, 2007, 10:49 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, frivolity, news, sexuality

The NY Times today ran what is bar none the most interesting article I’ve seen in a very very long time.

Turns out, that parthenogenic reproduction is not just the stuff of Greek myth. It actually happens! And not just in plants. In vertebrates too.

According to the Times, a female hammerhead shark recently gave birth to a baby shark that has no male DNA. How does such a thing happen? Well, it goes a little something like this:

the female shark’s own genetic material combined during the process of cell division that produces an egg. A cell called the secondary oocyte, which contains half the female chromosomes and normally becomes the egg, fused with another cell called the secondary polar body, which contains the identical genetic material.

Whoa. What’s funny to me about this is that there was recently a flurry of news about the possibility of parthenogenic reproduction in other animals.

What’s interesting to me is this: the first — or at least most famous — instance of parthenogenesis is the birth of Athena, fully formed, from Zeus’s head. Athena had no mother. Parthenogenesis, in Greek times, wrote women totally out of the picture. But today that equation is reversed. Now it is men’s role that parthenogensis threatens. If reproduction can take place without the contribution of men, might that make men obsolete?

And what, I wonder, would that mean for the raging debates around human sexuality today? If, sexually speaking, men were less important for reproduction than for sexual pleasure, might we lose some of our puritanism? It’s sci fi for now, but I can’t help but wonder….