a bird and a bottle

Still Not An Endoresment…

I know you’re all waiting with baited breath, but I still haven’t decided whom – if anyone – to “endorse” going into the Democratic primary. It’s still early. I might. But not yet.

That said, damn Obama’s rhetoric works for me.

Andrew Sullivan’s got the full text of Obama’s recent speech (which Sullivan somewhat derisively though perhaps somewhat accurately calls a sermon) at Hampton University. Obama used the story of the shooting of a pregnant woman (in white, natch) during which the bullet lodged in the arm of the woman’s fetus. The fetus survives but has scar as a reminder.

The story makes my skin crawl a little. But what he does with it is damn good. There’s this:

And so God is asking us today to remember that miracle of that baby. And He is asking us to take that bullet out once more.

If we have more black men in prison than are in our colleges and universities, then it’s time to take the bullet out. If we have millions of people going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma; it’s time to take the bullet out. If too many of our kids don’t have health insurance; it’s time to take the bullet out. If we keep sending our kids to dilapidated school buildings, if we keep fighting this war in Iraq, a war that never should have been authorized and waged, a war that’s costing us $275 million dollars a day and a war that is taking too many innocent lives — if we have all these challenges and nothing’s changing, then every minister in America needs to come together — form our own surgery teams — and take the bullets out.

And this:

If we want to stop the cycle of poverty, then we need to start with our families.

We need to start supporting parents with young children. There is a pioneering Nurse-Family Partnership program right now that offers home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income mothers and mothers-to-be. They learn how to care for themselves before the baby is born and what to do after. It’s common sense to reach out to a young mother. Teach her about changing the baby. Help her understand what all that crying means, and when to get vaccines and check-ups.

This program saves money. It raises healthy babies and creates better parents. It reduced childhood injuries and unintended pregnancies, increased father involvement and women’s employment, reduced use of welfare and food stamps, and increased children’s school readiness. And it produced more than $28,000 in net savings for every high-risk family enrolled in the program.

This works and I will expand the Nurse-Family Partnership to provide at-home nurse visits for up to 570,000 first-time mothers each year. We can do this. Our God is big enough for that.

So he hits my two pet issues in a single speech: first, the country’s unconscionable jailing of hundreds of thousands of mostly poor and mostly black men and women; and second, the empty rhetoric of the American “pro-life” movement and what an America that really supports families would look like. And he gets both issues right.

Sullivan calls Obama a compassionate conservative — made in the model that Bush supposedly was. I don’t buy that. It aggrandizes Bush and ties Obama to his sinking ship at the same time. It’s also patently false. Obama’s speech rings more of the Democratic Great Society era than of early 21st century compassionate conservatism.

At root, it doesn’t really matter how we label Obama’s speech. The bottom line is that he’s talking about important issues, connecting faith to progressivism, and doing what’s even more improbable — inspiring this cynical blogger.


Connecting the Dots

Two unpleasant news items today: first, via Feministing, I learn that pregnancy discrimination is up. Then I head over to the NY Times and bump head-on into an article about the antis’ increasing reliance on the argument that abortion should be banned because it is bad for women.

And then it struck me: these two news developments are inextricably related.

Here’s what I mean: pregnancy discrimination is up because there is little government mandate not to discriminate against pregnant women. Sure, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act says that where Title VII applies (larger employers, usually), employers cannot discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, but that leaves a whole lot that’s not covered (smaller employers, cases where it’s not discrimination but requests for extra benefits related to pregnancy). The slight nod of acceptance regarding pregnancy discrimination — it’s still not considered unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy even if it is against federal law — links directly into the thinking underlying the Times article: women are not rational actors when their fertility is concerned, and pregnancy is the prime example of that.

In the case of the anti-abortion rhetoric, the thinking goes that women who are pregnant and who are considering abortions cannot fully understand the consequences of their actions for their own mental health or for their families (when the Supreme Court accepted this argument in its recent Gonzales v. Carhart decision, I threw up a little in my mouth). If the Supreme Court’s decision is any indication, that way of thinking, in all its condescending and backwards glory, seems to be gaining adherents. And it’s fed into by the pervasive notion in American culture that pregnant women are somehow less human…less intelligent, less able to make decisions. Why, if that’s the case, then it all but makes sense to discriminate against them at work!

See what I mean about those dots being connected?

The good news? Accessible Abortion. The Bad News? It’s in Mexico.

mexico abortion

(translation: (1) Bush, like the pope, is against abortion. (2) Yes, he prefers that they become adults and that they have the opportunity to die killing in Iraq).

Anyone in desperate need of some good news on the women’s health front? Yeah, me too.

Well, here it is: Mexico City today legalized abortion. And by a landslide — the vote in the city council was 49-16!

Here are the details, via the NY Times:

The new law will require city hospitals to provide the procedure in the first trimester and opens the way for private abortion clinics. Girls under 18 would have to get their parents’ consent.

The procedure will be almost free for poor or insured city residents, but is unlikely to attract patients from the United States, where later-term abortion is legal in many states. Under the Mexico City law, abortion after 12 weeks would be punished by three to six months in jail.

OK – so it’s not a perfect law (the parental consent provision is strict and 12 weeks is fairly early). But it’s pretty damn good, and the city should be commended not only for taking a stand in a country where abortion is generally proscribed, but also – and perhaps more importantly – making that stand more than symboling by requiring that the procedure be provided free to poor women. If the “pro-lifers” here were really concerned about life, and about respecting fetal life for that matter, they would take similar steps and push for both birth control and much greater access to abortion.

So, kudos to Mexico City. And thank you, Mexico City, for some badly needed good news.

Free Speech, Dialogues, & Performance

Sometimes I’m shocked by what people do in the name of religion. Yes, yes, the violence, of course, is the first thing that comes to mind. But really, what surprises and appalls me are the more mundane things. The daily acts of supposed piety that require the denigration of someone else. I’m not knocking all religion (please, trolls, do not accuse me of that). What I am knocking is religion that requires one person to hurt another — physically or emotionally — as act of religious observance.

Not sure what I mean? Here’s an example. KMZ just sent me the video embedded below. It’s from the actor/monologist/author Mike Daisey‘s Friday night performance of Invincible Summer, his monologue currently running at the American Repertory Theater here in NYC. On Friday, Daisey was performing one of his extemporaneous monologues to a sold-out crowd. Until, in the middle of a sentence, all of a sudden, eighty seven members of a Christian group got up en masse and walked out. In the middle of the show. One man stopped and poured water all over Daisey’s handwritten outline for the show, an original and irreplaceable document.

Daisey, understandably, was shaken and reeling. He wrote on his blog:

I’m still dealing with all the ramifications, but here’s what it felt like from my end: I am performing the show to a packed house, when suddenly the lights start coming up in the house as a flood of people start walking down the aisles–they looked like a flock of birds who’d been startled, the way they all moved so quickly, and at the same moment…it was shocking, to see them surging down the aisles. The show halted as they fled, and at this moment a member of their group strode up to the table, stood looking down on me and poured water all over the outline, drenching everything in a kind of anti-baptism.

I sat behind the table, looking up in his face with shock. My job onstage is to be as open as possible, to weave the show without a script as it comes, and this leaves me very emotionally available–and vulnerable, if an audience chooses to abuse that trust. I doubt I will ever forget the look in his face as he defaced the only original of the handwritten show outline–it was a look of hatred, and disgust, and utter and consuming pride.

It is a face I have seen in Riefenstahl’s work, and in my dreams, but never on another human face, never an arm’s length from me–never directed at me, hating me, hating my words and the story that I’ve chosen to tell. That face is not Christian, by any definition Christ would be proud to call his own–its naked righteousness and contempt have nothing to do with the godhead, and everything to do with pathetic human pride at its very worst.

And it wounded me in my heart, because I trusted these people. Scared parents and scared teachers running from a theater because words might hurt them, and so consumed by fear that they have to lash out at the work, literally break it apart, drown it.

[…]But they are not simply fools and idiots–I saw them. They are young and old, they are teachers and students, they are each and every one of us. We are the same family, even if it hurts. The hard truth is that you reap what you sow, and I will not sow hatred and discontent–I refuse. I will not forget what that man, older than I am today, did to my work. I will not forget the cowed silence of those who left. I will not forget their judgment and their arrogance–but I will not hate.

Daisey’s experience, and his reaction to it, included in the video below (which is 9 minutes, but well worth watching in full) is a reminder that religious extremism takes many forms, and is both big/political and small/personal.

From the People Who Brought You Tax Cuts…

Today’s hypocrites of the day are…right wing anti-choicers.

Why? Well, for many reasons, but for one central one today.

Which is this: the wingnuts — the same people who supposedly care oh so much about child health — actually don’t. They care about how good being pro-“life” and pro-child sounds, but not actually about children and families.

Case in point: Mississippi. In Mississippi, where there is 1 abortion clinic in the whole state, and where the governor rode to power on promises of cutting funding for medicaid, infant mortality is on the rise. As the NY Times reported today, the infant mortality rate in Mississippi in 2005 was 11.4 (per thousand births) as compared to a national average of 6.9 and the previous years 9.7. When separated by race, the numbers are even starker: 17 deaths per thousand among Mississippi’s Blacks; around 6 among Whites.

Certainly, many factors can be said to contribute to this rise: obesity and other health problems of the mother being the most obvious. But the most central reason that infant mortality is on the rise in Mississippi and around the south is because medicaid cuts have made it exceedingly difficult for poor women to secure prenatal care.

The Times explains:

[S]ocial workers say that the motivation of poor women is not so simply described, and it can be affected by cuts in social programs and a dearth of transportation as well as low self esteem.

“If you didn’t have a car and had to go 60 miles to see a doctor, would you go very often?” said Ramona Beardain, director of Delta Health Partners. The group runs a federally financed program, Healthy Start, that sends social workers and nurses to counsel pregnant teenagers and new mothers in seven counties of the Delta. “If they’re in school they miss the day; if they’re working they don’t get paid,” Ms. Beardain said.

It’s not only the issue of transportation; in the last few years, changes in Medicaid requirements have made it much more onerous to enroll (and stay enrolled) — a ploy to get people off the state rolls at the expense of their health and that of their children.

In 2004, Gov. Haley Barbour came to office promising not to raise taxes and to cut Medicaid. Face-to-face meetings were required for annual re-enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP, the children’s health insurance program; locations and hours for enrollment changed, and documentation requirements became more stringent.

As a result, the number of non-elderly people, mainly children, covered by the Medicaid and CHIP programs declined by 54,000 in the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years. According to the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program in Jackson, some eligible pregnant women were deterred by the new procedures from enrolling.

One former Medicaid official, Maria Morris, who resigned last year as head of an office that informed the public about eligibility, said that under the Barbour administration, her program was severely curtailed.

“The philosophy was to reduce the rolls and our activities were contrary to that policy,” she said.

The result? fewer women receiving medicaid, more dead babies. Many people — even those who accept the anti-reproductive justice rhetoric — can see that this is bad policy:

Oleta Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund, said: “When you see drops in the welfare rolls, when you see drops in Medicaid and children’s insurance, you see a recipe for disaster. Somebody’s not eating, somebody’s not going to the doctor and unborn children suffer.”

But not Governor Haley Barbour, who spearheaded these changes, and who had this to say about his stance on abortion:

[I support] Protecting the rights of the unborn. I am pro-life. I have been a national spokesman on this issue and will continue to be an advocate for policies which promote the sanctity of human life.

Yep, he supports policies that protect “the sanctity of human life” alright. But only, that is, until a child is born.

Blogs on the Ban – Link Round-up

In addition to Lynn’s article, to which I linked below, I wanted to direct your attention to some other great commentaries about the abortion ban from around the blogosphere:

Law prof Jack Balkin makes it clear (as if it weren’t already) why this matters: It’s the informed consent, stupid.

Lynn Harris of Salon also thinks through the implications of the decision in her recap.

Terrance at The Republic of T (via Jill) talks about what it means to be able to choose whether or not to terminate a second trimester pregnancy, and reminds us about the ramifications when choices are taken away from women.

Feminist Law Prof David S. Cohen reminds us who really gets hurt in all this — poor women.

belledame’s got the newest Carnival of the Feminists in 3 parts, and of course pulls together many posts about yesterday’s decision.

[edited] former Planned Parenthood chief Gloria Feldt unleashes her wisdom at WIMN’s voices, explaining why Gonzales is a Partial Truth Decision.

More of my own analysis to come…when I finish my evidence outline.

Another Strong Rebuke to Kennedy & Cronies

The amazing Lynn Paltrow (a mentor and friend of mine), founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, has cranked out a strong rebuke to the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday. It’s up at The American Prospect. Here’s an except. But go read it all.

And yet the Bush administration is actively supporting policies to limit poor children’s access to state child health insurance programs. In short, the Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart — and Bush’s professed support for it — reinforces the sense, once again, that only the unborn deserve protection in this country. Not by ensuring universal health care, paid maternity leave, or an end to workplace pregnancy discrimination — only by restricting pregnant women’s access to health care.