a bird and a bottle

More on the Dems and Ab Only

The fabulous Ms. Lindsay Beyerstein has taken a new job as a reporter for In These Times. Her first piece, up today, takes on the Democrats and their recent support for abstinence only funding. What do the Dems have to give up, she wonders, in order to secure the success of some of their other priorities? Here’s a snippet:

Even opponents of abstinence-only education might concede that a few extra million for abstinence education is a small price to pay for easing the passage of a very important domestic spending bill that contains a lot of spending that’s important to Democrats.

Yet, principle is at stake here. Few people realize that the CBAE program promulgates out-and-out quackery and barely disguised religious dogma. These programs don’t just encourage students to remain abstinent as teenagers. By law, they are required to teach “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity,” among many other stipulations. In other words, the program must teach that all sexual activity outside of marriage, even between consenting adults, violates some nebulous “expected standard.”

Go check out the whole thing here.


Wait – Do Elections Have Consequences?

The mantra in the six weeks or so since the Supreme Court handed down its truly awful decision in Gonzaels v. Carhart has been that elections have consequences. After Gonzales, that phrase was used to wag fingers at all of those supposed social liberals who voted for Bush. The phrase has also been used to rub Republicans’ faces in the new Democratic congressional gains.

However it’s been used before, I am feeling today like it’s a bit of a silly phrase, lacking meaning. Why? Because a Democratic Congressman, David Obey of Wisconsin, is pushing for an increase in funding for abstinence only programs. Obey, who is part of the Democratic House leadership and the head of the House Appropriations Committee, is supporting an increase in Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) funding by $27 million — up to $150 million. CBAE is one of the many abstinence only programs that has been proven to be both ineffective and filled with lies. And yet, a Democratic leader in the House is throwing bad money after bad money in support of abstinence only programs.

I’m sure this is a political move on Obey’s part to placate some of te more conservative members of his home state. I get that politics is a game. But Obey shouldn’t roll the dice when young people’s lives are on the line.

SIECUS has an action alert. Got tell Pelosi and Obey what you think.

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?

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 Nutmeg State Does Right by Women

It’s ridiculous that this law was (and is) considered “controversial.”

Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell today signed a bill that will require all licensed health care facilities to provide emergency contraception (EC) to victims of rape and other sexual assaults. The law, which will go into effect on October 1st of this year, mandates that healthcare providers offer accurate and objective information about EC and that they provide the drug upon request to any woman who has been assaulted.

Sounds good, right? Women who have been raped or sexually assaulted should not have to carry the child of their attacker against their will. Seems like common sense. Or simple human decency. Especially in a state where up to 40% of sexual assault victims report that they were not offered the drug.

But of course it’s not that simple. The Ms. Feminist Wire explains why:

Out of the state’s 31 hospitals, only the four Catholic hospitals objected to the bill. In order to appease concerns by Catholics who oppose distribution of contraception, the bill allows a third-party provider, such as a rape crisis nurse, to dispense the medicine. Catholic officials, however, are not satisfied with the provision; Archbishop Henry J. Mansell still objects to the distribution of EC on hospital grounds, the Hartford Courant reports.

The reason the church objects? Because, though the law requires a totally superfluous pregnancy test (since EC will not affect an already existing pregnancy), it does not mandate an ovulation test, which Catholic hospitals in the state currently require before dispensing EC.

I really can’t believe we’re still fighting about this. I can’t believe that the science has been twisted so far and that women are hated so much that we would deny rape victims a pill that could — if offered promptly — help prevent an unwanted pregnancy. But I should expect this at this point…it’s just another example of the ironically pro-abortion “pro-life” agenda. Culture of life my ass.

(Also at Feministe)

Veto Crazy

After waiting five years to exercise his first veto, President Bush is going veto crazy. Continuing in the backwards tradition of his first veto (of the stem cell bill), the President seems to only pick up his veto pen for laws that might actually do some good. Of course, there’s his veto the other day of the war spending bill. But that’s not it.

Cases in point: two current veto threats.

The first is Bush’s threatened (promised?) veto of the new hate crimes legislation. The bill would expand federal hate crimes protection to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. It’s headed for approval in Congress. But Bush has already got the cap off of his veto pen. Why, you might ask, would the President veto so common sense a bill? Here’s the reasoning:

The statement said state and local laws already covered the violence addressed in the legislation. “There has been no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement,” the administration said.

It’s laughable, really. Apparently, this administration felt that abortion regulation — with the exception of its basic foundation, something generally left to the states — needed to be federalized. But providing added protection to citizens who are often part of “discrete and insular minorities”? Not so much.

Anyway. This brings me to veto #2. According to today’s NY Times, Bush has “warned’ of a veto over any legislation that would allow federal funding for “the destruction of human life.” Why the veto warning now? Because Congress is thinking about repealing the global gag rule, therefore allowing US funding of international organizations that discuss or provide abortions and ending US promotion of abstinence-or-die.

Of course, a White House mouthpiece said that this is not about veto power but about the president standing firmly behind his beliefs. Apparently the president’s conviction for protecting life ends at birth — at least if one is a woman, has a chronic illness like MS, is gay, or is trans. Excuse me while I go scratch out my eyes at the irony of all of this.

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.