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Dear Conservative Christian Leaders: Why Are You Silent about Rape?

6:30 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Dear Conservative Christian Leaders:

According to the Pew Foundation, the majority of Americans are members of your churches and look to you for spiritual and moral guidance. I am writing because you have been stunningly and tellingly silent on one of the most pressing moral and social issues we face today: rape. At least twice in the past three months, you have had occasion to speak out about the issue of rape, and you willfully cast those opportunities aside.

Stop Rape

Stop Rape

 

The most recent example is the press conference/prayer service that six pastors from your ranks held in Steubenville just two days before the trial of two young men accused of raping an unconscious teenage girl. You cited as the reason for calling your prayer service a desire to end the “discord” that was tearing the town apart. You could have moved the town closer to resolving the conflict by using the moral authority you wield in that community to clarify that inserting anything into the body of an unconscious person is rape. You could have used the occasion to denounce sexual assault in more general terms. Instead, you prayed for mercy for “the alleged victim, the alleged perpetrators of the crime and all those who may have somewhat contributed to it” and urged the town to engage in “amelioration.” Your plea for unity and peace sounded an awful lot like, “Sit down, shut up, and stop talking about rape.”

A more global example is what happened this past Christmas. The world’s attention, prayers, and good wishes were focused on the New Delhi rape victim. As the Pope gave his Christmas sermon, the victim hovered between life and death. But rather than use his time at the world-wide microphone to condemn rape or even to pray for the victim’s recovery, he used the festive occasion to rail against homosexuality.

The problem does not seem to be that you feel shy or squeamish talking about sex. You have talked in exhausting depth about a long list of what you see as America’s sexual sins—everything from pornography to gay marriage. You have written entire series of books telling women how to be pure and other books, such as Every Man’s Battle, instructing men on how to keep themselves from lustful thoughts. And on the other side of the equation, there are countless Christian sex manuals that tell married couples in very explicit detail how to have a mutually satisfying sex life.

Yet, in the thousands of church services that I have attended, in the countless hours of Christian radio I have listened to, and in the hundreds of books I have read by Christian authors, not a single one has exhorted the faithful not to rape. I conducted dozens of Google and Yahoo searches and was unable to find a single instance in which a conservative Christian leader has advocated publicly for consent in sexual interactions.

My second year in Bible College I was intrigued by why no one spoke about rape—not in our ethics classes, not in chapel sermons, and not in the churches we visited. I began asking pastors and professors why they were silent on the subject. I continue to ask that question of the many pastors and priests whom I meet as a researcher. Consistently, I get a variation on one of two answers.

The first answer is usually delivered in a very defensive tone. I am told that you do not need to preach about rape for the same reason that you do not preach against robbing banks. It is self-evidently wrong, and nobody in your congregation would do such a thing.

The idea that all rape is self-evidently wrong is belied by the fact that a significant percentage of Americans do not even believe that penetrating unconscious woman is rape. And the notion that no one in your congregation would do such a thing is equally and obviously false. Google the words rape and Evangelical, or rape and Catholic, and you will discover that not only are many of your flock committing rape, but a significant number of your pastors and priests are committing the crime as well.
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Disability, Prenatal Testing and the Case for a Moral, Compassionate Abortion

11:18 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Vyckie Garrison for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

by Sierra @No Longer Quivering

Note: If the headline didn’t already clue you in, this is controversial subject matter. If you come away from this article thinking that I advocate genocide of a disabled population or the coercion of women pregnant with disabled fetuses into abortion, that I hate disabled people or think that Down syndrome people don’t deserve to live, you have failed to understand my point. Please walk away from the computer, breathe deeply, and start again from the beginning.

I believe that it is possible and desirable to respect disabled people while still working to eliminate genetic disorders so that children who might have had Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis (or any other disease) have a chance to be born without them. I believe that abortion of a disabled fetus can be a compassionate choice made for morally sound reasons, and does not at all conflict with the respect due to disabled people. I am firmly pro-choice, and I believe strongly that the wellbeing of all born persons in a family is paramount before considering the needs of a fetus. My position is that fetuses are incapable of being self-aware and therefore cannot experience suffering the way born persons do. The prevention of suffering is central to my moral beliefs.

If you’re already angry, please stop reading and go get yourself a nice cappuccino. Have a beautiful day. And then, if you still really want to read this, take frequent breaks to punch a pillow with a "hello, my name is Sierra" badge stuck to it.

Her.meneutics, the "for women" arm of Christianity Today, recently ran an article by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra on prenatal testing:

What You Need to Know About the Hidden Benefits (and Costs) of New Prenatal Tests

Apparently, science can do something awesome: tell you the genome of your fetus within the second trimester:

Using a blood sample from the mother and saliva from the father, scientists at the University of Washington mapped out the entire genome of a child while he was in the womb. The discovery, which was published June 6 in Science Translational Medicine, makes it possible to spot disorders from sickle cell disease to cystic fibrosis to Down syndrome in the second trimester of pregnancy.

Best of all, at least for those of us who shiver at the thought of an amniocentesis, is that it’s noninvasive.

About 10 percent of the free-floating in a mother’s blood belongs to her baby, and by comparing her blood with her own and the father’s DNA, scientists can pinpoint which DNA belongs to the baby. From there, they can sequence the child’s entire DNA code. Or at least, they can get pretty close. Their accuracy rate was about 98 percent in the infant boy they tested.

Zylstra says that, "at first blush," this information looks "incredible." Yes, it does. Because it is. This kind of technology gives us more control over our own reproduction, which means that we’re better able to make ethical decisions about our parenting. As Zylstra points out, parents who are expecting a special needs child can prepare in advance for what that means.

But there’s a catch, says Zylstra:

You can be emotionally prepared for his birth. You could choose a C-section if that was warranted, or line up services for him, or join a support group.Or abort him.That’s the rub, said Gene Rudd, president of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.

It’s hard to imagine this test wouldn’t be the instigation of selective abortions, since many women with prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome currently abort, he said. "It’s search and destroy that we do that now with Downs," he said. "And to what benefit do we do that? If we look at the statistics or surveys that come from families that have raised a Downs individual, 97 percent said it was rewarding."

It’s a life worth living, and many see that, says Amy Julia Becker, who has written extensively about her daughter with Down syndrome. Heart conditions and respiratory troubles often suffered by those with Down syndrome can be treated, life expectancy has risen from 25 to 60, and by all accounts, raising a son or daughter with Down syndrome can be a wonderful gift. The numbers are tricky, but Becker says that about 70 percent of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.

"Ultimately, the problem is that we have a society that says it’s okay to kill unborn babies," Rudd told me. "If that weren’t permissible, this information wouldn’t be misused." Prenatal testing in a country with legal abortion lets parents decide if that child is "good enough" to live, he said. But as imperfect, capricious, sinful beings, how do we figure we’re smart enough, or good enough, to judge anybody else’s shot at life?

"Who are we to say that cystic fibrosis is such an overwhelmingly terrible disease that they shouldn’t be allowed to live?" Rudd said. "Do we say that about a one-year-old who is diagnosed? What’s different about a younger child?"

There are a lot of pieces to this pie, so I’m going to address them problem-by-problem. Ready? Here we go. This article:

  1. Fetishizes disability.
  2. Dehumanizes children.
  3. Downplays economic concerns and long-term viability.
  4. Minimizes the suffering of children and caregivers.
  5. Is logically inconsistent.
  6. Conflates fetuses with born children, and therefore
  7. Devalues labor, delivery and motherhood.
Before we go any farther, here is my main point:
 
Having an abortion to prevent a child from being born with Down syndrome or another disability can be a positive moral choice. Okay, now let’s go on (assuming you’re not already plotting my demise).
 
1. Fetishizing disability
 
The disability rights movement is hugely important and I support it. It’s especially vital for individuals with mental illnesses, who are often judged as "not really disabled" because there’s nothing visibly wrong with them. Disabled people have a long history of being medically abused, used as test subjects without consent, being abandoned or forced to live in squalor, and being generally reviled, disrespected and treated like freaks. We need a movement to rectify that and prevent it from ever happening again. I’m glad we have one.
 
Now. Here’s where I depart from Zylstra and other activists.
 

Respecting the rights of disabled people does not mean honoring or celebrating disability itself. Apart from the perspective and political activism that many disabled people have found via their experiences as a discriminated-against class, I’d wager most people who are disabled would rather not be. Just like poor people value their wisdom but would really rather not be poor. I’ve been a poor kid. I’m still pretty poor. I’ve learned a hell of a lot about empathy from being poor. But would I choose to be poor? No. Would I want others to be poor kids? No. Would I jump at the chance to end poverty once and for all? Yes! I want people to listen to what I’ve learned, but I don’t want them all to have to learn it the hard way, like I did. I would wager that at least some disabled people feel the same.

When you argue that children with Down syndrome are "special gifts" or that raising them is a "rewarding experience" for parents, you are appropriating their difficulties and fetishizing their difference. That is the opposite of respecting a disabled person. I get that who we are is shaped by experience and that many disabled people consider disability to be integral to their personalities — just as I see poverty as a formative experience for me — but I doubt they would have chosen to be disabled in the first place. Would they have voluntarily given up able bodies for the wisdom earned from being disabled? Would they refuse treatment, if it were available? Would they choose to suffer disabilities just so that their parents could have the "reward" and "special gift" of raising them?

Amy Julia Becker of Thin Places writes:

I hate the thought that there will be fewer people with Down syndrome in the world as a result of advances in prenatal testing. As I’ve written before, it impoverishes us all when we selectively abort babies based upon particular characteristics (gender, for instance, in China and India… disabilities here in America).

I understand this argument. I do. I get how parents of Downs children learn from their experiences and love their children fiercely and imagine how empty and cold the world would be without children like theirs. But this line of reasoning makes me profoundly uncomfortable. By all means, love your child! By all means, share your hard-earned wisdom! But to wish for Down syndrome to never go away? to never be cured? Why would you wish that?

I can’t help but think that it’s not about the children’s quality of life (wouldn’t you choose a life for your child that didn’t include Downs, if you could?) but about the parents’ inability to distinguish between their love for their kids and the condition from which their kids suffer. By all means, celebrate your child and his or her wonderful uniqueness! (I say this without irony.) But don’t reduce your child to the mere fact of having Downs, as though having Downs makes them a kind of endangered species and that Down syndrome must continue forever because kids like yours would never exist again without it. Your child would be special, you would have that bond, with or without Downs.

Wanting to eradicate a condition that causes suffering or dependence in a population is not the same as wanting that population to die. Imagine for a moment that we’re not talking about abortion. If it were possible to "cure" Down syndrome prenatally, preserving the same fetus, would you deny your child the treatment because you’d hate to see fewer Down syndrome children in the world?

Which brings me to #2.

2. Dehumanizing children

Focusing on the "rewards" to parents of raising a special needs child means privileging parents’ personal growth over the best interests of their potential child.  If parents choose to bring into this world a child that cannot be reasonably expected to care for himself as an adult, they are gambling with their child’s future. Who will care for him or her when the parents are gone? Do they have the resources to provide for their child’s medical needs? Do they have other children who would be neglected because of their parents’ intense focus on caring for the special needs child?

Now, I understand that many, many Downs people are able to function in the world without immediate care, but others can’t. I think it’s awfully brazen and selfish not to consider one’s potential child’s quality of life for the entire duration of that child’s life before deciding what to do. I think it’s necessary to ask tough questions of yourself, to honestly answer the question of whether or not you can provide that child with everything he or she will need for life.

Special needs children aren’t high-maintenance pets that exist to teach you lessons about fortitude and compassion. They are people. And it’s because a special needs fetus will become a person at birth that abortion should be on the table. Responsible, moral reproductive choices involve doing the hard math and yes, making decisions to either give your child the best possible long, independent life or to terminate the pregnancy early if you know you can’t.

Clinging to a soundbyte belief system that makes your decisions for you ("Abortion is murder!") or abdicating responsibility ("God will provide as long as I don’t get an abortion!") means shirking your fundamental duty as a parent: to make decisions with your child’s best interests at heart until your child can do so herself. That responsibility may lead you to give birth to and raise a disabled child — and more power to you! — as long as you’re doing it with your eyes open and taking every possible precaution to make sure you can deliver on the promise of care you are making your newborn child. But it may also mean having an abortion.

It intrigues me that religious people, the ones who are the first to point out the flaws and fallen nature of the world, are the last to acknowledge the result: that horrible things happen, and those situations require hard decisions. Birth defects and excruciating diseases happen. To refuse to act to minimize suffering (indeed, to prevent it) is at best selfish and at worst abusive. To pretend that there is always a perfect answer to a problem in this imperfect world is to effectively close your eyes and live in your own imagination.

3. Classism

Not every family can afford the medical care of a special needs child. Not every family can afford the time spent caring for a special needs child, especially if they already have multiple children. To demand that families that know they lack these resources nonetheless give up everything to bring a child into a world where it will be neglected, inadequately treated by doctors, and in all likelihood end up in foster care or, as an adult, homeless, is cruelly insane. To focus on mere "life" to the exclusion of the quality thereof is not just stupid, it’s evil. It is deliberately inflicting suffering on others to soothe your own conscience.

And in case you’re wondering, the cost of a lifetime of care for a Down syndrome child has been recently estimated at 2.9 million dollars.

(Though, given that the estimate was made in the context of a lawsuit, it’s probably a little on the high side.)

4. Minimizing the Needs of Others

Parents and caregivers are people, too. They do not forfeit their own needs when they have children; indeed, doing so is actually harmful to children. Recall the many times I’ve said that having a stay-at-home mother made me feel hopeless and guilty about becoming a woman. I was put in the impossible position of either following in her footsteps, thereby ensuring that every female in our line would do nothing but sacrifice for her children and never get to have her own dreams, or not following in her footsteps and feeling guilty that I was (a) rejecting her by rejecting her lifestyle and (b) doing my own potential children some kind of injustice, even though I didn’t want my children facing the quandary I was! I wished my mother had more of a life outside of raising me, because then I would be freer to have a life, too.

If parents choose to welcome a special needs child into their family, they must consider how it will affect not only that child, but also themselves and their other children. They must make room for breaks and self-care to preserve their own health, mental and physical. In my own church, there was a woman with two children who got pregnant and found out her child had a fatal defect. She decided against having an abortion, believing that God would honor her and heal her child (or at least provide for it). The child lived 13 years in unspeakable pain, without cognition, undergoing surgery after surgery until she died — and by this time the family had exhausted its resources, the other two children had been practically abandoned. The mother had worked herself to the bone, endured a failed promise from God, and had to mourn the child all over again at the end of it all. That child was not a "blessing." It was not a "rewarding" experience — though the mother might tell you so out of sheer love and the need to justify her situation. The child’s birth destroyed her family, and she was never even aware enough of her own existence to realize she was loved. How is that the hand of God?

5. Logical Inconsistency

First, we get the argument that raising a special needs child is a blessing:

[Says Rudd:] "If we look at the statistics or surveys that come from families that have raised a Downs individual, 97 percent said it was rewarding."

That is abhorrent abuse of statistics. First, your entire sample (people who have chosen not to abort) is already biased toward the belief that what they’re doing is rewarding. Where are the surveys for women who chose to abort Downs fetuses? You’re comparing this 97 percent to an empty page. They might say that their abortion was a blessing, but you can’t print that, can you? Not on a Christian blog.

Second, the parenting discourse in Western culture is so punitive that parents of "typical" children aren’t even free to express that they dislike the drudgery of parenting without being accused of being sociopaths and hating their kids. That’s why such statements as "I hate being a mom" show up anonymously on Secret Confessions and have been called the Greatest American Taboo. How much more pressure is there on parents of special needs kids never to admit that they wish they weren’t?

Then, we get this:

"Who are we to say that cystic fibrosis is such an overwhelmingly terrible disease that they shouldn’t be allowed to live?" Rudd said. "Do we say that about a one-year-old who is diagnosed? What’s different about a younger child?"

Little is different about a younger child. Everything is different about a fetus. A fetus does not have cognition. A fetus lives inside a woman’s body. A fetus has never drawn a breath. A fetus has not lived a life to miss. Those are significant differences.

Also, when did we go from talking about the relative independence of some Downs individuals to the horrible suffering inflicted by cystic fibrosis? Read this description and see if you think it’s an apt comparison: 

Cystic fibrosis is a disease passed down through families that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract, and other areas of the body. It is one of the most common chronic lung diseases in children and young adults. It is a life-threatening disorder. Lung disease eventually worsens to the point where the person is disabled. Today, the average life span for people with CF who live to adulthood is approximately 37 years, a dramatic increase over the last three decades. Death is usually caused by lung complications.

Would you utter a sentence like this?: I hate the thought that there will be fewer people with cystic fibrosis in the world as a result of advances in prenatal testing. Would you tell parents how "rewarding" it is to raise a child with cystic fibrosis? Who are we to say that the disease is overwhelmingly terrible? Rudd asks. Well, here’s who we are: Caring parents. Compassionate, educated doctors. People who don’t want to inflict unnecessary suffering by bringing a not-yet-conscious fetus into the world to experience a waking nightmare and die, choking or suffocating, at half the normal life expectancy. That’s who.

There’s also the little problem that the article jumps back and forth between arguing about the intrinsic worth of life and the rewards of being a caregiver. These two competing perspectives make the argument hard to follow.

6 + 7. Erasing Motherhood

It’s a common trope of the pro-life movement that "a moment before birth" a fetus is a baby, and therefore abortion is the same as infanticide. This is not only scientifically inaccurate, it’s misogynistic. It erases the woman, her wellbeing, and her labor from the entire equation. Childbirth is momentous. It matters. It is not just a legal flagpole where personhood is arbitrarily assigned. It is the moment at which a child begins to occupy the world as an independent being.

It is also a moment made possible by the bodily work (pain, sweat, blood and tears) of a woman. If we grew children in plastic incubators with green fluid and Classical music playing gently in the background, then the "moment before birth" comparison might be apt. But it isn’t, because children live in their own bodies, and fetuses live in their mothers’. While that fetus is in its mother’s body, she does have sovereignty over the decision whether or not to bring the child into the world. That is her sacred right as a mother. It is her sacred right as a woman not to have her body violated against her will — be it by another adult, a child or a fetus. Alone, a fetus cannot be brought into the world to become a baby. Therefore, you can’t talk about a fetus as though it exists without regard for the woman upon whom its existence depends. To alienate the pregnant woman from a discussion about pregnancy is like having a conversation about the weather on an asteroid.

Zylstra concludes her article:

It’s not that the test is bad. To be able to map a child’s DNA while they’re still in the womb is fascinating. But so is the fact that many mothers believe that it would be worse to live in an imperfect body than not to live at all.

There’s a huge problem here. Cystic fibrosis is a serious disease. Downs syndrome can be serious. Genetic diseases can leave children’s independence stalled, their mobility hampered, their bodies aching, their minds wracked with torturous bouts of depression and anger, their futures uncertain and their families stressed to the breaking point. This isn’t about perfect and imperfect bodies. This is not the difference between passing on genes correlated with overweight and comparing your potential child to fitness models. The perfect/imperfect body dichotomy is a red herring. No body is perfect. It’s disingenuous and manipulative to assert that having a serious genetic disorder is equivalent to having a few pimples and a crooked nose.

If I somehow (metaphysics be damned!) had a choice to be born in a body that would slowly disintegrate on me, like that of Stephen Hawking, or not to be born at all, I’d pick the latter. This does not mean that I think Stephen Hawking shouldn’t be alive. He is a great scientist. He has done marvelous things with his life. But that does not make the pain and horror of his situation any less. If I could prevent my own child from being born into a life like that, I would. I consider it my moral imperative. And if Stephen Hawking and I were hanging out in the metaphysical waiting room before descending to earth, and he told me he didn’t want to be born into all that suffering, it would be unfathomably selfish of me to demand that he endure what he has endured just so that I (and other healthful people) could benefit from his mind.

My Points:

If you made it this far, congratulations. Here’s the rundown:

  1. Respect disabled people for their personhood, but don’t promote the continued existence of disabilities. That doesn’t do anyone any favors.
  2. Don’t treat disabled children as special projects to improve their parents’ character.
  3. Don’t act like everybody can afford to live by your conscience.
  4. Don’t prioritize the wellbeing of a fetus over the entire family.
  5. Don’t force special needs children into families that don’t want them, and will abuse, neglect or abandon them. They have it hard enough in families that want them and have the resources to care for them.
  6. Don’t conflate serious disorders with minor imperfections to guilt parents into a choice to raise a child they don’t want to have.
  7. Don’t abuse statistics to lie about the satisfaction rate of parents with special needs children.
  8. Don’t minimize the labor of mothers or pretend that you can talk about fetuses without women.
It is possible to choose abortion based on a positive screening for genetic disorders because you are morally opposed to inflicting suffering on others. It is possible that women who abort fetuses with Down syndrome or more series disorders do it not because they hate Downs people or like genocide or are Selfish Career Bitches(TM), but because they honestly believe it’s what’s best for their families. The anti-abortion crowd is not the only one with a flagpole stuck in the moral high ground.
 
Now, finally, a thought experiment.


Why is it a "blessing" and a "rewarding" experience to raise a child with Down syndrome, but not one with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? If there’s something inherently valuable about disabilities themselves that improves the lives of people who have them and whose loved ones have them, why does the origin of the disability make such a difference? Why is taking every precaution to avoid FAS, to the point of making pregnant women neurotic, a worthwhile societal goal? Why does no one hate to imagine a world in which there are no children with FAS?

I suspect the answer has something to do with control. Because if you can control an outcome (or at least think you can), people will be justified in blaming you for an adverse outcome. But if you can’t prevent suffering (or think you can’t), your reputation remains untarnished. If you see suffering in your future and evade it, those who are suffering will attack you for your selfishness and arrogance. ("How dare you have it so easy?") But is that feeling of moral superiority actually moral superiority? I don’t think so. It sounds more like a cry of pain at the unfairness of the world — which is something we should be trying to fix, not perpetuate.

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a "Message of the Hour" congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog The Phoenix and the Olive Branch.

White House Openly Considers Caving to Bishops on Birth Control Coverage

12:38 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here

According to a New York Times article today by Robert Pear, the White House has now publicly confirmed that President Obama is considering caving to demands by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other far right religious groups that he “expand the exemptions” from the requirement that insurance plans under health reform cover birth control without a co-pay.

If he does so, the President will be trading the health, welfare, autonomy, and economic prospects of millions of women and the opinion of the entire medical and public health communities to curry favor with a very small minority of male-dominated religious right groups such as the USCCB which has found that it can not, on its own, force women to become and remain pregnant.

And as far as I am concerned, if the President does this, he will also forfeit the right to call himself “pro-choice” under any definition of the term as I understand it.

What’s the problem here? Even the Times basically has it wrong, because the article continues to mis-characterize both the nature of contraceptive coverage (it is not “free of charge”) and of the current exemption, which not only “may” (as the Times suggest) but does exempt Churches from the requirement.

The basic problem here is this: The vast majority of women of reproductive age in the United States–99 percent–uses at least one modern form of birth control at some point in their lives. This includes Catholic women, Jewish women, Muslim women, Protestant women and the majority of women of every other religious persuasion and those who are not religiously identified, are atheists, agnostic or any other category I may be inadvertently failing to mention.

That women–Catholic women and other women–actually do control their fertility drives the Bishops and the rest of the religio-political patriarchy up a wall.  And, this summer, the Administration drove them over the top of that wall.

In August, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine to include as part of the basic package of services an array of preventive health care services for women.

Expanding access to preventive care without cost-sharing (co-pays) was ostensibly a core principal of health reform. As HHS notes:

The Affordable Care Act – the health insurance reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010 – helps make prevention affordable and accessible for all Americans by requiring health plans to cover recommended preventive services without cost sharing.

“Before health reform,” states an HHS press advisory, “too many Americans didn’t get the preventive health care they need to stay healthy, avoid or delay the onset of disease, lead productive lives, and reduce health care costs.  Often because of cost, Americans used preventive services at about half the recommended rate.”

Yet chronic diseases – which are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths among Americans each year and account for 75% of the nation’s health spending – often are preventable. Cost sharing (including copayments, co-insurance, and deductibles) reduces the likelihood that preventive services will be used. Especially concerning for women are studies showing that even moderate copays for preventive services such as mammograms or pap smears deter patients from receiving services. [Emphasis added.]

The preventive care services to be covered without co-pay include well-woman visits, support for breastfeeding equipment, screening and counseling for gestational diabetes, cervical cancer, sexually transmitted infections, and domestic violence, and support and supplies for breastfeeding.

And, of course, IOM strongly recommended and HHS included coverage without co-pays of contraceptive counseling and supplies. The reasons why have been extensively documented in numerous articles including one here, here, here, and here.

The HHS mandate states:

Women will have access to all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling. These recommendations do not include abortifacient drugs. Most workers in employer-sponsored plans are currently covered for contraceptives. Family planning services are an essential preventive service for women and critical to appropriately spacing and ensuring intended pregnancies, which results in improved maternal health and better birth outcomes. [Emphasis added].

HHS exempted from this mandate certain religious employers including those that define the inculcation of religious values as their primary purpose; that primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets; that primarily serve persons who share the organization’s religious tenets; and are non-profit organizations.  Contrary to the Times story that churches may be exempt,” HHS made clear that their exemption absolutely includes churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as exclusively religious activities of any religious order.

As HHS stated, the “interim final rule… is modeled on the most common exemption available in the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception.”

HHS, as is common practice, provided an ample comment period, during which religious right organizations went to work, claiming that their religious liberty would be infringed if they had to include in their employer-based health plans coverage of contraception for women, whether they be Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Protestant, atheistic, agnostic or otherwise. In other words, as I have pointed out elsewhere, the only means through which the religious right can experience religious liberty is to rob everyone else of theirs.

This is not a trivial matter. Cost plays a major role in consistent access to and use fo contraception, most especially for low-income and middle class women.  Access to birth control is a major factor in preventing unintended pregnancies, ostensibly a goal of this Administration.  Moreover, it is the right of every woman to decide whether and when to bear a child and under what conditions.  No religious figure has the right to “override” the fertility and health decisions of any woman.

Now, however, HHS is punting. I called the White House last week for comment on their policy, and two days later received a call back from someone at HHS who’d been asked by White House staff to call me.  I was told by the HHS spokesperson that no decision had been made on when to finalize the policy and that technically the department could take until next summer to decide since the final rule does not go into effect until August.  When I asked what more, on top of the weight of evidence already made public, was left to consider, I was told that the department was hearing from “all stakeholders.”  Apparently, HHS considers the USCCB, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and other religious right organizations to be a stakeholders of your womb, because they are weighing heavily on this decision.

My question to you is this: How far do we allow an Administration to go on simply trading away the basic health and economic needs of millions of women before we call this a political foul?

These groups are asking you to join them in telling the White House not to throw women under the bus.

Emily’s List

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

 

 

_____________________________

Follow Jodi Jacobson on Twitter: @jljacobson

 

Religious Exemptions and Contraceptive Coverage: How Far Can Denial Go and Still Be Constitutional?

9:09 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

Written by Annamarya Scaccia for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A change was made to this article at 11:48 am, Friday September 30th to include a missing piece of the following sentence: “The points raised in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ letter may be flawed at best. In its attempt to underscore the narrowness of the religious exemption, the group cites the Church Amendment to the “Health Programs Extension Act of 1973,” as evidence of long-standing federal conscience protections.”

New guidelines applied August 1 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the Affordable Care Act, requiring that employers include coverage of women’s preventive care, including birth control have drawn fierce opposition from the religious.

The new guidelines require all new private insurance plans to cover preventive services—including, for example, breast exams and pap smears, maternity care, HPV testing, gestational diabetes screening and breastfeeding support—sans co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible and without cost-sharing. The guidelines, which go into effect as of August 1, 2012, also require coverage without a co-pay of FDA-approved contraception and contraceptive counseling. And there’s the rub. The Guttmacher Institute recently reported that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used modern forms of birth control banned by the Catholic Church hierarchy, yet some Catholic organizations are crying foul over the birth control mandate.

Based on language from conscience clauses found in 28 states, non-profit religious institutions that exist for religious purposes, and primarily employ and serve those who share their religious values can opt out of offering contraceptive coverage in their group health plans. The HHS opened the interim policy for public comment for 60 days since the announcement, which closes on Friday, September 30. Read the rest of this entry →

Tea Party Family Values and the World’s Greatest Freak Show

12:51 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Michelle & JimBob Duggar via hoyden about town on flickr

Michelle & JimBob Duggar via hoyden about town on flickr

Written by Vyckie Garrison for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On fundamentalist counterculture & juvenile black market adoption fantasies …

Do you remember when it first dawned on you that your relatives are all a bunch of crackpots and weirdos?  Seems like I was around 8 or 9 — my mother worked all night in the casinos and slept most of the day, leaving me alone to protect my naïve older sister from the depraved advances of Mom’s alcoholic boyfriends and worry about my big brother’s drug addiction. I couldn’t count on my grandparents to help — they were too preoccupied with their own divorce, dating, and remarriage dramas.

“Holy sugar,” I thought to myself, “these people are seriously messed up!”

That’s about the time the fantasies began.  My home, I imagined, was a three-ring circus — and my relatives were the freaks and the clowns.  In my daydreams, I was not really one of them.  No — surely, I was of aristocratic origin.  My REAL family were royalty in a faraway Kingdom and I was born a beloved Princess in a fancy castle with many servants and my own Fairy Godmother.  Somehow, I’d been separated from my blood kin as an infant — I was captured by gypsies and sold in a black market adoption — that’s how I ended up being raised by this group of crazies!

ABC’s Primetime Nightline recently aired a segment featuring the Gil & Kelly Bates family — a conservative, Evangelical mega-family of twenty.  The Bates, who are close friends of JimBob & Michelle Duggar of TLC’s “19 and Counting” fame, hold to the extreme fundamentalist ideals of the growing “Quiverfull movement.”

During the one-hour special, Gil, Kelly, and their children explained the family’s lifestyle which, to all modern appearances, represents a throw back to the imaginary 60′s-style “Leave It to Beaver” family combined with strict, Victorian Era sexual mores and the atavistic gender roles of ancient goat-herders. Read the rest of this entry →

Brownback Strips At-Risk Infants of Access to Health Care While Spending Millions on “Faith-based” Initiatives

12:07 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kari Ann Rinker for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The State of Kansas has a health care crisis that it should be addressing, but instead the Brownback administration is tied up restricting women’s access to low cost birth control and abortion care. The crisis that I refer to is this fact according to the latest data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation:

Kansas dropped to 40th in the country in infant mortality, and to worst in the nation for African-American infant mortality, said Christie Appelhanz, vice president of public affairs of Kansas Action for Children in Topeka.

Ms. Appelhanz explains:

We have to invest in our kids. We need to be protecting the crucial supports — nutrition, early education, college savings — anything we can do to be sure kids are growing up healthy.  I think it’s important that children have access to food stamps, quality education such as Head Start and Early Head Start and workforce development.

Governor Brownback’s budget, which he unveiled in January 2011, drew much criticism due to drastic cuts proposed for Head Start in Kansas.  Their funding remained uncertain through the entire legislative session, until, after much public criticism it was finally restored.  But the problem doesn’t begin and end with Head Start funding.

This administration is also upending the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS).  This agency is responsible for child protective services, child support enforcement, and child, adult and family well being services within the state of Kansas.  The state was on track to close 9 service centers, citing agency cost savings.  Public outcry has prevented one of those closures.  The City Council of Lawrence, Kansas has agreed to pick up the state’s tab and fund their own office to serve the most needy within their community. Yet, somehow the administration believes this agency can afford new and expensive “faith based initiatives” programs. For example, chief of staff Jeff Kahrs is making $100,000 a year in a new position. A deputy secretary leading a new faith-based initiative, Anna Pilato, is making $97,500.

They can also afford $13,000 closed door meetings to discuss their new push for faith programs within the state, where it was decided that polygamy is more in line with traditional values than same sex marriage.  Our Governor also is comfortable with applying for a $6.6 million dollar grant to promote marriage, while rejecting federal money for health care reform within our state and proceeding with the SRS office closures.   

Governor Brownback is promoting a “culture of life” from his mansion in Topeka and thinking of new ways to pimp out poverty stricken single mothers within the state while what we really need are healthy, empowered mothers, because healthy mothers lead to healthy children.  Health care, childcare assistance and educational opportunities should be the Governor’s focus.  Instead, the hypocrisy runs rampant and we wait for God and a big strong man to come along and save us from feminine handicap, meanwhile an increasing number of children are dying in the state of Kansas.

Working with Dr. Tiller: His Staff Recalls a Tradition of Compassionate Care at Women’s Health Care Services of Wichita

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Compassion."

"Compassion." by matrianklw on flickr

Written by Carole Joffe for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This article is cross-posted with permission from the forthcoming issue (September 2011) of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.  We are grateful to the Guttmacher Institute for facilitating this exchange.

While attending Sunday church services in May 2009, Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas, was assassinated by an antiabortion extremist. The doctor’s murder led shortly to the closing of his clinic, Women’s Health Care Services (WHCS), which had been the best known of the handful of U.S. facilities to openly provide abortions at 24 weeks of gestation or later for women with serious health conditions and those carrying fetuses with severe or lethal anomalies. One of the most polarizing symbols of the U.S. abortion conflict, Dr. Tiller was reviled by abortion opponents. Among abortion rights supporters, and especially among his colleagues in the close-knit abortion provider community, Dr. Tiller was a beloved hero, legendary for the kindness and compassion he extended to desperate women who came to him from all over the United States and abroad.

Dr. Tiller’s murder and the closing of his clinic brought renewed national attention to the problems facing women who need abortions late in pregnancy. Fewer than 2 percent of the 1.2 million abortions performed each year in the United States occur after 20 weeks of gestation.[1] An unknown number occur after 24 weeks; in most states, such procedures are permitted only under highly restricted circumstances. At the time of Dr. Tiller’s death, only two or three other clinics were known to openly provide third-trimester procedures for qualifying women. Some hospitals provide these services on a case-by-case basis for patients of attending physicians, but the fact that WHCS served women from all over the country indicates that many women had difficulty finding the care they needed close to home. Read the rest of this entry →

Why is the U.S. Waging War on Women Raped in War?

12:44 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kristina Kallas for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Mandatory sonograms, forced lectures by doctors, humiliating permission slips from abusive husbands, paternalistic opinions from Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, uneducated and patently stupid soundbites from Tea Partiers. That’s not the worst. In this newest wave of the war on women, let’s not forget the U.S. government’s abortion policies toward women in war.

Rape is systematically being used as a weapon of war in conflicts worldwide. During the Rwandan genocide it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped in 100 days and that approximately 20,000 children were born as a result of rape. Recent reports from Burma indicate that Burmese soldiers have orders to rape women. 387 civilians were raped in Walikale, North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in a 4 day period last year. In 2008 alone, the U.N. Population Fund recorded 16,000 cases of rape in DRC, two-thirds of them adolescent girls and other children, in an area where rape is vastly underreported. Imagine what the real numbers are.

The stigma associated with rape ostracizes girls and women, particularly those who become pregnant, because they are often seen as carrying the enemy’s child. They are frequently abandoned by their communities, struggling for ways of living with children born out of rape. That is, if they survive childbirth. The maternal mortality ratio in eastern DRC is estimated at 3,000 deaths per 100,000 live births (compare that with 24 deaths per 100,000 live births in the U.S. and 5 deaths per 100,000 live births in Denmark).

How does the U.S. address this emergency? Under the 1973 Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, and subsequent policy by the Bush Administration, the U.S. prohibits any federal foreign assistance from being used to even mention abortion as an option to women raped in armed conflict. The current incarnation of these restrictions go beyond statutory requirements because the statute is limited to restricting the provision of abortion “as a method of family planning.” Rape is never family planning. The repeal of the Global Gag Rule did not affect these restrictions.

This U.S. policy stands in stark contrast to the development policies of other prominent donors and even its own domestic policy. As much as some Tea Partiers wish it wasn’t so, the domestic equivalent of these restrictions (the Hyde Amendment) does contain a rape exception. The United Kingdom, with a ruling conservative party, recognizes the need to provide abortions in conflicts in which rape and forced pregnancy are used as weapons of war. Norway formally recommended that the U.S. remove its restriction on funding to these victims during the Universal Periodic Review of the United States by the Human Rights Council.

The best an organization accepting U.S. funding can provide even to a twelve year old impregnated rape survivor hiding in the bushes of eastern Congo is a plastic sheet and a clean knife for labor. Or, if she suffers complications from having an unsafe abortion (because she doesn’t have access to safe abortion services, often because of U.S. abortion restrictions), they can provide her with “post-abortion care.” Giving these women “birthing kits,” or lecturing them about preventative family planning, when the family they would be planning for is with a contingent of combatants armed with guns, Viagra and orders to rape, is appalling. Beyond that, it violates international law.

August 12th marked the 62nd anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, which require that all persons considered “wounded and sick” in armed conflict receive comprehensive and non-discriminatory medical care dictated solely by their medical condition. Despite these protections, girls and women who are raped in armed conflict are routinely denied the option of abortion in the medical care provided to them in humanitarian medical settings. This is discriminatory and violates their rights under the Geneva Conventions. The U.S., by attaching these restrictions on humanitarian aid for rape victims in conflict, is violating the rights of these women. The urgency of this violation cannot be understated: the U.S. is the largest donor of humanitarian aid in the world, and is instrumental in preventing essential medical care to a desperately vulnerable population.

In order to bring the U.S. into compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and restore dignity to our foreign policy, President Obama must act now to ensure the rights of female rape victims in conflict. Over fifty organizations, legal academics and professionals have sent letters to President Obama as part of the Global Justice Center’s August 12 campaign to remove the abortion ban for girls and women raped in armed conflict. Sign the GJC’s petition urging President Obama to issue an executive order lifting these life-threatening restrictions here.

The Anti-Choice Class War

9:19 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Class War"

"Class War" by London Permaculture on flickr

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Whilst whiling away my time in a manner greatly pleasing to myself—reading the Tumblr STFU Conservatives—I was genuinely startled to see that the blogger had curated this amazing bit of anti-choice propaganda from Live Action.

See image here.

I couldn’t have created a better distillation of how anti-choicers actually view women who are facing unintended pregnancies. I can just imagine how this particular ad came to be. One of the folks working at Live Action was flipping through stock photos of pregnant women—concentrating on very pregnant women in order to mislead people about the flat-tummied realities of abortion—and they were drawn to this one because it’s such a vicious stereotype. The woman pictured is clearly supposed to be young, adolescent even, and poor. You can tell she’s likely a teenager because she’s wearing trendy clothes like you get at Forever 21. And the clothes don’t fit well and are clearly supposed to be clothes from before she got pregnant, the implication being that she’s too poor to afford maternity clothes. This image characterizes young, poor women as stupid sluts who can’t manage basic responsibilities. And our youthful right wing propagandist saw this picture and thought, Perfect! This is exactly how I imagine life is like for the kind of women who get pregnant on accident.

The text indicates that whoever wrote this ad thinks that the intended audience—presumably young and likely poor women—is really stupid, and that the only reason a person might conclude that aborting a pregnancy isn’t the same thing as killing a baby is that they’ve been brainwashed by the condom-pushers at Planned Parenthood. In reality, people draw the conclusion that embryos aren’t babies so much as potential babies because they look at the obvious evidence on hand. They notice that people don’t have funerals for miscarriages, that we start counting someone’s age from their birth date and not their conception date, and that unlike babies, embryos can’t experience emotions or sensations, due to the lack of a functioning brain.

This particular ad further reinforces my sense that the anti-choice movement is increasingly moving away from the strategy they embraced for the past decade of feigning concern for pregnant women, and instead they’re moving back to old school hysterics about women’s sexual freedoms mixed in with overt classism and racism. The most obvious example of this turn has been the right wing reaction to the HHS ruling that will require insurers to cover contraception without a co-pay. All feigned concern for women flew out the window the second the possibility of free contraception was even raised, and so far the theme of the criticisms of the HHS has been, “Dirty, stupid, irresponsible sluts don’t deserve squat.” Read the rest of this entry →

How Abortion Caused the Debt Crisis

7:16 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"We Love Crisis"

"We Love Crisis" by Daquella manera on flickr

Last night, right before the fatal deadline, the U.S. Congress finally came to a deal that allows us to raise the debt ceiling, without which the federal government would basically shut down completely and start to default on its loans, creating a cascade of economic disasters. Congress came to a deal before we had to learn those Depression-era money-saving skills (sadly, we don’t have flour sacks to make clothes from any longer). Now it’s time to reflect on how our country has gone so far off track that we can’t even handle the basic responsibility of keeping the country from plunging into a manufactured crisis that nearly led to economic collapse. There are multiple causes, but one that hasn’t been discussed much is abortion.

Yes, abortion. Or, more specifically, the sustained sex panic that has been going on in this country since the sixties and seventies, when the sexual revolution occurred and women secured their reproductive rights. If it seems a little strange to argue that sex panic helped bring us to the verge of economic collapse, well, that’s the nature of the circuitous, ever-evolving world of politics. But it’s sex panic that helped create the modern right-wing populist, and it’s the modern right-wing populist that created the current crisis. Read the rest of this entry →