You are browsing the archive for right wing.

Conservative Columnist Supports Family Planning as “Pro-Life”

11:08 am 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.

It’s not often that I agree with Michael Gerson, the conservative former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush, advocate for abstinence-only policies in U.S. global AIDS programs, and columnist for the Washington Post. 

Today, however, I am in near-full agreement with him on a piece he published in today’s Post.

Gerson just returned from a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo sponsored by CARE during which he and others saw firsthand the struggles of women who live in societies in which they have little control of whether, when and whom they marry, and whether, when and how many children they bear.  In these settings, women bear more children than they want and can afford to raise, infant and child mortality rates are high, and complications of both pregnancy and unsafe abortion are the leading cause of deaths among women ages 15 to 49.  Medical care is largely inaccessible.

Reproductive and sexual health and rights advocates have always argued that ensuring that women have unfettered access to family planning information and counseling and consistent contraceptive supplies is a “pro-life” strategy, because voluntary family planning dramatically improves the quality of life and survival rates of both children and their mothers, and by extension, families and societies.

But the anti-choice movement in the United has moved from opposing abortion per se to opposing all forms of birth control, an agenda it was always suspected to have in the first place.  As such, this movement, led largely by male religious leaders, Congressmen or virulently anti-choice male activists opposes support for family planning services and birth control methods both at home and abroad.

Having a “card-carrying” conservative evangelical columnist support family planning as a “pro-life” intervention not only speaks to reality, it is what I hope to be a welcome first step in pushing back against anti-choice positions that cost far more lives–those of women and children–than they ever “save.”

Visiting the village of Bweremana, Gerson writes:

[T]he correlation between the number of children and the absence of some of their mothers becomes clear. Kanyere Sabasaba, 35, has had 10 children, eight of whom have survived. Her last delivery did not go well. “I delivered the baby without any problem, but I was bleeding much,” she told me. The case was too complex for the local health center, so Kanyere had to pay for her transport to another medical facility. After the surgery, the doctor performed a tubal ligation. “If I give birth again, I could die,” she said. “The last child is the one who could really kill me.”

As Gerson rightly notes, for women in this part of Congo, the complications of childbirth are as dangerous as the militias in the countryside.

One woman I met had given birth to 13 children, only six of whom survived. Women sometimes deliver in the fields while working. Medical help can be a few days’ journey away. Each birth raises the odds of a hemorrhage, infection or rupture. Those odds increase dramatically when births come early in life, or late in life, or in rapid succession. In Congo, almost one in five deaths of women during childbearing years is due to maternal causes.

And, he notes, “While both the pill and condoms are generally available in larger cities such as Goma, access is limited in rural districts. Determining the pace of reproduction is often a male prerogative instead of a shared decision. Sexual violence can be as close for a woman as gathering fuel in the woods.”

These are all absolutely true and I appreciate and admire Gerson for acknowledging these realities.

The women of Bweremana, continues Gerson “are attempting to diffuse and minimize their risk. In a program organized by Heal Africa, about 6,000 contribute the equivalent of 20 cents each Sunday to a common fund. When it is their time to give birth, the fund becomes a loan to pay transportation and hospital fees. The women tend a common vegetable garden to help with income and nutrition. And the group encourages family planning.”

But even this is not enough.  It is estimated that 215 million women worldwide want and need access to basic family planning and supplies but do not currently have it.  These women bear more children than they want or can support.  As a result, they also watch more infants and children die, suffer poor health themselves, and are far less likely to achieve their own educational and economic goals.  That is why investments by nations in their own health care systems, including basic reproductive and sexual health care, and international donors in those same systems, are so critical.

But, as Gerson notes:

The very words “family planning” light up the limbic centers of American politics. From a distance, it seems like a culture war showdown. Close up, in places such as Bweremana, family planning is undeniably pro-life. When births are spaced more than 24 months apart, both mothers and children are dramatically more likely to survive. Family planning results not only in fewer births, but in fewer at-risk births, including those early and late in a woman’s fertility. When contraceptive prevalence is low, about 70 percent of all births involve serious risk. When prevalence is high, the figure is 35 percent.

The United States was once the global leader in funding family planning worldwide.  But U.S. funding of international family planning programs has remained essentially flat for the last 10 years, and is hamstrung by an increasing number of medically-unnecessary and ideologically-driven restrictions that end up reducing, rather than expanding access to this urgently-needed health intervention.

Gerson argues that support for family planning and contraceptive supplies shouldn’t be the ideological lightening rod it has become because:

“[e]ven in the most stringent Catholic teaching, the prevention of conception is not the moral equivalent of ending a life. And conservative Protestants have little standing to object to contraception, given the fact that they make liberal use of it. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, more than 90 percent of American evangelicals believe that hormonal and barrier methods of contraception are morally acceptable for adults. Children are gifts from God, but this does not require the collection of as many gifts as biologically possible.

In fact, more than 80 percent of the U.S. public writ large strongly supports women’s rights to determine the number and spacing of children they have.

So far we strongly agree: It’s a strategy that saves lives, it makes economic sense, and because this is about public health, it should be free from ideology.  If you don’t like contraception, don’t use it. But don’t use religion or ideology to deny it to others, especially when the overwhelming majority of women of all religious persuasions in fact use birth control.

Where I diverge with from Gerson in regard to these issues is on abortion. 

Gerson points to “[s]ome liberal advocates” who think these are intrinsically related.  In regard to self-determination, human rights, and public health, the linkage between a woman’s ability to prevent pregnancy and her ability to safely and legally terminate an unintended and untenable pregnancy are intrinsically linked and women know this. It only becomes ideological when religion and politics intervenes in these basic rights and tries to undermine them.

It is true, as he notes, that “support for contraception does not imply or require support for abortion.”  You can, personally, be a supporter of contraception but decide you would not choose abortion were you to become pregnant, which obviously men can’t.  Where we’ve become lost, however is in politicizing abortion care in much the same way as family planning services and ignoring, for ideological convenience, the same public health and medical evidence on safe abortion services that supports access to family planning.  Safe abortion care makes sense because it saves women’s lives, and ultimately the lives of their current and future children borne through wanted pregnancies.

Notwithstanding religious and ideological beliefs, access to safe abortion is also a well-recognized critical public health intervention.  Moreover, without it, ultimately women can not truly be in charge of their reproductive destinies–and hence can not truly exercise self-determination. Access to safe abortion services is a necessary back up to any unintended and untenable pregnancy, from any cause, including contraceptive failure, interrupted access to contraceptives, and pregnancies resulting from intimate partner violence and rape, rape as a tool of war, stranger rape, or incest.  Access to contraception can dramatically reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and hence the need for abortion, but it can never completely eliminate abortion. So the need for access to safe abortion care is a fact-based medical and public health position, not an ideological one. And by suggesting it is an ideological position, we continue to miss the point.

What Gerson doesn’t clarify is that for the purpose of U.S. policy, contraception and abortion are already kept separate.  U.S. international family planning assistance goes solely to family planning information and supplies; it does not support access to safe abortion care.  Under the Helms Amendment, funding for abortion care is only allowable in cases of rape, incest or the health and life of the mother.  In reality, because of politics, U.S. funding is rarely if ever used even for these “allowable” conditions.  The issue of abortion would come into play if we were talking about repealing the Helms Amendment, an effort I wholeheartedly support, but which has nothing to do with current discussions around the scope of U.S. international funding for family planning, unless you are a Congressperson trying to deflect attention from the fact that you don’t want to support family planning and want to ignore the evidence that it saves the lives of women and their children.

So when we talk about ideological fights around family planning, it really comes down to a majority male GOP Congressional leadership that vociferously opposes access to basic services that would enable women to choose the number and spacing of children they want by using basic family planning services.  Abortion is a red herring here, because it is not in the equation.  Gerson himself would have been more forceful if he had clarified that, and he also would have been more honest if in this piece he had reversed his own earlier position supporting the prohibition of integration of family planning into U.S. global AIDS programs, a position adopted by the Bush Administration and, unfortunately, continued by the Obama Administration that dramatically diminishes access to contraceptive supplies to HIV-positive women who desire not to have any more children.

So I agree with Gerson that family planning is pro-life, as all people who are pro-choice and by definition therefore “pro-life” understand those concepts.  I also agree with Gerson that “women in Congo have enough home-grown problems without importing irrelevant, Western controversies.”  And finally, I completely agree that access to contraceptives do not solve every problem and that women in Bweremana want access to voluntary family planning for the same reasons as women elsewhere: to avoid high-risk pregnancies, to deliver healthy children and to better care for the children they have.”  They want the same happy, healthy families we all strive to have.

This is the best understanding of why the pro-choice movement, based as it is on public health and medical evidence is indeed “pro-life,” and why U.S. support for voluntary international family planning services is one of the single most effective investments we can make.  Let’s keep the funding politics separate from abortion right now, while recognizing that on the ground, in the hut, for the woman, these two things are rarely in neat little boxes.

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.

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.

Surprise! Crisis Pregnancy Centers Don’t Separate Education, Religion

9:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Andrea Grimes for RHRealityCheck.org. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The Texas Independent reports today on violations ranging from fire safety to client privacy in Texas’ many “alternatives to abortion” contractors. You know them as crisis pregnancy centers, and also as one of the few state-funded programs that saw their funding increase in this atrocious budget year–from $4 million to $4.15 million, despite the fact that they provide no medical care, no medical advice and are staffed by religious-motivated volunteers who undergo a minimum of training. Actual medical care that serves women and children in Texas been slashed, and Planned Parenthood has lost $47 million in funding.

The Texas Pregnancy Care Network conducted what amounts to an internal audit–with faith-based, religious-motivated inspectors looking into violations in clinics they have a vested interest in keeping afloat. There has not yet been an official third-party, or even Texas Department of Health and Human Services inspection into these CPC’s.

The Independent has the entire CPC inspection report available to read, but I’d just like to pluck out one totally not surprising finding: 15 percent of contractors did not, during supervised inspections, separate religious and educational material….

Continue reading…

Kagan and Reproductive Rights: No Time for Complacency

6:51 am in Health care, Judiciary by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

So far, the issue of reproductive rights hasn’t really been much of a factor in the discussion about Obama’s new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan.  For the most part, this is because the right is occupied with the game of trying to figure out how to call Kagan a lesbian without coming right out and saying it. Because it’s not on the table right now, it’s awfully tempting for pro-choice activists to assume that it may never really become an issue.  Perhaps the Obama administration’s decision to find a candidate with as obtuse a record on the issues as possible might be enough to keep the rabid dogs of the anti-choice movement out of this?

Don’t bet on it. When we relax our shoulders and start to believe that anti-choicers won’t be able to find an angle to make something All About Them, that’s when they strike.  They did it with the economic stimulus package, lashing out at funding for family planning services in an effort to kill the bill.  Pro-choice attempts to make health care reform abortion-neutral failed miserably, and anti-choicers were very close to killing health care reform entirely over abortion. And even if Elena Kagan never uttered the word “abortion” in her life, there’s a good chance that won’t stop them.  They’re very rarely bothered by reality, and in the absence of any evidence to support their views, will just make it up.

Of course, things are far more complicated because we really don’t have much evidence about Kagan’s beliefs about choice one way or another.  There’s been a memo where she urged then-President Clinton to support a late term abortion ban, but it appears that her motivation was to back a compromise that would prevent a more severe restriction down the road.  As it was, her prediction did play out—as soon as an anti-choice President was elected, he signed a serious federal restriction on late abortion—but it’s hard to imagine that a compromise bill passed earlier would have done much to stop the more severe restriction.  But the whole incident calls into question Kagan’s commitment to choice.  It’s hard to believe that President Obama would nominate someone without being assured of her commitment to abortion rights, but understandably, pro-choicers don’t want to take this on faith.

My sense is that Kagan is a purely political animal, who seems to value what’s popular over what’s right. Take this story, for example.  Kagan also urged President Clinton to support sentencing laws that treat the possession of crack cocaine as more serious than the possession of powder cocaine, even though it’s the same drug.  The only real difference between the drugs is a class difference, and the result of these sentencing laws is functionally racist.  There’s really no question that the sentencing laws are deeply unjust, but Kagan advised Clinton to support them anyway, because it sent the signal that the President is “tough on crime.”

The hope no doubt among progressives is that Kagan’s tendency to be a middle-of-the-road political animal will fall away when she’s ensconced in the lifetime position of Supreme Court justice.  But I’m skeptical.  Being a political animal is rarely a conscious choice, but more of a personality trait.  Odds are that Kagan’s behavior off the court will be a good predictor of her behavior on the court.  And her history inclines me to think she’ll be quite a bit like Sandra Day O’Connor, a moderate who tended to value politically popular opinions over rigorously argued ones.  In his book "The Nine," Jeffrey Toobin explained that O’Connor had an uncanny ability to absorb the most politically centrist sentiment in the country and channel that into her decisions. Kagan is going in on a reputation as a great compromiser, a person who can bring disparate people together by appealing to common ground. 

On abortion rights, this tendency can be incredibly dangerous, even when a justice is technically pro-choice.  O’Connor, despite being pro-choice, struck an enormous blow to abortion rights when she wrote the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.  The decision overturned the standard laid out in Roe v. Wade that made it difficult for state governments to restrict abortion, especially in the first trimester, and replaced it with a standard where states are allowed to regulate abortion as long as there was no “undue burden” on women seeking abortion.  From a legal perspective, the standard is hazy and ill thought out, but it was a politically popular one in a nation where most people support legal abortion but want it to be severely restricted.  Unfortunately, the decision opened a floodgate of absolutely undue burdens on abortion access, from parental notification and waiting periods to laws that exist mainly to harass providers.

Sadly, we saw this kind of thinking in the memo advising President Clinton to support a compromise bill restricting access to late term abortion.  One can be pro-choice and make decisions that are anti-choice under the misguided belief that compromises and common ground will placate anti-choicers.  I can’t imagine a scenario where passing a less restrictive abortion ban under a pro-choice President would suffice and thereby stop anti-choicers from trying to pass another more restrictive one as soon as they got an anti-choice President.  If anything, gaining victories under a pro-choice administration would probably embolden them to reach for more under an anti-choice administration.

Let’s hope Kagan proves me wrong once she passes confirmation, which she almost surely will.  It’s hard to imagine the court isn’t going to revisit the issue of abortion soon, with challenges to it rising up in states like Nebraska.  And as hard as it is to imagine that the restrictions on abortion could get any worse, the sad reality is they can.