Posted tagged ‘abortion’

Reality Bites

May 29, 2013

Credit where credit is due:  an  an elected Oklahoma Republican is making sense:

All of the new Oklahoma laws aimed at limiting abortion and contraception are great for the Republican family that lives in a gingerbread house with a two-car garage, two planned kids and a dog. In the real world, they are less than perfect.

I see your problem here, but do go on:

As a practicing physician (who never has or will perform an abortion), I deal with the real world. In the real world, 15- and 16-year-olds get pregnant (sadly, 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds do also). In the real world, 62 percent of women ages 20 to 24 who give birth are unmarried. And in the world I work and live in, an unplanned pregnancy can throw up a real roadblock on a woman’s path to escaping the shackles of poverty.


But what about those who don’t live where you do?

Yet I cannot convince my Republican colleagues that one of the best ways to eliminate abortions is to ensure access to contraception.  [via]

Kudos to OK Rep. Doug Cox.  He is — as his op-ed makes clear — no fan of abortion.  But he’s pretty damn blunt on both the what actually happens in the world and he’s on the right side of the argument on the basic right of individuals to make their own damn decisions.  So good on him; he’s the kind of opposition we need if a two party system is ever to function again, and he’s absolutely right on the practical and moral value that comes from treating women and girls as actual autonomous…you know…people.

One more thing — I was going to call Cox a bit of a naif for this:

What happened to the Republican Party that I joined? The party where conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater felt women should have the right to control their own destiny? The party where President Ronald Reagan said a poor person showing up in the emergency room deserved needed treatment regardless of ability to pay? What happened to the Republican Party that felt government should not overregulate people until (as we say in Oklahoma) “you have walked a mile in their moccasins”?

But, follow the jump, and you’ll see that Cox has no problem handling the concept of a rhetorical question:

Is my thinking too clouded by my experiences in the real world? Experiences like having a preacher, in the privacy of an exam room say, “Doc, you have heard me preach against abortion but now my 15-year-old daughter is pregnant, where can I send her?” Or maybe it was that 17-year-old foreign exchange student who said, “I really made a mistake last night. Can you prescribe a morning-after pill for me? If I return to my home country pregnant, life as I know it will be over.”

Yup, Representative Cox.  You got it right.

Too much reality doth not a good Republican make.

Image:  Gustav Klimt, Sketch outline pregnant woman with man1903/4

The GOP War on Women (And Families) Continues

February 18, 2011

Deep thinker Mike Pence’s amendment banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood has passed the House, 245-180.

This cuts $363 million that would otherwise pay for the full range of family planning services Planned Parenthood provides.

That would be this operation:

Our skilled health care professionals are dedicated to offering men, women, and teens high-quality, affordable medical care. One in five American women has chosen Planned Parenthood for health care at least once in her life.

The heart of Planned Parenthood is in the local community. Our 85 unique, locally governed affiliates nationwide operate more than 820 health centers, which reflect the diverse needs of their communities.

These health centers provide a wide range of safe, reliable health care — and more than 90 percent is preventive, primary care, which helps prevent unintended pregnancies through contraception, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections through testing and treatment, and screen for cervical and other cancers. Caring physicians, nurse practitioners, and other staff take time to talk with clients, encouraging them to ask questions in an environment that millions have grown to trust.


Planned Parenthood is a respected leader in educating Americans about reproductive and sexual  health. We deliver comprehensive and medically accurate information that empowers women, men, teens, and families to make informed choices and lead healthy lives. Planned Parenthood is proud of its vital role in providing young people with honest sexuality and relationship information in classrooms and online to help reduce our nation’s alarmingly high rates of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. More than 1.2 million youths and adults participate in Planned Parenthood educational programs every year.

It is certainly true that Planned Parenthood provides abortion services, none of which are paid for by federal tax dollars.*  Mostly, though this is what it does:

In 2008, they reported that contraception constituted 35% of total services, STI/STD testing and treatment constituted 34%, cancer testing and screening constituted 17%; and other women’s health procedures, including pregnancy, prenatal, midlife, and infertility were 10%. According to Planned Parenthood less than 2% of visits involve abortions.

So, in essence, the House GOP has decided that in order to prevent federal tax dollars from paying for abortions they already don’t pay for, they are willing to see more — many more — Americans suffer sexually transmitted infections, die of cancer, endure untreated complications of pregnancy, menopause and the inability to bear longed-for children.  Say that again: to prevent any federal dollar from passing in close proximity to a private one that paid for an abortion, GOP religious zealots are willing to make it harder for infertile couples to bear children.

Why, I ask, do the modern Republican party and all those self-styled “conservative” radicals hate women — and America — so very, very much.

*Except, possibly, in cases where the abortion is necessitated by an act of rape or incest.

Image: attributed to Albrecht Dürer, Syphilis, 1496.

Ross Douthat has Problems with Women, Babies, Numbers, and More

January 5, 2011

Plenty of folks on the blogs,  have had their way with the recent essay in defense of the use of poor white women as baby farms for discerning elites, written by the lesser half of The New York Times’ current conservative op-ed. embarrassment, Mr. Ross Douthat.

I’m not going to repeat what others have said better.  Read our own Anne Laurie’s take (and her next verbal RPG); check out Amanda Marcotte, who ropes, ties, brands and clips young Ross in a thousand words or so; see AsiangrrlMN’s riff on the apparently foreign (to Douthat) notion that some women might actually, sincerely, decline to accept motherhood as a necessary fulfillment of their personhood;  delight to Tintin’s allusive stylings over at Sadly No; and with TBogg, always trust the shorter.

With all that out there, in this post I just want to poke a few more holes in Douthat’s reputation for intellectual honesty/fun with numbers, and then, in a hopefully more concise item to follow in a few hours, to use a lovely piece by a former student to shine  a little historical sidelight on the monstrosity that Douthat seeks to gussie up with a bucket load of nostalgic fantasy.

On the numbers:  Douthat in his column states that before 1973 there was a comparative abundance of babies available for adoption — one out of five single white women making babies gave their kids up.

Now, he writes, only one percent of such pregnancies lead to adoptions, and “would-be adoptive parents face a waiting list that has lengthened beyond reason…,” basing that assertion, apparently, on the word of Melanie Thernstrom writing in the the Times Sunday Magazine* who claimed that she chose surrogacy because adoption was just too hard.

Well, there are actual data on this point, and while there has unquestionably been a drop in adoptions in the US since 1970, the scale of that shift is (surprise!) much less than Douthat implies.

According to the Adoption History Project, adoptions in the US peaked at about 170,000 per year in 1970, declining over the next several years to about 125,000 per year by the 1990s, a number that has remained pretty much at that level since.  (Note, for those of you keeping tabs on Douthat’s insistence on white babies as the gold standard, as it were, that foreign adoptions accounted for about 10% of that total in FY 2009, with the numbers of babies coming from abroad declining since 2004.)

All of which means that while Douthat seeks to argue that women’s autonomy over their own bodies has made it virtually impossible for wealthy white couples to gain access to the children of their dreams– it ain’t so.  We do not see the implied outcome that adoption rates/availability  have dropped by 95% in the last four decades.  Instead, actual adoptions are down by a little more than 25%.

That still leaves his qualitative claim, of course.  So, let’s check that too:  have adoption waiting lists extended “beyond reason?”

No.  With just a quantum of actual reporting you find a very different picture of domestic adoption as a couple might experience it in 2011.

Which is what I did, calling a local Massachusetts agency, Jewish Family Service of the North Shore, to speak to their adoption specialist, Ann Wordfork, about the facts on the ground.

According to Woodfork, the landscape for domestic adoptions has remained pretty constant over the last several years.  Every couple she sees that sticks with it, she says, gets a child.  The adoption process, especially if it comes in the wake of years of infertility medicine, is an emotionally demanding experience, so people do drop out, of course.  But, Woodfork says, once a  couple completes its adoption “book” — the collection of photos and personal statements with which prospective adopters present themselves to birth mothers seeking a home for their children-to-be — you can take about one year as the rule of thumb as the time it will takes for you to bring home your child.    Compared to the time that couples seeking a baby through the old fashioned channels “try” and then gestate….well there’s not much in it, is there?

So, when Douthat claims that allowing women to make their own decisions about their bodies has left adoptive parents out of luck, he is simply wrong.  And he is so because he either deliberately chose to deceive his readers, or more likely IMHO, he is so wedded to his assumption/conclusion that it never occurred to him to check.**

One last point on Douthat’s intellectual dishonesty/ineptitude.  One of the striking failures in this column and his mode of thought more generally is his touching faith in the simplest of causal explanations.  Abortions up and adoptions down since 1970?  Well then that’s the whole story.

Except it’s not, of course, and Douthat even presents one of the ways his logic fails without noticing that he’s blowing his punchline.

Recall that he suggests that Thernstrom and her husband were driven to acquire their children through the use of an egg donor and two gestational surrogates because adoption was effectively unavailable to them.

Not so.  Rather, both in the immediate case and in the spread of this response to infertility, what you see is an alternative to conventional adoption, not a sequel to its failure.  More broadly, there are a lot of factors that shape people’s decisions about whether or not to seek an adoption.  Advances in fertility medicine means that some couples who couldn’t have conceived do.  Gamete donation changes the landscape.  Surrogacy certainly does — especially if you are rich.  All of which adds up to a changing family landscape in which some couples, mostly in the overclass, who would once have been adoptive parents now acquire children by other means.***

The shorter to all of the above:  Once again, Douthat tries to find a deep social reason to deny women’s autonomy, and to advance that goal he gets just about everything wrong.

Last, just to go a bit bigger than the relatively inconsequential Douthat:  if this is what passes for elite public intellection on the Right, (and it is) then take this as yet one more overlong reminder why these clowns shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near power.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

*Warning:  pretty ghastly piece at that link IMHO; I may yet blog on one aspect of it, in which the author happily glosses over the critical difference in power relations in surrogacy vs. adoption.  Or I might not, as the internal clues to the author’s unreliable narration seem sufficiently obvious, and life is short.

**I’m not claiming that I’ve committed a proper act of journalism here myself, by the way.   One interview with one social worker at one of Massachusetts 50 or so adoption agencies does not a comprehensive account make.  The point is not that I’ve proven adoption is easy; rather, I’m just trying to show that Douthat’s account of the state of adoption in this country doesn’t stand up to a minimal investigation of either the historical statistics or informed anecdotal experience on the ground.

***Again — I’m not making a broad claim here.  I haven’t gathered the statistics that could tell me how deep a bite surrogacy and fertility technology and the rest are taking out of conventional adoption.  Woodfork did tell me that in the professional meetings that discuss such issues, these alternatives to adoption are taking on a much larger share of the discussion, while adoption’s percentage of mindshare at such meetings is shrinking.  But that’s just one more anecdote, and I’m not going to plant a standard on this hill.  Instead, what I’m trying to do is to point out the flaws in Douthat’s approach  — the notion that all it takes is one correlation to explain any amount of social life.  Never forget:  milk drinking leads to heroin addiction!

Images:  Rembrandt van Rijn, Hannah in the Temple; Samuel’s Prayer Testing, 17c.

Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun The Marquise de Pezay (or Pezé), and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Sons Alexis and Adrien. 1787.

Andrew Sullivan Gets Him Some Data: Contraception and Abortion edition.

October 20, 2009

Readers of this blog know that I usually slag off on Sullivan’s reluctance to engage data on issues in which he has strong views.I don’t believe, by and large, that he has a very solid grasp of either quantitative methods or scientific practice. (See, e.g., this post or this one.)

But when he’s onto something he does care about where the data and its manipulation matter, he can be like a dog to a bone, and today’s he’s done good.

The issue?  Whether contraception reduces the incidence of abortion.  His dissection of the dishonest manipulation of the research record (e.g. admixing a study of US women with a 197 country study) can be found here.

His conclusion:

Theocons cannot have it every which way. Practically speaking, if you really believe that all abortion is murder, a huge program of contraception education and access is the most practical life-saver out there. And yet the Catholic pro-lifers refuse to embrace it and go to these kinds of lengths to deny reality. By their own logic, they are the ones enabling the massacre of millions.

Exactly so.

The“every sperm is sacred” crowd has led to enormous suffering.  It’s good to see Andrew call them out on this one.*

I’m about to wrap up a three part post on Sullivan’s theodicy issues (part one and part two, for your delectation) and I’ve had some harsh things to say, with worse to come in the last section.  But when he is able to achieve some remove from his own internal conflicts on the vexing tensions in his faith, he is no dummy, not at all.  Credit where credit is due….

*Note:  I haven’t linked all the way through to the deeply disturbed person who calls herself the Anchoress…but if you want to see that with which Sullivan’s arguing, go ahead.  And surf through the second link; Elizabeth Pisani is as good as it gets on deflating the murderous hypocrisy and self-delusion of the better-to-die than-than-have-safe-sex crowd.

Image:  Postcard published in 1909; photograph by Irvin M. Kline, 1907.

No One Really Needs More Debate Blather But…

October 16, 2008

Here are my only two thoughts after last night’s farrago.  It felt rather like the twelfth round of the third or fourth rematch between two heavyweights who know each other much too well.  I was tired for them by about minute fifteen.

But two things struck me.

First, Senator McCain has had what are for me many disqualifying moments in this campaign — the relatively minor, like his relentless pandering defense of his gas tax holiday; the overwhelmingly dangerous, like the selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate — but there was one moment last night that distilled the combination of policy and moral character defects that should bar John McCain from the office he seeks: this one.

Many others have picked up on McCain’s crude disdain for the health of pregnant women, but the transcript or the retelling does not capture the real shock of seeing McCain sneer the word “health” with his hands forming scare quotes around the sound.

Certainly, Americans disagree deeply on the issue of abortion — which is precisely the argument Senator Obama made about the necessity for the political system to allow that deep argument to be answered by individuals and their own families and networks of community.  McCain’s policy/philosophy of government deficit is revealed by his willingness to use the power of government to pick winners and losers in that contentious debate.  Does anyone out there, especially given the experience of the last eight years, believe that he would restrict that intrusive extension of government coercion merely to the realm of women’s autonomy?

His moral hollowness is revealed at the same moment.  McCain essentially said that it does not matter whether an actual person’s life is at risk; rather, he would treat that other human as a means to his own ends, the his own moral satisfaction or political advantage.  There is a lot of writing and thinking that has gone on around this kind of subordination of others to one’s own desires — for now, let me just refer you to the John Dewey quote I posted here, in anticipation of just this kind of moment last night.*

My other thought is true punditry without a license; ignore it as you should all those faffings of better dressed and better paid opinion mongers.  But I was struck (and pleased) by the overwhelming results of the snap polls and focus groups after the debate, all of them showing a strong victory for Obama.  I thought he did better too — but (a) I’m partisan and I would and (b) I thought the whole evening had a kind of deja vu quality, with arguments and cross claims that have been beaten into my brain over the last several weeks.  How could such a derivative event have such a striking impact on those surveyed?

Well, without any data to back me up, I wonder if the real purpose of last night’s debate for those still trying to choose their candidate was really to confirm an inclination that had not yet hardened into a commitment.

According to many polls by now, Obama has already won the argument on the economy; survey after survey has shown that the electorate by a substantial margin believe him better suited to respond to the problems we face now than his opponent.  In that context, there would seem to me to be a fair number of people who think they ought to vote for the new kid on the block…but could plausibly have felt the need to kick the tires (mixed metaphor alert!) one last time before settling into that decision.

The snap polls would thus reflect not a judgment on who won each point raised and answered in ninety minutes, but on whether or not someone who has already established the formal case for his candidacy satisfying the last big question:  should someone so relatively young and unfamiliar be trusted with the job.  If I’m right, then a substantial number of the overtly uncommitted voter pool went into the debate with a covert lean-Obama tilt, needing comfort in that conclusion, found it in Obama’s cool and calm performance, and came out much more ready to state explicitly that the senator from Illinois is ready to be President of the United States.

And that, my friends (h/t John McCain III), is analysis worth exactly what you paid for it.

(FWIW — Greg Sargent makes an overlapping, and certainly complementary argument here.)

*My wife points out that one of the most troubling aspects of McCain’s dismissing of the mother’s  health in this instance is the disdain it shows not just for her, but for any children she might  have.  McCain’s view advances the case of the gestating fetus over that of both the mother and the rest of her family.  You can pretty quickly render a wide range of moral/ethical arguments against this view, and in any event, it seems like a choice of this import and intimacy would hardly be one that most people would want to leave to that stranger to their daily lives, John McCain (or any other person, sitting far away, passing judgment).

Image (a repeat, I’m afraid):  William Hogarth, “The Polling” from The Humours of an Election series, 1754-1755.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

A Modest Proposal: Red State Edition

February 13, 2008

John Cole and his ever-retiring community of commenters is having a lot of fun with the latest from Erick over at Red State.

Now I don’t intend to skew this blog towards politics, or even the theater of the absurd performance under review at Balloon Juice. But you have to admire the sheer joy with which the comment thread threw itself into the assigned role.

Check out especially the intriguing recipe offered by C. Bear about 4/5ths of the way down the thread (stamped 2/13 2:21 a.m. I do believe that some folks have got to get lives.)

Johnathan Swift would be proud.

Update: Link to Balloon Juice fixed.

Image: Francisco de Goya, “Saturn devouring his child,” 1819. Source: Wikimedia Commons