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Tag: "reproductive freedom"

The War Against Women

[ 101 ] February 17, 2012 |

As soon as Virginia’s Mandatory Rape Law was passed by the House of Delegates, a great column by a particular Virginia resident was inevitable, and sure enough:

This week, the Virginia state Legislature passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. Since a proposed amendment to the bill—a provision that would have had the patient consent to this bodily intrusion or allowed the physician to opt not to do the vaginal ultrasound—failed on 64-34 vote, the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law.

What’s more, a provision of the law that has received almost no media attention would ensure that a certification by the doctor that the patient either did or didn’t “avail herself of the opportunity” to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat will go into the woman’s medical record. Whether she wants it there or not. I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.

Definitely read the whole thing,


Thank You Justice Kennedy!

[ 72 ] February 16, 2012 |

Say this for anti-choicers, they’re extremely creative when it comes to finding new ways to humiliate women:

Unfortunately, the “fetal personhood” bill wasn’t the only nutty and frightening piece of legislation that Virginia’s House of Delegates passed. Another bill was advanced requiring a woman undergoing an abortion to have a “transvaginal ultrasound” — i.e., to require a doctor to insert a speculum and then an ultrasound probe into a her vagina against her will and reflect that image onscreen. Not only is a bill like this rather rape-y in its forcefulness — and yes, I realize that is a strong statement, and I mean it strongly — but there is no medically necessary reason to do so. And there are no exceptions. Gov. McDonnell has stated his intention to sign the “transvaginal ultrasound” bill if it lands on his desk.

The important thing, as always, is to remember that anti-choicers have the moral high ground — why, Dana Milbank himself said so!

You’d like to think that this kind of regulation would be the definition of an “undue burden,” a painful humiliation inflicted on women with no rational relationship to any legitimate state interest. Alas, were the Supreme Court to take this case there’s little question that Kennedy would enthusiastically vote to uphold it. “While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude many women don’t object having a speculum inserted into their vagina without their consent and for no valid medical reason.”

…Pierce has more. Maddow’s segment was also very good.

Hack Squared

[ 20 ] February 12, 2012 |

In a great catch by a commenter, we find Mr. Glenn Harlan Reynolds endorsing Megan McArdle’s “Obama caved to the Bishops!” post based on the original argument made in its title, which turned out to be based on a glaring factual error that renders her argument wrong on its face. It seems worth noting here that McArdle was writing more than 4 and Reynolds more than 7 hours after the details of the plan were first released, so unlike for those of us who wrote about it as the news was breaking it didn’t even require much effort to get the basic details of the plan right. Unless you get all of your news from a few PUMA dead-enders it was hard to miss the fact that both supporters and opponents of the new regulation believed that there was no substantive concession (let alone a “180.”)

But Reynolds doesn’t just stop with an endorsement of a post anyone who knew anything about the issue would know was based on an erroneous premise. No, he goes on to argue this imaginary “caving” proves that the Obama administration was “living in a bubble.” Right. Of course, in the real world Obama’s position is popular, including among Roman Catholics; it’s Romney, forced to pander to a minority of cultural reactionaries, whose position is extremely unpopular here. And anybody who finds this surprising must be living in a bubble.

Actually, He Stepped Aside and Let the Bishops Jump Into the Empty Pool

[ 136 ] February 10, 2012 |

I rarely disagree with Brother Pierce on non-Billy Beane related issues, but I’m afraid that I must demur this time. In addition to what I’ve already said, a couple points. First, I don’t agree with the slippery slope arguments. As of now, employees will be entitled to exactly the same substantive benefits they were last week, and there’s no reason for insurance companies to object because covering contraception actually saves them money. Nor is true that refusing to make these symbolic non-concessions would somehow make it less likely that the policy will be changed for the worse in the future. Precedents created by Obama will mean less than nothing to President Mittens or President Zombie-Eyed Granny Starver. The only way to preserve political gains going forward is to create powerful allies, and to the extent that they matter today’s changes are a net positive: they created new allies among Catholic health care providers without giving up anything, they didn’t create any new opponents, and they politically undermined the remaining opponents, forcing them to fight on political terrain that is extremely inhospitable.

I also don’t understand the argument that “that women’s-health issues have been treated as little more than a bargaining chip by a Democratic president. Again.” Women’s health issues were not just “treated as a bargaining chip”: the policy announced today, in fact, maintains very real gains for women’s health and equity. The Obama administration has made bad decisions on these issues before, but this isn’t one of those times. If the argument is that core progressive values were part of a political negotiation, well, yes. That’s what politics is. The only thing that declaring principles as somehow outside of the dirty, dirty realm of politics accomplishes is to make it less likely that public policy will reflect these values.


[ 62 ] February 10, 2012 |

I wasn’t thrilled when I heard that Obama was going to announce a “compromise” on contraceptive coverage either, but as it turns out the “accommodation” does not affect the substantive rights of employees and is also probably good politics, so it’s fine with me. And yes, of course, the Bishops won’t go for it, but 1)good, since any policy they would agree to would be unacceptable, and 2)to the extent that this isolates them from actual Catholic health care providers and forces them to just argue against contraception, also good. If Republicans want to fight on this terrain, they can go right ahead; this will make their Schiavo crusade look popular by comparison.

See also Jon Cohn, whose tweeting as this was being announced was invaluable. Official Planned Parenthood statement here. Obama’s speech announcing it was also very good.

perfect summary: “But still, the bottom line is this: Obama gave the bishops everything they claimed they wanted, but not what they really wanted. He gave them everything they asked for, but not the thing they adamantly denied they were seeking. The bishops’ bluff has been called.”

Douthat and Public Opinion on Abortion

[ 33 ] February 7, 2012 |

As you might expect, Ross Douthat is unhappy about the backlash against the Komen Foundation’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood. Much of his argument consists of assertions of media bias that are difficult to respond to, since he cites no examples (let alone systematic evidence.) As Sarah Kilff notes, there’s no reason to believe it was true in this specific case. And while it’s plausible to assume that the typical journalist is more socially liberal (as well as more economically conservative) than meidan public opinion in general, I would argue that this is actually less true with respect to abortion than with other kinds of social issues. Punditry dismissing the importance of Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights, in particular, is so common as to be banal.

In addition to this argument about media bias, Douthat also cites public opinion data sowing about abortion, focusing in particular on “as many Americans described themselves as pro-life as called themselves pro-choice” and that a “combined 58 percent of Americans stated that abortion should either be “illegal in all circumstances” or “legal in only a few circumstances.” John Sides objects to Douthat’s cherry-picking:

As I’ve argued before, one cannot divide the public into “pro-life” and “pro-choice” camps based on the kinds of survey questions he cites. These questions fail to capture the true complexity and the ambivalence in most Americans’ attitudes toward abortion. Most Americans approve of abortion in certain cases and oppose it in others. Juxtapose, for example, abortion in the case of rape with abortion for the purpose of sex selection. At best, a small minority—perhaps 20% but likely smaller—would approve of or oppose abortion in every case.

While I agree that Douthat’s use of public opinion is tendentious, I think the problems are different and worse than the ones that John cites. The most obvious problem, if you click through to the poll Douthat is discussing, Douthat first combines two categories to create what looks like an anti-choice majority, adding the 20% who want abortion banned to the larger number who believe that abortion should only be legal under “a few circumstances.” Since these “circumstances” aren’t specified and presumably mean many different things to different people, to combine the two numbers is fundamentally misleading.

This brings us to a larger problem with this kind of conflation, which advances the interests of the minority who want abortion to be criminalized. I agree with John that many people have an intuitive sense that abortion should be legal for the “right reasons” but not for the “wrong reasons,” which is reflected in the public opinion data that shows a great deal of support for abortion only being legal in certain unspecified circumstances. The problem is that these distinctions are completely irrelevant to public policy. There’s no way of crafting abortion laws that only makes abortions women obtain for certain reasons illegal. “Centrist” abortion regulations such as waiting periods or requiring the approval of panels of doctors don’t ensure that women will get abortion for the “right reasons”; they just produce contexts in which affluent women can obtain abortions for any reason and poor women — especially those outside major urban centers — find it difficult or impossible to obtain abortions for any reason.

I don’t think “women should only be able to obtain abortions if Ross Douthat approves of their reasons for doing so” is a normatively attractive basis for abortion policy either, but whatever one thinks of the argument it’s irrelevant to making abortion policy. The public may strongly oppose abortion for sex selection, but since there’s no way of specifically targeting such abortions with an enforceable law it’s neither here not there. Getting these kinds of selective moral judgments mixed up with abortion policy confuses matters in ways that work to the benefit supporters of abortion criminalization. A fair fight between the actual policy alternatives would strongly favor pro-choicers, as the public’s overwhelming support for Roe v. Wade reflects.

“Our Advancing the Anti-Choice Goals Our Leaders Support Was Not Political”

[ 24 ] February 3, 2012 |

Shorter Nancy Brinker: “We will not bow down. We will continue to defend our stupid, anti-gender equity decisions with evasive, almost comically disingenuous gibberish.”

By the way, since this new standard that any organization under a nuisance investigation by political opponents cannot receive funding was totally not tailored solely to apply to Planned Parenthood, I’ll assume that Komen will immediately end their funding of Penn State, right?  Or do actual serious investigations not count?

You’re Right — It *Was* a “Monstrous Decision”

[ 93 ] February 2, 2012 |

For an object lesson about why it infuriates me when the Dana Milbanks of the world assume that the forced pregnancy lobby has some sort of monopoly on assessing morality, see here.    Forcing your mentally disabled daughter to bear her rapist’s child without her input (let alone consent,) based on utter nonsense about Plan B being an abortifacient.   And then bragging about it!   This isn’t some great act of moral conscience; it’s an act of barbarism.

Yet More Komen

[ 8 ] February 2, 2012 |

I think it’s safe to say that the answer to the key question here is “no”:

Can you trust a breast cancer organization whose staff and board lie about medical science, including breast cancer?

Today, amidst the outcry surrounding the decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to demand that its state affiliates terminate a successful five-year relationship working with Planned Parenthood clinics to increase access to breast cancer screening for low-income and uninsured women, it dawned on me that there is another pressing question here not being asked.

Why has the world’s largest breast cancer advocacy organization hired senior staff people and elected to its board individuals who misrepresent, or are allied with those who misrepresent, medical and public health evidence, including about causes of breast cancer?

Directing your dollars away from Komen makes it much more likely they’ll go to actual cancer treatment, much less likely that your money will go to filing silly lawsuits against other charitable organizations:

Yet this is an organization that has repeatedly come under fire for its extravagant promotion of itself as an organization dedicated to a “cure,” when only a small portion of its expenses go to, you know, curing cancer. Komen itself cops to portioning just 24 percent of its funds to research – and 20 percent to fundraising and administration. For an organization with reported revenues of nearly $350 million, that’s still a lot of money for research. It’s an awful lot for itself, too.

Yet Komen remains pretty damn territorial around that whole “cure” thing. In a 2010 story for the Huffington Post, writer Laura Bassett pointed out that, according to Komen’s own financial records, it spends almost “a million dollars a year in donor funds” aggressively going after other organizations that dare to use the phrase “for the cure” – including small charities like Kites for a Cure, Par for the Cure, Surfing for a Cure, Cupcakes for a Cure, and even a dog-sledding event called Mush for the Cure. Let me just give you that number again. A million bucks a year. Robert Smith, better watch your back.

In addition, see these excellent pieces about why the right hates Planned Parenthood and Komen’s wingnut founder.

More on the Weak Case for a Special Exemption on Contraceptive Coverage

[ 74 ] February 1, 2012 |

I’m sure you’ll be surprised to know that I don’t find E.J. Dionne’s criticisms of the Obama administration’s contraception coverage persuasive. For the reasons stated there it’s not entirely clear what Dionne wants, but what he’s advocating is either pointless or isn’t a “compromise” but just represents giving in to opponents of gender equity. My second point applies to Jon Chait as well; if you’re going to try to make a case that religious freedom should trump core concerns about gender equity, reproductive freedom, and impartial governance, the fact that as a first approximation no lay Catholics believe in the church’s teachings seems relevant (as does the fact that the policy does not apply to religious institutions qua religious institutions, but only in their secular functions as employers.) The burdens of what Dionne, Douthat and Chait are asking to impose are real, while the impact on religious freedom as the religion is actually practiced of the Obama administration’s superior alternative is miniscule.

More Komen

[ 16 ] February 1, 2012 |


This explanation has been met with reasonable skepticism for a number of reasons. For one, the organization has faced increasing pressure from antiabortion activists to cut all ties to Planned Parenthood. For two, Karen Handel, the Foundation’s senior vice president for public policy, is antiabortion. During her failed 2010 gubernatorial campaign, she publicly stated, “I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.” That’s not to mention, as sociologist Gayle Sulik, author of “Pink Ribbon Blues,” told me, “If Komen held its corporate partners to that standard, we’d see a lot fewer pink-ribboned products on the market.”


Regardless of whether the Komen Foundation pulled grants “because they caved to anti-choice pressure or because of the political leanings of their VP,” says activist Jessica Valenti, founder of, “the result is the same — women’s health and lives are going to suffer as a result.” That’s especially true for low-income women who are most dependent on Planned Parenthood’s services.


No matter how much anti-choicers wish otherwise, it’s not feasible to create an approach to women’s health that separates good girl concerns from bad girl concerns. For instance, many women land in gynocologist’s offices seeking contraceptive services and cervical-cancer screenings, and doctors use that opportunity to teach the art of breast self-exam. As noted in my previous post on the Santorums’ pregnancy troubles, even the world of the hated abortion provider and the much-vaunted obstetrician can’t be so easily separated, as the latter is often called upon to have knowledge of pregnancy termination in case of a medical emergency.

In the end, the grant money is less important than the symbolism of Komen buying into the conservative myth of good-girl health care vs. bad-girl health care. In reality, women’s health care can only work if it’s comprehensive health care. Komen has already been under serious scrutiny by those who argue that the organization cares more about shoring up their image than making real progress in the fight for women’s health, and with this move today, they proved their critics right.

As noted in comments, can help you find alternatives if you’d prefer that your charitable contributions not go to an organization that believes in gender subordination, and I also agree that donations to your local clinics are a good idea. (As, of course, in a donation to your local Planned Parenthood; in the name of the Komen Foundation even better.) More good suggestions here.

On Douthat’s Reactionary Mind

[ 62 ] January 30, 2012 |

I had been meaning to get to Douthat’s argument about how requiring employer-provided health care packages to provide coverage for contraceptives is the death knell of civil society or something. Fortunately, I was procrastinating we got some classic long-form Holbo on the subject. There’s no such thing as one key passage — it’s all great — but I’ll arbitrarily highlight this line of argument:

[Corey Robin] digs up fun quotes from old, odd sources.

“In order to keep the state out of the hands of the people,” wrote the French monarchist Louis de Bonald, “it is necessary to keep the family out of the hands of women and children.” (15)


Douthat, being a much kinder, gentler De Bonald, would only apply the principle in small ways, to certain traditional sex roles and social hierarchies. He thinks a semi-subordinate status for women, where reproductive stuff is concerned, seems right. But he wouldn’t want to put it that way, because it sounds bad. There should be some way of making out how really the issue is freedom and community. That is to say, Robin is basically right about the way Douthat thinks and argues.

This is a crucial point. Obviously, neither Douthat nor the religious officials resisting this particular regulation deny that as long as we’re going to have a private insurance system largely provided by employers who receive tax benefits, there has to be extensive regulation ensuring that this insurance is actually worth something to people who get sick. There’s no broader principle of liberty being breached by the Obama administration’s regulation. Reproductive health is an important component of health care and it’s logical that employers be required to provide it if they want the tax advantages that come with providing insurance. (And remember that were talking about religious organizations performing the secular function of employers here; for better or worse, for example, the Supreme Court unanimously held just this month that religious organizations qua religious organizations are exempt from civil rights law.) It’s not a coincidence that the one exemption that is being sought happens to involve the subordination of women, and involves invoking a “principle” so essential to the faith that it has been overwhelmingly rejected by practicing Roman Catholics. Even leaving aside the highly unattractive vision that places “community” above gender equity and liberty, what we’re talking about here is a Potemkin “community” — trying to impose anachronistic, reactionary views on birth control on lay Catholics who by and large don’t believe in them.

Obviously, it’s a very good thing that these feeble arguments failed.

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