Showing posts with label reproductive rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reproductive rights. Show all posts

6.30.2018

from the archives: for millions of american women, roe is already history

With the resignation of US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, it is very likely that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, will be overturned. I'm getting frustrated by the spate of stories about how abortion will now be illegal -- with no mention of how Roe has become meaningless for so many women.

I wrote this (below) on Common Dreams in 2005. I was off on the chronology -- it took longer to get to this point than I thought it would -- and the lack of access has undoubtedly gotten worse since then. This piece in The Guardian will bring you up to date.

* * * * *

January 23, 2005

For Millions of American Women, Roe Is Already History
By Laura Kaminker

Thirty-two years ago yesterday, American women gained greater control over their bodies - and therefore, over their lives - when Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, became the law of the land.

The choice community celebrates the Roe anniversary as a kind of emancipation day, but it is unlikely we will see too many more of those celebrations. Roe will almost certainly be reversed soon. Abortion will be legal in some states and not others. State laws will vary widely in the circumstances under which a pregnancy may be terminated - as is now the case, only more so.

However, those of us involved in abortion access know that for millions of American women, Roe is already irrelevant.

Money. For a few years after the Roe decision, Medicaid paid for abortions; anyone could get an abortion regardless of her age or ability to pay. Only four years later, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which banned payment for abortions unless the woman's life was endangered. (In 1993, after much struggle, those exceptions were broadened to include cases of rape and incest.)

In most states, Medicaid rarely covers abortion. Yet the cost of a first-trimester abortion can be more than a family on public assistance receives in a month. In our Walmart economy, many working women can't afford a procedure.

Low-income women and girls delay termination as they try to scrape together the money they need. These delays often force them to have second-trimester procedures, which are more complicated medically, more risky - and much more expensive. It is not uncommon for women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because they cannot afford a simple medical procedure.

Laws. Then there are the legal obstacles. With the Webster (1989) and Casey (1992) decisions, the Supreme Court upheld states' rights to restrict access to abortion in myriad ways. Women must jump through hoops and over hurdles before they can terminate a pregnancy. These laws run the gamut of idiocy, from 48-hour waiting periods, to parental consent and notification for minors, to mandatory "counseling," which often involves coercion.

These laws assume women are incompetent, irresponsible, and unable to make their own decisions. They also expose the anti-choice "abortion is murder" argument for the smokescreen that it is. If abortion was murder, these types of laws would be anathema to the anti-choice crowd: what good is delaying murder? However, if one's goal is to control women and punish them for having sex and getting pregnant, then these laws make perfect sense.

And then there's availability. In addition to the financial and legal barriers, there is one last, often insurmountable obstacle: availability.

Because of anti-choice terrorism and political action, thousands of doctors have stopped providing abortions and thousands of towns have stopped leasing space to abortion providers. Right now, nearly 80% of American women live in a county with no abortion provider. Obtaining an abortion often means traveling long distances, which in turn means finding child care and transportation, and even more funds. Imagine if the state also has a mandatory waiting period, so the entire trip has to be made twice. A baby should not be born because a woman could not afford the price of a bus ticket or had no one to watch her children.

When Roe is overturned, I will mourn. But in a very real sense, Roe is already history and has been for a long time. Without access, legal abortion is meaningless.

6.21.2018

congratulations to the people of ireland! #repealedthe8th

While this blog was offline, an amazing and incredibly important thing happened: the people of the Republic of Ireland affirmed the human right to control our own bodies.

In a referendum to "Repeal the 8th" -- so-called for the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which gave equal legal status to women and embryos or fetuses -- the overwhelming majority of Irish people voted yes to repeal the total ban on abortion.

For me, the way this happened was almost as important as the result: it was a true grassroots organizing campaign. Person to person, street by street, town by town, Irish people talked and discussed and declaimed and debated. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of repeal: 66.4% voted to repeal. With this, Ireland has at last "stepped into the light".


One of the most touching details of the #RepealThe8th campaign was #HomeToVote, which saw Irish citizens living all over the world traveling to Ireland to cast their vote to repeal. Reading #HomeToVote posts on Twitter had me weeping with pride and joy.

Can I tell you how proud I am to know someone who was part of this historic moment? I lived some of the excitement and tension vicariously through my friend and former Haven conspirator.

The good folks at Abortion Support Network caution that it will be a while before abortion services are actually available in Ireland. Laws must be written and enacted, services must be set up. Travel to England will still be necessary, so donations and assistance for the journey are still very much called for.

The other caveat: Northern Ireland. Although Northern Ireland is part of the UK, abortion services have been banned there throughout, and repealing the 8th Amendment didn't change that. But it's coming. It's definitely coming. Freedom to Northern Ireland: you're next.

Ni saoirse go saoirse na mban: there is no freedom until the freedom of women.

1.02.2018

in a youth novel about adoption, abortion doesn't even exist

I am reading a YA novel about adopted people connecting with their biological siblings and parents. This is a topic I have written about and have an interest in, and it's supposed to be a very good book: Far From the Tree, by Robin Benway.

On page 3, the teenage protagonist knows she cannot raise a child, so she immediately begins the adoption process, interviewing prospective parents during her pregnancy. Fine. The word abortion is never used. Not fine.

There is no "She knew she would never have an abortion, so she...", no "It was too late to have an abortion, and anyway she doubted she would do that...", no "She was from a religious family, so abortion was out of the question." Not one word. As if the option does not exist. As if abortion itself does not exist. How realistic is that? Not at all?

Such is the state of YA in the United States. Does the author, or perhaps the publisher, think if the word abortion appears once in a 300-page book, the book will be the target of boycotts? Even in a book where the girl doesn't terminate the pregnancy? 

In case I was missing something, I searched the e-book for the word abortion. Not found.

I honestly don't know if I can get past this to read the book. My head is exploding.

I've written about this before, and at the moment I don't have time or inclination to add context. So: wmtc:
on tv, pregnancy is fine and dandy, but abortion is the choice that cannot be named (good comment discussion here)

murdoch mysteries, abortion on tv, and maybe an anti-war reference, too

Book Riot: Abortion in YA Lit: A Reading List

Cosmopolitan: Why I Included Abortion in My YA Novel -- "I just wanted to be one of the voices out there that shows that this is actually quite normal."

Gurl: 7 Awful Teen Pregnancy Plots in TV shows

9.28.2015

bernie sanders, the pope, and the politics of amnesia

I see a lot of excitement online, in places like Common Dreams and The Nation, and in my Facebook feed, about Bernie Sanders, supposedly remaking US politics, and Pope Francis, supposedly remaking the Roman Catholic Church.

About Sanders, I shake my head and wonder why long-time Democrat voters do not see him and his candidacy for what it is. About the Pope, I wonder why progressive people allow themselves to care.

Sanders is the new Dean

Bernie Sanders has been praised as a maverick, an independent, and a socialist. All of which may have been true at various points in his political career.

Right now Sanders is running for President as a Democrat. He is not spearheading a movement to build a new alternative. He is not refusing corporate funding and appealing to the grassroots. He is not "challenging politics as usual," as headlines in progressive news sites often say. He is seeking the Democratic nomination, which means he will play within the boundaries of that game.

And that game demands that Bernie Sanders not run for president. I suspect it's already a done deal: that in return for firing up progressive voters and helping them to believe that their cause is the Democrats' cause, he has already been offered a cabinet position, should Hillary become POTUS. I'd be shocked to learn that this is not the case.

However, whether or not there is already a backroom deal in place, we can be assured that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic presidential nominee. No matter the size of the crowds at his appearances, no matter the polls. The nominee is not chosen based on crowds, nor on polls.

Just as we have always been at war with Eastasia, there has always been a Bernie Sanders. His name has been Dennis Kucinich, and Howard Dean. His name has been Jesse Jackson, and Paul Wellstone. He exists to reassure and corral the liberal vote. He does his part, then fades away, as the "electable" candidate is tapped for the big show.

I recently saw this headline: Sanders and Trump Offer Two Roads Out of Establishment Politics—Which Will We Follow?. In what way does Sanders offer a "road out of establishment politics"? During his tenure in Congress, he has voted with the Democrats 98% of the time. Sanders is seeking the Democratic candidacy and Trump is seeking the Republican candidacy. What is anti-establishment about that?

Francis is not the new anything

And then there's the "radical pope". If ever there was a time for the "you keep on using that word" meme, surely it is when the word radical is applied to the leader of the largest hierarchy on the planet.

In what way is this pope radical? He has said some things. He has made some statements.

Pope Francis has declared that Catholic priests will temporarily be allowed to absolve the sin of abortion without obtaining special permission from a bishop. And media hailed this as the Church softening its stance on abortion!

Absolution? The Pope should be begging our forgiveness for the untold number of women who have died from illegal abortions, the orphans and desperately poor children whose mothers were denied contraception, the families forced into poverty by the Church's own policies. The Church offers a brief amnesty for women who exercised their human rights? Fuck you.

Pope Francis has made some statements against unchecked capitalism and in sympathy with the world's poor. Has the Church renounced its immense, tax-exempt wealth in order to feed the hungry world?

"God weeps," said this Pope, at child sexual abuse, and similar statements of contrition that survivors have heard from two popes before him. Pope Francis praised his bishops' handling of the sex abuse crisis, only to back down after an outcry from survivors and advocates. One more "carefully choreographed" statement. One more nothing. If survivors themselves had not risen up and demanded the world hear them, the Church would still be playing whack-a-mole with pedophile priests.

Pope Francis has acknowledged that LGBT people are human beings, and perhaps will not suffer eternal damnation for leading their own lives. Gee thanks, Pope.

There is no doubt that Pope Francis has changed the tone of a tone-deaf institution that is decades, if not centuries, behind the times. Because liberation movements - of women, LGBT people, indigenous people, sexual abuse survivors - have changed our very world, the Church was finally forced to acknowledge modernity.

But he has altered nothing of substance, and certainly has not moved one iota towards radical change.

This pope name-dropped the great radical leader Dorothy Day, much as every US politician quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. But besides his speeches in the US, what did Pope Francis actually do? He canonized Father Junípero Serra, a Spanish priest who was actively complicit in the genocide of indigenous peoples of North and South America.

Yet this change of tone and some heartfelt conciliatory speeches are enough for the media - including much alternative media - to hail Pope Francis as a Great Bringer of Change.

Mass amnesia

I watched in wonder as liberal USians hailed Obama as the Great Bringer of Change, then had their hearts broken, as per usual. Yet now, less than a decade later, they appear to be hypnotized again.

Bernie Sanders will not save us. Pope Francis will not save us. We are the people we have been waiting for. If we want radical change, we have to band together and create it ourselves. Idle No More. Occupy Wall Street. Fight for 15. The member organizations of 350.org. Food Inc. No One Is Illegal. Marinaleda. Los Indignados. And a million other groups - groups without names, groups without media coverage - groups of people, acting collectively. This is the way forward.

Vote for Sanders in the primaries. Then dutifully vote for Hillary for president. And wonder why nothing ever changes.

6.21.2015

my feminism includes trans people. all women need to listen to each other.

The continuing liberation of transgender people is a marvel to behold. We are witnessing history, as trans people and their issues become part of the mainstream. From Chelsea Manning to "Transparent" to Laverne Cox, and of course Caitlyn Jenner, transgender people and issues have never been so front and centre. I don't do celebrity gossip so I don't know anything about the lurid lead-up to Jenner's coming out, but when the woman who cuts my hair asks me what I think about transgender people, I know something big is going on. There is more than one out trans person in the larger circle of my own life, something most of us never could have said throughout human history.

Of course the Vanity Fair cover reflects the reality of most transgender lives the way the Cosby Show reflected most African American lives. This New York Times article is a good wrap-up of where things stand - and where they don't - in the mainstream.

Naturally I consider myself an ally of trans people, as I would for any people asserting their own humanity and equality. For a feminist, a socialist, and someone who identifies as LGBT, this defines "no-brainer". So I find the current clash between different schools of feminist thought and the trans movement very sad - although predictable, and I think, temporary.

Apparently there are people who call themselves feminists who actually believe that trans women are not "real women" and should be excluded from the movement. That attitude is bigoted, offensive, and dangerous. As a general rule, anytime you agree with the anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-gay crowd, you might want to re-assess.

There are also feminists who feel that some of the language - and the policing of that language - around trans issues denies the reality of their own lives, and denies the struggle of women's own liberation. When they have stated this publicly, they've been accused of transphobia.

Abortion access organizations - small grassroots networks that help low-income women who want abortions - have changed their language to be inclusive to trans people. Instead of referring to "women who need abortions", they now say "people who need abortions". A transgender person in any stage of transition might become pregnant. If that person identifies as a man, he may also be a rape survivor. He deserves care that treats him with dignity and respect.

In the abortion-rights movement, not everyone is comfortable with this. I know from personal conversations that some felt pressured - even bullied - into making this change, rather than educated and supported. That's not the road to inclusion, either.

Katha Pollitt, writing in The Nation, asks "Who Has Abortions?".
I’m going to argue here that removing “women” from the language of abortion is a mistake. We can, and should, support trans men and other gender-non-conforming people. But we can do that without rendering invisible half of humanity and 99.999 percent of those who get pregnant. I know I’ll offend, hurt and disappoint some people, including abortion-fund activists I love dearly. That is why I’ve started this column many times over many months and put it aside. I tell myself I might be wrong—it’s happened before. “Most of the pressure [to shift language] comes from young people,” said one abortion-fund head I interviewed, whose fund, like many, has “Women” in its name. “The role of people in our generation is to give money and get out of the way.” . . .

From the perspective of providing care, I understand it. “The focus should be on access,” NYAAF board member Rye Young told me over the phone. The primary purpose of abortion funds is to provide immediate financial and other help to individuals in crisis, whom funders usually know only as voices on the phone. If wording on a website makes people feel they can’t make that phone call, that’s not good. We women have had enough experience with being disrespected by healthcare and social-service providers not to wish that on anyone else. Does presenting abortion as gender-neutral need to be part of that welcoming procedure, though? The primary sources of abortion data in the US—the CDC and the Guttmacher Institute—don’t collect information on the gender identity of those who seek abortion, but conversations with abortion providers and others suggest the number of transgender men who want to end a pregnancy is very low. I don’t see how it denies “the existence and humanity of trans people” to use language that describes the vast majority of those who seek to end a pregnancy. Why can’t references to people who don’t identify as women simply be added to references to women? After all, every year over 2,000 men get breast cancer and over 400 die, and no one is calling for “women” to be cut out of breast-cancer language so that men will feel more comfortable seeking treatment. If there was such a call, though, I wonder what would happen. Women have such a long history of minimizing themselves in order not to hurt feelings or seem self-promoting or attention-demanding. We are raised to put ourselves second, and too often, still, we do.
The column was vilified as transphobic and hateful. Pollitt was attacked on the internet as if she were Fred Phelps. Did most of the people tweeting and re-tweeting read the column in question? Were they seeing the full context?

This response was more helpful. In "Cisgender Women Aren’t the Only People Who Seek Abortions, and Activists’ Language Should Reflect That", Dr. Cheryl Chastine points out that the claim "99.999 percent of those who get pregnant" are cisgender women is not unlike an era that thought gay people were extremely rare - or, I would add, a culture that claims there are no gay people within it.
Feminists like Pollitt who argue against inclusive language assert that because “99.999 percent of the population” seeking abortions are cis women, it is inaccurate and inappropriate to use gender-inclusive language. So how many trans people are we really talking about? It’s more than 0.001 percent. Suppose you time-traveled back to the 1950s and asked the average physician how many of his or her patients were gay. They would probably respond, “None” or, “Maybe one or two.” It’d be easy to conclude, therefore, that 99.999 percent of all people were straight, so there’d be no need to include any forms of non-heterosexual orientation in language or activism. Assuming the proportion of non-heterosexual people has stayed roughly constant, though, our 1950s physician likely did have a number of gay, lesbian, or bisexual patients. The doctor simply took them to be heterosexual. They may have even presented themselves as such, out of a legitimate fear that the physician would behave prejudicially toward them.
Excellent article. Helpful. Calling Katha Pollitt a bigot on Twitter, not helpful. (No need to point out that uninformed bashing on Twitter is the norm. I'm aware.)

Another piece that was trashed as transphobic was Elinor Burkett's essay, "What Makes a Woman" in the New York Times. I can understand that. I was uncomfortable with some of it, too. At the same time, much of that essay resonates with me.
Do women and men have different brains?

Back when Lawrence H. Summers was president of Harvard and suggested that they did, the reaction was swift and merciless. Pundits branded him sexist. Faculty members deemed him a troglodyte. Alumni withheld donations.

But when Bruce Jenner said much the same thing in an April interview with Diane Sawyer, he was lionized for his bravery, even for his progressivism.

“My brain is much more female than it is male,” he told her, explaining how he knew that he was transgender.

This was the prelude to a new photo spread and interview in Vanity Fair that offered us a glimpse into Caitlyn Jenner’s idea of a woman: a cleavage-boosting corset, sultry poses, thick mascara and the prospect of regular “girls’ nights” of banter about hair and makeup. Ms. Jenner was greeted with even more thunderous applause. ESPN announced it would give Ms. Jenner an award for courage. President Obama also praised her. Not to be outdone, Chelsea Manning hopped on Ms. Jenner’s gender train on Twitter, gushing, “I am so much more aware of my emotions; much more sensitive emotionally (and physically).”

A part of me winced.

I have fought for many of my 68 years against efforts to put women — our brains, our hearts, our bodies, even our moods — into tidy boxes, to reduce us to hoary stereotypes. Suddenly, I find that many of the people I think of as being on my side — people who proudly call themselves progressive and fervently support the human need for self-determination — are buying into the notion that minor differences in male and female brains lead to major forks in the road and that some sort of gendered destiny is encoded in us.

That’s the kind of nonsense that was used to repress women for centuries. But the desire to support people like Ms. Jenner and their journey toward their truest selves has strangely and unwittingly brought it back.
I, too, feel that much of the discourse around trans issues reinforces gender stereotypes. We've struggled against these stereotypes, and we've spent a lifetime asserting our right to be women and to be people, even as we reject them. So it can hurt to hear women, whether cis or trans, embrace these stereotypes and define their womanhood and their personhood through them. This is what I took from Burkett's article.

Burkett also asserted that Caitlyn Jenner has benefited from male privilege most of her life, and that privilege comes into play now. I agree with that, too.

The fact that some of Burkett's essay resonated with me doesn't make me transphobic. My observations come from my own reality. I've had my own struggles to define myself and accept myself in a sexist world. My journey is different than that of a trans woman, and I'm sure in many ways it has been infinitely easier, but it is still my reality. Any cis woman finds herself agreeing with this essay needs space to assert this, without being accused of a bigotry that isn't (necessarily) there.

Trans people have every right to demand inclusion. But inclusion gained through silencing discussion is not really inclusion at all: it's separatism. At a certain stage in a movement, separatism may be what's needed. But for the road ahead, I hope to see us aim for understanding and solidarity - among all feminists, all LGBT people, and all allies.

These types of conflicts within and among social movements have a long and rich history. The second-wave feminists clashed with the pioneers of gay liberation. Going back further to the earliest days of the women's movement, in the 19th Century when women were fighting for basic civil rights, there were conflicts between feminism and the abolitionist and temperance movements. All movements have growing pains, early conflicts, and questions that can only be settled over time, through people's own lived experiences.

Experiencing these growing pains in the internet era amplifies and escalates the conflict. When someone publishes an essay, and one sentence of that essay ignites a Twitter storm - and it's reasonable to assume that many (most?) people retweeting have not read the essay, merely the offending sentence and the claim of bigotry - then there is no education. There is only noise.

I'm not equating Twitter attacks on Pollitt or Burkett with the struggles of transgender people for full acceptance and equality. I'm not suggesting cis feminists who are uncomfortable replacing the word "women" with "people" are victims.

I am merely suggesting that true inclusion is not about who can generate the most tweets - that is, who can yell the loudest. Feminists of all ages and eras have a lot to learn from this exciting wave of trans liberation. Trans women and their allies may have something to learn from previous waves of feminism. We'll only find out if we listen to each other.

* * * * *

Some good reading on this topic:

It's Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women, Tina Vasquez, Bitch Media

On Trans Issues with Feminism and Strengthening the Movement's Gender Analysis, Jos Truitt, Feministing

Trans Women Are Women. Why Do We Have to Keep Saying This?, Leela Ginelle, Bitch Media, an analysis of Burkitt's essay

Who Has Abortions?, Katha Pollitt, The Nation

Cisgender Women Aren’t the Only People Who Seek Abortions, and Activists’ Language Should Reflect That, Cheryl Chastine, RH Reality Check

What Makes A Woman, Elinor Burkett, New York Times

Responses to Burkett's piece published in the Times. I'm using this because it represents multiple points of view.

4.22.2015

icymi: indiana woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for failed pregnancy

This month, four decades of anti-woman, anti-abortion hysteria in the US hit a new low.

Last August, an Indiana woman sought medical attention after a premature delivery resulted in the death of the fetus. The emergency-room doctor called the police.

In April, that woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

From WaPo:
Indiana woman jailed for "feticide." It's never happened before.

...Informed that officials were heading to her home, Patel told her doctors that she'd had a miscarriage and had left her stillborn fetus in a dumpster behind a shopping center. Still in his hospital scrubs, McGuire followed police cars to the scene and examined the fetus, which he pronounced dead on arrival. Patel was charged with child neglect, and later with killing her fetus, and on Monday she was sentenced to 20 consecutive years in prison.

The verdict makes Patel the first woman in the U.S. to be charged, convicted and sentenced for "feticide" for ending her own pregnancy, according to the group National Advocates for Pregnant Women (“NAPW”). Though Patel said she had had a miscarriage, she was found guilty of taking illegal abortion drugs. The Indiana statute under which Patel was convicted bans "knowingly or intentionally terminat[ing] a human pregnancy" with any intention other than producing a live birth, removing a dead fetus or performing a legal abortion.

Monday's sentencing brought an end to Patel's trial, but it may be only the beginning of the public debate about the details of her case. Patel's conviction has many pro-choice activists alarmed that feticide laws, initially passed as a means of protecting pregnant women from providers of dangerous illegal abortions and other sources of harm, are now being used against them.

"Prosecutors in Indiana are using this very sad situation to establish that intentional abortions as well as unintentional pregnancy losses should be punished as crimes," Lynn Paltrow, executive director for NAPW, told the Guardian in August of 2014. "...No woman should be arrested for the outcome of her pregnancy."
From The Guardian, at the time of Patel's arrest.
A 33-year-old woman from Indiana has been charged with the feticide and fetal murder of her unborn child after she endured a premature delivery and sought hospital treatment.

Purvi Patel faces between six and 20 years in prison for feticide and up to 50 years imprisonment for neglect of a dependent when she goes to trial, currently scheduled for 29 September. She is the second woman in Indiana to be charged with feticide following the prolonged criminal prosecution of Bei Bei Shuai, who lost her baby when she tried to kill herself.

Women's rights advocates see the decision by prosecutors of St Joseph County, Indiana, to apply feticide laws against Patel as part of the creeping criminalization of pregnancy in America. At least 38 of the 50 states have introduced fetal homicide laws intended to protect the unborn child and in a growing number of states – including Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina – those laws have been turned against mothers.
I would offer only one correction: these laws were never intended to "protect the unborn child". The laws are being used exactly for their intended purpose: to police and punish women. Especially - or exclusively - low-income women. Because let's be clear: the US's "war on women" is also a class war. Women who can afford private treatment will never be subjected to these humiliations. On the other hand, with the middle class shrinking and poverty burgeoning throughout the US, increasing numbers of women must fear these nightmare scenarios.

What would policies intended to "protect the unborn child" look like? Laws that gave us: Fresh, healthy food that every person could afford. Free quality pre-natal care. Free quality medical care for every person. Free childcare for the children already born. Jobs that pay a true living wage. Clean water.

Policies intended to protect children - in any stage of their lives - don't criminalize pregnancy.

* * * *

Canadians take note: a fetal personhood law was floated as a private member's bill in the Harper government. The MP who sponsored the bill admitted that its purpose was to "recognize the humanity of the unborn child". The recent sentencing in Indiana is the direct outcome of that kind of language enshrined into law.

The bill was defeated after public outcry.

12.26.2014

what i'm reading: pro: reclaiming abortion rights by katha pollitt

Katha Pollitt's new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, is a powerful gust of fresh, clean air that blows away the toxic stench of the current discourse about abortion.

Pro is a thorough, no-holds-barred takedown of the hypocrisy of anti-abortion-rights movement - not only in the most obvious sense that people who claim to be "pro-life" also (usually) support war and the death penalty, oppose gun control, and encourage lethal terrorism against abortion providers and clinic staff, and of people who claim to care about women and children, but oppose all social supports that might improve the lives of actual living children. Pro also exposes the perhaps less obvious hypocrisy of how the anti-abortion movement has created conditions that result in more unwanted pregnancies, more abortion, more later abortions, and less safe abortions. Using unassailable logic and facts, Pollitt exposes what the real agenda of the anti-abortion movement is and has always been: punishing women for trying to live modern, emancipated lives.

She exposes, too, the contradictions in how the current abortion debate is framed, and how the majority of people - not the vehemently pro-choice or the vehemently anti-abortion, but the "muddled middle," as Pollitt calls it - thinks about abortion. The vast majority of North Americans, it appears, believes abortion should be safe and legal, but also regard the procedure with distaste, discomfort, and shame. Pollitt makes it sparklingly clear why "legal, but..." doesn't work, why it can't work, and why we shouldn't want it.

This book is about something many people might find a strange contradiction: reclaiming abortion as a social good.
First, the concept of personhood, as applied to the zygote, blastocyst, embryo, and at least until late in pregnancy, fetus, makes no sense: It's an incoherent, covertly religious idea that falls apart if you look at it closely. Few people actually believe it, as is shown by the exceptions they are willing to make.

Second, the absolutist argument that abortion is murder is a mask by which people opposed to the sexual revolution and women's advancement obscure their real motives and agenda: turning back the clock to an idealized, oversimplified past when sex was confined within marriage, men were the breadwinners and heads of families, Christianity was America's not-quite-official religion, and society was firmly ordered.

Third, since critiquing what came before does not necessarily help us move forward, I want to help reframe the way we think about abortion. There are definitely short-term advantages to stressing the anguish some women feel when facing the need to end a pregnancy, but in the long run presenting that as a general truth will hurt the pro-choice cause: It comes close to demanding that women accept grief, shame, and stigma as the price of ending a pregnancy. I want us to start thinking of abortion as a positive social good and saying this out loud. The anti-abortion movement has been far too successful at painting abortion as bad for women. I want to argue, to the contrary, that it is an essential option for women - not just ones in dramatic, terrible, body-and-soul destroying situations, but all women - and thus benefits society as a whole.
For anyone deeply involved in the pro-choice movement, as I have been, Pollitt breaks no new ground. You'll be familiar with all the ideas, trends, and arguments. But to read them all gathered together, laid out logically, backed by impeccable research, and pronounced without apology in Pollitt's lively, witty style, is thrilling.

For people who think of themselves as "pro-choice but" - the muddled middle, the majority, who say abortion should be legal and permissible in certain circumstances - this book is for you. Pollitt argues in the clearest, most convincing manner: none of your restrictions make sense. All of them must go. If that seems extreme, read this book with an open mind, then see how you feel.

Pro is written in a US context, and it's important for everyone in the US to read, especially moderate liberals who adopt the "safe, legal, and rare" position.

But this is an important book for Canadians to read, too. Without directly referencing the history of abortion rights in Canada, Pollitt shows us why Dr. Henry Morgentaler and the movement that grew around his work were correct to insist on no abortion law, and why Canada's courts were correct to realize that was necessary. The arguments in Pro explain why the pro-choice movement in Canada kicks up such a loud and sustained noise every time proposed legislation threatens to restrict abortion rights. (The Harper government has tested the waters many times under the guise of private members' bills. Rights don't protect themselves.)

Pollitt argues for abortion as a basic human right: necessary to women's full participation in society, necessary for her survival and her safety, not just in extreme circumstances, but in all circumstances. She excoriates the hypocrisy of a society that worships motherhood as an abstract concept, but in reality, so belittles and minimizes the experience of parenthood as to imagine that a woman can simply have a baby and raise a child any time she becomes pregnant, no matter her current life circumstances - then dismisses the notion that she must do otherwise as abortions "for convenience".

Pollitt also widens the lens to include all aspects of reproductive justice, including access to affordable and reliable birth control, free and affordable childcare, paid parental leave, and working hours designed for working parents. She places abortion in an historical context - it has always existed, in all societies and in all eras - and reminds us what happens to women who live in Ecuador, Ireland, most of the US, and other countries where women's access to this basic, necessary health care has been denied.

After teasing out the many sacrifices, the pain, the accommodation, the compromises, that women routinely make in order to bear children, Pollitt writes:
To force girls and women to undergo all this against their will is to annihilate their humanity.
And that is the bottom line.

Pro is an eloquent, sustained wake-up call. I hope you will all read it.

8.10.2014

the courage and compassion of dr. willie parker, the last abortion doctor in mississippi

"The Pink House", the last abortion clinic in Mississippi.
The owner painted it pink so it would stand out, in defiance.
I've thought a lot about heroes, that tremendously overused word, about who my heroes are and why I love them. Moral courage, as you may know, is my highest value. Now, reading this story in Esquire about Dr. Willie Parker, the last abortion doctor in the state of Mississippi, I realize there's another ingredient shared by all my heroes: an abundance of compassion.

Dr. Parker, a committed Christian, embodies both physical and moral courage, refusing to run despite the knowledge that others who tread this path have been murdered. Dr. Parker fills a vital health and social need by performing abortions in Mississippi. But he does more than that. He offers compassion (along with education) to every patient.

Dr. Parker not only wants women to decide for themselves whether and when to bear children. He wants to help free them of the guilt and shame that they've internalized from the surrounding anti-abortion culture. He is very smart, politically; he understands what really drives the anti-abortion movement.
One result: In 2012, America's teenage girls had an average of thirty-one births per one thousand. In Canada, the number was fourteen. In France, six. In Sweden, seven. The difference is that those countries promote contraception without shame. "So it seems like if they want to reduce abortion, the best thing to do would be to support contraception—but they're against contraception, too, because contraception and abortion decouple sexuality from procreation. That's why I think religious preoccupation with abortion is largely about controlling the sexuality of women."
This is a tremendous article, which Esquire released online in advance of the print edition, because of the recent court ruling blocking a Mississippi anti-abortion law. I hope you will read it in its entirety: The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker, by John H. Richardson.

7.27.2014

the decision "you'll regret for the rest of your life": the reality gap in fictional abortions

The conversation around the movie "Obvious Child" has prompted me to re-visit a long-standing interest of mine, one I share with many other reproductive rights activists: the portrayal of abortion in the mainstream media.

I haven't seen "Obvious Child" (I wait for DVD or Netflix, as always), but I've heard that it includes a rarity: an honest and positive portrayal of the choice to terminate a pregnancy. Considering how many women do have abortions - and considering that the choice is usually met with relief and happiness - this shouldn't be exceptional. Yet it is.

On fictional TV shows and movies, when women are faced with unwanted pregnancies, certain outcomes are almost predictable. Sometimes abortion is never mentioned as an option, as if it simply does not exist. More often, abortion is mentioned briefly, contemplated with horror, and cast aside.

In soaps, a spontaneous abortion (usually known by the antiquated term miscarriage) often settles the question. Horseback riding is good for this, as is a fall down a flight of steps. Somehow no bones are broken but the pregnancy disappears. In movies, women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant often contemplate abortion, can't go through with it, and are converted into happy motherhood. "Save the Date" is a good recent example of this, although the ambiguous ending leaves the happy outcome to the viewer's imagination.

And there's the question of what happens after abortion is chosen. Depression, and death by either murder or suicide, or general psychotic outbursts, are not uncommon.

Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health - a project of the University of California, San Francisco - looked at every single instance of abortion in fictional movies and TV shows, and compared them to reality. They're still working on the project, but you can click here to see an infographic of their results so far. Such as this.



I don't know if most producers and screenwriters know this is twaddle but fear the reprisals of anti-choice activism, or if living in a world of media fiction has misled them to actually believe this stuff. Or perhaps they are simply creating drama, the way TV detective mysteries have practically invented the psychotic female murderer. (Yes, they exist, but they're relatively rare. Except on TV.) Either way, abortions in movies and TV often end up tinged with anti-abortion propaganda.

In reality, the most common feeling for women to experience post-abortion is relief. It's over, and she can move on with her life.

This is not to say there isn't, for some women, sadness or wistfulness or some measure of regret. Sometimes no choice is really what you want. I've known women - and perhaps you have, too, or perhaps this has been your experience - who would have liked to have another child, but knew that in good conscience they could not. Either she couldn't afford another child, or her life was too unstable, or her marriage was breaking up, or what have you. She thought it would be wonderful to have another baby, but not now, not given her current circumstances. So she chose abortion, all the while wishing she didn't have to. So there's a measure of regret, but the choice is freely made.

Often, though, there is only relief, pure and simple. An unwanted pregnancy is a horrific experience. The bottom drops out of your world until it's taken care of.

But don't take my word for it. How can we be sure that an exception like "Obvious Child" is actually a more honest portrayal? From every study that's ever been done.

The Guttmacher Institute compared women's emotions one week after terminating a pregnancy to the emotions of women who were denied abortions.
Context: The notion that abortion causes poor mental health has gained traction, even though it is not supported by research. Few studies have comprehensively investigated women's postabortion emotions.

Methods: Baseline data from a longitudinal study of women seeking abortion at 30 U.S. facilities between 2008 and 2010 were used to examine emotions among 843 women who received an abortion just prior to the facility's gestational age limit, were denied an abortion because they presented just beyond the gestational limit or obtained a first-trimester abortion. ...

Results: Compared with women who obtained a near-limit abortion, those denied the abortion felt more regret and anger ... and less relief and happiness. ... Among women who had obtained the abortion, the greater the extent to which they had planned the pregnancy or had difficulty deciding to seek abortion, the more likely they were to feel primarily negative emotions.... Most (95%) women who had obtained the abortion felt it was the right decision, as did 89% of those who expressed regret.

Conclusions: Difficulty with the abortion decision and the degree to which the pregnancy had been planned were most important for women's postabortion emotional state. Experiencing negative emotions postabortion is different from believing that abortion was not the right decision.
(This research is incorrectly credited to the University of California San Francisco, in many online stories.)

A similar study by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in the UK reviewed all studies about the emotional effects of abortion that had been published in English between 1990 and 2011.
- Unwanted pregnancy increases a woman’s risk of problems with her mental health.

- A woman with an unwanted pregnancy is as likely to have mental health problems from abortion as she is from giving birth.

- A woman with a history of mental health problems before abortion is more likely to have mental health problems after abortion.

- Circumstances, conditions, behaviors, and other factors associated with mental health problems are similar for women following abortion and women following childbirth.

- Pressure from a partner to terminate a pregnancy, negative attitudes about abortion, and negative attitudes about a woman’s experience of abortion may increase a woman’s risk of mental health problems after abortion.
Of course, in terms of reproductive and human rights, it doesn't matter if a woman regrets having an abortion. Human beings must own their own bodies, and must be free to decide whether, if, and when to bear children. Like all life decisions, reproductive decisions come with a risk of regret. As free people, that's our risk and our potential consequence to bear. When it comes to bringing a life into the world, I know I'd rather regret not having a baby than regret having one. Most of all, though, I insist on having the choice.

4.30.2014

dark times in canada, part 2: marci mcdonald on jason kenney: "and you thought harper was right-wing?"

You won't catch me implying that Stephen Harper and his corrupt, anti-democratic, anti-human government is moderate. But there's always room to move even further to the right, and that space is called Jason Kenney.

Marci McDonald, author of The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, has written a lengthy exposé of Kenney in The Walrus. (I've had the print edition for a couple of weeks, and have been waiting for it to post online so I could share it. The "and you thought Harper was right-wing?" tagline is from the print edition.) It's very long, but if you invest the time, it will not disappoint.

McDonald's article is very thought-provoking, and here's one thought it provoked in me: a Kenney-led Conservative Party of Canada may be our best hope at getting them out of power.
As the country’s official gatekeeper, Kenney turned a portfolio once seen as an instrument of nation building into what Solberg lauds as a gigantic manpower agency, screening out the elderly, people with infirmities, and those who had shown up unasked, in favour of the young and the skilled—those with enough schooling and language fluency to land jobs in the oil sands or at seniors’ bedsides, then blend seamlessly into Canadian society and metamorphose into that most valued of Conservative species, the hard-working taxpayer. “Jason has quite dramatically reoriented our system to one that responds to employers in Canada,” says Solberg. “It’s the most dramatic change since the Second World War.”

Along the way, Kenney used the ministry as a bully pulpit for small-c conservative values. Rewriting the country’s citizenship guide to celebrate entrepreneurship while institutionalizing reverence for the royals and the military, he may have helped to redefine what it means to be Canadian for generations to come. Under the newly toughened rules unveiled by his successor, Chris Alexander (but essentially drafted under Kenney’s watch), citizenship has become, as he liked to remind his bureaucrats constantly, “harder to get and easier to lose,” in some cases subject only to the minister’s say-so, an immense discretionary power that critics charge could “foster a citizenship of fear.”

In his five-year stint at Immigration, the longest of any minister’s in history, he managed to pull off a precarious balancing act: boosting the number of newcomers, among them thousands of cut-rate temporary foreign workers, needed to fill the yawning corporate maw, while brandishing the lexicon of a law-and-order zealot who cast asylum seekers as guilty until proven innocent. Staging showy crackdowns on alleged human smugglers, marriage fraudsters, and whole classes of refugees he branded as “bogus,” he used such inflammatory language that it has changed the terms of the national debate. “What Kenney has done is create this whole new vernacular,” says Philip Berger, co-founder of a national physicians’ campaign against Kenney’s cuts to refugee health care. “It’s creating a terrain of hostile attitudes to refugees.”

By pandering to those remnants of the old Reform Party who still cringe at the notion of multiculturalism—and keeping one eye trained on opinion polls—Kenney managed to radically revamp immigration policy without provoking the sort of racist backlash that imperils governments across Europe. As he likes to point out, Canada does not have a single political party that is anti-immigration.

Still, that balancing act has come at a cost: increasingly, this country has seen its international image tarred with a mean streak. A few years ago, a nation that once welcomed nearly 60,000 Southeast Asian boat people to its shores all but threw up a blockade against two rusting freighters carrying Tamils on the run from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war. Armed border guards descended on the ships, herding their hapless human cargo to two Fraser Valley detention centres for months of interrogation and insinuations of terrorist ties. That provocative act of political theatre, combined with Kenney’s contentious cuts to refugee health care, telegraphed the intended signal abroad. Last year, the number of refugees seeking asylum in Canada fell to fewer than 10,000, less than half the norm in previous years and a historic low. Says Berger, “The message is getting out that Canada is an inhospitable country to refugee claimants.”

After years as Harper’s pit bull, lashing out at the slightest intimations of criticism with a scalding righteousness that has left targets such as Amnesty International reeling, Kenney has emerged as one of the most polarizing figures on the political scene, both famously affable and deeply feared. As one former Liberal leader warned, demanding anonymity, “With Jason, what you see is absolutely not what you get.” He has become so controversial that when the University of Haifa awarded him an honorary degree two years ago at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, enraged protesters shut down the surrounding streets.

For some Conservatives, however, the biggest threat to Kenney’s aspirations is not the intensity of emotions he provokes, but his own social conservative convictions. Ironically, while some observers pounced on his comments about Rob Ford and Nigel Wright as signs of ambition, others saw them as symptomatic of the very impulses that could keep him from ever filling Harper’s shoes: a deeply ingrained moralism and religiosity that have won him the mantle of his old boss, Stockwell Day, as leader of the party’s disgruntled religious right. While that wing may constitute the Conservatives’ most reliable voting bloc, it also represents their most problematic constituency, one with a history of scaring off mainstream swing voters, and the potential to topple the very edifice of big-tent conservatism Harper has spent more than a decade cobbling together.

2.13.2014

cherry-picked data and undisclosed bias: the failure of freakonomics

Allan came home from one of his used-book sale sprees with copies of both Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics. I had read so many excerpts from, and reviews of, these books over the years, and their appearance was a reminder to actually read them myself.

You're probably familiar with the general premise of Freakonomics. Steven D. Levitt is an economics professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen J. Dubner is a well-known writer and editor. The two teamed up to write an unusual mix of story, statistics, and surprises for a popular audience, using research and statistics to draw unusual conclusions. Freakonomics' stories challenge conventional wisdom and seek to demonstrate how we often ask the wrong questions, thereby drawing the wrong conclusions.

Freakonomics is easy to read, and I found the stories entertaining and interesting enough, but every so often, an inaccurate word or phrase would jump out at me - a broad assumption would be asserted, without evidence - a bias would be exposed, but not stated. At first I thought I was nitpicking, but as these trouble-spots added up, I came to doubt the validity of the authors' work altogether.

Correlation versus causality in the unconventional wisdom

Early on, Levitt and Dubner remind us of the difference between correlation and causality.
... just because two things are correlated does not mean that one causes the other. A correlation simply means that a relationship exists between two factors - let's call them X and Y - but it tells you nothing about the direction of that relationship. It's possible that X causes Y; it's also possible that Y causes X; and it may be that X and Y are both being caused by some other factor, Z.
Levitt and Dubner say that conventional wisdom often confuses correlation with causality, or assumes causality where none may be present. I agree. Unfortunately, their proofs often do exactly the same thing.

You may recall the Freakonomics highlight that created a huge amount of buzz: the authors revealed a correlation between the precipitous drop in violent crime in the US in the mid-to-late 1990s, and the legalization of abortion in 1971. According to their analysis, the conventional explanations for the decrease in crime - better policing methods, tougher sentencing laws, and so on - were merely coincidental. The real reason for the drop in crime was that fewer unwanted babies were born.

After showing us many statistics about abortion rates and about crime rates, they write:
What sort of woman was most likely to take advantage of Roe v. Wade? Very often she was unmarried or in her teens or poor, and sometimes all three. What sort of future might her child have had? One study has shown that the typical child who was unborn in the earliest years of legalized abortion would have been 50 percent more likely than average to live in poverty; he would have also been 60 percent more likely to grow up with just one parent. These two factors - childhood poverty and a single-parent household - are among the strongest predictors that a child will have a criminal future. Growing up in a single-parent home roughly doubles a child's propensity to commit crime. So does having a teenage mother. Another study has shown that low maternal education is the single most powerful factor leading to criminality.

In other words, the very factors that drove millions of American women to have an abortion also seemed to predict that their children, had they been born, would have led unhappy and possible criminal lives.
The authors then note in passing that legalized abortion brought about many social consequences, and they list some, including a sharp drop in the number of white, American-born babies available for adoption. (This, in turn, gave rise to an increasing in international adoptions.)

Here's what Levitt and Dubner do not say. Since the legalization of abortion in the US coincided exactly with a marked decrease in (white) babies available for adoption, it is highly likely that many of the women who chose to terminate pregnancies (after abortion was legalized) would have surrendered their babies to adoption (before legal abortion). Therefore, those children would not have been raised in poor or single-parent families, since adoptive families are highly unlikely to be either. This is still true today, but was even more true in the 1970s.

This important qualifier was omitted from the Freakonomics equation. In other words, the authors demonstrate a correlation between legalized abortion in 1971 and a drop in crime in the mid-1990s, but in trying to prove causation, they cherry-pick the evidence. Is it possible that the big bombshell revealed in this book, a correlation between legalized abortion and crime, is not causal after all?

The more I read Freakonomics, the more I had the nagging feeling that Levitt and Dubner do exactly what they tell us the wrong-headed, knee-jerk, and short-sighted among us do. They don't flat-out assume causation, but neither do they examine factors that disprove their theory. Instead, they posit a question that challenges the status quo, then find the evidence they need to prove it.

Language matters... and so does full disclosure

Word choices troubled me. Rhetorical questions angered me. And undisclosed conflicts of interest call integrity into question. Here are a four examples: on abortion, public schools, white-collar crime, and sexual assault.

Abortion. When writing about abortion, Levitt and Dubner use the expressions "pro-choice" and "pro-life". As you know, I believe the term "pro-life" has no place in good journalism, except in the name of organizations or in a quote. It is one of the most successful pieces of propaganda of all time, and a journalist who uses the expression has agreed to be manipulated.

Perhaps the authors felt that if they used the term "anti-abortion," they would be forced to also write "pro-abortion," which of course is not the same thing as pro-choice. Or perhaps I am being overly generous: the section on the link between abortion and crime contains many unattributed, "some experts feel" statements about the "violence" and "death rate" of abortion, although their general conclusion is that government should let women decide what to do with their own pregnancies.

Whatever their bias, the language solution is simple. It requires the addition of only one word: pro-abortion-rights, anti-abortion-rights. Or pro-legalized-abortion, anti-legalized-abortion. In other words, word choice that accurately describes, rather than adopts, a position.

Public schools. In a segment examining cheating on standardized tests, the authors claim to prove that some Chicago public-school teachers helped students cheat, and insinuate that such cheating is supported by teachers' unions.

The mention of unions seemed so strangely out of place - a completely gratuitous shot - that I searched online to see if there was a connection. I quickly found it. Levitt was involved in คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019the drive to privatize the Chicago school system, which of course includes union-busting.

The very question Freakonomics asks, "Do school teachers cheat on standardized testing?", is itself biased: it is a weapon wielded by the movement to discredit public schools. The discredited public schools are then replaced by so-called "charter schools" - schools run by private, for-profit companies. (Test scores at these private schools are often higher, because students who can't keep up are simply expelled - more cherry-picked statistics.) This push to privatization is itself linked to Levitt's Chicago-school, neoliberal economics.

Levitt tells us that the data gleaned from standardized test scores proves that some teachers were cheating. But he doesn't tell us that the reason he examined the data in the first place was to find (or manufacture) evidence against public schools and teachers' unions, in support of privatization.

A professional writer like Stephen Dubner knows that this connection must be disclosed. But he does not disclose it.

White-collar crime. In a paragraph about white-collar crime, Levitt and Dubner ask:
A street crime has a victim, who typically reports the crime to the police, who generate data, which in turn generates thousands of academic papers by criminologists, sociologists, and economists. But white-collar crime presents no obvious victim. From whom exactly did the masters of Enron steal?
Really, Steven Levitt, free-market economist? You really don't know from whom the Enron execs stole? Perhaps you should consult Wikipedia. Emphasis mine.
Enron's shareholders lost $74 billion in the four years before the company's bankruptcy ($40 to $45 billion was attributed to fraud). As Enron had nearly $67 billion that it owed creditors, employees and shareholders received limited, if any, assistance aside from severance from Enron. To pay its creditors, Enron held auctions to sell assets including art, photographs, logo signs, and its pipelines.

In May 2004, more than 20,000 of Enron's former employees won a suit of $85 million for compensation of $2 billion that was lost from their pensions.
In the opening paragraphs of this post, I refrained from identifying Levitt's affiliation with the Chicago School of Economics, the free-market-worshipping, public-sector-hating cabal whose political cronies have caused untold suffering around the globe. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Benefit hereby withdrawn.

Sexual assault. In a paragraph about statistics that become accepted as common knowledge, but which have no basis in fact, Levitt and Dubner write:
Women's rights advocates, for instance, have hyped the incidence of sexual assault, claiming that one in three American women will in her lifetime be a victim or rape or attempted rape. The actual figure is more like one in eight - but the advocates know it would take a callous person to publicly dispute their claims.
Let's pause here while we imagine my eyes popping, my teeth gritting, as I force myself to put down the book and breathe deeply...

Fact: the one-in-eight figure is an FBI statistic. It counts rape and attempted rapes that are reported to a municipal police department. How many sexual assaults are not reported to the police? Estimates range from 50% to 70%. Most reported rapes are those perpetrated by strangers; most so-called date or acquaintance rapes are not reported. How likely is a girl or woman raped by someone she knows - a date, an acquaintance, an ex-husband - to go to the police? Estimates range from a high of 30% to a low of 5%.

The FBI's one-in-eight figure does not include violent sexual assault where no intercourse or attempted intercourse occurred. The one-in-eight figure does not include rape-murders. If a woman is raped and murdered, the crime is entered into the Uniform Crime Reporting figures as a murder, only. Statistically, the rape does not exist. You see where I'm going here.

In truth, I cannot say where the one-in-three or one-in-four figure originated. I believe they are based on many different data-collections over a long period of time, and an extrapolation about unreported rapes. But I can tell you this: the FBI's one-in-eight is merely a piece of the picture. Levitt and Dubner write, "...but the advocates know [that no one will challenge the statistics]". How, may I ask, do they come to this conclusion? Did someone in the anti-violence movement actually tell them, "I know these figures are false, but who's going to challenge me?" Not likely. It's much more likely they are making an unfounded assumption.

Ignoring their own central premise. Economics, Levitt and Dubner tell us, is based on this premise, asserted as fact: "Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life." Thus they look for hidden incentives as the key to solving various riddles. Yet when they show, for example, that most people (about 87%) don't steal and don't cheat, even when they are highly unlikely to get caught, they never explain what well-hidden incentive causes this cheery result. Because you know what? There just might be human behaviour that is not attributable to economics.

I have other examples, too, but this post is long enough. I love books that make complex ideas accessible, but not at the expense of accuracy. I used to write nonfiction for children, and I know it can be difficult to avoid reductionism. But in a book that claims the conventional wisdom is often wrong, and that better decisions can be made by looking at better statistical evidence, the authors must follow their own mandate, and be both thorough and precise. Levitt and Dubner challenge what they say is wrong-headed conventional wisdom, then they create their own wrong-headed conclusions, using whatever statistics get them there.

Criticisms from their own field

Looking online for criticism of Freakonomics, I found a series of heated exchanges - and an onslaught of posts repeating bits of those exchanges, out of context - that occurred a few years ago. (I was in graduate school at the time, ignoring much of what went on in the world.) This is not newsworthy, but it can't hurt to revisit an internet brouhaha long after the dust has settled.

Writing in American Scientist in 2012, Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung gave a long, detailed critique of what they saw as sloppy, reductionist thinking from Levitt and Dubner, who by that time were the pilots of a high-flying media brand. In คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019Freakonomics: What Went Wrong, Gelman and Fung write:
As the authors of statistics-themed books for general audiences, we can attest that Levitt and Dubner’s success is not easily attained. And as teachers of statistics, we recognize the challenge of creating interest in the subject without resorting to clichéd examples such as baseball averages, movie grosses and political polls. The other side of this challenge, though, is presenting ideas in interesting ways without oversimplifying them or misleading readers. We and others have noted a discouraging tendency in the Freakonomics body of work to present speculative or even erroneous claims with an air of certainty. Considering such problems yields useful lessons for those who wish to popularize statistical ideas.
They then offer numerous examples, and say they have many more. Their story was picked up by many blogs and other outlets (although that echo would be dwarfed by a later controversy). The Freakonomics authors responded with Freakonomics: What Went Right, a long, rambling piece that lumps together both founded and unfounded criticism, and never really responds to Gelman and Fung's central concerns.

Gelman then responded on his own blog, with A kaleidoscope of responses to Dubner’s criticisms of our criticisms of Freakonomics, a thoughtful meta-type piece. He writes, in part:
Dubner lives in different worlds than those of Kaiser and me. (Levitt is in between, with one foot in the publishing/media world and the other in academia.) To the millions of readers of his books and blogs, Levitt and Dubner are the kings (and rightly so, they've done some great stuff), and Kaiser and I have the status of moderately-annoying gnats.

But I suspect Dubner realizes that, outside of his circle, he and Levitt have some credibility problems. They have fans but a lot of non-fans too. As I wrote a couple months ago:
About a year ago, I gave my talk, "Of Beauty, Sex, and Power," at the meeting of the National Association of Science Writers. At one point I mentioned Freakonomics and the audience groaned. Steve Levitt is not a popular guy with this crowd. And that's the typical reaction I get: "Freakonomics" is a byword for sloppy science reporting, it's a word you throw out there if you want an easy laugh. Even some defenders of Freakonomics nowadays will say I shouldn't be so hard on it, it's just entertainment.
Now go back a few years. In 2005, Freakonomics was taken seriously. It was a sensation. Entertaining, sure, but not just entertainment—rather, the book represented an exciting new way of looking at the world. There was talk of the government hiring Levitt to apply his Freakonomics tools to catch terrorists.

That's what Kaiser and I meant when we asked "What went wrong?" Freakonomics was once a forum for a playful discussion of serious, important ideas; now it's more of a grab-bag of unfounded arguments. There's some good stuff there but seemingly no filter.
This is what I'm talking about. When a roomful of science reporters treats you like a punch line, the problem isn't with statisticians Gelman and Fung, or with economists Ariel Rubinstein and John DiNardo, or with bloggers Felix Salmon and Daniel Davies (to name several people who have published serious criticisms of Freakonomics). There are deeper problems, some clue of which might be found by reading all these critiques with an eye to learning rather than mere rebuttal. Don't get distracted by your fans on the blog—consider that room full of science writers! Try to recover the respect of Felix Salmon and Daniel Davies; that would be a worthy goal.
And then there's climate change

In Super Freakonomics, the 2009 follow-up to the original book, Levitt and Dubner take what they call "a cool, hard look at global warming". In that segment, they acknowledge the widespread scientific consensus that the earth is getting warmer. They bemoan the difficulty of persuading humans to act in sufficient numbers when the incentives for change are abstract and in the future. And they agree that humans should stop consuming and polluting so flagrantly, and should live more sustainably. They do all those things.

However, they challenge some of the accepted wisdom of how we can best achieve that worthy goal.
That is all.

Yet this small and reasonable poke at conventional wisdom was, apparently, picked up by an environmental blogger and translated into: "OMG Freakonomics authors deny climate change!!1!!".

A shitstorm of posts and tweets ensued. Levitt and Dubner were branded Enemies of the People. And the wingnuts, the anti-environment climate change deniers, in turn, had a field day. Look how the tree-huggers react when you question their orthodoxy! All hail Freakonomics, who have dispelled the myth of climate change! Which, of course, they did not do.

Which leads me to my second, less important Freakonomics-related post: what's wrong with the internet.

About Freakonomics itself, I'd say that fuzzy thinking, imprecise language, undisclosed conflict of interest, and especially the use of statistics without explanation or context (as in the sexual assault example) call into question both the seriousness and validity of this book.

12.31.2013

murdoch mysteries, abortion on tv, and maybe an anti-war reference, too

I always like to have a detective-mystery series to follow. I try many of them, like a few, and watch several episodes in a row as downtime relaxation. I recently started the Canadian "Murdoch Mysteries," which takes place in Toronto at the turn of the 20th Century. Back when we still had cable TV, I frequently saw promos for Murdoch Mysteries, but I thought it looked kind of cheesy. But when I recently clicked on it through Netflix, I discovered it's actually quite good. I'm now well into Season 2, and I'm finding the mysteries not obvious and the character development absorbing.

Very Canadian, and not only because it is set in Toronto

One episode was particularly interesting to me, and very Canadian, something you'd be most unlikely to see on US television. In "Shades of Grey," Season 2 episode 6, a girl is found dead. Dr. Julia Ogden, the pathologist who is Detective William Murdoch's friend, colleague, and love interest, reveals that the girl, Lilly Dunn, had been pregnant. It turns out that Lilly was not murdered by a lover who didn't want the child, but bled to death after an attempt at a self-induced abortion.

Detective Murdoch questions two known abortionists, plus Dr. Isaac Tash, who is an old friend of Dr. Julia Ogden. Murdoch's Roman Catholic faith is often referenced on the show - for example, when he is passed up for promotion because "Toronto is a Protestant town". And although Murdoch is progressive in matters of science, he is prudish and socially conservative.

In the course of the episode, we learn that Dr. Tash does perform abortions, and crucially, that Dr. Ogden herself had an abortion when she was in university. But these facts alone are not what makes this episode so noteworthy to me.

Abortion without apology

First, Dr. Tash, when questioned harshly by Murdoch, sounds like none other than Henry Morgentaler as he apologetically explains his choices.
Tash: If a woman comes to me needing or wanting an abortion, I do not turn her away. Whatever her reasons - poverty, abuse, ignorance, illness - I ask no questions. I make sure the procedure is done safely, properly, with the least amount of trauma to the patient.

Murdoch: You realize what you're doing by telling me this.

Tash: I do. And I may soon find myself dragged out of here in chains for all the world to see. But the truth is if Lily Dunn had come to see me, she'd be alive today. I know it and you know it.
Next, Julia speaks frankly to William.
Julia Ogden: Like Lily Dunn, I found myself in an untenable situation. I had no desire to marry the man. I wanted to be a doctor, William. It was everything to me. I had fought so hard for so long. Wanting a medical career was difficult enough. But with a child...

William Murdoch: It was a choice of convenience, then.

Julia: It was anything but convenient. It was what I had to do. [pause] I went to Isaac and asked for his help. He refused. He would absolutely not consider breaking the law despite his personal convictions. I was desperate. So I went elsewhere. The procedure was an unimaginable nightmare, I almost died. I would have died if it wasn't for Isaac. He saved my life. And after that, I know that he hoped never to have to watch another woman to go through what I did.

William: He saved your life, and for that I am more grateful to him than I can ever possibly say.

Julia: But he's still a criminal to you, isn't he? [No answer.] Of course he is.

William: This has nothing to do with you and I. We can put all of this behind us.

Julia: But how do you propose we do that? Are you willing to forgo your principles, your values, your faith?

William: I don't think that's necessary.

Julia: Don't you? I thought upholding the law was everything to you.

William: And that will never change.

Julia: What does that mean? Now that you know the truth, that I freely procured an abortion, what will you do? Will you jail me? Should I hang?

William: No, of course not.

Julia: So then, you'll make an exception for me.

William: I'll do what I have to do.

Julia: But that's just it, William. I don't want to be an exception. I don't want your pity. Or your mercy.

William: Do you regret it?

Julia: No.
That was amazing, refreshing - exciting. Julia was not raped. She did not surrender a child to adoption. And most of all, she isn't sorry. She chose abortion, a valid choice, and one she stands by. As Julia says, she did what she had to do. And now, she does not beg William to forgive her. She doesn't want exceptions: she wants enlightenment.

The tearful choice... the convenient pregnancy loss

Abortion is mostly invisible on American television. Few producers want to deal with the sponsorship headaches, the calls for boycotts. But beyond that, abortion has been made into an act of shame or desperation, a dark secret that no protagonist can freely choose without suffering dire consequences.

This story in The Week is an annotated timeline of abortions on American TV, beginning with the famous first, Bea Arthur's "Maude" in 1972. Ten years later on "Dallas," Lucy Ewing had an abortion after she was raped. The rape was used to justify Lucy's decision, the abortion still left her in a state of empty despair. There was no suggestion that the depression might have come from having been raped. The Week missed the Ewing abortion, but takes special note of the generally positive treatment of an abortion on "Friday Night Lights".
January 2010
Friday Night Lights: After a one-night stand with Luke, 10th-grader Becky (Madison Burge) becomes pregnant, and, afraid to talk to her mother about it, goes to her guidance counselor Tami Taylor (Connie Britton). After reading literature and learning about her options, Becky has an abortion. It's "the best and most honest portrayal of the heartrending decision to end a teenage pregnancy that we've ever seen," says Andy Greenwald at New York. Later, Luke's religious mother discovers that Mrs. Taylor counseled Becky on the decision, and ultimately gets her fired. Tellingly, there is little outrage over the episode, says Jessica Grose at Slate, hinting that perhaps the subject is no longer taboo.
The words "heartrending decision" make me wonder what I would have thought of this episode (I will look it up on Netflix). The decision for a teen is often anything but heartrending. It might be closer to "get this friggin thing out of me". But this example from "Grey's Anatomy" makes me hopeful for change.
September 2011
Grey's Anatomy: Years after considering an abortion and then miscarrying, Sandra Oh's Cristina Yang gets pregnant again. Her husband Owen (Kevin McKidd) wants her to keep the baby, but Cristina insists that she loves her job too much and wants to dedicate her life to it; a baby would make that impossible. It was "pretty radical," says Willa Paskin at New York. "It's common TV wisdom that whatever your reservations, once you see your child, you'll not only love it, you'll never regret having it."
The excellent analysts at TV Tropes have dissected the treatment of unwanted pregnancies on TV, on a page called "Good Girls Avoid Abortion".
When a female character has an unexpected and/or unwanted pregnancy, someone may allude to the possibility of abortion (usually without saying the 'A' word). However, she will likely not have an abortion for one of three reasons:

- She dismisses it immediately because of her religious/spiritual beliefs or upbringing, or because she distrusts the procedure (especially if it would involve a Back-Alley Doctor).
She thinks it over for a while, then decides that, no, she's going to keep the baby. This may be followed by a Convenient Miscarriage. Which, ironically, she will never be relieved by; she'll be sad because now she wanted it.

- She actually decides to have it done, but somehow things don't turn out as she expects, and her attempted abortion is aborted.

- If she actually goes through with the abortion, and doesn't suffer gruesome complications from the procedure, it's usually to show that she's a deeply damaged, screwed-up individual. If this happens, but it is played for laughs, it's a Black Comedy. If the male character who got her pregnant voices support for the abortion option, it's played as a Kick the Dog moment to show what a jerkass the guy is.
That nails it!

Just what are we saying here?

In another "Murdoch Mysteries" episode, Inspector Brackenreid, Murdoch's superior on the police force, is chatting with another man about their military service for Queen and Country. One says he fought in the Crimea and asks, "Where were you?" The other answers, "Afghanistan," to which the first replies immediately, "That was a mistake."

I grabbed the remote to see the scene again. In Canada, in 2008, "Afghanistan ... that was a mistake," echoes loudly. If nothing else, it reminds viewers just how long empires have been trying to secure that patch of Earth. Or perhaps it means what it says: Afghanistan was a mistake.

Fun with Victoriana

The show's Late Victorian-era setting is rich with possibility. Murdoch's "thing" - the sine qua non of TV detective shows - is the use of new-fangled scientific methods to solve crimes. Some of these methods were actually coming into use, and others are Murdoch's own inventions, steam-age prototypes of digital-age technologies.

The show often features historical characters; portrayals of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Nikola Tesla, Harry Houdini, and "Buffalo" Bill Cody and Annie Oakley are among the ones I've seen so far. There are other historical references, such as Toronto's gay subculture and the dangers and persecution gay people faced, and the so-called "home children," the vast child migration program that brought child labourers from impoverished English areas into the colonies.

Researching this post, I discovered that "Murdoch Mysteries" is now airing in the US, where it is called "The Artful Detective". Let's see if "Shades of Grey" causes a ruckus... or if it even gets aired.

9.28.2013

september 28: global action for accessible, safe, and legal abortion

Today, September 28, women all over the world are taking action to demand the right to accessible, safe, and legal abortion.

Women and our allies in more than 50 countries have formed a global mobilization that seeks to decriminalize abortion, provide access to safe and affordable abortion services, and end the stigma and discrimination against women who choose to have an abortion.

This campaign, which started more than 20 years ago in Latin America and the Caribbean, has become a global day of action, as we recognize that women are the world continue to be denied access to safe and legal abortion.

Unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality, accounting to 47,000 deaths every year, or 13% of maternal deaths worldwide.

Nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, 98% of which occur in developing countries where poor women have the least resources and access to family planning - which must include safe abortion.

All efforts to curb the high rates of maternal mortality - the World Health Organization's MDG5 - will remain fruitless unless unsafe abortion is addressed.

Restrictive abortion laws will never stop abortion. Restrictive abortion laws only force women to seek unsafe underground practices, putting their health and their lives at risk.

One easy way to join this global campaign is to contribute to the virtual mural, organized by Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights. Finish the sentence, "Abortion should be safe and legal in my country because _______________", and see how women and men around the world have finished that same sentence.

The virtual mural is the perfect metaphor for this campaign and exactly what we must do every day: speak in one clear voice, each from our own culture and our own experiences, to demand reproductive justice for all.

WGNRR Virtual Mural

Twitter hashtags #sept28 and #safeabortion

To join the Tweetathon, DM/Tweet @WGNRR

7.27.2013

a teenager's courage reveals the brutality of anti-choicers: "please stop calling me a whore"

This articulate and courageous 14-year-old girl says she wants to be a science teacher when she grows up. I hope she will also be a writer, because this is one of the best personal essays I have read.
I'm a 14-year-old girl who has lived in Austin, Texas, my whole life. I like art, music and talking on the phone with my friends. When I grow up, I'd like to become a science teacher.

I also believe in the right to choose and the separation of church and state. Or to put it another way -- to put it the way I wrote it when I was protesting at the Capitol last week:

"Jesus isn't a dick so keep him out of my vagina."

Yes, that's my sign.

I came up with it last week when my friend and I were trying to think of ideas for what would get people's attention to protest the scary restrictions that are happening in my state trying to take away a woman's right to safe and accessible abortions.

It worked.

When my friend and I took turns holding the sign, one of the pictures of her went viral.

Then my dad went online to defend the sign on Twitter and other online forums.

That's when people started calling me a "whore."

I'm going to be honest about what it feels like to be called that as a 14-year-old girl who has never had sex and who doesn't plan to have sex anytime soon.

I feel disappointed.

It's hard for me to understand why adults would be calling me this. It's hard for me to understand why anyone would use this term for a 14-year-old girl.

It's not anyone's business, but as I said, I am a virgin, and I don't plan to have sex until I am an adult.

But none of those facts make me feel any less passionate about fighting for a woman's right to choose and the separation of church and state in my home state of Texas.

I also don't think this makes me -- or any other 14-year-old girl who agrees with me -- a whore.

It simply makes us people. People who believe that abortion should be safe, legal and accessible for women. People who believe women should be in control of their bodies and should not ever have to put their lives at risk so that we don't go backwards in women's rights in this country.
Click here to read the essay.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tuesday Cain! You are the future of choice, and the future of feminism - the future of change.

6.02.2013

beatriz and savita are not exceptions: abortion bans kill

You may have heard of the latest anti-woman denail of basic human rights to make international news. A few months back there was Savita Halappanavar, who died in Ireland when she was denied a life-saving, medically necessary abortion. Now there is a woman known as "Beatriz" (not her real name) in El Salvador.

Beatriz has lupus, kidney disease, and severe hypertension. She is 22 years old, and she is, or was, pregnant. The fetus she carries is anencephalic (missing most of its brain) and cannot survive outside the womb. Eleven doctors have testified that Beatriz is likely to die if she is forced to continue the pregnancy.

Yet the laws of El Salvador do not permit Beatriz to terminate her pregnancy.

Beatriz took her plight to court.

The Supreme Court of El Salvador apparently so no urgency in this situation, and were slow in rendering a decision. Finally, on May 29, they voted to deny her abortion.

The following day, possibly in response to international outcry, El Salvador's Minister of Health allowed doctors to perform a cesarean section to terminate the pregnancy.

Think of your own life. Your own choices. Imagine judges and government officials having this kind of control over your body and your very life.

Imagine your life - legally and socially - is of no more value than that of a fetus with zero chance of survival.

Then imagine it's not even unusual.

And the final irony? In countries like El Salvador with total bans on abortions, the abortion rate is double, triple, or quadruple that in countries with more humane, ethical, and rationale abortion laws. The rate of abortion in Canada - where there is no abortion law - is among the lowest in the world. (All statistics from the World Health Organization and/or the Guttmacher Institute.)

But for the anti-choice fanatics, these numbers are meaningless, because limiting or ending abortion is nothing but a smokescreen. Their stated objective is saving the lives of future babies. But their real goal is limiting the rights and life choices of women. Keeping women slaves.

* * * *

Abortion in Latin America, via BBC, via WHO or Guttmacher:

* Abortion is completely banned in seven countries in Latin America: El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras, Haiti, Suriname.

* Only Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico and Uruguay allow abortions beyond cases of rape, incest or threats to a woman's health.

* In 2012, Uruguay's congress voted narrowly to legalise abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

* In Mexico, only Mexico City has legalised abortion, during the first 12 weeks.

* Brazil's senate is currently debating the legalisation of terminations during the first 12 weeks.

* The estimated annual number of abortions in Latin America increased slightly between 2003 and 2008, from 4.1 million to 4.4 million, but the rate per 1,000 women remained steady.

* 95 percent of abortions in Latin America from 1995-2008 were considered to be unsafe.

* Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates, the WHO says. For example, the 2008 abortion rate was 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Latin America. In Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the abortion rate was 12 per 1,000.