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Posts Tagged ‘abortion’

What Do Two Issues Have in Common?

May 19th, 2011 No comments

Not much, although you’d never know it by the way the right tries to conflate abortion and gay rights. We shouldn’t let them get away with it, as I explain here.

My Law and Public Health Book

November 1st, 2010 2 comments
Reconsidering Law and Policy Debates

Just about an hour ago, I received my ten advance copies of the book I’ve edited and contributed to, entitled:

Reconsidering Law and Policy Debates: A Public Health Perspective (Cambridge University Press 2011). If you click on the link, you’ll be e-whisked away to the on-line catalogue page, which describes the book and lets you click on an excerpt, which is the Introduction (which I wrote).

I’ll have more to say about this when officially published (although you can order it now; just saying….), but here’s the description:

This book offers fresh approaches to a variety of social and political issues that have become highly polarized and resistant to compromise by examining them through a population-based public health perspective. The topics included are some of the most contentious: abortion and reproductive rights; end-of-life issues, including the right to die and the treatment of pain; the connection between racism and poor health outcomes for African-Americans; the right of same-sex couples to marry; the toll of gun violence and how to reduce it; domestic violence and how the criminal justice model fails to deal with it effectively; and how tort compensation and punitive damages can further public health goals. People at every point along the political spectrum will find the book enlightening and informative.

Written by ten authors, all of whom have cross-disciplinary expertise, this book shifts the focus away from the point of view of rights, politics, or morality and examines the effect of laws and policies from the perspective of public health and welfare.

As you might guess, I wrote the chapter on marriage equality.

This is my first book (well, sort of mine), and I’m very excited. (To buy at a discount, enter code: F10CULHANE; the discount is available for a limited time.) As I said, I’ll write more when the book is officially published.

His Holiness [sic] and the “Pro-life” Canard

March 20th, 2010 1 comment

I was Catholic, but only by circumstance, and that was a very long time ago. I didn’t so much leave the Catholic Church as I lost interest in all churches and in organized religion, generally. But it should be said that my experience growing up in the stultifying, boring Church didn’t exactly awaken whatever religious feeling I might otherwise have had. And my family was very low-key about it: No Catholic school, limited instruction in doctrine, little evidence of it at home. We went to Church most Sundays, unless there were swim meets in the way. But that’s about it.

For me, then, leaving the Church was easy and not even so much the product of a conscious decision. It’s more like I would have needed to decide to be a Catholic, rather than not to.

Yet growing up around all of that ritual and history had some effect on me, notably that I follow and in some way care about what the Church is doing more than I otherwise would. Most of the time, I’m either amazed or appalled (or both), but then there are the occasions when the socially progressive, charitably inclined part of what the Church is supposed to champion reminds me that it’s not all one-way traffic to Hell (to use one of their favorite scare words, among many).

Lately, the Church has been in the news and mostly for terrible reasons. The unfolding horror of the sex scandals in Ireland and Germany,1 which have — let’s face it — implicated His Holiness [sic] in the cover-up is just the most dramatic of the stuff coming through the wire. There’s also the benighted response by the Diocese in D.C. in response to marriage equality (ending health benefits to employees’ spouses, discontinuing their foster care program), and the expulsion of pre-schoolers from the Sacred Heart of Jesus (remember him?) because their parents were lesbians. Add to that the bishops’ opposition to the Senate health care reform bill on the ground that it doesn’t do enough to make abortion even more difficult to obtain, and I’m left to say: Enough already.

Just in time, other voices in the Church have come forward to call the bishops on their slick, “pro-life” (read: anti-life) rhetoric. The Catholic Health Association (CHA), which describes itself as “the nation’s largest group of not-for-profit health care sponsors, systems, and facilities,” has taken on the bishops’ abstract, disembodied, and disconnected opposition to the health care reform effort. Here’s why:

The insurance reforms will make the lives of millions more secure, and their coverage more affordable. The reforms will eventually make affordable health insurance available to 31 million of the 47 million Americans currently without coverage.

CHA has a major concern on life issues. We said there could not be any federal funding for abortions and there had to be strong funding for maternity care, especially for vulnerable women. The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care. If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage.

There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used.

In addition, there is a wonderful provision in the bill that provides $250 million over 10 years to pay for counseling, education, job training and housing for vulnerable women who are pregnant or parenting. Another provision provides a substantial increase in the adoption tax credit and funding for adoption assistance programs.

An association of nuns, representing 59,00o sisters, agrees and amplifies, from the point of view of those actually providing health services to the poor (compare the bishops):

We have witnessed firsthand the impact of our national health care crisis, particularly its impact on women, children and people who are poor. We see the toll on families who have delayed seeking care due to a lack of health insurance coverage or lack of funds with which to pay high deductibles and co-pays. We have counseled and prayed with men, women and children who have been denied health care coverage by insurance companies. We have witnessed early and avoidable deaths because of delayed medical treatment.

The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children.

[T]his is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it….

Did this get Bark Stupak to rethink his position? What do you think? Perhaps because of unpleasant experiences with Catholic nuns in school (write your own joke), he blathered about getting his “pro-life” guidance not from them but from the bishops and organizations like Focus on the Family — the same group that has this advice for parents who find that spanking isn’t working: “The spanking may be too gentle. If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t motivate a child to avoid the consequence next time. A slap with the hand on the bottom of a multidiapered thirty-month-old is not a deterrent to anything. Be sure the child gets the message….”

If health care reform doesn’t pass tomorrow, it will be because Stupak has been able to hold on to enough fellow slavish devotees of the simplistic pro-life legislators. They should listen to the people who actually deliver health care services. If they did, they might take a position that is actually pro-life; instead of “pro-life,” complete with ironic quotations.

  1. There’s been great coverage of the issue over at the Daily Dish.

What’s Wrong with CBS, the Super Bowl, and Football

January 29th, 2010 No comments

This will be the official Grouch Post for January. One of them, anyway.

Maybe you’ve heard by now about CBS’s decisions on ads for the Super Bowl. They’ve decided to “relax” their policy against advocacy ads to allow one from Focus on the Family that uses NFL star Tim Tebow and his mother to condemn  abortion. (The message: “He wasn’t aborted! Therefore no one should be, ever!” What were you expecting in thirty seconds, sophistication?) It turns out that their policy had been evolving, but we just didn’t know it until now. Very convenient.

Meanwhile, an ad from an entity known as ManCrunch has been rejected, with the following explanation: “the creative is not within the Network’s Broadcast Standards for Super Bowl Sunday.” It might help to know what those standards are, but CBS isn’t saying.  Here’s the rejected video:

No, the Super Bowl isn’t being aired on April 1 this year. There’s a great deal that can be said about CBS’s decision. I begin with the obvious question: Would they have rejected a similar dating service ad for an opposite-sex couple? But that’s the easy observation. I’ll bet that the real reason had something to do with the way the ad brings to the surface the simmering homoeroticism in male contact sports (and here extended to the jersey-wearing couch potatoes who watch them).

I can’t say I’m sorry to see the ad go, though. I have no idea why a gay dating site would want to run this ad. The two guys don’t seem to know they’re even gay until they find their hands together in the chip bowl (yuck, btw). Worse, it closes with a pan over to the flummoxed friend who, one thinks, might be checking out other Super Bowl parties within the next few minutes. And do not get me started about the production values. I’m not the first to suggest that ManCrunch is offended like a fox, as they (never) say. They couldn’t have expected CBS to actually run this thing; but now they’re getting tons of free publicity. My tastless ad submission for this blogsite will soon follow.

As the Janet Jackson warbdrobe malfunction moment that will live forever reminds us, the Super Bowl has long been an uneasy mix of family entertainment, statement on the current culture, and — lest we forget — controlled violence.

It’s this violence that makes me so not a fan of professional football. As I’ve written before, distressing numbers of pro football players sustain long-term neurological and physical problems,  often leading to early death and disability. (One might say, uncharitably, that it’s too bad that Tim Tebow’s mom’s concerns about her son don’t seem to extend to his life after football.)  And watching the level of aggression that leads to such serious issues is itself a producer of violence: Domestic violence, fueled by alcohol and the negative emotions sustained by the fans of the losing team, spikes on Super Bowl Sunday. Enjoy the game, everyone!

Media Alert: Abortion and Marriage Trial

January 12th, 2010 No comments

I’ll be heard on 1150AM (WDEL) at 5:25 this evening, talking about both the marriage equality case being tried in California and the trial of Scott Roeder, who confessed to having killed Dr. George Tiller (who performed abortions.)

WDEL is in Wilmington, Delaware. If you can’t pick that up, you can catch it on line here (“Listen Live”.) The conversation should last only a few minutes.

2009: A Year of Blogging Obsessively (300 Posts and Counting)

December 31st, 2009 No comments

Well, I have a few minutes before family and friends return to sweep me away in a haze of New Year’s Eve partying. (Of course, with young children “a haze of partying” ends well before midnight. We can do a faux countdown with them.)

To all of the readers — regular and occasional — who have supported this blog over the past year: THANK YOU! And let me wish you all a Happy New Year several hours early (from my EST perspective, of course). When I began this blog almost a year ago (Jan. 6, 2009), I promised myself I’d give it one year and then decide whether it was something I wanted to continue. I’d expected it would be fun and engaging, and it has been. What I didn’t expect was how…obsessive it would become. This marks post 301! And it’s not like I don’t have anything else to do: a full-time teaching and writing job; an administrative position; and a busy family life. I haven’t even taken a week off.

So I’m still striving to find the right balance for the blog, and will be thinking about these issues in the upcoming days and weeks in my life. And I AM going to take next week off, at least mostly. While I’m doing that, I would welcome (as always) your thoughts on individual posts, yes, but also on the blog. What can I do to make it more interesting and engaging? Do you like the “all topics” approach? Should I add some regular or recurring features? Other ideas?

Apparently, the old year can’t end without some kind of list. And, hubristically, I’m going to list posts from this very blog — in part because some readers have “just come in,” and catching up is an investment most people haven’t the time or inclination to make. I wouldn’t either. But here are few, listed by category, that I think you might enjoy: Either because I’ve gotten good response to them, or because I just think they’re better than most of the others. So enjoy — or don’t!

Let’s start with the lighter stuff. Here are my favorites among the pieces that were mostly intended to be amusing (with or without a more serious point):

Ten Items or Fewer

The Mesh of the Edmund Fitzgerald (or, Substitutiary Locomotion)

Floating Like a (Meta)Butterfly

How Could He Say That?

This angry post generated many links and was commented on extensively throughout the net. I’d like to think (delusionally) that it played some small part in the Obama Administration’s decision to be less incendiary in subsequent briefs:

DOMA Defense? It’s Worse than You Think

And then:

DOJ Files Reply Brief (which, I think, showed that pressure works)

I was honored to be a guest-blogger on Michael Ginsborg’s invaluable site, Prop 8 and the Right to Marry, where I posted a four-part series on the issue of religious exemptions to recognizing same-sex marriages.  It also generated a post by Dale Carpenter (on the Volokh Conspiracy) analyzing my core proposal. The proposal generated well over 100 comments:

No Gay Couples Allowed

(You can also jump to my series on Michael’s site from this post.)

A great joy to me was the engagement by Andrew Sullivan over at the Atlantic’s Daily Dish, one of the most engaging and influential blogs out there. We had an especially animated exchange on the issue of late-term abortion. I found, to my pleasant surprise, that I’m still capable of changing my views in response to thoughtful consideration of an issue.

Empathy for Entities will allow you to walk back through the exchange. (Or just choose the “abortion” category from the left side of the home page.)

Finally, there were the posts that used episodes from my life to illuminate some larger point. Among those, these three were my favorites:

The Woozy Blogger (Questions the Entire Medical Profession)

Forms Over Substance

Three Stories About Swimming

Well, they’re at the door. Happy New Year to all!!

John Culhane

The Public Health Peril in Oklahoma’s Anti-Abortion Obsession

October 18th, 2009 1 comment

Nan Hunter has just run a good summary of recent legislation in Oklahoma that, taken as a whole, is designed to prevent women from having abortions altogether. The state’s determination shows that, Roe v. Wade not to the contrary, there’s plenty that states can do to restrict what the Court has declared to be part of a fundamental right to self-governance, privacy, and autonomy.

The state’s zeal, though, shows that ideologues on a mission can wreak havoc with settled public health principles, thereby jeopardizing the public’s trust in health care — just in case there’s any such trust left. There are at least two recent examples of this misguided approach.

First, a recent piece of legislation — later declared unconstitutional — required women to undergo an ultrasound (vaginally in the case of early pregnancies) before an abortion could be performed. Such coerced invasion of the body has typically been required only in cases of epidemic; even there, often the resisting party can usually forego vaccination and pay a fine, or suffer the less objectionable deprivation of liberty. This would have been the first case I’m aware of where an unwanted, invasive procedure would have been made a prerequisite for a procedure that someone has a legal right to have, and where that first procedure isn’t needed for some other medical reason. In other words, this is quite different from requiring a biopsy before surgery to remove a tumor.

Laws educating women about fetal development (although also typically a smoke-screen for restricting access to abortions) are OK with me, at least in principle. This weird law, on the other hand, is creepy and offensive, and it’s lucky that the legislators blew it through a technicality (shoving too many subjects into a single piece of legislation).

The second, and more recent example, is a law currently under challenge. This one  would set up publicly available, web-based reports on anyone who obtains an abortion. The information would have to be reported to doctors, who would then be required to pass it on to public health officials. This is a very, very bad idea. I don’t even need to talk about abortion (thankfully!) to explain why.

This law will drive a wedge between physicians and their patients. Many people have distrust of the medical and public health professions, and won’t be warmly encouraged to make that next visit to their provider — or to any other — when they’re met with a battery of identifying questions that can then be used to pick them out of a probably hostile community. As a flimsy subterfuge for the laws’ true intent, names aren’t required — but, as a lawyer from the Center for Reproductive Rights has pointed out, names won’t be needed to identify someone from sufficiently small communities, especially when so much other identifying information is exposed. According to this article, quoted extensively by Hunter, there will be “answers to 34 questions including…age, marital status and education levels, as well as the number of previous pregnancies and abortions. Women are required to reveal their relationship with the father, the reason for the abortion and the area where the abortion was performed.”

It’s clear that the legislators are trying to slap a different kind of scarlet “A” on these women, hoping that the shame and ostracism of expected discovery will keep them from carrying out their intended abortions. It might have this effect, but the more sweeping result will be a lack of trust that will penetrate relationships between patients, doctors, and public health practitioners. Patients will learn how to lie their way around the obviously unenforceable law (some of the facts sought depend on patients’ willingness to disclose, such as “reason for seeking the abortion” and, often, the number of previous pregnancies), and doctors may be less than forthcoming with public health officials if they see them as interfering with the MD/patient relationship. And any public health official with good training will despise and, one thinks, try to circumvent the law.

Even in states that require doctors to report HIV infection to public health, the goal is partner notification and contact tracing to eliminate an established risk. These laws are controversial, but they at least have arguments to recommend them — and the results aren’t published on public websites.

With this level of identifying information, the Oklahoma statute looks more like the sex-offender laws (which have their own problems, btw) than anything else. What more do you need to know?

Not Seeing the Silver Lining, or Even One Atom of Element 47

September 16th, 2009 No comments

Andrew Sullivan:

Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but one effect Obama has had on the right is to galvanize its small government, balanced budget wing and cool off the Christianist boilerplate. I haven’t noticed the tea-partiers going on and on about gays getting married for example, or cracking down on drugs.

I’ve been thinking about this since I read it a couple of days ago, and it just seemed to me…too optimistic. Here‘s a piece of evidence in support of my misgivings. “How to Take Back America” gets its upcoming conference off to a rousing start with these two items, first up in its first “workshop”:

  • How to stop abortions: a new approach (DVD: Maafa 21 & Discussion)
  • How to counter the homosexual extremist movement

OK, maybe the tea-party gang isn’t riled up about this stuff, but many on the right are. For example, those wanting to “Take Back America” aren’t some ultra-right fringe, but a group that boasts elected Congressional reps and Mike Huckabee. Read the whole schedule and be chilled by the centrifuge into which every crazy idea has been thrown.

What About the Women?

August 30th, 2009 1 comment

In my previous post, I wrote about the protests being staged against Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a self-claimed abortionist who’s one of the few doing late-term procedures. Now the anti-abortion forces are met by an equally passionate and committed pro-choice group, led by the National Organization for Women. The two sides converged in an angry Tower of Babel reenactment in front of Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s clinic. While Operation Rescue presents the pornography of dismembered fetuses, a counterprotester reminds us that “women are not an incubator….They’re not little vessels for men to plant their seeds in.”

My position is that abortion must be safe and legal, and that, morally, the cases range across a spectrum that I’m loathe to second-guess without the facts that I don’t (and shouldn’t) have access to. But I continue to despair at the miserable level of discourse and the lack of nuance that seems endemic to the abortion issue.

We know that abortion is a chilling, fraught act. Showing dismembered bodies does nothing but sensationalize and, in its way, trivialize the issue. On the other side, reducing the anti-choice forces to women-clubbing cavemen who believe that women are “vessels” disrespects those for whom abortion is a terrible, and unjustified taking of a precious human life. To oppose the practice is not (necessarily, anyway) to equate women with incubators.

Consider the women coming to the clinic. The anti-choice crowd has made it their practice to cow these women into changing their position, whatever their circumstances. Heedless of the women’s mental and emotional health, their brow-beating tactics have inflicted substantial harm that they disregard. I’m more sympathetic to the counter-demonstrators, because they are in evidence to show support. But their presence, supported by whatever good intentions, feeds the circus atmosphere. I’d guess that these women want and need support from counselors, friends, and family;  not from national, political organizations.

Please don’t lecture me about the First Amendment. Assuming that no one is blocking access or intimidating anyone (not always a valid assumption in the case of Operation Rescue), both sides can continue firing their angry salvos. But there’s more at stake here than legal rights, or even — yes — the honestly held and fervently  defended views on both sides. There are also actual women coming to the clinic, looking for answers to questions that have none. What about them?

“Abortion is an ObamaNation.com”

August 28th, 2009 2 comments

The quote that forms the title for this post was plastered on a truck driven by a member of Operation Rescue. The vehicle also sports a poster of a fetal hand on a coin. They’re not going for subtlety.

The vitriolic protests against abortion providers continue, this time with Dr. LeRoy Carhart filling the late Dr. George Tiller‘s role as the focal point for the anger. Carhart, you may recall, led an unsuccessful challenge to the so-called “partial birth abortion law; the sharply divided Supreme Court ruled that Congress could constitutionally rule out one form of late-term abortion as long as it permitted another means of accomplishing the same task. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority misunderstands both medical practice and public health principles, and, as Justice Ginsburg noted in dissent, won’t actually save the life of a single fetus. (At most it will put doctors at risk of liability for making on-the-spot decisions on how best to perform the procedure.)

Carhart’s public stance, courage, and notoriety explain may why he’s now been targeted. And yes, he does some (but very few)  late-term abortions; as evidenced by the back-and-forth I had with Andrew Sullivan a couple of months ago (see here, here, here, and here), as well as the many testimonials he published on the issue, these abortions are the ones that get people the most worked up. (Maybe they shouldn’t, though, because most of these abortions are to terminate the life of the most seriously deformed fetuses, many of whom wouldn’t even be born alive. But this post isn’t going to revisit the issue.) Given what happened to Tiller, and the willingness of Operation Rescue to refortify the ramparts so soon after his murder, Carhart understandably fears for his life. If anything does happen to him, the principals of that group will express ritual disapproval, but not remorse.

Also of interest here is the use of the now-familiar “ObamaNation” (read: abomination) slogan and its purported connection to everything that’s thought to be wrong: taxes; health care reform; now, abortion. But what has Obama to do with abortion? The practice has been legal continuously since 1973, yet the anti-abortion forces feel,  with some justification, that they have a kindred spirit in office during Republican administrations. Democrats allow this, well, abomination to continue, and don’t even have the decency to mount a rhetorical struggle against it. So violence and the threats of it escalate, dramatically, during Democratic presidencies.

I still haven’t accounted for the “.com” at the end of the slogan.  Now we’ve got something concrete: Obamanation.com is the url for a group that is dedicated to stopping what it sees as an Obama-led black genocide; black fetuses are aborted in disproportionately high numbers. (Here’s the organization’s page with data supporting that point; I haven’t checked out the underlying reports.) But in a larger sense it “Obamanation” stands for everything that’s wrong, and for the poor sap who happens to be at the epicenter of it all.