Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hard Cases, Bad Law and Wingnut Warfare, Part 1

Have you heard the old saying, "Hard cases make bad law?"

Here's a new one: Fighting extremists makes us all radicals.

Take the Indiana case of Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai.

Bei Bei Shuai was 33-weeks pregnant when she attempted to commit suicide on December 23. In a note, she wrote that she wished to kill herself and "tak[e] this baby, the one you called Crystal with me." When she did not immediately die, Shuai went out and ran into a friend who took her to the hospital where she was treated for the poison and stabilized. A week later, doctors performed a C-section and Shuai gave birth to a daughter named Angel. Over the next three days, Angel suffered bleeding in her brain and on January 3, her mother consented to remove her from life support. Over several hours and surrounded by grief counselors, Shuai held Angel while she died. Shuai then spent a month in a psychiatric hospital. On March 14, 2010, she was arrested and charged with murder and feticide.

Shuai was held without bail, since Indiana law prohibits bail in cases of murder "where the proof is evident, or the presumption is strong." In February of 2012, an appellate court held that it was not "evident" that ingesting rat poison caused the baby's death, and Shuai was released on bail. Friday, the case against her was dismissed because the coroner had failed to investigate whether other drugs given to Shuai and her child in the hospital caused the fatal brain hemhorrage.

From the beginning, this case has been a flashpoint of controversy. According to her lawyer, hospital staff had to prevent state officials from interrogating Shuai the day her daughter died. Indiana prosecutors tried to sanction Shuai's lawyers for publicizing the case to raise money for her defense. (It's pretty vindictive to complain about the headlines when your case seems ripped from an episode of Law and Order!) In fact, the state of Indiana prosecuted Shuai under one of the laws drafted after the infamous Lacy Peterson murder, making it a secondary crime to kill a viable fetus when you kill her mother. The law was never intended to cover suicides by pregnant women, but the statute says, "A person who ... knowingly or intentionally kills a fetus that has attained viability commits murder, a felony." So, Indiana Attorney General Gregory Zoeller went for it.

Maybe if abortion opponents weren't trying to pass Personhood Amendments defining a fertilized egg as a human being we could have a rational conversation about this. Maybe if a New Mexico legislator hadn't introduced a bill this week to classify abortion in the case of rape as a felony because it "destroy[s] evidence of a crime," or if Alabama hadn't prosecuted 60 women since 2006 for chemical endangerment of a child when babies were born with traces of narcotics in their systems. Maybe then those of us who support a woman's right to choose wouldn't see this as part of an effort to use the law to control women's bodies. Take this quote from Soraya Chemaly at RHrealitycheck.org.
Is this really what American’s want? There is no other conclusion. Pregnant women will all be potential criminals, their bodies considered potential crime scenes. They will deny themselves health care, endanger their lives, harm their bodies, have high-risk pregnancies. Many, many will go to jail.
It's certainly not what I want. And yet, if we can only talk about Bei Bei Shuai's case as part of a trend toward arresting women who smoke or eat junk food while pregnant, then we've allowed ourselves to get shoved into our own radical corner. Who could possibly defend what this woman did? Who could argue that a viable fetus shouldn't have some protection under the law?

If our opponents refuse to acknowledge the difference between this,

and this,

should we do the same thing?

In all likelihood, Shuai was mentally ill when she attempted suicide. An entire month of psychiatric hospitalization for an uninsured immigrant seems pretty strong evidence. My argument is not in favor of criminal prosecution of mothers. Rather, I would advocate a return to the trimester or viability approach from Roe v. Wade and the early Supreme Court abortion cases.

Thanks again, Justice Kennedy, for knocking down that firewall!

If we can't speak forcefully in favor of a bright line between a woman's right to bodily autonomy and the state's interest in protecting a future citizen, then we've given up half the field. If we allow the discussion to be about when life begins, we've conceded that the life of a fetus trumps that of a woman. And if we can't make a moral argument for abortion, we're reduced to rallying around deeply troubled women who do terribly immoral things.

Toward that end, today's $5 goes to the National Partnership for Women and Families, which supports access to abortion as part of the continuum of social and healthcare policies which allow women to participate as full citizens. We are pro-choice AND pro-child, and it's high time we take back this debate.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tarring the Tar Heels

Rape is like a football game, Annie. If you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback and you’re in charge, is there anything that you would have done differently in that situation? 
I don't generally talk about "rape culture." You just can't describe the ways we interact by dividing the world into victims and perpetrators. But when a college administrator responds to a student's 2007 allegations of rape this way, I'm going to call it a "rape culture" at University of North Carolina.

UNC is embroiled in a major scandal over the way it handled allegations of sexual assault on campus over the past decade. Last week, four students and one former administrator, Melinda Manning, filed a complaint with the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

The complaint, leaked to UNC's student paper the Daily Tar Heel, alleges that the University created a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault and then failed to comply with federal law by under-reporting these assaults to the US Department of Education. Although the story was picked up nationally, it appears that the student paper is doing most of reporting, and it has not published the leaked complaint.

In 2012, the University undertook a review of it's sexual assault policies at the behest of the Department of Education. Pending the review, allegations of rape and sexual assault were heard by a University Hearings Board composed of one administrator, two faculty members, and two student members of the school's Honor Court. There is dispute as to to how much training these Board members received. I'm thinking, not enough.

Here's how one member questioned a woman reporting long-term emotional and sexual abuse by her boyfriend.
Landen, as a woman, I know that if that had happened to me, I would’ve broken up with him the first time it happened. Will you explain to me why you didn’t?
The Board found Landen Gambrill's story non-credible based on her history of depression and attempted suicide. The members also forced her to recount graphic details of the sexual abuse she suffered and then gave the transcript to her parents without her consent, believing they had a right to know.

Other students report similar experiences with the Hearings Board and UNC administrators. Melinda Manning, the former UNC Dean of Student Affairs tasked with handling reports of sexual assault, confirmed that the hostility to victims was part of a wider culture at the University. Under the Clery Act, schools must report all cases of sexual assault to the Department of Education. In drafting the report, Manning was told the number of assualts was "too high."
For two weeks, she received multiple phone calls from various members of University Counsel staff asking her to ‘make sure that her numbers were correct.’ 
Obviously, it's not that UNC men raped too many women. It's simply a numbers problem! According to the complaint,
The number of sexual assaults that appeared in that year’s Clery report was three lower than the number Manning submitted to the Office of University Counsel . . .
The University reported six incidents of forcible sex offenses on campus for 2009, 19 for 2010, the year for which Manning was asked to compile statistics, and 12 for 2011. 
Lucky thing Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls is such a math whiz!

Hey, let's do a little math right here. For Feminism.
Which kind of makes that 12 reported to the Department of Education in 2011 sound like BS, no? Even if only 10% sought redress through the UNC system, the number would be somewhere between 30 and 50. Then again, why would any woman turn to this school administration for help?

Today's $5 is for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center in Chapel Hill North Carolina.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Bean is Not a Baby

Just a week into the 113th Congress, House Republicans are rolling up their sleeves to get some real work done to help their constituents.

Just kidding.

Paul Ryan and 26 other Republicans are co-sponsoring yet another un-passable Personhood Amendment, which states:
The life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, irrespective of sex, health, function or disability, defect, stage of biological development, or condition of dependency, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood . . . 
Hurricane Sandy victims are still waiting for money, and these . . . patriots . . . are wasting time drafting a "Sanctity of Human Life Bill" so radical that it failed in Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Dakota and Virginia. Not to mention being rejected by the last two sessions of Congress. Priorities!

This bill would define a baby into existence from the moment sperm meets egg - which is before a women is actually pregnant. It would force millions of women to have their highly effective IUDs removed, since IUDs work by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching itself to the wall of the uterus. It would also outlaw the morning after pill for the same reason.

In the 2012 Vice Presidential debate, Paul Ryan explained the unimpeachable science behind this argument.
Now, you want to ask basically why I'm pro-life? It's not simply because of my Catholic faith. That's a factor, of course, but it's also because of reason and science. You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born for our seven-week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. Our little baby was in the shape of a bean, and to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child, Liza, "Bean." Now, I believe that life begins at conception. That's why — those are the reasons why I'm pro-life.
Well, okay then. Who could argue with "reason and science?"

Can we just talk like grown-ups for a minute here? Can we just cut the shit for a sec?

What pisses me off about this argument is that the people making it must know better. These Congressmen are some of the breedingest people in the country. Most of them have three kids; eight of them have four (including Ryan); and at least one of them is proud papa to five. I, too, am a breeder (three). You know what happens when you have multiple pregnancies? Not all of them are going to result in a baby.

Without denigrating the sadness of a late miscarriage or the heartbreak of infertility, I think we can all agree that an early miscarriage is not the same as losing a child. And since one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, it's safe to say that these family men have probably been through it. Of course a miscarriage at seven weeks is sad. But losing a "bean" is not the same as losing a baby. I know it, and dollars to doughnuts Paul Ryan knows it, too.

We don't hold funerals or put death notices in the paper for a miscarriage; we don't go through a long period of mourning - we probably don't even tell most people that the "bean" ever existed. We cry for a while and then start trying again next month. Because we understand that we've lost a pregnancy, not a child.

So why sponsor legislation pretending that a tiny fetus is a person when you know it will never become law? Because it's more important to show your radical constituents that you believe a women has no right to control her own body than to actually do the work of passing laws.

Everyone's got priorities.

Today's $5 is for NARAL Pro-Choice America, which advocates for reproductive rights nationwide.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Woman's Place is in The House

Today, this happened! More women were sworn in to the House of Representatives than ever before. These are just the Democrats!

What else happened? Tuesday, Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). House Republicans refused to support the Senate version because it included new protections for undocumented immigrants and LGBT partners, and because it gave new powers to Native American authorities to adjudicate domestic violence on tribal lands. The immediate result is to cut off future funding for state-level domestic violence programs.

Look, I know Washington was a busy driving off the fiscal cliff last week. But the Senate passed their version of VAWA in April. If John Boehner gave a damn about it, they could have done something in the past eight months. Nancy Pelosi promises to make reauthorization "an early priority."

Speaking of legislative priorities, a Californa Court of Appeal reversed the conviction of a man who had sex with a sleeping woman who believed he was her boyfriend.
A man enters the dark bedroom of an unmarried woman after seeing her boyfriend leave late at night, and has sexual intercourse with the woman while pretending to be the boyfriend. Has the man committed rape? Because of historical anomalies in the law and the statutory definition of rape, the answer is no, even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes.
Don't blame the judges. California law still differentiates between married and unmarried victims of rape who believe they are consenting to have sex with their partners. Courts have begged the California legislature to fix this law for 20 years when rapists went free because they impersonated lovers not husbands. Obviously, not a priority for elected officials in California.

Say what you will about Idaho, but after a 2010 case where a guy let his buddy have sex with his drunk girlfriend and the two were accquitted because she wasn't his wife, they fixed the damn law!

Maybe one day we won't care what proportion of elected officials are female. Maybe one day California will make it illegal to rape an unmarried woman. For today, we need women leaders who will prioritize women's issues. So, today's $5 is for EMILY's List, which works to "bring more women into politics and elected office." Let's make that a priority!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Some Days the Bull Wins

Happy New Year!

Now let me tell you some crappy stuff that happened this week.

Two courts issued injunctions exempting employers from complying with the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate for employer-sponsored health insurance.

A court in Illinois ruled that a construction company would suffer irreparable harm to its religious convictions if it isn't allowed to switch to (more expensive) health insurance that does not offer birth control, emergency contraception or sterilization.

But, wait! How can a corporation have religious convictions that require protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? Well . . .

Remember when Congress tried to reduce corporate political contributions but the Supreme Court ruled that companies had First Amendment rights to speak with their money? (Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010)). Since corporations have a right to speak, they must also have a right to exercise religion. Or, as Mitt Romney put it,

Just to be totally clear here, a corporation is a legal entity that will protect the personal assets of the corporate owner if the company gets sued, but owners can claim that their religious liberties are harmed by corporate regulation. Which is kind having it both ways, no?

So, the Illinois Court found that the husband and wife who own Korte Construction will suffer serious harm to their Catholic faith if they have to include contraceptive coverage in their employees' health plan. Never mind that they didn't care enough enough to determine that the 20 employees covered by this plan enjoyed contraceptive coverage for at least a year prior to filing this case. And disregarding the fact that the company's 70 union employees get the disputed coverage through the union plan, which the construction company buys into.

Also Tom Monaghan, that prince of a guy who founded Domino's Pizza, gets to outsource his current employees' healthcare decisions to the Catholic Church, thanks to a Federal Court in Michigan. His company Domino Farms is free to exercise its Catholic faith, Hosanna!

AND, icing on the cake, both Courts characterized the morning after pill and the IUD as abortifacients! The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists says otherwise, but what do those doctors know? If Tom Monaghan's priest says life starts when sperm meets egg, then his employees will just have to live with that.

Let's all take deep breaths and remember that health insurance exchanges will be live a year from now. It may take a while, but the day is coming when the boss's religion doesn't determine his employee's healthcare choices.

Worse than the insurance cases, Courts are allowing Oklahoma and Texas to cease all state funding of women's healthcare through Planned Parenthood.

Oklahoma will terminate PP's contract to offer pre- and post-natal counseling to poor mothers and to distribute WIC vouchers for food. This decision has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood's relationship with other abortion providers, of course. This will be a great relief to the 50% of babies born in Oklahoma who rely on WIC vouchers for food.

Texas, however, makes no pretense that it has targetted Planned Parenthood for any other reason than that some branches of Planned Parenthood use private funds to provide abortion care. No branches of PP that receive federally-subsidized Medicaid funds provide abortion. But Rick Perry and the Texas GOP has long made it their mission to make sure no poor women in Texas get care from Planned Parenthood. Andrea Grimes at RHrealitycheck.org has been covering this slow-motion disaster. Her afternoon calling state-approved clinics shows the total inadequacy of other providers to serve the reproductive needs of patients who can no longer receive care at PP. 
Nearly six hours of those kinds of conversations later, I found 13 clinics or doctors that take the Medicaid Women's Health Program. Thirteen. Not 181. Why? Because 92 of the state's listings are duplicates. Others are radiology associates and labs and pediatricians and even closed clinics. Others just plain don't take Medicaid.
And that's why I started this blog - because walking around pissed off all the time doesn't help. So, $5 today for Planned Parenthood of Texas and another $5 for Planned Parenthood of Oklahoma.