Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Republicans absurdly debate the rape exception for abortion

     Representative Todd Akin put his foot in his mouth by saying exactly what was on his mind: that "legitimate rape" causes trauma that makes pregnancy from rape rare--or, at least, that was the strong implication of his words.  Of course, there is no science to back up this claim regarding humans (one would think a Representative sitting on the Science and Technology committee would believe in this little thing we call "evidence"), and not all rapes have trauma involved at the time of the rape (there is, of course, trauma after).  I know women personally who were raped when they were drunk, and a few of them were pregnant from it.  One I knew to be a lesbian.  She was penetrated while unconscious.  I know women who have been drugged and raped.  Even if there were truth to the claim that the trauma of rape caused a woman's body to shut down pregnancy, Akin's claim would imply that only brutal, conscious rapes constitute rape.  A woman who was drugged during her rape is no less violated, just not beaten.

     There are many forms of rape, but that's not what I want to get into here.  I think rape is an important subject, and we need to do everything we can to prevent rape, prosecute rapists, and care for the victims of the crime, but the concern for the moment is the stance Akin and people like him have on abortion.   Akin is not alone in his views.  The implication that pregnancy from rape is rare gives people like him the courage to say it should not be an exception for abortion.  I don't know that Akin believes that himself, but there are several prominent names in the Republican Party who do, in fact, believe that there should be no exception for rape or incest.  There are even a few who believe there should be no exception for saving the mother's life.

     Far be it from me to make a moral judgment here, but does the vision Republicans have for the United States really include rape victims coming into emergency rooms because they tried to end their pregnancies with twisted coat hangers, umbrella spokes, bicycle spokes, poison, sharp instruments, and other unsafe means, just because, in their view, there aren't that many of them (at least not from "legitimate rape")?   That was the reality of abortion when it was illegal.  Women sought to end their pregnancies for all sorts of reasons, and only the wealthy and connected had the means to get abortions safely.  I think all women should have access to safe abortion procedures, but when it comes to rape victims, I have a special compassion.  It's hard enough making decisions regarding pregnancy; it has to be more difficult still when the offspring is a rapist's.  I can't imagine the emotional agony over the idea of carrying a rapist's child to term.  It seems to me that it takes a special kind of cruelty to force a rape victim to bear the child of a person who forced her into pregnancy in the first place.  It's another kind of rape, in my view.

      Abortion should be safe for all women, and made rare through comprehensive sex education, ready access to contraception, and empowerment of women in general.  I know there are many who would disagree, but please, if you believe abortion is murder, consider what I have said about the ways in which women tried to end their pregnancies before safe abortion procedures were legally available.  Many women died as a result of their failed--or even successful--abortion attempts.  Poison, infection, too much blood loss...all of these things brought women into the emergency room, and many of them died.  Before you say that you believe they got what they deserved for "murdering a child", consider that your beliefs, if Christian, also include the idea of forgiveness and redemption.  How does a dead woman receive the opportunity to redeem herself?

     Of course, as an atheist, I do not share the view that women who seek abortions require redemption.  I do not see abortion as murder at all; taking a life that has not even really begun is not murder.  Yes, a fetus is alive, but does it have a personality?  It may feel pain, but does it remember it (in cases where pain is felt that is not abortion-related)?  Does it have memories?  In cases where a "morning after" pill is used, it's just a mass of cells with no possibility of any of these things being true, but the same people who will make the case for a fetus feeling pain and such will be against this method, as well, all because of the faith-based concept of the soul coming in at conception.

     Considering that children resulting from unwanted pregnancy often end up abused, poor, and generally disadvantaged, I see abortion as a difficult, but merciful, choice.  All choices regarding pregnancy are difficult.  Pregnancy changes the body and comes with its own risks.  Miscarriages can kill.  Child birth can kill.  Complications from child birth can kill.  In most cases, death is not the result, but pregnancy absolutely changes a woman's body permanently.  Giving the resulting baby up for adoption can come with its own problems, including grieving for the loss of the child, even though the child is still alive. There are no easy choices here, but in all of these cases, women should expect every effort to be made to keep them safe.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Real criticism versus fairy tales

One of the problems I have with debating with right-wingers these days is that they don't want to talk about policy.  They don't have real criticisms of President Obama; they only advance the conspiracy theories or distorted talking points.  An informed person might bring up the following:

Warrantless wiretapping:
The current administration has continued the policy of warrantless wiretapping, with the approval of Congress most recently in June, that the Bush administration began.

Drone strikes that sometimes kill civilians:
Some of the drone strikes the Obama administration uses to target Al Qaeda have been killing civilians, and some people strongly feel that it's an effective recruiting tool for the very organization the strikes intend to stop.

President Obama has proposed changes to Social Security and Medicare:
This administration has proposed some cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and a smaller cost of living adjustment for Social Security--thought his proposals do not even touch the degree to which the Republicans want to change these plans, which included complete privatization.  

This list could also include how Wall Street players ended up being part of Obama's administration, how the banks were bailed out but most homeowners were not, and other criticisms that actually have to do with policy.  One might notice that the links I included go to what would be considered left-wing sources, by the way.  I did that purposely, to show that our side will give criticism where it is due.

When arguing with Republicans, however, these criticisms do not come up in the conversation.  Instead I hear:

  • Obama is stealing $716 billion from Medicare.  This number actually comes from what it would cost if the Republicans repealed the Affordable Care Act.
  • Obama is not really a citizen of the United States.  This argument's latest manifestation involves his school records, which allegedly have him down as a foreign exchange student.  It's all part of the stupid and irrelevant birther conspiracy.  Get over it!  He's been President for almost a full term already; let's talk about policy and not about irrelevant conspiracy theories.
  • Obama is secretly a Muslim.  Who cares what his religion is?  Can you demonstrate how his religious leanings have affected his policy?  
There are many more pieces of myth and misinformation out there, and it makes most Republicans and other people who consider themselves conservatives not worthwhile when it comes to political discussions.  It would be great if people would have informed opinions, even if I disagree with them or support a candidate in spite of certain flaws.  Obama has done some great things, but he's not perfect.  I just wish the criticisms I'd hear about him were real and relevant.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Reflections on health care tragedy

I hadn't thought about Bob Brooks for awhile.  Bob was intelligent, humorous, logical, and interesting.  He was a brilliant speaker and activist.  He was a world traveler, and a true citizen of the world--not an egotistical American bent on the idea of exceptionalism.  When he spoke, the room hushed to listen to what he had to say--not that they had to quiet down much; Bob's voice carried well.  They listened because what he had to say was relevant, often funny, reliable if it was fact, and respected if it was his opinion.  People liked him.  I liked him.

Some years ago, Bob was diagnosed with cancer of the colon.   His treatment would have been lengthy, costly, and rough.  Rather than spend the nest egg he had accumulated through a lifetime of hard work, Bob decided to take his own life.  He spent his final week saying his last goodbyes to his friends.  In an email to me, he wrote:

My death is neither based on courage, nor cowardice. It is the logical conclusion of a rational mind based upon my values and circumstances. This is right for me, but that is my intellect, not my emotions. No, I am not brave, as I have been an emotional wreck all week since everything I do, and see, is for the last time. Cutting my ties to this world is not easy. However, my life belongs to me, not the doctors, preachers, or government, all of whom forbid my action.

I thought of Bob during a conversation I was having in The Young Turks' live chat, where we were discussing health care issues and a man who lost his job at Wells Fargo, and therefore his insurance, right before his child's scheduled surgery.  It was a heartbreaking story.  I thought about my own experiences with the health care system, then reflected on my dad, who had insurance but had doctors blow off his pain as the result of a fall down the stairs.  I thought about my Aunt Pam, who could not afford to go to the doctor because her employer did not provide insurance, who waited until the pain was so great that she had to go to the emergency room, only to find that her cancer had spread to her whole body.  She died not long after.

Then I thought of Bob.  It's the first time I'd ever made the connection, but Bob's death could have been prevented if we had universal health care--health care that would not have eaten up his nest egg.  I can't speak for Bob; he may have still gone through with the suicide to avoid having his family watch him suffer--or he may have gone through with treatment and put his cancer into remission.  Or, if his cancer was terminal, he may have decided to use hospice care.  In whatever circumstance, I think he should have had the choice.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Well-Regulated Militia

     The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution reads: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

     The Founding Fathers did not want a standing army.  They believed it was too expensive.  They had fought the American Revolution with militias made up of men with their own weapons, defending their own lands (that they stole from the natives who were on the land before them, but that's another issue for another day). They wanted people to keep their own weapons in case they had to call men to arms quickly to repel invasions.  Communications weren't instant then.  There were no radios, no aircraft, no motorized vehicles--no way to move troops quickly from a base to an invasion point.  Having citizens (white male property owners over the age of twenty-one, at that time) own guns made sense, in terms of national security.

     The times we live vastly different.  We have a standing military.  If we did have a military invasion, the average citizen would not be able to repel it; we would need the United States military arsenal.  Perhaps there are people out there who think their personal arsenal of automatic weapons, if joined with other such arsenals, would be enough to repel an invasion, but this idea is pure folly.  The most one could hope for out of several citizen-owned arsenals would be guerrilla warfare.  The "well-regulated Militia" part is certainly outdated.

     So...since the citizens no longer constitute a well-regulated militia, should we prohibit guns?  Plenty of people do sport shooting on ranges, which does no harm to anyone.  Some people hunt and eat the game animals they kill, which doesn't harm humans, and, in the case of deer, helps control a population of animals that do not have natural predators anymore (due to humans killing timber wolves, for example--yes, we're solving a problem we caused).  Some people, such as real estate agents, who work on their own and don't  know who they're meeting a good amount of the time, keep them for personal protection.  Besides, the Constitution says the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, right?

     What the Constitution doesn't say is what type of arms the citizens may have.  What's the limit?  Is it wealth?  The Koch brothers could certainly own their own private military, complete with aircraft--they have the money.  Should they be able to hire mercenaries from Academi (formerly Blackwater, who killed citizens seemingly for sport in Iraq and confiscated weapons from citizens after Hurricane Katrina) and have a few fighter jets for air support?  Should the average citizen be able to own a nuclear weapon?  Chemical weapons?  Biological?  Should a wealthy person be able to hire a private navy, with ships that can hit targets several miles away?  Should missiles be available to the average American?

     Most reasonable people would put some limit on what arms should be available to the average citizen.  Why then, should we not talk about regulations for gun ownership?  Why not restrict the size of the magazines available for guns?  Why not put mental health screenings in place as a requirement for gun ownership?  Prohibition of guns could have the same result as the drug trade--in fact, those who have made billions from the drug trade could certainly diversify into illegal arms sales.  However, nobody is talking about prohibition.  Indeed, not many elected representatives are talking about imposing any limits--but perhaps it's time to talk about mental health screenings, in light of recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado and the Sikh Temple outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

     My personal opinion is that people with certain mental health issues should not have firearms, especially automatic weapons and other military-grade equipment.  However, the Second Amendment, as many gun advocates will say, does not allow for an infringement on the right to keep and bear arms.  Here's a compromise: let's do mental health screenings, but let people with mental health issues get guns.  Then, put them on a watch list.  Watch how many guns they buy, what kind of military-grade equipment they secure, and how much ammo they purchase.  If they start accumulating the aforementioned items, put them under surveillance.  When they leave the house with it, have a SWAT team or other law enforcement officials follow the person with guns pointed directly at his (because so far, all of these mass murderers have been male) head at point-blank range.  If he continues to his destination, make sure the law enforcement officials take him down as soon as he pulls a weapon and points it at someone.  He still owned his guns right up until he did something illegal, and now law enforcement call pull them from his cold, dead hands before he was able to do damage to a large number of innocent civilians.

Abortion for eugenics and other reasons

     Recently, I was asked if I thought it was intolerant to believe abortion was wrong, even in the cases of rape, incest, or saving the mother's life.  My answer was that you're intolerant if you force that belief on others, by which I mean legislating your beliefs or intimidating or bullying people into your way of thinking.  You have a right to believe however you want.  However, there are a few things we touched on that bear consideration.

     To get my stance on abortion out of the way: I see abortion as an equality issue.  I've written about the subject before; I used to be emotional about it because I'm adopted, but as I matured, I realized it wasn't about me and my perceived right to exist--it was about women and the right not be an incubator for a life that might kill them, or for the children of men who might have raped them, or  the offspring of relatives who had sexual relations with them, or the babies of guys who may have pressured them into sex and won't stick around.  The pregnancy might be a mistake born of drunken revelry, or it may be that the urge to have sex was strong and the woman didn't think about the possible consequences.  It might be the result of the rare circumstance where birth control didn't work.  It's also about the fact that women who think about the life-long consequences of having an unwanted child get scared.  Scared women might poison themselves, grab a twisted coat hanger, or find some other means to terminate the pregnancies themselves, and allowing that reality to exist again is wrong.  It's about women making private decisions with their doctors about their own health.

   The most we men might be legally obligated to do in regard to an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy is support the child financially.  We don't have to go through the physical changes involved.  We don't have to go through the pain--I'm told the epidural medication helps, but afterwards, there is soreness, hemorrhoids caused by the pushing, possible mental issues, lack of sleep, an inability to work for a time and to find affordable child care when it is time to go back, difficulty finding a job that is flexible with the things that go along with having children...we men don't have to stick around for the non-physical issues women have to deal with when they decide to carry a pregnancy to term.  Be that as it may, so many of my gender want to make it a moral issue about killing babies.  That's what this article is really about.

     What bothers me so much about those who believe that abortion is about murder is not their belief; it's two moral contradictions that usually go along with it.  First, there's the legislation of "sin".  If you believe abortion is murder, that's your belief--it's not necessarily shared by everyone.  Is it your right to stand in judgment of everyone else and force them to refrain from "sinning"?  Is it your right to make it so that scared women endanger their own lives by terminating pregnancies by homemade methods?  I think legislating morality is, in itself, immoral; forcing people to live according to your beliefs speaks of arrogance and totalitarianism, not of moral conviction.  I had a friend say recently, "You can't legislate morality," and I agree with him.

    The second moral contradiction, quite frankly, is the one that infuriates me the most.  Most people who want to legislate away the right to safe and legal abortion also have no desire to pay for the results of unwanted pregnancy, even if that unwanted pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or saving the mother's life. Most never talk about the difficulties of keeping a child when you're not financially stable and too young to have begun a career.  Most don't want to talk about helping with child care.  Most don't want to provide health care--and there can be dire financial consequences when a pregnancy has complications when the mother has no health insurance.

     There is a third moral question I want to bring up, and this part will explain the title of this article.  The person who asked me if I thought he was intolerant brought up his child with Down Syndrome, and said people were having abortions to avoid the potential of having a special needs child.  I have a special needs child myself, so I can relate to the emotion involved.  I wouldn't trade my daughter for anything, but there are some considerations we need to take here.  Children with special needs require special care.  Not all day cares will take children with special needs, and my child's autism comes with behavior issues that make it especially difficult to find adequate child care.  She can't mainstream in school for the same reason, even though she keeps up academically.  Now, if I had known my child was going to have autism, would I have tried to persuade my wife (now ex) to have an abortion?  No, probably not.  However, it would certainly have allowed me to prepare some more for all of the therapy my child needs, especially the financial resources.

    I am fortunate enough to have a job that provides benefits.  Even so, the co-pays add up quickly.  Child care is still extremely difficult to find, and since my child stays with me, I understand the difficulties of being a single parent.  People who are qualified to take care of children with autism have services that are cost-prohibitive.  Now, I understand that if I made less than half the salary I make now, I could get services through Medicaid.  Whether those services are totally adequate, I don't know.  What I do know is that those who are above that income level where they can receive services and below mine will have a really difficult time finding adequate help for their special needs children, and those without benefits will find it cost-prohibitive to do so (I find it cost-prohibitive, and I only have to pay co-pays!).

    So now...knowing the difficulties that go along with having special needs children, what does it say about people who think it's morally wrong for a woman who knows her child will have special needs to get an abortion and also is unwilling to fund the services necessary to help that mother and her child with therapy and child care costs?  If you're willing to legislate away the right of women to a safe and legal abortion, then be willing to fund the services for women who have children with needs they did not plan for--even if the pregnancy was wanted.  My wife and I planned our child.   We did not plan on her having special needs.  We didn't even know for the first couple years.  In any case, I don't have a desire to legislate away the choice of women to have an abortion, whatever the reason.  Do I think some instances may be immoral?  Sure.  I think if  you want to terminate a pregnancy because the resulting child will have brown eyes instead of blue, or black hair instead of red, or some other such reason, you're probably not the kind of person I'd want to be around.  Will I legislate access to abortion away because I feel this way?  No.  And special needs...it's hard to look at my daughter and say it's okay to abort a child if you know the child will have special needs...but any choice regarding pregnancy, especially one with unplanned consequences, is difficult.  I think it's better to carry the child to term and give him or her up for adoption if you find out the child you're expecting is going to have special needs, and you can't handle the costs and stress involved, but again, I am not going to make that choice for women--especially when the people who want to take that choice away would rather not provide assistance for the mothers who have those children.