James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, April 28, 2007

When judges play doctor

By Lydia Howell

It was surreal hearing Supreme Court Justices trying their hand at medical diagnosis during the oral arguments of Gonzalez v. Planned Parenthood. For one thing, Justice John Roberts, echoing other opponents of women's reproductive rights, erased women from the debate.

Chief Justice Roberts was oblivious to how he demonstrated what women and doctors have asserted since before abortion was decriminalized in Roe v. Wade: women and their doctors are far more qualified to make the complicated medical decisions than judges and politicians.

In the process, the court set a dangerous precedent. For the first time, a Supreme Court decision
addressing abortion ignored the question of a woman's health.

At issue was a late-term abortion called dilution and extraction (D and X), an emergency procedure used fewer than 2,000 times a year.

In spite of anti-choice propaganda, women do not have a D and X abortion as an “option.” It is, rather, a tragic necessity in a few cases, ending pregnancies the women involved had hoped would result in motherhood. D and X is done only in circumstances in which continuation of a pregnancy presents very serious health risks, perhaps even death for the woman, or it could end the woman's fertility, or result in a child with severe birth defects.

Roberts and his four anti-choice colleagues are not trained in medicine, so they relied propaganda. In 2003, Randall Terry of Operation Rescue, a powerful anti-abortion organization, said , “The partial birth ban is a political scam but, also a public relations goldmine.”

While an exception was made to save the woman's life, doctors performing the procedure risk two years in prison. Will more judges be playing doctor, pre-approving the procedure, so that doctors will feel secure from prosecution?

Paul Clement, the Department of Justice attorney who argued for the government, alluded to “future challenges based on specific medical conditions.” With the court decision, we have to wonder if some doctors will hesitate or refuse to perform the rare procedure. If they do, the refusals could the result in more women losing their health, their fertility or their lives.

Young women, less than 18 years old, trying to make their own reproductive decisions and bypass parental notification laws have turned to judges with mixed results. Conservative judges now sometimes claim a young woman doesn't have the maturity to end a pregnancy – but that means, perversely, they think she's ready to take on parenthood.

Or perhaps, what anti-choice judges, legislators and activists really are saying is that, for women, “biology is destiny.”

In their view, apparently, giving birth is women's primary purpose for existing. It's overdue for feminists to confront the true agenda of the anti-choice movement. We've been shamed into silence and apologetic defensiveness for too long.

If anti-choice activists really believed “abortion is murder,” then, theirs would be the loudest voices calling for fact-based sex education for young people and for easily available access to contraceptives and for research for new birth control options that are both healthy and convenient. If their “family values” were rooted in reality, theirs would be the loudest voices opposing the continued destruction of
economic supports for poor women and their children.

But, the same folks aiming to ban abortion got millions of dollars shoveled into failed “abstinence only” sex education and pushed for cuts in family planning clinics, welfare and childcare.

They have no problem with health insurance that pays for Viagra and Rogain for men, but won't pay for women's contraceptives.

Conservative federal appeals court judges ruled in the Union Pacific case that such practices are not gender discrimination! In fact, many of the people who want to ban abortion also openly desire to ban contraceptives, too.

Anti-choice activists and judges understand that if women cannot control our reproductive lives, we can't control other major aspects of our lives. They understand that the only way to “put women back into their place” -- as subservient wives and mothers, and only that, is to roll the clock backward to the time before the Pill.

That's the ultimate goal. Abortion is simply the first step.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Eve Gartner, representing Planned Parenthood, attempted to make women real to their conservative male colleagues. But, when it comes to reproduction, for some, from the moment of conception only the fetus exists. When anti-choice judges play doctor, women are simply “empty vessels” ---a theological concept incompatible with American law, as well as medicine.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist who writes for several newspapers and magazines. She won the 2006 Premack Award for public interest journalism. She also is producer/host of “Catalyst: Politics and Culture” on KFAI Radio.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Why are so many Christians so afraid?

Since we're walking in areas where toes get stepped on anyway...

Someone please tell me why so many Christians are so terribly frightened.

Of course I know Christians who move through life with reasonable confidence. There are quite a few among my closest friends. None of the Jews I know well seem perpetually frightened of the world around them. Muslims I have known – there are none in my immediate circle at present, but there have been several over the years – have been sensibly confident, rational people.

Nonbelievers of my acquaintance are not fearful, but they (we) tend to be angry these days.

And, of course, there is good reason for all of humanity to harbor a number of entirely rational fears about such things as climate change and the greed-driven violence of the present U.S. government and the equally greed-maddened leaders of the major corporations.

What I'm talking about here is the kind of apparent, constant fear of practically everything and, especially, everybody who isn't just like oneself in all major respects.

I see a lot of the kind of fear that causes the eyes to be wide and glassy, that gets people screaming irrationally at or about others, that looks exactly like the terror of a child convinced against all evidence that there are ferocious monsters in the closet.

The present inspiration for my pondering of this phenomenon is, of course, the weird rants of Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, as noted in a couple of pieces a little lower on this blog. Also the appalling hogwash from a number of other right-wing writers, mostly on the Internet.

I'm not sure if it's a concerted campaign or simply hysteria spreading, but anti-Islamic nuttiness is on the rise.

So far, all of it that I've seen has come from chest-thumping, theocratic Christians.

Those who proclaim their certainty about the absolute rightness of their particular brands of religion appear to me to be the most frightened of all Americans. They know the Truth, and the Truth gives them serenity and unbeatable strength, they claim, and yet they tremble all the time.

They fear gays, they fear people of other races, they fear people of other religions, they fear most of the world because it is different from this country and often has different understandings of how things work. They fear everyone who does not adhere to any of their professed beliefs. They flock to leaders who promise certainty – the kind of preacher who says he, personally, gets the truth from his god and will provide you with all the strength and sureness (and sometimes wealth) you require so long as you follow his every pronouncement.

Such Christians are so afraid that if you will not accept their beliefs on every aspect of life, they will try to force acceptance. That, throughout history, has been the pattern of the fearful and, of course, the power hungry who rise to lead the fearful.

The preachers may or may not believe what they preach. Getting you to believe it and to do their will gives them wealth and power.

Prevent gay people from living their lives without interference and send me money, they say. Fight against the slightest accommodation to the religious requirements of Muslims – and contribute to my megachurch. Demand the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools and complain at every opportunity that our government makes no accommodation for Christians and, by the way, demand “abstinence only” rather than sex education classes in schools – and send me every dime you can afford and more.

People by the millions follow the preachers' orders, and still they seem terrified.

One of the things upon which they absurdly insist is that while government today accommodates everybody but themselves, this is “a Christian nation.”

Nope. Is not, never has been, although there's no doubt that certain elements of Christianity sometimes have exerted undue influence on those who govern. Also that, contrary to the claims of those who play the Christian-as-victim game, much of American society, including its governments, order themselves according to the Christian calendar.

The Founding Fathers were Christians, the relgionists proclaim.

Nope. Those most influential in creating this republic were mostly theists, which is to say they figured that some sort of higher power exists, but they had no clear concept of what that might be. Some were Christians and some obviously were agnostic and even athiest, but didn't say so out loud because then, as now, it caused political problems.

Sinclair Lewis, that brilliant, often troubled, Minnesotan gave us great wisdom about the potential for fascism in America in “It Can't Happen Here.” He drew a brilliant picture of rural and small town America in “Main Street” and other novels, and much of what he told us still is true. And he wrote “Elmer Gantry,” which probably should be read by everyone who is inclined to follow the directives of any loud-preaching, money-grubbing televangelist.

That won't ever happen, of course.

So just explain where all that fear comes from, please. Show me its real roots, not the proclaimed fears – sex and gays and the rest – used to mask the actual overweening terrors that seem to afflict so many purportedly pious people.

Perhaps I can understand it and possibly I can be more sympathetic.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Quickies: A correction and U.S. attorneys

A correction: For a couple of days, I had posted here a very brief commentary on what appeared to be a new magazine started by the publishers of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

I made an error in taking at face value a news release without further checking -- something I know better than to do, but did anyway.

As I read it, the news release gave the impression that the Strib was involved in the magazine. It is not. I apologize.

Most news operations have ignored, or nearly so, the very core of the story about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys by Alberto Gonzales's wholly politicized Justice Department.

At the root of the situation – the real reason the eight had the can tied to their tails – is the Republican Party's big effort to disenfranchise large segments of the population that lean heavily to voting for Democrats – blacks, Hispanics and others.

The Bush crowd, and thus Gonzales and his crony/employees, went after the eight fired attorneys because they declined to make weak or entirely false prosecutions that could be expected to frighten certain voters away from the polls. The move also served to intimidate U.S. Attorneys who weren't fired.

Several of them got the message and did the political bosses' bidding. Steven Biskupic, U.S. attorney in Wisconsin, played the political game big time. He indicted 14 black Milwaukee residents for voting illegally and got big headlines with the move. Nine of his cases were either dismissed or lost in court – a rotten record compared with most prosecutions by U.S. attorneys, which normally win 90 percent of their cases. None of the other cases proved to involve any kind of organized effort at fraud.

Biskupic still has his job, however.

And this goes on while the Republicans pursue bills supposedly designed to end almost nonexistant voter cheating (as shown by several studies) but which really are designed to accomplish the same thing as the mostly groundless prosecutions: to intimidate and frighten crowds of voters who can be expected to vote for Democrats.

The April 23 New York Observer carried an article by Joe Conason about the story behind the story.