Tag Archives: abortion

stem cell research standing

The judge also finds that the two adult stem cell researchers who brought the case would suffer imminent and irreparable harm without the injunction because they would have to compete with embryonic stem cell researchers for research funds. That is absurd. Adult stem cell research is funded far more generously than work with embryonic stem cells. And there is no firm limit on the amount of money that can be spent on each. NYT editorial

How did this case not get knocked out on standing? Competing for funding? In two different fields ??? Absurd.

But for this absurdity we have to blame the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, not Judge Lamberth; it was the D.C. Circuit Ct. which granted the researchers “competitor standing”.

The Guidelines, by allowing federal funding of [embryonic stem cell] research, increases competition for NIH’s limited resources. This increased competition for limited funds is an actual, imminent injury. See Sherely, 2010 WL 2540358 at *5 (explaining that the increased competition that plaintiffs face is “substantial enough to deem the injury to them imminent”). There is no after-the-fact remedy for this injury because the Court cannot compensate plaintiffs for their lost opportunity to receive funds. Sherley v. Sebelius, D.D.C. 2010

Stacking the D.C. Circuit for years with pro-life Republicans has finally paid off!

The mind boggles: Any agency that funds more than one thing is open, now, to scrutiny by the possible fund-ees for potential legal suit. I suddenly see a future for all those laid-off New York law firm associates.

And, a fine example of how Congress works: Default BS caving in to lobbyists. In this instance, the “Dickey-Wicker amendment, that has been attached to annual appropriations bills for the Department of Health and Human Services since 1996″ — i.e., more absurd religious BS around abortion and fetal rights, affecting science and medicine.

And did the Obama administration tackle this problem directly? No, they avoided the problem the same way the other administrations have.

Disgraceful all around.

cite: quotes from NYT Editorial 8/25. opinion available at uscourts.gov (PDF).

egg rights: South Dakota’s latest ventures into unintended consequences

South Dakota is at it again, with a new egg rights bill that defines “any organism with the genome of homo sapiens” as a person under the South Dakota Constitution. Man it’s hard to keep up with all the really poorly thought out legislation from that state!

Broadsheet has the simplest quickest coverage, and links to Feministe “Even More Questions for Pro-Lifers”, always a good read.

Anyway, inspired by the Broadsheet post title “Eggs are people, too”, henceforth I will be referring to this sort of thing as “egg rights”. (A phrase which I now see has already gained some traction.) Egg rights activists, egg rights bills, and so forth.

do people ever actually *read* Roe & Casey?

Ross Douthat’s op-ed in the NYT is a showcase for the deceptive rhetoric of the right. The piece is a long paean to the supposed reasonableness and willingness to compromise of the anti-choice movement. He wraps up by attempting to lay the “blame” on Roe and Casey for the “failure” of Americans to reach peace on safe and legal abortion:

But no such compromise is possible so long as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey remain on the books. These decisions are monuments to pro-choice absolutism, and for pro-lifers to accept them means accepting that no serious legal restrictions on abortion will ever be possible — no matter what the polls say, and no matter how many hearts and minds pro-lifers change.

Wow. Where to begin.

Continue reading

federally funded censorship about abortion

Jenna Freedman posted an outrageous story about a medical database: Popline has made the word “abortion” a stopword, meaning you can’t search on the term; the database ignores the word as it ignores words like “the”.

Why? Popline responded that “We recently made all abortion terms stop words. As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now.”

They recommend instead searching “fertility control, postconception”.

I fail to understand this rationale. Was their pressure from within PopLine or outside from the funders to hide information about abortion? Or did they decide for some reason that it was strategically better to hide information about abortion given the anti-choice climate at the Bush administration?

Either way, hiding information is not the right solution.

The contact information is:
Debra L. Dickson
POPLINE Database Manager/Administrator
INFO Project
111 Market Place, Suite 310, Baltimore, MD 21202
ddickson@jhuccp.org
Tel: 410-659-6300 / Fax: 410-659-6266

and more information is available at Jenna’s page.
cross-posted at sivacracy

update fri 3pm:
The Dean at John Hopkins (which manages Popline) has ordered the decision reversed. See statement from Johns Hopkins (link from women’s health news); see also crooks & liars coverage

technological mandates

I’ve written before about the ways in which criminalizing specific medical procedures — e.g., the “partial birth abortion act” — is a technological mandate. As a technological mandate, bans on specific abortion procedures are subject to all the same flaws, overreaches, underreaches, definitional problems, and obsolescence problems that mandates involving technological protection measures for copyrighted works are. As with people’s experiences with DRM, the best way to see the problems with these kinds of rules is to hear the stories of women who have had “partial birth abortions”. I encourage geek liberators to think about technological mandates more broadly.

new & fabulous uses for business method patents

patent your tax strategies!

No, I’m not kidding. Go read the article. 52 patents for tax strategies have been issued since the first was issued in 2003, and 84 more are pending.

If this annoys you and causes you to mutter grumpily about State Street Bank and the Federal Circuit*, put a smile on your face with an early May review of KSR v. Teleflex: Another in a long string of Supreme Court rebukes to the Fed. Circuit and its “a patent in every pot” philosophy. Yaay non-obviousness standard! **

* I was going to link to Wikipedia for a quick review of the Fed Circuit for folks, but the wikipedia entry sucks: It includes all the employment history of the Fed Circuit and none of the substantive discussion about the rationales for creating it, the criticisms (a lot) and praise (not as much), and attempts to tinker with its structure or copy it for other areas of law. The State Street Bank entry is also not great but it gives citation, link to file, and a basic overview, so it was Good Enough.

** It’s interesting how Kennedy rejected a “rigid approach” for interpreting non-obviousness, because it might not keep up with technology. I compare this decision somewhat bitterly with his opinion in Gonzalez v. Carhart, in which he has no problem applying a rigid standard based on a particular technology (a surgical approach). He premised the right to create a blanket legal rule banning a particular surgical procedure — effectively a technological mandate — on, what? His decision that there was insufficient medical evidence to justify permitting the procedure and that the patients needed the paternalistic supervision of the State lest they make a decision they would regret later on. (Needless to say there was considerably more evidence that the procedure is medically advised in some situations, than there was evidence of any need for state paternalism to protect the emotional welfare of citizens.) I guess rigidity is okay when the patriarchy is involved.

tech mandates and reproductive care

I never cease to be astonished by how smarmy politicans can be: today, leaders in the Smarm Community, the anti-choice people (‘pro-lifers’). The latest RU-486 story in the NYT, sensationalistically titled “2 More Women Die After Abortion Pills”, covers two recent RU-486 deaths (two, for a total of five; four of which were probably infection-related). Naturally the pro-lifers jumped on it, using the opportunity to pontificate piously and misleadingly. Here’s “Concerned Women of America” policy director Wendy Wright:

“Sadly, people who support RU-486 apparently believe the risk of death is preferable to having a child.”

Wright’s politicized sorrow obscures the facts, some of which are included in the NYT article. It turns out that these two deaths are from infection after RU-486 abortion, and, statistically, the deathrate from infections after childbirth and abortion remains consistent across procedures and methods. [The NYT article fails to mention anything in response to this misleading quote; I would have thought that the risk of death from 'having a child' would have been appropriate here. The risk of long-term health problems, considerably greater for childbirth than for any method of abortion, might also have improved the article. But ranting about the NYT is a task for another day. For many other days.]

Politicized Research

The statistics are unsurprising, but in the politicized world of abortion statistics you would have difficulty verifying the data, or trying to flesh out Ms. Wright’s statement. For instance, if you googled something like ‘childbirth abortion mortality rates’, you could see that Google has been successfully bombed by a flood of political sites on the topic (largely anti-abortion). You have to get to the second page of results before you actually start seeing any material from the medical community.

A search of PubMed proved much more helpful. The scientific literature largely treats abortion, pregnancy, and birth control as part of a continuum of family planning and reproductive outcomes — what I’ll call the reproductive medicine approach. This makes sense. Research that seems tailor-made to proving somebody’s point about abortion (from whatever perspective) is just inherently less trustworthy.

The reproductive medicine approach makes clear that when the government gets involved in restricting women’s reproductive choices there are clear medical consequences: Whatever the risks of specific procedures, techniques, and reproductive outcomes, what’s really risky is lack of access to family planning and contraception. Unplanned pregnancies are, ultimately, the cause of most pregnancy & childbirth-related mortality, by leading to high-risk pregnancy, or in many countries, illegal or quasi-legal abortion. In the US, for instance, restrictions on abortion delay many women’s access to the very safe first trimester abortion, perversely leading to more late-term abortions. But the message from those who would politicize and involve the government in individual medical decisionmaking, is never about healthcare or policy, probably because the healthcare policies they would propose would be unacceptable to most people. Instead, they focus on particular technologies, techniques, and procedures — effectively establishing technological mandates and prohibitions.

Technological Mandates Are Bad Government

It’s almost never a good idea for the government to establish technological mandates. Technological developments are notoriously difficult to second-guess or steer; tech mandates all too often exemplify the law of unintended consequences [Library of Economics, WikiPedia]. Whenever Congress or state legislators try to take aim at specific technologies, they end up effecting a lot of other changes, scattershot. And any technologically specific law is bound to be out of date very quickly.

We usually think of tech mandates & prohibitions in geeky areas, like copyright: the DMCA (thou shalt not tamper with copy protection measures, etc.); DAT (digital audio tape recorder manufacturers shall include copy protection schemes); broadcast flags (thou shalt include broadcast flag recognition technology in video recorders). But the same impulses are clearly at play in the politics around abortion and birth control. And as in copyright, politicians’ attempts to mark out this or that technology, technique or method as sinful and wrong is bad policy. The politicization of this or that reproductive medicine technique (most recently emergency contraception and intact dilation and extraction, or so-called ‘partial-birth abortion’) only hampers attempts to improve reproductive medicine and outcomes for women, infants, and their families.

Abortion is only the most obvious example. Legislators do nobody any favors when they start toying with technological mandates in any field.* Look at the recent Congressional hearings on stem-cell research. Saletan in Slate tried to put a good spin on it: These guys are working really hard & exploring the issues; isn’t that nice? Yeah, that’s nice from a personal growth standpoint, but the problem is these guys are making laws about very specific techniques, and they have no clue what they’re talking about, much less doing. They don’t understand biology, they don’t understand genetics, they don’t understand development.

But Congress members do understand policy-making, and one might argue that they understand ethics. Well, err, anyway, they understand policy-making. So if Congress members feel they must Take Action, then I have a suggestion for them: Do what you know — make policy. Set out broad principles of respect for life (which includes the lives and health of women as well as the lives of their potential children) and autonomy. Fund research into family planning methods that enhance autonomy and health. Make principled statements that are general about no wanton cruelty (or whatever) in harvesting stem cells. Skip the specific tech mandates.

Then Congress could let the NSF & NIH apply those guidelines when funding specific grants. That’s what regulators & grantors are good at: reviewing specific proposals to see if they fall within general guidelines. And Congress could let the courts interpret those terms in the course of litigation. That’s what courts are good at: reviewing the facts of particular cases, heartwrenching, difficult cases, and figuring out how to apply broad principles. And Congress could stop grandstanding and micromanaging cases (like Schiavo) and technologies (anything to do with biology, family planning, and copyright protection is by definition a Bad Idea for Congress to muck with — others no doubt will occur).

follow-up: 2005/7/25: The AP version of the story also pointed out that the women who got the infection and took the drugs may not have followed FDA-approved instructions.

The agency also said the four deaths occurred among women who were treated at clinics that didn’t follow FDA-approved instructions for the two- pill regimen. Although the FDA stressed that it could not prove that the “off- label” use was to blame, its new public health advisory warns doctors of the possible link to such use.

The fifth death followed a ruptured tubal pregnancy, a dangerous condition and type of pregnancy that the drug does not terminate.

Geez. Could the NYT article have been any less informative?


* For that matter, technological mandates & prohibitions really might be considered a subspecies of micromanaging generally. The Terri Schiavo fiasco demonstrates why legislators should stay out of individual cases, and far, far out of medical decisionmaking.