resurrecting my old abortion rights button

“I’m pro-choice and I shoot back.”

It’s not strictly true since I don’t own a gun.

I love how Bill O’Reilly freely tosses around incendiary rhetoric (arguably, “inciting violence”) but is so incapable of taking responsibility or acknowledging his own words. Why is he a frickin’ pundit talking head if he thinks his words are so meaningless? Other than his ginormous ego? War Room has relevant excerpts and links to O’Reilly’s non-apology.

update: More informative is Rachel Maddow’s review of anti-abortion violence.

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.

bad ideas like bad pennies keep turning up

A Louisiana state Representative is considering a plan to pay poor women to have their tubes tied, to stave off additional reproduction by undesirables.

One wonders just how bad history classes have to be in Louisiana for John LaBruzzo to have actually failed to learn about the many, many times governments have tried programs like this based on bizarre ideas about biology and economics — and let’s please not forget the unbelievably asinine and heinous beliefs about race and class and gender that underlie such proposals. (My partner points out that actually this history wasn’t in any of our primary school history classes — she learned about Puerto Rico, Native Americans, laws of dozens of American states, and on, and on, from independent reading. “And you too, Laura — you didn’t learn that shit in Alabama.”)

Honestly it just makes me tired. What the fuck is wrong with people? Why do people not have any more self-knowledge and/or humility than to at least understand how pig-ignorant they are, before attempting to set social policy?

seen on broadsheet

alabama – imprisoning pregnant women like it’s 2020 in Gilead

How did I miss this Alabama story?
Greg L. Gambril, a DA in south Alabama (Covington County), is prosecuting women for endangering their fetuses under a chemical endangerment law intended to protect children from meth labs — “chemical endangerment of child”.

“When drugs are introduced in the womb, the child-to-be is endangered. It is what I call a continuing crime.” He added that the purpose of the statute was to guarantee that the child has “a safe environment, a drug-free environment. No one is to say whether that environment is inside or outside the womb.”

Tiffany Hitson spent her daughter’s first year in Julia Tutwiler Prison. He has prosecuted at least eight women under this law.

WTF is wrong with this asshole? Does he really not have anything better to do? Can’t someone disbar this motherfucker for blatant prosecutorial misconduct in using a law (a) to target crimes not intended to be reached, and (b) in violation of women’s constitutional rights to privacy?

Oh, no, wait — I forgot. Alabama is fucked up and the rest of the country just lets it stay that way. Women in Alabama, women in religious cults in Texas — fuck ‘em.

I know the ACLU of Alabama is overburdened, but come on.

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

mostly information law news round-up

* Judge White withdrew his order requiring the shutdown of wikileaks.org. See also 3/1 bits blog. (NYT 3/1)

* The music industry has yet to pay artists any of the money it has received in settlements and lawsuits; the artists are pissed. NY Post 2/27)

* The owners of the game scrabble are pissed off at Scrabulous. (NYT 3/2)

* Daniel Solove’s new book, The Future of Reputation, is available online with a creative commons license, thanks to Yale University Press. Annoyingly it’s chapter-by-chapter. badgerbag read it and promises a scathing review, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to say.

* Clay Shirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody, has a hold list at least 3-deep at the Boston Public Library. )-8

* Paul Cash, the principal of Burleson High School in Burleson, Texas, is censoring the school yearbook’s article about students who are also parents, in part because it conflicts with the school’s “abstinence-only” education program. A program that was, umm, manifestly not successful. As illustrated by the kind of head-in-the-sand attitude that seems to think that if only the principal can censor the yearbook, he can change reality, or lie to the community about it. “I believe that as principal of the school it is my obligation to make sure that whatever our students put into press accurately reflects the ideals and values of the community.” Apparently the students think that the press should reflect reality. I guess the teachers have been doing their jobs. Student Press Law Center has the scoop (2/13). (link from pharyngula, 3/2)

* Schwarzenegger’s administration is defending California’s gay marriage ban before the California Supreme Court; a ruling is due by June. There’s a certain gross irony in this: A couple of years ago, Schwarzenegger vetoed a gay marriage act passed by California’s legislature, saying that this was something that should be left to the courts. That was itself yet another proof that the so-called federalist style of conservatism is really just window-dressing outcome-based politicking as principled ideological opposition to particular forms of government. (SJ Mercury, 3/2)

* Some people in Namibia are worried that schools and libraries are getting away with too much using information, so they’re starting a new copyright enforcement body just to go after the lucrative school and library market. Watch out for the Namibian Reproduction Rights Organization (NamRRO), which isn’t enforcing any rights to reproduce that I’d like to see enforced: The rights to reproduce for fair use, the rights to reproduce or not to reproduce biologically …. The organization is being started by “Moses Moses”, whose name seems a little reproductive itself. Good idea, Moses; way to start killing creativity at the most upstream possible place. (All Africa, 2/29)

* In Illinois, reproductive rights are being upheld: A very silly law that attempts to mandate good parent-child relationships and communications, specifically requiring that pregnant minors must tell their parents if they are having an abortion, continues to be enjoined. A “pro-life” group described the decision as, “a major defeat for the people of Illinois,” apparently forgetting that teenagers are people too. (AP 3/1)

* Heather Morrison at her awesome blog “Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics” has pointed out that plagiarists should avoid open access like the, ah, plague, since it’s so much harder to catch them without open access. Peter Suber at Open Access News gathered several of her related posts in one excellent introduction to Morrison’s concept, “aiming for obscurity”. Read it or wish you had.

* Rebecca MacKinnon reviews the latest round of lawsuits against Yahoo! by Chinese dissidents who, among other things, got screwed over by Yahoo!’s release of their information. (RConversation, 3/3)

of penumbral emanations and scholarly trends

Speaking of penumbra yet again (1, 2) , I had previously blogged about a Circuit split on laws banning sex toys — it was Valentine’s Day, and I was feeling a bit whimsical, so I wished for a “penumbra” that would strike down stupid laws.

LawPundit “ha[s] an opinion” on my wish for a penumbra that covers “no stupid laws”; I thought it was pretty amusing & worth checking out.

LawPundit also annotated my use of the word “penumbra” with a link to google:define:penumbra. Unfortunately, I don’t think that quite captures the legal nuance. Legal scholar/lawyer-types know the reference, of course, but for those non-lawyers, “penumbra” is famous in Constitutional law as a reference to Griswold v. Connecticut. In Griswold, the Supreme Court overturned a Connecticut statute that made it a crime to buy contraceptives. Justice William O. Douglas, looking at the Constitutional guarantees of individual liberties as a whole, wrote that the statute violated the individual right to privacy, which could be found looking at the “penumbras” and “emanations” of Constitutional protections. The language is a little funny, but standing alone, or with Eisenstadt (which extended to unmarried people the right to buy contraception), this case, and the words “penumbra” and “emanations”, would provide simply a pleasant diversion to while away the afternoons in contemplation of rarely-used words in legal opinions. The concept of “penumbras” of a set of enumerated rights is not that bizarre, especially in light of the Ninth Amendment (which notes that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”) and the Tenth Amendment (which states clearly that powers not delegated to the US, nor prohibited to the States, “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”). These Amendments practically beg for penumbral analysis, and “privacy” (a concept theoretically defined and refined only in the last 125 years, but whose spirit animates much of the Constitutional protections) and “autonomy” (not considered one of the Constitutional “rights”, per se, but I keep wishing) are ripe concepts for that sort of analysis.

But conservatives have freaked out when the penumbras that protect privacy were extended to abortion in Roe v. Wade and to other matters of sexual privacy since then, and and now excoriate the very notion of penumbras. And emanations. (One could argue that the very essence of conservatism is a certain distaste for emanations.) So, “penumbras” the concept has acquired a certain air of disrepute in many legal circles, because even scholars who find it perfectly reasonable to examine the Constitution as a whole as well as in its discrete little parts, tend to back off a bit from Douglas’ sweeping penumbras and emanations, so successfully have right-wingers trashed those ideas. A damn shame, because the concept is perfectly reasonable, and it’s only the rabid dog opposition to abortion that has cast the shadow over Griswold and its penumbral emanations.

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.

atheist outreach and hypocrite hilarity

check out this awesome overpass/sidewalk art at yonkis.com — you have to scroll all the way to the right, and it’s not a flip photo so do it slowly enough to notice the homo sapiens-like creatures … at the shortest point of the wall, at about the 75% mark (L-to-R).

The pointer came from pharyngula, where they’ve also been discussing atheist outreach. Elsewhere in the blogosphere people have been wondering if posting flyers on cars in church parking lots is a good way to reach out to the faithful (the “parking lot challenge”) and what kinds of flyers would be good. I posted some of my thoughts in a comment, but to sum up: (a) flyers can come in all kinds of different information, and if you’re willing for 90% or more to be thrown away you could save the life or sanity of some unhappy teenager who *wants* rationality but doesn’t know how to find it; (b) lots of other places are good to pass out tidbits of reason: bus and train ads, newspaper inserts, inserts in bookstore books, hotel bibles; (c) anybody ever do “you’re welcome for the good deed” card?; and (d) what do you say when someone says “god bless you” and you want to be polite and friendly and brief, but corrective?

… And speaking of religious people: The “abstinence-only” promoter in the Bush Administration’s foreign aid department (aka the “AIDS czar”) resigned in embarrassment after getting caught on DC madam Jeane Palfrey’s list of prominent johns. (See WPost 4/28 and ABC 4/27.) Ha ha. Oh, my anger at BS thinly-veiled with sanctimony is rarely so well matched by my pleasure at hypocrisy revealed. My cup runneth over, but I tell you — the Bush administration has produced so many of these kinds of things that it’s kinda hard to keep up.

I anticipate many more such juicy stories once her client list (which is in the hands of prosecutors and ABC?) is published, and we know more names of people who sought “massage and sexual fantasy from college-educated women”. The irony of the abstinence-only AIDS czar being one of the first to go is rich though. It is Good to start the day with hypocrites brought low. I am in a happy, happy mood.

contraception, vaccines, alarming men

Two quickies:

(1) badgerbag posted this photo of Walgreen’s “Emergency Contraception Encounter Form” — probably from California, but perhaps implemented elsewhere. Nine states (including California) allow women to get EC directly from a pharmacist. Apparently, this is what women have to do to get EC. Holy Griswold, Batgirl.

(2) The FCC has finally broken thru the rightwing lobby to approve the HPV vaccine. [nyt 6/9] I note that the US has many states that will not be able to afford to disseminate it. Or will choose not to be able to afford to disseminate it, probably because they need to give tax breaks to sports stadiums or something important like that. I also couldn’t help but note the tender concern for the precious anxieties of “men”:

Merck had originally hoped to get the vaccine approved for use in boys. But although women have routinely allowed swabs to be taken of their vaginal cells, the company found that men rebelled against the use of emery boards to collect cells from their penises. Researchers eventually discovered that jeweler’s-grade emery paper effectively removed cells without alarming men and were able to complete their studies.

Geez.

some notes

(1) Today’s NYT article on “tough questions” for gubernatorial candidates on abortion: all the gubernatorial candidates quoted are men. [NYT 6/5]

(2) Mercury Rising discusses what happened to Wen Ho Lee after the racist government debacle a few years back. [sideshow 6/4]

(3) I don’t believe I’ve plugged Ann Bartow’s “Fair Use and the Fairer Sex” article on the blog, although I’ve referred many people to it by now — It’s going to be a critical work in the developing scholarship on IP and critical theory. [info & link]

(4) I can’t make Octavia Butler’s memorial in NYC tonight (it was sold out and I’m in Boston anyway) but I snapped some pix from a Barnes & Noble memorial. Yes, it’s Barnes & Noble. I snapped them anyway because it was a lovely memorial. [x-posted w/ pix @ fsfblog 6/5]

(5) I’m setting up a listserv for folks in SF/fandom who are interested in IP issues particularly; and information more generally (telecomm, open distribution, libraries & information industries, media, censorship/First Amendment, etc.). The SF community has been, for years, an exemplar of the fact that consumers are creators are consumers, and that might explain why there’s less polarization among copyleft/copyright than in other genres/creative communities. Also, SF folks are particularly smart at realizing that rules and regulations are choices, and we can make different ones, and that technology can change everything. So I think that by pulling together SF/fandom to talk about IP/media we can have some interesting and hopefully really productive discussions.

I haven’t set up the list yet because I don’t have a snappy name for it — fandomIP? fanip? sfanip? sort of like turnip, isn’t it? pernip? parsnip? anyway – I’m taking suggestions for names, and offline emails if you’re interested in joining.

music and rants in honor of south dakota

i’ve been too angry to post about south dakota — and really, too unsurprised and cynical to have anything particularly interesting to say — but some music has been particularly resonant to me the last few weeks watching the South Dakota legislators presume to regulate the personal lives and medical decisions of women. so here’s a few pieces i keep in my ‘favories’ playlist, plus a couple of others i dug out special from my music archives:

  • “Butyric Acid”, by Consolidated, from the album Business of Punishment (1994). [lyrics below the fold; you have to click on "more" to open up this page separately and then the lyrics link will work]
  • “Green Monkey” by Laura B., a spoken word piece on the album Cause – Piece of Mind: Rock for Choice (1992). [I'll try to get the text but don't have it now.]
  • “Femme Fatale”, by Digable Planets, from the album Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time And Space) (1993). [lyrics below the fold]
  • A trio from Ani:

  • “Hello Birmingham”, by Ani DiFranco, from the album To the Teeth (1999). [lyrics below the fold]
  • “Lost Woman Song” by Ani DiFranco, from the album Ani DiFranco (1990). [lyrics below the fold]
  • “tiptoe” by Ani DiFranco, from the album Not a Pretty Girl (1995). [lyrics below the fold]
  • and just a couple more:

  • “Every Sperm Is Sacred” / Monty Python, from “The Meaning of Life” [lyrics below the fold]
  • And a special dedication goes out to SD state Senator, Bill Napoli: “Dead Men Don’t Rape”, by 7 Year Bitch, from the album Sick ‘Em (1992) and also on There’s a Dyke in the Pit! (1992). (Lyrics below the fold, but I think you can guess the refrain.) And don’t construe this as a threat because I’m a pacifist, but when I listen to this song I reflect on the ways that state-mandated pregnancy is a continuing, multi-month, invasion into a woman’s body. And I hold every one of those legislators and officials who signed off on this obscene legislation equally culpable for that violation. I’d call them fuckers but I really hope they never get laid again.

and here’s another I just thought of, and will get lyrics to after work tonight:

  • “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” / Phil Ochs. (Because the list of benighted states just keeps growing ….)

Lyrics below the fold.

(more…)

potential evidence for intelligent design

questionable authority reviews a pro-’intelligent design theory’ entry that describes a future history of the fabulous medical and scientific breakthroughs generated by ‘intelligent design theory’ and the abandonment of ‘Darwinism’. While the whole post is highly recommended, it was one of the commentors who really tickled my fancy. Responding to the future history’s assertion that ‘Darwinist’ scientists ignore ‘junk DNA’*, commentator Stephen Stralka adds:

It also occurs to me that no matter how much functionality we ultimately discover in junk DNA, none of it will be any better evidence for ID than what we currently know about DNA.

The kind of thing that would be evidence of design would be if the junk DNA turned out to contain stuff like copyright notices and license agreements.

Or copy protection. DRM-protected genomes that prevent unauthorized replications, derivative works, jumping genes & species hopping diseases? Or maybe when you have a baby, a rootkit installs itself on the parents’ reproductive organs, preventing them from further replications. I do indeed see a great future for ‘intelligent design theory’.

(Another commenter followed up:

Oh, man. “If you agree to the terms of this pregnancy, click Agree. Otherwise, click Abort.”

Except that he’s missing about 5 screens’ worth of finely printed legal verbiage about restrictions on the pregnancy and abortion process. Luckily Frontline has got it covered.)


* According to the ‘future history of intelligent design’, ‘Darwinian’ scientists don’t do research on ‘junk DNA’. really? in this future history, will my partner’s dissertation & ongoing postdoc work on various aspects of gene regulation turn out to have all just been a terrible and poorly-compensated decade-long dream?

non-katrina

yet more depressing news:

  • iraq: where people keep dying. A friend recently met with her family who lives in Baghdad, who reported a) her elderly aunties regularly have laser sightings trained on them by US soldiers; b) her cousin’s cousin was recently shot & killed by US soldiers; c) they still don’t have power & clean water most of the time. The situation is worse than it was a year ago. They were impressed to hear that an American woman would camp outside Bush’s home, since they thought there was no dissent in the US. …

  • declining science literacy, increasing religious belief, and increasing poverty in the US. See creationism survey (NYT) and the widely reported new poverty statistics from the Census Bureau, available at http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p60-229.pdf; press briefing.

  • the FDA decided to hold off approving emergency contraception, AGAIN, despite promises by new commissioner to have decided by today (9/1). The FDA Director of the Office of Women’s Health resigned in response. See feministe; prnewswire.

  • and i just heard that the 8th Circuit affirmed the lower court ruling in Bnetd. [opinion @ 8th Cir] A big loss for consumers and tinkerers.

but still there is light shed:

  • the NYT recently published a supremely arrogant, sexist, and stupid editorial / piece by Keith Ablow. Ablow suggested that women should think twice before letting their husbands watch childbirth, since it might destroy the man’s sexual attraction to his female partner. a number of commentators have given that article the trashing it deserved. see belle waring 8/31, for example; see also belle waring 8/23; pandagon; slate; crooked timber on women’s culture (and by negative implication what men’s culture is failing to do).

    me, i couldn’t help remembering how sensible, non-sexist people handle the issue in a way that recognizes human realities, sexuality, and needs of all parties: In The Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy and Birth, the authors straightforwardly noted that after pregnancy & birth, some non-birth-parents might have difficulty feeling sexual toward the birth-parent. The authors didn’t try some reductive pop-psych “oh my god I’ve seen her insides” explanation, but pointed out that it could happen for a variety of reasons: birthing-related, parenting-related, the efforts of adjusting to a new lifestyle, new roles, and new family configurations. the answer? give it time, and work on having adult time together.

  • orcinus posted on right-wing bloggers decrying the motes in left-wing eyes (“all our extremists is belong to you”) [link from sideshow]

  • Reading A1 posted on the suggestion from right-wingers (apparently frustrated that their ideas suck) that left-wingers can’t criticize unless they come up with fully-formed strategic responses themselves. i feel like excerpting:

    [W]ho exactly is the audience for this sort of policy wanking supposed to be? Other than a tiny community of Beltway or Beltway-oriented intellectuals, or wannabes. The anti-war left is nowhere near the seat of power. Power is held, in fact, by a gang that regards opposition in general, and opposition to the war in particular, as tantamount to treason. … Even if we had detailed, rational and realistic policy advice to give, they wouldn’t listen to it. … It’s not “unserious” or “immature” or whatever other bullshit terms are favored by the Beltway types to advocate the simple message Out Now. On the contrary—advocating such messages is the only real political space within which we have to operate. Our job is not to pretend we’re living under a different regime than we are, one that takes policy proposals seriously. Our job is to do the only thing we really can do, namely cause as much domestic pain as possible for Bush over the war. … You want to have a real effect on Iraq policy? Drive Bush’s numbers down, drive the GOP’s numbers down, take their Congressional majority away from them, take the White House back. That’s not done with policy prescriptions—which (again, has Cooper been paying attention these last few years?) the vast majority of the American public will never hear, or hear an honest version of, anyway.

    I’ve got a rant, somewhere inside, about labels, actions, and correctly identifying your own politics & where they fit on the historical spectrum. Something in response to the right-wingers who try to claim the higher ground created by the left-wing civil rights movement, the left-wing anti-fascist movements, and so on. But it’ll have to wait.

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.

excellent reading

others speak so i don’t have to:

and other things i’ve read recently:

Excellent question

“Why can’t I make my own decision?” A 13-year-old girl in Florida who has been making her own decisions about sex thinks she should also be able to make her own decisions about whether she ought to carry a pregnancy to term. The girl, in DCF custody, notes that “It would make no sense to have the baby. I don’t think I should have the baby because I’m 13, I’m in a shelter and I can’t get a job.” She also pointed out that young women are at higher risk from childbirth & pregnancy than abortion: “Since you guys are supposedly here for the best interest of me, then wouldn’t you all look at the fact that it’d be more dangerous for me to have the baby than to have an abortion?”

Why was this even in court? The girl is in DCF custody. The DCF, under the direction of the politically appointed DCF Secretary Lucy Hadi, has moved to seek a judge’s determination as to whether the abortion is permissible (or maybe to stop the abortion; it’s unclear from the different news articles I’ve read). This despite the fact that Florida has no parental consent law at the moment, and is one of the few states with the right to privacy enshrined in its state Constitution. Lucy Hadi ought to be ejected from office for illegally interfering with the young woman’s constitutional rights and endangering her health. (Hadi’s insistence on taking the girl to court set aside the work and decisions of adults who are on the ground with this case, such as the girl’s caseworker, who actually works with the girl and has intimate knowledge about her situation.) … J. Alvarez ruled in her favor today, saying that she would not be harmed by the procedure.

[See AP 5/3; palm beach post 4/30;
sun-sentinel 4/30; st. petersburg times editorial 4/29]

I can only conclude that this is yet another example of the craziness that is the Florida state & municipal government right now — inspired & led in large part by Jeb Bush. Let’s see: Schiavo; Florida’s ban on gay adoptive parents; the case from 2003 of Jeb Bush’s push to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a developmentally disabled woman who was pregnant as a result of rape. The Jeb Bush administration of Florida keeps pushing state interference with individuals’ and families’ private lives. This trend is not a good one.

I can’t help but note that it’s school officials in Florida who have been getting freaked out over, god forbid, Florida girls not wanting to adhere to gender-biased dress codes. Floridians, is this really what you want? If not, please get these wackos under control.

republicans & abortion
  • carpetbagger report cites to an editorial in the Miami Herald, from Glen Harold Stassen and Gary Krane, on abortion — looking at statistics that show that abortion rates, which had been declining, have increased since George W. Bush took office with his anti-choice rhetoric, lack of sex ed, and Mexico City policy.
recent reading

Recently read: “Miscarriage of Justice” by Robert J. Howe, Salon.com, 2004-03-24 (fiction)