January 13, 2012
December 4, 2013
Open or closed? His question hung in my head, a mental metronome undulating. Open or closed? It did not serve as a mantra used to focus the mind. No, the attendant’s question precluded focus and only intensified mental molestation as it required an answer. One would think we could agree upon an answer with relative ease. For me, though, still reeling at the thought of another funeral, the question hung weightless. I knew before asked I preferred closed; yet, there was my mother and sister to consider as well as those only a few months ago dad shunned after the nuclear Thanksgiving not yet four months past but who were certain to come, understandably, to bury their boy. Open or closed? After mom decided we would have a “proper” funeral, after struggling with the patriarchal Gunns on the funeral’s location, and after, against my wishes, a cremation was vetoed, open or closed was the last pressing question. We already viewed the casket show room, kicked the tires if you will, and settled on a practical and accommodating model. We perused the menu of services and opted for the large chapel as we anticipated a crowd. Though dad was not religious, I did not object too harshly when my maternal grandmother offered up her preacher to perform the service. It was yet another peace offering of sorts to the other family who would most assuredly object to a more secular service. Open or closed, though, remained unsettled. My steadfast closed opinion was due to the ghost of funeral’s past. I still remember the first time I touched a dead body, a husk of what was. I was seven or eight years old at my great-grandmother’s funeral. I was intrigued by death as the too young often are, and my cousins and I dared each other to touch her one last time. I remember only cold. Over the intervening years, I attended other great aunt’s, uncle’s, grandparents, and eventually friends’ funerals with some regularity. Coming from a small town as I do, when a teenager dies, you know them even if you don’t, and you attend the funeral in any event as you would any other social or church function. There is no question. You go. When I was 15 a friend shot himself with a .22 caliber rifle ending his relatively young life—he was 22, coincidentally, I believe—and I vividly remember his lifeless body and how obviously different he looked. I cannot see his animated face for the memory of his death face and the obvious attempts to mask the bullet in the head. Four years later after other suicides and drunk driving tragedies, at another open casket affair after my 20 year old friend killed himself and his girlfriend in a drunken single car wreck, I watched his father wrench his carcass from the coffin attempting to shake him back from Tartarus or wherever. I was a pallbearer and even at 19 understood this father’s grief at the loss of his son though I was unnerved by this large and strange man’s sudden grief-epiphany. Closed. I am decidedly closed. My mom and sister both want to see dad, to say goodbyes, to grieve in their own way. I am sure others want the same. Who am I to selfishly deny others what may bring some peace? We reach a compromise. Visitation for family and close friends is open, but the funeral itself is closed. I attend the visitation, but my last vision of dad remains the day he left my apartment three days before his murder, and I never see him lifeless and still. Closed. The visitation and funeral itself could have been one like any other but for the facts of dad’s death, the media frenzy which followed, and the freak southern blizzard of 1993 which significantly impeded what otherwise promised a SRO funeral. In fact, many people I later met and subsequently befriended told me they fully intended to come to Tennessee for the funeral but were snowed out. Before we even confronted the impish funeral director’s open or closed query, the media landed, a harbinger of the coming real storm. Back in ’93 I still had some fairly strong illusions of privacy, and we were amazed at the speed with which the press located us in Winchester, Tennessee when dad was killed in Pensacola, Florida, and my sister, mom, and I lived separately in Birmingham, Alabama. Yet, they sherlocked us down looking for the human interest angle to a controversial and promising long term story. They started calling, obviously, the day the assassination occurred. It did not relent as we prepared for a memorial and funeral. Open or closed, indeed. Press from all over the country flocked to the Moore-Cortner funeral home. People magazine grabbed mom, Wendy, and I for photos and an interview on the funeral home steps. Print reporters mingled with the visitors looking for us and others to quote hoping for bi-lines and copy. I do not recall video cameras at the visitation though I spoke with as many of them as I did friends and family or so it seemed. The media presence and my heightened stress at seeing the patriarchal Gunns lent a surreal air to the proceedings. As if out of ether, they were in the home. I spoke but do not remember what was said and whether it was comforting, remorseful, or cold. Now it seems I felt only a sense of sadness bordering on pity for the parents who lost a son twice before his time: once while alive after the prior fall’s Thanksgiving fiasco and once more with violent finality this time. As the visitation spectacle continued, the family stress mounted, and weariness turned to exhaustion. A caravan of friends from Birmingham was staying at my grandmother’s. We retreated to her house where the proper adults congregated upstairs and the “kids” (we were 22 and younger) hit the finished basement as we had on so many reunions in the past to comfort each other with our company and contraband, “Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why: Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where…” Snow covered the new spring grass and fresh oak tendrils on the day we buried my dad. The freakish blizzard almost postponed the burial, but we soldiered on through the real and metaphorical storm inside and out, open and closed. I have almost no memory of the chapel service. Hollow words and “only God knows” pedestrian rationale from a holy man I did not know held no meaning for me whatsoever. All I knew was my dad was gone; the world as I knew it ended, and beyond there seemed nothing. My mom asked me to deliver a eulogy of sorts, but I was steadfastly closed and refused this request. It may be my one regret from those two days which seemed a lifetime. Of course, the carrion crow cameras flittered about as we were graveside. I laid a last rose on the coffin which was now firmly forever closed. We said graveside goodbyes to those who were not snowbound and stranded and returned to grandmothers for more comfort of one sort or another. In a paper somewhere is a photo of my then partner and I sharing a graveside embrace. The next morning I received a call from a woman I’d never met but who seemed warm enough. She explained she owned the clinic in Columbus, Georgia. This clinic was about sixty miles northeast of my second Alabama home town, dad worked there for years, and it was the first clinic I visited with him. That shared bond gave trust to the conversation. She explained how a friend of her and she were invited to appear on the Donahue show to discuss dad’s murder. She relayed the producer’s interest in having a family member attend as well. I had mixed emotions about discussing such a private matter in public, but also felt a responsibility, a naïve one perhaps, to share dad’s story in hopes no other family would be forced to answer the riddle of open or closed as a result of anti-abortion hatred, fear, and moral superiority. On this point, I opted for open and an ending proved a beginning.
November 23, 2013
News stories about investigations into Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) misleading women through deceptive advertising, malevolent counseling and egregious misinformation are pretty common. But one CPC wolf in sheep’s clothing is Real Alternatives. It’s a Pennsylvania state-funded program that claims it “exists to provide life-affirming alternatives to abortion” to women who are financially qualified. Real Alternatives (henceforth abbreviated as RA) boasts that their program has been helping women since 1996 while also abiding by stringent accountability to the state. Even though Real Alternatives claims that they do not use deception to attract clients, in actuality, they use what Heiss, Monge, & Fulk, (2012) call predatory practices that resemble legitimate reproductive health providers (RHPs). In their attempts to appear as a legitimate RHP, Heiss, Monge & Fulk found that CPCs rely on ambiguity in their values and program offerings to elicit positive responses from potential clients and the public. Applying the concept of predatory practices, I argue that while RA’s textual and visual communication practices uses woman-centered advocacy language like “we’re here for you” and “your alternatives to abortion” and “forced abortion and your right to choose” and more, they promote, instead, distorted interpretations of the scientific literature and prescriptive counseling that can be misleading and even dangerous to a woman’s health if she makes a decision based on false information. To that end, I will turn to RAs home page where there is an array of text, images, and hypertext links to videos and where I will focus my attention on the video The Miracle of Life. But first, I want to tour the home page because it provides evidence that pregnancy and women’s sexuality are framed as problematic territory. The tabs in the uppermost section of the page attest to this problematic with labels such as Pregnant? Being Forced to Abort? Worried about STDs? Caring for Your Baby? In the center of the page, are images of young women in poses, arguably framed as pensive and frightened, with the eye-catching, continuous loop of flashing yellow text that underscores what RA frames as the problematic of women’s sexuality with the words: Pregnant? Scared? Concerned about STDs & Sexual Health? Below the flashing text, the offer of services reads:
Whatever the reason, we can help. Call us at 1-888-LIFE AID for free, caring and completely confidential pregnancy and parenting support services. We can educate you about reproductive health concerns, and we can assist you in finding appropriate medical help. You’ll speak to women who will be on your side every step of the way. We’re here for YOU.
The second video and the focus of this article, The Miracle of Life, is introduced with the text, View a Short Film about Your Baby’s Development. It provides an emotionally manipulative and factually deceptive video about fetal development. In the 3.33 minute long video, a Miracle of Life is visually appealing, yet problematic in that it symbolically annihilates the complexities of a woman’s private life while it visually and textually offers one solution. In general, the Caucasian-centric video uses a problem-solution format beginning with a series of questions and answers about a pregnancy and the fetus with the invocation at the end to choose life. Through the use of computer-generated graphics, soulful music and emotionally manipulative juxtapositions of imagery, the producers at Catholic Media House drive home the fact that the fetus is a living human entity. In what is arguably an artifact of Catholic propaganda, The Miracle of Life intentionally blurs the lines between fact and fiction about fetal development in an ethically compromised production. While it purports to be truthful, to hold claim to reality and to the authority of science, the video exists as a tool of the Catholic Church to support their religious power structure and their privileged forms of communication within their church and the state of Pennsylvania. While a deconstruction of the video could extend for pages, I’ll give a few highlights to illustrate how the lines between fact and fiction work.
The beginning of the video opens with a black screen and piano music that dissolves to an image of a gestationally-advanced abdomen of a pregnant woman with text floating on and off the screen What should I do? “Is this a fetus or a baby? “When does life really begin? Then the question to the audience “Do you know about the miracle of life?” with the word miracle in enlarged red text that flashes and expands, as if “breathing” in and out on the screen then transitions to an image of a zygote with text that reads “at the moment of conception, a unique human being’s DNA is created, then a flash of the DNA helix and the text “human DNA that never existed before and will never be repeated again.” Thus, the fetal-centric tone of the video is established.
As the video continues, gestational milestones are offered as scientific facts. For example, the video, using the female pronomial reference, claims that at six weeks, “she has fingers and toes” while sources such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) claim that at eight weeks the arms and legs have grown longer and that while the foot and hand areas may be distinguished, the digits are still webbed.
In an emotional framing, the video erroneously claims that at 11 weeks, she can smile and frown, wiggle her fingers and toes and even suck her thumb. And while it’s a charming thought to consider such animation and agency of the fetus, the science provides a more sober response. Piontelli (2010) found that an immature suck-swallow pattern is observed at 32-34 weeks while other sources (Mayo, NIH) note non-directed sucking motions at 26 weeks. It’s a far cry from the Hallmark card version of hegemonic parenting and the preferred reading of pregnancy and infancy.
At 16 weeks, the Miracle of Life video claims that she can open and close her eyes and that she has her own fingerprints while the NIH states that around 11-14 weeks the eyelids close and will not reopen until around 28 weeks. It further states that finger and foot prints do not begin to form until around week 30.
While I’ve provided only a few examples of how the producers blurred the lines between fact and fiction, the overall pattern of enthusiastic support for the fetus in exuberant applications of artistry over reality can easily be discerned. The concern I want to point out is how potentially problematic the video can be for a distraught woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Regardless of circumstances, all women deserve honest and accurate information when faced with a pregnancy. Real Alternatives, is, instead, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Posed to appear as a legitimate reproductive health care facility, RA, instead, disseminates misleading and false information. Like the thousands of CPCs across the United States, I find that RA’s predatory textual and visual communication practices, as illustrated in this very short video, clearly violate ethical guidelines about truthfulness and the admonition to do no harm. It’s a miracle that their work is considered legal.
Heiss, B. M., Monge, P. and Fulk, J. , 2012-05-24 “Predatory Mimicry in the Crisis Pregnancy Center Movement: Ambiguous Form Communication as an Evolutionary Strategy” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, Phoenix, AZ Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2013-08-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p552613_index.html
Piontelli, A. (2010). Development of Normal Fetal Movements: The First 25 Weeks of Gestation. Milan, Italy:Springer Verlag.
November 18, 2013
Something really interesting happened recently at the U.S. Supreme Court.
For those of you who failed high school social studies, let me remind you that for a case to reach the Supreme Court, four members of the Court must agree to grant a “writ of certiorari.” This is otherwise known as the “Rule of Four.”
Now, several years ago the state of Oklahoma, in all of its wisdom, enacted the cleverly titled “Oklahoma Ultrasound Act” that required a physician or certified technician to perform an obstetric ultrasound on the pregnant woman, using either a vaginal transducer or an abdominal transducer, whichever would display the embryo or fetus more clearly for a woman that desired an abortion. The technician would also have had to provide a simultaneous explanation of what the ultrasound is depicting, display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them and describe the presence of organs if viewable.
A state trial court struck down the statute and later the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld that decision. Then, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a Republican, decided to appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The one thing that most people do not understand is that when a state appeals any cases, it actually costs the taxpayers a bunch of money because of the expensive legal process. Don’t get me started on that issue.
So, at some point this case was considered by the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. They all meet in a private room and there is absolutely no record of the proceedings. The Chief Justice simply asks the justices to vote on whether or not to grant cert in the thousands of cases before them.
Truth be told – I was not in that room. But I will bet the ranch that the Court’s extreme right wing – Scalia, Alito and Thomas – voted to grant cert. But the next day, the Court announced that it was not granting cert to this abortion-related case, no doubt shocking a lot of people and ticking off the anti-abortion movement. The decision to not review the case upheld the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision striking down the statute.
So, what happened?
No doubt that the liberal wing of the Court – Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsberg and Breyer – voted to not grant cert. And Justice Kennedy, who is always a swing vote on the issue, probably just decided he’d had enough of abortion cases for the time being so he joined the liberals.
That leaves Justice Roberts, an anti-abortion conservative who could have been the fourth vote.
Thank you, Justice Roberts???
- Oklahoma Rejected by Top Court on Ultrasound Abortion Law (bloomberg.com)
- Oklahoma law requiring ultrasounds before abortions ruled unconstitutional (kfor.com)
- Access online today’s Order List of the U.S. Supreme Court (howappealing.law.com)
- Maher slams the ‘thunderously wrong’ Roberts-led Supreme Court: ‘You f*cked up!’ (rawstory.com)
- Cherokee child handed over to adoptive parents (bigstory.ap.org)
- Oklahoma Rejected by High Court on Ultrasound Abortion Law – San Francisco Chronicle (sfgate.com)
- High Court Rejects 2nd Oklahoma Abortion Law Case (personalliberty.com)
- Abortion ultrasound case won’t be heard (kjrh.com)
- U.S. Supreme Court declines to review $111 million patent case over power converter systems – @Reuters (reuters.com)
November 4, 2013
I recently received an email from a woman named Peg Johnston, an old friend up in Binghamton, New York who has been running an abortion facility for many years. She has seen it all: the murders, the bombings, the protests with hundreds of people at her front door. And, like so many of her colleagues, she has persevered.
For many years, she was one of my closest confidants when I was the Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. We went through a lot together and, yes, I was a pain in the ass to her at times (or maybe a lot of times). After I left NCAP, she helped transform the organization into what is now called the Abortion Care Network.
In the early years, NCAP was a Capitol Hill lobbying effort that represented independent abortion providers. To this day, I take pride knowing that we actually got three laws passed that provided protection to the doctors, staff and patients who use these facilities. Later, NCAP started focusing on the business side of the industry, putting together group purchasing plans, business conferences, etc. What really got my juices flowing, however, was NCAP’s effort to de-stigmatize abortion. And I was pleased when I received Peg’s email to see that the Network continues to fight to make abortion more acceptable in this country.
It’s hard to believe that after 40 years of legal abortion, the procedure is still shrouded in mystery, spoken only in whispers. Millions and millions and millions of women have availed themselves of this procedure but so many of them still sit by in silence. And that has allowed the anti-abortion movement to fill in the blanks, to demonize abortion and to make women feel ashamed for having them.
But Peg and her group continue to press the envelope. She and her colleagues have seen women come into their facilities, leave and move on with their lives. They continue to insist that “good women have abortions” and that abortion is “okay.” They also believe – and they taught me – that the pro-choice movement needs to speak more honestly about the abortion procedure. They argue that women are not stupid, that they know exactly what goes on during an abortion and it is an insult to obfuscate. “We Trust Women,” is their catch-phrase.
Whether or not the Abortion Care Network or, for that matter, NCAP has had an impact is hard to tell. But I can tell you personally that it sure felt good not having to worry about trying to avoid the “A” word and just putting it out there. Sure, our candor pissed off our pro-choice colleagues at times, but we slept well at night knowing we were telling the simple truth and that, by doing so, we were lifting the veil of secrecy about abortion.
And now Peg and the Abortion Care Network are on to their next project in their never-ending battle to make abortion more acceptable in this country. Below is a link that announces a new video contest they are sponsoring, which speaks for itself. I encourage everyone to submit their videos, to speak out if you’ve had an abortion and, yes, to send money to the Abortion Care Network:
- Texas Abortion Clinics Say Court’s Ruling Is Forcing Them to Stop the Procedures (nytimes.com)
- Court reinstates most of Texas’ new abortion rules (bigstory.ap.org)
- Oklahoma Top Court Says Law Bans Pill-Induced Abortions – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Texas women turned away at abortion clinics after court ruling – Reuters (reuters.com)
October 30, 2013
A while back, a friend of mine claimed that every increase in fetal rights is necessarily accompanied by an accompanying loss in women’s rights. I agreed with the principle, but the word “autonomy” has been so often repeated, and so often debased, that it now holds little power without a stark example to illustrate its meaning. Such a stark and powerful example is now available, and the subject of massive media attention, a federal lawsuit, and national outrage, as reported recently by the New York Times.
The basic facts of the case: early into her second trimester, Wisconsin native Alicia Beltran disclosed a former pill addiction at a prenatal checkup, an addiction she had overcome on her own prior to becoming pregnant. Her doctor did not believe her, despite a urine sample negative for the drug taken the same day, and two weeks later a social worker arrived at her home and insisted she voluntarily restart Suboxone treatment to wean herself from the drug or face court-ordered treatment. (She admits she shut the door in the social worker’s face after saying “Maybe I should just get an abortion.”) Two days after that encounter, sheriffs arrived and escorted Ms. Beltran to a hearing where her fetus had been appointed a lawyer, but she had not. On the written advice of Dr. Angela Breckenridge, obstetrician at a subsidiary clinic of St. Joseph’s Hospital, in which she noted “[The patient] exhibits lack of self-control and refuses …. treatment” and recommended “mandatory inpatient drug treatment …. or incarceration,” Beltran was given the choice between imprisonment and a treatment program. She chose the latter, and was held there for 78 days, during which time she lost her job.
Unfortunately, while this case reaches national attention and is now the subject of a federal suit asserting the unconstitutionality of the law, it is not an isolated incident. Rather, a growing number of cases reflect the results of similar laws that grant fetuses rights as individuals, which for women has meant hundreds of cases of forced treatment (including surgery), detainment, and criminal charges during pregnancy or following birth.
National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) published “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005,” a comprehensive review of cases in which pregnant women were deprived of their physical liberties in some manner in the name of fetal rights or health. It reported 413 cases, which the authors considered to be a strong underestimation of the true number, as searching public databases for certain kinds of cases (eg unpublished Native American tribal court decisions or hospital detentions that did not merit media coverage) was virtually impossible. If you take away nothing else from this article, I suggest you give that paper (below) a read. It is harrowing.
Pro-life groups have rallied behind such laws, as they represent a small precedent in the legal war to recognize the fetus as a full person. As is somewhat common for such groups, they paint it as a step towards improving the health of both mother and fetus. The legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life described the intent of the law that detained Beltran for over two months as “help [for] both the woman and her baby.”
That is not the case.
To view these kinds of cases in their proper context, we must look to both medical ethics and the scientific literature. As far as medical ethics quandaries go, cases like Beltran’s bring up two principles: 1) patient privacy, and when physician disclosure of patient information is warranted, and 2) right to refuse treatment.
First, patient privacy is a very central tenet of medical practice, holding not only ethical weight but legal weight as well. Typically, the only exceptions that justify disclosure of private patient information are reasonable suspicion of imminent harm to others (normally this applies only to psychiatrists with disclosures of intent to commit violence), health defects that render potential harm to others (such as epilepsy in the case of professional drivers), certain reportable sexually transmitted diseases, abuse, and gunshot or knife wounds. Laws vary slightly from place to place.
However, the vast majority of states do not hold potential harm to a fetus to be a concern strong enough to override patient privacy, for very good reasons. The logic is supported not only by legal reasons (with very few exceptions, legal precedent holds that a fetus is not entitled to the legal rights of a full person on par with the mother), but practical ones as well. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist’s Committee Opinion report “Substance Abuse Reporting and Pregnancy” states that “Incarceration and the threat of incarceration have proved to be ineffective in reducing the incidence of alcohol or drug abuse … [in part because] Substance abuse reporting during pregnancy may dissuade women from seeking prenatal care.” For the tiny minority of states that enforce such laws, the report recommends that physicians “work with state legislators to retract [such] legislation.”
The report also notes that punitive treatment of substance abuse inappropriately treats addiction or suicide attempts as moral failings rather than addressing underlying issues or attempting to treat them appropriately. Lastly, it assumes that women have not already sought treatment (drug treatment programs specifically tailored for or preferential for pregnant patients are uncommon in the US).
In an amicus brief opposing the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision (Whitner v South Carolina) to extend child abuse and neglect laws to viable fetuses, the South Carolina Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (SCAADAC) noted that enrollment by pregnant women in drug and alcohol treatment programs in the state dropped by 80% in the year following Whitner’s highly publicized prosecution and leading up to the court’s decision to uphold it. This suggests that pregnant addicts are not only deterred from seeking prenatal care out of fear that their physicians would report their drug abuse (as physicians would legally be required to do following the ruling) but also from seeking drug addiction therapy independently.
Moreover, the punitive treatment of pregnant women may be even more counterproductive than as a deterrent to care, if its stated goal is the protection of the fetus. NAPW’s review describes the arrest of Martina Greywind 12 weeks into her pregnancy for “reckless endangerment” following the inhalation of paint fumes; after two weeks in the County Jail, she received a release for a medical appointment, at which time she received an abortion so that the charges could be dropped (which they were). When a law passed ostensibly to protect fetuses coerces women into obtaining an abortion to avoid criminal charges, “counterproductive” may be an understatement.
The second medical ethics principle at stake in this discussion is right to refuse treatment. This right is basic to patient autonomy, basic to respect for patient decision-making, and typically upheld for all patients with mental capacity even when the decision will inevitably result in their death. (The main, and in most places, only exception is the life-saving treatment of patients following suicide attempts, even over their objections.) In most states, the right of a pregnant woman to refuse treatment indicated for the fetus has been strongly affirmed, even at later time-points in the pregnancy.
While it is harrowing to imagine that a refusal to undergo a Caesarian section to save a viable fetus would result in the infant’s death, the alternative of court-ordered forced surgery in an emergent situation deprives a woman of her due process rights as well as her physical liberty. Moreover, court orders to force treatments on pregnant women who have refused them are often made based on dubious evidence and/or for risks that do not materialize.
NAPW’s review describes the case of a woman in Florida, who was in labor at her home when her doctors sought a court order to force her to undergo a C-section, as they felt a vaginal birth might pose a risk to the fetus (due to a prior C-section). A sheriff arrived at Pemberton’s home, strapped her legs together, took her into custody, and forcibly transported her to the hospital, where lawyers argued on behalf of the fetus in an emergency hearing. Pemberton and her husband were not appointed a lawyer or represented in the hearing, violating her due process rights in an example even more extreme than Beltran’s case. The state forced her to undergo the procedure, and when she sued afterwards, a federal district court ruled that her 1st, 4th, and 14th amendment rights were all outweighed by the state’s interest in the preservation of the fetus’ life. It should be noted that she successfully gave birth vaginally to three more healthy children following the surgery ostensibly so necessary to saving the fetus due to the dangers of a vaginal birth.
Lastly, criminal action against pregnant women or new mothers is often based on faulty or non-existent evidence of a causal link between the woman’s action (or inaction) and the supposed harm it is claimed to have caused. Two thirds of the cases reported on in NAPW’s review did not even result in an adverse pregnancy outcome. (In fact, it’s worth noting that the South Carolina Supreme Court’s Whitman ruling does not even require evidence of actual harm to prosecute, but can be applied to the mother of even a healthy newborn if it tests positive for drugs, since she “risked” a poor pregnancy outcome with drug use.) The majority of the cases studied in the review reflected criminal prosecution of women who had purportedly used cocaine during their pregnancies, and indeed the legislation in Wisconsin is popularly known as the “cocaine mom” law.
However, despite studies showing that cocaine is linked to short term negative effects such as low birth-weight and preterm birth, longer-term studies have actually indicated little to no significant evidence of more permanent effects on children (contrary to popular belief). A review of 32 articles concerning long-term effects of prenatal cocaine exposure revealed that it is not significantly correlated with defects in “physical growth, developmental test scores, or language outcomes.” Ironically, prenatal care—which criminal liability laws act as a deterrent for pregnant women to seek—has been shown to minimize the impact of drug use on perinatal outcomes.
So how are so many women being affected by prosecution in such cases, when little evidence actually supports the claims made against them? It is best explained by the fact that poor women are disproportionately affected by such laws. 71% of the women in NAPW’s review “qualified for indigent defense,” and a 2010 article published by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers indicates that arrests of pregnant women are too often supported by “medical misinformation,” and that the public defenders of such women are guilty of ineffective counsel when they fail to counter scientific misinformation or allow trials to proceed without any expert testimony whatsoever.
And that’s if the mother is appointed a lawyer at all. Cases of emergent forced medical interventions like Pemberton’s, in which the fetus is appointed counsel and the mother is not, are harrowing in their implications. The federal court’s decision not to uphold Pemberton’s claim that her constitutional rights had been violated because they had been superseded by those of her fetus affirm—frighteningly—that pregnant women are not party to the same constitutional rights as virtually everyone else in the US population.
In sum, it is starkly clear that laws used to prosecute pregnant women or new mothers for substance abuse or to detain or force treatments on women who refuse advised medical treatments have very disturbing implications for the constitutional and medical rights of pregnant women. Cases such as these illustrate very clearly why fetal personhood measures not only harm women, but are counter-productive in that they may encourage poor fetal outcomes when women avoid prenatal care or drug treatment, or even seek abortions, for fear of criminal prosecution.
1) NAPW’s review, “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health” http://jhppl.dukejournals.org/content/38/2/299.full.pdf+html?sid=b0811f36-d4e4-4b51-a830-e175e6eee40c
2) The NY Times article on Alicia Beltran: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/24/us/case-explores-rights-of-fetus-versus-mother.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0
3) Another NY Times article on the trend of criminalizing pregnant women or new mothers for drug abuse: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/magazine/the-criminalization-of-bad-mothers.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0
4) ACOG’s Committee Opinion, “Substance Abuse Reporting and Pregnancy: The Role of the Obstetriction-Gynecologist” http://www.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Committee_Opinions/Committee_on_Health_Care_for_Underserved_Women/Substance_Abuse_Reporting_and_Pregnancy_The_Role_of_the_Obstetrician_Gynecologist
5) The National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors’ Amici Curiae brief on the Whitner v South Carolina case: http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/Whitner_NAADAC_Amicus.pdf
6) An article on perinatal effects of gestational cocaine use: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21257143
7) A review of long-term effects of prenatal cocaine exposure: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/125/3/554.full.pdf
8) An article on the effects of prenatal care for drug-abusing women on perinatal outcomes: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12847528
9) An article on poor representation and legal prosecution of pregnant women: http://www.hivlawandpolicy.org/sites/www.hivlawandpolicy.org/files/Pregnant%20women%20junk%20science%20and%20zealous%20defense.pdf
October 26, 2013
Sudden violent death creates concentric ripples which spread ever wider washing and crashing over the immediate family on to extended family, friends, and colleagues. Those ripples ebb back to the deceased’s family. Sometimes, what rolls back is sympathy and genuine compassion. In other instances, a dangerous rip tide threatens to pull the family back into gothic familial deep water where the recently aggrieved find themselves struggling to maintain their footing and keep from drowning in those passive aggressive human voices whose motives are more self-centered than benevolent, more angry than comforting.
The men from my dad’s side of the family met each Thanksgiving weekend at a hunting cabin in Pickens County, Alabama. It is in actuality an old farm house adjacent to the Tom Bigbee River surrounded by grazing land for cattle and a combination of pulp and hard wood trees unique to the south. What started as a weekend of hunting and drinking two generations prior was now an occasion for the patriarchal Gunn family to meet, enjoy supposed fellowship, watch football, talk politics, and share a few meals—the drunken part of the weekend long banished once my grandfather became the family head. He and his eldest son, my uncle, devoutly subscribed to fundamental Christianity of the hair shirt variety so drunkenness was soon off the weekend’s agenda.
My history with my dad’s side of the family was strained at best due in large part to events prior to my birth. My grandfather expected his children to remain close in proximity and obedient to his will even in adulthood. Most of my aunts and uncles never left Benton, Kentucky a rural western Kentucky town that remained segregated as late as the 1980s which was the last time I had any reason to visit where they were born and either entered into the family insurance business or started other business ventures funded with grandfather’s wealth. Though his parents pushed dad to take up medicine as a career, I always felt they wanted him to return home to practice after meeting the right woman (meaning one they approved), marry, and live their idea of an idyllic Christian American lifestyle.
While an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, my dad met my mom. It was an odd relationship bordering on taboo in that they were distantly related and even shared the same last name. As if out of some stereotypical Appalachian folk tale, their father’s knew each other, had grown up together in rural Tennessee, and dad’s grandfather and father fucked my mom’s dad in a business deal which haunted my mom’s dad and tainted his relationship with his cousin/future in law for the rest of his life. I do not know when the respective parents found out about the illicit relationship, but I know neither side approved initially. My mom had to tell her parents when she found herself pregnant in the late 60s with what was to be my older brother. Her father, looking out for his daughter’s welfare, concerned what people would say (about the relationship generally and a child out of wedlock specifically), and distrustful of the paternal half of the relationship, offered her a way out of the pregnancy. Though abortion was illegal, he knew people and offered to arrange one for his young pregnant daughter to save her the embarrassment of single motherhood in 1968 and to prevent a stigmatized union with a family he strongly mistrusted.
Ultimately, mom and dad married and opted to have Chuckie. My mom’s parents accepted the marriage and though dad’s family feigned happiness, looking at how events developed over the years, I believe they never accepted or supported the marriage and looked on their children—and future grandchildren–as abominations. When my older brother died in a car crash as an infant, I think dad’s family secretly hoped it would end the shameful marriage that compromised their beliefs and socially embarrassed them. I also believe they felt it was the result of some divine justice for a sinful relationship. Chuckie’s death, though, kept my parents together, and as my dad finished medical school at the University of Kentucky, I was born in the fall of 1970.
After entering into what his parents considered an incestuous relationship, dad broke the unwritten family code by moving his family out of Kentucky via Nashville, TN to south Alabama upon completion of his residency at Vanderbilt University Hospital in 1977. For an old southern patriarch with deep religious convictions, this decision, I believe, solidified the rift between son and father: a rift my sister and I would suffer though we had no part in its creation but because we were the embodiments of dad’s sin and betrayal.
The Faulknerian twists of my family took years to unravel and now that most of the principals are gone, I still have only a fraction of what I can only describe as something resembling understanding; yet, I realized by early adolescence I wanted limited interaction with my paternal grandparents. After turning away from their faith at an early age and in light of their distance toward my sister and I, my summer visits stopped just before I turned 13 leaving the Thanksgiving get away my only regular contact.
By the Thanksgiving trip of 1992, I attended college in Birmingham and was dating a woman who asked that I spend the holidays with her family. Dad called me on Monday Thanksgiving week and asked that I go with him to the cabin. I refused and told him I had plans, adding that I did not want to see those people (his family) anyway. He asked again to the point of telling me I was going whether I liked it or not. Our relationship was strained, at best, since he and my mom divorced when I was 13, but we were making in roads toward piecing it back together. Due to his persistence and despite my reservations, I agreed to meet him in Aliceville with the intention of spending the long weekend with his family.
This year’s trip was mere days after Clinton defeated Bush 41 and with that victory came the hope that 12 years of harsh, trickle down conservatism was at an end. Conservatives nationwide were shell shocked and angry to the point of histrionics similar to what our current president experiences. Anti-Clinton propaganda and conspiracy theories were rampant even before he took office. The country was seriously divided then—almost foretelling how it is now, and the anti-big government conspiracy theorists’ tales only heightened a pejorative Clintonmania. In this atmosphere, my dad and I drove up to the cabin where our bathed in blood Christian Conservative moral majority relatives waited.
The first night went well enough. Sons, brothers, and cousins exchanged some slightly barbed jabs but the conversations remained civil enough, and we shared some laughs. I went to bed that first night thinking maybe I misjudged my relatives. It had been a year since I last saw them, and I thought this trip could be different.
By lunch, the next day, I could feel antipathy as clearly as I could smell the beginnings of Thanksgiving dinner—that recognizable mix of celery, carrots, and onion. I noticed my dad mixing a drink early from the back of his car, and thought how odd that a 47 year old man had to hide a mixed drink, and there was palpable disapproval in the air. It was not necessarily disapproval of the drink, or the current political developments, but a morally superiority that tinted and tainted the air as the Jack Daniels darkened the water in my dad’s glass.
I stayed outside most of the afternoon avoiding the heated political debate going on indoors. As night came on, the conversation grew louder and more heated. I walked back into the cabin where my dad was seated in a recliner obviously buzzed if not just plain drunk. His father and brother were on his left, and his cousin and brother-in-law were on his right. It looked as though he was holding court, but besieged on all sides. Everyone around dad described how Clinton would destroy the country, how more regulation would kill small business, and how a pro-baby killing president would ensure the country’s damnation.
I realized it was time to leave as voices got louder and it looked as though things might get physical. I remember my dad saying something derogatory about the Pope, at which point his brother had heard enough. Though he was no Papist, my dad’s defense of abortion outraged my uncle. As I continued to pack, he approached my father as though he intended to hit him. There existed between them an odd brotherly rivalry which bordered on sadism. Dad had polio as a child which limited and stunted his physical development and also, I think, impacted the brothers’ relationship. Instead of violence, he looked into his brother’s eyes with hatred and told him, “if you keep talking this way, there will be no one to bury you.” I was done at this point, told my dad we were leaving, and we spent the night in a hotel away from the abuses of his closed minded family.
Four months later, an anti-abortion protester named Michael Griffin assassinated my father. According to dad’s side of the family, they were unaware he performed abortions though he performed them for the better part of two decades in part or exclusively. After years considering his motives and silence, I think I finally have some degree of understanding. If his family was willing to write him off over a presidential candidate and some offhand remarks about the pope, then they clearly would have disowned and damned him to hell for murdering babies. He hid the abortion portion of his career, not out of shame or fear, but as some perverse familial life preserver. He wanted and needed that familial connection and feared he would lose it if his family knew the truth. Ironically, they disowned him over vagaries as opposed to the issue that took his life.
He never spoke to or saw his family after that November night in Aliceville. Though my mom and dad had long ago divorced and he was remarried, he opted to spend his last Christmas with us at my maternal grandmother’s house in Tennessee. Whether he was too proud to call his brother and father, or whether pride held back their hand makes little difference: he was dead to them and they to him.
My first conversation with any of my dad’s family was later in the afternoon of 10 March 1993 when my uncle called to ostensibly see how we fared. I do not remember him expressing any sympathy for the loss; rather, he wanted to tell me how we (meaning he) would arrange the funeral. He wanted to control all arrangements and return the prodigal son, in body only, to his old Kentucky home. I was initially dumbfounded that my uncle, the supposed adult in the room, was more concerned about a dead body than his niece and nephew. In his mind, he knew best, I was a child, and I should simply obey. In clear terms I told my uncle to fuck himself, that we had things under control, welcomed him, as well as the rest of the family, to the funeral we planned, and asked that he kindly leave us alone unless he had some honest assistance or sympathy to offer.
We buried dad during the worst winter storm in recent southern history. It was in mid-March less than two weeks prior to spring’s beginning, but Winter Storm ’93, as the media dubbed it, hung coldly over the funeral and attendant proceedings. Though my dad’s parents attended, they refused to sit with the family in the chapel of Cortner’s Funeral Home in Winchester, Tennessee—an antebellum home converted into a funeral parlor whose walls are as familiar to me as a childhood home given my 40 year history of funerals in that discomforting comfortable ritual death house. Moreover, they did not attend any of the mandatory post burial potlucks which may or may not be uniquely southern. Instead, they sent two of my cousins as emissaries seeking information but providing little. They ensured my sister and I need not worry, our grandfather had our interests at heart, and he would see we were protected (she was 17 and I was 22). Of course, these entreaties proved false.
The family rift which began as a small fissure before my birth evolved into an unbridgeable canyon in death. A murder which should have strengthened family ties unalterably crushed what little connection remained. I never had any meaningful exchanges with my father’s side of the family after that November night in 1992.
Almost 150 years ago, two brothers from the Gunn family donned uniforms: one was grey and the other was blue. Family lore holds at their last meeting they crossed swords, turned, and walked away never seeing each other again. Twenty years ago, in a somewhat devalued sense, history repeated rendering a family into bits due to one brother’s adherence to outdated traditionalism and religious fundamentalism while the other looked forward toward equality and inclusion. They did not realize at the time, though perhaps they should have, that the future was murder. Dad’s politically and religiously motivated murder perfectly reflects the harsh and unbreachable polar divide which is increasingly entrenched and present in our country today. Micro recapitulates macro on occasion does it not?
My children know their uncles, aunts, and cousins as phantoms, if at all—their great grandmother and father died long ago. Like me, they must live with the repercussions of choices and actions which occurred well before their births. While my eldest once expressed interest in meeting the family he’s never known, my youngest may not even know they exist. Surely, I bear responsibility for their ignorance; however, I selfishly never pursued reconciliation though there have been overtures. Unfortunately, I doubt the sincerity of such invitations and after 20 years of solitude from those who were my family, I choose exile over guilt riddled reconciliation. It is not an exile of hatred but of indifference which is admittedly worse I suppose.
- The abortion that could cost a mom her family (salon.com)
October 23, 2013
Let’s face it. Most of us are here on this earth because our parents had sex. As honest as this statement is, it likely makes people squirm. Who wants to think about their parents naked, sweaty and humping one on top of the other or grinding side-by-side on the dining room table or in the back seat of the car or in the tent next to you in Yosemite National Park? Certainly, not me. I’d rather scratch my eyes out. Our squirminess and discomfort points to a huge problem in our nation. While the common hegemonic sentiment of America is one of superiority, in reality, we Americans have failed miserably to accept and fully embrace our human sexuality. More specifically, we have failed to apply scientifically-sound and medically-accepted knowledge in public health and public education to benefit those who engage in sexual activity safely and responsibly. And who is responsible for this failure? I’d argue that those responsible are a misguided minority with their knickers in a knot over human sexuality. They go by many names but together they’re really the self-appointed morality police who run for political offices mostly on a conservative ticket, who prey on women outside abortion clinics, and who work for or are members of organizations like the Heritage Foundation, the Catholic Church or Operation Rescue. These morality cops are all about promoting abstinence only sex education in schools, sustaining propaganda campaigns about the evils of masturbation, telling bald-faced absurdities about a raped woman’s body shutting down a potential rape-related pregnancy, denying the spectrum of sexual expression, and ignoring the scientific data about the safety and efficacy of contraception and abortion. Sexual behavior for these folks certainly seems, well, icky on so many levels. And we as a nation pay a stiff (no pun intended) penalty.
In addition to their narrowly informed heteronormative perspective on sexuality, this minority further constrains natural human sexuality with their religiously informed myths about intercourse being only for procreation. Doesn’t that just take the fun out of an afternoon romp in the sack for post-menopausal Auntie Joyce and Viagra-defunct Uncle Tony? Such a heterosexist view clearly ignores the sexuality of our LGBT brothers and sisters. It also ignores the perfectly natural practice of going it alone because, in their worldview, the two concepts—pleasure and masturbation—are the work of Lucifer. And such a view surely ignores those lovely, lively priests with predilections for little boys. But I digress.
Let me say a bit more about some of the religious conservatives’ bias in favor of opposite-sex relationships of a sexual nature, and against same-sex relationships of a sexual nature—aka, what is called heteronormativity. The problem here is that they take their sexual bias to an extreme in educational settings. In many states, their bias has rewarded with state funding to discriminate against LGBT children. Specifically, their homophobia is rewarded with adopted state laws – sometimes referred to as “neovouchers” – to transform state money into private Christian school scholarships used at religious-based schools that prohibit gay, lesbian or bisexual students from attending. These schools are essentially given a license to emotionally and physically bully and expel children who fail to be straight.
Listen, I have no argument with being sexually conservative, heterosexual and/or abstinent. It’s a right that should be respected just as individuals who are not hetero should be respected. But, I do have a big argument when their penchant for prudery and balderdash leads to serious health consequences for real children. I’m talking about their misguided drive to demand abstinence-only sex education in public schools and as the price to play for charter school funding (at the cost of decreasing public education funding). Abstinence-only sex education is a well-documented financial waste as well as an epic education disaster that has resulted in the United States having one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and the highest rates of sexually transmitted infection rates in the industrialized world. Thanks, in part, to abstinence programs, female teens are more vulnerable to sexual violence because abstinence isn’t a realistic response to peer pressure. Among the general teen population, one out of four has a sexually transmitted infection. The STI rate for African American teens averages 50%. And for all teens, if left untreated some of their STIs can cause permanent damage, such as infertility and even death. Of course, the response of the Panties-in-a-Wad crowd, this bastion of heteronormative bias, is to point a judgmental finger at the individual teen and wag their tongue about the evils of having sex. But my response to the Panties-in-a-Wad crowd is to illustrates the impact of states with predominantly conservative and religious views and the teen birth belt.
A further response to this uber conservative minority is say that their work is disingenuous. Teens are sexual beings. Not providing comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education is the moral failure of conservative, religious thinking.
And speaking of moral failure, consider all the bickering over the Affordable Care Act and contraception. Church-going entities like Hobby Lobby, the Catholic Church, and Chik-Fil-A went ballistic over their obligations to provide contraceptive insurance for their employees. Let’s be honest here. We’re talking about white men making a fuss about paying for health care for the women in their organizations because it goes against their beliefs while making no religiously-informed complaints about paying for Viagra or Cialis for men. Let’s also be clear that statistical studies illustrate the majority of women (Catholics, Christian Evangelicals alike) who are married to these men use contraception. Hypocritical much?
Access to contraception, while clearly a smart response to reducing unplanned pregnancies and abortions, is seriously problematic for many who protest outside abortion clinics and for those who legislate morality in the state and federal government. They believe that contraception causes abortion, is dangerous, and is immoral if outside heterosexual marriage. The bigger issue with those who don’t believe in abortion or contraception is their attempt to impose their beliefs on others. A comparison of the United States to countries where abortion is legal reveals that other countries have much lower rates of abortion, have healthier perspectives on human sexuality, have better health care systems and have normalized sexual education for children and teens. What we have here in the United States is staggering puritanism informed by a peculiarly aberrant form of Christian ethos that is seriously harming our children with the abysmal failure of abstinence education. So much for the claim to be pro life, to uphold family values.
Those with their eyes wide open have witnessed the stunning waste of taxpayer dollars over legal battles about DOMA, about the Affordable Care Act and contraception, and about targeted regulations against abortion providers based on nothing more than willful ignorance of science and, no doubt, their god-deluded sense of moral righteousness. Like the epic failure of prohibition on alcohol during the early 20th century, this ongoing battle against our God-given sexual nature has failed our nation. Attempting to prohibit or constrain sexual behavior according to the mythically-constructed boundaries of the sexually thwarted and perverted minority, is dishonest, unhealthy, disingenuous, and immoral.
- Sexy Sunday: The problems with sex education (velociriot.org)
- Theory post about Abortion (violetlightning.wordpress.com)
- Chlamydia on the rise in girls as young as 12 (abc.net.au)
- Texas Will End Teen Pregnancy By Spending $1.2 Million Telling Teens To Keep It In Their Pants (wonkette.com)
- Steep Costs for Abstinence Only Programs (atheistrev.com)
- Texas Tries To Combat Teen Pregnancy With Abstinence-Only Website That Doesn’t Mention Birth Control (thinkprogress.org)
- The Budget: Issue 2 opinion story (niadrutledge.wordpress.com)