Category Archives: health

Boy and Girl, Interrupted

A lack of both compassion and common sense are keeping the abortion rate unacceptably high for a society which ought to be finding ways to lower it.

Boy and Girl interrupted

Somehow, the abortion debate is never far from being front and center in the news. No matter how bad the economy is or what’s going on in the rest of the world, Americans seem to have an insatiable need to focus on this issue. When the landmark Roe v. Wade passed through the Supreme Court in 1973 and set a precedent regarding the legality of abortion, could anyone have imagined we’d be arguing about it so incessantly over forty years later?  Framed as a “social issue” it’s no surprise to those who consider abortion the taking of an innocent life, terminating a pregnancy continues to be a source of contentious debate.  Advocates for choice see scrutiny as part of a “War on Women,” or less the hyperbole, part of an effort to limit a woman’s options in health care and choices about her own body.

Roe has no chance of being overturned even though Americans identifying as “pro choice” was at a record low in May of 2012 but in 2015, pro-choicers are outpolling pro-lifers for the first time in 7 years.  Regardless, view are not evolving on this issue:  while support for gay marriage has increased at an unprecedented rate in the last 20 years, favorability for abortion has remained much the same.  Many people who identify as pro-life still favor abortion rights in some cases – 52% in the 2012 Gallup poll.

It would seem with an issue so emotional there would be a compelling reason to find solutions that reach the best possible outcome for all concerned. During his presidency, Bill Clinton stated clearly he felt abortion was a “tragedy” but nonetheless it should be “safe, legal and rare.” While pro-lifers continue to oppose abortion in most instances, pro-choicers have fought hard to make sure it remains safe and legal but seem less concerned with rarity.  What many pro-lifers don’t realize is that they aren’t helping matters.

Who would have thought that the left and right could actually unknowingly conspire to keep the abortion rate from dropping even further?  While abortion rates rates been on the decline and 2012 saw teen pregnancies hit a 40-year low, one would think this is still an option chosen more often than most people would be comfortable with.

The Guttmacher Institute reports in 2011, the abortion rate reached its lowest level since 1973.  Still, twenty-one percent of all pregnancies end in abortion and in 2011 alone, 1.06 million abortions were performed.  From 1973 through 2011, nearly 53 million legal abortions occurred.

By contrast, consider this 2012 headline NBC News:   ” ‘No one really cares’: US deaths in Afghanistan hit 2,000 in ‘forgotten’ war’ ”

So do we have an abortion problem? Some people don’t seem to think so.

One might assume the majority of Americans feel that abortion is, for lack of a better term, a necessary evil or at least an understandable, if undesirable choice under difficult circumstances. That would seem to be the kind of sentiment that would support policies helping to reduce the occurrence along the lines of Clinton’s thinking.

However, that’s not where we are. Perhaps part of it is as former Obama supporter and recent GOP convert Artur Davis mentioned, “this is not Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party.”  This may reflect a chicken-and-egg scenario with what  appears to be a lack of motivation to reduce the number of abortions once you get too far to the left. Have we become so concerned about not judging that abortion has become “no big deal” in some circles?

As Dennis Miller observed “the left wants to cover you from cradle to grave. It’s getting to the cradle that’s the tricky part.”  Is a Democratic party once led by Clinton and a GOP opposed to abortion in most cases effectively addressing the millions of abortions going on in any sort of meaningful, effective and pragmatic way?

The most extreme advocates of a given position frequently get the most press and are also the most eager to espouse their views. In recent conversations with women about the issue of choice, I was admittedly surprised by what I learned. Among other things, I was told that there are no unborn children, only fetuses. I also heard the fetus referred to as an unwanted invader, hitchhiker, fetal matter (a combination of blood, mucous and tissue), parasite and other terms which, although technically correct in some instances, seemed a little dehumanizing. In some cases “zygote” was the most generous description offered.   Was it so long ago that a pregnant woman was referred to as “with child” and “eating for two?”  How did we come to this?

One woman I spoke with reminisced when abortion first became legal it was literally no big deal. She reflected on how, more recently, it inexplicably became a source of anxiety when it shouldn’t be any different than excising a mole.  In fairness, she admitted her views are “left of Cuba” but she’s a mother of two children.  She went on to say that she loves her kids but when she was pregnant she felt much differently.  And of course, then came the sentiment, also echoed by others, that as a man I had no right to judge a pregnant woman’s feelings.

I would agree that a man is in no position to identify with what goes through a woman’s mind and body during pregnancy and I never made any such judgments; I simply found some of the characterizations of the unborn a little…sterile.

Relating that story and some of those thoughts resulted in a different woman in another conversation to classify me, as well as anyone not firmly in the pro-choice camp as a “pre-lifer” in spite of the fact that I never stated I felt abortion should be outlawed.  Curiously, this person is also a prominent advocate with Emily’s List.

I do not mean to represent this line of reasoning as universal; however it goes a long way to explain why more isn’t being done to make abortion rare in addition to safe.  If you view a fetus as nothing more than tissue, why bother worrying about what happens to it?  More often than not; however, I think it’s a simple question of priorities and apparently for many, the rights of a child do not exist until out of the womb.

That is not to say the majority necessarily feel this way but many do, as evidenced by those who want no restrictions whatsoever.   Henry Blodget, writing for Business Insider, echoed the familiar “the tadpole is not a frog” sentiment when he said “because although I believe that life begins at conception, I understand that some people don’t believe that and/or that some people might, given certain circumstances, choose to terminate that early life at a point when it is not even remotely human.”  Of course, it doesn’t look human but the DNA is identical.

And those who are most adamant about protecting abortion rights frequently portray anyone who doesn’t concur as a right-wing extremist.  After former Representative Todd Akin’s infamous statement that a woman who has been a victim of a “legitimate” (presumably forcible) rape has the benefit of some natural protection against pregnancy, most probably as a result of the psychological and physical trauma she suffered, virtually every notable Republican made it clear they found his remarks grossly inaccurate at best and extremely offensive at worst. Most asked him to remove himself from his Senate race.

Apparently that wasn’t good enough. In an effort to further ostracize Republicans for any pro-life stance, many Democrats and much of media felt the need to portray all of them as ideological religious extremists. In an interview with VP candidate and practicing Catholic Paul Ryan, when asked about his views, he stated that he personally has never felt that the method of conception changes the meaning of life; however,  he and Mitt Romney were running on a platform that included allowing abortion for rape, incest and health concerns for the mother.  The Raw Story then covered the interview with the headline “Ryan believes rape is ‘just another method of conception.’

Is there a spin-doctor in the house?

When you have the truth on your side, why exaggerate?  Can we not all agree that while there is a legitimate debate over when life matters and where the rights of a mother end and those of the unborn begin, no one is echoing the old Texas gubernatorial candidate Claytie Williams sentiment “if you’re gonna get raped you might as well lay back and enjoy it?”  In the world of politics it’s more important to allege Republicans have no compassion whatsoever for victims of rape.

But the right of a woman to choose isn’t the only argument on the table. Sometime abortion is justified in other ways. Often we hear objections to legislating based on religious views rather than science.  I wholeheartedly agree.  But another commenter went on to say that claiming life begins at conception has nothing to do with science-it’s “religion.”

Actually, the medical and scientific definition of conception is the creation of a new organism.  We can discover a single cell on another planet and that means we’ve found life there but a fertilized egg is not. The truth is, we don’t really know when all the pieces which make us fully human are in place. After all, there are some things about humanity, such as sentience, consciousness or a “soul” that we don’t fully understand. Science doesn’t provide these answers but it seems intuitive that once an egg is fertilized the DNA is set and after implantation in the womb, if nothing natural or unnatural interferes, you end up with a baby.

Aside from the definition of the word, science does presume that life begins at conception quite simply because it makes logical sense. From sources as reputable as Harvard Medical School even to notable proponents of abortion in the past, the admission that the process of fertilization creates a human being is common knowledge. The issue for many of these individuals then becomes much more intellectually honest; there is no denial that we are taking a life and the determination becomes not when life begins but rather, when does it matter.  That’s a subjective determination and it would seem, from an ethical standpoint, that we should err on the side of caution—but many feel that determination should be solely at the mother’s discretion.

I have also heard the seemingly reasonable argument that no baby who isn’t wanted should be brought into the world. Without discounting the difficulty of carrying a baby to term, when you consider all the childless couples who are willing to adopt, perhaps there is a misconception of what unwanted is.  And of course, there are the tit-for-tat retorts, one of which is the opposite of Dennis Miller: . To quote one individual, those who are pro-life are only so “right up to the moment of birth, when they drop them like they are hot rocks…no education, no medical care, no food, no shelter…you’re on your own little one.”   While the right admittedly seems to focus more on cutting social programs than necessary and prudent reform, didn’t we all learn in kindergarten two wrongs don’t make a right?

That is often accompanied by remarks about people dying overseas by our hand because of war, the death penalty and other claims that pro-lifers only care about the unborn.  This are fair points we’ll address later, but if you don’t equate a fetus to anything human, a few million in the biohazard bin doesn’t really matter, does it?

Ironically, it resembles the retorts you often encounter when speaking to the left about entitlement reform. The first response is usually about how little abuse and fraud there is, often followed by the argument that military spending, corporate welfare and tax breaks for the rich are a much bigger problem.  Even if true, it’s still the logical equivalent of dismissing concerns about AIDS and diabetes because cancer and heart disease are greater problems.

The pro-choice crowd bristles when accused of being “pro-abortion” but neither side is concerned enough to focus on minimizing abortions. To the contrary, for abortion advocates the vast majority of the effort seems to be protecting abortion rights along with making sure that pro-lifers are portrayed as anti-woman zealots who stop caring about children once they are born.  Reasonable guidelines on when the rights of the mother intersect the rights of the unborn?  For too many people, it’s never.

So most reading this are either thinking “preach it” or angry at another misogynistic anti-woman pre-life blogger.  Stay with me a bit longer.

For those against abortion, at least everyone can count on the ongoing efforts of the pro-life movement to do everything in its power to reduce the number of abortions in any way possible, right?  Well, know.  This team has a quarterback who can throw long but the receivers are slow, run poor routes and can’t catch. They need to focus on the running game. Unfortunately that’s not happening.

I’m not saying that opponents of abortion aren’t vocally and consistently doing what they can to illustrate how they view abortion as wrong. Clearly they do; but in terms of working within the current laws to reduce the number, there is a complicit failure of epic proportions.

Abortions are usually the result of an unwanted pregnancy, the key operative word here being “unwanted.” Is there anyone out there in favor of unwanted pregnancies?  No?  Good!  Then perhaps we can all work together on finding better ways of preventing them. So, abortion opponents,  in my best Sean Connery voice (circa The Untouchables) “What are you prepared to do about it?”

I find it hard to explore many issues without a cliché’ or an old adage as so many of them are simply on the mark. Can we not all agree that half a loaf is better than none?  Again, apparently not. Guttmacher also reports:

“when used correctly, modern contraceptives are extremely effective at preventing pregnancy. The two-thirds of U.S. women at risk of unintended pregnancy who practice contraception consistently and correctly account for only 5% of unintended pregnancies. “

Not surprisingly, the same people who scream about entitlement reform are frequently the ones who don’t want to pay for anyone else’s birth control.  Guess what?  Neither do I, but given the option of either chipping in for birth control and the knowledge to use it or having either a) more abortions or b) another kid on welfare and food stamps, I’ll gladly ante up for the former.

There are of course, religious objections to providing birth control either through government funding or private insurance, most notably from the Catholic Church. The question then becomes, where do you draw the line?   Christian Scientists don’t believe in medical care but I don’t think any credence would be given to the argument of someone refusing to pay taxes that support Medicare and Medicaid.  Observant Jews don’t eat pork, shellfish and other specific non-Kosher foods but I don’t see anyone fighting to keep them off public school lunch menus.  There are many, many people who would like to see birth control and the education that needs to accompany it made a priority and with good reason.

Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post hit the proverbial nail on the head when she remarked during the Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh spectacle:

“The only question has been whether the federal government can force religious organizations to pay for something that violates their freedom of conscience. For the record, if I were dictator, I’d put contraceptives in the drinking water on college campuses. But the Catholic Church and other religious entities do not share my view, and our laws have always tried to allow generous exceptions to rules that conflict with moral principle.”

Personally I would go far beyond college campuses.

I realize that this is an awkward thing to ask an observant Catholic to consider and they’re already living in a society that does not share their values as far as respecting the unborn. In the interest of helping prevent abortions, do we dare ask them to also support others using birth control?  I think we should.

Yes, traditional Catholics and others can continue to expect abstinence but let’s be realistic: few are listening and abstinence-only education doesn’t work.  We can encourage other natural methods of pregnancy prevention but they are difficult to employ consistently.  In attempting to find the path to the moral high ground we are proving the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

In a conversation with a friend and observant Catholic, I learned somethings about the church’s attitude toward birth control. If a family is genuinely going to be adversely affected by the birth of another child, it is not a presumptive rule that birth control is out of the question; rather, the family is directed to consult their priest and pray in order to find the best solution.  Wiggle room in church doctrine?  Who knew?

If the Catholic Church can be open to that idea, perhaps some flexibility in the rest of the pro-life crowd would be in order.  That means those Tennessee legislators and others who don’t want kids “exposed” to any information about sex other than “don’t have any.”  It means the ones who want to pass “don’t say gay” laws. It means the ones so concerned with promoting “gateway sexual activity” that they make teachers worry about being fired for even discussing it. And the ones who think that by not teaching children about the complex realities of sex we will somehow insulate them from the simplistic view and endorsement they get from their peers, movies and television.

It’s a shame we can’t all be home or church schooled and turn off all portrayals of sex in the media but last time I checked outside influences were still not the final determination of puberty, curiosity or urges and the sexual revolution was decades ago.  So here’s a Fox News Alert for these folks: we can’t stop people from having sex.   We can teach abstinence first and try to teach family values but ultimately, we can’t turn back the hands of time and reverse the sexual revolution.
That being the case,  it’s time to think about doing everything possible  to minimize the number of unwanted pregnancies resulting from people who either don’t have easy access to birth control, don’t know how to use it properly or don’t care enough to be bothered.  We are often forced to choose between the lesser of two evils and while I am not a theologian, I presume that the gap between birth control (including helping pay for someone else’s) and abortion is significant.

We should put effort into promoting awareness, education and even birth control at public expense if necessary.  Few are interested in taxpayer-subsidized abortions but efforts to drastically reduce abortion by preventing unwanted pregnancies should be encouraged, especially when they are proven to work.   “Fiscal responsibility” is not a short term proposition.  Believing in personal responsibility and not wishing to pay for someone else’s birth control are fair understandable but we forget our role in teaching others, particularly where the family unit has broken down.  Supporting birth control and education teaches personal responsibility in addition to reducing unwanted pregnancy and hence, abortion.   Sometimes the end does justify the means and remember:  Jesus saves but Moses invests.

Many who have children they can’t afford actually cost the taxpayer more and the cycle continues, so perhaps it’s time for pro-lifers to put their money where their mouths are and do something besides just opposing the idea of abortion.  Like it or not, It’s still legal in this country and for those who wish to work to change the law, that is your right.  In the meantime, devoting energy to mucking up the system with ticky-tack laws designed to impede the process is unproductive.  Stop wasting airtime and taxpayer dollars trying to make it harder or more humiliating for women who choose to exercise their legal right to have an abortion.  It’s not an effective strategy and only provides fodder for your opponents.   Yes, women should be strongly encouraged to consider all the options including adoption but forcing her to have a transvaginal probe is a little more than intrusive.

There are also extreme points of view about how a someone considering an abortion should be treated. I spoke to a woman who, to her credit, had given birth to a son conceived via rape and firmly believed that regardless of the horrible beginning, her child was a huge blessing. Unfortunately she also stated that she believes any woman having an abortion deserves be humiliated and treated with disdain.  It’s understandable that not everyone wishes to extend the horror of a rape to a nine-month or longer ordeal.  Pregnancy is hard enough on a woman who wants the baby.   Yes, adoption would be ideal but we should all be able to empathize with a friend who commented to me that if given the choice between forcing her daughter to carry a rape-conceived fetus to term or an early abortion , she would prefer the latter.

More clichés come to mind: both sides seem to be stuck in a cycle of trying to shut the barn door after the horse is already out.  It doesn’t work, so here’s a better suggestion: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  That also involves not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It’s understandable why Planned Parenthood is controversial. With roughly 86% of non-federal revenue from abortions, Planned Parenthood is a fundraising machine and heavily involved in the political arena.  They have also opposed initiatives that require waiting periods before abortions and bans on late-term abortions,  which have been illegal in the U.S. since 2003.  That certainly puts them on the outside of mainstream thought, plus they receive millions in federal funds plus state and local grants.

However, they do a lot of good. Of all services performed, abortion only constitutes 3%. According to the organization:

“In 2009, Planned Parenthood provided 4,009,549 contraceptive services (35% of total), 3,955,926  sexually transmitted disease services (35% of total), 1,830,811 cancer related services (16% of total), 1,178,369 pregnancy/prenatal/midlife services (10% of total), 332,278 abortion services (3% of total), and 76,977 other services (1% of total), for a total of 11,383,900 services. The organization also said its doctors and nurses annually conduct 1 million screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams.”

Clearly, if accurate, the other 97% is an important part of women’s health care, particularly for the less fortunate, including contraceptive services that prevent even more abortion.  PP reports that 75% of their clients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. So when the Texas legislature decided to battle the Obama Administration over funds for the Women’s Health Program by defunding PP, they were potentially inhibiting lot more than abortions. Not all geographic areas have the same problem but many do.  This is the kind of thing giving fodder to those who decry the “War on Women.”

There are other ancillary things as well which don’t bode well for pragmatism or common sense. Before the 2012 election, Paul Ryan was the target of some criticism for taking stimulus funds back in his district after he had opposed the stimulus itself.  After the program was passed and the funds allocated, whom would Ryan have served by standing on principle if that meant denying his district some of the money that was already being spent?  By the same token, while abortion is legal, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to oppose research that uses aborted fetuses. The recent controversy at Planned Parenthood suggested profiting from the sale.  If that is the case, clearly it’s not OK.  Otherwise,  if any of the research can be used to cure disease or save lives, perhaps these deaths might not be for nothing.  Again, this is not about deliberately terminating pregnancies to reap the rewards; it’s about finding the benefit in an admittedly unfortunate situation and making the best of it.

And finally,  the same “two wrongs” argument cuts both ways.  We do need to understand foreign policy shouldn’t routinely include preemptive wars.   We do need to reconsider the death penalty. And yes, it’s time we make sure children are taken care of after they are born, even if their parents are deadbeats.

We may never know if the powers of the universe look unfavorably on a species that wantonly interrupts its own procreation once the offspring has been created and kills each other continually thereafter.  Regardless, there is much more we can do to to prevent something that most people agree is an undesirable course of action. We can do much more of what is known to prevent unwanted pregnancies and terminate fewer, which will have many long term benefits and coincidentally, may determine how much more of this ongoing contentious debate remains in the headlines.