The Religious Right’s Counterproductive Positions On Contraception And Abortion

It comes as no surprise that many in the religious right are not satisfied with the data released earlier this month showing a decrease in abortions. Margaret Talbot discussed their reaction:

One problem was that the groups didn’t like the messenger. The report, which showed that between 2008 and 2011 the rate of abortions had fallen to its lowest level since 1973, came from the Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher produces scrupulous research on reproductive health; it also supports abortion rights. But the bigger problem was the message itself, because the report made a persuasive case that the right-to-life movement cannot take credit for the decline in abortions. Since 2008, states have enacted more than a hundred laws related to abortion, most aimed at limiting access to the procedure. The researchers, however, concluded that the new laws, with few exceptions, had had little impact on the number of abortions. Instead, much of the decline is probably attributable to more effective contraception, some of it available through the federal funding—“Uncle Sugar,” in Mike Huckabee’s creepy coinage—that Republicans like to rail against.

As the goals of the religious right are based upon a desire for control and using government to impose their religious views on others, we have known for quite a while that they also sought restrictions on birth control, even if this would be inconsistent with a lone goal of reducing abortions. Talbot pointed out a couple of additional counterproductive and seemingly contradictory aspects of the position of the religious right. Their extension of opposition to choice beyond abortion prevents possible compromise with liberals who would support measures to reduce abortions which do not involve denying choice. The actions of the religious right also increase the possibility that abortions will be obtained later in the course of pregnancy. While the religious right often devotes a lot of their rhetoric to later-term abortions, these are actually very rare, and their actions are contrary to a claimed goal of reducing these:

Nonetheless, the new laws do place additional burdens on women seeking abortions, and, perhaps more important, they may also be erecting obstacles to a consensus position on abortion—one that most Americans could abide. For reasons both moral and practical, most Americans think that if an abortion is to be performed it should be done early in the pregnancy. Yet many of the laws that right-to-life groups have pressed for in recent years have tended to produce the opposite effect, resulting in later abortions. Consider the case of medical abortions, induced by the drug mifepristone, the so-called abortion pill. The Guttmacher report shows that, between 2008 and 2011, there was a striking increase in the percentage of such procedures—in 2011, they accounted for twenty-three per cent (up from seventeen per cent) of all non-hospital abortions—even as the over-all rate declined. By definition, these are early abortions: they are performed before nine weeks’ gestation. (Unlike surgical abortions, they can be done almost as soon as a woman receives a positive pregnancy test.) From the public-health, reproductive-choice, and moral-comfort points of view, an increase in the percentage of abortions performed this way is beneficial.

Yet the latest vogue in anti-abortion legislation is to ban medical abortions. One approach has been to short-circuit programs that allow mifepristone to be prescribed through telemedicine. A program started in Iowa, in 2008, allowed a woman to receive ultrasounds and talk to a counsellor at a satellite clinic, and then video-conference with a doctor in another location. The doctor could remotely unlock a drawer in the clinic and the necessary medication was dispensed to the woman. After the program began, women seeking abortions in Iowa tended to do so earlier; nevertheless, the over-all abortion rate in the state declined. The program’s safety record and women’s reported satisfaction with it were solid. (It was especially helpful in rural areas.) But in 2010 Iowa elected an anti-choice Republican governor, who appointed new members to the state medical board, and it subsequently ended the program. A judge stayed the ban in November, and the matter is now being litigated. Meanwhile, legislatures in fourteen other states have prohibited the use of telemedicine for medical abortion—“Webcam abortion,” as opponents call it—even though the system hasn’t even been tried on any significant scale in those states.

All this brings to mind the bizarre inability of certain prominent Republicans to understand the importance of contraception in our society. Making it more difficult for women to get an abortion early in an unintended pregnancy—or to prevent an unintended pregnancy in the first place—makes their lives harder. Yet Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul have been on a tear recently, insisting that focussing on reproductive rights patronizes women. Unlike Democrats, Huckabee says, Republicans want women to be “something other than victims of their gender,” who are “helpless without Uncle Sugar” to “control their libido or their reproductive system.” It shouldn’t be necessary to say it again, but a woman’s ability to exert control over her reproductive system is at the heart of her ability to control her destiny in many other ways as well.

The right’s anti-abortion crusade must be seen not as actions being promoted with the sole goal of reducing abortions but as a campaign to exercise control over the rights of others. Ed Kilgore argues that “antichoice activists almost universally regard the very contraceptive measures most associated with reduced abortion rates, especially the highly effective IUD, not as contraceptives at all but as ‘abortifacients,’ because they operate (or might operate) to interfere with the implantation of fertilized ova on the uterine wall.”  He concluded his discussion of Talbot’s article by writing:

None of this, however, is the least bit surprising if you think all abortions—including the “abortion” of fertilized ova that may occur when an IUD or a Plan B pill—or any other hormonal birth control method—is used—are equally horrific acts of homicide. That is the position of virtually every “right to life” group in the country. So their propaganda focus on late-term abortions is entirely strategic. For all the millions of tears shed about the “barbarity” of the tiny handful of late-term abortions performed legally (or illegally, as was the case with Dr. Kermit Gosnell, whose clinic antichoicers have seized on with enormous glee), the antichoice goal is as it has always been to use widespread instinctive unease with late-term abortions as a stepping stone to a total abortion ban, which would extend to “abortifacient” devices like IUDs. Nobody should forget that for a moment.

While to a certain degree true, the problem remains that many on the religious right see the use of contraception by others as something they have the right to regulate, regardless of the mechanism of action. BooMan responds to this by asking, “should we consider these people to just be deluded? Or, should we consider them to be primarily concerned not about abortion, but with preventing women from having sex out of wedlock? Is the idea basically that if women can’t separate sex from child-bearing that they will save themselves for marriage?”

I hate to try to say what the motivation is of others, but I suspect that for most who seek to restrict reproductive rights the prevention of sex out of wedlock is only part of their motivation for opposing both abortion and contraception. Their desire to control reproductive rights and the bodies of women extends to married women and is not limited to preventing sex out of wedlock, as much as they might desire to do this.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Please Share

Abortion Rate At Lowest Point Since Roe v. Wade

A study from the Guttmacher Institute, which has been monitoring the abortion rate, shows that this has dropped to the lowest rate since Roe v. Wade.  The rate was 16.3 abortions per 1000 women in 1973 at the time of the Roe v. Wade decision. The rate subsequently increased to a high of 29.3 in 1980 and has been steady dropping since then. There most recent data from 2011 showed a rate of 16.9 per 1000 women.

This decrease is attributed largely to improvements in birth control, as well as to the economy as people tend to adhere to using birth control more when the economy is bad. While it is unlikely to happen, one might think that reducing the rate back to the level when Roe v. Wade took effect would lessen the hostility of conservatives towards the Supreme Court decision, and perhaps decrease their attempts to impose their views on abortion upon others. If a reduction in abortion was their sole goal, then we would also expect conservatives to support the wider use of contraception. However, as their views are more based upon religious dogma and authoritarianism, they are likely to continue to attempt to restrict contraception as well as abortion.

The drop in abortion has not been attributed to the wave of anti-abortion legislation pushed through recently as most of the new laws did not take effect until after 2011. It will be interesting to see how this affects abortion rates in the future, but interpretation could be hindered by the drop in abortion rates regardless of the changes in abortion laws.

Please Share

John Kerry Warns Of A Trend Towards Authoritarianism In Eastern Europe–Don’t Forget Our Problems At Home

John Kerry has warned about a disturbing trend of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe. He is probably right, but what about that trend here? The Republican Party has made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. The party of small government increasingly advocates using the power of government to infringe upon the private lives of individuals. They claim to support capitalism while they work to redistribute the nation’s wealth and replace our system with a plutocracy.

An informed electorate is essential to the workings of a democracy but the Republicans use their propaganda machine, such as Fox, to intentionally spread misinformation. They have been preventing the normal workings of a legislative branch, meeting on election night to organize to oppose any measures initiated by Obama, regardless of the merits, how needed they are, or even if they are former Republican positions. They talk of supporting the Constitution, but it is a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads, and is not what was intended by the Founding Fathers. They totally deny the essential liberties in the First Amendment intended to form a secular state as they promote the agenda of the religious right. Even their so-called libertarians don’t have a very good record with regards to supporting liberty.

Please Share

Republican Electoral Gains Result In Greater Restrictions On Reproductive Rights

abortion restrictions

Many Republicans won spots in state governments on campaigns to increase jobs but, once in office, concentrated far more on social issues as opposed to the economy. Conservatives, who claim to oppose big government, showed their actual support for using government to impose their social and religious views upon others by increasing restrictions on abortion and access to birth control. NPR reported on a study which documented the increase in restrictions on abortion over the past three years:

While much national attention was focused on efforts to restrict abortion in Texas, a new study from the Guttmacher Institute reports that as many as 22 states enacted 70 provisions aimed at curbing access to abortion. That makes 2013 second only to 2011 in the number of abortion restrictions enacted in a single year, according to the think tank for reproductive rights.

To put the recent trend in some perspective: The 205 abortion restrictions enacted between 2011 and 2013 were more than the 189 enacted during the entire previous decade (2001 to 2010).

More than half of the restrictions passed in 2013 fell into one of four categories:

  • Regulations aimed at closing down abortion clinics by imposing restrictions that go beyond those required to protect patient safety. One such rule forces clinics to meet standards that were designed for hospitals or outpatient surgery centers that do more advanced techniques; another requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges.
  • Limits on insurance coverage of abortion, particularly within the new health exchanges that have been set up to sell coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Bans on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Limits on abortions that rely on pills rather than surgery.

The New York Times reported on how anti-abortion groups are encouraged by these new restrictions, while pro-choice groups hope this will alienate voters:

Advocates for abortion rights, taking heart from recent signs in Virginia and New Mexico that proposals for strong or intrusive controls may alienate voters, hope to help unseat some Republican governors this year as well as shore up the Democratic majority in the United States Senate.

Anti-abortion groups aim to consolidate their position in dozens of states and to push the Senate to support a proposal adopted by the Republican-controlled House for a nationwide ban on most abortions at 20 weeks after conception.

“I think we are at a potential turning point: Either access to abortion will be dramatically restricted in the coming year or perhaps the pushback will begin,” said Suzanne Goldberg, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia University.

The anti-abortion groups, for their part, feel emboldened by new tactics that they say have wide public appeal even as they push the edges of Supreme Court guidelines, including costly clinic regulations and bans on late abortions.

“I’m very encouraged,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “We’ve been gaining ground in recent years with laws that are a stronger challenge to Roe.”

“I think it is more difficult to get an abortion in the country today,” she said.

It is encouraging that there is more attention being paid to this trend and  hopefully we will really see a pushback to defend reproductive rights. Over the last few years we have seen dramatic increases in support for liberal positions on social issues ranging from marriage equality to ending prohibition of marijuana. Hopefully we will see the same with reproductive rights.

Please Share

Effects Of Another Republican Appointee To The Supreme Court

Barack Obama has certainly not been perfect (even if his faults have been greatly exaggerated) and the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president leaves me quite unexcited about voting. Despite this, it is important to remember the alternative. One of the most significant differences between potential Democratic presidents and Republican presidents is the type of people they will appoint to the Supreme Court. Nothing is definite as Republican appointees have sometimes voted for liberal positions (most recently John Roberts supporting the Affordable Care Act), but with the increased ideological gap it is best to fear the worst.  While I would separate this from any pressure for Ruth Bader Ginsberg to retire before she is ready, Think Progress does have some warnings as to what will occur if she is replaced by a Republican president:

  • No More Marriage Equality: United States v. Windsor — the decision striking down the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act — was a 5-4 decision with Ginsburg in the majority. If Ginsburg is replaced by another conservative, DOMA could roar back to life. At the very least, the nation’s drive towards nationwide marriage equality could come to a screeching halt.
  • Criminalizing Sex: Although Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down Texas’ “sodomy” law, was a 6-3 decision, one of those six justices has since been replaced by the staunchly conservative Justice Samuel Alito. If another member of the Lawrence majority is replaced, it could lead to gay sex being outlawed entirely in several states. Lawrence‘s holding, however extends far beyond gay couples to prohibit laws criminalizing non-commercial sexual activity between consenting adults. Thus, if Lawrence falls, the government could find its way into every American’s bedroom.
  • The End of Abortion Rights: Roe v. Wade is already on life support. Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is the so-called swing vote on abortion, hasn’t voted to strike a law restricting the right to choose in 21 years. Nevertheless, Kennedy provided the key fifth vote to retain “the essential holding of Roe v. Wade” in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey. If Ginsburg is replaced by a conservative, there will likely be only four votes willing to retain that holding.
  • Watering Down Minority Votes: Five justices voted in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry to strike part of a Texas redistricting map because it tried to protect an incumbent Republican congressman by reducing the impact of Latino voters. If Ginsburg is replaced by a conservative, these kinds of tactics could become common.
  • Executing Children & The Intellectually Disabled: There are almost certainly four votes on the Supreme Court to permit executions of children and the intellectually disabled. Ginsburg’s replacement could be the fifth.
  • Judges for Sale: Four justices joined a dissent arguing that there’s nothing wrong with a wealthy businessman spending $3 million to place a judge on a state supreme court — only to have that judge cast the key vote to overturn a $50 million verdict against the businessman’s company. Ginsburg’s replacement could places judges up for sale.
  • Millions Without Health Care: Finally, the decision that largely preserved the Affordable Care Act was a 5-4 decision, with four justices voting to repeal Obamacare in its entirety. If those four justices gain a fifth vote, it could not only strip millions of Americans of the health insurance that they will soon gain under this law, but it could toss the entire American health care system into chaos. Among other things, if the dissent’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety were to actually happen, Medicare could lose its ability to pay claims until the agency that administers the program completed a lengthy rulemaking process that can take months.

And on top of all this, we could wind up with a president who believes in creationism, or who would choose a Supreme Court justice who would support the teaching of creationism in the schools.

Please Share

Rand (Mr. Misinformation) Paul Spreads Scare Stories Against Scientific Advancements and Eugenics

Faux libertarian Rand Paul just can’t help it. Most of his ideas are so off the wall that he has no choice but to make things up to support them. Even when he takes the right position on civil liberties issues, if you listen to him long enough (such as during his filibuster on drones) it becomes apparent that this is a guy who just has no idea what he is talking about. On top of that, despite claims of being a libertarian, Paul supports increased government intrusion into the private lives of individuals when it comes to reproductive rights. He is supporting this with scare stories about eugenics unless conservatives stand up against abortion and stay away from scientific advancements:

Tea party hero Rand Paul warned scientific advancements could lead to eugenics during a Monday visit at Liberty University, looking to boost the political fortunes of fellow Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s bid for governor.

During a visit to the Christian school founded by Jerry Falwell, Paul looked to energize conservative supporters by warning that genetic tests could identify those who are predisposed to be short, overweight or less intelligent so that they could be eliminated. With one week remaining before Election Day, Cuccinelli is hoping the joint appearance with the U.S. senator from Kentucky will encourage the far-right flank of his party to abandon third-party libertarian spoiler Robert Sarvis.

“In your lifetime, much of your potential – or lack thereof – can be known simply by swabbing the inside of your cheek,” Paul said to a packed sporting arena on Liberty’s campus. “Are we prepared to select out the imperfect among us?”

Some states ran eugenics programs that sterilized those considered defective in the 1900s, though all were abandoned by the 1970s after scientists discredited the idea.

Just the fact that he was speaking at the erroneously named Liberty University was a dead giveaway that he would be spouting nonsense such as this.  Regardless of where he is, this is his typical tactic. As Paul has stated, misinformation works, and he continues to practice this philosophy

Please Share

The New American Center Is Socially Liberal

I would take the exact numbers in this NBC News-Equire Poll with a grain of salt but the overall trend is what we would have expected. The country is more liberal on social issues and conservatives are losing the culture wars. Results are more mixed in some other areas. From their summary of results:

The new American center has a socially progressive streak, supporting gay marriage (64 percent), the right to an abortion for any reason within the first trimester (63 percent), and legalized marijuana (52 percent). Women, workers and the marginal would also benefit if the center had its way, supporting paid sick leave (62 percent); paid maternity leave (70 percent); tax-subsidized childcare to help women return to work (57 percent); and a federal minimum wage hike to no less than $10 per hour (67 percent).

But the center leans rightward on the environment, capital punishment, and diversity programs. Majorities support offshore drilling (81 percent) and the death penalty (90 percent), and the end of affirmative action in hiring and education (57 percent). Most people in the center believe respect for minority rights has gone overboard, in general, harming the majority in the process (63 percent). And just one in four support immigration reforms that would provide a path to citizenship for those who came here illegally.

They found the following results regarding religion and guns:

Religion is not a major part of the Center’s life, and it firmly believes that religion has no place in the public sphere. Meanwhile: Even though about a third of those in the Center own guns, an overwhelming plurality have no problem with background checks…

The Center is less religious than the Right, and—surprise!—it’s less religious than the Left, too, and here’s why: Members of the Gospel Left (the ones who broke 99 to 1 for Obama in 2012) are second only to the Righteous Right for how important religion is to them. Unlike their fellow believers on the Right, though, more than half of the Gospel Left feels that religion should not play a role in public life.

Please Share

Jon Stewart On Vatican No Longer Promoting Republican Agenda

For a long time it felt like the Republican Party and the Vatican represented a type of axis of evil, both pushing to impose antiquated religious teachings on everyone else. Pope Francis has taken a step back from the dark side in recent interviews, saying the Church should not be “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. As Jon Stewart points out in the video above, the Pope is no longer on the same page as Republicans, who are obsessed with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Will Republicans change? More likely they will follow the lead of Bill O’Reilly in promoting their own alternate religious history to match their alternate history of the United States while promoting their own view of the Constitution.

It would be great if Republicans would take the lead of Pope Francis here. At very least, assuming they do not change their views, could everyone try to stop letting them get away with claiming to support small government and liberty?

Please Share

Nick Gillespie’s Five Myths About Libertarians

Nick Gillespie of Reason had an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday on Five Myths About Libertarians. Here’s my take on these alleged myths, which generally have some degree of truth but are not necessarily completely true:

1. Libertarians are a fringe band of “hippies of the right.”

The classic description that libertarians who have smoked marijuana is true (even if simplistic) about many but certainly not all. There are libertarians on the left and right, but this doesn’t have as much electoral significance as Gillespie suggests when writing:

Libertarians are found across the political spectrum and in both major parties. In September 2012, the Reason-Rupe Poll found that about one-quarter of Americans fall into the roughly libertarian category of wanting to reduce the government’s roles in economic and social affairs. That’s in the same ballpark as what other surveys have found and more than enough to swing an election.

Looking beyond the likelihood that a Reason poll might tilt the questions and definitions towards such a finding, there are vast differences between right-libertarians and left-libertarians. Sure, if there was a Democratic candidate who is terrible (as very many are) on civil liberties and social issues it is conceivable I might vote for a libertarian Republican for the Senate who might provide a strong voice for some issues I support. Of course this would not include someone like Rand Paul. Left-libertarians see the issues which impact individual liberty far differently from right-libertarians, many of whom don’t even support abortion rights. Left-libertarians disagree with right-libertarians as to the importance of some regulation of the economy, realizing that markets are human inventions which require regulation to function. Many of the left-libertarians who are not thrilled with ObamaCare prefer a single payer system which directly conflicts with the core values of right libertarians. There is simply a huge gap between different people who might be lumped together as libertarians in such a poll.

Left-libertarians and right-libertarians are unlikely to join together to swing an election, but there is hope that the two could exert pressure on both Republicans and Democrats to change some of their policies in areas where the two groups agree.

2. Libertarians don’t care about minorities or the poor.

Few outside the libertarian movement really buy their claims that libertarianism helps the poor. Democratic economic policies may not be libertarian (nor are they socialist) but the historical fact remains that the economy does better under Democrats. As opposed to the right wing view of trickle-down economics, a rising tide under Democrats is more likely to raise all ships. Where this doesn’t work, the social safety-net which libertarians oppose remains necessary. On the other hand I do agree with Gillespie to a degree that there are areas where it would be beneficial to reduce regulations on small business. That said, I run a small business and do manage to survive with all the regulations in place.

Gillespie is right about the drug war, which is largely a war on poor minorities. What other result is possible after you imprison minorities for drug possession, and then release them from prison with a criminal record which makes it very difficult to ever get a  job?

3. Libertarianism is a boys’ club.

He is right here. There have been prominent libertarians among libertarian intellectual leaders. I have known female libertarians. They do exist.

4. Libertarians are pro-drug, pro-abortion and anti-religion.

As I mentioned above, it is a favorable characteristic that libertarians oppose the drug war (which is not the same as supporting drug use). Having thirty percent of libertarians opposing abortion rights is a negative.

Saying any political group is anti-religion is likely to be fallacious. Republicans have often claimed Democrats are anti-religion but the percentage of atheists among Democrats is fairly low (even if  higher than among Republicans). The difference is that liberals who are religious see religion far differently than conservatives, and do not have the desire to use government to impose their religious views upon others.

Some libertarians are quite hostile to religion. Ayn Rand (who didn’t actually consider herself part of the libertarian movement) has writings as  hostile towards religion as to socialism (which in her mind would include the views of Democrats). On the other hand, there are some called libertarians such as Ron Paul and Rand Paul who support many of the views of the religious right, and whose  philosophy is not one I would consider to be pro-freedom. I have discussed Ron Paul’s anti-freedom views at length here. People of the old right such as Ron Paul also carry much of their baggage including racism, creating further problems when considering libertarians and minorities.

5. Libertarians are destroying the Republican Party.

On the one hand Republicans do need a reboot in their ideas. It is a good sign when some Republicans join some Democrats on issues such as opposing violations of privacy rights from NSA surveillance programs. On the other hand, opposing all government activity regardless of importance just pulls Republicans further from mainstream views.

 

Please Share

Republicans Win Another Battle In War Against Women But Will Lose The War

Texas shirt hanger

The old Republican Party would talk about abortion during elections but wouldn’t dream of actually trying to restrict abortions and the issue was forgotten between elections. Country Club Republicans didn’t really want to lose this option should their own daughters get pregnant. Republican strategists were wary of the outcome, realizing that making abortion a true political issue would turn their party into a regional party without chance of success beyond the conservative areas of the country. That has already occurred, so perhaps they have nothing more to lose.  In the old days, Republican leaders considered the religious right a bunch of kooks as they sought their votes and contributions. Now the kooks are in control of the Republican Party.

Texas today passed harsh restrictions on abortion rights, contrary to the right to privacy inherent in the Constitution as upheld by the Supreme Court.  Of course the conservative activist judges who have been working to change the United States into a right wing Bizarro World which our Founding Fathers would not recognize might go along with these Republican attempts to restrict the basic human right to control one’s own body. Conservatives have been spreading a revisionist history for the past several years denying the separation of church and state which this nation was founded upon.

Placing these restrictions on abortion rights is part of a trend:

In the first six months of this year, a total of 47 line items restricting abortion have been enacted in 18 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research group that supports abortion rights. Perry’s signing of the Texas legislation would bring the 2013 count to 52 restrictions in 19 states.

That midyear tally is the second-highest of all time, surpassed only by 2011, when 80 line-item restrictions were enacted in 19 states.

The Republicans will enjoy such political victories in the short run. They are aided in many states by advantages gained in 2010 when voters were conned into thinking they were voting for jobs, not the agenda of the religious right. In the long run, this will just accelerate the trend for Republicans to be unable to be elected outside of the most authoritarian portions of the country. Demographic trends may make even victories in some Republican areas more difficult. The authoritarians of the Republican Party share the tendency of authoritarian groups to support racism and xenophobia. Even Texas might not be a safe Republican state in another decade. Look at the electoral map and try to figure out how Republicans have any chance of winning a national election without Texas, after losing other large states such as Ohio and Florida.

Please Share