An Immodest Proposal: What If We Treated Gun Rights Like Abortion Rights?

constitution_gunThis is a thought experiment. The mass shooting in Las Vegas two days ago killed and wounded more Americans in 30 minutes than the battle of Fallujah. Attempts to legislate gun regulations to make it harder for criminals to obtain weapons of war have failed because of powerful gun lobbyists with deep pockets and spineless congressional representatives who value campaign contributions more than the safety of their constituents.

I see many parallels between the gun rights arguments and abortion rights arguments. For example, abortion opponents will argue that the right to an abortion isn’t specifically spelled out in the Constitution and any claim to that right is the result of judicial activism. When the Supreme Court determined in Roe v. Wade (1974) in a 7-2 decision that the right to privacy in the 14th Amendment extended to health care, decisions regarding abortion became no one’s business but the woman and her doctor.

And while the 2nd Amendment does offer some specific gun rights, until District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) the right to bear arms was considered a collective right, that is a right given to the states, not individuals. In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS overturned more than a century of precedent to say the 2nd Amendment applied to individuals. For some reason, conservatives didn’t see that as judicial activism.

So, given that both individual abortion rights and individual gun rights are the result of split decisions by SCOTUS, we can look to how legislatures’ attempts to regulate these rights can inform each other. Perhaps, through creative thinking, we can find some common ground. Or at least lay bare the hypocrisy.

I mean, conservatives bent on curtailing abortion rights are nothing if not creative. They have come up with dozens of “TRAP laws” (Targeted Regulations at Abortion Providers). They have legislated waiting periods, scripts for doctors to read, regulations for clinic facilities, hospital affiliations, invasive ultrasounds, and affirmed the rights of protesters to line the sidewalks outside clinics to offer street-level “counseling.”

What if we applied some of that creativity to the problem of gun violence? Below are some suggestions for how this might work.

All Gun Stores Should Be Required To Build and Maintain A Below-ground Shooting Range

Think about it. It offers gun buyers access to better information about the gun they are considering. If something terrible happens, like a misfire or a stray bullet, the range is surrounded by earth and no outsider would be injured. The range can be limited to one person at a time to ensure no “lone wolf” decides to use their weapon on anyone but themselves. 

“But wait,” you say. “My local gun shop is located in a place where an underground shooting range can’t be built.” That’s unfortunate, but your safety is our main concern. This legislation undoubtedly will lead to closings of sub-standard gun shops around the state. But in the name of safety, and providing potential gun owners with necessary information with respect to their options and their rights, this is a good thing for gun owners.

“But wait,” you say. “My local gun shop can’t afford to take on such expensive renovations.” You’re not alone. Some estimate that these new regulations will close upwards of 90 percent of gun shops in your state. But those remaining 10 percent are going to be reeaaaallly successful and busy. In fact, you may have to start making appointments to purchase weapons because of the demand. 

All Gun Purchases Should Require a three-day waiting period.

Potential customers may use these three days to fire the gun in the underground firing range, read various pamphlets offered by the state, and a law enforcement officer will offer counseling about the dangers and responsibilities of gun ownership.

“But wait,” you say. “I don’t need three days to make my decision. I’ve got to drive a four and a half hours to get to a gun store. Why should I have to wait three days after I get there?” We like to think of this part of the legislation as “reflection enhancement time.” If you make a rash decision, you will regret it for the rest of your life and there are psychological implications to that of which you need to be aware.

All Gun Purchasers Should Be Required to View Images of Gunshot Victims

You may never fire your weapon at another human and we really hope you don’t. But if you decide to take that momentous step, you need to do so with your eyes open to the results of your decision. Studies show that people who use their guns to kill, even in defense of their own lives, often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. It is important that you understand the deadly nature of your decision and how it may affect you for the rest of your life. Firing your gun at someone could result in you being unable to fire your gun at anyone else. Then where will you be?

All Gun Dealers Should Be Required to Properly Dispose of Waste

This includes spent shells, casings, used targets, etc… Reusing these materials creates an environment where ammunition isn’t strictly regulated. An unsuspecting gun owner could inadvertently use substandard ammunition which can cause injury to him or herself or others. Therefore, reloading and reusing ammunition components is prohibited. Proper disposal of spent rounds, casings, targets, and shells will require proper labeling, packaging, and disposal using a commercially licensed handler of hazardous waste material, all of which must be buried or incinerated in the presence of a licensed disposal agent. 

All gun dealers should be required to have an off-duty law enforcement officer on the premises 24 hours a day.

This will facilitate the required counseling as well as create jobs and give law enforcement a better access to information about gun ownership in the state. Also, if an emergency occurs, having law enforcement on hand will better protect the gun owner and gun dealer from danger. 

“But wait,” you say. “However many guns I own or want to own or plan to own isn’t anyone’s business but mine.”  Sure, sure. You’re fine. You’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s the shady, back-alley gun shops that we’re going after. “But I can’t afford to pay an armed guard/counselor to be on site 24 hours a day.” Again, this may cause the closure of some substandard gun shops, but that’s the price you pay for safety and access to good information about your decision to buy and own a gun.

All gun purchases must be done in person with a licensed gun dealer and law enforcement officer present.

If something does go wrong during the purchase, to protect the health and safety of everyone involved, we’d feel better about having some professionals present. This isn’t the sort of decision one should make via computer or through the mail. There may be questions to be answered. Plus, this way, we can ensure that you’re in compliance with the other regulations we’re creating. So, no gun purchases online or over-the-counter. You need to see a licensed professional and have someone present with jail-admitting privileges should an emergency happen.

All Gun Store owners and employees should be screened for lead poisoning every six months.

The health and safety of everyone involved in the totally legal and constitutionally guaranteed right to own a firearm dictate that steps be taken to head off any potential risks to the wellbeing of gun shop owners and employees. So regular inspections of the facilities including sweeps for carcinogens, the presence of lead, and other environmental contaminants will help ensure the safety of all involved.

Gun Purchase Counsellors Shall Remain Outside the Fixed Buffer Zone of the Gun Store and Outside the Floating Buffer Zone of Individual Gun Purchasers.

In the interest of ensuring you have all the information you need to make your gun purchasing decision, some gun stores may attract the attention of street-level counselors who may shout helpful information at you while you walk toward the store. They may also show you giant images of gun-shot wounds or dead people who suffered from gunshot wounds. They may use bullhorns or PA systems to yell their advice at you. They may take your photo or write down your license plate number. This is all for your benefit and depending on the state, they may be required to stay back a few feet from the door and a few feet from you. Your gun store may provide an escort to help you navigate these well-wishers.

All Gun Purchases Will Be Recorded and Filed with the  State Government Health Departments.

We need to study the effects of gun ownership on a variety of public health issues. To do this, we need the best information available. So the Department of Health will keep a file on every person who buys a gun and every gun bought. This way, we can know and others can find out.

Do these regulations sound unreasonable? Do they sound like attempts to stop you from exercising your rights to purchase and own guns? Do they sound like excuses and pretenses? They are. But so are TRAP laws.

Now imagine the government enacting some or all of these regulations, resulting in the closure of all but one or two gun shops in your state. Now, to purchase a gun, you have to take off from work, drive several hours, get a hotel room, navigate a gamut of protesters screaming at you, begin the process (which includes your gun dealer and law enforcement officer reading a state-mandated script about the evils of gun ownership), wait two or three (or five) days (and in some states weekends and holidays don’t count toward this waiting period); and then have an unnecessary and invasive medical procedure (such as a prostate exam) before you’re allowed to make your purchase, which the Constitution and the courts say is legal. Oh, and the government may spend your tax dollars funding stores that look like gun shops but don’t actually sell guns, just advice on why you don’t really want to own a gun anyway. The government might also pass legislation saying your liability insurance doesn’t cover shooting anyone, so you’ll have to get a special mass shooting rider which they will make illegal to sell to you.

Every one of these regulations, which seem silly and unnecessary are based on actual legislation proposed or enacted by states to limit a woman’s right to abortions. All the justifications which seem egregious are based on the justifications for various TRAP laws. If you can recognize it when applied to gun rights, then you should be able to see it with respect to abortion and understand why so many fight against them.

The truth is that we need gun control regulation. Not to prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves. But to prevent someone accumulating an arsenal and murdering 50 people and injuring 500 in a matter of 30 minutes. Currently, Congress wants to make it easier to purchase suppressors for weapons under the guise of “hearing protection” and armor-piercing bullets under the guise of . . . well, I’m not sure why civilians need armor-piercing rounds. But it seems like we’re moving in the wrong direction here.

Contact your members of Congress. Tell them to return the blood money the NRA has given them. Tell them to take action to protect your right to be safe in public. Because the answer to the shooting in Las Vegas isn’t hotel security screenings or limits on outdoor events. It’s regulations on ammunition and weapons. We can do better than what we’re doing.

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It isn’t pro-life, it is pro-forced birth.

As an avid new media fan, I took to Twitter to follow the drama in the Texas state house regarding the draconian abortion restrictions being debated there. It was inspiring to see all those women and men engaging the legislature during what became known as “The People’s Filibuster.” The gallery in Texas was crammed full of protesters in the burnt orange of the University of Texas.

I read updates as Sen. Wendy Davis stood and talked for more than 11 hours about why this was bad law. She was amazing and most likely launched a campaign to gain statewide office. She and the Democrats ran out the clock and the special legislative session ended without the Senate passing the bill.

The next day, Gov. Perry called for another special session. He had no choice, because there were other bills that needed attention, including a highway funding bill and a bill to reform the juvenile justice system in the state. Nevertheless, the state senate took up the abortion bill as the first order of business: SB1.

This time around, supporters showed up in blue shirts to cheer on the Republicans who sat around and voted down amendment after amendment, waiting until the time for the vote so they could go home. Impassioned pleas for sanity? Nope. Testimony from medical professionals? Ignored. Testimony from people affected by this bill? Why bother?

The omnibus abortion restrictions bill is a wish list for pro-forced birthers: It outlaws abortions after 20 weeks (supposedly the point where the fetus can feel pain). It creates a series of new regulations for health care clinics that provide abortion services, including making them adhere to the rules for an ambulatory surgical center, requiring doctors have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic, requiring all patients seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure, requiring doctors performing the procedure to amplify the fetal heartbeat for the patient, requiring patients who want non-surgical abortions (i.e. taking RU486) to travel to a surgical center and take the pill in front of a doctor.

Similar laws, passed in other states, have been struck down by courts, but Texans have their fingers crossed, I guess, that somehow, they’re special enough to get around that pesky Constitution.

What struck me was the difference in debate style between the two sides: Democrats offered testimony by medical professionals saying the restrictions were unnecessary and would have little or no affect on the care provided patients. The law would just shut down more than 80 percent of health care clinics in the state that provide abortion services. The Republicans cited the Bible, Jesus, the fear of God and debunked claims about the safety of the procedure.

It was daft. The author of the bill, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg refused any and all amendments, including exceptions for victims of rape and incest or considerations for the health and life of the mother. During the first special session, she claimed that the rape kits used by hospitals to collect forensic evidence would clean the woman out, so there was no need for an exception for rape victims. During the second special session, she claimed that the bill wasn’t about reducing abortions and it wouldn’t close any clinics because nothing in the bill specifically said a clinic has to close.

It was an astounding case of brain myopia. Each Republican claimed the bill was about providing a safe environment for the mother to have her abortion. They didn’t intend to restrict abortion at all, just make it safer. But if that were the case, why didn’t a single one of the state’s healthcare organizations endorse the bill?

Dr. Peter Carmel, president of the American Medical Association said the bill was a “needless, dangerous interference in the practice of medicine by politicians.”

But let’s get back to Rep. Laubenberg for a second. After spending hours and hours claiming the bill wasn’t designed to eliminate abortion or close clinics, she ended the evening’s debate by saying she wanted to limit abortions. She said there had been 70,000 abortions in Texas. Now let’s set the way-back machine to 2007, when Rep. Laubenberg was debating a health care bill in Texas, specifically a bill to provide health insurance to children (CHIP).

Laubenberg proposed an amendment to prevent pregnant women from seeking prenatal care under the program until three months into the pregnancy. When challenged by Democrats as to why these supposedly unborn babies didn’t deserve health care, Laubenberg replied “They’re not born yet.”

Look at what the bill requires:

1) All abortions must be performed in an ambulatory surgical center (ASC). Republicans say this requirement would make the procedure safer for women. In reality, surgical abortion is about as safe a procedure as there is in medicine. It is done with a local anesthetic without actually opening up the patient. It is considerably safer than carrying a child to term. On July 8, an offical from the Department of Social and Health Services testified “I wouldn’t be able to say abortion procedures would be safer if performed at an ambulatory surgical center.” Most abortions aren’t actually surgical procedures at all and the bill doesn’t specify that only surgical abortions must be performed at ASCs. In the first trimester, most patients are given medications to take home with instructions on how to take the pills. This law specifies that the patient must go to an ASC no matter what type of procedure she requires.

An interesting note about ASCs that came up during the debate: Abortion clinics are inspected by the state every year, but ASCs are only inspected every three years (and fertilizer plants are only inspected once every 30 years, evidently).

Another interesting note is that Gov. Perry’s sister is a big advocate for ASCs and most likely will make a bunch of money on abortions if the law passes.

2) No abortion after 20 weeks. If this seems familiar, it is because lots of Republican-controlled state legislators rolled out this bill in the last few years. The idea is that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks. This isn’t actually supported by medical evidence. In fact, embryologist say that the neural pathways necessary to feel pain haven’t developed by then. Last March, a federal court struck down Idaho’s fetal pain law (enacted in 2010). So far, 11 states have fetal pain laws working their way through the courts.

3) Doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. Now, think about that for a minute. Suppose something goes wrong during a surgical abortion. The patient is rushed to a hospital emergency room and is treated regardless of whether the doctor has privileges or not. In fact, even if the doctor has privileges, it is unlikely he or she will be the one to treat the patient at the hospital. So why does it matter? (I mean other than to interfere in a woman’s right to reproductive choice.)

4) All patients seeking an abortion are required to have an ultrasound. The doctor must amplify the fetal heartbeat and show the image to the patient. Patients must wait 24 hours after an ultrasound before having an abortion. Now, if a doctor believes an ultrasound is necessary, then he or she can order one, but forcing a patient to have (and pay for) a procedure that is medically unnecessary belies an attitude that a lot of old, fat men in these sacred halls of power possess: Women don’t really understand what they’re doing and need to be helped along. This law is often proposed as a way of ensuring that women have all the “necessary information” to make a good choice and have time to wrap their pretty little heads around their decisions. It infantilizes women and it is insulting. The 24 hour waiting period just creates another barrier for poor women who must take extra time off work, pay for a hotel room or make two trips.

5) A doctor must be present for every procedure. We live in a world where we can use our phones to watch live streaming video from Mars. Telemedicine has been around for years. Doctors in nearly every other field of medicine use it without problems. Certainly doctors should be present for any surgical procedures, but if the patient is simply seeking a “medical” abortion (as opposed to a surgical abortion) then there is really no reason for a doctor to be in the room to watch the patient take a pill.

As an aside: our second child was born at a birthing center with a nurse practitioner/midwife and a doula. Carrying a baby to term is way more complicated and dangerous than a medical abortion, but we weren’t required to see a doctor at all during the 72 hours of labor.

So let’s stop pretending that this bill was about anything other than throwing up boundaries between a woman and her right to reproductive choice. I’d also point out that Texas’ fascination with the life of a fetus ends with birth. In the last few years they have cut funds for education, family planning, health insurance for children and nutrition programs. The legislature doesn’t care about children, only forcing women to give birth. More than 96 percent of Texas school districts teach abstinence-only sex education. Texas leads the nation in teen births and is fourth in teen pregnancy. Studies and surveys show that teenagers who are only taught abstinence are just as likely to have sex as other students, but were much more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy as a result. The entirety of Texas law in this area seems to be institutionalized punishment for women who have sex.

In a recent interview with the Texas Tribune, Gov. Perry was asked why, given the statistics, does Texas still favor abstinence-only education? He replied “Abstinence works… it is the best form to teach our children.” Gov. Perry turned down $4.4 million in federal dollars aimed at expanding sex ed in the state to include information on birth control and STIs. You know, to help reduce unwanted pregnancy and, by extension, abortions.

It’s seriously like Texas is one big episode of “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.” If you’ve ever seen the show, you’ll understand what I mean. The teenaged girls get married to teenaged boys. The mothers refuse to talk about sex with their daughters beforehand and the teenaged boys are suspicious of any gypsy girl who knows too much about sex before the wedding. The boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to have sex with non-gypsy girls so they’re all ready for the wedding night and it is all legitimized under a cloak of “tradition” when in reality it is a form of child abuse.

So what happens next? Well, for one thing, Rick Santorum is headed to Texas in case some of us weren’t aware of his views on abortion. The House will have a third reading of the bill (HB2) this week, then the Senate will pass it. It will be challenged in the courts and will be struck down. Perry has already announced he won’t run for another term. That’s probably a good idea since he’s lost the votes of a lot of women this month. Demographics are catching up with Texas and the fat, old men who believe they know better than a woman about what’s good for her will continue to demonstrate their ignorance and stupidity (I saw two people on Twitter post the same quote from a Texas rep: “An abortion is one of the most violent, terrible acts one man can do to another”) and eventually they’ll die off.

Can’t happen soon enough for the women of Texas.

I will say this for Texas, though. The reason I can get so worked up about it is because it was done in the light of day. Sure, it had to be done in a special session with different rules so the Republicans could ram it through, but by and large, it was done out in the open.

In North Carolina, Republicans took a bill to ban Sharia Law in the state (don’t get me started) and brought it to the floor with additional anti-abortion measures added, making this the most ironic bill to come out this year. It was a bill designed to ban Islamic law which is often used to subordinate women and it became a Christian bill designed to subordinate women. It is full of measures requiring abortion clinics to widen hallways and entrance awnings. You know, in the name of “safety.” Should the bill pass, all but one clinic in North Carolina would be forced to close.

In Ohio, Republicans added anti-abortion measures to the state budget, dumping the entire thing in Gov. Kasich’s lap. Kasich, who has the line-item veto, could have excised them, but instead he signed off. This new budget requires every woman seeking an abortion to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound (the state budget now requires a woman to be vaginally probed against her or her doctor’s will. When this came up in Virginia, opponents called it “State-sponsored rape“)

The budget also defunds Planned Parenthood, threatens jail terms and fines for any rape counselors receiving state funds to offer information about abortion to rape victims, provides funding for “crisis pregnancy centers” which are criticized for giving false and misleading information to pregnant women and requires doctors performing abortions to read from a script to the patient (even if he or she doesn’t believe the information in the script is necessary or acurate).

And, in case you still think this is about the safety of woman, the state budget forbids public hospitals from admitting women who have complications as a result of abortion procedures. None of this was debated. It was simply added to the must-pass state budget.

I’ll finish this screed with this: Right after the Texas House passed the bill on the second reading, Twitter lit up with people on both sides. I read a bunch of Tweets and I knew better, but one struck me and I decided to engage:

Hobby Lobby and the “Abortion Mandate.”

hobby-lobbyStand back, kids, because I’m about to whip a little science on you.

Recently, I read this hand-wringing account of what’s happening to the poor owners of Hobby Lobby. Although it is never a good idea when it comes to these articles, I read down into the comments. I did this to see if there was any disagreement among the readers about the nature of this “tragedy.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here are the facts as I understand them:

The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, are reportedly devout, evangelical Christians. Shopping at Hobby Lobby makes this point very clear. But the Greens have always said they want their business to be run on Christian principles.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed, among the new regulations was a mandate that contraceptives be provided without a co-pay for employees. There were exceptions carved out for religious institutions and delays for religiously affiliated institutions, but if you’re just a regular company looking to make a profit (even if you adhere to biblical principles in your decision-making) you are required to provide contraceptive coverage in your health care plan.

The Greens didn’t like this and sued the federal government for emergency injunctive relief until this was all settled in the courts. The Supreme Court denied their request, so Hobby Lobby employees can get their contraceptives without a co-pay.

Or they would, except that the Greens have said they will defy the court order and pay the fines, which can total as much as $1.3 million per day.

That’s where the hand-wringing comes in.

The Greens claim that their religious freedom has been infringed upon because they are being forced to pay for abortions, which they believe is murder. The commenters mostly agreed except for a few who pointed out that an employer’s religious beliefs shouldn’t outweigh those of the employees’.

But I believe that’s the wrong argument (even though it is a valid one).

The argument should be over whether the contraception mandate is actually an abortion mandate. All through this article, the author refers to the “Obamacare abortion mandate.” The author claims this has nothing to do with contraceptives and that no one is trying to outlaw contraceptives (*cough* Santorum *cough*). They see it as unconscionable that a devout Christian can be forced to pay for his employee’s abortions.

To that point I can only say “Look at the science.”

When the Greens (and the author) talk about the abortion mandate, they are referring to “Plan B” or “emergency contraception” or “the morning after pill.” They and their ilk refer to these drugs as “abortifacients,” meaning they induce abortions.

But abortifacients aren’t a part of the contraceptive mandate. If you look at the HHS regulation, it says that insurance should cover “contraceptives” approved by the FDA. This list includes Plan B and emergency contraceptives, but neither of these drugs are abortifacients.

They simply aren’t. You may not like that fact. It may not jibe with what your minister or elected official tells you, but facts are facts.

If you are pregnant and you take either Plan B or emergency contraceptives, then the drugs have no affect. None. They don’t induce abortions in pregnant women. They can’t. They don’t work like that. They are classified as contraceptives because they prevent conception. Just because you happen to take them after sex doesn’t mean they are abortifacients and believing otherwise belies an ignorance of how one actually gets pregnant.

No one was making that point in the comments section and I wasn’t about to stick my hand in that particular hornet nest.

So, I say let Hobby Lobby pay all the fines it wants to. If it drives the company out of business, then they’ll serve as a cautionary tale for other business owners who want to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, based on bad science.

You can always buy your glue gun refills at Michaels, right?

Why I Stand With Planned Parenthood

I try to make a case for Planned Parenthood whenever I can. I follow them on Twitter, read their Facebook posts and get loud when I feel like the signal-to-noise ratio needs adjusting. They are a provider of plain old health care for a lot of women. These services and referrals are important to a many people who will never have an abortion.

[Interesting aside: While researching this bit, I was looking for an example in Texas where the closure of a PP clinic meant 130,000 women would have no access to regular preventative plain old health care. What I found was a headline that said: “Texas Planned Parenthood CEO busted for exposing self: cops” Without defending the guy who allegedly exposed himself in public, the headline is misleading. He’s CEO/Pres of the PP office in Lubbuck, not the entire state of Texas.]

None of this means anything to the pro-life conservatives. In their view, Planned Parenthood provides abortion services for women, so they must be shut down. To deviate from this view means more babies will die.

I was told that bringing up the non-abortion services was akin to saying Hilter was good to his dog. To an absolutist, Planned Parenthood is an evil, abortion factory in which the people who work there delight in the slaughter of innocent babies, which they will gladly do right up until your due date.

For money.

There is no arguing with people who believe their cause is righteous. There is no negotiation with absolutists. But the world is not full of absolutists. So I try to make a case for the reasonable people to understand.

My brother recently posted a story about Planned Parenthood under the headline “The Numbers Planned Parenthood Doesn’t Want You To See.” The headline is misleading, in that the article is a summary of numbers published in the Guttmacher Institute’s annual report, so there hasn’t been any effort to hide them.

The article stems from a widely reported statistic that only three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are for abortion. That other 97 percent? Evil by association. The federal government only funds that evil-by-association 97 percent, but the author has an interesting take on the numbers:

Planned Parenthood provided a total of 11,003,336 services (breast exams, birth control, STD and pregnancy tests, abortions, etc) to three million clients in 2010. 329,445 of those services were actual abortion procedures. That’s where the “3%” claim comes from. If we use Planned Parenthood’s logic, we can equate an invasive surgical abortion procedure to handing someone a condom. [emphasis in original]

So the three percent comes from the fact that abortion is three percent of what they do? How dare they! That 11 million services figure includes both the evil three and the evil-by-association 97. In other words, everything they do. You know what’s included in “everything?” Handing out condoms. And, for the sake of argument, what if they weren’t there handing out condoms? Seems like that would lead to more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions.

The article cites a comparison of the number of patients PP saw in 2010 (which is 3 million) to the number of patients getting an abortion (329,445). That’s just under 11 percent of PP patients receiving abortions. The author sees this as deceptive because . . . uh . . . 11 percent is bigger than three percent, I guess.

The next number  estimates how much money Planned Parenthood makes on abortions. The average out-of-pocket cost for a patient getting a surgical abortion is $451. Multiply that by 329,445 procedures and you get $148,579,695. Therefore, “Abortion is Planned Parenthood’s cash cow.”

I’ve read and heard many conservatives make the argument that people who work for Planned Parenthood just loooooooove killing babies. It’s their bread-and-butter and the reason they get up each morning. They whistle a happy tune thinking about how rich they’re getting off baby killing. It’s not like you can only be three percent evil, right? This is how they make their money, so why would they want to do less of it?

Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization. Most of their money comes from grants and donations. Much of what they are given comes with strings. For the federal government (and many states), a big string is that none of the money can fund abortions. So the patient has to bear some of the cost. Conservatives don’t want tax money funding abortions and then get mad when patients fund them because PP is charging money for abortions!

The people who work there do not get rich on government grants and abortions. They hand out condoms like candy to prevent pregnancy. They offer cheap or free contraceptives for the same reason. Why spend so much effort to prevent unwanted pregnancy if your goal is more abortions? Maybe because their goal is to protect the legal rights of women to get an abortion and provide a safe environment to do so. (In my head, I heard my conservative friends all say at once “It’s not a safe environment for the baby!” Which goes back to the old argument of when a zygote becomes a person).

The article continues by showing that PP provides 27.2 percent of abortions in the country, making it the largest provider of abortion services in the U.S. So nearly one in three women who seek abortions go to Planned Parenthood, a clinic that provides abortion services.

The next number compares the ratio between PP patients who are pregnant and PP patients who get an abortion.  It shows nine out of ten pregnant women who go to Planned Parenthood have an abortion. That’s a shame, in that there are so many unwanted pregnancies in this country. But there is nothing surprising about it. If you want to terminate a pregnancy, you go to a clinic that provides that service. The author suggests that PP is somehow counseling these women to abort so the clinic can make more money. It’s much more likely (9 in ten, remember?) that she’s there for an abortion because that’s the only place to go.

The argument they want to make is that 100 percent of pregnant women who go to Planned Parenthood aren’t really sure what they want, but PP staff manages to talk 90 percent of them into having an abortion. There is no evidence of that in the numbers, but when you believe everything about PP is evil, it isn’t hard to think they are capable of anything.

So let’s review: One in three women who seek an abortion go to Planned Parenthood. These women make up 90 percent of the pregnant patients there, but only 11 percent of the total patients PP sees. This 11 percent funds 17 percent of PP’s budget. None of this means anything to absolutists because Planned Parenthood provides abortion services.

In the last year, a bunch of states have proposed or enacted laws restricting access to abortion. These legislative and duly elected bodies believe it should be as  hard as possible for a woman and her doctor to talk freely about abortion, come to a decision about it, schedule the procedure and end the pregnancy.

So even though abortion is legal, these Republicans take it upon themselves to throw up as many obstacles as possible.  These usually fit into four categories:

1) Regulations that make it difficult to provide the service. 

These are called TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers). In Kansas, for example, the legislature created regulations that included the size of the janitorial closet at any clinic providing abortion services. They sent a letter giving the clinics two weeks to comply with these new codes or shut down.

2) Regulations that shame or punish the woman in the guise of helping her make an “informed choice.”

This includes waiting periods to give women a chance to think about what they’re doing. Because you know they haven’t thought about it before they got there.

This also includes mandatory scripts your doctor must read to you. These usually contain medically questionable or false information about abortion that your doctor doesn’t believe, but the state wants you to hear anyway.

There are laws dictating medically unnecessary and sometimes invasive procedures be performed on the woman before she can have an abortion. In Texas, this includes forcing the woman to pay to have a probe inserted into her vagina and being forced to look at an ultrasound image. This was almost the case in Virginia too, but the governor got scared and changed the bill. Instead, the woman can choose which kind of medically unnecessary ultrasound she pays for.

As the argument goes, if you’re a woman seeking an abortion, you need to make an informed choice. To do that, you need misinformation parroted through your doctor, a  medically unnecessary procedures that you must pay for and a waiting period so you can think about what you’ve seen, heard and felt that day.

Because there is no way you’ve thought this thing through before you got there, right?

In Arizona, the state senate passed a bill saying it was legal for a doctor not to tell the woman something medically relevant (a lie of omission) if it means the woman won’t get an abortion. So it isn’t enough to lie to the woman, you also need to withhold the truth. You know, so you can make an informed decision.

3) Cut off funding of organizations that provide the service.

No federal funding goes to the evil three percent, just the evil-by-association 97 percent that’s plain old health care. Regardless, Republicans are working to completely divest the federal government from Planned Parenthood. The 89 percent of PP’s patients that have no interest in abortion can go pound sand, I guess.

“But that federal money frees up other funds that can be used to subsidize abortion.” “No tax dollars should go to any organization that provides abortions.” Sorry 89 percent of patients at Planned Parenthood, but the 11 percent of evil ones are ruining it for everyone.

See, conservatives are worried about taint. Money spent on Planned Parenthood is tainted. Money spent by PP patients is tainted. People who go to PP for services other than abortion are tainted because too many conservatives don’t believe that PP is providing any services other than abortion.

4) Spread misinformation about Planned Parenthood.

Conservatives have a lot of “facts” to spout about Planned Parenthood. Here are some I’ve encountered.

“If you support Planned Parenthood, you’re a racist.”

I had one friend call me a racist for supporting Planned Parenthood because the purpose of PP is to kill black babies. “That’s their founding mission,” he said. This stems from the writings of Margaret Sanger, an early advocate of family planning and founder of an organization that was later folded into what we now call Planned Parenthood. In the early 1900s she advocated voluntary sterilization of people who were incapable of producing a healthy child. Culling out the bad genes in the pool through sterilization is called eugenics. During that same time, the leading voices in eugenics advocated using it to ensure racial purity or other long-since discredited nonsense. Though Sanger never advocated this aspect of eugenics, she’s nonetheless lumped in with the racists. Therefore, Planned Parenthood wants to kill black babies and I’m a racist for supporting them.

“They are an abortion factory that doesn’t really provide health care for women.” 

On April 8, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said on the Senate floor that abortion is “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” We know from reviewing the numbers that this isn’t true. Kyl’s office released a statement later that day saying “‘his remark was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, a organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions.” In other words, sure he was lying but he wanted to draw attention to something you may not have known: Planned Parenthood offers abortion services.

“Abortion causes breast cancer.”

This is a favorite of the right. It’s usually included in those mandatory scripts doctors are forced to read to patients. It isn’t true, in that there has never been a study that proves a causal link between abortion and breast cancer. They weasel the argument by saying carrying the baby to term can lower the risk of breast cancer. See how that works?

“The baby can feel pain even in the first trimester.”

Nope. Fetal cells might react to trauma, but to feel pain, you have to have a neocortex. That doesn’t happen until early in the third trimester.

“Emergency contraception causes abortions.”

I’ve covered that more thoroughly here, but basically no. No it doesn’t. It prevents pregnancy, it doesn’t end one. If you’re pregnant when you take emergency contraception, it has no effect.

“You just want to increase the number of abortions.”

I’m not pro-abortion. I’m really not. But I am pro-woman, pro-health care, pro-contraception and pro-sex education. I’m pro-choice and believe that a decision as solemn as ending a pregnancy should be made between a doctor and patient. I once asked in a conservative forum what gave them the right to get between a woman and her doctor. The response was predictable. “Anyone with a conscience has the right to stop a woman from killing her baby.”

Like I said, there is no arguing with absolutists. You can’t argue the line between fetus and baby. You can’t argue with someone who believes a clump of cells the size of the period at the end of this sentence is a human.

I stand with Planned Parenthood because I believe the forces against them have no respect for the rights of the women. They believe their religious objections should trump any right to privacy and that they know better than the woman if she’s capable of raising a child. These are the same people who want abstinence-only education in schools and to ban contraception, regardless of the fact that comprehensive sex education and access to birth control leads to fewer abortions.

“I don’t want fewer. I want none.” You cannot argue or negotiate with absolutists.

On contraception and old, white men…

As a close observer of politics, I know there are certain rules you follow. One of them is when the economy is bad, run on the economy. Right now, our economy is improving, and while Mitt Romney still wants to run on it, his message that “President Obama has made things worse” doesn’t ring true when unemployment has dropped for eight straight months and the stock market is at the highest it’s been in years.

When you can’t run against the economy, you need a good, old-fashioned wedge issue. The default setting for the GOP is some combination of the three Gs: God, guns and gays. Enter the contraception controversy.

The Obama administration established a rule that says employers who provide health insurance should include in that coverage FDA-approved contraception for women as part of their comprehensive health care. The rule said if you are church, you are exempt, but the insurance companies must reach out to women and provide that coverage free of charge.

It is a reasonable rule. So what are the arguments being put forth against it?

It is a violation of religious freedom.

The argument goes something like this: My religious beliefs say contraception is a sin. Forcing me to offer contraceptive coverage for my employees also forces me to choose between obeying the law or obeying my religion. The government has no right to put me in that position.

No one is forced to use contraception as part of this rule. If an employee has an objection to contraception, so be it. But to have an employer take that choice away based on his or her religious beliefs violates the First Amendment rights of the employee, doesn’t it?

I made this point recently during a Facebook discussion with a very conservative friend of mine. He countered that being forced to provide contraception coverage was akin to leading employees to sin, which is in itself a sin (and a very serious one).

Let me reiterate that religious institutions are exempt from this rule, so what we’re talking about here (for the moment) are religiously affiliated organizations such as Catholic hospitals and universities. I’m not aware of any university presidents or hospital administrators who assume an obligation to safeguard the moral character of employees in any other aspect of their lives. So why single out women and contraception? When you take a job, do you give up your rights to make those decisions for yourself?

Frankly, it is arrogant to believe that just because you sign the paychecks, you have the right to make health decisions for the people who work for you. Health insurance is part of an employee’s compensation package. In exchange for labor, you get the benefit. Does this obligation to safeguard the morality of your employees extend to governing how they spend their time away from work? Or how they spend the money they earn? Of course not. So why does it give you the right to get between a woman and her doctor?

And what about other medical procedures that can cause infertility, such as a vasectomy or even chemotherapy? Should an employer be allowed to opt out of covering those as well?

Ask yourself this question: Why should the religion of an employer somehow trump the religion (or lack thereof) of the women who work for him? This leads to the next argument.

Why should I pay for someone else’s birth control? 

I love this one because it’s an economic argument and it can easily be countered with economic facts. Insurance companies have no problem providing contraception for women because pregnancies are expensive. Pre-natal care is expensive. Giving birth is expensive. Well-baby visits and vaccinations are expensive. Providing coverage for a brood of children is expensive.

When you consider how much an insurance company has to pay to cover a pregnancy, birth and healthcare for the child; birth control pills are a bargain. That’s why, during all this brouhaha, we haven’t seen congressional hearings of angry insurance executives screaming about government mandates. It is cheaper to provide this coverage, than to cover all the babies that occur when women don’t have control over their reproductive health.

That seems to be a real sticking point with the old, white men of the Congress. Why should birth control pills be covered anyway? It’s not like they’re necessary for health. They’re just for women who want to have sex without consequences. Rush Limbaugh made that point this week when he called Sandra Fluke (one of the women who was not allowed to testify before Rep. Issa’s committee on this subject) a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she wanted the taxpayer to pay for her contraception. Rush suggested that if he was going to have to pay for her birth control, she should be forced to post sex tapes online so he could get something out of it.

(BTW, his sponsors are Century 21, Quicken Loans, Legal Zoom, and Sleep Number)

I might buy into the why-should-I-pay-for-your-pills argument, but for two points: 1) contraception is often used for medical purposes other than preventing pregnancy and 2) Viagra, which is covered by health insurance, is used almost exclusively to allow men to have more sex.

Contraception is abortion.

Here is where we get down to brass tacks. There are those who believe that life begins when an egg is fertilized. Therefore, hormonal birth control, emergency contraception and Plan B are actually abortion pills. Abortion is murder. The government shouldn’t make me murder babies.

That’s a rough argument to try to counter because if someone is making it, you know there are no facts that will move them off of that position. But there are a couple of points you can make which, if they are honest, should get them to consider where that line really is.

It takes somewhere around nine days for a fertilized egg to travel to the uterus and embed in the wall. For those nine days there is no difference between the cells that will eventually become a child and the ones that will eventually become the afterbirth. If you believe that an unattached fertilized egg is a baby (and there are plenty of old, white men who do, hence the failed attempts at so-called “personhood” laws in Mississippi and Oklahoma). Then you have to believe in the sacred nature of the afterbirth. To argue that once the fetus and the amniotic sack become differentiated one is no longer sacred, implies that somehow that fertilized egg wasn’t entirely sacred to begin with. At the very least, there is a line and the philosophical geography of it is open to interpretation.

That’s the trouble with an absolute stance. It leaves to no wiggle room for new information.

The rule says coverage of contraception must be for FDA-approved methods. Right-wingers like to throw around the term “abortifacient” to describe emergency contraception (and some forms of hormonal birth control). But the truth is that the FDA has not approved any abortifacient drugs. Emergency contraception do not terminate a pregnancy.

There are three ways that the various brands of emergency contraception work: they prevent the ovary from releasing an egg,  they thicken the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg, or they thin the walls of the uterus so a fertilized egg cannot attach. If a woman is actually pregnant (meaning a fertilized egg is attached to the uterus), these drugs will have no effect on her.

True abortifacients will terminate a pregnancy. That’s why they’re called abortifacients.

Not that the facts matter. I call your attention to the House Energy and Commerce Committee which, for some reason, held a hearing today in which HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified. Sebelius explained what I’ve just said: that there are no FDA-approved abortifacient drugs.

Rep. Tim Murphy (another old, white man) called her a liar, saying the morning-after pill was an abortifacient drug. Sebelius said no, it was a contraceptive drug that would not interfere with actual pregnancy. Murphy said that was just her interpretation. Sebelius said no, that was the interpretation of doctors and scientists. Murphy said he wasn’t interested in science, he was interested in religious belief.

Why have a hearing if you’re just going to dismiss the testimony of your witness in favor of your own religious beliefs? A drug that prevents pregnancy is not the same as a drug that terminates pregnancy. It just isn’t.

Today, the Senate voted to table an amendment to the transportation bill that would have allowed any employer, who had a moral objection to any preventative health care procedure, to drop that coverage from health insurance provided to employees. Now we’re no longer talking about churches or religious-affiliated institutions. We’re talking about the guy who owns the local Arby’s, saying his religion should trump that of his minimum wage staff.

If the owner has a moral objection to your lifestyle, then maybe you can’t get coverage for your diabetes.

Or AIDS.

Or psychotropics.

Or antidepressants.

Or blood transfusions.

Republicans scream that forcing an employer to cover contraception is an affront to religious freedoms, but the Blunt Amendment would have codified that the boss’s religion is more important than the employee’s. We are all fortunate that it failed. I’ll never understand why a party that claims to be for smaller government, wants to wedge not only itself between you and your doctor, but now your boss as well.

If I weren’t so charitable, I might think this was some sort of effort to shame women for having sex. Republicans want to punish women for having a sex life that doesn’t include popping out another unit every nine months. Rep. Issa didn’t want to hear from women during his committee meeting, just old, white men (and one old black guy). Rep. Murphy didn’t want to hear from Sec. Sebelius and her scientific facts. He wanted to hear from old, white men.

The Republicans have chosen their wedge issue for the time being and I’m kind of glad they chose this one. Women are more than half the population and I’ve got to believe that most of them won’t stand for this condescending half wittery dressed up as righteousness.  I stand with the women who don’t want to go back to a time when they were seen as property to be led about and have their decisions made for them. I trust women to make their own choices when it comes to their health, just as each and every old, white man in Congress gets to do.

Arizona is Racist and Oklahoma Hates Women

That’s the only conclusion I can come up with to understand two pieces of legislation that became law this month. In Arizona, the governor signed a law that states the police can stop anyone and ask them to prove they are in the country legally. On the surface, that would seem to be a license to harass brown people and with Arizona sharing a border with Mexico, that’s exactly to whom the law was aimed.

The governor said the law will not institutionalize racial profiling because the law says race can’t be the only factor in deciding to stop someone. When pressed to determine what other criteria the police should use (the question being “What does and illegal look like?”) the governor said she didn’t know.

I guess the cops will just know it when they see it.

The governor also said she didn’t believe the law would have an economic impact on the state. Boycotts from around the country as well as a travel advisory from the Mexican government warning citizens not to visit Arizona say otherwise. Some of the Arizona border towns depend on the commerce of Mexicans who cross the border to buy groceries and other goods.

Protesters are showing up at the Arizona Diamondbacks games. The MLB All Star Game is slated for Phoenix this year. I wonder if it will actually happen.

Years ago, the Arizona voted to rescind its observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday as a holiday. In response, they lost the SuperBowl. The next year, they voted to observe MLK day. I’m thinking the economic pain will change some hearts and minds.

I’ve seen reports that the mayor of Phoenix as well as some local sheriffs have decreed they will not enforce the new law. But there is a stupid (very stupid) clause in the law which says any citizen can sue the police if they do not enforce the law.

Unbelievable. It’s like they’re mainlining stupid sauce.

Then there is Oklahoma. The legislature just passed a bill that says doctors who decide not to tell a pregnant woman that her unborn child has a birth defect can’t be sued. Now picture that for a minute, all you tea baggers, libertarians, small government protesters and economic conservatives. In Oklahoma, a doctor can lie to a patient about her child without consequences.

Unbelievable. The governor vetoed the bill, by the way, but the legislature voted to override the veto.

So, if you’re a pregnant woman in Oklahoma, you can no longer trust that your doctor is telling you the truth. If he thinks bad news might lead to you seeking an abortion, he can lie to your face. But, for one second, take abortion out of the equation. Suppose you’re a pro-life pregnant woman. Your doctor tells you that everything is just fine, even though it isn’t. Even if the baby wouldn’t live more than an hour or so after birth, you’d carry it to term and then grieve. What you don’t want is for it to be a surprise.

Or suppose your baby will live, but will have special needs. You need to prepare for that. You need that information.

This law is bad legislating, bad public policy and bad medicine. A bunch of shit-kicker politicians have decided that they know what’s best for women in Oklahoma. I weep for them.