If I had a rocket launcher

16 08 2015

Excuse me for the all-caps but:


Voices carry

9 08 2015

Katha Pollitt ain’t wrong:

We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary.

The problem, however, is that a large chunk of the American population, male and female, is not comfortable with the notion that women have sex, and that sometimes as a result of having sex, have abortions that they do not regret.

Even some of those who don’t want abortion outlawed do want women to feel bad—both for having sex “irresponsibly” and for ducking their responsibility by having an abortion.

When we gloss over these truths [about voluntary motherhood] we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat. What, you didn’t agonize? You forgot your pill? You just didn’t want to have a baby now? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Pollitt wants women who’ve had abortions—and the men who’ve supported them—to speak up, and yes, sister, I’m right there with you.

It is understandable that women who have ended pregnancies just wanted to move on. Why should they define themselves publicly by one private decision, perhaps made long ago? I’ll tell you why: because the pro-choice movement cannot flourish if the mass of women it serves — that one in three — look on as if the struggle has nothing to do with them. Without the voices and support of millions of ordinary women behind them, providers and advocates can be too easily dismissed as ideologues out of touch with the American people.

I’d love for such a speak-out movement to work to blunt bill after proposed bill after proposed bill designed to deter women from accessing the clinic those bills’ sponsors are trying to harass out of existence, I really would, but I am dubious.

After all, this is a country in which most adults use contraceptives and yet the notion of contraceptive coverage is “controversial”.

Okay, it’s not, really, not as a general matter, but as a policy issue, even programs which provably help lower the incidence of unwanted pregnancy are in jeopardy.

(There are any number of reasons for the success of what could perhaps be called anti-sex bills, including the everlasting desire to control women’s sex lives, but apart from any ideological reasons is the plain fact that there are no obvious consequences for passing such bills—not to the legislators, at least.

Unwanted pregnancies carry all sorts of social costs, of course, but these tend to be spread (however thinly) across the general population; the acute burdens are, of course, carried by those who legislators deem should be so burdened.

And any woman who complains? Well, that’s what she gets for having sex.)

In any case, I propose that, in addition to Pollitt’s speak-out movement, those of us who favor abortion rights start talking, loudly, about just what kinds of consequences antiabortion legislators have in store for women who seek illegal abortions.

So you want to outlaw abortion?

This makes me sound like a maniac, I know: this could never happen! But it could, and it does.

So let’s ask all of those who want outlaw abortion exactly how they mean to enforce these laws, and what will the consequences be for women who run afoul of them.

Such an approach may not make any difference, but thus far it’s been too easy for antiabortion legislators to duck out of the consequences of their actions.

Let’s make it hard for them.

You want to outlaw abortion? Over a million women a year get abortions. How do you stop the abortions without stopping the women?

Woman please let me explain

1 08 2015

Former governor and never-president Mike Huckabee’s recent discourse on Iran, the president, and “march[ing Israelis] to the door of the oven” led Ed Kilgore to consider how much Pastor Mike like’s his  Holocaust analogies.

. . . . Fact is, Mike Huckabee has a remarkably intimate relationship with the Holocaust as he sees it, and has been prone to violating the unwritten rule against Holocaust analogies for years. For one thing, he is one of many anti-choice politicians and activists who cannot resist the temptation of analogizing legalized abortion to the Holocaust. There was the incident from back in 2007, during a speech at a pro-life event, when he referred to the deaths of 45 to 50 million unborn babies from abortion as a holocaust—and then connected those deaths to the country’s worker shortage.

Comparing the number of fetuses killed in the US since 1973 to the Holocaust is not uncommon among pro-lifers although the usual reference is to “a holocaust” than “the Holocaust”. Kilgore notes that Huckabee, however, has no problems equating abortion to Auschwitz, as he did in 2014:

If you felt something incredibly powerful at Auschwitz and Birkenau over the 11 million killed worldwide and the 1.5 million killed on those grounds, cannot we feel something extraordinary about 55 million murdered in our own country in the wombs of their mothers?

One of the problems with this analogy (in addition to all of the other problems) is the logical extension of this kind of thinking: women who have abortions are Nazis.

Oh, I know, Huckabee and the rest want us to think of Planned Parenthood and all of the rest of the “abortionists” as Nazis, and maybe to throw some shame on the rest of us as Good Germans, but if you think, as Huckabee apparently did in 2013, that a woman’s uterus “has become one of the most dangerous places for a baby to be”, then how can you avoid the conclusion that it is the women who endanger those babies?

It is the women, after all, who drive to the clinic, who walk into the office, who ask a doctor to perform an abortion, and who climb on to the table so that it may be done.

They are the one’s ordering the destruction of their children; the doctors are the ones simply following those orders.

Of course, that’s far too harsh a rhetoric to float in prime time; at most, perhaps, the women could be compared to sonderkommandos: victims themselves, if not wholly innocent.

That is the bind of the pro-life argument-by-Holocaust analogy: what to do with the women.

Which is not so far from the bind of the pro-life argument in general.


h/t Sarah Posner

Same as it ever was

26 07 2015

Medical research is gross.

No, wait, scratch that: biological research is gross.

There’s blood, and guts, and sawed-through bones. There are transgenic creatures, creatures which have been induced to glow, and shall we discuss fecal transplants?

Terribly useful, yes. But also gross.

And you’ve all seen the photo of the mouse with the ear on its back, right? Mother Jones helpfully compiled a list of weird experiments with mice, and while the naked ear-ed mouse doesn’t bother me, I cannot look at that last picture.

I just, I can’t, and you can’t make me. (This is me squinching my eyes tight.)

I find it profoundly disturbing.

So, on some level, I can empathize with those who are profoundly disturbed that Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue for research. It sounds terrible.

Of course, much of the uproar deals with the alleged sale of said tissues and organs—an act which, if true, would be terribly illegal—but there is little evidence to indicate that Planned Parenthood has or does sell tissue.

They do charge for storage and maintenance, which fees are quite legal. The whole business is quite legal.

See Public Law 103-43, passed into law in June, 1993, in particular, Part 498A (a):

(1) IN GENERAL – The Secretary may conduct or support research on the transplantation of human fetal tissue for therapeutic purposes.

(2) SOURCE OF TISSUE – Human fetal tissue may be used in research carried out under paragraph (1) regardless of whether the tissue is obtained pursuant to a spontaneous or induced abortion or pursuant to a stillbirth.

There are important sections on the conditions of a licit donation, auditing of procedures, research and state law, and then:


(a) PURCHASE OF TISSUE– It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce.

Some statutes can be written in such a way as to obscure their meanings, but this one is not: fetal tissue sales are illegal.

(In fact, the sale of any human organ or tissue (with the exceptions of gametes, blood, and plasma) are illegal in the United State; only Iran (currently) has a legalized organ trade. It is a matter of serious ethical debate whether such sales should be allowed, but, again, under the current Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, they are prohibited.)

But what of the prices discussed? Scroll down to subsection

(d) DEFINITIONS – For purposes of this section:

. . .(3) The term valuable consideration’ does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.’.

Et voilà: charging for fetal tissue is not illegal.

Again, this might be disturbing to those who are generally unaware of how biomedical research is conducted in this country (or around the world), or of the bloodiness of medical practice generally.

Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN and pain specialist, responded bluntly to the alleged wrongs revealed in that Center for Medical Progress sting video:

Hearing medical professionals talk casually about products of conception may seem distasteful to some, but not to doctors. Medical procedures are gory by nature. Surgeons routinely cut skin, saw bones, and lift the uterus out of the abdominal cavity and then put it back in. We stick our hands inside people and it is messy. We handle broken limbs, rotting flesh, and cancers that smell. We talk about this calmly because this is what we are trained to do. It doesn’t mean that we are heartless; it means we are professionals and this is our norm for a clinical conversation. There is no reason a conversation about products of conception requires more or less reverence than one about a kidney or a biopsy specimen.


Hearing medical professionals negotiate with a private buyer over the price for collecting tissue may also seem distasteful, but there is indeed an expense involved for the donor (in this case, Planned Parenthood). FactCheck.org contacted several researchers who work with human tissue, and the price range mentioned in the videos—$30 to $100 per patient—is on the low end. “There’s no way there’s a profit at that price,” Sherilyn J. Sawyer, the director of Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Biorepository, told the website.

Again, anyone could reasonably be put off by all of this, just as anyone outside of a particular field may be put off by the behaviors and standards of those in the field. I don’t want to see what happens in even an humane slaughterhouse, and I regularly avert my eyes (when not otherwise avoiding) depictions of animals being killed. I find it distressing.

But just because it is distressing does not mean it’s unethical. Some proponents of the “yuck factor” theory of ethics believe that our reactions of distress and disgust can be signals of a deeper moral response, but I think it more a matter of unfamiliarity and cultural taboo, and thus a rather unsteady guide to moral behavior.

In other words, insofar as I accept that biomedical research and medical treatment are in general both good, and that such practices depend at least in part on research on human body parts, I accept that something that sounds terrible—legal trade in human body parts—may not be terrible.

That said, I do think the tissue market as it currently exists, legal though it may be, is also problematic, largely because it pushes the process of commodification ever further into our bodies. That tissue banks aren’t always upfront about the destination of donated tissues, e.g., that skin may be used for a cosmetic surgery rather than burn patient only adds to the murk of this market.

Most of those reacting strongly to the discussion in the video, however, are less concerned about the legal tissue market (and in fact are convinced that Planned Parenthood is breaking the law) than that this somehow reveals something extra-unsavory about both Planned Parenthood and abortion.

They don’t want to overturn PL 103-43 or the UAGA, aren’t calling for changes to the regulation of the tissue markets, or going undercover at tissue banks. They aren’t concerned about how gross it is to skin a cadaver.

No, this is about abortion, not fetal tissue, not alleged illegal activity, but about how abortion in general and Planned Parenthood in particular are terrible.

In other words, while the issue of fetal tissue donation may be new to some, the message overall is same as it ever was.


Also worth reading: James F. Childress on the Human Fetal Transplantation Research Panel of 1988. It was the report of this panel which provided the ethical argument in favor of research using fetal tissue.

All your bodies are belong to us

16 10 2014


h/t Kaili Joy Gray, Wonkette; shortformblog

I’m only human, of flesh and blood I’m made

15 10 2014

I haven’t read the book, but do you really think that would stop me from commenting on it?

I have a PhD, y’know, which means I am more-than-well-qualified to talk about an argument on which I have not laid eyes. After all, who but PhDs would have come up with the whole I haven’t read it, but I’ve read of it gambit?

Anyway, Katha Pollitt has a new book out—Pro—in she argues that those of us in favor of abortion rights should stop apologizing about our support and “reclaim the lives and the rights of women and mothers.”

As you would expect from someone who has written on this issue ad nauseam, I can only respond Right on! Right the fuck on!

The other day I noted that stories are unlikely to work the same kind of magic in swaying people toward a pro-choice position that they did in gay marriage; perhaps the, or at least a, solution, then, is simply to drop the stories, assert the right, and not budge.

I like how Hanna Rosin handled this in her review of Pro:

I had an abortion. I was not in a libertine college-girl phase, although frankly it’s none of your business. [. . .]

I start the story this way because Katha Pollitt, author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, would want it this way. In fact any woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion, or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and do the same thing, until there are so many accounts that the statement loses its shock value. Because frankly, in 2014, it should be no big deal that in a movie a young woman has an abortion and it’s no big deal. We shouldn’t need a book explaining why abortion rights are important. We should be over that by now.

Yes: simply state, Yeah, I had an abortion, what of it?

I haven’t, by the way, had an abortion (although frankly it’s none of your business. . . ) and likely never will: I’ve never been pregnant, and, given my age, never will be. But had I gotten knocked up, I almost-certainly would have been clinic-bound.

In any case, being nice, being sorry, being afraid to make the political case of the necessity of abortion for women’s liberation has gotten us bupkes—no, worse, has gotten us fewer clinics, longer waiting times, and, unfuckingbelievably, a pushback against contraception.

Contraception! The “responsible” choice (as opposed to the irresponsible abortion) has now been hectored into the status of “controversial” among corporate owners and politicians alike.

Well, fuck that.

Ta-Nahisi Coates has been arguing of late that attempts to be “responsible Negroes” have black people little more than jail time, beat-downs, and death. He’s not arguing against responsibility per se, but against the double-bind that black people must be responsible in ways over-and-above the ways  any [white] human beings must be responsible and that, too often, such Negro-respectability offers no protection whatsoever.

Trying to be “respectable” or “responsible” on sex and birth control and abortion hasn’t done much to secure women’s rights, so maybe now it’s past time to try something new: the assertion—without apology, without permission—of our full humanity.

That’s no guarantee of success, of course, but it will make damn clear what the stakes are.


h/t Scott Lemieux, Lawyers, Guns & Money (click link for more reviews by people who actually read the book!)

Stories for boys

7 10 2014

Why is gay marriage gaining and abortion rights losing?

Paul Constant at the Stranger suggests its down to men: they don’t get abortions, so they can fill their own minds with their own views of the slutty whores who irresponsibly seek to evade responsibility for their whorish slutty irresponsible sex.

Gays and lesbians, on the other hand, have fought and marched and partied and litigated (and, unfortunately, died) their way into public consciousness as human beings deserving of the same rights as all other human beings.

There’s something to this. ‘Coming out’ is not just a personal affirmation, but a political statement, as is the chant we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. Visibility matters in politics, especially visibility without compromise: as Arendt and Biko and Malcolm X noted, the oppressed must demand recognition as they are—Jewish or black or queer—and not merely ask to be allowed to assimilate.

We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.

That attitude underlay even the most anodyne of marriage equality ads, the ones featuring couples who’d been together for decades, who are raising children and puppies, who want only to love and care for their beloveds, til death do they part.  These ads were oft-accompanied by gentle music and soft focus, but the insistence remained: we are human beings who want to be treated as human beings.

That’s a tough message for the anti-same-sex-marriage folks to counter, which they themselves knew. It’s not enough to talk about stories or the nice couple next door, they said, we have to talk about principles! and preserving marriage! and the children! don’t forget the children! and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The fear of gay marriage worked only so long as homosexuality was a threat; once straight people got to know actual homosexual people, however, the abstraction couldn’t hold. The human story won.

Abortion rights don’t lend themselves so easily to such humanizing stories, however, and don’t end in thrown bouquets and candlelit dances. There are plenty of abortion stories to tell, which are being told, but they don’t follow the same arc as that toward marriage-equality.

There are all kinds of reasons for that difference, but a big one involves sex: marriage-equality folks rightly focused on love and commitment and fairness, on romance and weddings and families, and most definitely not on same-sex sex.

(Again, this is completely understandable: queer folk, especially queer men, have long sought to be seen as more than just sex machines, and as folks who just want what everyone else has. It thus made sense to omit from the ads & campaign speeches that a big thing most everyone has is sex.)

But ain’t no way to talk about abortion without talking about sex, and, unlike marriage, abortion isn’t seen as containing or domesticating sex, but the opposite; it is often seen, even among some who call themselves pro-choice, as enabling irresponsible sex.

By women, I mean. Of course, it is women who have irresponsible sex.

And so abortion gets caught up in all of our weirdness about women and sex and what counts as responsible and what should be the consequences and who should be the judge and wouldn’t you know it, none of that is as happy as the story of Caroline and Anita getting married after 50 years together or Jamal and Keith’s five kids dancing at their wedding.

I get what Constant is saying about the necessity of stories, but on abortion, I gotta side with the SSM opponents: “putting a face on the issue” isn’t enough.


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