Political Flavors

In Which We Fight Ignorance About Microaggressions

Posted in Podcast Episodes on November 10th, 2015

Are you on the edge of your seat waiting for episode three of Feminist Coffee Hour? (Coming very soon, on Thursday!) Listen to Karen and Elizabeth on “In Which We Reveal Our Ignorance” where we discuss microaggressions with Stephen, Sam and Mike.

If You Can’t Explain How You Would Enforce An Abortion Ban, Don’t Propose One

Posted in Editorials on October 19th, 2015

A while back I wrote about how anti choicers want abortion to be illegal and seem to equate this with abortion not existing. When you press them on how exactly this would work, they have nothing. Recently I engaged with a pro lifer on the comments section of a Patheos blog and I want to repost our conversation to further illustrate this point. Even someone who seems to have compassion for women can’t explain how an abortion ban would stop abortions.

I noticed a woman posting in the comments of this post and I asked her:

Would you please explain what the law should be regarding abortion? I am pro choice, and I am also a policy wonk, and I do not understand how we could make abortion illegal without for example, legislating mandatory regular pregnancy tests and police investigations of miscarriages. I have written about the logistical problems with an abortion ban and I would love to know your thoughts.

She Answered:

So, my political views are somewhat two-fold. There is what we can be doing right now, and there is what we can be doing in other, let’s say, more advanced circumstances. If you want to boil it all down, yes, the end game is that I would like to see a society that bans abortion at any stage in most cases (but not all), but I think that is neither feasible, nor the priority at this point.

For the right now, there is a lot more that can be done to reduce abortions than what a ban would accomplish. The number one reason why women abort is due to financial reasons. As such, I support progressive policies such as a single payer healthcare system, guaranteed paid maternal and paternal leave, living wages, paid time off for family leave. Tangentially, we need to put more money and care into our adoption and foster care system. We need to make it easier for mothers who would not even be thinking abortion if they felt that adoption was actually a viable option – not just some pie in the sky so-called-option. We need to make it easier for parents to adopt, by increasing ranks of social workers who can do background checks on them, and provide post adoption follow up services.

And we need to do a lot better on the preventative side of things. We need a no apologies diversified stance to sex education. If you are an accredited middle or high school, even if you are catholic, you have to teach about sex-ed that includes birth control options and how to use them. We need to push down the cost of things like IUDs and the pill, and for those who want it, sterilization. And we need to make them fabulously easy to get these things. Again, I see progressive policies as heading in that direction.

I’m sure we can agree pretty well on these first steps, but they are important, and I think they are intrinsic to any ban that is going to both reflect and guide a culture that values all stages of human life, thus being more sustainable. If there aren’t many other, easy options for women (and their men), any ban will be received as well as Roe v Wade has – that is, you’ll get your predictable split of public opinion. Black and white policies usually result in outlier horror stories, be them testimonies of people who survived being aborted, or the horror stories of women whose hospital policies resulted in them not providing them with the medically needed abortion they required to survive.

What is the next step? Probably a 20 week ban*. Let me be clear, this does not reflect what I see as the morality of abortion. I don’t see a huge distinction between 5 minutes before birth versus 5 minutes after – I similarly see no distinction between 5 minutes before 20 weeks and 5 minutes after It is still a tragedy. But from a policy stand point, this does two things. It gets us used to the idea of abortion bans without completely cutting off the option. At that point, women will have known they’ve been pregnant for at least a couple of weeks, so they still have an opportunity to have an abortion at that point. Again, this is a stepping stone. (I’m a big fan of adaptive management as well. Policy doesn’t do adaptive management very well, which is why doing things in steps like this is needed. Implement less strict policy, check out your results, and the next round, you can make adjustments to address the issues of the last round)

*Two caveats to this. First, that while I see the time frame for abortion as being slowly constricted as society finds other ways to avoid or deal with unwanted pregnancy, life of the mother is not up for grabs. A rape exemption, due to the mental self-defense that an abortion could provide a victimized woman, is also something that should be set in stone. Second, I’d want to see this legislation being passed with a rider bill that ensures it is not difficult to obtain abortions within the legal limit. This would include things like ensuring that women didn’t have to travel far (perhaps even compelling hospitals that receive state funding to provide such services or stop receiving funding/ setting up a fund for public clinics for such services where there are none). What? You might say, this seems to be an expansion of abortion, not a reduction! But this is part of the end goal. Acknowledging that there will be times when, sad though it may be, a tragedy to that unborn person though it may be, is required medically or psychologically, I do want to make sure that if it must happen, it happens as safely, as easily, and as much without distress as possible – as I feel about any medical procedure. This will, I think, help the pro-life side of the country come to terms with that idea that sometimes, abortion is the best course. They’ll be seeing a reduction of abortions, particularly later term abortions, and see this as progress on their end too. Eventually, you’d get to a full on ban, and when that happens, you won’t accidentally have a Savita because the infrastructure is there and hospitals will know that not providing services could mean the end of their tenure.

As far as the nuts and bolts go, I don’t see any need to be monitoring women’s fertility. We’re banning abortions, not banning women not being pregnant. And I don’t see prosecuting a woman as effective policy. We don’t assume there has been a murder unless there is evidence that there has been a murder. We don’t go checking in on people, invading their houses to look for dead bodies. Why would we assume there has been an abortion without evidence that there has been an abortion? Additionally, it won’t be effective at enacting a cultural shift to one that values people at any stage if we’ve got some police state going on. In the environmental world, I’ve seen that for policy, the more moving parts, generally, the harder it is to keep track, and the point of service, in this regard, is not the woman, but the abortionist.

So, be it stage one, all the way through to a full ban, how would women who required a medically needed abortion get one? Or who were victims of rape? Let’s keep it to one vector. Doctors can become certified (perhaps a special kind of certification probably following coursework in ethics, as well as what they’ve probably already studied at that point in gynecology, perhaps psychology, etc, that maybe they need to take refresher courses on every couple of years) to offer a legal medical opinion. Any hospital or clinic that offers abortion services has to have at least one of these housed, and they are not paid by the abortion provider, but by a separate fund set up by the gvt. Alternatively, your GP could have this certification if they went through the courses. Maybe you’d require a signature, like a woman goes to her GP complaining of something, GP checks it out, says, this pregnancy has a huge potential of killing you, I prescribe an abortion, you take that prescription note to the clinic or get the in-house certified doctor to examine and check. Of course legal language would have to be included such that a doctor can sign off on an abortion post procedure when needed. Essentially you’d be getting this doctor to not only say after the fact that an abortion was needed, but that timing did not allow for the written recommendation to be given earlier. They sign and stamp that. You might have, as you do with the USDA or EPA, rare, unannounced governmental check-ins, where regulators are checking in at these certified doctor’s offices, going over identity redacted files to gauge whether or not the certified abortion prescriber was generally prescribing abortions for medically needed situations. As far as a rape exemption would play out, I’d see a situation where I wouldn’t want to impose that a woman actually have a successful court case that she was raped. But she would need to sign something to the effect that she was. This would get the certified doctor to sign off, and the abortionist could do their thing. Abortionists who performed abortions without the prescription would be the ones who would be prosecuted for at minimum, malpractice, at most, potentially manslaughter.

What is the downside of this? Well, let’s be honest, there is the huge potential for corruption. Women can feasibly walk in and say, I was raped, abortion pleaase! or doctors could be bought off to say, you are dying, get yourself an abortion! I think that is just something that is unavoidable. We have corruption in existing laws, police officers who murder and never see a courtroom, bribery for insider trading, or polluting companies that covertly dump waste into the river. That doesn’t change the fact that these laws have changed attitudes overall. Thanks to the clean air act, yes, coal companies still pollute, sometimes illegally, but less do. You can see LA now.

Furthermore, I would want to err on the side of keeping women safe. As I said in another post, not one case of a woman dying because she was refused a medically needed abortion is acceptable.

Culture shapes policy shapes culture which shapes policy which shapes culture. So I don’t think we’ll get to a ban until the fear factor of pregnancy and birth go down significantly, but a ban following the policies that address financial struggles, and is flexible enough to account to medical and psychological needs will result in a populace that has fewer motivations to skirt the law.

I said:

I don’t see how your suggestions are radically different from current laws. I agree with you that we need to do more to prevent unwanted pregnancies. We should increase access to education, contraception and jobs. Great!

13 states already have 20 week abortion bans. Over 98% of abortions happen before 20 weeks and most happen in the first 12 weeks. So these laws are mostly just rhetoric – but for the people they do impact, they are hellish. Abortions performed at or after 20 weeks are performed either because of severe fetal abnormalities or serious risks to the mother’s health. Given that your policy allows for doctors to grant exceptions in these cases my first question for you is – what would your policy change about the current state of affairs? Because I don’t see it changing anything.

From a policy perspective, allowing someone to merely sign a piece of paper alleging they were raped to get an abortion is merciful and compassionate to rape victims. But given that women who need abortions were willing to do much worse when abortions were illegal, like pay exorbitant prices, travel hundreds of miles, and put their lives at risk by going to disreputable quacks, lying on a piece of paper no one but you and your doctor will see seems like a walk in the park. So my second question is – given that your policy makes abortions easier to get than they were before Roe vs Wade, why and how do you expect it to reduce abortions in any significant way?

You said, “Abortionists who performed abortions without the prescription would be the ones who would be prosecuted for at minimum, malpractice, at most, potentially manslaughter.” Kelly Renee Gissendaner was convicted of murder and executed by the state of Georgia last week for conspiring with her lover to kill her husband. Her lover was the one who stabbed her husband to death. Richard Glossip is on death row in Oklahoma for allegedly paying someone to kill his boss. If people can be sentenced to death for conspiring to kill someone or to pay a hitman to do so, why should abortion be any different, if in your words, “it’s the fact that we are talking about the bodily autonomy of two individuals that makes this issue so difficult. It’s extremely important. However, I do not find bodily autonomy compelling enough to inflict mortal damage against another carte blanche.” My third question for you is, how is a woman who goes to a doctor and requests an abortion different from a person who hires a hitman to kill their spouse or boss? Perhaps we agree that neither crime deserves the death penalty. But I think that abortion should be legal because a fetus is not a person and that hiring a hitman should be illegal. Why would you separate the two crimes if you believe a fetus has bodily autonomy?

You said “I don’t see any need to be monitoring women’s fertility. We’re banning abortions, not banning women not being pregnant. And I don’t see prosecuting a woman as effective policy. We don’t assume there has been a murder unless there is evidence that there has been a murder.” When a woman has a miscarriage in countries where abortion is illegal, that is taken as evidence that she may have had an abortion. My fourth question is. If you don’t think that late term miscarriages should be investigated as possible abortions under your 20 week ban, how else would it be enforced? If doctors and hospitals are not required to report “suspicious” miscarriages, how would people who performed illegal abortions be punished?

My fifth question is, where would the criteria for deciding who gets to have an abortion at 20 weeks (or earlier if your successive bans are enacted) come from? You personally? The American Life League? A private organization or a public rulemaking body? For example would these regulations be made available on the Federal Register for public comment? How would these exceptions be determined?

And my sixth question is let’s say that you enact the 20 week ban, when do you take the next step, what is it, and how will you know it’s time to do so?

She replied:

1) Given that your policy allows for doctors to grant exceptions in these cases my first question for you is – what would your policy change about the current state of affairs? Because I don’t see it changing anything.

It wouldn’t change anything as far as abortion numbers go in the first round. But in order for us to get past this schizophrenic personality disorder, attempts to accomplish an all or nothing scenario depending on which side of the fence you sit, it’s a needed first step in my scenario. Pro-lifers need to convince pro-choicers that they really do care about women, by making it easier for women who medically need abortions to get them, and pro-choicers need to convince pro-lifers that they do care about the unborn too (I know on these blogs, people might truly not give a whit about the fetus, but in my experience – and the vast majority of my friends are pro-choice – that isn’t the case at all. They do care about the unborn. Very much so. From pre-natal health too emotional attachments, they see the question of abortion as a really difficult one, just one where ultimately they are afraid for women to be caught in difficult situations they have no recourse out of. My hypothesis is that this is the more mainstream pro-choice position). Again, we need to build that bridge, because otherwise it continues as a political shouting match where we get nothing done (and that includes making sure that women who really do need medical service, like your hypothetical woman in the middle of Oklahoma who needs a medical abortion, can get it easily, and as safely as possible.)

2) So my second question is – given that your policy makes abortions easier to get than they were before Roe vs Wade, why and how do you expect it to reduce abortions in any significant way?

Most of this is answered in the prior question, but I did want to touch on one thing. You mentioned that women were willing to pay a lot more pre RvW for abortions. But again, policy timing, and policy context matters for how any given policy is going to impact people. If people pushed through the 15th amendment pre-civil war, do you think this would have had much of an impact on the election process, perhaps, but not likely in the intended way. Slave owners might have compelled their slaves to vote the way they wanted, or maybe prevented them from voting in the first place. But the civil war happened, slaves were free, and suddenly the 15th amendment becomes relevant and useful towards giving blacks a voice that was their own. (Of course, there was still suppression, and struggle, but not being owned by others made it possible to exercise their 15th amendment rights marginally, as opposed to not at all.)
I hypothesize that in a society where financial supports are there, where social structures exist to support both mother and pre-nate, where medical infrastructure exists so no pregnant woman has to say, I better abort now because if I don’t, and weeks down the line there is a problem, I won’t be able to get an abortion to live, when the desperation involved in a lot of abortions is gone, there is less of an incentive to to even want to get an abortion to begin with. In my experience, policy can really only deal with the aggregate. It can’t hope to zoom down to the individual. A person would still have to sign that they were raped, and it stays in that medical record – though due too privacy laws, released only when the patient agrees. That’s a pretty big deal to lie about something like that. I’m sure someone can do it without a problem, but not most people. Like I said, I am sure there will be cheaters, as there is with any policy. They will be in the minority (is my hypothesis).

3) My third question for you is, how is a woman who goes to a doctor and requests an abortion different from a person who hires a hitman to kill their spouse or boss? But I think that abortion should be legal because a fetus is not a person and that hiring a hitman should be illegal. Why would you separate the two crimes if you believe a fetus has bodily autonomy?

Because in no scenario is there a “hitman for health”. There aren’t legally sanctioned times when a person can go out and hire a hitman to kill somebody. Obviously in the case of an abortion, under my hypothesized policy, there is just such a case.
The addition of such ambiguity means that there is the potential for it being applied really poorly. A woman who had her doctor tell her that she is eligible for a medically justified abortion, but somewhere along the line, the certification doesn’t get communicated when she gets it, shouldn’t be punished for bureaucracy.
As I said before, the more vectors, the more likely your policy is going to produce unpredictable results. It is more efficient, more likely to be successful, if you narrow down the point of liability. And since in this hypothetical world, the only people performing abortions or prescribing abortions have been certified one way or another, they stand to bear a real cost – the loss of that certification. It’s less costly to enforce as well, once again, improving the ability of it to be effective.

4) My fourth question is. If you don’t think that late term miscarriages should be investigated as possible abortions under your 20 week ban, how else would it be enforced? If doctors and hospitals are not required to report “suspicious” miscarriages, how would people who performed illegal abortions be punished?

So, firstly, not all countries where abortion is illegal do they enact that police state. Ireland doesn’t. I see no need to follow the model of those who do.
But to answer your question, enforcement comes in part with those unannounced regulator visits. If abortion certified doctors are performing illegal abortions, when the regulator shows up, they are caught, loose their certification, and potentially face extreme jail time. As far as people who are not licensed and are performing illegal abortions, you’d catch them the way you’d catch any criminal doing crimes covertly. How did anyone catch Gosnell? Eyewitness accounts, anonymous tips, and finally a police raid. Was the protection of born-alive infants a bad law because he acted outside of it? I don’t think so. You’re right though, I can see where manslaughter for unliscenced abortionists might not be a significant enough deterrence. Not sure. I have to think on that more.

But to be clear, my goal is extremely reduced abortions, not increased incarceration. Again, going after the bottleneck that is the abortionist, when they act illegally, is more efficient in that regard.

5) My fifth question is, where would the criteria for deciding who gets to have an abortion at 20 weeks (or earlier if your successive bans are enacted) come from? You personally? The American Life League? A private organization or a public rulemaking body? For example would these regulations be made available on the Federal Register for public comment? How would these exceptions be determined?

Doctor. When the doctor writes down her/his prescription, it’s not just a signature. It’s a detailed report on why and how, in their professional opinion, they believe the pregnancy of a woman is life threatening. You could potentially have a group of gynecological physicians make up a body that codifies some general categorical circumstances that doctors can classify their reasoning under, or even stricter guidelines than that, like Registered Professional Foresters do for the Forest Practice Act in California, but with even more strength to the doctors. That wouldn’t be a bad idea, particularly if you got a healthy mix of medical perspectives relating to abortion. The point is though, keep politicians out of it.

6) And my sixth question is let’s say that you enact the 20 week ban, when do you take the next step, what is it, and how will you know it’s time to do so?

Good question, and the hardest one (not that the others didn’t require thought!). I am not sure of the answer. Honestly, I’m a fairly optimistic person, but in this regard, I am quite pessimistic that we are even going to get to this point in my lifetime. As I said before, the GOP’s conservatism has been the #1 worst thing to happen to the pro-life movement. Though I argue with other pro-lifers when I can that pro-life and conservatism cannot be politically synonymous to succeed, I don’t think it is going to change any time soon. The GOP needs to explode or something.
Knowing what I do about the lethargy of policy making (unless it is an in-your-face issue or emergency, it seems really hard to get on the agenda) Given that fact, if this policy were able to be enacted, you’d probably have to write the timeline into the bill, even if you had release values to extend time periods when needed. From a purely non-policy, cultural standpoint, I think you go down from the 20 week ban at the point where you see abortion numbers plateau down at their lowest level. As I’ve said in other posts, the idea is that culture needs to change as much as policy, and a final, full ban should mostly be codification of the fact that the culture generally respects life at all stages. But as policy impacts culture, ratcheting down that ban in this way, I hypothesize, helps nurture that value in society. (Not all policy positively impacts cultural mores of course! I am not trying to make that claim. But done right, they can.)

I replied:

You said “pro-choicers need to convince pro-lifers that they do ” care about the unborn too.” This is an odd sentiment. I know you identify as politically liberal and you don’t like the fact that most pro-lifers are politically conservative, but that’s the way it is. And in general liberal policies for better education, healthcare, economic opportunity and environmental preservation ARE better for future generations than conservative policies. I think we both would agree on that. But why do you think pro-choicers should have to talk publicly about how much they love fetuses? What would that accomplish?

You said, “I hypothesize that in a society where financial supports are there, where social structures exist to support both mother and pre-nate, where medical infrastructure exists so no pregnant woman has to say, I better abort now because if I don’t, and weeks down the line there is a problem, I won’t be able to get an abortion to live, when the desperation involved in a lot of abortions is gone, there is less of an incentive to to even want to get an abortion to begin with.” So you are mostly right in that countries with better sex ed and healthcare have lower abortion rates, but that has nothing to do with the “incentive to even want to get an abortion.” That is because in those countries there are fewer unwanted pregnancies to abort in the first place. Which I think we would both agree is a great goal! However, I am confused by what you mean by “incentive to get an abortion.” Can you explain what incentives you think exist that encourage women to get abortions? Because from the evidence I’ve seen, women don’t get abortions because they think there is a reward involved, they do it because they are pregnant when they do not want to be.The Guttmacher institute studies abortion in the United States and in 2014 they reported that women gave the following reasons for getting an abortion (they were allowed to select more than one.)

Cannot afford a baby now 73%

A baby would interfere with school/employment/ability to care for dependents 69%

Would be a single parent/having relationship problems 48%

Am finished with childbearing 38%

Having a better social safety net is great. But it’s not going to stop young women from wanting to finish their educations before having kids, or remove other responsibilities from people who have them or fix broken relationships or make someone want another child when they feel they are too old.

Going back to the hitman example, under your proposed policy, abortion would be legal until 20 weeks. Going back to the previously cited Guttmacher presentation, 99% of abortions occur before 20 weeks. That’s a lot of hitmen being hired without health exemptions, don’t you think?

If they don’t arrest women for miscarriages in Ireland, that’s great for human rights. But it’s bad policy. To explain why, let’s look at a neighboring country – Northern Ireland. There they have a law similar to the one you propose. Abortion is only legal when the mother’s life is at risk. However, hundreds of women have had abortions by ordering drugs online. Women frequently travel to other countries to get abortions. The law serves to make abortion more difficult but it doesn’t stop or reduce abortions.

You said, “enforcement comes in part with those unannounced regulator visits.” That sound great but where would the funding for this infrastructure come from? The scope of what you are proposing is quite large. You said, “Any hospital or clinic that offers abortion services has to have at least one of these housed, and they are not paid by the abortion provider, but by a separate fund set up by the gvt.” But since any abortions performed after 20 weeks must be prescribed by one of these certified doctors, I would argue that all hospitals, walk in clinics and OBYGN practices have to have a certified person on staff. Because when you need an abortion to save your life it’s because bad things are happening very quickly. You said that “Of course legal language would have to be included such that a doctor can sign off on an abortion post procedure when needed. Essentially you’d be getting this doctor to not only say after the fact that an abortion was needed, but that timing did not allow for the written recommendation to be given earlier.” How would this work though? I do know a little bit about third party verification and the idea that a professional that has their career and the threat of manslaughter charges hanging over her head would verify a procedure they were not present for is ludicrous. You would need to have people on staff at all times.

In 2008 there were 1,793 abortion providers in the United States. However since then many have been forced to close because of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP laws). In 2013 there were 5,686 hospitals in the USA. According to the US Census in 2010, there were 33,624 OBGYNs in the US. So how many locations is that that need to be inspected? Somewhere between 1,700 and 41,000. Who would conduct and pay for these trainings? How often are these inspections? I know they are unannounced, but how often should they be expected? Once a year? Even if we are only inspecting current abortion clinics – let’s say 1800. That’s 1800 new government bureaucrats PLUS inspectors to check up on them. That is a huge. If you wanted any real oversight the inspector would have to be onsite for a few days at least plus travel time. So 3600 working days. For every clinic to get one inspection per year. If you propose a 5 day work week with 2 weeks vacation and 10 holidays, that’s a 240 day working year. So allowing for zero travel time, you need 15 employees who are willing to travel constantly for once a year checks. 30 is more reasonable given travel demands, allowing time for paperwork. If you want twice a year checks – 60 people, and so on. To truly inspect all hospitals and OBGYN’s you’d need a staff of tens of thousands more onsite people AND 630 people for once a year checks, 1260 for twice a year checks and so on. In addition to the inspectors you need support staff, HR, IT, office space, computers, and so on. Where does this money come from?

You said the guidelines would come from “a group of gynecological physicians.” But what if the doctors don’t want these restrictions? The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in 2014,

Safe, legal abortion is a necessary component of women’s health care. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports the availability of high-quality reproductive health services for all women and is committed to improving access to abortion. Access to abortion is threatened by state and federal government restrictions, limitations on public funding for abortion services and training, stigma, violence against abortion providers, and a dearth of abortion providers. Legislative restrictions fundamentally interfere with the patient-provider relationship and decrease access to abortion for all women, and particularly for low-income women and those living long distances from health care providers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls for advocacy to oppose and overturn restrictions, improve access, and mainstream abortion as an integral component of women’s health care.

Sure, there are some pro life OBGYNs but they are in the minority. If they are the only ones on the committee that sets the standard, that is an incredibly political move. If the sample is representative, you won’t get the standard you want. So how would this work?

She never answered. I’m assuming she simply got tired of the exchange. I really like talking to pro lifers about how they think their policies will work because I get the impression they really don’t know. And if I can make them see that, then maybe they will stop proposing them.

Link to full discussion in comments thread.

Unpacking the Murray/Singas domestic abuse scandal.

Posted in Editorials on October 14th, 2015

On Long Island this fall, the Nassau County District Attorney’s race is heating up. Current Nassau County prosecutor Madeline Singas is facing off against Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray. Murray is claiming Singas’ failure to fire a co-worker in a messy divorce case means she is unfit for office. A lot of the reporting about this has come from the New York Post, but I want to present a summary that is less focused on the lurid details and more about the facts of what happened.

Here’s what we know:

1. Jeffrey Stein, a Democrat and the Nassau County DA’s chief administrative officer used to be married to Carole Mundy.

2. According to leaked records of their divorce, Mundy suffers PTSD brought on by Stein’s interest and participation in kink and BDSM. (The Post gives all the lurid details here.)

3. Mundy’s attorney is Dave Mejias (another Democrat), someone who has had two different ex partners make accusations against him. (Stalking his ex girlfriend.) (Breaking and entering into a different ex girlfriend’s home.)

4. Murray released a campaign attack ad saying Singas should have fired Stein. It is unclear if she has evidence against Stein aside from what was revealed in the sealed divorce proceedings that have been partially leaked.

5. The ad also talks about a domestic violence case from 2006 that Singas declined to pursue.

6. Singas’ campaign says that Stein is innocent.

Everything about this is terrible. There may be a domestic abuser in the Nassau County DA’s office and the Post is using the story as clickbait focusing on the details of specific sex acts rather than whether or not they were consensual. Kate Murray is using the suffering of victims of intimate partner violence for her own political advantage. Dave Mejias handles the civil side of domestic abuse cases when he may be a perpetrator himself. Madeline Singas, like all prosecutors is in a difficult spot. She wants to advocate for victims but has limited resources with which to do so. If Kate Murray really wants to make domestic violence her issue, she should tell us what she plans to do about it, and what solutions and resources will she offer to victims, rather than exploiting other people’s pain to score points.

Pope Francis’ Holy Year Abortion Forgiveness – You Have To Say Sorry First

Posted in Editorials on September 1st, 2015

The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a grave sin which is punishable by immediate excommunication.

Canon 1398 provides that, “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated.

This is part of the reason why I am no longer Catholic – once I became a Clinic Escort, which I’m sure counts as being a “formal conspirator,” there was no going back.

Pope Francis’ announcement that women could be forgiven for abortion during the upcoming Holy Year is making headlines, and I think a lot of people are missing an important point. (Emphasis added)

The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.

First, there’s some patronizing stuff about how women who get abortions don’t know what they are doing and only have a “superficial awareness” of it. He acknowledges that the reasons a person may seek an abortion are powerful pressures, but says nothing of what can be done to alleviate those pressures. Yes, Pope Francis has talked a lot about poverty, but he really should have linked the two issues right here if he wants to maintain credibility.

More importantly, the media is brushing off the hoop that women who have had abortions must go through to receive forgiveness. They must sincerely be sorry for it and they have to say they are sorry to a priest during confession. This is a big ask when you consider that 99% of women who have had abortions do not regret it. Pope Francis is asking women to apologize for something they are not sorry for. He is asking them to lie to themselves, their priests and to God. For someone who claims to have such compassion for women who have had abortions, that’s a rather manipulative thing to demand.

Fuss Over “Fun Home”

Posted in Editorials on August 26th, 2015

Amanda Marcotte has a great piece up at Slate about the students who are refusing to read Fun Home because it violates their religion.

I find myself thinking “Fun Home” is a bittersweet graphic novel about a woman growing up as a lesbian and coming to terms with her father’s suicide and that he was a closeted gay man. These Duke kids got off easy!

The first book I had to read in college was Querelle by Jean Genet. I was pretty sheltered 17 year old Catholic kid. And so in my first week at college, it was kind of mind blowing to be handed this piece of French nihilist literature which the internet tells me is about society’s hypocritical attitudes about sex – especially gay sex – and violence. All I remember is a sailor having graphic sex with a man he didn’t particularly like. I was wondering why he had to make it sound so awful – it wasn’t loving or sexy at all. I was very uncomfortable, but it never would have crossed my mind to refuse to read the book or drop the class. And even though I was still very religious, I NEVER would have thought to use my Catholicism as an excuse to not do my assigned reading. I really wanted to be taken seriously so I toughed it out.

I survived and I think I even learned a few things – that old people were lying when they pretended gay people were some new fad, that there were a ton of themes in literature that my high school English class didn’t even touch, and that I didn’t like nihilism.

Brian Grasso writes:

Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he says in Matthew 5:28-29. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.” This theme is reiterated by Paul who warns, “flee from sexual immorality.”

I think there is an important distinction between images and written words. If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex. My beliefs extend to pop culture and even Renaissance art depicting sex.

If comic book drawings of sex compromise your morality and your faith, neither is very strong. He comes off as deeply insecure rather than someone taking a strong ethical stand.

When I was in college, a favorite prank was for people to draw cartoon penises on the chalkboards. (Do people still do that?) This even happened in my Comp Lit class where we were studying Querelle. The instructor rolled her eyes and erased it, letting out a few giggles before she turned back around to face the class. If someone repeats that juvenile prank in one of the classrooms Brian Grasso is scheduled to attend will he wait outside until the board is wiped clean?

Mayor DeBlasio’s War on Boobs Misfires

Posted in Editorials on August 21st, 2015

I voted for Bill DeBlasio. In general, I think he’s doing a good job. But this week he’s gone off the rails a bit. In Times Square, there are women who call themselves “desnudas” (Spanish for naked) who wear body paint and thongs. They take pictures with tourists and ask for tips. Apparently this is a crisis. Because tourists are SHOCKED and WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

But since it’s legal to be topless in New York, and it’s legal to panhandle, it seems like there’s nothing illegal about what is going on here.

From The New York Times:

So complex is the issue that Mr. de Blasio, who has angrily vowed to put a stop to the practice, suggested on Thursday that one option would be to simply tear out the pedestrian plazas where the women operate.

The mayor met this week for almost three hours with police and city officials on how to restrict the women’s activities before deciding more study was needed, his aides said. On Thursday, he announced that he had formed a task force of city officials, local politicians and business leaders and gave it until Oct. 1 to come up with strategies.

There is something shady going on in Times Square, and it’s not the presence of breasts. It’s wage theft, tax evasion and violation of labor laws. According to this Daily News Article, the desnudas are not just a bunch of women doing this for fun and profit, but seem to be employees of a business. They work 12 hour days with no breaks, and share tips with their painters, managers and a boss. According to the article that leaves them with an average of $90 a day. That’s a mere $7.50 an hour – which is $1.25 below the minimum wage in New York City. And I doubt their boss is making sure that taxes and social security are being withheld.

As with the Lingerie Football League we should not be distracted by the spectacle of sex or the cheap moral outrage. It’s a ridiculous position to seem so upset by nudity. And I must point out the striking discordance that we live in a culture where women’s bodies are decorative sex objects but we are outraged when they attempt to make money from that objectification.

Where we should be focused is on the rights of these women. They, like millions of people in this country who work “off the books” in restaurants and other businesses due to immigration status or the inability to find work elsewhere, are being exploited by their employers. If Mayor DeBlasio really wanted to clean up this city he could start by enforcing our labor laws. Because if all he does is make it impossible for the desnudas to work in Times Square, who is going to care if they wind up at jobs working even longer hours for less money but wearing more clothing?

Themes of Reproductive Justice In The Second Season Of Star Trek Voyager

Posted in Editorials on March 9th, 2015

Star Trek Voyager is a very feminist show. A lot of television in the 90′s took feminism for granted, and Voyager is no exception.
I think in part this stems from having so many great women characters.

The second season of Voyager is considered by many fans to be the weakest, and I’m not sure if I agree. But even if that’s true, I did notice that there was a strong theme of Reproductive Justice underscoring a few of the episodes.

It starts with Elogium. In this episode, the ship flies into the mating ground of some giant space slugs and this throws Kes into heat, many years before she expected to have to decide whether or not to have a child. Trekkie Feminist has a great review of the episode, but what stood out to me were that:

  • Janeway stated plainly that she will not institute a blanket ban on “fraternization.” If the crew wants to hook up, that’s their business
  • Janeway acknowledges that some members of her crew may have children. But again she’s not going to encourage this or discourage it. She doesn’t think this is any of her business.
  • Kes considers whether or not to have a child and concludes that just because she can, doesn’t mean that she should.

At the end of the episode we find out that Ensign Wildman is pregnant. She and her husband were trying to conceive before Voyager left the Alpha Quadrant and she has just confirmed it now. They’ve been lost in space for months, but the show glosses over this. Perhaps it’s because Wildman’s husband is Ktarian and that species has a much longer gestation period. Or maybe Ktarian sperm can live a lot longer than human sperm in fallopian tubes waiting for the right egg.

When Wildman comes to tell Captain Janeway, the tone is serious:

WILDMAN: I know this isn’t the best place to have a baby, but it’s all I have left of my husband.
JANEWAY: Well, congratulations, Ensign.

At first I wondered why they didn’t seem happier about it. But their serious tone is fitting. Being lost in a hostile area of space 70 light years away from family and a support network is not the best place to have a baby. Gushing and squeeing would not have been appropriate. The show takes this very seriously. Wildman’s baby is wanted and yet arriving under less than ideal circumstances.

In the episode Deadlock, Wildman gives birth, and there is a complication:

EMH: Push!
KES: Don’t forget to breathe, Samantha. Deep regular breaths. That’s it.
EMH: Cervical dilation is at ten point two centimeters. Prostaglandin levels are normal. Push, Ensign.
WILDMAN: You push, damn it! I’m sick of pushing!
EMH: I know you’re fatigued. Try to focus on your breathing. Remember the exercises we did. When you feel a contraction, bear down.
WILDMAN: Oh! Oh, what was that?
EMH: What’s wrong?
WILDMAN: A pain in my abdomen. It’s different. Sharp. Oh, God!
EMH: The baby has shifted position, and its exo-cranial ridges have lodged in the uterine wall. This is a rare complication, but it’s been known to happen in human Ktarian pregnancies.
KES: Can we reposition the baby?
EMH: No. Its spinal column is too fragile. I don’t want to risk nerve damage. If we don’t deliver the baby now, its ridges could perforate the uterus and cause internal bleeding. Kes, prepare for a foetal transport.
EMH: I’ve locked onto the baby’s coordinates. We’re ready to begin. Initiating umbilical separation. Energizing.
EMH: Congratulations, Ensign. It’s a girl.
WILDMAN: Is she all right?
EMH: The transport caused a slight hemocythemic imbalance, but we’ll stabilise her cell membranes with osmotic pressure therapy.

Although there was a risk to the baby (she born with something like decompression sickness) the Doctor and Kes did not think twice about saving Wildman’s life. She was in danger of dying and they saved her. Immediately. Without question.

When I was a teenager I probably watched this episode at least three or four times, and I never noticed this. But now I know that we live in a climate where for many, saving a pregnant woman’s life at any risk to the fetus is taboo. Governments in places like Ireland and El Salvador force women to die on the table for their babies. Religion lauds these tragedies as beatific. Those who dissent are condemned. As recently as 2011, the United States was considering a bill that would free hospitals from any liability if their religious refusal to treat a pregnant woman resulted in her death. But on Voyager, this was never even considered to be an option. Not for a millisecond.

Finally there is the matter of Seska’s assault on Chakotay. She tells him that while he was being held hostage by the Kazon, she took a sample of his DNA while he was unconscious and impregnated herself with it. When the baby is born she sends a message saying that she and the baby are in danger. This is clearly a trap. Janeway and Chakotay know this. Janeway tells Chakotay that it is his decision whether or not they decide to attempt a rescue. In his review of this episode, Jammer says,

If you guessed that Chakotay decides to go after his son, you win today’s prize. Still, despite the tough-to-judge arguments early in the show regarding whether it would be wise to indulge in such an emotional response over a child that was born under such manipulated circumstances, the bottom line is that it is downright foolhardy for Janeway to divert the course of the Voyager into what is the heart of Kazon territory and what may very likely be Seska’s latest snare attempt. Just how many times has Seska duped the Voyager crew in the past?

But this is only true if you consider that Janeway’s only objective is military success. It’s not. She frequently places the heath and welfare of her crew, and the existence of other civilizations above their goal of getting home or winning battles. Even though she’s his superior officer, Janeway does not want to stop Chakotay from rescuing his son and having his chance at fatherhood – even though it might put them all at risk. When you include Chakotay’s rights as a parent her calculus makes more sense.

It’s clear that for Captain Janeway, the reproductive rights of her crew are a priority. One more reason why Star Trek is a utopian vision of the future.

I just wrote a thousand words about reproductive justice in the context of a television season that aired twenty years ago. But I’m also doing something for the cause of reproductive justice today. For the third year, I’m participating in the National Network of Abortion Funds Bowl-a-thon. Abortion funds are local, grassroots groups that work tirelessly to help low-income and disadvantaged people who want an abortion and do not have enough money to pay for it. I’m bowling because I believe that everyone should have access to the abortions they need, regardless of how much money they have. Click to follow the link and find out more. Please donate if you can.

My Favorites of 2014

Posted in Editorials on December 31st, 2014

All the best in 2015. Here’s some of my favorite things from 2014.

Link Roundup – Some of these are long reads, and some are shorter. Here’s some posts from the year I hope you didn’t miss.
Dear America, I Saw You Naked
Popular Delusions: Sovereign Citizens
Survey: Overwhelming Majority Of U.S. Doctors Seeing Patients With Drug-Resistant Illnesses
Invisible Politics
Notes from a Pornographer on Sexist Sexual Imagery and Behavior
Why Did Anti-Choice Activists Harass Unitarians in New Orleans?

Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner speaking at the UN Climate Leaders Summit in 2014

My favorite book of 2014 is a novella published as an ebook by Atavist Books. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

A crisis has swept America. Hundreds of thousands have lost the ability to sleep. Enter the Slumber Corps, an organization that urges healthy dreamers to donate sleep to an insomniac. Under the wealthy and enigmatic Storch brothers the Corps’ reach has grown, with outposts in every major US city. Trish Edgewater, whose sister Dori was one of the first victims of the lethal insomnia, has spent the past seven years recruiting for the Corps. But Trish’s faith in the organization and in her own motives begins to falter when she is confronted by “Baby A,” the first universal sleep donor…

Sleep Donation is so engaging I couldn’t put it down. The universe is rich and easy to get lost in. A quick and very satisfying read.

Honorable Misandry Mention:
Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation by Laura Kipnis
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

My favorite new show of 2014 is Broad City on Comedy Central. I first heard Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer on the Ronna & Beverly podcast. I immediately became a fan of their hilarious web series. It was originally supposed to be on FX, but they cancelled the show and then Comedy Central Picked it up. I swear I remember articles at the time that FX didn’t know how to market a show about women to advertisers, but those links seem to have disappeared. But I’m so glad the show came to be. It’s the funniest thing on television.

Honorable Mention:
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver Adam and I subscribed to HBO to watch this show. John Oliver is brilliant.

I watched every episode of Married at First Sight on the new FYI network. I liked it, but I feel kind of guilty about that. Ultimately I think the show was somewhat exploitative of the couples. But I suppose that’s the point of reality television. Here’s some thoughts from Sarah Moglia Is “Married at First Sight” a Legitimate Science Experiment?

The PinkPrint by Nicki Minaj. (More about all of my feels for Nicki Minaj here.)

Honorable Mention
Barefoot and Pregnant by the Dollyrots.


As everyone has probably already seen Guardians of the Galaxy and Birdman, and Horns disappointed me because it took out almost everything that made the book was so amazing, I’m going to recommend everyone go see Particle Fever right now.

This movie is accessible to people with all levels of scientific understanding. I’ve never taken a day of Physics in my life and I didn’t feel that lost at all. “Why do humans do science? Why do they do art? The things that are least important for our survival are the very things that make us human.”

Unitarian Universalism

I have to share these videos by some of my fellow UUs.

Here’s “Love Reaches Out” a song written about the theme of this year’s General Assembly

The Reeb Project is a movement to restore the Voting Rights Act in the United States by All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC. It’s named after Rev James Reeb a Unitarian minister who was beaten to death while protesting against segregation in Selma Alabama in 1965. This summer, The Reeb Project held a protest, and it’s the first (and possibly only) flash mob video I will share on this blog.

Other people’s Year End Posts You Should Read
It’s Been a Terrible Year for Reproductive Rights
The Frozen River: A Humanist Sermon

Political Flavors
Most popular posts on this blog this year:
Contradictions made by people insulting my husband (AKA, Misogynist Troll Insult Fails Part 2)
“That’s some training to give to girls.” The criminalization of female self defense

My favorite posts from the year:
Out, Damned Sperm! Why Everyone Is Freaked Out About Fruit Flies.
Our mockery of Fox Sports Sexism
Who Will Be The Next Republican To Endorse Andrew Cuomo?
The Untenable Incel
Red Pillers – Very Concerned about Ladies’ Fashion

Previously: My favorites of 2013

Out, Damned Sperm! Why Everyone Is Freaked Out About Fruit Flies.

Posted in Editorials on October 10th, 2014

This week the internet was aflame with the sheer idiocy that happens when you combine an ignorant misunderstanding of science with our culture of vicious misogyny.

Generally respectable websites like Alternet and The Telegraph were off and running with a study that claimed previous mates sperm could influence the future offspring of fruit flies. People got paid real money to write about this study as if it applied to human beings.

Caroline Weinberg at Jezebel did a good job of debunking this nonsense:

The immature eggs of newly hatched fruit flies ultimately develop a hard shell. The thought is that the development of the immature eggs can be influenced by non-genetic factors in semen but, once they have matured, the eggs are no longer susceptible to these changes.

Interesting indeed. But what I’m more interested in is why this study took off the way it did and why so many news outlets jumped to cover it as if it means something for people. Yes, it’s clickbait. But why is it clickbait? Why was this story so sensational?

Weinberg speculates:

Start with a scientific study that can be generalized to something people identify with or fear. Then lead with an eminently clickable headline about motherhood and promiscuity, striking fear in the hearts of the sexually active, raising concerns that the skeevy dude they picked up in a bar last year is actually going to haunt them forever through the face of their future offspring.

But I think it’s more than just fear that our exes can follow us, or somehow influence our future. The media found a way to push people’s buttons with the way they twisted this story, yes they pushed the “disgust” button, and the “eww my ex is gross” button, and even the “fear of cuckolding” button. But part of the reason these buttons exist in the first place is a deeper cultural stigma. There is a deep taboo about the way sex tarnishes women or makes them dirty. It’s tangled up with fear and denial of women’s sexual desires but its a slightly separate idea.

I’ve written before about how the disgust mechanism is a very old instinct. But this is is more than a general aversion to the “ickiness” of sex. The idea that the media was tapping into here was that sex in general and semen in particular makes women dirty in a way it does not make men dirty. In a way that a woman’s natural wetness doesn’t make women or men dirty. It’s odd to think of a substance produced by pleasure that creates human life as a contaminant (STIs aside). But we do.

We use the idea of semen in slurs like “cum dumpster.”

Abstinence only sex education is notorious for invoking the idea of semen defiled women in their rhetoric. A sucked on lollipop, chewed gum, or a cup everyone has spit into have all be used to represent a woman who has had sex. The students actual saliva makes an approximate substitute – but the message is clear, a woman is defiled by semen.

And so it should come as no surprise that at the mere hint that semen has more than a symbolically tarnishing effect on a woman’s body people will spiral into an absolute panic.

Weinberg wrote:

I even received an email from a pregnant friend that read, “Shit. Does this mean my kid is going to look like my ex?”

I wrote back to her, “Not unless you’re a fruit fly.”

We aren’t fruit flies. We’re people living in a culture that has a lot of fear about sex. Try not to let it ruin your day.

For Further Reading: The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability by Laura Kipnis

Affirmative Consent Comes to New York

Posted in Editorials on October 9th, 2014

I’ve got to give credit where credit is due, and therefore I am very happy and proud to learn that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has instructed the State University of New York (SUNY) to make affirmative consent the standard on all 63 of its campuses.

“Consent is clear, knowing and voluntary,” the SUNY rules will say. “Consent is active, not passive.

“Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent.”

Consent need not be verbal, but it must be unambiguous and mutual. “Consent to any one form of sexual activity cannot automatically imply consent to any other forms of sexual activity,” the rules will say.

An alumna of a SUNY school, I’ve written before about my perceptions of sexual assault on campus and how among my group of friends it was considered something to be expected that was our responsibility to avoid. When I was seventeen years old, I had no concept that rape culture was something that could be changed or fought against. But with time I realized that point of view was flawed – individuals have a choice to commit sexual violence or not and there’s nothing inevitable about it at all. So I’m very glad to see this change being made.

Not everyone is happy about the new rules, however. Cathy Young at Newsday writes:

No court would treat incapacitation, or submission to an explicit or implied threat, as consent.

She couldn’t be more wrong. In the most high profile example of this in recent memory, a woman who was both incapacitated by alcohol and under the implied threat of force from two armed police officers was raped in her own apartment and the men who raped her were acquitted.

Affirmative consent standards target far more ambiguous incidents in which one person initiates or escalates sexual activity in a consensual situation and the other person goes along — possibly because she or he feels pressured and doesn’t have the nerve to say no. But surely equating such experiences with rape is insulting to victims who are actually forced to have sex against their will — and generally to women, who are presumed under the new standard of being incapable of saying no to unwanted sex.

Young contradicts herself here. A person who feels pressured and cannot say no is being coerced, is being threatened implicitly.

And she falls into the trap that so many do. It’s not that people who support affirmative consent standards don’t think women are incapable of saying no. It’s that we don’t think they should have to. Here’s Twisty Faster who explained it all brilliantly:

Although this condition does not obtain with regard to any other crime you can think of, when it comes to rape, women are currently considered to exist in a state of perpetual “yes!”. This is because “yes!” is consistent with global accords governing fair use of women. Victims of robbery or attempted murder don’t have to prove that they said no to being robbed or murdered; the presumption is that not even women would consent to being killed. But because penetration by males is what women are for, if we are raped we have to prove not just that we didn’t say yes, which is impossible to prove, but that we specifically and emphatically said no, which is also impossible to prove.

Thus the need for an affirmative consent standard:

My wacky consent scheme flips it around. According to my scheme, women would abide in a persistent legal condition of not having given consent to sex.

Women can still have all the hetero-sex they want; if they adjudge that their dude hasn’t raped them, all they have to do is not call the cops.

It’s not that I don’t think women can say no. It’s that our partners should want us to say yes.

For further reading: Affirmative Consent As A Legal Standard,
On Deciding What Counts: Elizabeth Ellen and What Makes A Victim
, Our horrible consent culture is a tax on women