2007 07 18
Um, ew.

There are just so many gems in this NYT piece on abstinence-only education. But this takes the cake:

In northeastern Texas, advocates of abstinence education vow to fight for their mission because to them, it is not just a matter of sexuality or even public health. Getting a teenager to the other side of high school without viruses or babies is a bonus, but not the real goal. They see casual sex as toxic to future marriage, family and even, in an oblique way, opposition to abortion.

“You have to look at why sex was created,” Eric Love, the director of the East Texas Abstinence Program, which runs Virginity Rules, said one day, the sounds of Christian contemporary music humming faintly in his Longview office. “Sex was designed to bond two people together.”

To make the point, Mr. Love grabbed a tape dispenser and snapped off two fresh pieces. He slapped them to his filing cabinet and the floor; they trapped dirt, lint, a small metal bolt. “Now when it comes time for them to get married, the marriage pulls apart so easily,” he said, trying to unite the grimy strips. “Why? Because they gave the stickiness away.”

Tune in next week when Mr. Love uses a straightened paper clip to show that curing homosexuality is as easy as a trip to Office Max.

Howls of outrage (3)

2006 04 13
Gladwell’s “Here’s Why”

Posted by in: Abortion

Malcolm Gladwell has a piece in the New Yorker about some recent work by Charles Tilly on the subject of explanation. The basic idea is that there are different kinds of explanation, that they’re not necessarily competing, and that setting out the different types of explanation clearly provides a decent framework for sorting through a fairly wide range of social issues and disagreements. No comment on any of that. I just want to point out that Gladwell chooses a really lousy example to illustrate this point:

When we say that two parties in a conflict are �talking past each other,� this is what we mean: that both sides have a legitimate attachment to mutually exclusive reasons. Proponents of abortion often rely on a convention (choice) and a technical account (concerning the viability of a fetus in the first trimester). Opponents of abortion turn the fate of each individual fetus into a story: a life created and then abruptly terminated. Is it any surprise that the issue has proved to be so intractable? If you believe that stories are the most appropriate form of reason-giving, then those who use conventions and technical accounts will seem morally indifferent�regardless of whether you agree with them. And, if you believe that a problem is best adjudicated through conventions or technical accounts, it is hard not to look upon storytellers as sensationalistic and intellectually unserious. By Tilly�s logic, abortion proponents who want to engage their critics will have to become better storytellers�and that, according to the relational principles of such reason-giving, may require them to acknowledge an emotional connection between a mother and a fetus.

OK, I can imagine particular debates between particular people about abortion that turn on this sort of difference. But as an account of what is going on in the abortion debate in general, there’s not even a grain of truth to this. Opponents of abortion very often appeal to rights attaching to the fetus in virtue of the fetus’s status as a person, against the passionate narrative-based appeals of pro-choicers to the incredibly difficult situations that women find themselves in when they have unwanted pregnancies. The debate just doesn’t break down along these lines, and so the theory as applied here turns out to be completely useless.

I haven’t read Tilly, so I’m not sure if “Tilly’s logic” is Gladwell’s attempt to apply his theory to a particular issue or something that Tilly says himself. Either way, something, either at the level of theory or application, has gone badly wrong here, since this is a result that only takes a moment or two of reflection to disconfirm.

Howls of outrage (8)

2006 04 02
Failure of Another WaPo Will

Today William Saletan accuses each side in the debate over Emergency Contraception of finding comfort in semantics. To an extent, he is correct. In most cases, when EC is successful, it blocks the fertilization of an egg. But in some very small percentage of cases, it may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. And the following sort of argument does get forwarded by some in the pro-choice community:

Abortion rights supporters say EC can’t abort a pregnancy, since “medical authorities” define pregnancy as beginning at implantation.

If this is the definition of “pregnancy,” then the moral issues involved appear to be wider than issues involving pregnancy. IF you don’t think that a zygote is a person with a right to life, then you need to make that (pretty easy) case. Insisting that a zygote is not a pregnancy isn’t sufficient.

But Saletan engages in his own chicanery, and in a journalist it is even more inexcusable. Trying to demonstrate that there is a hot debate even within the pro-choice community regarding the effects of EC, he writes:

Abortion rights supporters are divided, too. Planned Parenthood, the Population Council and similar groups claim that studies prove EC has “no effect on implantation.” But Plan B’s manufacturer doesn’t agree. Neither does James Trussell, who is a leading authority on EC. Trussell says that while EC usually prevents ovulation, some evidence “suggests a post-fertilization contraceptive effect.” A week ago, he warned colleagues, “We cannot conclude that EC [pills] never prevent pregnancy after fertilization.”

Saletan invokes this story as evidence that EC’s proponents “who talk so much about choice and information…deny women informed consent.” That, of course, is a hefty charge, especially coming from a journalist.

But it is absurd. Planned Parenthood’s website is very clear: “Theoretically, EC could also prevent implantation, but that has not been proven scientifically.”

So how do we explain Planned Parenthood’s statement that “EC has ‘no effect on implantation’?” Well, either we wonder whether Saletan wasn’t so eager to construct an internal debate within the pro-choice community that he summarily misquoted all those groups, or else he (culpably) ignored the semantic fact that “implantation” can mean:

(1)The act or an instance of implanting; or
(2) The condition of being implanted.

Saletan presents it as obvious that the advocacy groups are saying categorically that EC doesn’t affect implantation in the first sense–even though Planned Parenthood’s website informs its readers that EC might prevent implantation in the first sense. In the face of all the data in play, the responsible journalist would have concluded that the advocacy groups were using the second sense, since it is known that EC has no effect on implantation in the second sense. (My guess is that the “quotation” is a tendentious paraphrase of statements by the advocacy groups to the effect that EC can’t shake loose an implanted embryo.)

Saletan appears to find diminishing marginal utility in distinction-making. If a distinction won’t help depict the internal catfight that everyone hopes for, ignore it. Truly hackalicious.

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2005 11 05

Posted by in: Abortion, Political issues

My girlfriend works in media relations for a DC nonprofit. She’s constantly expressing frustration about how lazy some reporters can be. For years her major problem was getting them to see the difference between medical abortion (=RU486) and emergency contraception (=the morning after pill / ‘Plan B’). Reporters still make the mistake. One terminates a pregnacy, the other prevents one. But never mind that, you’ve got a deadline.

Last night I was watching C-Span for a bit, and they were showing a press conference with Sens. Rockefeller, Levin, and (I think) Boxer. As you may know, the Dems forced a closed session out of which it was resolved that three Republicans and three Dems would report back to the senate by Nov. 14 to report on how the intelligence committee’s progress and plans to move forward on Phase II of its investigation of prewar intelligence issues. I know all this without having read a single article on the issue.

So when it becomes time for questions at this press conference, a reporter raises her hand and asks: “Why did you wait until three weeks before the Intelligence Committee’s final report was due on Nov. 14? Why not just wait until it’s issued?” Levin looked at her as TI would look at you if you asked, “OK, I know that Hobbes is a eudaimonist. But if so, why is he so hostile to Aristotle?”

Basically, Chris, I’m just saying that if you ever decide to go into journalism, my guess is that you’ll rise to Josh Marshall’s level with great celerity. ‘Cause, you see, you’re competent.

I can see it now: ExplanandaCafe.com

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 08 11
Explananda, Fashion Edition

Warning: grody stuff discussed here.

This NY Times article describes a hot new trend for fall: clothes made from “astrakhan” or “broadtail”, which is the fur of baby lambs of a certain breed. But also, the article tells us, the finest astrakhan comes from lamb fetuses, a few weeks before they would be born. Sometimes labor is induced, but it sounds like more often the pregnant ewe is killed and the fetus cut out.

Ok, there are many grody things here. First, the fashion industry and fashion journalism in general. Second, making fetishy clothes out of skin when there’s no real need to use skin. Third, killing baby lambs. Fourth, killing fetal lambs. Fifth, killing and cutting open pregnant ewes.

The author is obsessed with the fetal lambs angle. That seems to be the main reason the article was written. Did you realize, Ms. High-Fashion Consumer, that your $75,000 coat was made from fetal lambs?!

(The fashion consumers and designers mentioned in the article don’t seem to give a damn. You can almost hear them waving him away.)

The author seems to think making clothes out of fetal lambs is much worse than making them out of baby lambs, and that both are worse than making clothes out of adult sheep. Why? Shouldn’t it be less bad? (Supposing that the concern is not for the ewe but for the fetus.) The fetus isn’t walking around, looking at the big blue sky, thinking of its lamby future, wondering who the man with the knife is, feeling fear and pain.

Supposing you get the fetus without harming the ewe, it’s not morally worse to use the skin of a fetus than it is to use the skin of a lamb. It’s probably morally better. I mean, it’s grody — but as I said, killing animals to make clothes out of their skin when you don’t need to is just grody, and I don’t see why these are more grody.

Maybe the author is (or expects readers to be) motivated by a tacit view that fetuses are “like babies, but even more small and helpless”, so it’s worse to hurt them. They’re like baaaaby babies!

Is this what’s going on in the minds of right-to-lifers? Anybody else think this is just weird?

Also, bonus points for making sense of this mangled explanation:

That concerns about astrakhan have made little headway this year can be partly explained because organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have largely lost sympathy with fashion designers and models like Cindy Crawford, who embraced the organization’s campaigns in the 80’s but grew weary of its intimidating techniques.

Concerns about astrakhan would hurt the fashion industry, right? But PETA hasn’t raised these concerns, because they don’t like the fashion industry?

Howls of outrage (6)

2005 01 19
Pictures not included

Posted by in: Abortion, Political issues

Last night my girlfriend and I attended the annual Roe v. Wade anniversary dinner put on by NARAL Pro-Choice America. I had meant to bring the digital camera, just ’cause you never know what’s going to happen at these things. (Turns out we were sitting two tables away from Howard Dean, who walked in, stood up when he was recognized by the first emcee, and then, so far as I could tell, bolted faster than President Bush from a press conference.) The dinner was a good time. Chuck Schumer spoke well, I thought, and vowed to amend “I support Roe v. Wade”-language to any bill put forward in Congress trying to chip away at Roe. We’ll see how (or if) that goes.

But the best part of the night occurred just after we walked in the door. There, at the beginning of a long hallway, were two signs, each pointing to separate events going on in the same hotel. The signs were so close to each other that they overlapped, one’s bottom corner covering the other. What were the two signs? “Roe v. Wade Dinner, NARAL” and “Inaugural Prayer Breakfast.” Oh how I do wish I had remembered to bring the digital camera!

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 12 20
Re: Abortion

The two points made here seem sensible to me.

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2004 12 16
With friends like these…

Posted by in: Abortion

Great post by Atrios here:

What do pro-life Democrats want?

Do they want to outlaw abortion? If so, I’m not going to tell them that view is okay.

Do they want to add additional legal restrictions to abortion in response to the latest Republican icky-abortion-scare? If so, I’m not going to tell them that view is okay.

Atrios cites a recent Amy Sullivan post over at washingtonmonthly.com. Sullivan lauds Kerry for recently telling the president of EMILY’S LIST that the Dems need “new ways to make people understand they didn’t like abortion.” She then links to an “excellent piece” by Sara Blustain, deputy editor at the American Prospect.

Blustain unrepentently admits to being pro-choice, but then spends paragraph after paragraph explaining how icky pro-choice rhetoric makes her feel. She’s tired of the bald liberal invocation of women’s “rights”, apparently because it makes women sound “so darn cheerful” about their ability to exercise those rights. Blustain even left the March for Womens’ Lives–after having gone “ambivalently, reluctantly, and under peer pressure–because the “rally left me cold.” I’m sorry, what?? The confluence of over one million Americans to march for the right of women to have control over their own bodies; to fight for women to be able to have birth control covered by insurance plans that happily cover viagra; to fight for the right to be referred to a doctor willing to counsel a women on reproductive health issues when the first doctor she goes to invokes a “refusal clause”; to demand that abortion remain safe, legal, and rare through the teaching of comprehensive sex education in our schools; all of these things left Blustain cold?

Democrats like Sullivan and Blustain identify a real issue: Democratic politicians often do not effectively touch workaday voters when they talk about abortion. I agree that they need to make considerations that weigh with liberals like us weigh with those who are, at the moment, wont to reject our views. But there is more than one way to do this, and spending political air time lamenting about the tragedy involved with an abortion is the wrong way to go. We need to bring home the tragedies involved when women are denied proper medical care, or when teenagers don’t know how to use condoms but they sure know how to use all that spare time after school, or when Roe is overturned and women have to go back to the way it was: coat hangers and back-alley abortions. All this was talked about at the March, by speaker after speaker. This is the rhetoric of women’s lives–the rhetoric of threatened lives–and American women can not afford to follow Blustain to the political center where she feels cozier. Even though I’m not a woman, there are several women who are, in Aristotle’s words, other myselves. So I don’t feel out of place when I say to Blustain: Hell no, we won’t go.

Howls of outrage (4)

2004 12 02
This has got to stop

Posted by in: Abortion, AIDS, Odds and ends, Sex

The idea of abstinence-only sex education is a travesty of the sort of concern we owe to our youngsters. But when certain groups that receive federal dollars for these programs deliberately mislead students through distortions, outright falsehoods, and pathetic allegories, it’s criminal. From today’s WaPo:

Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person’s genitals “can result in pregnancy,” a congressional staff analysis has found.

[The Bush admin is] providing nearly $170 million next year to fund groups that teach abstinence only…

Waxman’s staff reviewed the 13 most commonly used curricula — those used by at least five programs apiece.

Among the misconceptions cited by Waxman’s investigators:

� A 43-day-old fetus is a “thinking person.”

� HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.

� Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.

One curriculum, called “Me, My World, My Future,” teaches that women who have an abortion “are more prone to suicide” and that as many as 10 percent of them become sterile. This contradicts the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook that says fertility is not affected by elective abortion, the Waxman report said.

Nonpartisan researchers have been unable to document measurable benefits of the abstinence-only model. Columbia University researchers found that although teenagers who take “virginity pledges” may wait longer to initiate sexual activity, 88 percent eventually have premarital sex.

Some course materials cited in Waxman’s report present as scientific fact notions about a man’s need for “admiration” and “sexual fulfillment” compared with a woman’s need for “financial support.” One book in the “Choosing Best” series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. “Moral of the story,” notes the popular text: “Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.”

As the article reports, there is evidence that all abstinence-only education does for teens is get them to delay having unsafe sex for a little while. By restricting talk of contraception to their failure rates, we get teens to think, “Well, if they don’t work anyway, why should I use them?” High school is a crazy time, and we cannot expect teens act as they have promised in some fourth-period health class. Teens everywhere find themselves hanging-out after school, with little to do. And it is not ususal, even in a small, Texas town, to find your “friends” saying, “You’re a little faggot. You’re 15, and you still haven’t had sex.” In times like those, one’s in-school pledge to stay a virgin is likely to mean very little to you. Having gone through all this ourselves, we owe it to our children to give them the tools they need to protect themselves as they walk down inevitable pathways of adolescence. Lying to our children about scientific fact on the government’s dime and witholding from them the information they need to stay safe is not only inexcusable, but a road to disaster. This has got to stop.

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2004 11 29
Abortion Poll

Posted by in: Abortion, Political issues

AP reports:

[An Associated Press poll] found that 59 percent say Bush should choose a nominee who would uphold the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. About three in 10, 31 percent, said they want a nominee who would overturn the decision, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

And on litmus tests:

The survey found that 61 percent of all respondents said Supreme Court nominees should state their position on abortion before being approved for the job.

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2004 08 31
The Way It Was

Posted by in: Abortion

Speaking of brilliance, there is an article in this month’s Mother Jones that exemplifies that characteristic. “The Way It Was”, by Eleanor Cooney, describes in stark and sometimes gory detail what it was like for America’s unintentionally pregnant girls and women before Roe.

Cooney recalls getting “knocked up” at 18:

There was nothing exciting or memorable or even interestingly sordid about the sex. I wasn’t raped or coerced, nor was I madly in love or drunk or high. The guy was another kid, actually younger than I, just a friend, and it pretty much happened by default. We were horny teenagers with nothing else to do.

Nature, the ultimate unsentimental pragmatist, has its own notions about what constitutes a quality liaison. What nature wants is for sperm and egg to meet, as often as possible, whenever and wherever possible. Whatever it takes to expedite that meeting is fine with nature. If it’s two people with a bassinet and a nursery all decorated and waiting and a shelf full of baby books, fine. If it’s a 12-year-old girl who’s been married off to a 70-year-old Afghan chieftain, fine. And if it’s a couple of healthy young oafs like my friend and me, who knew perfectly well where babies come from but just got stupid for 15 minutes, that’s fine, too.

In the movies, newly pregnant women trip, fall down the stairs, and “lose the baby.” Ah. If only it were that easy. In real life, once that egg is fertilized and has glided on down the fallopian tube, selected its nesting place, and settled in, it’s notoriously secure, behaves like visiting royalty. Nature doesn’t give a fig about the hostess’s feelings of hospitality or lack of them. If the zygote’s not defective, and the woman is in good health, almost nothing will shake it loose. Anyone who’s been pregnant and didn’t want to be knows this is so.

The rest of her story, and the contemporary details about what conservatives are nowadays doing in the euphemistic name of a “culture of life,” should be read by everyone, including our teenage sons and daughters. Especially important is the explication of the scope of the so-called “partial birth abortion” ban. If you thought that this was a ban solely on third-trimester, you believe exactly what the legislative proponents of the ban want you to believe.

What, you might ask, is “partial-birth” abortion? Most of us know that the term is not a medical one. Invented by the pro-life folks in the last decade or so, it’s a vague reference to “intact dilation and extraction,” or D&X. Introduced in 1992, D&X is a variation on a similar, well-established second- (and sometimes third-) term procedure-“dilation and evacuation,” or D&E-used after the fetus has grown too large to be vacuumed or scraped out in a simple D&C, or “dilation and curettage.”

In a D&E, the fetus is usually dismembered inside the uterus and extracted in pieces. Old obstetrics books from as far back as the 170Os have disquieting illustrations of the various tools of yore used for fetal dismemberment. Nowadays, powerful gripping forceps are used, making the procedure much less dangerous for the woman.

The D&X was developed with the same objective. An inherent hazard of D&E-aside from potential damage by the instruments themselves and the risk of leaving tissue behind, increasing the chances of infection-is that fetal bones begin to calcify at about 13 weeks. As they are broken up, the sharp bone ends can puncture, scrape, and perforate. Hence the “intact” dilation and extraction. The fetus is brought out whole instead of being pulled apart bit by bit. The head is punctured and then collapsed by suction or compression so that it will fit through the partially dilated cervix. The fetus is dead, but in one piece. This, specifically, is the procedure the PBAB has sought to criminalize-when the fetus is killed while its body is outside the uterus, therefore “partially born.”

Under the PBAB of 2003, a D&X would be permitted only to save the woman’s life or if the fetus is dead. It would require a girl who’d been impregnated by her uncle, father, or brother, and who, out of shame, ignorance, and fear had hidden her condition until it was obvious to the world, to carry the fetus to term and give birth. If a woman discovers, late in her pregnancy, that the fetus has, say, anencephaly-a brain stem but no actual brain-then she must carry it to term, give birth, and let it die on its own.

13 weeks.

The beginning of the article can be read here, but you need either to have institutional electronic access or to buy the issue to read it all. I highly suggest you do that latter. Do not assume that the full force of the article can be got from the passages I’ve highlighted here.

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