Heroes and scoundrels

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis is a hero.

Texas Sen. Tommy Williams, by contrast, isn’t even a gentleman.

Davis is in now in the final three hours of a thirteen-hour ordeal to block a law that would make legal abortions virtually unobtainable in most of Texas by creating unmeetable rules (e.g., the physician must hold admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic). As it happens, Davis only holds office due to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which prevented the Republicans from districting her out of her seat.

The Texas Senate filibuster rules require a single senator to hold the floor and to remain standing at all times, without food or water. The senator must keep speaking unless relieved by colleague who asks a question, but must keep standing in any case, without leaning on anything or receiving assistance from anyone to remain standing. That sounds to me like a rule against holding someone up.

But when a colleague helped Davis adjust her back brace, the low-life scoundrel Williams raised a point of order, the coward David Dewhurst, presiding, lacked the guts to make a ruling, and the Republican majority in the Senate duly voted that Davis had broken the rules. She was called out on another occasion for what the Republicans held was non-germane speech. If they find a third excuse to ding her before midnight, they can then invoke cloture.

Alas, Rick Perry has the power to call the Legislature back into session, so Davis’s heroics probably won’t succeed in stopping the bill from becoming law. But she has already succeeded in forcing the GOP to demonstrate, once again, how utterly removed it is from the basic human decencies. I have a feeling – and a hope – that we will be hearing from her in the future.

Footnote If you Tweet, the hashtag is #standwithwendy. Davis has already gotten a Twitter shout-out from the President.

Update Dewhurst has now ruled that Davis’s remarks on Texas’s transvaginal sonogram law – a law passed for the same purpose as the measure under debate, to wit vitiating the right to choose under Roe v. Wade by making its exercise uncomfortable, expensive, and impracticable – were not germane to the debate. The Democrats are now extending the filibuster by raising points of order of their own and attempting to force a debate on overruling Dewhurst’s ruling.

It’s not looking good for the good guys. The moral of the story, once again, is that Republicans lie, cheat, and steal to get their way. Is it – barely – possible that today’s antics in Texas and Washington will spark a backlash at the polls in 2014. It seems to me that Barack Obama, having already earned his Not An Angry Black Man merit badge, needs to show some righteous anger.

Second update After the presiding officer twice refused to recognize a female Democratic Senator to make privileged motions, she called him out with a “parliamentary inquiry”: “At what point does a female senator need to raise her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?”

That set off the crowd in the galleries, who are still making so much noise that the vote on the motion on the previous question could not be completed for fifteen minutes. Unless there’s a “stop the clock” rule, I think the good guys managed to run the clock out. Astounding!

Third update No, they’re voting on the bill, clearly after midnight. Remarkable what you can get away with when there’s no limit on your willingness to cheat.

My second campaign ad: Too close for comfort, Reproductive rights, unintended pregnancy, and the 2012 election

The right to choose is more than a slogan. It’s the right to be treated with dignity as people face some of the most intimate and difficult moments in life.

This is my second political commercial, I wrote and produced it, with the help of my friend Frey Hoffman @freydesign. Incidentally, the Planned Parenthood building behind me housed an adoption organization called the Cradle. It seems to be a very worthy organization.

The script is below. We couldn’t use all of it, because of the time constraints of a two-minute video.

Hello, I’m Harold Pollack. I don’t have a superpac. No one approved this message. It’s just me.

You know, I’ve been a public health researcher for 20 years now. Every single challenge I’ve worked on is made so much more difficult by the problem of unintended pregnancy. These issues would be so much easier to address if women had supports that they need to care for themselves and for their children, and if young women had the tools and the information they need to control their sexual lives, and to have healthy, intended pregnancies when they are ready.

I’m standing in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic. It’s right over there.  Governor Romney has pledged to defund these because of the abortion issue. Abortion is a tough issue. Especially as the caregiver for an intellectually disabled person, I don’t think we should we scream at each other over abortion. I get that.

But I think Governor Romney is making a mistake. Facilities like this provide primary care for many people. They provide women with effective contraception that reduce rates of teen pregnancy and abortion, too. They are important community institutions.

He’s also making a mistake in his pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. He supports banning abortion, with exceptions for cases of rape and incest, and cases in which pregnancy poses a serious threat to the life or the health of the mother.

Let’s think about the implications of that. Suppose that your daughter, your sister, your friend was dealing with an unintended pregnancy. Right now, she now has the constitutional right to consult with whomever she sees fit, and to make her own choice.

But what would happen if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, and the Supreme Court allowed states to outlaw abortions–with the exceptions that Governor Romney supports? First, ninety percent of women would lose the right to choose. And what about the remaining ten percent? They would need to ask permission strangers—maybe a judge, maybe a panel of medical experts—to explain why the circumstances of their pregnancies deserve some specific exemption. Do we really want to humiliate people like that?

 The right to choose is more than a slogan. It’s the right to be treated with dignity as people face some of the most intimate and difficult moments in life. We’re one presidential election away, one 79-year-old Supreme Court justice away, from seeing that right to choose overturned. And that’s too close for comfort.  

A simple question regarding the Republican platform

I don’t believe in screaming about abortion. I will just say that I find the GOP platform–and Romney and Ryan’s positions here–both extreme and inhumane.

Peter Hamby of CNN reports:

The Republican Party is once again set to enshrine into its official platform support for “a human life amendment” to the Constitution that would outlaw abortion without making explicit exemptions for rape or incest, according to draft language of the platform obtained exclusively by CNN late Monday.

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” the draft platform declares. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

As I understand it, Governor Romney believes in exceptions for rape and incest. Paul Ryan does not. 

Here’s a question that doesn’t arise all the time, but does arise in a heart-rending number of cases. Intellectually disabled young women sometimes become pregnant.  A pregnancy may be the result of a physically coercive act. It may be the result of statutory rape. It may be a purely unintended pregnancy within a consensual relationship with a casual or long-term partner.

Obviously such pregnancies pose difficult issues for both these young women and their caregivers. Not surprisingly, many woman and their families decide that abortion is the best option. As I understand it, Representative Ryan supports the Republican platform, which would outlaw abortion in each of the above situations. He would therefore require the young woman to proceed with her pregnancy. Governor Romney would make an exception for rape, but would otherwise do the same.

I don’t believe in screaming about abortion. There are good people on many sides here. I will simply say that I find Ryan and Romney’s positions to be both extreme and inhumane. I trust that the American people will have the decency to reject this platform, and the two men who endorsed and helped to craft it.

What’s all the Fuss About Todd Akin?

Especially from the Republican side.

1)  If you believe, as the Catholic church does and most conservatives do, that abortion is murder, then it is irrelevant whether a woman becomes pregnant through rape or through consensual sex.  At the moment of conception, there is a human being with human rights attached to it.  It really doesn’t matter if someone was raped.  Making an exception for rape makes no sense, and in fact undermines the current right-wing anti-abortion position.  For Republicans to proclaim that they are shocked, shocked by Akin shows that they lack the courage of their convictions.

2)  Akin might have had a better argument if, in response to the reporter’s question, he responded something like this: “Look, rape is horrific crime.  It’s a terrible tragedy for a woman if she is raped and then conceives.  But that doesn’t excuse killing the child.”  The only problem with that is that a reporter might have followed up: “well, then what do you expect that the government should do for the rape victim?”  The answer for most Republicans would be, “nothing.”  Stuff happens in life, and this is one of those things that happens.  Deal with it.  That’s essentially was the answer of the audience during the Republican debates when Wolf Blitzer asked what we should do with someone who doesn’t have health insurance and then gets in an accident or discovers that they have a terrible illness.

And that leads to the seam in modern Republican “thinking,” if it can be called that.  If you think that the government has a responsibility to help the rape victim, why not the victims of other terrible accidents or illnesses?  Why does the rape victim “deserve” help but the muscular dystrophy victim not deserve it?

So Akin tried to get out of the question, using the right-wing justification that as Mark points out has been there for a while in fever pits of Conservative America: if you get pregnant, then you must not have been raped.  See?  Everything works out okay!   Everyone is totally and completely responsible for their own condition.  There is no such thing as luck or the chains of circumstance.  The safety net, as St. Paul Ryan explained, is really just a hammock.

Do Republicans actually believe this?  I don’t know.  But their leaders seem to.  And they don’t want anyone to talk about situations when people’s lives are brutalized through no fault of their own.  The more that anyone does do this, it shows how ridiculous official Republican ideology is.

No wonder they want Akin out of the race.

Sauce for the gander

Illinois State Representative Kelly Cassidy has introduced a proposal requiring men who ask their doctors for Viagra to sit through a film showing treatment of its most common side effects, including that mythical four-hour erection.  Apparently it’s not a pretty sight.  Her proposed amendment to the Ultrasound Opportunity Act (obviously named by Eric Blair) parallels the Act’s requirement that women go through a medically unnecessary ultrasound before having an abortion.

Rep. Cassidy, a serious and thoughtful legislator, has declined thus far to accept a suggested friendly amendment requiring these same men to have a pointless and un-anesthetized anal probe.   Nor does anyone recommend modifying the proposal to require colonoscopies, because those would actually benefit the men, and therefore not be parallel to a vaginal invasion at all.

As I stood on a street-corner yesterday leading chants of “Birth control is basic health care!” and “Women are not livestock!” (the latter because the ultrasound bill and other Illinois proposals restricting women’s rights have been sent to the reliably and fanatically anti-choice Agriculture Committee), I wondered if I’d somehow fallen through a wormhole and ended up in 1963.  Hell, even Mad Men has gone further than that.

But if the Republicans want to fight the presidential election on this issue, they can bring it on:  Democrats at every level will win in a landslide.


Santorum: He’s not funny any more

I admit that I’ve found Mr. Santorum’s unlikely rise rather amusing. His recent comments about sensitive matters of disability, however, have gotten me seriously ticked off. His candidacy will eventually collapse of its own weight. I fear he’ll do real damage before he goes.

I admit that I’ve found Mr. Santorum’s unlikely rise rather amusing. He would self-immolate in the general election. I’ve never expected him to do more than make mischief for Romney. Of course he’s made any number of odious statements about LGBT people. Yet his comments on this front are so self-parodic and self-defeating, I found it hard to get super-upset.
Now, though, he’s got me seriously ticked off. Sayeth Mr. Santorum this weekend: 
One of the things that you don’t know about ObamaCare in one of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing,… Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society. That too is part of ObamaCare — another hidden message as to what president Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country.
I’m writing these words with my smiling brother-in-law Vincent sitting next to me, admiring the green lunchbox that we just bought him. Vincent lives with intellectual disabilities caused by fragile X syndrome. I find the above comments indescribably insulting.

Santorum’s comments are only made uglier by their utter lack of foundation. There is no evidence whatsoever that liberals–let alone President Obama–are less solicitious or caring about the disabled than other Americans. I’ve never heard any liberal health policy wonk promote genetic technologies to “cull the ranks of the disabled” or as part of any cost-cutting plan. That ugly meme is completely made up. By any reasonable measure, the proliferation of genetic diagnostic technologies coincides with great progress in public acceptance and support for people with disabilities. Continue reading “Santorum: He’s not funny any more”

An (almost) postscript on the contraceptive benefit debate

An anecdote underscores why liberals will win the contraceptive fight, and why the Church is so misguided to press its particulat views in broader public policy.

I’ve been too bogged down in other work to contribute to the contraceptive benefit debate. I feared I would miss the whole thing. I am pleased, however, with the way it has seems to be playing out.

I am gratified that social liberals are actually winning a health policy debate. I am somewhat astonished that social conservatives are fighting about contraceptives in this day and age.

Liberals have had few such victories after health reform. During the knife fight endgame leading up to ACA’s passage, feminists and the pro-choice coalition often found themselves under the bus for two simple reasons: (1) pro-life Democrats had the marginal votes, and (2) everyone understood that pro-life legislators were ready to bring down the house if they didn’t get their way. Because pro-lifers wanted it more, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and other liberals gritted their teeth and conceded on many key issues. I believe this was the right political call. It still hurt.  It’s nice to play a stronger hand.

I am also gratified that the Obama administration has reached a dignified accommodation with the Catholic Health Association and with other Catholic organizations that do so much every day to help poor people. Continue reading “An (almost) postscript on the contraceptive benefit debate”


… in rural Bangaladesh and in Indiana. The links between religious fanaticism and misogyny are strong, no matter which holy book the fanatics pretend to read.

In rural Bangladesh, ignorant religious fanatics sometimes condemn young rape victims to flogging, which can result in death. The girls are accused of faking their victimization and punished for sexual immorality.

To “conservatives,” that proves that Islam is barbaric.

In Indiana, the ignorant religious fanatics merely condemn young rape victims to carry theur rapists’ children to term, even if doing so threatens to kill them. Again, the excuse is that the accusations of rape are false, made only for the purpose of getting an abortion.

Much more civilized, don’t you think?

And tell me again about how the Teahadis just care about “small government” and fiscal issues?

Footnote Mitch Daniels – one of the “sane” Republicans Joe Klein wants to run for President – is expected to sign the bill, which will also require physicians to tell their patients things that aren’t true.

Support Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood is once again the target of Congressional attack. No organization has done more to promote reproductive autonomy or maternal and child health.

I’ve been meaning to blog about something, but Gail Collins beat me to it in a great column today.

I respect my friends and neighbors who identify with a pro-life perspective. Yet I hope the pro-life movement reconsiders the tremendous harm it has done—and is now doing–in its campaign against Planned Parenthood. No organization has done more than Planned Parenthood to advance reproductive rights and maternal and child health in America. By providing contraceptive services, pap smears, and STD screening, Planned Parenthood provides a critical service across America. (See postscript below the fold) Continue reading “Support Planned Parenthood”

What happens to health insurance rates when abortion coverage is excluded?

The RNC is dropping abortion coverage from hits heath insurance. Is that saving them any money?

The Republican National Committee has decided to be as heartless with its female employees (and the female family members of its employees) as Republican politicians want to be with women receiving federally-subsidized health care.  Having for years offered normal health insurance that includes abortion coverage, the RNC has now decided to penalize unwanted pregnancy by telling its insurer not to pay for abortions.

That raises an interesting question.  How much, if any, money is the RNC saving by doing so?  Since abortions are cheap compared to perinatal care and delivery, denying coverage could actually add to total costs.  So inquiring minds want to know whether Cigna will be lowering its rates when it offers its employees the inferior coverage demanded by the Religious Right.