Anti-choice is not “pro-life”

Tom Friedman shreds the folks whose idea of the sanctity of life starts at conception and ends at birth.

The prospect of a President Romney seems to have scared Tom Friedman into eloquence:

You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”

Politics and physics

When I was in the eighth grade I had Mr. Nadrowski for science, and one day he called Stephen Chilcote up to the front of the class and told him to push against the cinder-block wall until it fell over.  As Chiclet obediently pushed and the rest of us watched, Mr. Nadrowski kept up a descriptive patter: “So there he is, beads of sweat are popping out on his forehead, his muscles all straining; but you know what?  He’s not doing any work!”  His point was that from a physics standpoint no work occurs unless the object responds to the force; if the wall didn’t move, Stephen’s efforts didn’t count.

This seems to be the definition of “work” Republicans are using to complain that President Obama isn’t doing enough to fix the economy.  They build a cinder-block wall of legislative refusal and then criticize him for failing to push it over.

And when he does manage to move objects despite the cinder-block—by the Executive Order modifying immigration or the administrative maneuvers necessary to maintain contraception as a component of basic health-care—his opponents hyperventilate about Obama’s terrifying expansion of Presidential power.  From the people who created the Constitutionally bogus “signing statement,” that’s chutzpah enough to topple the canonical instance: the boy who, having murdered his parents, asks for leniency because he’s an orphan.

So let’s do some real work of our own.  If you’re interested in actually moving objects—Obama canvassers from Illinois to Iowa, and Iowa Democratic voters from their homes to the polls—please join my Wednesday evening phone bank, beginning this week (July 11) and continuing through the election.  Contact me off-line for details, but bear in mind that Iowa votes early, beginning on September 27: if we’re going to knock over the wall, we’ve got to do it over the summer.

The Bishops’ Seamless Garment Frays Some More: Cue Erich Ludendorff

Although I disagree with it on specifics, I have always respected the Roman Catholic Church’s position that its social teachings are a “seamless garment” — that is, it focuses on all aspects of its social teaching even if it does not fit neatly into political boxes. 

Well, it turns out that the garment’s got a lot of rips in it:

Internal Komen documents reviewed by Reuters reveal the complicated relationship between the Komen Foundation and the Catholic church, which simultaneously contributes to the breast cancer charity and receives grants from it. In recent years, Komen has allocated at least $17.6 million of the donations it receives to U.S. Catholic universities, hospitals and charities.

Church opposition reached dramatic new proportions in 2011, when the 11 bishops who represent Ohio’s 2.6 million Catholics announced a statewide policy banning church and parochial school donations to Komen.

Such pressure helped sway Komen’s leadership to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to current and former Komen officials….

The earliest signs of discord came in 2005, when South Carolina’s Catholic diocese pulled out of the local Komen fundraiser. It was followed over the next four years by individual dioceses in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Missouri and other states, where bishops either spoke out against Komen or took steps to stem donations to the charity, mainly because of its Planned Parenthood link.

The momentum picked up in 2011 when top Ohio clerics met in Columbus. High on their agenda was the question of whether the state’s nine dioceses should participate in Komen fundraisers.

No Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio receive Komen money. But the bishops decided that diocese funds should no longer benefit the charity, for fear that money sent from local Komen affiliates to the Dallas headquarters could wind up in Planned Parenthood’s coffers or help fund research on stem cells collected from human fetuses, according to church officials.

So — in a probable violation of the Thomist Doctrine of Double Effect, the bishops have decided to refuse all support for any women’s health promoted by Komen for fear that somewhere, somehow, some money might make it into some Planned Parenthood office.  And they went even further, telling all of their parishoners not to do anything to help, either.  It was, of course, interesting that they did nothing of the kind concerning Republican candidates who vowed to slash funding for programs for the poor, many of which also supported Catholic Charities.

High on the 2011 agenda, of course, was this issue.  It’s not clear from the story, but this seemed to be a much higher agenda issue than, say, the truly vicious cuts proposed by Paul Ryan, or John Kasich, or any other right-winger.  Some things, you see, are just more important than others.

One of the glories of contemporary religious thought is the Catholic social justice tradition, epitomized by the likes of Dorothy Day but also advanced by thousands of lay Catholics and individual priests throughout the world.  Everywhere from US streets to isolated villages in the Congo, Catholics are modeling themselves on Jesus’ life, ministering to the poor, fighting for justice, and bringing the Holy Spirit to earth.  They deserve better clerical leadership than what they are getting.

It thus reminds me of a (perhaps-apocryphal) conversation between German World War I generals Max Hoffmann and Erich Ludendorff, about the valiant British infantry cut down through the idiotic strategy of their generals:

Ludendorff:  The British fought like lions.

Hoffmann:  Yes; but they were led by donkeys.

Why Republicans are in a box: their base, and nobody else, thinks unmarried people shouldn’t have sex.

Republican self-destruction on birth control has a fairly simple explanation: a majority of Republicans, and no one else, think that unmarried people shouldn’t have sex. That explains a lot about Rush Limbaugh’s tirade—but also about Mitt Romney’s equivocation.

Those who’ve been following the birth control brouhaha may be wondering what on earth Republicans think they’re doing. The answer is that they’re expressing an opinion regarding sexual morality that’s popular among their voters but nobody else: namely that unmarried people shouldn’t have sex at all.

Gallup for many years has been polling Americans on whether certain things are “morally acceptable” or “morally wrong.” Regarding “sex between an unmarried man and woman,” the latest figures I could find (from 2011) show that 60 percent regard that as “morally acceptable” and only 36 percent “morally wrong.” (According to the .pdf of the whole survey, that 24-point spread is up from only 11 points in 2001.)

One reason old Republican men are so out of touch on this is that there’s a huge age gap in attitudes. The Gallup figures show that premarital sex is considered acceptable by 71 percent of 18-34-year-olds, but only 47 percent of those 55 and older. This makes premarital sex the third-most divisive moral issue by age, after pornography and gay or lesbian sex.

But the fascinating part is the partisan split. Gallup in 2011 didn’t break the figures down by party. But it did in 2010 (when the overall “acceptable” figure was almost identical, 59 percent). The result was (press release here, full .pdf here)

67 percent of Democrats think premarital sex is morally acceptable;

64 percent of Independents;

only 47 percent of Republicans.

If one did a separate breakdown by age and sex, I’m sure this would jump out even more. Probably a very small minority of older Republicans think that premarital sex is OK, but an overwhelming majority of young Democrats and Independents think so.

This makes sex and contraception, as I’ve said before, the perfect wedge issue (as well as, I’d add, the perfect issue to motivate the base—a two-fer). No Republican candidate dare imply that it’s OK if young people have sex before marriage. No one hoping to appeal to younger independents dare imply that it isn’t.

That explains why Rush Limbaugh thinks he’ll get a free pass for calling Sandra Fluke a slut: she is, after all, “an [unmarried] American woman who uses contraception.” But it also explains why Mitt Romney, even before he cravenly changed his position on the Blunt Amendment, said that he didn’t want to get involved in contraceptive decisions  “within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife.” Emphasis added. Romney may believe in his heart of hearts (stipulating that he still has such a thing) that it’s not his business whether unmarried couples have sex and use contraception. But he quickly caught himself, because he knows that the Republican base believes no such thing. He’s aspiring to lead an Ozzie and Harriet party in a Big Bang Theory world.

Oh, as for why the Catholic hierarchy is feeling so boxed in on the question: ordinary Catholics are substantially more liberal than the average American on these questions. Orthodox Catholics know this perfectly well, and aren’t happy.

Update: It looks as if Eleanor Clift agrees with me (without having the numbers).

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.


Simple question

Republicans seem unable to admit that birth control, in itself, is a good thing. That inability itself should be highlighted, and endlessly broadcasted.

After reading a transcript of the Republican debate last night, I think the media should ask a very simple question:

“Leaving aside questions of government policy and abortion, do you personally think that the invention of effective birth control technologies—condoms, the pill, diaphrams—has been a good thing for society?”  (I’ve phrased that to leave out all the methods that anybody, however oddly, believes to be abortifacients.)

Mark has already suggested that Mitt Romney should be asked a similar question, but it’s now clear that all the Republican candidates, even Ron Paul, now feel a need to waffle on whether the existence of contraception itself is good or bad. This is simply unbelievable—and, for the party, unsustainable.

I don’t normally think that single questions can determine elections, and I’m as ready as the next person to attribute most of what happens in elections to economic factors. But sometimes position-taking matters. And even lack of position-taking can matter if it suggests a position that’s extreme enough.

Eventually, either the press or the Democrats are going to make sure that the question gets asked in a forum where the follow-up question—”simple question, sir: government policy aside, has it been a good thing?”—can be pursued. And no would-be Republican nominee will have the guts (or, in Santorum’s case, the eccentric conscience) to say yes. At that point, Obama, not to mention Steve Israel, can start running, over and over, a thirty-second spot of the eventual Republican nominee’s refusal to say yes.

Devastating. And the Republicans will deserve the devastation.

Update: I’m not suggesting that candidates be penalized for matters of personal faith if they’re deliberately willing to bracket their faith for public policy purposes. For instance, Catholic politicians whose religion leads them to oppose the death penalty—as allegedly orthodox Catholic Rick Santorum, by the way, rather hypocritically doesn’t—sometimes (like Jerry Brown) say they will impartially enforce existing laws that provide for the death penalty’s existence. In such cases, their religious beliefs are rightly considered irrelevant. But since the Republican candidates are explicitly and loudly unwilling to acknowledge that kind of separation, we are entitled to regard their faith as a direct indication of their policy intent: because they do.