Friday, November 20, 2009

On the land of T-bone steaks and unending tummy rubs

Okay, so UGA's beloved mascot, Uga VII, passed away Thursday morning from a heart attack.

As a Bulldog, I mourn the loss of our mascot, who was a big chunk of bulldog and a commanding presence on the sideline. As a dog owner, I feel awful for the Seiler family, who lost a family pet; those who have met him say he was a friendly, good-natured dog. The average lifespan for a bulldog is eight years, and the Seilers have seen the passing of six Ugas before, but I'm sure that doesn't make it any easier this time.

Georgia won't have a bulldog mascot on the sidelines this weekend against Kentucky, but there are plans to hang a wreath on his doghouse. The Seilers plan to have a dawg in place at next Saturday's game against Georgia Tech, although it won't necessarily be the next Uga.

Rest in peace, Uga VI's Loran's Best, and may you find mountains of kibble and bountiful bags of ice. You were a damn good dawg and a good boy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On the stupidity inherent in the system

Okay, so it's no secret that I'm fairly exercised about the current health-care debate, particularly in re: the Stupak Amendment and reproductive rights. So when I got to a link from the Center for Reproductive Rights encouraging me to send an e-mail to my representative, urging him to sign Representatives Diana DeGette's and Louise Slaughter's letter of opposition to Nancy Pelosi, I was all for it. I sat down and penned an eloquent missive to my rep, Artur Davis. No form letter, this--I spoke of the plight of poor and middle-class women struggling for access to health care, the need for that health care to be comprehensive and address all of their needs as determined by that woman and her doctor, not as decided by a bunch of strangers in Congress or a bunch of fundamentalists behind a Web site. I implored him to be brave, to do what he knew was right instead of what would be expected of him from the Mountain Brook housewives in his district. God, it was a fine letter.

I shortly got an e-mail from Nancy Northrup with the CRR, thanking me for participating. "Thank you for taking action on this urgent issue," she said. "Every message sent will make a difference."

Maybe in a different district. Maybe in a different state. Maybe, certainly, with a different representative. But not with our buddy Artur Davis.

Artie writes:
Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts and concerns regarding abortion services within the health care reform package. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.
Well, y'know, it's what I do. I care.
As the health care reform legislation continues to take shape in both chambers of Congress over the next several weeks, I share your concerns about the use of federal funds to provide abortion services. I have joined other members of Congress in urging Speaker Pelosi to include language in any final healthcare reform bill that makes clear that no federal dollars can be used to finance coverage of an abortion-whether through a public option or through the direct use of federal subsidies to individuals. I believe this approach is consistent with the Hyde Amendment, a thirty year old federal prohibition on the use of Medicaid dollars to finance an abortion.
It's a big deal, y'know? Whether we like it or not, abortion services are an important part of comprehensive health care for women, so it's important to defend--wait, what?
I have joined other members of Congress in urging Speaker Pelosi to include language in any final healthcare reform bill that makes clear that no federal dollars can be used to finance coverage of an abortion...
Ah. Well, then, fuck you, Artur Davis.

He goes on to blah, blah, blah, and abortion is controversial and emotional, and tax dollars and an event that offends people's beliefs, and whatever, and I don't care, because fuck you, Artur Davis.
Please know that as this process moves forward I will continue to keep your thoughts in mind.
Why start now?
Again, thank you for contacting me, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future on matters that are important to you.
I'm pretty sure you won't. I'm not a fan of wasting my time. But I can think of a lot of people I can contact on matters that are important to me, and I've got plenty of time to do it between now and November 2010.

So to wrap up: Neither you nor any of your interns even bothered to read my e-mail, you don't share my concerns, you won't get my vote, and to sum up, FUCK YOU, Artur Davis.

Think you might have better luck with your rep? Check out the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On choices

Or, The Stupak, It Burns

Okay, so on Saturday night, the House of Representatives told the women of America to get comfortable under that bus, because universal health care is actually going to be defined as universal except for some women, because their ladyparts sometimes require procedures that we find icky. It may sound like I'm being dramatic, but I'll tell you, it feels pretty darn dramatic. It feels like our elected representatives are willing to screw over poor women and women who couldn't afford insurance without getting it through their employer and women who may get pregnant accidentally and women who may get pregnant intentionally--in other words, every women with a functioning uterus--in the name of affordable health care for the other 49.1 percent of U.S. citizens.

The Stupak Amendment to HR 3962 bans abortion coverage for any private or public health plan receiving federal subsidies--in essence every plan available on the Exchange. Not for any amount of money, not for any woman. Not even for a woman paying her entire premium herself. Not in a box, not with a fox. Thus women who depend on their employers for insurance or women who must pay for their insurance themselves will be left paying out of pocket for what can be a very expensive procedure. Exceptions will be made, of course, for rape, incest, and the life--life, not health--of the mother, so if you're lucky enough to have preeclampsia, you can just wait until the seizures start and then the government will take care of you.

For some reason, Bart Stupak and friends think it's perfectly reasonable that reproductive health services are the only ones that can be left completely out in the cold. They don't, for instance, try to explicitly remove heart disease from the bill, even though it costs taxpayers more annually than women's health services and usually arises from preventable lifestyle choices. Sorry, chubbo, you're paying for your angioplasty out of pocket! Next time you'll think twice before reaching for that rack of ribs. You should have coughed up for that extra heart-disease policy when you had the chance.

Three arguments that I will not entertain:

1. There are more important things to worry about right now! This bill would provide health insurance to 96 percent of Americans; can't you just compromise for their sake?

Well, no, I can't. Among those 96 percent are nearly 150 million women who may someday need reproductive health coverage. Congress would never try to pass a bill explicitly requiring insurers to deny coverage for obesity, and if they did, Americans would be up in arms. They would never try to pass a bill explicitly denying coverage for sickle-cell anemia. Yet when it's women getting the fuzzy end of the universal health-care lollipop, we're expected to sit back quietly, in the name of compromise, and hope that we'll someday get our chance to politely request the benefits that are offered to everyone else without thought or question. Hell, it's the sitting back quietly and politely that's gotten us into this situation.

2. The Hyde Amendment already says that federal dollars can't be used for abortions. It's not like women are any worse off.

First of all, let me note that even if women weren't any worse off, they'd be no worse off than a bad position. The Hyde Amendment was bad from the start, and women have been fighting against it from the start. It's like saying, "Oh, he's just trapped in the forest with a broken femur. It's not like it's raining or anything." No, it sure isn't raining, but that doesn't mean he's okay out there with his broken femur, and it doesn't mean someone doesn't need to go in there and help him.

That said, no, in fact, women are worse off. The Hyde Amendment, lousy as it is, only says that federal dollars can't be used for abortions. The Stupak Amendment extends that to all insurance sold through the Exchange, even to women who themselves pay their entire premiums without using federal dollars. Whereas before, it was only poor women on Medicaid who were left out in the cold, now it's any woman who can't afford to pay $1,500 for a D&E after her much-wanted baby is discovered to have hydrocephalus. Sure, she could have bought an abortion rider, but she probably didn't expect to ever need an abortion, any more than a person would buy a bus-hitting rider in anticipation of being hit by a bus.

3. I think that abortion is murder, and I don't want my tax dollars to fund murder.

Of course you don't. Neither does the pacifist who believes that war is murder--and yet still has to watch her tax dollars fund war. Neither does the person who believes that the death penalty is murder--and yet still has to watch his tax dollars fund executions. But in 1976, our government ruled that people who oppose abortion have the special privilege of dictating how their taxes are used. Since by current numbers, 57 percent of Americans oppose the Iraq war while only 45 percent oppose abortion, you'd think Congress would be rushing to shield tax dollars from the military rather than from reproductive health, but somehow that isn't the case.

The upshot echoes what President Obama said in an interview with ABC--"This is a health-care bill, not an abortion bill." On the surface, it sounds kind of dismissive, like we're discussing health care now and abortion will have to wait. But taken in context, it has meaning. It means that abortion isn't a separate issue. It means that health care isn't health care without care for every aspect of health, serving every citizen. Discussing abortion as a separate issue ignores the fact that, like diabetes and cancer, reproductive health is an integral aspect of health care crucial to keeping America healthy.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Okay, so I count myself lucky to have friends of a wide variety of personal conviction--Christian to Muslim to atheist, pro-choice to anti-choice and that nebulous in-between where you would never have an abortion yourself but you totally support other women's right to have abortions when please, if you're honest with yourself, you can't know how you would act were such a situation to arise but at least you're not one of those women who are totally anti-choice right up to the point where they find themselves pregnant but then they get to have an abortion because they have a good reason and everyone else just hates babies.

A friend of mine of the Christian, anti-choice variety (who is also generally a very nice and reasonable man, and he and his wife are currently housing a 20-week-old fetus in her abdomen, which they're very excited about, and thus so am I) posted a link on Facebook without comment: Why does Planned Parenthood need a restraining order against Abby Johnson? And my response to that is, well, because.

Let me disclose right away that I am not generally a fan of Double X (for all values of "generally" equal to "at all"). Their XXFactor blog claims to give voice to "what women really think," but its content seems liberally sprinkled with the kind of "just because I don't espouse any generally accepted feminist values doesn't mean I'm not a feminist" drivel that gives Sister F***ers something to link to approvingly in their blogs.

Another thing I'm not a fan of is intellectually incurious--to the point of suspicion--blog posts. Regardless of writer Rachael Larimore's stated intent to "kee[p] an eye on" the issue, she's gotten off to a weak start with a post that accurately parrots a local news story and goes into no further depth, accepting Johnson's accusations about Planned Parenthood's business model without question and speculating--entirely to PP's detriment--from then on.

I won't pretend to know anything more about the subject than Larimore does, and I hope that more information will be forthcoming, but if she's not going to ask questions, I will. If either of my readers has any informed, relevant knowledge on the subject, I invite you to fill in my blanks.

Three questions...

1. Larimore presents the news that Abby Johnson left her job as director of a Planned Parenthood health center (she doesn't say when, but it was October 6) after seeing the ultrasound of an abortion, which I'm sure would be rather a moment for anyone, regardless of value affiliation on the subject. But one has to wonder how Johnson managed to work for Planned Parenthood for eight years--two of those as director--and not know what was going on in those procedure rooms. Was she aware of how surgical abortions work? Did she never wonder what those bleepy machines with the little TV screens were for? What did she think they were doing back there?

Question 1: How did she go eight years without realizing how surgical abortions work?

2. Larimore also repeats without questioning a quote from Johnson:
Johnson says she became conflicted because “she was told to bring in more women who wanted abortions,” and that the organization was “changing it's business model from one that pushed prevention, to one that focused on abortion.”
Johnson has said that she never received any e-mails or letters instructing her how to raise profits but that "Every meeting that we had was, 'We don't have enough money, we don't have enough money — we've got to keep these abortions coming.'" (Larimore didn't provide that quote herself, but a quick Google search provided a Fox News interview with Johnson as its second result.)

So. In their 2008 annual report, Planned Parenthood claims that three percent of the services provided at their health centers are abortion-related, while 36 percent are related to contraception; they say that 82 percent of their clients received contraception services in 2007. And they say that less than 40 percent of their overall revenue comes from their health centers. And PP's health center in Bryan, Texas, is only one of 850 in the nation.

(If you have a minute, check out Johnson's KEOS interview six weeks ago where she repeated those statistics, talked about the importance of reproductive rights, and mentioned how dishonest and threatening the Coalition for Life were and how she considered the 40 Days of Life to be harassment. Funny, that)

Recognizing that one abortion would certainly provide more income than, say, one pregnancy test or one pack of birth-control pills (although less, potentially, than one IUD or one year of BCPs), how many more abortions would Johnson have to bring into her clinic to have a substantial impact on Planned Parenthood's business model? Would she be expected to go out and recruit new clients to come in and have abortions, or would it be more effective to convince current clients not to use contraception after all?

Question 2: How many more abortions would Johnson have to bring in to have an impact on Planned Parenthood's business model?

3. In that Fox News interview that Larimore never managed to come across in her research on the subject, Johnson says that a visiting doctor could perform "30 to 40 procedures on each day he was there," two days a month. How many could one doctor actually perform in a day? I have this image of a doctor scrubbing in, performing the procedure, scrubbing out, and scrubbing right back in for the next one, like a game of whack-a-mole that leaves him with no time for chart notes or lunch. Is this realistic, or might Johnson have been exaggerating and/or sensationalizing a bit to Fox News because Bill Hemmer is such a muffin?

Question 3: Does the Bryan PP health center force its visiting doctor to work through lunch, or is Bill Hemmer a muffin? (The judges will accept "both" as an answer)

Larimore does ask one question in her post. She asks, "Why does Planned Parenthood need a restraining order against Abby Johnson?" (and also, "Is Planned Parenthood going to such lengths to keep Johnson from discussing its 'business model?'" but that's kind of the same thing). She doesn't want to jump to conclusions. And neither do I.

... and an answer

I do have access to this mystical device called "the Google," though, and it reveals to me wondrous things. For instance, the Google tells me that Salon obtained a copy of Planned Parenthood's petition for the restraining order, which included allegations that the same day Johnson was put on a "performance improvement plan," she was seen copying files and "removing items" from the health center, and that Johnson herself told clinic employees that she'd passed information along to the Coalition for Life and that "something big" was coming up.

Now, Johnson denies the allegations, but considering the threatening nature of much anti-choice activism (which Johnson herself decries in the aforementioned KEOS interview) and the Coalition for Life's own tactics of, for instance, calling the homes of clinic patients to tell their families that they've had abortions, it may be a safer move to restrain now and ask questions later. Later, for instance, on November 10, when a court date has been set up so that both parties can ask questions, and if the allegations turn out to be unfounded, the temporary restraining order won't be extended. But I like to think that if I were a PP patient, my medical records would remain confidential and my family unharassed by anti-choicers even if the clinic director did have a "change of heart."

Anyway, that's one thing that might be an answer to the only question that Rachael Larimore bothered to ask. We'll see how this thing pans out. I'll be watching.