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Did supporters of abortion rights make a rhetorical mistake when they adopted "choice” as their mantra? In an op-ed piece for the LA Times, “Nuance Matters in the Abortion Debate, “ Nancy L. Cohen argues that the abortion-rights movement needs a verbal (and conceptual) makeover. While recent polls suggesting increasing numbers of Americans identify themselves as pro-life rather than pro-choice have been hyped and misreported, Cohen thinks the ‘choice” label is too weak to contend against mighty “life”:
" ‘Pro-choice’ has turned into a tone-deaf rallying cry, inadequate to our actual policy preferences and to the philosophical values Americans hold on the subject of abortion. It essentially cedes the moral high ground to the antiabortion movement. It doesn't do enough to communicate the very American ideals at the foundation of the abortion rights movement — the belief that, in a free and democratic nation, the decision to have a child should rest with the individual woman and those with whom she freely consults.
“Perhaps ‘pro-choice’ was once good enough shorthand for liberty, human dignity, individualism, pluralism, self-government and women's equality. But anyone who thinks it is still sufficient, as we enter our fifth decade of the culture wars, hasn't been paying attention.”
Cohen suggests replacing “choice” with “freedom” : “Are you pro-freedom or pro-life? Now those are values worthy of debate.”
Freedom is definitely a stronger, bolder word than choice, which, as many have noticed, sounds namby-pamby and euphemistic, as if even the supporters of legal and accessible abortion don’t want to refer too openly to what, exactly, is being chosen. Choice also has unfortunate consumerist, trivializing overtones, as if the decision to terminate a pregnancy was like deciding what sweater to buy or what burger to order. Where’s the sense of need--the urgency, the desperation? Choice has always had that unfortunate focus-grouped ring to it, which is not surprising since it was intended to defang the opposition. “Choice” says we can agree to disagree about abortion as long as it stays legal:
To each her own. But would calling for “reproductive freedom” change the debate? Freedom is a great and noble word, but its fits the same libertarian framework as “choice.” The Hyde amendment and other bans on government funding would do fine under the “freedom” banner, because in America freedom means you can have what you pay for: freedom isn’t free. “Freedom” thus cuts both ways in just the same way as ‘choice”: if you are free to get a legal abortion, shouldn’t I be free not to support it with my taxes?
It is hard to get from “freedom” to fairness, equality, and social support. We don’t talk about unemployment insurance as income freedom, or national health insurance as healthcare freedom. Racial freedom is not how we describe civil rights—and in fact, as the discomfort of Rand Paul and other Republicans with desegregation law shows, it’s not obvious to some even today why “freedom” shouldn’t mean the right to refuse to rent a motel room to black people. If you believe a fertilized egg/embryo/fetus is a person, then why shouldn’t its freedom to be born trump the pregnant woman’s freedom not to give birth?
Freedom is an emotionally more stirring word than choice, while remaining vulnerable to the same objections and limitations. I think “reproductive justice,” a term some activists prefer, makes a better case for abortion rights in the area where they are most threatened, which is access, funding and respect for women. It also links abortion to other reproductive issues in a broad way: is it justice if a woman aborts a wanted child because of poverty? If landlords won’t rent to families with children? If mothers are discriminated against in hiring? If health insurance won’t pay for fertility treatments? If a woman is legally compelled to have a Caesarean?
I’m a bit skeptical about the ability of framing to alter a discussion that has been going on now for most of my lifetime. But no question the cause of abortion rights has suffered by being cut off from the larger story of reproductive and sexual life, which is much more complex than can be captured by either "choice’ or “freedom.”
I'm guessing Robert Scheer wrote his Truthout piece praising Rand Paul as "a principled libertarian in the mold of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas" ("...we need more of that impulse in the Congress") before the media firestorm over Paul's long-standing and not-exactly-secret opposition to the l964 Civil Rights Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Although Paul now says that he believes Congress was right to bar segregation in private businesses, his original position is what you'd expect from someone who basically believes private-property rights and business interests trump all and the market will fix any pesky problems. Ergo, Barack Obama is "un-American" to criticize BP for the oil spill in the gulf. On Good Morning, America, Paul dismissed the recent deaths of two miners in a collapse at non-union Kentucky mine that had received 840 safety citations in the past year: "Maybe sometimes accidents happen." So much for the anti-corporate rhetoric Scheer admires in Paul.
As a libertarian, Paul theoretically wants to limit the government 's power to do very much of anything—so it's not surprising that his views coincide with those of Scheer and other progressives on a few items, like the Iraq War, bank bailouts and the Patriot Act. There's one area, though, in which Paul apparently wants the government to play a much bigger role: your womb. Women can forget about the "privacy" and "liberty" Paul touts on his website; warnings against government encroachment on freedom do not apply to female citizens of Paul's back-to-basics Republic. As per his website, we get the Human Life Amendment banning all abortion even for rape and incest, "a Sanctity of Life Amendment, establishing the principle that life begins at conception," a funding ban on Planned Parenthood, and a ban on the Supreme Court taking up abortion-related cases. No wonder he's been endorsed by Operation Rescue founder and general all-around sleazemeister Randall Terry.
As with many of Paul's statements and positions, you wonder if he's thought about them for more than two minutes. How, after all, is a ban on abortion to be implemented except by a massive government intrusion into private and personal behavior? To say nothing of monitoring thousands of medical practices, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies—apparently the only businesses Paul would want to put under government oversight.
In countries where abortion bans are taken seriously, the prospect of performing even the most medically necessary abortion terrifies doctors and hospitals. Law enforcement treats miscarriages as possible crimes. Women and doctors go to prison. How does a police officer showing up at a patient's hospital bed to question her as a possible murderer, with a mandatory investigation of the premises of the alleged crime—her vagina and uterus—square with libertarianism? Like his support for increased Medicaid payment to physicians, a profession he just happens to follow, the exceptions to Rand's libertarianism miraculously track his own preferences. Somehow the market, which is supposed to miraculously produce food that doesn't poison you, cars that don't explode, oil wells that don't pollute and mines that don't collapse, is useless when it comes to forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and making sure doctors make plenty of money.
I've always thought libertarianism was juvenile. Thanks to Rand Paul—and contrary to Scheer—I know now it's also unprincipled.
What if you need an abortion and you don’t have the money? Believe it or not, I meet plenty of people who don’t understand how a woman can fail to come up with the $400-500 for a first –trimester procedure. That’s not such a big sum, is it? And if money’s tight, surely a woman can turn to friends, family, boyfriend?
Sometimes, yes, she can – many do that, and many also sell possessions, postpone bills, and do all the other creative things desperate people turn to when they absolutely need to raise cash. But, hello, one in eight Americans is on food stamps, people are losing their homes and their jobs all over the country, and in many states abortion restrictions and lack of providers have turned what should be a fairly simple procedure into a two-day marathon. That means travel, time off from work, child care —more money to be found. Increasingly, these days if your pockets are empty, so are those of the people you could ask for help—assuming you could ask them and not get a lecture and a shaming. Money troubles are one of the main reasons why women end up having abortions later in pregnancy -- the longer it takes to raise the money, the more advanced the pregnancy and the higher the price.
Thanks heaven for the National Network of Abortion Funds, which helps low-income women pay for their abortion care all over the country. Its ability to provide support extends exactly as far as your donations, which is why I’m blogging to support the NNAF Bowl-a-thon. (It was blog or bowl, an easy choice for me.)
Can you help with a donation of any size, any size at all? Your gift, added to those of others, can help a woman through what is surely one of the most difficult times she will ever face.
Just visit this page and follow the simple instructions.
As a thank-you, I’m offering a signed copy of my book of poems, The Mind-Body Problem, to those who give $50 or more by midnight, Saturday April 16. Just send me your receipt and address and I’ll pop it in the mail.
I wish I had better news to report about Nazia Quazi, the 24-year-old Canadian woman who is trapped in Saudi Arabia because her father, an Indian citizen who lives in Riyadh, refuses to give her permission to leave. (You can read my column about her case here.)
Human Rights Watch has been advocating for her, and that is a mighty force on her side. Here’s their writeup of her case. But so far, the Canadian government has held back from intervening forcefully with the Saudis.
Why can’t Nazia just get on a plane and leave, as she would be able to do as a foreigner in just about any other country in the world? Although she is not a Saudi, Nazia falls under the misogynist laws of that country, in which a woman, no matter her age, is a legal minor, whose every move requires permission from a male relative, her mahram. Without her mahram’s go-ahead, a woman cannot , for example, work, travel, sign contracts, go to school, marry, or even be treated in a hospital. Nazia’s case is further complicated by the fact that her father confiscated all her documents, and without her knowledge, converted her tourist visa into a permanent one,with himself as sponsor. Under the Saudi system, that means he has to sign off on her departure.
Little by little, the media is picking up on Nazia’s story. On March 8, International Women’s Day, CBC’s Connect with Mark Kelley featured a terrific interview with Shahla Khan Salter of Muslims for Progressive Values Ottawa. Watch it here and then leave a comment here.
As Shahla makes clear, Nazia’s story is not about Islam or “Muslim values” or multiculturalism or a clash of civilizations or any of those other buzz words floating around. There are plenty of Muslims who support women’s rights. Nazia’s story is about men’s control of women, an unbelievably oppressive government, and Canada’s shameful failure to help one of its own citizens.
What can you do? If you’re Canadian, get involved in the HRW campaign. If you’re not, you can still write a polite note to the Foreign Secretary to express your concern and urge prompt action:
The Honourable Lawrence Cannon
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Also, you can write the Saudi ambassador to the US:
Adel A. Al-Jubeir
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia 601 New Hampshire Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20037
And to the Saudi Ambassador to Canada:
Mr. Asaad Al-Zuhair
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
99 Bank Street Suite 901, ,br/> Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1P 6B9
Join the to show your support and keep up with the latest developments.
As if things couldn't get any worse for Haiti, 1.2 million people are now homeless, living in crowded makeshift open-air "spontaneous settlements" without shelter beyond maybe a bedsheet. The rainy season is on its way. It's hard to imagine the misery – no protection from the elements, no sanitation--to say nothing of the risks of epidemic disease.
While the UN humanitarian response has succeeded in filling 107% of requested funds for health, a major achievement, only 27% of funds requested for shelter needs have been donated so far. Some causes may just be sexier than others – but that doesn't mean they're less essential.
Mark Leon Goldberg has the details at UNdispatch, including information on how to donate ( it's about two-thirds down the page). The rains start in May, so if you were thinking it's maybe time to make (another) donation to Haitian relief, you're right.
A tarp that can shelter a family of 5 costs only $15; a shelter kit costs around $30.
Unlike my colleague Alexander Cockburn, I was not surprised by "HisPANIC: the Myth of Immigrant Crime," Ron Unz's article in The American Conservative showing that Latinos in the US have a crime rate no higher than that of whites once you adjust for age. That's because Unz's thesis, which both he and Alex think is new and original, is in fact well-known. Even I, no sociologist, was aware of it. I'm glad that Unz, a multi-millionaire best known for pushing California's successful 1998 referendum banning bilingual education, is challenging anti-immigrant rightwingers like Pat Buchanan and Glenn Beck. (For reasons I still don't understand, The Nation published a piece by Unz in support of his referendum, causing me to resign my largely ceremonial title as associate editor.) But it's annoying when conservatives take credit for work liberals have been doing for much longer and far more seriously. It's even more irritating when a leftist is so eager to bash liberals, he joins the parade.
A little research – some internet searches, a few e-mails, maybe (gasp) a phone call or two--would have shown how empty Unz's claims to originality are. But facts would have interfered with Alex's theory that "foundation liberals" left the research undone because they sympathize unconsciously with racism due to their obsession with "population control." Or something like that.
Let's go through Alex's claims.
Has Ron Unz discovered something new? No. The low crime rate of Latinos has been studied by social scientists for over a decade now. It's part of the much-studied "Latino paradox," the numerous ways in which Latinos in the US do better than their poverty would lead one to expect. (Low infant mortality and normal birth weights are others.) Numerous scholars have written on Latino non-crime. Among the more prominent are Robert J. Sampson at Harvard, Ruben Rumbaut at UC Irvine, Philip Kasinitz and John Mollenkopf of the CUNY Graduate Center, and Florida International University's Ramiro Martinez, whose "Latino Homicide: Immigration, Violence, and Community was published by Routledge way back in in 2002. ("I'm amused by [Unz's] "discovery" of something I've been writing about since the last millennium," Rumbaut wrote in a long e mail to me laying out the recent literature in considerable detail.) Unz even cites Rumbaut in a footnote, although the only scholars he cites in the body of his text are the co-authors of a paper challenging federal statistics on imprisonment of immigrants, and the American Enterprise Institute's Douglas Besharov, who, Sampson told me in an e-mail, is basically rehashing in a New York Times op-ed, an argument Sampson made a year earlier (that the increase in immigration was linked to the drop in crime.)Here's a handy list of recent articles, including those mentioned below, but by no means complete.
Has this academic work received support from "liberal foundations" ? Yes. Sampson and Rumbaut have both received major support from the MacArthur, Mellon and Russell Sage foundations. Martinez has received grants from the Ford Foundation and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. Mollenkopf and Kasinitz have been funded by Russell Sage, Rockefeller, Mellon and Ford. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Big foundations fund think tanks, policy institutes, and even other foundations. The Public Policy Institute of California, which in 2008 published "Crime, Corrections and California: What does Immigration Have to Do with It," by Kristin F. Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl, lists a slew of foundations among its funders, including Ford, Gates, Hewlett and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The National Immigration Forum, another NGO which has done work in this area, was co-founded by a Ford trustee and has received grants from just about every big "liberal foundation" you can think of. To say that foundations have steered clear of this area is just false, or as Rumbaut put it, ‘laughable to the max, squared."
Has the story of Latino non-crime been publicized in what Unz calls the "very supportive mainstream media"? Yes. That is how I knew about it. To mention just a few relevant pieces, Sampson had an op-ed in the New York Times in 2006 "Open Doors Don't Invite Criminals." That same year, Eyal Press, a frequent Nation contributor, had an excellent and I would have thought quite noticeable article, "Do Immigrants Make Us Safer?," in the New York Times Magazine. The Latino "crime wave" has been debunked in Time, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post. Unz was even scooped by other conservatives. Both David Brooks and Linda Chavez got there way before him.
If the myth of Latino crime persists, it's not because nobody debunked it before Ron Unz came along. Nor is it because liberal foundations have shown no interest in establishing the truth. It's because lots of Americans have racist and anti-immigrant feelings that are resistant to factual information. As Sampson told me when we spoke on the phone, "There's a long link in the popular mind between the perception of immigrant presence and the perception of disorder." Sampson thinks the research is getting traction, though. "It takes time for the information to penetrate, because of people's prejudices. But I think it's changing."
You could even say that Ron Unz's article shows the word has gotten out -- apparently, even to Alex.
So here it is, Superbowl Sunday, or as I prefer to call it, Focus on the Fetus Sunday. If you support women's right to decide for themselves when and if to continue a pregnancy, don't just get mad at the TV set when the Tebow ad comes on, get even. Donate $5 or $10 dollars (or, of course, more) to the National Network of Abortion Funds. This is the umbrella organization for all the local funds across the country which help low-income women find and pay for their abortion care. These funds, which are run by local volunteers, face a stream of need that just never goes away. Just this week I got this urgent e mail from the Equal Access Fund of Tennessee:
LAST MINUTE EMERGENCY SITUATION
Is there any way you can possibly pitch in on this bad situation for avery young patient? She is a 15 year old from a small East Tennesseetown who is pregnant by an adult neighbor of her family! I have beenon the phone with the daughter and the mother for hours this week asthey debated the religious and ethical aspects of what is going on.They have never considered abortion and this is very difficult forthem both.
Her mother, while not supportive of abortion in general, is trying herhardest to understand and deal with what is going on with herdaughter. They are a poor family and need $400 more than what we have currently in the fund to make the trip out of town to get her seen intime...
I only have 24 hours to figure this one out and have turned to yousince you have been a great supporter in the past. I have arrangedwith a friend to use their Paypal account for this one time eventbecause it is very timely and dire. If you can help, let me know and Iwill get that account information for you.
We have only a short time to pull this together.
Thanks in advance. I am trying anything I can to help this family.
Put yourself in that girl's shoes for a minute, and then think how many girls and women right now are in the same position. Think what it is like to face bearing a child against your will because you lack a few hundred dollars.
Fortunately, EAF was able to help that girl. But what about all the others?
Please make a donation to the National Network of Abortion Funds here.
Special ties to New York? Donate to the New York Abortion Access Fund here.
I'm a little late on this, but if you've been wondering how and where to donate to Haiti relief work, have meant to give but haven't yet done so, have given already but can give more ($10?), you can't do better than give to Partners in Health. Founded by Paul Farmer with the conviction that health care is a human right, PIH has been working in Haiti for nearly 25 years, building a grassroots organization that has become a model for health care for the poor in the developing world. PIH knows the people and the culture and how to get things done. It's in Haiti for the long term as well as the immediate crisis. It will be there long after the media spotlight has moved on. That's particularly important because, unlike the 2004 tsunami in Asia, the earthquake has left tens of thousands of survivors with terrible injuries that will require long-term help.
I've set up a donation page that makes giving incredibly easy. All amounts are welcome. My goal is to raise $1000, but if by some miracle you visit my page and that goal has been met, don't worry. You can still donate! No amount is too small.
Just click on this link.
It only takes a minute to set up your own personal fundraising page, by the way. Just go to my page and click on "Create your own page now!" in small print under the box with the thermometer. Set your own fundraising goal, post to your facebook page/blog/website, e mail your friends.
Friday's The Globe and Mail has a good followup to my column about Nazia Quazi, the young Canadian-Indian woman who has been unable to leave Saudi Arabia for two years because her father controls her exit visa and Saudi Arabia doesn't recognize women as legal adults. Human Rights Watch just took her case a few weeks ago.
There's been a new development since my column appeared: the Embassy has told Ms. Quazi to send an itinerary for her departure. What that means is unclear, because she still doesn't have a passport and there is still the matter of the exit visa – but it has to be a positive sign.
Human Rights Watch: you definitely want them watching your human rights.
Surveying a decade of feminism in 1000 words was clearly beyond my powers of compression even after I'd jettisoned the whole world outside the United States. Several people wrote to remind me of things I'd cut or forgotten. More highlights--good, bad, odd -- of the no-name decade:
In 2007, Nancy Pelosi became the first woman speaker of the House. In 2009, Elana Kagan became the first woman Solicitor General. Also in 2009, Michelle Obama became the first African-American First Lady, ensuring full employment for style journalists, who devoted five million womanhours to analyzing her clothes (fabulous? over-the-top? What, she wears dresses?) and that vague shimmering ladycloud known as her "role." Elsewhere in government, women inched forward : In 2000, there were three women governors. Now there are 6, (down from a high of 9, what with Sarah Palin quitting and all). In 2000, women held 22.5% of seats in state legislatures. In 2009, they held 24%.
There was a slight increase in numbers of women in the military and a big increase in reported Sexual abuse and rape. As Rep. Jane Harman put it at a 2009 congressional hearing, "A woman in the military is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."
Perhaps it's just my flickering memory, but the discourse around feminism seemed livelier than in the 1990s. Some important books that sparked debate and discussion: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts, Get to Work by Linda Hirshman, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, By Cristina Page, America's Women and When Everything Changed by Gail Collins, A Jury of her Peers by Elaine Showalter, Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, Stiffed and The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and the Means of Reproduction by Michelle Goldberg.
In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring the status quo overturned by the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which narrowed the ability of women to sue employers for sex discrimination in pay. Also in 2009, the stimulus included incentives for states to change their unemployment insurance rules in ways that make it easier for women to qualify: benefits will now be available to workers who leave for compelling family reasons (including domestic violence when the abuser follows his target to work), to workers seeking part-time jobs, and to workers who made less money than was the case under the old rules. Historically, unemployment benefits rules have, in effect, excluded many women, with the result that in 41 states unemployed men were more likely to receive benefits than unemployed women. (For more, see Mimi Abramowitz's report in womensenews. ) Toward the end of the decade, paid Family Leave became law in California and New Jersey, with Washington on the horizon. This may not seem like a lot, given that there are 50 states, but California is huge--as of 2007, if it were a country it would have the 10th largest economy in the world. And New Jersey has more people than the nine smallest states. And speaking of employment, women now make up 45% of union membership. Plus, the Great Recession puts end to all that chat about the Mommy Wars, because it turns out you can only stay home with your kids if your husband has a job. Who knew?
The Today sponge returns to the drugstore shelves.
Tina Fey became SNL head writer and huge star, thrilling smart girls everywhere. On the other hand, in 2007 Don Imus called Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" and is fired for about two minutes.
In 2009, Anna Quindlen retired from Newsweek. Ellen Goodman announced the end of her syndicated column – the only column by a liberal woman in wide distribution.
Goodbye, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, Tillie Olsen, Barbara Seaman, Wendy Wasserstein, ,Susan Sontag, Coretta Scott King, Grace Paley, Eartha Kitt, Carolyn Heilbrun, Mary Travers, Octavia Butler, Rita Arditti, Deborah Howell, and, much too soon, the remarkable poet Rachel Wetzsteon.