Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, March 8th, 2006.


Iran Update

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Middle East

Bronwen Maddox of the London Times provides an update on the Iran nuclear situation.

EVERYTHING is set for the row over Iran’s nuclear work to land before the UN Security Council in New York. The council is preparing to take up the baton next week.

Yet until this week’s acrimonious and muddled meeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna finally ends, there is a hovering uncertainty that this will happen.

Yesterday the tone hardened. Russia denied that it was offering Iran a way to keep a vestige of the most controversial research. The US warned Iran of “consequences” if it persisted with uranium enrichment. Britain, France and Germany, who orchestrated the IAEA vote that referred the row to the council, said that what is known about Iran’s research could be just the tip of the iceberg: missile designs which have emerged this year could point to a secret military programme.

And Iran, in its inimitable vocabulary, warned the US that it, too, could cause “harm and pain”, and threatened to disrupt oil markets. It attacked US “warmongers”, saying: “Surely we are not naive about the US’s intention to flex muscles. But we also see the bone fractures underneath.”

Ms. Maddox writes that the Security Council will be reluctant to impose sanctions. Nobody expects anything to happen soon.

For additional background see “Wolf! Wolf!” and “The Tar Baby.”

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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Social Issues, Women's Issues

Alert reader Leigh Trail flagged this Associated Press story from the Dark Ages:

The American Medical Association is warning girls not to go wild during spring break. All but confirming what goes on in those “Girls Gone Wild” videos, 83 percent of college women and graduates surveyed by the AMA said spring break involves heavier-than-usual drinking, and 74 percent said the break results in increased sexual activity.

The women’s answers were based both on firsthand experience and the experiences of friends and acquaintances.

Sizable numbers reported getting sick from drinking, and blacking out and engaging in unprotected sex or sex with more than one partner, activities that increase their risks for sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

See if you can guess which words do not appear anywhere in this story:

1. “men”

2. “boys”

3. “males”

4. all of the above

(Answer at the bottom of this post.)

In other news — what Molly says. Righteous!

[Answer: #4]

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Under the Rug II

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abortion, criminal justice, Republican Party

The story thus far — in the last post, we learned that Americans opposed to legal abortion have wildly unrealistic notions about what might happen if abortions became illegal. That means it’s up to us in the reality biz to face some facts.

And one of the facts we need to face is that if abortion becomes illegal women who abort will very likely face legal prosecution for it — possibly even homicide charges — in spite of what the Fetus People claim.

Allegedly the recently passed South Dakota abortion ban provides only for the punishment of abortion providers, not the women who abort. From the law:

Section 2. That chapter 22-17 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

No person may knowingly administer to, prescribe for, or procure for, or sell to any pregnant woman any medicine, drug, or other substance with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being. No person may knowingly use or employ any instrument or procedure upon a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being.

Any violation of this section is a Class 5 felony.

What if a woman uses or employs an instrument or procedure upon herself? Wouldn’t that be a violation?

In the last post I mentioned a couple of young women in Colombia who aborted by taking an ulcer medication. They were arrested after being treated in a hospital emergency room for bleeding. Under the SD statute as I read it, whoever sold them the ulcer medication was liable, but it’s not clear to me that the young women wouldn’t have been liable also, since they medicated themselves. Perhaps someone with a legal background could comment on that.

But here’s another wrinkle: In Monday’s Houston Chronicle, Lynn Paltrow and Charon Asetoyer argue that

If the unborn are legal persons, as numerous South Dakota laws assert, then a pregnant woman who has an abortion can be prosecuted as a murderer under already existing homicide laws.

In other words, just because the abortion law itself doesn’t provide a legal liability for the mother doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be liable under another statute.

Farfetched? Not at all.

Prosecutors all over the country have been experimenting with this approach for years. In South Carolina, Regina McKnight is serving a 12-year sentence for homicide by child abuse. Why? Because she suffered an unintentional stillbirth. The prosecutors said she caused the stillbirth by using cocaine, yet, they did not charge her with having an illegal abortion — a crime that in South Carolina has a three-year sentence. Rather, they charged and convicted her of homicide — a crime with a 20- year sentence. They obtained this conviction in spite of evidence that McKnight’s stillbirth was caused by an infection.

Thus far, South Carolina is the only state whose courts have upheld the legitimacy of such prosecutions. But in fact, women in states across the country, including South Dakota, have already been arrested as child abusers or murderers — without any new legislation authorizing such arrests. In Oklahoma, Teresa Hernandez is sitting in jail on first-degree murder charges for having suffered an unintentional stillbirth. In Utah, a woman was charged with murder based on the claim that she caused a stillbirth by refusing to have a C-section earlier in her pregnancy.

If women are now being arrested as murderers for having suffered unintentional stillbirths, one should assume that in South Dakota’s post-Roe world intentional abortions would be punished just as seriously.

Yesterday in Slate William Saletan pointed out that the South Dakota law goes to great length to define a fertilized ovum as an “unborn human being.” Be warned.

Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column of April 7, 2004 (via Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest) provides a glimpse of abortion law enforcement in Portugal.

To understand what might happen in America if President Bush gets his way with the Supreme Court, consider recent events in Portugal.

Seven women were tried this year in the northern Portuguese fishing community of Aveiro for getting abortions. They were prosecuted — facing three-year prison sentences — along with 10 ”accomplices,” including husbands, boyfriends, parents and a taxi driver who had taken a pregnant woman to a clinic.

The police staked out gynecological clinics and investigated those who emerged looking as if they might have had abortions because they looked particularly pale, weak or upset. At the trial, the most intimate aspects of their gynecological history were revealed.

Think that can’t happen here? Remember a year ago, when the attorney general of Kansas subpoenaed abortion clinics for patients’ medical records? The Red State Chastity Police do not have much in the way of respect for privacy.

Kristof continues,

This was the second such mass abortion trial lately in Portugal. The previous one involved 42 defendants, including a girl who had been 16 at the time of the alleged abortion.

Both trials ended in acquittals, except for a nurse who was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for performing abortions. …

… Portugal offers a couple of sobering lessons for Americans who, like Mr. Bush, aim to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The first is that abortion laws are very difficult to enforce in a world as mobile as ours. Some 20,000 Portuguese women still get abortions each year, mostly by crossing the border into Spain. In the U.S., where an overturn of Roe v. Wade would probably mean bans on abortion only in a patchwork of Bible Belt states, pregnant women would travel to places like New York, California and Illinois for their abortions.

The second is that if states did criminalize abortion, they would face a backlash as the public focus shifted from the fetus to the woman. ”The fundamentalists have lost the debate” in Portugal, said Helena Pinto, president of UMAR, a Portuguese abortion rights group. ”Now the debate has shifted to the rights of women. Do we want to live in a country where women can be in jail for abortion?”

“There’s a growing sense that while abortion may be wrong, criminalization is worse,” Kristof writes. Let’s hope we don’t have to learn that lesson the hard way.

Update: See also Dr. Atrios about an abortion ban advocate who refused to answer a simple question about punishment for the mother who aborts.

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Under the Rug

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abortion, criminal justice, Women's Issues

I want to elaborate on this post by Digby, which links to this video in which anti-abortion protesters are asked if women should be punished for having illegal abortions. The film reveals that most of the protesters had never even thought about it. One young woman had a hard time understanding the question; it clearly had never occurred to her that women would continue to get abortions if abortions were illegal. (Upon being pressed she allowed that maybe a few women would get abortions, but she didn’t think it would happen often.)

In many nations where abortion is illegal, women really do face penalty of law for getting abortions. In this post from December I linked to Juan Forero, “Push to Loosen Abortion Laws in Latin America ,” The New York Times, December 3, 2005:

PAMPLONA, Colombia – In this tradition-bound Roman Catholic town one day in April, two young women did what many here consider unthinkable: pregnant and scared, they took a cheap ulcer medication known to induce abortions. When the drug left them bleeding, they were treated at a local emergency room — then promptly arrested.

Like the sweetly innocent abortion protester in the first paragraph, the people of Pamplona are in denial.

Like much of Latin America, the people here in Pamplona have, until recently, talked little of the abortions that have taken place behind the town’s tranquil, buttoned-down facade. Yet, 68 students, most of them from the University of Pamplona, sought emergency treatment at the local public hospital last year after having abortions, hospital records showed.

Several students said that they had a liberal attitude toward sex. Condoms are readily available, and the so-called morning-after pill is sold over the counter in pharmacies.

Still, sex education focuses more on anatomy than behavior, and church and university officials preach abstinence. Shamed by the thought of having children without being married, many young women try to induce abortions by taking a drug called Cytotec, which is made for ulcers but also dilates the cervix.

Pharmacies in Pamplona are barred from selling the drug, but students can purchase it in cities nearby. It was Cytotec that the two young women took in April that left them bleeding and, ultimately, under arrest. But there have been others, court records showed.

Under questioning from prosecutors, all admitted their guilt and received suspended sentences.

Insisting that abortion was rare, Pamplona’s conservative leaders thought the case was over. Instead, the episode reverberated throughout Colombia and helped to galvanize a national movement to roll back laws that make abortion illegal, even to save a mother’s life.

Latin America holds some of the world’s most stringent abortion laws, yet it still has the developing world’s highest rate of abortions — a rate that is far higher even than in Western Europe, where abortion is widely and legally available.

In fact, as I pointed out yesterday, western Europe as a region has the lowest rates of abortion in the world. In western Europe the very lowest abortion rates are in The Netherlands, Belgium, the Scandanavian countries, Iceland, Germany — the crazy liberal Nordic fringe, in other words.

Yet while Latin America has a shockingly high rate of abortions, “Pamplona’s conservative leaders” think abortion is “rare.”

Forero of the New York Times continues,

Regional health officials increasingly argue that tough laws have done little to slow abortions. The rate of abortions in Latin America is 37 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, the highest outside Eastern Europe, according to United Nations figures. Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions.

The degree of denial among people opposed to legal abortions is stunning. Some of you might remember the recent Mahablog comment exchange with “Keith,” who dredged up a “scholarly work” underwritten by Americans United for Life insisting there had been fewer than 100,000 illegal abortions a year in the U.S. before Roe v. Wade.

Since we’re dealing with clandestine activity people didn’t exactly keep records; any number anyone comes up with is a guess. However, another estimate that relied in part on the number of hospital admissions for botched abortions, concluded there were 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions in the U.S. in 1967. In 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to just one New York City hospital because of complications from illegal abortions. And emergency room admissions represented only a portion of the abortions being performed at the time. Thinking about this makes even the 829,000 number seem low to me.

And given the many innovations in abortion procedure since Roe, you know that if abortion became illegal in the U.S. there’d be a thriving underground abortion industry in place before you could say Mifepristone. Which I bet could be run across the border from Canada without too much trouble.

And there are coathangers in every closet.

So how will laws prohibiting abortion be enforced, exactly?

My internet access is cutting in and out this morning, so I’m going to post this while I can and will (I hope) elaborate on the punishment angle in the next post.

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