Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, August 24th, 2007.


Pills and Politics

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abortion, Bush Administration

Via Media Matters, we find that Leslie Hanks, vice president of Colorado Right to Life, is worried about the addictive properties of birth control pills.

“Let’s face it, they’re [Planned Parenthood] in the business to kill babies for profit,” she said. “First and foremost, they get young girls hooked on their birth control pills, which don’t work,” Hanks said.

Media Matters points out that birth control pills do work to prevent conception pretty reliably; “oral contraceptives work with 92 percent efficacy for the first year of ‘[t]ypical [u]se’ and are 99.7 percent effective with ‘[p]erfect [u]se,” MM says. So if Planned Parenthood is encouraging people to use contraceptives, which it does, then it really isn’t primarily “in the business” of abortion, is it?

Further, “Planned Parenthood® Federation of America, Inc. is a tax-exempt corporation under Internal Revenue Service code section 501(c)(3) and is not a private foundation. (Tax ID #13-1644147) Contributions are tax deductible,” their web site says. Strictly speaking, they are not “in the business” for profit at all. I believe it operates mostly on donations and endowments.

Regarding the abortion question, Eleanor Clift argues that Democrats should refocus the debate on birth control.

Family planning is an issue Republicans generally like to avoid because it threatens the coalition between economic conservatives and the religious right. Business types tend to be live-and-let-live, while a segment of social conservatives oppose birth control with almost the same fervor they oppose abortion. Family planning is such an under-the-radar issue for Republicans that Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, says the Right to Life organization doesn’t advertise a birth-control position. “But you find in that movement—and they’ve become much more assertive about it—if you use birth control, you are stopping a life and that’s not acceptable,” she says. Listen to right-wing talk radio and you’ll hear how making birth control available or teaching sex-ed in public schools leads to sex. That’s an argument equivalent to believing that putting air bags in cars causes accidents, says Keenan.

The American public may be ambivalent about abortion, but I’m sure a whopping majority approve of birth control as an alternative. Cristina Page pointed out recently that there’s a strong, under-the-radar anti-contraceptive movement. Further, she says elsewhere, pro-choice politicians would do well to make contraception an issue.

Americans, pro-life and pro-choice, support contraception particularly because its the only proven way to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion. (Only 11 percent of sexually active women don’t use contraception and from this 11 percent comes 50 percent of the nation’s abortions.) But very few voters are aware that not one pro-life organization in the United States supports contraception. Instead, pro-life groups lead campaigns against contraception. Ninety-one percent of the American public strongly favors contraception. When pro-choice presidential candidates make the discussion about prevention, contraception and results, they’ll win. No less than 80 percent of self-described pro-life voters strongly support contraception too.

The irony of the so-called (imagine my voice dripping with contempt) “right to life” position is that passing laws that ban abortions doesn’t stop abortions. This can be proved with solid empirical evidence; many nations that outlaw abortions have higher rates of abortion than nations with more liberal abortion laws. The one factor that, reliably, does lower abortion rates is access to and use of contraceptives. It is well documented that increasing the use of contraceptives correlates to lowering the rate of abortions within a population. You can’t say the same about passing laws prohibiting abortion.

You’ll never persuade the thick-headed Leslie Hanks of this, of course, but I think most Americans really don’t want the Morality Police to take away their contraceptives.

See also Susie at Suburban Guerrilla.

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Small and Smaller

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Bush Administration, Congress, Iraq War

Josh Marshall:

We are bigger than Iraq.

By that I do not mean we, as America, are bigger or better than Iraq as a country. I mean that that sum of our national existence is not bound up in what happens there. The country will go on. Whatever happens, we’ll recover from it. And whatever might happen, there are things that matter much more to this country’s future — like whether we have a functioning military any more, whether our economy is wrecked, whether this country tears itself apart over this catastrophe. But we’ll go on and look back at this and judge what happened.

Not so for the president. For him, this is it. He’s not bigger than this. His entire legacy as president is bound up in Iraq. Which is another way of saying that his legacy is pretty clearly an irrecoverable shambles. That is why, as the folly of the enterprise becomes more clear, he must continually puff it up into more and more melodramatic and world-historical dimensions. A century long ideological struggle and the like. For the president a one in a thousand shot at some better outcome is well worth it, no matter what the cost. Because at least that’s a one in a thousand shot at not ending his presidency with the crushing verdict history now has in store. It’s also worth just letting things keep on going as they are forever because, like Micawber, something better might turn up. Going double or nothing by expanding the war into Iran might be worth it too for the same reason. For him, how can it get worse?

And when you boil all this down what it comes down to is that the president now has very different interests than the country he purports to lead.

Ah, perspective. It’s a beautiful thing.

Josh links to a pretty good Washington Post column by Jim Hoagland, titled “Bush’s Vietnam Blunder.” Among other things, Hoagland thinks the “Vietnam” speech was a political blunder. Maybe; whether the speech makes Bush and his war more or less unpopular than they already were remains to be seen. But here is the critical point:

Some military commanders, CIA agents in Iraq, Republican members of Congress, State Department diplomats and others now make their highest priority the protection of their own reputations, careers and institutions — the three blend seamlessly into a single overriding ambition in Washington — for the post-Bush era, which thus draws closer, in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The need to protect the White House, the Pentagon and both major political parties from greater Iraq fallout explains much of the blame being dumped on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at this late date — even though his deficiencies and close links to Iran and Syria were clearly visible when the administration helped install him in the job in 2006. As he has been throughout the Iraq experience, Bush is condemned to play the cards he dealt himself.

Our troops are in Iraq not to protect America, but to protect political careers.

And it’s not just Republicans, of course. Democrats are still so afraid of being labeled “soft” on communism crime terrorism that their own positions on the war are nuanced to death. Frankly, I’ve given up trying to understand precisely where some Democrats stand on the war; all over the place, it seems.

E.J. Dionne writes,

The surest sign of how bad our choices in Iraq have become is the eagerness of both of our political parties to blame the entire mess on the man American officials helped install in his job. After all, it was taken as an American victory back in April 2006 when Maliki replaced Ibrahim al-Jafari, who faced many of the same criticisms as prime minister that Maliki does today.

Now, Maliki is the problem. Among Democrats, both Sens. Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton have called for replacing him with “a less divisive and more unifying figure,” as Clinton put it. …

… It’s no accident that American politicians find themselves entangled in Iraqi politics. The president’s troop surge was designed not to achieve some decisive military result but to bring about a political result — to give Iraqis “breathing room” to settle their sectarian differences.

I think the real reason for the surge was to kneecap the Iraq Study Group recommendations that would have taken control of the war away from Bush, but let’s go on …

That’s why both sides in the war debate are talking past each other. Supporters of the administration point to signs of military success and insist that we should keep at it. The administration’s opponents don’t deny some military gains — at considerable cost in American lives. But they argue that the continuing political disarray in Iraq shows that the surge has failed to achieve its primary objective and that we should begin to disentangle our troops from a civil war.

The debate as it’s currently configured puts a much higher short-term political burden on congressional Democrats than on Republicans. The president has the easier political objective: He needs only to block congressional action that would force him to alter his policy. As long as most Republicans stick with him, he wins.

He wins, notice. Not America; just Bush.

Democrats, on the other hand, are in a classic damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t situation.

So what else is new?

Congress, which has the constitutional authority to end the war, dithers around with halfway measures designed to encourage, but not force, the President to change his policy. Of course, this is a bit like politely asking a fox to please leave the chickens alone.

There’s more going on beneath the surface than merely scapegoating Maliki, as Glenn Greenwald explains today (must read). Politicians in Washington of both parties seem to have forgotten that We, the People, are still here.

At moments like these someone is bound to start squawking about third parties, which is another road to failure. We’re trapped into a two-party system by the way we hold elections. I still see no alternative to reforming the Democrats, eliminating “Bush Dogs” in the primaries and otherwise sending a message to the Washington elites that they really do need to reckon with us. That will take a few election cycles, unfortunately. And the war goes on.

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