Sunday, March 18, 2012

Institutionalizing cruelty and ignorance

In the US, laws that institutionalize cruelty are nothing new. Such laws not only underwrite suffering and injustice to be administered by the state, but also inure us to suffering and injustice, normalizing and justifying suffering and injustice. Lately, though, on both the federal and the state level, mostly republican law-makers have launched wave upon wave of laws or proposals for laws that institutionalize cruelty against women and the parts of their lives that distinguish them from men.

Thus, in Georgia, a bill has been proposed that would forbid doctors to remove dead fetuses from women's bodies, on the presumption that if cattle have to suffer through labor to abort dead offspring, then women should too. Therefore, the reasoning of those who have proposed this legislation goes, women carrying a dead fetus ought to wait until it is "naturally" expelled from her body. (And too bad if she dies before that happens: such deaths are, of course "natural." Which suggests it's only a matter of time before we start getting legislation requiring women to give birth out in a field, on their own...) The only purpose such a law could serve is to institutionalize cruelty and, possibly, to make it clear to women that in the state's eyes, they are not full human beings entitled to human dignity.

In several states, law-makers are quite taken with forcing women who want early abortions to undergo the painful, expensive, purely gratuitous procedure of a transvaginal probe. The point, as a recent (widely censored) Doonesbury strip points out, is to shame the woman who seeks an abortion. The governor of Pennsylvania, approving of this, advises women undergoing this to "just close their eyes."

In Texas, In order to oust Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program (40% of which is administered by Planned Parenthood), the governor is giving up a $35 million federal grant, which means that Texas's Women's Health Program will be dismantled (since the state of Texas would never dream of providing healthcare themselves to poor women). The governor's decision will likely cut off 130,000 women from basic health care they can't afford to get elsewhere.

In Arizona, it looks as though the Arizona legislature is not only going to make contraception coverage in employee insurance plans up to the employer to determine, but also make the very use of contraception a valid reason for firing an employee. Here's today's Arizona Republic:
Do you have birth control pills in your purse or a condom in your wallet?

Careful, that might get you fired.

The Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature are pushing through a bill that would make it OK for both religious and secular employers to deny health-care coverage for contraception if the employers object for moral or religious reasons.

But apparently that's not all.

HB 2625 in its current version also eliminates the following protection for employees:

"A religious employer shall not discriminate against an employee who independently chooses to obtain insurance coverage or prescriptions for contraceptives from another source."

That language was in the law, passed in Arizona in 2002, that allowed religious employers to opt out of providing contraception services to their workers. In the most recent version of HB 2625, the provision outlawing discrimination is removed.

What does that mean?

According to ACLU of Arizona Public Policy Director Anjali Abraham, it means that an employer may be able to discriminate against an employee if he finds out that she (or he?) is using contraception.

Read more:

This last week, the US Senate has been in an uproar over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The Seattle P-I reports:
The pending legislation would provide money to local law enforcement, particularly for dealing with violence on Indian reservations and in rural areas. It would increase legal assistance to victims. It would extend protection to cases involving domestic violence between same-sex couples.

Republicans are uneasy with the bill, but equally uneasy about their image among American women.

They recently championed an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, that would given businesses, on grounds of moral objections, sweeping power to deny contraception coverage in health insurance to women employees.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted for the Blunt amendment, only to hear blunt criticism from Alaska women on a trip home. She shared the experience at a Senate Republican Caucus luncheon earlier this week.

Discussing the Violence Against Women Act, Sen. Blunt told the Times: “Obviously you want to be for the title.”

Longtime conservative crusader Phyllis Schlafly has charged that the law has been “used to fill feminist coffers” and that its provisions promote “divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men.”

Cantwell said American women are asking different questions, adding:

“They want to know how something that has been so bipartisan in the past . . . that’s usually passed with great bipartisan support, may not meet its deadline for being reauthorized.”
Other laws are additionally designed to force doctors to lie to their patients (thus institutionalizing ignorance, as well):

New Hampshire Bill Would Force Docs To Lie About Abortion, Breast Cancer Link

In New Hampshire, a Tea Party-happy House of Representatives has passed a bill that would require doctors to tell women that abortion causes breast cancer—despite the fact that it’s untrue.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeanine Notter, states that “it is scientifically undisputed that full-term pregnancy reduces a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer” and “women facing an abortion decision have a right to know that such medical data exists.” Therefore, doctors must inform pregnant women that “there is a direct link between abortion and breast cancer.”

But no link between abortion and breast cancer has been proven. The consensus in the scientific community, in fact, is that abortion does not cause breast cancer—a statement supported by the World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

One reason some previous studies may have showed a link is because the more periods a woman has over a lifetime, the greater her breast cancer risk, crudely. A woman who has 5 children—thus 5 pregnancies, and 5 long stretches with no menstruation—has a lower lifetime risk of breast cancer than a similar woman who has no children. A woman who has an abortion could have a higher lifetime chance of developing breast cancer relative to a woman who has been pregnant—assuming, of course, she never has or will have children.

Full-term pregnancy does reduce a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer. Which does not mean that abortion, per se, causes it.

Someone should explain this to Notter. According to the Huffington Post, she has said in the past that she believes abortion and birth control pills cause spaces in breast duct tissue to allow for the growth of cancer cells. She also believes birth control pills can cause prostate cancer in the male offspring of women who’ve taken them.

Notter’s bill would also institute a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, and require doctors provide a series of fetal pictures taken at two-week intervals, a list of agencies that assist women during pregnancy and childbirth, material on paternal support obligations and a presentation on the possible medical side effects of abortion. Another bill that passed the N.H. house Wednesday would change the timing for judges to decide whether a minor can have an abortion without parental notification. The fates of both bills in the state Senate are uncertain.

Some states, while not ordering doctors to lie, are permitting them to do so. Oklahoma is one of those places:
In Oklahoma, Doctors can legally lie to you because of their personal beliefs. And, make no mistake, they will be lying. When I (and every other mother I know) was pregnant the one question I asked at every OB-GYN appointment was, “Is everything okay with the baby?” I can’t imagine a doctor telling me anything but the truth. I can’t imagine not being prepared for every parents’ worst nightmare.

But it seems that informing women in Oklahoma is situational.

The Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override vetoes of two highly restrictive abortion measures, one making it a law that women undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before having an abortion.

Amazing. Angry Mouse sums it up best…
In other words, if you’re a woman in Oklahoma seeking a legal medical procedure, you will first be forced to have a completely unnecessary procedure so the doctor can show and describe to you your beautiful, healthy little bundle of joy.

This is Oklahoman for “informed consent.”

But if that bundle of joy isn’t so healthy? Tough shit. The doctor doesn’t have to say a word.
At this rate maybe Oklahoma doctors can start issuing sugar pills in place of birth control pills without telling the patient.
Of course, the tactic of forbidding doctors to give their patients the information they need is not directly only against women. Pennsylvania just passed a damnable law directed at its entire population:
A new Pennsylvania law endangers public health by forbidding health care professionals from sharing information they learn about certain chemicals and procedures used in high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The procedure is commonly known as fracking.

about 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking operations are known carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Fluids used in fracking include those that are “potentially hazardous,” including volatile organic compounds, according to Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, a part of the federal Centers for Disease Control. In an email to the Associated Press in January 2012, Portier noted that waste water, in addition to bring up several elements, may be radioactive. Fracking is also believed to have been the cause of hundreds of small earthquakes in Ohio and other states.

The law, an amendment to Title 52 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, requires that companies provide to a state-maintained registry the names of chemicals and gases used in fracking. Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information, but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds. If a company does release information about what is used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems. A strict interpretation of the law would also forbid general practitioners and family practice physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreement and learn the contents of the “trade secrets” from notifying a specialist about the chemicals or compounds, thus delaying medical treatment.

The clauses are buried on pages 98 and 99 of the 174-page bill, which was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

“I have never seen anything like this in my 37 years of practice,” says Dr. Helen Podgainy, a pediatrician from Coraopolis, Pa. She says it’s common for physicians, epidemiologists, and others in the health care field to discuss and consult with each other about the possible problems that can affect various populations. Her first priority, she says, “is to diagnose and treat, and to be proactive in preventing harm to others.” The new law, she says, not only “hinders preventative measures for our patients, it slows the treatment process by gagging free discussion.”
I can think of other recent instances of laws designed to render women and men ignorant and inflict unnecessary suffering on them, but I think these examples suffice for one post. The institutionalization of cruelty and the institutionalization of ignorance are proliferating in the US today. It'd take a full-time staff using maps with pushpins to keep track of all the insidious legislation aimed to make our lives worse. The word that comes to mind now when I think about politicians is "contempt." Their contempt for most of us, and our contempt for them. Where, I have to wonder, will this all end?

1 comment:

Nancy Jane Moore said...

The dysfunctional Congress has received a lot of press, but one of the things your list of absurd bills demonstrates (in addition to an effort to punish women for their sexuality) is that state legislatures are focusing on stuff like this instead of dealing with the problems they really need to address. And, of course, the only way to fight these laws is with a legal action, which takes time, money, and energy that could be better spent.

The Center for Public Integrity just did a Integrity Investigation, "a first-of-its-kind, data-driven assessment of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states." The results are depressing -- nobody got an A and there are a lot of states at the low end of the scale.

Our legislatures and state governments are a significant part of the problem we're facing, not just because they're passing lunatic bills against women, but because they're not doing their jobs properly and openly.