Roger’s note: compare the work of this courageous, community minded physician and citizen with that of the hate-mongering, murderous, hypocritical and patriarchal anti-choice activists who call them selves right to life.
Ann Kristin Neuhaus, photo by Clarke Davis
by Clarke Davis
Ann Kristin Neuhaus has lost her license to practice medicine, but she is still engaged in the work of making people healthy on the community level.
Neuhaus, 55, fell victim to Operation Rescue and the anti-abortion political winds that blow in Kansas. She is the last link to Dr. George Tiller, the late-term abortion doctor of Wichita who was murdered one Sunday morning in his church.
The rural Nortonville woman’s license has been revoked by the state Board of Healing Arts but that action has been appealed and is now in the judicial system.
Neuhaus doesn’t know the outcome yet—it may be a couple more months—but she believes the judge will base his decision on the law and not on some political agenda.
As an associate to Tiller, her job was to render a second opinion on late-term abortions as required by state law. The law requires a Kansas physician for the second opinion and since 99 percent of the patients were outside of Kansas and from all parts of the world, he relied on Neuhaus.
No patient ever brought a complaint, but she was charged with “documentation inefficiencies” through the regulatory agency.
In other words a couple of papers weren’t signed or t’s failed to get crossed and i’s dotted.
“I was even accused of not having seen one of the patients, which was ridiculous,” she said.
Tiller’s abortion clinic and his murder have been national news and now the Neuhaus story has national circulation. The Nation and The Huffington Post have done stories on human rights issues and reproductive health and have brought sufficient recognition to her that people want to help and have established an online fund to help in her struggle.
A $93,000 goal was set on indiegogo.com and late last week the amount of donations was nearing $60,000. The Neuhaus story can be found at this location along with links to most all of the news coverage that she has received.
Why that amount? That’s the amount of the bill she was sent after losing her license by the regulatory agency. She is being required to pay for her own prosecution, of which most of the cost came with the state bringing in an expert witness from Washington, D.C., to testify.
The matter is now in the court system and that could be overturned on appeal. Nevertheless, Neuhaus and her husband, Mike Caddell, are struggling financially and trying to hang onto their rural home and 10-acre farm. Her lawyers are working pro bono.
Tiller had been brought up on charges as well, most of which had been thrown out of court and a jury quickly found him not guilty of the remainder. A month later the assassin’s bullet killed him.
Late-term abortions are fewer than 1 percent of the total number of those performed, Neuhaus said. Often it’s a child and of those 12 and under, it’s almost always a case of incest.
Neuhaus has moved on in her professional life. She went back to school to acquire a master’s degree in public health and is now employed as a research instructor at the University of Kansas Medical Center’s Department of Family Medicine.
“I’m working on six or seven different projects involving community health,” she said.
One is the development of an informational kiosk made available in medical clinics that tend to serve the poor. This is to help them educate themselves on the importance of a colonoscopy for cancer screening.
“We spend time on the Indian reservations in this area,” she said.
This is for the purpose of doing health screenings, dealing with diabetes on the community level, and checking on the general environment for all aspects of health care.
“Do they have access to good food?” she asked. “That’s something rural and urban people often have in common is the lack of access to good nutritious food.”
Her department works through the churches in the African-American communities. She noted that sometimes people are disenfranchised and fatalistic about health care and they don’t need to be.
If she could be a benevolent dictator for 10 years, Neuhaus said she would end obesity and the health problems that come with it. There would be no junk food, plenty of bicycle trails, and opportunities for people to grow healthy food.
“There are many social detriments to health that are often overlooked,” she said. She noted that crime and stress and financial difficulties add up to lots of health problems when the community is not healthy.
She said it does not help to have a preachy attitude from the affluent looking down and addressing them as “you people,” an attitude that is not helpful and lacks understanding.
Even in her years of private practice, Neuhaus was serving mostly those who could not afford health care and insurance. She credits her stepfather with shaping her opinions of the world and caring for others.
Her mother divorced when she was 5 years old and married a man in the foreign service. She lived in a number of European countries and at one point was schooled with the children of ambassadors from nations around the world.
Her stepfather took her to the Dachau concentration camp at the age of 5 and showed her the ovens used by the Nazis to burn corpses. His father had worked alongside Oskar Shindler in saving Jews from the Nazi terror.
“I never experienced prejudice or hate until I was 13 and living in southwest Kansas,” she said.
There were black people and Mexicans in Hugoton and she never could understand the racist attitudes she encountered.
“None of it ever made sense,” she said.
The generosity of people across the country donating to her cause is also overwhelming for Neuhaus.
“What people have done is over the moon,” she said.
Neuhaus and her husband intend to stay in their rural Jefferson County home where they are raising their son, Tristan, a junior at Jefferson County North High School.
The old house needs some paint and sometimes the well runs dry, but it’s home. It’s home for the three of them along with three horses, a goat, some chickens, and several dogs and cats.
With the donations of money they hope to preserve their rural home so it will be there for future generations.
Roger’s note: You are lucky if you are old enough to have watched Dick Cavett. He was by far the greatest late night television host of all time. Next to Cavett Johnny Carson was Howdy Doody. Cavett was urbane, intellectual, but never condescending. He interviewed some of the most important and interesting people of our time in a variety of fields, from entertainment to politics. It is good to know that he is still alive and kicking. To read the original article to which this posting refers, just click on “last column” in the second paragraph.
You made me laugh. You, the reader who wrote that, on the subject of sex before marriage, your mother asked your father the farthest he had gone with his before-marriage girlfriend. “Poughkeepsie,” he replied.
My last column inspired a remarkable number of thoughtful replies. I wish I had space and time to deal with all of them.
The college I wrote about that posted information and advice on sex at school is, I learn, hardly unique. And many readers wonder what took so long. If only we had had that as a theme.
Only a handful could be considered shocked or disapproving of the practice. Many worried about the possibly lost distinction between sex and true affection.
I am always shocked that there are still a handful of defenders of the dubious practice of abstinence, surely the worst idea since chocolate-covered ants.
Undoubtedly this practice urged on the young combined with forbidding them contraception has accounted for a hefty portion of the income of the baby-shower industry.
Abstinence. What sex-drive-free human specimens dreamed this one up? Were, or are, they utter strangers to the turmoil of the storming erotic drives of the young? And, as several fortunate readers attest, some lucky members of the old?
If there is an Abstinence League, my image of its leader comes from William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell”: “Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.”
Remember when the “one true church” was heavily promoting the “rhythm method” of pseudo-contraception? Of course the jokes came thick and fast about inability to keep a beat, etc. I wonder what wit first labeled the fiasco “Vatican roulette.” A daredevil version, it proved to be, of roulette with about four chambers loaded.
I liked the reader who admitted quite frankly that, yes, she did think additional sex experience would have been a good thing in her case, probably producing a more successful marriage.
Several people referred, or at least alluded, to the danger of a wrecked school life and education from an unwanted pregnancy.
No small concern. More so in my day, when detailed knowledge of the traps and pitfalls of the loins was often sparse.
I received zero sex knowledge at home. Had my mother lived, I might well have, but my dad merely worried that I was going to impregnate someone in high school. But no advice.
Considering the thinness of my sexual activity at the time, the odds against the calamity that haunted A. B. Cavett were somewhere below zero. I wouldn’t be surprised, such was the extent of my dad’s concern, to learn that he might have had some such related experience himself.
In college, where the odds favoring inadvertent calamity at least climbed to just above the freezing point, I can still recall a stabbing and chilling moment of angst, fear and trembling.
The previous night had included a rare episode of pneumatic bliss, properly conducted, safety-factor-wise.
The next day, as chance would have it, Fate, or one of my roommates, placed in my hands one of those pamphlets for boys. It at least felt as if my hair stood up at reading the icy words: “Be careful not to touch the end of your penis to the wrong side of the condom, then turn it over and…”
It went on to make it clear that the not inconsiderable frequency of this inadvertent “transfer” mishap could account, accidentally, for an addition to the population.
At that, the black and white tile floor of the dorm bathroom where I was standing seemed to zoom up at me as in an early film-noir special effect.
Had I done that? Had I wrecked my life? Cold sweat.
Was there a preacher in my immediate future? Would I be on a train back to Nebraska? Would I be home, saying, “Hi, folks. Meet Janie”?
For a good time thereafter, sleep was fitful and sometimes impossible without a mild sleeping potion and a page-or-two dose of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene.”
Why tell this? As an argument for sex education? Surely no one with a measurable I.Q. is still against that, although, in fact, you can still hear folks with but 10 watts upstairs say, “Why put ideas in kids’ heads?”
My wondering about whether more sex in school, in my part of The Old Days, would have made me a better person seemed to divide the audience.
I was assured it would have and that it emphatically would not. I suppose all we can say here is, how will we ever know?
Some readers made the distinction of how different things always are for boys and girls. A female reader, disputing assumptions about the time, wrote of the incredible pressure “in the 60s even” for girls to “keep your knickers on” or be looked down on by female classmates. But that now, she says, the pressure is to “lighten up, get with it.” To shuck ’em down.
She feels the school’s enlightened document I quoted is spot on.
Some urged that doleful term “waiting,” maintaining that “character” is built by biting the bullet and waiting.
The great Marlene Dietrich told me that in her German childhood upbringing, she was commanded to go without a drink of water when thirsty “to build character.” Did it? I asked. “Not one brick’s worth of character was built. It probably injured my kidneys.”
One reader, Joe of Brooklyn, touchingly wonders if, as a schoolkid, that certain gorgeous dream of a teacher ever fancied him, envying those 15-year-old students these days taken “twixt the sheets by a comely and passionate high school teacher.” (Who subsequently does time.)
Poor Joe has never gotten over it. He thinks in today’s atmosphere, the “it” he longed for just might have happened. She was 33 then — she would be 92 now — and “she is still more enticing than any woman I have ever encountered.”
Joe says every man he tells this to has a similar school days story and longing. I know I do. Would we have been better off? Anyway, Joe, you have at least a sitcom episode here, if not the core of a feature.
Glad that so many writers liked the column and applauded the school’s efforts, warnings and advice about that old devil, sex. Many wish they’d had it. Such a document I mean, of course.
(A few practical souls pointed out that it is also greatly in the school’s legal interests to able to say to thundering parents, “We told them.”)
Predictably, I guess, I was taken to task (what in hell does that really mean?) by some readers for committing humor within such a topic. This always puzzles. The old, “There is no place for humor here.”
You have it almost right. There is no place for no humor. At what boundary must humor halt? I commend you to my friend, Mark Twain on the power of humor: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
As further assertion of the place of humor being everywhere, let us close with the wise, wise advice about life given by the great George S. Kaufman to his young daughter Ann.
“Sample everything in life. Except incest and folk-dancing.”
“He wanted to say something public about the struggle he went through to [try to] have an assisted death, preferably with the types of barbiturates that are available in the countries that allow it,” his widow, Maureen Taylor, said in an interview about the video, which went live Tuesday.
Dr. Low, who died Sept. 18 without assistance, was the infectious disease expert who became the calming voice and medical face during the SARS crisis a decade ago. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour seven months ago.
“I am not afraid of dying,” he said in the video, “what worries me is how I’m going to die.”
He wondered aloud if he would end up paralyzed, unable to swallow or even talk with his family while he endured a protracted and painful death.
Even before his diagnosis, Dr. Low, 68, was in favour of legalizing medical assistance for “people who were terminally ill and of sound mind,” Ms. Taylor said, but it wasn’t until he was facing his own imminent demise that he tried to turn theory into reality. “There is no place in Canada where you can have support for dying with dignity,” he concluded.
The couple talked about going to Switzerland, where non-residents can swallow a toxic potion and fall into a terminal sleep, but “he wasn’t prepared to go away to die without his kids and my kids around him,” said Ms. Taylor. And he wanted to be here for the anticipated birth of a grandson in July and the wedding of his stepdaughter in late August. They also investigated speeding his death with helium, but “if I was caught buying the gas tanks, then I could have gone to jail,” she said.
Time was running out when the videographers from the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer arrived in early September. “Don wasn’t able to speak fluently, but he pulled it out of a hat,” Ms. Taylor recalled. Hearing was also a problem. Ms. Taylor had to relay the producer’s questions because hers was the only voice her husband could still distinguish. But there is no mistaking the challenge that the dying physician issued to doctors who oppose assisted suicide: “I wish they could live in my body for 24 hours. … I am frustrated not being able to control my own life.”
Dr. Low isn’t the only dying patient to rail against Canada’s prohibition against assisted suicide. Twenty years ago, Sue Rodriguez, a British Columbia woman with ALS, took her request for medical help in ending her life to the Supreme Court of Canada. Ms. Rodriguez lost her challenge, but the debate continued.
In June, 2012, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the Criminal Code section on assisted suicide was discriminatory and suspended the decision for a year to give the federal government time to draft a revision. Instead, the government has appealed the BC ruling.
Meanwhile, Quebec tabled right-to-die legislation in the National Assembly last June. Committee hearings into Bill 52, which contains the most radical end-of-life options of any jurisdiction in North America, began last week and are scheduled to continue into October. Among the witnesses expected to appear are representatives from Alzheimer’s and disabilities associations and experts on all sides of the debate, including professors Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University and Margaret Somerville of McGill University.
If a book’s value can be measured by its ability to antagonize right-wing ‘think-tanks,’ then this book is priceless.
The Spirit Level challenges everything we’ve been told about why people get sick and what it takes to be healthy.
While public campaigns lecture us to eat right, stop smoking, exercise more, etc., in fact, our well-being has very little to do with our individual choices and everything to do with how society is structured. Put simply, inequality is extremely bad for our health.
The United States ranks as the world’s most unequal nation, far outstripping all other nations. The top one percent of Americans have a combined net worth that is more than triple the net worth of the other 99 percent combined. And the bottom 40 percent of Americans own less than nothing, because they are sinking in debt.(1) (See the two charts below)
The high cost of inequality
Wilkinson and Pickett compare income inequality within 23 of the world’s richest nations and all fifty US states. They found that, at every income level, people living in more unequal nations and states suffer:
• lower life expectancy
• higher infant mortality
• more homicides
• more anxiety
• more mental illness
• more drug and alcohol addiction
• more obesity
• higher rates of imprisonment
• less social mobility
• more teen pregnancies
• more high-school dropouts
• poorer school performance
• more school-age bullying
And the extent to which people at every income level suffer these problems is directly related to how unequal is the society in which they live.
In contrast, people living in more equal societies and states enjoy better mental, physical and social health – at every income level. And the more equal their societies, the more they enjoy these benefits.
Once everyone has the basic necessities of life, your health and social well-being is determined less by how rich you are than how unequal is the society in which you live. In other words, poorer people in more equal societies are healthier and happier than richer people in more unequal societies.
The difference is significant. A 1990s study of 282 metropolitan areas in the United States found that the greater the difference in income, the more the death rate rose for all income levels, not just for the poor.(2)
Researchers calculated that reducing income inequality to the lowest level found in those areas would save as many lives as would be saved by eradicating heart disease or by preventing all deaths from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infection, suicide and homicide combined.
Inequality divides us
Why would inequality, in and of itself, have such a profound impact? The answer lies in our mammalian biology. As the most social animals on the planet, we are hard-wired to function best in an embracing community.
More than 95 percent of human existence has been spent in egalitarian societies. Because the survival of the group depends on collaboration, all primitive societies developed rules and customs to prevent anyone from rising too high or sinking too low.
However, for the past 10,000 years, most people have lived in class-divided, hierarchical societies. We have adapted to social inequality, but we pay a terrible price.
Consider this statement, “Most people can be trusted.” Would you agree or disagree?
The probability that you would disagree is directly related to the level of income inequality in your society. Wilkinson and Pickett show that people in the most equal nations, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, are six times more likely to trust each other than those in the most unequal nations – Portugal, Singapore and the United States. In short, inequality makes people distrustful.
When society does not take care of us, when we are abandoned to struggle individually, then we distrust others and fear for our safety. As a result, more unequal societies are characterized by more inter-personal competition, more emphasis on individual status and success, less social security, more envy of those above and more disdain for those below.
Fearful distrust compelled George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin. Fearful distrust prompts us to warn our children about strangers, suspect those who are different, install security systems, view the poor and unemployed as ‘cheaters,’ applaud more spending on police and prisons, and support harsher penalties.
Fearful distrust provides a mass audience for TV shows and movies about traitors, torturers, rapists, sadists, and serial killers. When I asked one person why she followed a particularly gruesome TV serial about psychopathic murderers, she replied, “I want to know what’s out there.” Fearful distrust keeps us isolated and unable to recognize our common interests.
The Spirit Level is rich in information about the benefits of greater equality – enough to convince anyone who cares about human welfare. For that reason, I recommend it most highly. (The book’s facts, charts, and more resources can be found at The Equality Trust).
Unfortunately, the book falls short when it comes to solutions.
Could inequality be legislated away?
The book’s primary weakness is revealed in Robert Reich’s Foreword,
“By and large, ‘the market’ is generating these outlandish results. But the market is a creation of public policies. And public policies, as the authors make clear, can reorganize the market to reverse these trends.” (p.xii)
In reality, capitalism is based on a fundamental inequality: the capitalist class owns the means of production and all that is produced, so it has the power to shape society. The rest of us, who do the actual work of producing, get virtually no say in how society is run. This two-class system cannot be legislated away, any more than the systems of slavery or feudalism could be legislated away.
Most important, the capitalist system is based on the accumulation of capital which, by its very nature, increases inequality.
Every capitalist is committed to raising productivity – increasing the amount of capital that can be squeezed from each worker and confiscated by the employer. As more wealth is extracted from the working class and concentrated in the hands of the one percent, society becomes increasingly unequal. Counter-measures can slow the twin process of capital accumulation and growing inequality, but it can be stopped only by eliminating capitalism.
Could we all live in Sweden?
As Wilkinson and Pickett explain, there are two ways that countries offset rising inequality: by capping higher incomes; and by imposing higher taxes on the rich to pay for social programs. In other words, by holding the very rich down and by elevating everyone else. So it might seem that the solution to inequality could lie in redistributive public policies. However, wanting and needing such policies has never been enough – it’s always required a fight. As the authors point out,
“Sweden’s greater equality originated in the Social Democratic Party’s electoral victory in 1932 which had been preceded by violent labor disputes in which troops had opened fire on sawmill workers.” (p.242)
The book offers more examples of governments that implemented social programs for fear of revolution if they didn’t: the New Deal in the 1930s, the revolutionary wave that struck Europe in the 1840s, the post-war ‘social contract’ in England, the radicalism of the 1960s, etc.
Wilkinson and Pickett recount how income inequality in the United States reached a peak before the Great Crash of 1929. Beginning in the later 1930s, income inequality decreased as workers organized and fought to divert more social wealth to the people who produced it.
Beginning in the 1970s, income inequality began to rise again. This change was marked by an employers’ offensive against unions. As the proportion of workers in unions fell, income inequality rose until it is now similar to the level of inequality that preceded the 1929 crash.
The authors explain that the American example is not unique,
“A study which analysed trends in inequality during the 1980s and 1990s in Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States found that the most important single factor was trade union membership…[D]eclines in trade union membership were most closely associated with widening income differences.” (p.244)
The lesson from these examples is clear: when the working class is ascendant, inequality decreases and society becomes more fair; when the capitalist class is ascendant, inequality increases and society becomes less fair.
Despite their own evidence, the authors do not call for a working-class uprising to reduce, if not eliminate, class inequality. Instead, they state that,
“The transformation of our society is a project in which we all have a shared interest.” (p.237)
This is a fundamental error, because we do not all have a shared interest. Greater equality would require the capitalist class to give up a substantial amount of its wealth and power. History shows that they never do this willingly.
Individual capitalists might see the value of a fairer society, but any who chose to slow the rate of capital accumulation would be replaced by others with no such concern. Moreover, those who accumulate the most capital can ‘buy’ as many politicians as necessary to shape public policies.
Instead of challenging the two-class capitalist system, the authors want to make it more humane by building a network of worker-co-operatives.
“The key is to map out ways in which the new society can begin to grow within and alongside the institutions it may gradually marginalise and replace. That is what making change is really about…What we need is not one big revolution but a continuous stream of small changes in a consistent direction.” (p.236)
Mondragon Corporation in Spain is offered as an example. Mondragon encompasses 120 employee-owned co-ops, 40,000 worker-owners and sales of $4.8 billion US dollars. However, despite being home to one of the world’s largest co-op networks, Spain ranks midway between the most equal and the most unequal nations. And it has recently implemented severe austerity policies that dramatically increase inequality.
Despite their many benefits, worker-owned co-operatives cannot transform society. As Rosa Luxemburg pointed out more than 100 years ago,
“Producers’ co-operatives are excluded from the most important branches of capital production — the textile, mining, metallurgical and petroleum industries, machine construction, locomotive and shipbuilding. For this reason alone, co-operatives in the field of production cannot be seriously considered as the instrument of a general social transformation…Within the framework of present society, producers’ co-operatives are limited to the role of simple annexes to consumers’ co-operatives.” (3)
And one cannot imagine the global military-industrial complex becoming a worker-owned co-op.
To their credit, the authors acknowledge,
“The truth is that modern inequality exists because democracy is excluded from the economic sphere. It needs therefore to be dealt with by an extension of democracy into the workplace.” (p.264)
Realistically, there’s only one way to achieve workplace democracy across the whole of society – a global working-class revolution that takes collective control of production and eliminates the two-class system of capitalism. Then we could build a truly cooperative society in which everyone is equally worthy to share life’s work and life’s rewards.
1. Wolff, E.N., “The asset price meltdown and the wealth of the middle class” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 18559 (2012)
2. Lynch, J.W. et. al. (1998). Income inequality and mortality in metropolitan areas of the United States. Am J Public Health. Vol. 88, pp.1074-1080.
3. Luxemburg, R. (1900/1908). Reform or revolution. London: Bookmarks, p.66.
In light of the recent case of Beatriz, a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman and mother of a toddler, who, while suffering from lupus and kidney failure and carrying an anencephalic fetus, was denied the right to an abortion, it is relevant to discuss the restrictive abortion laws in Latin America and some of the reasons behind them.
Latin America is home to five of the seven countries in the world in which abortion is banned in all instances, even when the life of the woman is at risk: Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, with the Vatican City and Malta outside the region. Legal abortion upon request during the first trimester is only available in Cuba (as of 1965), Mexico City (as of 2007), and Uruguay (as of 2012). In the rest of the continent, abortion is criminalized in most circumstances, with few exceptions, the most common of which are when the life or health of the woman is at risk, rape, incest and/or fetus malformations. However, even in these cases the legal and practical hurdles a woman has to face to have an abortion are such that many times these exceptions are not available, or by the time they are authorized it is too late. The consequences of such criminalization are well known: high maternal mortality and morbidity rates due to unsafe back alley abortions that affect poor and young women disproportionately.
The current laws ruling abortion in the region have been inherited from colonial powers. They are a legacy of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. While European women have already gotten rid of these laws many decades ago, Latin American women still have to deal with them. Why is this so?
As both scholars and activists know by now, women’s rights, like other human rights, are only respected if a movement organizes around them and puts pressure on the state to change unfair laws and policies. While feminist movements swept Europe and North America during the 1960s and 70s, Latin American countries were busy fighting dictatorships and civil wars. It is not that women did not organize, but rather they did so to oppose the brutal regimes and to address the needs of poor populations hit by the recurrent economic crises. Reproductive rights just had to wait. When democracy finally arrived in the region—in the 1980s in South American and the 1990s in Central America—feminist movements gradually began to push for reproductive rights. For example, the September 28th Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion was launched in 1990 in the context of the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist meeting held in San Bernardo, Argentina. Since then, most countries in the region have seen mobilizations and protests around this date. However, by the time the movements began to focus on reproductive rights, the global context had changed and the conservative right had also set up a strong opposition to any change to the status quo.
The strongholds of the opposition to decriminalization lie in two places: first, the Catholic Church, and second, the ascendance of the religious right in the United States. The Catholic Church has historically been a strong political actor in Latin America, ever since its large role in the conquest and colonization of the continent by the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in the 16th and 17th centuries. The church’s influence among both political and economic elites is still a reality in the whole region with only a variation of degree among the different countries. However, the church’s strong opposition to abortion has not been constant. While the church has always condemned abortion, it used to be considered a misdemeanor and not a murder of an innocent human life, as in the current discourse. In addition, it was not until the late 1800s that the church considered that life started at conception. Until 1869, a fetus was thought to receive its soul from 40 to 80 days after conception, abortion being a sin only after the ensoulment had taken place.
Even in the beginning of the 20th century, when many Latin American countries passed their current legislation that allowed legal abortion under certain circumstances, the Catholic Church did not pose a strong opposition to these reforms. As Mala Htun explains in her research on South American abortion laws, at the time abortion reforms were passed by a nucleus of male politicians, doctors, and jurists. In addition, these reforms legalized abortion only in very limited circumstances and required the authorization of a doctor and/or a judge, and therefore represented no real threat to the dominant discourse of abortion being morally wrong. The church only began organizing against abortion decriminalization when feminist movements came together to claim the autonomy of women’s bodies threatening this consensus.
When John Paul II became Pope in 1978, moral issues such as abortion were given a priority in the church’s mission as never before. Having lived through the Soviet conquest of his home country, Poland, and experienced the repression of Catholicism and the legalization of abortion there, the Pope felt very strongly about these issues. Once many of the European Catholic countries achieved the legalization of abortion in the 1970s and 80s, Latin America, being the largest Catholic region in the world, became the battleground in which abortion policy would be fought and decided.
Together with this shift within the Catholic Church, a second stronghold of the opposition has come from the United States. Long past the days of Roe v. Wade, since the 1980s the increasing influence of the religious right within the Republican Party has implied that U.S. reproductive rights policies have been increasingly anti-abortion when this party was in office. How has this affected Latin America? Both directly, by banning federal funding for international NGOs involved with providing, advising, or even advocating for abortion decriminalization (known as the Mexico City Policy or the Global Gag Rule), and also indirectly, through the legitimacy and strength given to anti-abortion discourses, particularly during the George W. Bush administration.
Latin American politicians have not been indifferent to these trends and have thus sought the support of the Catholic Church and/or U.S. Republicans and anti-abortion groups to strengthen their chances of winning office. Unfortunately, in this context the future of Beatriz and many other poor and young women in the region remains politically uncertain.
The UN World Health Organization claims the problem is so widespread that it is now considered a global public health problem.
July 5, 2013 |
Violence against women is certainly not a new phenomenon. We are constantly flooded with stories in the media of heinous acts of violence perpetrated against women across the globe. This is subsequently followed by extensive dialogue on women’s rights by activists and political bodies alike attempting to find solutions to address the problem, most commonly resulting in the adoption of legislation as a quick fix to satisfy public outrage
While such legislative actions are commendable, necessary and timely, to date these measures have not led to a world free from violence—women continue to be subject to it, the media continues to report it, activists continue to fight against it and we end up in a perpetuating cycle of institutional inertia where recapping the problem seems like the only practical solution.
The question that remains unanswered is not what we can do to address it, but how such measures can be effectively implemented in order to change a climate of rape culture and impunity that is so heavily entrenched in our society.
According to a report released by the United Nations World Heath Organization (WHO), 35 percent of women around the world experience some form of physical or sexual violence, whether by an intimate partner or stranger, and the problem is so widespread that it is now considered a global public health problem.
The report is the first systematic study of global data on the prevalence of violence against women. The study found that violence committed by an intimate partner is the most common form of violence, affecting 30 percent of women worldwide. In addition, 38 percent of all women murdered globally are killed by their intimate partner; women who face physical and/or sexual partner violence are 1.5 times more likely to acquire a sexually transmitted infection and twice as likely to develop depression and alcohol-use problems.
The report comes amidst increasing international pressure in recent months for action to prevent violence against women. Last week the Security Council adopted a resolution to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict zones. In a compelling speech, Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stressed that victims were not only suffering at the hands of their rapists but also from a culture of impunity:
“These crimes happen not because they are inherent to war. It is because the global climate allows it. That young Syrian rape victim is here because you represent her. That five-year-old child in the Congo must count because you represent her. And in her eyes, if her attacker gets away with his crimes, it is because you have allowed it.”
Following its adoption, the UN Security Council said the resolution sent a strong signal to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their actions and that rape by armed groups and in conflict will not be tolerated. However, while such dialogue is welcome, without political will by state governments to implement such measures or a judiciary willing to apply such laws, the current climate of physical and sexual violence against women is unlikely to change. Moreover, the Security Council lacks any sort of police powers to enforce such global action.
There is no one-size-fits-all bandage that can be plastered over the issue in its entirety without addressing the underlying social and cultural factors, which underpin the problem. Certain violent acts committed against women are country specific and/or conflict specific and while solutions in one situation may be appropriate, they may not be applicable in another.
Likewise, here on American soil, we are not immune from such violence either as we continue to battle rhetoric which blames the victim and sympathizes with perpetrators. It was only in March this year that CNN, in its coverage of an Ohio high-school rape case, lamented about the promising future of the Steubenville rapists whose lives were now ruined because of their decision to rape a 16-year-old girl. There was no mention of the ramifications of the rape on the young woman.
The prevalence of such violence can be attributed to the rape culture embedded in our society. Consequently, it is necessary to identify what exactly constitutes a “rape culture.” According to Rebecca Nagle of Force: Upsetting Rape Culture, an artistic collaboration fighting against rape, the term denotes the existence of all myths in society about sexual violence which can be seen everywhere we look:
“Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable and cannot end. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think that the persistence of rape is a given and inevitable.”
Force believes the way to eliminate rape culture is by emphasizing the notion of consent, and honoring and elevating the stories and experiences of women who are victims of physical and sexual violence.
“People need to hear about rape,” Nagle says. “At present, victims are shamed and silenced and that silence is a block to having a more critical dialogue about the issue. In addition, we need to promote consent—people need to understand what consent actually means. Our culture does not value having to ask for anything. Rather, we live by a take-what-you-can-get motto. We don’t have a lot of positive models on consent and this is part of the problem.”
What’s more, it seems social media is exacerbating the issue. Facebook has come under fire recently for perpetuating rape culture through gender-based hate speech with pages such as: “What’s 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? My knife.” The social network site initially refused to take down the offensive page, saying it “was just a joke.” However, after 15 companies removed its advertisements, Facebook was forced to respond by deleting some of the pro-rape material that violated its terms.
Despite the proliferation of individuals and groups speaking out against rape culture, such efforts continue to be met with tough resistance. In an article last week titled, “If comedy has no lady problem, why am I getting so many rape threats?”Jezebel staff writer Lindy West explained that since a TV appearance in which she discussed the ethics of rape jokes in comedy, she has been the target of thousands of online attacks from individuals threatening to rape and kill her.
“…I do believe that comedy’s current permissiveness around cavalier, cruel, victim-targeting rape jokes contributes to a culture of men who don’t understand what it means to take this stuff seriously […] And how did they try to prove me wrong? How did they try to demonstrate that comedy in general doesn’t have issues with women? By threatening to rape and kill me, telling me I’m just bitter because I’m too fat to get raped….”
Similarly, 17-year-old Jinan Younis encountered a major backlash from her male peers when she attempted to tackle the issue of violence against women. In her article, “What happened when I started a feminist society at school,” she explains how her participation in a national project called “Who Needs Feminism” resulted in a flood of degrading and explicitly sexual comments from men. Younis writes:
“We were told that our ‘militant vaginas’ were ‘as dry as the Sahara desert,’ girls who complained of sexual objectification in their photos were given ratings out of 10, details of the sex lives of some of the girls were posted beside their photos, and others were sent threatening messages warning them that things would soon ‘get personal.'”
Other efforts to protect women from violence by encouraging the use of “anti-rape products” like hairy-leg stockings, electric shock underwear and a female condom with hooks that women insert called Rape-Axe which attaches to a man’s penis upon penetration, have been criticized for focusing prevention on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Moreover, such campaigns place women and men against each other, rather than in collaboration to solve the problem.
So how do we get men on board to help change this distorted perception of rape culture in society on the quest to end violence against women once and for all? According to Jared Watkins of Men Can Stop Rape, an international organization that encourages men to use their strength for creating cultures free of violence, the key to stopping violence against women is to view men positively:
“All men have the capacity and desire to play a positive role in creating a culture free from violence. Therefore, it is essential to approach men as allies rather than only as potential perpetrators. In order for men to have empathy for themselves and women, we must embrace the full range of emotions in men.”
Men Can Stop Rape tackles the issue of violence against women in a primarily preventative way through youth development programs. The Men of Strength Club is one such course aimed at middle-school students across the country designed to help young men understand how traditional masculinity contributes to violence against women and expose them to non-violent models of manhood.” Jared Watkins says:
“We don’t want to address rape and sexual assault after it has happened, we want to prevent it before it happens. We focus on masculinity because we believe that acts of violence, which are overwhelming committed by men, come from a toxic culture based on a dominant story of masculinity. Our main tool is to point out parts of our culture that encourage unhealthy dominant traditional masculinity, discourage all forms of violence and replace those behaviors with healthy masculinity—by assisting men to develop social emotional competences and provide them with advice to be pillars of strength.”
It follows that if such educational programs were backed by our politicians and implemented in state educational systems, at least on our own shores, we could make some headway in changing the current climate of violence against women. If girls have boys on their side early on in this fight, half the battle is won.
Watkins agrees. “Sexual assault is not a natural state for men,” he says. “In fact, it is often insulting when people say that men can’t control themselves or that men are made to rape. Men have a role in preventing rape and are better than their reputations. We can all be better men in the future. While most violence against women is committed by men, most men don’t commit violence against women. Therefore, we hope to engage the vast majority of men who don’t engage in violence, to speak up when they know something is wrong.”
The BRCA tests the actress had may be unavailable to thousands because they are held under patents
- Andrea Germanos, staff writer
Actress Angelina Jolie’s announcement on Tuesday that she underwent a double mastectomy following genetic testing underscores the broad implications of an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether corporations can own human genes.
Foreign Secretary William Hague with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie at the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting in London, 11 April 2013. (Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office)
Jolie announced that she had a double mastectomy after genetic testing revealed she carried “a ‘faulty’ gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases [the] risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.” The mother of six, whose own mother died after a nearly 10-year battle with cancer at 56, made the decision to have the surgery “to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much [she] could.”
In an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times, Jolie writes:
Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live. The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.
That testing is done only by Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics because they own the patents for those genes, patents the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) say are unconstitutional and invalid because “genes are the foundation of life” and should not be under corporate control. The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing in on that fight.
The defendant in the caseAssociation for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. is claiming to “own” two genes related to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. Myriad Genetics argues that the genes become their “invention” once they are “isolated,” or removed from the cell and therefore they have the right to stop anyone from using these genes, whether for clinical or research purposes.
“The Patent Office’s policy of granting companies complete control over portions of our bodies is both morally offensive and a clear violation of the law,” said the suit’s co-counsel Daniel B. Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT). “Genes are the foundation of life, they are created by nature, not by man, and that is why we were here today at the Supreme Court to make sure they are not controlled by corporations through the patent system.”
Thomas Hedges added that Myriad’s ownership of the genes “guarantees monopoly control over research into cancer. It discourages many other researchers from exploring treatment, something that could ultimately stunt our capacity for medical advances.” The monopoly also provides insured profits for Myriad.
Jolie references the high cost of the testing, and Ellen Matloff, director of cancer genetic counseling at the Yale Cancer Center, has said:
I think that this patent, which has jacked up the prices and made testing more difficult in many circumstances, may be preventing hundreds and maybe thousands and thousands of people from learning that they are at high risk for these terrible disease.
“The patenting of genes is probably the one issue that affects every human being in the entire world,” Ellen Matloff says. “Male, female; black, white, Hispanic; sick, healthy—we all have genes. What this will do to the future of medicine is so grave that a few people have to step forward and put their necks out.”
A decision in the lawsuit in expected this summer.
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Edward R. Korman heard arguments regarding the Obama administration’s Motion to Stay his Order from April 5, 2013, requiring that emergency contraception be made available without age and point-of-sale restrictions. Over a two-hour period, Judge Korman made it clear that the government’s position was unjustifiable. Calling the government’s conduct a “charade” the Judge condemned the “political influence” that has caused a “total and complete corruption of the administrative process.”
“As Judge Korman made clear today, the administration’s tactics affect all women but have the greatest negative impact on poor women, young women and African American women, as well as immigrant women. This is politics at its worst and the administration should be ashamed of its duplicitous conduct,” stated Andrea Costello, Senior Staff Attorney at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and counsel for the plaintiffs in the litigation.
“President Obama sought to sacrifice the reproductive rights of women of all ages at the altar of his political strategy,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “He wants to placate the political right wing at the expense of the health needs and reproductive rights of women. It is as plain as day that the Obama administration has used deception and distraction as a tactic to avoid complying with the Court Order to make the Morning After Pill available without age restriction or identification barriers.”
The Court indicated that it would issue a ruling on the government’s motion by the end of the week.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) represents the plaintiffs, grassroots feminists activists with National Women’s Liberation (NWL) and 15-year-old Anaya Kelly in Tummino v. Hamburg. The lawsuit was filed along with the Center for Reproductive Rights and Southern Legal Counsel against the Food and Drug administration and Health and Human Services.
On April 5, the Court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor that there was no scientific basis for the Obama administration to continue to restrict access to emergency contraception. Judge Korman ordered that it be made available to women and girls “without a prescription and without point-of-sale or age restrictions within thirty days.” The Court found that the FDA had improperly restricted this safe and effective contraceptive after “political interference” from the White House, and had done so against the medical and scientific evidence recommending the drug be made readily available.
Instead of complying with the Court’s Order, the government announced last Tuesday that it would force all women and girls to present government-issued ID to store clerks in order to obtain emergency contraceptives, and that it would continue to deprive over-the-counter access to young teenagers. The next day, Wednesday, the government announced it was appealing the decision and that it was seeking a stay of the order pending appeal.
Roger’s note: On the first day of his presidency, Obama promised to close Guantánamo within a year. That was over five years ago. Guantánamo is a national disgrace and only one example of the president’s abominable lack of ethics, courage, and of his broken promises.
‘Congress has very little to do with it': Following press conference, groups say Obama has only himself to blame for Guantanamo
- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
U.S. President Barack Obama stated at a press conference on Tuesday that he would like to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison but said that Congress was to blame for blockading any such action.
However, rights groups are calling Obama’s bluff, saying he actually does have the power to transfer detainees and put an end to the indefinite detention, solitary confinement, and torture inherent within the military prison—without the approval of Congress—and that he simply lacks the political courage to do so.
Now Congress determined that they would not let us close it and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country. . . . And so I’m going to — as I’ve said before, we’re — examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue. But ultimately, we’re also going to need some help from Congress.
In response, lawyers for Guantanamo detainees at the Center for Constitutional Rights stated, “We praise the president for re-affirming his commitment to closing the base but take issue with the impression he strives to give that it is largely up to Congress.”
Rather than waiting for Congress to make a move on Guantanamo, CCR reports Tuesday that Obama has the autonomy to take a number of actions:
Congress is certainly responsible for imposing unprecedented restrictions on detainee transfers, but President Obama still has the power to transfer men right now. He should use the certification/waiver process created by Congress to transfer detainees, starting with the 86 men who have been cleared for release, including our client Djamel Ameziane.
Congress may have tied one hand behind his back, but he has tied the other: he should lift his self-imposed moratorium on transfers to Yemen regardless of a detainee’s status. It’s collective punishment based on citizenship, and needs to be reevaluated now.
President Obama should appoint a senior government official to shepherd the process of closure, and should give that person sufficient authority to resolve inter-agency disputes.
The President must demonstrate immediate, tangible progress toward the closure of Guantanamo or the men who are on hunger strike will die, and he will be ultimately responsible for their deaths.
Likewise, the ACLU affirmed Tuesday that Obama holds certain powers to release at least half of the Guantanamo detainees:
There are two things the president should do. One is to appoint a senior point person so that the administration’s Guantánamo closure policy is directed by the White House and not by Pentagon bureaucrats. The president can also order the secretary of defense to start certifying for transfer detainees who have been cleared, which is more than half the Guantánamo population.
Carlos Warner, an attorney representing 11 Guantanamo prisoners, said today:
I applaud President Obama’s remarks — he hasn’t mentioned Guantanamo in years — but the fact is that Congress has very little to do with it. NDAA as written allows the President to transfer individuals if it’s in the national security of the United States. The President’s statement made clear that Guantanamo negatively impacts our national security. The question is not whether the administration has the authority to transfer innocent men, but whether it has the political courage to do so.
And writing at the Lawfare Tuesday, Benjamin Wittes adds that Obama’s comments on Tuesday are a direct contradiction of his own self imposed policies. Wittes states:
The President’s comments are bewildering because his own policies give rise to the vast majority of the concerns about which he so earnestly delivered himself in these remarks.
Remember that Obama himself has imposed a moratorium on repatriating people to Yemen. And Obama himself has insisted that nearly 50 detainees cannot either be tried or transferred.
‘Torture Reinforcements’ Not ‘Medical Personnel’ Arrive to Combat Gitmo Hunger Strike
US Military Calls in ‘Force-Feeding Teams’ as Guantanamo Hunger Strike Continues
- Jon Queally, staff writer
A US military guard carries shackles at the US detention center in Guantánamo Bay. (Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images)
The US military has confirmed that at least 40 “medical personnel” have arrived at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in order to expand a force-feeding operation designed to counter an ongoing hunger strike by more than 100 prisoners protesting their indefinite detention and ill treatment.
But because the procedure of “force-feeding” is widely held as a form of torture, critics of the practice may well view the medical teams as nothing more than ‘torture reinforcements’ as the number of those approved for the painful process continues to grow and their conditions deteriorate.
Military authorities repeatedly claim that force-feedings are somehow necessary, but experts are unequivocal when they declare that the procedure is torture.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission considers the practice of force-feeding—in which detainees are strapped to a restraining chair, have tubes pushed up their nostrils and liquids pumped down their throats—a clear form of torture. In addition, the World Medical Association prohibits its physicians from participating in force-feeding and the American Medical Association has just sent a letter to the Pentagon calling the practice an affront to accepted medical ethics.
One detainee, speaking recently through his lawyer David Remes, described the process by saying it felt a “razor blade [going] down through your nose and into your throat.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Remes discussed the treatment of those at Guantanamo as he pushed back against the US military’s claims that it is safeguarding the prisoners by torturing them. “It’s like the way you would treat an animal,” he said. Watch:
Despite testimony like this and the many objections by human rights advocates, reports indicate that at least 21 men have been approved for force feeding at the US prison.
Authorities said that the “influx” of medical reinforcements had been weeks in the planning. But the news will fuel speculation that the condition of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is deteriorating. Shaker Aamer, the last British resident being kept at the centre, told his lawyer earlier this month that authorities will soon see fatalities as a result of the current action.
“I cannot give you numbers and names, but people are dying here,” said Aamer, who is refusing food.
The action is a protest against conditions at the centre, as well as the indefinite nature of the remaining prisoners’ confinement. Aamer has been cleared for release twice, but is still behind bars after 11 years. He has never been charged or faced trial but the US refuses to allow him to return to the UK, despite official protests by the British government.
Late last week, president of the American Medical Association, Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, sent a letter to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in order to remind the Pentagon that the AMA’s long-held view is that force feeding is both an unethical and inhumane practic practice.
[The AMA letter] urged the defense secretary “to address any situation in which a physician may be asked to violate the ethical standards of his or her profession.”
Hagel had just returned from a trip to the Middle East and it was unclear whether he had seen the letter, said Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale.
Asked if military doctors had raised ethical concerns about being asked to perform force-feedings, Breasseale said, “I can tell you there have been no organized efforts, but I cannot speak for individual physicians.
Vince Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights which represents many of the detainees, welcomed the AMA’s letter.
“In reaffirming its long-standing opposition to force feeding Guantanamo prisoners, the country’s most prominent medical association has delivered a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration’s wholly inadequate response to the hunger strik,” Warren said. “The administration cannot force feed its way out of this growing medical emergency.”
He added, “The only true solution is to resume transfers of prisoners and close Guantanamo.”
Once again – why does this week’s news all sound like it comes from The Onion? – this is real. The above is the new campaign bumper sticker for one Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas). He recently threatened to impeach Obama for daring to consider gun control measures, invited gun owners feeling “unwanted” and “persecuted” to move to Texas, and argues that “the right to life is the great civil rights struggle of our age – no little boy or little girl should be subjected to violence because the government has declared them less than human,” which he says is Just Like slavery. We can’t think of much in the way of response, except that Costa Rica is looking better and better.