Saturday, July 30, 2005

Do Lesbians Have a Right to Fertility Treatment?

I spent some time mulling over the legal and moral issues bound up in this story from the San Francisco Chronicle ("When Rights Collide: Doctor and Patient Both Say Their Liberty was Violated).

A Southern California lesbian who sued her doctors for discrimination after they refused to artificially inseminate her is now fighting both them and the state's largest medical association over whether doctors should have the right to refuse treatment on religious grounds.

There are a lot of interesting and debate worthy issues here:

(1) Can physicians refuse to offer services to patients because they find a patient's lifestyle to be immoral?

The California Medical Association has taken the position that, in addition to being able to choose which procedures they perform, doctors should in some situations be able to choose whom they treat.

(2) Is refusal to treat or offer services to a lesbian a violation of civil rights? Is this discrimination, and therefore a violation of state laws?

"If the position that's being promoted by the California Medical Association and the physicians in the case carries the day, then we've blown a hole in civil rights protections in the state of California," said Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the San Francisco-based Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, one of the 16 groups that filed a brief in Benitez's case. Ginsberg offered the hypothetical examples of an Orthodox Jewish restaurant owner who refuses to allow men and women to sit together or a Muslim shop owner barring women who do not wear head coverings."

(3) Can physicians deny fertility treatment to mothers who they find unfit for parenting?

A medical association spokesman said the group is taking a narrow position that applies only to the circumstances of this case. Spokesman Peter Warren said the doctors did not refuse Benitez treatment based on her sexual orientation but on her marital status.

(4) Should the law (state/federal) forbid physicians from denying services to patients object to on moral grounds (this is similar to the bill being considered in the Small Business Committee in the House, concerning whether pharmacists must fill birth control prescriptions--The Freedom of Conscience for Small Pharmacies.)

(5) Does "freedom of religion" (or this concept "freedom of conscience") mean that state laws forbidding discrimination don't apply to religious physicians?

"Whatever the motive was, whether marital status or sexual orientation, it's an issue of whether religion gives people a free pass to ignore laws that apply to everybody else," said Jennifer Pizer, senior attorney for the Western regional office of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization that specializes in gay and lesbian legal issues. "Any type of discrimination that today is illegal, it would be open season on any of those because religious freedom deems it not discrimination anymore."

(6) What are the unintended consequences of legislation that forbids physicians to deny services to a patient they find morally reprehensible?

These are just a FEW of the questions arising from this case, about to face the Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego.


When examining a case like this, I think its useful to first consider the "moral question" distinctly from the "legal question." The legal questions will have to confront (6) far more than moral reasoning about this situation would. The moral question is (as the title of the article says) a clash or rights: right to religious freedom vs. right to equal treatment.

(A) Can a physician deny fertility treatment to a lesbian because he/she thinks the lesbian's "lifestyle" (or her very being) is immoral?

(B) If we tease this out further, we have another question: if my religion teaches that homosexuality is immoral, then why do I have to obey laws that require me to treat homsexuals?

How you answer B affects your answer to A. While I won't answer the question (because I am in socratic mode today), I do think its worth asking more questions:

What constitutes a religion?
Which religious people should be exempted from certain civil rights laws: Wiccans? Buddhists? Unitarians? Wahabis? Jainists? Lutherans? Civil War Reenactors?
What count as religious teachings: What your religious leader says? What your founding texts say? What the tea leaves said?


Now to be fair, let's consider all the issues bound up with the right to equal treatment.

What consitutes discrimination in physician-patient relationships?

(C) If a young, married Chinese woman, who suffers from low self-esteem, seeks out fertility treatment to get pregnant because having a baby would make her feel loved, is a physician obligated to give it to her?

(D) If a Mormon woman--one of many brides--asks for fertility treatment because she notices that the other wives get better treatment because they are pregnant, does a doctor have to perform the services.

(E) If a single woman wants fertility treatment to get pregnant, can a doctor deny her treatment because he believes that only traditional families are stable to raise children?

If you are still working through this puzzle with me, it seems that we need to decide if (A) is equivalent to (C), (D) and (E). And, what is relevant here is what the motivation is for denying treatment. If a physician denies fertility treatment to (C) because she is a Chinese woman or (D) because she is a Mormon, then we it seems looking at cases of unequal treatment.

So, to consider the particular case of Guadalupe Benitez, we need to consider why she was denied treatment: was it because she was a lesbian, latina or not well suited to raise children. Why the physician denied treatment is crucial to determining how moral his/her decision was.

For the sake of argument (and because it seems to what happened), let's assume that the physician denied Guadalupe services because she is a lesbian. And, our physician reasoned that her religion teaches that lesbians are perverts and hence unfit to raise children. Does the physician have a right to refuse treatment? Does the physician's right to "freedom of conscience" trump Guadalupe's right to equal treatment?

Let's hear what you think?!

[Side note: Is there a constitutional "right" to "freedom of conscience"?]

Frist in Wonderland

Bill Frist: "I am pro life, I believe human life begins at conception," Frist said in a Senate speech. "I also believe that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported."

Now, if Bill had spent anytime with Socrates, he might be pushed to expalin how he can reconcile:

(1) I believe human life begins at conception (Pro-life)
(2) Embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported.

Especially since (1), for the Pro-lifers, includes the hidden premises
(a) embryos=human life
(b) embryonic stem cell research destroys human life
Therefore: (c) Embryonic stem research destroys human life
Hence, we can rewrite (2): I am not Pro-life

Given that Frist argues he is "Pro-Life," so embraces (1) and subpremises (a-c), in the above sentence, he has contradicted himself:

(1) I am Pro-life and
(2) I am not Pro-life

What we have here, then, is a meaningless statement. Frist has violated the rules of intelligibility.

However, there is a way out! He can revise (1). Or--gasp--rethink the dogma of "Pro-Life."

Friday, July 29, 2005

What Does a Grrrl Do on Vacation in San Francisco?

Last night I took MUNI out to Noe Valley to eat at a Taqueria and, boy oh boy, was it delicious. Some friends I met up with had just come out of the record store with a ton of vinyl. Uncle Billy (not real name) bought the vinyl release of the band of Japanese chicks (The's) that were in Kill Bill vol. 1. He really liked the song "Woo Hoo." Innocently, I asked, "why would the band release a record?" His answer cracked me up: do they look like they would release a CD?

The weather here in San Francisco is fantastic! My brain is operating at maximal capacity due to the sunshine, breeze and early spring-like (for East Coasters) weather. I took a stroll outside this morning and passed a lovely, large African-American man holding a flourescent green poster that read "Jesus Christ Loves You." Then I walked by a vendor selling a bunch of tiny jade buddhas. And, you gotta love that yesterday, on the Front Page of the San Francisco Chronicle was an article disproving Echinachea's efficacy. I was particularly amused by this story because I had just visited the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park that has an exhibit called "Nature's Pharmacy."

Anyway, I snagged someone's abandoned Newsweek in the hotel gym today. And, there are a couple of things that caught my attention:

1. In the feature article on Roberts, Evan Thomas and Stuart Taylor write: "Roberts's marginal involvement as a political activist is revealing. It suggests that Roberts is not the hard-line ideologue that true believers on both sides had hoped for. The right, agitating to rescue the high court from liberals and muddy centrists, and the left, devoutly wishing to have a Bush nominee to rail against, could barely hide their disappointment with Roberts lack of red-meet resume." Huh? So the only thing that gets the "left" fired up regarding the SCOTUS is a lame Bush nominee. C'mon!

2. A short story on Susan Torres, a young, pregnant woman who is brain dead due to cancer, but hooked up on life support to bring her baby to term. This is apparently a new Pro-life rallying issue. But, I don't get it. What's the problem here? Why would pro-choicers find this problematic, unless, of course Susan explicitly stated that she did not want this baby to be born? Ugh. Being pro-choice--for the billionth time--is not being pro-abortion. Are we to assume that the pro-life will accuse supporters of choice that they would just let this baby die?

3. A short insert about Sheila Cameron's "Free Katie" and "Team Prozac" t-shirts. Apparently she has also made "Team Aniston" and "Team Jolie" shirts and "I Wanna Be Your Nanny" and "Team Sienna" shirts. The first two, I find hilarious. The second set bug me. So, now, we are going to encourage catty behavior among women who choose which woman--the good girl or the bad girl--to team up with.

More later . . .

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Alienated Emotional Labor

Confined spaces do wonders for thinking and focus. On the plane ride I read and wrote relentlessly. I first read cover to cover the Washington Post, which turned out to have some interesting recipes for beets, including a version on the Mojito with pureed beets (go figure!). I discovered the wonder of the beet after impulsively buying some at the farmer’s market two weeks ago.

Anyway, after reading a very interesting piece by Sandra Lee Bartky (“Feeding Egos and Tending Wounds: Deference and Disaffection in Women’s Emotional Labor” from Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression), I started thinking about a former professor of mine who was killed in a hit-and-run accident almost two years ago. What I loved about her was that underneath all of her scholarly papers was the musings of a sort of mystical thinker. People who knew her well had figured that out about her, but many others took her to be a psychoanalytic social theorist. One of her most interesting theories centered on the “exchange of affect.”

In essence, she argued that women were physically and intellectually depleted in two significant ways:

1. By investing their energy in those they were prescribed by patriarchy to tend to (men, children and the elderly), they depleted their own energetic resources

2. The cultural imaginary, which devalues women’s labor, leaves them with uninspiring models by which to chart their future paths. These uninspiring images of women simply do not energize them.

What is mystical underneath this all is a belief that energy is some sort of force moving between and among people. This force, however, needs to be harnessed and directed towards something. The only way to direct this energetic force is to bind it to certain images. The way I have always understood this is by analogy to the sort of visualization that premier athletes or martial arts utilize to enhance performance.

Her work was totally interesting because it was kind of wacky. But, when I read Bartky’s piece yesterday, I started thinking how plausible my professor’s work was. Bartky argues that the women are alienated by their emotional labor, which centers on propping up male egos and tending to their wounds. Bartky is borrowing Marx’s notion of alienated labor and emphasizing one aspect: it disempowers laborers by prohibiting the cultivation of their own creative talents and capabilities.

Traditional gender roles—which admittedly are more contested now than in the past, yet still pervasive—depict women as self-sacrificing, tender, and nurturing. Women are destined to be “mothers,” and hence endowed, “naturally” with these qualities. Or, that is how the story goes.

Feminists have been pointing out for at least a century, that young women are taught to be nurturing (see Mary Wollstonecraft, for example). Women learn to ask questions of their company, nod their head and smile to show interest and enthusiasm for their speakers, to rush to point out the excellent and underappreciated qualities of their male partners who might feel threatened at work.

What this emotional labor gives men is a deep sense that they are important, worthy, and valuable. Women’s emotional labor is integral to men’s sense of entitlement, their “natural” sense that they are efficacious, worth listening to, and capable. Women’s labor, that is, is essential to helping men become autonomous or self-determining.

And yet, women certainly do not get a good return for the emotional investment that they make in men. Absolutely there are exceptions—the true good guys, as Bitch. Ph.D. describes them (“Nice Guys and Bitchy Women”). But many women do not find their male partners nodding with enthusiasm as they describe their ideas, nor do they find their male partners constantly reassuring them that they will excel in their work and that whatever so and so said was just a sign of their own insecurity etc. Men are not socialized to do this labor.

I agree with Bartky that the particular way this hurts women is by prohibiting their own development (unless they are lucky enough to find a good guy or they are totally free from the need for male attention). Women simply have fewer resources, less energy for their own projects.

And, yes, here it comes folks: this is where Prozac (and other SSRIs) come in. Just look at this advertisment to get what I mean:

Prozac: Compliance, Confidence, and Convenience

More Later, After Recovery from Travels

Yesterday was a day of Trains, Planes and Automoblies. Well, actually it went like this:

Car to airport, stand in line, get on plane, land, change planes, stand in line, get in car--EAT DINNER--get on train, train stops for passing ship, transfer to bus, and, finally arrive at hotel.

By the time Za and I got to the hotel, we were grumpy and red-eyed. But, I did some amazing reading and thinking in all those confined spaces, some of which I will share with my dear readers tonight.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Support Sen. Santorum: Oppose Legal Contraception

If Rick Santorum gets re-elected for his Senate seat in 2006, I will be astounded. I guess what this will mean is that PA has more INSANE voters than I realized.

Go to Crooks and Liars and check out the video of Santorum appearing on "News Night" with Aaron Brown at CNN.

Here is a snippet from the interview:

BROWN: Do you think there's a right to privacy in the Constitution?

SANTORUM: No -- well, not the right to privacy as created under Roe v. Wade and all...

BROWN: Do you think there's a right to privacy in the Constitution?

SANTORUM: I think there's a right to unreasonable -- to unreasonable search and seizure...

BROWN: For example, if you'd been a Supreme Court judge in Griswold versus Connecticut, the famous birth control case came up, which centered around whether there was a right to privacy. Do you believe that was correctly decided?

SANTORUM: No, I don't. I write about it in the book. I don't.

BROWN: The state of Connecticut had the right to ban birth control for a married couple.

SANTORUM: I think they were wrong. It was a bad law.

BROWN: But they had the right.

SANTORUM: They had the right. They had the right...

BROWN: Why would a conservative argue that government should interfere with that most personal decision?

SANTORUM: I didn't. I said it was a bad law. And...

BROWN: But they had the right to make.

SANTORUM: They had the right to make it. Look, legislatures have the right to make mistakes and do really stupid things...

If you elect Santorum he will crusade to ensure that states get to pass laws banning contraception people, even married people! Griswold vs. Conneticut appealed to the 4th and 5th Amendments. Here is a sample of Justice Douglas' opinion, which argued in favor of Griswold:

The present case, then, concerns a relationship lying within the zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees. And it concerns a law which, in forbidding the use of contraceptives rather than regulating their manufacture or sale, seeks to achieve its goals by means having a maximum destructive impact upon that relationship. Such a law cannot stand in light of the familiar principle, so often applied by this Court, that a "governmental purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to state regulation may not be achieved by means which sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms." NAACP v. Alabama, 377 U.S. 288, 307. Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.

I want to hear MORE from Santorum, what, exactly is problematic about this reasoning? Right-Wing Religious Conservatives, like Santorum, are anti-liberalism (in the classical sense!). Denying a right to privacy--especially in their own homes--sounds a great deal more like fascism than liberal democracy! Why, on earth, do you want to let the government--local, state or federal, interfere in how you raise your children, for example? Isn't Santorum, of all people, taking advantage of the freedom by home-schooling his children in Virginia (while using State dollars!)

I also find this strategy for attacking Roe, and now, Griswold, to be curious since a lot of Christian wack-o groups and cultural conservatives are opposing the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (S 1197). A prevailing argument is that it destroys families. Here is a tasty bit from a 1999 treatie, "The Father's Manifesto":

VAWA was fabricated completely from whole cloth. Its sponsor’s purpose is to permanently separate men and women and destroy their families.
What is shows is that Conservatives like Santorum might use the rhetoric of "procedure," i.e. state legislatures have the right to make bad laws and the Supreme Court shouldn't interefere, but they are really pushing their "substantive views." This above quotation from the father's manifesto shows a deep concern with federal or state involvement in "families." And, yet Santorum and his friends would be all too happy to let federal and/or state legislatures: "allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives . . ."

The least I could ask for is that Santorum and his supporters stop dressing up their arguments in concerns over procedure and fess up to their real agenda.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Why do unions need to unite?

The NYT reported on the new "major schism" today in the A.F.L-C.I.O confederation. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Teamsters are "quitting the federation . . ." I read this article with great interest, in part, because I knew it was on the horizon. My mother, (who is also a reformed republican) is a leader in the SEIU. She organizes nurses.

Anyway, moving to a union has been a big change for my mom. Part of the reason, of course, is that she sees a lot of shady stuff and icky politics. I asked her several months ago about the corruption in unions and she said: "yep, it exists." She also told me that her union was thinking of breaking with SEIU to get away from it. I thought this sounded promising.


The reason my mom believes in the union is because most of the people she is around and organizes have integrity. And, my mom, like many of us these days, is outraged by how labor is mistreated: lower wages, no health care, no pensions, longer hours, less security, etc. So, she gets out there and tries to make the world better. But, as anyone who has been involved with ANY organization knows (political or otherwise), you will find eventually find problems: corruption and people more interested in power than progress.

When mom told me that SEIU, under its new leadership, was thinking of breaking with A.F.L-C.I.O, I thought it would be good for improving morale and the reputation of SEIU. (This, of course, was based on what she was telling me--I don't pretend to have any inside info). Because unions, in my view, are so important, they need to purge themselves of all the elements that republican politicians and policy folks beat them up with.

Steven Greenhouse reports:

A rift could hurt the labor movement badly by redirecting its focus and energies to internal battles instead of bedrock issues like fighting for wage increases and extending health care to more workers. Democrats, a traditional ally of organized labor, are especially worried that a schism might hurt their party's chances by making labor a less potent political force.

I find this quite irritating. Its symptomatic of a general trend among Democrats and liberal groups these days: to stay united for more power. It bugs me because it turns these groups exactly into what they are criticized as. Moreover, what we need in unions, in the Democratic party, etc. is new leadership. We need people willing to take bold stands and attract new energy and commitment. I am just not convinced that these schisms are ultimately bad; they might be the sign of something good coming.

One last note: my mom keeps telling me how frustrated she is with the management of her local. In general, people are afraid of using words like "manager." This is not good. If they want to be effective, to save working people, they need to get OVER semantics and philosophical debates about organizational structures that do not mimic the hierarchies of corporate America.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Submit Nobly to the Argument: Why You Shouldn't Use the Word 'Ludicrous'

I hate the word ludicrous. I never hear philosophers use the word (well, at least not the good philosophers). This is a word used by sophists, yes, I did use that word. Sophists are the opposite of philosophers. From reading Plato, we learn that the sophists could be hired to teach young, aspiring politicians how to use rhetoric to befuddle challengers; sophists gave these power hungry and venal young men "talking points." Sophists did not teach their pupils how to construct an argument, weigh evidence, point out contradictions, or search for truth. Socrates did that, and the Athenians got rid of him for it.

The word ludicrous is almost onomatopoetic. Speaking or writing the word mimics its meaning. Flustered ideologues--from any political stripe--smirk, wave their hand, and sniff: "that is just ludicrous."


With this speech act they shut down any further discussion. We see this word popping up alot when pundits or "strategists" get peppered with a series of tough questions that might push them to find flaws or inconsistencies in their "talking points."

The Oxford English Dictionary(OED) teaches us that ludicrous has a long history in the English language. The archaic meanings--senses 1 and 2 (see below)--retain the Greek roots of the word: sportive, jest, playfulness (less emphasis seems to be on 'derisive' aka contempt):

{dag}1. Pertaining to play or sport; sportive; intended in jest, jocular, derisive. Obs.

1619 GATAKER Lots iii. 34 Easty onely maketh foure sorts; diuine..; diabolicall..; politicall..; ludicrous, for sport and pastime. 1653 ASHWELL Fides Apost. 25 Both in ludicrous toyes, as in Childrens sports, and in weightier matters. 1664 H. MORE Myst. Iniq. xiii. 44 But he rewarding my blind devotion with a ludicrous blessing and loud laughter, I presently found my errour. 1668-83 OWEN Expos. Heb. (1790) IV. 281 It is not a ludicrous contest that we are called to, but it is for our lives and souls. 1709 J. JOHNSON Clergym. Vade M. II. 174 [tr. Canons of Carthage lxvi] If any one desire to forsake any Ludicrous Exercise [i.e. any theatrical or gladiatorial employment], and become a Christian. 1779-81 JOHNSON L.P., Pope, The ‘Rape of the Lock’ universally allowed to be the most attractive of all ludicrous compositions.

{dag}2. Given to jesting; trifling, frivolous; also, in favourable sense, witty, humorous. Obs.

1687 H. MORE Contn. Remark. Stor. (1689) 428 But to entangle things thus is an usual feat of these ludicrous Spirits. 1711 ADDISON Spect. No. 191 {page}1 Some ludicrous Schoolmen have put the Case, that if an Ass were placed between two Bundles of Hay [etc.]. 1736 BUTLER Anal. II. vi, Men may indulge a ludicrous turn so far as to lose all sense of conduct and prudence in worldly affairs. 1778 R. LOWTH Transl. Isa. (ed. 12) Notes 332 A heathen author, in the ludicrous way, has..given idolatry one of the severest strokes it ever received. 1792 COWPER Let. to T. Park 27 Apr., The man is as formidable for his ludicrous talent, as he has made himself contemptible by his use of it. 1827 Burton's Anat. Mel. (ed. 13) Advt. 7 The ludicrous Sterne has interwoven many parts of it [Burton's ‘Anatomy’] into his own popular performance.

If this is what we meant by ludicrous now, I would like the word. In fact, it would be a rather charming word. Instead, it has metamorphosed into the following meaning:

3. Suited to occasion derisive laughter; ridiculous, laughably absurd. (The only current sense.)

1782 F. BURNEY Cecilia II. iii, The ludicrous mixture of groups, kept her attention unwearied. 1813 SHELLEY Q. Mab VI. 64 How ludicrous the priest's dogmatic roar! 1834 MACAULAY Pitt Ess. (1887) 321 The Duke was in a state of ludicrous distress. 1875 JOWETT Plato (ed. 2) IV. 380 Plato delights to exhibit them [Sophists] in a ludicrous point of view. 1898 F. T. BULLEN Cruise Cachalot xxiii. (1900) 298 This subdivision was often carried to ludicrous lengths. 1901 N. MUNRO in Blackw. Mag. May 659/2 Count Victor stood before him a ludicrous figure.

I find it curious, btw, that Benjamin Jowett's sentence (the famous translator of Plato)--"Plato delights to exhibit them [Sophists] in a ludicrous point of view"--is evidence of the current meaning of the word: "derisive laughter" or "laughably absurd." While most careful thinkers will come to see the sophists as absurd, this does not necessarily mean that we laugh, with a self-important tone, at their folly. This means that we find their reasoning to be flawed. Moreover, I have always admired Socrates' patience with dim and obstinate interlocutors, such as Meno (whose Greek name literally translates to 'I remain').

The phrase: "that is ludicrous" is evidence of intellectual laziness, if it is not followed by carefully reasoned claims that show why a claim is ludicrous. This is usually the fashion in which it is uttered, hence, why I this word raises my hackles.

As Socrates says in the Gorgias "submit nobly to the argument." Or, as Rod Tidwell says is Jerry Maguire: "Show me the money."

P.S. Check out Mad Sophist for a rather amusing example of sophistry.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Abortion Table

what is happening to women?

For the second week in a row, a few of us from our NOW chapter had a table at our farmer's market. In general, the experience has been extremely positive. Many women and men stop by for information about the organization, to give us 'thumbs up,' to thank us for starting this chapter, or to donate money. And yet, there are other responses, that are less than positive. There are three types of negative responses:

I. The curious market goer who takes a look at our table, glances at the NOW sign, and then quickly moves on with a rather indifferent or bored look. This reaction is common among men, usually in their late 40s-early 70s.

II. The market goer out with her friends, husband or family, who sees our table and gets a crinkled nose and angry eyes. She picks up her pace, grabs the hands of her daughters, and sort of sniffs.

III. The angry, female market goer, who circles the table, comes up a bit closer, looks over the literature, and shakes her head. A woman came by three times today doing that, so I finally asked her the logical question: "would you like some information about our organization?" She said, "No, not really," lingered a bit longer and left. Another woman was looking over our literature, we smiled at her and asked if she had any questions, and she said, "No, I am just looking at what you got here."

In general, the folks most angry with what we are doing are women. And, boy, their mean looks are difficult. But, they are never really confrontational. They don't yell obscenities or curse us out.

And, then today, a big man outfitted in Harley attire with a huge beard and cross that took up his whole chest finally created a new category: the hostile, anti-women's rights market goer. While we have a lot of literature on the table, dealing with a range of issue facing women, as well as some funny buttons and bumpersickers such as "well-behaved women rarely make history," he looked at our table and yelled "The ABORTION table," and then his wife whisked him away.

I was totally amused by this reaction, but I had expected to be afraid. What upsets me more, I am finding, is category II and III. But, so that I don't end this on a sad note, I have one inspiring story.

A woman, who was clearly in her late 70s, walked up to our table today. She started looking at the literature and smiled. She asked about our organization and then said:

I am completely for women's rights. You know, I always loved Gloria Steinem, do you know her?"

She then told me that she was one of 10 children: 6 girls and 4 boys. Her mother sent all of the children to college. And then she said:

"You educate a man, you educate an idividual. You educate a woman, and you educate the world."

She bought a pink bracelet that says "This is what a feminist looks like," shook my hand and thanked me for our work and walked off to buy some leeks.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Why Does a Reformed Republican Chick Need Prozac?

I had a lovely lunch today with a very bright woman who runs a huge non-profit in town. Neither of us knew each other very well, so before going "straight to business" I started asking her about when she moved here, where she worked before etc. I am glad I started our conversation this way, because I found out we had quite a lot in common and similar observations about how professional women interact with each other.

First of all, I discovered that both of us were raised in Republican homes and both identified quite a bit with some of the tenets of this political view for much of our high school/college years (in my case, I still identify with some of the values that my parents called "republican"). What I have come to notice--and this conversation helped clarify this for me--is that growing up around smart Republican parents, like mine are, really gives me a different approach to understanding and supporting the political issues that I embrace now.

I simply did not grow up in a house where dinner conversation centered around the injustices of capitalism, or that the rhetoric of "hard work" and "personal responsibility" are ruses for covering up the sins of the rich and powerful. My parents were not pro-JFK. My mother thought Kennedy was downright terrifying. My parents instilled in me a profound belief that I could achieve whatever I set out to do. My father loved talking to me and educating me about politics. He never imposed his views on me, but challenged me to think about why I took the positions I did.

My mother worked tirelessly to help underprivileged women cope with children who were born with birth defects, and later went to work for the a large state department that funded programs for maternal and child health. My mother did the work of social justice, while criticizing the mismanagement of bloated government budgets. My mother and father both genuinely liked and treated with respect people from all walks of life. While I won't go so far as to say that my father is totally untouched by racism (since his relatives are all from the South), in general he did a good job teaching me to value all people.

I also appreciated the way my father taught me to go after my dreams. He repeated to me over and over again, when I was a kid, "people will always tell you that you cannot do something because THEY couldn't do it." His other favorite saying, which I think he took from Lee Iacocca was "eagles don't flock, you have to catch them, one by one."

I cherish that upbringing because, in part, I think it helps me to really understand those who choose to be Republican. [I am still "challenged" by the Religious Right Republicans. I was raised Lutheran, and my father felt strongly that we were not to proselytize or impose our religious beliefs; religion is a private matter for him. Furthermore, neither or my parents would have a problem with Gay Marriage nor do they dedicate themselves to overturning Roe v. Wade.]

My lunch guest and I turned to a conversation about when we both became feminists and our politics shifted. We had similar realizations that transformed our views of the world. In general, we both had the epiphany that often occurs to women who are working hard in a "male dominated" field and feeling inadequate. Because I didn't grow up with a feminist consciousness (though I did grow up believing women were as capable as men), I tended to think that when I confronted a professional barrier that it was my own incompetence, rather than sexism. After enough events, and my accidental exposure to Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex, I began to totally rethink how I viewed the world.

I would like to believe that we are beyond sexism: that women do,in fact, get judged and treated exactly the way men do. But, it doesn't happen. One of the ways this really hits me is how women are punished for "emoting" in the workplace.

I have a friend who is a psychiatrist. While she was in her residency, she had a real asshole as her chief resident. She is a very, very bright woman (with a Ph.D in Philosophy, specializing in Philosophy of Science and a MD). She is also likely to speak up when she finds reasoning or practices to be flawed. Because she had been dressed down multiple times when she expressed her reservations or criticisms, she held her tongue, yet her face showed what she was feeling. Her boss starting criticizing her display of "affect," which he said was not professional for a training psychiatrist. So, to deal with this situation, she did something quite interesting: she got botox so that she literally couldn't show what she was feeling.

I told my lunch friend this story while we were talking about how most women that we know are on some type of antidepressant, anti-anxiety medication, and/or sleep aide. The pressures and bullshit that professional women face do make us frickin nuts at times. We speak out in a meeting, where a great deal of men are present, and our comments float in the air, unheard. Then, five minutes later, a man says the same thing, and everyone nods their head and congratulates him for a great idea. Or, you have the situation my brother describes. He is a Mortgage Banker and announced to me one day that he wasn't going to hire anymore women because the idiot male mortgage brokers wouldn't deal or even make eye contact with his female sales team. He had hired these women, btw, because they were "loan processors" who already knew how to do the job he was hiring them for, but no one told them (or nurtured them for that matter) they would make 5 X more money if they switched to his department.

Our last lunch topic was: how our fellow female work colleagues, especially if they are older, can be our worst critics. The way that female co-workers treat each other is brutal and its quite demoralizing. The women who advised my dissertation were so critical of my work that I left graduate school believing that (a) I would never get a job and (b) that I would never get published. To compensate, I started working evern harder than I already was, determined to prove them wrong. This determination, I credit, with my early Republican upbringing. Now, I don't mean to suggest that Democrats don't work hard (its simply not true). I do think, however, that because I had that "you can do anything" stuff drummed in my head, I didn't throw up my hands and accept the reality of the situation: that I was hitting my head against sexism.

What I discovered, when I finally got a job, was that I was quite well respected. And, when I sent out my first articles, they were accepted! I was wholly unprepared, in a way, for my success because my female "mentors" had lead me to believe by my that my work wouldn't cut it. [Btw, I am leaving out of the story the bullshit stuff said to my by men, but that's for another day.]

Of course, I now realize--thanks to developing a feminist consciousness--that these female "mentors" were brutal because that was what their mostly male colleagues/mentors told them as they were coming up. They learned to be superior, just so that they could sit at the table with the boys. They also had to unlearn their the feminine qualities that they had been encouraged to develop--being self-sacrificing, empathetic to others, or being accomodating--because those traits were likely to work against their tenure. Trying to help out your colleague by taking on a committee assignment that he simply cannot tackle now because of a book project is likely to keep you from writing your own book. Or, offering to take the night lab, because your colleague has kids, won't get repaid somehow. Being nice, being feminine, will get you behind your male colleagues. If my mentors wanted to make it, they had to work their tails off, publish, publish, and publish. More importantly, they were not going to be taken seriously if they wrote about feminism (and yet, when they made it, they did change that).

We are far from a world that truly values or cultivates women's talent or the different ways that they might do things. And, on some level women have internalized a message that they aren't as good as the boys, which they have to confront each day when they go up against them. This internalized sexism also turns women against women in the workplace. To get power, many women have learned that its better not to rock the boat with the boys and to say things that they like. Plus, many professional women have to do that dance where they are both "pleasing as women," i.e. not likely to criticize how the boys do things or act too uptight about sexist jokes, and phenomenal at their job (perhaps exceptionally better than many of the boys). Its easy to be quite bitter in that circumstance (you see, being a mediocre female lawyer, for example, is really not allowed, unless you want to reinforce the stereotype that women just aren't as analytically sharp as men).

If one woman breaks in with the boys, which is always only slightly, she will try to maintain her position and hence not help out or align herself with her female colleagues, especially if her female colleagues want to point out the bullshit the boys are doing.

With all this crap going on, its no surprise that women are lining up to get their Prozac. And, frankly, it allows them to avoid the dealing with the REAL bullshit. Its much easier to convince yourself that you have a treatable disease, which explains why you are so frickin drained and demoralized all the time, rather tackle the larger inequities in the workplace.

So, what have I become--a reformed Republican turned feminst Philosopher--well, duh: Mad Melancholic Feminista!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Next Big Health Crisis: Insomnia

Since I cannot sleep, I thought I would blog a bit about an AP story on the ensuing ad campaign for sleep aids, "Ad War Looms in Crowded Aid Market." It should be clear to those of you who read my blog regularly that I have a lot to say about Big Pharma and, particularly, SSRI drugs. In general, I am all for good technological innovations for health problems. And, I don't think that Big Pharma is wholly evil. In fact, one of my most brillant students is working his tail off now at Harvard to become a innovative drug maker someday, hopefully he will have his own company (I am rooting for him). But, what I was talking to "brillant student" about today is the problem with "me too drugs." We were debating the problems of Big Pharma R&D dollars being spent on manufacturing isomers or variations of already existing, innovative drugs--such as Ambien in the sleep aid market or Prozac in the antidepressant class. "Brillant student" made a a good point in favor of "me too" drugs :

"However, according to my father, as a physician, having a number of drugs for the same indication makes being a doctor much easier. Paraphrasing here, but some people just don't respond to some drugs, but they do respond to other in the same class. So there is certainly some utility in me-too pharma."

Fair enough. But, let's remember that the incentive for pharmaceutical companies to make drugs in the same class is to capture some of that billion dollar market. And, let's look at the sort of drugs that Big Pharma is rushing manufacture. They are not exactly for treating "diseases," but rather "lifestyle ailments" : erectile dysfunction, cox-2 inhibitors, statins, hair loss treatments, etc. (I am sure someone will debate me on this!)[Side note: The 1951 Humphrey-Durham amendment made many drugs "prescription only," and specified they had to be treatments for diseases.]

Now we are about to face on onslaught of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) ads for drugs that treat "insomnia." While I am more than sympathetic to folks suffering from insomnia, I am suspicious of these sorts of claims:

the new insomnia medications are aimed at people who have gone largely untreated and may be unaware of new treatment options.

What he have here is another case of Big Pharma marketing a "disease." And, they make all this money by getting third-party payers (medicare, private insurance, managed care, etc.) to cover the cost of these over-priced drugs. Big Pharma claims that they need to recoup their massive drug development costs--and, sure, some of that is true. But, here companies like Sepracor, Inc., who wants to spend 60 million bucks to sell Lunesta aren't exactly making a "breakthrough" drug.

I proposed to "brillant student" David Healy's argument that we simply make these lifestyle drugs over-the-counter, rather than "prescription only" status. That way, I argued (appealing to "brillant"'s free market nature), the price of these drugs will reflect market forces and consumers will have to decide how much they really need Lunestra, which might cost, let's say 300 bucks for a months' supply, when they could spend the same amount on massages, gym membership, Kava Kava root or what have you. There are lots of treatments for insomnia--including, reducing stress, insane deadlines, and demands on your life. We can also make social changes, things like getting rid of big-ass-bright-car-lot lights that keep my neighborhood artificially lit up every night.

"Brillant student" is skeptical of my suggestion. He is not sure that average folks will make good decisions about which drugs to take in the absence of a physician. But, part of my response is, why would the physician be elminated? Right now physicians tell me all the time to purchase a certain matress for my back problem or look into this sort of air filter for my allergies. When I had a weird bump on my arm, a doctor told me to go by hydrocortisone. All of these things are OTC, right?

Roberts and Pro-Choice Resources

To many folks surprise, Bush appointed John G. Roberts to the Supreme Court. I went to a local bar with a few people to catch the announcement, but I couldn't hear anything since the music was blaring and most people didn't give a damn. I was wholly caught off guard to see a rather photogenic (politician looking) white guy walk up to the podium. Like everyone else, I expected him to appoint a woman. After leaving the bar, I hurried home to read all the blogs on this such as The Supreme Court Nomination Blog, Bitch. Phd, Lawyers, Guns and Money, and Balkinization. Then the emails started filling my mailbox from all the lefty groups.

Today I have been thinking about how likely it is that all of this money being poured into the fight for the Supreme Court by feminist organizations like NOW or NARAL will be wasted on fighting this candidate. While I am not happy about Roberts, I am not convinced that we have enough to dig up on this guy to prevent his appointment to the Court. Shit, I am becoming more and more demoralized by this process.

I guess my only thought today is that it may be a waste of resources and money to try and oppose his nomination. Roberts has bi-partisan support. And, I am still not at all clear about how interest groups, even the ones I support, can actually influence this process (especially feminist lobbying groups). The strength of the Republican party is overwhelming and I get the impression (especially when I did lobbying of my own) that these Republican congressmen and women are unflappable. They don't seem to fear their jobs if they vote with the party and continue to confirm conservative judges and cabinet members.

Now, what is going on with the Rove scandal? I think its time to regroup and refocus our energy elsewhere. We aren't going to stop Roberts' nomination!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Supreme Court Woes

The AP is reporting that Bush is going to announce his nomination for the Supreme Court tonight. I don't watch TV, so I won't be able to see the press conference, but I am sure I will hear the name on the radio. I am a bit surprised that Bush is ready to make his appointment. I began to think he would wait until the last minute, just before the 109th Congress breaks, to pressure a quick confirmation process. There are several names circulating in the press and blogworld, but it looks like a Conservative female judge named Edith Clement from the court of appeals in New Orleans is a favorite (especially in the Washington Post article).

I am eager to see who we are being dealt here. I spent part of my evening last night debating the abortion issue with some really smart people. One of my guests was raising some compelling points about why the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" debate is so damaging to liberal/democratic politics. My friend pointed out that many of the women who got abortions right after Roe v. Wade passed went on to regret their decision 10 years later when (a) they couldn't easily get pregnant or (b) saw in the face of their children what they "aborted." Certainly, when many women choose to have an abortion, the decision-making process is either emotionally charged or desperate. Moreover, many women live to regret having an abortion--they realize, for example, that they could've supported the child afterall. This regret can lead women, who formerly supported abortion rights, to defect to the pro-life side. In part, this defection is aided by the sympathy they may be more likley to get from the "pro-lifers." This is a problem.

However, I maintained throughout my conversation that when it comes to abortion, we need to separate the moral and the legal arguments. As I have said in other blogs, reasonable, smart and subtle thinkers have very different and opposing moral arguments about abortion. For those who believe that a fetus, or fertilized egg, is a human life, then abortion certainly seems like murder. Of course, those same folks might be willing to see some abortions as "self-defense" (i.e. if the health of the mother is at stake) and therefore allow them in some cases. I think that the ethics of abortion will be with us for a long time and the healthy debates that it generates are important.

Democracy and individual liberty support a marketplace of ideas. And, as JS Mill pointed out, on matters of morality, we should never assume infallibility. We want to have long, healthy debates on issue of morality, and ensure that everyone--no matter how wacky their position is--gets to participate in the debate. Only through a free and unfettered discussion can each of us be exposed to enough information, viewpoints, and arguments to make an informed moral decision.

I think it is important for pro-choice women, who have never had an abortion, to have heartfelt and supportive talks with women who had abortions and regretted it. Seeking out such dialogues seems to me a good idea for anyone embarking on a tough moral decision. I think seeking out advice, listening to peoples stories, and consulting spiritual guides are always a good idea for any tough moral decision: Should I marry this person? Should I become a community health doctor or seek out a more lucrative job to support my family? Should I go to college far away from the support network of my family? Do I support war, this war? The list is endless. And, as "Yehudster" pointed out (in that conversation chez Melancholic Feminista last night) any tough moral decision I make (hell even decisions that are merely practical) will be full of regret, "should've, could've, would've." This is part of what makes us mortal, fallible creatures. And, part of living is learning how to live with regrets.

All of this open moral deliberating should be allowed. If we begin to use the law, however, as a means to make this "moral decision" for people, then we are shutting down an important and healthy debate that needs to happen. Protecting Roe v. Wade is important because we need to have a place that women can go to get a safe and legal abortion if they need to.

Yes, yes, I imagine that those who oppose abortion will remind me that they don't need an abortion. But, whenever people argue that we shouldn't allow legal abortions, they fail to see how this will actually play out. If you take away from women the right to have a safe and legal abortion, then you will be living in a country that does not allow women to (1) make careful and thoughtful decisions about their health, (2) that doesn't give space for healthy debates about what abortion means and whether it is moral, and, (3) that uses the law to legislate the moral views of one particular religious groups views.

Let's first talk about (1). Last blog, I gave you a link to a story written by Martha Mendoza who found out that her 19 week old baby had died in her womb. She had two choices: (a) either induce a birth, which is a mentally and physically exhausting act only to give birth to a dead baby, or (b) get a late term abortion. She couldn't easily access the latter since the federal ban on third trimester abortions! But, consider a less clear cut case, what if a married woman, who already has four children and is suffering from major depression finds out that she is pregnant. She is already having difficulty meeting the needs of her 4 living children, and her own life is in jeopardy since she has recently admitted her doctor that she is suicidal.

Or, better yet, let's consider the general issue of creating an environment where women are empowered and protected by law to make good health decisions in general. Protecting Roe v.Wade helps strengthen an open and respectful dialogue between a female patient and her health provider. Do you want the law to make a decision about when a woman can terminate a pregnancy or do you want a health care provider making that decision? You want to encourage an environment where women learn to feel comfortable asking questions about their body, learn about healthy sexual choices, and what the responsibilities and joys are of pregnancy, giving birth, raising children etc. You cannot encourage this environment where the federal government or some other governmental body says: abortion is immoral you cannot have one. When the state claims that abortion is immoral, it is saying more than "do not terminate pregnancies." It is claiming, sex is immoral unless you want to have children! (Let's face it, many people have sex who do not want to procreate). That sort of environment, where the law is taking a strong moral stance against how people should behave in the bedroom, is one more likely to foster MORE rather than LESS abortions. You are not encouraging young people to feel comfortable about asking questions about the changes in their bodies, their yearnings, and what is appropriate or healty for them. How many of us will ask advice of a tight-fisted, judgmental person telling us from the get go how we should behave?

Now to (2): here my reasoning is similar to above. When the law takes a clear stand on a moral issue, it is saying: no more debate! Legislating morality in this way, especially when there are so many gray areas, nuances, and negative consequences, is not a good way to encourage people to make moral choices. Again, moral actions should come from a place of integrity--we should reflect on what we think is the right choice, action, set of beliefs and then live those choices. Be told what is right, and not asking people to really internalize that is paternalism. You are not treating people as autonomous, respecting their intrinsic ability to make moral choices given the tools to think critically, or given support and compassion. You need to listen to people, give them good reasons to reflect on their beliefs and then let them go. If they make immoral choices, they will either live with the spiritual or practical consequences or, in some situations, they will be punished.

So, this last sentence needs some more thought. A "pro-life" person might say, yes, people who have abortions are immoral and the law should punish them. These folks are "murderers." If a "pro-life" person takes this position, then the logical conclusion is that they believe women who have abortions should be put in jail. That we should criminalize abortion. This position goes much further than overturning Roe v. Wade. And, given my comments above--that it is not clear cut that abortion is immoral--the law should NOT criminalize abortion.

Lastly, (3) all of my above points lead to my firm conviction that the law should not legislate the morality of the "religious right" [I am referring, largely, to the ultra conservative evangelical movement, which has united with Catholics on the issue of gay marriage and abortion]. To do so comes dangerously close to erecting a state religion, which the 1st Amendment protects against. But more importantly, moral questions are complicated and the healthy exchange among a variety of religious/moral positions helps a society move forward. We do not want to become a theocracy--that violates the spirit of a democracy that supports liberty, and affirms the dignity and worth of every citizen!

Now, dammit. I don't want to write about abortion anymore. My commitment to women, to empowering women, to contributing toward the creation of a world that values, respects and embraces women is total. And, there are a great many issues that I need to be paying attention to besides abortion. For example, MY BOOK, which has been languishing for the past few days while I am sitting on pins and needles worrying about the Supreme Court!

As a wise woman said to me: "we have to struggle now just to maintain the status quo for women!"

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Politics of the Birth Control Patch

I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging to finish up Healy's book, Let Them Eat Prozac so that I can finish the review. Luckily I finished the book and it seems just in time to use what I have learned to think about this AP story suggesting that the birth control patch may lead to deaths. I ran across this story this morning in the Hanover Evening Sun. I snatched the paper out of the hands of the owner of a local cafe that I visit. I was curious of the source of this story: was it an FDA finding? Was it a lawsuit? Was it the claims of a conservative preacher? Or, was it a consumer watch group. It turns out, curiously, that the AP did the study on "patch related" deaths by reviewing drug safety reports under the Freedom of Information Act. What we know, from this article, is that several families have filed lawsuits against Ortho McNeil and that reports made to the FDA (voluntarily by patch users) reveal a higher incidence of strokes (3 x higher) than the birth control pill. This last finding, however, was reported not from a Randomized Control Study (RCT), but from an AP analysis of drug reports.

When I finished this story, I tried to think of how to interpret this story. Because I have spent a lot of time learning about how Big Pharma fought plaintiffs' filing suits because their relatives committed suicide on SSRIs (thanks to Healy's book), I know that they are mighty powerful and likely to win cases. What makes Big Pharma even more powerful than the tobacco lobbies is its ability to have the physicians (most of them) in their pocket. Physicians are regularly recruited by pharmaceutical companies to speak at medical conferences that they sponsor, or "write" symposia articles (which have really been ghostwritten by pharmaceutical marketing deparments), or Big Pharma gives lots of money to clinicians to run clinical trials on the drugs or further research. Finding a doctor willing to speak against the hazards of a profitable drug is very difficult. If a law firm finds one, Big Pharma will spend a lot of money trying to discredit this expert witness (these are called Daubert trials).

Now, I know, you are thinking, "but certainly the FDA would report serious flaws with a drug compound." Alas, this is not true. And, this is so for a couple of reasons. First of all, the FDA is not really set up to be a consumer watchdog organization. The fact that many drugs are carefully regulated as "prescription only" was passed by Congress in 1962, after the Thalidomide disaster, to set up a "watchdog" for patients (the doctor). And, if you are quick, you can see the problem here. The FDA, furthermore, gets its working budget, from the "users," e.g. Big Pharma. So, clinical trials on drugs are sponsored by the very companies trying to get FDA approval (which means "yes" this drug seems to have an "effect").

So, I gave you this background info to let you into my thought process about the "patch." If the "patch" is a highly profitable drug, its unlikely that physicians or the FDA would blow the whistle. And, alas, they didn't. The AP did. Now, why? Is the patch more dangerous than the pill? Well, I turned to my mother for some insight here (she worked at the Office of Family Planning for several years in a BIG state). Mom was amazed that reports of danger were surfacing for the patch. "It is exactly the same chemical compound as the pill," she said. Moreover, she pointed out that the pill has been around for over 50 years. So, why would this be more dangerous?

I tried not to think the worse. But, it is starting to look suspicious people. Before saying what I think, however, let me also point out that taking the pill is NOT a good idea if you smoke--or have high blood pressure. So, it could be--if one were to do an epidemiological study of this--that women who died from strokes or suffered strokes while on the patch, were engaging in other behavior that put them at risk for a stroke. I dunno, maybe patch wearers are smokers? But, such a study has not yet been done, and I wonder what it would take to do this study.

If drug companies test for such a side effect (dropping dead from a stroke) then family planning clinics, OBGYNs etc. might be less likely to prescribe it. What Healy taught me is that doing a study is like admitting guilt, which hurts profits. Drug companies cannot afford to lose profits, since they are in a highly expensive business (it takes billions of dollars to bring a compound to trial) as well as beholden to stockholders. Now, if someone else wants to undertake this study, they are going to need big bucks, since epidemiological studies are really really expensive. Where is that money going to come from? Tax payers? (I would raise my eyebrows).

So, I think now to something else mom said. "The patch is really popular with teenagers, they get little tattoos around where their patch goes." Uh-oh, I think. Yes, conspiracy thinking begins. Hmmmm, could it be that some reporters are creating concern about the patch for political reasons. I dunno. But, lets remember that this administration has paid more than enough attention to right wing religious groups who would love to see young women denied access to birth control. We still haven't gotten a thumbs up or thumbs down on Plan B from the FDA. And, lets not forget Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who is blocking Bush's nominee to head the FDA unless the FDA puts a warning on condoms that they do not protect against all STDs. Tom Coburn, btw, is the wacko who thinks you should give the death penalty to abortion doctors.

[Side note: I just went to the Washington Times to see what they reported on this story. They printed the AP story, but trimmed away the discussion where physicians point out that their own interpretation of the data suggests that the patch is safer or that it is not cause for alarm.]

Ok, so I don't want to leave this blog on a conspiracy theorist note. First of all, I am really really suspicious of the pharmaceutical industry. I do think that if a top selling drug had negative side effects, they are likely to bury it somehow. Secondly, the woman who wrote the AP story, Martha Mendoza, wrote a piece for Ms. Magazine on abortion, specifically how the partial-birth abortion ban negatively affected her (her fetus had died at 19 weeks and she was trying to find a doctor who would remove the dead fetus with much difficulty). I think its important to be suspicious of Big Pharma greed. And yet, we are facing a story about the birth control patch, which cannot be a politically neutral story in this era.

Let me end on one last note. I think that feminists are likely to find themselves in an odd relationship with Big Pharma in the next few years. The new birth control methods (the patch, the Nuva ring, etc.) are likely to be money makers. Moreover, if Plan B becomes over the counter, Barr Laboratories is likely to profit. Hence, the profit-seeking of Big Pharma is likely to work in the service of "proc-choice" and reproductive freedom. This uneasy political alliance needs to be carefully monitored. And yet, who else could pressure the FDA to approve of Plan B than big dollar pharmaceutical companies?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tom Cruise is Nuts! Or, Scientology vs. Psychiatry

I have a treat for you loyal band of readers! Check out this website:

I stumbled upon this last night after reading a very interesting four part series over at on Scientology.

I have been avoiding blogging about Tom Cruise's crusade against ADHD medications and Psychiatry for awhile. I guess, like Shankar Vedantam at the Washington Post, I just didn't think it deserved my attention (he said this in an online chat with people who read his three part series on Psychiatry and Cultural Differences). However, as I read on in Healy's book about the "unhealthy relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and depression," I cannot ignore the extremely dangerous influence Scientology has had on psychopharmacologists and psychiatrists. Healy basically argues that one of the reasons why psychiatrists defended Eli Lilly from attacks that Prozac might cause suicide is because they hated the Scientologists so much that they would rather be in bed with the pharmaceutical industry.

" . . . I launched into the influence of the Scientologists on the whole Prozac controversy. If they hadn't intervened, U.S. psychiatry wouldn't have stood behind Lilly the way it did." (Healy 2004, 138)

Healy also explains the strategy that the pharmaceutical industry and the American Psychiatric Association adopted to simultaneously discredit (a) crictisms that Prozac may cause suicidiality and (b) the whole Scientologist movement against Psychiatry in general.

"In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association Press published the book Psychiatric Practice Under Fire. The first chapter dealt with the Scientologists' attack on
Prozac. Other chapters outlined the attack on ECT, the emerging problems posed
by managed care, attacks on the benzodiazepines, and the negative influence of
excessive bureaucracy and regulation in general. The Prozac chapter, written by
Rosenbaum from Massachusettes General, took a by now standard approach,
castigating the Scientologists. There were three messages. First, Prozac was the
most researched drug in history. Second, the problem was the disease, not the
drug. And third, the real tragedy of the Prozac story lay in all the people who
would commit suicide because they were being denied access to an effective
treatment. The three assertions were becoming the chorus lines in the
background of the Prozac story." (Healy 2004, 59).

What is becoming clear to me is that extreme positions against biological psychiatry, such as Tom Cruise's recent outbursts and condemnation of Brooke Shields, totally shuts down productive criticism of psychiatric diagnosis, nosology, and the overmedicating of women and children. One can be suspicious of alot of things about the DSM, for example. The diagnoses are culled from clinical observations, not from underlying pathologies. Moreover, the advent of SSRI drugs, such as Prozac, with their low side effects has enabled more and more general practitioners to prescribe the drug without a lot of follow up. I could go on and on. But, what happens when critics such as Scientologists go after psychiatry is that psychiatrists consolidate behind biological psychiatry and psychopharmacology. To criticize the trend toward biological psychiatry is to sound like a frickin scientologist, and no one wants to be lumped in that category.

This is not good. When you have an enemy as annoying and looney as Cruise, then it becomes very important to distance yourself and your criticisms as much as possible from him. The downside, as Healy points out, is that psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists were not critical enough in analyzing the data that Prozac might cause suicide in patients who had no prior suicidal tendencies or even episodes of depression. So, now, if you want to criticize biological psychiatry, you end up sounding like one of those wacko, pseudo-scientific Dianetics-reading folks. As my very smart colleague pointed out, we are left with false alternatives: either you are a Scientologist or you uphold biological psychiatry as a rigorous science.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Roe Effect

Well, thanks to the anonymous post, which directed me to this site. I highly recommend perusing this particular entry to get the full taste of the sort of unsophisticated, unthoughtful moral deliberation on abortion that I discussed in my previous entry. I particularly love this entry:

Don't worry--it will be settled soon. Haven't you heard about the Roe effect. Primarily democrats are aborting their future voters of America; ergo the country will continue to become more conservative. And then if Ted Kennedy could manage to drive off a bridge again, and Kerry would go back to Vietnam, and Durbin would be voted out of office, and Biden would go copy someone else's book--that leaves Boxer and Byrd droppings. Surely he'll bite the dust soon.

I am certain that my readers do not need me to point out the flawed assumptions in this post, but, alas I cannot help it.

First of all, this poster who identifies herself as "Pam" from Fresno, is assuming that only democrats or liberals abort. (some data please?) Right? I suppose the young women and men, brought up in the Catholic church, which denounces the use of birth control, pre-marital sex, and teaches abstinence, don't EVER get pregnant and seek out an abortion. I suggest you take a look at the statistics, by religious denomination, of who gets abortions. America, the Catholic Weekly, reported:

78 percent report a religious affiliation (43 percent Protestant, 27 percent
Catholic and 8 percent other religions)

The director of a local Panned Parenthood recently told me that she has seen the very young women, who are given public service credit for picketing them, show up to use their services. I swear, pro-lifers are just unwilling to face the facts that if you deny young people a comprehensive sexual education, then you will increase the rate of abortions in this country.

Then, you've got to just be so pleased with Pam's suggestion that both Kerry and Kennedy die. Go "pro-life"!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Against Anti-Choice Absolutism

Ever since Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement, we have heard quite a bit about what can happen to the court. The issue which occupies the attention of both the right and the left is abortion . I have to say that in no way do I look forward to the intensified debates certain to follow court appointments. I have been teaching moral issues for years. Almost every year I have focused a unit of debate on Abortion. And, honestly, in the last two years it has been unbearable to bring this topic up for discussion.

What bothers me, as someone trained in good argument, is how a very complicated and interesting moral argument has turned into shouting matches. Abortion, frankly, is an issue that reasonable people can disagree on. Moreoever, in the past, most people I discussed or debated this issue with were fairly thoughtful about their views on abortion and quite willing to entertain the nuances of counterarguments. Now, however, there are pre-determined party lines and anything that deviates from that "line" is heresy.

I find this really disappointing. So, I thought I would blog a bit about it today. I guess, what most astounds me about current discussions of abortion is how "absolutist" both sides can be on this issue. For example, it use to be possible for pro-choice folks to denounce certain decisions to abort. I think many reasonable and moral persons can support the view that trusts women to make a good moral decisions about their lives (to extend autonomy to women), and yet, those same reasonable and moral person can admit that some women are not thinking clearly or making good decisions.

If you read the literature--the enormous literature that deals with the moral and legal arguments concerning abortion--it is astounding how thoughtful and careful thinkers are on this issue. And yet, when the debate makes it into classrooms these days, usually what it devolves into is a sophistical trap. It goes like this:

Student A: I think abortion is a personal, moral choice.
Student B: When does life begin? [This is the beginning of the trap]
Student A: What?
Student B: Since when is "murder" a personal choice. [You can see where this goes]

The fact is, the reasons women choose to have abortions or terminate a pregnancy are as varied as you can imagine. For example, what if a married woman, in her 40s, who is already raising three kids finds out she is pregnant. She decides to ask her OBGYN for a prescription for Plan B to prevent implantation of the pregnancy. Is this "murder"?

Now, let's consider a reason to prevent a woman from getting an abortion. Let's imagine that a woman in India has aquired enough money to get an amniocentisis done. She finds out that her fetus is a girl. So, she immediately seeks out an abortion. Is this a legitimate exercise of choice or autonomy?

I could go on with countless complicated and nuanced examples. But, of course, if you were to ask many of my students what image they have in their head of a woman seeking an abortion, it is usually a very irresponsible young woman who should've "kept her legs closed." Rarely, do the men who "opened those legs" get scolded or held accountable for their actions. This is usually, I imagine, because most of us still grow up in a world where we learn to see women as "temptresses" and men as incapable of holding back sexually. In fact, I am always amazed at how men are willing to paint their sexual urges as somehow incontrollable and hence, the burden lies on women to not put themselves in they way of a oversexed teenage male.

But, the fact is, women from all walks of life and all types of situations seek out abortions. And, sometimes, the details of the case are such that almost anyone can understand the choice (e.g. the child will be born with Tay-Sachs disease, the woman has an irregular pregnancy, the woman was raped). Sometimes, women were irresponsible and living in horrible conditions (poor, drug addict, etc.). The cases vary. What should occupy our thoughts, however, is what the "unintended consequences" are of any legal regulation of abortion.

Now, I know that many would like to use the law to teach women morals, and hence, get rid of the right to a legal and medically safe abortion. However, using the law is a rather blunt instrument in this case. What you do is put many women in a great deal of harm if you try to regulate those "loose" women who choose to have an abortion. What happens, for example, if you find out your mother's health is in great danger if she brings her pregnancy to its end? If you have taken away her right to have a safe and legal abortion, then, you are perhaps handing down a death sentence to your mother. I know, many anti-choice folks will argue that this is a "rare" case. But, frankly, that doesn't matter--even if it were a rare case.

Let's say, for example, that you say, "well, ok, abortion should be illegal except in cases like the one you just mentioned above." If, however, you agree to such an exception, then you are compromising any moral position you may put forward that claims that abortion is murder. If it is murder, then it is murder whether or not it is to save your mother's life. And, if you admit to that, then you have to start thinking in a more sophisticated manner about what IS a moral choice. If it were easy to make moral decisions, then we wouldn't have long and thoughtful debates on the matter.

I just pray that we will be able to have a civil and thoughtful dialogue about these matters again.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Original Understanding Seance

You know, as a curious sort of gal, I have always wondered what on earth the method was for "original intent"jurists. Yes, yes, there is historical evidence of what the founding fathers hoped for, and there is the federalist papers. But, I am not sure there is a coherent and prevailing view that always emerges when one pores over those documents.

Well, luckily, Sidney Blumenthal from cleared up this confusion for me in his op-ed "The Final Tilt of the Scales":

. . . Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas veer erratically in hot ideological pursuit of the "original understanding" of the Constitution as they divine it, in a mystical séance summoning shades of the founding fathers who bear little resemblance to their historical selves.

Friday, July 08, 2005

More on Horowitz' Coup

From FrontPage Magazine, I found the following article: "Penn. Legislature Joins the Fight Against Intolerance." These last two paragraphs are precious:

Much of the Pennsylvania bill was borrowed from the Horowitz group's "academic bill of rights."

Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, referred to the Horowitz group and said the resolution is just "an attempt to respond to a national movement. ... We're just trying to fall in line."

Horowitz Wins a Victory in PA

Holy shit people!

The Chronicle of Higher Education just published a story on PA House Resolution No. 177
Horowitz has succeeded in getting one of his ABOR bills passed here in Pennsylvania. I have read through the language, and so far, it doesn't strike me as horrible, but its not good either. I take it that the PA legislature doesn't have jurisdiction over liberal arts colleges, but the resolution does cover Community colleges and State colleges.

Here is a little snippet on what happened on the floor:

The fight over the resolution was indeed intense, taking up many hours of debate and procedural maneuvers before the resolution was approved, 108-90, largely along party lines, with Republicans backing the measure and Democrats opposing it. Faculty unions nationally, while saying that they don’t object to fairness, oppose the Academic Bill of Rights, which they say will force professors to give equal time to any possible view — including Holocaust denial and creationism — and make faculty members vulnerable to sanctions any time they say something controversial.
Moreover, here is some of the language from the bill:

9     RESOLVED, That a select committee composed of the
10 Subcommittee on Higher Education of the Education Committee,
11 plus one member appointed by the Speaker of the House of
12 Representatives and one member appointed by the Minority Leader
13 of the House of Representatives, examine, study and inform the
14 House of Representatives on matters relating to the academic
15 atmosphere and the degree to which faculty have the opportunity
16 to instruct and students have the opportunity to learn in an
17 environment conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and truth and
18 the expression of independent thought at State-related and
19 State-owned colleges, universities and community colleges,
20 including, but not limited to, whether:
21 (1) faculty are hired, fired, promoted and granted
22 tenure based on their professional competence and subject
23 matter knowledge and with a view of helping students explore
24 and understand various methodologies and perspectives;
25 (2) students have an academic environment, quality life
26 on campus and reasonable access to course materials that
27 create an environment conducive to learning, the development
28 of critical thinking and the exploration and expression of
29 independent thought and that the students are evaluated based
30 on their subject knowledge; and
20050H0177R2553 - 2 -

     1         (3)  that students are graded based on academic merit,
2 without regard for ideological views, and that academic
3 freedom and the right to explore and express independent
4 thought is available to and practiced freely by faculty and
5 students;

How did I end up in this state? The ONLY state that actually passed one of Horowitz's bills. Good lord! When will people wake up and stop this madness. Now we have allowed our local legislators, many of which who probably wasted their academic career at the Frat house, to have power over university and college hires. Students can seek out remedies for professors who refuse to discuss Creationism in Intro to Cell Biology.

I am sorry, but we are an embarassment of a country on these issues. We are allowing the Conservative Right now take over higher education? What year is it?