For the Children

Greetings Kmarekites. I’ve been down with a strained back and watching the news and reading a lot– so much news, so little time.

I’ve still been going to health lectures and panels, hearing interesting things. It’s striking– the level of the discussion among professionals and field workers vs what is floating in the political mainstream. That stream is pretty polluted lately.

Some years ago I was talking to an elderly woman from Liberia. She was a retired midwife, sometimes traveling far into the interior of the country where she was the only medical provider women could look to. She told me that she had an urgent message–“space your children.”

I heard those exact words last week at a talk on maternal-infant health. As part of the support for teen mothers birth control is included. Preventing pregnancy that a woman is not prepared for, physically, socially or emotionally is part of maternal-infant health.

At the same talk, I heard a case worker describe the scores of phone calls and resource-chasing she had to do to get one of these young mothers to a dentist willing to pull a painful, infected tooth. This woman and her husband were uninsured and strained just to deal with the bills they had every month. The reason they even had this help in a crisis is because they were on a limited insurance program for maternal-infant health, and the case worker did not settle for less than helping the whole person.

‘Space your children.’ –ideally at least two years of recovery time. Two years also for a young father and mother to keep on with work and education, so that they can provide for the child they have.

Myself, I’m one of Irish twins. I know that many of us grew up in a world where we did not have the power and responsibility to choose when we are able to best care for another child.

But coming from that world, and seeing the good and the bad, I know we owe this generation a better chance. We should not ration out a vital health resource like birth control to those who have the most money. This is our power and responsibility to apply justice to health care, and to give the best chance to the coming generation.

Yes, birth control for the sake of the children, and for the sake of the men who want to be good fathers.

And please be aware that Gov.Chafee wants to cut dental benefits. People do die of an infected tooth. Let’s not let that happen in RI.

Rush and The Pill

Which pill is only used by sluts? Not this one, in 2003…

Limbaugh turned himself in to authorities on a warrant filed Friday charging him with fraud to conceal information to obtain prescriptions, said Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Jail. He and his attorney Roy Black left about an hour later, after Limbaugh was photographed and fingerprinted and he posted $3,000 bail, Barbera said.

Prosecutors’ three-year investigation of Limbaugh began after he publicly acknowledged being addicted to pain medication and entered a rehabilitation program. They accused Limbaugh of “doctor shopping,” or illegally deceiving multiple doctors to receive overlapping prescriptions, after learning that he received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months, at a pharmacy near his Palm Beach mansion.

And did the taxpayers, via insurance, help him escape the consequences of his ‘bad choices’?

Limbaugh reported five years ago that he had lost most of his hearing because of an autoimmune inner-ear disease. He had surgery to have an electronic device placed in his skull to restore his hearing. But research shows that abusing opiate-based painkillers also can cause profound hearing loss.

Does this pill make you a slut? In 2006…

Rush Limbaugh could see a deal with prosecutors in a long-running prescription fraud case collapse after authorities found a bottle of Viagra in his bag at Palm Beach International Airport. The prescription was not in his name.

Limbaugh was detained for more than three hours Monday at the airport after returning from a vacation in the Dominican Republic. Customs officials found the Viagra in his luggage but his name was not on the prescription, said Paul Miller, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

Miller said the alleged violation could be a second-degree misdemeanor. The sheriff’s office was investigating and will soon turn the case over to the state attorney’s office, which had no immediate comment Tuesday.

There was much uncharitable speculation on what he was doing with his money and drugs in one of the poorest countries in the world. I’d rather not think about it.

Rush Limbaugh is on his fourth marriage and has no children. Maybe he suffers from fertility envy and loses his cool at the thought of people trying not to have kids. Maybe there is a psychic wound, deeper than the pilonidal cyst that kept him from serving in the military that explains the bitter hostility he vents on women who do things like graduate from college and have opinions. He really seems frenzied about sex lately. And uninformed about contraception. As if a health measure taken by the vast majority of American women turns us into sex fiends.

Well, Rush, to that I say– your mother. Your mother, and grandmother too probably practiced some type of family planning. And I say also– your father. Dad knew there was a limit to how many mouths he could feed.

It’s actually a good thing if people don’t have more children than they can care for. Or like Rush, not have children at all if they don’t want to. I probably read too much 19th Century literature, where death in childbirth was common and orphans learned to love their father’s replacement wife, or not.

Safe, effective and a available birth control saves women’s lives and health. And increases freedom and choice. And makes women uppity, I guess. Which might be what really fuels the spite and resentment Rush Limbaugh unleashed on one young student who speaks for the majority of American women.

BAD WORDS: Media Matters has a timeline of Limbaugh’s verbal attacks on Sandra Fluke. It’s the kind of language that can make a person a target. Also, Rush sounds like a man consumed by resentment. He seems to think there is a party going on somewhere and he wasn’t invited.

EVEN DON IMUS: Thinks Limbaugh’s apology is ‘lame’.

OUR TAX DOLLARS: Is sponsoring Rush the best use? Not according to some female veterans who think American Forces Network could make better use of the airtime. How much is a government subsidy inflating this show’s numbers?

YES, THEY’RE AFRAID: On This Weekthe fear that Rush will rile the base…

[Conservative Commentator, George] Will was specifically not pleased with House Speaker John Boehner’s and presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s response to Limbaugh’s comments, telling the This Week panel that conservative leaders need to ‘police their own kind.’

“It was depressing because what it indicates is that Republicans leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh,” he said. “They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”

Overreach 1– Covenant Marriage

As promised, more on the topic of divorce and the Religious Right.

In the mid-90’s a movement emerged to create a category of legal marriage called ‘Covenant Marriage”. This was both a response to high divorce rates and an attempt to legislate religious principles into the legal contract of marriage.

from Wikipedia

In 1997, Louisiana became the first state to create covenant marriage as a legal category; since then Arkansas and Arizona have followed suit. People who are already married in these states may change their marriage to a covenant marriage.

Legislation has been introduced to create legal covenant marriage in a number of other states, including California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia; these efforts have not to date been successful.[citation needed]

One aspect of Covenant Marriage is pre-marital counseling, another is making it harder to obtain a legal separation or divorce. This is from an information pamphlet by the State of Arizona…

To get a divorce, any one of the following eight reasons
must be proved to the court (these are listed in Section 25-903
of the Arizona Revised Statutes):
1. The spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) has committed adultery.
2. The spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) has committed a serious crime (“felony”) and
has been sentenced to death or imprisonment.
3. For at least one year before the divorce case is filed, the
spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) has been absent from (“abandoned”) the
home where the married couple resided and refuses to
return. The law allows an exception. A person may file for
divorce by claiming that the other spouse has left the home
and is expected to stay away for the one-year period. If the
spouse has not been away for one year when the court
papers are filed, the divorce case will not be dismissed
by the court. Instead the case will be put on hold until the
one-year requirement is met. During this time, the court still
may grant and enforce temporary orders for things like child
support, parenting time (formerly known as “visitation”)
and spousal support (sometimes called “alimony” or
“spousal maintenance”).
4. The spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) either has (1) physically or sexually abused
the other spouse, a child or a relative of either spouse who
lives permanently in the married couple’s home, or (2) committed
domestic violence (defined in Section 13-3601 of the
Arizona Revised Statutes) or emotional abuse.
5. The spouses have been living separate and apart without
getting back together for at least two straight years before
the divorce case is filed. The law allows an exception. A person
may file for divorce by claiming it is expected the spouses
will be separated for the two-year period. If the spouses
have not been separated for two years when the court papers
are filed, the divorce case will not be dismissed. Instead the
case will be put on hold until the two-year requirement is
met. During the two-year period, the court may still grant
and enforce temporary orders for things like child support,
parenting time (formerly known as “visitation”) and spousal
support (sometimes called “alimony” or “spousal maintenance”).
6. The spouses already have been granted a legal
separation by the court, and they have been living separate
and apart without getting back together for at least one year
from the date of the legal separation.
7. The spouse against whom the divorce case is filed (the
“Respondent”) has regularly abused drugs or alcohol.
8. The spouses both agree to a divorce.
The reasons for obtaining a legal separation differ
somewhat, but also are limited.

Prominent fundamentalist Christians have given support to Covenant Marriage.

In 2004, Governor Mike Huckabee had a public tax-funded event where he and his wife renewed their vows…

Huckabee said too few couples have taken advantage of the covenant marriage option since he signed a 2001 law creating it. About 600 such unions were created in three years out of about 40,000 marriages that occur annually in the state.

In enacting Covenant Marriage laws, Christians who believe that the law should reflect a Christian majority seem to have gotten exactly what they wanted. They legislated a more binding type of legal marriage, and so successfully that the ACLU found nothing to contest. This is a Red State movement, based with a large majority of voters who identify as Christian and who say that religion matters to them in politics.

But when it comes to their personal lives, they don’t choose more legal restrictions. here are some stats from…

The first year that the law was in effect, only 1% of Louisiana newlyweds chose the covenant vows. That percentage has increased slowly over the last couple years, but it is still quite low.

According to Scott D. Drewianka of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, only one-fourth of one percent of couples getting married in Arizona select the covenant marriage option.

Although Arkansas has one of the nation’s highest divorce rate at 6.5 per 1,000 population, the number of Arkansas couples signing up for a covenant marriage is very small. The national average for divorce in the U.S. is 4.2 per 1,000 population.

According to William Bailey, Ph.D., of the University of Arkansas, there has been a decline in the number of new marriages choosing covenant marriage licenses. In the time frame from 2001 – 2004, only 400 couples opted for covenant marriage licenses. In 2002, the Dept. of Health, Vital Statistics reported 37,942 marriage licenses issued in Arkansas. Only sixty-seven (67) couples signed up for the covenant marriage option. Twenty-four (24) who were already married converted to covenant marriages.

It’s worth noting that a couple visiting city hall doesn’t have to walk a gauntlet of people screaming names at them. They don’t get publicly shamed for choosing the standard marriage contract. No doubt many of them get pre-marital counseling, since it’s the custom with a religious wedding, and no doubt most of them intend their marriages to last a lifetime. Given a choice, they choose to retain their personal freedom to make their own decisions if the marriage does not work out.

It’s not that divorce is painless or without consequences. It’s not that the single life is so alluring that people abandon good marriages. It’s not that Americans in Arkansas are less responsible than Americans in states where the divorce rate is lower. There are forces in society that wear on a marriage– where the recession hits hardest relationships suffer. There are all the unanticipated things life throws at you, and a large element of luck. Arkansans may simply be too smart to make some lawyers rich if they suffer the misfortune of a failed marriage. So far, the Right has not found an effective way to shame these people.

It’s shocking to hear the language used against women who support the right to birth control as a standard part of women’s health, especially considering that over 90% of women will use birth control at some point in their lives. It may also prove to be an overreach, when the anti-birth control activists seem to be gaining political power to enact their goals, contrary to the will of the American people.

My Conscience Clause

I’m thinking about how my tax dollars are going to buy proton pump inhibitors for people who not only don’t have ulcers, don’t have raging gastric reflux– but people who tell me their stomachs are just fine!

I’m outraged. My religion, which I re-name weekly, forbids over-prescription of drugs of dubious benefit to people who don’t actually have a disease. My philosophy is called ‘evidence based’. It’s a minority religion, I’ll admit, but reality does have a way of sticking around whether it fits our narrative or not.

I demand that insurance companies stop funding proton-pump inhibitors for people who would do just fine with an occasional Tums. I demand that the secular authorities bow down to my authority as High Priestess (self-ordained) and re-arrange everyone’s insurance immediately.

Don’t whine to me that your stomach hurts. I have conscience, and I’m exercising it on you.

Women’s Issues and Female Trouble

My state senator is Rhoda Perry. I first knew her as executive director of Thundermist Health Associates– the network of primary care clinics that was founded by volunteers operating out of a triple-decker in Woonsocket. I like her politics, she is a neighbor and an unpretentious, decent person.

I always vote for her, but I like to hear all sides, so in 2004 I attended the debate between Rhoda and her opponent, Barry Fain.

The candidates were cranking along, neither one charismatic enough to make me forget how uncomfortable it is to sit in a folding chair in a church basement. Then it happened.

Barry Fain– making a point that he was the more well-rounded candidate, said that Rhoda was alright on women’s issues, like birth control. He faltered as the audience gasped. I think he knew instantly that he had stepped in it. Rhoda won the election by a wide margin.

That Sunday I ran into Barry Fain when we were both buying newspapers from a guy who sold them out of the back of his car Elmgrove Avenue.

“I saw you and Rhoda” I said.

He shook his head, “That was a brutal debate.”

I laughed to myself. I admire Rhoda Perry, but a brutal debater she is not.

“Mr.Fain”, I said, “I’m not in any position to criticize someone for saying something they wish they hadn’t. I’ve said a lot of things I would say differently if I had a chance. But I am concerned about your plan to cut taxes.

I work, and pay property tax. It’s not my biggest concern. I earn decent money, I can go out to eat, I don’t worry about being able to pay my bills. We’re on Elmgrove Avenue. A few blocks over is Camp Street. People there are struggling. Are you going to cut the safety net give a little extra to the well-off?”

He was non-committal on that, I don’t think I was part of his base.

When he made that remark about birth control, for a moment I felt like I’d been slapped. Slapped back to the recent past when women had a place, and it wasn’t a place in our State House.

Birth control is being put back in its place of female troubles and ladies unmentionables–too indecent to include in wholesome health promotion. It’s a luxury, a vanity expense, a shameful indulgence.

I recall the women of my childhood, worn out from multiple pregnancies, wearing hand-me-downs. The harsh-tempered men, struggling to support their families. It’s not to say that there wasn’t love and happiness too, but few would choose that life given other options. Women and men alike sacrificed to raise their children. Family planning is not just a ‘women’s issue’.

How many children to have, whether to have children at all, when to have children– there aren’t many more important decisions we will make.

In other health decisions– controlling blood pressure, getting exercise, avoiding smoking– we do public education to engage the community in taking care of themselves.

It’s bizarre to single out one important aspect of health care for segregation and de-funding, when there is no public good in promoting unintended pregnancies. Why are we doing it?

Because it’s a women’s issue. Slightly shameful, a female trouble and serves her right. It’s a poor woman’s issue. We can’t be paying for birth control when taxes need to be cut. And those women aren’t the base, anyway.

We had a saying in the second wave of the Women’s Movement– ‘Sisterhood is Powerful’. And there is a vast potential energy in women and men crossing lines and finding common ground. It’s a short walk, after all, from Elmgrove to Camp.

The Religious Right and the conservative activists of the Catholic Church have taken their stand, to support an interpretation of religious liberty that lets religions take liberties with nonbelievers. This is not resistance to change. This is an expansion of organized religion as a political power. I think it’s an over-reach. But it’s discouraging to have to fight these battles again.

I’m Not a Doctor, But I Play One on TV

Via Democratic Underground, women tell their stories about times when birth control was not simple or cheap.

No one has spun the issue better than Georgia Representative Tom Price, who claimed that no woman has ever been denied access to birth control because she could not afford it. “Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one,” Price told ThinkProgress when it asked how low-income women could access contraception if it were not insured.

Bring you one woman? Let’s start with two. We are a couple of white, middle-class magazine editors. We have both had difficulty affording birth control at some point in our lives. And we’re not alone. Many women struggle with the cost of birth control—1 in 3 of us, according to a recent Hart survey. Among young women, more than half face prohibitive costs. We know for a fact that it’s not just the poorest Americans who are being left behind. The people affected by the high cost of birth control are poor, working class, and middle class. They are us, and they are our partners, too.

I gotta go to work, in health care, where even an aspirin a day has risks as well as benefits, and you expect the unexpected. It’s aggravating when acquaintances play wannabe doctor with unwanted advice. It’s scary when men with power go on record as ignorant, complacent and uncurious about how the other half lives.

On Taking ‘The Pill’

I take it every morning. It’s called Levothyroxine– an old generic med for hypothyroid.

It’s cheap, and my insurance covers prescription drugs with a small co-pay. If I needed something expensive I’d be covered.

Every so often, I get a blood test to make sure I’m on the right dose. If I feel run down I can talk to my doctor.

I could afford to pay cash for my pill, and even to pay for the doctor’s visit and blood tests, if some huge institution had the power to practice their religion by separating out the endocrine system from the rest of the body and forcing my insurer to deny coverage for anything related to glands.

This exercise of conscience would have a bad effect on public health, of course, because there would be many people who would miss out on needed care.
But most of us would be okay. Especially people who don’t have thyroid problems.

I’m seeing some politicians saying that birth control pills are cheap and denying coverage for contraception is no big deal. If it is a big deal–a woman needs to try different pills, needs more medical attention and advice, needs a diagnostic test– does she pay out of pocket because that part of her body is red-lined like a neighborhood that can’t get a bank loan?

These religious people who are so acutely sensitive to ‘sending a message’ when something they don’t like appears on TV are sending a message loud and clear.

They are against birth control and they want to limit access even to unbelievers. While most adult Americans recognize birth control as an act of responsibility, Conservative Catholics and fundamentalists consider it a sin. They would rather use social control on single people, and persuade or coerce married people to relinquish the power to plan their families.

A principled religious stand is one where the individual sacrifices for their beliefs. A claim of principles when it’s other people who suffer the consequences is just hypocrisy. Religious organizations that don’t succeed in even persuading their own should not have the power to deny health care to others.

It seems crazy, from a medical standpoint, to separate out birth control when a woman is a whole person. It’s sad to see all the male authorities making assumptions that reproductive care is always cheap and trouble-free. Is anything else in health care always cheap and trouble-free? We have not yet reached the point where we trust women to make these profound choices, and respect the choices they make.

It’s not about religion, or liberty. It’s about birth control, and woman control, and taking liberties with other people’s lives.

UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to strengthen employers power to limit insurance coverage for anything they have a moral objection to.I guess that will work as long as it’s just some women. I wonder if someone someday will get a bill for an emergency blood transfusion– anathema to Jehovah’s Witnesses (who have a pretty good Biblical reason for that). Mitch Mc Connell has nothing to worry about– he’s got that good government insurance.

Suburban Grrrl at Daily Kos cites legal cases that have arisen around states requirements that employers cover contraception as part of health insurance, and explains why letting religions take undue ‘liberties’ with worker’s health is a form of discrimination…

Catholic Charities appealed a 2006 decision by the Court of Appeals for the State of New York, New York’s highest court, that concluded that the Women’s Health and Wellness Act was a neutral law designed to advance both women’s health and the equal treatment of men and women. That court also held that “when a religious organization chooses to hire non-believers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.”(emphasis mine)

Wow! You won’t hear that on the news, but you can read the rest here.