Presidential Reviews And Predictions

A review of administrations going out and coming in. Also, Jeanne Flavin on women’s diminishing autonomy rights.


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Lowery benediction

Sanctity of Life Day

HHS regulations

Democrats funding abstinence-only

Bush and PEPFAR

Repeal global gag rule

Abortion donuts!


On this edition of Reality Cast, I’ll be waving goodbye to the old President and exploring what we can expect from our new President.  Also, an interview with Jeanne Flavin about the continuing encroachments on women’s right to bodily autonomy, encroachments that are happening on a local level, often using the criminal justice system.

I have to say that Reverend Joseph Lowery’s benediction at the inauguration really put Rick Warren’s smarminess to shame.  It didn’t make up for the fact that Warren is a homophobe and misogynist, but it certainly showed America the difference between those who fight for social justice and those who fight against it.  A lot of energy from an 87-year-old man.  

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He’s referencing a popular anti-racism protest song, for some context there.  


So, there was a changeover in power last week you might have heard something about.  One that may have had some relevance for those of us interested in reproductive justice.  The last 8 years have been hard on the sexual health and rights of women, and so this segment is a survey the damage segment.

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Running out the door, Bush declared the final so-called Sanctity of Life Day for January 18th.  That’s not all he did running out the door, though.   

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That’s the bad news.  The good news is twofold.  One, the new Congress and President can get this reversed.  Second, the whole escapade has alerted many liberals to what we in the pro-choice community have been saying forever, which is that anti-choicers are not content to attack abortion rights, but are also gunning to take away your birth control.  We don’t call them the forced birth lobby for nothing.

Which leads me to another dark episode in the past 8 years.  This one is something I think that is slowly being forgotten, but I won’t forget it, and I hope you won’t either.  Here’s Dr. Susan Wood, the former asst. commissioner for women’s health for FDA talking about the importance of science.

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Why did Dr. Wood resign?  Because political appointees in the FDA were rejecting the scientific evidence that showed that emergency contraception was in fact safe to be sold over the counter.  And why were they rejecting this?  Because the FDA under Bush was stuffed with avid forced birth advocates who were not happy with the idea of women having one more tool to prevent unplanned pregnancy.  The FDA dragged their feet for years refusing to approve this medication, causing untold numbers of unplanned pregnancies and therefore unnecessary abortions, all to punish women for having sex.  The fallout of this is immense, because the controversy implanted in people’s heads the idea that emergency contraception somehow flushes a fertilized egg.  There is no evidence for this.  Plan B works by suppressing ovulation, but sadly, most people now don’t realize that.  

Reproductive rights were central to some of the biggest controversies throughout the Bush years, particularly the battle over the Republican majority in Congress, with the backing of Vice President Dick Cheney, removing the one major power left to a minority party in the Senate, which is the filibuster.  In an intricate battle whose details are quickly being lost to history, Democrats made motions to filibuster Bush’s Supreme Court nominees because of their sexist views, amongst other things.  A compromise was reached that preserved the filibuster, which essentially meant nothing for minority Democrats, because they couldn’t ever use it.  Instead, it only benefited the Republicans in the end, because they’re using it now that they’re in the minority.

The effect was the appointment of two rabid anti-choice nuts to the Supreme Court.

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Yeah, "other areas" being reproductive rights, for instance.  The loss of pro-choice justice Sandra Day O’Connor resulted in immediate damage to reproductive rights.  

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Carhart is essentially an overturn of Roe, at least the health exception.  The full impact of this decision has yet to be felt, but it can’t be good.  The decision also managed to set aside women as a class of people who are especially incapable of making sound decisions.  Thanks to a few choice Supreme Court appointments, women’s second class citizenship is being reinstated after years of presumed equality.

And let’s not forget the scourge that is abstinence-only education.   

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That’s $200 million a year spent on programs that not only don’t work as stated, but actually decrease the chance that kids will use protection, because they’ve been fed a bunch of lies about condoms, and weren’t told how to get the pill.  Unsurprisingly, the teen birth rate is going up, though it hasn’t been proven that it’s caused by abstinence-only non-education.  The problem, as Dan Abrams said, is that Congress keeps funding abstinence-only, even though they know that states who take the money cannot tell kids about contraception.

But Amanda, you might say, while this is all well and true, it makes it sound like Bush didn’t do anything positive in regards to sexual and reproductive health.  Is it possible that he did nothing but bad?  Well, there was one exception to the rule, and that’s the establishment of PEPFAR.  "The Daily Show" covered it hilariously.  

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Alas, the whole thing was just an semi-exception to the rule.  Much of the funding was just an extension of the abstinence boondoggle, with much of the money going to groups that refused to take truly effective steps such as condom distribution and education, instead focusing on unrealistic and frankly misanthropic abstinence messages.  Still, on the whole this is going to be a great thing.  Now that PEPFAR has begun, it will stay in place, and perhaps in the future the funding will go to truly effective organizations.  


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Now we’ve looked back, so it’s time to look forward.  We can’t know for sure what Obama’s going to do in office, but we have a good idea of what kind of promises he’s made, and what ones are most likely to be kept.

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Nancy Northup made that video before we even had nominees, much less a winner, and so I’m sure she’s elated to know that President Obama did indeed repeal the global gag rule on January 23rd. I expect we’ll also see the UNFPA regain its funding under Obama, since it’s a popular program for Democrats and Republicans alike, especially considering how Republican luminaries like Colin Powell have praised it.  Since our new Secretary of the State is an avowed feminist, I believe we’ll be seeing massive changes in our approach to funding international health programs for women.

Of course, there’s the big issue that gets the majority of the coverage.

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But Obama won, and so Souter, Ginsberg, and Stevens can all retire as court watchers suspect they’ve been wanting to do.  If any one of them had retired under either Bush or McCain, that would have almost surely meant the end of Roe v. Wade.  

And now for a promise that I was frankly shocked to hear.  

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For those who don’t remember, "don’t ask, don’t tell" was supposed to be an improvement over the old military policy of asking people about their sexual orientation, and ejecting them from the military if they weren’t straight.  But don’t ask, don’t tell, which was instituted under Clinton, has been a disaster of epic proportions.  Many hard working gay soldiers will go for years in the military only to get ejected when their orientation is revealed.  Despite our wars in the Middle East, many Arabic translators were ejected for being gay, even though we desperately need their skills.  Now if we could just get gay marriage.  Hey, maybe some well-placed Supreme Court appointments could get us gay marriage, now that I think about it.

Of course, there’s one issue that I’m worried about, which is abstinence-only education, which Democrats have continued to fund.  Obama has come out against abstinence-only.

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By the way, it still makes me angry that anti-choicers are pretending to be offended at the pharse "punished with a baby", since punishing teenagers with babies is the point of abstinence-only.

But there’s room for cautious optimism.  According to Dan Abrams and Rachel Maddow, the Democrats funded abstinence-only because they were compromising with an administration that wouldn’t work with them.  

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Which means that a more pro-choice Congress and a pro-choice President should mean the end of abstinence-only.  

All this good news leads me to my next question, which is what next?  Roe is probably safe, Title X funding is probably going to go back to family planning clinics and away from crisis pregnancy centers, the global gag rule has been repealed, and formal discrimination against gays will be reduced.  What should we push for next?  I’m going to be speaking at the Feminism 2.0 conference on February 2nd in D.C., and probably about these questions.  So if you have ideas on where we should go from here, feel free to drop me an email.  It’s amanda dot Marcotte at gmail dot com.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, donut abortion edition.  Here’s a random fetus worshipper on YouTube flipping out because Krispy Kreme was giving away free donuts for the inauguration.

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Indeed, the press release from Krispy Kreme used the phrase "freedom of choice".  Quote: "Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc. is honoring American’s sense of pride and freedom of choice on Inauguration Day, by offering a free doughnut of choice to every customer on this historic day, Jan. 20."  In other words, the freedom to choose our leaders.  If the fetus worshippers think that abortion is being shoved in their faces with this, it’s because they’re projecting, just a little.  I’m fairly certain that Krispy Kreme as an organization has no formal opinions on whether or not women should be allowed to have sex without being punished.  They do, however, seem to think that being able to vote is a positive thing.


Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte