Consonant-Level Links

March 10, 2007

See the above post (soon) for an explanation of the motivation of this roundup’s theme. But for now, suffice is to say that people with 500 hits a day need links more than people with 5,000.

Kristjan Wager delves into John Hawkins’ dishonest column in greater detail than I did; he not only looks at the study in question and shows how the numbers compare with Hawkins’ point, but also proposes a hypothesis explaining the observation.

Jessica Dreadul links to two reproductive rights-themed news pieces, one about Chile’s lowering of the age barrier to parental consent to emergency contraception and another about an attempt to prevent pharmacists from arbitrarily denying women in Georgia EC.

On The Politburo Diktat, there’s a long, engaging thread about the war on Iraq and whether the US is irrevocably doomed and has nothing better to do than cut and run.

Shelley reports a breakthrough in research into curing hearing loss. While her lab is trying to cure deafness by infecting ear cells with benign viruses, another lab has achieved results by directly compensating for a deficient protein.

Bean notes that one group of people in the US who are especially impacted by the nastiness of the prison system are the mentally ill, who are often tortured with solitary confinement.

India’s Missing Girls

March 4, 2007

Echidne has a terrific post about India and China’s sex ratios. In both countries, there is rampant sex-selective abortion and infanticide, leading to sex ratios of 882 and 832 girls to 1,000 boys respectively. Echidne uncharacteristically takes the snarky road here, so let me try and be a more policy-oriented wonk.

1. Abortion restrictions don’t work here. China already forbids doctors to tell women the sex of their babies before birth. On the contrary, freer abortion turns this into a legitimate if decidedly sexist choice rather than murder.

2. Conversely, other governmental restrictions on fertility exacerbate the problem. In India, the sex ratio is largely a product of dowries, which make girls a financial burden on poor families. In China there’s no such thing; the problem stems mostly from the one-child policy, since families prefer having at least one boy to continue the lineage. Nor does the relaxation that families are permitted a second child if the first is female help much, since it still creates potentially a 2-to-1 gender ratio.

3. India’s ban on dowries is only helping a little bit. In the villages, a lot of progressive Indian laws are being routinely flouted. Officially, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste; in practice, the status of low-caste Indian villagers is about the same as this of black Alabamans in 1927.

4. Urbanization won’t help much. In Delhi there are 827 girls per 1,000 boys, despite having an above average level of income. Urbanization has done a lot to help women and low-caste people, but is entirely skipping the practice of sex-selective abortion, which is only getting worse due to increasingly expensive dowries.

5. Enforcing existing laws will help, but can only go so far. India doesn’t have an especially stable government, and in the long run will have an even less stable one as a consequence of the immense surplus of males. Cracking down on dowries is too politically unpalatable.

6. Baby steps like the one that the government is trying to promote, namely encouraging parents to abandon girls in local hospitals instead of abort or kill them, are the most secure. Unfortunately, they’re also the slowest, and problems of an oversupply of men can become very urgent. All hell broke loose in China in the 19th century in precisely those areas with lopsided sex ratios.

7. Exporting people is theoretically possible, but requires Western countries to forego their racism enough as to admit 2 million people every year – the 1 million missing women plus 1 million men to compensate. At a time when Europe is trying to return to its medieval roots and the United States lets in something like 300,000 legal immigrants per year, it’s not realistic for the Indian government to bank on that. It’s the best the West can do, but it’s probably even more politically difficult than to enforce anti-dowry laws in India in the first place.

Pro-Choice Events

March 1, 2007

If you’re in New York and pro-choice, check out what’s going on in Manhattan in the next few days:

The Pro-Choice Public Education Project has a fundraiser this Sunday. It’s between 4 and 8 at Midway Bar, 25 Avenue B (crossing 2nd Street); the nearest subway stations are 1st Avenue on the L, Delancey Street on the J/M/Z, and 2nd Avenue on the F/V. It costs $20 to get in, and includes food, drinks, and raffle tickets.

Then on Monday the Guttmacher Institute is hosting a panel on the 10th floor of the UN Church Center (777 UN Plaza) from noon till 2:45. The panel’s title is “Abortion Providers’ Attitudes Toward Women,” and features expert speakers who will discuss access to abortion in several countries. The exact composition of the panel is,

Expert Panelists:

  • Akinrinola Bankole, Ph.D., director of international research, Guttmacher Institute, “Women and Abortion Providers in Nigeria and Uganda”
  • Leonel Arguello Irigoyen, M.D., Nicaraguan Society for General Medicine, “Denial of Therapeutic Abortion in Nicaragua—The Perspective of Health-Care Providers”
  • Beverly Winikoff, M.D., M.P.H., president , Gynuity Health Projects, “Giving Women Choices: Access to New Technologies in Abortion”
  • Marianne Mollmann, LL.M., advocacy director, Women’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, “The Second Assault: Obstructing Access to Legal Abortion After Rape in Mexico”
  • Laura Villa Torres, Youth Coalition and Ipas Mexico, “Rape, Unwanted Pregnancy and Abortion—Young People’s Perspectives in Mexico”

Moderated by Linda Prine, M.D., associate professor of family medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Beth Israel Residency in Urban Family Practice; Medical Director, Reproductive Health Access Project; Trainer and Abortion Provider, Planned Parenthood of New York City.

If you’re not pro-choice or not a New Yorker, please consider rectifying the defect.

Abortion is Good

February 24, 2007

Jill has a tremendous post about how abortion is in fact a moral good. Once you think it through, it’s fairly easy. Abortion is a beneficial medical procedure that removes something that is often a health risk; childbirth is as a rule more dangerous than safe abortion. As Jill notes,

Some on the Pandagon thread argue that procedures like heart surgery are morally neutral. I don’t think so. Having access to that surgery in the first place is a moral good. Deciding to take the course of action that is best for you is a moral good. That’s true whether the issue is terminating a pregnancy or fighting cancer.

The act of heart surgery is of course morally neutral. A person’s choice to have a heart surgery, or for that matter an abortion, isn’t a moral question because it doesn’t impact any other person. As Jill says, the good comes from the fact that this option is available. And conversely, the moral evil in abortion legislation comes from people who pass laws that cause the maternal mortality rates to skyrocket.

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So what is exactly McCain’s position on abortion?

February 22, 2007

Hat-tip to Gordo: McCain’s position on abortion turns out to be less consistent than I thought it was. In 1999, he said about abortion,

[Link] But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations.

When called on the liberalness of his position, he issued a clarification that said he believed repealing Roe vs. Wade was an important goal.

McCain’s total flip-flop on abortion brings the number of serious Presidential contenders who can be trusted about anything down to zero.

McCain Tries to Become Older Version of Brownback

February 19, 2007

ABCNews profiles McCain’s religious conservative credentials. Ordinarily I’d call it pandering, but McCain has a long history of being in bed with the religious fundamentalists; in 2000 he promised Gary Bauer pro-life judges, while Bush contented himself with general nonsense about constructionist judges in the mold of Scalia. Still, his style is that of long-term pandering rather than flip-flopping.

The Arizona lawmaker is scheduled to speak Sunday night to about 1,500 middle and high school students about abstaining from premarital sex. Abstinence and abortion loom large as issues in this first-in-the-South primary state in the heart of the Bible Belt.

“Senator McCain has a long legislative record of supporting abstinence-based initiatives in his record in the U.S. Senate,” said Trey Walker, McCain’s South Carolina campaign director. “He thinks that abstinence is healthier and should be promoted in our society for young people.”

McCain obviously has a lot to teach those students about abstinence. As he keeps emphasizing in the canned speech, young people should shut up and listen to their elders. And indeed, McCain’s generation did those things right. In McCain’s teenage years, that is the 1950s, whenever a teenager got pregnant, she either aborted and died due to unsafe conditions, or gave birth and forced the father into marriage. Nobody worried about teen pregnancy then because it was so ubiquitous that acknowledging teens had sex would be too embarrassing. Almost every other American girl had given birth by the time she was 20, and including abortions would likely make it a clear majority. Apparently, walking ten miles to school in five feet of snow uphill both ways makes boys exceptionally horny.

McCain’s antics include supporting the local crisis pregnancy center. I have no data on the particular CPC he’s supporting, but in general they are hornets’ nests of misinformation, intimidation, and outright lies. Furthermore, he’s come out publicly in support of overturning Roe vs. Wade.

On the other hand, the last linked story says,

McCain’s campaign also announced early Sunday that he had been endorsed by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who had been considering his own bid for the White House, and former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who failed in his bid for the Republican nomination in 1996.

Keating told the crowd that McCain is the “only candidate who is a true-blue, Ronald Reagan conservative.”

Leaving aside the appropriateness of calling a Republican “true-blue,” Ronald Reagan wasn’t that good to religious conservatives. He took their money for sure and used their politics as an excuse to cut US foreign aid, but his four Supreme Court nominations include two pro-choicers (O’Connor and Kennedy) and two pro-lifers (Scalia and Bork). Bush has a more conservative track record, with two pro-lifers to one wildcard; but, of course, Reagan was insanely popular, whereas Bush is a lame duck with an approval rate that gets leaders in less stable countries assassinated.

Carnival of the Godless #60 is Up

February 18, 2007

Manifold Fates is still down, so Brent posted the 60th edition of COTG on UTI, including my own post about freedom from religion, which I don’t remember submitting to the carnival.

In related news, accidental blogger Ruchira Paul writes about the Texas legislator who said the theory of evolution was a Kabbalistic conspiracy and therefore unconstitutional to teach in public schools. She concludes, “Texas Governor Rick Perry recently issued an executive order to make vaccination of pre-teen girls with Gardasil mandatory in order to protect them from the Human Papilloma Virus.  Alas, no vaccine, mandatory or optional, exists to protect the children from the willful ignorance of their elders.”

Ann’s Weekly Feminist Reader has two stories about fundamentalist outrage. First, in Israel, certain ultra-Orthodox Jews are working hard to dispel the notion that Islam is uniquely abusive toward women. In Haredi areas, such as the entire city of Bnei Brak, buses are de facto gender segregated, with women sitting in the back. Now a woman who was harassed for not going to the back of the bus is launching a class action lawsuit aiming to break the gender-segregated buses.

And second, the Catholic Church is ranting about Portugal’s referendum. The national conference of bishops whined, “The favorable result for the ‘yes’ is a sign of accentuated cultural mutation by the Portuguese people.” I’m glad the bishops are coming to understand they’re behind the times. The Catholic Church has only itself to blame; it doomed itself to irrelevance when it elected Ratzinger Pope.

When Intuition Fails

February 17, 2007

A lot of abstract standards that have become intuitive tend to fail in situations too different from the one they were developed in. To see that in action, look no further than the standard of “Living human being,”* which people who believe fetuses should have more rights than adult women use to their advantage.

There are about three different ways to check if such an abstract standard fits a novel situation, of which two might be variations on a theme. The two are the scientific method, which relies on directly comparing the standard to scientific evidence, and the analogical or deductive method, which relies on looking at why the standard arose in the first place and seeing if the same situation applies. The third is a more philosophical method that’s based on seeing how the standard works in subjunctive and counterfactual situations.

And, it turns out, none of the 2.5 methods favors giving fetuses moral standards. Applying the scientific method here means looking at fetal development. At the earliest stage, that of undifferentiated cell clumps, the fetus isn’t even a real organism, but more like a pre-organism. Some pro-lifers recognize this and switch to potentiality arguments, which are mostly an act of desperation (“If my dad had gotten a scholarship to Columbia, then he wouldn’t have met my mom and I wouldn’t have existed; therefore, Columbia should be stingier with scholarships to people named Levy”).

Talking about fetuses without referencing developmental biology is less than futile. But once one talks about development, there’s any number of standards to apply to fetuses that make giving them moral status misguided. For one, there’s the oft-ignored fact that pregnancy isn’t just about the fetus.

Some people have a misconception that adult women are just fetus vessels that have no moral status of their own. Since these women are living human beings who exist in the same realm as the people that original standard applied to, we can safely ignore that misconception. Whenever there’s any fuzziness regarding the status of a fetus, abortion becomes an entirely moral act. If aborting a clearly sentient fetus is like refusing to donate a kidney to save a person’s life, then aborting a fetus whose developmental status isn’t entirely clear is like refusing to donate a kidney to save a gorilla’s life.

Beyond that, there’s the question of independence. Embryos aren’t organisms, and neither are fetuses. They have their own unique DNAs, but that’s just another standard that fails to make sense before birth; if it made sense, we wouldn’t talk of 130 million births and 50 million deaths every year, but of 850 million conceptions and 780 million miscarriages, abortions, and post-natal deaths.

And finally, there’s the question of sentience. Again, fetuses fail that by any reasonable standards. According to Visible Embryo, the first detectable brain waves, which plenty of species have, are present after 7 weeks. The brain isn’t even connected to the visual and auditory systems until week 24. It may sound like a severely retarded person, but severely retarded people can feel pain, which fetuses can’t until week 31. It’s only after birth that a human baby matches a severely retarded adult; for example, Ashley, who is about as mentally retarded as people go, is mentally a three-month-old.

The analogical method proceeds largely along the same lines, whence my comment that there are 2.5 rather than 3 different methods. The key observation here is that the standard of “living human being” developed because living human beings displayed clear signs of sentience, whereas other animals didn’t. This standard long predates any understanding of development or even pregnancy, so it’s not surprising it fails to hold for fetuses.

Once we’ve established the precise realm the standard was originally abstracted from – situations readily available to primitive tribes – we can start comparing fetuses to it. Born humans display self-awareness, which fetuses don’t. Biologically they’re independent, while fetuses are parasitic on another person.

The philosophical method works in a completely different way. The idea is to list as many subjunctives and counterfactuals to see if the standard is as universally applicable outside its original context as those who advance it say it is.

First, somewhat trivially, if we found another intelligent species – say, if dolphins were self-aware, or if we encountered an alien civilization – we’d have to include it in the list of “living ___ beings.”

Second, good science fiction recognizes the issue of AI rights. Sentient AI exists in a realm that is somewhat outside this of self-aware organisms, for reasons such as natural death and debugging. Still, the clear fact of sentience means something, even if AIs don’t really live. HAL-9000** has a personality and obviously resists disconnection, and yet the “living human being” standard would skip it entirely.

Third, standards that might make sense when talking about humans fail to hold in general. There are mite species that develop by eating their way out of their mother’s abdomen. As long as food is abundant, every female larva will die of motherhood. A self-aware species that is like that would have a different set of standards to apply to abortion from humans.

Granted, the third point doesn’t mean much if there’s any independent standard for abortion – e.g. the self-awareness test combined with a maternal rights override – but it only shows how the “living human being” standard is so fragile and in need of further justification.

The notion that fetuses have rights isn’t based on reason. It’s based on abstracting a principle to a situation that fails to apply, and then calling anyone who objects a monster. Occasionally, there’s a pseudo-scientific rant about heartbeats; presumably, by the same standard, a ten-hearted earthworm deserves the same moral status as ten people. But by and large, it’s a position based on lurid magnified photos of aborted fetuses. It might make good press, but good press isn’t necessarily good ethics.

* Actually, it’s usually “Living, breathing human being”; pro-lifers tend to elide the “breathing” part because fetuses don’t breathe.

** Yes, I know I talked of “good science fiction.” You can substitute Neuromancer if you’d like; HAL-9000 just has a more obvious personality, whereas Neuromancer is mostly a behind-the-scenes character.

Abstinence-Only Education Reaches New Lows

February 15, 2007

Amanda has a really good post about a variety of things, from the importance of abortion to flip-flopping to sex education. On sex education, she quotes a Washington Post article by Marc Fisher that documents just how disgusting abstinence-only education can get. Says Fisher,

In the matter of the “gum game” — the yucky attempt in Montgomery County schools to impress upon teenagers the dangers of sexual promiscuity by asking them to share a piece of gum — all involved now appear to be appalled at themselves.

The idea that abstinence is the solution to such social ills as teenage pregnancy is based more on ideology than on facts. Of all developed countries for which data is available (p. 15 in the PDF), Poland has the least promiscuous teenagers, followed by Portugal. But out of 28 countries for which teen birth data is available, Portugal has the seventh highest teen birth rate and Poland has the ninth. English-speaking countries overall do the worst; dropping them, Portugal becomes fourth out of 23 and Poland becomes fifth.

In the US, research into abstinence-only education shows that its effects on STDs are not statistically significant. The Heritage Foundation tried weaseling out of it by saying that the research showed teens who pledged abstinence had lower rates of STD infections than teens who didn’t, but the research did in fact show that the difference isn’t statistically significant.

And, note, pledges are supposed to be the most benign and effective form of abstinence promotion. Scare campaigns don’t generally work; politically they’re disastrous – just ask Jerry Kilgore – while in marketing and in social promotion, they just fail to produce results. The anti-drug scare campaigns that permeate schools have after all failed to curb drug abuse.

And here’s the full text submitted about another favorite exercise that won’t be used anymore: “Exlax game.”

In this game, students were handed squares of Hershey’s chocolate, but before they popped the candy, they were told that a few kids had instead received Ex-Lax laxatives. Still want to eat it? Few did, and, in fact, Tierney assures me that although this exercise “really freaks them out,” it is only a mind game designed to drive home the idea of random risk — no laxatives were distributed to students.

So, if it’s not about results, what is it about? The obvious answer – sexual control and prudishness – is only partially correct. The organization that organized those games was a conservative group that the school system outsourced sex education to, so we can assume its motives are the same as those of the uderlying conservative pro-life movement.

Saying that this total opposition to birth control is due to sexual control is of course consistent with opposition to abortion. But it’s not the only thing that’s consistent. Modern conservatism is anti-pragmatic on everything: on foreign policy it would rather breed enemies than talk to enemies, on economics it would rather kick people off welfare rolls than offer retraining to reduce the need for welfare, on interrogations it would rather torture terrorists than get them to produce good intelligence, and on abortion it would rather ban abortion than offer good sex education.

That’s how opposition to stem cell research, which has nothing to do with sexual control, ties in. The route from a pro-life belief that embryos are people to opposing stem cell research is very short. It’s very much what the Political Survey defines as the pragmatic/idealist dimension of politics.

So it’s likely that sex education and birth control are tagged with the same association to abortion. Pro-lifers have set up what they believe to be the culture of life, defined by fetal and embryonic personhood, and immutable moral codes overruling practical considerations. In contrast, it says, pro-choicers have a contraceptive mentality. In that framework, abortion, contraception, and sex education are all symptoms of the same problem.

Why Do All These Women Care About Abortion?

February 14, 2007

E. J. Dionne is noting that politicians tend to flip-flop on abortion a lot, and suggests this is because it’s not that important a political issue except to each party’s base. And, in a way, he could be right. Most politicians don’t care about abortion. Why would they? The average politician everywhere is an upper-class male with a post-menopausal wife who has access to contraceptives.

In the US, there are only two serious Presidential candidates this issue means something to. Not coincidentally, one of them is the only woman in the race (the other is a genuine Dominionist). In the 2004 primary, when the only woman in the race was a lightweight, the only contender who cared about the issue was a doctor who had interned at Planned Parenthood and later encountered pregnant teens in his practice.

In such a climate, it’s not surprising that people who think the entire political arena will be a lot more civil if only women and the men who care about their concerns shut up. Fifteen years ago, the same sentiments were aired in connection to black people, and indeed the Democratic Party became the party of welfare reform and the drug war. The sentiment is always the same: unless an issue predominantly affects rich white American men, it’s not worth fighting over.

But then again, there could be other reasons why politicians flip-flop on abortion. One is confirmation bias: politicians flip-flop on everything, but Dionne is looking for a reason to dismiss only abortion. Edwards is woefully inconsistent on foreign policy, McCain is inconsistent on everything, and Romney’s campaign’s choice line is about a position he disagreed with in 2002.

Candidates usually don’t care about any issue but one or two core ideas. For Edwards, everything but poverty is secondary. For Clinton, it’s mostly foreign policy; she’s fairly consistently hawkish. For Brownback, it’s religious fundamentalism, which explains his relative centrism on economics and foreign policy. It’s very rare to find someone like Feingold, who consistently fails to flip-flop even on issues that aren’t central to his political identity.

But suppose Dionne is right and this trend is more marked for abortion. There’s an alternative explanation that he doesn’t even mention: the political gamut on abortion. Abortion is perhaps the only political issue in the US on which the political gamut spans all possible views; debate on other issues is very narrow.

The average poll shows that there’s at least a substantial minority for every position on abortion in the US from “available on demand” to “legal only to save the woman’s life,” as well as for every sub-issue, such as parental notification and state funding.

No other issues displays this breadth in the US. On foreign policy, Americans are divided on whether to approve every military action, or every military action except those executed with total incompetence. The gamut on unions runs from opposition to strong opposition. The gamut on health care runs from major reforms to a total overhaul, with Milton Friedman’s view and even support for the status quo being out of the question. On education, the issue of funding equality isn’t even on the radar.

In that light, it’s not surprising candidates will flip-flop on abortion, since their views are likely to be almost right in the middle. Anyone with even a slight left-of-center attitude toward economics, like me, can be relied on to support the Democrats, who are still to my right on the issue. But in a debate when the two mainline views on abortion are very far apart, a politician is very likely to be in the middle, where he’s likely to waver.

It could be that this is what Dionne is rooting for. A lot of pundits would like to see fewer distinctions between the parties, which would allow them to make broad policy pronouncements without antagonizing anyone. For the people, more distinct parties mean more choice at the ballot box; for the punditry, they mean being required to take concrete positions on controversial issues.

This is probably why the media loves Obama so much. Regardless of what he does in practice, in theory he calls for greater party cooperation, which is good for any media spectator who wants to gain political power without going through the trouble of convincing large numbers of voters that he’s right.

Tuesday Small Hours Links

February 13, 2007

There are so many good links from the last day or two.

Jessica Dreadful breaks another abortion ban story from South Dakota, this time with exceptions for rape and incest in order to make the bill more palatable. But even then, the rape and incest exceptions are created with the most draconian restrictions possible.

[Link] The bill would allow rape victims to get abortions if they report the rapes to police within 50 days. Doctors would have to confirm those reports with police; doctors also would have to give blood from aborted fetuses to police for DNA testing in rape and incest cases.

The Commissar explains exactly what is wrong with the Bush administration’s accusations of Iranian support for Iraqi militants. Instead of trying to doubt the intelligence that was used to gather the conclusions, he shows why the conclusions themselves are implausible.

At the recent US military briefing about the Iranian mortar shells given to Iraqi Shiite militias, it was reported that these super-bombs have killed 170 US troops since June, 2004. I’m sure that Shiite IED’s have killed American troops in Iraq. How many overall? If the Iranian EFP’s have killed 170 Americans, what fraction is that of the total.


Of the 553 (82+471) where the sect of the attacker can be reliably inferred, 15% of these deadly IED attacks were committed by Shiites. Extrapolated to the full set, that would be 144 overall. That’s right. Only 144 Shiite-IED related deaths since June 2004.

Ezra has a three part series on the horrors of prison rape. While he doesn’t use the wonky style we all know and love, his posts still come off as very strong. He notes,

According to the Justice Department, “[in] 2005 there were 3,145 black male sentenced prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.” This is important. The relative infrequency with which white Americans enter prison, particularly for extended periods of time, surely effects the political urgency of prison reform. Indeed, it’s likely the reason overall legislation pushes in the other direction — towards overcrowding and longer sentences and less rehabilitation.

Brent reproduces a letter about the invisibility of atheists in the US. Since atheists are impossible to immediately discern from theists, bigoted Christians can get away with assuming that everyone in their lives who is a good person shares their religion. Based on that, he urges atheists to come out publicly.

First, misconceptions about us abound because of this invisibility. People don’t realize that we are their doctor, their teacher, their spouse or the nice guy that just held the door for them. The only face of naturalism a person is likely to see is a militant one. Is there any doubt that the image of naturalists would improve overnight if politicians, stars and athletes would come out?

d of Lawyers, Guns and Money comments on a statement by Bill Kristol about Obama that makes Joe Biden look like the second coming of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, W. E. B. DuBois, and Frederick Douglass all rolled into one. Kristol says Obama would’ve supported pro-slavery politicians in the 1850s. d notes,

When Kristol suggests — wearing his arrogant smirk like a badge of honor — that Barack Obama “would have been for Douglas in 1858,” he seems not to know one important historical fact. According to the laws of Illinois in 1858, Barack Obama would not only have been incapable of voting for Stephen Douglas, but he also would not have been allowed to enter the state in the first place. In 1853, Illinois passed one of the most restrictive black codes in the so-called “free north.” Blacks from other states were permitted to remain in the state for ten days; if they did not leave, they were subject to arrest and temporary enslavement — they would be sold to bidders who would be entitled to their labor until the mandatory $50 fine had been worked off. If the offending individual remained in Illinois after his or her release, the fines increased by $50 increments for each subsequent offense.

In her latest basic concepts post, Shelley turns to prions, the proteins that cause mad cow disease. Although they are proteins rather than organisms, they have the capability to mess with existing proteins in a way that makes them infectious in a way.

The protein that prions are made of is found throughout the body normally(called PrPc), although what their non-disease function is is not yet known. These proteins are encoded by the PRNP gene, and mutations in this gene are responsibly for inherited prion diseases. The disease-state prion protein is called (PrPSc) and is resistant to proteases which would normally denature a protein and render it harmless. The theory of how prions become infectious to other proteins is detailed below.

Abbas reproduces a letter by Waleed Hazbun, a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut. Hazbun describes the city,

Walking down the streets of the Hamra district of Beirut I think to myself that more cities across the Arab world should feel this way. Even as the city is re-dividing itself politically and police and security forces stand watch over public spaces, key buildings, and the residences of leading politicians, Beirut remains a urban, cosmopolitan environment. By invoking this term I do not refer to the fancy shopping districts with Euro-American name brand shops, the haut-hipsters hanging out a Starbucks (or even the much cooler De Prague), or the late night dancing parties going on at the trendy clubs. Beirut is a costal Levantine city that has never been cut off from other Mediterranean cities and trade routes nor fully isolated from its Arab/Islamic hinterland. It is not a show case ‘modern’ city built next to a museumfied medieval era ‘madina,’ like Tunis nor an artificial metropolis emerging out of a desert landscape due to royal patronage or the flows of petrodollars. It is more like Istanbul and how cities on coast of Mandate Palestine might have developed in some alterative reality.

Also on 3QD, Dhiraj Nayyar writes about the parallels between India and the US. India is aspiring to global superpower status, complete with economic domination and massive exportation of culture. But the social problems of the US pale in comparison with those of India.

Can India possibly claim to be superpower, the new emperor, just because some of it’s corporates are taking over firms abroad. Corporate might hasn’t turned into well-being for the majority of the people who still languish in poverty, illiteracy, hunger: basically dismal human conditions. Even possessing a few nuclear weapons doesn’t change this fact. And if half a country’s population cannot read, feed or cloth itself, what does that say about the empire? Even the American empire seems hollow when it is estimated that one in six people in the US is functionally illiterate, a large number of them live in poverty, where poverty is often a function of race, and where hurricanes like Katrina leave the mighty government fumbling for solutions.

Tyler expresses skepticism of much-hyped developments in quantum computing. In principle, quantum computers can factor integers in polynomial time, compared with exponential time for normal computers. In practice, constructing a quantum computer is about as feasible as fusion power at this stage. Tyler explains,

An actual working 16-qubit quantum superconductor that can overcome decoherence and the ubiquitous errors that plague any effort to build a computing device on quantum principles would be quite an achievement. It would indeed be interesting to do a full scale quantum computation, perhaps actually executing the Shor factoring algorithm. But A.) 16-qubits isn’t going to cut it and B.) they’ve been ominously reserved about releasing any results for professionals and academics to evaluate. And needless to say, with the grandiose proclamations the folks at the company have made, I’m skeptical.

Zuzu rips into the third chapter of Dawn Eden’s book, The Thrill of the Chaste (the parts Zuzu quotes sound as unintelligent as the title).

The chapter opens with a description of a continuing education course on “Living Single.” Dawn reads the description — which is all about helping people confidently navigate the single world, whether they’ve never left it or are re-entering it — and all she sees is “lack.”

She would, wouldn’t she?

I mean, her whole life, she’s felt lacking, and though she’s changed her strategy, her goal is the same: get married. Thing is, as she does so many times, she breezes right by the point. The course is designed to alleviate some of the social pressure that single adults feel to be in a couple, that they are in fact lacking something. It’s designed to help people understand that they don’t need to be in a couple to have fulfilling lives. But Dawn just sees the course as evidence that women are mired in a pathetic, pop-culturally-dictated “single lifestyle” that is all about lack — that lack being, of course, lack of a man and lack of God.

Finally, Bora collects all Darwin Day posts in one big link post. I haven’t had time to look at them yet, but you should.

Portugal Fails to Legalize Abortion, But All is Not Lost

February 11, 2007

Portugal’s referendum to legalize abortion in the first ten weeks of pregnancy was partially successful. About 60% of voters said yes, but turnout was too low to make the referendum binding; however, the result gives the Socialist-dominated parliament the political capital necessary to overturn the law itself.

Debate over the abortion law, one of the most restrictive in the European Union, pitted the Socialist government against conservative parties and the Catholic Church, which claims more than 90 percent of Portuguese as followers.

Under current law, the procedure is allowed only in cases of rape, fetal malformation or if a mother’s health is in danger, and only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.


It could still be some time, however, before the law is changed. A bill would have to be voted on first in parliament and then go to the president for approval. It would come into force only when the new legislation is published in the public records _ a procedure that usually takes several months.

Portugal is one of the most religious nations in Europe; it’s almost on a par with Poland. The Catholic Church is, as always, the prime mover behind abortion restrictions. The three EU countries with the strictest abortion restrictions – Ireland, Poland, and Portugal – are also the ones where the Catholic Church is strongest.

Officially, the Catholic Church’s position was that people shouldn’t vote. But that was the pro-lifer’s rational strategy, since voting no could increase turnout above the requisite 50% without unseating the majority for yes. If that sounds too abstract, consider this: at 60% yes and a turnout of 44% (though CNN’s reporting 34-40, not 44), if 7% of the population turned out and voted no instead of abstained then the turnout would’ve been high enough but there would’ve been a 52-48 majority for legalization.

Prime Minister Socrates is right when he calls the current law backward. Portugal has the second least sexually promiscuous population of all European countries surveyed but one of the highest teen birth rates; Poland has the least promiscuous population and about the same teen birth rate as Portugal. The third pro-life European country, Ireland, only has teen birth statistics, which are as bad as these of Portugal and Poland.

For sure, legalizing abortion alone only increases the abortion rate, though it’s at the expense of unwanted births. But it makes abortion safer and recognizes its existence. Portuguese women who go to Spain to abort don’t enter any Portuguese statistics. So this will help people recognize just how bad the problem of teen pregnancy is, and what is needed to prevent it (hint: there’s a reason NL has the lowest overall rate).

Giuliani Waffles on Abortion

February 7, 2007

Hat-tip to Publius: in an interview on Hannity and Colmes, Giuliani tries placating everyone on abortion. He overall promises to appoint constructionist judges, but then backtracks and states that what he thinks constructionist judges will basically affirm Casey.

So what I do say to conservatives, because then, you know, you want to look at, well, OK, what can we look to that is similar to the way we think? I think the appointment of judges that I would make would be very similar to, if not exactly the same as, the last two judges that were appointed.

Chief Justice Roberts is somebody I work with, somebody I admire, Justice Alito someone I knew when he was U.S. attorney, also admire. If I had been president over the last four years, I can’t think of any, you know, that I’d do anything different with that.

Now, given that I’m pro-choice, I think it makes Giuliani a slightly worse candidate than I did before seeing this. But the emphasis is on “slightly,” because I can’t distinguish the above response from pandering.

When a Democrat promises to protect the right to choose or to withdraw from Iraq, I look at his record on those issues and at what he says to moderates and conservatives to see if I should believe him. The same principle should apply here: what was Giuliani’s record on abortion when he was Mayor of New York? Why should pro-lifers trust him given that he can shaft them and nominate Alberto Gonzales for Associate Justice?

And that’s just based on the above response. There’s a lot more coming afterward, when Hannity quizzes him about his positions on specific issues. Giuliani’s response is very mustelid, and manages to on the one hand come out in support of the Planned Parenthood v. Casey consensus and praise Justice Scalia, who dissented on the case.

HANNITY: Is Roe bad?

GIULIANI: I think that’s up to the court to decide. I think that it’s been precedent for a very, very long time. There are questions about the way it was decided and some of the bases for it. At this point, it’s precedent. It’s going to be very interesting to see what Chief Justice Roberts and what Justices Scalia and Alito do with it.

I think probably they’re going to limit it rather than overturn it. In other words, they’ll accept some of the limitations that different states have placed on it or the federal government has placed on it.

HANNITY: Partial birth?

GIULIANI: Partial-birth abortion, I think that’s going to be upheld. I think that ban is going to be upheld. I think it should be. And I think, as long as there’s provision for the life of the mother, then that’s something that should be done.

HANNITY: There’s a misconception that you supported partial-birth abortion.

GIULIANI: Yes, well, if it doesn’t have a provision for the life of the mother, then I wouldn’t support the legislation. If it has provision for the life of the mother, then I would support it.

HANNITY: Parental notification?

GIULIANI: Parental notification, I think you have to have a judicial bypass. If you do, you can have parental notification. And I think the court — I mean, that’s the kind of thing I think the court will do with abortion.

The other thing I should emphasize is, while I was the mayor — there’s a column that was just written about it — abortions in New York went down and adoptions went way up, because we worked on adoptions as an alternative, so that there’d be a real choice.

So that ultimately you respect a woman’s choice, but it should be a real choice, adoption or, if they make that choice, I don’t think the criminal law can interfere with it.

I rate the candidates on various issues on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is the best. Abortion is one of the easiest, since there’s no issue of managerial competence as on foreign policy or health care. When I started keeping track, I rated Brownback a 0, because of his strong emphasis on pro-life and otherwise fundamentalist politics. McCain was a 3, Romney a 4, and Giuliani, Edwards, Obama, and Clinton 6s.

Now I’m wavering between giving Clinton a 6 and giving her a 7. She waffles on abortion just as much as Edwards and Obama, but on all other issues she waffles far more, which provides circumstantial evidence that abortion is a priority for her.

On the same scale, Giuliani’s promise to appoint constructionist judges demotes him to a 5. The bulk of the ranking on abortion is derived from judicial nominations, so even though I would still not trust him if I were pro-life, I think his promise is somewhat worrying given that I’m pro-choice. I honestly don’t know whether he’s lying to pro-choicers, pro-lifers, or both, but if I were forced to choose between the first two, I’d say he’s lying to pro-choicers.

Spitzer is Good on Reproductive Rights, Too

February 6, 2007

As of five days ago, New York State covers emergency contraception under Medicaid. Although Plan B is not a prescription drug, the state made an exception for it because of the short timeframe in which the woman must consume it.

With Governor Spitzer’s approval, New York becomes one of the few states to ensure that poor women are able to access this time-sensitive method under Medicaid without first having to visit a physician or clinic. Still, many women in New York and elsewhere do not know what emergency contraception is, when to use it or where to obtain it—facts that point to an ongoing need for public education. Also, women younger than 18 in all states still need a prescription to obtain Plan B, making it more difficult for them to access the method quickly and use it when it is most effective.

As the Guttmacher Institute notes, reproductive rights display class differences in the US. Women who are rich enough to afford good health care and have enough education to know how to use birth control are less likely to unintentionally get pregnant than women who aren’t and don’t.

It gets worse. In 1994, the rate of unintended pregnancy in the US was the same as in 2001; in fact it declined marginally among non-Hispanics while staying the same among Hispanics, whose proportion of the population grew. But among women making less than twice the poverty line it increased, as it did among women who hadn’t graduated college.

The role of education seems to be critical. An age breakdown reveals that the rate of both intended and unintended pregnancy plummeted in the under-20 bracket, but the rate of unintended pregnancy increased in the 25-34 bracket (and the rate of intended pregnancy went up in the 30+ bracket).

At any rate, Spitzer’s approval of the new NY rule certainly shines good light on his politics.

News or Links, Take Your Pick

February 4, 2007

Guestblogging on Ezra Klein, Ankush notes that Edwards is even more of a waffler than he comes off in Ezra’s interview. He notes that Edwards blames the war on intelligence failure, and rebuts,

Today, I’d like to see a presidential candidate grapple with the questions that should be raised about why so many politicians — including, if you supported the war on the basis of WMDs, you — were so wrong when it was far from inevitable. What do you plan to do about promoting and reconciling dissent within the intelligence agencies? How should a President seek out conflicting viewpoints and process the contradictions? What should be the default presumptions when, as is often the case, you have very little intelligence to work off of? Are you concerned that Washington is dominated by a fairly homogeneous, vaguely hawkish group of foreign policy types, many of whom aren’t particularly good at what they do? In essence, why were you wrong in interpreting the evidence about Iraq and what do you plan to do in order not to be wrong the next time?

Edwards’s claims that the intelligence was irretrievably tainted and that everyone was wrong about the wisdom of war — claims which, to be fair, are frequently made by many, many other politicians and pundits — are so demonstrably false as to be borderline offensive. I appreciate his sincerity about his regret over the tragic costs of this war, but, so far as evaluating one’s participation in bringing this disaster about, expressing such regret is quite literally the least you can do.

A few days ago, Hamas and Fatah set a record by holding their fire for a whole day. But as the second day of quitting smoking chocolate coffee indiscriminate violence is always harder than the first, it didn’t work out very well, and Palestinian civilians are living in fear again.

Gazans have long been accustomed to violence. But until recently, the fighting was between local militants and Israeli forces, and the lines of battle were clear.

The last few weeks of fighting between Hamas and Fatah gunmen have taken on a different feel. Gunfire can erupt at any time, poorly trained fighters shoot at random, and the target isn’t always known.

Rudy Giuliani is still not “in it to win,” but is saying there’s a “good chance he’ll run.”

He has emphasized his steady hand dealing with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. However, his moderate stances on gun control, abortion, gay rights and other social issues could be liabilities for him in a GOP presidential primary that includes hard-core conservatives as a central voting group.

For instance, in November, South Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on same-sex unions.

“The fact is I appeal to conservative Christians the way I appeal to everyone else,” Giuliani said at a news conference. “I don’t think you have separate appeals to people.”

Giuliani is right. A very big constituency in the South includes people who think it was a mistake to give black people civil rights; Giuliani has a lot to sell them. Another big constituency hates it when non-conformists have free speech; Giuliani can placate them, too. Before Southern conservatives had God, guns, and gays, they had blacks. has a compilation of information about the HPV vaccine, which Texas Governor Rick Perry has just made mandatory for all girls aged 11-12.

Tony Blair is not only a lame duck Prime Minister, but also under immense pressure to quit now rather than in the summer. It’s not the brown-nosing of Bush or the religious fanaticism that turned the people off, but a corruption scandal involving cash for honors.

The ICM survey for the Sunday Express found that 56 per cent of the public want him to go now rather than wait for his planned summer departure.

The poll found that 43 per cent of Labour supporters feel it is now time for him to step down.

The survey also reveals a loss of trust in the Blair regime with some 66 per cent believing that evidence relating to cash-for-honours allegations has been covered up by people in Downing Street.

Victoria Brittain notes that there is such a thing as Islamic feminism, and that it has achieved several successes in rolling back discriminatory laws in Muslim-majority countries.

Embattled Muslim women, suffering the burdens of the worst cultural attitudes to rape and adultery enshrined in medieval laws in Pakistan and Northern Nigeria; or the sexual violence and rolling back of their rights, unleashed by the war in Iraq; or the targeted killings of women activists in Afghanistan, are turning for help to Muslim women’s groups. From those in Morocco and Malaysia, in particular, the skills of self-help training, experience of long legal battles, linking scholars and activists, are in great demand.

At government policy levels some, Islamic women activists’ campaigns are having successes large and small in some surprising places: Morocco’s Moudawana (religious personal statute laws differing from civil law) have recently been revised after 30 years of struggle; in Turkey’s Ministry of Religion there is a cautious beginning by some scholars to work on the highly sensitive area of questioning the historical basis of the hadith (sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet) which seem misogynist; and in Indonesia’s rural areas teaching materials are being revised.

The Democratic Party is waffling about abortion, as its candidates deemphasize it more and more in order to appeal to Dominionist voters.

Day believes it is the beginning of getting some voters back into the fold. “If I had a nickel for every person who came up to me and said ‘I used to be a Democrat and I’d come back if they changed their stance on abortion,’ we’d be back to a 290 majority like we had in the 1970s.”

Day’s analogy is correct but incomplete. If the Democrats appeal to Dominionists, they’ll be back to a 290 majority in the House like in the 1970s; and like in the 1970s, they’ll have Southern conservatives hold key committee chairmanships that they’ll use to push the entire party to the right.

Skatje writes about homosexuality and the religious nuts who have a problem with it.

You let your bible tell you to shun gays, but you don’t pay attention when it tells you to shun women on their period? The bible says a lot of ridiculous things. You shouldn’t take the “unnatural affections” being a sin bits any more serious than the parts where it says to dash your enemy’s children against rocks or stone disobedient women to death. The reason I figure for including the part about homosexuality in the bible is the same reason they include various sorts of washing, staying away from dead bodies, etc. At the time these things were written, they didn’t know about bacteria and how disease works. They just knew that if you did such and such, you’re less likely to become ill. Anal sex can be unsanitary without the proper precautions. Back then, it was probably a good idea not to stick that there. I’m also undoubtedly sure that homosexuality is mentioned because the bible is notorious for disapproving of things that are different or unusual. Not very good justification though. Don’t let the bible tell you to hate stuff, ‘kay? Use your own head.

The best quote comes from commenter Azkyroth, who mocks a theistic commenter who confuses “canon” with “cannon,”

Also, “canon” is the official Christian doctrine; “cannon” are what they’ve been using to spread the canon since the cannon was invented.

Hat-tip to Robin: Timothy Garton Ash responds to Pascal Bruckner, who accused him of being an Islamist apologist after he criticized Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Pascal Bruckner is the intellectual equivalent of a drunk meandering down the road, arguing loudly with some imaginary enemies. He calls these enemies “Timothy Garton Ash” and “Ian Buruma” but they have very little to do with the real writers of those names. I list below some of his misrepresentations and inaccuracies, with a few weblinks for the curious.

Pascal Bruckner speaks in the name of the Enlightenment, but he betrays its essential spirit. The Enlightenment believed in free expression, without taboos. Because I disagree – courteously, precisely and giving clear reasons – with the views of a woman of Somalian origin, Bruckner does not hesitate to imply that I am a racist (he calls me “an apostle of multiculturalism,” then describes multiculturalism as a “racism of the anti-racists”) and a sexist (“outmoded machismo”, “the spirit of the inquisitors who saw devil-possessed witches in every woman too flamboyant for their tastes”). This is exactly the kind of blanket disqualification that he himself criticised in an article in Le Figaro entitled “Le chantage a l’Islamophobie,” (reprinted from Figaro here) deploring the way any critic of Islam is (dis)qualified as an Islamophobe racist. Except that here he is the blackmailer. Voltaire would be ashamed of him.

Friday Link Roundup

February 2, 2007

Ann notes that HPV causes not only cervical cancer but also penile cancer, and wonders if it means legislators will be less squeamish about mandatory vaccinations.

Jenny Dreadful complains about people who argue for expanding birth control in the third world as a measure of environmental population control. Population pressure in third world countries too far away from the first world to induce massive emigration does increase the pressure on natural resources, but by less than the increase in population. The more global the issue is, the less this population growth has an effect: population explosion in Madagascar has contributed to soil erosion, a local issue, but not at all to climate change.

G. Willow Wilson writes about the Cairo Book Fair, which attracts a gigantic number of people every year. She worries mostly about the proliferation of religious propaganda:

It would be one thing if the religious texts in question were copies of the Qur’an and hadith and jurisprudence, but too often they are mere propaganda: texts that claim shaving one’s beard is a worse crime than adultery, for instance; because adultery is a momentary offense, but habitual shaving accrues bad deeds for as long as you do it, potentially years and years. I have seen Wahhabi books devoted entirely to the supreme virtue of fear.

Pam notes that Pope Benedict XVI can’t control his own church:

A yawning gulf between the stern doctrines preached by Pope Benedict and the advice offered by ordinary Roman Catholic priests has been exposed by an Italian magazine which dispatched reporters to 24 churches around Italy where, in the confessional, they sought rulings on various moral dilemmas.


Another journalist posed as a researcher who had received a lucrative offer to work abroad on embryonic stem cells. With the extra cash, he said, he and his wife could think about starting a family. So should he take up the post?

“Yes. Yes. Of course,” came the reply.

Why I Oppose Conscience Clauses

January 31, 2007

Via Just Dreadful: a rape victim in Florida complained to the police about the rape. The police found out she owed money in restitution for an old theft case, and promptly threw her in jail, where a jail worker refused to give her emergency contraception because he’s morally opposed to it.

Meanwhile, the spin doctors are already trying to control the story.

Tampa attorney Jennifer D’Angelo, who represents the jail worker, said Tuesday that her client is prohibited from giving inmates any medication without specific orders. The worker insists she never discussed religion with the woman who reported being raped.

The victim had already gotten her first pill; the jail worker refused to give her the second dose. The specific orders in question are likely bunk, since all rape victims in the US immediately get EC, unless they go to Catholic hospitals.

Abortion Rhetoric

January 28, 2007

Nobody who writes about abortion rhetoric ever produces evidence. And by “Nobody,” I include myself. I’d say pro-choicers need to talk more about fetal development and mention anecdotes of my convincing people using neurology. Amanda says pro-choicers need to talk more in general health care terms and brings up an anecdote of a woman who would’ve remained pro-life if pro-choicers had talked to her in terms of choice or science.

The plural of anecdotes isn’t data; it’s a focus group. Different people have different tastes in political rhetoric. That there exists a single conservative who I could convince by talking about fetal pain doesn’t mean that there are many others.

I probably wouldn’t have been able to use general arguments about health or choice, since that particular conservative was familiar with them and considered them false, while my own argument was novel. But there are other conservatives who are familiar with the arguments from science and for whom something else is new.

American pro-choice organizations have the misfortune of having to counter a trend of increasing opposition to abortion without having a clue about what tactics work the best. The only thing they have on their side is the fact that Independents are more pro-choice than Democrats, but as long as the Democratic Party doesn’t prioritize the issue accordingly, it doesn’t help anything.

I know that talking about the rights of unmarried couples in general is good rhetoric because it was used in Arizona, which voted against an anti-SSM proposition, while the traditional equal rights argument failed to stop a similar proposition in Wisconsin. But gay marriage is relatively easy to find good rhetoric about, because there have been numerous state battles about it. About abortion there have barely been any; referenda about dilation and extraction or parental consent are fundamentally different from referenda about total abortion bans.

Culture War Politics Links

January 23, 2007

The Harris poll I quoted in the other post notes that Independents are pro-choice not only by a large margin, but also by a larger margin than Democrats. Republicans are 61-37 against Roe; Democrats are 55-43 for; Independents are 56-37 for. Democratic strategists should keep that in mind next time they ignore cultural issues in order to accommodate Evangelists.

Jessica links to an article about a town in Georgia whose mayor is forbidding a group of refugees to play soccer on the grounds that no sports but football and baseball should be allowed.

“There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor,” Lee Swaney, a retired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business, told the local paper. “Those fields weren’t made for soccer.”

In Clarkston, soccer means something different than in most places. As many as half the residents are refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Placed by resettlement agencies in a once mostly white town, they receive 90 days of assistance from the government and then are left to fend for themselves. Soccer is their game.

But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. It’s not football. It’s not baseball. The fields weren’t made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people.

It’s ironic how soccer, which in Europe symbolizes machoism and hooliganism, has come to symbolize multiculturalism in the US. It’s somewhat like the hijab, which has become a badge of solidarity to Muslim women in some Western countries, especially Britain, even though in the Middle East it symbolizes the patriarchy.

Ezra notes the fundamental dilemma in pro-choice political strategy: on the one hand, presenting abortion as a conflicted decision could win votes, but on the other, it could make the procedure more psychologically devastating.

Speaking of abortion in a sensitive and conflicted way is probably good politics, but I fear the impact on individuals. If we disingenuously hold that abortions are morally excruciating, and keep driving home the anguish all women should/must feel after having one, we risk causing further pain to women who’d otherwise find the removal of a clump of cells unproblematic, or do find the procedure unproblematic and but fret over their “callousness.” That’s possibly all right if your goal is to reduce the number of abortions, but if you don’t think individuals shouldn be tormented because a condom broke or a cycle of antibiotics interfered with the pill, it’s more worrisome.

Lindsay has a more clear cut view. Although a lot of people consider her (or my) “abortion is a normal medical procedure; get over it” view counterproductive, nobody’s ever produced any concrete evidence for that. There are plenty of heart-wrenching anecdotes about people who got convinced only by one form of argument, but nothing that any rational person would use as a basis for determining the best rhetorical avenue.

I am reminded of a moment at the YearlyKos convention in the late spring of last year. Alon Levy and I were at an abortion rights breakout session. Participants explained in turn why the chose to attend this session. Towards the end, a woman said in slightly accented English,

“I’m here because I don’t understand what the big deal is. Where I’m from, abortion is no big deal.”

The woman was from an Eastern European country, the Ukraine if I remember correctly. She was surprised when she came to America to find that abortion was such a huge public emotional fight.

Oddly, I don’t remember that part. I know who the woman she’s talking about is – there was only one Ukrainian at Yearly Kos that I know of – and I can envision her say that, but I don’t remember that she actually said it. What I do remember is that one woman said that she was agitating for a constitutional amendment to permit abortions, because “women will never be equal as long as Congress can pass laws stripping us of our bodily autonomy.”

Pam writes about standard issue hypocrisy among conservatives in Georgia. The Governor supports a gay marriage ban on populist grounds, but is refusing to allow a popular vote on state prohibition laws. About gay marriage, he said,

I think we need be very respectful of the people’s voice and listen to that.

About repealing blue laws, he said,

But you can’t do government really by referendum. And so, I don’t support that, and I don’t know whether it will pass the Legislature or not, but it’ll have a pretty tough time getting the last vote.

Age Matters

January 23, 2007

On a Feministing thread about an anti-abortion rally, a few commenters are trying to counter the idea that the relative youth of many anti-abortion activists is a source of concern for pro-choicers. The idea is that some people change their minds when they grow up, so the ideas that are prevalent among 19-year-olds aren’t going to become more prevalent in the future.

The evidence they cite is anecdotal. Colleen says, “It certainly doesn’t mean that they’ll stay pro-life.” The Law Fairy says, “I marched in a protest outside a Planned Parenthood once when I was sixteen… and look where I am now.”

On most issues, Americans get more liberal as they get younger. Pew breaks down polls about various social issues based on age. Americans in the 18-29 range are far more pro-gay and pro-health care than Americans in older brackets. Apart from abortion, the only exception is holding people in Guantanamo without charge, on which they’re as liberal as 65+ Americans and much more liberal than Americans in the 30-64 range.

A South Dakota-style abortion ban, which would turn the US from one of the most liberal countries on abortion to one of the most conservative ones, polls at 34-58. Among under-30 people it’s 35-58, whereas on gay rights they tend to be more liberal than the rest of the country by at least 10 percentage points.

Furthermore, while nationally 34% of abortion opponents say it’s a critical issue compared with 24% of proponents, in the 18-29 group it’s 45-31, higher in both absolute margin and in ratio.

This trend correlates with increasing opposition to abortion in the US. A Harris Interactive poll from 2006 found that supporters of Roe outnumbered opponents by 2 percentage points, the lowest since Harris started asking that question in 1973. In 1998, Roe polled at 57-41; in 2006, it was down to 49-47.

Attitudes toward abortion itself rather than toward Roe have changed more slowly. In 1993, 35% of respondents wanted to make it harder to get an abortion while 22% wanted to make it easier. By 1998, it was 40-16, and in 2006 it was 40-15.

So age does matter. It does matter that young Americans are far more opposed to abortion than they would be if abortion followed the same progressive dynamic as other social issues, like gay rights.