Commentary Politics

Making Sense of Herman Cain and Abortion

Amanda Marcotte

Hermain Cain doesn't think abortion should be legal, but he also thinks the government should "stay out of it," and that abortion should be criminal, but that you should have a choice to break the law. In a way, it all makes sense. 

On this week’s episode of Reality Cast, I have a segment about the situation with Herman Cain’s incoherent and inconsistent approach to abortion rights. Cain has been on at least two TV shows where he said in the same breath both that he doesn’t think abortion should be legal and that the government shouldn’t make that decision for you, without acknowledging in the slightest that these two positions inherently contradict each other. There’s been multiple attempts to understand why Cain is so daft about this. Some folks believe he’s trying to have it both ways, but hasn’t figured out any political trickery to allow himself to speak out of both sides of his mouth without getting caught. I theorized at XX Factor that Cain’s incoherent position reflects the incoherent position of roughly half the people who claim to be “pro-life”, but also want abortion to be legal in some or all cases.

But now we have a little bit more of a clarification from Cain on his position.

“I do not think abortion should be legal in this country,” Cain said on Fox today. “Abortion should not be legal. That is clear. But if a family made the decision to break the law, that’s that family’s decision.”

Of course, this contradicts his previous statements about how the government should stay out of it. Now he thinks the government should ban abortion, and he seems to have not considered in the slightest that breaking the law isn’t just a matter of “choice”, but that it can have very real consequences if you’re caught. Jeff Fecke has a theory as to why Cain hasn’t considered the consequences of a ban. In part, it’s because Cain is wealthy and his wealth would shield his family from the consequences of breaking such a law:

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

If Herman Cain’s granddaughter was pregnant and didn’t want the kid, the law wouldn’t stop her if she wanted an abortion. Her grandfather is rich. If abortion was outlawed in Georgia tomorrow, her grandfather could, and probably would, buy her a plane ticket to New York, where she could have the procedure done legally. If it was outlawed nationwide, he could buy her airfare to Toronto. If Canada outlawed medical procedures for Americans, Cain could talk to his wealthy friends, inquiring discretely until he found someone with a connection to an ObGyn who would do him a favor. If you’re wealthy, you’ve never had a problem getting an abortion in this country, and you never will. 

No matter what Cain is thinking, I imagine this is a large part of it. What the mainstream discourse around abortion rights rarely takes into consideration is the class issues underpinning access to abortion. It’s treated more like a symbolic fight over “life” vs. “women’s rights,” when it should be treated as a battle over whether or not all women have equal access to a common and necessary medical procedure.  Even under our current system of technical legality, many women are prevented from accessing abortion because they don’t have the funds to pay for it. Making it illegal wouldn’t stop the women who can already afford abortion on demand from getting it, though it probably would mean they have to pay more for it and make a few more phone calls.

In addition to the class issues at stake, it’s always possible that Cain means that while there should be a ban on abortion written into law, the government should have no power to enforce it. Considering the mess of contradictions he’s coughed up so far, that could very well be what he means. Again, as wacky as that sounds, it may not be that far-fetched an idea. Many anti-choicers want there to be some official social consensus that abortion makes you a filthy slut, but they aren’t really willing to argue that the 1 in 3 American women who will have an abortion in their lifetimes should be thrown in jail.  A largely symbolic ban on abortion could very well be satisfying for the half of anti-choicers who think female sexuality is disgusting and shameful but that it falls short of being a criminal offense.

To really understand social conservatism, it helps to realize that they’re more interested in a world of “shoulds” than the reality-based world we live in. Talking to a conservative  about sex how it’s actually practiced in the real world is like trying to talk to someone who cannot accept that it’s raining because they believe the sun should be shining. You’d say, “It’s raining. You should bring your umbrella.” And they’ll look at you and say, “But I’d prefer it if it didn’t rain.” And no matter how much you insist that they need to worry less about controlling the sky and more about controlling whether or not their head gets wet, they go out in the rain without an umbrella. And when their heads get wet, they insist that the problem isn’t that they didn’t carry an umbrella, but that other people are lowering their standards by carrying umbrellas and simply accepting that the rain is going to fall.

It’s an imperfect analogy, I know. After all, unlike walking in the rain, having sex is fun and often good for you. However, it does shed light on how Cain is thinking. Law should be written, in his view, to establish some platonic ideal chosen for him by his religion. But of course, people are going to behave how they’re going to behave. But “sending a message”—no matter how much it’s rejected, no matter how illogical that message may be—is considered the main purpose of the law. “Sending a message,” in case that sex is wrong, matters so much that it cannot be abandoned in the face of widespread social destruction, misery, and even death. A conservative may not even fully agree with the message, but will still think it needs sending. After all, if the people who affirmed the belief that sex is wrong and the government should oppose it actually lived their beliefs, our society would look much, much different than it does now. But that’s how it is in conservative world: the fear is that if you actually come out and say something like, “Well, I wouldn’t personally have an abortion, but I think it should be legal,” people will judge you as some kind of sexual pervert who spends all their time going between orgies and the abortion clinic.  Political stances are less about reality, and more about striking a “moral” pose. And if you are wealthy enough to make sure that the rules chosen for religious idealism never really do affect you, it’s even easier to view the world in this way. 

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

credo_rewire_vote_3

Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!

VOTE!

Thank you for supporting our work!