Tag Archives: texas

Reproductive freedom is economic stability

Trigger warning: abortion, sexual assault / rape, sexism, cissexism

Against the backdrop of the Colorado Springs shooting at a Planned Parenthood, that and other abortion-providing organizations have seen not only intimidating violence but institutional attempts to shutter their doors of the past few years.

Concentrated in Republican-controlled states, one of the strictest provisions on abortion providers is set to advance to the Supreme Court for review with a decision expected in late Spring of next year. That ruling will affect the legality and further room available to legislatures in at least a score of states which if current trends continue would likely restrict abortion further if given the option.

Former Texan state Senator Wendy Davis appeared on national news recently to discuss the potential ramifications of that ruling. As part of a changing voice within the debates surrounding abortions and other reproductive healthcare, she explained that to her and others like her abortion access is not only a means of physical, bodily autonomy, but also a lifeline to basic control over personal financial planning. In her own words, “when women’s reproductive autonomy is controlled, their economic opportunity is controlled.”

Wendy Davis during her Texas Senate filibuster

Former state Senator Davis, while filibustering a new set of restrictions on abortion in 2013, from here.

With her limited time, Davis couldn’t expand on her point about the economics of reproductive healthcare to those seeking abortion or similar services. Others have made it clear how the people most in need of an option other than pregnancy, let alone parenthood, typically have the fewest resources to devote to simply accessing an abortion. With a dwindling number of providers in many of these states, someone finding themselves in that sort of situation would have to spend more money to travel further and most likely take off time from work to avoid the huge economic costs of pregnancy or parenthood.

This is typically where the moralizing starts. The unnecessarily incurred costs to access an abortion under these increasingly difficult restrictions are, supposedly, just the price paid for failing to abstain from sex or to use birth control. The people most likely to seek out abortions for economic reasons, however, are also the people with most inconsistent and mistaken sex education and the fewest resources to commit to a birth control regimen.

Running through that understanding of how they became pregnant, there’s a presumption that the pregnant person necessarily consented to have sex. In addition to sexual assault, there’s also the (not at all hoped for) failure of birth control plans, which is more likely the less consistent and less accurate the sex education on receives. There’s a number of factors at play here, but it’s clear that people with fewer resources to draw on are more likely to end up stuck in this type of situation.

Likewise, overwhelmingly the opponents of access to abortion want to similarly restrict sex education and access to contraceptives, offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood far more often than abortion services. The intent doesn’t appear to be preventing abortion, so much as making it a shameful and shame-able activity. The political goal isn’t to end abortion, but to hide it within a nightmarish corner of the world that the broader society doesn’t have to consider.

The moralizing isn’t just another conversation intruding into others’ personal reasons for preferring to have an abortion, for those with that perspective, it is the conversation. The desire to be a parent, filled with a kind of urgency that accepts the financial and other costs of that, is either treated as universal or is evangelized – without hearing that other people, directly living the effects of that decision, have different priorities.

Even as abortion in popular conversation is increasingly a part of an economic plank – argued for in combination with improved education, greater access to other healthcare, and better personal financial standing in general – there’s ways in which it is left out of a broader economic argument. It’s still often thought of as a separate issue, even if one increasingly harmonious with a broader view of how to structure the economy.

The Economic Policy Institute, for example, excluded it from their recently released twelve-point Women’s Economic Agenda. Aspects of their policy plank address the underlying economic issues by calling for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, asking for policies to encourage labor organization, and specifically for an end to wage theft and wage discrimination. All of those are key financial factors that weigh heavily in the decisions of many to have an abortion.

Some policy prescriptions even more directly confront the economic situation that many pregnant people find themselves in. The agenda also called for greater access to childcare, as well as paid family and sick leave. Those are often specific economic realities that motivate people unsure if they can become parents to decide that they aren’t in a place where they can have children. In short, the policies here are designed to give people the resources to become parents, if they so choose.

What’s more, some of those policies useful to parents are also useful to those who for other reasons aren’t interested in having children at this time. The call for longer term scheduling, to ease planning, is vital for parents to be able to best interact with their children. It also is one of the key ways for someone who needs an abortion to plan ahead and not face the prospect of forgoing a potentially significant amount of pay to avoid the even larger costs of pregnancy and parenthood.

In short, this emerging set of policies, which has deep ties to a progressive vision of how to improve the current economy,  is rather compatible with the increasingly economic argument for retaining or even improving access to abortion. Still, abortion remains another issue for now, and has yet to be specifically invoked in the broader policy plank.

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The local electoral grab bag

If you switched on the television this morning you probably saw some reporting on the results of the battery of local elections held yesterday. At least in my neck of the media woods, there’s a pretty narrow focus within that – on the Democratic loss of the Kentucky governorship to a Republican.

That story has everything. There’s the glacial pace of party realignment, with the South steadily converting from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican even at the state-level. Entangled with that is the convoluted history of Kentucky itself, the famously neutral state in the Civil War. If you want to say or write something that, instead of being deeply historied, makes this a dramatic reversal there’s something to draw on there as well – as the predictions remarkably reversed at more or less the last minute. Suddenly, Republican Matt Bevin overtook Democrat Jack Conway in what was ultimately revealed to not be a fluke poll but an accurate prediction. That race and its results are rich in narratives and national meaning.

Let’s look a little more broadly though. Here’s some interesting things that happened last night that are going a little under-noticed compared to that one race.

Ohioan Redistricting: don’t hold your breath

Ohio voters roundly supported Issue 1, giving it 71 percent support at the ballot box. The proposition overhauls Ohio’s districting system for its state legislature, which arguably has served as the gerrymandering model for Republicans around the country. In spite of a very narrow preference for Democratic candidates as an entire state, the internal boundaries have been carefully drawn (some argue for more than two decades) to pack Democratic-leaning areas into a few districts, allowing Republicans to be numerically over-represented in the state legislature. Issue 1 is designed to encourage less partisan district maps by forcing the panel that creates the maps to have more members of both major parties and to require more frequent votes to maps passed without support from both parties.

Many aren’t particularly impressed with the new system this sets up, however. Arguably many of the current Democratic representatives have a personal investment in the broken system, since the Democratic “sink” districts are incredibly safe seats for them to hold. Only one of them needs to accept a Republican-biased proposal to make the results “bipartisan” defeating the whole point of the measure. Besides that, even if the Democrats remain firm, the Republicans can arguably retain the existing map or a similarly favorable one with the more regular votes indefinitely. Either way, we’re back to square one with a gerrymandered Ohioan legislature.

Stephen Wolf at DailyKos noted that the fundamental problem here is party involvement. Increasing the diversity of party involvement in planning these maps isn’t really a solution. He pointed instead to Arizona as a model for dismantling a gerrymandered map, saying:

The biggest risk with this proposed commission is that it will destroy any appetite for further redistricting reform among Democrats and reform-minded independent organizations, just as flawed redistricting reform measures have done in other states. At best, it might just induce reformers to include Congress under the same bipartisan process as the legislature, leading to maps that, while not as aggressive as the current Republican gerrymander, would still have a clear rightward lean.

A far more ideal solution is to establish a truly independent redistricting commission free of self-interested political officeholders. Arizona did this very thing, producing a commission reformers regarded highly. After a crucial United States Supreme Court ruling validated establishing redistricting commissions by initiative, there has been a renewed push for similar reforms in other ballot measure states. It’s quite possible that renewed independent reform efforts spurred Republicans’ desire in Ohio to block a more aggressive future reform by agreeing to Issue 1 now.

The next few years will show if Ohioans can capitalize on these changes. Maybe this can be the start of a more systemic reform, but if commentators like Wolf are to be believed, that’s not likely.

Pennsylvania Swept, Republicans Wept

Amid the decline of the Democratic Party in Kentucky, there’s some bright news from the other end of northern Appalachia. Pennsylvania has been swept in an off-year election by Democrats. The bulk of the positions up for election were judicial, which in Pennsylvania have as of late been held by Republicans, and been a key part of the Republican policy control in the left-leaning state. Yesterday, for the first time since 2007, Pennsylvania voters elected a Democratic candidate to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (more or less an appellate state court), and likewise changed their state Supreme Court into a majority Democrat body.

While those were statewide elections that indicate the political temperature of Pennsylvania is shifting bluer, the mayoral election in Philadelphia indicates how the already Democratic-leaning portions of the state are moving. The Republican candidate, Melissa Bailey, lost to Democrat James Kenney by a 72 point margin. You read that right – the Democratic candidate got 85 percent of the vote to the Republican’s thirteen.

Others have previously pointed out that Republicans tend to regularly sink resources into fights they can’t win in Pennsylvania, but this indicates how out-of-reach the state has really become for their party. The state as a whole is becoming harder to win in the local, off-year elections that are supposed to be Republicans’ high water mark, and they’re barely a second party in some parts of the state. Pennsylvania may be becoming the Atlantic California.

Houston: The Arc of Justice… can double back

Trigger warning: transmisogyny, heterosexism, cissexism

There’s been some national attention on the election in Houston which changed the city policy on discrimination against LGBT people, but my impression is frankly that it’s being mischaracterized. For instance, here’s how the Texas Tribune explained the vote in one of the most widely circulated pieces on the issue:

Houston voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected an ordinance that would have established protections from discrimination for gay and transgender residents and several other classes. With 95 percent of votes counted, 61 percent of voters opposed the measure. The embattled ordinance, better known as HERO, would have made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on 15 different “protected characteristics,” including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The article, to its credit, does correctly go on to describe the deeply transmisogynistic rhetoric that was successfully used to create a public rejection of the ordinance. It also ultimately notes briefly that the ordinance was already in place following a 2014 vote by city officials, a bit of a different situation than implied to exist in the above description. This wasn’t legal protections and rights for LGBT people (among others) not be extended, it was them being rescinded. Combined with the on-going insult that particularly the rights and recognition of LGBT people is something to be put to a plebiscite, this flies in the face of many triumphalist narratives being pushed currently about LGBT rights.

The nation’s fourth largest city just rolled back the rights of LGBT people, and particularly indicated that transgender women can’t feel safe in public in it. This echoes some of the most painful parts of the now closing fight for marriage equality that many seem to want to forget today. Marriages were nullified. The availability of marriage was revoked. Among other important things obscured in the hazy glow of Obergefell is this: things can move backwards. Rights awarded are rights that can be withdrawn.

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Broader skepticism

With the surprisingly emergence of a bipartisan budget agreement in the House of Representatives and the on-going flashy presidential race, it seems that the familiar retread of anti-abortion activists fight against Planned Parenthood has fallen off of most people’s radar. Somewhat shockingly, this has happened while violent rhetoric coalesced into attacks at various Planned Parenthood locations – most recently, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Washington. According to many, those incidents have largely been treated as low-priority local stories by national print and television journalists. The little coverage that has happened on that scale has also missed the forest for the trees, discussing one or only a few of the incidents as totally encapsulated, independent events. The primary exception has been Rachel Maddow, who has a history of focusing on patterns of violence, particularly against vulnerable groups.

The implicit set of priorities revealed by this coverage – that violence oriented towards particularly low-income women and transgender people and denial of their medical needs are more local, less of a cause of nationwide concern – doesn’t seem unique to major media. The campaign to defund Planned Parenthood at the (largely Republican-controlled) state level led to several states quickly passing new budgets and legal standards that pulled funding for Planned Parenthood. Texas, however, has not quite yet joined them, although sitting Governor Greg Abbott has announced his intent to defund the organization. Amid that, a representative for the Texas Office of Inspector General appeared at the Dallas Planned Parenthood with subpoenas for five years of medical records for ten different facilities scattered across Texas. The requests have all the hallmarks of the purposefully burdensome regulatory regime long hoisted on Planned Parenthood facilities in many parts of the United States.

texas protest abortionA woman holding a sign saying “Rural Texas women deserve choices” in Austin, Texas, 2013, from here.

The timing is obscured by the lack of coverage, but it still seems jarringly illogical. In the middle of a wave of anti-abortion violence, thankfully non-lethal so far, Texas officials have made it clear that their scrutiny will remain tightly fixed on Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, rather than the various groups threatening them. That not only speaks volumes about what many people “count” as violence or as threatening, but also warns that public awareness of the issue and political policy are being profoundly informed by a skewed understanding of the situation. Hopefully, any regular reader of this blog is by no means a stranger to the unrealness of political ideas in the United States, but this demonstrates how an entire social and political system has built up around that Potemkin village of imagined dangers and dismissed threats.

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Population determines proportion

In case you haven’t noticed yet, the past few years have seen national US media repeatedly comparing California and Texas, often in ways that are misleading if not outright wrongheaded. One of the key facts in the most recent incarnation of this is this one fact about internal immigration as referenced by Dan Balz in the Washington Post this way:

Nearly a quarter of the new, domestic immigrants to Texas between 2006 and 2012 came from California, which was by far the largest contributor of any state in the nation. Last year, according to the Census Bureau, 63,000 people moved from California to Texas, while 43,000 in Texas moved to California. […] In a recent telephone interview, [president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Richard] Fisher exclaimed that Texas is “a jobs machine” and noted that Texas has seen an influx of migration from other states — the biggest being from California. “People vote with their feet, and right now they’re voting to come here — from New York and Michigan and California and so on,” he said. “Those are the facts, and one can apply value judgments.”

The reality that more people are moving from California to Texas than from Texas to California is an established fact, which is directly tied to political arguments over which set of the two state’s policies are more popular or leading to more stable and successful populations. But is there possibly any other explanation for the discrepancy between how many people are leaving California, compared to Texas besides that offered by Fisher?

Like, say, the comparative size of those populations? As long as we’re citing the census, let’s note what their most recent 2013 estimates for the number of people living in those states were. California supposedly had about 38 million to Texas’ just shy of 26.5 million. California is the equivalent, in terms of just the number of residents, of about 145 percent of Texas. The number of Californians moving to Texas is 146 percent of the number of Texans moving to California. The population flows are virtually identical to the existing discrepancy between those two states in terms of population. Proportionately, the same percentage of Californians are moving to Texas as Texans are moving to California – the only reason that’s not immediately recognizable is because of how much larger California’s population is.

The way that claim appears to have jumped from the mouth of one of the people interviewed for this story to the actual reporting in the Washington Post without even a cursory exploration of alternative explanations should give you pause, especially if you regularly read that paper. This is precisely what being a stenographer to power looks like – the failure to even conceive that a source could be wrong about or misleading in their use of a statistic.

2014-01-03_1058
(See here for an interactive version. The color indicates the state more people are leaving, with the size adjusted to reflect the number of them.)

Chris Walker presented the same sort of proportion-blind data, in an interactive graphic for Vizynary. I suggest checking it out, while keeping in mind that not all of the states shown have equal populations, so the direction of the flow isn’t necessarily an indication of something other than differing populations. It seems notable, however, that combined, Oregon and Washington are receiving more than ten thousand more migrants from California than Texas. In terms of the exist populations that those former Californians are joining, however, that’s a more significant change to the population that’s literally out of proportion. What hasn’t been asked is whether that reflects an interest in gaining the greater degree of economic security, particularly that found in Oregon where gas station laws create a more constant demand for basic service jobs and the lack of a sales tax helps create an impression of lower costs of living.

But discussing that wouldn’t fit a narrative of arguing in favor of business deregulation, now would it?

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How we still talk about Islam without talking about Islam

TW: islamophobia, sexism, heterosexism

In case you missed it, part of the response to the on-going anti-abortion legislative shenanigans in Texas was one protester searching to find a visual vocabulary for how the new policies in Texas impacted her, and dressing herself like this:


(A protester dressed in a burqa while holding the accessories of a beauty contest winner, from here.)

In a word, she donned a mock burqa. Another protester held up a sign conflating these new measures with Islamic sharia law, apparently unaware that sharia law permits abortion in many cases and is typically interpreted as merely disapproving of (not banning) abortion in other cases. That sharia and burqas were the first words that protesters grasped in trying to describe the violence that Texas’ SB5 and subsequent bills enacted on the people of Texas shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – that’s become a common part of political language in the United States.

Less than two weeks previously, former NOM spokesperson Maggie Gallagher discussed the fact that Justice Kennedy found arguments against striking down the Defense of Marriage Act unconvincing as a “fatwa” against supporters of it. A fatwa is a declared opinion from an Islamic scholar, which in systems of sharia law may be legally binding. For Kennedy’s legally relevant decision to support the liberal justices’ opinion to be considered a “fatwa”, you must technically consider him to be as much as moral and religious figure as a political one, and at that an Islamic one.

More or less, this is an established part of how people in the United States conduct their political trash talk – by inflating or explaining the gravity of an act or decision by their opposition in specifically Islamic terms. Often, these are even radically misapplied concepts, but they’re still a part of the vernacular. This is particularly common in discussing actions that are, or a person wants to be considered to be, violent. It’s become positively colloquial to refer to centers of fanatic reverence for any particular idea or person as “Meccas”, showing how these more political uses are built on and reinforce popular ideas of what Islam is like.

Again, it’s always an image of Muslims that frames them as unjust, unreasonable, and even openly hostile. This sort of language, common in discussions that have nothing to actually do with Islam, is rooted in islamophobic ideals. In short, an immovable part of how many people in the US think about themselves and their society is based in opposition to their understanding of who Muslims are and what they believe. It’s become an essential part of our cultural conception of ourselves, as an antithesis to Islam.

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The criminalization of Black women

TW: racism, racist criminalization, sexual violence, sexism, sexist invalidity

You might remember my previous annoyance over something Melissa Harris-Perry said, which while rooted in a lot of complex and revealing problems (namely an inability to properly contextualize assimilationist strategies among queer people) fundamentally boiled down to it feeling like a superficial way of looking at an issue that (despite her conflation of her interracial parents of yesteryear with queer parents of today) hasn’t personally affected her. In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, one of her statements seemed much more baffling to me, in that it was specifically rooted in her and her family’s experiences: “I will never forget the relief I felt – I’m a sexual assault survivor, and yet, the relief I felt at my twenty-week ultrasound when they told me it was a girl. And last night, I thought, I live in a country that makes me wish my sons away, wish that they don’t exist, because it’s not safe.”

There is something important there in what she’s said – Black men are prioritized as targets of policing violence as arguably the cornerstone of racist criminalization. Trayvon Martin, Kimani Gray, Jordan Davis, and countless more Black men and Black male teens are dead because of those ideas about race and violence. But is it really the best approach to understand racist criminalization in isolation from other, complicated social factors?

From Cece McDonald to Marissa Alexander, there’s clear indications to how self defense by Black women is criminalized as disproportionate, unnecessary, and ill-advised – in short, unjustified, in a way that White women thankfully don’t necessarily have to consider. This seems particularly salient as action has finally been taken (somewhat) in response to the assault of two Black Texan women by police officers, who claimed they were searching for marijuana hidden in their vaginas.


(A promotional poster going around tumblr about their on-going case against the local police, from here.)

There’s a conversation to be had there about how femininity both rendered them acceptable targets for a uniquely intimate type of violation as well as trivial enough that the concern was merely possession and not a violent one. It may be worth asking if their gender made the officers less likely to kill them because they weren’t concerned about repercussions from attacking them. It seems that the sexism and racism clearly involved in the situation intermingled to their detriment in a way that can’t be either of those abusive power structures.

It seems that the Blackness of Harris-Perry’s daughter can be used to justify violence as easily against her as against her hypothetical brother. It’s just that their respective genders would shape the resulting violence. And rethinking my previous critique of Harris-Perry’s unintentional heteronormativity, what could be more cisnormative than the assumption that the declaration of a fetus’ gender will match that person’s gender (both as they feel it and as others interpret them) years later, when they find themselves being criminalized for their Blackness?

Discussing the unique way that racism harms and even kills Black men shouldn’t come at the cost of dismissing how that same phenomenon is expressed differently against Black women, and genderqueer Black people of all genders.

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Nimble, so nimble

TW: abortion

Much of today’s news coverage has been eaten up in discussing Texan State Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster against the extreme bill before the Texan Senate currently, which would ban abortions in the state that are scheduled for twenty weeks or more after conception. If you’re curious about that, here’s an on-going livestream and blow-by-blow. Given the national reception of this one, I think Davis has become fairly cemented in the public’s mind as the Texan Senator who filibusters questionable Republican policies, which I honestly hope she parlays into further success.

That said, I’m worried about what’s been overshadowed as a result. There’s some clear implications in how Republicans intend to continue governing in Texas from both their actions concerning this bill and others in the past few days. As RH Reality Check has reported, this bill is being pushed through now and within this twenty-four hour period because the Republicans and anti-choice Democrats briefly had the adequate percent of the body to pass the bill with minimal debate. That temporary status is the result of Democratic Senator Leticia Van De Putte being absent as “her father was killed in a car accident on Friday morning and she is attending to family matters in San Antonio today [June 24, 2013].”

Yeah, ew. Right? To take advantage of a colleague’s personal loss to further this sort of misogynistic agenda, that’s some cold blooded political calculation.


(Texan Senator Senfronia Thompson attempting to prevent the Texan Senate from bringing this bill to a vote, yesterday, prior to Davis’ filibuster. She carried a coat hanger to the podium with her. Image from here.)

This is fact not the only instance of rather convenient timing in Texan legislature news in the past few days. Within hours of the US Supreme Court striking down the fourth section of the Voting Rights Act, which required numerous states and counties to clear their voting regulations with federal authorities before implementing them, Texas changed its laws. They’ll be requiring voters to present photo identification, which disproportionately impacts low income voters, voters of color, and younger voters (who are both less likely to own cars and hence have a driver’s license… but also less likely to vote Republican).

Watch those Texan Senators, because goodness knows what’s next in the coming hours as new opportunities immediately present themselves…

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Dismantling queer families

TW: heterosexism, custody dispute

Let’s talk about how a lesbian couple is being sued for cohabitating in Texas. The logic behind this is that the father of at least one of the two children both of them are raising has the right to sue them for cohabiting together along with the child without being married. Such stipulations are common in many parts of the US as conditions for a divorce, so while this is a particularly public iteration of this phenomenon, the threat of this is a real issue that confronts many queer families.

To pick this apart, the problems here run deep. Cohabitation (widely defined as making a specific property the default sleeping space) is a comparatively odd issue to focus on within divorce papers. Even for male-female couples (who can easily avoid this issue by marrying), it seems like an arbitrary line to draw in the sand. While the ostensible point is to regulate who has access to the children as a means of protection, the policy seems designed to defer power to non-cohabitating legal kin at the expense of those who live with and potentially are more important if legally unrecognized within the household. As a protective measure, it only makes sense when assuming that pre-existing legal kinship is proof of having the best interests, and consequently should have de facto veto power over the introduction of new kin in their stead. It seems more interested in guarding recognized kins’ egos than their children.


(Just when you thought legal kinship norms couldn’t get anymore patriarchal, heterosexist, and cisnormative… from here.)

But to treat this as an issue that transcends heterosexist values and bigotry specifically towards queer families is to frustratingly miss one of the broader lessons here. The very existence of a shared social space is central to many conceptions of family in the United States – and the blatant attack on that for the Price-Comptons is consequently quite recognizable. But what about the nebulous issue of custody? Following a tragic or unexpected death, what if a non-biological mother is a more desirable candidate for sole custody than a distant, perhaps even former father?

Again, unlike male-female couples, same-sex or same-gender couples can’t easily transfer custody in cases of emergency to smooth out difficult transition periods for their kids. But, what’s more, in those often contested situations, queer parents often have their standing challenged not only for their lack of biological relationship with the children, but also for simply being queer.

In essence, there is no way of guaranteeing effective social protections for queer families without providing them means of establishing kinship, which male-female couples currently have easy access to. Dismantling onerous expectations of who can sleep where at what point is clearly a good idea, but ending the discussion there ignores the unique difficulties faced specifically by queer parents.

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The gendered component of medical misinformation

TW: misogyny, abortion, coercive restrictions on bodily autonomy

As flu season descends upon us, everyone seems to be preparing for the almost inevitable pseudo-scientific nonsense about the vaccines being a terrible trick of some sort. Lost amid those and other criticisms of scientifically groundless claims, however are a few that are not just whispered rumors, but actual state policy. For instance, five states in the US have written it into their laws that doctors are legally obligated to provide written warnings to their patients that include statements that abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer. The fact that there’s no link between having an abortion and experiencing breast cancer is apparently irrelevant (see page 23 for details).


(Thankfully at least one image going around Facebook is trying to inform people. If only the same sort of energy went into debunking abortion laws that went into the endless online debates about vaccines. From here.)

So the next time you hear  the conversation shift towards baseless medical hearsay, be sure to at least inform the bystanders that there’s no there there. And that counts double in cases where the government is on the side of misinforming women so as to coerce their decisions about their bodies. This goes double if you live in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, or Alaska, where these laws are already on the books.

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What else to watch for on Tuesday

TW: sexism, heterosexism, class warfare, sexual assault

It might not seem to be the case, given my past coverage of the election next week, but with five days to go it has to be said: this election is much bigger than a presidential race. And I don’t just mean that the ramifications of the presidential race will extend to every corner of society and well into the future (which is always true), but that there are a variety of local races that will conclude on Tuesday that have national importance. Here’s a quick run-down of the key issues as far as I can see, most of which are getting little air time compared to the presidential races.

1. The Future is Joaquín Castro

In Texas’ 20th congressional district, Joaquín Castro, currently a state representative of an overlapping area, reminds many people of a pre-presidential Barack Obama. In his first run for a federal office, we’ll have a bit of a test to see if he can pull off a similarly impressive landslide even for a relatively Democratic urban district. The bar has been set very high, so it’ll be interesting to see how well this rising star of the Democratic Party does. To beat Obama’s record, he’ll have to garner more than 73 percent of his districts votes. He actually beat that percentage while running for his current office in 2010, so it’s not out of the question though.

2. The California Three

If you’re at all familiar with California, you realize that the idea of it as uniformly liberal and Democratic is actually unfounded. As Five Thirty Eight pointed out last month, the state is starkly divided between progressive coastal cities and very conservative inland populations. In the wake of overhauling the districts’ boundaries, both parties are now scrambling for a small number of contested seat falling between the generally Democratic coast and largely Republican interior. Three races – in the seventh, tenth, and forty-first congressional districts – show a concerted effort by Democrats to offer progressive policies to historically marginalized inland populations and push inward. The respective Democratic candidates are Ami Bera, José Hérnandez, and Mark Takano – all the sons of immigrants with a specific favorite issue to push.

Five Thirty Eight counties of California
(Five Thirty Eight’s electoral graph of California’s counties)

Bera is second only to Barack Obama in demanding for his daughters and wife to have equal ability to participate in US politics, and he has unleashed a fierce ad campaign over the Republican incumbent’s support for stricter regulations on access to abortion even in cases of sexual assault. Hérnandez, the son of farm workers who became an astronaut, has emphasized the need for equal access to education as the route he used and others need to escape systemic poverty. Mark Takano has stressed the need for substantive LGBT* rights and environmental regulations. Each of these candidates touch on other major issues as well, including the ones favored by other members of the “California Three”. Individually and as a unit they present a strong case for social reform to traditionally more centrist or conservative parts of California. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of in roads they hopefully make.

3. A Nation-Wide Rebuke of the Tea Party?

Throughout the country, there’s a bit of a backlash brewing against the more conservative members of the Republican Party, promising to make several local races rather interesting. In Senate races, Elizabeth Warren’s challenge to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who has managed to annoy seemingly every large but marginalized social group, seems to embody this on the national stage. Likewise, in Pennsylvania and Tennessee House races, Kathy Boockvar and Eric Stewart are challenging Representatives Mike Fitzpatrick and Scott DesJarlais, respectively, in part over their misogynistic conduct. Fitzpatrick has managed to incite a backlash against him because of his terrible policies, while DesJarlais is under fire for arranging for his mistress to have an abortion after she became pregnant (in spite of being vehemently opposed to elective abortions as policy).

Other races, however, are less of a reaction to existing policy or hypocrisy, and seemingly more about anticipation of future political decisions by further “right” politicians. In Nebraska, the competition between Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey has tightened considerably, seemingly as Fischer has drawn criticism even without having held the office yet. Similarly, Texan Representative Lamar Smith faced primary challenges and now a potential third party spoiler over his sponsorship of SOPA and support for PIPA which could allow Democrat Candace Duval to pull ahead. Neither bill became law of course, but the backlash he’s received for his key involvement with drafting both threatens his chance of reelection. Likewise, we can hope that Republican candidate Richard Mourdock’s insensitive comments on sexual assault will cost him the position of Indiana Senator, although with it so close to the election, it might not have time to move public perception and support towards Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly.

All of these races have the potential for frankly dangerous incumbents who support restricting many or all Americans’ freedoms to be replaced by much more progressive Senators and Representatives.

4. Democratic Incumbents in “Middle America”

Of course, this election isn’t just about struggling to overcome sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, racist, and classist political ideologies, but also retain positions held by reformers against reactionary challengers. In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown is fighting to hold onto his seat against challenger Josh Mandel, whose stance on economic issues is at this point well known to the working Ohioan families he would represent. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill is facing off against challenger Todd Akin, who is now nationally known as the “legitimate rape” guy. The controversy even has its own Wikipedia page. Whether these two candidates can retain their positions will directly impact the Senate’s capacity to create policies that challenge class inequality and sexism.

5. The Future of Marriage

In addition to competition between candidates in various states, four different state propositions that will be tested on Tuesday will check current political attitudes towards same-sex marriage. In Maryland, Maine, and Washington, voters will have the option to legally sanction same-sex marriages at the local level, while Minnesota voters will have to decide whether to amend their state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. This is an interesting test to see what difference is made by the four years separating next Tuesday from California’s proposition 8, the now public support of same-sex marriage by the sitting president, and numerous public heel-face-turns on the issue. In light of those changes, it’s also an interesting test of Nate Silver’s past predictions of public sentiment on the issue.

6. Two Visions of California

I’ve written before about one Californian proposition on the ballot next week that would be historic, but there’s another one as well. Proposition 37 would be the first major effort to install mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods and food additives, which would place a new check on the biotechnology industry’s power. In contrast, Proposition 32 would  harshly restrict labor unions’ main political strategies, while leaving corporate political powers largely unrestricted. California has a choice between leading the rest of the United States towards a better model of corporate regulation or following the failed model of Wisconsin that’s been promoted by Arizonan donors.

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