Should Judges Decide Who Can Reproduce?

Last month, state Judge Charlie Baird of Travis County, Texas, decidedly took the matter of reproduction rights into his own hands. After sentencing a 20-year old Hispanic woman to 10 years of probation for child abuse, he ordered her, as a condition of probation, to not have any more kids. The woman, Felicia Salazar, who has no prior criminal record, was convicted of failing to protect and provide medical care to her 19-month old girl when she was severely beaten by her father.

Apparently, this type of probation condition is not unprecedented in recent times. In 2001, in a decision subsequently affirmed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, David Oakley, a father of nine, was convicted of intentionally failing to provide child support for his kids, and was ordered to avoid having another child unless he could show the court that he could support that child and his current children. The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari.

There are some good arguments for upholding the constitutionality of such probation conditions. For one, no one likes child abuse. What better way to prevent a mother from abusing her child (remember, she’s a convicted criminal!) than by ordering her not to have a child to begin with? As a matter of public policy, the state has substantial and justifiable interests in both protecting children and rehabilitating those who have been convicted of violating criminal law. Plus, even though restricting a woman from reproduction is tantamount to depriving her of a fundamental right, so is putting her in jail.

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Published in: on October 21, 2008 at 9:42 pm Comments Off on Should Judges Decide Who Can Reproduce?

Defining a Person

“Personhood” is defined as a fertilized egg, created at the moment of conception. Or at least it will be in Colorado, if voters pass Colorado’s Amendment 48 this November. The Amendment, which has completed the approval process for the fall ballot, reads in full (PDF): “As used in … the state Constitution, the terms ‘person’ and ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.”

Kristi Burton, the 20-year-old founder of the inaptly named Colorado for Equal Rights, seeks to use the Amendment to turn America’s “culture of death” (her words) into a “culture of life.” Although Amendment supporters deny that the Amendment would ban abortion “in and of itself,” it is hard to deny that the Amendment would have the effect of abortion elimination, even in the “tough cases” of rape, incest, and health of the mother. At the very minimum, the time period required to afford a fertilized egg due process before being denied of life could last well beyond the gestational period.

Planned Parenthood and other critics have raised concerns that not only would the Amendment put an effective and immediate halt on all abortions, but the legality of many forms of birth control—such as the birth control pill—would be called into question as well. Because hormonal birth control methods have the effect of preventing implantation, but not necessarily fertilization, the Amendment would take Colorado straight back to our pre-Griswold past, criminalizing both women who take hormonal birth control and the doctors who prescribe it. Fertility methods such as in vitro fertilization, where embryos frequently die in the process of development and implantation, or are frequently discarded or given away if unused, may likewise be prohibited by the Amendment. And that’s to say nothing of stem cell research.

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Published in: on July 30, 2008 at 1:59 pm Comments Off on Defining a Person

Goodbye, Mr. SCHIPs

Last week our Congress took an important step in expanding health care coverage for those who are most vulnerable: Children. The expanded program in question is SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program), a bipartisan initiative that was created in 1997 to insure children in families with incomes too high to receive Medicaid, but too low to afford private health insurance. By almost all accounts, the program has been a remarkable success.

On Tuesday, the House voted 265-159, and on Thursday, the Senate voted 67-29, in favor of a bill to expand the coverage of SCHIP to an additional 4 million of the estimated 9 million uninsured children in the United States. The bill sought $35 billion over the next five years to do so.

How would this program expansion be paid for? Through an increase in federal tobacco taxes, from its present $.39 to $1.00. To demonstrate the wide appeal of such a measure, no less a conservative than Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has endorsed the expansion, noting: “It doesn’t make me comfortable to advocate for such a large increase in spending … [b]ut it’s important to note that [SCHIP] has been tremendously successful. And one of the lessons we’ve learned is that it’s going to cost more to cover additional kids. … [It’s] a true compromise, a conservative-liberal compromise.”

So why the somber (though artfully witty) title to this post? Because it appears certain that the program expansion, and its attendant health insurance for nearly 4 million more American children, will not see the light of day.

President Bush has defiantly stood his ground in stating that he will veto the newly passed bill. Arguing that a more robust SCHIP will lead families to leave their private insurance for the program, he has repeatedly stated his belief that the plan is akin to “an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American.”

How can liberals and progressives debunk this fallacious logic? In a number of ways.

Firstly, it should be noted that SCHIP is not “government-run” health care. It is a public-private partnership precisely like the Medicare private drug plans (PDPs) that conservatives and the Bush Administration spearheaded during his first term. Moreover, the money for this children’s health insurance program is not mandated federally by fiat. On the contrary, it is distributed through the states with considerable flexibility in designing their individual programs. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has observed: “it is the states, not Washington, that set the income limits, contract with providers and set provider reimbursement rates, and determine most of the particulars of the health care benefit packages in these programs.” (hat tip: Center for American Progress Talking Points)

Secondly, the old bogeyman of “tax-and-spend liberalism” is not applicable here. By raising the revenue for this important initiative through an

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Published in: on September 28, 2007 at 11:03 pm Comments (5)

Should We Regulate Children’s Weight?

An English family has been making headlines recently when London’s equivalent of child protective services stepped in to control the diet of Connor, and 8 year old who weighs 196 pounds. This is similar to a New Mexico case in 2000, where a 120 pound 3 year old, Anamarie was removed from her home when doctors decided she would die unless they took action. In both cases, strict diets and an increase of physical activity had been prescribed by case workers, and in Connor’s case, have worked a little. Anamarie’s case was more severe; at the time of removal she needed a breathing tube to sleep. Connor’s family will attend a child protective meeting sometime this week to determine whether he will be placed on the child protective list along with other victims of abuse or neglect. These cases raise the question: should obesity be treated as a form of child neglect?

There are few court cases on this matter, but, interestingly, many on whether a child can be removed from the custody of an obese parent. The answer to that question seems to be overwhelmingly, yes. Courts seem to view the obesity of parents as an impediment to their ability to be attentive to their children, but usually the cases involve other serious allegations of neglect. But is a child who is merely obese the victim of neglect? One case, In re Adrian D., 2004 ME 144, the court said that because obesity can lead to health problems down the road, the failure to address that problem could be seen as the lack of proper medical attention. However, absent Adrian’s obesity, there were many other neglect and abuse issues that the court pointed to as reasons for removal.

So what if the child is doing well otherwise, but is simply obese? The English child protective services are arguing that removal of the child will be a very last resort, but the imposition of a strict diet and exercise regimen is definitely on the table. Apparently previous suggestions are working; Connor has lost about 21 pounds since the beginning of the year.

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Published in: on February 28, 2007 at 4:12 pm Comments Off on Should We Regulate Children’s Weight?

Abortion Death Certificates

Stacey Campfield (R), a Tennessee legislator, is introducing a bill (PDF) which would require Tennessee abortion providers to file a death certificate for all aborted fetuses. The death certificates would have to be filed within 10 days of performing the procedure, with the stated purpose of the bill to “track” the number of abortions performed in the state. Curiously however (or perhaps not so curiously), Tennessee already tracks abortions and records are kept at the state Office of Vital Records. This information is publicly available. There is one glaring difference between the current method of record keeping and Rep. Campfield’s death certificate method, however: The current records do not contain any identifying information, while the death certificates would likely include information such as Social Security numbers. This obviously triggers some very, very serious privacy concerns and perhaps indicates that Representative Campfield is more concerned with tracking the women than tracking the abortions.

Also, privacy concerns aside, was there no less inflammatory way for Representative Campfield to accomplish his goal? Issuing a Death Certificate for an aborted fetus carries all manner of implications far removed from any objective record keeping. Since death certificates are only issued for people who were alive, Representative Campfield is implicitly bestowing that status on a fetus. I know that many people do in fact believe that fetuses are living persons, and I do not wish to detract from their beliefs. However, Rep. Campfield is side-stepping this important dialogue altogether, and inserting his own conclusions into state-wide legislation. Not to mention the fact that he is pointing a not-so-subtle accusatory finger at the woman who chooses an abortion – and whether you are “pro-choice” or “pro-life,” you must acknowledge that choosing an abortion is already an emotionally wrenching decision.

If Rep. Campfield’s bill passes (which, incidentally, is not likely. He himself acknowledges that while it may pass the Senate, it is not likely to pass the House), it will do much more than track. It will become a yet-untried tool for bullying women away from otherwise legal abortions out of fear of a publicly available, identifying, and highly stigmatizing document. (more…)

Published in: on February 20, 2007 at 10:11 am Comments (6)

Wii Work Out

I recently came across an article that I knew many of my friends would enjoy. Entitled “Is the Wii Really Good for Your Health?”, it starts with a picture of two young, thin, and ethnically diverse models ostensibly playing a wii video game. The male model looks like he’s playing baseball; the female appears to be bowling. Then the article goes on to talk about the benefits that the Wii may bring. It got me thinking….is this really what we should be encouraging from technology?
Zach Braff Mii
I’m assuming that if you are reading this blog you are fully aware of the wonders of the Wii by Nintendo. For those of you who don’t have teenage boys, or aren’t still a teenage boy at heart, the Wii is a video game console that uses a sensor placed in front of the attached television. The player holds a controller that looks similar to a tv remote, and moves the remote control a Mii, (a virtual version of the player) to accomplish whatever task the game requires. One of the games that comes with the consol is Wii Sports, where the player must emulate the movements of various sports to win. And this is where I start thinking about the implications of the Wii. Already people are finding that they are moving in ways they hadn’t before they played the Wii, and some are touting the exercise benefits of this technology. But is this really a good thing?
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Published in: on February 7, 2007 at 2:36 pm Comments (7)

Let’s Talk About Abstinence, Baby

Before we commence, let me be clear about something: This article is by no means poking fun at abstinence, individual morality, or one’s personal choice to refrain from/engage in any type of sexual behavior. I’m merely trying to comprehend the rationale behind a federally funded abstinence-only education program aimed at adults.

In an apparent effort to use reverse psychology as a means of increasing condom sales, the federal government is now targeting adults aged 19-29 in its abstinence-only education program. At least, so says this article from USA Today’s venerable web presence.

The abstinence-only education program allocates federal funds to states that seek to educate high-risk individuals on the benefits of abstaining from sexual intercourse. It eschews positive discussion of condom use, birth control, and other forms of contraception; instead, it focuses largely on their drawbacks, and the relative benefits of absolute success inherent in abstinence.

For the purposes of this particular program, high risk means someone who is “likely to bear children out of wedlock.” Common sense would dictate that such a measure is somewhat sexist, since common sense also dictates that males aren’t likely to bear children out of wedlock. Or in wedlock. Or at all. But, I digress.

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Published in: on November 12, 2006 at 7:39 pm Comments (1)