McDonnell: Scholar…Governor…Both…Neither…?

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell is confronting a particularly tricky political opponent: himself. Twenty years ago, at the age of 34, McDonnell wrote an academic thesis titled “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issues of the Decade.” Among other gender-based policy topics, his thesis opposed federal tax credits for child care expenditures, because the credits encouraged women to enter the workforce, and criticized a Supreme Court decision that legalized contraception for unmarried couples.

McDonnell’s past writings and current candidacy provoke an interesting question: Should we judge political candidates by their decades-old academic views? McDonnell claims that many of the views he expressed in his thesis have changed, in light of his growing family, his work experience, and his legislative activities. He no longer believes that family stability depends on women being excluded from the workforce, but he does still support an especially controversial position in the paper: that marriage should be heterosexual.


Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 7:31 am Comments Off on McDonnell: Scholar…Governor…Both…Neither…?

Is Bristol Palin Wiser Than Her Former Running Mate Mother?

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In a recent Fox News interview , Bristol Palin, daughter of former Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sara Palin, told viewers about her new life as an unwed teenage mother.

“Like, your whole priorities change after having a baby,” she said, holding her newborn son, Tripp, in her arms.  Palin argued that telling teenagers to be abstinent is “not realistic at all.”

This is quite a different stance from that taken by her politician mother who supports abstinence only education despite its known shortcomings.  For starters, the effectiveness of abstinence is deeply questionable.  Teen pregnancy rates continue to be substantial while the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV rise at alarming rates.  Second, abstinence only education for teenagers is extremely misguided.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 54% of high school students claimed to never have had sex.  This means that roughly half of all high school students are or have been sexually active at some point.  The government’s efforts would be more effective to focus its attention away from teens who have made up their minds to remain chaste.  Why, you ask?

Avoiding accurate discussions about contraception and prevention is pointless, especially when many teenagers decide to engage in risky sexual behavior.  Furthermore, since federal funding can only go to school programs that take the abstinence only approach, these teens are frequently left uneducated and unprepared about the realities of today: that young people make up the bulk of new HIV and STD cases.  Still, legislators continue to waste taxpayer dollars on programs that have proven to be ineffective, spending more than one billion dollars within the last ten years.  In additional to myself, the abstinence only approach has its share of critics.


Published in: on February 20, 2009 at 2:55 pm Comments Off on Is Bristol Palin Wiser Than Her Former Running Mate Mother?

The Role of Gender in the 2008 Presidential Election

On Monday, November 17th, the William and Mary chapter of the American Constitution Society hosted Dr. Karen Beckwith, a prominent political scientist from Case Western Reserve University, for a discussion of the role of gender in determining the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.  Although data are only just becoming available, Dr. Beckwith presented nationwide exit polling that indicates that women played a substantial and perhaps unprecedented role in choosing our 44th president.

Role of Women in the Election

Women make up a majority of the national population, a majority of the electorate, and turn out to vote at a higher rate than men.  Interestingly, however, women (and men) did not identify manifest womens’ issues (like legal abortion) as important issues during the 2008 election.  Instead, Beckwith said, “latent women’s issues, defined as those traditionally or stereotypically associated with women,” dominated women’s vote choice.  Latent women’s issues include support for education, general concern for healthcare, programs for children, social welfare policy support, and a preference for peace and a reluctance to support military intervention.  In the 2008 presidential election, exit polling identified the top issues of concern to voters as the economy, jobs, employment and housing, healthcare, education, and the war in Iraq – all latent women’s issues.  These issues are “not necessarily issues which women support in every campaign, nor are they issues on which all women agree,” said Beckwith, but “in some campaigns for some candidates, latent women’s issues become central campaign issues” that candidates disregard at their peril.  In the 2008 election, latent women’s issues, Democratic Party issues, and women’s voting preferences “further gendered the electoral context” and “reflected the gendered nature of party competition” in the United States.


Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 10:37 am Comments Off on The Role of Gender in the 2008 Presidential Election

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.


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.


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