Sunday, April 22, 2012

Another War Against Women....

There is a new war being waged against women, but this time it’s not being fought by the usual misogynists.  The arena is not the bedroom or the courthouse or even the halls of our legislatures, although the women are accused of harboring “certain radical feminist themes.”  Can you believe that the bellows of outrage are coming from the Vatican in Rome and are directed not at pedophiles but at the good nuns who teach the young and care for the poor, the infirm, the ill and the dying--the ones that Jesus talked about.
Last week the Church’s doctrinal group, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), issued an eight-page report, [Here] directed at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).[Here]  (We should recall that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Inquisition, interprets Catholic doctrine and was headed by the current pope before his election to the papacy.)  The CDF report charges that those good sisters have turned aside from fundamental Catholic teachings and are in need of correction and change.  The Church has taken umbrage with the LCWR’s position on homosexuality, male-only priesthood and a “prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” [Here]  
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is an organization of the heads of most of the groups of nuns in the United States.  Wikipedia tells us that it has 1500 members and represents about 56,000 women religious in this country.[Here]  It is thus fair to say, that the men in charge have told the women religious that they have acted too rashly and too independently.  An Archbishop from Seattle, has been dispatched to meet with the leadership of the LCWR and is empowered to rewrite the organization’s bylaws.
Before I go further, I should warn the reader that I am not a Roman Catholic but have profound respect for most of the Catholic nuns whom I have met over my lifetime.  I also confess to being a lifelong feminist, even a radical one, (whatever that means.)  To add further brimstone on my head, I happen to be living blissfully and happily with my same-sex spouse, whom I recently married after 33 years of co-habitation.
So what did the good sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious do to incur the wrath of their Church’s hierarchy?  The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson has some thoughts. [Here]  Davidson points to the Vatican statement which mentions that the LCWR has made public statements that disagree with the American bishops’ positions.  Notable among them has been the support that the Women Religious has given to Obama’s Affordable health Care Act.  Sister Carol Keehan, the head of the Catholic Health Association with its 600 hospitals, had been honored by the LCWR last year and had been very publicly supportive of the bill as it worked its way through Congress.
Last winter, when the controversy about the federal mandate to have employers’ insurance plans offer coverage for contraception, both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)  and the LCWR objected.  When Obama offered a compromise, however, Sister Carol agreed but the Catholic bishops did not.  Moreover, the bishops went public with their disagreement with the nuns.  As Davidson pointed out, the Vatican was not so much concerned that the nuns were speaking out, but that they were not parroting what the bishops wanted them to say. [Here]  In other words, they were saying what they believed and what 98% of sexually-active Roman Catholic woman, who use birth control, would most certainly agree with.
The Roman CDF also despatched Archbishop Peter Sertain of Seattle to oversee the “wayward” LCWR and to review and revise its policies.  [Here]  Sertain will have two bishops and five years to help him put everything to rights within the women’s group.  
Do you suppose the good Archbishop is going to start with Eve and work his way forward?  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The War On Women...

It’s about time we addressed the GOP’s so-called War On Women.  
Of course, now that the Republican leadership has seen the poll numbers with women under fifty in swing states overwhelmingly favoring Democrats, there are some isolated and feeble attempts at backtracking but how can anyone walk back the assaults that Republican-led state legislatures have recently made on women’s reproductive rights?  
Ann Romney, whose husband has shoved her into the spotlight to help with the women’s vote, has recently had her twenty minutes of fame when a Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen, said on CNN’s AC360) that Ann Romney couldn’t help her husband’s campaign too much with women’s economic issues because she “hadn’t worked a day in her life.”  [Here]  Well!!!  The response was extraordinary.  Even the President got into it by mumbling something about his wife’s hard work and his own mother’s work raising his half-sister and him.  (He never mentioned that his mother was doing a few other things as well, such as earning her doctorate and pioneering microfinancing in Indonesia.)
We all know what Hilary Rosen was trying to say.  She was pointing to the fact that Ann Romney’s life, raising five boys with domestic help and a husband with a millionaire’s checkbook, was far different from most single women’s lives, raising children alone with the responsibility of paying all the bills.  
But why does anyone have to explain this?  Doesn’t even President Obama get it?
I’m certain that the Republican strategists are jumping for joy to have the media spotlight turned away from what has been happening in Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country where a staggering number of anti-abortion bills have been introduced and passed.  Rachel Maddow claims that over 4oo such bills have been introduced in state houses across the country.  [Here]  Many of those bills involve extremely intrusive physical tests and examinations of the women who are seeking to end unwanted pregnancies.  
My nomination for the most bizarre of the cruelly-intended group of anti-abortion bills that various state capitals have churned out is the recently-passed Arizona law that is based on a wild theory that life begins two-weeks before conception.  (I am not making this up.)  [Here]  Let me repeat: the Arizona law posits that life begins before sperm meets egg.  (In some cases, it would mean that a new life would begin before mother even met the father, before either knew each other’s names or, most particularly, shared the same bed.)
The bill was one part of a three-bill group of anti-abortion measures that were considered by the Arizona legislature.  One bill protects doctors from future lawsuits if the doctor intentionally withholds medical information from a mother about a pregnancy if the information (in the doctor’s opinion) might lead her to abort the fetus.  A second bill involves mandating Arizona’s school curriculum to state that birth and adoption are the “most acceptable outcomes for an unwanted pregnancy.” [Here]

The third bill, mentioned above, prohibits all abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy and provides little leeway to protect a woman’s health.  By asserting that conception occurs at least two weeks earlier than it would be possible for sperm to meet egg (at the beginning of a woman’s last menstrual period), the Arizona pro-life forces have given their state the earliest cut-off date for late-term abortions in the country.  (Most states use 20-weeks as a limit which meets the Supreme Court-ordered standard of fetal viability.)
As expected, Governor Jan Brewer signed the bills into law last Thursday. [Here]
I suppose the pro-life folks are counting this as another victory.  But who is the winner? Is it the child who is born into poverty in a situation in which his/her birth was neither planned nor welcomed?  Or was it a mother whose own doctor did not tell her that her fetus was deformed until it was too late in the pregnancy for her to make a decision about the quality of her baby’s life or her own life?  No, the winner is the state legislator who is simply picking up GOP Brownie points for his/her next election.
And we all know who the losers are in Arizona, don’t we?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders...

On Monday, April 2nd, the Supreme Court quietly handed down its decision in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders in another close 5/4 decision, split along ideological lines.  All media attention on the Supreme Court last week, if people thought of the Court at all, was focused on oral arguments surrounding the challenges to Obama’s Affordable Health Care Law.  Florence slipped quietly by everyone, almost unnoticed.  The issues that are involved in this decision should not slip past anyone.
The question raised in Florence involves fundamental human dignity and personal privacy.  Does invasive strip searching of detained citizens violate their constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments even when the offenders have been arrested for minor offenses?  What is at stake here is fundamental human dignity versus police coercion.
Here are the facts in the case:  
In March 2005, Albert Florence, an attractive, mature, Afro-American male, was riding with his wife, April, who was driving, and their small child in the family’s BMW SUV.  They were headed for his mother-in-law’s home for a festive dinner when the car was pulled over by a N. J. State trooper.  Florence identified himself as the owner of the car.  When the officer checked the vehicle’s records, he found that Florence had an outstanding bill for an unpaid warrant.  
This was old news for Albert Florence.  Although the warrant had been paid, he had been stopped before by police so he carried a letter in his glove compartment, stating that the warrant had been paid in full.  This didn’t satisfy the trooper who cuffed Florence and, to the horror of his pregnant wife and 4 1/2 year old son, took him into custody. 
It was then that Florence's humiliation began.  In the course of the next two weeks, Mr. Florence was held in two separate facilities in two different New Jersey counties until the authorities were satisfied that the warrant had indeed been paid and finally released him.  (In other words, the cops realized that he was innocent and had been unjustly arrested!)
In the meantime he had been strip-searched twice.  In both instances, he was ordered to stand naked in front of a guard and be visually searched.  He next was ordered to move his genitals.  He was also ordered to squat, cough and to spread his buttocks.  
Mr. Florence said in an interview quoted by the NYTimes, [Here]    
I consider myself a man’s man...Six-three.  Big Guy.  It was humiliating.  It made me feel less than a man.
Of course, Mr. Florence sued.  The case took seven years to work its way up through the court system until it reached the highest Court where it was argued six months ago as Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders.  We are left to wonder why there was the unusually long six-month period between oral arguments and the handing down of the final decision.  Linda Greenhouse, the NY Times Supreme Court Op-Ed columnist, believes that there was a reason for the delay.  As she wrote in Thursday’s paper, “I don’t know what the back story is, but I’ve parsed enough Supreme Court opinions over the years to know that there is one.”  [Here]  She hints that the reason may lie with Justice Thomas who did not signal his agreement with part of Kennedy’s majority opinion.) 
The majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy with Roberts and Alito writing concurrent opinions, held that such strip searches were not a violation of a person’s constitutional rights but both Roberts and Alito seemed also very eager to add that strip searches were not a mandatory procedure for the police authorities to use.  Greenhouse pointed out that the Chief Justice’s and Alito’s limiting caveats are perhaps what Justice Thomas objected to when he specifically declined to concur with this section of the majority opinion.  We know from past cases, Justice Thomas has supported excessive force by police.   His unusual silence in this instance was without any explanation.  (Ahem!) [Here]
Justice Breyer, with Ginsberg, Sotomeyer and Kagan concurring, wrote a sharp dissent in which he spelled out his disdain for this invasive police procedure:[Here]
Even when carried out in a respectful manner, and even absent any physical touching, ... such searches are inherently harmful, humiliating, and degrading. 
It is in Breyer’s listing of the particulars in the amicus briefs that we begin to learn of the full disgrace--even horror-- of strip searching. There was the strip searching of Sister Bernie Galvin, a nun, whose offense was to participate in an anti-war demonstration (she was accused of trespassing) or women who were lactating, or menstruating or --hold your breath--had just been victims of sexual abuse!
One does not need to know more about Sister Bernie Galvin [Here] to realize that it would be very unlikely that this nun or any nun would carry, in her body cavities, drugs or weapons or that she would have identifying gang tattoos on her body.
It is sad that Justices Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Kagan were not joined by one more judge from the majority so that Breyer’s ringing words would have stood as the voice of the court, but such did not happen.  We are also saddened that Justice Breyer’s outrage was not joined by a concurrence from at least one of the court’s female justices.  
Naomi Wolf, the feminist activist, has already joined battle with a commentary just sent around the internet by the Readersupportednews. [Here]  Her voice should and must be joined by others.  This sorry tale deserves a huge chorus of women’s outraged voices.  

What say you?