Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Apparently I’m Not Eligible to Run for Office as a Republican; How About You?

So the Republican National Committee is considering a “purity test” to determine which candidates will get party support in the 2010 elections. For those who’ve missed this, here is the full text of the resolution (sponsored by Indiana über-conservative James Bopp):

Proposed RNC Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates

WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan believed that the Republican Party should support and espouse conservative principles and public policies; and

WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan also believed the Republican Party should welcome those with diverse views; and

WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan believed, as a result, that someone who agreed with him 8 out of 10 times was his friend, not his opponent; and

WHEREAS, Republican faithfulness to its conservative principles and public policies and Republican solidarity in opposition to Obama’s socialist agenda is necessary to preserve the security of our country, our economic and political freedoms, and our way of life; and

WHEREAS, Republican faithfulness to its conservative principles and public policies is necessary to restore the trust of the American people in the Republican Party and to lead to Republican electoral victories; and

WHEREAS, the Republican National Committee shares President Ronald Reagan’s belief that the Republican Party should espouse conservative principles and public policies and welcome persons of diverse views; and

WHEREAS, the Republican National Committee desires to implement President Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates; and

WHEREAS, in addition to supporting candidates, the Republican National Committee provides financial support for Republican state and local parties for party building and federal election activities, which benefit all candidates and is not affected by this resolution; and

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee identifies ten (10) key public policy positions for the 2010 election cycle, which the Republican National Committee expects its public officials and candidates to support:

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership; and be further

RESOLVED, that a candidate who disagrees with three or more of the above stated public policy position of the Republican National Committee, as identified by the voting record, public statements and/or signed questionnaire of the candidate, shall not be eligible for financial support and endorsement by the Republican National Committee; and be further

RESOLVED, that upon the approval of this resolution the Republican National Committee shall deliver a copy of this resolution to each of Republican members of Congress, all Republican candidates for Congress, as they become known, and to each Republican state and territorial party office.

Chief Sponsor:
James Bopp, Jr. NCM IN
Donna Cain NCW OR
Cindy Costa NCW SC
Demetra Demonte NCW IL
Peggy Lambert NCW TN
Carolyn McLarty NCW OK
Pete Rickets NCM NE
Steve Scheffler NCM IA
Helen Van Etten NCW KA
Solomon Yue NCM OR

I don’t want to waste time discussing whether a purity test is a smart idea or a bad idea; hey, it’s their party. But I do want to take on each of the ten themes expressed in the test itself.

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

OK. I get that Republicans were opposed to the stimulus bill. The problem is, I don’t recall hearing many Republican ideas to help prevent the economy from taking a nose dive into a true depression. One thing that Republicans don’t seem to grasp right now is that there is a huge difference between being opposed to something and offering up a viable alternative. Think of it this way: If you suggest eating Chinese for dinner, I could say, “Gee, I don’t feel like Chinese; why don’t we go for Italian, instead.” From there, we could have an open and honest debate about which would be a better meal choice. On the other hand, if I was a Republican, my response would be more like this: “Gee, I don’t feel like Chinese (after all, they’re communists!); so we’ll just skip dinner tonight.”

I also fail to understand the constant mantra about “smaller government” as if by simply making government “smaller” we make it better. I’m less worried about the size of the government than I am with the effectiveness of that government.

As to the national debt and deficits, I seem to recall these going up, not down, under a Republican administration. It seems that Republicans are firmly opposed to debt and deficits except for debt and deficits that they like. Finally, I’d like to be certain what Republicans mean when they say “lower taxes”; lower taxes on whom? The wealthiest Americans who can easily afford to pay a bit more from the money that they’re parking in illegal offshore bank accounts? Why is it that I doubt that “lower taxes” means repeal of regressive taxes like sales tax.

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

First, does that mean that Republicans will support an end to the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies? After all, an anti-trust exemption doesn’t really seem consistent with market-based insurance reform. Second, when Republicans talk about “Obama-style government run healthcare” does that mean that they oppose Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and military healthcare? Those programs are, of course, all government run. What about the insurance provided to members of Congress? Finally, what type of reform do Republicans support? Remember that the plan offered by Senate Republicans didn’t prohibit exclusion based on pre-existing conditions (among a host of other failings). We’ve had a largely “market based” system (with anti-trust exemptions) for years and look where that’s gotten us. And how exactly do Republicans plan to handle the millions of uninsured Americans? Insuring a measly 3 million additional Americans over 10 years (while leaving 30-50 million uninsured) doesn’t really seem to be a solution to the problem. Then again, so long as the “solution” is merely opposition and obstruction…

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

I wonder how many Republicans can actually explain what cap and trade legislation means. And, for that matter, I wonder how many of the Republicans who oppose cap and trade also believe that global warming is a myth. The funniest part of this is that cap and trade is a market-based reform. That is the whole idea; allow the market to put a value on the right to pollute and provide cost incentives for reducing emissions. And again, note that as usual, what Republicans oppose is spelled out clearly (Obama’s stimulus bill, Obama-style government run healthcare, cap and trade) but what Republicans support is much, much more nebulous (smaller and market-based). Again, it is easy to be opposed to a particular, narrowly-defined policy; it is much more difficult to articulate an alternative.

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

In all honesty, I don’t know enough about card check to really get into this discussion. I will note, however, that it seems strange, in the entire universe of issues for Republicans to focus on, that card check makes the top ten.

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

This point is one of the most insidious of all of the points on the Republican purity test. Why? Did you note that Republicans don’t just support legal immigration, but also support assimilation? In other words, Republicans are telling immigrants to come in legally, but once here, they had better jettison their cultural (and religious?) heritage and assimilate into American society. And why is that I suspect that the Republican version of “American society” is the same thing as Glenn Beck’s “white culture”?

In addition, I’m not quite sure how supporting legal immigration and assimilation is accomplished “by opposing” amnesty. What does one have to do with the other? More importantly, what precisely is the Republican plan to deal with illegal immigration and the illegal immigrants who are already here? Again, they oppose a particular policy (amnesty) without offering a solution to the existing problem.

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

First, who doesn’t support “victory in Iraq and Afghanistan”? Do Republicans really think that either President Obama or Democrats support “defeat”? It seems to me that the real question is the definition of “victory”. More importantly, I find it quite odd that when the Republican purity test finally gets around to specific things that Republicans are supposed to support, the focus is on a particular strategy advocated by the military. The last time I checked, the military was overseen by civilian leadership. It is important to remember that the issues being looked at by military planners are almost exclusively military. We don’t ask or expect military planners to look at diplomatic consequences of a particular policy, the cost to implement that policy (what about that support for a smaller national debt…?), the cost in lives or impact upon military families (I suppose that the military might factor this in to the calculation, but I don’t really know), or the desire of the American electorate to engage in the particular military operation. I suspect that generals recommended attacks on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but we allowed civilian leadership to decide what was in the best interest of the country. So too should civilian leadership decide what is in the best interests of America when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan. If that means a surge, then so be it; but the decision needs to be made on the basis of all known information and should take into consideration all relevant matters, not just the matters relevant to the battlefield itself. Military strategy options should be developed by military planners but decisions regarding those strategic options should be made on the basis of national interest, not just military necessity.

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

This one leaves me a bit puzzled. First, the use of the word “containment” harkens back to the Cold War and fears of Soviet expansion. I suspect that the real issue being “supported” is limits on the ability of North Korea or Iran to export nuclear technology or terrorism. And again, who doesn’t support those ends? Do Republicans really think that President Obama or Democrats oppose “containment” of Iran or North Korea? More problematic is the phrase “effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat”. What precisely does this mean. Again, I doubt that anybody supports ineffective actions. The real question, of course, is what action would be effective? So, for example, are harsh sanctions “effective”? Maybe I’m wrong, but when I read this particular point of the purity test, I take it to really be referring to military action as the “effective action”. Maybe I’m wrong. But if not, I’m troubled by the idea that Republicans are being asked to support a military action without necessarily considering either alternatives or consequences. Forget Iran for the moment; what would be the consequences of the use of force against North Korea? Do we really want to elect leaders who want war on the Korean peninsula?

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

I’m not going to take the time in this particular post to explain why I oppose the Defense of Marriage Act (and why I believe it might be unconstitutional) or to explain why I support same sex marriage (or at least domestic partnerships that have all of the benefits and obligations of marriage). Instead, I’ll simply note that of the items that Republicans apparently view as the litmus test for whether a candidate is worthy, opposition to same sex marriage counts for 10%. I still don’t understand how the issue of whether a loving, committed couple can be allowed to enjoy the benefits of “marriage” can rise to this level of importance. And, for the record, I note that those states that have allowed same sex marriage have neither imploded, been struck by wave after wave of natural disasters, nor sunken into the bowels of the earth; moreover, I note that in those states the institution of heterosexual marriage remains alive and well.

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

I’m glad that Republicans oppose health care rationing. I’m curious to know how they plan to stop insurance companies from continuing to ration care or, for that matter, how they intend to stop the effective rationing for those people who can’t afford health insurance. Republicans also oppose the denial of health care. That seems like a pretty clear blanket statement; yet last time that I checked, Republicans were set against health care for illegal immigrants (remember Rep. Joe Wilson’s “you lie” moment?). And recall, once again, that the Republican health care reform proposal did not prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

With regard to the funding of abortions, first I note that it is a blanket opposition. There is no nuance or exception for matters of rape, incest, or life of the mother. “Gee, sorry, that you’re gonna die ma’am, but if you can’t pay for the abortion on your own, we can’t help you!” Talk about compassionate conservatism. I also have a problem with enshrining certain types of moral issues into federal funding policies. Why, for example, are Republicans opposed to funding abortion but not drugs for erectile dysfunction or hair replacement? More importantly, why are Republicans opposed to funding abortion but not opposed to funding the death penalty, wars, torture, and illegal wiretaps? If every issue to which a large group of voters objected on moral grounds were excepted out of government funding, I suspect that very little would be funded (then again, I suppose that Republicans would view that as good, so long as the military was still fully funded). I also have a problem with the exception for abortion given that other religious traditions come to the issue of abortion with a different understanding and mindset. Thus, while the denial of funding may satisfy a conservative Christian worldview, it may also run directly contrary to a Jewish understanding of when abortion is acceptable. If my religious tradition has a different understanding of the issue, why should someone else’s religious understanding determine how federal spending impacts upon my religious beliefs? (For a more in depth discussion of religious views of abortion, see my post Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State’s Laws from January 2008). I get that conservatives don’t want their tax dollars to pay for abortions; I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for torture. Republicans will do almost anything to protect the “unborn”; but once a child is born, don’t look to the Republicans for help or protection, no sir!

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;

Like abortion, I’ve written before about my thoughts on gun control and the Second Amendment and I won’t belabor the point here. But I do want to point out the fact that the opposition to “government restrictions on gun ownership” is another blanket statement. There is no exception for children, the mentally ill, or felons (or terrorists for that matter) and there is no exception for assault rifles or armor piercing bullets or rocket-propelled grenades (or nuclear weapons…). So it would seem to me than any Republican who supports even modest gun control legislation would not pass the party’s proposed purity test.

And what happened to honoring the tenets of this recitals from the preamble of the proposed resolution:

President Ronald Reagan also believed the Republican Party should welcome those with diverse views

Somehow the notion of welcoming diverse views doesn’t seem to come through in the proposed purity test.

As a counterpoint to the Republican purity test, take a look at this purity test for Democrats proposed by Devilstower on Daily Kos:

(1) We support the rights extended to Americans extended under the Constitution. All the rights. For all Americans.

(2) We support thoughtful, pragmatic solutions that protect American lives, American standards, and American pocketbooks. This includes finding solutions that don't require bombing anyone.

(3) We support an America that has diversity in race, thought, background, and religion not out of some hazy idealism, but because it is our nation's greatest strength.

(4) We oppose torture in any form, in any place, at any time, for any reason.

(5) We support American business, and recognize that an unregulated market is an unfair market, an unstable market, and a market doomed to failure.

(6) We support American workers, and know that when workers are allowed to organize they make their jobs, their companies, and their nation stronger.

(7) We believe that the reputation of our nation is valuable and must be zealously guarded against those who place expediency ahead of law.

(8) We believe in spreading democracy and human rights to the rest of the world by vigorously upholding those ideals here at home.

(9) We believe that access to our government is not for sale. Not in the courthouse, not in the White House, and not in the legislature.

(10) We believe that the health of our planet is not a zero-sum game, not a game of "you go first," and not a game.

What is interesting is that I don’t necessarily completely agree with each and every point in this “purity test” either (for example, I’m very hesitantly willing to consider torture in a true ticking time bomb case). Nevertheless, I think that the ideals espoused by this purity test are certainly worth considering, at least as a comparison to the proposed Republican purity test. Read both sets of positions and then ask yourself in which version of our country would you rather live?

Finally, ask yourself whether a purity test like that proposed by the Republicans makes sense. Which would you prefer: (a) party that has pre-determined how its members must think and how they must vote on certain issues; or (b) a party that tells its members to think for themselves, honor their ideals and values, and represent the voters that elected them, rather than the party to which they belong.

Oh, one more thing, as long as I’m looking at purity tests and lists of values and ideals. Charles Johnson, the founder of the right-leaning blog Little Green Footballs has announced that he is parting ways with the right because of:

1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)

2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)

3. Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)

4. Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)

5. Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)

6. Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)

7. Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)

8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)

9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)

10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

And much, much more. The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.

I won’t be going over the cliff with them.

I disagree with Charles Johnson on many issues, but I’ve always found him to be reasonable and fair minded. When he takes a position, he almost always backs it up. Ever since I came across Little Green Footballs during the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, I’ve found his site to be a destination to see what the rational right is thinking. As Johnson has frequently noted over the last several months, too often what the right is thinking isn’t rational at all.

So anyway, it looks like I won’t be eligible to run for office as a Republican in 2010. Shucks.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Using Dr. Tiller's Murder to Espouse Anti-Semitism

Just a quick post of a quotation that I came across from James Edwards, host of an AM and Internet radio show (and former staffer for Pat Buchanan) talking about the murder of Dr. George Tiller:

I’m sure most Americans were shocked to hear that an abortionist was shot to death this weekend. The really shocking part was that it happened at his church - most abortionists attend synagogues.
Hard to spin that as anything other than blatant anti-Semitism.

Oh, and Pat Buchanan? He's been a guest on Edwards' show several times. For those interested, the Anti-Defamation League has an interesting expose on Buchanan's relationships with right-wing and anti-Semitic organizations. It is time for MSNBC to recognize Buchanan for the bigot he is and take him off the air.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Radical Abortion Opponents Really Think

Yesterday's The Indianapolis Star included the article "Late-term abortion doctor fatally shot in church". The article included a statement from the president of Operation Rescue, one of the leading, radical, anti-abortion groups (note that Operation Rescue's website is presently down...):

"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," Troy Newman, Operation Rescue's president, said in a statement. "Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning."
Of course Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, had a much less, um ... careful response:

George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder.

Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.

A few more points worth mentioning. First, remember that report by the Department of Homeland Security about rightwing extremism that the right was so upset about? Here is one of the points made in that report (emphasis added):

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to asingle issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

Finally, watch the following video of FAUX News' resident hate-monger Bill O'Reilly (from DailyKosTV) and see if you think that speech like his might have been an inducement to violence for someone like Dr. Tiller's murderer.

For a more detailed examination of O'Reilly's campaign against Dr. Tiller, take a look at the Salon.com article "O'Reilly's campaign against murdered doctor" by Gabriel Winant.

It is one thing to advocate for a change in the law or to argue that people should not support a particular business. But it becomes something else to suggest that those who won't stop someone from doing something that is legal have culpability or are "bloodstained". At some point, people like O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and others, have to recognize that their speech has consequences and that those consequences aren't just found at the ballot box or in the halls of Congress. Those consequences also manifest at gunpoint.

And just for the record, I'm not suggesting that the media be censored; I'm merely suggesting that the media act responsibly.

(By the way, I actually wrote this yesterday but didn't get a chance to finish until today; and even then I didn't get a chance to add some additional news that I've read in the interim. If I have time, I may return to the subject later this week.)


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Furor Over President Obama Speaking at Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame has invited President Obama to speak at the University's commencement ceremony this spring and this invitation has stirred up a furor among some Catholics both within and without the University community. Apparently, the problem is that President Obama supports women's reproductive rights (i.e., abortion) and, because this view is antithetical to Catholic teaching, some have argued that the University should not have invited President Obama to speak. I have several problems with this whole matter.

First, I want to be clear that I am not criticizing any Catholics for their personal theological or moral views. They have the right to those views and I have the right to agree or disagree. I don't know much about Catholic theology or teaching with regard to abortion or anything else. But the issue at hand has nothing to do with whose views are "right" or whether those views are well-founded or properly based in theological doctrine. Rather, the issue is whether those views should bear upon the decision of whether to invite the President of the United States to speak at graduation.

So, let's examine the issue of whether President Obama should have been invited to speak at Notre Dame. The first thing to remember is that he has been invited to speak at commencement, not to a class on theology or morals or ethics. Students at prestigious universities look forward to the opportunity to hear from "important" people at their commencements; it is a right of passage, in a way. To that end, it is likely that President Obama's speech will center on a universal topic like living a good life, helping the needy, getting involved in the community, or any of a host of the topics and themes regularly heard in commencement addresses. I doubt that President Obama will use the opportunity of that speech to lay out a major policy proposal or to address a controversial issue (such as abortion); a commencement address is rarely the time or place for such a speech. And, with all of the issues presently facing both our nation and the world, it seems highly unlikely that President Obama would choose the issue of abortion to be the focus of a commencement address.

It is also critical to keep in mind that President Obama is not just some random person chosen to speak. Nor is he merely a well-known person of marginal import. No. He just happens to be the President of the United States of America. The very idea that any institution, let alone a premier academic institution, would turn down an opportunity to have the President of the United States speak is a bit hard to comprehend. President Obama was, in all likelihood, invited to speak at commencement because of his office, not because of his viewpoints, past endeavors, or the fact that he hails from nearby Chicago. The University extended an offer to the leader of our country; that the invitation was accepted should be viewed by the University community as an honor.

I'm also troubled, however, by the degree to which abortion (and, to a lesser extent, support for stem cell research) has been the focal point of the discussion. I understand that abortion is against Catholic teaching and that therefore, on that issue, President Obama's views conflict with those of Catholics (or at least Catholic teaching if not the actual views of many of America's Catholics). But I also understand that Catholic teaching opposes the death penalty; yet President Bush, an ardent supporter of the death penalty (and a frequent "enforcer" of the death penalty during his time as Governor of Texas) was invited to speak at Notre Dame (twice, I believe). I also understand Catholic teaching to oppose wars not fought for defensive purposes; yet President Bush sent the United States to war in Iraq on false pretenses. It is also worth noting that President Carter (pro-choice) spoke at a Notre Dame commencement ceremony, as did former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (who introduced the law that decriminalized abortion, homosexuality, and contraception in Cananda) and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (who was instrumental in establishing the Global AIDS and Health Fund [now the The Global Fund] which, among other things, distributes millions of condoms in the Third World). So what it is about President Obama's support for reproductive rights that makes him different from all of these other speakers that the University of Notre Dame has welcomed?

And why, of all of the issues that President Obama has taken a stance on, is abortion so important as to be seen by some as disqualifying? Is abortion the absolute cornerstone issue of the Catholic faith, more so even than social justice? Is abortion the sole issue by which a person's "Catholic-ness" is to be measured and judged? Perhaps I'm mistaken, but it would seem to me that Catholics would, with the exception of issues relating to reproductive rights, have far more in common with those of President Obama than they did President Bush. I've already mentioned the death penalty, but what about torture, imprisonment without access to counsel or trial, and war? According to CNN, in the November 2008 elections, Catholics supported Mr. Obama 53% to Sen. McCain's 45% (don't forget that Sen. McCain was opposed to reproductive rights and his Vice Presidential candidate ... shudder ... I don't even want to go there).

One final point that I'd like to make. Yes, I understand that Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. But neither its student body nor faculty is homogeneous. In fact, a review of the University's website shows that the University's campus ministry includes services for Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian denominations, as well as Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. I find it hard to believe that students or faculty of these other faith traditions must be uniform in their beliefs, words, or deeds, in strict conformance to Catholic teaching; for that matter, I find it hard to believe that Notre Dame's Catholic students and faculty must be completely faithful to Catholic teaching either. And I find it hard to believe that every word articulated by every professor or speaker at Notre Dame must be in conformance with Catholic teaching (I wonder; do biology classes at Notre Dame teach evolution or creation...?).

Notre Dame is a highly respected academic institution. President Obama is the President of the United States of America. There is nothing that he has said or done that should disqualify him from speaking at Notre Dame's commencement and Notre Dame should be nothing but honored to have a sitting President accept the offer to speak at a commencement ceremony.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

IN Touch: Abortion Ruse

My sixth post on The Indianapolis Star's IN Touch blog is now online. I've decided to go ahead and continue re-posting those entries here (but go ahead and visit the Star so that their advertisers can try to sell you something; newspapers are having a tough enough time these days). This post borrows a bit from the post "Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws" that I posted back in January 2008. Almost everything in that prior post is still relevant today.

Despite claims to the contrary, the intent of Senate Bill 89 is to make it more difficult to obtain an abortion. Patient safety is simply a ruse. Both history and language support this conclusion. SB 89 is essentially a re-working of similar bills from previous years. Last year, language to require hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers was part of a bill that also required physicians to tell women that a fetus might feel pain (despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary) and that legislated an answer to the theological debate about when life begins. This year, the provisions were simply split into separate bills (SB 89 for hospital admitting privileges and SB90 for fetal pain and beginning of life provisions).

Moreover, if SB 89 was really about patient safety, wouldn't the language be broadly inclusive of all invasive outpatient procedures rather than being limited to abortion? It is worth asking whether doctors performing other types of surgical or semi-surgical procedures at outpatient clinics around the state must also have admitting privileges. If a plastic surgeon performs liposuction or an ophthalmologist performs a LASIK procedure at a rural clinic, must those doctors have admitting privileges at the county's hospital? What about an oral surgeon performing a root canal?

The list of procedures performed at outpatient clinics is long and many are more dangerous than abortion. Yet, so far as I am aware, in none of those other instances must the doctor have hospital admitting privileges. Furthermore, if patient safety were the goal, wouldn't there be an exception for emergency situations where the life of the woman was in jeopardy?

In essence, SB 89 is simply another thinly disguised attempt to keep abortions legal while making them impossible to obtain.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Playing a Little Offense

Finally, some on the left (or maybe just center) have decided to stop playing defense in the Indiana General Assembly and have, instead begun to offer bills to counter some recent efforts by the religious right. Allow me to offer two examples that have been introduced in the latest session.

House Bill 1317 (authored by Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond) and its companion Senate Bill 258 (authored by Sen. Jean D. Breaux, D-Indianapolis) would require schools that adopt an abstinence-only sexual education curriculum to notify parents of that curriculum choice. Parents would then have the option to have their child excluded from that curriculum. More importantly, the notice from the school’s principal about the use of an abstinence-only curriculum would tell parents:

Your child is receiving abstinence-only human sexuality education.

Abstinence-only education does not teach students how to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases other than by remaining abstinent.

Your child is not receiving the following:

     (A) Information on methods, other than abstinence, for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
     (B) Medically accurate instruction on the risks and benefits, including safety and efficacy, of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved methods for:
          (i) reducing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; and
          (ii) preventing pregnancy.
     (C) Medically accurate instruction regarding the correct use of FDA approved methods for:
          (i) reducing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; and
          (ii) preventing pregnancy.
     (D) Instruction that provides lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students with the necessary skills for making and implementing responsible decisions about relationships and sexuality, including the use of all effective methods to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
     (E) Instruction that provides sexually active students with the necessary skills for making and implementing responsible decisions about relationships and sexuality, including the use of all effective methods to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

You have the right to review the abstinence-only curriculum in its entirety. Written and audiovisual educational materials used in abstinence-only education are available for inspection.

You have the right to excuse your child from all or parts of abstinence-only instruction.

You have the right to be involved in your child's education.

There are several points to be made about this bill and the notice that it would require. First, for years, those on the right have argued that parents, not just school administrators, should be making decisions about education. This bill follows that philosophy, but, for a change, is giving parents a say in academic curricula decisions that are important to the religious right.

More importantly, look again at what the the notice to parents would say. I suppose that proponents of abstinence-only education will argue that a child in an abstinence-only program does, in a fashion, learn some of the things mentioned in the notice; after all, abstaining from sex will prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Of course, that argument presumes that abstinence-only education works. Studies have shown (see for example, “Experts say US sex abstinence program doesn’t work”) that abstinence-only programs do not lessen teen pregnancies, reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, or delay the age at which children become sexually active. Children in such programs who do become sexually active will not, as the notice reminds parents, have learned those skills and lessons. For that matter, those children, when they become young adults and do become sexually active (even those who wait until marriage), still will not have received the appropriate education on these subjects.

As fellow blogger Masson notes:

Might as well require [school principals] to send out a notice saying, “Hi, we’re being criminally negligent with your child’s education. How soon would you like our resignation?”

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer that my children had the facts (and medically accurate facts at that) instead of making decisions in an knowledge vacuum.

Please call your legislators (and you can check the Indiana General Assembly’s “Who Are Your Legislators?” page to learn who your legislators are and get their contact information) and tell them to support House Bill 1317 and Senate Bill 258.

House Bill 1238 (authored by Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis) and its companion Senate Bill 20 (authored by  Sen. Sue Errington, D-Muncie) is, in essence, the opposite of the pharmacist refusal bill that I wrote about during the 2008 session of the Indiana General Assembly. Last year’s bill would have given a pharmacist legal cover for failing to dispense legally prescribed medications on the basis of the pharmacist’s religious beliefs. House Bill 1238, in contrast, would require that a pharmacy dispense properly prescribed contraceptives in accordance with the way that the pharmacy dispenses other medications (and, if the pharmacy does not carry the prescribed contraceptive, the pharmacy would be required to obtain the contraceptive or locate the closest pharmacy that does carry the prescribed contraceptive). Even more importantly, the bill provides that “the pharmacy will not intimidate, threaten, or harass the pharmacy's customers in the delivery of services”. In the other words, the pharmacist could not attempt to bully the patient into not using the contraceptive. It seems like such a simple proposition, yet I suspect that this bill will face fierce opposition.

Please call your legislators (remember, you can check the Indiana General Assembly’s “Who Are Your Legislators?” page to learn who your legislators are and get their contact information) and tell them to support House Bill 1238 and Senate Bill 20.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Pro-Life Support for Obama

I just read a very interesting essay by Frank Schaeffer, a long-time pro-life advocate, expressing why he will be voting for Barack Obama this November. The essay is well worth reading.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bad Day for Reproductive Rights and Religious Liberty in Indiana

I've previously written with regard to Indiana Senate Bill 3 and Indiana Senate Bill 146. Unfortunately, on January 29, 2008, the Indiana Senate voted 30-18 to pass SB3 and 39-9 to pass SB146.

Two things are worth mentioning. First, SB146 was passed without any debate on the floor of the Senate. I wonder if all of the Senators voting for SB146 really understood its full implications, especially as related to religious liberty issues. Second, the article "Senate votes to pass drug dispensing measure" (The Indianapolis Star, January 30, 2008) states:

[Senator Jeff] Drozda said the bill does not apply to birth control pills, and he is open to clarifying the proposal as it moves through the House. He had earlier opposed an amendment to underscore that the bill did not affect contraceptives.

If Sen. Drozda is "open to clarifying" that SB3 does not apply to birth control pills, why did he oppose an amendment that would have said just that? Just for the record, among the many amendments offered to the Senate committee that heard SB3 were amendments that would have revised the language by stating that:

  • This section does not apply to contraceptive drugs and devices that have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration to prevent pregnancy; or
  • This section does not apply to a drug or medical device that: (1) has been classified by the federal Food and Drug Administration as an oral contraceptive; and (2) is not classified by the federal Food and Drug Administration as an abortifacient.

Thus, it appears that Sen. Drozda had the opportunity to clarify that SB3 was not intended to apply to birth control bills but chose not to do so.

Now it is up to the Indiana House of Representatives to keep these bad bills from becoming laws.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws

A few days ago, I wrote about Indiana Senate Bill 3. As troubling as SB3 may be, it pales in comparison to Senate Bill 146. As originally introduced SB146, provided for several additions to the law of the State of Indiana:
  1. Before a woman can consent to an abortion, she must be told that the fetus "might feel pain";
  2. "Human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm"; and
  3. A physician who performs an abortion must have privileges at a hospital in the county or an adjacent county to the where the abortion is performed.

Several amendments have apparently been adopted to "soften" some of the original language. After adoption of these amendment, provisions 1 and 2 have been modified so that they now provide:

  1. Before a woman can consent to an abortion, she must be told that "there is differing medical evidence concerning when a fetus feels pain"; and
  2. An "embryo formed by the fertilization of a human ovum by a human sperm immediately begins to divide and grow as human physical life".

Again, let's take these components of SB146 in order:

Fetal pain

I'm not a doctor. Biology isn't my strong suit. Nor, for that matter, is science. So, I don't claim to have any answers on the subject. But... According to numerous sources that I was able to find online, according to all available scientific evidence, a fetus cannot feel pain, at least not until substantially late in the gestation process. (See, e.g., Wikipedia [I know, I know...but it does have a nice introductory discussion and some links], "Can a embryo or fetus feel pain? Various opinions and studies", and "The Facts Speak Louder than 'The Silent Scream'"). I understand that this is a very emotional subject. But I have a hard time requiring a doctor to tell women facts that are not scientifically valid or widely accepted by the medical and scientific community. There is nothing wrong with telling the truth, but when the State of Indiana inserts itself into the world of science, all in the name of scaring women out of having an abortion, then I see a major problem.

So what's wrong with telling women that there is "differing medical evidence"? First, there doesn't appear to actually be any evidence suggesting that a fetus might feel pain early in pregnancy; rather, there appears to be speculation. And we don't require doctors to provide detailed information to patients regarding all other areas where there is "differing medical evidence". Many conservatives want to rely upon abstinence only sex education curricula, and oppose noting that there might be different evidence as to the efficacy of abstinence-only programs. Similarly, there are numerous other medical procedures where we expect that doctors will provide sufficient information for the patient to make an informed decision without the necessity of the state intruding and requiring the doctor to provide certain additional information. There is no medical evidence linking autism to childhood vaccines, yet there appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence of unfounded concern; yet we don't require doctors to warn parents, prior to vaccinating a child, that there is "differing medical evidence". That some people might want it to be a fact does not create a difference in evidence any more than the existence of The Flat Earth Society provides evidence that Earth is flat.

It is also worth noting that the embryo does not become a "fetus" until the eighth week following conception:

Fetus: The unborn offspring from the end of the 8th week after conception (when the major structures have formed) until birth. Up until the eighth week, the developing offspring is called an embryo.

(Taken from MedicineNet.com; other online dictionaries have similar definitions.) Yet, SB146 doesn't appear to recognize this distinction, so a woman seeking an abortion very early in her pregnancy is almost certainly getting scientifically unsound (or at least irrelevant) information.

And I'm curious: Before helping a woman give birth naturally and without anaesthesia, must a doctor or midwife tell the woman that there is differing medical evidence as to whether the fetus might feel pain (and thus recommend anaesthesia or a C-section to avoid the pain)? Before performing any other invasive procedure on a pregnant woman, must she be warned that the fetus might feel pain? Before allowing a woman to eat a bowl of spicy chili, must a waitress tell a woman that the hot peppers might cause the fetus pain (after all, the fetus is being fed whatever the mother ingests). And what about a woman having an abortion to terminate a pregnancy caused by rape, incest, or to protect the woman's life. Isn't she in a difficult enough situation, without having this additional burden placed upon her?

I have lots of issues with some of the abortion "consent" requirements. Let's not add to the burden by requiring doctors to provide scientifically unsound information.

Hospital Privileges

On its face, this part of SB146 seems relatively innocuous. Yet, much like SB3, it all depends upon your frame of reference. This provision is probably not much of an issue in large cities. But consider the smaller cities and towns around Indiana. Most do not have a full time abortion clinic. Women often have to drive to a neighboring town to have an abortion performed. A number of the clinics around the state that do perform abortions don't have a full-time physician; instead, one or two physicians may make the rounds of the clinics and perform abortions one day a week or every other week. And therein lies the problem with the bill.

I have no idea which counties have clinics or full time physicians in those clinics (I've read that only 5 out of 92 counties have full time abortion clinics, but I don't know this to be true). But just consider the case of rural counties without a full time physician (assuming that they even have a clinic). That physician might have his or her full time practice in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, or Evansville, but travel to the small town every so often. If SB146 were to pass, that physician would have to be granted privileges at hospitals in numerous counties around the state, just so that the physician could perform abortions at the clinic. But this could be expensive and/or time consuming for the physician as many hospitals require physicians with privileges to be on call a certain number of hours or days each month. Thus, in order for the Indianapolis-based doctor to perform an abortion in a rural county, that doctor might have to be on call in the rural county, even on days when the doctor is not at the county's clinic. The net result of this requirement (and the underlying intent of the bill) would be to dissuade physicians from going to those rural clinics to perform abortions.

With regard to this requirement, it is worth asking whether doctors performing other types of surgical or semi-surgical procedures at out-patient clinics around the state have a similar requirement. If a plastic surgeon performs liposuction at a rural clinic, must that surgeon have privileges at the county's hospital? If a opthamologist performs a LASIK procedure, must he also have privileges at the county's hospital? What about an oral surgeon performing a root canal? The list of procedures performed at out-patient clinics around the state goes on and on. Yet, so far as I am aware, in none of those other instances must the doctor have hospital privileges. Only in the case of abortions would the law add this requirement. And just to be clear, by comparison, abortions are not the most dangerous of procedures (at least when done in clinics and not the back alleys of the towns and cities where it is virtually impossible to find a doctor to perform an abortion). Many more dangerous procedures are performed in out-patient clinics without the state getting involved.

In essence, this provision of SB146 is yet another thinly disguised attempt to keep abortions legal while making them impossible to obtain.

Beginning of human physical life

First, what exactly does "human physical life" mean? I think that it is supposed to mean human life as opposed to the mere potential for human life found in either a sperm or an egg. Thus, if SB146 were to pass, it would be the law of the State of Indiana that life begins at conception (however carefully or obliquely worded the statute may be). I have several problems with this statement, one of which is far, far more important than the others: While some religions may hold to this belief, others do not. More specifically, Jewish theology, developed over thousands of years (beginning long before the birth of Christ), holds an absolutely contradictory viewpoint! According to Jewish law and tradition, a fetus is not a person. According to the Talmud, the fetus is deemed to be a component of the pregnant woman's body, no different from her thigh. Moreover, Jewish rabbis and scholars have been debating, literally for millennia, when "ensoulment" occurs. Even after this millennia of debate, no firm answer or opinion has emerged; thus, this is one of those issues of faith that is viewed as one of the "secrets of G-d". Yet, apparently, Senator Miller and Senator Drozda know this answer and are willing to tell Jewish scholars that their belief is wrong while the religious belief espoused by Senator Miller and Senator Drozda is right.

It is also absolutely critical to understand that according to Jewish law, the life of the mother takes precedence over the life of the fetus until birth. Allow me to quote, in part, some of the testimony offered in the Indiana House of Representatives in 2006 by Rabbi Dennis C. Sasso (with regard to another abortion-related bill):

Writing into state law what is essentially the doctrinal view of a particular segment of the faith community would impair the freedom of religion of Hoosier citizens whose religious traditions and ethical stances call them to a different understanding of when does human personhood begin. It is regrettable use of political and religious ideology to trump science, threaten pluralism, assault tolerance and encroach on the privacy of citizens.

The issue is not "When does life begin?" Life exists even before conception. The sperm is life. The ovum is life. Every cell and organism is a living entity. Adherents of the Eastern faith, Jainism, gently sweep the path in front of them as they walk in order to avoid stepping on living creatures.

The issue is not "when does life begin", but when is human personhood, that intangible moral and legal category upon which hinge so many privileges and responsibilities of identity and citizenship, established. And on this issue, science offers no answers and theologians and ethicists have and will continue to differ.

While some people of faith may choose to affirm that human personhood begins at conception, at the moment when the ovum and sperm meet, Judaism affirms that personhood begins at birth. In a contest between the fetus and the mother, the Jewish moral tradition will not only permit, but require, that preference be given to the mother.

Until birth, while the fetus is certainly to be cherished and protected, it is not considered an independent legal entity. Judaism honors and protects the fetus. Ours is a tradition that celebrates parenthood and family, but in a contest between the embryo or the fetus and the mother, Judaism preeminently protects the rights of the mother as a viable human person. Both her physiological and psychological needs are to be given preferential status over the rights of the developing fetus.

I want to be clear that on this matter there is universal consensus among all Jewish denominations, from the most liberal Reform to the Conservative, Reconstructionist and most traditional Orthodox.

The Rabbinate of the Orthodox Movement, has spoken as follows:

Judaism ... rejects the Catholic or fundamentalist view of abortion, particularly in those cases in which the life, physical or even mental well being of the mother is threatened.... When the life of the mother is threatened, Jewish law unambiguously prefers the life of the mother. Even when the health of the mother is threatened most authorities would permit an abortion before the onset of labor because the fetus has not yet reached an independent status.

We are fearful, therefore, of government interference with the freedom of the Jewish community to apply its time venerated Torah standards to the question of abortion. The intrusion of government into an issue which so often can be determined only by religious consciousness would involve a grave violation of the first amendment.

Thus, if SB146 were to pass, the religious viewpoint of one particular group of faiths would be enshrined as the law, while other longstanding, honestly held, and deeply personal religious viewpoints would be, by legal definition, wrong.

Let me be absolutely clear on this point: The State of Indiana has no business whatsoever telling me that what I believe, what my rabbi believes, and what Jews have come to believe after millennia of study and prayer, is wrong. Just as the State of Indiana has no right to tell Christians that the virgin birth is a fallacy, to tell Muslims that Mohammad was not a prophet, to tell Catholics that the sip of wine is not the blood of Christ, to tell Hindus that they will not be reincarnated, to tell Native Americans that their spirit ancestors don't exist, the State of Indiana has absolutely no right to tell me what to believe about when life begins. Few things are as central to religious faith and doctrine as questions concerning life and death. No government, especially not a government that is supposed to respect and cherish diversity of religious views, should be in the business of legislating core religious understandings. If we start down that road, we are no different from medieval Europe where scientists were burned for saying that the earth orbited the sun or modern fundamentalist Islamic states where religious police impose their fundamentalist view on all segments of society.

An additional point worth making, is that SB146 likely contradicts the protections and prohibitions of the Indiana Constitution. Yes, I said the Indiana Constitution. While most people are familiar with the United States Constitution (and, in particular, the First Amendment), few people (including, sadly, many of our own legislators) are familiar with the provisions of the Indiana Constitution. Allow me to quote several operative provisions From Article I (the Bill of Rights):

Section 3. No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.

Section 4. No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.

As should be obvious from reading these provisions (and take a look at Section 2, Section 6, and Section 7), Indiana's Constitution is even more protective of the freedom of religion than the United State Constitution. Consider how SB146 fares when faced with the constitutional prohibition on laws that interfere with the "rights of conscience". And, how does SB146 reconcile the prohibition of Section 4 that "[n]o preference be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship"? SB146's pronouncement regarding the beginning of human life gives preference to those religious traditions that believe one thing, while telling others that they are wrong, thereby interfering with the rights of conscience of those who believe differently.

One more point to consider: If SB146 passes and it becomes the law of the State of Indiana that human physical life begins at conception, what protections will be available to that human physical life? Might an embryo or fetus have a cause of action against a mother who smokes or drinks or doesn't wear her seat belt or forgets to take her prenatal vitamins? Is the fetus entitled to health care benefits from the State? Is the mother entitled to a tax credit similar to that for her children? And is a doctor who performs or a mother who receives a legal abortion guilty of murder? While I'm sure that Senator Drozda and Senator Miller would answer this last question in the affirmative, so long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, Indiana cannot make illegal that which the Constitution of the United States says is legal.

Senator Miller and Senator Drozda seem to care very much about the well-being of an embryo or fetus, but I wonder whether that same concern is evident for all children after birth. Recall that Indiana continues to defeat bills that are designed to protect children from second-hand smoke from their parents. Perhaps we should take time to be sure that all of Indiana's children are properly fed, housed, clothed, schooled, and receive timely and competent medical care before we spend more of our time, energy, and resources worrying about embryos and fetuses.

America was founded, in part, to protect religious freedoms and liberty. Yet here we are, more than 330 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and some senators in Indiana still believe that they have the moral authority to codify their religious viewpoint in the law. Small-minded bigotry and hatred are rarely so evident. Don't let SB146 become law; don't let the State of Indiana adopt one religious tradition at the expense of others; don't let millennia of theological debate be thrown away in the name of one group's cause. Call your legislator and tell them to oppose SB146; call Senator Miller and Senator Drozda and tell them that you don't appreciate their efforts to enforce their religious viewpoint through the auspices of the law.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't Allow a Pharmacist's Religious Views to Impede on the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Indiana is in the midst of a property tax crisis, we are experiencing more mortgage foreclosures than most other states, crime is (or at least appears to be) on the increase, the Colts lost in the playoffs, and many Hoosiers cannot afford quality health care or health insurance. Yet, rather than attempting to work on addressing these issues that are of grave concern to most Hoosiers, Indiana State Senators Patricia Miller and Jeff Drozda have once again introduced a series of mean-spirited bills aimed at limiting a woman's reproductive rights and inserting the State of Indiana into religious debates and religious doctrine that is thousands of years old.

What exactly have Sen. Miller and Sen. Drozda done? Let's take a look at the two bills: Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 146. I'll address Senate Bill 3 today and leave Senate Bill 146 for another day (as it raises even more fundamental and troubling problems that I want to take more time to address).

Senate Bill No. 3 (SB3)

This bill falls into a category of legislation that has been cropping up around the country, referred to alternately as a "pharmacist refusal" or "pharmacist conscience" bill/law. According to the official digest of SB3 (as updated January 9, 2008), the bill provides, in part, that:
a pharmacist may not be required to dispense a drug or medical device if the drug or medical device would be used to: (1) cause an abortion; (2) destroy an unborn child; or (3) cause the death of a person by means of assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.

Think, for a moment, what this bill is really saying. Even if a doctor prescribes a particular medication, the pharmacist has the right not to fill the prescription because of the pharmacist's own beliefs. SB3 allows the pharmacist to insert his or her own religious views into the doctor-patient relationship. Just it case it isn't obvious, parts (1) and (2) of the bill are clearly aimed at the emergency contraceptives (like the so-called "morning after pill").

There are numerous problems with SB3. First, how does the pharmacist know that the doctor didn't prescribe one of the medications described in part (1) or (2) as a result of the doctor's concern for the health of the mother? What if the mother is physically frail or suffering from a serious illness and her life will be jeopardized by the pregnancy? Who should really be deciding if this woman can have an abortion. What if the medication were prescribed because the woman was raped or was the victim of incest? It may be difficult enough for her to go to a doctor, let alone go to the pharmacy to get the prescription filled. But now, she has to worry about whether the pharmacist will fill the prescription. Just imagine her anguish as she goes from pharmacy to pharmacy.

This may not really be a major issue in large cities. If the pharmacist at Wal-Mart won't fill the prescription, the woman can walk across the street to CVS or Walgreen's. But what about small towns that might only have a single pharmacy? If that town's pharmacist refuses to fill the prescription, the woman may be entirely out of luck or might have to travel to another city, just to get a legal medication that was legally prescribed for her by her doctor. And consider that, in the case of emergency contraception, time is of the essence. The drug must be administered within 72 hours. If a patient has to "shop" for a pharmacist that will honor the prescription legally given by the patient's doctor, there is a possibility (higher in rural areas) that time might run out.

Which raises another interesting point. Isn't there some likelihood that the woman who is unable to obtain the emergency contraceptive will, instead, seek an abortion? Query which is worse: Providing a prescription which will prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall or forcing a woman to begin an unwanted pregnancy only to terminate it shortly thereafter? In other words, a pharmacist can rely upon his religious beliefs to force a woman into confronting one of the most difficult decisions that any person should ever have to make. Available and effective birth control should lead to fewer abortions, so making birth control harder to obtain makes no real sense.

One other interesting point to note. Sen. Drozda, the SB3's author, claimed during a committee hearing on SB3, that the bill was not intended to cover contraceptives. "Contraception is not covered," Drozda is reported to have said. Yet, according to that same report, after the committee hearing, Drozda is further reported to have acknowledged that a pharmacist could interpret the legislation as protection for refusing to fill a prescription for birth-control pills. Drozda apparently stated that he intends for SB3 to cover the morning-after contraceptive. (See "Senate panel OKs measure to protect pharmacists", The Courier-Journal, January 10, 2008.) So, was Sen. Drozda lying to the Senate committee or to the reporter? And if SB3 is not intended to cover contraceptives, then what, precisely, is it intended to cover? For that matter, what, precisely, is an "unborn child"? At what point does a egg, blastocyst, zygote, embryo, or fetus become an unborn child? And are we supposed to leave that decision up to a pharmacist?

And consider the implications of part (3) of SB3. Recall, first, that euthanasia is illegal in Indiana (an interesting subject for another day...). Just imagine a terminal patient in hospice who is in terrible pain. The patient's doctor decides to prescribe a very, very heavy dose of painkiller to relieve the patient's suffering. But the pharmacist, concerned that the dosage might be too high, can simply refuse to fill the prescription. I would hope that a concerned pharmacist would communicate the concern to the doctor, saying, perhaps, "Gee, I think that the dosage that you prescribed is too high and puts the patient at risk of dying." But SB3 doesn't mandate this kind of communication or even direct the pharmacist to dispense a lesser dosage of the drug; no, SB3 allows the pharmacist to simply refuse, thereby interfering in the doctor-patient relationship and, potentially, allowing the patient to suffer. And if the patient is in a hospice or hospital and the pharmacist is on the staff of the hospice or hospital, how exactly is the patient to get the medication? Are we to exepct the bed-ridden patient to walk down the street to find another pharmacist?

One might ask to whom the pharmacist's duty lies: the patient or the pharmacist himself?

I also note that the website for the Indiana Pharmacists Alliance makes no mention of SB3. All that I can conclude from this is that it is not an issue high on the list of priorities to Indiana's pharmacists. The American Pharmacists Association ("APhA") supports pharmacist refusal provisions, but:
APhA’s two-part policy supports the ability of the pharmacist to step away from participating in activity to which they have personal objections—but not step in the way. The Association supports the pharmacist’s right to choose not to fill a prescription based on moral or ethical values. But recognizing the pharmacist’s important role in the health care system, APhA supports the establishment of systems to ensure that the patient’s health care needs are served.

The American Medical Association's resolution on the subject recognizes that responsibility to the patient is paramount and advocates that, in situations where a pharmacist may refuse to dispense a prescription, that the pharmacist either direct the patient to a pharmacy that will dispense the prescription or allow the prescribing doctor to dispense the prescription. SB3 would allow the pharmacist to refuse without telling the patient where the drug could be legally obtained.

I'm also worried about the slippery slope that this bill starts our state down. What's next? Might a pharmacist be granted the right to refuse to dispense any contraceptive? What about ED drugs (some might say that would be a good thing...)? What about other medications that the pharmacist doesn't approve of? (Apparently, one pharmacist who testified in favor of SB3 stated that she even refuses to dispense hormones!) What about generics (after all, the pharmacist might make more money only dispensing name brands)? Perhaps a particular pharmacist owns stock in Eli Lilly; could that pharmacist refuse to dispense brands made by other companies? Where does it end?

It is also worth examining the Code of Ethics for Pharmacists (promulgated by the American Pharmacists Association). Below are the relevant canons (emphasis added):

I. A pharmacist respects the covenantal relationship between the patient and pharmacist. Considering the patient-pharmacist relationship as a covenant means that a pharmacist has moral obligations in response to the gift of trust received from society. In return for this gift, a pharmacist promises to help individuals achieve optimum benefit from their medications, to be committed to their welfare, and to maintain their trust.

II. A pharmacist promotes the good of every patient in a caring, compassionate, and confidential manner. A pharmacist places concern for the well-being of the patient at the center of professional practice. In doing so, a pharmacist considers needs stated by the patient as well as those defined by health science. A pharmacist is dedicated to protecting the dignity of the patient. With a caring attitude and a compassionate spirit, a pharmacist focuses on serving the patient in a private andconfidential manner.

III. A pharmacist respects the autonomy and dignity of each patient. A pharmacist promotes the right of self-determination and recognizes individual self-worth by encouraging patients to participate in decisions about their health. A pharmacist communicates with patients in terms that are understandable. In all cases, a pharmacist respects personal and cultural differences among patients.

IV. A pharmacist acts with honesty and integrity in professional relationships. A pharmacist has a duty to tell the truth and to act with conviction of conscience. A pharmacist avoids discriminatory practices, behavior or work conditions that impair professional judgment, and actions that compromise dedication to the best interests of patients.


VI. A pharmacist respects the values and abilities of colleagues and other health professionals. When appropriate, a pharmacist asks for the consultation of colleagues or other health professionals or refers the patient. A pharmacist acknowledges that colleagues and other health professionals may differ in the beliefs and values they apply to the care of the patient.

VII. A pharmacist serves individual, community, and societal needs. The primary obligation of a pharmacist is to individual patients. However, the obligations of a pharmacist may at times extend beyond the individual to the community and society. In these situations, the pharmacist recognizes the responsibilities that accompany these obligations and acts accordingly.

VIII. A pharmacist seeks justice in the distribution of health resources. When health resources are allocated, a pharmacist is fair and equitable, balancing the needs of patients and society.

Compare these ethics to a pharmacist refusing to dispense a prescription because it conflicts with the pharmacist's religious beliefs.

Apparently, some pharmacists have argued that the bill is needed because requiring pharmacists to dispense drugs for purposes that violate the pharmacist's religious beliefs is a violation of the First Amendment. Yet this argument is a red herring because the pharmacist is not taking the medication; rather the pharmacist is simply dispensing a legally prescribed medication. Could a police officer refuse to arrest someone for polygamy on the grounds that the police officer's religion permits polygamy and forcing the officer to enforce the law that he disagreed with would violate his religious beliefs? Could a teacher ignore (or even teach contrary to) adopted state educational standards if those standards conflicted with the teacher's religious beliefs (don't get me started on the whole "intelligent design" debate)?

At the end of the day, we need to recognize that the role of the pharmacist is to dispense the medications that a doctor legally prescribes. If the pharmacist is concerned that the particular medication will be dangerous for the patient (e.g. a drug interaction or allergy), then it is the certainly the role of the pharmacist to raise this concern with the patient and/or doctor. But it is not the role of the pharmacist -- nor should it be -- to tell a patient which prescribed drugs they can or cannot have on the basis of that pharmacist's religious beliefs. Nor should it be the role of the pharmacist to insert his or her own belief systems (as opposed to medical, chemical, and biological knowledge) into the physician-patient relationship.

But the, I doubt that Senator Drozda cares about any of this; his only concern appears to be preventing abortions.

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