Why don’t “pro-lifers” support birth control?

There has been a lot of commentary this week about the GOP-led proposal to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Commentators such as Ezra Klein note the irrationality of this stance, since Planned Parenthood itself estimates it prevents more than 620,000 unintended pregnancies each year, and 220,000 abortions. Why wouldn’t the anti-abortion crowd support this increase in contraception, and subsequent prevention of abortions?

What’s missing in this rationale is that many on the far right perceive most forms of contraception *as being equivalent to abortion.* So by their logic, Planned Parenthood isn’t “preventing” these abortions–it’s just doing them another way, via the Pill, IUDs, etc. instead of drug-induced or surgical abortions. To many who view the world this way, Planned Parenthood *is* using tax dollars to fund abortions, because they’re using tax dollars to help provide patients with oral contraceptives and other means of birth control. After all, while the Pill mainly works to prevent ovulation in the first place, there is some evidence that a secondary action may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. If you’re of the mindset that a fertilized ovum is the equivalent of a “person”, then it becomes outrageous to allow the prescription of a product that will “kill” that egg, and it becomes more reasonable to protest organizations like PP which provide women access to such medications (or, public schools which educate our children about such alternatives–hence their opposition to comprehensive sex education as well).

Do I agree with this position? Hell no, but I think it’s necessary to understand and acknowledge it–and as such, to see why articles like Klein’s above (and many others which I’ve seen appear in the past week or so) only serve to stoke the fires for those on the extreme right, rather than making them jump on the PP bandwagon.

Silence is the enemy

“I always think someone is following me and wants to rape me. It is better to die.” –Darfuri refugee

Sometimes there comes a public health issue that’s so big, so overwhelming, so heinous, that you just don’t know where to begin discussing it. Nevertheless, the conversation should, and must, happen just the same. Silence may be easier, but speaking out is the only way to demystify the taboos and bring attention to what’s going on for those who can’t bring attention to it themselves. And maybe, just maybe, bring about some change.

It’s no secret that rape happens during wartime. Certainly documents being discussed regarding our own soldiers’ treatment of prisoners show that wartime rape–of either “the enemy” or even female colleagues–is not limited to rogue armies in far-off countries some Americans probably couldn’t even find on a map. That doesn’t make it any less inexcusable, or the crimes any less horrendous, just because we’ve done it, too.

A recent piece in the New York Times by Nick Kristof highlighted the extent of these rapes even after the war has stopped, discussing rape in Liberia. As Kristof notes, the war in Liberia ended officially in 2003 after 14 years. However, even today–6 years into peacetime–a high percentage of the female population reports a history of rape, including girls as young as 3 years old. Of 275 sexual violence cases treated in just four months’ time in Liberia by Doctors without Borders, 28% involved children age 4 or younger, and a third involved children ages 5-12. Children are easy targets, and the most powerless of all possible victims.

Of course, rape is older than civilization itself, just like the view that women are second-class citizens (if we count as citizens at all). You may have heard about these types of rapes–of women, of children, by solo men or gangs; using only their bodies or using whatever object is handy, including guns or knives, to rape their victims–being carried out in Darfur, in the Congo, or elsewhere. Celebrities have written about it in excruciating detail, documenting some of the horrors: a child held and raped for 2 weeks, left alive but incontinent, humiliated, and shamed. 6-month-old infants raped. 80-year-old women raped and brutalized. 1,100 women raped every month in Eastern Congo according to United Nation estimates.

The situation in Darfur probably has received more international attention than other countries, yet still, little has been done–and the future of what *can* be done is uncertain, as many foreign aid groups were kicked out in March.

For those who have fled the brutality in Darfur, the situation remains bleak. A new report was just released documenting the issues Darfuri women face in refugee camps, including repeated rapes and a lack of any legal recourse either in their home country or in the camps. They are imprisoned–unable to help themselves by even getting firewood or tending to animals because of the potential for rape at the periphery of the camps–and have no one to turn to. Indeed, in many areas, the perpetrators carrying out these crimes are the very ones who are supposed to be protecting women–police, military and government officials, even teachers. In Liberia, despite having the first female president of an African country, little progress has been made in changing laws or attitudes about rape, and the country still lacks an adequate legal system able to adequately prosecute the small percentage of rapes that are reported.

What to do about this? That’s what’s kept me from writing more about this, I suppose–the sheer magnitude of what is happening, and the helplessness one feels when reading about it. With infectious diseases, though some of them are equally overwhelming, at least there is the hope of prevention via relatively simple devices (bed nets for malaria; condoms for HIV; isolation and medical treatment of TB, and of course the hope for vaccines, etc.) With systematic rape, there is no drug or vaccination to look for in the future. What is needed instead are shifts in attitude: more respect toward women; societal intolerance of such crimes by men; empowerment of women and girls; an understanding by family members of those who were raped; cessation of femicide. These are overwhelmingly difficult things to ask for, especially in countries fragmented by years of war and violence. How does one help to accomplish these things in far-off countries, when it’s hard enough to be respected as a woman right here in the U.S.?

A recent editorial by the editors of PLoS Medicine provides some places to start:

Medical professionals are powerful lobbyists whose recognition of the devastation could galvanize support for the work of humanitarian organizations and advocacy groups in documenting sexual atrocities and holding states accountable when human rights and international law are violated. Together with medical journalists and editors they have done much to try to expose the devastation of sexual violence during conflict, but we can all do more to document and disseminate the research and accounts of health workers, nongovernmental organizations, and survivors.

And they’re right. No, gang rape isn’t exactly great fodder for cocktail parties. It’s incredibly uncomfortable and depressing to speak about–and that’s probably one reason it’s gone on as long as it has, with relatively little attention. It’s taboo to discuss–not only in countries like Liberia or Sudan, but here in the US as well. It needs to stop, and we can help make that happen. Talk to someone about this. If you can’t do it in person, write a letter. Write your congressperson. Hell, write your mayor. Highlight it on your own blog. See if a local women’s group–or any other group interested in global health or women’s rights–has covered the issue recently, and if not, offer them any of the linked articles to spark the conversation. Email your local newspapers or TV stations. Send a mass email to your friends–this is certainly more important and worthy of their attention than the latest viral YouTube video, right?

Finally, keep checking back. This month frees up a bit of time for me, so I’ll highlight some of the other posts on this topic around the blogosphere as I see them crop up, in order to keep the discussion going and look for other ways to help and other perspectives on the issues. I’ll also write on some related topics. Additionally, keep an eye on Sheril and Isis’s blogs for more posts and updates. Along with them (and potentially others, which I’ll mention as I see them), I’ll be donating any wages from the blog this month to Doctors Without Borders as a token of appreciation for the work they’ve done for the victims of these brutal crimes. I’ll have a list of other charities you may want to consider in a future post.

Silence is the enemy. Speak out. Pass it on.

[Edited to add: Sheril has a list of participating blogs here, including NY Times author Nick Kristof with his post highlighting the movement. We now have a Facebook page for “Silence is the Enemy” here; and you can search Twitter using #silencehurts.]

Obama: end malaria deaths by 2015

Well, you certainly can’t fault Obama for aiming high. Via satellite, Obama announced at yesterday’s Clinton Global Initiative forum that he would provide support to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015–a lofty goal, but is it even close to attainable?

Obama provided the basics of his plan here, laying out why he feels this is such an important goal:

Malaria needlessly kills 900,000 people each year. In Africa, a child dies from a mosquito bite every thirty seconds. Beyond this devastating human toll, malaria undermines the economic potential of local economies and overwhelms public health systems – accounting for up to 40% of health spending in many African countries. As global warming and population displacement trends accelerate, an additional 260-320 million people worldwide could be living in malaria-infested areas by 2080.

He then discusses multiple approaches necessary to quickly reduce the mortality from this infection. Is this attainable? More after the jump…
Continue reading “Obama: end malaria deaths by 2015”

Anthrax–still a mess

So, after almost a week of intense media scrutiny and finger-pointing at USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks, the FBI has now released its documents pertaining to the case, and declares that Ivins was indeed their man. However, a lot of unanswered questions remain–about the investigation itself, the whole mess surrounding the anthrax attacks and what they meant to the “war on terror,” and the science itself that linked the attack strain to Ivins’ lab. A few of the remaining issues are discussed below…
Continue reading “Anthrax–still a mess”

Smallmindedness in small towns

I rarely talk politics here, but I received this email from a cousin the other day:

According to the Book of Revelations the anti-christ is: The anti-christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuassive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal…. the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destory everything. Is it OBAMA??

The email itself, unfortunately, isn’t out of the ordinary; many of my family members believe we’re in the End Times. What made this one unique is that the Washington Post has an article up about my hometown (Findlay, Ohio, “Flag City USA”) discussing this phenomenon; more after the jump.
Continue reading “Smallmindedness in small towns”

Clinton and Obama parrot the “vaccine and autism connection inconclusive” line

Via Razib, Obama on vaccines:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

–Barack Obama, Pennsylvania Rally, April 21, 2008.

and Clinton:

I am committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines. I have long been a supporter of increased research to determine the links between environmental factors and diseases, and I believe we should increase the NIH’s ability to engage in this type of research. My administration will be committed to improving research to support fact-based solutions, and I will ensure that the NIH has the staff and funding to fully explore all possible causes of autism….We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.

Ugh. At least they don’t say there’s “strong evidence” to support it like McCain. I can certainly get behind more research on environmental factors in autism development (and of course, additional funding for biomedical research, period), but we’ve been there/done that for vaccines. I wonder if either of them are even aware of The National Children’s Health Study?

The National Children’s Study will examine the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of more than 100,000 children across the United States, following them from before birth until age 21. The goal of the study is to improve the health and well-being of children.

Variables examined will include vaccinations received, and development of autism will be one of the outcomes examined. What more can you ask for? Obama and Clinton’s claims of ignorance on the part of the scientific community when it comes to vaccines and autism show that we don’t have any real science defenders in the running.

On E. coli, super soil bacteria, and Hank Williams Jr.

Early this week, grant application; yesterday and today, IRB and IACUC for another project. But once again, fellow Sbers are keeping me busy reading about stories I’d like to be writing on; see yet again Mike on E. coli O157:H7–everything old is new again; Ed on a new study showing yet again how amazing bacteria are; and DrugMonkey discussing heroin addiction as a family legacy, and notes that this sad story again shows that Narcan saves lives.