succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, October 19, 2007

"I've always been a religious bitch, but if that evil motherfucker believes in God, I'm thinking it over."

- Billie Holiday

(Excellent quote, and the fabulous Margaret Cho, thanks for Firedoglake)

Monday, October 15, 2007

This is what it's like here

Welcome to the south. Under the heading "Pro-Life Legislation Is Working," Peach Pundit provides the following information regarding the 'results' of local passage of the Woman's Right to Know Act:

According to the Senate Majority Leader, Tommie Williams, we have already seen
significant results in passing this critical pro-life legislation. Since it went
into effect in May of 2005, the DHR reports that between 32,500 and 40,500 women have talked to their doctors about an abortion. After that conversation and the information provided to them by this law, approximately 10,000 chose to carry
their babies to term. In addition, 2,300 minors considered terminating their
pregnancy and only 500 did so. So we saved about 11,800 babies so far. Pretty
neat, huh?

I put 'results' in quotes because, as a statistician, I have my doubts about this data (and of course, always want to collect more data). Especially in light of the latest Lancet article showing that abortion restrictions don't actually reduce the number of abortions (they just make them more dangerous). [though, to be fair, the Lancet article focuses specifically on actually legally restricting abortions, not on trying to emotionally pressure women out of having them] So my first question is, is this actually a change in numbers from before the act was passed? Do roughly the same number of women discuss abortion with their doctors but then decide to carry to term, regardless of state-mandated propoganda provided to them by their doctor? Also, I'd like to double check that we're correctly differentiating here between women who 'chose' (under coercion?) to carry to term vs. those who traveled outside the state to seek an abortion. Is that 11,800 number based on birth certificates, or is it just the difference between the number of women/doctors who reported having a discussion about abortion and the number of abortions recorded in the state? And for that matter, how are we counting the number of private conversations held between a woman and her healthcare provider?

If these numbers turn out to be even vaguely accurate, we will need to weigh them against the Lancet findings that restricting abortion endangers women's health. In comments over on Peach Pundit someone points out that pregnancy and birth actually carry higher risk factors for women than abortion, to which someone (predictibly) responds that abortion is '100% fatal for the baby.' Both of which are true statements, but both of which are also incomplete. As I've said here before, this is why we need people like Margaret Olivia Little doing some mental heavy lifting on the topic. The problem with applying moral concepts to pregnancy (and abortion) is that the physical state of pregnancy is unlike any other state humans experience. There is no (satisfying) way to isolate either the woman or the baby and argue policy positions on behalf of the one without considering the other. If, hypothetically, the above report is true and accurate, and 11,800 babies have been saved since May 2005, but 10,000 women have lost their lives, due to complications from pregnancy and delivery, due to botched illegal abortions, due to partner abuse or suicide, does the end result of the act still get counted as a positive? What if 11,800 babies are saved but 5,000 women are lost? How do we work such moral arithmetic? For me, the answer is we don't; that such decisions absolutely have to be personal in nature and cannot be codified into law specifically because the morality of the issue makes it impossible to apply one standard to everyone. It seems to me that the 'pro-life' (anti-abortion) movement is not only prepared to place more importance on the life of an unborn child than on the life of that child's mother, but to, in many cases, completely neglect the worth of that woman. I have a hard time finding the moral footing for such an argument, but at least if people would be clear that that is where they're coming from we could perhaps gain an interesting place from which to debate.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


His Holiness the Dalai Lama is coming to Emory for three days (as part of a Presidential Distinguished Professorship) and not only did I get a free ticket to his inaugural lecture (yay to being a student!) but I also just faxed in my request (and donation) to the Drepung Loseling Institute, which is hosting an introductory lecture on Buddhism, given by the Dalai Lama!