Archive for May, 2022

Mississippi: America’s Third World Country

Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

Although I have been there only once, I can’t help thinking about Mississippi.

Mississippi has recently been in the news, of course, because its 2018 Gestational Age Act will be upheld in the same Supreme Court decision overruling Roe v. Wade, which we discovered from Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked first draft opinion for the majority.

This is not Mississippi’s first foray into restricting abortion. In 2007, the state passed its version of an abortion Trigger Law, which “bans all abortions unless necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or if the pregnancy was caused by rape and charges have been filed with law enforcement,” and which takes effect immediately following the state attorney general certifying the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. The Trigger law had 19 male legislative sponsors and zero female sponsors. Regardless, Mississippi has been ready for this for 15 years.

But has it been ready for what comes next?

Matthew Walther, editor of The Lamp, a Roman Catholic literary journal, and a person who will never be accused of favoring abortion, sees predictable and unpleasant consequences after Roe is no longer the law of the land. In his 10 May 2022 guest essay for the New York Times, “Overturning Roe will disrupt a lot more than abortion. I can live with that,” Mr. Walthern acknowledges what very few anti-abortionists want to admit.

Research over the years has suggested that an America without abortion would mean more single mothers and more births to teenage mothers, increased strain on Medicaid and other welfare programs, higher crime rates, a less dynamic and flexible work force, an uptick in carbon emissions, lower student test scores and goodness knows what else.

But Mr. Walther, despite envisioning a gloomy horizon, “can live with that.” I cannot restrain myself from pointing out that Mr. Walther is of the male persuasion and, consequently, faces little likelihood of ever having to “live with” personal pregnancy.

Nonetheless, he makes a good argument, which brings us back to Mississippi.

A few points worth considering:

  • Poverty: According to the Department of Agriculture, 20.29% of Mississippi’s adults and 27.6% of its children live below the poverty line. This is the highest poverty rate in America where the national average is 11.4%.
  • Income: The median family income in Mississippi is $45,081. This is the lowest in the nation. According to the National Census Bureau, the national average in 2019 was $65,712.
  • Education: Only Texas, at 84%, ranks lower than Mississippi, at 85%, for the percentage of high school graduates. The national average is 89.6%. Only West Virginia, at 21%, ranks lower than Mississippi’s 22% for the percentage of college graduates. The national average is 31.28%.
  • Life Expectancy: At 74.4 years, Mississippi has the lowest life expectancy rate in the nation. Of note, the life expectancy rate for Mississippi’s men is 71.2 years.
  • Fetal Mortality: Mississippi’s fetal mortality rate, the number of deaths at 24 or more weeks of gestation per 1,000 live births, is 6.6. This is the highest in the nation. The national average is 3.68. If that isn’t enough, fetal deaths have lately doubled among unvaccinated pregnant women who suffer COVID-19 infections, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a Mississippi State Department of Health press conference in September, 2021.
  • Infant Mortality: The Infant Mortality Rate is the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births. At 8.27, Mississippi’s is the highest in the nation, far exceeding Louisiana’s rate of 7.53, which is the second highest.
  • Maternal Mortality: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate is 20.8, again, the highest in the country, where the national average is 17.4, which is the highest among all members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A maternal death is defined by the World Health Organization as, “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”
  • Maternity Leave: Mississippi has no guaranteed Maternity or Sick Leave in its state laws.
  • Smoking: According to the CDC, 20.4% of Mississippians smoke. This is the fourth highest in the nation.
  • Autopsies: Something you probably have never have considered until now: Autopsy backlogs. According to the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), 90% of all autopsies should be completed within 60 days of death. The NAME has never accredited Mississippi, which has the highest backlog in the nation. The Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office was waiting for about 1,300 reports from as far back as 2011, records sent to the Associated Press in early April show. Around 800 of those involve homicides – meaning criminal cases are incomplete.
  • Abortion: According to the Mississippi Department of Public Health, the state has about 3,500 abortions annually. This represents 4.3 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.
  • Finally: Mississippi ranks highest in the nation for Percent of Births to Unmarried Mothers, Cesarean Delivery Rate, Preterm Birth Rate, and Low Birthweight Rate.

Reading the above, one might be forgiven for thinking  there is a significant population in Mississippi who are actual victims of the state’s inability, or outright refusal, to carry out its first responsibility: to provide for the security and safety of its citizens.

Thinking about this, I have to ask: Given how well it’s doing now, how in the world is Mississippi going to cope with 3,500 new births per year? On CNN this past Sunday, Jake Tapper interviewed the state’s Republican Governor, Tate Reeves. That interview offered a glimpse of what is likely coming, a catastrophe becoming worse than it already is, which is considerable.

Tapper: Mississippi, as you know, has the highest rate of infant mortality in the United States. You have the highest rate of child poverty in the United States. Your state has no guaranteed maternity leave that’s paid. The legislature in Mississippi just rejected extending post-partum Medicaid coverage. Your foster care system is also the subject of a long-running federal lawsuit over its failure to protect children from abuse. You say you want to do more to support mothers and children, but you’ve been in state government since 2004. Based on the track record of the state of Mississippi, why should anyone believe you?

Reeves: I believe in my heart that I was elected, not to try to hide our problems, but to try to fix our problems. We are focusing every day on fixing the challenges that are before us.

Good luck, Governor. You and all those “unborn” children who are about to be “saved” are going to need a lot of it. And so are the Mississippi women who are about to become the state’s newest victims.

 

 

 

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Monday, May 9th, 2022

VI

We end this opinion where we began. Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives. ‘The judgment of the Fifth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Thus ends the 1st Draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion for the court majority overturning Roe and Casey, the two Supreme Court rulings that made abortion legal in America.

Alito’s ruling lays bare what happens when courts are forced to decide on the constitutionality of laws that intersect with morality, societal culture, religion, historical and legal precedent, privacy, and control—specifically, a woman’s right of control over her own body.

Regardless of what you feel about abortion, you will not find even a hint of what Alito feels about it in his 67-page ruling, followed by Appendices in which he lists, in chronological order, the laws that every state passed prohibiting abortion, going back to Missouri’s in 1827, and ending with Mississippi’s in 1952. What you will find is the utter destruction of the arguments behind the Roe and Casey rulings. I think Justice Alito resents what he believes to be the inadequacies, the just plain wrong thinking he finds in Roe and Casey. One could be forgiven for believing he thinks those decisions were less like Supreme Court deliberations and more like a couple of the weekly meetings of the Mickey Mouse Club. Frankly, I cannot wait to read the dissents I know are coming.

The coming fight

The official ruling won’t appear for a month or two, and it may differ from Alito’s draft in minor or major ways, but we are already seeing the beginnings of the warfare to come, the torching of an anti-abortion organization’s office and the picketing and protests outside the homes of Supreme Court Justices, for example. This is a galvanizing issue that only exacerbates the political divide in our country. There will be protests and marches and the probability of violence is not remote. Anger sits in the air. Moreover, there are deep psychological wounds. The women I have talked with who support abortion’s legality are emotionally crushed. Their sense of devastation and betrayal is palpable and profound.

What is all the more galling for these and other women is discovering that the fight they thought they had won 49 years ago, is now lost. Women who were in their 20s in January, 1973, breathed then a collective sigh of relief. Now, those women and their daughters feel gut-punched.

And that ain’t all.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 23 states already have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion. That includes the 13 states with Trigger Laws that will drop like the Hammer of Thor when the official ruling arrives.

There are no two ways about it: we are in for a bumpy ride. This will likely be a major issue in the upcoming midterm elections, and if Republicans win and take control of both houses of Congress, it is probable they will move to pass  legislation outlawing abortion nation-wide (and some say contraception and gay marriage, too—Alito’s ruling leaves the door open for those, even though he says the Supremes are only ruling on abortion. Still…). President Biden will veto that, and there will not be enough votes to override his veto. But if all this happens followed by a Republican victory in 2024’s presidential election, the Biden guardrail will be removed. Emigration to Canada will soar.

Going back to the future of the pre-1973s will bring some dire consequences.

Current research demonstrates:

  • By the second year after a nation-wide ban on abortions, pregnancy-related deaths, known as maternal mortality, would increase by 21% overall:
  • Among non-Hispanic Black woman, this percentage would increase by 33%;
  • In a 1976 article, researchers from the Center for Disease Control examined national abortion data from the three years surrounding the Roe ruling and estimated that the number of illegal procedures in the country plummeted from around 130,000 to 17,000 between 1972 and 1974. That will change;
  • On the other hand, a 2020 study published in The Lancet found that in countries where abortion was restricted, the proportion of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion had increased, and the unintended pregnancy rates were higher than in countries where abortion was broadly legal.

I have total certainty the abortion debate, peaceful or otherwise, will not end anytime soon. Feelings about abortion are deeply held beliefs for most people, and, as has been demonstrated since humanity first stood upright, deeply held beliefs seldom, if ever, change.

An admittedly naive suggestion

First, let me state the obvious. Abortion happens when an unintended pregnancy occurs. Unintended pregnancies occur when education is lacking, wrong, or just plain non-existent, and when contraceptives are not used by either the man or the woman. Both of these—education and contraceptive use, which are two sides of the same coin—are hit-or-miss issues throughout American culture.

But they don’t have to be.

It is unfortunate, indeed, that, in many areas well-intentioned, but misguided, parents, officials, and legislators seek to eliminate, or at least dumb-down, Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) in our public and private school systems. A 2018 UNESCO study “identified 22 relevant systematic reviews, more than 70 potentially relevant randomized controlled trials and a significant amount of non-trial information from 65 publications and online resources,” and found that “sexuality education —in or out of schools —does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour or STI/HIV infection rates.” And it “reduces unintended pregnancy.”

Education works, and it can significantly reduce the need for abortions if coupled with a systemic nation-wide program that provides easy—even free—access to contraceptives. To succeed, this must not be a one-off, public affairs program. It’s too important for that. The states, as well as the federal government, would need to advocate, and do so forcefully, to change current behavior. Yes, there would still be unintended pregnancies, but shouldn’t everyone’s goal be to reduce those to a minimum? This would result in fewer illegal abortions and less maternal mortality.

For example, today, only 65% of women and a third of men regularly employ contraception. The vast majority of women prefer the pill, with LARCs (Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives) following behind. The point is, there is a 35% opportunity among women, the people who become pregnant and sometimes must resort to abortions.

If, as now seems nearly certain, Roe is overruled, what are our options? We can do nothing, and revisit back alleys and coat-hangers, or we can do everything in our power to reverse that course through Comprehensive Sex Education and universal contraception.

The bleak future is not reality, not yet, anyway. Given our society, there may be little chance of changing the future that now seems ordained, but there are things we can do to mitigate the potentially terrible results of the Alito ruling if we have the strength to fully embrace them.

Women, and women alone, should have the right to decide when, and if, they have children.

 

The Leak

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022

At 8:30pm Monday night, Politico reporters Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward dropped the biggest journalistic bombshell of a year filled with journalistic bombshells when they published a leaked first draft of the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule and strike down the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion constitutional, and therefore legal, in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. This ruling, which, according to experts, should be made official in a month or two, also affirms Mississippi’s ban on abortions after the 15th week. Today, the Supreme Court said the leaked draft is authentic, and Chief Justice John Roberts, calling it an egregious breach of trust and confidentiality, said an investigation would begin immediately to discover how it happened and who is responsible.

It is important to note this is a “First Draft.” There may be more. However, a vote has been taken, and we know the results. Between now and the official ruling, votes can change, but probably won’t.

Supreme Court leaks have happened before. In an ironic twist, the night before Roe v. Wade was announced in January of 1973, a Supreme Court clerk leaked the decision to the Washington Post.

Thinking about the decision and the leak, I would like to offer a few points for your consideration.

First, I can see no sense to this leak, which I think disgraceful and a betrayal of trust. The reason I see no sense to it is because it achieves nothing that would not have been achieved when the ruling is made public in its final form in a month or two. At that time there would still be ample opportunity for it to play out vis-à-vis mid-term politics. So, why now? Who gains what?

Second, right now we have no idea if this was politically motivated. If it was politically motivated, we do not know the motivation behind the person who leaked it. It could have been anyone with access to Court documents. Imagine a clerk leaves the decision lying around, or forgets to turn off a computer, whereupon somebody else decides to cause a little mayhem. The point is anything is possible in our current vacuum of ignorance.

Third, Justice Samuel Alito wrote this first draft of the decision. In Alito’s confirmation hearings he was asked about his previous writings regarding Roe, writings in which he wrote Roe was unconstitutional. He wrote that the Constitution says nothing about abortion and that abortion decisions should be left to the various states. He responded to those confirmation questions by saying he would “put aside” the things he argued when a mere lawyer and “think about legal issues the way a judge thinks about legal issues.” The interesting thing here is the decision he has now authored is a mirror reflection of what he wrote when a “mere lawyer.” He writes now that Roe was “egregiously wrong” from the beginning; that the Constitution says nothing about abortion; and that the matter should be left to the “elected representatives” in the various states. Makes one wonder.

I would note that the Constitution also says nothing about baseball, but on November 9, 1953, the Supreme Court upheld a prior, controversial decision that allowed major league baseball to operate outside of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Maybe Justice Alito would like to overturn that decision, too?

Fourth, this is NOT akin to the Pentagon Papers, as some are arguing. The only thing this has in common with the Pentagon Papers, which documented governmental lying about the Vietnam War, is the method by which we learned of it: a leak. We would never have learned of the Pentagon Papers but for the leak. Without the present leak, we would have learned of this decision in the near term – which we still will. This decision, regardless of whatever you think of it, and I condemn it in the highest possible terms, has nothing to do with governmental lying with respect to national security.

Fifth, At least one Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, lied during his confirmation hearing. When asked about Roe, he responded it was “settled as a precedent,” because “it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years.” Apparently, he did not believe that, or he would not have voted to overturn Roe now. He certainly could have voted to allow Mississippi’s abortion ban after 15-weeks to stand without overturning “settled law.” We may be forgiven for wondering if Justice Kavanaugh lied about a few other things during his confirmation hearing.

A note about “settled law.” Settled law is settled until it isn’t, as in this case. I point out that the Dred Scott decision was once “settled law.”

Sixth, in a tangential development, reporters asked Senator Susan Collins, (R-Maine), her reaction to the leaked decision. You may recall, just prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing she emerged from a meeting with him and said he’d assured her that Roe is “settled law.” She gave him her vote. Today she was asked about that and said:

“If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office. Obviously, we won’t know each Justice’s decision and reasoning until the Supreme Court officially announces its opinion in this case.”

Seventh, Chief Justice Roberts also responded to questions about Roe during his confirmation hearing. When asked if Roe was settled law, he replied, “It is settled as a precedent of the Court, yes.” Roberts did not vote to overturn Roe in this draft decision.

Eighth, this seems one more reason to think we are now living in two countries, one Red, one Blue. Eventually, if we’re lucky, very lucky, we will find common ground when we once again begin electing leaders who aspire to embrace the values, the good ones, upon which America came to be. I don’t know about you, but that time cannot come soon enough for me, if it ever does.

My question is: What happens to this country if it doesn’t?