Men who impregnate women don’t face any consequences in the new abortion laws

I’m at the Washington Post today with a story about the new anti-choice laws and fathers — specifically my father. As always, thanks for reading. And considering.

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As Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed Alabama’s draconian anti-abortion bill into law, I combed over the horrifying details about how doctors who performed an abortion could receive up to 99 years in prison, read that there would be no exceptions for rape or incest, and learned that women and girls, no matter their age, would be required to carry a fetus to term. No exceptions.

Who’s missing? The men. Fathers.

Click here to continue reading.

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Thank you, men!

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The Kentucky House Floor, January 2017

May 22, 2019 Edition

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Let’s face it, ladies. It’s time we say a big, old thank you to men.

In recent weeks, a number of male-dominated state legislatures have passed bills regulating a woman’s right to end a pregnancy: Kentucky, Utah, Mississippi, Ohio, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, and Alabama.

In a 25-6 vote in Alabama, 25 men passed a bill that would give doctors who perform an abortion 99 years, or life, in prison. And if you’re a girl or woman who’s been the victim of rape or incest, too bad, no exceptions, no matter if you’re 12 or 25.

The men have spoken, and you will carry that fetus—your rapist’s, your father’s, your uncle’s—to term, and by golly you’ll be thankful they made you do it.

This is what we’ve expected all along, is it not? Consider the language we use: She wanted it. She asked for it. She went and got herself pregnant. She came up pregnant.

Note the mysterious absence of men in these scenarios. Huh. Surely an oversight.

Back in Jan. 2017, I spent a Saturday in the Kentucky House gallery listening to (mostly) elderly men on the House floor sharing long, meandering, personal stories of their wives’ and mothers’ pregnancies and childbirth, quoting both related, and often glaringly unrelated, biblical passages. This, following the declaration by Sen. President Robert Stivers. “One had a choice early on to make a decision to conceive or not,” he stated. “Once conception starts, another life is involved, and the legislature has the ability to determine how that life proceeds.”

By “one” he means the woman, right? That once a woman has decided to conceive—Decided? Wait, does he not know how conception works?—she loses her rights and the state legislature takes over? Well, shoot fire. Let’s all stand up and say thank goodness for Sen. Stivers, because if there is anyone women want making decisions about their bodies and their lives, it is the predominantly male (107 to 31) Kentucky state legislature!

I’m reminded of that Neil Sedaka song from the 1970s.

Bad (ba-a-ad) blood (blo-o-od)
The woman was born to lie.
Makes promises she can’t keep
With the wink on an eye.

Bad (ba-a-ad) blood (blo-o-od)
The bitch is in her smile.
The lie is on her lips
Such an evil child.

Now, lest you think we women have it made here in the Commonwealth, look out, because the great state of Texas is giving us a run for our money. There are 139 men vs. 42 women in the Texas legislature and, like Alabama, there are no exceptions for rape or incest, but there is a staggering added bonus: State Rep. Tony Tinderholt has introduced a bill in which doctors and nurses, along with women seeking abortion care, would face murder charges. And guess what you get with a murder charge in Texas? The death penalty.

Of course, none of this comes as a surprise, certainly not to me. Men here in Kentucky often ask my husband things like, “You let her travel all by herself?” and, wink-wink, “You help her write all those articles, don’t you?”

I’m 53 years old, but by gosh, I think these fellas might be onto something. I mean, if a woman can’t manage to travel by herself or string together 700 words for the newspaper, surely we can’t trust her with the big stuff, like medical decisions, am I right?

So thank you, men. Truly. A great, big, hearty thank you for never letting us forget who’s in really charge.

And thank you especially to the proud men of the Kentucky, Utah, Mississippi, Ohio, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, and Alabama state legislatures, men who continually argue that stricter gun laws won’t stop people from getting guns while insisting that stiff abortion laws will miraculously stop women from ending unwanted pregnancies.

You guys rock.

On small town religious tolerance

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Artist’s rendering of The Abbey at Gethsemane from Fenton Johnson’s “The Man Who Loved Birds”

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The Saturday before Easter, at a standing-room-only nail salon here in town, the lady in the pedicure chair next to me spent her hour proselytizing and inviting woman after woman to Alton Baptist for Sunday services.

The women were unflinchingly polite, saying things like “thanks, but we live in Lexington,” “I used to live here, I’m all set,” and “I have plans with my grandkids,” but they were also clearly annoyed. To no avail. They were trapped in their chairs, nowhere to go.

I recalled this awkward Easter Saturday when I read a recent column by Kristina Dreisbach about our wonderful coffee shop on Main Street. Ms. Dreisbach is right about the perfect coffee and the tasty food. But unlike Ms. Dreisbach I go there in spite of, not because of, the abundance of Christian quotes and quips that adorn the walls.

I do not begrudge the owner of the coffee shop for decorating her place of business any way she sees fit. This is her right, and I respect it.

And yet, I frequent the coffee shop … for coffee. And I am not alone.

A Lawrenceburg woman explains how she finally changed dentists because the she no longer cares to hear about Bible study while lying back vulnerable in the chair, unable to speak.

A friend’s niece wants desperately to get married in the church she grew up in, but she also wants to have a father-daughter dance. The congregation votes no. The niece gets married elsewhere. My friend is angry and hurt. She wants to change churches, she says. But in the end she stays and stays silent. She realizes that, if she leaves, she will be ostracized by the only community she has known since birth.

I hear about how, in order to receive food at the local pantry, people are often asked (read: required) to pray aloud, like a beggar, in front of everyone.

A man stops me on the sidewalk to relate a story about the swearing-in ceremony of a newly elected official wherein the official said, “I’m going to say The Lord’s Prayer, and anyone who doesn’t like it can go outside.”

We talk a lot about freedom of religion, but do any of these stories sound free?

Many businesses here in town display Bibles, play Christian music over the loudspeakers, talk openly about vacation Bible school and their Bible study groups, hang signs on the walls with Christian sayings and verses. Women proselytize to a captive audience at the nail salon.

I wonder, would we just as gladly and comfortably give our business to an owner if that person were Muslim? If the workers dressed in hijab and asked us to join them in an Islamic prayer? If their walls were adorned with Buddhist or Atheist sayings? If they played Hindu music over the speakers? If they wrote a weekly column on Orthodox Judaism in this newspaper?

In his December 2018 column in the New York Times, evangelical writer Peter Wehner wrote, “If you find yourself in the company of people whose hearts have been captured by grace, count yourself lucky … You don’t sense hard edges, dogmatism or self-righteous judgment from gracious people.”

Dogmatism is defined as the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.

Our country was founded on freedom of religion. Our founders escaped the hammer blows of conformity by the Church of England for the colonies, and “freedom of,” it seems, means the freedom of all personal choices, which certainly includes, but is not exclusive to, Christianity.

Here’s to practicing tolerance with grace. May we all be more respectful of, and more open to, the many views and practices of our neighbors.

Forget God — these days it’s ‘In Trump We Trust’

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April 2019 — Trump rally in Wisconsin — photo credit: CNN

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After watching a rally crowd gather in Wisconsin in April, Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted about his boss, the president, “Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation.” 

This, at the same Wisconsin rally where said-savior famously lied, “The baby is born. The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully, and then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.”

Yes, lied. 

The president’s sickening, spun-up lie that women are giving birth and then consulting with their doctors about executing their babies is nothing but a vicious, calculated stump speech fed like a drug to his supporters. And yet, according to Parscale, the man telling such incendiary lies is a savior delivered to us by God. 

And he is not alone.

On Mar. 21, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace? As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible.”

On May 6, Vice President Mike Pence said, ”Let me begin by bringing greetings from a man who is securing American leadership here on Earth and in the vast heavens above. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.”

Forget God — in the U.S. these days, it is “In Trump We Trust.” 

Watch his rallies. Watch interviews with rally-goers. Watch the president’s Twitter feed and his speeches. Trump rules, and his faithful followers fall in line. Because if you push back on or question this president, you do so at your own peril. 

Case in point: Republican Senator Jeff Flake. On Apr. 4, the Arizona Republic reported “that a man with a rifle scope recently went to multiple Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints facilities in Arizona, looking for him and his family. ‘It was a man living out of his car,’ Flake told the Guardian. ‘He told someone he had just attended a Trump rally.’’ 

On May 4, Reverend Franklin Graham said, “I don’t think he came to be president by mistake or by happenstance. I think somehow God put him in this position.” 

God put him in this position? A president who, four days later at his May 8 rally in Florida asked the crowd, “How do you stop these people” from crossing the border? And when a rally-goer shouted, “Shoot them!” the president simply chuckled and said, “That’s only in the panhandle you can get away with that stuff.”

Tell me, what true Christian—what human being—follows a man like this?

On May 3, VP Pence addressed the National Day of Prayer breakfast. “The American people,” he said, “and people of every faith in this country, can be confident they have a champion and a defender of faith and religious liberty in Donald Trump.”

How, exactly, does he square this with the Muslim ban? 

With taking children from their mothers at the southern border with no plan to reunite them? 

With the president lying at his rallies about mothers executing their newborns? 

With KKK icon David Duke saying, after Charlottesville, “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in.”

In an April 24 letter to The Anderson News, Lawrenceburg resident Michael Handiboe wrote, in part: “And just like Jesus, [Trump] does not use his power as he legally can to defeat his enemies. This, despite knowing full well that his enemies are totally false. Like a lamb to the slaughter, President Trump has complied with all the demands of his enemies. And yet they are still not satisfied. Jesus Christ got his resurrection. I believe Trump will have his rightful vindication and even vengeance.”

Just like Jesus, Mr. Handiboe says. 

In Trump We Trust.

Love thy neighbor

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On March 10, the anniversary of my mother’s death, I did what she would have done. I went to church; I wore her favorite necklace; I took her prayer book with me; and I got there half an hour early so I could sit in the silence and remember her.

I opened her prayer book to one of her bookmarks. “I call to mind the people,” it read, “who I saw today, and thought of today, and will meet tomorrow. I surrender them to You. Please bless each one, and gladden each one, and heal each one.”

When I was 15, my mother remarried and we moved to her new husband’s farm, which means we also changed churches, and though my mother cleaned the church twice a week, organized hymnals and prayer books, and often cooked for funerals, she remained—for her entire 20 years there—shunned. She was not one of them. An outsider. And maybe, worst of all in that community, open with her opinions.

I think about my mother when I open email from strangers or scan the comments section.

I hate to disappoint you, I think while reading, but I am not “a government transplant to push the liberal agenda,” I am not “speaking false prophesies against truth,” I don’t need to “keep my legs together,” and I am certainly not what seems to be a favorite of late, “trash.”

Yes, I am pro-choice. The operative word here being “choice.” I am not, as some seem to imagine, out knocking on the doors of newly pregnant women to talk them into an abortion.

I believe that women and men are equal and should, therefore, have equal control over their bodies and their lives. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said so eloquently in her 1993 confirmation hearing, “It is essential to woman’s equality with man that she be the decision-maker…. If you impose restraints that impede her choice, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex.”

No, liberals are not killing babies after they are born. This may be one of the most irresponsible, repugnant lies ever spread by a political party. Liberals are mothers, too. We are not encouraging the killing of newborns. This is absurd. And if this is one of the battles you are fighting, you are fighting something that does not exist.

There are 435 people in the House of Representatives, and I do not, for the life of me, understand the obsession with freshman congresswoman AOC.

I recently received the message, “Ma’am, are you a socialist?!” No, I am not a socialist. I don’t even know any socialists.

Democrats, like Republicans, favor border control. That said, it is legal to seek asylum, and it is cruel to take children from their parents with no plan for returning them.

Immigrants are not pouring over our southern border to murder us, no matter what the president says, and I am not, as one emailer wrote, waiting for “one of those immigrants you love so much to rape and murder you in your home.”

And last, no, I don’t want to take your guns. Though I certainly rethink this position when I hear about yet another mass shooting in a school or a house of worship, and when I receive hateful comments that close with, “I want my gun to protect me from people like you.”

And what saddens me is, when I look up the social media profiles of people who make such comments, their banners and news feeds are often littered with Bible verses.

This, I do not understand.

Sitting in church on March 10th, my mother’s prayer book in my hands, I recalled the powerlessness of being 15 years old and the speeches my mother’s new husband used to give at our breakfast table. One Sunday it went like this (which I wrote in my diary at the time): He went on and on about all of the neighbors he’d just seen at church, how all of the politicians and niggers and spics should be lined up and shot down with machine guns, and how those cock-sucking fags with AIDS got what they deserved. “Put ‘em on an island somewhere,” he said, “and set it on fire.”

I am no longer 15. I open my mother’s prayer book and read from Matthew 22: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

I’ve been thinking

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I’ve been thinking about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And my grandmother.

My grandmother raised 9 children. When she was pregnant with her second, she was out one sunny afternoon with girlfriends when their car ran up under a semi truck. They all lived, but my grandmother suffered severe facial damage: her nose was badly broken, her teeth were shoved up into her face, and her lower lip was all but ripped off.

Her pregnancy remained intact, but my grandfather would not allow a plastic surgeon to touch her. An intern crudely sewed her lip back on. They pulled all of her teeth and ordered cheap dentures. Then my grandfather took my once-stunningly beautiful grandmother home with an admonishment, “Maybe this will keep you from going out running around.”

My grandmother was 22 years old.

I’ve been thinking about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And Otto Warmbier.

Last week, in his final press conference before returning home from his summit with North Korea, the president absolved Chairman Kim of any wrongdoing in Otto’s death. “Some really bad things happened to Otto,” he said. “Some really, really bad things. But he tells me he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”

I never thought I’d hear a president of the United States—an allegedly pro-life president, no less—defend a dictator for the torture and death of an American citizen. And yet, here we are.

Does the term “pro-life” not extend beyond birth, to a kid like Otto?

A college student, Otto had just finished a guided tour of North Korea when he was arrested at the airport and sentenced to 15 years hard labor … for taking a poster from his hotel. Nothing like this happens without Chairman Kim not only knowing about it, but sanctioning it, and our president knows it.

And yet, when speaking with Sean Hannity of Fox News, the president said about Kim, “He likes me. I like him. Some people say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t like him.’ I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I like him?’”

Why? Because he tortures, starves, and imprisons his own citizens; because he lies to you and continues to develop nuclear weapons; and because when he released Otto Warmbier into U.S. custody, Otto’s father described his son’s injuries like this: “bottom teeth that appeared ‘rearranged,’ a large scar running the length of Otto’s right foot, and hands and legs best described as totally deformed.”

Otto died 6 days later. He was 22 years old.

I’ve been thinking about the words pro-life a lot lately, and about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because I often see these phrases commingled on social media. “The Constitution says life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the first of these is life for a reason!” Facebook posts read, followed with a screaming, “I am proudly pro-life!”

I’ve been thinking about my grandmother’s life, how my grandfather—highly respected in his church community, vocally pro-life, rarely home—would not allow her to drive a car or sign checks. Is this liberty?

How my grandfather would come home drunk, screaming for his children and all the neighbors to hear that his wife was a whore, and how he would throw her out the back door in the middle of the night, no matter the weather, and sit inside with a shotgun aimed her direction, daring “the whore that she was” to try, just try, to come inside. Is this happiness?

When she was pregnant for the sixth time, my grandfather pushed her down the basement stairs and she delivered too early. The baby survived, but he was blind, deaf, and nonverbal, and though he grew to be the size of a man he remained at home in a hospital bed, with a feeding tube, diapered and curled into a fetal position, for two decades.

My grandmother had 9 children; she was rarely able to leave her house; she had no life.

I’ve been thinking about Otto and my grandmother at 22, about teeth and torture and forms of imprisonment, about who gets life, liberty, and happiness, and who doesn’t.

And I’ve been thinking about what “pro-life” means, if anything, beyond birth.

If you have an answer that doesn’t involve screaming or a Facebook meme, I’m listening.

Dear Kentucky: This is what an abortion ban looks like

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Salvador Dali “Liberation”

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While she runs my credit card, the clerk makes polite conversation. “Is this rain ever going to stop?” she sighs, describing how there is no way to get her toddler in and out of a carseat without getting soaked.

“Well, now I’ll need to see pictures of your toddler,” I say, and like all proud mothers she gets out her phone and starts scrolling. She almost slips past a photo of her 11 year-old daughter with a friend, saying “And that’s Jaycee who stays with us,” when I stop her and ask what “stays with us” means.

Jaycee, she explains, came for a sleepover about a year ago and never really went home. “I don’t know what to do,” she says. “Her mom is only 26, she also has six younger children but won’t give up the kids because she gets a check. And Jaycee feels safe with us, so she stays.”

I wonder if our state legislature consider cases like Jaycee’s, children whom they insist must be born yet fall outside the safety nets they think they are building with bills like HB158 (a foster care bill of rights) and HB1 (adoption and foster care reforms).

In a 1997 interview with The New Yorker, writer Jeanette Winterson said about human nature, “Most of us spend a lot of time censoring everything that we see and hear. Does it fit with our world picture? And if it doesn’t, how can we shut it out, how can we ignore it?”

It seems Jaycee, her mother, the additional six children, and even the clerk whose family has taken Jaycee in, all fall into the “shut it out and ignore it” category while the pro-life, mostly male, contingent of our legislature pat themselves on the back for a job well-done.

And if you’re looking for the definition of cruel irony, look no further than the votes on SB18 which would “make it unlawful for an employer to fail to accommodate an employee affected by pregnancy.” The same seven men who voted no—no special treatment for pregnant women in this state!—voted to ban abortion via the “heartbeat bill.”

So much for the compassionate-component of the compassionate conservative.

Rep. James Tipton wrote in the Feb. 20 issue of The Anderson News that “The House passed HB148 by a 69-20 vote last Friday. This measure seeks to prepare Kentucky for the possibility that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade by prohibiting abortion in all cases except when required to save the life of the mother or prevent serious harm to her. The Senate also passed SB9, a measure which bans abortion after the child’s heartbeat can be detected.”

A friend who is expecting texted: Is Kentucky really going to pass a six week ban? We didn’t even suspect we were pregnant until five or six weeks, then it took a month to get a doctor’s appointment. And we didn’t know the health/viabilty until 12 weeks.

Let’s be clear. It’s not a heartbeat bill. It’s a ban.

Pro-lifers would have us believe that Roe v. Wade created abortion, and that striking down the law will be the panacea, the final solution, the big win. But the facts say otherwise. Terminations of pregnancy date back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and so the pro-life obsession with banning a woman’s right to choose begs the obvious questions:

Is the goal of the pro-life movement—which began in 1980, not as a moral movement but as a Hail Mary pass to get Evangelicals to the polls—to significantly reduce the number of abortions?

If so, programs offering free birth control, pre-natal and well-baby care, and subsidized childcare so women can return to work might go a long way.

Or is the goal zero tolerance?

Gov. Matt Bevin and his caucus have been clear: they seek to outlaw abortion in Kentucky, even as thousands of years of history clearly tell us that outlawing abortion does not end abortion.

So in addition to women risking their lives by trying to self-abort, let’s consider what a Bevin Ban—what criminalization—looks like.

How do you suggest punishing a poor, scared, 16 year-old from Appalachia, Louisville, or Lawrenceburg?

Will there be a significant fine, a sliding scale, maybe, based on income or lack thereof? Or will public shaming, her mug shot, in the local paper do?

Will you put women in the county jail or state prison—“Lock her up! Lock her up!” comes to mind—and for how long? What happens when she loses her job and her health insurance for going to jail? Are you going to support her? Am I?

And what do you suppose happens to kids like Jaycee and her six siblings, born to a woman who does not want to be a mother?

Does this fit your world picture? Or will you simply ignore it?