“Cherry Picking The Facts”: Why The Right Doesn’t Really Want European-Style Reproductive Health Care
U.S. conservatives want Europe’s abortion restrictions, but they oppose the generous systems and legal exceptions that support women’s health.
Earlier this month, Texas lawmakers witnessed and participated in passionate debates about one of the nation’s most sweeping pieces of anti-choice legislation. That legislation, known as SB1, was initially delayed by Wendy Davis’s now-famous filibuster before Governor Rick Perry signed it into law last week during a second special legislative session. It bans abortions after 20 weeks, places cumbersome restrictions on abortion clinics and physicians, and threatens to close all but five of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. Throughout the many days of hearings, anti-choice activists relied on religious, scientific, and political evidence to argue that the new Texas law is just and sensible.
Many of those arguments are tenuous at best, but it is the continued reference to European abortion laws that most represent a convenient cherry-picking of facts to support the rollback of women’s rights. Many European countries do indeed regulate abortion with gestational limits, but what SB1 supporters conveniently ignore is that those laws are entrenched in progressive public health systems that provide quality, affordable (sometimes free) health care to all individuals and prioritize the sexual and reproductive health of their citizens. Most SB1 advocates would scoff at the very programs and policies that are credited with Europe’s low unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.
Members of the media have also seized on European policies to argue that Texas lawmakers are acting in the best interests of women. Soon after the passage of SB1, Bill O’Reilly argued that “most countries in the world have a 20-week threshold,” and Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, wrote, “It’s not just that Wendy Davis is out of step in Texas; she would be out of step in Belgium and France, where abortion is banned after 12 weeks.”
It’s hard to imagine any other scenario in which O’Reilly and Lowry, and most conservative politicians and activists, would hold up European social policies as a beacon for U.S. policy. After all, the cornerstones of Europe’s women’s health programs are the very programs that conservatives have long threatened would destroy the moral fabric of American society. One cannot compare the abortion policies of Europe and the United States without looking at the broader social policies that shape women’s health.
Both Belgium and France have mandatory sexuality education beginning in elementary school (in France parents are prohibited from removing their children from the program). France passed a bill earlier this year that allows women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control. Emergency contraception in both countries is easily accessible over the counter, and in Belgium the cost of the drug is reimbursed for young people and those with a prescription. Both countries limit abortion to the first trimester but also make exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons. None of these exceptions are included in the new Texas law, and I’d guess it would be a cold day in hell before the likes of O’Reilly and Lowry advocate for more expansive health policies or for including such exceptions in abortion laws.
But it would be wise if they did. This availability of preventative care contributes to the overall health and wellness of women in Europe and enables them to make free and fully informed decisions about their bodies over the course of their lifetimes. The demonization and lack of progressive sexual health policies in Texas, and in the United States more broadly, drives high rates of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy, maternal mortality, sexually transmitted infections, and abortion.
Unfortunately, Texas couldn’t be further from France or Belgium when it comes to the care it provides to women and families before, during, and after delivery, as I’ve written about before. The Texas teen birth rate is nearly nine times higher than that of France and nearly 10 times higher than that of Belgium. Nearly 90 percent of all teens in France and Belgium reported using birth control at their last sexual intercourse, compared with only 53 percent in Texas. The infant mortality rate in Texas is twice that of Belgium and France. The poverty rate among women in Texas is a third higher than that of women in Belgium and France, and the poverty rate among Texas children is 1.5 times higher. Less than 60 percent of Texas women receive prenatal care, while quality care before, during, and after pregnancy is available to nearly all women throughout Europe.
None of those hard facts were compelling enough to amend – let alone negate – the new law. It seems impossible these days to find a common ground between anti- and pro-choice individuals, but if conservatives wanted to have a conversation about enacting European-style sexual and reproductive health policies in the United States, that just might be something that could bring everyone to the same table. The more likely scenario is that once conservatives have plucked out the facts that help advance their anti-choice cause, they will promptly return to tarring and feathering Europe’s socialized health system.
By: Andrea Flynn, The National Memo, July 24, 2013
“The Last Thing Egypt Needs”: The Problems Are So Daunting That The Lack Of Democracy Is Not The Top Priority
In addition to all the experts, thinkers, pundits and others who have been cited about the loss of democracy in Egypt, let me quote a certain West Point expellee who, in a different context, uttered words that now fit the situation: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Rhett Butler neatly summarizes my position on democracy in Egypt.
I hope not to sound too cynical. I have always had a soft spot for Egypt. The people are gracious and aware that theirs is a storied and wonderful civilization. But the issue is not whether Egypt is a democracy or something else. The issue is whether Egypt provides for its people and keeps out of trouble. After that, if Ramses II returns, it’s okay with me.
For 34 years — under three regimes now — Egypt has kept the peace with Israel, which is worth a yearly Nobel Peace Prize. For all but the past two years, this peace was maintained by authoritarian regimes — Anwar Sadat’s and then Hosni Mubarak’s. They had their imperfections, but bellicosity was not one of them.
Democracy is nice, but it is not a panacea. The American insistence that the world mimic us — ain’t we pretty close to poifect? — has always struck me as both patronizing and contemptuous of history. The overriding challenge of all incipient democracies is how to handle minority issues. For a very long time, the United States did not do very well in this regard. We disenfranchised African Americans and used all sorts of devices to keep them in penury and politically powerless. Southern states insisted on Jim Crow laws, and their representatives in Congress — many of whom loathed racial segregation — voted to maintain it lest they wind up losing at the polls. It took the often non-elected courts, Supreme or less so, to remedy the situation. The people are not always wise.
In many cases, the democracies that emerged in Europe after World War I evolved into intolerant, rightist regimes. Hitler — the überexample — had enormous popular support even though Germans were well aware that he was enamored of violence and a bit unbalanced about Jews. To the east, the popularly elected governments of Poland and other nations treated their various minorities roughly — the Jews roughest of all. All sorts of restrictions were imposed on Jews throughout Eastern Europe, everything from “seating ghettos” in Polish universities’ lecture halls to a requirement in Romania that Jewish medical students learn their profession only on Jewish cadavers.
The Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing that followed World War II reorganized Eastern Europe into neat ethnic enclaves — otherwise who knows what would be happening today. The Middle East is not so well-ordered. The Jews are gone — 75,000 or so booted out of Egypt in the 1950s and ’60s, 120,000 out of Iraq around the same time — but Shiites rub up against Sunnis, and Christians against Muslims. In Egypt, the Coptic Christians felt endangered by a government — elected or not — run by the Muslim Brotherhood.
America’s interest is in a stable Middle East. If stability can be combined with democracy, all the better. But it was the authoritarian governments of Egypt and Jordan that signed peace treaties with Israel when, you’d be assured, popularly elected ones would never have done so. (As it was, the treaty cost Sadat his life.)
For Mohamed Morsi, sooner or later he might have had to balance the $1.5 billion that Egypt annually gets from the United States — most of it military aid — against a popular clamor to repudiate the peace with Israel. The Israel question, abetted by an appalling amount of anti-Semitism, is just too easy to demagogue. It is what race was in the Jim Crow South or, to wax truly esoteric, what Belorussians were in inter-war Poland.
After the collapse of Weimar Germany — a democracy but an extremely messy one — some intellectuals, including Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno, questioned whether democracy was always a wonderful thing. The answer, of course, is nothing is always wonderful. The Egyptian democracy was tending back toward authoritarianism and, no matter what had happened, the country might have seen its last real election. In the short run, no government can reverse the population explosion, provide jobs for young people or ameliorate what climate change is doing to the Nile Delta. Egypt’s problems are so daunting that the lack of democracy is not the top priority. First things first. Before Egypt needs a democratic government, it just needs a government.
By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 8, 2013
A Mediterranean diet, the New England Journal of Medicine reported Monday, can lengthen one’s lifespan. So inhabitants of southern Europe can look forward to long lives — of anxiety and privation.
Already mired in a depression comparable to that of the 1930s, Spain, Greece and Portugal are going to see things grow worse this year, according to an annual economic forecast released by the European Commission on Friday. Unemployment rates in both Spain and Greece — where a quarter of the populations are unemployed and the share of jobless young people exceeds 50 percent — will rise to 27 percent.
At least the leaders in power in 1930 had an excuse when the economy began to collapse. Then, there was genuine bewilderment among economists and governmental chieftains across the political spectrum about how to induce a recovery. From British Laborite Ramsay MacDonald to the German centrist Heinrich Bruning to American conservative Herbert Hoover, leaders cut spending to bring their budgets into balance.
These austerity policies proved an unmitigated disaster. By reducing government spending while business and consumer spending were tanking, these heads of government constricted all economic activity. In turn, unemployment continued to soar. Frustrated with the inability of mainstream political parties to stop the collapse, voters in some nations turned to extremes — most notably, of course, in Germany.
Unlike their predecessors, today’s leaders have models on how to revive depressed economies. The example of Franklin Roosevelt, whose public investments in jobs and defense turned the U.S. economy around, and the writings of John Maynard Keynes, who demonstrated that the solution to depression is boosting demand, are plain for all to see. Seeing isn’t believing, however, when ideology dims the eye.
Today, in the spirit of the Bourbon kings who reclaimed power in post-Napoleonic France, having learned nothing during their years in exile, many European leaders are repeating the mistakes that their predecessors made in the ’30s: demanding that governments reduce spending even as their private-sector economies limp along. Only this time around, the miracle of the euro has greatly the reduced the autonomy of many continental nations while giving their creditor, Germany, control over their destinies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is imposing austerity budgets on other nations, even Spain, which had a string of balanced budgets before the 2008 collapse.
The economies of Mediterranean nations, the Merkelites complain, lag behind the productivity rates of their northern European neighbors. But boosting productivity — a goal that everyone embraces — requires more, not less, public investment in worker training, education, new industries and unemployment support. The relationship between austerity and heightened productivity, whose existence Merkel continually proclaims, is real enough — but in Europe’s current economy, the association is inverse.
As in the 1930s, despair about the economic options before them has driven many voters to bizarre extremes. A quarter of Italian voters cast ballots this week for the anti-austerity xenophobic party of a professional comedian. In Spain, a movement for Catalonian separatism is growing. More ominously, in Greece, an avowedly racist, fascist party involved in numerous instances of violence has won a bloc of seats in parliament. You might think Merkel would be cognizant of the links between economic hopelessness and the rise of fascism — but if she is, it hasn’t affected her austerity economics by so much as a pfennig.
The euro zone isn’t the only part of Europe where austerity is turning out to be a disaster. Britain is the one European nation that, since Prime Minister David Cameron’s conservatives came to power in 2010, has deliberately opted for punishing austerity to bring its budget into balance. As a result, the British economy has slowed to a crawl, and its budget remains in the red. Last week, Moody’s stripped Britain of its AAA credit rating. In anti-Keynesian theory, austerity economics are supposed to protect one’s triple-A rating, not endanger it. So much for anti-Keynesian theory.
The United States isn’t immune to Europe’s madness. The sequester slated to begin taking effect Friday is a particularly mindless form of an already stupid policy, poised to inflict a kind of blindfolded austerity at a time when unemployment remains high. Republican opponents of government spending, not to mention tea party activists, like to think of themselves as true-blue Americans while disparaging the Democrats as Euro-socialists. But it’s the Republicans who are embracing Europe’s failed economics while Democrats attempt to adhere to the American success story of the New Deal. Republicans might want to bone up on American history; it contains all kinds of valuable lessons.
By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 26, 2013
“By Their Own Hands”: While Republicans Warn Against “Greece”, That Is Exactly Where Austerity Budgeting Will Lead The U.S.
Indebted America is in danger of turning into destitute Greece, or so congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have been warning us for years now. For many reasons, this is an absurd comparison – but it may not always be quite so ridiculous if Washington’s advocates of austerity get their way.
The Republicans actually want to impose Greek-style budget-slashing on the United States. And the federal budget sequestration scheduled to take effect next week could represent the first serious step here toward the kind of fiscal policies that have proved so ruinous not only in Greece — raising unemployment, destroying hope, and encouraging extremism — but across Europe.
Nearly every day, House Speaker John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – or Senator Rand Paul or Rep. Paul Ryan, or almost any other prominent Republican – insists that the only way to improve the economic prospects of the American people is to impose drastic budget cuts on them. While these Republican leaders don’t love the sequester budget only because it cuts too deeply into defense programs, they are eager to impose similar cuts or worse on every domestic function, from health care and education to food safety and infrastructure.
Unwilling as they usually are to name specific cuts, the Republican plans that have emerged lately are indeed similar in scope and impact to those imposed by European central bankers on Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and other beleaguered states across the continent (and imposed by the British government on the United Kingdom itself).
Enacting the same fiscal policies in this country would, presumably, induce the same effects. Yet despite their enthusiasm for extreme austerity the Republican, Tea Party, and assorted media soothsayers almost never want to discuss what has happened in Europe as a result of those same policies. It is not always possible to ignore the unhappy reality of renewed recession, from England to Italy.
Just last weekend, the British were jolted by news that Moody’s had downgraded investments in their country’s sovereign debt from its traditional AAA status.
Why would the bond rating agency do something like that? Principally because the miserable budgeting of Tory Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has mired the United Kingdom in negative growth, with no prospect of reducing its debt, which keeps growing. So the scheme that was supposed to improve the fiscal outlook for the British has merely lowered their credit rating. That wasn’t supposed to happen — in fact, the austerity plan was designed to preserve Britain’s AAA rating — but it was inevitable as soon as Downing Street chose budget-balancing over growth.
The same downward trajectory can be marked wherever the leaders of dominant Germany have forced austerity plans onto indebted governments.
So damaging has this process become for all of Europe that the Germans finally began suffering the ironic consequences in the last quarter of 2012. Their export-led growth strategies cannot work when their neighbors, reduced to poverty, can no longer purchase German goods. If German exports pick up again this year, it will only happen because customers in the U.S. and China remain exempt from the effects of austerity.
Until now, the United States has escaped the fate of Europe, remaining the “sole bright spot” of steady growth in the global economy, because President Obama resisted the fiscal extremism of his Republican adversaries, and contrived to ward off recession with necessary spending. Now sequestration, with all of its dire social and economic effects, will provide a taste of what is to come under Republican austerity: a shrunken nation with a dim future.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, February 26, 2013
“Looking For Mister Goodpain”: The Doctrine That Has Dominated Economic Discourse Is Wrong On All Fronts
Three years ago, a terrible thing happened to economic policy, both here and in Europe. Although the worst of the financial crisis was over, economies on both sides of the Atlantic remained deeply depressed, with very high unemployment. Yet the Western world’s policy elite somehow decided en masse that unemployment was no longer a crucial concern, and that reducing budget deficits should be the overriding priority.
In recent columns, I’ve argued that worries about the deficit are, in fact, greatly exaggerated — and have documented the increasingly desperate efforts of the deficit scolds to keep fear alive. Today, however, I’d like to talk about a different but related kind of desperation: the frantic effort to find some example, somewhere, of austerity policies that succeeded. For the advocates of fiscal austerity — the austerians — made promises as well as threats: austerity, they claimed, would both avert crisis and lead to prosperity.
And let nobody accuse the austerians of lacking a sense of romance; in fact, they’ve spent years looking for Mr. Goodpain.
The search began with a passionate fling between the austerians and the Republic of Ireland, which turned to harsh spending cuts soon after its real estate bubble burst, and which for a while was held up as the ultimate exemplar of economic virtue. Ireland, said Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank, was the role model for all of Europe’s debtor nations. American conservatives went even further. For example, Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, declared that Ireland’s policies showed the way forward for the United States, too.
Mr. Trichet’s encomium was delivered in March 2010; at the time Ireland’s unemployment rate was 13.3 percent. Since then, every uptick in the Irish economy has been hailed as proof that the nation is recovering — but as of last month the unemployment rate was 14.6 percent, only slightly down from the peak it reached early last year.
After Ireland came Britain, where the Tory-led government — to the sound of hosannas from many pundits — turned to austerity in mid-2010, influenced in part by its belief that Irish policies were a smashing success. Unlike Ireland, Britain had no particular need to adopt austerity: like every other advanced country that issues debt in its own currency, it was and still is able to borrow at historically low interest rates. Nonetheless, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron insisted both that a harsh fiscal squeeze was necessary to appease creditors and that it would actually boost the economy by inspiring confidence.
What actually happened was an economic stall. Before the turn to austerity, Britain was recovering more or less in tandem with the United States. Since then, the U.S. economy has continued to grow, although more slowly than we’d like — but Britain’s economy has been dead in the water.
At this point, you might have expected austerity advocates to consider the possibility that there was something wrong with their analysis and policy prescriptions. But no. They went looking for new heroes and found them in the small Baltic nations, Latvia in particular, a nation that looms amazingly large in the austerian imagination.
At one level this is kind of funny: austerity policies have been applied all across Europe, yet the best example of success the austerians can come up with is a nation with fewer inhabitants than, say, Brooklyn. Still, the International Monetary Fund recently issued two new reports on the Latvian economy, and they really help put this story into perspective.
To be fair to the Latvians, they do have something to be proud of. After experiencing a Great-Depression-level slump, their economy has experienced two years of solid growth and falling unemployment. Despite that growth, however, they have only regained part of the lost ground in terms of either output or employment — and the unemployment rate is still 14 percent. If this is the austerians’ idea of an economic miracle, they truly are the children of a lesser god.
Oh, and if we’re going to invoke the experience of small nations as evidence about what economic policies work, let’s not forget the true economic miracle that is Iceland — a nation that was at ground zero of the financial crisis, but which, thanks to its embrace of unorthodox policies, has almost fully recovered.
So what do we learn from the rather pathetic search for austerity success stories? We learn that the doctrine that has dominated elite economic discourse for the past three years is wrong on all fronts. Not only have we been ruled by fear of nonexistent threats, we’ve been promised rewards that haven’t arrived and never will. It’s time to put the deficit obsession aside and get back to dealing with the real problem — namely, unacceptably high unemployment.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 31, 2013