Thursday, May 12, 2005

Doctor Hager and Women

W. David Hager is a physician. He's also on the advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and an outspoken evangelical wingnut. Now he has decided to take the credit for the failure of Plan B, which would have allowed over-the-counter sales of the so-called morning-after contraceptive pill. The story is unusual, because the FDA has a habit of following the recommendations of its advisory panel, yet it decided to go against the panel's advice in this particular case. Hager explains this as follows:

Speaking at the Asbury College chapel in Wilmore, Ky., Hager said, "I was asked to write a minority opinion that was sent to the commissioner of the FDA. For only the second time in five decades, the FDA did not abide by its advisory committee opinion, and the measure was rejected."

Hager told the group that he had not written his report from an "evangelical Christian perspective," but from a scientific one -- arguing that the panel had too little information on how easier availability of Plan B would affect girls younger than 16. The FDA later cited that lack of information as the reason it rejected the application.

"I argued from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision," Hager said. "Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good."

A cunning little plot, isn't it? Pretending to go all scientific on us while all the time meaning for the godly side to win.

The wingnuts like Dr. Hager don't like Plan B because it might encourage unsafe sexual behavior. Thus, it comes as a teeny surprise that Dr. Hager himself has been accused of unsafe sexual behavior. His ex-wife, Linda Carruth Davis, has this to say about Dr. Hager:

According to Davis, Hager's public moralizing on sexual matters clashed with his deplorable treatment of her during their marriage. Davis alleges that between 1995 and their divorce in 2002, Hager repeatedly sodomized her without her consent. Several sources on and off the record confirmed that she had told them it was the sexual and emotional abuse within their marriage that eventually forced her out. "I probably wouldn't have objected so much, or felt it was so abusive if he had just wanted normal [vaginal] sex all the time," she explained to me. "But it was the painful, invasive, totally nonconsensual nature of the [anal] sex that was so horrible."
"I don't think I was married even a full year before I realized that I had made a horrible mistake," Davis says. By her account, Hager was demanding and controlling, and the couple shared little emotional intimacy. "But," she says, "the people around me said, 'Well, you've made your bed, and now you have to lie in it.'" So Davis commenced with family making and bore three sons: Philip, in 1973; Neal, in 1977; and Jonathan, in 1979.

Sometime between the births of Neal and Jonathan, Hager embarked on an affair with a Bible-study classmate who was a friend of Davis's. A close friend of Davis's remembers her calling long distance when she found out: "She was angry and distraught, like any woman with two children would be. But she was committed to working it out."

Sex was always a source of conflict in the marriage. Though it wasn't emotionally satisfying for her, Davis says she soon learned that sex could "buy" peace with Hager after a long day of arguing, or insure his forgiveness after she spent too much money. "Sex was coinage; it was a commodity," she said. Sometimes Hager would blithely shift from vaginal to anal sex. Davis protested. "He would say, 'Oh, I didn't mean to have anal sex with you; I can't feel the difference,'" Davis recalls incredulously. "And I would say, 'Well then, you're in the wrong business.'"

By the 1980s, according to Davis, Hager was pressuring her to let him videotape and photograph them having sex. She consented, and eventually she even let Hager pay her for sex that she wouldn't have otherwise engaged in--for example, $2,000 for oral sex, "though that didn't happen very often because I hated doing it so much. So though it was more painful, I would let him sodomize me, and he would leave a check on the dresser," Davis admitted to me with some embarrassment. This exchange took place almost weekly for several years.

Can this possibly be true? One thing we goddesses know is that ex-spouses usually have a rather sour opinion of each other. Well, it's good to be sceptical, but in this case other witnesses seem to support Ms. Carruth Davis's claims:

Linda Davis chose not to bring allegations of marital rape into her divorce proceedings; her foremost desires at the time were a fair settlement and minimal disruption for her sons. Nonetheless, she informed her lawyer of the abuse. Natalie Wilson, a divorce attorney in Lexington, asked Linda to draw up a working chronology of her marriage to Hager. "[It] included references to what I would call the sexual abuse," Wilson explained. "I had no reason not to believe her.... It was an explanation for some of the things that went on in the marriage, and it explained her reluctance to share that information with her sons--which had resulted in her sons' being very angry about the fact that she was insisting on the divorce."

As it turned out, when the dust settled after their divorce, nearly everyone in the Hagers' Christian and medical circles in Lexington had sided with Hager, who told people that his wife was mentally unstable and had moved in with another man (she moved in with friends).

Davis had only told a handful of people about the abuse throughout her marriage, but several of her longtime confidantes confirmed for this article that she had told them of the abuse at the time it was occurring. Wilson, the attorney, spoke to me on the record, as did Brenda Bartella Peterson, Davis's close friend of twenty-five years. Several others close to Davis spoke to me off the record. Two refused to speak to me and denounced Davis for going public, but they did not contest her claims. Many attempts to interview nearly a dozen of Hager's friends and supporters in Lexington and around the country were unsuccessful.

Now I'm totally confused. Does Dr. Hager love women like Jesus did, as he argues? You know, like a good, all-knowing patriarch does. Or does he love women in a rather different sense of the word, one that might raise the hair of some of his ob-gyn patients?

Janice Shaw Crouse of the Concerned Women of America (of whom I have blogged before) has no such doubts. Dr. Hager is a wingnut and that's good enough for her:

"I would not be at all surprised to see Dr. Hager elevated to a higher position or to another very influential position when it comes to women's care," [...] "Because he has shown that he does care about women regardless of...the [religious] issues that people want to try to raise.... When people try to discredit him, he continues on. He hasn't caved in, and he hasn't waffled. He has been a gentleman. He is a person of character and integrity, and I think people admire that."

Be still, my beating heart, be still.