Friday, April 22, 2005

"W" is For Women. Gag.

In fact, George Bush and his wingnuts care so much for the women of this world that they are prepared to have as many as 68,000 more of them dead:

The US government is trying to block the World Health Organisation from endorsing two abortion pills which could save the lives of some of the 68,000 women who die from unsafe practices in poor countries every year.

The WHO wants to put the pills on its essential medicines list, which constitutes official advice to all governments on the basic drugs their doctors should have available.

Last month, an expert committee met to consider a number of new drugs for inclusion on the list. They approved for the first time two pills, to be used in combination for the termination of early pregnancy, called mifepristone and misoprostol. In poor countries where abortion is legal, doctors currently have no alternative to surgery.

The Guardian understands that the US department of health and human services has been lobbying the director general's office at the WHO to block approval of the pills, in line with President George Bush's neoconservative stance on abortion.

While the availability of pills might make abortion easier and could increase the number choosing it, the experts want them listed to reduce the deaths and damage caused by surgery. Every year, 19 million women have unsafe abortions - 18.5 million of those take place in developing countries. An estimated 68,000 women die as a result of botched or unhygienic surgery, while many others suffer long-term damage, including sterility.

Note that it makes no difference that these drugs would only be available in countries where abortion is legal already. Would such availability increase the number of abortions? Probably. Would it also decrease the number of women who die from abortions? Definitely. The Bush administration calculus of values is clear: The loss of fetuses counts for more than the loss of already existing lives. I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't another hidden value judgment in operation: Punish those women who don't wish to be pregnant.

Similar sentiments hold sway here in the U.S.. The pro-life movement has expanded its definition of abortion to cover certain types of contraceptives, especially the contraceptive pill. Pharmacists now wish to decide if the contraceptive pill is an abortifacient and they want to have the right not to dispense it. Given this, it is not surprising that the most recent pro-life attack is against "the morning after" pill, also called Plan B, a high dose of progesterone taken soon after unprotected intercourse.

The wingnuts don't like this pill. It encourages promiscuity, omits the necessary punishment for sexual activity and so on:

Plan B's most outspoken critic, the right-wing Concerned Women for America, insists it is actually worried about safety, given the lack of studies on the pill's long-term effects. But the vast majority of medical experts say Plan B is completely safe, in part because birth-control pills have such a well-established safety record themselves. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Plan B was available in 2002 without a prescription in 26 countries, including Switzerland, Israel, and Congo.

A less flimsy argument against Plan B is that it is tantamount to abortion. While science has demonstrated that Plan B works, it has not shown definitively how Plan B works. And, although most researchers believe that it acts by postponing ovulation or preventing fertilization, it could also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus--which, according to some pro-life groups, is murder. That's a perfectly respectable, intellectually consistent position for people who believe life begins at the instant when sperm meets egg. But it's also a very severe standard, given that fertilized eggs naturally fail to implant 40 to 60 percent of the time. This is one reason that the medical establishment defines pregnancy as beginning only when a fertilized egg has implanted.

The other serious argument against Plan B is that it will increase risky sexual activity by young people. But peerreviewed studies published in mainstream medical publications (like one just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) have repeatedly found no such link. Of course, conservatives argue that making emergency contraception available sends a broader cultural message about the acceptability of premarital sex. But, even if that were true, there are the likely benefits of Plan B to consider. James Trussell, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, has estimated that, if emergency contraceptives were widely available in this country, they could reduce the approximately 1.3 million abortions that take place yearly in this country by half. If a culture of life is so sacrosanct, shouldn't that trump the issue of premarital sex?

How to answer that last question? There are specifications to the "culture of life" in wingnuttia and these exclude most anything that promotes better lives for already existing people. "Life" in the wingnut jargon usually refers to fetuses and to people who are brain-dead. Some already existing lives (such as those of Iraqis or Afghanis) don't matter much. Women's lives are valued as equipment for making future wingnuts but don't seem to possess much intrinsic worth. And in general wingnuts lose all interest in the saving of any lives if it costs them something. Hence the eagerness to ban abortions and the reluctance to fund anything that would make bringing up children easier.

The "W", by the way, stands for "wingnut".