Upperdate: My follow-up piece.
Update: Throughout the day, I’ve read comments suggesting that I am conflating Plan B, “the morning after pill,” with RU-486 or mifepristone, the abortifacient.
Plan B, which is typically taken between 24-72 hours after sexual intercourse, is actually just birth control on steroids, and, as such, it’s generally considered to be contraceptive medicine. Plan B prevents implantation, which means, by definition, it cannot result in an abortion.
The thing is, I actually do know what I’m talking about here, and while I’m appreciative that others have picked up on this story, it sure would have been nice to get a message from some of the folks in the national and state media who ran this story (without any real attribution, and, yes, I’m looking at y’all, Times-Picayune), because I probably could have walked them through this.
The Times-Picayune folks already know this, but the woman who wrote the piece for Jezebel may not: You see, the Louisiana Legislature’s Republican super-majority (and even some Democrats) alongside its Republican Governor, Bobby Jindal, they don’t care too much about science. These are the same folks who passed and then signed a law that allows public school science teachers the ability to tell children that the universe is only 6,000 years old and the fossil record is nothing more than a trick of Satan.
So while it’s noble that some have spent time today parsing the differences between contraceptives and abortifacients, the truth is, this law is intended to regulate both Plan B and RU 486 the same way.
How, if one is clearly a contraceptive and the other is an abortifacient? It’s simple, elegant, and obvious: Deny the science. It’s worked before in Louisiana with evolution, and it could easily work again when it comes to contraceptive medicine.
State Representative Katrina Jackson introduced this bill, but she didn’t write it. Considering her response earlier today on Twitter, it’s unclear she even read it. But it’s not difficult to figure out who actually wrote this legislation. In fact, they already sent out a press release. Quoting (bold mine):
Louisiana Right to Life and the Bioethics Defense Fund have worked with Representative Jackson to prepare the legislation. Text of the legislation can be found online at the Legislature’s website.
All of this is public knowledge; in fact, it was sent out in a press release. I don’t like to come across as judging the competence and diligence of my friends in the media, but they really fell asleep here. The Louisiana Right to Life Foundation is about what you’d expect. On their website, they don’t claim that Plan B is an abortifacient, but then again, they don’t say it isn’t either. The Bioethics Defense Fund, however, recently published a paper about this issue on its website.
But before I get into that, it’s worth mentioning: Representative Katrina Jackson is obviously closely aligned with these folks. In fact, today, only hours after this story originally published, a woman named Dorinda Bordlee began posting on Katrina Jackson’s Facebook account. Ms. Bordlee, at it turns out, is the Vice President of and Senior Legal Counsel for the Bioethics Defense Fund. It sure sounds like she had a major role in drafting this particular legislation:
She’s wrong about the database, of course. Information stored in a computer is a database, and quite clearly, the Department of Health and Hospitals would possess information on those who seek to have or have had an abortion in their database. Maybe it’s not pertinent information; maybe it is. Either way, it seems like an awful idea.
And as adamant as Ms. Bordlee may have seemed about Plan B, her own organization- the Bioethics Defense Fund- has published papers, on its own website, that claim Plan B is an abortifacient. In journalism, I believe the correct euphemism would be “a smoking gun.”
With the full support and blessing of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, State Representative Katrina Jackson (D- Monroe) recently filed HB 388, which she titles, “The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act.”
The truth is, however, that this bill has absolutely nothing to do with protecting against unsafe abortion. If anything, Representative Jackson’s bill, if signed into law, would actually increase the likelihood of unsafe abortions in Louisiana. Much like the recent law in Texas, a law known to many due to Wendy Davis’s epic, thirteen-hour long filibuster, Representative Jackson seeks to require that physicians who perform abortions have “hospital admitting privileges,” effectively banning most abortion clinics, exponentially driving up the costs while severely limiting access.
But Representative Jackson’s bill goes a step further than the bill that ultimately passed in Texas: It seeks a change in the statutory definition of “first trimester” from “six to fourteen weeks” to simply “up to fourteen weeks.” In so doing, Representative Jackson’s bill would require the State of Louisiana, through the Department of Health and Hospitals, to maintain a database of women who have used the so-called “morning after pill” and, potentially, any other hormone or medication prescribed or administered shortly after a woman has sexual intercourse. It would also mandate that Plan B, which is now an over-the-counter medication, could only be prescribed by a physician with admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles. Quoting from the bill (bold mine):
F. Any person not under the direction of a physician who knowingly performs or attempts to perform an abortion
without complying with the requirements ofusing chemicals or drugs in violation of this Section shall be subject to penalties pursuant to R.S. 40:1299.35.19. No penalty may be assessed against the woman upon whomwho undergoes the abortion is performed or attempted to performed.
C. If a physician prescribes, dispenses, administers, or provides any drug or chemical to a pregnant woman for the purpose of inducing an abortion as defined in R.S. 40:1299.35.1, the physician shall report the abortion to the Department of Health and Hospitals as provided in R.S. 40:1299.35.10.
(2) “First trimester” means the time period
from sixup to fourteen weeks after the first day of the last menstrual period.
To be clear, Louisiana law requires that the reports provided to the Department of Health and Hospitals remain confidential and that the names and addresses of patients be “obliterated” from the reports. But nonetheless, the reports still contain specific information, including patient ID numbers and other details that, if placed in the wrong hands, could be used for more than just statistical analysis.
I’ve been writing about Louisiana politics for eight years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever covered the issue of abortion, for many good reasons. First and most obviously, I’m a man and will never be able to truly understand or completely empathize with the burdens and the blessings of carrying a child in my body. Second, the issue of abortion, particularly in a state like Louisiana, is rarely discussed rationally or realistically. Put another way, the terms of the discussion are inherently unfair- the idea that you’re either pro-life or pro-choice, as if it’s impossible to be both.
I believe, as President Bill Clinton said in the 1990s, that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, but the only way to ensure that it’s safe and rare is to also ensure that it’s legal. There is absolutely no evidence, whatsoever, that existing law in Louisiana has undermined the safety of or led to an increase in abortions. No evidence. In fact, Louisiana’s abortion rates have been well below the national average for more than twenty years and continue to trend downward.
If, on the other hand, you believe, as an article of your religious faith, that abortion is murder, then the only number that would seem satisfactory, I suppose, is zero. That may be an admirable aspiration, but it’s also blindingly and absurdly naive, which is no way to run a government.
So-called “pro-life” politicians like Governor Jindal and Representative Jackson believe that, somehow, they can ban abortion by shaming and intimidating women and preventing access to services. To them, this isn’t about an effective public policy as much as it’s about codifying their own religious beliefs in order to appease their political base.
We need to grow up.
Laws like the one proposed by Katrina Jackson only create the potentiality of increased “back alley” abortions; laws like hers only serve to further victimize women who have already been abused; laws like hers undermine, fundamentally, a woman’s access to health care and contraceptive services; laws like hers exponentially increase the chance that women and the fetuses they carry will be mutilated. Laws like hers, truth be told, do not affect the wealthy: They affect poor, rural, and uneducated women; they affect women who, often due to circumstances completely beyond their control, are vulnerable, women who cannot afford a trip to the emergency room or the shame of a personal survey about their sex lives and medical histories that is submitted to Governor Jindal’s Department of Health and Hospitals.
There’s one other reason I’ve been reluctant, in the past, to wade into this discussion: I’ve never understood people “of faith” who seem to care more about embryos than human beings. I suppose it’d be easier for me to understand if there was some consistency, but the most vehement so-called “pro-lifers” that I’ve encountered are folks who also support laws that allow ordinary citizens to carry semi-automatic weapons everywhere they go, even churches and schools, folks who think it’s totally cool to “stand their ground” and murder someone who they perceive to be threatening their property rights- even if it’s just a kid walking by after a trip to the neighborhood convenience store, folks who support the United States government murdering its prisoners by electrocution or lethal injection or even a firing squad.
So, when I read bills like Katrina Jackson’s HB 388 and hear of Governor Jindal’s support, I think: You can’t legitimately care for the unborn if you don’t also care for the living.
PS: This post has received some attention from the national blogosphere, which is always pretty awesome and is always appreciated (even when the big sites don’t link to me but, instead, to each other and even when Gawker, for the umpteenth time, refers to me as “one blogger.” I thought we were cool). Anyway, I need to point out, despite what the nice young lady at Jezebel said: I understand the differences between RU 486 and Plan B. Don’t worry about me. Worry, instead, about the author of this bill. Worry about the Louisiana legislature.