Doctors challenged on ethical health care after Roe v. Wade ruling

Discussion with Louise Perkins King, a surgeon and bioethicist at Harvard

It doesn’t change our ethical obligations; it makes them more challenging, because to meet our ethical obligations, to provide abortion—which is health care—in some states physicians will be facing criminal and financial penalties. And, from a utilitarian standpoint, if you meet your ethical obligations and ignore the law and risk those criminal and financial penalties, it may be that you’re then no longer available to treat other patients. Figuring out how to thread that needle is difficult, as is figuring out when you can legally treat women who are pregnant, if they’re facing various emergencies, because it is very difficult to know what you can and cannot do…

My personal opinion is that many of the legislative approaches to abortion that existed were inappropriate. The actual legislation that we have in Massachusetts—the one that I support, and I’m very glad that we have here—is called the roe Act, and it allows for abortion up to twenty-four weeks. After that time frame, meaning essentially in the third trimester, abortion is still permitted when necessary to save the life of a person who’s pregnant or in the setting of lethal anomalies or anomalies not compatible with life. That allows meaningful access to abortion, the meaningful exercise of people’s rights to bodily autonomy, and a meaningful interaction with teams of doctors, midwives, and other health-care professionals who can help people reach decisions on these matters and who can help determine in that third trimester when abortion is truly necessary—which is exceptionally rare but sometimes important.

And the discussion continues…not only pointed and well-informed; but, offering more useful information than most of the pap in print.

Georgia politicians shut down abortion rights. Netflix will answer by shutting down production.


Click to enlargeJoeff Davis

❝ Netflix has become the first major Hollywood company to take a stand against Georgia’s recent passage of a strict abortion law, with chief content officer Ted Sarandos saying Tuesday that the streaming giant would “rethink our entire investment in Georgia” if legislation known as the “heartbeat bill” became state law…

“We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” Sarandos said in a statement. “It’s why we will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court. Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we’ll continue to film there — while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to. Should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia…”

❝ The bill’s passage earlier this month comes as Georgia has become a vital production hub for the film and TV industries. The region known “Y’allywood” is responsible for more than 92,100 jobs and nearly $4.6 billion in total wages in the state, according to the MPAA. State officials said that for the fiscal year ending June 30 film and TV production generated $2.7 billion in direct spending.

Boycotts are a time-honored tool against racism in the Confederacy and across the United States. The tactic is overdue IMHO against bible-thumping bigots who would impede women’s rights. They deserve the same opportunity to feel the hurt where they care the most. In their wallets.

“Robots? We don’t serve their kind here!”

❝ For the time being, robots don’t need civil rights — they have a hard enough time walking, let alone marching — but the European Union doesn’t expect that to be the case forever. The European Parliament’s committee on legal affairs is considering a draft report, written by Luxembourg member Mady Delvaux, that would give legal status to “electronic persons.”

❝ Delvaux’s report explores the growing prevalence of autonomous machines in our daily lives, as well as who should be responsible for their actions. It’s not intended to be a science-fiction thought experiment…but rather an outline of what the European Commission should establish: what robots are, legally; the ethics of building them; and the liability of the companies that do so.

“Robots are not humans, and will never be humans,” Delvaux said. But she is recommending that they have a degree of personhood — much in the same way that corporations are legally regarded as persons — so that companies can be held accountable for the machines they create, and whatever actions those machines take on their own.

Robots can donate to Super-PACs!

❝ Delvaux’s report does suggest that the more autonomy a machine has, the more blame should fall with it over its human operators. But robots are generally only as smart as the data they learn from. It might be difficult to determine what a robot is responsible for, and what was because of its programming — a sort of robot version of the “nature versus nurture” argument.

Nice to see that some political beings, public political forums, have the foresight to consider potential problems before they arise. Of course, that can be taken to extremes.

But, in the United States? We’re lucky if Congress considers, say, flood protection before rising waters reach the top step.

Supreme Court deepens rights of accused in plea bargains


The Supreme Court considers robes to match Congressional garb

Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to effective lawyers during plea negotiations, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a pair of 5-to-4 decisions that vastly expanded judges’ supervision of the criminal justice system. The decisions mean that what used to be informal and unregulated deal making is now subject to new constraints when bad legal advice leads defendants to reject favorable plea offers.

“Criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. “The right to adequate assistance of counsel cannot be defined or enforced without taking account of the central role plea bargaining takes in securing convictions and determining sentences.”

And that…is a beancounters’ ethic at work. The leading motive for plea-bargains is the budget.

Justice Kennedy, who more often joins the court’s conservative wing in ideologically divided cases, was in this case in a coalition with the court’s four more liberal members. That alignment has sometimes arisen in recent years in cases that seemed to offend Justice Kennedy’s sense of fair play…

Claims of ineffective assistance at trial are commonplace even though trials take place under a judge’s watchful eye. Challenges to plea agreements based on misconduct by defense lawyers will presumably be common as well, given how many more convictions follow guilty pleas and the fluid nature of plea negotiations…

Scholars agreed about its significance.

RTFA for all the legalistic blather. The conservative cabal – including Chief Justice Roberts are always most concerned about the number of cases that will spin from this decision.

The best part of was the ruling about defendants having a right to an effective lawyer. While I’ve known a fair number of talented and skillful lawyers [which they coupled with care for our Constitution and dedication to ordinary people’s needs] – there seems to be a constantly growing crop of incompetents. A conclusion I feel is matched by the truly awful – but politically connected – who seem to end up as judges.

Sony orders gamers to sign away rights or face ban from PSN

Sony is preparing to ban gamers from the PlayStation Network (PSN) unless they waive the right to collectively sue it over future security breaches. The firm has amended PSN’s terms and conditions and users have to agree to them next time they log in…

The new clauses, dubbed “Binding Individual Arbitration,” state that “any Dispute Resolution Proceedings, whether in arbitration or court, will be conducted only on an individual basis and not in a class or representative action or as a named or unnamed member in a class, consolidated, representative or private attorney general action”…

Those that want to opt out will have to send a letter to Sony’s Los Angeles headquarters in the US. Once they do, the subscribers will be able to keep their right to file a class action lawsuit without any need for arbitration.

But before subscribers have a chance to opt out, they will still be required to agree to the new terms the next time they log into their accounts. Otherwise they will not be able to use the online services.

In many countries, forcing individuals to agree to contracts which violate constitutional rights – are automatically invalid. Someone might mention that to Sony.

Back alley abortions in Poland generate $95 million a year

A new analysis published by the UK journal Reproductive Health Matters shows that the criminalisation of abortion in Poland has led to the development of a vast illegal private sector with no controls on price, quality of care or accountability. Since abortion became illegal in the late 1980s the number of abortions carried out in hospitals has fallen by 99%. The private trade in abortions is, however, flourishing, with abortion providers advertising openly in newspapers.

Women have been the biggest losers during this push of abortion provision into the clandestine private sector. The least privileged have been hardest hit: in 2009 the cost of a surgical abortion in Poland was greater than the average monthly income of a Polish citizen. Low-income groups are less able to protest against discrimination due to lack of political influence. Better-off women can pay for abortions generating millions in unregistered, tax-free income for doctors. Some women seek safe, legal abortions abroad in countries such as the UK and Germany.

“In the private sector, illegal abortion must be cautiously arranged and paid for out of pocket,” says Agata Chełstowska, the author of the research and a PhD student at the University of Warsaw. “When a woman enters that sphere, her sin turns into gold. Her private worries become somebody else’s private gain.” The Catholic Church, highly influential in predominantly Catholic Poland, leads the opposition to legal abortion.

Since illegality has monetised abortion, doctors have incentives to keep it clandestine, “Doctors do not want to perform abortions in public hospitals,” says Wanda Nowicka, Executive Director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning. “They are ready, however, to take that risk when a woman comes to their private practice. We are talking about a vast, untaxed source of income. That is why the medical profession is not interested in changing the abortion law.”

The kind of “morality” enforced by religious fools, stuck into the Dark Ages. Just in case anyone wonders what might follow the Kool Aid Party and the rest of the Republican Crusaders.

Abortion rate’s decline in U.S. hits plateau

The abortion rate in the United States, which has declined steadily since a 1981 peak of more than 29 abortions per 1,000 women, stalled between 2005 and 2008, at slightly less than 20 abortions per 1,000 women, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute.

While the new report is a statistical survey and does not provide any explanation for why the numbers hit a plateau, Rachel Jones, the lead author, said the economy might have played a role.

“Unintended pregnancy is increasingly concentrated among poor and low-income women, and for the 2008 survey, we were collecting data in the midst of a recession,” Ms. Jones said. “So there are more poor women in the survey, women who in better economic times might have decided to carry to term, but since they or their partner lost their job, decided they couldn’t…”

The report found that more women were turning away from surgical abortion in favor of medication, usually mifepristone, the drug formerly known as RU-486, to end their pregnancies. The report estimates that about 17 percent of all 2008 abortions, and more than a quarter of those performed before nine weeks of gestation, were medication abortions.

Randall K. O’Bannon, director of education and research at the National Right to Life Committee, said the trend toward medication abortions had helped keep the abortion numbers steady…

Mifepristone was introduced in the United Sates in 2000, and according to the report, there were 187,000 medication abortions in 2008, compared with 158,000 the previous year. Many clinics that do not specialize in abortions offer only medication abortions.

Ms. Jones sees the increase in medication abortions as good news, because such abortions occur early in pregnancy, when abortion is safest…

The Guttmacher report found an increase in harassment of abortion providers, with clinics in the Midwest and the South the most likely to experience harassment and those in the Northeast and the West the least.

Do those statistics signify anything special to you?

Certainly, the geographic spread in harassment of women who feel they have a right to choose fits right into America’s politics and religion. And, frankly, whatever the application – I think most folks would choose pills over surgery when practical.

In France, civil unions now preferred over marriage


A pact grounded in love and mutual respect

Some are divorced and disenchanted with marriage; others are young couples ideologically opposed to marriage, but eager to lighten their tax burdens. Many are lovers not quite ready for old-fashioned matrimony.

Whatever their reasons, and they vary widely, French couples are increasingly shunning traditional marriages and opting instead for civil unions, to the point that there are now two civil unions for every three marriages.

When France created its system of civil unions in 1999, it was heralded as a revolution in gay rights, a relationship almost like marriage, but not quite. No one, though, anticipated how many couples would make use of the new law. Nor was it predicted that by 2009, the overwhelming majority of civil unions would be between straight couples.

It remains unclear whether the idea of a civil union, called a pacte civil de solidarité, or PACS, has responded to a shift in social attitudes or caused one. But it has proved remarkably well suited to France and its particularities about marriage, divorce, religion and taxes — and it can be dissolved with just a registered letter…

France recognizes only “citizens,” and the country’s legal principles hold that special rights should not be accorded to particular groups or ethnicities. So civil unions, which confer most of the tax benefits and legal protections of marriage, were made available to everyone. (Marriage, on the other hand, remains restricted to heterosexuals.) But the attractiveness of civil unions to heterosexual couples was evident from the start. In 2000, just one year after the passage of the law, more than 75 percent of civil unions were signed between heterosexual couples. That trend has only strengthened since then: of the 173,045 civil unions signed in 2009, 95 percent were between heterosexual couples…

As with traditional marriages, civil unions allow couples to file joint tax returns, exempt spouses from inheritance taxes, permit partners to share insurance policies, ease access to residency permits for foreigners and make partners responsible for each other’s debts. Concluding a civil union requires little more than a single appearance before a judicial official, and ending one is even easier…

Bravo – for trying something new, for modifying what was a stopgap, a halfway measure which would maintain diminished civil rights in a nation like the United States – which has become a step into extended liberty in France.