Saturday, March 26, 2016

Good luck, Indiana

Your governor is a monster.

So's mine, of course-- my governor is Sam Brownback, after all. But yours might be even worse.

Why's that? Well, because on Thursday Indiana's Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill that makes abortion illegal in the event that a woman seeks one because of fetal disability-- any kind of fetal disability-- and framed it as "a comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life." As the worst monsters always do, he depicted a heinous attack on human rights as a righteous act.

Before I go into what's so horrible about this bill, I want to first acknowledge that it's almost certainly blatantly unconstitutional. To my knowledge, there is no legal basis for banning abortions that would otherwise be legal based on the reason a woman wants one. And Indiana's law doesn't just ban abortions performed because of fetal disability-- it also bans abortions based on the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus. Abortion was deemed a fundamental right in Roe v. Wade, and fundamental rights can't be abridged based on a person's motive for exercising them. One would think.

Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, made a great comment about the specifications of the bill: "They basically took non-discrimination language and made it an abortion ban."  It's always fun when conservatives pretend to care about diversity and egalitarianism purely for the sake of trying to make liberals look like hypocrites. What's not fun is that this tactic is often remarkably effective, because on first blush a liberal might fully agree that women shouldn't abort based on any of those factors. After all, none of these traits are the kid's fault!  They're circumstances of birth!

Yeah, well...there's a problem there. Because we're not talking about a kid. We're not talking about about circumstances of birth, because we're not talking about someone about someone who has been born. A fetus that is aborted will never experience discrimination, because that fetus will not experience anything. A fetus does not care why it was aborted, because a fetus doesn't care about anything. The result of abortion is the same for every fetus, regardless of why the abortion occurred.

If we agree that a fetus is not a person (in the legal sense), then the fetus has no rights.  It doesn't matter whether it's freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, or the right not to be discriminated against (which, again, social conservatives don't generally support in the first place)-- non-people do not have rights.

If we don't agree that a fetus isn't a person, which is to say, you think they are people...then every abortion is equally murder. Reasons don't matter. We don't just ban murders that take place because of discrimination-- they're illegal regardless.  So in that respect, passing a law that forbids abortion for discriminatory reasons is implicitly acknowledging that fetuses aren't people.

That said, let's get into the specific ramifications of this law, and why you'd have to be an utter sadist to support it.

1. The "disability" portion of the law forces women who know that their fetus has any sort of disability, including the ones it is very unlikely to survive, to carry their pregnancy to term. Imagine being pregnant and finding out that the being growing inside of you has anencephaly, meaning that it's missing part of its brain, and is certain to die either before or immediately after birth. Imagine learning this in your first trimester. Imagine having no choice about whether to continue this pregnancy, because your governor wanted to "affirm the value of all human life." Except, apparently, yours.

Because in addition to the emotional torture presented by the scenario above, being forced to continue such a pregnancy presents health risks for the pregnant woman. Brownsyne Tucker-Edmonds, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis, commented of the bill that
It will require a woman, during one of the most devastating times in her life after learning of a fetal anomaly, to prolong her pregnancy even if against her wishes, and to potentially assume the greater health risks associated with doing so. Some women have cases in which the risk of death during a full-term pregnancy is more than 14 times higher than for a termination of pregnancy. 
2.  Even if the disability is not as severe as anencephaly, something with good chances of survival for years beyond birth, how many of these women can afford to care for a disabled child?  The second most-cited reason for abortion is the woman's inability to afford a baby.  And that's assuming a baby without disabilities.  The value of life for a disabled person, much as proponents of this law might claim otherwise, is not at issue here.

Rather, the cold, hard fact is that if a woman considers herself unable to afford having a "normal" child, then she's probably quite a long distance from being able to care for a disabled one.  And-- big shocker here, I know--- Indiana's House Enrolled Act 1337 does not come accompanied by a comprehensive provision for generous public assistance to the women it forces into this position.

3. Under this law, doctors face a wrongful death lawsuit if they perform an abortion for a woman who requests one after learning about a pregnancy complication.  That's certainly likely to improve relations and communication between doctors and their patients, right?

Hal Lawrence, chief executive of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the group, comprising roughly 30,000 doctors nationwide, strongly opposes the law because it could encourage a patient to withhold information from her doctor. 
A woman who, for example, learned her fetus carried a severe disability may pursue an abortion from an out-of-state provider and then, out of fear, skip follow-up care from her regular doctor. 
“She shouldn't be under legal duress when she came back to where she lived,” said Lawrence, who practiced gynecology for 30 years. “Patients need postpartum or postoperative care. They need to be counseled for contraception. Discouraging that is highly destructive.”
4. The law effectively bans fetal tissue research. Not that clinics in Indiana participate in such currently, but this will sure prevent them from considering the idea.  And that's because...

5. The law requires that all fetal remains, whether from abortion or even from an early miscarriage, be buried or cremated.
Normally when a pregnancy ends earlier than 20 weeks, the "products of conception" (fetal tissue and the placenta) are treated like any other medical waste. After 20 weeks, the fetus is considered a "stillbirth" and the parents typically have the option to cremate or bury it if they choose. 
So even if a woman has a miscarriage at 8 weeks of pregnancy at home, under this law she could be required to keep the blood and tissue, take it to a hospital, and have it buried or cremated by a funeral home. 
Abortion providers will probably have to take on extra costs and administrative burdens for all of those extra burials and cremations, and those costs would probably get passed on to the patients.
Then what happens if you abort or miscarry, but can't afford to have the fetus buried or cremated?  If it's an abortion, it sounds like you might not be able to get one at all.  If a miscarriage, well....I guess you're just screwed.

So yeah, Indiana, this is what your governor has gotten you into. Did he think it through?  No, almost certainly not-- all he saw was an opportunity to look like a virtuous pro-lifer, at the expense of every woman, and by extension most men, in the state.

Again, good luck. And I'm so sorry.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

How the toupée fallacy enables judgmental jerks

The toupée fallacy is named for a particular example of the informal fallacy that goes something like this:
All toupées look fake; I've never seen one that I couldn't tell was fake.
Like a lot of fallacies, it's so painfully obvious when it's spelled out that you might have a hard time believing that anyone actually entertains this kind of thought. You would immediately respond to a person who said this by replying "Look, genius, you only think that all toupées look fake because the only ones you've noticed have been the bad fake ones. The ones that are clearly fake." They might respond by insisting that they're very good at detecting the existence of toupées, but that would be beside the point-- in fact, it would detract from the point they're trying to make. If all toupées look fake, then it wouldn't be necessary to have refined toupée detection skills to detect them.

And of course we wouldn't care about detecting toupées at all, bad or not, if we weren't judgmental about the act of wearing a toupée in the first place.  If we didn't think that being "fake" was wrong, we would not care about "real" vs. "fake." We most likely wouldn't have a notion of "fake" in the first place. Instead of Fake Thing vs. Real Thing, there would simply be One Kind of Thing and Another Kind of Thing.

Toupées are kind of an outdated thing to be judgmental about, with the glaring exception of course being Donald Trump. Trump might be single-handedly keeping the toupée fallacy alive specifically regarding toupées. But not in general, because there are so many things people are judgmental about, so many places where people have decided that there's a "fake" and a "real," and I'm going to discuss a few.

Cosmetic surgery

The terms "cosmetic surgery" and "plastic surgery" are often used interchangeably, but cosmetic surgery is that brand of plastic surgery performed to enhance a patient's appearance aesthetically.  The toupée fallacy among people who are judgmental about cosmetic surgery (and gosh, there are a lot of them) occurs because having surgery to improve your appearance is perceived to be wrong. By its own name ("cosmetic") it's not medically necessary, therefore it's not necessary at all. And if you're one of the people who thinks this way, you have an incentive to believe that cosmetic surgery is obvious-- how else would you point out people who have had it and call them out as vain and silly?

But of course, only the obvious cosmetic surgery is obvious. In all other cases the "fake" is indistinguishable from the "real," unless you happen to have before/after photos of the person in question. If you treat cosmetic surgery as kind of deception committed by a shallow person against the world, this distinction matters.  If you simply see it as a person opting to change his/her appearance for non-medical reasons, it does not. There is no real and fake-- there is simply before and after.

No makeup

Wearing makeup is another way in which people-- invariably women-- are perceive as pulling one over on the world, specifically the heterosexual men of the world. Apparently it's a crime to make your face look different, even on a temporary basis, because a man could look at it and not realize that you weren't born looking that way.

The toupée fallacy here takes the form of insisting that women without makeup don't just look better but are vaguely morally superior (by not taking part in the deception), and of course the person making the judgment can tell perfectly well whether a woman is wearing makeup or not.

Buzzfeed has a list of examples of people praising celebrity women for being "natural" and going without makeup when they are actually wearing minimal makeup or just non-obvious makeup.  If you've ever seen a makeup tutorial, you probably know that just as much time and work can go into a non-obvious makeup job as an obvious one.

So much of makeup is corrective-- if a person spends an hour hiding her pimples and under-eye circles, and giving herself the appearance of more prominent cheekbones, how is that going to be distinguishable from someone who just has prominent cheekbones, and lacks pimples and under-eye circles?  And what is the moral difference if one of those people is wearing bright orange lipstick while the other is wearing colorless lip balm?

There isn't one, of course. There are only aesthetic preferences turned normative judgments.

Fake geek girls

The toupée fallacy regarding "fake geek girls," on the other hand, is not about aesthetic preference-- or at least, not just about that. A fake geek girl is a girl who appears to enjoy comics, video games, tabletop games, etc. when she actually doesn't-- or doesn't enjoy them sufficiently to count. This distinction matters to people who consider themselves gatekeepers of geekdom, and believe that there is an actual problem of girls pretending to be interested in geeky things in order to win the attention and affection of geeky boys.

This kind of person commits the toupée fallacy by assuming that he (generally "he," but not necessarily) has both the authority and the ability to assess a woman's actual interest in/knowledge of geeky things and compare it to how much she appears to enjoy these things. Because-- again-- there is something wrong with appearing to enjoy geeky things more than you actually do. Apparently.

Transmen and transwomen

This is far and away the place where committing the toupée fallacy has the worst consequence-- it is literally a matter of life and death.

Transphobia often involves believing that you can tell the difference between trans men and "real" men, between trans women and "real" women, and that this difference matters because being transgender is fundamentally wrong.

Natalie Reed is a trans woman who wrote a blog post specifically about this issue called Passability and the Toupée Fallacy, which discusses the incredible injustice of demanding that trans people "pass" as their claimed gender identity in order to be treated as...well, as people.

To "transition" is to take measures (such as wearing different clothes, getting "top surgery," hormone replacement therapy, etc.) to change your appearance to more closely match that gender identity, and some trans people transition while others do not. There are various reasons why a trans person might not transition. They might feel more comfortable in their current appearance. They might simply not have the financial ability. For those who do transition, there is a societal expectation that they will or should do so "enough," if they want to have their identity respected. And in reality, there are people who will never accept that someone's gender now can differ from the one to which they were assigned at birth. To these people the different gender identity will always be the "fake," while the previous one was the "real."

We are moving away from this perception, albeit glacially. It amazes me how strongly society believes that it, not the individual in question, controls their identity.

Because in each of these cases, control is ultimately what we're talking about. When someone declares they can decide that who you are is "fake," whereas what you used to be, or what somebody else is, is "real," they are trying to control you.

They are saying their perception of you matters more than your own of yourself.  They're saying that even when they can't tell the difference between the so-called-fake and the so-called-real, this distinction matters, because there's something wrong with the so-called-fake. Else they wouldn't consider it fake to begin with.

That's why this fallacy matters. I wish it only applied to toupées.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

They're coming back

Operation Save America, the successor to Operation Rescue, has announced that they're returning to Wichita for a "Summer of Mercy" anniversary tour. The city is reportedly unenthused.
Hundreds of people from around the country are expected to converge in Wichita this summer for a week of anti-abortion rallies, protests and prayer vigils marking the 25th anniversary of the “Summer of Mercy” campaign. 
“Some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life happened right here in Wichita,” said Rusty Thomas, director of Operation Save America, an anti-abortion group based in Waco, Texas. 
“What I’m writing in my brochure is: ‘Some of you were there. This is our reunion.'” 
Operation Save America is a successor to Operation Rescue, whose 46-day “Summer of Mercy” campaign in 1991 resulted in nearly 2,700 arrests as protesters blocked access to clinics where abortions were performed. 
This summer, July 16-23, the group plans to partner with local churches to organize protests against abortion. Its agenda includes “street activities” outside South Wind Women’s Center, a clinic operating at George Tiller’s former practice on East Kellogg, Thomas said. 
“There’s a proverb that says, ‘We make our plans but God directs our steps,’ ” he said. “We go to these evil places and address that evil and hopefully overcome it and set the captive free.”
Except there are no captives that need to be set free, and there won't be, ironically, until Operation Save America comes to town and resumes their place caterwauling in the street and generally making life miserable for abortion providers and patients, but accomplishing nothing else. Which is as much as they accomplished the first time in 1991.

In a post discussing the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, reporter Mary Mapes reflected on the protest:
These "rescuers" -- sweaty mobs of zombie-like true believers -- swarmed across the street in front of the clinic like angry ants. They crawled over the hot asphalt toward his office on their hands and knees. They collapsed onto the stairs, chained themselves to the fence, shrieked prayers and threats and bellowed the Biblical equivalent of evil spells at anyone who approached the place. They fell lifelessly to the ground, some of them swooning and crashing spectacularly to earth. 
When I went to Wichita to cover this, I thought I would be assigned there for a day or two. But this became more than a single protest. It turned out to be the birthplace of heartland civil disobedience against abortion and it went on and on and on.
The New York Times reported:
For nearly three weeks now, this city has become the most vivid symbol of an emboldened anti-abortion movement as members of Operation Rescue focus on the city's three abortion clinics, flinging themselves under cars, sitting by the hundreds at clinic doorways and blocking women from entering as they read them Scripture. 
The confrontations have resulted in more than 1,600 arrests and the closing of all three abortion clinics for more than a week in late July. 
The city has had to assign nearly a quarter of its police force to control the protests, and a Federal judge earlier this week ordered Federal marshals to keep the clinics open. 
The confrontations show no sign of abating, and some doctors have had to perform abortions in the predawn hours to avoid disruption. Leaders of the protest say they plan to stay indefinitely. 
As a Wichitan who witnessed the protests in 1991 (though I was in middle school at the time) and who lives here now, there's one word that describes my immediate feeling about this: dread.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


Screenshot from Firewatch
Feminist Frequency has begun producing a newsletter called FREQ, and their first edition is an interview with Jane Ng. Ng is a 3D environmental artist who most recently worked on Firewatch, which looks like an amazing game. You can read the interview with her here.

My favorite part about the interview, aside from learning that Ng originally started out studying theater and compares environmental design to scenic design (long ago, I studied theatrical scenic design myself), is this:
 I think games that are trying to appeal to young men can have kind of a macho thing going on, and it can create this culture where even the development team is kind of bro-y. A lot of it is determined by leadership. But with [the game] Spore we had Lucy [Bradshaw, executive producer of Spore] and she wanted the game to appeal to everyone, so the team didn't have that attitude at all. There were women everywhere. I don't think I had a single "did that happen because I'm not a dude" moment the entire time I was there. It was just about the work.
"Did that happen because I'm not a dude" is a great turn of phrase.  It's a question that all kinds of women ask themselves when they suspect that they've encountered sexist attitudes in the workplace, because-- contrary to popular belief-- sexism in the workplace does not generally take the form of a co-worker or boss announcing "You're a woman, and therefore I think less of you."

Rather, it can be an environment in which women are treated differently, taken less seriously.  They might be outright harassed, but far more often they might be treated as if their views are less important. They might be interrupted or talked over. They might not be consulted on something they know about, in favor of a male co-worker who has less mastery of the subject.

When things like this happen, that woman's first thought is likely to be "Did that happen because I'm not a dude?" She will ask herself this, and then maybe ask a co-worker who she trusts. The co-worker will hopefully commiserate, but even if so, there's really not much the woman can do about this subtle sexism, especially if it comes from above.

So I can imagine what a tremendous relief it must've been for Ng to be in a working environment where she didn't get that DiTHBINAD feeling; an unexpected relief because of the male-dominated industry in which she works.

I suppose a general term for behaviors that stir that DiTHBINAD feeling would be "microaggressions," but I like the specificity of DiTHBINAD. If a woman in a male-dominated industry says that in a certain working environment she doesn't get that feeling, we should sit up and take notice-- that team, that department, maybe even that company as a whole, is doing something right. They should be recognized for that.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Caught in a TRAP

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments for Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. This case involves the claim that two laws create an undue burden on the right of a woman to obtain an abortion in the state of Texas. One of the laws requires that doctors at abortion clinics have admitting privileges at a hospital 30 miles from the clinic, and the other that clinics be expensively retrofitted to become "ambulatory surgical centers," or ASCs.

Laws like this are referred to as TRAP laws, which stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, because they involve imposing regulations on abortion providers in the name of "protecting womens' health" that are far and away more stringent than regulations for other more dangerous medical procedures, and these laws have the effect of putting clinics out of business because they cannot afford to remodel, relocate, and/or rebuild in order to conform to such unreasonably high standards.

I read the arguments last night and made the experience more enjoyable by live-tweeting my favorite bits along the way. The transcript is available here, and Dahlia Lithwick of Slate also did a very good run-down of the proceedings here.  The justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan all did an amazing job tearing apart the argument that effectively regulating abortion clinics out of business is permissible if a state sees fit to do so.  Near the end of the arguments (pg. 72), Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller tries to claim that because the regulations are on the clinics, they do not represent a threat to a woman's rights, to which Ruth Bader Ginsburg replies:
But this is about -- what it's about is that a woman has a fundamental right to make this choice for herself. That's what we sought as the starting premise. And then this is certainly about --­­ Casey --­­ Casey made that plain, that it -- ­­the focus is on the woman, and it has to be on the segment of women who are affected.
Which is what inspired me to draw this. Because she's right-- a freedom is meaningless if there is no way to exercise it.  Women obviously can't and shouldn't perform their own abortions (though a disturbingly high number have tried to do just this in Texas, due to clinic inaccessibility), so if they are to exercise their right to have one, the state must not place obstacles in the way which serve no purpose except to inhibit them from doing so.