Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Abortion Wedge

By Pam Wasserman, Vice President for Education

I tuned in today to watch the Senate Judiciary Committee grill Judge Sonia Sotomayor in her confirmation hearings to become only the third woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. As expected, questions about her views on abortion (from Republican Senators) and a woman's right to privacy (from Democratic Senators) comprised a significant portion of today's proceedings. Also as expected, she chose her words carefully so as not to divulge her personal views on choice issues, leaving lawmakers to wonder how she would rule in a future case challenging Roe v. Wade.

There's not a lot of ground to mine there, since Sotomayor hasn't ruled in many cases related to abortion. In the one case that does stand out, she provided a ruling that would make abortion opponents cheer -- upholding the Mexico City Policy. In her decision for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, she cited legal precedent (Rust v. Sullivan), when she wrote "The Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds."

Now 16 years past her confirmation hearings, Judge Ruth Ginsberg, the only woman on the current Supreme Court, has the freedom to give her views on reproductive choice. In last Sunday's New York Times interview (The Place of Women on the Court) she was asked what she would want to accomplish as a "future feminist legal agenda." Ginsberg replied that "reproductive choice has to be straightened out" and that "government has no business making that choice for a woman." She went on to explain that current laws discriminate against poor women since Medicaid does not fund abortions and, in a growing number of places around the country, abortions are only accessible to women who can afford to travel long distances. Back when Roe was decided, she had thought that concerns about population growth would encourage public funding for abortions. When the court upheld the Hyde Amendment forbidding the use of Medicaid for abortion in 1980, she "realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong."

The issue of public funding for abortion is back in the news this week. Yesterday, House Republicans gathered to denounce the inclusion of abortion services in health care reform. Rep. Chris Smith (D-NJ) charged that "Obamacare is the greatest threat ever to the lives and wellness of unborn children and their mothers since Roe v. Wade was rendered in 1973." Even a group of 19 Democratic Congressmen sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month warning that they wouldn't vote for a health care reform bill that allowed for coverage of abortion services in a government-sponsored plan.

While Roe is the law of the land, millions of American women don't have access to abortion services due to their economic status and/or lack of health insurance. Republican lawmakers know there is little chance of blocking Judge Sotomayor's confirmation to the bench for her alleged liberal views, but hope they might use abortion as a wedge issue to derail health care reform. In the backroom wrangling to find areas of compromise on health reform, I fear that vital reproductive health services will wind up on the cutting room floor.

More Fun from the Sotomayor Hearing

By Brian Dixon, Vice President for Media and Government Relations

Just minutes ago, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) seemed to criticize the Supreme Court’s decision in the famous Griswold vs. Connecticut case – the case that established the fundamental right of married couples in the United States to use contraceptives.

Wow. I knew that there were some extreme groups that have attacked that decision. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an elected official do so though. Maybe Hatch needs to be asked specifically whether he believes that Griswold should be overturned.

An Open Letter to Congressman Tim Ryan

By Stacie Murphy, Policy Associate

Dear Congressman Ryan—

I’m sure you were shocked when you got the news. I suppose you couldn’t have known it would turn out this way. After all, it must have seemed like such a perfect match: you’re against abortion, and so is the national office of the Democrats for Life. But now you’ve been deemed, by their measurements, to be insufficiently “pro-life” and kicked out of their little club.

Let me be the first to welcome you to the dark side. You now know what those of us already over here have always known: it’s not really about abortion. It never has been. It’s about adherence to an ideological agenda so extreme that it would give mainstream America nightmares if they only knew how the far right wants their lives to look. In their world, it’s not enough to dislike abortion (and by the way, even the staunchest pro-choicers I know don’t think it’s puppies and sunshine). It’s about believing that contraception is evil, that government has a place in people’s bedrooms, and that attempts to work with those who believe differently are betrayal.

If the Democrats for Life and other fringe groups were really interested in preventing abortion, they’d do exactly what you’ve done in your time in Congress: look for ways to help women prevent unwanted pregnancy. Instead, they’re tossing you out and ridiculing you for the crime of…GASP…promoting the use of contraception.

I know it’s a rude awakening. But once you’ve had a chance to recover from the shock, I hope you’ll remember that there’s a place for you here. We don’t agree on everything, but when it comes to helping women prevent unintended pregnancy, there’s plenty of room in our tent.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Aging Japanese Population Requires Young Ideas

By Marian Starkey, Communications Manager and Managing Editor

Funny how the demographic grass is always greener. Poor countries all around the world are struggling with high fertility rates that impede development, while rich countries that have been basking in economic success for decades are now wishing for a little of what Yemen, Afghanistan, Niger, and the likes have got going on.

An article today in the Washington Post describes the ongoing decline in popularity with
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso that led him to call for a general election next month. Apparently, one of the problems detractors have with his leadership is his ambivalence toward the country's "aging crisis."
Under Aso and his recent predecessors, the government has all but ignored an impending demographic calamity. Japan has fewer children and more elderly people than any developed nation in world history, but its government has done little to encourage childbirth or increase immigration -- despite a growing clamor from business groups that predict ruinous decline because of a lack of workers.
Let's inject a little reality check into that grievance now: Japan has a land area slightly smaller than California, at 377,835 sq km. Only 11.64% of that land is arable. Japan's population is 41% the size of the United States' but with less than 4% the space to live, work, and grow food. Even if Japan's fertility rate stays the same as it is today (1.27 children per woman) and population continues to decline, in 2050 the population of the island nation will be equal to what it was in 1965. Not exactly the Dark Ages.

Japan has the oldest life expectancy (82.7) of any country in the world and one of the youngest retirement ages (mandatory at 60 for many companies and as young as 63 for government pension payouts). The government is slowly raising retirement age, as it should. Sixty years old might have been elderly fifty years ago, but it hardly brings to mind a
person debilitated by age today. Not only can people over 60 continue to work--many want to. In a poll conducted in 2001, 74% of respondents reported that they wished to continue working after the age of 60. Another poll, conducted in 2005 with a larger sample group, found that 78.2% of baby boomers want to continue working beyond 60.

Despite its high tech persona and membership in the G8 along with the Western economic superpowers, Japan maintains a relatively old fashioned society when it comes to family. In fact, only 70% of women continue working after they marry and start having children. Many demographers and economists have suggested that companies should make it easier for women to return to work once their children are school-aged. The fact that policymakers would rather raise birth rates (keeping women busy at home) than increase women's and older people's participation in the workforce speaks to me of an unsavory "discrimination crisis."

Trading one predicament for another doesn't seem prudent. An ever-expanding population on a series of islands the size of California, in a world with sea level rise and decreased agricultural productivity seems like a far more grave crisis than aging, and one that Japan's leaders should avoid at all costs.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Population growth at the heart of traffic worsening

By Marian Starkey, Communications Manager

The Texas Transportation Institute released the results of their annual traffic study today with sad news for residents of Metro Washington, DC. Although traffic has eased in almost every other city in the country, it has worsened in the nation’s capital. Los Angeles continues to top the list for worst traffic in the country.

A Washington Post article details the various resources wasted each year by DC area residents while sitting in traffic: time (133 hours), cost ($2.8 billion), and gas (90 million gallons). The article also outlines current and proposed projects intended to alleviate commuters’ frustration: widening highways, placing new office buildings near older communities to the east of the city, adding another line on the Metro system, and increasing tolls.

But not once in the two-page article did the author mention population growth. He didn’t allude to the fact that Arlington and Alexandria grow by 3% and 2.9% respectively each year or that the entire metro area grew by 700,000 people between 1990 and 2000. I’m not saying that we should halt growth in the one city where every American should feel welcome, but I am suggesting that all facets of the story are important and should be discussed.

Once again (and this is really getting tiresome), population is the big elephant in the room.

Dangerous Buffoons

I’m pleased to note that these are tough times for the far-right. Right now, Americans seem to prefer to be governed by more sensible folks.

And we’ve recently seen a spate of scandals and such among right wing politicos. It should be noted that no portion of the political spectrum is immune to such failings. But a number of recent peccadilloes have involved those who enthusiastically embrace hypocrisy - among other embraceable things.

It’s easy to lampoon these folks and then just consign their entire movement to an obscure corner of history’s dustbin. As much as I wish this were possible, it isn’t.

Whatever manifold shortcomings our opponents may have, they do not lack for enthusiasm, alas. Nor do they lack adherents.

So, we’d do well to pay close attention to what they say and what they do.

Case in point. Take a look at a recent commentary by one Fred Hutchison published on the RenewAmerica website. RenewAmerica was founded by one of Americans leading cranks, Alan Keyes.

Here’s Mr. Hutchison’s insight du jour:

“The hatred of babies and children surely must be an important contributing cause of the birth dearth in Europe.”

OK, it seems laughable. We know that small families are better equipped to provide quality health and education for the next generation. That seems more like love than hate. But Mr. Hutchison and his ilk never let the facts get in the way of their ideology.

So, we can shrug off these sorts of rants, right? Well, not so fast. Take a look at RenewAmerica's web links which, they say, are “provided to encourage cooperation among like-minded Americans.” Links include talk radio lunatic Michael Savage and those slightly (slightly, being the key word) less opprobrious broadcast bloviators, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In fairness, I should point out that links to several fairly mainstream groups can be found as well. But they are surrounded by a circus of loony folks such as the charmingly named “Klan Parenthood.” I kid you not.

We can and, rest assured, will poke fun at these people - just as we did with Derek the Abstinence Clown.

But we do so to illustrate their folly, not because we don’t take these folks seriously. We do. They’re not going away. They are working hard to regain the upper hand. Let’s make sure we don’t forget the oh-so-recent past when they and their allies held real power. If we ignore or dismiss these antics, we’ll pay a terrible price.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Longtime Member Looks at Population

Longtime Population Connection member Dr. Richard Grossman recently penned a thoughtful piece in the Durango (CO) Herald entitled, “Looking at the Population Explosion in Two Different Ways".

His reasoned take on the reality of a global population explosion is worth reading. He comments favorably on a recent article coauthored by (ZPG, now-Population Connection, cofounder) Paul and Anne Ehrlich. Dr. Grossman also deftly points out the shortcomings of an article written by David Goldman that seeks to place blame for the much of current economic mess on smaller families.

It’s great to see this kind of commentary in local papers around the nation.