Parental consent laws are reasonable, except when they are not

Question: If your daughter came to you and said: “I’m pregnant. I want to get an abortion.” What would be your reaction? Would you help her? Would she feel safe coming to you with this issue? If you answered yes, kudos to you because some young girls cannot turn to their parents or guardians—even the best of them—for help in this situation.

Parental consent laws seem perfectly legitimate on the surface. Parents should have the right to oversee the medical care of their under-age children. Except that there are situations in which parents or guardians should not possess that right. There are valid reasons a pregnant preteen or teenage girl would not consult the adults closest to her.

For example:

1.)   A victim of incest might find herself pregnant by a father or a brother. Is she expected to go to her abuser or even her mother (who oftentimes doesn’t want to admit incest has happened or is happening) and seek help? How could she? There is no trust in that relationship.

2.)  Similar to victims of incest are those who are physically abused by their parents. Do you think a girl who gets knocked around for coming in late or forgetting to do her homework is going to turn to those same parents for assistance and guidance if she is pregnant?

3.) Some parents put the fear of God in their children, saying if they get pregnant out of wedlock, “you better not come to me,” “I’ll kick you out of the house,” or “you will be a total disgrace to this family.” That teenage girl would be afraid to open up to her parents. They put the threat out there, why would she believe they might react or feel otherwise?

4.)  There are also times when a child cannot muster the courage tell her parents or ask for help no matter how great they are because the thought of disappointing them is agonizing. There are just some things one doesn’t want to tell her parents—believe it or not.

Aside from the above list, a minor’s right to privacy regarding her health care decisions has been established in federal and state laws. Parental consent laws prevent a minor from making her own healthcare decision to terminate a pregnancy due to her immaturity, yet other laws allow and trust that same immature minor to make other healthcare decisions, even those regarding her prenatal care as well as that of her baby’s without her parents’ permission.

Parents who would force their daughter to carry a baby to term before she is old enough to properly care for that baby or force her to carry to term then give the baby up for adoption, are doing her no favors—emotionally, physically, and financially. Girls who bear children at very young ages fall behind in school because they often drop out or delay graduation, which also delays any higher education goals they may have. This also affects their earnings potential over their lifetimes. Girls and women who have control over their reproductive lives, stay in school and do better financially, which is why access to affordable—even free—birth control is important. It reduces unexpected pregnancies, which should be the goal.

Who has ever included in their hopes and dreams to have an abortion? I doubt any young girl. However, abortion should remain safe, legal, accessible, and affordable. That boys and men are largely excluded from this conversation is disheartening. It’s always the woman’s responsibility to control herself, she is the one at fault when an illegitimate pregnancy occurs. It does take two to create a life.

For millennia, women have been the sex that has suffered the scorn and punishment for being unwed mothers. They have been put to death, exiled, or shunned in their communities—shockingly, it still happens in some places. Women cannot hide a pregnancy. Men too easily have been able to deny paternity (at least until recently with the advent of DNA testing), protecting themselves from any negative repercussions. Men have been largely immune from the harsh judgments, criticisms, and punishments that women have endured. Women were labeled sluts and whores (still are) while guys walked away, their reputations unsullied. No woman, regardless of age, should be a slave to her biology.

Women bear the health risks associated with pregnancy. In addition to varying degrees of morning sickness, the body changes during gestation. Many women endure incontinence, constipation, swollen legs, varicose veins, vaginal pain and discharge, and back pain, to name a few. Even today, women die in childbirth.  In a 2012 study, researchers found that the risk of death associated with childbirth is 14 times higher than that with abortion. Women also lose income and advancement opportunities because they take leave from their jobs to care for newborns (and most want to do that, as do some men, to be fair).

Furthermore, women have a much higher stake in reproduction. Men dispense millions upon millions of sperm throughout their lifetime. The average female will have 300,000 or so eggs left in her ovaries by the time she hits puberty, but of those only about 400 will make it to the ovulation stage throughout her child-bearing years.

Still, most underage pregnant girls do involve their parents in their decision to terminate a pregnancy. That’s good. Sadly, for those who are without a trustworthy, caring adult in their life, parental consent laws establish barriers that delay the inevitable, resulting in later-term abortions which are more complicated and expensive. Girls may also seek care outside the legitimate medical community with unlicensed abortion practitioners in unsafe conditions, which could lead to death. We can and must do better by our girls.

Further recommended reading:

8 Myths that Fuel the Assault on Abortion Rights  (Note: The article only addresses 7 myths; the title is incorrect.)

Below are some blog posts about parental consent laws on the National Women’s Law Centers site:

Texas Activist Speaks About Proposed Abortion Restrictions

Illinois parental notification law is ill-advised

The “Teen Endangerment Act” Prevents Teens From Getting the Support and Care They Need When They Need It Most

An Open Letter

Dear Duggar daughters –

I am not here to chide you, or your family. I am not here to pass judgement on what anyone should or shouldn’t have done in regards to what your brother did.

I am here to tell you that I’m sorry. For everything.

I’m sorry he touched you, in the manner he did, without your permission. Regardless of how you dismiss or rationalize it, he should have never invaded your body like that.

I’m sorry that the adults in your life failed you. They failed to protect you, and they failed to right the wrong, after you were violated.

I’m sorry that it happened to you. I’m sorry you had to feel the confusion and shame afterwards. And I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with all your feelings, while trying to put up a united front on TV cameras.

I am truly, truly sorry.

I say all this, as someone who’s been there, minus the TV cameras. Someone who was supposed to love and protect me as a parent, did not. And convinced me it was my fault. This person violated me as well, many times, while I was awake, and aware, and scarred me to this day. He gave me nightmares until my adult years. Because of his actions, I was unable to trust any adult male in my life for a very long time. I thought all men were going to try and treat me as a sexual object as well, even my male teachers.

Like you, I told one day. I’m not sure of the reaction your parents gave you, but the reaction I was given by my adults was not positive. I was called a “lying  little bitch” by a member of his family, who again, said they loved me. This was quite traumatic for 12 year old me. However, instead of my perpetrator being shipped away, I was sent to stay with a family friend for the summer. I went home just before school started.
And like you, it started again.
I told again, but this time the police were involved. But even they questioned me, and pointed out that I was going to “ruin his life”.

Never mind that he had already almost ruined mine.

I was 30 before I started to feel better about myself. I do hope that the therapy your family says they gave you will allow you to have a normal relationship with someone of the opposite sex before I was able to.

I’m rambling, I know. You’re telling yourself that nothing bad happened. It’s not like he raped you, or you were even aware of it. I’m sorry you’ve rationalized things to that point. There are no degrees of this. He violated your space, your body, and your trust.

So in closing, as the story dies from the media,  I just want to say that I hope things are better for you. I hope you’re not harboring any negative feelings about yourself, or what you could have done to stop it. I hope that you don’t occasionally still cower from the men in your life, (husbands/partners included) despite how much you love them. Above all else, you deserve to have a happy, whole life, away from the fear to sleep these feelings cause.

Yours ever sincerely,
Samantha Regina Imperiatrix

Overcoming Through Forgiveness?

We shall overcome.
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome some day.

 

I always loved that song as a child. I believed it, too. My family is what my son calls a “patchwork quilt”…a little of everything. Growing up, I surrounded myself with all kinds of people, because people are people to me. We all bleed red, right? The idea people were people informed my entire young life. Aging came with knowledge and awareness that my child’s brain could not process. I’ve learned, through experience, that color blindness is a slogan. It’s also a weakness.

The recent events in a South Carolina church are possibly a result of that weakness.

For those unfamiliar with me, I am a fellow traveler through life who happened to be born with ovaries and not quite white skin. By not quite white, I mean dark -VERY dark- skin. I am a black woman. Yes, black! No hyphenated American here. Move along. Those travelling alongside me are as diverse and colorful as a rainbow. There is one who holds my hand, nudges me forward, and even carries me some days. He is a wonderful man who happened to be born with not quite dark skin. Not quite meaning as white as a cloud, but he’s MY cloud, and I love the caring person that he is underneath the not quite dark skin. With him, I share four of Heaven’s sweetest angels. Speaking of Heaven and angels, yes, I believe in a High Power.

And that brings me to my question. Every headline I’ve read lately has zeroed in on the fact that the families of the victims have forgiven the terrorist who killed their loved ones. Yes, I said terrorist! If you don’t recognize racism as an ideology rife with terroristic tendencies and methods, read a book. But back to my question. Is immediate forgiveness the answer?

On one hand, I applaud -admire even- these families. They have experienced a tragedy the likes of which I can not fathom. Forgiving the terrorist may be a crucial part of their grieving process, and I pray comfort and peace over them, however that’s accomplished. As a fellow believer, I know that love, compassion, and forgiveness are expected. Likewise, I know that truth and justice are required in any truly free and equal society.

On the other hand, I wonder if it is healthy for us, as a nation, to focus on the forgiveness of a killer without much care for the conditions that lead to such forgiveness-needing acts?

I don’t think it is. As it is, in order to be heard, black Americans must react in a certain (submissive?) way to events involving race. We must make the disclaimer that we know all white people aren’t racist. We must exude grace through our pain. We must speak softly. We must condemn ‘black on black’ crime in Chicago and openly plea for less fatherless homes. We must criticize Al Sharpton. We must march, sing, and quote Dr. Martin Luther King. We must do any and everything except…

BE ANGRY. Even after this most horrible and OBVIOUS racially motivated hate crime, we must not show anger. We should forgive immediately? A hate-filled terrorist slaughtered people who welcomed him with open arms, literally responding to an olive branch with a gun, and shows no remorse should be immediately forgiven? He asked not for forgiveness, but for a living witness to what he hoped would be the beginning of a race war…and this is the conversation we’re having? This is after the conversation about motivation, because saying “I’m here to shoot black people” has SO many meanings.

My faith is strong, but I’m not at Forgiveness Avenue yet. I am angry. I am sorrowful. I am angry. I am filled with worry over the state of the nation my children have to live in. I am weary of our cowardice in regards to repairing race relations. Did I mention how mad I am? I wanted to look around and see that others were as disgusted as I was. That everyone was as disgusted as I was.

I’m comforted that I saw some of that. Thank God for good people! I saw other things, too. I saw that far too many of us would rather keep sweeping shit into a corner and spraying Febreeze than to go on and deal with the busted sewage pipe. I saw that far too many of us still don’t recognize the power of language (thug vs mentally ill) and symbols (heritage vs symbol of oppression). Thank you, South Carolina for recognizing that some divisions are bigger than a flag. I saw that in 2015, far too many of my fellow Americans ignore the reality hundreds of years worth of bigotry created, and expect me to forgive in order to overcome.

Someday.

 

 

Defending Hillary

“In the Senate, I have worked across the aisle to make change. When I was elected, the people of New York took a chance on me and it was a great honor that they did. But I knew that I had to go and get things done. I couldn’t just say, ‘Well I’ve been elected, thank you very much.’ That’s not who I am, that’s not what I do.” – Hillary Clinton-*

Surprise—Hillary announced her candidacy for President! Yeah, I know that’s an enormous yawn because everyone knew she would eventually make it official. By now you have also probably heard about a little scandal having to do with the former secretary of state’s emails. I know that I’m a little behind addressing this situation, but now that Clinton has officially declared her intentions, it is time to offer some perspective on the email issue. If you aren’t aware of this, well, the hypocrisy surrounding the outrage (most of which has died down—at least for now) from both the right and (yes) even the left is enough to make one’s head explode—well, mine anyway.

Let me preface with the fact that I am a huge proponent of transparency and accountability at every level of government and believe that all communication of government business should be conducted on a government server (apologies for the redundancies). However, transparency and accountability are for another discussion and one well worth having, not only in regards to Secretary Clinton, but all elected and appointed government officials.

So what is the hypocrisy surrounding Secretary Clinton’s emails one might ask? Oh, let me count the ways (and this isn’t a comprehensive list):

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush’s email transparency is a total joke

Jeb Bush had another private email account as Florida Governor

Jeb Bush owned personal email server he used as governor

Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo administration begins large-scale email purges

Mitt Romney

Romney staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records

Scott Walker

John Doe Transcript: Scott Walker must have known of private email, laptop system

Sarah Palin

Palin outraged that Hillary Clinton pulled a Palin

Colin Powell

Colin Powell relied on personal emails while Secretary of State

Congress members

Congress doesn’t have rules for saving emails

5 million missing emails during the GW Bush administration related to the attorneys general firing investigation. That should be truly shocking and outrage-inducing to anyone concerned with transparency and accountability in government.

Madame Secretary as Right-wing Target Practice

Conservatives are attacking Secretary Clinton because she is the Democratic frontrunner, possesses stronger credentials than anyone currently running on the GOP side, and is a Clinton— and you know there is always something “sneaky” about “those” people and the “rules don’t apply to them.” (Well, the rules don’t apply to most powerful, wealthy people so why should she be held to different standards? I’m not saying that’s right, because it’s not, but just posing the question as food for thought.)

Of course, these omitted emails will now be used to perpetuate the Benghazi hysteria, keeping it front and center through 2016, if possible, although most people have moved past that issue because there was no criminality involved—even the GOP-led investigative report confirmed there was no misconduct. This report was issued by the Benghazi Select Committee, which is headed up by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

Mr. Gowdy has requested Clinton turn over to him her personal email server, which she has refused to do. Yet he refuses to release Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails—that she did release—to the public as Democrats in the House of Representative have requested. If Congressman Gowdy were so adamant about transparency and accountability, he’d release them. He has not. My question is why hasn’t he? They must be less than compelling and devoid of any smoking gun. However, it’s a brilliant strategy because to withhold them from the public allows the Republican propaganda machine to continue hyping a conspiracy or possible foul-play surrounding that tragic incident.

Gowdy also prefers the committee to interview Clinton (again) in private. Clinton prefers a public hearing, which most Americans interested in this situation would appreciate. Why is he so adamant about keeping the hearing secret? It all feeds into the way conservatives want to milk this issue through 2016. I guarantee it. Now, that’s not to say the Democrats wouldn’t do the same in this situation because they probably would. Again, it’s politics, which is not for the faint of heart.

Liberal Media Pundits Join In

Liberal media pundits have joined the GOP attackers. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the cable news networks and political blogs. Even liberal MSNBC has denounced her, failing to see that they held her to a different standard than others, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Perhaps his being a man shelters him from this type of scrutiny? Furthermore, the Clintons have a love-hate relationship with the media, so any opportunity the media sees to go after them they do so, and with great fervor.

Yes, she was secretary of state, but so was Colin Powell. In my view, the disappearance of 5 million Bush administration emails related to the attorney general firings investigation is a much more serious matter. I didn’t hear much outrage from the right when that was revealed.

As the 2016 presidential campaign progresses, the Clinton email issue will continue to provoke political attacks against her. There are valid issues and policy positions that her opponents can exploit, but until everyone else in government is held to the same standards of transparency and accountability, I’m cutting Hillary a little slack on this email one.

* What did Hillary Clinton accomplish while in the Senate? You can read about it here and here.

 

 

I now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming…

…Why, you ask? Because a certain story of American gusto has taken the nation by storm. And, well, I am not totally buying the narrative.

By now, we’ve all heard the heart warming story. 56-year-old James Robertson walks over 21 miles to work…5 days a week…for 10 years. Let me repeat that. Mr. Robertson has walked over 21 miles to work for 10 years. After his car gave out on him over a decade ago, this man did what he needed to do in order to remain gainfully employed. In the process, the job became his life.

 

The sheer time and effort of getting to work has ruled Robertson’s life for more than a decade, ever since his car broke down. He didn’t replace it because, he says, “I haven’t had a chance to save for it.” His job pays $10.55 an hour, well above Michigan’s minimum wage of $8.15 an hour but not enough for him to buy, maintain and insure a car in Detroit.

Is this job really worth it? I mean, walking that far every Monday through Friday! Why not just quit?

“I can’t imagine not working,” he says.

Okay, so this man is no taker. He exemplifies the idea that a man who won’t work won’t eat. Right?

Robertson’s 23-mile commute from home takes four hours.

He also seems to understand that anything worth having might be difficult to obtain and keep. The four-hour journey to keep a $10.55/hour job practically yells commitment. Right? And his employers speak very highly of him. His manager speaks of Mr. Robertson as a model employee.

“I set our attendance standard by this man,” says Todd Wilson, plant manager at Schain Mold & Engineering. “I say, if this man can get here, walking all those miles through snow and rain, well I’ll tell you, I have people in Pontiac 10 minutes away and they say they can’t get here — bull!”

I know what you’re thinking. What exactly is the issue? What can be said other than the fact that Mr. Robertson’s actions are the embodiment of what we think of as American Spirit? His story is remarkable. I find that there are, indeed, a few remarkable things about this story. (Spoiler Alert: American spirit doesn’t make my list.)

Topping the list, of course, is James Robertson. In my view, this is not a case of American can-do spirit. In fact, America plays little to no role here save setting and nationality. This a case of a remarkably determined man doing remarkable things in order to survive. The triumph or victory (if you call it that) belongs solely to the man himself. His grit, his determination, his perseverance, and his commitment make him a man to be respected and admired.

Secondly, I find it remarkable that so many Americans read his story, recognized his actions, and responded. According to  USA Today, over $230,000 has been raised on behalf of Mr. Robertson. That number is expected to rise.  I was pretty sure that there were still good people in the world, and the response reaffirmed that belief.

Finally, I find it remarkably disheartening that this story, while touching and inspiring, is not unique. My life has allowed me to experience many, many James Robertsons. I grew up in a community where this type of feel-good story was the norm. I have witnessed single mothers walk to work after death, divorce, or abandonment removed fathers from homes. I have witnessed married women walk similarly exhaustive treks in order to supplement the father’s income so that the family could make ends meet. I have witnessed fathers walking from home to Job 1, then Job 2, and sometimes Job 3 before walking home again.

Circumstances of birth, I suppose, make these people good Americans. In my eyes, they are simply good people. And therein lies my issue…this nation is full of good people doing remarkable things on a daily basis. Not in an effort to be labeled “good Americans”, but because they must be done. The stories of James Robertson and countless others make me wonder why Americans can’t see the economic failure embedded within the feel-good.

But… I return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

Evergreen Up Late: Welcome Back My Friends!

Welcome back to another exciting season of National Politics! Woohoo!

A whole new year of “funny-“, um, I mean “The American People’s” business awaits, so LET’S GET TO IT, shall we?

The 114th Congress has just completed its first month of work, or as Members call it: 13 days. Wow! A baker’s dozen. Tough Gig! /sarcasm

But the way this January has turned out, Republicans may already wish they could call for a Mulligan. With such an ignoble beginning, the good news is that next month contains only 12 scheduled days in session. So, they’ve got THAT going for them.

To round out the 1st month of 2015, Mitt has pulled his hat OUT of the ring for the 2016 election. Perhaps he just got “Bush-whacked?”

We’re keeping things short this time, but we’ll be back because while Congress may be light on results, it truly IS the show that NEVER ends!

May you always be in tune with The Music of the Spheres.

A Tragedy in Three Parts

Part I

My friend had been fighting a heart condition as long as I had known him, and that was a long time.

Most people had no idea. For most of the thirty years I knew him he was under treatment, and it worked just fine and kept him healthy.

My friend was an officer in the US Navy, a computer engineer, an MBA and a PhD economist. An officer in his college fraternity and a huge fan of Florida football. He worked for Procter and Gamble in the US and Europe, and taught at colleges here and there as well. My friend had two young kids, an ex-wife, supportive extended family and friends – real, honest-to-goodness friends – across the globe.

This was no average schmoe.

But that cardiac problem, it kept creeping up on him. Most people don’t know it but that’s what made him leave the Navy. My guess is that it had a (big) hand in his divorce and in several academic positions that didn’t work out as well as they should have.

We like to think modern medicine has a firm grasp on problems like these. But with a condition like his – a constantly ticking bomb – there were things he just couldn’t do.

To make things worse, some of the places he lived didn’t take the condition seriously and he had a hard time finding the right kind of specialists to help him stay safe. Not to make this political, but for the last few months of his life he couldn’t get health insurance and he couldn’t afford private-pay care.

Without regular medical care the ticking got louder. Sometimes when I talked to him or read his emails I could hear it from a thousand miles away.

So if I’m honest with myself, I have to say it wasn’t a complete shock when his sister called to tell me the ticking had stopped and his great big heart had finally burst.
Part II

I haven’t been entirely honest with you.  He didn’t have a heart condition.

It’s true my friend was all of the things I told you. It’s true he had trouble getting the medical care that almost certainly would have saved his life. It’s true we were like brothers for more than three decades. He was the best man at my wedding and godfather to my oldest child.

What killed him wasn’t a heart condition, it was a head condition. His heart didn’t burst, he killed himself. He was alone and afraid and so very sad that he just couldn’t be here any longer.

And now you think of him in an entirely different way than you did when you believed he died of a heart attack.

Of course you do.

Because here in twenty-first century America we still draw a bright line between physical illness and mental illness. A middle-aged man walking around with a heart condition needs care, observation and the best medicine science can provide, right?

But a middle-aged man walking around in a deep-blue funk just needs to cheer up, right? Got the occasional delusion? You just need a good night’s sleep and some perspective. You’ll be fine.

If the electrical impulses that make your heart beat on schedule go haywire everybody knows you need to get to the ER, stat! But if the electrical impulses between your ears skip a beat, well, you’ll need good insurance, several referrals and a fair bit of experimentation with an array of meds before you get even a little relief.

We all – most of us, at least – know intellectually that mental illness, in addition to being a miserable set of ailments, is dangerous. That it kills. We know it ruins lives and families. But insurance companies know it tends to be chronic and hard to treat and is therefore expensive. And because it’s expensive it’s easier to keep it in the same shadows it’s been in for most of human history.

I’d like to think we’re better than that. That the twenty-first century is more progressive and that we’re not so cheap as a society that for all intents and purposes we leave people to tough it out or die trying.

I’d like to believe that, but I know that what killed my friend almost certainly could have been treated if the world thought about severe depression the way it thinks about heart disease.

Part III

In a world full of friends and family who would have done anything to help him, my friend couldn’t be helped when he needed it most.

I’m angry about that. Here it is, the middle of the strangest Florida football season I remember, and I don’t have my friend to commiserate with. His nephews are leaving college and stepping out into the working world and nobody could give them better advice than he could have. His son and daughter, they’re growing up without the funniest, most brilliant and caring dad a kid could have. And I’m angry about that.

I could go on and on about my friend. We were going to be old men sitting on a front porch, solving the world’s problems over a glass of bourbon. Now, we’re not.

This is the part where I tell you that if things are bad for you, if you can’t see a way out, you need to call a friend or a family member. You know the drill, and it’s all true. There are people out there who need you and value you. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Etc.

But that’s not the sermon I’m going to preach today. My friend – and too many other people in my life – have taught me that telling you all the things you have to live for isn’t going to help.

So my message isn’t for you. It’s for those who still think mental and physical illness are different. They aren’t. They can both be treated and they both must be treated.

My message today is for everyone who has someone close to you who is struggling right now. It’s your responsibility to advocate for them in the world. Yes, be there for them, listen, encourage them to stay on their meds if they have them, but you also have a bigger, louder job.

You have to tell their story. You have to break open the doors and lead mental illness out of the shadows. You have to speak up. You have to lobby. You have to work for the people you care about. You have to fight for them. Because they are fighting an entirely different battle that you can’t see.

Fight for them.

Fight for my friend.