Sunday, April 09, 2006

Liberadio(!)'s Interview with Planned Parenthood's Mark Huffman

Local radio show Liberadio(!) conducted an interview on 3/23/06 with Mark Huffman, Vice President of Education and Training for Planned Parenthood of Middle & East Tennessee. The audio of the show is available here as an mp3. Because the show doesn't offer transcripts, and I thought some people would like to or benefit from reading Mark's comments, Mary graciously agreed to let me transcribe the piece. And hey, I just like to read things instead of listening to them. It is not a perfect transcription - I've left out some filler words (like "uh" and "you know") and break announcements, and may have inadvertently changed a couple of things, but I'm certain I haven't changed the meaning. I've also added in links in a few appropriate places. Mark Huffman's responses have been bolded. Click on the read more link at the bottom to view the entire transcript.

MM: Mary Mancini, co-host
FO: Freddie O’Connell, co-host
MH: Mark Huffman, Vice President of Education and Training for Planned Parenthood of Middle & East Tennessee

FO: Can you take just a few moments to talk about what Planned Parenthood is and does, and what the local affiliate is working on?

MH: Basically, Planned Parenthood is an organization that has local affiliates across the country. It also has a national wing to it as well. It’s an organization that’s concerned about reproductive and sexual health care, and so we focus our activities in three areas. One is medical services – we have routine gynecological care for women, sexual health care for women, and men as well, birth control services, testing for STDs, HIV, pregnancy testing. Most Planned Parenthoods provide first trimester abortion and also referrals for adoption services and referrals for prenatal care. We also have education departments across the country here very active in the Middle Tennessee area and in Knoxville where we see about 7,000 to 8,000 teens, young adults, and professionals each year. With teens and young adults, we’re speaking to them specifically about how to protect themselves, how to say no to unwanted sexual behaviors, how to postpone sex for teens, and also about healthy relationships and other matters within the broad realm of sexuality. And then we do a lot of advocacy, as you all well know, rights regarding abortion, unfortunately even rights regarding receiving birth control and emergency contraception are being threatened, and also there’s a huge debate going on about sex education and the so-called abstinence only brand of sex education versus comprehensive, and we’re right in the thick of that as well.

MM: That all sounds reasonable

MH: What sounds reasonable?

MM: Just everything when you said the services that Planned Parenthood provides. So why do people hate you guys so much?

MH: Well, first of all because we take a firm stand that says that when a woman is facing unplanned pregnancy, we think it is she who should decide what to do, and so obviously there are a lot of folks out there who believe very strongly that she should not be allowed to decide, that abortion should be off the table for her The range of opinions in that camp ranges from some folks who think there should be exceptions in terms of rape incest, things like that, to more extreme voices that say absolutely no exceptions – if a woman is pregnant then that pregnancy needs protection and she needs to carry that to term. So that’s one of the voices out there

MM: So they’re really just concentrating on that one aspect of what Planned Parenthood does rather than looking at the organization as a whole?

MH: Well, no. That’s actually not the case. Regarding sexuality education, although I argue it’s all connected, but regarding sexuality education Planned Parenthood’s philosophy is young people need, deserve, and can handle accurate, thorough information. That includes information about abstinence, it includes lots of skills about saying no, it also would include skills and information about how to protect themselves should they become sexually active. There are many folks who claim falsely that what Planned Parenthood actually wants folks to do is get pregnant and that Planned Parenthood wants teens to be running around with anyone that they can and that’s absolutely not the case. Actually in the sex ed debate what’s ironic is that the programs that have actually been proven to achieve abstinence, that is, after the kids go through this program they are less likely to have sex, those programs are the ones that Planned Parenthood endorses, ones that include both information about abstinence and contraception and other forms of protection

FO: I would suspect based on the manner and level of attacks that are cast against you by the opposition on a number of these issues that the popular perception of Planned Parenthood is, for instance, not that it also offers referrals for adoption services and those sorts of things or that it offers gynecological exams and other services that are specifically healthcare related. Do you feel, is that something that is of concern to you as Vice President of Education and Training – do you feel that you have an uphill battle to talk about the extended mission of Planned Parenthood when it is so often cast just in terms of the debate movement or the sex education movement, or the abortion rights movement and sex education movement?

MH: Well we certainly don’t apologize for standing up for the right of a woman to have an abortion, and having said that though, yeah, we would like people to get an accurate picture. What’s interesting though is that when you look at polls and stuff, most of your average folks look at Planned Parenthood and think of Planned Parenthood very positively. It’s interesting because if you look at the media, the voices in the media are those controversial voices, those more extreme voices, and so it’s actually kind of hard to get a gauge on where people are in general. I mean, we have thousands of women coming to us every year, we talk to a lot of older women who say that during their younger years they used Planned Parenthood services of all kinds and so it’s a little bit schizophrenic, but we are heartened that most folks not only know the good that Planned Parenthood does, but actually most folks agree in regard to the public policy stances that we take.

FO: Alright, well you mentioned that one of the things that you all work on is advocacy and education for abortion rights, and clearly after South Dakota this has gotten a lot of attention in a number of states as there is based on this effort to ban abortion in terms of legislation in South Dakota that there are going to be several direct attacks on Roe vs. Wade as a judicial standpoint but right now we’re dealing with a bill that has gotten a lot of press here SJR127. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what it calls for and what happens next and when could this process actually begin to affect the lives of Tennesseans?

MH: Well what SJR127 is is a resolution that would put on a public referendum the question as to whether Tennessee’s constitution protects the privacy of a woman who’s facing unplanned pregnancy Currently the Tennessee constitution as interpreted by the Tennessee Supreme Court grants a lot of privacy, which we think is a good thing – Tennessee is about individual rights and about privacy rights and so the current Tennessee Constitution as it reads grants a lot of privacy regarding these decisions. In other words, the Tennessee Supreme Court has rightly kept these decisions in the hands of individual women who are faced with unplanned pregnancy What some folks in the legislature are trying to do is get the Tennessee constitution amended and this resolution, the language of the resolution basically says that the constitution would be amended in a way that basically says that the constitution neither guarantees nor secures any right to abortion or the funding thereof.

FO: And it’s specific about that language it’s not just that there’s no.. it lays out a number of things that privacy’s not included this is something that is just very specific on one issue.

MH: Right, it’s a very specific statement regarding just one area of privacy
And so it’s kind of a complicated process but essentially what happens is if these resolutions pass in both houses for two years in a row then, and by certain margins, it would go then before the people in a statewide referendum during the next governor race gubernatorial race This would be 2010 because for 2008 it hasn’t met the requirements to get on that ballot so we are talking long term, but short term it’s part of a huge effort and actually there are lots of other bills before the legislature that would further chip away at rights as well, and so SJR127 was the big focus because the Senate passed it for the second time, it now goes before the House and I’m not exactly sure in what committee or subcommittee it’s going to be heard yet. The deadline for filing legislation was just recently so we’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen with that. Last year, though, it was defeated in a subcommittee, that is the subcommittee kicked the resolution out but it was defeated basically on a vote of 5 to 4 so it was a very slim margin – it came very close to passing last year as well.


MM: And they just keep bringing it back

MH: They just keep bringing it back.

FO: And what do you think, I mean, do you have an outlook on whether it’s likely to reach the floor of the House for a full vote this year?

MH: Well, apparently. I’m not a political expert so I don’t know for sure, but apparently there are some sneaky measures where a bill can get taken out of a subcommittee, go to the House, the floor of the House anyway, that kind of thing. I can say this, that folks who want this resolution to pass, this resolution that would amend the constitution, are going to stop at nothing – they will try every trick every rule everything they can to get it forward.

FO: Well it seems to me that there is an incredible amount of energy being expended in this process of halting abortion across the board, I mean in terms of judicial activism in supporting Governors and Presidents who are going to appoint people to various positions, that has changed the quality and type of sex education available that there are so many people who are vigorously pro-life and yet we still look at the numbers and there are, even just in terms of abortion, there are 800,000 a year and it seems like there’s less energy or at least public energy focused on the process of preventing unplanned pregnancy. Shouldn’t we be treating the causes rather than the symptoms?

MH: Oh absolutely, and I think that’s the big irony in this (MO: irony, he’s so polite. I have a few other words that you could perhaps use but go ahead with the irony) Yeah, I mean, essentially we have the tools that could render this whole question practically moot and there are countries currently today that have already done that (MO: those darn Scandinavians) Yes. Basically we know that when women have easy access to birth control services, women and men, we know that when kids have good thorough sex education their unwanted pregnancy rates plummet, their STD rates plummet, their HIV rate plummets, the abortion rate plummets. When you look at countries like France, the Netherlands, and Germany and their teen pregnancy rate is fractions of what it is here in the United States, and then when you look at their policies, you know how much information there are teens getting about sexuality. I mean, they have condom vending machines out on the streets, they have TV programs that actually teach kids how to make out. I'm not saying that we necessarily need to be doing that. What I’m saying is that folks that think that information is going to lead to promiscuity are just wrong. I think we can all understand as folks who maybe have teens in our lives or kids in our lives that when we think about, “Gosh I’d give them this information, is that giving them permission?” we kind of understand that feeling in our gut, but it just doesn’t bear out in terms of statistics. The countries that have the lowest abortion rates, the countries that have the lowest STD rates, lowest teen pregnancy rates, lowest unplanned pregnancy rates are ones that are very liberal in their policies in terms of information and access to these services. We could do it here – in fact we’ve done it – I mean there have been states that have experimented with it, their teen pregnancy rates have gone down. For philosophical reasons those programs have been slashed and their teen pregnancy rates go right back up. Here in the United States and in Tennessee, for the last ten years teen pregnancy rates have been going down, and it’s because teens have more access to birth control, it’s because they have support for remaining abstinent if that’s their choice, and yet for some reason many folks are thinking that if we do not absolutely only preach abstinence that you know, that the world, that the country’s going to go to hell.

MM: What is the reason? Is it based on religious grounds primarily that they object to this education? Is it based on they want their kids to be taught these things at home and not in public schools, if you’re even talking about extending these programs into public schools or having them available at public schools, or is it a combination of all that?

MH: I think it’s a combination of all of that and certainly again, like for example parents who think that their kids ought to get this at home and not in school. That’s not a terribly unreasonable argument, but interestingly our current policies have allowed for that for years, that we need to get permission (MM: they can opt out in health class?) Sure, that’s always been the policy. Certainly a certain type of religious view supports these folks in their quest to kind of get information and skills out of the schools and so yeah I think it has to do a lot with certain fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity and its mostly that kind of faith.

MM: Is it that they’d rather have that faith and turn a blind eye to studies and numbers, proof that programs that Planned Parenthood supports work, so it’s up to you to educate parents as well as educating…

MH: Absolutely and I think you know at a real broad philosophical level there’s this pervasive sense in our society where we have trouble with the notion of sex.

FO: You’re chuckling already, Mary, and all he did was say it.

MM: Well no, I, just if you watch TV during prime time, it just seems that we don’t have too much trouble with the concept of it.

MH: Here again is the irony.

MM: yeah

MH: And I think what happens is that the concept of sex taps into, and this is just some armchair psychology here, it taps into a lot of fear, it taps into a lot of shame. The same way with the.. you all were talking about the Iraq war earlier it taps into our fear and…

FO: the Iraq war is like sex (laughter)

MH: I mean, we are in a time when there’s lots of change and there are lots of images on the media that do scare us and should concern us, and so what happens though is this polarization where on the one side you have a movement to get back to total silence, to take this stuff completely out of the picture which is unrealistic, then you have…

MM: You mean if you don’t take it completely out kids kids will stop having sex? Won’t they, when you remove it, they’ll just stop?

MH: Right. That’s exactly what I’m saying – sex has happened since the beginning of time, and it wil,l and then you have on the other hand these media messages out there and we all know what they are, but if you just went with that, if you just went with, you know, do what feels good and that kind of stuff, you would have rampant problems. What we don’t have is, we don’t have a conversation in the middle where it’s sober, it’s realistic, but it’s also nonjudgmental, nonpunitive, nonshameful, and that’s what we’re desperately needing, and in my mind that’s what Planned Parenthood does provide is you know we aren’t for no limits but we also aren’t for unrealistic expectations that ignorance can solve problems.

[break]

FO: So I’m curious to know how often you personally as your role in Planned Parenthood actually directly encounter debate either in terms of needing to do research. I’m sure that you have opportunities to do opposition research. What happens – is there ever any discussion, because I don’t hear about it, about what would happen in the aftermath. I mean let’s say the pro-life community was successful let’s say abortion was halted across the board in the United States and all of the sudden we’re dealing with the 800,000 women or so in this country that are still faced with unplanned and perhaps unwanted pregnancy – what happens then? It seems like the social safety net would just have to grow tremendously, and often this crowd is the same crowd that is fairly conservative politically, in a conservative movement that has worked to shrink the size of the safety net. Is this a role for compassionate conservatism? Do you hear people talking about what options there are for people in a United States with no abortion rights?

MM: And before you answer that question, that was a mouthful by the way, I just want to read something about Governor Mike Rounds who signed the bill in South Dakota into law, where he said when he signed the bill, ironically, that the true test of a civilization was how it treated the most vulnerable and the helpless including unborn children, but his state has hardly been a leader in protecting vulnerable children who have left the womb. The nation’s three worst counties for child poverty at the time of the last census were all in South Dakota, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. Buffalo County, home to the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, was dead last.

MH: Yeah, I’m sure there are some folks out there who are opposed to abortion who sincerely and consistently with their beliefs would do what they could to step up. Unfortunately, as Mary just read, many of the most strident voices probably would not, and so, yeah, I think we would see a lot more stress on the social services to take care of low income folks who are just destitute in terms of their resources.

MM: The dwindling social services.

MH: Yeah, yeah.

FO: Is this, is there something there, I mean do you ever see it presented as a full policy package by anybody from the opposition side in terms of the abortion or even sex education debate? To say it’s very easy, and you hear often that, it’s like we are, you know, vigorously opposed to abortion rights, but then what? I mean is there ever a complete package?

MM: Yeah, and it’s not just then, what but what to we do to prevent the unplanned pregnancies to begin, with which is also being legislated access to birth control and stuff like that?

FO: In terms of thinking through what happens, I mean, its clear that the emphasis right now is on halting abortion altogether and so, yeah, the immediate question is then what? I still think there’s a lot of room in the debate for talking about prevention and that sort of thing, but it they’re moving straight to this point clearly that’s not what’s on the focus but then what?

MH: No movement is absolutely monolithic and so, for example, I’ve heard some Catholic voices who seem to have, in my mind, a more seamless and consistent ethic that says, “Yes we are opposed to abortion,” but they also back policies that many folks would call actually very liberal in terms of social services safety nets and things like that. And so again you have some voices arguing that way on the other hand connected more with the “its not just about abortion” but its kind of the anti-birth control, and if you keep going up the chain, anti-sex ethic that basically sees having a baby out of wedlock or an STD or HIV almost in a kind of valid punishment philosophy where, you know, she should have though of that before she laid down, she made her bed she needs to lie in it. Where children, STDs, HIV, and all kinds of other hardships are seen as just punishment, and that to me is the real fearful part of this, because I think what we’re seeing in many ways is a movement to say, you know, if you have our same ethical practices, if you have our same moral beliefs then you deserve good services, you deserve this, you deserve that, but if you don’t, and if you’ve proven that by getting pregnant, if you’ve proven that by getting an STD, then you’re basically kind of “those people.”

MM: Well, how do those people, or how do the people that you describe that believe that, how would they… I guess I know the answer to this, but I’m going to ask you anyway. How would they confront an issue of a pregnant woman who was pregnant by rape or by incest? We hear that all the time, you know, exceptions for rape and exceptions for incest victims – how do they…

MH: Well, there are some in the House debates I believe last year about SJR127, again this is the amendment, the resolution that would amend the constitution to take away any guarantee or secure any right to abortion, there’s been lots of debate about “shouldn’t we throw in there an exception in terms of rape or incest?” There were actually people arguing at that time, fortunately not a majority, that said that if a woman is raped, her unborn child should not bear the punishment of that, and in fact some people were saying that if a woman is raped then a good part of her healing would be to actually bear that child. Now, I’m not actually a rape treatment expert, I’m not a psychologist, and I do know that there have been individuals who individually will say “I chose to have this child and it did help my healing,” but it’s safe to say that that is not the majority of folks, and so what I think some people would have is a situation where women are basically forced to bear the child of their attacker, forced to bear the child of their father who incested them, and so and they would just basically say at that point, “I guess you know, honey, this is part of your healing,” and there’s no reason to punish the child by “killing the child.”

MM: Okay, I’m gonna turn this from a reasonable debate at this point, which it’s been thanks to Mark, totally into an unreasonable one because it…

FO: Are we gonna have to turn your mike off?

MM: You might have to and I apologize in advance but this exception…

FO: remember the FDA or FAA regulations…

MM: FCC [laughter, more on the acronyms]
That the legislature is even willing to think about these exceptions, to me makes it very self-evident that this shouldn’t even be an issue that’s legislated. This should be an issue that should be between a woman and her doctor, it’s a healthcare issues, it’s a medical issue, it’s a psychological issue in cases of rape and incest, that these people who are trying to legislate are willing to even make these exceptions is clear to me that it’s not their decision, because I mean when you make one exception, well then whose decision is it to make another exception for another woman’s situation?

MH: Well ironically that’s exactly the point that Senator Fowler, the biggest backer of this resolution, made on the Senate floor last week. He said, “You know, those of you who want exceptions, you’re saying there’s a chink here and you’re saying that in some cases you are willing to regulate and say no, and some cases you aren’t. I say let’s be consistent.” “I say,” said Senator Fowler, “let’s outlaw, let’s have this amendment be clean and basically have it say no right to abortion,” and he said my… for example on partial birth abortion, he said my policy is no exceptions absolutely and he hasn’t…

MM: But he’s a man! I’m sorry (FO: hang on let’s…) that’s another issue is that this is a man, he doesn’t have a uterus.

FO: Mary’s being unreasonable brings the debate back to the focal point of definitions so for mary clearly life and the…

MM: I’m just saying, if you don’t want an abortion don’t have one. That’s my point, but go ahead.

FO: Okay, well, if you don’t want to murder, don’t kill someone. I mean, that’s the other side of that point, so the question becomes, “does life begin at conception, delivery, somewhere in between, does it matter?”

MH: Well let me back up a second here, I can’t resist [laughter]. But actually you’re right. I mean, obviously Mary I agree with you and here’s the thing – is that this is an issue that people are faced with and society is faced with, and no matter how you look at it, it absolutely cannot be a black and white, what I call a “bumper sticker answer” issue. There are shades of grey, and that’s my whole argument, is let’s take the one size fits all laws off the table because they answer the question for everyone, and in a way that takes away their rights. And when you have a person faced with an unplanned pregnancy, you have a developing fetus, and you have a woman, and there is no other analogous human situation that we can draw upon to give us an absolute answer here. And so I think that we actually have currently the best solution, and that is we, except for the resources for it, we have means to prevent unplanned pregnancy, we have means to educate people, we have folks arguing from the pulpit, arguing from tracts, arguing from philosophical debates about why we should be thinking deeply about these issues. Sure, that’s all fine and good and when the push comes to shove, when the final decision comes, let’s allow her that decision, because otherwise you trample on her rights, and so I agree with you, it is a grey issue – we can’t, we shouldn’t be absolutist about it.

FO: The problem being though, I think, and this is where the debate starts and I think will never end, is that there are, I mean, on the other side are the people that are saying this is a crime. I mean, what you’re saying and what Mary is ranting about, it has no answer for the people who will call abortion murder. In fact, this very weekend I was at a party where somebody whirled around jumped into a conversation where we weren’t even really talking about this, and “Women’s rights my ass,” and this was a woman, “You’re killing someone,” and how do you respond to that?

MH: First of all we need to go to “when does life begin?” and all that kind of stuff. That’s not a scientific question, that’s a theological, that’s a moral, that’s a philosophical question, and we live in a country where we embrace diversity on those issues, (MM: well in theory anyways) and so we need to protect women’s rights. Second of all, let’s say for the sake of argument that it is, well, we do as a society grant the right to kill. We grant the President to order the deaths of our enemies, and so it comes down to then, to me a trust in the ability of a person to make a moral decision, and I think we need to trust women who are in this situation. These are women who are not, as I said in my speech last week, these are women who are not immoral, they’re not sluts, they are not criminals. They are women who are desperately trying to make a good decision. In many cases they are making the decision on behalf of the children they’re already taking care of or they’re making the decision on behalf of the children they wish to have in the future and truly care for in a very effective and wonderful and nurturing way. These are not women who are coming to Planned Parenthood or another agency and saying, “I want to kill someone today.” What they are saying is, I’m in a situation where there is no easy answer here and I’m contemplating having a child, which is going to have many, many joys to it and many, many headaches to it and many, many complications. They’re contemplating having an abortion, which may have some negative consequences in terms of their feelings and their well being, and its also though if they did this, then they are going to be in a situation where later on they can make wiser decision. Or they’re contemplating adoption, which is going to have again many areas that can bring them joy and pride in terms of giving their baby to someone who can truly take care of it, but its also going to have many areas of grief and remorse, and so there’s no easy out here. And we have a developing fetus and an adult woman, or at least a teenage woman, and so what do we as a society do about that? What we need to do is educate.

MM: Educate not legislate right?

MH: Right. Absolutely we can have voices out there that are trying to persuade in a thoughtful and sensitive way, but what we need to do is, we need to give her a place to truly be safe in voicing all of her concerns. We need to give her a place that’s legal, that’s regulated, so that she knows that the healthcare she’s getting is good quality healthcare, and you can’t do that if you make abortion illegal. There are many women actually who come into Planned Parenthood and change their minds. They came in thinking they wanted to have an abortion, but what they’ve discovered after they talk with us for a while is that, “You know what, I was being rash about this – for me I’m thinking I need to have this baby.”

MM: That’s funny, you don’t hear that story very often about Planned Parenthood.

MH: Actually – in fact this is a true story – several years ago I was in the break room at work one day, and around lunchtime somebody came in, a counselor, in tears, and I thought, “Oh boy, tough client” kind of thing, and she said “No no no, actually I got a phone call from someone that was here about a year ago,” and this counselor – I’m going to make up her name – this counselor’s name was Tammy, and she said “You know about a year ago a woman came in, she was asking all kinds of questions she, was talking about her situation and I picked up that she was ambivalent and I told her that. I said ‘You know you don’t seem to really have made up your mind that this is the best choice for you. Why don’t you take a few days’.” And she did – the woman never came back. Tammy never heard from her again until a year later when the woman called and said, “I just want you to know that I have a daughter named Tammy now because you thoughtfully helped me look at all of my emotions here. You thoughtfully helped me look at all of my considerations, and I made the best decision for me.” If abortion were driven underground, that woman would have had an abortion. That woman would have been ushered into a room very quickly or handed pills to take in a back alley very quickly. She would not have been asked how she feels about this, she would not have been asked “What are you thinking? What are your morals around this?” She would have had to have made a very rash decision that she probably would have regretted for the rest of her life. Instead, because abortion is legal now and it’s safe now, she had a place to come and truly find out what was best for her.

MM: You mentioned the remarks you made last week at a press conference rally on the day that SJR127 was passed. Before we take a break if it’s okay I just want to read a little bit of your remarks: “When a woman is sitting in her doctor’s exam room nervously awaiting the results of a pregnancy test, and that pregnancy is unplanned, a lot of things may be going through her head and heart. One woman may be calculating what it would take to raise a child or another child, worried about how she would make ends meet. Another may need information to clarify what she’s heard about prenatal care, childbirth, parenting, adoption, or abortion. Still another may be starting to feel joy as she discovers that, though she wasn’t planning this, this may be good news after all and she can’t wait to tell the father. One may be in turmoil over moral questions, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ Another may be wondering if her partner will be there for her. Still another may be grieving because she and her husband want more children but her health makes it dangerous for her to have a baby at this time. What is not going through these women’s minds, what they are not pondering in their heart is, “I wonder what my President, I wonder what my Governor, I wonder what my state representative would have me do. Maybe I should call one of them.”

[break]

MM: I read those comments before the break – you wanted to comment a little bit?

MH: I think one thing that’s happened over the years is that women faced with unplanned pregnancy who are making these decisions have been painted in a certain light, at least in the abstract, and that is that they are women who either are facing an unplanned pregnancy because of something greatly immoral that they have done, or that they’re facing an unplanned pregnancy and, poor dears, they need our guidance. And many times, absolutely they need information, many times absolutely they need support, but what’s gotten lost is the fact that if this many women are having abortions each year then these are regular James out there. These are not victims, these are not helpless, hapless women – these are women who can take this grave matter in their own hands and they can make a good, thoughtful decision about it. And for the most part these women that are making this decision are making a decision based on their morals and they are thinking about the families they would like to have in the future or they are thinking about the families that they already have, and so I think that this abstract notion of the woman in the abortion clinic is this political pawn that’s been batted around, and what we need to do is get back to the fact that these are real women. And if statistics bear out then virtually all of us either know someone who has had an abortion, know someone in our family who has had an abortion, and so we need to realize that “these women” that we’re talking about are actually our sisters, our daughters, our mothers, our wives, our partners, whatever. These are real people making this decision and we need to trust them with this, and that’s what’s happening in the state of Tennessee and across the nation is there’s a fight on to take out of the hands of these women who we can trust to make good decisions.

FO: Among the moral paradoxes prevalent I think in this debate you mentioned earlier this hour the notion that we don’t have an example of anything like this to draw wisdom from or to think about in absolute terms any other opportunity to legislate morality. I think a lot of the debate also when it comes to this culture of life question, like to be able to justify the difference between being pro-life but also supporting the President in going to war or supporting capital punishment is the question of innocence, and I think a lot of people who take the fundamentalist perspective that abortion is murder are able to distinguish this question of unplanned pregnancy in that life begins at conception from the convicted serial killer who is on death row or from an enemy combatant and say, “Well, these people have had all their lives and it is now within our right to say we condemn thee to death,” whereas the unborn child is sort of a blank slate who has yet to be able to have made mistakes and therefore we cannot condemn this life. Where is that to you in the debate, or how do you count, is there a need to be able to justify the distinction there?

MH: Well I mean like you said it’s not an absolute analogy, and my point about as a society we give the President the right to take us to war is not about an analogy with the abortion decision, it’s with the fact that we as a society do grant the right to take life and so but the parallel kind of stops there. In terms of the innocence debate, I’ll say sure we should think about that, and if a woman and her partner are contemplating an unplanned pregnancy, that’s something they should surely think about, and that’s something that they should give some heed to. However, we are also looking at again a situation where there is not an absolute consensus about when personhood should begin, and if personhood begins with a fertilized egg then first of all we have lots of Petri dishes out there with tiny people in them and so we need to look at the ramifications of that. Does that mean then that the Department of Child Services has to provide foster care for all of these? And the other thing is that this fetus, this baby, this whatever you choose to call it is in the body of a woman and so again you have this situation where if it is going to continue developing then by necessity it’s going to need to depend on this woman’s body. I don’t think we as a society have a right to absolutely in an absolute way say to her, “This fetus has an absolute right to continue its growth even at the expense of what it’s going to mean to your body, to your health, to your family,” and so we have a tussle.

MM: And Freddie, just to talk about the concept of innocence I think gets lost and only applied to the unborn child but in the case of rape or incest you have a woman who’s a victim as well, and she was innocent in that act as well, so you’re balancing innocence against innocence at that point as well, which brings me to a question that a caller brought up a couple of weeks ago. He said there was really no reason to have an exception to these pieces of legislation because there aren’t that many rapes that result in pregnancy, and do you know what the statistics are in terms of rape and incest and (FO: Does it even matter now?) I know it doesn’t matter, and we can talk about how it doesn’t matter, I’m just curious about what the statistics are.

MH: Right, statistically speaking he’s correct, it’s maybe, I want to say, don’t quote me on this, he says jokingly, I think it’s about 1%. It is a small portion, and as you already said it doesn’t matter. I mean, what we’re talking about is taking away that right for her. And you know another thing in this notion of innocence is, I hear and understand where for some people that’s coming from, unfortunately the opposite of the word innocent is guilty, and what again pervades this whole argument in terms of tone – they’ve stopped saying it outright – but what pervades in terms of tone is that the woman has done something wrong to get in the situation she’s in. And so it makes it then much easier to paint a picture where she is taking an innocent life to pay for her guilty deed and I think that if I were a woman I would be outraged at that, that somehow all of these people who face unplanned pregnancy in a given year are somehow morally corrupt and their moral depravity is what got them in this situation. And if there are, you know 800,000 women in this situation, then there are 800,000 men who also contributed to that and we don’t hear about their moral depravity. And so I think that’s one thing we need to constantly be challenging folks on is, “These people are in your family. Are you saying that your aunt that your sister, that your daughter is morally depraved and that she wants to kill somebody?”

MM: Well but they know what they’re doing, because they’re not admitting that they have or that they know people or that they’ve brought people to Planned Parenthood for abortions, so there’s a hypocrisy there if there are 800,000, some of those 800,000 must have touched people that are pro-life or anti-choice. It must’ve and they’re hiding that fact to further their agenda – they’re hiding it and what applies to them, what’s allowed for them, they’re not giving the same allowances to other people, they’re not letting them be able to make a choice.

MH: Well and I know for a fact that we have performed the abortions for protestors. For example, people who protested, anti-abortion protestors picketing Planned Parenthood before their abortion – they had an abortion, and after their abortion they went back to the picket lines. So yeah, that is true and again I think that is where we come back to that pervasive sense of shame and fear about sexuality, and I think in some of the extreme cases that’s what we’re dealing with is some kind of woundedness that is prompting folks to try to legislate others in an attempt to deal with whatever it is they are struggling with personally.

FO: So talking about where we head on this, Bill Clinton famously coined the phrase “safe, legal and rare” to describe how he hoped the debate about abortion might settle out. Do you feel like this is a debate in your mind that has a final outcome? You mentioned that in terms of where we are right now it might not be ideal in terms of being able to provide all the services but it is still where we are able to have conversations, that right now these rights are pretty generally available, even as they’ve been chipped away in various corners of the political debate. Is this something that can be settled?

MH: I don’t really have an answer for that. I fear not, because I think that at least in terms of many people on the most zealous end of the spectrum are always going to be out there fighting. I think in some unconscious ways it almost is settled in the minds of folks and, that is, when you look at polls that consistently say that people have trouble with the notion of abortion and they want to keep it a private decision, and I think that that consensus is pretty strong. Where you’re going to have the inconsistencies and the constant battles are in terms of legislation and public policy, and I don’t know that there’s any one decision or one solution that would take it away. What could happen would be, again, if we were to really start adequately funding sex education and adequately funding access to birth control, what could happen is that you would have it become very rarely needed and therefore that would take the steam out of a lot of the…

FO: And yet I’m reminded that we constantly have the proposal for flag burning amendments to the constitution, despite the lack of a major campaign underway to desecrate the flag.

MH: Well and if you want to get into a real cynical level, then (MM: Oh please, lets) what we have in many cases is politicians actually agreeing with everything that we are saying, but they’re using it as a political football. In fact, there’s one theory out there that the reason some folks don’t want Roe v Wade overturned is that then it takes away this wonderful target and it also allows people to then pass laws that they know are unconstitutional so that they can go back to their electorate and say, “I did this, I did that, I defended the unborn,” but they know that their rights aren’t going to be taken away and so they know they’re completely safe to use it as a political toy.

FO: We are near the end of the hour. I did want to see if you had any specific opportunities for participatory democracy that Liberadio(!) listeners could engage in. Is there anything right now in terms of tracking the progress of SJR127 or any other measures that are out or anything that Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee is doing that you feel needs the attention of the citizens?

MH: Well, one of the easiest things that a person can do is basically contact Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee and get on our action alert network, where we email out updates about the progress of certain things and we also email out alerts when we need folks to call with very specific things to say to voice their opinion about. One thing though that I would like to see happen is folks calling their legislators and just saying in a general way, “I just want you to know that I think unplanned pregnancy is a private matter and so anything that comes across your desk or attention that would take away the right of a woman to exercise her own conscience, I’m against.” One of the things that we are hearing from legislators who support keeping this in the hands of women is that they are only hearing from folks who want to take it away, and so it’s very important that people find out who their legislators are and let them know in general that they will support them in standing up for this. An easy way to find out who your legislator is is you can go to the website plannedparenthood.org and in bold pink letters there’s this one little link that says “find your legislators.” Click on that - you put in your address and it tells you exactly who your state representatives are who your federal congressional representatives are, and you can even email them from that site.

[thanks and goodbye!]


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