The state legislature in Tennessee has passed a bill that makes me want to avoid even driving through the state. When I first read it, I thought it was a bad joke.
The bill would make any miscarriage a potential crime. It hasn't been signed by the governor yet, and there's no word as to whether it will become law. If it does, however, it's worse than anything so far in the right-wing war on women.
Let's say you're pregnant and you go roller skating. Someone bumps you, you go flying and wind up having a miscarriage. You potentially could be charged with murder under this bill because roller skating is dangerous. If you smoke cigarettes and miscarry, same thing. The "killing" of any fertilized egg would be a potential murder charge.
This would outlaw many forms of contraception (sorry, "sluts") and any morning-after treatments. It could outlaw certain medical treatments for the mother if they carry a risk to the pregnancy.
It probably would make it nearly impossible to get in-vitro fertilization because so many of the implanted embryos die. And frozen embryos would have to be implanted in someone because they couldn't be disposed of legally.
Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, said the measure could be construed to require a pregnancy test for “every woman who is shot.”
In the House, Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said the law could now could lead to a business owner who allows smoking being charged when an employee miscarries because of secondhand smoke or charges against a motorist who causes a careless minor accident that resulted a miscarriage.
“It seems to go too far,” Stewart said. “What’s the limiting factor?”
Seems to? It definitely goes beyond reason.
About half of all conceptions “miscarry naturally” before the embryo reaches eight weeks and the bill is vague enough to allow prosecutions in such cases. Fortunately, even mothers don't always suspect they're pregnant before the pregnancy ends, and they might never know they were pregnant.
The bill is poorly written -- it seems purposefully so -- to stage another abortion battle. It is vague and an aggressive prosecutor could do real damage to the lives of innocent women.
Women I know who have miscarried are distraught enough without having to face an inquisition over the cause and the threat of prosecution and a murder conviction.
One can be against abortion and still see the horror of this bill. Even my son, who is anti-abortion, has said this takes the fight too far.
In Alabama, a law that criminalizes drug use during pregnancy is being used to prosecute women who have given birth to healthy babies but who test positive for controlled substances -- even if the drugs were prescribed by a physician.
So far, about 60 women have been arrested under Alabama's Chemical Endangerment Law, which was enacted to prosecute people who bring children into methamphetamine labs. But they never went into meth labs; instead, they're being prosecuted for causing potential harm to their unborn children by using drugs. Although the law wasn't intended to persecute women who need help more than jail, it has been perverted to do so.
These laws take the anti-abortion fight to new lows. It seems not to be enough that women have to jump ridiculous hurdles to exercise their legal right to an abortion.
It's bad enough that legislatures are ordering invasive and unwanted procedures before a woman can exercise her tight to control her own body. In many cases, the doctor is reluctant to perform a transvaginal ultrasound, but has to do so. He or she also has to describe the fetus to the mother.
Some people are fighting back, though. In Texas, a nurse has come up with a great idea to combat that -- she offers moms an iPad to listen to during the procedure so the mother doesn't have to listen. If only people realized how agonizing the decision is for women. No one skips down to the clinic and undergoes an abortion eagerly.
I'm not saying abortion is a good thing -- I chose not to have one even though my doctor advised it -- but there are better ways to deal with it.
For example, how many opponents of abortion are willing to offer women help with their babies? It seems too many people want nothing more than to punish a woman who gets pregnant unintentionally. Plenty of women, if offered help getting on their feet, would decide against abortion; instead, they panic because they don't know what else to do.
We don't have to be punitive to reduce the numbers of abortions. Wouldn't it be better to prevent them in advance, by offering contraception? How can you say women can't have either, and then threaten them with a murder charge if they get pregnant and have a miscarriage, or threaten them with jail if they use drugs and have a healthy baby?
You want to save some lives? Help women keep their babies. Donate to or volunteer with an organization that helps. It's a far better alternative to abortion than these draconian laws.
This insurance company horror story has a decent ending, thank God. It involves one of my favorite people, Asheville Citizen-Times columnist John Boyle.
He seems a little young to me to be falling apart so badly, but such is life.
John had a herniated disc in his neck. I know how painful that is, and he lived with it for about three months until he started to lose feeling and strength in one of his arms. His doctor wanted an MRI but the insurance company said no.
So, John went to see a specialist, who finally got approval for an MRI. He also advised surgery, which the insurance company (United Healthcare) needed to authorize. John got the run-around on that for a week, and his surgery had to be postponed once before the approval came.
Fortunately, John has had his surgery and it went well. He'll be back at his desk in a couple weeks, with several thousand dollars in debt from co-pays and other fees.
You can read John's whole story in the "Stories from a Broken System" section of this web site.
I'm just glad this story has a better ending than so many of the others I've heard.
Oh, and don't tell John I said anything nice about him. I don't want him to get a swelled head.
It has been a very rough couple of weeks, re-living Michael's death and memorial service. I go through this stupid anniversary thing every year, hurting as much as I did when it happened.
Danny and I talked about it at length today. What makes it even more difficult is that his father died two years and two days after Mike, so he has a kind of double whammy. And in July, there's the anniversary of my sister's death from lung cancer. Ellen was his favorite aunt. They were a bit of an odd pair: Danny the conservative Christian and Ellen a lesbian who was able to be legally married before she died because she lives in Massachusetts. But Danny was Ellen's favorite, and he loved her back. And he still loves KJ (Ellen's spouse). There's plenty to love about KJ, and Danny has decided not to concentrate on the few Bible verses that condemned Ellen and KJ; instead he focuses on their goodness.
We talked about how both Ellen and Mike found joy, even in their final days, and how we both need to do the same thing.
Three weeks before Ellen died, Mike was in his second round of chemo. We were all at the annual Boyd summer party, and Robin's husband, Tim was cooking burgers and dogs on the grill.
"OK," he called, "burgers and dogs are up. Kids first."
Mike grabbed Ellen by the hand and went to the table.
"I said kids first," Tim said.
"We have cancer," Mike replied, smiling.
"Mine's inoperable," Ellen chirped.
The cancer patients got to go first.
As tragic as their situation was, they could laugh; they made all of us laugh.
Yes, I'm angry about the crazy course health reform is taking, but I can't allow that to affect my whole outlook.
Danny and I talked about how we have to look for joy before we can find it. Feeling angry and sad is the natural thing for people who have been through the grief we have in the last five years. It's natural to feel regret for not having spent as much time as we could have with the people we have lost.
So, after we hung up, I went outside and played with the dogs for an hour. If that doesn't bring joy, nothing will. Dogs are very good at being joyful. All you have to do is throw a ball for them or pet them or just be there. There is no Republican or Democrat about dogs; they're just happy to be where you are.
Mike told me the night before he died that he was having a good time.
It had to be 20 years ago that I met a man who had brain cancer. He was a woodworker and he had just completed a piece he called "Joy." It's God's most important gift, he said.
About 15 years ago, a friend's sister was dying of breast cancer. She had three small children, the youngest of whom will not remember her at all. A couple of weeks before Christmas, when her time was very short, she bought and wrapped her gifts, and she wrote a piece about finding joy in everything -- even dirty diapers.
Every moment she had left would be filled with joy.
For a long time after she died, her friends would invoke her final letter.
"Remember joy," we said whenever children argued or someone brought up a political thing that made them angry. "It doesn't come by itself; you have to find it."
When Ellen was dying, she would say, "I know this is going to kill me, but not today. Every day above ground is a good day."
And Mike, when ordering a video game a week before he died, laughed as he remembered he needed overnight delivery.
"I want to get to play this thing," he said. "I might not have five to seven business days."
It's easy to forget those words and those feelings when we're missing them so much.
It's much easier to be bitter and angry.
So, if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act, I will work toward something better. I will remember that Mike found joy even on his death bed, and I will do my best to do the same thing.
In fact, I've been feeling pretty angry for the last week or so, ever since Justice Antonin Scalia made light of the law that might have saved my son's life had it been in place in time.
Everywhere I turn there are more lies about health reform and the Affordable Care Act. People on the right are even saying it never had majority support, even though I have dug up poll results from 2009 that prove the majority supported a public option. Under some circumstances, a majority of Republicans even supported it (if it were made available only to people who couldn't buy coverage or couldn't afford it).
Why do we Americans have such a short collective memory?
Today is the fourth anniversary of Mike's memorial service, and I am reminded of the joy he brought into so many lives, and it made me realize I have to stop being angry. Even as he was dying, he could crack jokes that would make all of us laugh. He was good at turning things upside-down and inside-out.
I can be angry that he died and I can be upset that people don't have compassion for each other, but I have to work toward healing that, not make the divisions deeper.
I had to "unfriend" a dear friend of his on Facebook to get away from the anger, and that hurts a lot. But I promised Mike I would keep my work -- and his memory -- positive. It was the only thing he asked when I told him I planned to fight for health care for everyone, health care as a basic human right.
It's really difficult to keep the hurt of losing a beloved child from becoming anger. I have to work at it every day, sometimes every moment. This time of year, as I remember his death as though it was yesterday, it's particularly difficult to stay positive.
I went to a very interesting and unique Good Friday service today. It was sponsored by Beloved House, a mission that works with people who are poor and homeless. It started with a spaghetti lunch at Pritchard Park, a small park in downtown Asheville where people who are homeless hang out when the weather is good.
Then we took a walk around downtown, sort of a 12 Stations of the Cross, where we talked about Jesus as a homeless man, and how powerful his love was and is.
It got me to thinking about how my anger isn't doing any good. The only way to show the strength of what I'm trying to do is to do it in a positive way. I need to turn my anger into positive action.
Mike knew that; I just need to be reminded now and again.
That's right, we've done it again. We have failed to come in among the top 10 nations when it comes to health care outcomes, and the only reason we made it into the top 20 is that only 19 industrialized nations were studied.
In fact, of the 19 industrialized nations studied, the United States came in dead last, down four places from the last study in 2008-09.
Researchers Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tracked deaths that they deemed could have been prevented by access to timely and effective health care, and ranked nations on how they did. They estimated 101,000 people die prematurely in the United States each year because of lack of timely access to medical care.
That estimate is more than double what Harvard Medical School estimated three years ago in its study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That means someone dies from lack of access to care about once every five minutes. Imagine if terrorists killed even a fraction of that many Americans in a year; we would be dropping bombs like crazy.
Almost 50 million Americans lack insurance, and in a private health care system like ours, that means they also lack access to effective and appropriate care.
France, Japan and Australia ranked at the top in the study, with what conservative Americans like to call "socialized medicine." I call it effective, humane, moral and decent health care.
"I wouldn't say it (the last-place ranking) is a condemnation, because I think health care in the U.S. is pretty good if you have access," Nolte told Reuters News Service in a telephone interview. "But if you don't, I think that's the main problem, isn't it?"
France performed the best -- with 64.8 deaths deemed preventable per 100,000 people, in the study period of 2002 and 2003. Japan had 71.2 and Australia had 71.3 such deaths per 100,000 people. The United States had 109.7 such deaths per 100,000 people.
Spain came in at fourth, followed by Italy, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Austria, Germany, Finland, New Zealand, Denmark, Britain, Ireland and Portugal, with the United States last.
All the countries made some progress in reducing preventable deaths from the earlier rankings, researchers said. These types of deaths dropped by an average of 16 percent for the nations in the study, but the U.S. decline was only 4 percent.
The research was backed by the Commonwealth Fund, a private New York-based health policy foundation.
"It is startling to see the U.S. falling even farther behind on this crucial indicator of health system performance," Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen said.
In a statement, she added, "The fact that other countries are reducing these preventable deaths more rapidly, yet spending far less, indicates that policy, goals and efforts to improve health systems make a difference."
I think that's being kind. I would say that we have let bullies on the right and the top 1 percent push us around long enough. Call it socialized medicine if you want, but it's what we need, and it's time to have it.