It’s About Civility In Public Discourse, Stupid

As you may know, I worked in retail for the longest 5, 476 years of my life. There were so many things about it I loved. Dealing with irate, irrational people was not one of them. There is a certain sort of person who is so lacking in power in other areas of his or her life that he or she takes the time to be a complete and total prat to service industry workers. We all know those people. (Not you, dear reader! Anyone with the taste and intelligence to spend time reading MY blog would never be a dick just because you could, RIGHT?)

There’s the guy who will rant about how you ruined his entire day because the mayo was spread too thick on one quarter of one half of his sandwich. The woman who insists you call 74 other stores to find another skirt because the seventeen you have in her size are all clearly mislabeled and are really eights, not twelves. And my personal favorite, the man who comes in the store EVERY MONTH to complain to the credit department–knowing FULL WELL there is no credit department in the store anymore–that he was charged a finance charge even though he paid his bill IN FULL and will not accept the true, rational, and clear explanation that had he paid it within twenty-five days, he’d not accrue a finance charge, but as he waited to the twenty-seventh day, BOOM. Just like it says in very clear language at the bottom of the bill. Possibly the ONLY clear statement on the bill.

Take your average blowhard, add in politics, religion, and maybe an ovary or two and you got yourself a shootin’ match, hoss.

It is in dealing with these blowhards I have learned that the best thing to do when everyone is yelling is to lower my voice in a husky Suzanne Pleshette way. Imagine I’m reading this to you in that voice.

It’s been a tough year for women’s health. At some point, and I must have been absent that day, it was determined that all women’s health comes down to is abortion. And further, as best I can tell, as long as you don’t have one, think about having one, know anyone who has had one, support people who will provide one, or say the word three times while looking in the mirror, your ladyhealth will be stellar!

Here in Shelby County, a federal grant was pulled from Planned Parenthood. I mentioned this briefly the other day, but I want to go into a little more detail. This grant is Title X (as in 10) money that the federal government gives states to use exclusively for family planning.

As part of Title X of the Public Health Service Act (1970), money was allocated to be given to state and local health departments, community health centers, independent clinics, and other agencies. Here are some things this money may be used for:

  • Access to contraceptive services, supplies, and information
  • Breast and pelvic exams
  • Breast cancer and cervical cancer screening
  • STD screening, education and prevention information, and counseling
  • Pregnancy diagnosis and counseling

According to the Health and Human Services website, “The Title X family planning program is intended to assist individuals in determining the number and spacing of their children. This promotes positive birth outcomes and healthy families.” Priority for the use of Title X funds is given to low-income individuals.

The Shelby County Health Department has subcontracted to Planned Parenthood for several years. Back in the spring, Shelby County notified the state that it lacked the staff and facilities to continue the services Planned Parenthood delivered.

So here’s where we run into problems. Hizzoner Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has made it his mission to put Planned Parenthood out of business. He wanted to end the “shell game” he said Planned Parenthood was playing. Hizzoner and his ilk refuse to believe–even in the face of federal laws and proof positive (entities taking money must keep detailed records and statistics of patients and procedures)–that Planned Parenthood is not using federal money to provide abortions.

Here’s where we are right now. Shelby County has not been gracious enough to state publicly exactly why Planned Parenthood was jettisoned and Christ Community Health Services was funded in its wake. County Mayor Mark Luttrell said that a six-person team ranked proposals from Christ Community, Planned Parenthood, and Memphis Health Center. County Mayor Luttrell says Christ Community was ranked highest.

I’m not going to knock Christ Community. I believe they are good people doing what they believe to be the Lord’s work. I have an amazing amount of respect for healthcare professionals who work in clinics that provide services for low-income, uninsured, and underinsured patients.

I happen to believe a faith-based organization cannot be unbiased when counseling about family planning and reproductive health options.

In order to take Title X funds, minors must be treated. Let’s say you are a 16-year-old sexually active girl and you have found the courage to do the smart thing and look at birth control options. A Title X clinic must counsel you, recommend the best birth control option for you, supply it to you, and not notify your parent or guardian.

Now let’s say you’re a GLBT young adult who wants to do the right thing and get vaccinated for HPV. You’re marginally employed and uninsured. How comfortable are you going to be going into a clinic with the word “Christ” in its name? Will that deter you from getting vaccinated? Would it deter you from getting a pap smear? What about tested for HIV?

I truly believe the perception of religious bias will keep the poor, the disenfranchised, the people who can least afford to be sick from seeking healthcare.

Beyond that, this is a dunderheaded move by Tennessee Republicans to take control of women’s reproductive rights. This does not make abortion go away. In fact, if a woman who receives Title X services asks for pregnancy counseling, pregnancy termination MUST be included in the discussion along with foster care, adoption, and prenatal care. I wonder how well money from religious anti-choice donors will keep coming in to a clinic which will now be federally mandated to discuss pregnancy termination? Will conservative Christians continue to support a clinic that will be federally mandated to discuss more than abstinence with its young patients?  The anti-choice movers and shakers have accomplished an amazing thing–money for nothing. By putting this money in the hands of an anti-choice, anti-birth control facility, they have rendered this money useless.

But back to my original point: civility in public discourse.

It is near impossible to have debate about reproductive rights without it devolving into a shouting match involving Bible verses, bogus statistics, and name calling. I am not a horrible ogre because I believe a woman has a right to choose whether or not she takes a pregnancy to term. I do not believe you are a moron because you have a moral or religious opposition to abortion. I do believe that what I choose is not your business. I do believe that your religious opposition to abortion does not mean you get to ban it. This is not a theocracy. There is no Sharia Law here. I don’t happen to like that federal money can be used to subcontract to a faith-based healthcare provider–even those with a more “liberal” agenda. But you know what, we don’t need to yell about it.

I’ve been talking to people about these fetal pershonhood amendments. The anti-choice personhood movement has done a great job talking about how they will ban abortion at the state level. They haven’t done such a good job talking about how fetal personhood affects birth control. Why? A conservative Christian couple might never look at abortion as an option, but more than likely they’ve looked at some type of birth control method outside of separate bedrooms. The Separate Bedroom Method of birth control isn’t going to raise a lot of money. Point is, no discussion I have had has turned into a shouting match. The reason, I believe, is that in these conversations we have genuinely been moved to find understanding from the opposite side. I do think that when people are fully engaged in understanding, breakthroughs happen. But if one side of the debate is going in with the attitude that theirs is the only opinion that matters, breakdowns happen instead. When time is spent shoring up an argument rather than reacting to what the opposing side has said, you miss a lot of important information and a chance for understanding. How many times have you fought with your honey and haven’t even heard what he or she said because you were busy planning your attack? I mean, in my case it’s zero, obviously. But I am told this happens with some regularity.

Mr. Finance Charge up there could have saved himself the hassle of coming into my store every month to complain to the non-existent credit department if he had just listened the first time. After two months of not listening, we all just assumed he liked to bitch. I like to bitch, too. Can’t beat a good bitch session for venting. VENTING. Not solving problems other than the need-to-vent problem.

I don’t believe we’re a nation of extremes. I really don’t. Squeaky wheels get press. People who believe passionately in something but who are rational and level-headed don’t get the air time zealotry does. How many people know who Michelle Bachmann is? How many know who Elizabeth Warren is? I’d love to see that poll.

By the way, as I sit here writing this, something interesting came up in my Twitter feed. A CNN poll shows 78% of the country is pro-choice. So it just goes to show you that even though the anti-choice voice might be loud and well-funded, it’s not the majority’s voice.




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