Thursday, May 13, 2010
Taking the Recession out on Women
The recession continues. We hear peppy commentary from economists about how things are turning around, but what they really mean is that things are getting better on Wall St. The mainstream media sanitizes the news for our protection, which led to a rather incredible recent story in the NY Times, telling us that a “strong” 290,000 jobs were added to the economy, even though the unemployment rate rose to 9.9%. In this story, an economist stated that this is a sign that momentum is up. Momentum and the unemployment rate, apparently, are up. The way we count the numbers of unemployed is fatally flawed, since we only count people who are eligible for unemployment benefits. Those who were never eligible, or whose benefits have run out are not counted. We don’t hear much about the fate of the long term unemployed, and with good reason. The news for them is terrible, especially for folks over 50. These folks have a better chance of getting hit by lightening than finding work.
As we all know, the recession is affecting state budgets. Every state is experiencing budget shortfalls, and every state is faced with making cuts to services. Some states are doing better than others. You’d never know it from the NH GOP media, but NH is actually doing better than many other states, probably because we don’t provide much in the way of services to begin with. Our unemployment rate is relatively high at 7%, but we aren’t facing the kind of devastating budgetary shortfalls being seen in other states.
Oklahoma is looking at a budget shortfall of up to $864 million. About 15% of their general fund isn’t going to appear in the form of revenues. Firefighters and police in Oklahoma City are facing layoffs or pay and benefit cuts. A state run substance abuse treatment center in Norman is closing, and laying off 100 people. A men’s treatment center in Talequah is being closed. In Norman, 40 mental health treatment beds for children are being eliminated. The substance abuse treatment and mental health services for adults and children are being cut mercilessly. The folks who work in treatment estimate that 90% of kids who need treatment in Oklahoma don’t receive it. More layoffs of state workers are projected.
In Oklahoma, when the going gets tough, the legislature responds by making things tougher. For women, that is. Oklahoma recently passed two new and restrictive abortion laws. One new law requires every woman to have a sonogram prior to an abortion. In the early weeks of a pregnancy, this may well mean a vaginal ultrasound – where a wand is inserted into the vagina. There are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. The doctor must turn the screen to the woman, and describe the fetus. So far, the law doesn’t force the woman to look at the sonogram, but that’s likely to be next, since they have no qualms about re-raping a rape victim. The second law prohibits women from suing doctors who withhold or give incorrect information about a pregnancy. This gives doctors the legal right to lie to their patients. That’s a real triumph. To his credit, Governor Brad Henry vetoed both of these bills, but in both cases his veto was overridden by the legislature.
At a time when Oklahoma’s budget is in such dire straits, it is indeed curious that the legislature would respond by passing two laws that are guaranteed to cost the state a fortune in lawsuits. A state that is cutting services to kids that are already here is trying to force women to give birth, through torture and dishonesty.
Nebraska is reacting to their budget crisis in much the same way. Nebraska’s state revenues are expected to be down by $56 million in this fiscal year, and by $670 million next year. In November the legislature closed a $334 million budget gap by making cuts to state agencies. There were 50 positions eliminated at the Beatrice State Development Center, an institution serving adults and children who have mental retardation. The cuts come primarily to staff in food service, maintenance, and housekeeping. One can easily imagine how that is likely to play out.
Nebraska has privatized child welfare services, which also includes juvenile justice. One of the providing agencies has already dropped out, due to inadequate reimbursement by the state.
Last month, Governor Dave Heineman signed a law that bans abortions 20 weeks after conception. The basis for this time frame is the theory that by that stage in development, a fetus can feel pain. The reality is a little less theoretical. After the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas, one of the few doctors in the country who performed late term abortions, Nebraska is afraid of becoming the new “late term abortion capital of the Midwest.” Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska was a friend of Tillers, and also performs late term abortions. The law does grant exceptions in cases of the mother’s imminent death, or serious risk of “substantial and irrevocable physical impairment of a body function.” At the same time, Heineman signed another bill that would require doctors to screen women to determine if they’re being pressured into having abortions, or if the woman is at risk of having mental or physical problems after an abortion. The risks could be “physical, psychological, emotional, demographic, or situational,” according to the bill. In other words – whatever any given doctor dreams up to force the woman to incubate.
Again – at a time of budget crisis, passing laws guaranteed to create years of legal challenges seems bizarre at best, especially when services for children who are already here are being cut. At the same time, Heineman opposes taxpayer funded pre-natal services to low-income women who are in the country illegally. Some of these women are choosing to abort – but that hasn’t changed Heieneman’s position. It seems his concern is limited to potential white babies.
“Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land, and the next thing you know, they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO, and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower.” from “What’s the Matter With Kansas,” by Thomas Franks.
© sbruce 2010 This was published as an op-ed in the May 14, 2010 Conway Daily Sun
Posted by susanthe at 5:59 PM