Thursday, November 17, 2011

OCCUPY WALL STREET!!!!! But then what???

For months now as I have been roaming my house doing chores with the TV on, I’ve heard the sound bites and news clips depicting vivid scenes of scores of protesters in the streets worldwide and how arrests on Wall Street are being made daily due to protestors camping out and flooding the streets of New York with signs, chants and thousands of people. Honestly…I’ve just been looking the other way. It was one of those things you think will just go away in a couple days and there is no need to research or discover what is going on.  At least I’d hoped it was because I really had no clue what it was all about. 
But two days ago I got a text from my sister in law regarding a New York Judge’s ruling and interpretation of the 1st amendment which basically states that the 1st amendment does not afford you the right to camp out overnight in protest and thus the tent communities the Occupy members were living in were shut down.  The first thing that went through my head when I read the text was flashbacks of First Amendment class  in law school and reading case after case on content neutral, content based, time place and manner tests and obscenity, but the second thing that went through my mind was…Is this still going on???
I’m sure by the above paragraph you thought this was going to be a blog on legal limits on your First Amendment rights which I would LOVE to write you 18 pages on…but alas,  I don’t have the time or energy for that today, so stay with me…you are spared. However, apparently the movement IS still going on. Sooooooooo I did some reading this morning about Occupy and understand a little more of it now. Basically…the people are mad.   I like the slogan “We are the 99%” which illustrates economic inequality; specifically the growing disparity between the upper class or the  1% of the population that has and controls much of the wealth in this country and the middle/lower classes in America or the 99% that is left that doesn’t control much individually.  Furthermore I understand the anger and frustration with greed, undue corporate influence in politics/business transactions and corruption.  But what I can’t figure out is what specific resolution and/or demands the organizers and participants of the Occupy movement want?
The movement demonstrates how passionate people in large numbers can command attention and convey a message. Usually, this method can obtain results; however, I am unclear as to what result the citizens partaking in the protest are seeking.  In other words, what would end the movement?   I’m hoping one of my readers can clarify it for me.  Is it not true that normally with a protest there is a demand and when that demand is met, the protest ends?  For two months now the Occupy participants have stormed the streets of many countries.  They are occupying the roads, boulevards and paths of New York City, San Francisco, Dallas, Kuala Lampur, Zurich and a number of other countries worldwide, but that’s all they are doing….occupying them. Well….and chanting complaints. 
This makes me wonder how many of the participants even fully understand the protest themselves and how many are merely sheep following a crowd.  Surely, someone passionate about an issue could organize a rational solution to the problem that if met, either in whole or in part, could appease the masses and end the movement.  I’m not sure if that sentence should end with a period or a question mark.  Perhaps disseminating the message that people are unhappy with the economic inequities as depicted above is all that participants are trying to accomplish.  I say that because I just see no clear demands.  If that is the case then I wonder how long it will continue seeing as no specific action can end it. 
I love protests regardless of whether or not I agree with the issue, because they illustrate and put into action Freedom of Speech and the people’s right to peacefully assemble, both of which are notions at the very core of this countries foundation.  Many people fought/fight for that right and some have given their lives so while slightly off topic, I don’t want anyone to forget that. 
For now it seems without any specific demands the Occupy movement will likely continue to grow and draw supporters, some of which I presume will likely just see a mob moving down the street and join in, but supporters none the less.  Perhaps over time as the message is heard even louder a demand or solution will be realized and proposed or maybe without campsites and winter approaching the importance of standing up for financial equality will get outweighed by the impending harsh weather and will in turn die.  God I can be so cynical….
Either way, a worldwide message against the state of the current economy has been heard.  What began as a grass roots crusade overseas had snowballed into a worldwide spectacle at the very least drawing people’s attention even though it has yet to spark a resolution or a solution to the issues and problems it raises.   
 I guess now that I’ve read all these articles I’ll stay tuned. J

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Coat Hanger Abortion Returns: Mississippi puts Ripples in the Settled Waters of Roe v. Wade

       It’s 1956 and a 17 year old girl sits on her bed feeling sick to her stomach.  She feels ill for two reasons.  One because she had unprotected intercourse two months earlier and has not had her period since. She has been throwing up for weeks and she knows she is pregnant.  Secondly she feels ill because she is nervous.  She has a coat hanger clutched tightly in her trembling left hand.  She is afraid.  What she doesn’t comprehend is the danger of what she is about to do.  Abortions are illegal, but she doesn’t care.  There is no other option.  She can’t afford a child nor is she ready to be a mother much less a single mother. The shame it would bring her family and the community backlash is too much to bear.  So many thoughts are racing through her head.    She knows what she is going to do.  She inserts the curved edge of the coat hanger into her as far as it will go and she yells out in pain. It’s almost unbearable. She screams louder as the coat hanger scrapes her insides and they begin to bleed.  Finally it pierces the fetal sack in her uterus.  Fluids rush out of her and her stomach begins cramping uncontrollably.  She lies on the ground now in a pool of her own fluids and blood.  Paralyzed by pain she weeps believing her nightmare is over.  As the hours pass the bleeding does not.  The coat hanger has caused infection and internal bleeding neither of which this young girl knows of.  Time goes on and the pain increases.  She feels weak now but she can’t tell anyone.  She thinks she just needs rest and pain medication but she has still been unable to move from that spot on the floor.  She feels even weaker and can barely keep her eyes open and for the second time in a matter of hours, life leaves her body.  Her corpse lies on the floor next to the pool of blood and the coat hanger.  A young life lost. If only there had been a better way. 

Do I have your attention yet? This was a scene that played out over and over again when young women found themselves with an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy.  They were left with almost no alternative to having the baby.  It remained that way until the landmark Supreme Court decision in the 1973 case Roe v. Wade that legalized clinical abortion.   My own grandmother has recounted stories of women she knew in the past living through similar scenes.  The look in her eyes when she talked about it….it was a look I have difficulty describing. It was as if the fear and pain of those 1950’s days were so etched into her memory that they seemed as though they were only yesterday.   She spoke about how degrading it felt to live in a world where men dominated and made decisions about women’s bodies.  She was so thankful that the nation had progressed and those days were only memories.  Since the holding in Roe v. Wade, the law has settled and our current abortion laws, though always controversial, are set and in place.  Women can legally obtain an abortion through a physician in a clinical setting if they so choose.  It has been that way for almost 40 years.  Though no procedure is ever 100% safe, the clinical abortions in today’s world are very routine, clean and for the most part safe. 

Mississippi threatens to send its citizens back to the days of coat hanger abortions.  On the ballot and up for vote is Proposition 26 which sets out to grant “personhood” to every human being from the moment of conception.    One with personhood is thereby considered a person with all the rights afforded in full.   While the words of the proposition itself seem mild its implications are vast. Perhaps more vast than it’s authors intended...but perhaps not.  If the Mississippi voters pass Prop 26 it would effectively prohibit abortion in that state. Anyone who takes part in an abortion could then be prosecuted for murder.  Additionally, the law would aim to prohibit certain birth control methods that destroy a fetus such as the morning after pill and a variety of other contraceptives.

This makes total sense.  I mean total sense from a state that is one of the poorest in the country with a high rate of teenage pregnancy and a skyrocketing number of STD transmissions.  Oh and don’t forget their glowing reputation on human rights………oh wait….

That being said, this proposition makes no sense at all, on so many levels.    Making abortions illegal will not stop them from happening.  History has taught us that.  Hundreds of thousands of women died from coat hanger abortions and other types of self inflicted methods in this country. Women continue to die in other nations that do not allow clinical abortions to be performed.  Taking away the right for a woman to have the choice to abort her fetus by a medical doctor in a clinical setting is throwing her into the 1950’s bedroom or back ally.   While Mississippi citizens can travel to another state to obtain an abortion there will certainly be those who cannot afford to.  And those are the ones who we decide to force into parenthood.  Great idea….correct??? INCORRECT.  These women will either have children they did not want and cannot afford or they will perform a dangerous self inflicted abortion.

  One proponent for the “Yes on 26” movement stated that it is about fighting for the rights of the unborn.  That is one of the oddest statements I have ever heard.  Perhaps she would also like to fight for the rights of the dead?  This theory makes no sense to me.  One who is not born does not know one is not born. We do not recall the womb.  Further, what consequence then for those fetuses that do not make it due to miscarriage.  Should the mother then be prosecuted for manslaughter?  Will the district attorney’s of Mississippi spend their days investigating every ended pregnancy? I can back many movements..the rights of children, the rights of minorities, the rights of women, but the rights of the unborn?  Seems farfetched.

To illustrate competing principals, proponents argue that when a pregnant woman is murdered the murderer is tried for the murder of two people no matter how far along the woman is.  They argue that if the woman had gone to get an abortion the very same day she would have been free to do so and that categorizing the fetus as a person in one instance and not in the other is an inequity.  I think the answer to this quandary as to why there is conflicting law on the matter  lies more in the reason for the creation of the laws than in how they are interpreted and carried out.  Murder is the #1 killer of pregnant women.  What that means…if a woman is pregnant and dies there is a high chance she was murdered.  In order to dissuade would be murderers, lawmakers upped the charge from regular murder to capital murder carrying with it the possibility of life in prison or death.  The intention was to protect the mother not the fetus.  Abortion laws also protect the mother by allowing her to choose motherhood and if she chooses to abort her fetus providing her with a clinically safe and sterile environment to do so with a licensed physician. 

Further, this is an example of Government overstepping its boundaries.  I never lived in the 1970’s and never had to know anyone that had a coat hanger abortion.  By chance I was born in the 80’s and I never had to live through that.  For my entire life the right to have a clinical abortion has been in place.  Even thinking about someone deciding that I do not have a choice to decide what will happen in my body or in my life infuriates me.  I think that anger is a result of two things.  The first, that while I don’t know anyone who lived through a coat hanger abortion, I do know women that have gone through a clinical one.  I have felt the emotion they have felt. I have held their hands in the waiting room and I understand the decision.  These women are not bad people. They did not make an irrational or sporadic decision.  They knew what was good in their own lives.  This is the rule not the exception. Secondly my anger is sparked by my own ignorance in regards to the effects of outlawing abortion.  I know the stories like the one above, but I don’t know what it is like to not have the choice over my own body. To attempt to comprehend the fear the women who lived pre 1973 must have felt makes me angry.  I’m sad they endured it.  To think that someone somewhere believes they should make it law that a woman cannot decide is unfathomable to me. 

The last problem I have with this proposition is that it is far too vague.  Its effects would make it illegal to dispose of any fertilized egg including those used for invitro-fertilization even when protocol calls for their disposition.  Does this action warrant a murder charge? Also there is no exception in the proposition for anyone that is the victim of rape or incest.   I cannot support that.

While for now the effects of this law will only be felt within the confines of good ole Mississippi the appeals will likely reach the Supreme Court of the United States.  Once there, the Court will either embrace the “Personhood” take on abortion and in turn effect the abortion laws throughout the entire country by outlawing it OR the Court’s holding could backfire in the face of those pushing Prop 26 and give a stronger precedent by upholding Roe v. Wade and adding strength to it. 

This has been one of the most difficult blogs I’ve ever had to write because I feel so strongly about the issue.  I have attempted to display my points without seeming like a rambling fool.   I hope I succeeded.  Bottom line...your body, you decide.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dad's Old Belt - My Strong Feelings on Spanking in 2011

Judge William Adams of Aransas County is facing the nation today or actually, more accurately, he is not facing the nation today.  He called in sick citing personal issues after a video of him beating his teenage daughter with a belt went viral.  Seven years ago his daughter got in trouble for using the internet.  As a result Judge Adams chose to discipline her by taking a belt and hitting her with it over and over again. 

Watching the video made my stomach cramp, my skin crawl, my blood boil and my head spin. Only in the name of discipline can one strike another human being without consequence. Imagine if you will that Judge Adams was angry at a teenage neighbor who broke a vase in his home. Could he at his own discretion begin whipping that child with a belt? Or what if an adult was visiting and the two disagreed during a discussion? Then would Judge Adams be justified in hitting that neighbor? Or how about a stranger who litters on the Judge’s property? Is he deserving of good old fashion whooping? In all these instances striking someone would be illegal and would warrant assault charges. Why then do we accept that it is okay to attack a child with a switch, or a belt, or a spoon? What makes it so much different if they share our own blood? Is that not counter intuitive?
The human condition is fragile and more than that cyclical. To address a child’s wrongdoing and react with violence only leads to continued violence. Children become what they know. Corporal punishment in the home such as beating a child with a belt is no longer an acceptable form of discipline. I am not na├»ve enough to think it no longer happens and of course I know that many children are still punished by whippings with belts. What I am saying is that children have rights and they need people who can speak for them. I wish child abuse charges would be brought against the judge and in turn that would cause him to lose his job, but the reality of it is that is not likely. To prosecute each individual that has spanked a child in all practicality is impossible. At best this experience will set an example.
As a family lawyer I know the courts are cracking down on corporal punishment in the home. The days of the 1960’s are long gone. So much has changed in regards to civil rights, minority rights, women’s rights and everyone’s overall constitutional rights why is it that when it comes to children’s rights the law has been slow to change? I am happy that I have witnessed Harris County Judges limit and take away visitation and custody rights if corporal punishment has been used in the home. I think a strong stand against assaulting children should be taken.
I grew up in a time when beatings were acceptable. I remember the terror in my heart as a child listening to the crack of the belt and hearing it hit the skin of my brother’s backside. I have never heard of any action taken by a child that I thought justifiably warranted getting spanked with a belt. Moreover I think the people my age who do use belts, switches, cords or spoons to spank were spanked themselves and have become a part of the cycle.

Watch the video...what good came from that beating? Would you ever want to see yourself in this video?  Think about that the next time you are at your boiling point.  Is it you that is out of control or your child? Is the irreputable emotional harm and the violence you are embedding into your child's phychological growth worth the red marks and bruises you are choosing to use as a means to an end?