5 Reasons Why Arming Teachers is the Worst Idea Lawmakers Have Ever Proposed

Governor Rick Perry thinks the problem of mass shootings can be solved with guns, more guns and...he can't remember the third thing.

Governor Rick Perry thinks the problem of mass shootings can be solved with guns, more guns and…he can’t remember the third thing.

I have a question for Governor Rick Perry of Texas, State Rep. Mark McCullough of Oklahoma, State Rep. Dennis Richardson of Oregon, State Rep. Betty Olson of South Dakota and all the other (mostly Republican) lawmakers who have publicly voiced their support for arming school teachers:

Are. You. Out. Of. Your. Fucking. Minds?!!!

It’s one thing for these Second Amendment enthusiasts to balk at the very real threat of tougher gun laws being passed in the wake to the Newtown shootings. It’s another thing entirely to look at the specifics of that shooting (or of ANY mass shooting) and think than any of those situations could have been improved by more flying bullets fired by untrained individuals. You know, because that usually ends well. Especially with CHILDREN literally in the crossfire.

Before this post disintegrates into me shouting ‘What the HELL are you thinking?’ at digital images of the aforementioned lawmakers, let me establish a plan. I’m simply going to list my top five reasons why arming schoolteachers is a stupid, asinine, ill-conceived, arrogant, short-sighted, and (perhaps deliberately) distracting “solution” to the very real problem of mass shootings in this country. Then I’m going to go hug my daughter.

Teachers are not Navy SEALs, Special Forces, or SWAT Officers. They’re teachers. Perhaps these lawmakers have been swayed by action movies that depict heroes who can neutralize bad guys with two or three expertly targeted shots to the chest without harming a single bystander but it simply does not work that way in real life. Even with training, the emotion of a tense situation can dramatically affect a person’s ability to shoot at and hit a specified target. Police officers, federal agents, and military personnel with decades of experience hit and kill bystanders in standoffs with alarming regularity. Do really we think a schoolteacher with a roomful of terrified minors will have the concentration, focus and sheer luck to shoot the bad guys and ONLY the bad guys? For a recent example of this look no further than the August 2012 incident at New York’s Empire State Building where NYPD officers pursuing a suspect shot and wounded nine bystanders before killing the actual shooter.

Guns aren’t always used on their intended targets. The teacher who carries a gun into a school to protect themselves or their students may have the best intentions but it ultimately may not be up to them how that gun is used. Nancy Lanza bought her guns to protect herself and while we don’t know precisely what she wanted to protect herself from, we seriously doubt she envisioned what her son would ultimately do with them. The same is true for the father in Western Pennsylvania who accidentally shot his seven year old son to death in the parking lot of a gun store this November. He was simply trying to put his gun away when it fired. Similarly a teacher would not foresee a situation wherein he or she is overpowered by an intruder, a coworker, or even a student for a gun or one where the gun accidentally fires and hits an innocent bystander. For a firearm to be useful as protection, it needs to be accessible to the user. But how, in a crowded school, is a firearm going to be both accessible to the user and secure from everyone else?

Guns in schools complicate emergency situations for actual law enforcement officers. Picture this: an elementary school is in lockdown. The local SWAT team is called in to “neutralize” an armed intruder. There are five adults on the premises with firearms drawn, one or more of them may be teachers. How is law enforcement supposed to figure out who the intruder is? Remember, these incidents happen fast. Split seconds fast. What is the likelihood that this situation doesn’t end with one or more dead teachers?

Students may not respect or fear guns; they may see them as toys or movie props. All the lawmakers who have proposed arming schoolteachers and/or allowing teachers to carry their own weapons have stressed that said teachers would be “trained” in the use of firearms and would therefore pose no threat to the children. Really? Have they met children? Have they seen news stories about children of all ages getting shot playing with guns? In every classroom in every school in America, there are children who simply do not understand what guns can do. Their concept of guns may come from movies, television, or (more likely) video games. This is what they know about guns: if you get shot you hit the “restart” button and try again, hopefully firing faster than your digital opponent. To them a gun in a classroom might seem cool. It may be something that are irrevocably drawn to: to touch, to try to take apart, to hold, perhaps so they can emulate someone or something they’ve seen. Again, a gun kept accessible for the teacher may be easily accessible by a curious student. And in the upper levels of middle or high school, when the students grow to be almost the physical equal of their teachers, what stops a student from taking a teacher’s gun by force? Then what?

A teacher trying to use a gun in an emergency focuses on him/herself and the gun and not on the students. The lawmakers who propose arming teachers or permitting teachers to carry their personal weapons paint a picture in which a teacher with a gun learns of an intruder, retrieves his or her weapon and uses it on the intruder thus preventing unnecessary bloodshed. Simple, right? But is that really how it would play out? And in this scenario, who exactly, is focusing on the students? Who is making sure the youngest students are remaining calm and quiet, helping them hide, getting them to more secure locations, and doing any of the other truly heroic things that the teachers in the Newtown shooting did that saved the lives of children? A teacher who is armed at the direction of the school district or state has split priorities: eliminate the threat and protect the children. Can we really expect them to do both? Isn’t a teacher holding a weapon and looking out for a gunman inevitably focused on that first and the children second? For the last time, teachers are teachers, not law enforcement. If you want safer schools, focus on funding better law enforcement and passing better laws, do not add to the list of things a teacher needs to do in an unimaginable crisis.

These are my top five reasons. There are likely many more reasons that you can come up with, given that you might be slighter calmer than I am at this given moment. I’ve been in constant state of stunned/enraged disbelief that any lawmaker who has actually been in an American public school could possibly think this is a good idea. Perhaps that’s the problem? Have the lawmakers who’ve proposed these laws actually visited schools? Talked to teachers? To law enforcement? To parents?

As the mother of a middle schooler, the wife of a high school teacher, and a school volunteer, I’m in and out of school buildings almost every week day. I want them to be safer. We need them to be safer. Putting more deadly weapons into them will not, I repeat, not achieve that.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.


Messing With Texas, By Way of Galway

"There's four things I wanna do to bring an end to abortion... One, make it illegal... Two, uh... hmm... uh... oops."

“There’s four things I wanna do to bring an end to abortion… One, make it illegal… Two, uh… hmm… uh… oops.”

by Siobhan Carroll
WRUN Contributor

Hello dear readers! It has been a while. Like many of you, I suffered mightily from a post-election hangover and needed a month or so to recover. A trip to Ireland, copious amounts of turkey and one Christmas tree later, I have returned just in time for Rick Perry to remind us all why he is (thankfully) not president.

For me this story doesn’t start in Texas. It starts several thousand miles away in the Dublin hotel my husband and I were staying in when we sat down for breakfast and I perused the paper. Savita. A name we would hear almost constantly throughout the next several days of travels. W:RUN did a fantastic job of covering this story from afar, but for those who are not aware, Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant, miscarrying and in pain when she requested an abortion. She was denied said abortion by doctors in her Galway hospital because the fetus still had a heartbeat and “Ireland is a Catholic country”, according to her husband. Savita contracted an infection and died of sepsis, an avoidable outcome had a timely abortion been performed and appropriate antibiotic measures been taken. She was a wife, a daughter, a dentist in her adopted homeland- a productive and loved member of society.

I am an Irish American. This trip to the motherland was the 7th time I’ve gone over in less than 20 years. Much has changed in recent years-as my husband noted that “there isn’t a cross on every street corner now”- but Ireland is still very much a catholic country, and the church still wields enormous influence. This is a nation where divorce was forbidden in the Constitution. (What would Rush Limbaugh have to say about that?) It was only repealed by referendum in 1996 and even then by less than a percentage point. One better, you need to have lived apart from your spouse for 4 of the last five years to even begin the divorce process. The populace has responded by simply not getting married- the Irish Examiner reports that marriage rates in 2011 were the lowest in a decade, and the average age of marriage was 38 for men and 31 for women. In the US it was 29 and 26, respectively. This is an extraordinary illustration of how attempts to legislate people’s lives can backfire and result in unintended consequences.

After that breakfast (I know, that was a lot of information in between but you read my stuff for its entertaining and informative quality, not its brevity) my husband and I headed west from Dublin to visit Galway, my favorite place in Ireland if not the world. It’s about a two hour drive through lovely countryside and myriad unimpressed sheep. The radio occasionally played music (if you consider One Direction “music”) but the Irish are talkers and so much of the stations were discussing the news of the day, which was Savita. When we initially set out the DJs would stumble over her Indian last name, but they got so much practice so quickly it soon rolled off the tongue like marmalade.

The outrage was palpable. The only reason Savita’s death was made public was because her husband went to the press when a proper investigation was not launched. He has expressed concerns about the impartiality of the experts, two of whom are staff doctors at NUI Galway hospital, where Savita was treated and ultimately died. This is a nation that has elected two female presidents, legalized divorce, seen an incredible rise in economic opportunities for women since 1990, and yet a young woman was allowed to die because of an archaic attitude towards women’s health.

The day after the news broke, we were making our way up a treacherous switchback (think Lombard Street in San Fran but with cows instead of houses) on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. The only station that was coming in clearly was a call-in radio show discussing the Halappanavar case. I heard three women (one named Siobhan) describe how placing the life of an unborn fetus above that of it’s mother impacted their lives. One woman was denied painkillers and a diagnostic x-ray as she agonized through the pain of an undiagnosed bowel obstruction, on the pretense that either intervention might harm her fetus. Her bowel eventually burst, her daughter was born premature and died as a result of exposure to bacteria in the womb. Her mother lost part of her intestine, saw her daughter alive for only moments before they were separated, and slipped into a deep depression from which neither she nor her marriage recovered. Siobhan’s fetus had been diagnosed with a “genetic condition incompatible with life” and yet could not abort her pregnancy as long as the unborn child had a heartbeat. She and her husband traveled to Liverpool for the procedure, and returned with the cremated remains of their son as some sort of ghastly souvenir. The last story I heard was a woman in similar circumstances, as her fetus also suffered a significant genetic issue. Rather than travel abroad to abort she carried her child to term, having to explain to friends, family, coworkers and strangers who were overjoyed for her the sorrowful news that her baby would not survive outside her womb.

There were candlelight vigils held in memory of Savita’s life, and rallies so that her death may not be in vain. This horrible experience may be what wrenches Ireland’s abortion policy into something resembling at least the 20th century.

We’ve been back since just before Thanksgiving, living the life that normal people with two kids, jobs, parents, and a weird cat live. Post-election I haven’t had too much to whine about- Barry won, Joe went to my local Costco, New Hampshire has declared it Lady Time- all good stuff.

And then goddamn Rick Perry had to open his mouth about abortion:

“I don’t think any issue better fits the definition of ‘compelling state interest’ than preventing the suffering of our state’s unborn.”

It’s totally okay to laugh. I laughed riotously for a while in an attempt to the keep the anger from inducing a stroke.

I will let you know if and when my blood pressure returns to normal. In the meantime, fuck you Rick Perry. I apologize for the profanity but it is the only appropriate response to this horseshit. The “unborn” are precisely that – unborn. They aren’t people, they don’t have consciousness, and science disagrees about when a fetus might even feel pain. You know what suffering is Rick? Being born into a family already struggling financially. Or being born only to suffer for a short time on earth. Or being a waking, talking reminder to your mother of a brutal attack. Or simply being unwanted. Or being a woman forced to continue a pregnancy that she, for any reason, does not want to.

This isn’t a game, this isn’t harmless rhetoric. This is about quality of life for women and their children, both born and unborn. Savita’s story and the anecdotes I’ve provided are a vivid and nauseating illustration of what happens when government interferes between a woman and her doctor. These aren’t abstract ideas or theoretical scenarios, these are real women faced with awful outcomes because their ability to choose what was best for them was taken away. On the other side of the coin, doctors shouldn’t be afraid to do their jobs responsibly for fear of going to jail.

I note with chagrined irony that the state most reputed for its fierce independent streak – its “don’t mess with us” sloganeering – may be ideologically trading places with a nation long considered backward by its neighbors. As Ireland progresses, will Texas regress? The Lone Star state indeed.

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W:RUN’s Women of 2012 – Women Who Shaped the Year

If it’s December, it’s time for “year in review” posts and this probably will not be our last round-up but it is one we are pretty excited about. While publications like Time pick just one “Person of the Year”, we see no reason to limit our list of female news-makers of 2012 to just one woman. What we have assembled below is a list of just a few of the women who have inspired us this year. We believe many of them will continue making news, shaping policies, and representing us well, long after 2012 is over.


Malala Yousafzai recuperating in a UK hospital after the shooting.
Photo credit: NHS

Malala Yousafzai – Until October of this year, schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was best known in the West for the blog she wrote for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule in her home in Mingora, Pakistan. She criticized the Taliban’s policies of denying education to girls, both in the blog and in a later documentary for the New York Times. Then, on October 9, Malala was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban-affiliated gunman as she rode the bus home from school. She survived the attack and is currently recuperating in a British hospital. The Taliban has vowed to repeat their attempt on her life calling her a “symbol of the infidels and obscenity.” Did we mention she is 15?

To the rest of the world, however, Malala Yousafzai has become a symbol of courage and determination, and of the need to demand education opportunities for all children, regardless of gender. UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown declared November 10, 2012 “Malala Day” in support of a UN petition that demanding that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015. In addition, Malala has been nominated for a International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu and there is a petition for her nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. As of the time of this writing, Malala was third in Time Magazine’s online poll for its Person of the Year 2012 distinction.


Saudi Olympian Sarah Attar waves to the crowd in London before competing in her race.
Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Women of the 2012 Olympics – By the end of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, some in the media might have gotten sidetracked in covering the non-troversy around Gabby Douglas’ hair or the beach volleyball uniforms and missed some legitimately important milestones for women in sports. For the first time in the history of the modern games, every participating nation sent at least one female athlete, an achievement made possible by increased pressure on Saudi Arabia in the final weeks before the Games. For the Saudi women (and women in other countries where the government or religious leaders actively prevent women from participating in sports), participation in the Olympics was politically significant. Sarah Attar, the 19-year old Saudi athlete who ran the 800 meter track event in London, said she hopes her presence will encourage other Saudi women to become more athletic. If that happens, Saudi Arabia may follow a path followed by Western nations, where increased participation by women in sports happens in tandem with advancement in other areas. The Saudi government plans to allow women’s suffrage for the first time, starting in 2015.

For American women, the London Games were a time to celebrate the accomplishments of Title IX, the article of the Higher Education Act that demands equal funding and opportunities in college, including (but not limited to) sports. Nowhere was that more clear than in the makeup of the team. For the first time, female athletes outnumbered males on the team. Performance-wise, the women delivered as well, winning the majority of the gold medals and the majority of the overall medals won by the U.S. team. The best part of all, it happened with billions of people watching.


The Democratic women of the new Senate gather for a meeting with Senator Mikulski shortly after the election.
Photo credit: Senator Barbara Mikulski. (D-MD)

Women of the 113th Congress – Starting in January 2013, record numbers of female legislators will serve in the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and in state legislatures nationwide. While even these numbers of female lawmakers in the U.s still leaves us embarrassingly low ranked when compared to other nations and are far from gender parity given the U.S. population, it is a definite step in the right direction. (No shoe jokes, please. We’re already have enough on our hands clearing the traffic jam in the Senate ladies room!) Seeing the female candidates we supported break through, especially after the two years of misogynistic legislative Hell that began in 2010, made for an especially sweet election night. Beyond that, though, we view the 2012 election and the class of legislators it produced as something far more important than numbers. It was the logical next step in what should become the “new” normal. Now that there are 20 female United States Senators, and nearly 80 female members of the House, why should we settle for anything less? As recently as 1992, there were only two female U.S. Senators. Starting in January, the entire Congressional delegation from New Hampshire and its governor will be female. More importantly, female lawmakers are gaining power, influence and the ability to lift each other up and build a deep bench of candidates who could someday rise even higher. Why should we wring our hands wondering who will be the “next Hillary Clinton” when we have the power to develop the next TEN Hillary Clintons? Or more? Women are 53 percent of the American electorate! The answer is that we shouldn’t settle. The direction was made clear. We’re moving forward. Is our nation’s first female President a member of the 113th Congress? It’s impossible to know that now but one thing is certain, whoever she is, she will benefit from it.

So, Liz Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Tulsi Gabbard, Tammy Duckworth, Heidi Heitkamp, Kyrsten Sinema, Mazie Hirono and the rest of the Class of 2012, no pressure or anything, but it’s time to get to work.


Cecile Richards with supporters on the steps of Florida’s capitol.
Photo credit: Planned Parenthood Action

Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood Supporters – The Susan G. Komen Foundation learned a costly lesson this year: Do not mess with Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood. In February of this year, the Komen Foundation, the big kid in the breast cancer funding sandbox, announced that it would stop giving financial support for cancer screenings performed at Planned Parenthood clinics, citing controversy over Planned Parenthood’s (unrelated) reproductive health services. Komen quickly learned that while it may own the pink ribbon logo, Cecile Richards has a pink army and that army was more than willing to go to work for Planned Parenthood. They took to Twitter, Facebook, online forums and the phones, calling their elected officials, signing petitions, and – most embarrassing for Komen – pulling out of its Race for the Cure events and donating that money to Planned Parenthood instead. In just two days following Komen’s funding announcement, Planned Parenthood raised over $3 million for its breast care screening program, more than three times the amount of funding it would have gotten from Komen. But it wasn’t about the money. By that time the backlash against Komen was too much, regional Komen affiliates were speaking out against the decision and at least 26 U.S. Senators had publicly called on Komen to reverse what they called a “politically-motivated” decision. On February 3, just three days after it announced it would pull funding, Komen CEO Nancy Brinker reversed course, and pledged to fund all existing grants to Planned Parenthood and to maintain the group’s eligibility for future grants. The incident proved politically embarrassing to Komen, and some argue that it has yet to fully recover its reputation.

For Richards and Planned Parenthood, the clash proved to be a key test of their political, media and social muscle. They were able to leverage their reputation with women, their social media presence, and their political power to score a victory on the national stage. (Actual quote: “Will Planned Parenthood please give Twitter back?”) Planned Parenthood would spend the rest of 2012 using these lessons  in other funding battles with states and in the November elections. While their battles with states like Arizona and Texas wear on, the numbers from the election don’t lie: the Sunlight Foundation calculated that Planned Parenthood’s PAC got the highest ROI on its campaign spending of any U.S. PAC in the 2012 cycle – with 97% of its spending on races achieving their desired outcomes. Memo to Komen, Cecile Richards and her supporters are wearing the new pink.


Sandra Fluke unintentionally became the poster girl for the war on women but stepped up the challenge.
Photo credit: MSNBC

Sandra Fluke – Of all the things that we learned in 2011 and 2012 from the war on women, none was more irritating than this: when misogynists are faced with an articulate, educated women who has facts on her side, they will fall back on the time honored tradition of calling her a slut.  Some things never change. As part of W:RUN’s long-standing policy of not referring to certain media blowhards by name, we will not say who actually called Georgetown law-student (and now women’s rights activist) Sandra Fluke a series of derogatory names but you certainly know who it is. It’s not worth the keystrokes to type his name. It almost doesn’t even matter because ever since her Congressional testimony, and especially since her appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, most of the other right-wing media talking heads and even some candidates have piled on with their criticism of Fluke for…for….being someone they really don’t like, we guess. It’s hard to tell exactly what they don’t like about Sandra Fluke except that they think she’s got some nerve talking about birth control out loud like that. In the end, Fluke had the last laugh. Mitt Romney, who famously could not muster the energy to defend her against the worst slurs, lost big in November and took many of Fluke’s harshest critics down with him. And as for He-who-shall-not-be-named? The advertiser exodus from his show following this incident has the stations that carry it reporting heavy losses. And for the record, karma probably doesn’t like being called names either…but you get our drift.


The 2012 Presidential Debate Moderators.
Photo credit: the New York Times

The Moderators: Candy Crowley and Martha Raddatz – After a twenty-year gap, the Commission on Presidential Debates finally selected two women to moderate debates this election cycle: awarding Martha Raddatz the Vice Presidential debate and Candy Crowley the (often maligned) town-hall debate. Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer were given the remaining Presidential debates. Leading up to the debates, former debate moderator Carole Simpson publicly worried that in giving women these “lesser” contests, they might still be marginalized, and others in the chattering classes shared that worry. Then we watched the debates. and gave each other giant estrogen fueled high-gives because – to be frank – Raddatz and Crowley Kicked. Ass.

Raddatz, charged with moderating the Vice Presidential debate between two high energy candidates (and after most observers agreed that Lehrer pretty much lost control of the first Obama/Romney debate) drew high praise. Seated onstage between Biden and Ryan, Raddatz was a calm yet decisive force between two notoriously explosive personalities. She challenged Biden on Benghazi intelligence and demanded “specifics” and “math” from Ryan on his budget. She didn’t always get straight answers but she didn’t back down. While we took issue at her framing her abortion question in religion, we can hardly think of another moderator – male or female – who could have kept order between these two candidates better than Raddatz did.

Crowley, in particular, took heat from the right for fact-checking Romney’s claims on Benghazi but it is often overlooked that she did not handle the President with kid gloves either. She challenged him on unemployment and several times sharpened the audience’s questions about the economy with tougher numbers. In short, she heeded Simpson’s advice and refused to allow herself to be marginalized. Both Raddatz and Crowley did what journalists are supposed to do: lead with the facts. That’s the whole point of giving the roles of debate moderators to journalists in the first place, isn’t it? This year, two extraordinary women got their chance to do it  and they certainly made the most of it.


Maddow on set, sadly without the glasses.
Photo credit: NBC Universal

Rachel Maddow – In TV news, election night coverage – especially presidential election night coverage – goes to the “A” team. To the undisputed stars of the networks. It’s not a perk, it’s a right. You rise to the top of a given news team and that’s your prize. You get to tell the viewing audience the results of all the races, especially the top one. In 2008, MSNBC gave the honor of reporting that the nation had elected Barack Obama to Keith Olbermann, then its top star. In 2012, it was Rachel Maddow who made the network’s official call that Obama had been re-elected. Maddow, the first openly gay anchor of a prime time news program, readily announces herself as a liberal nerd – something that instantly endears her to the younger demographics that are increasingly hard to reach for cable news networks.

That Maddow is the now MSNBC’s top star says a lot about the network’s plan to reach a generation of Americans who’d rather get their news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (Insert your own joke about the hipster glasses here.) To that end, Maddow’s biggest 2012 moment actually came after November 6, when her eloquent summary of the results and “other real stuff” went viral two days after the election. It was nearly impossible to be online without running into versions of the clip on social media, blogs, and even in liberal fundraising emails. It was popping up in our newsfeeds days, even weeks after the election. That clip did exactly what MSNBC is hoping Maddow’s geeky brand of gravitas will do: expand the reach of their news onto different platforms. In a quieter way, Maddow may be able to help  MSNBC do what CBS tried to do with Katie Couric: win with a woman at the wheel.


Savita Halappanavar, in an undated photo provided by her family.
Photo credit: Irish Times

Savita Halappanavar – Tragically, Savita Halappanavar did not live to see the end of 2012 but her life, and death, may become a watershed moment for the Irish government and its traditionally strong (some say, inextricable) tie to the Roman Catholic Church. Savita Halappanavar was a 31-year old dentist from India who moved to Ireland with her husband. This past October, when 17 weeks pregnant with her first child, she went to a Galway hospital complaining of severe back pain. According to Savita’s husband, the hospital concluded that she was having a miscarriage. Savita’s condition worsened steadily over but when she requested an abortion to end the pregnancy, the hospital allegedly refused, stating that Ireland was “a Catholic country.” Finally, when the fetus’ heartbeat could no longer be detected, doctors removed it but by then Savita had developed septicemia, and she later died. Her death prompted demonstrations throughout Ireland and England, outrage from Indian officials, demands that the Irish government clarify its abortion laws, and most recently, a possible hearing before the European Court of Human Rights.

Given that multiple inquiries are also ongoing in Ireland, it does not seem that the question of whether the hospital bears legal responsibility for Savita Halappanavar’s death will be settled anytime soon. However, the discussion about women’s reproductive freedom that it has sparked in Ireland and in other countries was clearly long overdue. Welcome or not, it now has to happen.

Who else should be on this list? Tell us in the comments here or on our Facebook page.

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Protests in Galway (photo courtesy of the Guardian)

There are multiple investigations going on in the case  of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old Indian dentist who died in the hospital in Ireland, following a miscarriage.  At first glance, it appears that she should have been granted the termination she requested immediately and that her death is a direct, painful result of failure on the part of the hospital to understand Irish law (at best), or ideologically-motivated malpractice at worst.  While we await the results of this investigation, protests have been going on outside the hospital where it occurred and in many other cities across the country, demanding a change to the law.

This case matters because there are states in our own country whose laws aim to be as restrictive as Ireland’s.  There is a tendency lately from proponents of criminalizing abortions to simply claim that the cases which would demand reasonable people to make exceptions simply don’t exist;  nobody really gets pregnant from rape, and nobody really dies from pregnancy complications.  Savita’s case is a tragic reminder that they do.

To the best of our understanding of Irish law, there is an exception provided for termination in the case of saving the woman’s life, however a European court two years ago demanded clarification of that law and it doesn’t appear that that has been given.  How imminent does the danger have to be?  It’s a question some women are finding themselves wrestling with here in America, as OB-GYN Dr. Jen Gunter has written about so maddeningly and so well.  Apparently in Savita’s case, someone decided that her septicemia was not imminent enough danger; since there was still a fetal heartbeat, even though it was clearly established that the fetus was not viable and Savita was suffering a life-threatening infection, termination was refused.  But while we await the results of the ongoing investigations as to who made the call to refuse termination and why, it’s worth talking about a few things.

If you talk to most proponents of criminalizing abortion, the argument about a woman’s right to control her own body is piffle, because the entire issue centers around whether life begins at conception; maybe life does begin at conception, but maybe that’s the wrong question to ask.  The question of whether life begins at conception or not contains an implicit assumption that if the answer is yes, that the value of that life is greater than that of the vessel carrying it (in other words, the woman).  Evangelicals and others basing their anti-abortion positions on similar religious convictions, when pressed on this question, will admit that they share this viewpoint – it’s a theological conviction.  So, it’s getting distracted with so much hokum to get trapped into arguing whether life begins at conception or not, because that’s not really what it’s about.

The real question is whether a zygote, or a fetus, has the same rights as a fully grown adult woman with a life and responsibilities.  When abortion becomes an option, the tension arises between a woman’s right to determine the course of her own life vs. the right of a non-developed person to exist.  If you’re in the “woman is just a vessel and the vessel cannot possibly have more value than the zygote/fetus she carries” camp, it’s no great stretch to decide that once she is impregnated, her desires and indeed even her life become rather beside the point.  It requires little imagination to see how this viewpoint brings waves of personhood bills washing through our Congress and state houses.  From there it’s a very small step to, “Sorry you’re going to die, Mrs. Halappanavar, but this is a Catholic country.  You’re screwed.”

So yes, I’m saying it.  Maybe life begins at conception, but maybe that isn’t really the question.  It’s not a technical argument about when life begins, it’s argument about whether that life has rights that supersede those of the woman carrying it.  Now before anyone starts pointing a finger and howling “eugenicist!” or whatever you like, please consider that we as a society make lots of determinations about what rights a person has based on where they are, developmentally.  It’s why four year olds aren’t allowed to hit the sauce and eight year olds can’t drive cars.  It’s also why a physician might decline to treat an ailment in a very elderly patient, or why a paramedic in an emergency situation might choose to save one life over another.  We recoil as a society from the idea that we might place unequal weight or value on different human lives, but we do it.  We do it all the time, in ways that we don’t even think about.  The abortion argument simply forces that question front and center where people have to deal with what’s uncomfortable about that.

So, we make determinations, based in large part on development.  Even a very pro-choice person is not going to support terminating a pregnancy at 32 weeks.  There is argument up and down the line on this, but in general, the arc of most people’s reasoning on this is that the more developed the life, the more extreme your reason needs to be for terminating.  Again, it’s something that we do instinctively.  Nobody wants an abortion, but in weighing the consequences of a pregnancy that threatens your life, health, or perhaps simply your pursuit of happiness, the central argument of competing rights is one that lives on a sliding scale.  The absolutist notion that the moment you become impregnated, your life ceases to matter is problematic for every one of us.

Savita Halappanavar

And that’s a good part of what lingers over the case of Savita, whose life, it appears, was deemed worth risking for the sake of the life of a non-viable fetus.  Does a 17-week fetus’s life have more value than the woman carrying it, or less?  Does it have the same rights as, say, its mother who would leave behind a grieving spouse and perhaps other children if she died?  Would its right to exist supersede the rights of a young teenager whose life is perhaps not threatened, but who knows that her future will be destroyed and she’ll be cast out of her home with few prospects and no skills or money if her unplanned pregnancy is discovered?  We spend so much time arguing the exceptions –rape, incest, life of the mother- that we lose sight of the real question about why we hold the larger positions we hold on abortion and reproductive choice.  Determining the point at which a fetus becomes enough of a baby that we no longer feel comfortable overriding its rights is a process akin to nailing mercury to a wall.  But it’s a process we must participate in.  Until this becomes the world that the pro-criminalization crowd would like to pretend it is, in which no abortion is ever needed for any reason, we need to fully appreciate what the argument really is, to effectively defend that right.

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This Week In Why We Need to $%!^@*# Vote – October 22nd Edition

Hello again, Voters! It’s your weekly round-up of stupid crap politicians have said and done trying to get elected, reminding you of the urgent need to vote for whomever is running against them. We’re getting into the home stretch here and you know what that means: stupid crap comes spilling out of political mouths at double speed. Rest assured, Voters, we’re armed with a bucket, hip waders, and a shovel, ready to sort it all out.

“That dumbass thing you said? It just ain’t so, Joe.” -Everyone Else

“With modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance….There is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing.” -Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, of Illinois

Another week, another Tea Party favorite showing their complete and total disregard for scientific facts. Walsh, who’s trailing Democrat (and future Chair of the House Committee on Being Awesome) Tammy Duckworth badly in the race for the Illinois 8th, decided to put his foot down on this whole “abortion to save the life of the mother” mumbo jumbo. Perhaps hoping to firm up his pro-life bona fides, Walsh declared on a Chicago television show that he was against abortion “without exception” and then added that science had made those exceptions unnecessary anyway. Then, beginning almost immediately after the program aired, Joe got re-acquainted with his old friend: The Wrath of the Internet. As expected, pro-choice groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood excoriated Walsh for his comments but even more noteworthy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said Walsh’s comments were an example of why politicians need to “get out of our exam rooms.”  Perhaps most embarrassing for Walsh, the National Right to Life Committee – the very people he may have been trying to curry favor with – issued a statement saying that it supports allowing “abortion if it is necessary to prevent the death of the mother.” By Friday of this week, Walsh was forced to walk back his comments, though the statement he issued contradicted itself in places and raised questions about whether Walsh even understands his own abortion position.
The Takeaway: Illinois voters, we are aware that there is (sadly) no House Committee on Being Awesome but send Tammy Duckworth to Congress anyway.

“She goes to Washington, D.C., it’s a little bit like one of those dogs, ‘fetch,’ She goes to Washington, D.C., and get all of these taxes and red tape and bureaucracy and executive orders and agencies and brings all of this stuff and dumps it on us in Missouri.” -Republican Senate Candidate Todd Akin, of Missouri

That Todd Akin ever got elected to anything sums up what is wrong with American politics. Democrat Claire McCaskill has opened up an 8 point lead over him according to Rasmussen. We’re hoping that this is one of the last times his name will appear anywhere on this site.
The Takeaway: Missouri voters, Claire McCaskill for Senate.

“Just because they call a piece of legislation an equal pay bill doesn’t make it so. In fact, much of this legislation is, in many respects, nothing but an effort to help trial lawyers collect their fees and file lawsuits, which may not contribute at all whatsoever to increasing pay equity in the workplace.” – Republican Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida

Marco Rubio is not running for re-election this year, so he’s got all the time in the world to take his show on the road manufacturing reasons for Mitt Romney to retroactively oppose the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And Romney now needs some help on that score after bugling a question about it earlier in the campaign and then whipping out the now legendary “binders full of women” answer to a question about the Act earlier this week. Now that he’s finally decided that he opposed the Act, Team Romney dispatched Rubio to trot out that favorite Republican boogie man: greedy trial lawyers. Never mind that this is the same shoddy reason Scott Walker gave for repealing Wisconsin’s Fair Pay law.  Walker did so even though that state’s law allowed women to bring suits in the less costly circuit court system (thereby avoiding high legal costs) and even though statistics showed that the gender wage gap in Wisconsin had started to shrink shortly after the law took effect in 2009.Walker’s never been one to let facts get in the way of politics. Rubio seems to be cut from the same cloth. His comments that laws like Lilly Ledbetter do nothing but help trial lawyers are short-sighted, offensive, and devoid of fact. The real story here is that Rubio’s comments are nothing but an attempt to help the GOP’s standard bearer out of a (ahem) bind over equal pay. Perhaps Rubio would prefer Romney’s solution on equal pay: wasn’t it something about flexible hours so women could get home in time to cook dinner?
The Takeaway: Vote for the team that unconditionally supports VAWA, Equal Pay, and a whole bunch of women’s issues that Mitt Romney is still mulling over, Obama-Biden.

“Now it’s a war on women; tomorrow it’s going to be a war on left-handed Irishmen or something like that.” -Congressman Paul Ryan, Republican nominee for Vice President.

Yeah. And it was the other guy in the VP debate who was rude. Right.
The Takeaway: Are you kidding us with this? This is how Paul Ryan talks about women behind closed doors, people. Remember that.

“I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.” – Mitt Romney, Republican nominee for President

It’s a meme, it’s a Twitter account, it’s a Facebook page, by now it may even be a dessert topping. But the most important things to know about Romney’s “binders full of women” debate comment, are as follows:
1. It’s not true. The story has been debunked by several media outlets by now. It’s almost sad. If you haven’t seen any of the debunking stories, follow the link or simply Google “binders full of women.”
2. Even if it were true, the story itself implies that Romney managed to work in business for many, many years and get himself elected governor of a state without having his own list of qualified female candidates to work from. (A point well expanded upon by Dick Polman, a writer for NewsWorks.) What does that say about Romney?
3. It didn’t answer the question about fair pay. That’s probably the least surprising of all.
The Takeaway: There is nothing else to say. Obama/Biden.

See you next week, Voters.

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Five Female Journalists Kicking Ass This Election Season

Love or hate “The Newsroom”, that show and more to the point, its main character, Will McAvoy, have become part of the American consciousness (for as long as its attention span will last).  McAvoy is the tough, super-ethical journalist, challenging the weasels and liars, taking no prisoners and suffering no fools.  The one America seems to be longing for.  I mean, some point to Chris Matthews, and he can be good at times, but he also just likes to yell.  You have this feeling if you went out to dinner with him, ordering would be like:

“I’ll have the duck a l’orange and a white wine please.”

“Excellent.  And for you Mr. Matthews?”


Ahem, anyway.  Back on topic.  My husband and I watched the first season of The Newsroom, and found it mostly annoying because there was too much fluff in the storyline about the romantic lives of its young, unmarried characters.  The emotional, smart but lovably flaky female characters that sort of swirled around in a cloud of estrogen around the tough, stoic McAvoy as he brought down the hammer of truth every night.  We assume that this crap was in there to keep it interesting for the female viewers.  The funny thing is, watching the actual news on the actual teevee this election season, it seems that the lady journalists were not really paying attention to that junk because they were too busy watching McAvoy swing said hammer of truth and practicing their downstroke:

1)  Soledad O’Brien:  Yes, I recently learned that Soledad O’Brien comes from my home town.  Graduated from the same high school as me, some years ahead.  This in no way biases me with regard to the ass-whipping she delivered to John Sununu.  You know Sununu?  He’s the lying weasel that Mitt Romney dispatches to talk to the media for him when he’s too busy being a lying liar someplace else.

2) Martha Raddatz:  OK, look.  I love Jim Lehrer.  I’m not gonna rip on Grampa Jim.  And I’m not trying to blame him for Obama’s dreadful performance in the first debate, by any stretch.  But it wasn’t a great night for Grampa Jim.  You all know what people said.  Phrases like “potted plant” got thrown around.  It was awful.

Cue Martha Raddatz.  I wasn’t sure how she’d be, because I’ve seen her in a few contexts and never seen her bust a Soledad on someone, but dang.  She came in and acted like a goddamn journalist.  She was calmly authoritative, she asked follow-up questions … that’s debate moderating, kids.  Alex Wagner, if you have any fantasies about moderating a debate in the future… You’d best watch the tapes from that debate and let Auntie Martha show you how it’s done.

Of course, her candidates were lambs compared the presidential candidates…

3) Candy Crowley:  I might get shit for this one from some people, but I. Do. Not. Care.  Candy had a hard time making Mitt or Barack stick to their time limits, and Mitt had his Imperious CEO on, talking over her constantly and arguing with her over whether his time was up or whether he got to have another turn to respond.  I heard people complain that President Obama got more time than Mitt, but Mitt was constantly ignoring what is, if I’m not mistaken, Rule #1 of debating:  don’t be a dick to the moderator.  He got what he had coming.

There’s a lot of flap over whether it was appropriate for her to fact-check Romney when he backed himself into a rhetorical corner with that puzzling line of attack about whether Obama used the phrase “act of terror” in the Rose Garden or not.  Here’s what I have to say:  Candy’s a journalist.  As someone, somewhere recently said, (and if it’s you, speak up so I can cite you!) if they just wanted someone to stand there with a microphone, looking pretty, they could have gotten Ryan Seacrest. It’s debatable whether she should have inserted herself at that moment, honestly, but she did so in a way that shot down his weird semantic argument while acknowledging Romney’s larger point, attempted to be fair, wrap up that question, and move things along.  But maybe most importantly, she struck a blow for the town hall moderator being more than just what journalist Carole Simpson referred to as “The Lady With the Microphone”.  And for that, we have to take a moment to raise our glasses and say, “Good job, Candy.”

Look at what an impossible job she had:

4) Carol Costello – I have no bias here, never really had feelings one way or the other about Carol Costello.  But I have to give props to her for challenging an anti-gay bigot on the air on CNN, calling him out for what he actually was, and then when he kept on going with his hate speech (and yeah she did call it that), she sent him packing.  And she never once lost her cool with the guy, which is more than I’d be able to do in the same circumstances.  By the time he got to comparing LGBT tolerance with poisoned Halloween candy, I would have probably been cursing him out on the air.  Of course, I would be a bad broadcast journalist, because I fucking curse a lot.

And lastly…

5)  Rachel Maddow – Because, always Rachel Maddow.  Always.

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Debater Hater

by Siobhan Carroll, W:RUN Contributor
Braevehearts blog

Ninety more minutes of extremely dull, choreographed talking points I’ve heard and read a million times already? Can’t wait!

Tonight Barack Obama and Mitt Romney head into round 2 of the Great Debates of 2012. I am an engaged voter who reads information from all sides and prides myself on making informed decisions. In high school I was an award-winning Lincoln-Douglas debater. And no, I was not super cool. What makes you ask that?

Yet I cannot bring myself to watch the debates. Once upon a time they served the venerable function of allowing the public the opportunity to see/hear/read about the candidates in a format that compared and contrasted their views, direct from the horses’ mouths. A hundred years ago it may have been a voter’s only opportunity to do so before the invention and wide use of radio. Hell before the very late 1800s I doubt most Americans even knew what the candidates looked like outside of pencil sketches. Now all we do is talk about widow’s peaks and Eddie Munster. And those delightful workout photos!

But today the magic of technology and the 24 hour news cycle means we are inundated with candidate information constantly. It’s to the point that there are videos of Mitt Romney debating himself on his flip-floppy issues. I think I know what he eats for lunch before he does. We have gone from one extreme to the other- from minimal information about our candidates to too much.

The debates frankly aren’t for people like me who consume media constantly and already have our minds made up. They are for the increasingly rare undecided voter who believes he or she will see something in one of these guys that will sway their vote. It could be anything from a policy statement to a hand gesture that makes this voter feel comfortable with one or the other.

Most importantly, they are increasingly an act of theatre. You only need to skim the memorandum of understanding released yesterday by Time Magazine to see that. The campaigns are less about the candidates themselves and their positions, and more about the carefully constructed narrative surrounding both Obama and Romney. Not long ago debates were meant to pierce the veil and allow the public to see the candidates for who they are*, but now they are just one more slog through rhetoric and even outright lies. The extraordinary mendacity of Romney during the last debate and the media still declaring him the “winner” is one unsettling example of this.

I much prefer to read the post-debate analysis, work through websites like factcheck.org and Washington Post’s fact checker to see who lied and to what extent. It nauseates me that Romney has seen a bump from the first debate, where he lied so hard I thought his eyes would pop out of his head. After the week-long convention extravaganzas, the months of primary campaigning and now the home stretch of the full presidential campaign, I just can’t take anymore. I want the commercials, the donation solicitation emails, the inflammatory comments on news articles to just stop. Maybe we should impose a two-week quiet period right before election day, where we can all meditate on our choices, clear our heads, take a deep breath and exercise our right to vote.

After all, the only thing in this election that isn’t out in the open are the choices I make in the voting booth on November 6th.

*None of this applies to Joe Biden. He is awesome and a national treasure. He is my spirit animal and he can laugh his ass off at Paul Ryan anytime he wants. Malarkey 2016!

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This Week In Why We Need to $%!^@*# Vote – October 15th Edition

Hello again, Voters! It’s your weekly round-up of stupid crap politicians have said and done trying to get elected, reminding you of the urgent need to vote for whomever is running against them. It’s been another busy week of debates, obfuscations, bizarre rape comments, fuzzy science and even fuzzier math. How do we keep it all straight? Well, as a wise gentlemen from Delaware once said, “fact matter” – so let’s get down to this week’s facts.

Wisconsin Rep. Roger Rivard (R-Rice Lake) is the latest GOP lawmaker in trouble over comments on rape.

“What the whole genesis of it was, it was advice to me, telling me, ‘If you’re going to go down that road, you may have consensual sex that night and then the next morning it may be rape.’ So the way he said it was, ‘Just remember, Roger, some girls, they rape so easy. It may be rape the next morning.'” – Wisconsin State Legislator Roger Rivard (R-Rice Lake)

Forcible rape, legitimate rape, now “some girls rape easy?” Even though they ran from Akin, (and now Paul Ryan has run from Rivard) the GOP in this country is setting a clear pattern of adding dubious qualifiers in front of the word rape these days. From this little-known Wisconsin legislator to Akin to VP nominee Paul Ryan, who enthusiastically supported the last year’s attempt to redefine rape. What exactly is the end game here? Fewer abortions that qualify for coverage? Or drastic cultural, legal, and political confusion on the entire concept of rape? Because it sure seems like we’re headed for both.

The Takeaway: Rice Lake, Wisconsin voters can choose Democrat Stephen J. Smith on Election Day. For the rest of us, this is more evidence that we need to pay close attention to the language lawmakers use when referring to rape. Those who choose to qualify the seriousness of this crime with their words and actions must be held accountable.

“I’ve taken a look at both sides of the thing and it seems to me that evolution takes a tremendous amount of faith…To have all of the sudden all the different things that have to be lined up to create something as sophisticated as life, it takes a lot of faith. I don’t see it as even a matter of science because I don’t know that you can prove one or the other.” -Republican Senate Candidate Todd Akin, of Missouri

If you’re thinking that we should just rename this feature “This Week in Todd Akin is $%!^@*# Crazy” – don’t think we haven’t considered it. So, this week the guy who came up with magical rape sperm-fighting vaginas is saying that there’s no science behind evolution. The easy response to this is to quip that “any thinking women who listens to the kind that crap Akin spouts would have cause to doubt his participation in evolution” and move on. But we can’t leave it at that because a) the race for Senate between Akin and Democrat Claire McCaskill is still mind-bloggingly tight (WTF, Missouri?) and b) have we mentioned that Akin sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology? It’s long past time that we made the connection between the fact that our nation lags behind the rest of the developed world in science and the fact that we keep electing lawmakers who DON’T. BELIEVE. IN. SCIENCE.
The Takeaway: Missouri voters, Claire McCaskill for Senate. We’ve been over this.
Everyone else, your homework this week is to find out where all of your elected officials stand on science education. Report back on our Facebook page with what you find.

“There was no pregnancy and there was no abortion, I was attempting to use strong language to get her to tell me the truth.” -Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee

We posted about the bizarre recorded conversation between Tennessee Congressman DesJarlais and his patient/mistress in which the avowed pro-life lawmaker pressures her have an abortion. Well, we’d love to know Todd Akin thinks DesJarlais explanation is just a “theory” too because it sure pushes the limits of credulity. The woman, who DesJarlais admits to sleeping with, is now not his mistress. He admits that it’s his voice on the recording telling the woman, “You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along without one,” but now he says that the woman was never pregnant. She was never pregnant yet he agreed that he would accompany her Atlanta for the procedure and also berated her for the situation: “Well, I didn’t want to be in your life either, but you lied to me about something that caused us to be in this situation, and that’s not my fault, that’s yours.” (Gee, now what could that be referring to?) Perhaps Akin will use this debacle as fodder for his “women who aren’t pregnant get abortions” theory.
The Takeaway: Tennessee Voters, Democrat Eric Stewart is a good alternative to DesJarlais. For everyone else, in case this whole thing hasn’t freaked you out enough, Dr. DesJarlais’ current legislative committee assignments include the following:
Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions
Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives
Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending

“[Y]ou go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.” -Mitt Romney, Republican nominee for president.

We know that this is going to shock you but Romney’s flat wrong on this. (We hope you were sitting down for that.) Facts matter, and we found these facts from a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health which states that a “[l]ack of health insurance is associated with as many as 44,789 deaths per year in the United States.” Several other studies echo these findings. What’s more, Romney knows he’s wrong on this. The 2006 version of Romney said the following:

“There ought to be enough money to help people get insurance because an insured individual has a better chance of having an excellent medical experience than the one who has not. An insured individual is more likely to go to a primary care physician or a clinic to get evaluated for their conditions and to get early treatment, to get pharmaceutical treatment, as opposed to showing up in the emergency room where the treatment is more expensive and less effective than if they got preventive and primary care.”

What’s the difference between Romney2006 and Romney2012? The newly programmed version has a nationwide conservative base to pander to, versus a statewide liberal-leaning population. He says what they want to hear. His principles, beliefs, and facts are infinitely malleable to fit his audience.
The Takeaway: Facts don’t matter to this Romney. And that’s dangerous. Remember what happened the last time we had a president who wasn’t fond of facts? We’re still cleaning that mess up. We have to let Obama/Biden finish the job.

“We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision.” – Representative Paul Ryan, Republican nominee for Vice President.

Paul Ryan said this during the Vice Presidential debate in answer to this question from moderator Martha Raddatz: “Should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?” If he were being honest and succinct he could have just answered. “Yes.” Because we all know the real answer to that question is really “Yes, you should be really $%!^@*# worried.” It would have been one of the few true things Ryan said in that debate.
The Takeaway: Mitt Romney may trying to dance to the center but he’s made it clear that Ryan and the far right will set the agenda on abortion. Obama/Biden is choice to make to keep having the right to choose.

See you next week, people.

P.S. If you have a quote you think should be included in a future snark-filled edition of “This Week” send it over to womenriseupnow@gmail.com with the subject line: This Week.

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One More Word About Fourtin

We have been moving forward in our efforts to understand the Fourtin case and how something like this happens under the current justice system. Outrage can be effective for getting things done, but it’s important that we are responsible in directing it to the right places.  In digging further into the details of the case and the workings of the law, we’d like to share what we’ve learned, and what we feel may be the best way to move forward in terms of minimizing the instances of it happening again.

First, Richard Fourtin cannot be tried again for this crime.  It would appear that double jeopardy prevents that. The likelihood of this getting elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court seems fairly slim. The prosecution in this case has made a motion to have the Connecticut Supreme Court reconsider its verdict, which they may or may not grant, due to the public outrage that has been in part supported by this page. In discussing this issue with a number of attorneys and others familiar with the law, it appears that the Justices ruled in accordance with the law and the error most likely lies with the prosecution. We’ll explain:

The statutes for second-degree assault and fourth degree assault both contain a number of subsections each. Both contain a provision for assaulting with a mentally disabled person (specifically, *just* mentally disabled, not physically), as well as the now infamous “physically helpless” subsection. It’s anyone’s guess as to why, but the prosecution chose to go with the “physically helpless” provision rather than the one dealing with the victim’s mental disability, and therein lies the problem.

You don’t simply charge someone with second-degree assault, you charge them with a specific subsection of the statute. It is sort of stratification, if you will, intended (we suppose) to clarify the nature of the assault. But –and here’s the part that is hanging up a lot of people- even if evidence is presented during the trial that indicates the defendant might be guilty under a different subsection of the law… if that’s not what he’s being charged with, the prosecution is out of luck.  He’s supposed to have a reasonable chance to defend himself against what he’s specifically being charged with. That’s due process, as we understand it.

“Physically helpless” under Connecticut law as it stands is really defined so narrowly that it would seem to only apply to someone who is unconscious or drugged to the point of being unable to speak or move, and therefore is unable to communicate resistance to their attacker. We aren’t sure why the statute doesn’t simply say “unconscious” or something similar to avoid confusion and misuse of the statute, but that’s another story.  Often the law is written in intentionally vague ways to allow for circumstances that those writing it may not foresee.   It’s an acknowledgement that those writing the law cannot predict everything.  However, it’s worth noting that misuse of this statute is actually not unprecedented; in the majority opinion they actually mention another case in which a victim was strapped to a gurney but conscious during her assault and actually voiced to her attacker that she wanted him to stop, however, they could not convict on this count, because they were charging with the “physically helpless” subsection – which as it turns out, boils down to assaulting someone who cannot communicate. It does not, as has been previously stated here and elsewhere, indicate the degree of resistance that the victim did or didn’t offer.

Now, there’s a lot of information about this case that we do not have. We have not pored over hours of court transcripts. We discovered, though, in reading the majority opinion, that in fact, as much as the victim’s ability to move were limited, that she did have methods at her disposal of communicating dissent. Kicking, biting, scratching, screeching, and so forth, were things she was able to do in order to communicate resistance to an assault.  It would appear that whether she actually did these things or not is, under this very peculiar statute, beside the point. I know, I know, but listen: the law is not looking, in this case, for whether someone did or didn’t consent, merely whether they were physically capable of doing so or not. And if someone is assaulting a person who is capable of communicating, it’s not assaulting a “physically helpless person,” as defined by the law under which Fourtin was being charged.

While it has been correctly pointed out in other blogs (including this good one by public defender Gideon) that the statement of the victim having the mental capacity of a three year old is not mentioned anywhere in the opinion, it seems clear from additional reading on his and other sites that she had certain skill areas which did fit that description, and certainly not much above first or second grade level in even the strongest of her skill areas. It has been mentioned that she had nothing in the way of sex education. While it may be overly facile to say she had the “mental capacity of a three year old”, it is more than adequate even in the opinions as written, to say that she was still not what anyone would consider an adult in the sense that we understand it, nor adequately prepared in any manner for sexual intercourse; the Justices in fact did not understand why the prosecution chose to pursue a conviction under the physically helpless part of the statute rather than the mental disability portion.

We have seen a great deal of traffic and interest in this issue. We are grateful for that, but we also want to be clear that we are trying to handle this issue in a responsible way. Is it madness that someone can commit an assault, that there is ample evidence to show as much, and yet the perpetrator can walk away because of a prosecutorial mistake? Yes. What can be done about it? Regardless of whether the prosecution in this case is successful in its quest to get the court to reconsider its decision, our problem remains – what to do, to keep this from happening again? Where to direct the energies of reasonable outrage about it?

We do not suggest reaching out to the justices further. If they decide to overturn their own verdict, that is their choice, and perhaps they can find another way to interpret the statute that will allow them to do so. But this is unfortunately the law working to deliver a verdict which, as we’ve talked about elsewhere, is unfair, but is legally just. We also do not advocate seeking out the prosecutor to give them a piece of your mind: they are already doing everything they can do to right this mistake. A public statement from their office explaining their choice to prosecute under that particular statute would be nice, but we feel would offer little in terms of concrete benefit to future victims.

We suggest starting with the Governor’s office. Ask him to lean on the legislature to either expand the physically helpless statute (in light of its seeming repeated misuse), or else create a specific statute to deal with assaulting the disabled. We may also suggest that if you are in the State of Connecticut, that you reach out to your local legislators as well. We wish there were more that could be done. We wish there a way to affect the Fourtin decision but barring the Court agreeing to reconsider its verdict and ultimately overturn it, it appears that there’s nothing more that can be done on this terrible case.

Reach out to the governor here:

Governor Dannel P. Malloy
State Capitol
210 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

Tel: (860) 566-4840
Toll-Free: (800) 406-1527
TDD: (860) 524-7397
Fax: (860) 524-7395

If you don’t know your local state representatives, you can look them up here:


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Marissa Mayer and the Politics of Maternity Leave

by Siobhan Carrol, W:RUN Contributor
(Braevehearts blog)

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! CEO and woman whose life decisions we are apparently all qualified to judge

Yahoo’s newly minted CEO delivered on her newest project last week- a baby boy. All are reportedly doing well and I hope Ms. Mayer is enjoying some time with her new family.

When Mayer was first appointed CEO a few months ago she famously stated that she would be taking a few weeks of maternity leave and working throughout. Cue the judgment, moral outrage, and unwanted opinions of the internets. Commentary ran the gamut from those who thought she had no idea what she was in for, to those who thought she had a responsibility to the rest of us to set a precedent and take a full leave, to those who simply shrugged and said it was her choice. These are broad generalizations I’m making, but the fact is that there is no national maternity leave policy to guide (and protect) a new working mother’s rights in the US, which leaves us open to all sorts of judgment and interpretation about our dedication and capabilities as workers and as mothers.

The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that allows for up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to deal with a medical condition, childbirth, adoption, or to care for a sick family member. It protects your job during that timeframe so you return to the same or similar job function upon your return to work. This sounds great, right? Now raise your hand if you can afford to be out of work for 12 weeks without being paid. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Most companies cover this by providing short term disability insurance, which generally covers 6 weeks of leave at 80% of pay, but can vary depending on what your employer chooses. This is helpful, but still leaves you at 40% of pay over 3 months, while you are confronting costs like diapers, formula, and breast feeding supplies and the mortgage.

I also bristle at the notion of being labeled “disabled” after having a baby. Having a newborn to take care of and heal from delivering isn’t a disability- it is the goddamn circle of life. Giving a new family time to settle in and adjust isn’t a vacation- it is good parenting and part of the social fabric. I wasn’t broken, I didn’t need a handicapped hang-tag, I just needed time. For the record, so did my husband and his two weeks of paternity leave were a joke. The amount of coffee he consumed during weeks three through eight were roughly equivalent to the exports of Sumatra.

All this is to say that Marissa Mayer is a stand-in for all of our issues as a country and a culture when it comes to maternity leave. We have no specific maternity leave policy as a country- FMLA covers all medical issues, which is great, but which undermines the unique experience of having a child. Establishing breast feeding, acclimating siblings to a new baby,  understanding any health issues the mother or child might have- these are fundamental building blocks of life, not gravy on the mashed potatoes of time away from the office.

Perhaps if we had a national comprehensive, specific maternity/paternity leave plan that was meant to benefit new families rather than their employers, one individual’s choices wouldn’t induce so much hand-wringing for the rest of us. We’d all like to be Marissa Mayer and have a whole buffet of work/life balance options to choose from, but I’m willing to accept a standard menu that actually reflects the reality of today’s American family.

Note: I apologize for the food analogies. I’m hungry.