Abortion law for everyone

The Herald-Sun (Unsigned editorial, Durham, N.C.); July 26, 2011

Legislators must not confuse people who share their experiences with people who share their views.

So we rise in outraged opposition to Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, who stood on the floor of the N.C. House and offered herself as the voice for women and, in particular, rape victims Tuesday.

Samuelson is the state legislator who sponsored House Bill 854, risibly nicknamed the “Woman’s Right to Know Act.” The bill, vetoed by Gov. Beverly Perdue last month, institutes a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and requires physicians who provide abortions to run through a state-supplied script that outlines the medical risks, including “any adverse psychological effects associated with the abortion,” and further compels them to conduct an ultrasound with “a simultaneous explanation of what the display is depicting” and an amplification of the fetal heart tone, and “provide a medical description of the images, which shall include the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable.”

The N.C. Senate is expected to attempt a veto override today, which will require 30 of the Senate’s 50 votes to pass.

Before the House’s 72-47 vote to override, Rep. Diane Parfitt, D-Cumberland, who is a nurse, outlined some of the most troubling aspects of the bill.

It assumes that women who seek abortion are blithely uninformed. It forces the same script upon women whose abortions are medical necessities and women whose abortions are a form of birth control. In short, it treats every woman who seeks an abortion as the same woman, and that woman seems to be a dimwit who slept through the past 40 years of the culture wars.

H.B. 854 interferes with the doctor-patient relationship in a way that erodes both confidence and privacy, a point that Parfitt raised.

She also noted that the bill doesn’t provide an exception for rape victims who seek abortions.

That is when the bill’s sponsor made a surprising announcement.

“I’m also a rape victim,” Samuelson said.

On the House floor, she described the long-term effects of the attack that happened when she was 16. “I’ll tell you what traumatic and victimizing is,” she said.

Although we respect that Samuelson survived her experience and made much of her life after that assault, her statement captures the problem with this bill.

No legislator, no matter his or her experiences, can make the claim of omniscience. Being a human, a woman, or a rape victim is not a single experience; it is a singular one. Legislate accordingly.


Dithering over ‘blight’

The Herald-Sun (Unsigned editorial, Durham, N.C.), April 24, 2011

“Blight” is just a word, but it’s a powerful word.

Otherwise, why would the Durham Planning Board have burned off so much time and acrimony over whether to apply the blight label to the Rolling Hills subdivision? Why would the City Council be arguing, just a year later, about whether to take it off again?

But how else would one describe the tract at the corner of Lakewood Avenue and South Roxboro Street? That’s where bulldozers cleared land for 56 houses but only 10 went up. Where the developers defaulted on the $860,000 loan they’d received from the city. It went into foreclosure in 1999.

It’s far from the bustling neighborhood of affordable housing for cops and teachers that the City Council sought. Instead, less than a half-mile from the thriving American Tobacco District, hundreds of homes sag in disrepair.

A November 2009 survey of the area showed that, of 319 structures, 115 were uninhabitable and deteriorated beyond repair. Another 159 needed major renovations. There were 108 vacant buildings, and 127 of the 451 housing lots were vacant, too. These are not conditions that improve with neglect and time.

So the questions at this week’s City Council work session were bizarre.

“If I lived in the community, I would be concerned about what [the designation] meant for my home,” Councilman Farad Ali said on Thursday. “Having an answer is important, and we need to answer that question.”

Ali understands that several of the reasons for applying the blight label have changed. Community Development Department Assistant Director Larry Jarvis believes that the state will provide tax credits for redevelopment that don’t depend on a blight designation. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which bases its funding formula on blight designations, passed over the project.

From a practical perspective, those are not reasons to lift the label. Durham has already zig-zagged its way through a decade of false starts that make the project look like it lacks a clear blueprint.

More to the point, “blighted” describes the conditions at Rolling Hills.

Those conditions will not be relieved, nor will neighboring property values be improved, by removing the label.

George Orwell, who spent a lifetime criticizing both language and politics, wrote that “The enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

Blight is a short word, a rude word, a powerful word — and it is accurate. Until it is prepared to alleviate the conditions it describes, the city should call Rolling Hills what it is.

The ugly end of eugenics

The Herald-Sun (Unsigned editorial); Aug. 5, 2011

If one were to select qualities to breed out of the human race, cruelty and arrogance would be better choices than epilepsy, insanity and “feeble-mindedness.”

The last three are the reasons generally provided by the N.C. Eugenics Board, which approved most of the forced sterilizations that were conducted inNorth Carolinabetween 1929 and 1977. Using those criteria, the board authorized forced vasectomies and tubal ligations on approximately 6,500 people. Doctors cut the fallopian tubes of 10-year-old girls, of women who already had multiple children, of teenagers whose worst offense was persistent truancy from school.

Certainly, we benefit from the clarity of hindsight.

Today, it’s easy to see the racism and classism that motivated such actions — butNorth Carolina’s legislators and agents had the same benefit. In fact, one of the most astounding elements of theNorth Carolinaeugenics program is that forced sterilizations increased in the wake of World War II, long after the world learned of the extent of the Nazis’ depraved experiments and efforts at “racial cleansing.”

Nearly 80 percent of the sterilizations inNorth Carolinacame after the war, just as the rest of theUnited Stateswas backing away from the implications of eugenics as a means of social engineering. Between 1950 and 1968, the last year for which the eugenics board kept records, the state sterilized hundreds of people every year. Most of them are dead now — but, because the eugenics program hit its peak in the latter half of the 20th century, many are still alive.

Like Elaine Riddick. Riddick was raped. Then, pregnant from the attack, she bore a son. And then, doctors persuaded Riddick’s illiterate grandmother that Riddick needed a surgical procedure — so the 14-year-old girl was sterilized without her consent.

The state estimates that between 1,500 and 2,000 victims like Riddick are still living. The estimate has dwindled since 2002, when it was 3,000.

This feels uncomfortably as though the state is waiting for the clock to wind down.

There is dramatic appeal in the firsthand accounts and tears of those who were cut open and permanently altered, an effect that is lessened when the stories are told by relatives and heirs. The state’s study of this situation has dragged on since 2002. If the state delays long enough, most of the eugenics board’s victims will die without compensation and state-funded medical care.

In that case, North Carolinamight get away without paying anything, as have other states that had eugenics programs. That would be a terrible failure of conscience. It is time to make good on what we can never make right.

Enough from John Edwards

The Herald-Sun (Unsigned editorial); July 23, 2011

One simply wishes that former Sen. John Edwards would go away, and take the revelations of his perfidy and irresponsibility with him.

But all the birthday candles and falling stars in the world can’t seem to stop the disclosures that tarNorth Carolina’s formerly favored son.

On Thursday, the Federal Elections Commission released an audit that showed the Edwards campaign had overreported its spending and underreported its cash on hand in 2007 and 2008. The upshot is that Edwards, who filed to receive federal matching funds in his race against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, took too much money from the federal elections piggybank — about $2.1 million too much.

This may be bad bookkeeping, but it’s minor compared to the other mires beneath John Edwards’ feet. In fact, the audit is the most routine part of this — Vice President Joe Biden went through a similar audit and was ordered to repay $220,000.

In its coverage of the hearing, Politico said FEC Commissioner Donald McGahan called Edwards’ recent federal indictments the “pink elephant in the room.”

Edwards, who is accused of filing false campaign reports to cover up hush-money payments to his mistress, has pleaded not guilty to six felony charges.

If he’s convicted, his balance books would change again — “This can get more complicated before it gets simple,” McGahan said — and it may emerge that Edwards’ debt to the federal matching funds bank is even larger than the audit determined.

The Edwards campaign actually has the $2.1 million in hand. As of June 30, the campaign’s books were still $2.6 million in the black, after spending $183,000 since April 1.
But Edwards’ attorneys who attended the FEC hearing said that they would appeal the FEC commissioners’ 6-0 vote to uphold the audit’s findings.

They will have an uphill and increasingly nasty fight on their hands, one that’s darkened by the fact that this man who refuses to pay his debt to the taxpayers promised many, many times that he would be their champion.

That $2.1 million may be pocket money in the grand scheme of things – President Obama spent $730 million to win the White House, for example — but it is the public’s money, funded by taxes. We want it back.