The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

April 20 2015 4:51 PM

Post and Courier Wins the Pulitzer for South Carolina Domestic Homicide Exposé

Congratulations to the Post and Courier out of Charleston, South Carolina, for winning the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The prize-winning story was a seven-part series titled “Till Death Do Us Part,” an exposé of the policy and cultural failures that have made South Carolina at or near the top of the list in domestic homicides every year. 

I praised the piece—written by journalists Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes, and Natalie Caula Hauff—here at Slate when it came out in August for its comprehensive approach to the problem, showing how cultural attitudes, law enforcement neglect, and legislative indifference all work together to create a state where there's very little protection for women who have had the misfortune to fall in love with dangerous and violent men. Particularly impressive was the series' willingness to look at how traditional gender norms work against women seeking relief from abuse. The Post and Courier journalists discovered that legislators on both sides of the aisle had an unfortunate tendency to prioritize keeping couples together, even though experts agree that separating the abuser from his victim until he's had months—years, really—is the best way to keep her safe. The result is a state where the first-offense punishment for beating a dog is five years but only 30 days for beating your wife. 

Advertisement

The South Carolina legislature did initially respond to the reporting by introducing bills meant to curb the problem of domestic violence in the state. But as the Post and Courier reported on Monday, those bills all seem to be stalling out. The reflexive right-wing politics of the state—which the Post and Courier flagged as the problem—continue to make movement on this issue impossible, it seems. “Among one of the sticking points is a provision that would remove guns from the homes of domestic abusers,” Andrew Knapp of the Post and Courier writes. More than three-quarters of voters in this highly conservative state support a law that would bar convicted domestic abusers from owning guns, but pro-gun legislators in the state keep killing even the mildest attempt to separate convicted abusers from their guns. 

Video Advertisement

April 20 2015 12:42 PM

Education Reformer Praises Standardized Tests for Boosting Home Prices in Wealthy Suburbs

Parents in suburban New York districts are revolting against the over-reliance on standardized testing in schools by organizing a boycott of the tests. The Journal News of Westchester reported last week that 155,000 students refused the tests, and some districts had nearly half of kids opting out: 

Yet collecting educational data is important for the future of education and can help define the the character of a town, said Nicole Brisbane, state director at Democrats for Education Reform.
"Schools are one of the biggest differentiators of value in the suburbs," she said. "How valuable will a house be in Scarsdale when it isn't clear that Scarsdale schools are doing any better than the rest of Westchester or even the state? Opting out of tests only robs parents of that crucial data."
Advertisement

"And I thought it was all about the children?" responded blogger Duncan Black at Eschaton. "Nope. Real estate prices."

This bit of honesty from a test-supporter is more than a hilarious gaffe. Right now, a number of educators in the Atlanta area are going to jail on racketeering charges for fudging the results of standardized tests. While cheating is wrong, this excessive punishment suggests that there's more going on here than a simple interest in improving educational standards. If testing is partly about creating "objective" measurements of which neighborhoods are better—and therefore more expensive and exclusive—than others, then the nationwide overkill when it comes to standardized testing starts to make more sense.  

April 20 2015 12:16 PM

New Report Shows Insurers Are Falling Short on Covering Contraception

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires contraception to be covered by your insurance plan without a copay. Yet many women still face serious obstacles getting their contraception of choice covered—and not just those who work for conservative employers. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a lot of insurers are interpreting the coverage mandate in ways that limit women's access to certain forms of contraception, especially the vaginal ring, emergency contraception, and the IUD. 

"Information was collected from 20 different insurance carriers in five states (California, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas) about how they are applying reasonable medical management (RMM) techniques in their coverage of women’s contraceptive services," reads the report. RMM is insurance policy–speak for cost management. For instance, your insurance plan may require you to use generics in order to get coverage or, in some cases, refuse a course of treatment entirely if they believe that there's a more cost-effective way to get the same results. 

Advertisement

Some carriers interpret their right to RMM so aggressively that they are forcing women into contraception methods that may be less effective. For instance, Kaiser found that six of the plans they researched don't fully cover the Nuva-Ring, which is the only Food and Drug Administration–approved vaginal ring on the market: Five of the six required a copay, and the other didn't cover it at all. As Emily Crockett at RH Reality Check explains, because the Nuva-Ring and other methods "have the same hormonal formulation as the pill but are more expensive," insurance providers argue "it’s reasonable to cover the pill but require a co-pay for other methods." In other words, pushing a woman to switch from the Nuva-Ring to the birth control pill is the equivalent of switching from brand-name pills to generic. The problem with this logic is that methods such as the patch and the ring were developed because the pill is simply less effective for some women.

Kaiser found a similar problem cropping up with emergency contraception. Almost half the carriers in the study didn't cover Ella emergency contraception, presumably because they did cover some other form of emergency contraception. The problem is that Ella "is a different formulation and has a longer window of effectiveness and it may be preferable for women with a higher body mass index (BMI) than progestin-based EC pills," the report reads. 

HHS requires that insurers allow women's doctors to contest the limitations by citing medical necessity, but none of the carriers Kaiser researched had a formal waiver process. 

Insurance companies have a right to put limitations on coverage so long as they meet their obligations to cover medical care for their policyholders. That helps keep costs down for all of us. That said, when it comes to contraception, insurers need to err on the side of more generous coverage. Just because the pill and the ring may look the same on paper doesn't mean that they work the same way for every woman—and unplanned pregnancy costs a lot more than even the most expensive kinds of contraception

April 16 2015 2:41 PM

Vatican Decides American Nuns Don’t Actually Have a “Radical Feminist” Agenda

At the end of last year, the Vatican ended its controversial six-year investigation into the lives and actions of American nuns with an approving report. The entire exercise was a strange waste of time that rightfully angered many Catholics: Though the report scrutinized the nuns for their commitment to social justice—referred to as their “feminist spirit” and “secular mentality”—it concluded by essentially telling them to keep doing what they’re doing to work toward “the elimination of the structural causes of poverty.”

That wasn't the church's only pointless nun investigation. Even after Pope Francis’ call “to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the church,” the Vatican was still in the midst of another nun review. This one focused on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group representing about 80 percent of American nuns, who were accused of indulging in “radical feminist themes” and therefore straying from Catholic doctrine.

Advertisement

The timeline for the review was always murky, but on Thursday morning, the Vatican abruptly announced an end to that investigation as well. Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and leader of this effort, did little in the way of explanation—the official joint statement speaks in the abstract, mentioning “fruitful conversation” and “substantive dialogue,” with few, if any, details. As the Jesuit priest and Slate contributor James Martin posted on Facebook:

In a press release and statement the LCWR agreed to implement some changes, mainly regarding speakers and liturgies at its annual conventions. But overall, the operations of the LCWR remains intact. Early fears of the outright elimination of the group, a wholesale Vatican takeover or a complete reordering of their statutes have proven unfounded.

In the end, this confusing outcome can only be seen as a victory and vindication for the LCWR. Charged in 2012 of straying from the church’s doctrine for focusing on social-justice issues, they were subjected to the Vatican's surprise assessment, with what seemed like plans to take over the group and refocus it. The Vatican wanted the nuns to pay more attention to the church’s stance on sexuality and abortion and not promote health care reform in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, the sisters were outraged, and many Catholics supported them in this anger.

It’s encouraging that the Vatican is trying to move forward from these pointless exercises. But as I said in my post at the conclusion of the first investigation last year, the Catholic Church needs to do more than find a way to “broaden” female participation, as Pope Francis suggested in December—it also needs to figure out how to retain nuns. There only about 50,000 nuns in the U.S., and the median age for nuns is now in the late 70s. This dwindling, aging workforce is typically underpaid for their work running Catholic hospitals and schools. Now that the church is no longer investigating these women, it should use its free time to find ways to help them.

Correction, April 17, 2015: This post originally included a photo of nuns from Sister of Life, which is not part of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious community. The photo has been changed. 

April 16 2015 2:04 PM

Katie Couric, Floyd Mayweather, and the Dark Art of the Redemption Interview

Daniel Roberts of Deadspin unleashed the fury on Katie Couric for her softball interview with Floyd Mayweather, in which she allowed the boxer to downplay his history of domestic violence and even blame his victim—saying he was merely trying to "restrain a woman that was on drugs" without explaining how you can bruise someone repeatedly on the head by restraining them. Couric did not challenge Mayweather's claims of being a victim of persecution, failing to point out that he's pleaded guilty multiple times to domestic violence charges. When Couric briefly mentions Mayweather's public defense of Ray Rice for knocking out his fiancée, she hastens to add that Mayweather apologized. Otherwise, Couric was all smiles, nods, and compliments—she even gave him a hug.

This isn't the first time Couric has provided a space for an abuser to paint himself as a good man who had a minor, nearly inconsequential lapse in judgment. Late last year, she interviewed actor Stephen Collins about sexual misconduct involving three young girls. Couric allowed Collins to go on at length about why he shouldn't be judged by his actions, because his heart is in the right place. "A pedophile is someone who is mainly or wholly attracted to children. I'm not. I had a distortion in my thinking where I acted out in those ways. But I'm absolutely not attracted, physically or sexually attracted to children. I'm just not," Collins explained. Couric questioned Collins a little harder than she does Mayweather, but by and large, Collins successfully used the forum she gave him to rehabilitate his bruised image. 

Advertisement

Couric's circumspect approach to these public abusers might be a matter of access: "Maybe that’s what it takes to land an interview with Mayweather these days," Roberts suggests. Certainly, Ray Rice's recent streak of softball coverage implies that using access as bait for sympathetic pieces is standard operating procedure for abusive men trying to rehabilitate their public reputation. 

Softball interviews are attractive to people who are trying to recover from scandal, and even big-league journalists often take the bait in order to catch the ratings. But it's a particularly nasty practice when the "scandal" in question is one of sexual assault or domestic violence. These stories perpetuate the notion that it's common for abuse to be an isolated incident, when, in reality, most men who assault women do it repeatedly. Many victims stay in dangerous relationships because they believe their abuser when he says he didn't mean it and will mend his ways. If the media is full of glowing stories about a guy who slipped up once but will never (we swear!) do it again, victims might get false hope that their abuser could also be redeemed, if they just hang in there long enough. 

April 15 2015 12:36 PM

Michelle MacLaren Deserves Better Than Wonder Woman

Back when a Wonder Woman movie was first announced, fans had mixed feelings. On one hand, it was exciting to hear that, finally, the main character in a big-budget superhero movie would be a woman. On the other hand, unlike lighthearted Marvel, D.C. mistakes moroseness for gravitas, even when it comes to Wonder Woman's costume. That's enough to drain away a lot of anticipation. 

Hopes kicked up when Michelle MacLaren, one of the more interesting directors on both Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, was picked to helm Wonder Woman—surely she could give us the Wonder Woman we deserve, who is feminist and fun instead of brooding and boring. Alas, our hopes were dashed when MacLaren exited the project, citing the usual "creative differences" with Warner Bros. A lot of the feminist press is bummed about this, and making matters worse, there's been chatter that the opinions of the joyless and hypermale sector of nerddom known as "fanboys" may have influenced the decision.

Advertisement

But I'm not bummed. It's hard to imagine that even MacLaren could have eked a fun Wonder Woman that could adhere to D.C.'s dreary tone. She shouldn't be hitching her wagon to this franchise. She should be doing something much cooler. 

And she might be doing just that. The Wrap reports that MacLaren is rumored to be in the running for the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, Marvel's first female-driven movie. While D.C. has "a history of underutilizing, underwriting and just plain ignoring their biggest female icon," as Shoshana Kessock explained in 2013, Captain Marvel has become a cult hit for Marvel Comics, particularly with female readers: She's a badass Air Force pilot who leads the Avengers and has a devout following of women who call themselves the Carol Corps. She even wears pants! She's a dynamic character who lacks Wonder Woman's baggage—with Captain Marvel, there's no particular need to dance around the tender sensitivities of the fandom. It's a much better vehicle for a talented director like MacLaren, and I hope that this rumor comes to pass. 

April 15 2015 12:03 PM

Congress Considers Bill to Help Domestic Violence Victims Escape With Their Pets

Last month, Republicans ruined a perfectly good bipartisan anti-sex trafficking bill by attaching amendments aimed at denying abortions to trafficking victims. After that debacle, you might have given up all hope for an across-the-aisle approach to reducing violence against women. But Annamarya Scaccia at RH Reality Check reports on a quiet but important bill, introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), that should appeal to victims' advocates and animal lovers alike. The bill is called the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, and it would give grant money to domestic violence shelters to set up programs for victims who need to bring pets with them when they escape. 

"Less than 5 percent of domestic violence shelters nationwide house pets," Scaccia reports, " ... but a real need exists for more: Research by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) shows between 18 and 48 percent of survivors delay vacating abusive situations because they fear their pet would be in danger if left behind."

Advertisement

As the ASPCA explains, men who beat women often beat and even kill those women's pets. In one study in Wisconsin, the ASPCA reports, "68 percent of battered women revealed that abusive partners had also been violent toward pets or livestock; more than three-quarters of these cases occurred in the presence of the women and/or children to intimidate and control them." 

It makes a grotesque kind of sense: Most of us love and want to protect our pets, and abusers are going to see that love as a weakness to be exploited. The fear that your abuser will hurt your pets to retaliate against you for leaving is very real, and in many cases, that threat is explicitly issued. And of course, abusive households can be just as stressful for pets as people. 

Momentum is growing behind this issue, as domestic violence activists create alliances with animal-related groups and companies such as the ASPCA and Purina, which has given the Urban Resource Initiative money to create dog parks for women living in domestic violence shelters. This new bill is part of that growing awareness—it's a common-sense measure that could help a lot of people at a very low cost. Let's just hope Republicans can resist tacking on an amendment banning pet owners from getting abortions. 

April 14 2015 4:22 PM

Gwyneth Paltrow Is on Food Stamps This Week. Stop Making Fun of Her.

Let’s get a few things out of the way. First of all, Goop is ridiculous, right? Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle empire is the pristine Fortress of Solitude for New York Times Style section superelites. It will make a chiffonade of your mockery and serve it back to you as garnish on a cucumber-dandelion-cayenne smoothie. But the latest Gwyneth contretemps—more on that in a second—is not about whether Goop should exist or whether people living in poverty can live their very best Goop lives. Per usual, it’s about whether Gwyneth Paltrow is entitled.

Specifically, it’s about whether Gwyneth Paltrow is entitled to participate in what is commonly known as a “SNAP challenge,” an exercise that asks people to live only at a food stamps–level budget for all of their food expenses, usually for about a week. Celebrities including Josh Groban, Hugh Jackman, and Sophia Bush have taken part, and so has Gwyneth’s ex Ben Affleck. Paltrow took up the SNAP challenge this week, posting a photo of her grocery cart and getting pan-seared for it by various online magazines and especially the Twitter masses. According to her critics, Gwyneth’s choices—she dared to include cilantro, limes, and a hot pepper, alongside black beans, eggs, and rice—are too Goop-y, photographed too preciously, not Dickensian enough. For some, it was not enough food (um, part of the point of the exercise?). In any case, it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Advertisement

To which I say: Cool your burners. In this case, we should all be Team Gwyneth.

SNAP is an acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—it’s what people mean when they use the dated term food stamps. For a single adult, an average SNAP benefit is around $28 per week, or less than $1.40 per meal. Depending on net monthly income, a family of four may receive about $160 per week. The great majority of SNAP users are either children, senior citizens, or people with disabilities, and nearly two-thirds of those kids are living in single-parent households, the majority of which are led by women. And inconsequential though those amounts may sound, this small benefit has helped lift millions of households out of poverty.

SNAP is on Gwyneth’s radar this week because, once again, it’s on conservative policymakers’ radar. Missouri State Rep. Rick Brattin recently introduced legislation that would ban the use of SNAP dollars for, among other food items, “seafood or steak.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants a clean drug test from SNAP applicants before they can receive benefits, even though time and again such initiatives only prove that people on assistance do not test positive at higher rates than the general population. Still other states are planning to lift waivers that permit able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs, to receive SNAP when they live in high-unemployment areas. Add to this to the House of Representatives’ own plan to convert SNAP to a block grant program—which would eventually kick millions off its rolls and reduce funding by $125 billion—and you have a supersized threat to what is arguably one of the most successful government programs currently in existence.

The SNAP challenge isn’t a perfect promotional opportunity for SNAP. It doesn’t address the fundamental, systemic issues that lead to hunger and food insecurity. It doesn’t even remotely begin to replicate the experience of living in poverty or needing SNAP. It can’t meaningfully recreate the ways in which persistent stress, lack of sleep, hunger, and just simply not having enough money affect the decision-making or well-being of people living in poverty, or how a lack of adequate transportation or community infrastructure can create barriers to accessing nutritious or fresh foods. And by providing a weekly food allowance, it doesn’t contemplate how difficult it can be to budget for an entire month’s groceries and still fill your basket with food that doesn’t come in a box or a can. It is simply not a facsimile of the lived lives of the people who actually depend upon and use SNAP.

And that’s OK. No one expects the people who complete the SNAP challenge—and those people include me—to have sudden-onset epiphanies about protecting the social safety net, or even to find the exercise all that challenging. Paltrow was asked to participate by her friend, renowned chef Mario Batali, who serves on the board of the Food Bank for New York City. Organizations and advocates who work on behalf of those who are homeless or living in poverty often use campaigns like the SNAP challenge or Walk in Their Shoes days to help support their cause and communicate to a wider audience. The point is not to offer an authentic experience, but to plant a seed of personal connection between serious issues (food insecurity, homelessness) and those whose wealth, power, and resources shield them from those issues. That personal connection can grow into advocacy, donations, or even simply a powerful (and free) marketing tool from the media it generates—resources that most nonprofits are perpetually hungry for.

And yes, we even need champions with FoodTV shows and rarefied lifestyle websites. People such as Batali and Tom Colicchio have evolved from chefs to celebrity chefs to charity-minded celebrity chefs to understanding that, as Colicchio says, “It’s about votes.” Colicchio has become vocal about food access and nutrition, not just on Twitter or at charitable galas, but in committee hearings with lawmakers and in print on editorial pages. He’s not alone. When Cory Booker, then-mayor of Newark, New Jersey, did a SNAP challenge, he shared its daily effects by blogging and tweeting throughout the week to his 1.5 million followers: how burning a sweet potato while living on a slim budget left him with the choice of eating the blackened food or going without anything; how the sheer boredom of the same food each day affected his mood; how his low energy reduced his attention span at work. His experience corroborated a strong policy argument for school breakfast and lunch programs.

Poverty issues need these privileged, wealthy champions because SNAP, like many government assistance programs, suffers from word-of-mouth mythology. Look under any article that mentions food stamps and you’ll undoubtedly read comments from those who insist that no one actually ever goes hungry in the United States. You’ll find at least three eagle-eyed people who have “seen someone on welfare in the grocery store” using their EBT card to make any number of illegal or in-the-eyes-of-the-beholder immoral purchases. Brattin himself claims he personally witnessed “people” using EBT cards to purchase “filet mignons and crab legs,” and goes so far as to call that “system abuse.” It’s like that old children’s game of telephone—each time the story is told, it gets more distorted yet accepted as correct.

Here’s the thing: There’s no “winning” a SNAP challenge. Perhaps the one thing it can accurately replicate is the judgment that both rich celebrities and underserved single moms can expect for even the smallest of personal decisions—putting a candy bar in your cart instead of an apple, or daring to buy a bag of coffee beans. Both Gwyneth and those probably-fictitious people buying crab legs can (and should) tell you: There’s nothing wrong with buying nice food with your EBT card.

Gwyneth Paltrow believes that good food is important—the sheer breadth and scale of Goop is proof enough of that. Is it really beyond the pale that she could make a good advocate for eliminating food deserts, for example, or maximizing SNAP benefits at farmers markets? We don’t yet know if taking the SNAP challenge is her version of empathy-chic, but good grief, give her a chance. And give organizations like the NYC Food Bank the chance to deputize powerful people to help their cause. If GOOP is truly the cultural opposite of food stamps, then maybe Gwyneth Paltrow is exactly the right person to learn from a SNAP challenge.

This article represents the writer's views and not necessarily those of her employer.

April 14 2015 3:14 PM

A Miscarrying Woman Was Denied Medication Because of “Conscience”

Earlier this month, in my piece about the Purvi Patel “feticide” case in Indiana, I predicted increased harassment of women who are miscarrying, on the suspicion that they're trying to obtain misoprostol to induce abortions. (Because the drug expels the contents of the uterus, misoprostol can be used both in abortions and to treat incomplete miscarriages.) That day has come already to Milledgeville, Georgia, where Brittany Cartrett claims that a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for misoprostol that her doctor prescribed for her miscarriage. 

After discussion with my Doctor, we decided to go the less invasive route and choose a medicine that I could take at home to help miscarry naturally, especially since my body wants to hold on to the little miracle. I get a phone call from the doctor stating that the ‪#‎Walmart‬ in Milledgeville, GA (yes the one I used to work at) doesn't feel comfortable with filling this prescription. She was going to call and figure out what is going on and call me back. Well about 5 minutes later she calls and says, "They won't fill it. They won't tell me why. But they won't fill it." So we find another place to fill it and I thank her. ....They WON'T fill it. Not that they CAN'T. But they WON'T. Now, I have another prescription there that I have to get. So I go up to Walmart and I get my prescription and the #Walmart pharmacist comes to me for my consultation and asks If I have any questions. I tell her yes, but not about this one. I ask her why they refused to fill the other prescription I had. She looks at me, over her nose and says "Because I couldn't think of a reason why you would need that prescription." ..... Excuse me?! I tell her my reasons for needing it, and she says "Well, I don't feel like there is a reason why you would need it, so we refused to fill it."
Advertisement

WGXA followed up with Walmart and found pharmacist Sandip Patel, “who said he was aware of the situation and also said that pharmacists have the ability to turn down prescriptions at their own discretion.” Georgia law has broad provisions allowing pharmacists to refuse service based on “conscience.”

Abortion-inducing medications are troubling for the anti-choice movement, because they blur the biological difference between miscarriage and abortion; many miscarriages are only resolved through the very same interventions used to terminate pregnancies at will. As Cartrett's alleged experiences suggest, the blurring creates suspicion. Appointing a bunch of busybody pharmacists as informal judges over whether you are emptying your uterus for the right reasons is a terrible idea that only compounds the pain of a miscarriage. But it's unavoidable if we continue taking away women's discretion over their own pregnancies—even when those pregnancies are over.

thinkstockphotos152110776

April 14 2015 12:53 PM

Why Is Jeb Bush Touting His Role in the Terri Schiavo Debacle?

Jeb Bush has complained about “the narratives” that paint him as a moderate Republican, insisting (truthfully) that he's in fact very conservative. In the effort to solidify his right-wing bona fides in a recent interview with Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, Bush highlighted the role he played in one of the biggest Christian-right debacles of the George W. Bush presidency: the Terri Schiavo case. 

Answering Daly's question about his views on “the issue of life, generally,” Bush affirmed that “the most vulnerable in our society need to be protected.” He first highlighted his efforts to make it harder to get a legal abortion in Florida, including new parental-notification rules and funding for so-called crisis pregnancy centers. “Terri Schiavo is another example of this,” Bush continued, “where our laws in our country, and Florida in particular, made it hard for us to do this”—“this” meaning “protect life.” “I did this all within the confines of the power I had,” he concluded.

Advertisement

That's one way to put it. Another way to put it is that Bush overstepped his authority as governor of Florida and, in a naked display of pandering to the religious right, waged an ugly war on a private citizen, Michael Schiavo, whose only crime was wanting to put his wife to rest after more than a decade in a persistent vegetative state, after her brain had atrophied to less than half its weight. As Michael Keegan of the People for the American Way reminds readers this month at Huffington Post, Bush pushed through a laughably unconstitutional law trying to usurp Michael Schiavo's marital rights to remove his wife's feeding tube. When the Supreme Court upheld the decision to strike down the law, Bush tried to go over their heads to his brother, the president. Even after Terri Schiavo died, Bush continued his baffling attacks on Michael Schiavo, pushing a prosecutor to open an investigation insinuating that the man had somehow tried to let his wife die when she first collapsed into a coma 15 years before. 

“He should be ashamed,” Michael Schiavo told Politico in January. “And I think people really need to know what type of person he is. To bring as much pain as he did, to me and my family, that should be an issue.”

Families quietly let the bodies of brain-dead patients die every day without having the governor imply they should be tried for murder. In fact, hospitals sometimes pull the plug against familial wishes simply because of inability to pay, without a single peep from Terri Schiavo's self-appointed defenders. At the time, a majority of Americans disapproved of the efforts to interfere with Michael Schiavo's decision to remove his wife's feeding tube. The grotesque theater around trying to keep this one patient alive served the anti-abortion movement's larger cause, of trying to brand itself as a global “pro-life” movement.

The Schiavo campaign was also the beginning of an overall shift in anti-choice messaging, away from claims to be protecting innocent babies from their slut mothers and toward protecting women from the selfish men (like heartless Michael Schiavo) who use and discard women. That narrative persists in the anti-choice world, where abortion patients are painted as hapless victims who need to be protected from cads and the greedy abortion doctors who want to profit off them.

Bush could probably shove the whole Schiavo mess down the memory hole, pretend it never happened. Not only were his actions rejected by most Americans at the time, but the press coverage appeared to have inspired an uptick in interest in signing living wills. That Bush has decided instead to highlight his ghoulish behavior in preparation for a presidential run suggests that he, like his brother before him, is aggressively courting the religious right. That might be enough to win him the Republican nomination, but as conservative Christianity is in decline, it's a risky proposition for getting into the White House. 

READ MORE STORIES