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Change the Subject

The juxtaposition of the controversy over President Obama speaking at Notre Dame, a newly released Gallup poll finding that a majority of Americans are anti-choice, and a governmental report on the increasing rate of nonmarital childbearing highlights the challenges of reproductive rights in American life and politics. Abortion is an intrinsically divisive issue, and it has become a focal point for values conflict. What we really need to do is to change the subject, from abortion to contraception.

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the analysis of red families v. blue families I’m writing with Professor June Carbone. Reproductive issues – specifically abortion – retain their ability to rally the red paradigm base. Conservatives can’t stop talking about abortion; abortion is, in the words of one political commentator, “their meal ticket.” It remains the family values issues least amenable to compromise. Indeed, the Gallup poll measuring abortion views found little change in the views of Democrats. Instead, the increase in pro-life attitudes comes from those who identify as conservatives and moderates. Read More

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Braking Away

One of the benefits of being at GW is that I get to talk to Dan Solove in person. When I saw him on Wednesday, he reminded me that blogging doesn’t always have to be about my past books or future projects. Thanks, Dan!Traffic Sign

Depending on where you live, today or tomorrow is “Bike to Work” Day.  Bicycles have been around the US since at least 1866, when Pierre Lallement received patent no. 59,915 for a velocipede.  I’ve been an avid year-round bike commuter for 8 years now (aside from my 2 years in Kinshasa, Congo, when I couldn’t walk around the block without an escort), and, like most zealots, I like to proselytize. Now that I’ve converted to a bike commuter, I extol the economic and environmental benefits of riding:  bicycles don’t use any fossil fuels to get you from one place to another; an 8-mile bicycle trip keeps out about 15 pounds of pollutants from the air we are breathing; and somewhere between 6-20 bikes can be parked in one car parking space (mine is parked as a piece of art in my office).  Just as importantly, however, bike commuting is really fun. It is fast: even at my pace on the bike of 10-15 mph, I breeze right past people in cars. And it’s wonderful for my mental health. One of my friends interviewed me for a story she wrote for Good Housekeeping magazine (!) about how people find serenity. I told her I find serenity through writing articles and blog posts, but she wasn’t convinced; not until I told her about my bike commuting did she put pen to paper. So, as one corporate sports giant might say, Just do it!

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Government Lawyers’ Ethical Obligations and the War on Terror

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post this week had stories on a forthcoming DOJ Report expected to slam several of the Bush Administration lawyers’ for ethical lapses in preparing various memos justifying questionable techniques in the War on Terror. Both articles also addressed calls for disbarring those lawyers, as well as for impeaching Jay Bybee, who is now a federal judge.

These stories stress the importance of government lawyers’ advisory role and start from the assumption that there is a sort of “truth” about what the law is on a particular matter. That need not mean that there is only one “right” answer, but it does mean that some answers are outside the realm of the plausible; that even within the plausible, the case for some answers is far weaker than for others; and that there are widely understood standards for what is “good lawyering,” including adequate research, factual investigation, consideration of opposing arguments, and sensitivity to the practical effects of government policy.

The articles also assume that government lawyers as advisors have an obligation to tell their client things he or she might not care to know, to act as the government’s conscience, and to be attentive to history and constitutional values as much as case law precedent. I agree with these assumptions and write only to direct the reader to two new books with much to say about these matters — books worthy of careful study and debate by all who are interested, but particularly by those who are or hope to be government lawyers serving in advisory roles. Those books are Peter M. Shane’s Madison’s Nightmare: How Executive Power Threatens American Democracy and Jefferson H. Powell’s Constitutional Conscience: The Moral Dimension of Judicial Decision. My post today will be brief and focus on Shane’s book. A future post will focus on Powell’s book.

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Our Newest Ambassador

I wasn’t going to say anything about Bristol Palin’s new job, but then a friend sent me a column in today’s New York Timesabout Ms. Palin. In case you missed this news item, Ms. Palin (18 and nonmarital mother of baby Tripp) has become a teen ambassador for the Candie’s Foundation, which is supposed to educate us about how we can fight teen pregnancy. To market its message, the Foundation is selling tank tops for $15 with the slogan, “I’m Sexy enough . . . to keep you waiting.” (Disclosure: I should note that I tottered around in my 3-inch Candie’s high heel shoes several decades ago, but have given them up for shoes from The Walking Company.)

The overall message from the website is that teens should wait. On its webpage, “Tips for Teens,” the Foundation asks, “What should you know?” and then replies:

Did you know that over 90% of teens believe that it’s important that they get a strong message about waiting to have sex? In fact, 60% of teens who have had sex wish they had waited longer and 75% don’t see anything embarrassing about admitting that they’re virgins. Clearly, teens in the 21st century are recognizing merit in putting off sex and the consequences – both physical and emotional – that are attached to sex.

I think encouraging teen abstinence is incredibly important, even more so now that my younger daughter has just joined the ranks of teen-agers. But I think it is even more important not to let encouraging abstinence get in the way of discouraging pregnancy. The U.S. has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed work — three in ten women will experience pregnancy before the age of 20, a very scary statistic. And those rates are almost certainly higher than they need be because of the energy we devote to encouraging abstinence. As Ms. Palin so clearly, vividly, and painfully shows, abstinence is not realistic.

June Carbone and I have observed that there is no evidence that abstinence-only education in fact makes abstinence until marriage more likely, or produces a decline in either teen or non-marital births.

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