Postage for Pakistan and other parts of the planet

Friday, April 13, 2012

The need for intellectual honesty


Because of my love and concern for the Cappella degli Scrovegni (Scrovegni Chapel) in Padua, I joined an organization called avaaz.org in order to sign a petition urging the Padovan city council to do everything possible to save this priceless human treasure that is threatened by urban development (the chapel houses the one of first major fresco cycles of the Renaissance and thus in Western art since the fall of the Roman Empire, it’s by Giotto, and it’s spectacular).
Ever since then, they've sent me other petitions to sign, and I received the latest one tonight.
They asked me to stand with them in opposition to a bill in the Honduran Congress that is about to become law. It would make illegal the use, prescription, or sale of the morning after pill (MAP). (See here for an article on the previous and identical 2009 legislation.)
That they would oppose this sort of thing is more than expected by left of center organizations. Other big causes right now are “Save the Rhinos!” and a campaign to stop the re-launch of Rupert Murdoch’s “News of the World” and “The Sun,” both UK newspapers (Murdoch, in case you don’t know, owns Fox News and other editorially conservative outlets). The big endorsement quote comes from Al Gore, who credits the group from “making a big difference.”
They are also supporting some causes that are not typically left/right, such as the controversial Internet bill in the US Congress that Google and Wikipedia et al are fighting. Additionally, they’re decrying and trying to put a stop to the sexual traffic and murder of Mayan women. On this last one, I gladly stand with them.
That said, with the MAP issue, given that I support the Church’s teaching on contraception (and would even if I was not Catholic given the Natural Law arguments), I would have ignored the issue, deleted the e-mail, and moved on, except for one thing: The language they used to prompt support for their campaign concerning the Honduran situation. Since I can’t know their hearts, I won’t call it lying.
However, at best the organization’s team did some very poor research or fudged the facts to present the most compelling case to its base. While that may not qualify as an out-and-out lie, it is intellectually dishonest and thus immoral.
To wit, they write, the “religious lobby ... erroneously defines the morning after pill as ‘abortion’.”
On the contrary, the morning after pill is an abortifacient. As reported by Catholic News Agency, the Department of Medicine in Public Health of the University of Bielefeld (Germany) conducted a study that was published in the magazine Fertility and Sterility. The “study used data from multiple clinical studies with advanced mathematical models and concluded that if emergency contraception only inhibited ovulation, its true effectiveness would only range between 8-49 percent.
“If it acted before ovulation and if it inhibited ovulation completely, its true effectiveness would be between 16-90 percent. The rest of the pill’s effectiveness consists in its anti-implantation mechanisms, which cause an abortion.”
A 2001 article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology titled “Effectiveness of emergency contraceptive pills between 72 and 120 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse,” by Isabel Rodrigues, Fabienne Grou, Jacques Joly states that preventing implantation of a fertilized egg is “probably the main mechanism of action of the morning after pill.” (See Volume 184, Issue 4, March 2001, pp. 531-537.)
An article on the subject I found at the excellent Canadian website, catholiceducation.org says, “The MAP may unfavorably alter the endometrial lining of the uterus regardless of when in the cycle it is used, with the effect persisting for days. The reduced rates of observable pregnancy in women who use MAP in the pre-ovulatory, ovulatory, and post-ovulatory phases are consistent with a post-fertilization effect, an abortion.”
Citing a 1998 article in theBritish medical journal The Lancet, the article then says, “The MAP is of two main types; one is a combination of estrogen and a progestogen and the other is a progestogen only. The former can act as a contraceptive by inhibiting ovulation, or it may cause an abortion by preventing implantation. The latter acts primarily as an abortifacient. The abortifacient progestogen type of MAP is currently in common use because it causes less nausea and vomiting than the combined type and is significantly more effective.”
In addition to misstating the case here, they couch the situation in Honduras as being like that in other Latin American countries with regards to sexual assault (“Emergency contraception is vital for women everywhere, but especially in countries where sexual violence against women is out of control”).
It is true that several Latin American countries have relatively high rates of sexual violence. This is not at all true, however, for Honduras.
In 1995, that nation’s rape rate was (depending on your source) .27 or .37 per 100,000 (I didn’t look at it for the US in that year). The nation’s 1998 rate was 1.17. That is higher, even a steep increase. Compared with 34.4 for the US, though, it’s practically non-existent. Indeed, Honduras’ sexual assault rate is below that of every industrialized country.
Now, certainly, women there are more likely to suffer from domestic abuse than they are in the US. However, while criminal and heinous, physical violence is not ipso facto sexual assault “requiring” the morning after pill.
I worked in politics for quite some time in communications. I fully understand the desire to fudge facts to make them say what you want them to. In the end, however, doing so only hurts one’s cause if someone is willing to do due diligence and exposes the duplicity.
Hopefully, this organization and all others like it—whatever its motivating politics or creed—will realize that their interests and those of the common good are best served by being transparent and honest.

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