Monthly Archives: March 2011

Climate Change Poses Challenges to Food Security in the Southwest

Check out my first story for the Institute of the Environment: Climate Change Poses Challenges to Food Security in the Southwest.


Chipping Away at Abortion Rights Bit by Bit

This was my final project in my Reporting class last semester. I’m just now getting around to posting it.


Chipping Away at Abortion Rights Bit by Bit

One in 3 women in the U.S. will have at least 1 abortion before the age of 45.

That statistic, from the Center for Reproductive Rights, can be attributed to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion for all women in the U.S.

Yet since that landmark ruling, anti-abortion groups have been working diligently. In the absence of an outright reversal on Roe, they’ve been chipping away bit by bit at the ability of women to access abortion, at both the federal and the state levels. And the chips are adding up, particularly over the last few years.

As a result of these efforts, abortion is inaccessible to millions of American women, primarily low-income women. And with the results of the recent midterm elections, it looks as though abortion might become even more inaccessible.

On that note, some experts say they see signs indicating we might be entering a new era in the struggle for abortion rights.

For the first time since 1995, 3 consecutive Gallup Polls on abortion have found that more Americans, 47 percent, identify as anti-abortion, while only 45 percent support abortion rights. The May 14, 2010 Gallup Poll concluded that although the margin is small, a real shift is taking place in public opinion on this issue.

However, it’s not just a shift in public opinion. States are placing increasingly restrictive limitations on access to abortion, including here in Ariz., that has some abortion rights advocates worried.

“I do think there is a concern. The right wing is becoming more right wing, and it’s harder to find a good middle ground,” Lisa Pearlstein, Health and Reproductive Rights Fellow at the National Women’s Law Center said.

At least 5 of our newly elected state representatives believe life begins at conception. They want to see abortion criminalized, and would make no exceptions, even in cases of rape and incest. Protecting the life of the mother doesn’t seem to be a dependable compromise on this issue anymore, either.

State representative-elects Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), Francisco Canseco (R-Tex.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) wouldn’t make exceptions for abortion even if the life of the mother were in danger.

This is not just rhetoric. More restrictive beliefs on abortion are being woven into legislation that limit access to abortion at both the federal and state levels.

Part of President Barack Obama’s health care plan, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which passed earlier this year, will require each state to set up an insurance exchange by 2014. The uninsured will be required to purchase insurance from them.

Each individual state will be responsible for setting up the exchanges, and will determine what gets covered and how it will be funded.

“One of the biggest debates right now is whether abortion will be covered under these exchanges,” Pearlstein said.

Under the Nelson Amendment, Pearlstein says that, “each state can pass a law that prohibits abortion coverage in the entire exchange. These laws can’t be challenged. The Affordable Care Act specifically says that states can do this.”

Arizona was the first state to pass such a law. In April, Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1305, which prohibits the use of public funds to cover abortions, except if the mother’s life is in danger, but not in cases of rape or incest. It will also opt Ariz. out of providing coverage for abortions in the state’s exchange as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Louisiana also passed similar laws. Both the Tenn. and La. laws make no exceptions for rape or incest, or for the health of the mother. Pearlstein said she expects to see many more states passing similar laws in 2011.

Yet, anti-abortion advocates here in Ariz. were pleased with SB 1305. “It’s a good start in prohibiting our tax dollars from being used to fund abortions,” said Jinny Perron, former president of Arizona Right to Life.  Calling abortion “America’s Holocaust,” Perron added that although she was pleased with the legislation, the best scenario would be “legislation that would eliminate the legality of abortion altogether.”

This raises an interesting question concerning the likelihood of criminalizing abortion across the board. If Roe were overturned, jurisdiction on abortion would return to the state. However, there’s currently no consensus on when Roe could be overturned, and if it were, what might happen on a state-by-state basis.

“Some people think that if Roe were overturned, there would be slow reinstatement of abortion rights, state by state. I think the current political climate makes that unlikely. Rather, there would again be some states that protected the right and others that did not. So women would again have to travel to get these services,” said Toni Massaro, riepe chair in constitutional law at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona.

Yet Massaro also pointed out that Roe has been narrowed in recent years, and most experts now look to Gonzales v. Carhart to reflect the current state of the law on abortion. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to outlaw what some call the “partial-birth abortion” procedure. The ruling made an exception to protect the life of the mother, but not the health of the mother.

According to a May, 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, this was the first time the Supreme Court permitted congressional judgment to replace medical judgment. Prior to that, the Court upheld the importance of non-interference in physicians’ medical judgments in protecting a patient’s health. The significance of this ruling is being felt at the state level.

Massaro says this is because, “as the court retreats, it gives the states more legislative leeway to impose restrictions on reproductive rights.”

This has emboldened those pushing for tougher anti-abortion legislation. In the coming years Massaro says, “we can expect to see legislation designed to test, indeed to exceed, the existing limits on state legislative power to regulate abortion.”

“There is no doubt that the political pressure to write increasingly strict laws regarding the woman’s right to choose is a major development,” Massaro said.

This does indeed seem to be a major development. Anti-abortion advocates within the political sphere have traditionally only been able to restrict the use of federal funds for abortions. The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, accomplished this.

Former U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) sponsored the budget amendment, which prohibited Medicaid from covering abortions. Before the Hyde Amendment, Medicaid paid for almost one-third, approximately 300,000, of abortions annually.

This result of the Hyde Amendment is that the most vulnerable, low-income women, often can’t access abortion because they can’t afford to pay out of pocket for abortion services. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 18 – 35 percent of women who would have had an abortion carried their pregnancies to term after the Hyde Amendment cut off federal funding for abortions.

Additionally, the Hyde Amendment now also prohibits coverage of abortion in the military’s TRICARE program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, federal prisons, Indian Health Service, the Peace Corps, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This leaves millions more American women to fend for themselves if they want or need an abortion.

The original text of the Hyde Amendment made no exceptions for abortion. However abortion rights advocates challenged the amendment, and were able to include exceptions for cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. This has generally been the acceptable compromise, but that is changing now, too.

Pearlstein says she sees a shift taking place with states now going after private insurance companies, and not just public funds anymore, to prevent them from covering abortion. Moreover, the traditional exceptions are often not being incorporated into state-level legislation. “That’s what’s new and what’s really scary right now,” Pearlstein said.

Additionally, the numbers of restrictive laws states are passing are on the rise. “Every year, quite a few states propose quite a few bills, some 500 – 600 bills per year, that would impact women’s reproductive rights. However, in the past few years, particularly in 2010, we saw quite a few of these bills pass… particularly in Oklahoma, which passed 7 anti choice bills, and also in Nebraska,” Jordan Goldberg, state advocacy council with the Center for Reproductive rights said.

“It’s important to understand that states have enormous power to impact women’s access to reproductive health care,” Goldberg added.

Idaho, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Missouri, and North Dakota have all passed laws banning all insurance coverage of abortion. And Arizona has passed some very restrictive laws in recent years, in addition to SB 1305.

In 2009, Ariz. passed SB 2564. The bill requires a woman to wait at least 24 hours before obtaining an abortion after her first trip to the abortion provider. As a result, women must make multiple trips to the doctor.

The bill also allows a pharmacies, hospitals and health professionals to abstain from providing abortion services and prescribing abortion medication or emergency contraception, if they object to these practices on moral or religious grounds.

The bill also carried other requirements that have since been enjoined, such as having minors present notarized permission slips from their parents in order to obtain an abortion.

It also stated that physicians tell their patients in person that assistance benefits may be available for prenatal care, childbirth and neonatal care, that the father of the child is liable to assist in the support of the child, and that public and private agencies are available to assist a woman during her pregnancy and after childbirth, if she chooses not to have an abortion.  This part of the bill has also been enjoined.

Opponents of the bill, such as Planned Parenthood say it further restricts a woman’s ability to access reproductive health care, and that the impact will be most severe among low-income women.

“Eighty-seven percent of counties do not have an abortion provider in Ariz. So, you’ll have to make an appointment, go to the provider, and then come back 24 hours later. You’ll have to stay somewhere, pay for travel expenses, food, etc. By setting up these barriers, the residual effect is that it impacts low-income women more. These kinds of barriers always impact the poor disproportionately, always,” said Michelle Steinberg, director of public policy with Planned Parenthood Arizona.

Yet groups like Arizona Right to Life and the Center for Arizona Policy strongly support such legislation, saying it empowers women to make better choices about reproductive health. These groups also play a significant role in shaping and helping to pass anti-abortion legislation in Ariz.

And according to Perron, these groups feel more empowered now that they have a governor who will sign anti-abortion legislation into law.

So is there any room left for negotiation or compromise on this issue? Would a conflict resolution approach help to navigate this highly polarized and divisive issue? Don’t count on it.

“Opinions on abortion are non-negotiable.  They speak the core identity of each person, and to change or compromise one’s position is to change or compromise one’s identity, one’s very personality,” said Brien Hallet, associate professor in Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaii.

“Conversion, as Paul on the road to Damascus, is possible and happens, but a sit down negotiation to resolve a difference on this issue is not possible,” Hallett said.

It seems Hallett might be correct. Abortion rights groups, such as the National Women’s Law Center, have vowed to continue the struggle to protect a woman’s right to access abortion. “We are working to ensure that Roe v. Wade is never overturned, and working on a daily basis to ensure that women have access to reproductive healthcare,” Pearlstein said.

As for the other side, there doesn’t seem to be any room to budge there either.

“An anti-abortion agenda should always override choice, because what we are talking about is an act of violence that kills a child and harms a woman. There is no room for compromise. No one has the right to determine who should live and who should die in the name of choice.  Abortion is never a solution.” Perron said.

“Libya: Oil, Guns & the World Economy”

Alright folks, that’s it for the live blogging of this event. I’d like to make a disclaimer once again: I have not been quoting people directly for the most part, but rather paraphrasing. In addition, I can’t guarantee that I have paraphrased correctly at all times, or recorded the vast amount of information covered by the panel accurately or completely at all times, though I did my best.

Question and Answer session with the audience: Some take away points from the panel at the University of Arizona “Libya: Oil, Guns & the World Economy”

Audience Question: How do you feel about the characterization of Libya as a civil war?

Answer: Dr. Khaled Hadeli: It’s not a civil war. It’s between the rebels and the government; it’s not between tribes.

Audience Question: Is there a future for the army defectors and the rebels who are fighting?

Answer: Johann Chacko: Whole units and whole bases defected at one time, so there is organization that has been preserved amongst some of the defectors. However, they are hesitant to be offensive. They will start to seek out collaboration with the army, and there is potential for major promotion. Organization will happen along the way. This thing will drag out if the international community continues to waffle. Taking the Libyan government’s air power out of the equation will help tremendously.

Dr. Hudson: The biggest challenge is geography – how do you get from the East to the West? As the rebels try to make their way from town to town, they are completely exposed to the air force. The whole discourse now is about the no fly zone. Many are hesitant about this in the aftermath of American interventions elsewhere in the region. Most of the revenue producing oil fields are in the east, which is under rebel control.

Dr. Khaled Hadeli: this revolution was triggered by Tunisia and Egypt, but they were civilian people protesting, not coming directly against the government. They were completely surprised by the response from the army. The civilians were in some cases able to overcome the army and push Qaddafi’s forces back. But to reiterate, they were civilians: doctors, lawyers, students, etc., who came out to protest. They were not organized as a rebel force; this is not a civil war.

There’s a lot of talk about civil war; even the Red Cross is saying this. These were peaceful protesters who were attacked with guns, who took the guns and fought back. This is a government attacking its own people.

If you look at the most loyal people to Qaddafi, they are coming out and saying that Qaddafi is a nutcase, you need to stop him. Rumors are that families of newly appointed ambassadors  are being held hostage by Qaddafi. So, those coming out in support of Qaddafi are maybe in some cases doing so under duress and against their will.

Dr. Abdul Fellah: There is a need to focus on the structure of organizations at this point, not individuals who might follow Qaddafi in power once he’s ousted.

Dr. Bonine asks, what if Qaddafi hangs on, what if he wins?

Ahmed Meiloud responds: This is the most important question. They already saw what happened to Ben Ali and Mubarak. But, unless the opposition develops greater technology or fighting capability, there is a good chance that Qaddafi can hang on for a very long time. Libya is at a better advantage than Egypt and Tunisia if he is ousted because there is not such a widespread system of corruption. If Qaddafi is toppled, they can build a nation right away.

Johann Chacko: dictators make contingency plans because they are paranoid. This is the reason Qaddafi kept the army weak. We should take Seif al-Islam’s speech seriously – he talked about dividing Libya, putting up fences and requiring passports to go from one area to the other. This is a very real possibility. For those who want to see Qaddafi go, it’s important not to buy into the idea of partition because this is the only way Qaddafi can hold on.

Comment from audience member from Libya: the main slogan of the population said “Tripoli is the capital.”

Dr. Abdul Felah: electricity, water and internet have been cut. There is a growing humanitarian crisis; neighboring countries are under stress from refugees – they have just undergone revolutions themselves and can’t support the number of refugees flooding into their borders.

Europe and U.S. have discussed possible options including a no-fly zone, we are awaiting to hear the decision. Islamic Relief is providing humanitarian relief. On a daily basis, hundreds are killed, thousand are injured.

Dr. Khaled Hadeli: There is a power struggle within the family, many of the children would gladly see him go if they could seize power. But they are not on the sidelines watching and trying to stop dad from going crazy. They are all in this together, there is no maintaining power in the family if Qaddafi goes.

Last audience question: Why not impose a naval blockade rather than a no-fly zone? Johann Chacko: what’s important to remember is that Qaddafi is able to channel resources and support through a couple of channels – one is the airport. The other area through which he’s drawing support is through the enormous land border in the south. A no-fly zone and a naval blockade are not silver bullets.

Answer: Ahmed Meiloud: a lot of military officers are being liquidated. It’s not that the military is not defecting anymore, but that they might be killed if they do, and they need some incentive to defect. Anti-aircraft missiles would take the air force component out of the equation – the Libyan air power is not that massive – so give these guys some training. This could work better than a no-fly zone.

Dr. Abdul Fellah: The no-fly zone is to protect innocent people there, to keep mercenaries from being flown in. Libyans are hungry for liberty, for independence, for freedom of speech – that’s why you see them uniting under the true Libyan flag.

“Libya: Oil, Guns & the World Economy”

Dr. Leila Hudson: Assistant Professor, Near Eastern Studies


9th largest oil reserves in the world, 1st largest in Africa, in stable times it’s the 17th largest producer, 3rd largest producer in Africa, accounts for 2% of world production. It’s very high quality oil, very cheap to produce. In some of the fields you can produce a barrel for $1. There are 2 million barrels produced per day.

Over the last three weeks, there’s been a dramatic fall off in production. 500 thousand barrels a day now being produced. This is causing alarm, but a slack has been taken up, OPEC members are increasing production. Oil in Libya is produced by the National Oil Company of Libya, which is down 50% in its production.

Libyan oil goes primarily to Europe: 32% to Italy, 14% to Germany, 10% to France and Spain (I could not type fast enough to include the other statistics).

There are two distinct oil producing systems in Libya. The one in the East, in the Benghazi area, is under rebel control. The most brutal and ongoing fighting is in the Western part of the country. This is where the refinery and infrastructure for oil production is located.

Because the stakes are high in relation to oil, and oil is key to the re-establishment of a more democratic Libya, the violence in this area is high and intense.

Dr. Hudson is now showing a map of the foreign oil contracts who have investments in Libya. There are many foreign interests in Libya. There are also many other players outside the system who have an interest in Libyan oil.

What’s happening right now: France is spearheading the no-fly zone effort. Also the first to recognize the new Benghazi government. The biggest subsidiary of Libya’s national oil company, ADOCO (spelling?), has begun to separate from its parent company. It has outlets spread out over Libya, and controls some of the southwestern oil field. What seems to be underway now, is attempts by this corporate entity to make its own arrangements with outside companies thereby channeling revenue to the Benghazi government.

“Libya: Oil, Guns & the World Economy”

Johann Chacko: M.A. Candidate Near Eastern Studies

Current situation:

Qaddafi still controls Tripoli, Al-Khums, Ziltan and Sorman. Tripoli has a large, substantial airport and significant population, as well as Qaddafi’s power base. All of these factors make it strong. But it also has vulnerabilities.

Qaddafi would like to secure Mitsurata; it’s on the road to Tripoli and has a significant population.

How Qaddafi ran the military and security services: he’s had an unhappy relationship with his own military, and because of that has had to keep it weak. The greatest threat to a dictator is his own military. Qaddafi spent enormously on arms purchases from the Soviet Union and off and on from the French, but not much of this equipment is actually operational. There was no institutional solidity in the military, unlike Egypt and Tunisia.

Now he is showing a picture of anti-Qaddafi rebels shooting at the airplanes that are bombing them.

These rebels are not well armed, and are not well trained. However, there are defecting members of Qaddafi’s army. They have more training, better organization and better equipment. But, they are not willing to take the same risks as the other rebels against Qaddafi. However, these are the people who will play a big role in future confrontations, and possibly in removing Qaddafi.

The number of defensive actions Qaddafi can take are limited as well. The tanks stop when you remove the key.

The possibility of intervention:

Military intervention already underway to remove foreign nationals. In the last few years we’ve become good pals with Qaddafi. The silver lining is that we have contacts in his inner circle, who we might be able to convince to give up the ghost.

“Libya: Oil, Guns & the World Economy”

Ahmed Meiloud: M.A. Candidate,  Near Eastern Studies

Qaddafi and The Green Book:

The King of Africa and his psychology: Qaddafi thought he would be able to fill the shoes of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, whom he idolized. He realized he wouldn’t become a great pan-Arab leader like Nasser, but thought he could become a great scholar. The Green Book refutes, summarizes and replaces capitalism and Marxism.

Most important aspect of the Green Book is that people do not need rulers, they should rule themselves. But really this meant that the people should choose Qaddafi. Qaddafi never really thought that he needed to abide by what he wrote (or plagiarized) in the book.

People should be free, should express themselves freely (noted especially in the section on freedom of the press).

Every person is free, even an insane person is free to express his insanity (including Qaddafi – audience laughs).

Qaddafi’s family: The family is quite large, but not all of them are important in the governance of Libya, but they all have more than their fair share of Libyan oil revenue.

His sons: Qaddafi relies upon them for security, and for repressing the current revolution. One of the sons is a party animal, and Qaddafi doesn’t like him much. The last son has attempted to divert growing religiosity.  The daughter is close to Qaddafi, and plays a diplomatic role within the family.

“Libya: Oil, Guns & the World Economy”

Dr. Khaled Hadeli: Consultant Physician and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, UA

Qaddafi: He went into the military academy in 1961, graduated in 1966. Dr. Hadeli will break Qaddafi’s carrer into 4 segments.

As he took power he promoted himself to a colonel. He took over tribal traditions of governing, he disassembled all the institutions. When you see him ranting, the next day whatever he was ranting about became law. This is how legislation happens in Libya.

The universities, both students and professors, asked that the government be turned over to the people, and not be governed by the military. Qaddafi responded with tanks and guns, killing some university students and professors.

He tried to demand union with Egypt and Tunisia. Egypt denied him, Tunisia entertained the thought for a few days. The idea died shortly thereafter.

The Green Book consists of scattered thoughts and scattered ideas and social theories that were available. The Green Book is what Qaddafi relies upon to rule.

The house belongs to he who lives in it. No need to pay rent to owners, but must pay rent to the government. He did away with organized institutions and positions, every institution is headed by a people’s committee. Anyone who shouts louder and praises Qaddafi more will be running the show in each institution.

Qaddafi instituted Marshall Law, employs assassination, particularly those who ask for civilian rule as opposed to military rule. There have been a few attempts on his own life.

1980s: economic reform. Qaddafi closed the funds of oil in the vault, which no one could touch. So the country needed to be run by other revenue. There were no private businesses, everything belonged to the government.

Qaddafi always denied that he gave orders for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, (but he did?)

Qaddafi abandoned the teaching of English in schools in 1980s, and banned music equipment in schools because he was unhappy with the West, and President Regan especially.

1990s: Controversy that he infected 300 children with HIV, which he accused nurses of doing. He had to pay large sums of money to escape sanctions.

2000s: the second generation (Qaddafi’s sons) are grown now. There was a wave of attempted reforms in the country, this produced clashes between the old and newer generations.