Are We Living “Normal?”

Ed Raymond

Of Miscarriages, Gold Toilets, And Homophobia

English writer C.S. Lewis was thinking of the start of war in 1939 when giving a sermon at Oxford University he expressed the following: “Human life has always lived on the edge of a precipice. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.” Maybe we should say normal human life is always abnormal. Here we are, eighty years later, involved again in military, religious, economic, and culture wars. Humans are so unpredictable. 

The Saudis are currently building the Jeddah Tower which will be over 3,000 feet tall and cost over $1 billion. According to experts, it will never pay for itself, but it will bring status to the country and its leadership. Too bad so many poor people live in the Middle East. But the pyramids were built for leadership status thousands of years ago. People were very poor then, too.

How would you like to conduct your daily ablutions sitting on a solid gold 18-carat toilet?  It will be ready for use at Blenheim Palace very near Winston Churchill’s birthroom.. This is a workable used toilet. This “artwork” created by Maurizio Cattelan was installed in the Guggenheim in New York in 2016 and drew “constipated” crowds that would wait in line for two hours to sit on the gold throne. Over 100,000 New Yorkers sat down and immortalized themselves by selfies and various attempts at toilet humor on social media. It gained some notoriety when President Donald Trump asked for a Van Gogh from the Guggenheim to display in the White House but was offered the gold toilet instead. I’m shocked he rejected the offer. With a campaign picture of The Donald on the gold throne to show his worshippers…... I agree with Lewis: life is never normal. What motivates people to climb mountains? Five climbers died on Mt. Everest on May 24. There’s a traffic jam at the top of the mountain this year, with 381 permits for the 2019 climbing season. It costs about $70,000 to make the climb. Climbers have run out of oxygen waiting to climb another 100 feet higher at the top. Eleven have died this year so far. As many as 200 corpses litter the mountain. Are they climbing because it’s there?

Should I Reconfigure My Birthday?

The abortion wars have dominated the news cycle lately with conservative southern states controlled by evangelical Christians passing legislation to dramatically restrict—or totally eliminate-abortions. Because abortion is such a critical religious and cultural subject, I have kept a file on it for many years. I updated numbers and stats before writing this column. Vital statistics are often not kept up. The National Vital Statistics System seemed to have the latest. According to that organization Americans had 3,978,487 births in 2015. If we use miscarriage and stillborn rates long established by medical authorities, U.S. women that year had about 800,000 miscarriages and stillborns. 

Around 80% of miscarriages occur in the first trimester (0 to 13 weeks), with genetic issues being the major reason. I’m not going to go through pregnancies week by week, but research shows the chances of miscarriage diminish week by week. If interested, Google the subject. Studies show that the risk of losing a pregnancy after week five is 21.3%. Although medical knowledge and protocols keep improving, a baby born at 22 weeks still has a minimal chance of survival. In high income and industrialized countries babies born at 26 weeks have a 77% chance to survive and premature babies born at 30 weeks have a very high survival rate.

We always hear pro-life forces preach that “life begins at conception.” The problem is all kinds of things can happen to fetuses before birth. My birthday is March 2, 1932. My mother told me I had a very normal birth, so my “conception day” was around June 2, 1931. But the question is: was I a person before birth? Should I celebrate my conception day instead of my birthday because I survived in utero? Would the Internal Revenue Service have accepted me as a dependent on my parent’s income tax form?  Let’s ask Carliss Chatman of the Washington Post. She asks some fascinating questions and makes many legal points in an article.

Chatman: “If A Fetus Is A  Person, He Should Get Child Support, Due Process, And Citizenship”

Alabama has passed an extreme abortion law that bans all abortions from conception onward. A doctor can be sentenced to 99 years for performing one, There’s no exception for rape or incest and it proclaims that “an unborn child or person” as “a human being, specifically including an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability.” (If that “human” after seven months in the womb has a sonogram that reveals there is no brain in that cavity, what does the law recommend?)

Chatman asks some very serious questions about the legal status of a “person” at the very moment of conception. Under all of our laws we hope they provide citizens certain rights and protections. 
1. Should child support start at conception? Since a “human” resides in its mother and gets all food and care from her, an Alabama mother should be eligible for child support from the person who has just fertilized her egg. In a number of “fetal heartbeat” states that have banned abortions after six or eight weeks, does personhood and citizenship start at when abortions are banned?

2. Can a child conceived in the U.S. but not born here ever be deported under our present laws? The 14th Amendment says “All persons born or naturalized in the United States….are citizens of the United States and of the State where they reside.” Missouri just declared personhood at eight weeks. I suppose that would mean the date of conception would be very important in determining deportation status.

3.  What happens to the person a pregnant woman is carrying if the woman commits a felony requiring incarceration? Our laws do not permit that person in utero to be imprisoned without due process. The person has not committed a crime, hasn’t been arraigned or charged, has not had a trial by a jury of his peers, and has not had an opportunity to confront his accusers.

4.  If personhood begins at conception, the person will need a name and Social Security number to begin exercising private rights and using public resources. The parents can claim a child as a dependent for tax purposes if the person has a name and SS number. If a bank account is opened for the person or if a life insurance policy is purchased to cover the person, names and numbers have to be used. Can an Alabama mother insure a person at conception and collect the insurance if she miscarries at six weeks? Will tax codes be adjusted in those six and eight week states so unborn persons can be covered? If a woman suffers two miscarriages in a year can she collect on both insured unborn children?

5.  The Constitution requires a census every ten years to count all persons residing within the U.S. If a fertilized egg is a person at conception, it should be counted because the census asks about the age and date of birth of each resident. Will all mothers be required to report miscarriages to the proper authorities in order to maintain an accurate count of residents?

Chatman wraps up her points of view based on the above questions with this warning: “Trying to define citizenship and personhood based on the laws of each state creates some far-fetched and even ridiculous scenarios. If we follow that logic we’ll tie our Constitution into a knot no court can untangle.” 

Reactions Of A High-Risk Pregnancy Doctor To Cruel New Abortion Laws

Dr. Chavi Eve Karkowsky is an ob-gyn who specializes in treating women whose water has broken at 16 to 20 weeks. Her words best describe the situation: “When a woman’s water breaks prematurely—the rupture of membranes at a very early gestational age—it most often ends in tragedy. Twenty weeks is much too early for a newborn to live outside the uterus. Technology has brought the age of viability to somewhere around 23 weeks. Even then, survival rates are low, and complications high. In the majority of these cases, women go into labor right away and deliver quickly. For those who don’t, the odds are still very low. Those women usually develop infection, bleeding, sepsis, and worse. This is a tragedy. In accordance with my clinical judgment and professional guidelines, I offer her an abortion.” 

That seems to be a reasonable position to take to save the life of the mother. A pragmatist once said: “Stuff happens.” Each year between 700 and 900 American babies begin their lives without their mothers. The Centers for Disease Control report says 60% of these deaths are entirely preventable. The U.S. has a maternal mortality rate crisis because of lack of care.

Another American Cultural Problem: Homophobia

   On May 17 the House of Representatives passed a bill called The Equality Act that would protect our LBGTQ community from discrimination in housing, education, public accommodations, jury service, credit and lending. The bill includes protections against discrimination in retail stores, transportation services, banks, and legal services. Only eight Republicans voted for the bill. What are its chances in the Republican Senate and the Republican White House? Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting discrimination and gender identity in employment and housing.

The battle surrounding transgenders, bathroom bills, military service, and athletic performance levels is still with us. The case of the transgender powerlifter Mary Gregory has made news. Mary, 44, recently set nine records in female powerlifting for her age and weight class. She aroused controversy when she posted her picture and trophy on Instagram and made the following comments:  “What a day, 9 for 9! As a transgender lifter I was unsure what to expect going into this meet and everyone---all the spotters, loaders referees, staff, meet director, all made me welcome and treated me as just another female lifter—thank you!” Well, not quite. A couple of days later she was stripped of all records and barred from competing as a woman. She had checked the female box on the registration form. Mary said: “I mean, that’s my gender. That’s who I am.”

She is now in the middle of the sports world wrestling with what to do with transgenders. How does the sports world define gender classifications while maintaining a balance that’s fair and inclusive for all genders? The LBGTQ community and the sports world are trying to accommodate a changing and evolving society that has only two gender categories: male and female. High school transgenders have won track events and wrestling matches. Transgender athletes have made headlines in professional tennis, cycling, track, and rugby. The main issue revolves around biological advantages of the male body in certain events, the amount of testosterone in intersex and female bodies, and how to be fair to all genders. There are no easy answers.