Friday, January 9, 2009

Green Bay alderwoman stands up by sitting down, privacy rights versus free info, virginity pledges don't work and more

Civil liberties news in review...

Free Speech
Recently there was a little controversy regarding a Green Bay city council alderwoman who did not give a patriotic vets organization a standing ovation when a flag plaque was donated to the city. The essence of the debate was that Alderwoman Jeffreys questioned the inclusion of Columbus Day on the plaque and did not stand to show her disapproval. The council president Wery is demanding a public apology and is suggesting censure while Alderwoman Jeffreys is asserting her free speech rights.

This is an interesting article on the issue of background checks and licensed medical professionals. The Wisconsin State Journal was requesting information from the state to do background checks and ran into some major hurdles and privacy constraints. The end of the article points to a law passed in 2000 where Senator Erpenbach added an amendment in order “to cut down on the solicitations (medical professionals) got (and) make it difficult for companies to profit from this information.” The restriction then made it more difficult for the WSJ journalists to seek background information about doctors. This is one more example of the tension between the public’s right to know (is my doctor a crook?) and the privacy rights of individuals (can companies get a way with abusing public, governmental records for profit?).

Reproductive Rights
The conservative Christian Alliance Defense Fund and other anti-abortion groups have dusted up a controversy about the new proposed plan for UW Health’s Madison Surgery Center to start offering abortion services, even up to the second trimester (otherwise unavailable statewide). The ADF is alleging that the plan will violate UW Health staff’s religious right to refuse to participate in medical practices they don’t agree with, and that state funds would be used for abortion services. The UW Health has said that their policy on allowing staff the right to appropriately refuse is clear and fair, and that abortion services would only be paid for by insurance or out-of-pocket payments. The big picture goes beyond the personal, health or economic reasons women need abortion services. With the Bush administration’s last-minute push to change federal Department of Health and Human Services’ rules regarding refusal rights, the civil liberties implications have been put out of balance. Now medical professionals have greater power to dictate the limitations of women’s reproductive options. The Obama administration needs to roll back the unbalanced new rules and the state of Wisconsin needs to pass real legislation that draws a bright line between women’s right to reproductive freedom and the responsibility of medical service providers to have fair policies for both their staff and their patients. See the articles in the Cap Times and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Read more on where the ACLU stands on the balance of reproductive rights and religious liberty.

And did you see this article in the Washington Post about a new study that shows that teens who take “virginity pledges” though programs that focus on abstinence until marriage are just as likely to have sex as teens who don’t? And the study furthermore shows that those teens who don’t take virginity pledges are more likely to use contraception and safer sex practices. The study from Johns Hopkins, which appears in this month’s Journal of Pediatrics, is different because the teens who are compared share similar values, whereas previous studies did not. This lends more evidence to the inadequacy and even legitimate public health concerns with abstinence-only programs. Kudos to Wisconsin Governor Doyle for continuing to refuse federal funds for abstinence-only curricula: even when facing a budget deficit, abstinence-only programs do more harm than good. Read more on why comprehensive sex education is better for students and for our community.