Pleasures of Reading, 2015
by Lisa Tuttle
My big author discovery this year has been Rebecca Solnit. I can t remember what made me order a copy of River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (Penguin, 2003) Muybridge was a fascinating character, but I was not that interested in him or the early history of photography to think I had to read his biography, so I must have read a review, or happened across a reference to this book which made it clear how much more than just a biography it is, and how wonderful I would find it. It is a beautifully written book about so many different subjects: time, change, America, the westward movement, history, art, and more. I now want to read everything Rebecca Solnit has written.
In the chapter Lost River there is a section titled Ghosts and Machines I have to quote a small bit:
The Ghost Dance was a technology. Literally, a technology is a systematic practice or knowledge of an art, and although we almost always apply the term to the scientific and mechanical, there is no reason not to apply it to other human-made techniques for producing desired results. Maybe the best definition would be: A technology is a practice, a technique, or a device for altering the world or the experience of the world. To propose annihilating the inexorable march or history and the irreversibility of death was to propose a technology as ambitious as a moon walk or a gene splice. The Ghost Dance had its parallels in the spiritualist movement that began in the 1840s… Spiritualism likewise sought to cross that great divide, death…. spiritualism had close ties to the feminist movement of the middle decades of the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Women were the principal mediums in spiritualism, and it was something of a women s religion… I ve had a long time interest in both the development of spiritualism, and the history of the women s movement, so I looked at Solnit s end notes, where I found this: On spiritualism my main source is Barbara Goldsmith s magnificent Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)
Magnificent, indeed! This book, which I promptly sought out, bought and read on the basis of that footnote, is my other favourite book of the year. A combination of biography (Victoria Woodhull) and history, the story Barbara Goldsmith tells is filled with larger-than-life characters and as gripping as a great novel.
As for fiction I read mainstream, and I read genre but I like fantasy best when it strays farthest from genre, to inform and transform an otherwise realist contemporary literary novel. It s a tricky balancing act, and not that many authors attempt it. The two that did it for me this year were The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham and Call of the Undertow by Linda Cracknell. Both books import elements of fairy tale into contemporary lives and times, with stunning results. Michael Cunningham is, of course, a much-praised, very well-known author (I loved The Hours), but I came across Linda Cracknell almost by chance. Call of the Undertow is her first novel, published two years ago by small press in Glasgow (Freight Books), and well worth seeking out if, like me, you appreciate ambiguity and atmosphere and a particular Scottish legend I will not name here. In the category of how did I manage to miss reading this amazing book for so many years? I read, and loved, The Names by Don DeLillo and The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West. And, finally Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. What an amazing, disturbing, powerful, haunting and thought-provoking book. My only regret is that, never having seen a copy, I bought it on my Kindle. Not only does it have pictures, but I missed the whole sensuous thrill of holding an actual book the first time I read it. So now I have to buy it again so I can read it properly. It will bear many re-readings.
Lisa Tuttle is the author of numerous novels and short story collections. She is one of the contributors to an anthology ghost/horror drama called “The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” scheduled for a two-week run on the London stage in March 2016. She has a new novel forthcoming in summer 2016 from Jo Fletcher Books, “The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the psychic Thief.” She has also published nonfiction and more than a dozen books for younger readers. In 1974 she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and, in 1987, the BSFA award in the short fiction category. Aqueduct Press published her novella My Death in 2008 (which is now available as an ebook). Born and raised in Houston, Texas, she has made her home in a remote rural region of Scotland for the last twenty years.
Migration is a meta-human right: a right that other human rights depend upon. Since some governments are malevolent or simply incapable of protecting human rights, a commitment to human rights requires a commitment to the freedom of individuals to move to countries where they can live a decent life. Refugees – homeless, futureless – present an international moral emergency that trumps the usual considerations of national statecraft such as fiscal implications and political risk for governing parties. but elsewhere in international humanitarian law and practice, such as in the Responsibility to Protect doctrine by which the 2011 military interventions in Cote D’Ivoire and Libya were justified. What this comes down to is that refugees deserve an answer to the question, Why not?’
States cannot evade providing a justification for their policies towards refugees; they cannot pretend that they are not making a moral choice. I think one can see that even many states avowedly disinterested in the current refugee problem such as the UK – implicitly hold to this idea. Why else would they go to so much effort to prevent refugees from setting foot on their soil and having to reject their claim to a new home and a real future to their face?
Does this undermine national sovereignty? I do not see how. Much public discourse about migration confuses the right of governments’ to control access to their territory and the legal status of citizenship (i.e. sovereignty) with the question of what is the right thing for governments to do (morality). But this is just another way of saying that states, like individuals, have to make moral choices. Many governments do not do the right thing of course – that is why we have so many international refugees in the first place. But the concept of sovereignty would become ridiculous if it was taken to mean that whatever a government chooses to do thereby becomes the morally right thing to do. We can and do criticise governments for their moral behaviour all the time – a great deal more of democratic politics consists of this than of voting – exactly because we believe that moral arguments can sway government decision making. 4. International coordination Governments do have a special moral obligation to their citizens. Indeed an important justification for government is to help citizens fulfil our moral obligations to each other, such as an effective social insurance system that prevents destitution. But this special obligation is not a shield that can defend governments, or current citizens, from other international moral obligations, such as to play their part in mitigating climate change and global pandemics or ensuring a future for refugees who have lost their homes. Mainly what we are dealing with here as with many global problems – is the bystander effect’, wherein exactly because multiple countries are in a position to help, each individually feels less responsibility to do so and takes a step back. When some country – such as Germany – does step up, other countries may actually feel that they have been relieved of responsibility. The problem is compounded in the international arena by the lack of a higher power to transform general responsibility into specific obligations for each state that represent a fair and effective division of labour.
But besides the 5 million externally displaced Syrians, there are many millions from other destroyed or oppressive countries, from Afghanistan to Eritrea to Somalia to Palestine. It is quite obvious that no single country not Germany; not even America – is in a position to take in all the refugees who want a new home. An international effort is required, just as for the coordinated resettlement of the 200,000 Hungarians who fled the Soviet invasion in 1956 and were placed between 32 countries (a part of Hungary’s history that its current prime minister has somehow forgotten). Or the much more belated resettlement of 2.5 million Indochinese refugees from the original boat people crisis of the 1970s and 80s.
These examples give some cause for hope, to set against great failures such as the Palestinian, Somali and 1930s European cases. We know that states can cooperate to successfully address international moral emergencies of this scale and complexity. If they are properly motivated.
Let me conclude by noting the limits of moral philosophy on this issue. I have claimed that the moral case for the right to migrate is clear. One reason for my confidence is that one can reach my conclusion via a variety of routes through moral philosophy besides the one I have outlined here (as noted by Joseph Carens). But not vice versa. The only moral case against the freedom to migrate that I know of comes from communitarianism, and suffers from all the many weaknesses of that approach. Refugees present no real problem for moral philosophy. But politics does not automatically follow the dictates of moral theory, not even when those theories have been formally incorporated into state constitutions. Much of the case I have outlined here follows from Hannah Arendt’s striking analysis of the phenomenon of mass statelessness in 1930s Europe and the failure of the merely moral concept of human rights to overcome pernicious tribal’ forms of political nationalism. It is disappointing to see just how relevant Arendt’s description still is to the politics of Europe today, especially in the new members of the EU such as Hungary. (And even more to the politics of the Rohingya refugee crisis in South Asia.) As we have seen most recently in the gay rights revolution, moral arguments require active citizenship to succeed. It is only by politics that we can overcome the complacent inertia of our fellow citizens and the politicians who cater to them, by challenging such fallacies as the conflation of national sovereignty with moral righteousness, and thereby bring our governments to do the difficult but right thing.
Planned Parenthood supporters in New York. The organization s robust fundraising operation allows it to subsidize abortions to poor women and expand locations. Photograph: Richard Levine/Demotix/Corbis
The only women who have abortions at the Philadelphia Women s Center are those with the stamina for an obstacle course. The state bans Medicaid and insurance from the Affordable Care Act markets from covering abortions. So patients who are too poor to pay out-of-pocket have to scrounge together the money from friends or family.
Twenty-four hours before their appointment, Pennsylvania requires women to listen to information aimed at changing their minds. And every week, the Women s Center turns away patients who didn t get the information in time. All this takes place a fleet 20-minute drive from the Cherry Hill Women s Center, another abortion clinic owned by the same network. Cherry Hill is in New Jersey, yet it feels as though it s another country. There is no waiting period here, and nothing stops women from paying with their insurance or with Medicaid. It s what reproductive rights advocates envision when they talk about stripping abortion of its stigma and restrictions.
But beneath the surface, Cherry Hill exemplifies another, quieter upheaval in US abortion access: clinics in many blue states are struggling to keep their doors open just as much as in red states. And by some counts, they are are shutting down just as fast.
The trend is disturbing, said Nikki Madsen, executive director of the Abortion Care Network, a group representing independent abortion providers around the country. It s taking root in states we traditionally think of as friendly to abortion rights, without many people noticing. Exact numbers for clinic closures are hard to come by. A rough count by the Abortion Care Network, though, found that for every three clinics that closed in a red state in the past few years, two clinics closed in a more liberal state one of the 17 states where Medicaid covers abortion, or one of 23 states that the Guttmacher Institute, a thinktank that supports reproductive rights, does not consider hostile to abortion access. A list compiled by the Guardian of more than 50 clinics that closed for good in 2014 shows that a little more than half were located in blue states.
With many blue-state clinics on the brink, so is access. Cherry Hill loses hundreds of thousands of dollars each year because the state permits women to use Medicaid for abortions without adequately reimbursing the providers. It is also is the closest abortion clinic to Camden, a city of overwhelming poverty, that takes Medicaid. The next closest option for poor women is Trenton, where clinics can have long wait times. Patients frequently come to Cherry Hill who tried to have their abortions in Maryland and Delaware, only to find that those clinics were overbooked. And lately, more are coming from red states where access is dwindling, like Virginia and Kentucky. The reasons for each closure are disparate. But five years of knock-down, drag-out fights over abortion rights in conservative areas of the country are largely to blame. Each new bout in a place such as Texas diminishes the ability of advocates to focus on subtler challenges in liberal states.
The south is where we have to put most of our energy, said Amanda Kifferly, the head of patient advocacy for the Women s Center. Any time there s a crisis, that s where it s coming from, and it goes right to the top of our to-do list. The closures are also a broad consequence of 40 years of anti-abortion policies that have stigmatized the procedure and isolated it from the rest of medicine. Because it is so controversial, abortion is the rare procedure that takes place almost exclusively in dedicated facilities. But a confluence of factors make it difficult, financially, to sustain standalone clinics that only perform abortions.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder of a network of abortion clinics called Whole Woman s Health, knows these pressures better than almost anyone. In Texas, where the group operates four clinics, Miller has led a two-year legal battle to overturn one of the nation s harshest abortion measures. The law could close at least half of the state s 20 abortion clinics, including three belonging to Whole Woman s Health. As soon as Friday, the supreme court may add Miller s lawsuit to its docket. The road to the high court, though, has been all-consuming. Goals that are important to the long-term survival of Miller s clinics in Maryland, Minnesota and New Mexico have taken a backseat.
In Maryland and Minnesota, Whole Woman s Health has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars performing abortions for poor women on Medicaid. Both states reimburse abortion providers for treating Medicaid patients, but the cost to perform the abortion far outstrips the states repayments. For surgical abortions, the reimbursement rate is the same regardless of how far along the patient is in her pregnancy even though the amount of time, medication, and sedation multiplies the later the abortion. The reimbursement rates in Minnesota are such that Whole Woman s Health sustains a $280 loss for every Medicaid patient who takes the abortion pill. Medicaid patients who have a first-trimester surgical abortion cost the clinic $155. For abortions from 12 to 24 weeks, a Medicaid patient can cost Whole Woman s Health anywhere from $190 to $1,640. It s hurt us tremendously, financially, Miller said. One solution would be to negotiate with each state s Medicaid office for higher repayment rates the same thing healthcare associations do across the country. But abortion rights activists are preoccupied by other needs. A representative for Naral Pro-Choice New York, an advocacy group, said that providers are more immediately concerned about abortion protesters, and whether laws that prevent them from blocking clinic entrances are fully enforced.
And individual abortion clinics tend to lack the man-hours needed to negotiate with Medicaid offices. Staff are distracted by copious regulations or the need to be political advocates.
If we were doing healthcare that wasn t politicized, maybe this could be a top priority, Miller said. The alternative is to do what small doctors offices have usually done when facing meager repayments: stop taking Medicaid altogether. Whole Woman s Health has been cautious about providing later abortions to Medicaid patients. But Miller and other providers are reluctant to cut off poor women entirely.
It doesn t make business sense to offer what we offer, Miller said. But we have a mission and a vision.
We re not going to not see patients on Medicaid, Groves agreed. They need us. But in doing their abortions, it s a constant game to figure out how we re going to survive.
Abortion has been isolated
The Access for Women clinic in upstate New York performs something in the neighborhood of 1,600 abortions every year. If that number dips much lower, the clinic could fold. And thousands of women would be left without a nearby provider. Peg Johnston, the owner, finds herself facing this precipice every year. Access for Women is the only abortion clinic that takes Medicaid for hours in several directions. Johnston accepts Medicaid she calls it a no-brainer because more than half her patients couldn t afford an abortion any other way. But for every Medicaid patient who has a first-trimester surgical abortion, Access for Women loses $100. The only way for the clinic to stay open is volume.
And demand has shrunk. Reproductive rights groups have fought for many of the changes that seem to be reducing the number of abortions in blue states. Contraception coverage is more readily available, and the use of long-acting, reversible contraception one of the most successful ways to prevent pregnancy has surged. What frightens abortions rights groups, though, is that the economics of abortion dictate that a clinic will close before local demand is all gone.
Abortion has been isolated to the point that it s not part of standard medical care, said Elizabeth Nash, a senior researcher for the Guttmacher Institute. In an ideal world, Nash said, the average OB-GYN might perform abortions, and the procedure would be just one of many ways doctors cover their business expenses. Healthcare generally is becoming more integrated, and moving away from the fee-for-service model.
The consequences for being affiliated with abortion, though such as harassment have prevented abortions from becoming ingrained in general healthcare. As a result, most abortion providers must support themselves on the basis of this one procedure, and abortion is not as widely available as it could be. And no matter when a clinic closes, women who were dependent on that clinic have lost access. Paradoxically, abortion clinics in red states don t have cash flow problems on this scale, said Groves, the Cherry Hill director. That s because fewer women are insured in red states, and Medicaid doesn t cover abortion except in rare circumstances.
In the red states, patients are scrambling to come up with money for the procedure while our staff is struggling to connect them to the abortion funds, nonprofits that will help patients pay, said Groves. Still, at least by the time a woman arrives for her abortion, she is able to pay full freight. In blue states, cash-strapped abortion clinics must look for ways to cut costs internally. And every cut comes under a microscope.
For instance, New Jersey requires the Cherry Hill Women s Center and other abortion providers to meet the licensing standards of an ambulatory surgical center a costly facility for outpatient surgery. To save money, many ambulatory surgical centers that don t perform abortions have replaced their anesthesiologists with nurses who are certified to perform the same jobs with the same safety record. The switch would save Cherry Hill up to $200,000 a year, money that is sorely needed: 65% of Cherry Hill s patients are on Medicaid. But Groves is balking. We re a really stigmatized health service, Groves said. And I don t want to ever give the impression that I m providing care at a lower level That change would say something to our patients, and it would say something to our political opponents. There are other roadblocks. The bruising fights in red states have made many abortion rights advocates reticent to lobby for better profits. Among colleagues, Miller has had many conversations about raising Medicaid repayment rates that turned negative. I ve heard the same thing word for word from several advocates: We should be glad we work in a state that even allows Medicaid to cover abortions, and we shouldn t draw attention to it, she recalled. They re afraid that if people start to notice, we ll lose what we have.
And what abortion clinics have in the way of Medicaid repayment is already artificially low. One factor states use to determine reimbursement rates is the going price of the procedure. Yet clinics have kept the price of abortion the same for decades, even as costs throughout the rest of the healthcare industry have exponentially grown. Recently Johnston realized that adjusting for inflation, the cost of a first-trimester abortion at her clinic cost less than the illegal abortion her mother paid for in 1949.
Not just Planned Parenthood
There are some blue state abortion clinics that are thriving. Many of those belong to Planned Parenthood. Although the group is constantly the target of an all-out political assault, it has a robust national fundraising operation that allows it to subsidize abortions for poor women and expand to new locations. Planned Parenthood is also able to leverage its sprawling network of reproductive health clinics for its formidable political operation: in recent years, the group aggressively expanded express centers  in a bid to appeal to wealthier women who pay full price for every service. The profits from those centers help buttress abortion rights advocacy in places where Planned Parenthood clinics are under fire. Still, Planned Parenthood facilities provide only about one-third of abortions performed in the US every year. The majority take place in independent abortion clinics that do not have a fearsome political presence or tax-deductible donations as a safety net.
The Cedar River Clinics in Washington state is one of the few abortion providers that has managed to forge a different path. After meeting a physician who had frequent communications with the state s Medicaid office, the founder of Cedar Rivers Clinics, Beverly Whipple, spent several years amassing evidence that repayment rates weren t covering the cost of providing abortions to her neediest patients.
We found that we were losing $500 on every second-trimester abortion procedure, said Connie Cantrell, who is now the Cedar River Clinics executive director and Whipple s successor. It really did get to the point where we were telling the state, we can no longer see women past a certain point who were on Medicaid.
State officials were alarmed. Over a process of several months, they raised the reimbursement rates. Abortion rights advocates who were present when Massachusetts raised its Medicaid rates, about a decade ago, told a similar story. In that state, Medicaid officials were concerned enough that it was the state who reached out to abortion providers. At the time, reimbursement rates were also a priority for Planned Parenthood, which used it considerable staff to pull data that was more than anecdotal. In Washington state, Cedar River Clinics executives have repeated the negotiations every few years. We ve only been successful throughout the years because Washington state cares about women, and they ve provided more than just lip service to that idea, Cantrell said. We would not have been successful if the state weren t open to those negotiations, if they did not want to make sure those services were available to low-income women.
Maybe that s what makes us different from other states, she continued. I suppose it s partly our luck.
- ^ Texas is defunding Planned Parenthood clinics. What if every state did? (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Pennsylvania (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Abortion (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ hostile to abortion access (www.guttmacher.org)
- ^ those clinics were overbooked (www.motherjones.com)
- ^ has surged (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ aggressively expanded express centers (www.wsj.com)
- ^ one-third (www.plannedparenthood.org)
- ^ abortions performed in the US (www.guttmacher.org)
- ^ Planned Parenthood (www.theguardian.com)