On Reproductive Rights, McCain Looks to Coburn – So Who is He?

It’s one thing to have staunch beliefs about sex, contraception, Christianity, abortion, and the global AIDS crisis. It’s quite another to be a prominent U.S. Presidential candidate, for the second time in your life, and have given little thought to your stance on policies regarding these issues.

Evidence of the dearth of consideration McCain expends on global HIV and family planning surfaced last March when a New York Times reporter stumped the candidate with questions about basic reproductive rights and the restrictions of the global gag rule.

Here’s the transcript from a NY Times Caucus post on the incident.

(Weaver is John Weaver, his senior adviser, and Brian is Mr. Jones, his press secretary):

Reporter: “Should U.S. taxpayer money go to places like Africa to fund contraception to prevent AIDS?”

Mr. McCain: “Well I think it’s a combination. The guy I really respect on this is Dr. Coburn. He believes – and I was just reading the thing he wrote– that you should do what you can to encourage abstinence where there is going to be sexual activity. Where that doesn’t succeed, than he thinks that we should employ contraceptives as well. But I agree with him that the first priority is on abstinence. I look to people like Dr. Coburn. I’m not very wise on it.”

(Mr. McCain turns to take a question on Iraq, but a moment later looks back to the reporter who asked him about AIDS.)

Mr. McCain: “I haven’t thought about it. Before I give you an answer, let me think about. Let me think about it a little bit because I never got a question about it before. I don’t know if I would use taxpayers’ money for it.”

Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Q: “I mean, I think you’d probably agree it probably does help stop it?”

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”

Q: “But you would agree that condoms do stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Would you say: ‘No, we’re not going to distribute them,’ knowing that?”

Mr. McCain: (Twelve-second pause) “Get me Coburn’s thing, ask Weaver to get me Coburn’s paper that he just gave me in the last couple of days. I’ve never gotten into these issues before.”

This went on for a few more moments until a reporter from the Chicago Tribune broke in and asked Mr. McCain about the weight of a pig that he saw at the Iowa State Fair last year.

I haven’t thought about it. I’ve never gotten into these issues before. I’m not informed enough about it. I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it in the past. I have to find out what that position was.

And the kicker? The guy I really respect on this is Dr. Coburn.

Let’s forgo the obvious critique of “I need to look up what I once told people I believe in because I can’t think this through for myself and don’t generally concern myself with these things.” Any ignorance or ill-preparedness or plain poor memory to be analyzed from the exchange pales in comparison to what a little bit of research revealed.

Let’s take a look at the revered Dr. Coburn.

Tom Coburn is a Republican Senator from Oklahoma, and he’s not a subtle guy. During more than three years in the Senate he has spoken out against both sex education and contraception (which didn’t prevent Bush from appointing him co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS). A 2007 article on his government-sponsored website likens sex ed to pornography.

He is a self-proclaimed unwavering defender of the sanctity of “life”. That being said, he believes unequivocally that anyone performing an abortion should be put to death by the state.

Coburn’s Chief of Staff is Michael Schwartz. During the 2007 conference entitled “Confronting the Judicial War on Faith” Schwartz distinguished himself with a speech in which he advocated

“the mass impeachment of judges” and denounced the Supreme Court for giving Americans “the right to commit buggery.”

In the 80’s Schwartz was a founding member of Operation Rescue, the vigilante “pro-life” group that has advocated militant tactics. In 1993 the group distributed “wanted” posters for abortion provider Dr. David Gunn. Later that year an Operation Rescue member shot and killed Dr. Gunn during a protest. The group has been implicated in various acts of violence over the years from vandalism and arson, to stalking, assault, and bombings. Although the violence has quieted since the turn of the millennium, it’s worthwhile to note that in 1999 the Catholic pro-life organization American Life League created the Pro-Life Proclamation Against Violence. Operation Rescue was one of the few anti-abortion groups to refuse to sign it.

Just an aside:

Lest you find Operation Rescue to be single-minded in purpose, rest assured that they have been known to spend their down time in activities such as organizing national protests of the annual “Gay Day” celebration held at Disney World each June. Bible-wielding protesters targeted the Magic Kingdom, a nearby Barnes & Nobel (for selling Disney stuff?), and several roads leading into the park. It seemed not to matter that Disney neither sponsors nor endorses the event. I suppose the corporation went awry in allowing gays to congregate on their property…near children.

Anyway, back to Schwartz. His penultimate moments came in 1998 when he co-authored the book Gays, AIDS, & You (available used at Amazon starting at $.12) and in 2002 when Concerned Women for America (of the abortion providers are the main proponents of sex ed because they want more kids having sex, getting pregnant and contracting STD’s, so that they can perform more abortions, treat more VD and make more money fame) appointed him Vice President of Government Affairs.

Two years later, Tom Coburn selected Michael Schwartz to be his Chief of Staff.

Okay, so what? The Chief of Staff of someone to whom McCain has indicated respect and suggests he will look to for advice on reproductive issues and fighting HIV is whacked. Too far removed for you? Let’s get back to Coburn.

According to an article in Salon:

In a 2007 Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security, he asserted

“The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power … That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That’s a gay agenda.”

The following year he turned his ire on an NBC airing of Schindler’s List.

According to Coburn, the film encouraged “irresponsible sexual behavior,” and he called for outrage against the network from “parents and decent-minded individuals everywhere.” He added, “I cringe when I realize that there were children all across this nation watching this program.” Even conservative avatar William Bennett felt compelled to rebuke him: “These are very unfortunate and foolish comments.”

And how about this strange ghost from Coburn’s past?

During his run for Senate in 1994, a malpractice suit and Medicaid fraud case surfaced. He was never convicted of fraud and it is unclear if he did, technically, submit a fraudulent claim (he who has been a huge voice against health care fraud before and after his election).

However, it is undisputed that Coburn sterilized a 20-year female patient without her consent. He claims she consented verbally, and she denies this. Regardless, the paperwork was never completed. Oklahoma law restricts voluntary sterilization to those 21 or older. How could this have happened?

The girl came to him for treatment of an ectopic pregnancy. It was also her third pregnancy. While he was removing the embryo from one damaged fallopian tube, he also excised the other tube, which was healthy.

Coburn billed Medicaid the full amount, without mentioning the sterilization. When the girl and her mother expressed outrage at the additional procedure, Coburn warned them not to speak of it because the procedure was illegal at her age.

After the operation Coburn admonished both the woman and her mother not to discuss it. “She asked me, since she was under 21, how did I tie her tubes — since I told her I wouldn’t and Title 19 wouldn’t pay for it,” Coburn said in the deposition. “I said I did it anyway and that she shouldn’t talk about it because … I did a procedure that was not recognized under Title 19 reimbursement.” Thus Coburn admitted he had tried to silence his patient because he knew he was billing Medicaid illegally.

It’s hard to understand how a man who advocates abstinence-only, believes sex is for procreation, and is morally against contraception, could have, even if the girl had begged, performed this procedure.

Testimony transcripts give Coburn’s own words and his stance is one of angry defiance at a drudged up story from his past used (in his view) by his opponents for political gain. He shows no remorse for his mistake and admits no fraud. I can’t help but imagine that he took the opportunity to treat a “promiscuous” 20-year old morally as well as physically, whether she asked for it or not.

Although I suppose it all makes sense under the umbrella belief that a woman’s body is not her own, but rather the property of good, god-fearing men.

AIDS and reproductive rights have so far taken a back-burner throughout the primary season. I can only hope they become a bit more prominent once the views of warring candidates substantially differ. So far, McCain has said little else about his views and other than the typical “pro-life” assertions.

It’ll be a nice change when we’re no longer nit-picking Democrats for minor infractions and can shine a flashlight on the really scary beliefs that like to crawl away in the dark.

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One Response to “On Reproductive Rights, McCain Looks to Coburn – So Who is He?”

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