The Exception that Proves the Rule

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In the wake of Todd Akin’s stupid (really, I could think of a fancier word but I think that one covers it) remarks about rape and abortion, and then VP-hopeful Paul Ryan’s follow-up distancing himself from Akin and downplaying his own oft-stated convictions regarding abortion in exceptional cases, pregnancy and rape are everywhere in the news this week.  I think I have something to contribute, though, and I would like to solicit contributions from you as well, if you have something to add in the comments.

I understand, I believe, the pro-choice position on abortion, as much as I disagree with it: that a woman should have the right to decide what to do with her own body, including whether to become or to stay pregnant. And I think most pro-choice people understand the pro-life position: that abortion is wrong because the unborn is a person whose right to life cannot be trumped by its mother’s rights.

But I CANNOT understand the reasoning behind allowing exceptions for rape and incest. I challenge anyone reading this who holds those beliefs to explain them below.

Pro-lifers and even many people in the muddy middle on abortion often find themselves frustrated by radical pro-choicers who refuse to allow for any limitations on abortion: waiting periods, parental notification, banning procedures most people find repugnant, like partial-birth abortions. But abortion rights activists realize that they have to argue against these limitations because to admit limitations is also to admit that there is something unsavory about abortion, somethings serious, something that makes people uncomfortable. When President Clinton opined that abortion should be “Safe, legal, and rare,” some were uncomfortable with his language because why should it be rare if there is nothing morally wrong about it?

On the flip side, allowing exceptions for incest and rape does much more damage to a pro-life argument. After all, WHY are we against abortion? Because we believe that the unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception and therefore entitled to the protections that human dignity demands from that moment forward. With that as our premise, how can we offer an exception based on how that human person was conceived?

We can’t, not logically. But most Americans have not been trained to think critically. They are uncomfortable with abortion on some level. They are also uncomfortable with allowing suffering of any kind. They look for compromises and find them in limiting abortions to certain trimesters, and to allowing exceptions in certain circumstances.

But offering exceptions based on mode of conception is sexist, honestly. It’s saying, “Well, you poor innocent woman, you shouldn’t have to be further victimized by carrying this baby because it wasn’t your fault.  But as for the rest of you sluts, you play, you pay.”

What Mothers Do

I’ve got five kids and I’ve been a mother for over 21 years.  I find that my “mothering urges” sort of spread themselves over whatever children happen to be around me.  When my kids have friends over, I’m all “sweetheart” and “honey” at them.  I feed them.  I feel sorry for them if they are upset.  I try to talk to them if they will let me.  If little ones fall down or have hurt feelings I hug and bandage.  If I’m out in public and hear someone being mean to their child I follow them around to make sure it’s not serious.  When I hear tiny babies crying in Target I silently beg their mothers to feed them already!
I’m not tooting my own horn–I mean, I thought that was just how mothers mostly are.  I bet most of you mothers reading are like that.
What would you think of a mother who would provide her own child with illegal drugs?  Who would hide behind her prominent family while selling pain pills to other young teenagers?  Who would not call 911 to assist a teenager who was slowly dying in the home of drug-dealing acquaintances?

Laurie Pelot Gooch

Laurie Gooch is the mother of Henry Granju‘s girlfriend.  I’ve written plenty about Henry almost since I first began blogging, but if you don’t know his story you can start here.  Ms. Gooch is also the daughter of a prominent Knoxville politician, and one cannot help but speculate that her family connections have thus far shielded her from prosecution for her activities.  She was finally arrested and charged, thanks to a KPD investigation fueled by information provided by Henry’s mother.  But now apparently she has been allowed to plea to lesser charges and may serve no jail time at all.
I don’t know Laurie Gooch’s whole life story.  I don’t know what has happened to make her the person she is today.  Perhaps she has redeeming qualities of which I am unaware.  But I know enough to know where she belongs right now:  behind bars.  Not only is she a danger to the teenagers of Knoxville, including her own child, but letting her plea her way out of this doesn’t do much to end the scourge of prescription drug abuse that is killing our teenagers and ripping families apart every day.
Please help by sharing this post or any of Henry’s mama’s posts on this topic.  You can go here to sign a petition that will go to the sentencing judge.  You can go here to find out how to write him a letter asking that he refuse to grant her judicial diversion.
If you are a mom (and even if you aren’t) let’s do what mothers do, or what they are supposed to do.  Let’s take action to protect all the vulnerable children–teenagers are still children–in our midst from those who would prey upon them.

The Mills of God Grind Slowly . . .

Knox County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Brad Hall called Yolanda Harper and Russell Houser “Good Samaritans.”  Katie Allison Granju called them predators. who gave her son Henry the drugs that led to his fatal overdose.
Knoxville News Sentinel commenters called Katie a nutcase who was looking for someone to blame for her own parenting failures.  Katie replied that she was not a perfect parent, and that her son had made mistakes, but that she wanted to make sure what happened to him did not happen to anyone else’s beloved child.
An assistant District Attorney said Katie should shut up, and even commenters on her personal blog said she should move on.  Katie vowed never to stop seeking justice for Henry.
Katie wasn’t crazy, and Harper and Houser were no Good Samaritans.  Yesterday the pair were indicted on felony drug charges and taken into custody–based on activities they continued in the months after Henry’s death.  The Knoxville Police Department did what the KCSO would not–they listened to Katie and followed the leads she provided.  They conducted a professional and thorough investigation, and now our community is a safer place.
Thank you, Katie, for your advocacy for your son and by extension for all vulnerable children.  Thank you, KPD, for doing your job and doing it well.  And thank you to those of you who have read and shared my posts on Henry and his mother’s quest for justice.  It’s a happy day for all of us.

And Justice for All

Lorelei stated rather matter-of-factly the other day that the next time we go out of town, our house will burn down again.  And of course I told her that will not happen, that it is very, very rare for a family to suffer such a random, terrible accident.
That’s one aspect of this situation that makes it difficult and strange:  I’ve never been close to anyone this has happened to.  I don’t have experience knowing how to feel or what to do, and I can’t really explain to people what this feels like.  “I can’t even imagine,” they say.  I wouldn’t have been able to imagine it either, before.  Even if I did imagine it, I would not have truly felt the way I feel now.
My friend Katie and her family suffered a far worse tragedy than ours when her teenage son died last year.  She, too, has written of the strangeness of being part of a club that no one wants to join–in her case, the “very undesirable club of grieving parents“–of feeling “like a Martian” as others go on with their everyday lives even though her world has changed forever.  I think in a small way I understand that better now.
Katie’s tragedy continues every day, as she not only continues to grieve for her lost son, but she must also fight to bring those who supplied him with the drugs that killed him to justice.  The KCSO closed his case, the Knoxville News-Sentinel dragged his name through the mud with a sensational, poorly researched article,  and its classless commenters sling mud at Henry and his mother on a regular basis.
Katie is a good person.  She used the powerful platform of her nationally recognized blog to promote a fund to help our family through this tragedy, even though we have only met in person a handful of times.  Her writing has raised awareness of the prescription drug addiction problem and has already helped some addicts turn their lives around.  She allowed WBIR to make a documentary about Henry which is being shown in schools as well as online, and is changing the way parents talk to their kids about drugs.  She started Henry’s Fund, which provides scholarships to drug treatments programs to help other kids like Henry.  All this while working full-time, seeking justice for her son, and raising four other children, one who was born just weeks after her big brother died.
Katie is helping me, and I am asking you to help her.  Will you go here and learn how you can promote this story through Twitter and Facebook?  If you have any contacts in the media, will you consider sharing Henry’s story with them?  Thank you.

Home is where the work is

A year and a half ago, I started working at home.  Working, as in working at a job, I mean.  Every mother is a working mother and my husband always told the kids that I was the hardest working person in our home.  But being a wife and mother was my job, and it was the only one I’d ever wanted.
Don’t laugh, but I went off to college proclaiming that I was looking for a husband.  And I found one, too.  By the end of my first summer after graduation, I was a wife.  Eighteen months later, I was a mother.
I never wanted a career, or even a job, outside my home.  Those first few years, John was in law school, and I did what I had to do to pay the bills.  I enjoyed my jobs, but I hated leaving my baby.  As soon as John graduated and landed a job, I came home for good.  That was seventeen years ago.
People talk about making sacrifices to have a parent at home with the kids, and lots of times they are talking about driving cheaper cars or forgoing vacations.  For us, my staying at home has contributed to serious financial hardships.  I suspect many people do not understand the choices we made.  They were the right choices for our family, though–I am sure about that.
When John’s assistant quit and he needed someone to answer his office phone, I was happy to volunteer.  I had been saying for awhile that it was crazy to pay someone to answer phones.  It didn’t seem like this new responsibility would seriously infringe upon my time or my at-home mom lifestyle.
And I was right.  Once our clients understood that the phone would be answered only during business hours, and that messages left would be returned more or less promptly, the calls slowed.  Anyway, I could carry the phone around with me wherever I wanted to go.  And the kids quickly learned to be quiet when I put the office phone to my ear. (Usually.)
But one thing led to another.  No assistant John has ever had wanted to submit bills to the State of Tennessee for the appointed work he does.  There’s only a limited amount of time to file these claims before you just don’t get paid.  Having a vested interest in getting John paid led me to quickly figure out how to process and file three boxes full of these claims. Of course this required looking at the files, and seeing many more lost opportunities for doing a better job communicating with our clients, understanding their issues more thoroughly, and getting paid more to boot.  I started writing letters, interviewing clients, setting up files.
One reason I knew employment outside the home would be a problem for me is that I am a perfectionist.  I knew that I would expect a lot out of myself, that I would throw myself into whatever I was doing, and that I wouldn’t be able to be as present to my family as I have always thought it was my REAL job to be.  And even working at home–perhaps more so–this has proven true.
As I became more and more helpful and efficient, John was able to take on more and more cases.  We now have something like 140 open, and that means I now have a full-time job.  Yes, I am in an unused bedroom right next to my own room, with Lorelei playing on the computer three feet away.  Yes, I am still wearing my nightgown.  Yes, I can take breaks whenever I feel like it to write this blog post.
But . . . there is a room full of work that never goes away any more than the laundry and the dishes do.  I can–and do–write clients at midnight and send bills on Sunday.  “Why do you have to work so much?” ask my children, who are always seeking food and attention.
People believe that working at home is the best of all possible worlds.  I know that I am lucky to be able to do this.  I couldn’t–and wouldn’t–do it if it meant leaving the children to be in an office.  I love the flexibility that it offers.  But sometimes I long for the idea of reporting to a cool and quiet place at 8 a.m., where there would not be pretzel crumbs everywhere and ants in my coffee cup.  “If you think I am productive now,” I tell John, “you would not believe the amount of work I could accomplish under those circumstances.”
As if mothers didn’t need more reasons to feel guilty, I read recently that having mommy work at home is the worst of the three possibilities for children, because they don’t understand mommy being present in the house but not present to them.  I am terribly guilty of treating my children’s interruptions as intrusions into my “real” job, when really this job is what has intruded into my caregiving.
If I were working outside the home, I could spend (theoretically) evening concentrating on home and family.  I could set up similar boundaries on my working time at home, but that would negate the real advantages that come with this arrangement.


One Short Life

A year ago today, a young life ended.  Today marks the end of the first year that Henry’s family spent without him, longing for him on every holiday and birthday, at the birth of his sister  and death of his great-grandmother, during family milestones and every day moments.  They say that the first year is the hardest, and I hope that proves true, but circumstances have prevented this family’s grieving from following the usual course. Henry’s killers walk free, and the people who are supposed to protect and serve and to seek justice have not.
Katie filed a civil wrongful death suit today against the couple and the clinic who supplied the methadone that led to Henry’s death.  Just days after he died, the family set up a foundation which is already awarding scholarships to young people with addiction whose families cannot afford inpatient treatment.  WBIR T.V. produced a documentary on Henry’s short life and death which they aired twice, commercial free, and which  is now available to the public, showing both kids and their parents that addiction–and addicts–might look different from what they imagined.  Katie’s writing has raised awareness in our community and beyond about the prescription drug addiction crisis, and in advocating for a thorough investigation into her son’s death and prosecution of the perpetrators under the laws that are already on the books she will very likely change the way these cases are dealt with in the future.    Henry’s life had meaning, and people will remember him.  He made–he is making–a difference.

Why has Henry’s story captivated so many, and why have I written so much about him here?  His mother’s honesty, emotion, and beautiful writing have played a major role.  I had been reading Katie’s blog  for so many years that while I had only met in her person a few times and had never met Henry at all, I felt that I knew all of them and I am sure I am not the only one who felt the same.  Anyone who spends significant time in any online community ceases to feel a huge distinction between real life and virtual acquaintances. I was horrified when Katie posted that Henry had been hospitalized.  I visited frequently to check for updates.  I rejoiced when it looked like Henry was going to make it after all.  And I cried when I read Katie’s Facebook update with nothing more than her son’s full name and the dates of his short life.   If you start at the beginning, as so many did, and read through the little more than a month of postings that cover Henry’s struggle from hospitalization to painful death, you will be captivated too.
Then there was the second part of the story, the part that Katie waited a long time to tell:  that despite overwhelming evidence, most of which she had to search for herself, despite laws on the books allowing for prosecution for homicide of those who deliver a lethal dose of drugs, the powers that be in Knox County had declined to pursue a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Henry’s death.  This is another story well worth reading.  It will horrify and depress you, and if you live in Knox County it may frighten and even embarrass you.  Read the story, which lays out the facts of what happened to Henry at what the KCSO and the D.A.’s office have done in response.  Listen to the media coverage, both local and national, in the sidebar.
Henry’s cause is worth championing, but there is another very good reason that it is a fitting topic for my blog, which began as a continuation of my defunct column from the East Tennessee Catholic.  In the paper I wrote about life issues, usually abortion, but also assisted reproductive technology, euthanasia, the death penalty, even war.  I welcomed the chance that blogging gave me to branch out a little.  But what all the life issues share is the conviction that all life is sacred from conception until natural death.
People writing about Henry make much of the fact that he was sweet, handsome, talented, much-loved, that he was more than his addiction.  But those facts are not the reason that he deserves justice.  If Henry had been none of those things, if he really were the worthless junkie that some of the commenters on the Knoxville News-Sentinel coverage of the case–and even on Katie’s own blogs–would make him out to be, he would still deserve justice.  An “unattractive victim” is still a victim, a human being,  a child of God.

Henry’s life was his to live, and it was stolen from him.  He died painfully over several days.  It shouldn’t have happened and it shouldn’t go unnoticed and unpunished.  And if we believe that life is sacred and worthy of protection, we should all do whatever we can to make sure that nothing like it ever happens again, to anyone.
If you believe in the cause of justice for Henry, please go here and sign the petition asking for a full investigation into his death.  Thank you.

Prescription Addiction

My friend Katie has been writing frequently about the scourge of addiction to prescription drugs since her son died of an overdose and beating in May.  And now John and I have been witnessing this almost every day in our work.
Our practice is mostly appointed work–a conscious choice for several reasons, but that’s for another post.  We do a lot of work for parents who have been charged in dependence and neglect cases, and John also acts as Guardian ad Litem for the children in such cases.  Before you say, “Oh, how can you defend people who abuse their kids?” let me tell you that it’s not like what you imagine.  Almost every parent we represent has one major problem which leads to the removal of their children–they are addicted to pain medication.  These are people who love their children, who have never purposely hurt their children, who want to get their children back–which the system makes very difficult indeed.  Perhaps all the money spent on foster care and attorneys and DCS workers in these cases would be better spent on treating the problem and helping maintain the families instead of tearing them apart?  I don’t know, but I wonder.
Yesterday we got word that one of our clients, the father of four, died of an overdose.  His children had been taken away from him for the second time because of drugs.  I spoke with this man on the phone more than once.  He loved his kids and was trying to do what he needed to do to get them back.  Now he is gone.
One of the many dangers of these drugs is that they are so accessible.  If you’ve had surgery recently chances are you have a few in your cabinet right now.  My cat broke his leg this week, and the vet warned me to keep his painkillers in a safe place if anyone ever comes in my house who might have a prescription addiction problem.  Can you imagine being so desperate that you would try to get high on cat medicine?   I can’t, but growing numbers of people can–and it’s a problem that is not going away on its own.

Is It Just Me . . .

or is this extremely tacky?
My husband received a pamphlet today from TACDL (Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers) advertising a Continuing Legal Education class with the following title:  The Terrible Twos: Representing Clients Charged with Physical and Sexual Abuse of a Child.
Who was the stupid idiot (I don’t think I am phrasing that too strongly, do you?) who thought that would be a cute title?  What exactly is funny about child abuse?  For that matter, what is funny about false accusations of child abuse?
And no, John will NOT be attending this seminar.