BOOK REVIEW: “And The Band Played On” (A Comprehensive Analysis of the AIDS Epidemic in the 1980’s), by Randy Shilts

BOOK - And The Band Played On, by Randy Shilts (#2)

Review by Diane Rufino, April 28, 2019

I just finished reading a truly wonderful book – AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, by Randy Shilts. The book chronicles the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s, focusing on the cases, the symptoms, the mystery, the epidemiology, the panic, the politics, and ultimately the scientific breakthrough in identifying the causative agent, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and its mode of infection and spread.

I remember living through that frightening era in North Jersey and watching it unfold on TV and in the news, and seeing the many billboards on the highways into New York City announcing how many lives the yet unknown disease had claimed. As a student thinking of going into the field of science, it presented a most compelling reason why research scientists are so badly needed in this country and around the world. Each week that scientists are unable to unravel the causes of new diseases, or to figure out how individuals are infected or how it is spread, or to understand how to treat those who suffer, the more lives are claimed.

In the case of AIDS, if only officials had listened to scientists rather than pander to politics and especially, identity politics, the lives of many thousands of young men and women, and children too, would have been spared. I hope the story of the AIDS epidemic will enlighten those when the next deadly or potentially-deadly disease hits. In fact, the author opens the book by explaining: “I would not have been able to write this book if I had not been a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, the only daily newspaper in the United States that did not need a movie star to come down with AIDS before it considered the epidemic a legitimate news story deserving thorough coverage.”

The first documented case of a man dying from an opportunistic infection (pneumocystis carinii) due to a diminished immune system was in 1981. Cases followed of gay men presenting with a very rare skin cancer (Kaposi’s sarcoma, which previously only affected elder Italian and Jewish men). They too were found to have a severely diminished immune system. It wasn’t until two years later that the virus that killed off the critical Helper T cells (that mounts a person’s immune response) was isolated and characterized. French scientist Luc Montagne published his findings in May 1983. Due to a rivalry with the American research team, Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), treatment in the United States ignored the French discovery, allowing thousands to become infected and die. AIDS was a death sentence back then. Dr. Gallo would isolate and characterize the virus a year later (although he characterized it incorrectly; the French got it right), and with utmost arrogance and an ego unmatched in the field of research, would insist and assert that it was he who identified the AIDS virus. President Ronald Reagan chose to remain silent about the disease for most of his time in the White House, but in 1987, he finally addressed the epidemic. On April 2, he appeared before the College of Physicians in Philadelphia to deliver what would be his first “major speech” on AIDS, calling it “public enemy number one.” And then the following month, on May 31, he agreed to speak at a dinner honoring the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), which was founded by Rock Hudson shortly before he passed away (on Oct. 2, 1985). The president had been invited by actress Elizabeth Taylor, who was named by Hudson to be the chairman, to offer a few remarks.

By the time Reagan finally agreed to address the epidemic at amfAR, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed that year with the disease and 20,849 had already died.

By 1984, it was estimated that approximately 33-40% of all gay men in San Francisco and New York City were HIV-positive. The virus had a long latency period – approximately 5 years (that is, once infected, full-blown AIDS would set in about 5 years later). Consequently, the chances of contracting the disease, for those who hadn’t already, were increasing rapidly and dangerously. As of 1986, after 5 years of seeing the epidemic unfold and trying to understand it, the cumulative number of AIDS cases in the United States reached 270,000 of which 179,000 died. By the spring of 1987, the disease had been reported in 113 countries (more than doubled the number of countries from just a year prior), with 51,000 persons infected outside the US. Most of those infected had visited the United States – New York City or San Francisco in particular. Others had visited Africa – the equatorial regions, such as Zaire. It was projected (correctly) that there would be over 3 million cases by 1991.

The book makes abundantly clear why the AIDS epidemic claimed so many lives, and needlessly so:

(1) Because it only affected gay men (at least in the first years). The 1980’s was still an era of extreme homophobia. Gay men were considered perverts, freaks, and disease-carriers. The unspoken sentiment was that as long as the disease was contained and limited to the gay community, that was good. It was a good thing, the homophobic community believed, to get rid of the freaks. This sentiment, by the way, clearly drove public policy at the time, resulting in a lack of funding for the epidemic.

(2) Because it predominantly affected gay men. The gay community was fiercely protective of its civil rights and the advances they had made in being able to live their promiscuous, detached, sex-charged lifestyle. Bath houses (centers for mass anonymous sex, orgies, drugs, etc) and other gay sex clubs and bars catered to this promiscuous sex-obsessed lifestyle. When health officials advised first that public notices be posted to reduce the number of partners, refrain from risky gay sex, and to engage in safe-sex, and then that bath houses be shut down, the gay community flew into absolute outrage, threatening to sue officials and to obtain injunctions on any and all such actions. The fierce resistance to plans designed to educate the gay community and to help stem the spread of the deadly disease in order to save lives was the one thing that condemned thousands and thousands (maybe more) to a needless death. The gay community viewed such actions as public notices and closing bath houses as stigmatizing their kind, bringing more unwelcome discrimination upon them, un-doing the progress they had already made, and ultimately paving the way for society to round them up under the guise of being carriers for disease and segregating them from heterosexuals. They refused to allow any of such consequences. If they had to die for their rights, they would. And they did. The ironic thing is that the gay community to an overwhelmingly extent spread the disease as an identity group, through its lifestyle and its sexual practices, yet it didn’t want to be stigmatized as an identity group by the disease when it came time to address its deadly contagion. It was always about saving lives and not about discrimination.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

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MOVIE REVIEW: UNPLANNED (You’ll Never Think the Same Way Again)

UNPLANNED - Abby sees ultrasound

by Diane Rufino, April 13, 2019

If anyone hasn’t seen the movie UNPLANNED, I urge you to do so. There are several take-home messages from the movie, as expressed by the woman not only who wrote the book on which the movie was based (Abby Johnson) but on whose experiences the story was based. Three of those messages are:

(1 Most abortions are carried out in the earlier part of a pregnancy (up to 12 weeks; the first trimester). Planned Parenthood does an ultrasound on each woman/girl seeking an abortion to determine as closely as possible how far along the pregnancy is. How far along determines the type of abortion the clinic will perform to terminate that pregnancy. Abby had two abortions (each in the first trimester; within the first 8 weeks, if I remember correctly). She had the first abortion in college when she found out she was pregnant. It was a bad time, she wasn’t married yet, and her boyfriend also didn’t want her to have it. The second was a bit more troublesome. She ended up marrying her college boyfriend but after she found out he cheated on her, she filed for divorce. Just after she filed, she found out she was pregnant. She said she didn’t want anything to connect her to the man she was divorcing and so she had an abortion. In short, each abortion was for one primary purpose – Convenience. Planned Parenthood took care of each abortion. She was told the fetus was just a mass of cells and not a baby yet and she shouldn’t think twice about aborting it. As the movie shows, she eventually went to work for Planned Parenthood, as a counselor. She counseled women/girls using the same logic that helped ease her conscience when she sought to terminate her pregnancies – It’s your right to control your fertility, an unwanted pregnancy is a crisis and abortion allows a woman to deal with that crisis, and the fetus is only a mass of cells and so no one is killing a baby. About 7 years into her employment at Planned Parenthood, she was promoted to its director. One day, they were short-staffed and she was called in by the abortion doctor to assist. It was the first time ever that she had been in a room during a procedure (other than when she was the patient). The doctor told her to keep an eye on the ultra-sound (as he was doing a procedure guided by ultrasound) to make sure he was directing his equipment to the fetus. At 8 weeks, she saw for the first time that the growing fetus was not a mass of cells but already had the full form of a baby, with 10 fingers and 10 toes, with a heartbeat, and already capable of moving. She was immediately touched by what she saw. It was a baby. She watched as the doctor aimed his needle and suction equipment at the baby and how the baby frantically tried to avoid them. It twisted and turned and tried very hard to move as far away from them. Abby realized that the 8-week old baby had already exhibited one of the essential characteristics of all life – the ability to respond to stimuli and especially the ability to protect and preserve its life from threats to it.   THOSE SEEKING AN ABORTION MUST SEE AN ULTRASOUND and must watch an observe how “human” and full of life” their yet unborn (yet fully-formed) baby is.

(2) Planned Parenthood DOES NOT SHOW the woman/girl the ultrasound. That is their policy. Why? First, because it is afraid that seeing the ultrasound will cause the patient to change her mind. After all, Planned Parenthood is in the business of performing abortions. Second of all, Planned Parenthood needs to perform abortions; after all, that’s how it makes its money. That is how it pays its employees, is able to provide them with benefits, and to have the money it needs to lobby for its continued existence. The more abortions it can provide, the better. That is why it doesn’t show those scared, confused, tormented women/girls seeking an abortion an ultrasound. That is why its counselors only counsel “for” an abortion and never the other way around. The numbers of abortions would drop considerably if only Planned Parenthood had the decency to show those women/girls who come through its doors the ultrasounds of the life growing inside them.

(3) What you believe in defines you. If you truly believe in something and are true to your convictions, then you will conduct your life in accordance to your beliefs. That is what Jack Phillips, the Christian cake artist from Colorado did. That is what Barronelle Stutzman, a creative florist from Washington state did. That is what Martin Luther King Jr did, and that is what Rosa Parks did on a Montgomery city bus (“I was tired of giving in”). John Winthrop, who led the Puritans to Massachusetts urged his followers to be the salt of the earth, as Jesus had spoken about in his Sermon on the Mount, so that their new community would be “as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” President Reagan referenced the “city on a hill” metaphor in one of his speeches hoping that the country would see a re-birth of those values on which many of her colonies were founded. The point is that if we believe strongly enough, we must DO something about it to show others what we stand for.

I urge everyone to see UNPLANNED. Take your children. Use it as a teaching moment. My friends and I were profoundly touched by the movie.

I offer that introduction, the movie review, for the specific reason that ACTION is what is needed to stop the insidious lobbying of Planned Parenthood, including to the point of undermining one of our most precious liberty rights – the right of religious freedom; the right to believe as we are celled to believe and to exercise those beliefs, both in our private lives and in the way we conduct our lives in the public arena. After all, how can we ever be that “shining city on a hill” if we can’t exercise our religious beliefs in the public arena.

The following is an article by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal organization which has represented (successfully) both Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman. The article explains how evil Planned Parenthood is and how it must be stopped from continuing to erode our precious liberties.

The Article: “California Wasn’t Forcing Churches to Pay for Abortions… Until Planned Parenthood Stepped In”:

In 2014, the California Department of Managed Healthcare (DMHC) issued a mandate forcing churches and other religious organizations to pay for elective abortions in their healthcare plans. And if they were to sidestep the abortion mandate by not providing health insurance, they face crippling fines and penalties under Obamacare.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Previously, the DMHC had taken the constitutional route. It was allowing exemptions for Christian universities, churches, and other pro-life and religious organizations that morally object to paying for abortions – just as it (rightfully) allows for religious exemptions from the state’s contraceptive mandate.

Unfortunately, this was short lived. So what changed?

Planned Parenthood got involved. It could not tolerate these exemptions. They were cutting into their profit; cutting into their bottom line.

That much is clear from the emails that Planned Parenthood sent to officials at the DMHC and the California Health and Human Services Agency. In those emails, Planned Parenthood asked agency officials to “fix” the “issue” of religious organizations receiving exemptions from the abortion mandate. Planned Parenthood also threatened to promote a legislative “solution” if the administrative agency didn’t act. The abortion giant demanded that the DMHC:

(i)  Refuse to approve any further exemptions.

(ii)  Rescind the approval of healthcare plans that offer an exemption to the elective abortion mandate.

(iii)  “Find a solution to fix the already approved plans” that offer exemptions for religious organizations.

But forcing religious groups to act against their pro-life beliefs under the threat of government punishment violates federal law and is unconstitutional. That is why Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to correct this on behalf of three churches in California.

Again, what you believe in is what defines you. What our country stands for defines her. And this issue of abortion is one that defines us as a people and as a nation. We need to stand up for what we know is right. Not only are the eyes of the country and the world on us, but God is watching as well.

 

[Alliance Defending Freedom, “California Wasn’t Forcing Churches to Pay for Abortions… Until Planned Parenthood Stepped In,” April 8, 2019. Referenced at: https://www.adflegal.org/detailspages/blog-details/allianceedge/2019/04/08/california-wasn-t-forcing-churches-to-pay-for-abortions-until-planned-parenthood-stepped-in?sourcecode=10004429&id=3 ]