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Transforming assumptions into evidence-based opinions

Karen Kubby

Iowa City Press-Citizen

July 27, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

Commitment. Proper grammar. Another monthly deadline. The opportunity to hone my skills at presenting my opinions on issues. Finding time to research topics. Attempting to motivate others to talk about issues in a new way and maybe even to write a letter to agree or disagree with my words and thoughts -- maybe even motivate enough to get people involved in an issue. Expressing consent, agreement, disagreement -- all with heartfelt respect.

These are some of the thoughts that passed through my mind when I read that a few members of the Writers' Group were leaving the area. These thoughts were twirling around because I have always wanted to be part of the Writers' Group, and here was an opportunity to ask that I be considered. Well, I was considered, and I now officially join others in my community as part of the Writers' Group.

I expect I'll expound upon a variety of issues. Some predictable topics may include reproductive health care and local governmental issues. My hope is that my columns are an articulation of my evidence-based opinions.

In my work life, there is a lot of discussion about basing opinion, decisions and organizational directions on reality data versus perception data. Allow me to detail an example of when I was ready to use perception data to move forward on an issue and caught myself in time.

I wanted to spearhead a statewide process in which the Emma Goldman Clinic determined how accessible emergency contraception was in pharmacies throughout Iowa. My perception data told me that Wal-Mart would be the sole pharmacy in many Iowa communities. Until recently, their corporate policy was to not fill prescriptions for emergency contraception (more on this in a future column).

Therefore, I concluded, even if a Wal-Mart pharmacist referred a client to the next town, it might be another Wal-Mart-only town and therefore, Iowa women would not have good access to this safe, legal and effective second chance at birth control. This conclusion then led me to spend a lot of time investigating the possibility of writing a mandatory stocking law to propose to the Iowa Legislature, requiring all pharmacies in Iowa to carry emergency contraception.

A little late, I sought after reality data. I bought the pharmacy list from the state and had a volunteer map out the 900-plus pharmacies in Iowa, putting Wal-Mart's in blue and others in green.

To my chagrin, there is not one town in the state of Iowa that had only a Wal-Mart pharmacy. There was always at least one other pharmacy in town. This didn't answer my question about whether those other pharmacies stocked or would fill a prescription for emergency contraception. Yet, it helped me be more thorough and accurate in how I thought about what the next step might be for increasing access to emergency contraception for women in Iowa.

It is with this spirit of evidence-based opinions that I hope to be a positive member of the Writers' Group of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

There are many exciting issues in our community to write about. How will the city and the development community -- both profit and non-profit -- act on the need for more affordable housing? Will the city renew a franchise agreement with MidAmerican Energy Company, and if so, for how long? Will the new zoning code facilitate more interesting and sustainable development in Iowa City? How will zoning changes south of Burlington Street to allow higher density, including a 13-story building, contribute or detract from our vision of our community? Will water users recognize the 5 percent decrease in water rates that started in July?

There are larger national issues that will affect our community. If Roe v. Wade falls, how will that relate to abortion access in Iowa? If we don't have any kind of health care reform, how will my neighbors stay healthy? How will future cuts to the Federal Community Development Block Grant program affect local low and moderate income residents? How does the national conversation, or lack thereof, of race and class reflect itself in Iowa City? How does national policy on the arts promote or detract from our local creative economy? What kinds of movements toward democracy, at home and abroad, could be great examples to further our local democracy?

These and many other questions intrigue my busy brain. I hope to write about them and spur additional thoughts in your head and feelings in your heart. Maybe, I can turn some of your assumptions into questions.
Karen Kubby is the executive director of the Emma Goldman Clinic. She served on the Iowa City Council from 1989 to 2000. She is an artist, activist and a member of the Press-Citizen's Writers' Group.