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Texas Senate Republicans Go on Anti-Choice Spree

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Texas Senate Republicans Go on Anti-Choice Spree

The GOP-dominated Texas legislature has shifted focus from passing burdensome regulations targeting abortion providers to advancing bans on abortion care procedures.

Lawmakers in the state senate have passed a handful of anti-choice bills in the past few weeks, though it’s unclear if the measures will be taken up in the house, as the chambers have been in conflict over priorities for the 2017 legislative session.

SB 415, sponsored by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), would prohibit a so-called dismemberment abortion unless the procedure is, in the bill’s words, “necessary in a medical emergency.” The bill targets the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure commonly used for miscarriages and abortion care after 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that the Texas GOP has continued to attack reproductive rights and the doctor-patient relationship. 

“SB 415 is a thinly-veiled attempt to ban abortion, shame Texans who have abortions, and criminalize the safe practice of medicine,” Busby said. “Politicians should leave the practice of medicine to physicians.”

The state senate passed SB 415 on Monday in a 21-9 vote; the vote was mostly along party lines, with state Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) joining Republicans in voting for passage. The bill awaits action by the state house.

Similar bills have been introduced in several states. They are copies of legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-choice legislation mill.

SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), would prohibit doctors from performing the intact dilation and evacuation (D and X) abortion procedure, referred to in the bill by the non-medical terminology of “partial-birth abortion.” The D and X abortion procedure, however, is already prohibited by federal law. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed by Congress in 2003 and signed into law by President George W. Bush. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in the 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision.

SB 8 would also ban the sale of fetal tissue, which is already prohibited by federal law, and would impose new regulations and restrictions on the donation of fetal tissue. The bill states that a facility “may not donate human fetal tissue, placenta, or an umbilical cord that is obtained from an elective abortion,” though the bill does not define what constitutes an “elective abortion.”

An amendment was offered by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) that would allow fetal tissue from an “elective abortion” to be donated if the pregnant person “requests that the fetal tissue be donated for use in research.” The amendment was rejected by the senate.

The senate passed SB 8 in a 24-6 vote. Four Democrats joined Republicans in voting in favor of the bill, which now awaits further action by the house.

State Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso) entered a statement into the legislative record opposing the bill, criticizing the sponsor’s use of debunked videos by an anti-choice front group as justification for restrictions on fetal tissue donation.  

“We cannot afford to let a visceral response to sensationalized, discredited videos lead us into policy that places an undue burden on women, and compromises their health care,” Rodríguez said.

The senate also voted to pass a pair of bills this week that would restrict insurance coverage of abortion care and allow doctors to lie to patients by withholding information about a pregnancy.

SB 20, sponsored by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), would prohibit a qualified health plan offered through a health benefit exchange, as administered by the federal government or created under the Affordable Care Act, from providing coverage for an abortion unless the abortion is performed due to a medical emergency.

The Texas Senate voted 19 to 10 along party lines to pass SB 20, and the bill awaits a final procedural vote before being sent to the state house.

SB 25, sponsored by state Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), would outlaw “wrongful birth” lawsuits, in which parents sue their doctor for withholding information about potential fetal anomalies that would have led them to terminate a pregnancy rather than carry the pregnancy to term.

The senate on Tuesday voted 21 to 9 along party lines to pass SB 25. The measure now heads to the house. 

Federal Funding for Flint Water Crisis ‘Just a Tiny Start’

Almost three years since lead-tainted water created a public health emergency in Flint, Michigan, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved $100 million in federal funds for the city. Residents and activists say the aid package is insufficient. 

U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Gary Peters (D-MI), along with U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), announced the funding in a statement last week, saying this is “good news for families in Flint who have already waited far too long for their water system to be fixed.”

The money is part of the $170 million package Congress passed at the end of 2016 that activists warned wouldn’t come close to addressing the human costs associated with the manmade lead crisis.

“There’s a lot more money needed to respond to the largest public health disaster in the history of this country,” Nayyirah Shariff, director of Flint Rising, told Rewire at that time. “The human cost to this is way more than $170 million.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said last year that replacing lead service lines could cost as much as $1.5 billion, and officials expect it could take up to three years to replace pipes for 18,000 to 28,000 homes. The $100 million grant is a “huge benefit” and “much needed,” Weaver said last week in an EPA statement.

“As we prepare to start the next phase of the FAST Start pipe replacement program, these funds will give us what we need to reach our goal of replacing 6,000 pipes this year and make other needed infrastructure improvements,” Weaver said. “We look forward to the continued support of the EPA and federal government.”

The EPA will immediately release $51.5 million—$20 million of which will be provided by the State of Michigan, with the rest coming from federal funds—for lead service line replacements, distribution main improvements, and corrosion control. The remaining $68.5 million in federal emergency funding will come after additional public comment and technical reviews, according to the statement.

The EPA’s state revolving fund, which help with clean-up efforts, is one of the few clean water programs the Trump administration did not slash in its proposed budget for the agency.

“After a hard-fought victory to secure $100 million in assistance last year, the City of Flint will finally begin receiving funding to repair and replace the pipes,” the Michigan congressional Democrats said in their statement. “The people of Flint are strong and resilient, and we will continue to fight for the resources and assistance they need. It’s also past time for the State of Michigan to do everything in its power to meet its responsibilities to help the city recover from this man-made crisis.”

Flint’s health crisis began when state officials switched the city’s water supply in 2014 to save money. Contaminated water from the Flint River was supplied from April 2014 to October 2015, exposing the city’s residents for almost 18 months, according to a class action lawsuit  by residents seeking $722 million in damages.

Flint reverted to buying clean water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in October 2015, but the 539 days of exposure had already ruined the lead service lines, hot water tanks, and other plumbing equipment.

Last month, Flint residents told Rewire that the water in many parts of the city remains smelly, foul colored, and unsafe for drinking, cooking or bathing. The people of Flint also pay among the highest water bills in the country: Residents paid $864.32 yearly for 60,000 gallons of water in 2015, almost three times the national average.

To add insult to injury, the city is planning to shut off the water supply for those who have not paid their bills. Activists protested shutoffs at City Hall last month.

The crisis has resulted in children suffering from lead poisoning and 12 people dead from Legionnaires’ disease, according to the New York Times.

For many in the largely Black, low-income city who continue to feel the devastating effects of the crisis, this funding is too little, too late. The Trump administration’s silence on the issue has not helped allay fears that there is no end in sight to the Flint water crisis.

Karina Petri, founder of the grassroots organization Project Flint, told Rewire in a phone interview that she is concerned about the money, given Flint’s corrupt government and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s apathy about the water poisoning.

“The funding is of concern as hundreds of millions of dollars have gone missing throughout this past year, and I worry whose hands will be in charge over this money,” she said.

Petri said the city’s pipe replacement plan does not extend to the pipes in homes that have been contaminated and continue to leech lead into tap water. “What is the plan to cover costs for individual home pipe replacement?” Petri asked.

The Stabenow-Peters-Kildee agreement was signed into law by President Obama in December. Clean water activist Melissa Mays told Rewire it is high time President Trump follow it up with further action.

“I find it interesting that some branches of the media are claiming that Trump did this for us. However, Trump did promise to help us so now it’s his turn to step up and send us additional funding because 100 million dollars is just a tiny start,” she said. “I think it would be very helpful that President Trump stop rolling back environmental regulations and getting rid of the EPA. Otherwise he’s going to usher in thousands of more Flints.”

A Reuters investigation discovered thousands of areas across the country, from Fresno to Cleveland, with levels of childhood lead poisoning higher than in Flint. Reuters found almost 3,000 areas with poisoning rates far higher than that of Flint and has compiled an interactive map of lead hotspots around the nation.

“It’s a widespread problem and we have to get a better idea of where the sources of exposure are,” California Assembly Member Bill Quirk told Reuters.

Reuters found at least 29 California neighborhoods where children’s blood tests showed rates of lead exposure at least as high as in Flint. One Fresno neighborhood recorded rates nearly three times higher than Flint’s, Reuters reported.

From Ferguson to SXSW, It’s a Long Way to Erase Implicit Bias and Racism

Two-and-a-half years after the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old Black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a new video is raising questions about what happened at the convenience store Michael Brown visited on August 9, 2014.

The confrontation, in which Officer Darren Wilson fired 12 shots and killed Brown, set off a series of protests in the northern suburb of St. Louis. These protests, in turn, spilled into coordinated actions across the nation.

Wilson was cleared of wrongdoing, first by a St. Louis grand jury in 2014 and then by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2015, fueling racial tensions and continued conversations about implicit bias and racism in police departments.

Implicit bias or unconscious racism happens when an individual carries certain negative attitudes or believes in stereotypes about a population without their conscious knowledge of that belief system. This is exemplified in studies showing white people often, and unknowingly, associate criminality with Black people, according to the Perception Institute, a consortium of social scientists who study bias.

Rachel Godsil, co-founder of Perception Institute, told Rewire in a phone interview that the Brown case and the previously unreleased video really show how implicit bias works.

In Brown’s case, those who looked at his family, life, and experience, and what law enforcement said about the shooting, judged Brown for a minor crime he may not have committed instead of examining the facts of the shooting independently. It exemplifies how Black men are disproportionately seen as a danger or a threat, Godsil said.

The previously unreleased surveillance footage was shown in Stranger Fruit, a documentary by Jason Pollock that premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, earlier this month. The documentary tells the story of the shooting from Brown’s family’s perspective and shows Brown entering a Ferguson convenience store more than 10 hours prior to the fatal noon shooting. Not previously released by the Ferguson Police Department, the surveillance video from the early-morning hours of August 9 appears to show Brown exchanging a bag for a pack of cigarillos and a soda, in what Pollock claims was a marijuana trade. Brown leaves the cigarillos behind, presumably to pick them up later.

A previously released security video documented the next sequence of events when Brown returned and, as the police reported it, robbed the store minutes before the fatal shooting.

Pollock argues in his film that the unreleased footage challenges the former police narrative because it shows Brown returning for goods he had already acquired. However, investigators and attorneys on both sides had viewed the footage after Brown’s death, according to St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch. The prosecutor said the video had been deemed irrelevant to the investigation.

Following the SXSW screening, McCulloch released the unedited surveillance footage, parts of which were included in Stranger Fruit, to counter claims that there was a cover-up. “It’s not as though it was hidden away somewhere,” McCulloch said, according to news reports.

The store owners also dispute Pollock’s narrative, while the convenience store’s attorney told CNN that the bag Brown left on the counter was marijuana. Meanwhile, a co-owner of the store told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he wasn’t there that night and cannot confirm or deny whether there had been some kind of transaction between Brown and the clerks working at the time.

The new video led to renewed protests in Ferguson on March 12, CBS News reported.

Michael Brown Sr., who has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Wilson, former Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, and the City of Ferguson, told the Daily Beast he doesn’t see the new footage as “just stupid,” which is how McCulloch labeled it.

“For the protesters and everyone else that was out there fighting for justice, it was a smack in the face that they felt they needed to do something, but now they know they were right. There was a piece missing,” Brown Sr. said.

“We, as his family, it’s a big pill to swallow … it’s like, damn, Mike is still working from the grave,” he added.

This new development and the protest it sparked are unlikely to change the outcome of the case.

Tara Tee of HandsUp United told Rewire in a phone interview that those people who have already made their minds up about what they saw will not use their critical thinking to see that “things don’t match up”—a sentiment Black people in Ferguson have cried themselves hoarse expressing, with chants like “Hands up, don’t shoot!” She said she has no hope that those people will see things any differently than they did before.

“Who was that video for? White people?” Tee said.

“Why are we having this conversation again?” she asked. “There are wounds that have not closed, and there are a whole band of people who made their minds up about who Mike Brown was a long time ago.”

Ashley Yates, a prominent Black Lives Matter movement organizer originally from St. Louis, echoed Tee’s comments that the new footage is provoking conversation that Ferguson sparked more than two years ago.

“Mike Brown’s body was left in the middle of the street for 4 1/2 hours and, before identifying the cop that killed him, Ferguson made sure to attempt to vilify Mike Brown and convince us all a box of cigarillos were worth his life. Rather than address the brutality dozens of police departments were inflicting on citizens, Ferguson chose to place [Brown] on trial for his own murder,” Yates said in an email to Rewire. “I do think it’s ironic that the very tape they produced to use against Mike Brown is actually causing people to take a deeper look into the lies Ferguson told and helping spark a renewed call for justice​.” ​

At the end of the day, many people in our society see Black lives as less valuable than others’, so it’s easy for those not affected by that injustice to just go on leading their lives, she said.

Scientists are in the early stages of determining how to “de-bias,” according to the Perception Institute. 

Godsil explained that even police departments aware of and trained in avoiding implicit bias have a hard time separating calls from citizens who tend to alert them about Black men spotted in the streets, irrespective of whether or not an actual crime is being committed.

The Center for Policing Equity, a research and action think tank, has been pushing for more data and dialogue between communities and their local police departments to combat racism and bias at the district level, said Chris Burbank, director of law enforcement engagement at the center and a former police chief in Salt Lake City, in a phone interview with Rewire.

“We are absolutely focused on bias in policing,” he said. “We know that men of color, especially Black men ages 18 to 35, are more likely to be engaged by police or have force used against them, and we work with many police agencies across the country to give tests and surveys to determine individual officer bias.”

It is not just individual bias in communities and in police forces, but agency and policy that often inject bias into a department, Burbank said. He mentioned the stop-and-frisk tactics in New York as an example of racial profiling in Black neighborhoods.

Rewire has reported on how the program was deemed racist and an abject failure by civil liberties advocates, as it allowed police to stop and frisk a person without reasonable cause to do so. This then led to racial profiling and infringements on constitutional rights, especially in poverty-stricken and racially segregated neighborhoods.

The controversial practice was significantly reduced after a series of lawsuits that resulted in changes to this flawed policing tool.

The center is currently working with 140 law enforcement agencies to change policy and practice to bring about racial equity in policing.

Burbank said it’s not just about training police officers but about acknowledging the high correlation among poverty, education, and race, as well as an imperfect criminal justice system that gives root to bias. His job is to try to figure out what the role of the police agency is to lessen or change that bias, he said.

“If we don’t acknowledge that and work to change the perception, we are doomed to have history repeat itself with negative outcomes,” like in the Brown case, he said. “Whatever your history, you deserve to live your life and not be threatened or fired upon” during a police encounter.

Change starts with having good data that is open and accessible to determine exactly what is going on. It is “ridiculous,” he said, that we have information on how many cars are stolen in the United States in a given period but no data on how many times police fired their guns. Force is a tool to reduce crime. If data don’t show it is reducing crime, then why are we doing it? Such data are critical to inform, discuss, and make policy to affect change, Burbank said.

DOJ last year announced it would start collecting comprehensive data on police killings nationwide starting in 2017, something civil rights groups have long pushed for.

The first-of-its-kind plan called for “accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement” that “is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations.”

The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database counted 963 people shot and killed by police in 2016 and 991 in 2015. So far in 2017, 237 people have been shot and killed by police.

A review before the Human Rights Council in Geneva last year slammed the United States over the high number of Black people killed by police. Al Jazeera reported that the United States accepted 44 recommendations from United Nations member states on eliminating racial discrimination and tackling excessive use of police force, but rejected creating an independent commission to prosecute racially motivated crime.

While many agree police shooting reform is long overdue, the new administration at the White House has said little on the issue. Instead, President Donald Trump issued an executive order enhancing the protection and safety of law enforcement last month. Republican lawmakers have also introduced legislation this year aimed at penalizing and punishing protesters. Trump and his cabinet have openly supported hate groups and systematically opposed efforts aimed at protecting basic human rights.

So while research plays an important part in the advancement of equity and justice, activists emphasized the need for immediate action to show Black lives matter.

“America will look for any excuse to justify the murder of marginalized persons, Black people specifically. What I hope people continue to realize is that racism doesn’t change via talk, it changes via action. It’s great to study bias, but we have enough dead Black bodies as our data. What we need now is the action,” Yates said.

Yates said she is always shocked by how little folks outside of St. Louis know about Brown, Ferguson, and the accomplishments achieved by the movement.

“We’re beginning to see some of that truth make its way out now, via films like Stranger Fruit and the documentary Whose Streets? co-produced by Damon Davis, who is from St. Louis, and as a result, I have seen people’s ideas begin to shift already, questioning and turning away from popular media narratives and tuning in to hear what happened from people who lived it firsthand,” she said in an email.

“It’s beautiful ​to see that hearts and minds are still changing and people are still waking up to the reality of racism and systemic methods of enforcement. It’s wonderful to see people’s compassion for Mike Brown extend beyond court rulings,” Yates said. “I hope what comes next is another swell from newly galvanized people who are willing to fiercely organize in defense of Black people and our lives.”

In light of the new video, protesters in Ferguson have made several demands, including requesting the state’s attorney general reopen the Brown case, Colorlines reported.

“The Ferguson Market for years has received free range to sell drugs in the Black side of Ferguson while the community complained to the police department to no avail,” Tory Russell, local organizer and mission director for the International Black Freedom Alliance, said in a statement at Colorlines, referring to the convenience store from the footage. “Why were the store clerks not brought up on drug charges as any other Black person in St. Louis would have been if they were caught on camera selling drugs?”

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history, race, and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, also explained in an email to Rewire that the broader context of discriminatory policing that makes every Black citizen a suspect, including Brown, is what reform should be focusing on.

“We’ve got a long way to go to build bridges of knowledge about the discriminatory and punitive culture of policing in Black communities in the United States. Criminality is a proxy for Blackness and much less so for structural inequality as is true in white communities. Until we close that gap, there will be no such thing as police accountability. Racism and implicit bias will persist unabated,” he said.

Would Gorsuch Follow Supreme Court Precedent Rejecting Discrimination?

A former law student’s allegations that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch last year told a University of Colorado Law School class that women often “use” their employers for maternity coverage, only to quit after giving birth—and accordingly, that female applicants should be questioned about their pregnancy plans—are jaw-dropping, if true. As Emily Martin of the National Women’s Law Center wrote this week in U.S. News & World Report, such opinions contravene a body of sex-discrimination law going back nearly 50 years.

Judge Gorsuch was questioned briefly at a confirmation hearing Tuesday about the alleged statements, and not surprisingly, he denied making them. The statements have been corroborated by a second student in the class and contemporaneous documents produced by the original complaining student, but they also have been disputed by other students.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee should be alarmed by Gorsuch’s refusal to go beyond merely defending his classroom statements and give a full-throated repudiation of pregnancy discrimination, which remains one of the most pervasive barriers to working women nearly 40 years after enactment of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

There is an even more fundamental legal principle at stake, though, about which Gorsuch remained silent. Gorsuch allegedly told his students that employers not only can rely on stereotypes in making employment decisions—that is, by assuming that a woman will quit once she becomes a mother—but that they should (so that they can “protect themselves”). But the Supreme Court has found, time and again, that it is illegal to rely on a stereotype about a group in making a decision about an individual employee. Does Gorsuch agree? We still don’t know.

In the 1978 case City of Los Angeles v. Manhart, the Supreme Court found illegal an employer’s pension plan that required female workers to contribute more to the plan than their male colleagues because actuarial calculations showed that women generally lived longer than men. The plan violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—the federal law outlawing employment discrimination because of race, national origin, color, religion, and sex—because, the Court explained, the law “precludes treatment of individuals as simply components of a racial, religious, sexual, or national class. If height is required for a job, a tall woman may not be refused employment merely because, on the average, women are too short.” Admonished the Court: “Even a true generalization about the class is an insufficient reason for disqualifying an individual to whom the generalization does not apply.”

A decade later, the Court ruled that a Big Eight accounting firm’s rejection of a female candidate for partner because she was “macho” and needed “a course at charm school” had violated Title VII: “[W]e are beyond the day when an employer could evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they matched the stereotype associated with their group.” Soon after, the Court invalidated a battery manufacturer’s policy that prohibited women of childbearing age from holding any job involving contact with lead, which could be toxic to fetuses. (Those risky jobs also, not surprisingly, paid more than others at the company.) That policy, the Court ruled, assumed that any fertile woman was a potential mother, regardless of whether she was sexually active, used birth control, or wanted children. Again, ascribing group characteristics to the detriment of an individual employee—even for allegedly benevolent reasons—was found to violate anti-discrimination principles.

In the five decades since Title VII was enacted, myriad other stereotypes have been recognized by courts as motivating illegal discrimination. Most recently, courts have acknowledged that adverse action based on sexual orientation or gender identity is unlawful because they punish LGBTQ workers for transgressing stereotypes about what makes a “real man” or “real woman.” Stereotyping also has been found illegal under other federal anti-discrimination laws, such as those protecting workers older than age 40 and individuals with disabilities.

Following the logic of Judge Gorsuch’s alleged statements to his students, an employer would be prudent to inquire about an applicant’s health, age, or family history of cancer because all of those factors could, in certain circumstances, affect the employer’s bottom line. Similarly, an employer would be justified in asking whether a candidate for promotion has elderly parents or any family members with health problems because caregiving responsibilities can sometimes interfere with work obligations. So long as there is a “true generalization” to be made about a particular group, why shouldn’t the employer act on it?

The answer is simple: Because the Court has found it illegal to do so. The public deserves a Supreme Court justice who will follow that precedent, not applaud employers who flout it.

What Trump’s Budget May Mean for Violence Against Women Programs

Last week, the Trump administration released a budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018. Across the board, many programs for our communities’ most vulnerable residents were targeted for slashes by double-digit percentages, including programs to ensure food and nutrition aid for low-income people, as well as severe cuts in funding for health, education, and housing.

Initially, several sources reported that the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women would also experience drastic cuts. The office administers grants funded under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and implements related programs such as technical support and training to community groups serving survivors, supporting indigenous and tribal communities affected by violence, addressing sexual assault on college campuses, and identifying and preventing gender bias. These reports of a reduced budget were followed by the release of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint For Balance,” which specifically called for eliminating the VAWA grants altogether (to the tune of $480 million) and influenced the Trump administration plan.

Since the president’s blueprint is only a top-line account of the budget proposal, it articulates a funding cut to the Department of Justice as a whole of only about 3.8 percent. The government blueprint doesn’t explicitly discuss VAWA, but makes clear that Department of Justice funding will be reallocated within the agency to focus more on efforts like border protection, immigration detention, and mitigating risks for so-called violence and crime in sanctuary jurisdictions (actually some of the safest cities nationwide).

The proposed reallocation of agency funds is cause for concern in a nation where women are targeted in acts of violence at alarming rates. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reports that each year women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes. Results from the 2016 Campus Climate Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that one in five women experienced sexual assault during their college years.

Clearly, there’s a need to reduce this ongoing epidemic of violence, and the Trump budget threatens recent, hard-won progress to help more women. In 2013, the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized to strengthen federal laws and dedicate funding for targeted programs to address violence among certain populations. Before 2013, Native American women, immigrant women, and LGBTQ Americans lacked proper protections under the law. Now, these groups have equal access and protection, which has been critical to addressing violence in a more comprehensive way. Since the initial enactment of VAWA in 1995, the Office on Violence Against Women has awarded more than $6 billion in grant funds.

The impact of potential VAWA cuts may also be compounded by similar budget reductions at government agencies that serve low-income people and women of color who experience domestic or intimate partner violence. Income and race are key factors in how likely a person will experience abuse from a loved one. While domestic violence happens to people of all backgrounds, the poorer the household, the higher the rate of domestic violence. Women in the lowest income bracket experience more than six times the rate of nonfatal intimate partner violence as compared to women in the highest income bracket. Black women women face higher rates of domestic violence than white women, and Native American women are victimized at a rate that exceeds those experienced by women of other races. 

While domestic and intimate partner violence disproportionately affect low-income women and women of color, high rates of poverty, lack of education, limited job opportunities, language barriers, and fear of deportation can decrease the ability of a woman of color to find support services. This makes comprehensive, multipronged interventions to address violence against women critically important.

The Office on Violence Against Women has supported key programs in communities, yet additional programs across government agencies have also helped meet these needs. Programs within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Housing and Urban Development help survivors of violence with an array of support services. President Trump’s budget blueprint is calling for major cuts to these government agencies. Furthermore, organizations that tend to serve as the single health care access point for low-income women, such as Planned Parenthood, are key to ensuring access to domestic violence screenings and other health services for women and LGBTQ individuals. Planned Parenthood is also facing an overall budget cut as part of the proposed American Health Care Act, which would replace the Affordable Care Act.

The programs implemented under the Violence Against Women Act have made substantial contributions to not only helping women and LGBTQ survivors attain the services they need, but also in saving the government money. Analysis conducted by the University of North Carolina estimates that in the first six years after the Violence Against Women Act was passed, nearly $14.8 billion was saved in net averted social costs. These social costs include those related to accessing social and welfare services, housing, health care services, and more.

Cutting key agencies that support low-income women and women of color sends a clear signal of the values of President Trump and congressional Republicans. While earlier indications pointed to larger cuts for the Office on Violence Against Women, the reallocation of funds to support harsher punishment and stigmatization of immigrant communities is nothing short of disturbing. Additionally, cuts to housing, nutrition, health, and education will certainly affect survivors of violence and their families. The budget blueprint is a statement of President Trump’s values—values that rest on gutting essential services to low-income people, viewed as undeserving of the same quality of life that those in society with means enjoy.

‘Issues in Law & Medicine’: A One-Stop Journal for Anti-Vaccine, Anti-Abortion Pseudoscience

To view the full False Witnesses gallery, click here.

Michael Brown had been dead a year when the movement his death sparked became part of an anti-abortion argument.

Endocrinologist Joel Brind was trying to make a point he’s been making for decades, in an academic article published in the fall of 2015. The longtime abortion opponent was falsely claiming that induced abortion causes breast cancer.

In a contorted argument, Brind tried to use the national catchcry “Hands up, don’t shoot” as an analogy to what Brind believes is an unfair claim that some of his research is flawed due to a methodological error known as reporting bias.

“[T]he concept of reporting bias continues to be falsely relied upon by those who deny the ABC [abortion-breast cancer] link, as if it were established fact, in the same way as ‘Hands up! Don’t shoot!’ is falsely attributed to Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO,” Brind wrote.

Just a few months prior, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had cleared Brown’s killer, police officer Darren Wilson, of civil rights violations. In its final report, the DOJ said it could not prove Brown had his hands up in surrender or stated, “Don’t shoot!” before Wilson fired his gun several times into the unarmed teenager’s body. Still, “Hands up, don’t shoot” took on a message all on its own during protests in Ferguson and around the country.

“In short,” Brind continued, “Facts don’t matter when the political agenda of the gatekeepers of public knowledge would have the facts be other than they are.”

But if Brind wanted to prove his point—that facts are often victim to ideology—he could have simply relied on his own work.

Brind is an influential purveyor of several misleading claims about the safety of abortion, especially the debunked theory that it is linked to cancer.

Indeed, the very journal that published Brind’s article appears to be a haven for ideologically motivated scholars and is funded by anti-choice groups with a clear political agenda to criminalize abortion, although those connections are not plainly disclosed.

The soberly titled Issues in Law & Medicine assumes the veneer of any other scientific journal. The federal National Library of Medicine, as well as popular scholarly search engines like EBSCO and LexisNexis, include Issues in Law & Medicine in their medical and legal journal catalogs.

But in reality, this journal publishes articles with a consistent ideological viewpoint on abortion (and other subjects, like assisted suicide), while simultaneously muting its anti-abortion ties.

Rewire reviewed back issues of this journal, along with tax records and public information, and found that Issues appears to be a tool created, edited, published, and disseminated by the anti-choice movement—something the journal does not advertise.

Thus it’s unclear whether the conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court understood the journal’s ties when they cited Issues articles claiming there to be a legal distinction between “refusing life-sustaining treatment and demanding life-ending treatment” in their 1997 decision upholding New York’s assisted suicide ban.

In subsequent years, Issues articles have found their way into other legal briefs, often in cases involving assisted suicide. On its website, the journal claims to have been cited in at least 14 state and federal courts of appeal, including two U.S. Supreme Court and seven state supreme court opinions, and to have been cited in more than 1,100 law review articles.

North Dakota’s state health department referenced Brind’s aforementioned article on breast cancer in peddling the claim of a link between induced abortion and the disease in the bibliography to a booklet about pregnancy and abortion.

Rewire has discovered that Issues has been an important Trojan horse for bringing fringe ideas into the academic mainstream. As part of our relaunched False Witnesses series, we are tracing the deep anti-choice connections that fund this publication, and cataloguing the discredited “experts” who use it as a vehicle for their anti-choice propaganda.

Concealed Anti-Choice Ties

Founded in 1985, Issues in Law & Medicine semiannually publishes medical and legal articles about controversial medical procedures. In the last decade, the journal has heavily featured papers about abortion and assisted suicide. Many of the articles published in recent years do not contain original research, but rather are analyses of medical studies or legal issues through an anti-choice lens.

Legal articles published in the journal often focus on strategies to criminalize abortion. For example, a legal analysis published by attorney David L. Rosenthal in the spring 2016 issue focuses on how states should evaluate proposed regulations in order to help ensure that they will survive constitutional challenges, particularly in regards to FDA protocol legislation.

Additionally, the journal has a section called “Verbatim,” where it publishes legal briefs or speeches verbatim.

In keeping with publishing points of view that wildly veer from the medical mainstream, the journal has published articles purporting a link between vaccines and autism, a position that has been thoroughly debunked.

Several of the individuals in our False Witnesses gallery have contributed to Issues. The spring 2014 edition features articles asserting the link between abortion and breast cancer, by a list of authors that includes Dr. Angela LanfranchiDavid ReardonDr. Donna Harrison (also the journal’s associate editor), and other ideologically motivated researchers like the Family Research Council’s Patrick Fagan. (The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the Family Research Council as an anti-LGBT extremist group.)

Issues’ spring 2015 edition features two articles co-written by Theresa Deisher, an icon of the anti-vaccination movement and a close ally of anti-choice activists.

A molecular biologist, Deisher worked for mainstream pharmaceutical and biotech firms for about 20 years, but in the late 2000s she began advocating against vaccines and adopting anti-choice positions, including opposing embryonic stem cell research. Deisher helped train David Daleiden to act as a fake biomedical researcher so his group, the Center for Medical Progress, could try to trick abortion providers into saying or doing something in violation of federal fetal trafficking laws.

Deisher has produced and promoted research claiming a link between vaccines and autism at her Seattle-based companies, Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute and AVM Biotechnology, the latter of which she describes as “the marquee prolife biotech company worldwide, certifying that it does not use morally illicit material in any process.”

Deisher’s twist on the vaccine-causes-autism theory brings together both the anti-vaccination and anti-abortion movements: She claims that many vaccines can trigger autism because they were once manufactured in human fetal cell lines and thus contain “unacceptably high levels of fetal DNA fragment contaminants.” Deisher lays out the case that fetal DNA in vaccines causes autism in her article, “Epidemiologic and Molecular Relationship Between Vaccine Manufacture and Autism Spectrum Disorder Prevalence.”

Deisher’s work has been heavily criticized, even by Catholic writers.

According to surgical oncologist David Gorski, managing editor for the blog Science-Based Medicine, Deisher’s Issues study is methodologically flawed and her theory baseless. He says the premise of her theory—that babies are essentially injected with aborted fetuses when they are vaccinated—is baseless:

Although antiabortion antivaccine activists frequently try to make it sound as though scientists are aborting fetuses left and right just to grind them up to make vaccines (presumably twirling their mustaches and cackling evilly as they slice and dice them), in reality there are only two cell lines used this way, and they are so far removed from the original abortions that even the Catholic Church has told its members that not only is it morally acceptable to use such vaccines, but vaccinating children against deadly diseases is a great good.

Further, Gorski calls Deisher’s hypothesis that fetal cells are somehow contaminating vaccines “incredibly implausible on the basis of what we know about molecular biology and human biology.”

In Deisher’s other Issues article, titled, “Sociological Environmental Causes Are Insufficient to Explain Autism Changepoints of Incidence,” she uses a controversial (but generally accepted) scientific concept—hockey stick analysis—to argue that sociological environmental causes over the last several decades cannot explain rises in autism diagnoses. Deisher believes that what can explain increases in autism rates is introductions of new vaccines.

Both articles, in their acknowledgments section, note the research was funded by M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, a foundation in Vancouver, Washington, that has donated over the years to anti-choice groups such as Americans United for Life and Alliance Defending Freedom.

Those are not the only ties between the anti-choice movement and the deep pockets that back Issues.

According to its website, the journal is co-sponsored by the National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent & Disabled and the Watson Bowes Research Institute.

What is not mentioned is that the founder of the National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent & Disabled is James Bopp Jr., a prominent attorney within the anti-choice movement. The Watson Bowes Research Institute is part of the American Association for Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists (AAPLOG), a prominent anti-choice medical group that pushes falsehoods about abortion risks.

In 1984 Bopp founded the National Legal Center, whose self-described mission is to protect the rights of people with disabilities. The following year, Bopp, through the National Legal Center, began publishing Issues in Law & Medicine, where he served as the editor-in-chief until 2010.

For years, Bopp’s colleague Barry A. Bostrom served as executive editor of Issues, but took over as editor-in-chief in 2010. An ordained minister, Bostrom has been active in the anti-choice movement in Indiana, having served as the director and general counsel of the Indiana Right to Life. Bopp and Bostrom previously worked together at Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom, based in Terre Haute, Indiana. Currently, they each own their own practices.

longtime opponent of abortion, Bopp has served as the general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee since 1978. The spring 2010 edition of Issues is entirely dedicated to the topic of so-called personhood laws as a legal strategy to criminalize abortion at the federal level. Bopp and his former colleague Richard Coleson co-authored a memo in 2007, titled “Pro-life Strategy Issues,” in which they argued that states should not try to pass “personhood” laws or total abortion bans until the Supreme Court is top-heavy with conservative justices likely willing to overturn Roe. Instead, they argued, states should focus on passing restrictions and on working to stack legislatures and the courts with abortion opponents, while keeping abortion alive as a major political issue.

Inside and outside the pages of Issues, Bopp has been explicit that overturning Roe is his end goal.

Bopp has also become a major figure within the conservative movement. He’s perhaps most famous for having defended the conservative nonprofit Citizens United in a successful legal challenge to campaign finance laws that reached the Supreme Court. The 2012 Citizens United decision effectively gutted campaign finance laws, allowing for unlimited corporate spending in elections. And following the 2016 election, Bopp, who is currently challenging bans on soft money in state and local parties, predicted “bright prospects” for campaign finance deregulation under President Donald Trump.

(Citizens United founder David Bossie happens to have close connections to Trump, having served as his deputy campaign manager. Bossie worked with Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, on films and projects for several years before introducing Bannon to Trump in 2011, according to the New York Times.)

The Watson Bowes Research Institute, Issues’ other co-sponsor, has a very small internet footprint. But Michigan business records confirm that AAPLOG registered Watson Bowes as a Michigan-based corporation in 2002. In 2015, more than 60 percent of AAPLOG’s expenses went to Watson Bowes, according to the organization’s tax filings. Again, AAPLOG’s executive director Donna Harrison is the associate editor of Issues.

The fall 2015 edition includes a reprint of presentations given at AAPLOG’s annual Matthew Bulfin Educational Conference in D.C. earlier that year, made by, among others, Joel Brind, Dr. Freda BushDr. Byron CalhounDr. Monique Chireau, Dr. George Delgado, and Lanfranchi. Delgado presented new statistics on his so-called abortion pill reversal protocol, but the paper lacks the features of a typical scientific study.

In its weekly subscriber email newsletters, AAPLOG regularly encourages members to subscribe to the journal. According to AAPLOG’s tax filing, Watson Bowes is “located within AAPLOG,” which describes Watson Bowes as, “an academic institute dedicted [sic] to fostering a fair scientific appraisal of claims pertinent to life issues modeled after the Cochrane Collaboration reviews in health care, but modified into a written debate format claims pertaining to life issues are reviewed by highly qualified experts who support the claim, as well as those who disagree with the claim.”

Despite this claim, Issues in Law & Medicine articles appear to be largely one-sided, at least those published since 2006, which are available on Issues’ website for purchase.

Issues emphasizes that it is a peer-reviewed journal, a process where a researcher subjects her paper to scrutiny by other scientists. The journal does not specify its peer-reviewing policy, but does link to peer-review guidelines of other publications, including the well-reputed journal publisher Elsevier, which enforces a double-blind peer-review policy, in which both the author and the reviewer are anonymous to each other.

Neither the journal, nor its editor, Bostrom, responded to a request for comment.

As of 2014, Issues began publishing a list of the referees it uses to review articles. As with Issues’ editors and many of its authors, many of these 18 referees hold anti-choice views, while some are more active in the movement to ban assisted suicide.

A few of them—CalhounPriscilla Coleman, and Dr. John Thorp—belong to Rewire‘s False Witnesses gallery.

Other referees include University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill emeritus professor Dr. Watson Bowes Jr. (of the Watson Bowes Research Institute), Dr. Curtis Harris, Dr. John Seeds, and Brigham Young University law professor Lynn Wardle, each of whom have expressed anti-abortion sentiment in writings and interviews. Wardle ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012 and is a senior fellow of the conservative Ruth Institute, which has long advocated against LGBTQ equality. He has written that, “Roe is an embarrassment to those who believe in the rule of law and in the integrity of the Supreme Court.”

One listed referee, William E. May PhD, a former professor at the Pope John Paul II Institute, appears to have died in December 2014.

To be sure, there are other research organizations with a particular political worldview that publish journals.

For example, the D.C.-based Guttmacher Institute, which seeks to advance sexual health and reproductive rights and was once affiliated with reproductive health-care provider Planned Parenthood, publishes two peer-reviewed journals (Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health) that are indexed by the National Library of Medicine. But the big difference lies in transparency. Unlike Issues, these journals are clearly identified as publications of the Guttmacher Institute and they clearly identify the journals’ editorial boards on their website.

Issues’ content, publisher, authors, and peer reviewers all point to a journal with a clear political agenda, while positioning itself as a journal that publishes objective scientific research.

To San Francisco-based OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Gunter, Issues does not pass the smell test. Gunter, who works for Kaiser Permanente, has blogged about happening upon the journal while researching something on PubMed. She objects to the journal being indexed by the National Library of Medicine, given its clear tilt away from objective science.

“[I]f most of what you publish supports an anti-choice thinking (or anti-vaccine) and hence is not supported by science should you be entitled to be included in the National Library of Medicine?” Gunter said.

The National Library of Medicine designates Issues with the more exclusive distinction of Index Medicus within its medical journal database called MEDLINE, which includes more than 5,600 other titles. The National Library of Medicine lists a number of criteria for inclusion in this index, including, “objectivity, credibility, and quality of its content.” A committee called the Literature Selection Technical Review Committee reviews journal titles and their content, periodically dropping titles based on their reviews.

Joyce Backus, the National Library of Medicine’s associate director for library operations, told Rewire in a phone interview that when a journal has been cataloged in MEDLINE for a long time, it is rarely subject to re-review unless the journal does something to raise red flags.

Changes in a journal’s business practices, sudden gaps in publication, or article retractions are all examples of events that could prompt the National Library of Medicine to review a journal’s practices and reconsider its inclusion in MEDLINE, Backus said.

MEDLINE has indexed Issues since 1989, which appears to be before the Watson Bowes Institute (and, by extension, AAPLOG) signed on as the journal’s co-sponsor.

Asked if there is anything problematic about Issues failing to disclose its ties to political activists, Backus responded that the National Library of Medicine encourages transparency among the journals in its catalogs when it comes to their peer-review process, their publishing fees, and their publishers. She said readers should be aware of any potential biases that could come out in articles, even unintentional biases.

“We would prefer that journals are transparent about where their support comes from,” Backus said.

While the National Library reviewers don’t pay as much attention to who is financing the journal, Backus said, they would be concerned if a journal’s funders and publishers were controlling the peer-review and editorial process. Editors should ideally have editorial independence and their scientific judgment should be independent of the journal’s publisher, she said.

Backus also told Rewire that the National Library is in the process of systematizing more regular reviews of longtime MEDLINE journals. She noted that the agency plans to specifically review Issues in Law & Medicine this year as part of this broader effort.

She made a separate point that the field of publishing scientific research has changed over the years.

“I would say the expectations around what makes good science has definitely increased,” Backus said. “And I think the reasons that those expectations have increased is that we see examples of less than good science.”

GOP Ready to Sacrifice Maternity Care to Save Obamacare Repeal

GOP leaders are reportedly willing to eliminate guaranteed maternity care and other “essential health benefits” for a shot at their embattled American Health Care Act (AHCA) passing the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, but the move may have ultimately alienated ultra-conservative and moderate Republicans alike.

Politico first reported Wednesday evening that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) reportedly agreed to drop the essential health benefits, a set of ten categories of health services that health plans in the individual and small group health insurance markets must cover, in order to appease the far-right House Freedom Caucus members planning to vote against the AHCA. The benefits categories include pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care, as well as a wide range of preventive services, including contraceptives. Mental health and substance use disorder services are also on the list.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, blasted Ryan and his Republican colleagues for their “willing[ness] to sell out the moms of America to pass this bill.”

“Their latest gambit is to gut maternity care for a handful of votes,” Laguens said in a statement. “Women and men across the country won’t stand for this.”

For members of the Freedom Caucus, the concession didn’t do enough to leave people without access to quality, affordable health care. They had more demands, such as cutting the popular Obamacare requirement to cover people with preexisting conditions. The billionaire Koch brothers are prepared to spend millions to shield congressional Republicans who vote against “Obamacare 2.0” from the White House’s wrath.

Ryan and company alienated moderates like Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and other rank-and-file Republicans who said the latest changes would hurt their constituents even more.

A leaked GOP draft from mid-February gutted essential health benefits writ large, but by the time Republicans formally unveiled the AHCA in early March, they cut the benefits only for Medicaid beneficiaries—daring Americans to cast off the poor. Republicans instead intended to punt wider repeal of the fan favorites to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) amid widespread constituent backlash over unraveling Obamacare and defunding Planned Parenthood.

Under that plan, repealing the essential health benefits would occur in the second phase of what Republican leaders in both chambers have called a three-pronged approach to repealing and replacing Obamacare through the AHCA, agency-level action under anti-choice HHS Secretary Tom Price, and other GOP bills. Price is still expected to play a role in gutting Obamacare’s popular “birth control benefit,” as the requirement to cover contraceptives at no cost to the consumer falls under the Section 2713 Women’s Health Amendment.

Republicans haven’t concealed their entrenched ire toward Obamacare policies that help pregnant people and new parents. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) used the health-care policy-setting House Energy and Commerce Committee’s markup time to question why men should pay for prenatal coverage. The rebuke showed that many Republicans don’t understand how health insurance works.

The AHCA was already widely seen as dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate despite needing a simple 51-vote majority to pass it through a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation. A handful of rank-and-file Senate Republicans opposed the bill’s initial plan to end Medicaid expansion in 2020, which was later revised to end in 2018. And conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) don’t think “Obamacare Lite” goes far enough.

The latest move will make the bill even less palatable to Senate Democrats.

“The more desperate Republican leaders get to win over extreme House conservatives, the worse Trumpcare becomes. But let’s be clear: any member of Congress who is intent on taking away essential benefits like maternity care, birth control coverage, and mental health services is in for a rude awakening if this bill ever gets to the Senate,” Sen. Patty Murray (WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a statement. “Democrats will fight back and these harmful measures will not survive.”

Republicans’ 2015 effort to repeal Obamacare didn’t gut essential health benefits. A Senate Democratic aide warned that doing so this time around would “almost certainly violate” the Senate’s Byrd rule, which puts the kibosh on provisions in a budget reconciliation bill that are “merely incidental” to the budget. In other words, Congress can’t wield the reconciliation process for the sake of a political agenda.

“This will be struck,” the aide told reporters.

Ryan presumably knows that’s a real possibility. Politico reported that his office had received “assurances,” by unspecified sources, to the contrary, “though some legislators worry that’s not true” and will face the wrath of Byrd.

“This is merely a plot to get the bill out of the House,” Matt House, the communications director for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said in a Tweet. “Provision won’t ultimately survive in the Senate.”

Regardless of Senate prospects, Ryan needs to pass the bill out of the House, and quickly, to keep up the momentum on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to take up the bill with or without support next week before Congress recesses for the Easter holiday.

“I would hate to be a Republican whose vote prevented us from keeping the commitment we’ve made to the American people for almost ten years now,” McConnell told the Associated Press on Tuesday. Per Politico, McConnell later clarified that his comments constituted a “statement of the obvious” rather than a threat.

There’s still no updated Congressional Budget Office score that accounts for the new changes. Last week’s damning estimate from Congress’ independent, nonpartisan data crunchers found that the initial, unamended AHCA bill could cause 24 million people to lose their health insurance coverage. The provision to strip Planned Parenthood, and only Planned Parenthood, of Medicaid reimbursements for one year would disproportionately hurt the poor and those who live in rural areas.

Trump’s Labor Department Pick Believes Pay Discrimination Is Real. Does It Matter?

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) grilled President Trump’s nominee to lead the Labor Department during Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, asking Alexander Acosta whether it’s a problem that men make more than women for the same work.

Acosta testified Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which Murray is the ranking Democrat. Acosta, dean of the law school at Florida International University and former U.S. attorney, is Trump’s second pick for the cabinet post after the failed nomination of fast-food magnate Andy Puzder.

“Women in this country earn about 80 cents on the dollar of what men earn, resulting in a gap of nearly $10,470 each year,” Murray said. “And the gap in pay is far worse for women of color. Do you believe there is a pay gap, and if so, do you believe it hurts women and families?”

Acosta said he’s seen the data, and “to the extent that that pay gap is there, it shouldn’t be.”

“Certainly gender discrimination, which includes pay discrimination, should not occur,” he continued.

Acosta’s comments stand in sharp contrast to the president’s statements on wage discrimination and equal pay.

Although Ivanka Trump said during the presidential campaign that her father would “fight for equal pay for equal work,” the president has described equal pay as “complicated” and compared equal pay legislation to socialism, as PolitiFact has noted.

“I feel strongly—the concept of it, I love,” Trump said of wage equality. “I just don’t want it to be a negative, where everybody ends up making the same pay.”

A 2016 report in the Boston Globe found the Trump presidential campaign paid men, on average, about 35 percent more than women.

Murray asked Acosta whether the Women’s Bureau within the Labor Department would investigate the gender wage gap, and if Acosta is committed to maintaining the budget for the bureau. Trump has proposed to cut the Department of Labor’s budget by almost 21 percent. The Women’s Bureau, formed in 1920, develops policies to improve wages and working conditions for women.

Murray pressed Acosta: “Do you think [the Women’s Bureau] should be a priority? As secretary, will you fight for keeping that?”

“I think it’s important to have an office within the Department of Labor that focuses on women’s issues,” Acosta replied.

“Will that be a priority for you?” Murray asked.

Acosta admitted the department’s priorities rest with the president.

“I’m happy to say it’s a priority … I don’t think any cabinet secretary can make commitments because ultimately we have a boss,” Acosta responded.

“Well, yeah, that’s what worries me,” Murray said.

Murray said the labor secretary must be an independent voice for workers who will push back on the president’s agenda to hurt working families.

During the nearly three-hour hearing, senators pressed Acosta on a controversial plea deal he reportedly cut with a billionaire accused of sexually abusing young girls, and reports of politicized hiring decisions made on Acosta’s watch in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.

An investigation by the Office of the Inspector General found that Acosta, while assistant attorney general, failed to take “sufficient action” to supervise a former senior official who was “inappropriately” hiring mostly conservative lawyers, as the Washington Post reported.

“It happened on my watch … I deeply regret it,” Acosta said, adding that he would not bow to pressure from the Trump administration in hiring decisions.

Regarding the sexual abuse case involving billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Acosta told Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who read portions of a Washington Post story about the case during the hearing, that the non-prosecution deal with Epstein was a “broadly held” decision in the office, not his alone.

Acosta wouldn’t state whether he’d back certain labor rules. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pressed Acosta about the Obama administration-era overtime rule, which makes more workers eligible for overtime by lifting the salary threshold for overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,476. Upwards of 4.2 million salaried workers are affected by the 2016 rule, according to the Department of Labor.

Business groups and states had successfully sued to block the rule, and the Obama administration had appealed to allow the rule to go forward. Warren released a report last year indicating that 55 percent of those who stand to gain under the overtime rule are women.

Acosta said that the Trump administration’s executive order requires the Department of Labor to review all rules, including the overtime rule.

Abortion Storytellers Gather as Anti-Choice Gorsuch Gets Senate Hearing

More than two dozen people on Tuesday shared their abortion stories with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, while the Senate held confirmation hearings for anti-choice U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

The congressional lobbying event, organized by Advocates for Youth, coincided with the reproductive and sexual health advocacy organization’s 1 in 3 Campaign “Stories from the Resistance” speak-out, which live-streamed on YouTube.

Julia Reticker-Flynn, youth activist network manager at Advocates for Youth, told Rewire in a phone interview that members of the 1 in 3 Campaign had planned to share their stories on the steps of the U.S. Capitol before meeting with lawmakers, but federal security officers thwarted that effort.

The speak-out was first held in 2014 and uses storytelling to help end abortion stigma and ensure the medical procedure remains legal and accessible. Organizers said the onslaught of GOP attacks on abortion care access made the campaign’s first-ever lobbying day necessary. Lawmakers, according to the 1 in 3 Campaign, need to “understand the personal side of an issue that has become a political pawn.”

“The campaign has resonated with young people because they’re looking for tools to have the conversation,” Reticker-Flynn said.

Reticker-Flynn said 30 women from Tennessee, Virginia, California, Illinois, and Nevada, among other states, met with 40 lawmakers on Tuesday, urging them to oppose Gorsuch. They asked legislators to vote against bills that could threaten safe, legal access to abortion care, she said.

National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra L. Ness issued a statement noting that Gorsuch reaffirmed his hostility toward reproductive rights at this week’s confirmation hearings.

Gorsuch “doubled down” on the position he took in the Hobby Lobby birth control case, Ness said. And while teaching at the University of Colorado, Gorsuch had encouraged students to be suspicious of women workers and to skirt fair employment laws, as Rewire reported.

Reticker-Flynn said this year’s event featured Muslim rights groups, Black Lives Matter, and other movements to show that Trump administration policies affect people “with complex lives and multiple identities.”

“Many communities are facing attacks from this administration,” she said. “We wanted to grow a thread and show the power in people sharing their stories.”

Pregnant people continue to be subject to medically unnecessary ultrasounds and forced waiting periods, along with 20-week bans and efforts to disseminate misinformation to pregnant people.

Republican state legislators have tried to ban abortion care outright. GOP lawmakers in Iowa, for example, attempted to end legal abortion statewide after introducing personhood legislation that would give a fetus the same rights and protections guaranteed in the U.S. and Iowa constitutions. That bill, SF 253, failed to clear a legislative procedural deadline.

Co-hosted by abortion storytelling advocate and National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) senior public affairs manager Renee Bracey Sherman, the “Stories from the Resistance” livestream featured abortion rights advocates from all walks of life.

Anne Hopkins, for example, shared her pre-Roe v. Wade abortion story, which took place in Tijuana, Mexico. Bracey Sherman discussed her post-Roe abortion, which she had at 19 while navigating a toxic relationship.

“I immediately knew that I wanted to have an abortion,” Bracey Sherman said. “It’s honestly one of the best health-care decisions that I’ve ever made and it’s one of the best experiences I ever had.”

She recounted details from the day of her procedure: how the nurse held her hand and how kind her doctor was. Despite growing up in a pro-choice family, she kept her abortion a secret for six years. This kept her from having her mother by her side during the procedure.

“It’s the only regret I have about my abortion,” said Bracey Sherman, who in 2014 co-wrote Saying Abortion Aloud, a report and set of recommendations for sharing personal abortion stories publicly.

During the “Stories from the Resistance” livestream, one woman talked about how she had to overcome “feeling guilty about not feeling guilty,” while another shared how having two abortions was the most selfless act she had taken in her lifetime.

Other speakers featured in the broadcast included Gretchen Borchelt of the National Women’s Law Center; Chitra Panjabi, president and CEO at Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States; and D.C. Council Member David Grosso (I), who introduced the Universal Paid Leave Act that passed in December.

The NNAF has a tradition of encouraging abortion storytelling; the organization last year launched We Testify, a storytelling and leadership initiative representing a wide range of identities.

More than 1,200 people have shared their abortion stories through words and video since the 1 in 3 Campaign began five years ago, said Reticker-Flynn, who works with people ages 14-to-24.

The campaign’s name alludes to the pro-choice claim that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by age 45.

The Guttmacher Institute contends that around 20 percent of U.S. pregnancies in 2014, excluding miscarriages, ended in abortion.

A Small Ray of Light in Political News: Nevada’s Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment

It’s been really tough to find good political news recently. But this week gave us a shining moment that we should all be incredibly excited about—Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution.

No need to adjust your monitor or check whether this is a reprint of an article from the 1970s; this really did happen in 2017. You’d be right to wonder, though, as it’s been a long time since there’s been any movement on the ERA. In fact, what Nevada did on Monday was something no other state has done in more than 40 years, as Indiana was the last state to ratify the ERA way back on January 18, 1977.

Since then, nothing has happened. But that hasn’t stopped advocates from pursuing what has been called the “three-state strategy.” With Nevada finally ratifying, we need just two more states to affirm the Equal Rights Amendment, which reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

In order to amend the Constitution, both houses of Congress have to pass the amendment with at least a two-thirds majority. In the early 1970s, that happened by a large margin: The House approved the amendment in 1971 by a vote of 354 to 24 (with 51 abstentions), and the Senate adopted it in 1972 by a vote of 84 to 8 (7 abstentions). President Richard Nixon endorsed the ERA as well.

After the amendment passes through Congress, three-quarters of the states must adopt it before it becomes part of the Constitution. Within one year of the Senate approving the ERA, 30 states had adopted it, including Texas, Idaho, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Things were looking great for an easy passage of the ERA, so much so that, in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court avoided answering the question of whether sex discrimination should be treated with the same high level of scrutiny as race discrimination specifically because it seemed like the ERA was going to pass and decide the issue.

But right about the same time as the Court punted on the issue, the process slowed down. Opposition to the ERA became more vocal, with Phyllis Schlafly leading the charge. She warned that society would crumble if the ERA passed because women would be subject to the draft; men and women would have to use the same bathrooms; and gay people would be allowed to marry. Those arguments were enough to slow the process and eventually stop it. After the first 30 states ratified the amendment within a year of Congress, three more states ratified it in 1974. Then came North Dakota in 1975, and finally Indiana in 1977 for a total of 35.

Congress had originally given the states until March 22, 1979, to ratify the amendment, but extended that deadline for another three years until June 30, 1982. After Indiana, however, no other state ratified the amendment, leaving the effort three states short.

So why was Nevada able to act this week?

Because in 1992, the 27th Amendment was added to the Constitution. That amendment, which says that any congressional pay raise can’t take effect until after the next election, was originally approved by Congress in 1789. Again, that’s not a typo. It was part of the package of amendments that became the Bill of Rights (only ten of the 12 were ratified in 1791), but it took 203 years for enough states to ratify it. When that amendment was added to the Constitution after such a long period of dormancy, ERA advocates began their three-state campaign. After all, if an amendment can take 203 years to be ratified, that gave the ERA until at least 2175.

There’s one other hitch with this strategy. Several states have voted to rescind their approvals of the ERA—Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota all did so in the 1970s. However, there is well-established precedent for ignoring these retractions. States tried to retract their approval of the 14th Amendment (guaranteeing equality and due process) and the 15th Amendment (protecting the right to vote based on race) before those amendments were fully ratified. But those retractions were ignored, and both amendments became part of the Constitution regardless. ERA advocates argue the same should apply here.

Which brings us to where we are today. Here’s a map from the great Equal Rights Amendment website, not yet updated to include Nevada.

A seemingly easy 37th state to ratify the ERA should be Illinois, as it is one of the most reliably blue states in the country. There is currently a bill pending in the state to do just that. After that, the path becomes trickier, though Virginia is a possible target.

Regardless, we are now in a very different world than we were just a week ago: The ERA is back on the table as an issue in 2017.

And, with Neil Gorsuch being considered for the Supreme Court, it couldn’t come at a better time.

Gorsuch has championed the judicial philosophy of originalism. Originalism says that the Constitution should be interpreted as the people who voted for understood the language. One of the big problems with originalism is that the people who voted for many parts of the Constitution were bigots. In particular, the Constitution’s guarantee of equality, found in the 14th Amendment, was approved in 1868, a time when, to vastly understate it, women’s rights were not at all on the minds of those voting for the provision. Thus, as Justice Antonin Scalia stated multiple times, an originalist would have to say that the Constitution doesn’t protect women against sex discrimination. If Gorsuch is confirmed and lives up to his originalist billing, we should expect him to rule against women under the Constitution.

An Equal Rights Amendment would make this a non-issue. It would give the Constitution a clear textual commitment to sex equality, something even the Court’s most conservative justices couldn’t deny. There would certainly still be questions about how it would be interpreted—whether it includes a right to abortion or whether it protects trans rights, for instance—but adding the provision to the Constitution would finally put this basic issue of equality to rest.

After all, in 2017, isn’t it time that our foundational document recognize sex equality?