House Committee Throws Out Family Planning Funding in Spending Bill

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House Committee Throws Out Family Planning Funding in Spending Bill

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved $156 billion in discretionary funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for fiscal year 2018, with a budget that includes deep cuts to family planning programs.

The spending measure must be approved by the full GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

The Republican-controlled committee’s spending bill slashes $542 million from the budget for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and eliminates $286 million in funding for family planning through the Title X program, which provides health care services for people with low incomes. 

Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the elimination of family planning funding would endanger health and lives.

“The Labor-HHS Appropriations bill is more extreme than even the Trump administration’s own budget: It would prevent millions of people from coming to Planned Parenthood for basic health care, and completely eliminate Title X—the nation’s only federal program for birth control that 4 million women rely on each year,” Singiser said.

Eliminating funding for the family planning program has been a longtime GOP goal.

The Title X program serves a highly diverse population. Of the 4 million patients who access health care through the program, 21 percent identify as Black and 32 percent identify as Latino, according to HHS data from 2015.

Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement that Congress has a responsibility to restore funding to the program.

“Without the needed funding to support our nation’s family planning providers, health centers will be forced to close and patients will have nowhere to turn to for care,” Coleman said. “When members of Congress vote to attack Title X, they are voting against the ability for people to stay healthy, care for their families and support their own communities.”

Funding was also slashed for HHS programs that address health issues for women and people of color. The committee eliminated $6.4 million in funding for the Office of Women’s Health and slashed $11.4 million for the Office of Minority Health.

The committee approved an increase of $1.1 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), even though the White House proposed reducing the NIH budget by $5.8 billion. The Trump administration’s proposal to cut funding for NIH attracted bipartisan opposition. 

Advocates Mount Legal Challenge Against Texas Ban on Common Abortion Procedure

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging a Texas law that bans the most common second trimester abortion procedure.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Whole Woman’s Health, the abortion clinic that won one of the most important reproductive rights victories in decades last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that two TRAP laws were an unconstitutional burden on a pregnant person’s right to safe and legal abortion care.

Several Planned Parenthood clinics and independent providers are also plaintiffs to the lawsuit.

The complaint seeks to block the provision of the Republican-backed SB 8, which criminalizes so-called dismemberment abortions. As the plaintiffs point out in their complaint, “dismemberment abortion” is not a medical term that physicians use or that appears in any medical literature. The definition of “dismemberment abortion” in the legislation describes a procedure known in the medical profession as a dilation and evacuation or D&E, which is a “safe and effective method in which a physician dilates the patient’s cervix and removes the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other surgical instruments.”

The plaintiffs allege that the ban violates their right to privacy as guaranteed by the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment because it imposes an undue burden on patients seeking to terminate a pregnancy before viability.

Under Roe v. Wade, patients have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability. Plaintiffs allege that a D&E procedure is the safest method of abortion after about 15 weeks of pregnancy, and that banning the procedure imposes an undue burden on a person seeking to terminate a pregnancy before viability.

Plaintiffs also allege that the ban violates patients’ due process right to bodily integrity by “forcing women to undergo additional, invasive, and potentially painful procedures to obtain a second-trimester abortion.”

Legislators in seven other states have enacted similar laws banning the D&E procedure. Courts have blocked the bans in Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Louisiana agreed to delay enforcement of its D&E ban while a lawsuit challenging it proceeds, and a court is expected to rule on a similar ban in Arkansas, after hearing oral arguments on the matter last week.

Major mainstream medical experts oppose D&E bans, according to a joint statement issued by CRR and PPFA. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said that “these restrictions represent legislative interference at its worst: doctors will be forced, by ill-advised, unscientifically motivated policy, to provide lesser care to patients. This is unacceptable.”

Pregnant people in Texas already have to navigate a forced 24-hour waiting period and an informed consent requirement that includes a mandatory ultrasound whether or not the patient wants one. Two additional requirements—that doctors maintain admitting privileges at a local hospital and that all abortions, whether surgical or not, be performed in ambulatory surgical centerswere struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 after it held in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that the burdens imposed by the restrictions outweighed the health and safety benefits that Texas lawmakers claimed to be advancing.

“This latest attack on abortion care in Texas with the passing of SB8, which bans D&E procedures, is an attempt to ban abortion and is evidence that politicians will stop at nothing in their crusade to make abortion out of reach for Texans,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, head of Whole Woman’s Health, said in a statement.

 “Texas lawmakers have once again compromised the health and safety of the women they were elected to represent in order to cater to anti-choice special interests and their extremist agenda,” said Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of CRR.

Whole Woman’s Health is also battling Texas over regulations that require the burial or cremation of fetal tissue from abortions, miscarriages, or ectopic pregnancy surgeries, and waiting for a court to rule on a $4.5 million fee request filed by Whole Woman’s Health’s lawyers against Texas, stemming from the state’s defeat last year in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. 

Trump’s Sensitivity to Being Laughed at Should Alarm Everyone

For President Donald Trump, it comes up over and over. “The world is laughing at America” was a standard trope in his stump speeches as a candidate. Since he’s taken office, it’s continued: ISIS is laughing at us. Iran is laughing at us. Mexico, China, Russia, the whole world—in Trump’s imagination, we are being mocked from all sides. Some even speculate that Trump decided to run for president the night of the 2011 White House Correspondents’ dinner, when President Barack Obama teased him from the podium.

Trump’s constant attempts to dominate those voices (real and otherwise) into awed silence may be one of the great motivations in his life. But instead of silencing the din, Trump’s sensitivity has only amplified it, as leaders of other nations have noticed this soft spot and started skewering it. Meanwhile, here at home, perceptive journalists have started to wonder what this deep insecurity over being laughed at means for U.S. policy and U.S. prestige.

But the burgeoning literature on Trump’s hypersensitivity to the laughter of others hasn’t yet touched on the most important fact of all. It isn’t just pathetic. It’s dangerous.

This is something most women know in their bones, but which most men don’t have to reckon with to nearly the same degree. This is the truth Margaret Atwood got at in one of her most famous passages: Men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them. Robert Heinlein put the same idea another way: “Never frighten a little man. He’ll kill you.” Women learn young—as a matter of basic survival—that if you so much as crack a grin in the direction of a fragile man, you put yourself in grave danger. You may possibly provoke him to violence so brutal and so disproportionate that you could end up beaten, sexually assaulted, or dead. And in his mind, you will have had every bit of it coming, since your disrespectful laughter is the one thing in the world that can deflate his sense of masculine control and power in a matter of seconds.

That fear of being laughed at lives right at the existential core of toxic masculinity. In his excellent 2004 book, The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity, psychologist Stephen Ducat showed that conservative masculinity is rooted in the idea that penetration—having your body, property, resources, sense of control, or dignity taken against your will—is for women, gay men, and other people who don’t have what it “takes” to secure their own boundaries, and therefore exist to be dominated by those who do. A “real man” is, by definition, one who can and will defend his personal boundaries against all threats at all times—and also has the power, if he wishes, to violate the boundaries of others if he chooses.

But Ducat also points out that the obsession with maintaining those hard boundaries and that perfect sense of control creates brittle male egos that are easily shattered. For guys who run this way, derision and humiliation rank among their most powerful fears. Someone who is laughing at you has breached your boundaries, withdrawn their respect, and denied you control. They’ve seized the power to define you—and they’ve defined you as something to make fun of. Existentially, you cannot allow someone to make you that vulnerable and still maintain your self-image as a full, free, respectable man. And so you must fight back—immediately, forcefully, in a way that discourages other would-be scoffers and leaves no doubt who is in control. (If you’ve wondered what drove the overwhelmingly disproportionate reaction to Desiree Fairooz, who dared laugh at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, here’s your explanation.)

During the campaign, Trump’s constant whining that America was being laughed at was derided by Hillary Clinton and others as a negative, inaccurate view of how this country is perceived around the world. But Trump’s base knew better: “They’re laughing at you” was one of the lines that actually resonated most strongly with a lot of men who share the feeling that their essential masculine boundaries have been violated. Ducat spends several chapters analyzing the long history of conservative narratives that have emphasized the slow emasculation of America since the 1960s: the forced withdrawal from Vietnam, the territorial invasion of 9/11, the demonization of Hillary Clinton as American women moved into more public roles.

He shows that movement conservatism has been built on storylines of aggrieved masculinity: According to the right-wing media, for the past 40 years, there’s always been somebody, somewhere, “laughing at us.” This constant sense of humiliation and vulnerability is why they’re so perpetually angry. As historian and journalist Rick Perlstein showed in Nixonland, Richard Nixon was the first presidential candidate to trade on this fury at perceived liberal contempt for “the silent majority.” But Trump has fully weaponized “they’re laughing at us” into a justification for almost anything he wants to do.

And urban liberals are the cackling arch-villains in Trump’s comic-book world. He stokes his followers’ rage at being laughed at and humiliated by the arrogant, effete city slickers who they believe have taken away everything that matters: their jobs, their futures, their families, their dignity. Liberals may react to Trump’s strange laughter-phobia with furrowed brows and a “WTF?” shrug. But his base knows exactly what he’s talking about, because they harbor the exact same fear of humiliation by women, by cosmopolitans, by immigrants, by Jews and Muslims, by Black and brown “takers”—that is, by everybody not like them. He accurately described their emotional reality and offered himself as someone who understood it, shared it, and wouldn’t shy away from defending those boundaries in the most satisfyingly brutal way the powers of the presidency would give him.

And Trump is already delivering on that promise. There was his repudiation of the Paris climate agreement, which he justified on the basis that China is taking advantage of us, laughing all the way. He’s also reinstituting discredited and immoral torture policies, expressly because ISIS is “laughing at us.” His aides clinched his decision to attack Yemen by telling him that it was a way to stick it to Barack Obama. “When do we beat Mexico at the border?” Trump asked when he announced his candidacy. “They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity.” So we need to unleash the Border Patrol—and of course, we need a wall.

The takeaway from this short, bitter history already suggests that, going forward, when we hear Trump say, “They’re laughing at us,” it’s almost certainly because he’s about to put forth a policy explicitly designed to assert dominance or act out rage, abusing the vast powers of his office to brutally stuff some inferior group or nation back into its perceived place because they have dared to challenge him. Trump’s fear of being laughed at is the clearest possible sign that we have installed an abuser-in-chief in the White House. Savvy global actors have already figured out that laughing at him is a very reliable way to provoke him into ridiculous postures and self-destructive policies. But closer to home, we also need to realize that over the next three and a half years, the worst abuses of power, the most draconian displays of force, and the most profound violence this administration does to our nation and to the bodies and futures of its citizens will almost inevitably occur because Trump thought somebody was laughing at him.

The profound danger inherent in such moments is something that most women already know all too well—but all of us need to start paying much more attention to it. Because we are now living day-to-day with a thin-skinned tyrant whose primal fear of laughter puts us all at mortal risk. It’s a thought that should, rightly, wipe that silly grin right off all of our faces.

ICE Finally Removes Survivors’ Personal Information From Database

After weeks of pressure from advocacy groups, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was forced to correct its “inadvertent” mistake of making public the federally protected personal identifying information of immigrant women and girls fleeing violence.

In an effort to further demonize undocumented immigrants who, according to President Donald Trump, “prey on our very innocent citizens,” ICE launched the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office in April, almost immediately endangering some of the nation’s most vulnerable people: survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, and other crimes.

The VOICE office purports to assist crime victims—but only victims who are U.S. citizens alleging the crime they experienced was perpetrated by an undocumented person.

One of the services offered is the use of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Victim Information and Notification Exchange (VINE), an online database that provides the personal identifying information of undocumented immigrants in custody and enables users to receive automated custody status information about “criminal aliens.”

The reasoning, according to ICE, is that DHS-VINE enables users to access information “they need to feel secure.” But the Tahirih Justice Center, a national advocacy organization that provides legal services to immigrant and refugee women, quickly discovered that the database included the federally protected information of girls and women who were victims of crimes.

The database, according to the advocacy organization, included identifying information of “victims of crimes such as human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault.” Having this information public and easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection not only put lives at risk—it was illegal.

These crime victims are eligible for immigration relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000.

After not receiving a response to an initial May 12 letter to ICE acting director Thomas Homan, the Tahirih Justice Center followed up on May 25 with a letter outlining the special legal protections for these applicants’ confidentiality. The organization reminded the federal immigration agency that survivors’ inclusion in the public database is a “violation of federal statute which carries significant penalties.”

“These confidentiality provisions are essential, since perpetrators may try to locate and harm victims, undermine and interfere with their cases in order to maintain power and control, or jeopardize victims’ eligibility for relief,” the letter reads.

If it was not possible to “immediately remove” these applicants from the database, the organization asked that the federal immigration agency “take down the entire database no later than Friday, May 26, 2017.”

ICE did not respond until July 14.

“Any disclosure of federally protected information that may have occurred in the context of the DHS-VINE system …. was completely inadvertent,” ICE’s letter said. “Any protected information that may have been inadvertently disclosed in the past is no longer available on the DHS-VINE database.”

The advocacy organization reported that it will continue “keeping vigilant watch, monitoring the database to ensure that survivors’ information is not disclosed again.”

In Texas, So-Called ‘Pro-Life’ Protection Doesn’t Apply to Trafficked Youth

Many Texas legislators proudly stand upon their “pro-life” platform, claiming they are protecting human life through harsh restrictions on reproductive health access. But, as a whole, Texas lawmakers’ concern for vulnerable groups doesn’t extend beyond the abortion clinic—and it certainly doesn’t extend to young people hurt by sex trafficking.

Consider that Texas lawmakers recently eliminated a proposed $3 million budget allocation over two years to help minors who had been “induced by force, fraud, or coercion” to engage in sex acts for pay before they turned 18. This promising survivor-centered proposal, championed by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) and child welfare advocates, would have provided medical services, counseling, and housing for young trafficking victims. It found early support in the House, but was removed in a closed House-Senate conference committee; Hinojosa later said she did not know why it was stripped.

We shouldn’t be surprised because Texas lawmakers have shown time and time again how the buck stops at the moment of birth—and how little they care about their constituents’ lives and health. In 2013, state legislators passed HB 2, which imposed strict regulations on abortion providers, including the requirement that “all Texas facilities performing abortions … meet hospital-like standards.” Unable to construct new facilities to meet these mandates, more than half of abortion-providing clinics closed their doors, leaving many people without critical health services. And even after the U.S. Supreme Court declared parts of HB 2 unconstitutional in 2016, Texas legislators continued their anti-choice rampage, killing bills supporting reproductive access in the 2017 event called the “Mother’s Day Massacre.”

The massacre continued later in the month with the defeat of the youth trafficking measure. The proposal went down despite a January statement from Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that “sex trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes facing our society” and Gov. Greg Abbott’s listing “stopping human trafficking” and “protecting our children” as two of his top ten issues on his election platform.

Though it’s hard to quantify the prevalence of sex trafficking, there’s a need to fund recovery services if we go by the estimated numbers alone. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 670 human trafficking cases in Texas in 2016, with slightly more than a third of cases involving minors. Research findings released by the University of Texas at Austin in December 2016 presented even more troubling statistics, estimating that nearly 79,000 youth in Texas alone are victims of sex trafficking—troubling because a previous national estimate put the number of minors involved in sex trafficking in the 100,000 range with 300,000 more thought to be at risk.

Health impacts of sex trafficking can be acute or long-term, encompassing physical illnesses like sexually transmitted infections and pelvic inflammatory disease, and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Additionally, victims of traumatic crimes, like sex trafficking, might partake in risky behaviors to cope, such as self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or self-harming.

Perhaps more disturbing is that although Texas law dictates that trafficked youth (under 18 years old) are victims, Texas law enforcement still arrests minors for prostitution. Housing and rehabilitative options for trafficked youth in Texas are few and far between, so young sexual trafficking survivors are often routed through the criminal justice system when the right option for both youth and their communities would be a less traumatizing, more therapeutic placement.

Minors who were trafficked and women of childbearing age bear the burden of misguided, and at times, life-threatening legislation in Texas.

Legislators cannot claim to value the life of a child when they’re treating young trafficking survivors as criminals, deciding not to fund necessary support services, or wasting taxpayer money to prop up anti-abortion laws. While Texas was busy erecting roadblocks to abortion and other reproductive health care, defending HB 2 cost the state at least $1 million, and the price tag could climb to $4 million if the state is ordered to pay the legal costs incurred by those challenging the law.

Texas legislators can’t claim to champion life at all stages. The rights to protection from harm and health care should extend to all citizens of Texas.

The good news is that there is hope. Texas legislators can take meaningful actions to allocate funding to reproductive health services, with an eye toward increasing access and affordability for all. Significant funding should also be directed into preventing children from being sexually exploited and funding treatment services for those who have already suffered. And women and survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking should play crucial roles in these legislative and funding decisions, instead of lawmakers who lack their lived experiences.

Will Chris Christie Yield on New Jersey’s ‘Embarrassing’ Welfare Cap?

In the early 1990s, a New Jersey lawmaker made history when he came up with an idea for the state’s poor constituents that was saturated with sexism and racism: denying extra welfare benefits to families that had additional children in an attempt to keep them from expanding. Now a quarter century later, advocates and lawmakers in the state are fighting to get rid of the family cap once and for all.

They nearly tasted victory this month—state legislators wrote language into a budget agreement that would have temporarily repealed the family cap for the year. But Republican Gov. Chris Christie quietly scratched that language out before signing it into law. Now their hopes rest on a bill currently sitting on Christie’s desk that would eliminate the state’s welfare family cap.

The history isn’t pretty. In 1992, then-New Jersey State Assembly member Wayne Bryant crusaded to upend his state’s welfare program, focusing most extensively on one particular change: the family cap.

The Democratic lawmaker pushed his policy in an explicit attempt to curb the family sizes of poor state residents who needed cash assistance. “What this [cap] does is give welfare recipients a choice,” he said at the time. “They either can have additional children and work to pay the added costs, or they can decide not to have any more children.”

In an op-ed for the Washington Post a few years later, he bragged of how the policy seemed to have led to an 11 percent drop in birth rates among recipients.

The motivation wasn’t race-neutral, either. Bryant, himself a Black man, wrote, “Though we are not the majority of people on welfare, we are disproportionately there. So if all you see of us on television are drug addicts and welfare mothers, and if, in fact, too many of us are not productive members of society, when you see me you’ll judge me the same way. And so it became very important to me to make the social support system work right.”

Bryant didn’t deploy the myth of the “welfare queen” explicitly, but his reforms, and the reasoning behind them, stemmed straight from it. After Ronald Reagan introduced the idea in campaign speeches in the mid-’70s, the country became gripped with a mania about the idea that Black women were enrolling in welfare so they didn’t have to work and having as many children as they could in order to receive higher benefits. Never mind that a large majority of recipients worked in a given year, nor that only 10 percent of households on welfare in 1990 had more than three children.

Bryant’s experiment in New Jersey would eventually worm its way into Congress’ debate on overhauling the entire country’s welfare system. When House Republicans put forward their Contract with America in 1994, it included a pledge to “discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by … denying increased [benefits] for additional children while on welfare.” After reform passed in 1996, 22 states eventually implemented their own family caps.

Since then, seven have reversed course, once again offering more assistance to help a poor family cover the needs of additional children it welcomes into the world. There has also since been no evidence that family caps affect welfare recipients’ family sizes—which look the same as people who aren’t enrolled in public benefits—while instead they serve to increase poverty.

But New Jersey’s cap has remained, denying more than 20,000 children the extra cash assistance they would have otherwise received.

“It’s not a huge number over such a long course of years, but still you’re talking about some of the most vulnerable families in the state,” said Jon Whiten, vice president of advocacy group New Jersey Policy Perspective. “The family cap was a policy that really just punished the poor for being poor … That’s unconscionable.”

In New Jersey, a mother who’s enrolled in the program and has a second child gets just $322 a month, compared to the $424 a month she would have gotten if she had her child before enrolling. “It’s just unbelievable to me that we can expect people to survive, especially in a high-cost state like New Jersey, on that low of an amount,” said Renee Koubiadis, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.

Repealing the cap, on the other hand, would cost the state $2.3 million a year.

Momentum to do so didn’t really get going until late 2015, though, when Whiten’s organization started talking about the policy with lawmakers and then published a report on the cap. “That really brought to light for legislators … that this family cap is hurting families,” recalled Koubiadis. “Some of our legislative leaders have even said … that they had no idea how harmful these policies were.”

The advocates convened a large coalition, pulling in not just anti-poverty organizations but also faith groups such as the Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of New Jersey and the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey.

It didn’t take long for action to follow.

“The family cap just is … devastating because it’s the children that end up getting punished,” said Assembly member Liz Muoio (D), who has sponsored legislation to get rid of it. “Child poverty is both inhumane and costly for states.” She also noted that the racial aspect hasn’t subsided; children in poverty continue to be disproportionately people of color.

“We should do better by our state’s children,” she said.

The 2016 bill passed with bipartisan support. “It pretty much sailed through,” Whiten said. It went from a press conference to passage within four months—pretty unheard of, Koubiadis said, for something not being pushed by the governor himself.

But Christie vetoed the bill last year. In his veto message, he said the cap “serves to equalize treatment of [welfare] recipients and other residents of the state who do not automatically receive higher incomes following the birth of a child.”

“I will not sign a bill that will alter the carefully constructed balance between assistance and equity reflected by the family cap,” he added.

Advocates and lawmakers could have decided to simply wait in the hopes that the state will get a friendlier governor after the gubernatorial election later this year. But the issue held too much importance to let it dwindle. “We had some momentum from last year with the legislation being passed, so we decided to just go ahead and get a new set of bills going,” Whiten said.

The legislation once again flew through the legislature in a matter of months.

Then lawmakers spotted a new opportunity in the budget agreement. Christie said he would sign off on all of the legislators’ additions to a budget agreement after the state government briefly shut down. But instead, at the last minute, he removed the family cap language.

“He went after the state’s probably most vulnerable groups … which are very poor children,” Muoio said. “Those are what he decided to redline out of this. It’s unconscionable.”

No one is very hopeful that Christie will sign the current bill into law, although Muoio would like to try to override a potential veto if it happens. A spokesperson for the governor declined to comment on what Christie will do. Still, everyone has their sights set on next year. Muoio plans to reintroduce the bill early in 2018.

“We built up some legislative champions and got people engaged in this issue,” Whiten said. “It passed relatively easily, so there’s no reason to think it won’t again next year.” If the governor’s race goes the way they hope, they can finally “put that punitive and awful policy where it belongs in New Jersey, which is in the history books, not on the actual books.”

“I don’t see how we have a choice as a state, I really don’t,” Muoio added. “It’s an embarrassment to be in the position we’re in.”

House Members Put Reproductive Health Care in Its Place

The atmosphere at a House Appropriations Committee lunch meeting on women’s health midday Wednesday was predictably charged.

The Trump administration has proposed to defund Planned Parenthood and make severe cuts in other women’s health programs, such as Title X, a 40-year-old program that provides grants for family planning, and grants for teen pregnancy prevention. Congressional Republicans call Title X funding “controversial” and have repeatedly sought to eliminate the program, which serves people with low incomes.

Much of the male-dominated debate—over chili dogs and orange juice—was nominally about where women prefer to seek health care. But the central character was abortion.

Democratic representatives introduced several amendments related to women’s health, including one restoring teen pregnancy prevention grants and another striking language that would allow employers to exclude certain procedures from their health plans if they found them morally objectionable. All of the amendments failed in the Republican-controlled body.

“No taxpayer dollars should be used to fund abortion, and I’ll fight any effort to dilute or get around that,” declared Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), who prefaced her comments by calling herself “proudly pro-life.”

Federal funds are already prohibited for abortions under the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976.

So the question of where women should be able to obtain health care has become an odd proxy for the abortion issue. According to Planned Parenthood, 60 percent of women who use their clinics consider it their main source for medical attention.

“We see community health centers as a more appropriate provider, and those are funded in the bill,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).

Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) agreed, saying women in his state—home to only one Planned Parenthood clinic—prefer to get their care at community health centers. “When we have an opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood and invest in community health centers, that’s good for West Virginia,” Jenkins said.

But money saved by defunding Planned Parenthood isn’t slated for community health centers, whose funding isn’t changing under the Trump administration’s proposed budget. Some of the community health centers pushed by GOP lawmakers refuse to provide a full range of family planning services, citing religious opposition to contraception.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) pointed out: “We may disagree in terms of a woman’s right to choose abortions, but I hope we can agree that women should be able to make their own health care decisions.”

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Wisconsin’s OB-GYN Shortage Could Get Worse if Republicans Get Their Way

A Wisconsin GOP lawmaker’s crusade against Planned Parenthood could cost the state’s flagship university millions and exacerbate the state’s shortage of OB-GYNs.

Wisconsin is facing a shortage of physicians who provide obstetrics and gynecological care, as 20 of the state’s 72 counties lack an OB-GYN, reports the Associated Press.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health this fall launched the nation’s first rural residency program for OB-GYNs, with the hopes of increasing the number of doctors who can provide OB-GYN care in underserved areas.

But a bill pending in the GOP-held state legislature threatens to undermine the university’s efforts.

AB 206, sponsored by Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), would prohibit a University of Wisconsin employee from performing or assisting in the performance of an abortion.

The bill would bar a university employee “in the scope of his or her employment” from providing abortion care for a private entity other than a hospital. University employees would also be prohibited from providing or receiving training in performing abortions, unless the training occurs at a hospital.

UW-Madison has an arrangement with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin allowing faculty to train OB-GYN residents in abortion care at the organization’s Madison clinic. The Republican bill would bar this arrangement, leaving residents without an alternative resource for training in abortion care.

The bill is the latest chapter in Jacque’s crusade against Planned Parenthood.

Jacque was among the most vocal supporters of 2011 legislation to prohibit state funds for abortion providers. In 2015, Jacques introduced a bill to divert Title X family planning funds away from Planned Parenthood.

Nicole Safar, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, told the Associated Press that the bill would have a significant effect not just on access to abortion care, but on state residents’ access to basic reproductive health care.  

“The impact will be overall access to OB-GYNs,” Safar said. “The intent Andre Jacque has for this bill is not at all the impact it will have in the real world.”

UW-Madison officials have raised concerns about the bill’s possible effects on the university’s OB-GYN residency program.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), a national organization that provides accreditation for graduate medical programs, requires that medical schools offer training in abortion care in order to obtain and maintain accreditation. Residents who have a religious or moral objection to abortion must be allowed to opt out of the training without repercussions, according to ACGME guidelines.

Susan White, ACGME spokesperson, told the Associated Press that the organization would not comment on whether any university has lost accreditation for failing to provide residents with training in abortion care.

But the organization published a statement clarifying that while it does not take a position on the pending legislation, all obstetrics and gynecology residency programs must include an “opportunity for direct procedural training in terminations of pregnancy.”

The state assembly committee on science and technology on Tuesday held a hearing on the billJacque testified that the intent of the bill was to “terminate the appalling arrangement” between UW-Madison and Planned Parenthood.

Jacque disputed criticisms of the bill’s impact on the university, claiming the bill would not result in loss of accreditation for the university’s residency program. “I am 100 percent confident that UW is not going to see any significant repercussions as a result of this,” Jacque said.

Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, testified that the bill was of “grave concern,” and said the bill would make it impossible for the medical school to meet the accreditation requirements.

“AB 206 will result in the loss of accreditation of our OB-GYN training program because the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education clearly requires that OB-GYN programs provide training or access to training in the provisions of abortions as part of a planned and supervised curriculum,” Golden said.

Lisa Wilson, senior legal counsel for UW-Madison, testified that the university is already complying with a 2011 statute that prohibits state funds from being used for abortion services.

“State funds are not paid to a physician. We don’t take state taxpayer dollars and pay them to a physician to perform an abortion. Those services are billed to Planned Parenthood that reimburses that cost,” Wilson said.

If the bill becomes law it could not only result in UW-Madison’s residency program losing accreditation. It could also cost both the university and the community millions of dollars, according to a state report on the bill’s fiscal impact.

The report states that the financial impact on the University of Wisconsin and the state’s medical industry would be “significant.”

Loss of accreditation would result in faculty departing, costing the university about $4 million in extramural grants and clinical trials receipts, according to the fiscal report. The search, recruitment, and startup support for at least 22 private practice OB-GYNs would cost Wisconsin another $3.3 million.

The bill remains pending in committee.

Trump Continues to Push Baseless Voter Fraud Accusations

President Donald Trump continued to promote baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud Wednesday at the first meeting of a commission led by politicians known for supporting voter suppression.

“This commission is tasked with the sacred duty of upholding the ballot box and the principle of ‘one citizen, one vote,’” Trump said during an address to his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

Though Vice President Mike Pence—the commission’s chair—claimed the group had no “preconceived notions” about where their probe would lead, several members of the group have a record of pushing voter restrictions. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the committee, has an extensive history of trying to implement voter suppression measures in Kansas. 

Kobach cast doubt on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 landslide popular vote win in an interview after the committee’s meeting. Kobach told NBC News that “we may never know” if Clinton tallied nearly 3 million more votes than Trump. 

The Trump administration launched its unfounded voter fraud probe in May with an executive order establishing the commission. The effort was swiftly condemned by voting and civil rights advocates who point to the lack of evidence for systemic voter fraud and worry the commission could be used to justify nationwide voter restrictions that disproportionately affect voters of color and people with low incomes.

After the commission issued a letter to voting officials in all 50 states in June requesting personal information about voters, officials in 44 states and Washington, D.C., refused to hand over at least some of that information, according to CNN.

Trump in his speech to the commission accused these states of having something to hide. “If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about,” he said.

The commission members in attendance, however, included several state election officials who refused to fully comply with the federal request.

The commission is already facing at least seven lawsuits, according to the Washington Post. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) filed a federal suit on Tuesday claiming “the commission was formed with the intent to discriminate against voters of color in violation of the Constitution.”

“This commission has one purpose: to justify voter suppression,” LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill said in a statement. “Numerous statements made by this President and his surrogates about the need for this commission—statements detailed in our complaint—support the conclusion that this commission was created to substantiate the claim that African American and Latino voters are engaged in widespread voter fraud.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said in a statement that Trump, Pence, and others fixated on the myth of voter fraud could roll back civil rights gains. “I am old enough to remember when African Americans were denied access to the ballot box, and I fear that we are watching history repeat itself,” Cummings said. “This is a fight that will define the kind of country we will leave behind for our children and for generations yet unborn.”

As Bad As She Wants to Be: Cersei and Female Power in ‘Game of Thrones’

In anticipation of the Game of Thrones’ season seven premiere on July 16, I made an unpopular declaration on Facebook: I confessed that Cersei Lannister is one of my favorite characters. I said this with no preface, no specificity, as in “on Game of Thrones,” because I meant what I said. Cersei Lannister (played by Lena Headey) is one of my favorite characters. Period.

As villains go, she’s up there with Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty and Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series—again, two female characters I hate to love. Cersei, however, is way more deadly and, as of late, way less morally motivated.

That lack of moral motivation is one of the reasons why I love her fierce, hedonistic brutality. Cersei Lannister—formerly Queen Consort of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, then Queen Regent and Queen Mother, and now Queen of the Andals and the First Men—needs no one to like her or agree with her tactics. She does what she wants, takes what she wants.

And now, released from the burden of children and family, Cersei is free to exact revenge and destroy her enemies at will.

Who are those enemies? An entire system rooted in patriarchy that titled her as mere chattel, underestimated her, and labeled her as nothing more than a “horse to be ridden” whenever her husband desired.

In rejecting this system and destroying all who oppose her, Cersei eschews the dominant female revenge narrative in film and television: specifically, that children, family, men, and an injured ego—gender-based assumptions related to perceived “female” desires—are the main reasons a woman would fight, exact revenge, or seek power.

For six seasons, Game of Thrones viewers have debated Cersei Lannister’s actions and motivations, pushing her story into one or more of the acceptable boxes typical of female revenge tales. At different times throughout her history, Cersei seems to have embodied them all.

The most common female revenge narrative centers around rejection: women getting back at philandering men. Psychotic thrillers, such as The Crush or Fatal Attraction, use this trope. Diminished to a sex-crazed, clingy maniac, the revenge-seeking woman is a sad and pathetic person ultimately just looking for love and attention. These stories also appear in comedies like The First Wives Club and She-Devil. The best terrible movie ever, She-Devil stars Roseanne Barr as a disenfranchised, homely ex-wife making her way through a list of goals designed to ruin the lives of her ex-husband and the woman who stole him from her, played by a pink and waspy Meryl Streep. Both genres rely on gendered, male-centered cliches that women are emotionally unstable, vindictive, and driven to action only by jealousy.

Other female-revenge plots involve righting a wrong: killing a brutalizing man as in Thelma and Louise or sparking a murderous telekinetic rage against bullies in Carrie. Often, the female avenger seeks to destroy those who have harmed her family or children. Kill Bill is the iconic use of this device, where Uma Thurman’s character, Beatrix Kiddo, wakes from a coma and, thinking that her baby is dead, decides to murder everyone involved in the hit that separated her from her child.

Beatrix is ravenous with vengeful desire, but she still operates within the confines of a typical moral code that dictates women can only kill under a particular set of circumstances. Circumstance one: A man (in this case, Bill) dictates the killing. And circumstance two: to avenge the murder of someone close to you as evidenced by her acknowledgment of Vernita Green’s daughter’s potential future vendetta for killing her mother. Beatrix is the movie version of Arya Stark, lethally counting down a list of victims who get what they deserve.

In fact, all the main female characters on Game of Thrones function within these archetypal scenarios. Olenna Tyrell and Ellaria Sand seek revenge against Cersei for killing their loved ones. Sansa Stark exacts revenge on Ramsay Bolton for torturing her. Daenerys Targaryen burns alive a woman who causes the death of her husband, Khal Drogo.

And in previous seasons, Cersei also acts within the confines of these conventional storylines. She drugs her cheating husband’s wine, ultimately causing his death. She orders the murders of his illegitimate children, attempting to ensure that Robert Baratheon’s offspring die with him. She tries to have her brother Tyrion killed on numerous occasions because she believes first, that he killed their mother in childbirth, and second, that he kills her son, Joffrey. Cersei so wonderfully says, “I choose violence,” and Cersei deals with any potential threat to her brother-lover, Jaime; her father; and her children with that decision in mind.

But, at the end of the sixth season, there is a marked shift in Cersei’s motivations. Before her Walk of Atonement, Cersei appears driven by an extreme loyalty to her family. She tells Joffrey, “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.” Then she is imprisoned and tortured. She is forced to display the shame of her naked body, which houses all her sins—a concept derived from the Biblical sin attached to all women for Eve’s betrayal.

Cersei is sinful because she is a woman, because she desires power and ambition, because she chooses her sexual partners, because she enjoys these things, because she acts like a man. Two of her children, Joffrey and Myrcella, are dead. Her remaining child, King Tommen, has rejected her like the rest of society has; he sided with a younger more beautiful woman, Margaery Tyrell, who can provide him with sex, which even Cersei acknowledges is the best weapon in a woman’s arsenal. Cersei tried to fight within the confines of her station, but by the end of season five, the shackles of responsibility fall away as she walks naked down the streets of King’s Landing.

Blowing up the kingdom’s highest temple, the Sept of Baelor, at the end of season six, is not only an act of revenge against her traditional enemies, but it is also an act that destroys her own family, killing off the new Lannister patriarch and leading to Tommen’s suicide.

Her family’s rejection—and decimation—provides Cersei a certain freedom. Once relieved of the burden of motherhood and family, she is free to destroy anyone who opposes her. Her real enemy is the society that made her become a mother in the first place. This patriarchal society forced her to throw aside her desires to allow men to pursue theirs. Now, she ignores patriarchy and tradition, and in fact, burns its greatest temple down to ashes. She is relieved to take power once denied to her. This is the purest form of revenge.

In “Dragonstone,” the first episode of season seven, we see Cersei stalking a newly painted floor map of the Seven Kingdoms. She symbolically crushes each rebellious state, every named enemy, beneath her feet. Enemies surround her in all directions, yet she is gloriously smug inside her studded, armor-like black leather gown. She is transformed into her true state: the conqueror she always saw herself as but was not allowed to become. Cersei wants to build a dynasty. Jaime asks her who this dynasty is for since they have no more children. She unconvincingly responds, “A dynasty for us.”

Jaime and Game of Thrones fans know that the dynasty she truly wants to build is one only for herself. In fact, I believe this has always been the case, yet her love for her children and family stood in the way. A woman murdering and conquering for the sake of murdering and conquering, not for the sake of her children or any other kind of revenge, is revolutionary.

Ambitious women are sinister, not to be rooted for or trusted. This is the framework that defines Cersei’s villainhood. However, it is not why she is a villain. She’s a villain because she kills with no remorse and kills the honorable, traditional hero types. This alone should make her a villain.

If Cersei were a man, there would be no caveats about that status. We would not be working as hard to put her desire to conquer the world into boxes of understanding and traditional motivation tropes. Stripped of her children, her husband, and her family, Cersei is left with only her core, a core blazing with her truest desires. Or, to put it as plainly as she said, “Power is power.” And power is the sweetest revenge.