‘We Can Stop Him’: Reproductive Health Advocates Urge Action to Stop Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation

Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court is not inevitable. That was the overriding message made to hundreds of people at the latest installment of the #RiseUpforRoe tour stop in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

The nationwide tour, a project created by Demand Justice Initiative, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, features panel discussions about Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Court. It features panels hosted by freelance writer and Teen Vogue contributor Lauren Duca, activist and writer Brittany Packnett, self-described professional feminist and radio host Jess McIntosh, and CNN contributor Symone Sanders, as well as a series of featured experts and reproductive health advocates. Wednesday night’s panel included discussions featuring with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), as well as NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, who detailed what’s at stake for the future of Roe v Wade with Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“The first lie is that we don’t know what Kavanaugh will do on Roe v Wade. The second lie is that we can’t stop him; we can stop him,” said McIntosh, during the evening’s programming. “Remember we’ve had some victories, we stopped the repeal of the Obamacare. We did that. And we did that without having either chamber of Congress or the White House, the exact scenario that we’re in now. And we did it by flooding the Senate phone lines.”

McIntosh’s reference to the grassroots push to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) spoke to the evening’s focus on pushing back against the narrative that Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Court is inevitable. Both Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME), two Republicans in the U.S. Senate who contributed to the failure of repeal efforts, recently compared appeals from constituents during the Affordable Care Act (ACA) debate to what they are hearing now regarding Kavanaugh’s nomination. “A different level of intensity, a different level of intensity. What I was hearing at home were very personal stories,” Murkowski told the Washington Post in late July. “Literally people in tears. The level of just emotional outpouring that made it just—intense is the best word—is different than it is now.”

The senator’s remarks suggest apathy among the general populace regarding the Kavanaugh nomination. But according to reproductive health advocates in attendance last night, that apathy is by design. “A veneer of inevitability has been the actual strategy that the people backing Kavanaugh have used,” said Laguens, in an interview with Rewire.News. “At every turn, that’s been their messaging and now we are countering that and saying, ‘No way.'”

Laguens went on to suggest that the truth runs contrary to that narrative. “What we’re seeing is an outpouring of people saying, ‘How do I fight back?’ Tell me who to call, where to call, where to be.’ This tour is also just helping people focus their energy towards these hearings,” she said. 

During an on-stage interview, Gillibrand reiterated the need to fight back against Kavanaugh’s nomination. “This is the moment where you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘What will I do to make sure this man is not the next justice on the Supreme Court?’” she said. “If you fight as hard as you can imagine, it will work. We’ve seen this work before. We saw it by fighting against Trumpcare. It worked because people in all 50 states said, ‘No,’ and they fought back and told their personal stories.”

Later in the evening, Brittany, a patient advocate with Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington who didn’t provide her last name, told her own personal abortion story and implored audience members to make personal appeals to senators in opposition to Kavanaugh.

“There is a stigma to [sharing abortion stories], that’s why you don’t hear many stories and that’s why you have to be careful when telling your story,” she said in an interview with Rewire.News after the event. “Those personal stories and testimonials hit home [with lawmakers]. Everybody has a friend or somebody that has some type of story that they can relate to. And also it drives empathy, I think when you hear those stories you have to hear the impact and get a different perspective.”

What Doctors Should Expect If ‘Roe’ Falls

Cross-posted with permission from the author, Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick.

Roe v. Wade is in immediate danger, and we are now staring into the face of a country without legal abortion. Doctors, including those of you who have kept abortion in the distance and out of your practices, it is imperative you understand that you are now in professional jeopardy.

As an abortion provider from Arizona, a state with some of the most conservative abortion laws in the nation, let me tell you what you can expect if abortion becomes illegal either in your state, or across the nation as a whole.

Expect every medical decision to be questioned. Do you have a patient who needs dilation and curettage to finalize a missed miscarriage? Misoprostol to expel the remains of an embryo? It is not unreasonable to expect that your files will be subject to scrutiny if all abortion is banned. Anti-abortion officials will be checking to ensure no physician is attempting to slip in a clandestine abortion by calling it miscarriage management. A missing piece of documentation, a lost ultrasound proving fetal demise prior to follow up, anything suspect could land you in jail or get your medical license revoked.

Expect more pregnancy complications in your offices. The inability to access abortion care means more patients who continue unwanted pregnancies without adequate prenatal care, or without full recovery from a prior birth. It means more patients with weak hearts, high blood pressure, previous complications from prior births, or other risk factors who are forced to put their health in jeopardy because abortion will only be available for those whose lives are at immediate risk.

Expect patients with incomplete medical histories. When abortion becomes illegal, those who have them or attempt them will hide them from you out of fear of prosecution, or because they worry you will not provide your best care if you know what they have done. Never again will you be able to simply take a patient at their word about their medical pasts. Their history will be guesswork and assumptions, and you will be forced to fly blind.

Expect to be the last generation to know the full spectrum of reproductive health care. For those of you who have been trained to terminate a pregnancy, you well may be some of the last to do so. For those of you who haven’tbecause you believe your faith would oppose it, because it was too difficult to access it in med school, or because your current hospitals won’t let you and it is more important that you stay in your financially secure job and not make any wavesunderstand that you are the ones who opened this door for good. No surgeon would be allowed to say, “I just don’t believe in removing gallbladders” and still be allowed to practice. Yet when it comes to abortion, you’ve now set the standard. You’ve allowed a procedure that is conducted more than any other in the nation to be moved to the fringes. You’ve encouraged medical schools to make it elective, and to cave to political pressures to block training and end fellowships teaching the skill.

Expect to be forced to encounter abortion face-to-face in the hospitals. For decades, those of you who referred your patients to me and to clinics like mine have been able to keep your offices free of abortion. Even in the rare case where an abortion was medically indicated and they preferred an office or a hospital, you sent them away for the procedure so you didn’t have to be involved. These patients will be yours now. There will be no one else to provide it. It will now be in your hands. You will no longer be able to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Expect to fight your own hospital administration when eventually one of your patients does need care. When abortion is returned to the medical wards, it will be the hospital, not you, who will eventually decide what is in your patient’s best interest. They will be the one to decide if it is best to let a pregnant patient bleed out while labor is induced rather than do a direct abortion and more quickly save their life. Decisions won’t be made based on medical best practices. They will be made based on hospital policy, political fear, and financial interests. And as a result, more of your patients may die.

This is the landscape you will see if Roe is overturned and if abortion returns to being illegal. It’s the choice you physicians made when you refused to learn even simple abortion procedures, assuming providers like me would always be there if your patient really was in need. It’s the choice the hospitals made when they accepted that partnering with religious organizations was worth losing the full spectrum of reproductive health care like terminations, sterilizations, and emergency contraception after a sexual assault as long as there was enough money involved in the partnership. And it’s the choice that medical schools and universities made when they chose to cower in the face of pressure from the right over abortion training fellowships or internships at reproductive health clinics, afraid of the financial consequences of losing donations or public funds.

This is the new normal unless you finally say “enough is enough” and demand to treat each and every patient with whatever medical service they may need. You must stand up against it nowas this may very well be our last chance to save our profession.

State Water Filters Prove Lacking in Flint, a City ‘Full of Forgotten People’

Rebecca Abbott-Mccune was delivering water last week to residents in an apartment building in downtown Flint, Michigan. The resident was elderly, Black, blind, suspicious of strangers, and reluctant to let in volunteers in a city where the four-year water crisis has eroded public trust.

When they told her they were bringing her clean water, she began to cry because she wasn’t expecting it.

“When it takes a couple of packages of water to make you cry, I can’t even put that feeling into words,” Abbott-Mccune, 19, told Rewire.News.

A mechanical engineering sophomore at Kettering University, Abbott-Mccune said her experience in Flint was jarring. “That’s when I realized that Flint is full of forgotten people,” she said. “The apartment building I go to to deliver water, they don’t live there because that is where they lived before the water crisis turned into a whole event. They live there because they have been displaced from their home because of the water crisis. And the problem is far from over.”

Despite protests and pleas, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) administration stopped delivering free bottled water to Flint in April, citing fiscal concerns, lowered lead levels, and the fact that every household in the city of about 100,000 has been supplied with water filters.

But not everyone in Flint has the filters attached correctly. Nor do they replace them as frequently as they should, volunteers told Rewire.News.

One of the volunteers visiting the blind resident noticed that the filter attached to her kitchen tap was blinking red. She had no idea because she couldn’t see and broke down when they told her. They replaced her cartridge, one of about 1,000 left over “from when the state was trying to fix the problem by telling people to put a filter on it,” Abbott-Mccune said. She’s not sure what the plan is for when they run out of filters.

Benjamin Pauli, social sciences professor at Kettering University, said he thinks the faucet filters solution was promoted largely for political reasons for the state to get out of the expense of providing residents with free bottled water.

“By some accounts, as many as half of the households in the city do not have the filters installed properly or are not using them properly. Furthermore, there are residents who, for physical reasons or otherwise, are not able to use the filters as they are made to be used,” Pauli said. “Residents are also aware that the filters are not certified to filter bacteria, and in fact dramatically increase the quantity of bacteria to which people are exposed. For this reason, the Genesee County Medical Society and Genesee County Health Department have recommended that children under 6, pregnant women, and immunocompromised residents continue to use bottled water.”

There are good reasons for residents to demand free bottled water as a matter of right, Pauli said. “The idea that they are doing so simply because they are distrustful, fearful, and traumatized is, in my view, condescending and offensive. Even more odious is the suggestion that in demanding bottled water residents are trying to milk the state for free stuff, which of course hints at long standing racist and classist stereotypes,” he said.

Nestlé recently announced it would continue to supply bottled water to residents until the end of the year. By then “we anticipate we will have donated approximately 3.2 million bottles of water to the City of Flint and served our communities more than 1,100 gallons of water from our (mobile) Ice Mountain Hydration Station,” said Jason Manshum, community relations manager at Nestlé Waters North America in an email.

“Ice Mountain has been supplying water all summer for children at summer camps around the city, as well as providing water at several local events,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a statement Thursday. Residents may visit city help centers where the water is being delivered on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Nestlé received a state permit to increase its intake of fresh groundwater four days before outgoing Governor Snyder announced closing the water distribution points of distribution in Flint in April. Snyder’s office did not respond to an emailed query. Despite public outrage and a legal challenge, Snyder recently defended the Nestlé permit, claiming the large withdrawals “won’t have adverse impacts,” and signed legislation in June to relax review of large quantity groundwater withdrawals claiming to streamline the process, MLive reported.

Nestlé claims it pays back to the community in many other ways, from helping Flint with water donations since October 2015, providing for water testing and water filters, and by funding several environmental and community projects. It employs 154 people and contributes nearly $1.6 million in state and local taxes in the neighboring Mecosta-Osceola County, Manshum said.

Public officials point to improved water test results and how much money has been spent or earmarked for Flint, arguments that mean little to residents who have repeatedly been lied to since the crisis unfolded, who still don’t feel they have reliable drinking water, have faced a high number of miscarriages, and have the highest water bills in the United States.

“Invoking system-wide averages as evidence that water quality is restored does little to assuage residents’ concerns about water quality at the household level,” Pauli said. “Even if you’ve had your water tested at the household level once, twice, or several times, those snapshots don’t necessarily tell you if the glass of water you’re drinking at this moment is safe. These kinds of considerations are very salient in Flint, for good reason.”

A Frontline investigation in July that counted 119 deaths from pneumonia in Flint found the state grossly undercounted the casualties of the water crisis. Official numbers state that 12 died and 90 fell sick after exposure to the waterborne Legionella bacteria when the city drew its water from the polluted Flint River in 2014 and 2015.

“The State of Michigan—the very entity that residents blame for poisoning them—is tasked with the management of this money, a fact which does not inspire confidence,” Pauli said. “On a day-to-day basis, residents can see that service lines are being replaced, but beyond that I don’t think the way the money is being spent is very tangible to people. I regularly encounter a pervasive sense that little to nothing has been done, that residents are still not being heard, and that the crisis is far from over.”

The city plans to replace all of about Flint’s 20,000 lead-tainted service lines by 2020 through the mayor’s FAST Start initiative; 6,896 homes have been completed to date. Of the 6,000 lines slated for replacement in 2018, the city has completed replacing lines at 668 homes, according to the mayor’s office.

Meanwhile, a July 19 report from the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) titled “Management Weaknesses Delayed Response to Flint Water Crisis” found that the EPA failed to intervene earlier and stop the water crisis in Flint. It called for the agency to strengthen its oversight of state drinking water programs and revise the agency’s Lead and Copper Rule to improve response to drinking water contamination emergencies.

The EPA “fully supports” the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s consent order that points out 13 deficiencies for the city to resolve, deadlines for correcting each, and penalties of up to $500 a day for lapses, Governing magazine reported.

The U.S. Senate this month passed an amendment requiring the EPA to implement recommendations of the report and restore full funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that had been almost eliminated in President Trump’s 2019 budget request, according to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) office.

The agency has taken steps to ensure compliance and intends to adopt all the recommendations, an EPA spokesperson told Rewire.News. “EPA has provided the Office of the Inspector General with a detailed outline of its planned corrective actions and projected completion dates. The agency is actively engaging with states to improve communications and compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to safeguard human health.”

Where the Snyder administration has washed its hands of providing bottled water to Flint, activists, churches, and volunteers are stepping up in the embittered city that has long been one of the nation’s most dangerous and most poor.

The Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ has given out millions of water bottles since January 2016, all collected through private or company donations. Volunteers give out pallets of bottled water from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays. This week, cars started to pull up at 5:30 a.m., with lines stretching more than a mile, Sandra Jones, executive director of the temple’s outreach center, told Rewire.News.

“The line is so long and we never stop at 2 because it’s difficult for me turn people away,” she said.

The church was one of the state’s bottle distribution sites that closed in April, but people still come by and have to be turned away. Current donations provided by Nestlé and the United Way are only for people with cars. Many pick up for two families and they limit donations to eight cases for two or to six cases for one family per car. “I don’t want to look into your face and say we don’t have any, [but] we have to make the hardest decisions,” she said.

For those who don’t drive or are disabled, churches like Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and Salem Lutheran Church recruit volunteers like Abbott-Mccune to deliver pallets of water bottles door to door.

Originally from Blackstone, Virginia, she has volunteered with these churches for a month. She said she got involved with the Flint water crisis about two years ago when she interviewed Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards for a documentary. His team studied the crisis and explained how the failure of the state to add anti-corrosive agents to the water caused the spike in Legionella cases in Genessee County in 2015—a penny-pinching measure that was both predictable and preventable.

Abbott-Mccune hadn’t been to Michigan then. “Now that I am actually here, in the middle of all of it, I get to do something about it,” she said.“There’s also the look on people’s faces when you are delivering something that is necessary for life—that is just so fulfilling. If other people didn’t do that, then they wouldn’t have that water and they wouldn’t be able to have a healthy life.“

Life is still far from healthy for many Flint residents. Jones, 70, said she has broken out in a painful rash that “looks like chicken pox and it hurts.” Tests have not revealed the cause, but she’s certain it’s the water.

“I live the farthest from the water plant (in southwest Flint) and by the time the water comes to my home it’s no good (because) it has gone through vacant homes and vacant lots with not enough residents to flush it clean. It’s full of bacteria and chlorine,” Jones said.

City officials have never tested the water in her home, she said. Jones has filters on her shower head, bathroom, and kitchen taps.

“We are almost like a third-world country in one of the most prosperous nations in the world,” she said.

Many have blamed Gov. Snyder and his administration for causing the Flint crisis and several members of his administration are facing criminal charges or trials. They include Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; former Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose; former Department of Public Works Director Howard Croft; state health officials Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott; and four employees of the state Department of Environmental Quality, MLive reported.

A judge this month dropped Gov. Snyder, former Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, and ex-Flint Mayor Dayne Walling from an ongoing class action lawsuit filed on behalf of residents. The judge also dismissed race, civil rights, and negligence claims, according to the Associated Press.

As Snyder completes his last term, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer has made clean drinking water one of her campaign issues. She also has a plan to to expedite lead pipe replacement statewide, install a water ombudsman to respond to drinking water complaints, and restore the bottled water distribution service in Flint.

“There’s no reason that the state that’s home to 21 percent of the earth’s fresh water should have a community full of people who can’t bathe their children or give them a glass of water at the dinner table,” she said in an email. “For too long, leaders like [GOP gubernatorial candidate] Bill Schuette have ignored the people of Flint. As Attorney General, Schuette signed off on the Flint water switch that put lead in our water and when problems came, he ignored 15 different complaints to his office over almost two years until the media exposed the scandal.”

Schuette’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Clean water is not listed as one of his campaign issues. However, he also rebuked Snyder for cutting off the bottled water supply in April, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Pro-Choice and Christian: How I Unlearned What My Church Taught Me

Growing up, church leaders taught me that a lot of things “the world” agrees with just aren’t right according to God. Two people of the same sex should not get married, sex before marriage is off the table, and one definitely should not get an abortion. Reinforced by both church leaders and my family, these views had a huge impact on me during my adolescence.

Little did I know that my opinions on these issues would change so dramatically as I gained a better understanding of our society. It also became clearer to me over time that “the world” agrees with the thinking of that church, despite how harmful the views are that it holds.

My church definitely wasn’t a very conservative or even traditional church. It played contemporary music, and people wore jeans during Sunday service. We even handed out water bottles to activists protesting outside another church for their pastor’s homophobic comments. Yet, this kindness was actually what made the church’s teachings even worse. The church’s message and environment seemed accepting, but ironically it never truly embraced what fell outside of church-approved values and lifestyles. Instead of, for example, accepting LGBTQ people as they are, the pastors and other members of the staff would open their arms saying they accept their “flaws” and that God loves them even though they are “flawed.” These believers may see this mindset as a way of being accepting, but what they are really saying is that they will accept all of you except the part that they believe to be harmful or of a sinful nature.

When you grow up in the church, the pastors and others at the top tell you what’s right based on what’s supposedly aligned with the word of God. This makes it easier for them to dismiss an opposing view that becomes prevalent in society, because to them it is of the world or a deception from Satan. I would even hear my pastors say that we should stay strong in our beliefs even if we are called a “something-aphobe” or accused of having any type of prejudice. I believed these things for so long, especially when it came to abortion.

Growing up, I went to a private Christian school from elementary school up until my sophomore year of high school. Most of the people who attended that school were pretty conservative, so the environment definitely enhanced my way of thinking.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I really started talking to people with various points of view. My RA had a friend who was an intern at our local Planned Parenthood. She and I hung out a few times and started having conversations about feminism, the wage gap, and even abortion. She started a club on campus called Fem, where a group of us girls would talk about such topics and also just hang out and have fun. Even though I didn’t end up staying involved in this club, I did continue learning about feminism and what it really means to call oneself a feminist.

I started getting into feminist media and began educating myself on the issues. I then realized just how wrong my way of thinking around reproductive rights really was.

From Cecile Richards to YouTubers like Hannah Witton and Riley Dennis, these women really helped open my eyes to just how much misinformation is spread by community leaders. When I learned that abortion is not an act of murder that goes against God’s will but simply a medical procedure that every person should have a right to, my mindset completely changed.

Abortion isn’t this inhumane act that deserves the stigma it has; it’s a health-care service that allows people to live the life they’d like to live. If someone feels like ending their pregnancy is what they need to do, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to, and no reason why God would look down on them for it. Despite this, numerous legislators in the United States, and leaders around the world, continue to limit access to abortion care. Like some church leaders, many lawmakers and other officials are determined to stop people from making decisions about their life and the family they want—and that includes LGBTQ people.

So, while many conservative politicians will promote the idea that their “pro-life” arguments are biblical, the truth is actually quite the opposite from what they will tell you. This strategy is very beneficial for their supporters and movement as a whole, but even more harmful for the women and other potential patients who may need such services.

Now, to say that taking on this perspective has been easy would be far from the truth. My mom and I do not disagree on much, but when it comes to abortion, that is when the tension really builds, forming a gulf between us. I would try to reason with her and explain my point of view, but because of her persistence and familiarity with the issue, her views did not change. She said that she had known women who fit into the stereotypical  “slutty” category who had multiple abortions simple because they could. I would try to explain that there are many reasons why one would make such a choice—namely, their constitutional right—but because she had clearly made up her mind about the issue, I eventually decided to move on.

My mother is not the only woman in my family who I have had conflict with in recent years because of my pro-choice beliefs. I have had a fair share of debates with my aunt, whom I am very close with, over this issue as well. As for my nana, I wouldn’t dare to go there with her. She goes to annual “pro-life” conventions with her church, so my pro-choice position is antithetical to hers.

But I wouldn’t take back the information I’ve learned over the years about reproductive health care or LGTBQ rights to please the women in my family. Why? Because I know why “pro-life” supporters believe they are doing the right thing, even though they are doing more harm than good. I know why they push back against other views and explanations, no matter how reasonable they might seem. It’s because the leaders of their church and conservative Christian culture will always find a way to turn accurate information into a form of propaganda against reproductive rights.

This is done to reinforce beliefs and ideologies promoted by the conservative Christian community, such as purity culture and guilt surrounding women having sex before marriage. Even though at a glance it would look like the “pro-life”movement is only about reproductive rights, once you look at the big picture you can see that it is about much more. It’s about creating an environment where women are only fully accepted if they bear children and fit into this image of a “pure wholesome woman.” While the reinforcement of this is not always intentional, there are still many harmful effects, such as anti-choice bills. These bills have negative effects on women by limiting their reproductive options, which is harmful toward reproductive health as a whole.

So, if my experience counts for anything, maybe it’s that I was able to come to a good place where I am able to use what I have learned to help others like myself. Because if I can use what I have learned to help someone else who is where I used to be to understand that what they are feeling is right, or, if I am able to use this knowledge to help others, then my experiences and difficulties with my family members would all have been worth it.

California’s Anti-Tax Law Has ‘Robbed’ Schools of Billions. That Could Change in 2020.

Activists taking aim at California’s tax-cutting Proposition 13 say their proposed ballot initiative is about correcting 40 years of California history during which big business shirked paying its fair share of state property taxes.

The ballot measure would be the first to ask California voters to overhaul a popular 1978 proposition that capped property taxes—and instead regularly tax big business properties based on the fair market value.

“We’re asking for companies like Disneyland or Universal Studios that make huge amounts of money to pay property taxes based on fair market value—the same thing that homeowners and, frankly, most businesses have to do,” said Josh Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, which is part of a broad coalition that’s backing the measure.

In a series of press conferences Tuesday, the group, which calls itself Schools and Communities First, announced it had turned in more than 860,000 signatures—far more than the 585,407 needed to put the proposition on the November 2020 statewide ballot.

Its backers said the voter initiative is necessary to remove Proposition 13’s stranglehold on property-tax funding of vital local services, such as health clinics, homeless services, affordable housing, parks, libraries, emergency responders, and schools.

“The state of California has suffered under Proposition 13 for decades,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said on Tuesday at a Los Angeles press conference.

Roughly 40 percent of the money raised by the initiative would be spent on K-12 schools and community colleges. The money is sorely needed to combat overcrowded classrooms, fund adequate school supplies, and hire support staff, said Pechthalt, a 22-year teaching veteran of Los Angeles schools.

“Californians and California students have lost out on billions of dollars that have robbed them of the kind of education they deserve,” he said.

Passed by nearly two-thirds of statewide voters in the 1970s who feared being priced out of their homes, Proposition 13 capped tax increases on homes and business properties at 2 percent a year, as long as the property was not sold. The new voter initiative would partially change that, requiring commercial and industrial properties—but not homes or agricultural land—to be regularly reassessed and taxed at market value. Small businesses would be exempt, such as those with holdings worth less than a total of $2 million.

If passed by voters, the proposal would funnel up to $10 billion a year to local communities and schools, a recent nonpartisan state analysis found.

Critics of the proposed measure, such as CalChamber, warn that in a state with high property values, the measure could force large employers to pass higher costs on to consumers, cut back on hiring, or flee to low-tax states.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found the proposal would increase taxes on many businesses; it called the effect on the state economy “uncertain.”

Supporters of the proposition include the League of Women Voters of California, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of California, PICO California, and California Calls.

A possible vote on the initiative is more than two years away. Meantime, Pechthalt said they expect opponents, like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to wage a “very expensive campaign that frightens people.” The association has brought legal action against a wide range of taxes in California.

“The Howard Jarvis group and the Prop. 13 folks have spent 40 years scaring homeowners into believing that their interests are the same as these legacy commercial property owners,” he said. “They’re going to try to scare folks into believing that this initiative is going after them—and it’s not.”

‘ICE Is Not Welcome’: Agency Tries to Keep Immigrant Detention Center Open After Texas County’s Rebuke

Officials in a Texas county approved a plan in June to end their agreement with the federal government and a for-profit prison company operating a notorious immigration detention facility, but the federal government appears to be taking steps to keep that facility operational before the contract is terminated.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last week posted a Request for Information (RFI) seeking information from contractors that could operate a 500-woman detention facility that could be operational by January 1, 2019.

Williamson County contracts though an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE and CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, to operate the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. The county commissioners voted in June to terminate the contract by January 31, 2019.

Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, told Rewire.News after the June vote that she was suspicious of why the county commissioners didn’t end the contract immediately, instead of giving a 90-day notice. 

Bethany Carson, immigration researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership, said in a statement that the organization was “outraged, but not surprised” by the apparent attempt to keep open the T. Don Hutto Detention Center.

“ICE grows more shameless every day and is as beholden to their private prison partners as ever,” Carson said. “The community has made it crystal clear: ICE is not welcome. “

Hutto has been plagued for years by accusations of human rights abuses and sexual assault. The facility is emblematic of the criticisms made by immigrant rights activists of the use of private prisons to detain undocumented people.

“This place is so bad that Williamson County Commissioners ended the contract so they wouldn’t be liable for its litany of abuses,” Carson said. “So we’ll keep fighting to see this place close for good.”

ICE is accepting responses to the RFA until August 24, and intends to post a Request for Proposal (RFP) and accept bids on a possible contract in “approximately 15-30 days” after the initial RFA. The RFA stipulates that the facility be within 50 miles of its Austin, Texas, office, which includes several counties other than Williamson County. It seems likely that ICE will seek to contract with CoreCivic, which owns the detention facility and the 65 acres of land.

During a Williamson County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Mark Brooks of Grassroots Leadership asked the commissioners to end the contract early and provide the detention center with a 90-day notice that the county would be withdrawing from the contract.

County commissioners said after the meeting that they did not want to end the contract earlier than the January 31, 2019, date that was approved by the commissioners, reported the Austin American-Statesman.

Songs for Our Reproductive Lives: A Playlist for Birth, Abortion, Adoption, and About Everything Else

When Spotify offered me a throwback playlist of late-nineties hits, it started off fine (Macy Gray! Destiny’s Child!). But at some point, it took a turn.

I had to stop after the third consecutive song about pregnancy or birth that was either too coy (yes, mansplainers, “Closing Time” by Semisonic is actually about birth, with its reference to a room that “won’t be open ’til your brothers or your sisters come”) or dour (consider Brian Vander Ark’s girlfriend’s fictitious post-abortion suicide in The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen“).

Surely, I thought, there have to be some better songs out there about people’s reproductive lives. Everyone has some connection to pregnancy or parenting, whether that’s our own experience of wanting to be, not be, or stop being pregnant, or supporting a friend or loved one through their own experience.

I took to Facebook to crowdsource among my friends, most of whom are reproductive rights, health, or justice advocates. And it turned out that songs about reproductive experiences are everywhere: sometimes passing for songs about a lover, sometimes explicit, sometimes autobiographical, sometimes not.

So, courtesy of some of my favorite folks, here are a dozen songs (with some bonuses) that discuss the messiness and beauty of people’s reproductive lives. But do note this is a reproductive justice playlist, so we’re not including the reams of anti-abortion songs that exist. Most of them are really musically hard on the ears anyway and didn’t climb the charts.

“Brick” (Ben Folds Five)

Let’s get this one out of the way. This song was the straw on the proverbial camel’s back that started the quest for this playlist. Of all the songs that reference abortion, “Brick” is most likely the one with the heaviest radio airplay. The song hit the airwaves in 1997, which coincided with my most maudlin and romantic phase of adolescence, so I naturally assumed it was about a hidden teenage romance falling apart.

In a way, it was: Ben Folds eventually stated publicly that the song was about his teenage girlfriend’s abortion and its effect on their relationship.

[Photo: A teenage girl stands near a garage in the Ben Folds Five's music video "Brick"]

A still from the music video “Brick” by Ben Folds Five (BenFoldsFiveVEVO/YouTube)

In theory, the creative exploration of nonpregnant partners’ (particularly cis-men’s) emotional processing of the decision to end a pregnancy is intriguing. Part of moving sexual and reproductive health out of the marginalized realm of “women’s issues” is acknowledging that abortion doesn’t just affect people who can become pregnant. People who can get their partners pregnant have a stake in the matter, and the decision can evoke similarly complex sets of emotions.

Emotional complexity is where the song starts, with the young couple failing to communicate with each another as they head to the clinic together. The narrator expresses his ambivalence about the abortion (“Can’t you see/ It’s not me you’re dying for”), but shows his support by buying flowers for his girlfriend. Afterward, they try to hide the abortion from their families, but the secrecy eventually wears on them and they admit it.

That said, the hook catapults the song firmly to the bottom of the heap, despite its popularity: “She’s a brick and I’m drowning slowly/ Off the coast and I’m headed nowhere.” The chorus was written by the band’s drummer and allegedly pre-dated the song’s subject matter. Whichever came first, the blatant message is that the girlfriend’s difficulty processing and keeping the secret from her parents is bringing him down. There’s a line between dismantling the patriarchal confines that leave cis-men with a limited palette of emotional responses and centering their comfort over the well-being of others. That hook crashes right through it.

“Lightning Crashes” (Live) paired with “Girl Anachronism” (The Dresden Dolls)

This is a two-fer: These two songs are not exactly about reproductive issues, but get an honorable mention for their peculiarly specific passing references to birth.

Lightning Crashes” begins in a hospital delivery room, where a young mother is giving birth. This is probably the only song to use the word “placenta” on mainstream radio, but it’s unclear what is going on that the mysterious, life-giving organ “falls to the floor.” Simultaneously, in a room down the hall, an old woman dies. Her spiritual entity (an “angel”) is transferred to the baby. The circle of life continues, very touching stuff for the angsty mid-nineties alternative rock set.

Moving from feely post-grunge to Brechtian punk cabaret, we have “Girl Anachronism,” which was suggested by certified professional midwife and Kentucky reproductive justice activist Aundria Radmacher (who has included this and many other songs in a more comprehensive playlist).

From the Dresden Dolls’ 2003 debut, the song is narrated from the perspective of a woman who, in today’s parlance, would be “messy.” She offers a host of explanations for destructive and dramatic behavior, mostly centering on the idea that she was born into the wrong time (“I might join your century/ but only as a doubtful guest”). She makes the anachronism of her birth more literal, saying that she was “too precarious, removed as a cesarean,” prematurely, “before the labor pains set in.” Even though this song wasn’t as mainstream as “Lightning Crashes,” it still gets props for incorporating the term “cesarean” into a song circus-centric art rockers might be snapping along to.

Not to mention that the lyric evokes ideas from before cesareans were survivable by the birthing person, that those delivered surgically are mystical or out-of-place in this world: Think Saint Raymond Nonnatus (literally “not born”), patron saint of midwives and childbirth, or Shakespeare’s Macduff, who has the power to vanquish Macbeth because he is “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.”

“Amendment” (Ani DiFranco)

I have to admit that when I heard this song, I felt like it was a little too on the nose for the playlist. In this 2012 release, DiFranco calls for “an amendment/ to give civil rights to women,” and tells the listener, “If you don’t like abortion/don’t have an abortion” (a slogan I’ve always felt to be tired and unpersuasive, even if satisfying to hurl).

The song eventually moves out of the traditional ambit of civil equality and reproductive rights to a perspective that more closely resonates with the demands of reproductive justice. The amendment would protect all family structures and “lay a web of relationship” over the power structure and “the illusion of autonomy on which it relies.”

But it’s the final verse that got me. As someone who identifies strongly with the birth justice movement and communities’ struggles to reclaim their traditional healing practices, my jaw dropped when I heard: “And the birthing woman shall regain her place/In a circle of women, in a sacred space/ Turn off the machines, put away the knives/ This amendment shall deliver from bondage midwives.”

Darn it, she’s right: Any law that would guarantee true equality on the basis of sex would also have to stop figuratively and literally criminalizing midwives and guarantee that people have access to a variety of options for their reproductive health care. Thanks to Nicholle Perkins of Austin, Texas, for this recommendation.

“What It’s Like” (Everlast) and “Breathe (2am)” (Anna Nalick)

Another two-fer, these songs both present a series of vignettes about people experiencing struggles and include a woman facing abortion stigma. The songs share a basic structure and a dim view of people who judge people having abortions, but that’s where the similarities end.

What It’s Like,” recommended by Drake University Professor Renee Cramer, came out at about the same time as “Brick,” but even I wasn’t naive enough to miss the abortion story. Who would have thought that the onetime frontman of House of Pain would have anything worthwhile to say about abortion?

He sings a verse about a “girl named Mary” whose partner impregnated her and then ghosted. When she goes to a clinic, she is met by clinic protesters who call her a “sinner,” “killer,” and “whore.” But the narrator points out the hypocrisy of the protesters, admonishing that, “God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes/ ‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to choose.”

Anna Nalick’s “Breathe (2am)” came out during the early 2000s’ proliferation of female singer-songwriter hits. It opens with a friend reaching out for help to “unravel [her] latest mistake,” a pregnancy by a man she doesn’t love. The narrator accompanies her friend to an abortion clinic, where this time it’s the other people in the clinic who are judging, even though they are there “for the very same reason.”

“Push It” (Salt-N-Pepa)

After abortion stigma, we need something a little more lighthearted. “Push It,” Salt-N-Pepa’s 1987 breakout hit, was a popular pick, recommended by two All-Options’ board members, OB-GYN Carolyn Sufrin and Latishia James (who helms the group’s Faith Aloud program).

OK, so what if it isn’t really about giving birth? More than one doula has mentioned having this on their birth playlist, and Jo Greep has set it as her ringtone for her doula clients. Pregnant folks dancing to this song and singing the “oooh, baby, baby,” including during labor, is practically its own Youtube subgenre. And for good reason: Every midwife and doula (and this smooth-moving Brazilian OB-GYN) knows that dancing can help move labor along. So all you fly birthing folks, get on out there and dance!

“This Woman’s Work” (Kate Bush)

This tearjerker was recommended by Denise Tomasini-Joshi, an attorney and feminist working in philanthropy. A sleeper hit that was originally featured in John Hughes’ 1988 film She’s Having a Baby, the song explores (in much better taste than “Brick”) the experience of childbirth from the perspective of a nonbirthing male partner who has to “stand outside this woman’s work.”

[Photo: Two people stare into each other's eyes in Kate Bush's music video "This Woman's Work"]

A still from Kate Bush’s music video “This Woman’s Work” (KateBushMusic/YouTube)

The song focuses on the fear and helplessness involved in becoming a parent (“Now starts the craft of the father”) through the threshold of childbirth, a process over which he has no control. The male narrator laments the limitations on emotional expression imposed by the patriarchy (“I should be crying but I just can’t let it show”). The life-and-death nature of birthing is on his mind as he “can’t stop thinking of all the things I should’ve said that I never said,” but still comforts his partner (“I know you have a lot of strength in you yet”).

If you ever need an overwrought cry-fest, watch the official music video with Kate Bush’s dramatic interpretation of labor and a maternity waiting room.

“Little Green” (Joni Mitchell)

Little Green” is the rare autobiographical song about placing a child for adoption. Joni Mitchell’s 1971 song recounts her own experience of placing a daughter she named Kelly (as in green) for adoption in her early 20s during the “Baby Scoop” era.

During this time, after World War II but before birth control and abortion were widely available in the United States and Canada, millions of young white women placed newborns for adoption under pressure to avoid unwed motherhood. At the time, virtually all adoptions were “closed,” meaning that the birth parents would have no contact with the child, and the adoptee might not have any record of their birth parent. The prevailing philosophy was that an adoption should be seamless and the birthing parent invisible, which led to shaming and stigma of women who chose adoption.

Mitchell, who refers to herself as a “child with a child” in the song, became pregnant by a “non-conformer” who left Canada for California. Realizing she is unable to give the child “a happy ending,” she sings her own complex feelings after signing “all the papers in the family name”: “You’re sad and you’re sorry but you’re not ashamed.” Mitchell eventually met her adult biological daughter, Kilauren Gibb, in the late 1990s.

“The Tower”/Demo Version of “Goodbye Baby” (Stevie Nicks)

Next on the list is a deep cut recommended by Marcella, Juris Doctor/Juris Diva of NYC, advocating for women by day, constructing a comprehensive theory of Stevie Nicks’ life as reflected in her lyrics by night.

Stevie has revealed in interviews that she has had four abortions and that her song “Sara” is, in part, dedicated to the person who would have been born from a pregnancy with singer Don Henley.

But a less-acknowledged song about her abortion experience is this heartfelt 1976 demo, “The Tower,” which eventually became “Goodbye Baby” on Fleetwood Mac’s Say You Will 27 years later.

This version includes lyrics that more clearly allude to abortion (“and when you hold yourself and know that there were two and only you remain”) that were cut from the final track. Another interesting change between the demo and album version is that the latter includes lyrics about being together again (“You were with me all the time/ I’ll be with you one day”), which could either represent resolution years later; a belief that their spirits will be reunited, a common theme in songs about abortion or pregnancy loss; or an attempt to obscure the song’s meaning.

“So Hard” (Dixie Chicks)

This recommendation comes courtesy of Carrie Murphy, a Rewire.News contributor and doula. “So Hard” initially sounds like a description of the challenges of being in a long-term committed relationship and the work it takes to make a relationship last.

But sister-singers Martie Maguire and Emily Robison have revealed that, while the song started out that way, it became a window into their struggles with trying to conceive and seeking fertility treatment. They describe societal pressure for married heterosexual women to have babies (“It felt like a given/Something a woman is born to do”) and the guilt they feel when they are unable to conform to those pressures (“And I’d feel so guilty/If that was a gift I couldn’t give”), regardless of the source of the challenge with fertility.

The singers were only able to address this painful part of their lives after it had passed: By the time the song was released in 2006, Maguire and Robinson had five children between them.

“Heartbeat” (Beyoncé)

Tannis Fuller of the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund recommended this relatively obscure Beyoncé track. Both Bey and Jay-Z have been open about the fact that she experienced multiple miscarriages in their efforts to build a family, with Jay-Z referencing miscarriages in “Glory,” his ode to Blue Ivy, and “4:44” off the album of the same title.

Beyoncé tells her side in this 2013 unreleased song, “Heartbeat.” It is one minute of pure, concentrated heartbreak as Beyoncé sings, “I guess love just wasn’t enough for us to survive.” Her grief (“I’m so unlucky I can’t breathe”) and apparent self-blame (“I swear I tried”), are even more wrenching amid the recent revelation that she suffered a life-threatening complication during the birth of twins Sir and Rumi, showing yet again that even wealth and celebrity don’t insulate Black women from the maternal health crisis.

“The Mother” (Brandi Carlile)

The Mother,” released earlier this year, was added to this list by Katie Garaby, a new mother herself. It is a raw-hearted look at how simultaneously beautiful and painful it can be to become a mother, and the great rewards and sacrifices involved. It means “the end of being alone inside your mind,” of leisurely reading the newspaper in the morning and evening conversations with friends over wine, but also means getting to see the world afresh through the eyes of a child.

The song is explicitly autobiographical, and the official video features Carlile singing to her daughter, Evangeline. It is also infused with the politics and struggle of Carlile’s experience as a queer parent who did not give birth to her daughter (“She doesn’t look like me”). This makes the repeated refrain, “I am the mother of Evangeline,” a quietly radical claim to a status that has until recently been under legal threat with nongestational same-sex parents treated as strangers or nonfamily in hospitals within this decade. She explains the struggle to her daughter in a gut-punch of a verse: “You are not an accident where no one thought it through/The world has stood against us, made us mean to fight for you/ And when we chose your name we knew that you’d fight the power too.”

If you’re not crying, check your pulse.

“Bye Bye Baby” (Noname)

My favorite of the bunch, recommended by my SIA Legal Team colleague Kebé, is “Bye Bye Baby” off Noname’s 2016 album Telefone. The narrator discovers that she is pregnant (“got the flu with the tea remedy for my boo thang”), and almost decides to carry the pregnancy to term, but ultimately changes her mind.

The song takes a spiritual view of abortion, saying “God will help you spread your wings.” The next verse is sung from the perspective of the spirit the narrator released, who expresses understanding for the decision to end the pregnancy (“He reminds me, some give presents before they’re even ready/ I could see that she loves me, I know her heart is heavy”).

Noname explained the song to the FADER, saying, “It’s a personification of a mother who has had an abortion and the baby. What I tried to do is make a love song for them. I feel like whenever I hear people talking about abortion, they typically take the love out of it, as if it can never be a loving act—as if it’s only done out of hate or desperation. I know women who have gone through that experience. And there hasn’t been like, a song for them, or a moment of catharsis and healing for them in music.”

Tuesday’s Primary Elections Bring a Wave of Firsts

Tuesday’s primary elections produced historic results: Vermont could soon have a transgender governor who backs Medicare For All, Connecticut is on track to have its first Democratic Black member of Congress, and Minnesota could send to Congress a Muslim woman who supports housing as a human right and elect the first Muslim attorney general in the United States.

Many victorious Democratic candidates stood behind some the most progressive policy positions on the state and federal level, sometimes bucking the party’s endorsements, while GOP candidates who didn’t stand firmly behind President Trump fared poorly.

Christine Hallquist on Tuesday became the first openly transgender candidate for governor to be nominated by a major party when she handily won Vermont’s Democratic primary after campaigning in support of Medicare For All, a $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and other progressive priorities.

Hallquist, a former energy company executive in Vermont, earned 48 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary, as gubernatorial races in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Connecticut came into focus ahead of November’s midterm election. These gubernatorial races will shape the drawing of congressional lines in coming years. 

“Christine’s victory is a defining moment in the movement for trans equality and is especially remarkable given how few out trans elected officials there are at any level of government,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement. “Many thought it unthinkable a viable trans gubernatorial candidate like Christine would emerge so soon. Yet Vermont voters chose Christine not because of her gender identity, but because she is an open and authentic candidate with a long history of service to the state, and who speaks to the issues most important to voters.”

“When voters head to the polls this November, we are confident Vermonters will make her the first openly trans governor in the nation and just the second openly LGBTQ person elected governor in American history,” Parker said. 

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R), who survived a GOP primary challenge Tuesday despite a disapproval rate that doubled during his term as governor, will face Hallquist in November. Democrats hope to retake the governor’s mansion, giving the party total control over state government in Vermont.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race could become a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s economic austerity program—including massive cuts to education investment—after state schools superintendent Tony Evers, won Tuesday’s Democratic primary with 41.7 percent of the vote. Evers beat a crowded field that included state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, who has worked with the anti-choice organization Democrats For Life.

Walker, one of the least popular governors in the United States, is vying for a third term after sweeping into power in 2010 during a Republican wave election. He swiftly moved to crush labor unions, slash government programs for low-income families, and stage a frontal assault on reproductive rights with help from the state’s Republican-held legislature.

Evers has pledged to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin, a popular policy that would cover more than 170,000 people in the state who don’t currently have access. The longtime schools superintendent has said he would boost education funding after years of cuts by the Walker administration have robbed hundreds of millions from public education. A July NBC poll showed Evers with a sizable lead over Walker.

Tuesday also saw primary elections to fill retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat, for which upstart Democratic candidate Randy Bryce won the nomination to face off against Bryan Steil, the GOP candidate endorsed by Ryan. Bryce has championed Medicare For All and criminal justice reforms that include an end to for-profit prisons and mandatory minimum sentencing, earning him endorsements from many progressive organizations.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), a former co-chair of the Democratic National Committee, won by a wide margin in a five-person field the Democratic primary race to become Minnesota’s next attorney general. If he beats Republican Doug Wardlow, Ellison would be the first Muslim attorney general. Ellison’s platform highlighted enforcing wage theft laws, fighting predatory lending, addressing mortgage fraud in Minnesota, and pushing back on the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants. The congressman is facing as yet-to-be substantiated allegations made public last Saturday that he abused an ex-girlfriend. The Democratic National Committee has said it will investigate the charges, which Ellison has denied.

Minnesota state Rep. Ilhan Omar (D), a Somali refugee who came to the United States in her youth, won the Democratic primary to replace Ellison in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. Omar is on track to join Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib as the first Muslim women members of Congress. Omar has said she would advocate for a $15 minimum wage, tougher wage theft laws, and a federal jobs guarantee program favored by the most progressive members of Congress. She supports a Medicare For All health-care system and housing as a human right. 

Also in Minnesota, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz won the Democratic gubernatorial primary to replace retiring Gov. Mark Dayton (D). Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor who has been critical of President Trump, lost his bid to become the state’s GOP gubernatorial candidate. Former state Rep. Jeff Johnson won the Republican primary after campaigning to use federal waivers to undermine protections in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare. Johnson, a Trump loyalist, opposes abortion rights and claims in his platform to believe in “the sanctity of human life from conception”—language often used by supporters of radical fetal “personhood” measures.

Walz’s campaign platform includes a $15 minimum wage in Minnesota, along with expanded paid family leave benefits and protections for labor unions’ collective bargaining rights. Walz also calls for an end to so-called conversion therapy across the state.

In Connecticut, progressive gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont— who in 2006 beat then-Sen. Joe Lieberman for the Democratic nomination for Lieberman’s seat— won the Democratic primary race against Joe Gamin with more than 80 percent of Tuesday’s vote. Lamont will face Republican Bob Stefanowski, a former General Electric executive and chief financial officer of UBS Investment Bank, in the race to replace deeply unpopular Gov. Dan Malloy (D). Stefanowski, who was once registered as a Democrat and campaigned on eliminating the personal income tax along with the estate tax for wealthy families, pulled what is widely considered an upset in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Lamont has said he would back state-level efforts to protect essential benefits in Obamacare while the Trump administration undermines the law in a variety of ways. Connecticut has been at the forefront of countering the administration’s rollback of health-care benefits and civil rights.

Jahana Hayes, after earning 62.2 percent of the Democratic primary vote for Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District, could become the state’s first Democratic Black congressional representative. Hayes, who supports a single-payer health-care system and has pledged to defend immigrants against Trump and his congressional allies, won a decisive victory over Mary Glassman, who had the backing of the state’s Democratic Party.

Lawsuit: Trump Administration Doesn’t Have the Power to Approve Medicaid Work Requirements

Advocacy groups on Tuesday sued the Trump administration, arguing it acted outside the scope of its authority when it approved work requirements in Arkansas’ Medicaid program.

The National Health Law Program, Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and claim the approval of Arkansas’ waiver is contrary to Medicaid’s objective of expanding access to health care for people with low incomes. 

Arkansas Republicans have long tried to implement work requirements on Medicaid recipients, but it was not until this year, under the Trump administration, that such efforts were approved. In 2016, the federal government approved a request by Arkansas officials to waive some Medicaid requirements as part of the states’ Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. As part of that request, Arkansas officials sought to impose a work requirement as a condition of Medicaid eligibility, but the Obama administration denied the request, finding work requirements inconsistent with the objectives of the Medicaid Act.

Advocates allege in the lawsuit that in early 2017 the Trump administration abruptly reversed course by signaling to states that it would revise its use of the waiver authority as part of President Trump’s vow to “explode” the ACA and its popular Medicaid expansion. Taking the administration’s cue, in late June 2017, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) submitted to the Trump administration the “Arkansas Works Amendment,” a request to implement a work requirement as a condition of Medicaid eligibility. Hutchinson claimed the requirement was necessary to “promot[e] personal responsibility and work, encourag[e] movement up the economic ladder, and facilitat[e] transitions from Arkansas Works” to private coverage.

The request would require certain Medicaid recipients to work 80 hours a month or lose their benefits. If enrollees subject to the work requirement do not meet the requirement for any three months of the year, the state will terminate their Medicaid coverage unless the enrollee demonstrates they fit within one of the narrow “good cause” exceptions in the rule, the lawsuit states.

A person who has been terminated from Medicaid for failure to meet the work requirements could not re-enroll for the remainder of the calendar year.

The administration approved Arkansas officials’ request in March and the work requirement went into effect on June 1 for enrollees between the ages of 30 and 49 who are not disabled and don’t have dependent children at home. It will expand to those between the ages of 19 and 29 next year if not halted.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three Medicaid recipients in the state, seeks to block the requirement, arguing the requirements are contrary to both the Medicaid statute and the U.S. Constitution. Advocates argue neither Arkansas nor the Trump administration considered the harm work requirements have on Medicaid recipients when considering approval. It is the second lawsuit challenging states’ attempts to roll back Medicaid benefits. A federal court in June blocked similar requirements from taking effect in Kentucky. 

The Trump administration has approved requests to implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients in Indiana and New Hampshire. Those new rules have not yet taken effect in those states.