Circus Tactics Used to Distract Voters From the Truth

Kate Looby

Kate Looby is the South Dakota State Director for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS).

The one thing we have learned in the South Dakota fight against the ban on nearly all abortions is that our opponents will stop at nothing to keep the ban in place. In recent weeks a 13 year old boy showed up at a press conference dressed up as the Cat in the Hat. His message was the Seuss line that "a person's a person no matter how small." Unfortunately, the press conference he showed up at was one in which a victim of rape was courageously telling her story and instead of showing respect to the victim, the ban supporters tried to turn it into a circus.

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Kate Looby is the South Dakota State Director for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS).

The one thing we have learned in the South Dakota fight against the ban on nearly all abortions is that our opponents will stop at nothing to keep the ban in place. In recent weeks a 13 year old boy showed up at a press conference dressed up as the Cat in the Hat. His message was the Seuss line that "a person's a person no matter how small." Unfortunately, the press conference he showed up at was one in which a victim of rape was courageously telling her story and instead of showing respect to the victim, the ban supporters tried to turn it into a circus.

Recorded message calls, particularly electronic push-polls, are all the rage from our opponents. They call virtually every phone number in the state and tell the respondent that there is an exception for rape and incest victims in the ban – of course there isn't, but that's a minor detail.

This past weekend I received a message on my voice mail at home that said I should vote "yes on six" if I want to support victims of rape and incest. Again, a yes vote enacts the ban which allows no exception for women who become pregnant due to sexual assault.

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They also are sending out sample ballots to people with a large red arrow covering up the most important content of the Attorney General's statement about the ban. The paragraph they intentionally cover is the one in which the AG explains that there is only one exception in the ban and that is to prevent the death of a pregnant woman. It also mentions that South Dakota taxpayers would be required to pay millions of dollars to defend this law in court. That's been hid as well.

Our opponents know where they are vulnerable and they will do everything possible to mislead voters every chance they get.

Editor's note: Watch the opposition's tv ad below.

News Abortion

Minnesota GOP Primed to Attack Fetal Tissue Research

Jenn Stanley

Anti-choice protesters in September gathered outside Gov. Mark Dayton's home to rally against his decision not to investigate the health-care organization. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS) has long denied donating fetal tissue.

Minnesota’s GOP is pushing for more restrictions on fetal tissue research at public universities after a news outlet supported by local Tea Party groups implicated the university in an illegal exchange of fetal tissue.

State Rep. Abigail Whelan (R-Anoka) in an opinion piece for the Star Tribune last week wrote that she was “appalled to learn that the University of Minnesota participates in research on aborted human fetal organs.”

The Republican backlash against fetal tissue research began after the release of surreptitiously recorded, highly edited videos published by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Those videos were edited in an attempt to show that Planned Parenthood engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue. While Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue and receives some compensation to pay for obtaining and preserving the tissue, officials have denied profiting from it. Many GOP lawmakers have launched investigations into Planned Parenthood, but those investigations have turned up no wrongdoing.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) refused to order an investigation into the state’s Planned Parenthood chapter, despite push back from anti-choice legislators and activists. Dayton told reporters in July that he did not want to spend taxpayer money on an unnecessary investigation.

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“There’s not a shred of evidence to implicate Planned Parenthood Minnesota in what they were being accused of,” Dayton said in September.

In September, anti-choice protesters gathered outside Dayton’s home to rally against the governor’s decision not to investigate the health-care organization. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS) has long denied donating fetal tissue.

Minnesota legislators in 1990 passed a law requiring hospitals and clinics to arrange burial or cremation of fetal remains. The legal question regarding the University of Minnesota is not whether it uses aborted fetal tissue in its research, but whether that fetal tissue comes from Minnesota, NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota’s Executive Director Andrea Ledger told Rewire.

The controversy is over how the statute should be interpreted, whether it means that aborted fetal tissue must be cremated or buried immediately, or whether that means that when it’s disposed, it must be cremated or buried. One interpretation outlaws the donation of fetal tissue, and one does not. Ledger says she doesn’t think it’s about the research at all—it’s about access to abortion.

“This is model legislation that’s being introduced in lots of different states,” Ledger said. “It comes from a desire not to regulate fetal tissue research, which we’ve all benefited from and which has had a huge impact on health and science, but it’s about restricting reproductive rights.”

Whelan, in her commentary for the Star Tribune, credits an investigation by a Tea Party-supported media outlet, Alpha News, with proving that the university is performing research using aborted fetal tissue, but the issue is really whether or not that tissue comes from Minnesota.

Alpha News alleges to be a news site, but has one named reporter. Everyone else affiliated with the organization has chosen to remain anonymous. The CMP attack video shows someone from Advanced Biomedical Research (ABR), where the University of Minnesota buys fetal tissue from, saying that Minnesota is among the states from which it procured tissue.

Julia Erynn, Alpha News’ chief capitol reporter and the only staffer named on the organization’s site, told the Star Tribune in March that the news outfit would generate ad revenue, but also received funding from “a number of private donors” who remain unknown. Erynn reportedly describes herself as a libertarian and emceed the 2014 Libertarian Party of Minnesota Convention.

The Tribune reported that Alex Kharam, executive director of the Freedom Club, is listed as the registered agent for Alpha News. The Freedom Club’s PAC, per its website, “has spent millions supporting conservative Minnesota candidates for public office.” Almost all of the Freedom Club money given to candidates has gone to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

A Freedom Club representative has denied affiliation with Alpha News.

Whelan wrote that she wants the university to halt research on aborted fetal tissue no matter where the tissue comes from. She declined an interview with Rewire.

“The university receives millions of taxpayer dollars each year,” Whelan wrote. “Given the controversial nature of this research, we believe it is the duty of the Legislature to request that the university prohibit all research on aborted human fetal organs, thereby removing itself from this controversy and respecting the moral stance of thousands of taxpaying Minnesotans.”

Minnesota’s legislative session begins March 1. Ledger says she expects both Republicans and Democrats to propose legislation regarding fetal tissue research.

News Abortion

Missouri Republicans to Push Anti-Choice ‘All Lives Matter’ Bill

Teddy Wilson

The GOP proposal would define a fertilized egg as “a person" and life as beginning at conception.

The flurry of anti-choice proposals coming in the 2016 Missouri legislative session includes one policy that appropriates the Black Lives Matter movement to create a so-called personhood law designed to effectively end legal abortion in the state.

Missouri has been a key state in the Black Lives Matter movement. After a Ferguson police officer in 2014 gunned down Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man, activists there took to the streets demanding justice for all victims of police violence.

HB 1794, sponsored by Rep. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove), would establish the All Lives Matter Act, an example of what activists view as anti-choice legislators using the Black Lives Matter movement for their own restrictive agenda. It would amend state law to define a fertilized egg as “a person” and life as beginning at conception. So-called personhood laws have been an unmitigated failure. Voters in state after state have rejected by wide margins personhood ballot initiatives, and personhood bills have failed to gain any traction in legislatures.

Alison Dreith, interim director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, wrote in an op-ed for the St. Louis American that Moon’s bill is an attack on his constituents’ autonomy.

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“Black women have had very little reproductive choice, historically. During slavery, they [were forced] into childbirth. Then, they were forced into methods for sterilization. Since then, black women have had to bear the burden of the ‘welfare mom’ stereotype,” Dreith wrote. “This bill continues the trend in Missouri, that women should not make their own decisions. Again, the lives of women—and especially black women—do not matter to this legislator.”

The push for personhood legislation is far from the only anti-choice measure to be considered in the upcoming session. The past five years have seen the Republican-dominated Missouri state legislature propose more anti-choice bills than any other state.

Lawmakers introduced dozens of anti-choice bills during the 2014 legislative session, and introduced dozens more during the 2015 legislative session. Few anti-choice bills have been passed with a Democratic governor in Missouri, proving an obstacle for GOP-led attempts to end legal abortion. However, the vast number of anti-choice bills introduced for 2016 has caused concern for many advocates. 

The state legislature convened Wednesday, and lawmakers have already filed an assortment of anti-choice bills that restrict reproductive health care, including prohibiting physicians from using specific abortion procedures, restricting minors’ access to abortion care, and appropriating the rhetoric of racial justice activists in the so-called All Lives Matter bill. 

Planned Parenthood has been embroiled in a controversy about the organization’s fetal tissue donation policies and compensation, since an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) published deceptively edited and surreptitiously recorded videos throughout the summer of 2015.

Republican lawmakers, some of whom coordinated with CMP officials, have used the discredited videos as an excuse to investigate Planned Parenthood and attack reproductive rights nationwide. Republicans in Missouri went further than perhaps any other state to use the controversy to further an anti-choice agenda that included establishing the Committee on the Sanctity of Life

Despite a state investigation that cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills that would change state law governing the donation of fetal tissue. These bills include several other targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) laws, including the creation of reporting requirements and admitting privilege requirements for abortion providers, along with ambulatory surgical center (ASC) licensing and inspections.

HB 1953 and SB 644, sponsored by Rep. Kathryn Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) and Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis), would prohibit families from donating fetal tissue for scientific research after an abortion and create redundant reporting requirements for abortion providers.

The bills also require all physicians who provide abortion services to have both surgical and admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic in which they provide abortion care; impose licensure and renewal requirements on ASCs; and mandate annual inspections of abortion providers.

Laura McQuade, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told Rewire that GOP legislators are using the CMP attack videos as a justification for making restrictions on abortion care unrelated to fetal tissue donation.

“There are many different moving parts in these bills all designed to make access to safe legal abortion even more difficult than it is already,” McQuade said. “Lawmakers have gone into this through the fetal tissue conversation to make it seem more legitimate, but it is really the same kind of nonsense.”

Neither of Planned Parenthood’s Missouri clinics, located in Columbia and St. Louis, participate in fetal tissue donation programs, McQuade told Rewire. To date, no state or federal investigations have uncovered any evidence that Planned Parenthood affiliates have broken fetal tissue laws.

McQuade said that everything that’s happened in Missouri politics since the release of the heavily doctored CMP videos has been used to “make access to safe legal abortion in this state history.”

Rep. Tila Hubrecht (R-Dexter) has introduced a bill, identical to the one she introduced but failed to pass during the 2015 legislative session, that would ban a medical procedure used for second-trimester abortions and the management of miscarriage.

HB 1714, the so-called Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, is copycat legislation drafted by the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), a legislation mill. The bill bans dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures used during many second-trimester abortions and miscarriages. The bill redefines the D and E procedure as “dismemberment” abortion, language that is key to NRLC’s strategy as anti-choice advocates push similar bills in other Republican-majority state legislatures.

McQuade said HB 1714 is a “very, very dangerous” bill that is an “over overstep” by state lawmakers.

“D and E is [the] safest form of second-trimester abortion, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization,” McQuade said. “This ban is very dangerous because it basically give politicians the ability to make medical decisions rather than medical practitioners and patients.”

There are two Missouri bills that would ban abortion because of the motivations of the pregnant person seeking to terminate the pregnancy.

HB 1815, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester), would prohibit an abortion solely due to the sex of the unborn child or a genetic abnormality diagnosis. SB 802, sponsored by state Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville), would prohibit abortions performed solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down syndrome or the potential of Down syndrome in an unborn child.

Various versions of bills to ban abortion based on sex, race, or genetic abnormalities have been introduced in several states in recent years. McQuade said these bills are used as “wedge issues” and that lawmakers use emotions rather than facts to justify these types of restrictions.

“Politicians should not be allowed to force a woman to carry to term a wanted or unwanted pregnancy that has a genetic abnormality,” McQuade said. “It is not a politician’s right to determine for a family what that family can or cannot take on.”

HB 1370, sponsored by Rep. Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark), would require both parents of a minor seeking an abortion to receive notification prior to an abortion, in addition to current state law that requires a minor to obtain written informed consent of one parent or guardian prior to an abortion.

HB 1433 and SB 801 would also restrict minors’ access to abortion care. The so-called Supporting and Strengthening Families Acts, sponsored by Koenig and Sater, would allow a parent or legal custodian to delegate to an attorney-in-fact any powers regarding the care and custody of the child. The bill would not allow the delegations of power to “consent to performance or inducement of an abortion on or for the child.”

This bill could create further obstacles for minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy while under the care of an attorney-in-fact.

McQuade said that these types of restrictions make it more difficult for a young patient to receive abortion care. “We cannot legislate good family communication,” McQuade said. “We cannot legislate that a 16-year-old young woman lives in a family where should could even have that conversation with her parents.”

HB 1755, sponsored by Rep. Kurt Bahr (R-O’Fallon), states that the “liberty of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, and care of his or her child is a fundamental right.” The bill would prohibit any state interference in a parent’s ability to oversee the health care and education of their child, and could prohibit minors from consenting to abortion care as a de facto overwrite of the judicial bypass process.

The broad language of the bill could have significant ramifications beyond reproductive health care. The GOP bill could impact everything from laws governing the vaccination of minors to criminal prosecution of child abuse.

McQuade says that this bill could have a “chilling effect on teens seeking any type of health care.”

It’s unclear which bills will gain traction during the 2016 legislative session, and the politics of the presidential election may change the dynamics of what Republicans determine to be legislative priorities. With Republicans holding significant majorities in both legislative chambers, maintaining a 117-45 majority in the house and a 24-8 majority in the state senate, the only roadblock for anti-choice bills may be Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

While reproductive rights have been attacked in several Republican-controlled state legislatures, none could match the Show Me State’s record of producing unprecedented amounts of anti-choice legislation.

“Missouri has always been at the forefront of imposing restriction on abortion,” McQuade said.

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