New Right-Wing Holiday: “Abstinence Day”

Nancy Keenan

Today, groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) are holding "Abstinence Day" on Capitol Hill. They are trying to overwhelm lawmakers to get them to support ineffective and medically inaccurate abstinence-only programs.

Well isn't this interesting? Today, groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) are holding "Abstinence Day" on Capitol Hill. It seems the FRC is trying to overwhelm lawmakers with one-on-one lobby visits and flood Capitol Hill phone lines with calls from anti-choice activists. I guess they didn't like the results of the recent government-sponsored report, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that shows they don't actually work.

Did Bush even read his own governments' report? I doubt it. You know, since he took office, Congress has spent a whopping $778 million on ineffective abstinence-only programs! That's $778 million of your tax dollars wasted on medically inaccurate and misleading information. This news is not terribly shocking—given this administration's record over the course of the past six years. But thankfully, now that Congress is under pro-choice leadership, we have a chance to fight back.

Today, to counter the actions of anti-choice groups and to highlight the consequences of wasteful spending, please take a moment to tell your members of Congress today that Americans oppose ineffective, ideologically driven abstinence-only programs.

Study after study has shown that many abstinence-only programs include medically inaccurate and misleading information. Even worse, independent research shows that students in these classes are not more likely to abstain from sex or delay when they become sexually active. Instead of recklessly spending your tax dollars on programs that don't work, Congress should be focusing on commonsense solutions to prevent teen pregnancy.

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Please, urge your members of Congress to stop putting politics ahead of young people's health and stop funding dangerous abstinence-only programs.

News Abortion

On Day Two, Right-Wing Confab Turns Up Heat on Abortion Issue

Adele M. Stan

On day two of the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority conference, evangelical leaders clashed on abortion and economic policy. But opposing abortion was deemed a winning issue by movement elders like Phyllis Schlafly and young activists alike.

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, speakers at the Faith and Freedom Coalition “Road to Majority” conference made up for Thursday’s deficit in remarks about lady-parts with appeals for support of Rep. Trent Franks’ 20-week abortion bill, and with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asserting the superior fertility of immigrants.

For Ralph Reed, a top Republican strategist and longtime organizer of the religious right, the Road to Majority conference represents a further step in his comeback from the Abramoff lobbying scandal, in which he was implicated but never charged. This year’s conference takes place in the rather plush J.W. Marriott Hotel that adjoins the National Press Building, and despite its small size compared to other national right-wing gatherings, nearly every politician whose name is mentioned as a possible candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination has made it his business to address the crowd.

As we previously reported, speakers at Thursday’s kick-off luncheon—which featured potential presidential hopefuls Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL)—avoided use of the word “abortion” and spoke only obliquely of their anti-choice views. Neither mentioned contraception.

2016 Themes: Freedom and Fertility

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On day two of the conference, however, former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), launched into a tirade in which he accused the Obama administration of trampling on the religious liberty of the Catholic church and other religious organizations that oppose the use of birth control. Paul used the framing outlined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes the requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that mandates employer-provided health plans to include coverage of contraception without a co-pay.

Ubiquitous on the right is the myth that the ACA includes coverage for “abortifacients,” which it does not. That didn’t stop Ryan from repeating it. (Leaders of the religious right seem to purposely sow confusion by conflating emergency contraception with medical abortion drugs, even though emergency contraception prevents ovulation and therefore prevents pregnancy altogether.)

Ryan also inferred that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted religious groups that applied for non-profit status, saying that an Iowa antiabortion group had been asked to reveal the details of its members prayers.

“This is big government assaulting our first amendment rights,” Ryan said.

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, appealed to the largely evangelical Protestant audience to support immigration reform by citing Americans’ low birth rates, which he deemed an economic threat. (Earlier in the program, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), whom Reed said would have an even greater impact after she leaves office next year, gave a classic harangue against giving immigrants a path to citizenship.)

“Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population,” Bush said. (He seemed to confuse birth rate with fertility; American women are likely every bit as fertile as immigrant women, but choose to have fewer children.)

Women Against Women

Later in the program, an all-women panel, moderated by Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, took the stage, under the title, “Advancing the Pro-Life Movement.” Panel members attempted to paint Kermit Gosnell, who ran an illegal abortion clinic, as the face of the pro-choice movement, and to drum up support for the 20-week abortion ban sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) that passed through the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week on a party-line vote.

The passage of the Franks bill in committee was notable not because it stands a chance of becoming law in this session of Congress—it will never get through the Senate—but because it was passed by a Republican majority on the committee comprising only men. (There was also Franks’ rejection of a rape exception to the ban, which would bar all abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization, because, he contended, the incidence of pregnancy from rape is low.)

Former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), now the chief lobbyist for the ironically named anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, promised that when the Franks bill is introduced on the House floor next week, we would be treated to a host of “amazing women” speaking on its behalf. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has been tapped as the bill’s floor manager. Blackburn was scheduled to take part in today’s Faith and Freedom Coalition panel, but did not appear.

Speaking of the post-Gosnell environment, Musgrave said: “This is a time for the pro-life movement like we have not had in decades. We must seize the moment.”

Right-wing commentator Kate Obenshain claimed that there is “a billion-dollar abortion industry” that cares nothing for women’s rights. She also cited a Time magazine story that assessed the success of the antiabortion movement. “We’re winning,” she said.

Day Gardner, founder of the National Black Pro-Life Union and a late addition to the panel, chided Republicans for not having African-American women in leadership in its anti-choice efforts to push back on Democrats’ claims that they are protecting the reproductive rights of women who are poor or belong to minority groups.

Rounding out the antiabortion speakers was Gary Bauer, the onetime president of the Family Research Council, who claimed that economic issues were not good ones for Republicans. Cutting Social Security, he scoffed, was not likely to be popular. The GOP “has it upside down,” Bauer said. Cutting taxes for the wealthy? Not a winner. But, he said, opposing abortion and same-sex marriage offered a road to victory.

Analysis Abortion

Four Right-Wing Lawmakers Exploiting the Gosnell Case to Pass Anti-Choice Laws

Adele M. Stan

When the Gosnell case went to trial, right-wing activists saw their moment at hand, and got busy. Right-wing members of Congress got the message.

It was predictable that, in the illegal and deplorable actions of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murder and involuntary manslaughter earlier this month for deaths he caused at his Philadelphia abortion clinic, anti-choice activists would find a rationale for curtailing women’s rights.

Because Gosnell’s market was poor women whose pregnancies sometimes exceeded the legal gestational limit under Pennsylvania law, right-wing activists pounced on the topic of later abortion—whose low incidence accounts for about 1.3 percent of all abortions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—as a way of framing all abortion in the most grisly of terms. The later abortion focus now appears to be part of a legislative strategy to further chip away at the reproductive rights of women by conferring equal or greater rights upon fetuses.

When the Gosnell case went to trial, right-wing activists saw their moment at hand, and got busy.

Live Action, famous for Lila Rose’s often deceptively edited videos on abortion clinics, released a new video on May 1 focused on later abortion.

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The day of Gosnell’s conviction, the Family Research Council (FRC) and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) issued press releases calling for a ban of later abortions in the District of Columbia (which is largely under the control of Congress).

The day after the Gosnell verdict was announced, activist Star Parker—whose group, the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), is closely allied with FRC—convened a group of African-American pastors on Capitol Hill to demand congressional hearings on abortion as an alleged plot against Black people. Tim Goeglein, the chief lobbyist for the right-wing Focus on the Family empire, appeared on the panel for CURE’s May 13 legislative briefing.

But before the Gosnell case caught the public’s attention, the NRLC had declared its most important national legislative priority to be the District of Columbia 20-week abortion ban, which, if voted into law, would affect only women who sought abortions in Washington, D.C. The “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” would ban abortions after 20 weeks from the date of fertilization, based on the disproven theory that fetuses beyond that level of gestation feel pain, all in an apparent effort to confer the rights of personhood on fetuses. (Nine states have passed bills based on the NRLC model legislation. But measures that would extend the rights of personhood to human zygotes and embryos have yet to become law, although they have been introduced in nine states.)

Passage of such a bill by Congress would constitute a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion up to the point of fetal viability, generally accepted as occurring at around 24 weeks.

In the U.S. Capitol, right-wing legislators took the hint, embarking on a festival of grandstanding that is likely to continue for months, all apparently designed to shift public opinion on a woman’s right to choose (while safeguarding incumbent House Republicans from primary challenges). And now NRLC has endorsed an attempt in Congress to make its proposed later abortion ban apply to all 50 states. Here are the four lawmakers currently in the limelight for playing politics with women’s rights.

1. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)

It was Franks who last month introduced the version of the National Right to Life Committee’s later abortion ban that would have applied only to the District of Columbia if it passed both houses of Congress, and would then likely have to override a presidential veto. That’s a pretty heavy lift.

So given the bill’s likely failure, why not use the publicity surrounding the Gosnell verdict to make a bigger splash, rewriting it to apply to all 50 states, as well, for the opportunity to hold a variety show of hearings for the benefit of anti-choice lawmakers? That’s apparently the way Franks, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, is thinking—because that’s exactly what he did on May 18 when he announced his intention to introduce a bill rewritten that way.

The first subcommittee hearing on the newly nationalized bill is scheduled for May 23. At a hearing for the D.C.-specific version of the bill introduced last year, Franks refused to allow Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s representative in Congress, to testify.

Franks also subscribes to the conspiracy theory that abortion is a plot by white eugenicists to wipe out the Black race. (See David Weigel’s 2010 report here.)

2. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte saw in the Gosnell case an opportunity to use his committee’s power to make demands of the attorneys general of all 50 states, with a letter co-signed by Franks, that requires answers and supporting documentation to three questions regarding the statutes and procedures of the individual states regarding the treatment of fetuses and infants in abortion clinics, one about deaths of women in abortion clinics, and one about the state’s own gestational limits for legal abortion.

In the letter, dated May 7, 2013, Goodlatte sets a June 1 deadline for the provision of answers by state officials. (Compliance by the state attorneys general is optional, but the committee could issue a subpoena for the requested materials.)

Congressional jurisdiction does not generally apply to the actions of law enforcement personnel or legislators in state government, unless they are in conflict with federal law. So, in a press release issued by the Judiciary Committee, the Goodlatte letter is described as an attempt to determine “if the federal government might be able to partner with states to prevent newborn homicides.”

However, the first question asked by Goodlatte in the letter also asserts the committee’s interest in determining the state’s compliance with the federal 2002 “Infants Born-Alive Protection Act.”

Among the questions asked by Goodlatte and Franks in their letter:

“Do prosecutors in your state treat the deliberate killing of newborns, including those newborns who were born alive in the process of abortions, as a criminal offense? If so, have there been any prosecutions of this crime in your state?”

“Does your state have different statutes of limitation for culpability in the death of an infant and culpability and culpability for the deaths of human beings in later stages of development? If so, what is the understood rationale for that difference?”

In addition, Goodlatte and Franks ask the attorneys general to provide logs involving cases of women who have died or “suffered serious complications as a result of an abortion,” as well as logs of any cases that may have been prosecuted for abortions carried out beyond the state’s legal gestational limit.

As he faces reelection in 2014, Goodlatte’s abortion gambit may serve as one way to protect him from a primary challenge.

3. Fred Upton (R-MI)

As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Upton issued his own letter to the attorneys general in all 50 states, containing a potentially burdensome battery of questions on topics ranging from the licensing and regulation of abortion clinics that include demands for records and other supporting materials for a five-year period beginning in 2008. (The politically minded will note that the 2008-2013 period coincides with the election and subsequent presidency of Barack Obama.) The letter is dated May 7, 2013, and set a deadline of May 22 for compliance with the committee’s demands.

The letter from the Energy and Commerce Committee is significant because the Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, and since women often find it necessary to cross state lines in order to obtain an abortion, the Health subcommittee of Energy and Commerce claims a certain level of jurisdiction. Like the letter sent to state attorneys general by the Judiciary Committee, failure to comply with the Energy and Commerce Committee requests do not carry a legal penalty, but the committee does have subpoena power.

In addition to a long list of technical questions regarding the inspection and licensing of abortion clinics, the Energy and Commerce committee chair also asks state officials to detail what steps the state has taken to ensure that at every clinic there is “a designated individual to report suspected medical neglect (including withholding of medically indicated treatment of disabled infants with life-threatening conditions) to the state child protective services agency.” The letter states that this is necessary in order for a state to comply with the 2005 federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

Despite his embrace of anti-choice positions, Upton isn’t a darling of the GOP’s right wing. In 2011, he managed to bring his National Right to Life Committee vote score up to 100 percent after scoring a mere 75 percent in 2009. With this letter, he apparently hopes to keep that full-bore rating going into the 2014 congressional elections. In fact, Upton only secured his chairmanship of the committee after GOP leaders promised the NRLC that they would name the stalwart anti-choice Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) to head the health subcommittee.

In any hearings prompted by the states’ response to the Goodlatte letter (which was co-signed by Pitts and other subcommittee chairs), Pitts can be expected to play a prominent role.

4. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

When he’s not crusading against the United Nations, Mike Lee can be counted on to lead the charge against women’s rights. As the Gosnell trial unfolded, Lee offered a resolution on May 8, blocked by Democrats, that seemed to paint virtually all abortion clinics in Gosnell’s image, and called for national hearings on later abortions. (The Democrats, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), instead offered their own resolution, which condemned abusive and unsanitary conditions in any health-care facility, not just abortion clinics.)

Lee’s resolution read, in part:

Congress has the responsibility to investigate and conduct hearings on abortions performed near, at, or after viability in the United States…and evaluate the extent to which such abortions involve violations of the natural right to life of infants who are born alive, or are capable of being born alive, and therefore are entitled to equal protection under the law.

The day before, Lee introduced a Senate version of the NRLC bill that would ban later abortion in Washington, D.C. Although the bill has virtually no chance of passage in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, it is gathering Republican co-sponsors, who now number 33.