“Egg-as-Person” Backers Call Out Conservative Wimps

Wendy Norris

Proponents of Colorado's "egg as a person" initiative have just one month left to submit petitions to the Colorado secretary of state to certify the measure for the Nov. 4 ballot. Now, in the frenzy of the signature-gathering push the campaign is taking a decidedly more aggressive tone -- toward its own.

Colorado for Equal Rights (CER) has added another ultra-conservative ally in its push for a state constitutional amendment to confer legal rights on fertilized human eggs.

In a new video featured on the CER Web site (see below), Michael Hichborn, a spokesman for the American Life League, criticizes the Denver Post for mischaracterizing the proposed constitutional amendment as "an attempt to extend the legal protections of personhood to an egg." Hichborn continues sarcastically, "News flash to the Denver Post. Humans don't lay eggs. But we do make babies …" while a picture of a baby pops out of a giant chicken egg replete with clucking hen and egg-breaking sound effects.

Kristi Burton, the 20-year-old correspondence law school student from Peyton, Colo., and founder of CER, complains in her brief on-camera segment that fellow conservatives have cold feet about the timing of the initiative.

Hichborn follows suit and drives home the point in no uncertain terms:

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"Now, amazingly there are those that claim that now is not the right time for a personhood amendment. The old saying attributed to Edmund Burke 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing' is well applied to those standing on the sidelines because they decided to do just what Burke warned against. They're simply doing nothing. And while they sit on their hands waiting — organizations like NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW are working to ensure another 35 years of killing babies."

Insulting one's target audience is a curious strategy to employ when, according to an April 6 news story in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Burton remarked that her group has collected just 60,000 of the 76,000 signatures required to place the initiative on the Colorado ballot. The deadline for submitting the petitions is May 14.

In addition to ALL, Burton's group has solicited the support of other ultra-conservative groups that don't mince words.

American Right to Life Action, a new Denver-based group, aims to upend National Right to Life, the standard-bearer antiabortion organization, which the young upstart views as too timid in its fight against "wicked courts" and "child-killing regulations." CER's petition coordinator and latest spokesman, Keith Mason, hails from Operation Rescue in Wichita, Kan., scene of some of the most strident protests in the nation.

Despite the tame wording, the measure appears to be an attempt to exploit the long-held belief by abortion foes that the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision never addressed the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment. By conferring state constitutional rights on a fertilized egg, antiabortion activists hope to chip away at the Roe decision.

Opponents argue that the ballot wording is overly broad and could be interpreted to outlaw abortion and some contraceptives that interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus — a key point in the dispute because a free-floating zygote does not meet the scientific definition of pregnancy since upwards of 50 percent of these cells do not naturally implant.

An ex-spokesman for CER confirmed the overarching goals to end abortion and curb hormone-based contraceptive use in press statements last summer but the group has since backed off making those claims in public.

Analysis Law and Policy

Why the Campaign Against Conservative Judicial Nominees Like Michael Boggs Matters

Jessica Mason Pieklo

NARAL Pro-Choice America is challenging the Obama administration's nomination of Michael Boggs, who has a long history of opposition to civil rights, to the federal district court in Georgia. But the organization's campaign is about more than just one nominee.

Late last year, as the Obama administration wrestled with Republicans over their continued obstruction of the president’s judicial nominations, reports surfaced of a deal brokered between the administration and Republican senators from Georgia on at least some federal court nominees. According to reports, the Obama administration agreed to appoint three nominees, pre-approved by Georgia Republican senators, to the federal district court of Georgia. In exchange, Republicans agreed to end their filibuster of the nomination of Jill Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The judicial candidates pre-selected by Republicans and later nominated by President Obama include Michael Boggs, currently a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, who has a long history of opposition to civil rights. Prior to his time on the Georgia Court of Appeals, Boggs was an attorney and then legislator who championed anti-choice causes. While serving in the state legislature, Boggs co-sponsored legislation to make even more severe the state’s existing parental involvement law. Under Boggs’ proposal, before a minor could have an abortion, a parent or guardian would have to accompany the patient in person and display a photo identification to prove their status as guardian/parent before the procedure could take place. Similar in effect to voter identification laws, the photo ID requirement would have disproportionately affected low-income individuals, minority communities, and the elderly, who are less likely to have state-issued photo identification cards. Boggs’ restriction did not include any exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Boggs also worked as a legislator to channel state funds into anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers by sponsoring a bill promoting “Choose Life” license plates.

Boggs’ hostility to fundamental civil rights is not confined to issues of reproductive choice. While a legislator, Boggs sided with segregationists and voted against a proposed change to the Georgia state flag to remove a Confederate emblem. Not surprisingly, Boggs also voted against recognizing marriage equality in the state.

It’s not surprising that Republican senators from Georgia would offer up Boggs’ nomination to the federal bench. What is surprising is that the administration would go along with it.

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Shortly after the deal clearing the way for Boggs’ nomination was reported, Democratic lawmakers from the state, led by long-time civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis, urged the administration to withdraw the nominees over concerns about their ideology and lack of diversity. On Wednesday, NARAL Pro-Choice America joined with Lewis and a growing list of organizations and lawmakers in opposing Boggs’ nomination.

“Michael Boggs actually believes that there is one definition of what it means to live your life as an American,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. “The thing is, that’s anti-American.”

Boggs’ nomination, and the deal that got him there, represents a step backwards for the administration’s goal of opening up the federal courts, and threatens to slide an already conservative federal bench further to the right. It’s no wonder civil rights advocates oppose his nomination and like the deal that got him nominated even less. “Americans don’t like backroom deals on the courts any more than they like backroom deals on laws that affect the most vulnerable,” Hogue told Rewire. “We want the administration to aggressively nominate qualified candidates. … We don’t believe Boggs is such a candidate.”

Hogue told Rewire that what’s ultimately at stake is more than just the Boggs nomination, and she said to expect to see more advocacy from NARAL on the courts. A focus on the state and federal judiciary must be a “critical thrust” for the reproductive rights movement, and NARAL specifically, she said.

“In the next decade, these courts are going to issue rulings on a host of issues that are important to us, including state-level attacks on reproductive choice,” Hogue said. “We just can’t risk having judges on the bench like this when there are so many issues that will define who we are as a nation.”

NARAL’s campaign, and the mounting pressure from civil rights advocates against Boggs’ nomination generally, represents an increased focus by progressives on the future of federal and state courts. This is an important thing to focus on: Georgia is part of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal circuit that includes Alabama and Florida. Federal and state courts in this jurisdiction alone will consider the constitutionality of state-level reproductive rights challenges, attacks on immigrant rights, voting rights, and “stand your ground” laws, while electoral data suggests historically red-state Georgia is turning blue.

While an evolving liberal electorate may not seem to have an immediate impact on the state of the federal courts, peeking just to the east, to the neighboring Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, encompassing North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, illustrates why these Georgia nominations matter. After decades of control by conservative senators, the Fourth Circuit was once considered the most “aggressively conservative federal appeals court in the nation.” But since 2009, following the confirmation of six judges to the Fourth Circuit under the Obama administration, even the Fourth Circuit is veering toward center, most recently striking as unconstitutional North Carolina’s anti-choice “Choose Life” license plates law that was almost identical to the one Boggs promoted as a lawmaker.

That may be the most maddening part of the Boggs nomination and the deal the administration struck with Republicans to nominate him. After decades of manipulation by conservatives, there is finally an opportunity to offer some balance, but the Obama administration is apparently passing on the chance.

Conservatives have succeeded in stymieing civil rights advances by using electoral gains to fill the federal courts with conservative justices and by using party politics to obstruct any nominee but the most centrist. While the Obama administration deserves praise for diversifying the federal bench, going along with conservatives on nominees who embrace anti-equality positions in jurisdictions where these issues may matter most is both bad politics and bad policy. And it comes at a time when the federal courts and this country can’t afford any more of either.

News Law and Policy

ACLU Sues on Behalf of Michigan Worker Forced Out of Job While Pregnant

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of actions across the country to try and address the systemic problem of on-the-job pregnancy discrimination.

A Michigan woman is suing her health-care employer, arguing she was forced out of a job after she became pregnant. The lawsuit is the latest in a string of actions across the country to try and address the systemic problem of on-the-job pregnancy discrimination.

Asia Myers works as a certified nursing assistant at Hope Healthcare Center, a long-term care facility in Westland, Michigan. Early in her pregnancy, Myers experienced pregnancy complications and was told by her doctor not to perform any heavy lifting on the job without risk of miscarriage. She was ordered on bed rest for a week and then cleared to return to work, so long as she did not engage in any lifting or pushing. With orders from her doctor, Myers returned to work to request an accommodation. But despite the fact that the center had a history of accommodating workers with similar restrictions, Myers was forced onto unpaid leave and was told not to return to work until she was able to work without restrictions.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, and Michigan law also protects pregnant workers like Myers. But unfortunately, Myers’ story is not unique, nor is it isolated to Michigan. “This kind of unlawful discrimination unfairly punishes women who choose to start a family,” said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project said in a statement announcing the amended complaint. “It’s shameful that 35 years after Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, women are still being pushed out of the workplace once they become pregnant.”

While Myers was able to return to work after her doctor determined the complications had passed, she suffered significant financial hardship from being out of work for a month.

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A clear pattern is emerging in which women in the state are punished economically no matter what choice they try and make; the case comes on the heels of Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy, which will take benefits away from many women, as well as efforts to force women to purchase additional insurance coverage for abortion care, and allegations that the Catholic bishops, rather than doctors, are directing patient care. “It’s unfair to make me choose between earning a living and protecting my health and the health of my baby when I could still perform my job without doing any heavy lifting,” said Myers in a statement. “I was only asking to be treated the same way as other workers who had temporary restrictions on lifting. I love my job and am a good worker. It was wrong to force me off the job.”

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