Roundup: PEPFAR Vote Looming, WaPo Reviews Colorado Personhood Amendment

Brady Swenson

Vote on US AIDS policy imminent, Awarding pro-choice crusader Dr. Henry Morgentaler the Order of Canada has put focus on abortion debate, Washington Post considers the Colorado 'personhood' amendment.

PEPFAR Vote Looming … The Senate will be considering the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) sometime in the next 48 hours.  There are many shortcomings in the current version of the bill.  Please take a moment to check out our extensive coverage on this issue.  Kaiser Network has a comprehensive overview of the impending vote.  During the vote an amendment to end the 21-year ban on the immigration of HIV positive people will also be considered.  160 organizations have signed on in support of this amendment for some very good reasons.

Abortion a Hot Topic in Canada Right Now … A couple of weeks ago pro-choice crusader Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who was a litigant in the 1988 Canadaian Supreme Court case that legalized abortion throughout the country, was named to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civillian honor.  The honor was given for "a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service
to the nation." Many, three in five or two in three depending on which poll you go with, beleive the honor is well deserved.  But the award has has stirred quite a debate over the past couple weeks about legal abortion.  The UK’s Guardian has a great writeup from an external perspective. 

Colorado ‘Personhood’ Ballot Initiative … Coloradoans will vote in Novemeber on whether or not to legally define the beginning of life from the moment of fertilization.  The Sunday Washington Post ran a worthwhile review of the initiative and the debate surrounding it.

 

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News Abortion

Anti-Choice Legislator Confirms Vote on House Conscience Protections (Updated)

Christine Grimaldi

The Conscience Protection Act would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Act allows providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

UPDATE: July 14, 10 a.m.: The House passed the Conscience Protection Act Wednesday night in a largely party line 245-182 vote. Prior to floor consideration, House Republicans stripped the text of an unrelated Senate-passed bill (S. 304) and replaced it with the Conscience Protection Act. They likely did so to skip the Senate committee referral process, House Democratic aides told Rewire, expediting consideration across the capitol and, in theory, ushering a final bill to the president’s desk. President Barack Obama, however, would veto the Conscience Protection Act, according to a statement of administration policy.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next Wednesday on legislation that would allow a broadened swath of health-care providers to sue if they’re supposedly coerced into providing abortion care, or if they face discrimination for refusing to provide such care, according to a prominent anti-choice lawmaker.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) told Rewire in a Friday morning interview that House leadership confirmed a vote on the Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 4828) for July 13, days before the chamber adjourns for the presidential nominating conventions and the August recess. Pitts said he expects the bill to be brought up as a standalone measure, rather than as an amendment to any of the spending bills that have seen Republican amendments attacking a range of reproductive health care and LGBTQ protections.

The office of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had no immediate comment.

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Pitts’ remarks came during and after he hosted a “Forum on Conscience Protections” in the House Energy and Commerce Committee room to garner support for the bill.

Energy and Commerce Democrats boycotted the forum, a House Democratic aide told Rewire in a subsequent interview.

Legislation Builds on Precedent

Conscience protections are nothing new, the aide said. The latest iteration is a successor to the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (S. 1919/H.R. 940), which remains pending in the House and U.S. Senate. There’s also the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (S. 50) and similarly named bills in both chambers. The fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health, and Human Services funding bill, which guts Title X and Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, includes the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.

At the leadership level, Ryan’s recently released health-care plan mimics key provisions in the Conscience Protection Act. Both would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

The proposals would also codify and expand the Weldon Amendment, named for former Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), who participated in Pitts’ conscience forum. The Weldon Amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against health-care plans based on whether they cover abortion care. Currently, Congress must pass Weldon every year as an amendment to annual appropriations bills.

Administration Action Provides Impetus

There hadn’t been much public dialogue around conscience protections with the exception of some anti-choice groups that “have really been all over it,” the aide said. The National Right to Life issued an action alert, as did the Susan B. Anthony List, to galvanize support for the Conscience Protection Act.

The relative silence on the issue began to break after the Obama administration took a stand on abortion care in June.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights rejected anti-choice groups’ “right of conscience” complaint against California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under the definition of “basic health-care services.” Anti-choice groups had argued the California law violates the Weldon Amendment, but the administration found otherwise.

The California decision reinvigorated support for the Conscience Protection Act, the aide said. Ryan’s earlier health-care plan also specifically references the decision.

“We think this is going to be a big issue for us throughout the rest of this Congress,” the aide said.

Aide Outlines Additional Consequences

Beyond creating a private right of action and codifying Weldon, the Conscience Protection Act contains additional consequences for abortion care, the aide said.

The legislation would expand the definition of health-care providers to employers, social service organizations, and any other entity that offers insurance coverage, allowing them to raise objections under Weldon, the aide said. The aide characterized the change as a direct response to the California decision.

The legislation also broadens the list of objectionable services to include facilitating or making arrangements for abortion care, according to the aide.

The Republican-dominated House is likely to pass the Conscience Protection Act. But the aide did not expect it to advance in the Senate, which would all but certainly require a 60-vote threshold for such a controversial measure. More than anything, the aide said, the bill seems to be catering to anti-choice groups and long-time proponents of conscience clauses.

“The House oftentimes will pass these kinds of anti-choice proposals, and then they just go nowhere in the Senate,” the aide said.

News Politics

Colorado Republicans Pick Anti-Choice County Commissioner for U.S. Senate Race

Jason Salzman

Darryl Glenn, an anti-choice Colorado Springs County Commissioner, defeated a pro-choice GOP rival and three other anti-choice Republicans in the race to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet in November.

In Colorado’s Republican senatorial primary Tuesday, Darryl Glenn, a conservative county commissioner from Colorado Springs, scored a decisive victory over Jack Graham, a former Colorado State University official, who stood out from the GOP field of five candidates for his atypical pro-choice stance.

Glenn received about 38 percent of the primary vote versus nearly 25 percent for Graham, who finished second.

Glenn made no secret of his anti-choice stance during the primary election, describing himself in interviews as an “unapologetic Christian, constitutional conservative” and supporting “personhood” rights for fertilized human eggs (zygotes), a stance that could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception.

Consistent with this, Glenn is also opposed to the Roe v. Wade decision.

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Glenn frequently brought up his faith in interviews. For example, Glenn broke out from his Republican rivals at the GOP state convention in April, where he gave an impassioned speech during which he discussed Planned Parenthood and opposing abortion ​before delegates voted him on to the GOP primary ballot.

Asked about the speech by conservative radio host Richard Randall, Glenn said, “Well, that wasn’t me. That was the Holy Spirit coming through, just speaking the truth.”

Seriously?” replied the KVOR radio host.

Absolutely,” Glenn replied on air. “This campaign has always been about honoring and serving God and stepping up and doing the right thing.”

Political observers say Glenn’s position on abortion, coupled with his other conservative stances and his promise never to compromise, spell trouble for him in November’s general election against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

“Glenn’s stance on abortion isn’t necessarily disqualifying,” Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, which offers non-partisan election analysis, in Washington D.C., told Rewire via email. “Colorado has sent pro-life Republicans to the Senate. But, the cumulative effect of all Glenn’s conservative positions on social, economic, and foreign policy, as well as his association with Tea Party-affiliated groups and his lack of funding make it very, very difficult to see a path to victory for him.”

In the final weeks of the primary, Glenn was supported by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Glenn’s ties to the right wing of the Republican Party drew criticism during the campaign from GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He criticized Glenn for accepting the endorsement of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which gave Glenn $500,000.

Duffy doesn’t expect the race to be “very competitive,” an observation that aligns with the “Democrat favored” assessment of the race by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. Last year, Bennet was widely considered one of only two vulnerable U.S. Senate Democrats.

“Darryl Glenn’s support for ‘personhood’ puts him on the wrong side of Colorado voters’ values, including many pro-choice Republicans and unaffiliated voters,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, in an email to Rewire. “Support for reproductive freedom crosses party lines in Colorado, as demonstrated by the landslide losses by three ‘personhood’ ballot measures. Glenn’s chances of beating pro-choice champion Michael Bennet were already slim. This puts it closer to none.”

Glenn did not immediately return a call for comment.

In 2014, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is anti-choice, defeated pro-choice Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who hammered Gardner on his abortion stance throughout the campaign. 

Gardner threw his support behind Glenn Wednesday, reportedly saying to Roll Call that Glenn has fundraising challenges ahead of him but that he’s “winning when nobody expected him to.” And that, Gardner was quoted as saying, “bodes well for November.”