Veepstakes 2008: Checking Out the Field

Pamela Merritt

The battle lines on choice extend to the potential vice-presidential candidates as both major parties are unwilling to risk their base supporters for the possibility of new voters.

I must admit to getting caught
up in the current speculation
over who Senator Obama and Senator McCain will select as their vice
presidential running mate

From the moment both presumptive nominees were identified, the press
and political junkies have been making lists of potential vice presidents
and checking them twice for strengths and weaknesses.  Choice has
long been held as a litmus test issue for candidates of both major political
parties and the same may hold true this year.  Many supporters
of Senator Clinton are looking to see whether she will be Senator Obama’s
choice or, if not, whether the person who is selected will be as strongly
pro-choice as she is.  Obama must also maintain the support of
the traditionally pro-choice Democratic base while also attracting independent
and moderate Republicans who may not be solidly pro-choice to his side. 
Senator McCain, meanwhile, must balance the expectations of the socially conservative
Republican Party base with his need to attract independent voters. 
McCain supporters hope that his vice presidential selection will balance
the Republican ticket with youthful regional appeal and add a depth
of economic policy experience without alienating anti-choicers. 
The wild card for McCain is whether the anti-choice base will be a stronger
voting force than the many pro-choice Republican and Independent voters a June 2008 NARAL
Pro-Choice America poll

identified as pulling away from McCain because of his anti-choice positions. 

The decision is now in the
hands of the presumptive nominees and their vice presidential selection
committees, but pro-choice voters will benefit from an exploration of
the women and men who would be vice president and their records on choice.   

Let’s start our review from
the left. Senator Obama, having secured the endorsement of both Planned
Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, would seem to have an easier
pro-choice path but his newness to the political scene has some pro-choice
voters looking toward the vice presidential selection process as Obama’s
choice courage test.  Obama’s short list seems to be fluid but
a few names have maintained a presence for several weeks.  Senator
Hillary Clinton of New York, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, Senator
Evan Bayh of Indiana, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, Governor Kathleen
Sebelius of Kansas and recently Representative Chet Edwards of Texas
are each garnering a lot of speculation in the press.  Recent news
that Senator Clinton’s
supporters may make a run at the Democratic Convention
has renewed speculation over what
her role will be if she is not selected for the bottom half of the Democratic
ticket.  Despite the joint statement of unity issued by Senator
Obama and Senator Clinton in response, a leaked video clip that appears
to show Senator Clinton encouraging her supporters to take their fight
to the convention floor has stirred up concerns about party unity and
re-energized talk that the clearest path to unity is an Obama-Clinton

Senator Clinton’s
record on choice is well known to voters
but some of the other people on Obama’s short list boast records more
familiar to regional supporters than to a national political audience. 
Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, once a presidential candidate himself,
accepts the view of the Catholic Church that life begins at conception.
Biden has stated his opposition to public funding for
and his
support of a partial-birth abortion ban but that he supports Roe v.
Wade.  Biden was rated 60% by NARAL
and rated 100%
by Planned Parenthood

(2006).  Project Vote Smart has a listing of Senator
Biden’s voting record on abortion

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When Governor Tim Kaine of
Virginia ran for office he stated his intent to promote abstinence
and ban partial-birth abortion

He has promised to reduce abortion rates in Virginia by enforcing current
state restrictions, passing a ban on partial-birth abortion while ensuring
women’s access to health care, including legal contraception. 
Kaine, a practicing Catholic, has a faith-based opposition to abortion. 
Yet in 2007 Kaine moved to cut off state funding
for abstinence-only sex education programs
citing recent studies finding that teenagers should also be taught about
birth control and condoms to protect against pregnancy and sexually
transmitted diseases. 

Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana
has voted against defining a fetus as eligible for SCHIP, prohibiting
minors from crossing state lines for abortion services, barring HHS
grants to organizations that perform abortions and against maintaining
an abortion ban on military bases.  Bayh has voted for expanding
research to more embryonic stem cell lines, notifying parents of minors
who get out-of-state abortions, $100M to reduce teen pregnancy through
education and contraceptives and in support of banning partial birth
abortions except for maternal life.  Senator Bayh was rated 100% by NARAL (2007) and rated 92% by Planned

Project Vote Smart a listing of Senator
Bayh’s voting record on abortion

Governor Kathleen Sebelius
of Kansas was endorsed by Planned Parenthood for years as pro-choice
and columnist Robert Novak branded
her a pro-choicer’s dream V.P.

choice.  Sebelius describes herself as personally pro-life, but
she is opposed to efforts to eliminate or reduce abortions primarily
by criminalizing abortion procedures.  Sebelius vetoed anti-choice
legislation in Kansas in 2003, 2005, 2006, and again in 2008 when she vetoed
the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act

on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.  

Representative Chet Edwards
of Texas is a newcomer to the Democratic potential running mate list. 
Edwards has voted against making it a crime to harm a fetus during another
crime, banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother’s life,
funding for health providers who don’t provide abortion information
and against banning family planning funding in United States foreign
aid.  Representative Edwards has been rated 100% by NARAL and rated 82% by Planned

To the right are Senator McCain’s
potential running mates.  Recently former Pennsylvania Governor
and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, who is on Senator McCain’s
short list and who has been the subject of much speculation in the press, re-confirmed his
pro-choice position during an appearing on ABC News’ "This Week
with George Stephanopoulos

Ridge also said that he did not think Senator McCain would make choice
a litmus test for potential vice presidential candidates.  Since
the economy has emerged as the top issue of concern to voters this election
year it would seem logical that McCain would select a running mate with
that in mind since his economic credentials have been an issue. 
But Ridge’s comments raise the question of whether McCain, who has
a history of alienating social conservatives within the Republican Party,
can afford to overlook a vice presidential prospects pro-choice record
in favor of a person with an impressive economic policy resume. 
On McCain’s short list are Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia,
Representative Rob Portman of Ohio, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana,
Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former Massachusetts Governor
Mitt Romney. 

Representative Eric Cantor
of Virginia voted for restricting interstate transport of minors seeking
abortion services and making it a crime to harm a fetus during another
crime. Cantor has voted in favor of banning partial-birth abortion except
to save a mother’s life, funding for health providers who do not provide
abortion information, banning family planning funding in United States
foreign aid and in support of making it a federal crime to harm fetus
while committing other crimes.  Representative Cantor was rated 0% by NARAL and 0% by Planned Parenthood.  Project Vote Smart
has listed Representative Cantor’s voting record

Governor Mitt Romney was pro-choice then
switched position shortly before running as a candidate for the 2008
Republican Presidential nomination

In 2002 Romney said he supported the substance of the Supreme Court
decision in Roe versus Wade and funding of abortion services through
Medicaid in answers to a questionnaire submitted by Planned Parenthood. 
By 2007 Romney had received the Political Leadership award from Massachusetts
Citizens for Life at a Mothers’ Day dinner. Romney describes himself
as a "convert" to the anti-choice cause in the tradition of
Ronald Reagan. 

Representative Rob Portman
of Ohio is an American lawyer and politician who has served in two cabinet
positions and as a member of Congress. Most recently, Portman was Director
of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  While in office
Portman voted in favor of banning partial-birth abortion except to save
a mother’s life, funding for health providers who do not provide abortion
info, banning family planning funding in United States foreign aid and
in support of making it a federal crime to harm a fetus while committing
a crime.  It comes as not surprise that Portman was rated 0% by
NARAL Pro-Choice America.  

Tim Pawlenty
Minnesota is said to be solidly anti-choice
but not in public

As Andy Birkey detailed in his article Gov. Pawlenty and
the Evangelicals: Where He Stands on Hot-Button Issues
, Pawlenty’s evangelicalism has elevated
him to top of the running mate wish list for social conservatives despite
his lack of public statements on his religious beliefs. 

Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana
is also solidly pro-life.  Jindal is the darling of the Republican
Party right now, having demonstrated the ability to campaign on a socially
conservative platform with charisma and cross party appeal.  
While serving in Congress. Jindal voted against allowing human embryonic
stem cell research and he voted in favor of restricting interstate transport
of minors to seeking abortion services.  Jindal has been rated 0%
by NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood

Clearly the battle lines on
choice extend to the potential vice presidential candidates because
both major parties need their base supporters and are unwilling to risk
those guaranteed votes for the possibility of new voters.  Both
vice presidential selection committees must now vet candidates for their
ability to balance out their party’s presumptive nominee’s weak
points while also considering the candidates regional appeal and their
ability to energize the base.  With future retirements on the Supreme
Court looming in the next few years, the cost to reproductive justice
could be high.

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.