Anti-Prostitution Pledge Results in Discriminatory Treatment

Melissa Ditmore

Sex workers' health care is often sacrificed on the altar of U.S. funding.

Recently on Rewire, I examined
the damaging effects on sex workers of a new law against prostitution
in Cambodia. The perception on the ground is that the law was passed
so that Cambodia could avoid sanctions associated with the US Traffic
in Persons report. 

This is not the first time
that sex workers have been sacrificed at the altar of US funding. Anti-trafficking
funding and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)
deny funding to any organization that does not have an explicit policy
against prostitution and sex trafficking. Outwardly, this seems innocuous,
but the restriction has been used in ways that seriously undermine public
health and anti-trafficking efforts in the developing world. Denying
services to sex workers is counter-productive in both areas.  

In addition, the terms of the
restriction have been left ambiguous, allowing some self-appointed experts
to act as "police" for the US government in watching aid recipients
for alleged missteps. CHANGE  released an updated policy brief detailing the ways in which sex workers have been
adversely affected by this restriction. 

These self-appointed enforcers
have chosen to ignore the non-discrimination clause in the regulation
that says that no one should be denied services because of the anti-prostitution pledge. In practice,
application of the restriction is often highly discriminatory. Doctors
in Cambodia used the restriction as grounds for denying information
about HIV transmission to men who have sex with men (MSM). Male sex
workers in Thailand have been evicted from the sole clinic in the nation
dedicated to MSM. Drop-in centers for homeless sex workers in Bangladesh
– the only places where some of these women had access to a toilet
– have been closed. 

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Restrictions targeting sex
work have not been the only counter-productive consequence of US policy.
The abstinence earmark in PEPFAR, which requires one-third of prevention
funds to go towards abstinence education, has significantly reduced
condom availability in sub-Saharan Africa. In a bizarre twist, abstinence
programs funded through PEPFAR in Uganda have even conducted public
condom burnings. The percentage of Uganda’s population infected with
HIV had previously been in sharp decline as a result of strong prevention
programs, but that trend seems unlikely to continue now. 

Taking the Pledge is a 13-minute video featuring interviews
with people who have experienced discrimination and the loss of services
and commodities because of US-imposed restrictions. These stories illustrate
why sex workers and their advocates see little cause for celebration
in recent increases in PEPFAR funding. Instead we worry that continued
imposition of ideologically motivated restrictions will bring not benefits,
but further discrimination against sex workers.  

The next administration must
act quickly to repair PEPFAR and anti-trafficking funding policies in order
to assist these vulnerable populations instead of promoting discrimination
against them.

Watch Taking the Pledge:


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Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”

News Abortion

Blackburn Punts on Next Steps in Anti-Choice Congressional Investigation

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

What are the next steps for the U.S. House of Representatives investigation into a market of aborted “baby body parts” that according to all other accounts—three other congressional committees, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury—doesn’t exist?

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, said she had not decided on the topic of the next hearing, nor whether to subpoena the leader of the anti-choice front group fueling the investigation.

“We’ll have something that we’ll look at in September, but no decisions [yet],” Blackburn said in a July 14 interview with Rewire.

Blackburn’s remarks followed a press conference coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the first Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos that still serve as the basis for the $1.2 million investigation.

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“We’re continuing to pursue [options], we have a tremendous amount of information that has come through to us through whistleblowers and individuals, so we’ll continue to work,” she said.

Congress adjourned for a seven-week recess the day after Blackburn presented House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) with the panel’s interim update, which repeats many of the same widely discredited allegations from CMP and other anti-choice groups cited in the document.

The panel will release a final report by the end of the year. That’s the only definitive next step in an investigation that started with allegedly falsified evidence of fetal tissue trafficking and pivoted in recent months to later abortion care, including subpoenaing a prominent provider and calling for a state-level criminal investigation of a university and abortion clinic supposedly in collusion.

Blackburn would not commit to subpoenaing David Daleiden, the CMP leader under felony indictment in Texas and the subject of lawsuits in California. Republicans’ interim update called Daleiden an “investigative journalist,” even though more than two dozen of the nation’s preeminent journalists and journalism scholars recently filed an amicus brief explaining why that isn’t so in the federal court case between CMP and the National Abortion Federation.

“I think it’s inappropriate to predetermine any decisions,” Blackburn said about the possibility of a Daleiden appearance before the panel. “We’re an investigative panel. We’re going go where the facts take us.”

The interim update indicates that the investigation will continue to focus on later abortion care. Blackburn, however, deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

Blackburn seemingly walked back the pledge she made at a faith-based conference last month to pursue contempt of Congress charges for “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion”—who she alleged have not cooperated with her subpoenas. Blackburn’s panel spokesperson previously told Rewire that the panel required the names of those involved in fetal tissue transactions and research in order to understand how things work.

Democrats have repeatedly objected to the subpoenas, escalating their concerns after Blackburn initially failed to redact researchers’ names and contact information in her call for a federal abortion inquiry.

“We’re going to pursue getting the truth and delivering a report that is factual, that is truthful, and can be utilized by the authorizing committees,” Blackburn said in response to a question about the contempt charges at the press conference.

Blackburn and her fellow Republicans had no such reservations about going after Democrats on the panel.  They accused Democrats of furnishing subpoena recipients with a memo to subvert requests for information. The final pages of the interim update includes a chart alleging the extent to which various organizations, hospitals, procurement companies, abortion providers, and others have or have not complied with the subpoenas.

Emails obtained by Rewire show a Democratic staffer refuting such accusations last month. Democrats produced their own status update for members, not a memo advising noncompliance for subpoena recipients, the staffer said in a June email to a Republican counterpart on the panel.