Roundup: McCain Is Party to Secret War on Contraception

Brady Swenson

McCain would likely continue the Bush administration's quiet war on contraception; Pro-life pharmacy opens in Virginia, will not dispense birth control; Catholics group explains why they think Obama is the real "pro-life" candidate; Outlook bleak for abortion rights in Northern Ireland; The myth of non-activist justices.

McCain Is Party to Secret War on Contraception

Abortion is high on the political radar this campaign season. But less obvious, says Roberta Riley of Women’s eNews, is the Bush administration’s secret war on contraception, which a McCain-Palin administration can be counted on to press ahead. Two recent federal court cases decided by Bush-appointed justices are worrisome:

In March 2007, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against
female workers who simply wanted their health plan to cover
contraception on the same terms it covered other preventive care as
well as Viagra and Rogaine for men. (Note: Viagra and Rogaine are not
preventive care.)

A second ruling, issued in late 2007 by a lower court and now on
appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, allows people who run
pharmacies to refuse to dispense birth control based on their belief it
kills the unborn. Since then "pro-life pharmacies" have been cropping
up all over the country. Today, for example, in parts of Montana, women
must drive 80 miles to find a pharmacy willing to sell contraception.

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But combine those anti-contraception decisions with explicit efforts made by the Bush administration and it is clear that the Bush administration has launched a quiet war on contraception:

Before he leaves office, President Bush has signalled he will use
his rule-making power
to boost this cause and undo state laws requiring
all hospitals, including Catholic institutions, to offer emergency
contraception to rape survivors. The process is already underway.

All this comes on top of Bush’s steady attacks against contraception during the past eight years.

On his first day in office, he stammered his revulsion of abortion,
as he signed the so-called global gag rule, which forbids U.S.
assistance to foreign groups that use funding from any other source to
perform abortions, discuss abortion with their patients or lobby to
change their nations’ abortion laws. In reality, he took contraception
away from the world’s poorest women.

In his first budget proposal he silently tried to ax contraception
out of health benefits for federal workers. He relented under pressure
when the Office of Personnel Management reported contraceptive coverage
added no cost to premiums.

In 2002 he appointed Dr. W. David Hager, a staunch opponent of birth
control, to an FDA panel where Hager blocked over-the-counter approval
of emergency contraception despite overwhelming scientific evidence of
its safety and efficacy.

In 2006 he hired Dr. Eric Keroack, who believes contraception
"demeans women," to run Title X, the program that once made birth
control and cancer screening affordable for millions of uninsured
women. Those federal dollars now flow to groups that preach "abstinence
only," which is code for "don’t tell young people about condoms."

He appointed over 300 federal judges, including the fellows who
issued the recent rulings that threaten your access to contraception.

So, where was McCain while all this was going on?  He was voting in lock-step with Bush:

Over his long career, McCain voted against women’s health 125 times.
At each and every opportunity, he voted against insurance coverage for
contraception, against family planning programs and against medically
accurate sex education. Not only did he approve all of Bush’s judicial
picks, he promises to fill future court vacancies with "clones of Alito
and Roberts," the ultra-conservatives Bush put on the Supreme Court.
Federal judges, whom presidents appoint for life, will play a key role
in the outcome of this war.

As we compare the candidates’ plans for health care, bear in mind
the Catholic Church owns a substantial portion of hospitals in the
current system and has a long history of lobbying against access to
birth control. Under McCain’s plan, churches and insurance companies
will control even more of our health care.

And if that is not enough to convince you that a McCain administration would pursue four, perhaps eight, more years of a war on contraception, the selection of Palin for Vice President makes it clear that McCain is committed to continue degrading women’s access to birth control:

McCain’s running mate selection sends the most coded message of all in this war.

Gov. Sarah Palin belongs to Feminists For Life, a group that tries
to deter women from taking Plan B, which is the best type of emergency
contraception now available. In two easy links from Feminists for
Life’s home page, one finds volumes of misleading information designed
to scare women and convince them the drug induces abortion. (It does

There are two kinds of Feminists for Life members: those who oppose
all contraceptives and those who oppose the methods they consider
"abortifacients," a scientific-sounding term the group will not define.
It is code for all of the most popular and effective hormonal methods.

Palin is free to believe anything. But can she separate her personal
views from her public duties? As mayor of Wasilla, she cut funds for
rape kits. The evidence indicates she did it to make sure women didn’t
receive emergency contraception.

She even hedged when Katie Couric asked if she condones or condemns
Plan B. "Personally I would not choose to participate in that form of
contraception," she said about the drug, which is simply a high dose of
regular birth control pills and the safe, proven treatment for rape
survivors and women who experience birth control failures.

By sheer force of logic, if Palin rejects "that form," she also
disapproves of the pill, IUD, Depo Provera, Nuva rings and patches that
millions of U.S. women rely on.

Which is precisely why she hedged.

You might remember that earlier this summer McCain was asked directly about that Eighth Circuit court case that ruled against women seeking the same insurance coverage for birth control that is given for Viagra and Rogaine.  But you might remember McCain’s answer, or lack of one, so here’s a timely reminder:


Pro-Life Pharmacy Opens in Virginia, Refuses to Dispense Birth Control

Divine Mercy Care Pharmacy opened its doors in a strp mall in Chantilly, Virgina this week. The drug store is the seventh in the country to be certified as not
prescribing birth control
by Pharmacists for Life International. The
anti-choice group estimates that perhaps hundreds of other pharmacies
have similar policies, though they have not been certified. 


Catholics for Obama

A group called Catholic Democrats has launched a new web site,, that attempts to explain why a "pro-life" Catholic should vote for Obama.  The group’s president gives the short explanation: 

"I feel that every Catholic can vote for Obama in good conscience,"
said Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats.
"I think Barack Obama is the first Democratic presidential candidate
who has come out and said he plans constructive measures to reduce the
number of abortions in the United States."

He believes some will come to see Obama as he does: a person who may
not mesh with the faith in all regards, but whose "life parallels the
central messages of Catholic social teaching."

"I think that from a Christian standpoint, and Catholics in particular,
the ethos is about inviting people to the moral life and working on
constructive measures to reduce abortions," Whelan said. "And I
honestly believe that Obama has helped this country turn a corner on
this issue." 

For more also see Cristina Page’s post "The Real Pro-life Candidate."


Running out the Clock on Abortion Rights in Northern Ireland

British MPs are due to debate an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill soon which would extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.  But time is running out to make that extension to Northern Ireland’s women as authority on matters of criminal justice will soon be ‘devolved’ to the Northern Ireland assembly and thus will be out of the hands of British MPs in London.  And anti-choice interests are working to make sure time runs out before a vote can be made on the amendment.  All abortion, including in cases of rape and incest, is illegal in Northern Ireland.  The failure of the UK’s government to pass these laws further protecting a woman’s right to choose causes some activists to worry that it may trigger a regression for the right to choose across the EU.


On the Supreme Court There are no Originalists only Activists of Different Stripes

A Los Angeles Times editorial highlights recent writings of two prominent conservative judges asserting that Justice Antonin Scalia was guilty of judicial activism in his opinion on the gun control case, District of Columbia vs. Heller.  Scalia is held up by conservatives as an example of a "strict constructionist," or an "originalist," a justice who purports to adhere strictly to the original framer’s intent of the Constitution. 

What’s more enlightening about these critiques, however, is that they
demonstrate that there are no real originalists, only activists of
different stripes. And that’s OK. It is essential to recognize that one
original intent of the Constitution’s framers was to create an elastic
document, adjustable for the ages. So the task for the court is not to
determine whether the framers kept rifles under their beds but whether
owning a gun today serves the social function the Constitution created
for it, namely, the preservation of militias.

Miranda is rightly thought of as the work of an activist court — its
warnings to suspects are not to be found anywhere in the Constitution.
The Constitution is similarly silent on the significance of trimesters
in considering the right of the government to make decisions about a
woman’s body. Those rulings nevertheless have settled well into our
lives — they provide clarity for police and protection for women. It’s
too soon to say whether Heller will wear as well. What is clear is that
it springs from the same judicial impulse, whether Scalia likes to
admit it or not.


News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”

Analysis Human Rights

El Salvador Bill Would Put Those Found Guilty of Abortion Behind Bars for 30 to 50 Years

Kathy Bougher

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador since 1997, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison. Now, the right-wing ARENA Party has introduced a bill that would increase that penalty to a prison sentence of 30 to 50 years—the same as aggravated homicide.

The bill also lengthens the prison time for physicians who perform abortions to 30 to 50 years and establishes jail terms—of one to three years and six months to two years, respectively—for persons who sell or publicize abortion-causing substances.

The bill’s major sponsor, Rep. Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, explained in a television interview on July 11 that this was simply an administrative matter and “shouldn’t need any further discussion.”

Since the Salvadoran Constitution recognizes “the human being from the moment of conception,” he said, it “is necessary to align the Criminal Code with this principle, and substitute the current penalty for abortion, which is two to eight years in prison, with that of aggravated homicide.”

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The bill has yet to be discussed in the Salvadoran legislature; if it were to pass, it would still have to go to the president for his signature. It could also be referred to committee, and potentially left to die.

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would worsen the criminalization of women, continue to take away options, and heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

In recent years, local feminist groups have drawn attention to “Las 17 and More,” a group of Salvadoran women who have been incarcerated with prison terms of up to 40 years after obstetrical emergencies. In 2014, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) submitted requests for pardons for 17 of the women. Each case wound its way through the legislature and other branches of government; in the end, only one woman received a pardon. Earlier this year, however, a May 2016 court decision overturned the conviction of another one of the women, Maria Teresa Rivera, vacating her 40-year sentence.

Velásquez Parker noted in his July 11 interview that he had not reviewed any of those cases. To do so was not “within his purview” and those cases have been “subjective and philosophical,” he claimed. “I am dealing with Salvadoran constitutional law.”

During a protest outside of the legislature last Thursday, Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, addressed Velásquez Parker directly, saying that his bill demonstrated an ignorance of the realities faced by women and girls in El Salvador and demanding its revocation.

“How is it possible that you do not know that last week the United Nations presented a report that shows that in our country a girl or an adolescent gives birth every 20 minutes? You should be obligated to know this. You get paid to know about this,” Herrera told him. Herrera was referring to the United Nations Population Fund and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s report, “Map of Pregnancies Among Girls and Adolescents in El Salvador 2015,” which also revealed that 30 percent of all births in the country were by girls ages 10 to 19.

“You say that you know nothing about women unjustly incarcerated, yet we presented to this legislature a group of requests for pardons. With what you earn, you as legislators were obligated to read and know about those,” Herrera continued, speaking about Las 17. “We are not going to discuss this proposal that you have. It is undiscussable. We demand that the ARENA party withdraw this proposed legislation.”

As part of its campaign of resistance to the proposed law, the Agrupación produced and distributed numerous videos with messages such as “They Don’t Represent Me,” which shows the names and faces of the 21 legislators who signed on to the ARENA proposal. Another video, subtitled in English, asks, “30 to 50 Years in Prison?

International groups have also joined in resisting the bill. In a pronouncement shared with legislators, the Agrupación, and the public, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women (CLADEM) reminded the Salvadoran government of it international commitments and obligations:

[The] United Nations has recognized on repeated occasions that the total criminalization of abortion is a form of torture, that abortion is a human right when carried out with certain assumptions, and it also recommends completely decriminalizing abortion in our region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights reiterated to the Salvadoran government its concern about the persistence of the total prohibition on abortion … [and] expressly requested that it revise its legislation.

The Committee established in March 2016 that the criminalization of abortion and any obstacles to access to abortion are discriminatory and constitute violations of women’s right to health. Given that El Salvador has ratified [the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the country has an obligation to comply with its provisions.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the proposal as “scandalous.” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, emphasized in a statement on the organization’s website, “Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.”

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all,” Guevara-Rosas continued.

In the United States, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) issued a press release on July 19 condemning the proposal in El Salvador. Rep. Torres wrote, “It is terrifying to consider that, if this law passed, a Salvadoran woman who has a miscarriage could go to prison for decades or a woman who is raped and decides to undergo an abortion could be jailed for longer than the man who raped her.”

ARENA’s bill follows a campaign from May orchestrated by the right-wing Fundación Sí a la Vida (Right to Life Foundation) of El Salvador, “El Derecho a la Vida No Se Debate,” or “The Right to Life Is Not Up for Debate,” featuring misleading photos of fetuses and promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion.

The Agrupacion countered with a series of ads and vignettes that have also been applied to the fight against the bill, “The Health and Life of Women Are Well Worth a Debate.”

bien vale un debate-la salud de las mujeres

Mariana Moisa, media coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire that the widespread reaction to Velásquez Parker’s proposal indicates some shift in public perception around reproductive rights in the country.

“The public image around abortion is changing. These kinds of ideas and proposals don’t go through the system as easily as they once did. It used to be that a person in power made a couple of phone calls and poof—it was taken care of. Now, people see that Velásquez Parker’s insistence that his proposal doesn’t need any debate is undemocratic. People know that women are in prison because of these laws, and the public is asking more questions,” Moisa said.

At this point, it’s not certain whether ARENA, in coalition with other parties, has the votes to pass the bill, but it is clearly within the realm of possibility. As Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, told Rewire, “We know this misogynist proposal has generated serious anger and indignation, and we are working with other groups to pressure the legislature. More and more groups are participating with declarations, images, and videos and a clear call to withdraw the proposal. Stopping this proposed law is what is most important at this point. Then we also have to expose what happens in El Salvador with the criminalization of women.”

Even though there has been extensive exposure of what activists see as the grave problems with such a law, Garcia said, “The risk is still very real that it could pass.”