VIDEO: NBC Interviews Obama on Abortion Rights, Judicial Philosophy

Scott Swenson

MSNBC previews the Brian Williams interview with Sen. Barack Obama tonight, in which he discusses judicial philosophy. More on this after the final interview appears on Nightly News.

MSNBC previews the Brian Williams interview with Sen. Barack Obama tonight, in which he discusses judicial philosophy. More on this after the final interview appears on Nightly News.

Human Rights

What Do We Do About the Most All-Out Assault on Abortion Rights Since Roe?


The pro-choice movement by and large is still accepting the terrible terms set by the antis and negotiating for smaller and smaller pockets of access to this basic right.

This is a moment for sober reflection. How did we get to this point and what do we do now?

Walk for Choice

HR3, the most extreme anti-abortion federal bill yet, just passed the House of Representatives and moves on to the Senate now. If it becomes law, health insurance that includes abortion coverage would no longer be tax deductible, and the IRS could be required to audit rape victims. 512 state-level bills restricting access have been introduced in the first three months of 2011. Many of these bills directly challenge Roe. For instance, there is the so-called “heartbeat bill” in Ohio, which would ban all abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected – supported by many of the fascists hoping to run for the presidency in 2012, from Michele Bachmann to Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. A fetus supposedly testified for this bill in the Ohio legislature, taking the surreality to another level. Then there is the Louisiana “feticide” bill which decrees 15 years hard labor to punish women and doctors for abortions.

Pro-life, your name’s a lie.

The federal bill which would have defunded Planned Parenthood (which, for the record, is not allowed to use any taxpayer funds for abortion services under current law) was defeated; but now other states are going to copycat Indiana, which just went ahead and defunded Planned Parenthood anyway. This may mean the loss of all federal Medicaid funds for Indiana, as states aren’t really supposed to single out one healthcare provider and refuse to allow Medicaid recipients to receive their services.

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While the Tea-Partying Republicans are the main force behind all these efforts, 10 Democrats co-sponsored HR3, and 16 voted for it.  The Iowa Senate Majority leader, a Democrat, is the politician orchestrating the effort to prevent Dr. LeRoy Carhart from providing abortion services in his state. There are countless other examples at the state level of Democrats joining these efforts to actively curtail our most fundamental and basic rights to control our own bodies.

How does this compare to the situation in other countries? In Canada, pro-choice activists are afraid that the new conservative government may institute something like the Hyde amendment there (preventing the government from ever funding abortion services, even for Medicaid/Medicare patients, which has been status quo in the US since 1976). This means that, as it stands now, the Canadian healthcare system freely provides women with abortions! In Tunisia, the small majority-Muslim country that set off the “Arab Spring” protests this year, abortion is free. Yet, in the US, the most powerful country on the planet, Christian fundamentalists from the backwoods to the highest levers of power, call upon all those who “love babies” to root out all new and fragile manifestations of a more just society for women, LGBT people and others, even as their beloved military continues to kill real living children, women and men by the thousands in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We need to understand how and why all this is being tolerated so that we can change this dynamic.

This latest and most widespread attack on access to abortion builds on a wave that has been growing for more than 30 years. Anti-abortion fundamentalists have taken the offensive to shame women who insist on controlling their reproduction and their lives, to spread ignorance, and to violently attack doctors and those who defend them. They have attacked the science and the morality of our rights. Only a movement that is unapologetic and uncompromising in its insistence on the right and morality of abortion can stand up to and defeat these attacks.

While interviewing Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, Rachel Maddow pressed the question, “Why isn’t anyone standing up for the right to abortion, rather than just talking about contraceptives and pap smears?” That’s an excellent question to ask Richards. While only 3% of all of Planned Parenthood’s numerous and important services are abortions, the reason they are being targeted has everything to do with the right to abortion (contraception as well, which is inseparably connected for the anti-abortion movement). So where are the advocates in the public sphere, proudly pointing to the ways in which the right to abortion and birth control empowers women and breaks down the barriers to participation in society, advocates who angrily denounce the immorality of forced child-bearing? Where are OUR voices? There are blogs aplenty, making coherent and articulate arguments for reproductive rights, telling moving stories, and persuading people one-by-one to break through the propaganda offensive and see the true nature of the anti-abortion movement.

But the pro-choice movement by and large is still accepting the terrible terms set by the antis and negotiating for smaller and smaller pockets of access to this basic right. This is literally true now. Ninety percent of all US counties don’t have a provider. Whole states are getting ready to outlaw abortion altogether. This retreat stems not just from “big girl organization” fear of the open dialogue inherent in new media online. It’s deeply rooted and long-practiced approaches hinged on political compromise, electoral politics, seeking common ground with outright misogynists, and most of all, the needs of the Democratic Party, not of women.

Amanda Marcotte addressed this on Rewire: “We’re understandably busy trying to fight incursions against the right to abortion, but because of this, we haven’t been doing enough to expand the right and put anti-choicers on defense.”  Yes – and we also need to stop accepting the terms that there’s anything wrong with abortion! What could be more moral, more just, than ensuring people have the right to decide what happens inside their uteruses? It’s high time we seize the lofty language of morality from these oppressive creeps and re-orient all of society in a more just way.

There is good reason to fear the anti-abortion movement, which some call the “American Taliban” and others, “Christian Fascists” (what else can you can people who want the IRS to conduct “rape audits”?). But we can’t let that fear paralyze us, suffocate our voices, or allow acceptance of a truly intolerable state of affairs now.

Politics-as-usual is a dam holding back an ocean of people who care about the humanity of women.

Here we are, approaching the second anniversary of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. If ever there was a need for mass, visible resistance in the streets to this whole hateful agenda, it is now.

Organized solely on the internet in a matter of weeks by first-time activists, the first Walk for Choice brought thousands of people in 40+ cities into the streets a few months ago. The walks continue in many cities this May 21. Find one near you asap! Organize one in your area if there isn’t one set up yet.

Walk for Choice
May 21 – Times/locations vary
All locations are listed here.

Particularly important among all the Walks is the action at the Germantown Reproductive Health Services in support of Dr. LeRoy Carhart. He’s on the frontlines, literally now, as Operation Rescue and their Maryland friends have opened up a base to harass him and his patients from right across the street from the clinic.

Support Dr. Carhart
Saturday, May 21 · 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Reproductive Health Services 
13233 Executive Park Terrace,
Germantown, Maryland
Event page on Facebook 

Commentary Abortion

Are We Creating a Hobson’s Choice for Abortion Rights?

Antoinette Bonsignore

Is the demonization of abortion rights by the far right forcing women's advocates to make a Hobson's choice? To preserve basic health care access for women will we need to cede open defense of abortion rights?

Last week Rachel Maddow interviewed the President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Cecile Richards.  In her intro, Maddow alluded to the fact that while pro-choice advocates and politicians have been fiercely defending Planned Parenthood’s provision of critical health care services for women, they have simultaneously been downplaying the fact Planned Parenthood also provides abortion services.  Abortion services only account for approximately 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services.  The other 97% are health care services ranging from contraception, STD testing and treatment, breast cancer screenings, and other basic preventive health care services. 

But that same 3% of abortion services that is downplayed by those seeking to preserve critical health care services for vulnerable, low-income women is being used to demonize Planned Parenthood as nothing more than an abortion mill.  That demonization was front and center when Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) falsely claimed that “[i]f you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”  But here’s the truth about Planned Parenthood:

…more than 90 percent of the health care services provided by the organization is preventive in nature.  Each year, it provides more than one million cervical cancer screenings, 830,000 breast exams, and nearly four million exams, treatments, and tests involving sexually transmitted diseases.  The federal funding received by the organization goes strictly toward these basic needs and others, such as birth control and annual exams.  In fact, just three percent of its work is related to abortion.

Senator Kyl’s office defended this blatant lie by telling CNN “…’his remark was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions’.”

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For people like Senator Kyl, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), it does not matter that Planned Parenthood provides affordable health care services for millions of women each year; in their mind that 3% makes Planned Parenthood evil.  Kyl, Pence, and Bachmann don’t care that Planned Parenthood is the only health care provider for many of these women – it’s still that 3%. 

Is this demonization of abortion rights by the far right forcing women’s advocates to make a Hobson’s choice?  In order to preserve basic health care access for women will we need to cede our open defense of abortion rights?  When we isolate abortion rights from other reproductive health care rights, we inadvertently provide anti-women extremists with the precise weapon they need to further de-legitimize abortion as health care.  Unless we are willing to fight back unapologetically for our fundamental abortion rights, those rights will indeed become meaningless for millions of women whose access to abortion rights are now under direct attack in state legislatures all across the country. 

During the Cecile Richards interview, I thought there could be a thoughtful discussion about the further de-legitimization of abortion and the onslaught of extreme anti-abortion state legislation around the country.  Instead, Richards remained steadfast in her defense of Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion related services.  The current political climate leaves anyone who is fighting for Planned Parenthood’s survival with no other choice but to downplay the abortion services.  The GOP has forced pro-choice advocates into an untenable position.  Pro-choice organizations must and do defend abortion rights.  But how does someone like Richards do that while still protecting the millions of women that seek out Planned Parenthood for vital health care services each year?  Sadly, the toxic political climate has made it next to impossible for Planned Parenthood defenders to even discuss abortion rights in any meaningful manner. 

On January 22, 2011, President Obama released a rather milquetoast statement celebrating the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  The statement reads:

Today marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that protects women’s health and reproductive freedom, and affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.  I am committed to protecting this constitutional right.  I also remain committed to policies, initiatives, and programs that help prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.  And on this anniversary, I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.

When I first read the statement back in January, I wondered if perhaps I was being overly critical or too sensitive regarding the fact that nowhere in the President’s statement celebrating the legalization of abortion was the word “abortion.”  And still the President is demonized for being pro-choice, most recently in Chicago with a vulgar and overtly racist campaign targeting African American women

During that interview, I noticed that regardless of how much Maddow pressed the issue of the importance of abortion and how this fight over Planned Parenthood was being waged with abortion as the weapon Richards did not and quite frankly could not directly engage in the discussion. 

Richards is desperately waging her own war to save health care services for low-income women around the country who often use Planned Parenthood as their only source of medical care.  If Planned Parenthood is defunded then these vulnerable women that rely on their services will no longer have access to basic health care.  Those hardest hit will be women who rely on Medicaid. 

However, the fact remains that there is a war on abortion access happening in this country right now.  It is a war being waged in state legislatures taken over by anti-women, anti-choice Republicans.  We saw that same battle waged and lost during the budget showdown when the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to sacrifice abortion services for low-income women in D.C. in order to avert a government shutdown.  The editorial board of the New York Times called stripping D.C. residents of their right to use their own locally raised revenue for abortions services “…a cruel blow to the poor and largely African-American women who need those services.” 

The war on abortion access was highlighted by the Guttmacher Institute’s recent report titled, State Legislative Trends: Hostility to Abortion Rights Increases.  Shockingly, “[t]hrough March 31, legislators introduced 916 measures related to reproductive health and rights in the 49 state legislatures that had convened their regular session.” 

Abortion access is being severely curtailed throughout the country – not just for low-income women but for all women; even for victims of rape and incest.  In fact, some anti-abortion politicians believe women will go so far as to lie about being raped in order to receive abortion services under Medicaid.  This war on abortion in the states is becoming more extreme with each passing day.

And violence against abortion providers and clinic staffers is also increasing, thereby increasing the shortage of providers; providers who are unwilling to risk their lives and live under the constant threat of harassment and violence in order to provide abortion services. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights issued a report in 2009 titled, Defending Human Rights: Abortion Providers Facing Threats, Restrictions, and Harassment.  The report outlined the increasing shortage of providers; the intimidation and harassment at clinics; and the urgent action needed to protect abortion providers and hold perpetrators accountable for violations of federal and state laws. 

In fact, the Guttmacher Institute reports that “…the number of abortion providers nationwide has declined by 25% since the 1990s.  Currently, more than a third of women of reproductive age live in counties without an abortion provider.”

The Feminist Majority Foundation’s 2010 survey of clinic violence found “…the percentage of clinics experiencing severe violence has increased to 23.5% of all abortion providers participating in the survey in 2010, compared to 20% in 2008 and 18.5% in 2005.  Moreover, this marked the highest level of violence recorded since 1997 when 25.0% of all clinics experienced one or more incidents of severe violence.” 

Even the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is being used as a weapon against women’s reproductive rights.  Significantly, the war on abortion access for middle income women is being manifested by the surge of state legislatures using ACA to eliminate abortion coverage from insurance plans.  The National Women’s Law Center reports that currently in eleven states, “…women will not be allowed to use their own private money to purchase an exchange-based health plan that covers abortion services, and also may not be able to purchase a plan that provides insurance coverage for abortion at all.”  Furthermore,

…since ACA “…explicitly allows states to pass laws banning private insurance coverage of abortion in any exchange set up in their state,”  this problem will only get worse over time until it becomes too burdensome for any insurance carrier to offer abortion coverage.  We will eventually see all women – low-income and middle income, being deprived of basic access to abortion care services.  ACA may turn out to be the precise vehicle by which anti-choice state legislatures completely extinguish insurance coverage for abortion services in this country.

With these sustained and seemingly endless attacks on abortion access growing more venomous and pervasive every day, how can pro-choice activists continue to defend Planned Parenthood without having to subtly and sometimes not so subtly distance themselves from abortion rights? 

This is a problem that is not going away.  Anti-abortion advocates are itching for a Supreme Court fight and hoping that if one of these extreme state laws gets challenged, that the conservative Roberts court will further constrain abortion access.  And here too, pro-choice groups have so far been unwilling to fight back against the unconstitutional attacks on Roe v. Wade in states that have enacted laws directly contravening the specific rights delineated within Roe

We must remember that reproductive rights and reproductive justice includes abortion access that is fair and equitable for all women.  That means eliminating the constraints on private insurance and defeating the Hyde Amendment that discriminates against poor women.  Right now there is virtually no political will to fight for abortion access rights – but that cannot and should not stop pro-choice advocates from fighting for the constitutional rights of all women – rights that should not be defined by the amount of money in a woman’s pocket.

When we accept the Hyde Amendment, and for that matter any constraints on insurance coverage for abortion services, as our inevitable fate and political reality, then we have ceded those constitutional rights as not being rights at all anymore.  We will have turned those fundamental rights into luxuries reserved solely for women who can afford the privilege.  We will have also given pro-choice politicians the permission to portray this subversion of women’s rights as a fixed and inevitable political reality.


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