A New Pro-Choice Congress In 2009

Amie Newman

Updated 3:02pm PST - Americans have voted: our new U.S. Congress will be pro-reproductive health access, pro-prevention and pro-education. Here's a run-down of the winners and losers of key Senate and House races.

Updated as of 3:02pm PST, November 5, 2008

Last night brought a move towards a more pro-prevention, pro-education, pro-woman United States Congress. As of the update, we now have 26 new, pro-choice Congress members. I will update this list as results come in but below you’ll find results of some key races. After eight years of women’s health and lives being used as political footballs, where ideology has trumped sound science at the expense of people’s lives, and after a presidential campaign in which one of the candidates declared prioritizing women’s health an "extremist" position, Americans are declaring they want change. 

“Women and families are the real winners in this election,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood said. “The number of new pro-choice and pro-women’s health members of Congress represents a major step toward getting our country back on track and ensuring that our lawmakers have the right priorities, like support for women’s health care.”

Rewire has been tracking key congressional races where sexual and reproductive health and rights has been an issue over the last several months. Our hope is that, with pro-choice President-elect Obama, when the newly pro-choice 111th Congress convenes for the legislative session, we will see passage of those policies that have been waiting for their time to shine: ensure expanded access to publicly funded contraception, increase global family planning funding, repeal the multitude of barriers to safe abortion in the United States, and examine racial disparities in reproductive healthcare and a commitment to remedying those disparities.  But, also, a pro-choice, pro-prevention, pro-education majority in Congress has the opportunity to enact pro-active legislation that directly addresses the dismal maternal mortality rates in this country, the skyrocketing numbers of unintended pregnancies among teens, greater access to emergency contraception for younger women under 16 years old, coverage of contraception under all health insurance plans, increased research on the federal level of women’s health issues, and more.

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Here are the outcomes for those races we can celebrate and those winners we’ll need to tolerate for a few more years (in alphabetical order). I’ve indicated those races in which we do not have results yet:

Senate Races

Alaska
Ted Stevens (R) vs. Mark Begich (D)
Senator Stevens, having been convicted of corruption during his campaign, is challenged by pro-choice Senator Mark Begich.*The results of this race are not in yet. Absentee ballots are being counted.

Colorado
Congressman Mark Udall (D) is pro-choice. He has won the seat of Republican Wayne Allard beating out conservative Republican Bob Schaffer. Schaffer supported Colorado’s "Personhood Amendment", an anti-choice ballot initiative which was also defeated this evening. 

Louisiana
Republican John Kennedy is anti-choice and has been defeated by Democrat Mary Landrieu who has held this seat for two terms and was elected previously with the support of Emily’s List but whose record on reproductive health issues is mixed.

Maine
Representative Tom Allen (D) has an extensive pro-choice record. He lost the Senatorial seat to Republican Senator Susan Collins who has a mixed record on choice issues.

Minnesota
In a highly publicized race, pro-choice Democrat Al Franken is neck and neck with Republican challenger Senator Norm Coleman. As of 11:10pm PST, with 72% of the votes counted, each contender holds 42% of the vote. 12:45pm PST on Wednesday, November 5th, a recount is in process. 

New Hampshire
Republican Senator John Sununu is anti-choice and holds this seat currently but has been defeated by former Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Shaheen is solidly pro-choice.

New Mexico
Senator Pete Dominici, Republican, is retiring and the seat goes to Representative Tom Udall. Udall is a Democrat who is pro-choice. His challenger was anti-choice Republican Rep. Steve Pearce.

North Carolina
In a highly contentious race, framed mostly by Senator Elizabeth Dole’s attacks on Kay Hagan as a "Godless American", Senator Kay Hagan has won. Despite the unwarranted and unsubstantiated attacks, incumbent Senator Dole lost to Senator Hagan who is solidly pro-choice.

Virginia
Democrat Mark Warner has won this race and is the new Senator. Republican Senator John Warner’s seat was up for grabs this election cycle. Competing for the office was Republican Jim Gilmore and Democrat Mark Warner – both former governors of the state. Mark Warner is pro-choice; Gilmore is anti-choice.

House Races

Arizona
Congressional District 1
Sydney Hay (R) – anti-choice
Ann Kirkpatrick (D) – pro-choice. Kirkpatrick is the winner of this race. 

Congressional District 4
Gabrielle Giffords (D) – Incumbent/pro-choice. Giffords is the winner of this race. Tim Bee (R) – anti-choice

Colorado
Congressional District 4
Winner is pro-choice Democrat Betsy Markey. Incumbent Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave has lost to Markey, who is pro-choice. Musgrave is strongly anti-choice.

Florida
Congressional District 13
Vern Buchanan (R) – anti-choice, Incumbent. Buchanan is the winner of this race.
Christine Jennings (D) – pro-choice challenger

Congressional District 16
Tim Mahoney (D) – Incumbent, pro-choice
Tom Rooney (R) – anti-choice. Rooney is the winner of this race. 

Congressional District 24
Tom Feeny (R) – anti-choice
Suzanne Kosmas (D) – current state representative, pro-choice. Kosmas has won this race.

Idaho
Congressional District1

Newly-elected representative Walt Minnick, Democrat, is pro-choice. 

Illinois
Congressional District 11
Representative John Weller is retiring. Democrat Debbie Halvorson, who is pro-choice, has won the race, beating out anti-choice Republican, Marty Ozinga.

Congressional District 14
Republican James Oberweis, with a mixed record on reproductive health issues, has lost to Democrat Bill Foster, who is pro-choice. Foster is the winner of this race. 

Kansas
Congressional District 2
Democrat Nancy Boyda has lost her seat to Republican Lynn Jenkins. This race is noteworthy for the fact that both candidates are pro-choice. Jenkins was endorsed by WISH List, a pro-choice Republican group. Boyda has received a 100% ranking from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Missouri
Congressional District 6
Democrat Kay Barnes was defeated by incumbent Republican Sam Graves. Barnes is pro-choice; Graves is anti-choice.

New York
Congressional District 20
Incumbent Democrat Kristin Gillibrand is pro-choice and easily maintained her seat against challenger Sandy Treadwell, who is republican and also pro-choice.

New Mexico

Congressional Districts 1, 2, 3

This just in from Planned Parenthood. New Mexico’s congressional delegation is now completely pro-choice. With wins by newly-elected Martin Heinrich (NM-01), Harry Teague (NM-02), and Ben Lujan (NM-03), New Mexico is solidly pro-choice.

Nevada
Congressional District 03

Dina Titus, a newly-elected pro-choice Democrat, challenged incumbent Republican Joe Porter for this seat and won. 

Ohio
Congressional District 15
In what has been considered a "toss-up" race, pro-choice Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy is bidding for retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce’s seat, against Republican state Senator Steve Stivers. Kilroy is pro-choice. As of 10:50pm PST on Tuesday evening, the race was too close to call. We’ll keep you updated. At 12:45pm PST on Wednesday, November 5, there are stil absentee and provisional ballots to be counted. It is predicted the results will not be known for at least ten days

Washington
Congressional District 8
Rep. Dave Reichert, incumbent, is fighting for another term against Democrat Darcy Burner who is strongly pro-choice. As of 10:50pm PST on Tuesday evening, with only 12% of the precincts reporting, Burner is ahead 53% – 47%. We’ll keep you udpated. At 12:45pm PST on Wednesday, November 5, the results will likely not be known until later this week. Reichert holds a slim lead over Burner.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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