Ready or Not: Obama Transition Team Publishes Reproductive Health Community’s Agenda

Emily Douglas

A document crafted for the Obama transition team by the reproductive health community has found its way online, and commenters respond with rousing approval offering their own input.

A recent directive from John Podesta, chair of
President-Elect Obama’s transition team, informs transition team staffers of a
sweeping transparency policy that will make public all policy documents and
recommendations from meetings staffers conduct with outside organizations.  Apparently, they mean it: dozens of
transition documents drafted for the transition team by advocacy groups ranging
from the American Association of Airport Executives to the Women Business Owner’s Platform for Growth are
now up on the change.gov website.  Papers
on reproductive health are well-represented: visitors will find among the
documents a transition memo crafted by over 50 groups in the reproductive
health community.  Advocates hadn’t
intended the document to go public, but now that it has, it’s apparent that the
public has an appetite for reproductive health policy minutia. 

Advocates involved in crafting the document – "Advancing
Reproductive Health and Rights in a New Administration
" – say it represented a
wholly collaborative effort by the reproductive health community to articulate
a concrete plan for progressive reproductive health policy during the Obama
administration, including many fixes for harmful Bush administration policy.  None of the "asks" include anything not
previously seen by any regular Rewire reader: These range from
restoring funding to UNFPA to urging Congress to pass the Prevention First Act.  The document
is clear and comprehensive on the gaps in access to women’s health care and how
to repair them. It acknowledges lesser-noticed restrictions of women’s
reproductive autonomy alongside those that are well-reported: for instance, it considers
an end to the practice of shackling women prisoners while they are giving birth
a crucial component of "supporting healthy pregnancies."  It also calls for increased spending on
substance abuse treatment programs for pregnant and parenting women.

What advocates were less eager to share with the public is
the detailed roadmap included in the document for the changes in policy needed
to improve reproductive health for women both here and abroad.  Several advocates cited concerns that the
administration would be criticized as doing the bidding of reproductive health community
if it made use of the specific legal reasoning outlined in the document.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that the public likes being privvy to
policy documents like this one, apart from or in addition to getting
information about the women’s health agenda for the next administration.  There are now over 100 comments on the
document
on change.gov, debating sexuality education policy and reimbursements for
Certified Nurse Midwives, calling for free, over-the-counter access to
emergency contraception, and funding for self-esteem and empowerment programs
for teens, among many other threads. 
Scattered comments decry the use of abortion as "birth control," and
others put the issue of abortion in religious terms, but the comments
overwhelmingly favor prevention and securing women’s access to abortion.  As any reader of pro-sexual and reproductive
health online content can attest, even the best-reasoned pieces of writing can
be met with outcry from anti-choice commenters. 
Impressively, in this instance, those who attempt to frame the issues of
reproductive health in religious or moral terms are respectfully refuted, and
commenters reframe the issue around women’s health and rights.

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A recent article by Peter Daou captures the burgeoning, and vocal, "online
commentariat" ready and willing to respond to policy proposals at a level of
sophistication largely unimagined by traditional communications strategies.

Daou writes,

For the first time, we are thinking aloud unfettered and unfiltered by mass
media gatekeepers. Events, information, words and deeds that a decade ago were
discussed and contextualized statically in print or through the controlled
funnel of television and radio, are now subjected to instantaneous
interpretation and free-association by millions of citizens unencumbered by the
media’s constraints…Every piece of news and information is instantly processed
by the combined brain power of millions, events are interpreted in new and
unpredictable ways, observations transformed into beliefs, thoughts into
reality. Ideas and opinions flow from the ground up, insights and inferences,
speculation and extrapolation are put forth, then looped and re-looped on a
previously unimaginable scale, conventional wisdom created in hours and
minutes.

And Daou highlights the role of the online commentariat in providing
"validation and legitimation" of agenda-setting work done by advocates.

Now that the transition document has gone public, a question arises: How can
reproductive health advocates more effectively enlist the power and support of
the public in making these issues a central concern for the next administration
and ensuring that the voices of the pro-choice majority of Americans are represented?  Jessica Arons, Director of the Women’s Health
and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress and one of the advocates
involved in drafting the document, says that the groups who contributed to the
document haven’t yet reconvened to consider any collective communications or
movement-building strategy around the document. "Our goal was to come
together to present a united front and outline what we hope the new
administration will do," says Arons. "Whether we will develop a collective
communications or movement-building strategy around the document
remains to be seen. In the meantime, some organizations have put forth
their own agendas publicly, and have made efforts to mobilize people
around items on those agendas."

In the mean time, perhaps interested members of the
reproductive health community should head to change.gov to make sure their
voices are reflected among the growing chorus of commenters weighing in on
reproductive health priorities for the next administration!

News Law and Policy

Texas’ ‘Fetal Remains’ Rule Could Draw Legal Action

Teddy Wilson

The Center for Reproductive Rights cited statements made by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) soliciting campaign contributions to support his efforts to “establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life.”

Proposed rules requiring cremation or burial of fetal remains may result in “costly litigation for Texas—litigation state taxpayers can scarcely afford,” the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) said in comments submitted to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

Stephanie Toti, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that if Texas lawmakers continue to interfere with reproductive health care, the organization will take legal action. 

The DSHS quietly proposed new rules that would prohibit abortion providers from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, and would require that fetal remains be buried or cremated. 

The rules were published July 1 without notice or announcement in the Texas Register.

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The new regulations would apply to all fetal remains regardless of the period of gestation. Under the proposed rules, any other tissue, “including placenta, umbilical cord and gestational sac,” could still be disposed of through “grinding and discharging to a sanitary sewer system; incineration followed by deposition of the residue in a sanitary landfill.”

Health commission spokesperson Bryan Black told the Texas Tribune that the rules were developed to ensure high sanitation standards. “The Health and Human Services Commission developed new rules to ensure Texas law maintains the highest standards of human dignity,” Black said. 

The rules would require approval from the Republican-held state legislature.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) spokesperson Ciara Matthews said in a statement that the governor is hopeful the legislature will approve the rules. “Governor Abbott believes human and fetal remains should not be treated like medical waste, and the proposed rule changes affirms the value and dignity of all life,” Matthews aid.

CRR cited statements made by Abbott in a fundraising email in which the governor solicited campaign contributions to support his efforts to “establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life.”  

CRR contends that Abbott’s statements undercut “the state’s claims that these regulations have anything to do with protecting women’s health and safety.”

Blake Rocap, legislative counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told Public News Service that the regulations will increase the cost of abortion care and the amount of people involved in the process.

“The rule creates ambiguity and involves other licensed professionals, like funeral service directors and cemeteries that are not involved in medical care, and shouldn’t be involved, and don’t want to be involved in it,” Rocap said.

Carol Everett, an anti-choice activist and supporter of the proposed rules, made dubious claims that methods of disposal of fetal remains could contaminate the water supply.

“There’s several health concerns. What if the woman had HIV? What if she had a sexually transmitted disease? What if those germs went through and got into our water supply,” Everett told the Austin Fox News affiliate

The transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through water systems or similar means is not supported by any scientific evidence.

The new rules could have unintended consequences for medication abortion care. The proposed rules state that “products of spontaneous or induced human abortion” are subject to the law “regardless of the period of gestation.”

Under Food and Drug Administration regulations, the second part of the medication abortion regime can be taken at home. The new Texas rules could effectively ban medication abortion because an embryo miscarried at home through medication abortion cannot in practice be buried or cremated.

The Texas Alliance for Life supports the new GOP-backed rules. However, Texas Alliance for Life executive director Joe Pojman told Rewire that he was unsure what effect the new rules might have on medication abortions. “We’re going to have to study that further,” Pojman said.

Rocap told Public News Service that proposed rules are part of a “pattern of overreach” by Texas lawmakers targeting abortion providers. “This rule was proposed in the dark of night without any openness, which lets you know that they know they’re doing it the wrong way.”  

DSHS has announced a public hearing on the proposed regulations Thursday at 9 a.m. central time.  

News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

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The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to OhioAbortionFacts.org, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights. 

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