Bush, Our Ex-Boyfriend

Cristina Page

The HHS regulations were a last minute, hastily executed, unconstitutionally vague, attempt by Bush to repay his only loyal constituency left, the religious right wing. And now the Obama administration may have their hands tied.

Bush is the ex-boyfriend we’ve finally gotten out of our life only to
discover he left an unpleasant souvenir, like an STD. A
particularly nasty strain too, in the form of new HHS regulations.

The HHS regulations were a last minute, hastily executed,
unconstitutionally vague, attempt by Bush to repay his only loyal
constituency left, the religious right wing. The regulations attempt
to expand health care workers right to "consciously object" to the
broadest array of health care services imaginable, basically anything,
even in medical emergencies. They can, in other words, refuse to
provide you medical care, because it offends them! It opens the door
to many patient abuses, shreds state laws and contradicts federal
discrimination statutes. Healthcare workers would be able to withhold
information from a patient about healthcare options without the
patient even knowing that any information is being withheld. Patients
can be refused referrals if the healthcare worker objects to the care
they’re seeking somewhere else.

And here is one particularly bizarre twist. The regulations specify
that workers don’t have to inform their employers of the service or
services they object to before hand. It’s also unclear the extent to
which employers have the right to ask job applicants about their
willingness to take part in the services they provide. Thus, imagine
the situation in which an anti-choice person applies for a position at
Planned Parenthood. Her employer couldn’t ascertain that she’s against
abortion, nor could it fire her when she refused to have anything to do with it.

But the regulations’ real intent (revealed in a draft version of the
proposal leaked this summer) is perhaps worse: to allow those who want
to obstruct a woman’s access to birth control full license. Keep in
mind, there is already ample protection for those who do not wish to
take part in abortion services, three laws in fact. The right to refuse
to take part in abortion services has existed for over 30 years. Here’s
the thrust of the new regulations (in my own words), "If you’d like to
consider contraception an abortion method and refuse to take part,
please do, but also feel free to object to contraception, or any other
health care service, for any reason you can dream up. The only thing
limiting your right to refuse is your own imagination." Your conscience
is yours. Use it how you want. Even if it infringes on the conscience
of others.

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Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at anything (but, perhaps, the
timing). The new regulations are the final revenge of an
administration long hostile to women’s rights and health. And this
last abusive act will literally take affect in the final minutes of
the Bush administration, the morning of inauguration day.

As Connecticut attorney General Richard Blumenthal explained, "On the
way out, the Bush administration has left a ticking political time
bomb that is set to explode literally on the day of the president’s
inaugural and blow apart women’s rights." Yesterday Blumenthal joined
the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association
(NFPRHA), which represents many county and state health departments
and providers, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America in filing
lawsuits asking the federal court to block the regulations from taking
affect. Blumenthal filed a lawsuit on behalf of his state and six
others (CA, NJ, IL, MA, OR, RI) alleging that the regulations violate
federal law, women’s rights and states’ sovereign rights to enforce
their own laws.." It’s particularly ironic that Bush trampled on
states’ rights, something he once professed to value above all else.

The states have particular cause to worry. The federal regulations
could be used to argue that state laws are unenforceable, like those
mandating contraceptive coverage (the law in 27 states) or the
provision of emergency contraception to rape victims (the law in 13
states
).

Bush, as is his way, ignored staunch, diverse and thoughtful
opposition. He dismissed resistance even from within his own
government. Over 200,000 individuals and organizations weighed in
during the public comment period, most opposing the regulation. They
pointed out that
the regulations could throw an entire system into
confusion.

For instance, the American Hospitals Association, not a group known
for taking controversial positions, explained,

Hospitals and their emergency departments are complex entities; as the proposed rule is written, it would be extremely difficult for
hospitals to anticipate all the scenarios under which a health care
worker might invoke the provider conscience clause. As a result it
would be impossible for hospitals to make the staffing arrangements needed to ensure access to those services. The [American Hospital Association] is concerned that access to services for patients may be significantly hampered by the current definitions of this rule.

 

Blumenthal and 12 other state attorneys general jointly offered this comment,

The proposed regulation completely obliterates the rights of patients to legal and medically necessary health care services in favor of a single-minded focus on protecting a health care provider’s right to claim a personal moral or religious belief … By focusing exclusively on the personal moral and religious beliefs of the health care provider, the proposed regulation unconscionably favors one set of interests, upsetting the carefully crafted balance that many states have sought to achieve … We urge the HHS to adhere to a basic medical tenet—first, do no harm to the patient—and withdraw the proposed regulation.

During the public comment period, even Bush’s own administration—in
this case, the agency charged with protecting against discrimination
including in matters of religious freedom–came out in opposition to
the regs. EEOC Commissioners Stuart J. Ishimaru and Christine M.
Griffin wrote,

The proposed rule is unnecessary to protect the religious freedom and freedom of conscience of healthcare workers, because Title VII already serves that purpose…The issuance of the proposed regulations would throw this entire body of law into question, resulting in needless confusion and litigation in an attempt to redefine religious freedom rights for employees in the healthcare sector…


Bush’s team brushed aside all criticism, indifferent to protests,
thoughtful or otherwise. They behaved like a kid doing a book report
who hadn’t read the book, to paraphrase one Planned Parenthood lawyer.
They were obligated to respond to comments and so they did, not caring
whether their responses were coherent or consistent. In fact, at one
point they said they agreed with Title VII, which guarantees, among
other things, the right to exert one’s conscience in the work place,
and at another they suggested they’d like to reinterpret the act.

The contradictory message was clear in this: We are immune to
criticism. Moral certainty has always trumped evidence or "outside"
opinion among the Bushies. It seemed determined to stick to its guns
all the way out the door.

And so the Obama administration enters office with a thatch of new and
purposely vague regulations on its books. Obama may be a pro-choice
president but Bush has tried to tie his hands. Sadly, Obama can’t
merely reverse the regulations with a stroke of his pen, though he has
indicated he would like to. The process to undo regulations is as
time-consuming as it was to push these through. Especially, if a
government is responsive to criticism. Fortunately, the pro-choice
lawyers with their attorney general colleagues have moved decisively
to block implementation until the courts can review the regulations.
An injunction is likely to follow soon.

Util the regulations are definitively overturned, many of those who
have thrived at the margins of the law, in the vaguenesses that Bush
has consistently pushed, may continue to feel empowered.

There was recently, for example, the case of a nurse who removed a
patient’s IUD every time she was supposed to adjust one. She’s against
birth control. And though she claimed the repeated removals were
merely "accidents," under the HHS regulations she might not have to.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.