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

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

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 Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.