Roundup: New Political Landscape for Pro-Choice Advocates; March for Life in DC

Emily Douglas

Celebrating the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade; it's Blog for Choice Day!; March for Life features women regretting their abortions; Caroline Kennedy withdraws her Senate candidacy; provider conscience regulation not suspended by the White House; political landscape around abortion reshaped; early priorities for reproductive health groups.

36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade 

It’s the 36th anniversary of the decision in Roe v. Wade, which we’re celebrating on Rewire. The Center for Reproductive Rights is acknowledging the day by calling on President Obama to work towards the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which bars Medicaid funding of abortion care, stating,

For thirty-six years, women in this country have had the
right to obtain safe, legal abortion. But since 1977 when Hyde was first
enacted, low-income women have been deprived of that right by anti-choice
politicians intent on doing away with a woman’s access to abortion

These restrictions patently discriminate against
women.  Abortion is a health service only used by women, and it is the only
medically necessary service not covered by Medicaid for instance.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, as
many as 35% of women who are eligible for the program and seeking an abortion
are prevented from making the personal decision about their own lives and
forced to carry their pregnancies to term.  On the other hand, virtually
all other health services are covered.

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And it’s also Blog for Choice Day!  Visit NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Blog for Choice and sign yourself up to participate in their blogosphere-wide pro-choice event.

March for Life Features Women Regretting Their Abortions
If it’s the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it’s also the date of
the annual March for Life.  This year’s anti-choice protest will
feature women who have had and regret their abortions, reports LifeNews.com.  According to LifeNews, “The
pro-life movement has a rich history of focusing not just on the death
of an unborn child in an abortion but on the pain and regret millions
of women fell following an abortion. Some of those women who wish they
could undo their abortion decision and choose life will speak out again
at this year’s March for Life.”  Studies have repeatedly found no
correlation between abortion and adverse mental health outcomes.

Caroline Kennedy Withdraws Senate Candidacy

She was in, she was out, in, and out again — Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn her bid for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, the New York Post reports.
She was a pro-choice candidate, but luckily, so are the other
front-runners — Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Rep. Carolyn Maloney,
Rep. Kristen Gillibrand.

Provider Conscience Regulation Not Suspended by White House
The White House has suspended all still-pending “midnight regulations” issued by the Bush administration
in its waning days, but that won’t affect the Department of Health and
Human Services’s provider conscience expansion — it has already been
finalized and went into effect January 19.  “Yesterday,
Rahm Emanuel issued a memo placing
a moratorium on any regulations still in the pipeline and giving
leeway to suspend the effective dates of any rules finalized but not
yet in
effect.  Since agencies are in charge of rulemaking, this is certainly
their purview and there is precedent for taking this action,” said
Marilyn Keefe, of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
“Sadly, this won’t
impact the HHS ‘conscience’ rule, which is final and now in effect.”
The administration will have to engage in a new round of rule-making to
address the rule.  Seven state Attorneys General, the National Family
Planning and Reproductive Health Association, and Planned Parenthood
have all filed suit against the regulations.

Political Landscape Around Abortion Reshaped

The Associated Press takes a close look
at the reshaped political landscape around abortion in the wake of
President Obama’s taking office, and examines the hopes and early
priorities of reproductive health groups.

In the U.S., abortion-rights groups are
backing what they call a “common-ground, commonsense” agenda in
Congress aimed at reducing the number of unintended pregnancies. The
Prevention First Act, already endorsed by Obama, would increase federal
funding for family planning, promote comprehensive sex education, and
expand women’s access to contraceptives.

Will pro-choice legislators take on the Hyde Amendment?  They’re not in a hurry, says the AP:

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., a lead
sponsor of the Prevention First Act, says she opposes the Hyde
Amendment but would not make it a priority to repeal it this year.

“Our efforts should be focused on finding common ground to prevent
unwanted pregnancies so you won’t have to worry about abortions in the
first place,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

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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