Roundup: “Abortion Reduction” a Priority for White House Office of Faith-Based Partnerships

Emily Douglas

"Abortion Reduction" to be priority for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; replacing Daschle; Spain defends plan to liberalize abortion law to the Vatican; Kenyan woman tells BBC about her illegal abortion; University of Wisconsin hospital board votes in favor of abortion clinic.

"Abortion Reduction" to Be Priority for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

"Abortion reduction" will be one of the four priorities for the White Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, reports TIME.  On the priorities, TIME writes, "They will include focusing on global poverty (not surprising), the
impact of economic recovery plans on low-income Americans (ditto), the
faith-based initiative (OF COURSE), and…abortion reduction."

Religious Right Call Obama’s Picks for Justice Department "Pro-Abortion"
Members
of the Christian right are assailing President Obama’s pick for
deputy attorney general, David Ogden, saying he has been an
"activist…in support of the right to abortion," reports the Associated Press.  The AP writes,

Besides Ogden, conservatives also have taken aim at two other Justice
picks — Indiana University professor Dawn Johnsen for her association
with an abortion rights group, and Thomas Perrelli, who represented the
husband of Terry Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman at the center of a
right-to-die case that energized evangelical groups across the country.

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Replacing Daschle: Who Will It Be?

Ezra Klein worked the phones
to come up with a list of potential replacements for Tom Daschle. 
Ezra notes,

There are fewer of them than you’d expect…In part,
that’s because Daschle was of unique stature for a presidential health
policy appointment. There just aren’t a lot of recent Senate majority
leaders with an interest in insurance regulation and a willingness to
move into a small White House office to work grueling hours at a task
that will probably fail. People are trying to think of replacements,
but few candidates have the constellation of skills that Daschle did.
But here’s who I’m hearing. 

Ezra considers John Podesta, chair of the
Obama transition team, a "Tier One" candidate, and Ed Rendell, Kathleen
Sebelius, and John Kitzhaber "Tier Two."


Spain Defends Plan to Liberalize Abortion Law to the Vatican
Spain’s deputy premier has defended the country’s plans to liberalize its abortion laws to the Vatican, reports the International Herald Tribune.  The IHT adds, "Since taking office in 2004, the Socialists have irked the Roman
Catholic Church by legalizing gay marriage and making it easy for
people to divorce. They are now studying easing the restrictive
abortion law."

Kenyan Woman Tells BBC about Her Illegal Abortion
A 26-year-old Kenyan woman is grateful
that President Obama has lifted the global gag rule, saying, "It makes
me very angry when I think of what I had to go through. But I am very
happy that clinics in Kenya can now provide abortion advice." 
Detailing her experience with an unsafe, illegal abortion, "Judy"
concludes, "The best thing would be if abortion were made legal in this
country. Abortion should be the last option, but if it were legal at
least it would be done properly."

University of Wisconsin Hospital Board Votes in Favor of Abortion Clinic
"The University of Wisconsin Hospital board voted 11-3
Wednesday to support a proposed clinic that would perform
second-trimester abortions at the Madison Surgery Center," reports the Wisconsin State Journal .  Speakers gave testimony both in support and in opposition to the new clinic.  Questions of protections for provider conscience surfaced:

Opponents included Dr. Nancy Fredericks, an
anesthesiologist at the surgery center. She said she and two of the
three other anesthesiologists there, along with many other employees,
have said they won’t participate in abortions.

Dr. Laurel Rice, chairwoman of obstetrics and
gynecology at the university, said workers can opt out and other staff
will perform the procedures. "There will be no coercion at all," she
said.

The new clinic’s services would replace those
provided by a retiring physician who offered second-trimester abortions
in Madison.

Analysis Human Rights

He, She, Us: Emma Watson, the White House, and Efforts to Change the Culture on Women’s Rights

Emily Crockett

Campaigns like It's On Us, from the White House, and HeForShe, launched by Emma Watson as part of her UN ambassadorship, are part of a cultural shift toward recognizing that women’s rights can’t be considered in a vacuum.

Read more of our articles on consent and sexual assault on U.S. college campuses here.

On Friday, the White House unveiled a new public relations campaign called It’s On Us, which urges all Americans, and young men in particular, to take responsibility for preventing and ending sexual assault.

Over the weekend, Harry Potter star and new UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson gave a powerful speech in defense of feminism that issued a “formal invitation” to men to make gender equality their issue too—partly because gender inequality and binaries can hurt men as much as they hurt women, and partly because it’s just the right thing to doas part of a campaign dubbed HeForShe.

Both campaigns have slick websites where visitors can sign pledges to make a personal commitment to being part of the solution to gender inequality and sexual violence.

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And both campaigns, however effective they end up being themselves, are part of a cultural shift toward recognizing that women’s rights can’t be considered in a vacuum. That survivors of sexual violence can’t be the only ones fighting for their own justice. That men have a stake (even a selfish one) in the goals of feminism, because gender binaries limit their humanity too, and because women prospering means society prospering. That you can’t talk about “social issues” like reproductive rights without also talking about the economics of being able to afford birth control, abortion care, or child care, and how the ability to do that is doubly crippled by the fact that women earn less, whether it’s due to discrimination or “choices” that often aren’t choices at all.

The Democratic Party has seized on many of these points in recent months, ahead of the midterm elections. President Obama and congressional Democrats have been pushing a policy agenda with a more holistic approach to the idea of “women’s issues”—equal pay, family leave, minimum wage increases (since women make up about two-thirds of minimum wage workers), campus sexual assault prevention, and trying to repeal setbacks to women’s health like the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case or state-level abortion restrictions cynically designed to close clinics.

This Congress being this Congress, we aren’t likely to see that kind of change through legislation any time soon—advocates have to hope for executive orders or significant cultural shifts.

But thanks to the democratizing influence of Internet and social media, cultural shifts are at least a little easier to come by these days. Fewer gatekeepers to media access means more avenues for marginalized people to be heard and even to work their way up into more mainstream venues.

“I know that the Internet has been one of the biggest reasons why the campus sexual assault movement even made it to the White House,” campus sexual assault activist and writer Wagatwe Wanjuki told Rewire. (Wanjuki is a former Rewire employee.) “If it wasn’t for that, who knows how much longer we would have had to wait to have the president acknowledge that college rape is an issue and we need to do something about it.”

Publicity for the It’s On Us campaign is mostly online at this point, which may be a function of its intended outreach to Millennials. Cable giant Viacom and video game giant Electronic Arts are joining the push through their social media and online properties for now, although White House officials told reporters last week that there may be a push on broadcast TV in the future. There’s also a significant “IRL” grassroots push, with student leaders at over 200 campuses committing to participate in the campaign; the star-studded PSA from the campaign’s website is supposed to be shown on Jumbotrons at major college sporting events.

The visibility afforded by the Internet has a dark side, of course. That was on display this week when Internet trolls threatened to release nude photos of Emma Watson for having the audacity to say in public that men and women should be treated equally.

Bizarrely, the threat—a “countdown” to when her photos would be released—turned out to be a Russian-nesting-dolls-style hoax, in the end the work of serial spammers seeking clickbait. The incident was a potent illustration of why Watson’s message mattered: many still think that women’s privacy and safety is at best a joke. Women who speak out on feminism are reliably targeted for it, and the more high-profile the woman speaking out, the more high-profile the attacks on her can be.

But there are many benefits to high-profile women speaking out. The United States has more female senators now than ever before, many of whom have championed attention-getting women’s rights causes in the last several years. The celebrity angle cuts both ways: the more cultural idols like Watson or Beyoncé speak out in support of feminism, the more people hear the message.

As Laura Dunn, founder of the sexual assault survivor advocacy group SurvJustice, told Rewire, campaigns like HeForShe, with an icon for the “Harry Potter generation” behind them, make issues around feminism and sexual violence prevention easier for younger generations to understand.

“It shifts their mindset, and maybe challenges the norms accepted by older generations too,” Dunn said.

That is more than a symbolic change. Take our legal system: “The reason a lot of sexual assault cases aren’t prosecuted is, ‘The jury won’t understand, they won’t like that you were drinking,’ that kind of thing,” Dunn said. But when today’s kids grow up to prosecute these cases or serve on juries, “you won’t need an expert to explain rape culture.”

Dunn said that another big part of this shift, especially on the issue of campus sexual assault in the last few years, is due less to celebrities speaking out than to survivors like herself telling their stories to the media, sometimes coming out with their full names and faces. They were no longer anonymous Jane Does but real women demanding real justice, which made some people start to sympathize with them and share their outrage.

The issue has gotten the most attention this decade, but campus sexual assault really emerged into the national consciousness starting around 1991, S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative, told Rewire, which is when a “Campus Sexual Assault Bill of Rights” amendment to what is now called the Clery Act was introduced. The standards for enforcing these rights actually haven’t changed much since then, Carter said, but many colleges still weren’t aware of their obligations to prevent and address sexual assault before the administration released a “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011 clarifying those guidelines. That letter, and the unprecedented number of investigations today against colleges that violate Title IX civil rights provisions by poorly handling sexual assault cases, are almost solely thanks to a groundswell of advocacy over the last few years from survivors like Dunn, Wanjuki, and the networks they created through social media, Carter said.

Dunn said she was especially pleased with the It’s On Us campaign and Obama’s speech about it, not just as an advocate but also as a survivor. She got emotional recalling how much it meant to hear the president acknowledging the heavy burden that survivors have carried for so long, and the need for society to help them lift it by taking shared responsibility for the problem. “It was so well-spoken and so very true,” she said.

Wanjuki said the White House has done a better job than any administration before it on the issue of sexual assault in general. “Their willingness just to talk about it, and to have it be so visible and get the president of the United States involved, is really groundbreaking,” she said. “And they’re actually talking to advocates, survivors, people on the ground, not just ‘experts.’”

The Obama administration is talking about reframing sexual assault as a cultural problem, which is also what Watson and HeForShe are doing with women’s rights across the globe. While acknowledging that sexual assault can be perpetrated by and against people of any gender, both campaigns imply that the cultural problem lies with men—not because they are all blameworthy, but because they haven’t been encouraged by culture to take a stand on the issue. White House officials pointed last week to research that shows most young men aren’t comfortable about violence against women, but don’t speak out because they overestimate their peers’ acceptance of it. Watson’s speech gave men similar credit by officially inviting them to join a conversation in which they might have felt unwelcome.

Of course, cultural campaigns have limits. Dunn says there were sexual assault awareness campaigns in place when she was in college, but that didn’t change anything about her 2004 rape at the University of Wisconsin, or her long struggle for justice against hostile campus and law enforcement officials.

And Wanjuki, while she thinks that It’s On Us is a great start, fears it might encourage oversimplification of a complex issue: “They talk about ‘It’s On Us.’ Well, who is ‘us’? Is ‘us’ excluding survivors? Or rapists?” It’s easy for people to absolve themselves of responsibility, she said—people think of rapists as shadowy boogeymen, not people they might encounter in real life, much less be friends with, or even be themselves. How about “It’s on us to ask for consent” as a slogan, suggests Wanjuki, to impress upon people that it’s not just their responsibility to intervene, but also not to rape? And in the case of serial predators, which most rapists are, bystander intervention might only deflect their attentions onto a different victim and not actually stop them from raping.

Still, Dunn said, “Anytime you have an institution of power shining a spotlight, it does have an effect.” That goes for both the White House and the United Nations, although the UN “has been thinking about violence against women on a bigger level than our country in so many ways,” she said. The United States has yet to ratify a major international agreement on women’s rights, and while other countries commonly give women a private cause of action to sue for sexual assault, it was declared unconstitutional in the United States’ landmark Violence Against Women Act.

The White House has been taking plenty of policy action against sexual assault in addition to conducting awareness campaigns. There was the Dear Colleague letter in 2011, and also the launch of a new sexual assault task force this year, complete with a report including guidance for schools called Not Alone. The administration is releasing additional guidance as well as $6 million in grants from the Department of Justice in the wake of the It’s On Us announcement, and the Department of Education has a long list of schools under investigation for Title IX violations. Dunn most wants to see the administration focus on enforcement, since it’s what the federal government has the most power to do.

“Not alone,” as a phrase rather than a program, may be the most succinct summary of how things are changing for victims of gender-based violence and oppression, and what advocates are pushing for. Victims are coming out of the shadows, women are making their voices heard, and men are saying enough is enough.

“The public is ready for us,” Dunn said. “They see it, there’s no question that it’s happening, they’re outraged, and they’re asking, ‘What do I do, how do I get involved?’”

Analysis Politics

In Michigan Governor’s Race, Candidates Battle Over Economy, Reproductive Rights

Nina Liss-Schultz

This November, Michigan residents will decide whether to cast their vote for Republican incumbent Rick Snyder or long-time Democratic politician Mark Schauer in the gubernatorial election. The candidates have already begun to spar over the economy, education, and public health in the state, which will all be central issues leading up to the November election.

That Michigan is in the middle of a deep financial crisis is no secret. For the last decade, a combination of the flight of wealthier residents to the suburbs and the decay of the auto industry has left many Michigan cities on the brink of financial ruin. Detroit, the state’s largest city, declared bankruptcy a year ago, making it the most populous city in the country to ever do so. Since then, Detroit has made news for shutting off water to residents, for the overwhelming number of vacant and abandoned homes and buildings, and a maternal mortality rate three times higher than the national average and higher than rates of maternal mortality in Libya, Uruguay, and Vietnam.

Though Detroit has been the face of Michigan’s economic crisis, the state’s money woes go well beyond the Motor City: 12 municipalities, including Detroit, and five school districts are in serious financial stress, and many of those institutions have been taken over by emergency financial managers appointed by the state government, ostensibly in the hopes of keeping the municipalities afloat. Many others are on the brink.

This November, Michigan residents will decide whether to cast their vote for Republican incumbent Rick Snyder or long-time Democratic politician Mark Schauer in the gubernatorial election. The candidates have already begun to spar over the economy, education, and public health in the state, which will all be central issues leading up to the November election.

Economy and the Emergency Manager System

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The emergency manager system under Gov. Snyder has been perhaps the most controversial policy of the governor’s term so far. The system—in which officials appointed by the governor intervene in the finances of economically stressed municipalities—has existed in Michigan in some form since the late 1980s. Gov. Snyder, however, has drastically expanded the scope and jurisdiction of these managers. According to an MSNBC reporter, the system under Snyder has “economically transformed” the State of Michigan. It has been dubbed “Financial Martial Law” by advocates and “disaster capitalism” by opponents.

Schauer, a Democrat who represented Michigan in the U.S. House from 2009-2011 after more than a decade in state-level politics, has made the emergency manager system a central criticism of his opponent.

After taking office in 2011, Gov. Snyder made a move to revamp the system by signing into law Public Act 4, shortly after taking office in 2011. The act allowed emergency managers to essentially control city government at the behest of the state. Once the governor’s administration declares a financial emergency, managers are given power over elected officials and to change local statutes. The emergency manager can hire and fire local officials as they see fit, sell local assets, and change local law, among other things. PA 4 was repealed by a voter referendum the following year. Then, shortly after the repeal in 2012, Snyder signed into law another emergency manager bill, Public Act 436, which took effect in 2013.

As with PA 4, under Public Act 436, emergency managers take the place of the local government or governing body. The manager has the power to enact law by decree, disregard local law, cancel collective bargaining and union contracts, privatize existing services, and even dissolve the local municipality in some cases.

Unlike PA 4, PA 436 gives municipalities slightly more power. For example, after 18 months a local government or school district can vote to get rid of the emergency manager. It also has more options out the outset: when a financial crisis is declared, the municipality can choose between four types of emergency management systems. 

But the newer law also places some additional restrictions on Michigan residents’ ability to voice opposition to emergency managers, by including a provision that prohibits voters from repealing PA 436 through the referendum process, which was used to ax Public Act 4.

Many opponents to the legislation say that PA 436 is nearly identical to PA 4, and doesn’t address the public’s concerns with the system.

“The trouble with the emergency manager law is that the government shoved it down people’s throats,” says Shelli Weisberg, the legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan. Groups have attempted to recall Gov. Snyder twice during his term.

Though the title “emergency manager” implies that the city’s financial stress is due to mismanagement or incompetent bureaucrats, economic experts in the state say that in most cases, financial crises are the result of systemic economic issues, not municipal mismanagement. Eric W. Lupher, research director of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a fact-based, non-partisan research institution, says that Michigan has been in economic decay for over a decade. “The root of the problem is the rust-belt status of so many cities in Michigan,” Lupher told Rewire in an interview. While most of the nation rebounded after the post-9/11 recession, Michigan stayed in a rut. “Year after year, the economic growth of the state declined.” A combination of the move away from auto-manufacturing—a major source of revenue for the state—in the United States, and what Lupher calls “community disinvestment”—wherein the wealthy leave cities for the suburbs, leaving “behind communities that don’t have the tax base to support services”—Michigan cities and their residents have struggled to stay afloat.

Notably, as The Atlantic points out, African Americans are by far the majority population in cities and school districts controlled by emergency managers. While cities with emergency managers contain about 9 percent of Michigan’s population, they also contain an estimated half of the state’s Black population.

Schauer, along with his running mate Lisa Brown, has staunchly opposed Snyder’s economic policies and the emergency manager system, and has offered an alternative approach. This month, at a Netroots Nation conference in Detroit, Schauer criticized the emergency manager system saying it “sets aside elected officials … with accountability to only one person, and that’s the governor.”

At the conference, Schauer said that if elected governor he would scrap the emergency manager law and replace it with “financial transition teams” that would collaborate with local governments toward financial solvency.

Education

Schauer has also come out strong against Gov. Snyder’s education policies and the so-called education crisis in Michigan. “The single most important investment we can make in Michigan’s economy is the education of our children,” reads his website. “Mark will work to put students first by reversing Gov. Snyder’s devastating cuts to our schools and colleges.”

Though Snyder has recently taken steps to reinvest in the Michigan school system, according to the Michigan Education Association, “during his first year in office, Snyder cut school funding to give billions of dollars in tax breaks to big corporations—resources that children are not likely to recoup unless their classrooms are fully funded.” Despite the recent increase in funding, per-pupil investment in the state in 2015 will still be below the 2009 level. As of February, 46 school districts were operating with a budget deficit.

The education system is unique in Michigan: unlike in most places, school districts in the state are independent of, not run by, local governments. According to Lupher, the districts’ independence also leaves them uniquely vulnerable to economic issues. “In the Michigan cities that have experienced economic decline, the same is true of the school districts because they have that tax base.”

So in addition to the lack of government investment in schools, the systemic economic issues that caused the downturn in cities such as Detroit have also hit school districts hard.

That 46 schools are running a deficit is seemingly an improvement on 2013, when 50 schools were under water. The reason for the decrease, though, is not so encouraging: several schools were dissolved and several other struggling schools merged.

The state government has declared five school districts to be in a state of financial emergency, including the entire public school system of Detroit. The managers of at least two of those school districts have turned their public schools into charters, and hired private companies to manage them.

On his website, candidate Schauer says he plans to remove the profit motive from charter schools if elected governor. In July, Schauer released a ten-point plan, titled “Blueprint: A Michigan That Works for Everyone,” which calls for, in part, an increased investment in education.

Snyder has disputed Schauer’s criticism, saying that he has increased both state funding of the K-12 system and early childhood education. According to Michigan Live, Snyder says he has increased funding to classrooms by “$660 more per student.” That claim is misleading, however, because it’s not all going directly to the classroom and is instead going to other parts of the education system, including fulfillment of teachers’ retirement plans.

Reproductive Health Care 

Though fiduciary concerns may take center stage in the run up to the November election, access to health care, and particularly reproductive care, has been a lightning rod in the state during Snyder’s term.

Snyder and Schauer have made clear and distinct names for themselves in relation to their position on abortion and reproductive rights. According to the ACLU’s Shelli Weisberg, Snyder has tried to remain as neutral as possible on the issue. “From the beginning he’s said it’s not one of his top priorities.” But, while Snyder has taken a stand against at least one piece of extreme anti-choice legislation, during his term some of the most controversial anti-choice legislation in the country has made its way through Michigan’s legislature, whether by his signature or through alternative legislative processes.

In December 2013, Michigan lawmakers passed the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act, which has become known as the “Rape Insurance Act,” banning private insurance plans from covering abortion in most cases, including rape or incest, and unless the woman buys coverage through a separate rider. The bill became law without the governor’s signature, because it had been introduced through the citizen’s initiative process, which does not require one.

According to the Huffington Post, the year before the legislation passed there were 23,230 abortions in Michigan, and fewer than 4 percent of abortions were paid by insurers. Abortions can cost anywhere between $500 and $10,000, depending on the circumstances.

Notably, Gov. Snyder had vetoed a similar measure the year before. According to the Detroit Free Press, Snyder said he wanted to remain moderate on the issue of abortion. “I’m a pro-life person … but still, I wanted to strike a balance.”

Though the governor’s veto in 2012 was a win for women, he also signed into law several pieces of anti-choice legislation during his term. During his first year in office, Gov. Snyder signed into law a “partial-birth” abortion ban, Public Act 168, which makes it a felony to perform so-called partial-birth abortions, itself a misnomer and myth.

Candidate Schauer voted against earlier iterations of the legislation while serving in Michigan’s state government.

The next year, Snyder signed into law an omnibus anti-choice bill, which included a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) provision imposing the same regulations on abortion clinics that are required of hospital operating rooms, and a ban on tele-medicine prescriptions for first-trimester medication abortions.

Aside from the legislation it has introduced, the Michigan legislature has made a name for itself as traditionalist and anti-woman. Most recently, a local reporter tweeted a picture of three state representatives reading fashion magazines and quoted them saying, “Don’t say we don’t understand women.” And in 2012, Lisa Brown, who is now running alongside Schauer for lieutenant governor, was notoriously barred from speaking on the house floor after saying the word “vagina.”

Weisberg says that the GOP’s reputation will hurt Snyder in the race, and will only add to Schauer economic case against the governor. “Keeping the government out of the exam room, and ‘This isn’t my boss’s business’” are salient issues for women in the state right now. “I think that women’s rights will play an important role, mostly around birth control and women being treated as second-class citizens in terms of their health-care needs,” she says.

Though Weisberg says that Republicans in the state, including Snyder, will try to come off as neutral on gender equality and reproductive justice in order to get the women’s vote, in the lead up to November Schauer will do his best to position himself in opposition to Snyder’s politics, both economic and social.