North Dakota House Passes Egg-as-Person Bill

Kay Steiger

Anti-choice legislators recently introduced bills to define fertilized eggs as people in Maryland and North Dakota -- North Dakota's passed its House on Tuesday. Pro-choice groups gear up for the fight.

On Tuesday, one body of North
Dakota’s state legislature voted, 51-41, not only to ban abortion,
but to define life as beginning at conception. Such a measure, considered
extreme even by pro-life standards, would have far-reaching consequences
on women’s health.

State Rep. Dan Ruby introduced
the legislation,
which declares that "for purposes of interpretation of the constitution
and laws of North Dakota, it is the intent of the legislative assembly
that an individual, a person, when the context indicates that a reference
to an individual is intended, or a human being includes any organism
with the genome of homo sapiens."  

"It was at the bottom of
the calendar and we didn’t expect [the House] to get to it, so it
caught us a little bit by surprise," said Tim Stanley, senior director
of government and public affairs for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North
Dakota, South Dakota. "This bill dangerous, far reaching, and allows
government — not women and families — to make critical decisions about
health care." Some state legislators have
been quoted
 
saying the intent of the measure is not to ban abortion outright. However,
many legal experts agree that defining life as beginning at conception
would affect access to birth control and emergency contraception as
well as affect in vitro fertilization. "I’m not sure if this is naivete or if this is sincere," Stanley said. "The bottom
line is that our attorneys have looked at this and are extremely concerned." 

The state’s legislature,
in a slightly more robust year for anti-choice legislation than usual,
will also be considering other anti-choice legislation this session.
Other bills under consideration would require the state’s only abortion
clinic to place signs outside declaring that no one can force a woman
to have an abortion, and legislation that would mimic South
Dakota’s "informed consent" legislation, a requirement that abortion providers must read a statement to women seeking abortion care stating that the procedure "will terminate the life of a whole, separate,
unique, living human being." The state legislature is also considering
a measure that would resolve not to adopt a Freedom of Choice Act. "It’s
a sort of anti-FOCA," Stanley said. But because it hasn’t been introduced
in Congress, "it’s a complete red herring." 

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Stanley hopes that these other,
"less extreme" measures that he believes will probably pass, will
be enough to "placate" the anti-choice community in North Dakota’s
legislature. Stanley also notes that his Planned Parenthood affiliate
has only been in active in the state’s legislature since 2007 and
is the only pro-choice group that advocates at the state’s legislature.  

"The grassroots pro-life
base in North Dakota very vibrant," Stanley said. "This movement,
if it had more of a foundation, be it money or what have you, that they
would be a substantial group. And that I find fairly alarming." During
the panel hearing on the so-called personhood legislation, Stanley said
he followed more than 90 minutes of anti-choice testimony by five or
six anti-choice groups with a about six minutes of testimony pointing
out the unconstitutional nature of the legislation. 

The personhood bill will go on to the
state Senate by the end of the week, and Stanley says it is likely not
to be voted on until the end of the legislature’s session, in April.
Stanley believes that ultimately North Dakotans may not want to draw national attention with a challenge to Roe. If the bill does pass, Planned Parenthood’s
affiliate will begin reaching out to the medical and religious community
to begin building a coalition of support to fight the measure. 

"My experience had been that
this legislature is grounded in reality, as opposed to some other legislatures,"
Stanley said. "South Dakota is not the most rational legislature when
it comes to this kind of stuff. They’re known as being slightly out
there and willing to take those high-profile risks to fight this fight.
My feeling is that North Dakota is just slightly more reticent to do
that. To their credit they’re not a state that looks [for] and seeks
undue attention." 

Egg-as-Person in Pro-Choice Maryland

A state legislator in Maryland
has proposed a similar measure. The state seems like a strange place
for such a measure; it has an overwhelmingly pro-choice legislature
and passed a law that codified Roe v. Wade in 1992. "It’s
public relations for them," said Wendy Royalty, public relations director
of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. "There’s very little likelihood
of [the bill] passing at all." 

Delegate Don Dwyer, a socially
conservative delegate who also introduced a ban on same-sex marriage
this week as well, introduced the legislation last week. The judiciary
committee will consider the legislation and the chairman, Delegate Joe
Vollario, is rated anti-choice by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland. But Maryland’s
house has an overwhelming pro-choice majority, Royalty said, so it is
most likely that the bill will be killed in committee. 

"Nobody wants to see a bill
like that get on the floor because all it does is waste everybody’s
time," Royalty said. "We’ve seen the anti-choice people introduce
bills that appear to be more reasonable, but this one will not be perceived
this way." Three other states have introduced similar "personhood"
measures: North Carolina, Montana, and Alabama. 

The lesson we might draw from the pushes for personhood legislation in these two states is that it pays to have a legislature that views anti-choice bills as a waste of time.  In North Dakota, a strong grassroots anti-choice lobby can go far with incremental legislation because the legislature is far more amenable to its cause — even if it’s hesitant to pass an all-out ban. While many resources aren’t devoted
to Midwestern states until direct attacks on Roe are presented, these states might have an easier
time fighting both incremental and more sweeping anti-choice legislation if a strong anti-choice grassroots
movement there didn’t make being an anti-choice legislator worthwhile.

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.