Tackling “Population Control” Dangers Head-On

Laurie Mazur

We already have an agenda for women's health and rights -- the ICPD Program of Action -- that remains unfinished. The goals of the ICPD remain as urgent as they were 15 years ago when the document was hammered out in Cairo.

I agree wholeheartedly with Alanna about the difficulty — and
importance — of getting out of our defensive crouch and setting a
proactive agenda. At the same time, we already have an agenda for
women’s health and rights — the ICPD Program of Action — that remains
unfinished. The goals of the ICPD remain as urgent as they were 15 years
ago when the document was hammered out in Cairo.

The reasons why the ICPD agenda remains unfinished would fill quite a
few blog posts. But I do think we have new opportunities to reinvigorate
support for that agenda. Today, there is a remarkable alignment of
interests among those working for women’s rights and health, youth
empowerment, global justice and environmental protection. The ICPD
agenda is central to all of those concerns — and there is much to be
gained by building new alliances with these movements.

I know this is fraught; many of us in the women’s rights and health
movement are understandably wary of those who approach reproductive
health with other motivations. There is a real danger, for example, that
concerns about population growth and the environment could take us back
to the days of "population control." That is a danger we must tackle
head-on, but it should not deter us from making alliances with
environmentalists and others. The greatest danger right now is of not
going forward and accomplishing the critically important goals set forth
in the ICPD.

This post is part of the After the Gag Rule salon hosted by Rewire and UN Dispatch.

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News Abortion

The Forgotten History of Republicans’ (Failed) Attacks on Fetal Tissue Research

Christine Grimaldi

Today's congressional inquiry not only derides fetal tissue research, but attacks abortion care. The inaugural hearing in March 2016 gave Republicans a platform to compare fetal tissue research to Nazi experimentation. Republicans derided Democrats for exaggerating the importance of fetal tissue.

Republicans in Congress sixteen years ago were more vested in supporting life-saving fetal tissue research than they were in mischaracterizing such research to score political points.

The times, and the talking points, have changed.

In 2000, GOP lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives conducted an investigation into fetal tissue practices based on a deceptive Life Dynamics video featuring a disgruntled former tissue procurement company employee. Dean Alberty alleged that two of his employers, Anatomic Gift Foundation (AGF) and Opening Lines, which acquired and distributed human fetal tissue to researchers, trafficked fetuses for profit. He also claimed that abortion providers altered procedures to obtain better tissue specimens. 

Life Dynamics, which remains a prominent anti-choice group, paid Alberty thousands of dollars during and after the time he worked in the tissue procurement business. Republicans summoned Alberty to be their key witness, but he later admitted under oath that he had lied about business operations in the Life Dynamics video and in an interview with the then-prominent ABC television news program 20/20.

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Alberty’s reveal came as a surprise, and an embarrassment, to Republicans during a hearing on the allegations before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health and Environment.

“Your credibility, as far as this member is concerned, is shot,” said then-Rep. Richard Burr (R-NC), who now serves in the U.S. Senate.

Sixteen years later, credibility doesn’t seem to carry the same weight for anti-choice Republican lawmakers as a new set of videos alleging problems with fetal tissue donations have simultaneously been discredited but are still being used as the basis of hearings some have called a witch hunt.

In July 2015, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), sponsor of the so-called Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016, and some of his colleagues coordinated with the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-choice front group responsible for the widely discredited smear campaign alleging that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations.

The House Energy and Commerce, Judiciary, and Oversight and Government Reform committees launched investigations upon the release of the first surreptitiously recorded videos and have continued to attack fetal tissue research, even though GOP officials in 12 states have since cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.

The first set of House hearings also failed to turn up any evidence that laws governing fetal tissue donation or research had been broken.

House Republicans nonetheless voted in October to form the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, an Energy and Commerce panel relying on the CMP videos and other allegedly falsified evidence to prove their charges of “baby body parts” for sale.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the panel’s chair, and other congressional committees have subpoenaed more than 2,000 pages of documents from tissue procurement company StemExpress. However, Blackburn has not brought in David Daleiden, the founder of CMP, to testify, although he now faces felony charges for his role in the original smear campaign.

Daleiden Testimony Could Undermine Republicans

Precedent doesn’t bode well for Republicans and their supposed whistleblowers.

Alberty, for example, expanded on his allegations of fetal tissue misconduct in the 20/20 interview with then-correspondent Chris Wallace, who now anchors Fox News Sunday. 20/20 separately targeted Opening Lines founder Dr. Miles Jones in an ostensibly damning undercover video included in the segment.

Alberty was unequivocal about wrongdoing. “This is purely for profit. Everything was about money,” he told Wallace. 

Wallace, for his part, narrated that Alberty had accepted thousands of dollars to act as an informant for Life Dynamics while continuing to work in the tissue procurement business. Why believe Alberty, then?

“I will stand behind my words until I die,” Alberty said. “I will go in front of Congress if I have to and testify under oath.”

Alberty appeared before the subcommittee the morning after the 20/20 segment aired. By that time, he had changed his story in an affidavit and a deposition that Democrats referenced to undermine his claims.

“When I was under oath I told the truth,” Alberty admitted during the hearing. “Anything I said on the video when I’m not under oath, that is a different story.”

Alberty’s name resurfaced at the select panel’s April 2016 hearing on fetal tissue “pricing,” which featured GOP exhibits reportedly taken from the CMP videos. Fay Clayton, a senior partner and founding shareholder of Robinson Curley & Clayton, P.C. and a witness for the Democrats, recalled her experience representing AGF. Alberty admitted to fabricating claims about AGF in the deposition with Clayton. 

Republicans did not know about the deposition until Democrats raised it during the 2000 hearing.

“Fetal tissue wasn’t ‘for sale’ at all,” Clayton said at the 2016 “pricing” hearing. “What was for sale was phony witness testimony, bought and paid for by opponents of abortion.”

An FBI investigation cleared Opening Lines and Jones of the trafficking charges. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) also found no violations of federal statutes and closed an investigation in 2008, Robert Raben, a former DOJ official, said when he testified for the Democrats at the panel’s 2016 “pricing” hearing. 

Clayton called for members of the panel to get Daleiden under oath to tell the truth or face legal repercussions for perpetuating his claims. However, Republicans misrepresented Clayton’s testimony by saying she called for StemExpress to turn over accounting records. Blackburn soon subpoenaed those records and threatened “to pursue all means necessary” as the investigation proceeds.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, has no doubts about why Republicans continue to rely on third-party witnesses rather than Daleiden.

“I don’t think they want to bring David Daleiden in because they know that he’s a shady character and an unreliable witness,” DeGette said in an interview with Rewire.

Anti-Choice Tactics Influence Current Inquiry

As the only lawmaker to serve on the past and present investigations, DeGette sometimes feels like she’s “in a real-life version of Groundhog Day.”

“We keep having these same kinds of hearings, over and over again,” DeGette said. “In my opinion, there’s continuing pressure on the Republican Party from the far-right anti-choice movement to have these hearings, even though the claim of sale of fetal tissue has been repeatedly disproved.”

Anti-choice tactics, if not the key players, behind what congressional Democrats have branded a “witch hunt” to undermine fetal tissue research are similar today.

Life Dynamics, the anti-choice group behind the Alberty video, receives the majority of its funding from fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks—the main backers of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) suspended presidential campaign. Providers told Rewire in March that a Life Dynamics document has been used to deceive and intimidate both patients and providers by threatening legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing abortion care.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the past and present inquiries is Republicans’ attitudes toward fetal tissue research—and their ability to separate research from abortion.

The shift can be summed up in one word: politics.

“I think the difference is a structural one with a political origin,” Raben, the former DOJ official, told Rewire in an interview.

Republicans in 2000 investigated fetal tissue practices as part of a standing subcommittee. House Republicans today created the select panel, sought members to serve on it, and despite the lack of any evidence, continue to fund it through tax dollars that otherwise would not be diverted to sustained attacks on fetal tissue research.

“In the face of lousy evidence, they’re going to keep going,” Raben said.

Inquiries Diverge on Science

The current inquiry not only derides fetal tissue research, but also attacks abortion care. The inaugural hearing in March 2016 gave Republicans a platform to compare fetal tissue research to Nazi experimentation. Blackburn subsequently derided Democrats for exaggerating the importance of fetal tissue.

Democrats have warned that such rhetoric could slow scientific advances on dangerous diseases, including the Zika virus, which is linked to irreparable defects in the developing fetuses that Blackburn and her Republican counterparts have pledged to protect.

In 2000, even anti-choice Republicans repeatedly deferred to science on fetal tissue research.

“Today’s hearing is not about whether fetal tissue research is a good or bad thing, and it is definitely not about whether a woman should have a right to choose to have an abortion, which is the law of the land,” former Energy and Commerce Chair Tom Bliley (R-VA) said in 2000. “Whether we are pro life, pro choice, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, I think and hope that we can all agree that present federal law which allows for this research should be both respected and enforced.”

At that time, leading Republicans on the subcommittee also extolled, in the words of Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), the “life-saving research” that their investigation aimed to protect.

Upton had worked in 1992 with former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to lift the ban on fetal tissue research. And he further expressed disappointment when President George H.W. Bush vetoed their effort.

“It’s really tragic,” Upton said then. “We tried to lift the substance over politics.”

President Bill Clinton signed legislation legalizing fetal tissue donations in 1993. “Being for fetal tissue transplantation is consistent with being for life,” Upton reportedly said during that era.

Republican Fetal Tissue Allies Disappear

Upton’s approach today does not reflect what happened the last time an anti-choice group manipulated evidence and fed it to congressional Republicans. The contents of CMP’s heavily edited smear videos “can’t help but make you weep for the innocents who were sacrificed in such a cavalier manner for alleged profit,” Upton wrote in a op-ed published in the weeks after the release of the first CMP recording.

Although Upton does not serve on the panel, he effectively sanctions the investigation as chair of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. Under House rules, standing subcommittees draw funding from the budget of the full committee with jurisdiction. The full committee chair is in charge of managing additional funds from the House Administration Committee, which sets aside $500,000 per session of Congress to supplement operating budgets, according to a senior House Democratic aide with knowledge of the chamber’s rules.

The aide said the panel follows the same procedures, receiving an undisclosed amount from Energy and Commerce and an additional $300,000 from Administration.

Administration Democrats unsuccessfully protested the transfer at the end of last year. “Spending taxpayer money on this select panel is wasteful on substantive grounds and unnecessary on practical grounds,” they said.

The transfer followed the House’s informal two-thirds/one-third funding split between the majority and minority parties, with the Republicans receiving $200,000 and the Democrats $100,000, the aide said. Full committee leaders are charged with distributing the funds, meaning that Upton had to do so with the $200,000 for Blackburn, the aide said.

Rewire contacted Upton’s office with questions ranging from whether the chair approves of the panel’s approach to how much more financial resources he will direct from the full committee’s budget to the panel. Rewire asked for Upton’s views on fetal tissue research, including if he shares Blackburn’s derision for the research and if he considers fetal tissue and “baby body parts” to be separate.

In response, a committee spokesperson emailed a brief statement. “The efforts of the Select Panel have always been based on learning the facts,” the spokesperson said. “The panel has been given a one-year term to conduct that mission, and will continue their important work. Chairman Upton has been a supporter of the panel’s charge and their efforts to protect the unborn.”

Republican Leaders Disregard Appeals to Disband Panel

Although Upton’s office told Rewire that the panel was given one year, the resolution that created the panel suggested it could go longer. The resolution only specifies that the panel will come to an end 30 days after filing a final report.

Democrats have repeatedly called on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to disband the panel, including in a letter to Ryan and Blackburn last month. The panel’s Democrats again appealed to Ryan after Blackburn subpoenaed a prominent abortion provider, shifting the target from fetal tissue procurement and research to later abortion care.

DeGette said some congressional Republicans have privately shared concerns about the panel with her, but won’t do so publicly, even as their counterparts on the panel have gone “rogue.”

“This is so out on the fringes that really, I think it’s beginning to reflect on Speaker Ryan and on the whole Republican leadership in the House,” she said.

Roundups Politics

At Iowa Forum, Democratic Candidates Weigh in on Campus Sexual Assault, Hyde Amendment

Ally Boguhn

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton convened in Iowa Monday night to weigh in on the issues that Black and Latino voters say most impact them.

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton convened in Iowa Monday night to weigh in on the issues that Black and Latino voters say most impact them. 

The Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, which bills itself as the “oldest minority-focused presidential forum,” was hosted by news outlet Fusion and offered the candidates a chance to sit down and answer questions without interruptions from their fellow candidates.

The night’s line of questioning hit on everything from Kim Kardashian’s selfie strategies to more serious discussions of how each candidate’s platforms—including those related to sex education, abortion rights, immigration, higher education, gun control, and criminal justice reform, to name just a few—relate to issues of race, gender, and class

In this election season, debate moderators, sponsors, and even party leaders have continuously faced criticism for failing to provide voters with an unbiased and well-informed account of the candidates’ platforms. Through a series of tough questions and follow-ups on a number of issues typically excluded by the debates, Monday’s forum illustrated how journalists can better push candidates to answer to the issues that matter to the public.

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Here are some of the night’s highlights:

Bernie Sanders Spoke Out Against Abstinence-Based Sex Ed

Bernie Sanders kicked off the night with the first round of moderator and audience questioning—including an inquiry from a student about whether he would continue to fund abstinence-based sexual education should he be elected.

“Let me start off by saying something very radical,” Sanders replied. “I am a United States senator who believes in science and who believes in facts.”

“I think when we have too much unwanted pregnancy, I think that obviously women have the right to get the contraceptives that they need. When sexuality is an intrinsic part of human life, we should not run away from it,” he continued. When it comes to sex education, he concluded, “We should explain biology and sexuality to our kids on a factual basis. Period.”

In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report surveying the policies and practices of schools throughout the country, finding that less than half of high schools and one fifth of middle schools are teaching all of the sexual health topics recommended by the CDC, such as how to use and obtain condoms and other forms of contraception.

Sanders Called for a “Serious National Discussion” on Campus Sexual Assault

Sanders answered questions about campus sexual assault during the forum, calling for a “serious national discussion” on the matter.

“Rape and assault is rape or assault, whether it takes place on a campus or on a dark street. And if a student rapes a fellow student, that has got to be understood to be a very serious crime,” said Sanders.

“It has got to get outside of the school and have a police investigation. And that has got to take place. Too many schools now are seeing this as, ‘Well it’s a student issue, let’s deal with it.’ I disagree with that,” the senator continued, explaining that schools should treat rape seriously by turning over their investigations to police.

When moderator Alicia Menendez followed up by asking Sanders about whether he supported affirmative consent policies and bystander programs, the Democratic presidential candidate responded with a simple “of course I do,” noting that it was time to have a “serious national discussion about sexuality” and consent.

But not everybody was onboard with Sanders’ plan to turn over cases of rape on campus directly to law officials.

In a post for Feministing urging Sen. Sanders to revisit his position, senior editor Alexandra Brodsky, who co-founded Know Your IX, an organization that works to end sexual violence on campus, explained that “school responses to gender violence are necessary to protect students’ right to an education regardless of gender.”

Absolutely, it’s essential that students who feel like reporting to the police is best for them be able to do so,” explained Brodsky. “At the same time, school remedies, like dorm changes and tutoring, are crucially important for a survivor’s ability to learn. That’s why the anti-discrimination law Title IX requires schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault in addition to, not in place of, criminal law enforcement,” she continued.

Although higher education has consistently been an important part of Sander’s platform, the candidate has largely not engaged the issue of sexual violence on campuses—despite rival Hillary Clinton releasing her own platform on the issue, calling for increased prevention efforts and resources for survivors.

Martin O’Malley: No Situations Where a Man Should Be Able to Tell a Woman What to Do With Her Body

One of Martin O’Malley’s brightest moments of the night did not come until the end of his time with the forum, when he plainly asserted the autonomy of all women.

Responding to a moderator’s question in the “rapid fire” round about under “what scenario, if any, should a man ever be able to tell a woman what to do with her body,” O’Malley paused briefly before replying, “no scenario.”

During his time as mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley went on the record as “pro-choice” and earned a 100 percent rating from the Maryland chapter of NARAL, according to CBS News. His universal health care plan also includes a promise to “support universal access to reproductive health care” in order to help people “make the best possible choices for themselves and their future.”

Hillary Clinton Reasserted Support for Repealing the Hyde Amendment

Hillary Clinton once again pushed support for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which overwhelmingly limits government funding for abortion, telling the forum moderators that the restriction inhibits many low-income and rural women from accessing care.

“[The Hyde Amendment] is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion,” said Clinton.

“But if state governments, if politicians, use their power to try to restrict that right, well-off people are still going to have it. You know, we know that.  But a lot of poorer women, rural women, isolated far from a place where they can get services, are going to be denied,” Clinton explained, detailing how poor women are disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions, such as Hyde, which make cost a barrier to abortion care.

Last night wasn’t the first time Clinton has voiced her opposition to Hyde. Although the former secretary of state made headlines earlier this week for speaking out against the restriction on abortion funding while accepting Planned Parenthood’s endorsement in New Hampshire over the weekend, her campaign confirmed to Rewire in 2008 that Clinton was against the Hyde Amendment.

Clinton Called Criminal Justice Reform a Top Priority for the Next President

When asked by Fusion contributor and debate moderator Akilah Hughes how she would prove that Black lives matter as president, Clinton detailed the importance of reforming the criminal justice system, including policing and incarceration, and addressing institutional racism.

Criminal justice reform, policing reform, incarceration reform—and I believe strongly that this has to be the highest priority of the president,” Clinton explained, outlining her intentions to build on President Obama’s work on the matter.

Pointing to the system as it currently stands, Clinton called out the ways that institutional racism contradicts U.S. values. “It is such a violation of what we say our values are, you know, ‘equal before the law,’” Clinton explained. “Well, we have systemic racism and bias that is implicit in our system, and unless we begin to go after that and expose it and end it we won’t solve this problem.”

In her almost four-minute-long case for criminal justice reform, Clinton went on to call for the disruption of the school-to-prison pipeline, emphasizing the need for more investment in education and jobs for inner-city and rural communities.

Clinton’s mass incarceration reform agenda has been a priority for the candidate on the campaign trail for much of the last year, although she has had what have been described as “tense” meetings with Black Lives Matter activists.

In late October, Clinton released a comprehensive criminal justice reform platform, which included her intentions to push legislation to end racial profiling and for fairer drug sentencing.

Sanders has also voiced support for criminal justice reform, calling the number of incarcerated persons in the United States an “international embarrassment” and saying that reforming it is “one of the most important things that a president of the United States can do.”