Rewire: Welcome to Common Ground

Scott Swenson

Why is Rewire, a site founded and dedicated to promoting progressive ideas about the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health, engaging this discussion about common ground?

In so many ways, the election of President
Obama is viewed through a lens of its healing potential. No, racism
did not end with the election of our first President of Color, but many
people are looking at themselves and their beliefs about race differently.
No, his election did not automatically restore America as a beacon of
hope around the world after years of steady decline, but our global
neighbors are looking at us in a new light.  

President Obama is asking Americans to
seek common ground on one of the most controversial issues of our time,
abortion. Knowing we don’t all agree, Obama asks that we agree to
disagree, with civility, recognizing the dangerous place the extremism
surrounding this debate has taken our politics. 

For the entire political life of many
people around President Obama’s age, the politics of abortion has
seemed intractable, uncompromising, bitterly divisive. The first political
race I watched closely, at 11, ended with Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas using
pictures of aborted fetuses on door hangers in heavily Catholic precincts
to defeat Dr. Bill Roy, an obstetrician, Congressman and Catholic himself.
Dole won re-election by a handful of votes in 1974 on the politics of

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Thirty-five years later, Dr. George Tiller
was assassinated in his Lutheran church because he performed legal abortions,
also in Kansas, the site of many far-right battles in those intervening
years.  Tiller is the latest victim of extremism on the far-right
that has its roots in the political rhetoric started in that first post-Roe

Many people on the right distance themselves
from anything having to do with clinic violence, but still
have their picture taken with politicians whose rhetoric foments it.  

So why is Rewire, a site founded
and dedicated to promoting progressive ideas about the full spectrum
of sexual and reproductive health, even engaging this discussion about
common ground?  

We believe by bringing voices from the
center and right of center, to mix with the leading voices of the progressive
movement promoting sexual and reproductive health, that our online community can play a small role in allowing a new way to look at these issues to emerge. It won’t
be easy.  

We are not defining, or buying into anyone’s
definition of common ground. We are facilitating a discussion that we
hope will allow all people to think differently about sexual and reproductive

Is it possible that in President Obama’s
election, Americans have a chance to heal the body politic from the
divisiveness the abortion issue has caused for a generation or more?
We don’t know, but one thing is certain: it won’t happen if we don’t

We believe Rewire is well positioned to expand this
dialog to be more inclusive while holding to our progressive roots and
respecting those who believe differently but genuinely seek common ground. In the wake of the Tiller assassination, there
may be no better time to ask people to think anew about how we all communicate
these issues. 

It is, afterall is said and done, simply a choice we have before us, to continue the old paradigm of well worn and bitter divide, or stop and take a deep breath or two, and choose differently.

We are asking people from all political
perspectives to remain open to the possibility that we can let go of
the acrimony that brought us to this moment and envision a time when
these most personal life decisions are no longer used for political
manipulation, or domestic terrorism. 

The truth is, most Americans have already
found common ground. 

The best and brightest minds working
in philanthropy, non-profits and NGO’s, advocacy, law, health care,
research, politics and media, have invested tens if not hundreds of
millions of dollars in the most sophisticated public opinion research.
Staggering sums that could be used to actually help women and children,
not just hypothesize about how demographic groups respond to framing
or word choice. 

Most legitimate surveys, right, left, and non-partisan,
indicate Americans are closer to consensus on many social issues than our politics indicates,
which doesn’t mean that everyone agrees. But it does mean we should move
beyond questions of legality versus prohibition, toward policies that promote safety,
health, responsibility, respect, and rights. Our energy should focus on making sure all Americans have access
to factual information and education, reliable prevention and reproductive health care with the recognition
that sexually healthy societies foster respect for everyone. Choices that are made from a place of respect and facts will naturally be better than those made from fear or misinformation.  Biology is easier than wisdom and we should focus on helping people understand how to make better choices, understanding not denying human nature.

In the middle, away from the passions of the right or left, most Americans are already building
common ground around shared understanding, compassion and empathy for
the journey their neighbors are on, hoping that when their family faces difficult
life decisions, others will be similarly supportive. By listening to
voices genuinely seeking common ground, Rewire hopes to provide a platform for civil discussion.  We know the
bitterness will continue on some levels, we only seek to expand the potential for something
new to emerge, to remain open to the possibility that we can choose a healing path that could change the way we all dicuss these issues in a healthy, respectful way, thus allowing
us to see sexual and reproductive health in a new light.

We hope you too will choose a path that can lead to real change and give this discussion a chance. 

Be the change you seek.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”


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