Waldman and Saletan: Oh What A Fine Bromance!

Jodi Jacobson

In "Two men, No Uterus," Will Saletan and Steve Waldman spent as much time as possible complimenting each other's work and as little as possible on real substance.  In the end they suggest that "common ground" is a political football game based on a fake play.

"Two men, No Uterus" was the name given by Will
Saletan and Steve Waldman to their June 22nd mutual-admiration-society
blogging heads chat on "common ground," in what I suppose was an effort to be cute.  During the hour-plus program, they
spent as much time as possible complimenting each other’s work and as
little as possible on any real substance regarding reproductive health and choice issues.  The half-effort to be politically incorrect in the program’s title is in keeping with the general approach both men bring to these issues: In their writing, both are alternatively sensationalist, sexist,
fickle, and moralistic. They try hard to be provocative, always provoking for the sake of it, not for the purpose of advancing real issues. 

These two are so clearly in love with themselves and each other it was a bit difficult to watch the whole "diavlog."  And it is clear that the Obama Administration’s stated intention to
create "a common ground platform" on abortion has become a full employment program for both Waldman and Saletan.  So perhaps the most striking thing about the conversation was that, in the end,
they both effectively concluded that the common ground enterprise was a
"just for show" political strategy, and that the real
strategies required to reduce the need for abortion are the very prevention programs least likely to be supported by the far right.  (Revelation!)  However, they came to this conclusion through the same faux-expert uninformed arguments that characterize their columns.

During the Will-interviews-Steve format, Saletan revealed once again that there is no core philosophy or framework underlying his ever-shifting positions on choice and abortion (One day he’s pro-choice, the next he is on Hardball calling contraception the "lesser of two evils."  The day after that he calls providers "abortionists" and scolds pro-choice advocates for not recognizing the "moral implications" of abortion. On blogging heads we had the pro-choice Will Saletan.  It is sometimes hard to keep track.) 

Waldman, for his part, several times underscored what is clear from
reading his work: that he just throws things "out there" without considered thought about what might be good versus bad data, not understanding how to read evidence, and oblivious or uncaring about the effects his free-form moralistic misinformation and opinions might actually have on an already polarized debate.  Public policies affecting sexual and reproductive health issues should be based first and foremost on public health and on promoting individual rights balanced by individual responsibilities.  But as anyone living on Planet Earth knows, sex and reproduction have become the front in a war waged by ultra-conservative religious and political forces for which Waldman serves as a paid flacky.  In fact, Waldman himself stated during the program: "I have a corporate interest in injecting religion into every debate."

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Reading and watching this duo is like buying the OK! magazine version of the culture wars at the grocery store; they put whatever sells on the front cover, no matter the truth or consequences.  One day the actress in question is anorexic, the next day she is too fat.  The info and the standards just keep shifting to sell the blogs.

But I still
can’t decide what is most troubling about Saletan and Waldman. 

Is it their
individual and collective smugness as they pontificate and appear to revel in being superficially controversial about an issue
so critical to women’s lives yet about which they clearly know so little
and understand less? 

Is it that in doing so they claim a public platform from which they constantly speak about women in ways that are so demeaning yet so steeped in their own self-created "aura of
expertise" that I feel I’ve been slimed by Ghostbusters?

Is it that they wring their hands about whether women recognize the moral dimensions of abortion more often than a dobi wallah wrings clothing dry in Mumbai?

Is it that neither one has a core philosophy from which they build consistent arguments, generally don’t bother with evidence and freely contradict themselves without so much as a brief acknowledgement they’ve just shifted 180 degrees?  

Or is it that they have no sense whatsoever of the history of this issue and so keep "discovering" and taking credit for suggesting strategies to reduce unintended pregnancies and by extension abortions for which pro-choice advocates have been fighting strenuously for decades?

In one of his recent columns, for example, Waldman decided as though it were news that perhaps making early abortion as accessible as possible might be a good strategy.  Gee, really?  I think I have heard that somewhere before.  And….Steve….how does that square with those "reasonable restrictions" on abortion like parental notification and waiting periods which only serve to delay the procedure until later? 

In the aftermath of the murder of Dr. Tiller, both Waldman and Saletan seemed taken aback by the fact that women seeking late abortions actually had "legitimate" reasons to do so. 
Shouldn’t respected journalists/researchers/writers have done this research themselves?  They were among those decrying women who opted for late abortions for spurious reasons (according to them of course), and so both of them helped create a public climate in which both women undergoing the excruciating decision to end a wanted pregnancy due to catastrophic fetal anomalies and the doctors who served them were made out to be the moral equivalents of Charles Manson.  Why didn’t they have a better understanding of these issues before they wrote about them?

A few highlights from their duet on Blogging Heads.

Waldman suggests that opposition to contraception and abortion are not connected, revealing a lack of nuanced understanding of the issues at stake in the debate about women’s rights to choose. He states:

What I would like to hear "on the pro-life side, what I wished I could hear was a recognition that contraception has to be part of the solution and in a way disentangling of conservatives views about contraception from their views about abortion" [because] a lot of [the pro-life’s side’s] opposition to contraception is for reasons that are philosophical, theological, not actually related to their opposition to abortion."

Say what?  You mean the right’s opposition to contraception is
"philosophical, theological," but its opposition to abortion is not? 
If the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception is not based in
its own reading of theology and philosophy than where does it come

In fact, opposition to both contraception and abortion are central to the agenda of anti-choice groups and are seamlessly connected.  If this was not the case, we wouldn’t constantly be engaged in debates about whether access to contraceptives leads to promiscuity and moral corruption and actually leads people to have more sex (oh, no!).  But Waldman and Saletan glide over the conflation by the far right of many  forms of contraception with abortion.  If the right does not oppose these methods in the same way they do abortion, why do we have to fight to ensure pharmacists will fill legal prescriptions?  Why is there a "Pill Kills" campaign; why are clinics that provide contraceptives but not abortion services also picketed? 

To his credit, Saletan this time expressed frustration with the right’s opposition to contraception.  They both then agreed to the obvious: "if you can’t get past the contraceptive thing, it really does get hard to do  common ground." Revelation number 2.

Waldman stunningly suggests that, in return for accepting contraception as part of a common ground package, the "pro-choice movement" should be willing to embrace comprehensive approaches to sex and prevention (!).

One area where I always thought…the pro-choice folks could give a little bit is…as i understand it…there is more or less a consensus that ABC is the best..most effective way of family planning, meaning birth control and abstinence teaching [together], and the pro-choice emphasis, the liberal emphasis has been on how silly abstinence-only is.  But having abstinence as an important part of family planning would seem to be somehthng that liberals ought to agree on and if they would kind of raise their voice on that that might buy a certain amount of good will with pro-life folks.

Give a little bit???   Memo to Steve: Comprehensive sex education programs were created by public health experts and the pro-choice movement and have always (always, always) included information and training on abstinence and delay of sexual intitiation for teens.  We do not need to "accept this" in return for anything because it is at the core of every comprehensive sex ed curriculum.  But the right is so determined to ensure the public debate on this is muddled, so they deliberately ignore these facts and keep talking about the "denigration of abstinence."  While Saletan did acknolwedge this tactic by the right, the fact that Waldman raised it shows how little he really knows about these issues.

On the program, however, no distinction was made about whether they were talking about encouraging abstinence and delay of sex for teens, or abstinence for everyone, including adults.  The religious right, including many commentors on Rewire, wants adults to practice abstinence even within marriage, instead of "taking chances" with contraceptives.  But is it anyone’s business whether mature adults are engaged in consensual sexual relationships? It is not the job of the government nor of family planning clinics to stop adults from having sex, and it is not the job of "common ground" proposals to tell adults how to live their sex lives.   

Saletan then discovers that the pro-choice community actually supports the "pretty old-fashioned notion" that you should treat sex with respect.  Funny….the phrase "Respect Yourself" has been at the core of many pro-choice campaigns so it is no revelation that responsible sexual behavior is a pro-choice position.  Look at the body of work by Advocates for Youth, Planned Parenthood, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, for just a few examples. 

Waldman suggests we set up a Presidential commission to study the "sacredness of sex" and that the President start to talk about this as part of his platform.

What can I say?  If I want the government to tell me how and what to think about sex, then I’ll buy a plane ticket to Afghanistan and live under the original Taliban.  Americans can figure out what is sacred to them according to and within their own religious traditions.  We don’t need a Presidential commission.  Freedom of religion, remember?  

Both Saletan and Waldman engage in a long back and forth on the differences between a focus on "reducing unintended pregnancies," and by extension the demand for abortion, and "reducing the number of abortions." 

Neither of them gets it.  Reducing the number of abortions without first focusing on unintended pregnancies can only be achieved by coercive measures or through pressure that further limits women’s access to safe services.  Reducing the number of unintended pregnancies will, in the long run, reduce the number of abortions overall.  Abortion rates have in fact been declining.  But there will always be abortions and there will always be a need for safe services.  What is our goal here?  The far right wants no abortions whatsoever, the pro-choice side wants to reduce unintended pregnancies and other adverse outcomes of unprotected sex.  If we focus on the number of abortions per se, we will have no real yardstick by which to measure where we are going and when we actually get there.

But Saletan and Waldman conclude "it doesn’t matter" on which outcome the common ground proposal expected to come out of the White House focuses because "we have a pro-choice president."

News flash: The President will in the end have very little control over what happens with any common ground proposal unless the White House is dedicated to devoting considerable time and political capital to the issues once any proposal leaves the Oval Office and hits Congress.  The far right in Congress, along with increasing efforts at the state level to limit women’s access to contraceptives and safe abortion services and to confer "personhood" on fertilized eggs all threaten to severely diminish women’s access to both contraception and abortion.  Far too much emphasis is being put on an "inside the beltway" strategy in which even the parties involved don’t agree on what constitutes a "pregnancy," whether it is ok for consenting adults to have sex, and whether birth control pills are abortifacients.  The Administration has gone down the wrong path on this effort and should have focused from the beginning on strengthening prevention efforts and now even the Waldmans and Saletans recognize this.

Adoption.  This was perhaps the single most telling part of the conversation.  Two goals of the far right are to promote adoption as an alternative to abortion, and to provide "economic support" to women seeking an abortion such that they decide to keep their child.

Waldman suggests helpfully that maybe we could give women $1000.00 (do I hear $1500.00? do I hear $2000.00?) a piece to give their babies up for adoption.  They debate whether this would be enough.  Saletan raises the obvious question: Isn’t this like a government-sponsored surrogacy program?  Their discussion made it sound more to me like selling babies with the government as the broker.

And both agreed that economic supports won’t actually do much to reduce the number of women seeking abortions.  Instead, they conclude, stunningly, it really is about prevention and contraceptive availability after all but debate whether "the public" will in the end want to see "the pretty stuff," like a couple holding their newly adopted baby in a commercial in the next Presidential election.

This whole conversation confirmed my own fears.  Like I said last week: This isn’t about what women need for healthy, safe, reproductive and sexual lives; it’s not about public health or human rights; its not about the health of women or their children or their families, and it focuses on the wrong part of the process.  Even Waldman and Saletan, (who now complains about "abortion fatigue) see this as a political football game based largely on a fake play.  The real question is: Will they call the game as they see it now, or continue to provoke for the sake of provocation?

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”