The Choice-Related Story You Haven’t Read About Yet

Nancy Keenan

Here is news about women's reproductive health care that you're not likely to read in a lot of newspapers—but it's an important development in removing an onerous obstacle to a woman's ability to access safe, legal abortion.

The following is a joint post from NARAL Pro-Choice America and the D.C. Abortion Fund.

Here is news about women’s reproductive health care that you’re not likely to read in a lot of newspapers—but it’s an important development in removing an onerous obstacle to a woman’s ability to access safe, legal abortion.

The House Appropriations Committee is taking action on a bill tonight that allocates funds for Washington, D.C.—and there is good news for America’s pro-choice majority.

The bill follows President Obama’s lead (and NARAL Pro-Choice America’s recommendation) to lift the ban on D.C.’s ability to use locally raised funds for abortion services. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s elected representative in Congress, fully supports this measure.

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As the D.C. Abortion Fund can attest, this ban’s effect on women is devastating. Women have had to sell their cars, get high-interest predatory loans (not even an option anymore), pawn wedding rings or other jewelry, sell their children’s toys, go without

electricity, or even risk eviction—all to pay for the abortion care they need.

Read many more heart-breaking stories for examples of what can happen when access to affordable reproductive health care is out of reach for women.

Historians will note that an anti-choice Congress imposed the ban 15 years ago—and anti-abortion politicians are not going to let this symbol of interference in D.C.’s local affairs go down without a fight.

Anti-choice members of the committee (Reps. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), we are talking about you) are trying to reinsert the ban as this bill moves forward—and they could make their first attempt when the committee meets this Tuesday night.

Tiahrt and Davis’ allies on anti-choice blogs and news sites already are manufacturing outrage over this positive development for women’s health and safety in the nation’s capital.

What these right-wing sites won’t say is that no other jurisdiction or state is told how to use its locally raised revenue. One can just imagine how either Tiahrt or Davis would react if Congress were to try to change abortion-related laws in their states (by the way, Kansas gets a D- and Tennessee a D + on choice-related issues in NARAL Pro-Choice America’s annual report card).

Keep in mind, lifting this ban on the bill that allocates funds for D.C. gives the elected city leaders the ability to decide whether the District will use locally raised funds to ensure women have access to the full range of reproductive-health options, including safe, legal abortion. Removing this abortion ban means Congress has to accept and honor the decision D.C. leaders make.

Unfortunately, low-income women in D.C. and across the country continue to face intolerable burdens in accessing reproductive-health care. Lifting the D.C. ban won’t remove all of these obstacles, but it’s a step in the right direction.

As this bill makes it way through the legislative process, we will need the help of America’s pro-choice majority to make sure this 15-year-old symbol of anti-choice interference goes away.

 

Nancy Keenan is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America; Tiffany Reed is the president of the D.C. Abortion Fund.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

News Law and Policy

Purvi Patel Could Be Released From Jail by September

Jessica Mason Pieklo

In 2013, investigators charged Patel with both feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, based on the theory that Patel had self-induced an abortion and delivered a live infant, which then almost immediately died post-delivery.

The State of Indiana will not appeal a decision vacating the feticide conviction of Purvi Patel, the Granger woman who had previously faced 20 years in prison for what state attorneys described as an illegal self-induced abortion.

Patel was arrested in 2013 after she sought treatment at a hospital emergency room for heavy vaginal bleeding. While being examined by medical personnel, Patel told doctors she’d had a miscarriage and had disposed of the remains. Investigators located those remains and eventually charged Patel with both feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, based on the theory that Patel had self-induced an abortion and delivered a live infant, which then almost immediately died post-delivery. In February 2015, a jury convicted Patel of both counts.

But in July, the Indiana Court of Appeals vacated Patel’s feticide conviction, holding the statute was not designed to be used to criminally charge people for their own failed pregnancies. However, the court largely upheld Patel’s felony neglect of a dependent conviction, deferring to controversial medical testimony offered by the state that claimed Patel’s fetus was on the cusp of viability and had taken a breath outside her post-delivery.

Patel had initially been sentenced to serve a total of 20 years. But because attorneys for the state failed to appeal the July decision, she could be available for re-sentencing as soon as the court can schedule a hearing—which could mean a possible release as early as September, depending on her new sentence and credit for time served.

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