The Heckler’s Veto – A Firsthand Account

Paige Sweet

It seems that the anti-healthcare reformers have taken a page from the anti-choice playbook: intimidate, vilify, harass. Or it could just be that familiar anti-choice hatred cloaked in "family values" seeping through, maddening those of us who believe in the type of "family values" that would allow everyone's families to have healthcare.

In its efforts
to oppose health-care reform at all costs, the radical rightwing has created a
frenzied mob that is trying to derail all legitimate discussion of President Obama’s
healthcare reform plan. In Jefferson County, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s August 11th
town hall meeting featured organized heckling and name-calling, infuriated boos
at the suggestion that the federal government should aid its people, and the
shredding of a poster featuring a civil rights leader. Noticeably absent from
the meeting’s discussion were thoughtful arguments setting forth any reason to
oppose the President’s healthcare plan.

 

Within the
first 30 minutes of the meeting, Senator McCaskill responded to lies about
abortion funding in the plan, pointed out that most people in the room already
gladly rely on government-run healthcare in the form of Medicare, and assured
the audience that, contrary to rightist spin, Americans will be able to keep
their private insurance if they so choose. Having exhausted all of its
pre-planned objections to President Obama’s proposal, the bewildered crowd
spent the rest of the two-hour session vacillating between cheering record
insurance company profits, booing claims that global warming is real, and shouting
obscenities during Senator McCaskill’s responses.

 

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Of course, the
alleged public funding of abortions was the first question of the day,
resulting in a fury of standing applause when the speaker demanded that his tax
money not be used for abortions. Though Senator McCaskill explained that
nothing in the bill mandates taxpayer dollars for abortions and expressed her
support for the rule that prohibits federal money from going toward abortion
care (the Hyde Amendment), the abortion question resurfaced throughout the
meeting. 

 

In an audience
that booed fiercely when the Senator claimed that global warming was real, one
can hardly expect a rational discussion of reproductive rights. However, just
as those who feast on a steady diet of Fox News claim that our legislators are
not reading the fine print of the healthcare bill, they most likely have not
read the fine print of their private insurance plans. If they did, they might
very well find that the carriers to whom their premiums are flowing do in fact
cover abortion. To be sure, if Senator McCaskill had pointed this out, it would
only have been shouted down with chants of "LIAR."

 

And so the
abortion question went largely unresolved despite a plethora of questions about
the topic. The audience much preferred stewing in its fury to being given
actual facts and logical answers to questions that betrayed a startling
ignorance of the details. This crowd’s warlike aggression toward almost every
one of the Senator’s reasonable responses makes obvious that these people have
moved past debate and into battle. This point was perhaps demonstrated most
clearly when a woman outside the venue held up a sign that read, "Waterboard
Congress." Apparently the extreme right-wing has moved from encouraging torture
of "suspected terrorists" to encouraging torture of our elected officials if
they do not vote in accordance with their views. It seems that the
anti-healthcare reformers have taken a page from the anti-choice playbook:
intimidate, vilify, harass. Or it could just be that familiar anti-choice
hatred cloaked in "family values" seeping through, maddening those of us who
believe in the type of "family values" that would allow everyone’s families to
have healthcare.

 

The
similarities between the tactics of anti-choice extremists and those on the far
right against healthcare reform illuminate a stark reality for Missouri. In a state with only three abortion
providers, a virulently anti-choice legislature, sky-high rates of teen
pregnancy, STI’s, and poverty, we cannot afford to lose the healthcare battle.
A public option including the choice of abortion coverage would mean more hope
for Missouri women and families. Because of the
hate-filled rhetoric that dominated the town hall, there was very little
discussion of the realities of poor, uninsured Missouri families. (Indeed, this crowd would
have agreed with the vociferously anti-choice Missouri state representative Cynthia Davis’s
now famous observation, ridiculed by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, that
hunger is a great motivator). In a room full of people that cheered "Good for
them!" when the Senator read reports of the exorbitant salaries of insurance
company CEO’s, empathy for our struggling neighbors was hard to come by.

 

Obviously, this
crowd was fiercely committed to its self-righteous anger and to little else,
especially a thoughtful discussion about healthcare. At one point, a woman
behind me actually sobbed through furious anti-Obama chants. And then there was
the man who grabbed a woman’s Rosa Parks poster and proceeded to rip it up,
egged on by the cheering crowd. While the healthcare debate provides a
convenient backdrop for expressing disdain for America’s poor and xenophobic
fear of the nation’s first African-American president, these right-wingers are
clearly motivated much more by fear and hatred than actual healthcare or public
policy concerns. Their confused messages, from equating healthcare reform
supporters with Nazis to incoherent mumblings about tort reform, ultimately should
do more to convince us of their desperation than anything else.

So while
Tuesday’s town hall did a great deal to demonstrate that many Missourians are
angry, confused, and perhaps need an eighth-grade civics lesson, it did little
to expose any legitimate objection to reforming a broken healthcare system.
Let’s just hope that Congress is strong enough not to wobble under the threat
of heckler’s vetoes and intimidation. Let’s hope that the lesson of Rosa Parks
herself and not the shredding of her image by an angry troll is what prevails
here. Let’s hope Rosa Parks reminds our legislators not to budge from what is
right.  

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.”

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”