VIDEO: Anti-Health Care Reformers Turn to Threats of Violence

Emily Douglas

In a chilling collection of anecdotes, Rachel Maddow last night connected the dots between a handful of instances of threatened and parodied violence against Democratic, pro-health care reform legislators and the known tendency towards violence among the radical right in the United States.

In a chilling collection of anecdotes, Rachel Maddow last night connected the dots between a handful of instances of threatened and parodied violence against Democratic, pro-health care reform legislators and the known tendency towards violence among the radical right in the United States, as evidenced recently by the murder of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.  A staged lynching of a Congressman in Maryland, a mock tombstone with a Congressman’s name on it in Texas, death threats to a member of Congress in North Carolina, weapons carried into town halls — all from health care reform opponents — grimly foreshadow a turn to real violence.

"What is not politics as usual is that opponents of health
care reform have chosen to fight it this time with force and with
threats of force," observes Maddow.  "Not just fringe talk show hosts, but members of Congress are telling their
constituents that Obama like Hitler, that they have a right to be afraid that health care reform is a
plot to kill the elderly."  Maddow asks, "Has enough kerosene been poured on the
flames that the possibility of violence, even assassination, is being
posited as a real political tactic in the United States?"

Maddow’s guest, Dr. Warren Hern, director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic, discussed with Maddow the reality of the extreme right’s resorting to violence.  As Maddow observed, "People in the health care field already face assassination…The possibility of American politics turning to violence is not theoretical."


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Commentary Health Systems

How Abortion Is Being Used as a Ruse to Attack Health Care Writ Large

Amanda Marcotte

States are banning private citizens from using their own money to buy insurance from private insurers if a plan covers abortion. It's part of a larger strategy by anti-Obamacare forces to insert abortion into the debate as often as possible with the goal of stigmatizing health-care reform and killing the Affordable Care Act.

Those of us who were around in 2010 when Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) nearly derailed the Affordable Care Act with his ill-informed demagoguery about abortion largely thought President Obama put the abortion scare-mongering to bed by signing an executive order banning both federal funding and tax credits from being used to fund abortion. As one of those people, I have to apologize for my optimism. I should have realized at the time that the A-word is too seductive of a rhetorical weapon for conservatives to abandon just because their “principled” objection to funding it has been answered. As long as abortion can be used as a cudgel against the Affordable Care Act, then, no matter how thin or nonexistent the “justification,” use it they will.

The latest trend is for Republicans in state governments to try to keep you from using your own money to buy your own private insurance, if that insurance plan covers abortion. Emphasis added, because as much as the word “government” is being thrown around, that is what is happening in this move by states to ban the health insurance exchanges from featuring plans that have abortion coverage. Twenty-three states already ban people from using their own private money to pay for insurance coverage offered by non-government entities that just happen to sell their plans through the health insurance exchanges. Now Michigan anti-choicers are so eager to make their state the 24th that they’re going around the Republican governor to get that done.

As explained by ThinkProgress:

They have been circulating a petition to provoke a “citizen-initiated” vote on the issue, and they submitted the necessary signatures on Friday to do so. If state lawmakers approve the measure, it will immediately become law without Snyder’s signature. And if lawmakers reject it, it’s not dead yet — it will be placed on the 2014 ballot and put up for voters’ consideration.

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Gov. Snyder vetoed the original bill because it basically bans private citizens from using their own funds to buy insurance plans that cover a legal procedure. Let’s be crystal clear about this: When you buy insurance through the health insurance exchange, it’s the same kind of insurance plan you get through work or just buying it on your own. You are privately contracting with a business, and the government is merely facilitating the transaction. This law would be similar to a law banning people from driving to abortion clinics because the public roads facilitate the journey. (Not that I would put that past anti-choice activists as a tactic.) The ostensible reason for banning public funds from being used to pay for abortion is already illogical—since people who oppose war, for instance, still have to see their tax dollars go to it—but this isn’t even about that because tax dollars don’t pay for abortions except in the rarest circumstances. It’s about trying to force private citizens not to contract with private companies to do something legal.

Of course, anti-choice activists don’t want you to understand that aspect. They are hoping that voters see this as a ban on public funds being used for abortion, when in fact it’s a ban on private funds. They’re banking on the fact that there’s a lot of confusion about what the term “Obamacare” means. There’s a lot of confusion out there and it’s clear that most Americans don’t quite realize that, unless you’re on Medicaid or Medicare, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be getting government issued insurance. Right-wing media that talks about Obamacare as if it’s something akin to a national health service only confuses people more. It’s clear that people who are pushing for these bans just hope voters think this is about keeping abortion out of some “government” health care that doesn’t actually exist.

However, this is about more than just confusing average voters. A lot of the reason that conservative activists are casting around, looking for new ways to inject the A-word into the debate over health care is that they need to find a way to shut down objections to anti-Obamacare sentiment from a Christian perspective.

Basically, the Christian right that is so good at marshalling very religious people to support conservative policies is hitting a major point of cognitive dissonance when it comes to the Affordable Care Act. Both evangelical Christians and Catholics alike ostensibly believe that caring for the poor and the sick is important, and to be blunt, Obamacare is strictly about both those things. The most important aspects of the law address two very important things: Making sure everyone has access to health care, and making sure that sick people do not lose coverage. The Jesus of the Bible would be all about this law. When you actually look at its goals, the word “Christian ethics” leaps to mind. Indeed, liberal pundit and born-again Christian Ed Schultz directly said that anyone who doesn’t support this law is not a real Christian, creating all sorts of consternation on the Christian right.

That’s why tying the word “abortion” to health-care reform is so critical for the right: It gives Christian conservatives cover to oppose this law without being sucked into a debate about why they’re opposed to helping the poor and the sick and people in need. When making the “Christian case” for opposition to Obamacare, conservative pundits lean heavily on the abortion thing. Jeffery Kuhner, writing for the Washington Times, said Christians must oppose Obamacare because it “enables U.S. taxpayer funds to pay for abortions.” It was an outright lie, but you can see why he told it. Trying to make the case against health care for the poor is a tough sell to the supposed followers of Jesus. Abortion is all they have.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also tried a similar tactic by using contraception benefits as cover to encourage the government to shut down rather than fund the Affordable Care Act. So much for feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Someone out there is having sex!

While I have no doubt that those pushing these bans on the purchase of private insurance plans hope they will prevent some women from getting safe, legal abortions, this also must be understood as a disingenuous political ploy to attack Obamacare. Conservatives are “borrowing” the stigma of abortion and of female sexuality generally to stigmatize and demonize the Affordable Care Act. Laws like this are about more than abortion, but are an overall attempt to undermine access to health care generally, which means they’re an attack on your insulin shots, your heart surgery, your child’s annual check-up, you name it. It may get tagged as a reproductive rights story, but it’s really a story about access to affordable care for everyone.

Commentary Contraception

Health Care in Our Hands: Celebrating a Decade of Work to Get Emergency Contraception on Store Shelves

Jessica Arons

August 1 is the one-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act regulation requiring no cost-coverage of women’s preventive services—including contraception—going into effect. Now we can also celebrate the fact that Plan B One-Step is finally on store shelves across the country.

August 1 has become an important day for women’s health. Not only does it mark the one-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act regulation requiring no-cost coverage of women’s preventive services—including contraception—going into effect, but now we can also celebrate the fact that Plan B One-Step emergency contraception is finally on store shelves across the country and more accessible than ever before.

Reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates work hard every single day to ensure that women and men are equipped with the tools and information they need to plan pregnancies and determine the course of their own lives. But we seldom take the time to celebrate our victories when they do occur—or to acknowledge and learn from the work that makes victories like August 1 possible.

In the case of emergency contraception (EC), advocates, activists, lawyers, lawmakers, researchers, and health-care providers have been working for more than a decade to make safe and effective back-up birth control available to all—without a prescription, age limits, or delays. Here are some of the highlights from that history:

  • 1995 – Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) board members Felicia Stewart and Charlotte Ellertson champion an “idea” for a product that would prevent pregnancies after intercourse.

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  • 1997 – Sharon Camp, also an RHTP board member at the time, starts the Women’s Capital Corporation, responsible for the development and commercialization of Plan B emergency contraception.

  • 1999 – James Trussell and Marie Bass launch a hotline and a groundbreaking television and radio campaign to educate the public about EC.

  • 2001 – RHTP, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), and groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, submit a Citizen’s Petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

  • 2003 – Two FDA advisory committees overwhelmingly recommend the sale of Plan B over the counter (OTC) without a prescription.

  • 2004 – Despite its experts’ own recommendations, the FDA denies approval of Plan B OTC.

  • 2005 – CRR files a lawsuit, using the Citizen’s Petition and leaked FDA staff review memos.

  • 2005 – After months of internal and external wrangling, Dr. Susan Wood resigns from the FDA in protest of the Bush administration’s disregard for scientific and clinical evidence.

  • 2005 – National Women’s Liberation protests the FDA’s delay in New York City—a tradition that continues into 2013.

  • 2006 – Thanks to the efforts of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Patty Murray, the Bush administration is forced to concede OTC access for those 18 and older in order to get the next FDA commissioner confirmed.

  • 2009 – Judge Edward Korman finds that politics had trumped science, orders the age restriction on OTC access to be lowered to 17, and demands that the FDA revisit its decision on EC.

  • 2009 – The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health publishes a primer on birth control and emergency contraception aimed at Latina women, available in English and Spanish.

  • 2009 – Elizabeth Raymond and colleagues publish research demonstrating that people ages 12 to 17 can use EC safely without assistance from a gatekeeper like a physician or pharmacist.

  • 2011 – In an unprecedented move, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overrules the FDA’s decision to grant OTC access to Plan B One-Step, and CRR reopens its lawsuit against the FDA.

  • 2012 – Tina Raine and colleagues publish findings showing that young people can use EC safely in an over-the-counter context.

  • 2012 – The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists releases a statement calling for the removal of unnecessary restrictions on EC.

  • 2012 – RHTP and other women’s health advocates keep the pressure on with a nationwide social media campaign calling on the Obama Administration to remove restrictions on EC.

  • 2013 – The American College of Clinical Pharmacy issues its support for the elimination of barriers to EC.

  • 2013 – Finally, after Judge Korman kicks up the heat and rules that the FDA must make EC available without restrictions, and the Department of Justice loses an important part of its appeal, we cry “Victory!” as the headlines read, “Feds Cave on EC Age Restrictions.”

Now, because of those efforts and the efforts of so many others, anyone will be able to walk into a pharmacy or grocery store and grab EC from the store shelf. They won’t have to wait or come back when the pharmacy counter is open. They won’t have to be embarrassed to ask for it in front of others or be shamed about needing to use it. They won’t have to show identification or find someone who has identification to buy it for them. Finally, our health care is in our hands.

But while we can claim “victory,” we cannot claim “mission accomplished.” The FDA granted Teva Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Plan B One-Step, three-year market exclusivity for an over-the-counter EC product for all ages—which means that until April 2016, all generic versions of EC will continue to have cumbersome and unnecessary age restrictions. Additionally, the average price of generic EC is $41, only $7 less than the average cost of $48 for Plan B One-Step. Clearly, there is a lot more work to do.

Even so, on Thursday we celebrate. And we honor the hard work, the vision, the creativity, and the perseverance of those who put EC in women’s hands. To them we say, thank you.


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