Daily Pulse: Interview with Howard Dean (VIDEO exclusive!)

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein's exclusive interview with Dr. Howard Dean, former chair of the DNC and 2004 presidential hopeful, about the prospects of passing health care reform. 


Last night Dr. Howard Dean, former chair of the DNC and 2004 presidential hopeful, appeared in conversation with journalist Joe Conason at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York. Dean discussed his new book, Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Health Care Reform.

Later on, I had a chance to ask Dean about the prospects for passing health care reform in the Senate through budget reconciliation, a parliamentary tactic that would allow the bill to pass by majority vote and thwart a filibuster.

Many Democratic strategists consider reconciliation to be extremely politically risky, but Dean is unconvinced. He argues that passing a bill through budget reconciliation is not only doable, but also likely to result in a stronger bill.

"I’m not worried about doing this through reconciliation," he said, "I think we’ll probably have a better bill if it’s through reconciliation because the people who are involved in the passage of the bill will only be Democrats and a very high proportion of Democrats want a public option."

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View entire interview:

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Commentary Human Rights

Not a Joke: Personhood for Women

Soraya Chemaly

What are you, as a woman, or as a man related to one, willing to trade when you vote for a presidential candidate who signed the Personhood Pledge or a legislator who supports anti-choice "personhood"-based bills?

Melissa McEwan started a Personhood for Women petition suggesting that “a person identifying as a woman and/or having a uterus shall retain all of the full, basic, and fundamental rights of a US citizen as guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence” and urging Senators Patty Murray, Al Franken and Kristin Gillibrand to consider proposing this as an amendment in Congress. It’s not a joke. As far as I can tell, it’s an anti-“personhood for zygotes” (fertilized eggs) petition and important since we are apparently, as a country, electing people who are willing to endanger women’s equality, liberty and fundamental rights.

What are you, as a woman, or as a man related to one, willing to trade when you vote for a presidential candidate who signed the Personhood Pledge or a legislator who supports anti-choice “personhood”-based bills? Are you really going to vote to trade rights for talking points? 

Of the Republican presidential candidates, only Mitt Romney hasn’t yet signed the Personhood Pledge, for which he’s been castigated by the anti-choice movement. Presidential candidates, and those that support personhood, are pledging to do the following:

  1. Give the government the right to seize a woman’s body to protect a fetus
  2. Empower hospitals and doctors, with government support, to force a woman to bear a child and/or have a cesarean against her will
  3. Criminalize abortion (including all circumstances: rape, incest, life-threatening pregnancy, severe fetal deformity)
  4. Criminalize stillbirths in certain situations (who decides which?)
Examples of these state powers are sadly already available.  Case in point: Bei Bei Shuai,  a pregnant woman living in Indiana became so depressed that she attempted suicide. Friends managed to save her, and although Ms. Shuai did everything she could, including undergoing cesarean surgery, her newborn died shortly after birth. She was arrested and charged with murder after her fetus died. She is in currently in prison.  A Free Bei Bei petition was recently launched on Change.org.  If you want to learn more  about the punishment of pregnant women visit National Advocates for Pregnant Women. But, you might want to take an anti-depressant before you do.
In addition, personhood legislation bans most forms of birth control, including pills and IUDs, and in vitro fertilization. Yes, many of these bills outlaw birth control and shut down fertility clinics.

Personhood USA, the center of the movement, believes that a fertilized egg, from the moment of conception, is a fully human person with an inalienable right to life and that its rights and the state’s interest in protecting those rights trump a woman’s. Personhood is how we’re dismantling equality by eroding women’s reproductive rights, passing rape sonogram legislation, taxing rape victims who seek abortions, and criminalizing basic health care. And although personhood bills are being defeated just their very introduction makes anything short of their passage seem like some kind of “gift” that women should be grateful for as opposed to the absurd assault on rights that they represent.

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By signing the pledge these candidates have promised, should they be elected president, to pursue an amendment to the Constitution that would protect the full inalienable “personhood” rights of zygotes from the moment of conception. The candidates are not alone in their support for Personhood for fertilized eggs.  Personhood USA, which is organized, passionate, divinely mandated and literally on a “mission” is gaining momentum every day as evidenced by the 135 plus bills being pursued this year alone in state legislatures across he country.  And, although specific personhood bills are being defeated, related legislation is not and their very introduction makes anything short of their passage seem like some kind of “gift” that women should be grateful for as opposed to the absurd assault on rights that they represent. 

Every time a legislative body champions this cause this is what it is committing women to. I will not, here, discuss the impact on doctors (who may refuse to treat women with ectopic pregnancies for fear of criminal prosecution, for example) or – god forbid – the scientific denialism of people pretending to be doctors in state legislatures and potentially the White House.

What does this look like? Take five minutes to consider:

A woman, like Laura Pemberton was, can be arrested for refusing a life-threatening Caesarian. Yes, a hospital can waive your right to life, in violation of your or your family’s instructions, to save your fetus. Yes, like Melissa Rowland, you can be charged with murder if you have a still-born birth. Yes, your 11-year old daughter, if raped and pregnant as a result, would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term or face criminal charges. And, yes, you can be taken from your home and imprisoned in a hospital to give birth there by a method you do not chose.  The Georgia State Legislature just passed a bill in the House, after a debate involving a conversation about “cows” and “hogs” whose net effect, taken in tandem with other restrictions, will be that some women will end up carry dying fetuses because doctors, facing criminal prosecution, will be unable to perform abortions.  I hope this is worth lower taxes for Clear Channel communications.

Is “personhood” personal enough to be political for you yet? What do these people need to do for this to become a priority? Even socially conservative women must be able to see where this is heading. If not, then at the very least they have to admit to their race and class privileges because primarily wealthy, primarily white women will always be able to find a way to secure a quiet abortion and get basic health care.

The only way to stop this is to vote. I hope, for those men and women considering voting for one of these men, that they understand what exactly what they are trading away on all of our behalves if they ignore this movement. Here’s a handy chart for prioritizing what to trade for women’s rights and human dignity. I was going to spend some time making this chart brighter, flow-charty, colorful and less simple and out-dated looking, but these ideas are simple and a sad rehashing of out-dated debates that have no place in a today’s world.


The rights on the left side of this chart – they have implications for the economy, for government spending, for immigration policy, for taxation, for…everything. But, since this is a “womens’ issue” we’ll just ignore all of those implications, marginalize them, scoff at “single-issue” voters and whiney feminist willfully ignore that there is NOTHING serious and important that isn’t a women’s issue.

I did not add basic health care as a right on this chart because we don’t consider it a human right in this country (never has If Men Had Periods been truer). But, make no mistake, basic health care unrelated to sexual health, for people that are female, is being negotiated away and eliminated entirely as I type. Rick Perry, the Republican Governor of Texas and the Republican Legislature, chose this week to forgo $35 million in federal money to finance women’s health programs because they oppose a woman’s right to chose to have an abortion. As a result, millions of women are losing access to health care clinics, doctors, tests, preventative medicine and more. I love it when people say women like me are single-issue voters when the reality is social conservative politicians are single-issue legislators: the only way to sacrifice women’s overall health care needs and enact physically invasive, punitive medically unnecessary procedures is if you are singularly obsessed with controlling one-dimension of women’s lives: their sexuality. When all you value a woman for is access to and use of her reproductive organs then you end up with the situation we’re in now.

This is how Personhood Movement puts it in it’s deceptively oh-so-benign but none-the-less-dangerous, ethereal, new-agey-music infused video: “Personhood is the new civil rights movement of the 21st century…”these are the times that test men’s souls.” 

Yes, that is CORRECT. These are the times that test men’s souls and strip women of their hard-fought for and fragile rights and dignity. Maybe anyone concerned with the inalienable rights of other people should start with the ones that already exist.

The Personhood movement would have you believe this is a simple matter of stopping bad people from selfishly killing defenseless “children.” But, of course, it’s not. It’s a very complex bio-ethical and legal issue, regarding definitions of “human,” “person,” “nature,” “rights,” “child,” “moral,” “ethical” and more. It includes, god forbid, science. If you care to take the time, it is comprehensively covered in this report by the Coalition for a Secular Government, which even deeply religious people who understand the value of our political system, can embrace. 

These presidential candidates promised to sign away women’s fundamental rights when they signed that pledge and conservative, religiously motivated state legislators are doing the same. Three core Republican beliefs are that:

  • Our country was founded on the fundamental principle that individuals have rights and freedoms
  • Government intervention into the lives of private citizens should be limited
  • Traditional values and freedoms of the American Republic should be reaffirmed

By signing this pledge and by introducing these bills, conservatives, especially Republican who overwhelmingly support Personhood legislation, are either betraying these beliefs in individual rights as the most basic principle of justice in a society or demonstrating that they don’t believe women are included in the definition of full citizens with full rights and privileges. It’s not a matter of rejecting these core beliefs, it’s a matter of rejecting the idea that women – who are not just wombs with legs – are equal under the law as full citizens with rights.

And yes, I added fetal extraction to the chart since I NEVER want my daughters to ask me how I sat still and didn’t take the Personhood movement seriously. 

Personhood adherents, obsessive in their pursuit of a narrowly and perversely applied morality would have no problems positioning forced fetal extraction as entirely within the realm of acceptable practices given what they are suggesting now.  The rational extension of the precedents set by Personhood bills and other related legislation, like rape sonogram laws, mean that states could easily require my daughters and yours to have their fetuses extracted for any number of reasons. Who decides how you gestate and which environment is “best” for a zygote? Or which scenario, since we’re so fascinated with insurance and religious freedom, which aren’t about women’s issues at all, which is more economical and moral? Your gamete-partner? Your legislator? Your employer? Your insurance company? Your doctor? Your judge? Your doofy, aw-shucks, sweater-vested pro-life Senator or ex-Mormon bishop who may yet sign a Personhood Pledge?

Anyone but you. I know – I’m exaggerating because I’m one of those feminist people. All this hand-wringing and clinging to my rights over my own body and human dignity.

Ensuring that women’s rights and dignity are recognized, respected and preserved does not force anyone to use birth control, have an abortion, undergo a dangerous cesarean, use in vitro technology, go to jail if they miscarry or deny the fundamental humanity of another person. Taking away those rights however, does. That’s what supporters of “personhood” for zygotes commit all of us if we don’t take them seriously.  That’s why the Personhood for Women Change.org petition isn’t a joke.  

Our country is not a theocracy (although here’s a test): it is free. Nothing threatens to turn it into one so much as the Personhood movements anti-life, anti-choice, anti-equality very open intent to inform the distribution of rights according to explicitly stated religious beliefs and enlisting our political representatives to be their foot soldiers. Reproductive freedom is a fundamental right.

Weekly Pulse: Kagan Hearings: Gags, God, Guns, and Gays

Lindsay Beyerstein

Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings kicked off on Monday, and her nomination has been met by glum resignation on the left and indifference on the right.

This article was originally published by The Media Consortium, of which Rewire is a member.

Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings kicked off on Monday. Her nomination has been met by glum resignation on the left and indifference on the right, as Adam Serwer notes in the American Prospect.  Kagan is hoping to replace the Supreme Court’s most prominent liberal, Justice John Paul Stevens, who stepped down earlier this week. Progressives are counting on Kagan to shore up the pro-choice faction on the court.

Kagan has never been a judge and she hasn’t published very many academic law opinions. As a result, the confirmation process is leaning heavily on her counsels to President Bill Clinton as a White House adviser, her clerkship with legendary liberal Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and her stint as Dean of Harvard Law School.

Kagan on choice

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Rewire has video of a key exchange in Kagan’s confirmation hearing yesterday, in which Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) pressed Kagan on her views about life and health exemptions for the mother within abortion bans.

“Do you believe the constitution requires that the health of the mother be protected in any statute restricting access to abortion?” Feinstein asked Kagan.

“Senator Feinstein, I do think that the continuing holding of Roe and Doe v. Bolton is that women’s life and women’s health have to be protected in abortion regulation,” Kagan replied.

That’s a good start, but it’s hardly the ringing endorsement of choice that progressives would have hoped. Kagan went on to talk the special case of “partial birth abortion bans,” which she encouraged Bill Clinton to support while he was president. “Partial birth abortion” isn’t even a medical term. It’s a marketing term coined by anti-choicers in their bid to chip away at Roe v. Wade. For pro-choicers, it’s disappointing to see Kagan uncritically buying into that frame.

Title X and the Gag Order

Jodi Jacobson discusses Kagan’s record on choice issues in greater detail at Rewire. She notes that the Center for Reproductive Rights reviewed Kagan’s record and raised many questions about her views on abortion. On the bright side, CRR believes that Kagan would have struck down the Title X gag rule. Title X was established in 1970 to provide public funding for reproductive health care, including birth control.

In 1988, the Secretary of Health and Human Services imposed a so-called “gag rule” that prevented doctors from talking about abortion and required them to refer patients to services for the welfare of “the unborn.” Kagan argued in a 1992 law review article that the gag order violated the First Amendment because the government was trying to silence one point of view while promoting another.

However, in a memo for Justice Thurgood Marshall, Kagan said it was “ludicrous” that a lower court found that the Eighth Amendment guarantees elective abortions for women in prison. Kagan disagreed with the lower court’s finding that elective abortions are “serious medical needs.”

Obamacare all over again

A Supreme Court confirmation hearing is like Shark Week on the Learning Channel. Chum’s up!

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) criticized Kagan for rejecting the fringe legal theory of  “tentherism,” a position that opponents of health care reform have used to argue that Obamacare is unconstitutional. As Ian Millhiser observes in AlterNet, it’s ironic that Sessions also criticized Kagan as an incipient “activist judge.” Embracing “tentherism” would be nothing if not judicial activism. It’s extremely unlikely that any tenther-based challenge would make it to the Supreme Court.

Outside the Senate chamber, anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera is demanding to know whether Dean Kagan schemed to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, reports Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones.

Some Republican senators questioned Kagan about her decision to bar military recruiters from school-sponsored recruiting events at Yale Law School over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. On the outside, a  Yale grad and Republican activist named Flagg Youngblood has taken to the talkshow circuit to complain about how he had to attend ROTC drills at another school. It’s not clear why any of this is Kagan’s problem, seeing as she was Dean of Harvard and took a much weaker stance on military recruiting.

That’s not cooling Youngblood’s apocalyptic anti-Kagan rhetoric, though, Adam Weinstein reports in Mother Jones. “In the last 18 months, the president and his plotting comrades have dragged the United States to the edge of Constitutional oblivion.  America’s in the eleventh hour, and Elena Obama must be stopped from pushing us over the cliff,” Youngblood recently proclaimed.

Part of the plan

Meanwhile in Nevada, Republican Senate hopeful Sharron Angle is in hot water for asserting that women who get pregnant through rape must be forced to give birth because these pregnancies are all part of God’s plan. Good catch by Vanessa Valenti of Feministing.

“You know, I’m a Christian, and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things,” Angle said in an interview with a conservative broadcaster in January.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.