Daily Pulse: Public Option Is Alive and Kicking

Lindsay Beyerstein

Reports of the death of the public option were greatly exaggerated. In fact, Democrats now have a chance to move further to the left. Also, can reproductive choice help reverse climate change?

Reports of the death of the public option were greatly exaggerated. According to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly, liberals are once again optimistic
that health care reform will include a publicly-run insurance option to
compete with private insurance companies. The main excuse to drop the
public option was that Republicans wouldn’t go for it. As Benen
explains, now that a bipartisan bill is out of reach, Democrats can
move further to the left. Progressive Democrats have convincingly
argued that the public option would save money, which undermines the
Blue Dogs’ opposition for the sake of fiscal conservatism.

The Senate Finance Committee will tackle the public option
tomorrow. Meanwhile, the House Democratic caucus is wrestling over what
kind of public option to support. Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly
rejected a so-called “trigger” which would activate a public option
only if private insurers failed to control costs. “A trigger is an
excuse for not doing anything,” she said.
By contrast, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid supports a trigger. The
views of the Speaker and the Majority Leader are important because they
will lead negotiations to merge the House and Senate versions of the
bill, creating the final text that both houses will vote on.

Meanwhile, in international news, scholars at the London School of
Economics released new research last week showing that reproductive
choice is the most powerful tool in the fight against climate change.
The news broke as nearly a hundred heads of state gathered in New York
for the UN Summit on Climate Change. As Amanda Marcotte notes in RH
Reality Check, the report’s recommendations are sure to spark controversy from both the right and the left:

It’s easy enough to assume that the Obama administration and the Sierra Club are shying away from the issue
because reproductive rights are such an explosive topic, and even
touching it brings a hail of crazy from the anti-sex nuts down on your
head. But I can honestly say that I don’t think it’s the fear of the Anti-Sex Mafia that causes this sort of allergy. It’s
the history of the fear of overpopulation being used as an excuse to
coerce childbirth choices, and the fact that as soon as the potential
for coercion is introduced, you suddenly attract a sea of racists who
love to pontificate about eugenics all day, and would love to be able
to influence policy to reduce the number of non-white people in
relation to the number of white people.

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At Feministing, Ann Friedman argues that the rubric of population control
is irrevocably tainted by its historical links to eugenics and other
forms of racism. She argues that international development should focus
on empowering women for their own sake, not because we hope that they
will have fewer babies.

I agree that the phrase “population control” is a misleading frame.
You could just as easily call it “helping women have as many children
as they want.” The key is that virtually all women want fewer children
than they will bear if nature takes its course. And the more
opportunities women have for education, paid work, and healthy
children, the fewer kids they tend to want. The phrase “population
control” should be scrapped, but the effort to put women in charge of
their own fertility must continue, for the good of humanity and the
planet.

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Analysis Human Rights

For Undocumented Women in Texas, HB 2 Is ‘Life or Death’

Tina Vasquez

A lot has been written about how Texas' reproductive health-care restrictions codified into law in 2013 disproportionately hit low-income women of color and Latinas in particular. What's not been covered by the media, or covered enough, is how HB 2 affects undocumented people.

Read more of our coverage of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt here.

It has been almost three years since abortion providers filed their first challenge to Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law. As we approach March 2, the day the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments for and against Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a lot has been written about how the reproductive health-care restrictions codified into law in 2013 disproportionately hit low-income women of color and Latinas in particular. What’s not been covered by the media, or covered enough, is how HB 2 affects undocumented people.

HB 2 contains multiple abortion restrictions, including a 20-week abortion ban, but on Wednesday the Supreme Court will specifically hear arguments on the regulations requiring abortion providers to be affiliated with nearby hospitals and limiting abortion care to ambulatory surgical centers. The implications of the case are much larger, however. As Rewire has reported, what’s at stake in the case is not just the future of abortion access in Texas, but the impact the Court’s decision will have on clinic shutdown restrictions in states nationwide.

While a person’s citizenship status affects her ability to access health care throughout the United States, this is especially true in Texas, which has the second-highest undocumented population in the country and some of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant laws.

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There are roughly 1.5 million undocumented residents in the state of Texas, 78 percent of whom emigrated from Mexico. Despite concerns from politicians that the undocumented population is growing in the state, as the Texas Tribune reported, the Migration Policy Institute found that it has remained relatively unchanged in recent years, with more than half of the state’s undocumented immigrants having lived in Texas for more than a decade.

As Texas’ undocumented population remains fixed in place, the state legislature has fought to deny this group basic human rights, whether it’s by challenging an Obama administration executive action designed to expand temporary protection from deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants—effectively stopping Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) in its tracks—or pushing to have the state’s family detention centers licensed as child-care facilities with reduced standards. The state’s enactment of HB 2 is yet another example of the way it has targeted one of the country’s most vulnerable communities.

As the Center for Reproductive Rights reported, it is the 2.5 million Latinas of reproductive age in Texas that are disproportionately affected by HB 2, which has closed more than half of the state’s clinics, most of them in predominately Latino areas. Though it’s unclear what percentage of those Latinas are undocumented, what is known is that immigrant women already experience significant barriers when trying to access sexual and reproductive health care and HB 2 only made things worse.

Ana Rodriguez DeFrates is on the front lines of the reproductive rights battle as the Texas Latina Advocacy Network state policy and advocacy director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), one of more than 40 organizations that filed an amicus brief in Whole Woman’s Health. DeFrates says that “without question,” those most affected by HB 2 are the people already adversely affected by current health-care practices and immigration laws.

“We’re a reproductive [justice] organization in Texas and we see every day that it’s the same population of people most impacted that are not invited to the conversation about the policies that impact them,” DeFrates told Rewire. “I can say that ignoring the implications of immigration status [whether a person is a citizen or undocumented] when it comes to accessing health care—especially sexual and reproductive health care—would be to paint a very inaccurate and incomplete picture of what is happening in Texas.”

Since HB 2 went into effect, the southernmost region of Texas—the Rio Grande Valley—has lost all but one abortion clinic, Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen. If the remaining clinic in the Rio Grande Valley were to shut down, the only option would be driving north to San Antonio to the nearest abortion provider, but that’s not really an option if you’re undocumented. Transportation and immigration checkpoints are just two of the hurdles undocumented people must clear under HB 2.

“There are internal immigration checkpoints that exist upwards of 100 miles north of the actual Texas/Mexico border,” DeFrates told Rewire. “If you’re undocumented, you simply couldn’t get to the heart of the state where abortion access is available. And even then, we’re assuming you can take the time off work it would require for the multiple days it now requires because of increased restrictions that now mandate increased office visits and increased wait times.”

“We’re also assuming … that you have the money and means available to travel that distance and that you have child care available to you. It assumes a lot. You cannot separate immigration from HB 2 or bigger conversations surrounding health care. They are operating together and impacting lives together,” DeFrates said.

Advocates in Texas working for organizations like NLIRH are doing more than fighting for access to abortion; they are fighting strong anti-immigrant sentiments. In the state, unions representing Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) work with anti-immigrant groups to undermine immigration policies and promote anti-immigrant views. As the Texas Medical Association reported, legislation from 1986 to 2013 has made it increasingly difficult for undocumented people with chronic illnesses to receive safe and affordable care, forcing them to rely on costly emergency rooms, often after their condition has worsened. Whether Texas legislators set out to target low-income people of color cannot be confirmed, but advocates say intent hardly matters when vulnerable people are suffering.

A few months ago, organizers at NLIRH met a woman who would have to walk 45 minutes from her colonia to the nearest bus stop.

“That is a long walk and she is scared to make that walk because of the increasing number of law enforcement she encounters,” DeFrates said. “She’s scared because she’s undocumented, but she needs to get to that bus because that’s her only way to her health-care appointment.”

The woman told NLIRH organizers that she would rather live with the pain in her abdomen than risk deportation or separation from her family. The woman’s circumstances and concerns call to mind Blanca Borrego, the undocumented mother of three arrested this past September when seeking treatment for a cyst that was causing abdominal pain at Texas’ Memorial Hermann Medical Group Northeast Women’s Healthcare clinic.

The staff member who called the authorities on Borrego because she provided the staff with a fake driver’s license said they were simply “enforcing the law,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Situations like this could be avoided if, like the State of California for example, Texas issued driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Instead, Texas is arguing that President Obama’s deferred action executive order would cause the state to “incur significant costs in issuing driver’s licenses to DAPA beneficiaries.” If an injunction had not been placed on DAPA, Borrego would have been eligible for deferred action.

According to Texas’ attorneys, subsidizing licenses for DAPA beneficiaries would cause the state to lose a minimum of $130.89 on each license issued. But a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that with full implementation of DAPA and Obama’s other executive actions, Texas could see returns of nearly $59 million.

Even before HB 2, things were bad for Latinas and undocumented women, who had few places to turn for contraception and other preventive reproductive health services after 2011 when Texas gutted the public family planning program. Texas invested $50 million in a new program that combines family planning with other health services, like diabetes screening; Planned Parenthood, however, was not allowed to participate. The Center for Reproductive Justice reports that Latinas have far fewer options for controlling their reproduction and are two times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than their white counterparts.

“At best, these policies are ignorant. At worst, they are attacks on our communities,” DeFrates said. “When you look at how many Latinas are dying of cervical cancer, when you look at how many clinic closures occurred as a result of the 2011 budget cuts in Texas where two-thirds of family planning was slashed, when you look at where these communities are and who inhabits them, when it seems no one is considering the needs of low-income people of color, one has to question whether these policies are rooted in racism.”

The majority of cervical cancers are preventable, yet Latinas continue to die without adequate testing and care; they have the highest incidence of cervical cancer among all ethnic or racial groups and the second highest mortality rate. As NBC Latino reported, the situation is even worse for Latinas in Texas, whose rates are 19 percent higher than the national average and 11 percent higher than the national average for Latinas.

“There is no reason in this day and age why you should be dying from this, yet Latinas in Texas are dying at a higher rate than other people. What did the Texas legislature do in response? Instead of ensuring that not one more woman died from this very preventable disease, it cut the number of providers that can participate in the cervical cancer screening program. That directly impacts Latinas and makes it harder for undocumented women to access preventive care, and we told them that. We told them that through organizing, through public testimony at the capitol, yet they moved forward with it,” DeFrates said.

As March 2 approaches, advocates like DeFrates are trying to remain hopeful that the Court will recognize the overarching implications of HB 2 and the ways in which the law puts already vulnerable communities at greater risk. The recent normalizing of anti-immigrant sentiments espoused by those seeking the highest public office—the presidency—can understandably make it hard to remain positive, but DeFrates says it’s imperative to continue fighting.

“For us in Texas, this isn’t a short-term issue. It’s not about one case or an election or whether or not we’re in legislative session,” DeFrates said. “It’s a long-term fight. We’re going to continue centering the lives of those directly impacted because bad things happen when the voices of those most impacted aren’t heard. In Texas, this is really life or death.”

Commentary Media

Duke Students’ Objections to Reading ‘Fun Home’ Aren’t About Trigger Warnings

Dianna Anderson

Regardless of whether the freshmen's objections are legitimate, in my own estimation, co-opting this particular controversy at Duke into a discussion of trigger warnings is to compare apples to oranges.

Each year at Duke University, incoming freshmen are required to read a book together as a class, which will then be discussed in a required literature and culture course that all freshmen take. In past years, the students have read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, and A State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

In April, Duke announced that Alison Bechdel’s award-winning graphic novel, Fun Home, had been chosen for the upcoming year. In the book, Bechdel—the only female author on the shortlist of potential picks—is a lesbian who writes autobiographically about her father’s suicide shortly after she came out at the age of 19. Fun Home contains two drawn sex scenes between women.

Last week, Duke’s student newspaper, the Chronicle, reported that several freshmen were refusing to read Fun Home because they are conservative Christians who object to its content. Although the incident has been and will continue to be conflated with a broader discussion about giving students “trigger warnings” about potentially upsetting material, that is not the case in this instance—and it’s important to make the distinction clear in both media and institutional responses.

In statements taken by the Chronicle from a closed Facebook group for the Class of 2019, freshmen commented that when it came to Fun Home, they felt they would “have to compromise [their] personal Christian moral beliefs to read it.”

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One student commented to the Chronicle that he probably would have read the book if it was a traditional novel but that the nature of a graphic novel turned the experience, well, graphic—pornographic to be specific. Another said she refused to even look at the pages that contained nudity. In an op-ed to the Washington Post, one freshman, Brian Grasso, agreed, writing, “I think there is an important distinction between images and written words. If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it.”

He argues that the problem is not the LGBTQ content, but the “pornographic” nature of the images within the graphic novel—meaning the two depicted sex scenes. His argument seems to be solely restricted to images, arguing, “Professors should warn me about such material, not because I might consider them offensive or discomforting, but because I consider it immoral.”

Objections to content in curricula on school campuses is nothing new, though the debate has increasingly moved from behind closed doors at faculty meetings to longform essays in mainstream publications. Jonathan Chait caused a stir in January when he argued in New York Magazine that the “new” rise in so-called political correctness on college campuses hampered the academic explorations necessary to a leftist point of view. More recently, a psychologist and an academic jointly argued for the Atlantic that the “coddling” signaled by the advent of trigger warnings for material in college classrooms was mentally unhealthy and prevented exposure to ideas and events that are important for a person’s recovery from post-traumatic stress or anxiety.

There is a vast amount of feminist objection to this kind of handwringing. Trigger warnings initially developed as a tool on online feminist message boards for the purpose of creating safe spaces for trauma survivors. The extension of these warnings out into the classroom comes from increasing awareness of the traumas of rape and violence in the lives of American children. Trigger warnings, feminists argue, are a basic level of human decency in the classroom, allowing students to process and engage with material without experiencing uncontrolled exposure to potential triggers of traumatic flashbacks or panic attacks.

This incident at Duke is being roped into this ongoing discussions of trigger warnings and a supposedly overly sensitive culture, in which an individual student’s feelings are more important that the educational value of the material. The difference here, however, is not that the students are trauma survivors who are requesting time and space in which to process their feelings, but right-wing purity culture Christians who insist that not looking at nude images is something they should be free from as part of their religion. Traumatic flashbacks impede classroom discussion by preventing students from participating fully. Objections to nudity in texts for religious reasons, by contrast, could actually inspire deeper discussions of that material if the student still chose to engage in dialogue about it. One is a physiological response; the other is a choice in the practice of religious belief. How the political left responds to this discussion is vital to the consistency and understanding of public narrative about trigger warning and PTSD in the classroom.

It can be very hard to navigate this kind of discussion as freshmen in college, with many of these students likely stepping out of their Christian bubble for the first time. I can see their objections, as I stood in their position once, privately objecting to swear words and inappropriate material in our freshmen composition courses, which were at a Christian liberal arts university. But Grasso’s objections indicate that he doesn’t necessarily see his objection to visually graphic materials changing at any time—which seems particularly naive.

Angus Johnston is a professor at City University New York who frequently comments on the trigger warning debate at his blog, Student Activism. He told me that he doesn’t necessarily object to the student’s decision in this case—sexually explicit images, he feels, should not be displayed in the classroom. However, context does matter: Johnston comments that he takes his students to museums to view art that has nudity in it and such excursions fit within the context of his classroom.

But in his editorial, Grasso commented that his beliefs extend to pop culture and Renaissance art, creating a potential conflict between professor and student. To that, Johnston says, “If a student objects to reading or viewing a work that a professor considers intrinsic to a class the student has signed up to participate in, the two of them have a dilemma that needs to be resolved, and resolving it in an academically rigorous way may require compromise on the student’s part.” But, Johnston says, he doesn’t believe that’s what’s happening at Duke: As Fun Home is a mandatory book assignment for all freshmen, rather than an optional one, Grasso’s objection may actually hold some weight—at least, it does for Johnston.

Regardless of whether Grasso and the other freshmen’s objections are legitimate, in my own estimation, co-opting this particular controversy at Duke into a discussion of trigger warnings is to compare apples to oranges. Trigger warnings and content notes allow students to engage with the texts safely and in a healthy manner, allowing for controlled exposure to those elements of discussion that may trigger an uncontrollable panic reaction in a person who has suffered trauma. In a case of trauma, engagement with the text still happens. A student still reads and engages with the ideas—but does so with caution and a hope for safety rather than being blindsided by texts.

On the other hand, a student objecting to material on religious grounds, as these Duke students have, does not engage with the text as a text and is not requesting special methods of engagement. They are simply refusing to engage at all. If anything, this Duke University incident exemplifies that it is not the leftist desire for content notes and care for trauma survivors that is quashing academic discussion and freedom, but the objections of conservative Christian students who refuse to engage with ideas that may challenge their preconceived notions about sexuality and the human experience.

To be sure, there is a very real fear amongst college teachers, especially vulnerable graduate students who do not have much real power, that a student’s complaint about their work may lead to the demise of their academic career before it even starts. We see this kind of fear in the backlash against trigger warnings, such as in a piece by an anonymous professor for Vox, who wrote that he is afraid of his liberal students.

But often, those complaints come not from those in recovery from trauma but rather from the privileged few who object to reading stories on moral or religious grounds. While working on my first master’s degree at Baylor University, I was charged with teaching two semesters of freshman composition. Our supervisor vetted every single resource we brought into the classroom to ensure that our conservative Christian student base would not be offended or object to the material presented, even if that material would challenge student perspectives. That meant my Jon Stewart clips in the unit on logical fallacies had to be carefully vetted and censored. We had to know exactly where the line was between pushing the envelope and outright breaking it open. To this end, we were instructed during orientation that teachers’ assistants who violated these rules about “clean and safe” classroom materials might find themselves without an assistantship in coming years.

In the discussion of academic freedom and college classrooms, it’s important to recognize that every classroom is different, and that every college has a different mix of students and student needs and ideas. The urge to treat students as a consumerist monolith is strong, but it does not account for the varying ways in which students will approach a text and contribute to the academic discussion. A student who refuses to engage with the discussion inside the classroom altogether is far more dangerous to the continuation of the robust academic environment than the student who requests a little more time and warning to prepare herself before engaging with a text.