Abortion Foes Set New Sights on 2010 Elections

Wendy Norris

A trio of anti-choice religious groups recently hosted a national teleconference describing their plan to elect ultraconservatives at the state and federal levels in 2010.

A trio of anti-choice religious groups outlined their plans in a recent national teleconference to avenge a recent series of stinging legislative rebukes in Congress.

Forget the health care reform burr in their saddle. They’re going for the big guns — promoting ultraconservative state and federal candidates in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. People who could have an important role in watering down regulatory language before the complex new health reform law fully kicks in over the next four years.

Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life led the call featuring institutional anti-choice activists Douglas Johnson and Ernie Ohlhoff from the National Right to Life Committee and Focus on the Family Action lobbyist Tim Goeglein.

It would be easy to dismiss the male-dominated strategy call as typical fear-mongering politics. They don’t have the weight of say U.S. Chamber of Commerce fat cats who will reportedly spend $50 million on electoral races this year to boost ideologically-preferred anti-tax candidates.

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But between the three tax-exempt groups they raked in a lot of dough of their own. In 2008, their collective coffers swelled to $31 million largely from private donations by conservative single-issue anti-choice voters whom they can rally to the polls and to their checkbooks.

And as these groups know well in the game of bare-knuckle politics the burden of truth should never gets in the way of a good sound bite.

Case in point: the supreme irony of RTL’s Johnson falsely alluding to the Obama Administration’s secret plan to ration Medicare and enact death panels while his organization schemes to actually deny reproductive health care to women.

And through their proxies in Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) they nearly succeeded in bringing the whole landmark bill down.

While they’re stoking fears that taxpayers will be on the hook for “abortion surcharges” hidden in their own insurance premiums to cover the uninsured deadbeats, pro-choice advocates should expect to be joined by a new foe on the block — community health centers.  Multiple remarks on the call point to a new litmus test of opposing public health care for the destitute for forthcoming conservative candidates to earn the Religious Right’s vote.

Right wing talkers are already flapping their gums that publicly funded medical clinics are not subject to the Hyde Amendment which bars federal dollars from financing abortion services except in limited circumstances.

Except it’s categorically untrue, according to a U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services memo obtained by Mother Jones magazine and the testimony of multiple health and legal experts. Besides the pesky fact that community health clinics don’t perform abortions — despite Johnson’s fictitious claims that the abortion pill, Mifepristone (RU 486), will be freely distributed. Presumably on the super-secret, double-dog-dare direct order of President Barack Obama and his handmaiden Planned Parenthood of America president Cecile Richards.

What does that mean for the summer and fall leading up to Election Day?

The cynical public relations ruse declaring “Black Children Are an Endangered Species” that was recently test marketed in Georgia will likely metastasize to other states. Only now “community health center” will become right wing code to attack health care for minorities and low income people under the guise of a so-called pro-life agenda.

And the most likely home for this unconscionable message — churches.

Pavone and Ohlhoff each devoted significant amounts of time on the call encouraging listeners to lobby their pastors with prepared materials for parishes to conduct what can only be described as non-partisan-in-name-only electoral activities and pre-written sermons on conservative social issues to rally church-goers to the polls.

But quite honestly those tactics are nothing new since the obdurate rise of the fundamentalist faith-fueled political movement of the 1980s. A “moral majority” of slippery televangelists and political operatives that declared war on anyone and anything that fell outside the narrow confines of the traditional family unit — the frequently divorced, corrupt and sexually licentious among their merry band excepted, of course.

No, what’s far more interesting is witnessing the theological oil and water melding of conservative evangelical Protestants and orthodox Catholics. Their mutual fanaticism over defeating the health care reform bill forged the two factions into a virtually indistinguishable emulsion of brute political force and Dominionist culture warriors.

Call it 2,000 years of well-honed Vatican politics weds the youthful, smooth-talking, prosperity preaching global religious movement with deep ties at every level of public life. The C Street gang has nothing on this holy union of political convenience.

That certainly helps explain Pavone’s fawning over Goeglein who joined the hour-long call 53 minutes late.

He reportedly couldn’t break away from the Susan B. Anthony List bas featuring Minn. Gov. and 2012 GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty and anti-choice luminaries Minn. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and former Colo. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave.

A special assistant to President George W. Bush, Goeglein was described as[Karl] Rove’s legman on the right ” until he resigned in disgrace over plagiarism charges. Focus on the Family hired him shortly thereafter in 2009 to be “its eyes and ears in Washington.”

Besides shoring up the single-issue, anti-choice conservative base with a former White House powerbroker comes a jaw-dropping effort to influence international lawmakers. Another of Pavone’s spin-off groups, Gospel of Life Ministries, is now housing the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues.

Led by long-time Capitol Hill maven Marie Smith, wife of Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the tax-exempt group advocates anti-choice policy and writes sample legislation for conservative lawmakers around the world.

The Smiths — both ultraconservative Catholics — have close connections to the well-heeled conservative political and corporate elite across the globe. Rep. Smith, who has served 15 terms in office, chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus and is the senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the ranking subcommittee member overseeing Africa and global health issues.

He was also the proud recipient of the Distinguished Community Health Defender Award by the National Association of Community Health Centers, according to his official biography.

But that didn’t stop him from joining fellow GOP lawmakers in attacking the health care legislation on the House floor. Smith told the Camden, N.J., Post-Courier that Republican members would have voted for it if it was “a good bill.”

“Instead, blunt force is being applied like a vice grip to convince the unconvinced and undecided to cave, conform and capitulate,” Smith said.

Much like the coercive tactics Pavone and his newfound friends will be applying from the pulpit and in the smoke-filled rooms to extract vows of anti-choice and anti-public health fealty from political hopefuls in the coming elections.

Is it Nov. 2 yet?

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.

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

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