(ACTION) Eyes Wide Open: On Nebraska

Julie Burkhart

In a blatant bid to shut down late-term provider Dr. Leroy Carhart, the Nebraska Legislature overwhelmingly passed a virtual ban on all abortions beyond 20 weeks.

Today, in a blatant bid to shut down late-term provider Dr. Leroy Carhart, the Nebraska Legislature overwhelmingly passed a virtual ban on all abortions beyond 20 weeks. The so-called “Pain Capable Unborn Child Act,” LB 1103 does not only affect women and families from Nebraska. (Nor is it really about fetal pain, a concept that both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologist disavow as a possibility this early in fetal development.)

As Speaker Mike Flood, who introduced LB1103, and anti-choice organizations like National Right to Life have made clear, passing LB1103 in Nebraska is part of a calculated bid. The intention of its supporters is to bring an abortion rights challenge before the United States Supreme Court, where they’re counting on Justice Kennedy to be their swing vote, based on the language he used in his brief from the Gonzalez vs. Carhart decision in 2007. Make no mistake: this is a national issue that impacts us all.

Shutting down Dr. Carhart, one of four remaining late-term providers in the U.S., will not stem the need for late-term abortions any more than did the murder of my mentor and Dr. Carhart’s colleague, Dr. George Tiller, last May. It just means that yet more women all over the country will have no access to safe, legal later termination of pregnancy. That doesn’t mean that women will stop needing or having abortions — only that they’ll go to greater risks and expense to get them.

One of the greatest cruelties of LB 1103 is that it strips parents of their right to make decisions for their families at what should be the most private of moments. Many parents who opt for late-term procedures do so because they find out about severe fetal anomalies late in pregnancy — at or past the 20 weeks specified in LB 1103.

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Take Tim Mosher, who testified before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee this past February at the request of Trust Women PAC. Tim and his wife, Dawn, learned at 20 weeks that their baby was suffering from the most severe level of untreatable Spina Bifida. After consulting with medical experts and their families, they decided, in Tim’s words, that, “We couldn’t force our little girl to live in constant pain and suffering before dying a pre-mature death.” But under LB 1103, if the woman’s life isn’t in danger — one of the few health exceptions in the bill — parents who find themselves in the same situation as Tim and Dawn in the future will be forced to carry these painful, ultimately fatal pregnancies to term.

In the weeks leading up to today’s vote, nearly 1,000 women and men nationwide have signed Trust Women PAC’s petition calling for Nebraska’s legislators to vote against LB 1103 and against government interference into families’ private healthcare decisions. LB 1103 may be destined for the judicial system, but you can still join them in understanding the national implications of this seemingly local bill and taking action. 

TAKE ACTION whether you live in a red or a blue state. Here’s how!

Get involved in a state-level political race in a red state. (Remember, these bills that shut down providers locally, and may go all the way up to the federal level, start in state legislatures!) You can do this by volunteering your time, donating money, providing housing for campaign staff, and supporting third party efforts to defeat anti-choice candidates. Some states to watch for beside Nebraska include New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

It is more important now than ever to understand and act on the implications of seemingly local politics on women and families nationwide. So keep your eyes wide open, sign up for Trust Women PAC’s Action Alerts by subscribing through our web site , and GET ACTIVE on the local level. That’s where bills start that ultimately determine the level of freedom and decision-making afforded to all women and their families across America.  

Editorial Politics

Five Reasons the GOP Can’t Be Taken Seriously on ‘Poverty’

Jodi Jacobson

No summit can fix what ails the GOP when it comes to concern for people struggling to make ends meet, or who no longer have any means whatsoever.

GOP leaders will attend a “summit on poverty” in South Carolina on Saturday. But no summit can fix what ails the GOP when it comes to concern for people struggling to make ends meet, or who no longer have any means whatsoever.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan originally planned the summit in September 2015, when he was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, along with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC). “Poverty” is a recurring theme for Ryan: He talked about it during the 2012 presidential campaign, called for a “new battle plan” on poverty last summer and as speaker mentioned it four times in one of his first major speeches. Interestingly, however, poverty is not listed anywhere on his congressional website as a priority issue or legislative focus. Nor is it prominent anywhere on the speaker’s page. So for now, the rhetoric and the summit feel reminiscent of Ryan’s 2012 staged photo op, when as a vice presidential candidate he “ramrodded” his way into an empty soup kitchen to wash clean dishes for the cameras but stayed far away from the actual people being served.

Poverty also appears to be a popular new topic for GOP presidential candidates floundering about for an agenda that “sells.” As Rebecca Vallas wrote in the Huffington Post:

2015 seems to have been the year of Republicans finding religion on poverty and inequality, with GOP presidential candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former Governor Jeb Bush making major speeches on the subject, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and then-Speaker Boehner (R-OH) lamenting the ever-widening gap between rich and poor in a widely-noted joint interview on 60 Minutes.

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Normally, we’d write a critique of policies after they’d been presented at the summit, and that may be yet to come. But for a party that is persistently disdainful of the working class and those without jobs, it’s hard to take any of the rhetoric seriously, especially given that GOP legislators overwhelmingly voted for a bill to overturn the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood before many of them boarded planes for South Carolina. If the bill had not been vetoed by President Obama, those two actions alone would unquestionably have added to the economic struggles of millions of Americans. Moreover, the GOP has a knack for wrapping the same old policies—already found to worsen poverty and inequality—in new rhetorical packages. Jeb Bush, for example, is apparently now campaigning on a “fix welfare” platform straight out of 1992. So I think a “prebuttal” of whatever policy announcements are planned for Saturday is fair.

Here are a few of the actions Republicans have taken in recent years that suggest their platform won’t fix poverty:

Reinforcing Poverty Wages: From 2013 to 2014, the inflation-adjusted wages of American workers have stagnated across the spectrum, including for those with advanced degrees, despite increased corporate profits and productivity. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this has largely been the pattern, with some temporary shifts, since 1979. EPI notes:

The poor performance of American workers’ wages in recent decades—particularly their failure to grow at anywhere near the pace of overall productivity—is the country’s central economic challenge. Raising wages is the key to addressing middle-class income stagnation, rising income inequality, and lagging economic mobility, and is essential to moving families out of poverty.

Increasing the minimum wage is one critical portion of a larger effort to dramatically reduce poverty, especially among women: The U.S. Department of Labor explains that “89 percent of those who would benefit from a federal minimum wage increase to $12 per hour are age 20 or older, and 56 percent are women.” Nonetheless, in 2014 and 2015, the GOP-controlled Congress twice voted against a federal minimum wage hike. And in recent debates, GOP presidential hopefuls have expressed resounding opposition to increasing the minimum wage.

Ignoring the Role of Medical Debt in Poverty and the Financial Crisis: Good health is critical to personal well-being and to economic productivity. It’s hard, and actually economically counterproductive, for both individuals and for businesses when sick employees come to work. Many people facing chronic or acute diseases also need time off to see a doctor or receive treatment. But health care is expensive, especially in the United States.

And despite enactment of the Affordable Care Act, a longer-term trend of higher and higher deductibles and co-pays has made paying for insurance and for medical care increasingly expensive, a reality that weighs disproportionately on low-income workers. Moreover, health-related expenses contribute to more than half of all personal bankruptcies in the United States. A poll by the New York Times and Kaiser Family Foundation found that health care costs from both chronic and catastrophic illness can leave people with “crushing debt.”

While an increasing number of people, including those with preexisting conditions, are now able to get health insurance under the ACA, the costs of insurance and rate of growth in co-pays has left many others struggling. As has always been the case with other large and sweeping laws, updates and changes need to be made to the ACA to fix gaps and unintended consequences so we can reach the ultimate goal of affordable health care for all. Despite the fact that health care is a critical aspect of poverty reduction and economic prosperity, the GOP both refuses to fix the ACA and has worked ceaselessly to overturn it, voting more than 54 times to repeal it without any backup plan.

Choice in Childbirth: Personal decisions about whether, when, and with whom to have a child have lifelong consequences and are among the most fundamental economic decisions. Having a child when you are in school, for example, may mean you have to postpone or entirely forego your education. Low-wage jobs are precarious as it is; having a child may mean losing work due to lack of options for affordable child care. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the price of child care exceeded the cost of rent in 500 out of 618 municipalities in the United States underscoring just how difficult it would be for a low-income worker to sustain a family and have the supported needed to actually go to work.

Feeding, housing, educating, and providing health care and other necessities for a child is not only very expensive, it also entails a lifelong emotional and physical commitment. It’s a profound personal choice. Worldwide, studies show that access to both contraception and abortion are positively correlated with higher incomes and better personal outcomes. Ironically, while Jeb Bush and other GOP candidates recommendwaiting until you are ready” to have children as one of their recommendations for addressing poverty, they have at the same time been gutting funds for family planning and placing an increasing number of restrictions on access to abortion. If they really believed in addressing poverty, Republicans would pledge to ensure all people have access to both contraception and abortion.

Raising a Family: As noted above, kids are expensive. The average cost of raising a child to age 18 in urban areas of the United States is now roughly $245,000. For this and other reasons, two-income households are the norm, not the exception—a result, as columnist E.J. Dionne has noted, of “an economic struggle highlighting yet again the social costs arising from decades of stagnating or declining wages and growing income inequality.”

All families need and deserve basic choices, including the choice to be home with a new or sick child, or when caring for an ailing family member. And all children, including those who live in low-income households, deserve to have enough food, heat, and a safe place to sleep. Ensuring paid family leave is a critical aspect of broader efforts to combat poverty because so many people at the lower end of the economic spectrum, and especially women, lose jobs for lack of family leave. The GOP, however, lauds family values but consistently votes against actual families. For example, though a majority of U.S. voters support legislation guaranteeing paid family leave, the GOP has consistently voted against it. And today’s crop of GOP presidential contenders all oppose legislation to ensure paid family leave.

Education and Student Debt: As a social good, education is critical. While individual opportunities vary from one field to another and one city or state to another, on the whole, education is vital for economic success. High rates of student debt and high rates of interest paid on those debts have, however, kept many from paying off their student loans or getting an education in a different field of expertise, therefore limiting their ability to advance economically. Still, the GOP has several times voted against bills, including those introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), that would have allowed students to refinance their debts from rates of 6 to over 10 percent interest to under 4 percent interest. While they’ve rejected these plans, congressional Republicans have not presented an effective plan to lower the burden of student debt.

So as Republican leaders convene in South Carolina, remember that the GOP has consistently made clear, through its legislative and policy choices (and I’ve only noted a few) and through its rhetoric, that it has little actual concern for people living in poverty and those who are most economically vulnerable. If you follow the axiom, “It’s not what they say, it’s what they do,” the GOP has done a whole helluva lot to undermine the economic prospects of those who are not male, not white, and not wealthy. Republican congressional leaders and presidential candidates as a whole not only don’t seem to care much about poverty, they don’t seem to understand what factors push people into poverty and keep them there. And they certainly don’t appear to understand what it would really mean to address poverty, yet are eager to exacerbate many of the problems that contribute to it in the first place.

News Politics

Nebraska Governor Contradicts Findings of Planned Parenthood Investigation He Launched

Teddy Wilson

State investigators focused on the clinics’ handling of fetal tissue and found no evidence of wrongdoing, no different than the results of state investigations around the country.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in August directed officials from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to conduct surprise inspections of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s clinics in Lincoln and Omaha.

The governor ordered the inspections in response to the release of surreptitiously recorded videos of Planned Parenthood employees by the anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which has coordinated with GOP lawmakers on the state and federal level.

State investigators focused on the clinics’ handling of fetal tissue and found no evidence of wrongdoing, no different than the results of state investigations around the country.

However, nearly two months after state investigators completed the investigation, Ricketts penned a column attacking Planned Parenthood and repeating dubious claims made by CMP that have been repeatedly debunked, including by the investigation he ordered. 

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“Videos from this investigation revealed top Planned Parenthood doctors negotiating prices for the body parts of aborted babies,” Ricketts wrote on October 9, repeating a claim that has been discredited by a range of observers.

The three-day inspection began at both clinics on August 18, and after officials interviewed clinic staff and reviewed documents including patient lists and incident reports, they concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

Sue Ellen Wall, board member of Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska, wrote in an op-ed that Ricketts had perpetuated the allegations against Planned Parenthood while failing to release the results of the investigation to the public.

“Nebraskans deserve the truth, Gov. Ricketts, even when it doesn’t fit your agenda,” Wall wrote.

Unlike many of the other investigations ordered by Republican governors, there was no announcement of the investigations in Nebraska. The Ricketts administration had not made any official announcement of the results of the investigations.  

Omaha clinic director Brenda Hervey told the Lincoln Journal Star that investigators were particularly interested in speaking with staff members that handled fetal tissue. “They wanted to make sure they talked to those people,” Hervey said.

The investigators found that the clinics had not filed the required reporting statistics with the state, but those discrepancies have since been remedied.

State investigators observed staff members handling fetal tissue. Jennifer Warren-Ulrick, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s director of health services, told the Lincoln Journal Star that the organization offered state officials the chance to observe abortion procedures, which they declined.

“If they want to come in and look at our office and our procedures, then they can absolutely do that,” Warren-Ulrick said. “We know that we follow the rules … We know that we’re not doing anything wrong.”

A lead investigator concluded the clinic was operating in accordance with the law. “She was convinced that we were not doing anything improper or illegal with our fetal tissue.,” Hervey said.

State investigators also inspected a Bellevue clinic operated by independent abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart, and like the two Planned Parenthood clinics, found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

However, unlike the inspections conducted at the Planned Parenthood clinics, the inspection of Carhart’s clinic was not conducted at the direction of the governor but instigated by complaints against the clinic. Who made the complaint or the substance of the allegations against the clinic is unknown.

Investigators found three regulatory violations regarding the maintenance of clinic equipment, and state officials reported that the violations had been corrected after a follow-up inspection of the clinic on October 13.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland spokeswoman Angie Remington told the Lincoln Journal Star that she was surprised there wasn’t the same level of outcry for investigations in Nebraska that there has been in other states.  

“Lawmakers aren’t demanding an investigation. Our opposition has not publicly called for an investigation,” Remington said. “Yet everyone has no problem letting the abhorrent claims against [Planned Parenthood] go unchecked.”

Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, told the Lincoln Journal Star that she was pleased the clinics were inspected without prior notification.

“It’s good to know that DHHS is actually going inside Nebraska abortion facilities and doing some type of investigation,” Schmit-Albin said. “That sounds more aggressive than what has happened in the past.”

Nebraska Right to Life had been “in communication with several top elected officials” in the state, including the governor, according to the organization’s September newsletter.

Schmit-Albin said that legislation is needed to increase oversight and regulatory requirements of abortion clinics, such as a bill introduced in the GOP-majority state legislature this year to require clinics that provide abortion services meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

The anti-choice group is working with a state lawmaker ahead of the 2016 legislative session to draft a bill that would criminalize a common medical procedure used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions.

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