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.

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Commentary Health Systems

President Obama: Women Stood for You. Stand With Us and Remove Abortion Restrictions From Your Budget

Ashley Hartman

We put President Obama into office. Now my generation must hold Obama accountable to his commitments, including urging him to submit a budget to Congress without unfair restrictions on coverage for abortion care. Obama Administration, take note that women will be watching to see if you live up to your commitments to women’s health care.

This election, I was proud to work with many young people to engage our communities and campuses in the issues that impact us. One issue that engaged many young women in the election work I did this year in Ohio was access to health care, especially pregnancy related services, such as pre- and post-natal care, maternity care, and abortion care. Sixty-five percent of 18-to-24 year-olds believe abortion should be legal all or most of the time, which is higher than any other age group. I am lucky to have employer-funded health insurance that allows me to access a full range of preventive services, including all pregnancy-related services.

Sadly, not all women—even women with insurance—have access to these services. Current law unfairly limits insurance coverage for abortion for women with government-funded insurance. This is because federal dollars are withheld from covering a woman’s abortion except in limited circumstance. 

It seems unfair to withhold insurance coverage or try to influence a woman’s decisions about whether to end a pregnancy just because of the type of insurance she has. These are decisions best made by a woman, her family, faith and doctor, not politicians. 

These laws also put the lives of women at risk. When a woman is pregnant, it is important that she has access to safe medical care. Providing insurance coverage insures she will be able to see a licensed, quality health care provider. 

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Even if we don’t personally agree with abortion, it is  unfair to restrict insurance coverage, or try to influence a woman’s decision about whether to end a pregnancy, just because she has government-funded health insurance.

I care about women in Ohio, which is why I supported Barack Obama. He pledged to ensure all women have access to essential reproductive health care services. 

Women and youth voters played a huge impact in Obama’s win this year. Not only did young people, 18-to-24 turn out for the president in 2008, they continued to turn out for him as they entered their late twenties. This demonstrates how important issues such as insurance coverage for abortion are to this generation. 

Now my generation must hold Obama accountable to his commitments. That includes urging President Obama to submit a budget to Congress without unfair restrictions on coverage for abortion care. Obama Administration, take note that women will be watching to see if you live up to your commitments to women’s health care.

Commentary Contraception

Sex, Lies, Contraception, and a Really Awful Video

Amy Phillips Bursch

After watching an anti-choice video on contraception, I decided to debunk it. Surprise! It's full of lies.  

Part of my job with a family planning advocacy organization involves keeping an eye on what the other side is up to, crazy videos included. And this one is a real doozy.

The video, called “You Deserve to Know the Truth: Contraception” (catchy!) was uploaded to YouTube by an organization called Come Unity in Truth on Sept. 26 and mentioned by @LifeSite as a “GREAT new teaching video on the harms of contraception.”

Well, I have a few words for it, and “great” isn’t one of them. Perhaps “misleading.” “Ridiculous.” “Offensive.” And plain old “wrong.” Here are the “facts” it gives:

  • When women use the birth control pill, they are no longer desirable to men. While some studies have shown that altering women’s hormones might slightly change the laws of attraction, humans aren’t animals. We don’t solely rely on hormones when choosing mates. Yet the video’s makers present this laughable scenario:  “What’s a man to do when the majority of women are contracepting, and he no longer finds them desirable?” More women than ever are using IUDs. Perhaps our poor man will meet one of them?
  • Because of that, women who use contraception have to dress all naughty to get male attention. In the video’s words: “contracepting women degrade themselves through immodest dress” in order to make up for the fact that men don’t find them attractive anymore. See! Rush Limbaugh was right!
  • The World Health Organization has classified contraception as a Class 1 carcinogen. Yes, sort of. The WHO says that combined estrogen and progestin can slightly increase the risk of liver, breast and cervical cancer, but they also PROTECT against endometrial and ovarian cancer. And the studies were done on pills with up to 4 times the amount of hormones women take in today’s oral contraceptives. These are very small relative risks that are found with most forms of medication. Watched a Cialis commercial lately?
  • The inventor of the birth control pill blames his invention for “demographic catastrophe.” Completely false. Carl Djerassi debunked that here in 2009. The anti-contraception crowd knowingly takes him out of context.
  • “We’re contracepting ourselves out of existence.” Not even close. There are 7 billion people on the planet now, as I mentioned before. The United Nations projects that we’ll have at least 9 billion by 2050 – and possibly even 11 billion if everyone watches this video. I’ve never been good at math, but I do know that 11 is bigger than 7.
  • 30-150 million children have died because of IVF. Only if by “child” you mean “embryo,” and even that appears to be a major exaggeration.
  • Contraception “pollutes the heart” and rejects the “will of God.” The video also says that with contraception, “we allow passion to take over reason, and our actions become more like animals than humans,” and that contraception will lead to bestiality and pedophilia. The old slippery slope argument.
  • Sterilization has resulted in 223 million infertile couples. Stop me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t that’s the whole point of sterilization?
  • “If you had a valuable racehorse, because of its worth, you would want it to have as many offspring as possible.” Last time I checked, I’m not a racehorse.
  • “We should want to procreate – knowing that every person has a unique and immortal soul.” Well, many people DON’T want to have kidsfor a variety of reasons. Videos like this one try to make them feel bad about it, but there’s nothing wrong with it. No source was provided for the “unique and immortal soul” part. Imagine that!
  • “Pregnancy is not a risk – it’s a privilege.” Untrue. Pregnancy is always a risk. Depending on where you live and the care you receive, it can be a huge risk. Complications include ectopic pregnancy, fetal growth restriction, gestational hypertension, incompetent cervix, miscarriage, placenta accreta, placental abruption, RH factor, gestational diabetes, hyperemesis gravidarum, placenta previa, preeclampsia, toxoplasmosis and fistula, to name a few.

The video ends with this gem: “If someone you know is contracepting, tell them to stop. It will destroy them.” Unlike unintended pregnancies and unwanted children, which are totally awesome!

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So … seen any good movies recently?