Repro-Brief: State Legislators In New Jersey and Texas Still Can’t Seem to Get Sex Off Their Minds

Robin Marty

State legislators fight to restore family planning funds in New Jersey, while the Texas GOP is unabashed in efforts to limit the rights of all living persons.  One bright spot in New York.

Legislators in New Jersey are working to reverse the governor’s extensive cuts to family planning funding. They propose to reinstate $7.4 million.  It’s a budget-neutral approach that won’t add to the size of the state budget, and might also lead to increased federal funds, according to an editorial in NJ.com.

The governor and the Legislature have worked hard to find consensus on a difficult budget but there’s one more change both sides should come together on: restoring $7.4 million to the state’s family planning program.

And the best part, it’s budget-neutral. State bean counters projected a 10 percent increase in the cost of the state employee drug plan; now they say it will be far less, closer to 4 percent. Sen. Loretta Weinberg and others say that even allowing for a 6 percent increase, that frees up enough money to bring family planning back up to speed.

“That means there is enough to pay for it without new taxes or fees,” said Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union). “It’s redirecting existing funds.”

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The money in question would be used to provide health screenings as well as birth control information and supplies to low-income families, and won’t fund abortions. But, once again, abortion has in any case become a flashpoint of the legislative debate.  NJ.com reports:

Michele Jaker, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said …no state money subsidizes Planned Parenthood International.

[Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris)] said he also objected to Jaker’s testimony that family planning clinics saved the state money in 2009 by preventing nearly 40,000 unintended pregnancies and preventing 19,000 abortions.

“It’s wrong to put a price tag on children. Children are our future. We want more children, not less,’’ he said.

An incensed Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), one of the bill’s sponsors, retorted: “Am I to assume you believe poor women should not have access to birth control?’’

The bill funds the health services by moving money Democrats say won’t be needed from the state employee prescription drug program.

Restoration of the cuts passed 30-10 in the senate, and passed the state assembly by 42 to 22.

Meanwhile, next door in New York, the state is making moves to update legislation regarding a women’s right to choose.  From WGRZ TV:

Groups on both sides of a bill to update New York’s 40-year-old abortion law are pressing their members to contact lawmakers in the final days of the session.

Several religious groups and the state Conservative Party oppose the legislation, saying it would harm women and children.  Pro-choice organizations say that it’s past time to update the abortion law, which was adopted three years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

The bill, first proposed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2007, is in committee in the Assembly and Senate and could get to the floor of each house for a vote before lawmakers end session.  The legislation would move the regulation of abortion from the criminal code to the public-health code, guarantee a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health and use or refuse contraception, and allow third-trimester abortions if a woman’s life or health is in danger or the fetus is not viable.  Unlike Roe v. Wade, New York’s law protects a woman during pregnancy only if her life is in immediate danger.

In the Midwest, anti-abortion groups have now decided to ask for a criminal probe against the practice of tele-med abortion services in Iowa, in an attempt to get them shut down.  Via the Chicago Tribune:

Kansas-based Operation Rescue contends the system violates an Iowa law requiring that all abortions be performed by a physician.

Operation Rescue earlier filed a complaint with the Iowa Board of Medicine, which licenses doctors.

The system is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. It allows a physician in Des Moines to interact via computer with patients seeking abortions in small-town clinics. Once the doctor is satisfied that the patient meets certain criteria, the patient can open a remote-operated drawer, take out the abortion pills and take the first dose as the doctor watches through a monitor.

The challenge is not expected to go far, however, and that leaves Operation Rescue quite unhappy.  From the Des Moines Register:

Operation Rescue said Thursday that it had written Attorney General Tom Miller about starting an investigation.

“Please fully investigate this risky ‘telemed abortion’ scheme, and take whatever legal action is appropriate, including injunctive relief and criminal charges, to protect women from an abortion process that is apparently illegal and certainly dangerous,” the group wrote.

Bob Brammer, a spokesman for the attorney general, said he did not think Miller had received the letter yet. Brammer said the matter was best left to the medical board, which is required to report to law enforcement authorities if it finds evidence that crimes were committed.

Brammer also said Miller’s office generally doesn’t decide on criminal charges in such a case. He said those decisions are made by county attorneys.

Operation Rescue officials said the attorney general should be involved because Planned Parenthood’s system is used in numerous Iowa counties. But they said they were not surprised by Miller’s response.

“The A.G. is knee-deep in corrupt, pro-abortion politics,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.

Finally, the Texas GOP has come up with the cure to sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies — ban sodomy, fight homosexuality, restrict abortion access and keep all forms of family planning and sex education far, far, far from the schools.  The Examiner has the many codified planks in the most recent Texas Republican Party Platform:

  • On homosexuality: “We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases.”
  • On sodomy: “We oppose the legalization of sodomy.”
  • On abortion: “We urge the Texas legislature in its next biennial session to enact legislation requiring a sonogram be performed and offered as part of the consent process to each mother seeking an elective abortion.”
  • On the “Morning After” pill: “We oppose sale and use of the dangerous ‘Morning After Pill.'”
  • On “Parental Rights and Responsibilities”: “We support parental authority and the teaching of moral values in the home. We oppose school– based clinics and/or youth impact centers located at, sponsored by, or funded by any state agency or public school district, whether or not they dispense condoms and contraceptives or refer, aid, or advise minors to have abortions.”

Care2.com’s Steve Williams also points out their other new fun stances (please note I also write for Care2):

The issue of homosexuality aside, the document also notes that the party wishes to reinstate corporal punishment in public schools, raise the age of consent to 18 and ban all forms of pornography. The policy statement also highlights an initiative to have Congress withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations and notes a desire to enact new regulations meaning that children must be taught evolution and global warming as “challengeable scientific theory” (saying it is discriminatory to do anything less). They indicate that they want to overturn Roe v. Wade, to “repeal and reject the national healthcare takeover, also known as ‘ObamaCare’ ”, enact legislation that requires a sonogram for pregnant women seeking an abortion, and demand that the Legislature “provide Texans opportunity to purchase “Choose Life” license plates”.

How deep does the state party want to get into legislating female bodies? Mark Kernes gives a very extensive breakdown:

As one might expect, for Texas Repugnicans, women are second-class citizens … but fertilized eggs (aka zygotes), each less than one-millionth of an inch in diameter, are “unborn children” and “ha[ve] a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed”—and certainly not by those women who carry them! (And by the way, if Texas ’Pugs had their way, Terri Schiavo would still be “alive” and vegetating.)

So, say goodbye to abortion at any stage of an embryo’s development, whether for “gender selection,” “the results of a genetic diagnosis” or, really, any reason whatsoever—and forget about RU-486 or the “morning after pill”; they’re ag’in ’em: “We affirm our support for a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution and to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection applies to unborn children,” the platform says. “We support the Life at Conception Act. We oppose the use of public revenues and/or facilities for abortion or abortion–related services. We support the elimination of public funding for organizations that advocate or support abortion. [Defunding Planned Parenthood is specified later.] We are resolute regarding the reversal of Roe v. Wade. We affirm our support for the appointment and election of judges at all levels of the judiciary who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life. We insist that the U.S. Department of Justice needs to prosecute hospitals or abortion clinics for committing induced labor (live birth) abortion. We are opposed to genocide, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.”

As a stopgap measure, the Party also supports forcing women to have sonograms done of their fetuses before an abortion is performed, and forcing minors to get parental consent for any medical care (including, of course, abortion). It also opposes forcing (as the city of Baltimore did) “crisis pregnancy centers” to make potential “clients” aware, through signage, that they can’t get an abortion there, and that in fact the agency will do its best to dissuade the woman from having an abortion altogether.

But that’s not all!

“Because of the personal and social pain caused by abortions, we call for the protection of both women and their unborn children from pressure for unwanted abortions,” another “plank” says. “We commend the Texas Legislature for the passage of the Woman’s Right to Know Act, a law requiring abortion providers, prior to an abortion, to provide women full knowledge of the physical and psychological risks of abortion, the characteristics of the unborn child, and abortion alternatives.” (So what if those “physical and psychological risks” are fictional, like “depression, grief, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, regret, suicidal thoughts and behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of emotional attachment, flashbacks, and substance abuse,” not to mention, “The risk [of developing breast cancer] may be higher if your first pregnancy is aborted”?)

And speaking of “a free enterprise society unencumbered by government interference,” the Republicans want laws enacted that would deem a fetus to be an “equal victim in any crime”; would require doctors to medicate the fetus for “pain relief” before it’s aborted; would require clinics where abortions are performed to follow the same health regulations as a hospital, and all of the practitioners to have medical malpractice insurance; and would allow everyone from doctors to nurses to med students to pharmacists to hospital janitors and bookkeepers to insurance companies to refuse to have anything to do with performing an abortion (or working with stem cells or assisting a patient to commit suicide) if they objected on the basis of “moral or religious beliefs.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.