Roundup: Kagan Debate, and New Jersey Republicans Flip-Flop On Family Planning

Robin Marty

The debate over Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination begins, and New Jersey Republicans who voted for family planning funding are now refusing to override the governor's veto.

Even though the results seem almost inevitable, it’s hard to resist a good debate, and senators are giving it their best shot this week when it comes to laying out the merits and pitfalls of Supreme Court Justice nominee Elena Kagan. 

The Associated Press reports:

Democrats and Republicans presented dueling portraits yesterday of Elena Kagan and the Supreme Court she’s seeking to join at the start of a politically charged debate over her fitness to be a justice, making what amounted to closing arguments before a near-certain confirmation vote by week’s end.

Democrats praised President Obama’s nominee as a highly qualified legal scholar who would add a note of fairness and common sense to a court they described as dominated by a conservative majority run amok.

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“She’ll base her approach to deciding cases on the law and the Constitution, not on politics, not on an ideological agenda,’’ said Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He said today’s Supreme Court is populated by “activist conservative members’’ who substitute their own judgment for that of lawmakers.

Republicans countered that Kagan is an inexperienced, disingenuous nominee who would abuse her post by bending the law to suit a liberal agenda.

“I don’t think it’s a secret. I think this is pretty well known that this is not a judge committed to restraint, [or] objectivity,’’ said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Her past actions and testimony indicate she would be “an activist, liberal, progressive, politically minded judge who will not be happy simply to decide cases but will seek to advance her causes under the guise of judging.’’

Sen. Sessions has been working hard on his objections, even sending a letter to his fellow senators in an attempt to woo some nay voters his way.  From the LA Times:

Dear Colleague,

The Senate soon will consider the nomination of Elena Kagan to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. I have fulfilled my commitment to participate in a fair and rigorous committee process. I now write to share my objections to this nominee and to encourage you to carefully review Ms. Kagan’s record. In my view, Ms. Kagan fails to meet the high standard for a Supreme Court appointment: an impartial commitment to the rule of law. Not only does Ms. Kagan have a troubling lack of legal experience as either a judge or a practicing lawyer, but her most extensive experience was as a policy maker or political lawyer.

Ms. Kagan’s lack of legal experience should be of significant concern to any Senator. She has less real legal experience than any Supreme Court nominee in 50 years. Ms. Kagan’s legal experience consists of only two years as a young lawyer in a large law firm, and roughly 14 months as Solicitor General. In light of this dramatic deficit, it is important to examine the actions she has taken during her career and to determine what that says about her possible career on the Court.

Kagan’s confirmation is expected to be easy sailing, with almost unanimous support from the senate’s Democrats and a few Republicans as well.  Then, like always, there is Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, who never met a party platform he didn’t feel the need to buck.  Roll Call reports on some of the pressure Nelson is getting after announcing he will be the only Democratic senator to vote down his own party’s president’s nomimee.

Sen. Ben Nelson is catching a lot of grief from within his party for being the first Democratic Senator in decades to oppose his president’s pick for the Supreme Court. But the Nebraskan is hearing none of it.

“Are they from Nebraska? Then I don’t care,” a defiant Nelson said Tuesday.

Nelson, who for months has broken with his party on a variety of high-profile issues, on Friday became the first Democratic Senator to oppose Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination. Nelson has said Kagan is unfit to serve on the high court, noting her lack of judicial experience and his constituents’ concerns about the installment.

Nelson, who supported Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation last year, argued that Kagan’s previous comments and political positions simply raise too many unanswered questions for him to support her. There are “enough comments made to raise doubts, [and] I’m not in the position to quell those fears. Including my own,” Nelson said.

Sen. Nelson, it should be pointed out, voted to confirm Justices Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

In the meantime, Justice Ruth Bader Guinsberg is looking forward to the nearly inevitable confirmation, when she will then get to serve on a historic, three-woman court.

Mini Roundup: It looks like the family planning money in the New Jersey state budget may be permanently lost, as Republicans who voted for adding the funds are now refusing to override the governor’s veto.

Note: Due to a problem with our feed reader, we are unable to compile our usual list of comprehensive links.  We hope that we will have the issue resolved shortly.  Thanks for your patience.

August 3, 2010

A ‘sham’ executive order and ‘unenforceable’ abortion restrictions – Washington Post

No apologies for being consistently pro-life – Washington Post

With Senate set to consider Kagan, Sen. Sessions blasts her ‘expansive view … – Los Angeles Times

Kitzhaber wins backing of abortion rights groups – OregonLive.com

Kenya sends 18K police to hotspot ahead of vote – The Associated Press

1000 UK Girls Under 12 Prescribed Hormonal Contraceptives Last Year – Lifesite

Herbal Contraceptives Under the Radar – Inter Press Service

The Record: Funding life – NorthJersey.com

NJ Democrats to launch campaign to override Christie’s veto of $7.5M family … – The Star-Ledger – NJ.com

LOCAL COMMENT Kids suffer as Michigan slips deeper into poverty – Detroit Free Press

Texas State Sen. Asks AG To Clarify 2005 Law On Family Planning Funding – Medical News Today

Planning right – The Hindu

NJ GOP lawmakers who voted to restore family planning funds refuse to override … – The Star-Ledger – NJ.com

Effectiveness of birth control – KYTX

Female Birth Control: Once a week patch being tested – 33 KDAF-TV

Time to panic? More preteens are on birth control – Salon

GPs ‘should have bigger role in maternity care’ – WebMD.Boots.com

Tabloids editors need educating in basic medical reporting – The Guardian

Sec. Sebelius Takes On Health Care Challenges – NPR

Federal government announces $42 million in HIV prevention grants – The Hill

Violence, Condom Negotiation, and HIV/STI Risk Among Sex Workers – Journal of American Medical Association

Chinese sex workers protest against crackdown  – The Guardian

Female condoms range from ‘strange’ to ‘natural’ – CNN

Obama to Young African Leaders: ‘Yes, Youth Can’ – ABC News

Victory for midwives: The Midwifery Modernization Act passed – Examiner.com

Planning a home birth? Read this first. – Washington Post

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Legislator Confirms Vote on House Conscience Protections (Updated)

Christine Grimaldi

The Conscience Protection Act would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Act allows providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

UPDATE: July 14, 10 a.m.: The House passed the Conscience Protection Act Wednesday night in a largely party line 245-182 vote. Prior to floor consideration, House Republicans stripped the text of an unrelated Senate-passed bill (S. 304) and replaced it with the Conscience Protection Act. They likely did so to skip the Senate committee referral process, House Democratic aides told Rewire, expediting consideration across the capitol and, in theory, ushering a final bill to the president’s desk. President Barack Obama, however, would veto the Conscience Protection Act, according to a statement of administration policy.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next Wednesday on legislation that would allow a broadened swath of health-care providers to sue if they’re supposedly coerced into providing abortion care, or if they face discrimination for refusing to provide such care, according to a prominent anti-choice lawmaker.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) told Rewire in a Friday morning interview that House leadership confirmed a vote on the Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 4828) for July 13, days before the chamber adjourns for the presidential nominating conventions and the August recess. Pitts said he expects the bill to be brought up as a standalone measure, rather than as an amendment to any of the spending bills that have seen Republican amendments attacking a range of reproductive health care and LGBTQ protections.

The office of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had no immediate comment.

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Pitts’ remarks came during and after he hosted a “Forum on Conscience Protections” in the House Energy and Commerce Committee room to garner support for the bill.

Energy and Commerce Democrats boycotted the forum, a House Democratic aide told Rewire in a subsequent interview.

Legislation Builds on Precedent

Conscience protections are nothing new, the aide said. The latest iteration is a successor to the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (S. 1919/H.R. 940), which remains pending in the House and U.S. Senate. There’s also the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (S. 50) and similarly named bills in both chambers. The fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health, and Human Services funding bill, which guts Title X and Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, includes the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.

At the leadership level, Ryan’s recently released health-care plan mimics key provisions in the Conscience Protection Act. Both would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

The proposals would also codify and expand the Weldon Amendment, named for former Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), who participated in Pitts’ conscience forum. The Weldon Amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against health-care plans based on whether they cover abortion care. Currently, Congress must pass Weldon every year as an amendment to annual appropriations bills.

Administration Action Provides Impetus

There hadn’t been much public dialogue around conscience protections with the exception of some anti-choice groups that “have really been all over it,” the aide said. The National Right to Life issued an action alert, as did the Susan B. Anthony List, to galvanize support for the Conscience Protection Act.

The relative silence on the issue began to break after the Obama administration took a stand on abortion care in June.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights rejected anti-choice groups’ “right of conscience” complaint against California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under the definition of “basic health-care services.” Anti-choice groups had argued the California law violates the Weldon Amendment, but the administration found otherwise.

The California decision reinvigorated support for the Conscience Protection Act, the aide said. Ryan’s earlier health-care plan also specifically references the decision.

“We think this is going to be a big issue for us throughout the rest of this Congress,” the aide said.

Aide Outlines Additional Consequences

Beyond creating a private right of action and codifying Weldon, the Conscience Protection Act contains additional consequences for abortion care, the aide said.

The legislation would expand the definition of health-care providers to employers, social service organizations, and any other entity that offers insurance coverage, allowing them to raise objections under Weldon, the aide said. The aide characterized the change as a direct response to the California decision.

The legislation also broadens the list of objectionable services to include facilitating or making arrangements for abortion care, according to the aide.

The Republican-dominated House is likely to pass the Conscience Protection Act. But the aide did not expect it to advance in the Senate, which would all but certainly require a 60-vote threshold for such a controversial measure. More than anything, the aide said, the bill seems to be catering to anti-choice groups and long-time proponents of conscience clauses.

“The House oftentimes will pass these kinds of anti-choice proposals, and then they just go nowhere in the Senate,” the aide said.