Defense Bill Block Slashes Abortion Access, Gay Rights And Immigrant Rights

Amie Newman

Republicans block a vote on the Defense Authorization Bill and refuse to allow consideration of the rights of servicewomen seeking abortion care - with their own funds; the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, allowing gay military members the right to live openly and freely while serving this country; and the DREAM Act which allows young immigrants a pathway towards citizenship by going to college or joining the American military.

Republicans managed a triple-play yesterday when, in one fell swoop, they stomped on the rights of many of our servicewomen and men, as well as immigrants who have come to America without the proper paperwork, seeking a college education and/or an opportunity to serve in our military and a path to citizenship. By blocking a vote on the Defense Bill yesterday, by a vote of 56-43, Republicans refused to consider three key amendments included in the bill.

The Burris Amendment, if passed, would have allowed those women who serve our country access to abortion care on military bases. The DREAM Act proposes to provide college- or military-bound immigrants, in this country, a green card. Finally, the most well known of the measures, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), which allows gay servicemembers to serve in the military only as long as they don’t “reveal” their homosexuality, would have been repealed.

Two Democrats from Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln and Senator Mark Pryor voted with Republicans.

The bill has been more politicized than ever before precisely because of these amendments. According to the Denver Post,

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Although the House of Representatives included repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in its version of the bill, it will now be much harder to get the provision in a final version this year. Prospects for repeal will get even more complicated if Democrats suffer significant election losses in November, advocates fear.

“The whole thing is a political train wreck,” Richard Socarides, a former White House adviser on gay rights during the Clinton administration, told The Associated Press.

Socarides said President Barack Obama “badly miscalculated” the Pentagon’s support for repeal, while Democrats made only a “token effort” to advance the bill.

“If it was a priority for the Democratic leadership, they would get a clean vote on this,” he told AP.

The Defense Bill is, of course, critically important to ensuring the safety and well-being of our servicemembers. Among other things, it provides for a 1.4 percent pay increase, as well as $725 billion for the Pentagon, which includes $159 billion for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s difficult to see, then, why Republicans are standing in the way of a vote.

Not only did a federal judge, last month, rule Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell unconstitutional but a poll in May of this year shows a majority of Americans support repealing the policy. As well, some of the Republicans who now refuse to vote on the Defense bill, actually support the DREAM Act. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett voted to include the DREAM act in the 2007 Defense Authorization Bill. Even more astounding, although Sen. John McCain voiced extreme opposition to what he feels is a political ploy on the part of Democrats, Think Progress notes,

“according to military experts and the Department of Defense’s FY2010-12 Strategic Plan, the DREAM Act’s service component is a vital objective to help the military “shape and maintain a mission-ready All Volunteer Force.” In fact, according University of California, San Diego’s Jorge Mariscal, “the Pentagon helped write the DREAM Act.

As for DADT? Think Progress notes, the opposition, on the part of Republicans, to including a repeal  in the bill is at best “hollow”,

Senate Republicans’ chief arguments against the inclusion of the DADT repeal and the DREAM Act in this year’s defense authorization bill centered on claims the DADT repeal superseded Pentagon review and that the DREAM Act was wholly irrelevant to national defense and the military. While previously supporting the repeal, McCain blasted Democrats for trying to “jam” it through “without even trying to figure out what the impact on battle effectiveness would be.” Sens. Scott Brown (R-MA) and George Voinovich (R-OH) concurred, insisting that the repeal was “premature” and should “wait for the Department of Defense to issue its report” in December. However, the DADT compromise agreed to by the Senate Armed Services Committee in May explicitly states that while the repeal would be attached to this year’s defense authorization bill, implementation would be delayed until Congress has considered the Pentagon’s review, and military officials certify that the repeal is “consistent with the military’s standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruitment and retention.” If these requirements are not met, the DADT policy “shall remain in effect.”

The final measure included in the Defense Authorization bill is the Burris Amendment. The amendment seeks to ensure that servicewomen who are in need of abortion care are able to access that care at a military hospital. Currently, military hospitals will only perform an abortion in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, of if the woman’s life is threatened by the pregnancy. The amendment does not, despite wholly false mainstream media news outlets’ and far right anti-choice advocates’ claims, ask taxpayers to pay for abortion care. It only seeks to provide for military women access to abortion care on military bases, should they need it. The patient is responsible for covering the cost, herself. Media Matters dissects the deceit in a Washington Times oped where anti-choice activist Denise Burke repeatedly claims that taxpayer funds would be used to fund abortion care on military bases. In fact, while the Hyde Amendment – federal law for almost forty years – bars taxpayer money for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the mothers life is threatened by the pregnancy, the Burris Amendment is different. From Media Matters,

Contrary to Burke’s assertion, the Burris amendment removes the section of Title 10 of the U.S. Code that states, “No medical treatment facility or other facility of the Department of Defense may be used to perform an abortion except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” But it maintains the following section:

Funds available to the Department of Defense may not be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term. 

According to SharonMD on Rewire, when the Hyde Amendment took effect, since servicewomen on military bases (especially in foreign countries) were not even able to access abortion using their own funds, many women did (and still do) turn to “DIY” abortions or unsafe care,

A 26-year-old marine detailed her experience of attempting to provoke an abortion on her own while serving in Iraq on the online magazine, Religion Dispatches:

You hear these legends of coat-hanger abortions…but there are no coat hangers in Iraq. I looked.

In 2002, retired Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy bravely published a letter in support of access to privately funded abortions at US military bases.  She had seen her colleagues undergo traumatic experiences merely to access the same care all American women have the right to receive.  She recounts the experience of a young woman serving in Germany who had to venture off base to obtain a safe abortion:

The experience had been both mortifying and painful….no pain killer of any sort was administered for the procedure; the modesty of this soldier and the other women at the clinic had been violated (due to different cultural expectations about nudity); and neither she nor the soldier understood German, and the instructions were given in almost unintelligible English.

This is not the end of any of these measures, of course. Democrats will continue fighting for passage of a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; for the DREAM Act; and the Burris Amendment. All three of these measures have traveled long and bumpy roads, with no sign of dying on the vine, however. This latest blockade, on the part of the Republicans, makes things more difficult. And what many had thought would be a done deal – repeal of DADT – is now turning into yet another leg of a long journey. If Democrats do not manage to keep a majority in Congress, this fight is far from over.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

Culture & Conversation Family

‘Abortion and Parenting Needs Can Coexist’: A Q&A With Parker Dockray

Carole Joffe

"Why should someone have to go to one place for abortion care or funding, and to another place—one that is often anti-abortion—to get diapers and parenting resources? Why can’t they find that support all in one place?"

In May 2015, the longstanding and well-regarded pregnancy support talkline Backline launched a new venture. The Oakland-based organization opened All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center, a Bloomington, Indiana, drop-in center that offers adoption information, abortion referrals, and parenting support. Its mission: to break down silos and show that it is possible to support all options and all families under one roof—even in red-state Indiana, where Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence signed one of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion laws.

To be sure, All-Options is hardly the first organization to point out the overlap between women terminating pregnancies and those continuing them. For years, the reproductive justice movement has insisted that the defense of abortion must be linked to a larger human rights framework that assures that all women have the right to have children and supportive conditions in which to parent them. More than 20 years ago, Rachel Atkins, then the director of the Vermont Women’s Center, famously described for a New York Times reporter the women in the center’s waiting room: “The country really suffers from thinking that there are two different kinds of women—women who have abortions and women who have babies. They’re the same women at different times.”

While this concept of linking the needs of all pregnant women—not just those seeking an abortion—is not new, there are actually remarkably few agencies that have put this insight into practice. So, more than a year after All-Options’ opening, Rewire checked in with Backline Executive Director Parker Dockray about the All-Options philosophy, the center’s local impact, and what others might consider if they are interested in creating similar programs.

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Rewire: What led you and Shelly Dodson (All-Options’ on-site director and an Indiana native) to create this organization?

PD: In both politics and practice, abortion is so often isolated and separated from other reproductive experiences. It’s incredibly hard to find organizations that provide parenting or pregnancy loss support, for example, and are also comfortable and competent in supporting people around abortion.

On the flip side, many abortion or family planning organizations don’t provide much support for women who want to continue a pregnancy or parents who are struggling to make ends meet. And yet we know that 60 percent of women having an abortion already have at least one child; in our daily lives, these issues are fundamentally connected. So why should someone have to go to one place for abortion care or funding, and to another place—one that is often anti-abortion—to get diapers and parenting resources? Why can’t they find that support all in one place? That’s what All-Options is about.

We see the All-Options model as a game-changer not only for clients, but also for volunteers and community supporters. All-Options allows us to transcend the stale pro-choice/pro-life debate and invites people to be curious and compassionate about how abortion and parenting needs can coexist .… Our hope is that All-Options can be a catalyst for reproductive justice and help to build a movement that truly supports people in all their options and experiences.

Rewire: What has been the experience of your first year of operations?

PD: We’ve been blown away with the response from clients, volunteers, donors, and partner organizations …. In the past year, we’ve seen close to 600 people for 2,400 total visits. Most people initially come to All-Options—and keep coming back—for diapers and other parenting support. But we’ve also provided hundreds of free pregnancy tests, thousands of condoms, and more than $20,000 in abortion funding.

Our Hoosier Abortion Fund is the only community-based, statewide fund in Indiana and the first to join the National Network of Abortion Funds. So far, we’ve been able to support 60 people in accessing abortion care in Indiana or neighboring states by contributing to their medical care or transportation expenses.

Rewire: Explain some more about the centrality of diaper giveaways in your program.

PD: Diaper need is one of the most prevalent yet invisible forms of poverty. Even though we knew that in theory, seeing so many families who are struggling to provide adequate diapers for their children has been heartbreaking. Many people are surprised to learn that federal programs like [the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC] and food stamps can’t be used to pay for diapers. And most places that distribute diapers, including crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), only give out five to ten diapers per week.

All-Options follows the recommendation of the National Diaper Bank Network in giving families a full pack of diapers each week. We’ve given out more than 4,000 packs (150,000 diapers) this year—and we still have 80 families on our waiting list! Trying to address this overwhelming need in a sustainable way is one of our biggest challenges.

Rewire: What kind of reception has All-Options had in the community? Have there been negative encounters with anti-choice groups?

PD: Diapers and abortion funding are the two pillars of our work. But diapers have been a critical entry point for us. We’ve gotten support and donations from local restaurants, elected officials, and sororities at Indiana University. We’ve been covered in the local press. Even the local CPC refers people to us for diapers! So it’s been an important way to build trust and visibility in the community because we are meeting a concrete need for local families.

While All-Options hasn’t necessarily become allies with places that are actively anti-abortion, we do get lots of referrals from places I might describe as “abortion-agnostic”—food banks, domestic violence agencies, or homeless shelters that do not have a position on abortion per se, but they want their clients to get nonjudgmental support for all their options and needs.

As we gain visibility and expand to new places, we know we may see more opposition. A few of our clients have expressed disapproval about our support of abortion, but more often they are surprised and curious. It’s just so unusual to find a place that offers you free diapers, baby clothes, condoms, and abortion referrals.

Rewire: What advice would you give to others who are interested in opening such an “all-options” venture in a conservative state?

PD: We are in a planning process right now to figure out how to best replicate and expand the centers starting in 2017. We know we want to open another center or two (or three), but a big part of our plan will be providing a toolkit and other resources to help people use the all-options approach.

The best advice we have is to start where you are. Who else is already doing this work locally, and how can you work together? If you are an abortion fund or clinic, how can you also support the parenting needs of the women you serve? Is there a diaper bank in your area that you could refer to or partner with? Could you give out new baby packages for people who are continuing a pregnancy or have a WIC eligibility worker on-site once a month? If you are involved with a childbirth or parenting organization, can you build a relationship with your local abortion fund?

How can you make it known that you are a safe space to discuss all options and experiences? How can you and your organization show up in your community for diaper need and abortion coverage and a living wage?

Help people connect the dots. That’s how we start to change the conversation and create support.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify the spelling of Shelly Dodson’s name.


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