Minnesota Anti-Choice Group Pulls Endorsement Over Health Care Reform

Robin Marty

Like all the anti-abortion groups, MCCL is now pulling allegence from anti-choice Democrats to put party loyalty over their missions.

Anti-choice Democratic Congressman Jim Oberstar has been in the House for a very long time, and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life has been endorsing him for a majority of it.  Almost since their inception in the late 60′s, MCCL has told their members to support Oberstar, who has had a consistent record in opposing abortion while serving in Congress.

But this year that has changed, and the group has put party affiliation first, cloaking their switch under the guise of health care reform being “anti-life.”

Via Fox News:

Says executive director, Scott Fischbach, “Years ago, Jim Oberstar was a sponsor of a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  This election, he didn’t even fill out a candidate questionnaire.  That’s unconscionable.”

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Counters Oberstar campaign spokesperson, John Schadl, “It (the questionnaire) assumed that health care legislation funded abortion.  Where, in fact, Congressman Oberstar worked very hard to make sure that no tax payer dollars to go fund abortion at all in this.”

 To be clear, the health care law does not allow for federally funded abortions.  Language in the bill, along with an executive order, states clearly that funding through tax credits and government subsidies for elective abortion services is prohibited.

The group has instead decided to endorse political newcomer and Republican Chip Cravaack. According to MCCL’s executive director:

“Chip Cravaack exemplifies everything the people of Minnesota’s 8th District look for in a candidate for Congress,” said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. “Cravaack has a passionate dedication to uphold the constitutional right to life and to protect our country’s most vulnerable citizens – the unborn.”

Yet, other than fundraising pleas, Cravaack hasn’t even been that enthusiastic on the abortion issue.  Even his own website says simply:

I believe that life begins at conception and ends at natural death.

I do not support embryonic stem cell research. I believe that adult stem cell research has shown great possibilities and one that does not trade one life to save another.

Not exactly the public face of the next champion of ending all forms of abortion.

But how enthusiastic is MCCL’s endorsement?  The release didn’t even make the front page of their website, instead relegated to the News Release Index page.  And although it made their associated blog, they did not even bother to link to the candidate’s website.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Groups Try ‘Texas Playbook’ in Attempt to Block Health-Care Access in California

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The fight to open a Planned Parenthood health-care clinic in El Centro, California, shows that national anti-choice groups are intent on rolling back reproductive health care gains in even the most progressive parts of the country.

California may be traditionally progressive with a history of protecting reproductive rights, but Imperial County has become a new front in the anti-choice movement’s effort to erode abortion access well outside the confines of GOP-controlled red states.

Imperial County sits on California’s southeastern corner, bordering Arizona and Mexico. Go west and you’ll hit San Diego; north, and you’ll hit Palm Springs. About 80 percent of the county’s households identify as Latino and 65 percent speak predominately Spanish at home, according to the last census.

Despite its desert landscape, Imperial County has wide swaths of farmland thanks to irrigation fields fed by the Colorado River on its eastern border and the Hoover Dam. Jobs in agriculture account for about a quarter of all employment in the county, and even though the state is in a historic drought, water for the area is all but guaranteed because of local politics.

The same cannot be said for reproductive health care, as national anti-choice activists have focused their attentions on a Planned Parenthood health-care facility opening in the valley’s El Centro, California.

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“Imperial Valley statistically is now rated fourth highest in the state for teen births,” Tracy Skadden, general counsel for Planned Parenthood of Pacific Southwest, told Rewire in an interview. “It has one of the highest rates of unemployment in California; the high schools sometimes have day care centers.”

Skadden said Planned Parenthood agency members spent about five years on the ground in Imperial Valley meeting with members of the community and local organizations to get an understanding of the area’s unique health-care needs before putting together the effort required to open a new facility.

“We know that they don’t have any reproductive health-care access specifically as it relates to abortion services,” Skadden said. “We know that they have very long waits to get in to see a doctor. A lot of the men and women who come to see us, because they don’t have any insurance coverage they really don’t go to doctors very often.”

“Some of the women in their 30s and 40s who come to see us have never had a pap smear,” she continued. Through the Planned Parenthood facility, “they get wellness checks, they get their cholesterol checked, possibly they get screened for diabetes. We don’t treat those things, but we do refer them to other health-care clinics that can.”

The El Centro facility is the only one to provide abortion care anywhere in Imperial County. Still, despite a chronically underserved population in need of comprehensive reproductive health care, Planned Parenthood faced what Skadden described as opposition that was “unprecedented for California” in opening the new facility in El Centro, the heart of Imperial Valley.

After funds for the new facility had been raised, architectural plans were approved by government officials, and all necessary permits were obtained, Planned Parenthood broke ground and finished building the facility this spring.

Then the protests started.

“The thing that triggered the protesters from the very beginning was our ‘now hiring’ sign that we put up under our logo,” Cita Walsh, vice president of marketing and communication, said in an interview with Rewire. “When we put the sign up we had hundreds of people apply for jobs at our health center.”

While the facility applied for a standard transfer agreement for patients with the city-owned El Centro Regional Medical Center, an area church organized about 500 protesters to come to the hospital’s board meeting and complain that by signing the transfer agreement, local officials were “authorizing abortions to occur in Imperial Valley.”

The city, in response to the anti-choice backlash, agreed to hire a third-party law firm to review the transfer agreement. That law firm told the city council the transfer agreement was legal and there was no reason the center should not open.

Walsh said that harassment escalated after the transfer agreement was complete, with more than 2,000 anti-choice protesters complaining to the El Centro city council about the opening of the health-care center.

“The National Right to Life Movement inserted themselves as outsiders into the Imperial Valley in an attempt to embed Imperial County and ignite the local churches and help them organize,” Walsh said.

National anti-choice activists, from former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) to Alveda King, came to the Valley to raise funds for efforts to stop the clinic’s opening.

“They brought in people from out of state to try and get the Imperial Valley Coalition for Life funded in order to teach them how to use the Texas playbook,” Walsh said. The Texas playbook, as described by Walsh, is centered on pressuring local officials into endorsing TRAP (targeted regulations of abortion providers) measures.

“It starts with you try to stop them with transfer agreements and then you have a lot of protesters,” Walsh said. “It felt a little like Mississippi or Texas, but right here in California.”

Days before the facility was set to open, after city officials had told Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest to invite trained staff in to begin setting up, El Centro city officials denied Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest its occupancy permit on the grounds that the building had been improperly classified and would need significant, additional upgrades before opening.

No other comparable facility in California is subject to the more burdensome requirements city officials want to impose on the El Centro facility.

The decision to reclassify the building just prior to its opening was made by El Centro Fire Chief Kenneth Herbert. Herbert explained to Rewire in an email that architects made the initial occupancy classification, but that “[b]ased upon conditions observed,” he decided the building needed more stringent requirements and denied fire clearance.

Herbert declined to elaborate on what conditions he observed that prompted his decision that the facility needed a more stringent classification. He told Rewire that since the initial permit denial, there have been changes made to the building in an attempt to comply with the “occupancy classification B requirements.” After a five-week delay, the city issued the facility a temporary certificate of occupancy.

In other words, the state-of-the-art health-care facility meets all the health and safety requirements it was required to all along.

In signing the licensing document, however, Herbert put in special conditions for their license to remain in place, Skadden said. One condition provides the fire chief with the authority to revoke the document pending a review of the building code by the state’s Fire Marshall Department. Herbert has requested from the State Fire Marshall’s office “a formal interpretation of the occupancy based on the use of the building.” That process could take up to 90 days.

“We complied with all the building, fire, and safety requirements for licensure, but the City of El Centro fire chief made an arbitrary and unilateral decision to deny our final documentation,” Skadden said. “The dispute is over a California building code. But it was clear this was about our abortion services.”

Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest successfully fought back this round of challenges to providing reproductive health care in Imperial County, but more challenges lie ahead. The Imperial Valley Coalition for Life reported on its Facebook page that “friends” of its organization purchased the property right next to the new Planned Parenthood clinic.

The anti-choice group charged that the property is now “available to our prayer warriors from the 365 days for life to park and to pray and it will be available for sidewalk counseling also.”

Meanwhile, those opposed to legal abortion care continue to protest outside the El Centro facility. “We’ve had some vandalism already, but we are very vigilant with our security and our number-one priority is to the safety of our patients and staff,” Skadden said. “California has a long history of protecting reproductive rights, which, thankfully, we were able to rely on our safety and health codes and our California Constitution and other laws that do protect reproductive health care.”

The hope for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest is that the political fight to provide reproductive health care in Imperial Valley is over. “We intend [to] provide health care in Imperial Valley and to work with the city,” Skadden said. “We all have a mutual goal of increasing the health outcomes of the community in Imperial Valley.”

News Abortion

Colorado Anti-Choice Group Could Push Through ‘Personhood’ Amendment in November

Jason Salzman

If the election were held today, Colorado voters would approve a "personhood" amendment on the November ballot, say the measure’s opponents, who believe they can still win if their multi-faceted campaign raises enough money.

Read more of our articles on Amendment 67 here.

When voters are presented with the text of Colorado’s latest “personhood” amendment, which would “protect women and children” by adding “unborn human beings” to the state’s criminal code, they’re mostly supportive of the measure, according to Vote No 67 campaign manager Fofi Mendez, citing internal focus groups and polling.

But when voters are told that Amendment 67 would have the “same dangerous consequences as Colorado’s two previous ‘personhood’ amendments,” which aimed to give legal rights to zygotes (fertilized eggs), voters turn against the proposal, Mendez said.

“If we have the funding to support our campaign, then we will be able to defeat this,” she said, adding that the campaign is about $1 million shy of its $3.8 million goal. So far, $947,000 has been contributed, according to campaign finance reports.

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The statewide Vote No 67 campaign includes both volunteer and paid canvassing, phone, and grassroots organizing activities, as well as paid advertising and social media. About $1 million worth of advertising time has been reserved, and ads will begin airing in about a week.

Proponents of Amendment 67, who last year submitted more than the 86,000 signatures required to place their measure on the ballot, say they’re operating on a shoestring budget, relying on volunteers.

Over the past six weeks, the organization behind Amendment 67, A Voice for Brady, has spent $30, and it has raised about $1,800 since June, according to campaign finance reports. Personhood of Colorado, an organization that funded previous “personhood” campaigns in the state, is inactive.

Asked why recent expenditures were so low, A Voice for Brady spokesperson Jennifer Mason said via email: “A lot of our expenditures were pre-buying spots at fairs, etc., over the past several months that are just taking place now. We can’t compete financially with our opponents, Planned Parenthood.”

“It is certainly suspect that a Voice for Brady does not seem to be disclosing either its in-kind and/or other expenditures,” Mendez told Rewire. “We know that they have been putting literature out in various parts of the state.”

“Because proponents are hiding where their resources are, we don’t have any idea whether they are going to go up on the air or the radio,” said Mendez, pointing to better funded “personhood” campaigns in North Dakota and Tennessee as an example of what might happen in Colorado.

“We are a grassroots effort, and our greatest asset is our volunteers,” Amendment 67 spokesperson Mason responded via email. “We are relying on them to spread the word about Brady’s story and Amendment 67.”

Brady was the name chosen by Heather Surovik for her 8-month-old fetus, which was destroyed when a drunk driver slammed into Surovik’s car in 2012. Surovik survived the crash and asked Personhood USA activists to help place the “Brady Amendment” on the Colorado ballot.

Both Mason and Surovik have said they relied on hundreds of Colorado churches and about 1,000 volunteers in their signature-gathering effort last year.

“Amendment 67 is not the way to protect pregnant women,” Mendez said, whose Vote No 67 coalition includes dozens of organizations. “This amendment goes too far. It has dangerous consequences. It has the potential to make criminals out of women and doctors. It’s government intruding on our personal and private lives. And because it’s wrapped in a different package, so folks need to unwrap it and look at the fact that it’s the same as it was in 2008 and 2010.”

The 2010 “personhood” measure defined a “person” in the Colorado Constitution as “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”

The 2008 measure was similarly worded. Both were defeated overwhelmingly by Colorado voters.

The key provision of Amendment 67 reads: “In the interest of the protection of pregnant mothers and their unborn children from criminal offenses and negligent and wrongful acts, the words ‘person’ and ‘child’ in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act must include unborn human beings.”

Mason and other backers of Amendment 67 contend that it cannot, by itself, ban abortion. They argue that 38 states have so-called fetal homicide laws. Twenty-four of these states, including Florida, give legal rights to fetuses at early stages of development and allow them to be considered victims of crimes, like the reckless act against Surovik in Colorado.

Drunk drivers in Florida, as a result, could be charged with murder for causing a tragedy like Surovik’s, whereas now they cannot face such charges.

Florida’s law passed this year, and pro-choice activists worry about how courts, there and elsewhere, might chip away at abortion rights based on the definitions of a human being contained in laws like Florida’s.

Colorado has a statute, the Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act, which allows prosecutors to bring charges, but not murder, for recklessly terminating a pregnancy. The law specifically does not “confer personhood, or any rights associated with that status, on a human being at any time prior to live birth.”

CORRECTION: A version of this article misspelled Heather Surovik’s name. We regret the error.