The Politics of Choice In Washington’s Senate Race

Amie Newman

In Washington State, anti-choice Republican Dino Rossi challenges incumbent U.S. Senator Patty Murray, one of the more staunch women's health and rights supporters in Congress.

The U.S. Senate race in Washington State is heating up. On one side, incumbent Senator Patty Murray, a staunchly pro-choice Democrat who has held the office for eighteen years. On the other, Dino Rossi – a wealthy businessman who served as a state senator and whose more recent activities involve running twice against (and losing to) Washington’s Governor Chris Gregoire.

Senator Murray has been one of the most active and vocal reproductive health and rights supporters during her tenure. In one of her more well-known advocacy efforts in the latter days of the Bush administration, the senator joined then-Senator Clinton in leading the successful charge to push the FDA to finally approve over-the-counter access to emergency contraception, said Gregoire at a press conference held to garner support for Murray. Gregoire also noted Murray’s role in increasing funding for family planning programs and access to discounted drugs including contraception.

On Tuesday, the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony’s List endorsed Dino Rossi – no small feat considering he’s earned the ire of most of the state’s anti-choice organizations including Human Life of Washington and the Washington Life Coalition. Both groups endorsed Rossi’s republican challenger, Clint Didier, claiming Rossi wasn’t anti-choice enough. Didier opposed abortion access even for victims of rape or incest.

“He has hidden his stance from the voters of Washington state now in two elections for governor…We shouldn’t let him hide because his vote will influence the whole country, if elected. He would turn his back on every women’s health issue,” says Gregoire.

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Rossi has been traditionally close-mouthed on abortion and other women’s health issues in past campaigns, but his minimalism speaks volumes – as does his record as state senator.

It’s not fooling anyone – most of all, Governor Gregoire and Planned Parenthood Action Fund CEO Cecile Richards.

In yesterday’s press conference, Gregoire emphasized Dino Rossi’s regressive reproductive health and rights stance and spoke about her former challenger from experience.

“Rossi – in every debate we had – whenever the talk was about women’s issues his answer was always “that’s not a question for me, I’m not running for the Supreme Court. But now [if he gets elected] he would vote on confirmation of candidates to the U.S. Supreme Court and his record is clear. From the early days of his career [as a state senator] he has opposed a woman’s right to choose. Make no mistake – he would roll us back 100 years when it comes to accessibility and affordability of women’s health care.”

Richards, also present at the event, agreed.

“If you look at the abysmal record of Dino Rossi – he’s done nothing to improve access to reproductive health care. He’s sought ways to reduce it. In addition to opposing a woman’s right to access legal abortion services, he voted to allow insurance companies to deny coverage for birth control. This is unbelievable. He supports allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill legal birth control prescriptions.He’s opposed to common sense teen pregnancy prevention program funding.”

She went on, “Today there is a lot on the line – frankly, women can’t afford to have an extreme senator like Rossi representing them.”

Rossi’s record does reveal statements made about his clear opposition to abortion, votes as a state senator to push a parental notification bill, and even a proposition, along with fellow senators, to add “unborn children” to the definition of a person in the Washington state constitution.

Gregoire called Rossi “Incorrect and insensitive to women’s issues” stating that Rossi not only opposes women’s access to emergency contraception at pharmacies but pointing out that he likened the ongoing fight (in Washington state, pharmacists have been mandated to fill prescriptions but the state pharmacy board is now revisiting the rule) to “whether he could get one of his favorite sports drinks at his favorite store.”

Richards emphasized how critical the women’s vote is saying women will decide this election and others around the country.

Nearly one in five women visit Planned Parenthood for their healthcare. Richards noted women have “never had a better advocate” than Murray especially when it came to the health care reform bill. Murray worked with Planned Parenthood to oppose the anti-choice Stupak Amendment. Richards says women need Murray back in office.

When asked about the proposed cuts to the Washington State budget which include the subsidized family planning program Take Charge, cuts to maternity care services for lower income women and cutting health insurance for children, Gregoire became visibly angry and animated,

“When it comes to health care reform, Rossi is against any assistance to the state whatsoever. I am unbelievably upset about [these cuts]. When the mood in Washington is cover more…there is no question about the fact that this is difficult. What we say to women and famiies is –  if you put Rossi in the Senate he’ll amend the health care reform law and it will get worse. He’ll start with women’s healthcare, no question about it. We’ll get absolutely no help and no support. This is a critical time in the history of healthcare. Are we going to elect Rossi who will turn his back or will we support Murray?”

Senator Murray recently released a television ad to highlight Rossi’s opposition to women’s rights and health access asking, “Can we trust a man who wants to turn back the clock?”:

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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