Roundup: Colorado – Personhood, Buck and Lots of Ads

Robin Marty

The senate race in Colorado is heating up, and Ken Buck gets assistance from a ballot measure and a lot of money. But that might not be enough to secure a victory.

Colorado is no doubt one of the busiest states this election cycle, with a high profile governor’s race and senate race, as well as a controversial ballot amendment.  Republican Ken Buck is still ahead in the polls, but a series of recent controversies has made his victory a little less certain.

The “personhood” ballot initiative is taking a second run in the state, after being defeated soundly in 2008.  Over at Big Think, Cara DeGette discusses how the amendment works as a way to get Republicans to have a greater turnout for the midterms.

Do you think Personhood Colorado put Amendment 62 on the ballot with intention to draw conservatives to the polls, similar to how gay marriage initiatives were used in 2004? Ultimately, do you think Amendment 62 will spur more conservatives to the polls, or more progressives?

From our perspective, Amendment 62 is a rallying call for progressives and conservative voters — and everybody in between — to come out and oppose the measure. It’s not just the impact on reproductive health issues, which everybody should be concerned about. It goes so far that most conservatives, as well as progressives that I know, really have a hard time with the idea of banning emergency contraception, and the Pill, and all abortion — even when a woman has been raped or is the victim of incest, or when a woman’s life is at risk. We also have the fact that this is a huge, huge intrusion by politicians and lawyers and the courts to come into our personal lives, and that is a turn-off for most voters.

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The fact that it could in fact turn into a “rallying call” for all voters, not just conservatives, explains how in a fairly conservative state like Colorado, Ken Buck is having a difficult time holding onto his lead.  As the Colorado Independent puts it, “personhood” and Buck create a “perfect storm” of issues.

Amendment 62 and Republican Ken Buck’s campaign for the United States Senate seat held by Democrat Michael Bennet have come together to create the perfect storm for women’s rights advocates in Colorado. Activists, including rape victims who spoke to The Colorado Independent, have been galvanized against Buck for his early support of the “personhood” ballot initiative and for his opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

“When someone is raped, their control is taken away. Rape is about control. If you take away a rape victim’s right to an abortion or even to emergency contraception, you are taking away still more control,” said Jennifer Eyl, an attorney and victims’ rights advocate.

“When you oppose abortion even in the case of rape and incest you are telling the victim that the violent crime committed against them is of less importance than the fact they got pregnant, and that is wrong,” Eyl said.

Amendment 62, the Personhood Amendment is considered a long-shot on November’s ballot. Buck first supported the ballot initiative, which would define a zygote as a “person” at the point of conception, but later backed off, saying he only supports the concept.

Bennet’s ads have been hammering Buck, the Weld County district attorney, for clearly stating he opposes abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, and an alleged victim of a rape claims that her handling of a past pregnancy seems to have colored Buck’s treatment of a five-year-old rape case he refused to prosecute.

Attack ads have been a key to this race, with both candidates being beaten by each other and by special interest groups.  Washington Post reports:

Interest groups and the two political parties have spent more than $17.5 million on the Senate race here since the primary, far more than any other race in the country. Most of those millions have gone toward negative TV ads.

The two Senate races with the next-highest spending, Pennsylvania and Missouri, are far behind with about $11 million and $9.8 million, respectively.

Spending by interest groups has risen dramatically this year, buoyed by a string of Supreme Court decisions and rich donors’ frustration with Democratic policies. Interest groups and political parties have reported more than $250 million in spending so far this election cycle in House and Senate races, according to an analysis of disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

About $750,000 of that is spent every day in Colorado, where a tight race in a newly important swing state has drawn considerable interest. No matter their allegiances, voters here appear to have had enough.

“It’s making me crazy,” said Nancy Buchanan, 53, a Democrat and Bennet supporter from Parker, a suburb south of Denver. “I’m sick of it. It’s hateful politics.”

Others say they have seen so many ads that they don’t even listen anymore. “When they come on, I usually just flip,” said Barbara Piper, 68, a real estate agent from Lone Tree, another Denver suburb, who supports Bennet’s Republican opponent, Ken Buck.

Nevertheless, the message seems to be getting through. Bennet’s campaign has portrayed Buck as a flip-flopper with a draconian view of reproductive rights who is “too extreme for Colorado.”

Asked about Buck, Buchanan echoed that message. “He’s taking us back 100 years,” she said.

Buck’s lead is tightening, according to the latest Rasmussen, and the race is now a “toss up” within the margin of error.

Mini Roundup: Polifact claims an ad stating Scott Walker of Wisconsin tried to block women’s access to birth control by advocating for a conscious clause is “barely true,” because “The possible narrowing of access to birth control in some cases isn’t the same as blocking it in all cases.”  Huh?

October 18, 2010

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.

News Violence

Family Members and Undocumented Survivors of Orlando Shooting Eligible for U Visas

Tina Vasquez

"The individuals and their families impacted by this horrific tragedy aren’t getting any special treatment or cutting the line," said Immigration Equality Client Programs Director Pamela Denzer, "they are eligible for something that was already established many years ago.”

In the hours after the shooting at an Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub that would leave 49 people dead and more than 50 injured, information emerged that almost all of the victims lived at the intersection of being Latino and LGBTQ-identified. In the days since, it’s become clear that one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States has also taken its toll on Orlando’s immigrant community.

The victims came from all over, including South Africa and the Dominican Republic, and Fusion was able to confirm that two survivors of Sunday’s shooting are undocumented. A third undocumented man, a 31-year-old from Mexico, was also killed during the attack.

Survivors as well as the spouses, partners, or close relatives of those killed in the attack could qualify for U visas, which, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are “set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.” After three years and if certain requirements are met, U-visa holders become eligible to adjust their status and become lawful permanent residents.

Immigration Equality, an immigrant rights organization based in New York that provides assistance to LGBTQ and HIV-positive communities, is currently offering to help those affected by the massacre apply for U visas. Through its national hotline, the organization is offering help accessing attorneys, filing the proper paperwork, and addressing any language barriers.

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Its client programs director, Pamela Denzer, told Rewire that like many others, her organization became aware of how hard-hit immigrant communities were by the attack thanks to news reports. But before long, survivors, friends, and family members of victims were contacting the immigrant rights organization inquiring about the services available, and what the organization could do on behalf of undocumented families affected by the tragedy.

Denzer told Rewire both immigrant and undocumented victims and their families have benefits available to them other than U visas. Immigration Equality is currently offering victims’ families assistance filing the various forms required for a visa or humanitarian parole, as well as assisting those who speak English as a second language to provide a detailed explanation and evidence of their circumstances, as is required.

“Parents or family members of victims who don’t live in the country and who want to see their child or attend their funeral, might need help getting a visa or getting humanitarian parole. If their child passed away or is critically injured, they need to be with them, and we can help with that,” Denzer said.

This was the case for the mother of 26-year-old Oscar Aracena-Montero, who moved to Florida from the Dominican Republic when he was a child. He was killed in Sunday’s attack, and in the days since, his image has circulated on social media in the hope that someone “who can help” would see the plea and assist his mother in obtaining a visa so she could attend Aracena-Montero’s funeral. The Dominican Republic-based newspaper Listin Diario has since reported that Aracena-Montero’s mother was able to obtain a visa, but now needs assistance ensuring Aracena-Montero’s siblings in the Dominican Republic are also able to attend his funeral.

As Fusion reported, immigration status is creating additional challenges for survivors of Sunday’s attack and for the families of those who lost their lives. There is uncertainty about whether they qualify for state and federal assistance programs that would assist with hospital care.

Over the years, as the number of undocumented people in the United States has risen, many states have attempted to narrow the definition of “emergency” as a way of limiting what hospitals will cover for undocumented patients. PBS reported that in 2012, “Florida changed its policy to pay for emergency services for eligible undocumented immigrants only until their conditions had been ‘stabilized.’ Previously, its policy was to pay for care that was ‘medically necessary to relieve or eliminate the emergency medical condition.’”

Immigrant families were also not prepared for the costs of burying their loved ones, many of whom were only in their 20s and 30s. That process would require repatriating and burying their bodies in their countries of origin. The family of the undocumented man from Mexico who was killed in Sunday’s attack told Fusion that it would cost them up to $6,000.

Many of these families are turning to online fundraisers to help with the costs of medical care or funerals. The family of victim Eric Ortiz has created an online fundraiser to help pay for the costs of cremation and spreading Ortiz’s ashes in his native Puerto Rico.

Those showing support online for the undocumented victims of Sunday’s shooting and spreading information about the possibility of U visas for survivors and family members are already fielding negative responses from anti-immigrant social media users, who are comparing the Orlando shooting to “winning the lottery,” and claiming that victims are benefiting from a tragedy.

The U-visa program has existed since 2000, and Denzel said there is nothing that “uniquely qualifies” victims of this shooting for this visa.

“There are a wide range of scenarios that make a person qualified for this, from being kidnapped to experiencing the murder of a loved one. If a person survived this tragedy, it entitles them to a U visa because they are not a citizen and they experienced a violent crime,” Denzel told Rewire. “We’re not doing anything we don’t already do; we’re not creating services that didn’t already exist. This isn’t a special project. The individuals and their families impacted by this horrific tragedy aren’t getting any special treatment or cutting the line; they are eligible for something that was already established many years ago.”