Last-Minute GOP Ad Against WA State Sen. Rodney Tom Falsely Accuses On “Women’s Issues”

Amie Newman

Washington State Senator Rodney Tom is falsely accused of wanting to "abolish women's rights" in a last minute attack mailer, today. Tom and women's rights organizations come back with the truth.

Incumbent Democratic State Senator Rodney Tom is a strong supporter of women’s rights in Washington State. He’s running against Republican challenger Greg Bennett. The Citizens for Responsible Spending is credited on a mailer sent out today about Tom’s stance on women’s issues (which Tom says makes a number of false claims); Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington says that the soft-PAC for the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, the Leadership Council, funded the ad. And, indeed, on this last day for Washington State voters to mail in their ballots (all but one county in the state has moved to mail-in voting) the state Republicans have released the hounds.

The last-minute mailer attacks Tom on women’s rights issues noting that Tom would “leave women without legal protections” and “abolish women’s legal rights.” Neither of which is remotely true, according to womens’ rights organizations themselves. The mailer also says that Tom is “cutting breast and cervical cancer screenings.” But the ad has also been called “homophobic” by Tom because of one quote in particular, taken out of context, where Tom says the state should “stay out of the marriage business.”

 

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Today, the Seattle news site, Publicola, which finds itself in the middle of the fanning flames because of a quote on the mailer attributed to the site, explained the brouhaha. First, Publicola’s Josh Feit reminds readers of Tom’s strong support for women’s rights in the state. He sponsored legislation earlier this year which would have required “crisis pregnancy centers” to reveal exactly what services they do and don’t provide, clearly stating their opposition to abortion, and their status not as medical centers but as non-profit organizations primarily.

As well, in an outraged press release sent by Planned Parenthood Votes! today the organization calls Tom a “champion for women” and notes that,

“Rodney Tom was the prime Senate sponsor of the Healthy Youth Act of 2007 which helps ensure that young people in our state get accurate, comprehensive health information including resources about how to prevent unintended pregnancies, stay safe in relationships, and recognize dating violence. Tom has also continually supported funding for family planning services which help women get vital health services like birth control, and breast and cervical cancer screenings.”

The mailer which Tom called “trash at its lowest,” “homophobic” and “sad” today, picks a quote from a Publicola interview with Tom last week where he addresses a question about gay marriage. Explains Josh Feit on Publicola,

Today, we asked Tom where he was on gay marriage. He told us, “the state should get out of the marriage business. A lot of countries in Europe do this. I have no issue with gay marriage. I think straight couples or gay and lesbian couples should all be treated equal and should get civil unions. Marriage should be between individuals and their church.”

Further, what Tom meant, says Feit, is that, “civil marriages, which he supports, come with all the same rights as church marriage. “We have civil marriages now,” he said. “My wife and I can go get a license and everybody would get the the exact same rights as we have today.”

Tom’s colleagues and supporters spoke out against the ad and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington sent their own message about its “baseless” claims,

“Senator Tom is a strong and vocal advocate for the right to choose and for access to reproductive health care,” said Lauren Simonds, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.  “In fact, at a voter forum last month, Senator Tom reiterated his support for maintaining critical funding for family planning care, even in a time of state budget cuts.”

“This mail piece is deceptive on all fronts,” Simonds added.  “It completely misrepresents not only Senator Tom’s steadfast support for women’s health care and women’s rights, but it uses his support for marriage equality to make a baseless allegation.”

“This mail piece is simply irresponsible,” Simonds said.

Morning Roundup: Abortion More Dangerous Than al-Qaeda?

Beth Saunders

A British royal cousin says abortion is worse than terrorism; a Republican backs away from an abortion billboard campaign; "reclaiming" the rainbow; conservative support for anti-gay hate groups; and oh yeah, Don't Ask Don't Tell is repealed!

A British royal cousin says a woman’s private decision to terminate a pregnancy is worse than a world wide terrorist organization, a Republican backs away from an organization involved in an abortion billboard campaign, and in LGBT news, homophobic activists are trying to “reclaim” the rainbow, politicians are supporting the anti-gay groups that supply them with untrue talking points, and oh yeah, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is repealed!

  • A British noble (his father is the queen’s cousin) has written an article for the Catholic journal First Things claiming that abortion is worse than al-Qaeda. According to the Telegraph, Lord Nicholas Windsor, “describes abortion as ‘the single most grievous moral deficit in contemporary life’ and calls for a ‘new abolitionism for Europe’ in which abortion, like the slave trade, can be abolished.” The article is available only by subscription.
  • A spokesperson for Marie Stopes International in Great Britain says the organization “heavily discounts” abortion fees for clients traveling from Ireland, due to a woman’s additional cost of having to travel a great distance for a pregnancy termination.
  • Despite being involved with a fundraiser for their billboard campaigns claiming Planned Parenthood targets African-American women, the chair of the Republican party in Florida is backing away from Heroic Media. John Thrasher’s spokesperson insists he is still anti-abortion, but doesn’t approve of the “shock value” of the campaign.
  • Religion Dispatches reports on an anti-gay activist who wants to “reclaim” the rainbow. Long used as a symbol of the gay rights and gay pride movement, Jennifer Roback Morse is now saying that the people who want to ban gay marriage in California are the real rainbow coalition, because they are from many races and many religions. Candace Chellew-Hodge writes, “When gay and lesbian people fly the rainbow flag they are not seeking “special rights” or making any special claim to the rainbow. Instead, the rainbow flag is one of inclusion—the full inclusion the community seeks within the larger society—and also the inclusion it invites.”
  • Reps. John Boehner, Michele Bachman, and many others have signed onto a letter supporting the Family Research Council and other “family” groups recently named by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups. The letter claims intolerance, but as the Minnesota Independence points out, FRC, for instance, “has suggested that gays be “exported” from the United States and says that homosexuality should be criminalized. The American Family Association, another group that Pawlenty and Bachmann are supporting, recently said that Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan should be disqualified from office because she’s a lesbian (she’s not).” Wait – who’s intolerant again?
  • Oh, and in other LGBT news, not sure if you heard, but Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed this weekend!

Dec 17

Why is Washington State Flip-Flopping on Pharmacy Refusal?

Amie Newman

Suddenly and without warning the Washington state Board of Pharmacy has re-written the rules barring pharmacy refusal - rules decided with extensive public input three years ago.

Washington state’s women’s health and rights advocates are in a state of confused uproar. Suddenly and without warning the Washington state Board of Pharmacy has proposed a change to a rule which, after an immense amount of effort from advocates and citizens in the state back in 2007, required pharmacies to fill all prescriptions regardless of a pharmacist’s personal objection to a patient or a particular medication. This unexpected switchback comes as women’s rights organizations (including the legal advocacy organization Legal Voice), Washington state’s Department of Health and the Board of Pharmacy were preparing to fight a lawsuit brought by Stormans, Inc. (an Olympia, WA pharmacy) and two individual pharmacists who claimed the rule infringed on their first amendment rights. That case has been stayed, meaning the proceedings are suspended, much to the dismay of women’s rights advocates.

According to Seattle news site, Publicola, Judge Ronald Leighton, writing in his ruling to stay the case, said the Board of Pharmacy’s proposed rule-making process, “… if completed as currently contemplated would resolve the legal issues in this case.” This is not good news.

“This issue was vigorously debated for 15 months starting more than three years ago and the State has spent considerable time and resources successfully defending the rule in Court,” said Elaine Rose, CEO, Planned Parenthood VOTES! Washington. “We are shocked the Board of Pharmacy is re-opening the rule and jeopardizing hard-fought rights for women seeking essential health care.”

The Board of Pharmacy (BOP) inexplicably proposed (reportedly during a Board phone meeting on June 29th of this year –  of which there are no public notes available on the Board of Pharmacy web site) a rule change to allow pharmacists the right to “facilitated referral” rather than mandate they fill prescriptions on site. What this means is that, instead of ensuring that any patient – a woman seeking to fill a prescription for emergency contraception or another form of birth control, a person with HIV seeking to fill a prescription for their life-saving medication, a patient with diabetes who needs their medication – has the ability to access legal medication at any pharmacy in a timely manner, they can now be denied their medication at the whim of an individual pharmacist or pharmacy and be forced to go somewhere else.

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If you think this doesn’t sound so bad, consider that in small towns there may be only one pharmacy; in towns or cities with more than one pharmacy, how many pharmacies does a person need to visit in order to find one that has a pharmacist who “agrees” that he or she “deserves” access to their medication?

According to Legal Voice,

“Under the revisions the BOP seeks to make, even when the medication is in stock, available and sitting on a shelf behind the pharmacist, a pharmacy could require a customer to go to a different pharmacy.”

To be clear, the Board of Pharmacy rule that had been set in place in 2007 after an extended period of public input and comment (during which advocates and Washington state citizens from HIV/AIDS activists to reproductive rights organizations to every day citizens, rallied together and fought long and hard) did not force individual pharmacists to fill prescriptions for medication they did not support. It mandated that pharmacies had to have at least one pharmacist on site that would fill prescriptions for patients, regardless of her or his “personal, moral or religious beliefs.”

For a pharmacy with only one pharmacist on staff, or for pharmacy owners that opposed birth control or medication for HIV or AIDS, this meant that they needed to either stock and fill prescriptions for all legal medications requested, use a temporary or on-call pharmacist, or offer telepharmacy services. 

So while the Board of Pharmacy had been working with women’s health and rights advocates, and the Washingon state DOH to defend its original rules against Stormans, Inc. and two individual pharmacists, they changed horses midstream leaving many wondering why.

“Regardless of who you talk to among the coalition of organizations [that have been fighting this] we would all say we have no idea why the state did this or what the motivation is behind it. We don’t know where the motivation came from for The Board of Pharmacy to reopen the rules,” says Lauren Simonds, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.

It is true that Judge Ronald Leighton, set to oversee the July 26th case between the pharmacists and the state, may very well have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (the pharmacy and pharmacists bringing the suit). Leighton provided a small window into his views on issues related to womens’ health and rights during the motion for summary judgement when he stated that he “knew of no other case, in the country, until this one, that chips away at that protective cocoon” established by government after Roe v. Wade to protect those with a religious objection to providing abortion services, via conscience clauses. He was also concerned that his local Catholic hospital, St. Joe’s in Tacoma, WA,  would be forced to provide emergency contraception in their pharmacy, should the case be won by the state. It’s a concern that is curious considering all hospital emergency rooms in Washington state are required to offer rape victims emergency contraception, if the woman is not already pregnant.

Still, the defendants had already enjoyed one victory from the 9th Circuit Court. In addition the rule decided upon in 2007 was created only after an extended and involved period of public comment with public sentiment clearly on the side of patients unimpeded access to legal medications from pharmacies.

The 9th Circuit victory occurred, writes Josh Feit at Publicola,

“After the District Judge in Tacoma, Judge Ronald Leighton, issued an injunction against the new rules back in 2007 pending his decision on the case itself…

Tossing the injunction last summer, the appeals court specifically upheld the Board of Pharmacy rules, saying they were “neutral” (meaning they didn’t discriminate against anyone); that they served a legitimate need (getting women their legal prescriptions); and they didn’t upend anyone’s First Amendment religious freedoms. The government can limit religious conduct when it believes that conduct threatens a larger public good, like public health. And that is what the higher court concluded about the Board of Pharmacy rules.”

Then what gives?

Sara Ainsworth of Legal Voice is baffled and frustrated:

“We can only speculate, we really have no idea why the state has seemingly thrown away the victory we had achieved.”

Ainsworth’s organization, Legal Voice, represents intervenors in the lawsuit. They intervened on behalf of women who need and want access to emergency contraception as well as people living with HIV and AIDS and others whose rights are impeded when prescriptions won’t get filled by pharmacies with an agenda. But Legal Voice also fought long and hard for the 2007 Board of Pharmacy rules. With the case halted, all they can do now, says Ainsworth, is wait for the period of public comment to begin for these newly proposed rule changes. But she’s concerned.

“The state has given us pause with what they’ve said publicly to be worried that they won’t consider what the public says. It is a public process, they are supposed to take public input and we anticipate, given that this issue has received a lot of attention, that the public still feels the same way [they did in 2007]- that they should be able to have their prescription needs met.”

To be clear, the rules put in place back in 2007 were not specifically related to women’s access to emergency contraception. This was – and is –  about ensuring that all Washington state citizens are able to have their prescriptions filled in a timely manner.

Simonds told Rewire,

“These rules were put into place to protect the patients of WA because we all have a right to have our prescriptions filled…If you go back in the history of this it wasn‘t just women who weren’t able to access birth control or medications prescribed on pads from certain physicians. It wasn’t just women and reproductive health related medication. There are some parties in the lawsuit who are people living with HIV and AIDS and people living with diabetes who had prescribed medication denied because pharmacies wouldn’t fill them.”

She goes on,

“A pharmacy has no right to deny someone their medication based on a personal or moral belief. That can be construed as religious discrimination against the person who is seeking to have their prescription filled because someone is impeding upon what that person may believe. This is about the right of all patients in Washington state to access the medications they need and not to have a pharmacy decide for them that they can’t.

The current rule does allow pharmacists a way out as long as there is another pharmacist on staff to fill the prescription.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in response to the pharmacists who asked them to reconsider their decision that the 2007 rules did not impede upon their First Amendment rights, noted that “the new rules do not aim to suppress, target, or single out in any way the practice of religion, but, rather, their objective was to increase access to all lawfully prescribed medications.” 

Washington state governor, Christine Gregoire, agrees.

Gregoire does not support the proposed rule change and has consistently supported access to emergency contraception. Back in 2006, in response to the first draft of the rules the Board of Pharmacy developed (before the period of public comment which encouraged the them to ultimately pen the supportive 2007 rules), Gregoire penned a heated letter to the head of the state Board of Pharmacy, telling him, “I strongly oppose the draft pharmacist refusal rules recommended by the Washington State Board of Pharmacy today. The rules under consideration fail to protect Washington families from pharmacists who refuse to dispense lawful prescriptions. They are fraught with contradictory, bureaucratic language that makes unclear a pharmacist’s responsibility.”

In a similar fashion, Gregoire recently sent a letter to Attorney General Rob McKenna who signed off on the Board’s proposed rule change. From Publicola:

“I am not in agreement with the state Board of Pharmacy’s decision to reopen the rulemaking process which currently requires pharmacists to provide all legally prescribed medications to individuals…”

As Ainsworth alludes to, Gregoire is also concerned that there appears to be a “pre-determined outcome” from what’s supposed to be a process of considerable citizen involvement:

“I am concerned that the Board appears to have a predetermined outcome in the new rulemaking process. I will not support a position that does not provide the same level of access, or better, than is currently offered. We cannot restrict access for patients. In rural parts of our state, eliminating access to medication could force people to drive miles to the next closest pharmacy, or simply force them to go without.”

The issue, at this point, sits squarely in the laps of the Board of Pharmacy who has, without rhyme or reason, re-written the rules mid-game. It should then be up the public to decide whether a person’s right to access their legal medication at any pharmacy is paramount. Whether this is the case or not remains to be seen.