Weekly Pulse: The Coming War on Health Reform, How CPCs Incubate Anti-Choice Violence

Lindsay Beyerstein

Republicans don’t have the votes to repeal health care reform, but they are determined to fight it every step of the way. Also, exploring how Crisis Pregnancy Center's deceit can flare into violence.

Republicans don’t have the votes to repeal health care reform, but they are determined to use their newly-won control of the House to fight it every step of the way. Marilyn Werber Serafini gives Truthout readers a sneak-peek at the GOP playbook to attack healthcare reform in 2011.

Who are some of the top contenders in this coming battle? Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is a leading candidate to chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton is vowing, if elected chairman, to use the oversight powers of the committee to hold a flurry of hearings on alleged misconduct in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. Barton plans to show that budget experts “covered up” the true projected costs of health care reform. In Barton’s world, the fact that there’s no evidence to support this allegation is all the more reason to investigate.

Other key players include James Gelfand, the director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has already compiled a wishlist of 31 investigations that he wants the newly Republican-controlled House to undertake. The Chamber spent millions to elect Republicans this cycle. Barton’s hearings will have to compete for political oxygen with those of Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the chair apparent of the Investigations Committee, who is promising to gum up the works of government with at least to seven hearings a week for 40 weeks, a projected rate nearly triple that of his predecessor Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca).

Health care freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

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If they can’t undo health reform in the corridors of Washington, conservatives are looking to the states and the federal courts. In The Nation, Nicholas Kusnetz reports on how a coalition of hard right groups are organizing against health care reform at the state level.

A group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at the forefront of the drive to pass so-called “health care freedom acts” in the states to preemptively outlaw federal health reform before it can be implemented. ALEC claims to have filed or pre-filed bills in 38 states and passed 6 so far. Few expect these laws to stand up in court, if challenged, but they are part of ALEC’s long term strategy to fight health reform itself in the federal courts. A Virginia judge recently ruled that an ALEC-sponsored “freedom” law gave the state standing to challenge federal reform.

Kusnetz shows the close ties between ALEC officials and Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and other Koch-Industries-funded conservative activist groups that are campaigning against health care reform in various capacities.

What about Medicare?

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes that many Republicans, including Senator-Elect Rand Paul (R-KY) successfully campaigned on a platform of repealing health care reform to save Medicare. Benen explains that repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually put Medicare in worse financial straights than staying the course. The Republican rhetoric of defending Medicare and railing against socialized medicine is a flagrant self-contradiction. It’s not hard to see which of these two projects they are more committed to.

As Brie Cadman points out at Change.org, the self-proclaimed “Young Guns” of the Republican Party are keen to privatize Medicare all together.

Government cheese: Corporate welfare edition

The USDA is scheming to make you eat more cheese. Tom Philpott of Grist explains how it works. Big Dairy produces more milk than Americans care to drink. Plus, consumers are increasingly demanding reduced-fat milk. That leaves a lot of milk left over to make cheese, but Americans aren’t eating enough cheese to make a dent in the national milk fat surplus.

Unsold milk fat could become a toxic asset on the books of Big Dairy. So, the USDA created a non-profit corporation called Dairy Management (DM) to convince fast food companies to spike their products with millions of tons more cheese every year. With the help of DM, Domino’s Pizza created a line of “Legend” pizzas with 40% more cheese. Who can forget the epic 2002 “Summer of Cheese” when DM teamed up with Pizza Hut to boost cheese consumption by an astonishing 102 million pounds? The average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese per year, three times as much as in 1970.

Officially, the USDA is supposed to help Americans eat better and support the agriculture industry. Cheese can be part of a healthy diet, but not in ever-increasing quantities. In practice, supporting the profits of Big Agra should not take precedence over preventing obesity or reducing the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

CPCs: Incubators for anti-choice violence

In Ms. Magazine, Kathryn Joyce explores the shadowy world of “crisis pregnancy centers,” anti-choice ministries that pose as full-service reproductive health clinics, but offer no real health services. CPCs have a business model built on deceit. They seek to prevent abortions by tricking women seeking comprehensive reproductive health care, which might include abortion.

Activism rooted in such deceit and contempt for women’s autonomy can flare into violence. Joyce reveals that CPCs also serve as incubators for radical anti-choice activism. Radical groups like Operation Rescue encourage their supporters to volunteer. Scott Roeder, the assassin of Dr. George Tiller, got his start accosting women on the street outside abortion clinics as a volunteer “sidewalk counselor” for a crisis pregnancy center.

Just the presence of a CPC near an abortion clinic is correlated with increased violence against the clinic, as Joyce reports:

A recent survey by the Feminist Majority Foundation of women’s reproductive-health clinics nationwide found 32.7 percent of clinics located near a CPC experienced one or more incidents of severe violence, compared to only 11.3 percent of clinics not near a CPC. (Severe violence includes clinic blockades and invasions, bombings, arson, bombing and arson threats, death threats, chemical attacks, stalking, physical violence and gunfire.)

Doctors on the front line see the overlap between CPCs and more virulent forms of anti-choice activism every day. “[CPCs and violent anti-choice activists] have two different spheres,” OB-GYN Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s last remaining specialists in late-term abortions, told Joyce. “The underlying theory of both is never let the truth stand in the way of getting your point across. If you distort facts to women, there is no difference.”

Flip Benham’s slap on the wrist

One of the activists Joyce interviews in her piece is Rev. “Flip” Benham, director of Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. Robin Marty of Rewire reports that Benham was found guilty of stalking an abortion provider and posting “Wanted” posters with the doctor’s picture on them, accusing him of being a baby killer. Benham was sentenced to 24 months probation.

In his defense, Benham claimed that this was a harmless gesture that never killed anyone. In fact, “wanted” posters for abortion doctors are a time-honored intimidation tactic that has been used repeatedly before the murders of abortion providers. Benham is deliberately cultivating a climate of fear and rage is conducive to violence.


Weekly Pulse: The New Hunger Epidemic, Making CPCs Come Clean, and Smoking Hipsters

Lindsay Beyerstein

More families are going hungry, the NYC Council will vote on requiring CPCs to disclose they are not health care facilities, CRR takes the FDA to court, and more.

This article was originally published by The Media Consortium, of which Rewire is a member.

As some Americans obsess over whether to brine or deep-fry their Thanksgiving turkeys, others are going hungry. Seth Freed Wessler reports for ColorLines that 50 million Americans went hungry in 2009, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Astonishingly, more than 36% of female-headed households suffered from food insecurity last year, in spite of a massive expansion of federal food stamp benefits as part of the economic stimulus. Forty-two million families received food stamps last year, 10 million more than the year before. Congress gutted the food stamp program this summer. If something isn’t done, families of four will lose $59 a month in food stamp benefits at the end of 2014. At the time of the cuts, House Democrats promised to restore food stamp benefits during the lame duck session of Congress, but Freed notes there’s been little sign recently that they plan to follow through on the promise.

Making Crisis Pregnancy Centers come clean

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The New York City Council is preparing to vote on the legislation to force so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities and that they do not provide birth control or abortions. CPCs are anti-choice ministries that deliberately mimic abortion clinics in order to trick women who might be seeking abortions. It’s all a ruse to bombard these women with false information about abortion under the guise of health care. As we discussed last week in the Pulse, CPCs also serve as incubators for more extreme forms of anti-choice activism, from clinic obstruction to violence.

In Rewire, Dr. Lynette Leighton explains why she supports New York City’s proposed bill to require so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to disclose that they aren’t real clinics staffed by health care providers:

As a family physician, I provide comprehensive health care for all of my patients, including safe abortions for women who decide to end a pregnancy. I’ve cared for many women who came to me in crisis when they learned they were pregnant. The last thing my patients need is to be misled by anti-abortion organizations masquerading as health clinics. I’m strongly in favor of the New York City bill requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions or contraception, or offer referrals for these services.

New York CPCs are claiming that the requirement to disclose violates their freedom of speech, Robin Marty notes in Rewire. In other words, they are claiming a First Amendment right to bait and switch. The executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is scheduled to testify before the City Council that the free speech claim is baseless.

See you in court!

In other reproductive rights news, the Center for Reproductive Rights took the FDA to court on Tuesday over access to the morning after pill. The FDA has been ignoring a court order to make emergency contraception available over the counter to women of all ages, and the Center is going to court to spur the agency to comply, Vanessa Valenti reports for Feministing.

Look at this smokin’ hipster

Tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds is courting hipsters with a new “Williamsburg” cigarette, Brie Cadman reports for Change.org. “[Smoking Camels is] about last call, a sloppy kiss goodbye and a solo saunter to a rock show in an abandoned building… It’s where a tree grows,” according to the online ad copy. Mmm, kissing smokers.

It’s all part of an online marketing campaign in which users are invited to guess where brand mascot Joe Camel will show up next week. Interestingly, the contest’s name is “Break Free Adventure,” a twist on the Camel brand’s “Break Free” tagline. Odd that they’d pick a slogan usually associated with quitting smoking, rather than feeding the addiction. Those hipsters sure love irony.

Blowing the whistle on health insurers

On Democracy Now!, health insurance executive turned whistleblower Wendell Potter predicts that the Republicans will back off their grandiose campaign promises to repeal health care reform and instead try to dismantle the bill’s provisions that protect consumers. Potter notes that health insurers are major Republican donors, and that parts of the law are very good for insurers, notably the mandate forcing everyone to buy health insurance.

Apparently, some true believers haven’t gotten the memo. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that some Republican members of Congress are still gunning to shut down the government over health care reform and other spending.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Fight For Health Care Reform Or Lose It

Amanda Marcotte

House Republicans probably can't repeal health reform, but they can use their power to make repeal possible later on. Supporters should gear up for another health care fight.

Since the majority of Republicans running for Congress in 2010 ran against health care reform, which has already passed, and against Barack Obama, who wasn’t actually their opponent in their various races, expectations of what they would be able to do if they won were set rather unachievably high.   After all, the election is over, and Obama is still in office.  Which means that overturning health care reform is unlikely to impossible, since it would have to go through not just the Senate but somehow avoid his veto pen.

Alas, instead of going the traditional route politicians take when faced with conundrums such as this—which is to simply lose all memory of promises made during the campaign season—the new majority in the House has laid out a plan to somehow beat Obama and health care reform by harassing it to death with a series of kangaroo court-type hearings. As Lindsay Beyerstein reported, House Republicans are planning to keep the bureaucrats that are supposed to be running health care in a revolving door to hearing rooms. 

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is a leading candidate to chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton is vowing, if elected chairman, to use the oversight powers of the committee to hold a flurry of hearings on alleged misconduct in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. Barton plans to show that budget experts “covered up” the true projected costs of health care reform.

I’m presuming that the reason that Barton believes there was a cover-up is because it’s become a matter of faith to opponents of health care reform that it’s “socialized medicine” that must therefore cost the taxpayers an unbelievable amount of money. In reality, the Congressional Budget Office says that repealing health care reform would cost the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.  One reason the bill was passed, in fact, is because spiraling health care costs were eating up more and more of the federal budget.  If you factor in the savings to individual consumers who pay for health care on top of taxes, the whole point of health care reform was to save money, not spend it. 

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It’s not out of the question to ask if opponents of health care reform are in such a hot hurry to start creating obstacles to implementation precisely because they fear that once health care reform goes into effect, the savings will become apparent to the average voter.  When that happens, good luck trying to ever repeal it. But if health care reform is subjected to the promised hundreds of hearings, there is a good possibility that the implementation could be delayed as desired, which might give Republicans enough time to take enough power in D.C. to repeal health care reform before it goes into effect. As this is the most conservative House ever, they probably have the political will in Congress to do it.

The other hope, I suspect, is by continuing to make health care reform a contentious, news-grabbing issue, they can make people even more wary of it.  And then repeal starts to look more appealing just to shut them up.  As stupid as that sounds on paper, it’s actually quite crafty.  It’s a tactic favored strongly by the anti-choice movement.  Knowing that most Americans favor reproductive rights, and they can’t win their arguments on the merits, anti-choicers instead just kick up a lot of dirt and make themselves so annoying that the general public is open to making concessions in exchange for some relief.  Basically, it’s bullying.  As anyone who spent time in middle school can attest, sadly, bullying often works.

And, as anyone who has dealt with bullies can tell you, they are rarely satisfied.  Once you concede any ground to them, they start to see you as weak and an easy target.  You end up having to appease more and more without any end to it.  The only real way to handle this strategy of using House powers to hold harassing hearings is to stand up to it.  Which means making a big stink over it, calling it for what it is, and shaming the congressmen who call pointless hearings with no real intention to discover anything new.  As long as this goes on, health care supporters should emphasize that congressional hearings are about rooting out corruption, not being corrupt in and of themselves.  If done properly, this process should make the people who are calling the hearings look bad, and health care reform won’t pick up some public taint because of it.

It would probably also help to anticipate where attacks are going to come from next. As I noted in this week’s podcast, for instance, there’s almost no way that health care opponents will let birth control be covered as preventive medicine without a fight. Folks like Sarah Palin lie unblinkingly about abortion being covered under this new bill, so there’s absolutely no way they’re not going to hijack the same resentments to make a stink about birth control coverage.  If you want to whip up the easily resentful quickly, provoking them by suggesting other people are getting laid and having fun on their dime will do it.  Never mind that having sex is a normal part of most people’s lives, making contraception just as much health care as controlling digestive problems for those who eat and enjoy it.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the slower health care reform is to be implemented, and the more watered down it is, the easier it will be for opponents to convince the public that it was a bad idea. Fighting hard is the only way to save health care.  Rolling over and seeking compromise is just a way of letting it be killed slowly.