Margaret Cho on the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS; Mississippi is in need of some serious comprehensive sex-ed; and Texas still criminalizes homosexuality?
According to the American Independent, in response to North Caroline Rep. Larry Brown’s immensely homophobic and hateful comments that he’ll seek to defund HIV and AIDS treatment programs in his state because those “living perverted lifestyles” shouldn’t receive government funding, LGBT groups said the comments were “unacceptable,” “hysterical,” and “judgemental.” But, more than that, Brown’s comments could cause people not to get tested or seek treatment.
Jackson, Mississippi desperately needs comprehensive sex education for the young people who live there. According to the Jackson Free Press, school districts there are not required to teach any sex education. If they do, most follow the Mississippi Department of Education framework which teaches only abstinence-until-marriage. But a Department of Health survey showed, “…44.9 percent of Mississippi high-school students say they had sexual intercourse within the three months leading up to the survey.” And Jackson Public Schools’ educator Nancy Sylvester who originally advocated for abstinence-only programs but yesterday testified as to the dire need for information to be taught to young people about contraception, says that programs must also address the “social, emotional and mental-health issues of teens and families.”
Yikes. Texas continues to keep a law on the books which criminalizes “homosexual activity” despite it being unconstitutional according to the U.S. Supreme Court. State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D) has introduced a bill to “correct the law.” However, notes the American Independent, at least one Texas school district incorporates the language found in the Health and Safety Code which deals with the provision, in its official policies:
“Instruction shall not represent homosexuality as a normal or acceptable lifestyle. Homosexuality shall be discussed in conjunction with education about sexually transmitted diseases. Teachers shall provide information of a factual nature only, and shall not explicitly discuss homosexual practices. Students should be informed that homosexual acts are illegal in Texas and highly correlated with the transmission of AIDS. Students shall be directed to seek value-oriented information regarding homosexuality from their parents/ guardians.”
State legislatures came into session in January and quickly focused on a range of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. By the end of the first quarter, legislators in 45 states had introduced 1,021 provisions. Of the 411 abortion restrictions that have been introduced so far this year, 17 have passed at least one chamber, and 21 have been enacted in five states (Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Utah).
This year’s legislative sessions are playing out on a crowded stage. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case involving a package of abortion restrictions in Texas; that decision, when handed down in June, could reshape the legal landscape for abortion at the state level. Moreover, just as state legislatures were hitting their stride in late March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revised the labeling for mifepristone, one of the two drugs used for medication abortion. That decision immediately put the issue back on the front burner by effectively counteracting policies restricting access to medication abortion in a handful of states. (Notably, the Arizona legislature moved within days to enact a measure limiting the impact of the FDA decision in the state.)
Progress on Several Fronts
Despite the ongoing attention to restricting abortion, legislators in several states are looking to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services and education. By the end of the first quarter, legislators in 32 states had introduced 214 proactive measures; of these, 16 passed at least one legislative body, and two have been enacted. (This is nearly the same amount introduced in the year 2015, when 233 provisions were introduced.)
Although the proactive measures introduced this year span a wide range of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, three approaches have received particular legislative attention:
Allowing a 12-month contraceptive supply. Legislators in 16 states have introduced measures to allow pharmacists to dispense a year’s supply of contraceptives at one time; these bills would also require health plans to reimburse for a year’s supply provided at once. (In addition, a bill pending in Maryland would cover a six-month supply.) Legislative chambers in three states (Hawaii, New York, and Washington) have approved measures. Similar measures are in effect in Oregon and the District of Columbia.
Easing contraceptive access through pharmacies. Legislators in 12 states have introduced measures to allow pharmacists to prescribe and dispense hormonal contraceptives. As of March 31, bills have been approved by at least one legislative chamber in Hawaii and Iowa and enacted in Washington. The measures in Hawaii and Iowa would require pharmacist training, patient counseling, and coverage by insurance; the Hawaii measure would apply only to adults, while the Iowa measure would apply to both minors and adults. The new Washington law directs the state’s Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission to develop a notice that will be displayed at a pharmacy that prescribes and dispenses self-administered hormonal contraception. Under current state law, a pharmacy may prescribe and dispense these contraceptives under a collaborative practice agreement with an authorized prescriber. Oregon has a similar measure in effect. (California, the only other state with such a law, issued regulations in early April.)
Expanding education on sexual coercion. Measures are pending in 17 states to incorporate education on dating violence or sexual assault into the sex or health education provided in the state. A bill has been approved by one legislative chamber in both New Hampshire and New York. The measure approved by the New Hampshire Senate would require age-appropriate education on child sexual abuse and healthy relationships for students from kindergarten through grade 12. The measure approved by the New York Senate would mandate education on child sexual abuse for students from kindergarten through grade 8. And finally, in March, Virginia enacted a comprehensive new law requiring medically accurate and age-appropriate education on dating violence, sexual assault, healthy relationships, and the importance of consensual sexual activity for students from kindergarten through grade 12. Virginia will join 21 other states that require instruction on healthy relationships.
Ongoing Assault on Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services
Even as many legislators are working to expand access to services, others are continuing their now years-long assault on sexual and reproductive health services and rights. Restricting access to abortion continues to garner significant attention. However, last year’s release of a series of deceptively edited sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood has swept both the family planning safety net and biomedical research involving fetal tissue into the fray.
Abortion bans. Legislative attempts to ban abortion fall along a broad continuum, from measures that seek to ban all or most abortions to those aimed at abortions performed after the first trimester of pregnancy or those performed for specific reasons.
Banning all or most abortions. Legislators in nine states have introduced measures to ban all or most abortions in the state, generally by either granting legal “personhood” to a fetus at the moment of conception or prohibiting abortions at or after six weeks of pregnancy. Only one of these measures, a bill in Oklahoma that would put performing an abortion outside the bounds of professional conduct by a physician, has been approved by a legislative chamber.
Banning D&E abortions. Legislators in 13 states have introduced measures to ban the most common technique used in second-trimester abortions. Of these, a bill in West Virginia was enacted in March over the veto of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D). A similar measure was approved by both houses of the Mississippi legislature and is being considered by a conference committee. (Kansas and Oklahoma enacted similar laws last year, but enforcement of both has been blocked by court action.)
Banning abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization. South Dakota and Utah both enacted measures seeking to block abortions at 20 weeks during the first quarter of the year. The new South Dakota law explicitly bans abortions at 20 weeks post-fertilization (which is equivalent to 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period). The Utah measure requires the use of anesthesia for the fetus when an abortion is performed at or after that point, something that providers would be extremely unlikely to do because of the increased risk to the woman’s health. In addition to these new measures, 12 other states ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization.
Banning abortion for specific reasons. In March, Indiana enacted a sweeping measure banning abortions performed because of gender, race, national origin, ancestry, or fetal anomaly; no other state has adopted such a broad measure. The Oklahoma House approved a measure to ban abortion in the case of a fetal genetic anomaly; the state already bans abortion for purposes of sex selection. Currently, seven states ban abortion for the purpose of gender selection, including one state that also bans abortion based on race selection and one that also bans abortion due to fetal genetic anomaly.
Family planning funding restrictions. In the wake of the Planned Parenthood videos, several states have sought to limit funding to family planning health centers that provide or refer for abortion or that are affiliated with abortion providers. These efforts are taking different forms across states.
Medicaid. Measures to exclude abortion providers (e.g., Planned Parenthood affiliates) from participating in Medicaid have been introduced in five states, despite the clear position of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that such exclusions are not permitted under federal law. In March, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a Medicaid restriction into law. By the end of the first quarter, measures had passed one chamber of the legislature in Arizona, Mississippi, and Missouri; a measure introduced in Washington has not been considered. (A related measure enacted in Wisconsin in February limits reimbursement for contraceptive drugs for Medicaid recipients.)
Similar attempts by six other states have been blocked by court action since 2010. These measures include laws adopted by Indiana and Arizona as well as administrative actions taken in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.
Other family planning funds. Legislators in 13 states have introduced measures to prevent state or federal funds that flow through state agencies from being distributed to organizations that provide, counsel, or refer for abortions; the measures would also deny funds to any organization affiliated with an entity engaging in these activities. Measures in three of these states have received significant legislative attention. In February, Wisconsin enacted a measure directing the state to apply for Title X funds (the state is not currently a grantee under the program); if the state’s application were approved, the measure would ban this funding from going to organizations that engage in abortion care-related activity. A measure that would deny funds to organizations engaged in abortion care-related activity passed the Kentucky Senate in February. A similar measure in Virginia, which would both prohibit an abortion provider from receiving funding and give priority to public entities (such as health centers operated by health departments) in the allocation of state family planning funds was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in March.
Related funds. In February, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a measure barring abortion providers or their affiliates from receiving federal funds passing through the state treasury to support breast and cervical cancer screening; sex education; and efforts to prevent infertility, HIV in minority communities, violence against women, and infant mortality.
Fetal tissue research. The Planned Parenthood videos have also led to legislation in 28 states aimed at research involving fetal tissue. Measures have passed one legislative chamber in four states (Alabama, Iowa, Idaho, and Kentucky), and new laws have been enacted in four states (Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and South Dakota) in the first quarter alone. All four laws ban the donation of fetal tissue for purposes of research. These new laws are the first to ever ban the donation of fetal tissue. The Arizona law also bans research using fetal tissue, and the new South Dakota law strengthens the state’s existing ban by now considering fetal tissue research as a felony; four other states (Indiana, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma) have similar provisions in effect.
Zohra Ansari-Thomas, Olivia Cappello, and Lizamarie Mohammed all contributed to this analysis.
The release of a video produced by anti-choice activists who claim that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal organs has led GOP lawmakers to call for congressional hearings and governors to call for investigations.
However, questions have been raised about the claims of alleged illegal activities and about the agenda and connections of the organization that produced the heavily-edited video.
The video is alleged to show Planned Parenthood Senior Director of Medical Services Dr. Deborah Nucatola discussing the sale of fetal tissue with two unidentified actors posing as buyers from a biological company. The video was filmed without Nucatola’s knowledge at a Los Angeles restaurant on July 25, 2014.
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Contrary to the claims of anti-choice groups, Nucatola never says anything in the video about Planned Parenthood selling fetal organs or tissue.
Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero said in a statement that patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases.
The videos were produced by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a self-described group of “citizen journalists” who monitor and report on “medical ethics and advances.” David Daleiden, the organization’s project leader, told the Washington Post that the actors wore “police-quality undercover cameras,” but refused to elaborate further on how the video was produced.
“I don’t answer questions about our undercover costumes,” Daleiden said.
Daleiden is also an associate of the right-wing activists James O’Keefe and Charles C. Johnson.
O’Keefe produced similar undercover videos of public figures with his organization Project Veritas, most notably undercover videos that purported to show wrongdoing by employees of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in 2009. O’Keefe pled guilty in 2010 to charges stemming from an attempt to make undercover recordings at the office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), and was sentenced to three years’ probation.
Johnson, who shared the same academic advisor as Daleiden at Claremont McKenna College, wrote in a post on his website Got News that Daleiden worked “largely alone” on the Center for Medical Progress project.
Beyond Daleiden’s connections to these prominent conservative young activists, CMP includes connections to some of the anti-choice movement’s more radical members.
The “initial registration form” the organization filed with the Office of the California Attorney General in 2013 lists three people as the organization’s officers: Troy Newman, Albin Rhomberg, and Daleiden.
Newman, who is named as the organization’s secretary, is one of the most prominent and radical activists in the anti-choice movement, and serves as the president of Operation Rescue. After the 2003 execution of Paul Jennings Hill, who was convicted for the 1994 murder of abortion provider John Britton in Pensacola, Florida, Newman issued a press release defending Hill because the “court prevented him from presenting the legal defense that his conduct was justifiable defensive action.”
Another individual, Nichole Surkala, is listed on the initial paperwork as “initial agent,” who under state law would accept legal documents on the organization’s behalf if a lawsuit was filed naming CMP.
Life Legal Defense Foundation revealed its support of CMP this week, prompting Daleiden to praise the organization, reported the Christian News Wire. LLDF provides legal counsel to various anti-choice activists and organizations. It has been involved with litigation with clients including pro-life Mississippi anti-choice activists who were arrested due to protest activities outside the Jackson Women’s Health Center. LLDF also joined Alliance Defending Freedom in filing an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit in support of HB 2 in Texas. “The Center for Medical Progress thanks Life Legal Defense Foundation for their initiative and foresight in consulting on and helping to develop this project,” said Daleiden.
CMP, a nonprofit registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3, is at the center of media firestorm over the videos. However, there is still precious little information publicly available about the organization or the individuals and funding behind it.
There is no office space that houses the organization, as both the address listed in the founding paperwork and the address listed on the organization’s website contact information are private mail boxes rented at PostalAnnex stores. The CMP website was registered through the Bluehost privacy service in April 2013, and the phone number listed goes directly to voicemail.
Daleiden has been the only public face of the organization, but he has given few interviews since the release of the video. Rewire requested an interview with Daleiden through CRC Public Relations, a public relations firm with clients that include conservative organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and the Federalist Society.
Live Action has produced several similar undercover and selectively edited videos attacking Planned Parenthood for alleged wrongdoing. None of Live Action’s claims have ever been successfully proven. In his blog post, Johnson claimed that “the lack of power” in Lila Rose’s recent videos at Live Action “owes mostly to the fact that David [Daleiden] left her organization.”
The release of the video has led to calls for congressional hearings and investigations of Planned Parenthood—a longtime target of anti-choice legislators on the state and federal level.
“When an organization monetizes an unborn child—and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video—we must all act,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R) said in statement, reported Politico. “As a start, I have asked our relevant committees to look into this matter. I am also calling on President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) announced Wednesday that his committee would investigate the allegations made against Planned Parenthood.
“Every human life is sacred and should be protected from the atrocities allegedly undertaken by Planned Parenthood. The House Judiciary Committee is investigating these horrific acts including ascertaining how Congress might act,” Goodlatte said in a statement.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said the upcoming investigations are “another witch hunt” by Republicans, reported the Associated Press.
The fury from at least some Republican lawmakers might not have been as spontaneous as it appeared.
Republican Congressman Tim Murphy, a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, said at a press conference Wednesday that he’d seen the video weeks before, reported CQ Roll Call. Republican Congressman Trent Franks also said that he had seen the video about a month ago.
When Murphy was asked why he and others waited until the video’s release to take action, the congressman reportedly struggled to answer the question before abruptly ending the interview with CQ Roll Call. Murphy then reportedly said that he should not be quoted. “This interview didn’t happen,” Murphy said.
Several anti-choice organizations also expressed outrage over the videos and called for investigations.
Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest said in a statement that there should be an immediate congressional investigation. “We call for an immediate Congressional investigation into these alleged atrocities,” Yoest said. “And just as important, the time is now to de-fund Planned Parenthood. The American taxpayer should not be in business with such callous profiteers.”
Governors of five states have also called for investigations into Planned Parenthood.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) ordered an investigation of Planned Parenthood and moved to block the organization from building a reproductive health-care facility, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced his office is investigating whether the state’s three Planned Parenthood centers broke the law by “profiting from the sale of aborted babies.”