Law and Policy

Virulent New Wave of Anti-Women, Anti-Abortion Attacks

Lina

From the “guerrilla activists” trying to take down Planned Parenthood to the state and federal legislators (from both parties) further restricting women’s access to abortion, 2011 has seen more assaults on women’s most fundamental rights yet – even more even under the Bush years. There are 3 anti-abortion federal bills and more than 200 state level bills restricting access to abortion (and cutting funds for birth control, cancer screenings and other basic care for women into the attacks for good measure). Many of the state-level bills pose fundamental challenges to Roe v. Wade, paving the way for Supreme Court challenges down the line.  What we need is an outpouring of resistance to this assault on the humanity of women!

UPDATED FEBRUARY 21

 From the “guerrilla activists” trying to take down Planned Parenthood to the state and federal legislators (from both parties) further restricting women’s access to abortion, 2011 has seen more assaults on women’s most fundamental rights yet – even more even under the Bush years. There are 3 anti-abortion federal bills and more than 200 state level bills restricting access to abortion (and cutting funds for birth control, cancer screenings and other basic care for women into the attacks for good measure). Many of the state-level bills pose fundamental challenges to Roe v. Wade, paving the way for Supreme Court challenges down the line.  What we need is an outpouring of resistance to this assault on the humanity of women!

Merle Hoffman, director of Choices Women’s Medical Center says: “the right to reproductive freedom is like the right to breathe: it transcends laws.”  Why is that the case? And why must justice-loving people stand against this new wave of attacks on women?  Listen to a conversation with Debra Sweet, Sunsara Taylor, Dr. LeRoy Carhart, Merle Hoffman and Carole Joffe on why abortion is such an important moral and political right. 

Snapshots of the situation:

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Andrew Breitbart, James O’Keefe (both notorious for their attempts to bring down ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, through sending in actors and hidden cameras in an attempt to frame ACORN employees for aiding a pimp), and Lila Rose, a young activist claiming legitimacy by virtue of the fact that she’s a woman, have deployed almost identical tactics as Breitbart and O’Keefe previously used with ACORN in an attempt to show Planned Parenthood assisting underage sex traffickers through use of highly edited and manipulated video footage.

Jodie Jacobson at Rewire writes on how the whole set-up only proves Planned Parenthood provides health care and accurate information for women (which is, admittedly, rare, in today’s climate): Second “Explosive(!)” “Shocking(!)” Live Action Video Reveals… Health Workers Providing Care! Also see: Media Matters: A Refresher Course On Andrew Breitbart’s Dishonest Tactics

As dangerous as this is (the threat that these outlandish antics will result in legal actions to shut down PP nationally is not out of the question), this is not the only attempt to take down Planned Parenthood underway, as the anti-abortion bills currently being debated in the House would defund all of their work (which actually mainly consists of routine gynecological care and contraceptives). See Gail Collins: The Siege of Planned Parenthood for more.

The status quo has meant no federal funding goes to abortion services already – these new bills would codify the Hyde amendment, applying it to the new insurance law passed last year, making the Hyde amendment’s restrictions permanent and extending them to include private insurance plans and organizations like Planned Parenthood domestically and those internationally assisted by USAID.  As a result, basic health care, birth control and sex education provided by organizations that receive US funds would be eliminated and hardly any insurance policies would cover abortion services in the US.  The potential impact extends far beyond restricting abortion services for women. 

Federal abortion bans and slash-and-burn assaults on contraceptives and basic medical care for women

The two specifically anti-abortion bills currently under debate differ only slightly from each other.  One, “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” is co-sponsored by a Democrat, Rep. Lipinski of Illinois.  The other, the “Protect Life Act” (sic) is sponsored by Rep. Pitts (the Republican half from last year’s Stupak-Pitts amendment).  Lipinski and his co-sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith claimed to have withdrawn language from their bill that would have redefined rape, allowing abortion coverage only in cases of “forcible rape” after a round of righteous protests (the language has not yet been removed as of this writing).  However, they then went on to insert language that matched the Pitts’ bill, which would reverse standing law and authorize hospitals to refuse to provide abortions even when a woman’s life is in danger.

In other words, this would mean that a pregnant woman could present at an emergency room with a life-threatening condition and hospital staff could act on their “consciences,” refusing to either terminate the pregnancy or transfer her to a facility that could do so, even if that means that the woman will die.  If you don’t believe they would really rather see women die than carry out life-saving abortions, look at the excommunication of a nun and the stripping of a hospital’s affliation with the Catholic Church by the Phoenix bishop this past year (yes, it was for saving a woman’s life). Also:

Amie Newman: No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion? A New Bill With An Old FaceJodi Jacobson: Protecting Life? New Bill Says Its OK to Let Women Die

On February 18, the House of Representatives voted in favor (with the support of 10 Democrats) of sweeping aside Title X funds provided by the federal government that subsidize birth control, cancer screenings and routine gynecological care for low-income women through organizations like Planned Parenthood. According Planned Parenthood, 1 out of 5 women in the US visit their clinics at least once in their lives, receiving basic medical care and paying on a sliding scale. This action makes the anti-abortion movement’s larger agenda even clearer, as federal funds for abortion have not been available in decades. This attack on Title X, billed as a way to “eradicate” access to birth control by the “pro-life” movement, came separate from the larger budget cuts being proposed which will slash into programs like WIC which provide low-income women, infants, and children with food (which, it should be noted, make up a tiny fraction of military spending). 

And at the local level

State legislatures across the country are debating new repressive laws. These are just a couple of examples:

In Kansas (Dr. George Tiller’s home state), a “fetal pain” bill similar to what forced Dr. Carhart to move to MD late last year is in the works, even though actual scientific research proves “fetal pain” is non-existent.

While in Wichita, a judge ruled against a local family doctor, Dr. Mila Means, who is preparing to provide abortions, arguing that her landlord could restrict her services out of fear of the protests that Operation Rescue is already mounting at her clinic. Local anti-abortion activists are also allowed space at the Wichita public elementary school. Must watch: Rachel Maddow’s interview with Dr. Means.

And, perhaps even more bizarrely… look at South Dakota, where a bill legalizing the murder of abortion providers is actually being debated. “Justifiable homicide” was considered as the defense for Dr. Tiller’s convicted assassin during his trial – and this law, outrageously, would provide an actual legal basis for murder (of an actual, real live person – again, this is coming from the “pro-life” crowd).  Also in South Dakota, a law is in the works that would require women seeking abortions to first be subjected to a shaming ritual at a non-healthcare providing “crisis pregnancy center.”  These centers are organized by anti-abortion activists, and while they sometimes provide desperate women who enter their doors with baby blankets, what they are mainly known for dispensing is religious lies about the consequences of having abortions.

In Ohio, an abortion ban starting “when there is a fetal heartbeat” (as early as 18 days from conception) is pending. This law stands out from many for it’s potential to pose a direct legal challenge to Roe, and to bring about a showdown in the Supreme Court.

Where is the opposition to all of this?  Many pro-choice people are counting on these debates to be settled by Obama’s veto power.  But that hope doesn’t even speak to the need to stop these measures coming at the state level, the threat represented by these attempts to frame Planned Parenthood for crimes or the undeterred mobilizations on the part of groups like Operation Rescue against current (or future!) abortion providers.  Meanwhile, a group of anti-abortion Democrats have issued a plan for reducing abortions by 95% in 10 years, without even mentioning birth control.

Ashley Sayeau, looking at the situation in the US from the UK, writes, “while these bills do not decrease abortion, they do definitely degrade women’s political and social status – which may be the larger goal, anyway.”

Well, these restrictions may actually mean fewer abortions – and they may mean that some women will die – but the larger point is certainly true.  The culture war far underway is about nothing less than the social role of women and our most basic rights.  It time we start talking about it in these terms.

Find a protest February 26 near you and Walk for Choice!

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.