Morning Roundup: PA News Organizations Petition to Unseal Minor’s Denied Judicial Bypass

Beth Saunders

More on the anti-choice Biebs, House member discusses her abortion at 17 weeks, Alaska moves forward with "Choose Life" plate legislation, Texas mandatory ultrasound bill advances, and Pittsburgh news organizations want to unseal a minor's denied request for a judicial bypass.

More on the anti-choice Biebs, House member discusses her abortion at 17 weeks, Alaska moves forward with “Choose Life” plate legislation, Texas mandatory ultrasound bill advances, and Pittsburgh news organizations want to unseal a minor’s denied request for a judicial bypass.

  • Not sure if you heard, but Justin Bieber is anti-choice. Read Amie Newman’s fantastic piece on why she believes he was even asked the question, and the interviewer, Vanessa Grigoriadis, defends her questions. Naturally, anti-choice youth groups are drooling over his statements, while Rep. Chris Murphy’s responded on Twitter with, “Ugh.”
  • One in three. That’s how many women have an abortion in this country. After graphically describing an abortion procedure, Rep. Chris Smith – and other members of the House – may have been shocked when Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) declared on the House floor that had an abortion at 17 weeks pregnant, and had the same procedure that Smith had just detailed. “For you to stand on this floor and suggest that this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous,” Speier said. Watch the video of her speech.
  • Alaska may be the next state with “Choose Life” license plates. A bill allowing the plate to be sold for $30 passed its first committee in the state house.
  • The Texas Senate has passed the “emergency” ultrasound bill – aka the “women are too simple to understand what an abortion is” bill.
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other news organizations are suing to open a sealed Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling and appeal on a teenager who was denied a judicial bypass (which is very rare). The media groups say the ruling should be unsealed, with the teen’s name redacted, because the case could set legal precedent. Read more about the case of a seventeen year old denied a judicial bypass by a judge endorsed by People Concerned for the Unborn Child and LifePAC because she “used bad grammar.”

Feb 17

Analysis Politics

Experts: Trump’s Proposal on Child Care Is Not a ‘Solution That Deals With the Problem’

Ally Boguhn

“A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals," Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute told Rewire.

In a recent speech, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested he now supports policies to made child care more affordable, a policy position more regularly associated with the Democratic Party. The costs of child care, which have almost doubled in the last 25 years, are a growing burden on low- and middle-income families, and quality options are often scarce.

“No one will gain more from these proposals than low- and middle-income Americans,” claimed Trump in a speech outlining his economic platform before the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. He continued, “My plan will also help reduce the cost of childcare by allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of childcare spending from their taxes.” But economic experts question whether Trump’s proposed solution would truly help alleviate the financial burdens faced by low- and middleincome earners.

Details of most of Trump’s plan are still unclear, but seemingly rest on addressing child care costs by allowing families to make a tax deduction based on the “average cost” of care. He failed to clarify further how this might work, simply asserting that his proposal would “reduce cost in child care” and offer “much-needed relief to American families,” vowing to tell the public more with time. “I will unveil my plan on this in the coming weeks that I have been working on with my daughter Ivanka … and an incredible team of experts,” promised Trump.

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An adviser to the Trump campaign noted during an interview with the Associated Press Monday that the candidate had yet to nail down the details of his proposal, such as what the income caps would be, but said that the deductions would only amount to the average cost of child care in the state a taxpayer resided in:

Stephen Moore, a conservative economist advising Trump, said the candidate is still working out specifics and hasn’t yet settled on the details of the plan. But he said households reporting between $30,000 and $100,000, or perhaps $150,000 a year in income, would qualify for the deduction.

“I don’t think that Britney Spears needs a child care credit,” Moore said. “What we want to do is to help financially stressed middle-class families have some relief from child-care expenses.”

The deduction would also likely apply to expensive care like live-in nannies. But exemptions would be limited to the average cost of child care in a taxpayer’s state, so parents wouldn’t be able to claim the full cost of such a high-price child care option.

Experts immediately pointed out that while the details of Trump’s plan are sparse, his promise to make average child care costs fully tax deductible wouldn’t do much for the people who need access to affordable child care most.

Trump’s plan “would actually be pretty poorly targeted for middle-class and low-income families,” Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), told Rewire on Monday.

That’s because his tax breaks would presumably not benefit those who don’t make enough money to owe the federal government income taxes—about 44 percent of households, according to Blair. “They won’t get any benefit from this.”

As the Associated Press further explained, for those who don’t owe taxes to the government, “No matter how much they reduce their income for tax purposes by deducting expenses, they still owe nothing.”

Many people still may not benefit from such a deduction because they file standard instead of itemized deductions—meaning they accept a fixed amount instead of listing out each qualifying deduction. “Most [lower-income households] don’t choose to file a tax return with itemized deductions,” Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told Rewire Tuesday. That means the deduction proposed by Trump “favors higher income families because it’s related to your tax bracket, so the higher your tax bracket the more you benefit from [it],” added Blank.

A 2014 analysis conducted by the Congressional Research Service confirms this. According to its study, just 32 percent of tax filers itemized their deductions instead of claiming the standard deduction in 2011. While 94 to 98 percent of those with incomes above $200,000 chose to itemize their deductions, just 6 percent of tax filers with an adjusted gross income below $20,000 per year did so.

“Trump’s plan is also not really a solution that deals with the problem,” said Blair. “A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals.”

Those costs are increasingly an issue for many in the United States. A report released last year by Child Care Aware® of America, which advocates for “high quality, affordable child care,” found that child care for an infant can cost up to an average $17,062 annually, while care for a 4-year-old can cost up to an average of $12,781.

“The cost of child care is especially difficult for families living at or below the federal poverty level,” the organization explained in a press release announcing those findings. “For these families, full-time, center-based care for an infant ranges from 24 percent of family income in Mississippi, to 85 percent of family income in Massachusetts. For single parents the costs can be overwhelming—in every state annual costs of center-based infant care averaged over 40 percent of the state median income for single mothers.”

“Child care now costs more than college in most states in our nation, and it is an actual true national emergency,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and executive director of MomsRising, told Rewire in a Tuesday interview. “Donald Trump’s new proposed child care tax deduction plan falls far short of a solution because it’s great for the wealthy but it doesn’t fix the child care crisis for the majority of parents in America.”

Rowe-Finkbeiner, whose organization advocates for family economic security, said that in addition to the tax deduction being inaccessible to those who do not itemize their taxes and those with low incomes who may not pay federal income taxes, Trump’s proposal could also force those least able to afford it “to pay up-front child care costs beyond their family budget.”

“We have a crisis … and Donald Trump’s proposal doesn’t improve access, doesn’t improve quality, doesn’t lift child care workers, and only improves affordability for the wealthy,” she continued.

Trump’s campaign, however, further claimed in a statement to CNN Tuesday that “the plan also allows parents to exclude child care expenses from half of their payroll taxes—increasing their paycheck income each week.”

“The working poor do face payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, so a payroll tax break could help them out,” reported CNN. “But experts say it would be hard to administer.”

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released her own child care agenda in May, promising to use the federal government to cap child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income. 

A cap like this, Blank said, “would provide more help to low- and middle-income families.” She continued, “For example, if you had a family with two children earning $70,000, if you capped child care at 10 percent they could probably save … $10,000 a year.”

Clinton’s plan includes a promise to implement a program to address the low wages many who work in the child care industry face, which she calls the “Respect And Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators” program, or the RAISE Initiative. The program would raise pay and provide training for child-care workers.

Such policies could make a major difference to child-care workers—the overwhelming majority of which are women and workers of color—who often make poverty-level wages. A 2015 study by the EPI found that the median wage for these workers is just $10.31 an hour, and few receive employer benefits. Those poor conditions make it difficult to attract and retain workers, and improve the quality of care for children around the country. 

Addressing the low wages of workers in the field may be expensive, but according to Rowe-Finkbeiner, it is an investment worth making. “Real investments in child care bring for an average child an eight-to-one return on investment,” she explained. “And that’s because when we invest in quality access and affordability, but particularly a focus on quality … which means paying child-care workers fairly and giving child-care workers professional development opportunities …. When that happens, then we have lower later grade repetition, we have less future interactions with the criminal justice system, and we also have a lower need for government programs in the future for those children and families.

Affordable child care has also been a component of other aspects of Clinton’s campaign platform. The “Military Families Agenda,” for example, released by the Clinton campaign in June to support military personnel and their families, also included a child care component. The former secretary of state’s plan proposed offering these services “both on- and off-base, including options for drop-in services, part-time child care, and the provision of extended-hours care, especially at Child Development Centers, while streamlining the process for re-registering children following a permanent change of station (PCS).” 

“Service members should be able to focus on critical jobs without worrying about the availability and cost of childcare,” said Clinton’s proposal.

Though it may be tempting to laud the simple fact that both major party candidates have proposed a child care plan at all, to Rowe-Finkbeiner, having both nominees take up the cause is a “no-brainer.”

“Any candidate who wants to win needs to take up family economic security policies, including child care,” she said. “Democrats and Republicans alike know that there is a child care crisis in America. Having a baby right now costs over $200,000 to raise from zero to age 18, not including college …. Parents of all political persuasions are talking about this.”

Coming up with the right way to address those issues, however, may take some work.

“We need a bold plan because child care is so important, because it helps families work, and it helps them support their children,” the NWLC’s Blank said. “We don’t have a safety net for families to fall back on anymore. It’s really critical to help families earn the income their children need and child care gives children a strong start.” She pointed to the need for programs that offer families aid “on a regular basis, not at the end of the year, because families don’t have the extra cash to pay for child care during the year,” as well as updates to the current child care tax credits offered by the government.

“There is absolutely a solution, but the comprehensive package needs to look at making sure that children have high-quality child care and early education, and that there’s also access to that high-quality care,” Rowe-Finkbeiner told Rewire. 

“It’s a complicated problem, but it’s not out of our grasp to fix,” she said. “It’s going to take an investment in order to make sure that our littlest learners can thrive and that parents can go to work.”

Commentary Law and Policy

Judicial Fact-Finding Isn’t Just Legitimate, It’s Crucial

Noel León

One complaint that has been lodged by anti-choice activists since the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt decision is that courts are an improper place for evaluation of science. This concern misunderstands the role of courts and the way that scientific evidence is evaluated.

On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 3 in Whole Womans Health v. Hellerstedt, its biggest abortion-related case in 24 years, in favor of abortion providers in Texas. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Stephen Breyer signaled to legislatures and judges that it is constitutionally unacceptable to rely upon junk science when evaluating restrictions on abortion care.

Justice Breyer has validated what advocates have known for years: Legislative efforts used to justify abortion restrictions do not reflect reasonable disagreement over science.

The restrictions at issue in Whole Womans Health included legislative findings claiming that those restrictions were necessary to protect women’s health. Those findings were based on unproven claims, providing yet another piece of evidence that such laws have nothing to do with women’s health but are rather bare attempts to reduce or eliminate access to abortion care. The Supreme Court has now finally stated unequivocally that courts cannot let these sham laws based on false scientific claims stand without judicial scrutiny.

The decision, however, was not without criticism. One complaint that has been lodged by anti-choice activists since the decision is that courts are an improper place for evaluation of science. This concern misunderstands the role of courts and the way that scientific evidence is evaluated in courts, and also fails to recognize how rudimentary the Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health actually is.

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A district court is a trial court, and trial courts are designed for fact-finding. Our judicial system is built on an adversarial process in which two opposing parties present evidence to create a factual record. Because courts are not experts on science, scientific evidence is generally presented through expert testimony. Judges serve as the gatekeepers of that testimony and must evaluate the legitimacy of expert testimony before it can be included in the record. The exact standards for admission of expert testimony vary by state, but all courts must follow a basic standard. Courts then base final decisions on the record created at trial.

Trial court decisions can be appealed, reviewed, and overturned if an appellate court thinks the trial court did a poor job managing the development of the factual record, including improper admission of expert testimony without sufficient factual basis. Officers of the courtjudges, attorneys, etc.—are therefore charged with engaging in careful and thorough admission and interpretation of evidence to arrive at findings of fact, a standard intended to be enforced on appeal.

Courts generally follow a principal of deference to legislative findings of fact. This general deference is rational, especially where reasonable minds can disagree on the evidence upon which those findings are based. Legislators are elected and therefore (in theory) represent the people they govern. Legislators may call upon a wide range of evidence and shared understandings of the public to arrive at appropriate legislation and therefore (in theory) are able to pass broadly informed legislation for their constituents.

But when the views of the most powerful political voices go against the weight of the evidence, the importance of the judiciary’s role as gatekeeper and evaluator of evidence becomes starkly clear.

Justice Breyer reminds us in Whole Woman’s Health that even in Gonzales v. Carhart, a 2007 decision that is well known for upholding a restriction on abortion, “we must not place dispositive weight on [legislative] findings.” In fact, “the ‘Court retains an independent constitutional duty to review factual findings where constitutional rights are at stake.’” Although the Court ultimately upheld the restriction at issue in Gonzales, the Court noted that where “’evidence presented in the District Courts contradicts’ some of the legislative findings … ‘[u]ncritical deference to [the legislature’s] factual findings … is inappropriate.”

In this scenario judicial fact-finding is not only legitimate, it is crucial.

To be sure, district courts are not suited to be the sole arbiters of scientific evidence. Judges are no more reproductive health professionals than legislatures are, and bad actors exist on the bench just as they do in legislatures. Judges have certainly been guilty of ignoring science and upholding unjustifiable abortion restrictions. But Justice Breyer does not argue that courts be the only or even the primary evaluators of scientific evidence. The Supreme Court’s decision here should be interpreted as a directive to legislatures just as much as it is to courts, signaling to lawmakers that if they pass scientifically unsubstantiated laws that infringe on fundamental rights those laws will strongly risk being overturned.

This is not a controversial new idea. It is merely a requirement that courts and legislatures do their jobs in the ways they were designed to.

Whole Woman’s Health should usher in an era where both types of fact-finders in our system engage honestly with scientific evidence, especially where fundamental rights are implicated. Justice Breyer’s call for basic judicial scrutiny and the acknowledgement that scientific evidence is critically relevant to decisions about human dignity and fundamental constitutional rights come as an enormous relief to reproductive rights, health, and justice advocates who have grown despondent over the way that courts have simply deferred to legislative fact-finding based on unsound or nonexistent evidence.

Going forward, advocates hope courts and legislatures will heed the Supreme Court’s call to ensure that scientific integrity undergirds lawmaking and will thereby strive toward equal access to safe and dignified reproductive health care.

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