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Sanity Prevails in Oklahoma, For Now

Jodi Jacobson

After facing strong opposition to a targeted attack on Planned Parenthood's WIC program, Oklahoma's legislators have allowed a bill threatening the health of needy infants and children to die in committee.

This article was amended at 4:23 pm on Thursday, May 26th to delete a sentence that included both one outdated statistic and one current statistic found earlier in the article.

In a sign that–perhaps, maybe–the extreme right’s extremist attacks on the rights and health of women and children may have some limits, the Oklahoma legislature today allowed a bill to die in committee which, if passed, would have denied food vouchers and nutrition services to prenatal and pediatric clients served by Planned Parenthood of Tulsa County.

The amendment, attached to SB 709, would have defunded Planned Parenthood’s Women Infant and Children (WIC) program in Oklahoma. Had it been passed, it would have prohibited independent contractors from participating in the federal WIC program, which provides the vouchers for food and other nutritional support to women and families at risk.  Technically, it applied to nine organizations providing WIC services, but, as floor debate on and changes subsequently sought by authors of the measure made clear, it was a targeted attack on Planned Parenthood itself.

According to Tulsa World, for example, after lawmakers found that out that agencies other than Planned Parenthood would be affected, “the amendment’s author went to work to come up with language that spare[d] the other contractors while still taking WIC away from Planned Parenthood.” Planned Parenthood of Tulsa County serves 9,300 WIC clients who would have been forced to try to obtain nutrition services and support elsewhere. As Tulsa World pointed out: “For a mother of limited means, that could prove an extreme hardship and could mean some will have to drop out of the program.”

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In Tulsa, Planned Parenthood last year also provided about 5,600 pediatric care appointments and about 3,000 prenatal visits, among other primary health services it provides. Some of those contacts were with the same women and children currently receiving WIC through Planned Parenthood. Why not make their lives a little easier by letting them continue to receive all those services in one place?

Here’s why: Because the foes of Planned Parenthood can win political points by saying, “We kicked Planned Parenthood out of WIC.” The fact poor mothers and babies would be made to suffer as a result is an inconsequential by-product that doesn’t matter to them.

Planned Parenthood in Tulsa County has provided prenatal services to pregnant women  for over 20 years, and began providing full pediatric services 15 years ago when women and their families found it difficult to find a physician that had any openings.

Patients of Planned Parenthood in Tulsa rely on PPOK for prenatal services and later, full pediatric programs, which include immunizations, early screenings for hearing, vision, speech, physical and social development, and general health care.

“Funding from the WIC program is critical to achieving healthy outcomes for Planned Parenthood’s prenatal care clients who badly need the nutrition and food vouchers provided by WIC to ensure healthy babies,” according to Planned Parenthood.

After birth, WIC staff weighs, measures and tracks babies’ growth, and provide food vouchers to parents for their babies – and their babies’ siblings – to ensure healthy growth and development.

Tulsa World pointed out the hypocrisy of the “pro-life” agenda.

“In kicking Planned Parenthood out of the WIC program, lawmakers won’t be punishing Planned Parenthood. They’ll be punishing poor women who chose to have their babies and are trying to take care of them.”

But advocates mounted an extensive campaign opposing the bill, and succeeded in getting lawmakers to kill the bill. Earlier this month 150 Planned Parenthood supporters gathered at the Capital to express concern for Oklahoma women and families.

“We are extremely pleased that legislators in the State Senate and House have decided to end their dangerous political assault on the health of Oklahoma families,” said Nancy Kachel, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.

“It is clear that the people of Oklahoma had no appetite for a bill that would have taken away much-need food vouchers from infants and children. This targeted political attack would have prevented Planned Parenthood from providing critical prenatal and pediatric care to women and children in Tulsa County. Allowing this bill to die has prevented what would have been a devastating impact on thousands of families.”

This is a critical victory in the ongoing war on the health and lives of women and children being waged by the GOP and Tea Parties in states across the country, and one that comes at a time when Oklahoma has become known as one of the worst states for safe-guarding reproductive and sexual health of its citizens.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.