News Abortion

A Big Week For Big Government In Your Texan Uterus

Andrea Grimes

Cramps worse than usual this week, Texas ladies? Perhaps it's because there's so many Texas legislators running rampant in your ladyparts.

If you’re a Texan woman who’s been popping extra ibuprofen in hopes of calming the twists and turns in your ladybits this week, it might be because there’s a whole passel of legislators, bureaucrats and activists fighting over and for your reproductive rights–and that’s not completely a bad thing.

We’ll start with the almost-good news: the Center for Reproductive Rights has officially filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas challenging the mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bill that Rick Perry and his (do we really need to say male?) buddies signed into law in May. The bill requires women to hear a fetal heartbeat, if available, and to actively decline from seeing an image of the fetus, though they must hear a description of it from the doctor.

Nancy Northrup, the president of the CRR, told Rewire that “We’re suing the state of Texas because they passed a law that’s intrusive, patronizing and unconstitutional.” In their original petition, CRR claims that the State of Texas is forcing doctors to do its ideological bidding, and that it would:

“compel physicians to deliver to their patients government-mandated speech including visual and auditory depictions of the fetus that falls outside the accepted standards and practices for medical informed consent.”

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CRR has filed a similar lawsuit in Oklahoma, the only other state with a mandatory ultrasound law on the books. The group hopes to gain an injunction against the law while their suit winds its way through the courts, delaying the time when–or if–Texas women will have to undergo the ultrasounds. Texans can follow the CRR’s progress at their Trust Texas Women website.

That’s where the good news stops. Thanks to an eleventh-hour filibuster at the end of the regular session of the Texas Legislature by Fort Worth’s Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis, lawmakers have entered into a special session. Davis hoped to use the session to get more time to funnel money to Texas schools–you’ll remember that Texas is facing its worst-ever budget crisis and conservatives are loathe to spend any money on vital social services, making cutbacks aplenty.

The conservative super-majority has instead decided to use the special session to focus, yet again, on regulating women’s reproductive rights by tagging an amendment on to the state health care bill that would block Planned Parenthood from receiving any of Texas’ Medicaid dollars from its Women’s Health Program (WHP). Indiana legislators have tried a similar tactic, and been told by the federal government that it’s illegal. But that’s not stopping Texas from trying, itself.

In fact, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott seems downright cocky about his intentions to keep poor women on Medicaid from accessing Planned Parenthood–which provides about 40 percent of preventive services under the WHP. In a ruling earlier this year, Abbott said that the WHP “may not contract with entities that are affiliates of entities that perform or promote elective abortions.” By hoping to redefine the word “affiliate,” Abbott and the conservative Texas legislature hope to keep Medicaid dollars out of the hands of Planned Parenthood, even though their abortion providers are handled under a separate organization.

A representative from Planned Parenthood of North Texas told Rewire that this is simply “setting women up to fail.” Holly Morgan, the director of media relations at PPNT, can’t believe legislators aren’t connecting the dots when it comes to preventative care, contraceptive access and abortion.

“They don’t want women to have abortions, so they’re blocking women’s abortion services,” but “they’re taking away any chance you have of preventing an unwanted pregnancy to begin with.”

Sarah Wheat, the interim president of Planned Parenthood in Texas, says they expect to have a decision from the state department of Health and Human Services in the next couple of months that will determine the definition of “affiliate,” that she says will most likely “place Texas at odds” with federal Medicaid.

And while Texas schools and other social services are at risk of deep cuts in this budget battle, some legislators still can’t stop themselves introducing new, invasive legislation intended to infringe upon a woman’s right to choose. Bill Zedler, a representative from North Texas, introduced a bill last week that would collect potentially identifying personal information from any Texas woman seeking an abortion–and place it online on a public, state-run website.

“It’s Big Brother,” said Holly Morgan of PPNT. In smaller communities, questions like the age, race, marital status and educational background of a woman could be all that’s needed to identify a woman getting an abortion. The bill says to women, “We’re going to keep you on a list somewhere,” Morgan told Rewire. Just as with the mandatory ultrasound bill, Texas is following in the footsteps of Oklahoma with the personal information survey. There, the law was struck down as unconstitutional.

Anyone got an Advil?

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.