Commentary Race

Billboards Targeting Latinas Exposes Cynical Motives of Conservative Funders

Gillian Kane

As the newest campaign aimed at Latinas shows, it's likely more a case of racial opportunism, and any race will do, if it means advancing a conservative social agend.

In February, billboards in New York City warned that “The most dangerous place for African Americans is in the womb.” Now Latinos in Los Angeles learn that “El lugar más peligroso para un Latino es el vientre de su madre.” (“The most dangerous place for a Latino in in his mother’s womb.”) So what’s going on in the wombs of minority women in the United States? According to Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, which launched the Latina version last week in Los Angeles, Latina women are under attack from Planned Parenthood. Aguilar claims Planned Parenthood is systematically entering Latino neighborhoods to promote what amount to eugenic abortions.

The Latino Partnership’s initiative took its inspiration from the Texas-based anti-abortion group, Life Always, which created quite a kerfuffle in New York City this February when it previewed its billboard campaign advertising that African-American women’s wombs need protecting.

The Latino version was placed in advance of the recent twelve hour-long anti-choice conference at the LA Sports Arena. Headlining the event were anti-abortion luminaries Lila Rose and Texas Governor Rick Perry. Lila Rose came to prominence with her undercover video projects, intended to expose Planned Parenthood’s alleged bad practices. Rick Perry, a conservative kindred spirit and possible Republican presidential candidate, has marked his gubernatorial tenure with support for so-called “intelligent design” education in public schools and his disbelief in global warming.

Neither Rose nor Perry has demonstrated a particular commitment to either African-American or Hispanic women’s health but both do have a political agenda, shared with Aguilar and Life Always, to shut down Planned Parenthood by any means necessary. This of course is consistent with the agenda of many congressional Republicans, who recently succeeded in passing in the House of Representatives the Pence Amendment in to cut off all funding to Planned Parenthood (it was later blocked in the Senate).

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So is the recent concern for the welfare of Latinos and African-Americans genuine or is it part of a cynical strategy within the larger Republican effort to dismantle and discredit Planned Parenthood? At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, the latter is more probable. The Latino Partnership’s sudden interest in women’s health, or more specifically Planned Parenthood, dates to well-publicized February congressional debates about whether Planned Parenthood should be eligible for any federal family planning funds (the Pence amendment). Their interest in the issue was likely piqued by their prominent board member Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and key Republican strategist, who is also a vocal advocate for defunding Planned Parenthood.

Similarly, the launch of Life Always’ billboard targeting African-Americans in New York was timed to the same debate and coincided with African-American History Month. It also turned out to be less about abortion and more explicitly about Planned Parenthood. Life Always clarified that “this campaign continues our efforts to bring awareness to the respect for life issue and accentuates the gross inaccuracies that Planned Parenthood portrays to the public.” “From sexual abuse cover up, to racism, to untruths made by Planned Parenthood executives it provides a clear picture on what Planned Parenthood is really about.”

In a similar incident last year a billboard project targeting African-Americans in Atlanta was launched by the Georgia Right to Life Committee. Loretta Ross of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective predicted it would be “a race- and gender-baiting campaign [that] would have national implications, driving a racial wedge in the pro-choice movement and a gender wedge in communities of color.”

As the newest campaign aimed at Latinas shows, it’s likely more a case of racial opportunism, and any race will do, if it means advancing a conservative social agenda that can close down Planned Parenthood on its way to making health care for women only for the privileged. Who will they use as their next target?

News Politics

Cruz Calls for Surveillance of ‘Muslim Neighborhoods’ in Wake of Brussels Attack

Ally Boguhn

"[D]emonizing all Muslims is a misguided and counterproductive response to the terrorist threat posed by those motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam," Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in response to Cruz’s statement.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on Brussels, presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested that as president he would “patrol and secure” U.S. Muslim communities.

“We will do what we can to help them fight this scourge, and redouble our efforts to make sure it does not happen here. We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” Cruz said in a statement responding to terrorist attacks in Belgium’s capital city that left at least 30 dead and 230 wounded.

In response to criticism of his plan, Cruz later asserted during an interview on CNN, “That does not mean targeting Muslims. It means targeting radical Islamic terrorism.”

Cruz didn’t elaborate on how he recommends police officials distinguish between Muslims and radical Islamic terrorists, but he did say to host Anderson Cooper, “If you have a neighborhood where there’s a high level of gang activity, the way to prevent it is you increase the law enforcement presence there and you target the gang members to get them off the streets …. I’m talking about any area where there is a higher incidence of radical Islamic terrorism.”

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Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, condemned Cruz’s reaction in a Tuesday statement, saying, “demonizing all Muslims is a misguided and counterproductive response to the terrorist threat posed by those motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam.”

“Ordering special patrols of Muslim neighborhoods will almost certainly create an adversarial relationship between law enforcement and the communities they have sworn to protect, making those communities more vulnerable, more frightened, and often less willing to help,” Greenblatt continued.

“Profiling people based on their religion or race is blatantly unconstitutional and violates the guarantee of religious protection and religious freedom,” Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) national-security project, told the Nation. “One way to look at it is to replace the word ‘Muslim’ with ‘Jewish,’ ‘Christian,’ ‘African American,’ or ‘Latino.’ What’s wrong in one context is wrong in others.”

During his appearance on CNN, Cruz cited what he deemed a “successful program” implemented under former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, allowing New York Police Department (NYPD) officers to monitor Muslims in the city. However, as the Huffington Post reported, New York’s program was roundly unsuccessful in identifying any terrorist threats:

The GOP presidential hopeful blamed Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, for shuttering the program. According to The Associated Press, however, the department “never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation” in the six years that it eavesdropped on conversations.

Critics of profiling based on race, ethnicity, and religion say that these programs may interfere with the rights of those they target. The NYPD’s surveillance program increased stigma against Muslims, created fear among those living in targeted communities, damaged relationships between Muslims and the police, and silenced free speech, according to an American Civil Liberties Union fact sheet.

Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, warned in an interview with Vox that Cruz’s plan could go even further than the NYPD’s surveillance program.

“This goes light-years beyond that. Cruz is talking about police ‘securing’—what does that mean? Does that mean checkpoints on every corner? Does that mean papers on every street?” Hooper told the publication. “To me, this sounds like an armed occupation of Muslim neighborhoods.”

Commentary Law and Policy

Is One-Sixth a ‘Large Fraction’ When It Comes to Our Constitutional Rights?

David S. Cohen & Jeffrey B. Bingenheimer

When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most important abortion case before the Supreme Court in more than two decades, the resolution of the case may just come down to how the justices regard that fraction.

Read more of our coverage of ​Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt​ here.

This article is based on a new study published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online

If we told you that one-sixth of pregnancies in the United States would result in the death of the pregnant person, would you consider that number a large fraction?

How about if one-sixth of your life savings were wiped away in a banking error? Would you think one-sixth was a large fraction then?

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When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most important abortion case before the Supreme Court in more than two decades, the resolution of the case may just come down to how the justices regard that fraction.

At issue in the case is a Texas law that, among other provisions, would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and require abortion clinics to meet the exacting requirements of ambulatory surgical centers. If the law is allowed to go into effect, advocates say, all but nine or ten of the state’s abortion clinics will close. About 900,000 Texas women of reproductive age would have to travel more than 150 miles each way in order to reach one of those remaining clinics. With about 5.4 million women of reproductive age in the state, that would mean one-sixth of Texas’ women would face a serious obstacle in obtaining an abortion.

Why does it matter what fraction of women are affected? In a line of cases starting with Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, the Supreme Court and other federal courts have ruled that an abortion restriction will be found unconstitutional if it constitutes an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose. The Court explained further that an undue burden exists when the law is a substantial obstacle for a “large fraction” of people who are subject to that restriction.

Casey involved a Pennsylvania law that would have required married women to notify their husbands before they got an abortion. The Court reasoned that this provision only really affected women who were not in trusting relationships with their husbands. Based on the evidence before the Court, many of those women were in abusive relationships—so for an unspecified large fraction of them, requiring them to tell their husbands would be a substantial obstacle. Thus, this part of the law was struck down as unconstitutional.

In Whole Woman’s Health, however, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, concluding that one-sixth is “nowhere near” a large fraction; in a separate case, the same court ruled that a restriction that does not fall on the “vast majority” of women can never be a large fraction. Whether the Supreme Court agrees with the Fifth Circuit on this issue could very well determine the outcome of Whole Woman’s Health.

So is one-sixth a large fraction? We considered this question in a new study we published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. In it, we argue that the Fifth Circuit ignored the common understanding of one-sixth and the concept “large fraction.” The Supreme Court needs to take this study’s findings into consideration.

In our study, we distributed an online questionnaire (which you can take at the link) to potential respondents through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk system. The questionnaire included a few questions about respondents’ demographic characteristics and political orientation. Of primary interest, however, were 12 scenarios that we asked respondents to read. Each scenario featured the fraction one-sixth, and after each, we asked respondents, “In this scenario, do you consider one-sixth to be a large fraction?” Respondents could answer “yes” or “no.” We randomized the order in which the scenarios were presented.

We ended up with a sample of 504 individuals. The sample was heterogeneous: 76 percent of participants self-identified as white, 9 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 7 percent African-American, 3 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 5 percent mixed-race or other. Fifty-seven percent of respondents were male. They ranged in age from 18 to 76 years, with almost 70 percent being between 25 and 44 years old. What did we find?

First, it is easy to invent hypothetical scenarios in which the vast majority of people will describe one-sixth as a large fraction. When presented with a scenario in which one-sixth of tablets in a bottle of Tylenol were laced with the poison cyanide, 91 percent of respondents reported that one-sixth was a large fraction. When the scenario involved your boss requiring you to donate one-sixth of your take-home pay to her daughter’s elite private school, 93.5 percent of respondents did so.

Second, we found that changing key elements of otherwise similar scenarios can result in large differences in the proportion of respondents who described one-sixth as a large fraction. For example, we presented two scenarios, each of which involved a local business with 100 employees working at its main office. In one scenario, we said that the employees normally arrive on time, but that one day, one-sixth of them arrived to work late. In the alternate scenario, we said that one-sixth of employees of that business were killed one day in separate individual car accidents. When the scenario involved employees being late, only 28 percent of respondents described one-sixth as a large fraction; when it involved employees being killed in car accidents, fully 92 percent did so. Clearly, whether one-sixth is a large fraction depends heavily upon the baseline expectation in the scenario in which it is presented.

We also presented two politically charged scenarios, and examined how respondents’ tendency to describe one-sixth as a large fraction in these scenarios depended upon their own political orientation. One scenario mirrored closely the law at issue in Whole Woman’s Health: A state enacts a law that forces abortion clinics to close, and as a result, one-sixth of women of reproductive age would have to travel 150 miles or more to get to a clinic that remained open. A companion scenario involved a state law that forced gun stores to close, leaving one-sixth of the state’s adult residents 150 miles or more away from a gun store that remained open. Overall, 76 percent of respondents agreed that one-sixth was a large fraction in the abortion clinic scenario, whereas 52 percent did so in the gun store scenario.

What was most interesting, however, was how these responses varied according to respondents’ political orientation. We asked respondents to place themselves along a five-point scale, from very conservative to very liberal. In the abortion clinic scenario, 88 percent of people who described themselves as very liberal, compared to 48 percent of people who described themselves as very conservative, agreed that one-sixth was a large fraction. The pattern was reversed in the gun store example: 38 percent of people who said they were very liberal, versus 62 percent who said they were very conservative, described one-sixth as a large fraction in that scenario. 

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These results would not be surprising to a linguist. The adjective “large” has no absolute meaning, and becomes meaningful only in relation to a comparison group or baseline set of expectations. The basketball player Manute Bol is a large person, compared to other people, or even other NBA players. But a redwood tree of the same size would be considered small, and a planet the size of Manute Bol would be … not a planet at all.

What does all of this mean for Whole Woman’s Health? The Court has never specified what exactly a “large fraction” is under the Casey test, so the everyday English understanding of the phrase matters. With that in mind, the Fifth Circuit’s claims—that only a “vast majority” can count as a “large fraction” and that one-sixth “nowhere near” qualifies—is clearly at odds with common usage.

As our questions about political orientation indicate, the Supreme Court justices should be particularly careful to not to use superficial arguments to provide intellectual cover for their own moral beliefs or political views about abortion.

In its consideration of the case, the Court must provide a more sophisticated analysis that recognizes not only that one-sixth clearly can be a large fraction in some scenarios, but also that the determination has much to do with assumed expectations and values. In particular, if the justices value a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion, then one-sixth should be seen as a large fraction—because our baseline expectation should be that few people have their constitutional rights denied.