News Abortion

Senator Casey Introduces Two Bills to Limit Access to Abortion

Jodi Jacobson

Election season is just barely underway, but Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) is taking no chances.  He's already using your body as election collateral to position himself as a "conservative Democrat," introducing at least two bills seeking to limit your rights.

Election season is just barely underway, but Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA) is taking no chances.  He’s already using your body as election collateral to position himself as… a “conservative pro-life Democrat.”

This week, when the world was aflurry with talk of debt ceilings, financial collapse and 9.2 percent unemployment, Senator Casey found time to introduce at least two bills seeking to further restrict women’s access to safe, legal abortion.  Just for good measure.

One of these, S.1488, seeks to codify the Hyde Amendment, which currently exists as an amendment to annual appropriations bills and forbids federal funding of abortion care for women in need, except in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, and where the life of the pregnant woman is in danger. S.1488 was introduced on Tuesday, August 2nd, and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).

The second bill, S.1489, also introduced on August 2nd, is yet another conscience clause bill, purporting to “prohibit the discrimination and retaliation against individuals and health care entities that refuse to recommend, refer for, provide coverage for, pay for, provide, perform, assist, or participate in abortions.” Conscience clauses abound in both federal and state law and are constantly being expanded to include the refusal even to refer women at risk of death from a pregnancy to a provider who can help her.  Apparently, Senator Casey feels we need at least one more. It has also been referred to the Senate HELP committee.

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Senator Casey is of course the son of another famous Senator, his father Robert P. Casey, Sr., whose name is widely known in part because of his role in Casey v. Planned Parenthood.  And the current Senator Casey, a Catholic, is very heavily influenced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the anti-choice group supreme.

As of this writing, neither of these bills has any co-sponsors and neither of them is yet available in text on line. But apparently Senator Casey was very eager to ensure that he got ahead of the pack to “lead” on restricting women’s rights to self-determination, to decide whether, when, and with whom to have children, and to be able to enjoy their own “right to life” should their lives be threatened by a pregnany gone awry.

We will update further here when the text of the bills is available.

Analysis Politics

Virginia Congressman Swaps Districts After Gerrymandering Declared Unconstitutional (Updated)

Ally Boguhn

Seemingly absent from reporting on Rep. Randy Forbes' district shift is any note of Forbes’ extreme stances on abortion and LGBTQ equality, positions on which he has built his political career.

UPDATE, June 15, 12:40 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) was defeated in his campaign for re-election in Tuesday’s primary, leaving state Del. Scott W. Taylor (R-Virginia Beach) as the Republican candidate for Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. The loss marks “the second time in two weeks that redistricting played a role in felling a Republican House member,” reports Politico.

Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes (R) announced last week that he would switch districts, a move apparently intended to increase the odds of his re-election after a court ruling against Republican gerrymandering made his own district less friendly to him. But seemingly absent from reporting on the shift is any note of Forbes’ stances on abortion and LGBTQ equality, positions on which he would almost certainly continue a legacy of extremism should he remain in Congress.

Forbes’ decision to run in Virginia’s 2nd district, where there is “easier terrain for a Democratic challenger” instead of the 4th, which he currently represents, “is an acknowledgment that [Forbes would] face a tougher path to reelection if he stayed put,” according to the Hill.

Forbes is not required to live in the 2nd district in order to represent it in Congress.

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That “tougher path to reelection” comes after a federal appeals court reaffirmed a ruling that 2012 redistricting efforts conducted by the Republican-controlled state legislature unconstitutionally redrew election lines according to race in order to make the map more favorable to electing GOP politicians. The court found that Virginia’s 3rd district, which was already represented by a Democrat, had been packed with more Black voters to give adjacent districts a greater shot at electing Republican, thus violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The congressional map was consequently redrawn to distribute those voters to Forbes’ 4th district.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case after Republicans filed an appeal against the lower court’s decision, but congressional candidates only have until March 31 to file for the June primary. Earlier this month, the Court announced it will allow the election to move forward with the newly redrawn congressional lines.

The new districts change the demographics of Forbes’ 4th district, increasing both the share of Black residents of voting age from 31.3 percent to 40.9 percent of all voters, as well as the number of Democrats.

Comparably, the 2nd district offers a more favorable environment for Forbes as he seeks to claim the seat being vacated by the retirement of Republican Rep. Scott Rigell.

Forbes has carved out a niche for himself as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, but even more notable has been his work advocating for his ultra-conservative viewpoints.

In 2005, Forbes founded the Congressional Prayer Caucus in the House of Representatives to “formally acknowledge the important role that prayer plays in American life and history and to monitor and work to guard the right of individuals in America to pray.” Now, the caucus has extended to the rest of Congress, boasting 90 members from both the House and the Senate.

As Al Jazeera America reported of the Congressional Prayer Caucus in 2013, the group and its founder have both been vocal opponents of LGBTQ equality and abortion:

The CPC has consistently framed its issues as a fight for religious freedom under siege. It opposed overturning the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and continues to maintain that its repeal infringes on the religious freedom of service members who believe homosexuality is a sin. It has sought to have Congress declare a Spiritual Heritage Week and a Ten Commandments Weekend and to take action to “protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas.” It has accused President Obama of not mentioning God enough.

Forbes recently said religious freedom is becoming a “second-tier right” and that opponents of same-sex marriage and abortion are marginalized. He has argued the government is imposing “a state-created orthodoxy” that “deems support for traditional marriage unacceptable,” “discredits those who believe that life begins at conception” and “creates a regulatory framework to prevent them from fully participating in the public square.”

The caucus is backed by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded to “work alongside the members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus in order to build a network of like-minded government leaders who are committed to prayer and action.” Among the key issues listed on the foundation’s website is its work advocating for Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA), which have been used by conservatives around the country to restrict access to contraception and discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. 

Forbes’ extreme record extends far beyond the group he founded. According to the anti-choice organization National Right to Life, Forbes has consistently voted with the organization on all key votes scored. Upon his election to Congress in 2001, National Right to Life PAC Director Carol Tobias wrote that the anti-choice community was “smiling broadly,” noting Forbes’ “solid pro-life voting record” during his time in the state legislature.

In 2011, Forbes co-sponsored the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which would have banned federal funding for abortion, essentially codifying the Hyde Amendment permanently into federal law. This particular iteration of the legislation was most notable for having attempted to redefine what kind of sexual assault would merit an exception to its ban on abortion funding, claiming that only “forcible” rape would qualify. That language was eventually dropped from the legislation, which passed through the House before dying in the Senate.

In a statement on the bill, Forbes touted his anti-choice credentials and promised to continue to fight against abortion during his time in Congress. “I am, and always have been, pro-life,” claimed Forbes. “As a public servant, I feel I have a special obligation to protect innocent, young life. You can be certain that throughout my tenure in Congress, as was true throughout my tenure in the Virginia Senate, I will be a strong advocate for the unborn.”

Forbes championed Hobby Lobby in 2014 as its case against the Obama administration’s birth control benefit made its way to the Supreme Court. Leading the charge with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Forbes helped gather 16 senators and 72 congressmen to file an amicus brief defending the craft store chain on the basis of religious freedoms.

No American should be forced to choose between following their faith and complying with a burdensome government mandate,” Forbes said in a March 2014 statement ahead of the case’s oral arguments. “America has a deeply held tradition of respecting the freedom of conscience, and our laws should not force individuals or businesses to violate these beliefs just to operate a business or access health insurance.”

More recently, Forbes participated in a House investigation of Planned Parenthood based on the deceptively edited videos produced by anti-choice group the Center for Medical Progress, whose leader has now been indicted on felony charges. During one of those hearings, Forbes blatantly admitted that the “purpose” of the investigation was to call into question the morality of abortion, not to investigate alleged wrongdoing on behalf of the reproductive health organization.

A list of Forbes’ “accomplishments” in “American Culture and History” on his website outlines several more attempts to push anti-choice views through Congress, including co-sponsoring legislation to reinstate the “Mexico City Policy,” which blocks international family planning organizations that perform abortions from receiving federal funding, co-sponsoring the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which would ban minors from traveling across state lines to receive an abortion, and co-sponsoring the Positive Alternatives Actwhich would have allowed states to use federal funding meant to help low-income families through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to promote anti-choice counseling and services.

Forbes’ “Family Values” page similarly details another laundry list of anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ equality measures he has supported or co-sponsored, including a variety of actions staunchly opposing same-sex marriage.

Given Forbes’ record, at stake in Virginia is much more than a Republican’s seat in the House—the congressman’s re-election would mean the continuation of a legacy of opposition to abortion access and LGBTQ equality.

News Abortion

Congressional Republicans Want to Ban Common Second-Trimester Abortion Procedure

Teddy Wilson

This marks the latest chapter in a decades-old strategy by the anti-choice movement to target specific abortion procedures.

Congressional Republicans introduced a bill Wednesday that would criminalize a common medical procedure used after miscarriages and during second-trimester abortions. Similar legislation has been passed on the state level, and it is the latest chapter in a decades-old strategy by the anti-choice movement to target specific abortion procedures.

HR 3515, introduced by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus, defines “dismemberment abortion” as “knowingly dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus through the use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors or similar instruments.”

The so-called The Dismemberment Abortion Ban Act is copycat legislation crafted by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). 

The legislation targets the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, commonly used in second-trimester abortion care. The procedure is a method of abortion during which a physician will dilate a woman’s cervix and remove the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments. During the procedure, the fetus is usually removed in parts.

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Prior to 14 weeks’ gestation, abortions are usually performed using suction aspiration, but after 14 weeks the D and E procedure must be used, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Depending upon the specific language of the law, D and E abortion bans may effectively ban all surgical abortion past 14 weeks’ gestation.

“This ban would require an often unnecessary procedure of injecting a lethal agent into the womb and/or fetal heart to stop cardiac activity,” Dr. Leah Torres, an OB-GYN with specialized training in abortion care and reproductive health, told Rewire. “This carries its own health and life risks to the pregnant person.”

The NRLC claims that the D and E abortion procedure “largely overlaps” with the dilation and extraction (D and X) abortion procedure, often described as “partial-birth abortion.”

However, there are “distinct” differences between the D and E and D and X procedures, according to the American Medical Association.

Proponents of legislation to ban the D and E abortion procedure often cite Justice Anthony Kennedy’s dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart, a case that challenged the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003.

“The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb,” Kennedy wrote. “The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off.”

Kennedy’s dissenting opinion, which is at odds with standard medical care used during D and E abortion procedures, set the stage for the current legislative assault on abortion care.

Similar legislation has been introduced in seven states this year, and was signed into law by the governors of Kansas and Oklahoma. Lawmakers in other states are expected to introduce similar legislation during the 2016 legislative sessions, and Arkansas Republicans plan to do so during the 2017 legislative session.

The attacks on abortion care in Congress and state legislatures also come at a time when lawmakers have attacked Planned Parenthood after secretly recorded and deceptively edited videos published by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress.

A lawmaker in Nebraska last month introduced legislation to ban D and E abortion, and cited the series of CMP videos published as providing an opportunity to go after reproductive rights.

“This Planned Parenthood stuff is so vulgar. I mean, it’s beyond words,” state Sen. Tommy Garrett (R-Bellevue) told the Lincoln Journal-Star while speaking about the discredited attack videos distributed by CMP in coordination with Republican lawmakers. “It’s like baby body parts are commodities to be traded on the open market.”

The NRLC announcement of the bill’s introduction also named three co-sponsors of the legislation, including Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The full text of Smith’s bill is not yet available.