Commentary Politics

In Kansas, Secrecy, Control, and Limited Participation Are Hallmarks Of Brownback’s Town Halls

Kari Ann Rinker

Governor Brownback's policies are designed to favor the likes of the Kochs, not the kids of Kansas. His "town halls" are further proof of the control that our governor demands over every interaction, every policy and every man, woman and child within Kansas boundaries.

Governor Brownback has some serious control issues.  There have been closed door discussions on faith based marriage initiatives, a lack of transparency with proposed tax restructuring and a refusal to comply with an open records request regarding the drafting of proposed abortion clinic regulations

Beyond these examples of governmental control and secretive actions, his state agency henchmen actively foster a climate of fear within their ranks.  People who have legitimate complaints or concerns with the paths that are being taken are scared.  These are everyday people, non-political average everyday working Janes and Joes who hold their tongues for fear of reprisal.  Heads of local agencies reliant on government funding, find themselves in constant anticipation of the next cut, which could potentially endanger their very existence. 

A prime example of this is the Governor’s unprecedented directive of a 20 percent reduction of program budgets of organizations receiving funding from the Children’s Initiative Fund (CIF).  In the past, the money provided by this fund has been based upon prior years receipts and while this fund is anticipated to experience a reduction, there has never been a shortfall this large.  The programs funded by this money include Early Head Start, SIDS Network and Child Care Assistance Program. 

As I’ve written earlier, Kansas has the highest infant mortality rate in the United States.  All of the programs funded by CIF have influence over the reduction of this deadly Kansas statistic.  In fact, approximately 200,000 (roughly one-third of the state’s children) were served in Fiscal Year 2010 by programs that rely on CIF dollars. These programs serve children of all ages with the primary focus on children ages birth to five.

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Healthcare access also greatly influences infant mortality and childhood poverty, yet this administration is doing its best to reduce access through denial grant funding for the federal healthcare insurance exchange.  If we want to meet the needs of children, we must provide adequate healthcare to adults.  One in five Kansas children are living in poverty.  There are 347,400 uninsured individuals in Kansas and nearly 75,000 of them are children.  Now is not the time to consider the elimination of corporate and state taxes, as has been proposed by Governor Brownback. 

That is why I was happy to hear that the Governor has scheduled town halls during the month of November on the issue of childhood poverty.  Many women and children in Kansas are experiencing devastating hardships and an open discussion involving those immediately affected by Governor Brownback’s policies is badly needed.

As I prepared to rally grassroots attendance for these town halls to give voice to the concerns of many, I was shocked and amazed by what I discovered… our Governor’s control issues have caused him to completely dominate and control every aspect of this public interaction.  Participants are required to register in advance and provide their personal information.   Online registration, in and of itself, creates barriers to participation for those living in poverty, who do not have access to the Internet.

A woman who answered the hotline for inquiries informed the caller that they would not be allowed entrance unless pre-registered.  There will be pre-assigned seating at tables with 8-10 other pre-registered people.  A facilitator will be placed at each table to monitor the discussion.  The facilitator will select the questions to be voiced.   The meeting will last 3 hours and takes place in the middle of a weekday. 

What kind of  “town hall” is this??  This amounts to censorship of open dialogue.  It appears to be an event orchestrated to stifle the voices of those directly affected by policies that are slowly killing off the poor. It is a “town hall” that prevents the media from giving a platform to critical, legitimate concerns of the public being railroaded by a Governor who could care less about Kansans living in poverty.  This governor’s policies are designed to favor the likes of the Kochs, not the kids of Kansas. These town halls are further proof of the control that our governor demands over every interaction, every policy and every man, woman and child within Kansas boundaries. 

Analysis Violence

Spiritual Salvation: The New Excuse for Violence and Threats Against Abortion Providers

Jessica Mason Pieklo

"Anything I can do to help protect people who are trying to provide services to women I was willing to do,” said Dr. Mila Means in an interview with Rewire, after the close of Angel Dillard's trial for writing her a threatening letter in 2011. “And I just had no idea it would turn into this.”

In 2009, Scott Roeder murdered Dr. George Tiller, leaving Wichita, Kansas, without an abortion provider. A full year would pass before local physician Dr. Mila Means considered stepping in to start offering abortions. She began training to offer the procedure as part of her Wichita practice—largely because nobody else was doing so.

“That was a big issue. Patients in need of services and not able to get them,” said Means in an interview with Rewire last week.

“I had someone who sought me out, who I only met once …. She had two children and was early on [in her pregnancy] and wanted a medical abortion,” said Means. “And I said ‘Well, I can’t do that here,’ and tried to refer her to Kansas City. But there was no way she could get away from her husband or anything to be able to get care,” Means continued.

“And that was really a big part of my thought: ‘Well, somebody’s got to do something in this city.'”

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Means has been tied up in litigation for the last five years because of a letter she received in January 2011 from a woman named Angel Dillard, who warned Means that should she go through with her plans, thousands of people across the country would be looking into her background to learn her habits and routines, and that Means would be checking under her car every day for explosives. That letter attracted the attention of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which sued Dillard under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Last Friday, Wichita jurors sent a very dangerous message to the anti-choice movement where Dillard’s case was concerned: Present your threat to abortion providers as an attempt at spiritual salvation, and the law will look the other way.

The eight-person Sedgwick County jury concluded that Dillard’s January 15, 2011 letter, which also referenced Tiller speaking to Means from hell, constituted a “true threat.” In other words, that letter was a threat and not automatically protected free speech, as Dillard and her attorneys had argued.

But the jury also found that while it was reasonable for Means to feel threatened given the reference to Tiller’s murder, the car bomb mention, and so on, those threats were not enough to warrant any of the civil damages the DOJ had asked for on Means’ behalf, or the protective order the agency had asked for keeping Dillard away from Means.

See, Dillard’s evangelical Christianity included an angry God, a vengeful God, explained her attorney Craig Shultz to jurors in his closing argument. Dillard is a strong woman with strong beliefs who uses strong words to persuade others like Means, to change their ways, he said—in other words, her letter was just an example of those strong words.

“The letter was intimidating, but it was a more spiritual threat, a more emotional threat,” presiding juror and Wichita native Adam Cox, 37, told Rewire in an interview following the verdict. “It was not a threat of physical violence … and therefore it did not violate the law.”

This distinction—between spiritual violence and physical violence—is exactly the cover the radical anti-choice movement has sought from the law for decades. And that’s exactly what the Dillard jury gave them when they found Dillard not liable for threatening Means out of providing abortions in Wichita. Although the circumstances of the cases are obviously different, the idea that being spiritually compelled toward the threat of violence should be enough to excuse that threat in the court of law echoes the reasoning used by other anti-choice extremists.

It’s a mutation of the legal theory of justifiable homicide, the idea that an act like murder is legally excusable in some circumstances because it’s preventing a greater evil—in this case, legal abortion. That’s what Paul Hill used to try to justify his murder of abortion provider Dr. John Britton and Britton’s bodyguard in 1994.

Like Dillard, Paul Hill considered himself a minister.

It’s the same argument Roeder used during his trial for killing Dr. Tiller. It’s the same position advocated by Roeder associate and self-proclaimed minister Michael Bray, convicted in 1985 for possessing explosives and conspiring to blow up abortion clinics.

While Roeder, Hill, and Bray were convicted for their crimes, each, like Dillard, attempted to cloak their conduct in the guise of being called by God to act.

And this is the same line of thinking self-proclaimed Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear Jr. has said he will use to defend himself should he be determined competent to stand trial.

When Dear was initially detained by law enforcement following the shooting, and throughout his legal proceedings so far, he has consistently made anti-choice statements. He’s repeated the idea that Planned Parenthood is “selling baby parts,” the same argument made by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress and its founders David Daleiden and Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman, spread by heavily edited videos, and repeated ad nauseam by conservative lawmakers looking to stir up their base in a particularly ugly election cycle.

Dear faces a total of 179 counts, including murder and attempted murder, from the five-hour standoff. The hearing to determine his competency to stand trial continues May 10. In the first phase of that hearing last month, prosecutors portrayed Dear as a man with deeply held religious and political convictions, which they said motivated Dear to hold siege at the reproductive health-care facility and eventually kill three. It is those very same sincerely held religious beliefs and a paranoia that the federal government is persecuting Christians that, Dear’s defense team argues, rise to the level of a diagnosable delusional disorder, rendering him incompetent to stand trial. According to the detective on Dear’s case, Dear wants to raise a “defense of others” argument—in other words, again, the legal argument that a crime is justified to prevent a greater evil.

Dillard’s attorneys argued she was simply preaching the path to redemption for Means, and not sending out a larger call to action against her.

But the truth of the matter is that Dillard’s statements were enough to give seasoned domestic terrorism law enforcement officers a reason to visit Dillard—twice, as one investigator testified at Dillard’s trial. They looked Dillard up in their internal network to find they already had a flag on her for links to abortion extremist Roeder.

In other words, in 2011 and at the moment the FBI was sent in to investigate, as best as the evidence showed, Means was to be the next big target of anti-choice violence. And the only reason she wasn’t was because the portion of FACE that is designed to prevent acts of violence from happening actually worked. The DOJ responded, potentially preventing an act of abortion terrorism that would have caused physical harm. It really doesn’t matter that they declined to pursue a criminal case against Dillard, a point her attorneys tried to emphasize during trial. The DOJ still brought a civil case. And civil cases are expensive to bring, which means lawyers must also consider how much money the case is worth. It sounds crass, but it’s true; it’s not profit, it’s penalties and damages. In Dr. Mila Means’ case, those were valued at approximately $20,000. For civil cases, that’s rarely, if ever, enough for an agency to justify spending five years of resources. And still, the DOJ went in hard. That alone suggests this case means more than any $20,000 verdict for Means. This case, in terms of anti-choice violence, was and remains significant.

Means never ended up developing an abortion practice, a fact she ascribes to the impossibly anti-choice political and cultural climate of Kansas. “What happened was two-pronged,” explained Means in an interview after the close of the trial but before the verdict. One issue, she said, stemmed from when the Kansas legislature “passed the TRAP laws.”

In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a series of anti-choice restrictions, including ones similar to those passed in Texas that are currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Those regulations, like hospital admitting privileges requirements and strict architectural requirements, have since been blocked by a federal court.

“I felt like, as an individual trying to fund getting started … there was no way I could have an ambulatory surgical center, and there’s still no guarantee that the doctors in this town will get [admitting] privileges,” Means said.

And then there was the other “prong”: Word had gotten out to the local anti-choice community that Means was training to expand her practice to provide abortions for patients who needed them. In addition to the added anticipated costs related to Kansas’ TRAP laws, Means had to consider security costs.

“As things progressed, I became much more aware of how expensive security was going to be,” said Means. For example, early in the process of attempting to expand her practice to include abortion services, Means attended a meeting with area providers. According to Means, security for that approximately two-hour meeting cost about $800.

Kansas needs abortion doctors. But Means is hesitant to recommend people come in and try and take up the work. “Only if they are prepared for it to be their whole life,” she said.

“The person that I trained with, he was in his 70s,” said Means. “I’m thinking that potentially our future providers are going to be physicians who have raised their kids, done their other kind of work, that still want to give, and are willing to crawl into a hole.”

That’s because, Means noted, violence against abortion providers is increasingly normalized. “The threats work,” said Means.

Means was pessimistic about the outcome of her case and concerned about the ripple effect such a decision could have for inspiring other threats of violence against abortion providers. “If we can’t even get people to look at [Dillard’s communication to Means] and say there’s something different here, how can we get proactive legislation [to protect providers]?” she wondered.

“Anything I can do to help protect people who are trying to provide services to women I was willing to do,” said Means. “And I just had no idea it would turn into this.”

The next day, the jury decision came down.

The jury found Dillard to be a threat. They just weren’t convinced she was enough of threat. That’s because the letter was sold as part of Dillard’s fire-and-brimstone spiritual redemption, the kind she could have been learning from Scott Roeder and Michael Bray.

Thankfully, Dillard’s case doesn’t hold much broad legal precedent, because it’s limited to the battle between Dillard, Means, and the DOJ. The DOJ could try and appeal the verdict, but it is a steep hill to climb. There are limited legal grounds to appeal in any case. Even with the problematic evidentiary rulings regarding Dillard’s purported prison ministry to Roeder and the inherent conflict between the jury finding Dillard’s letter to be a true threat but not enough of one, the DOJ has a lot of cases. The agency has to evaluate if, after five years of effort dedicated to pursing the case against Dillard, it is worth continuing. It’s a sobering reality for abortion rights advocates.

In the meantime, what that verdict shows is not just how ingrained radical Christian anti-choice sentiment is in places like Wichita, but how it is metastasizing into the law: Dillard wasn’t threatening Means’ physical well-being. She was just preaching. This was not about death to Means. It was about salvation.

The jury bought it.

The First Amendment protects the ugliest of speech. But it also demands accountability from speakers. That accountability is never about manners, or as Dillard’s attorneys claimed during her trial, shutting down abortion-related speech with which the government disagrees. It is always about whether that speech puts the safety of others in jeopardy.

Except when it’s not. When it’s speech outside abortion clinics directed at patients, abortion doctors, and clinic staff. Or when it’s women facing online death threats by former partners. Or when they are “spiritual threats” to car bomb abortion providers. Then that accountability and safety balance gets all out of whack. Inevitably, women’s lives are put in the cross-hairs.

“All of these people continue to embolden each other,” Means said.

She is exactly right. It is no coincidence that Dear shouted about “no more baby parts” at his arrest in Colorado, months after Daleiden and Newman began releasing videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue. Make no mistake about it: Abortion doctors are and will continue to be the main targets of the violent anti-choice right. But as the attack on Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood proved, if you go to a reproductive health-care facility, you are a potential target.

All of these people embolden each other. And a jury in Wichita just gave them another push.

News Law and Policy

Alabama Abortion Clinics Could Soon Be Regulated Like Sex Offenders

Teddy Wilson

GOP backers of the measure have said that abortion clinics should not be near schools because of the "commotion" caused by anti-choice protesters outside the facility.

The Republican-dominated Alabama legislature green lighted a pair of anti-choice bills Wednesday in the final hours the legislative session: one that regulates abortion clinics like sex offenders and another that criminalizes a common method of second-trimester abortion care.

Both measures were passed by wide margins. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign both bills.

SB 205, sponsored by state Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville), would prohibit the Alabama Department of Public Health from issuing or renewing a health center license to an abortion clinic or reproductive health center located within 2,000 feet of a public school, regulating abortion clinics in the same manner as registered sex offenders.

GOP backers of the measure have said that abortion clinics should not be near schools because of the “commotion” caused by anti-choice protesters outside the facility.

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The bill targets a Huntsville-area abortion clinic that was forced by state legislators three years ago to relocate across the street from a school. The Alabama Women’s Center, one of five clinics in the state providing abortion care, reportedly spent $550,000 in relocation costs to comply with a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law Bentley signed in 2013.

The West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, which is located near the Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary, would also be forced to close.

The two clinics provide the vast majority of abortion services in the state. The clinics performed 5,927 abortion procedures in 2014, or 72 percent of the abortion procedures in the state that year, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The house gave final approval to SB 205 with a 73-18 vote, with two Democrats joining Republicans in voting in favor of the bill.  

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle), who sponsored an identical bill in 2015 that didn’t pass, said during floor debate that the bill was intended to protect school children, reported the Associated Press.

“I don’t feel like these types of facilities need to be anywhere near our children,” Henry said.

Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) said during the floor debate that it was disturbing that a person or facility would comply with state law only to be penalized by lawmakers.

“It is unfair for an individual to meet the demands of a law that we passed and when they moved, we create another law to put them basically out of business,” Hall said.

Officials from the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama have vowed to file a lawsuit challenging the law if it is signed by the governor. 

“This law is an attack on the health and well-being of Alabama women. Government and politicians should not intrude on these personal, private family decisions,” Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement. “If passed, this outrageous law will only result in yet another costly lawsuit, which is the last thing our state needs.”

SB 363 would prohibit a physician from performing a “dismemberment abortion” unless it is necessary to prevent serious health risk to the pregnant person. This law targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is frequently used during second-trimester abortions.

Physicians who violate the law would face fines of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years. The house approved SB 363 with a 74-26 vote, with two Democrats joining the Republicans in passing the measure. 

An abortion using suction aspiration can be performed up to 14 weeks’ gestation, but after 14 weeks, the D and E procedure is commonly used to perform an abortion, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. As such, D and E bans, depending upon their language, may ban all surgical abortion past 14 weeks’ gestation.

Republican legislators in several states have introduced bills to ban the D and E procedure over the past two years. The bills have been copies of legislation drafted by the anti-choice group known as the National Right to Life Committee.

Alabama will join neighboring Mississippi in passing bills this year outlawing the procedure if Bentley signs SB 363.

State courts have blocked such measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas. West Virginia’s Republican-held legislature in March voted to override the veto of a similar anti-choice bill.

Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) called out what he viewed as Republican hypocrisy during the floor debate, as GOP lawmakers restrict abortion access while refusing to provide health care for low-income families.

“We want to ban abortions, but we don’t want to fund Medicaid to take care of the babies once they’re born,” Ford said.