Analysis Politics

The Plan B Decision: Sacrificing “Change We Can Believe In” for Expediency?

Shirley Kailas

We cannot let the Democrats, let our president, lose sight of what this decades-old debate about access to all forms of reproductive healthcare is really about; that is, for women to have any sort of autonomy and self-determination within our society. 

See all our coverage of the Administration’s 2011 Emergency Contraception Reversal here.

Like every other rational individual in our country, I was in a state of utter shock when I heard the news that, for the first time in history, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had overruled a fact-based decision by the FDA. While this type of nonsensical anti-choice maneuver is something pro-choicers have had to deal with in the past, the fact that it was carried out by a Democratic administration was nothing less than devastating. The administration ignored sound evidence (and women’s basic rights) and did what they are quickly becoming best known for, sacrificing “change we can believe in” for “never mind what’s right, I will shirk away from anything that could possibly be considered controversial and cost me a vote in my reelection campaign.”

And yes, it was abundantly clear to me within a few moments that this was nothing but a case of political posturing by Obama and his team of advisers. For many obvious reasons this was clearly not a case of Secretary Sebelius going rogue and determining, as a non-medical professional, that the scientists and researchers at the FDA, in their ten-plus years of evaluating over-the-counter use of emergency contraception, had somehow failed to adequately address the subject at hand in their research. Her flimsy response citing an issue that could have easily been addressed in say, the past 10 years (if it were an actual issue, which it is not), did nothing to convince me otherwise. Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who are in a position to know a thing or two about the proper use of emergency contraception (because, unlike Sebelius, they are medical and public health experts who have addressed this issue daily since emergency contraception came into existence), happen to wholeheartedly agree with my conclusion.

In a particularly disheartening statement from one of the only four (yes, really) members of Congress who actually spoke up on the issue, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) managed to release this depressing gem of a proclamation, “I think the president has not been with us 100 percent, but I don’t think he’s thrown women totally under the bus.”

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He hasn’t thrown women totally under the bus? This is now that the standard by which we judge the leader of the party that is supposed to protect women’s rights? Not throwing women’s rights totally under the bus?

This telling statement and the unacceptably small number of Democrats in Congress willing to criticize Obama’s blatant disregard for the health and rights of women should serve as a huge wake up call to us. We cannot let the Democrats, let our president, lose sight of what this decades-old debate about access to all forms of reproductive health care is really about; that is, for women to have any sort of autonomy and self-determination within our society. When you make this connection explicit, it renders all of their “compromises” with an unrelenting and regressive conservative party seem horribly unacceptable. In fact, that is precisely why the United Nations was advised to consider any such maneuvers a violation of women’s human rights.

The UN Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council, when tasked with submitting a report to the committee on the connection between reproductive health and human rights, asserted that legal restrictions on access to reproductive health services serve to systematically deprive women of full participation in society. It is clear why the Rapporteur came to this conclusion when we look back at our own nation’s history; it is no coincidence that it was only when women gained widespread access to oral contraception in the early 1970s that we were able, for the first time, to fully and sustainably participate in the public sphere (though patterns of working outside the home have always varied by race and by class, access to oral contraception was one of the primary shifts that allowed for all women to begin working outside the home). The simple truth of the matter is that if a woman is not able to safely opt out of or delay pregnancy, then it is nearly impossible for her to pursue things like education and work outside the home. If you need proof of this lesson from outside the broad strokes of history, feel free to ask any woman who has had a career outside of the home or managed to avoid an unintended pregnancy in college or high school, where she would be without access to contraception.

In his report, the Rapporteur goes on to note that:

Public morality cannot serve as a justification for enactment or enforcement of laws that may result in human rights violation, including those intended to regulate sexual and reproductive conduct and decision making. Although securing particular public health outcomes is a legitimate State aim, measures taken to achieve this must be both evidenced-based and proportionate… legal restrictions that reduce or deny access to family planning goods and services…such as emergency contraception, constitute a violation.

Enforcement of public morality around emergency contraception without any basis in evidence sounds eerily familiar doesn’t it? What did our President say again of his administration’s decision? I believe it was, ah yes,

And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old, going to a drug store, should be able to, alongside bubble gum or batteries, purchase a powerful drug to stop a pregnancy… I think most parents would probably feel the same way.

Aside from the fact that Obama misrepresents how this drug works, it prevents pregnancy, it does not “stop a pregnancy,” others have appropriately commented on how a) this statement completely distorts the population the decision affected (aka ALL women and b) Obama’s words are incredibly insulting and paternalistic. However, what I am most interested in for the purposes of this analysis is how President Obama’s actions and words demonstrate a complete lack of understanding and/or callousness about something that was very clear to the UN Rapporteur and should be clear to a President who considers himself a student of history (I would hope he has read a book or two on U.S. history which included a few chapters on women). There is an inextricable link between women’s reproductive rights and our freedom and self-determination within a society, thus any President who restricts access to reproductive healthcare violates women’s human rights and certainly cannot claim to be pro-woman. Period.

Now the question is, where does that leave the pro-choice, pro-woman community who feels betrayed both by the actions of our President (and the line of thinking behind them) and by our party? Particularly when we hear more than whispers of another potential move to undermine our rights.

Quite frankly I do not have an answer. But I do know this: Obama’s political calculation in the Plan B scenario relied on the belief that no matter what he does, pro-choice women will rally, raise money, and vote for him in 2012 because there is just no better option. However, despite the fact that Obama thinks women are incapable of following directions for a one-step pill, we just might be smart enough to hold him and our party accountable, with our votes and with our voices, to the women who put them in office.

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 (R-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.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?