Commentary Abortion

Reproductive Rights on the Brink as Roe Turns 39

Jessica Arons

Bait-and-switch tactics by conservative politicians threaten to further undermine the protections of the Supreme Court’s seminal abortion rights case.

Cross-posted with permission from the Center for American Progress.

For all our coverage of the 39th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, click here.

We approach the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, on Sunday after a year that saw unprecedented assaults on access to abortion care and family planning services.

In the midterm elections of 2010, politicians ran on the economy, promising to produce jobs when they took office. It was on this theme that conservative candidates swept into office and sent progressives packing. This meant that abortion opponents took control of the House of Representatives, the margin in the Senate narrowed, and 15 states became fully antichoice, meaning that both their governors and legislatures opposed reproductive rights.

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Thus when the dust cleared, we saw little work done on an economic agenda (unless you count attempts to dismantle organized labor). Instead, both parties were pushed in a much more socially conservative direction and reproductive rights were placed in the crosshairs as never before.

The result: A solidly antichoice House of Representatives voted eight times on abortion-related matters in 2011 and almost shut down the government because of fights over abortion and family planning. And according to the Guttmacher Institute, the states enacted 92 new restrictions on abortion services, which “shattered” the prior record of 34 new limitations in 2005. These measures included requirements to view ultrasounds before an abortion, bans on abortion after 20 weeks due to the spurious claim that fetuses could feel pain by then, and exclusions of abortion coverage from health insurance exchanges.

This year, once again, we see conservative candidates running for office promising economic reform. But if they win, we can expect more of the same culture war maneuvering when they take office. Several antiabortion bills on which the House voted last year will not get through the current Senate. But let’s think about what is likely to happen if abortion opponents hold onto the House, take control of the Senate, and elect the next president.

What we can expect

Past is prelude. And based on the House’s 2011 agenda, this is what we can expect a fully antichoice federal government to do in 2013.

Repeal health reform

H.R. 2, the House of Representatives’ second legislative priority after funding the government’s budget, was a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It passed the House within two weeks of its introduction but went nowhere in the Senate.

If control of the Senate changed, however, and a president who campaigned on repeal of the Affordable Care Act were elected, then we can say goodbye to reforms that ended the practice of charging different insurance premiums based on sex, prohibited the denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions such as breast cancer, guaranteed maternity care, and ensured coverage of preventive services such as contraception, breastfeeding supports, and domestic violence screening.

Eliminate abortion coverage in private and public health insurance plans

The next bill in line was the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” or H.R. 3, which would:

  • Impose a permanent, blanket prohibition on any and all federal spending for abortion care
  • Withhold federal credits or subsidies from private health insurance plans that cover abortion, even when the cost of abortion coverage is paid for entirely with private funds
  • Impose tax penalties on those who pay for abortion care or coverage (leading potentially to IRS audits of abortions)
  • Forbid any facilities owned or operated by the federal government and any individuals employed by the federal government from providing abortion care
  • Deny “home rule” to the District of Columbia by imposing all of the above limitations on the District of Columbia.

This bill also originally tried to narrow the definition of rape. It passed the House but has not yet gone anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Should antichoice forces sweep the 2012 election, this bill will likely be one of the first laws enacted in 2013.

Prohibit private insurance coverage of abortion

A more pared-down version of H.R. 3, also passed by the House in 2011, the “Protect Life Act,” would virtually ban private insurance coverage of abortion in all insurance exchanges should the Affordable Care Act be implemented. This bill would also expand the circumstances in which medical providers could refuse to provide services due to their personal objections and would allow hospitals to deny emergency abortion care to a woman whose pregnancy threatens her life.

Defund Planned Parenthood and Title X

The fiscal year 2011 budget passed by the House zeroed out funding both for Planned Parenthood and Title X, our nation’s public family planning program. The budget’s proponents argued that government money should not go to entities that provide abortion services, but the real effect of such budget cuts would be to take away family planning services, pelvic and breast exams, screening for sexually transmitted infections, prenatal care, infertility counseling, and well-woman care for millions of low-income women.

Once again, the extreme legislation passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Indeed, the government was brought to the verge of a shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood. It was only after antichoice leaders were successful in reimposing a ban on the District of Columbia’s use of local funds for abortion care that they relented on grants to Planned Parenthood.

Deny abortion access to women of color

For several years now, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) has introduced a bill titled the “Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” which prohibits abortions based on race or sex. But in 2011, it finally got a hearing, which means it could actually receive a vote in 2012.

Claiming the mantle of civil rights and feminism (indeed, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass were added to the title last year), the bill actually invites racial profiling by abortion providers who might fear criminal sanctions for performing an abortion that is deemed to be motivated by the race or sex of the fetus.

This bill is set against the backdrop of an offensive multicity billboard campaign that depicts the wombs of women of color as unsafe and implies that children of color are endangered not because of poverty, crime, and racism, but because of abortion.

There’s still work to be done

To be sure, Democrats have played their part in this assault on access to reproductive health care. Indeed, divisions in the Democratic Party over abortion led to unprecedented restrictions on private insurance coverage of abortion in the reformed health insurance market, and now most elected Democrats routinely assure voters that there is “no taxpayer funding for abortion,” as if denying low-income women access to abortion were a good thing.

President Obama has made important progress on reproductive rights by overturning the global gag rule that banned foreign aid for family planning services to any organization that promotes or provides abortion care; rescinding a last-minute Bush regulation that allowed medical care workers to deny care to patients for almost any reason; funding comprehensive sex education; appointing two progressive women to the Supreme Court; and guaranteeing almost universal coverage of contraception.

But he also has banned abortion coverage from insurance pools for high-risk enrollees, allowed the District of Columbia to once again be prohibited from using local funds to pay for abortion care, and denied over-the-counter access for emergency contraception.

So regardless of who is elected president and who controls Congress, much work will need to be done in order to preserve or make progress on reproductive rights. But the writing is on the wall. If social conservatives take over the federal government, abortion opponents will almost certainly get their way. We must act now while there is still time to stop them from hollowing out what remains of Roe’s protections.

Commentary Human Rights

The Democratic National Convention Was a Remarkable Victory for Disabled People

s.e. smith

This year's convention included disabled people every evening, as part of a larger inclusive policy that made 2016 a banner year for disability rights activists.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

On Thursday night, Hillary Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Her speech included many of the elements one expects from a nominee, but there were some standout moments—like when she mentioned disability rights, which she did repeatedly.

Clinton integrated disability into her discussion of her record, talking about her work to ensure that disabled children have the right to go to school and bringing up the health-care needs of disabled youth. Her commentary reinforced the fact that she has always cared about disability issues, particularly in the context of children’s rights.

But she did more than that. She referenced shortages of mental health beds. She explicitly called out disability rights as necessary to defend. And at one point, she did not mention disability, which in itself was radical. When she outlined her plans for gun reform and clearly stated that she wanted to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, she referenced people with criminal histories and terrorists, but not mentally ill people, who have been fighting a surge in stigma thanks to perennial (and wildly incorrect) assertions that mental illness causes violence. That omission was clearly deliberate, given the meticulous level of crafting that goes into writing one of the most important speeches of a presidential candidate’s career.

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The nominee’s speech would have been remarkable on its own, but what made it truly outstanding is that it was far from the first appearance of disability at this year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC). The convention included disabled people every evening as part of a larger inclusive policy that made 2016 a banner year for disability rights activists, who are used to being invisible. These kinds of appearances normalized disability, presenting it as a part of some people’s lives and a source of pride, not shame or misery.

On Monday, for example, disability rights activist Anastasia Somoza rolled out to give a sharp, compelling speech that didn’t cast disability in a tragic or exceptional light. She wasn’t the only wheelchair user to appear on the DNC stage—Paralympic athlete Mallory Weggemann led the pledge of allegiance on a different evening. Dynah Haubert, an attorney for Disability Rights Pennsylvania, took the stage on Tuesday. Nor were wheelchair users the only disabled people represented. Ryan Moore, a longtime friend of Clinton’s, spoke about health care and his experiences as a man with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital syndrome, a form of dwarfism. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy talked about his learning disabilities. Musician Demi Lovato, who has bipolar disorder, took on mental health.

Former Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, a nondisabled man who played an instrumental role in the push to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, taught the crowd sign language during a lively speech about the fight for disability rights on Tuesday, the 26th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

On Wednesday night, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) strode out onto the DNC stage in Philadelphia, smiling and waving at the crowd, to make a few short remarks. “Speaking is difficult for me,” she concluded, “but come January 2017 I want to say these two words: ‘Madam President.'” Her speech was about gun violence—a subject with which she’s intimately familiar after being shot in the head in 2011.

This level of representation is unprecedented. Some speakers, like Somoza, explicitly talked about disability rights, putting the subject in the spotlight in a way it’s never been at previous conventions. Others, like Giffords, came up on stage to talk about something else entirely—and happened to represent disability while they were at it. Similarly, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a decorated combat veteran and double amputee, talked about military policy.

This is a striking contrast from the treatment of disability at previous Democratic National Conventions: When disabled people have appeared, it’s often been in the form of a lackluster performance that objectifies disability, rather than celebrating it, as in 1996 when former actor Christopher Reeve framed disability as a medical tragedy.

Disability rights activists have spent decades fighting for this kind of representation. In 1992, two years after the passage of the ADA, the platform included just three mentions of disability. This year, the subject comes up in 36 instances, woven throughout the platform for an integrated approach to disability as a part of society, rather than as something that needs to be walled off into a tiny section of the platform, tokenized, and then dismissed.

In the intervening years, disabled people in the United States have fought for the enforcement of the ADA, and taken the right to independent living to court in 1999’s Olmsted v. L.C., which was namechecked in the 2000 platform and then forgotten. Disabled people advocated to have their rights in school codified with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, pushed for inclusion in 2010’s Affordable Care Act, and are fighting to pass the Community Choice Act and Disability Integration Act (DIA). Disability rights in the United States has come a long way since 1990’s infamous Capitol Crawl, in which disability rights activists dragged themselves up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, pleading with Congress to pass the ADA.

And as activists have pushed for progress in the courts and in Congress, disability rights have slowly become more prominent in the Democratic party platform. The ADA has been a consistent theme, appearing in every platform since 1992 alongside brief references to civil rights; historically, however, the focus has been on disability as a medical issue. The 1996 platform introduced Medicare, and health care in general, as issues important to the disability community, a refrain that was reiterated in years to come. In numerous years, Democrats addressed concerns about long-term care, in some cases positioning disabled people as objects of care rather than independent people. Disabled veterans have also played a recurring role in the platform’s discussion of military issues. But beyond these topics—again, often approached from a dehumanizing angle—and the occasional lip service to concerns about discrimination and equal rights, until the 2000s, education was the only really consistent disability issue.

In 2000, however, the Democrats went big, building on eight years under President Bill Clinton, and the influence of his then-first lady. For the first time, disability wasn’t simply lumped under “civil rights.” The platform explicitly called out the need for protection from disability hate crimes, but it also began to introduce the idea that there were other issues of relevance to the disability with a discussion of the digital divide and the obstacles that held disabled people back. Almost 30 years after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which barred disability discrimination by government agencies and contractors, the Democrats were starting to embrace issues like accessibility and independent living, which also played a prominent role in 2000.

It was a hint that the party was starting to think about disability issues in a serious way, especially when in 2008, the Democrats discussed the shameful delay on ratification of the United Nations’ Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, took on the Community Choice Act, talked about the need to enforce IDEA, and, again for the first time, explicitly addressed voting rights issues. By 2012, they were also calling out discriminatory voter ID laws and their disproportionate effect on the disabled community.

That’s tremendous, though incremental, progress.

And this week, the efforts of a generation of disability rights activists are on display everywhere in Philadelphia, where Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky observed that accessibility is a top priority across the city. The DNC is providing expanded accessible seating, wheelchair charging stations, service dog relief areas, Braille materials, closed captioning, American Sign Language interpreters, medication refrigerators, and more. That’s radical inclusion at work, and the result of incredible efforts by disability rights organizers—including the 400 delegates who disclosed disabilities.

Those same organizers have been hounding the presidential candidates, holding them accountable on disability over and over again. They’ve brought up concerns about independent living, wage disparities, education, access to services, accessibility, hate crimes, reproductive rights, the “marriage penalty” and government benefits, and casual disablism in campaign rhetoric and practices. Advocates leaned on the Clinton campaign until it began captioning its content, for example. RespectAbility sent journalists out on the trail, #CriptheVote organized Twitter, and Rev Up encouraged people to register to vote and get involved. The disability community may be more explicitly politically active this year than ever before, and the DNC has been responding accordingly.

Clearly in consultation with disability rights activists, the Democrats have brought a host of new issues into this year’s platform, acknowledging that disabled people are part of U.S. society. Some of the many issues unique to this year’s platform include: abolition of the subminimum wage, concerns about economic opportunities with an explicitly intersectional discussion of the racial wealth gap, affordable housing, accessibility at the polls, the role of disability in the school-to-prison pipeline, and the need for more accurate Census data.

Notably, in a platform that has loudly called for a Hyde Amendment repeal and pushed for other abortion rights, the Democrats have also reinforced the need for access to reproductive health for disabled people, a revolutionary clause that’s gone virtually unnoticed.

This is a platform—and convention—of aggressive inclusion, and it reflects a victory for disabled people in the United States. It does still lack some components the disability community would like to see, like a shoutout to the DIA, which Clinton supports. This is, however, the start of what looks like a robust and real relationship between the Democrats and the disability rights community.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Clarifies Position on Federal Funding for Abortion, Is ‘for the Hyde Amendment’

Ally Boguhn

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, clarified during an interview with CNN on Friday that he still supports the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

During Kaine’s appearance on New Day, host Alisyn Camerota asked the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee whether he was “for or against” the ban on funding for abortion. Kaine replied that he had “been for the Hyde Amendment,” adding “I haven’t changed my position on that.”

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told CNN on Sunday that Kaine had “said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment.” Another Clinton spokesperson later clarified to the network that Kaine’s commitment had been “made privately.”

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

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“We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment,” reads the platform.

Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard that he was not aware that the party had put language outlining support for repealing Hyde into the platform, noting that he had “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Clinton has repeatedly said that she supports Hyde’s repeal, calling the abortion care restriction “hard to justify.”

Abortion rights advocates say that Hyde presents a major obstacle to abortion access in the United States.

“The Hyde amendment is a violent piece of legislation that keeps anyone on Medicaid from accessing healthcare and denies them full control over their lives,” Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in a statement. “Whether or not folks believe in the broken U.S. political system, we are all impacted by the policies that it produces. … Abortion access issues go well beyond insurance and the ability to pay, but removing the Hyde Amendment will take us light years closer to where we need to be.”