This week, the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee heard the largest, most expansive abortion restriction bill in the nation. HB 2598 is a 68-page piece of legislation, that manages to cobble together many of the most extreme restrictions from abortion legislation currently under litigation in three other states. And yet when I stood up to oppose it, far-right legislators claimed I "went too far."
This week, the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee heard the largest, most expansive abortion restriction bill in the nation. HB 2598 is a 68-page piece of legislation, that manages to cobble together many of the most extreme restrictions from abortion legislation currently under litigation in three other states. It would require a physician to inform women who seek an abortion about a non-existent link between breast cancer and abortion, would require that an audible Doppler ultrasound of the heartbeat be played for the woman prior to an abortion procedure, and prohibits “wrongful life” and “wrongful birth” civil causes of action to be brought in the state of Kansas. These three components are currently being litigated in South Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma, respectfully.
Kansans for Life presented their “star witness” to testify in favor of the abortion-breast cancer link. Angela Lanfranchi, M.D. from The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. She stood in front of the committee and presented a slide show based upon one independent, 25 year old, non-peer reviewed study to refute information by the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization (among others). Representative Sean Gatewood (D) asked why the committee should toss aside the findings of these reputable sources and Ms. Lanfranchi chalked it all up to a vast “abortion conspiracy much like what was found when tobacco was protected by the NCI years ago.”
HB 2598 also prohibits schools, their employees, volunteers and educational service providers from providing abortion services. This is at its most obvious, an attack on Planned Parenthood and their age-appropriate human sexuality programs that are brought into schools and other community venues. It would have the added consequence of prohibiting people who provide abortions, or who work at abortion providers from volunteering in their children’s schools.
HB 2598 also has a section that effects Kansas tax code. It would eliminate deferred maintenance tax credits for institutions, would prohibit the use of tax credits and tax exemptions for any “abortion riders” that an employer or individual may wish to purchase, now that abortion can no longer legally be covered on health insurance plans within the state. The deferred maintenance elimination is a particularly heinous component, in that the Kansas University School of Medicine would be prevented from teaching abortion procedures, thus losing accreditation. Representative Judy Loganbill (D) asked Representative Lance Kinzer (R) (the author of the bill) about this provision. Representative Kinzer responded by stating that he “thinks” physicians could train someone how to do an abortion “without really doing an abortion”.
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Five abortion bills passed in Kansas last session, three of which are in litigation. So other than sit back and wait to hope that the courts can save the rights and lives of women, what can be done?
The committee process has deteriorated over the years. There was a deep and abiding hatred for Dr. George Tiller among members of the legislature. The assassination of Dr. Tiller did not cause that hatred to disappear. The obsession with abortion has not gone away, as it is far too valuable as a political tool. So the fear continues to be legislatively promulgated, the rights of Kansas women continue to be destroyed.
The pro-choice women who serve in the Kansas Legislature are unsung She-Roes. Representative Judy Loganbill since 2001 has stood often on the House floor, often as a lone voice standing in defense of piece after piece of abortion legislation. In 2010, Republican Representative Barbara Bollier joined Representative Loganbill as strident voice for choice on the Kansas House floor. Their voices are vital to the cause, but we need an army of women like them, and we stand many soldiers short.
So, how does a women’s reproductive rights advocate work within this establishment as it currently exists? We can stand before them, present all of the facts, try to encourage the legislative committees to consider science and not manufactured pseudo-science and withstand the barrage of ideologically driven, irrelevant line of questioning, thank them and then proceed home to lick our wounds and mourn our losses…or we can step outside of “protocol,” challenge the norms and speak truth to power with every ounce of energy we have. This week, I choose the latter. I took a risk and I challenged the process itself, rather than focusing on the details of the latest and greatest legislative attack. I used a visual aid and I really, really ticked some people off.
The “rubber stamp attack” as one headline dubbed it, consisted of words…and one lone office supply. It caused astonishment and amazement and was considered by the committee as an affront to their sensibilities. Representative Rubin (R) stormed out of the committee room.
These are the same public servants who willfully sat and swallowed the “science” of fetal pain and dismissed stories such as Tiffany Campbell’s and Danielle Deaver’s, then refused to allow an amendment to protect for fatal fetal anomalies and Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. These public servants will listen to days of testimony about the “breast cancer/abortion link” and listen to fetal testing, such as amniocentesis, be described as “seek and destroy missions” by proponents. And yet….these public servants were offended by the testimony of one pro-choice citizen, who was there to give voice to a frustration felt by many, who feel that they have lost their voices in this process. Perhaps I did “Go too far,” but they heard the message, which is more than what would have occurred on any other given day in that committee.
There is indeed power in the truth and a little honest to goodness “speaking truth to power” can be a powerful weapon in playing defense in this war on women.
McCarthyism is defined in the dictionary as the practice of making accusations unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence, and the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism. I'd say today's radicalized GOP has them both down pat.
Watching last Tuesday’s congressional hearing on Planned Parenthood by the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee felt less like viewing a bona fide hearing in the sense of fact-finding or rational questioning by capable public servants on issues of public import than it did, variously, like witnessing an inquisition, a series of performances in theater of the absurd, and raising Joe McCarthy from the dead.
Ostensibly, these hearings were called to investigate claims by an anti-choice group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) that Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. This in turn gave House Republicans a reason to call for “defunding” Planned Parenthood. But there has never been any actual evidence offered by CMP or anyone else to support the charges of profits from the sale of fetal tissue, which is widely used in critical health research and has long been regulated under federal law. No evidence was offered at the hearing either. None of the congresspeople had seen the full, unedited versions of these videos, which have yet to be publicly released by CMP, though they’d had months to ask for them. In fact, that same day, Missouri became the sixth in a list of states that have wasted taxpayer money on investigations that found the claims to be baseless. (Never mind that the Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic does not even offer fetal tissue donation, but you know, let’s investigate anyway.)
The sale of fetal tissue isn’t and never really was the point of this hearing nor in fact of the videos themselves. Rather this attack is yet another salvo in a very long, large, and well-organized campaign to destroy the single largest provider of reproductive and sexual health care in the United States. As noted by CMP founder David Daleiden in an interview with Politico, his agenda is to bring down Planned Parenthood by any means possible. Because after all, why worry about the lives and health of the three million people a year who get services at Planned Parenthood clinics when you have political points to score and a reputation to make.
But hearings were of course held anyway, because if there is anything the GOP hates more than gun regulations and immigrants, it’s the ability of women to get access to health care whether it be contraception, abortion, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, or breast exams.
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Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), appeared at the hearing voluntarily, but that did not prevent her from having to take five hours of abuse. Watching in real time, I quickly understood there were three reasons for this hearing. One was to try as much as possible to humiliate Richards, who, apart from being a political force in her own right, is also the daughter of former Texas Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat herself, a former chief of staff for Nancy Pelosi, and the head of both a powerful health-care provider and a powerful political action committee. Attacking Richards covers a lot of bases for right-wing hate-mongers. Several House members appeared committed to doing anything possible to trip Richards up such that she said something, anything, they could perhaps later use as fodder for campaign ads and another round of attacks.
A second reason appeared to be to further obfuscate the issue of funding for reproductive health care such that the GOP could find “better” uses for that money.
Finally, and most insidiously, taking a page right out of the playbook of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, this hearing was about taking names and getting lists of providers, of clinics, of staff people and even of organizations providing family planning services abroad for the purposes of harassing and stigmatizing them, if not more.
The most aggressive tactics apparently meant to humiliate or trap Richards were used by Congressmen Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH). As the following videos show, they each asked leading questions of Richards, and, before she could even begin to reply they interrupted, answered for her, and then twisted what she had managed to say in reply. In fact, throughout the hearing, GOP congresspersons asked convoluted questions only to cut Richards off any time she tried to respond.
Gowdy didn’t bother with questions about fetal tissue, body parts, or funding. Instead he ran off the rails with irrelevant questions about whether or not Richards understood “how some of us may at a base level disagree with you on the origin of life?” He then went on to badger her about her opinions on abortion and on so-called partial birth abortion, neither of which were relevant to the stated purposes of the hearing and the latter of which does not exist.
Jordan focused on a Planned Parenthood video featuring Richards and made in response to the first release by CMP. He badgered Richards about this video, without allowing her to reply.
The effort to confuse the public around funding for Planned Parenthood was at first raised obliquely by House committee chairman Jason Chaffetz. He opened the hearing with a tearful though disconnected story about his personal family losses from cancer. Chaffetz said:
This is an important topic. The risk of getting a little—a little personal. My wife, Julie and I have been married some 24 years. Have our 25th wedding anniversary coming up in February. I’m proud of my wife. She… she got her degree in psychology later in life after helping to raise three kids, some are still at home. She has just started to work [with] a plastic surgeon [who is] involved in helping women who are having to have their breast removed. And my wife (inaudible) helping these women. And I’m proud of her for doing that.
My mother—she passed away when I was 28 years old. She fought cancer for more than 10 years. She had breast cancer. And I miss her. I lost my—I lost my father to cancer as well. Cancer, in this country, kills about 1,500 people a day. A day. And yet, our federal government only spends about $5 billion to fight it. If they were shooting 1,500 people a day, if there were rockets coming—we would be fighting this with everything we have got.
Then, Chaffetz continued:
And as I said before I came to Congress and I’m saying here today, as fiscally conservative as I can possibly be, we don’t spend enough on cancer. We don’t spend enough. We need to spend more. I would quadruple the amount of money if I had my chance to fight cancer and win. And the reason I’m passionate about the hearing today is we got a lot of health care providers, who, I think, in their hearts know that they’re trying to provide good.
The question before us is, does this organization—does Planned Parenthood really need federal subsidy? Does it need federal dollars? Every time we spend a federal dollar, what we’re doing is pulling money out of somebody’s pocket and we’re giving it to somebody else. What I don’t like, what I don’t want to tolerate, what I don’t want to become numb to is wasting those taxpayer dollars.
It is not at all unusual for congresspeople to use personal stories in hearings. Normally, however, such stories are relevant to the subject of the hearing itself. Cancer research was not relevant. It is funded through the National Institutes of Health, the budget of which was cut by Republicans in March of this year.
This hearing was about the federal funds that support services delivered by Planned Parenthood, which come through two avenues, either reimbursement of services for patients who qualify for Medicaid, or through funding to support Title X family planning services. To suggest funds for cancer research have anything to do with funding for these services reveals either that Chaffetz did not know his facts, or he was playing on sympathy as a guise for suggesting there was a choice to be made between the two. In the same way that the GOP either truly does not get it or purposefully misunderstands the actual process women go through to get mammograms (first a primary caregiver provides a referral, then you go to a radiologist), they seem bent on pretending that switching funds from Planned Parenthood to other purposes is a better use of money. We’ll have to watch for these comparisons to be made later.
But what was perhaps the most insidious aspect of the hearing were the “lists.” As the hours wore on, there were repeated requests for Richards to send the committee lists of everything from the organizations to which Planned Parenthood provides funding overseas to the names and contact info for clinics and providers. In the 1950s, former Sen. Joe McCarthy touted lists he claimed proved communists had infiltrated the U.S. government. He used those purported lists (which did not actually exist) to create fear and intimidate people throughout the country, and to haul them in front of Congressional committees. He ruined many lives. And it appears his spirit lives on in the contemporary GOP now in power.
Reproductive health providers know about lists. A number of organizations in the anti-choice movement have been known to make and publish lists online, including the names of doctors and service providers of abortion care, the names and addresses of clinics, and the home addresses of those who work at clinics. These lists are used to intimidate, target, follow, and sometimes harm or murder abortion providers and staff. Some state attorneys general have tried to use their power to obtain the records of women who have had abortions, and in at least one case, that of former Kansas State Attorney General Phill Kline, information gathered by his office was shared publicly and with anti-choice groups. And now, since CMP released its videos, there have been a number of attacks on clinics throughout the country.
Chaffetz started taking names and making lists almost immediately. He began with a question about the Democratic Republic of Congo (yes, you read that right, straight from fetal tissue to the DRC):
CHAFFETZ: Ms. Richards, Planned Parenthood has sent 32-plus million dollars in grants overseas. Does any of the funds go to the Democratic Republican of the Congo?
RICHARDS: Congressman, let me…
CHAFFETZ: No, no, no. We don’t have time for a narrative. I just want to know…
CHAFFETZ: Yes or no.
RICHARDS: You asked me a question. Any of the money that is — Planned Parenthood raises and is given by foundations and individuals to support family planning services is in Africa and Latin America, and they go to individual organizations.
I’m happy to provide you a list of those organizations, but I did not bring them with me.
CHAFFETZ: If you could give us a list of those organizations.
Chaffetz then asked for a list of Planned Parenthood’s “ownership in foreign companies,” a somewhat strange request to a nonprofit, but…
CHAFFETZ: Does Planned Parenthood have any ownership in foreign companies?
RICHARDS: I don’t believe so. I don’t know what you mean by ownership.
CHAFFETZ: Well, in your 2013 tax return, it lists $3.3 million marked as, quote, “investment,” unquote in Central America and the Caribbean. I’m just asking if that investment was an actual investment?
RICHARDS: We don’t own anything in those countries. What…
CHAFFETZ: OK. Let me keep going. I have to keep going. I need to — I would appreciate a list. You have been very cooperative so far.
Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) picked up this thread by asking for a list of affiliates that “receive the majority of their revenue from abortion.” Lummis insinuated that there must be something wrong with Planned Parenthood’s data on the share of services for abortion, given revenues from abortion appear higher than those from other services. Her line of questioning was wholly misleading. Surgical abortion is more costly than other services, and those services are not reimbursable by Medicaid or other government funds, so the revenue stream is not relevant to the share of services provided. It’s like asking a dentist why she brings in more money for root canals than teeth cleanings.
Chaffetz, however, did not want to let that point go by, and so he reiterated the request when Lummis was done. “[A]s a point of clarification, Ms. Richards, I want to make sure there’s no ambiguity here. The gentlewoman from Wyoming asked for a listing of affiliates where the majority of revenue comes from abortion services. You said you’d talk to your team. Will you actually provide us that list?”
Like Joseph McCarthy, GOP members of the hearing panel then went on to suggest some sort of guilt by association with President Obama and the Department of Justice.
JORDAN: Since the videos have surfaced have you had any conversations with the President of the United States?
RICHARDS: No I have not.
JORDAN: Since the videos have surfaced have you been to the White House?
RICHARDS: No I have not.
JORDAN: How many times have you been to the White House?
RICHARDS: During what period of time?
JORDAN: Since Mr. Obama’s been president.
RICHARDS: I don’t know that’s been I think seven years, so I would have to get back to you on that.
JORDAN: Our count shows that you, your board members and senior staff have been to the White House 151 times in six and a half years. I’m just curious, that’s why I ask the question if you’ve been to the White House or you talked to the President since these videos have surfaced?
RICHARDS: And I said I have not.
JORDAN: And you’ll get back with me on if the Justice Department has contacted you since these videos have surfaced?
RICHARDS: Well I think you listed several folks, so I’m happy to work with the committee and find out what all you need to know.
JORDAN: CMS, HHS, Inspector General, Justice Department; Justice Department’s the most important.
Was President Obama featured in the CMP videos? I don’t think so either.
Chaffetz then once again stepped in and reiterated the list of lists being requested, and added a couple more.
CHAFFETZ: We are looking for the amount of revenue by affiliate for abortion services. So you have the — that should be pretty straightforward. We would like to know which affiliate provides which services.
RICHARDS: I believe you have that, but we’re happy to provide that.
CHAFFETZ: We’re still—we want to make sure we’ve it crystal. I think we have portions of it, but we don’t have all of it.
CHAFFETZ: The names of organizations and the countries that Planned Parenthood gives funds to overseas. So based on the tax returns and reports, you’re sending money to overseas. Some of them have been listed as investments, so as other things, we’d like to get some details and specificity as to how much is going to which country and what those are for. Is that fair?
RICHARDS: I really have to talk to my team about that but I will.
CHAFFETZ: We obviously, have some concerns about the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. So we’re trying to get to the duties performed and compensation received for all Planned Parenthood or affiliate employees. This could either by for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund or for either of the — I believe there are two, 5207 organizations. One of our concerns, is that the shared services and the sharing of employees between political actives and non-political activities and we would like to understand how broad based that is.
CHAFFETZ: [And] the cost of reimbursement for both contraception, and abortion, and abortion obviously breaks down into in clinic as well as the pill.
RICHARDS: Actually, there’s a lot of kinds of contraception too.
CHAFFETZ: Yes, contraception, I left it as broad as I could. But for the abortion services…
RICHARDS: I’m just saying, I think it’s important, I’m not sure we got into much of that conversation about how birth control—how many different kinds of birth control there are now because that’s one of our specialties.
CHAFFETZ: Help us understand and what services and money you’re allocated and what the costs of that are. There were some points that should be helping to drive down those costs and we’re just not understanding the ratio…
RICHARDS: That’s why…
CHAFFETZ: It needs clarification. I’m not asking…
RICHARDS: It was clear that folks weren’t aware of the various costs of different kind of contraceptions..
CHAFFETZ: Exactly, and that’s where we need help. Not right now, just as a follow up.
CHAFFETZ: A list of political organizations, Planned Parenthood collarbones, including the names in compensation of received of shared employees.
I think I covered that in general, but I’ll keep going.
Yes, it seems they will keep going, as one means of spreading fear and intimidation.
There are two definitions of McCarthyism in the dictionary:
the practice of making accusations unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.
the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.
I’d say today’s radicalized GOP has them both down pat.
In spite of growing opposition to the unpopular and extreme policies being passed by the state’s conservative legislature, Kansans most generally stay at home and keep their opinions to themselves. This undue politeness, also known as “Kansas nice,” often renders the good people of Kansas silent. All of that changed, however, when the public school teachers of the state recently converged upon their capitol building in Topeka and collectively stated, “No more Kansas nice.”
The teachers’ outcry was in reaction to a proposed school-funding bill that was drafted to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The ruling ordered the legislature to equalize school funding between districts by providing additional funding for poorer school districts. The court encouraged the legislature to revert back to the education formulary that had been relied upon for years to offset disparities caused by reliance on local property taxes. This equalization mechanism had been abandoned by Gov. Sam Brownback’s legislature during the recession, and instead massive tax cuts for the wealthy were passed.
The court ruling was made in response to a lawsuit brought against the state on the grounds that suitable funding for schools, as required by the Kansas Constitution, was not being provided. Those who brought the suit did not view Gov. Brownback’s “real live experiment” with great fondness. His “experiment” to drastically cut state income taxes, with higher income earners receiving the highest cuts, and to offset those cuts by cutting core state services, is what precipitated the school funding lawsuit.
Alan Rupe, the lawyer representing schools, argued that the Legislature’s own actions undercut the argument that the recession forced the cuts. Rupe said lawmakers cut $511 million per year from the schools and at the same time passed an income tax cut worth $2.5 billion through 2018.
In Kansas, the term “small government” has become politically popularized to the point of romantic adoration among those who prescribe to the notion. So the fact that the initial ruling was even being complied with by the legislature, to avoid the closure of schools, was met with some relief. Teachers and other supporters of public education welcomed the consideration and appropriation of additional funding by the state.
These additional politically motivated and unnecessary components, which were crafted to appease their campaign financiers, included a reduction in property taxes for families that home-school or pay for private schooling; tax credits for corporations that fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private school; the removal of funding for the teaching of Common Core educational standards, which have been an anti-public school education rallying point for Tea Party fear-mongering since their inception in 2009; and the elimination of due process and tenure rights for school teachers. Due process rights for teachers, once teachers reach the point of tenure, can protect them from being fired under the auspices of a wide range of trumped up allegations and undue dismissals by offering the option to have a review of their peers prior to dismissal.
The original education bill was extreme enough that the Kansas House of Representatives voted it down and worked in conference committee to remove the proposed defund of Common Core implementation of local school districts, along with the removal of the proposed private and home school property tax credits. The legislature did hold fast to presenting and passing a final bill that includes the corporate scholarship tax credits and the elimination of teacher tenure. While the furthering of Kansas corporate welfare at a time when inequity and underfunding in the public school system exists appears seemingly untenable, the attack on the due process rights of beloved and respected schoolteachers is seen as abhorrent.
The backlash of Kansans has been swift and quite public. Legislative leaders scrambled to defend the bill, claiming that it “wasn’t as harsh as portrayed.” Then later in the week were forced to recant their statement and admit that the “district is no longer required to document specific reason for the termination.”
Teachers are understandably fearful about their future ability to teach, work, and thrive in Kansas with great uncertainty about the true effects that the legislation will have upon their contracts. Thomas Witt from the state’s gay rights advocacy group, Equality Kansas, relayed the following concern to lawmakers regarding the legislation:
In my work as executive director for Equality Kansas, I have talked to several teachers whose jobs were threatened when their building or district administrators discovered they were gay or lesbian. These are fine teachers, who were targeted for dismissal for no other reason than their sexual orientation. It was only through the exercise of their due process rights that they were able to keep their jobs, their careers, and their professional reputations.
Meanwhile, the underlying fiscal intent of the bill, to rectify inequities in the system, is being called into question and districts are predicting layoffs. It would seem that the only place where the Kansas legislature succeeded was in alienating a great deal of Kansans and providing them with greater incentive to vote, volunteer, and contribute to moderate, pro-education candidates in November’s election.
It looks as if “Kansas nice” will continue to be on hiatus, at least through election season, as the teachers of Kansas stand poised to take back their state and undue the destruction caused under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback, with the help of his friends and funders the Kochs.