Commentary Contraception

Where ARE the Women?


The image of five religious male officials testifying on women's health perfectly frames the assault on women's health.  It is men dictating to women and deciding what's best.  It is a particular religious view of conception imposing itself on women's health.  And it needs to stop.

The image of five religious male officials testifying on women’s health perfectly frames the assault on women’s health.  It is men dictating to women and deciding for them.  It is a particular religious view of conception imposing itself on women’s health.  These males – priests, pastors and a rabbi – were the “experts” chosen by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chair of the House Oversight Committee hearing titled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State.  Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”  Were these men constitutional scholars who could debate if any first amendment issues were actually involved?  Were they physicians who deal with women’s health?  Were these men able to give birth themselves?  After listening to them, there is no clear answer on why they were called to testify, if not to impose a narrow religious view on the nation.

One of the panel of experts chose to explore the topic by comparing women’s rights to having contraceptives covered by her employer-based health insurance plan to a “Parable of a Jewish Deli.”  The eating of pork became a metaphor for contraceptive coverage.  In this tale, the government mandated that all restaurants serve pork with a religious exemption for a kosher caterer associated with a synagogue.  The story wove through the views of Orthodox and non-Orthodox views of eating pork and continued until it triumphantly declared it is absurd for the state to use its coercive power to make someone buy and eat a ham sandwich when it is a free option a few doors down.  According to this “expert,” women’s health is not chopped liver but a ham on rye!

The other testimonies were no more enlightening.  But there was someone in the room who had come prepared to testify but was not considered as knowledgeable as these men.  The young woman, Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, is a female and is past president of the school’s Students for Reproductive Justice group.  She has lobbied the administration at Georgetown for three years to include birth control in its student health plans.  While her testimony was not heard at the hearing, she spoke out on The Ed Show on MSNBC.

Fluke’s testimony was full of facts about the impact of contraceptives on the health of women.  It showed how contraceptives are important for birth control as well as health issues that require the use of hormonal treatments.  She cited an example of a 32-year old woman who will now face life-long complications and possibly the inability to have children because of the refusal of medication from the Georgetown health clinic.  Although she had a doctor’s diagnosis and a prescription, she could not obtain the medication that would treat her condition because it was a contraceptive.  It is hard to reconcile this with a religion and a movement that claims to be pro-life.  Again and again, it is only when a fetus is concerned that it is considered a life issue.

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The debate on when life begins is spurious.  The real debate is when men will view women as other than chattel, when will they view women as equals, as intelligent human beings who can make their own health and well-being decisions.  It is not up to these five religious men, the chair of an oversight committee with his own political agenda or a group of bishops to make any decisions about a woman’s health.  It is not up to them to dictate their religious beliefs on a woman.  These so-called “experts” will allow, as a matter of religious liberty, a woman to be denied paid coverage for polycystic ovarian disease while a man has unfettered access to erectile dysfunction drugs?  One is a medical condition which may eventually destroy her health, while the other is a matter of male sexual gratification or male ego.  This is outrageous, irrational and utterly a matter of male domination.

And where are the women?  Women were not allowed to testify about their own health.  They are under-represented in Congress.  They were largely ignored in the media before President Obama issued his accommodation. 

Where are the women’s voices?  Where is the outrage at laws that allow women’s bodies to be penetrated against their will, as in Virginia’s proposed mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound law in which neither women nor their doctors may refuse the procedure if a woman is seeking an abortion?  Where is the outcry as more and more states require longer and longer waiting periods before obtaining a legal abortion?  Where is the outcry as more and more states seriously consider “personhood” legislation that could outlaw contraception and invitro-fertilization?  Where are they?  If women do not write, email, call, and support candidates and organizations who support them, do not exercise the rights we have fought so long for, women will find that they are back in the kitchens with their ancestors, with no rights at all.

Gail Yamner

President, Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs (JACPAC)

originally posted on JACBlog!

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.


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