Debate continues in Georgia over a proposed 20-week abortion ban pushed by anti-choice advocates based on the erroneous claim that a fetus can feel pain at that point in its development. But Georgia Right-to-Life, a key supporter of the bill, is getting concerned that some of the votes they need for passage may be slipping away.
Dan Becker, the president of Georgia Right to Life, is facing off with state House Republicans whom he believes might waver on supporting a bill that would cut the time for elective abortions and tighten medical exemptions for treating pregnant women. His confrontation with Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, who has anti-abortion credentials, left her flustered and complaining near noon Wednesday. Cooper said Becker threatened her political career.
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Threats are apparently necessary in order to keep Republican votes in line. The bill is being panned by numerous doctors who worry that they will not be able to perform life-saving procedures on women with medical complications due to a rule stating that a fetus “must be delivered in a way that tries to keep it alive.”
As a prominent Atlanta obstetrician told me this week, consider a woman who at 20 weeks discovers that her fetus suffers from anencephaly, which means it’s missing part of its head. The goal of his practice is to see high-risk pregnancies through to a healthy, successful live birth, but sometimes that just isn’t possible.
“The fetus has no skull,” he explained. “I don’t think many of us walk around without a skull. It is not going to survive no matter what you do. We tell the mother what we found, and we let her go through full counseling, grief counseling. And at the end of that, we give her the option of carrying that pregnancy or not.”
Under HB 954, that option would no longer be available.
That fetus will be carried to full term, under the false excuse of sparing it pain, and the result will be a baby “condemned to writhe in agony” as it dies shortly after birth.
Despite listening to the objections of many in the medical profession, the bill was left with no exceptions for a woman’s health or for nonviable pregnancies.
Rather than allocating money toward licensed centers that could provide care from trained professionals, or toward strengthening social safety nets, Georgia is poised to join a slate of 22 other states directing public funds to crisis pregnancy centers.
When Georgia resident Rebecca DeHart started experiencing the worst pain she’d ever felt, she turned to what she thought was a medical facility that could provide her care as an uninsured patient.
“I was crying, again I had not ever been in so much pain in my life. I was in tears, at the counter, I thought it was a medical facility. And I said ‘I need to see the doctor, I might have an ectopic pregnancy,'” DeHart testified during a recent Georgia House Health and Human Services Committee hearing.
“She put the [pregnancy] test kind of on a shelf above my head and she said, ‘We’ll get to your results but I want you to look at some things first.’ And she gave me a series of pamphlets …. It wasn’t until I opened a baby announcement with pictures of fetuses on the inside that I understood what was happening,” DeHart said.
DeHart had sought help at a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), one of thousands of facilities around the country whose primary goal is to dissuade patients from having an abortion.
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Georgia is facing a health-care crisis; it has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation. It also ranks poorly on infant health and mortality. March of Dimes gave Georgia a “D” for preterm births in its 2015 Premature Birth Report Card, noting in an accompanying press release that “Babies who survive an early birth often face serious and lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays.” The organization also cited preterm or premature births as the leading cause of infant death.
These are symptoms of a wider problem in Georgia: an overall lack of access to facilities where patients, particularly those in rural areas, can obtain comprehensive reproductive health-care services.
Yet rather than allocating money toward licensed centers that could provide care from trained professionals, or toward strengthening social safety nets, Georgia is poised to join a slate of 22 other states directing public funds to CPCs. On Republican Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk right now is SB 308, which creates a potential $2 million grant program to fund CPCs. Deal has until May 3 to veto the legislation. If he does not, it will automatically become law.
In order to qualify to receive funding, an organization need only be a nonprofit operating for at least one year, “whose mission and practice is to provide alternatives to abortion services to medically indigent women at no cost.”
CPCs use deceptive tactics—like lying about the services they provide or implying they are a fully staffed medical clinic when they are not—to get pregnant folks in the door. Their sole goal is to keep these people from having abortions, including by providing medically inaccurate or misleading information about abortion procedures. As Georgia Life Alliance, an affiliate of the anti-choice National Right to Life organization, wrote on its blog in support of SB 308, “The open doors and compassionate support of Georgia’s pregnancy care centers are the most effective tool we have to reach the abortion-minded woman.”
Still, proponents of SB 308 have framed the grant program as a way to address pregnant Georgians’ need for care, especially when they do not choose abortion. “When our party has been a party pushing for decreased access to abortion facilities, and has so stressed the need not to have an abortion, I think we have a moral responsibility to say, ‘If you make the choice, if you choose life, and you need help, we’ll be there to help you,” said the bill’s house sponsor, Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), during debate on the house floor last month.
The bill lists quite a few services that the grant program will fund, including pregnancy tests, sexually transmitted infection tests, and ultrasounds; nutrition education; housing, education, and employment assistance; adoption services; parenting education; baby supplies like clothing, car seats, and cribs; and information on receiving Medicaid coverage.
The bills’ opponents, however, expressed concern about the accessibility and quality of those services at CPCs.
“These CPCs, in large part, are simply not equipped to handle pregnant women’s care. Some of them provide only counseling and pregnancy testing,” said Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) in opposition to the bill during debate on the senate floor. “Only a limited number of them provide ultrasound and sexually transmitted disease testing. And many [CPCs] have to refer out for prenatal and emergency care services.”
This was the case for Rebecca DeHart, who testified during the public committee hearing days before the bill went to the house floor. DeHart’s pregnancy test came back negative—she did not have an ectopic pregnancy—but she was still in a lot of pain.
“In the end … I had a cyst the size of an orange that burst on my ovary,” DeHart said she learned after going to a health clinic in her hometown, as the CPC was unable to diagnose or treat her medical condition.
DeHart, who is now the executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said she was ultimately able to have a healthy pregnancy when she was ready, but the burst cyst did result in damage to one of her ovaries. “I am very happy that did not prohibit me, even though my ovary is damaged, from being able to have children later,” she said.
“A lot of these crisis pregnancy centers don’t have medical staff on board, and if they do, they are nurse practitioners, or maybe just sonographer technicians that might or might not have the ability to diagnose actual issues with high-risk pregnancies,” said Molly “MK” Anderson, public policy associate and lobbyist at the Feminist Women’s Health Center (FWHC), in an interview with Rewire. FWHC is a key opponent of the bill, with Anderson leading its lobbying and advocacy work.
Despite concerns about the quality and competency of care CPCs can provide, pregnant Georgians with few options may continue turning to them for services, a prospect that is only made more probable by this grant program.
The Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society predicted that by 2020, 75 percent of Primary Care Service Areas (PCSA) outside Atlanta, “will lack sufficient obstetric services.” PCSAs are geographic regions based on Medicare patient travel to their primary care providers; Georgia has 159 counties, but 82 PCSAs outside Atlanta.
It was also hard to miss the talk at the capitol—from both Republicans and Democrats—about Georgia’s rural hospital closures. This growing problem, coupled with an existing lack of OB-GYNs, means pregnant Georgians find themselves with few options to receive care before, during, and after a pregnancy.
According to the Georgia Maternal and Infant Health Research Group (membership login required), “24 percent of all pregnant women in Georgia now drive more than 45 minutes to access their obstetric provider. These women are 1.5 times more likely to deliver preterm than women who drive less than 15 minutes.”
This lack of access also impacts the ability of pregnant Georgians to manage conditions—such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or anemia—that can become exacerbated by pregnancy, as well as to receive critical care during a high-risk pregnancy.
There are also disturbing racial disparities in access, or lack thereof, and maternal deaths. Throughout the country, Black women are approximately four times as likely to die from pregnancy complications as white women; however, this is not necessarily tied to a greater risk of an underlying complication.
“[I]n a national study of five medical conditions that are common causes of maternal death and injury… black women did not have a significantly higher prevalence than white women of any of these conditions. However, the black women in the study were two to three times more likely to die than the white women who had the same complication,” a 2011 report from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals stated.
Democrats in both chambers asked why money was being allocated for the CPC grant program, but not for Medicaid expansion, which could potentially be a boon for both rural hospitals and Georgians who are or may become pregnant. For that matter, even as proponents of the bill articulated a need for pregnant people to receive support services, legislation to reduce access to government safety nets gained traction in both chambers: Rep. Cooper, the house sponsor of SB 308, was also the house sponsor of a bill to reduce the maximum time a person can receive cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
“And when we are considering bills like SB 389 to cut TANF benefits and make it harder on families with children, I think you can see the hypocrisy in passing SB 308. And additionally when we refuse to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of Georgians, yet we want to give money for what is being seen as health-care services, I think you can see the hypocrisy in that as well,” said Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia) in opposition to the bill during debate on the house floor.
Both sides agree on at least one thing: SB 308 is about reducing the number of abortions. But providing grant money to CPCs to expand their reach, at a time when many Georgians struggle to access the reproductive health-care services they need, is dangerous policy. For pregnant Georgians seeking to carry a pregnancy to term, and those seeking to terminate a pregnancy, CPCs just won’t cut it.
“We are talking about facilities that offer services that are free—free pregnancy tests, free ultrasounds—and that often attracts people who are uninsured, who are in our [Medicaid] coverage gap, or don’t feel safe going to a provider,” FWHC’s Anderson said. “And these are folks who need care, need comprehensive care, need professionals who actually know what they are doing to provide care.”
“[SB 308] was under the guise of being comprehensive health care. Which I thought was a total sham,” said Oriaku Njoku, co-founder and executive director of Access Reproductive Care – Southeast (ARC-SE), referring to the extensive comments made by supporters of the bill in both chambers, in an interview with Rewire. ARC-SE was involved in the opposition to the bill at the state capitol.
“And the reason I say that is because when you are talking about comprehensive health care, to me that also includes abortion access, it also includes trans health, it also includes maternal mortality, infant mortality, like all of these things are included,” Njoku said. “And I definitely feel that this was a missed opportunity to do right by Georgians.”
This bill passed 31 to 16 in the senate along party lines, while the house saw a vote of 103 to 52, with several Republican members choosing to walk—that is, skip voting—rather than vote against their party. Gov. Deal has until May 3 to veto the bill; otherwise, SB 308 will become law.
Reproductive rights and justice advocates, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, have spent months demanding Democratic debate moderators address abortion, organizing around the hashtag #AskAboutAbortion.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) this week on the campaign trail ignored questions about whether he supports radical “personhood” legislation, while Hillary Clinton called out Democratic debate decision makers for failing to ask the candidates about abortion rights.
Clinton Critical of Democratic Debates for Ignoring Abortion Rights and Access
After moderators at eight debates failed to ask Democratic presidential candidates about abortion, Clinton called out the unwillingness to address the issue during CNN’s Thursday debate in Brooklyn.
“You know, there is no doubt that the only people that I would ever appoint to the Supreme Court are people who believe that Roe v. Wade is settled law and Citizens United needs to be overturned. And I want to say something about this, since we’re talking about the Supreme Court and what’s at stake,” Clinton said. “We’ve had eight debates before, this is our ninth. We’ve not had one question about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care, not one question.”
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“We have states, governors doing everything they can to restrict women’s rights,” the former secretary of state continued. “We have a presidential candidate by the name of Donald Trump saying that women should be punished. And we are never asked about this.”
Fact-checking site Politifact pored over transcripts of each Democratic debate during the 2016 presidential race. “We could not find any example of a moderator asking a direct question about abortion,” the site concluded, rating the claim “true.”
Reproductive rights and justice advocates, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, have spent months demanding Democratic debate moderators address the topic, organizing around the hashtag #AskAboutAbortion.
“You might be thinking, Clinton and Sanders are both pro-choice and miles ahead of the Republican candidates, so what’s the point in talking about it? Well, both candidates support expanding health care access and regulating Wall Street, but that hasn’t stopped them from clashing over how to do it. It should be the same for abortion,” reproductive justice advocate Renee Bracey Sherman explained in an article for Glamour ahead of Thursday’s debate. “We can’t continue to allow anti-choice candidates to define the conversation. We must demand that our pro-choice politicians do more than just check the box. They must advance access to care, not maintain the status quo.”
Cruz Won’t Address His Anti-Choice Record During MSNBC Town Hall
The Texas senator on Thursday tried to gloss over his extreme anti-choice record during a town hall event hosted by MSNBC, refusing to answer eight direct questions about whether he supports so-called personhood legislation, which could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception.
“I told you I’m not going to get into the labels, but what I will say is we should protect life. But I’m not interested in anything that restricts birth control,” Cruz said when confronted by moderator Chuck Todd about whether he supports legislation that would define life as beginning at conception, thereby granting constitutional rights to fertilized eggs, zygotes, and embryos. “And I’m not interested in anything that restricts in vitro fertilization because I think parents who are struggling to create life, to have a child, that is a wonderful thing,” continued the Republican presidential candidate.
But as MSNBC’s Jane C. Timm noted, “It’s unclear what Cruz defines to be birth control,” as he refused to answer Todd’s inquiry about whether Cruz considers intrauterine devices a form of contraception. Cruz has falsely equated some forms of hormonal contraception to “abortion-inducing drugs.”
Cruz may have refused to discuss “personhood” during his MSNBC appearance, but he has, for the most part, been a vocal proponent of such legislation. The candidate in February released a video promising to “do everything” within his power to end abortion access if elected president, as Rewire reported. Cruz in the video threw his support behind a South Carolina bill that proposed giving fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses full constitutional rights.
“I have been around conservatives my entire life. I have never met a single human being, in any place, who wanted to ban contraceptives,” Cruz said. Though Cruz has repeatedly alleged that Republicans have never tried to ban contraceptives, he has consistently pushed for legislation to do just that.
Along with the “personhood” measures he has supported, Cruz has crusaded to defund Planned Parenthood, applauded Texas Republicans for restricting Medicaid funding for abortion care while encouraging other states to do the same, and used his Senate seat to attempt to restrict access to contraception.
Cruz also worked to block a Washington, D.C. law to protect residents from discrimination based on their reproductive health decisions, which could have made accessing contraception more difficult had he succeeded.
The campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Clinton are joining the Democratic Party in a lawsuit against Arizona’s Maricopa County after voters there faced hours-long waits to cast a ballot in their state’s primary. The lawsuit alleges that Arizona’s “alarmingly inadequate number of voting centers resulted in severe, inexcusable burdens on voters county-wide, as well as the ultimate disenfranchisement of untold numbers of voters who were unable or unwilling to wait in intolerably long lines.” The situation was “particularly burdensome” for communities of color, who had less places—and in some cases no places—to vote.
The New York Times’ editorial board encouraged Clinton to “say more about the crime bill” which she supported and was signed into law by her husband in 1994. Another article in the Timesexplained that while the bill was not singularly responsible for mass incarceration, it added to prison populations and the “results may still be playing out.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) couldn’t believe that a young woman at one of his campaign rallies came up with a question for him about social security on her own. “Did somebody tell you to ask this question?” Kasich asked the woman, according to the Huffington Post. “No,” she told the Republican presidential candidate. “I think for myself.”
Mother Jones’ David Corn reported that Cruz once defended a law criminalizing the sale of sex toys. In their brief, Cruz’s legal team declared, “There is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked a federal judge to block Kansas’ restrictive voter ID law. The GOP measure requires proof of American citizenship when registering to vote while applying for a driver’s license pending the outcome of their suit against the law. At least 16,000 people have been stopped from registering to vote by the law, according to the ACLU. The preliminary injunction would stop the law from being enforced ahead of upcoming elections in August and November.
A Black man from Wisconsin brought three forms of identification to the polls in Wisconsin and still wasn’t allowed to vote thanks to the state’s Republican-backed voter ID law.