Analysis Politics

In Michigan, the War on Women is a Bipartisan Effort

Angi Becker Stevens

In Michigan, it is clear that the GOP does not have a monopoly on anti-woman legislation. We need keep a close eye on our Democratic legislators as well, and hold them accountable when they vote against women’s health.

There has been much talk recently about the war on women, and for good reason — the onslaught of anti-choice legislation authored, sponsored, and voted into law by the far right this past year. But it’s important to recognize that the GOP does not have a monopoly on anti-woman policy. We need keep a close eye on our Democratic legislators as well, and hold them accountable when they vote against women’s health.

In Michigan, Democratic Senator Gretchen Whitmer issued a firm statement against HB 5711, 5712, and 5713 — the now-combined anti-abortion “super-bill” that passed through House committee last Thursday:

“I have no doubt there are a few extremists within the Republican party that actually believe this horrific legislation is a good idea, but the reality is, this legislation wasn’t brought up in committee to get it passed into law, it was brought up so that Republicans could play politics with our bodies and our health once more before they leave town for the summer. With elections looming in front of them, Republicans in the House of Representatives wanted to take one more vote to pander to their special interests, one more vote that will guarantee them a coveted endorsement and one more vote that will earn them a fundraiser hosted in their honor. Make no mistake, this vote is not about setting public policy, it was election year politicking at its most vile.

The fact that the majority of these Republicans aren’t sincere in their attack on women’s health doesn’t make their vote any better. In fact, it makes it worse. It means that they are willing to put politics ahead of all else and election year strategy ahead of real leadership, even when it comes at the expense of women throughout Michigan. Their actions send a message that a woman’s access to healthcare and our ability to make critically important decisions for our own well-being are little more than political bargaining chips that can be cashed in for favors come election time.”

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Whitmer is not entirely accurate, however, in characterizing this legislation as a strictly partisan issue. Though only one of the seven Democrats on the health policy committee — Lesia Liss —voted for the “super-bill,” even one Democratic yes-vote is enough to disrupt the notion that all Democrats are necessarily in support of reproductive rights. My own Democratic Representative, Richard LeBlanc, is a consistent anti-choice voter. When I contacted him via e-mail to request that he vote against the “super-bill,” he replied that while he “values my opinion,” he would be voting in support of this extreme and dangerous legislation.

When the hypocritical anti-coercion legislation—HB 4799—was up for vote by the full house last month, 9 of the House’s 47 Democrats voted in favor of the bill (though one of the 9 has since switched to the Republican party); numbers were similar when Michigan passed a ban on so-called “partial birth abortions” last year. These numbers might seem too small to be significant; the Republicans control both the House and Senate by a large enough margin to pass this legislation even without any Democratic support at all. But if Democrats do manage to take a majority of Michigan seats in November, it will likely be a small minority. In that case, just a few anti-choice Democrats could be enough to tip the scales. And in fact, Michigan has a history of passing anti-choice legislation even with Democrats in power. Prior to 2010—when Republicans took control of both the House and the Governor’s seat, in addition to the already GOP-controlled Senate—NARAL already gave Michigan a grade of F for abortion access, largely due to restrictions which Democratic Governors failed to veto. In 2006, Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm signed a package of “informed consent” restrictions into law, mandating, among other things, that women receive information about fetal development 24 hours in advance of obtaining an abortion, and that they be told abortion may cause guilt and depression. Going further back, it was another former Democratic Governor, James Blanchard, who signed Michigan’s parental notification requirement into law.

Even nominally “pro-choice” Democrats are often far too willing to make concessions with regard to reproductive freedom. Bill Clinton popularized the phrase that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” a sentiment that has been taken up by many Democrats, including President Obama. The very notion that we are we trying to make abortion as “rare” as possible, however, treats abortion as a necessary evil, rather than simply affirming it as a vital part of women’s health care. And this mentality opens the door to all manner of restrictions and regulations. If our goal is for abortion to be rare, then there is nothing wrong with discouraging it or making it more difficult to come by, so long as it remains—at least technically—legal. But “legal” means very little if abortions are nearly impossible to come by, which could soon be reality in Michigan. And we need representatives who will not just pay lip service to upholding Roe v. Wade, but who will actively work to defend abortion access.

In light of the “super-bill,” many concerned Michigan citizens are talking about the need to regain Democratic control of the state. And it is certainly true that we will at least be in a better position under Democratic leadership. But it would be naïve to simply trust that Democrats will necessarily support reproductive choice. If anything, it is the Democrats we need to keep the pressure on most strongly; with the entire Republican party against us, women cannot afford even a handful of Democrats in office who will turn their backs on us. Opponents of HB 5711 have taken up the rallying cry that “we will remember in November.” But that statement must hold true for all our legislators, not only the Republicans. Women’s lives and health are at stake, and we cannot allow our bodies to be the ground on which compromise is made.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

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