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.

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “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.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”