News Violence

For South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Rape and Violence Are Not Public Health Issues

Robin Marty

The Republican governor and potential vice presidential pick said funding rape and abuse prevention programs "distracts" the Department of Health from its real mission.

Good news! Apparently violent acts, rape, and other potential bodily abuses are no longer hazardous to your health. At least, that seems to be the opinion of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who just vetoed funding for programs to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault.

Via Think Progress:

Haley explained these vetoes in the Department of Health and Environmental Control budget by writing, “Each of these lines attempts to serve a portion of our population for which we extend our sympathy and encouragement, but nevertheless, it is only a small portion of South Carolina’s chronically ill or abused. Overall, these special add-on lines distract from the agency’s broader mission of protecting South Carolina’s public health.”

Think Progress notes that South Carolina’s rate of sexual violence has been higher than the national average for the last three decades. How much higher does it have to go for this governor to see it as a public health issue?

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Analysis Law and Policy

‘Whole Woman’s Health’ Breathes New Life Into Voting Rights Cases

Imani Gandy

It is no longer acceptable—at least in theory—for state legislators to announce that a particular restriction advances an interest in women’s health and to expect courts and the public to take them at their word. The same goes for, as it turns out, voting rights.

It has been a good summer for reproductive rights advocates. A little over a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt struck down two burdensome restrictions in a Texas omnibus anti-abortion law. The Court’s opinion was so data and fact-driven, it signaled to reproductive rights advocates that science and evidence had finally made a comeback in the courts, especially when it comes to laws that burden constitutional rights.

It is no longer acceptable—at least in theory—for state legislators to announce that a particular restriction advances an interest in women’s health and to expect courts and the public to take them at their word.

The same goes for, as it turns out, voting rights.

Conservative legislators across the country have been complaining about voter fraud for years. As soon as the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, states like Texas and North Carolina rushed to enact and implement legislation requiring voter identification, which disproportionately disenfranchised Black and Latino voters. And even though no state has been able to offer proof of any in-person voter fraud crisis—because no such crisis exists—that hasn’t stopped states from continuing to pass laws aimed at slaying the phantom voter fraud demons.

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But there has been a palpable momentum shift in the GOP’s war on voting: Voting rights advocates seem to be winning, with a little help from Whole Woman’s Health.

It may surprise you that Whole Woman’s Health has popped up in cases involving voter ID laws. But since Whole Woman’s Health’s victory in June, four states have seen their voter ID laws either weakened or eliminated entirely. Two of the decisions in those cases, Wisconsin’s and Texas’, specifically reference Whole Woman’s Health.

First, in Wisconsin, a district court judge cited Whole Woman’s Health in a decision weakening that state’s voter ID law. There, District Court Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that voters who were unable to obtain voter ID could still vote by signing an affidavit as to their identity. Wisconsin protested that the court’s affidavit fail-safe provision would undermine the integrity of Wisconsin’s elections, but offered no proof to back up its claim.

“The Supreme Court recently reiterated that where a state law burdens a constitutional right, the state must produce evidence supporting its claim that the burden is necessary to further the state’s claimed interests,” Adelman wrote, citing Whole Woman’s Health. Evidence. Not just baseless, transparently false claims about a law’s purpose, but evidence.

And in Texas, two Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judges cited Whole Woman’s Health in a concurring opinion invalidating Texas’ voter ID law. Amazingly, even a full panel of the ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas’s voter ID law disproportionately burdened Black and Latino voters, and therefore violated the Voting Rights Act.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Stephen Higginson acknowledged that combating voter fraud and promoting voter confidence were legitimate state interests, but, he said, again citing Whole Woman’s Health, simply asserting those interests doesn’t immunize a voter ID law from all challenges.

“[A]s the Supreme Court recently reminded [us], that a state interest is legitimate does not necessarily mean courts should ignore evidence of whether a specific law advances that interest or imposes needless burdens,” he wrote for himself and Judge Gregg Costa.

The message from Wisconsin and Texas is clear: If a state is going to claim that a particular law is going to fix a particular problem, that state needs to prove it. Courts will not rubber-stamp laws that needlessly burden constitutional rights without actually doing anything to fix the problem they were supposedly enacted to fix. And that’s a noticeable shift stemming from Whole Woman’s Health.

Other crucial voting rights victories this month have, as Stephen Colbert might put it, a Whole Woman’s Healthiness about them.

In North Carolina, while Whole Woman’s Health was not featured in the the Circuit Court of Appeals’ defenestration of that state’s sweeping election law, you can certainly feel its presence.

North Carolina passed its sweeping law after requesting data that showed which voting mechanisms Black people used the most, and then eliminating those mechanisms. For example, the racial data the legislature received showed that Black voters disproportionately used early voting in 2008 and 2012. So, North Carolina eliminated the first week of early voting, shortening the total early voting period from 17 to ten days.

The Fourth Circuit ripped North Carolina to shreds for it.

“Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for a unanimous court, “they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.”

In other words, North Carolina’s voter ID provision was about as useful at combating voter fraud and promoting voter confidence as the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center provisions in Texas’ HB 2 were at promoting women’s health and safety: that is to say, not very useful at all.

In Michigan, District Court Judge Gershwin A. Drain expressed skepticism at Michigan Republicans’ rationale for banning straight-party voting. Michigan claimed that the prohibition would help “preserve the purity of elections,” and “guard against abuses of the elective franchise.” The state also argued that the law would demand that voters be more knowledgeable about candidates and would encourage voters to make selections based on criteria other than party affiliation.

But Michigan didn’t submit any evidence to prove its claims, and Judge Drain wasn’t buying it.

“Michigan has not demonstrated how straight-party voting has damaged, or could possibly damage, the ‘purity’ of the election process,” District Court Judge Gershwin A. Drain wrote. “There is nothing ‘impure’ or ‘disengaged’ about choosing to vote for every candidate affiliated with, for example, the Republican Party,” Drain continued.

“Moreover, the idea that voting one’s party reflects ignorance or disengagement is, ironically, disconnected from reality,” he continued. “Even if ‘disengaged’ voting was problematic—and it is not—the Court finds that [the law] does nothing to encourage voters to be any more ‘engaged.’”

In North Dakota, plaintiffs challenged a law that required voters to present certain forms of voter ID and that did not have a “fail safe” provision which would enable a person who did not have the required voter ID to vote, which had existed before the law’s implementation in 2013. Plaintiffs claimed that the law severely burdened the Native American population in North Dakota, and submitted affidavits, studies, surveys, and other data in order to prove it. In response, North Dakota submitted nothing—not a shred of evidence that would back up its claim that the voter ID law was necessary to combat voter fraud.

Nothing wasn’t enough for Judge Daniel L. Hovland, who blocked the law.

“The undisputed evidence before the Court reveals that overcoming these obstacles can be difficult, particularly for an impoverished Native American,” he wrote.

Recognizing North Dakota had a valid interest in preventing voter fraud and promoting voter confidence, Hovland ruled that “those interests would not be undermined by allowing Native American voters, or any other voters who cannot obtain an ID, to present an affidavit or declaration in lieu of one of the four forms of permissible voter IDs.”

“No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote,” Hovland said.

The losses suffered by Republican-dominated legislatures in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, and North Dakota, combined with federal court decisions striking down other voter restrictions in Kansas and Ohio (both decisions pre-date Whole Woman’s Health but certainly fit into a post-Whole Woman’s Health zeitgeist) suggests that judges are, as Mark Joseph Stern put it in Slate, “fed up with being treated like dolts by Republican legislators who lie through their teeth about the intent of draconian voting restrictions.”

Whole Woman’s Health has provided those irritated judges extra ammunition to shoot down unnecessary voter ID laws.

In a post-Whole Woman’s Health world, courts do not have to simply accept whatever lies a legislature decides to tell as “legislative fact.” If when a legislature says “to promote women’s health and safety,” it is nevertheless apparent that it means “to reduce abortion access,” then that law will not, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it in her two-paragraph Whole Woman’s Health concurrence, survive judicial inspection.

The same can be said of voting rights. Courts do not have to accept “to preserve the integrity of elections” as an explanation when the obvious goal is “to keep people of color from voting.”

States can still say anything. But now, it’s more likely that they’ll have to prove it.

Commentary Politics

No, Republicans, Porn Is Still Not a Public Health Crisis

Martha Kempner

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography.

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, the Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography. Without much debate, a subcommittee of Republican delegates agreed to add to a draft of the party’s 2016 platform an amendment declaring pornography is endangering our children and destroying lives. As Rewire argued when Utah passed a resolution with similar language, pornography is neither dangerous nor a public health crisis.

According to CNN, the amendment to the platform reads:

The internet must not become a safe haven for predators. Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life [sic] of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography which [is] closely linked to human trafficking.

Mary Frances Forrester, a delegate from North Carolina, told Yahoo News in an interview that she had worked with conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America (CWA) on the amendment’s language. On its website, CWA explains that its mission is “to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens—first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society—thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.”

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The amendment does not elaborate on the ways in which this internet monster is supposedly harmful to children. Forrester, however, told Yahoo News that she worries that pornography is addictive: “It’s such an insidious epidemic and there are no rules for our children. It seems … [young people] do not have the discernment and so they become addicted before they have the maturity to understand the consequences.”

“Biological” porn addiction was one of the 18 “points of fact” that were included in a Utah Senate resolution that was ultimately signed by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in April. As Rewire explained when the resolution first passed out of committee in February, none of these “facts” are supported by scientific research.

The myth of porn addiction typically suggests that young people who view pornography and enjoy it will be hard-wired to need more and more pornography, in much the same way that a drug addict needs their next fix. The myth goes on to allege that porn addicts will not just need more porn but will need more explicit or violent porn in order to get off. This will prevent them from having healthy sexual relationships in real life, and might even lead them to become sexually violent as well.

This is a scary story, for sure, but it is not supported by research. Yes, porn does activate the same pleasure centers in the brain that are activated by, for example, cocaine or heroin. But as Nicole Prause, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Rewire back in February, so does looking at pictures of “chocolate, cheese, or puppies playing.” Prause went on to explain: “Sex film viewing does not lead to loss of control, erectile dysfunction, enhanced cue (sex image) reactivity, or withdrawal.” Without these symptoms, she said, we can assume “sex films are not addicting.”

Though the GOP’s draft platform amendment is far less explicit about why porn is harmful than Utah’s resolution, the Republicans on the subcommittee clearly want to evoke fears of child pornography, sexual predators, and trafficking. It is as though they want us to believe that pornography on the internet is the exclusive domain of those wishing to molest or exploit our children.

Child pornography is certainly an issue, as are sexual predators and human trafficking. But conflating all those problems and treating all porn as if it worsens them across the board does nothing to solve them, and diverts attention from actual potential solutions.

David Ley, a clinical psychologist, told Rewire in a recent email that the majority of porn on the internet depicts adults. Equating all internet porn with child pornography and molestation is dangerous, Ley wrote, not just because it vilifies a perfectly healthy sexual behavior but because it takes focus away from the real dangers to children: “The modern dialogue about child porn is just a version of the stranger danger stories of men in trenchcoats in alleys—it tells kids to fear the unknown, the stranger, when in fact, 90 percent of sexual abuse of children occurs at hands of people known to the victim—relatives, wrestling coaches, teachers, pastors, and priests.” He added: “By blaming porn, they put the problem external, when in fact, it is something internal which we need to address.”

The Republican platform amendment, by using words like “public health crisis,” “public menace” “predators” and “destroying the life,” seems designed to make us afraid, but it does nothing to actually make us safer.

If Republicans were truly interested in making us safer and healthier, they could focus on real public health crises like the rise of STIs; the imminent threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea; the looming risk of the Zika virus; and, of course, the ever-present hazards of gun violence. But the GOP does not seem interested in solving real problems—it spearheaded the prohibition against research into gun violence that continues today, it has cut funding for the public health infrastructure to prevent and treat STIs, and it is working to cut Title X contraception funding despite the emergence of Zika, which can be sexually transmitted and causes birth defects that can only be prevented by preventing pregnancy.

This amendment is not about public health; it is about imposing conservative values on our sexual behavior, relationships, and gender expression. This is evident in other elements of the draft platform, which uphold that marriage is between a man and a women; ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its ruling affirming the right to same-sex marriage; declare dangerous the Obama administration’s rule that schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room of their gender identity; and support conversion therapy, a highly criticized practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation and has been deemed ineffective and harmful by the American Psychological Association.

Americans like porn. Happy, well-adjusted adults like porn. Republicans like porn. In 2015, there were 21.2 billion visits to the popular website PornHub. The site’s analytics suggest that visitors around the world spent a total of 4,392,486,580 hours watching the site’s adult entertainment. Remember, this is only one way that web users access internet porn—so it doesn’t capture all of the visits or hours spent on what may have trumped baseball as America’s favorite pastime.

As Rewire covered in February, porn is not a perfect art form for many reasons; it is not, however, an epidemic. And Concerned Women for America, Mary Frances Forrester, and the Republican subcommittee may not like how often Americans turn on their laptops and stick their hands down their pants, but that doesn’t make it a public health crisis.

Party platforms are often eclipsed by the rest of what happens at the convention, which will take place next week. Given the spectacle that a convention headlined by presumptive nominee (and seasoned reality television star) Donald Trump is bound to be, this amendment may not be discussed after next week. But that doesn’t mean that it is unimportant or will not have an effect on Republican lawmakers. Attempts to codify strict sexual mores are a dangerous part of our history—Anthony Comstock’s crusade against pornography ultimately extended to laws that made contraception illegal—that we cannot afford to repeat.

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