Analysis Politics

Why Dark Money In Politics Is Bad For Women

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The explosion of anti-choice legislation coincides with a flood of unaccountable money in our electoral system, and Republicans are fighting hard to keep it that way.

With a voting public largely disgusted by the new freedom of corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, supporting a modest version of reform like the version of the DISCLOSE Act working its way through Congress would, in normal times, be an easy political win for Republicans.

But these are not normal times. For the second time this year Senate Democrats tried to advance a bill that would have forced disclosure of unlimited secret campaign spending and the second time Republican leaders blocked a vote on the DISCLOSE Act.

Republican lawmakers have a host of weapons at their disposal in the battle over women’s reproductive rights, but no weapon may have as much impact as unlimited campaign spending. How do we know that dark money is a key to a Republican anti-woman, anti-family agenda? Just look how hard they are fighting to protect it.

The DISCLOSE Act would have required any independent group that spends more than $10,000 on campaign ads during an election cycle to file a report identifying any donors who gave $10,000 or more. Historically Republicans have supported disclosure laws in part because they were viewed as less onerous forms of campaign finance reform than say, spending limits. To get a sense of how hard Republicans have flipped on this issue, 14 of the Republican senators who helped filibuster this last vote supported a nearly identical disclosure bill in 2000.

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Campaign finance reform and the issue of unlimited secret money flooding our elections is an issue of immediate importance to women. The effort to break the back of our public unions, a backbone of women’s economic empowerment and success, is funded with dark money. The same is true in the fight against fair pay laws.

In the first half of 2012 states enacted 95 new provisions related to reproductive health, including 39 restrictions on abortion access alone. In 2000, before the impact of Citizens United would be fully realized “only” 89 new anti-abortion laws were passed. In the entire year. As soon as the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act religious organizations including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops created a SuperPAC to fund the legal challenges. It’s resulted in over twenty federal lawsuits with countless more on the way.

It’s simply undeniable that as corporate and secret money flowed unrestricted so to did the attacks on women’s reproductive health.

This issue affects women on the front end as well. Thanks to the persistency of the wage gap, women cannot spend as freely in elections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, even though women slightly outnumber men in terms of overall population, they accounted for only 29.6 percent of people making federal-level political donations in the last election cycle. That figure gets even smaller when you look at overall dollar amount donated. Women contribute less money less often to political campaigns, and this is true even as the number of contributions by women is on the rise. What’s happening then?

We’re being drowned out.

We can’t expect the attacks on women’s rights to end until the money in our election system is shut off. As hard as we fight for reproductive rights we have to fight for election reform because the two are fundamentally linked. As citizens we have a right to know who influences our lawmakers, and this is especially true when those lawmakers put our lives on the line.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

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

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”