News Politics

Women’s Issues Remain the Focus As Thousands Rally In Denver

Robin Marty

With 4000 tickets handed out and a packed auditorium, the mix of women, men and children eagerly waited to hear the president's plan to protect women's rights.

For Monica, the only question about attending today’s presidential rally was whether or not she could manage to handle her rambunctious toddler, or if she should leave her with friends. The teacher and mother of three from a nearby Denver suburb chose the latter, and instead joined a crowd of thousands to see President Barack Obama speak, headlined by former law student Sandra Fluke.

Monica was accompanied by her husband, a Colorado small business owner. He was by no means the only man at the event, even though it was expected to be heavily-focused on health care and women’s rights, especially once the appearance of Fluke was announced. According to Monica, the crowd was evenly split by sex, with a liberal influx of children as well.

With a series of ads attacking Republican opponent Mitt Romney over his stance on the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, abortion, and contraception, women’s health has turned into the number one issue recently for the president. A new ad with actress Elizabeth Banks explaining her support for Obama and her belief in the good Planned Parenthood does for the women of the country is being talked about all over the Internet. Women, especially single women, are flocking to the President in droves. It’s that focus that drew many in the crowd to hear Obama speak, regardless of their sex.

Of course, not everyone there was a supporter. Outside, protesting the event, was a member of the so-called Personhood movement. Fresh off the announcement that they had likely gathered enough signatures get back on the Colorado ballot (fourth time), a member of the radical anti-choice group stood by the exit. A large poster of blown-up, graphic images of allegedly aborted fetuses were on display to shock Obama supporters, many of whom positioned themselves between the protester and young children as they walked by the display.

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But once inside the arena, the audience was soon greeted by remarks from Fluke.

“All Mr. Romney could say was ‘Those were not the words I would have chosen,'” said Fluke, discussing the controversy over her infamous attack by Rush Limbaugh regarding her support of no co-pay birth control. “Well, Mr. Romney, you are not the candidate we choose.”

The appearance of both Fluke and Obama left many Coloradans in the audience feeling more energized than ever about the 2012 election. “We needed a little kick in the pants to get fired up,” said Monica, who said she and her husband and friends were even more eager to go once they learned of Fluke’s appearance and that the speech would be focused on women’s issues.

I loved hearing her speak. She got the crowd up and rolling. She did a very good job of introducing the President and talking about how she felt supported by him, and how she needed us to be supporting him.

Monica was excited to see the renewed energy behind the audience’s embrace of protecting women’s health as a campaign issue. “For us, our priority is protection of a woman’s right to choose, particularly because we have two daughters we are raising here, but also because we have a son.”

It would seem that a rally so highly focused on women’s health and rights would be less interesting for the men in the audience, but if Monica’s husband is any indication, that wasn’t true at all. “He was very excited to be there, and very excited that it was women’s-issues focused,” she said. 

I think he realizes as much as any woman what’s at stake right now.  For him, he has two daughters and I hear him talk a lot about what it will mean for their future if Romney is elected versus what it will mean if Obama is elected, and I think that’s a high priority for him.

“We want to make sure our daughters have choice. That they have health care that covers everything. That they don’t have to explain to their bosses what they need, and that their health care choices will be theirs.”

The President also focused on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and on benefits for women in particular. Health care reform has become a lightening rod of partisan bickering, with Republicans declaring that the ACA punishes and harms small businesses. As the wife of a small business owner, Monica disagreed. “I haven’t seen our rate increases for next year, but I don’t think it will hurt us. Our price goes up every year, and it hasn’t looked that different in the last two years.”

When it comes to the state exchange, they are counting the days until they can obtain insurance for their family through that as an alternative.

“Once the exchanges get up,” Monica said, “we think it will have a very positive effect on our premiums. There has to be something better. We’re just in that holding pattern.”

Republicans argue that talking about women’s issues allows Obama to avoid talking about the economy, and that economic issues matter more to Americans. However, Monica believes that women’s health and rights are a more immediate threat.

“The economy will turn around in time. It takes time and it’s already happening,” she said, “but it’s a big ship. This women’s health care issue is bigger.  We could turn the economy around tomorrow, and if my daughter gets pregnant at 16 we’re screwed.  It doesn’t matter how perfect the economy is, our daughter’s life is fundamentally different for ever.  Her children’s life is different, and probably their children, too.” 

When it comes to voting, there is no doubt in her mind that women’s health is her family’s number one issue. She and her husband don’t discuss business prospects at night. but who could be the next nominee to the Supreme Court. “It’s so much bigger.”

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.


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