News Politics

Live Action Blows Another “Undercover” Mission

Robin Marty

It must be almost election day, the "stings" are coming out.

What if you threw an undercover investigation and no one was stung? That’s a question that is once again plaguing Live Action, an anti-choice “news” group that specializes in hidden camera and spliced video “exposes” as they follow the footsteps of conservative “gotcha” activist James O’Keefe.

When Live Action “stung” Planned Parenthood in order to allegedly prove they were helping underage girls trafficked into sex work to get an abortion, the organization reported the activity to the police. When Live Action “stung” reproductive health clinics to try to get them to agree to abort female fetuses solely on the basis of their gender, they were so over the top that the clinics were on to the scam long before heavily cut footage made it out into the anti-choice blogosphere.

Now, Live Action appears to have tried and failed again to bait pro-choice organizations. According to The Huffington Post, a member of the group set up a fictitious women’s health business, complete with website and business cards, and met with four different progressive pro-choice groups to try to get them to discuss reproductive rights policies of the president in exchange for potential donations to their organizations.

The woman asked each organization a similar pattern of questions having to do with President Barack Obama’s plans for abortion policy in his second term. She asked whether the groups expected him to repeal the long-standing Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, and whether they or the president supports late-term abortions, or so-called partial birth abortions. She also inquired about the groups’ political strategies and pressed for information about how closely the groups worked with the Obama campaign.

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All of the organizations said they immediately suspected that the woman was not a legitimate donor.

The woman, who claimed her name was Wendy Reed, perhaps an homage to Ralph Reed, was apparently identified as Wendy Wilmowski, a former television producer who described herself as “self employed and a conservative Christian” opposed to the Affordable Care Act. She approached Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List, and Priorities USA, all under the guise of being a donor and owner of a clinic that provides “VIP Abortions.” (Note, the site has been taken down and scrapped, but likely existed for three weeks, and was registered late September.)

The so-called sting, which LifesiteNews frames as a likely attempt to try and accuse the groups of illegal campaign collaboration, is vaguely reminiscent of the James O’Keefe NPR sting, complete with fake identities and fake advocacy groups created to hide the subterfuge.

Unlike the NPR sting, however, no one seems to have been taken in.

“With three weeks left before a critical election, the war on women continues to rage – and the folks who are targeting women’s rights and opportunities are growing more and more desperate,” said EMILY’s List Communications Director Jen Bluesteinvia email statement. “What’s clear is that the radical and extreme groups who want to roll back the clock on women’s health care realize now that the only way they can win is at the ballot box in November.”

“This appears to be an elaborate hoax, less than four weeks before an election with enormous stakes for women’s health,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, also via email release. “It is outrageous that opponents of women’s health would lie to the public and put real women at risk. They know their only hope to overturn Roe v Wade and to defund Planned Parenthood is to elect Mitt Romney, and it’s now clear there is nothing they won’t do to press their extreme agenda on America’s women.”

Lila Rose, founder of Live Action, is undaunted by exposure of her group’s latest attempt to generate controversy. She told Jill Stanek, “If these pro-abortion groups were as ‘on to us’ as they claim, they should have filmed the encounters themselves. And if Planned Parenthood and their pro-abortion allies stand by everything they said, they should proudly release the tapes and educate the public.”

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”