News Law and Policy

Michigan Senate Passes HB 5711, Anti-Choice “Super-Bill,” Rejects Screenings for Vasectomies

Angi Becker Stevens

On the Senate floor earlier today, Senator Rebekah Warren—longtime champion of reproductive rights—offered several amendments to the bill, all of which were defeated. Warren argued for the removal of the tele-med ban, pointing out the necessity of tele-medicine access in a state with many rural areas that lack abortion providers.

Earlier today, the Michigan Senate voted to pass HB 5711, the anti-choice “super-bill” considered to be one of the most extreme pieces of anti-choice legislation in the country. In one fell swoop, the bill will prohibit the tele-med prescription of medical abortion, enact several new costly and difficult requirements for abortion clinics and providers, and place new barriers between women and abortion by enforcing “coercion screenings” on abortion-seeking women. The House already passed the bill in June; the final, Senate-amended version is now headed back to the House for a final review, and will likely reach Governor Snyder’s desk by the end of the week.

On the Senate floor earlier today, Senator Rebekah Warren—longtime champion of reproductive rights—offered several amendments to the bill, all of which were defeated. Warren argued for the removal of the tele-med ban, pointing out the necessity of tele-medicine access in a state with many rural areas that lack abortion providers.

But many of Warren’s amendments were intended to point out the hypocrisy of the legislation. One amendment would have made it a crime for crisis pregnancy centers to coerce women out of having an abortion, as 5711 aims only to prevent women from being coerced into an abortion. Another amendment stated that men should only be allowed to receive vasectomies in life-threatening situations, and another would have required coercion screenings for vasectomy-seeking men. When Warren proposed that men be subjected to a 24-hour waiting period, cardiac stress test, and rectal exam before receiving treatment for erectile dysfunction, Senator Roger Kahn, a physician and a Republican, added that a penile exam would also be appropriate. Senator Tupac Hunter, a Democrat, stated that the discussion was making him uncomfortable; Hunter later read a bible passage in support of the legislation.

In addition to Warren, Senators Gretchen Whitmer and Coleman Young also spoke out in opposition to the bill, criticizing it for being excessive, extreme, and for creating too many barriers for both women and abortion-providers. But the bill went on to easily pass the Senate by a vote of 27-10.

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Roundups Politics

The House Freedom Fund Bankrolls Some of Congress’ Most Anti-Choice Candidates

Ally Boguhn

With the 2016 election cycle underway, the political action committee seems to be working tirelessly to ensure the House Freedom Caucus maintains a radical anti-choice legacy.

In its short existence, the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) has made a name for itself through endless efforts to push Congress further to the right, particularly when it comes to reproductive health. Now with the 2016 election cycle underway, the caucus’ political action committee, the House Freedom Fund, seems to be working just as tirelessly to ensure the caucus maintains a radical anti-choice legacy.

Since its founding by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in January 2015, the group of ultra-conservative lawmakers that make up the caucus has ballooned from just nine members to at least 36 members, as of October 2015, who have confirmed their own inclusion—though the group keeps its official roster secret. These numbers may seem small, but they pack a punch in the House, where they have enough votes to block major legislation pushed by other parts of the Republican party.

And now, the group is seeking to add to its ranks in order to wield even more power in Congress.

“The goal is to grow it by, and I think it’s realistic, to grow it by 20 to 30 members,” Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), one of HFC’s founding members, told Politico in April. “All new members.”

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While the caucus itself reportedly does not endorse candidates, its unofficial PAC has already thrown money behind defending the seats of some of the group’s most notoriously anti-choice members, as well as a few new faces.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the Center for Responsive Politics’ campaign finance database, thus far in 2016, the House Freedom Fund has invested in seven congressional candidates currently vying to keep a seat in the House of Representatives: Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R-TN), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). The PAC’s website also highlights two candidates hoping to move from their state legislatures to the House: Republican Indiana state senator Jim Banks and Georgia state Senator Mike Crane. The PAC is also backing the Republican candidate for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, Mary Thomas; and Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, Ted Budd.

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), who won a special election in early June to replace former House speaker John Boehner, also received funding from the PAC. He joined the House Freedom Caucus that same week.

The Republican Party actively works to deny access to virtually all forms of reproductive health care, so it is not surprising that the candidates supported by the House Freedom Fund, whose confirmed members are all members of the GOP, share similarly radical views on reproductive rights and health.

Here are some of the House Freedom Fund’s most alarming candidates:

Rep. Rod Blum

Rep. Blum, a freshman congressman from Iowa, considers his opposition to reproductive choice one of the “cornerstones” of his campaign. “It is unconscionable that government would aid in the taking of innocent life. I strongly oppose any federal funding for abortion and I will vote against any of our tax dollars flowing to groups who perform or advocate abortions on demand,” asserts Blum’s campaign site. The Hyde Amendment already bans most federal funding for abortion care.

Blum spent much of his first year in the House attempting to push through a series of anti-choice bills. The representative co-sponsored the medically unsupported Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have enacted a federal ban on abortion at or beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, in January 2015. He signed on as a co-sponsor for the failed Life at Conception Act, a so-called personhood measure that would have granted legal rights to fetuses and zygotes, thus potentially outlawing abortion and many forms of contraception, in March of that year. That July, Blum co-sponsored the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which would have stripped the reproductive health organization of all federal funding for one year so that Congress could investigate it in the wake of the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos smearing the provider. 

Blum’s co-sponsorship of anti-choice legislation was accompanied by a long series of like-minded votes throughout 2015, such as a January vote in favor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, which, among other things, would have made the Hyde Amendment’s annually renewed ban on most federal funding for abortion care permanent. He also voted to block Washington, D.C.’s Reproductive Health non-discrimination law, and in favor of a measure allowing states to exclude from Medicaid funding any health provider that provided abortions, as well as other anti-choice measures.

Blum’s brief time in Congress has been marked by such extremism that Emily’s List, an organization that works to elect pro-choice women, put Blum on their “On Notice” list in July 2015, signaling their intention to prioritize unseating the Iowa Representative. “In less than five months into the 114th Congress, we have seen Representative Blum lead the crusade to restrict women’s access to healthcare, most notably when he cosponsored a national abortion ban,” explained the organization in a press release on its decision to target Blum. “It’s clear that Congressman Blum is more focused on prioritizing an extreme ideological agenda over enacting policies that benefit more women and families in Iowa’s First Congressional District.”

Rep. Dave Brat

Rep. Dave Brat gained notoriety for his win against incumbent representative and then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, a victory considered one of “the biggest political upset[s] in recent memory.” Like many of his HFC colleagues, Brat has co-sponsored several pieces of anti-choice legislation, including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2015 and the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which claimed to “protect” against “governmental discrimination against providers of health services” who refuse to provide abortion care. Brat’s voting record in Congress earned him a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.

In April of this year, the Virginia representative signed on to a letter with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other anti-choice legislators, such as House Freedom Fund candidate Rep. Meadows expressing “serious concerns” about the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to update the label of abortion drug mifepristone to bring it in line with scientific research and evidence-based medicine. Though medication abortions are safe and result in complications in fewer than 0.4 percent of patients, the lawmakers nonetheless claimed that the regulation change could be dangerous, noting that the drug was originally approved during the Clinton administration and demanding a list of information about it.

In the wake of the deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility in November, when the alleged shooter parroted the same violent rhetoric about the reproductive health organization popularized by the CMP’s discredited videos, many in Congress called for the panel investigating Planned Parenthood to be disbanded and for lawmakers to distance themselves from the videos. Brat, however, saw no reason the anti-choice violence should affect the conservative crusade to shut down access to reproductive health care. “Principles are principles,” Brat said at the time according to the Huffington Post. “They don’t change on a news cycle.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been an anti-choice advocate since graduate school, when, according to the biography provided on his website, he was “active in assisting women in crisis pregnancies” while working toward a doctoral degree at American University. His advocacy continued as he made his way to Congress, eventually leading him to become the congressional “Pro-Life Caucus” whip.

Though he has cast plenty of anti-choice votes, the congressman’s most notable moment when it comes to reproductive rights may be a 2012 speech on the House floor, in when he compared abortion to slavery and accused Planned Parenthood and the Obama administration of being racist. “Perhaps the biggest war against our liberties is the war that is being waged against those that are not here today, the unborn,” claimed Huelskamp. “Besides slavery, abortion is the other darkest stain on our nation’s character and this president is looking for every way possible to make abortion more available and more frequent. And he wants you to pay for it. Even if you disagree with it.”

Huelskamp went on to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of targeting people of color. “I am the adoptive father of four children, each of them either Black, Hispanic, Native American, and I am incensed that this president pays money to an entity that was created for the sole purpose of killing children that look like mine; a racist organization and it continues to target minorities for abortion destruction,” said the congressman. “Shame on this president and shame on that party.”

It wouldn’t be the last time Huelskamp exploited race in order to promote his anti-choice agenda. In 2015, the Kansas Representative lashed out at those who accepted awards from Planned Parenthood, tweeting that they were supporting a “racist” agenda.

Rep. Mark Meadows

Rep. Mark Meadows, who has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, co-sponsored anti-choice measures such as the House’s 2015 fetal pain bill, the 2015 Life at Conception Act, and the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016 (PRENDA). He also once badgered a pregnant doctor testifying during a House committee hearing about the importance of offering maternity coverage through the Affordable Care Act. However, the congressman’s recent vendetta against Planned Parenthood stands out the most.

In July 2015, in the wake of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, Meadows latched onto the discredited films in order to justify defunding Planned Parenthood. “In addition to cutting funding for abortion providers, I strongly urge Congress to investigate the legality of the practices engaged in by Planned Parenthood,” said Meadows at the time.

In September, as Congress faced the looming threat of a possible government shutdown if they didn’t pass a budget bill, Meadows exploited the opportunity to push for Planned Parenthood to be defunded, no matter the cost. With the South Carolina congressman leading the charge, pressure from conservatives to pull funding for the reproductive health-care provider played a role in prompting then-House Speaker John Boehner to resign his position. Meadows was a co-sponsor of the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which passed in the House as part of a compromise to narrowly escape the shutdown. 

But Meadows’ quest to attack Planned Parenthood didn’t end there. In September, the congressman also participated in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing to “examine the use of taxpayer funding” by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, a sham hearing used by the GOP to repeatedly push misinformation about the organization.

Rep. Scott Desjarlais

Rep. Scott Desjarlais, a medical doctor, is perhaps best known for his attempt to pressure his patient, with whom he was having an affair, into having an abortion when she became pregnant. While the congressman has repeatedly run on his anti-abortion credentials, his divorce papers also revealed he had supported his wife in having two abortions. Politico‘s Chas Sisk labeled DeJarlais  “the biggest hypocrite in Congress.”

Desjarlais made headlines again in 2015 for voting for a later abortion ban. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Republican told the Times Free Press that the vote was in accordance with the congressman’s record:

“Congressman DesJarlais was proud to vote in favor of this legislation,” said his spokesman Robert Jameson, who added that DesJarlais has maintained a “100 percent pro-life voting record” during his five years in Congress and “has always advocated for pro-life values.”

Indiana State Sen. Jim Banks

Indiana state Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) is one of the few candidates backed by the House Freedom Fund that has yet to win federal office, but his time in the state legislature has given him more than ample opportunity to demonstrate his opposition to reproductive health and rights.

Banks’ campaign website highlights the candidate’s “pro-life” position as a key issue for his race for the House, providing an extensive record of his anti-choice credentials and claiming that he is “running for Congress so that northeast Indiana continues to have a strong voice for innocent lives in Washington, D.C.” That page includes a laundry list of campaign promises, including amending the U.S. Constitution to give a fetus legal human rights, which could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception; banning federal funding for abortion, though such a ban already exists; eliminating federal funding for any organization that performs abortions domestically or abroad; and opposing any change to the Republican platform on abortion.

The state senator’s site goes on to suggest that “it has been far too long since the Supreme Court discovered that women have a ‘right’ to have an abortion,” lamenting that much of the anti-choice movement’s work to shutter access to abortion in state legislatures hasn’t been replicated on a federal level and promising to address the issue if elected.

Included in his anti-choice resumé is a note that both Banks and his wife have been working in the movement to oppose choice since graduating college, when the two joined Focus on the Family, an organization that has spent millions of dollars promoting its extreme agenda, even devoting $2.5 million to run an anti-abortion ad during the 2010 Super Bowl. The two also worked together on the Allen County Right to Life Board of Directors, and Banks’ wife, Amanda, remains the board’s vice president.

But most extreme of all was the legislation Banks spearheaded while in the state legislature, which included several targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) measures. Most recently the state senator sponsored Indiana’s SB 144, a bill that would modify the state’s 20-week abortion ban to outlaw the procedure once a fetal heartbeat could be detected, typically around six weeks’ gestation. In a statement on the bill, Banks claimed the law was needed because it “would protect unborn Hoosiers’ right to life and also includes important women’s health protections.”

News Abortion

Florida GOP Passes ‘Reckless’ Anti-Choice Omnibus Bill

Teddy Wilson

At least one Republican who voted in favor of the measure said she is concerned that the bill's language could become an issue in the courts.

Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature on Wednesday passed an omnibus anti-choice bill that would include targeted regulation of abortion providers.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), would create restrictions on abortion clinics, ban organizations that provide abortion care from receiving state Medicaid funds, and redefine the trimesters of pregnancy.

The bill was passed last Wednesday by the house 76 to 40, mostly along partisan lines, with two Democrats voting with the Republican majority in favor of HB 1411. Six Republicans voted with the Democratic minority against the bill.

The state senate also voted for final passage on Wednesday in a 25-15 vote, with one Republican joining the Democratic minority in opposing the omnibus bill.

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State Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) said during floor debate that she was opposed to the bill because it is intended to restrict access to reproductive health care, reported the News Service of Florida.

“This decision [to have an abortion] is personal for a woman, her family and her faith … a truly personal decision,” Sobel said. “Many women and men believe that the government has no right to interfere with this personal decision.”

While Republicans pushing abortion restrictions have often cited health and safety as the primary intention of anti-choice measures, state Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) said during the floor debate that he supported the bill because Floridians needed “to do everything that we can to not sanction murder,” reported the News Service of Florida.

The bill was amended in the house to include language stating that the goal of the bill is “to protect all human life by regulating the termination of pregnancies through the exercise of their right to self-government.”

State Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), who voted for the bill, told the Tampa Bay Times that the bill’s language could become an issue in the courts.

“Those clauses gave me concern that it would make it as though our intent was to close down all abortion clinics in the state,” Stargel said. “That was not the intent of this bill.”

Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said in a statement that the “reckless legislation” would leave thousands without access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other preventive health care, and could restrict access to legal abortion across the state.

Physicians who perform abortions at the clinic would be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within “reasonable proximity” to the clinic. A similar admitting privileges requirement in Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law is at the center of the case recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill would require annual health department inspections of licensed abortion clinics. State officials, during each inspection, must review at least half of patient records generated since a clinic’s last inspection. The bill also mandates a prompt investigation of “credible allegations” of abortions being performed at unlicensed clinics.

“This bill says we’re going to treat abortion clinics the same way that we treat other similarly situated clinics,” state Sen. Stargel said during the floor debate, reported the Miami Herald.

The anti-choice law has a provision banning organizations that provide abortion services from participating in the state Medicaid program. Florida’s reproductive health-care clinics that provide HIV and STI testing, cancer screenings, and other types of preventive care receive about $200,000 annually through Medicaid, according to the Miami Herald.

“The idea that my taxpayer dollars, and my family’s taxpayer dollars and the taxpayer dollars of individuals who feel like we do about this issue … the idea that those taxpayer dollars would go to an organization that performs abortions, that is simply intolerable,” state Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) said during the floor debate, reported the News Service of Florida.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration claimed last year that three clinics were performing illegal abortions. The regulators alleged that the clinics provided abortion procedures that were past the first trimester of pregnancy, beyond the point at which the clinics were licensed to provide abortion care. The administration backed down from those charges.

HB 1411 would effectively redefine the first trimester as ending in the 11th week of pregnancy, not the 14th week, as is standard medical practice.

Michelle Richardson, director of public policy at the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement that the bill is a politically motivated attack on reproductive rights. 

“The burdens placed on health care providers will be impossible for many clinics to meet, and will shutter clinics that provide a variety of health services, making it less and less possible for a Florida woman—especially if she is poor or works full-time—to access the health care she needs,” Richardson said.

State Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice), one of the Republicans who joined Democrats in opposing the legislation, said that state lawmakers should stop “nibbling around the edges” of abortion access, and compared the campaign against abortion to campaigns against smoking.

“Just because you took everybody’s ash trays away doesn’t mean they quit smoking,” Detert said, reported the Miami Herald. “Just because we make it more difficult for people to get an abortion or more expensive doesn’t mean that those people who want an abortion aren’t going to try to get one. They’ve done it historically for hundreds of years.”

Scott has yet to indicate whether he will sign the legislation. A spokesperson for the governor told the Associated Press that he will review the anti-choice legislation.

Scott must sign or veto legislation within 15 days after it is delivered to the governor’s office or it becomes law without his signature. The bill was delivered to the governor’s office on March 11.