News Abortion

Passage of Arkansas Heartbeat Ban Looking Less Likely, Despite “Compromise”

Robin Marty

The ban has been tabled. Could that be a positive sign?

Mississippi has already anounced that their bill to ban abortion as soon as an embryonic heartbeat can be detected is unlikely to get a vote, now that its own sponsor has decided not to bring it up for a committee hearing in the House. Now, Arkansas’ bill to ban abortion as early as six weeks may be getting the same treatment.

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe previously stated that he was unsure if he would sign such a bill into law after learning that the bill is highly unconstitutional and very likely to end up challenged in the courts. Rep. Jason Rapert, the bill sponsor, is urging the House committee to hold a special meeting next week to discuss the ban, but according to Arkansas Business, Committee Leader John Burris has refused to set a time to do so, saying “he thought such a meeting was appropriate but needed to figure out its timing.”

The delay could be in part due to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s announcement that he still looking into the likelihood of a legal challenge, and Rep. Burris may just be waiting for more clarity from the governor as to whether he would sign or veto a bill if it did make it to his desk. Rep. Rapert isn’t taking any chances, however, and has now offered to switch the ban to when a heartbeat can be detected via abdominal ultrasound. That would likely add a few weeks before the ban would go into effect, but would still be well within the first trimester and likely unconstitutional.

Considering the languishing history of so many of these heartbeat bans so far, seeing the bill tabled for now is definitely a good sign. But with a bill sponsor scrambling so hard to get a vote, even if it means rewriting his bill, it’s still anyone’s guess if it might become law.

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Analysis Politics

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s Record on Women’s Health at Center of Heated Race

Ally Boguhn

Sen. Kelly Ayotte's defenders have made claims about her commitment to "strengthening women's health" through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

The tight race between incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) could help determine which party takes control of the U.S. Senate after the November elections. In recent months, a key point of contention has emerged among Ayotte’s supporters and critics: the senator’s record on reproductive rights and women’s health.

Planned Parenthood Votes released an ad in April claiming Ayotte is “bad for New Hampshire women,” signaling the continuation of the heated narrative in the lead-up to the election. Ayotte’s defenders have responded to the accusations with claims of her commitment to “strengthening women’s health” through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

“For months, Senator Kelly Ayotte has followed party bosses, refusing to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. And for years, Ayotte has waited for an opportunity to push for someone to end access to safe, legal abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade,” claims the Planned Parenthood Votes ad, before playing an August 2010 clip of Ayotte advocating for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. “For New Hampshire women, the consequences of letting Kelly Ayotte play politics with the Constitution could last a lifetime.”

The $400,000 ad buy, slated to run on broadcast and cable in New Hampshire, has been Planned Parenthood Votes’ first on-air ad targeting a Senate race in the 2016 election cycle. The organization, a national independent expenditure political committee, is criticizing Ayotte for claiming to protect women but failing to protect reproductive rights, also drawing on her pledge to obstruct filling the vacant Supreme Court seat in the aftermath of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

“Kelly Ayotte may try to paint herself as pro-woman, but her record tells a very different story. Every chance she’s gotten she’s voted to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood and cut women off from essential health care like birth control and breast and cervical cancer screenings,” said Deirdre Schifeling, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, in a statement on the organization’s new ad. “She has been advocating for years to ban women’s access to safe, legal abortion, and it’s clear she now sees her chance in the Supreme Court process. Kelly Ayotte is refusing to do her job, and abdicating her constitutional duty, in order to push an extreme agenda that no one in New Hampshire wants.”

Ayotte’s campaign manager, Jon Kohan, meanwhile, defended the senator’s record on women’s health and rights in a press release. He wrote, “Kelly’s long record of standing up for New Hampshire women and families is clear, and she cares deeply about ensuring all women have access to health services.” The release included a bulleted list providing examples of Ayotte’s work “strengthening women’s health care,” “supporting working women,” and “protecting domestic or sexual assault victims.”

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The claims may be familiar to those following the New Hampshire race. After Hassan announced her candidacy in October, for example, One Nation, an issue-advocacy organization that does not need to disclose where their funding comes from and is affiliated with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, pushed a 17-day, $1.4 million ad campaign touting Ayotte’s record on women’s health.

Hassan, on the other hand, has the support of organizations such as EMILY’s List, whose stated mission is to help elect pro-choice women into office. After endorsing the governor in the Senate race, the group added Ayotte to its “On Notice” list for “voting for anti-woman legislation and standing in the way of policies that give working families a fair shot.”

But with both sides of the race simultaneously claiming opposing positions on whether Ayotte has been good for women and reproductive rights, what is the truth?

Ayotte has made no secret of her desire to defund Planned Parenthood, and she “has shown support for defunding the organization or opposition to continued funding in at least six votes,” according to PolitiFact, though some of those votes were procedural. Though she famously chided Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for attempting to shut down the government over his crusade to strip the reproductive health provider of money in the wake of anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress’ deceptively edited videos, it was because she didn’t view his methods as a winning strategy for accomplishing that goal—not because she didn’t believe in the cause.

In a letter to Cruz, Ayotte told the Republican presidential candidate that she too is “deeply disturbed by” CMP’s videos and doesn’t believe Planned Parenthood should have federal funding.”This callous disregard for the dignity of human life is heinous, and I do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to fund a private organization that performs hundreds of thousands of abortions each year and harvests the body parts of unborn children,” wrote Ayotte. She went on to ask what Cruz’s “strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood” really was, given that their mutual efforts to redirect the organization’s funding to other clinics had failed.

Planned Parenthood does not use its federal funding to provide abortions; its fetal tissue donation program has been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple state and federal investigations. And despite claims from conservatives, including Ayotte, that other facilities could provide Planned Parenthood’s patients with health care should the organization lose funding, the Guttmacher Institute found that “credible evidence suggests this is unlikely. In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the sole safety-net provider of contraceptive care.”

“Our analysis shows unequivocally that Planned Parenthood plays a major role in delivering publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies to women who are in need of such care nationwide,” the Guttmacher Institute concluded.

Ayotte has also supported numerous other anti-choice restrictions and legislation, including a 2015 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unfounded claim that fetuses feel pain at this point in pregnancy.

According to NPR, Ayotte has “been a hero to anti-abortion activists since 2005, when as New Hampshire attorney general she defended a parental notification law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.” The law required doctors to notify parents of minors seeking an abortion at least 48 hours prior to the procedure, and contained no exceptions for the health of the patient. The Court ultimately ruled against Ayotte, affirming that states may not enact abortion laws that don’t protect women’s health and safety.

National Right to Life found that the New Hampshire senator voted “with” the anti-choice organization in all 14 of the scored votes from 2012 to 2015 it examined.

In 2012, Ayotte co-sponsored the failed “Blunt Amendment,” which would have allowed exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit for any employers or insurers that had moral objections to providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. And in a 2014 commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Ayotte and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) defended the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which grants some employers the right to deny contraceptive coverage to their staff based on the owner’s religious beliefs, falsely claiming that the ruling did “not take away women’s access to birth control.”

Ayotte’s campaign is quick to point to legislation sponsored by the senator that would have allowed over-the-counter contraception as proof that she cares about women’s health. Reproductive health advocates, however, called Ayotte’s Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act a “sham” when it was introduced in 2015. Though the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) generally supports over-the-counter birth control, the organization’s president Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco, said in a statement that Ayotte’s measure “would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive.”

Paid leave is yet another issue in which Ayotte has put forth legislation in the name of helping women. Ayotte introduced the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act of 2015 in March of that year, claiming it would “allow greater flexibility for workers who are looking to better balance their work-life demands.” Analysis by ThinkProgress, however, found that the measure “could weaken already weak rules that require workers to be paid extra for working extra hours, thus ensuring that workweeks don’t grow out of control and employees are compensated fairly.”

Earlier in 2015, Ayotte signed on as a co-sponsor of the Working Families Flexibility Act. According to a statement from the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) condemning the legislation, the act claimed to “give hourly workers more flexibility and time with their loved ones by allowing them to choose paid time off, rather than time-and-a-half wages, as compensation for working more than 40 hours in one week.” However, the bill did “not promote family friendly or flexible workplaces,” explained the nonprofit organization in a fact sheet. “Instead, it would erode hourly workers’ ability to make ends meet, plan for family time, and have predictability, stability, and true flexibility at work.”

Ayotte’s record on equal pay has been similarly debunked by advocates. One of the policies highlighted by Ayotte’s campaign in the wake of Planned Parenthood Votes’ ad was the senator’s introduction of the Gender Advancement In Pay (GAP) Act in September 2015, which she reintroduced ahead of Equal Pay Day this April. The measure was meant to make clear that “employers must pay men and women equal wages for equal work, without reducing the opportunity for employers to reward merit,” according to a press release from Ayotte’s office upon the initial release of the bill.

Critics argued that Ayotte’s bill was nothing other than an election-year stunt. New Hampshire state Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) told NH1 News that Ayotte’s move was an attempt to look “for some cover … in an effort to be more in line with” New Hampshire voters, after Ayotte voted against other fair pay measures. However, Soucy said, the legislation didn’t really address the issue of pay equity. “Sen. Ayotte’s bill attempts to create paycheck fairness but doesn’t in fact do so because employers could preclude their employees from discussing what they make with their fellow employees,” claimed Soucy.

Similar arguments were made when Ayotte co-sponsored another equal pay measure, the Workplace Advancement Act, with Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in April 2015. Though the legislation would ban employers from retaliating against their staff, it failed to garner support from Democrats. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill would have done “more harm than good” as it “entirely [ignored] the many loopholes and inadequacies in current equal pay laws and simply [stated] that pay discrimination ‘violates existing law.'”

Their arguments are bolstered by Ayotte’s repeated votes against the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, though as Politifact again pointed out, some of these votes were procedural and not against the bill itself. Ayotte did cast one vote in favor of ending debate on the measure and advancing it; the fact-checking site noted, though, that Ayotte’s office reportedly did so in the ultimately denied hopes of changing the bill.

Had it passed, the legislation would have updated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to include protections such as prohibiting retaliation against employees who share their salary and strengthening penalties for those who violate the law. Ayotte claims she voted against the measure because it “could reduce the ability of employers to award merit pay for good performance and limit the opportunity for women to have flexible work schedules,” according to a press release on the matter.

Speaking at a town hall event in 2013, Ayotte had previously justified her vote against equal pay legislation by asserting that it “created a lot of additional burdens that would … make it more difficult for job creators to create jobs.” The New Hampshire senator went on to add that there were already laws in place that could help address the issue.

There are, however, some examples of Ayotte supporting and introducing legislation that would help women. In June 2015, Ayotte co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to protect pregnant people from workplace discrimination. Though the legislation never came to a vote, it would have helped “end … discrimination and promote healthy pregnancies and the economic security of pregnant women and their families,” according to the NPWF. That same year, the New Hampshire senator co-sponsored the Protect Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act, bipartisan legislation that would have safeguarded access to free annual mammograms for women ages 40 to 74. Ayotte co-sponsored the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act in 2014 and 2015, which, according to Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s website, would “protect students and boost accountability and transparency at colleges and universities” when it comes to sexual assault. Ayotte also co-sponsored the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 to address the issue in the military.

Overall, Ayotte has signed onto or supported numerous pieces of legislation that at face value seem to promote reproductive health and women’s rights. Further examination shows, however, that—with a few exceptions—they largely failed to hold up to scrutiny. While Ayotte’s campaign alleges that many of her measures would have helped women and families, analysis suggests that her conservative solutions to addressing these issues often would have made the problems worse. This, coupled with the senator’s fierce anti-choice advocacy, will no doubt keep this portion of Ayotte’s record under tight observation as November’s election approaches.

News Abortion

This Democratic-Dominated Legislature Won’t Stop Attacking Abortion Access

Teddy Wilson

NARAL Pro-Choice America this year gave Rhode Island a failing grade on its annual scorecard of states’ reproductive freedom, along with Republican-dominated legislatures in Alabama, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas, among others.

You might not expect anti-choice measures to churn through a legislature in which Republicans hold 15 percent of the seats.

But it’s in Rhode Island that Democrats, not GOP lawmakers, have introduced every anti-choice measure in 2016.

Reproductive rights are under threat in states dominated by GOP legislators as well as states with Democratic legislative majorities, and laws attacking abortion access that have been passed in recent years have received at least some Democratic support.

While there are a variety of factors that contribute to the prevalence of anti-choice Democrats in Rhode Island, the lawmakers who are proponents of these bills look very much like the proponents of these bills in red states.

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Rewire analysis of legislation introduced in state legislatures during the first three months of 2016 found that 60 percent of the 311 anti-choice bills introduced were sponsored by white male Republicans. Male lawmakers introduced about seven out of every ten anti-choice bills during that time. 

White male Democrats sponsored nine of the 14 anti-choice bills this year in the Rhode Island state legislature. 

Rhode Island’s Democratic legislators hold a 63-11 majority in the house and a 32-6 state senate majority. But that doesn’t translate to a legislative body supportive of maintaining and expanding abortion access and reproductive health services. 

NARAL Pro-Choice America this year gave Rhode Island a failing grade on its annual scorecard of states’ reproductive freedom, along with Republican-dominated legislatures in Alabama, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas, among others. 

Susan Yolen, vice president of public policy and advocacy of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, told the Providence Journal that there is a “big information gap” between the perception and reality of abortion politics in Rhode Island.

“People assume Rhode Island is going in the right direction when it comes to rights—it’s a blue state,” Yolen said.

Amy Retsinas Romero, president of Women’s Health and Education Fund, spoke during a March conference on reproductive rights at Rhode Island College about the challenges people face when seeking reproductive health care in the state.

“In Rhode Island we are an F. We are not that far from Texas,” Romero said, reported the Brown Daily Herald. “We should all be ashamed of ourselves.”

Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence) told Rewire that Rhode Island is in “pretty good shape” in ensuring access to abortion care and reproductive health care. She said there remain legislative issues that need to be addressed.

“We have laws on the books that have been declared unconstitutional. For instance, the spousal notice regarding abortion,” Ajello said, referring to the state’s requirement of notice to an abortion patient’s husband before the procedure. “It would be good to get rid of those and we have legislation in place to do that, but it has yet to pass.”

Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) sponsored legislation this year that would repeal the so-called spousal notice law. HB 7612 was held for further study by the house judiciary committee.

Ajello sponsored HB 7444, which would prohibit the state from interfering with a person’s decision to prevent, commence, continue, or terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability. Ajello said that the bill would codify into law protections for reproductive rights.

There have, however, been far more bills introduced to restrict reproductive rights, all of which have been introduced by Ajello’s fellow Democrats.

There have been 14 anti-choice bills introduced this year in the Rhode Island legislation. This collection of bills would restrict reproductive rights in a number of ways, including restricting funding for abortion care for low-income people in the state. It’s an issue that has been debated in the state for the last few years.

It’s not only Rhode Island Democrats in the house and state senate that back measures designed to chip away at abortion access.

Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) last year signed a budget that left nearly 9,000 residents without comprehensive abortion coverage through their insurance plans. The budget included a requirement that health insurers who offer plans on Rhode Island’s health insurance exchange to also offer plans that exclude coverage for elective abortion care.

The contingent of anti-choice Democrats and the few Republicans lawmakers does not appear to have enough political power to move most anti-choice bills through the legislature. Since the legislature is and has been dominated by one party for so long, policy disagreements have developed along ideological rather than partisan lines, political observers told Rewire

Ajello said in an interview with Rewire that there are members of the legislature who are anti-choice but are also “quite progressive” on other issues, such as marriage equality. 

“In the way that I see social conservatives in Texas, I don’t see those differences [in Rhode Island lawmakers],” Ajello. “We work together, cooperating on issues that we agree about and being respectful on issues that we don’t.”

H 7760, sponsored by Rep. Samuel Azzinaro (D-Westerly), would prohibit health plan coverage purchased in whole or in part with any state or federal funds through the Rhode Island health benefits exchange from providing coverage for induced abortions, unless it was to save the life of the pregnant person or if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.

Azzinaro has long advocated prohibiting health-care coverage of abortion care. Azzinaro said during a debate in 2013 about the state’s health-care exchange that tax dollars should not be used to fund abortion care.

“You want choice?” Azzinaro said, reported the Providence Journal. “We talk about choice, what choice do you have if you only have a plan that says we’re going to fund abortions.”

The house judiciary committee recommended in March that H 7760 be held for further study. State Sen. Marc Cote (D-Woonsocket) sponsored a companion bill pending in the senate judiciary committee.

A number of other bills designed to restrict abortion and reproductive health care have been introduced in the Rhode Island legislature. Many of the proposed measures create the same rhetoric surrounding anti-choice bills in state legislatures held by GOP majorities. 

H 7764, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Fellela (D-Johnston), would prohibit a person from performing or attempting to perform an abortion with the knowledge that the pregnant person is seeking the abortion solely on account of the sex of the fetus. 

The bill charges that any physician who intentionally violates this provision would be considered to have engaged in unprofessional conduct, and their license would be subject to suspension or revocation by the State Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline.

There is no documentation that so-called sex-selective abortions are widespread in the United States. Proponents of the bans often justify the anti-choice measure by using cultural stereotypes that target immigrant people of color.

Bills to ban sex-selection abortion care have been introduced in several states this year. Fellela sponsored a similar bill in 2014.

H 7764 was held for further study by the house judiciary committee; the companion bill S 2612, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Crowley (D-Central Falls), is pending in the senate judiciary committee.

H 7282 and S 2216, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence) and Sen. Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown), would prohibit a person from performing, or attempting to perform a “dismemberment abortion” on a fetus unless it is necessary to save the life of the patient or if the continued pregnancy would cause irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant patient.

State courts have blocked such measures passed by Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas. West Virginia’s GOP-held legislature in March voted to override the veto of a similar bill.

H 7282 was held for further study by the house judiciary committee, and S 2216 is pending in the senate judiciary committee.