News Abortion

Hope In Indiana? Both Republicans and Democrats Express Reservations on Banning Medication Abortion

Robin Marty

Both Democrats and Republicans are expressing reservations about a bill that would effectively ban medication abortion in Indiana, despite its proven safety.

Indiana’s SB 317, a bill that would change how medication abortion can be provided in the state, has been altered in the face of massive criticism over the proposal to force women to undergo unnecessary trans-vaginal ultrasounds. An amendment by Republican Senator Ron Alting will allow doctors to use their medical discretion to decide how to follow up after an abortion.

Betty Cockrum, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana said that she believe that Sen. Alting was sincere in his move to remove the second ultrasound from the bill as a way to “remove legislators from practicing medicine without a license,” a complaint that was leveled at the state politicians last year when they also sought to pursue unpopular abortion regulations. But although they may have addressed one issue with the bill, the actual motive behind SB 317—the attempt to close down the only clinic in the state that provides only medication, not surgical, abortions—is still just as intact.

“This bill still very much puts our Lafayette clinic’s ability to provide services in jeopardy,” Cockrum told Rewire. “The requirements to the facility are still as much of an issue as before.”

The full senate is expected to approve SB 371 on Tuesday, and it will then head to the House where it will likely be heard by the House Public Policy committee.  The committee is majority Republican, with nine male Republicans—including the Chair and Vice Chair—and four Democrats, three of whom are women. The number of women in the committee could change the face of committee debate, a factor that we have seen come to play in legislative debates over abortion restrictions across the country, but still leaves members who may support the bill vastly outnumbered.

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Committee Chair Bill Davis, like many Indiana Republicans, has been endorsed in his previous races by Indiana Right to Life. But, much like Governor Mike Pence did in his 2012 race, Davis appears to have avoided making much of abortion as a key issue in his last campaign, instead citing his focus for the next session would be on jobs, education, and the budget. Also, there is reason to believe that Republicans may not want to support the bill, either. State Sen. Vaneta Becker, a Republican, joined with the Senate Democrats to oppose the bill in committee, expressing concern that without adequate options, low-income women may turn to more dangerous means to obtain an abortion if their only local medication abortion provider closed. “This bill definitely limits access to safe and affordable health care for low-income women,” Becker said in justifying bucking her party for the vote. For other Republicans who say they worry about women’s safety, Becker’s words could have weight in a final decision on whether or not to support the bill.

Eventually, if SB 317 passes all chambers, it would then be up to Governor Mike Pence to decide whether to sign or veto the law. Pence ran a deliberate campaign to avoid social issues in favor of fiscal policy when he pursued the governor’s office, despite a long and active career championing social conservative causes in Congress. A veto would show that he has truly changed focus and is no longer interested in putting the far right’s platform ahead of Hoosier’s demands for legislation that addresses the financial troubles of the state. Signing the bill would reinforce that regardless of what he says on the campaign trail, his primary aim is to use his office to advance the religious right’s crusade.

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.

News Politics

Indiana Democrats Highlight Pence’s Anti-Choice, Anti-LGBTQ Policies in Governor’s Race

Christine Grimaldi

Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath said Pence’s sweeping anti-choice law, which includes banning pregnant people from terminating a pregnancy due to fetal anomalies or the sex or race of a fetus, drew the ire of even those who typically oppose legal abortion.

Top Democrats in Indiana are confident that Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence’s record on reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality will boost their candidate’s chances of beating Pence’s lieutenant governor in the upcoming gubernatorial race.

Pence narrowly defeated Democrat John Gregg for governor in 2012, and the two were again locked in a close race for Indiana’s highest office before Pence was selected as Donald Trump’s running mate.

Republican leaders in the state last week nominated Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb to appear on the ballot in November. Holcomb’s close ties to Pence, who is known for some of the most stringent anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ policies in the nation, will prove to be a liability among Indiana voters, leaders across the aisle told Rewire at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath said in an interview that Pence’s sweeping anti-choice law, HB 1337, which includes banning pregnant people from terminating a pregnancy due to fetal anomalies or the sex or race of a fetus, drew the ire of even those who typically oppose legal abortion.

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Pelath blamed the Republican supermajority in the state legislature for nevertheless ensuring HB 1337’s path to Pence’s desk.

“Mike Pence didn’t even give it a second thought,” Pelath said. “Where I’m going with this is, Eric Holcomb will be no different.”

A federal judge temporarily blocked the law from taking effect July 29 as scheduled.

Pence has faced mounting backlash not only for his anti-choice policies, but also his signature Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows people and companies to refuse service or otherwise discriminate if behaving otherwise would violate their religious beliefs. The act is “another embarrassment to the state,” in Pelath’s words.

“They all play into a narrative that the Republican establishment in Indiana is willing to sacrifice economic development, and tolerance, and a good image for our state, for their extreme right-wing agenda,” Pelath said.

John Zody, chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, added to the list of grievances Pence’s refusal to apply for $80 million in federal funding to expand pre-K in Indiana. Zody, in a separate interview, stressed the economic impact of Pence’s discriminatory policies, which have reportedly cost the city of Indianapolis up to a dozen conventions and $60 million.

“The person who was closest to Mike Pence’s agenda, quite literally, is now the candidate for governor,” Zody said.

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