News Abortion

Arkansas to Increase ‘Conscience’ Protections, Add Telemed Ban

Robin Marty

If the Arkansas legislature had a motto for its 2013 session, it would probably be "Want to have sex? Make babies."

If the Arkansas legislature had a motto for its 2013 session, it would probably be “Want to have sex? Make babies.”

First, state Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) introduced a ban on abortions at the point in which a heartbeat can be detected. Although his bill was modified to be somewhat more lenient, it still passed as the most restrictive ban in the nation. Rapert then followed up with a legislative bill to defund Planned Parenthood, claiming every dollar provided is a dollar spent subsidizing abortion. (Arkansas has only two Planned Parenthood clinics in the state, both of which offer pregnancy terminations.)

But Rapert and state Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley), the author of the also unconstitutional 20-week ban that passed earlier this session, aren’t the only legislators trying to restrict abortion. State Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) just introduced SB 913, a bill banning telemed abortions in the state. It would require that doctors to provide RU-486 in the presence of the person terminating the pregnancy and to “make all reasonable efforts to ensure that the patient returns twelve (12) to eighteen (18) days after the administration or use of mifepristone or any drug or chemical for a follow-up visit so that the physician can confirm that the pregnancy has been terminated and can assess the patient’s medical condition.” These “reasonable efforts” must be carefully documented with dates and ways that the provider attempted follow up, because the majority of the bill deals with setting the protocol for suing doctors if those standards aren’t adhered to completely.

Irvin proposed a similar bill in 2011, but it never made it out of panel. Unlike this year’s bill, that version was a Food and Drug Administration protocol copy cat bill built from Americans United for Life model legislation. Who else introduced failed bills on AUL’s behalf during prior sessions? Rapert.

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Maintaining access to birth control should be a high priority in a state that already had few clinics and many onerous abortion restrictions even before Rapert, Irvin, and Mayberry got involved. And yet the Arkansas legislature’s is now focused on expanding the ability of medical practitioners to refuse contraception and other reproductive health-care options.

HB 1899, the “Healthcare Freedom of Conscience Act,” will protect the “moral conscience” of medical practitioners and institutions (because if corporations are people, institutions have consciences), from being forced to participate in immoral acts involving “artificial birth control, artificial insemination, assisted reproduction, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization.” Doctors can refuse treatment, hospitals can refuse admittance, and pharmacists can refuse to fill any prescriptions they choose. Am institution that employs a religious objector is expected to work around his or her moral beliefs: “a healthcare institution and an employer of healthcare professionals shall reasonably accommodate the conscience rights of a healthcare professional unless the healthcare institution or employer can demonstrate that the accommodation constitutes an undue hardship.” In other words, the onus is on the employer, not the employee, to prove that the burden is too difficult to work around.

The state of Arkansas already has a law allowing pharmacists to turn down prescriptions, and the medical system already has a conscience clause in effect for providers when it comes to abortion and other reproductive procedures, according to the Arkansas Times blog. So what is the point of this new bill? Writer Leslie Newall Peacock says it’s about political grandstanding, and giving politicians more chances to show their disdain for women’s reproductive autonomy. “It lets [Rep. David] Meeks not get out-woman-hated by his fellows in our esteemed General Assembly,” writes Newall Peacock. “If Rapert and Mayberry et al are going to front legislation to remove a woman’s right to choose and give embryos all the powers that people have, well, by golly, he’s going to get in on the hate-fest. He’s only co-sponsor of the abortion bills. He’s leading the charge on this meaningless legislation.”

So where is the outrage from all of the women who are being tread upon by these bills? They are completely silent, according to the mainstream press. The New York Times recently published an article about the new, most restrictive abortion ban in the country and asked three residents of Rapert’s district whether or not they support the bill; two did, one didn’t. But not a single person in the article would be effected by the ban—the reporter didn’t ask a single woman of reproductive age for her opinion.

Opponents of the bill may not be getting their voices heard in the national media, but they are ready to make them heard at the Arkansas Capitol. A rally against extreme anti-women legislation has been scheduled for March 23 on the steps of the state Capitol, and so far well over 800 people have said they are planning to attend.

The legislature may be on a rampage to take away all reproductive autonomy, but the women of Arkansas and their allies aren’t going to let it happen without a fight.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

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.”