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.

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 Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

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