News Abortion

Focused on Gosnell, Congressional Republicans Suddenly Very Worried About Violence Against Women

Robin Marty

Suddenly, GOP Congressmen are very worried about violence against women. You know, when there's abortion involved.

“Thank God for the men who stood up today to speak for women and against violence against women.”

When Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann spoke those words on the House floor, anyone who hadn’t been watching the whole show might have thought she was praising colleagues after a vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

Instead, she was talking about the Gosnell trial.

Still convinced that there is a “media blackout” that needs to be exposed, a handful of Republican Congressmen (and one Republican Congresswoman) took to the floor to give one-minute speeches on the ongoing trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania doctor accused of murder. By extension, they could then discuss the horrors of abortion and the need to “speak for the unborn” and protect women from harm.

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When it comes to keeping Gosnell in the news, there’s little doubt that GOP leadership is providing the marching orders. On April 12, Heritage Foundation President and former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint published a blog post not about immigration, as several of his prior posts covered, or about small government, the focus of his think tank. Instead, it was about the Gosnell trial. Echoing a cry on the right that the media was purposefully hiding the story from the public, DeMint urged readers to ensure the end of the “blackout” and told them to “take to social media—take to whatever outlet at your disposal—to call attention to these horrific crimes and stand up for those who couldn’t defend themselves.”

DeMint’s call came at the beginning of what quickly became a coordinated effort, especially on Twitter, to push the narrative that the Gosnell trial was being ignored and that Gosnell’s practice was indicative of all abortion providers, rather than a place of criminal activity and a symptom of the lack of affordable, accessible health-care options.

Today’s action on the Congressional floor marks a continuation of the quest for media attention. Indiana Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman announced Wednesday that he and fellow Representatives were planning to make floor speeches after the days votes were completed in the hopes of garnering new coverage for the Gosnell trial. His plans were quickly scuttled, and the speeches were moved to the following afternoon.

Stutzman is a young, two-term Congressman with a background as a Baptist missionary and a vision that “one day, we will reverse Roe v. Wade and reform a culture that has cheapened human life.” As such, he’s the perfect mouthpiece for the anti-choice movement. And as a “Congressional Sentinel” dubbed “the tip of the spear in Washington” who is “vigilantly protecting our freedoms” by Heritage Action, the Heritage Institute’s action arm, his eagerness to take on DeMint’s call to use “any outlet at your disposal” would be undisputed.

This wasn’t Stutzman, or many of the other participants’, first time on the floor discussing this topic; on April 11 he joined a group of Republican Congress members in speaking against Gosnell and the “horrors” of abortion. After comparing Gosnell’s clinic to “Auschwitz’s ovens” and “Cambodia’s killing fields,” Stutzman declared, “We ought to take a look at our culture’s careless disregard for this story in particular, and for innocent life in general. … Has our national conscience been irreversibly seared by the deaths of over 1.2 million unborn children every year in this country? Mr. Speaker, I am confident that one day the era of abortion on demand will close and we will restore a lasting respect for life.”

Stutzman was joined on the floor by a number of Congressmen. Some, like New Jersey Republican Chris Smith or Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, had already made speeches with Stutzman back on the 11th. Others were new recruits, anxious to use the Gosnell trial to explain efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood or pass a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.

There were many references to the indisputable fact that Gosnell’s activities were criminal, something on which both sides of the abortion rights argument can agree. But then the speeches morphed into a tirade against abortion care per se and a chorus of claims about “defending women” from violence.

“The mainstream media has all but gone silent, and failed to cover this horrific violence against women,” Bachmann said on the floor. “No one, Democrat or Republican, believes in violence against women. We abhor it. But there’s nothing that has come close to what has happened in this abortion clinic in Pennsylvania … and it appears that it has been ignored across the nation. Well we won’t. And I thank God for the men who have stood up here today to stand for women, and against violence and against violence against women.”

The men Bachmann praised (although two other Congresswomen spoke on the floor, both appear to have spoken before the official floor event occurred) may have found their voice when it comes to violence against women in this particular circumstance. Sadly, they weren’t nearly as eager to address violence against women in February. Of the 18 House members speaking out on Gosnell, only two—Indiana Rep. Todd Roika and Florida Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen—actually voted to reauthorize the act.

Analysis Law and Policy

Justice Kennedy’s Silence Speaks Volumes About His Apparent Feelings on Women’s Autonomy

Imani Gandy

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s obsession with human dignity has become a hallmark of his jurisprudence—except where reproductive rights are concerned.

Last week’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was remarkable not just for what it did say—that two provisions in Texas’s omnibus anti-abortion law were unconstitutional—but for what it didn’t say, and who didn’t say it.

In the lead-up to the decision, many court watchers were deeply concerned that Justice Anthony Kennedy would side with the conservative wing of the court, and that his word about targeted restrictions of abortion providers would signal the death knell of reproductive rights. Although Kennedy came down on the winning side, his notable silence on the “dignity” of those affected by the law still speaks volumes about his apparent feelings on women’s autonomy. That’s because Kennedy’s obsession with human dignity, and where along the fault line of that human dignity various rights fall, has become a hallmark of his jurisprudence—except where reproductive rights are concerned.

His opinion on marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, along with his prior opinions striking down sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas and the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, assured us that he recognizes the fundamental human rights and dignity of LGBTQ persons.

On the other hand, as my colleague Jessica Mason Pieklo noted, his concern in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action about the dignity of the state, specifically the ballot initiative process, assured us that he is willing to sweep aside the dignity of those affected by Michigan’s affirmative action ban in favor of the “‘dignity’ of a ballot process steeped in racism.”

Meanwhile, in his majority opinion in June’s Fisher v. University of Texas, Kennedy upheld the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ affirmative action program, noting that it remained a challenge to this country’s education system “to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”

It is apparent that where Kennedy is concerned, dignity is the alpha and the omega. But when it came to one of the most important reproductive rights cases in decades, he was silent.

This is not entirely surprising: For Kennedy, the dignity granted to pregnant women, as evidenced by his opinions in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Gonzales v. Carhart, has been steeped in gender-normative claptrap about abortion being a unique choice that has grave consequences for women, abortion providers’ souls, and the dignity of the fetus. And in Whole Woman’s Health, when Kennedy was given another chance to demonstrate to us that he does recognize the dignity of women as women, he froze.

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He didn’t write the majority opinion. He didn’t write a concurring opinion. He permitted Justice Stephen Breyer to base the most important articulation of abortion rights in decades on data. There was not so much as a callback to Kennedy’s flowery articulation of dignity in Casey, where he wrote that “personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education” are matters “involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy.” (While Casey was a plurality opinion, various Court historians have pointed out that Kennedy himself wrote the above-quoted language.)

Of course, that dignity outlined in Casey is grounded in gender paternalism: Abortion, Kennedy continued, “is an act fraught with consequences for others: for the woman who must live with the implications of her decision; for the persons who perform and assist in the procedures for the spouse, family, and society which must confront the knowledge that these procedures exist, procedures some deem nothing short of an act of violence against innocent human life; and, depending on one’s beliefs, for the life or potential life that is aborted.” Later, in Gonzales, Kennedy said that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban “expresses respect for the dignity of human life,” with nothing about the dignity of the women affected by the ban.

And this time around, Kennedy’s silence in Whole Woman’s Health may have had to do with the facts of the case: Texas claimed that the provisions advanced public health and safety, and Whole Woman’s Health’s attorneys set about proving that claim to be false. Whole Woman’s Health was the sort of data-driven decision that did not strictly need excessive language about personal dignity and autonomy. As Breyer wrote, it was a simple matter of Texas advancing a reason for passing the restrictions without offering any proof: “We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that, compared to prior law, the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.”

In Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s two-page concurrence, she succinctly put it, “Many medical procedures, including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients, yet are not subject to ambulatory-surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements.”

“Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like H.B. 2 that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion,’ cannot survive judicial inspection,” she continued, hammering the point home.

So by silently signing on to the majority opinion, Kennedy may simply have been expressing that he wasn’t going to fall for the State of Texas’ efforts to undermine Casey’s undue burden standard through a mixture of half-truths about advancing public health and weak evidence supporting that claim.

Still, Kennedy had a perfect opportunity to complete the circle on his dignity jurisprudence and take it to its logical conclusion: that women, like everyone else, are individuals worthy of their own autonomy and rights. But he didn’t—whether due to his Catholic faith, a deep aversion to abortion in general, or because, as David S. Cohen aptly put it, “[i]n Justice Kennedy’s gendered world, a woman needs … state protection because a true mother—an ideal mother—would not kill her child.”

As I wrote last year in the wake of Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell, “according to [Kennedy’s] perverse simulacrum of dignity, abortion rights usurp the dignity of motherhood (which is the only dignity that matters when it comes to women) insofar as it prevents women from fulfilling their rightful roles as mothers and caregivers. Women have an innate need to nurture, so the argument goes, and abortion undermines that right.”

This version of dignity fits neatly into Kennedy’s “gendered world.” But falls short when compared to jurists internationally,  who have pointed out that dignity plays a central role in reproductive rights jurisprudence.

In Casey itself, for example, retired Justice John Paul Stevens—who, perhaps not coincidentally, attended the announcement of the Whole Woman’s Health decision at the Supreme Court—wrote that whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a “matter of conscience,” and that “[t]he authority to make such traumatic and yet empowering decisions is an element of basic human dignity.”

And in a 1988 landmark decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, Justice Bertha Wilson indicated in her concurring opinion that “respect for human dignity” was key to the discussion of access to abortion because “the right to make fundamental personal decision without interference from the state” was central to human dignity and any reading of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1982, which is essentially Canada’s Bill of Rights.

The case was R. v. Morgentaler, in which the Supreme Court of Canada found that a provision in the criminal code that required abortions to be performed only at an accredited hospital with the proper certification of approval from the hospital’s therapeutic abortion committee violated the Canadian Constitution. (Therapeutic abortion committees were almost always comprised of men who would decide whether an abortion fit within the exception to the criminal offense of performing an abortion.)

In other countries, too, “human dignity” has been a key component in discussion about abortion rights. The German Federal Constitutional Court explicitly recognized that access to abortion was required by “the human dignity of the pregnant woman, her… right to life and physical integrity, and her right of personality.” The Supreme Court of Brazil relied on the notion of human dignity to explain that requiring a person to carry an anencephalic fetus to term caused “violence to human dignity.” The Colombian Constitutional Court relied upon concerns about human dignity to strike down abortion prohibition in instances where the pregnancy is the result of rape, involves a nonviable fetus, or a threat to the woman’s life or health.

Certainly, abortion rights are still severely restricted in some of the above-mentioned countries, and elsewhere throughout the world. Nevertheless, there is strong national and international precedent for locating abortion rights in the square of human dignity.

And where else would they be located? If dignity is all about permitting people to make decisions of fundamental personal importance, and it turns out, as it did with Texas, that politicians have thrown “women’s health and safety” smoke pellets to obscure the true purpose of laws like HB 2—to ban abortion entirely—where’s the dignity in that?

Perhaps I’m being too grumpy. Perhaps I should just take the win—and it is an important win that will shape abortion rights for a generation—and shut my trap. But I want more from Kennedy. I want him to demonstrate that he’s not a hopelessly patriarchal figure who has icky feelings when it comes to abortion. I want him to recognize that some women have abortions and it’s not the worst decision they’ve ever made or the worst thing that ever happened to him. I want him to recognize that women are people who deserve dignity irrespective of their choices regarding whether and when to become a mother. And, ultimately, I want him to write about a woman’s right to choose using the same flowery language that he uses to discuss LGBTQ rights and the dignity of LGBTQ people.  He could have done so here.

Forcing the closure of clinics based on empty promises of advancing public health is an affront to the basic dignity of women. Not only do such lies—and they are lies, as evidenced by the myriad anti-choice Texan politicians who have come right out and said that passing HB 2 was about closing clinics and making abortion inaccessible—operate to deprive women of the dignity to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term, they also presume that the American public is too stupid to truly grasp what’s going on.

And that is quintessentially undignified.

News LGBTQ

Republicans Shamed on House Floor for Anti-LGBTQ Vote

Christine Grimaldi

The episode got uglier after the seven Republicans switched their “aye” votes to “noe” and pandemonium erupted on the House floor. Shouts of “Shame!” devolved into continuous booing as the amendment failed.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives led chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Thursday as GOP leaders undermined a vote to counter an anti-LGBTQ provision in the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization bill.

The House initially voted 217 to 206 in favor of an amendment to nullify language undoing President Obama’s LGBTQ anti-discrimination measures for federal contractors found in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (HR 4909), The Hill reported.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) moved to counter the NDAA provision during Thursday’s series of House votes on amendments to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017 (HR 4974).

GOP leaders kept the vote open after the clock ran out and pressured seven Republicans to change their ballots without making the changes in full view of lawmakers at the front of the chamber, resulting in a 213-212 loss for the amendment, according to The Hill.

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Twenty-nine Republicans ended up voting in favor of the Maloney amendment. The discriminatory language could be removed when a conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers convenes to reconcile the differences between their defense authorization bills.

Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) authored the NDAA provision, which would hold federal contractors accountable to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The protections and exemptions under these federal laws do not apply to LGBTQ people, undoing Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Obama didn’t bow to pressure from religious leaders to include broad religious exemptions.

“This is one of the ugliest episodes I’ve experienced in my three-plus years as a member of this House,” said Maloney, the amendment’s author, who is openly gay.

The episode got uglier after the seven Republicans switched their “aye” votes to “noe” and pandemonium erupted on the House floor. Shouts of “Shame!” devolved into continuous booing as the amendment failed.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) condemned the move in scathing terms after the failed vote.

“If we had done to the Republicans what was done to us, what was done to switch votes so that discrimination could prevail, there would be outrage expressed long into the night,” Hoyer said. Under that scenario, he said, Republicans would accuse Democrats of “undermining democracy, undermining this House, and making the House less than it should be.”

Hoyer took aim at House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who was not on the floor after the vote. The switch occurred “far beyond what Speaker Ryan has said ought to be the end of votes,” Hoyer said.

Ryan in a press conference denied any knowledge of the GOP’s floor maneuverings. “I don’t even know,” Ryan told reporters.

“This is federalism. The states should do this,” Ryan added. “The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in this business.”

Back on the floor, Hoyer wouldn’t name the lawmakers who switched their votes.

“Seven people who had voted not to allow discrimination decided perhaps that principle was not as important as they thought just a minute or so before,” Hoyer said. “And they will have themselves to look at tonight in the mirror.”

Hoyer’s office later confirmed the names of the Republican lawmakers—Reps. Jeff Denham (CA), Darrell Issa (CA), Bruce Poliquin (ME), David Valadao (CA), Greg Walden (OR), Mimi Walters (CA) and David Young (IA)—to Rewire.

House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (R-TX), who denied a vote the day before on Rep. Charlie Dent’s (R-PA) bipartisan amendment to strike the anti-LGBTQ provision, said the Republican floor action did not amount to discrimination.

“First of all, let me say this: I am a Republican. We do not discriminate,” Sessions said in a back-and-forth with Hoyer.

Hoyer denied accusing Republicans of discrimination.

“I will not, at this point in time, hazard an opinion on that fact,” he said.