News Abortion

Iowa Republicans Again Force Showdown Over Medicaid Coverage of Abortions for Rape, Anomalies

Robin Marty

Forcing poor women to pay out-of-pocket or give birth to their rapists' baby has now become an outright vendetta in Iowa.

Iowa Republicans are taking yet another stab at removing all Medicaid funding for abortion in the state, this time writing an amendment into the state budget requesting that the funding be eliminated. Although the roughly 20 abortions per year that get paid that way are a result of either rape or fetal anomalies, strident anti-choice politicians have made removing that last vestige of assistance for poor women a vendetta since 2011.

Abortion opponents tried and failed to strip Medicaid coverage via a budget amendment in both 2011 and 2012, and sought out an “emergency rule” maneuver to strip it after the 2012 budget amendment failed. Iowa Right to Life condemned the governor’s office for blocking the emergency rule, declaring that it would seek other ways to “fix” the allowance of fetal anomaly abortions being funded by the state.

The “fix,” if this year’s legislative session and outside rallying is any indication, is to once more lump rape victims in with individuals whose pregnancies are compromised, and refuse to fund any abortions whatsoever. A new “no funding ever, even in cases of rape and anomaly” amendment was proposed by state Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton); it failed to pass the Senate.

Now, the state house has passed its own amendment, after GOP house leaders threatened to refuse to pass the budget without it. The added language will force the two bodies to once more fight it out in order to get a completed budget to the governor for approval.

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This continued effort comes just days after anti-choice political groups in Iowa rallied at the state house, demanding support for bills that would end Medicaid funding of every abortion for every reason, even if that means a complete logjam in governing. The Des Moines Register reported that “Greg Baker, the Family Leader’s political director, said lawmakers who oppose abortion need to take a ‘hard stand’ and to remain firm as long as necessary, even though it will be difficult when June arrives and there is increased pressure to pass a state budget.”

So once again, the state is likely to end its legislative session in another acrimonious, last-minute budget fight. For the third year in a row, a handful of lawmakers may hold the entire state budget hostage at the urging of anti-choice lobbyists, all for the sake of forcing some two dozen women each year to stay pregnant and give birth to the children of people who sexually assaulted them or to babies that have genetic defects.

Analysis Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats Employ ‘Dangerous,’ Contradictory Strategies

Ally Boguhn & Christine Grimaldi

Democrats for Life of America leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradict each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party's platform is newly committed to increasing abortion access for all.

The national organization for anti-choice Democrats last month brought a litany of arguments against abortion to the party’s convention. As a few dozen supporters gathered for an event honoring anti-choice Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the group ran into a consistent problem.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party’s platform is newly committed to increasing access to abortion care for all.

DFLA leaders and politicians attempted to distance themselves from the traditionally Republican anti-choice movement, but repeatedly invoked conservative falsehoods and medically unsupported science to make their arguments against abortion. One state-level lawmaker said she routinely sought guidance from the National Right to Life, while another claimed the Republican-allied group left anti-choice Democrats in his state to fend for themselves.

Over the course of multiple interviews, Rewire discovered that while the organization demanded that Democrats “open the big tent” for anti-choice party members in order to win political office, especially in the South, it lacked a coordinated strategy for making that happen and accomplishing its policy goals.

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Take, for example, 20-week abortion bans, which the organization’s website lists as a key legislative issue. When asked about why the group backed cutting off abortion care at that point in a pregnancy, DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day admitted that she didn’t “know what the rationale was.”

Janet Robert, the president of the group’s executive board, was considerably more forthcoming.

“Well, the group of pro-life people who came up with the 20-week ban felt that at 20 weeks, it’s pretty well established that a child can feel pain,” Robert claimed during an interview with Rewire. Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion care before the point of fetal viability, Rogers suggested that “more and more we’re seeing that children, prenatal children, are viable around 20 to 22 weeks” of pregnancy.

Medical consensus, however, has found it “unlikely” that a fetus can feel pain until the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. The doctors who testify otherwise in an effort to push through abortion restrictions are often discredited anti-choice activists. A 20-week fetus is “in no way shape or form” viable, according to Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

When asked about scientific findings that fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Robert steadfastly claimed that “medical scientists do not agree on that issue.”

“There is clearly disagreement, and unfortunately, science has been manipulated by a lot of people to say one thing or another,” she continued.

While Robert parroted the very same medically unsupported fetal pain and viability lines often pushed by Republicans and anti-choice activists, she seemingly acknowledged that such restrictions were a way to work around the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.

“Now other legislatures are looking at 24 weeks—anything to get past the Supreme Court cut-off—because everybody know’s it’s a child … it’s all an arbitrary line,” she said, adding that “people use different rationales just to get around the stupid Supreme Court decision.”

Charles C. Camosy, a member of DFLA’s board, wrote in a May op-ed for the LA Times that a federal 20-week ban was “common-sense legislation.” Camosy encouraged Democratic lawmakers to help pass the abortion ban as “a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board” with paid family leave policies.

Robert also relied upon conservative talking points about fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients to persuade them not to have an abortion. Robert said DFLA doesn’t often interact with women facing unplanned pregnancies, but the group nonetheless views such organizations as “absolutely fabulous [be]cause they help the women.”

Those who say such fake clinics provide patients with misinformation and falsehoods about abortion care are relying on “propaganda by Planned Parenthood,” Robert claimed, adding that the reproductive health-care provider simply doesn’t want patients seeking care at fake clinics and wants to take away those clinics’ funding.

Politicians echoed similar themes at DFLA’s convention event. Edwards’ award acceptance speech revealed his approach to governing, which, to date, includes support for restrictive abortion laws that disproportionately hurt people with low incomes, even as he has expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.

Also present at the event was Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D), responsible for a restrictive admitting privileges law that former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in 2014. Jackson readily admitted to Rewire that she takes her legislative cues from the National Right to Life. She also name-checked Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, an allied organization of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“They don’t just draft bills for me,” Jackson told Rewire in an interview. “What we do is sit down and talk before every session and see what the pressing issues are in the area of supporting life.”

Despite what Jackson described as a commitment to the constitutionality of her laws, the Supreme Court in March blocked admitting privileges from taking effect in Louisiana. Louisiana’s law is also nearly identical to the Texas version that the Court struck down in June’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

Jackson did not acknowledge the setback, speaking instead about how such measures protect the health of pregnant people and fetuses. She did not mention any legal strategy—only that she’s “very prayerful” that admitting privileges will remain law in her state.

Jackson said her “rewarding” work with National Right to Life encompasses issues beyond abortion care—in her words, “how you’re going to care for the baby from the time you choose life.”

She claimed she’s not the only Democrat to seek out the group’s guidance.

“I have a lot of Democratic colleagues in my state, in other states, who work closely with [National] Right to Life,” Jackson said. “I think the common misconception is, you see a lot of party leaders saying they’re pro-abortion, pro-choice, and you just generally assume that a lot of the state legislators are. And that’s not true. An overwhelming majority of the Democrat state legislators in our state and others are pro-life. But, we say it like this: We care about them from the womb to the tomb.”

The relationship between anti-choice Democrats and anti-choice groups couldn’t be more different in South Dakota, said state house Rep. Ray Ring (D), a Hillary Clinton supporter at DFLA’s convention event.

Ring said South Dakota is home to a “small, not terribly active” chapter of DFLA. The “very Republican, very conservative” South Dakota Right to Life drives most of the state’s anti-choice activity and doesn’t collaborate with anti-choice Democrats in the legislature, regardless of their voting records on abortion.

Democrats hold a dozen of the 70 seats in South Dakota’s house and eight of the 35 in the state senate. Five of the Democratic legislators had a mixed record on choice and ten had a pro-choice record in the most recent legislative session, according to NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Spawn.

As a result, Ring and other anti-choice Democrats devote more of their legislative efforts toward policies such as Medicaid expansion, which they believe will reduce the number of pregnant people who seek abortion care. Ring acknowledged that restrictions on the procedure, such as a 20-week ban, “at best, make a very marginal difference”—a far cry not only from Republicans’ anti-choice playbook, but also DFLA’s position.

Ring and other anti-choice Democrats nevertheless tend to vote for Republican-sponsored abortion restrictions, falling in line with DFLA’s best practices. The group’s report, which it released at the event, implied that Democratic losses since 2008 are somehow tied to their party’s support for abortion rights, even though the turnover in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including gerrymandering to favor GOP victories.

Anecdotal evidence provides measured support for the inference.

Republican-leaning anti-choice groups targeted one of their own—Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)—in her June primary for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the U.S. House of Representatives’ “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.

If anti-choice groups could prevail against such a consistent opponent of abortion rights, they could easily do the same against even vocal “Democrats for Life.”

Former Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) contends that’s what happened to her and other anti-choice Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans wresting control of the House.

“I believe that pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republicans, and that’s why we were targeted—and I’ll say harshly targeted—in 2010,” Dahlkemper said in an interview.

She alleged that anti-choice groups, often funded by Republicans, attacked her for supporting the Affordable Care Act. A 2010 Politico story describes how the Susan B. Anthony List funneled millions of dollars into equating the vote with support for abortion access, even though President Obama signed an executive order in the vein of the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on federal funds for abortion care.

Dalhkemper advocated for perhaps the clearest strategy to counter the narrative that anti-choice Democrats somehow aren’t really opposed to abortion.

“What we need is support from our party at large, and we also need to band together, and we also need to continue to talk about that consistent life message that I think the vast majority of us believe in,” she said.

Self-described pro-choice Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) rejected the narratives spun by DFLA to supporters. In an interview with Rewire at the convention, Abrams called the organization’s claim that Democrats should work to elect anti-choice politicians from within their ranks in order to win in places like the South a “dangerous” strategy that assumes “that the South is the same static place it was 50 or 100 years ago.”

“I think what they’re reacting to is … a very strong religious current that runs throughout the South,” that pushes people to discuss their values when it comes to abortion, Abrams said. “But we are capable of complexity. And that’s the problem I have. [Its strategy] assumes and reduces Democrats to a single issue, but more importantly, it reduces the decision to one that is a binary decision—yes or no.”

That strategy also doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of Southern voters and instead only focuses on appealing to the sensibilities of white men, noted Abrams.

“We are only successful when we acknowledge that I can be a Black woman who may be raised religiously pro-life but believe that other women have the right to make a choice,” she continued. “And the extent to which we think about ourselves only in terms of white men and trying to convince that very and increasingly narrow population to be our saviors in elections, that’s when we face the likelihood of being obsolete.”

Understanding that nuances exist among Southern voters—even those who are opposed to abortion personally—is instead the key to reaching them, Abrams said.

“Most of the women and most of the voters, we are used to having complex conversations about what happens,” she said. “And I do believe that it is both reductive and it’s self-defeating for us to say that you can only win if you’re a pro-life Democrat.”

To Abrams, being pro-choice means allowing people to “decide their path.”

“The use of reproductive choice is endemic to how we as women can be involved in society: how we can go to work, how we can raise families, make choices about who we are. And so while I am sympathetic to the concern that you have to … cut against the national narrative, being pro-choice means exactly that,” Abrams continued. “If their path is pro-life, fine. If their path is to decide to make other choices, to have an abortion, they can do so.”

“I’m a pro-choice woman who has strongly embraced the conversation and the option for women to choose whatever they want to choose,” Abrams said. “That is the best and, I think, most profound path we can take as legislators and as elected officials.”

News Politics

NARAL Leader Campaigns to Oust Anti-Choice Colorado Congressman

Jason Salzman

NARAL Pro-Choice America officials have stepped up support for pro-choice Democrat Morgan Carroll in her competitive race against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who’s voted repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called voters this week on behalf of pro-choice Colorado state Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora), who’s running against anti-choice U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora).

Hogue stopped by Carroll’s campaign office in a Denver suburb and called voters, in part, she told Rewire, because NARAL wants to “send a signal to the anti-choice legislators who are hiding from their anti-choice records when they come home at election time.”

Hogue pointed to Coffman’s repeated votes to defund Planned Parenthood—efforts based on discredited videos released by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress. Coffman used a Planned Parenthood Action Fund logo in a political advertisement, despite having voted repeatedly to defund the organization, as first reported by Rewire. He voted again to defund Planned Parenthood after the ad aired.

“Mike Coffman has worked to defund women’s health centers and even fought to redefine rape,” Carroll said in a statement during Hogue’s visit. “Millions of women across this country simply can’t afford to have representatives like Mike Coffman in Congress.

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Coffman once co-sponsored a measure that redefined “a ban on federal funding for abortions to exempt only ‘forcible rape.'” Coffman’s campaign did not return a call seeking comment.

Coffman’s district, concentrated in the suburbs east of Denver, is perennially ranked as home to some of the nation’s most competitive political races. Coffman was first elected in 2008, two years before district boundaries were re-drawn, making for a much closer elections.

The Republican, a former U.S. Marine who has become known as a tough campaigner, surprised analysts by his ten-point margin of victory in 2014, after a narrow 2 percent margin in 2012.

Asked for a reaction to her phone calls on Carroll’s behalf, Hogue said she was encouraged by the candidate’s name recognition but dismayed by the apathy she encountered, though she noted that the election season is young.

“Particularly if we continue to hear that Trump is down by 15 points in polls, apathy is going to be a real issue in this election,” Hogue said. “People need to be made to feel that their vote matters. It matters at the top of the ticket. It certainly matters when you get down to the folks who are going to stay in the state house here [in Colorado] or go to D.C. and do the day-to-day work of moving this agenda forward. People need to hear that their participation has value.”

“We hope our investment in the field effort here puts Morgan Carroll a little bit closer to victory, but also builds power for NARAL members and the issue long term,” Hogue said. “Our job doesn’t end on Election Day. It begins on Election Day.”

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