Commentary Abortion

Lipstick on a Pig: GOP Tries to ‘Soften’ 20-Week Abortion Ban by Putting Marsha Blackburn in Charge

Jodi Jacobson

Rather than examining why its policies are so deeply problematic and disliked, the GOP instead tries to paint over them by selecting radicals who "look like" the people whose rights they are determined to gut.

See all our coverage of HR 1797 here.

Memo to the GOP: Putting a woman in charge of the vote count on a bill that puts women at risk and obliterates their rights to bodily autonomy doesn’t make the bill any more palatable.

The GOP is in a tizzy about its dismal ratings among women, people of color, and young people—otherwise known as the majority of the electorate. But rather than examining why the policies themselves are so deeply problematic and disliked, the party instead tries to paint over them by selecting radicals who “look like” the people whose rights they are determined to gut.

This is exactly what happened last week, when in response to criticism of its dangerous 20-week abortion ban, which passed out of committee by a vote of 20 to 12 (that being 20 male legislators and no female legislators voting in favor), the GOP rushed to place Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in charge of the upcoming floor vote. Blackburn is deeply anti-choice and has used the Kermit Gosnell controversy to argue for defunding Planned Parenthood, although one has nothing to do with the other except that defunding Planned Parenthood would create more business for unscrupulous practitioners.

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But putting a woman in charge of a bill based on lies, which will deprive women of their most fundamental rights to bodily autonomy and endanger women’s lives, and which is opposed not only by women themselves but also by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as well as the American Public Health Association and countless practicing physicians does not make that bill any better.

As the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. You can put a female member of a misogynistic party in charge of pushing your agenda, but it’s still misogyny.

News Politics

Blackburn Calls for State-Level Criminal Investigation Into Fetal Trafficking

Christine Grimaldi

A public university and abortion clinic in New Mexico are the latest targets in a congressional investigation approved by Speaker Paul Ryan and condemned by a House Democrat as "a McCarthy-like witch hunt."

The New Mexico attorney general’s office received nearly 300 pages of documents from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) Thursday allegedly incriminating the University of New Mexico (UNM) and Southwestern Women’s Options, a prominent abortion clinic, in fetal tissue trafficking. Blackburn’s goal: Provoke a state-level criminal investigation into the dubious allegations.

As Blackburn prepared her latest call for outside reinforcements in the U.S. House of Representatives investigation’s thus far unsuccessful search for a market in “baby body parts,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) separately broke his silence on her tactics. Ryan said in a written letter he trusts Blackburn to conduct the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives “in a way that will focus on the facts and also protect the privacy of those involved.”

The extensive documentation sent to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) appears to replace provider and researcher names in some areas and redact them in others, honoring Blackburn’s pledge to keep such information confidential. Earlier this month, Blackburn failed to redact at least two dozen researchers’ names and contact information in publicly available documents that she sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of a request for a federal abortion inquiry.

“We can confirm the Office of the Attorney General has received a public referral and this matter is under review,” attorney general spokesperson James Hallinan said in an emailed statement to Rewire. “All complaints received by the Office of the Attorney General are fully reviewed and appropriate action is taken.”

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If precedent is any indication, New Mexico is unlikely to find any wrongdoing involving fetal tissue donations. Arizona recently became the 13th state to find no substance to such allegations

Blackburn’s criminal referral appeared to cut other corners, copying state Rep. Steve Pearce, rather than Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who represents Albuquerque—making UNM and Southwestern Women’s Options her constituents, not his.

Grisham’s spokesperson did not return requests for comment.

Blackburn alleged in the documents that the university and abortion clinic violated state and federal law. The university “aggressively engaged in expanding abortion” and in turn, received fetal tissue from the abortion provider, she said. Last year, Rewire reported that the UNM Health Sciences Center ended its decade-long relationship with Southwestern Women’s Options because the clinic didn’t perform an adequate volume of abortions to train residents and fellows, contrary to the victory anti-choice activists claimed at the time.

The university countered that Blackburn misinterpreted the New Mexico law, which does not preclude donating fetuses from elective abortions that occurred at the clinic. “Additionally, UNM has never paid for this tissue—it has been provided free to the University of New Mexico for medical research,” according to a statement from the UNM Health Sciences Center.

Southwestern Women’s Options is listed as a member in good standing with the National Abortion Federation, and follows the federation’s evidence-based clinical policy guidelines.

“For more than 40 years, Southwestern Women’s Options has provided high-quality care for New Mexico women,” said Southwestern Women’s Options spokesperson Heather Brewer in an email to Rewire. “We are committed to continuing to provide compassionate care to women in our community.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) condemned the panel’s course of action.

“This so-called ‘criminal referral’ is further evidence that this investigation is nothing more than a wholly partisan attack on law-abiding doctors and researchers,” she told Rewire in an email.

Republican leadership, to the contrary, indicated that just cause exists for the overall investigation.

Ryan gave his blessing in a written response to Schakowsky, who recently introduced a resolution to disband what she has repeatedly called a “witch hunt.” Rewire obtained Ryan’s letter late Thursday, shortly after Schakowsky’s select panel staff received it.

Ryan repeated several key Blackburn talking points to justify the panel’s continued work. He said documents at the panel’s April hearing on fetal tissue “pricing” indicated that some entities may have violated the federal ban on selling fetal tissue. Many of the documents, however, appear to have been dubiously sourced from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-choice front group that released widely discredited videos alleging that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations. Democrats on the select panel have warned that Blackburn is relying on additional information from the anti-choice Protest ABQ, which is run by former Operation Rescue operatives.

For instance, Ryan referenced the panel’s discovery of “a website that allowed a researcher to order any baby part imaginable at a given gestation period and proceed to check out.”

“Such a practice clearly threatens the human dignity,” he said.

Among Blackburn’s evidence from the pricing hearing, Exhibit C3 purportedly shows such an order form—and it’s nearly identical to what was shown in the CMP videos. Blackburn again displayed the CMP-sourced order form as she delivered a conservative call to action against “baby body parts” in June at the faith-based Road to Majority conference.

Ryan also countered Schakowsky’s claim that the investigation is hurting the research community, despite what researchers, fearing for their safety, privacy, and job security, told Rewire in recent interviews.

Ryan said he lacked the power to disband the panel, though he would refuse to do so regardless of the circumstances. Among the reasons he won’t act: Under the informal “Hastert rule,” named for former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), currently imprisoned after pleading guilty to charges related to sexually abusing minors, a majority of the majority must agree to vote on a bill. Ryan’s pledge to abide by the Hastert rule helped him win over the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, which would certainly stymie any attempt to end the investigation, along with more moderate House Republicans who almost unilaterally oppose abortion as well.

Schakowsky criticized Ryan’s response.

“I am disappointed that the Speaker has chosen to parrot Republican talking points on the investigation instead of addressing our concerns in a meaningful way,” Schakowsky said in an email to Rewire. “While there is no evidence of wrongdoing by researchers or doctors, we have concrete proof of the chilling effect on life-saving research. This McCarthy-like witch hunt is putting lives and livelihoods at risk. The Speaker has the ability to shut down this dangerous Panel and he should do so at once.”

News Abortion

Unconstitutional 20-Week Abortion Ban Primed to Pass in South Carolina

Teddy Wilson

The state senate passed the bill Tuesday in a 36-9 vote, as eight Democrats joined the Republican majority.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said that she would likely sign an unconstitutional ban on abortion care at 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. The bill’s path to the governor’s desk, however, has become uncertain

H 3114, sponsored by Rep. Wendy Nanney (R-Greenville), would ban abortions at 20 weeks or more post-fertilization unless, in the physician’s judgment, abortion care is necessary to avert the pregnant person’s death or avoid the risk of physical impairment of a major bodily function, other than a psychological condition. The measure’s limited definition of “fetal anomaly” means it would be illegal to abort many fetuses with severe disabilities. Senate Democrats have previously blocked the legislation.

Physicians who violate the anti-choice measure could face up to a $10,000 fine and three years in prison.

“I can’t imagine any scenario in which I wouldn’t sign it,” Haley told the Associated Press.

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South Carolina’s Republican lawmakers have pushed for similar legislation before, but Democrats have managed to block their efforts. Republicans were able to pass the bill this year after an epic legislative journey, as lawmakers added and removed amendments and debated the language of the unconstitutional abortion ban.

At issue has been what exceptions would be included in the bill. The current bill allows exceptions if the pregnant person’s life is in jeopardy or a doctor determines the fetus can’t survive outside the womb. There is no exception for rape or incest.

House members amended the measure to include such exceptions after the bill was first introduced in January 2015. The state senate amended the bill and stripped out the exceptions after state Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) filibustered the bill, charging there should be no exceptions included in the bill. 

The state senate passed the bill last week in a 36-9 vote, as eight Democrats joined the Republican majority in voting for the version of the bill negotiated by a conference committee of three house members and three state senators.

A two-thirds majority of state senators present is needed to approve the conference committee bill. However, a two-thirds majority of all representatives, regardless of whether or not they are present, is needed for approval in the house.

Two votes have failed to gain the 83 votes needed for approval. The house failed to pass the bill on March 9 by one vote, and again failed to pass the bill on March 10, falling three votes shy.

State Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) told the State that lawmakers have no business dictating to pregnant people what they should do about their health care. “I have faith in the women of South Carolina that they know best what to do when the time comes to make a decision about their bodies,” Hutto said.

Laws to ban abortion at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy with varying exceptions have been enacted in 16 states, and the courts have blocked those laws in three states: Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho.

The so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, based on copycat legislation authored by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), justifies the ban on the theory that a fetus can experience pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy. The claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks has been discredited by medical professionals.

Hospitals are the only facilities in which pregnant people seeking to terminate a pregnancy at 20 weeks or later could obtain abortion care. South Carolina’s three abortion clinics do not provide the procedure past 18 weeks.

Lawmakers must approve the conference committee compromise bill by the time the legislative session ends in June.

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