Commentary Politics

A Movement, Not a Moment: How Even Anti-Choice Victories Show We’re Making Progress

Ilyse Hogue

These candidates who rode the 2014 wave to victory hid their own values from the voters, and that speaks volumes about our values.

As someone who works in politics, I deal in pragmatics. The pragmatic reality of Tuesday night’s election is that things are likely to get worse for women and families in this country before they get better. Pro-choice Democrats not only lost control of the Senate and lost ground in the House of Representatives; anti-choice GOP politicians won most of the hotly contested governor races and flipped several state houses. As I write this, several races of pro-choice champions remain too close to call. Bright spots include Tom Wolf beating Tom Corbett for governor of Pennsylvania, a state where restrictions on abortion had led to a revival of back-alley rogue providers and the imprisonment of a mother for trying to help her daughter terminate an unwanted pregnancy. But those spots are few and far between, and they won’t stop a slew of anti-women bills at both the state and federal level.

We know from recent history that many of these elected officials will make restricting abortion and attacking reproductive freedom their number-one priority. After all, in 2011, as the new Tea Party-controlled House assembled for their inaugural week in office, they wasted no time in moving anti-choice bills that would defund Planned Parenthood or impose tax penalties on small businesses that provide comprehensive health insurance, despite running on a platform to expand job opportunities and economic security.

As we sift through the debris from Tuesday night, we can cue the predictable hand-wringing and existential angst about why people vote against their own “self-interests.” But a deeper dive into the data indicates—at least on questions of reproductive freedom—that the picture is more complicated.

Seven in 10 Americans support legal access to abortion. This fact remains true in red states, across demographics, and includes a majority of self-identified Republicans and Independents. Tuesday night’s results actually underscore that reality.

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2014 will go down in the books as the year that anti-choice candidates ran hard from their clear anti-choice track records in order to convince voters they could be trusted on women’s fundamental freedoms. Even they can no longer deny that running on a platform of knowing better than the women you serve about what’s best for them is an untenable political position. New Colorado senator Cory Gardner was the poster child for this approach. Rep. Gardner is still a sponsor of the federal “personhood” bill that would outright ban abortion and many forms of birth control. Yet, on the campaign trail, he denied again and again that such a bill even existed. Gardner also implied that his support for making the pill available over the counter should trump his earlier stance: making it illegal.

He wasn’t the only one. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker—with an eye toward a presidential run in 2016—recorded a straight-to-camera ad where he insisted that he supports a woman’s right to make her own decisions about pregnancy, despite all evidence to the contrary. In Iowa, state Sen. Joni Ernst claimed that her support for a “personhood” bill (again, which would ban all abortion and many common forms of birth control) was “simply a statement that I support life.”

While these faux conversions are likely to last as long as a Hershey’s bar on a chocoholic’s desk, the strategy seems to have worked. Exit polls in Iowa reported that of those who said abortion should “always be legal,” 22 percent voted for Joni Ernst, and 41 percent of those who said abortion should “mostly be legal” voted for her. In Colorado, polls showed that among voters who feel abortion should be “always legal,” 16 percent voted for Cory Gardner, and among voters who feel abortion should be “mostly legal,” 42 percent voted for him. Gardner still co-sponsors a bill that would criminalize abortion in nearly all cases, but many in the media seemed more bothered by Udall pointing this out than by Gardner shamelessly lying about it.

During MSNBC’s election night coverage, Rachel Maddow observed this trend:

Cory Gardner was a sponsor of personhood when it has come up in CO, he is still a sponsor of personhood federally … If Gardner beats Mark Udall in CO today, it will be because he ran to the left of Udall, criticizing Udall for not being able to deliver on the stuff that Cory Gardner is opposed to. That tells you that Democrats win the argument, even if they lose the race.

Ballot measures, the most accurate measure of voter sentiment, provide even clearer evidence of the rejection of the anti-choice mentality. For the third time in Colorado, voters rejected a ballot measure that resembled “personhood,” much like the federal bill that Cory Gardner continues to support. A similar ballot measure in North Dakota was soundly defeated after widely being predicted to win. Even avid backers of anti-choice measures like these admitted that they generally do poorly when put directly to the voters, saying after a defeat of a 20-week abortion ban in Albuquerque last November, “Pro-lifers have had little success changing public policy through direct democracy—even for incremental pro-life laws [that] poll well.”

Unfortunately, another restrictive amendment, this one to the Tennessee constitution, did pass Tuesday night, doing an end run around the state Supreme Court’s ability to protect constitutional rights of Tennessee women. But even there we saw this same pattern. Framers used language in the Tennessee ballot measure that obfuscated their true intent: to restrict abortion.

Laying out this case is about more than soothing our bruises after a bad night. Understanding these dynamics is critical for us as advocates to leverage this often invisible advantage. Here are five places we need to focus our energies to harness our ideological momentum and start to reverse the political tide.

1. Ban the term “social issue” from our vocabulary: I’m not sure if there’s any such thing as a social issue, but I can tell you reproductive freedom and justice do not qualify. Sovereignty over one’s body and one’s life is an issue of fundamental freedoms and human rights. And let’s aggressively state the truth the candidates are hoping to avoid: There’s no such thing as economic security for women who do not have full access to reproductive freedom, and there’s no such this as reproductive freedom without economic security. Anti-choice politicians routinely vote to restrict abortion and contraception while also working to defeat common-sense measures that support parents in this country: equal pay, parental leave, and robust anti-pregnancy discrimination laws.

2. Hold this class accountable: These folks owe their victories to promises not to undermine legal access to abortion. We need to be there every step of the way alerting voters when they go back on their word.

3. Force the question in more races and in legislatures: Anti-choice candidates and officials love it when we’re silent. They want nothing more than to fly under the radar on these issues. We need to be there all the time asking them where they stand on abortion access, why they think they know better than women and families about what’s best for us, and why they think it’s American to legislate their own morality on the rest of us. Those are tough questions to answer, which is why they would prefer not to. We need to force them to take tough votes on measures that don’t just protect our right to choose, but expand it.

4. Run our own ballot measures: When our values are put directly to the voters, we win. Yet we’ve been playing defense on ballot measures almost exclusively. If we care about not only protecting but expanding reproductive freedom in this country, let’s take our case directly to the voters, state by state, to bolster women’s reproductive freedom.

5. Courts, courts, courts: While we depend on courts to be the pathway to justice, anti-choice extremists see the courts as a pathway to power, and right now, they are winning. We’re in the midst of a wave of litigation on our issues and we need to fight and win these cases in the court of public opinion, discredit the so-called experts on whom they they rest their cases, and fight for judges who put the rule of law about their own ideology.

The stakes are high right now. Sen. Mitch McConnell will be the new majority leader when the Senate reconvenes in January. He’s promised to make a 20-week abortion ban (yes, the same one voters in New Mexico outright rejected in 2013) a top priority. We can expect to see more of the unnecessary, absurd restrictions that have closed so many women’s health centers across the country, especially in the South. And laws like mandatory ultrasound and waiting periods, which do little more than try to shame women for making our own decisions, will become more commonplace. With the new anti-choice majority in both houses of Congress, that could become the new normal. But we can’t afford for this setback to force us into defensive mode. If anti-choice candidates are claiming the mantle of protecting reproductive freedom, then now is the moment to go on offense and act.

These candidates who rode the 2014 wave to victory hid their own values from the voters, and that speaks volumes about our values. This is the difference between movements and moments. Last night was a bad moment. It will lead to more bad moments. But this movement has numbers, belief, and promise on our side. Movements always trump moments.

Commentary Politics

Is Clinton a Progressive? Not If She Chooses Tim Kaine

Jodi Jacobson

The selection of Tim Kaine as vice president would be the first signal that Hillary Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton has frequently claimed to be a progressive, though she often adds the unnecessary and bewildering caveat that she’s a “progressive who likes to get things done.” I’ve never been sure what that is supposed to mean, except as a possible prelude to or excuse for giving up progressive values to seal some unknown deal in the future; as a way of excusing herself from fighting for major changes after she is elected; or as a way of saying progressives are only important to her campaign until after they leave the voting booth.

One of the first signals of whether Clinton actually believes in a progressive agenda will be her choice of running mate. Reports are that Sen. Tim Kaine, former Virginia governor, is the top choice. The selection of Kaine would be the first signal that Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

We’ve seen this happen before. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama claimed to be a progressive. By virtue of having a vision for and promise of real change in government and society, and by espousing transparency and responsibility, he won by a landslide. In fact, Obama even called on his supporters, including the millions activated by the campaign’s Organizing for Action (OFA), to keep him accountable throughout his term. Immediately after the election, however, “progressives” were out and the right wing of the Democratic party was “in.”

Obama’s cabinet members in both foreign policy and the economy, for example, were drawn from the center and center-right of the party, leaving many progressives, as Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote in the Washington Post in 2009, “disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied.” Obama chose Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, a man with a reputation from the days of Bill Clinton’s White House for a reluctance to move bold policies—lest they upset Wall Street or conservative Democrats—and a deep disdain for progressives. With Emanuel as gatekeeper of policies and Valerie Jarrett consumed with the “Obama Brand” (whatever that is), the White House suddenly saw “progressives” as the problem.

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It became clear that instead of “the change we were hoping for,” Obama had started on an impossible quest to “cooperate” and “compromise” on bad policies with the very party that set out to destroy him before he was even sworn in. Obama and Emanuel preempted efforts to push for a public option for health-care reform, despite very high public support at the time. Likewise, the White House failed to push for other progressive policies that would have been a slam dunk, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, a major goal of the labor movement that would have made it easier to enroll workers in unions. With a 60-vote Democratic Senate majority, this progressive legislation could easily have passed. Instead, the White House worked to support conservative Democrat then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s efforts to kill it, and even sent Vice President Joe Biden to Arkansas to campaign for her in her run for re-election. She lost anyway.

They also allowed conservatives to shelve plans for an aggressive stimulus package in favor of a much weaker one, for the sole sake of “bipartisanship,” a move that many economists have since criticized for not doing enough.  As I wrote years ago, these decisions were not only deeply disappointing on a fundamental level to those of us who’d put heart and soul into the Obama campaign, but also, I personally believe, one of the main reasons Obama later lost the midterms and had a hard time governing.  He was not elected to implement GOP lite, and there was no “there, there” for the change that was promised. Many people deeply devoted to making this country better for working people became fed up.

Standing up for progressive principles is not so hard, if you actually believe in them. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) is a progressive who actually puts her principles into action, like the creation against all odds in 2011 of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, perhaps the single most important progressive achievement of the past 20 years. Among other things, the CFPB  shields consumers from the excesses of mortgage lenders, student loan servicers, and credit card companies that have caused so much economic chaos in the past decade. So unless you are more interested in protecting the status quo than addressing the root causes of the many problems we now face, a progressive politician would want a strong progressive running mate.

By choosing Tim Kaine as her vice president, Clinton will signal that she values progressives in name and vote only.

As Zach Carter wrote in the Huffington Post, Kaine is “setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.” Kaine is in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement largely negotiated in secret and by corporate lobbyists. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose voters Clinton needs to win over, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren oppose the TPP because, in Warren’s words, it “would tilt the playing field even more in favor of … big multinational corporations and against working families.”

The progressive agenda includes strong emphasis on effective systems of governance and oversight of banks and financial institutions—the actors responsible, as a result of deregulation, for the major financial crises of the past 16 years, costing the United States trillions of dollars and gutting the financial security of many middle-class and low-income people.

As Warren has stated:

Washington turned a blind eye as risks were packaged and re-packaged, magnified, and then sold to unsuspecting pension funds, municipal governments, and many others who believed the markets were honest. Not long after the cops were blindfolded and the big banks were turned loose, the worst crash since the 1930s hit the American economy—a crash that the Dallas Fed estimates has cost a collective $14 trillion. The moral of this story is simple: Without basic government regulation, financial markets don’t work. That’s worth repeating: Without some basic rules and accountability, financial markets don’t work. People get ripped off, risk-taking explodes, and the markets blow up. That’s just an empirical fact—clearly observable in 1929 and again in 2008. The point is worth repeating because, for too long, the opponents of financial reform have cast this debate as an argument between the pro-regulation camp and the pro-market camp, generally putting Democrats in the first camp and Republicans in the second. But that so-called choice gets it wrong. Rules are not the enemy of markets. Rules are a necessary ingredient for healthy markets, for markets that create competition and innovation. And rolling back the rules or firing the cops can be profoundly anti-market.

If Hillary Clinton were actually a progressive, this would be key to her agenda. If so, Tim Kaine would be a curious choice as VP, and a middle finger of sorts to those who support financial regulations. In the past several weeks, Kaine has been publicly advocating for greater deregulation of banks. As Carter reported yesterday, “Kaine signed two letters on Monday urging federal regulators to go easy on banks―one to help big banks dodge risk management rules, and another to help small banks avoid consumer protection standards.”

Kaine is also trying to portray himself as “anti-choice lite.” For example, he recently signed onto the Women’s Health Protection Act. But as we’ve reported, as governor of Virginia, Kaine supported restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law, which, he claimed in 2008, gave “women information about a whole series of things, the health consequences, et cetera, and information about adoption.” In truth, the information such laws mandate giving out is often “irrelevant or misleading,” according to the the Guttmacher Institute. In other words, like many others who let ideology rather than public health guide their policy decisions, Kaine put in place policies that are not supported by the evidence and that make it more difficult for women to gain access to abortion, steps he has not denounced. This is unacceptable. The very last thing we need is another person in the White House who further stigmatizes abortion, though it must be said Clinton herself seems chronically unable to speak about abortion without euphemism.

While there are many other reasons a Kaine pick would signal a less-than-secure and values-driven Clinton presidency, the fact also stands that he is a white male insider at a time when the rising electorate is decidedly not white and quite clearly looking for strong leadership and meaningful change. Kaine is not the change we seek.

The conventional wisdom these days is that platforms are merely for show and vice presidential picks don’t much matter. I call foul; that’s an absolutely cynical lens through which to view policies. What you say and with whom you affiliate yourself do indeed matter. And if Clinton chooses Kaine, we know from the outset that progressives have a fight on their hands, not only to avoid the election of an unapologetic fascist, but to ensure that the only person claiming the progressive mantle actually means what she says.

News Abortion

Iowa GOP Legislator: Ending Legal Abortion ‘Impossible’ Without ‘Personhood’ Laws

Teddy Wilson

GOP-backed "personhood" laws have been an unmitigated failure. Voters in state after state have rejected by wide margins personhood ballot initiatives, and personhood bills have failed to gain traction in many legislatures.

An Iowa Republican plans to introduce a measure defining life as beginning at conception in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down an anti-choice Texas law, which has limited states’ ability to restrict abortion care access.

State Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) told IowaWatch that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt proves that the anti-choice movement’s attack on abortion rights is not working.

“The Supreme Court decision reinforced that incrementally ending abortion is impossible,” Schultz said. “You either have it or you don’t.”

So-called personhood laws seek to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as people, and to grant them full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

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GOP-backed “personhood” laws have been an unmitigated failure. Voters in state after state have rejected by wide margins personhood ballot initiatives, and personhood bills have failed to gain traction in many legislatures.

Personhood bills were introduced this year by Republican lawmakers in Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, and Rhode Island.

Rachel Lopez, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told IowaWatch that personhood measures are routinely introduced in Iowa but have failed to gain traction in the GOP-dominated legislature.

“Although we have not yet seen the details of this impending effort, we are confident that it also will fail to advance,” Lopez said. “Personhood bills are a waste of both time and taxpayer dollars, as they have failed time and again in Iowa and other states.”

Iowa lawmakers this year introduced SJR 2001, a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the state constitution specifying that the document does not secure or protect a fundamental right to abortion care.

SJR 2001 was referred to the senate rules and administration committee, but never received a hearing or a vote.

Schultz, who was elected to the state senate in 2014 after serving in the house, has sponsored or co-sponsored several anti-choice bills while in the state legislature, including personhood measures.

SF 478, sponsored by Schultz during the 2015 legislative session, would have defined “person” when referring to the victim of a murder, to mean “an individual human being, without regard to age of development, from the moment of conception, when a zygote is formed, until natural death.”

Mark Kende, director of Drake University’s Constitutional Law Center, told IowaWatch that Schultz’s proposal would not survive in the courts.

“He can try to pass that legislation but it certainly wouldn’t trump the federal Constitution,” Kende said. “Even if that language got into the state constitution it can’t defy three Supreme Court decisions in the last 40 years.”

Gov. Terry Branstad (R) told IowaWatch that he could not support Schultz’s proposal.

“I’m pro-life and I want to do what I can to encourage things that can protect the lives of unborn children,” Branstad said. “Yet I also recognize that we have to live with the restrictions that have been placed on the states by the courts.”

Branstad signed many of the state’s laws restricting abortion access that came up during the latter part of his first term as governor.