News Law and Policy

House Passes Bills to Defund Planned Parenthood, Add Criminal Penalties for Abortion Providers

Emily Crockett

The two bills passed Friday would “undermine access to comprehensive reproductive health care and criminalize the practice of medicine," says the president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.

The U.S. House passed two anti-choice bills on Friday—one that would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood for one year unless it stops performing abortions, and another that pro-choice advocates say would have a chilling effect on doctors who provide abortion care.

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (HR 3134), introduced by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), passed 241 to 187, and Rep. Trent Franks’ Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (HR 3504) passed 248 to 177.

Both votes were mostly along party lines. Five Democrats (Reps. Cartwright of Pennsylvania, Cuellar of Texas, Langevin of Rhode Island, Lipinski of Illinois, and Peterson of Minnesota) voted for the “born alive” bill, and no Republicans voted against it. Two Democrats voted for the Planned Parenthood bill (Reps. Lipinski of Illinois and Peterson of Minnesota), and three Republicans (Reps. Dent of Pennsylvania, Dold of Illinois, and Hanna of New York) voted against it.

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Black’s bill would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood for one year, which she says would give Congress time to finish its investigations into the organization.

Republicans have sought to defund Planned Parenthood—which is actually easier said than donebecause of accusations made in deceptive, highly edited videos released by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress.

“This attack on a venerable and respected provider of high-quality health care would have a devastating impact on women, especially women in rural communities, low-income women and women of color, and would deny women access to preventive care, life-saving cancer screenings and family planning services,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) during debate on the bill.

Chu noted that Planned Parenthood’s health services work to prevent unplanned pregnancies and abortions, and that no federal funds are allowed to pay for abortion services except in limited circumstances.

A recent analysis found that Planned Parenthood provides contraceptive care for an outsized number of low-income women. In two-thirds of the 491 counties where Planned Parenthood operates, it serves more than half of the women who get their birth control from safety-net health centers. And in 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only safety-net family planning center available.

The Franks “born alive” bill would add criminal penalties to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002. It seems to be inspired by CMP’s allegations that Planned Parenthood may have violated the law either by performing “partial-birth” abortions or by allowing infants to die after being born alive following an abortion. These allegations have not been substantiated.

“Babies are born alive during failed abortions,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), referring to two women who testified before the House Judiciary Committee about their experience as “abortion survivors.”

A 2013 investigation by Rewire found no evidence of any pattern of cases like these, contrary to anti-choice claims that it happens routinely and that Planned Parenthood is no different from rogue abortion provider Kermit Gosnell.

“Kermit Gosnell was just the tip of the iceberg of the abortion industry,” Franks said during Friday’s debate of his bill.

Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s executive vice president, said both the Black and Franks bills are “dangerous” and would have a “chilling effect” on both doctors and patients.

Advocates argue that Franks’ “born alive” bill would have a chilling effect on doctors because of its vague language that doesn’t offer clear medical guidance, and that it’s not necessary because the law already allows criminal charges for killing an infant.

“There is the implication … that the other side of the aisle is somehow more concerned about the life of a child born alive. That somehow Democrats just don’t care about that,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said during Friday’s debate. “And I resent that so very, very much. We unanimously voted to protect that life. And if in fact a baby is born into this world and can survive and is alive, it is considered homicide to kill that baby.”

The 2002 “born alive” law passed easily after pro-choice advocates were assured that it would not interfere with medical practice. But this new bill appears likely to interfere substantially, according to pro-choice advocates and lawmakers.

“The bill’s vague and broad mandates, combined with severe penalties, will effectively intimidate doctors and ultimately drive them away from the abortion practice, which appears to be the true intent of this troubling bill,” Chu said.

Chu explained that the Franks bill fails to distinguish between a viable and non-viable fetus, which is the constitutional line between permissible abortions and those that can be regulated or prohibited. For instance, the bill would require an abortion provider to immediately transport a fetus to the hospital regardless of whether it is viable.

“What this bill does is go further [than existing law] and create fear among physicians, healers, people who are educated and committed to health and life, and put fear into them,” Schakowsky said. “That they could spend five years in jail for providing the health-care services that a woman needs.”

Both the Franks and Black bills “undermine access to comprehensive reproductive health care and criminalize the practice of medicine,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a statement.

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”