A Bad Aftertaste: David Brooks, Class, and the Politics of Food

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently had lunch with a friend. Nothing unusual about that—except that he wrote about it. In one throwaway passage, Brooks managed to sneer at his acquaintance’s food preferences, education, and both Italian and Mexican cuisine (or at least their Americanized versions).

In the July 11 op-ed, titled “How We Are Ruining America,” Brooks wrote about the gaping divide between the upper middle class and the rest of us, exploring how wealth and education have been passed down and accrued in a massively successful exclusion experiment that’s unfolded for the benefit of privileged households. But it’s the “informal social barriers,” Brooks wrote, that do the daily—and what he suggests is the more damaging—work of keeping the have-littles, the have-a-little-mores, and the have-a-lots (and their descendants) segregated in their own lanes and class strata.

Enter Brooks’ confessional moment:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named ‘Padrino’ and ‘Pomodoro’ and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

Three Rewire staffers were struck by this moment—and by the message of the column in general.

Cynthia R. Greenlee, Senior Editor

Brooks, who also teaches at Yale, is right in identifying that supposedly harmless social markers can be insidiously dangerous. Perhaps he’d remember the old Good Times episode where bright and funny Black teenager Michael scored low on an intelligence test he refused to complete because he saw that the questions were biased. One asked students where you would put a tea cup: The answers included “saucer” and “table.” Michael chose “table—because in his household, there weren’t saucers or china. Not knowing the language—or the customs—of the upper class can put what Brooks calls the “lower 80 percent” at critical disadvantage in conversation, competition, and life.

I won’t quibble with that. But Brooks’ belief that such cultural exclusion may be more important than structural barriers shows how disconnected he is from that other 80 percent. Sizable numbers of U.S. residents can’t be “class-mobile” because, for example, banks believe they and their neighborhoods are risks, and won’t finance their homes or dreams; many can’t access higher education due to cost, or a better life without living wage policies, comprehensive child care, and health coverage. The social exclusions that Brooks discusses are not more insidious than systemic ones: They are different, more quotidian expressions of structural inequality carried out by soccer moms and other unofficial gatekeepers.

Furthermore, while Brooks seems to think his insensitivity derives from choosing a tony sandwich joint beyond his friend’s culinary vocabulary, there’s much more insensitivity to unpack. First, friends don’t talk about friends this way. There’s the bare violation of pointing out his friend’s limited education (which, by national standards, isn’t that unusual; only a third of U.S. residents have a college degree, according to 2015 Census data).

Then, there’s the assumption that her education is the culprit behind her discomfort. We don’t know why her face froze; perhaps, she was avoiding salty cold cuts or was brought up short by the sticker shock of a fancy Gotham City sandwich. And Brooks does a fair amount of assuming about the tastes of those who have finished college: Most college degrees don’t come with a prerequisite course in Italian Lunch Meat 101, and, indeed, the mass-produced cafeteria food on most college campuses is not designed to stimulate adventurous eating.

The story is being told about her, not by her or with her, and Brooks has made his friend an unwitting representative of less-educated U.S. residents.

Now, Brooks doesn’t share anything about his friend’s political tastes or socioeconomic status. I won’t make the mistake of presuming the friend’s race or wealth. But the implication is clear in Brooks’ hierarchy. There are People Who Know Mortadella When They See It and then there are the Others; let’s call the latter the Baloney/Burrito Eaters. It is this presumed, artificial divide—echoing the wider media conversation about “elites” and the working class—that Brooks blames for the downfall of the United States.

It’s not surprising that politicians and pundits alike use food metaphors to describe this hyperpolarized country and its politicians—a tactic that produces mixed results. Food has long been a cultural signifier. Some commentators use it to argue “food brings us together;” others point to the stark disparities between those who work in the low-wage food service sector, those who pick our strawberries, and those who can afford to eat organic. We use metaphors about who gets a “piece of the pie” to talk about access to resources and influence. President Donald Trump generates and attracts food talk and metaphors. Who can forget this Cinco de Mayo tweet, extolling his love of a Trump Tower taco bowl and “Hispanics”? Or that he considered New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie worthy of only meatloaf—a low-key fat joke and an obvious snub that was the side dish to Trump’s denial of a plum political appointment to the Garden State politician. Or that Trump orders his steak well-done, no pink but with ketchup.

Just as Brooks drew questionable links between his chum’s schooling and palate, many outraged meat lovers regarded Trump’s steak orders as a dismaying prophesy. The most powerful man in the the country, with chefs at his disposal in the White House and his many real-estate properties, prefers dry, gray beef. The country had landed in the wrong hands, they declared with a hint of food elitism and hyperbole. Maybe it’s easier for many of us to deal with this country’s political corruption and dysfunction by talking about beef, deli meat, and faux-cheese puffs.

Christine Grimaldi, Federal Policy Reporter

As someone who grew up on antipasto platters that preceded even Americanized summer barbecue fare, Brooks’ description of Italian deli meats as the cuisine of the elite rang hollow, considering how many people of Italian descent would cringe at his formality. The Italian-Americans and American-Italians clustered around New York and New Jersey still use variations of their ancestors’ dialects from the poor southern region of the homeland. What Brooks calls capicollo, they would call gabagool.

And while it’s delicious, it can be pretty lowbrow. Meadow Soprano, the daughter of the eponymous gangster on HBO’s The Sopranos, once told her grandmother, “Don’t eat gabagool, Grandma. It’s nothing but fat and nitrates,” as her father’s paisanos beckoned for the packed tray.

Perhaps Italian food seemed like a safe choice to take a friend with merely a high school diploma, given the cuisine’s assimilation into white American culture. Italian immigrants were seen as the “other” when they arrived in droves in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and they challenged authority at the forefront of activist movements, as historian Jennifer Guglielmo wrote in her book, Living the Revolution: Italian Women’s Resistance and Radicalism in New York City, 1880-1945. That changed by the 1940s, thanks to what writer James Baldwin called the “price of the ticket.”

“Many joined efforts to keep people of color out of ‘their’ families, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces,” Guglielmo wrote. “Embracing whiteness meant the ability to avoid many forms of violence and humiliation. It meant preferential access to citizenship, property, higher wages, political power, and social status, among other privileges. It also meant, as Baldwin noted, that Italians had to ‘look with loathing upon everything native whites loathed.’ Many did so by embracing ‘the delusion of white supremacy’ as it was enacted all around them, through violence, segregation, and other forms of disassociation.”

Sound familiar? Baldwin’s “delusion of white supremacy” is on full display under President Trump. Hate crimes rose 20 percent in nine metropolitan areas. Hate groups increased for the second year in a row as Trump “energized” the radical right, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Yet, many Italians have stood by their man.

“White voters who identify most strongly with their German or Italian heritage strongly support Trump, whereas those who self-identify as Irish, English, or Scottish are more evenly split between Trump and Hillary Clinton,” according to a pre-election BuzzFeed News poll.

Look no further than Trump surrogate and notorious racial antagonist Rudy Giuliani, the New York City mayor who once defended undocumented immigrants. Giuliani claimed that Trump sought his counsel on a Muslim ban, including “the right way to do it legally.” Months later, Giuliani downplayed his role, as the unconstitutionality of the Muslim ban became all the more apparent.

Whitewashed Italian food must have seemed safe for Brooks’ friend, who became a populist stereotype in his retelling. But in the end, it was apparently too unfamiliar for her. So, in one of the great little ironies of Trump’s America, he turned to Mexican food instead.

Tina Vasquez, Immigration Reporter 

In one seemingly innocuous paragraph about food choices, Brooks positioned Mexican food as the ultimate Food of the People, the one cuisine approachable enough for all Americans to embrace—even those with high school diplomas and no frame of reference for European cold cuts.

Brooks goes on to write, “American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class.”

Like many white journalists, Brooks is writing about class disparities without mentioning race. But perhaps the most frustrating implication is that those outside of the upper-middle-class don’t know how to read these cultural signifiers. Those of us who are people of color without college degrees and who grew up or continue to be low-income learn very early on what cultural signifiers are. They mean that something is not intended for us, even if it was—as is often the case—created by us.

Cultural signifiers look like loncheras in Los Angeles slinging $1 tacos de lengua in Latino neighborhoods for decades, and being criminalized for it and referred to as “roach coaches.” But when white Americans “discovered” food trucks and sold overpriced gringo-ized Mexican-inspired fare, it became hip (not to mention big business). A cultural signifier is when Starbucks opens in a predominantly Latino neighborhood and sells “hibiscus iced tea.” Those uneducated folks Brooks pities know these encroachments and outright theft are signs of impending, full-scale gentrification, and that white folks weren’t aware agua de jamaica was already a thing.

When attempting to illustrate what he means by a cultural signifier, Brooks refers to himself as “insensitive” for making the great mistake of taking a lowly high school diploma holder to a gourmet sandwich shop, not realizing his line about Mexican food signifies to the rest of us what Brooks thinks of Mexican food: It’s pedestrian.

But you see, it’s not. Non-Latino Americans want it to be; they need it to be. Here in North Carolina, where it’s not uncommon to see Trump stickers on parked cars outside of Mexican restaurants, white diners in particular order the ever-popular “ACP,” never having to pronounce “arroz con pollo” or know that the cheese-sauce covered version they love does not resemble the real deal, a dish that sounds deceptively simple but requires great skill to make well. Tacos, another seemingly simple dish, have become synonymous with ground beef, sour cream, and cheese, erasing the beautiful complexity of meat on a tortilla, always served with raw onion, cilantro, and lime—the aromatics, acid, and herbs that any professional chef will tell you takes a dish from good to great.

“It’s too easy to say Mexican food is an all-American food: To say as much is to ignore the tortured relationship between Mexicans and their adopted country,” Gustavo Arellano writes in Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. “But Mexican food is as much of an ambassador for the United States as the hot dog, whether either country wants to admit it or not.”

Maybe Brooks was saying that nothing is more American than Mexican food. After all, Latinos have been the largest ethnic minority in the country for more than a decade, and salsa long ago surpassed ketchup as America’s favorite condiment. In implying that Mexican food is very American—while still denigrating it—Brooks typifies the attitudes about education, class, and difference for which he belittled his friend.

Attorneys for Anti-Abortion Activist David Daleiden Held in Contempt of Court

A federal judge on Tuesday held two attorneys for David Daleiden in contempt of court after video footage surreptitiously recorded at a National Abortion Federation (NAF) private event appeared on their website in violation of an injunction.

Daleiden, head of the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress, has fought legal battles related to his “Human Capital Project,” a series of misleadingly edited videos claiming to expose Planned Parenthood as black market traffickers of fetal tissue.

Daleiden and an associate, Sandra Merritt, infiltrated private NAF meetings, recorded video footage despite signing contracts promising not to, and released the footage after deceptively editing it to suggest Planned Parenthood was performing illegal “partial birth” abortions and profiting from the sale of what Daleiden and his supporters ominously call “fetal body parts.”

NAF filed a lawsuit in federal court asking that any further publication of illicitly recorded footage be blocked. United States District Judge William Orrick issued a temporary restraining order in July 2015, and in a blistering opinion in which he said the defendants had “engaged in repeated instances of fraud,” converted the temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction in February 2016.

The injunction blocks CMP and Daleiden from publishing or disclosing “any video, audio, photographic, or other recordings taken, or any confidential information learned at any NAF annual meetings.”

By publishing video footage on their website, Daleiden’s attorneys, Steve Cooley and Brentford Ferreira, violated that injunction, the judge ruled at Tuesday’s hearing.

Cooley and Ferreira justified publishing the material as necessary to Daleiden’s defense against criminal charges he faces in California, according to Courthouse News. State prosecutors from California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office have charged Daleiden with 14 felony counts of unlawfully recording people without their permission and one count of conspiracy to invade privacy, stemming from his covert recordings of Planned Parenthood staffers and officials. Those charges were dropped but have since been refiled.

Matthew Geragos, the lawyer representing Cooley and Ferreira at Tuesday’s contempt hearing, claimed the two attorneys were “legally entitled” to publish the videos to find witnesses and other information that could help defend Daleiden against the felony charges in California state court, according to the Washington Post.

“We take criminal defense seriously,” Geragos said at the hearing.

But Orrick rejected Geragos’s argument.

“With respect to the criminal defense counsel, they do not get to decide whether they can violate the preliminary injunction,” Orrick said, according to the Post.

There was “no possible excuse” for the video footage to appear on the attorneys’ website, the judge added.

Orrick did not say whether he would hold Daleiden and CMP in contempt, though he ordered the anti-abortion activist and his attorneys to pay damages to NAF. NAF is seeking to recover legal costs related to the contempt proceedings and expenses for increased security measures used to protect providers exposed by the leak.

Orrick said he would issue a written ruling shortly. That ruling is expected to include the amount of damages Daleiden and his attorneys have to pay.

Sessions Talks to Anti-LGBTQ Group Behind Closed Doors

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday spoke at a private conference hosted by the conservative legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). ADF is representing a Colorado baker who was sued after refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, in a case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this fall.

Sessions’ meeting with ADF inflamed Democrats, as well as organizations that advocate on behalf of LGBTQ equality, such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), who say ADF works to undermine rights for LGBTQ people and promote hate. But they appear to be equally concerned with the apparent secrecy of the meeting. Neither the Justice Department nor ADF have published any information about the meeting or its purpose.

Sessions’ remarks will not be released to the public, DOJ spokesperson Ian Prior told Rewire in an email. 

“How can we trust that the nation’s top law enforcement officer will protect all Americans when he’s willing to meet behind closed doors with a group that supports criminalizing homosexuality and marginalizing LGBT people around the world?” SPLC deputy legal director David Dinielli said in a statement. The group urged the attorney general to make his remarks public.

A press guidance detailing Sessions’ Tuesday schedule identified the conference as “Alliance Defending Freedom: Summit on Religious Liberty.” ADF, a 24-year-old conservative Christian nonprofit legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, has no information about the summit on its website, and declined to provide Rewire information on the events’ sponsors, speakers, or lecture topics.

Jason Aguilar, pastor of the Cloud Church, in Irvine, California, tweeted a link to an Instagram photo on Sunday stating he was “spending a couple of days” at the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point, California, for the ADF conference. A receptionist for the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel would not confirm whether the hotel hosted the ADF summit, and the hotel’s public relations director did not return a call from Rewire.

“It’s a private event attended mostly by people in the legal profession with an interest in religious freedom. Pretty simple,” ADF Vice President of Communications Greg Scott told Rewire in an email, punctuating his response with a smiley emoji.

Sessions’ appearance at ADF’s private summit suggests the anti-LGBTQ group has the ear of the nation’s top prosecutor.

The Supreme Court announced last month that it would hear a discrimination lawsuit initially filed in 2012 against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, who refused to design a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony, citing his religious beliefs. ADF’s lawyers have argued that Phillips was not outright refusing service to gay patrons but was choosing not to participate in an event that he says violated his religious convictions. Sessions’ staff declined to comment on whether the attorney general’s participation in the ADF summit signaled a shift in the DOJ’s position on this case, BuzzFeed reporter Dominic Holden tweeted.

Of course, this lawsuit is not the only area the ADF would seek to influence the U.S. attorney general.

President Trump in May signed an executive order promising to “vigorously enforce” federal religious freedom laws, also known as religious imposition laws. Months earlier, the Nation reported on a leaked draft of the executive order, which seemed to grant people and businesses the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people on the basis of religious beliefs. Though the final version of the executive order did not include those specifics—to the relief of progressive groups and the ire of organizations opposed to LGBTQ rights—the vague language in Trump’s order does not prevent the kind of discrimination explicitly sanctioned in the leaked version, as Rewire’s Jessica Mason Pieklo wrote.

The order empowered the attorney general to create agency guidance on how to interpret “religious liberty protections in Federal law.” Such guidance has not yet been issued.

Sessions has already withdrawn guidance created for the DOJ and the Department of Education under the Obama administration stating that transgender students attending federally funded schools have a right to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identities.

After Trump released the executive order, James Gottry, ADF’s director of marketing and legal counsel, called it a “small but important step toward reclaiming religious freedom,” but criticized the order for not explicitly protecting “faith-based adoption agencies, federal employees who express pro-marriage or pro-life views, and recipients of federal grants or contracts” against discrimination charges.

ADF has for years wielded powerful influence among state attorneys general across the country and has helped to draft copycat legislation limiting LGBT equality, aRewire has reported.

ADF has enjoyed increasing influence within the Trump administration. The administration recently appointed former ADF counsel Matthew Bowman to a senior legal position within the Department of Health and Human Services. Bowman successfully argued a Supreme Court case against the Obama administration’s birth control benefit, in which the Roberts Court determined corporations could refuse to provide health insurance coverage for contraception based on religious convictions.

Meet the Federal Agency Keeping Track of Betsy DeVos

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) is quickly becoming a key agency in the Trump administration’s laser-focused attack on civil rights. So far, Secretary Betsy DeVos has attempted to roll back protections for transgender students, campus sexual assault survivors, and students who claim they were subjected to predatory student loan practices—usually by a for-profit college, of which DeVos is a proponent. Civil rights advocates have pushed back, filing lawsuits challenging and denouncing the department’s drastic reversals of Obama-era education policy.

While those lawsuits work their way through the courts, though, another watchdog has its eye on the DOE specifically and the Trump administration generally: the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR).

USCCR, which was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, was established as an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding federal agency with a mission to “inform the development of national civil rights policy and enhance enforcement of federal civil rights laws.” It exists outside the executive branch and without a cabinet head—unlike the DOE, for example, which is headed by a political appointee and directly reports to the president. Also, unlike the DOE, its chair cannot be fired by the sitting president except for “neglect of duty and malfeasance in office.”

USCCR doesn’t have the power to enforce any civil rights laws. Instead, its job as an agency is to promote and protect civil rights through investigations and reporting on governmental failure or successes. These efforts can then become the basis of either future legislation or litigation, depending on what the commission finds—including detailed reports of where civil rights enforcement has fallen short, with recommendations on how to remedy those failures. 

Catherine Lhamon, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in December 2016 to serve a six-year term, is the commission’s current chair. Through that position, Lhamon can help shape the commission’s agenda and actions. Before serving on the commission, she was the assistant secretary for civil rights at the DOE beginning in 2013. There, Lhamon helped draft the Obama administration’s 2016 Title IX guidance for notifying schools receiving public funds that refusing transgender students access to bathrooms and facilities that align with their gender identity, rather than biological sex, was a violation of federal law.

Lhamon’s background in civil rights enforcement, particularly in the DOE, is turning out to be a crucial firewall to the attacks on student civil rights DeVos has already initiated. In mid-June, the commission voted unanimously to launch a two-year investigation and assessment of the Trump administration’s enforcement of federal civil rights laws, citing, among other concerns, DeVos and her department’s handling of civil rights issues under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

“The commission’s charge is to be the nation’s eyes and ears about federal civil rights issues that range from voting rights, to discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, disability, age, and also access to justice and the courts,” Lhamon explained to Rewire in an interview in June following USCCR’s announced two-year review. 

One of DeVos’ first acts as education secretary was, along with the Justice Department, to roll back the Obama-era Title IX guidance surrounding transgender student rights that Lhamon had helped draft.

“What the Department of Justice said when they withdrew [the guidance document on transgender student rights] was that there had been insufficient legal analysis, and so they wanted to take a look at the issue some more,” Lhamon said. 

“I take very serious issue with that,” she said. “That could not be further from the truth. I and my colleagues in the Department of Education and the Department of Justice filed amicus briefs in the Gavin Grimm case both at the Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit explaining the detailed legal analysis that was required and the basis for the guidance itself.”

Rolling back the Title IX guidance was just the beginning. Shortly afterward, the Trump administration quietly began to stop investigating claims by transgender students that their civil rights were being violated at school and to drop ongoing litigation involving those districts the DOE had previously found to be in violation of Title IX in their treatment of transgender students. 

Attorneys in the Trump administration “have taken positions in court to withdraw support for students in ongoing litigation for transgender students,” said Lhamon. “It’s terrible.”

According to Lhamon, this includes a complaint filed by a 12 year-old student

“The district has been harassing her since she was in kindergarten, deliberately misgendering her, deliberately calling her her old name, having an adult follow her to find out which bathroom she uses. They require the students to line up by boys and girls in class and they give her no choice,” said Lhamon. 

The DOE, under the Obama administration, had found this student was discriminated against and began legal proceedings against the school district. The Trump administration reversed course completely in this case; not only did it withdraw the findings that this behavior amounted to Title IX violations, it withdrew the case altogether, despite existing court orders in place to try and remedy the discriminatory acts.

What happens next for those students’ claims is not entirely clear.

“I do not understand this,” said Lhamon. “They do not have jurisdiction to do what they have done. It’s harmful to students. It’s harmful to the students in the particular cases and it is harmful to every student in the United States because what they have now communicated is that the Office for Civil Rights is not the office for all civil rights. It is only the office for civil rights that they at this moment chose to enforce.”

“It is not within their discretion and it is appalling,” she said. 

USCCR’s announcement that it would be closely watching the Trump administration apparently did nothing to deter officials from continuing their attacks on student civil rights. In late June, Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary of education for civil rights, announced the Trump administration would seek to reverse an Obama-era policy that made public a list of colleges and universities under investigation for sexual assault-related violations of Title IX.

DeVos also announced in late June that she would delay implementation of an Obama-era rule designed to protect students from predatory lending practices. DeVos characterized this as part of a broader “regulatory reset” of policies aimed at curbing abusive student loan practices, particularly by for-profit colleges. In response, 18 states and the District of Columbia sued the administration alleging that the Trump administration has no legal basis to delay implementation of the rule. The lawsuit requests the federal courts order the administration allow the rule to take effect as finalized. The court has not yet ruled on that request.

If ever the need existed for independent agencies like USCCR, it is now. President Trump has so far successfully packed agencies like the Departments of Education; Justice; Health and Human Services; and Labor with conservative extremists who have shown little interest in protecting, let alone advancing, civil rights for marginalized people in this country. In two years, the commission will release the results of its investigation and assessment of civil rights enforcement under the Trump administration. Although it may not affect this administration’s behavior, it may help to shape lawsuits or legislation to prevent similar behavior in the future. Because it’s safe to assume the report won’t bring good news.

Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall Has Spent Decades Promoting Anti-Choice Views

In his bid to keep his seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, Republican Bob Marshall’s record on issues affecting the LGBTQ community have thrust him back into the national spotlight, but his extreme stances also extend to abortion and contraception.

In Virginia in 2014, 92 percent of counties had no clinics that offered abortion care, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and 78 percent of Virginia women lived in those counties. Since he took office in the state, Marshall has worked to see those numbers increase.

Marshall’s work as an anti-choice advocate began decades ago when he worked at the anti-choice American Life Lobby in the 1980s. He continued to work for what apparently became known as the American Life League (ALL), even after he began to represent District 13. The organization formed in 1979 after its founders broke from the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) because, according to a 2006 investigative document produced by Catholics for Choice—which refers to the American Life Lobby and the American Life League as the same group—they deemed the NRLC “too moderate.” Even many far-right conservatives and anti-choice advocates have condemned ALL as too extreme.

Chief among ALL’s extreme views is the condemnation of birth control methods such as the pill and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

As ALL spokesperson, Marshall lauded a 1985 policy shift by the Agency for International Development to allow overseas organizations promoting “natural family planning”—also known as the rhythm method, through which women track menstrual cycles and abstain from sex during the period when they are ostensibly most fertile—to forgo telling patients about contraceptive options. Under the policy change, groups offering contraception were required to also tell women about the rhythm method. Speaking to the Associated Press at the time, Marshall falsely claimed that “birth control leads to abortion.”

A few years later, Marshall, who was by that point ALL’s research director, spoke to then-Boston Globe reporter Bella English and again railed against contraceptives. “We’re against the IUD and pills, too,” Marshall said, falsely claiming that these methods of birth control cause abortions.

Over the course of the interview, Marshall also said that legal abortion and birth control were responsible for any number of society’s ills, from matters of military and economic security to a supposed increase in sexual assaults. He went as far as to tell the columnist, “In Florida, retirees are working at McDonald’s because there’s not enough kids to do it.”

When asked if abortion should be allowed in cases of rape and incest, Marshall replied: “What if incest is voluntary?”

“Sometimes it is,” he went on, later adding that in instances of sexual assault “Your origins should not be held against you,” seemingly referencing to the fetus.

When asked by the Washington Times in 2014, Marshall stood by these comments. He claimed, according to the outlet, “the author [of the Globe piece] was missing the point and that the position is based on what is written in law.”

“It doesn’t make it right or legal,” Marshal told the Times. “It just gives the facts.”

During his initial run in 1991 to represent Virginia’s then-newly formed 13th state house District, abortion played a role in the race. Democratic candidate Dale Reynolds attempted to highlight Marshall’s “extremist” background on the issue, according to a  Washington Post Virginia Weekly report from October of that year. Ultimately, Marshall prevailed and began his long tenure in Virginia politics.

It didn’t take long for Marshall to begin legislating based on his anti-choice beliefs. In 1993, the Washington Post reported that the new Virginia delegate had already made a name for himself as “a constant presence on the floor, crusading against abortion, Norplant, sex education, feminists and ‘eco-terrorists’” during his first term.

That same year, Marshall introduced a measure requiring young women under the age of 18 to notify their parents and the parents of their sexual partner before obtaining an abortion. He’d later introduce a similar measure in subsequent years.

Over the course of his time in the Virginia House of Delegates, Marshall has continued to be a reliable anti-choice vote and has continuously introduced other extreme measures restricting access to reproductive health care. In the last seven years alone, he has introduced at least 15 measures and amendments specifically pertaining to abortion, including failed attempts to further regulate abortion providers. Perhaps most notably, Marshall co-sponsored Virginia’s infamous “transvaginal” ultrasound bill, which required those seeking an abortion to have an invasive ultrasound.

In a 2012 interview with HuffPost, Marshall told the outlet that he also went out of his way to insert anti-choice amendments into unrelated legislation to force other members to go on the record with their abortion positions. “For example, I might amend a bill that deals with life insurance to say the child killed in utero should be recognized as a legal person,” Marshall said, seemingly referring to so-called personhood measures. “Just put that in there and stipulate it. I’ve seen massive shifts on lobbying and delegates pulling their bills because they know I’ll amend them and that I know how to do it in a germane way.”

He later said “it doesn’t bother him that his anti-abortion amendments might kill or stall an important bill,” according to HuffPost.

Marshall has been a longtime advocate for “personhood” measures, a type of legislation that typically seeks to grant legal protections to embryos and fetuses and could outlaw many forms of contraception as well as abortion. He was the primary sponsor of several failed measures and amendments seeking to make that position into law in Virginia. According to NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Marshall’s attempt to pass such legislation in 2012 would have laid the legal groundwork to ban abortion without exception.” Talking points on the bill pushed by Marshall on the subject when he was up for re-election in 2013 denied that his bill would have further restricted abortion or contraceptive access. 

More recently, Marshall has sought to temper his position on reproductive rights by introducing measures purporting to ensure women are not arrested for using contraception or having an abortion should abortion be criminalized or his “personhood” amendments pass.

However, women are already being punished for abortion—including a Virginia woman that state prosecutors allege induced a later abortion.

While many of Marshall’s favored measures specifically pertained to abortion rights, he has also objected to less controversial legislation.

In 2003, Marshall waged a particularly contentious war against emergency contraception. According to an account of the matter published that year in Time, Marshall was “outraged” upon learning that a state-funded university had provided the so-called morning after pill, which he falsely claimed amounts to abortion, to students at least 2,000 times since 1995. The Virginia delegate penned a letter on the matter to James Madison University that subsequently caused the campus to review its policy and cease providing the pills. Ultimately, the college reversed that decision. 

The following year, he introduced a measure that would have prohibited “any public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth from making available the morning-after pill in its delivery of health care services to students.”

When Virginia moved to mandate to vaccinate sixth-grade girls in the state for the human papillomavirus, Marshall initially introduced a measure to delay that vaccination requirement in 2010, and later attempted to take it off the books entirely.

He has relied on falsehoods about contraception to push his views on the issue, including his opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit. During a 2014 debate on the topic, he reportedly falsely claimed that access to contraception was as simple as going “to Walmart and pay[ing] $9 a month,” adding that “you can go out and buy this if you want; don’t compel me to do it.”

And in February of this year, Marshall was the sole member of the Virginia House of Delegates to vote against the Birth Control Access Act, legislation allowing pharmacists in the state to give women with a doctor’s prescription a year’s worth of birth control pills.

In Virginia, reproductive rights have long been a key election-year issue. Gubernatorial candidates on both sides of the aisle have already continuously clashed throughout the 2017 election cycle on the issue, as the victor of that race will act as the final barrier on related legislation.

All 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, including Marshall’s, will be up for re-election this November. With Marshall’s far-right record on LGBTQ issues already on blast in his bid for re-election, his record on reproductive rights and freedoms may not be far behind.

These States Are Moving to Protect Birth Control Access as Congress Debates ACA Repeal

State lawmakers aren’t waiting to see what GOP repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will look like or if the Trump administration will follow through on its promise to gut access to contraception without co-pay. At least eight states have taken a proactive approach and enshrined Obamacare’s birth control benefit into their own laws.

Over the past year, lawmakers in some states have passed legislation protecting access to contraceptives, ensuring that provision of the ACA remains intact in their states, no matter what congressional Republicans or the Trump administration do to roll back access. By one estimate, more than 55 million women can now get birth control without out-of-pocket costs because of Obamacare. But that access is not guaranteed: Republican leaders in the Senate have repeal of the law squarely in their crosshairs, even if they’re having trouble gathering the votes to make it happen, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price says “there’s not one” woman who can’t afford birth control.

Some GOP-held legislatures, meanwhile, have taken steps to restrict ready access to contraceptives. In Iowa, after a Republican-backed law cut state funding for Planned Parenthood by about $2 million because the reproductive health-care organization provides abortion care, a new state family planning program directs people seeking birth control services to a list of providers that includes Catholic-affiliated clinics, which often oppose the use of contraceptives. Religiously affiliated groups en masse have successfully fought against the birth control benefit all the way up to the Supreme Court to avoid providing their employees with contraception coverage.

The state protections vary, but frequently include provisions that require insurers cover a range of contraception, such as birth control pills and long-acting intrauterine devices. Some even allow pharmacists to dispense the medication without having a doctor’s prescription, and Democratic-majority legislatures in Oregon and California require that insurers cover abortion services. In Oregon, that legislation now covers abortion at no out-of-pocket cost to consumers.

Here’s a list of states that have moved to protect contraceptives without co-pay and what they have done:

  • Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signed a bill July 3 that requires insurers to cover contraceptives at no out-of-pocket cost to consumers. The bill authorizes pharmacists to prescribe and give a 12-month supply of contraceptives to patients, and for pharmacists to be reimbursed for doing so. It is effective immediately.
  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) says she’ll soon sign a bill that requires insurers to cover reproductive care, including birth control, at no out-of-pocket cost to consumers. The bill would require insurers cover abortion care without co-pay and take effect in mid-January 2018.
  • In Maine, lawmakers in May passed a bill mandating insurers cover at least one contraceptive in each method of contraception at no out-of-pocket cost to patients. The law takes effect without the governor’s approval 90 days after the legislature adjourns.
  • Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval signed bipartisan legislation June 5 that requires all public and private health plans to cover up to a 12-month supply of contraceptives without co-pay. The law is effective January 1.
  • A bill pending in Massachusetts would outlaw consumer cost sharing for contraceptives, though its prospects appear uncertain in this legislative session.
  • A bill in New York would have similarly required insurers not charge people for contraceptives, but that bill died in the state senate in June.
  • Illinois’ Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in July 2016 signed a bill that requires individual or group health insurance plans to cover contraception, including contraceptive devices, at no out-of-pocket cost to patients. The law does not apply to employers with self-insured health plans, but it does require insurance companies cover a 12-month supply of contraceptives.
  • Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in May 2016 signed a bill that prohibits state-regulated insurance plans from charging consumers for contraceptives and vasectomies. Maryland’s law covers over-the-counter emergency contraception, such as Plan B, and the state has acted to preserve funding for Planned Parenthood, another GOP target.
  • Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) in May 2016 signed a bill requiring insurers to cover contraceptives, including vasectomies, without consumer cost sharing.
  • California in 2014 enacted a law requiring insurers cover contraceptives without co-pay. A separate law in the state requires that insurers treat maternity coverage and abortion coverage in the same manner. And in 2016, lawmakers required all health plans to cover a 12-month supply of contraceptives.

Standing in the Way of a Gas Pipeline Project: Nuns and a Makeshift Chapel

A small, wooden-slatted structure and an order of nuns drew more than 300 people on Sunday to the middle of a cornfield near Philadelphia.

The “Stand with the Sisters” protest opposes a natural gas pipeline project proposed through 37 miles of Lancaster County farms, waterways, and rural communities—including land owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, an international order of Catholic nuns.

The Oklahoma-based Williams Partners is seeking a right of way there for the 183-mile, $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise Project (ASP). Protesters opposing the easement access came from across the nation and included area farmers, Mennonites from Lancaster, and the Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky who have fought similar battles in their communities, said Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck of Lancaster Against Pipelines, a grassroots organization that built the makeshift chapel.

“I feel like we have really strong community support. There are a lot of people who feel like this pipeline is an injustice,” Clatterbuck, associate pastor of the Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster and a board member of the Lancaster Interchurch Peace Witness, told Rewire.

The hope is to bring more attention to projects that put corporate profit over local lives and environmental rights, and eventually, to encourage legislators to change laws that “violate or exploit their constituents in order to give way for large corporations to make more money,” she said.

The hour-long ceremony included an interfaith dedication, a chorus of Amazing Grace, and people tying more than 250 ribbons on the 50-by-50 foot structure as symbols of intentional prayers or statements for the protection of the land.

“The proposed pipeline is not just,” said nearby resident Jamie Beth Schindler, who shared her Jewish perspective.

A member of Lancaster Against Pipelines and a co-founder of Lancaster Action Now Coalition, an organization supporting and protecting marginalized communities, Schindler said she was proud to be a part of a dedicated group taking the road less traveled.

I’m here to lend my voice and my support to the consecration of this land and to the people, the women, the men and the families, who have made it their mission to protect the earth and the water from those who value profit over our health, well-being and safety,” she said in her speech.

The nuns have refused to sign a lease. They believe the pipeline violates their commitment to environmental justice as reflected in their land ethicwhich calls on them to “respect our interconnectedness and oneness with creation,” to “revere Earth as a sanctuary where all life is protected,” and “treasures land as a gift of beauty and sustenance and legacy for future generations.”

The project has been resisted for months, much in the vein of the #NoDAPL protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Fully operational on June 1, the 1,168-mile long, $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline has already leaked three times, threatening Native land and lives, according to a release from the Indigenous Environmental Network.

“This is foreboding as the company does not yet have a plan in place to address how they would contain and clean a serious spill,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said in an email statement. “We will continue to battle the operation of this pipeline in court and remind everyone that just because the oil is flowing now doesn’t mean that it can’t be stopped. The courts can stop it by demanding that the administration be held accountable for the full Environmental Impact Statement it initiated and then abandoned.”

In a victory for the tribes, a federal judge last month ruled that the permits authorizing the pipeline took shortcuts and requested additional briefings on whether to shut down the pipeline.

In Pennsylvania, hopes ran high last week when a U.S. district judge refused to grant Williams immediate possession of the land. The Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. (Transco), a subsidiary of Williams, is taking the nuns to court July 17 in a quest to seize the property by eminent domain. Two state environmental permits are still pending, according to Lancaster Online.

Despite the Adorers’ refusal to cooperate, Transco has approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to construct the pipeline. Until a federal court order of eminent domain allows the company to remove the chapel from the easement, the structure remains and all are welcome to visit or worship there, Clatterbuck said.

Andrea Ferich, a Penn State graduate student and watershed specialist from Centre County, Pennsylvania who attended the action, told Rewire she is “deeply concerned” about the proposed 388 water body crossings of the pipeline and water security across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“Oil and gas pipelines are extremely short-sighted and will continue to benefit only wealthy corporations. The economic costs of the ASP are far more than the benefits. I am concerned for the thousands of residents within the incineration hazard zone of this pipeline, and the continued impacts of the nearly 3,000 miles of new and proposed pipelines in Pennsylvania alone,” she said.