“Fighting Bad Science In The Senate”: The Days Of Making A Sport Of Trampling On Women’s Health And Rights Are Numbered
The Senate hearing for the Women’s Health Protection Act shows just how important it is for women’s health advocates to push for the facts.
The propensity of anti-choice advocates to eulogize false science was on full display on Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). That bill is a bold measure that would counter the relentless barrage of anti-choice legislation that has made abortion — a constitutionally protected medical procedure — altogether inaccessible for many U.S. women.
The bill was introduced last year by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Judy Chu, Lois Frankel and Marcia Fudge. It prohibits states from applying regulations to reproductive health care centers and providers that do not also apply to other low-risk medical procedures. It would, essentially, remove politicians from decisions that — for every other medical issue — remain between individuals and their providers.
The WHPA is long overdue. For the past three years, conservative lawmakers have used the guise of protecting women’s health to pass more than 200 state laws that have closed clinics, eliminated abortion services, and left women across the country without access to critical reproductive health care. The WHPA would reverse many of those policies and prevent others from being passed.
Tuesday’s hearing was representative of the broader debate over abortion rights. Those in favor of the bill argued that securing unfettered access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is critical to the health and lives of U.S. women and their families.
Those in opposition used familiar canards about abortion to argue that the law would be calamitous for U.S. women. Representative Diane Black of Tennessee had the gall to make the abortion-leads-to-breast cancer claim, one that has been disproven many times over. Others repeatedly cited the horrific cases of Kermit Gosnell, insinuating that all abortion providers (abortionists, in their lingo) are predatory and that late-term abortions are a common occurrence. In fact, if women had access to safe, comprehensive and intimidation-free care, Kermit Gosnell would have never been in business. Given the opposition’s testimony, you’d never know that late-term abortion is actually a rarity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90 percent of all abortions occur before 13 weeks gestation, with just over 1 percent taking place past 21 weeks.
At one point Representative Black argued that abortion is actually not health care. The one in three U.S. women who have undergone the procedure would surely argue otherwise.
Perhaps the most ironic testimony against the WHPA — and in favor of abortion restrictions – came from Senator Ted Cruz, who hails from Texas, a state with so many abortion restrictions that women are now risking their health and lives by self-inducing abortions or crossing the border to get care in Mexico. Senator Cruz attempted to validate U.S. abortion restrictions by referencing a handful of European countries with gestational restrictions on abortions. This was a popular argument during the hearing for Texas’ HB2 — the bill responsible for shuttering the majority of clinics in that state.
Cruz wins the prize for cherry picking facts to best support his argument. When citing our European counterparts, he conveniently ignored that such abortion restrictions are entrenched in progressive public health systems that enable all individuals to access quality, affordable (often free) health care, including comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Senator Cruz and his colleagues have adamantly opposed similar policies in the U.S., particularly the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for contraceptive coverage and Medicaid expansion. On the one hand conservatives lean on European policies to argue for stricter abortion restrictions at home, and on the other they claim those policies are antithetical to the moral fabric of the United States.
Would Cruz support France’s policies that enable women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and that guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control? Or Belgium’s policy that enables young people to be reimbursed for the cost of emergency contraception? Or the broad exceptions that both countries make for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons? He absolutely would not.
As the House of Representatives seems to be more motivated by suing the president than by voting on – let alone passing — laws that will actually improve the health and lives of their constituents, it’s highly unlikely that the WHPA will become law. But Tuesday’s debate – and the bill itself — is significant and shows a willingness among pro-choice advocates to go on offense after too many years of playing defense.
Bills such as the WHPA — even if they face a slim chance of being passed by a gridlocked Congress — provide an opportunity to call out conservatives’ use of bad science in their attempts to convince women that lawmakers know best when it comes to their personal medical decisions. And they allow us to remind lawmakers and citizens that despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary, abortion is a common, safe and constitutionally protected medical procedure, and that regulating it into extinction will only force women into back-alley practices like those run by Gosnell, costing them their health and their lives.
Those in support of the WHPA showed anti-choice lawmakers that the days of making a sport of trampling on women’s health and rights are numbered.
By: Andrea Flynn, Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute; The National Memo, July 18, 2014
“An Emboldened Anti-Choice Movement”: Republican Family Values Put Women’s Lives In Danger Worldwide
Last week, a committee in the US House of Representatives approved a spending bill that would slash funding for international family planning and reimpose a harmful policy that reduces contraceptive access and tramples on the rights of healthcare providers.
On Monday, the supreme court ruled that some US employers could deny employees access to birth control coverage if they claim a religious objection to contraception.
Is it just me, or do we seem to be in retreat? This latest disregard for women – in the US and overseas – is not unexpected, but it is certainly disappointing. In many ways, we have been fighting the same battle for the past 30 years. But the battle lines have shifted and, frequently, we have to struggle to retain hard-won ground.
When I started working on this issue in the early 80s, there was true, bipartisan support for family planning. Some of the most sincere anti-abortion Republicans realised that the consistent, commonsense public policy position for them to take would be to support overseas family planning funding. Better access to contraception would reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions, especially unsafe abortions.
The global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, was one of the first instances of the domestic anti-choice agenda interfering with the health and lives of women in developing countries. Introduced 30 years ago, during the Reagan administration, the policy bars foreign organisations that receive US family planning assistance from using their own private, non-US government funds to provide information, referrals, or services for legal abortion, or to advocate for the legalisation of abortion in their own countries.
Since it was introduced, the gag rule has been subject to the vagaries of US politics – imposed or kept in place by Republican presidents, and repealed by Democrat leaders. Though it was rescinded by President Obama on taking office in 2009, Republicans in the House have tried every year since to reinstate it.
Their efforts are testament to a rightward shift in US politics, including an emboldened anti-choice movement that has continued to gain political power. The middle has shrunk, the partisan divide has grown, and the Republicans being elected to Congress now are more extreme and bent on undermining women’s health and rights. Under the guise of “protecting the unborn”, the misguided policies they espouse threaten the health and lives of millions of women and families.
The US’s $610m contribution to international family planning and reproductive health in fiscal year 2014 helped 31 million women and couples receive contraceptive services and supplies. It prevented 7 million unintended pregnancies and 3 million abortions (2 million of them unsafe), and saved the lives of 13,000 women. In addition, 60,000 fewer children lost their mothers.
The fact is that family planning saves women’s lives. But in Washington these days, the facts do not matter. Last week Republicans on the House spending committee imposed a completely unnecessary cap on international family planning funding.
The House committee bill proposes cutting international family planning funding by $149m, almost 25% from current levels. Using analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, this would result in more than 7.7 million fewer couples using contraception, more than 1.6 million additional unintended pregnancies, and 745,000 more abortions. Almost 3,000 more women would die in pregnancy or childbirth, and 13,400 more children would lose their mothers. So much for family values.
We have been fortunate in that during the past few years, Republican attacks in the House have been blocked by Senate family planning champions, where, for now at least, Democrats retain control. This has essentially resulted in maintenance of the status quo on family planning policy and on funding. The Senate version of this year’s spending bill counters the House by including $644m for international family planning, and a permanent, legislative repeal of the global gag rule.
But this uneasy stalemate could change, depending on the outcomes in key races in November. If Republicans take control of the Senate, the truce will be broken and battle lines redrawn. The drastic cuts the House committee approved last week could be seriously considered in an omnibus spending bill, and an offensive could be mounted by opponents to attempt to force the gag rule on a pro-choice president.
The health of women around the world is far too important to continue to be thrust on to the frontline of US domestic culture wars.
By: Craig Lasher, Director of US Government Relations at Population Action International; The Guardian, July 17, 2014
In 2012, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) was facing a tough re-election fight in Missouri, so she helped boost the Republican she assumed would be the easiest to beat: then-Rep. Todd Akin (R). The plan worked extraordinarily well.
Akin was an extremist by any measure, but the far-right lawmaker secured a spot in the Awful Candidates Hall of Fame when he famously said women impregnated during a “legitimate rape” have a magical ability to “shut that whole thing down.”
Akin soon after lost by 15 points.
All of this unpleasantness, however, was two years ago. Now the far-right Missourian is back and he wants the spotlight again.
Todd Akin takes it back. He’s not sorry.
Two years after the Missouri Republican’s comments on rape, pregnancy and abortion doomed his campaign and fueled a “war on women” message that carried Democrats to victory in the Senate, one of the few regrets he mentions in a new book is the decision to air a campaign ad apologizing for his remarks. “By asking the public at large for forgiveness,” Akin writes, “I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said.”
Hmm. Todd Akin’s problem was that he was too … conciliatory?
Making matters worse, as Joan Walsh noted, Akin is not only retracting his 2012 apology, he’s also back to defending the comments that caused him so much trouble in the first place. “My comment about a woman’s body shutting the pregnancy down was directed to the impact of stress of fertilization,” Akin argues in his new book, adding that “this is something fertility doctors debate and discuss.”
Republican officials are clearly aware of Akin’s willingness to re-litigate whether women can “shut that whole thing down,” and they have a message for the former congressman: for the love of God, please stop talking.
Todd Akin is back talking about rape in his new book and Republicans have a message for him: Shut up. […]
“Todd Akin is an embarrassment to the Republican Party and the sole reason Claire McCaskill is still part of Harry Reid’s majority,” said Brian Walsh, who served as communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2012 cycle.
“It’s frankly pathetic that just like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell in 2010, he refuses to take any responsibility for sticking his foot in his mouth, alienating voters and costing Republicans a critical Senate seat. Worse, he’s now trying to make money off his defeat. The sooner he leaves the stage again the better.”
The GOP has vowed to prevent the stumbles on social issues that plagued Republican candidates on the trail last cycle. So its overwhelming reaction to Akin: his five minutes of fame need to be over.
That may be little more than wishful thinking. Yesterday afternoon, Planned Parenthood Votes issued a report that not only detailed Akin’s disturbing record, but connecting Akin to 2014 candidates. From the materials:
“Todd Akin and his dangerous agenda for women were soundly rejected by voters in 2012, yet candidates like Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner and Greg Abbott continue to follow in his footsteps,” said Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Votes. “Todd Akin’s appalling beliefs about women and rape were too extreme for America’s women, and they represent policy positions shared by politicians like Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis and Greg Abbott – among others. Just as Todd Akin was held accountable for his beliefs, these candidates will have to answer for their opposition to basic access to medical care for America’s women, and especially their cold indifference to women who are survivors of rape and incest.”
While Todd Akin was best known for his comments about legitimate rape, he also supported a wide range of measures – such as redefining rape, wanting to ban emergency contraception for survivors of rape and incest, and supporting measures that could interfere with personal, private, medical decisions relating to decisions about birth control, access to fertility treatment, management of a miscarriage, and access to safe and legal abortion – that were far too extreme for the vast majority Americans.
Similarly, Abbott, Tillis and Gardner have used their positions to do things such as prevent rape survivors from suing those who negligently hire their attackers, trying to deny rape survivors from accessing emergency contraception, and forcing survivors of rape and incest to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound before accessing an abortion.
Under the circumstances, the more Akin talks, the happier many on the left will be.
Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood but played no role in this piece.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 11, 2014
The debate over the Hobby Lobby case has been plagued by many problematic presumptions, but there’s one that even many people who disliked the decision seem to sign on to without thinking about it. It’s the idea that the health insurance you get through your employer is something that they do for you—not just administratively, but in a complete sense. But this is utterly wrong. You work, and in exchange for that labor you are given a compensation package that includes salary and certain benefits like a retirement account and health coverage. Like the other forms of compensation, the details of that insurance are subject to negotiation between you and your employer, and the government’s involvement is to set some minimums—just as it mandates a minimum wage, it mandates certain components health insurance must include.
Those who support Hobby Lobby are now talking as though mandating that insurance include preventive care is tantamount to them forcing you to make a contribution to your local food bank when you’d rather give to the pet shelter. You can see it, for instance, in this piece by Megan McArdle in which she tries to look at the clash of rights involved in this dispute, but running through the whole piece is the idea that an employee’s health insurance isn’t compensation for her labor but a piece of charity her boss has bestowed upon her for no reason other than the goodness of his heart. Referring to the question of whether the religious beliefs of Hobby Lobby’s owners are being imposed on its employees, she writes: “How is not buying you something equivalent to ‘imposing’ on you?” Then later she refers to “a positive right to have birth control purchased for me.”
But when your insurance coverage includes birth control, your employer isn’t “buying you” anything. Your employer is basically acting as an administrative middleman between you and the insurance company. Your employer isn’t the one whose money is paying the premiums, you are. It’s compensation for the work you’ve done, just as much as your salary is.
This goes all the way back to to the roots of our employer-based insurance system. During World War II, the government imposed wage and price controls, meaning employers couldn’t give raises. So they began to offer health insurance as an alternate form of compensation, and when the IRS decided in 1943 that insurance could be paid with pre-tax dollars, it made it all the more attractive as a form of compensation. And keep in mind that the preferential tax treatment of health insurance (which the self-employed don’t get) is a tax benefit to the employee, not the employer. If you eliminated it, employers’ balance sheets would stay the same (it would still be counted as an expense), but employees would have to pay taxes on the benefit.
You might or might not think that remembering the true nature of the insurance benefit should change the calculation in the Hobby Lobby case. I’m guessing that for the plaintiffs, it wouldn’t; they’d probably argue that even having to think about what sinful harlots their employees are imposes a “substantial burden” on their religious freedom. And as I’ve argued before, we should get rid of the employer-based insurance system entirely. That may happen eventually, but in the meantime, it’s good to remember just whose health insurance it is. It’s not your boss’. It’s yours.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 9, 2014
“It Will Be Ugly, And It Will Escalate”: Buffer Zones, Clinic Escorting, And The Myth Of The Quiet Sidewalk Counselors
The Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts “buffer zone” law — which barred antiabortion protests immediately outside clinics. Justice Scalia portrayed the law as hindering ‘sidewalk counselors’ who lovingly entreated women to consider alternatives. This portrayal, embodied by the grandmotherly petitioner, allowed some to view the decision as protecting gentle civility. Referencing one particular Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston, this “quiet counseling” was seen as well-intentioned, and, more importantly, constitutional.
It is also a myth — or at least a dramatic euphemism that applies to very few at the Boston site. I should know. I was there.
For four years, I volunteered as an escort on Saturday mornings. The scene described in the court — like a delusional game of telephone — was drastically different from reality.
Our mornings were mostly spent scanning the streets, attempting to spot patients before they approached the zealous spectacle. We’d tactfully ask if they were looking for the clinic, and walk them through the crowd.
Saturdays were favored by protesters, so escorts arrived in the early morning. Wearing identifying vests, we flanked the entrance and greeted patients outside the zone. Two would rotate to the back to watch the garage entrance, where only the more tenacious protestors wandered. We’d accompany patients up the long walk to the front, usually trailed by someone asking if Satan sent us. (He didn’t.)
During the freezing New England winters, we would briefly warm up inside, but were mostly left to stomp our feet and count how many toes we could feel. Once a month, a Christian band would show up, surreally, and hold a concert.
We knew the “quiet counseling” well. “Just like Auschwitz,” one would say, “you’re delivering them right into the furnace.” This particular protester would speak right into her ear — until he approached the painted line on the ground.
Sometimes, a male accompanying a patient would lose his cool. He could have been her boyfriend or brother. We didn’t know and never asked. Once they entered, the doors could burst back open and he would charge whichever protestor called his companion a whore. We would intervene.
Justice Alito felt the law represented “viewpoint discrimination” — constitutionally, one message can’t be favored over another. But as an escort, I never talked about abortion, even outside the zone. When guiding patients, I would detail what they could expect. I didn’t offer my perspective, or even criticize the protestors. My goal was to provide a calming presence seconds before what would be one of the more trying moments of their lives. I explained how to access the clinic, and maintained a low patter to distract them from strangers calling them beasts and murderers. If they were confused by the protestors’ Boston Police hats, we cleared that up too.
If the patient was African-American, the protestors said they were “lynching” their child. If the protestor was crying, they said the tears would never stop, even in hell. If a patient was with her mother, they thanked the mother — for not killing her own baby.
Surprisingly, those Saturdays were not without their lighter moments. For a group dedicated to attacking Planned Parenthood — a multi-purpose clinic — they seemed stunned when someone wasn’t seeking an abortion. “You’ll never be the same. You’ll always be a dirty killer,” one would say. A startled patient would respond, “Why would a Pap smear make me a dirty killer?” Many others sought birth control — though they didn’t approve of that either.
This is not to paint all protesters as unhinged. I still remember one young priest who didn’t condemn me and chose instead to make small talk — which we continued periodically. Another time, upon news of the Columbia shuttle deteriorating upon reentry, we all shared a collective moment of humanity.
Being in a college area, there were counter-protestors (also kept out of the buffer zone) — who promoted pro-choice politics through direct and shocking slogans. Many of us didn’t care for them either. We just wanted calm in an atmosphere of invective and hysteria.
The desire for calm stemmed, in part, from the 1994 Brookline shootings. The victims were known by some of my fellow volunteers. This very real risk led the police to call for a buffer zone. One of the victims, a 25-year-old receptionist, was not just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The murder was premeditated; her killer focused on her.
Even when I was there, clinic staff driving up would be greeted with protestors filming them and, not so subtly, stating the staffer’s home address. Those were the more chilling moments.
It is difficult (though not impossible) to argue that a unanimous Supreme Court case was wrongly decided. After all, it is a broad law. But that is not my goal. Instead, I’m writing to dispel the myth painted of Good Samaritans softly offering a helping hand. In the public relations war over whether the affected individuals were compassionate counselors or marauding bullies, many justices seemed to accept the former characterization.
The law was overturned as an overreaching infringement on free speech. Is this a free speech issue? Yes, of course it is. But as others have pointed out, buffer zones exist elsewhere, including outside the Supreme Court. Favoring free speech, the Court famously allowed Nazis to march in Illinois and, more recently, the Phelps church to picket funerals (at a distance). But parades and funerals eventually end. Here, the Court risks turning clinic entrances into permanently hostile environments — inciting those who have spent weeks agonizing over their decision. They overturned the express wishes of an elected legislature — including pro-life lawmakers who supported the measure in the interest of public safety.
Similar zones were upheld by the court in 2000, a ruling which was not overturned. Clinic entrances still cannot be blocked, and injunctions are allowed against particularly worrisome parties. Chief Justice Roberts even suggested other mechanisms the state can use in lieu of the zone. But it’s an ever-changing landscape, and those remaining precautions have become the next targets of these quiet counselors. Because, to those that brought the case, speech alone is not the goal.
The grueling decision of whether to have an abortion should never be taken lightly, and there is no shortage of advocates for either side that fill our collective eardrums. But that debate stops a few feet outside the clinic. Just like politicking outside voting booths, these last ditch efforts lose the veneer of debate and become akin to intimidation — which can easily morph into confrontation or devastating anguish. Anyone who wants to stop and chat can do so. But once patients decide to cross the line, they should be left alone. The Court noted that the environment is currently more peaceful than it once was. There’s a reason for that.
None of this is to say that this isn’t a legitimate debate. It is. But those who favor stripping the buffer zone away — what small help it is — shouldn’t kid themselves into thinking that a flood of polite conversation will follow. It will be ugly, and it will escalate.
By: Brian Giacometti, Field-based NGO Program Manager for Governance and Rule of Law; The Huffington Post Blog, July 7, 2014