If you’re looking for true Republican policy innovations, don’t bother with tax policy or national security; the place where the GOP is really exercising its creativity is in coming up with new ways to restrict abortion rights. In the latest inspired move, Republican state legislators in Ohio have introduced a bill to make it illegal for a woman to terminate her pregnancy because she has discovered that the baby would have Down syndrome. The bill is expected to pass, and though he hasn’t yet taken a position on it, it would be a shock if Governor John Kasich—who is both an opponent of abortion rights and currently in search of votes in the Republican presidential primary—didn’t sign it.
After it passes in Ohio (and even if by some strange turn of events it doesn’t), look for identical bills to come up in state after Republican-controlled state. Anyone who objects will of course be accused of wanting to kill children with disabilities.
As the New York Times article about the Ohio bill notes, this isn’t entirely unprecedented; there are a few states that have outlawed abortion for sex selection, and North Dakota has a similar law passed in 2013 forbidding abortions because of fetal genetic anomaly, though “advocates are not aware of enforcement of any such laws in the states that have them.” But this one lands not only in during a presidential primary, but also amid Republicans’ latest offensive against Planned Parenthood, driven by secretly recorded videos in which Planned Parenthood officials discuss the transfer of fetal tissue for research.
That effort may not accomplish all that much; while many conservatives (and a few presidential candidates) would like to shut down the government in order to “defund” the group, that probably won’t happen, and efforts by states to discover that Planned Parenthood is doing something illegal have come up empty. But it still creates a context in which Republicans are aggressive on the issue of abortion—particularly when it may be the only “culture war” issue on which they aren’t in full retreat.
This is one of those issues where there’s an emotionally freighted case for one side, a case that can seem compelling as long as you don’t think about it too deeply. Conservatives will argue that the law is necessary because so often when women learn that a fetus they’re carrying has the genetic anomaly that causes Down’s, she winds up having an abortion. And they’ll note that people with Down’s can have happy, fulfilling lives, which they can. They’ll no doubt tell stories of wonderful individuals they know who have the condition.
But if the question is only, “If this woman carried her pregnancy to term, would it be possible for the baby that would ultimately result to have a happy, fulfilling life?” then no abortion would be allowed. Some women have abortions because they got pregnant accidentally and are too young to raise a child. Is it possible for a child born to a young woman to grow up to have a happy, fulfilling life? Of course. Some women have abortions because they don’t want to raise a child with the biological father. Is it possible for a child raised by a single mother to grow up to have a happy, fulfilling life? Of course. Some women have abortions because they already have all the children they want. Is it possible for a child born to a family that already has plenty of children to grow up to have a happy, fulfilling life? Of course.
But if we’re going to say that a woman who wants to end her pregnancy because of Down syndrome will be legally barred from doing so, we’re saying that it will now be the government’s job to evaluate whether her reasons are good enough, and if the government thinks they aren’t, then she will be forced against her will to carry the pregnancy to term. For all the restrictions Republicans have successfully placed on abortion rights throughout the country, it isn’t yet the case that women have to explain to the government why they want the abortion and prove that they’re doing it for what the government considers the right reason.
Perhaps to expedite things, every women’s health clinic could come equipped with a special hotline to the state legislature, where any woman who wants to end her pregnancy would have to justify it to a Republican state representative, who would have the final say. Maybe that will be the next bright policy idea from the party that says it’s committed to getting government off your back.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, August 23, 2015
Another year, another controversy over Planned Parenthood. Selectively edited videos filmed by an anti-abortion activist have given partisans another excuse to attack women’s reproductive services, starting with those provided by a well-established non-profit dedicated to women’s health care. Never mind that abortions represent a tiny percentage of Planned Parenthood’s work.
Some Republicans have gone so far as to threaten to shut down the government unless all federal funding for Planned Parenthood is eliminated. (By law, none of that money supports abortion services.) Even as prominent Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell try to tamp down that impulse, others — firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) among them — continue to insist that the entire government should be brought to its knees when Congress returns to work after Labor Day.
This is really just another opportunity to try to limit women’s reproductive choices, another chance to grandstand and exaggerate. If this outrage reflected genuine concern about lives ended while still in the womb, wouldn’t more conservatives be worried about what happens to poor babies once they are born?
For decades now, I’ve listened to anti-abortion activists rail against a “culture of death,” a callous disregard for the unborn, the “murder” of babies still in the womb. I’ve witnessed protests outside abortion clinics, listened to “pro-life” state legislators mischaracterize rape, and covered misleading campaigns that suggest abortions lead to breast cancer and mental illness. I’ve watched as hostility toward Roe v. Wade has become a litmus test inside the Republican Party.
But here’s the disconnect: Over those years, I’ve also seen anti-abortion crusaders become increasingly hostile to programs and policies that would aid poor kids once they’ve come into the world. Conservative lawmakers have disparaged welfare, criticized federal housing subsidies and even campaigned against food assistance. How does that affect those children for whom they claim so much concern?
In Alabama, where anti-abortion sentiment is as commonplace as summer heat waves, the state legislature is contemplating cutting millions from Medicaid, the program that provides health care for the poorest citizens, including children. Meanwhile, the state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, are among those demanding that Planned Parenthood receive no more federal funds because of the controversy over the sale of fetal tissue.
To be fair, there are those among abortion critics who show a principled concern for poor children, whose opposition to abortion is paired with a passion for social justice. Take Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is among the rare GOP governors to support the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act. “Now, when you die and get to the meeting with Saint Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You’d better have a good answer,” he said in June.
Then there are the Catholic Health Association and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, led by nuns. They’ve also adopted assistance to the poor as a core mission.
Their compassion stands in contrast to the U.S. Conference of Bishops, which is largely known for its conservative stances on abortion and same-sex marriage. (That may change with Pope Francis, who has made social justice his hallmark.) Last year, I attended a Catholic high school commencement where the headmaster, a priest, bragged about the number of his students who had attended anti-abortion protests. He said nothing about protests over cuts in assistance to the poor.
It’s easy enough to inflame with the Planned Parenthood videos; without context (again, selective editing), leaders of the organization are heard discussing money for the donation of fetal tissue. That’s not a conversation that’s easy to hear.
But Planned Parenthood is doing nothing illegal, and fetal tissue research has been vital to improving the quality of life for an aging America. Many of those who are angered by the videos would be surprised to know that they may have benefited from fetal tissue research.
Still, I’d take their criticism more seriously if they’d spend as much time trying to help poor children once they are born. Since they don’t, they’re just engaging in a war on women — especially women who don’t have any money.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; Featured Post, The National Memo, August 15, 2015.
Hillary Clinton fielded some questions from campaign reporters yesterday, and not surprisingly, she was asked about Donald Trump. But the Democratic frontrunner clearly had a different group of Republicans on her mind.
“I think if we focus on [Trump’s antics], we’re making a mistake,” she said. “What a lot of the men on that stage in that debate said was offensive.” Highlighting Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) recent comments on prohibiting all abortions, regardless of circumstances, Clinton added, “[T]he language [Trump uses] may be more colorful and more offensive, but the thinking, the attitude toward women, is very much the same.”
She went on to say. ‘What Marco Rubio said has as much of an impact in terms of where the Republican Party is today as anybody else on that stage.”
It’s an important point. Rubio has now argued, more than once, that if a woman is impregnated by a rapist, the government has the authority to force her to take the pregnancy to term, regardless of her wishes. For Clinton, this matters every bit as much – if not more – than Trump’s ugly remarks about Fox’s Megyn Kelly.
For his part, Rubio seems to think he has a winner on his hands. Yesterday, the far-right Floridian, using social media and his campaign website, even launched a new initiative, alongside a big picture of a cat:
“Watch this video and sign this petition if you know that a human life won’t become a donkey or a cat.”
Yes, Marco Rubio, who last week seemed to adopt the posture of some kind of wonk, is now pushing a bold, new campaign message: fertilized human eggs don’t develop into cats.
As for the video Rubio is eager for the public to see, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte has the backstory:
When Rubio appeared on CNN after Thursday night’s Republican debate, he kept insisting that this vague entity called “science” has declared that human life begins at conception. (Actual biologists, for what it’s worth, argue that life is continuous and that a fertilized egg is no more or less alive than a sperm or an unfertilized egg.) CNN host Chris Cuomo vainly tried to point out that “science” says no such thing, and Rubio got a little excited.
“Let me interrupt you. Science has – absolutely it has. Science has decided… Science has concluded that – absolutely it has. What else can it be?” he asked. Then Rubio reared up for what he clearly intended as his wowza line: “It cannot turn into an animal. It can’t turn into a donkey. The only thing that that can become is a human being.”
Rubio, clearly pleased with himself, added, “[If scientists] can’t say it will be human life, what does it become, then? Could it become a cat?”
When Rubio’s website says “watch this video,” it shows the interview in its entirety.
Just so we’re clear, not even the most ardent pro-choice advocates believe fertilized human eggs could become a cat. They do believe, however, that there’s a difference between people and fertilized human eggs that might someday become people – in much the same way we differentiate between acorns and trees. What something is and what something may become under the right conditions are not identical.
Nevertheless, the far-right Floridian seems quite excited about his argument. He’ll have to hope it’s persuasive to a broad audience – Rubio’s no-abortions/no-exceptions position is further to the right than any Republican presidential nominee in the modern era.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 11, 2015
With one careless comment, Jeb Bush revealed a fundamentally indifferent attitude toward half the U.S. electorate.
“I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” he said in a speech at the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
It was a throwaway aside in a longer blather about defunding Planned Parenthood, and one imagines that no sooner were the words out of his mouth than his cringing consultants were drafting a clarification.
The inevitable statement soon followed, admitting he “misspoke” and adding that “there are countless community health centers, rural clinics and other women’s health organizations that need to be fully funded.”
Too late. The game was on. Hillary Clinton blasted back, “When you attack women’s health, you attack America’s health.”
I don’t believe Bush misspoke. There’s something about abortion he wishes to ignore: Abortion is a women’s health issue. You cannot separate abortion from this context.
Oppose it or not — and I do — abortion is a medical procedure that ends an unwanted or health-threatening pregnancy. If we want to encourage the trend toward decreasing numbers of abortions in this country — and no one in their right mind wants to see more of them — we need to bolster women’s reproductive health services. That means ensuring wide access to sex education and contraceptives. (It also means honestly admitting that an overwhelming majority of Americans accept that abortion should be permitted when a pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, or when the health of the mother is threatened.)
If you oppose abortion and you’re not ready to promote the most effective ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies, you’re not serious. If you call for “defunding” Planned Parenthood — as virtually the entire Republican Party does — you are attacking a leading purveyor of contraceptives and information about how to use them for women of limited economic resources. You’re also threatening to shut down 700 clinics that provide crucial preventative health measures like pap smears and refer women for mammograms.
About 85 to 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s work is providing these basic health services, often to low-income women without access to health insurance. That’s according to analysis of the organization done by PolitiFact. Abortions add up to about 3 percent of the organization’s services, and they are not funded with federal money.
A recent vote in the U.S. Senate to defund Planned Parenthood, which failed, called for redirecting the monies to other women’s health facilities that did not provide abortions. The problem is that there are far too few such clinics to meet the need. Moreover, the effort misunderstands how Planned Parenthood receives $528 million annually: mostly through Medicaid reimbursements and competitive Title X family planning grants.
The plain truth is that the Republicans who wish to destroy Planned Parenthood — and Bush is far from the most vociferous — really don’t care that the bulk of its work has nothing to do with abortion. Nor do they care about standards of accuracy in the accusations they make against the organization.
They have worked hand in glove with the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group inspired by the ethically dubious video techniques of conservative activist James O’Keefe. This group set up a phony front company and then lured Planned Parenthood officials into secretly videotaped conversations about providing fetal tissue for research. The group then released videos selectively edited to suggest that Planned Parenthood was in the illegal business of selling fetal tissue.
The bogusness of this charge is patently obvious when one views the unedited tapes, but that matters little to GOP opportunists, who promise all sorts of congressional inquisitions.
Fine. Hold hearings. See what you find. My guess is that it will be zilch (See: Benghazi).
Meanwhile, the American public needs to know that these new anti-abortion activists are picking up the cudgels of the folks that brought us the so-called Summer of Mercy protests that required federal marshals to restore order in Wichita, Kansas, in the 1990s. Tactics used to include clinic bombings and harassing any woman who set foot near a clinic, regardless of what services she might be seeking.
That phase of the movement failed, although it never went away. In 2009, Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller was shot dead at his church.
Pro-life activists have figured out that it’s better to co-opt the Republican Party than to engage in terrorism. That’s progress. Unfortunately, disingenuous attacks on women’s health care purely to court votes do no favors to either women or unborn babies.
By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion Page Columnist, The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, August 12, 2015
It must have been at least a week since we’ve had a major campaign “gaffe” (really, who can keep track?), so into that breach Jeb Bush bravely stumbled yesterday, seeming to dismiss the notion of spending too much on women’s health care, when he said “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” Naturally, Hillary Clinton was all over him, guaranteeing that there would be many stories written about it.
As regular readers know, I take a broadly anti-gaffe position. The assumption of gaffe coverage, that a single extemporaneous remark reveals something fundamental and true that the candidate who uttered it was trying to hide until it slipped out, is ridiculous. If a candidate says something and then later explains that it wasn’t what he meant — as Bush has done — he ought to be forgiven, since all of us say things the wrong way all the time.
But there may still be something we can learn from any particular gaffe — in this case, about the dynamics of controversy and the way presidential candidates can get swept by their party’s currents to places they might or might not want to go.
Let’s start by putting Bush’s statement in context. In an appearance before the Southern Baptist Convention, Bush was asked whether, when it comes time to fund the government with a continuing resolution, Congress should “say, ‘Not one more red cent to Planned Parenthood’?” Here’s his response:
“We should, and the next president should defund Planned Parenthood. I have the benefit of having been governor, and we did defund Planned Parenthood when I was governor. We tried to create a culture of life across the board. The argument against this is, ‘Well, women’s health issues are going to be — you’re attacking, it’s a war on women, and you’re attacking women’s health issues.’ You could take dollar for dollar — although I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues — but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinarily fine organizations, community health organizations that exist, federally sponsored community health organizations to provide quality care for women on a wide variety of health issues. But abortion should not be funded by the government, any government in my mind.”
I shouldn’t have to point this out, but I guess I do: abortion is not funded by the government, by law. Saying “abortion should not be funded by the government” as an argument for forbidding women to get health services from Planned Parenthood is like saying that because some supermarkets sell beer, food stamps shouldn’t be able to to be used at supermarkets, even though food stamps can’t be used to buy beer. I promise you that Jeb Bush knows this perfectly well.
I went over this yesterday, but briefly: Most of the federal money Planned Parenthood gets is in the form of Medicaid reimbursements for health services, things like gynecological exams, cancer screening, the provision of contraception, and so on. So “defunding” the organization means telling women that they can’t go to Planned Parenthood clinics, but have to go somewhere else. Whether Congress ought to be picking and choosing the health care providers women can use based on politics is at the heart of this issue.
Now on the dollar amounts involved: For the record, between Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and other programs, the federal government spends well over a trillion dollars a year on health care, so it’s a little puzzling that Bush would find half a billion dollars for women’s health, or a fraction of a fraction of a percent of that total, to be some kind of extravagant amount. But maybe he was just thinking it’s a lot for one health care provider. Maybe he thinks Planned Parenthood is a smaller operation than it actually is. Maybe he has bought the Republican propaganda that Planned Parenthood is an abortion operation that does a few other things on the side, when the truth is that abortion services make up only three percent of their activities.
Whatever the case, this much is clear: Bush is now aboard the “defund Planned Parenthood” train in a serious way. This isn’t a new position for him, but he probably wasn’t planning on making a big deal out of it before some anti-choice activists released secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the transfer of fetal tissue for research. Once that ball got rolling, talk among conservatives quickly turned to whether Republicans would actually shut down the government to defund the group. That’s forcing the presidential candidates to take a loud, emphatic position to show primary voters that they’re good conservatives. Bushs comments also seemed to endorse shutting down the government over this issue, but that’s not quite clear, so we’ll have to wait for him to get asked that question more specifically — which he probably will before long.
To be clear, I’m not saying Bush was forced by events to take a position he didn’t want to. He has a long and strong record of opposition to women’s reproductive rights in general and to Planned Parenthood in particular. But it does show that the campaign agenda isn’t in the candidates’ hands, and I’m sure there’s someone working for him who suspects that this could be a problem if he becomes the Republican nominee. After all, in 2012 President Obama hammered Mitt Romney (see this ad, for instance) for taking exactly this position on defunding Planned Parenthood, and ended up beating Romney among women by 11 points.
Bush’s position now is both similar and different from the one Romney found himself in four years ago. Romney had been a moderate Republican governor, then had to convince primary voters he was a hard-right conservative, then struggled to convince general election voters he wasn’t a hard-right conservative. Bush, on the other hand, was a genuinely hard-right governor who now has to convince primary voters of that truth, and many of those voters don’t yet believe it. But in the general election, he’ll face the same problem Romney did. And if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, you can bet there will be more ads like the one I linked to, where women look into the camera with a mixture of sadness and anger and describe how Jeb Bush just doesn’t get them and isn’t on their side.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 5, 2015