As a bill requiring transvaginal sonograms passes in Virginia, Texas goes about implementing the version that it passed last year.
The Virginia Legislature has been busy passing legislation to limit abortion and promote pro-life agendas. I wrote Tuesday how the state House passed a bill changing the legal definition of “person” to include fetuses starting at conception. But the body also passed a measure requiring women seeking an abortion to first have a sonogram 24 hours ahead of time. The state Senate already passed an identical measure and the state governor has said that he supports the initiative—which means it will almost definitely become law.
The measure requires a medical professional to administer the sonogram and then offer the woman the chance to hear the fetal heartbeat and listen to a description of the fetus. Because abortions occur early in pregnancies, these ultrasounds aren’t the ones most people imagine with a bit of jelly smeared on a woman’s stomach. No, these require a more invasive procedure: a transvaginal sonogram. A probe—with a lubricated condom covering it—is inserted into a woman’s vagina. The probe is attached to a monitor to show images in real time. While the bill allows woman to say they don’t want to see the images, in many cases, the monitor will generally be showing the images right next to her.
Not surprisingly, the debate got fairly brutal. One Republican delegate said most women seeking abortions do so for “lifestyle convenience.” In a statement later, he said he regretted the choice of words. Ultimately the bill passed the House by a vote 62 to 36, with six Republicans voting no.
As I wrote earlier, the personhood measure raises many questions regarding implementation, since Virginia would be the first state to successfully pass such a law. But such is not the case with the sonogram bill. Oklahoma and North Carolina have passed similar laws that are currently winding their way through the court system. And Texas’ measure is already in place, both in law and in clinics across the state.
Texas began enforcing its version of the sonogram requirement last week, after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a temporary ban and issued an opinion that the law is constitutional. While a lawsuit against the law makes its way through the courts, clinics are already reporting logistical difficulties. The measure requires a 24 hour waiting period between the sonogram and the abortion procedure, a requirement which was also included in the Virginia bill, which forces women to arrange for two days of medical appointments. (Both states allow women who must travel a significant distance to have the sonogram only two hours ahead.) However, in Texas, the doctor performing the abortion must also be the one to perform the sonogram. That requirement has produced many problems for clinics, as sonograms are often performed by other medical professionals. Virginia’s measure has no such requirement. Similarly, Texas law requires that women hear a description of the sonogram procedure, whether or not they want to, a caveat that isn’t in Virginia’s law.
Don’t think that makes Virginia’s law less stringent though: unlike Texas, the bill offers no exemption for victims of rape or incest, who would also have to have the transvaginal sonogram and then be asked if they want to hear descriptions of the fetus and listen to the fetal heartbeat. It will also mean victims of rape will be forced to have a probe inserted into their vagina. Only in cases of medical emergencies can the requirement be waived.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, February 16, 2012
Unlike Newt Gingrich, who can claim a regional base, Rick Santorum, who has a solidly defined political persona, or Ron Paul, who has something of a cult of personality, there’s nothing unique about Mitt Romney as a candidate. He is the definition of a generic Republican—a blank slate for the public to register its frustrations. Like Thomas Dewey—who played a similar role in the 1948 election—he is “the little man on the wedding cake.” Indeed, if there is anything close to a reason for his presidential campaign, it’s his vanilla appeal to the broad public, and undecided voters in particular.
Since the beginning of the year, however, that advantage has completely evaporated—the public has gone from slight approval of the former Massachusetts governor, to outright loathing.
In less than two months, Romney has gone from a positive rating of +8.5—43.5 percent favorable to 35 percent unfavorable—to an astonishingly negative one of -17.4, or 31.2 percent favorable to 48.6 percent unfavorable. What’s more, this comes as his name recognition has increased; the more Americans get to know Mitt Romney, the less they like him. This, it should be said, wasn’t true of John Kerry when he ran for the presidency in 2004.
Of course, because this poll measures all voters—and not just independents—this includes some Republicans who will return to the fold if Romney becomes the nominee. But the favorability gains that come with leading a unified party aren’t enough to overcome a deficit of this size. What’s more, it will do nothing for Romney’s standing with independents, which has also collapsed in the last two months. You can also expect these numbers to get worse for the former Massachusetts governor as he moves to bury Rick Santorum under a landslide of attack ads ahead of the Michigan primary. Voters aren’t keen on constant negativity, which has become Romney’s default position as the primaries drag on.
None of this is to say that Romney is doomed if he becomes the nominee, but the situation doesn’t look good. At this point, most Americans don’t trust him to stand up for their interests, a plurality of Americans don’t like him, and independents would rather stick to President Obama. It’s true that this could all change with a crisis in Europe or a war in the Middle East, but if that’s what you’re banking on, you’re not in a good place.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, February 16, 2012
The president did something agile and wise the other day. And something quite important to the health of our politics. He reached up and snuffed out what some folks wanted to make into a cosmic battle between good and evil. No, said the president, we’re not going to turn the argument over contraception into Armageddon, this is an honest difference between Americans, and I’ll not see it escalated into a holy war. So instead of the government requiring Catholic hospitals and other faith-based institutions to provide employees with health coverage involving contraceptives, the insurance companies will offer that coverage, and offer it free.
The Catholic bishops had cast the president’s intended policy as an infringement on their religious freedom; they hold birth control to be a mortal sin, and were incensed that the government might coerce them to treat it otherwise. The president in effect said: No quarrel there; no one’s going to force you to violate your doctrine. But Catholics are also Americans, and if an individual Catholic worker wants coverage, she should have access to it — just like any other American citizen. Under the new plan, she will. She can go directly to the insurer, and the religious institution is off the hook.
When the president announced his new plan, the bishops were caught flat-footed. It was so … so reasonable. In fact, leaders of several large, Catholic organizations have now said yes to the idea. But the bishops have since regrouped, and are now opposing any mandate to provide contraceptives even if their institutions are not required to pay for them. And for their own reasons, Republican leaders in Congress have weighed in on the bishops’ side. They’re demanding, and will get, a vote in the Senate.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says:
The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion. It’s right there in the First Amendment. You can’t miss it, right there in the very First Amendment to our Constitution. And the government doesn’t get to decide for religious people what their religious beliefs are. They get to decide that.
But here’s what Republicans don’t get, or won’t tell you. And what Obama manifestly does get. First, the war’s already lost: 98 percent of Catholic women of child-bearing age have used contraceptives. Second, on many major issues, the bishops are on Obama’s side — not least on extending unemployment benefits, which they call “a moral obligation.” Truth to tell, on economic issues, the bishops are often to the left of some leading Democrats, even if both sides are loathe to admit it. Furthermore — and shhh, don’t repeat this, even if the president already has — the Catholic Church funded Obama’s first community organizing, back in Chicago.
So the battle over contraception no longer seems apocalyptic. No heavenly hosts pitted against the forces of Satan. It’s a political brawl, not a crusade of believers or infidels. The president skillfully negotiated the line between respect for the religious sphere and protection of the spiritual dignity and freedom of individuals. If you had listened carefully to the speech Barack Obama made in 2009 at the University of Notre Dame, you could have seen it coming:
The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem-cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships might be relieved. The question then is, “How do we work through these conflicts?”
We Americans have wrestled with that question from the beginning. Some of our forebearers feared the church would corrupt the state. Others feared the state would corrupt the church. It’s been a real tug-of-war, sometimes quite ugly. Churches and religious zealots did get punitive laws passed against what they said were moral and religious evils: blasphemy, breaking the Sabbath, alcohol, gambling, books, movies, plays … and yes, contraception. But churches also fought to end slavery, help workers organize and pass progressive laws. Of course, government had its favorites at times; for much of our history, it privileged the Protestant majority. And in my lifetime alone, it’s gone back and forth on how to apply the First Amendment to ever-changing circumstances among people so different from each other. The Supreme Court, for example, first denied, then affirmed, the right of the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse, on religious grounds, to salute the flag.
So here we are once again, arguing over how to honor religious liberty without it becoming the liberty to impose on others moral beliefs they don’t share. Our practical solution is the one Barack Obama embraced the other day: protect freedom of religion — and freedom from religion. Can’t get more American than that.
By: Bill Moyers, Managing Editor of Moyers and Company (With Thanks to Julie Leininger Pycior), Published in The Huffington Post, February 16, 2012
It’s officially the end of an era for MSNBC and Pat Buchanan. How … anticlimactic:
My days as a political analyst at MSNBC have come to an end.After 10 enjoyable years, I am departing, after an incessant clamor from the left that to permit me continued access to the microphones of MSNBC would be an outrage against decency, and dangerous.
The calls for my firing began almost immediately with the Oct. 18 publication of Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?? […]
Pat then goes on to blame loudmouthed Obama supporters, homosexuals, Jews, and I don’t know, maybe werewolves. Yeah, let’s say werewolves.
Buchanan’s recent book may have been MSNBC’s excuse for finally taking him off the air for good, but it seems mostly to be a “final straw” sort of thing. Buchanan has been mourning the downfall of white America for a considerable time now, so this latest book was hardly new ground for him. He has been accused of anti-Semitism even by such conservative stalwarts as William F. Buckley, and got in hot water a few years ago for a bizarre column proposing that Hitler was misunderstood. No, his pissy statement sells himself rather short on the number of ridiculously bigoted things that would regularly come from his mouth. No matter what he said on air or off, though, the network would always prop him up in front of the television cameras.
Well, it’s not like he died or anything. We’ll still be hearing from him. Maybe Fox News will give him a home, since that seems to be where discredited pundits who have otherwise worn out their welcome in polite company go to ply their trade.
By: Hunter, Daily Kos, February 16, 2012
Fighting contraception. Stopping domestic violence protections. Extending tax cuts for the wealthy, while hiking taxes on the middle class. Welcoming white supremacists to a conference, but banning gay conservatives. The GOP has followed its extremist fringe off the deep end, leaving the rest of us back in the reality-based world, and befuddled. Their strategists warned them not to do this, but it appears that to the GOP, unhinged fringe issues are like catnip.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Republican luminaries, including Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell flock to major conservative conference last week that also included a panel session featuring a white supremacist. But it was ironic that this same event, the Conservative Political Action Conference, banned a group of gay conservatives from participating, accusing them of alienating so-called “family values” groups like the Family Research Council (FRC).
The banned group, GOProud, is hardly radical, even by right-wing standards — it split from the Log Cabin Republicans because it thought the older group was too concerned with gay rights. Beyond pushing the much feared “The Gay Agenda,” now just being gay excludes you from the biggest conservative conference of the year. Being a white supremacist gets you on a panel.
This year, CPAC banned the gays to gain back the FRC — and white supremacists came as a bonus. The leaders of the GOP — including a few aspiring leaders of the free world — came along for the ride.
But CPAC was just the beginning of what has been a surreal week for a major political party. On Friday, President Obama announced a compromise with Catholic leaders who objected to religious institutions being included in the contraception coverage mandate for employee insurance. The compromise, which spared Catholic institutions from providing contraception coverage while ensuring that female employees would still have access to it, was not enough for the Catholic bishops and GOP leaders. Instead, they announced that they wanted a rule that would allow any employer to renounce any insurance coverage for any procedure they find morally objectionable.
Anyone who has ever had health insurance knows that that’s an extreme position — allowing employers to pick and choose what procedures they’ll provide insurance for? — but it’s one that Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and the leaders of the House and Senate GOP jumped right on.
And attacking contraception is just the beginning. Republicans in the Senate are blocking a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it includes protections for LGBT people and undocumented immigrants. The Virginia House just passed a bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound without their consent, and another that would put access to birth control at risk. The latter, a so-called “personhood” bill, is so extreme a similar measure was rejected by Mississippi voters by double digits last year — yes, that Mississippi. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is widely considered to be a top candidate for the GOP vice presidential nomination, has said he will sign the forced ultrasound bill and may sign the “personhood” measure.
Finally, on another issue important to millions of American families — middle class tax cuts — the GOP gave in and joined the rest of us in reality. While Republicans had been making rumblings about repeating their disastrous stunt in December where they threatened to raise payroll taxes on working Americans because the cost would be offset by a miniscule tax on the very rich, they ultimately gave in — while leaving lower-profile but equally important issues of extending unemployment benefits and fixing Medicare payments for doctors in the lurch.
Where is the mainstream of the GOP? And why aren’t they speaking up? 99 percent of American women who have ever been sexually active have used birth control. 59 percent of Americans think all employers should have to provide comprehensive health insurance to their employees — including to women. Sixty-six percent think the wealthiest should pay a bit more to help all Americans get by in a bad economy. As of last year, 56 percent said gay and lesbian relationships are “morally acceptable” — and although I haven’t seen polling, I’d bet that the “morally acceptable” number for white supremacists is significantly lower.
Polls are polls and politicians shouldn’t govern by them, but shouldn’t they notice when they’re falling off the deep end? The GOP, in pursuing the agenda of the most extreme factions of its base, has left moderates within its own party and American common sense behind. This isn’t just bad for them politically — in the long run, it’s bad for the country. There are plenty of serious issues that demand our attention — jobs, housing, the energy crisis, crumbling infrastructure. But instead of tackling these, the GOP seems determined to fixate on a parade of dangerous nonsense.
By: Michael B, Keegan, the Huffington Post, February 16, 2012