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“The Right’s Cynical Wordplay”: ‘Women’s Safety’ Means Absolutely Nothing Anymore!

The most direct consequence of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down Massachusetts’ buffer zone law is that the people working and accessing care at abortion clinics will be less safe. Lawmakers in Massachusetts and municipalities across the country with similar measures in place will now have to figure out — once again — how best to ensure that the people who need to enter and exit clinics can continue to do so without being harassed, threatened, harmed or worse by antiabortion protesters. There have been nearly 7,000 incidences of clinic violence since 1977; history teaches us that safety is never a given when walking through those doors.

The second thing that the opinion in McCullen v. Coakley reminds us is how empty — how absolutely devoid of meaning — the notion of “women’s safety” has become in politics. Hardly a week passes without some measure advancing through a state legislature that will have devastating consequences for women’s health, but these bills are nonetheless cloaked in the language of women’s safety. Put those words in front of almost any piece of legislation and it seems like most lawmakers just nod their heads.

Texas comes to mind. We’re one year out from Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster, and the status of access in the state has gone from bad to utterly catastrophic. Nearly half of Texas’ abortion clinics have closed since 2011; it is estimated that come September, there will only be six abortion providers left in the second most populous state in the nation. The Rio Grande Valley has lost its last remaining abortion clinic, and now women in the region must travel 300 miles round trip to access care, including routine services like mammograms, cancer screenings and birth control. A recent study found that 7 percent of women in Texas have attempted to self-induce abortion. The number jumps to 12 percent for women who live along the Mexican border, and it is expected to grow. Women who have the luxury of crossing border checkpoints without fearing deportation or worse have been traveling to flea markets in Mexico to buy drugs from unlicensed and unregulated vendors in order to terminate their pregnancies.

But state Rep. Jodi Laubenberg called the passage of HB 2 a victory for women’s safety. In reflecting on the year that was, she commented, “Authoring and passing House Bill 2 was one of the most rewarding and challenging accomplishments of my legislative service. […] It was worth it. I will continue to fight for both the safety of Texas women and the pre-born.” Her Republican colleagues echoed the sentiment. Republican state Rep. Jane Nelson said, “I am proud to support House Bill 2, which not only protects innocent life but also ensures that abortion facilities are safe for Texas women.” And state Rep. Patricia Harless used the same language to justify her vote. ”I proudly voted for House Bill 2 because I believe Texas women deserve more than the bare minimum, lowest level safety standards,” she said.

These talking points have been parroted by lawmakers in Louisiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Arizona, Mississippi, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and virtually everywhere else that laws like these are being enacted. It’s never about abortion. It’s always about safety — women’s safety.

Now the Massachusetts law was also about women’s safety. The kind of safety that 35 feet of distance between yourself and someone willing to spend their Saturdays outside an abortion clinic calling women murderers will provide you. The kind of safety that state lawmakers recognized was urgently needed after an antiabortion activist opened fire on a clinic near Boston and killed two people and injured five others.

The violence isn’t unique to Massachusetts; the threat is national. As Robin Marty wrote this week, if you want to understand why buffer zones matter, spend some time at an abortion clinic without one:

In my time working with abortion providers and abortion rights advocates over the last few years, I’ve seen first hand what is considered “counseling” by abortion opponents at unprotected clinics. In Louisville, Kentucky, one of only two clinics left in the Bluegrass state, I witnessed over 100 abortion opponents lining the sidewalk leading up to the clinic, stopping just at the property line in front of the door, chanting rosaries, calling to patients, preaching sin and eternal damnation through a microphone just a few feet from the waiting room window. I watched a woman shout through the window that the patients inside would die on the exam room table, that they would bleed to death inside, and no one would help them because the money was already paid up front. I saw protesters with bloody, graphic signs swarm patients just trying to get out of the car door and cross the mere 10 feet from curb to clinic property.

That’s what it is like at a clinic with no buffer zone.

And that will be the scene at more clinics in the wake of the Supreme Court’s unanimous finding that while it sees no problem with the buffer zone around its own building, it believes that a 35-foot barrier — the length of a school bus, a walk that will last approximately 7 seconds — is an undue burden on the First Amendment rights of the “peaceful sidewalk counselors” stationed outside. Not being able to follow women to the doors of the clinic apparently limits their ability to “persuade.”

But the burden that removing that buffer will place on women’s safety? Well, what do those words even mean anymore?

 

By: Katie McDonough, Politics Writer, Salon, June 27, 2014

June 29, 2014 Posted by | Supreme Court, Violence Against Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Do What We Tell You To Do, Or We Will Kill You”: The Right To Be Able To Walk Into A Clinic Must Be Protected

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Massachusetts buffer zone law violates the First Amendment; the justices were unanimous in the ruling. In case you weren’t up to speed on the case, here are the basics: Fourteen years ago, the high court upheld a Colorado law that created an 8-foot “bubble zone” around patients entering or exiting clinics. But Massachusetts’ buffer zone law prohibited demonstrators from standing within 35 feet of the facility, a length the justices seemed dubious of from the start. Walking that length — the size of a school bus — takes approximately seven seconds.

A lot can happen in those seven seconds. A lot can happen when protesters are allowed to enter clinics, physically confront patients or block doors. Massachusetts passed its law in response to aggressive and dangerous conduct from protesters stationed directly outside clinics, including an incident in 1994 where a gunman opened fire at two abortion clinics, killing two people and injuring five others. In its defense of the measure, the state argued before the justices that the buffer law is not a prohibition on speech, but a practical measure to keep access to these facilities “open and clear of all but essential foot traffic, in light of more than two decades of compromised facility access and public safety.”

Lawyers for lead plaintiff Eleanor McCullen argued that the law was an infringement on her First Amendment rights. “It’s America,” she said in an interview with NPR News. “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.” (Clinic workers and patients may not agree about the gentle and loving nature of confrontations with protestors.)

The high court’s ruling was limited, and doesn’t necessarily mean that all restrictions on protestors outside of clinics violate the First Amendment. As Ian Millhiser from the Center for American Progress noted on Twitter, the ruling “means that some buffer zones can stay, even if this one can’t.” Salon spoke with doctors and clinic escorts about what these laws can do — and can’t do — to protect access to abortion services, their safety and the safety of their patients and colleagues.

Dr. Warren Hern, a provider in Boulder, Colorado.

I think that the harassment of patients is unacceptable. The antiabortion fanatics feel good by making other people feel bad. The patients who come to see me are carrying a tremendous emotional burden to start with, especially my patients who are coming there to end a desired pregnancy because of some fetal catastrophe or their own medical issues. For those women, they don’t want to be here and have an abortion; they want to have a baby. And they’re there in tremendous pain because of that. And so the antiabortion people come and harass these patients and their families, in spite of the fact that they are in tremendous pain and emotional anguish. It’s unsupportable, it’s indecent, it’s indefensible.

So the buffer zone ordinance that was passed in Boulder in 1986 was an attempt to help that. A problem with the buffer zone ordinance is that it requires an actuation, an activity by the patient. She has to object to this and she has to call the police, and she’s not always going to do that. And it does not require the antiabortion demonstrator to keep a certain long distance within a few feet. Well, that’s enough to cause tremendous anguish and pain for the patient.

I accept buffer zones as an important symbolic expression of community sentiment, which they are. Our law is totally supported by the people of Boulder. We all believe in free speech; nobody’s saying they can’t go to the city park and say what they want or stand across the street and picket. But really, I think the bubble zone should be the distance a rifle bullet can travel. Or even better, New Jersey. Make the Boulder buffer zone end somewhere in New Jersey.

I can’t use the front door of my office and I can’t drive out the front driveway with the protesters there. Because all of the doctors who have been assassinated have been assassinated by so-called protesters. All the other people have been killed in Boston and Alabama and so on have been killed by so-called peaceful protesters who “went over the edge.” This is the ultimate expression of what they’re saying. If they can’t use the coercive power of the state to get people to do what they want them to do, they will kill them! And the message from the antiabortion movement, which is the face of fascism in America, is, “Do what we tell you to do, or we will kill you.” So while I believe in its symbolic importance, the buffer zone ordinance is useless against that kind of mentality. These people do not accept basic premises of civilized society and the legal process.

Dr. Cheryl Chastine, a provider in Wichita, Kansas.

Buffer zones help providers feel that their safety is respected and protected. When I travel into my clinic, I know that I am mere feet from people who want to stop me by any means necessary. That’s very intimidating. We are lucky in that we have a gate and a private parking lot that patients can drive into; even still the patients are not able to get away.

They’re not able to prevent the protesters and picketers from approaching them and making personal contact with them. And so when patients come into my clinic, they’re very stressed about the fact that that contact was forced on them. I think that if they chose to make that contact, to seek those people out and talk to them, that would be one thing. But they come to the clinic knowing that they don’t want to speak to a picketer, and yet they have to go directly past them, and it makes them angry and upset and ashamed.

Katie Klabusich, a writer, media contributor and clinic escort in New York, New York. 

Buffer zones don’t stop the harassment, they just make it easier to get people inside.  And just because they haven’t been able to shut down the clinics in your community doesn’t mean that there isn’t a gauntlet that people have to walk to get into their doctor’s office. No matter where you live, that should horrify all of us.

Even before I was standing between patients and people from [extreme antiabortion group] Abolish Human Abortion in New Jersey, I have always seen this as a nationwide fight. Particularly if they can overturn Roe v. Wade — and they have a plan to do this — this is national.

But at the smallest level, the right to be able to walk into a clinic must be protected. There is now a buffer zone in place at the clinic where I escort patients, but before that we had a patient flee in the street — with traffic coming — paralyzed with fear because they were all screaming at her. She started to cry in the middle of the street. You can hear the protesters in the waiting room, in the counseling room. You can hear them blocks away. It’s terrifying.

And I have been targeted for this work. These protesters take images of the people entering and exiting clinics. It is aggressive. They film patients. They film escorts. They are there to be intimidating. The woman who wrote the blog post sharing my photo and name said, “This is a war.” They are using violent rhetoric. They knew anti-choice outlets would pick it up and circulate this violent rhetoric. The idea behind these threats is about “the greater good.” By sharing my name and face and the names and faces of others in this movement online, the message is, “If something happened to those people, it would be OK.”

If this isn’t the intent, then why put our names? Our faces? Our cities?  It’s an escalation. That’s the part that I feel. The visceral feeling is that it’s not OK that they target providers, but they have a history of doing that. They publish their addresses. In a sad way, we somehow almost expect that. Now they are targeting the media and activists, too. This should worry people. We should all be worried.

 

By: Katie McDonough, Politics Writer, Salon, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stuck Between Obamacare And A Hard Place”: As A Massachusetts State Senator, Scott Brown Voted For Romneycare

Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown will officially kick off his campaign to unseat New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen tonight, as he attempts to return to the world’s greatest deliberative body (or something) after being ousted from his Bay State Senate seat by Democrat Elizabeth Warren two years ago. According to leaked excerpts of the speech he plans to deliver tonight, Brown will be campaigning against Obamacare, just as he did in 2010 when he won an upset in the race to succeed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

“Along with our money and our health plans, for a lot of us, it feels like we’re losing our liberty, too. Obamacare forces us to make a choice, live free or log on — and here in New Hampshire, we choose freedom,” Brown plans to say. (Get it? Because New Hampshire’s state motto is “live free or die.” But wait, if Obamacare is the major assault on freedom Republicans claim it is, do you have the choice to live free under it? Or is it just that “log on or die” didn’t send the right message? But I digress.)

There’s definitely a danger for Brown in taking this approach. Yes, the health care law has, according to a recent WMUR Granite State poll, a less than stellar approval rating in New Hampshire, with only 34 percent saying they approve of it while 53 percent say they oppose it. (Let’s add the caveat that the poll doesn’t say what portion of the opposition thinks the law goes too far and what portion thinks it doesn’t go far enough.) But Brown will have a hard time getting around the various problems other Republicans are running into when it comes to making Obamacare a focal point of a campaign.

For starters, the law may be unpopular in theory, but in practice, signups under Obamacare’s New Hampshire exchange have exceeded expectations. Does Brown have a plan for providing for those folks? Or how about the estimated 50,000 people who are going to receive health insurance under New Hampshire’s recently approved Medicaid expansion, which was made possible by Obamacare and on which Brown has thus far been mum? Those are real people who are experiencing real benefits from the law.

And therein lies the problem for Republicans, which Brown is eventually going to run into as well: Providing the benefits of Obamacare requires something that looks like Obamacare. Just look at this quote a Republican aide gave to Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur (emphasis added):

As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act. … To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA. You have to have a participating mechanism, you have to have a mechanism to fund it, you have to have a mechanism to fix parts of the market.

And Brown knew this once upon a time. As my former colleague Igor Volsky noted, as a state senator Brown voted for the Massachusetts health reform law that looks a whole lot like Obamacare.

This is exactly why the long awaited Republican health care alternative never actually comes to fruition. (Sure, some individual lawmakers have proposed plans, but the party hasn’t coalesced around one bill.) To actually craft an alternative, the GOP would either have to admit that Obamacare is a pretty darn conservative measure or admit, like House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan did the other day, that the popular provisions and benefits of Obamacare have to go away as well in order to enact a more Republican-y plan.

Will that latter approach work in still quite blue New Hampshire? Or will Brown try to get away with hand waving about an Obamacare alternative that will never materialize? Either way, spouting “live free or log on” will be no slam dunk.

 

By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, April 10, 2014

April 11, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Scott Brown | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Running Against History”: It Looks Like Scott Brown May Have Picked Exactly The Wrong State

Republican Scott Brown is not just a pretty face or the first senator to be seen around the Dirksen Senate Office Building in full biking gear for his afternoon rides. How else is he to keep his tall, lean physique in fighting form in the deliberative body? After all, the once senator from Massachusetts may be the future senator from New Hampshire.

But there’s more to that story than switching states. Brown has already earned a unique place in U.S. political history, despite a slender record of service after winning a special election to fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat in 2010, as he is the first man to fully face the ramifications of the rise in formidable women players running for high office in the past 20 years. The Senate now has an all-time high of 20 women. If Brown wins, he will cut into that peak, reached in 2012. Does he want to cycle against history?

Brown will likely become the only man ever to run in three consecutive Senate races against three women candidates. You read it here first. I say this despite Mark Leibovich’s wry piece in the New York Times Magazine giving Brown the sobriquet, “Superhypothetical.”

Lest we forget, he beat Martha Coakley, the state’s Democratic attorney general, when she forgot to campaign and even took a vacation shortly before the election. Then he lost to feisty Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren in 2012. And now he comes into the fray again — well, almost. Bowing to party pressure, he has formed an exploratory committee in New Hampshire, where his family has a vacation home. That means that he is taking all the right steps to challenge a popular Democrat, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, in the red-flecked Granite state.

Let’s say that Brown is, for all intents and purposes, jumping into the race this spring. That is roughly the consensus among the politerati. Republican party operatives are delirious at the thought that Brown could clinch their goal of painting the Senate red overnight. And he could, because Shaheen is not the only vulnerable Democrat in this cycle. Two Southern Democrats, Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Pryor, are in deep danger and don’t want any “help” from President Obama.

If the wily Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky becomes the Majority Leader, even by a margin of 51-49, that will effectively doom President Obama’s chances of getting any major legislation passed in his second term. Big money stands by, ready to help Brown become a powerful contender.

In fairness to him, Brown is no Ted Cruz tea partier, but a telegenic New England moderate with some appealing qualities. If Brown declares and engages, New Hampshire will be the most closely watched state on the 2014 political map. Accustomed to the drill, voters there will love the national media trudging through the leaves to take their political pulse. They are an unusually seasoned, sophisticated set of voters in a small state and the outcome is bound to be a close call. For Shaheen, a former governor, the home court advantage could prove decisive.

More interestingly, gender may help Shaheen where she lives; the state’s other senator is a Republican woman, Kelly Ayotte. In fact, the state’s congressional delegation is all female, and the governor is a woman, all of which is the stuff of history. That is hard evidence that Brown will have to pedal uphill in a state that favors electing women, lately.

For Brown, the race will break his personal tie, one way or the other, when it comes to running against women. And it sure looks like he picked exactly the wrong state.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, March 24, 2014

March 25, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Scott Brown | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Education Of Scott Brown”: A Slowly Dawning Lesson, Running Against An Abstraction Is Easy

Less than two years after losing his re-election bid in his home state, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is apparently trying again, this time running in New Hampshire – where’s he still learning quite a bit.

It’s not altogether clear why Brown is running in the Granite State, but his strategy has nevertheless taken shape: the Republican intends to hit the campaign trail complaining about the Affordable Care Act. It worked in one state in 2010, Brown figures, so maybe it’ll work in a different state in 2014.

With this in mind, Brown visited with state Rep. Herb Richardson (R-N.H.) and his wife over the weekend at the lawmaker’s home, where the Senate candidate called the ACA a “monstrosity.” Sam Stein flagged an account of the meeting from the local newspaper (pdf):

Richardson was injured on the job and was forced to live on his workers’ comp payments for an extended period of time, which ultimately cost the couple their house on Williams Street. The couple had to pay $1,100 a month if they wanted to maintain their health insurance coverage under the federal COBRA law.

Richardson said he only received some $2,000 a month in workers’ comp. payments, however, leaving little for them to live on. “Thank God for Obamacare!” his wife exclaimed.

Now, thanks to the subsidy for which they qualify, the Richardsons only pay $136 a month for health insurance that covers them both.

The state lawmaker added that the health care law, which Brown claims to abhor, has been a “financial lifesaver” for his family.

According to the local reporter, the former senator listened to the Richardsons’ perspective and then changed the subject.

Running against an abstraction is easy; running against a law that’s currently benefiting millions of families nationwide is a little trickier. That may slowly be dawning on Brown right about now.

Speaking of New Hampshire, Stein also had this report out of the Granite State the other day.

The former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party will save $1,000 a month in premiums for his family’s health care package after signing up for a new policy through the Obamacare exchange.

But Fergus Cullen said the savings aren’t enough to turn him into a supporter of the new health care law.

Apparently, Cullen’s catastrophic-coverage plan was phased out under ACA guidelines, which forced the former state GOP chair to transition to a new plan – with no annual or lifetime caps, and which can’t be taken away if Cullen gets stick – that will save the Republican and his family $12,000 a year in premiums.

For his part, Cullen, concerned about out-of-pocket costs, says he still prefers his old plan and wrote about his experience in the Union Leader, acknowledging the trade-offs.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 20, 2014

March 21, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Scott Brown | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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