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“They Just Don’t Care”: New Texas Abortion Law Could Be Worst Yet For Poor Women

Some 5,000 orange-clad men and women invaded the Texas capitol in Austin on Monday in an emotional and enthusiastic show of support for reproductive rights. They faced off with Republican lawmakers still resolved to pass SB 5, the very bill limiting abortion access that was defeated last week after Senator Wendy Davis’s 11-hour filibuster. Yesterday, nearly 2,000 people showed up to testify against the bill as it was considered by the Texas House Affairs Committee, which approved it 8-3.

This latest effort to roll back women’s rights in Texas has met fierce opposition and resolve from Texans and other Americans who recognize the value of women’s health care. “When you silence one of us, you give voice to the millions who will continue to demand our lives, our choices, our independence,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, reminded us at Monday’s rally.

It has also highlighted the deep gulf between the lived experiences of women in Texas, particularly low-income women, and lawmakers who have inserted themselves into decisions that should only be made by women and their physicians.

Monday’s protest took place as Texas lawmakers convened for a second special session called by Governor Rick Perry. The bill they’re considering would make abortion after 20 weeks illegal, impose onerous requirements on abortion providers, and demand that all clinics meet costly and burdensome building requirements. If passed, 37 of the state’s 42 abortion providers will be forced to close their doors. This despite the fact that 79 percent of Texans believe abortion should be available to a woman under varying circumstances, while only 16 percent believe abortion should never be permitted.

This is just the latest in a seemingly never-ending assault on Texas women. In 2011, lawmakers decimated the Texas family planning program with a two-thirds budget cut that closed nearly 60 family planning clinics across the state and left almost 150,000 women without care.  Soon after, they also barred Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics defined as “abortion affiliates” from the Women’s Health Program (WHP), a state Medicaid program on which thousands of poor women rely. Governor Perry insisted that former WHP patients could find new providers and claimed there were plenty to bridge the gap, but that simply is not the case. Clinics across Texas have reported a sharp drop in patients, and guess that former WHP clients are receiving no care at all.

To suggest so cavalierly that women simply find new providers is evidence that Republican lawmakers simply don’t understand – or don’t care about – the socioeconomic realities that shape women’s lives. Otherwise, they would recognize the absurdity of forcing women to navigate an increasingly complex health system to find new providers and then traverse hundreds of miles to receive basic care and services. This is a stark illustration of the privilege gap that exists between policymakers and the people they represent.

After it became clear that the warnings of public health experts – who testified that such policies would impose a heavy economic toll on the state, result in negative health outcomes, and increase the demand for abortion – were becoming reality, lawmakers last month restored family planning funding to the 2014 budget. While this is certainly good news, returning to pre-2011 funding levels still leaves nearly 700,000 women without access to care and so far has enabled only three of the nearly 60 shuttered clinics to re-open. And even before the 2011 budget cuts, only one-third of the state’s one million women in need of family planning services received them through the state program. A provider shortage will persist for the foreseeable future; it is no easy task to reopen a clinic once it has shuttered its facility, released its staff, sold all its equipment, and sent its patients’ files elsewhere.

If the current legislation were to pass, nearly all the state’s abortion providers would be forced to close. The majority of those are clinics that not only offer abortion services, but also provide contraception, STD testing, and cancer screenings for poor women. Many of those clinics are located in areas that are already bearing the brunt of family planning clinic closures (see map below). The few clinics that would remain open in Texas are located in urban areas, leaving women in rural Texas with even fewer health care options than they currently have.

What are women—especially poor women—to do? Women in Texas already face heavier burdens than women in many other states. Texas has one of the nation’s highest teen birth rates and percentages of women living in poverty. It has a lower percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in their first trimester than any other state. It also has the highest percentage of uninsured children in the nation and provides the lowest monthly benefit for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) recipients (an average of $26.86 compared to the national average of $41.52). And soon the majority of women may not have access to abortion care at any stage of their pregnancy.

Governor Perry’s policies have marginalized women who already bear the heavy weight of so many inequities. His latest efforts will only marginalize them further.

This anti-abortion legislation will not prevent women from getting abortions. It will simply push them across the border and into unsafe facilities like those operated by Kermit Gosnell. Its passage will add to the fury that has escalated over the past three years as women have lost access to breast exams, birth control, and abortion services while being told it is for their own good. These lawmakers fail to understand that the full range of reproductive health services, including the ability to access an abortion, is absolutely central to women’s ability to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives – an ability that is itself essential to the strength of families, communities, states, and our nation.

On Monday, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards reminded the crowd in Austin of the old adage that you can measure a country by how well it treats its women. The same is true for Texas.  “We settled the prairie. We built this state. We raised our families,” said the ever-feisty daughter of former Texas governor and progressive icon Ann Richards. “We survived hurricanes and tornadoes, and we will survive the Texas legislature, too.”

 

By: Andrea Flynn, The National Memo, July 3, 2013

July 4, 2013 Posted by | War On Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Women’s Health Is In Danger”: A Fiercely Anti-Choice Ohio GOP Redefines “Pregnancy” To Mean “Not-Pregnancy”

Last night, Ohio Governor John Kasich took a little time from his weekend to sign a new $65 billion budget for the state. There are many moving parts to the law, including a $2.5 billion tax cut which—like most Republican tax cuts—is meant to help the rich at the expense of everyone else. But of those parts, the most relevant for discussion—given last week’s fiasco in the Texas Senate—are the new restrictions on all reproductive services.

In addition to slashing tax burdens on the wealthiest Ohioans, the budget measure signed yesterday would allocate federal funds away from Planned Parenthood—which uses them to provide contraception and other health services, not abortion—to crisis pregnancy centers, which claim to offer support, counseling and a full range of options for women who think they may be pregnant. In reality, they are overtly anti-abortion. “[A]ccording to personal accounts compiled by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL),” notes the Guttmacher Institute, “once women are inside the office, counselors subject them to antiabortion propaganda, characterizing abortion as painful and life threatening, with long-lasting physical and psychological consequences.” While the psychological impact of abortion varies from woman to woman, in terms of medical safety, abortion ranks on the low end of risky procedures. CPC’s also discourage use of contraceptives like the morning-after pill, which are presented as abortion equivalents.

The Ohio law also requires doctors to give a verbal description of the ultrasound, including a fetal heartbeat if available. It compels abortion providers to tell patients that a fetus can feel pain and that a woman who has an abortion can increase her risk for breast cancer. This claim, touted frequently by anti-abortion activists, has little basis in fact. “The scientific evidence,” notes the American Cancer Society, “does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”

The law also redefines “pregnancy” and “fetus” in ways that could affect the availability of certain forms of birth control. Ohio Republicans have defined as “human offspring developing during pregnancy from the moment of conception and includes the embryonic stage of development,” and declared pregnancy as beginning with “fertilization.” Biological science, by contrast, defines pregnancy as beginning with the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine lining. Why? Because a fertilized egg isn’t guaranteed to become an embryo; it can fail to implant and be expelled by the body.

There are also explicit restrictions to abortion access, as well as new requirements for doctors who perform them. Abortion providers are banned from having transfer agreements with public hospitals. Given that clinics are required to have transfer agreements, this could cause the closure of some clinics, and otherwise hamper access to reproductive health services. What’s more, the waiting period for abortions is extended from 24 hours to 48 hours, and the law would also eliminate “medical necessity” as a reason to waive the waiting period, replacing it with a waiver for “medical emergency.”

The difference, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes, is that the former is defined “as a medical condition that complicates the pregnancy so that it warrants an immediate abortion,” while the latter is “a condition that would result in the woman’s death without an abortion.” In practical terms, a necessity is a state of urgency where you may need an abortion in the future, whereas an emergency is where you need one now. It doesn’t seem like a big change, but it could have major implications, especially when coupled with the new penalties for violating these restrictions.

A doctor who does could be charged with a first-degree felony and a fine of up to $1 million—penalties normally reserved for rape, murder, attempted murder, and aggravated robbery (among others). We have no idea how many doctors will hesitate or refuse to perform abortions under serious circumstances, but my guess is that it will be more than a few, with serious consequences for women’s health.

As with the proposed law in Texas, it’s hard to describe these measures as anything other than backdoor attempts at making abortion unavailable in Ohio, through harsh restrictions, new regulations, or the legal intimidation.

Yesterday, on Meet the Press, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that there was “currently an assault on women’s health” and that “women’s health was in danger.” She’s absolutely right. Since the 2010 midterm elections—when Republicans swept statehouses and governorships across the country—there’s been a concerted push to deny women access to the wide array of reproductive health services.

On one hand, there’s a refreshing clarity about these efforts. Conservative lawmakers have all but dispensed with attempts to sound moderate, arguing that rape exceptions are unnecessary, and pushing for proposals—like defunding Planned Parenthood and limiting sex education—that would increase the rate of unplanned pregnancies (and thus abortions).

Of course, the only reason Republicans have become so open about this is because—on the whole—they are winning this fight.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, July 1, 2013

July 2, 2013 Posted by | Reproductive Rights, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mitt Romney And The Future Of Anti-Choice Politics

There are a couple of takeaways from Tuesday night’s rejection of the ‘personhood’ measure in Mississippi. One, Colorado is not alone in its repudiation of these extremist measures. Voters in Colorado and Mississippi, two very different states have said “No” by double-digit margins. And two, this vote scares the hell out of former Gov. Mitt Romney because it is a huge liability in the general election.

In a bid for the social conservative base he’s losing to Gov. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and maybe former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Romney told talk show host and former candidate Mike Huckabee he ‘absolutely’ supports ‘life begins at conception’, the basis for the multi-state ‘personhood’ push. As governor in 2005, Romney vetoed a bill that would have expanded access to emergency contraception for rape survivors, a practice that would also be banned under the Mississippi proposal. Since emergency contraception can work by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg, it doesn’t square with ‘life begins at conception’, as Romney noted in his veto.

This despite Romney’s telling NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, during his 2002 run for governor, that he could soften Republican opposition to reproductive rights and would support increasing the availability of emergency contraception for Massachusetts women. Romney’s positions on choice and reproductive rights are his attempt at being a little bit pregnant.Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein noted on Twitter that he directly asked the Romney camp in the days leading up to the Mississippi vote if Romney endorsed the proposal. Romney refused to answer those questions, as well as inquiries from the New York Times. Now that ‘personhood’ has failed in Mississippi he is desperately backpedaling—or Buckpedaling, in Colorado parlance. Buckpedaling is named for Senate candidate Ken Buck, who embraced Colorado’s ‘personhood’ ballot measure in the Republican primary but then flip-flopped when it became a liability in the general. He lost.

‘Personhood’ proponents, undeterred by continued rejection—fanatics usually aren’t—say they plan to try again in a number of battleground states in 2012, including Colorado (third time’s the charm!), Ohio, Florida, Nevada, and Montana. And they have some allies in Congressional Republicans.

As noted by Nick Baumann in Mother Jones,

Nearly identical language appears in three bills that have been endorsed by scores of Republicans in Congress, including top House committee chairmen Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)…. Sixty-three House Republicans, or over a quarter of the GOP conference, are cosponsors of HR 212, Rep. Paul Broun’s (R-Ga.) “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” which includes language that directly parallels that of the Mississippi personhood amendment.

Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker has introduced S.91, a Senate version of the ‘personhood’ House bills, and it currently has sixteen Republican co-sponsors, including “moderate” Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Richard Burr of North Carolina.

The Republican Party, and the Republican presidential primary, remains captive to its right-wing base in its embrace of the anti-choice, anti-family, anti-privacy ‘personhood’ proposals. But when these proposals have been rejected by voters as diverse as those in Colorado and Mississippi, it tells you something about the mainstream electorate leading into 2012. That is why Mitt Romney wouldn’t answer questions before the vote, and why he is running away now that it’s over.

 

By: Laura Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, November 9, 2011

November 10, 2011 Posted by | Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are There Any Pro-Choice Republicans Left In The House?

Yes, America, there are pro-choice Republicans. But after this week, there’s some question about whether are any left in the U.S. Congress.

H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act” that passed the House May 4 is not likely to become the law of the land. But the fact that it passed the House with unanimous Republican support means the pro-life members of the party, which includes all the House leadership, can tout their attachment to social issues, even after the supposedly fiscal-first tea party movement helped take over the GOP last year.

For pro-choice Republicans, the vote means embarrassing questions. Basically every pro-choice group says H.R. 3 is an anti-abortion bill that goes far beyond the government’s current prohibitions on abortion funding and actually raises taxes on women who want to seek abortion coverage in their private insurance plans.

That’s a double-whammy for pro-choice Republicans. One, raising taxes under any circumstances is a no-no for anyone in the modern GOP. And, two, the bill has been cast as the biggest assault on abortion rights in years.

Voting against such a measure, then, would seem like a no-brainer. Except it wasn’t. None of the about a dozen House GOP members of the Republican Majority For Choice PAC considered as allies, voted against H.R. 3. In fact, all of them voted yes.

“We opposed the bill, we considered it an anti-choice, big government intrusion and politically we think it’s a bad move for the Republicans to keep focusing on this,” K.R. Ferguson, executive director of the PAC told TPM.

Still, she says that she’s not prepared to say the members who voted for it have given up their pro-choice credentials. She pointed to the refusal of some Republicans to sign on to the House plan to defund Planned Parenthood as the kind of thing that will keep the PAC’s endorsement coming.

“I would not say we would stop supporting any of the members who took this vote,” Ferguson said. She said that though it’s hard to rectify being pro-choice and voting for H.R. 3, support from her PAC isn’t  “an all or nothing” prospect.

There are still Republicans who run as pro-choice members, despite the fact that the party in the House is about as far from supporting a woman’s right to choose as it could possibly be these days.

Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) touted his endorsement from Ferguson’s PAC back in 2010. Ferguson said he might get it again, despite his vote for H.R. 3. Dold’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Though repeatedly expressing her extreme disappointment with the vote, Ferguson suggested Dold and his fellow pro-choice Republicans really had no choice.

“The extreme who was pushing this bill did a masterful job of spinning it as a no taxpayer fundings for abortion [measure] and putting these members in an almost impossible position,” she said. “We don’t like it, we will continue to call on our members to try to educate them” on the truth of the bill.

Illinois Republican Rep. Judy Biggert, a past co-chair of the House pro-choice caucus, says that her vote for H.R. 3 was completely consistent with her pro-choice views.

“Rep. Biggert is pro-choice. She supports a women’s right to chose, but she does not support public funding for abortion,” spokesperson Zachary Cikanek told TPM. “Abortion is a private decision, and it should be paid for with private dollars – without government involvement. That’s why she voted for H.R. 3.”

Cikanek noted that Biggert “has stated publically that she thinks Congress should be keeping its attention focused on spending and jobs, and not spending its time locked in debate on divisive social issues.”

Not all pro-choice advocates are willing to accept that kind of answer. NARAL President Nancy Keenan told TPM that a pro-choice vote for H.R. 3 is a political oxymoron. Though her group is non-partisan, NARAL hasn’t endorsed any Republicans serving in the current House, despite the fact that members like Biggert claim to be supporters of the cause.

“No member of congress can vote for this egregious bill and be considered pro-choice,” Keenan said. “Bottom line.”

By: Evan McMorris-Santoro, Talking Points Memo, May 7, 2011

May 7, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Congress, Conservatives, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Pro-Choice, Republicans, Taxes, Tea Party, Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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