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“And May Has Only Just Begun”: 2014’s Most Outrageous Attacks On Women’s Health, So Far

It’s undeniable that American women are facing a dire crisis when it comes to reproductive healthcare. From 2011 to 2013, a record 205 abortion restrictions were enacted throughout the country – topping the total of 189 abortion restrictions enacted in the entire preceding decade. In 2013 alone, 39 states enacted 141 provisions related to reproductive rights, and half of those restricted abortion care specifically. Unfortunately, 2014 is right on trend so far. According to the Guttmacher Institute, legislators have introduced a combined 733 provisions related to sexual and reproductive health and rights so far this year, and it’s only May.

As the war on reproductive rights wages on, the types of restrictions proposed and passed in state legislatures have grown increasingly egregious and some, outright preposterous. Here are a few of 2014’s most outrageous laws so far:

1. South Carolina tries to extend “Stand Your Ground” to fetuses

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has been widely criticized, particularly in response to the deaths of unarmed black teens Travyon Martin and Jordan Davis. But a State Senate committee in South Carolina has apparently decided that not only do they support the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, but that it doesn’t go far enough.

Last month, the committee voted to expand South Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” law to specifically include fetuses. Proponents of the bill claim that the state’s current “Stand Your Ground” law isn’t broad enough to protect pregnant women who use deadly force to protect themselves and their fetuses – even though the law already authorizes the use of deadly force to protect oneself or another from “imminent peril of death or great bodily injury.”

What this expansion of “Stand Your Ground” would really do is apply personhood to fetuses by defining an embryo as an “unborn child,” a deliberate tactic to challenge Roe v. Wade and the right to a safe and legal abortion. No state has ever successfully passed a personhood amendment, and the American public continues to outright reject them, even in conservative states like Mississippi. Instead of openly championing the incredibly unpopular fetal personhood legislation, a South Carolina Senate committee has chosen “Stand Your Ground” as the in-road to this dangerous legal precedent that threatens women’s rights and access to reproductive healthcare.

2. Kansas lawmaker proposes a ban on surrogate pregnancy

Though abortion restrictions tend to get the most attention, the attack on women’s reproductive rights doesn’t stop there. A recent Kansas bill, championed by staunchly pro-life state Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), would outlaw surrogate pregnancy. Kansas Senate Bill 302 would render all surrogacy agreements, whether verbal or written, null and void and would make it a misdemeanor to hire or work as a surrogate – an offense punishable with up to a $10,000 and a year in the county jail. Shockingly, Pilcher-Cook’s proposed bill isn’t the first in the nation, but is based on Washington D.C.’s highly restrictive laws regarding surrogate pregnancy. Even so, this bill appears unlikely to pass due to opposition from the Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita).

For those who struggle with infertility or have other health issues that preclude a safe and healthy pregnancy, surrogacy is one of the few options afforded to them in order to conceive and bear biological children. Attempts to ban surrogate pregnancy, whether legitimate or to “start a conversation,” reveal the paternalism that underwrites opposition to women’s reproductive rights. Women are perfectly capable of making their own reproductive decisions, whether to bear their own children, adopt, live child-free, have an abortion, or enter into a consensual agreement with a surrogate.

3. Tennessee votes to criminalize drug use by pregnant women

In response to a burgeoning drug abuse problem, the Tennessee legislature has passed a bill that would criminalize the use of narcotics by pregnant women and allow them to be prosecuted for assaultive offenses if their baby is found to be born “addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug.” If signed by Republican Governor Bill Haslam, it would be the first law of its kind in the nation.

While the use of narcotics by pregnant women is obviously a health concern, prosecuting pregnant women for drug abuse is roundly opposed by major medical associations and reproductive rights advocates alike. Medical associations state that punitive measures like Tennessee’s bill do not improve pregnancy outcomes and advocates caution that criminalization will only deter drug-addicted pregnant women from seeking treatment or prenatal care, for fear of being arrested and incarcerated.

What’s more, this bill only criminalizes the use of illegal narcotics by pregnant women, which doesn’t account for the majority of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a group of problems associated with drug use during pregnancy. According to the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health Dr. John Dreyzehner, 60 percent of babies born with NAS in Tennessee had mothers who had a prescription for the medication they were taking. This bill only criminalizes a certain type of drug use – and critics warn that it will hit black women the hardest.

Criminalization sets a dangerous precedent and hinders drug-addicted pregnant women’s access to vital healthcare and potentially life-saving treatment.

4. Louisiana bill would keep brain-dead pregnant women on life support against family’s wishes

On the heels of the tragic case of Marlise Muñoz, a brain-dead pregnant woman in Texas who was kept on life support for eight weeks against her family’s wishes, Louisiana lawmakers have advanced a bill that would force physicians in the state to keep a brain-dead pregnant woman on life support against her family’s wishes and regardless of how far along her pregnancy is. This bill essentially turns brain-dead pregnant women into incubators against their will, compounding the trauma that their families are likely experiencing.

Unfortunately, Louisiana isn’t alone. Twelve states currently have similarly strict laws that automatically invalidate a woman’s advanced directive about her end-of-life care if she is pregnant. While a provision that would have superseded pregnant women’s “do not resuscitate” orders was dropped from the legislation, Louisiana’s bill would still override the family’s wishes. It’s a dangerous law that destroys brain-dead pregnant women’s personhood and renders her family utterly helpless.

5. Alabama House votes to ban abortions at six weeks

In the last few years, unconstitutional fetal pain bills, which ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization, have become increasingly popular in state legislatures. Nine states now have a 20-week abortion ban on their legislative books – and they’re all based on junk science. Even more egregious and outright unconstitutional are so-called fetal heartbeat bills, which outlaw abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected. This can be as early as six weeks post-fertilization, or a point at which many don’t even know that they’re pregnant.

Alabama is the latest state to jump onto this outrageous bandwagon, as the Republican-controlled House passed the Fetal Heartbeat Act and three other abortion restrictions. Similar to North Dakota’s six-week ban that was recently struck down by a federal judge, Alabama’s bill would make it a crime to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Banning abortions at six weeks essentially criminalizes abortion itself, a move that is incredibly unpopular with the American public. Perhaps that’s why this bill ultimately stalled in the Alabama Senate.

Despite their unpopularity and blatant unconstitutionality, it’s unlikely given this political climate that we’ve seen the last of fetal heartbeat bans or other outrageous legislative attacks on women’s healthcare in 2014. After all, May has just begun.

By: Lauren Rankin, Rolling Stone, May 2, 2014


May 5, 2014 Posted by | Reproductive Rights, War On Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Irrational Exceptionalism”: America Is Exceptionally Dumb When It Comes To Guns

While Americans typically laud our national “exceptionalism” — a sense that the trajectory of history has bestowed greatness upon the United States — there are a few of our distinctive characteristics that don’t deserve celebration. On the subject of firearms, for example, the United States is exceptionally irrational. No other nation has set guns aside as an object of worship.

We have let a blood-soaked gun lobby dictate our laws and regulations on firearms; we have passed “stand your ground” laws that allow violent and angry men to murder unarmed people; we have given the mentally unstable the ability to buy military-style assault weapons with which they wreak havoc on crowds. Last week, Georgia governor Nathan Deal signed a bill into law that would allow denizens of his state to carry firearms into government buildings, bars and, God help us, churches.

In addition, we have allowed the gun lobby to suppress research into the public health consequences of our firearms-worshipping culture. Indeed, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) — running in a crowded GOP primary for a U.S. Senate seat — has recently reversed himself, going back on an earlier pledge to support such studies. It hardly gets any loonier than that.

In the 1990s, the National Rifle Association successfully stymied public health researchers who wanted to study the causes and consequences of gun violence. According to ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, “funding for firearms injury prevention activities dropped from more than $2.7 million in 1995 to around $100,000 in 2012.”

The gun lobby clearly fears that science will discover that guns are dangerous and that, well, more guns are more dangerous. (To quote that famous philosopher Stephen Colbert, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”)

However, after the Sandy Hook atrocity in December 2012, it appeared that the dead bodies of 20 small children — and six adults — might be enough to finally restore some sanity to the national conversation. President Obama issued a presidential memorandum ordering the CDC to “research the causes and prevention of gun violence.” The National Rifle Association didn’t immediately object, since it recognized the fraught politics of that grief-laden moment.

Some of the NRA’s supporters, too, were muted, seemingly willing to consider modest measures to improve public safety. Kingston was among those willing to support more research on gun violence, saying, “Let’s let the data lead rather than our political opinions.”

At a Savannah, Georgia, gathering shortly after Sandy Hook, he said: “You have to be a pretty sick person to squeeze a trigger on a human being, particularly unarmed children at a school. I think if we focus and keep beating up on the weapon as the problem, we are missing the big picture of mental health that we can come together on as Democrats and Republicans. I spoke with the head of the CDC last week. I think we can find some common ground.”

But Kingston now finds himself in a GOP primary in which some of his right-wing opponents have tagged him as a RINO (Republican In Name Only), despite his solidly conservative credentials. That has left him desperate to court the crazies among his constituents, lest the “fire-at-will” crowd doubt his fidelity to the notion that every American should own his own shoulder-fired missile launcher.

So Kingston has dutifully signed up to block Obama’s request for CDC funding for gun violence research, telling ProPublica recently that “the president’s request to fund propaganda for his gun-grabbing initiatives through the CDC will not be included” in the next appropriations bill.

That means that some of the questions we desperately need answered won’t get the inquiry they deserve: Do background checks deter gun violence? How many mass shooters had a detectable mental illness? What is the link between suicide and gun ownership? Even Kingston’s question about a possible link between violent video games and mass shootings won’t be studied.

That’s just nuts, a reminder of our willingness to be exceptionally dumb about some things.


By: Cynthia Tucker, Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize For Commentary, is a Visiting Professor at the University of Georgia; Published in The National Memo, April 26, 2014

April 28, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Georgia’s ‘Guns Everywhere’ Bill”: The Most Insane And Extreme Gun Bill In America Expands “Stand Your Ground” Law

Just a few minutes ago, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed sweeping new gun legislation into law, and while it’s technically the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” NBC News’ Gabe Gutierrez noted that many have labeled it the “Guns Everywhere Bill.”

One of the most permissive state gun laws in the nation, it will allow licensed owners to carry firearms into more public places than at any time in the past century, including bars and government buildings that don’t have security checkpoints.

The law also authorizes school districts to appoint staffers to carry firearms. It allows churches to “opt-in” if they want to allow weapons. Bars could already “opt-in” to allow weapons, but under the new law they must opt out if they want to bar weapons. Permit-holders who accidentally bring a gun to an airport security checkpoint will now be allowed to pick up their weapon and leave with no criminal penalty. (At Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a record 111 guns were found at TSA screening areas last year.)

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group co-founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, has called the legislation “the most extreme gun bill in America.”

Despite the opposition of gun-safety reformers and Georgia law enforcement, the bill was passed with relative ease. The governor’s Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jason Carter, voted for it, too, though he made it slightly less extreme, helping eliminate some provisions, including a measure allowing guns on college campuses.

Regardless, the new state law, which takes effect in July, also expands on Georgia’s “stand your ground” policy by “protecting convicted felons who kill using illegal guns.”

Frank Rotondo, the executive director of Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, told The Guardian, “One of the biggest concerns is it expands stand-your-ground. The way it’s written, a felon who is not permitted to have a weapon could use a weapon in defense of his or her home and not be charged for having the weapon.”

Oddly enough, a similar bill recently passed the Arizona legislature, though it met a different fate.

In a bit of a surprise, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed two pro-gun bills yesterday, including a proposal to expand guns in public buildings.

One bill would allow gun owners to bring weapons into public buildings or events. A summary of the bill says that it would allow gun owners to keep their firearms unless the building had security guards, metal detectors and storage for the weapons. Many Arizona public buildings do not have the first two, according to local reports. […]

The other bill would have limited local governments from enacting gun control statutes that were stricter than state law and imposed a fine up to $5,000 on any local officials who administered such a statute, according to a summary. Those officials would also be at risk of losing their job.

For all of Brewer’s conservatism, she occasionally surprises me.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fetal Personhood Ploy”: Anti-Choice Lawmakers In South Carolina Want Pregnant Women To Arm Themselves To “Protect The Unborn”

A state Senate panel in South Carolina advanced legislation Thursday that states a pregnant person has a right to use deadly force to protect the “unborn … from conception until birth.” The measure is called  the “Pregnant Women’s Protection Act,” and it is model legislation written and disseminated by Americans United for Life.

As usual, the words “pregnancy” and “protection” are red herrings.

First, South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law already allows for the use of deadly force anywhere a person claims to fear for their lives or the life of someone around them. (It is a terrible and dangerous law.) So opponents of the “Pregnant Women’s Protection Act” have rightly pointed out that this measure is entirely redundant.

But the bill does serve a serious purpose for anti-choice policymakers and activists working to endow fertilized eggs with personhood status and legal rights, a move that would suppress the rights of pregnant people and likely ban abortion and most forms of contraception. The measure tries to accomplish this — or at least open the door to these possibilities — by defining life as beginning at conception.

Here’s the language from the bill:

(1)    ‘Pregnant’ means the female reproductive condition of having an unborn child in the female’s body.

(2)    ‘Unborn child’ means the offspring of human beings from conception until birth.

The measure also pays considerable lip service to the very real threat of violence faced by women and pregnant people, but does nothing to strengthen existing anti-violence laws, create additional funding for domestic violence service providers or increase actual resources to aid people in violent situations.

None of this was lost on the opponents of the measure. “No one disputes that violence against pregnant women is a concern in our state and few would deny the need for swift action to stop any instances of further violence,” Emma Davidson, spokeswoman for South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families, told the Aiken Standard. “But it is hypocritical to introduce legislation claiming to protect victims of domestic abuse, rape and violence while simultaneously outlawing emergency contraception, a key treatment option for those victims.”

And for those looking for further proof that the “Pregnant Women’s Protection Act” is just a fetal personhood ploy, the committee also debated a fetal personhood measure during the same session.

The “Personhood Act” would outlaw abortion outright by granting legal rights to fertilized eggs and fetuses.

By defining life as starting at conception, Davidson explained, the measure could also outlaw birth control and emergency contraception. And as University of South Carolina family law professor Marcia Zug told the Aiken Standard, the bill could ban abortions without exception. “A fetal personhood bill which would outlaw abortions in even the most life-threatening of circumstances has never been an option with the Supreme Court. It is clearly unconstitutional,” Zug said.

And if lawmakers are really interested in reducing rates of domestic violence in the state, they may instead want to focus their efforts on funding domestic violence service providers who have had to reduce services in the face of budget cuts. According to a nationwide survey on domestic violence service providers, in a single day in South Carolina, 16 requests from domestic violence victims were turned down because programs did not have the resources to provide them emergency shelter, housing, transportation, childcare or legal representation

More women are killed by men in South Carolina than any other state in the nation; the rate of women killed by men in South Carolina is more than double the national average.


By: Katie McDonough, Salon, April 11, 2014

April 12, 2014 Posted by | Anti-Choice, Personhood | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The True Architects And Gatekeepers”: The ‘Real Racists’ Have Always Worn Suits

This week we’ve commemorated the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the monumental piece of legislation aimed at outlawing discrimination based on race. A three-day-long “civil rights summit” was organized at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, where many past and present activists and politicians spoke on the legacy of the Civil Rights Act.

With the commemoration has come further discussion about the contemporary face of American racism (Chris Hayes hosted a great segment on the topic last night with Salon’s Brittney Cooper and New York‘s Jonathan Chait). Over at BET, Keith Boykin wrote:

Despite the progress of the past half century, the struggle continues. “The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.” So said baseball hall of famer Hank Aaron in an interview with USA Today this week, in which he seemed to compare the racist klansmen of the 1960s with the supposedly post-racial cynics of our current generation.

You see, today’s racists don’t wear white hoods and scream the N-word. They wear dark suits and scream about government handouts. They don’t set up racist poll taxes to deter Blacks from voting. They set up voter ID laws to do the same thing. And they certainly don’t defend lynch mobs, which legitimize vigilante justice. Instead, they defend Stand Your Ground laws, which achieve the same purpose.

But I have trouble with this framing. It’s neat and easily digestible for anyone with only a cursory understanding of American history and racism, and therefore popular as a means of telling that history. It has broad appeal, but it’s not accurate. It flattens history and does the work of placing the onus for past bad deeds on a select few. It reinforces the image of “the real racist” as one who expressed their hatred in demonstrably violent ways. It suggests that racists have simply become more sophisticated, changing the tactics of their hatred from burning crosses to writing legislation, from white hoods to business suits, as that Hank Aaron quote contends.

Here’s the problem with that narrative: the architects and gatekeepers of American racism have always worn neckties. They have always been a part of the American political system.

I understand the impulse in wanting to find some way to convey that what we’re dealing with currently is a system of racism that is less overt than it once was. Saying things like “we’ve gone from white hoods to business suits” is one way to seem to speak to contemporary racism’s less vocal, yet still insidious nature. But it does a disservice to the public understanding of racism, and in the process undercuts the mission of drawing attention to contemporary racism’s severity.

It wasn’t the KKK that wrote the slave codes. It wasn’t the armed vigilantes who conceived of convict leasing, postemancipation. It wasn’t hooded men who purposefully left black people out of New Deal legislation. Redlining wasn’t conceived at a Klan meeting in rural Georgia. It wasn’t “the real racists” who bulldozed black communities in order to build America’s highway system. The Grand Wizard didn’t run COINTELPRO in order to dismantle the Black Panthers. The men who raped black women hired to clean their homes and care for their children didn’t hide their faces.

The ones in the hoods did commit violent acts of racist terrorism that shouldn’t be overlooked, but they weren’t alone. Everyday citizens participated in and attended lynchings as if they were state fairs, bringing their children and leaving with souvenirs. These spectacles, if not outright endorsed, were silently sanctioned by elected officials and respected members of the community.

It’s easy to focus on the most vicious and dramatic forms of racist violence faced by past generations as the site of “real” racism. If we do, we can also point out the perpetrators of that violence and rightly condemn them for their actions. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that those individuals alone didn’t write America’s racial codes. It’s much harder to talk about how that violence was only reinforcing the system of political, economic and cultural racism that made America possible. That history indicts far more people, both past and present.


By: Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, April11, 2014

April 12, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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