Friday Femorandum: The Hypocrites Hall of Fame

While the nation mourned the loss of dozens of lives in Las Vegas and wondered how many deaths would be enough to force the White House to act on gun violence, President Trump was focused on taking away women’s right to decide when, whether, and how to start our expand their families.
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CNN reports on the new rules, which “would let a broad range of employers — including nonprofits, private firms and publicly traded companies—stop offering contraceptives through their health insurance plans if they have a ‘sincerely held religious or moral objection.'” In practice, the rule change means that almost every employer in the country can declare itself exempt from the mandate that they provide coverage for contraception by claiming to have a religious or moral objection to birth control; as a result, women will begin to lose coverage as soon as employers renew their insurance plans.
Ninety-nine percent of American women will use birth control at some point in their lives, and 62 million women currently enjoy access to the birth-control benefit. Eliminating access to birth control for these women will not result in fewer abortions or prevent women from having sex; rather, it will force them to rely on less effective methods of birth control, result in more unintended pregnancies, and create a new economic burden for the millions of women who already struggle with high health-care costs.
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Abortion opponents had something else to celebrate this week: While Trump was making it harder for women to keep from getting pregnant, the US House of Representatives was making it harder for them to terminate unplanned pregnancies, by passing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

Did they cravenly exploit the shooting in Las Vegas to promote their perennial proposal to chip away at women’s reproductive freedom? You bet! From ThinkProgress:

In the aftermath of two recent acts of gun violence, the House GOP caucus has been inspired not to pursue gun control legislation that could prevent future mass shootings, but instead to crack down on reproductive rights.

“As we mourn the lives lost in Las Vegas this week, and welcome Whip Scalise back to Capitol Hill, we are reminded just how precious life is,” the GOP caucus writes in a blog post about new anti-abortion legislation approved by the House on Tuesday. “This message weighed heavily on the hearts of House Republicans as we spoke of the potential of life — especially lives cut short through abortion.”

The post goes on to discuss Republicans’ motivations for supporting the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protections Act, which, as CNN reports, “would criminalize abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for instances where the life of the mother is at risk and in cases involving rape or incest.”

The bill was approved by a largely party-line 237-189 vote in the House on Tuesday night. Though it has a harder path forward in the Senate, President Donald Trump has pledged to sign it if the legislation makes it to his desk.

House Republicans passed a similar bill back in 2015, though without the tacked-on justification about the need for mass births in the wake of mass shootings.

Vox also reported on the 20-week ban, digging down on a claim proponents often use to justify such restrictions: That fetuses can “feel pain” at 20 weeks. The ban is called “The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” because of course it is.

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In reality, Vox reports, there is strong scientific consensus that fetuses are not capable of experiencing pain until much later in a pregnancy. (“Twenty weeks” defines a point about halfway through a pregnancy, but includes the two weeks before the pregnancy actually begins). According to an expert quoted by Vox, “There’s actually conclusive evidence that shows that the neurologic structures in a fetus aren’t completely laid down and working yet until much further along in pregnancy, we think even the third trimester.” Twenty weeks, this expert says, “is just an arbitrary limit set in place by politicians that has no medical or scientific backing.” You don’t say.

One of the ban’s cosponsors (and an ardent opponent of women’s reproductive rights in general) is GOP Rep. Tim Murphy, who has held forth many times about “honoring life from the moment of conception,” according to the Washington Post. You may recognize Murphy’s name for another reason, however; he was the “pro-life” rep who was forced to resign this week after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he had pressured his mistress to have an abortion after a pregnancy scare. The affair was the second of Murphy’s affairs to become public knowledge, after an earlier fling between the “family man” and his chief of staff. Prior to demanding that his latest mistress have an abortion, Murphy told a “pro-life” crowd in Pittsburgh,

Every kid deserves a chance to have a choice at life. Every child deserves a chance to have a choice at life. Every baby deserves a chance to have a choice at life. And every parent should be supported in their responsibility and commitment to raise that child.

House Speaker Paul Ryan thanked Murphy for his “many years of tireless work” before he was ushered away to the Hypocrites Hall of Fame.


Friday Femorandum: A Pretty Bold Claim

Perhaps seeking a distraction from their repeated failure to pass legislation robbing tens of millions of Americans of their health care coverage, Republicans in Congress will vote next week on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. The “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act”—a name that is inaccurate and unscientific on at least two counts—would make it a crime “to perform or attempt an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with the possibility of a fine, up to five years in prison, or both,” according to The Hill. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said the goal of the bill is “ending suffering and helping people live”—a pretty bold claim, considering that Congressional Republicans oppose have consistently blocked access to prenatal care, maternity care, and child care, and oppose workplace rules that would make it easier for women to continue earning a living before, during, and after their pregnancies.

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NARAL Pro-Choice America was among the many groups protesting conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s speech at the Trump International Hotel this week. Advocates were appalled that Gorsuch would participate in an event at a hotel owned by the man who put him on the bench (with a heavy assist from Congress, which simply refused to consider President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, punting the choice to the next President), pointing out that the move smacked of payback and partisan politics.

As CNN notes, the hotel is embroiled in a massive controversy over whether Trump’s profits from foreign dignitaries who stay there, in part, to get in the President’s good graces constitute a violation of the US Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bans Presidents from taking gifts or bribes from foreign governments.

“The Trump International Hotel is … one of the primary ways in which foreign governments are seeking to curry favor with the President, by holding events there,” [Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center] told CNN. “Given that these cases could very well make their way to the Supreme Court, Justice Gorsuch agreeing to speak there raises questions about his impartiality.”
Nan Aron, the president of the progressive Alliance for Justice, a group that opposed Gorsuch’s nomination, also criticized his judgment.
“Justice Gorsuch should have known better than to sign up as the headliner for an event that will line Donald Trump’s pockets in a way that is at best ethically sketchy” Aron said in a statement.
Few people imagine that Gorsuch will actually be impartial when ruling on his political benefactor’s ethically dubious behavior, but his decision to speak at Trump’s hotel is a brazen sign of just how little anyone associated with the new President cares about traditional ethical considerations.
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Women’s groups and survivor advocates are fighting back against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ move to make it even harder for college sexual assault survivors to get justice. Last week, after meeting with groups of “men’s rights activists” and others who argue that the real problem facing college campuses isn’t rampant sexual assault but fake rape allegations, DeVos rolled back an Obama-era rule designed to make it more likely that victims of sexual assault on campus would get justice. The new rules increase the burden of proof for assault survivors and will make it easier for people who commit assaults to escape punishment. They will also make student survivors even less likely to report assaults than they already are; accusing a fellow student can be a traumatic process, and increasing the burden of proof on survivors only ensures that more perpetrators will evade justice.
Advocates are raising awareness by posting on social media and elsewhere about the devastating impact the new rules will have on sexual assault survivors, including the fact that they will discourage victims from pursuing justice, using the hashtag #StopBetsy; Common Dreams has more.
Alabama’s terrifying Republican candidate (and likely shoo-in) for US Senator, Roy Moore, may be best known as the “Ten Commandments Judge” who hates Muslims, doesn’t believe in evolution, and wants to ban homosexuality, but did you know he also thinks God gave government the authority to ban every abortion starting at the moment of conception, with no exceptions?

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New York Magazine, take it away:

He wants to make every abortion under any circumstances illegal from the moment of conception, and punish those who procure them, regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court says. He made that clear not in some op-ed, but in an opinion from his position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, in a 2014 case involving prosecuting a woman for endangering her fetus by using drugs:

Because a human life with a full genetic endowment comes into existence at the moment of conception, the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” encompasses the moment of conception. Legal recognition of the unborn as members of the human family derives ultimately from the laws of nature and of nature’s God, Who created human life in His image and protected it with the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Therefore, the interpretation of the word “child” in Alabama’s chemical-endangerment statute, § 26-15- 3.2, Ala. Code 1975, to include all human beings from the moment of conception is fully consistent with these first principles regarding life and law.

As this quote illustrates, Moore is a leader in the “Personhood Movement,” which holds that from the moment of conception a zygote enjoys the full protections of the Equal Protection Clause, which precedes and preempts any claim by the woman involved.

Alabama’s special election is in December, and Moore is heavily favored to defeat his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.


Choice News

Friday Femorandum: A Grim Example

While all right-thinking people in the United States were horrified by President Donald Trump’s equivocal statements about the violent white supremacists who killed Heather Heyer and injured at least 19 other counterprotesters in Charlottesville last weekend, Trump was quietly working to sign away one of the most fundamental components of the Affordable Care Act: The contraceptive mandate, which requires insurance companies to provide all forms of birth control to women without a copay. (Pro-choice groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America condemned Trump’s “both sides are to blame” remarks; anti-choice/”pro-life” groups? Not so much.)

 30 rock tina fey liz lemon shut it down GIFMother Jones reports on the administration’s plans to eliminate the benefit, by changing rules associated with the ACA so that virtually any company could deny coverage for birth control. The rule change would expand the ACA’s “moral objection” clause, which has been interpreted as applying only to explicitly religious organizations, so that most companies that do not want to pay for birth control could opt out of doing so. Essentially, the new rule would be Hobby Lobby on steroids, and its effect would be that more women who need access to contraception would be forced to pay out of pocket, choose cheaper, less effective methods, or face an unplanned pregnancy.

Two states passed laws this week that illustrate the power state governments have to counteract or worsen Trump-era abortion policy. The first is a familiar battleground for abortion rights advocates: Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott just signed a bill this week requiring women who anticipate that they may have an unplanned pregnancy (which is basically the definition of an oxymoron) to pay extra for special “abortion insurance.” From now on, private insurance companies will be barred from covering abortion as part of their regular insurance plans, and allowed (but not required) to offer extra abortion insurance to women.

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Opponents, the Texas Tribune notes, have dubbed the legislation the “rape insurance bill,” because it doesn’t include any exceptions for rape and incest—that is, in effect, it requires women to anticipate that they will be raped. (Or, even more perversely, that their teenage daughters will be raped or become pregnant through incest.) That’s an  effective (and accurate) description, but the fact is, the definition of insurance is that it ensures coverage for unanticipated events. If pregnancy is put in a different category than, say, a broken leg due to a car accident, or a rare and expensive form of cancer, then there’s a strong case to be made that this law discriminates against all Texas women, not just those who may be the victims of rape or incest.

Oregon, very much in contrast to Texas,  just passed a law this week that will require all insurance companies to cover abortion and birth control for all women in the state, including undocumented immigrants; it also includes state funding for abortions and brith control for women who are uninsured. According to Broadly, the bill also requires coverage for “STI and pregnancy testing, voluntary sterilization, postpartum care, and a long list of other reproductive health care–related drugs, devices, and services,” including vasectomies.

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Pro-choice groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, consider the bill a bulwark against future Trump administration crackdowns on access to birth control and abortion, including the possibility that Roe v. Wade is overturned, sending abortion rights back to the states. Washington State has its own law ensuring that abortion will remain legal even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, but efforts to pass legislation requiring abortion and male contraception coverage have failed, thanks to a state legislature narrowly split between pro-choice and anti-choice factions.

Finally, here’s a grim example of what happens when a federal government places draconian restrictions on abortion access—from India, where the laws regulating abortion are not much different than what many Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence, want to institute in the United States. The New York Times reports that a ten-year-old girl who was denied an abortion after being raped by her uncle—because India’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks has no exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant person—just gave birth. She was never told she was pregnant; instead, her family told her she was having a kidney stone removed. The pregnancy was especially dangerous because 10-year-old children are not physically equipped for pregnancy and childbirth, and the procedure required the girl to spend a week in the hospital monitored by three gynecologists, two pediatricians, two psychologists, a dietitian and a cardiologist. In service to a law designed to punish women, India’s government forced a 10-year-old who had already endured the trauma of rape to undergo a dangerous pregnancy and an invasive medical procedure. It’s inexcusable. But the US shouldn’t labor under the delusion that it couldn’t happen here.


Friday Femorandum: Outside the “Big Tent”

As you’re probably aware, the Democrats are currently weighing whether abortion rights are important enough to fight for. Specifically, the man who heads up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which provides funding and support to congressional candidates, said recently that the Party will throw its support behind candidates who oppose women’s right to choose when, whether, and how to start a family. Nothing could be more fundamental, yet the leaders of the only major party that has vowed in the past to protect that right consider it nonessential. At a time when both parties of Congress, the White House, and the judiciary are controlled by the party that is explicitly anti-choice, the failure of the Democratic Party to say they will fight for women on this most basic level is inexcusable. Moreover, it tells women—the absolute bedrock of the Democratic Party—that their rights and humanity don’t matter. If the Democrats abandon women, then women may well abandon the Democrats.

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Another prominent male Democrat who has picked up his party’s “abortion rights don’t matter” banner is California Governor Jerry Brown, who said this week that making the right to choose a nonnegotiable value would make the Democrats no different than “the Marxist Party in 1910. Hasn’t this guy been governor long enough?

Fortunately, there are a lot of people who’ve been willing to stand up to this appalling abdication of responsibility by the nominally “pro-choice” party, starting with NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue. Hogue told the AP this week that “Every time the Democrats lose an election, they start casting about in ways that are deeply damaging to the base. If they go out and start recruiting anti-choice candidates under the Democratic brand, the message is, ‘We’re willing to sell out women to win,’ and politically that’s just suicide.” Elaborating on NPR, Hogue said, “If there was ever a stronger signal sent that women are looking for leadership who has our backs because equality and justice is more important in the Trump administration than it’s ever been, that moment is now.”

 fun celebrate unbreakable kimmy schmidt kimmy schmidt ellie kemper GIFMany progressive groups, thankfully, are fighting back, by signing a joint statement pledging not to support candidates who don’t support a woman’s right to choose. Alternet has the full statement, and Glamour reports:

The right to decide how and when to have a family has a huge impact on other vital party issues, like the economy, education, and gender equality. But more important, the statement says, women cannot be free in a society that forces them to have children against their will. “As progressives, we stand united in the belief that a woman’s autonomy over her own body is not a secondary issue or a ‘social issue,’ but rather a human right and a necessity in order to attain and preserve economic security in her life,” it reads. 

The consequences of deeming abortion rights inessential are far from theoretical. In Texas, Republican legislators—emboldened by Trump’s election and undeterred, as Rewire reports, by last year’s Supreme Court ruling striking down laws designed to force abortion providers out of business—are moving ahead with several new proposals to limit or eliminate women’s right to choose. The first and furthest-reaching would bar private insurance companies from providing abortion coverage except as a separate, “abortion-only” policy, forcing women to anticipate in advance whether they will have an unintended pregnancy (kind of an oxymoron) or become pregnant as the result of rape—one reason pro-choice activists are calling the proposal the “rape insurance” bill. (Insurance, as a reminder, is supposed to insure against unanticipated medical events, making the supplemental abortion-only “insurance” policy anything but.)

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Three other bills, the Houston Chronicle reports, would require doctors to report more detailed personal information about abortion patients to state authorities, including specific details about women under 18 who seek judicial bypasses to the state’s parental-consent law, and would prohibit the state from contracting with Planned Parenthood clinics for non-abortion-related services.

What will happen if Democrats capitulate to Republicans by declaring that women’s rights don’t matter? Most likely, we’ll see a proliferation of Texas-style laws across the country, including states run by anti-choice Democrats. When the Democrats’ “big tent” expands so much that encompasses anti-choice Republican values, is there any good reason for women to stay inside?




Friday Femorandum: Fake Clinics, Real Consequences

Women in Seattle and the rest of King County, Washington, had reason to celebrate this week, when the King County Board of Health voted to adopt a new rule requiring “crisis pregnancy centers”—fake “clinics” run by anti-choice nonprofits that bait pregnant women with promises of medical care and counseling, then try to talk them out of having abortions—to disclose the fact that they do not actually provide any health-care services. Starting in one month, CPCs will have to display a large sign declaring “This is not a health-care facility” in 10 different languages, and include the same information on all their promotional materials.

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CPCs generally provide pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, and may offer samples of formula and diapers. Their main purpose, however, is to frighten women out of terminating even risky pregnancies by providing misinformation about abortion and birth control, including claims that abortion leads to cancer, suicide, and “post-abortion syndrome.”

Rewire, The Stranger, Q13, and MyNorthwest covered the Thursday vote. (KIRO, typically the most conservative of Seattle’s local news outlets, did a one-sided story that repeated false talking points from opponents and did not include any interviews or perspective from the proponents of the new rule, which passed on Thursday with just one dissenting vote).

Senate Republicans’ noxious health care bill is dead, so you may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. Not so fast, though—not only do Republicans who supported the bill, and President Donald Trump, hope to revive it as “repeal and delay”—that is, eliminate Obamacare and replace it with nothing, ending health care coverage for 32 million Americans—the GOP has found other ways of cutting women’s health care without repealing the Affordable Care Act altogether. Rewire reports that the US House Appropriations Committee approved budgets for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and education that include deep cuts to family planning programs. Notably, the bill eliminates $286 million in funding for family planning through the Title X program, which provides health care to low-income people.
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Additionally, the committee cut $6.4 million in funding for the Office of Women’s Health and $11.4 million for the Office of Minority Health.

Six months after Trump sat in the Oval Office surrounded by white men and signed off on the reinstatement and expansion of the global gag rule–a law that bans US funding for organizations that provide or even discuss abortion anywhere in in the world—the Guardian takes a look at how the rule is playing out worldwide.

As much as $10bn (£7.7bn) of global health funding hangs in the balance. Among those who will lose money if they refuse to sign up to the anti-abortion orthodoxy are the two big international family planning organisations, Marie Stopes International (MSI) and the IPPF. But for the first time, global NGOs such as Save the Children, WaterAid and the International HIV/Aids Alliance are also targeted.

The effects will be felt most keenly in the tiny, frontline clinics run by small NGOs struggling to help women and children in crowded townships, refugee camps and remote rural villages. There are no abortion doctors in such places (in most African countries, abortion is banned unless the woman’s life is in danger). These clinics instead offer contraceptive injections and condoms for those who would struggle to feed numerous children. But they also treat children for malaria and malnutrition and their mothers for HIV. This integrated care is now under threat.

The Trump administration’s antipathy toward women’s rights is so great that organizations like Save the Children (and, the piece goes on to note, the UN Population Fund) will suffer if they refuse to comply with administration policies. And if they do comply, they can no longer provide potentially life-saving services and information to women. No matter what organizations do, as long as the global gag rule is in place, women and their families around the world will suffer.

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But what’s behind Trump’s assault on women’s physical autonomy? Michele Goldberg, writing at the New York Times, has a theory: He wants to “accomplish legislatively” what he has bragged about doing to women physically—manhandling their bodies.  In a piece aptly titled “The Playboy President,” Goldberg notes the “deeply insulting irony” that an “erotically incontinent libertine”—a President whose resume includes a cameo in a softcore porn video, and who gleefully bragged about being able to grab women “by the pussy”—is spearheading what could be the most significant rollback of women’s rights since the days before Roe v. Wade. “Mr. Trump doesn’t care about women’s health or rights, and it’s easy to outsource policy to the activists of the religious right who helped elect him,” Goldberg concludes. “When you’re the president, they let you do it.”

Oh—and lest you think the judicial branch will be an effective check on the Trump Administration’s worst excesses, consider this: John Bush, the latest youthful judge to receive a Trump nomination to a lifetime seat on the federal bench, is an unqualified anti-choice blogger who has compared abortion to slavery. His nomination to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals sailed through the Senate on Thursday.