Friday Femorandum: Hunkering Down for the Storm

As we all hunker down for the final Presidential debate next Wednesday, and the allegations against Donald Trump continue to accumulate, we at the Friday Femorandum thought we’d take a step back to look at some of the substantive issues that haven’t been discussed in the campaigns so far and probably won’t come up in next week’s debate. (#AskAbutAbortion, anyone?)

Top of the list, and related to this week’s revelations from women who say Trump groped, ogled, harassed, and forced himself on them: As NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue writes in Elle, Trump’s actions didn’t come from nowhere. In fact, to consider his deeds without considering the larger context of misogyny in which they exist exonerates the Republican Party of its real sin: Treating women as objects, not just by dismissing credible allegations of assault and harassment but by supporting laws that restrict our ability to live free lives.

screaming leslie jones television snl relationships“Objectification of women is not just bragging about sexual assault. It’s not just fat-shaming. And it’s not just the too-many-to-name inappropriate and sexualized comments Trump has made about too many women,” Hogue writes.

“Anti-abortion legislation that imposes an ideology about when and how and with whom a woman should grow her family treats her primarily as an object; her identity is as a vessel to incubate a life other than her own.”

Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate and the anti-choice current governor of Indiana, certainly believes this. In fact, just this week he declared, in no uncertain terms, that “A Trump-Pence administration will defund Planned Parenthood.”

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Pence, speaking to a group of evangelical Christians at Liberty University, went on to promise that the money now spent funding critical non-abortion health care services at the nation’s largest network of women’s health care providers will be “redirected” to “women’s health care that doesn’t provide abortion services.”

Pence’s anti-choice comments, which suggested that the government is somehow tacitly supporting abortion rights (the horror! but no, they aren’t) by providing funds to a group that also performs abortions, happened to coincide with a new report from the Guttmacher Institute eviscerating this “fungibility” argument. Basically, the fungibility argument says that if the government funds services at Planned Parenthood, it will free other Planned Parenthood funding up to pay for abortions. The argument has long been used to justify cuts to funding for family-planning organizations abroad and across the US, particular funding for Planned Parenthood.

“It is hypocritical,” the Guttmacher report says, “to suggest that fungibility is only a problem where family planning and abortion providers are concerned, but not for myriad other government-subsidized activities, including the billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars that go to religious organizations and charities. By the logic of fungibility, any government aid to faith-based charities inevitably frees up these organizations’ private funds to proselytize or engage in other religious activities.

“But the most troubling aspect of the fungibility strategy is that, ultimately, it targets not only family planning providers and programs, but the millions of women who rely on them to obtain essential health care,” the report concludes.

It’s probably too late to hope that FOX news commentator Chris Wallace, who has vowed not to fact-check Trump’s lies in real time on Wednesday, will ask either of the candidates any substantive questions about abortion, reproductive freedom, gender pay equity, or the rights of working women and mothers. However, we hope that at the very least he won’t parrot right-wing talking points about “partial-birth abortion,” as vice-presidential debate moderator Elaine Quijano failed to challenge Pence’s claim that Hillary Clinton supports the practice.taylor swift screaming yelling scream frustrated

As Right Wing Watch has documented over and over again, and reiterated this week, “partial-birth abortion” is a term invented by anti-choice extremists to describe a rare second-trimester abortion procedure that is typically used to save a woman’s life or protect her health. The fact that Quijano failed to challenge Pence’s claim speaks to the persistence of this term, despite the fact that its only purpose is to make later-term abortions sound gruesome.

Choice News

Friday Femorandum: Hillary v. Trump, Round 2

Before we get to the debates, past and future, can we just take a moment to consider the fact that it’s 2016 and we have an actual major-party Presidential candidate-the nominee of the “family values” party, no less–who says stuff like this?

If you have relatives, friends, or other loved ones who are voting for, or considering voting for, Donald Trump, we encourage you to send them this video, along with a message about why Trump’s contempt for women transcends political views–no matter what you believe about the national debt, or immigration, or even the right to choose, no one who talks about women this way has any business in the same ZIP code as the Oval Office.


At the vice-presidential debate on Tuesday, moderator Elaine Quijano asked both candidates a softball question about their faith. When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence launched into a long sermon about the “sanctity of life” (complete with a preacher’s tone of hushed sincerity) and demanded to know how Kaine, a Catholic, could possibly be pro-choice, Kaine responded calmly that he, like most religious people, is capable of separating his religion from his job. So while he is personally “pro-life,” Kaine said, he believes in trusting women to make decisions about their own bodies and futures.applause mariah carey williams serena williams

Pence’s unconvincing response was to cite Bible verses, talk about how he became a born-again Christian in his freshman year, and suggest that women who want abortions should instead bear children for the many families who can’t conceive. He also denied that his running mate ever said women should be punished for having abortions (he did) and touted his state’s generous funding for “crisis pregnancy centers,” fake clinics that try to bait-and-switch women seeking abortions into carrying their pregnancies to term.

As Katha Pollitt enumerated this week in the the New York Times, Pence has been an absolute disaster for women as governor of Indiana, where a “feticide” law he supported led to the conviction of a woman who attempted a self-induced abortion.

Here’s Pollitt: “A few highlights: As Indiana governor, he promoted a law, stayed by a federal judge, which would have banned abortion for fetal disability. The law also mandated the cremation or burial of aborted — or miscarried — embryos and fetuses, no matter how early. He slashed Planned Parenthood’s budget, which led to the closing of five clinics that provided testing for sexually transmitted diseases and coincided with a rise in H.I.V. infection in his state. And as a congressman, he led the fight to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding in 2011.”Election 2016 boom michelle obama mic drop bam

The second Presidential debate is Sunday night, 6pm PST, and by all accounts, Donald Trump is not bothering to prepare, relying on his “tremendous temperament” to get him through a second bout with perhaps the most qualified, prepared Democratic candidate in US history.

Unlike Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate, in which questions about the economy were literally outsourced to the conservative Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the questions at Sunday’s debate are being outsourced to… You! That’s right, ABC and CNN have agreed to consider the top 30 questions on the Open Debate Coalition’s website.

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So far, every debate moderator has refused to ask the candidates whether they believe women have the constitutional right to determine when, whether, and how to start or expand a family. This question is vital not just for the obvious reason–Donald Trump is on the record saying that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who get abortions, and (aside from some backpedaling immediately after making the statement) hasn’t been questioned on his position on women’s right to choose.

Given that this is a man who considers women nothing more than objects for his sexual pleasure and (as he put it recently, justifying his routine humiliation of women who cross him “dogs,” “pigs,” “fat” and “disgusting”) “entertainment,” the American people needs to know where Donald Trump stands on women’s reproductive freedom. And with women’s right to choose in grave danger across the country, there is no excuse for these debates to ignore an issue that impacts every American, directly or indirectly.

We encourage you to vote for this question, which is the highest-trending question about reproductive rights: “How would you ensure access to abortion regardless of someone’s income level?” Thanks, and we’ll be watching along with you Sunday night.


Friday Femorandum: Hyde at 40

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the disastrous Hyde Amendment, a federal budget that bans federal funding for abortion care, making abortion the only medical service that explicitly cannot be funded by the federal government.

angry the office screaming dwight rainn wilsonBecause of the Hyde Amendment, low-income women on Medicaid, members of our Armed Services, Peace Corps workers, and all federal employees have no insurance coverage for abortions–that’s 28 million women. By denying essential health-care coverage to those 28 million women, Hyde creates a two-class system in America: Women who can afford to exercise their constitutional right to safe, legal abortion services, and women who cannot.

Rewire, the reproductive health news site, is taking a comprehensive look at Hyde this week, including stories about the difficulties Native American women face when seeking abortion care, the penalty Hyde places on low-income and vulnerable women, and what happens when states defy Hyde and fund abortions for poor women themselves, as Washington State does.

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All Above All has a helpful explainer about efforts in Congress to demonstrate that Hyde, like the Texas TRAP laws that were overturned by the Supreme Court earlier this year, places an “undue burden” on women seeking health care. The EACH Woman Act would overturn Hyde and restore full health care access to women receiving health care coverage through the federal government.

The Guttmacher Institute, which is an indispensable source of information about women’s health, the legal landscape facing women seeking reproductive health care in every state and around the world, and a fact-based moral compass for leaders who write and rule on laws governing women’s health, has a strongly worded editorial in the Huffington Post arguing that it’s time to “end the harmful and unjust Hyde Amendment” once and for all.

“The Hyde Amendment’s detrimental and deeply unjust impact is felt by low-income women in general and low-income women of color in particular. Poor women experience unintended pregnancies at five times the rate of their more affluent peers, and abortion has become increasingly concentrated among this group,” Guttmacher president Ann M. Starrs writes. “Because of systemic social and economic inequality, women of color are disproportionately likely to be poor and insured through Medicaid—and are therefore disproportionately impacted by the Hyde Amendment.”

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Mother Jones magazine commemorates Hyde with a sobering piece arguing that even if the amendment is overturned, an obscure Supreme Court case, Harris v. McRae, could stand in the way of Medicaid funding for abortion. The case started immediately after Hyde, when Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other abortion rights advocates sued the federal government, arguing that Hyde was unconstitutional because it didn’t equally protect the rights of poor women. In a 5-4 decision in 1980, the Supreme Court upheld Hyde, ruling that even though women have the right to have abortions, the federal government has no obligation to help–basically, if you’re too poor to pay for an abortion on your own, that isn’t the government’s problem. The ruling, MoJo suggests, still would allow states to refuse to pay for abortion under their state-run Medicaid programs if Hyde was overturned, which 35 states (though not Washington) already do.

Finally, if you want to read even more about Hyde, its history, its legacy, and its future, go to Media Matters, where they’ve compiled an essential reading list for those interested in learning more about this ignominious amendment.


Friday Femorandum: The (Almost) Trump-Free Edition

On Monday, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will debate for the first time. In honor of this historic occasion, we’re bringing you a special Trump-Free Edition of the Friday Femorandum, and holding our breath for Monday, when we boldly predict that one of the candidates will be thoroughly prepped with zingy comebacks and comprehensive policy prescriptions, and the other will rely on juvenile insults and attacks and attempt to belittle their opponent with innuendo and insinuation whenever they can’t come up with a substantive response. Just a hunch.

The Congressional Committee for the Harassment of Women continued its kangaroo-court “hearings” on Planned Parenthood this week, long after the illegally obtained, fraudulently edited videos that prompted its creation had been thoroughly discredited. The panel, whose actual name of course includes the word “babies,” is now attempting to hold the stem-cell research company StemExpress, which was the target of video espionage by anti-choice activists last year, in contempt of court for refusing to hand over personal information about its staff, the names of its customers, and its banking records.

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StemExpress has good reason not trust the committee to safeguard information about who works there, information that could subject employees to threats and harassment. The committee promises it will “redact” all names and identifying personal information once it gets that names list in its hot little hands, but that promise isn’t worth the thin air it’s written on: The last time the committee got a list of names, of researchers and Planned Parenthood staffers, it promptly posted them on the committee’s website.

At any rate, the zealots’ absurd demands prompted all the Democrats on the committee to walk out on the proceedings Wednesday, refusing to participate in what ranking member Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) called an “illegitimate and unsanctioned effort” to harass scientists. The committee failed in its original effort to justify defunding Planned Parenthood, and is engaging in increasingly desperate witch hunts to attempt to prove any wrongdoing by the organization, which provides basic health care to millions of low-income women across the country.


Texas, whose unconstitutional Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws got struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year, isn’t budging in its efforts to regulate abortion out of existence. As you may recall, the state adopted rules requiring women who have abortions to also hold funerals for their embryos (usurping the normal practice of disposing them as medical waste), a law designed expressly to make abortions more expensive. The law requires the individual burial or cremation of all fetal remains, inclu ding the products of miscarriage, regardless of the period of gestation. Translation: If you abort a fetus the size of a peanut, or have a miscarriage, you have to pay for its “funeral,” a macabre imposition that artificially inflates the cost of ending a pregnancy (potentially by thousands of dollars) and forces women for whom abortion is an emotionally fraught decision to “pay” for their choice by going through a farcically cruel process.

According to the Texas Tribune, the rules mandating fetal funerals “are likely to be challenged in court.”

In other news, legendary feminist Katha Pollitt continues to be brilliant, appearing in Colorado this week to discuss (and dispel) some of the more persistent myths surrounding abortion, the myth that there are “too many abortions,” the myth that opposing abortion is not about punishing women, and the myth that abortion is “racist.” On that point, Pollitt says, “If these people cared about the rate of abortion in black communities, they would be pushing for good health care in black communities, including good access to reproductive health care, good methods of birth control that really work. Black women have more pregnancies than white women because they have less access to good health care and less access to effective birth control.”

yas yas queen lauryn hill lawd yas kweenFinally, Hillary Clinton gave a landmark address about expanding access to jobs and opportunities to people with disabilities and released a comprehensive plan to tackle poverty this week. Neither of them got much coverage, because OMG WAS THAT A COUGH?! IS HILLARY TOO WEAK TO BE PRESIDENT? etc. Both plans are worth a read, and both have their skeptics within the progressive community.

Choice News

Friday Femorandum: All Paternalism Is Local

Isn’t it funny (no) how often anti-choice laws that materially harm women’s health and well-being are passed under the guise of “protecting women”?

That was certainly the case in Texas, where laws that were later overturned by the US Supreme Court would have made it virtually impossible for women in huge swaths of that geographically massive state to obtain abortion care. These Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP, laws required doctors who performed abortions to have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital, and required abortion providers to build mini-hospitals for their patients to take a pill or undergo an outpatient procedure.

In Ohio, another law ostensibly aimed at “protecting women’s health” required women to take an outdated dosage of mifepristone, AKA “the abortion pill,” when they get a medication abortion.  The old dosage, since updated by most states based on clinical research, was significantly higher than what the FDA currently recommends, but Ohio and several other states stubbornly stuck with the old, higher-dosage recommendations. This has had major negative consequences for women’s health. In fact, Mother Jones reports, they found that since the law mandating a very high dose of mifepristone has been in effect, women who have had medical abortions were “three times more likely to require at least one additional medical treatment related to the procedure than women who had medication abortions before the law passed.”

A new study from the University of Washington concludes that women whose health plans exclude contraception coverage experience a higher rate of unintended pregnancies, which makes logical sense:  Contraception prevents pregnancy but costs money, so women who have to pay for it out of pocket are less likely to use it. The study also found, however, that far from saving companies money, denying coverage for birth control may actually add costs for employers, because employers must then pay the cost of childbirth, health coverage for additional dependents, and maternity leave. In addition, employers pay an indirect cost because their health-care plans are less competitive, which makes it harder to recruit and retain women who don’t want to get pregnant.

In related news, researchers from the Guttmacher Institute and Columbia University found that a recent drop in the teen pregnancy rate is due to more frequent, consistent use of contraception by teens–and not because teenagers are having less sex.full house ashley olsen michelle tanner duh mary kate olsen

“And it wasn’t because they were having more abortions,” NPR reports. “Abortion has been declining among all age groups, and particularly among teenagers.

“Rather, the researchers from the Guttmacher Institute and Columbia University found that ‘improvement in contraceptive use’ accounted for the entire reduced risk of pregnancy over the five-year period.

“‘By definition, if teens are having the same amount of sex but getting pregnant less often, it’s because of contraception,’ says Laura Lindberg, the study’s lead author and a Guttmacher researcher.”

In a poignant editorial, the Miami Herald argued this week that “don’t get pregnant”–the advice the Centers for Disease Control is giving to women in the Zika-afflicted state–is “lousy advice” to give to sexually active women.beyonce no funny live hell naw

“Perhaps the CDC hasn’t considered what these recommendations mean to people in Florida — a state that received a grade of F from NARAL Pro-Choice America for restricting access to reproductive healthcare,” The Herald writes. “In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011, 73 percent of Florida’s counties had no abortion clinic. Florida has also failed to expand its Medicaid program, leaving many uninsured women with no access to contraception.

“How is a woman with no access to family planning supposed to keep herself from getting pregnant for eight weeks? Oh right, abstinence. We’re talking about Florida, after all, where schools are required to teach abstinence in sex-education classes but there is no requirement to include information about contraception.”

If abstinence doesn’t work (it doesn’t), will anti-choice activists insist on forcing women to give birth to Zika-affected babies, who may be born with microcephaly (smaller than average heads), underdeveloped or undeveloped brains, and crippling or fatal physical abnormalities? That’s the question Newsweek poses in this  piece, which points out that Florida women who lack access to both birth control and abortion may indeed be forced to do just that. (Florida and many other states ban abortions after 20 weeks, while most Zika-related disorders can’t be detected before then).
Newsweek makes the excellent point that  “While we think about abortion as a national issue, the politics of abortion is local. Specific states, not the federal government, have been pursuing increasingly restrictive abortion regulations. States that do so have strong anti-abortion organizations, weaker abortion rights groups, and more perceived public support for restricting access.

“This means that while the nation may see abortion through Zika as it did through thalidomide and rubella, there are strong forces that oppose legal reform in the states where it could most matter.”