Friday Femoradum: Below the Fold

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There’s a certain danger in paying too much attention to the daily barrage of terrifying headlines that now dominate the daily news cycle. Today, alone, we learned that President Trump has acknowledged he is under investigation for obstruction of justice; that administration officials are genuinely afraid he will fire both the special prosecutor appointed to investigate him and the man who appointed him, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein; and that Trump has appointed a wedding planner with a possibly falsified resume to head up New York’s federal housing programs.

The problem is that while we’re paying attention to the latest crisis, Trump and his allies in Congress are hoping we don’t notice that they’re rolling back health care for millions of Americans with “preexisting conditions” like pregnancy and depression; appointing right-wing bloggers who compared abortion to slavery to federal judgeships; and opportunistically exploiting a tragic shooting by suggesting that Democrats are to blame for gun violence (while ignoring the common denominator that unites virtually all mass shooters).

So before you return to your regularly scheduled programming of late-night Presidential tweetstorms and speculation about modern-day Saturday Night Massacres, here’s a closer look at some of the stories that didn’t make it above the fold.

Senators have worked hard to keep the latest version of legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act under wraps, but Axios reported that it will likely allow states to request waivers so that insurance companies won’t have to cover “essential health benefits”—things like maternity care, which the so-called “pro-life” party does not consider an important part of health care coverage. (Hey, none of the elderly white men who run the party will ever get pregnant, so why should they)? States could also get out of a requirement that limits how much more older people can be charged than younger people—a provision that disproportionately impacts women, since women generally live longer than men.

Many people who get their insurance coverage through an employer would not be protected, because the Senate health-care bill would once again allow annual and lifetime limits on coverage for non-“essential” benefits in states that apply for waivers to the essential benefits requirement; this would apply to both the individual and employer markets. The Center for American Progress estimates that some 27 million people who get insurance from their employers would face annual caps on their coverage, and about 20 million would face lifetime caps—meaning that a single complicated pregnancy, or bout with ovarian cancer, could max out a woman’s insurance coverage for a year—or the rest of her life.

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You might think HUD director Ben Carson was the only underqualified Trump appointee who once compared abortion to slavery, but think again—John K. Bush, a right-wing blogger whom Trump nominated to the powerful 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, has written that “slavery and abortion” are “the two greatest tragedies in our country.” Think Progress reports that Bush went on to claim that Martin Luther King, Jr. “would have opposed Roe v. Wade had King been alive when that case was handed down. In reality, there’s no evidence that King — who supported efforts to increase access to birth control and said in 1960 that he’s always been deeply interested in and sympathetic with the total work of the Planned Parenthood Federation’— would have stood against reproductive rights.

Bush has also argued that there is no way a black man or a woman could become President without some unfair advantage; expressed outrage that passport applications were changed to acknowledge the existence of same-sex parents; and referred to the Rodney King beating as “a police encounter.” Politico calls Bush “shocking in his blatant disdain for equal rights and animus toward racial and other minorities.” The Senate is still considering his appointment, and the Leadership Conference is encouraging people to contact their senators to urge them not to approve the appointment.

Agent M Loves Gifs no annoyed facepalm judge GIFWhile Republicans, and many in the media, were quick to seize on the fact that Congressional baseball practice shooter James T. Hodgkinson had been a Bernie Sanders supporter,  ThinkProgress (and others) point out a far more relevant common denominator between Hodgkinson and the vast majority of mass shooters: A history of domestic violence and misogyny. Think Progress reports that Hodgkinson was arrested in 2006 for assaulting a woman who tried to intervene when she witnessed him “throwing his daughter around”a bedroom. Hodgkinson, the woman said, punched her in the face.

Men who hurt female family members often go on to hurt other people, yet most mainstream news organizations fail to connect the dots. Robert Dear, the man who shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, had a history of domestic violence; so did Omar Mateen, the shooter who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando one year ago. The list goes on and on and on. Violence against women is one of the best predictors for future mass violence. Yet we don’t treat it as such. And that’s a tragedy.


Friday Femorandum: Emboldened

As abortion-rights proponents predicted after the election, the battle against women’s right to choose in Trump’s America is playing out not just at the federal level—where Congress is working to defund Planned Parenthood and Trump’s health department is working to end access to affordable birth control—but in the states. Across the country, anti-choice state legislatures have felt emboldened by the anti-choice Administration to pass ever-more-onerous restrictions on abortion rights, and pro-choice legislatures have started passing protections to protect their residents if the federal government cracks down further on women’s rights. The likely result? A return to the days when a woman’s access to reproductive health care depends on where she happens to live, with women in red states facing major barriers to access and women in blue states holding on to protections.

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For example, the New York Times reports, several states (including Washington) have passed laws allowing women to get 12 months of birth control at one time, rather than having to go back to the pharmacy every month. New York’s attorney general has proposed a bill that would ensure access to birth control without a co-pay, as a rule related to the ACA requires, and Maryland has already passed a similar bill.

Meanwhile, the governor of Delaware just signed legislation that will enshrine abortion rights in state law, by codifying the right to an abortion the way Washington State already does, making Delaware the eighth state to guarantee women the right to an abortion even if Congress changes federal abortion law, the Hill reports.

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A parallel story is playing out in red states. In Ohio, abortion rights opponents have re-introduced legislation that would prohibit abortion after the first sign of a fetal heartbeat, or about six weeks’ gestation. The bill would effectively prohibit all abortions, because most pregnancies aren’t detected until after six weeks. The AP reports that supporters of the so-called heartbeat bill see it “as an opportunity to draw the legal challenge that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.” The bill has been vetoed three times before.

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In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has no compunctions about signing legislation that might be unconstitutional; on September 1, legislation is scheduled to go into effect that would ban the most common type of abortion procedure after 13 weeks of pregnancy, ban an abortion procedure already illegal under federal law, require abortion providers to  bury fetal tissue resulting from abortions, and create medically unnecessary reporting requirements for abortion providers. Rewire reports that reproductive rights advocates are gearing up to challenge the law, just as they successfully challenged regulations that would have forced most of the state’s abortion clinics to shut their doors. Reuters points out that a federal court has already blocked implementation of a separate Texas law requiring burial or cremation of fetal tissue.


Friday Femorandum: “Moral Objections”

Remember, 500 years ago, when you didn’t wake up every morning and wonder, as you opened your eyes, “What horrible thing has the President done to women while I slept?”

This week, women across the country learned that the serial sexual harasser, two-time divorcee, and proud p*ssy-grabber who occupies the Oval Office has decided our employers should be allowed to decide they don’t want to pay for our birth control coverage for virtually any reason, as long as they call it a “moral objection.”

Documents leaked to Vox this week showed that Trump plans to expand the religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate, which was established under the controversial Hobby Lobby case. The current rule allows a narrow exemption to the mandate for religious groups or “closely held” private companies like Hobby Lobby, whose owners object to the notion that women should be able to have sex without making babies. Everyone knew at the time that employers and anti-choice groups would push to expand the exemption, and now Trump has indicated he plans to do just that, by allowing any company to file paperwork stating that it objects to birth control coverage for religious or “moral” reasons, an undefined term that could mean almost literally anything.

HULU tv wtf what parks and recreation GIFThe new, broader exemption, the New York Times reports, could deny birth control coverage to hundreds of thousands of women who now receive birth control at no cost through the ACA. The language of the Trump rule explicitly says that there’s no clear connection between access to birth control and lower rates of unintended pregnancy, which have plummeted as contraception has become available to more women, including young women, and pregnancy rates have decreased. This claim contradicts numerous studies that are based on science and evidence, which definitively link access to contraception to lower birth rates (and teen birth rates); fortunately for Trump, the rule his administration drafted “does not require that the guidelines be ‘evidence-based’ or ‘evidence-informed.’ ”

Think Progress calls the new rule “devastating” to women, noting that the rule suggests women who no longer have access to low-cost birth control can simply get pills through Medicaid or Title X, the federal program that pays for health care (though not abortions) for low-income women. Trump, of course, has promised to decimate both Medicaid and Title X, which makes the rule’s suggestion that women use those programs for birth control breathtakingly disingenuous. wtf confused lost nervous unsure GIF

Mother Jones puts a finer point on Trump’s birth control doublespeak, pointing out that Trump has vowed to “defund Planned Parenthood” and other health-care providers that receive money through Title X . (Title X, like all federal dollars, can’t pay for abortions, but Republicans want to go further and yank Title X funding from all groups that perform abortions.) “The problem with the White House’s logic,” they write, “boils down to this:

As the nation’s largest provider of federal Title X-funded care, in 2015 Planned Parenthood centers served more than 40 percent of women nationwide using Title X-funded family planning care—a whopping 1.58 million patients. But if Planned Parenthood can no longer receive a single federal dollar to provide contraception and other family planning care—an oft-repeated goal of the Trump administration—then these nearly 1.6 million low-income patients will suddenly lose their family planning care. And now their employers may not cover that care either.

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Wonkette notes that many Republicans who want to make it harder, or impossible, for women to access birth control have wildly inaccurate ideas about what birth control costs; they think it’s basically like buying a latte a couple times a week, when it’s really more like a rent payment (Republican claims in quotes):

You will also be FOR SHOCKED to learn that HHS’s assumptions about the real cost of birth control are wildly off.

“Most forms of birth control are available for around $50 per month, including long-acting methods such as the birth control shot and the IUD.”

IUDs cost around $1,000 out of pocket. Girls will just have to hold off on a new iPhone for another month!

“Other more permanent forms of contraception like implantables bear a higher one-time cost, but when calculated over the duration of use, the cost is similar to other forms of contraception.”

Sure, Norplant costs $800. But if you put aside $50 a month to save up for it, it will only take you 16 months of abstinence to earn it! So keep those knees together, little lady!

Finally, Talking Points Memo looks ahead to the lawsuit women’s rights groups, like the National Women’s Law Center and the Center for Reproductive Rights, plan to file if and when Trump’s proposed rule becomes law. President Obama’s Health and Human Services Department spent years defeating lawsuits against the contraception mandate by arguing that the government has a compelling interest in ensuring that women have access to birth control; with the new rule, Trump is saying bluntly that such a mandate does not exist, opening his administration up to a whole new round of litigation. tv vintage 70s wonder woman superhero GIF


Friday Femorandum: “A Significant Escalation”

Renee Bracey Sherman’s editorial in the Sunday New York Times, titled, “Who Should You Listen to on Abortion? People Who’ve Had Them” kicked off the week with a bracing dose of common sense—an antidote to a President and Congress who have spent their first few months of unilateral control imposing ill-founded policies based in ideology, not economics or science, on the millions of Americans who need abortions and other reproductive health care.

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Recalling one of her experiences as an abortion doula, Sherman writes, “The abortion debate rages on, but the voices of those who’ve actually had abortions are ignored. Few people try to understand our lives. And we are never asked the most simple but important question: Why did you do it?

“That’s intentional. It’s easier to strip us of our rights when we’re not treated as humans, when political candidates say we deserve ‘some form of punishment,’ when elected officials vote to define abortion as ‘murder,’ when people call us killers. Language matters and it leads to violence.”

In the context of this truth—that calling the doctors who perform abortions, and the one in three women who seek them, “murderers,” leads to violence, consider: This week, Trump appointed as a federal judge a right-wing blogger who compared abortion to “slavery,” and has made the case for shooting Obama supporters.

Language matters, and so do actions. This week, Trump released a budget that—in an unprecedented reversal of longstanding policy—strips all federal funding from Planned  Parenthood and all other health care providers that happen to perform abortions in addition to the services for which they receive federal funding. The effect would be to exclude Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from eligibility for federal programs that currently pay for services like STD treatment, cancer screenings, and Zika prevention, Mother Jones reports—devastating these health care providers as well as their vulnerable low-income clients, who would no longer be able to use Medicaid for non-abortion services at  Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions.

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Federal law already bars federal spending on most abortions, so the extension of the ban to include all health care providers can be seen only as an effort to force providers to stop performing abortions or go out of business. This latest assault on reproductive freedom comes just weeks after Trump announced the expansion of the global gag rule, which now prohibits federal funding for all services, not just family-planning programs, provided by groups that also provide abortions or even discuss abortion as an option with women in countries that receive US aid. The rule, Rolling Stone editorializes, “is a significant escalation in the broader campaign by U.S. abortion opponents to use economic coercion to stop women from obtaining safe abortions at home and abroad – a strategy abortion opponents have embraced because, after losing the legal battle decades ago, they have utterly failed to convince women that ending a pregnancy is immoral.”

Yahoo! News takes a look at several other threats to women’s health that are embedded in Trump’s budget proposal, including the allocation of $277 million to “extending abstinence education and personal responsibility programs”—despite overwhelming evidence that “abstinence-only education,” which is not evidence-based or scientifically founded, leaves teens ignorant about how to prevent pregnancy and STD transmission, and may actually increase teen pregnancy rates. twin peaks GIF

And Think Progress digs into the details of another aspect of Trump’s budget proposal—his “paid family leave” plan, which fails to cover the vast majority of people who need time off work to care for a new child or family member and only provides six weeks of paid time off for new parents, which, Think Progress notes, is barely enough time for a woman to recover from an uncomplicated vaginal birth, much less a C section or any other complications.

Worse, the amount new parents would receive under the plan might not be enough to make it feasible to take time off in the first place. New parents would receive pay under the unemployment insurance program, and as Think Progress points out, “unemployment insurance checks are quite skimpy: On average, benefits replace only about half of a person’s paycheck. That could create some big problems. Men, who tend to earn more than women, could be less likely to take leave if they’re getting so little of their normal paychecks.” And thus we get back to Ivana Trump’s original plan—a brief bit of time off for new mothers that could leave them in a worse financial position, in both absolute terms and relative to men, than they were when they became pregnant.



Friday Femorandum: Women in America Will Not Be Fooled

While all eyes were (understandably) on Trump’s attempts to cover up Russian interference in the 2016 election and prevent federal watchdogs from investigating his many ties to Russia this week, we thought we’d take a moment to look at a few national stories that didn’t get much press, but which illustrate the profound importance not only of electing progressive candidates, but of insisting on reproductive freedom as a bedrock principle of progressive politics.

Exhibit A this week was—who else?—President Trump, who made a mockery of Women’s Health Week by proclaiming his support for policies, such as paid parental leave and maternal health care, that his administration is in the process of gutting. The Hill reports on efforts by women’s rights groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, to expose Trump’s attempts to coopt “women’s health” messaging to cover for policies that hurt women, like defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing the Affordable Care Act, which guarantees coverage for reproductive health care and bars insurance companies for charging women more simply because of their gender. “While your statement on Women’s Health Week notes that ‘women should have access to quality prenatal, maternal and newborn care’ including a ‘choice in health insurance and in health care providers,’ the policies of your administration do exactly the opposite. And women in America will not be fooled,” the coalition of 40 reproductive rights, civil rights, and health advocacy groups told the president. 90s fire mtv glasses hell GIF

As if to prove their point, Trump chose Women’s Health Week to release the details of his expanded “global gag rule” policy, which will strip US global health assistance dollars from any organization that funds abortions or provides information about abortion services with its own money. The previous global gag rule, instituted under former President George W. Bush, “only” barred such organizations from receiving US family planning funds. The upshot is that 15 times as much money—$8.8 billion—will be withheld from groups that provide critical health services to vulnerable women around the world. Trump announced the details of the new global gag rule during a photo op at which only white men were present.

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Rewire reports that historically, the global gag rule has led to spikes in abortions in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where women’s access to basic family planning services depends on global health assistance.

Allure points out that making life harder for the most vulnerable women in the world is not a bug in Trump’s approach to women’s health; it’s a feature. Vice President Mike Pence has a long history of targeting women in need of basic reproductive health care, including birth control; he wants women to suffer the consequences of unprotected sex, even if those consequences include dangerous unregulated abortions and death.

Not only is the Trump administration trying to eliminate safe abortion care, it’s aiming to make it impossible for organizations to work together to address health crises around the world. The expanded Gag could not only affect a woman’s ability to obtain contraception in Zimbabwe; it could destroy her access to vaccines that would protect her from preventable diseases. Not only could it keep a woman in Brazil from accessing condoms to protect herself and her potential children from Zika, it could keep her from accessing care if she or a member of her family contracts the disease.

And Zika isn’t the only disease that could soon go untreated around the globe under Trump’s deadly policies. The fight against the global AIDS epidemic could see massive setbacks after years of impressive progress. Since 2003, the number of AIDS-related deaths around the world has fallen 40 percent due in large part to US spending to combat the disease. Under the new global gag rule policy, $6 billion in annual AIDS funding will be at risk, not because the organizations the US funds provide abortions to AIDS patients, but because those organizations often counsel women about their reproductive health care options, including abortion—a form of counseling that is explicitly prohibited by the rule. The Washington Post reports that global health experts “say Trump’s policy could especially affect girls and young women, who are now the most likely people to contract the disease. ‘Girls and young women account for 74 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa’ according to [the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] fact sheet.”

Many girls and young women contract AIDS after being raped, which sometimes results in an unwanted pregnancy. The Trump administration claims its new policy does not ban referrals for ending a pregnancy caused by rape or incest, the Post reports.

It’s in that context that we also learned this week that senior Democrats, including Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez and US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), have expressed a desire to open communication channels with people who oppose the right to choose. Manchin is perhaps the more dramatic example—he met this week with anti-choice activist David Daleiden, who is facing 15 felony charges in connection with his discredited attempts to smear Planned Parenthood with fraudulent videos purporting to prove that the health-care provider “sells baby body parts.” Rewire reports that after Manchin met with Daleiden, he claimed he was merely seeking information “from both sides,” adding that Daleiden was “getting me more information.” Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, among others, has argued that for the Democrats to succeed in future elections, they must open a “big tent” to anti-choice politicians like Manchin. What he doesn’t mention is that a tent that big would necessarily exclude women.

 no stop cut patton oswalt shut it down GIFMeanwhile, DNC chair Tom Perez met this week with anti-choice Democrats in the interest of expanding that tent even further. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville breaks down what’s wrong with the idea of expanding the party to include people who think women should be forced to give birth against their will. “Disallowing access to abortion, i.e. forced birth, is an inherently violent position which values fetuses more highly than the people who carry them,” she writes. “I am utterly unwilling to pretend otherwise, and I wonder why the hell Tom Perez does not agree.”

At Broadly, Callie Beusman has a similar question. “Why the hell does anyone think Democrats should embrace anti-abortion rhetoric?” she asks. “‘[T]he abortion debate,’ as it’s often called, isn’t just ideological, and much of the hand-wringing about accepting ‘pro-life’ Democrats obscures that fact—as though indulging people who say abortion should be illegal won’t have terrifying policy repercussions. It also fails to engage with the dangerous effects of banning abortion: that women face arrest, injury, and death when they’re forced to resort to unsafe and illegal alternatives.”