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.”


Friday Femorandum: Peddling Pseudoscience

 reaction sad nope nasim pedrad despair GIFWhile President Trump has stumbled repeatedly in his efforts to squelch investigations into Russian election interference, deport immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and ban Muslims from entering the country, he has had some major successes in one area: Restricting access to reproductive health care and turning the US into a real-life version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

We aren’t just talking about the cruel and misogynistic “reforms” enshrined in the American Health Care Act, which would allow insurance companies to deny women health care for “pre-existing conditions” like rape and domestic violence, and to refuse to cover maternity care. The heart of Trump’s (or, more to the point, Mike Pence’s) crusade against women is less obvious and more insidious. As Sady Doyle points out at Elle, it consists of “hand-selecting some of the nation’s most extreme anti-choice activists and placing them in the precise government positions where they can do the most damage.” Take Teresa Manning, the anti-birth control activist who has been put in charge of family planning funding under Title X, which means she will decide how some $286 million in funds intended to prevent teen pregnancy and provide birth control to low-income women gets distributed.

 frustrated head desk bang head GIFManning’s bizarre beliefs include her conviction that birth control simply stops working over time (it doesn’t), and that emergency contraception causes abortion (also false.) Manning—who, again, will be in charge of the program that distributes family planning funding from the federal government—has said that family planning is “between a husband and a wife and God,” and “doesn’t really involve the federal government.” She’s a fitting pick, in other words, for a department of health and human services whose director, Tom Price, has said that “not one woman” in America has ever struggled to pay for contraception.

And, of course, there’s Charmaine Yoest, the former head of Americans for Life who is now in charge of communications for HHS (and Price). Rewire has more details on AUL, which they have described as “an anti-choice copycat legislation mill looking to restrict the right to access comprehensive reproductive health care nationwide.” These restrictions, which include Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that make it impossible to open abortion clinics in certain states, will be the foundation for future Supreme Court challenges to abortion rights, and could ultimately form the basis for a full-scale assaulted on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in most cases in 1973. Under Yoest, AUL was one of the nation’s most prominent proponents of the false claim that abortion causes breast cancer, Rewire notes.

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Despite its supposed dedication to “Truth” (as it proclaimed in a huge recent ad campaign)the New York Times has actually given multiple assists to organizations that promote false and pseudoscientific claims about abortion. In the last three months, the Times has published “opinion” pieces by a group called the Human Coalition—which has referred to abortion as a “human rights holocaust “—without correcting their false claims or disclosing that the group runs a nationwide network of anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers,” which work to frighten women out of having abortions by making false claims about nonexistent links between abortion and breast cancer, suicide, infertility, and depression.

According to Broadly, Human Coalition  started in 2010 as an organization that used search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to reach women searching for abortion information online, only to direct them to their own anti-abortion messaging.

Media Matters has more on the Human Coalition, whose goal (according to the anti-choice online publication Live Action News) to “make abortion unthinkable and unavailable.” They report that the group has “substantially increased its mainstream media exposure” in the last two years, thanks in no small part to reputable organizations like the Times, which have given this fringe organization a priceless platform for peddling psuedoscience and outright lies. At the very least, the Times has a responsibility to disclose the very obvious financial and political interest the Human Coalition has in lying to women about the consequences of abortion, and correcting the record about those lies. Lies, even under the heading “opinion,” are still the opposite of Truth.


Friday Femorandum: Searching for the Great White Male

Pro-choice activists (rightly) have been keeping the furor over Independent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders’ support for anti-choice Democrat Heath Mello alive, after Sanders and Democratic National Committee president Tom Perez effectively told women to sit down and shut up about abortion rights last week.

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Mello, a former Nebraska state legislator who’s running for mayor of Omaha, sponsored and helped pass some of the worst restrictions on abortion access in the country. Sanders (and, initially, Perez) argued that women who protested that a legislator who worked doggedly to pass a 20-week abortion ban as well as a law that not only mandates unnecessary and invasive ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, but directs women to fake clinics known as “crisis pregnancy centers” to get them, were just failing to see the big picture. Deriding women’s right to choose when, whether, and how to start or expand a family as “just one issue,” Sanders showed once again that where women’s rights are concerned, he believes in trickle-down justice—a theory that holds that progressive economic policy (for white, working-class men) will trickle down to benefit everyone, including women.

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It turned out that women, including NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue, were tired of being told we have our facts wrong, or that we just don’t understand how politics works, or that we’re failing to see the “big picture” by focusing on “social issues” like abortion. As Rewire’s Jodi Jacobson wrote this week, what Democratic Party leaders (and Sanders) have failed to grasp is that “there is no justice without reproductive justice; that women can’t enjoy full citizenship if they can’t decide whether, when, and with whom to have children; that access to abortion is a public health imperative; and that childbearing and childrearing are fundamentally economic activities no matter what tent you are pitching or where you pitch it.”

Jacobson’s piece also lays out Mello’s long anti-choice record, including as a staffer to Ben Nelson, the Congressman whose amendment to the Affordable Care Act ended abortion coverage for millions of women, and is worth reading in its entirety to discover how thoroughly some Democrats and their erstwhile allies are willing to sell out women for the sake of electing anyone with a (D) beside their name.

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And, just for the heck of it, a few more quick hits explaining why reproductive freedom is an economic issue, and why economic progress isn’t possible without reproductive rights:

In Salon, Anna March argues that it’s time for Democrats to stop chasing “the great white male”: “There is no economic populism without abortion rights and civil rights. No one can have economic justice if he or she doesn’t have fundamental rights. Yet Sanders has made it plain that abortion rights are negotiable and brushes off “identity politics.”

In New York magazine, the great Rebecca Traister writes that Sanders’ and the party’s willingness to abandon women is a repeat of the exact same mistakes the Democrats have made in the past. “Women have heard this argument again and again, and we have remained the reliable base of a party that has elected and elevated to positions of greater power anti-choice Democrats including Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, and Bob Casey. In fact, it’s hard not to feel that it’s because of the dedication of women, and particularly women of color, to the Democratic Party — where else are they going to go? — that party leaders feel freer to take them for granted and trade their fundamental rights in obsessive pursuit of the great white male. This is how Dems always imagine that they can make inroads in red states. It’s third-way centrist [b.s.].”

Bustle would like the Bernie Bros to explain how the socialist senator’s support for anti-choice candidates makes him progressive.

And ThinkProgress reiterates, with numbers, why reproductive rights are an economic issue.

Meanwhile, in the real world where women are actually harmed by policies that Bernie dismisses as “identity politics,” Donald Trump has appointed a nightmare anti-choice leader, former Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest, as assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Talking Points Memo notes that not only has Yoest been a prominent leader in the movement against abortion rights, the New York Times reported in the past that she “personally opposed birth control and that she described IUDs as having ‘life-ending properties.’”

Saturday Night Live snl what saturday night live omg GIFIn a statement, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue warned that Yoest “has spoken at length about her desire to ban abortion in this country, and has spent her career working to abolish women’s most basic constitutional right to bodily autonomy. Her nomination should deeply concern the vast majority of Americans who believe abortion should be legal and accessible, and please anti-choice extremists who are committed to punishing women at every turn.” Yoest’s nomination does not require Congressional approval.


Yoest’s beliefs about birth control should be especially concerning to anyone who supports access to low-cost birth control for low-income women under Title X which Yoest’s new boss, HHS Secretary Tom Price (shudder) opposes. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 6 million women obtained birth control from publicly funded community health clinics in 2015; last month, Trump’s vice president Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking Senate vote for a bill that will allow states to deny funds to clinics, like those run by Planned Parenthood, that provide abortion services.