Monday, November 7, 2011

Reproductive Rights and the Deafening Silence from the “Mainstream Media"

Echo Zen, the Co-President of Voices for Planned Parenthood, posted an enlightening article today on the fantastic global feminist blog Gender Across Borders – here’s the link:

And here’s my response:
The last example I can recall of someone on TV supporting abortion rights in an unapologetic, unabashed, and hilarious manner is Elaine Benes from a 1992 Seinfeld episode.  She explains how she refuses to patronize any business that supports domestic terrorist groups like Operation Rescue (a clear reference to Domino's pizza at the time); and then hilarity ensues in a restaurant and when she is forced to break up with a cute guy.  I honestly do not recall any other instances on TV quite like that one in 1992 and that does indeed make me sad.  In terms of consistent media coverage - Rachel Maddow does a great and consistent job of covering the topic but again she is one of too few women represented in the media that reach any sizable audience.  Reproductive rights organizers should seize the opportunity presented by the blatant attacks on contraception as the seminal moment to advance a much needed media agenda within the "mainstream media" so that we can kick open those doors for a genuine and truthful discussion, shining a light on the full on assault against reproductive rights for all women.    Perhaps so-called pro-choice politicians will then be forced to take a real and honest stand and demonstrate some semblance of a backbone. We should be taking an instructive cue from LGBT organizers in that regard as well.  Thanks so much for the enlightening article and this call for action!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Abortion Battle Casualties: Bargaining Away Health Care for America’s Most Vulnerable Women

The Indianapolis Star reported on Monday that Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) is being forced to cut off all services to Medicaid patients, lay off staff, and furlough workers as they shut down all clinics in the state one day a week to save money.  Public donations that had sustained PPIN since May 10th, when the defunding law went into effect, have now run out.  The Indianapolis Star article noted the all too familiar response from anti-abortion activists, “…Planned Parenthood has ‘made it clear what their priority is…They wouldn't stop providing abortions even in the interim to keep the women's health services…”  We have heard this refrain time and again from anti-choice politicians and anti-abortion activists – if Planned Parenthood really cared about poor women’s health care services they would just stop performing abortions – then all of their problems would magically disappear. 

Of course, for Planned Parenthood this is not an option; to stop performing abortions would not only cede the argument that abortion is not health care and endanger women’s health and lives, but it would also not stop the war on women or the war on reproductive rights.  One only needs to see the writing on the wall with the increasing “personhood” movement that is moving through Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Virginia.  This legislation, which would provide personhood rights to fertilized eggs, would not only outlaw abortions but also potentially ban contraception by defining life “…from the moment of fertilization and implantation into the womb.”  Anti-choice politicians and anti-abortion activists are not only seeking to outlaw abortion but they also want to outlaw contraception.  And shutting down Planned Parenthood eliminates one of the most critical ways low-income women access contraceptive services. 

NPR recently explained that while “[l]ast year's GOP takeover of the U.S. House and statehouses across the country has dramatically changed the shape of the nation's abortion debate.  It has also given a boost to an even more far-reaching effort: the push to legally redefine when life itself begins.”  This personhood redefinition movement “…could threaten the use of a long list of commonly used contraceptives…” 

Last week at Netroots Nation conference, RH Reality Check’s Amanda Marcotte detailed her participation on a panel discussing the war on contraception.  The panel discussed “…the escalating attacks on contraception access from the religious right.”  Marcotte noted that while the war on contraception “…can also be viewed as an opportunity…[to] highlight the distance between anti-choice claims to be ‘pro-life’ and their actual demands, which are focused on sex and gender,”  she remains concerned that “…the response to the anti-choice movement’s bolder attacks on contraception will not be to use this to highlight the anti-sex, anti-woman ideology underlying the opposition to abortion but instead, pro-choicers will simply de-prioritize defending abortion rights in order to protect contraception.” 

Trying to compromise with anti-choice forces that believe contraceptive access actually increases the incidence of abortion; that believe using birth control puts women’s health at risk; and that believe Planned Parenthood is a front for prostitution, the sex trafficking of young girls, and exploits the Hyde Amendment’s rape and incest exceptions to provide abortions to teenage girls regardless of their age, seems increasingly futile.  These anti-choice extremists will never be convinced that “[i]n 2006, publicly funded family planning services helped women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions.” 

Friday, June 17, 2011

TRAP Laws and the War on Women: Condoning Women’s Bodies as Collateral Damage

An increasing number of states are finding a newly emboldened and insidious way to further constrain abortion access specifically directed at abortion providers and clinics throughout the country – via regulatory fiat.  The “targeted regulation of abortion providers” or TRAP laws are being enacted to impose renewed burdensome and costly regulatory requirements on abortion providers across the country.  The Center for Reproductive Rights explains that TRAP laws “…single out the medical practices of doctors who provide abortions, and impose on them requirements that are different and more burdensome than those imposed on other medical practices.”  TRAP laws generally cover “…health facility licensing schemes, ambulatory surgical center requirements, and hospitalization requirements.” 

According to the Guttmacher Institute twenty states have introduced TRAP laws this year alone, with Arkansas, Utah, Virginia, and Kansas actually enacting such laws this year.  And now Pennsylvania is on the verge of becoming the next state to enact TRAP laws that will increase abortion costs for poor women and force financially constrained clinics to close their doors.  South Carolina enacted some of the most seminal TRAP laws regulating clinics back in 1996.  TRAP laws and the subsequent regulations focused on abortion providers are designed specifically to shut down clinics and make abortions increasingly unaffordable under the guise of safeguarding women’s health and safety from unscrupulous providers. 

Last week, the Washington Post reported that anti-abortion activists are now lobbying Virginia’s State Board of Health to model their regulations after South Carolina’s abortion clinic regulations.  South Carolina’s regulations were enacted in 1996 and faced a federal court challenge from “[t]wo abortion clinics and an abortion provider…claiming they placed an undue burden on women’s decisions to seek abortions and were unfair because they singled out abortion providers over other medical professionals.”  Ultimately, the 4th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals found the regulations to be constitutional.  The Court ruled that the regulations served a “…valid state interest…[did]…not strike at the abortion right itself and required only modest increases in the cost of abortions.” 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Abortion, Rape, and the Shameful Legacy of the Hyde Amendment

Abortion access is the only fundamental constitutional right that is constrained by how much money a woman has and how far away she lives from an abortion provider.  The result -- poor women bear the greatest burden of this legal discrimination; with the discriminatory effect felt most acutely by women of color and in immigrant communities.  And while the impact of the Hyde Amendment continues to grow, there seems to be next to no political will to do anything about it.  Moreover, as a result of the political legitimization of the Hyde Amendment we are now seeing the continuing erosion of the fundamental need to provide abortion services for rape victims, regardless of their economic status. 

Meanwhile, the continuing national fight over Planned Parenthood defunding efforts in the states like Indiana, Kansas, Texas, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Minnesota, Utah, and Wisconsin has forced the Obama administration to draw a line in the sand.  State efforts to defund and disqualify Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program are illegal.  Federal Medicaid law prohibits any states from limiting a Medicaid beneficiary’s family planning choices based solely on the fact that the provider in question also happens to provide abortion services.  This is settled law.  Similarly, efforts to limit federal funding for abortions under the Hyde Amendment for rape and incest victims also violate federal Medicaid law.  However, two states are now attempting to do just that, following in the footsteps of a third state that has been violating federal Medicaid law since 1994. 

Iowa and Louisiana are attempting to limit federal funding for abortions under the Hyde Amendment solely for cases of life endangerment.  South Dakota has been limiting federal funding for abortions under the Hyde Amendment solely for cases of life endangerment ever since the Clinton administration expanded the Hyde Amendment to include pregnancy resulting from rape or incest in 1994.  South Dakota has never faced any sanctions from the federal government for this blatant violation of federal Medicaid law. 

NARAL Pro-Choice Washington PAC 2011 Power of Choice Luncheon An Interview with Keynote Speaker Kathryn Kolbert

NARAL Pro-Choice Washington PAC’s 2011 Power of Choice Luncheon featured keynote speaker Kathryn Kolbert.  Kathryn Kolbert is Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College and was the attorney who argued Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the Supreme Court in 1992.  Planned Parenthood v. Casey was a seminal case which protected the constitutional right to an abortion yet scaled back the constitutional protections provided by Roe v. Wade.

I sat down with Ms. Kolbert last Monday after her inspirational speech that elicited cheers from the capacity audience at the Conference Center at Convention Place in downtown Seattle. 

We discussed the ongoing federal attacks and state legislative assault on reproductive rights across the country.  I was eager to get her thoughts on the suggestion by some in the media that pro-choice advocates are not doing enough to combat these legislative attacks through litigation.  The fear being that the current composition of the U.S. Supreme Court would most certainly further dismantle the legacy of Roe v. Wade as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey. 

Ms. Kolbert disagrees with the idea that pro-choice advocacy organizations should automatically challenge the some of the more egregious legislation coming out of more and more state legislatures across the country.  Rather, she thinks the decision to litigate must be handled on a case-by-case basis, looking at the specific harms of the law, what can be proved in a court of law, and whether there are doctors or affected women who have standing to challenge it. 

She also thinks that the laws affecting late abortion, such as the 20 week abortion bans that have been enacted in Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, and Oklahoma which affect only a very few people are the most difficult to challenge and pose the greatest risks should the court challenge reach the Supreme Court.  Ms. Kolbert agrees with Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, that it is necessary to be thoughtful and cautious when considering litigation. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Honoring Dr. George Tiller: A Conversation with National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta

Ever since President Obama’s historic election, clinic violence has been on the rise.  And that level of violence has increased exponentially since the 2010 midterm elections.  Recent news articles have trumpeted how the Obama administration has increased enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.  The Associated Press reported last month that the “…Justice Department under President Barack Obama has taken a harder line against anti-abortion activists accused of trying to block access to clinics, suing at least a half-dozen of them under a federal law that lay mostly dormant during the Bush administration.” 

Moreover, days after Dr. George Tiller was murdered, Attorney General Eric Holder, and members of the National Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers (Task Force) met with abortion rights groups to discuss the security needs of providers.  The Task Force was established in 1998 and charged with enforcing the FACE Act and coordinating criminal investigations of anti-abortion activities on a national level.  However, for all intents and purposes the Task Force was inactive during the eight years of the Bush administration.  The restoration of the Task Force has made the most significant impact and been the most effective tool in the ongoing battle to stem the tide of clinic violence over the past two years.  Specifically, the targeted coordination between federal and local law enforcement has created an effective working partnership that was so clearly absent and vitally needed during the Bush years. 

May 31, 2011 marked the second anniversary of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.  Dr. Tiller was attending church services in Wichita when he was gunned down by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder.  Scott Roeder would later be arrested, tried, and convicted of first degree murder.  On April 1, 2010, Roeder was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.  Shockingly, Dr. Tiller was targeted by anti-abortion extremists for more than a decade. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Can the Obama Administration Stop the Planned Parenthood Defunding Domino Effect?

Despite the House GOP’s failure to defund Planned Parenthood in their budget showdown with the White House back in April, the insidious goal to deny critical health care services to millions of vulnerable American women is now systematically winding its way through the states.  Back in April, the most vulnerable women in the District of Columbia sadly became the casualties of the federal budget showdown when the District was banned from using “…its local taxpayer raised-funds for abortions for low-income women.”  And now solely because Planned Parenthood provides abortion services, they are once again under attack in many states across the country.  Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) has already been defunded with many more states looking to follow in its footsteps.  Can the Obama administration risk a political fight to stop this systematic state defunding campaign with the political consequences over abortion rights inevitably pervading that fight in the 2012 election cycle? 

The Obama administration has stated that under federal Medicaid law states cannot deny Medicaid beneficiaries care from any provider simply because that provider also provides abortion services.  So how will Indiana, or any other state, be forced to comply with federal Medicaid law?  For months now media reports on the PPIN defunding effort have stated repeatedly that if Indiana defunded PPIN they would risk losing $4 million in federal family planning funds.  But will the federal government actually take such “corrective action” and withhold that Medicaid funding?  The outcome of PPIN’s federal lawsuit and the potential action taken by the federal government in Indiana will set the stage for how the increasing number of states seeking to defund Planned Parenthood will persist in those efforts in the coming months. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Media’s False Equivalence between Schwarzenegger’s Affair and Sexual Violence

Just when you think the media cannot sink any lower - the public is now confronted with this vile conflation of a celebrity politician's consensual affair and allegations of extreme sexual violence; the media must stop discussing allegations of rape and sexual violence in the same breath with a consensual affair.  This narrative is a patently false equivalence because these two stories are wholly unrelated.  The suggestion by anyone that consensual affairs are in any way comparable to rape or any form of sexual violence is abhorrent and absurd.  And sadly, the New York Times is once again trivializing sexual violence. 

See Harsh Light on Two Men, but Glare Falls on Women: 

As for these so-called journalists who are effectively outing an alleged rape victim by staking out her neighborhood and interrogating her neighbors, and thereby revealing her identity to everyone in that neighborhood, they are betraying every standard of journalistic integrity.  These so-called journalists have now descended into the deepest depths of shame and are violating any semblance of common decency.  The suggestion that because this alleged rape victim was assaulted by a famous and wealthy, that now the only way she can protect her privacy is through the good graces of her neighbors who will hopefully protect her privacy is a shocking statement.  The woman Schwarzenegger had an affair with is not a victim – she made a decision to have an affair with a married man and accept gifts in return, including the purchase of her home.  

This alleged rape victim was never given the luxury of a choice – and the suggestion that this victim is now going to become collateral damage because her assailant is wealthy and famous is sickening.  To accept as a given the idea that the media must investigate who this victim is, what she looks like, even her finances, clearly implies that she cannot be trusted and that her account of the crime is automatically suspect.  And insinuating that she was raped because Strauss-Kahn was “attracted” to her is similarly a vile and disgusting notion.  

Rape has nothing to do with the desire for sex – rape represents violence and degradation.  The New York Times must stop debasing itself to this level of shameful tabloid journalism by continuing to perpetuate and enable rape myths in our society. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Dangerous Political Targeting of Abortion Providers

Unfortunately, abortion providers around the country have become far too accustomed to being targeted by not only by anti-abortion extremists’ threats and violence, but also increasingly by anti-choice politicians.

In Kansas, former state Attorney General Phil Kline is currently accused of ethics violations stemming from his relentless harassment and investigations of Dr. George Tiller and his clinic in Wichita.  The ethics violation allegations include the mishandling of patient records detailing abortion services as well as using state workers to track the comings and goings of Dr. Tiller’s patients at local hotels in an attempt to uncover patient identities and match names to subpoenaed patient records.  During his February ethics hearing, Kline testified “…that he and his subordinates had the right to deceive other state agencies and didn’t have a duty to immediately correct flawed information provided to a trial judge as they started investigating abortion providers.” 

Kline charged Dr. Tiller with misdemeanors accusing him of performing illegal abortions in December 2006.  When that case was dismissed, Kline’s successor filed additional charges in 2007.  Dr. Tiller was acquitted of all wrongdoing in late March 2009 and then murdered shortly thereafter on May 31, 2009. 

Now Dr. LeRoy Carhart is being targeted in Iowa because he plans to open an abortion clinic that like Dr. Tiller would also provide late term abortion services.  Iowa state Democratic lawmakers have been trying to revise currently proposed anti-abortion legislation to prevent Dr. Carhart from opening his clinic.  By contrast, Republican lawmakers are only concerned with passing a 20 week abortion ban and believe Democrats are attempting to supplant the 20 week abortion ban proposal with legislation directed specifically at Dr. Carhart’s clinic. 

In Iowa, two Senate Democrats broke ranks with their caucus and decided to advance a 20 week abortion ban bill to the Iowa Senate floor.  Pro-choice groups “…have said [that] while the legislation may aim to ban abortions after 20 weeks, a single line in the bill — ‘It is recognized that life begins at fertilization’ — would effectively ban all abortion in Iowa, and wage war on women’s reproductive rights.”  Moreover, the debate on the bill has failed to “…consider ‘different outcomes’ of pregnancy, including ‘miscarriage, fetal anomalies, delivery, still-birth, and abortion’.” 

Recently, Iowa Democratic State Senator Joe Bolkcom told the Iowa Independent that he was working on drafts and amendments “…to thoroughly address the constitutionality of…” the 20 week abortion ban legislation.  The constitutional issues deal with the fact that the bill “…stipulates life is recognized at fertilization, effectively banning all abortions in the state.”  Last week Bolkcom said, “…he will introduce a new abortion bill this week aimed at preventing a Nebraska doctor from opening a family planning clinic in western Iowa that would offer late-term abortion services.”  Bolkcom stated that he objected to the Republican proposed 20 week ban legislation because it provides “…no exception for life of the mother, rape, incest or fetus abnormalities that would prevent the baby from surviving after it’s born…What’s more, constitutional experts say the bill as drafted is blatantly unconstitutional.  There’s not much point in passing an unconstitutional bill that will only embroil Iowa in an expensive court battle.” 

Last Wednesday, Bolkcom announced plans to impose new restrictions on any abortion clinic that provides late term abortions.  His proposed bill would subject such clinics to unspecified criteria to meet a “certificate of need” requirement.  Specifically, the bill provides:

…a certificate of need may only be granted if the facility will be located in close proximity to a hospital that provides the appropriate level of perinatal care for its patients; and directs the department of public health to adopt rules to determine the certificate of need application fee for such facilities.

Iowa Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D) “…has been hemming and hawing on allowing a 20 week abortion ban onto the senate floor for debate and a vote.”  It has become increasingly clear that the real purpose of the anti-choice legislation is to ensure that Dr. LeRoy Carhart does not open up a clinic in Gronstal’s district while avoiding a possible court challenge to the 20 week abortion ban.  Gronstal stated, “[t]he legislation as drafted by the House I think significantly invites a very serious court challenge…So I think we’re trying to look at some ways to fix that up in such a way that we can guarantee a new, late-term abortion clinic doesn’t open in Council Bluffs.”

However, last week Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R) “…lash[ed] out against a Senate Democrats plan to offer a new version of a controversial late-term abortion bill, saying the debate isn’t about a single abortion provider.”  McKinley, angry that a vote on the 20 week abortion ban bill is being pushed aside to go after Carhart, told the Iowa Independent:

…it is wrong for Senator Mike Gronstal to continue to obstruct a vote and stand in the way of meaningful Senate debate on this issue and Senate Republicans will continue to demand an up or down vote on a late-term abortion ban this session.  We are confident that if Senator Gronstal opts to listen to the citizens of his district and allows a vote on a late-term abortion ban, it will pass the Senate with strong bipartisan support.

But yesterday, amid much controversy on the Iowa Senate floor between Democrats and Republicans, the Iowa Senate did in fact pass the legislation targeting Dr. Carhart’s clinic.  The Iowa Independent reported that Senate Republicans angrily protested passage of the bill as a “sham” because it is unlikely to garner enough votes to pass in the Iowa House of Representatives.  Senator Mark Chelgren (R) said, “[t]he reality is…we’re going to have an abortion clinic here, because we failed to come together to get anything done again.” 

The Feminist Daily Wire reported that on Monday:

…the Iowa Senate voted along party lines 26-23 to pass a bill that seeks to prohibit Dr. LeRoy Carhart from opening a clinic in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  The bill mandates that clinics offering abortion services after 20 weeks, which would include Dr. Carhart's proposed clinic, be located near a hospital with an intensive care unit.  Since there is not a hospital in Council Bluffs that meets the standards specified in the bill, Dr. Carhart's clinic would not be able to open there if the bill passes.  The bill will now go to the Iowa House of Representatives, where it likely will not pass.

When abortion providers become the targets of anti-abortion extremist violence they can at least seek out the protection of local law enforcement and federal protection under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.  But what options do abortion providers have when they become the targets of anti-choice politicians that seek to punish them for providing abortion services?  In Kansas, the relentless attacks against Dr. Tiller, from then State Attorney General Phil Kline, created an atmosphere of hate and violence. 

And now Dr. Carhart is becoming the new face of the “evil abortion provider” that anti-choice politicians can exploit for political expediency.  The Iowa Independent reported that “[m]ost abortion bills drafted and introduced this session were measures to stop Carhart from opening a surgical clinic…” 

How far will Iowa’s anti-choice legislators take their campaign to stop Dr. Carhart from providing late term abortions?  And what possible violence may these attacks engender in the future for not only Dr. Carhart but other abortion providers as well?  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Indiana Becomes the First State to Defund Planned Parenthood, Violating Federal Medicaid Law

On Tuesday, the Indianapolis Star reported that Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) along with the ACLU of Indiana “…will seek a restraining order to stop the state from cutting off its government funding…”  On Wednesday, Governor Mitch Daniels signed a bill defunding Planned Parenthood; the bill goes into effect immediately.  The legislation also enacts a 20 week abortion ban and “…mandates that doctors tell patients that abortion has been linked to infertility.”  Indiana becomes the fifth state to enact a 20 week abortion ban, joining Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, and Oklahoma.

Only hours after Governor Daniels signed the law, an ACLU attorney representing PPIN and the solicitor general from the State Attorney General’s office appeared in federal court.  Later on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt “…denied Planned Parenthood of Indiana's request for a temporary restraining order despite arguments that the law jeopardizes health care for thousands of women on Medicaid.”  The cuts to PPIN can now take effect immediately.  Judge Pratt explained “…the state has not had enough time to respond to Planned Parenthood's complaint and that the group did not show it would suffer irreparable harm without a temporary restraining order.”  The Court has scheduled a hearing for June 6th to rule on PPIN’s request for a permanent injunction “…and Pratt said she will rule on the matter before July 1, when new abortion restrictions included in the law are set to take effect.”  

The joint PPIN and ACLU lawsuit contends that the new abortion restrictions “…forcing doctors to give information -- information they claim is not factual or relevant to the patients and can be misleading…” violates the First Amendment.  USA Today reports that the lawsuit also alleges that because PPIN is being defunded immediately:

…the new law’s defunding provision… would void contracts and grants already in effect, violating the U.S. Constitution's contract clause.  The suit also says that the law imposes an unconstitutional condition on Planned Parenthood by requiring it to choose between performing abortions and receiving non-abortion-related funding, and says that the measure runs afoul of federal Medicaid law.

PPIN president Becky Cockrum said, “[t]he ruling means that Hoosiers who rely on federal funding have lost access to their crucial and lifesaving preventive health care at Planned Parenthood of Indiana."  Specifically, “…Wednesday's ruling means that 9,300 Medicaid patients at Planned Parenthood's 28 locations will lose services from their preferred provider, and her organization must decide soon, perhaps within days, whether it will continue to serve Medicaid patients…[and]… it will have to stop providing intervention services to partners of persons with sexually transmitted diseases in 22 counties.”  PPIN will lose approximately $2 million of the $3 million they receive each year from federal funding. 

Moreover, “…about half of all births in Indiana are funded by Medicaid today and PPIN estimates this will ‘cost the state $68 million in Medicaid expenses for unintended pregnancies by reducing birth control access’.”

Of course, Governor Daniels has told PPIN repeatedly that all they need to do to restore their funding is to stop providing abortion services.  Anti-choice politicians have decided to hold the fundamental constitutional right to choose an abortion hostage while thousands of Indiana’s poorest women pay the ultimate price in this ongoing war on women.  Cockrum’s response to the ultimatum from Governor Daniels, and from every other anti-choice politician in Indiana, was very clear.  She said:

Abortion is a constitutionally protected option for a woman, and some 10,000 or 11,000 women in the state of Indiana avail themselves of that because they determine that's the most right thing for them and for their families…It seems to me it makes sense for us to continue to offer those services.

Last week, in response to the pending enactment of the Indiana law and the fact that defunding Planned Parenthood violates federal Medicaid law, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the Los Angeles Times:

If the state denies payment to these providers that would be illegal…There are some options available to us.  But I can't say what action will be taken to bring the state into compliance.  All we can say now is we will review the matter once Indiana decides.

Indiana has now defunded Planned Parenthood and a federal judge has refused to issue a temporary injunction to stop the Indiana from becoming the “…first state to cut off public funding to Planned Parenthood for general health services.”  So, theoretically Indiana should now be at risk of losing “…all of its $4 million in federal family planning money…” for violating federal Medicaid law.  And the fact that the federal judge refused to issue a temporary injunction does not bode well for the ultimate success of PPIN’s lawsuit.  If PPIN’s lawsuit fails to restore its funding other states seeking to defund Planned Parenthood will only be emboldened to charge forward. 

This loss of federal family planning funding will not only create a health crisis for vulnerable women in Indiana but also create a fiscal disaster for the Indiana state budget.  More importantly, this fiscal disaster will have been brought on by an allegedly fiscally conservative Republican governor with sincere presidential aspirations.  Apparently, the need to assuage the fears of social conservatives that criticized him earlier this year “…for calling for a truce on social issues,” trumps any genuine need to protect the state’s budget. 

But this question remains unanswered: What will happen to Indiana’s federal family planning budget?  Will the federal government act to protect the most vulnerable women in Indiana?  Will the federal government cut off Indiana’s federal family planning dollars? 

New Hampshire, Kansas, North Carolina, Texas, and Minnesota are also threatening to follow in Indiana’s footsteps and defund Planned Parenthood.  Will the federal government protect the vulnerable women in those states, or will these states be permitted to violate federal Medicaid law with impunity?  To date, not a single spokesperson from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has answered this question because until this week it was still a hypothetical question.  Indiana’s governor and U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt have now turned that hypothetical question into a political and fiscal reality.  

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Will Indiana Become the New Planned Parenthood Battleground?

Despite the House of Representative’s failure to defund Planned Parenthood last month, statehouses across the country are now resuscitating the war on Planned Parenthood.  Indiana may become the very first state to defund Planned Parenthood now that Governor Mitch Daniels has offered his unwavering public support for the defunding legislation.  Kansas, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Texas are also taking up this fight.  In addition to becoming the very first state to defund Planned Parenthood, Indiana may also become the very first Planned Parenthood battleground decided in the courts and confronted by the federal government. 

Last week Indiana’s GOP Governor Mitch Daniels announced that he would sign a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in Indiana; the singular reason being that Planned Parenthood provides abortions.  Politico reports:

The bill bars the state from entering into contracts with abortion providers, making an exception for hospitals and ambulatory centers.  Planned Parenthood of Indiana operates 28 clinics in Indiana, eight of which are Title X funded clinics.  The group received about $3 million in federal funding last year.

Governor Daniels provided a very clear solution for Planned Parenthood’s funding problem.  He stated, "[a]ny organization affected by this provision can resume receiving taxpayer dollars immediately by ceasing or separating its operations that perform abortions."  In response, Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said, "[c]learly, Governor Daniels would rather play politics with women’s health than show leadership and fiscal responsibility in rejecting a bill that will ultimately cost the state millions in federal funding.” 

The very public battle Governor Daniels is waging against Planned Parenthood appears more politically motivated than most other GOP governors making similar choices because Daniels will soon announce whether he will be running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.  In fact, the New York Times recently explained:

The bill cutting off an expected $2 million in Medicaid financing to Planned Parenthood could have become law without the governor’s signature, and Mr. Daniels’s announcement was viewed by some as a sign that he may be leaning toward running and hoping to increase his appeal among social conservatives.  Some critics of the bill, who lobbied the governor to veto it, said they were surprised he had turned his attention to abortion when he had, of late, focused firmly on matters of the state’s finances and education, including vouchers for private or parochial school tuition.

The Indiana bill not only defunds Planned Parenthood but also enacts a 20 week abortion ban.  If enacted, Indiana would become the fifth state to use the disproved “fetal pain” theory to justify a clear violation of the mandate within Roe v. Wade, joining Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, and Oklahoma. 

It clearly has become irrelevant to anti-choice politicians that there is no federal funding of abortions and Planned Parenthood’s abortion services comprise only 3% of the overall services they provide to the millions of low-income and vulnerable women throughout the country. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fetal Rights and the Dangerous Consequences of Roe v. Wade’s Demise

The Nation ‘s Michelle Goldberg recently discussed how the anti-abortion movement is increasingly using state and federal feticide laws to arrest and imprison women.  “Throughout the past few decades, abortion foes have worked steadily to endow fetuses with rights separate from those of mothers, aiming to undermine the logic of Roe v. Wade.”  This agenda is designed to “…’allow a jurist to acknowledge that human beings at any stage of development deserve protection—even protection that would trump a woman’s interest in terminating a pregnancy’.”  The practical effect of this aspect of the anti-abortion movement has resulted in women facing serious criminal charges for “…ending their pregnancies, or merely attempting to do so.”  

The fear that anti-abortion politicians would use fetal rights law, including a push to recognize fetal pain at earlier and earlier gestational stages, can no longer be dismissed as paranoia.  The fact that the anti-abortion movement primarily views women as unwitting victims who are too ignorant to understand that choosing abortion is really murder, has not stopped increasing attempts to use feticide laws to criminalize everything from attempted suicides, suspected attempted suicides, or even “suspicious” miscarriages. 

The New York Times recently reported on an alleged epidemic of low-income pregnant women around the country that are abusing prescription drugs.  Lynn Paltrow, the founder of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, explains how the New York Times, relying solely on anecdotal evidence, “…suggest[s] that the greatest threat to children is their mothers…”  This false narrative adds to the notion that certain kinds of pregnant women, particularly low-income women, cannot be trusted. 

Paltrow also discusses the real impact of the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004’’ or ‘‘Laci and Conner’s Law,’’ which was enacted after the tragic murder of Laci Peterson.  Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant at the time of her murder in 2002.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Can We Risk Defending Roe v. Wade?

Last week Rachel Maddow had a very frank discussion with the president of the National Organization for Women, Terry O’Neill, revealing the risks associated with challenging some of the clearly unconstitutional state laws that directly contravene Roe v. Wade.  O’Neill explained that the most significant danger with any court challenge is the potential that the current conservative Supreme Court is now poised to overturn the fundamental abortion rights established under Roe. 

Does the reality of the current makeup of the Supreme Court mean that pro-choice groups must continue to play defense instead of offense? 

Recently, the Guttmacher Institute reported:

Recent changes in the membership of the U.S. Supreme Court have led some state policymakers to consider the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned and regulation of abortion returned to the states.  Some state legislatures are considering banning abortion under all or virtually all circumstances; these measures are widely viewed as an attempt to provoke a legal challenge to Roe, while other states are considering abortion bans that would go into effect in the event that Roe is overturned.

So, what can pro-choice advocacy organizations do to fight back?  How do we defend against the unconstitutional attacks and attempts to dismantle the very precepts of Roe v. Wade? 

Friday, April 15, 2011

The House GOP’s Culture War on Contraceptive Services

Contraception works!  There is no doubt about it – full and easy access to contraceptive services reduces the rate of unintended pregnancies.  Therefore, access to contraception reduces the rate of abortion. 

Guttmacher Institute research shows that the two-thirds of U.S. women at risk of unintended pregnancy who use contraception consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies.  The 19% of women at risk who use contraception but do so inconsistently account for 44% of all unintended pregnancies, while the 16% of women at risk who do not use contraception at all for a month or more during the year account for 52% of all unintended pregnancies.

So why do anti-choice politicians, and the House GOP in particular, continue their relentless attacks not only Planned Parenthood funds but on all Title X family planning services?

Sometimes it seems as though “…the Republican Party is doing everything in its power to ensure that there are more abortions than ever in the years to come.”

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently remarked that the GOP has “…been on an ‘ideological harangue’ against abortion, contraception, and family planning.”  She went on to say that the GOP needs, “…a lesson in the birds and bees…If you don't want to terminate a pregnancy, you might want to prevent it.  Family planning funding?  People really get this.  Does that give you any picture of how insulting their mentality is?"  And Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently said the GOP is “making it a pre-existing condition to be a woman."

And these GOP attacks on contraceptive access persist even though the “traditional” female base of the Republican Party believes in contraception despite their religious beliefs.  The Guttmacher Institute’s new report, Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use, reveals:

In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible.  Most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant practice contraception, and most use highly effective methods like sterilization, the pill, or the IUD.  This is true for Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, and it is true for Catholics, despite the Catholic hierarchy’s strenuous opposition to contraception.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Putting Women at Risk: The Rise of Catholic-Secular Hospital Mergers

When two hospitals in Sierra Vista, Arizona attempted a trial merger a group of community activists, including doctors and retirees, became alarmed at what the merger would mean for the quality of reproductive health care at the newly merged hospital.  The Cochise Citizens for Patients' Rights (CCPR) decided to fight the merger.  The two hospitals, the Sierra Vista Regional Health Center and the Catholic Carondolet Health Network, would become a singular institution that would be controlled by the the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services

CCPR activists organized rallies alerting the public and the media to the situation.  Eventually, the Arizona Attorney General began investigating “…after the National Women's Law Center filed a complaint alleging that the Board violated its duty to the community when it entered into a deal that eliminated access to certain services”.

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and PBS correspondent Lucky Severson stated, “[w]hat the merger means is that Sierra Vista, a rural, secular hospital, must now abide by the Catholic ethical and religious directives which prohibit certain procedures.  So physicians can no longer do abortions, even when the mother’s life is in danger, and they can no longer perform sterilizations or provide contraception.” 

Dotti Wellman a spokesperson for CCPR explained that the county “…has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, not just the county.  Immediately when this arrangement went in there would be no talk of birth control.  If we had two hospitals, we would not be here, because there would be a choice.” 

Dr. Bruce Silva, an ob-gyn at Sierra Vista, expressed concern regarding who would have the ultimate authority to make medical decisions for his patients.  Dr. Silva said that “[t]he person who makes that decision is not me and the woman.  We can make that decision, but then it has to be okay’d by someone else who puts their belief systems and their ethics on me and on my patients, which I just don’t think is right.”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scott Horton Interviews Antoinette Bonsignore

Scott Horton Interviews Antoinette Bonsignore

Antoinette Bonsignore, a regular blogger for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, discusses her truthout article, “The Military’s Rape and Sexual Assault Epidemic;” the harassment and threats heaped on military rape victims – men and women – who dare to report the crimes; the culture of impunity for offenders, aided by a woefully deficient (by design) investigative and oversight apparatus; the class action lawsuitbrought against Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates for their failure to address the problem; and how you can take action to make the military accountable for sexual assaults within the ranks.