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.