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.