Nel's New Day

March 7, 2016

More Than Candidate Conflict–Such As Women’s Rights

The results from wacko caucuses that let 18,000 people in an entire state determine its presidential candidate continue to roll in and dominate the media while almost all other news is left in the dust. Tomorrow brings more about the presidential election and nothing else. But there is more news—like information about the GOP’s attempt to dominate women’s lives by denying us our reproductive rights.

For example, the House committee to close down Planned Parenthood after 11 other investigations showed no fault for the organization that operates thousands of women’s clinics nation-wide. The only indictments related to the discredited doctored videos produced by extremists were for the anti-choice activists.

We could subtitle the committee “Baby Parts,” which is how Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) referred to the issue, but the issue  is called the “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” despite the fact that the subject is fetal tissue—not infants. The hearing’s focus was on a legal act since 1970, the ethics of donating fetal tissue from aborted fetuses for scientific research that has resulted in vital medical breakthroughs. This donation has nothing to do with whether women have abortions, but the choice by chair, Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), to feature people hostile to abortion shows her political bent.

Two people were allowed to testify about the facts of the case. R. Alta Charo, a professor at University of Wisconsin’s Law School and the School of Medicine & Public Health, said, “Federal review has repeatedly found that the option to donate tissue has no effect on whether a woman will choose to have an abortion.” She added that the Center for Disease Control has requested fetal tissue donations to speed up its study of Zika, the virus linked to severe brain defects in thousands of newborns. “The absence of this kind of research could lead to more abortions” by women who find out their fetus has been affected by the disease. “If we cut off this research, we’re facing a global emergency,” Charo said.

A serious difference of opinion on the committee, with the Republicans winning, was whether to issue subpoenas to medical researchers instead of disbanding. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asked why the committee is demanding names of researchers and medical students dealing with fetal tissue and pointed out that publicizing their names could “endanger their lives” from attacks from anti-abortion extremists. Blackburn said that the committee has the right to do this but refused to give any reasons for why the committee needed these names. Pointing out the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic and explaining the committee members would be “complicit” in murders of researchers had no influence on the eight GOP members who outnumbered the six Democrats. The gunman who shot 12 people, killing three of them, explained his actions by saying “No more baby parts.”

The Democrats at the hearing called the committee’s actions a witch hunt. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) compared Blackburn’s investigation into researchers and doctors to former Sen. Joe McCarthy’s (R-WI) abusive tactics 60 years ago. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said that those burned at the stakes “are our scientists, who hold future medical breakthroughs in their hands [and] brave women’s healthcare workers who are simply trying to care for their patients.” Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) said, “This is not an objective hearing. This is a debate against a woman’s right to chose.” Rep. DelBene summarized the day’s events with this question: “Do you think ideology should shape the rules about scientific research?”

On the same day as this House travesty, the remaining eight U.S. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, concerning the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the nation. If the court decides to rule on the case this year, it will need five votes to overturn the Texas law but just four to make the laws uncertain in other states. Justice Antonin Scalia would certainly have voted to uphold the Texas law, but he is no longer on the court.

Four of the justices hearing the case, three of them women, seemed suspicious of the claim that the law was to protect women’s health because of unreasonable mandates for women’s clinics to turn them into “ambulatory surgical centers.” Stephen Breyer pointed out that colonoscopies, which don’t need to be performed in an ambulatory surgical center, are 28 times more likely to have complications than abortions. Elena Kagan asked the Texas attorney about this, but he had no response. Then she pointed out that liposuction actually has greater complications. Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked why a dilation and curettage associated with a miscarriage can be performed in a doctor’s office whereas a basically identical D&C for an abortion must be performed in an ambulatory surgical center.

The swing vote for a majority comes from Anthony Kennedy, who shifts back and forth from finding abortion “icky” (Gonzales v. Carhart) and wishing to keep some vestige of abortion (Planned Parenthood v. Casey). After statements that Texas imposed heavy burdens on clinics performing abortions but not on facilities performing riskier procedures, Kennedy suggested that the law creates an “undue burden,” a criterion, determined in Casey, that could result in striking down the law. A Kennedy concern was that the law would result in more women having surgical abortions rather than mediation abortions, a situation that he said “may not be medically wise.”

The uncertainty of the court’s decision comes from the claim that admitting privileges requirements cannot be determined at this stage of litigation. In discussing this procedural issue, Kennedy suggested returning the case to the lower court for additional fact-finding. To block the pro-choice faction, Justice Samuel Alito suggested the requirement of very specific information or challenges to each line of the many pages of regulations individually. Alito noted, “It will be work,” and the burden falls on abortion providers and their advocates.

If the Texas laws go into effect, the state will have fewer than ten women’s clinics for 5.4 million women of childbearing age, many of whom live 200 miles away.  The attorney general defending Texas law said that women who live more than 100 miles from a clinic can just go across the border into New Mexico. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg found that “odd” because “New Mexico doesn’t have any surgical ASC requirement, and it doesn’t have any admitting requirement.” Kagan asked if Texas could demand that all clinics conform to Massachusetts General to increase health benefits “because MGH, it’s a great hospital.”

Texas laws are proposed in many red states throughout the country and drafted by Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group that, according to its website, “works to advance life issues through the law and does so through measures that can withstand judicial obstacles so that pro-life laws will be enforced.”

Missouri initiated both laws under discussion in the Supreme Court, mandating clinics performing abortions be outpatient surgical centers in 1986 and requiring doctors have privileges at a nearby hospital in 2005. By now, the state has only one clinic, making it one of five states in the nation in this situation. If the court strikes down these laws in Texas, other states may lose them. States have passed over 200 TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws within the past five years, including Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period. The claim is always that the laws protect women, and the claim is always false.

Two laws that Missouri  lost are spousal consent for an abortion and second trimester abortions to be performed in a hospital. The state did block abortions in public facilities, for example the University of Missouri’s medical school in Kansas City. In accordance with religious beliefs, laws signed by then Gov. John Ashcroft in 1986 stated, “The life of each human being begins at conception.”

Also last week, seven of eight justices blocked a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital rights within 30 miles of the clinics. In this case, June Medical Services v. Gee, Clarence Thomas was the only dissent. The order blocking the Louisiana law began with 14 important words: “Consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.” In short, they criticized the 5th Circuit Court for ignoring the high court’s previous stay orders if the lower court “cannot discern the underlying reasoning” behind those orders and rebutted the lower court’s logic on its own terms.

This order may show that the Supreme Court opposes the 5th Circuit Court’s efforts to eradicate Roe v. Wade. And Scalia is not there to protect laws that violate women’s reproductive rights.

 

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