Nel's New Day

October 14, 2017

DDT: Week Thirty-eight – More Unraveling, Part 2

The attempts of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) to unravel the benefits of the past two presidential terms includes limiting assistance for Puerto Rico after two hurricanes. Although the Pentagon has issued private emails explaining a positive spin on U.S. non-assistance to its territory, DDT foils the attempt with such statements as his threat to remove FEMA because of PR’s financial struggles in the past.

Over three weeks after the second hurricane hit PR, 91 percent of the island is without electricity after yesterday’s power plant failure in San Juan, and 36 percent of the population lacks potable water. People are dying from such waterborne diseases as leptospirosis, and Puerto Ricans are drinking contaminated water from superfund sites because no other water is available.

FEMA sends information about sources of help through non-operational media sources; only 37 percent of cell towers function. Only 392 miles of Puerto Rico’s 5,073 miles of roads are open. FEMA cannot stay there forever—as DDT said—but it did stay in New Orleans for six years after Hurricane Katrina.

Criticized for the lack of support for people in Puerto Rico, FEMA said that it is not their job to distribute food and water. Their officials are there only to help people fill out paperwork. Mayors, who lack trucks, gas, and satellite phones, are responsible for getting these supplies to people. This photo to the right was taken this week in downtown Santurce, population of almost 100,000).

One senior FEMA official admitted that the agency is about 1.8 million meals short per day to feed people on Puerto Rico. Chef José Andrés had managed to deliver about 90,000 meals a day through a network of local chefs. His contract ended earlier this week with no urgency from FEMA to renew it.

Meanwhile, government workers are hiring Puerto Ricans for pedicures and massages on their “spa day” during work hours. An experienced senior doctor working for the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) in coordination with DHS quit after the FEMA disaster relief employees “used the triage tents that are supposed to be for medical care.”

Members of the White House administration are still geographically challenged. DDT said that he spoke to the “president of the Virgin Island” who is technically Donald Trump. DDT described Puerto Rico as being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: it’s in the Caribbean Sea. Energy Secretary Rick Perry called Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, as a “country” during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.

Russian trolls are distributing false information on social media about “excellent” conditions on the island.

DDT has withdrawn from Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization known for its designation of World Heritage sites. Its missions include promoting sex education, literacy, clean water and equality for women with the largest literacy program in Afghanistan. The excuse is that the organization is “anti-Israel,” meaning that it accepts Palestine.

DDT is threatening NFL with increased taxes if they don’t stop athletes from kneeling during the national anthem. The NFL has no federal tax breaks, but it benefits from tax-exempt bonds used by governments to finance new stadiums, about $13 billion since 2000 for NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA. DDT could demand a ban on these tax-exempt bonds.

After Richard Nixon fought the seizure of his records, a court case, followed by the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, mandated that all records of presidents and vice-presidents are public and cannot be destroyed. DDT, his White House staff, and his family are being sued for the preservation of all presidential records. According to DDT’s DOJ, “courts cannot review the President’s compliance with the Presidential Records Act.” DOJ lawyers also argue that judicial review is wrong even if DDT deletes secret recordings or his staff purges phone records because they expected to be subpoenaed in connection with various investigations.

After DDT said he was overturning DACA, the law allowing work permits to young people brought involuntarily into the country, he said that Congress should reform the law to permit them to stay. This week he issued his conditions for DACA: money for his wall on the Mexican border, laws to send undocumented immigrants including unaccompanied children to their home countries, elimination of sanctuary cities and other areas, refusal to allow immigrants to sponsor extended family members, rejection of children fleeing violence in Central America, use of the E-Verify program by businesses to find undocumented immigrants, and a fifty-percent cut on entry of unskilled workers through a “merit”-based immigration system. DACA members would also not be allowed to apply for citizenship. The demands indicate the fine hand of Stephen Miller, a white supremacist White House member.

One of the first bills that DDT signed after his inauguration was to make it easier for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun. People on Social Security for mental illnesses and deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs are again permitted to purchase weapons. Law enforcement officials are beginning to view the man who killed 58 people and injured over 500 people in one shooting as mentally ill.

In this week’s fourth set of talks for NAFTA negotiations with Mexico and Canada, DDT turned against businesses and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce an enemy. The Chamber called DDT’s proposals “unnecessary and unacceptable” and “highly dangerous.” Businesses know that withdrawal from NAFTA means higher tariffs, losses in jobs, higher consumer prices, failure to create new trade deals, and forfeiture of any leadership in exports. Congressional members of Congress are also expressing frustration with their lack of involvement in negotiations because are responsible for any changes, additions, and/or deletions to trade agreements.

New language in the Department of Health and Human Services’ 2018-2022 strategic plan: its mission is “serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.” This guideline may lead to contraceptives becoming illegal because some religious groups think that they produce abortions.

The EPA has issued a 43-page document to replace the Clean Power Plan with the Dirty Power Plan without any information on how his plan impacts air pollution. The document justifying the Dirty plan discounts any global costs or danger to future generations. The public is invited to comment on alternatives for replacing it, without the EPA proposing any replacement of its own. Secretary Scott Pruitt seems to think that he would have trouble with actually repealing the Clean plan because he’s asking for public input—a delaying tactic that allows him to maintain the Dirty plan.

In the “perfect storm” that elected DDT, Cambridge Analytica, an “election management agency” partly owned by conservative hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, crunched data for DDT’s campaign after Ted Cruz lost. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) is now investigating the company for possible collusion between DDT’s campaign and Russian operatives. Social media delivered Russian propaganda to white voters, but the information about voters may have come from Cambridge, an outgrowth of the British SCL Group which ran a campaign dividing Latvians and ethnic Russians in Latvia with false statements and fake social movements. DDT’s data team followed the same social, ethnic, and racial divides, pushing the idea of discrimination against the white middle class.

DDT’s new anti-science nominees are Kathleen Hartnett-White for White House Council on Environmental Quality and Barry Myers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Hartnett-White, from a Koch-funded foundation, believes that carbon dioxide is “not a pollutant” and argues that developing fossil fuels is “moral.” Myers, CEO of AccuWeather, wants to privatize the National Weather Service to benefit his company and has no advanced degree in science.

DDT continues his goal to be “unique.” This week he was the first person inaugurated as president who spoke to the hate group Values Voters Summit with its collections of anti-LGBTQ white supremacists and religious zealots. Another speaker was white supremacist and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, now beloved because he was wounded in a mass shooting. He is still opposed to LGBTQ rights although a married lesbian police officer saved his life. In a panel discussion, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) said that religious freedom laws would “unshackle the voices on the right,” admitting that these laws are about politics, not religion.

Ignorance or lying? DDT said that he has reduced the national debt by $5.2 trillion because the stock market has increased that much since he was inaugurated. News for DDT: national debt is what the nation has borrowed; stock market is how much more businesses are worth. No relationship! DDT has made 1,318 false or misleading claims over 263 days.

People who think that impeachment is a solution to the problems that DDT brought to the U.S. should consider this statement yesterday from VP Mike Pence:

“President Donald Trump has restored the credibility of American power. Today our nation once again stands, without apology, as leader of the free world. That’s what American leadership on the world stage looks like.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) hasn’t let up on DDT. Yesterday Corker talked about DDT’s forced choices between going to war with countries like North Korea and Iran or allowing those countries to obtain nuclear weapons. Corker said, “You cannot publicly castrate your own secretary of state without giving yourself that binary choice.” He continued by saying that DDT’s actions are causing all Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s “phenomenal” work to “fall apart.” Thus far DDT hasn’t tweeted back at Corker’s accusations; he’s busy bragging about healthcare stocks going down after his continued sabotage of the Affordable Care Act.

Our future?

 

June 4, 2017

Is This the Direction for People in the United States?

 

On his visit to the Middle East, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) told the world that the United States shared values with Saudi Arabia. Now its King Abdullah will define atheists as terrorists to continue the nation’s repressive laws on political dissent and protests that it claims can “harm public order.” Royal Decree 44 criminalizes “participating in hostilities outside the kingdom” with prison sentences of between three and 20 years. Article One of the new provisions defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

Saudi money is being sent to Europe to create its fanatical version of Islam throughout Germany. Instead of moderate Islamism, the push is toward the Wahhabi supremacy of Sharia law and use of violent jihad and takfirism to kill Muslims not following the Saudi interpretation of Islam. Almost all terrorist attacks in the West are connected to Saudi Arabia with almost none to Iran, excoriated by DDT.

Those who think that this idea can never move to the United States need to realize that DDT will do anything to pander to his base of evangelicals and VP Mike Pence is a “Christian” first. One of his leaders, Pat Robertson, has called for parents to beat non-Christian children if they don’t respect Christian beliefs. On his television program he told a woman upset because her grandchildren don’t follow her beliefs to “take that kid to the woodshed and let him understand the blessings of discipline.” He further told the women that the grandson would go to prison if a “strong male figure” doesn’t give him that “discipline.”  Robertson advised before predicting that the kid would end up in prison if a strong male figure didn’t start beating him right away.

Robertson’s form of child abuse follows Glenn Beck’s call four years ago to physically abuse children until they believe in God. Two years before that, fundamentalist Christian parents beat their nine children in the name of God and killed one of them. Across the country “Christians” are following the advice of Robertson and Beck. Robertson’s solution of child abuse is against the law if it results in physical harm or death–at least for now.

Religious Right activist “Coach” Dave Daubenmire (right) is calling for “a more violent Christianity” and gave DDT and Greg Gianforte as examples of men who are properly “walking in authority.” Gianforte is the new Montana U.S. representative who threw a reporter to the floor and continued to attack him the night before his successful election. Daubenmire played a clip of DDT shoving another world leader aside at the NATO summit to show that DDT “is large and in charge.” He added about DDT, “He just spanked them all.” Daubenmire said, “That should be the heart cry of Christian men. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of God has suffered violence and violent men take it by force.”

Kentucky’s governor, Matt Bevin thinks he can solve the problem of community violence in Louisville through prayer. His plan is to send roaming prayer groups to needy areas that will walk around and pray with people two or three times a week for the next year. Bevin thinks that prayer can take away the need for investment in housing, education, and health care.

In Michigan, Rep. Tim Walberg told his constituents that God would “take care of” the climate crisis.

In late May, Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate and father of White House communication staffer Sarah Sanders, joined 5,000 Israeli settlers with an armed guard to perform religious rituals at Joseph’s Tomb in Palestine’s West Bank. With him was Israeli Parliament member Bezalel Smotrich who wants to murder all Palestinians who refuse to admit their inferior status. Later Huckabee met with parliament member Yehudah Glick, called “the most dangerous man in the Middle East” by Israeli police. Glick’s goal is to bulldoze an Islamic holy site and build a Jewish temple in its place before creating a theocracy over all residents in the Holy Land.

According to Calvinist evangelicals, wealth is a sign of God’s approval, a reason that they consider DDT to be God’s anointed. Some people are just destined to accumulate material things, at the expense of others, while others are simply relegated to a far lower place. Combined with fundamentalist reverence for authoritarianism, DDT had the characteristics for the evangelical leader.

In his campaigning, DDT promised Christians that they would not be persecuted if he became president. The GOP has used the persecution myth for decades, but DDT sold it to them to get elected. Now women are being persecuted with the Christian law of the United States. DDT appointed Charmaine Yoest, the former president of an anti-abortion group, to lead public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. He followed that egrigious choice a few weeks later by naming another anti-abortion advocate to oversee the Title X program with the responsibility of allocating $300 million a year in family planning funds for low-income people. Teresa Manning is also in charge of shaping policy and regulation about contraception and teen pregnancy. Her philosophy that family planning is only among “a husband and a wife and God.” She also thinks that contraception doesn’t prevent pregnancy but instead increases the number of abortions. She said, “The prospect that contraception would always prevent the conception of a child is preposterous.”

The past decade has seen increasingly abusive laws for women seeking abortions, and DDT has moved on to controlling contraception for women. DDT’s executive order about eliminating the health care birth control mandate hasn’t appeared yet, but leaks have provided an idea of its direction. If he signs the existing draft, any employee can declare a “belief” reason to stop providing free contraception through their insurance plans. Because of “Obamacare,” teen pregnancy has hit an historic low.

DDT claims that women can get contraceptives from a family member’s health plan, buy separate insurance for them, or use “multiple other federal programs that provide free or subsidized contraceptives.” He didn’t specify which ones because he also wants to close down Planned Parenthood in exchange for “crisis pregnancy centers” that don’t provide contraceptives. Losing Planned Parenthood will leave almost 1.6 million low-income patients with no family planning care—and maybe no insurance if employees deny them. DDT also wants to largely defund Medicaid, another source for contraception for low-income women. Any DDT order would be immediate with no public comment because he would declare it an interim final rule because employers need immediate relief. Any DDT order would be immediate with no public comment because he would declare it an interim final rule because employers need immediate relief.

Before the removal of contraception came DDT’s executive order protection of “religious liberty,” removing constitutional rights of others. An example is hospitals which can deny services, fire people on a Christian basis, and refuse federally-mandated retirement regulations and disclosures through the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. An example of religious firing was an employee at a faith-based addition center in Missoula (MT) because she didn’t pray hard enough.

The U.S. is already one of the most extreme fundamentalist religious countries in the world, according to scholar Noam Chomsky. Over 42 percent of the people in this country think that the world was created 10,000 years ago by the hand of God, and these people are a political force, controlling others with their beliefs and fear-mongering. The problems of the nation come from income inequality inculcated by huge corporations, but the DDT supporters blame anyone who isn’t white. Yes, the United States shares values with Saudi Arabia, basing its laws on religion and calling for physical punishment. The question is how far the pendulum will swing to the right before it returns—if it ever does.

May 18, 2016

‘Religion’ Allows Escape from Contracts

Groups continue to use ‘religious liberty’ in an escape from legal obligations through denying women cost-free contraception and expelling a student from school. 

The fight over women’s contraception isn’t over, but it’s been postponed because of Antonin Scalia’s death. In their continued manic desire for power, traditional religious institutions pursued the issue of cost-free contraception for women to the Supreme Court where a non-decision was issued earlier this week. In Zubik v. Burwell the eight justices recently sent back seven cases they heard collectively in March plus another six cases that the court had not agreed to hear. Six lower courts were ordered to issue new rulings based on questions that the court left undecided.

The question in the lawsuit was whether non-church organizations have the right to be exempt from contraceptive mandates in the Affordable Care Act, as Hobby Lobby claimed—and won—in 2014.  The case wasn’t even about whether these protesting religious corporations should have to provide any contraception; they all opposed just filling out a form saying that they wouldn’t provide the contraception in order for the government to cover the cost of women’s contraception. A court suggestion for compromise is that the non-church groups’ insurance companies provide insurance without contraception and notify that employees that they will provide free contraception not subsidized by the non-church groups.

Even worse, the denial of providing contraceptives uses lay opinion rather than scientific fact because of Hobby Lobby. Among denied contraceptives are intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptive medication which simply impedes ovulation or fertilization of the egg. Basically, the groups are doing whatever they can to block women getting contraception.

With its opinion, the court let government pay for contraception and exonerate non-profits from the risk of penalties until the lower courts rule in a way that satisfies the Supreme Court. Not determined by the court’s opinion, however, are whether the Affordable Care Act contraceptive mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, whether the government had a “compelling interesting” in mandating free contraceptives, and whether the method they used with the religious groups to provide cost-free contraceptives was the “least restrictive means.” In taking this inaction, the court hoped that the parties could “resolve any outstanding issues between them” but admitted that “areas of disagreement” between the two sides may continue to exist.

Five of the six lower courts had ruled in favor of the ACA mandate. A deadlock of 4-4 would have ruled that the law be interpreted differently according to the regions of these courts. Gretchen Borchelt, vice president of the National Women’s Law Center, expressed disappointment with the court’s indecision. She said, “Eight of nine circuit courts of appeals have already upheld women’s access to birth control no matter where they work.” The 8th Circuit court is the only one ruling against the accommodation that the government made to religious groups. A three-judge panel ruled  that the ACA mandate “substantially burdened” Dordt College’s free exercise of religion. In addition to Iowa, the decision covers Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and both Dakotas.

Fortunately, the high court’s opinion does not set precedent, and lower courts may not solve the problem for the high court. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a separate but concurring opinion telling lower courts that the action does not endorse a proposal put forward by the protesting groups that women must have separate policies for contraceptive coverage. ACA protesters to the ACA are viewing the court’s opinion as a victory for their side, but the opinion seems to tell lower courts not to block the government from implementing its regulations to “ensure that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives,'” during the pendency of the litigation:

“Nothing in this opinion, or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, is to affect the ability of the Government to ensure that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives.'”

At this time, almost all the cases have injunctions to keep federal agencies from enforcing their regulations. The question is whether these injunctions will be lifted in light of the court’s opinion. Groups refusing to provide contraception can also find insurance plans that also refuse to provide contraception, based on that company’s “religious beliefs.”  Yet organizations may not notify the government of its insurance company, which leaves female employees without cost-free contraception. Self-insured plans also cause difficulty for women who want contraceptives because the federal government won’t know which groups insure their employees in this way. Basically, the groups want to not only refuse women contraception but also hide whether they can get this right that a federal law provides.

In another case of “religious liberty,” an appeals judge ruled that St. Thomas High School doesn’t have to obey its own contracts because it is a “religious institution. The altercation started when a teacher failed to call the parents in the evening about a grade dispute because, as he told the student, he was preparing a “romantic” night for his wedding anniversary. The parents called the teacher’s explanation sexual harassment—“inadequate, irrelevant, [and] sexually demeaning.”

The Texas school expelled the student because of its policy permitting expulsion from “actions by a parent/guardian or other person responsible for the student which upbraids, insults, threatens or abuses any teacher, administrator, coach or staff member of the school.” Parents claimed a breach of contract because the student wouldn’t educate their son, and the school claimed that the student handbook is a part of the contract allowing them to expel the student.

The case could have been a simple contract dispute, but St. Thomas argued their action came from “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine,” a First Amendment doctrine limiting the courts’ ability to decide cases involving a religious body’s “doctrines, membership, discipline, and internal affairs. The doctrine prevents the courts from even hearing a dispute in the first place, and the appeals court agreed. The court did admit that “churches, their congregations, and their hierarchies exist and function within the civil community … are amenable to rules governing civil, contract, and property rights in appropriate circumstances.”

At least one other Texas case allowed parents to use the doctrine in refusing a student because the education has a “spiritual” element, similar to accepting a church member. The difference in this case is that the dispute was a secular contract dispute, not a federal agency forcing a Catholic school to admit an unwanted student.

If religious schools are permitted to violate all their contracts because of the “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine,” they may lose credibility in their agreements with everyone. People and companies are willing to perform services and sell products to others because breaching the contracts leads to satisfaction in the courts. If, however, St. Thomas shows that religious groups do not need to fulfill any contracts, including educating students, their action may lead to lack of confidence in their institutions, reduced student membership in schools, and inability to work with vendors.

St. Thomas could probably have won their case if they had stuck to the contractual issue. Instead the school chose to use its religious status to show that they are above the law—just as the religious groups have done in Zubik v. Burwell. The question is how far religions will go—not hire women, not pay minimum wage, not fulfilling any obligations that secular groups must—before the country decides that religious groups are not totally above the law.

January 5, 2016

Women Lose As Others Forge Ahead

The year 2015 was really good for people in the U.S. More red states accepted the Affordable Care Act, LGBT people gained more rights, the unemployment went down while the economy went up, the Iran agreement survived treasonous attempts by Republican legislators to destroy it, states started to move away from gerrymandering, a ban on microbeads in products will make eating fish healthier, President Obama decided to declare a war on unfettered gun ownership by felons and people with mental illnesses—the list goes on and on with encouraging actions.

Women, however, kept losing their fundamental rights. Conservative court actions and calls for defunding Planned Parenthood led to growing denials of inexpensive, easy access to health exams to detect cancer and STIs as well as contraceptives that would keep them from getting pregnant. During 2015, a number of states introduced almost 400 anti-abortion bills, an increase from 335 in 2014. From regulating medication abortions to complete bans on second-trimester abortions, 57 of these bills made it into law.

An overview of the “war on uteruses”:

Medication abortion restrictions: Arkansas requires providers to lie to patients by telling them that the effects of the “abortion pill”—a drug called mifepristone, or RU-486—can be reversed. Another restriction is mandating original FDA-approved dosage, decreasing the drug’s effectiveness and increasing negative side effects. Other inaccurate information forced on patients is the myth about fetal pain during abortion and women’s mental health problems after it. Laws also ban using telemedicine for medication abortion, especially beneficial for poor women living in rural areas. Idaho also bans this safe practice and requires doctors who administer the medication to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. With its concern about the importance of life between conception and birth, Arkansas is the second-worst state for women’s and children’s well-being.

Unprecedented bans against the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions: Kansas, the first state to pass a ban against what it calls “dismemberment abortion,” fails to use medical language in its law, opting for such emotional language as “unborn child” instead of fetus. A Kansas district judge blocked the law, and the case is on appeal. Oklahoma’s law uses even worse language by describing it as “purposely dismember[ing] a living unborn child….” That law is also on hold.

Waiting periods: North Carolina and Oklahoma tripled the time between state-mandated abortion counseling from 24 hours to 72 hours. All 12 Southeast states mandate waiting periods except for Florida where a law for a 24-hour waiting period blocked by a circuit court judge is pending a final ruling.

Reducing abortion access: Tennessee amended the state constitution by refusing any funding for abortions although state and federal money cannot legally be used to fund abortion. Another law requires clinics performing more than 50 surgical procedures a year to meet standards of ambulatory surgery centers similar to hospital standards. A woman who attempted to self-induce a miscarriage in her bathtub after 24 weeks of pregnancy now faces a first-degree attempted murder charge.

Parental consent: Arkansas women under 18 seeking a judge’s permission for an abortion without parental consent must undergo an “evaluation and counseling session with a mental health professional” to ensure that the minor is mature enough for the procedure and that an abortion is in her best interests. With no time limit for the court proceedings, the pregnancy could be so advanced that performing an abortion could become illegal. A minor is also required to file the petition in the county where she lives, violating her privacy.

Ban after 20 weeks: Despite the governor’s veto, West Virginia became the 15th state to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The law offers no exceptions for victims of rape or incest and provides only a highly limited exception for women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy or for fetal abnormalities. A similar law in Arkansas against abortions after 12 weeks was struck down in the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Two states did move toward preventing abortions. Oregon became the first state to offer contraceptives over the counter for up to a year’s supply, and California allows women to get birth control directly from a pharmacist.

The growing lack of access to abortion and contraception increases unintended pregnancies among poor women while the number of these among well-off women is shrinking. The rate of such pregnancies among women with incomes below the poverty line jumped 56 percent from 1994 to 2008 while falling by 24 percent for higher-income women. In 2008, the unintended-pregnancy rate for poor women was more than five times that of the most well-off.  Without Planned Parenthood, women are more likely to lack contraception. Of 491 counties with PP clinics, 103 counties have no other place giving low-income women access to affordable contraception.

Women who are turned away from terminating pregnancies are three times more likely to fall below the poverty line over the following two years than women who successfully get an abortion. They are also more likely to end up unemployed and to rely on government benefits to get by, then considered “takers” by the Republican legislators.

In the coming year, the U.S. Supreme Court will make pivotal decisions regarding women’s access to abortions and contraception.

Whole Woman’s Health vs. Cole determines whether Texas can enforce two regulations forcing about 75 percent of the state’s women’s clinics to close by requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and mandating clinics to have the same standards as an outpatient surgical center. Although the case is framed as a health issue for women, it is actually about blocking abortions. The decision will determine the standard used in federal courts to review abortion regulations—whether states can enact regulations without proving the effectiveness of safety.

Zubik vs. Burwell addresses the fourth SCOTUS challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the second case about the religious freedom objection to employer mandate for no-cost contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies. The issue of this case is not whether religious groups are exempt but whether they must notify the government of their religious objections. They maintain that the mere signing of a notification will “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” quoting the 1993 federal law on religious liberty. Almost all the appeals courts have rejected this claim; SCOTUS will combine seven of them in this one case.

From 1973 until 1992, the Supreme Court rejected dozens of state efforts to limit access to abortion, enforcing Roe v. Wade’s ruling that until the point of viability, the state could regulate abortion only to protect the health and well-being of women. The only decisions during that time against abortion were Bellotti v. Baird (1979), ruling in favor of parental consent, and Harris v. McRae (1980), excluding payments for medically necessary abortions from Medicaid.

In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld a highly restrictive Pennsylvania law that included mandatory waiting periods, parental consent, and biased information. The Court abandoned the legal principles of Roe v. Wade, allowing laws designed to limit access to abortion at any stage of pregnancy if the law does not place an “undue burden” on a woman’s access to abortion. The decision that spousal consent was an undue burden has not stopped hundreds of restrictions since 1992 that were not perceived as violation of the new standard.

In the more recent Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), the Supreme Court upheld the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, a 2003 law that fails to refer to any medical procedure. It bans an intact dilation and evacuation (D&E) unless the fetus is no longer alive. Since then, state restrictions have forced doctors to choose a less safe procedure if they cannot ensure the fetus is no longer alive even if it is brain dead.

The number of nonhospital providers performing 400 or more abortions per year peaked in the late 1980s at 705 and fell by 2011 to 553. Since 2011, over 200 abortion restrictions have led to massive closure of clinics throughout the nation. Five states—Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming—each have just one, and the number of abortion providers in Texas has gone from 62 across the huge state to a possibility of only ten. Not one clinic is open for 550 miles. Throughout the United States, clinics are closing at the rate of 1.5 every week. Other states have suffered the same losses, for example Ohio losing over half of its clinics.

abortion graphIn clinics still open, Christian terrorists subject workers and clients to a campaign of terror, criminal acts, and violence. The killings by these terrorists aren’t limited to clinics: Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church while attending Sunday services. Most abortions today require endless waits, interminable journeys, humiliation, and money. According to the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling, states cannot regulate abortion if it “places an undue burden on women.” That’s the decision to be made this year about the state laws stopping poor women from obtaining their constitutional rights in reproductive care.

This summary is a beginning description of the “undue burden” of state laws on a simple procedure that can save women’s lives. According to Professor of Law Michael Dorf, the court will have to investigate if the laws mandating hospital standards at a clinic are an unnecessary health regulation—and thus unconstitutional because they are blocking women from their legally fundamental right to have abortions.

August 10, 2015

Ignore Trump, Watch What the Other Candidates Do against Women

The media’s obsession with Donald Trump spread throughout the Sunday morning talk shows (formerly “news” shows). Chuck Todd spend half of Meet the Press on Trump and the other half with Marco Rubio and John Kasich (the second time in two weeks). When Todd asked both of them about Trump, Rubio refused to take the bait, but Kasich spent some more time on Trump.

RNC Reince Priebus cancelled his performance on one of these Sunday shows. He may have been embarrassed about trying to rig the GOP debates, eliminating one of MSNBC because he was afraid any stridency, and ending up with the fiasco last Thursday.

The debate highlighted Trump’s sexist attitudes and that his companies have declared bankruptcies. Litttle of the media points out is that most of the other GOP candidates are as, if not more, dismissive of women and beholden to billionaires with the same money ethics as Trump.

Erick Erickson disinvited Trump from an event for GOP presidential candidates in Atlanta, but Jeb Bush was there to pronounce Erickson “on the side of women.” Erickson called the first day of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, featuring women speakers, as the “Vagina Monologues.”

Trump was disinvited, according to Erickson, because he overstepped the line of “decency.” Erickson’s rhetoric has gone so far overboard that he called retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter a “goat f—ing child molester.” In 2013, Erickson told Kelly that women are scientifically inferior to men, and “women as primary breadwinners does make raising children harder, increasing the likelihood of harm in the development of children.” Other Erickson comments:

 

  • “Hillary Clinton “Is Going To Be Old” In 2016, “I Don’t Know How Far Back They Can Pull Her Face.”
  • (About NOW): “The NAG gang, as the godfather of radio Rush Limbaugh would call them, the National Association of Gals. They are the angry ones. Angry in their unibrows.”
  • (About the female CEO of IBM denied admittance to the Augusta National Golf Club): “Who cares that she wasn’t invited into the club? She’s a woman. Women aren’t allowed.”
  • “There is no reason” [for anyone to study women or Gender in college] unless they want to be a professional victim.”

After Erickson called Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie,” Fox’s Greta Van Susteren called him a “creep” and a “repeat offender” with a “pattern of being disrespectful to women.”

Some of Bush’s ideas of his being “on the side of women”:

  • As former Florida governor, he tried to appoint a legal guardian for a fetus of a disabled woman who was raped in a state facility.
  • He has made derogatory comments about single women.
  • One of his laws was to shame unmarried women who chose to give their children up for adoption by requiring that personal information, including the names of all the woman’s sexual partners, be published in the media.
  • Bush said,  “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”

After picking their candidates through questioning during the debate, Fox is now “editing” its transcripts to make Bush look more appealing to women. They don’t show the question that Kelly asked Bush about his membership on the board of the Bloomberg Family Foundation which donated $50 million to groups—including Planned Parenthood—to expand reproductive health services throughout the world. Fox has also not shown that piece in its clips on the debate.

Abortion is definitely shaping up as a major issue in the 2016 election as it did four years ago with attempts to define different “levels” of rape. Scott Walker answered a question about whether he would let a woman who needed an abortion die by saying it would never happen because of “alternatives.” Doctors disagree with him.

All Fox-approved GOP candidates must not support any abortions, and Marco Rubio has fallen in line with the mandate. In 2013, he agreed with an exception for rape or incest, but now he repeats the position that “all human life is worthy of the protection of our laws.” He talks about the usefulness of the “morning-after” medication although he supports restriction on women’s access to contraception. Like Walker, he thinks that no woman could die if she doesn’t get an abortion.

Ohio governor, John Kasich, is sometimes described as the most “moderate” of the candidates, but he mandated medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, to be paid for by the patient, before a woman may have an abortion in his state. He also put a gag rule on state-funded rape crisis centers, prohibiting them from discussing abortion options with victims.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee once said that it’s “a statistical reality that most single moms are very poor, under-educated, can’t get a job, and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death.” (It isn’t.) He considers state support for birth control as the worst kind of government paternalism because women should be able to control their libidos without help. Huckabee believes in “personhood,” rights for fertilized eggs, using the “unborn child’s Fifth and 14th Amendment rights for due process and equal protection under the law.”

Rand Paul introduced a bill in 2013 supporting Huckabee’s belief that would have protected the rights of fertilized eggs under the 14th Amendment. In college, he and a friend kidnapped and blindfolded a female student and tried to force her to take hits off a bong. His record also includes sexist media about Hillary Clinton. According to Paul, “income inequality is due to some people working harder and selling more things.” He doesn’t mention women—none of them do—but he insinuates that women would make more money if they just worked harder. Paul, like Rubio, voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2012 and the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.

Ted Cruz also voted against the Violence Against Women Act and claims that oral contraception causes abortions. Not only trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he also has fought against the Act’s contraceptive mandate for free contraception in employees’ insurance for their workers.

While attacking Trump about his sexist remarks, Kelly neglected to ask Chris Christie about such comments to women who asked about jobs “going down”: “You know, something may be going down tonight, but it ain’t going to be jobs, sweetheart.”

Carly Fiorina, the one woman in a field of 17 who is rapidly rising from the “second-tier,” opposes abortion and access for birth control. Like her male opponents, she opposes raising the minimum wage, important for more women than men.

The GOP candidates have avoided talking about women whenever discussing pregnancy. Five of the candidates are U.S. senators who work to block all abortions past 20 weeks but mention only the fetus. They pretend that women don’t exist. The candidates also ignore voting rights—or lack of rights—that disproportionately affects women, income equality with men on the top, health care—except to eliminate health care for the poor and women, etc.

The GOP candidates are far more dangerous to women than Donald Trump because they try to hide their disgust for women’s rights by professing to love fetuses. How successful they are with 53 percent of the population will become clear in the next 15 months. As the “autopsy” of the 2012 election stated:

“Republicans would need to be more inclusive of women, be more tolerant on gay rights to gain favor with young voters, support comprehensive immigration reform to appeal to Latinos and stand strong against ‘corporate malfeasance.’”

In the first debate, GOP candidates failed on the first three and were only concerned about the possibility of Donald Trump’s “corporate malfeasance.”

Presidential candidates have not received a majority of women voters since 1988 when George H.W. Bush brought in just 51 percent of the female vote. Overall, women have had a higher voter turnout than men in every presidential election for 35 years.

In her dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood segregates society by class and gender with social status determined by fertility and sexual productivity. In the Republic of Gilead, “aunts” join to oppress other women. Men are in control, women are chattel, and abortion is banned. This is the dream of the GOP presidential candidates.

While the media is paying attention to what Donald Trump says about women, the rest of the country should pay attention to what the remaining 16 candidates do against women.

August 8, 2015

Conservatives Define U.S. Morality, Work to Increase Abortions

Planned Parenthood stayed a punching bag for GOP presidential candidates during last Thursday’s debate, and  financially well-off conservatives continue to propagate the myth that the organization is “selling” fetal tissue. Anti-choice was so rampant during the debate that Scott Walker refused to say that he would save a woman’s life at the expense of a fetus, and Marco Rubio was forced into claiming that he would oppose abortions for victims of rape and incest. Politicians, however, may have misjudged what they consider the extent of revulsion of the group providing health care for millions of poorer people in the United States.

A majority of people has favorable opinions about Planned Parenthood—even after the release of the highly doctored videos—and a plurality of respondents opposes banning Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds. Three quarters of people in the U.S. believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape. One in five people in the United States have gone to a Planned Parenthood clinic for health services, 29 percent of the women and ten percent of the men. Even worse for the Republicans, a 60 percent to 25 percent margin of women have positive responses about Planned Parenthood, and women are the voters that the GOP has progressively lost. Planned Parenthood is more popular than the NRA, which is calling most of the shots in the country in gun issues.

Thursday’s debate lost women’s approval not only by its bashing of Planned Parenthood but also from its refusal to decry Donald Trump’s sexist remarks. Not one candidate refuted his demeaning statements about women’s bodies until today, when they deemed it safe to criticize him. Even Carly Fiorina refused to denounce Trump’s comments and only said, “It’s not helpful to call people names…. Some Republicans do that. Some Democrats do that.”

Moderator Megyn Kelly called out Trump for his statements about women but said nothing to Walker after he waffled on her question, “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion?” And nobody asked the real question, “Did the candidates support a move to shut down the government over their party’s failed attempt to defund Planned Parenthood?” Fox couldn’t because an answer would show who was willing to hurt their party, something that moderator Bret Baier excoriated Trump for, after the candidate said he wouldn’t refuse to run as a third-party candidate.

Jeb Bush bragged that he defunded Planned Parenthood while he was Florida governor. In 2001, he cut over $300,000 from women’s health services, the annual amount that Planned Parenthood had received for over a decade. Here’s what happened by 2014:

  • Florida ties with Arkansas and Oklahoma for the worst state for a woman’s well-being.
  • The uninsured rate for women grew to 25 percent, second only to Texas.
  • About 20 percent of women in Florida are in fair, poor or ill health, ranking 13th in that category in all states and territories.
  • About 20 percent of women lack access to a personal doctor, physician, or general healthcare provider in Florida, three percentage points higher than the national average.
  • Florida ranks 46th in the number of women who have had a pap smear in the last 3 years.
  • Of Florida’s 67 counties, 23—over one-third—lack an OB-GYN.
  • Women must travel more than an hour just to see a doctor in most parts of Florida.

Every state in the U.S. could look like this if Jeb Bush—or other Planned Parenthood naysayers—became president. Bush said, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” When Fiorina questioned him about this statement, he said, “My record as governor of the state of Florida was we expanded women’s health spending through community-based care.” The above statistics show Bush’s “misrepresentations” and what happened when he moved the money to “community-based care.”

Despite the current braggadocio, defunding Planned Parenthood could face serious legal challenges. Medicaid law allows beneficiaries the right to pick their own health care providers as long as these providers accept Medicaid. Arizona, Indiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee have been blocked in their efforts to cut off Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood. Susan Fogel, director of reproductive health for the National Health Law Program, said that stripping the organization’s Medicaid funding likely would be ruled discriminatory.

The failed Senate bill to defund Planned Parenthood would also not cover the gap in women’s health services if Planned Parenthood were defunded. The organization provides preventive health services—cancer screenings, family planning, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, well-woman exams, etc.—for about 2.7 million people annually. Planned Parenthood clinics account for 10 percent of all U.S. federally funded health centers and serve 36 percent of total clients who seek care at facilities that receive public funding. More than half these centers are in rural or medically underserved places.

Community health centers may not be able to provide this full range of sexual and reproductive services. Only 29 percent of these centers report that their largest clinics prescribe and dispense all types of contraceptive methods on-site but instead give referrals for some contraceptive methods. Defunding Planned Parenthood means less dissemination of contraception; less contraception means a higher rate of unwanted pregnancy, especially in teenagers; more unwanted pregnancies means a higher rate of abortion whether safely legal or dangerously illegal. Conservatives’ desire to defund Planned Parenthood results is the opposite of what they claim they want—fewer abortions.

Pleased with the bad press for Planned Parenthood, over a dozen states have each announced investigations into Planned Parenthood. Thus far, not one of them has discovered any wrong-doing on the part of the affiliates in their state.

An editorial in the conservative Washington Post has called for a stop on “the vendetta against Planned Parenthood.” It explains how the videos showcase “distorted” information “to paint an inaccurate and unfair picture of a health organization that provides valuable services to women—as well as to demonize research that leads to important medical advances—[which] doesn’t matter to antiabortion activists. Or, sadly, to the politicians who pander to them.” The Post continues:

“None of the videos released shows anything illegal and, in fact, the full footage of Planned Parenthood executives meeting with people presumed to be buyers for a human biologics company include repeated assertions that clinics are not selling tissue but only seeking permitted reimbursement costs for expenses….”

Meanwhile male lawmakers are preening themselves on the important part that they play in giving birth. For example, this from Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) who calls abortion a “men’s issue”:

“I’m a dad of two daughters. I had something to do with the birth as well, and was also there. I was there during the sonograms. My wife and I are extremely close. And to be a dad of two daughters, I’m very passionate, not only about my own wife, but about my mom, who’s a cancer survivor—multiple-time cancer survivor—I’m passionate about my daughters having every single opportunity.”

He also thinks that he should make decisions for every other woman in the United States.

Other conservatives are even crazier in discussing the issue. Fox’s Eric Bolling said that the doctored videos about Planned Parenthood are “far worse” than “the beheading videos of ISIS.” He concluded, “They literally made me nauseous, don’t watch them.” (These are videos that Fox frequently plays.)

Mike Huckabee would stop abortions with “the FBI or federal forces,” if he is to be believed.

The vast majority of people shocked by the Planned Parenthood videos mostly likely have not seen them; they just listen to how conservatives try to build horror in their aim to get money and votes. In fact, the videos discuss a processing fee—no profit—for fetal tissue donated by women who terminated their pregnancies. The National Institutes of Health funds medical research from the donations that makes lives better for people around the world. This research includes treatment for cytomegalovirus causing enlarged spleens and seizures in newborns, neuro-developmental disorders, polio (fetal kidney cells created the first vaccine), chicken pox, rubella, and shingles. The tissue for the last three disorders came from two elective abortions performed in the 1960s.

For almost a century, fetal tissue research has been vital to vaccine development. In the past twenty years, fetal tissue research has been extensively used to develop treatments for disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Conservatives don’t object to the research; they’re trying to stop safe, legal abortions.

At the same time that they express disgust at talking about fetal tissue over lunch, conservatives talk over lunch about how to destroy people’s lives, take money from the poor who are already homeless and hungry, eliminate education and jobs, permit the wealthy to hide more of their money from taxes, and kill people in a large number of countries. To them, this behavior is moral whereas women’s control of their own bodies is immoral. The defensive attitude by more progressive politicians permits conservatives to frame morality for the United States, and everyone except the wealthy is losing the battle.

July 12, 2015

Religion in Birth Control, Cakes, Ignorance

Birth control is an obsession with Republicans. Instead of just letting women use contraceptive devices, the GOP tries to stop them and then accuses them of being fallen women who just want welfare if they get pregnant. Colorado is a great example of this GOP problem.

For the past six years, Colorado offered no-cost, long-acting birth control such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants to teens and poor women. From 2009 to 2013—just five years—the program reduced the birthrate for teenage girls by 40 percent and the rate of abortions by 42 percent. It is truly a pro-life program. In the poorest areas of the state, the decline in unplanned pregnancies among single women dropped the greatest. In 2009, half of all first births in these areas were to women under 21 years of age; by 2014 the age increased to 24. About 20 percent of women ages 18 to 44 in Colorado use a long-acting form of birth control in comparison to the national average of 7 percent.

The success rate is saving the state $5.85 for each $1.00 spent in Medicaid—that’s $80 million–something that conservatives claim that they want. Yet the same conservatives rejected funding to continue the program. Excuses given for discontinuing the funding are all based on individual morality of legislators: it increases promiscuity and subsidizes sex. One GOP lawmaker said, “Does that allow a lot of young women to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places?” Other excuses were that the program might fail, despite the amazing success in its first five years. Colorado Republicans also “misrepresented” the facts, claiming that IUD use led to increased abortions (no!), that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would cover long-term birth control devices (no!), and contraction access increased teen sex rates (no!).

A year ago the Supreme Court ruled that the corporation Hobby Lobby held such deep religious convictions that it and other “closely held” stock corporations can choose to be exempt from the ACA mandate that employers’ insurance programs include free contraception for women. A spate of similar lawsuits followed the Hobby Lobby decision. One of these, East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell, came before an extremely conservative judge on the 5th Circuit Court. Nominated by Ronald Reagan almost 30 years ago, Judge Jerry Smith objects to abortions rights and has called feminists a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects.”

The participants in the lawsuit could be exempted from federal rules just by submitting a form or otherwise telling the federal government that they won’t do it. The plaintiffs refused to complete the paperwork, claiming that doing so makes them complicit in the employee’s decision to use contraception. Smith wrote the unanimous opinion for a three-judge panel that the plaintiffs failed to show that the regulations “substantially burden their religious exercise” through filling out a simple form because a letter is not contraception. He also wrote that ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would lead to such absurd challenges to government functions as a person who disapproves of working on Sunday refusing to apply for Social Security disability because it might assist people to work on Sunday if the form is processed on that day.  Smith summarized that “the possibilities are endless, but we doubt Congress, in enacting RFRA (the religious freedom act), intended for them to be.”

Smith’s ruling led to President Obama issuing new guidelines for contraception and the ACA. If a company wants to deny contraceptives to its employees, it must submit a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stating its objection. The government will then provide free birth control to employees through a third-party insurer. Sen. Patty Murray, irritated with the convoluted process of getting contraception for women, is working on legislation to repeal the Hobby Lobby ruling.

10_commandments_In another religious battle, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is defying the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s recent order to remove the Ten Commandments monument in front of the state capitol building. In a 7-2 decision, the state’s highest court upheld the constitution that states “no public money or property” would be used to support any specific religion. When asked about her defiance, Fallin said, “You know there are three branches of our government: the Supreme Court and the legislative branch and you have the people. The people and their ability to vote.”

According to a survey last year, only 36 percent of the people in the United States know the three branches, a situation that raised cries to improve the education in the country. Growing up in Missouri, Mary Fallin, 59, was subject to the ignorance that most people educated in the South experienced. The instruction about slavery, for example, is that masters gave the happy-go-lucky slaves a family and protected them from the attacking northerners. One popular textbook wrote that slaves experienced the first social security with great clothing, medicine, and lots of food. “The slave … suffered little or no want.”

Education is rapidly returning to the falsehoods of the 1970s with the acceptance of Texas textbooks promoting “tea party manifestos.” A conservative Christian minister who helped push the standards through said in 2010, “We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it.” The new history textbooks barely address segregation and lack any mention of either the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws. The Civil War was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights, and slavery,” minimizing the part of slavery in driving the conflict. A school requirement is reading Jefferson Davis’ Confederate inauguration address which fails to mention slavery while ignoring the speech from Davis’ vice president, Alexander Stephens, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

In today’s South, people still fight the Civil War because their ancestors never conceded defeat or signed a treaty to end the war. The only surrender was military. The North never accepted that the Southern states had seceded, and the Southern states never admitted that they had rejoined the North. Because there was no treaty, Southern leaders were never even tried for treason. Texas will lead the South into continued ignorance, one in which governors can’t even name the three branches of the federal government.

A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples at The Abbey in West Hollywood, California, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS FOOD SOCIETY) - RTX119FY

A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples at The Abbey in West Hollywood, California, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS FOOD SOCIETY) – RTX119FY

In another big lie about “religious freedom” during the past week, the far right is promoting one huge “misrepresentation” with a giant omission after Oregon levied a $135,000 fine against Sweet Cakes by Melissa because Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

The lie: The Kleins claim that there is a “gag order” against their talking about the case.

The truth: They are ordered only to “cease and desist” from advertising that discriminates against same-sex couples. The Kleins are free to talk about the case—the decision, their disagreement, etc.

The omission: Aaron Klein posted the lesbian couple’s personal information—name, home address, phone numbers and email address—on his Facebook page. After the Kleins campaigned at anti-LGBT hate rallies, the women received death threats. They feared that they would lose their foster children because state adoption officials warned them of their responsibility to protect the children and keep privileged information confidential. (The children have since been adopted.) The judge in the case also received death threats.

The Kleins’ martyrdom is also profit-making. Although the fine is $135,000, they have raised over $250,000 online—a nice payment for bigotry.

January 21, 2015

House Backs Off Anti-Abortion Vote on ‘Roe v. Wade’ Anniversary

Hell froze over—at least for a short time today. House Republicans were all primed to vote tomorrow on a bill that would stop abortions after the 20th week as their way of commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal throughout the United States. The vote was to be in conjunction with the annual March for Life with thousands of anti-choice activists in Washington, D.C. Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) re-introduced the bill from last year on the first day of the 114th Congress. The House passed it in 2013, but the bill went nowhere else. Franks needs Blackburn because of his statement that there was no need to exempt rape because “the incidence of pregnancy from rape is very low.”

Two GOP women in the House, however, objected to the restrictive rape and incest exemptions only if the victims had reported their attacks to law enforcement. Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) withdrew their support after GOP leaders refused to change the legislation at the party’s retreat last week, and the issue came to a head today. Ellmers used the excuse of not wanting the appearance of a “war on women”:

“The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials—social issues just aren’t as important [to them].”

President Obama has already promised to veto the bill. According to the White House:

“[T]he provision that requires rape and incest survivors to report the crime to a law enforcement agency or child welfare authority in order to have access to an abortion after the 20-week mark demonstrates a complete disregard for the women who experience sexual assault and the barriers they may face in reporting. Research indicates that the majority of survivors have not reported their sexual assaults to law enforcement.”

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics show that only 35 percent of rape and incest victims report the crime to the police. Either they cannot emotionally come forward because of shame or they think that the justice system will not help them. Incest victims also fear retribution if they report the crime.

Up to two dozen Republicans, both men and women, started to raise concerns to the bill. When a compromise couldn’t be reached because some lawmakers wouldn’t give up the reporting requirement, the GOP leadership changed its plans to move forward a bill prohibiting federal funding for abortions. Current law restricts the use of federal funds toward abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is threatened, but the proposed bill would keep women from receiving federal tax credits toward their insurance, including plans through the healthcare law’s exchanges, and from getting coverage for abortion services.

The divisiveness among House Republicans follows yesterday’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech: Rep. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said nothing about immigration, but in a supposedly verbatim translation, Rep. Carlos Curbelo  (R-FL) gave his Hispanic audience some reassurances about reform.

In a reversal of the usual GOP procedures, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) met with at least half of the 22 Republican women in the House. Usually the male Republicans in the House, 224 this year, make all the decisions about women’s bodies. As the Washington Post reported:

“A meeting with top [House] leaders requested and attended almost exclusively by women is a rare sight. One-by-one they exited the meeting and remained tight-lipped.”

The bill ignored the fact that almost 99 percent of abortions already occur before the 21st week of pregnancy, and later terminations usually involve “rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman’s health.” For this reason, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly opposes laws like the House proposal.

The bill required determination of the “probable” post-fertilization age of the fetus by examining the woman or taking the word of another physician. Any abortion after 20 weeks must be conducted in a way intended to save the fetus’s life “unless that manner would pose a greater risk than other methods would pose for the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” No health conditions are listed as exclusions to the ban, violating Roe v. Wade.

Most physicians define age of viability at 24 weeks; fetuses delivered at 21 weeks or less have a 0 percent chance of surviving while most do not survive until 25-26 weeks. At that time, they require skilled care, months of hospitalization, and significant financial costs to families, hospitals, and insurers. In addition, premature infants often have life-long developmental deficits and other health challenges. Roe v. Wade set viability at 28 weeks, seven months, which is still recognized as a time which offers a 90 percent chance of survival for fetuses.

The bill provided no abortions for women who learn that their fetuses have severe defects causing death after birth or severely limiting lives after birth. Fetal abnormalities are typically not diagnosed until after the 20th week. For example, a woman carrying a fetus with no brain (anencephaly) would have to carry the fetus to full term and wait for it to die after birth. Some current laws are so strict that many doctors are reluctant to abort a dead fetus.

Showing the GOP ignorance of science, the bill, H.R. 26, is called “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (PUCPA) using the false assertion that fetuses feel pain at the 21st week. Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2010 identified the possibility of pain after 24 weeks because the cortex is necessary for pain perception. Fetuses lack the neurological development to register a response and to potentially recognize an experience as pain until at least 24 weeks and probably much later.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concurred, commenting that studies used by fetal-pain law supporters lacked persuasion “when weighed together with other available information,” according to a Sept. 16, 2013 article in the New York Times. Dr. Mark Rosen, a pioneer in fetal anesthesia, concludes from his research that fetal pain perception comes at the beginning of the 27th week, in the third trimester.

In a Quinnipiac poll, 60 percent of respondents supporting their ban, yet many of these people are unaware of information about fetal viability or consequences of banning abortions before viability. Another national poll shows that 60 percent of respondents support access to abortion at 20 weeks with 33 percent of the respondents opposing. Unlike the Quinnipiac poll, the latter poll asked about specific circumstances in which women should and should not be allowed to terminate a pregnancy after the 20th week.

While risking women’s health and lives, the H.R. 36 would put the government into doctors’ offices, clinics, and hospitals by criminalizing a safe medical procedure. A 20-week ban has been declared unconstitutional because it prevents abortion before fetal viability, the gestational time when women have the right to end a pregnancy as the Supreme Court has ruled.

Nina Martin has listed ways that the coming year can limit women’s rights, both from the federal government and states controlled by Republicans, which can cause more unwanted pregnancies:

More Abortion Restrictions: Adding to the existing limits, the GOP may try to pass laws requiring women to get permission from the fetus’s father for an abortion which was declared unconstitutional over 20 years ago.

Increasing Religious Exemptions for Contraception: Bills allowing non-compliance of laws surrounding same-sex marriage can also be used to erode reproductive rights.

Non-religious Groups’ Conscience Clauses: Right-to-life organizations argue that denying abortion opponents the same exemption given to religious groups violates their constitutional right to equal protection.

Contraception Battles: Groups, including the U.S. Catholic bishops, argue that birth control is exactly the same as abortion.

Personhood Laws: The legal rights of “pre-born humans” lost at the ballot box last fall, but the National Personhood Alliance is moving to laws in municipalities and counties that would require action from courts sympathetic to the personhood movement.

The climate change in Washington will bring a rapid warming to Hell, but even a short cooling trend makes politics more livable.

We will still need to fight H.R. 36. You can ask your representative to vote against H.R. 36 and keep Roe v. Wade the law of the land.

July 8, 2014

SCOTUS Makes Hobby Lobby Worse

Crazy is the best word to describe last week. During the same week the country celebrated the Fourth of July with noisy fireworks and smoky barbecue grills, five U.S. Supreme Court justices signed away religious rights for a majority of people in the United States. The fourth day of July is an annual commemoration of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, a document that delineates the freedoms of people in the nation. The First Amendment separates church and state, declaring that people have freedom of religion among other rights.

On June 30—last week—the five justices gave corporations religious rights by ruling in favor of a privately-held corporation called Hobby Lobby. The decision gives the owners the ability to determine how doctors can provide medical attention to the company’s women employees. Using their personal religious beliefs, Hobby Lobby’s owners, the Green family, objected to two medications, Plan B and Ella, and two different contraceptive IUDs because they have the mistaken belief that these produce abortions.

In fact, an abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. These medications and one IUD actually stop ovulation. There is no death of an embryo because there is no embryo. Trillions of fertilized eggs don’t turn into pregnancies because this requires a women’s uterus. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists filed an amicus brief that stated, “There is no scientific evidence that emergency contraceptives available in the United States and approved by the FDA affect an existing pregnancy.” The other IUD keeps the fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus.

The five conservative justices were very clear, however, that this information didn’t matter because it was Hobby Lobby’s “belief” that was at stake. Thus the justices ruled that fact has no value in its decision

The Green family opposed only these four contraceptive methods, but the day after the initial ruling, the five justices gave the Greens another gift. A week ago today, the five justices said the ruling covered all 20 forms of contraception protected through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

That’s not all that Hobby Lobby got from the five justices. The Greens also objected to insurance plans covering “related education and counseling” for contraception. It’s possible that the ruling blocks women from consulting with their doctors about birth control. Although this seems impossible, Kansas already has a state law controlling the information that doctors can give female patients. This would be the beginning of federal control over doctor-patient discussions.

If insurance doesn’t pay for doctors’ appointments that discuss contraception, then the general visit might not be covered by health insurance if women discuss contraception. Without a prescription, women cannot get contraception—which isn’t just a few dollars and certainly not available at the 7-Eleven where Cardinal Timothy Dolan thinks women get their contraceptive medication.

The Supreme Court can make all women in the United States subject to the same Global Gag Rule for nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. assistance. They cannot use separately obtained non-U.S. funds to inform the public or educate their government on the need to make safe abortion available, provide legal abortion services, or provide advice on where to get an abortion. This restriction on freedom of speech harms the health and lives of women who have less access to family planning services and does not reduce abortion.

Whether the Supreme Court imposed a “U.S. Gag Rule” on women is not clear yet. Their ruling is that Hobby Lobby cannot be forced to pay for medical treatments they find “religiously intolerable.” It’s possible Hobby Lobby may decide that a woman talking to her doctor about contraception is “religiously intolerable.” They may decide that their workers’ receiving contraception from the government is also “religiously intolerable.” Other church-based organizations such as Notre Dame have refused federal accommodation and continue with their lawsuits.

The five justices weren’t finished after that Tuesday decision. On Thursday, they told Wheaton College, a Catholic-based school in Illinois, that they didn’t even have to fill out paperwork to be relieved from providing contraception through its insurance. Without any paperwork from their employer, the school’s female workers may not be able to obtain any contraception from the government, an arrangement that the government had made with religious institutions who didn’t want to provide contraception.

The ruling is not final. It grants an injunction while the Wheaton case moves through lower courts. The basis, however, is that employers’ anti-contraception rights trump workers’ First Amendment freedom of religion rights. Employees lose.

In its original Hobby Lobby decision, the five judges ruled that workers could go to the government. Then they took away that ability to get government relief. The Obama administration had accommodated religiously-identified non-profits by arranging with insurance companies to directly pay coverage instead of through the religious groups. All those organizations had to do was to complete a form certifying the objection. At least 122 non-profits have sued, purporting that signing the opt-out form violates their religious liberty.

Joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent to the Wheaton ruling:

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.

“After expressly relying on the availability of the religious-nonprofit accommodation to hold that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] as applied to closely held for-profit corporations, the Court now, as the dissent in Hobby Lobby feared it might, retreats from that position.”

In short, the dissent states that the justices who provided the first Hobby Lobby ruling are dishonest. The highest court in the land that relies on the trust of the public has now lost that trust. Sotomayor wrote that the court’s action “undermines confidence in this institution” and that the public has reason to mistrust the highest level of legal arbiters in the nation. Hobby Lobby may be the tipping point of evidence that the majority of SCOTUS conservative activist justices are so ideological that they cannot be trusted. This follows earlier unconstitutional decisions:

A Rasmussen survey found that 61 percent of the public believe that the justices’ decisions are based on their personal ideological agendas rather than facts and constitutional issues. Last week, they seemed to determine the finding based on their ideology and then flipped the decision for another ruling, again following ideology.

On Monday, Justice Samuel Alito, speaking for the five-member conservative majority, said the ACA’s contraception policy created a “substantial burden” on religious corporations and officials must rely on the “least restrictive” approach to achieving policymakers’ goal. He cited the paperwork compromise process as the “least restrictive” path. Alito said that this policy “achieves all of the government’s aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty.”

Three days later, he joined the other conservative justices in changing their minds about completing the paperwork by granting Wheaton the extremely rare emergency relief, ruling against their Monday ruling. As Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West put it, “Overnight, the cure has become the disease. Having explicitly promised that Hobby Lobby would go no further than Hobby Lobby, the court went back on its word, then skipped town for the summer.”

The justices may be gone until October, but the outrage remains.  Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) plan to introduce a bill this week to override the Hobby Lobby decision. It would stop companies from discriminating against female employees in any health coverage guaranteed under federal law. The measure will also state that no federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that SCOTUS used to justify its decision, permits employers to refuse to comply with the health care law’s preventive services requirement. Chief Justice John Roberts suggested during Hobby Lobby’s oral arguments that Congress could exempt the ACA from RFRA. Three representatives will introduce an identical bill in the House. The bills will provide the same exemption for religious nonprofits and houses of worship that the ACA currently has.

I realize that the GOP will block the bills in any way that they can, but at least they will have to declare their opposition to women’s rights.

April 1, 2014

Fools on April Fools’ Day

April Fools’ Day! The day that kids love to play pranks on adults and other kids. The day that goes back to the Roman celebration Hilaria on the first day of the year that is longer than the night. So I’ll celebrate the day by writing about the fools of our time.

My current favorite fools are all the people who think that the Green family of Hobby Lobby, suing to keep their religious beliefs, genuinely care about their avoidance of contraception—which they call “abortion.” While the family refuses to allow their insurance to pay for employees’ contraception, they hold more than $73 million in mutual funds with manufacturers of emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Teva, Pfizer, Bayer, AstraZeneca—all produce contraceptives. In addition, Hobby Lobby’s health insurance covered Plan  B and Ella for years; they only dropped this coverage when they decided to file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.

Other fools:

Edward Farrell: Perhaps the dumbest man in the United States is the vice-mayor of Maricopa (AZ) for his praise of Fred Phelps. Known for his picketing of funerals of fallen soldiers with signs saying that they deserved to die, Phelps and followers planned to picket the Arizona funeral of the 9-year-old girl killed when then Rep. Gabby Gifford was shot. After the 84-year-old leader of the Westboro  Baptist Church in Topeka (KS) died, the satiric Onion published an “obituary” that described his achievements:

“Nowhere in this country can same-sex partners enter into domestic partnerships, file joint tax returns, or adopt children. The unmitigated failure of the gay rights movement is something that can be singlehandedly attributed to Fred Phelps and his tireless efforts to show us that this was an unholy behavior.”

On his Facebook page, Farrell wrote, “We need more Fred Phelps in this world. May you rest in peace sir.” He later retracted his statement, saying that he didn’t know who Phelps or the Onion was. Maybe Maricopa doesn’t need a vice-mayor.

Walmart: The company that gets profits from underpaying employees who then get benefits from taxpayers has discovered that it may have lost $3 billion a year by cutting back on the number of employees. That’s what the empty shelves from stocking problems have cost the company. They now plan to “add labor hours as part of an effort to bolster ‘in-store execution.’” Over the last five years, Walmart opened more than 600 new stores but employees 20,000 fewer people. The company even got downgraded by an investment research firm that found the company’s “relentless focus on costs does seem to have taken some toll on in-store conditions and stock levels.” The other fools in this story are the taxpayers who keep paying the $243 billion every year in benefits for poorly-paid employees because of the low minimum wage.

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370: The biggest fools in the disappearance of an aircraft over three weeks ago are the U.S. media that obsessively reported on—nothing. Hour after hour, CNN and Fox entertained its audience about—nothing. Only one thing was discovered: the oceans are full of human-created garbage from lost shipping containers, plastic raw industrial material, and consumer items from people living within 60 miles of coastlines. Entire houses have been found floating in the Pacific Ocean since the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

Plastic trash in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” about the size of Texas, is 100 times more than 40 years ago. Another garbage patch in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles off the coast goes from Cuba to Virginia. We’re the fools for turning our food source into a garbage dump.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS): The companies that want all foods in the United states to be genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) may have found a patsy to present its bill to Congress. A coalition of grocery, food manufacturing, farmers, and commodity groups wants a “voluntary system” for labeling food that uses GMOs. Such giants as ConAgra and Kraft say they’re just trying to correct the “enormous misinformation” spread by past failed ballot initiatives in California and Washington. Last year, Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced a mandatory GMO-labeling plan. About 93 percent of the public support labeling.

Benghazi: The famous couple, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) have joined Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) “to investigate the terrorist attacks on our compounds in Benghazi.” After 18 months, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) gave up his futile attempt to tar the president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There has never been evidence of any wrongdoing on their part in the disaster that killed four people over 30 months ago, but the 2016 election is fast approaching. The Department of Defense has spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours for Congress’s six investigations into Benghazi with 50 congressional hearings. Issa spent almost as much time on that as the House did on the Affordable Care Act.

Ukraine:  Obama wants peace, but the GOP wants to attack any country that has anything that the United States wants. In the case of Iraq, it was oil. In Ukraine, the U.S. wants to throw Russia out of its only warm-water port and surround the country with missile bases.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stomps around the senate floor, yelling about how we should have bombed someone last week. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton accuses the U.S. of being a nation in decline because of its dealings with Russia. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the man who was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,  said that even a “trained ape” has better foreign policy skills than President Obama.

President Obama has declared sanctions toward Russia after Crimea moved back to a part of the country, eliminated Russia from the powerful G8 group, and makes plans to send ground troops to the Baltic States of Eastern Europe, but none of it satisfies the conservatives, most of them from the South. In Better off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, Chuck Thompson writes, “The southerner’s enthrallment with war and bloodshed, his veneration of defeat and disaster, his zeal for religious crusade, and easy compliance with the corporate profit motive, has repeatedly dragged the nation into unnecessary wars.”

After the growing success of the Affordable Care Act, the GOP needs another drum to beat. Thus the party has chosen their 2014 position as “Democrats are weak on national security.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused Obama of trying “to alienate and abandon our friends, and to coddle and appease our enemies.” Former Vice-President Dick Cheney blamed what he sees as Obama’s weakness that led Putin to take over Crimea. Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 while Cheney was vice-president, and George W. Bush did nothing.

Most of these same GOP legislators shouting that we need war avoided military service. McCain has his history of being a Vietnam POW, but the dissolution of the draft created a nation of chickenhawk lawmakers. Mike Lofgren, a 28-year member of Congress and author of The Party Is Over, wrote, “If you ever wondered how the United States came to be embroiled simultaneously in two major wars and a half dozen covert ones in the past decade, the cheerleading of Washington’s laptop commandos, with their disproportionate influence in major media, has been a major factor.”

The GOP party of no–erasing health care for everyone except the wealthy, eradicating women’s rights, taking away voters’ rights from anyone who might oppose them, and giving tax cuts to corporations and wealthy people–has no suggestions for improving the infrastructure, lowering the unemployment, and fixing the climate change disaster. Their only foreign policy is saber-rattling.

As Chuck Thompson wrote, “How depressing that we already know that the next Republican warmonger to sweep into power will do so on the same tarnished epaulets of military fanaticism enabled by the outsized influence of the southern polity on electoral America. Southerners are a military people. We were back then, still are today.”

This year we commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I. Do the chickenhawks want a third world war on this anniversary? China is nervous about the missiles pointed at Russia because China is also surrounded by U.S. naval and air bases. The two countries may declare themselves allies, and the Republicans might decide to take them on. If we take on China and Russia, we might not lose the battles, but we’ll be defeated in the ensuing economic war.

Climate-deniers: If we don’t blow ourselves up by declaring war on Russia and China, the climate will do us in. The U.N. has a second of four reports about the climate. That’s for another day, but Joe Barton (below) is representative of the backward, ignorant thinking of GOP members of Congress.

Joe Barton harnessing the wind

Next Page »

Civil Rights Advocacy

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

AGR Daily 60 Second News

Transformational News; What Works For Seven Future Generations Without Causing Harm?

JONATHAN TURLEY

Res ipsa loquitur - The thing itself speaks

Jennifer Hofmann

Inspiration for soul-divers, seekers, and activists.

Occupy Democrats

Progressive political commentary/book reviews for youth and adults

V e t P o l i t i c s

politics from a liberal veteran's perspective

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

GLBT News

Official news outlet for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of ALA

The Extinction Protocol

Geologic and Earthchange News events

Central Oregon Coast NOW

The Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Over the Rainbow Books

A Book List from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: