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.

 

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.

August 1, 2015

Planned Parenthood Not Breaking Law

In 1993, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voted to legalize fetal tissue donations for the research of cures for disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and miscarriage. He was in good company: Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and John McCain (R-AZ) also voted in favor of this law that passed 93-4. Instead of debating that issue, however, they want to defund an organization that follows the law that they passed, and Republicans manifest outrage that Planned Parenthood is doing exactly what Congress authorized the group to do.

Fetal-tissue research is vital and helps many people, but maybe conservatives may see their 1993 legislation as a mistake. If so, they can have a renewed debate on this research instead of attacking Planned Parenthood for following the law that they supported 22 years ago. Planned Parenthood only donates tissue if the women wish.

Salivating about an issue that might bring votes and donations to the Republicans, McConnell used Rule 14 to fast-track legislation to defund Planned Parenthood legislation, bypassing committee involvement, and plans to put the bill up for a vote early next week before the August recess. It can’t pass the Senate without votes from all 54 Republicans and another six Democrats.

McConnell doesn’t even have unanimous GOP agreement. GOP Sens. Mark Kirk (IL) and Susan Collins (ME) have already said that they won’t vote to defund the organization. Pro-choice Collins said:

“In my state and many others, Planned Parenthood is the primary provider of women’s health services in certain parts of my state. [I] don’t know how you would ensure that all of the patients of Planned Parenthood could be absorbed by alternative care providers.”

Kirk said:

“I do not plan to cut access to basic health care and contraception for women, the majority of whom have no other resources.”

At least one GOP governor also opposes defunding an organization that provides health care for women in his state. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said that an investigation in the state has cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.

Two GOP senators running for president are using the fraudulent videos for campaign fodder. Behind Donald Trump by 16 points, Rubio grandstands instead of participating in the senate: thus far he has an attendance rate this year of 70 percent and has missed 69 votes, more than any other senator. The other fire breather candidate, Ted Cruz (R-TX), is close behind with 55 missed votes and 77 percent attendance from his being out on the presidential campaign trail. (On average, senators miss about 3 percent of their votes with an attendance rate of 97 percent.)

Cruz is leading the cry to shut down the government  if his colleagues won’t defund Planned Parenthood. He plans to attach an amendment to the fall appropriations bill, due by October 1, and persuade his colleagues to stop the spending bill if the conservatives don’t get their way. The last time he used this idea—two years ago—the country lost $24 billion during his shutdown. Cruz, however, is counting on Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), who led 17 other House members to start the shutdown in the House.

Fortunately, the Los Angeles Superior Court blocked the fraudulent group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) from releasing more video footage of employees who work at StemExpress, after three heavily edited videos resulted in a conservative call to defund Planned Parenthood. California law requires the consent of all parties before a “confidential conversation” is recorded. After the court order, CMP released a fourth video that was not recorded in California.

Planned Parenthood president, Cecile Richards, wrote:

“These extremists created a fake business, made apparently misleading corporate filings and then used false government identifications to gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical and research staff with the agenda of secretly filming without consent–then heavily edited the footage to make false and absurd assertions about our standards and services.”

She skipped the part that the people in the video used fake names. One of them may have also used a credit card without the owner’s permission, and the California driver’s licenses presented by supposed BioMax employees at a Texas Planned Parenthood affiliate may have been forged.

Consultants to GOP candidates, particularly men, advise them to not mention women when addressing the topic of abortion and Planned Parenthood. Instead, politicians should focus on ultrasounds, fetuses, and graphic details of the procedures to frame opposition to abortion rights. Rape is another topic that should not be mentioned because more and more bills oppose rape victims from having abortions. Last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said that the “patient” in an abortion is the “unborn baby.” In essence, GOP politicians are told to address pregnancy and abortion as having no connection to a body.

Politicians are also told to claim that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, not true according to medical associations such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Presidential candidates Scott Walker and Rick Perry are showing 20-week ultrasound images of their children, and Marco Rubio tells that the ultrasound shows that “they were children—and they were our children.” Those ultrasounds, a “really cool” thing according to Walker, can show a severe fetal anomaly, but Walker’s new law doesn’t allow the parents to make a decision about their future. A federal appeals that struck down a North Dakota law banning abortion as early as six weeks asked the Supreme Court for a review to Roe v. Wade with the statement that fetal survival outside the womb “is better left to the states.” Again politicians ignore women—as well as medical recommendations.

Planned Parenthood

The Hyde Amendment prevents the government from funding any abortions, and only three percent of Planned Parenthood activities are connected to abortions; far more of its job is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, do educational outreach and keep people alive and well. Defunding Planned Parenthood denies women access to cancer screenings, STI tests, and other essential preventative care are noticeably absent from the picture. Services are also for men as well as women.

The attack on Planned Parenthood may be dangerous for the Republicans. Only 28 percent of voters want to strip the funding, and only 25 percent said they prefer a candidate who would do this. Even after the release of the videos, 52 percent of the people support Planned Parenthood.

A big objection to the videos is that the impersonal language—just like other surgeons use when they’re discussing surgeries. In her blog, Helen Philpot from Texas shares her perspective with her best friend, Margaret Schmechtman of Maine, who she’s known for over 60 years:

“Margaret, this Planned Parenthood scandal seems to be all hat and no cattle–something I’ve come to expect more and more from the religious right. If honesty isn’t your best policy then join the Republican party….

“I’m a nurse so I get that doctors in particular don’t have the best bedside manners when it comes to talking about the science of healthcare. Yes. It’s a science. I didn’t so much appreciate the way they talked about my breasts when I was diagnosed with cancer. They were my breasts after all, but the way my doctor talked about them you would have thought they weren’t attached to my body. So I get it.  My late husband, Harold, felt the same way about testicular cancer.

“But that isn’t a crime…. Do I wish that the doctors in those videos displayed a little more compassion? Sure. But do I think the greater show of compassion is respecting the privacy and personal decisions of women to manage their own healthcare? Damn right I do.”

People who want to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood continue to forget that abortion is still legal and that Planned Parenthood isn’t breaking any laws. Taking away funding will cause more abortions because fewer women will have contraception. In addition, most defenders have just one concern—that a fetus emerge to breathe. After that many of them are indifferent to the welfare of these breathing creatures.

Sister Joan Chittister said it best:

nun quote

If you are a pro-life defunder, then adopt children and donate lots of money to feed, clothe, and house the children—even if you think that this is the parents’ responsibility. Stop religious people from blocking contraceptives for women. Picket courts and prisons to stop executing people who may not be guilty or who may be rehabilitated. Expand your horizons beyond making sure that a fetus can take one breath. Life is not for one second.

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