Paul Ryan: GOP Will Vote to Defund Planned Parenthood

Paul Ryan Says the GOP Will Vote to Defund Planned Parenthood

Paul Ryan Democrats plan to “stand against this with every fiber of our beings.”

By Becca Andrews January 5, 2017   MotherJones

During a news conference on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the process to dismantle Obamacare will include stripping all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, but he did not provide much further detail.

His remarks come two days after a Republican-led House investigative panel released a report that recommended the health care provider be defunded.  The investigative panel—created to examine allegations that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue for profit—was then disbanded, because it was not reauthorized for a new Congress. Planned Parenthood was never found guilty of any wrongdoing at the state or federal level, despite multiple GOP-led investigations.

Democrats immediately denounced the move. “I just would like to speak individually to women across America: This is about respect for you, for your judgment about your personal decisions in terms of your reproductive needs, the size and timing of your family or the rest, not to be determined by the insurance company or by the Republican ideological right-wing caucus in the House of Representatives,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “So this is a very important occasion where we’re pointing out very specifically what repeal of the [Affordable Care Act] will mean to women.” Read More

Missouri GOP legislators emboldened by Trump

A Wave of Anti-Abortion Laws Is About to Hit This State

GOP legislators in Missouri have been emboldened by Trump.

By Hannah Levintova  MotherJones   01/5/2017

In November’s election, Republican Eric Greitens was elected to replace Democrat Jay Nixon as governor, making Missouri one of four states with a new trifecta in which the GOP controls all branches of government. Wasting no time, Missouri lawmakers prefiled 14 anti-abortion bills for the legislative session that started Wednesday.

The proposals include a personhood bill, religious liberty protections for crisis pregnancy centers, several measures blocking fetal tissue research, a chemical endangerment bill, and a bill regarding fetal burial similar to those passed this year in Indiana and Texas.

“I believe that the Republican leadership wants to focus on other issues that are priorities,” says Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri. “But the legislators who are obsessed with further restricting access to abortion…are emboldened by the new Republican trifecta. They might be emboldened by the new Trump presidency.”

In Missouri, it is not unusual for lawmakers to prepare many abortion bills before the legislative session begins, but since 2014 lawmakers have never prefiled more than 10 bills. “This legislative session is going to be the fight of our lives,” said Elise Higgins, interim director of public policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Great Plains, the regional affiliate that provides care in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

The state has a long history of curbing access to abortion. Between 2011 and 2015, political pressure and abortion restrictions shut down four providers, and now only one abortion clinic remains to serve Missouri’s more than 2 million women. Year after year, legislators have filed dozens of anti-abortion proposals—31 in 2014, 27 in 2015, and 28 last year—with mixed success. The Show-Me State has also been a testing ground for new approaches to restricting abortion—a legacy that dates back to the 1989 Webster case decided by the Supreme Court. That ruling, which upheld a Missouri abortion law, allowed states to impose far more restrictions on abortion care than had previously been permitted under Roe v. Wade. This is what gives the current list of measures potential for national consequences. Read More

Dark Day in Abortion Rights History

Anniversary of a Dark Day in Abortion Rights History

Forty years later, the Hyde Amendment still won’t go away. This Supreme Court case explains why.

By Nina Liss-Schultz and Hannah Levintova

09/30/16  Mother Jones

For decades, millions of low-income women have been prevented from getting Medicaid coverage for their abortions—a reality that disproportionately affects abortion access for women of color. The reason? The Hyde Amendment, an appropriations rider preventing the use of federal funding for most abortions. It was first passed in the House 40 years ago today.

Even in 1976, abortion rights advocates recognized that this amendment would prove detrimental to women’s reproductive health care access. Soon after its passage, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups launched a movement to circumvent Hyde by restoring Medicaid coverage for abortions through state constitutions. Today, 15 states provide public funds for abortion coverage. But efforts to repeal the federal funding ban have gained new momentum over the last year, beginning with the introduction of the EACH Woman Act in Congress in July 2015. The bill has been stuck in committee, but this summer another proposal to repeal Hyde cropped up, this time in the Democratic Party platform, a first. Hillary Clinton also announced her support for a repeal. Now, Democrats are trying to use this momentum—as well as the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, striking down two abortion regulations in Texas—to rejuvenate debate about the country’s ban on public funding for abortions.

Read full article

Finally Official: Limiting Abortion in the Guise of Helping Women is a Sham

It’s Finally Official: Limiting Abortion in the Guise of Helping Women is a Sham

The supreme court ruled Monday against abortion restrictions that effectively prevent women from being able to secure the procedure

By Jessica Valenti, The Guardian  June 27, 2016

Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, and Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, wave in celebration as they walk down the steps of the supreme court. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, and Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, wave in celebration as they walk down the steps of the supreme court. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

 

In a major victory for American women, the US supreme court sent a powerful message on Monday in its Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt decision: that laws purporting to protect women’s health while limiting access to abortion are an unconstitutional sham.

In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down a Texas law, called House Bill 2, responsible for shuttering more than half of the state’s clinics. The restrictions mandated that clinics become ambulatory surgical centers, adhering to wholly unnecessary hospital-like standards, and that doctors have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital even though hospitalization is almost never necessary after ending a pregnancy. The goal wasn’t to make abortion safer, of course, just impossible to obtain.

Ending a pregnancy is such a safe procedure that doctors would never be able to admit enough patients to a hospital in order to keep admitting privileges, and because abortions are so safe and common, maintaining the standards for a surgical center simply drained clinics of their resources. And anti-choice legislators know as much.

The court’s decision made clear the justices were not fooled, noting in the majority decision that “when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

And in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concurring opinion, she wrote it was “beyond rational belief that HB 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.’”

Lead plaintiff in the case, Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, released a statement saying that her clinics “treat our patients with compassion, respect and dignity – and today the supreme court did the same.”

She continued, “I want everyone to understand: you don’t mess with Texas, you don’t mess with Whole Woman’s Health and you don’t mess with this beautiful, powerful movement of people dedicated to reproductive health, rights, and justice.”

The ruling represents a significant loss for anti-abortion groups, who have been pushing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (Trap laws) over the last decade: as of this year, 24 states have some sort of law or policy that restricts abortion access through targeting the way providers work.

But the Whole Woman’s Health decision – which laid bare the way that these mandates constitute an undue burden on women seeking abortion – stands to put that years-long strategy in jeopardy. It will be that much harder for anti-choice legislators to shroud their policies in rhetoric about protecting women when the highest court in the country has essentially called the tactic nonsense.

For pro-choicers, the decision isn’t just a win, but a sticking point in the upcoming presidential election. Pro-choice organizations wasted no time releasing statements that tied the decision to how a Donald Trump presidency would be disastrous for women. Ilyse Hogue, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, says that Trump “is committed to appointing justices who will once again make abortion illegal across the country”. Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, noted that “extremist Republicans like Donald Trump should take note… women are paying attention and you’ll be hearing our voices loud and clear come November.”

Before November comes, though, American women can do some much-deserved celebrating in the wake of Monday’s decision. A strategy that aimed to limit our rights while invoking our protection has been proven impotent. A law that put tens of thousands of us in danger has been overturned. It is, finally, a good day.

Supreme Court decides a pro choice victory

From MSN  June 27, 2016

Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion clinic regulations

"We're thrilled that justice was served and our clinics stay open," said lead plaintiff Amy Hagstrom Miller. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

“We’re thrilled that justice was served and our clinics stay open,” said lead plaintiff Amy Hagstrom Miller. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court struck down Texas’ widely replicated regulation of abortion clinics Monday in the court’s biggest abortion case in nearly a quarter century.

The justices voted 5-3 in favor of Texas clinics that had argued the regulations were a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get an abortion in the nation’s second-most populous state.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion for the court held that the regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman’s right to an abortion.

Texas had argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women’s health. The rules required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Breyer wrote that “the surgical-center requirement, like the adm


itting privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.”

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Breyer.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Thomas wrote that the decision “exemplifies the court’s troubling tendency ‘to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.'” Thomas was quoting an earlier abortion dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

Abortion providers said the rules would have cut the number of abortion clinics in the state by three-fourths if they had been allowed to take full effect.

When then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2013, there were about 40 clinics throughout the state. That number dropped to under 20 and would have been cut in half again if the law had taken full effect, the clinics said.

Texas is among 10 states with similar admitting privileges requirements, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. The requirement is in effect in most of Texas, Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee. It is on hold in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

The hospital-like outpatient surgery standards are in place in Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and it is blocked in Tennessee and Texas, according to the center, which represented the clinics in the Texas case.

Texas passed a broad bill imposing several abortion restrictions in 2013. Texas clinics sued immediately to block it claiming it impermissibly interfered with a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. The clinics won several favorable rulings in a federal district court in Texas. But each time, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, at first allowing challenged provisions to take effect and then upholding the law with only slight exceptions.

The Supreme Court allowed the admitting privileges requirement to take effect in most of the state, but put the surgical center provision on hold pending the court’s resolution of the case.

The justices split largely along liberal-conservative lines in their emergency orders, with the court’s conservative justices voting repeatedly to let the law be enforced.

Trump’s Supreme Court Short List Is Really, Really Anti-Contraception

Trump’s Supreme Court Short List Is Really, Really Anti-Contraception

It’s really, really anti-choice, too.

Stephanie Mencimer  May 18, 2016 Mother Jones

AP Photo/Richard Drew

AP Photo/Richard Drew

Sorry, Paul Clement. Your hopes of taking a seat on the US Supreme Court appear to be doomed. Clement is one of the brightest—and highest paid—conservative litigators in the Supreme Court firmament, having served as solicitor general for George W. Bush and clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia. He’s also defended same-sex marriage and opposed Obamacare before the high court. But the legal luminary wasn’t on the list of potential Supreme Court candidates released Wednesday by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Instead, Trump seems to have cut and pasted the names of most of his candidates (minus Clement) from dream-team lists publicly drawn up previously by the the Heritage Foundation, an influential, socially conservative think tank. Unlike Clement, who’s long been considered a potential future justice, many of those on Trump’s list are far more outspoken in their views on issues that resonate most with conservatives, particularly those in the evangelical wing who so far aren’t all that enamored with the three-times-married Trump—people who might include Clement. Most of those on the short list hew closely to social conservatives’ views on abortion and contraception, particularly when it comes to the contraceptive mandate created in the Affordable Care Act. Among them are:

Steven Colloton, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals: Colloton was on a panel of judges that struck down the Obama administration’s accommodations for religious organizations seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, saying that even the process of opting out of the mandate was a burden on their religious freedom. (Every other federal court to consider the issue found the regulations acceptable.) That decision enabled the Supreme Court to take up the issue. (It released an opinion this week sending the cases back to the lower courts to work out an agreement between the parties.) Colloton also worked for Ken Starr when he was the independent counsel investigating Bill Clinton during the Whitewater/Monica Lewinsky affair.

William Pryor, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals: Pryor was such a toxic nominee when President George W. Bush chose him for a federal judgeship in 2003 that Senate Democrats initially filibustered him. Pryor has referred to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal, as “creating a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.” As Alabama’s attorney general, he filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court supporting Texas’s anti-gay sodomy law—he was the only state attorney general to do so. In 2014, he was on a panel of judges that barred the Obama administration from enforcing the contraceptive mandate against EWTN, a Catholic TV network. While on the court, he voted to continue a ban on volunteers feeding homeless people near the city hall in Orlando, Florida; upheld a restrictive Georgia voter ID law; and refused to block the use of opening prayers at government meetings in Cobb County, Georgia.

Raymond Gruender, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals
: A colleague of Colloton’s, Gruender is well known for having written the circuit court’s opinion in a 2006 case concluding that a company insurance plan could exclude birth control pills from coverage, and that such a denial would not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The opinion took aim at a Clinton-era policy finding that the Act did entitle women to contraceptive coverage, and it was used extensively by anti-abortion advocates to attack the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

While Trump’s choices might diversify the court in terms of educational backgrounds—several are not Ivy Leaguers (unlike Clement, who graduated from Harvard Law School)—they seem clearly chosen to try to shore up his prospects with religious conservatives who care deeply about the high court and are suspicious of a nominee who once praised Planned Parenthood. It’s unclear whether simply promising to pick an anti-reproductive-freedom Supreme Court justice will be enough to persuade evangelicals to ignore his history as a playboy New Yorker with an utter lack of familiarity with the Bible, but it’s probably a decent start.

Planned Parenthood Trains Pro-choice advocates

As It Prepares For War, Planned Parenthood Is Training A Political Army

by Emily Atkin  May 17, 2016  ThinkProgress

ppanthem PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA — For Planned Parenthood, this election season means war. And you can’t win a war without an army.

So Planned Parenthood is building one: An army of pro-choice advocates trained in how to win political campaigns. On Friday, the women’s health organization held its biggest-ever volunteer training event in Pittsburgh, where nearly 1,000 activists from 48 states were taught how to build grassroots political support for reproductive health and abortion rights.

The training is just one part of what Planned Parenthood says will be the most expensive electoral effort in its 100-year history. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards told ThinkProgress that her organization plans to spend at least $20 million to help win key Senate races and the presidency this November. While some of that money will go toward paid media like radio and television ads, a large portion is going toward building a grassroots army that can help elect Hillary Clinton to the White House. (Planned Parenthood endorsed Clinton in January.)

“This was, I believe, the largest volunteer training we’ve ever had in the history of Planned Parenthood,” Richards said on Monday. “They represent one slice of what is an enormous volunteer army that Planned Parenthood is building across the country.”

“We’ve never done anything like this before,” added Kelley Robinson, who organized the event for Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “This is a defining moment for our organization when it comes to thinking about how to build our power.”

Power is something Planned Parenthood could use. Last year, an anti-abortion sting campaign falsely accused the organization of selling fetal tissue for profit, which led directly to renewed defunding efforts in Congress and, indirectly, to a shooting at one of the organization’s clinics. In the last year, the Republican-led Congress voted to defund Planned Parenthood at least eight times. And while presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump once said the organization did “very good work,” he has since taken a harsher tone against the organization and abortion in general. On Sunday, he said he would nominate pro-life Supreme Court justices, suggesting they might vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. He also once suggested punishment for women who receive abortions, a position he later recanted.

This combination of anti-abortion rhetoric in state legislatures, Congress, and the presidential race means Planned Parenthood must build a similarly diverse strategy.

In addition to advertising and social media campaigns, it must have people on the ground, spreading the word about the importance of reproductive healthcare. And the organization can’t just focus on winning the presidency — it has to target down-ticket races as well.

“The importance of taking back [the U.S. Senate] is paramount,” said Deirdre Schifeling, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s executive director. “It’s important to take back the presidency, it’s also equally important to flip the Senate. The [House of Representatives], we think is probably two cycles away. But we can flip the Senate.”   [Read whole article]

States Took the War on Uteruses to the Next Level in 2015

This Year, States Took the War on Uteruses to the Next Level

Nearly 400 bills were introduced, and 57 of them became law.

—By     Mother Jones  12.30.15

 Reproductive rights took a beating in 2015. According to a year-end report released by the Center for Reproductive Rights, nearly 400 anti-abortion bills were introduced across the country in 2015, up from 335 provisions introduced in 2014. The bills ranged from regulation of medication abortions to all-out bans on the most common method of second-trimester abortions, and the Guttmacher Institute reports 57 of them were enacted. The few pieces of good news can be found in access to contraceptives: Oregon became the first state this year to expand access to birth control medication by offering it over the counter for up to a year’s supply, and California passed a law that allows women to get birth control directly from a pharmacist.

In the final days of 2015, Gov. Cuomo in New York signed legislation that permits pregnant women to enroll in the state’s health insurance exchange at any point during the year by making pregnancy a “qualifying life event.” For everyone without a qualifying life event, enrollment is only available from October through December. New York is the first state to pass such legislation.

But generally, the good news has been limited. Here are some of the most impactful state restrictions that became law this year—and that are likely to affect millions of women of reproductive age:

Medication abortion restrictions: Arkansas’ HB 1578 requires providers to tell patients that the effects of the “abortion pill“—a drug called mifepristone, or RU-486, which is used in conjunction with another pill that is taken at home—can be reversed. This claim has been refuted by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and in medical studies. In the same measure, abortion counselors are required to include in their sessions inaccurate information about fetal pain during the procedure and women’s mental health problems after it. Multiple studies have debunked the claim that most women regret their abortions after the fact.

The state Legislature in Arkansas, which was ranked the second-worst state for women’s and children’s well-being by the Center for Reproductive Rights for its mass of restrictions this year, also passed laws banning telemedicine when it’s used for medication abortion. The technology—involving video conferencing and an automated drawer that pops out and contains the medication—has allowed physicians to administer mifepristone remotely. This method is particularly beneficial for women who live in rural parts of the state and cannot afford the time or money to drive to a clinic in a metropolitan area.

Arkansas implemented an additional restriction on medication abortion that requires doctors prescribing mifepristone to adhere to the original FDA-approved dosage. This sounds reasonable, but it actually decreases the effectiveness of the drug and increases the likelihood of nasty side effects. (Molly Redden reported on increased restrictions around medication abortion in Mother Jones‘ September/October issue.) Idaho also passed laws banning telemedicine specifically when it’s used for medication abortions by requiring physicians to be physically present while administering mifepristone. Doctors who administer the medication must also have admitting privileges at local hospitals or a written transfer agreement with another doctor who does have those privileges. These requirements often disqualify physicians from being able to offer abortion services.

Unprecedented bans against the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions: In April, Kansas passed legislation that made it the first state to explicitly restrict the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions. The wording of the law is ambiguous and does not use medical language—for example, it refers to the fetus as an “unborn child”—and it bans what is referred to as “dismemberment abortion.” In the law, the procedure is defined as “knowingly dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus.” The focus of the law appears to be on the use of the dilation and evacuation method, a method considered by medical professionals to be the safest way to terminate a pregnancy, and which is used in most abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. A Kansas district court judge, Larry Hendricks, blocked the law less than a week before it was to take effect, and the Kansas Court of Appeals heard oral arguments regarding the law’s constitutionality in early December. However, because the case is being presented before all the appeals judges rather than the traditional three-judge panel, the timing for a final ruling is uncertain.

Oklahoma passed a similar law targeting dilation and evacuation abortions, using even more gruesome language. The law defines “dismemberment abortion”—a popular term among “right to life” advocates—as ” purposely dismember[ing] a living unborn child and extract[ing] him or her one piece at a time from the uterus through use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors or similar instruments that, through the convergence of two rigid levers, slice, crush, and/or grasp a portion of the unborn child’s body to cut or rip it off.” A temporary injunction in October was also applied by a judge in this case, and the law is pending a final ruling.

Waiting periods: North Carolina extended the waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours, tripling the time between state-mandated abortion counseling and actually receiving an abortion. All 12 states in the Southeast have state laws that mandate a waiting period, with the exception of Florida, which tried to pass a 24-hour waiting period this year, but the law was blocked by a circuit court judge and is pending a final ruling. Oklahoma also passed a law that expanded the state’s 24-hour mandatory waiting period to 72 hours.

Tennessee Legislature scales back abortion access: Amendment One, which passed in late 2014, amended the Tennessee state constitution to declare that it does not protect a woman’s right to an abortion or funding for abortions (despite the well-known fact that state and federal dollars cannot legally be used to fund abortion, anyway). The amendment, which was one of the most expensive ballot measures in the state’s history, gave state lawmakers more power to control abortion access and opened the door to a number of restrictive measures in 2015. Twelve bills restricting abortion access were presented before the Legislature this year, including a mandatory 48-hour waiting period. Also in Tennessee, 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.

Less than six months after Amendment One was approved, Tennessee also passed a law requiring clinics performing more than 50 surgical abortion procedures per year to meet standards of ambulatory surgery center, which basically amount to hospital standards. This is an example of a TRAP law (short for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), which focus not on women seeking abortions but on the practitioners who provide them. The additional construction, infrastructure, and maintenance costs can bankrupt these providers, as Mother Jones has previously reported.

Parental consent: By adding yet another requirement, Arkansas’ lawmakers tightened restrictions for women under the age of 18 who are seeking an abortion without parental consent. In order to waive the state’s parental-consent requirement, these young women must go through a judicial bypass procedure in which they appear before a judge to receive permission to have the procedure. But they now must also undergo an “evaluation and counseling session with a mental health professional” so that a judge can rule whether there is “clear and convincing evidence” that a minor is mature enough for the procedure and that an abortion is in her best interests.  The law does not mandate any kind of time limit on the court proceedings, so it’s possible a slow-moving petition could delay a teen’s pregnancy until it is illegal for her to go through with the abortion. The law also requires that a minor file the petition in a court in the county where she resides, further compromising her privacy.

Ban after 20 weeks: This year, West Virginia became the 15th state to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Although the governor vetoed the legislation, the state Legislature overrode his veto and passed the bill into law. The law is especially restrictive, offering no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, and it only provides a highly limited exception for women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy or for fetal abnormalities. Arkansas lawmakers passed a similar ban on abortions after 12 weeks, but the measure was struck down in the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. “By banning abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation, the act prohibits women from making the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy at a point before viability,” the appeals court said.

Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, said that even though 2015 was a tough year, it could get worse in 2016. “In 2016, abortion restrictions are again expected to be on the front burner in many state legislatures,” Nash said. “It does not appear that the pending US Supreme Court case is slowing down abortion opponents. We expect to see a host of abortion restrictions in 2016, including restrictions related to medication abortion, bans on abortion in the second trimester and TRAP laws including the disposal of aborted tissue.”

Becca Andrews is an editorial fellow at Mother Jones. Before moving to the Bay Area to attend UC-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, she worked for newspapers in the Nashville area. Follow her at @kbeccaandrews or email her at bandrews@motherjones.com.

Battle Of Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman’s Body Transformed Her Family Into Political Activists

The Battle Over A Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman’s Body Transformed Her Family Into Political Activists

by Tara Culp-Ressler March 2, 2015   ThinkProgress

Munoz2

Erick Munoz, center, husband of Marlise Munoz is escorted by attorneys. AP Photo/Tim Sharp

National media may have moved on from last year’s battle over whether Marlise Muñoz, known in headlines as the “brain-dead pregnant woman,” was allowed to be released from life support in Texas last year — but her family hasn’t. In a new documentary, they’ll have a chance to talk about their journey from grieving loved ones to political activists, as well as the complex issues animating their cause.

Tentatively titled The Pregnancy Exclusion, the forthcoming documentary has been filming over the past year in the hopes of giving the family a different and more expansive kind of platform.

“After January, when Marlise had been taken off life support, it was suddenly like — poof! — the story was over. But they felt like they had been through the wringer and their story was not over,” director Rebecca Haimowitz told ThinkProgress. “It’s a story that deserved to be given more attention, and shown in a way that delves into all the complexities of the issue and really humanizes it.” Haimowitz is currently working on raising money for the film’s production costs.

It’s no wonder the story captured national attention at the time. The Muñoz family waited two months before they could bury Marlise’s body, an act of closure that was denied to them because Marlise was pregnant when she died. After she suffered a massive blood clot and was pronounced brain dead, the hospital refused to take her off the respirator — citing an obscure state law that stipulates Texas may not remove “life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant woman, even if that goes against her end-of-life wishes. Although Marlise was legally deceased, officials wanted to keep her hooked up to machines until the fetus that she was carrying could be delivered.

The family’s saga went on for weeks, as Marlise’s husband and parents told the press how painful it was to watch her body slowly decompose as she remained breathing with the help of a ventilator. Eventually, a federal judge ruled in the Muñozes’ favor, determining that the hospital could not apply the law in this situation because Marlise was already dead. One year later, however, the controversy over the rights of pregnant women is being renewed.

Just last week, a Texas lawmaker introduced a bill in direct response to the Muñoz case that would appoint legal representation for fetuses in future disputes over whether pregnant women should remain hooked up to life support. The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Matt Krause (R), says his proposal will “give the pre-born child a chance to have a voice in court.” If the measure advances to a legislative hearing, the Muñoz family is planning to testify against it.

Marlise’s relatives are also readying legislation of their own. Before Texas’ legislative sessions ends on March 13, they’re planning to partner with a different lawmaker to announce an effort to change the current law regarding pregnant women’s end-of-life wishes.

The competing legislation could dredge up the same issues that arose over the high-profile battle for Marlise’s body. Reproductive rights proponents condemned the hospital’s actions as frightening and dehumanizing, decrying Texas for using a dead woman’s body to incubate a fetus, while anti-abortion groups lamented the fact that the federal judge didn’t fight to protect the unborn child.

But the issue doesn’t fall neatly along the traditional battle lines in the abortion rights debate. Marlise’s family members have always maintained that their quest to honor her end-of-life wishes wasn’t “about pro-life or pro-choice.” They said Marlise never wanted to be hooked up to machines, and they wanted to honor her memory — and say goodbye.

Haimowitz agrees, and says that’s why she was compelled to focus on the case. She was interested in using the documentary format to bring more nuance to the complicated questions surrounding bodily autonomy, pregnant women’s rights, and the far-reaching consequences of laws that are framed in terms of fetuses.

“I think a lot of people, when they hear about this case, they tend to think it’s a really black or white issue. But actually, one of the biggest questions this film asks is — who do you think should have the right to make this choice?” Haimowitz said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about the film who start off by saying, I want you to know I’m pro-life, and I don’t believe in abortion, but I feel really strongly that the government overstepped its bounds in thinking it could make this choice for this family.”

Haimowitz is hoping to finish her project next year, and is optimistic that it might spark more conversation about the issue of gender-based discrimination in advanced directive laws. Right now, more than 30 states have a “pregnancy exclusion” in their policies governing wills, advanced directives, and end-of-life care. These laws ensure that women don’t have the same freedom to plan for their deaths as men do, because their wishes may be invalidated if they become pregnant.

“The security that people are given by being able to write wills, make out advanced health care directives, make plans for their families is very important,” Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told ThinkProgress. “It’s one of many laws that really make it clear that there really is a second-class status for people who have the capacity for pregnancy.”

Paltrow’s organization closely tracks the impact of fetal harm laws on women. In addition to pregnancy exclusion laws, there are other ways that carrying a fetus makes women more vulnerable to gender-specific legal scrutiny. Overly broad “fetal protection” or “unborn victims of violence” laws allow states to prosecute pregnant women for activities that allegedly harmed their pregnancy, like using drugs or attempting suicide. In states with these laws on the books, unexpected health events like miscarriages or stillbirths can put women at risk of being charged with doing something to provoke the pregnancy loss. In 2013, Paltrow and her colleague Jeanne Flavin published a study that confirmed these laws are being used not to protect pregnant women from crimes committed against them, but rather to target those women themselves for prosecution.

Many Americans simply aren’t aware that these policies exist, according to Paltrow, and are really surprised to discover that so many states don’t have to honor a pregnant woman’s end-of-life wishes. Cases like Marlise Muñoz’s are bringing more awareness to the controversial legal precedent of discriminating against people who become pregnant, as well as providing a powerful illustration of the ways in which laws that target women can end up hurting entire families.

Haimowitz echoed that sentiment. She wasn’t aware that so many states had pregnancy exclusion laws on the books until the Muñoz case unfolded in the headlines. “The idea that the state could have that control over someone’s body, even over their dead body, was just shocking to me,” she said.

As the information becomes disseminated more widely, Americans are increasingly motivated to action; in addition to the upcoming legislation in Texas, lawmakers in Wisconsin have already proposed a bill to repeal the pregnancy exclusion in that state’s advanced directive policies. Haimowitz, who interviewed Paltrow for her forthcoming film, hopes her documentary might be an agent for that type of change.

“I think a good documentary film will really humanize a social issue in a way that few other things can,” she said. “Next year is an election year and I think people should be talking about this issue, and I think a documentary would be an excellent vehicle to get them talking about it again.”

Lawmakers Nationwide Launch Concerted Assault on Women’s Rights

Lawmakers Nationwide Launch Concerted Assault on Women’s Rights

Since the start of the year, anti-choice bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country.

by Deirdre Fulton  Common Dreams   February 20, 2015

"As an increasing number of states pass the same type of restriction on abortion, the anti-choice community is able to declare that the policy is gaining momentum," says Tara Culp-Ressler. (Photo: Karol Olson/flickr/cc)

“As an increasing number of states pass the same type of restriction on abortion, the anti-choice community is able to declare that the policy is gaining momentum,” says Tara Culp-Ressler. (Photo: Karol Olson/flickr/cc)

An array of anti-choice legislation is being rolled out in state houses around the country, putting women’s health at risk and illustrating how Republican gains in the 2014 elections have exacerbated the fight over reproductive rights.

Already, 57 percent of American women of reproductive age live in states that are considered ‘hostile’ or ‘extremely hostile’ to abortion rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world.

That percentage could go up if recent proposals are enacted into law.

In Ohio, for example, lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected—as early as six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy.

In Arkansas on Tuesday, the state Senate approved legislation that would require a physician to be in the room during a chemical abortion and bans telemedicine abortion—a procedure already unavailable in Arkansas.

Just this month, Minnesota legislators have put forth five anti-choice bills, “each designed to make safe abortion less accessible in the state,” writes Nina Liss-Schultz, reporting fellow at RH Reality Check. She explains:

“Two identical bills, SF 800 and HF 607, would bar Medicaid and other public health programs in the state from covering abortion services—policies that would have an outsized impact on low-income women.

… Two other bills, SF 794 and HF 606, also identical, would require free-standing reproductive health facilities that perform ten or more abortions each month to be licensed in the same way as outpatient surgical centers, and would allow the state to inspect those facilities with no notice.

… A fifth bill, HF 734, would require a prescribing physician be physically present when abortion drugs are administered.”

The Senate Health Committee in Arizona recently passed legislation barring women from buying optional abortion coverage on insurance policies purchased through the federal marketplace.

Of such restrictions, Janet Reitman wrote for Rolling Stone earlier this year: “While cutting insurance coverage of abortion in disparate states might seem to be a separate issue from the larger assault on reproductive rights, it is in fact part of a highly coordinated and so far chillingly successful nationwide campaign, often funded by the same people who fund the Tea Party, to make it harder and harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and also to limit their access to many forms of contraception.”

In South Dakota, a conservative lawmaker is pushing graphically worded legislation targeting dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures, which may be used in a second-trimester abortion. On Tuesday, the state’s Health and Human Services committee voted 11 to 2 along party lines to approve the bill; now it awaits debate and vote by the full South Dakota house, in which Republicans hold a wide majority.

“If D and E were to be banned, women would have only labor induction or hysterotomy (a mini-cesarean section) as options for second-trimester abortions,” David Grimes, former chief of the Abortion Surveillance Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Carole Joffe, professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in an op-ed published Thursday. “These archaic methods were largely abandoned decades ago in the United States.”

They continued:

“The specifics of abortion methods can be unpleasant to the lay public. However, this is true of most operations that remove tissue from the body. Surgeons choose operations based on what is safest and most appropriate for the patient, not on what is pleasant for the surgeon. The same professional standard applies to abortion.

Even if it is an effective strategy for anti-choice activists, considering these methods separately from the women who need abortion care is wrong. D and E abortion should not become a political football. D and E abortion is not a problem, any more than a mastectomy is a problem. Both are solutions to a problem.”

It’s not just Republicans who are to blame for the latest wave of attacks on women’s rights.

In the West Virginia state House, a bipartisan majority, including a majority of Democrats, passed a bill Wednesday that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy—similar to extreme legislation withdrawn by Republicans in the U.S. House earlier this year. A similar bill was approved by the majority-Republican state House in South Carolina on the very same day.

And in a separate piece for RH Reality Check, Liss-Schultz notes that as of last week, “Maryland is the latest state dominated by Democratic majorities to see a 20-week abortion ban proposed this year.”

To be sure, such a coordinated assault on reproductive health was expected when Republicans cemented their ‘supermajority‘ in state legislatures during the 2014 midterm elections.

“[B]race yourself for 2015,” Molly Redden wrote at Mother Jones in December 2014. “Next year, Republicans will control 11 more legislative chambers than they did in 2014. Lawmakers in Texas and North Dakota are back in session, and there are no major elections to take up lawmakers’ time or cause them worry about war-on-women attacks.”

The anti-choice approach could be even more convoluted than it appears on the surface, ThinkProgress health editor Tara Culp-Ressler wrote on Thursday.

In several states, such as Arkansas, lawmakers are introducing, debating, and passing anti-abortion laws that have little practical impact on the residents there, Culp-Ressler pointed out.

“There’s…a clear political strategy at play here,” she declared. “As an increasing number of states pass the same type of restriction on abortion, the anti-choice community is able to declare that the policy is gaining momentum. More laws on the books represent an important symbolic victory. And, within the context of that goal, ineffective laws are actually some of the best tools available. They’re less likely to be overturned because they’re harder to challenge in court.”

She added: “Anti-abortion lawmakers are effectively creating a patchwork of laws that ensures U.S. women’s constitutional rights differ depending on where they live.”