PEOPLE FOR BLOG

McDonnell Does a 180 on Mandatory Transvaginal Ultrasounds

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell announced this afternoon that he has, in fact, changed his mind on a newly-passed state bill that would require women seeking abortions to first undergo a vaginal probe without their consent. McDonnell had spoken in support of the bill before it sparked a national outcry. He then remained conspicuously silent for several days before coming out with recommended amendments to the bill to make it slightly less repulsive.

The governor said in a statement this afternoon:

For this reason, I have recommended to the General Assembly a series of amendments to this bill. I am requesting that the General Assembly amend this bill to explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily. I am asking the General Assembly to state in this legislation that only a transabdominal, or external, ultrasound will be required to satisfy the requirements to determine gestational age. Should a doctor determine that another form of ultrasound may be necessary to provide the necessary images and information that will be an issue for the doctor and the patient. The government will have no role in that medical decision.

McDonnell’s backtracking on this component of the mandatory ultrasound bill is a partial but important victory for reproductive rights advocates who explained clearly in Virginia and around the nation what an atrocity the bill would have been.

But it’s also important to remember how far anti-choice politicians will go if they aren’t called out on their activities. Just last week, Virginia's House passed not only the invasive ultrasound bill, but also an extreme “personhood” bill that could endanger legal birth control. Last year, Gov. McDonnell signed unnecessary regulations meant to shut down most of the state’s abortion clinics.

At the same time as Virginia was considering its new assaults on choice, the House held a hearing on President Obama’s requirement that insurance cover contraception, and invited only men. Both major GOP presidential candidates came out for an anti-contraception policy that’s to the right of most Catholics.

McDonnell claims he didn’t know the details of the atrocious ultrasound bill when he previously supported it. But the truth is probably a lot more cynical – he wants to be the GOP vice presidential nominee, and he knew he couldn’t get away with something this extreme. When it came to mandatory invasive ultrasounds, McDonnell got caught between the anti-choice base and everybody else. Every anti-choice politician with national ambitions should face the same pressure.
 

PFAW

Is McDonnell Backing Off Invasive Ultrasound Bill?

Last week, we wondered if Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a possible GOP vice presidential contender, would reconsider his position on a shocking anti-choice bill passed by the state’s legislature after it provoked a national outcry. The bill would require women seeking abortions to first undergo a medically unnecessary, highly invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound without their consent – a process which, under any other circumstances, would be considered rape under state law.

Gov. McDonnell had spoken in support of the bill before it was passed, but once the outcry against it began, fell oddly silent. Now, the Washington Post reports, he may be backing away from his support for the bill and looking for a compromise that will allow him to keep his anti-choice cred, while disassociating himself from one of the most egregious instances of the War on Women to come out of last week:

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is backing off his unconditional support for a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, focusing new attention on one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in Virginia’s General Assembly this year.

Until this weekend, McDonnell (R) and his aides had said the governor would sign the measure if it made it to his desk. McDonnell, who strongly opposes abortion, will no longer make that commitment.

But delegates and governor’s staff were scheduled to meet Tuesday night to strike a compromise after learning that some ultrasounds could be more invasive than first thought, according to two officials who were aware of the meeting but not authorized to speak about it publicly. Many of the bill’s supporters were apparently unaware of how invasive the procedure could be, one of the officials added.

I doubt that McDonnell didn’t know the details of the bill before he spoke in favor of it. But after last week, he knows that signing it will hurt him among all but the most extreme anti-choice voters.
 

PFAW

Every Child Deserves a Family

Successful parenting is not dependent on sexual orientation or gender identity. Laws and policies that discriminate against otherwise qualified LGBT parents are failing the half million children in the foster care system, 120,000 of whom are eligible for adoption. We should be giving these children more places to turn, instead of needlessly and cruelly closing the door to safe, loving homes. They deserve care and permanency with their best interests at heart, not placements that forsake them for ideology or political gain.

Representative Pete Stark (H.R. 1681) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (S. 1770) have sought to address the discrimination with the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. PFAW sent this letter as part of an ongoing letter-a-day campaign supporting the legislation with 21 groups and counting.

The tide is turning, but more progress must be made. S. 1770 would withhold a portion of federal funding from entities that discriminate in adoption and foster care placements based on the LGBT or marital status of prospective parents, or the LGBT status of the children involved. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would provide technical assistance to all affected entities. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) would study compliance with the law and any continued discrimination.

Ultimately, this is about increasing the number of loving, safe, and permanent homes, and decreasing the number of youths at risk for poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and early parenthood. All children deserve far better than that. And S. 1770 deserves your consideration.

Representative Gerry Connolly is among our most recent House supporters. He signed on saying that he wanted to “counteract” “odious, reactionary legislation” on track for passage in his home state of Virginia.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said he’ll co-sponsor the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would restrict federal funds for states that allow for discrimination in adoption based on LGBT status.

“I think on the merits it’s a good idea,” Connolly said. “Bringing children into a loving home is the object here, and that’s irrespective of the sexual orientation of the adults in that home. Can they provide a climate of love and protection and nurturing? That’s what children need.”

[ . . . ]

Connolly announces his support for the federal bill as the Republican-controlled Virginia Legislature has approved anti-gay legislation that would allow private adoption agencies to discriminate in placements conflicting with their religious or moral beliefs, including on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill is on its way to the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell, who’s indicated he’ll sign the measure.

Adoption and foster care discrimination has gone on long enough. And Representative Connolly is right: the legislative attacks in Virginia cannot go unanswered. Do as he did and support the Every Child Deserves a Family Act.

PFAW

A Chance to Overrule Citizens United?

Friday, the Supreme Court granted a request to stay the December Montana Supreme Court's decision upholding that state's prohibition on corporate spending on independent expenditures to support or defeat a candidate. The 5-2 majority had argued that their case was distinguishable from Citizens United because of Montana's particular history of political corruption by business interests. In contrast, one of the dissenting opinions found that it was not distinguishable, but proceeded to issue a withering criticism of what has become the Supreme Court's most notorious case of the Roberts era.

In staying the decision until the Supreme Court decides whether to hear a formal appeal of it, the Court signaled its strong disagreement with the Montana Supreme Court majority. Justices Breyer and Ginsburg issued a separate statement making clear they don't buy the Montana Supreme Court's assertion that their circumstances are distinguishable from Citizens United (from which they had dissented). However, they also said that the appeal will give the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to review the assumptions behind Citizens United, given the past 2 years' experience:

Montana's experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court's decision in [Citizens United] make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates' allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway. Because lower courts are bound to follow this Court's decisions until they are withdrawn or modified, however, I vote to grant the stay.

Montana will clearly lose if it argues that its circumstances are distinguishable from those around Citizens United. If it wants to succeed, it will have to make a frontal attack on the factual premise upon which that decision rested: that independent expenditures by corporations "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."

The Court may issue an order without an opinion, simply reversing the Montana decision under Citizens United. But let us hope they instead order oral arguments in the case. We can only hope that at least one of the five Justices in the Citizens United majority looks with horror upon the genie they have released and will realize their assumptions were naïve, at best. The future of our democracy may depend on it.

PFAW Foundation

Marriage Equality in New Jersey: With or Without Chris Christie

Yesterday, the New Jersey Assembly joined with the State Senate and passed a bill endorsing same-sex marriage in a 42 to 33 vote. If marriage equality becomes law, New Jersey will become the eighth state to destroy what the Assembly speaker called one of the “last legalized barriers to equal rights.”

In a pivotal moment, New Jersey lawmakers did more than stand up for the institution of marriage; they chose to begin legally recognizing and protecting the civil rights of every resident of their state. They showed that no matter who one loves, the state should not limit the ability to fully commit to that person. As Newark Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker put it, “I came to the conclusion that the people sent me here from my district, here to protect what’s right…To protect the rights of everyone.”

Unfortunately, Governor Chris Christie has sworn to veto the new legislation, insisting that the legislature subject the basic civil rights of their fellow citizens to a referendum.

Proponents of marriage equality are not accepting this alternative, and are preparing to form even stronger coalitions to override Gov. Christie’s impending veto. Polls indicate growing support for same-sex marriage among voters, a trend that will likely continue over the next two years, providing the support the legislature needs to override the veto.

New Jersey’s legislature made history by passing a marriage equality bill. Governor Christie should do the same by signing it into law.

PFAW

Aspirin as the New Birth Control: The GOP War on Women Reaches New Lows

 Originally posted at Hufflington Post.

We all heard about the War on Women's Health last year, when Tea Party-empowered state legislatures passed a record slew of anti-choice laws -- including deluded bills such as Arizona's ban on "race-based abortions" and dangerous ones like Virginia's attempt to shut down most abortion clinics in the state. These unhinged state legislatures were joined by an enthusiastic right-wing Congress that attempted to defund the entire $317 million federal family program, tried to redefine "rape," and ate up lies about their favorite bogeyman, Planned Parenthood.

Well, the War on Women's Health is back -- and now it's a flat-out, all-out War on Women.

Just this week, we have seen not just the stunning spectacle of major presidential candidates coming out against birth control coverage, but Republicans in the Senate holding up domestic violence protections because they protect too many people; a potential vice presidential candidate pick poised to sign a law requiring women to receive medically unnecessary vaginal probes without their consent; a leading presidential candidate claiming that "emotions" will get in the way of women serving in combat; and a House committee holding a hearing on birth control access -- with a panel consisting entirely of men.

And it seems that in the lead-up to 2012, the War on Women isn't going to die down.

The two Republican presidential front-runners, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, have signaled that they are 100 percent on board with the anti-woman agenda of their party's farthest-right element.

For Santorum, this isn't news. As a U.S. senator, he championed the so-called "partial birth abortion" ban, which prevented women from making difficult choices after complications late in a pregnancy. But that was just what he could convince others to do. He not only thinks abortion should always be a crime -- even in cases of even rape, incest and danger to the pregnant woman -- he thinks states should be allowed to ban birth control. Why? Never mind that birth control is the best way to lower the number of abortions, he's against it because birth control "is not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

In a stunning statement, major Santorum supporter billionaire Foster Friess put it even more bluntly on MSNBC yesterday, saying he didn't see why women need insurance coverage for birth control: "Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly."

But when it comes to reproductive rights, there's not much daylight between Santorum's policy positions and Romney's. Romney wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, and has signaled that he'll appoint federal judges with the same priority. He told Mike Huckabee that he "absolutely" supports so-called "personhood" laws that grant zygotes the rights of human beings -- and outlaw the most common type of birth control. This puts Romney far to the right of voters in deep-red Mississippi, who rejected such a plan by double digits last year.

What's more, one of the frequently talked-about picks for the vice presidential slot on the Republican ticket, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, is poised to sign into law some of the most extreme anti-woman measures in the country. This week, Virginia passed a bill that would require all women seeking abortions to first undergo an ultrasound. But not just any ultrasound. The roughly 88 percent of women seeking abortions in the early days of pregnancy would be subject to a medically unnecessary vaginal probe -- and they won't be asked for their consent.

It's the kind of government intrusion that you'd think would leave people of all political persuasions aghast. But Gov. McDonnell has spoken in favor of it, and is expected to sign it.

Gov. McDonnell hasn't said whether he'll sign the anti-birth control "personhood" bill that also passed his state house this week. If he does, his state will have the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the country.

The right is staging an all-out assault on women's rights while they have control of the majority of state legislatures, the House and a determined minority in the Senate. The GOP's presidential candidates are promising to join it if they get elected.

We can't let them succeed.

PFAW

Harsh Light of Exposure Makes Senate GOP Crumble

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans were harshly criticized for filibustering a highly qualified Cuban American with no committee opposition nominated for a seat on the Eleventh Circuit. Yesterday, they doubled down and set their sights on an unopposed district court nominee, Jesse Furman of New York. As we noted yesterday, the absurdity of the move cannot be overstated. The Senate GOP wasn’t just moving the goalposts, they were moving the entire football field.

It appears that the barrage of deserved criticism they received for this outrageous escalation in their war against the American judiciary has had an effect: It was just announced that the cloture petition will be vitiated (i.e., withdrawn). More than five months after Furman was approved without opposition by the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will finally get his day on the Senate floor. In turn, assuming he is confirmed, more New Yorkers will get their day in court.

This is a victory for every American who wants to protect our nation’s judicial system.

PFAW

Jill Pryor Nominated to the 11th Circuit

President Obama has announced the nomination of Jill Pryor to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor would fill a vacancy that has been declared an emergency by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Pryor's legal skills are recognized by her peers. The Best Lawyers in America recognized her from 2009-2011, and Georgia Super Lawyers selected her as one of the "Top 100 Super Lawyers" in 2010 and 2011. In addition, she has served as president of the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers, as well as on the Georgia State Bar's Board of Governors.

Her peers are not alone in recognizing Pryor's qualifications. Georgia's Republican senators have both stated that she is qualified for a lifetime judicial appointment. In a January 24 letter to President Obama, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson recommended three attorneys to fill judicial vacancies in Georgia. They recommended Pryor for one of the two vacant seats in the Northern District of Georgia, but President Obama recognized that she has the skills and experience needed to serve on the Eleventh Circuit Court.

This seat has been vacant since August of 2010. We hope that Sens. Chambliss and Isakson, who clearly recognize Pryor's qualifications and judicial temperament, quickly give their approval for the Judiciary Committee to proceed to examine the nomination.

PFAW

Ohio Judicial Nominee Demonstrates Bipartisan Support

President Obama has gone out of his way to nominate to the federal bench highly qualified people who have earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike. That was clear in yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearing for Jeffrey Helmick to serve as a judge in the Northern District of Ohio.

That Helmick was nominated by Obama and recommended by Ohio's Sen. Sherrod Brown makes clear his support from Democrats. He was originally recommended to Brown and then-Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican, by a bipartisan committee. Rob Portman was elected to replace Voinovich in 2010, he has approved of Helmick’s nomination moving forward.

At the hearing, Sen. Brown discussed the strong support that state Republicans have offered the nominee.  For instance, Jack Zouhary, a 2006 George W. Bush nominee, wrote in support:

You will find no better candidate than Jeff. He possesses the intelligence, the passion for our justice system, and the necessary temperament and people skills to be an outstanding district court judge.

Similar praise has come from Mark Wagoner, the Republican who chairs the Ohio's Senate's Judiciary Committee. Sen. Brown read an excerpt from Wagoner's letter of support:

[Helmick] is someone who has stood for principles, litigated honestly, and ably defended our constitutional system of government. These types of traits would make Mr. Helmick an outstanding federal judge.

Helmick should be confirmed quickly. But if the growing backlog of nominees languishing on the Senate floor isn't cleared up, Ohioans' access to justice will be at risk.

PFAW

What the Anti-Birth Control Movement is Really About

99 percent of American women who have ever been sexually active have used birth control.

65 percent of Americans think that insurance plans should have to cover contraception.

Yet the leaders of the GOP, in an effort to make it harder for women to obtain birth control, have sided with a splinter faction of the Right that wants to allow any employer to prevent any employee from privately obtaining contraception coverage from their insurance provider.

Why are they so out of touch? Why have the leaders of a major party staked out a position on contraception to the right of 57 percent of American Catholics and an even greater percentage of the population as a whole?

Here’s a picture of a panel gathered by the House GOP for a hearing about the issue:

And here’s major Rick Santorum supporter Foster Friess explaining today why he just doesn’t understand why women need birth control:

 

In Virginia yesterday, the state House GOP pushed through a bill mandating that women seeking abortions undergo a medically unnecessary vaginal probe without their consent. The governor, a top contender for the GOP vice presidential nomination, has said he will sign it.

This is no longer about religious liberty for institutions that preach against contraception. This isn’t about women’s safety. This is about who gets to make the decisions controlling women’s bodies.

And for the GOP right now, that isn’t women.

Photo: Planned Parenthood

PFAW

What the Anti-Birth Control Movement is Really About

99 percent of American women who have ever been sexually active have used birth control.

65 percent of Americans think that insurance plans should have to cover contraception.

Yet the leaders of the GOP, in an effort to make it harder for women to obtain birth control, have sided with a splinter faction of the Right that wants to allow any employer to prevent any employee from privately obtaining contraception coverage from their insurance provider.

Why are they so out of touch? Why have the leaders of a major party staked out a position on contraception to the right of 57 percent of American Catholics and an even greater percentage of the population as a whole?

Here’s a picture of a panel gathered by the House GOP for a hearing about the issue:

And here’s major Rick Santorum supporter Foster Friess explaining today why he just doesn’t understand why women need birth control:

 

In Virginia yesterday, the state House GOP pushed through a bill mandating that women seeking abortions undergo a medically unnecessary vaginal probe without their consent. The governor, a top contender for the GOP vice presidential nomination, has said he will sign it.

This is no longer about religious liberty for institutions that preach against contraception. This isn’t about women’s safety. This is about who gets to make the decisions controlling women’s bodies.

And for the GOP right now, that isn’t women.

Photo: Planned Parenthood

PFAW

Maryland Families Turn the Heart of a (Formerly) Anti-Equality Legislator

When the right wing's distorted and evil portrayal of LGBT people comes up against the reality of our lives, it's hard for the lie to stay alive.

Just ask Maryland Del. Wade Kach, a Republican who has supported a bill to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, and who even voted against the pending marriage equality bill in committee two days ago. But this morning, he announced a change of heart. The Baltimore Sun quotes from Del. Kach's statement:

My constituents sent me to Annapolis to represent them and use my best judgment. They did not send me to sit in judgment of the lives of others.

As a proud member of the party of Lincoln, I believe that we as legislators should be more concerned with relieving the tax burden of families than telling them how to behave in their own homes.

Like so many others, my thoughts on the issue of civil marriage have evolved over the course of recent months as a result of much reflection and listening to good people on both sides of this issue. Instrumental to my decision are the enhanced protections for churches, clergy, and faith leaders in my community and in communities around the state.

While no one event or conversation prompted me to come to this decision, I was significantly moved by the testimony of families -- who are raising children in a loving environment and deserve every right to enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others.

The marriage equality bill is scheduled to be debated on the House floor this evening, with a vote possibly as early as tomorrow.

PFAW

Maryland Families Turn the Heart of a (Formerly) Anti-Equality Legislator

When the right wing's distorted and evil portrayal of LGBT people comes up against the reality of our lives, it's hard for the lie to stay alive.

Just ask Maryland Del. Wade Kach, a Republican who has supported a bill to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, and who even voted against the pending marriage equality bill in committee two days ago. But this morning, he announced a change of heart. The Baltimore Sun quotes from Del. Kach's statement:

My constituents sent me to Annapolis to represent them and use my best judgment. They did not send me to sit in judgment of the lives of others.

As a proud member of the party of Lincoln, I believe that we as legislators should be more concerned with relieving the tax burden of families than telling them how to behave in their own homes.

Like so many others, my thoughts on the issue of civil marriage have evolved over the course of recent months as a result of much reflection and listening to good people on both sides of this issue. Instrumental to my decision are the enhanced protections for churches, clergy, and faith leaders in my community and in communities around the state.

While no one event or conversation prompted me to come to this decision, I was significantly moved by the testimony of families -- who are raising children in a loving environment and deserve every right to enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others.

The marriage equality bill is scheduled to be debated on the House floor this evening, with a vote possibly as early as tomorrow.

PFAW

This is Why Americans Don’t Trust Congress

The New York Times’ Gail Collins on the Senate’s failure to do one of its most basic tasks:


And the bipartisan cooperation keeps rolling on. This week, the Senate confirmed Judge Adalberto Jose Jordan to a seat on the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. A visitor from another country might not have appreciated the proportions of this achievement, given the fact that Jordan, who was born in Cuba and who once clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor, had no discernible opposition.


But Americans ought to have a better grasp of how the Senate works. The nomination’s progress had long been thwarted by Mike Lee, a freshman Republican from Utah, who has decided to hold up every single White House appointment to anything out of pique over ... well, it doesn’t really matter. When you’re a senator, you get to do that kind of thing.


This forced the majority leader, Harry Reid, to get 60 votes to move Judge Jordan forward, which is never all that easy. Then there was further delay thanks to Rand Paul, a freshman from Kentucky, who stopped action for as long as possible because he was disturbed about foreign aid to Egypt.


All that is forgotten now. The nomination was approved, 94 to 5, only 125 days after it was unanimously O.K.’d by the Judiciary Committee. Whiners in the White House pointed out that when George W. Bush was president, circuit court nominations got to a floor vote in an average of 28 days.


No matter. Good work, Senate! Only 17 more long-pending judicial nominations to go!
 

PFAW

Yet Another Filibuster: GOP Ignores Goalposts, Moves Entire Football Field

Senate Republicans – already being condemned for their unprecedented obstruction of highly qualified judicial nominees with strong bipartisan support – today responded to that criticism by escalating their partisan obstruction to even more extremes. Today, after finally overcoming the four-month obstruction of an unopposed circuit court nominee, Senate Democrats were forced to file cloture on the nomination of an unopposed district court nominee, one who worked for and has the support of Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey: Jesse Furman, nominated to the Southern District of New York.

It would be hard to overstate just how absurd this is. When George W. Bush was president, Democrats routinely approved District Court nominees, frequently without even a recorded vote.

Adding to the absurdity of the filibuster, Republicans have given no reason to vote against Furman's confirmation. He is a respected lawyer who has devoted his legal career to public service, serving under both Democratic and Republican administrations. After law school, he clerked for Justice David Souter, Judge Michael Mukasey (a Reagan nominee to the Southern District of New York) and José A. Cabranes (a Clinton nomine to the Second Circuit). He worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York during the George W. Bush Administration. For two years during that time, he was detailed to work as Counselor to Mukasey, who had by then become Attorney General under President Bush. In 2009, he returned to the Southern District of New York to become Deputy Chief Appellate Attorney in the U.S. Attorney's Office.

One might think Mukasey's strong support for the nomination would give Republicans reason not to filibuster. He wrote this of Furman: "All I can hope to add is my own belief that he is a person to whom one can entrust decisions that are consequential to the lives of people and to the general welfare of the populace, with confidence that they will be made wisely and fairly ... and I urge that he be confirmed."

Mukasey is not alone. The ABA has analyzed his record and found him qualified. A unanimous Judiciary Committee agreed.

There are currently six judicial vacancies in the Southern District of New York. Furman's nomination to fill one of those vacancies has been pending on the Senate floor for five months now.

This latest filibuster is an outrage. Republicans haven't just moved the goal posts. They've moved the entire stadium. The American people deserve so much better than this.

PFAW