Last week, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell buckled under nationwide pressure and forced his allies in the state’s legislature to revise a bill they had passed mandating forced, medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. That the bill was tweaked to no longer require women to be vaginally penetrated without their consent – a requirement that McDonnell, until he was met with a national outcry, was all set to sign into law -- was an important victory for pro-choice and common-decency activists.
But we need to remember just how far anti-choice politicians are willing to go. Just a few years ago, before the War on Women kicked into full swing, we wouldn’t have known that we’d have to be fighting state-mandated vaginal probes. In fact, just a few years ago, the amended bill passed by the Virginia Senate today would have been seen as extreme in itself.
The bill that the Virginia Senate passed in a 21-19 vote today requires all women seeking an abortion to first undergo a medically unnecessary external ultrasound – unless they can prove they are pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
It’s important to remember just how extreme the bill still is. Virginia Republicans are mandating that doctors perform a medically unnecessary procedure whether or not their patient requests it, unless that patient can produce a police report to prevent it. It creates a situation that’s ethically difficult for doctors and absolutely demeaning for women.
If Gov. McDonnell signs the bill, which he is expected to do, Virginia will join seven other states that currently require pre-abortion ultrasounds.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid minced no words yesterday discussing the Senate GOP’s seeming indifference to Latino voters:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Monday that GOP prejudice against Latinos is coloring everything from the immigration stance its presidential contenders are taking on the campaign trail to Senate Republicans filibustering an ambassadorship.
“Let’s talk about some of the things happening to Hispanics in the Senate,” Reid said during a call with reporters, citing past GOP filibusters of immigration-reform bills and the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador.
“What is going on here answers whether there is some prejudice here,” Reid added, referencing a prior question on whether racism played a role in what Reid and other Democrats depict as extreme anti-immigrant positions taken by GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and other GOP presidential hopefuls.
Reid said that Republican candidates are “catering to the tea party” and competing for favor from extremists in their party with their immigration stances.
It’s not just immigration policy and the Aponte nomination. Republicans in the Senate have also been filibustering Hispanic judicial nominees at an alarming rate. This practice gained national attention when Democrats were forced to break a filibuster of the nomination of Judge Adalberto Jordan to sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Jordan was to become the first Cuban-American to sit on the circuit that covers Florida, and had the support of Cuban-American GOP senator Marco Rubio, yet was filibustered for four months. The pointlessness of the extended filibuster was made even clearer when the Senate ultimately confirmed Jordan in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote. Writing about the Jordan filibuster, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank asked, “Does the GOP care about Latino voters?”
Senate Republicans are now stalling votes on two Hispanic nominees to the federal courts. They were both approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, and no Republican has publicly expressed any reason to question their fitness for the bench.
President Obama has made a concerted effort to bring diversity to the federal bench – 36 percent of his nominees have been people of color and 45 percent have been women. The president, in prioritizing bringing diversity to the federal courts, has made a strong statement. The statement that the Senate GOP is making in obstructing those nominees is equally strong.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that one of the key focuses of the Senate’s next five weeks of work will be “clearing the backlog of judicial nominees that threatens the effectiveness of our justice system.”
Reid’s announcement is important for several reasons. Because of unyielding Republican obstructionism, Senate Democrats have been unable to schedule confirmation votes on all but a few federal judicial nominees in the past several months. This situation had created a backlog of nominees waiting for Senate votes and a vacancy crisis in the federal courts, where about one in ten seats is vacant.
The reason why it’s been so hard for Democrats to schedule votes on President Obama’s judicial nominees is that the Senate GOP has in the past few years taken full advantage of all the tools of obstruction that it has available. The Senate has to have unanimous consent to schedule an up-or-down vote – something that in the past has been routinely granted to judicial nominees with strong bipartisan support. But since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have been refusing to grant votes on nearly every nominee – even the vast majority who have little to no Republican opposition -- effectively filibustering dozens upon dozens of nominees. Only after months of delay are the votes finally allowed. Last week, Senate Democrats made it clear that they’d had enough and filed cloture to end the filibusters of two of the nominees – each of whom was subsequently confirmed in overwhelming numbers.
That’s right: Senate Republicans haven’t just been obstructing nominees who they find fault with – they’ve been obstructing everybody. President Obama’s nominees have been forced to wait an average of 100 days after committee approval just to get a yes-or-no vote from the Senate. The average wait for George W. Bush’s nominees at this point in his presidency was 24 days.
This afternoon, senators voted on the nomination of Margo K. Brodie, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern New York. Although she was unopposed in the Judiciary Committee, Brodie has waited for more than four months for her nomination to be voted on. She was approved on a vote of 86 to 2.
There are now nineteen judicial nominees still waiting for a Senate vote, most of whom were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with absolutely no opposition. Ten of them have been waiting three months or more from a vote, and ten have been nominated to fill officially-designated judicial emergencies. Fourteen of the twenty are women or people of color and one is an openly gay man.
Sen. Reid is doing the right thing in calling out Republicans on their obstructionism and ensuring that our courts continue to be fair and functioning.
On Meet the Press yesterday, David Gregory questioned GOP presidential frontrunner Rick Santorum about the social issues – opposition to reproductive choice and gay rights – on which he has built his career. Stunningly, Santorum denied that he has focused on social issues and claimed, “There’s no evidence at all that I, that I want to impose those values on anybody else.”
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: It's so funny. I get the question all the time. Why are you talking so much about these social issues, as they, as, as people ask about me about the social issues.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, no, wait a minute.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Look, the...
MR. GREGORY: You talk about this stuff every week. And by the way, it's not just in this campaign.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No, I talk about, I talk...
MR. GREGORY: Sir, in this campaign you talk about it. And I've gone back years when you've been in public life and you have made this a centerpiece of your public life. So the notion that these are not deeply held views worthy of question and scrutiny, it's not just about the press.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, they, they are deeply held views, but they're not what I dominantly talk about, David. You're taking things that over a course of a 20-year career and pulling out quotes from difference speeches on, on issues that are fairly tangential, not what people care about mostly in America, and saying, "Oh, he wants to impose those values." Look at my record. I've never wanted to impose any of the things that you've just talked about. These are, these are my personal held religious beliefs, and in many forums that I, that, that are, in fact, religious, because I do speak in front of church groups and I do speak in these areas, I do talk about them. But there's no evidence at all that I, that I want to impose those values on anybody else.
This is, of course, a bunch of baloney. While Santorum has spent a lot of time in his presidential campaign talking up regressive tax policies, irresponsible deregulation and anti-environmentalism, the core of his brand has always been social conservatism. His campaign has consistently and explicitly distinguished his anti-choice, anti-gay record with Mitt Romney’s in order to successfully appeal to culture-warring voters.
Santorum has also never shied away from wanting to “impose” his far-right values on the rest of the country. In a 2005 interview with NPR, for instance, he railed against the libertarian wing of the Republican party, saying, “They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulation low and that we shouldn't get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn't get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world.”
And here he is at a Republican debate in November discussing how our civil laws must “comport with God’s law”:
The former senator has said that states should be allowed to outlaw birth control and gay relationships, but supports the federal law banning recognition of legal same-sex marriages. He supports so-called “personhood” laws, which would not only outlaw all abortions regardless of circumstances, but would jeopardize legal access to contraception. He says that as president, he would reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, putting the careers of openly gay members of the military at risk. Yet he says he doesn’t want to “impose” his far-right values on the rest of us.
Santorum’s interview on Meet the Press is far from the first time he’s claimed that he’s not overly interested in social issues. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch found a speech he gave in 2008 in which he claimed that it’s liberals who have made sex an issue on the campaign trail. For liberals, he said, politics “comes down to sex” and that the Democratic Party has become “the party of Woodstock.”:
And it’s just insidious. And it’s most of the time focused on the sexual issues. If you’re a hard-core free-market guy, they’re not going to call you “zealous”. They’re not going to call you “ultra-conservative”. They’re not going to do that to you.
It comes down to sex. That’s what it’s all about. It comes down to freedom, and it comes down to sex. If you have anything to with any of the sexual issues, and if you are on the wrong side of being able to do all of the sexual freedoms you want, you are a bad guy. And you’re dangerous because you are going to limit my freedom in an area that’s the most central to me. And that’s the way it’s looked at.
Woodstock is the great American orgy. This is who the Democratic Party has become. They have become the party of Woodstock. The prey upon our most basic primal lusts, and that’s sex. And the whole abortion culture, it’s not about life. It’s about sexual freedom. That’s what it’s about. Homosexuality. It’s about sexual freedom.
All of the things are about sexual freedom, and they hate to be called on them. They try to somehow or other tie this to the Founding Father’s vision of liberty, which is bizarre. It’s ridiculous.
Citizens United got a bit of airtime on Comedy Central this week, but that doesn’t mean that Supreme Court’s pro-plutocracy decision is a laughing matter.
On Tuesday, former Senator Russ Feingold joined Jon Stewart on the Daily Show to discuss the state of campaign finance, which is, essentially, that we are experiencing the “worst corruption in 100 years.” Citizens United, Feingold claims, “destroyed the entire foundation” of the McCain-Feingold Act, which was supposed to prevent corporations from using their treasuries to directly influence elections.
“If [money] causes corruption or the appearance of corruption, you can regulate it. That’s why you have limits on campaign contributions under federal law. The problem is Citizens United. It overturned a law from 1907 that nobody ever questioned and another law from 1947, so basically the Supreme Court just made it up. It’s one of the worst decisions in the history of the country. It’s the only decision I can remember that the average citizen knows about. They know something is wrong and this whole thing is going to collapse.”
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi went on the Colbert Report the next day to advocate for solutions to mitigate some of the effects of Citizens United: passing the DISCLOSE Act and eventually amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United.
“If we want to cancel elections and just have the wealthiest people in America, and you know what their names are, give tens of millions of dollars, we can just ask them, who do they want to be President, who do they want to run Congress, who do they want to be governors….our Founders intended that the people decide.”
Although Colbert believes that this would be a “polite” course of action, Pelosi counters that it would not be very democratic. The people have a right to know how corporations are spending on our elections, and to reject that influence. She offers a prescription:
“Disclose. Stand by your ad. Win the election, reform the system, overturn the Supreme Court decision by amending the Constitution, and give the vote, the voice, and the power to the people.”
A message to People For the American Way supporters from PFAW president Michael Keegan:
Fighting contraception. Stopping domestic violence protections. Extending tax cuts for the wealthy, while hiking taxes on the middle class. Welcoming white supremacists to a conference, but banning gay conservatives. The GOP has followed its extremist fringe off the deep end, leaving the rest of us back in the reality-based world befuddled. Their strategists warned them not to do this, but it appears that to the GOP, radical fringe issue positions are like catnip. In last night's Republican presidential debate in Arizona, the candidates even spent several minutes discussing which of them is least in favor of allowing rape victims to have access to emergency contraception.
Perhaps Bruce Bartlett, who was an economic policy official under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said it best on last night's Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Discussing the obstacles to getting smart policies agreed upon and passed in government, he said, "the problem is purely political ... frankly, one of our political parties is insane, and we all know which one it is." (Hint: he was not talking about the Democrats.)
Standing Up for Women's Health -- 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 -- like Arizona's ban on "race-based abortions" and Virginia's attempt to shut down most abortion clinics in the state. These 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 eagerly promoted lies about their favorite bogeyman, Planned Parenthood. Well, the War on Women's Health is back, and it looks to be more an all-out War on Women. PFAW members spoke out when Susan G. Komen for the Cure threatened to cut off funds for Planned Parenthood because of internal influences from right-wing staff and board members. We're currently fighting an amendment in the U.S. Senate that would give employers the power to deny any health care to their employees that they take "moral" issue with personally. And we continue to track closely dangerous and extreme state legislation like the recent bill passed by Virginia’s right-wing Assembly that would force women considering abortions -- even rape victims -- to undergo invasive transvaginal ultrasounds.
Exposing the GOP Candidates' Extremism -- PFAW's Right Wing Watch last week uncovered the audio recording of a speech Rick Santorum gave to students at Ave Maria University in 2008 in which he said Satan, the "Father of Lies" was focusing all his attention on the United States of America. He said that academia had long ago fallen to this Satanic attack, derided mainline Protestant churches as no longer Christian and said that we are involved in a "spiritual war," as opposed to a political or cultural war -- a war in which we could only assume people with opposing views to Santorum's are on the side of Satan. The story took off like wildfire in both the blogosphere and the mainstream news media. It became the dominant storyline of the GOP debate for the two days leading up to the last debate and even had right-wing pundits like Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh, and politicians like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, asserting that Santorum's religious extremism is too much for a majority of Americans.
Fighting Judicial Obstruction -- A new PFAW fact sheet shows the extremity and unprecedented nature of Senate Republicans obstruction of judicial nominees, as well as its impact on Americans' access to justice. While a vacancy crisis persists on many of the nation's federal courts, our persistence is paying off and we're finally making headway in getting some of the president's qualified nominees confirmed. This month, the Senate confirmed Cathy Ann Bencivengo and Jesse Furman to U.S. District Courts in California and New York respectively, and Adalberto Jose Jordan to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, all of whom had been waiting months on the Senate calendar for a vote despite the fact that they came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without any opposition. But dozens of other qualified nominees, most of whom had little or no opposition in Committee, still await confirmation. We'll continue to hold Republicans accountable for their obstruction and keep the pressure on to confirm these judges as swiftly as possible, and one at a time if necessary.
Youth Spotlight: Young Elected Officials take on Citizens United v. FEC -- In state, city and municipal governing bodies in at least seven states, members of our affiliate PFAW Foundation's Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network have put forward resolutions that call for the end of corporate personhood and unlimited special interest money in politics. One of the first big victories in this coordinated national effort was that of Missoula, Montana Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken. After attending a session on Citizens United at the 2011 YEO National Convening, Councilwoman Wolken took a sample resolution and introduced a city-wide referendum calling for Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that made it clear that corporations are not people. The referendum passed overwhelmingly, with over 75% of the vote, bringing an abundance of media attention to the issue and forcing leaders in Montana's state government to weigh-in as well.
As always, thank you for your support, without which none of our work would be possible.
In case we needed any more evidence that the former mainstream of the GOP has gone completely off the deep end, Republican presidential candidates spent several minutes at last night’s CNN debate discussing which of them is least in favor of allowing rape victims to have access to emergency contraception. Watch:
The exchange came at the heels of a week that was chock-full of shockingly regressive Republican attacks on women. PFAW’s Marge Baker summed last week up in the Huffington Post:
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 that’s not to mention billionaire Santorum supporter Foster Friess’s saying he didn’t see why birth control was expensive because, “Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly."
The GOP candidates’ exchange over emergency contraception for rape victims took this tone-deafness to a new level of insensitivity. Does Mitt Romney really think he’ll appeal to female voters by attacking not just contraception but emergency care for rape victims?
It looks like not. TPM reports that since Romney started attacking birth control, he’s “suffered a precipitous drop in support among women voters.”
You don’t say.
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.
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.
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.