Reproductive choice is a central issue for women who otherwise might not vote in the Virginia gubernatorial election, a new NARAL survey finds. This is not good news for Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who once described himself as “the most aggressive pro-life leader in the Virginia Senate.”
In a survey of 600 largely Democratic “drop-off” women in the state – those who have voted in presidential years but not in other years – choice was a make-or-break issue among pro-choice women, with 57% saying they “would never vote for anyone running for president who opposes a woman's right to have a legal abortion, no matter how much I agree with them on other issues.” It was such an important issue, in fact, that after hearing choice-based messaging about the race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli, pro-choice drop-off women became significantly more interested in turning out to cast a vote in the election.
“They found that statements about Cuccinelli’s position on abortion had a bigger effect among this group than any other issue in generating both the level of support and intensity for Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. ‘Protecting a woman’s right to choose’ trumped health care, guns, transportation, spending and college affordability.”
And Cuccinelli’s track record on abortion rights is indeed bleak. He pressured the Virginia Board of Health to pass a set of unnecessarily burdensome building regulations that threaten to close the majority of the state’s abortion clinics. He supports the passage of radical “personhood” legislation giving fertilized eggs rights. He attempted to defund Planned Parenthood in Virginia. He has stated that his “ultimate goal” is to “make abortion disappear in America.”
Although Cuccinelli has tried to convince voters this year that his focus as governor would not be on social issues, he cannot hide his regressive, anti-choice beliefs from Virginia women who, according to the new data, will take their concern for protecting reproductive choice to the ballot box.
People For the American Way Foundation’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics is grounded in our commitment to religious liberty and church-state separation, and in the recognition that fundamental constitutional values sometimes come into creative tension. Where to draw the lines in any particular situation can be a challenge, and even people who generally agree on constitutional principles may disagree about how they should apply on a given policy question. Nothing demonstrates this complexity more than the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure that American women have access to contraception and reproductive health services while addressing objections that such requirements would violate the conscience of some religious employers.
Religious Right groups and their allies at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have for months been portraying the Obama administration’s proposed rules requiring insurance coverage of contraception as totalitarian threats to religious liberty, even after the administration adjusted its initial proposal to address those concerns. Some Religious Right leaders are sticking with their ludicrous “tyranny” message even after the Obama administration today released a further revision that broadens the number of religious groups that will be exempt from new requirements while still guaranteeing women access to contraception.
In describing the policy proposal, HHS Deputy Director of Policy and Regulation Chiquita Brooks-LaSure told reporters, “No nonprofit religious institution will be forced to pay for or provide contraceptive coverage, and churches and houses of worship are specifically exempt.” Under the plan, women who work for such organizations would have access to no-cost contraception coverage through other channels.
Here’s where it gets interesting: The new proposal won praise both from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America – and from right-wing ideologue Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who called it “a sign of goodwill by the Obama administration toward the Catholic community.”
In contrast, the proposal was slammed by the far-right Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America – and by Catholics for Choice, which said, “While protecting contraceptive access under the ACA is a win for women, the administration’s caving in to lobbying from conservative religious pressure groups is a loss for everyone.” Catholics for Choice warned that a broadened exemption for religious groups “gives religious extremists carte blanche to trump the rights of others” and that women working at Catholic organizations “are wondering whether they’ll be able to get the same coverage as millions of other women, or if their healthcare just isn’t as important to the president as their bosses’ beliefs about sex and reproduction.”
James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, portrayed the approach as a win-win. “As Catholics United said from the very beginning, reasonable people knew it was right to be patient and hopeful that all sides could come together to solve this complex issue. The White House deserves praise in alleviating the Church’s concerns.”
Leading advocates for women’s heath praised the new approach. Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood said the group would be taking a look at the details, but said “This policy makes it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control.” A statement from NARAL Pro-Choice America said the group“is optimistic that these new draft regulations will make near-universal contraceptive coverage a reality.”
Meanwhile, anti-choice advocates that have been pushing for rules that would exempt even individual business owners who have objections to providing contraceptive coverage for their employees complained that the new exemption would not extend to private businesses.
Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance said the new rules show Obama’s “intent to trample the religious liberties of Americans” and said, “When religious groups and individual Americans are forced to deny their deeply held religious convictions, it is not called “balance,” it’s called “tyranny.” The Family Research Council repeated Religious Right characterizations of the previous accommodation as an “accounting gimmick.”
People For the American Way believes that the government has a compelling interest in ensuring that women have access to family planning services. Indeed, Dr. Linda Rosentock, dean of the UCLA's school of public health and a member of the Institute of Medicine committee that was part of the review process on the HHS regulations, testified last year that the Centers for Disease Control has ranked family planning as one of the major public health achievements of the 20th Century.
People For the American Way is also deeply concerned about the efforts by Religious Right groups and its conservative Catholic allies to re-define “religious liberty” in unprecedented ways that would allow groups to take taxpayer dollars without abiding by reasonable regulations such as anti-discrimination requirements – and to allow private employers and others to claim exemption from all kinds of laws based on “religious” or “moral grounds.”
In this case, we believe the Obama administration has acted in good faith to promote the nation’s public health interests while addressing concerns that those policies might burden religious liberty. Our courts have long recognized that religious liberty, like the freedom of speech, is not absolute, and that policymakers must often balance competing interests. That is what the administration has done.
A diverse coalition of twenty six progressive groups, including People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action, signed on to a letter to Congress standing up for Planned Parenthood against right-wing attacks originating from the radical anti-choice group Live Action. Politico reports:
Liberal groups are banding together to come to the defense of Planned Parenthood in the wake of the recent controversy over videos taped inside the clinics. Conservative groups say that the films provide more than enough evidence for Congress to immediately de-fund the women’s health centers.
“We realized very quickly we needed to get together and stand up against the right wing smear machine and make a strong statement in solidarity with an important organization,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for People for the American Way, another progressive group that signed onto the letter. “The bigger picture is too important- that’s why you see such a range of organizations on this letter.”
Read the letter below:
Dear Members of Congress,
Right-wing groups are once again attempting to destroy an organization dedicated to providing crucial primary care services to Americans that need them most. Armed with heavily edited videos, countless lies, and a shameless echo chamber that repeats unfounded accusations ad nauseam, they’ve now turned their sights to Planned Parenthood, which offers a range of important health and reproductive services that help both women and men prevent unintended pregnancies and provide screenings for cervical and other cancers.
We are writing to inform you that our organizations stand united in opposition to any effort to defund Planned Parenthood.
These attacks are not about the issue of choice. Instead they are designed to systematically vilify and destroy institutions dedicated to helping America’s most vulnerable citizens with "evidence" that does not support their claims. They're about disempowering those who don’t share their world view. And they're about intimidating those in desperate need of help.
Your constituents sent you to Washington to be a strong advocate for their interests and stand up for the quintessential American values of justice and fairness -- and this latest digital witch hunt is neither just nor fair.
Julian Bond, Board Chairman Emeritus, NAACP
African American Ministers in Action
Alliance for Justice
Center for Community Change
Center for Media & Democracy
Feminist Majority Foundation
Friends of the Earth
Media Matters Action Network
MoveOn.org Political Action
NARAL Pro-Choice America
National People's Action
People For the American Way
Service Employees International Union
Voices for Progress
Last night, Dawn Johnsen spoke to the American Constitution Society, her first public appearance after a year and a half long battle over her confirmation to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen withdrew her nomination in April after an extended right-wing attack on her criticism of Bush administration torture policies and history of fighting for the right to choose.
In speaking about her nomination, she reminded us why she would have made a strong and honest defender of the law as the head of the OLC:
“As to whether I would have changed any of my positions or softened my stances or decided to just sit out a few issues, the message could not be more clear or more simple: I have no regrets,” Johnsen said.
A law professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, she said her biography “should hardly be used as an example of why we should not stand on principle or speak out in public.” Her willingness to speak out, she added, “has not hurt me professionally. Just the opposite.”
Johnsen recounted, for example, the opportunity she had three years out of law school to co-write an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1989 case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, in which the justices upheld abortion rights. At the time, Johnsen was legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Republicans last year seized on a footnote from that brief, accusing Johnsen of equating pregnancy with slavery. But she noted Thursday that the brief was quoted in The New York Times at the time of the case and was published in full in two law reviews, and that the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of her side. “Whatever you think about that footnote, it was a damn good brief,” Johnsen said.
“Do you think for one moment that I wish I had sat that fight out, due to caution and calculation? Not a chance, not for a moment, not on your life,” she added. “One should not live one’s life deciding whether and how to write such briefs based on calculated judgments about possible future political payoffs.”
Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 18-10 to approve the Defense authorization bill. This legislation, which includes conditional repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, also takes an important step toward equality in reproductive rights for military women.
Existing law prohibits, in most circumstances, military hospitals from providing abortion care. The ban treats women who have chosen to serve their country, as well as military wives and daughters, as second-class citizens by limiting their constitutionally protected right to choose. And it endangers their health. These women rely on military hospitals for medical care and are often stationed in areas where alternative local medical facilities are inadequate or unavailable. A woman facing an unintended pregnancy may be forced to risk her life by seeking an unsafe abortion or delaying an abortion until she can travel to a location where adequate medical care is available.
The Committee sent a clear message that endangering the health of military women is unacceptable. Should it become law, the new language would allow military women to use their own funds for abortion care at military hospitals.
Anti-choice politics have become dangerously entangled with health care reform as evidenced by the troubling vote in the House of Representatives over the weekend for the Stupak-Pitts amendment. The legislation makes it virtually impossible for private insurance companies participating in the proposed new health care system to cover abortion services.
In an effort to maintain the status quo and avoid the use of federal funds to cover abortion care, the House had fashioned a compromise that required all health insurance plans to separate public and private dollars, thereby insuring that no tax dollars would be used to cover abortion services. At the urging of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that approach was rejected as unworkable; what was adopted instead, in the Stupak-Pitts amendment, is a radical departure from current law.
And, in an interesting note, here’s a must read op-ed from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Catholics for Choice pointing out that the system for separating out public and private dollars rejected by the House as unworkable employs the same principle for segregation of funds that the Catholic bishops have routinely used for managing federal funds they receive to ensure that tax dollars don’t finance religious practice.
Please sign our petition to Senator Reid urging him to help keep the Stupak-Pitts amendment out of the Senate health insurance reform bill.
People For the American Way co-hosted a press call on 4/27 concerning the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.
We were joined by Walter Dellinger, Solicitor General and head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Clinton, Douglas Kmiec, head of the Office of Legal Counsel for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Aviva Orenstein, an Indiana University law professor and longtime colleague of Dawn Johnsen.
All three vouched for Johnsen's legal acumen and commitment to the rule of law and expressed disbelief that Senate Republicans were attempting to block her nomination.
You can listen here:
The Washington Post reported on the call -- "Scholars Urge Confirmation of Johnsen to OLC" -- along with progressive bloggers like Christy Hardin Smith and Armando LLorens who have reported extensively on the Johnsen nomination: "The War Against Dawn Johnsen" and "Kmiec Calls Out “Rank Politics” Against Dawn Johnsen’s OLC Nod."
The call was co-hosted by the Alliance for Justice, National Women's Law Center, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Even before November's election, gallons of ink were being spilled to report the demise of the Religious Right. But, as Mark Twain might have said, rumors of the Right's death have been greatly exaggerated.
A small incident that was mostly ignored by the media gives a glimpse of the Radical Right's continued pull on Capitol Hill. Last week, People For's Right Wing Watch blog documented the evolution of a right-wing lie, starting with complaints by Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice that a provision in the stimulus bill discriminated against people of faith (and was, specifically, anti-Christian). In fact the provision in the bill was standard language that barred the use of federal funds to construct buildings designed for religious worship or sectarian instruction and had no bearing at all on campus prayer. Nevertheless, ACLJ's complaints bubbled up through the right-wing echo chamber and eventually became an amendment, offered by Senator DeMint of South Carolina, to strip the provision. The amendment was ultimately defeated, although by a less-than-comfortable margin. In the end, 43 senators, including some Democrats, voted with DeMint ... on an amendment that was based on nothing but the paranoid demagoguery of a fringe right-wing organization.
The right-wing message machine is firing on all cylinders too: aggressively targeting the Obama administration. It has already weighed in heavily on the economic stimulus plan, ensuring that there was no Republican support for the Obama plan during the House vote (and little more in the Senate), and Religious Right leaders are moving quickly to increase their influence within the Republican Party and at the state and local level.
Perhaps most dauntingly, the Right is laying the groundwork for future battles over judicial nominations. Some Right Wing leaders, including Family Research Counsel President Tony Perkins, have been very explicit about linking their current attacks on DOJ nominees to future obstruction of Obama judges. And if the current attacks are any indication, they'll throw everything they've got at the President's nominees to the bench. Deputy Attorney General-nominee David Ogden, for instance, represented groups defending the First Amendment (including the American Library Association and the American Booksellers Association), and is now being smeared as a "porn lawyer" for his efforts. Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel, is being aggressively targeted because of her outspoken opposition to the Bush administration's support of torture, rendition, and warrentless spying -- to say nothing of her time on staff at NARAL Pro-Choice America.
People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation are out there every day -- pushing back on the Right's unyielding efforts. We're digging in our heels for 2009, ready to:
You can help with these efforts by helping to expose the Radical Right in your community, and by staying abreast of right-wing trends by reading the Right Wing Watch blog (and signing up for regular Best of the Blog e-mail updates).
By standing with People For the American Way, you are standing against the undeserved influence of right-wing extremists in our politics and our culture. And I thank you for it.
On Monday, Eric Holder was confirmed as Attorney General. Big news ... and good news for Americans who depend on the Justice Department to defend their rights. A bit more under the radar, Monday also saw another important piece of news at the DOJ. Leslie Hagen, a Justice Department attorney who was fired by Monica Goodling because of rumors that she was a lesbian, was rehired to her previous job at the Department.
This is just one step in cleaning up the appalling mess at the DOJ left by egregious politicization during the Bush administration. Monica Goodling, senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was by all objective standards unqualified for such a high post. Her only "qualifications" -- the only ones that mattered in the Gonzales DOJ -- were that she was a partisan ideologue who graduated from Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School and was committed to reshaping the Justice Department to operate on a right-wing agenda.
Even though the politicization of the DOJ under President Bush was shameful (and possibly criminal), some senators apparently think it should continue and are taking their marching orders from the Radical Right. The next targets of their witch hunt? Three more of the president's eminently qualified DOJ nominees: David Ogden, Thomas Perrelli and Dawn Johnsen.
Dawn Johnson, for example, has been tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) -- the office that, under the Bush administration, produced the memos that served as its guidelines for detainee treatment and executive overreaching. Johnsen has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration's legal justifications for its policies. And, in her extremely impressive legal career, she spent several years at NARAL Pro-Choice America. Already some senators like Jeff Sessions of Alabama -- who earlier this week assailed the Johnsen nomination on the Senate floor -- are suggesting that, in their view, pro-choice bona fides should be an instant disqualifier.
Quickly confirming the rest of President Obama's Justice Department team will be one more important step, but there's still much more to be done to repair what was so damaged during the Bush years.
Let's look back at just a few of the disasters born out of DOJ's right-wing politicization:
People For the American Way will be pushing for investigations into these wrongdoings. I know how important this issue is to our activists -- you've pitched in time and again over the last eight years as we've pushed for accountability and the rule of law at the DOJ, and hundreds of you wrote me impassioned emails last week about just how critical it is to keep pushing.
Karl Rove and others who are subpoenaed to testify or provide documents must comply and cooperate not just with Justice Department probes into these matters, but also with any and all congressional investigations. Congressional action is what's needed to get to the bottom of what happened, hold those responsible accountable and prevent similar abuses of power from happening in the future.
Making sure investigations happen and proceed effectively and making sure President Obama's other Justice Department nominees are confirmed smoothly are just two things we'll be working hard for in the coming weeks, and there will be much more.
I'd also like to take a moment to ackowledge Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is in the hospital recovering from surgery. She's a true defender of our constitutional values and I know you'll join me and the rest of the staff of People For in wishing her a speedy recovery.