Women

A Religious Exemption From the Rule of Law

As originally written and introduced, the marriage bill that recently failed to pass in Maryland was very straightforward, simply removing the restriction that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples. Other laws in the state would have remained unchanged. However, a number of equality opponents expressed concern that some people would have to recognize the civil marriages of same-sex couples in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Therefore, they introduced a variety of "conscience clause" amendments.

These amendments tell us a great deal about their supporters' real agenda, and it has nothing to do with a principled stand for religious liberty. The amendments did things like provide:

  • that a public school teacher not be required to teach materials that promote same-sex marriage if the content of the materials violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • that a religious entity (or any nonprofit organization operated or controlled by one) need not provide adoption, foster care, or social services if providing the services would violate the entity's religious beliefs.
  • that a government employee (like a clerk or judge) not be required to perform a civil marriage ceremony if performance of the ceremony would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The common phrasing – violating someone's religious beliefs, as opposed to violating their First Amendment rights – is extremely important. It makes it sound like people's constitutional Free Exercise rights are being protected. But in Maryland and elsewhere, that is not the case: Provisions like these do not codify existing First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion.

Neutral laws of general applicability that infringe on a person's religious beliefs have been upheld as not violating a person's First Amendment rights. For instance, in the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case, the Supreme Court upheld Oregon's right to deny unemployment benefits to a person who had been fired for violating the state's anti-drugs laws (specifically, smoking peyote), even though the person smoked peyote as part of his religion.

In that case, with Justice Scalia writing for the majority, the Court ruled that the First Amendment does not allow a person to cite their own religious beliefs as a reason not to obey generally applicable laws. "To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

Anti-discrimination laws have long required people to do things that may not be consistent with their religious faith. For instance, an election worker who believes God commanded the sexes to remain separate in public cannot force men and women to vote in different rooms. A white innkeeper who believes that God commands segregation must nevertheless open his inn to all races. An employer who believes God commanded women to defer to men cannot refuse to make women supervisors.

So opponents of marriage equality certainly aren't acting to protect anyone's constitutional right to religious liberty. What they are demanding is a religious exemption from laws they don't like.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it's only those who share their particular religious beliefs who they deem worthy of this special right.

Since the marriage equality bill in Maryland failed to pass, have these self-styled stalwarts of religious liberty insisted that the amendments they proposed be made into law anyway, as general religious liberty protections not targeting gay people as a class?

They have not.

Perhaps what drives them is animus toward gays and lesbians. Or perhaps it's an arrogant certainty that their religious beliefs and no one else's should be protected by law.

Whatever it is, it certainly is not a principled fidelity to religious liberty.

We faced a similar issue more than forty years ago, when people with religious opposition to interracial marriages found themselves in a society that no longer prohibited such marriages. Indeed, as the Virginia trial court judge wrote when convicting Richard and Mildred Loving of violating the state's prohibition of interracial marriage:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

After Loving v. Virginia, our nation did not empower that judge or any other public official to opt out of performing his duty to marry eligible couples simply because he personally opposed interracial marriages on religious grounds. Nor did we empower public school teachers to "opt out" of teaching students that such couples exist. No different standard should be applied with respect to gay couples.

PFAW

Pence Admits to Using Women’s Health as a Bargaining Chip

NPR reports today on Republican efforts to gut funding to Title X family planning clinics, which “serve 15 percent of women in the United States who obtain contraceptive prescriptions or supplies, or who receive an annual checkup for birth control.” In February, all but three Republican representatives voted for a budget proposal that completely nixed Title X funding, after approving an amendment that also strips Planned Parenthood of all federal funds. As NPR reports, Rep. Mike Pence, the sponsor of the Planned Parenthood amendment, actually thinks that Title X funding is a good thing….but is willing to use it as a bargaining chip to achieve his ultimate goal of decimating Planned Parenthood:

Supporters of defunding have characterized it as an effort to strip funds from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that use other funds to provide legal abortions, without singling out any particular group. The House in February voted 240-185 to defund Title X in the current budget year.

But even staunch anti-abortion legislators like Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who has crusaded against federal funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, say that jettisoning the Title X program may be going too far.

"I've never advocated reducing funding for Title X," Pence said during a recent radio interview with the chairman of a county Right to Life organization in his home state.

"Title X clinics do important work in our inner cities," Pence said. "They provide health services for women and children that might not otherwise have access to them."

So, why have Republican House members set their sights on the $327 million that would fund the program this year?

The answer, largely, is Planned Parenthood and politics.

Social conservatives have pressed House Republicans to make cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood a priority; but they see room for negotiation over Title X funds.

The Right’s obsession with bringing down Planned Parenthood is destructive enough…that people like Pence are willing to put millions of women at risk to achieve it shows just how blind an obsession it is.

 

PFAW

Health Care Providers Fear GOP Plans to Defund Planned Parenthood

As congressional Republicans attempt to pass measures to end funding to Planned Parenthood and the Title X program, health care providers fear the devastating consequences for women and health care services. The Hartford Courant reports that Republican legislation could force Planned Parenthood to shut down many of the organization’s clinics. Far-right groups like the Family Research Council say that “there are plenty of other clinics out there to take up the slack,” but health care providers don’t buy the misinformed rhetoric of groups like the FRC, and worry about the GOP’s attack on women’s health care:

"I can't even imagine what would happen if Planned Parenthood's patient base would suddenly have to be absorbed here or at other clinics," said Dr. Peter J. Beller, the director of Hartford Hospital's Women's Ambulatory Health Services.



"Defunding Planned Parenthood would be the moral equivalent of turning off the electricity and a whole segment of health care would go dark," said Mark Masselli, the president of Community Health Center Inc., which serves a population of about 130,000 uninsured and working poor patients in 12 cities throughout the state.

"Many women in the state would just go without vital reproductive health services," Masselli said. "This is what people just don't seem to understand. There just is no other capacity in Connecticut for what Planned Parenthood provides."



The state's new health commissioner, Dr. Jewel Mullen, cites another reason for opposing defunding. In February, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing that the national birth rate for teens was dropping dramatically, with Connecticut registering the fourth-lowest teen birth rate in the country.

Mullen said Planned Parenthood's birth-control services — especially to the urban poor — have played an important role in lowering the teen birth rate.

"Statistics show that as few as one-third of teen mothers finish high school," Mullen said. "Less than 2 percent finish college. That has huge social and economic costs. You can't be very optimistic about the outcome for this group if they don't have access to basic reproductive services."
PFAW

School Voucher Hypocrisy

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.

Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is "broke," which means we can't afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.

Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition. …

[He] wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.

Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner's deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that's not it. After all, the Speaker's budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

So what's really going on here? It's simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.

Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.

Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?

Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.

People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.

PFAW

GOP Women Rally Behind Planned Parenthood

Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey and member of the George W. Bush administration, wrote an impassioned op-ed for a New Jersey newspaper today, calling attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and other family planning services “unacceptable”:

I know firsthand the value of Planned Parenthood health centers in providing preventive care to women. In rural areas, Planned Parenthood is often the only place to turn for vital health care needs as well as sex education, and in dense urban areas, Planned Parenthood provides these same services to women in disproportionately low income and underserved communities.

Every year, Planned Parenthood’s doctors and nurses provide more than 3 million women with preventive health care, including nearly one million lifesaving screenings for cervical cancer, 830,000 breast exams, contraception to nearly 2.5 million patients and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Literally, they are a trusted health care provider to millions of women.

For those who oppose abortion, they should know that Planned Parenthood’s services prevent 973,000 unintended pregnancies and 406,000 abortions each year. Those are statistics that Republicans and Democrats should wholeheartedly embrace.

But the extreme proposals undermining both the National Family Planning Program and Planned Parenthood will have an adverse effect on those numbers. While defunding Planned Parenthood will do nothing to reduce the deficit or improve the economy, it will lead to an increase in unplanned pregnancies and abortions and result in escalating Medicaid costs.

Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have also been adamant about preserving federal funding for Planned Parenthood and similar organizations. Murkowski wrote to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee, ““I believe Planned Parenthood provides vital services to those in need and disagree with their funding cuts in the bill.” Collins’ spokesman told Politico that federal family planning funds have “successfully reduced the number of unplanned pregnancies, therefore helping to reduce health care costs.”

Meanwhile, social conservatives are continuing to lob at Planned Parenthood every attack they can muster. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, wrote an op-ed today arguing that the organization is somehow responsible for a hike in abortions and in STDs.

 

PFAW

Stepping Between Women and Their Doctors

From the Des Moines Register comes a heartbreaking story about a Nebraska couple who were prevented from making the deeply personal decision to end a late-term pregnancy after they found out their child “had virtually no chance of survival.” Nebraska bans abortions after the 20th week of gestation, leaving Danielle Deaver no choice but to carry her pregnancy through to its end:

At 3:15 p.m. Dec. 8, 1-pound, 10-ounce Elizabeth Deaver - named in memory of Robb's grandmother - made one final attempt to breathe.

Her life struggle, 15 minutes outside the womb after 23 weeks and five days of gestation, was over.

"Our hands were tied," Danielle Deaver said. "The outcome of my pregnancy, that choice was made by God. I feel like how to handle the end of my pregnancy, that choice should have been mine, and it wasn't because of a law."

Nebraska is one of 38 states [pdf] that ban abortions after a certain point in a pregnancy, except to save the life of the woman.

States across the country are working to further roll back reproductive choice rights and to come between women and their doctors. A new report from People For the American Way examines some of those state-level efforts to legislate away access to reproductive choice.

 

PFAW

The Corporate Discount: Who the Republican Spending Cuts Really Benefit

In the Huffington Post today, People For the American Way's President Michael Keegan connects the extreme pro-corporate policies being pushed by federal and state GOP officials with the new liberty that corporations have to buy influence in elections:

One year after Citizens United v. FEC, when the Supreme Court opened American elections to a corporate spending free-for-all, elected officials in Washington and in statehouses around the country are pushing a stunning set of financial policies that, if passed, will provide a windfall for giant corporations at the expense of already-hurting individual taxpayers. Largely proposed under the guise of financial responsibility, these proposals threaten job creation and essential government services while ensuring the coffers of corporations remain untouched.

American taxpayers are beginning to fight back against some of the most egregious proposals, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to bust public employee unions and the House GOP's slashing of funding for women's health care. But as long as corporations can buy unlimited political influence, these battles will only escalate and they will continue to be just as lopsided.

In the coming weeks, we will see the interests of corporate funders and the interests of individual taxpayers go head-to-head as Congress and the president attempt to hammer out a continuing spending resolution that will keep the government running for the rest of the year. The Republican House wants to block funds to reproductive health services, gut the Affordable Care Act, and even prevent the Environmental Protection Bureau from regulating pollution -- all while costing an estimated 700,000 American jobs. The winners in the House's proposal? Large corporations and the wealthy, who under the proposal astoundingly would not even be asked to give up a single tax loophole.

Read the whole thing here.

PFAW

Sweeping Anti-Choice Bill Passes House Committee

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill today that would severely restrict reproductive rights, including undercutting women’s ability to buy their own insurance coverage for abortion.

Lawmakers stripped the bill, H.R. 3, of some of its most controversial provisions, including language that would redefine rape, and changed it to clarify that insurance must cover “life-saving” abortions.

But, as Amanda Terkel writes in the Huffington Post, the sweeping anti-choice bill is still troubling:

Arons points out that H.R. 3 would still impose "a permanent, blanket prohibition on any and all federal spending for abortion care," whereas under current law, only specific programs have such restrictions and they must be renewed every year.

The bill would also deny tax credits to businesses that offer employees health insurance plans that happen to cover abortion care, as well as disallow any medical deductions for expenses related to abortion. Women would not be able to set aside their own money in pre-tax health accounts for abortion coverage.

The revised H.R. 3 would also still hit the District of Columbia particularly hard. In 2009, Congress voted to lift the District's abortion funding restrictions and allow it to make its own choices. Smith's bill denies the Capitol "home rule."

"Each of these provisions represents an expansion, not simply a codification of abortion funding restrictions that now exist in federal law," Maloney said.

H.R. 3 is part of the expansive Republican war on women, which on the federal level has included efforts this year to slash federal funds to family planning clinics. Republican efforts on the state level have sought to regulate abortion clinics into the ground, impose potentially dangerous ultrasound requirements, force women to go to anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” before obtaining abortions, and even legalize the killing of abortion providers.
 

PFAW

Ugly Islamaphobia in Orange County

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has released a disturbing video of about one hundred anti-Islamic protesters heckling attendees a fundraiser for a Muslim charity last month. The protestors, some with bullhorns, shout at attendees to “go back home,” “no Sharia law,” and “one nation under God, not Allah.” The hecklers were part of a larger group gathered to protest the event, which was treated to speeches by several local Republican elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Gary Miller and Ed Royce. Royce told the crowd that multiculturalism has “paralyzed too many of our fellow citizens”:

The Orange County Register spoke with the organizers of the event, the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA:

ICNA spokesman Syed Waqas said the protesters "should know the facts. We have no links to any overseas organization. We absolutely denounce violence and terrorism."

He said the group started in Southern California about eight months ago and is trying to raise $350,000 to start social programs such as women's shelters, fighting hunger and homelessness in the area.

Among the activists who worked to spread the word of the protests was Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam activist who was largely responsible for turning a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan into the nationally controversial “Ground Zero Mosque.” Geller has become a leader in the effort to conflate all practicing Muslims with a tiny splinter of extremists—an effort that has born fruit in ludicrous state-level “Sharia law bans” and even in congressional hearings aimed at pinning all Muslims for the actions of a few. (For more on the congressional hearings, read Michael Keegan’s recent op-ed on the “new McCarthysim”).

While some protesters said they objected to previous remarks made by some of the speakers at the fundraiser, the protests instead consisted of hurling blanket anti-Muslim slurs at the people in attendance.

Islamophobia often comes out in subtle ways in mainstream political discourse—take, for instance, Mike Huckabee telling the virulently anti-Islam Bryan Fischer that President Obama’s childhood hears in Indonesia made him fundamentally different from Americans who grew up with “Rotary clubs, not madrassas,” or the opposition of many elected officials to the Geller-branded “Ground Zero Mosque.” These elected officials aren’t out on the streets heckling Muslims—but by condoning Islamophobia, however subtly, they’re helping this kind of outright racism to take hold.
 

PFAW

Madison Police Chief: Walker’s Remarks on Protesters are “Unsettling and Troubling”

Madison, Wisconsin’s police chief isn’t so happy about Gov. Scott Walker’s joking around with a caller who he thought was billionaire Republican donor David Koch. In his conversation with a reporter pretending to be Koch, Walker said that he had “thought about” planting troublemakers in the crowds outside the state’s capital to discredit pro-union protesters. Police Chief Noble Wray told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I would like to hear more of an explanation from Governor Walker as to what exactly was being considered, and to what degree it was discussed by his cabinet members. I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers,” the chief said.

“Our department works hard dialoging with those who are exercising their First Amendment right, those from both sides of the issue, to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure they can demonstrate safely. I am concerned that anyone would try to undermine these relationships. I have a responsibility to the community, and to the men and women of this department - who are working long hours protecting and serving this community – to find out more about what was being considered by state leaders.”

The police chief’s remarks come the day after a deputy attorney general in Indiana was fired for encouraging the use of violent force on the Wisconsin protesters.

h/t Think Progress
 

PFAW

President Obama Calls DOMA Unconstitutional

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Department of Justice will no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in court because it is unconstitutional. This is the provision prohibiting federal recognition of the marriages of gay or lesbian couples. As if that wasn't big enough news by itself, DoJ has concluded that legal classifications based on sexual orientation, like those based on race, sex, national origin, and religion, should be subject to a higher level of judicial scrutiny.

While the Department has previously defended DOMA against legal challenges involving legally married same-sex couples, recent lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of DOMA Section 3 have caused the President and the Department to conduct a new examination of the defense of this provision. In particular, in November 2010, plaintiffs filed two new lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in jurisdictions without precedent on whether sexual-orientation classifications are subject to rational basis review or whether they must satisfy some form of heightened scrutiny. Windsor v. United States, No. 1:10-cv-8435 (S.D.N.Y.); Pedersen v. OPM, No. 3:10-cv-1750 (D. Conn.). Previously, the Administration has defended Section 3 in jurisdictions where circuit courts have already held that classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to rational basis review, and it has advanced arguments to defend DOMA Section 3 under the binding standard that has applied in those cases.

These new lawsuits, by contrast, will require the Department to take an affirmative position on the level of scrutiny that should be applied to DOMA Section 3 in a circuit without binding precedent on the issue. As described more fully below, the President and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

This is the first recognition by the United States government that gays and lesbians have suffered a long history of discrimination so bad that it makes suspect any laws that treat people differently based on sexual orientation.  Moreover, that discrimination continues today and limits their political influence.

[T]he adoption of laws like those at issue in Romer v. Evans [prohibiting the state from passing civil rights protections for gay people] and Lawrence [laws making their private sexual conduct a crime], the longstanding ban on gays and lesbians in the military, and the absence of federal protection for employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation show the group to have limited political power and "ability to attract the [favorable] attention of the lawmakers." Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 445. And while the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act and pending repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell indicate that the political process is not closed entirely to gay and lesbian people, that is not the standard by which the Court has judged "political powerlessness." Indeed, when the Court ruled that gender-based classifications were subject to heightened scrutiny, women already had won major political victories such as the Nineteenth Amendment (right to vote) and protection under Title VII (employment discrimination).

The Attorney General's announcement notes that it will continue to enforce DOMA until it is repealed by Congress or struck down definitively by the courts. In addition, it will work to ensure that Congress, should it wish, has the opportunity to defend the law in court since the Administration cannot in good conscience do so. (This would presumably avoid a situation like the one in California, where the state refused to pursue an appeal of the district court ruling against Proposition 8, leaving in doubt whether anyone has standing to do so.)

PFAW

Obama Rescinds Dangerous Bush-Era "Conscience Regulation"

Earlier today, the Obama Administration rescinded most of a Bush-era "conscience clause" regulation that gave special legal rights to health workers who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on personal or religious grounds. Under the Bush rule, hospitals, health plans, and clinics would lose federal funding unless they allowed doctors and other employees to refuse to provide medical care that violated their personal, moral, or religious beliefs. As reported in the Washington Post:

The Health and Human Services Department eliminated nearly the entire rule put into effect by the administration of President George W. Bush during his final days in office that was widely interpreted as allowing such workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services, such as providing the emergency contraceptive Plan B, treating gay men and lesbians and prescribing birth control to single women. ...

The rule was sought by conservative groups, which argued that workers were increasingly being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways for trying to exercise their "right of conscience."

Women's health advocates, family-planning proponents, abortion rights activists and others had condemned the regulation, saying it created a major obstacle to providing many health services, including abortion, access to the emergency contraception Plan B, birth control pills and other forms of family planning, as well as infertility treatment and possibly a wide range of scientific research. Advocates for end-of-life care also said it could enable doctors, nurses and others to refuse to honor patients' wishes.

Hospitals and other healthcare providers should not be denied the freedom to put the needs of their patients first. If a woman who has been raped needs emergency contraception, a hospital should have the right to actually require its employees to provide that essential care, regardless of their personal beliefs. When a patient needs medical help in an emergency, she shouldn't have to keep her fingers crossed that she happens to get a doctor whose religious beliefs don't clash with hers. When a family has to make an agonizing end of life decision, they should be able to do what's best for their loved one, not what's best for a complete stranger. Medical organizations should be able to hold themselves out as reliable providers of the services they offer.

Under the Bush rule, such entities were forced to run their operations in a way that put people's health - especially women's health - at severe risk, just to please the religious right.

It is important to note that the Obama Administration's move comes on the same day that the House of Representatives voted to deny all federal funding to Planned Parenthood clinics.

The religious right's war against women's rights goes on.

PFAW

Women in Congress Speak Out on Attacks on Women's Health

Last night, as the House debated an amendment from Rep. Mike Pence that would strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, some women in Congress responded with personal stories.

Rep. Jackie Speier of California revealed that she had had an abortion for a troubled preganancy, telling her anti-choice colleagues: "I lost the baby. And for you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous":

And Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin spoke of her own experience with unplanned preganancy and raising children in poverty. "The public policy has treated poor children and women who have not had the benefit of planned parenthood with utter contempt," she said:

Earlier this week, People For President Michael Keegan called efforts to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and similar organizations "a blatant attempt to play politics with women's health"

“This is a shameless attempt to stir up a Right Wing “culture war,” whatever the collateral damage-- in this case, critical healthcare for millions of low-income women. If the House GOP is really interested in preventing unintended pregnancies, it should embrace organizations that provide affordable contraception. If it’s interested in public health, it should be interested in helping women defend themselves against disease. If these bills become law, millions of American women will lose access to critical family planning and reproductive health services. This move is not fiscally responsible or socially responsible—it’s a blatant attempt to play politics with women’s health.”

 (h/t Huffington Post and RH Reality Check)

PFAW

Censorship and the Right's Culture Wars

In the Huffington Post today, People For President Michael Keegan looks at the battle over censorship at the Smithsonian and what it means for the coming right-wing culture wars. The fight over the Smithsonian, he writes, is “just the beginning”:

As the newly empowered House GOP gears up to start culture wars on issues from reproductive rights for women to religious freedom for American Muslims, there's an important lesson to be learned from what happened this winter at the Smithsonian. Institutions and individuals will continue to come under attack from the right's powerful extremist-to-media-to-politician echo chamber. But, as the Smithsonian's experience showed once again, there is little to be gained by caving in to this loud and usually dishonest bullying. Clough's attempt at compromise -- instantly removing a work of art from an important exhibit -- only drew louder threats to censor the exhibit as a whole, while causing some of the Smithsonian's strongest supporters to lose trust in the institution. Despite what most might hope, the right is not going to stop its culture war campaigns anytime soon. The only thing the rest of us can do is aggressively tell the truth, unapologetically stand on principle, and refuse to back down.

Read the whole thing here.

You can get more background on the story from Keegan’s initial criticism of the Smithsonian’s decision to pull a work of art from a National Portrait Gallery exhibit; his call for the museum to restore the censored work; and his call for Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough to step down after poor handling of the controversy.

Earlier this week, protesters—including representatives from People For— gathered on the National Mall to protest the censorship and call for Clough’s resignation. Campus Progress recorded the event, including an interview with protest participant Dan Choi, who was one of the most influential voices in the fight to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:
 

PFAW

Progressive Coalition Stands Up for Planned Parenthood

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.

Sincerely,

Julian Bond, Board Chairman Emeritus, NAACP

Accountable America

African American Ministers in Action

Alliance for Justice

Center for Community Change

Center for Media & Democracy

Common Cause

Courage Campaign

CREDO Action

Demos

EMILY's List

Feminist Majority Foundation

Friends of the Earth

Keystone Progress

Media Matters Action Network

Midwest Academy

MoveOn.org Political Action

NARAL Pro-Choice America

National People's Action

People For the American Way

ProgressNow

Project Vote

Public Campaign

Service Employees International Union

Sierra Club

USAction

Voices for Progress
PFAW

New Legislation Threatens Critical Women’s Health Services

In wake of Live Action’s smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) introduced the “Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act.” Pence’s bill would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, which Katha Pollitt of The Nation notes is the “largest network of clinics for family planning and women’s health, and in many regions the only provider within reach,” especially for women without health insurance. Republicans in Congress and their far-right allies have consistently attempted to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and Pence’s legislation wouldn’t de-fund abortion but instead seriously jeopardize other women’s health services.

“The funding that Planned Parenthood receives from the government goes to family planning, contraception, sex education, and prevention and treatment of STIs,” writes Robin Marty of RH Reality Check, “and is carefully monitored so that none of it is used to provide abortions, as per federal law.”

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Information has more information on the importance of Title X and the important role clinics like Planned Parenthood play in providing access to vital health services for women:

In addition to contraception, Title X funds a range of preventive health care services free of charge to individuals at or below the poverty level. A sliding fee scale ensures that low to moderate income women are also able to access these services, including:

• Comprehensive, culturally competent counseling and services

• Breast and pelvic examinations

• Breast and cervical cancer screening

• Healthy body weight screening and counseling

• HIV testing

• Screening for and treatment of sexually transmitted infections

• Screening for high blood pressure and high cholesterol

• Pregnancy testing and counseling
PFAW

Horrible, Terrible Anti-Choice Bill Now Only Terrible

The House GOP met with widespread outrage last week when the news broke that a radical anti-abortion bill it is backing would, among other things, exclude many instances of rape from already very limited federal abortion coverage. The bill, written by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, would have only allowed for abortion coverage for pregnancies resulting from “forcible rape”—a radical redefinition of rape that would exclude instances where a woman is drugged, statutory rape of a minor, and many instances of date rape.

The swift response from pro-choice groups and strong outcry from Americans (including a popular Twitter campaign) has now led the House GOP to back down on the rape provision, removing “forcible” from the language in the bill. But Smith’s bill, if passed, would still be disastrous for reproductive choice rights. The “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” which has 173 Republican co-sponsors, would make the Hyde Amendment—the provision that prohibits Medicaid funding for abortion—permanent and apply it to all areas of the federal budget. It would, among other restrictions, prohibit people who use federal subsidies for private insurance coverage from purchasing insurance plans that cover abortion—thereby jeopardizing abortion coverage on the private market.

The fight over the bill coincided with another right-wing attempt to limit reproductive choice, particularly that of low-income women—an anti-choice group’s ACORN-style video hoax attempting to bring down Planned Parenthood. The hoax, a nationwide “sting” intended to prove that Planned Parenthood cooperates with child prostitution rings, in fact proved the opposite—Planned Parenthood promptly reported visits from activists claiming to be child sex traffickers to the FBI. But the Religious Right has been quick to jump on the videos and publicize them in their latest attempt to discredit and stop federal funding for reproductive health organizations.

As Jamelle Bouie points out in the American Prospect today, attempts to limit women’s access to reproductive health care are not only dangerous for women—especially low-income women who rely on government assistance and organizations like Planned Parenthood—but hurt programs that actually lower the instances of unwanted pregnancy:

Here are the facts. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the medical costs of unintended pregnancy range from increased likelihood of infant and maternal illness, to a greater likelihood of abortion. Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to expose the fetus to tobacco or alcohol, and as mothers, are less likely to breast feed. Children of such pregnancies are at greater risk of low birth rate, abuse, poor development, and death in the first year. Fertility isn't a "pathological condition," but the problems of unintended pregnancy are so significant that, as Guttmacher notes, the Centers for Disease Control cites its own work to prevent unintended pregnancy as "one of the top 10 public-health achievements of the 20th century.

While many women will carry an unintended pregnancy to term, many others won't, and the data bears this out. When asked their reasons for having an abortion, three-quarters of women cited concern or responsibility for other individuals, three-quarters said that they couldn't afford a child, and three-quarters said that another child would interfere with work, school, or the ability to care for dependents. Indeed, among women who have obtained abortions, about 61 percent had one or more children. The implications are clear: You can't help families and you can't lower the abortion rate without ensuring access to affordable reproductive health care.

This chart  (from Planned Parenthood via Daily Kos) shows the services that Planned Parenthood provided in 2008--services essential to helping millions of women prevent and treat sexually transmitted diseases and prevent unwanted pregancies:

The Right’s multi-front war against reproductive choice and access to reproductive health care is not going to be stopped by reason or compassion. But, as the victory over the GOP’s redefinition of rape shows, it can be stopped by the voices of those committed to fighting back.

Click here to sign a letter to President Obama and Members of Congress in support of Planned Parenthood.


 

PFAW

The Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Today, in events around the country, Americans marked the anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that diminished the rights of individuals. Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate the 38th anniversary of a decision that took a great step toward recognizing the rights and liberties of individual citizens: Roe v. Wade.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has gathered reflections from a number of men and women on why Roe v. Wade and its guarantee of women’s reproductive choice matters to them. You can read those, and contribute your own, here: http://reproductiverights.org/en/feature/38-years-of-roe-v-wade

And don’t forget to wear a silver ribbon to show your support for reproductive rights and justice.

Finally, a quote from Justice Louis Brandeis, who in 1928 spoke of the importance of the Constitution’s protections for individual Americans and our freedom “to be let alone”:

The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone-the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.

 


 

PFAW

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon, Spread the Word, Take Action

Saturday marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This landmark ruling, along with the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Ensuring that women are trusted to make those decisions is a cause that stills needs our support all these years later.

As you may know, People For the American Way has joined the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women. Along with our Silver Ribbon partners, we’re asking you to wear a silver ribbon during Trust Women Month – January 22 through February 22. And when you do, don’t forget to spread the word and take action.

From our friends at Silver Ribbon:

Since the recent election, the opponents of reproductive health care and women’s rights have claimed they speak for America. They do not.

It’s time to express the true voices of America.

It’s time to come together and show our strength.

We need to stand by each other and claim our rights to the legal health care to which we’re entitled.

Join the Silver Ribbon campaign to Trust Women, for Reproductive Rights and Justice.

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon. Order your Silver Ribbon pin engraved with the credo: "Trust Women," >> for a $5 donation, and wear it through Feb. 22. (or make your own!)

Spread the word. Get your Twibbon on. Follow us on Twitter.

Take action! Donate today to one or more of our partner organizations. January 22 is the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Our Silver Ribbon partners will be organizing a series of calls to action leading up to this anniversary. Check our Take Action section for the latest updates from our partner organizations.

Join us!

The Silver Ribbon represents science over ideology.

We who proudly wear it:
  • Support reproductive rights
  • Support free access to birth control
  • Support keeping abortion legal and accessible
Trust Women!

For more information, please click here.

PFAW

Another Step Forward for LGBT Equality

In a step forward for LGBT equality, the Obama Administration's new hospital visitation regulations go into effect today. Under the rules, hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid can no longer deny visitation privileges based on factors including sexual orientation or gender identity. To forcibly separate loving couples when one of them is sick or even dying is cruel and wrong.

The Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement writes:

This significant policy change is due in no small part to the journeys of two incredibly courageous and passionate women, Janice Langbehn and Charlene Strong. Both lived through unimaginable experiences with the loss of their wives and life partners. While I never had the opportunity to meet Janice's wife Lisa Pond, or Charlene's wife Kate Fleming, I have had the honor to meet and work with Janice and Charlene. I want to thank them for bringing us all into their lives and for sharing themselves and their families with us, and for using their voices to make lives better for LGBT families.

To have a White House publication referring to "Janice's wife Lisa" or "Charlene's wife Kate" is no small indication of societal change. Words have power, and the more people get used to hearing juxtapositions like these, the less alien the idea becomes.

PFAW