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Two-Thirds of California’s Uninsured Gain Coverage Through Obamacare

RH Reality Check - Tue, 08/04/2015 - 10:30

More than two-thirds of Californians who were uninsured at the start of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation have since gained health-care coverage, according to a new report.

Prior to the coverage expansions created by the ACA—also known as Obamacare—California had the nation’s largest population of uninsured non-elderly adults at nearly six million.

Most of those people wanted health coverage but felt they couldn’t afford it, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has followed a group of Californians who were uninsured in the summer of 2013 as part of a longitudinal survey on the effects of the ACA, which has been roundly rejected by Republican-held state legislatures for the past two years.

By 2014, 58 percent of those previously uninsured had purchased coverage during the state’s first open enrollment period: 1.6 million had enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, and another 1.4 million had bought private insurance through Covered California. During the state’s second open enrollment, which ended this year, an additional 1.3 million people enrolled in coverage, bringing the total number of newly insured up to nearly 4.3 million.

That leaves some 1.7 million people still without insurance in the state.

“For the people that didn’t have health insurance, California has been very successful in enrolling two-thirds of that group,” Mollyann Brodie, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times. “But the group that is left is a harder-to-reach group.”

That group is comprised in large part of undocumented immigrants who are barred by law from receiving coverage through the ACA. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients in California have been eligible for Medi-Cal since the beginning of 2014. And this year, Gov. Jerry Brown approved in his budget a measure that expands Medi-Cal eligibility to all children in the state, no matter their immigration status.

A bill, SB 4, which would expand Medi-Cal to include undocumented adults and allow those adults to purchase private insurance through Covered California, is currently being considered in the Democratic-led state assembly.

Image: Shutterstock

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GOP Attempt to Defund Planned Parenthood Falls Flat in Senate

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 19:48

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

A Republican-led attempt to defund Planned Parenthood was defeated in the Senate on Monday.

Democrats led the effort to filibuster a bill sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) that would have prohibited federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood, making those funds “available” to other entities favored by anti-choice lawmakers that provide women’s health services.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) voted with Republicans to advance the defunding bill, while Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) was the only Republican opposed to the bill who joined Democrats in the filibuster. The vote was 53-46 in favor of advancing the bill, which wasn’t enough to defeat a filibuster.

The bill is a response to inflammatory, deceptively edited videos released by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress that show Planned Parenthood employees discussing a fetal tissue donation program that is legal and that most of their affiliates don’t participate in.

Republicans argued that the video shows Planned Parenthood deserves to immediately lose all federal funding, even though none of those funds can directly pay for abortion care.

Democrats argued that Planned Parenthood is a trusted provider of women’s health that sees 2.7 million patients a year, mostly low-income people. Most of their patients seek health care services like Pap smears, breast exams, contraception, and screening for sexually transmitted infections.

Some Republicans have vowed to push for a government shutdown this fall over Planned Parenthood funding.

Moderate female Republicans Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) voted to let the defunding bill proceed. NARAL Pro-Choice America has prepared attack ads against Ayotte and other vulnerable Republicans for their vote on this bill.

Collins said she was opposed to the defunding bill, partly because she didn’t think that the community health centers and other health-care providers in her state could possibly take on Planned Parenthood’s patients if the provider closed down.

The four Planned Parenthood clinics in her state of Maine, Collins said, provide 40 percent of the state’s family planning services, while the 20 community health centers provide 17 percent.

But Collins voted to let the defunding bill proceed because she wanted to introduce a different bill as a substitute, which would only defund Planned Parenthood clinics that were actually found to be selling fetal tissue in violation of the law.

The Ernst bill “would require women and other patients to find alternative health care providers even if their Planned Parenthood clinic has done nothing wrong,” Collins said. “How is that fair?”

Republicans who supported Ernst’s bill suggested that women can and should go to community health centers for their health needs instead of Planned Parenthood, but Democrats dismissed those claims as absurd and dangerous.

“Claiming that other providers can simply absorb those patients is like saying you can pour a bucket of water into a cup. It just won’t work,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said.

“Pure and simple, a public health crisis would be the inevitable consequence of this measure to defund Planned Parenthood,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Blumenthal noted that many of his constituents choose Planned Parenthood because it is a professional, nonjudgmental “safe space” for quality health care, and defunding it would mean depriving women of their choice of doctor.

“If Republicans succeed in defunding it, women will be without their most trusted health care providers,” Blumenthal said.

Democrats noted the irony of Republicans calling for more community health clinics being used for family planning services, given the devastating funding cuts to Title X low-income family planning providers that the GOP proposed this year.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who was called out by reproductive rights activists for not mentioning abortion in a recent speech on progressive values, offered a blistering condemnation of Republican attacks on reproductive rights. She pointed out that patients depend on Planned Parenthood for safe, legal, compassionate abortion care as well as other health services, and she cited the fact that Republican state legislators have passed more than 50 abortion restrictions over the past year.

“Let’s be really clear about something,” Warren said. “The Republican scheme to defund Planned Parenthood is not some sort of surprised response to a highly edited video. Nope—the Republican vote to defund Planned Parenthood is just one more piece of a deliberate, methodical, orchestrated, right-wing attack on women’s rights.”

Image: Joni Ernst / YouTube

The post GOP Attempt to Defund Planned Parenthood Falls Flat in Senate appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Planned Parenthood Clinic Construction Site Vandalized in New Orleans

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 17:02

An unidentified person poured gasoline on a recently laid foundation and a security guard’s car early Saturday morning at the construction site of the Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans.

The security vehicle caught fire at 3:42 a.m., though the concrete failed to ignite, according to the National Abortion Federation’s statement on the apparent act of politically motivated violence. Local law enforcement and the fire department responded and extinguished the blaze.

Video surveillance reportedly captured the incident and law enforcement is investigating.

Planned Parenthood Louisiana issued a statement Monday that no one was injured in the attack, and the organization is working with the New Orleans Police Department and federal law enforcement to investigate the incident.

Melissa Flournoy, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast-Louisiana state director, said in a statement that the vandalism was another example of violence experienced by abortion providers around the country.

“This isn’t just an attack on our health center; it’s an attack on expanded access to reproductive health care,” Flournoy said. “Unfortunately, this arson attack is another example of the violence reproductive health care providers and advocates for abortion rights too often face.”

Planned Parenthood cleared an administrative hurdle last month toward the construction of the facility, the Center for Choice, which would expand access to abortion in the New Orleans area, after the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals rescinded regulations that may have prevented it from opening such a facility.

The national reproductive health-care provider has been under increased scrutiny by Republican lawmakers over the past month after the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-choice organization with ties to radical activists, published a series of videos that it claims show Planned Parenthood officials engaged in illegal activities.

The videos have sparked outrage directed at Planned Parenthood from GOP legislators and anti-choice activists.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) used the CMP videos as justification to direct the state Department of Health and Hospitals to investigate Planned Parenthood’s facilities in Louisiana. As the U.S. Senate was debating a vote to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding, Jindal issued a statement Monday that the state had terminated the organization’s Medicaid provider agreement.

Flournoy noted in a statement that the arson came in the wake of a “video smear campaign” and calls to defund Planned Parenthood at the federal level.

“The group behind the video smear campaign is a part of the most militant wing of the anti-abortion movement,” Flournoy said. “They have been behind the bombing of clinics, and the murder of doctors in their homes and in their churches.”

The incident comes after a report released in February found that threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence against abortion providers have doubled since 2010. Reproductive rights advocates have raised concerns that radical anti-choice activists have been emboldened by a wave of legislative attacks on reproductive rights.

There was an act of vandalism at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in March, as an unidentified person destroyed some of the Mississippi clinic’s security cameras and a generator. Footage was captured of a person on the clinic property before the security cameras were destroyed.

All Families Healthcare, a family medicine and reproductive health-care facility in Kalispell, Montana, was severely vandalized in March of 2014. Susan Cahill, a physician assistant who manages the office, told RH Reality Check that she believes the break-in was part of a coordinated effort to intimidate the facility into no longer providing abortion care.

Zachary Klundt, who has connections to a local anti-choice group, was sentenced in June to five years in prison after he plead guilty in April to felony burglary, criminal mischief, and theft.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Planned Parenthood Clinic Construction Site Vandalized in New Orleans appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Lawsuit: Kentucky Sheriff Shackled Students With Disabilities

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 16:35

A deputy sheriff in Kentucky shackled two elementary school children who have disabilities for misbehaving, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the children.

The children, an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, were so small that Kenton County Deputy Sheriff Kevin Sumner locked the handcuffs around the children’s biceps and forced their hands behind their backs, the lawsuit charges. Sumner works as a school resource officer in Covington, Kentucky.

The lawsuit seeks an order requiring a change in policies by the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office, and additional training for school resource officers in dealing with young children and children with special needs. It also seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages against Sumner.

“Shackling children is not okay,” Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU, said in a statement following the filing of the lawsuit. “It is traumatizing, and in this case it is also illegal.”

The lawsuit also names Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn as a defendant, alleging he failed to adequately train and supervise Sumner, who serves as an officer at several public elementary schools in Covington. The complaint further claims that the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office violated the Americans with Disabilities Act based on its treatment of the children.

“Kentucky’s school personnel are prohibited from using restraints, especially mechanical restraints, to punish children or as a way to force behavior compliance,” said Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children’s Law Center. “These regulations include school resource officers. These are not situations where law enforcement action was necessary.”

A video released by the ACLU accompanying the lawsuit shows the boy, S.R., being shackled and crying out in pain. Attorneys representing the child said that S.R. has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a history of trauma. The girl, L.G., was twice handcuffed behind her back by her biceps, also causing her pain, the attorneys allege.

L.G. has ADHD and other special needs and the ACLU claims both children were being punished for behavior related to their disabilities. Neither was arrested nor charged with any criminal conduct.

“Using law enforcement to discipline students with disabilities only serves to traumatize children,” Mizner said. “It makes behavioral issues worse and interferes with the school’s role in developing appropriate educational and behavioral plans for them.”

Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the national student population, but are 75 percent of the students who are physically restrained by adults in their schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education. These disciplinary practices feed into the “school-to-prison pipeline,” where children are funneled out of public schools and into the criminal justice system, advocates charge.

Students of color and students with disabilities are especially vulnerable to such push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline. One child in this case is Latino, and the other is Black.

“It is heartbreaking to watch my little boy suffer because of this experience,” S.R.’s mother said in a statement. “It’s hard for him to sleep, he has anxiety, and he is scared of seeing the officer in the school.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Lawsuit: Kentucky Sheriff Shackled Students With Disabilities appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Don’t Be Fooled by Attacks on Planned Parenthood: Doctors Should Be Objective

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 16:31

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

There has been a lot of talk recently in the media and public eye about the deceptively edited videos produced by the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress. To some viewers, the doctors and staff from Planned Parenthood may have seemed cavalier as they spoke about tissue and fetal parts. Because of the discomfort and squeamishness most people feel about surgeries and medical treatment, combined with the private nature of abortion care and the difficulty that some patients face in making the decision to terminate a pregnancy, the discussions of these topics over a meal may have appeared to be garish and insensitive. However, the nature of medical care provision requires that doctors and other medical staff must have some objectivity. The Planned Parenthood employees in the attack videos were speaking in a way that reflected their profession and that had no bearing on their compassion for patients, or their ability to provide quality care. Abortion care providers are deeply invested in helping patients and the choices women make.

Doctors are trained to maintain some emotional separation from the subject and from their patients in order to prioritize medical care because that is what patients need. For instance, a doctor who cares for cancer patients must focus their energy on the treatment of the disease. Though they often encourage their patients to seek counseling and support, they prioritize patients’ medical requirements rather than address their psychological and emotional needs themselves in order to be most effective. That emphasis on care is similar for those who provide abortion. In fact, given the danger and hostility that abortion providers experience, the level of objective distance between patients and their doctors is often less than industry norm. Because abortion providers go through so much to provide the procedure, they are therefore incredibly empathetic and sympathetic to patients’ needs and overall well-being.

An important thing to remember as one sees these video clips out of context is that those Planned Parenthood doctors believed themselves to be in conversation with other doctors and medical providers. The problem with fake medical personnel is that they do not share the language of the real medical community. In Dr. Goodrick’s experience as an abortion provider, though staff would never speak to patients in such a cavalier manner about tissue and body parts, it is not uncommon for medical staff and providers to do so among one another—and to even have these conversations during a lunch break. Medical care providers and their staff communicate with each other in a professional, efficient, and objective manner so that they can provide the best possible medical services—even if their shared language might seem graphic or make people unfamiliar with it feel uncomfortable.

To be sure, a lack of empathy toward patients can be a real problem in some arenas of managed care; in fact, the medical community is often satirized in popular culture for it, such as on shows like Scrubs, E.R., and Grey’s Anatomy, which use doctors’ employment of graphic and uncaring jokes, examples of poor behavior with patients, for comedic fodder. A recent trend in medical schools even requires specialized training on patient communication for real-life would-be doctors. But abortion providers in particular spend a lot of time talking with patients to ensure that they that they are sure of their decision to terminate a pregnancy and that they understand the procedure they will receive. Because of the significant time doctors who provide abortion spend talking to their patients, they generally have much better bedside manner. Patients who seek abortion care are far less likely to be met with a lack of empathy or callousness.  

Overall, the anti-choice movement has relied on the public’s lack of knowledge of anatomy and other body processes that medical care providers discuss regularly in order to drum up negative feelings toward reproductive health care. It has, for example, been extremely successful at representing fetal development—which looks very different depending on the stage of gestation—as the singular embryonic image of the monolithic fetus. Most people will have few, if any, bouts with surgery over their lifetimes. Even the one in three women who have experienced abortion care may have limited knowledge of the complexity of pregnancy. Doctors do it all day, every day, and have a different relationship with bodily functions, tissue, and organs. These are not comfortable topics for most people, and that is OK. But at the end of the day, we want our medical care providers to be able to freely communicate with others in the profession utilizing the language of their trade. Just as a doctor or medical staff person who specializes in organ donation procurement might discuss body parts in a clinical and non-personal nature, so too do abortion doctors in conversation with other medical staff.

For that matter, the type of fetal tissue donation being discussed in these videos is legal and consensual. This is an extremely important piece of the conversation around these videos and the controversy. The tissue and organ donation is provided for research, rather than being discarded as medical waste, and serves to help researchers find cures for various diseases. This gift of tissue donation after an abortion is no different than after the death of a loved one. Just as in the case of any other organ or tissue donation, reasonable costs are covered by the researching organization. There is a service being provided by doctors and medical staff to obtain consent; draw blood; and process, preserve, and transport the tissues or organs. We should not expect medical personnel to do so without minimal compensation for these services.

Women providing consent for such donations after opting to terminate their pregnancies are aware throughout the process that the tissue and organ donation is a bodily gift from them, and that no payment for that gift will be transferred. This is true in any organ or tissue procurement agreement.

Nearly half of all women have experienced an unintended pregnancy by the time they reach menopause, and the tissue and body parts that can be provided is incredibly important to scientific research and advances that help us all. As in the case of organ donation for transplantation, the doctors and medical staff who provide procurement services for life-saving organ-donation are not the monsters that this radical anti-choice group have made them out to be in these heavily edited videos.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Don’t Be Fooled by Attacks on Planned Parenthood: Doctors Should Be Objective appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Texas Attorney General Indicted on Three Felony Counts, Including Securities Fraud

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 15:20

The top law enforcement official in Texas turned himself into police on Monday to be booked on three felony counts, including two counts of first-degree securities fraud for offenses involving more than $100,000 each.

This comes after a months-long special investigation by an appointed prosecutor and the Texas Rangers.

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton presented himself at the Collin County courthouse, north of Dallas, for his mugshot—in a suit, without the white draped towel usually required by Collin County booking officials—and fingerprints to be taken. He was then released on a $35,000 bond.

Paxton is accused of cheating complainants out of more than $600,000, according to the Houston Chronicle. Complainants against Paxton include his former colleague in the Texas legislature, Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), who says Paxton defrauded him of more than $100,000 and misrepresented himself as an investor in a McKinney technology company called Servergy.

The Texas Republican Party issued a statement calling the investigation a “sloppy” partisan effort led by “liberal interest groups.”

The left-leaning watchdog organization Texans For Public Justice filed an initial complaint against Paxton last year in Travis County, home to the state capitol and Texas’ Public Integrity Unit (PIU), before Paxton was elected attorney general. Officials at the PIU said that because Paxton’s alleged financial crimes occurred in Collin County, the PIU couldn’t take the case.

The Collin County district attorney, a close friend and business partner of Paxton’s, then declined to investigate Paxton, eventually recusing himself so that special prosecutors and the Texas Rangers could take on the investigation.

Paxton has already once admitted to violating federal securities law and paid a $1,000 fine to the state securities board in May 2014.

The Texas Democratic Party called for Paxton’s resignation on Monday afternoon, with party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa asking Paxton to “spare Texas the embarrassment of a drawn-out legal fight in the public eye.”

Paxton’s first-degree felony charges carry penalties of five to 99 years in prison, but the attorney general is allowed to hold on to his position as the state’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer while his case proceeds through the courts, which could take years. If Paxton is convicted, he would lose his license to practice law—something that an attorney general in Texas is not technically required to have in order to hold that office.

If Paxton voluntarily or forcibly resigns his office, the governor will appoint a replacement, who must be approved by the GOP-led state senate.

Paxton’s office is currently conducting an “investigation” of Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates’ fetal tissue donation practices, even though Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates do not participate in fetal tissue donations.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is vying for the Republican presidential nomination, is also facing charges for abusing his power as a public official after cutting funding to the PIU in 2013. Texans For Public Justice also initiated the complaint that led to Perry’s indictment.

Image: KXAN / YouTube

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Planned Parenthood and the Politics of Conservative Resentment

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 10:04

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Despite all the gross-out rhetoric and feigned outrage over the “new” revelation that abortions often produce fetal tissue, the multi-week assault on Planned Parenthood’s funding kickstarted by hoax videos made by an anti-choice group called the Center for Medical Progress isn’t really about abortion. It is, when you look past the deliberately distracting hyperbolic rhetoric, about trying, in any and every way possible, to make it harder for low-income and young women to access sexual health care like contraception and STI testing. Which, in turn, is part of a larger conservative attempt to use “abortion”—and other gambits like “religious freedom”—as cover to make healthy sexuality a luxury for the wealthy and inaccessible to everyone else.

With all the “look, a bloody fetus!” wailing going on, it might be hard to remember that, but the facts are the facts. Three important ones stand out.

1) The response of Republicans to these hoax videos has been to attack contraception funding, not the use of fetal tissue for research. If lawmakers were truly outraged at the idea that medical research is being done on fetal tissue, the logical response would be to draft legislation banning research on fetal tissue. Instead, congressional Republicans have drafted legislation that would end funding for things that have nothing to do with fetal tissue. The bill being voted on in the Senate Monday would terminate Title X and Medicaid money from going to Planned Parenthood. None of that money goes to abortion or to fetal tissue research. All of it—all of it—is for contraception, well-woman visits, Pap smears, STI testing and treatment, and basically any sexual health care that is not abortion, because federal money is not allowed to cover abortion. Many Republicans are claiming the money will go to other clinics, but that’s just deflection. Most of those clinics are already overloaded and cannot handle millions more gynecological patients. It’s important to look at what people do and not what they say. If you do that, it becomes clear that the target of this attack is affordable sexual health care through Planned Parenthood, and nothing else.

2) Many Republicans attacking Planned Parenthood support fetal tissue research. Another reason we know this is about depriving women of necessary health care is that many of the Republicans supporting this defunding effort actually voted in favor of medical research on fetal tissue in the past. Specifically, Sen. Mitch McConnell, who fast-tracked a bill to defund Planned Parenthood under the auspices of “gross fetal tissue!”, voted in 1993 to lift the ban on donating fetal tissue from legal abortions, and only now is deciding, when it’s politically opportune, that he opposes it. This is about preventing women, particularly low-income and young women, from being able to have sex without fear of disease or unwanted pregnancy.

3) This is part of a larger pattern of targeted attacks on contraception. This has to be read in context. There’s no long-standing or even current Republican efforts to separate medical researchers from the fetal tissue they’re studying. There has been, however, multiple efforts for years now to separate women from affordable contraception. There was the mass conservative hysteria when the Department of Health and Human Services made contraception part of the list of no-copay preventive health services; the multiple efforts to give employers (and fathers!) power to deny contraception coverage to women; the efforts to make emergency contraception harder to getthe attacks on IUD access; the push for abstinence-only (read: contraception-demonizing) programs; and, of course, the relentless drumbeat of anti-choice propaganda asserting that contraception is dangerous, ineffective, or “really” just abortion.

There are lots of theories about why the religious right is getting uglier about contraception: Aging conservative Christians are hating on young people; it’s part of a larger trend of conservatives becoming more radical; it’s becoming clear that it is contraception that tends to liberate women from traditional gender roles. But Republicans are more than aware that just banning contraception outright to throw the radical religious right a bone isn’t just illegal; it will backfire politically in the worst way. After all, most people, including people who claim to believe it’s wrong, use or have used contraception. Attacking the personal choices of everyone is well-known as a bad political tactic.

Instead, what anti-choice activists and conservatives are doing is instead reframing this issue in terms of politics of resentment. Few things rile up the conservative base—or get moderate-leaning people to feel more conservative—like insinuating that someone else, someone “less deserving,” is getting something for “free” or having some kind of fun that you don’t get. Sneering at someone buying brown instead of white eggs with food stamps is the sort of cheap thrill that drives many a conservative voter to the polls to vote their resentments.

The endless screaming outrage over Obamacare, too, including the birth control benefit, can be boiled down to this resentment impulse. The whole point of demonizing it as “socialized medicine” is to suggest that if everyone can get decent medical care, then it must, somehow, taint the medical care. Just as conservatives have grumped about marriage being less special if you have to let the gays in, and segregationists of the past carefully guarded white-only schools, it’s all about trying to keep things that ought to be rights as privileges for certain groups.

Adding sex to the mix only adds to the how-dare-they impulse, because sex is fun and fun is at the top of the list of things that resentful conservatives do not want other people, especially young and low-income women, getting. The attacks on Planned Parenthood would deny these women the ability to access sexual health care—including abortion and especially contraception—and, by extension, allow them to have more safe, healthy sex if they so choose.

All the screaming about fetal tissue gets attention, which is the point. But that is not what any of this is ultimately about. In the end, this is just like every other attack on insurance plans or health-care centers that make contraception affordable: It’s about undermining access to that care and reserving healthy sexuality as a privilege for the well-off, instead a right for us all. We should not allow ourselves to get distracted from that fact.

Image: Shutterstock

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Federal Report: St. Louis County Family Court Routinely Discriminates Against Black Youth

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 09:25

The Department of Justice released a biting 60-page report concluding Missouri’s St. Louis County Family Court system discriminates against Black juveniles, routinely violating their constitutional rights as they navigate the court system.

The justice department released the report following a nearly two-year investigation by its Civil Rights Division that began in 2013.

Black juveniles are two-and-a-half times more likely than whites to be detained before trial and three times more likely than whites to be sent to the Missouri Division of Youth Services for parole violations, according to the report.

The justice department also found the St. Louis Family Court system routinely failed to have adequate legal representation for Black youth, failed to make sure there was probable cause that the offenses the children were accused of actually happened, and failed to ensure that Black children entered guilty pleas voluntarily.

Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Civil Rights Division, called the findings “serious” and “compelling” following the release of the justice department report.

“Missouri was at the forefront of juvenile corrections reform when it closed its large juvenile institutions and moved to a smaller, treatment-focused system and we are hopeful that Missouri will rise to this challenge to, once again, be a leader in juvenile justice reform,” Gupta said.

The justice department analyzed data relating to nearly 33,000 juvenile cases, including all delinquency and status offenses resolved in St. Louis County Family Court between 2010 and 2013. Department attorneys also visited the family court and interviewed a number of court personnel, including all of the judges and commissioners as well as the heads of many of family court programs and services.

Investigators collected information from both the state and local public defender’s offices, private attorneys with experience in the family court, and the parents of youth who had been involved in delinquency proceedings with the family court.

Investigators concluded the St. Louis Family Court is “[a]n organizational structure that is rife with conflicts of interest, is contrary to separation of powers principles and deprives children of adequate due process,” according to the report.

“This investigation is another step toward our goal of ensuring that children in the juvenile justice system receive their constitutionally guaranteed rights to due process and equal protection under the law,” Gupta said.

Typically, the next step following the release of a report like this is for the justice department to negotiate with the local authority it was investigating on how to resolve the pattern of discriminatory conducted within its ranks. This usually results in a consent decree, which is a settlement agreement between the justice department and the local authority that lays out specific tasks to remedy the discriminatory conduct.

The Department of Justice report on the St. Louis County Family Court system follows an equally scathing report concluding the Ferguson Police Department routinely discriminated against Blacks in its policing. The investigation into Ferguson law enforcement was prompted by the death of an unarmed Black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, who was killed on August 9 by a white police officer. 

Image: Shutterstock

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U.S. Senate Defeats Harmful Measure Stripping Planned Parenthood of All Federal Funding

Center for Reproductive Rights - Sun, 08/02/2015 - 23:00
U.S. Senate Defeats Harmful Measure Stripping Planned Parenthood of All Federal Funding

08.03.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Pro-choice Senators blocked attempts to advance a measure today which would have stripped Planned Parenthood of all federal funding dedicated to providing basic health care services, including cancer screenings and contraception, to millions of low-income women, men, and young people.

The measure—S. 1881—was introduced by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) last week shortly after the release of a series of heavily-edited videos obtained under false pretenses by anti-abortion extremists fixated on ending safe and legal abortion in U.S. Several members of Congress and the California Attorney General have called for investigations of the organizations behind this underhanded effort.

Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health care providers are granted federal dollars to provide much needed health care services—including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—to underserved communities. The organization serves a total of 2.7 million women, men, and teens per year and approximately 1 in 5 women has relied on a Planned Parenthood health center for care in her lifetime.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“All women deserve access to affordable contraception and other basic health care services in their own communities. Funding for essential health care services should never be used as a bargaining chip by politicians looking to boost up their anti-choice bona fides.

“Thanks to the efforts of our champions in Congress, millions of women and men will continue to have access to high-quality, comprehensive health care services. We are proud to stand with Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health care providers in the face of this latest smear campaign and urge politicians to stop legitimizing these baseless, politically motivated attacks on trusted health care providers.”

A number of states have slashed family planning funding in recent years, including Texas. The Center for Reproductive Rights has been documenting the devastating impact of the loss of family planning services in the Rio Grande Valley since 2011, when the Texas legislature severely cut funding for women’s health services and excluded Planned Parenthood—the state’s largest family planning provider—from participating in the Texas Women’s Health Program.

Texas Pro-Choice Groups Help Navigate an Anti-Choice Landscape

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 16:50

A coalition of Texas groups have come together this summer to launch two new efforts intended to help residents access legal abortion care and to communicate more broadly about Texans’ families, their lives, and their reproductive decisions.

These pro-choice efforts come as state lawmakers conduct politically motivated “investigations” into fetal tissue donation programs and Texas abortion providers look to the Supreme Court for relief from the state’s omnibus anti-choice law.

A joint effort between NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and the Lilith Fund, NeedAbortion.org is a one-stop clearinghouse for facts about where to get an abortion in a tumultuous legal landscape, in which clinics close or sustain with every new court decision; it also has information about how Texas’ growing web of anti-choice laws affect people who need the procedure.

Illuminate RJ is another NARAL collaboration, this time with the Texas Freedom Network and abortion provider Amy Hagstrom Miller’s new nonprofit project, Shift. It’s an art and activist project meant to tackle abortion stigma and reproductive justice issues.

It’s a creative—rather than expressly political—approach, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director Heather Busby told RH Reality Check. It’s a way for Texans to talk about a full spectrum of experiences with reproductive issues with personal, artistic expressions “instead of chants and slogans and protest signs.”

Poet Sonya Renee is the featured artist at Friday’s kick-off event in Austin, which will also include an art installation of cut-out paper birds decorated by Texas reproductive justice activists.

Illuminate RJ’s birds echo the soaring avians of the Repeal Hyde Art Project, but they’re specifically mockingbirds—the state bird of Texas. And those mockingbirds will make appearances across Texas in the coming weeks and months, as activists launch new “pop-up” art events around the state.

Submissions to Illuminate RJ can be made online.

Image: Andrea Grimes / RH Reality Check

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Some Democrats Go on Offense Against Front Group Behind Planned Parenthood Videos

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 16:08

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress video here.

Republicans and anti-choice activists have reached a fever pitch of outrage at Planned Parenthood in recent weeks, fueled by the deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-choice front group.

Republicans in Congress are using the videos as an excuse to call for defunding Planned Parenthood, and some are even threatening to shut down the government this fall if they don’t get their way.

Most pro-choice Democrats are holding firm in support of Planned Parenthood and seem willing to call the GOP’s bluff on a government shutdown.

“Not on my watch,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) told Politico on whether Republicans can force Democrats to defund Planned Parenthood by holding up spending bills.

“I am absolutely confident that if Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood in a government spending bill at the end of September, Democrats will unite against it,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the likely next Democratic minority leader in the Senate, told reporters Thursday.

But when many Democrats speak out in defense of Planned Parenthood these days, they try to keep the focus on Planned Parenthood’s merits and avoid discussing the videos that opponents are using to attack the organization. This is particularly true of 2016 presidential candidates, who either say they haven’t watched the videos or concede that they are “disturbing,” as Hillary Clinton did Wednesday.

A growing number of Democrats have started bucking that trend, pushing to discredit the Center for Medical Progress for its misleading videos and shady tactics and put the attack group on defense. 

Perhaps the most potent call-out of CMP came in a Wednesday Senate floor speech by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

“Attacks on Planned Parenthood are a concerted attack on access to safe, legal abortion services in this country. Make no mistake about it,” Feinstein said. “The group behind this latest attack, the Center for Medical Progress, has longstanding ties to the anti-choice movement, including Operation Rescue, which is closely associated with clinic violence.”

Feinstein talked about how anti-choice violence in the 1990s led to the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, and her concern that the “aggressive tactics” used by anti-choice groups today such as “the illegal filming of a medical procedure and the hacking of Planned Parenthood’s records” could lead to similar violence.

“I am concerned that the message being sent is that it is OK to commit crimes against Planned Parenthood, its employees, and its patients; and it is not,” Feinstein said. “That sort of message can be taken up by extremists and become very dangerous for women and doctors across the country.”

Feinstein’s speech included the typical Democratic defenses of Planned Parenthood: how it’s the primary health-care provider for millions of women, especially low-income women, and how one in five American women have gone there for health care. How Planned Parenthood’s care has been crucial for her constituents who have told her their stories. How efforts to defund Planned Parenthood distract from more important issues like national security.

But Feinstein also turned a typical Democratic talking point—that abortion only makes up 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services—on its head. Instead of waving aside that 3 percent and pointing out that federal money doesn’t pay for it, Feinstein vigorously defended it as crucial health care for women who have nowhere else to go for abortion care in their region.

“If Planned Parenthood closes, Texas loses half of its remaining abortion providers in one fell swoop,” Feinstein said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) conceded that the “highly edited” videos are “disturbing” and that a review of them by the Department of Justice is “appropriate,” but also highlighted CMP’s “single purpose” to limit access to abortion services and its ties to anti-choice groups.

“[The group’s] three officers are prominent in the anti-abortion movement,” Shaheen said. “They have ties to many other politically motivated groups who are working to take away a woman’s right to choose. They have been tied to organizations that harass medical providers, doctors, and patients, try to limit access to women’s health care clinics, and they actively work to limit the reproductive health care decisions a woman can make.”

Other Democrats also called out CMP’s tactics on the Senate floor Wednesday.

“We know this extremist group went undercover and secretly taped people,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said. “That is what they did. If you approve of those tactics that is fine, but what I approve of is women getting health care. I think that when you scratch the surface, what you will find is that a lot of my colleagues don’t think women should be able to plan their families. We are still debating birth control. You have got to be kidding.”

Murray called out Republicans’ use of “undercover attack videos, produced by a radical, right-wing organization dedicated to taking away a woman’s right to choose,” and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) encouraged Planned Parenthood to keep speaking on the “merits” of their program that is “under siege from a sensationalistic and disingenuous kind of publicity.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday the videos were obtained “fraudulently” and that “there’s not a lot of evidence right now” that Planned Parenthood hasn’t lived up to the “highest ethical standards” that it describes in its policies and procedures.

And on Tuesday, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) wrote a letter to Rep. Chris Murphy (R-PA), her colleague on the House Energy and Commerce committee, urging him to include CMP in the committee’s upcoming investigation into Planned Parenthood.

“I am disappointed that you have decided to open an investigation based on a clearly manipulated, deceptively edited video by an organization using ethically and legally questionable tactics,” DeGette wrote, citing a complaint against CMP filed by the American Democracy Legal Fund as well as a letter from four of her Democratic House colleagues calling for an investigation into CMP.

Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for an investigation of CMP, which she said was “trying to ensnare Planned Parenthood in a controversy that doesn’t exist.”

It seems likely that some Democrats are listening to the growing critiques of CMP from mainstream media outlets and independent investigations, and that they may be responding to pressure from progressives and pro-choice advocates to defend Planned Parenthood just as forcefully as conservatives attack it.

Image: Senator Patty Murray / YouTube

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Colorado GOP Legislator Implies Gay Boy Scout Leaders Should Be Drowned

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 15:48

Colorado State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), in Monday’s edition of his online video series called “Pray in Jesus’ Name,” urged his viewers to pull their children out of the Boy Scouts because “homosexual men mentoring and camping” with boys “will lead to child abuse.”

“The children are in danger,” said Klingenschmitt, a first-term Republican. “It’s not about the sexual pleasure of the adults. It should be about protecting innocent children.”

Klingenschmitt implied that gay scout leaders should be drowned because they would abuse children. Quoting the Bible, he said, “Whoever caused one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”

“If your boy is in one of those organizations, you need to get him out of there, because what they are going to do is promote homosexual men to mentoring and camping with your boys in the woods, and it will lead to child abuse,” Klingenschmitt said.

Progressives and conservatives alike condemned the comment, with the Colorado State Republican Party issuing a statement Wednesday. “We strongly condemn Gordon Klingenschmitt’s highly offensive comments. As we’ve said in the past, Gordon does not speak on behalf of the Party, nor do his words reflect our Party’s values.”

“These comments are reprehensible—and he should be ashamed of himself for making them,” Dave Montez, director of One Colorado, an LGBT advocacy group, said in a statement. “Gay adults are involved in scouting for the same reasons everyone else is; to serve youth, and to help them grow into good, strong citizens.”

Klingenschmitt, who represents a staunchly conservative area near Colorado Springs, has developed a national reputation for making controversial comments, including his praise in March for a South Dakota legislator who compared Planned Parenthood to ISIS.

He claims to have performed an exorcism on a lesbian service member and has compared President Obama to the devil.

During a podcast prayer on March 25, Klingenschmitt called a brutal attack on a pregnant woman a “curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb.”

Klingenschmitt was a Navy Chaplain, and he goes by the name of “Dr. Chaps.”

He plans to give up his house seat and run for state senate next year in a Colorado Springs district currently represented by Senate President Bill Cadman, who is term-limited. Klingenschmitt came to this decision after fasting for 72 hours and seeking guidance from god, he told a folks gathered at a restaurant in April.

Democrats control Colorado’s state house, and the GOP holds a one-seat majority in the senate.

The senate seat eyed by Klingenschmitt is known to be conservative and a safe seat for Republicans. But state observers say he’ll face stiff competition by fellow Republicans, as well as behind-the-scenes opposition from Republican leaders across Colorado, who see the lawmaker as sullying the image of the Republican Party in a critical swing state.

 

Image: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

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National Abortion Federation Files Lawsuit Against Planned Parenthood Attack Group

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 15:03

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress video here.

The National Abortion Federation filed a lawsuit Friday in federal court seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prohibit the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice organization behind a campaign to defame Planned Parenthood, from making public any video or audio recordings and materials of NAF educational meetings.

CMP has published a series of videos over the past month, and the organization claims that the undercover footage shows Planned Parenthood officials engaged in the illegal selling of fetal tissue.

Filed in the U.S. District Court, the lawsuit requests that CMP be preliminarily and permanently enjoined from publishing any recordings or confidential information from NAF annual meetings. NAF claims that any recordings or materials obtained by the CMP at official NAF meetings were done so illegally.

The lawsuit requests that CMP be prohibited from publishing or otherwise disclosing the names or addresses of any NAF members that CMP may have obtained at NAF annual meetings, and also requests that CMP be prohibited from attending and attempting to gain access to any future NAF meetings.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of NAF, said in a statement that the “safety and security” of the organization’s members are their top priorities.

“That security has been compromised by the illegal activities of a group with ties to those who believe it is justifiable to murder abortion providers,” Saporta said. “CMP went to great lengths to infiltrate our meetings as part of a campaign to intimidate and attack abortion providers.”

The lawsuit names CMP as a defendant as well as BioMax Procurement Services, the fake company created in order to deceive people working for Planned Parenthood and other organizations. CMP’s leader, David Daleiden, is also named in the lawsuit, as well as founding member Troy Newman, who is the president of the radical anti-choice organization Operation Rescue.

When questioned about his involvement with CMP, Newman told RH Reality Check that he was proud of the work Daleiden has done at CMP.

“Over the past three years I have offered advice and counsel to someone who has become a very good friend,” Newman said via email.  “But this is just the beginning, we have moles and spies deep inside the abortion cartel. And at a time of our choosing, we will release more damning evidence of the abortion cartel’s illegal, ghastly, and repugnant butchery.”

When asked to respond to the questions that have been raised about whether or not CMP had broken any laws in making the videos, Newman told RH Reality Check that it was not CMP that was breaking the law.

“We always abide by all local and federal laws, it’s Planned Parenthood that is flagrantly breaking the law,” Newman said via email.

The NAF lawsuit comes a day after a California court issued a temporary restraining order preventing CMP from releasing a video of three StemExpress officials, which was reportedly taped in a California restaurant in May. A former employee of StemExpress, which provides human tissue, blood, and other specimens to researchers, was prominently featured in a video released Tuesday by CMP.

The videos published by CMP have sparked outrage directed at Planned Parenthood from Republicans and anti-choice activists.

Republican lawmakers in several states have called for investigations into Planned Parenthood, and lawmakers across the country have compared the organization to everything from drug dealers to Nazis. State lawmakers in Texas held a hearing Wednesday to investigate the issue, even though, like those in Indiana, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas don’t collect fetal tissue for donation in medical research.

No state or federal investigation to date has found the organization in violation of any law regarding the handling of fetal tissue, as Congress is set to vote on Monday on a proposal by Republicans to block Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding.

The lawsuits filed by NAF and StemExpress give credence to the questions that have been raised about CMP’s deceptive tactics, ideological agenda, and connections to radical and violent anti-choice activists.

Derek Foran, litigation partner with Morrison & Foerster, who is representing NAF in the lawsuit pro bono, said in a statement the he is confident the facts will show that CMP has engaged in an “extraordinary fraud” that was meant to harass abortion providers and endanger women’s access to abortion care.

“We are proud to stand with NAF and its members in the fight against anti-abortion extremists, who have smeared abortion providers and placed them in personal jeopardy, simply for ensuring the constitutional right of women in this country to make their own reproductive choices,” Foran said.

Image: Shutterstock

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Mission Accomplished: Planned Parenthood Attacks Coordinated by High-Ranking Republican Operatives

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 14:08

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

To understand exactly how the most recent Planned Parenthood sting was planned and coordinated, you must go back to 2013. In July of 2013, Washington, D.C. reporter David Corn revealed the existence of a high-powered group of people who viewed themselves as a conservative army fighting a war on multiple fronts. From the wife of a Supreme Court justice to the chief of staff for Sen. Ted Cruz, members of this group were determined to stop all progress before it could even begin.

They Called Themselves “Groundswell”

Just after Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, disappointed conservative thought leaders came together at the annual CPAC conference in Washington, D.C. to strategize. Demoralized but determined, they formed a plan to fight a “30-front war to fundamentally transform the nation.”

In early 2013, they formed an email group to begin the process of organizing for action and messaging coordination. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ key aide Danielle Cutrona was part of the group, as was Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Breitbart News Editor John Nolte, Family Research Council officials Jerry Boykin and Ken Blackwell, Tea Party Patriots Founder Jenny Beth Martin, Washington, D.C. attorney and public relations expert Diana Banister, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, former Congressman Allen West, former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino, Frank Gaffney, and Ted Cruz staffer Max Pappas rounded out the top-tier of group participants, according to David Corn’s report.

They met weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch to hone their message and action plans. One meeting was secretly recorded, getting them on the record with regard to their desire to get a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack, mostly for the purpose of obtaining unlimited subpoena power.

Their goal was not merely to function as a messaging machine, but to “sync messages and develop action from reports and information exchanged,” according to the minutes of their March 27, 2013 meeting. “Going forward there should be an action item accompanying each report,” they concluded.

The purpose of the group was to collaborate and coordinate strategy and action for their multiple “fronts.” Shadow government assignments were made, committees were formed, and strategies were developed. All of this was done with participation and input from key congressional staffers working in the House and the Senate. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), now House Majority Whip, was the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee at the time. His staff routinely dropped in to tip off the group as to upcoming votes on key issues. One of the most active participants on the email list was Danielle Cutrona, who was a key staffer for Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Whenever there was a need for support or for opposition to legislation, or an investigation or opposition to a judicial nominee, these staffers would reach into the group in order to recruit members for messaging or action support.

Immigration reform, religious liberty, and judicial appointments were high on their list of priorities, and they enjoyed some successes. They got their Select Committee on Benghazi, they successfully opposed one of the president’s judicial nominees who was not sufficiently steeped in their idea of Second Amendment interpretation, and they were wildly successful with their attack on the Internal Revenue Service’s procedure for approving nonprofit organizations.

Blueprint for Activism 

After David Corn broke the story of this group two years ago and audio of one of their weekly meetings became public, a blueprint for how to track coordination to advance its agenda, via messaging and action with key congressional aides, emerged.

One such example can be found in their effort to push the idea that the president was putting “politics over public safety” with regard to immigration reform.

Corn laid out the pieces:

Frank Gaffney penned a Washington Times op-ed titled “Putting Politics Over Public Safety.” Tom Fitton headlined a Judicial Watch weekly update “Politics over Public Safety: More Illegal Alien Criminals Released by Obama Administration.” Peter List, editor of LaborUnionReport.com, authored a RedState.com post called “Obama’s Machiavellian Sequestration Pain Game: Putting Politics Over Public Safety.” Matthew Boyle used the phrase in an immigration-related article for Breitbart. And Dan Bongino promoted Boyle’s story on Twitter by tweeting, “Politics over public safety?” In a message to Groundswellers, Ginni Thomas awarded “brownie points” to Fitton, Gaffney, and other members for promoting the “politics over public safety” riff.

All Eyes on Planned Parenthood 

Groundswell is now two years old, having cut its teeth on the fight against Common Core and the 2014 elections. Its members are just now hitting their stride and the evidence can be seen in the latest series of Planned Parenthood videos, which were carefully timed and coordinated for maximum political gain.

Here’s a look at the timeline and principal players. To determine the rollout, I used archived pages from the aggregation site Memeorandum and checked hourly snapshots to see how the story spread.

On July 14, Lila Rose’s Live Action News posted the press release and video from the so-called Center for Medical Progress. One of the first to pick up the story in less than an hour from its release was Austin Ruse, for Breitbart News. Ruse is a member of Groundswell, as is Breitbart’s managing editor, Stephen Bannon.

The Daily Caller was next, where Ginni Thomas serves as a contributor. Thomas was one of the key drivers of messaging and issues inside the Groundswell group, assigning key phrases and terms to group members to use for action and articles.

The Washington Free Beacon, a new but well-funded online news site, was next up shortly thereafter with facts and figures about federal funding for Planned Parenthood, suggesting that it was time to withdraw that funding, based upon the not-yet debunked report from the CMP.

The Federalist, the Heritage Foundation’s “news site” posted a story about Hillary Clinton’s vocal support for Margaret Sanger, using the long-debunked claim that Sanger supported the extermination of the Black race because of her allyship with the eugenics movement. (The Heritage Foundation was being considered for membership in the group in March 2013, but was not present at the May Groundswell meeting.)

The story was spreading, but slowly. This was partly due to reports of David Daleiden’s ties to the now-disgraced and unreliable sting artist James O’Keefe, as well as his ties to racist and also-disgraced blogger Chuck Johnson.

When the story didn’t catch fire quickly enough, the Daily Caller reporter who had first reported the story came back around for a second shot, observing that Democratic candidates were largely silent on the issue of “alleged Planned Parenthood felonies.”

July 14 also happened to be the day many left-side activists and writers were en route to Phoenix, Arizona, for Netroots Nation, which is the largest gathering of political activists, operatives, and writers for the left. The release date meant that the story would have the benefit of several hours before any level of significant skepticism would register from Planned Parenthood or allies online.

Also on July 14: Anti-abortion extremists convened in Alabama, home state to Sen. Jeff Sessions. Some groups represented in Alabama are connected to David Daleiden and his front group used for the Planned Parenthood sting.

By the close of business on July 14, the story had been picked up by all of the conservative news outlets online, and it was beginning to spread throughout social media. The key phrase for this onslaught was “Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.” Each and every article uses that language to describe the CMP video.

On July 15, House Speaker John Boehner announced an investigation into the allegations on the video, which had already been shown to be false. Leading the charge on that front in the Senate: Ted Cruz.

On July 16, representatives admitted they had seen the video weeks before its release.

On July 17, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Tim Murphy sent a letter to Planned Parenthood requesting specific information about the fetal tissue program.

Family Research Council’s Jerry Boykin was not shy about reaching out to Congress for specific action. In the recording of Groundswell’s May 8, 2013 meeting, he outlined the contacts he had made—including a late-night hallway meeting with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)—to facilitate a select committee on Benghazi. Similarly, here we have a story based on edited video intended to attack Planned Parenthood with inflammatory rhetoric and repugnant images crafted to spark congressional action. That action came one day later, when John Boehner announced a congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program. The investigation and ensuing releases of more edited video are intended to keep the extreme conservative base engaged and angry while inflicting deep harm on Planned Parenthood. Just as the Benghazi hearings were intended to harm Hillary Clinton’s credibility, so too are the Planned Parenthood attacks and congressional inquiries intended to keep the anti-abortion extremists engaged in the electoral process underway.

Planned Parenthood is certainly the target, but its destruction is not the goal, any more than destroying ACORN was the true goal back in 2008. Destruction would be a happy side effect, but the true goal is to destroy the pathway for women to have access to legal and safe abortions. As this cabal of conservatives has demonstrated, their goal is to spur Congress to further ban abortions while also promoting Republican extreme conservatives in the 2016 field as the True Heroes for primary voters.

It should bother us all that the spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice is involved in this level of coordination with everyone from media outlets to congressional staffers. It should bother us more that they are successful in their attempts to derail serious debate about serious issues by creating and promoting a video that does not prove what they claim to prove, in a calculating and manipulative way for the sole purpose of gaining an electoral advantage.

Image: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

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Indiana’s Investigation of Planned Parenthood Comes Up Empty

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 11:52

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

An Indiana State Department of Health investigation into Planned Parenthood-affiliated reproductive health-care clinics in the state found them in compliance with the state’s fetal tissue regulations.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky operates three clinics that provide surgical abortion care in Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Merrillville. All of the clinics were found to be in compliance with state regulations and were not cited for any deficiencies, according to documents released by Planned Parenthood.

“The investigation has concluded there was no evidence of this type of activity at these sites,” the Indiana State Department of Health said in a statement, reported the Indianapolis Star. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky does not participate in fetal tissued donation programs.

The investigations into all three clinics were completed on July 21, and the complaint was closed as of that date.

Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said in a statement that she was pleased that the issue was resolved.

“As we’ve said all along, PPINK doesn’t participate in a tissue donation program. We hold compliance with all laws and regulations as an imperative,” Cockrum said. “We’re not surprised the surveyors found the claims unsubstantiated. Perhaps now Indiana’s executive leadership will focus on measures such as teen pregnancy prevention and reducing the cycle of poverty to truly advance the dream of thriving Hoosier families.”

Gov. Mike Pence (R) directed the Department of Health to investigate Planned Parenthood on July 16, after an undercover, heavily edited video was published by an anti-choice front group that claimed the footage proved Planned Parenthood was illegally selling tissue from aborted fetus.

“Under federal and state law, the buying or selling of human body parts is a felony and, as Governor, I have an obligation to make sure this is not happening in Indiana,” Pence said in a statement. “Whatever one’s view on the issue of abortion, Hoosiers can be assured that we will make certain that this appalling practice is not taking place in Indiana.”

The videos were produced and published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice organization behind a series of videos seeking to defame Planned Parenthood. The organization has been praised by anti-choice activists and Republican politicians, but questions have been raised about CMP’s deceptive tactics, ideological agenda, and connections to radical and violent anti-choice activists.

Indiana has been hostile towards reproductive rights under Pence and the Republican-controlled state legislature. Several anti-choice bills have been introduced and passed into law in recent years, and this year Pence signed a bill into law creating more burdensome regulations for abortion clinics.

Since ordering the investigation, Pence gave public statements and interviews hyping the investigation, in addition to publishing multiple tweets on the matter. Pence published a tweet promoting the investigation Wednesday, a day after Planned Parenthood had received documentation that the Department of Health found no violations of the law.

The virulently anti-choice governor gave a statement Friday praising the speed of the investigation.

“I thought it was altogether appropriate for the Indiana State Department of Health to publish the results of that inquiry and move forward,” Pence said, reported the Indianapolis Star. “I’m pleased with the swift and professional manner that the Indiana State Department of Health went about this investigation and Hoosiers can be assured that we’ll continue to see to it that our laws in this area are strictly enforced.”

Republican lawmakers in several states have called for investigations into Planned Parenthood, and lawmakers across the country have compared the organization to everything from drug dealers to Nazis. State lawmakers in Texas held a hearing Wednesday to investigate the issue, even though, like those in Indiana, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas don’t collect fetal tissue for donation in medical research.

As Congress is set to vote on Monday on a proposal by Republican lawmakers to block Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding, no state or federal investigation to date has found the organization has violated any law regarding the handling of fetal tissue.

Image: Shutterstock

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Who Will We Choose to See? Bill Cosby and Believing Survivors

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 11:49

In early July, the Associated Press broke the news that Bill Cosby admitted, in a 2005 deposition, to procuring prescription Quaaludes “with the intent of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with.” The AP, which had gone to court to have portions of the previously sealed deposition made public, further reported that Cosby acknowledged “giving the sedative to at least one woman and ‘other people.’” The New York Times has since obtained and published excerpts of the full transcript of the deposition, reporting that Cosby’s own words paint him as “an unapologetic, cavalier playboy, someone who used a combination of fame, apparent concern, and powerful sedatives in a calculated pursuit of young women—a profile at odds with the the popular image he so long enjoyed, that of father figure and public moralist.”

Fallout from these latest revelations has been swift and dramatic. And they share a disturbing subtext: the assumption that women, that survivors, cannot be believed. That the words of one man had a credibility the words of more than 40 women did not. That, in fact, in the absence of a man’s words, indefinite public suspicion of women as liars and gold diggers is acceptable and even rational.

When it comes to accusations of assault, one man will always matter more than any number of women. No number of women, no volume of women’s testimony, will suffice as “proof.”

With the headlines about the 2005 deposition have come reactions from the business world, public figures, and others that now seem long overdue months after controversy exploded over resurfacing allegations of serial rape and sexual assault by Cosby. Within a day of the AP’s report, Walt Disney World announced plans to remove a statue of Cosby from its Hollywood Studios theme park. On the same day, the two remaining cable channels still airing reruns of the Cosby Show pulled it from their lineups, joining TV Land, which had dropped the show last year. CAA, Cosby’s most recent talent agency, announced in the wake of the AP bombshell that it had also parted ways with the comedian in 2014. Calls emerged to rescind the Presidential Medal of Freedom Cosby received from George W. Bush in 2002, with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) expressing support for such efforts.

The View’s Whoopi Goldberg, who has been one of the loudest defenders of her friend and fellow comedian, initially dismissed coverage of Cosby’s testimony with a warning against “snap judgments” and a reminder that “In America, still—I know it’s a shock—but you are innocent until proven guilty. [Cosby] has not been proven a rapist.” But only days later, Goldberg walked back this defense, allowing, “If this is to be tried in the court of public opinion … all the information that is out there kind of points to guilt.” Goldberg’s co-host and former Cosby Show star Raven-Symoné, however, remains unconvinced; she said on The View that she needs “proof” to make a judgment, and in a later People interview added, “we will see what happens.” Singer Jill Scott, who last year dismissed the allegations against her one-time mentor as “insane,” took back her words as soon as the AP report came out. “I stood by a man I respected and loved,” she said on Twitter, but “I was wrong. It HURTS!!!”

Shortly after the New York Times reported on Cosby’s full deposition, Spelman College announced the permanent termination of the professorship endowed by Bill and Camille Cosby in 1988, and the return of what remains of the $20 million donation that created it. This decision—following the suspension of the professorship when allegations first resurfaced in November—marked the end of an over-20-year relationship between the school and the Cosby family. Producer Nonie Robinson, who had described her film Painted Down as the “last project standing behind [Cosby],” announced that Cosby had been cut from the documentary: “with Whoopi [Goldberg, until recently one of Cosby’s most vocal defenders] and CAA pulling the plug, we must also disassociate and cut all ties with Cosby. It’s the right thing to do in light of the recent court deposition being made public.”

These responses reflect an apparent sentiment that Cosby’s 2005 statement gives serious credibility to accusations against him—by implication, a credibility lacking in the testimony of the more than 40 women (not including Jane Does) who have come forward to say Cosby assaulted them. The New York Times, for example, called the deposition “vindication” for these women, while CNN reported that “Bill Cosby’s own words … provide the strongest evidence so far for … [the] women alleging the 77-year-old comedian drugged and raped them.”

Coverage of the allegations against Cosby has generally left much to be desired. But I find myself particularly struck by recurring questions of proof and presumed innocence in commentary on this case. There is not as much daylight as it might initially appear between the seeming consensus that Cosby’s deposition provides a previously missing smoking gun and the continued insistence of a few, like Raven-Symoné, that Cosby’s guilt hasn’t been “proven.” Both imply that the testimonies of the women in question are not, on their own, evidence enough in the court of public opinion.

As many have pointed out in such cases, “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a legal standard intended to protect the rights of those accused of or prosecuted for breaking the law. Yet there is always a faction who asserts “innocent until proven guilty” as a reason why alleged perpetrators should not face public censure, or even serious weighing of the accusations against them in public forums. As iconic as Bill Cosby is and was, and as uniquely heinous as the crimes he is accused of are, his case is mundane and typical in this respect. In general, when it comes to sexual violence and other forms of abuse, we are all too ready to give alleged perpetrators an extreme benefit of the doubt, while imposing an impossible standard of “proof” on those who come forward as survivors—all in the name of being impartial and fair.

Obscured by these claims of objectivity are the troubling implications for survivors of applying this standard to public opinion. Doing so requires us to accept that our central ethical and moral responsibility as a culture is to assume good faith and character on the part of alleged perpetrators until the absence of those qualities is absolutely made clear. It requires us to accept, by corollary, that our central responsibility is not to support and serve those identifying themselves as survivors, but instead to assume they are fabricators and frauds until presented with ironclad “proof” that, in the vast majority of cases, cannot and will not ever materialize. On some level we all know this—that such intimate violations by nature make absolute proof a virtually impossible standard to meet.

These are the lengths to which we are willing to go to give men the benefit of doubt. The minute possibility of innocence absolves us of responsibility to be in solidarity with survivors, much less to provide material support and services to those potentially living with the aftermath of rape.

This belies the claims to objectivity that often come with scolding reminders to stick to “innocent until proven guilty.” This standard, we’re told, is a dispassionate weighing of facts. Such folks see themselves, or at least claim to, as staying above the fray, resisting being swayed by mass media and public bandwagons, declining to choose a side until they have “more information” or “concrete evidence.”

This is a self-deception. Whatever stance one takes on Bill Cosby or any other alleged abuser, it always involves making a choice. It is more honest to flatly state disbelief in survivors—as singer Jill Scott initially did, before the revelations about Cosby’s deposition led her to backtrack—than to claim rational, nonpartisan distance. To imply that all parties are equally likely to be telling the truth is the opposite of neutrality.

Here is the reality: Refusing to believe survivors in the name of “innocent until proven guilty” could not be further from a commitment to fairness and objectivity. Belief is, in a sense, identification, a kind of recognition. To doggedly cling to the possibility of innocence is to primarily identify with the alleged perpetrator and to project oneself into their place, assuming they are falsely accused and imagining the damaging consequences of being wrongfully viewed as a rapist.

And as a culture, we are far more willing to do the emotional work of identification—to engage our imaginations and empathy—on behalf of those accused of sexual violence than those who have survived it. It is far easier for us to worry over the possibility, no matter how remote, of “destroying” the life of an innocent person, than to do the more uncomfortable work of putting ourselves in the much more likely scenario: living with the devastation caused by sexual violence, and the suspicion and contempt with which survivors are viewed.

Why do we consistently choose to identify with accused perpetrators over victims? Perhaps part of the reason is understandable terror at the thought that we too could suffer—for some, suffer again—such violation. Giving the accused the benefit of the doubt, though it means withholding that same benefit from survivors, perhaps affords us the comforting illusion of safety.

But it is not only that identifying with survivors is uncomfortable and frightening. It is also that institutionalized power and systemic oppression work by insisting on the fundamental innocence and trustworthiness of power—whether that’s whiteness, patriarchy, wealth, or something else. They work by casting the marginalized in the role of perpetual suspects who always have to prove their experiences and oppression are real. We are systematically taught that only power deserves the automatic benefit of the doubt.

We are always faced with a choice: Who will receive the bulk of our sympathies? Who is afforded the luxury of being seen as a fleshed-out individual, of being allowed to be flawed and yet still human, still relatable? Who will we do the emotional labor of identifying with?

Our cultural scripts are clear: We are to do the work of presuming innocence for accused perpetrators, not victims. Perhaps more terrifying, our investment in disbelieving victims for the sake of maintaining the possibility of that innocence is so complete that we don’t even process it for the emotional labor it is.

“Innocent until proven guilty,” in rape culture, feels like fairness. It feels like objective weighing of evidence. It feels like rationality. It feels obvious. That it requires us to assume that survivors are lying—if not outright con artists—escapes our notice. Until we wake up to the reality that we are taught to consistently see ourselves in and side with perpetrators over victims, with men over women, the word of one man will continue to be worth more than the voices of any number of women.

Image: ABC News / YouTube

The post Who Will We Choose to See? Bill Cosby and Believing Survivors appeared first on RH Reality Check.

This Week in Sex: Condoms in Porn, Sex on Vacation, and What Millennials Are Doing in Bed

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 11:12

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Survey Says: Millennials Are Using Condoms, Lubes, and Toys, and They’re Having Orgasms

A new survey by condom manufacturer Ansell targeted over 5,000 men and women ages 18 to 34 and asked them 69 questions (yep, not 70, and probably not a coincidence) about sexuality and relationships.

It found that 43 percent of millennials are using lubricants and over a quarter are using vibrators. This could explain why so many of the women are climaxing—89 percent of women respondents said they typically have an orgasm during sex.

And as for that sex, the most common position is doggy style, followed by missionary and cowgirl. Men reportedly said they prefer doggy style, while the women in the survey said they liked missionary better. The most common day for sex: a birthday.

The survey also found that the more academic degrees millennials have, the more likely they are to use condoms, though there is no way of knowing whether they are actually getting a formal sex education in schools. What the findings do show is that 65 percent of individuals with a professional degree reported using condoms, compared to 44 percent of respondents with a high school diploma. And, 58 percent of millennials currently enrolled at a university reported using condoms.

When they’re not actually having sex, respondents appear to be using their phones to talk about sex. Over half (57 percent) of millennials reported sexting, with 7 percent saying they sext daily and 11 percent saying they do it several times per week. And some of those sexts include art: 49 percent of millennials have sent naked pictures on their mobile phones, and 25 percent sent such pictures via Snapchat.

But don’t expect them to stop using their mobile phones—at least not the 37 percent of respondents who said they would rather give up sex than the Internet for a year.

Women Have Riskier Sex When on Vacation

Vacation sex is not a new concept, but researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Florida wanted to know if individuals engaged in riskier behavior while on holiday than they do at home.

They surveyed more than 850 women ages 18 to 50 online and asked about their own behavior as well as their perceptions about which tourist activities and destinations were most conducive to sexual risk-taking.

The results suggest that tourist experiences in tropical destinations or European countries are seen as the ultimate settings for sex with a steady or at least known sexual partner, and a group tour is best for casual sex with an acquaintance.

What is it about vacation that leads to sex? Well, there are many factors—lack of schedule and responsibility, a disconnect from everyday life, and anonymity were all brought up by respondents. One major facilitator of vacation sex: heavy drinking. Some women, however, just saw risk itself as part of the vacation experience.

Women were also asked to rank 23 sexual practices—such as going to a sex club, having unprotected sex with a stranger, or having sex in a restroom—in order of perceived risk. Not surprisingly, those women who reported having engaged in risky sex while a tourist perceived these activities as less risky than their peers did.

Though sex on the beach may not seem like a serious subject for academic study, the researchers point out that there are public health ramifications. As one of the researchers said in a press release: “The fact that women have tendencies to underestimate the risks involved in non-penetrative sexual activities, overestimate the protection of condoms, and attribute sexual risk-taking to alcohol consumption are factors that sexual health information campaigns might want to address.”

Measure Requiring Porn Actors to Wear Condoms May Be on the 2016 Ballot in California

Advocates announced last week that they have gathered enough signatures to put a measure requiring condoms in all adult films shot in California on the 2016 ballot.

As RH Reality Check has been reporting, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has been working on various measures over the last few years to mandate condoms in porn films with mixed success. Attempts to get the LA City Council to agree to the mandate failed a number of times, but in 2012 voters in that city approved “Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act,” known as Measure B, despite producers’ threats that they would simply film elsewhere. Enforcement of the rule has been difficult, and last year AHF took its fight to the state legislature, where efforts to pass a new policy failed.

Now, AHF is turning once again to the voters with a statewide ballot initiative that would require all production companies to certify, under the penalty of perjury, that condoms were used in all acts of vaginal and anal sex. Violators would face fines of up to $70,000. Production companies would also have to post a sign on set notifying actors that condoms are required.

The adult film industry is opposed to any such requirements, arguing that it is capable of keeping its performers safe. Many others in the state oppose the measure as well because of the financial implications. Since Measure B passed in Los Angeles, the number of permits given to adult films has dropped by 90 percent. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, a non-partisan fiscal advisor, says that if passed, the ballot initiative will not only cost the state millions of dollars to enforce each year, the state will simultaneously lose tens of millions of dollars each year in tax revenue.

Still, AHF President Michael Weinstein believes that voters will go for the measure. He told the Los Angeles Times, “unlike most politicians, voters were not squeamish about this issue, seeing it as a means to protect the health and safety of performers working in the industry.”

The secretary of state confirmed last week that the initiative had received enough signatures—365,880—to be placed on the ballot. The signatures still have to be validated by state officials.

Image: Shutterstock

The post This Week in Sex: Condoms in Porn, Sex on Vacation, and What Millennials Are Doing in Bed appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Senate Will Vote Monday on Defunding Planned Parenthood

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 17:11

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

The Senate is poised to vote Monday on a Republican proposal to defund Planned Parenthood and divert the funds to other health-care entities.

The bill, S. 1881, was drafted by a “working group” led by Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Rand Paul (R-KY), and James Lankford (R-OK), and has at least 32 Republican co-sponsors.

Congressional Republicans have introduced numerous bills using various tactics to try to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, including a failed effort to attach an amendment to a must-pass highway bill, and other bills in both houses that would put a moratorium on funding for a year while investigations proceed.

It’s an old goal that has new anti-choice energy behind it after the release of deceptively edited videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing a legal fetal tissue donation program.

Ernst’s bill is a standalone piece of legislation that almost certainly doesn’t have the votes to pass the Senate, especially with two Republicans (Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine) opposing the measure.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has criticized the bill as a “show vote” because of its low chances of passing and said that Republicans should do everything they can, including shutting down the government in the fall, to defund Planned Parenthood. Eighteen House Republicans agreed with Cruz in a Wednesday letter sent to leadership.

The bill to be voted on Monday would prohibit any federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood. It says, “All funds no longer available to Planned Parenthood will continue to be made available to other eligible entities to provide women’s health care services.”

It’s a move that fits in with recent talking points from Republicans and anti-choice activists, who have been busy trying to convince the public that Planned Parenthood’s health services are redundant because other publicly funded health-care providers also offer them.

These tactics appear intended to deflect staunch criticism from Democrats that defunding Planned Parenthood would leave 2.7 million women floundering to access the health services that they depend on the organization for, such as contraception, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection tests, immunizations, and other preventive health care.

“So when you say, ‘Let’s defund Planned Parenthood’—because you never liked that they exist—what you are saying is that women, primarily in low-income communities, and many women of color, won’t have access to a wide range of essential health services, because of an ideological desire to control what choices are made between a woman and her doctor,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on the floor Thursday.

“This exploitative movement, advanced by special interests, would effectively tell half-a-million American women: ‘Sorry, you can’t have a breast exam this year,’” Gillibrand said. “They’re telling 400,000 American women, ‘Sorry, you won’t be able to have a lifesaving screening for cervical cancer.’”

Since federal funds don’t cover abortion, other women’s health services—which make up 97 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides—are in practice the ones targeted by federal defunding efforts.

But if Republicans can claim they will make sure women won’t lose those services, that could undermine the arguments of Democrats who don’t forcefully defend Planned Parenthood as an abortion provider specifically, and who don’t highlight the consequences of women losing access to abortion if Planned Parenthood were to close its doors nationwide.

Even keeping the focus on non-abortion-related services, though, critics say that this funding reroute simply won’t work the way it’s intended to.

“The problem is, in my state and many others, Planned Parenthood is the primary provider of women’s health services in certain parts of my state,” Collins, one of two Republicans opposed to the bill, told The Hill. “[I] don’t know how you would ensure that all of the patients of Planned Parenthood could be absorbed by alternative care providers.”

One issue is that America already faces a reproductive health provider shortage, and that about half of Planned Parenthood’s clinics are in rural, underserved areas where their patients may have nowhere else to go for care.

Another problem is that women often can’t get the full range of services they need from primary care providers that don’t focus on reproductive health. Primary care providers are less likely to have at least ten methods of contraceptives on-site and less likely to offer long-acting methods like IUDs, but they are very likely to refer patients to other providers that specialize in family planning.

The bill’s language about redistributing funds is vague and seems to offer no clear guarantee that other health-care providers would actually get the funds, nor does it specify which providers would get them and how.

“Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Joni Ernst should probably listen to the medical community before they decide to legislate health care for millions of people,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “Family planning providers are uniquely qualified to provide reproductive health care, and providers have asserted that the ‘absorption’ plan to simply hand off millions of women’s health care simply isn’t feasible.”

Laguens added that when Planned Parenthood funding has been cut at the state level, it led to an unprecedented HIV outbreak in Indiana and caused 54 percent fewer patients in Texas to receive care.

Image: Shutterstock

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The Largely Forgotten History of Abortion Billboard Advertising—and What Pro-Choice Advocates Can Learn From It

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 15:18

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

Across the United States, billboards are visible evidence of the contentious abortion debate. Enlarged images of fetuses, cherubic babies, distressed women, and Bible verses tower over highways and byways like anti-abortion sentinels overseeing America’s culture wars.

Notice I didn’t mention images that show happy, pro-choice women, for it’s a lopsided roadside debate.

Rarely do we see billboards promoting abortion rights or the broader ideals of reproductive justice; there are few examples like New Voices Cleveland’s recent sponsorship of these billboards that affirmed, in the wake of the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in the city, that reproductive justice includes the right to parent and protect children. Abortion opponents have effectively cornered the market on this advertising medium and, to paraphrase a hackneyed phrase from “American Idol” judges, have made the billboard their own.

But the good news: The billboard is a just a tool (like video is a tool)—and tools can be harnessed for any movement. In fact, past abortion-rights advocates used billboards to good effect—even before Roe v. Wade. Ideological warfare about abortion via advertising has a long track record, though it’s a past largely forgotten in history’s fog and the present’s relentless attacks on abortion rights. Today’s reproductive rights and justice advocates can’t afford to forget that past. They may need to “go back to the future” to resurrect this tool in an era where women face increasing restrictions on abortion, and providers face proposed laws that would curtail their ability to offer reproductive health care to women most in need.

So what is it that advocates need to remember or learn? For starters, many early billboards functioned as straightforward advertising for abortion—even when it wasn’t widely legal. This roadside sign popped up in McGrann, Pennsylvania, in 1971 and pointed people to neighboring New York state, which had legalized abortion in 1970.

Similar billboards featuring phone numbers began sprouting like giant flowers on the American landscape. As this picture demonstrates, referral services—some nonprofit and some that operated as for-profit entities—also took to streetsides before Roe to tell women that they could find health care in the form of abortion and sterilization.

Distributing information about abortion through billboards or other advertisements was not without risk; those who did so could face arrest. In 1972, Charlottesville, Virginia, newspaper editor Jeffrey Bigelow was charged with running advertisements for a New-York based abortion referral service and convicted under a state law banning any public promotion of abortion services. The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but took a back seat to the bigger challenges to abortion bans: the cases that would become Roe and Georgia’s Doe v. BoltonBigelow v. Virginia was eventually decided in 1975; Bigelow’s conviction was overturned because there could be no limits on the advertising of a service that had become legal.

At the same time, the young anti-abortion movement was also rolling out its own billboards, said historian Jennifer Donnally, a Hollins University visiting professor who researches abortion politics and the new right. From the early days when anti-abortion advocates were organizing against state-level abortion law reform, they have made billboards a key part of their messaging.

“Anti-abortion billboards began to appear on highways in New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Washington [state] prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision as part of statewide campaigns against abortion repeal efforts,” Donnally told RH Reality Check.

Many of those billboards were tied to specific ballot measures or potential law changes. In 1970, when Washington state planned a referendum where voters could decide to allow abortion in some circumstances, opponents (and their billboards) came out in full force. “Kill Referendum 20, not me,” implored a billboard picturing a fake fetus cradled in an adult hand. Accused of using tasteless scare tactics, Voice of the Unborn (the group behind the billboards) replied through a representative, reported the New York Times in October of that year: “They show an exact medical school replica of a 4-month-old baby. If the billboards seem to be shocking, perhaps it’s the idea of abortion that’s shocking.” (The referendum passed with 56 percent of the vote, and allowed women and girls to have abortions if they requested them, with the consent of their husbands or guardians, and if the procedure was performed by a licensed physician.)

Donnally noted that anti-abortion billboards have taken different forms and served many purposes over time. They moved from makeshift messages in cornfields to slick public-relations creations, and they mobilized supporters in different ways according to the movement’s age and successes.

“The publicity billboards educated the public and recruited potential activists. Behind the scenes, efforts to place billboards trained anti-abortion activists in fundraising and media relations while also [making] activists feel effective when the movement was in its early stages, following setbacks or celebrating victories. Sometimes, billboard campaigns were sophisticated. Other times, a farmer in a rural area who had a hard time connecting to anti-abortion chapters concentrated in cities and towns took action into his or her own hands,” added Donnally. “They made a plywood anti-abortion sign and posted it on their land next to a heavily traveled highway.”

After the Bigelow ruling, anti-abortion advertising gained steam in the mid-1970s. A February 1976 Village Voice article called John C. Willke, then a practicing obstetrician and a future president of the National Right to Life Committee, the “visual aids guru of the pro-life movement.” Willke’s first visual aids were often slideshows that Willke and his wife presented in talks to high schoolers.

But, according to the article, Willke’s “newest project [was] the creation of the three billboard posters. The least offensive reads ‘Abortion: A woman’s right to choose.’” “Choose” was crossed out and replaced with “kill.” A second billboard depicted tiny feet and this text: “This baby won’t keep his mother awake at night … at least not yet.” Willke planned to erect a fetus billboard atop a building across from a Minnesota hospital that provided abortions, the article added.

Willke’s focus on the fetus and abortion’s supposedly negative and life-changing effects on the woman—now cornerstones of anti-abortion rhetoric—was an experimental and emergent strategy then. Emphasizing abortion as an emotional harm and women as its simultaneous victims and perpetrators, right-to-life groups were often explicit when telling their members how to best deploy billboards. An undated newsletter from the Jackson, Mississippi-based Christian Action Group provided hand-drawn illustrations of possible billboards, one showing “baby’s first visit to the doctor,” a menacing-looking physician holding a black sack and a frazzled woman hovering in the background. Also included was a sample billboard that showed a hand wielding a scalpel, labeled “a pro-choice pacifier.”

 

The illustrations came with this advice on using billboards to the best advantage: “One form of ‘advocacy advertising,’ such as political advertising, is to convince people of the justification of your point of view. Another is to make people ashamed to be with your [opponents]. These billboards are the latter.” Cultivating and multiplying shame was a tactic. As abortion opponents’ philosophy went, Americans—even the most well-intentioned or those ignorant of the “real” story about abortion—needed to be confronted visually with their silent complicity.

When Roe came under significant legal challenge in the 1980s, billboards became even more overtly political. In 1988, the year before the U.S. Supreme Court decision Webster v. Reproductive Health Services that allowed states to restrict abortion, a Planned Parenthood billboard showed six male (and mostly anti-abortion) Supreme Court justices holding their own sign saying “Freedom of Choice,” but with Chief Justice William Rehnquist slamming his gavel on the word “of” and Justices Harry Blackmun and Clarence Thomas holding a replacement sign with the word “from.” Also in 1988, anti-abortion activists experimented with a new form of advertising by placing anti-abortion placards in Atlanta taxis during the Democratic National Convention there.

A year later, in 1989, Prolife Across America was up and running. It works as an anti-abortion billboard mill, cranking out design after design (as well as radio spots and other advertising).

Therein lies the difference: Billboards have been institutionalized in anti-abortion media strategy and organizations, but they seemed to fade from the strategic agendas of reproductive rights organizations. In 2014, the Prolife Across America/Prolife Minnesota tax return reported that its designs were emblazoned on more than 6,000 billboards, reaching Americans stuck in traffic or driving to work every day with its larger-than-life messages. The group often says those messages are hotlines for pregnant women, educational, and roadside ministry all wrapped into one. Other organizations provide templates or the actual printed vinyl panels that bear the messages and drape over the standard billboard frames for prices as cheap as $200 (not including the cost of billboard rental, which varies widely according to geography, company, and the estimated number of motorists and views at given locations).

As the billboard has become a consistent anti-abortion platform, the messages billboards have carried read like a conversation between abortion opponents and other social movements. Billboard makers have blatantly adapted the slogans of feminism and civil rights and even the images of Black political leaders such as Frederick Douglass or Barack Obama—and with varying degrees of deftness or tone-deafness.

By the 1990s, billboards in the Midwest had reworked a common feminist bumper sticker to read “Pro-life: The radical idea that fetuses are people.” Later, billboards took an explicitly racial turn. In 2011, billboards proclaiming “Black & Beautiful” alongside pictures of Black infants appeared in Oakland, California. Sponsored by the anti-abortion group Issues4Life, the billboards appropriated the language of the Black Panther movement, which had its most well-known and vocal chapter in the Bay Area city.

Images and messages on billboards that explicitly targeted Black communities—and paved the way for others aimed at Latinos and Asians—were not entirely new. As scholar Gillian Frank has pointed out, a 1972 Michigan referendum about changing that state’s abortion law pushed anti-abortion groups to begin developing brochures that pictured Black babies and compared abortion to slavery, now old-hat anti-abortion fare.

More than 20 years later, diverse groups protested the encroachment of racist billboards in their home communities. In Oakland in 2011, Strong Families and a coalition of multiracial groups joined forces to persuade CBS Outdoor to take down controversial signage—a campaign similar to one used a year before by the Atlanta-based SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective when billboards also owned by CBS and claiming that “black children are an endangered species” appeared in the Georgia capital. Earlier this year, the reproductive justice group SisterReach successfully pushed for the removal of anti-abortion billboards in Tennessee.

Yet the hand that giveth does taketh away. Contemporary groups fighting for abortion access find that many billboard and other advertising companies reserve the right to deny or take down controversial content. And those contractual stipulations mean that some companies will reject outright advertising that specifically references abortion or simply points women to services—for fear that the other side will cause a ruckus and demand its removal. Fears of the “A-word” have made it into the online world, with Google determining that abortion ads were “non-family-safe” content and categorizing them with adult advertising and entertainment.

Whatever the advertising format, it’s clear that this type of commercial and political speech isn’t going away. And few people know that better than Jasmine Burnett, New Voices Cleveland’s field organizer in the Midwest. In 2010, she led the campaign to take down a SoHo, New York, billboard that proclaimed the most dangerous place for a Black person was the womb, and this year, Burnett was a driving force behind the Cleveland billboard.

Burnett said that it’s not enough to mount defensive campaigns that respond to the propagandistic billboards that increasingly dot urban and mostly Black neighborhoods. What’s necessary is billboard activism that moves beyond reproductive rights’ preoccupation with abortion and, in keeping with a reproductive justice lens, addresses the racism that’s an American bedrock.

“Anti-abortion billboards are an affront and an attack. [In doing the billboards, New Voices Cleveland] wanted to provide other spaces for creative thought, affirmation, and liberation,” said Burnett. “We work for the full health and well-being of Black women and people. For us, full health means having a different image of ourselves, being able to control and discuss our reproduction, and thinking about how we navigate self-determination in the midst of white supremacy.

“There are not many [billboards or other advertising] that talk about Black people’s lives,” Burnett added. “And we wanted our billboards to say, ‘We support your decision and right to parent or not parent. And we care about your life.’”

Image: AssociatedPress / YouTube

The post The Largely Forgotten History of Abortion Billboard Advertising—and What Pro-Choice Advocates Can Learn From It appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Center for Medical Progress Releases Fourth Video Attacking Planned Parenthood’s Fetal Tissue Donation Program

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 14:59

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

The Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice organization behind a series of videos seeking to defame Planned Parenthood, posted a fourth attack video to its YouTube channel Thursday, hours after a court barred the group from releasing new videos of officials at a company that provides researchers with human tissue.

The organization claims the newest deceptively edited video shows Dr. Savita Ginde, vice president and medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, negotiating the sale of fetal tissue.

According to CMP, the video was recorded by operatives posing as representatives from a human biologics company who met with Ginde at the Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains headquarters in Denver, Colorado. The edited video shows the CMP operatives discussing Planned Parenthood’s policies concerning fetal tissue donation.

When the operatives tell Ginde that they want to pay her “top dollar” for fetal tissue and that it could “look like we’re paying you for specimens,” Ginde responds that they are compensating Planned Parenthood for “processing and time.”

Much of the discussion in the video concerns the public perception of fetal tissue procurement, and the final few minutes reintroduces footage incorporated in other videos of Planned Parenthood employees examining the tissue of aborted fetuses.

The video appears to be heavily edited, with sharp jumps in the footage and timestamps appearing in some parts of the video but not in others. At the time of publication, CMP had not yet released the unedited footage.

The release comes hours after a California court issued a temporary restraining order preventing the CMP from releasing a video of three StemExpress officials, which was reportedly taped in a California restaurant in May. A former employee of StemExpress, which provides human tissue, blood, and other specimens to researchers, was prominently featured in a video released Tuesday by the CMP.

A spokesperson for StemExpress said in a statement that the company is “grateful its rights have been vindicated in a court of law.”

David Daleiden, the project leader and public face of CMP, responded in a statement, saying that StemExpress was using “meritless litigation” to cover up an “illegal baby parts trade.”

“The Center for Medical Progress follows all applicable laws in the course of our investigative journalism work,” Daleiden said.

The videos have sparked outrage directed at Planned Parenthood from Republicans and anti-choice activists.

Lawmakers have used the videos to justify calling for Congress to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for services unrelated to abortion. State lawmakers in Texas held a hearing Wednesday to investigate the issue, even though Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas don’t currently collect fetal tissue for donation in medical research. Lawmakers across the country have compared Planned Parenthood to everything from drug dealers to Nazis.

“Elected officials need to listen to the public outcry for an immediate moratorium on Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding while the 10 state investigations and 3 Congressional committees determine the full extent of Planned Parenthood’s sale of baby parts.” Daleiden said in a statement.

Reproductive rights advocates, however, have called the videos a “smear campaign” and harmful to women seeking abortion care. “To the right, they want to stamp out abortion by stamping out Planned Parenthood. But what they really want is to stamp out our ability to make the most personal, private decisions about our lives. They are using the latest campaign to shut down Planned Parenthood to do just that,” said Wisconsin Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) in an op-ed for the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch.

Questions also have been raised about CMP’s deceptive tactics, ideological agenda, and connections to radical and violent anti-choice activists.

An RH Reality Check investigation found that Daleiden and his associates may have violated California and federal laws—including forgery, credit card fraud, and identity theft—when filming the videos.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Center for Medical Progress Releases Fourth Video Attacking Planned Parenthood’s Fetal Tissue Donation Program appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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