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New Census Numbers Show Consequences of Rejecting Medicaid Expansion

RH Reality Check - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:06

New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that seven out of eleven major metropolitan areas with rates of uninsured people higher than the national average are in states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Twenty-three states have rejected expanding Medicaid under the ACA, many of them with Republican-controlled legislatures and all but one with Republican governors. Several of the states are in the South, where all seven of the metropolitan areas with higher-than-average rates of uninsured people are found.

Florida is home to the city with the highest percentage of uninsured people in the nation, as 25 percent of Miami’s residents are without health insurance. Tampa Bay also makes the list with 15.1 percent of residents uninsured. Florida’s 20 percent uninsured rate is among the highest in the nation.

Florida will lose more federal dollars than any other state due to refusal by the GOP-controlled legislature to expand Medicaid, according to a joint report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute. The state will lose $66.1 billion in federal funding over the next decade.

In 2012 Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) rejected Medicaid expansion. After Scott modified his position, the Florida legislature voted to reject it. It remains unclear whether Scott or Charlie Crist, his Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial campaign, will support implementing Medicaid expansion.

Texas is home to three of the cities with rates of uninsured people higher than the national average: San Antonio at 20.8 percent, Dallas at 21.5 percent, and Houston 22.8 percent. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation; 22.1 percent of residents have no health insurance.

The high uninsured rate and the state’s failure to expand Medicaid has led to about one million residents falling into the so-called coverage gap.

joint report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute also found that Texas has a projected loss over ten years of $65.6 billion in federal funds by not expanding Medicaid.

In 2012 Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) refused to expand Medicaid, and then in 2013 the state legislature failed to pass the “Texas Solution,” a market-based version of Medicaid expansion. Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania also created private health insurance exchanges in an effort to expand Medicaid independently from the ACA, similar to the proposal in Texas. After the state’s program went into effect, Arkansas saw the sharpest drop in uninsured residents in the nation.

Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott’s proposed health-care plan does not include plans to expand Medicaid, while Democratic candidate Wendy Davis has endorsed expanding Medicaid.

GOP leaders in Georgia and North Carolina have also refused to expand Medicaid. As a result, Atlanta and Charlotte are among the seven cities with the highest rates of uninsured people.

Georgia state lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year both rejecting Medicaid expansion and prohibiting legislators from advocating for the expansion. In 2012, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said the state would reject Medicaid expansion, and in 2013 McCrory signed legislation preventing its implementation in the state.

In addition to the rejection of Medicaid expansion, North Carolina Republican lawmakers have passed legislation to restrict voting rights and access to welfare benefits, all of which, taken together, sparked the protest movement known as Moral Mondays. The protests have spread to other states, including Georgia and Florida.

Image: Affordable Care Act via Shutterstock

The post New Census Numbers Show Consequences of Rejecting Medicaid Expansion appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Threats meant to intimidate anyone from speaking out for equality are absolutely...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 20:00
Threats meant to intimidate anyone from speaking out for equality are absolutely despicable.


4chan Responds to Emma Watson's UN Speech With a Disgusting Threat
mic.com
This is awful.

Amandla! South African Minister Underscores Reproductive Justice as a Global Framework

RH Reality Check - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 19:47

It is rare that you can see something you’ve helped to create change the behavior of a government thousands of miles away. So imagine my surprise when I opened my email this morning to read the speech about reproductive justice (RJ) made by South Africa’s Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini in front of the United Nations General Assembly on September 19. She didn’t speak in general language that could be interpreted to suggest reproductive justice; she actually used the specific term, acknowledging the role African-American women played in gifting this theory and framework to the world.

In addition to discussing sexual rights, reproductive health issues, and economic justice, she used the speech to explicitly embrace LGBTQ rights. As a representative of an African government that supports gay, lesbian, trans, bi, and intersex rights, her remarks act as an important backstop against the rampant anti-gay hysteria around the continent fomented by the evangelical religious right in Uganda and elsewhere. Yet it was her use of the reproductive justice language that started my heart pounding Tuesday morning.

It is no longer surprising that RJ has caught on in the United States among thousands of activists eager to move beyond the paralyzing pro-choice/anti-choice stalemate. It is very simple to embrace RJ as both a theoretical paradigm shift and a model for ideal practices because it’s easy to understand and, in a few words, can state the sum of our expectations. As I’ve written in other places, it comes with its own “elevator pitch:”

RJ is about three interconnected sets of human rights: 1) the right to have children; 2) the right not have children; and 3) the right to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.

As bell hooks says, “Any theory that cannot be shared in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate the public.”

Reproductive justice does not privilege the production of babies as the only goal of women’s biology; instead, it is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s decisions. Although the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective publicized the concept of RJ, it does not only apply to women of color. Human rights are what everyone deserves, and so everyone is included in the RJ framework. In particular, reproductive justice draws attention to the lack of physical, reproductive, and cultural safety that affects our “choices.” Reproductive justice focuses on oppression—the structures of injustice and inequality.

In 1994, when 12 Black women sat in a hotel room in Chicago and envisioned the concept of reproductive justice as a way to create new avenues of resistance and strategies for change, we had no idea that 20 years later, we’d be discussing how RJ has changed the pro-choice movement in the United States in addition to being used by activists around the world. I’ve been invited to speak about reproductive justice in Ireland, South Africa, China, and Brazil. Activists in these countries told me that using the RJ framework has opened up political spaces to talk about sexual rights and reproductive health issues in a way that moves the lens from centering only on abortion; instead, it enfolds abortion in a larger conversation about people’s lives and human rights. As in the United States, this paradigm shift has brought new allies into the conversation and has thwarted opponents who only want to focus on fetuses instead of the full spectrum of our lived experiences.

In the United States, some adopters of the RJ framework have only focused on the inherent concept of intersectionality, based on the works of Kimberlé Crenshaw. Intersectionality, according to her, “mediates the tension between assertions of multiple identities and the ongoing necessity of group politics,” while at the same time providing a “basis for reconceptualizing” a single identity as coalition, such as “race as a coalition between men and women of color.” Intersectionality is certainly a process that the RJ framework uses as a pathway toward understanding our multiple identities. But it is just that: a process, not a goal. The goal is the full achievement of human rights for everyone.

To get there, we need a legal regime that pushes beyond the limited U.S. Constitution and the tenuous interpretation of “privacy” to protect women’s rights. Incidentally, this is also why Crenshaw conceptualized intersectionality as a lawyer in 1989, when she analyzed the inability of U.S. laws to deal with the compounding of race and gender in cases involving Black women plaintiffs.

In fact, to not reference “human rights” as an international set of laws and standards in discussions and applications of reproductive justice is to divest RJ of its power to challenge the U.S. government to live up to the obligation to protect our people. When RJ is stripped of its most radical potential, we have to ask ourselves, whose interests does that serve?

Nonetheless, back to South Africa. It was wonderful for me that Minister Dlamini referenced the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in her speech. That was where things crystallized for me, 20 years ago: that the ability of any woman to manage her own fertility is directly dependent on the circumstances of the community in which she is embedded. To promote contraceptives in a community that lacks basic health-care infrastructure is a form of population control, not a sincere understanding of the needs of women or their communities. This was the message—in other words, the African philosophical concept of Ubuntu—that global feminists agreed upon at the ICPD, and we pushed it together to ensure that it was included in RJ’s Plan of Action.

On Friday, Dlamini called upon all African countries to improve their human rights commitments for everyone and to stop limiting protections by invoking the phrase “in accordance with national laws and policies.” This mealy-mouthed half-stepping basically admits that existing national laws that violate human rights, such as Uganda’s “kill the gays” law, will not be changed. This is a salutary lesson for the United States. The primary reason we have not ratified the majority of the available human rights treaties—including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)—is because of Congress’ reluctance to bring U.S. laws into harmony with international human rights laws.

So I celebrate this morning in company with my co-creators Toni Bond Leonard, “Able” Mable Thomas, Cynthia Newbille, Rev. Alma Crawford, Evelyn Field, and seven others who were with us in that hotel room. We’ll have our SisterSong-organized reunion in Chicago from November 7 to 9, but we’ll arrive there celebrating the fact that, in the words of South African women, the stone we tossed in 1994 “dislodged a boulder.” Amandla!

Image: GovernmentZA / Flickr

The post Amandla! South African Minister Underscores Reproductive Justice as a Global Framework appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Great news! Cosmopolitan has endorsed Staci Appel as part of their Cosmo Votes s...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 19:30
Great news! Cosmopolitan has endorsed Staci Appel as part of their Cosmo Votes series. We’re proud to endorse her as well!


Cosmopolitan Endorses Staci Appel for Congress
www.cosmopolitan.com
It's high time Iowa sent a woman to Washington. Staci Appel is the right woman for the job.

Cosmopolitan lists the 13 most important things you need to know about this anti...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 19:00
Cosmopolitan lists the 13 most important things you need to know about this anti-choice trend.


13 Things Every Woman Should Know About Personhood
www.cosmopolitan.com
Even if it's not currently a big issue in your state, it could have a huge effect on your reproductive rights.

We’re proud supporters of Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and we’re so glad Cosmopolitan...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 18:30
We’re proud supporters of Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and we’re so glad Cosmopolitan endorsed her as part of their Cosmo Votes series!


Cosmopolitan Endorses Jeanne Shaheen for Senate
www.cosmopolitan.com
The Senate candidate in New Hampshire is a leader on women's rights, and she's running against a guy who hides in the bathroom to avoid talking about contraception.

Ohio requires abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with hospitals - but...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 18:30
Ohio requires abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with hospitals - but bans public hospitals from entering into those agreements. Talk about the ultimate catch-22.
Cc: Naral Pro-Choice Ohio


Public hospitals should accept transfers from abortion clinics
www.cleveland.com
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice of Ohio, writes in favor of allowing abortion clinics to transfer patients to public hospitals when the need arises.

A mother of three in Pennsylvania is in prison for trying to help her daughter g...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 18:00
A mother of three in Pennsylvania is in prison for trying to help her daughter get safe, legal abortion care. Sign our petition to tell the Pennsylvania legislature to stop turning desperate women into criminals and instead make sure women can get abortion care if they need it:


Tell the Pennsylvania Legislature to Stop Throwing Women in Jail for Abortion
app.actionsprout.com
Jennifer Whalen, a mother of three in Pennsylvania, has been sentenced to up to 18 months in prison for trying to help her daughter get safe, legal abortion care. Jennifer didn't have many options, and made a desperate decision to buy her daughter the abortion pill online. A round trip to the neares…

We’re proud to endorse Gary Peters, and we’re so excited that Cosmopolitan has e...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 17:00
We’re proud to endorse Gary Peters, and we’re so excited that Cosmopolitan has endorsed him as part of their Cosmo Votes series!


Cosmopolitan Endorses Gary Peters for Senate
www.cosmopolitan.com
Michiganders are choosing between a forthright candidate who leads on issues of equality and justice, and one who opposes abortion rights even for rape victims.

November 4 will mark the the third time Coloradans have voted on an extreme anti...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 16:30
November 4 will mark the the third time Coloradans have voted on an extreme anti-choice measure attacking abortion.
Cc: NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado


Defeat the Extreme Anti-Choice Measure in Colorado
www.indiegogo.com
Colorado is ground zero in the fight for women's rights. Help protect those rights this November.

CVS Illegally Charged 11,000 Women Contraceptive Co-Pay

RH Reality Check - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 16:27

An inquiry by California Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier has found that CVS illegally charged 11,000 women a co-pay for contraceptives.

Rep. Speier sent letters to the CEOs of CVS Health and Walgreens this month calling for them to correct a coding error that led to the illegal charges, and to provide remedies to women who had been unjustly charged.

Sol J. Ross, head of federal affairs at CVS Health, wrote Speier that refund checks will be issued to those affected and should all be received by October 1.

Ross wrote that CVS was “very concerned to hear that the care and service we provided fell far short of expectations” and that there were inappropriate charges made.

Customers with questions about an illegal co-pay charge are also encouraged to call 1-800-704-6589 and ask to speak with a Tier 2 representative or supervisor so that their issue will be heard by a more senior staff member with override capabilities.

The Affordable Care Act requires coverage of preventive women’s health services, including contraception, with no cost-sharing under federal law. But Speier said she feared many women don’t know their rights under the law, and would either be charged unnecessarily or even go without birth control entirely if they couldn’t afford the co-pay.

A recent study from the Guttmacher Institute found that a drastically higher percentage of women (67 percent in spring of 2014) were able to get contraceptive pills with no cost-sharing than were able to before the Affordable Care Act was passed (15 percent in the fall of 2012).

The coverage gap, the report says, is due to exceptions in the law. Insurers can charge co-pays for brand name drugs with generic equivalents, for instance, or if a woman uses an out-of-network provider. Certain religious employers are also exempt from providing contraceptive coverage on their health plans.

But some of that gap can also be explained by health plans charging co-pays where they shouldn’t, and by administrative snafus in pharmacies like this one.

Image: Birth Control via Shutterstock

The post CVS Illegally Charged 11,000 Women Contraceptive Co-Pay appeared first on RH Reality Check.

notalone.us is stopping the stigma and shame associated with abortion by doing o...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 16:05
notalone.us is stopping the stigma and shame associated with abortion by doing one simple thing - providing a place for women to share their stories.


For Any Woman Who Has Had An Abortion, You Are 'Not Alone'
www.huffingtonpost.com
"Not afraid. Not ashamed. Not alone." That's the tagline of Not Alone, a website that offers women a platform to share their abortion experiences through video testimonies and essays. "We are here to let women who have had abortions...

Money to Process Rape Kits Falls Victim to Congressional Budget Squabbles

RH Reality Check - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 15:59

Congress last week was unable to pass a budget bill that, among many other things, included funding to reduce the backlog in rape kits across the country, passing instead only a continuing resolution—a stop-gap appropriations bill—to keep the government funded through mid-December.

Rape kits—a collection of the evidence taken from a person’s body after they report a sexual assault to police—are often essential for solving a crime. After evidence is collected from a victim, the rape kit is ideally sent to local law enforcement for processing and then to a crime lab for testing.

The DNA collected through the kits, once tested, can identify the victim’s assailant, connect that assailant to other crimes, and exonerate innocent suspects.

The problem is that many kits are never tested. The Rape Kit Action Project estimates that there are 100,000 kits awaiting testing in public crime labs across the country and another 300,000 that have not made it from law enforcement storage to the lab.

In recent years, as public outcry over the backlogs has increased, some state and local governments have stepped up to increase timely testing. Illinois and Colorado have come out the strongest, enacting legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to submit kits to crime labs for timely analysis. Several other states have passed legislation to inventory untested kits but have stopped short of requiring those kits to then be tested.

State initiatives to reduce the backlog have proven effective in solving crimes and bringing justice for sexual assault survivors. In 2009, after more than 11,000 untested kits were found abandoned in a police warehouse in Detroit, the city was awarded several grants to test the kits. After testing the first 2,000, more than 100 potential serial rapists were identified, and 14 people have been convicted.

Still, the backlog across the country remains enormous, and states complain that a lack of resources and personnel prevent them from tackling the problem with full force.

For its part, the federal government has given money to state and local testing initiatives, like the one in Detroit. And in 2004 Congress passed the Debbie Smith Act, a law aimed at supporting state and local government efforts to reduce their backlogs.

But the Debbie Smith Act has its problems. For example, a 2013 report found that of the $691 million given to the program between 2008 and 2012, nearly half had been used for purposes other than directly reducing the backlog, like making lab improvements and testing of evidence not from rape kits. And even the Debbie Smith Act is an empty promise without funding from Congress.

To supplement the Debbie Smith Act and the efforts of state and local governments, Obama included in his 2015 budget proposal a plan to allocate an additional $35 million in grants for community rape kit initiatives.

The Department of Justice would spearhead the program, which would help pay for state and local kit testing, as well as the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases that emerge from the tests, according to the Washington Post. It would also help guide comprehensive rape kit processing reform and best practices.

In general, reducing rape-kit backlogs has bipartisan support on both state and federal levels. The Debbie Smith Act, for example, was reauthorized this month with ease.

For much of this year, Congress seemed poised to fund the Department of Justice program. In May, the House passed a version of the 2015 budget bill that included $41 million for the initiative—$6 million more than the Obama administration had originally requested.

Like every budget proposal in the past few years, Congress has proven incapable in coming to a decision on funding.

In June, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled the budget bill from the floor after Republicans added several partisan amendments, including one making it more difficult for the EPA to regulate coal-fired power plants. Finally, this week, Congress passed a short-term budget that will keep the government funded until mid-December and does not include funding for new programs. The $41 million is not going anywhere, having fallen victim to political battles unrelated to rape-kit testing.

Image: Capitol via Shutterstock

The post Money to Process Rape Kits Falls Victim to Congressional Budget Squabbles appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Louisiana Judge Rules Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

RH Reality Check - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 15:40

A Louisiana state judge ruled Monday that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

Judge Edward Rubin of the 15th Judicial District Court ruled the ban violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The decision came in the adoption case of Angie Costanza and Christy Brewer. They were married in 2008 in California, but their marriage was not recognized by the State of Louisiana due to the ban. The couple sued the state in 2013 when Costanza wanted to adopt her partner’s son and be listed as a parent on his birth certificate.

In his ruling, Judge Rubin compared the state’s argument to those made in Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled Louisiana’s system of “separate but equal” railcars for whites and other cars for Blacks were constitutional, writing, “[t]here are those who might argue that gays and lesbians can be treated differently, and yet be considered to be equal to the rest of Americans.”

As reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell plans to appeal the decision directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Monday’s ruling does not immediately grant same-sex couples the right to marry in Louisiana. Instead, the court would first have to order clerks to issue marriage licenses to those same-sex couples that wanted to marry. According to the Times-Picayne, that has not happened yet.

Judge Rubin’s ruling conflicts with a federal court decision from District Judge Martin Feldman in early September, which said the Louisiana ban did not violate the U.S. Constitution. Judge Feldman’s decision was the first from a federal court to side with anti-marriage equality advocates since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in U.S. v. Windsor striking down a federal law that defined marriage as only those unions between one man and one woman.

That case is currently being appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider next week a series of requests to decide the issue of whether or not states can constitutionally ban or limit same-sex marriages.

Image: Court via Shutterstock

The post Louisiana Judge Rules Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Spain Halts Extreme Abortion Law

Center for Reproductive Rights - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 15:20
Spain Halts Extreme Abortion Law News follows resignation of Spanish Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz Gallardón

09.23.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) Today Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced the withdrawal of a draft bill that would have criminalized abortion in Spain, with exceptions only in cases of rape and when a woman’s health or life is at risk.  

The restrictive abortion bill, spearheaded by Prime Minister Rajoy and Justice Minister Gallardón, was scrapped after failing to build enough political support to move forward. National and international groups sent a joint letter in May to Prime Minister Rajoy opposing the proposed restrictions that posed “a serious threat to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.” Signatories included Alianza por la Solidaridad, European NGOs for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Population and Development (EuroNGOs), Federación de Planificación Familiar Estatal, Human Rights Watch and Rights International Spain and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In proposing the bill the Spanish government moved against the overwhelming trend of expanding access to safe and legal abortion both in Europe and globally—against the views of the vast majority of Spanish citizens. Following the news of the defeated abortion law, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardón announced resignation from his post, as well as from his seat in Parliament and as member of the Popular Party.

Said Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Today is a huge victory for the countless Spanish women and men who have fought so hard to see their country’s laws changed to protect safe and legal abortion, and to keep these vital legal protections in place.

“The outcry provoked by the introduction of this law sent a clear message to both Prime Minister Rajoy and Justice Minister Gallardón that playing politics with reproductive rights is unacceptable.

“We commend the advocates for women’s health and rights in Spain for their unwavering commitment and tireless work to put a stop to these vicious attacks on women.”

While the attempt to ban abortion in Spain was halted, Prime Minister Rajoy announced that the current abortion regulations will soon be amended to require parental consent for young women 17 years of age and under who seek to end a pregnancy.

“Restricting young women’s access to essential reproductive health care services, including abortion, poses serious threats to their health and human rights.We will continue to stand alongside the women of Spain and committed advocates to build on today’s victory and block any effort to roll back the country’s abortion law,” added Sepúlveda.

Abortion was first decriminalized in Spain in 1985, but even then the procedure was legal only for rape victims and when a woman’s pregnancy had severe fetal impairments or posed a serious risk to her life or health. In 2010, the Spanish government took an historic step and amended the law to recognize abortion as a fundamental right, allowing this reproductive health service through 14 weeks of pregnancy for all women, without restriction as to reason.

According to a new Center report, 35 countries have amended their laws to expand access to safe and legal abortion services in the last 20 years—a trend that has marked incredible progress to improving women’s rights and lives, including significantly reducing rates of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion. The report was released alongside the Center’s updated World’s Abortion Laws map—one of the most comprehensive resources on abortion laws across the globe.

Abortion Worldwide: 20 Years of Reform

One strategy with the goal of ending two basic rights.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 14:00
One strategy with the goal of ending two basic rights.


Attacks on abortion, voting, follow similar paths
www.msnbc.com
Laws restricting access to voting and to abortion represent some of the GOP's biggest recent successes. And the parallels between the two are striking.

Jennifer Whalen is going to prison because her family couldn’t access abortion c...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 12:35
Jennifer Whalen is going to prison because her family couldn’t access abortion care. This is her story.


A Mother in Jail for Helping Her Daughter Have an Abortion
www.nytimes.com
An exclusive interview with Jennifer Whalen, who is serving time for ordering pills online for her 16-year-old daughter to induce a miscarriage.

Come to our Men for Choice (and the Women who Love Them) happy hour at Capitale...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 12:00
Come to our Men for Choice (and the Women who Love Them) happy hour at Capitale on Tuesday, September 30! Mingle with pro-choice activists, munch on appetizers, and enjoy an open bar. Get your tickets → http://nar.al/2iz



Sean Fieler, the Little-Known ATM of the Fundamentalist Christian, Anti-Choice Movement

RH Reality Check - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 11:21

He’s a mega-rich member of the New York financial class who backs the Tea Party and rails against “elites.” He spends millions at a time funding extreme anti-government, anti-choice groups including the Susan B. Anthony List and Americans United for Life. He’s set up nonprofits that seem to act as pass-throughs for rivers of campaign cash.

And his last name is not Koch.

Since 2010, Sean Fieler, a New Jersey-based hedge fund manager and fervent Catholic, has personally contributed nearly $18 million to political candidates and causes that align with his anti-choice, anti-LGBT, and pro-theocracy views, quietly cementing himself as the ATM for the most extreme elements of the fundamentalist Christian and Catholic political machine, according to an analysis of tax filings and campaign finance records by RH Reality Check.

“It’s enough money that folks ought to know who he has given to.”

Due to the opaque nature of federal and state disclosure laws, it’s impossible to know exactly how much any individual has given to political candidates, causes, and committees. Experts told RH Reality Check, however, that $18 million places Fieler among the upper tier of political givers in the United States.

“Whether he’s in the top ten or top 20, it’s impossible to say,” said Dale Eisman, spokesperson for Common Cause, a nonpartisan good government group. “It’s enough money that folks ought to know who he has given to.”

Fieler did not respond to RH Reality Check’s requests for an interview, but our analysis of his public statements and financial contributions paints a picture of a man with extremely deep convictions, and the pockets to match. He has sprinkled funds amongst at least 77 candidates throughout 19 states, has almost single-handedly created a pass-through entity for funding extreme Catholic and Christian groups, and has laid the foundation for a policy center that appears intended to influence the Republican Party to bring ultra-conservative views to the center of its policies.

“When it comes to what are euphemistically referred to as the ‘social issues,’ we promise not to talk about life and marriage, the literal future and irreplaceable foundation of our society,” Fieler told his audience at last year’s annual gala for one of the nonprofits that he funds, the American Principles Project. “To win, we need but make one change, to emphasize, rather than run away from our principles.”

So ubiquitous is Fieler’s money, and so extreme are his views, that even other conservatives are willing to speak out against him.

“Very few people actually support the positions advocated by the groups that he funds but their funding is so massive that they’re able to project more strength than they actually have,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, a conservative strategist and commentator who formerly headed GOProud, a now-defunct group that advocated for LGBTQI people within the Republican Party. “Fewer and fewer conservatives are supporting such extreme social positions. The only thing keeping that movement alive is the funding because there isn’t popular support for those points of view.”

However, given Fieler’s wealth and the fervor of his convictions, it’s likely that he will have a growing influence on conservative politics and national political debates.

Fieler is the manager and co-owner of a financial firm called Mason Hill Advisors, which was formed on Christmas Eve of 2004. At of the end of 2013, the firm had more than $2 billion under management, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Fewer and fewer conservatives are supporting such extreme social positions. The only thing keeping that movement alive is the funding because there isn’t popular support for those points of view.”

The funds that Fieler manages through Mason Hill hold large amounts of stock in mining companies whose value depends largely on the value of silver and other metals.

Two such companies are MAG Corporation and Fortuna Silver Mines, both Canadian-based companies that operate in Mexico. (Fortuna also has sites in Peru.)

Like most hedge fund managers, Fieler and his partners take a percentage of their investors’ capital as fees, as well as a percentage of any profit they earn on those investments. While hedge funds are notoriously opaque, it’s clear that Fieler’s business has done well enough to enable him to shower dozens of candidates and a select few of his favored nonprofits with millions of dollars at a time.

The main beneficiary of Fieler’s generosity is the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that says it aims to “offer the saving grace of Jesus to all while defending everyone’s unalienable right to exercise the religion of their own choosing.”

Fieler appears to have given nearly $13 million to the foundation since 2006, with contributions ramping up in 2010. In fact, Fieler appears to be the only significant contributor to Chiaroscuro, with all other contributions totaling less than $90,000.

“Chiaroscuro” refers to the style of painting from the 17th Century—made most famous by Caravaggio and da Vinci—that emphasized contrasts between light and dark. One can’t help but think the name is a metaphor for how Fieler, who is chair of the foundation, and the group’s president, Greg Pfundstein, see the world: in stark terms, where their views represent the light, and other views belong in the shadows.

In all, Chiaroscuro disbursed some $19.2 million to conservative, and mostly religious, organizations between 2011 and 2013, according to an analysis of the foundation’s own numbers, as well as publicly available documents. (Because Chiaroscuro did not reply to our request for comment, we cannot account for the discrepancies between what they have reported on their site, versus on their tax filings.)

Recipients of Chiaroscuro’s largesse include:

  • Nearly $1.2 million to EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, a type of anti-choice center known for bait-and-switch tactics that mislead pregnant women into believing they offer abortion, when in fact they exist to peddle anti-choice propaganda such as debunked claims about the health risks of the procedure.
  • $650,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the nonprofit law firm that, along with the Alliance Defending Freedom, has played a central role in the scores of lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act.
  • $295,000 to the extreme anti-choice group Americans United for Life.
  • $275,000 for the Susan B. Anthony List, a key anti-choice group that funds misleading attack ads against pro-choice candidates, while also backing anti-choice candidates.
  • $100,000 to Live Action, the group run by Lila Rose, a young darling of the anti-choice movement, whose so-called “sting” operations on Planned Parenthood clinics and other progressive groups have veered between over-hyped and clownish.
  • $20,000 to the National Organization for Marriage, a leading group that opposes equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

(See complete lists of Fieler’s giving, both directly and through the multiple nonprofits he funds, here.)

But that is far from the full extent of Fieler’s giving. He has an entirely separate collection of entities known as the American Principles Project, with its affiliated groups, the American Principles Fund and American Principles in Action. According to public records analyzed by RH Reality Check, Fieler appears to have given just shy of $1 million to American Principles in 2013 and 2014 alone.

American Principles paid nearly $800,000 in 2013 to 2014 for political advertisements attacking candidates for their stances on same-sex marriage and abortion. Key targets included Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who is now a U.S. senator, as well as Elizabeth Cheney in her bid to win the Republican primaries to become a U.S. senator for Wyoming.

Why Fieler’s group would oppose Elizabeth Cheney—whose anti-gay rights views led to a bitter public conflict with her sister, Mary, who is a lesbian—is unclear.

“Regrettably, the Left’s spontaneous chant against life is not an aberration. It is part of a larger tension with human dignity that underlies their whole project.”

The third target of American Principles’ attack ads was Monica Wehby, a Republican challenger for a U.S. Senate seat from Oregon.

And then there’s Fieler’s personal giving, which he does directly in addition to the millions of dollars in contributions he makes to nonprofits and pass-through entities.

Since 2008, Fieler has contributed $2.5 million directly to 77 candidates in 19 states, including both state and federal races.

His largest contributions included denizens of the ultra-conservative movement. Ken Cuccinelli, the unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate for Virginia, received $72,000. Cuccinelli supports so-called personhood laws, an anti-choice legal Trojan horse that would criminalize abortion and many forms of contraception under the guise of giving fetuses the full rights of legal “persons.”

Other ultra-conservative stalwarts—Mike Pence, Scott Walker, and Carl Paladino—each received $20,000 or more.

Fieler also gave $2,500 to Richard Mourdock, the GOP candidate for a U.S. Senate seat for Indiana who torpedoed his 2012 campaign when he said that pregnancies resulting from rape are a “gift from God.”

And Fernando Cabrera, a New York City Council member and pastor who is running for New York state senate, received $6,500 from Fieler. Though a Democrat, Cabrera has recently made comments broadly understood to be praising the extreme anti-LGBTQI laws in Uganda. Cabrera, a former Republican, has also attended events held by the Family Research Council, a fundamentalist Christian organization that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

If that isn’t wingnuttish enough, Fieler also gave $3,500 to Edward Ray Moore, an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in South Carolina, who believed children should be pulled out of “godless” and “pagan” public schools, which he characterized as “the enemy.” He spoke at a 9.12 Project rally (a Tea Party-aligned movement run by Glenn Beck) and was behind a documentary called IndoctriNation, which warned Christians about the evils of public education.

But of all the states, Fieler paid special attention to Utah, giving more than $70,000 to candidates there.

Why would a New York-based hedge fund manager feel so passionate about politics in Utah?

The answer appears to be linked to legislation recently passed in Utah, relating to one of Fieler’s pet causes.

Fieler is a fervent advocate of returning to the use of silver and gold coins as currency in the United States, believing that “honest money” will rein in what he sees as a rogue U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. These views put him in the company of cranks like Glenn Beck, who has been shilling gold to his audiences for years, even while the firm he promotes, Goldline, had to repay millions of dollars to clients in order to settle a 19-count criminal charge in a California court in early 2012.

Indeed, surprising as it may seem, of all the issues supported by Fieler, he has perhaps been most vocal on “honest money.”

American Principles in Action cites promoting “a return to the gold standard and sound money” as its first priority, and Fieler has spoken about silver and gold money at gala events, as well as during interviews with people such as the head of the Gold Money Foundation.

The group has been lobbying lawmakers throughout the states to introduce legislation to allow silver and gold to be used as currency, Fieler said in a June 2011 interview, and trying to figure out how to “mainstream” the idea.

An employee of American Principles, Steven Lonegan, last month wrote a column in which he called the “fight” to return to the gold standard, a “moral issue.”

(Lonegan is a former Koch operative, having worked for Americans for Prosperity. Fieler contributed $10,400 to Lonegan’s unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat last year, before Lonegan joined American Principles, according to news reports.)

In 2012, Fieler gave $10,000 to Larry Hilton, an insurance executive and lawyer based in Provo who was running for state office in Utah, according to his LinkedIn account.

At around the same time, Utah’s governor signed a bill that legalized gold and silver coins as legal currency in Utah, making it the first such law in the nation.

Who drafted that bill? None other than Larry Hilton.

An editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune called the law “outlandish,” and reported that Hilton claimed in 2011 that gold and silver currency were necessary because “one dollar will be worth one penny in five years,” due to inflation.

“The GOP is the party of life, marriage and religious liberty. Conservatives adopted these issues because they believe in them. Republicans need to push them, and govern with them, not run from them, in order to attract Latino voters.”

On his declaration of candidacy for that race, Hilton said he was on the advisory board of American Principles in Action (though the nonprofit’s most recent available tax filings don’t list Hilton as a board member).

Since Utah’s law passed, TexasLouisiana, and Oklahoma have each implemented laws that make silver and gold currency legal tender, and that remove various taxes from transactions using those coins.

It looked as if Arizona was set to follow, with the legislature passing a similar bill in April 2013. However, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, citing practical concerns but no philosophical objection to returning to metal money.

Another ten states are considering similar laws, and a federal version was introduced in 2011 by then Sen. Jim DeMint, who later left Congress to lead the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) reintroduced the bill last year (there was also a House version), but it died in committee.

In all of the public speeches and editorials that Fieler has written calling for the use of silver and gold as currency, RH Reality Check did not find a single instance where he disclosed that he invests in companies that profit from digging up the metal.

There is nothing illegal about Fieler backing silver as currency while also profiting from investing in companies that dig up the mineral, or even any obligation to disclose those interests in the course of his advocacy and lobbying work, according to Eisman, of Common Cause. Eisman says, however, that he would prefer if Fieler chose to make those disclosures.

“It would be nice if he did [disclose],” Eisman said. “It would be reassuring about his commitment to public service if he did.”

In addition to showing candidates and causes with cash, Fieler appears to be trying to establish his groups as thought leaders in the conservative movement.

In October 2013, American Principles released a white paper called “Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012.”

Unsurprisingly, the report concluded that Republicans should be more aggressive on “social” issues, such as abortion and marriage.

But it also contained some nuances that explain why Fieler could be such an interesting complement to the Koch brothers.

The report—also known as the “autopsy” of the 2012 Republican defeat—urges immigration reform because, it argues, Hispanics are natural conservatives who are currently alienated by the GOP’s stance on immigration.

If the party shifted on immigration, the report argues, it could “use values issues to attract Hispanics.”

“The GOP is the party of life, marriage and religious liberty,” the report says. “Conservatives adopted these issues because they believe in them. Republicans need to push them, and govern with them, not run from them, in order to attract Latino voters.”

Fieler himself occasionally claims that his “project is nonpartisan,” as he did at the American Principles Gala in 2013.

“If only, there will a little room in the Democratic Party for the unborn, we would willingly engage with them,” he told the room. But then he made known his true contempt for people who disagree with his own religious views. “Regrettably, the Left’s spontaneous chant against life is not an aberration. It is part of a larger tension with human dignity that underlies their whole project,” he said.

Apparently, Fieler’s view of human dignity includes denying reproductive rights to women, denying family rights to anyone other than married heterosexuals, allowing employers to impose their religious views on workers, and imposing fundamentalist Catholic orthodoxies on society writ large.

And given his growing influence in the conservative movement, it’s possible that his views will grow in dominance at both state and federal levels.

Brie Shea contributed research to this report. 

Image: Shirley & Banister Public Affairs via YouTube

The post Sean Fieler, the Little-Known ATM of the Fundamentalist Christian, Anti-Choice Movement appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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