Arizonans, Beware

We can add Arizona to the growing list of states engaged in an anti-woman, anti-birth control rampage. Currently on the state roster is a bill that would allow employers to avoid offering women health insurance coverage for contraception if the company objects on moral or religious grounds. More specifically, women trying to get  reimbursed for birth control through their employer-provided health plan could be required to prove that they are taking it for a medical reason, rather than to prevent pregnancy.

Terrible, I know. But what’s worse is that a female state lawmaker – Debbie Lesko – introduced this heinous bill, which is dangerously near passing.

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Utah Joins the War on Contraception

Just weeks after California Representative Darrell Issa felt the need to call a special hearing to bemoan the oppression of the Catholic Church’s First Amendment rights–the freedom of religion–Utah Republicans are ready to legislate away another First Amendment right, their teachers’ right to free speech. The Utah House passed a bill, HB363, that would allow schools to ban sex ed and prohibits instruction in the use of contraception by a 45-28 vote. The bill now moves on to the state Senate.

But not to worry, the bill’s sponsor,  Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, “a dairyman“(!), has got the doublespeak down. Perhaps realizing that banning the discussion of contraception (under the guise of forbidding ”advocacy” of its use) might leave educators tongue-tied–and on the brink of a crime spree–if asked a direct question about contraception, he maintained that teachers could respond to students’ questions on the matter. How, exactly, he couldn’t say. The language of the bill states: “An instructor may respond to a spontaneous question as long as the response is consistent with the [bill's] provisions.”

Wright can be added to the ever-growing list of public officials who have gone on the record with their light-years-beyond-the-mainstream belief that birth control is a dodge, an “intellectually dishonest” way of “getting away with” sex. Boldly ignoring the biological truth that even married women aren’t able to get pregnant every day of their married life, he, along with Senator Santorum and the Catholic Church, have decided that sex is for procreation only and that the consequences of unprotected premarital sex aren’t grave enough already. (Apparently the threat of eternal damnation isn’t what it used to be.) Though Wright, like Santorum and the Church, professes to be protecting all of us from the consequences our mainstream “brainwashing” has left us unable to recognize without their intervention, everybody knows the wages of sexual sins are not distributed equally. To be sure, the Mormon influence in Utah may make it harder for an unmarried dad to shirk his parental responsibilities. Still, we all know who gets pregnant and who had to wear that scarlet letter.

There’s reason for hope though, even in this ultra-conservative state. Anyone who has visited Utah over the past thirty years can tell you how much influence the Mormon Church has lost over the state liquor laws. Where there once was no MTV, “16 and Pregnant” airs unmolested. And a Democratic lawmaker from Salt Lake City like Rep. Brian King can fight the self-appointed contraception police and go on the record saying that bills like HB363 make ”reasonable people think we have lost it up here on the Hill.”

Free To Bully You and Me

I almost feel sorry for Darrell Issa, the California Congressman no one heard of before last Thursday’s meeting of the House Oversight Committee.

Not sorry enough to resist piling on the flaming ashes of his dignity. Not sorry enough to stop fighting his party’s ludicrous waste of my tax dollars agenda. (If the GOP has taught me anything, it’s that my money is mine in perpetuity—before, after and especially during the time any of it goes to visit Uncle Sammy.) And certainly not sorry enough to forgive the far right for inventing my least favorite Republican party game: Stick the Nose (and the ultrasound wand) in the Vagina.

But still … I feel for the man.

After more than a decade in office, Issa finally gets the juice to order himself up his very own Norma Desmond moment—a starring role in televised hearings that people without press passes will actually watch. Who knew he was nowhere near ready for his close-up?

These days even the lowliest intern in Washington knows that politics is all about optics. And however much the backlash over the all-male first panel seems like evidence to the contrary, so do Issa’s staffers. Someone saw to it that Issa had a female staff member sitting next to him, sure to appear on camera every time he leaned in to the mike. (If heads roll over this, why do I feel like hers will be the first to go?) Someone also made sure that the all-male line-up was neither all-white nor all-Christian. So care was taken. No one is pleading ignorance aforethought–no matter how much it seems like the wise thing to do.

The unfortunate truth is that the optics were exactly what the Issa camp ordered–a multicultural, multidenominational parade of patriarchal power, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the frat pack chatted up Coke bottles and pubic hair with Anita Hill.

What surprises me is that the Issa camp doesn’t seem to have seen the power–or expected that others would. I suppose to their minds–and eyes, apparently–the clergy were simply victims of an intrusive, religious freedom-denying state. (The panel’s title, remember, was the unsubtle “Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”)

The problem for us and them is that they did it with a straight face.

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Arizona Politician Thinks He Knows What’s Best for D.C. Women

Not content to just do the work for the state that actually elected him, Arizona Republican Trent Franks has decided to tackle the apparently pressing issue of late-term abortions in Washington, DC. Franks, with backing from the National Right to Life Committee, has introduced the ”District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would ban abortions after 20 weeks for District women. Similar bills are already in place in Nebraska, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

As Franks is the chairman of the House subcommittee that will be handling his legislation — and the bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Lamar Smith and Darrell Issa, who both hold powerful committee positions as well — it is all but certain the the bill will be on the fast track to a vote on the House floor.

Defending his decision to interfere in the personal decisions of women he doesn’t represent, Franks says that his bill “would address the pain and suffering of children who have done nothing wrong … [i]t will emphasize the humanity of the child and the inhumanity of what is being done to them.” This is in keeping with the anti-choice rationale for all of these bills, but it ignores some very basic facts about late-term procedures and fetal development. [Read more...]

Texas Moves Closer to Restrictive Abortion Law

Texas is poised to enforce a new mandatory ultrasound law. Earlier this week, an appeals court overturned a previous court decision that had blocked enforcement of the law, which will require women to have an ultrasound 24 hours before the abortion and requires doctors to display the sonogram, make the fetal heartbeat audible, and describe the fetal development to the woman. Although the woman may choose not to view the image or hear the heartbeat, she must listen to the development description. Women that claim they are victims of reported rape and incest, or can prove that the fetal has a fatal abnormality, would be exempt from the development requirement.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged the constitutionality of the law on behalf of both women and doctors, although it is not yet clear if the Center will challenge the appeals court’s recent decision. The law itself will return to federal district court for further consideration, given that a larger case challenging the law is still pending and that there are additional aspects regarding constitutionality that have not yet been considered.  [Read more...]

Pennsylvania Wants to Make Abortion Safer by … Closing Safe Clinics?

Apparently Pennsylvania has decided to follow in Virginia’s ill-advised footsteps, at least when it comes to regulating abortion clinics out of existence. The state House has approved a bill that would require clinics to adhere to new structural guidelines and staffing procedures that would likely be expensive and logistically difficult. If it is passed, the bill – which includes requirements like upgrading elevators and doubling the size of procedure rooms – could force “most, if not all” of the state’s 20 freestanding clinics to either move or stop offering abortion services entirely.

The bill’s supporters argue that this level of regulation is needed in the wake of allegations surrounding Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia-area doctor that was charged earlier this year in the death of seven infants and one woman. Republican Rep. Matt Baker, chairman of the House Health Committee, claims that the bill “is about patient safety and preventing future cases of murder and infanticide within abortion clinics.” What Baker and his colleagues seem to miss is that different building codes would not have made a difference in the Gosnell case;  larger exam rooms aren’t exactly going to deter someone from practicing the kind of bad medicine that Gosnell is accused of.  [Read more...]

Is it Time for the Progressive Movement to Co-opt Family Values Rhetoric?

Senator Kirsten Gillbrand recently announced plans to introduce the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” in the U.S. Senate. With the National Adoption Month here – not to mention the release of a groundbreaking study highlighting the implications of anti-gay “family values” rhetoric on children and LGBT families – this is the perfect time to get the legislative ball rolling.

As more and more LGBT couples are getting married and starting families, we have a great opportunity to place children without a family into happy homes, either by adoption or foster care. But unfortunately, discrimination against both adoptive and foster parents based on sexual orientation or gender identity is still pervasive in this country. Currently, five states prohibit same-sex couples from adopting, and there are six states that ban same-sex parents from adopting their partner’s children. In all, 31 states practice some form of discrimination against LGBT families.

Precisely why we desperately need this legislation.  [Read more...]

Mississippi Politicians Seek to Amend Women’s Rights

Sometimes when I’m having a stressful day at work, I’ll spend five (or fifteen) minutes looking at pictures of adorable dogs on The Daily Puppy or Cute Overload. If I happen to be working at home on a particularly stressful day, I go one better and spend an inordinate amount of time staring at, playing with, and generally annoying my perpetually sleepy and rumpled Shih Tzu. But look at that picture – can you really blame me?

After reading about Mississippi’s proposed Amendment 26, which would define a fertilized egg as a legal person, I had to wonder if that state’s legislators were taking a similar routine a bit too far. After all, babies are cute, and staring at pictures of babies is a fun distraction from a crappy economy, so why not just talk about babies and hypothetical babies all the time instead of actually working to improve our country’s myriad problems, pretty much none of which have anything to do with private decisions about pregnancy? [Read more...]

“Let Women Die Act” Advances to Senate

Last week, Sarah wrote about the passage of the “Protect Life Act” in the House– or the “Let Women Die Act,” as it’s known among pro-woman advocates.  Sadly, I don’t think any of us were surprised by this news; the House has proven time and again that it is more concerned with what’s happening in my uterus than creating jobs. But, the Senate has been a different animal. As Sarah pointed out, cooler heads typically prevail there.

That may change.

Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced a nearly identical bill (S.877) in the Senate and to date, 33 senators have already co-sponsored it.  There are 46 anti-choice senators currently in office, which gives us pro-choicers a slim margin of hope. But we can’t risk being content. If any Democrats cross the aisle, as they did in the House, we’re screwed. [Read more...]

The House of Representatives Doesn’t Like Pregnant Women

Pop quiz: what’s worse for a pregnant woman than finding out that the pregnancy is threatening her life? Dying anyway because her hospital won’t perform a medically necessary abortion.

Last week, 236 Republican and 15 Democratic members of the House of Representatives voted to make such a horrible situation a reality. The so-called “Protect Life Act” would allow any hospital or healthcare provider that receives government funds to refuse to provide abortion care, regardless of the circumstances. In addition, the act would ban federal funds from going to any healthcare plans that cover abortion services and make it very difficult to prevent funds from going to health organizations that do not support abortion – so hospitals could legally refuse to perform abortions that would save women’s lives.

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