A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Category: Women’s Health

So, Who’s Driving?

by evanmcmurry

Shortly after word that the House GOP was attaching a provision to the CR that limits contraception access comes this:

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 10.08.48 PM

Legislating is like shooting pool: after two drinks, you’re great; after three, you shouldn’t be playing at all.

How Screencaps Killed SB5

by evanmcmurry

After Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster was stopped just minutes before the special session’s midnight deadline, the GOP-controlled Texas Senate attempted to hold a vote on anti-abortion bill SB5. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst was drowned out by protestors chanting from the rotunda to the point that nobody could hear what was being voted on, and amidst the scrum, almost everybody present said the Senate didn’t actually take the vote until 12:01.

But then Republican Dan Patrick emerged touting a victory for the bill, and someone got the Associated Press to believe him:

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 3.24.01 AM

Just one problem. Here a screencap of the official timestamp from TLO, Texas Legislature Online, the real-time record of the Senate:

The bill is shown as having passed on 6/26, or after the midnight deadline, making it illegal.

But a few minutes later, the record looked like this:

Now the record states the bill passed on 6/25, or before the midnight deadline, making it legal.

That might have flown had nobody noticed it. But within a few minutes, all of Twitter was retweeting the edited timestamps, most of which were taken by Texas Tribune reporters and other media-types thinking fast on their feet. By 2:00 a.m. the Senate had recaucused and killed the bill, admitting that there was no arguing with the timestamp (which was officially recorded at 12:03 a.m., or, as many joked, 11:63 p.m. on the GOP’s clock).

And that’s how, with the national media ignoring the story and the AP jumping the gun, a couple of screencaps stopped an abortion bill in its tracks and reversed an abuse of congressional power.

What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Austerity (Vaginas, Mostly)

by evanmcmurry

I may be seeing causal connections where there are none, but it nonetheless seems noteworthy that weeks after news that the deficit is collapsing at an unexpectedly rapid rate—thereby depriving conservatives of their ability to yell “Austerity! Spending!” in response to any question, real or imagined—comes the following:

  • Ohio Republicans introduced what ThinkProgress is calling “the worst abortion bill of all time,” mandating, among other things, that doctors tell women medically disputed information, a 48 hour waiting period, and that women not only submit to intrusive ultrasounds but pay for the procedure themselves.
  • House Republicans—the national, big boy branch!—is planning a vote on a blatantly unconstitutional measure restricting abortion after twenty weeks, with no exception for rape or incest, a bill with no chance of passing the Senate, being signed by the president, or surviving an appellate court.
  • Trent Franks, the author of the 20-week ban, decided to re-up Todd Akin and blah blah blah about the relation of rape to pregnancy.
  • The House passed the new National Defense Authorization Act with an amendment overturning the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
  • The House—they’re on a roll—also passed a bill calling for the deportation of DREAM-eligible immigrants, a pointless salvo in the calm before they take up immigration reform.

The tea partyish elements pulled this bait-and-switch in 2010, when the clown car that got elected on cutting spending pulled up to state capitol buildings with anti-Planned Parenthood bills falling out the passenger window. But that cultural undercurrent, which was largely obscured by subsequent debt-ceiling dramas and budget battles, came back to upend the GOP in 2012 in the form of Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin and the gang. Moral of the story: conservatives are on much firmer footing when they rail about debts and deficits than when they improv on reproductive systems.

But that political calculus requires a deficit crisis. If you read this blog you know the deficit crisis was always more of an imagined moral imperative than a real emergency, but it’s still deflating before our eyes, even with the gratuitous austerity measures we’ve passed in the past three years. So what we’re seeing right now is a political movement suddenly faced with a void where their raison d’être used to be. The GOP clearly has no bench of issues: the moment the government spending alarm stops sounding, they immediately revert to criminalizing women’s health, oppressing gay people, and demagoguing immigrants. Which means the better the economy gets, the more we’re going to hear white men inveigh on the morality of pregnancy.

Does The GOP Think That If A Woman Introduces A Rape/Abortion Bill, That Makes It Okay?

by evanmcmurry

New Mexico State Rep Cathrynn Brown (R-Of Course) introduced a bill that would outlaw abortion in the case of rape on the ingenious logic that it constitutes “destroying the evidence,” which I guess is the flipside of the Todd Akin/Richard Mourdock “God’s gift” argument.

Two things:

1) This GOP makeover into a party that can attract women and minorities is going great.

2) This shows the essential emptiness of the Ted Cruz/Tim Scott/Sarah Palin method of appealing to non-white male demographics via token figures. The “look we have Hispanic Senator” doesn’t work if Ted Cruz is crazier about immigration than most of his GOP colleagues. Likewise, does it matter at the end of the day whether Todd Akin or Cathrynn Brown proposed this legislation?

Thus far the GOP’s response to their November whooping has been to keep the exact same ideology and try to smuggle it through a more diverse array of spokespeople. But how far can Cruz and Brown carry such obviously nasty policies?

Planned Parenthood Wiped The Floor With Karl Rove In Election Spending

by evanmcmurry

You look at chart now:

Should be read with this sound effect.

Many, including this blog, have made the case that Republicans self-imploded on cultural issues, sticking their legitimate feet in their mouths and losing gimme elections. While I still think that’s largely true, the above graph and accompanying article make a strong case that Planned Parenthood was instrumental in turning these isolated moments into a coherent electoral strategy. The key factor PP seems to have figured out was time: it wasn’t so much that they seized on individual comments at the moment, as they didn’t allow the electorate to forget about the candidates’ positions once the controversies died down and the conversation turned to other issues. With the exception of Richard Mourdock, who made his lovely rape comment right before the election, Mitt Romney (who?) and Todd Akin both sought to benefit from what they hoped was the electorate’s short memory span. Planned Parenthood funded constant reminders, and never let the men get away from their previous comments. Given the insane amount of undeserved criticism PP has taken recently, it’s about time we gave credit where credit’s due.

More at WaPo.

Anti-Abortion Groups Calling On Akin To Drop Out

by evanmcmurry

The Christian Defense Council is the first pro-life group to call on Todd Akin to drop out of the Missouri Senate Race. As Right Wing Watch notes, the CDC is run by a guy who protests abortion legislation by staging live ultrasounds, and who pals around with members of Operation Rescue. Yes, Todd Akin’s comment was so bad that he even landed to the right of people with their own Bad Religion song.

Anti-abortion groups are doing this as damage control: not only Akin is making the movement look bad, but he’s endangering the GOP’s chances of retaking the Senate, the occurrence of which would be a huge boon to anti-abortion legislation. Nonetheless, for a while it looked like the pro-life movement was completely unrestrained by any sort of limits; Todd Akin just showed us that there are places even the pro-life movement fears to tread. That’s good to know.

Catholics Praise Obama As Pro Life, Hamburgers Will Now Eat People

by evanmcmurry

A writer for the National Catholic Reporter on the abortion politics of the two candidates:

There is no doubt Obama is pro-choice. He has said so many times. There is also no doubt Romney is running on what he calls a pro-life platform. But any honest analysis of the facts shows the situation is much more complicated than that.

For example, Obama’s Affordable Care Act does not pay for abortions. In Massachusetts, Romney’s health care law does. Obama favors, and included in the Affordable Care Act, $250 million of support for vulnerable pregnant women and alternatives to abortion. This support will make abortions much less likely, since most abortions are economic. Romney, on the other hand, has endorsed Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan’s budget, which will cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of the federal plans that support poor women. The undoubted effect: The number of abortions in the United States will increase. On these facts, Obama is much more pro-life than Romney.

Makes sense to me. Via Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel, it’s about time some on the right started realizing that the frequency of abortions is exacerbated, not eliminated, by prohibition:

Thinking you can reduce the number of abortions by making abortion illegal and then making life extra crappy for women so they’d be more likely to want to have abortions is sort of like a pitcher walking all of the batters in baseball so none of them hit home runs and then acting all confused when the score keeps increasing. Sure, some abortions will always be matters of “convenience” or “lifestyle,” two reasons for terminating a pregnancy often sneered at by the anti-abortion rights set, but many of those “convenience” abortions occur because it’s not very “convenient” when you’re a single woman trying to live on a minimum wage income and you’re not getting any help from anyone.

That it was a Catholic newspaper that brought this up—one that just finished up its defense of some of Catholicism’s less-defensible practices—is something. As Balloon Juice points out, you know you’re pitching something foul when an institution that backs pedophile-employers doesn’t want anything to do with you:

That’s some good reasoning, but it’s preceded by a defense of Cardinal Dolan that includes Canon Law justification of Dolan paying pedophile priests. In a way, that makes it even more remarkable, since even someone who can defend Dolan for that kind of stuff sees through the Romney/Ryan bullshit.

(via The Non Sequitur, with criticisms)

Could Ryan (and his budget) alienate Catholic voters from Romney?

by pdxblake

I’m no expert on Catholicism and so I will leave it to the US Conference on Catholic Bishops, who wrote a letter back in April on what they expect from the US government budget.  I may not agree with them all, but its probably going to be something that factors into Catholic voters’ minds when looking at the choice between Romney/Ryan vs. Obama/Biden:

1.Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.

2.A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.

3.Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times…

The first issue seems like a clear “in the bag” issue for R&R, but it is a bit more complicated since Romney was pro-choice before he wasn’t and the Republicans policy focus right now is focused on allowing Catholic hospitals to not give their employees coverage for contraception.  Some Catholic groups like Catholics United support the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for all employers to cover access to birth control since, in that groups own words:

Although we recognize the authority of Catholic teaching on the issue of contraception, we also acknowledge that there is a silver lining in today’s ruling. Increased access to contraceptive services will dramatically reduce the abortion rate in America. Reducing abortion should be a goal recognized by both sides of this highly polarized debate. Furthermore, we look forward to working with the administration in finding a win-win solution that will both meet the medical needs of women while protecting the religious liberty of Catholic institutions.

Giving that one a ‘leans Republican’, lets move on to points 2 and 3 and the Ryan/Romney budget (ht Wonk Blog)

“Over the next decade, Ryan plans to spend about 16 percent less than the White House on “income security” programs for the poor — that’s everything from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit.”


“And, compared with the White House’s proposal, he’d shell out 33 percent less for “Education, training, employment, and social services.”

There are more details on the exact proposals (and their impact in widening income inequality and increasing poverty) from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, but on balance, it is hard to find any way that the Republican proposals for the future direction of government policy would put those in poverty first, or create an economic system where the government supports the common good when Ryan’s policies act as “Robin Hood in reverse”, what Paul Krugman calls Dooh Nibor.  The CBPP summarizes:

“In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids.  It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).”

The hallmark of the religious right over the past 30 years has been to focus on ‘social issues’ like abortion and gay rights, and ignore the economic issues like poverty and inequality.  I may be wrong, but the US Conference on Catholic Bishops’ guide for government policy, while it includes a role for social issues, places at least a high burden on policymakers to consider the impact of their policies on the poorest, which the Ryan/Romney budget plans completely ignore (or worse).

If the Catholic population is represented by people who look at policy through these 3 lenses, than the nomination of Ryan as Romney’s VP candidate could hurt, not help, his standing with Catholic voters.

UPDATE: Liberal Catholics are apparently not too happy with Ryan’s nomination for exactly the reasons outlined above: “According to Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK’s Executive Director: “We agree with Catholic Bishops that Paul Ryan’s budget fails the test of Catholic Social Teaching since it deliberately harms people at the economic margins. It is also unpatriotic because it says that we are an individualistic, selfish nation. This is emphatically not who we are. Both our Constitution and our faith teach us that “We the People” are called to care for one another, to have responsibility for each other. This year’s election will present us with a critical choice. Do we want to favor the rich on the backs of people in need? Is that who we want to be?'”

Virginia v Abortion Clinics, A Play In Infinite Acts

by evanmcmurry

After an ill-conceived experiment in Mississippi, states are back to using the cloak of “concern for women’s health” to pass non-sensical abortion restrictions. Yesterday, a Virginia law that would require all clinics that provide abortions—including the 20 clinics already standing—to meet the “strict architectural standards” of new hospitals just cleared an important administrative hurdle. The law’s implementation will force most of the existing clinics to close, as they could not possibly have been built in compliance with a future regulation. Which, of course, is exactly the point, but all parties involved are maintaining that the regulation is in the interest of women’s health:

“The women of Virginia deserve safety in any medical situation, abortion included…The abortion industry should want to provide the best standards of care for their clients.”  (via the Virginia-Pilot)

Note the lack of explanation. The “undue burden” part of Casey v. Planned Parenthood has been so narrowly applied by the courts that states need only invoke the motive of protecting women to pass any restriction they want, no matter how onerous, or how irrelevant to women’s heath. What forcing 20 existing clinics conform to regulations on new construction has to do with women’s health doesn’t matter; the claim need only be made.

This is the exact type of move that Mississippi may have endangered when it didn’t even bother to invent an excuse for its most recent abortion restriction that mandated OBGYNs who perform abortions have admitting privileges in local hospitals (the hospitals refused their requests, completing the trap). The bill was such a blatant attempt to close the last remaining abortion clinic in MS that a George W Bush appointed judge struck it down, citing a complete lack of evidence that it was enacted in the interests of women’s health.

The question now is whether Mississippi just accidentally tipped the entire pro-life movement’s hand—i.e., can the motives of a legislature that passes a bill like Virginia’s now be taken credulously, when their play is so obvious? It’s like catching someone at a poker table cheating; how much are you going to believe their next hand of four aces?

It will be interesting to see if higher courts strike down Mississippi’s law for good, and how broadly they write their opinion if/when they do so; they may decide Mississippi has gone too far, and that Casey needs to be applied more actively to all abortion restrictions. If so, it would be nice poetic justice if this bill Virginia just passed is struck down because it doesn’t meet the demands of a future law.