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Published: Fri, 23 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2018 03:28:46 -0500


Doctors Call for Decriminalization of Self-Induced Abortion

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 07:45:00 -0500

(image) The largest American association of reproductive- and gynecological-health physicians is calling on U.S. lawmakers to stop the criminalization of self-induced abortion.

In a new position statement, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) "opposes the prosecution of a pregnant woman for conduct alleged to have harmed her fetus, including the criminalization of self-induced abortion." It also "opposes administrative policies that interfere with the legal and ethical requirement to protect private medical information by mandating obstetrician-gynecologists and other clinicians to report to law enforcement women they suspect have attempted self-induced abortion."

While abortion up to a certain point is legal across America, many states still criminalize the procedure if it's not performed by a licensed physician. That means a woman who terminates (or attempts to terminate) her own pregnancy could be guilty of a crime even if doing the same thing at a Planned Parenthood clinic would be legal.

Far from protecting women from unsafe abortions, these policies "may result in negative health outcomes by deterring women from seeking needed care, including care related to complications after abortion," ACOG warns.

The issue could be a big one in coming years. While self-induced abortion is certainly nothing new, the ability to self-induce an abortion safely and with relatively minimal pain is. "Medical abortion"—i.e., abortificient pills effective through at least the first trimester of pregnancy—makes that possible. And foreign internet pharmacies make clandestinely getting abortion pills easier than ever.

Combine this ease of access with rising U.S. medical costs, the disappearance of abortion clinics in many states, an immigration crackdown that leaves undocumented women afraid of too much exposure, and regulations prohibiting the use of telemedicine to prescribe abortion pills and an increase in illegally-obtained pills and self-induced abortions is all but inevitable.

But as it stands, women who get caught using illegally-obtained abortion drugs may face charges for child endangerment, feticide, or homicide. "In some cases," notes ACOG, "women have been prosecuted under laws that explicitly criminalize self-abortion or that criminalize harm to the fetus, while in other cases, women have faced charges related to the disposal of pregnancy tissue" or for simply purchasing abortion pills.

All of this needs to stop, the association says.

"History tells us restrictive or punitive measures do not end abortion or reduce unintended pregnancy," said Daniel Grossman, lead author of the ACOG position statement. Rather than criminalize self-abortion, lawmakers who want to curb abortion rates and protect women's health should "instead focus their efforts on proven methods of success, including increasing access to routine preventive care, particularly comprehensive contraceptive choices, as well as to early medication abortion."

Read the whole ACOG position statement here.

House Republicans Push Symbolic Nonsense Abortion Bill

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 09:15:00 -0500

(image) Congressional Republicans want to ban "discrimination against the unborn on the basis of sex." Like similarly spurious bills floating around state legislatures, this one would make abortion illegal when motivated by a desire to avoid having a child of a particular sex.

The House bill, H.R. 4660, marks the latest lame attempt at self-promotion from Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.). Wagner has history of introducing legislation on hot-button issues that either has no chance of passing or will lead to little to no change if passed.

Her latest bill, introduced last Thursday, has already attracted 29 co-sponsors—all Republican—so its chances of passing the House may be good. But like so many state bills to this same effect, Wagner's anti-discrimination law for "the unborn" would be utterly ineffectual on the ground (at least in terms of its stated purpose).

Nowhere in the the United States are women seeking an abortion required to explain why they are doing so. Nowhere in the U.S. are doctors required to ask. Anyone who wants to terminate a pregnancy because the fetus is male or female could still do exactly that, so long as she didn't go around announcing that was the reason.

In addition to not actually accomplishing anything in practice, sex-selective abortion bans address an issue that essentially doesn't exist in America. We have no mass culture of devaluing the birth of either sex. We have no shortage of male or female babies being born. We have no evidence of sex-selective abortion being a problem here.

But of course, this isn't really about stopping people from aborting male or female fetuses. It's about drumming up conservative outrage, demonizing women who get abortions, and trying to find yet another way to chip away at reproductive freedom.

Abortion Is the Get-out-of-Jail-Free Card of Republican Politics

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 15:17:00 -0500

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), the telegenic bestselling author and near-Millennial darling of the Trump-averse conservative crowd, is no fan of accused sexual-abuser-of-minors Roy Moore. "This is a bad decision and very sad day," Sasse tweeted Wednesday, in response to news that the Republican National Committee had reversed itself and decided to send money to Moore's troubled Senate campaign. "I believe the women--and RNC previously did too. What's changed? Or is the party just indifferent?" Later that day, Sasse threatened: "If the political committee that I'm a part of (the [National Republican Senate Committee]) decides to contribute here, I will no longer be a donor to or fund-raiser for it." Yet after the similarly-sentimented Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) tweeted this... Country over Party — Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) December 5, 2017 ...Sasse shot back: "This donation is a bad idea. It's possible to be against BOTH partial birth abortion AND child molestation. Happily, most Americans are." Does Democratic Senate challenger Doug Jones really support "partial birth abortion"? No, he does not. The basis of that claim is the following exchange Jones had with Chuck Todd in September on Meet the Press Daily: "So you wouldn't be in favor of legislation that said, ban abortion after 20 weeks or something like that?" Todd asked. "I'm not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman's right and her freedom to choose. That's just the position that I've had for many years. It's a position I continue to have[.]" In the hands of pro-Moore super PACs, this boundless answer to a limited question was translated into "Jones supports abortion in even the most extreme circumstances, including gruesome late-term and partial-birth abortions that are banned in countries across the world." In an attempt to quell the controversy, Jones gave an interview with clarifying his position. Relevant portions: [Jones] said he supports Alabama's abortion laws as they are, saying that people are "fairly comfortable" with the current law. [...] ["]the law for decades has been that late-term procedures are generally restricted except in the case of medical necessity. That's what I support. I don't see any changes in that.["] [...] Jones said his position would be to leave abortion laws unchanged. "I think people are fairly comfortable with where the law has been for decades and that is that a woman has that right to choose because it is intensely personal and I don't think me or Roy Moore or the state of Alabama or the United States government should take that right away," Jones said. Supporting current law means opposing partial-birth abortion, since intact dilation and extraction (the medical term for the procedure) has been illegal in the United States since the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act was enacted in 2003. Still, anti-abortion activists know a morally unfit extremist when they see one. "No reasonable person," Alexandra Desanctis concluded in National Review three weeks after the clarification interview, "could consider Jones anything other than a zealot in this area." In 2016, my colleague Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote a piece titled, "Late-Term Abortions Are Rare and 'Partial Birth Abortions' Illegal. Why Do They Keep Dominating the Reproductive-Rights Debate?," and I think we have at least one possible answer to the question: because framing the issue in the most graphically awful terms makes for a galvanizing politics. But as Republicans prepare to line up behind a lawless jurist and culture-war troll who collectively demonizes entire populations while obviously lying about his reported habit of trawling shopping malls and high schools for love interest in his 30s, it's worth pondering whether some pro-life activists have single-issued themselves into a dark corner, and whether two-party polarization is herding us toward all kinds of similar moral compromises. Over at The Federalist, in a much-derided piece titled "Why Alabamians Should V[...]

Declining to Bake a Gay Wedding Cake Is Not the Same As Banning Gay Marriage

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 14:05:00 -0500

Next Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which poses the question of whether the government violates a baker's right to freedom of speech when it compels him to produce a cake for a gay wedding despite his religious objections to same-sex marriage. Like most (all?) libertarians, I think this sort of coercion is wrong, although I'm not sure the relevant right is freedom of speech. The principle also could be described as freedom of religion or freedom of conscience. At bottom, as Scott Shackford has observed, the dispute is about freedom of association and freedom of contract. But one thing should be clear: It is the government, at the behest of an aggrieved gay couple, that is initiating the use of force. It is the baker, Jack Phillips, who is asking to be left alone. The question is whether he has a right to expect that—or, to put it another way, whether the government's use of force is justified. That point seems lost on The New York Times. In a recent story about the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing Phillips, reporter Jeremy Peters conflates the baker's desire to avoid an implicit endorsement of gay marriage with a government ban on gay marriage. Under the headline "Fighting Gay Rights and Abortion With the First Amendment," Peters says Phillips and the ADF are trying to "blunt the sweep of Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that enshrined same-sex marriage into law." Obergefell said states must recognize marriages between people of the same sex. It did not say anyone is legally obligated to bake a gay wedding cake. "We think that in a free society people who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman shouldn't be coerced by the government to promote a different view of marriage," ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco tells Peters. "We have to figure out how to live in a society with pluralistic and diverse views." That stance, Peters suggests (citing "civil liberties groups and gay rights advocates"), is a cover for "a deep-seated belief that gay people are immoral and that no one should be forced to recognize them as ordinary members of society." But whatever the ADF's views of homosexuality, it is entirely consistent to say the government should neither ban gay marriage nor force people like Phillips to endorse it. That is the position taken by the Reason Foundation (which publishes this website), the Cato Institute, and the Individual Rights Foundation, which jointly filed a brief in support of Phillips. As the headline over a recent Daily Signal story notes, "These Groups Support Gay Marriage While Backing a Cake Baker's First Amendment Rights." According to the Times, however, they are "Fighting Gay Rights...With the First Amendment." Peters also conflates government and private action in his discussion of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear that challenges a California law requiring anti-aborton "crisis pregnancy centers" to provide information about abortion. Just as Masterpiece Cakeshop has nothing to do with banning gay marriage, the California case has nothing to do with banning (or restricting) abortion. Both cases are about the constitutionality of forcing people to engage in speech that violates their moral principles. As Peters sees it, "the First Amendment has become the most powerful weapon of social conservatives" seeking to "roll back laws on same-sex marriage and abortion rights." That gloss is not just misleading but blatantly false. If the ADF wins these cases, its victories will have no effect whatsoever on gay marriage or abortion rights. They will simply carve out some space for peaceful dissent from the social consensus on these issues.[...]

Ban on Abortion Because of Down Syndrome Clears Ohio Legislature

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 12:12:00 -0500

(image) Both houses of the Ohio General Assembly have approved making it illegal for women to get abortions because a fetus is found to have Down Syndrome. If the law, as expected, is approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich, Ohio will become the third state to do so.

"Do we want in the state of Ohio to have people making a decision that someone is less valuable because of a chromosomal disorder that they have," state Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson), who recently lost his bid to become Ohio secretary of state, asked during an explanation of his sponsorship of the senate measure for WOSU radio.

Laws like the one LaRose championed are largely symbolic measures (like state bans on sex-selective abortion). Women aren't required to provide a reason to terminate a pregnancy and doctors aren't required to test for Down Syndrome, or anything else, before performing an abortion.

Choosing to abort fetuses found to have genetic abnormalities does not, despite LaRose's grim takeaway, mean that people place less value on the lives of people with these conditions. Many potential parents know they don't have the financial, emotional, or other resources required to raise a special-needs child. And without people lining up to adopt or otherwise take care of these children, that's what we're asking prospective parents of fetuses with Down Syndrome to do.

It's admirable that many families do choose to do it (and of course for many people, religious or moral beliefs mean there's no other option for them). But it's not the state's place to impose this choice on pregnant women and their families. Forcing it on people does not seem likely to produce healthy outcomes or situations in the best interest of the children involved.

Three Ohio Republican senators joined their Democratic colleagues in voting against the Down Syndrome abortion ban. Republican Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) told WOSU that he thinks the bill is constitutionally questionable and will also have unintended consequences.

"If we're going to introduce law that says the patient and doctor's conversation with each other could lead to some liability, I think what we're going to see is reduced conversation," Dolan said.

Democrats added two amendments included in the Senate bill: one saying that no public money would go to defending the ban it court should it be challenged and one saying women should not have to say why they are getting an abortion. "It's ironic," said Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus), "that those who claim they believe in limited government are once again choosing to insert themselves in a relationship that is sacred between that practitioner and their patient."

Disability advocates have had mixed reactions to the bill. Some are opposed because singling out Down Syndrome, but allowing abortions motivated by other genetic conditions or fetal abnormalities, suggests the lives of people with those conditions are less valuable.

Supreme Court to Weigh Rules for Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in California

Tue, 14 Nov 2017 11:45:00 -0500

(image) The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving California's regulations for "crisis pregnancy centers." These generally religious, always anti-abortion centers have come under fire in the past for misrepresenting themselves as comprehensive reproductive health clinics while providing little in the way of medical services. But in trying to stop some centers from fraudulent advertising, the state of California passed legislation that may violate their First Amendment rights.

According to NARAL ProChoice America, California has around 170 crisis pregnancy centers, with around 40 percent licensed as medical clinics.

Under a law that took effect in January 2016, California pregnancy centers are required to disclose whether they are licensed medical providers or merely offer ancillary services (such as counseling or a clothing bank) to pregnant women. That part isn't controversial. But the law also requires crisis pregnancy centers that are licensed health clinics to notify patients about state programs that can help low-income women pay for prenatal care, contraception...and abortions. Clinics that fail to post the required state notice face civil penalties.

Naturally, the anti-abortion crowd running most of California's crisis pregnancy centers doesn't want to be forced to provide pregnant women with this information. In October 2015, two centers—A Woman's Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic of Marysville, California, and the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California—filed a suit challenging the law.

The groups, represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, claim the law "unconstitutionally compels [crisis pregnancy centers] to speak messages that they have not chosen, with which they do not agree, and that distract, and detract from, the messages they have chosen to speak." In addition, "disseminating the mandated state inconsistent with plaintiffs' religious convictions." The suit says the regulations violate both freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Since then, several other groups have brought lawsuits challenging the same law. On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear one of these cases (National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra).

The Supreme Court's review will focus on whether "the disclosures required by the California Reproductive FACT Act violate the protections set forth in the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment." Previously, both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit sided against the National Institute of Family & Life Advocates pregnancy center.

No Forced Childbirth for Undocumented Immigrant Teen in Federal Custody

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 00:01:00 -0400

In April, the Trump administration took a stand against the brutal methods used to enforce China's one-child policy. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced China for "acts of violence" against pregnant women, including "coerced sterilizations and forced abortions," and praised the president for cutting off funds for U.N. family planning efforts. This administration does not try to force pregnant women to have abortions. Just the opposite: It tries to forces pregnant women to have babies. And its methods bear an uncanny resemblance to those employed by the Chinese government. The evidence is on view in the case of an unaccompanied 17-year-old from Central America who was detained after entering the country illegally in September. On Wednesday morning, after a furious legal battle, she got an abortion. But that outcome came only after weeks of efforts by the administration to prevent her from doing so. She has been held in a federally funded shelter since she was picked up. After discovering her pregnancy, she went through the process required under Texas law for a minor to get an abortion. A state court ruled she was "mature and sufficiently informed" to decide for herself. The Supreme Court has ruled that the constitutional right to privacy protects the right to abortion. Given those two realities, the case should have been closed. But the administration doesn't like to be constrained by laws or the Constitution. It preferred that "Jane Doe," whose identity is protected, carry her pregnancy to term, and it did all it could to make her comply. The Office of Refugee Resettlement sent her to an anti-abortion "pregnancy crisis center," where she was urged to change her mind. It told her mother about the pregnancy even though the girl said her parents had severely abused her. The government refused to let her leave the shelter to get an abortion—though it offered to let her leave for medical treatment if she agreed to give birth. At each stage, it found ways to block her access. It may be argued that because the teenager is here without authorization, the Constitution doesn't apply to her. But the Supreme Court has never taken such a position. It has ruled that even undocumented immigrants enjoy constitutional protection, including "due process of law." The Justice Department said that because she is a minor and here illegally, it is entitled to impose its own preferences on her. If she wanted to have an abortion, it said, she had the option of returning to her home country—though she said that doing so would expose her to more abuse. The district judge ruled in her favor, and on Tuesday, an appeals court agreed. In her opinion, Judge Patricia Millett concluded that Doe, "like other minors in the United States who satisfy state-approved procedures, is entitled under binding Supreme Court precedent to choose to terminate her pregnancy." The administration said it should not be required to "facilitate" a procedure it finds abhorrent. But that was a bogus claim. The girl was not asking the government to pay for the operation, provide a doctor, or transport her to the clinic. The only thing her lawyers asked of the government was "to stop blocking the door." But the facilitation argument wouldn't stand up regardless. If she were an adult, Doe would be in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which permits detainees to get abortions. If she were in federal prison, she would be allowed to get an abortion. Doe asked for far less—and the Trump administration tried to deny her even that. Absent this court ruling, she'd have been confined and required to go to term, even though continuing her pregnancy presented much greater risks to her health than ending it. This was a simple choice: Compel the girl to give birth or let her get an abortion. The fact that she is undocumented doesn't change that reality. As Judge Millett wrote, "Surely the mere[...]

Christian Cake Bakers and Gay Coffee Shop Owners: Why Freedom of Association Is for Everybody

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 12:50:00 -0400

A gay coffee shop owner in Seattle is getting viral attention for loudly ejecting a group of aggressive anti-abortion Christian activists from his business. Members of Abolish Human Abortion had been handing out rather vivid posters outside the shop that seem to link gay acceptance to the prevalence of abortion. They then came inside Bedlam Coffee and received service—until shop owner Ben Borgman angrily threw them out, declaring their views and their posters offensive. Watch his profanity-laced tirade below: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> It's very easy to watch Borgman's rant and decide that, no, his shop shouldn't have to play host to a group of people who were just outside handing out fliers that he found offensive and that he felt attacked him personally. It's also easy to watch it and immediately think about the upcoming Supreme Court case about whether the government can force a baker to prepare wedding cakes for gay couples. And some, like the legal scholar Jonathan Turley, are doing exactly that. If a coffee shop owner doesn't want to serve a group whose positions he finds disagreeable and offensive, is that subtantially different from a baker refusing to do work for a same-sex marriage he finds offensive? Washington State's public accommodation laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of "creed," so Borgman cannot simply boot people out of his coffee shop for having Christian religious beliefs. But over at The Stranger, a Seattle alt-weekly, Katie Herzog argues that this case isn't religious discrimination but a disagreement about political positions: Not believing that woman should have autonomy over their own bodies is not actually a protected class in America, much like...gays. Looks like these folks have more in common than they thought. She's saying that Borgman isn't kicking them out because they're Christians, which would violate the state's laws; he's kicking them out because he finds their extreme anti-abortion positions offensive. The fact that these positions are informed by their religious beliefs is not relevant. What's fascinating about that argument is how it so closely tracks the response from bakers and florists who don't want to offer their services for gay weddings. They say that they're not discriminating against gay people: Gay people are more than welcome to come into their shops and buy cakes and flowers. Rather, they object to the concept of gay marriage and to the position that it should be treated similarly to heterosexual marriage, and they do not want to be forced to produce goods that suggest that they support it. By trying to come up with a justification as to why Borgman should allowed to boot these guys from his coffee shop without running afoul of state antidiscrimination laws, Herzog is essentially making the same argument: that this isn't discrimination against people for their identities, but discrimination against certain views. That's the sort of weird semantic contortions that come when you try to police the circumstances in which people can decline to do business with someone else. People want to preserve their own right to refuse to associate with others while limiting the others' ability to shun them. Using government authority to do this gives people an incentive to look for ways to punish people with whom you have disagreements. But it's more responsible, ethical, and most of all mature to suggest that both the coffee shop owner and the baker should be able to decide for themselves when they'll extend their hospitality. With neither the coffee shop nor the baker does a refusal to do business with these customers cause real, recognizable harms that justify government intervention.[...]

Do Abortion Rules Violate Satanists' Religious Freedom? Missouri Supreme Court to Decide

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 10:35:00 -0400

The Supreme Court of Missouri has agreed to hear an interesting religious and reproductive liberty case. Brought by "Mary Doe," a member of the Satanic Temple, the case challenges an "informed consent" law requiring a 72-hour waiting period, an ultrasound, and support for statements like "life...begins at conception" before a woman can get an abortion. "The case would be the first of its kind to be heard by either the Missouri Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court," notes the Kansas City Star. Doe claims the requirements violate her right to religious freedom, as Satanists do not believe that life begins at conception. The first court to hear the case rejected Doe's constitutional claims, but an appeals court last week decided Doe's claims might have merit. It presents "a contested matter of right that involves fair doubt and reasonable room for disagreement," the Western District Court of Appeals ruled unanimously, ordering the case be transferred to the jurisdiction of the Missouri Supreme Court. Missouri regulations require that any woman seeking an abortion must first view an active ultrasound, wait 72 hours after an initial doctor's visit, and sign papers declaring that they have read and understand state-mandated statements that personhood begins at conception and that abortion at any stage terminates "the life of a separate, unique, living human being." "The sole purpose of the law is to indoctrinate pregnant women into the belief held by some, but not all, Christians that a separate and unique human being begins at conception," wrote the appeals court. "Because the law does not recognize or include other beliefs, [Doe] contends that it establishes an official religion and makes clear that the state disapproves of her beliefs." Despite its provocative name, the Satanic Temple doesn't actually worship Satan. There's no ritual sacrifice or other trappings of Satanic lore. It's more of a mischievous and high-concept anti-religion, opposed to the tenets of organized Christianity and their infiltration of American laws. Its description of its mission actually sounds mighty libertarian, as well as steeped in traditional morality: to "encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will." "The first conception was in response to George W. Bush's creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives," one of the Satanic Temple's founders told The New York Times in 2015: "I thought, 'There should be some kind of counter.'" He hit on the idea of starting a faith-based organization that met all the Bush administration's criteria for receiving funds, but was repugnant to them. "Imagine if a Satanic organization applied for funds," he remembered thinking. "It would sink the whole program." Both founders consider themselves "atheistic Satanists," with no more literal belief in Satan than they do in a literal God. To them, Satanism represents "the solidarity of outsiders, those judged and excluded by the mainstream," explains the Times. In addition to challenging religiously motivated abortion regulations, the Satanic Temple has also been active in fighting things like prayer in public schools, prayer at City Council meetings, a biblical statute on Oklahoma statehouse grounds, courthouse Nativity Scenes, and public schools distributing the Bible to their students.[...]

Harvey Weinstein, Tim Murphy, and Political Hypocrisy

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 09:05:00 -0400

Last week saw not one but two disturbing scandals involving powerful men and sex. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a major force in Democratic Party fundraising and activism, has been fired from the company he co-founded in the wake of reports that he serially harassed actresses for decades. Rep. Tim Murphy, a married, eight-term, pro-life Republican from Pennsylvania, resigned after it came out that he wanted his mistress to have an abortion during a pregnancy scare. Each situation underscores the massive hypocrisy liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, traffic in. Each also helps explain why Americans are right to want the government out of our lives as much as possible. When the people who fund politicians and the politicians themselves are so full of awfulness, who in their right mind would give such figures the right to dictate any part of our lives? It's no wonder that support for a "major third party" is higher than ever, according to Gallup. Weinstein has a long and phenomenal clip reel as a movie man before being fired yesterday from The Weinstein Company. Founded in 1979 with his brother Bob in Buffalo, New York, of all places, Miramax, his original movie company, set out to produce and distribute independent movies at the very moment that Hollywood had seemingly turned all of its attention to blockbusters and tent-pole pictures. Among its offerings were movies that helped create the indie boom of the 1980s and '90s: Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Pulp Fiction; and Clerks. As distributor of Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line and 1990s's Paris Is Burning, Miramax helped revive theatrical-release documentaries. It didn't stint on Oscar bait either, as films such as Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, Good Will Hunting, and The Crying Game attest. The mix of critical praise and boffo box office gave Weinstein an immense amount of power in the entertainment industry and, despite a reputation of being a total asshole, he also bought his way into the highest circles of Democratic Party fundraising and access to glamour pols such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Franken, Kristen Gillibrand, Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren. Even his threatening to "rip" future Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's balls off couldn't hurt his standing as long as the green was flowing. As Jezebel puts it, According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he's shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and has also donated to state Democratic parties; in total, his political donations amount to over $1.4 million.... During Obama's 2012 campaign, Weinstein was noted as a top "bundler" from the entertainment industry as Hollywood money swept in to fill the donation gap left by a newly-regulated Wall Street. Shortly before that year's election, Republicans were infuriated by news that the film Seal Team Six: the Raid on Osama bin Laden, premiering just days before the election, was tweaked by Weinstein himself to expand Obama's role. Malia Obama interned for Weinstein this past spring, two years after Weinstein was publicly accused of groping Italian model Ambra Battilana. "Across the years and continents," reports The New York Times, "accounts of Mr. Weinstein's conduct share a common narrative: Women reported to a hotel for what they thought were work reasons, only to discover that Mr. Weinstein, who has been married for most of three decades, sometimes seemed to have different interests." Multiple women said that Weinstein, often clad only in a robe or pajamas, would ask them to massage him or watch him shower. Among the women were actresses such as Ashley Judd, then starting her career, and he paid settlements to others, such as actress Rose McGowan, after an incident in[...]

House Passes Bill Making Abortion After 20 Weeks a Federal Crime

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 08:36:00 -0400


Update: On Tuesday afternoon, the bill passed the House 237 to 189.

Third time's a charm? The U.S. House of Representatives is considering "The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks, for the third time since 2013. But this time, the White House has signaled full support for the bill.

Under the new legislation (H.R. 36), abortion after 20 weeks pregnancy would be a crime except in cases where the life of the mother is at risk or the pregnancy is a product of rape or incest. Pregnant women who find out after the cutoff that they are carrying an nonviable fetus (i.e., one that cannot survive outside the womb) would still be forced to carry the fetus to term.

While women seeking an abortion after 20 weeks would not be criminalized under federal law, anyone who performed or agreed to perform an abortion on someone more than 20 weeks pregnant would face five years in federal prison, a fine, or both. "A woman who undergoes a prohibited abortion may not be prosecuted for violating or conspiring to violate the provisions of this bill," it states.

The failure to directly criminalize women may seem like a bright spot. But in this way the bill not only restricts women's control over their own bodies and reproductive futures but also takes a pass at their agency, declaring us too morally or intellectually inferior to know what we are doing and be held responsible for our decisions. In fact, under Republicans' new proposal, a woman who seeks out an abortion after 20 weeks and finds a doctor to do it may then sue the abortion doctor in civil court.

From a philosophical standpoint, it's bullshit—but from a political point, it makes sense. Republicans know that if they start throwing women in jail for terminating their pregnancies, they would lose a lot of centrist support; not so if they can make this about punishing evil "abortionists" that prey on poor pregnant women.

In a statement Monday, the Trump administration said it "strongly supports H.R. 36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and applauds the House of Representatives for continuing its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections."

But while conservative representatives and President Trump may be enthused about the proposed abortion ban, the Senate has indicated that now is not the time. On Monday, Republican Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said taking up the abortion bill was "not a near-term priority."

Bullied By the State, Toledo Abortion Clinic Takes Its Fight to Remain Open to the Ohio Supreme Court

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 11:20:00 -0400

A Catch-22 in Ohio abortion law came before the state's Supreme Court this week. The case addresses the attempted shutdown of Toledo's only remaining abortion clinic and a pair of state regulations that make it legally impossible for some clinics to stay open, even if they have done nothing wrong. Ohio has long required all outpatient surgical centers, including abortion clinics, to have a formal transfer agreement with a local hospital. In general, such regulations are pretty pointless, as surgical center patients with complications can be treated at nearby hospitals regardless of whether such an agreement exists. But they didn't post much of a problem for reproductive freedom in Ohio until 2013. That year, as part of the state's budget bill, legislators forbade public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with any abortion provider. For Toledo's Capital Care Network, the new rule meant losing its transfer agreement with the University of Toledo Medical Center. The clinic proceeded to secure a transfer agreement with the University of Michigan Health System, 50 miles away, but it was told this was too far to qualify as local. In 2014, the Ohio Department of Health ordered the clinic to close. Capital Care Network pushed back with a lawsuit. Two lower courts have sided with the clinic, which has thus far been able to remain open. At the Supreme Court on Tuesday, justices were interested in whether the clinic's closure would pose an "undue burden" on Ohio women seeking to terminate a pregnancy—a standard often used in judging the constitutionality of state abortion restrictions. Capital Care Network is the only remaining abortion provider in the greater Toledo area, after the city's other clinic was forced to close in 2013 upon losing its transfer agreement with a public hospital. Assistant Attorney General Stephen P. Carney told the justices that if the Capital Care Network closed, the closest clinics available to women in the Toledo region would be in Detroit or Ann Arbor, Michigan. "Surely you just didn't just say the undue burden is met if we tell women you can't have an abortion in Ohio but you can certainly go to Michigan?" Justice William M. O'Neill replied. But undue burden isn't really the issue in this case, because Capital Care Network is not challenging the constitutionality of the regulation per se. Rather, it objects to the way it was passed, as part of the state's 2013 budget bill. Under the Ohio Constitution, legislation shall not "contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title." The idea is to ensure transparency and time for public comment and debate. Capital Care Network lawyers told the Court that passing the transfer agreement ban as part of the budget bill violated this rule, because the regulation "has nothing to do with appropriations." The state contended that it didn't violate the rule, because "it involves how we operate government." If the state's argument flies, that would seem to negate the entire point of one-subject rule, since any rulemaking the government undertakes could be said to relate to "how we operate government." And at least one justice wasn't having it: "That's a pretty broad statement to say it pertains to the operation of state government," Justice Maureen O'Connor replied. Publicly funded hospitals in Ohio are not prohibited from contracting with any specific type of outpatient surgical center other than abortion clinics. In 2014, a Cincinnati clinic was forced to close after the new law caused it to lose its transfer agreement with nearby public hospitals and the private Catholic hospitals in the area declined to pick up the slack. The clinic applied for a waiver, which the state denied, leaving the Cincinnati area with only one abortion[...]

Brickbat: Important Lesson

Tue, 01 Aug 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) In Pennsylvania, Downington Area School District Superintendent Emilie Lonardi has formally apologized to two students and said their rights were violated when an administrator harassed and cursed them during their pro-life protest on public sidewalk outside the Downington STEM Academy. Zach Ruff confronted the two, threatened to call police if they talked to other students, told them to go to hell and told them that fetuses are not children but cells.

Brickbat: I'll Tell You Where You Can Go

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) The state of Hawaii is now forcing faith-based pregnancy centers to give women information on where they can obtain an abortion. Those who violate the law face a $1,000 fine for each violation.

'Free' Abortions for Everyone in Oregon

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 16:55:00 -0400

A measure on its way to Gov. Kate Brown requiring health-insurance plans to include "free" coverage for elective abortions and an array of other pregnancy-related services for all insured, regardless of their gender identity, is certain to reverberate far beyond the state of Oregon. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Julie Fahey (D-West Eugene), is a response to Republican shenanigans in Washington, which could soon end Obamacare's provision that health insurers cover a list of preventative services with no deductibles or co-pays. Fahey's measure would ensure that many of these services—such as cervical and breast cancer screenings and birth control—remain mandatory benefits under Oregon insurance plans and add abortion and vasectomies to the list. It would also set up a fund for covering abortion procedures for undocumented immigrant women, who are not eligible for state-funded health coverage otherwise. "In some states such as New York, abortions are cost-free if they're deemed medically necessary," ABC News reports. "The Oregon bill is unique, however, in that patients would have access to the procedure for virtually any reason, at any time." The Hill called the bill "a rare bright spot for abortion rights advocates at a time when opponents have advanced restrictions in other states." I disagree. The goal of the reproductive-freedom movement is ensuring safe, widespread access to things like contraception, abortion, and maternity care. And, in theory, the Oregon measure does that. But it does so by acting on the same authoritarian impulses abortion foes are so fond of, guaranteeing inevitable and lengthy legal battles from folks who feel their conscience rights are being abridged. The bill contains some exemptions for churches and religious non-profits as required by federal law. Insurance companies with religious objections can also apply for a waiver. But the category of people who oppose abortion for religious reasons extends far beyond religious institutions and insurance-company execs. As with Hobby Lobby and the Obamacare contraception mandate, there will certainly be owners of private, for-profit companies who object to providing employee health-care coverage that funds something they find morally abhorrent. I don't find abortion morally abhorrent. I share in the liberal fight to not just keep abortion legal and clinics open but also to ensure that anyone who needs to terminate a pregnancy can afford to do so. But we have got to get beyond this idea that securing this access must involve mandates and government funding. Inevitably, such requirements will interfere with civil liberties, stymie innovation that could bring better and cheapter care to more people, and drive up the cost of care for everyone. If we are securing abortion access even for those who can't afford it, why not go at it directly, instead of through sixteen layers of bureacracy? Making every health-care plan include abortion coverage doesn't just rile religious objectors and raise insurance costs (which will be passed on to plan recipients indirectly), it ignores some of the most vulnerable populations. Not only undocumented immigrants who may lack health insurance coverage altogether. Homeless women, women fleeing violent partners, teen runaways, drug addicts, and others who are unlikely to be insured are also likely to be targets of sexual violence and to have unintended pregnancies. How is a health-insurance mandate going to help them? Abortion providers will no longer have an incentive to keep costs as low as possible or find innovative models for care because they can count on insurance reimbursement and don't need to deal directly with patients about the exp[...]