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

RH Reality Check - 2 hours 40 min ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: AssociatedPress / YouTube

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

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

RH Reality Check - 2 hours 59 min ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Shutterstock

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

Angel Dillard to Stand Trial for Threatening Abortion Provider

RH Reality Check - 4 hours 1 min ago

Angel Dillard will stand trial for threats she made to a Kansas abortion provider, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s decision overturns a lower court ruling that held Dillard’s 2011 letter to Dr. Mila Means saying someone might place a bomb under her car was constitutionally protected free speech.

The ruling comes in the Department of Justice’s civil lawsuit against Dillard for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, the federal law that prohibits threatening or otherwise interfering with access to abortion clinics or providers.

Dillard is a notorious anti-choice radical with ties to Scott Roeder, the confessed murderer of Dr. George Tiller. In 2011, after Tiller’s murder, Dillard sent a letter to Means. At the time Dillard sent the letter, Means was preparing to start offering abortion services at the clinic of the late abortion provider. In the letter to Means, Dillard presented a “vision” of what Means’ life would look like should she start providing abortions in Wichita, Kansas. In that letter, Dillard explained how thousands of people from across the country were already scrutinizing Means’ background. Soon, Dillard promised, they would know “your habits and routines. They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live,” Dillard wrote. “You will be checking under your car every day—because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

Based on the content of that letter, the DOJ sued Dillard under the FACE Act. According to the DOJ, those statements concerning explosives were sufficient to constitute a threat against Means. But Dillard disagreed, arguing they were nothing more than an exercise of her First Amendment rights because the comments were not sufficiently specific to constitute a “true threat.” In August 2013, a federal judge agreed with Dillard and dismissed the claims against her ruling Dillard’s statements were constitutionally protected speech. The justice department appealed that ruling in October, and on Tuesday the Tenth Circuit finally issued its opinion.

According to the Tenth Circuit, the question of whether or not Dillard’s letter to Means constituted a “true threat” should be left for a jury to decide. The federal appeals court said the DOJ had provided enough evidence that a reasonable person could conclude the letter was a threat and therefore a violation of the law. “A reasonable jury could find that Defendant’s letter conveys a true threat, that she subjectively intended to threaten Dr. Means, and that she wrote to Dr. Means in order to intimidate her from providing reproductive health services,” the court wrote.

The court also rejected Dillard’s argument that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act bars any punishment based on Dillard’s “religious expression of her views about abortion to Dr. Means,” noting Dillard only first made that argument during the appeal process.

The ruling sends the case back to the lower court for trial. In the meantime, Dillard could ask the Tenth Circuit to reconsider its decision.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Angel Dillard to Stand Trial for Threatening Abortion Provider appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Teenager in France in Remission From HIV Infection Without Medication for 12 Years

RH Reality Check - 4 hours 45 min ago

Researchers at an IAS conference on HIV pathogenesis, treatment, and prevention held last week in Vancouver presented the case of an 18-year-old girl in France who was born with HIV but appears to be in remission, despite not having taken medication since the age of 6.

Though there is no cure for HIV, there have been some cases in which the virus remains undetectable in someone’s blood without intervention. Researchers hope that by studying this young woman, they can understand how this is possible and how they can replicate it.

The young woman was born to an HIV-positive mother and given an antiretroviral drug called zidovudine for six weeks beginning soon after birth. The original goal of treatment was to prevent her from becoming infected with HIV, but when her viral load got higher, doctors decided to change course and start her on a combination of four drugs.

She stayed on this regimen for years. At some point between the ages of 5 and 6, however, her family decided to discontinue the drugs, though they have not publicly explained why.

Doctors saw her again at age 6 and were surprised to find that the girl had an undetectable level of HIV in her blood, despite the lack of medication. Twelve years have gone by and the young woman is still not taking medication and still has an undetectable level of HIV.

There are other patients for whom this has happened, at least in the short term. For example, RH Reality Check has written about an infant known as the “Mississippi Baby,” who was born to an HIV-positive mother and given powerful antiretroviral drugs just 30 hours after birth. The baby remained on these drugs for 18 months, at which time her mother stopped bringing her to the clinic.

The next time the doctors saw her, the baby had no detectable virus in her blood stream despite having been off of the medication for five months. She remained off of her medication and continued to have an undetectable viral load until just before her fourth birthday, when a routine test once again found HIV in her blood.

Asier Sáez-Cirión, the researcher who presented this new case last week, also worked with a group of adults in France known as the Visconti patients. These 20 individuals were treated for HIV soon after infection but stopped taking their drugs three years later. Most—18 of them—were able to keep the virus at bay on their own; they have an average of ten years in remission.

Some refer to this kind of remission as a “functional cure” because it does not eliminate the virus from the body, but it prevents the virus from causing harm.

A “true cure” would eradicate HIV from a person’s body. This has proven extremely hard to do because of so-called viral reservoirs—cells in which HIV “takes up residence” and can hide for decades. Functional cures are easier to achieve. In fact, in some ways, antiretroviral therapy can be considered a functional cure because it keeps viral loads down and prevents the virus from causing harm. For most people, however, these drugs will stop working as soon as they are discontinued.

Researchers do not yet know why some patients, like this French teenager or the Visconti patients, are able to continue the success of the drug therapy on their own. These patients seem to share immune gene variations that predispose them to severe early HIV infections. Researchers aren’t sure how this helps them later, but one theory suggests that it may cause their infections to be noticed, and therefore treated, sooner than most people.

Early treatment seems to be a key to functional cures, but it’s also a stumbling block to widespread use of these therapies, because most people don’t know they are infected until months after it happens.

“We are learning from this patient, that’s why it’s so exciting. We are learning clearly which kind of response the strategy for the future should use,” Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who is credited with co-discovering HIV in 1983 and won a Nobel Prize for her research, said in an interview with CNN. She works at the Institut Pasteur with Sáez-Cirión. “This is critical if we want to make progress in the field of remission in the future,” added Barré-Sinoussi.

Many in the field seem to be tempering their excitement after what happened with Mississippi Baby and other cases in which functional cures ultimately stopped working. Moreover, experts are warning parents that most children will not fare well off of their medication.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Teenager in France in Remission From HIV Infection Without Medication for 12 Years appeared first on RH Reality Check.

‘Farce’ Not Strong Enough Word to Describe Outrageous Planned Parenthood Hearing in Texas Legislature

RH Reality Check - 6 hours 47 min ago

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

Before I get into what transpired during Wednesday’s Texas legislative hearing in front of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee concerning fetal tissue donations—or, the hearing that was ostensibly concerned with fetal tissue donations—I want to establish a few facts.

  • Abortion has been legal across the United States since 1973.
  • Collecting fetal tissue for medical research purposes is legal under federal law.
  • Neither Texas lawmakers nor the Texas attorney general has jurisdiction over enforcing federal law concerning tissue donations.
  • Medical providers can be reimbursed for certain costs associated with collecting tissue for research purposes with the informed consent of the researchers and the pregnant donor.
  • Recording someone without their consent in the State of California is illegal.
  • Misrepresenting the nature of your nonprofit entity to the Internal Revenue Service and to state tax regulators is illegal.
  • No Planned Parenthood affiliate in Texas currently collects fetal tissue for medical research purposes.
  • In 2010, Texas’ Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast affiliate partnered with the University of Texas Medical Branch to provide fetal tissue for a study on miscarriage. That partnership is now over.

I lay out those facts because Texas lawmakers and state leaders seemed to be in very serious want of them throughout the four-and-a-half hours they spent Wednesday “investigating whether state or federal laws are being broken by Planned Parenthood and/or its affiliates in Texas in regards to the donation and/or sale of fetal tissue.” Even as anti-choice lawmakers called for an open-minded look at Planned Parenthood’s practices, they crowed about the “abomination” that is legal abortion, admitted to wanting to entirely dismantle Planned Parenthood as an entity, and invited no pro-choice groups to testify in front of the committee.

The goal of the investigation, and the legislature’s authority to do anything with any information gathered in the course of it, was unclear. Texas lawmakers are not members of law enforcement entities. They have no authority to enforce federal law. The state health department, too, does not have any oversight over fetal tissue donation.

Planned Parenthood, along with a number of pro-choice and progressive folks in Texas, used the hashtag #ShamHearingTX while live-tweeting the hearing. I don’t believe the word “sham” goes far enough, and yet I struggle to describe the affair. “Farce” is far too weak. “Joke” hardly conveys the seriousness with which anti-abortion lawmakers approach putting Planned Parenthood out of business. “Theatre” does a disservice to thespians the world over.

What transpired Wednesday in the state capitol was a public strategy meeting wherein anti-abortion lawmakers, the Texas attorney general, and the anti-choice lobbyists who direct state policy convened to openly discuss their plan for making legal abortion a thing of the past in Texas.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, the chair of the senate HHS Committee, convened the hearing after a shell group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a series of deceptively edited videos showing Planned Parenthood doctors discussing fetal tissue donation. What the edited videos don’t show, and the full videos do, are those doctors emphasizing that they do not and cannot profit off of the collection of fetal tissue for medical research.

Nevertheless, Texas lawmakers have an extended and ongoing beef with Planned Parenthood, which they have spent years carefully crafting into a blanket policy against giving any state funds whatsoever to the health-care provider. In 2013, Planned Parenthood was prevented from participating in the state’s Texas Women’s Health Program. Earlier this year, the organization was banned from providing care to low-income Texans who receive cancer screenings and treatment through the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screenings program. Once that ban kicks in, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas will no longer receive any state funds; Planned Parenthood of South Texas doesn’t receive any apart from what the state might pay toward Medicaid.

Schwertner would have been remiss, then, if in the service of this beef, he did not take the opportunity to put on a full production of outrage with all possible attendant bells and whistles. Especially considering the Texas attorney general’s office has also launched an “investigation” into Planned Parenthood, and it was revealed during Wednesday’s hearing that the state’s Health and Human Services agency is conducting its own investigation.

But that doesn’t make what happened on Wednesday any less appalling in its wastefulness, legislative aggression, and outright bias.

It was an exercise in the glorification of abortion stigma. It was a contest to see who could use the phrase “baby parts” most often. It was a parade of partisanship: an outright gabfest against science, against reason, against medicine, against freedom.

What it was not, in any sense of the word: an investigation.

And how could it be an investigation? There’s nothing to investigate. Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas don’t currently collect fetal tissue for donation in medical research. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast did, in 2010, partner with a state university research program that used fetal tissue donations to study miscarriages. Planned Parenthood of South Texas and Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas have never participated in donations. “Baby parts,” no matter what anti-choicers keep putting on hashtags, belong to infants, not fetuses or embryos or zygotes. If the committee truly believes that anyone in Texas is murdering born children for profit, much more than an interim legislative hearing would be necessary and essential.

But Texas lawmakers spent four-and-a-half hours “investigating” whether an entity that does not provide the legal service of fetal tissue donation has violated any laws while it doesn’t provide that legal service. For that matter, neither the lawmakers nor any of the “investigating” parties have any jurisdiction whatsoever over the tissue donation laws in question. The committee heard from the attorney general and from representatives from the state health and human services agency, both of which admitted as much outright.

Of course, Schwertner and his fellow anti-choice lawmakers must realize how preposterous and wasteful that is, which could explain why ultimately the bulk of the conversation was concerned not with examining current instances of fetal tissue donation by Planned Parenthood affiliates, of which there are none, but with the idea of legal abortion care writ large, and with lawmakers’ personal, and extreme, dislike of Planned Parenthood.

Indeed, under the guise of reporting to the committee on his office’s own “investigation”, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said that “the true abomination in all of this is the institution of abortion.”

This was not a hearing about fetal tissue. It was a grandstanding event for anti-abortion politicians who would force every pregnant person to carry their pregnancy to term, every time.

In fact, Schwertner said early in the hearing that he refused to accept written testimony from Planned Parenthood affiliates, and that Planned Parenthood’s decision not to testify in person “shows, in some ways, their true colors.”

Some time following the “true colors” remark and several other interjections from Schwertner sneering at Planned Parenthood’s refusal to testify, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood walked to the dais to submit her clients’ written testimony in person.

The testimony she handed over was brief: Planned Parenthood said it wouldn’t appear to testify because it doesn’t have anything to testify about. Because the Texas affiliates don’t collect fetal tissue for research purposes.

But Schwertner snapped at her for not testifying on Planned Parenthood’s behalf, or for not compelling her clients to testify. She said she would do neither, given the fact that the organization is under active investigation. Schwertner huffed in response, asking what her clients had asked her to do—effectively demanding she violate attorney-client privilege. She turned in the testimony, which was accepted, reiterating that in her best legal judgment, it would be inadvisable for her clients to testify at the hearing.

Schwertner did not seem nearly so offended by Attorney General Ken Paxton’s reluctance to provide the details of his investigation. Paxton repeatedly cited confidentiality concerns when dodging inquiries from Democratic senators—three on the HHS committee and one, Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), who joined the hearing of her own accord—about whether he would look into the CMP having violated the law in the course of their nonprofit formation and undercover filming, saying that he could not reveal who his office is speaking to. Schwertner never questioned Paxton’s decision not to share that information.

Except that Paxton did divulge conversations with Planned Parenthood. At length. Specifically describing fetal tissue that employees of his office had observed the medical provider storing at their Houston location as part of their normal operations providing legal abortion care in Texas—not as part of a fetal tissue donation program.

Later, state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), a member of the HHS committee, said that she opposed fetal tissue donation after legal abortion “categorically,” and that Planned Parenthood’s operations must end: “Perhaps they are too big, they are a monopoly and they need to be broken up.”

Planned Parenthood does indeed provide the vast majority of abortion services in Texas, and certainly would continue to do so if the state’s omnibus anti-abortion law ever goes into full effect, requiring all abortion providers to operate as ambulatory surgical centers. Planned Parenthood is the only provider that can afford to make the medically unnecessary upgrades the law requires.

If Planned Parenthood is a monopoly in Texas, Donna Campbell—an ardent supporter of HB 2 and a co-sponsor of the bill in the senate—and her colleagues have only themselves to thank for it.

And indeed, that is where these long-running political machinations really kick into gear: Over the last five years or so, anti-abortion lawmakers have engineered a reproductive health-care landscape in Texas that not only takes contraception and cancer screenings away from the most vulnerable Texans, but which ensures only large entities like Planned Parenthood have the resources to comply with the abortion laws they’ve passed. These lawmakers have long done so under the advisement and direction of anti-abortion lobby groups.

Now that they’ve got Planned Parenthood in a corner, they’re using a politically motivated smear campaign from yet another anti-abortion group as an opportunity to deal the final blow on access to comprehensive reproductive care in Texas.

Of course, everyone wants in on CMP’s attack videos. Schwertner asked representatives from four different anti-abortion lobby groups to testify—about what, exactly, remains unclear, since none of the witnesses currently work at legal abortion providers in Texas—at Wednesday’s hearing, and they happily complied.

If Schwertner asked any pro-choice groups to join the hearing, none came forward either to say so or to testify. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ executive director Heather Busby told me she’d had no communication from Schwertner’s office.

And why would she? Schwertner and the committee aren’t conducting an “investigation,” which requires balanced input from a variety of stakeholders. They’re going on a witch hunt, and they’re using anti-abortion activists to do their work for them, demonstrating the inappropriately close relationships between paid anti-abortion lobbyists and state lawmakers.

During the hearing, ex-Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson, who left her position at the now-shuttered Bryan, Texas, clinic in 2009, testified that the attorney general’s office had recruited her to do private investigations of abortion facilities by calling clinics to ask for appointments in order to determine facility capacity during legal challenges to the state’s abortion laws. Johnson said she never identified herself to clinics during her investigations, but did provide her findings back to the attorney general’s office.

That revelation was shocking enough, considering Johnson is a paid lobbyist for anti-choice groups and neither a medical professional, nor an abortion provider, nor a legal expert—though Johnson said she wasn’t sure whether she’d worked for current AG Ken Paxton or past AG and current governor Greg Abbott, and couldn’t remember who at the office had recruited her. But Johnson then proceeded to say that a commissioner from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) lied about her testimony earlier in the hearing.

Johnson claimed that she always knew when DSHS was coming to inspect their clinics when she worked at Planned Parenthood more than six years ago; DSHS regulations commissioner Kathy Perkins said all inspections are unannounced.

Both of those things can’t be true, so Perkins was called back up to the table to testify about her past testimony, in effect to dare Johnson to call her a liar, again.

Are you exhausted by this charade? Do you wonder what any of it has to do with “investigating” whether Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue for research? You are not alone. Even mainstream media reporters were stymied by the hearing’s veer away from any semblance of germanity.

This is my ultimate concern: Politically, men like Ken Paxton and Charles Schwertner can’t afford to conduct such high-profile “investigations” and come up empty-handed. I feel certain that these “investigations” will yield something, which is not to say that they will yield evidence of illegal or criminal activity. Most likely they’ll find some technical violations of existing statutes to do with paperwork or something similar, and will attempt to shut down Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers on that basis.

And you can put money on this: The 2017 legislative session in Texas will be rife with new proposals to regulate which procedures legal abortion providers (if there are any left by then) can use to perform abortion, in addition to new proposals banning fetal tissue donation entirely in Texas.

I know this because Texas Right to Life’s legislative policy director, John Seago, laid out a litany of such suggestions to lawmakers during his testimony at the hearing as to how to further regulate abortion out of existence. If anything is clear in the mess that is Texas right now, it’s that lawmakers will do the express bidding of anti-choice groups that want to end legal abortion care by any means necessary.

Mark your calendars.

Image: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

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Wisconsin Republicans Push to Ban Fetal Tissue Donation, Require Aborted Fetuses Be Buried or Cremated

RH Reality Check - 7 hours 28 min ago

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

Wisconsin Republicans, in the wake of misleading videos attacking Planned Parenthood, are pushing through a bill that would prohibit the donation of fetal tissue following abortions and require the remains be buried or cremated.

Reps. André Jacque (R-De Pere) and Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) circulated a draft of the bill this week and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) promised a floor vote for the bill even though it hasn’t yet been formally introduced.

Similar legislation has been rejected by the state legislature in the past two sessions, but following the release of three videos attacking Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program, which is a legal and longstanding practice in the United States that has contributed to significant medical advancements, the bill is likely to gain more traction.

“It’s the whole idea of human dignity and the respectful responsible disposition of human remains,” Rep. Jacque said, referring to the piece of the bill that requires aborted fetus remains be buried or cremated.

Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin does not have a fetal tissue donation program. Jacque told the Journal Sentinel that the bill would only ban research on tissue from aborted fetuses, not fetal tissue in general.

Jacque is also circulating a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood, the largest women’s health-care network in the country.

The measure reflects a piece of boilerplate legislation written by Americans United for Life (AUL) and proposed as part of the anti-choice group’s 2015 legislative agenda. AUL’s proposal, meant to be used and replicated by state legislatures across the country and called the “Dignified Final Disposition Act,” would require that following an abortion the physician either bury or cremate the fetal remains as opposed to discarding it with other medical waste.

The Arkansas legislature passed a bill this year requiring that physicians dispose of the products of conception in a “respectful manner.”

In an op-ed for the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, Wisconsin Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), a former Planned Parenthood legislative director, called the attack on the organization a “smear campaign” and said her colleague’s efforts hurt women.

“And this is where the right is the most out of touch,” she wrote. “They want to talk about death and fetal tissue and body parts, leaving women out of the discussion on abortion and reproductive health. They ignore the reality of women’s lives, and the dreams that we have for ourselves and the families we may, or may not, someday have.”

Image: Shutterstock

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World Health Organization Guidelines Call for Safe Abortion Trainings for Wide Range of Health Worker

Center for Reproductive Rights - 7 hours 57 min ago
World Health Organization Guidelines Call for Safe Abortion Trainings for Wide Range of Health Workers

07.30.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Trained nurses and midwives can safely and effectively administer abortion services, according to a new World Health Organization report on safe abortion care.

The WHO report provides recommendations on the role health workers can play in providing safe abortion care and post-abortion contraception. In the report, the WHO emphasizes how lack of trained providers is one of the most critical barriers to safe abortion services. The WHO also recognizes that women can safely and effectively take medications to induce abortion without the direct supervision of a health care provider.

“Training health care workers to provide safe abortion services could prevent the needless deaths of thousands of women and girls each year,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s time governments take every step necessary to improve the lives and health of women and girls across the globe by adhering to these WHO guidelines and ensuring all women have access to safe abortion services.”

Nearly 22 million unsafe abortions take place globally each year, resulting in the deaths of over 47,000 women and girls. Nearly all of these (98%) occur in developing countries, which generally have more restrictive abortion laws. Adolescents, rural women, poor women and women without educations are disproportionately affected. In the new report, the WHO urges that these inequities can be addressed by expanding the range of health care workers who can administer abortion services.

Lack of skilled providers and confusion around who can provide abortion services hinders women's access to safe abortion across the globe. In 2013, the Director of Medical Services in Kenya withdrew the government’s guidelines for reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion and banned safe abortion trainings for health care professionals, which has led to great confusion as to when legal abortions can be provided. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a petition this June against Kenya’s Ministry of Health for undermining women’s constitutional rights and contributing to cases of maternal death by denying countless women, including rape survivors, access to safe, legal abortion.

In the past few years, more governments have implemented medically unnecessary regulations around who can provide abortion services.  In 2013, Texas passed House Bill 2, a sweeping package of legislation aimed at restricting access to abortion services, including a requirement forcing all doctors who provide abortion services to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  The measure took effect in October 2014 and has resulted in the closure of more than half of the clinics in the state.

In the 2012 report Safe abortion: technical and policy guidance for health systems the WHO further recognized that unsafe abortion and the resulting maternal mortalities and morbidities are avoidable and could be eliminated entirely and called on states to guarantee women access to safe abortion services. This report recognizes the clear link between restrictive abortion laws, unsafe abortion and elevated rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.

According to a 2014 report published by the Center, 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 toward 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.

Kenyan Women Denied Safe, Legal Abortion Services Supreme Court Steps In to Protect Abortion Access in Texas

Medical Panel in India Grants Legal Abortion to Pregnant 14-Year-Old Rape Survivor

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 23:00
Medical Panel in India Grants Legal Abortion to Pregnant 14-Year-Old Rape Survivor

07.30.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Four gynecologists informed the Supreme Court of India today that they determined a 14-year-old rape survivor, known as X, should receive a legal abortion.

Dr. Riddhi Shukla who examined the young girl said that continuing with the pregnancy “will pose a great risk for her given her current mental and physical condition” and noted that the girl is “physically and medically too weak to deliver a child.”

X, who will finally receive the abortion services she needs on July 31, was allegedly raped by a doctor treating her for typhoid earlier this year and only discovered the pregnancy at the end of June. The High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad denied her a legal abortion since she was 23 weeks pregnant at the time. The Supreme Court agreed to hear her appeal and requested a medical panel examine X to determine whether there was an immediate threat to her life as required by law for an abortion.

Said Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“No young girl should ever be forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape.”

“The medical panel rightfully recognized the critical health needs of this young rape survivor and the clear risks to her life. Now she will finally get the safe and quality care she deserves.

“India must allow survivors of rape timely access to safe abortion services. X’s case makes it clear that the government must recognize the reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity of women and girls—not just defer to medical experts to make decisions for them.

“The government must amend its current law so no other woman or girl is subjected to these unnecessary and harmful delays and to ensure women and girls have greater autonomy over their reproductive health and lives.”

Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 abortion is only legal within 20 weeks of pregnancy—including in cases of grave injury to physical or mental health, rape, incest, fetal impairment and contraceptive failure—or any time during a pregnancy where it is “immediately necessary” to save the life of a pregnant woman. Decades later, over half of the more than 6 million abortions that take place each year are unsafe according to the Abortion Assessment Project-India.

This is not the first time that the Gujarat High Court has denied a young rape survivor an abortion. This case underscores the urgent need to adopt proposed amendments to permit abortion at least up to 24 weeks, still under review by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

 

Federal Investigation Continues Into Kansas GOP’s Medicaid Privatization Program

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 16:59

The dysfunctional Medicaid privatization program championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) known as KanCare continues to face public scrutiny and federal investigations into claims that patients experienced long waits and subpar care.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into complaints about Medicaid waiting lists for disability services in Kansas is ongoing, according to a statement by a department spokesperson last week.

George Hornedo confirmed that the agency is investigating Brownback’s troubled privatization gambit, but declined to elaborate. “The department declines to comment due to this being an ongoing investigation,” Hornedo said, reported the Kansas Health Institute.

KanCare, a Republican-backed program, launched in January 2013, when the state’s traditional Medicaid program was phased out. In its place, the Brownback administration contracted three for-profit health insurance companies to coordinate health care for more than 360,000 low-income residents.

Representatives from the National Council on Disability this month heard hours of testimony about KanCare’s disability services during a forum in Topeka. The National Council on Disability is a federal agency that advises the president, Congress, and other federal agencies on disability policies.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, testified that KanCare has steadily reduced services for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“We’re talking about personal care support services to help a quadriplegic get out of bed in the morning, to go about their activities of daily living,” Nichols said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal. “It’s just that constant battle, and it seems like there are a lot of battles and it’s having an impact.”

During the forum, much of the blame was directed toward the three managed-care companies contracted by the state: Amerigroup Kansas, the United Healthcare Community Plan, and the Sunflower Health Plan.

Last year, Democrats on the state legislature’s KanCare Oversight Committee called for the appointment of a separate committee to determine whether any legal or ethical boundaries were crossed when Brownback approved $3 billion in contracts with the managed care companies. Republicans on the committee blocked the proposal.

The three companies donated more than $50,000 to the campaigns of current Kansas lawmakers since the KanCare program began in 2013, according to reporting by KCUR. Seven of 11 lawmakers who are members of the KanCare Oversight Committee received campaign contributions from one or more of the companies.

Committee Co-Chair Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) was the only member who received campaign contributions from all three companies.

National Council on Disability members Clyde Terry and Gary Blumenthal, a former Kansas lawmaker, heard testimony from 70 people at the forum, and the lone representative from the state was Kari Bruffett, secretary of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Service.

“We really want KanCare to be able to meet the promise of ensuring that we’re focused on the person’s needs and we’re not limiting access to services that help people stay in homes and communities,” Bruffett said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Bruffett testified that 428,000 residents are enrolled in KanCare and about 105,000 of those enrolled are seniors or people with disabilities. Bruffett said 1,448 residents are on a waiting list for physical disability waivers, and 3,319 Kansans are on a waiting list for developmental disability waivers.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) manage and provide oversight for KanCare.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, told the Kansas Health Institute that he is pleased that the Justice Department is continuing its investigation.

“This is good news, because there are issues in Kansas that need to be addressed,” Nichols said. “We are glad that DOJ is maintaining an active and ongoing investigation into this important area.”

A federal whistleblower lawsuit filed last week alleging Sunflower directed employees to shift KanCare patients away from high-cost health-care providers was dismissed. It is unknown if the lawsuit was settled out of court.

The lawsuit was filed by Jacqueline Leary, a former Sunflower executive who claims she was fired after objecting to the companies policies that she said were unethical and possibly illegal. Sunflower claims that Leary was terminated for poor job performance and the lawsuit was an attempt extort the company.

Image: Shutterstock

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Nationwide, Anti-Choice Ralliers Liken Planned Parenthood to Crack Dealers, Auschwitz

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 14:11

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

Standing outside the U.S. Capitol in front of about 150 anti-choice supporters, conservative blogger Matt Walsh said he had a message for the “elitist cowards” in Washington about what he called the “cartel of serial killers” at Planned Parenthood.

“You betray us when you force the American people to be sugar daddies for a criminal conglomerate of liars who say they are in the business of health care, but who push abortion, like dealers push crack on a street corner,” Walsh said Tuesday at an anti-choice “Women Betrayed” rally in Washington, D.C.

The rally was one of more than 50 anti-choice gatherings taking place throughout the country Tuesday, organized by the group Students for Life of America, which recruits anti-choice activists from college campuses.

If Walsh’s talk of sugar daddies and crack dealers came off as racially tinged, other speakers made racial issues explicit.

“There was a time in this country when there were people who thought it was OK to own other people, and they thought they could do anything they want with them, because they belong to me,” said 2016 presidential hopeful Ben Carson, drawing an explicit connection between abortion and slavery when discussing how America is “capable of changing.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said he was “disgusted” by Planned Parenthood’s “targeting of minority communities,” repeating a common anti-choice falsehood about why Black women have high abortion rates.

Walsh’s drug-dealer diatribe continued: “Planned Parenthood claiming it’s a health-care organization because it occasionally stops killing babies to hand out a packet of birth control to a teenage girl is like that very same street dealer saying he’s really in the medical supplies business because sometimes he also sells syringes.”

It was an ironic comment for an event inspired by people who pretended to be in the biomedical research business in order to achieve their political aims.

Deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a front group for anti-choice activists whose sole purpose appears to have been attacking Planned Parenthood, have caused a stir in the media and an uproar on Capitol Hill as Republicans line up to call for investigations and for the organization to lose its federal funding.

Some of the loudest cries are coming from 2016 presidential hopefuls like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), both of whom spoke at the rally along with fellow candidate Ben Carson.

Cruz called for the Department of Justice to investigate Planned Parenthood, and urged the media to ask Hillary Clinton if she is “pleased to have so much passionate support from Planned Parenthood, an entity that appears to be a national criminal enterprise.”

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said the department will review the information available and determine next steps. House Democrats called on Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate CMP for the laws it may have broken while making its videos, and Harris responded saying she would review those allegations.

Paul, asked by RH Reality Check what he thought of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) 1993 vote to legalize fetal tissue donation programs like Planned Parenthood’s, avoided answering the question by talking about his own bill to defund the organization.

“All I know is that the Senate leadership … have announced that there will be a vote, that I will get a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood,” Paul said.

Paul echoed common themes from other speakers at the D.C. rally—that CMP’s videos offer some kind of revelation about fetal personhood (“That liver had to come from somewhere,” Paul said), and that Planned Parenthood’s health services for low-income women like contraception and well-woman exams would be acceptable collateral damage if the organization lost its federal funding.

“Everything people say they do other than abortion is done by community health centers,” Paul said. “It’s a duplication of something already being done by government agencies.”

“You don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood,” urged Meg McDonnell, communications director of Women Speak for Themselves. “To begin with, there’s 9,000 community health centers around this country. There’s about 4,500 Title X clinics. And there’s certainly Medicaid for poor women. But beyond that, there’s also crisis pregnancy centers.”

McDonnell didn’t acknowledge that many Planned Parenthood clinics are included in those 4,500 Title X clinics, that anti-choice Republicans in Congress would like to eviscerate the Title X program as well as cut teen pregnancy prevention funds, that many anti-choice Republicans are also hostile to Medicaid expansion or propose cuts to the program, or that crisis pregnancy centers usually don’t offer professional medical care or contraception.

Moreover, existing public funding for contraceptive services don’t come close to meeting the needs of low-income women, with only 42 percent of the need for those services being met in 2013. Still, Title X clinics prevent about a million unintended pregnancies per year.

The idea that women can and should go elsewhere for their care during pregnancy was also a prevalent theme at Tuesday’s #WomenBetrayed rally in Chicago, where about 100 anti-choice activists gathered in Millennium Park across from Planned Parenthood’s Loop clinic.

“A lot of people don’t know how unsafe abortion can be. It’s a blind procedure,” said Jackie Chism, an anti-choice activist who carried a clipboard through the crowd with a petition addressed to elected officials. “We would like to see women go into pregnancy centers where they can be supported.”

Studies have shown that abortion as currently practiced in the United States is very safe. Staff at abortion clinics also typically provide patients with the full spectrum of their options before obtaining consent for a procedure.

As assembled teenage parishioners from the St. John Cantius church on the Near North Side sang anti-choice adaptations of songs, such as Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and “The Moose Song,” popular at summer camps, activists clapped and cheered for a handful of speakers, who were often barely audible amid the sounds of bustling downtown.

Adriana Morales, a client advocate at Aid for Women, a crisis pregnancy center two doors down from the Planned Parenthood in Chicago’s Loop, told the crowd, “We are able to provide pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and also housing for the women who are facing possibly getting kicked out or don’t have a safe and stable place to be. … Abortion is not the solution. There are programs out there, such as Pregnant on Campus, that help women … who are pregnant and who are currently parenting,” she said, referring to the Students for Life-created directory.

Like those in Washington, D.C., the assembled anti-choice activists in Chicago strongly advocated for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, suggesting that the deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress are proof that the organization has been misusing taxpayer funds.

“This organization, Planned Parenthood … has told us for years that they have been for women’s health, to take care of women and their needs and helping women first. Turns out that their main market, and their main business plan, so to speak, is harvesting human organs and selling them is a large source of profit for them,” Jeremiah Rauwolf, who organized the rally, said in an interview with RH Reality Check.

“There’s a price tag on every woman’s head who walks in there,” said Rauwolf, vice president of the Chicago chapter of Pro-Life Future, an anti-choice group founded by Students for Life of America directed at recruiting support from young adults after college.

“In the America I grew up in and know and love, people who lie and deceive and murder and hurt for profit go to jail. They do not get a half-billion dollars of profit,” Rauwolf said. “I mean half a billion dollars of tax donations.”

When asked about the non-abortion services Planned Parenthood provides, Rauwolf said that the medical care the organization offers is almost always in the context of abortion, such as “pre-abortion ultrasounds.”

Planned Parenthood’s federal funding cannot legally be used to pay for abortions. But as several anti-choice activists pointed out to RH Reality Check, that money is “indirectly” going toward the procedure by keeping the organization’s door’s open.

Mary Hallan-FioRito, who sits on Aid for Women’s Board of Directors, suggested during her speech, “Let’s take that $500 million and put it where American women really want it to go: safer neighborhoods, better housing, and better education for their children.”

Thomas Olp, board member for the anti-choice law firm Thomas More Society, suggested during his speech to the crowd that Planned Parenthood, or possibly its supporters, is “delusional.”

“I don’t know if any of you have seen the movie Blue Jasmine; it’s a movie by Woody Allen. It’s a story … about living a life of fantasy and delusion,” he said. “Some people, as Woody Allen pointed out, never leave their lives of illusion and delusion.”

“And being here at Planned Parenthood has caused me to think of that movie, because what an example of living in illusion and fantasy and delusion,” he continued, pointing to the clinic’s approximate location across busy Michigan Avenue.

Cindy Morales, an anti-choice activist passing out flyers advertising the film 40, told RH Reality Check after the rally that she wasn’t surprised by the contents of CMP’s videos. “I like the videos because I think they’re shining a light, like the little ashes coming down from Auschwitz, on people,” she said.

Anti-choice protesters in Baltimore, meanwhile, chanted at Planned Parenthood officials and clinic escorts gathered outside the health-care facility just across the steaming Baltimore street.

Anti-choice activist Frank Richardson’s voice boomed, with the cadence of a preacher in full throat.

“We’ve seen the Wikileaks of aborted fetuses,” Richardson said to an audience of about 50 people attending the #WomenBetrayed rally, calling for the defunding of the health-care organization after a misleading video released this month showed officials discussing a legal fetal tissue program.

“The culture of death is right here,” Richardson yelled over the cheers of attendees. “They are a death cult. … Our babies are being ripped apart and sold on the street. … They say Black lives matter. How about unborn lives?”

Joanna Diamond, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said that while the misleading videos released by CMP have renewed calls for the elimination of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, Tuesday’s rally was hardly original.

“They use deceitful and dishonest tactics over and over,” Diamond said. “We’ve seen this time and again. We just want to make it clear that these accusations [in the CMP videos] are false. They’re put forward by extremists who want to score political points with these heavily edited videos.”

Speakers at the Baltimore anti-choice gathering compared legal abortion to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Holocaust, and the murder of children in the street.

Attendees were encouraged to call their congressional representative and demand the immediate defunding of Planned Parenthood’s health-care programs.

“These protests are generally designed to prevent people from accessing the vital services we offer,” Diamond said. “We provide life-saving services … and we need to make sure that these critical services are provided to anyone and everyone who needs them.”

Rebecca Cramer, who attended the #WomenBetrayed rally with her husband, John Cramer, said Planned Parenthood’s federal funding is a violation of her religious freedom.

“My taxes are going to [Planned Parenthood],” she said. “I don’t think that’s right.”

Cramer said she had seen the edited CMP videos, and wasn’t surprised by what the videos claimed: that Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.

“I think organ donation is a wonderful gift of life,” Cramer said, “and [participating] in a fetal tissue program might make some women feel better about what they’re doing—to mask the fact that they killed their own child.”

Cramer said the editing of the CMP videos raised some questions about the veracity of the group’s claims, but that “didn’t change my perspective on it.”

“We live in a culture of sound bites and one-minute comments,” she said.

Although the focus of the rallies was largely on Planned Parenthood, many participants made no secret of their long-term goal: to end legal abortion care throughout the country.

As Walsh said in Washington, D.C., “Let this moment be the catalyst, let it be the gasoline on a fire that’s been raging for 40 years.”

“Let it start with taking the funding away from Planned Parenthood, but let it not end there. Let it end when every Planned Parenthood clinic is boarded up, when abortion is outlawed,” he continued. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to merely take some money from Planned Parenthood. I want to smash it to pieces and banish it from the Earth.”

Image: Kat Jercich / RH Reality Check

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Lawsuit: Dave & Buster’s Cut Worker Hours to Avoid Providing Health Insurance

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 13:04

A new class action lawsuit claims restaurant chain Dave & Buster’s cut workers’ hours to avoid providing them health insurance as required under the Affordable Care Act.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, proposes a class of about 10,000 Dave & Buster’s employees who allege the company moved them to part-time status in 2013, eliminating their health insurance coverage in the process.

The employees claim this action violates section 501 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a federal law governing employee health and pension plans.

The employees allege that Dave & Buster’s reduced worker hours to avoid the ACA’s so-called employer mandate, which requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees or full-time equivalents to provide ACA-compliant health insurance coverage for those employees and their dependents, or face financial penalties.

One worker saw her hours go from more than 30 per week to around 17, according to the complaint. Dave & Buster’s then dropped that worker from its health plan because she failed to work enough hours to qualify for coverage.

The complaint cites a portion of the company’s recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, in which the company expresses concerns that ACA compliance would increase corporate expenses. Those same filings indicate Dave & Buster’s payroll and costs have decreased.

The plaintiffs attribute that decrease to the company forcing employees to part-time status to avoid complying with the health care law.

Section 510 of ERISA makes it unlawful for any person to discriminate against any participant or beneficiary for exercising a right under ERISA or an ERISA benefit plan. The plaintiffs allege that by reducing employment hours, Dave & Buster’s interfered with the attainment of a right under ERISA—in this case, the right to be eligible for health insurance as part of the company’s employee benefits plan.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind to test the limits of how far employers can go in avoiding their obligations under the ACA. It comes as the Department of Labor, the federal agency in charge of enforcing employer workplace obligations, targets other employer wage theft practices such as intentionally mis-classifying workers as independent contractors.

Image: Shutterstock

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Attorneys: Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Could Threaten Physical Safety of Abortion Providers

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 09:04

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

In a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, 32 attorneys from across the country asked that her investigation of the anti-choice front group behind the Planned Parenthood attack videos be conducted with the “utmost urgency,” due to what they call “a real threat to abortion provider safety.”

Harris, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, announced on Friday that her office will review whether the Center for Medical Progress, a group with ties to violent anti-choice extremists, violated California law when it posed as a fake biologics company and recorded Planned Parenthood officials without their consent.

The now-notorious videos show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the organization’s fetal tissue donation program. Although tissue donation is legal in the United States, CMP and conservatives have said the videos are evidence of illegal trafficking. CMP has said it plans to release a new video every Tuesday for at least the next few months.

California law requires the consent of all parties before a confidential conversation is recorded.

On Tuesday, the group of attorneys argued that in exposing the identities of abortion providers, CMP may have put them at risk of harassment, intimidation, or worse. Abortion providers and clinic staff often face personal attacks by anti-choice extremists because of the work that they do.

CMP’s attacks against Planned Parenthood come months after a national survey found that there have been significantly higher levels of threats and targeted intimidation of clinic doctors and staff in recent years. The survey found that 25 percent of all clinics report they experience anti-choice protest activity at their facility on a daily basis.

Writing for RH Reality Check, David S. Cohen, one of the letter’s signatories, discusses the threat of violence abortion providers must live with:

This kind of individual targeting takes on a variety of forms—from hate mail and death threats, to regular large-scale demonstrations in front of people’s homes and stalking providers outside of work. At its most extreme, this kind of targeting has resulted in eight abortion providers murdered since 1993, the most recent being Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his Wichita, Kansas church in May 2009.

California has long acknowledged the threat faced by abortion providers. The state in 2002 expanded its Safe at Home program to include abortion providers, allowing them to protect their identities from public disclosure. The program is available only to people in fear for their safety, victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault, and reproductive health care employees, patients, and volunteers.

“Given the unique risks that abortion providers face of being targeted by anti-abortion extremists, abortion providers whose images and names are blasted across the internet in this fashion face grave threats to their and their family’s safety,” say the 32 lawyers, who express worry that more providers’ identities will be revealed in the coming weeks as CMP releases new videos.

The group believes Harris’ investigation into the legality of CMP’s scheme could effectively halt the promised stream of videos.

Image: Shutterstock

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Anti-Choice Group Posts Another Deceitful Planned Parenthood Video

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 16:26

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

A video published Tuesday purported to expose the industry of selling fetal tissue as part of an ongoing campaign against Planned Parenthood by an anti-choice front group.

The Center for Medical Progress, which has published a series of videos that claim to show illegal and unethical activities by Planned Parenthood, posted the video to its YouTube channel. Tuesday’s video, the first episode of CMP’s Human Capital documentary web series, includes interviews with a former clinic worker and previously released film footage, along with some new footage.

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

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

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is reviewing whether CMP should be investigated for violating any laws in making the deceitful recordings.

The newest video prominently features footage from an interview with Holly O’Donnell, a phlebotomist who described her work as a “procurement technician” at the fetal tissue company StemExpress in late 2012. O’Donnell said her job was to identify pregnant people at Planned Parenthood who met criteria for fetal tissue orders and process the fetal tissue.

O’Donnell recounted anecdotes about her time working at StemExpress and her interactions with Planned Parenthood employees. She made several claims about the actions and motivations of unnamed people with whom she interacted.

O’Donnell claimed that Planned Parenthood was receiving “some kind” of financial benefit from their partnership with StemExpress.

“For whatever we could procure, they would get a certain percentage,” O’Donnell said. “The main nurse was always trying to make sure we got our specimens. No one else really cared, but the main nurse did because she knew that Planned Parenthood was getting compensated.”

Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied the charge that the organization profits from the selling of fetal tissue.

The video includes footage from the first two undercover videos released by CMP, and also shows previously unreleased edited undercover footage of Dr. Savita Ginde, the vice president and medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. The footage was reportedly taken in the Planned Parenthood clinic pathology laboratory. Ginde said in the video that Planned Parenthood has a relationship with Advanced Bioscience Resource (ABR), an Alameda-based nonprofit that obtains and delivers fetal tissue to medical researchers.

CMP has not released the unedited footage of Ginde.

StemExpress is a California based company that provides biomedical researchers with human blood, bone marrow, tissue products and primary cells. A statement was previously issued by StemExpress regarding CMP’s undercover videos which state that the company complies “with all laws” and “written donor consent is required for any donation.”

O’Donnell said that Cate Dyer, the founder and CEO of StemExpress, used to be a procurement tech before she founded the biotech company. “Now she’s making a lot of money based off of the poor girls who half the time don’t even want to get abortions,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a pretty sick company.”

It is unclear if O’Donnell is claiming that half of the women who have abortions are being coerced.

Companies like StemExpress operate in a legal “gray zone,” according to reporting by the New York Times, because while federal law prohibits companies from selling fetal tissue for profit, it does not specify how much companies can charge for processing and shipping.

In an interview with the New York Times, Dyer said that StemExpress obtains fetal tissue in accordance with the rules of the ethics boards at the institutions who purchase it, and that the process of procuring the fetal tissue is highly expensive.

“These are hard processes, expensive processes that take millions of dollars of equipment,” Dyer told the New York Times. “Just to attempt to do some of these isolations can cost us thousands of dollars, and it may not even work.”

Daleiden recently attended the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual conference in San Diego and commented on the attack videos, reported the Guardian.

“For the first time, all of the American public, and the whole world, is getting to see the truth about Planned Parenthood’s abortion services,” Daleiden said. “There is a lot more to come.” Daleiden claimed that CMP will release about a dozen more videos and between 100 to 200 pages of documents from Planned Parenthood and its “proxies.”

Daleiden claimed that his videos prove that a “high volume” abortion clinic can “easily make” $120,000 a year. “They’ll never admit it’s for profit but if you look at how the business is sustained it’s clear,” Daleiden said.

To date, CMP has published 26 pages of documents from Planned Parenthood, including the 2000-2001 annual report and fetal tissue donation consent form. It has published another 28 documents from other companies, including an ABR company description and fee schedule, and a StemExpress jobs listing, compensation policy, and procurement forms.

The explicit target of the videos is Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers have called for investigations, members of Congress have called for hearings, and anti-choice activists staged rallies in cities around the country on Tuesday calling for Planned Parenthood’s federal funding to be eliminated.

Image: The Center for Medical Progress / YouTube

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Texas Lawmaker: Fetal Tissue Donations for Research ‘No Different Than What Happened in Nazi Germany’

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 15:00

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

A Texas Republican told a crowd gathered for an anti-choice rally at the state capitol Tuesday morning that Planned Parenthood’s practice of legally collecting fetal tissue for medical research is “no different than what happened in Nazi Germany.”

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), who in 2013 sponsored Texas’ highly restrictive omnibus anti-choice law, said she was proud to be leading efforts to “turn back Roe v. Wade.”

About 150 people attended the rally, held the day before a Texas senate committee is set to hear testimony concerning fetal tissue collection for medical research at Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates, none of which collect fetal tissue for medical research.

Health and Human Services Committee Chair Sen. Charles Schwertner called the hearing after the release of a series of heavily edited videos produced by an anti-choice front group calling itself the Center For Medical Progress (CMP), which recorded Planned Parenthood officials and employees without their consent, likely illegally. CMP, which has ties to violent abortion opponents and religious extremists, is currently under investigation on allegations of tax fraud in California.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office is “investigating” Planned Parenthood, sent his chief of staff Bernard McNamee to represent him at the rally by giving a brief speech in which he claimed that “over 57 million babies” have died “since the Supreme Court imposed abortion on America through Roe v. Wade.”

“We must accept these videos as a reminder of the horror that is abortion in America,” McNamee told the crowd. “These are dead babies.”

McNamee described legal abortion as “depravity.”

“One can only wonder at how this depravity affects the soul of this great nation,” he said, before thanking the crowd on Paxton’s behalf.

Professional anti-choice activist and former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson also spoke at the rally, saying that “we will not stop until every Planned Parenthood is shut down,” as did Corey Tabor, an Austin pastor who runs a crisis pregnancy center.

Tabor said that it was a myth that abortion opponents did not concern themselves with babies and children after they are born, and that his crisis pregnancy center is proof. If pregnant women who come to the center take the classes he offers, he said, they can “earn vouchers called ‘baby bucks'” for items like cribs and diapers in order to learn the value of “earning.”

Wednesday’s Planned Parenthood hearing at the state capitol is scheduled for 9 a.m.; in advance of the invite-only testimony, lawmakers are reviewing a video “obtained by the Office of the Attorney General as part of their ongoing investigation into the activities of Planned Parenthood in Texas.”

Planned Parenthood requested the video from Schwertner’s office on Sunday, but were then referred to the attorney general. The organization then asked for, but has not yet received, a copy of the video from Paxton’s office, requested “in fairness to Planned Parenthood as the subject of the investigation.”

Paxton, who is under investigation on allegations of first-degree felony securities fraud in North Texas, is expected to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.

Image: Andrea Grimes / RH Reality Check

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Complaint: Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Attended Anti-Choice Rally With Domestic Terrorists

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:53

Reproductive rights advocates filed a judicial ethics complaint against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore alleging Moore showed public support for domestic terrorism by speaking at a rally held by the radically anti-choice group, Operation Save America.

Moore attended the July 11 rally in Montgomery, Alabama, the complaint reads, as did convicted abortion clinic bomber John Brockhoeft, according to photos shared by Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, a reproductive rights advocacy organization. Brockhoeft, an affiliate of the extremist organization the Army of God, served seven years in federal prison for setting fire to two Cincinnati abortion clinics in 1985 and planting a pipe bomb at another in 1987.

The Alabama rally was one of several taking place over a week in the state. Organizers said their short-term goal was preventing patients from accessing abortion care in Montgomery, with a long-term goal of closing the clinic there altogether.

ARRA filed the complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Commission following Moore’s appearance at the July 11 rally.

“By affiliating with members of Operation Rescue, Army of God, and OSA he has aligned himself ethically with people and organizations who meed the federal criteria of domestic terrorists,” AARA stated in a release following filing the ethics charge. “By aligning with them, Moore is guilty of domestic treason by association, conflict of interest, misconduct, collusion, and consorting with the enemy.”

Other anti-choice extremists were in attendance at the OSA rallies, many of whom believe in justifiable homicide against anyone working in an abortion clinic. As alleged in the complaint, the Rev. Matthew Trewhella, a Milwaukee anti-choice leader and co-founder of the Missionaries to the Preborn, was among those in attendance.

Trewhella, a convicted arsonist, was investigated in the 1990s for abortion clinic violence and served 14 months in prison for violation of the federal FACE Act. Convicted rapist and anti-choice extremist Scott Heldreth also attended the rally in Montgomery, the ARRA notes.

Moore is no stranger to anti-choice extremism. In April 2014 he wrote a concurring opinion in Ex Parte Hicks calling for the jailing and prosecuting of patients who choose abortion care. Ex Parte Hicks involved the conviction of Sarah Janie Hicks under Alabama’s child endangerment statute for giving birth to a healthy baby that later tested positive for cocaine.

Moore also faces an ethics complaint related to his calls for a “confrontation” with the federal courts over marriage equality, including orders disallowing probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed that complaint, requesting Moore face a formal ethics inquiry.

The Judicial Inquiry Commission has not yet responded to this latest ethics complaint.

Image: Top News / YouTube

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Busywork to Keep Teens From ‘Getting Busy': High School Students Asked to Sign an Abstinence Contract

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:34

A picture of an abstinence-only-until-marriage workbook distributed in a Utah high school is making the rounds on social media, thanks to PopSugar. As the apparent homework for students on Day 12 of a so-called sex education program, the assignment asked them to choose their top five (or more) reasons to remain abstinent out of a list of 28. Students were then told to write those reasons neatly on the next page and sign it as a “contract.”

There are many reasons that I hate this activity, including how closely it resembles virginity pledges—which, though they don’t often go through the same trouble of outlining reasons for abstinence, we all know don’t work. Research has shown that 88 percent of young people who take those pledges end up having sex before their wedding night. And worse, according to those studies, once pledgers become sexually active, they are one-third less likely to use contraception than their non-pledging peers.

What upsets me the most, however, is the degree to which young people are supposed to accept the premise of the 28 so-called justifications for abstinence without question. If they were allowed to think critically about what they are being asked to sign, they might notice that the statements are based on the assumption that all premarital relationships are unhealthy, morally wrong, and overwhelmingly likely to lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unintended pregnancy. The statements are also based on the flawed idea that abstinence until marriage would be the only way to fulfill the promises they’re putting in the contract.

I would love to believe that the students in these classes would be brave enough to challenge much of what’s written on the page but just in case, I decided to explain why some of the most outrageous statements just don’t make sense. Maybe my arguments can help other kids faced with homework like this challenge assumptions or, even better, help adults realize why this kind of program does not meet the needs of students.

#1. I refuse to use others for my physical needs.
#2. I refuse to be used by someone else to satisfy his/her physical needs.
I suppose we can give the authors credit for acknowledging that teens have physical needs, but they lose those points for assuming that all teenage sexual relationships involve using each other purely for physical intimacy. Sure, some teens enter into unhealthy relationships in which one person is being used, but this is true of adults as well. Teens can and do have sexual relationships that are based on mutual love, trust, and respect. And some of these relationships include mutually pleasurable sexual experiences. Instead of assuming such relationships can’t exist, we should be teaching teens what is and isn’t healthy, and why mutual consent and pleasure is important. This understanding is critical even for teens who decide to stay abstinent in high school or until they get married, because they’ll need it in adult relationships as well.

#3. I refuse to risk getting pregnant or a girl pregnant.
Awkward phrasing aside, this is a good risk to avoid. But while abstinence is the surest way to ensure that no one gets pregnant, there are other ways to do so. Condoms, if used consistently and correctly, are 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Yes, some teens use them wrong, but the most common mistake is leaving it in their purse or night table drawer. Teaching teens the importance of consistent condom use could allow them to keep this piece of their promise even if they end up having sex before marriage, which the majority of Americans do. Or, we could teach about (and give them access to) contraceptive implants and IUDs, which are over 99 percent effective without any effort on the part of the user and last for at least three years. These methods are a near-guarantee that teens will keep the promise of avoiding pregnancy whether or not they choose abstinence.

#6. I refuse to live through the trauma of an abortion.
First, we have to question the premise that abortion is traumatic. A recent study of women who’d had abortions found that 95 percent believed they’d made the right decision. Moreover, the most common emotion of the women after their abortion was relief. The study found no evidence that “post-abortion trauma syndrome”—a scare tactic frequently used by crisis pregnancy centers—exists. But #6 is flawed for another reason as well: It assumes, again, that sex before marriage is going to end in pregnancy. As I just discussed, a teen can refuse to live through abortion and can do so by using a highly effective form of birth control.

#12. I refuse to lose my self-respect.
This one really galls me because it goes back to the dichotomy set up by many abstinence-only curricula that says teens who are abstinent are model citizens and teens who have sex lack character, dignity, and self-respect. Abstinence programs have compared teens who have already had sex to things like used tape, to a cup full of spit, a mushed-up Peppermint Patty, chewed pieces of gum, or a rose with no petals. A person’s value is not wrapped up in their virginity. And teens who have had sex should know that they are no less valuable than any of their peers.

#16. I refuse to disrespect other’s physical boundaries/limitations.
This is a great promise that all teens should make. It is the basis of a lesson on consent. Teens need to learn that everyone has the right to make their own choices when it comes to sexual activity and they must respect those choices. Such a lesson, however, has little to do with staying abstinent until marriage. It’s about respecting an individual’s own boundaries, whatever they may be. So if your partner doesn’t want to have sex until marriage, then yes, you have to abide by that decision. But it’s equally important to abide by their decision if they tell you they don’t want to have sex until, say, next Thursday.

#18. I refuse to enter into marriage with unnecessary baggage from past relationships.
Abstinence-only curricula often focus on the idea that all sexual relationships outside of marriage leave memories and scars that will haunt you forever. You may lose your ability to bond (again, think about the tape game) or you may have flashbacks of prior partners during sex with your spouse. The average adult between the ages of 30 and 44, however, has had between four and eight opposite-sex sexual partners. Although I can’t tell you what images were going through their heads the last time they made love to their husband or wife, many seem to manage marriage without daily PTSD flashbacks of the ones who came before. While some people might consider past relationships as baggage, others see them as opportunities to learn the communication, negotiation, and emotional skills needed to be a good life partner.

Though this assignment might seem extreme, it is actually the kind of thing kids have been made to do in abstinence-only programs for years. Making young people blindly adopt tenets like these and then promise to follow them for years is not going to help them learn to protect themselves against STIs, pregnancy, or even heartache. Nor is it going to help them develop the critical thinking skills they need to make responsible sexual and relationship decisions as they mature. Good programs aim to educate young people rather than indoctrinate them. These teens would be much better off with one that let them think for themselves and question the basic premise that all sex before marriage is wrong.

This contract, as they say, isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Image: Shutterstock

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Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:12
Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

Group Might Have Committed Identity Theft, Credit Card Fraud, New Evidence Suggests

Image: Shutterstock

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Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:06

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

When operatives from the Center for Medical Progress sat down for lunch with Planned Parenthood officials last February at the a/k/a Bistro in Pasadena, a city just outside of downtown Los Angeles, their hidden cameras caught over an hour of conversation between themselves and Dr. Mary Gatter, the medical director at Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley.

Parts of that conversation have since become notorious. Gatter’s comments about how Planned Parenthood clinics are reimbursed for facilitating donations of various parts of fetal tissue have been edited to give the false impression that she was bartering over body parts. Her self-deprecating joke about a Lamborghini has been twisted to make it sound like she was serious about buying a luxury car. (In context, it appears she was making the opposite point—that there was no profit to be made in any of these transactions.)

Based on a careful review of the tape, as well as documents provided by sources with direct knowledge of the sham company used by the activists—BioMax Procurement Services—RH Reality Check has identified at least three names that appear to have been used as pseudonyms by these operatives. One of these names appears to belong to a childhood acquaintance of the group’s apparent ringleader, David Daleiden.

We can reveal that the full names used by three operatives were: Robert Daoud Sarkis, the alias used by Daleiden, according to multiple sources who met with him at events in California and other states; as well as Susan Tennenbaum and Brianna Allen, both of which appear to be aliases of as-yet unidentified operatives.

Two of these names appear on business cards that were provided to attendees of private events that were infiltrated by Daleiden and his associates under false pretenses.

At some of the private events infiltrated by “Sarkis” and “Tennenbaum,” attendees were required to show photo identification, according to organizers who requested anonymity due to security concerns.

A third associate also attended these events. Calling herself Brianna Allen, this woman registered for the event on behalf of the company, according to multiple sources. She also furnished what appeared to be a bona fide photo identification. The photograph below shows the woman who identified themselves as Susan Tennenbaum (left) and Brianna Allen (right).

News reports that BioMax operatives presented what appeared to be California driver’s licenses when they visited a Texas Planned Parenthood affiliate lend further weight to the claims of event organizers that Daleiden and his group did indeed present forged ID cards.

To be sure, it’s possible that Robert Daoud Sarkis, Brianna Allen, and Susan Tennenbaum are real people who are in fact associated with BioMax, despite BioMax now being known to have been a front company.

However, RH Reality Check has been unable to locate any such individuals, and neither the Center for Medical Progress nor BioMax itself produced any individuals by those names with ties to BioMax.

RH Reality Check called all phone numbers listed on the business cards. The office number for BioMax goes directly to voicemail. The cell number listed for Susan Tennenbaum is disconnected. A voicemail left on Sarkis’ cell phone was not returned by deadline. We also left messages for other people named Susan Tennenbaum throughout the United States, and all Brianna Allens in California, listed in databases of public records. Emails to the addresses provided on the business cards did not receive a reply. We were unable to locate a single listing for “Robert Daoud Sarkis” in databases of public records.

This new evidence obviously raises the question of whether any of this conduct is illegal.

Already, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has announced an investigation into the Center for Medical Progress. Her investigation seems to be geared toward whether the group violated any laws in connection with its registration with the state’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, but she also said her office would look at whether the group had committed “any violations of California law.”

According to a California criminal defense attorney, Michael Kraut, there is some reason to believe that Daleiden and his associates may have violated California and federal law on forgery, credit card fraud, and identity theft.

If Daleiden and his accomplices did in fact provide fake government ID cards, they could have violated California laws that prohibit forgery, fraud, and perjury, said Kraut whose firm, Kraut Law Group, represents defendants in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

It is illegal to forge the state government seal, as well as to obtain state driver’s licenses using false names, said Kraut, who worked as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles and for the United States Attorney’s Office before starting his own practice. Both crimes can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on a range of circumstances. They are both easy for the prosecution to prove, added Kraut.

“A false seal is an easy prosecution because it either is or isn’t,” Kraut said. “And if they went to the DMV and got licenses under a false name, they’ve committed perjury. … That is very easy to prove, because one of the things they have to do in California is you have to fill out a document when you’re doing that, saying ‘I don’t have a license in any other name, and the name I’m using is my true and correct name.’ Each one would be a felonious statement.”

Prosecutors would have more difficulty charging Daleiden and his associates under California’s false impersonation statute if all they did was misrepresent themselves using fake names and fake business cards, Kraut said. Under California law, prosecutors must prove that a defendant deliberately used the identity of another and either directly benefited as a result or directly harmed that person in order to successfully convict on false impersonation charges.

In other words, if both Sarkis and Tennenbaum are fictional personas, then Daleiden and his operatives are unlikely to face charges of false impersonation.

However, another detail from the a/k/a Bistro video suggests Daleiden’s group may have gone beyond simply concocting identities, and might have co-opted the identity of a real person—one who shares the name of a California woman who went to the same elementary and high schools as the leader of this attack campaign.

Toward the end of the film, the woman who identifies herself as Susan can be seen removing a Bank of America card from her wallet, and using it to pay the bill.

Yet the name on the credit card is not Susan Tennenbaum, but rather, appears to be Brianna Allen.

BioMax’s alleged employees refer to “Brianna” in the three videos that have been released so far. RH Reality Check emailed the address provided by the BioMax operative who called herself Brianna Allen but received no response. BioMax has not connected RH Reality Check with any real person who will publicly identify herself as Brianna Allen.

However, RH Reality Check has obtained evidence that suggests the group’s leader, Daleiden, does know a woman named Brianna Allen.

After seeing her name referenced in our earlier reporting, Brianna M. Allen of Davis, California, contacted RH Reality Check to let us know that she had no ties to Daleiden’s organization and has not been in contact with him for 15 years.

Allen was the president of the student feminist club at Davis Senior High School at the same time that Daleiden was a student there, she said.

“Even in high school I knew he was adamantly against it [abortion]. He was very outspoken about being Catholic and more conservative. And we were very open about being liberal and pro-choice,” she told RH Reality Check. “Last night I just thought, ‘Oh God, what if that’s why he chose my name?’ But I kind of wrote it off as, ‘No, that’s ridiculous.’”

If Daleiden’s group used Brianna M. Allen’s information to open a credit card account, they could have violated state or federal laws that prohibit credit card fraud, which carries a potential three-year prison sentence and would be easy to prove, Kraut said.

Allen stressed that she does not feel any ill will toward Daleiden personally, nor does she have definitive proof that Daleiden created a credit card in her name. Indeed, Brianna Allen is a fairly common name in the United States. Yet, Allen has been unable to access her credit reports online in the past few days, despite having been able to do so in the past.

“If it is just a weird coincidence, it would be a really, really weird coincidence,” Allen said.

Allen said her objection to Daleiden’s current campaign is not about her personal views on abortion rights.

“I definitely believe in a woman’s right to choose, but I understand it’s a very sensitive subject,” she said. “But I certainly don’t agree with him trying to expose lies by lying, and spying on people. It’s just wrong to me. The fact that he was basically just using media to heavily edit these videos for his own agenda, it’s just shady. I just don’t agree with it, personally.”

Planned Parenthood is also under investigation, with a congressional committee and at least eight states announcing inquiries to explore whether the nonprofit health-care network has engaged in the illegal practice of harvesting and profiting from the sale of fetal body parts, or any associated wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood has denied all allegations.

With more undercover videos expected for the remainder of the summer, pro-choice groups are bracing for additional fallout. However, as evidence of the Center for Medical Progress’ questionable tactics comes to light, it becomes more difficult to give their sensationalist claims much credence, Allen said.

“If he really felt this way, I think there are better ways to go about expressing your opinion than to basically scam people into saying whatever he wants them to say,” she said of Daleiden. “It’s just manipulative.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Religious Right’s Grip on Republican Party Makes Planned Parenthood a Prime Target

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 11:24

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

As reproductive politics are once again consumed by an attack on Planned Parenthood, it is worth stepping back and asking why this organization is so particularly reviled by the anti-choice movement. This is a demonization that goes well beyond the shady outfit, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), that organized the latest undercover filming, or its affiliated group, Live Action, infamous for releasing other debunked videos over the last decade. True, Planned Parenthood was reportedly not CMP’s only target, but the videos taken of its physicians have been the only ones to be released. Some Congressional Republicans, we now know, had prior knowledge of these videos, and predictably have issued calls for an investigation of the organization, joined by various Republican presidential aspirants. The videos have also given new ammunition to Republicans’ annual efforts to withhold all funds from Planned Parenthood for Title X services (primarily contraception and cancer screenings), which are subject to a yearly review. In short, the puzzle is why a national health-care organization—in which, as its spokespersons repeatedly point out, abortion only comprises 3 percent of all services delivered—is such a prime target of abortion opponents.

One answer, of course, is size: Even if only 3 percent of its services are abortion, Planned Parenthood still performs a healthy share of all the procedures occurring in the United States. But the answer goes well beyond that. It speaks to an interesting historical split among Republicans over matters of reproduction and sexuality—and the eventual triumph of the most socially conservative wing among the party base.

Before it became seemingly mandatory for Republican political figures to condemn Planned Parenthood, many were enthusiastic supporters. In a step that would be unheard of today, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a former Republican president, agreed in 1965 to to co-chair an honorary Planned Parenthood board along with Harry Truman, a former Democratic president. The conservative icon Barry Goldwater and his wife, Peggy, were stalwart supporters of the Planned Parenthood chapter in Arizona. Sen. Prescott Bush was a strong advocate of the organization and of contraceptive services in general, as was his son, George H.W. Bush, during his time as a Texas congressman, though the latter had to renounce his support in order to become acceptable as a vice-presidential candidate for Ronald Reagan in 1980 (who himself had some years earlier signed a bill liberalizing abortion in California). Mitt Romney, who famously said in the 2012 presidential campaign that he would “get rid” of Planned Parenthood, had attended a fundraiser for the organization with his wife some years earlier, where she had made a donation. And of course it was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who in 1970 signed into law the aforementioned Title X, the nation’s only legislation specifically for family planning services. Planned Parenthood became a significant grantee of this new program.

To be sure, this mainstream conservative support for Planned Parenthood’s widespread ability to provide contraceptives was not always rooted in the best of motives. The field of family planning has always contained contradictory impulses of population control as well as women’s liberation, and some of the early supporters of Planned Parenthood were involved with the eugenics movement that was prominent in the first part of the 20th century. Later, the disproportionate location of Title X clinics (some associated with Planned Parenthood) in Black areas shortly after the bill was passed, along with the history of racism and classism in many arenas of medical care, created a lingering distrust of the organization in some sectors of that community, on which the anti-abortion movement has long tried to capitalize. Prominent Black leaders, however, including Martin Luther King Jr. (who accepted Planned Parenthood’s first Margaret Sanger Award in 1966) supported the organization and were, as King put it, “sympathetic” with its “total work.”

The real hardcore animosity toward the organization that lasts to this day, though, has its roots in the emergence of the religious right as a force in Republican politics in the 1970s. As a fundraising appeal of an anti-abortion group put it in 1980, “Planned Parenthood promotes sexual perversion, homosexuality, pornography, abortion, family destruction, population control.” As the quote makes clear, far more than Planned Parenthood’s connection with abortion caused such wrath. The organization’s provision of contraception and its commitment to offering confidential services to teenagers, both made possible through its Title X funding, have been particularly enraging to sexual conservatives. Though abortion may have served as the “battering ram,” as Rosalind Petchesky aptly put it, to mobilize the religious right, in fact, conservative groups oppose all sexuality that does not take place within heterosexual marriage in order to procreate.

Because of its size and history as a recipient of public funding, Planned Parenthood, of course, serves as a useful symbol of an enabler of out-of-control sexual behavior. Contraception’s brief moment of acting as “common ground” between abortion supporters and opponents shortly after the Roe decision in 1973 broke down as the religious right gained strength throughout the 1970s and beyond; the religious right increasingly began to frame contraception as “supportive of the abortion mentality” rather than as something that prevented abortion.

It is too soon to tell what the political fallout will be from this latest attack on Planned Parenthood. Right now, there are two competing narratives about this incident. There is that of CMP and its political allies, which attempts to convince the public that Planned Parenthood is “selling” fetal tissue, in spite of clear evidence, even on the edited tapes, that this is not the case; and that of Planned Parenthood, which is that the undercover operatives used unethical and illegal means to promote lies about the organization’s practices. (A third narrative that this case could have evoked is disappointingly missing thus far—scientists testifying to the importance of research using fetal tissue and the social good that donation by abortion patients represents). Anti-abortionists’ efforts to use Planned Parenthood as a wedge issue in the 2012 election cycle were a dismal failure; analysts acknowledge that the organization’s support of Obama, symbolized by the high visibility of Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s telegenic president, at campaign events, was a plus. Thus far, polling data have not shown any appreciable drop in support for Planned Parenthood as a result of the videos, and most Americans continue to support the organization, which at least one in five U.S. women will visit at some point.

How U.S. residents will ultimately come to view this controversy—that is, which of the two competing narratives mentioned above will prevail—might be an interesting test case of whether the realities of people’s sexual and reproductive lives in the 21st century are making the religious right an increasingly irrelevant force, in spite of its current hold on Republican politicians.

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Advocates: Six Years With No Minimum Wage Increase Is Too Long

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 08:24

Friday marked six years since the last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage, from $5.15 an hour in 2007 to $7.25 an hour in 2009.

Advocates for a living wage and congressional Democrats used the occasion to argue that six years is too long for the wage to be stuck at $7.25, which isn’t enough money to keep a single parent working full-time out of poverty. That wage is worth about 8 percent less than it was in 2009, due to inflation.

Some advocates and liberal policy analysts pushed for increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, which is in line with a proposal in Congress introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA).

Others pushed for $15 an hour by 2020, in line with the demands of striking “Fight for 15” workers and with a new proposal introduced last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN).

“It is a national disgrace that millions of full-time workers are living in poverty and millions more are forced to work two or three jobs just to pay their bills,” Sanders told a crowd of striking federal contract workers on Wednesday, the same day the bill was introduced.

“We can’t survive on $7.25” is a common slogan in the “Fight for 15” movement. Buoyed by the voices of the women and people of color who disproportionately hold low-wage jobs, Fight for 15 has helped push numerous cities and states to raise their wages in the past several years.

The movement may have also helped congressional Democrats to push for ever-higher minimum wage targets, even as Republicans continue to block any attempt to raise the wage. If Republicans aren’t even willing to consider a modest raise to $10.10, why not push back with a strong argument for wages that families can actually live on?

Research from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that the economy can support raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, and that doing so would raise pay for one-third of African-American and Hispanic workers and one in four working mothers. A report from the National Women’s Law Center found that states with higher minimum wages also have lower pay gaps between men and women.

“The lowest paid worker in 1968 was making 24 percent more than that same worker today, almost 50 years later,” David Cooper, senior economic analyst at EPI, told RH Reality Check.  “That’s particularly important for women and workers of color, because they tend to be more of these low-wage workers.”

EPI’s analysis has focused on Murray and Scott’s $12 proposal and hasn’t taken a closer look at the $15 one Sanders and Ellison just put forward, but Scott said that it’s worth considering.

“I think that it’s still an open question as to how long it would take for us to reasonably get to 15,” Scott said. If wages had kept pace with productivity for the last several decades, he said, we could have easily had a $15 minimum wage by now—but since that didn’t happen, it’s a bit more challenging.”

A raise to $12 by 2020, Scott said, would help reduce inequality. One measure of this is the relationship between the minimum wage and the median wage, which gives economists a sense of how much the average worker makes in comparison to the lowest-paid workers. The lowest-paid workers made a little more than half of what the typical worker made in the 1960s, but now they only make about 38 percent.

That’s low by both historical and international standards.

Wage increases have marked big wins for labor groups and advocates, but even $15 minimum wages will have limited benefits when they’re fully implemented, especially for workers in big cities.

For example, New York’s possible $15 minimum wage, if approved, would be fully implemented by 2021 and worth $11.27 in the New York City area. Once Los Angeles’ minimum wage reaches $15 per hour in 2020, it will be roughly equivalent to $9.75 for the average American worker today, according to projections published by FiveThirtyEight.

Both the $12 and $15 proposals in Congress would index the minimum wage to the median wage going forward to help address that issue, and would also close a loophole that lets bosses pay tipped workers much less than the standard minimum wage.

Specific proposals aside, research suggests that raising the minimum wage doesn’t hurt job growth and that employers can afford to pay higher wages, given that corporate profits are at record highs while the share of revenues going to workers are at record lows.

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The post Advocates: Six Years With No Minimum Wage Increase Is Too Long appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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