October 13, 2015 — Read the week's best commentary from bloggers at RH Reality Check, Mother Jones and more.
ANTIABORTION-RIGHTS MOVEMENT: "GOP Congressmen Admit: No Evidence Planned Parenthood Broke the Law," Emily Crockett, RH Reality Check: Conservative lawmakers "have held four hearings since September investigating Planned Parenthood" after the release of misleading videos targeting the organization, yet several conservative lawmakers "admitted at Thursday's House Judiciary Committee Hearing that there's either no evidence Planned Parenthood broke the law, or that the point of the congressional investigation is really to debate the morality of abortion," Crockett writes. For example, she notes that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), when "[a]sked whether he knows of any evidence that Planned Parenthood broke the law in any way ... cited none," but argued that the investigations were legitimate. According to Crockett, "This has been a consistent pattern in the ... Planned Parenthood hearings," in which lawmakers who support abortion rights "(and major media outlets) will point out that even the 'unedited' [Center for Medical Progress] videos were altered and are thus unreliable as evidence" and "demand that [conservative lawmakers] offer any real evidence they may have that Planned Parenthood broke the law." In turn, conservative lawmakers "will dodge this by insisting that the investigations are not complete (even though seven states investigating Planned Parenthood have found no evidence of lawbreaking), and argue that the discredited videos still 'raise questions' about whether Planned Parenthood broke the law," she writes. Crockett also cites Reps. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who both "acknowledged that the real point of the hearing was to discuss the morality of abortion," as opposed to investigating whether Planned Parenthood had broken any laws. Further, she notes that none of the witnesses who testified at the Judiciary hearing "offered credible testimony that Planned Parenthood has broken any laws" (Crockett, RH Reality Check, 10/9).
ABORTION RESTRICTIONS: "Arkansas Urges Roberts Court To Rethink 'Roe,'" Jessica Mason Pieklo, RH Reality Check: The fetal viability standard, which "has been the one immovable legal fixture holding ... back" state attempts to restrict abortion access, could be at risk in this Supreme Court term, now that "Arkansas filed a petition ... with the Roberts Court urging it to step in and uphold an Arkansas law [Act 301] that bans abortions at 12 weeks' gestation," Mason Pieklo writes. She outlines the state's appeal, noting that Arkansas essentially "wants the Roberts Court to overturn Roe v. Wade while pretending it's not overturning Roe v. Wade." She explains that Arkansas is "fram[ing] their request as an incremental one," by asking the Supreme Court "to explain just why fetal viability has been a legal standard for the past four decades." However, "the State of Arkansas is not really looking for the Court to explain the nature of pregnancy," but instead is asking the high court "to confirm the power of the government to regulate it," Mason Pieklo writes. According to Mason Pieklo, the state is suggesting that the viability standard be replaced by the "judicial standard of 'reasonableness,'" arguing that "a woman who misses her window of 'reasonableness'" could "surrender [her] newborn to the state without facing criminal prosecution" under the state's safe haven law. However, citing statistics on the state's foster care system and health indicators for pregnant women, Mason Pieklo explains that the "state is not equipped to handle" such a system. She notes that while it is not clear if the Supreme Court will consider the Arkansas case, "[i]t's entirely clear ... that conservatives plan to keep trying to erode abortion rights all the way through the 2016 election, providing a steady drumbeat of anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-choice propaganda for the Court's deliberation" (Mason Pieklo, RH Reality Check, 10/9).
CPCs: "One State Finally Cracked Down on Deceptive Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers," Molly Redden, Mother Jones: "California on Friday became the only state to target anti-abortion pregnancy centers with a law (AB 775) cracking down on deceptive practices some have used to prevent or dissuade women from having an abortion," Redden writes. She writes that the law marks "the first time reproductive rights groups have succeeded in pushing regulations on crisis pregnancy centers across an entire state; only a handful of cities or counties have passed similar laws." According to Redden, the law "requires pregnancy-related service providers that are not medically licensed to disclose that fact to patients" and mandates that "reproductive health clinics, including [CPCs], that are licensed ... provide patients with information about California's financial assistance for family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion." Redden notes that Amy Everitt, director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, and California Attorney General Kamala Harris helped draft the law to protect it from First Amendment legal challenges, which have been used to overturn similar laws. According to Redden, abortion-rights opponents tend to argue "regulating [CPCs] is a violation of their right to express opposition to abortion," while "[r]eproductive rights advocates counter that the regulations are permissible because states have some latitude to regulate speech that is deceptive or coming from professionals licensed by the state." Redden notes that "Everitt is confident the law would survive a court challenge" and she "hopes the new law will become a national model" (Redden, Mother Jones, 10/12).
ABORTION PROTECTIONS: "Here's Something We Can Do To Expand Abortion Access" The Nation's "NationAction": "There are millions of people -- many of them poor women or women of color -- who are denied their full range of reproductive options because of" the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for most abortion care, according to "NationAction." However, a new bill called the "EACH Woman Act [HR 2972] would repeal the Hyde Amendment and ensure health coverage of abortion for anyone regardless of what they earn or where they live." "NationAction" explains that "people who rely on Medicaid for their health insurance are forced to either scramble to pay for an often prohibitively expensive procedure or carry an [unintended] pregnancy to term." Under the EACH Woman Act, abortion services would be covered for Medicaid beneficiaries, "federal employees, Peace Corps volunteers, people in federal prisons, and anyone else who relies on the government for their healthcare." Further, "[t]he bill would also prohibit states from interfering with private plans that cover abortion," "NationAction" states, adding that 25 states currently "restrict abortion coverage by private insurance companies operating in their state." "NationAction" urges readers to join "The Nation, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and a host of other groups in calling on Congress to pass the EACH Woman Act," and to learn more about antiabortion-rights attacks on health care, including efforts to restrict fetal tissue research and state laws targeting abortion access ("NationAction," The Nation, 10/9).
CRIMINALIZING PREGNANCY: "Jailed for Using Drugs While Pregnant," Ada Calhoun, The Atlantic: In a recent victory for women's rights advocates, a U.S. District Court in Wisconsin denied a state request to throw out a case brought by Tammy Loertscher, "who had been jailed for 18 days after admitting to having used drugs early in her pregnancy," Calhoun writes. She notes that the case "is now heading to trial." According to Calhoun, there has been an increase in recent years "in prosecutions of women on the grounds that their [fetuses] must be protected," with "[w]omen who are found to have used drugs during pregnancy" -- including prescription medication -- at risk of being "subject to child welfare involvement, jail time, or both, depending on the laws in their state and the prosecutors in their county." She writes that Loertscher "is one of the few to fight back," having filed a lawsuit in 2014 contending that the 1997 Wisconsin law under which she was prosecuted is unconstitutional. Calhoun notes that the lawsuit "raises legal and moral questions," including whether such laws, by "punish[ing] pregnant drug users far more harshly than non-pregnant ones ... effectively make it a crime to be pregnant" and whether "these fetal-protection laws [are] effectively anti-abortion laws." She writes that the "stakes of Loertscher's lawsuit are high," noting, "Though there are no specific statistics on the number of" prosecutions under the Wisconsin law, "if the single-year numbers provided in a report from Wisconsin's [Department of Children and Family] are representative, then since 2005, as many as 3,000 pregnant women may have been prosecuted for 'unborn child abuse' in Wisconsin" (Calhoun, The Atlantic, 10/12).