On MSNBC's Maddow, Planned Parenthood's Richards Praises "The Strongest Reproductive Rights Ticket We've Ever Had"
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How "#UnbornLivesMatter" Ignores Communities That Lack Reproductive Health Care Access
Following the shooting deaths of two black men -- Alton Sterling and Philando Castile -- and the targeting of police officers in several U.S. cities, anti-choice groups have attempted to hijack the vocabulary of Black Lives Matter to attack access to reproductive care.
Since the movement’s inception, the phrase “black lives matter” has been a grass-roots response to issues of race, policing, and structural violence against non-white bodies. In reaction, anti-choice groups have attempted to co-opt Black Lives Matter activists’ rhetoric by promoting their own phrase, #UnbornLivesMatter, to spread misinformation about abortion and its accessibility for women of color.
Salon’s Amanda Marcotte described the discrepancies between those on social media “talking about the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile” and those tweeting with the hashtag #UnbornLivesMatter, many of which “focused on shaming liberals for believing there are more important things to worry about than women terminating unwanted pregnancies.” Marcotte traced the development of #UnbornLivesMatter and concluded that “while the hashtag surge was organized by a bunch of right wing fringe sorts, the grim fact of the matter is that this undermining, race-baiting language has trickled up to the more mainstream anti-choice movement.”
Indeed, even before #UnbornLivesMatter’s recent prominence, anti-choice groups have long alleged that higher abortion rates among black women reflect an attempt by Planned Parenthood to explicitly target black communities.
Clinic escort Pearl Brady told Vox that protesters “often target young women of color,” and patient advocate Amanda Patton said they shout things like: “‘Black babies’ lives matter!’” In a longer essay, clinic escort Lauren Rankin described the moment when two regular clinic protestors began using the language of Black Lives Matter to harass patients:
But about a month ago, something changed. Two of our regular protesters—both men, neither of whom are Black—turned up at the clinic, megaphone, Bible, and camera in tow. Nothing unusual about that. But from the back of their crossover vehicle, they pulled out two new signs, both featuring a Black infant. The signs read:
“Black life matters.”
“Hands Up, Don’t Abort!”
I felt paralyzed for a moment, genuinely stunned. My mind raced. Did they really just go there?
These two men have spent the better part of the last two years of their lives screaming at women who enter an abortion clinic. They and their hate-group (and I use that phrase deliberately) have filmed patients and companions as they enter the clinic, without their consent, and plastered those videos across the internet. These men associate with known anti-abortion terrorists, who have threatened violence against abortion providers.
And yet, they feel perfectly comfortable appropriating a grassroots, progressive movement for racial justice in order to further shame Black patients and their partners. These men parade these signs specifically to target and harm Black women who have abortions. These men are accusing Black women who have abortions of perpetrating racial genocide, of inflicting systemic violence against their own children.
These men are despicable, and they’re not alone.
Right-wing media figures have amplified and repeated claims of a racist rationale behind the provision of access to abortion care. For example, frequent Fox News commentator and former GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that Planned Parenthood engages in racist population control by placing “most of their clinics in black neighborhoods.” Beyond this, Carson has also criticized Black Lives Matter for supposedly excluding the black lives “eradicated by abortion.”
Rush Limbaugh has made similar arguments on numerous occasions, alleging that “Planned Parenthood [is] doing the job the [Klu Klux] Klan could never finish” and that supporters of the reproductive health organization endorse the abortion of “60 percent of black babies.” Limbaugh has even stated that “the original goal of Planned Parenthood was to abortion various minorities out of existence.”
Right-wing media have also frequently attacked the Black Lives Matter movement itself. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has labeled Black Lives Matter “a hate group” that wants police officers dead. Similarly, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera referred to Black Lives Matter activists as “a bunch of troublemakers” who were “attracting a lot of attention to themselves.”
According to a March 2016 fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute, women of color do experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy and more frequently elect to abort. Think Progress’ Kira Lerner explained that these numbers actually reflect “the difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively. A similar racial disparity exists for other health measures including rates of diabetes, breast and cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections.”
Women of color are particularly vulnerable to the loss of a provider safety net when Planned Parenthood clinics are forced out of communities. According to Planned Parenthood’s associate director of global communications, Lori Adelman, “Planned Parenthood is often the primary health care provider for Latinos and African Americans in this country.”
Black women are among the most adversely affected when access to Planned Parenthood and similar reproductive health care providers is denied. The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda reported that “black women have more than double the unintended pregnancy rate of white women,” which is particularly concerning given “the risk of death from pregnancy complications was nearly three and a half times higher for Black women than for white women.”
Renee Bracey Sherman wrote after the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby -- which enabled certain classes of employers to deny contraception benefits to their employees -- that because of these higher rates of unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality, “when employers deny access to birth control, they are actually putting Black women’s lives in danger.”
In June 2016, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2 was an “undue burden on abortion access.” In an amicus brief filed during the case, advocates outlined the disparate impact of anti-choice restrictions on women of color. They explained that “African-American women have been denied access to necessary reproductive healthcare services disproportionately” and this has impacted them “in numerous, measurable, and profound ways.”
Despite this disparity, anti-choice legislators have frequently invoked the language of racial equality to push their own agendas.
For example, in a speech demanding greater abortion restrictions, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-KS) attacked members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for condoning higher rates of abortion in black communities. He said: “There is no one more hopeless and voiceless than an unborn baby, but [the CBC’s] silence is deafening. I can’t hear them. Where are they standing up for their communities, advocating and fighting for their right to life?”
In Missouri, Rep. Mike Moon (R-MO) stole language from Black Lives Matter to promote his All Lives Matter Act -- a fetal personhood law which would enforce the scientifically unfounded belief that life begins at conception. Meanwhile, women have already been prosecuted for having miscarriages and stillborn births and for making attempts to self-abort, using laws that make actions taken by a pregnant person on her own body a criminal offense. For women of color, however, such laws also perpetuate harmful racial stereotypes.
As Christine Assefa wrote for Feminist Wire, Moon’s bill “suggests that the state of Missouri codify into law the assertion that Black women are killing their own children, are incapable of making decisions about their own bodies, and cannot control their sexual desires.” She continued that these codifications “perpetuate historical, violent, and harmful stereotypes of Black women that reveal the deeply-rooted relationship between race and sexual politics."
Beyond criticizing Moon’s bill, other reproductive justice advocates echoed these concerns about the hijacking of Black Lives Matter rhetoric to attack access to reproductive care.
Planned Parenthood's director of constituency communications, Alencia Johnson, told Salon, “To appropriate the Black Lives Matter movement in the midst of the brutal tragedies too many in the black community face from state violence is repulsive.”
Pamela Merritt, a co-director of the direct advocacy group Repoaction, argued that efforts by anti-choice groups to “to appropriate the language of Black Lives Matter are just the latest example of that movement's long history of pandering to their conservative and often racist base by insulting Black women and dismissing Black activism.” She concluded that this was particularly reprehensible when the “same movement is silent when Black children are shot and Black women are raped by police officers.”
In a July 12 article Think Progress’ Laurel Raymond summarized the concerns of reproductive justice advocates about the rising popularity of phrases like “unborn lives matter”:
"Black lives matter" provides a resounding answer to an unheard question: In the face of disproportionate policing and black deaths that are often unpunished and ignored, do black lives matter? Yes, they do. When other groups co-opt the phrase, they shift the focus away from this aspect of criminal justice -- and thus deemphasize the bigger problem at hand.
"Unborn lives matter" goes one step further: not only does it derail that focus, but it also puts the primary blame on black women for choosing to have abortions. Anti-abortion rhetoric focused on black women argues for them to have that control over their bodies taken away from them -- even as black women take to the streets to protest for control of their bodies from the police.
For Reproductive Rights, “As Ohio Goes, So Goes The Nation”
Since the election of Gov. John Kasich, Ohio has passed a series of particularly restrictive anti-choice laws. Against this backdrop, the Republican National Convention, held in Cleveland, OH, featured a party platform noted for its unprecedented condemnation of reproductive rights.
In response, Fusion’s Katie McDonough released a video not only explaining Ohio’s history with anti-choice laws, but also demonstrating how the Republican party platform would make these medically unnecessary restrictions the norm across the country. She noted, “With all eyes on the Republican National Convention, abortion opponents are taking their fight to Cleveland.” But according to the women McDonough interviewed, the fight for access to reproductive rights has been underway in Ohio for years.
As Nancy Starner, the director of development and communication for one of Ohio’s remaining abortion clinics, explained, “Texas gets a lot of the media attention. Meanwhile, Ohio has had the second greatest number of abortion clinics close.”
Many of these closures can be traced to the election of Gov. Kasich. According to McDonough, since he became governor in 2011, Kasich “has signed more than 17 laws to limit abortion access.”
In a June 2015 article, Rewire’s Nina Liss-Schultz wrote, “Ohio had 14 abortion clinics in 2013, two years into Kasich's first term. But that summer … Kasich signed a two-year budget bill that included, among other anti-choice measures, stringent new licensing regulations for abortion clinics in the state.” She concluded that since then, over half of Ohio’s clinics had been forced to close.
Undeterred, in February 2016, Kasich signed a bill defunding Planned Parenthood. The bill not only stripped Planned Parenthood of state funding, but it also threatened the funding for any group contracting with, or referring patients to an abortion provider. This means the bill could impact funding for other state health care programs where Planned Parenthood affiliates currently provide the services, even if the referrals are for non-abortion services. Planned Parenthood has since filed a lawsuit against the state.
According to McDonough, even when women are able to access the state’s remaining clinics, there are still a number of obstacles to obtaining an abortion, including “a mandatory counseling session followed by a 24 hour waiting period, mandatory ultrasounds” and more.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio executive director Kellie Copeland explained the danger these medically unnecessary restrictions impose. She said: “I was talking to an emergency room physician just a couple months ago, and he’d had a patient who came to his emergency room because she had taken rat poisoning to try to end her pregnancy. Because she couldn’t get past all of these medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion access. That’s not women’s health care.”
“As Ohio goes, so goes the nation,” Copeland warned.
On July 14, 2015, the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released the first of 14 deceptively edited videos smearing Planned Parenthood.
To mark the one-year anniversary of its deceptive campaign, the anti-choice group released a “video overview of the past year” that purported to show “senior-level Planned Parenthood leadership negotiating the sale and haggling over the price of aborted baby body parts.”
Despite the fraudulent nature of CMP’s claims, right-wing media seized on the opportunity to attack Planned Parenthood. CMP’s smear campaign served as the catalyst for a year of media-driven misinformation about Planned Parenthood, including efforts to defund the organization and ongoing congressional witch hunts against abortion providers and medical researchers.
By the numbers, here’s what a year of anti-choice deception looks like:
After CMP published its first video in July 2015, right-wing media were among the first to consistently give a platform to the anti-choice group’s misinformation.
Following the release of CMP’s second video on July 21, 2015, Fox News dedicated 10 segments across seven separate programs to hyping the deceptively edited footage in a single one day. According to a Media Matters count of Fox News programming on July 21, 2015, America’s Newsroom aired three segments on CMP’s smear videos, while both Special Report and The O’Reilly Factor discussed the allegations across two separate segments on each program. The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, and The Kelly File each devoted one segment to CMP.
Another recent Media Matters study found that during a 14-month period from January 1, 2015, through March 6, 2016, Fox News’ evening news programs relied on extreme anti-choice figures and misinformation to help promote CMP’s smear campaign. For example, Fox host Bill O’Reilly called for an FBI investigation into Planned Parenthood while network correspondent Peter Doocy claimed that he “searched the Planned Parenthood website for fetal baby part prices” but didn’t get any results because the practice is a “well-kept secret.”
According to the National Abortion Federation, in 2015 there was a “dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder” of abortion providers -- likely inspired by CMP’s incendiary allegations and rhetoric. NAF president and CEO Vicki Saporta noted that the ninefold increase in harassment and threats of abortion providers since the release of CMP videos was “unprecedented.”
In September 2015, the FBI released an intelligence assessment that warned of an uptick in violence against abortion providers and clinics. This prediction was tragically borne out in November 2015 when suspected shooter Robert Dear killed three people and injured several more at a Colorado Planned Parenthood health care center.
Planned Parenthood has not been the only target of this violence and harassment. In December 2015, Scott Anthony Orton was arrested for making death threats against employees of StemExpress, the biomedical company targeted in several of the discredited CMP videos. As reported by The News Tribune, Orton posted more than 18 different threatening messages that led to his arrest. In April 2016, Orton pleaded guilty to threatening StemExpress employees.
Since July 2015, Media Matters has extensively documented the deceptive edits and misleading information in CMP’s videos. Throughout the 14 videos, CMP has targeted eight Planned Parenthood providers by name. In a July 14 post announcing the release of its one-year anniversary video, CMP reiterated the names of these providers and provided links to each of their deceptive videos. By recording abortion providers without their consent and identifying them by name, CMP not only exposed the targeted providers to increased threats of violence, but also raised the spectre of anti-choice violence against all reproductive health care providers.
For example, after Dear allegedly carried out his deadly attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood, MedStar Washington Hospital Center barred abortion provider Dr. Diane J. Horvath-Cosper from publicly speaking about the need for great abortion access. The hospital’s medical director issued the gag order after the Planned Parenthood attack “out of concerns for security,” saying he didn’t want to draw attention to MedStar’s abortion and reproductive health care services.
Nina Liss-Schultz reported for Mother Jones that the November Planned Parenthood attack “highlighted a fact of life that abortion providers and clinic staff have known for decades: Sophisticated and extensive security are necessary to protect both providers and patients.”
The congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was formed in October 2015, several months after CMP began releasing deceptively edited videos in an attempt to smear Planned Parenthood.
Since the select panel’s inception, the media have criticized its actions as a politically motivated “witch hunt” and a “Benghazi treatment” of Planned Parenthood. In its 10 months of operation, the select panel has found no substantiated evidence of wrongdoing, prompting numerous lawmakers to call for its disbandment. Although select panel Chairman Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has insisted Republicans are on a “fact finding mission,” Media Matters has sourced numerous documents used by the select panel as “evidence” to CMP’s website and deceptive videos.
The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives is comprised of eight Republican and six Democrat members. The Democrats on the select panel include: Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and ranking member Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL).
Since the panel’s inception, the Democrat members have consistently voiced their concerns about the methods and motivations of the Republican members. Commenting on the Republican member’s interim report, Schakowsky pointedly criticized the panel’s work, stating, “Never before have I witnessed such a disconnect between allegations and the facts.” Schakowsky previously called out the select panel as a “dangerous witch hunt” against abortion providers.
On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that Texas’ extreme anti-choice law HB 2 was unconstitutional because it imposed an “undue burden on abortion access.” Supporters of HB 2 argued that the law’s requirements were medically necessary to protect the health and safety of women during abortions. In reality, these restrictions were based on anti-choice myths about abortion, offered no medical benefits to patients, and substantially burdened women’s ability to access safe and legal abortion.
In reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision, CMP’s founder David Daleiden issued a press release calling it a “nearly incoherent abortion ruling” that was “little more than a naked power grab that calls into question the Court’s continued adherence to the rule of law.” Daleiden maintained that CMP’s work would have convinced the Supreme Court otherwise if it were not under “a gag-order from the federal court in San Francisco.”
Out of CMP’s 15 videos -- including the anniversary recap video -- four are labeled a “documentary web series” called the Human Capital Project. CMP described the four videos as a documentary-style expose that “integrates expert interviews, eyewitness accounts, and real-life undercover interactions to tell the story of Planned Parenthood’s commercial exploitation of aborted fetal tissue.”
Throughout the four Human Capital Project videos, CMP relied heavily on the testimony of former StemExpress employee Holly O’Donnell to falsely allege that Planned Parenthood participated in the illegal sale of donated fetal tissue and to make other unproven allegations of improper conduct.
In reality, the claims in the so-called “documentary” videos have been thoroughly debunked. Citing previously unseen footage, the Los Angeles Times released an investigative report in March that confirms “O’Donnell’s apparently spontaneous reflections were carefully rehearsed” and that off-camera, Daleiden can be heard “coaching O’Donnell through repeated takes.”
Since CMP began its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood last July, there have been three lawsuits filed against the anti-choice group, its founder David Daleiden, and his various associates.
In a comprehensive look at the impact of CMP’s campaign of deception, Rewire’s Jessica Mason Pieklo and Imani Gandy summarized the charges and timeline of each of the lawsuits filed against Daleiden and his co-conspirators. According to Peklo and Gandy, Daleiden and CMP face suits from StemExpress -- the biomedical tissue procurement company that previously partnered with Planned Parenthood and has been depicted in some of CMP’s videos -- the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood.
In addition to the lawsuits they face, Daleiden and one of his associates were indicted by a grand jury in Houston, Texas. In January 2015, a Harris County, Texas, grand jury indicted Daleiden on a felony charge of “Tampering with a Governmental Record” and a misdemeanor charge of “illegally offer[ing] to purchase human organs.” Although the misdemeanor charge was dismissed on a technicality in June, Daleiden still faces the felony charge for using a “fake driver's license during his efforts to investigate Planned Parenthood.”
CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Melaney A. Linton told Mother Jones that as the indictment process has progressed, “It's become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we will allow the court to hold them accountable.”
One year later, CMP’s deceptively edited videos have been repeatedly discredited while multiple state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing. During this time CMP has earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year, been indicted for fraud by a grand jury in Houston, TX, been subject to lawsuits, and had its work soundly rejected by multiple judges and journalists alike.
After a year CMP still has little to show in the way of evidence to substantiate their claims, while Planned Parenthood has emerged even stronger. In a statement to the Huffington Post, Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens explained that, despite the difficulties of the past year, the reproductive health organization remained confident about the future. She said, “We’re stronger today than we were a year ago … The extreme anti-abortion activists behind the videos are on a mission to ban abortion in this county -- they failed.”
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A Reuters article on a recent Planned Parenthood legal victory in Utah gave equal weight to both discredited claims by Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert that Planned Parenthood had violated fetal tissue laws and the truth: Planned Parenthood Association of Utah had not violated the law.
Last August, Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert instructed the state’s Department of Health to stop distributing federal funds to Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU), citing videos produced by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP) -- Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year -- that used misleadingly edited footage to baselessly accuse Planned Parenthood of engaging in illegal activities. In September, PPAU sued the state for blocking its funding and argued that the governor’s attack was motivated by his position against abortion. On July 12, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision, allowing PPAU to continue to receive funding for STD testing and sex education programs.
As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, the 10th Circuit concluded that “the governor's personal opposition to abortion could likely be demonstrated as a motivation for blocking Planned Parenthood's funds.” The court determined it was “undisputed that at no time has [Utah’s Department of Health] complained about the services provided by PPAU” or alleged that PPAU was misusing the funding. The court also noted that none of the multiple state and federal investigations into Planned Parenthood yielded evidence of illegal activity and that “no evidence was found to support the CMP videos’ claim” of illegal actions. Moreover, the court explained that Gov. Herbert had already admitted that PPAU was not engaging in illegal behavior (citations removed):
During the press conference on August 17, 2015, Herbert acknowledged that the events depicted in the video “may not have happened in Utah.” And in opposing PPAU’s motion for preliminary injunction in the district court, Herbert made more specific admissions. To begin with, he admitted that the CMP videos involved other affiliates of Planned Parenthood and not PPAU. Herbert further admitted that “there is no evidence, or even accusation, that PPAU has ‘colored outside’ of any lines, including because PPAU does not participate in any program that provides fetal tissue for scientific research.” … In addition, Herbert admitted that the accusations made by CMP in the videos regarding Planned Parenthood and its other affiliates had not been proven and indeed were false.
Yet despite the court’s conclusion that claims in CMP’s videos were unproven and false, Reuters framed CMP’s claims as “he said/she said” rather than relying upon the facts found by the court:
In ordering the cutoff, Herbert, an abortion opponent, cited secretly recorded videos provided by the Center for Medical Progress that allegedly showed out-of-state Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has said it did nothing wrong and that the videos were heavily edited to distort their content.
In contrast to Reuters, other media outlets directly described the falsity of CMP’s videos and claims. The Salt Lake Tribune wrote that “the videos … were determined to be inaccurate and misleading,” while The Associated Press noted both that multiple investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing and that a Texas grand jury indicted CMP’s founder and his associate. Even the local Fox affiliate in Salt Lake City, Fox 13, reported that “the videos have been widely discredited as noted by the court decision calling them ‘unproven and in fact false.’”
Media Matters has extensively documented the deceptive edits and misleading claims made in all of CMP’s videos. In February, a federal judge also found the videos “misleadingly edited” and said they included “unfounded assertions.” And since CMP put out the first video nearly a year ago, numerous media outlets have repeatedly demonstrated their deceptive nature.
In March, the Los Angeles Times published an investigative report showing that the unreleased footage from CMP revealed CMP’s founder “coaching” answers from a supposed “documentary” testimony and trying to “plant phrases” in the mouths of targeted individuals.In May, the Columbia Journalism Review wrote that CMP founder David “Daleiden’s video footage and commentary did not reveal any attempt to profiteer [from illegal activity], and his editing sensationalized the evidence that he actually had.” The Washington Post’s editorial board also concluded that “as we now know, those videos are bunk, neither accurate nor reliable” while The New York Times’ editorial board wrote that CMP’s “charges against Planned Parenthood were completely bogus.”
Given that CMP’s allegations have been so thoroughly disproven it’s beyond time for all media outlets to stop relying on false balance and just use the actual facts: The videos were deceptively edited in order to lodge false allegations against Planned Parenthood.
On July 14, media outlets reported that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will likely name Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate. Here’s what media need to know about Pence’s right-wing record.
Journal Hypes Co-Op Failures To Show Public Option Cannot Work, Failing To Mention Co-Op Funding Was Slashed
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board assailed President Barack Obama's call for a “Medicare-like” public health insurance option as "radicalism" that would "wipe out anything resembling private insurance," when in reality a public option would likely increase competition, lower costs, and expand access to health care for American consumers.
In an article published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on July 11, President Obama wrote about the accomplishments of his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare,” since it became law in 2010. The article, the first scholarly work ever authored by a sitting president, noted that the uninsured rate has dropped 43 percent (from 16.0 percent in 2010 to 9.1 percent in 2015), that the law has contributed to greater financial security for Americans and that it has actually led to better public health. But the president also noted that there is still work to be done on health care reform, including the need for a “Medicare-like public plan” that could compete with private insurance. On July 9, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton publicly reaffirmed her support for the “public option,” a policy she has championed since 1993.
With the Democratic Party coalescing around the public option as the next step for health care reform, the Journal’s editorial board claimed the introduction of a publicly run insurer into the individual health insurance exchanges would lead to a “market exodus” by private insurers and eventually to a “government-run single payer” universal health care system. Hypocritically, the Journal claimed both that the public option would inevitably destroy private insurance and that the failure of several nonprofit health care co-operatives set up by the existing law stood as proof that government-run insurance systems could not work. From the July 12 editorial (emphasis added):
Mr. Obama is re-endorsing what he had hoped in 2010 would be a way station for government-run single payer that would gradually wipe out anything resembling private insurance. Insurers can’t outbid a “free” program that is open to all or most and has the unlimited access to the Treasury that Medicare enjoys. A market exodus would be inevitable.
Democrats claim this would merely be another choice, but they tried a trial-run public option with ObamaCare’s co-ops, which were given up-front federal cash infusions and then were supposed to operate like normal companies. Of the original 24 co-ops, only nine are alive—and most of the survivors are ailing.
Even after jettisoning the public option, ObamaCare passed the Senate with a bare 60-vote majority and the House 219-212, though Democrats commanded their largest majorities since the Great Society. Republicans couldn’t stop anything, but they did oppose the public option for the same reasons as the business community and moderate Democrats: Over time, its radicalism would annex all of U.S. health-care finance.
The Journal’s fearmongering that competition from public option “radicalism” would usurp the private insurance market lacks evidence: Research suggests a public insurance plan would lead to lower premiums and reap enormous benefits for American taxpayers.
According to Kaiser Health News, increasing competition in individual health care marketplaces has shown to lower prices for consumers, and less competition in a state can lead to “substantially higher premiums.” In an op-ed published by The Hill, Richard Kirsch of the Roosevelt Institute noted that a public option can keep costs down without limiting provider options, since the government already pays for care at most of the country’s doctors offices and hospitals for Medicare beneficiaries. Unlike private insurers with limited provider networks, a government-run plan would already have the infrastructure to provide low-cost competition nationwide.
In addition to increasing competition and driving down costs, a public option could dramatically decrease government spending on health care, research suggests. According to an October 2009 policy brief by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley's Center on Health, Economic & Family Security, a public option would be so beneficial for the American health insurance market that it would “most likely both expand coverage and reduce costs to employers, individuals, and the government.” The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) came to the same conclusion in a March 2012 working paper, which included “a public insurance option” among progressive reforms that together could save the government an additional $278 billion over 10 years. Likewise, a November 2013 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted that adding a public option to existing Obamacare insurance marketplaces could actually reduce federal spending by $158 billion over 10 years.
The Journal claims the introduction of a public option would lead to universal single-payer health care, but it fails to provide either any proof that the public option would do that or an explanation of why that would be detrimental. The Journal does use the problems faced by government-assisted nonprofit insurers -- called co-ops -- as proof that a public option would not work, but it doesn’t mention that Republicans in Congress cut co-op funding. Meanwhile, though the president has not advocated a national single-payer health plan, economist Gerald Friedman estimated that such a system could save the American economy as much as $592 billion a year, most of which would come from “slashing the administrative waste associated with the private insurance industry.”
In 2009, when Congress was still vetting the public option for inclusion in what would become the ACA, opinion polling often showed large majorities in favor of the provision. Right-wing media outlets assailed the provision for months as part of their coordinated campaign to derail health care reform, but even after several years the abandoned option remains popular.
Appeals Court Rules That Gov. Gary Herbert’s Attack On Planned Parenthood Was Meant To “Punish” The Organization
On July 12, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision and granted Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU) an injunction, blocking Gov. Gary Herbert’s order to cut off funding to the organization.
In the decision, the appeals court explained that not only was Herbert’s order to defund PPAU based on misinformation, but also that his politically motivated attack on the Planned Parenthood affiliate was meant to “punish” the health care provider.
The controversy began last year after Herbert attempted to defund PPAU in response to deceptively edited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which claimed Planned Parenthood illegally profited from the sale of donated fetal tissue. In reality, this smear campaign was so fraudulent that a Houston, TX, grand jury indicted CMP’s founder David Daleiden, and the organization earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year. CMP’s videos have been repeatedly discredited, and multiple state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, Herbert followed in the footsteps of anti-choice legislators in many other states and ordered “state agencies to cease acting as an intermediary for pass-through federal funds to Planned Parenthood.”
Since the release of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, right-wing media have consistently pushed misinformation about Planned Parenthood as part of an ongoing attempt to defund the organization. Right-wing media have justified these defunding efforts by claiming that community health clinics can effectively fill the gap left by barring Planned Parenthood from state and federal health care programs, an allegation echoed in Utah.
In an August 2015 article, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that even though Herbet admitted that the alleged violations shown in the CMP videos “may not have happened in Utah,” he maintained that his decision was appropriate and would not adversely “affect educational programs for preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” Instead, he argued that “the monies we have right now are going to be put into the marketplace with other qualified providers, it just won't be going to Planned Parenthood.”
Despite his claims, there is ample evidence that removing Planned Parenthood from such programs has a detrimental impact on community health. In fact, health policy experts have explained that the idea of community health services filling in for Planned Parenthood is “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do." This is particularly true in Utah, where “PPAU is currently the only statewide organization that provides reproductive health services to anyone who requests them … without regard to a patient’s health insurance status, socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity.”
Recent studies show that defunding Planned Parenthood can lead to decreased access to contraception, particularly for low-income women. In February, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that when Texas eliminated Planned Parenthood from its family planning program, there were “over 30 percent fewer claims for long-acting and injectable contraceptives among low-income patients using the Women’s Health Program.”
Access to contraception is not the only service patients lose when states defund Planned Parenthood. In 2011, Indiana cut funding to Planned Parenthood, leaving one rural county without an HIV testing center as it experienced a sharp increase in HIV infections. Similarly, the Texas Observer found in June that in Harris County, TX -- which had the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the state in 2014 -- the county’s health department hadn’t conducted a single HIV test since the county ended its decades-long contract with Planned Parenthood for HIV testing and prevention in December.
The 10th Circuit further noted that prior to Herbert’s defunding order, “at no time has UDOH [Utah Department of Health] complained about the services provided by PPAU, or otherwise claimed that PPAU was not qualified to provide services.” The opinion further explained that not only had PPAU won competitive contracts from the state on multiple occasions but the amount provided through those grants had also been increased in exchange for continuing service.
As the court concluded, Herbert “more likely than not” put politics above program effectiveness when making his decision to block PPAU’s funding:
Considering all of this evidence together, we conclude that a reasonable finder of fact is more likely than not to find that Herbert issued the Directive to punish PPAU for the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights it has identified in this litigation. In particular, we conclude that a reasonable finder of fact is more likely than not to find that Herbert, a politician and admitted opponent of abortion, viewed the situation that presented itself by release of the CMP videos as an opportunity to take public action against PPAU, deprive it of pass-through federal funding, and potentially weaken the organization and hamper its ability to provide and advocate for abortion services.
Texas Proposes New Rules Requiring That All Fetal Remains From Abortions Be Cremated Or Buried.
Within a week of the Supreme Court striking down Texas’ HB 2 bill for creating an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission proposed new rules that would require that all fetal remains from abortions be cremated or buried.
Such policies are a new tactic from anti-choice legislators, with Texas joining Indiana, Arkansas and Georgia in attempting to implement these types of requirements. Currently in Texas, fetal remains from abortions are disposed of “in sanitary sewers and landfills for medical waste” -- in a manner similar to other biological medical material, such as “organs removed during surgeries.” The rules would apply to all abortions at any period of gestation, even though more than 90 percent of abortions in Texas occur in the first trimester, and as the Houston Chronicle described, “within those first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the fetus ranges from the size of a poppy seed to roughly the size of a lime.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did not cite sanitary or health concerns as motivations for the proposed rules, but that didn’t stop a local Texas news station from speculating otherwise. In reporting on the potential new rules, Fox 7, an Austin, TX, Fox News-owned station, allowed an anti-choice activist, Carol Everett, to baselessly speculate that current methods for handling fetal remains are unsanitary. “There’s several health concerns. What if the woman had HIV? What if she had a sexually transmitted disease? What if those germs went through and got into our water supply?” Fox 7 quotes Everett saying.
The Austin American Statesman quoted Gov. Abbott’s spokesperson saying the proposed rules are meant “to protect the unborn and prevent the sale of baby body parts,” even though a spokesperson for the Department of State Health Services said the rules wouldn’t apply to fetal tissue used in research.
The Texas Tribune noted that the proposed rules were “published in the Texas Register” with “no announcement.” Publication of the proposed rules begins a 30-day public comment period after which they may go into effect in September.
Long-Awaited Texas Abortion Statistics Confirm Anti-Choice Laws Aren't Making Abortion Safer Than It Already Is
On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that Texas’ extreme anti-choice law HB 2 was unconstitutional because it imposed an “undue burden on abortion access.” Since the law was passed in 2013, anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media alike have insisted that HB 2’s restrictions were necessary to protect women’s health.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) drew criticism for seemingly withholding its annual abortion statistics report for 2014 -- information that could have informed the court’s opinion about the impact of HB 2 on women’s health and access to care. In a June 15 letter, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas alleged that DSHS “appears to be concealing abortion statistics … for 2014, the first full year that Texas implemented portions of its controversial abortion regulations.” As Trisha Trigilio, ACLU of Texas staff attorney, wrote, “Rather than responding honestly and claiming a legal basis for withholding the 2014 statistical tables, it appears that your agency has chosen to hide the truth.”
On June 30, the Texas DSHS released these statistics and confirmed what reproductive rights advocates, researchers, and Texas women had been saying all along: HB 2 was an undue burden on abortion access and had nothing to do with women’s health.
According to MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, the key findings from the 2014 statistics showed a “sharp decline in abortions overall that was disproportionately experienced by Latinas, and the growing share and absolute number of second-trimester procedures.” As Trigilio wrote in a response for the ACLU of Texas:
We will leave it to statisticians to undertake deeper analyses of this data but at first glance the numbers demonstrate the devastating effect House Bill 2 had on the women of Texas. Given the overall drop in abortions – especially in vulnerable communities along the border – as well as the precipitous 70 percent drop in medication abortions, these numbers show that this law never had anything do with women’s health. It’s clear why lawmakers might have wanted to keep this information out of the public eye before the Supreme Court made its decision.
If HB 2 had been upheld, it would have required that abortion providers have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and that these clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). Proponents of HB 2 claimed these restrictions were medically necessary to protect the health and safety of women during abortions. In particular, Texas lawmakers pushing for HB 2 in 2013 capitalized on anti-choice myths about abortion safety to insist that abortion providers needed greater regulation. These arguments were echoed by right-wing media outlets, which have waged a continued campaign of misinformation about HB 2 since.
For example, during a 2015 appearance on Shepard Smith Reporting, Fox News correspondent Trace Gallagher amplified Texas lawmakers’ arguments that the requirements of HB 2 were intended to protect women from supposedly unsafe abortion procedures, without mentioning the ample evidence that abortion in Texas was already safe. Gallagher said Texas lawmakers “argue they're simply looking out for the well-being of women, saying better equipment and more staffing helps alleviate the dangers that are associated with abortion."
In reality, these restrictions are based on medically inaccurate information -- a conclusion underscored by the extremely in-depth, fact-based majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer. Breyer wrote that “each [restriction] places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion.” Although the justices did not have access to Texas’ most recent abortion statistics, the release of the 2014 data affirms Breyer’s point and cuts through the right-wing media noise to end the myths that have long sustained HB 2.
For those studying the impact of anti-choice laws on Texas women, the findings in the 2014 abortion statistics were no surprise.
In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) argued that the additional barriers to abortion access created by HB 2 would pose “severe burdens in accessing reproductive healthcare.” Citing an earlier district court decision, NLIRH argued that “there is no question” HB 2 would negatively impact Latinas due to the majority Latino populations of the Texas counties most impacted by clinic closures.
An independent analysis of Texas’ 2014 data by TheTexas Observer confirmed these warnings and pointed out the comparative loss of access to abortion experience by Texas Latinas. As Alexa Garcia-Ditta reported, “In 2013, over 24,000 of Texans who got abortions were Hispanic; in 2014, that number decreased by 18 percent to under 20,000.” In comparison, she noted, there was “a 7.7 percent decrease among black Texans who got abortions” and a “6.7 percent drop among white Texans, after the law went into effect.”
Similarly, researchers for the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) had also previously warned about the risk of HB 2 delaying or in some cases preventing access to abortion care. In the January 2016 study, TxPEP interviewed women “who either had their abortion appointments cancelled when clinics closed or who sought care at closed clinics.” According to a news release about the study, researchers found that women’s health care was “delayed, and in some cases [women were] prevented altogether, from obtaining an abortion.”
In addition to proving the accessibility challenges created by HB 2, the 2014 statistics include an additional figure that thoroughly rebukes anti-choice arguments about abortion safety. As The Austin Chronicle’s Mary Tuma explained:
One stat that anti-abortion activists will surely continue to conveniently leave out of their ostensible quest for stringent abortion safety standards is the number of women that died while undergoing the medical procedure in 2014 – that figure, much like the number of facts anti-choice legislators used to defend HB 2, comes out to zero.
After the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2, two network evening news programs allowed anti-abortion activists to spin the ruling as a “loss for women’s health and safety.” But in actuality, the Supreme Court found that the requirements imposed by the Texas law addressed “no significant health-related problem” and are “nearly arbitrary” -- findings that two other networks highlighted.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will attend a fundraiser hosted by coal industry CEO Robert Murray, who has pressured and even allegedly fired employees for political gain and has repeatedly fought against health benefits, safety protections, and labor rights for coal miners. Media covering the event should contrast Trump’s claims of staunch support for coal miners with his willingness to raise money with Murray.
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ABC’s Mary Bruce allowed an anti-choice activist to push the false claim that Texas’ abortion restrictions were about protecting women’s health during a segment on the Supreme Court’s ruling that Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2 was unconstitutional.
During the segment, anti-choice activist Kristian Hawks falsely claimed the Supreme Court’s ruling jeopardizes women’s health and that women seeking abortion procedures at health clinics will now have to wonder if they’ll “be coming out alive.” ABC’s report failed to report that Hawkin’s allegation were not based in fact, but rather right-wing misinformation frequently pushed to undermind clinics that provide abortions. From the June 27 edition of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We begin tonight with the most sweeping decision on abortion in a generation. Today, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that imposed strict requirements on clinics and doctors, finding those limits placed an undue burden on the constitutional right to abortion. And on the steps of the Supreme Court, you see it there, activists squared off. Jubilation from the pro-choice side, but despair from anti-abortion forces, because this ruling could affect so much of the country. At least two dozen states have passed laws similar to those struck down today. ABC's Mary Bruce is in Washington with the dramatic decision and its resounding consequences.
MARY BRUCE: At the Supreme Court today, chants of victory from abortion rights advocates. The crowd cheering as interns raced out, carrying the most consequential abortion decision in a quarter of a century. Many of these people have been here since before dawn, making sure they were here to witness this historic decision. The court striking down a Texas law that required abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and that clinics meet standards for surgical centers. Requirements that have already forced more than half of Texas abortion clinics to close, and threatened half of those still open. In a 5-3 decision, Justice Kennedy, the swing vote, joined the court's four liberals to rule that the restrictions went too far, and placed "an undue burden" on the constitutional right to an abortion. Disappointed, the law's supporters say women's health will now be at risk.
KRISTAN HAWKINS: This means every time a woman walks into an abortion facility in our nation, she's going to have to wonder, will I be coming out alive?
BRUCE: The implications stretch far beyond Texas. About two dozen states have similar laws.
KATE SHAW: Many states have restrictions like Texas's, and I think that those are quite likely unconstitutional after today's ruling.
BRUCE: And the decision could call into question many other restrictions, such as a required waiting period, counseling, and ultrasounds before abortions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Mary joins us from the Supreme Court right now. Mary, you know, the future of the Supreme Court, right at the heart of the presidential campaign. You've got that vacancy left by the death of Justice Scalia, and perhaps more to come.
BRUCE: Yes, this decision underscores what's at stake in this election. Clinton tweeting today, "This fight isn't over. The next president has to protect women's rights." And Donald Trump has been noticeably absent from commenting on today's ruling. George?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, uncharacteristic silence. Mary, thanks very much you.
Laws such as HB 2 are frequently referred to as “TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws,” and seek to restrict access to abortion by requiring clinics to adhere to unnecessary medical standards. TRAP laws are promoted under the guise of public health, despite the fact that abortion is one of the safest surgeries performed in the United States and that many abortions are done with medication instead of surgery.