Abortion and rightist lunacy

I wondered what had gotten Erick Erickson upset again earlier this week besides the rise of atheism among convenience store employees. When he and the Plankton with a Hairpiece, the senior senator from Florida, agree on a rhetorical point, I figure I better investigate. Testifying before a subcommittee, a Democratic legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates supported a bill that would eliminate words “substantially and irremediably” from an existing law allowing third trimester abortions under life-threatening circumstances. Continue reading

Supreme Court keeps its powder dry

Ian Millhiser’s explanation for why the Supreme Court refused to hear two cases brought by conservatives to defund Planned Parenthood makes sense to me, and so does his theory of why Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett “Bart” Kavanaugh sided with the liberal faction to deny certiori:

It’s very doubtful that this equilibrium will last — Kavanaugh’s been very clear that he intends to kill Roe v. Wade. But the Court’s decision to not hear Andersen and Gee gives credence to the theory that Roberts and Kavanaugh want to give the nation some time to forget about how Kavanaugh got his current job before they declare outright war on reproductive choice.

Monday’s order, moreover, is unlikely to protect Medicaid recipients from the Supreme Court for very long. In the long run, some state is bound to violate the free-choice-of-provider provision in a way that doesn’t implicate a group associated with abortion. When that happens, this very conservative Supreme Court will be free to limit this provision without doing so under the close scrutiny it will face if the case name includes the words “Planned Parenthood.”

But the decision does raise a question: why can’t the Democratic Party, now fully stocked with younger and browner legislators who aren’t men, endorse federal legislation that protects a woman’s right to choose an abortion from the interventions of states? Too long has the party relied on Roe v. Wade as a carapace as subsequent decisions have poked holes in it. I forgot where I read that Roe establishes a floor, not a ceiling. Obviously they would need to control the White House and the Senate too. But campaigning openly and unequivocally for abortion rights is a standard to which voters would rally, especially the city and suburban-dwelling Democrats comprising the core of the Democratic base (I’m aware that many Americans squirm around a right to an unfettered abortion, but campaigns aren’t built around nuance).

Finally, natal care gets too little attention. As abortions have gotten safer in the United States, childbirth has gotten more dangerous. I doubt Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump care.

‘Our House and Senate are willing to pass this stuff’

I’m trying to imagine a similar vote effort on the part of abortion activists.

But as national attention focuses largely on the Supreme Court confirmation, movement leaders are hoping for political wins as well. In Minnesota, anti-abortion activists are zeroing in on the open governor’s seat, considered a tossup. The Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, has vetoed seven bills supported by abortion opponents during his time in office.

“Our House and Senate are willing to pass this stuff,” said Scott Fischbach, executive director of the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, a group whose political arm helped push the State Legislature to an anti-abortion majority in recent years. “We are going to do more on this governor’s race than we’ve ever done in the past.”

Students for Life, a youth movement that calls itself “the pro-life generation,” is starting a van tour in early August to six states — West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri, Alaska and Maine — to drum up support for Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Conservative statewide Christian groups, like the Ohio Christian Alliance, are urging thousands of local churches to have their members contact lawmakers to do the same.

Next month, the Susan B. Anthony List plans to host news conferences in front of the offices of vulnerable red-state Democrats, organizing petitions and digital ad campaigns in an attempt to ramp up the political pressure to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

This is how they win.

Dismissing Roe myths

The most common arguments I endure from opponents of Roe v. Wade concern its reputation as a feebly written decision (“Even Ruth Bader Ginsberg said so!”) and as an unwarranted federal protection of a matter best left to the states. Scott Lemieux swats aside these arguments. Few felicities of judicial language have been the subject of as much mockery as FDR appointee William O. Douglas’ phrase in his concurrence in 1967’s landmark Griswold v. Connecticut, in which the Court ruled that bans on contraception violated the right to marital privacy: “The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.”

Erratic and downright slipshod, the latter in his last decade, Douglas was one of the last justices to write his own opinions, which like Oliver Wendell Holmes bent toward the brief and aphoristic; he wanted his opinions to be understood by the average person. No one quibbled with his intelligence or ability. Nor his ambition (Roosevelt goosed him into thinking he’d be president one day).


Opponents of Roe writing for general audiences routinely invoke the “penumbras” phrase, from Justice William O. Douglas’s opinion striking down a ban on the use or distribution of contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut, as if doing so self-evidently renders the opinion absurd. Douglas had used that phrase to defend the idea that the Constitution includes an implicit right to privacy, in at least some matters of marriage and family, and the Roe majority cited it to extend that idea to the realm of abortion.

But Justice Douglas’s observation that “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance” describes a perfectly banal concept: The enumeration of rights, individually or collectively, implies the existence of other rights. As Douglas himself pointed out, in Griswold, the Supreme Court has enforced a “right of association” although that phrase is not found in the Constitution, because guarantees of the right to free speech and to petition the government would mean little without the right to form political associations.

Douglas became the longest serving Supreme Court justice in history. His replacement? John Paul Stevens, who on his 2010 retirement took second place.

As for the federalism question, the stakes are grimmer:

As previously discussed, Congress has passed, and the Supreme Court has upheld, a nationwide ban of what anti-abortion groups have labeled “partial-birth abortions.” To find the last time the House of Representatives passed an abortion regulation, you would have to go all the way back to … this January, when it passed a bill that would require doctors to provide medical care for a fetus born alive during an abortion procedure.

And last year, the House passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in every state in the union. So far, these bills have died in the Senate. But since the Republican Party is becoming more and more hostile to abortion rights, abortion would remain a national issue. Should the filibuster be eliminated or substantially watered down, a Republican government with slightly larger Senate majorities than it has now would be able to pass national abortion regulations.

The other myths that Lemieux deflates include the purported ease with which American can get abortions as opposed to the French, Roe‘s rescinding of any state regulation, and the strength of public opinion. It’s the kind of article I’d share with friends or print to stick on the refrigerator door.

Missouri legislators to women: stay home

Should you have the luck to land a job in Missouri and you’re a woman, you best hope your landlord doesn’t ask for medical records. Its senate has legislation that allows bosses and landlords to “discriminate against women who use birth control or have had abortions.” More:

Known as SB 5, the bill was first passed by the Senate on June 14 following a special session called by Greitens. His aim was to overturn an ordinance that prevents employers and housing providers from punishing women for their reproductive health choices, according to a report by Feministing, a feminist website.

The ordinance was passed by the city of St. Louis, and Greitens had said it made the area into “an abortion sanctuary city.” The Senate seemed to agree with him, as did the House, which on Tuesday passed an expanded version of SB 5 that included more anti-abortion restrictions. Given the Senate’s vote on June 14, it it seen as likely to approve the updated version of SB 5. This would mean that landlords could refuse to offer housing to women based on their reproductive health choices, while employers could fire female staff members who were using birth control, or refuse to hire them. And while of course this isn’t information most landlords or employers have access to, under SB 5 they could ask women what forms of reproductive health care they are using.

As the last sentence suggests, the idea that this proposed could be enforced is laughable. BOSS: “Show me your Aetna insurance bill; let me see if there’s an abortion rider.” Unless, of course, legislators assume women are guilty until proven innocence — that is, they’ve all had abortions or used birth control, therefore the burden is on them to prove otherwise. It makes as much sense as paying informants in Planned Parenthood clinics.

Don’t think this proposal couldn’t pass. State legislatures are laboratories for sinister nonsense designed to restrict the individual rights of citizens.

How Donald Trump is right

The presumptive Republican nominee for president opened his mouth in front of Chris Matthews (not himself known for discretion) and sounds emerged that assembled into words and possibly sentences about punishing women who get abortions. For the first time in his nearly yearlong Dada exercise in running for leadership of the GOP, he did what Beltway press people call a “walk back.”

If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman,” the statement said. “The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”

I’m tickled by the ubiquity of Ronald Reagan as universal balm. I could write, “People should smear mayonnaise on themselves. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I support individual liberty with exceptions.”

The rest of the statement bears examination. Here’s how I look at it. If you believe that abortion is murder, then you believe that a woman who pays for an abortion or does it herself is guilty of murder and should face felony charges. Trump’s statement calls women “victims.” This implies that they trespassed; that they had no power over their own actions; that men betrayed them. Only these women get abortions. A sage at National Review Online implies as such: if only victims had gotten adoptions, “community support for pre-natal care and both pre- and post-natal counseling.” Should the woman not take heed to counseling, then in sorrow she must bring forth children, and her husband or boyfriend gets to revel in sanctimony, unintentional or not. Either way, it’s the fetus that determines her worth. As Albert Goldman said in The Birdcage, “If you kill the mother, the fetus dies, too. But the fetus is going to be aborted anyway, so why not let it go down with the ship?”

These superannuated appeals to compassion wilt under scrutiny. As many of us know if you’re not the right sort of child (i.e. white), adoption consists of adolescence in foster homes. “Pre-natal care” and “pre-natal counseling” are precisely the kinds of things passed by state legislatures who don’t want women having sex.

Read the comment sections in any newspaper, daily or national, when an abortion story gets posted. Compassion is not one of the virtues overflowing from the sacred founts of anti-abortion zealots. It’s their political leaders who lie or resort to double talk in attempting to make their positions more amenable to the American public. Make no mistake: whether these people see women as victims or murderers, they don’t much like women.

SCOTUS: Imposing a health improvement on ‘thousands of women’

Thanks to the benevolence of the Texas legislature, women in this state who want or need an abortion must travel to what are called “ambulatory surgical centers” which must have admitting privileges in local hospitals — privileges that are expensive and that these hospitals can refuse. More than five million women in Texas have access to ten abortion clinics. I would say that this law constitutes an undue burden on these women according to the Casey model to which the Supreme Court gave its imprimatur almost twenty-four years ago. “Undue burden” is one of those glittering phrases that the Court summons to existence when it wants to chip away at legislation without rescinding it, like the “rule of reason” governing the regulation of trusts in the 1910s.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has fun depicting how the Supreme Court’s three female justices shredded Texas clinic advocate Stephanie Toti’s arguments into guitar picks during oral argument for Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt.

Ginsburg begins by asking Keller how many Texas women live more than 100 miles from an abortion clinic. When he tells her that women in El Paso can hop over the border to New Mexico, she stops him short. “That’s odd,” she muses, “that you point to the New Mexico facility. New Mexico doesn’t have any surgical ASC requirement, and it doesn’t have any admitting requirement. So if your argument is right, then New Mexico is not an available way out for Texas because Texas says to protect our women, we need these things.” (This is where I want to call up each of the men who demanded that Ginsburg retire in 2014 and just smile, and smile, and smile.)

Sotomyor tags in: “According to you, the slightest health improvement is enough to impose on hundreds of thousands of women.­­ Even assuming I accept your argument, which I don’t, necessarily, because it’s being challenged, but the slightest benefit is enough to burden the lives of a million women. That’s your point?”

Ginsburg: “I can’t imagine. What is the benefit of having a woman take those pills in an ambulatory surgical center when there is no surgery involved?”

The way it looks to a man illiterate in jurisprudential arcana is this way: it’s easier — a relief — for Texas women to visit New Mexican clinics, which don’t yet boast these “protections,” for an abortion despite the Texas legislature’s stated interest in preserving the health of these women; and a woman’s taking two pills to terminate a pregnancy in front of a doctor is more dangerous than a colonoscopy. Yes and yes! the late Antonin Scalia would have shouted back.

‘It’s the fault of Planned Parenthood for selling the baby parts’

They really said it:

“After all these years and millions of babies that have gone to their death, violence is to be anticipated,” said Judie Brown, president of American Life League, in a phone interview with MSNBC. “Because it’s acceptable to violently kill a baby, so why isn’t it acceptable to violently kill other people?”

“We never approve of violence against anybody, whether it’s the unborn babies or the clients of Planned Parenthood or anybody else,” Ann Scheidler, vice president of the Pro-Life Action League, told MSNBC. But, she added, “it’s not the fault of the pro-life movement that someone found out that Planned Parenthood is doing these things. It’s the fault of Planned Parenthood for selling the baby parts.”

Don’t wanna die? Avoid abortion clinics. Ted Cruz said bullshit about Robert Dear being a man who “registered to vote as a woman,”and the reporter didn’t refute him. And he’s not the only who wants points for honesty. Here are people who want to prevent a court-held constitutionally protected right:

Scheidler’s Pro-Life Action League is among the organizations that publishes the names, faces, and addresses of abortion providers. Asked if such disclosures could make providers feel unsafe, she replied, “We don’t pose any threat, we in the mainstream pro-life movement…. If they feel threatened, they can always get out of that business, I suppose. It’s not something that would make us back off on our mission.”

One notorious anti-abortion activist, who has long been an open supporter of violence against abortion providers, broke with the movement in offering direct support to Dear.

Donald Spitz, who runs the Army of God website and is based in Virginia, said of his fellow anti-abortion activists’ condemnations of violence, “They say that all the time. I think they’re hypocritical.”

Robert Dear may be another crazy lone gunman whom our culture makes into scapegoats. But as we approach the date of the Supreme Court case regarding Texas abortion clinics, keep in mind that incidents of arson and vandalism have increased since the airing of those fraudulent Center for Medical Progress videos.

And it’s going to get worse

Bill Clinton’s signing of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act was one of the crumbs thrown at liberal supporters in 1994. Written to combat a wave of violence against abortion clinics, doctors, and women who use the clinics, it made it a federal crime to injure or scare those seeking care. But after a tense years-long truce that ended a few months ago and culminating in yesterday’s shootings in Colorado Springs, the intimidation returns. Nina Liss-Schultz reports:

But harassment, threats of violence, and attacks against clinics have gone up again following the release of the Center for Medical Progress videos in July, according to recent National Abortion Federation court filings. That month, incidents of harassment against Planned Parenthood facilities increased ninefold compared with June, and those numbers continued to rise through August.

In the four months following the release of the videos, there have been at least four suspected arsons that targeted abortion clinics, compared with just one in all of 2014 and none in 2013. There have been at least five cases of vandalism since August. In comparison, there were 12 total cases of clinic vandalism in all of 2014 and just five cases in 2013, according to federation figures.

In one of the recent vandalism cases, a young man entered a Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire and destroyed medical equipment, phones, and computers. This month, an unidentified person smashed the windows of Kentucky’s only full-time abortion provider, twice in three weeks.

Anne, the executive director of the clinic, who declined to give her last name for security reasons, told Insider Louisville that in its 20 years of operation, the clinic had never before been vandalized.

Next year the Supreme Court will hear Whole Women’s Health v Cole, the challenge to a Texas anti-abortion statute that has wiped out the number of clinics in a state as large as my bald spot. Consider: in 2011, 93 percent of Texas counties had no abortion clinic at all, three years before HB2.

The adventures of Rick Scott, Part 451

Speaks for itself:

Aides to the governor were intimately involved in crafting the message when the agency announced allegations that three Florida Planned Parenthood clinics had violated their licenses. Nearly every on-the-record statement given by the Agency for Health Care Administration to reporters and the public was first approved by a member of Scott’s communications team, emails obtained by the Herald/Times show.

Scott’s staff rewrote press releases about the investigation and penned some statements that were attributed to AHCA executives. His office even directed the healthcare agency to cut a sentence in a draft press release that acknowledged the main reason the investigation fell short: Inspectors found no evidence that Florida Planned Parenthood clinics broke the law by operating a fetal tissue donation program.

After results of the investigation were made public, the emails show, Scott’s staff continued its involvement by orchestrating attempts by AHCA staffers to persuade reporters to change parts of their stories.

When the AHCA found that no evidence for the mishandling of fetal tissue existed, Scott’s office scrubbed this line from press releases.

The evolution of Pope Francis

Well, extraordinary move:

Pope Francis will make it easier for women to be forgiven for abortion during a jubilee “year of mercy” starting Dec. 8.

In a letter issued by the Vatican on Tuesday, the pope said he would grant all Catholic priests temporary authority to “absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”

Under church law, anyone who willingly participates in an abortion—including the pregnant woman, the abortionist and anyone who assists in the process—incurs automatic excommunication, which normally can only be lifted by the local bishop.

Under Pope Francis’ concession, any priest will be able to exercise this power during the year of mercy, which ends Nov. 20, 2016.

In the same letter, the pope expressed compassion for “women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.”

In the past I haven’t fallen over myself praising Francis – figured the College of Cardinals selected him as an acknowledgment of a PR problem. But deviation from abortion (“anti-life”) orthodoxy? I can’t imagine a geezer in red taking this well. I’m willing to overlook the language of sin, which in the sentence above reminds me of Gerald Ford’s justifying his pardon of Nixon by thinking the acceptance of a pardon means acknowledgment of illegality.

Katha Pollitt: ‘Reproductive rights come with a price tag’

Katha Pollitt has a way of clarifying important questions. Recent gains in acceptance of gay marriage have not translated into a concurrent rise in accepting reproductive liberty. Pollitt:

Reproductive rights are inescapably about women. Pervasive misogyny means not only that those rights are stigmatized—along with the women who exercise them—but that men don’t see them as all that important, while women have limited social power to promote them. And that power is easily endangered by too close an identification with all but the most anodyne version of feminism. There are no female CEOs pouring millions into reproductive rights or threatening to relocate their businesses when a state guts access to abortion. And with few exceptions, A-list celebs steer clear.


Marriage equality costs society nothing and takes no power away from anyone. No one has been able to argue persuasively that your gay marriage hurts my straight marriage. But reproductive rights come with a price tag: Government funding is inevitably involved. (“If you want to have a party, have a party, but don’t ask me to pay for it,” said one New Hampshire lawmaker as he tried to cut funding for contraception.) Also, contraception and abortion give power to women and take it from others: parents, employers, clergy, and men.

I summon to the thread the instinctive revulsion many men and women experience on seeing “feminist” in any sentence. In this as in many things the right and its neoliberal allies have won.