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Paid Sick Leave Pays for Itself: So Why Is NYC’s Mayoral Hopeful Blocking It?

12:58 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sarah Jaffe for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Rosa* lost her mother just a few weeks ago.

Guy in a face mask

New York City companies want to keep sick people working, despite the costs.

Her elderly parents lived at home in New York. A home health-care aide helped Rosa’s father with the burden of caring for her mother, who had Parkinson’s disease and had suffered a major stroke just over two years ago.

“We didn’t want to keep her in a nursing home, for financial reasons, for germs. They basically told us to take her home,” Rosa told RH Reality Check.

The home health-care aide didn’t have paid sick days, so she came to work sick one day, and Rosa’s parents both wound up with the flu. Her 88-year-old father recovered; her mother did not.

“My dad lives with guilt that he allowed the person to stay,” Rosa said. “I’m living with guilt because I came to work that day to make a few pennies.”

Rosa takes unpaid leave from her job in order to care for her parents — her father still struggles with heart troubles and a bad back that makes it hard for him to get around. When Rosa is sick, she goes to the office. She uses her personal days to stay home with her family. (Rosa is also a breast cancer survivor.)

“It’s basically women who are the caregivers,” she noted. “I realize these corporations, they don’t want to do paid family leave. But they’re just eating themselves because the workers come to work exhausted.

“If it’s between work and my parents, my parents must come first.”

Rosa’s home health-care aide was just one of the 44 million workers nationwide who don’t have even a single paid sick day, according to Ellen Bravo, executive director of the Family Values at Work Consortium. A 2010 report from the Public Welfare Foundation and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that 55 percent of workers without paid sick days have gone to work with a contagious illness like the flu. “Thus, not having paid sick days is associated with an 18 percentage point increase in ill employees spreading diseases at work,” the report said. And 24 percent of parents without paid sick days have sent a sick child to school or daycare.

New York’s city council has a bill that would require paid sick days for more than 1.2 million workers. Calling for its passage, the New York Times editorial page noted that it is “a normal benefit for workers in at least 145 countries.” The bill’s been stalled, though, for more than 1,000 days, since its introduction in 2010, even as a natural disaster and flu epidemic hit the city. Christine Quinn, the powerful council speaker, has refused to bring the bill up for a vote, as Mayor Bloomberg and the business community are strongly opposed. Quinn has said that she’s in favor of the policy, but not while the economy remains weak.

Now, the bill is shaping up to be an issue in the 2013 mayor’s race, as a coalition of well-known and politically powerful women have declared they won’t support Quinn in her historic run for mayor unless she allows a vote on the bill, and there are hints that there’s a compromise afoot.

On February 25, a group of women elected officials from Congress, the state legislature, and the city council held a press conference calling for passage of the bill. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said, “…[R]ight here in New York, we can bypass congressional gridlock, enact paid sick leave, and make the Big Apple a national leader in protecting the health of our citizens and guaranteeing elementary fairness to all the working women and men who make our great city tick.”

“I think it’s pretty much a no-brainer,” said Pat Kane, an operating room nurse at Staten Island University Hospital and treasurer at the New York State Nurses Association. “When public health emergencies have to be declared during flu season, when every recommendation from every government agency involved in health says you have to stay home, I don’t see how you can have no requirement that people have to have this benefit when they’re working.”

Kane noted that at the end of January, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a new study on a new strain of norovirus, causing gastrointestinal illness, spread by people handling and preparing food. “A lot of those workers don’t have paid sick days,” she pointed out. “When you think about all the requirements to certify a restaurant, to me this should be one of those requirements.”

Paid sick leave is good reproductive health policy as well, Bravo pointed out. “From whatever angle, whether it’s prenatal visits, well baby visits or being able to have an abortion, people need time to take care of themselves without being forced either to forgo the treatment or forgo the pay or even worse, the job.”

“When they say ‘everyone’s free to stay home when they’re sick, they’re just not free to keep their paycheck or their job,’ that’s not freedom,” she continued.

Sick Leave Boosts Women’s Finances

Read the rest of this entry →

Anti-Gay/Anti-Choice Kansas Democrat Challenged in Primary by Openly Gay Man

12:16 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kari Ann Rinker for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

“Morality” used to be the established code word for anti-gay and anti-choice discrimination. It seems that “morality” has run it’s course, however, and it is now time for new and improved phraseology to push the anti-choice, anti-gay theological agenda in Kansas. The new catch phrase for discrimination is “religious freedom” and the queen bee of spreading the pollination of religious freedom in Kansas is Representative Jan Pauls.

Erich Bishop

Erich Bishop, Kansas challenger (Photo: Erich Bishop campaign)

Representative Pauls is another one of those anti-choice Democrats that pervades the Kansas political landscape. She has served in the Kansas Legislature since 1992 and has used her time there to sponsor numerous anti-choice bills. She wrote a law prohibiting same sex marriage in the state, backed the successful state constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage, and blocked the attempted repeal of Kansas’ antiquated sodomy ban.

Religious freedom has been creating a lot of buzz nationally and red-state legislatures and red-state politicians have latched on to this discriminatory defense as the life preserver that might “save” them from the evils of Obamacare. Pauls has provided not only her vote for two Kansas bills based upon the false premise of “religious freedom,” but also her strong words of favor. She heralded the Kansas legislature’s so-called “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” and the expansion of the existing “Conscience Refusal Act,” which both gained momentum from “Obama outrage” over contraception care afforded under the Affordable Care Act.

Representative Pauls resides in Hutchinson, Kansas. Pauls’ stance on these “religious freedom” initiatives may garner her usual votes and favor from many of her constituents at large in this conservative Kansas community, but in this election cycle there is a question as to whether or not Pauls will earn a place on the general election ballot. This time around, Jan Pauls and her “religious freedom” have earned her a Democratic primary opponent, and that primary opponent is gay.

Erich Bishop is a member of the Kansas Equality Coalition, a gay rights organization that has waged a full on political war against Pauls for her public statements, votes and actions against the gay community. Pauls, for example, made the following comment on February 20, 2012:

Read the rest of this entry →

The Right to Vote Affects the Power to Choose: How Voter Suppression in 2012 Will Erode Reproductive Rights

11:32 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

Written by Charlene Carruthers for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

There is power in a woman’s right to vote.

Since 1984, women have been the majority of the total vote in every presidential election. This year, millions of women will stand in line and prepare themselves to decide who will serve in state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress. They will decide who sits on the local school board and who becomes the next President of the United States. They will also decide who shapes the future of reproductive health and rights for all women in this country. The power to preserve and expand reproductive rights is inextricably tied the right to vote.

But what is power if your ability to leverage that power is stripped away?

That’s just what Republican-led state legislatures across the country are poised to do. Since 2010 state legislatures with Republican majorities have introduced and passed restrictive laws with the potential — and many argue the intent — of forcing widespread voter suppression, and to disenfranchise women, people of color, students, the elderly, and low-income communities.

The overall strategy has included efforts to:

  • Pass laws that require voters to produce proof of citizenship;
  • Make the voter registration process more difficult by eliminating Election Day registration and creating new restrictions on voter registration drives;
  • Cut early and absentee voting periods;
  • Make the restoration of voting rights more difficult;
  • Require eligible voters to possess current and valid state issued photo ID

 Brennan Center for Justice.

These voter suppression tactics are not new, our nation has faced this type of encroachment before. During the civil rights movement African-Americans, women, students, and allies all fought together to gain access to the vote for all citizens. Now, Republican-led state legislatures across the nation are working to roll back hard-earned progress.

What happens if this strategy succeeds?

According a Brennan Center for Justice study, approximately one in ten, or 21 million, Americans do not currently possess valid and current government-issued photo ID. Many of those voters are women whose last names changed with marriages.

The same study found that since the beginning of 2011, at least 180 bills restricting voting rights were introduced in 41 states. Due to this well-funded and well-organized GOP-led effort, 16 states succeeded in passing restrictive voting laws. These states account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency. If these restrictions are enacted, an estimated 5 million eligible voters could be turned away from the polls in 2012.

Republican state legislators are not pushing this agenda alone. A corporate-funded conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — whose membership includes legislators and major corporations — created model voter ID legislation. Then, legislators and corporations worked together to introduce and push the model voter ID legislation in several states under the guise of preventing voting fraud.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “proponents of such voter suppression legislation have failed to show that voter fraud is a problem anywhere in the country.” Right-wing politicians and groups including ALEC are leveraging the right to vote against a problem that doesn’t exist.

 Brennan Center for Justice.

What’s happening in states?

Florida has a long history of disenfranchising its eligible voters. Florida Governor Rick Scott’s attempt to purge more than 180,000 Floridians from voter rolls just before a key election is a prime example the GOP’s effort to disrupt the voting process and disenfranchise eligible voters. In the 2000 presidential election, thousands of ballots from African American voters were rejected and tossed out. George Bush’s victory was hinged upon the decision of Florida election officials, he won by just 573 votes. Every single vote counts.

Some Republican officials are transparent about the intent behind their efforts to rig the 2012 elections. Last month, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) openly stated that voter ID “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  As a result of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, over 758,000 eligible voters now face disenfranchisement because they lack an acceptable form of ID. Over 186,000 of these voters live in the urban center of Philadelphia — home to nearly half of all African Americans in Pennsylvania.

In Mississippi the photo ID referendum has proved to be especially cumbersome. In order to obtain the required photo ID, voters have to have a birth certificate. To obtain a birth certificate, voters most have a state photo ID. See where this gets sticky?

The Texas voter ID law will accept gun licenses — but not student IDs — as proof of identification in lieu of a photo ID. Fortunately, like Mississippi, Texas is required to undergo federal review for any changes to its voting laws due to a history of discriminatory practices.

There are several factors that contribute to a person not having a current and valid photo ID. They expire. Some voters live in areas where driving is not necessary, therefore a state-issued drivers license is not necessary. Voters move and are unable to obtain new ID prior to registration or election day. College students who live away from home and only possess a student ID are also at risk of being turned away for the polls in some states.

The latest available figures show that only 48 percent of voting-age women with ready access to their U.S. birth certificates have a birth certificate with their current legal name. The same survey showed that only 66 percent of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name.

Ultimately, these measures make the voting process more confusing and place additional burdens on groups who each had to struggle to obtain the right to vote and the right to access quality & affordable reproductive health care.

What are leaders in the movement saying?

“If you can’t access the ballot box, how do you ensure access to reproductive health care?” — Aimee Thorne-Thompson, Advocates for Youth

For reproductive justice advocates, voter suppression is a reproductive justice issue. Many groups like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (RCRC) and NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition (NYC RJC, formerly SisterSong NYC) and Advocates for Youth work year-around to educate communities on the issues and mobilize them to vote for progressive candidates and ballot measures.

Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Justice Director at RCRC, Angela Ferrell-Zabala says voter suppression has the potential to affect down ballot measures and local races in states like Florida.

“Down ballot issues like Amendment 6 will open the state’s constitutional privacy laws and make it very difficult for women to seek abortion care’’ Ferrell-Zabala states.

If Amendment 6 is passed, politicians will be allowed to intrude on personal medical decisions and take away access to healthcare that many women who are Florida public employees currently have.

There is much at stake and “we have to look at the repercussions, it all leads back to reproductive justice. Accessing healthcare and education — making informed decisions about your sexual health and family planning.” Ferrell-Zabala explains.

This is about agency and the power to transform communities.

“To limit the agency of women and youth who are disenfranchised by the social conditions of our race, gender, age and socio-economic status is unacceptable at best, and a direct violation of our human rights at its worst.” says Jasmine Burnett, NYC RJC lead organizer.

Gloria Feldt, author and past president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America argues that “the young, the poor, the women struggling to make ends meet for their families are most vulnerable to disenfranchisement yet have the most to lose if right-wing perpetrators of voter suppression succeed.”

The power of the women’s vote can only be effectively leveraged if every woman who is eligible to vote is able to enter the voting booth and have her vote counted. If they are not counted in 2012 then, “reproductive rights, health, and justice would be among the first freedoms to go, and economic justice not far behind.” said Feldt.

The implementation of voter ID laws and other restrictive measures have the potential to shape whose votes are cast and counted in this year’s presidential election, but we must think long-term. What happens after the next presidential inauguration takes place on the steps of the U.S. Capitol?

Local races will occur where the individuals on the ballot stand to gain the power to decide what happens in women’s lives. They will have the power to decide what health centers receive funding, or whether the personhood of a woman is valued over the interests of a fertilitized egg… laws passed by elected officials who will never be in the position to choose. More often than not, these decisions affect women of color and women with low-incomes the most.

“The reproductive health, rights and justice movement must work with organizations doing voter education and civic engagement work to defeat these bills and ballot measures. Otherwise, all of our other rights are at risk.” says Thorne-Thompson.

As America’s democracy grows older and its citizenry becomes more diverse, our elected officials should focus on reducing barriers to voting and developing a more modern voting process. We must create a more streamlined and effective registration process and improve our use of technology in the voting process in order to realize full voter-participation. The power of the vote depends on this and our democracy is dramatically weakened — indeed completely undermined — without it.

Bob Casey Versus the Rights of Women

6:39 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

(photo: ee382, photobucket)

(photo: ee382, photobucket)

Written by Kate Michelman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

It seems a lifetime ago that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v Connecticut that a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy. Eight years later the Constitutional principles underlying that decision were pivotal to the court’s ruling in Roe v Wade which recognized that a woman’s right to have an abortion was a protected private decision with some exceptions.

Roe v Wade and access to safe contraception has helped make possible the hard-won gains that women have achieved during the past 40 years in education, employment and participation in public life. But the status of American women as full and equal citizens is being challenged just about every day by outspoken priests, pundits and politicians who are questioning long-established rights to family planning and other women’s health programs.

This assault has accelerated in the wake of the Republican tsunami that was the 2010 election. Rights first established in 1965 and strengthened in intervening years that empowered women by ensuring their right to abortion, healthcare, dignity, and privacy are today on the endangered list. Last week the battle moved to the United States Senate where the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” proposed by Senator Roy Blunt as an amendment to a Transportation Bill sought to allow any employer to opt out of abortion and contraceptive coverage, and any other health treatment based solely on the undefined determination of the employer’s religious and moral beliefs, including prenatal care, childhood vaccinations, cancer screenings, and mammograms. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rightfully denounced the bill as “an extreme, ideological amendment.” Fortunately the Blunt amendment was defeated by a vote of 51 to 48. Olympia Snowe of Maine was the only Republican to vote “nay.” The bill has been cited as one of Snowe’s principal reasons for her surprising decision to retire from the Senate. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska confessed to the Anchorage Daily News that “I have never had a vote I’ve taken where I have felt that I let down more people that believed in me.” She unhesitatingly said “no” when asked if she would vote the same way if she had it to do over again.

Apparently the qualms expressed by Senators Murkowski and Snowe are not shared by the Democratic Senior Senator from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey Jr. Casey joined only two other Democratic Senators, Ben Nelson (NE) and Joe Manchin (WV), in voting for the Blunt Amendment, insisting that the alternative position supported by other Democrats does not go far enough to protect the Constitutional liberties of religious institutions and employers–despite recent concessions by the Obama Administration. Casey’s vote was reminiscent of many of his earlier votes, most notably his vote against federal funding of stem cell research in 2007 (supported by 63 Senators including 17 Republicans). Ben Nelson was the only other Democrat who voted with Casey. That bill, vetoed by President Bush, became law when President Obama enacted it via an Executive Order. Read the rest of this entry →

The GOP Debate in Iowa Reveals the Candidates Have No Grasp on Reproductive Health

10:42 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"The Iowa Debate Spin Room"

"The Iowa Debate Spin Room" by TalkRadioNews on flickr || The press gathered in the spin room on Iowa State at the Republican Debate

Written by Dr. Jen Gunter for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The debate in Iowa was an opportunity for the GOP hopefuls to showcase their stand against abortion, because there’s nothing better than a pissing match about reproductive health to rally the fundraisers and fill the war chest. Here are some quotes from the evening:

Rick Santorum on why abortion should be illegal, even in the event of rape of incest:

“To be victimized twice would be a horrible thing. We should surround these women and help them.”

Tim Pawlenty reflected on his legislative record which he felt led to “abortion at historic lows,” bragging that based on:

“These results, not rhetoric, I may be the most pro-life candidate in this race.”

The candidates clearly do not understand any facts related to abortion (I suspect they don’t care, they’re just after sound bites and money). But seriously, if you are going to discuss a topic then learn about it beforehand. First of all, abortion does not victimize women. The rate of serious complications is less than 0.3 percent and study after study shows no effect on mental health. If I were the moderator I would have asked for clarification from Mr. Santorum for his definition of victimization and to provide medical evidence to prove it. Read the rest of this entry →

Bachmanns’ Anti-Gay Therapy Practice Takes Page From Crisis Pregnancy Centers

9:47 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RHRealityCheck.org. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

One of the most pervasive characteristics of the anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-woman movement, of which Michele Bachmann proudly places herself in the forefront, is that they are also anti-science and anti-evidence and openly flout sound medical practices based on evidence and clinical practice and approved by legitimate medical boards and associations.

These practices have long been a feature of so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which exist solely to confuse women seeking to terminate a pregnancy, often have no medical staff and, as a matter of practice, offer women outright false information, such as that having an abortion will cause increase their risks of breast cancer.

Crisis pregnancy centers engage in these practices because they know the evidence is not on their side. Their only hope at “succeeding” in their quests (success being defined as abrogating women’s rights to self-determination) is to mislead women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy with lies based on ideology and misguided theology, not evidence.

This, it appears, is the model adopted by the Bachmanns with respect to sexual orientation.

Continue reading…

Why a Soccer Momma for Obama Hung Up Her Cleats

6:53 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jodi Jacobson for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

I was a soccer mama for Obama.

And depending on the day and the kids in my car, I was a hockey mama or a baseball mama.

But sometime this year, I hung up my cleats.  And I think losing me is a big problem for the Democrats.

It’s not because I won’t vote on Tuesday.  I will.  And it’s not because I am going to vote for some Republican or Tea Party candidate.  That will never happen. 

It’s not because I am a big-money donor, though I have consistently given thousands of dollars to Democrats, and believe me, this is saying a lot at my level of income as a single, full-time work-for-a-living mom of two kids solidly planted in the middle class.  But in 2008 (as in years before), I gave generously to the DCCC, DSCC, Obama for America and the state and national Democratic party. I answered every email from David Axelrod, David Plouffe, Michele and Barack Obama, Tim Kaine and Chris Van Hollen with my credit card and a contribution ranging variously from $25.00 to $1000.00 (no it’s not a typo….I mean $1000.00) at a clip, giving up virtually all discretionary spending that year so that I could put my money where my politics were.  It was that important to me.

And it’s not because I am a political power-hitter. I am not and have never cared to be, though some would consider me a member of the “professional left.”  I never worked on the campaign to get a job in the Administration; I never thought I’d one day receive an invitation to an Obama wedding. I worked to do what I felt I had to do for my kids and for this county.

But the Democrats have lost me in a more profound way, and I think they should be worried about it because I can safely say that I was one of thousands of people across the country who changed the way other people voted in the last election.

I was a loyal and dedicated team player, and someone who, as a lifelong and passionate progressive feminist, can’t live with herself if she is not doing everything she can.  I know for a fact that I brought many independents and moderate Republicans to the polls for Obama.  And I am not doing that now. Read more

Voters Turn On Anti-Choice Extremism

10:03 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Extreme anti-choice views don’t do well politically. As Election Day comes ever-closer, and Democrats are looking like they’re going to win elections they would have easily lost if they weren’t going up against Tea Party candidates instead of mainstream Republicans, the narratives are shaping up about why the Tea Party failed to win over the voting public. A lot of it will be undoubtedly true: Tea Party candidates have expressed extremist positions on social programs, the Civil Rights Act, the separation of church and state, and, most comically, masturbation. But what is getting very little coverage is how extreme anti-choice positions are likely hurting many of these candidates in the polls. But it’s quite likely that many of these candidates have views on reproductive rights that are too much for the public to stomach.

The mainstream media may not acknowledge that extreme anti-choice views can move voters to the polls to vote against someone, but the Democratic Party and pro-choice organizations do. In many states where the Republican is a Tea Party favorite and an anti-choice extremist, the Democratic candidate and allies have been running ads hitting the candidate for their positions. Sharron Angle, Carl Paladino, and Ken Buck have all faced TV ads highlighting their opposition to abortion rights even in the case of rape or incest. Christine O’Donnell has been the object of national attention for her prior career as a crusader against all non-marital sex, including masturbation.

And it seems to be hurting them. Ken Buck started out with a strong lead over Michael Bennet in the race for Colorado Senator, but now it’s neck-and-neck, in no small part because Buck’s popularity has declined so much more with female voters. Granted, Buck’s history of lack of sympathy for rape victims and “jokes” implying women are unfit to hold office aren’t doing him any favors. Still, it just adds to the sense that his objections to reproductive rights might be part of a larger pattern. You see a similar situation with other Tea Party candidates that hold extreme anti-choice positions. Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Christine O’Donnell also started off this race in a position where it seemed certain the Republican would win. But then more and more information about their extreme views came out—including strong positions against the right to abortion—and the races are turning into squeakers. (Or blow-out losses, in O’Donnell’s case.)

The lesson seems to be that what can win you a Republican primary in this environment can kill you in a general election, and that includes strong opposition to reproductive rights. Ken Buck is an instructive example on many levels. Read more

Catholics United Stands Up To Susan B. Anthony List, As Anti-Choice NRLC Defends Lies

7:08 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

According to the Washington Independent, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is angry.

As a ruling is set to be handed down today, by a U.S. District Court, on a lawsuit brought by the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List (SBA), regarding whether or not the Ohio law barring false claims in election advertising is constitutional, pro-and anti-choice groups are getting prepared.

The non-partisan, social justice group Catholics United which opposes SBA List’s efforts held a press call today to discuss the lawsuit and SBA List’s recent embroilment with the Ohio Elections Commission over what the commission ruled was false advertising.  NRLC’s Legislative Director Douglas Johnson "crashed" the call and, according to Washington Independent, angrily interrupted the discussion claiming that he did not think SBA List’s advertising was untrue and that, in fact, he said as much in a sworn statement.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

South Dakota Right To Life Endorses…For Secretary of State?

7:15 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Robin Marty for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

There’s a saying that all politics is local. But it seems as if this year, the saying could be modified to “all local politics is about abortion.”  Nowhere is this clearer than in South Dakota, where the question of reproductive rights stances has trickled all the way down to the Secretary of State race.

Of course, South Dakota already has a long history of making political hay out of reproductive health.  The 2006 and 2008 attempts to eliminate access to abortion in the state have proven that to at least one segment of the citizenry in the state, there no issue more important than eliminating a woman’s right to choose. 

It’s with this mentality that South Dakota Right to Life (SDRL) seems to have made the unprecedented move of endorsing and advocating for a Secretary of State candidate this cycle, backing Republican Jason Gant. 

According to the SDRL 2010 voter guide, Gant, a state legislator, has an extensive history of anti-choice legislation, including:

  • Opposed legislation seeking to allow human embryonic stem cell research in SD.
  • Co-sponsored and supported legislation requiring abortion facilities to offer sonograms to women seeking abortions.
  • Consistently voted for pro-life measures throughout his six years in SD Senate, including the SD Right to Life-drafted Trigger Ban* in 2005.

 “I believe whole-heartedly in the sanctity of human life, especially the unborn, the elderly, the chronically ill, and the terminally ill.  Respecting life is an endeavor that must never be diminished.  I am pro-life and I vote pro-life.”

Meanwhile, Gant’s opponent, Ben Nesselhuf, has a “consistently” anti-prolife record that even includes being the “prime sponsor of legislation seeking to allow deadly human embryonic stem cell research” in the state.  Nesselhuf’s unforgivable stance on abortion, according to SDRL?  He believes “Abortion is a decision that should be left up to a woman, her doctor, her partner, and her god.” (SDRL uses the lowercase “g.”)

Gant should probably consider himself lucky to have gotten so much favorable support from the group, considering they actually had a brief moment of butting heads in 2007, when Gant agreed that the state ban on abortion was good enough with narrow rape and mother’s health exceptions and SDRL said not a chance.  A now-archived article from the Los Angeles Times reported:

This spring, South Dakota’s Legislature considered new restrictions on abortion after voters rejected a ban that contained no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

Republican state Sen. Jason Gant argued for a ban with narrow exceptions, to appease voters who had been queasy about the earlier approach. "When you can stop 90% of abortions, that’s pretty good. We can try again at a later date to get the other 10%," Gant said.

But the state’s Right to Life group opposed the exceptions, arguing that "babies conceived of rape and incest deserve to live too," said Lena Jones, the organization’s office manager.

The deadlock killed the ban before it came to a vote in the state Senate.

And after the ban was defeated at the polls, Gant was quoted in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader as saying “that the state voiced [an] opinion and ‘we need to just go with that.’"  Not exactly the sort of pro-life rhetoric that would get SDRL up on its feet for an endorsement.

But of course, the real question is, why does anyone even care about the abortion stance of the Secretary of State in the first place?  After all, the Secretary of State doesn’t introduce bills or vote on legislation that could further an anti-choice agenda.  Why would SDRL be so interested in going out on a limb to take a race they never endorse for, and then pick a candidate they haven’t seen totally eye to eye on in the past, and paint him as the champion of ending abortions in the state?

Nesselhuf is just as puzzled by the endorsement, but believes it may be a sign that he has the best chance to win his race of any of the pro-choice candidates in the state.  Via email, Nesselhuf stated:

The SDRL takes a very hard and aggressive stance against anyone who doesn’t fall in line.  That is part of why they have success in the legislature but not with the majority of the public.

I also think that this is a testament to our chances of success in this election.  We have been working for almost a year and very aggressively getting our message out.  Many South Dakota political observers believe we stand the best chance of victory of any statewide race.  The far right is pulling out all the stops to try and derail this campaign.

Is the group simply looking for an endorsement it can put in its "win" column, or looking to settle a score with a politician that has spent ten years in the legislature, all of them backing policies that the group would find morally repugnant? 

Or is it because Gant is himself making reproductive issues part of the race?  Although he has spoken little of it on the trail, his campaign website makes it very clear that he not only is staunchly anti-choice, but that he sees it as as much of a "South Dakota Issue" as healthcare, agriculture and education.

One key platform of his election campaign, however, is "election reform," which in his case translates into making sure less South Dakota residents have voting access.  Gant is claiming that voter fraud is rampant, and is campaigning against same day registration and eliminating photo id requirements at the polls, something he appears to believe is a plot concocted by the "ACLU and George Soros."  Voting restrictions are laws that have traditionally benefited Republicans at the polls, and to SDRL could signify getting more anti-choice lawmakers into office.

Regardless of the real motivation behind this unusual endorsement, South Dakota Right to Life has thrown themselves even further into the ring as potential political kingmakers in the state.  We will learn in November if this new move pays off.