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Pennsylvania Governor Poised to Sign Bill That Would Push Women to Purchase Non-Existent ‘Abortion Riders’

11:49 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Chalk art: Never Going Back (Coat Hanger in NO sign)

Pennsylvania is the another front in the war on women.

As we saw with 2011’s targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) bill, the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania legislature routinely ignores protests from medical associations and professionals in passing bad-faith bills that politicize and endanger women’s health.

Now, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, already suffering low approval ratings in large part because of a significant gender gap, is poised to sign HB 818. The bill intrudes on the free market by prohibiting private insurance companies that plan to sell health-care plans through Pennsylvania’s forthcoming state health insurance exchange from covering abortion, even in cases of medical emergency, health of the mother, and severe fetal anomaly.

Even more troubling, lawmakers supporting HB 818 are attempting to deceive the public by offering a non-solution: allowing Pennsylvania women to purchase abortion-specific riders from private companies not participating in the exchange.

The problem is that such abortion riders do not appear to exist.

HB 818

Even though the state exchange, established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), won’t be set up until next year, Pennsylvania lawmakers have been working on versions of the bill since Corbett’s first week in office back in 2011.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong), insists HB 818 simply underscores existing policy that already prohibits tax dollars from funding abortion. There’s no reason for the “small government” party to propose redundant legislation—except, of course, as cover for something else.

HB 818 doesn’t address tax dollars, which are indeed not allowed to be used to fund abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, and endangerment to the life of the mother) under the Hyde Amendment, Pennsylvania state law, and terms set within the ACA. What it will do is require businesses participating in the health-care exchange to offer sub-standard insurance plans to women—which, in turn, means the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania women expected to purchase coverage through the exchange won’t be able to spend their own money to purchase industry-standard medical care through the exchange.

No Health Exceptions

Tinkering with the free market in order to bully insurance companies into economically hijacking working women’s constitutional right to abort an unwanted pregnancy is bad enough, but HB 818 goes even further, restricting physician-advised terminations of wanted pregnancies complicated by unexpected disease or accident.

Pennsylvania lawmakers explicitly rejected an amendment to add health of the woman as an exception to the narrow restrictions, which only allow abortion coverage “where necessary to avert the death of the woman” and in cases of incest and rape, providing the rape victim already reported the assault to the authorities. (The fact that many victims often don’t report aside, protocol of communication between police, insurers, doctors, and patients is unclear.)

When lawmakers voted against a medical emergency amendment offered by state Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), they voted against insurers covering the expense of medically advised terminations in cases when a pregnant woman faces, for example, a cancer diagnosis, diabetes, a car accident, or discovers a severe fetal anomaly.

“Let’s say a woman was pregnant [and] her water broke prematurely and the baby would not survive. She would not be able to get an abortion,” Sen. Schwank told RH Reality Check. At least, not without paying out-of-pocket for the procedure, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“These are already tragic situations,” said Schwank. “These are babies that are wanted, and to have to add this anguish on to the situation. … I can’t understand why we couldn’t get this through.”

“Certainly I understand that there are extenuating circumstances,” Oberlander said in a PCN interview defending the bill. “However, [a health exception is a] loophole wide enough you can ride a semi truck through. Women experience a lot of different issues and side effects from a pregnancy.”

Seemingly frustrated with questions about the bill, Oberlander added, “It’s not rocket science.” Well, it’s not medical science, either; it’s religion-based health care influenced by special interests. Specifically, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops, and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania lobbied hard for HB 818 and against the health amendment.

“I hear it in my colleagues,” state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), who has spoken out against the bill, told RH Reality Check, “the frustration that they continue to get [calls from the Catholic Conference], especially since the Affordable Care Act took care of everything in terms of public funding. No matter where it comes from, no public funding can be utilized for abortion.”

Two Democrats, state Sens. Tim Solobay of Canonsburg and Richard Kasunic of Fayette and Somerset, voted against the health amendment, which lost by two votes.

Rep. Oberlander also insists the bill is “consistent with the will of the people.” But 2011 polling conducted by Susquehanna Polling & Research reveals otherwise. When asked whether or not they support insurance companies participating in the exchange covering abortion “to protect the health of the woman,” 79 percent of respondents said yes.

What Abortion Riders?

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House 20-Week Abortion Ban Hearing a ‘Farce,’ Says Leading Democrat

10:29 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Thursday on a bill that would impose an unconstitutional nationwide ban on abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization. Four witnesses sat at the table during that hearing, but there was really only one person who mattered for the Republican lawmakers—whose aim, ultimately, is to outlaw all abortions. That person was Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania physician now serving a life sentence for murder and manslaughter.

US Capitol Building

US Capitol Building

According to Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, under whose jurisdiction the hearing was called, Gosnell is “not an anomaly in this gruesome Fortune 500 enterprise of killing unborn children.” The rogue doctor, who was roundly denounced by pro-choice activists as soon as the horrific conditions of his clinic came to light, is, for Franks, “the true face of abortion on demand in America.”

Using Gosnell as justification, Franks has retooled his proposed “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act”—previously introduced as a measure specific to Washington, D.C.—to apply to all 50 states. A D.C. 20-week ban has also been introduced in the Senate, although it is highly unlikely to come up for a vote.

If all abortion providers were like Gosnell, of course, they could be prosecuted under existing criminal laws, as Gosnell was. But they’re not—and that’s why House Republicans want to create a way to prosecute them. The Pain-Capable Act would subject doctors who perform abortions after 20 weeks to criminal prosecution, jail time, and monetary penalties. It would provide a cause of action for a woman who has an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy—or her husband, boyfriend, or one-night stand, as well as her family—to sue the doctor, including for punitive damages.

By pegging the gestational time-limit to disproven claims about fetal pain (which medical experts agree is not possible before the third trimester), the bill would lay the basis for limiting abortions even earlier in pregnancy, based on even more questionable science, as demonstrated at Franks’ hearing.

Maureen Condic, a University of Utah scientist who also opposes embryonic stem-cell research, testified that it is “uncontested that a fetus experiences pain as early as eight weeks.” By continually arguing that fetal pain is experienced far earlier than the established medical evidence, Condic did provide proof of something else: that Republicans’ ultimate goal is to outlaw abortion far earlier than 20 weeks.

The bill proposed by Franks contains no exceptions for the health of a woman who needs an abortion after 20 weeks, raising the specter of a woman (or the parents of a minor) suing a doctor who, in an emergency, saved her from horrific health consequences. It also provides no exceptions for rape or incest. The woman, the man by whom she is pregnant, or the woman’s family members could even seek a court order barring the doctor from performing abortions in the future.

Another of the Republicans’ three witnesses, anti-choice activist Jill Stanek, claimed that the Gosnell case is “evidence that the lines between illegal infanticide and legal feticide, both via abortion, have become blurred.”

By equating Gosnell’s criminal activity with all abortion, Franks and his supporters attempt to elide the fact that their bill is patently unconstitutional, as Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), noted. Just this week the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a similar law out of Franks’ home state of Arizona.

Franks’ obvious aim is to test that conclusion, by forcing yet another legal challenge to Roe v. Wade. But he also seeks to enhance his position—at least in the court of public opinion—by attempting to persuade the public that if Gosnell, who performed illegal abortions and killed infants born alive, was found guilty of murder, all providers of abortion services must be similarly guilty.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the subcommittee’s ranking member, strongly voiced his opposition to Franks’ claims. “[W]hat Dr. Gosnell did had nothing to do with abortion; it was murder,” Nadler said.

Calling the hearings a “farce,” Nadler noted that the Democrats, as the minority in the House, were not permitted by Franks to call more than one witness, while the three witnesses called by Republicans presented what Nadler called “false and misleading” medical evidence.

The one witness Democrats were permitted was Christy Zink, who recounted the heart-rending story of how she and her husband were informed during her 21st week of pregnancy that the fetus she was carrying had a lethal abnormality, agenesis of the corpus callosum. Zink said that if brought to term, her baby would have been born missing a part of its brain.

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A Gosnell Amendment? Jennifer Rubin Plays Doctor and Legislator—and Fails

12:35 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Kermit Gosnell mugshot

The Gosnell case shouldn't inspire legislators to crack down on reproductive freedom.

There are two roles anti-choicers like to play for which they are ill-equipped. First, they like to play doctor. And second, they like to play God. In doing so, they spread outright lies about both abortion and contraception to mislead and whip the public into a frenzy about sex, pregnancy, and childbirth. And then, believing themselves to be the righteous ones, they seek to capitalize on their self-created panics to make public health and medical policy for the country based solely on emotion, facts be damned. Their end goal, as they make clear, is to outlaw abortion and contraception no matter the costs to public health, women’s lives, or society writ large.

The trial of Kermit Gosnell provides anti-choicers and their allies with a perfect platform for their efforts. In Gosnell, they have an unethical, unscrupulous criminal acting as a doctor. He preyed on women too poor to seek early, safe abortion care, ran a filthy “clinic,” and conducted illegal abortions during which, it is alleged, some infants were born alive and killed. In their quest to make safe, legal abortion care as inaccessible as possible, anti-choicers are now seeking to sway public policy by conflating safe abortion care with Gosnell’s atrocities, to tar all legitimate providers of safe abortion care as Gosnell clones, and to use a criminal case as a justification to drive legitimate providers out of business.

One recent example of this effort comes courtesy of Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, who, in a column Wednesday, suggested several ways to further diminish access to safe, legal abortion care in the United States through what she calls a “Gosnell amendment.” If you read the piece, it is clear she has no idea what she is talking about.

Rubin, for example, calls for changes in Medicaid but appears not to understand how Medicaid works in the first place. She also calls for changes in federal funding of abortions, but appears not to understand that current law already severely restricts public funding of abortion.

She writes:

First, all Medicaid and other federal support for abortion services should come with caveats—health standards (of the type Pennsylvania refused to issue and enforce) and appropriate training for all personnel. Second, federal taxpayer dollars should not go for late-term abortions.

Let’s start out by making clear that this is the kind of grasping for irrelevant straws I described above (using the existence of a criminal to tar and feather an entire field of professionals who have no relationship to the criminal activity). For one thing, as confirmed in a phone call today to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and notwithstanding the fact that what he did was illegal in the first place so the case illustrates nothing about safe abortion care, Gosnell was not receiving Medicaid payments for women seeking abortion. In fact, in 2010, there were only seven abortions in the entire state of Pennsylvania paid for by state tax funds, and no federally funded abortions anywhere in the state that year. As in zero. Zip.

But no mind: Rubin claims that Gosnell proves there are problems with federal Medicaid funding of abortion care, because eliminating Medicaid funding of abortions for any low-income woman under any circumstance is high on the anti-choice agenda and Gosnell gives them a platform for their arguments.

As for regulations and “health standards,” both the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services and state Medicaid agencies already work together both to certify and regulate Medicaid providers of all kinds, and both medical societies and advisory boards at the state and federal level set standards for care. Does this mean there is never any fraud? Of course not: Republican Rick Scott, the current governor of Florida, was implicated in one of the biggest Medicare frauds in the country in the late ’90s, showing that laws on the books are in fact broken until evidence is accumulated to bring a case. It was not lack of law or regulation, but rather lack of enforcement that allowed Gosnell to carry on for so long. Changes to Medicaid would therefore not have prevented and will not prevent past, current, or future quacks or criminals from operating in such a capacity until they are caught, just as homicide laws will never prevent all homicides and laws against arson won’t eliminate arsonists. Laws and regulations are meant both to define and to hopefully reduce criminal activity but will never eliminate it.

Rubin’s suggestion that federal taxpayer dollars should not go for abortions also is a head-scratcher, since the Hyde Amendment already forbids the use of federal funds for abortions except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. This law has guided public funding for abortions for low-income women under joint federal and state programs since 1977. At a minimum, states must cover those abortions that meet the federal exceptions. States also are free to expand coverage of Medicaid funding of abortion for other reasons, using their own funds. Pennsylvania does not offer expanded Medicaid coverage for abortion.

Moreover, the system in Pennsylvania (as in many states) is such that even in cases of rape and incest it is virtually impossible to get reimbursed for a Medicaid-eligible abortion. As Claire Keyes, former director of a clinic in Pennsylvania, told RH Reality Check via email:

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The Media and the Gosnell Case: A Case of Insecurity and a Misinformation Campaign

12:20 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Pile of newspapers

A journalist looks at the barriers to reporting on women's reproductive freedom.

In recent days, amidst cries of a media “blackout,” a number of journalists have admitted to either missing or dismissing the story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell over the past two years. As one of the many journalists who has been covering the Gosnell story since it broke in early 2011, all I can say is: We tried to get the story out there. But more importantly, this politics-of-media framework distracts from the circuitous politics that enabled, and resulted from, Gosnell’s actual crimes and the women who were affected.

What Media Blackout?

After spending much of 2010 interviewing 58 witnesses, in January 2011 the Philadelphia district attorney’s office published a 281-page report accusing Kermit Gosnell of grotesque, depraved crimes.

There was blood on the floor. A stench of urine filled the air. A flea-infested cat was wandering through the facility, and there were cat feces on the stairs. Semi-conscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room, where they sat on dirty recliners covered with bloodstained blankets. All the women had been sedated by unlicensed staff — long before Gosnell arrived at the clinic — and staff members could not accurately state what medications or dosages they had administered to the waiting patients. Many of the medications in inventory were past their expiration dates.

Fetal remains were stored in milk jugs and cat food containers. A janitor admitted he routinely pulled fetal parts out of pipes. Unlicensed, untrained staff, including a high school student, pumped cheap, powerful drugs into the veins of women who were chemically coaxed into zombie-like stupors that sometimes lasted days.

Last week, Kristen Powers published an op-ed in USA Today that sparked a Twitter shame campaign, directly asking prominent national journalists why they hadn’t covered the case. And it worked. Now, more than three years after the raid and more than two years after the grand jury report, some national journalists who ignored the case entirely are suddenly wildly interested.

After years of coverage from outlets in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, outlets focused on women’s health issues, and yes, mainstream media outlets, apparently all it took to catch the attention of writers such as Slate‘s Dave WeigelThe Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf, and Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg was to target their collective egos — specifically, their insecurity about being perceived as having a liberal bias.

Weigel, one of the first writers to develop a sudden interest in Gosnell after Powers’ piece, wrote that when he read about Gosnell back in 2011, he didn’t “see a political story to chase.”

At 3801 Lancaster, the site of Gosnell’s clinic, patients chose their medicine and painkillers a la carte. In other words, the more cash a patient could give Gosnell, the more painkiller she could get. The poorer the patient, the more she would suffer. With all the talk about the Affordable Care Act, you’d think that such starkly stratified access to quality health care would be an interesting political story. The story touches on poverty, abortion, civil rights, state rights, healthcare, increasing inequality and race, to name a few topics of political interest that, if nothing else, came up quite a bit during the presidential election.

What Weigel really meant, of course, is that he didn’t see a story worth chasing. “Bored media,” indeed.

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