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“New Life” Trumps “Existing Life” in the Modern Republican Party

1:06 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

“I believe that if you have to choose between new life and existing life, you should choose new life. The person who has had an opportunity to live at least has been given that gift by God and should make way for new life on earth.”

These are the words of the late Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the conservative Heritage Foundation and a driving force behind the creation of the movement we know today as the Religious Right. As the above quote implies, Weyrich had no patience for those in anti-choice circles who advocated for an abortion exception when the life of the pregnant woman was threatened.

This sentiment, voiced by Weyrich in 1984, has never entirely disappeared from some sectors of the anti-choice movement, though for quite some time, it was not a position widely spoken of. This is hardly surprising given that a huge majority of Americans support access to abortion in life-threatening situations.

However, the Republican Party’s official platform is one place where the absolute ban on any exceptions, including one to save a woman’s life, is retained.

 

Continue reading….

How Anti-Choice Is Paul Ryan? Check the Record

12:48 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Rep. Paul Ryan is against abortion, no exceptions. Paul Ryan would allow an exception for rape. Ryan doesn’t believe in birth control. Ryan only has three children, he must believe in birth control. Ryan is pro-life “from conception to natural death.”

Ever since the moment Mitt Romney picked Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, the media has been picking intricately through votes and statements in an attempt to nail down just exactly what it is that Ryan means when he says he’s “never going to not vote pro-life.” It’s been hard to pin — for every vote restricting a woman’s right to chose, there is an explanation provided by another right-wing columnist saying that you can’t “prove” it really means he stands where it appears he stands. With so much media attention paid to his draconian budget in the last two years, few reporters spent nearly the same detail pinning down exactly what he believed when it comes to reproductive rights.

There’s a reason for that, and that is how Ryan’s couches his own language when it comes to reproductive rights — language that allows everyone to see what they want to see. By saying he would “never not vote pro-life,” he has it both ways — supporters can say that he supports forcing women to give birth regardless of the circumstances, yet when opponents say he would do that, they point to his lack of public statements to support that argument.

It’s the “hiding in plain sight” theory. There is no reference to abortion as an issue on Ryan’s campaign website, and only one news clipping even mentioning it in his media section. He speaks of “moral fabric” and a need to return God to the public square, but avoids saying outright what falls into the moral categories that need to be renewed.

For those who support abortion rights, it’s easy to look at the votes he has cast and the bills he has cosponsored and say that clearly, Ryan is an opponent of abortion in all situations. After all, he cosponsored the “forcible rape” bill, the “let her die” act and has a perfect record with National Right to Life.

Opponents disagree. If they choose, they could cast his numerous votes to ban funding and access for abortion as just a sign of his fiscal hawkishness, a vote to protect the conscience of those who are religious, or a fight to protect the fetus being carried by its mother if the mother is a victim of a crime.

So who is right, and why is it so hard to discern?

Here are the things we know for sure:

Read the rest of this entry →

How HR 358, the Let Women Die Act 2011, Violates International Human Rights Standards

1:14 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

In a hospital in Nicaragua, after a total ban on abortion was passed, a woman with an ectopic pregnancy was allowed to languish, waiting for her fallopian tube to rupture before a doctor agreed to perform the procedure necessary to save her life and future fertility. Even though there was no doubt regarding the outcome of her pregnancy, the doctor refused to operate until the fetus was certifiably dead, and with no ultrasound available in that rural hospital, there was only one way to make sure.  

This is the world that Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) would like to bring to America with the passage of H.R. 358, the so-called “Protect Life Act,” a bill that would deny pregnant women access to emergency treatment, insurance coverage for abortion services and even information about how she could pay for an abortion. It’s bad enough that one member of Congress would be willing to put women’s lives at risk this way; that a majority of the House of Representatives voted for it is appalling.

While in the United States we may treat abortion restrictions as a political issue, elsewhere around the world, advocates and experts understand such restrictions to be public health and human rights issues. And in the United States this year, we have seen law after law passed that clearly violates international human rights standards. 

Contrast Pitts’ legislation with the report on legal restrictions on aspects of sexual and reproductive health presented to the United Nations on Monday by Anand Grover, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Health. The report states,

“Realization of the right to health requires the removal of barriers that interfere with individual decision-making on health-related issues and with access to health services, education and information, in particular on health conditions that only affect women and girls.” (Emphasis added.)

Indeed, the report highlights the growing global trend towards decriminalizing abortion.  Everywhere, that is, except in the United States.  In my home state of North Carolina this year, we have passed a number of barriers that “interfere with individual decision-making” on reproductive health: a mandatory waiting period, mandatory and biased counseling, and a forced ultrasound, all solely intended to place barriers and shame women who seek abortions, even if she has been raped or her life is in danger. 

Just in the first half of this year, states enacted some 80 measures to restrict access to abortion (more than double the previous record set in 2005 of 34), all of which seem to violate the human rights standards set in international agreements. They include extreme restrictions, such as the one in Ohio that would ban abortion once a heartbeat can be detected (six to 10 weeks’ gestation). Several states, including Kansas, Tennessee and North Dakota have banned the use of telemedicine (key to delivering health services to underserved rural areas) for dispensing medical abortion.  In Mississippi, a state ballot initiative, if passed, would mandate personhood from the moment of fertilization, possibly outlawing the most popular forms of contraception.  Bearing in mind that 99 percent of American women have used contraception during in their lifetimes, this law would result in the violation of the rights of millions of American women. 

Grover’s report was developed following a thorough review of health research, national laws, international agreements and opinions and rulings issued by human rights bodies – although it reads as if it were written about the United States:

“These laws make safe abortions and post-abortion care unavailable, especially to poor, displaced and young women. Such restrictive regimes, which are not replicated in other areas of sexual and reproductive health care, serve to reinforce the stigma that abortion is an objectionable practice.”

In the United States, there have been laws on the books for decades that specifically deny young and low-income women access to abortion. Parental consent laws force young women to seek their parents’ permission to have an abortion, regardless of their home situation. (Studies have shown that most teens will consult with a parent before deciding to terminate a pregnancy, but even those who risk violence or homelessness are still forced to produce at least one parents’ consent.) And the Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion, explicitly isolating one health care procedure for purely political reasons.

Amnesty International has created an international campaign to raise awareness about the toll the total ban on abortion is taking on women in Nicaragua. Is it time to create one for women in the United States?

The Let Women Die Bill of 2011: H.R. 358 Forces Women to Play Russian Roulette in Their Hospital Emergency Rooms

1:32 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Last week’s vote on H.R. 538, the Let Women Die Act of 2011, was a deeply disappointing new low for the House of Representatives, even if  the outcome was unsurprising given the chamber’s recent record of extremist, anti-woman bills.  The heated debate occasioned dueling Dear Colleague letters by Rep.’s Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and the author of the bill, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), that made competing claims about the critical issue of whether the bill newly imperils the lives of women by allowing institutions and doctors to refuse to provide care even in life-threatening emergencies.

The dispute concerns the present scope of patient protections offered by an anti-patient-dumping law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA. Schakowsky’s letter highlighted the issue by noting that the “bill would, in effect, strip EMTALA of its power to ensure that women in emergency situations receive abortion care at hospitals by making their right to health care secondary to the hospital’s ability to refuse to provide abortion care.” Pitts, on the other hand, claimed in his Dear Colleague that because EMTALA already includes a reference to the “unborn child,” then “EMTALA currently recognizes both lives.”

Who’s right? A basic review of the law says that Schakowsky is, by a mile.  EMTALA uses the words “unborn child” in three places; all three make clear that the protection is intended to assure that a hospital seeking to transfer a woman in “active labor” (as in the title of the Act) must assess any health risks associated with the transfer for both the woman in labor and the child she is about to deliver.  The law does not, as Pitts claims, confer a freestanding interest in the health of an “unborn child” that would allow hospitals to deny care to a woman experiencing a miscarriage.  If it did so, this aspect of the Pitts bill would be superfluous.

In fact, in this American Journal of Public Health article by Lori Freedman, a religiously-affiliated hospital that actively refused to complete a miscarriage and risked a woman’s health in doing so, was reported for an EMTALA violation when it sought to transfer the patient.

She notes:

“Dr B, an obstetrician-gynecologist working in an academic medical center, described how a Catholic-owned hospital in her western urban area asked her to accept a patient who was already septic [suffering from infection].

When she received the request, she recommended that the physician from the Catholic-owned hospital perform a uterine aspiration there and not further risk the health of the woman by delaying her care with the transport.

[From the doctor:] “Because the fetus was still alive, they wouldn’t intervene. And she was hemorrhaging, and they called me and wanted to transport her, and I said, ‘‘It sounds like she’s unstable, and it sounds like you need to take care of her there.’’

And I was on a recorded line, I reported them as an EMTALA violation. And the physician  [said], ‘‘This isn’t something that we can take care of.’’ And I [said], ‘‘Well, if I don’t accept her, what are you going to do with her?’’

[He answered], ‘‘We’ll put her on a floor [i.e., admit her to a bed in the hospital instead of keeping her in the emergency room]; we’ll transfuse her as much as we can, and we’ll just wait till the fetus dies.’’

This risky delay in care is caused by hospitals’ adherence to the Religious Directives put forward by the Catholic bishops – including in cases in which the Directives clearly conflict with commonly accepted medical standards.  The Directives specify that hospitals must wait until the fetal heart tone ceases before acting to complete a miscarriage, even if the pregnancy is clearly no longer viable.  Yet in the meantime, as in the case described by this doctor, women are at risk of becoming septic, a serious and life-threatening form of infection, and death.

One loophole that is rarely mentioned but is highlighted by the above story is that the protections of EMTALA cease to apply if a patient is admitted from the emergency room into the hospital, which may be one mechanism by which religiously affiliated hospitals currently escape the conflict while continuing to deny care.  In addition, if no one is seeking to transfer a patient, EMTALA is silent on the quality of care given to the patient, as courts have been clear that EMTALA does not, by itself, set out a standard by which to judge medical negligence. Ironically, then, if no physician seeks out a transfer to a facility willing to provide more appropriate care, thus risking a violation of EMTALA, patients may fall through the cracks, as  Freedman’s article describes.

The Pitts bill would also allow institutions to insist on policies that deny care to patients, even trumping the professional judgment and medical training of physicians. Freedman’s report tells one such story: a doctor appalled at the denial of care to a woman in the midst of miscarriage – a woman so ill that her eyes filled up with blood from the infection caused by the delay – subsequently quit his job in disgust. While his decision to resign assuaged his conscience, the next woman to find herself in a similar situation at that hospital may be even worse off, because the hospital has lost at least one doctor who prefers science-based medical care.

Nationally, one-sixth of hospital visits are to religiously-affiliated hospitals, that serve millions of people. The notion that care would differ so drastically from one emergency room to the next is out-of-step both with public health needs and with the beliefs of even religious adherents, who, polls indicate, agree with the broader public that access to medical care should not be restricted by religion. Women should not have to engage in a game of Russian roulette at their local hospital emergency room.

Only physicians, not institutions, have a conscience. Granting institutions a right of refusal merely guarantees that the very real consciences of doctors who choose to provide care consistent with their own beliefs and medical training will not be able to do so. Chillingly, the Pitts bill would ensure that hospitals’ institutional dictates, including those at odds with medical science, could override the consciences of the doctors who work for them, even when those dictates unreasonably risk women’s lives.

The USCCB and the US Congress: The Morally Blind Leading the Morally Bankrupt

1:26 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

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Just one glance at these headlines and you can easily see why Congress would look to the Catholic Church for moral leadership on the issue of abortion. As the Republican Taliban celebrates passage of HR 358, drastically restricting the ability of women to get insurance coverage for abortion—or even emergency care–other celebrants include the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In their righteous search to control women’s lives thank GOD Congressmen have the guidance of a church that excommunicated the doctor who provided an abortion for a nine year old Brazilian rape victim, but had no sanctions against the rapist. Thank GOD they are led by a church in which the ordination of a woman is a grave sin—on a par with the molestation of a child. Thank GOD they are the puppets of a church that claims the right of supposedly celibate men to control the most intimate aspects of a woman’s life including whether or not she uses birth control and how many children she has. And a church that, thank GOD, doesn’t seem particularly concerned with the role of men in any of this.

If the United States Congress didn’t have this leadership they would be forced to fall back on their own hatred of women.

Damn. Come to think of it, that could be enough.

House Passes H.R. 358, the “Let Women Die” Act of 2011

11:33 am 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.

Today the GOP-led House of Representatives, with the blessings and encouragement of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and extremist religious groups such as the Family Research Council, passed a bill in a vote of 251 to 172 that would, among other things, allow doctors and hospitals to “exercise their conscience” by letting pregnant women facing emergency medical conditions die.

Yes. Die.

This is what the Republicans called the “Protect Life Act.”  And no, I am not kidding.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it what it is… “a savage assault on women’s health.”

Fifteen Democrats voted for what women’s groups are calling the “Let Women Die” Act.  These include anti-choice Congressmen Jason Altmire (PA), Sanford Bishop (GA), Dan Boren (OK), Jerry Costello (IL), Mark Critz (PA), Henry Cuellar (TX), Joe Donnelly (IN), Tim Holden (PA), Dan Lipinski (IL), Jim Matheson (UT), Mike McIntyre (NC), Nick Rahall (WVA), Mike Ross (AR), Collin Petersen (MN), and Heath Shuler (D-NC).

“Extremists prevailed today in the House of Representatives,” said Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women and Families, “proving again that they are badly out-of-touch with the majority of Americans who want lawmakers to focus on economic recovery, jobs and promoting, rather than restricting, affordable, quality health care ­– not [on] an extreme, anti-woman agenda.”

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called passage of the bill yet another reminder of how playing politics with women’s health and privacy is a priority for Speaker John Boehner.

“Americans are facing real challenges, yet House Speaker John Boehner is ignoring the public’s call for Congress to focus on jobs, “said Keenan. “Instead, he is coming up with new ways to give politicians more control over our personal, private decisions. The House’s attacks on women’s freedom and privacy are out of touch with our nation’s values and priorities.”

The bill, H.R. 358, about which we have written extensively, revives the earlier failed Stupak amendment, which would force health plans to drop comprehensive coverage in state health insurance exchanges, cutting off millions of women from the benefits they receive today and prevent women from paying for health insurance with abortion coverage with their own money.

H.R. 358 contains other provisions revealing complete disregard for women’s health and lives. It permits states to enact sweeping refusal laws that would allow health plans to refuse to cover women’s preventive services, including birth control, without cost-sharing — undoing a new protection under health reform supported by 66 percent of Americans.  It also codifies and significantly expands an already expansive refusal clause (also known as the Weldon amendment) without any regard for patient rights or protections. Under current law (through the 2004 Weldon amendment), hospitals, health care facilities, and insurance plans can refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.  The Weldon amendment has no protections for patients to ensure they have access to care and information in a timely manner.  H.R. 358 codifies this unfair and discriminatory provision.  H.R. 358 further allows health care entities–hospitals, clinics–to refuse to “participate in” abortion care.  This could mean that a hospital employee with no medical training or role in a patient’s treatment decisions could refuse to process bills, handle medical records, or even set up an examination room for a patient seeking abortion care.

And finally, it overrides protections for pregnant women under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.  EMTALA was enacted in 1986 to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay, including women in active labor. Under EMTALA, hospitals must stabilize a pregnant patient who, for example, is facing an emergency obstetric condition or life-threatening pregnancy and either treat her–including an emergency abortion–or if the hospital or staff objects, to transfer her to another facility that will treat her.

H.R. 358 overturns decades of precedent guaranteeing people access to lifesaving emergency care, including abortion care and says its ok that a pregnant woman fighting for her life be left to die.

Read it again.  It is that breathtaking.

As Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) stated during floor debate, had this law been in effect 20 years ago she might not be here, because she was one of those women who needed an emergency abortion to save her life.

But the real lives of real women don’t seem to be of great concern to the predominantly white male Congress.

“This bill is a collection of dangerous ideas that will undermine women’s health,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  “Most devastating, the bill eliminates protections for patients seeking care in emergency circumstances, and would allow a hospital to deny lifesaving abortion care to a woman, even if a doctor deems it necessary.”

President Obama has said he would veto the bill if it were to reach his desk. “The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 358,” said the statement of policy put out by the White House, “because, as previously stated in the Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 3, the legislation intrudes on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that women and their families have today.”

“America’s women and families are counting on the Senate to reject this measure,” said Ness of the National Partnership, “and, if necessary, for President Obama to make good on his promise to veto it.”

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Follow Jodi Jacobson on Twitter: @jljacobson