Tag Archives: abortion

The God Squad In The Courts

Rewire has a feature called “Gavel Drop,” with brief descriptions of recent lawsuits involving religion and the First Amendment, and providing links to longer descriptions of the parties and issues involved. This particular issue highlights the current (sad) state of “faith-based” America.

Allow me to share a few of the featured entries.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is now arguing in federal court to allow homeless shelters to deny services for transgender people. Downtown Soup Kitchen in Anchorage, Alaska, filed the religious freedom lawsuit against Anchorage earlier this year over the city’s nondiscrimination law; a case had been filed against the center after it denied a transgender woman admission to its shelter. The shelter director said that the woman was denied because she appeared drunk, but also that it would never accept a “biological man.”

In the linked article describing the lawsuit, ThinkProgress points out that ADF’s claim for relief  isn’t simply a request to allow this particular discriminatory act; it is a demand that the court overturn the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance in its entirety. It’s part and parcel of the Christian Right’s persistent attacks on any and all LGBTQ protections, in the name of “religious liberty.”

If a homeless transgender woman has to be thrown out into the cold Alaskan street in order to show proper deference to the religious sensibilities of the “Christians” who run the shelter, well, those are the breaks.

Speaking of religious liberty, the Gavel Drop also reported on this lawsuit from Illinois.

Illinois’ Fourth District Appellate Court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging a state law that provides funding to Medicaid and state employee health insurance plans that cover abortion services. Anti-abortion groups, represented by the Thomas More Society, are planning to appeal the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.

I note that, for these “good Christians,” religious liberty goes only one way: their way. Adherents of religions that permit abortion are to be denied the liberty to follow their beliefs.

Nothing more clearly demonstrates the hypocrisy of the “religious freedom” movement as piously promoted by people like Mike Pence and organizations like ADF and the Thomas More Society than this insistence that “liberty” means their right to have government impose their beliefs on everyone else.

The theologies of these “Christian” plaintiffs prohibit abortion (for them and for any of their neighbors); but those theologies evidently do allow flat-out lying in service of their “godly” goals. Their argument against the law included the repeated accusation that the measure promoted taxpayer-funded abortion services.

“Taxpayer-funded abortion” is a myth pedaled by abortion-rights foes that feeds on public ignorance about abortion funding. Two-thirds of the public is unaware the federal Hyde Amendment prohibits paying for abortions with federal Medicaid dollars, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Also among the lawsuits listed in the Gavel Drop was yet another effort to have government endorse Christianity by displaying a cross on public property.

The city of Pensacola, Florida, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and allow a large memorial cross to remain standing on public land in Bayview Park. Earlier this month, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court judge’s ruling that displaying the cross on publicly owned land violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The city of Pensacola is represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

These public monument cases are brought repeatedly, and just as repeatedly dismissed under a long line of precedents invoking the Establishment Clause. Not only do I fail to see how moving the cross to private property violates anyone’s  “liberty,” I fail to understand why the Christian Right is so dead-set on having the government endorse their brand of religion.

Okay, that’s a lie. I do understand.

They’re theocrats, just like the Taliban. They want government to post their symbols in order to remind the rest of us that this is their country, and the rest of us are just here by virtue of their forbearance.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I really get tired of these people.

File Under “Duh”

I know that evidence and data–let alone logic–are irrelevant to single-issue voters. This is especially true of the more rabid anti-choice warriors intent not just on preventing abortion but also on limiting women’s access to birth control.

Even reasonable anti-choice activists agree with the majority of Americans that easier access to birth control will reduce the incidence of abortion.

A recent study once again confirms that assertion.

Countries with the most restrictive abortion laws also have the highest rates of abortion, the study by the Guttmacher Institute found. Easier access to birth control drives down abortion rates, the report also finds.

Despite the fact that in his former life, Trump declared himself pro-choice , his Health and Human Services Department has reversed Obama era policies that made contraception more freely available and that used evidence-based approaches to fight teen pregnancy — over the objections of career health officials.

A 2012 study of more than 9,000 women found that when women got no-cost birth control, the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions fell by between 62 and 78 percent. But political appointees at HHS advocate for abstinence-only approaches, which have been shown not to affect unplanned pregnancy rates.

Confirmation that more birth control equals fewer abortions ought to elicit a “no shit, Sherlock” reaction. Abortions typically terminate pregnancies that were unwanted; avoid those unwanted pregnancies and you avoid their termination. Duh.

Given that both logic and evidence support measures to reduce the incidence of abortions by making birth control widely available and easy to access, the obvious question becomes: why are anti-choice zealots so determined to restrict access to contraception?

The only answer to that question that passes the smell test is opposition to women’s autonomy.

The belief that women are “lesser vessels” is often rooted in fundamentalist religious beliefs about the proper roles of men and women. In those communities, men are to rule and women are to submit. But non-fundamentalist culture also plays a role; for eons, prior to the development of reliable birth control, women of childbearing age were dependent upon men, and the social roles that evolved reflected that dependency. It hasn’t been all that long, in historical terms, that contraception freed women from biological inevitability, and allowed us to choose the trajectories of our own lives.

There are sincere people among those who oppose abortion, people who genuinely believe that a zygote or fetus is morally equivalent to a human person. They are entitled to their beliefs, and entitled to try to convince others of their validity (although in a religiously diverse country, where different religions take very different approaches to this issue, they are not entitled to impose those beliefs upon women who do not share them.)

The people who want to restrict women’s access to contraception, however, are not genuinely anti-abortion. They’re anti-woman.

 

 

 

“Pro Life” Really Isn’t

Those of us who champion individual autonomy and the right of a woman to make her own reproductive decisions often point to the hypocrisy of a movement that labels itself “pro life,” but expresses concern only when that “life” precedes birth.

Many of the same people who express touching concern for a blastula or fetus consistently oppose measures to ameliorate threats to the lives and health of the already-born. This disconnect strongly suggests that their real goal is control of women, not protection of life or the unborn.

Well, we have a new bit of evidence strengthening that claim of hypocrisy, and –unsurprisingly–it involves Mike Pence, Indiana’s contribution to the disaster that is the Trump Administration.

A bipartisan effort to stabilize the U.S. health-insurance markets collapsed last month after anti-abortion groups appealed directly to Vice President Mike Pence at the 11th hour, The Daily Beast has learned.

Amid opposition from conservatives in the House of Representatives, a group of pro-life activists met with Pence to lobby the Trump administration against supporting a health-insurance market-stabilization bill on the grounds that it does not contain sufficient language on abortion restrictions, according to sources with direct knowledge of the meeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was also in attendance at the Dec. 19 meeting, three of the sources said.

The next day, key lawmakers involved in crafting the legislation announced they were punting on the issue until 2018.

You may be wondering what the stabilization measure–which is intended to prevent thirteen million people from losing their health insurance due to a provision of the tax bill–has to do with abortion. And of course, in a sane world, the answer would be, nothing. But the supposedly “pro-life” activists who met with Pence last month were opposed to the bill because some of the subsidies in the stabilization legislation (known as cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments) might go to health plans that fund abortions.

This is how Pence’s Party–formerly known as the GOP–protects “life.”

These lawmakers are willing to see thirteen million Americans lose their health insurance if that’s what it takes to prevent private-sector insurance companies from covering abortions (many of which are medically indicated in order to save the life or health of the mother).

There are numerous studies which estimate the number of deaths that are a direct consequence of lack of health insurance.

A 2012 familiesUSA study shows that more than 130,000 Americans died between 2005 and 2010 because of their lack of health insurance. The number of deaths due to a lack of coverage averaged three per hour and the issue plagued every state. Other studies have shown those statistics to be high or low, but all studies agree: In America the uninsured are more likely to die than those with insurance.

So how, exactly, is blocking a measure that would prevent these very predictable deaths “pro life”? Elevating the value of the unborn over the value of existing men, women and children isn’t “pro life”–even if you believe that human life begins at the very instant that a sperm and egg unite–it is rather obviously “pro fetal life.”

More accurately, it’s a war on women’s autonomy. And like all wars, it will take the lives of many innocent, already-born people.

There are certainly people who are truly pro-life. They oppose abortion–but they also oppose the death penalty. They support full funding for CHIP.  They support programs to feed hungry children.

Fanatics like Pence aren’t pro-life in any meaningful sense. They are anti-women and pro-paternalism.

Compelling Honesty

It’s interesting how many people indignantly wrap themselves in the Free Speech provisions of the First Amendment in order to justify behaviors that–properly understood–aren’t really speech at all.

In all fairness, it can be difficult to distinguish between actions that are intended to communicate a message (protected) from actions that are committed through speech (not protected).

If you describe that cubic zirconium you are selling as an expensive diamond, the fact that your fraud involved the spoken word won’t turn your deception into a free speech issue. On the other hand, if you burn an American flag (assuming it’s yours to burn), you are clearly doing so in order to convey a message. (The content of that message is precisely why people get so angry.)

This little exercise in First Amendment philosophy is an introduction to an interesting case involving Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are pro-life organizations that often offer women incorrect, incomplete or misleading information about their reproductive options.

In response, some localities have passed legislation requiring CPCs to make disclosures to their clients. California, for example, passed the Reproductive FACT Act in 2015. Under this law, CPCs must notify clients of public resources available to prevent or terminate pregnancies. It also mandates that CPCs inform their patients if they are not licensed as a medical facility.

Anti-choice advocates have taken issue with these requirements. The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates has sued California’s attorney general on behalf of CPCs. In November 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it would hear the case.

The question the Court will have to decide is deceptively simple: does requiring Crisis Pregnancy Centers to disclose accurate information that counters or undermines their beliefs violate their First Amendment right to free speech?

At first blush, the idea of requiring speech to be truthful seems like a great idea. (Fox “news” anyone?) In practice, it’s difficult if not impossible to separate opinion from flat-out lying. After all, most lies aren’t as obvious as those constantly being told by Donald Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. In the case of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, however, the intent to mislead is pretty transparent.

A 2016 paper published in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology found that nearly half of the 85 websites surveyed promoted abstinence-only sexual education. Over 60 percent of these websites provided negative facts about condoms, including minimizing their efficacy and suggesting they break often, and less than 10 percent encouraged the use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

A larger examination of 254 CPC websites, published in Contraception in 2014, found that 80 percent provided at least one item of false or misleading information — most commonly, claiming links between abortion and mental health concerns.

A study published in 2017 in Women’s Health Issues focused on the websites of crisis pregnancy centers in Georgia. It reviewed all of the accessible websites of the CPCs in the state and found that more than half had “false or misleading statements regarding the need to make a decision about abortion or links between abortion and mental health problems or breast cancer.” Eighty-nine percent of sites did not indicate that their centers do not offer contraceptives or direct patients to resources where they might find them.

There is considerably more abortion research at the link.

The question that the Justices will have to weigh, however, is unrelated to the issue of reproductive choice–although attitudes about abortion will undoubtedly play an outsized role.

The legal issue to be resolved will apply in areas far removed from reproductive rights. What level of harm to the public justifies government interference with an advocacy organization’s communications? Do the lies being peddled rise to the level of fraud, as in our cubic zirconium example? Or should the risks to the “consumers” of these services be governed by the doctrine of caveat emptor–let the buyer (or in this case, the pregnant woman) beware? Should the imposition of government sanctions require intent–that is, should a finding of culpability require evidence that the people making the false claims know better?

I personally think that organizations willing to lie to women who are already distraught are despicable. But legal analysis must consider the consequences of a decision based upon that sort of emotional reaction.

Can the Supreme Court craft a decision that limits the ability of dishonest folks to prey on vulnerable women, without handing government a cudgel with which to beat the merely opinionated? And if so, what should be the burden of proof?

 

Tax Policy Winners And Losers

I’ve posted previously about the GOP’s tax “reform” plan, and some of the truly despicable provisions hidden in the fine print. As more details emerge, it appears that my list–like the one below–barely scratches the surface.

Whatever the arguments in favor of the $1 trillion in corporate tax breaks contemplated by the measure, the original idea–the justification for reducing the rate– was that the rate could be lowered if the loopholes that allow large profitable corporations to pay little or no tax despite the published rate were eliminated. Somehow, however, the current version of the “reform” bill leaves corporations with both lower rates and their loopholes.

Speaking of corporations, Dana Milbank reported a revealing exchange in a recent Washington Post column.

Individuals lose the ability to deduct state and local taxes, tax preparation, moving expenses and most medical expenses. But corporations — think of them as Very Important Persons with superhuman privileges — can still deduct these same expenses.

At Monday’s markup, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) quizzed a tax expert on this corporate exceptionalism:

“Will a teacher in my district who buys pens, pencils and paper for his students be able to deduct these costs from his tax returns under this plan?” He will not.

“Will a corporation that buys pens, pencils and papers for its workers be able to deduct those costs from its tax returns?” It will.

“Will a firefighter in my district be able to deduct the state and local sales taxes that she pays from her tax return?” She will not.

“Will a corporation be able to deduct sales taxes on business purchases?” It will.

“If a worker in my district had to move because his employer was forcing him to relocate . . . can he deduct his moving expenses under this plan?” He cannot.

“Can a corporation under this plan deduct outsourcing expenses incurred in relocating a U.S. business outside the United States?” It can.

We Americans just love our corporations….they’re people, you know.

And isn’t it nice that Republican Americans are so “pro-life”? (Well, they’re pro pre born life; once that little bugger emerges from the womb, they are considerably less solicitous.) Among the non-fiscal measures in the tax “reform” bill is one intended to “protect babies”–aka fetuses and fertilized eggs. You’d think these pro-life men (they’re all men) would do anything they could to support  adoption as an alternative to abortion. But you’d be wrong.

The House Republican tax reform bill would completely eliminate the adoption tax credit, which has been in the tax code since 1997. It was a bipartisan achievement pushed through by former Texas Republican Rep. Bill Archer, who was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Designed to help cover “reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and other expenses,” the credit is available for up to $13,460 per child.

Some employers also offer adoption assistance in the form of financial aid and paid leave time. As of now, this type of assistance is tax-exempt, but the proposed bill would make such benefits subject to taxation.

The bill would also make adoption assistance from employers — which usually takes the form of financial aid and paid leave time — taxable.

Words fail.

I’m less surprised by the measures that would effectively destroy graduate education; the current crop of Republicans considers educated people snotty elitists. GOP officeholders sneer at scientists, oppose research funding, and think college professors are unAmerican.

Most graduate students get through their degree programs depending on assistantships, tuition waivers and lots of ramen noodle dinners. As Forbes reports,

Currently, these tuition waivers are paid by the college directly to itself, on behalf of the graduate student, and are not counted as taxable income. Under the current “reform” proposal, tuition waivers would be taxed as regular income, making graduate school an unaffordable proposition except for those already independently wealthy.

And then there’s that pesky little detail that the Congressional Budget Office finds problematic: this monstrosity will add 1.7 trillion to the deficit. (And that’s evidently after robbing Medicare and Social Security…) If you are looking for some of those Republican “deficit hawks” of yore, you are probably out of luck.

On the other hand, if you’re wondering why Paul Ryan is reportedly optimistic about passing this Thanksgiving turkey, Representative Chris Collins explained it the other day.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) got points for honesty Tuesday while advocating for Republicans’ tax bill to slash the corporate tax rate and eliminate the estate tax, among other things.

“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Collins said.

I’m sure those donors are selfless patriots who simply want to see middle-class Americans get some tax relief. (And if you believe that, I have a swamp in Florida to sell you…)