Conservative Activist Court Rules That Employers Can Impose Their Religious Views On Employees In Hobby Lobby Case

Republicans have long claimed that Roe v. Wade was an act of an activist court to impose liberal views upon them, energizing many religious conservatives to turn out to vote for them. Today’s Supreme Court decision allowing come companies to avoid the requirements in the Affordable Care Act to include contraception on religious grounds might do the opposite. This decision will undoubtedly anger many women who will see this as meaning that their access to contraception coverage is dependent upon their employer, while the Affordable Care Act was intended to free them of this limitation and provide access to affordable contraception. It also highlights what has been clear for years that the agenda of the religious right is to block not only abortion but contraception.

Mother Jones has gathered eight of the best lines in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in the Hobby Lobby case:

  • Ginsburg wrote that her five male colleagues, “in a decision of startling breadth,” would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage”
  • “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”
  • “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”
  • “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”
  • “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”
  • “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”
  • “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Think Progress pointed out how this is not a victory for religious freedom and hurts people of faith:

But while conservatives would have the American public believe that protecting Hobby Lobby is about protecting all religious people, the reality is that today’s ruling actually hurts people of faith. In fact, a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey conducted in early June found that a substantial majority of almost every major U.S. Christian group support the idea that publicly-held corporations and privately-owned corporations should be required to provide employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost. This is likely why so many progressive Christian leaders have vocally opposed Hobby Lobby in the press, why Americans United for the Separation of Church and State submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court opposing Hobby Lobby on behalf of nearly 30 religious organizations, and why both the Jewish Social Policy Action Network and the American Jewish Committee submitted their own amicus briefs decrying the corporation’s position.

And while white evangelicals were an outlier in the PRRI poll — only 40 percent of evangelical respondents supported the ACA’s contraception mandate for privately-owned corporations — a sizable cadre of conservative Christians have publicly articulated nuanced, faith-based opposition to the case in recent months, drawing attention to the fact that Hobby Lobby only speaks for a small minority of people of faith in America. David Gushee, an evangelical Christian professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, offered an extensive treatment of the case in the Associated Baptist Press in April. He examined the issue from the perspective of a Christian theologian, noting that any attempt to broaden the legal status of businesses to include religious exemptions — however well-intentioned — is inconsistent, dangerous, and unfair to other religious Americans.

“One way to look at it is this: The whole point of establishing a corporation is to create an entity separate from oneself to limit legal liability,” he writes. “Therefore, Hobby Lobby is asking for special protections/liability limits that only a corporation can get on the one hand, and special protections that only individuals, churches and religious organizations get, on the other. It seems awfully dangerous to allow corporations to have it both ways.“

In addition to fearing the social implications of a pro-Hobby Lobby ruling, other evangelical Christians take umbrage with the theological premise undergirding their case — namely, that opposing the ACA mandate is somehow an extension of a pro-life position. Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of evangelicals, wrote in the Huffington Post this weekend that evangelicals who support Hobby Lobby “are not actually being pro-religious freedom or pro-life.” Similarly, Julia K. Stronks, evangelical Christian and political science professor at Whitworth University, teamed up with Jeffrey F. Peipert, a Jewish family-planning physician, to pen an op-ed for Roll Call earlier this month in which they argue that granting Hobby Lobby religious exemption will actually lead to more abortions. They write:

Although the owners of these for-profit corporations oppose the contraceptive requirement because of their pro-life religious beliefs, the requirement they oppose will dramatically reduce abortions. … Imagine a million fewer unintended pregnancies. Imagine healthier babies, moms and families. Imagine up to 800,000 fewer abortions. No matter your faith or political beliefs, our hunch is that we can all agree that fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions would be a blessing.

Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical Christian writer and blogger for the Religion News Service, went even further in his theological challenge to the case, arguing that conservative evangelicals shouldn’t call businesses “Christian” in the first place.

“The New Testament never—not one time—applies the ‘Christian’ label to a business or even a government,” he writes. “The tag is applied only to individuals. If the Bible is your ultimate guide, the only organization one might rightly term ‘Christian’ is a church. And this is only because a church in the New Testament is not a building or a business, but a collection of Christian individuals who have repented, believed on Christ, and are pursuing a life of holiness.”

These voices represent the majority of religious Americans who insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting “religious liberty.” Instead, it’s just a victory for one kind of religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for the wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews — not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores — their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.

 

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McConnell Promises Conservatives That Republicans Will Work To Restrict Abortions If They Take Control Of Senate

With control of the Senate up for grabs, The Hill reports on one key reason why it is important for Democrats to get out to vote. Mitch McConnell vows to escalate Republican efforts to restrict reproductive rights and promote further government intrusion in the private lives, and bodies, of women:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised Saturday to focus more attention on limiting abortions if Republicans take control of the Senate in November.

Speaking to the National Right to Life Convention in his home state of Kentucky, the Senate’s top Republican suggested Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has blocked the upper-chamber from voting on bills that would limit women’s rights to abortion, according to conservative website Townhall.com.

But McConnell said he would push abortion-limiting legislation to pressure President Obama to take a stand on the issue.

“For six years, the president has been isolated from this growing movement,” McConnell said. “He will be forced to listen to the cause that’s brought us all here this morning. Senate Dems would be forced to take a stand.”

I fear that the Republicans will really do this, as opposed to their empty promises to work to create more jobs when they took control of the House. Undoubtedly Obama will take a stand and veto such legislation.

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Peter Beinart Says It All: Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Bush Clinton

Peter Beinart has an article on A Unified Theory of Hillary in today’s issue of National Journal.The entire article is worth reading but one line really sums up the article and my overall opinion of Hillary Clinton: “Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.” He also pointed out how her tunnel vision “might produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush.”

Beinart does have also have some praise for Hillary Clinton as being tough-minded, and does feel she might have a better chance of dealing with Congress than other recent Democratic presidents. Looking back to the  years when Bill was in the White House, and even earlier, he had this to say:

From their days in Arkansas, Hillary took the lead in combating the scandalmongers who threatened Bill’s career. Her default position was single-minded and relentless. She repeatedly urged her husband’s advisers to meet attacks on Bill’s character by going after the character of his opponents. (According to Bernstein, in 1992 she urged the campaign to fan rumors about George H.W. Bush’s infidelity.) It was Hillary who called in Dick Morris when Bill was losing his bid for reelection as governor in 1980, and who became Morris’s point of contact when the Clintons entered the White House. According to Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.’s biography Her Way, when a liberal Arkansas staffer objected to Morris’s presence, Hillary responded, “If you want to be in this kind of business, this is the kind of person you have to deal with.”

Tough-minded, but also showing the lack of principle she is known for.

Clinton has a history of making big mistakes on the big issues, such as her handling of health care reform:

Hillary’s failure to see that her model, which she had developed in Arkansas, was not working and needed to be altered midstream. As in Arkansas, Hillary—now aided by Magaziner—kept tight control of the process. At task force meetings, Bernstein notes, participants were forbidden from copying draft documents or, in many cases, even taking notes. The secrecy alienated not only members of Congress, health care activists, and the press, but key figures in the Clinton administration as well. Hillary and Magaziner both knew a great deal about health care policy. But neither knew as much about health care politics as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, or Office of Management and Budget Director Leon Panetta. Yet because of the task force’s secrecy, and because they feared directly confronting the president’s wife, Bentsen, Panetta, Shalala, and others in the administration often felt marginalized. As Haynes Johnson and David Broder document in The System—their indispensable book on the health care battle—Clinton officials angered by their lack of influence repeatedly leaked damaging information to a press corps angered by its lack of access.

Her biggest mistake was in getting her husband to agree to promise to veto anything other than what Hillary wanted, despite the fact that the Republican counter-proposal was extremely similar to the Affordable Care Act passed under Barack Obama, and would have served as a point to negotiate from at the time rather than having to wait until just recently to achieve health care reform. Some Clinton staffers recommended considering more modest proposals from moderate Democrats when it became clear that her entire package could not pass in Congress.

But Hillary resisted switching course, and she and Magaziner won the day. In his State of the Union address the following January—at Hillary’s urging and over Gergen’s opposition—Bill pledged to veto any health care bill that did not provide universal health coverage, even though key figures in his own party already believed that was the only kind of health care bill Congress would pass.

Hillary proceeded to move to the right to counter the false impression spread by the right that she was a left-wing radical.

IF HILLARY’S FAILURE to improvise contributed to the demise of health care reform, it also contributed to her greatest foreign policy blunder—her support for the Iraq War—and her subsequent loss to Barack Obama in 2008.

As with health care reform, Hillary’s transition from first lady to elected official relied on a clear plan, a key component of which was: Disprove the caricature of herself as a left-wing radical (an effort made easier by the fact that the caricature had never been remotely true). In her New York Senate race, Tomasky notes, Hillary ran to Rudy Giuliani’s right on abortion: She supported parental-notification laws; he did not. In the Senate, she cosponsored legislation with former impeachment champion Sam Brownback to study the effects of mass media on children and hired a staffer to reach out to abortion foes.

Clinton has also come under criticism recently for not supporting marriage equality until 2013, long after this became the politically safe position to take. She has most recently received unfavorable criticism for her handling of an interview with Terry Gross on this subject, although after listening to the interview I did not feel she did as badly as many others have written.

For the right to call Hillary Clinton a left-wing radical is even more absurd than their current claims that Barack Obama is a socialist. How would they respond if an actual leftist were to become president?

Beinart went on to describe how, after 9/11, Clinton joined Joe Lieberman on the far right of the Democratic Party, going as far as to claim 9/11 as justification for the war in Iraq and failing to recognize her mistake until virtually everyone else had abandoned her original view:

Almost as soon as the twin towers fell, Hillary began staking out positions on the right edge of her party. On Sept. 12, from the floor of the Senate, she warned—in language similar to George W. Bush’s—that regimes that “in any way aid or comfort [terrorists] whatsoever will now face the wrath of our country.” As Gerth and Van Natta detailed, Hillary did not just vote to authorize war with Iraq—something most other nationally ambitious Democrats did as well—she justified her vote by citing Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaida, a claim echoed by only one other Senate Democrat, Joe Lieberman.

Even once it became clear that governing postwar Iraq would be far harder than the Bush administration had predicted, Hillary gave little ground. In a December 2003 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she called her Iraq decision “the right vote” and insisted that “failure is not an option.” As late as February 2005, when Iraq was already in civil war, she drew attention to the “many parts of Iraq that are functioning quite well” and warned that it “would be a mistake” to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

In bucking her party’s liberal base, Hillary almost certainly believed she was doing the right thing. She was “cursed,” she declared, when explaining her refusal to join John Edwards’s 2007 call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, “with the responsibility gene.” Hillary’s intellectual failure lay in her inability to recognize that the definition of “responsibility” she had developed during the 1990s, with its emphasis on American freedom of action and the utility of military force, was being abused and misapplied in Iraq. Her political failure lay in her inability to see how dramatically the center of gravity in her party was shifting away from her point of view.

As the situation in Iraq went south, liberal activists—enraged at the Democratic Party’s ideologically hawkish, politically submissive leaders—launched an intraparty rebellion. The first sign came in 2003, when blogs like Daily Kos and activist groups like MoveOn.org powered Howard Dean’s stunning insurgency against a field of Washington Democrats who had backed the war. Yet during that period, Hillary and her top advisers were remarkably slow to recognize that the ground was shifting underneath their feet, and that the centrist strategy they had laid out at the beginning of her Senate career was now dangerously outdated.

Clinton’s failure to recognize how the Democratic party was changing could be seen in her choice of Mark Penn to be chief strategist for her campaign: “Hillary put her fate in the hands of a consultant who not only discounted their influence but loathed them.” Her presidential campaign only reinforced suspicion of her among many liberals:

But while she may have had no good way to discuss her Iraq vote, Hillary could have at least signaled to angry liberals that she would act differently on Iran. Instead, she picked a fight over Obama’s willingness to meet Tehran’s leaders without preconditions, a fight that to many liberals confirmed that Obama would change Bush foreign policy while Hillary represented more of the same.

More broadly, Hillary’s campaign failed to adequately recognize that her Iraq vote had convinced many liberals that she lacked the courage of her convictions. As an actress playing Hillary quipped on Saturday Night Live in January 2007, “I think most Democrats know me. They understand that my support for the war was always insincere.” In that environment, Hillary’s unwillingness to embrace controversial liberal causes for fear that they’d be used against her in the general election became a character issue. Arguably, the key moment in Hillary’s demise came at a Drexel University debate on Oct. 30, when she refused to forthrightly endorse New York state’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and was slammed by her opponents and the press for trying to have it both ways. Eleven days later, in perhaps his most important speech of the primary campaign, Obama wowed a Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, declaring that “not answering questions because we are afraid our answers won’t be popular just won’t do.” At a time when Democratic primary voters were hungry for authenticity and backbone, Penn’s efforts to inoculate Hillary against right-wing attack convinced many liberals that she lacked both.

Beinart concluded (emphasis mine):

NONE OF THIS is to suggest that Hillary would be an ineffective president—only that her successes and failures would look different from Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s. Bill’s failures often owed to indiscipline. Obama’s have stemmed in part from aloofness. If past is prologue, Hillary’s would stem in significant measure from unwillingness to change course. Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Her successes as president, on the other hand, would likely result from the kind of hands-on, methodical, unyielding drive that both Bill Clinton and Obama struggled to sustain. In her wonkishness and her moderate liberalism, Hillary has much in common with Obama and her husband. But her “tunnel vision”—in the words of a close friend quoted in Sally Bedell Smith’s For Love of Politicsmight produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush. For years now, Democrats have yearned for a leader who champions their causes with the same single-minded, supremely confident, unwavering intensity that they believe Republican leaders bring to theirs. For better and worse, they may soon get their wish.

For better and worse. While undoubtedly far better than a presidency in the hands of any imaginable Republican opponent at present, I also feel that Democrats who are now so willing to hand her the nomination will also see the worse aspects.

Other controversies also surround Clinton at present. Matthew Contenetti has raised criticism this week of Clinton’s early defense of child rapist. See Doug Mataconis and Steve M for responses.

Even a simple question from The New York Times Book Review has created controversy as it reinforced views of Clinton as being calculating and dishonest:

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.

Gawker’s reaction was that, “Some people like Hillary Clinton. Other people dislike Hillary Clinton. However you feel about Hillary Clinton, it is difficult to deny that she is one of the most cold and calculating political figures in all the land.” This led to a link to a 2013 article on Clinton’s Cowardice As a Political Philosophy, which looked at her views on Iraq and gay marriage.

The Daily Banter responded:

But does Clinton calling the Bible her most influential book tantamount to a political calculation?

Yes it does.

It would be one thing if Clinton meant that the Bible has been the most influential on her because it’s had a profound impact on the course of human history for more than 2,000 years. However, she wasn’t talking about the book’s cultural and political impact, but rather the influence it’s had on her personally as a reader of it.

Because if the book with the biggest influence on Hillary Clinton were truly the Bible, she would never have gotten to where she is. The Bible, however beloved it may be, is not a book conducive to thinking. Rather, the Bible deals in revealed wisdom written by men of antiquity who probably knew less about the natural world than a contemporary American fifth grader. Without question there are passages in the Bible that may very well have given her a modicum of wisdom, comfort, and encouragement, but for every such excerpt there is one or more that couldn’t be more disturbing and anathema to what we today call common decency.

There is no time to air all the dirty laundry of the Bible here. Besides, most Americans are familiar with its horrors, yet many seem to accept it as a sort of general guide on how to live by focusing on passages they find agreeable while discarding the rest.

The “rest” would include the multiple instances of mass killing in the Old Testament, including the great flood started by god that wiped out nearly all of humanity. Homosexuals, witches, and Sabbath-breakers are ordered killed. The Ten Commandments say that one must only worship Yahweh, who judges people merely for what they think. Interestingly enough, rape is not mentioned in the commandments.

In the New Testament, we come to learn that those who do not accept that Jesus was brutally tortured and killed for their sins will suffer in hell in anguish for all eternity simply for not believing. This is founding principle of Christianity.

And yet this is the text that Hillary Clinton — a Yale Law School-educated former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State — says is the book that’s had the biggest impact on her life.

You can believe it if you like. And if you do, there’s a bridge near me I’d like to sell you.

While hardly the biggest campaign issue, this also underscores Hillary Clinton’s lack of self-awareness, failing to understand how a dishonest and calculating answer such as this does nothing to appease the right while reinforcing reservations about her from the left.

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Ohio Bill Prohibits Insurance Coverage Of Both Abortion And Forms of Contraception

Republicans have become increasingly successful in restricting insurance coverage of abortion in many of the states where they control the state government, and a bill in Ohio could extend this to restricting access to contraception:

Ohio might make it illegal for insurance to cover abortions, even in cases of rape, incest and when pregnancy threatens a mother’s life.

The first hearing for House Bill 351 was held yesterday.

The only exception allowed in the bill, which would affect all insurance policies that cover Ohioans, is in cases of ectopic, or tubal, pregnancies.

The bill also would ban insurance coverage for public employees as well as those on Medicaid for birth control that prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg, such as intrauterine devices, known as IUDs.

During testimony, Rep. John Becker, a suburban Cincinnati Republican who sponsored the bill, acknowledged that the wording can be interpreted to include birth-control pills, which he said wasn’t his intention. An amendment could be introduced to clarify that point, he said.

When it came to IUDs, which are plastic devices implanted into a woman, Becker said they should be included in the ban because they prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, meaning they can be considered an abortion.

Unlike a similar law passed by Michigan Republicans last December, the bill in Ohio would not only ban insurance coverage of abortion in standard insurance policies but also prohibit the purchase a separate insurance rider for abortion coverage. The requirement forcing Michigan women to purchase an extra rider if they desire coverage for abortions has been derided as a requirement to pay extra for “rape insurance.” The rider to cover abortions in Michigan must be purchased prior to pregnancy and women are not able to buy the rider after getting pregnant even by rape or incest

According to the National Women’s Law Center, restrictions on abortion coverage are becoming increasingly common:

Twenty-five states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin) have laws prohibiting insurance coverage of abortion in state exchanges.  Ten of those states – Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah  – go even further and reach all plans in the state, banning insurance coverage of abortion in plans outside the exchange as well.

Think Progress had this information regarding the ramifications of this Ohio bill:

The unintended pregnancy rate for women living below the poverty level is more than five times as high than the rate for the women in the highest income level, largely because they struggle to access affordable birth control. Since long-lasting forms of birth control like the IUD remain effective for years without the need to take a daily pill or a monthly shot, public health experts recommend them for women who struggle with avoiding pregnancy. But IUDs are expensive, and can cost as much as $1,000 upfront. A large 2012 study focusing on low-income women in St. Louis found that when cost barriers to IUDs are removed, more women choose them and fewer women end up needing abortions.

Social conservatives’ crusade against abortion, which often hinges on redefining some forms of contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs,” has ensured that IUDs are continually caught in the crossfires. This is the same type of birth control that Hobby Lobby, the crafts company that sued the Obama administration over the health law’s contraceptive coverage requirement, doesn’t want to offer to its employees.

Of course, aside from the implications for birth control access, HB 351 would also impose a significant financial burden on the women who need abortion services. The bill does not include any exceptions for women who became pregnant from rape or who are faced with a pregnancy that threatens their life, which means even the Ohioans who find themselves in those desperate circumstances would be forced to pay for the entire cost of the procedure out of pocket. An in-clinic abortion during the first trimester can cost anywhere from $300 and $950. Later procedures, which are typically necessary when women discover serious health issues with their pregnancies or their fetuses, can be thousands of dollars.

This comes from the part which claims to be the party of small government.

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The Republican War On Science: From Climate Change To Reproduction

Fertilization and Implantation-MU

There is good reason that, going back to the Bush years, only six percent of scientists identify themselves as Republicans. For several years Republicans have promoted views contrary to facts as demonstrated by the scientific method, and commonly distort science to justify their positions. We have seen more examples of this with Marco Rubio’s denial that human action is responsible for climate change despite overwhelming evidence that this is the case.

Some on the right have come to Rubio’s defense. One of the more absurd defenses of Rubio came from James Taranto who questioned whether appeals to authority are fallacious. In scientific matters it only makes sense to rely on authorities in the field, and ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that human action is responsible for climate change. Taranto dismissed this by arguing that, “The trouble for global-warmist journalists like Marcus and Lapidos is that an appeal to the authority of a distrusted source undermines rather than strengthens one’s argument.” That is a rather circular argument that conservatives are apparently right in dismissing arguments based upon the views of  climate scientists because conservatives already distrust the source.

Rubio defended his earlier statements by pivoting to yet another area where conservatives promote pseudo-science to promote their views–reproduction. Rubio tried to portray liberals as not accepting settled science in an interview with Sean Hannity, but Rubio got the science wrong:

“All these people always wag their finger at me about ‘science’ and ‘settled science.’,” he told Hannity. “Let me give you a bit of settled science that they’ll never admit to. Science is settled, it’s not even a consensus, it is a unanimity, that human life begins at conception. So I hope the next time that someone wags their finger about science, they’ll ask one of these leaders on the left: ‘Do you agree with the consensus of scientists that say that human life begins at conception?’ I’d like to see someone ask that question.”

Philip Bump turned to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for their response to Rubio’s scientific claims. The response:

Government agencies and American medical organizations agree that the scientific definition of pregnancy and the legal definition of pregnancy are the same: pregnancy begins upon the implantation of a fertilized egg into the lining of a woman’s uterus. This typically takes place, if at all, between 5 and 9 days after fertilization of the egg – which itself can take place over the course of several days following sexual intercourse.

There are points in human reproduction which are defined scientifically, such as implantation and fertilization. Other points, including the time of intercourse and birth, have clear definitions. When life begins is not such a point:

There’s a blurry line between “pregnancy” and “life” in this discussion. When we asked ACOG if the two were interchangeable, we were told that the organization “approach[es] everything from a scientific perspective, and as such, our definition is for when pregnancy begins.” On the question of when life begins, then, the scientific experts we spoke with didn’t offer any consensus.

“Life” is something of a philosophical question, making Rubio’s dependence on a scientific argument — which, it hardly bears mentioning, is an argument about abortion — politically tricky. After all, if someone were to argue that life begins at implantation, it’s hard to find a moral argument against forms of birth control that prevent that from happening. If that someone were, say, running for president as a conservative Republican, that could be problematic.

Asking for the moment when life begins is a phony conservative frame which has no scientific validity, used to promote their viewpoint. The process of human reproduction is a continuum. The abortion issue involves matters beyond defining when life begins, such as the right of a woman to control her own body. The same is true with contraception, with some conservatives apparently choosing a point before the true onset of pregnancy as when life begins in order to justify opposition to forms of birth control which interfere with implantation.

Think Progress has more on conservative junk science being used to violate reproductive rights.

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Rand Paul Could Shake Up An Election Against Hillary Clinton

Senators Gather To Caucus Over Hagel Nomination

While Ron Paul had a small devoted group of supporters, everyone knew he had no real chance of seriously competing for the Republican nomination. There’s something about being a new face, and being from the Senate instead of the House. People are looking far more seriously at the possibility of Rand Paul becoming the Republican nominee.

Not that long ago, most Republican leaders saw Rand Paul as the head of an important faction who, like his father, ultimately had no shot at becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

Now the question is no longer whether Paul can win the nomination, but whether he can win a general election.

The shift follows a year in which the Kentucky senator has barnstormed the country, trying to expand the party’s base beyond older, white voters and attract a following beyond than the libertarian devotees of his father, Ron Paul. Although the job is far from complete, Paul has made undeniable progress, judging from interviews with more than 30 Republican National Committee members meeting here this week.

That he has struck a chord with this crowd is all the more telling because it is heavy with GOP establishment-types who tend to prefer mainstream candidates.

“I don’t see how anyone could say it’s not possible he’d win the nomination,” Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri said. “His mission is to convince people of what his coalition would be in November” 2016…

At the moment it doesn’t really look likely that Rand Paul could win, but they said the same about Ronald Reagan.

Many of Paul’s views remain at odds with the Republican mainstream, but he now seems less of a pariah among Republicans than Mitt Romney was in many circles. It is possible Paul could win a primary battle with the vote divided between more conventional Republican candidates. He would also benefit from the first contests being a caucus in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire. He could conceivable wind up in first place in both and quickly turn into the front runner.

If Paul does win the nomination, Democrats might need to rethink handing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. What happens when the Republican candidate starts attacking Hillary Clinton over her support for the Iraq war, drone strikes, NSA surveillance, the Patriot Act, and the drug war? Paul might also turn Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street into a serious liability. Many potential Democratic voters might find that they agree with Paul and disagree with Clinton on several issues.

Of course Rand Paul is also on the wrong side of many issues, but can we count on Clinton to take advantage of this? Republicans already have managed to put Democrats on the defensive on issues such as Medicare and health care–two issues where they have facts and principle firmly on their side.

Paul would face many obstacles. His opposition to abortion rights could limit his ability to win over female voters from the Democrats, perpetuating the gender gap between the parties. His anti-war views would be a negative in many red states, possibly even leading to upsets in some red states by a hawkish Democrat such as Clinton.

Looking at the electoral college, I don’t think Paul could win, a race between Clinton and Paul would shake up many of the current party-line divisions. I could see Paul taking some states such as New Hampshire from the Democrats, but not many with large amounts of electoral votes, with the possible exception of California. Still, with their current disadvantages in the electoral college this might be the best chance for Republicans, and a potential threat for Democrats, especially if looking at shaking up the current Democratic advantage among younger voters. I could see many young males being far more interested in Paul on the issues where he is more libertarian, while not being as concerned about issues such as preserving Medicare. This could destroy what now appears to be a long-term Democratic advantage, considering that people tend to stick with the party they chose when young. Democrats might still win the 2016 battle by running Clinton against Paul, but could suffer long term from such a match up.

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The Religious Right’s Counterproductive Positions On Contraception And Abortion

It comes as no surprise that many in the religious right are not satisfied with the data released earlier this month showing a decrease in abortions. Margaret Talbot discussed their reaction:

One problem was that the groups didn’t like the messenger. The report, which showed that between 2008 and 2011 the rate of abortions had fallen to its lowest level since 1973, came from the Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher produces scrupulous research on reproductive health; it also supports abortion rights. But the bigger problem was the message itself, because the report made a persuasive case that the right-to-life movement cannot take credit for the decline in abortions. Since 2008, states have enacted more than a hundred laws related to abortion, most aimed at limiting access to the procedure. The researchers, however, concluded that the new laws, with few exceptions, had had little impact on the number of abortions. Instead, much of the decline is probably attributable to more effective contraception, some of it available through the federal funding—“Uncle Sugar,” in Mike Huckabee’s creepy coinage—that Republicans like to rail against.

As the goals of the religious right are based upon a desire for control and using government to impose their religious views on others, we have known for quite a while that they also sought restrictions on birth control, even if this would be inconsistent with a lone goal of reducing abortions. Talbot pointed out a couple of additional counterproductive and seemingly contradictory aspects of the position of the religious right. Their extension of opposition to choice beyond abortion prevents possible compromise with liberals who would support measures to reduce abortions which do not involve denying choice. The actions of the religious right also increase the possibility that abortions will be obtained later in the course of pregnancy. While the religious right often devotes a lot of their rhetoric to later-term abortions, these are actually very rare, and their actions are contrary to a claimed goal of reducing these:

Nonetheless, the new laws do place additional burdens on women seeking abortions, and, perhaps more important, they may also be erecting obstacles to a consensus position on abortion—one that most Americans could abide. For reasons both moral and practical, most Americans think that if an abortion is to be performed it should be done early in the pregnancy. Yet many of the laws that right-to-life groups have pressed for in recent years have tended to produce the opposite effect, resulting in later abortions. Consider the case of medical abortions, induced by the drug mifepristone, the so-called abortion pill. The Guttmacher report shows that, between 2008 and 2011, there was a striking increase in the percentage of such procedures—in 2011, they accounted for twenty-three per cent (up from seventeen per cent) of all non-hospital abortions—even as the over-all rate declined. By definition, these are early abortions: they are performed before nine weeks’ gestation. (Unlike surgical abortions, they can be done almost as soon as a woman receives a positive pregnancy test.) From the public-health, reproductive-choice, and moral-comfort points of view, an increase in the percentage of abortions performed this way is beneficial.

Yet the latest vogue in anti-abortion legislation is to ban medical abortions. One approach has been to short-circuit programs that allow mifepristone to be prescribed through telemedicine. A program started in Iowa, in 2008, allowed a woman to receive ultrasounds and talk to a counsellor at a satellite clinic, and then video-conference with a doctor in another location. The doctor could remotely unlock a drawer in the clinic and the necessary medication was dispensed to the woman. After the program began, women seeking abortions in Iowa tended to do so earlier; nevertheless, the over-all abortion rate in the state declined. The program’s safety record and women’s reported satisfaction with it were solid. (It was especially helpful in rural areas.) But in 2010 Iowa elected an anti-choice Republican governor, who appointed new members to the state medical board, and it subsequently ended the program. A judge stayed the ban in November, and the matter is now being litigated. Meanwhile, legislatures in fourteen other states have prohibited the use of telemedicine for medical abortion—“Webcam abortion,” as opponents call it—even though the system hasn’t even been tried on any significant scale in those states.

All this brings to mind the bizarre inability of certain prominent Republicans to understand the importance of contraception in our society. Making it more difficult for women to get an abortion early in an unintended pregnancy—or to prevent an unintended pregnancy in the first place—makes their lives harder. Yet Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul have been on a tear recently, insisting that focussing on reproductive rights patronizes women. Unlike Democrats, Huckabee says, Republicans want women to be “something other than victims of their gender,” who are “helpless without Uncle Sugar” to “control their libido or their reproductive system.” It shouldn’t be necessary to say it again, but a woman’s ability to exert control over her reproductive system is at the heart of her ability to control her destiny in many other ways as well.

The right’s anti-abortion crusade must be seen not as actions being promoted with the sole goal of reducing abortions but as a campaign to exercise control over the rights of others. Ed Kilgore argues that “antichoice activists almost universally regard the very contraceptive measures most associated with reduced abortion rates, especially the highly effective IUD, not as contraceptives at all but as ‘abortifacients,’ because they operate (or might operate) to interfere with the implantation of fertilized ova on the uterine wall.”  He concluded his discussion of Talbot’s article by writing:

None of this, however, is the least bit surprising if you think all abortions—including the “abortion” of fertilized ova that may occur when an IUD or a Plan B pill—or any other hormonal birth control method—is used—are equally horrific acts of homicide. That is the position of virtually every “right to life” group in the country. So their propaganda focus on late-term abortions is entirely strategic. For all the millions of tears shed about the “barbarity” of the tiny handful of late-term abortions performed legally (or illegally, as was the case with Dr. Kermit Gosnell, whose clinic antichoicers have seized on with enormous glee), the antichoice goal is as it has always been to use widespread instinctive unease with late-term abortions as a stepping stone to a total abortion ban, which would extend to “abortifacient” devices like IUDs. Nobody should forget that for a moment.

While to a certain degree true, the problem remains that many on the religious right see the use of contraception by others as something they have the right to regulate, regardless of the mechanism of action. BooMan responds to this by asking, “should we consider these people to just be deluded? Or, should we consider them to be primarily concerned not about abortion, but with preventing women from having sex out of wedlock? Is the idea basically that if women can’t separate sex from child-bearing that they will save themselves for marriage?”

I hate to try to say what the motivation is of others, but I suspect that for most who seek to restrict reproductive rights the prevention of sex out of wedlock is only part of their motivation for opposing both abortion and contraception. Their desire to control reproductive rights and the bodies of women extends to married women and is not limited to preventing sex out of wedlock, as much as they might desire to do this.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Abortion Rate At Lowest Point Since Roe v. Wade

A study from the Guttmacher Institute, which has been monitoring the abortion rate, shows that this has dropped to the lowest rate since Roe v. Wade.  The rate was 16.3 abortions per 1000 women in 1973 at the time of the Roe v. Wade decision. The rate subsequently increased to a high of 29.3 in 1980 and has been steady dropping since then. There most recent data from 2011 showed a rate of 16.9 per 1000 women.

This decrease is attributed largely to improvements in birth control, as well as to the economy as people tend to adhere to using birth control more when the economy is bad. While it is unlikely to happen, one might think that reducing the rate back to the level when Roe v. Wade took effect would lessen the hostility of conservatives towards the Supreme Court decision, and perhaps decrease their attempts to impose their views on abortion upon others. If a reduction in abortion was their sole goal, then we would also expect conservatives to support the wider use of contraception. However, as their views are more based upon religious dogma and authoritarianism, they are likely to continue to attempt to restrict contraception as well as abortion.

The drop in abortion has not been attributed to the wave of anti-abortion legislation pushed through recently as most of the new laws did not take effect until after 2011. It will be interesting to see how this affects abortion rates in the future, but interpretation could be hindered by the drop in abortion rates regardless of the changes in abortion laws.

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John Kerry Warns Of A Trend Towards Authoritarianism In Eastern Europe–Don’t Forget Our Problems At Home

John Kerry has warned about a disturbing trend of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe. He is probably right, but what about that trend here? The Republican Party has made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. The party of small government increasingly advocates using the power of government to infringe upon the private lives of individuals. They claim to support capitalism while they work to redistribute the nation’s wealth and replace our system with a plutocracy.

An informed electorate is essential to the workings of a democracy but the Republicans use their propaganda machine, such as Fox, to intentionally spread misinformation. They have been preventing the normal workings of a legislative branch, meeting on election night to organize to oppose any measures initiated by Obama, regardless of the merits, how needed they are, or even if they are former Republican positions. They talk of supporting the Constitution, but it is a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads, and is not what was intended by the Founding Fathers. They totally deny the essential liberties in the First Amendment intended to form a secular state as they promote the agenda of the religious right. Even their so-called libertarians don’t have a very good record with regards to supporting liberty.

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Republican Electoral Gains Result In Greater Restrictions On Reproductive Rights

abortion restrictions

Many Republicans won spots in state governments on campaigns to increase jobs but, once in office, concentrated far more on social issues as opposed to the economy. Conservatives, who claim to oppose big government, showed their actual support for using government to impose their social and religious views upon others by increasing restrictions on abortion and access to birth control. NPR reported on a study which documented the increase in restrictions on abortion over the past three years:

While much national attention was focused on efforts to restrict abortion in Texas, a new study from the Guttmacher Institute reports that as many as 22 states enacted 70 provisions aimed at curbing access to abortion. That makes 2013 second only to 2011 in the number of abortion restrictions enacted in a single year, according to the think tank for reproductive rights.

To put the recent trend in some perspective: The 205 abortion restrictions enacted between 2011 and 2013 were more than the 189 enacted during the entire previous decade (2001 to 2010).

More than half of the restrictions passed in 2013 fell into one of four categories:

  • Regulations aimed at closing down abortion clinics by imposing restrictions that go beyond those required to protect patient safety. One such rule forces clinics to meet standards that were designed for hospitals or outpatient surgery centers that do more advanced techniques; another requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges.
  • Limits on insurance coverage of abortion, particularly within the new health exchanges that have been set up to sell coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Bans on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Limits on abortions that rely on pills rather than surgery.

The New York Times reported on how anti-abortion groups are encouraged by these new restrictions, while pro-choice groups hope this will alienate voters:

Advocates for abortion rights, taking heart from recent signs in Virginia and New Mexico that proposals for strong or intrusive controls may alienate voters, hope to help unseat some Republican governors this year as well as shore up the Democratic majority in the United States Senate.

Anti-abortion groups aim to consolidate their position in dozens of states and to push the Senate to support a proposal adopted by the Republican-controlled House for a nationwide ban on most abortions at 20 weeks after conception.

“I think we are at a potential turning point: Either access to abortion will be dramatically restricted in the coming year or perhaps the pushback will begin,” said Suzanne Goldberg, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia University.

The anti-abortion groups, for their part, feel emboldened by new tactics that they say have wide public appeal even as they push the edges of Supreme Court guidelines, including costly clinic regulations and bans on late abortions.

“I’m very encouraged,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “We’ve been gaining ground in recent years with laws that are a stronger challenge to Roe.”

“I think it is more difficult to get an abortion in the country today,” she said.

It is encouraging that there is more attention being paid to this trend and  hopefully we will really see a pushback to defend reproductive rights. Over the last few years we have seen dramatic increases in support for liberal positions on social issues ranging from marriage equality to ending prohibition of marijuana. Hopefully we will see the same with reproductive rights.

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