House Republicans Pass Anti-Abortion Bill Based On Pseudo-Science

Conservatives rarely give up on a bad idea, and have no problem with basing their legislation on junk science. Back in January, 2015 I wrote about Republican efforts to restrict abortion based upon the scientifically invalid idea that a fetus can feel pain at twenty weeks:

Conservative efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks are based on ignoring science, just as many conservatives do in denying evolution and climate change. Conservatives make pseudo-scientific claims that the fetus can feel pain at this point, despite the cerebral cortex not being developed until well after this point. There is no real controversy over this point in medicine. Conservatives sometimes twist studies showing simple reflexes as indicating that the fetus is feeling pain. Often they misquote researchers to falsely claim their is a scientific basis for their bogus claims. More on this faux controversy over the science here and here.

The 20 week ban is especially harmful to the rights of women as fetal abnormalities are often not discovered until after this point. It is understandable that a woman who discovers after 20 weeks that she is carrying a fetus which has severe brain abnormalities which would prevent survival might want to abort, but Republicans would deny them this choice by setting an arbitrary limit before such abnormalities are apparent. It is also feared that once they set the line at 20 weeks they will use more pseudo-science to justify moving it up.

Conservatives have also practiced pseudo-science in trying to make the abortion debate over the moment when life begins, when development of the human embryo and fetus is a continuum. Conception is a process without an exact moment at which it occurs, and even fertilization can take twenty-four hours.

If conservatives are really concerned about preventing fetal pain their policies are counterproductive. Late term abortions are very rare in this country, primarily done when the mother’s health is in danger. Another common reason for abortions being delayed until after 20 weeks is the inability of the mother to obtain the abortion earlier, often due to roadblocks placed by Republicans making abortions more difficult to obtain. Of course Republican opposition to contraception further increases the number of abortions. If conservatives were consistent in desiring to prevent fetal pain, they should facilitate the ability of women to obtain both contraception and to obtain early abortions even beyond twenty weeks and before the actual ability to feel pain is present.

What I wrote in that previous post still applies today as the House of Representatives passed a bill to ban abortions nationwide after twenty weeks, ignoring the fundamental right of a woman to control her own body, ignoring the science, and even ignoring conservative arguments regarding states’ rights. Vox reports on this, and presents arguments regarding the science similar to those made above:

The House voted on Tuesday to pass a bill that would make abortion after 20 weeks illegal in every state in the country. Called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, it’s based on the idea that a fetus at 20 weeks’ gestation can feel pain.

“The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will protect the voiceless, the vulnerable, and the marginalized,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the House majority leader, in a statement last month. “It will protect those children who science has proven can feel pain.” President Donald Trump has promised to sign the bill if it passes; during the campaign, he said such a bill “would end painful late-term abortions nationwide.”

In fact, the best available science shows that fetuses probably cannot feel pain until well after 20 weeks. Advocates of abortion rights say 20-week bans at the state level have harmed women, forcing them to travel to another state, often at great expense, to get the care they seek. And opponents of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act fear that, though it is unlikely to pass the Senate, it will ultimately spread dangerous misinformation…

The text of the bill includes a section on the science of fetal pain, which states that “there is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain at least by 20 weeks after fertilization, if not earlier.”

However, the general scientific consensus is that no such evidence exists. “There’s actually conclusive evidence that shows that the neurologic structures in a fetus aren’t completely laid down and working yet until much further along in pregnancy, we think even the third trimester,” said Jennifer Conti, a clinical assistant professor and OB-GYN at Stanford University and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. Twenty weeks, she said, “is just an arbitrary limit set in place by politicians that has no medical or scientific backing.”

The most comprehensive look at fetal pain to date was a literature review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005. According to the review, the structures needed for fetuses to feel pain begin to develop between 23 and 30 weeks’ gestation, and studies of premature babies suggest they can’t feel pain until 29 or 30 weeks. While this review is now 12 years old, it still holds true — “no research since its publication has contradicted its findings,” wrote Mark S. DeFrancesco on behalf of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2015.

The House bill makes a number of claims that contradict scientific consensus. For instance, the bill states that “after 20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human, for example, by recoiling.” However, according to the group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, San Francisco, “limb withdrawal occurs even in full-term babies in response to non-painful tactile sensations, including light touch. Thus the appearance of limb withdrawal on ultrasound represents a reflex rather than a response to pain.”

Today’s Good News–Graham-Cassidy Will Not Become Law And The World Is Not Going To End

A week ago we were faced with predictions both that the Republicans might be able to repeal the Affordable Care Act with their new plan and that the world was going to come to an end. Today it is looking like neither will occur.

It does not look like the Republicans have the votes to pass Graham-Cassidy. Rand Paul quickly announced he will vote against it because it does not go far enough in taking away everyone’s health care coverage. Hopefully he remains as forceful in standing up to Donald Trump on issues where he has more sensible positions such as non-interventionism and civil liberties.

The real killer was when John McCain announced he would vote against this bill for the same reasons he voted against the previous Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare While his opposition is appreciated, before he is made out to be too much of a hero we must not forget that in 2008 he ran on a terrible health care plan which would have led to millions who had health care even before Obamacare losing their coverage.

Graham-Cassidy would lead to such terrible outcomes that other Republicans also remain undecided, making it very unlikely to pass. It becomes more difficult for Republicans to repeal Obamacare after the end of September, leading to pressure from conservative donors to make one more attempt.

Earlier in the week I posted two monologues from Jimmy Kimmel which did an excellent job in describing the failings of the Republican plan, including failure to guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing insurance companies to reinstate lifetime caps. The Daily Beast has described how Kimmel did his homework. Faced with Republican attacks, Kimmel returned to healthcare a third night on Thursday. Video of round three below:

Comments from Kimmel included:

For Donald Trump, this isn’t about the Graham-Cassidy bill. It’s about Obamacare, which he hates, because Obama’s name is on it. He likes to have his name on things: buildings, vodka, you name it. At this point he would sign anything if it meant getting rid of Obamacare. He’d sign copies of the Quran at the Barnes and Noble in Fallujah if it meant he could get rid of Obamacare…I guarantee he doesn’t know anything about this Graham-Cassidy bill. He doesn’t know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid; he barely knows the difference between Melania and Ivanka.

As for the other prediction, David Meade has backed away from his earlier prediction and says that the world will not come to an end today:

David Meade, who claimed the world is ending Saturday when a mysterious planet collides with Earth, is now backtracking on the calamitous claim.

Meade said the world won’t end on Sept. 23 after all, but instead Saturday will only mark the beginning of a series of catastrophic events to occur over several weeks.

 “The world is not ending, but the world as we know it is ending,” he told the Washington Post. “A major part of the world will not be the same the beginning of October.”

Meade said his prediction is based on verses and numerical codes found in the Bible, specifically in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation. He said recent events, such as the solar eclipse and Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, are omens of the approaching apocalypse.

The significant number is 33, according to Meade.

Others made similar predictions about the beginning of a series of catastrophic events before November 8 and January 20, saying the significant number is 45.

After September It Will Be Even Harder For Republicans To Repeal Obamacare

Donald Trump has, fortunately, been able to accomplish very little as president. Obstacles have included his complete lack of understanding of how government works and widespread opposition to his plans. He has already had considerable difficulty keeping his campaign promise to repeal Obamacare. Should Senate Republicans try again, repealing the Affordable Care Act will become even harder as the ability to pass this with fifty-one as opposed to sixty votes ends September 30.

Bloomberg News reports:

The Senate parliamentarian told lawmakers that Republicans’ ability to pass an Obamacare replacement with just 51 votes expires at the end of this month, Senator Bernie Sanders said Friday.

The preliminary finding complicates any further efforts by Republican leaders in Congress to pass a comprehensive GOP-only replacement for the health-care law.

Sanders, a Vermont independent, in a statement called the determination a “major victory” for those who oppose repealing Obamacare.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber 52-48, failed to win enough support for their Obamacare replacement in July as three GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to oppose the measure. Republican leaders haven’t ruled out reviving their effort, and some party members — including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Ted Cruz of Texas — say they’re talking to colleagues about a possible broad-based bill.

Earlier guidance from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough dogged Republicans in their Obamacare replacement effort throughout the summer. In late July, she issued a preliminary finding that key parts of a proposal drafted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t qualify for the fast-track procedure, dramatically complicating the already slimming prospects of passing a bill.

After the 2017 budget resolution which allows for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act expires at the end of September, both houses would need to pass a new budget resolution to enable repeal to pass with only fifty-one votes. It is considered unlikely that Congress would be able to deal with both health care and rewriting the tax code at the same time this fall, but we are also seeing a lot of things lately which we would have previously considered to be unlikely.

New York Magazine has more on this.

Meanwhile Democrats are attempting to take health care reform further with Bernie Sanders introducing legislation promoting a single payer plan, with Kamala Harris co-sponsoring the legislation. This has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress. It is a favorable sign that a moderate Democrat such as Harris with presidential ambitions finds it more expedient to be on the side of a single-payer plan, in comparison to last year when Hillary Clinton vigorously opposed the idea.

Repeal And Replace Fails–Perhaps Congress Had The Wrong Target

The Republicans have failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, primarily because they never had a sensible replacement plan. It took three Republicans to block the final attempt, with John McCain casting the deciding vote. Now that he will not be on the ballot again, it was easiest for McCain to do this, allowing other Republicans who opposed the bill to cast a politically safer party-line vote. McCain might have also felt some satisfaction in thwarting Trump’s agenda after Trump’s past attacks on McCain, claiming McCain was not a war hero because he was captured.

Hopefully attempts at repealing Obamacare are dead–at least until a more liberal Congress has the votes to pass a single payer plan to replace it. Some are still claiming that they can propose a new bill which can achieve fifty-one votes, but any new efforts will have the same problems trying to please both wings of the party.

A more hopeful sign is a bipartisan group in the House which claims to be working together to improve Obamacare rather than repeal it. So far there has been no sign of bipartisan cooperation on health care, but there is a remote chance that matters have changed now that the Senate has been unable to pass any of its attempts at repeal. Sensible Republicans should realize that they will be held accountable for the success or failure of health care. Obamacare is the law of the land. Donald Trump and the Republican Congress now own it.

Maybe repeal and replace isn’t such a bad concept after all, except that Congress had the wrong target.

How about repealing the authorization to go to war and replacing our failed foreign policy? How about repealing the Patriot Act and replacing it with a policy which provides for needed security while respecting our Constitutional rights? How about repealing the drug war and replacing it with treatment where needed?

Of course this will never happen as there will be too much opposition from both parties. Can we just repeal and replace our current dysfunctional two-party duopoly?

Opposition Continues To Republican Health Care Plan

Little has changed on health care legislation. The Republican plan for replacing Obamacare continues to provide inadequate coverage. This includes reducing coverage for Medicaid and destabilizing the individual market, now with a provision written by Ted Cruz. As Ezra Klein wrote, The new Senate health bill is terrible for anyone who is sick, has been sick, or will be sick. This is especially true for those who do not receive coverage through an employer, or ever get sick enough that they cannot continue working to keep that coverage.

Fortunately the Republicans remain in a difficult position with regards to passing their plan. They can only afford to lose three Republican votes, and at this point two Republicans, Rand Paul and Susan Collins, say they will not vote for it. Several other Republicans are undecided. Mitch McConnell plans on holding a procedural vote on Tuesday to consider the measure, and there very well might not be enough votes to proceed.

There continues to be wide spread public opposition to the Republican plan, with multiple medical groups working to oppose the bill. This includes  the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Putting further pressure on Republican Senators, the Cook Political Report also notes that 94 percent of ads have been opposed to the bill.

There has been some talk that the Republicans would work with the Democrats on a bill to shore up the exchanges should the Republican measure fail. It is doubtful that the Republicans would agree to the types of measures which would be best to cover those obtaining coverage on the individual market such as a public option or Medicare buy in. It is even more unlikely that the Republicans, or even enough Democrats, would back the most sensible solution–a single payer plan.

Democratic Congressman Files Article Of Impeachment Against Donald Trump

It was only a matter of when. A California Congressman has introduced an article of impeachment against Donald Trump. The Hill reports:

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) formally introduced an article of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday that accuses the president of obstructing justice during the federal investigation of Russia’s 2016 election interference.

This is the first time a lawmaker has offered an impeachment article against Trump, and it comes as Democrats have debated whether it is politically wise to press the case for impeachment at this time…

In filing his impeachment article, Sherman argues that Trump’s abrupt firing of James Comey as FBI director in May amounts to obstructing justice and “high crimes and misdemeanors” amid the probes of whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government to swing the election…

He cites Comey’s allegations that Trump pressured him to drop the FBI’s investigation into ousted former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as Trump’s shifting story on why he fired Comey.

“In all of this, Donald John Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as president and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office,” the article of impeachment states.

So far only one other member of Congress, Al Green of Texas, is supporting the action.

Of course it is rather early and the number of members supporting impeachment could increase after the current investigations, which are still in an early stage, are concluded. The firing of James Comey does certainly appear to have been done in order obstruct his investigation. At present there is far further evidence of a cover-up on the part of Trump and members of  his administration than of the actual crime. While it is possible that evidence of collusion with Russia to swing the election will be uncovered during the course of the investigation, there is not yet clear evidence that Donald Trump did collude with Russia.

I have suspected that, at least, Trump was acting to protect members of his administration, and that any crimes very likely involved their financial dealings. The recent revelation of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with an attorney close to the Russian government, based upon an offer of information about Hillary Clinton, along with actions of Jared Kusnher, suggest that Donald Trump might have engaged in obstruction of justice to protect members of his family, along with members of his campaign staff and administration.

In order for impeachment to succeed it would require a simple majority vote in the House, but also require a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove the president. Therefore it would require bipartisan support to remove Trump regardless of how well the Democrats do in the 2018 election. So far only two presidents have ever been impeached, including Bill Clinton, and technically no presidents have ever been removed from office by this route. Richard Nixon was forced to resign when his impeachment and conviction appeared inevitable.

An alternative mechanism under the 25th Amendment could also be used to remove Trump if he could be declared unfit to perform the duties of the presidency. While a quicker mechanism, this would be even more difficult to achieve as it would have to be initiated by the vice president and requires the support of two-thirds of each House should the president contest the action.

Democrats Looking At 25th Amendment Option For Removal Of Trump

Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior in his attacks on Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski has led to further talk about the possibility of removing Donald Trump from office if found to be mentally unfit. Twenty-five House Democrats are pursuing a bill to create a panel which could evaluate Trump’s mental competency under the 25th Amendment. Yahoo! News reports:

… 25 House Democrats, including the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, are now pushing an equally radical alternative: They are backing a bill that would create a congressional “oversight” commission that could declare the president incapacitated, leading to his removal from office under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

At 12:56 p.m. Thursday, barely four hours after Trump tweeted attacks against MSNBC cable host Mika Brzezinski in crude, personal terms, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the chief sponsor of the bill, sent out an email to his colleagues, urging them to get behind the measure, writing it was of “enduring importance to the security of our nation.”

“In case of emergency, break glass,” Raskin told Yahoo News in an interview. “If you look at the record of things that have happened since January, it is truly a bizarre litany of events and outbursts.” Asked if Trump’s latest tweets attacking Brzezinski and her co-host Joe Scarborough — which were roundly condemned by members of both parties as beneath the dignity of his office — strengthened the grounds for invoking the 25th Amendment, Raskin replied: “I assume every human being is allowed one or two errant and seemingly deranged tweets. The question is whether you have a sustained pattern of behavior that indicates something is seriously wrong.” After Trump’s Thursday morning tweets, four more Democrats signed on to Raskin’s bill, his office said Friday. (Brzezinski and Scarborough’s response to Trump’s tweets ran in today’s Washington Post under the headline, “The President is not well.” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s tweets Thursday, saying he “fights fire with fire.”)

…Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, has seized on some largely overlooked language in Section 4 [of the 25th Amendment] as the basis for his bill. It turns out it doesn’t have to be the Cabinet that makes a finding of presidential incapacity. The section also permits “such other body as Congress may by law provide” — along with the vice president — to reach the same conclusion.

Yet in the 50 years since the 25th Amendment took effect, Congress has never set up such a body. Raskin’s bill would do so. It calls for the creation of an “Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity.” The commission would be a nonpartisan panel appointed by congressional leaders composed of four physicians, four psychiatrists and three others — such as former presidents, vice presidents or other former senior U.S. government officials. The commission, if directed by Congress through a concurrent resolution, would be empowered to conduct an examination of the president “to determine whether the president is incapacitated, either mentally or physically.”

Removal of the president under the 25th Amendment could be more difficult than impeachment. Impeachment requires the support of a simple majority of the House and then two-thirds of the Senate to remove the president. The 25th Amendment  requires the Vice President to support the process. If the president should be declared to be incapacitated, he could then challenge the action. It would take two-thirds of both Houses to agree in order to prevent the president from being reinstalled in office.

The advantage of this mechanism would be that it is much quicker than the full impeachment process, provided that the Vice President and super majorities of both Houses agree. It is far fetched that this could currently be done, but does provide an option if Trump’s behavior should deteriorate further to the point that there is agreement that he must be removed.

Why The CBO Report On The Senate Republican Health Care Bill Is Devastating

The Congressional Budget Office released its scoring of the Senate health care bill. The New York Times summarizes:

The Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026, a figure that is only slightly lower than the 23 million more uninsured that the House version would create, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

Next year, 15 million more people would be uninsured compared with current law, the budget office said.

The legislation would decrease federal deficits by a total of $321 billion over a decade, the budget office said.

The results can be seen in the above graph.

The American Medical Association gave this assessment of the bill:  “Medicine has long operated under the precept of primum non nocere, or ‘first, do no harm.’ The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels.”

The increase in uninsured would come from reductions in the number of people covered by Medicaid and by private coverage. Beyond the severe cuts in Medicaid, the Senate bill would provide less assistance in purchasing private plans. One devastating paragraph from the CBO report has been receiving attention:

Under this legislation, starting in 2020, the premium for a silver plan would typically be a relatively high percentage of income for low-income people. The deductible for a plan with an actuarial value of 58 percent would be a significantly higher percentage of income — also making such a plan unattractive, but for a different reason. As a result, despite being eligible for premium tax credits, few low-income people would purchase any plan, CBO and JCT estimate.

The plan also fails to lower premiums for most people, or help to increase the number of insurance plans offered. In other words, it fails to solve the problems which Republicans criticize Obamacare over.

The Republicans face two fundamental problems in trying to develop their own health plan. The first is that Obamacare is essentially the Republican alternative to Hillary Clinton’s health care plan. Obamacare does more than the old Republican plan to regulate insurance companies, but the basic structure is the same. Republicans widely supported the individual mandate and the other aspects of Obamacare which they now attack before it was proposed by Obama. This forces them to come up with something different, and there really are not that many ways to handle health care coverage.

The other problem is that the problems we now see on the individual market were not created by Obamacare. Insurance coverage has always been expensive for those buying coverage on their own, as opposed to being in an employer or government plan, provided that the insurance provided decent coverage. The market has never been able to solve this problem and the only realistic options short of a single-payer plan are ones which involve further government involvement, such as a public option or Medicare buy-in. Republicans are not going to back this.

It is also questionable if enough Republicans will back their current plan for it to even pass in the Senate.

Republicans Use Health Care And Tax Law To Help Themselves

Previously Republicans wanted to have members of Congress be included in the exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act. Now that the Republicans are trying to repeal and replace Obamacare, Republican members of Congress are fighting to keep the benefits of Obamacare for themselves. Vox reports:

The new Republican amendment, introduced Tuesday night, would allow states to waive out of Obamacare’s ban on preexisting conditions. This means that insurers could once again, under certain circumstances, charge sick people higher premiums than healthy people.

Republican legislators liked this policy well enough to offer it in a new amendment. They do not, however, seem to like it enough to have it apply to themselves and their staff. A spokesperson for Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who authored this amendment, confirmed this was the case: Members of Congress and their staff would get the guarantee of keeping these Obamacare regulations. Health law expert Tim Jost flagged this particular issue to me.

Republicans seek to take away coverage from others but not themselves. There is no way to both cut costs and cover more people–except with going to a single payer plan which Republicans are unlikely to support.

After this was exposed, Republicans say they are looking at this and might change the  language which benefits members of Congress and their staff. We will have to see how the legislation actually looks if and when it actually comes to a vote.

This was revealed shortly before Donald Trump released his tax plan which would provide substantially lower tax rates for companies like his. In case anyone is reading quickly, Trump released his tax plan–not his tax returns, which he still refuses to release.

Trump will face considerable opposition to his tax plan, especially as it would eliminate popular deductions such as for mortgage interest. It remains to be seen how many Republicans will object because of how the plan will greatly increase the deficit. To Republicans, deficits are only a problem when a Democrat is in the White House.

Stephen Colbert Shows That John McCain, Like Donald Trump, Is A Stupid Idiot

With all the bad things which happened this week, we should be relieved that the term nuclear option did not pertain to this week’s military action, in which Donald Trump showed his compassion for the Syrian children he has banning from entering the country by bombing Syria. Stephen Colbert explained the nuclear option, which culminated in the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, in the video above. He also managed to show that John McCain is a stupid idiot.

The news started out good with the Democrats denying Gorsuch the sixty votes needed. As Colbert put it,  “Whoo, they did it, hell yeah! The Democrats won, for about an hour.”

The Republicans responded with the nuclear option:  “It’s like the saying goes. If at first you don’t succeed, change the rules and now you win.”

Initially not all Republicans supported this. Colbert quoted John McCain: “I would like to meet that idiot, I would like to meet that numbskull that would say that. That after 200 years of this tradition where the Senate has functioned pretty well. They think it would be a good idea to blow it up…Whoever says that is a stupid idiot.”

Colbert pointed out, “You have to be pretty dumb for John McCain to call you a stupid idiot, because he thought Sarah Palin could be president.” He then reported that McCain voted for the nuclear option and concluded,  “Senator McCain, In the words of an American hero, ‘You’re a stupid idiot.’”

Colbert then transitioned, “Speaking of stupid idiots, Donald Trump…”  See the video above for the rest.

As for McCain, if we need more evidence that he is a stupid idiot, today he praised Trump’s airstrikes against Syria.