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Nineteen-Week Abortion Ban Contradicts “Medical Consensus” About Fetal Development
On May 17, South Carolina’s legislature passed a bill to ban abortion after 19 weeks based on the false premise that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks post-fertilization. Armed with a wealth of anti-choice propaganda and right-wing media myths, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) is likely to sign the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” into law with no exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest.
Despite the wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary, assertions about fetal pain have framed right-wing media’s coverage of abortion and supplied talking points for anti-choice politicians to push medically unnecessary laws targeting abortion access. In March, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R-UT) invoked the idea of fetal pain to sign a dangerous bill requiring Utah doctors to administer anesthesia during abortions performed after 20 weeks. Although South Carolina’s bill does not mandate the use of anesthesia, it is based on the same disputed premise about fetal pain.
Samantha Allen explained in an article for the Daily Beast that by signing this bill, Gov. Haley not only would make South Carolina “the 17th state in the country to institute a 20-week abortion ban,” but she would “also be turning lies into law.” According to Allen, although the South Carolina bill states that “there is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by twenty weeks after fertilization,” the majority of credible scientific evidence undermines this fallacious claim.
Anti-choice legislators claim in the South Carolina bill that fetal reactions to stimuli at 20 weeks post-fertilization prove that the fetuses are capable of feeling pain. In particular, they claim research shows that “a functioning cortex is not necessary to experience pain.” There is little evidence to support this claim, or other claims of fetal pain prior to 24 weeks of development.
As Allen explained, the so-called science behind anti-choice legislators’ claims contradicts “the current medical consensus that fetal pain depends on the functioning of pathways in the brain between the thalamus and the cortex.” A 2015 article in FactCheck.org found there was no causal relationship between fetal withdrawal from stimuli and feelings of pain because any “recoil is more of a reflex” that is distinct from “the experience of pain” itself.
In an interview with Salon, Columbia University Medical Center’s Dr. Anne Davis said these warnings about fetal pain and brain development are “created concerns” that are “based in politics,” not science. According to Davis, a fetus’s brain is not sufficiently developed to perceive pain until 24 weeks gestation. Politicians “can have an opinion about that, but it doesn’t change the information,” she told Salon. A March 2010 report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists affirmed that “research shows that the sensory structures are not developed or specialised enough to experience pain in a fetus less than 24 weeks.”
Furthermore, Allen noted, two of the three researchers whose work is cited to support fetal pain bills “have already publicly disagreed with the way in which their findings have been used by anti-abortion advocates”:
In 2013, Dr. Merker told The New York Times that his frequently-cited research “did not deal with pain specifically.” Even Dr. Anand, who believes that fetal pain could start earlier than the literature suggests, told the Times that he used to testify in court cases on abortion bans but that he stopped because “it’s just gotten completely out of hand.”
In Slate, writer Nora Caplan-Bricker warned that there are compounding negative effects when 20-week bans operate in conjunction with other targeted restrictions on abortion care. She argued that South Carolina’s bill “constricts an already narrow window of opportunity” for patients to access abortion because in “states with multiple restrictions on abortion -- of which South Carolina is one -- women who decide to terminate early in pregnancy can be delayed for weeks or months as they scrape together money or contend with logistics.”
South Carolina’s anti-choice lawmakers aren’t stopping with a ban on abortion at 19 weeks. As ABC reported, the South Carolina legislature is already hard at work on its next attack on abortion access: “a bill opponents say would essentially ban abortion past 13 weeks.”
A New York Times article claimed that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s pledge “to protect Social Security and Medicare” and to “leave entitlements untouched” indicates he’s taken a page from Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign playbook. But The Times failed to note that Trump previously called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and that at least two of his advisers have advocated cutting or privatizing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability benefits -- and have indicated as recently as this month that Trump would also be open to changing those programs.
The New York Times editorial board slammed Senate Republicans’ ongoing obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, explaining that the inability to resolve the Zubik v. Burwell case shows the harm in a court “without a full bench.”
On May 16, the Supreme Court handed down an unsigned per curiam opinion on the high-profile Zubik v. Burwell case, remanding the lawsuit back to a federal appeals court for further consideration of how religious accommodations are granted within the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.
The New York Times editorial board pointed out that this type of opinion, which does not create Supreme Court precedent but instead allows for the potential to revisit similar cases in the future, illustrates the harm in Senate Republican’ ongoing obstruction of Merrick Garland’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. The Times’ editorial board lamented that opinions such as Zubik “leave millions of Americans waiting for justice or clarity as major legal questions are unresolved,” and concluded that “despite what Senate Republicans may say,” the Zubik punt showed that “the court cannot do its job without a full bench.”
From the May 16 editorial (emphasis added):
Every day that passes without a ninth justice undermines the Supreme Court’s ability to function, and leaves millions of Americans waiting for justice or clarity as major legal questions are unresolved.
On Monday, the eight-member court avoided issuing a ruling on one of this term’s biggest cases, Zubik v. Burwell, which challenges the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers’ health care plans cover the cost of birth control for their employees. In an unsigned opinion, the court sent the lawsuits back to the lower federal courts, with instructions to try to craft a compromise that would be acceptable to everyone.
This is the second time since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February that the court has failed to reach a decision in a high-profile case; in March, the court split 4 to 4 in a labor case involving the longstanding right of public-sector unions, which represent millions of American workers, to charge collective bargaining fees to nonmembers.
Unfortunately, the justices appear to be evenly split on this issue, as they may be on other significant cases pending before them.
The court’s job is not to propose complicated compromises for individual litigants; it is to provide the final word in interpreting the Constitution and the nation’s laws. Despite what Senate Republicans may say about the lack of harm in the delay in filling the vacancy, the court cannot do its job without a full bench.
Voto Latino President and CEO Maria Teresa Kumar explained in a Latina opinion piece how legislation restricting reproductive rights – like Texas’ HB 2 law that has already shuttered half the state’s abortion clinics -- disproportionately affects Latinas, limiting their access to both health care and economic security.
Conservative media regularly push misinformation about anti-choice legislation, like Texas' HB 2, and women’s health clinics, ignoring the fact that unnecessary obstacles to reproductive health care have a negative impact on economic security and mobility with effects that are heightened for women of color.
In the May 6 article, Kumar explained that “abortion is stigmatized, unaffordable or put out of reach by politicians” causing some women to “resort to methods that are dangerous, ineffective or life-threatening.” She noted that Texas’ HB 2 -- which is currently being contested at the Supreme Court -- is “putting the health of 2.5 million Latina residents at risk,” and urged women to continue the “march toward equity” in the face of an environment where women of color “are still underrepresented across all fields and are paid a mere 55 cents to the dollar when compared to white, non-Hispanic males”:
“Since 2010, state politicians have quietly passed 288 new laws restricting abortion, with no sign of slowing down. For more than 9 million Latinas of reproductive age, the stakes are incredibly high.
Some of these restrictions have made their way to the Supreme Court, which any day could weigh in with a decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case that will determine the future of abortion access. The law in question in the case, HB 2, has already forced more than half of the abortion clinics in the state to shut down. This law is poised to leave Texas with 10, or fewer, clinics, putting the health of 2.5 million Latina residents at risk.
While unintended pregnancy is at a 30-year low, impoverished Latinas still experience significant disparities, which underscores the need to keep abortion safe, legal and affordable. Unfortunately, when abortion is stigmatized, unaffordable or put out of reach by politicians, some women will resort to methods that are dangerous, ineffective or life-threatening.
Politicians should not stand in the way of women having a range of safe, effective and affordable methods of abortion care, and we should do everything we can to ensure that every woman has access to safe and effective abortion services when she needs it – no matter where she lives or how much money she makes. No woman should be jailed for ending a pregnancy on her own.
Latinas have fought hard for social, political and economic progress. We have made great strides in the workforce. We are more educated than ever, and we continue to be a growing influential constituency in the United States. Latinas are entrepreneurs, scientists, teachers, moms and pillars of our communities. We cannot let our march toward equity be set back by politicians who deny us health care and interfere in our personal decisions. We are still underrepresented across all fields and are paid a mere 55 cents to the dollar when compared to white, non-Hispanic males. Our health cannot be separated from our economic well-being, and Latinas must have both to achieve our dreams.”
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Vox’s Emily Crockett blasted the “Benghazi-style” House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which “rests on top of a giant powder keg of anti-abortion extremism,” for “recklessly intimidating scientists and researchers.” Crockett explained how the special committee, tasked with investigating fetal tissue donation by abortion providers, is targeting “anyone the committee can find who has a tangential connection to the issue” with subpoenas and putting them at risk of “violence from anti-abortion extremists.”
Since July the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has released a series of deceptively edited videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illicitly sells fetal tissue. Despite the fact that a growing number of states and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have found no wrongdoing on the part of the women’s health organization, right-wing media and lawmakers have used the videos to target Planned Parenthood. Additionally, since the release of the videos, at least four Planned Parenthood clinics have been attacked in what law enforcement authorities consider possible acts of domestic terrorism, and an anti-choice activist has admitted that “over-heated rhetoric” and smears could be partially to blame for anti-choice violence.
The April 29 Vox article noted how researchers using fetal tissue research to try to cure disease are "being terrorized” as a result of the House panel investigating CMP’s claims, and explained that “Being dragged into the limelight by Congress to talk about fetuses, or being forced to have their name entered into a public record because they work with fetuses, could be legitimately dangerous for scientists and researchers”:
House Republicans have made a public enemy out of Planned Parenthood, of course, but they're not stopping there. They also have their eye on companies that handle fetal tissue, medical researchers, and even medical students — essentially, anyone the committee can find who has a tangential connection to the issue, except those who brought the spurious allegations about "selling baby parts" in the first place.
Meanwhile, the scrutiny is interfering with the jobs of scientists and medical providers. At best, they live in fear of a subpoena; at worst, there's a target on their back for violence from anti-abortion extremists.
Doctors who provide safe, legal abortion already live this nightmare every day. Public witch hunts like this House panel certainly aren't helping that. But they are helping to make sure that scientists and researchers will get to experience the same treatment.
This panel shouldn't exist in the first place
How did we get here? Last summer, a series of anti-abortion videos, produced by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its founder David Daleiden, came out claiming that "Planned Parenthood sells baby parts."
Since then, it's become clear that the videos are blatant propaganda. That's not just my conclusion, but the conclusion that most credible media organizations couldn't ignore after learning the facts.
Fetal tissue research is incredibly important. It brought us the vaccines against polio and chicken pox, and it could one day bring us the cure to Alzheimer's or diabetes.
But because of the videos, this entire field is now under attack. Some states have started passing or proposing laws against fetal tissue research, including Indiana's bizarre new "bury your miscarriage" law that effectively bans tissue donation. And now the attack has moved to the federal level.
It's bad enough to risk intimidating scientists and young researchers out of entering an important field. But it gets even worse. The House's "Panel on Infant Lives" also rests on top of a giant powder keg of anti-abortion extremism, which has already exploded once in 2015's shocking escalation of violence against abortion providers.
Whole books have been written about the systematic terrorism that abortion providers, clinic staff, and volunteers are threatened with every day — from stalking and threats, to "Wanted" posters that feature doctors' photos and addresses, to vandalism and firebombs at clinics.
It's bad enough that the videos and the endless political outrage around them undoubtedly caused more of this violence. But now, the people who use fetal tissue research to try to cure disease are also being terrorized.
One university researcher spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity because the threats he's received have led his institution to post a guard outside his laboratory.
Congressional investigations aren't supposed to work like trials. They're supposed to work like investigations.
Being dragged into the limelight by Congress to talk about fetuses, or being forced to have their name entered into a public record because they work with fetuses, could be legitimately dangerous for scientists and researchers like these.
It doesn't matter how many times CMP's claims have been proven wrong, or how often Daleiden's years-long history with other dubious smear campaigns gets pointed out. To some anti-abortion Republicans in Congress, these videos will always be indisputable evidence that Planned Parenthood was caught on tape doing something both immoral and illegal, and that these claims deserve serious investigation.
It doesn't matter how much time or money all of this costs lawmakers or taxpayers. It doesn't matter that violent threats against abortion providers skyrocketed in 2015, and that a gunman ranting about "baby parts" shot up a Planned Parenthood in November in the deadliest-ever attack on a US abortion clinic.
It doesn't matter how many investigations there have already been, and it never will. For the anti-abortion movement and their supporters in Congress, there will always be more investigating to do. There's always the chance that this time, they'll finally expose Planned Parenthood's evil deeds for all the world to see.
The Washington Post credulously called the efforts by the discredited conservative group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) to prevent the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland "remarkably successful." But polls show the general public is increasingly at odds with JCN's position. Indeed, just last week the Post reported that the results of a new poll was evidence that "Democrats are winning the message war over Garland." The Post promoted the notion of JCN's success in an interview with chief counsel Carrie Severino, who was given a platform to rehash debunked smears about Garland's judicial record on guns and government regulations.
Conservative media frequently push the debunked claim that immigrants pose a threat to public health, merely changing the disease to fit their narrative. Fox News repackaged a popular nativist and anti-immigrant smear claiming that the child migrants from Central America were "an illegal health risk" and were bringing diseases into the country according to internal CDC emails.
On the April 25 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, anchor Heather Nauert reported that "disease" had come with the "thousands of immigrant children" who came to the United States in 2014, fleeing violence from their home countries. The assertion was based on documents recently made public by the conservative activist group Judicial Watch showing officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) coordinating responses for the possibility of unaccompanied minors arriving with tuberculosis:
While the CDC acknowledged that “a small number of cases of TB have been identified,” it also noted that “CDC believes the unaccompanied children arriving from Central America pose little risk of spreading infectious diseases to the general public.”
Similar claims to Fox News' have been debunked by experts previously. In 2015 the fact-checking website PolitiFact examined Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's claim that "tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border" and wrote that "The experts we contacted agreed that there is no evidence of a massive influx of infections across the border" as a consequence of undocumented immigration. An NBC News report explained that, in fact, most of the illnesses found in unaccompanied child immigrants were “nothing unusual,” including the common cold and head lice. NBC also noted that mechanisms were put in place so that arrivals are screened for tuberculosis -- which is not casually transmitted -- and facilities with the capacity to quarantine were made available. According to the most recent data from the World Health Organization, immunization rates for tuberculosis in Central America are above 80 percent. Tuberculosis in the United States has had a declining incidence for decades, with a relatively small increase of 157 more cases in 2015, which, according to the CDC, cannot be pinned on a single variable like undocumented immigration, since funding for prevention has been reduced or stagnant nationwide.
However, the trope of immigrants carrying diseases to the United States is often perpetuated by anti-immigrant and nativist groups hoping to stoke fear and resentment towards immigrants. According to one expert, “There is a long, sad and shameful tradition in the United States in using fear of disease, contagion and contamination to stigmatize immigrants and foreigners.” Fox News and other conservative media figures -- including Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham -- have pushed this smear, blaming immigrants for diseases that range from leprosy, measles, chickenpox, and dengue to ente
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Univision's fact checker Detector de Mentiras ruled that Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) statement that young people are currently "the most pro-life generation of young people" in recent times was a "lie," and that in fact many studies “are finding a more or less stable level of support over time.”
During an April 14 MSNBC town hall, Cruz asserted that "if you look at young people, this generation of young people is the most pro-life generation of young people we have seen in modern times." Detector de Mentiras explained that "it's hard to find studies that demonstrate a clear change among young people regarding pro-choice or anti-choice stances." The fact checker found that many studies indicate that “young people aren't more or less anti-choice than in the second half of the 1990s,” and that according to Gallup they are more pro-choice than in 2010. In addition, “in two opinion studies an important trend emerges among millennials to not identify as either pro-choice or anti-choice,” which requires “a more careful analysis of what young people are thinking.”
Ted Cruz's false statement continues a trend of anti-choice conservatives repeating falsehoods, which have been used to attack reproductive rights and limit abortion access. Notably, some anti-choice measures, such as Texas’s HB 2, could have a disproportionate impact on Latinas.
Translated from Univision's Detector de Mentiras April 19 fact-check:
Is it true that we are the most anti-abortion generation of young people in the United States in modern times?
The answer is no. There are many studies that are finding a more or less stable level of support over time for different positions on abortion. We haven’t seen important changes. Regarding what Cruz said, he didn't quote any studies, but he referred to a "pro-life generation," which is not an inspirational term from the candidate, but rather one that has a very specific political meaning. A lot of material can be found attempting to support the idea that today's youth is more anti-abortion than previous generations. However, the evidence isn't clear and it's hard to find studies that demonstrate a clear change among young people regarding pro-choice or anti-choice stances.
The question about the morality of abortion has a different tenor than that of considering oneself pro-choice or anti-choice and it can be influenced by various factors. But it seems that Americans recognize the presence of these different factors. The [General Social Survey] (GSS) conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC at the University of Chicago) has studied since 1972 the stances that Americans have on a range of topics, including abortion. The study demonstrates that supporting or rejecting abortion depends a lot on the circumstances.
That might explain why Pew Research Center states that positions on abortion have remained pretty stable between 1995 and 2016, and by showing data filtered by age, we find that 62% of 18-29 year olds surveyed say that abortions should be legal in all or most cases, while 36% said that it should be illegal on all or most cases.
Neither for or against
In a 2015 survey, Vox concluded that 39% of the public does not strictly identify as pro-choice or anti-choice. While they don't filter their result by age, in the sample from March 2015, 21% of those surveyed said they were between 18 and 29 years old, and 25% were between 30 and 44 years old.
Vox's findings coincide with those of the study “How Race and Religion Shape Millen[n]ial Attitudes on Sexuality and Reproductive Health” conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. The February 2015 survey had a sample of 2,314 adults between 18 and 35 years of age. In the results of the survey, we can see that 33% of those born after 1982, millennials,believe that abortions should be legal in almost all cases and 22% say it should be completely legal. Likewise, 55% think that their community should have a health professional that can practice legal abortions. In terms of the labels "pro-choice" and "anti-choice," millennials are almost perfectly divided in quarters between those who identify with one label, those who identify with the other, those who identify with both, and those who don't identify with either.
What Cruz said is a lie. Cruz stated that young people currently are the most anti-abortion generation in modern times. There are many studies that indicate that currently, young people aren't more or less anti-choice than in the second half of the 1990s; and if we consider the Gallup poll, this generation is more pro-choice than in 2010. In addition, in two opinion studies an important trend emerges among millennials to not identify as either pro-choice or anti-choice, which would demand a more careful analysis of what young people are thinking from politicians debating this issue. In the studies that could support what Cruz said, we haven't found an evolution of positions on abortion over time.
The New York Times editorial board debunked the “big myths” Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are “peddling about the Affordable Care Act and also their ill-conceived plans of what might replace it.” The board wrote that Trump and Cruz are “willing to mislead the public any way they can” to “trash the Affordable Care Act” by “inventing problems that don’t exist and proposing solutions that won’t help.”
Right-wing media have smeared Obamacare for years with baseless catastrophic predictions and falsehoods, and 2016 Republican presidential candidates have followed suit. That fearmongering has been stunningly wrong, and numerous reports have repeatedly highlighted the Affordable Care Act’s successes in bringing “historic increases in coverage.”
In an April 19 editorial, the Times’ editorial board explained that, contrary to Trump and Cruz’s misleading attempts to trash the Affordable Care Act, “the law has helped millions of Americans, especially low-wage workers … who previously struggled to pay for coverage.” From the Times’ editorial board:
“Disaster.” “Incredible economic burden.” “The biggest job-killer in this country.”
Central to the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz has been the claim that the Affordable Care Act has been a complete failure, and that the only way to save the country from this scourge is to replace it with something they design.
Mr. Cruz claimed that “millions of Americans” had lost their health insurance because of the health reform law.
Insurers did stop offering some plans after the law took effect, including those that didn’t provide required benefits like maternity care or that charged higher premiums to older or sicker people. But people with those plans had the opportunity to sign up for others. And over all, the law has drastically reduced the number of Americans who lack health insurance. According to the Census Bureau, the number of uninsured Americans dropped by 10 million between 2010, when the law passed, and 2014. While critics said employers might stop offering health insurance because of the law, three million people actually gained coverage through their employers between 2010 and 2014.
Mr. Cruz has called the Affordable Care Act “the biggest job-killer in this country” and said “millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work” because of it. This is false. The unemployment rate has fallen since the law took effect, PolitiFact notes, as has the number of people working part time when they would rather work full time. A 2015 study using data from the Current Population Survey found that the law “had virtually no adverse effect on labor force participation, employment or usual hours worked per week through 2014.”
[T]he biggest obstacle stopping insurers from setting up in more states is not regulation; it’s the difficulty of establishing a network of providers in a new market. And such a structure would destroy the longstanding ability of states to regulate health insurance for their populations. Some states, for instance, require coverage for infertility treatment and others have chosen not to. Allowing cross-border plans would encourage insurers to base themselves in low-regulation states, and the result might be a proliferation of poor-quality plans.
The Affordable Care Act is not perfect.
But the law has helped millions of Americans, especially low-wage workers like cashiers, cooks and waiters who previously struggled to pay for coverage. In inventing problems that don’t exist and proposing solutions that won’t help, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz show that they don’t care about helping Americans get health care, which has never been their interest. They want to trash the Affordable Care Act, and they’re willing to mislead the public any way they can.
A New York Times analysis found “historic increases” in those covered by the Affordable Care Act, destroying right-wing media predictions about health care reform including that it would “topple the stock market” and enslave Americans. The Times analysis is just one of many pieces of research that have highlighted the successes of the Affordable Care Act.
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