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  • The Questions Chris Wallace Should -- But Probably Wont -- #AskAboutAbortion In The Final Debate

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On October 19, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News will have the last opportunity in a 2016 presidential debate to ask either candidate a direct and meaningful question about abortion -- an opportunity that, if history is any guide, will likely be ignored.

    Throughout this election cycle, reproductive rights advocates have been pushing for debate moderators to #AskAboutAbortion. Unfortunately, given the history of debate questions asked about reproductive rights topics since 1960, if Wallace does ask about abortion it will most likely be framed in the context of the candidates’ faiths or preferences for judicial nominees.

    On October 12, the Commission on Presidential Debates released the topics for the third and final presidential debate -- a list that includes debt, immigration, the economy, and the Supreme Court. Although abortion is not among the given topics, it could play a significant role in any comprehensive conversation about the candidates’ policies for addressing economic insecurity or even immigration.

    Here are the debate questions Chris Wallace should -- but probably won’t -- ask about abortion in the final debate:

    1. Debt And Entitlements

    The intersection between entitlements and federal support for reproductive health care is both substantive and significant in the wider landscape of abortion access advocacy.

    Since 1977, the Hyde amendment has restricted federal funding -- and in particular, Medicaid funds -- from supporting abortion services. The amendment has been re-enacted annually to prevent the use of federal funds for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

    Because of its restrictions, the Hyde amendment has created a significant barrier for low-income patients attempting to access safe and legal abortion care. In a July 2016 study, the Guttmacher Institute found that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services.

    As Medicaid is an entitlement program, asking about abortion in the context of entitlements would be particularly appropriate given that both Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, have taken an explicit stance on the Hyde amendment.

    As Rebecca Traister explained in New York magazine, Clinton was the first presidential nominee to speak out against the Hyde amendment when she decided to “publicly do battle” against the restriction in January. The Democratic Party also formally adopted repealing the Hyde amendment as a priority in its platform -- marking the first time a major political party has targeted the anti-choice restriction on this scale.

    In contrast, Trump has committed himself to making the Hyde amendment “permanent law” in order to prevent “taxpayers from having to pay for abortions.”

    2. Immigration

    Abortion access is also a fruitful topic for discussion in the context of U.S. immigration policy, particularly the impact of reproductive health care policies that disproportionately affect Latinas and mixed immigration status families living in the border state of Texas.

    Disparate access to health care coverage is an issue impacting many immigrants -- both documented and undocumented -- in the United States. As the Kaiser Family Foundation explained in a January 2016 brief, “Immigrants, particularly those who are not citizens, historically have faced disproportionate barriers to accessing health coverage and care.” These findings affirmed a 2014 study done by the Pew Research Center which concluded that “Hispanic immigrants are more than twice as likely to not have health insurance as Hispanics born in the U.S.”

    In particular, Latinas’ access to reproductive care is significantly impacted not just by the Hyde amendment but also by the financial and logistical barriers created by anti-choice restrictions in states, like Texas, that have a high percentage of Latinos.

    An independent analysis of Texas’ 2014 abortion statistics data by the Texas Observer pointed out the disparate loss of access to abortion experienced by Texas Latinas after the anti-choice law HB 2 went into effect. As Alexa Garcia-Ditta reported, “In 2013, over 24,000 of Texans who got abortions were Hispanic; in 2014, that number decreased by 18 percent to under 20,000.” In comparison, she noted, there was “a 7.7 percent decrease among black Texans who got abortions” and a “6.7 percent drop among white Texans, after the law went into effect.”

    In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) argued that the additional barriers to abortion access created by HB 2 would be particularly devastating to undocumented women, who would face “[b]order patrol agents and internal immigration checkpoints” when forced to travel farther for health care due to clinic closures.

    3. Economy

    Chris Wallace could use the economy category as an opportunity to discuss the myriad financial obstacles individuals confront when trying to obtain abortion care.

    As Salon’s Christina Cauterucci explained, “Studies show that poor women take up to three weeks longer than other women to secure an abortion” partly because of the time necessary to gather the money for the procedure. In a July 2015 report, the National Women’s Law Center noted that low-income persons are also put at a substantial financial disadvantage because they “may have to postpone paying for other basic needs like food, rent, heating, and utilities in order to save the money needed for an abortion.”

    This financial challenge of covering the cost of an abortion adds to the usual barrage of anti-choice restrictions already complicating access to abortion care. Between mandatory waiting periods, long wait times to get an appointment, and the great distances many patients must travel to reach a clinic, abortion care is already out of reach for many -- circumstances media frequently ignore or underestimate when talking about abortion.

    Given the numerous financial considerations that can make both abortion and wider reproductive health care inaccessible, Wallace should use the economy category during the debate to ask the candidates a substantive question about abortion care.

    4. Supreme Court

    In a recent report, Media Matters analyzed all abortion questions asked in presidential or vice presidential debates from 1960 to 2012 and found that 56 percent of questions were framed around religion or used abortion as a litmus test for judicial appointments. Media Matters found that since 1960, a total of 34 moderator or panelist questions cited abortion, and 23 of those were framed in terms of religion or judicial appointments or presented abortion in a stigmatized and negative way.

    This framing for questions is ineffective, unilluminating, and ultimately fails to provide the American public with any understanding of how presidential candidates would support or inhibit access to essential reproductive health care.

    The second presidential debate was a good example of the limited and ineffective nature of this framing. During the October 9 debate, the only mention of reproductive rights came during a question about the nomination of Supreme Court justices -- when Clinton mentioned that her ideal nominee would support upholding Roe v. Wade.

    Questions like this -- although useful in a limited sense -- clearly do not go far enough in pressing candidates to explain and defend their positions on an essential reproductive health issue and the ramificiations of upending abortion law. As a possible solution, the reproductive rights advocacy group Ultraviolet has been conducting a campaign encouraging individuals to submit questions about the issues that “have taken a backseat in the news coverage this election” but that “they think are the most important questions facing women.”

    In a petition, NARAL Pro-Choice America further explained why it is essential that Chris Wallace take advantage of the final opportunity to ask about abortion in a 2016 presidential debate:

    Donald Trump has said women should be punished for accessing their right to abortion, and suggested doctors who provide abortion care be thrown in jail.

    A candidate's position on abortion speaks to their position on gender equality, to whether or not they think all people, regardless of gender, should be able to plan their families and determine their futures for themselves. Such a crucial issue cannot be left unaddressed on the national stage this election year.

    UPDATE: On October 18, after allegations emerged that Trump has sexually assaulted and harassed numerous women, NARAL Pro-Choice America issued a letter urging Wallace to take advantage of a "critical opportunity to hold candidates accountable" and "demand answers about whether our candidates believe women are equal to men in the eyes of the law." The letter -- cosigned by EMILY's List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, CREDO, UltraViolet, All* Above All Action Fund, the National Organization for Women, and Feminist Majority -- continued, "For that reason, we request that you ask the candidates about how they plan to address the crisis of abortion access in our country."

  • A Media Guide To The Hyde Amendment And Its Anti-Choice Legacy

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    September 25 marked the start of a week of action by reproductive rights advocates to raise awareness about the Hyde amendment, its anti-choice legacy, and recent efforts to catalyze support for its repeal.

    The United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action, led by All* Above All’s coalition of reproductive rights activists, not only demarcates the 40th anniversary of the oppressive anti-choice measure’s adoption, but also comes at a significant time politically. Despite the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- which struck down medically unnecessary anti-choice restrictions on abortion access in Texas -- right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have continued to push misinformation about abortion and have doubled down on their support for the Hyde amendment.

    During this week of action -- and beyond -- here’s what the media needs to know about the Hyde amendment, its legacy, and the efforts of reproductive rights activists to eliminate the anti-choice funding restriction once and for all.

    What Is The Hyde Amendment?

    If It’s Been Around For 40 Years, Why Is It Just Now Becoming A Campaign Issue?

    What Are Right-Wing Media Saying About Funding For Abortion And Reproductive Health Services?

    Who Does The Hyde Amendment Most Impact?

    What Can Be Done About The Hyde Amendment?

    What Is The Hyde Amendment?

    The Hyde amendment is a restriction on federal funding for abortion services. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this restriction -- commonly called the Hyde amendment after its first sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) -- was first passed as a budgetary rider “to the fiscal 1977 Medicaid appropriation.” Every year since, “the Hyde Amendment has been reenacted” to prevent the use of federal Medicaid funds from covering abortion services, except in case of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother.

    Because of its restrictions, the Hyde amendment has created a significant barrier for low-income patients attempting to access safe and legal abortion care. Considering the number of financial and logistical barriers women already face in trying to access abortion, the Hyde amendment adds an additional and unnecessary complication.

    If It’s Been Around For 40 Years, Why Is It Just Now Becoming A Campaign Issue?

    In January, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton decided to “publicly do battle against Hyde,” by making the repeal of the anti-choice restriction a top priority, Rebecca Traister wrote in New York magazine. Beyond being the first presidential nominee to publicly speak against the Hyde amendment, Clinton “dropped a bomb on the political conversation about abortion” by drawing attention to “the relationship between reproductive-health-care access and economic inequality,” Traister argued. 

    The Democratic Party also formally adopted repealing the Hyde amendment as a priority in its platform -- marking the first time a major political party has targeted the anti-choice restriction on this scale.

    Although Clinton and the Democratic Party are drawing much-needed attention to the problematic Hyde amendment, the renewed focus on its impact did not originate with them. Instead, as All* Above All co-chair Jessica González-Rojas explained to The Guardian, the credit belongs with “Women of color leaders” who “have been calling for the repeal of Hyde for decades when most mainstream reproductive rights groups did not prioritize this issue.”

    Similarly, ThinkProgress reported in early September, although Hillary Clinton’s commitment to repealing the Hyde amendment “ quickly shot the controversial idea into mainstream political conversations,” it has been the “end goal of dozens of resilient reproductive justice organizations that have been pushing to repeal the Hyde Amendment for decades.”

    Now, during this week of action, All* Above All has mobilized a grass-roots coalition involving “68 organizations in 38 states" working "to show support for lifting bans on abortion coverage for low-income women.” Reproductive rights advocates are not the only ones drawing attention to the Hyde amendment during the election, however.

    More recently, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released a letter announcing that he has a new “pro-life coalition,” led by known anti-choice extremist Marjorie Dannenfelser. As part of the announcement, Trump committed himself to making the Hyde amendment “permanent law” in order to prevent “taxpayers from having to pay for abortions.” Trump also promised to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortion after 20 weeks on the faulty premise that a fetus can feel pain by that point in gestation.

    What Are Right-Wing Media Saying About Funding For Abortion And Reproductive Health Services?

    Right-wing media have a history of not only attacking Planned Parenthood, but also spreading misinformation about the Hyde amendment and federal funding for other reproductive health care services.

    For example, during the December 22 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Eric Bolling reacted to co-host Dana Perino’s statement that “defunding Planned Parenthood” is problematic politically by arguing that funding for abortion services should be “separate” from funding for “women’s services.” Although Bolling did not explicitly name the Hyde amendment, he pushed for Republicans to "defund the abortion part of Planned Parenthood” and set up a “Chinese wall” between abortions and Planned Parenthood’s other services.

    Right-wing media have also misled the public about how much of Planned Parenthood’s resources are strictly devoted to abortion, dismissing the many other types of health care the organization provides to both women and men. In July 2015, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and Fox co-host Andrea Tantaros advocated for defunding Planned Parenthood because, as O’Reilly argued, he did not want “tax dollars going” to abortion providers. Tantaros supported this statement and repeated the myth that because Americans have ample alternatives to Planned Parenthood, “taxpayer dollars should not have to go” to abortion providers.

    Beyond the Hyde amendment, right-wing media have also spread misinformation about the nature of Title X family planning funds that are used by providers like Planned Parenthood to supply necessary reproductive health care such as contraception, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and cancer screenings. Right-wing media have argued that Planned Parenthood is an inappropriate recipient of Title X funds, because the organization is incapable of providing wider reproductive health care. In reality, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are an essential resource for reproductive health care in many communities.

    As a result, in September 2016, the Obama administration proposed a rule that would stop anti-choice lawmakers from diverting federal family planning money -- distributed to states through Title X of the Public Health Service Act -- away from Planned Parenthood. As The New York Times explained, “The rule would make clear that state governments must apportion Title X funds based on a provider’s ability to perform family planning services effectively -- not on other factors like whether a provider also offers abortions.” In April, the Obama administration had “warned officials in all 50 states” that blocking Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding is likely “out of compliance with federal law,” according to The Washington Post.

    Nevertheless, right-wing media alleged that the proposed rule would ensure that there are “millions more in taxpayer dollars for the nation’s abortion market leader at the expense of women’s health.”

    Even when not discussing the Hyde amendment or abortion funding, right-wing media have frequently misrepresented the severity of anti-choice restrictions and downplayed the ways these requirements have made abortion and other reproductive health services less accessible.

    This is an issue that has spread beyond just right-wing media. In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed 14 months of evening cable news discussion about reproductive rights and found that media frequently ignore or underestimate the impact of economic barriers when talking about abortion access. In this study we found that only eight news segments even briefly mentioned the economic barriers women face to accessing abortion.

    Who Does The Hyde Amendment Most Impact?

    1. Low-Income Patients

    Low-income patients and their families are one of the primary groups affected by the Hyde amendment’s restriction on funding for abortion services.

    The Guttmacher Institute found in a July 2016 study that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services. According to Guttmacher’s director of public policy, Heather Boonstra, for women between 15 and 33 who depend on Medicaid, 60 percent live in places (35 states and D.C.) “that do not cover abortion, except in limited circumstances.” As a result, approximately 7 million women are potentially impacted by Hyde’s restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

    In January, Slate’s Christina Cauterucci highlighted Clinton’s focus on repealing the Hyde amendment because of its disproportionate impact on low-income patients. According to Clinton, abortion is not accessible enough “'as long as we have laws on the book like the Hyde Amendment making it harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.'” Cauterucci concluded that if Clinton succeeded in making the repeal of Hyde a central issue in the campaign, it would be “a long-overdue step toward addressing the intersection between economic insecurity and reproductive health.”

    The National Women’s Law Center explained in 2015 that “because of the high cost of the procedure, low-income women are often forced to delay obtaining an abortion,” which increases the out-of-pocket costs. Thus the Hyde amendment exacerbates the substantial financial disadvantage low-income persons already face in obtaining abortion care.

    2. Women Of Color

    Women of color -- especially black women, Latinas, and Native Americans -- suffer a particularly disparate impact from the Hyde amendment’s ban on federal abortion coverage.

    According to a September 2016 research brief from Ibis Reproductive Health and All* Above All on the impact of out-of-pocket costs on abortion access, “Because low-income women and women of color are disproportionately covered by public health insurance programs, restrictions in coverage increase their socioeconomic disadvantage.”

    This assessment matched the findings of the National Women’s Law Center’s study, which noted that women of color were not only “more likely than White women to face financial barriers when seeking abortions” but also “more likely to experience unintended pregnancy, due to racial, ethnic, gender, and economic healthcare inequalities.”

    Black Women

    In 2015 the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda reported that “black women have more than double the unintended pregnancy rate of white women,” which is particularly concerning given that “the risk of death from pregnancy complications was nearly three and a half times higher for Black women than for white women.”

    According to a recent Guttmacher Institute fact sheet, black women do experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy and more frequently elect to abort. Think Progress’ Kira Lerner explained these numbers simply reflect “the difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively.” Lerner noted black women also experience a “racial disparity … for other health measures including rates of diabetes, breast and cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections.”

    Latinas

    Latinas’ access to reproductive care is significantly impacted not just by the Hyde amendment but also by the financial and logistical barriers created by anti-choice restrictions in states, like Texas, that have a high percentage of Latinos.

    According to a joint op-ed from the executive directors of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and Voto Latino, “The first woman known to die of an unsafe illegal abortion after the Hyde Amendment was a Latina” named Rosie Jimenez, who “died from septic shock in October 1977” months after the Hyde amendment first went into effect. Since then, the op-ed explained, the Hyde amendment has continued to have “an especially devastating effect” on Latina communities, due to their high national rates of Medicaid enrollment.

    In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, NLIRH explained the material consequences of barriers created by state anti-choice restrictions, like Texas’ HB 2. NLIRH argued that due to the "significant geographic, transportation, infrastructure, and cost challenges" Latinas already face when seeking medical care, clinic closures caused by Texas’ anti-choice law would create "severe burdens in accessing reproductive healthcare."

    Native Americans

    Native Americans are disparately impacted not only by restrictions on federal funding for abortion, but also by a lack of public awareness about the unique barriers to reproductive health care faced by their communities.

    As Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center executive director Charon Asetoyer explained to Salon, despite the disparate impact anti-choice restrictions have on Native American communities, Native people are often a “silent population” in national conversations about reproductive rights. For example, she noted that although Native Americans are entitled to receive care through the federally funded Indian Health Service (IHS), “We are still struggling to aspire to the Hyde Amendment while others work to get rid of it.”

    Indeed, as a 2002 survey of Native American women’s reproductive health care access found, 85 percent of IHS offices “often refuse to provide Native American women even the limited access to abortion services to which they are legally entitled under the Hyde Amendment.”

    As a result, Asetoyer continued, many Native Americans who wish to access abortion services are forced to incur higher out-of-pocket costs in order to travel to the nearest abortion provider when “A lot of the time women in these situations don’t even have an automobile to drive to the nearest Planned Parenthood, let alone the money to pay for the procedure.”

    3. LGBT Persons

    In an op-ed for Advocate, National LGBTQ Task Force representative Candace Bond-Theriault affirmed that the LGBTQ and reproductive justice movements are “inseparable” because “many of the same people who propose policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people also [are] actively working to deny access to reproductive health care.”

    While the Hyde amendment makes abortion care inaccessible for many, Bond-Theriault highlighted how anti-choice restrictions additionally perpetuate structural inequalities wherein individuals are “stigmatized because of the personal bodily choices that [they] make.”

    Lambda Legal’s Camilla Taylor, Caroline Sacerdote, and Kara Ingelhart previously explained the pervasive and negative forms of stigma that both movements address, noting that, “People who have an abortion -- whether members of the LGBT community or not -- experience something familiar to all LGBT people: stigma.” They emphasized the importance of combating abortion stigma because, “As the LGBT community knows all too well, it is hard to fight against efforts to roll back your civil rights when you have to remain in the closet.”

    In an op-ed titled “Abortion Access and Trans Health Care Are Bound Together in Texas,” Texas Equal Access Fund president Nan Little Kirkpatrick wrote that “the Hyde amendment is discrimination in health care” faced by those attempting to “exercise their reproductive rights as granted by the Supreme Court.” She argued that the effort to take down structurally oppressive measures like the Hyde amendment “expressly highlights the ways that the movements for trans and reproductive justice intersect” because both involve “bodily autonomy.”

    4. Service Members And Veterans

    Because the Hyde amendment is a restriction on federal abortion funding, its impact is felt by anyone dependent on federally subsidized medical care, including service members or veterans.

    After the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision against Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte named the repeal of the Hyde amendment one of the next major goals for pro-choice advocates. According to Marcotte, “The effects of the Hyde Amendment have been devastating” for both low-income families and service members because it means “no federal employees, service women, veterans or women on Medicaid have access to coverage for abortion.”

    What Can Be Done About The Hyde Amendment?

    As Steph Herold, managing director of the Sea Change Program, wrote in an op-ed for Rewire, All* Above All “is playing a pivotal role by introducing pro-active abortion access legislation and encouraging elected officials to come out against the Hyde Amendment.”

    The organization represents a coalition of reproductive justice advocates and women of color whose goals are to catalyze action to “restore public insurance coverage so that every woman, however much she makes, can get affordable, safe abortion care when she needs it.”

    From September 25 to October 1, All* Above All is leading a week of action, which includes “130 activities hosted by 68 organizations in 38 states to show support for lifting bans on abortion coverage for low-income women.” The United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action also includes “a multi-city ad campaign amplifying the voices of Catholics [for choice] across the county” as well as a “celebration of local victories” to earn recognition for the need to repeal oppressive anti-choice restrictions like the Hyde amendment.

    In addition, All* Above All has mobilized support for the EACH Woman Act, proposed legislation that would repeal the Hyde amendment and guarantee “coverage for abortion for every woman, however much she earns or however she is insured.” According to All* Above All, the bill now has over 120 co-sponsors who have committed themselves to affirming that people have the right to make the best reproductive health care decision for themselves and their families.

    To mark 40 years of the Hyde amendment’s dangerous anti-choice legacy, NARAL Pro-Choice America shared the stories of several individuals “from diverse backgrounds and experiences [who] came together to support repeal of Hyde.” Although their stories represent a variety of experiences in trying to gain access to necessary abortion care, the common refrain and message to the media was clear. As one of the individuals, Mary Tobin, wrote: “If equality is truly a pillar that our country represents and embraces, then the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is crucial to upholding our country’s identity.”

  • What The Media Should Know About A Proposed Title X Funding Rule And Planned Parenthood

    Planned Parenthood Is An Essential Health Care Provider -- And A New Rule Could Help Protect Its Funding From Political Attacks

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    In September 2016, the Obama administration proposed a rule that would stop anti-choice lawmakers from diverting federal family planning money -- distributed to states through Title X -- away from Planned Parenthood. With support from right-wing media, several states have attempted to defund Planned Parenthood based on the misinformation that there are ample replacements already available at the local level.

  • Meet The Anti-Abortion Activist Who Now Controls Texas Women’s Access To Reproductive Care

    A Media Guide To Carol Everett’s Most Misinformed Claims About Abortion, Contraception, Reproductive Health Care, And Sex Education

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Texas awarded anti-abortion activist Carol Everett, who runs a network of crisis pregnancy centers, the second largest contract in the state’s restructured reproductive safety net program. Everett has frequently appeared on a local Fox affiliate in Austin, as well as on a number of conservative media outlets, to push misinformation about abortion, contraception, and general reproductive health care. Here’s what the media should know about the anti-choice activist who now controls Texas women’s access to reproductive health care.

  • Texas Lawmakers Use Right-Wing Lie To Award An Anti-Abortion Group A Government Contract

    With Zika Threat Looming, State Media Ask Why Lawmakers Are Giving A Public Health Contract To An Anti-Choice Group That “Is Not A Healthcare Provider”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Months after Texas’ restrictive anti-abortion law was overruled at the Supreme Court, state lawmakers allocated state funding for reproductive health to an anti-choice group, playing into a dangerous right-wing media myth about the role of Planned Parenthood in low-income communities.

    On August 11 anti-choice state officials awarded the second largest contract in the state’s restructured reproductive health care program -- totaling $1.6 million -- to the anti-abortion organization The Heidi Group, which is “not a healthcare provider.”

    This latest development in Texas lawmakers’ attack on reproductive rights once again utilizes right-wing media talking points to vilify Planned Parenthood and ignore the health care needs of low-income communities.

    In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2, finding that its restrictions on abortion providers imposed an “undue burden on abortion access.” In recent years, HB 2 was one of several measures state lawmakers took to limit the reach of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

    In 2012, the state dismantled its reproductive health safety net program in order to exclude Planned Parenthood from the network of subsidized providers. In 2015, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott pushed to defund Planned Parenthood in Texas, touting the move as “another step in providing greater access to safe healthcare for women while protecting our most vulnerable -- the unborn.” Lawmakers similarly argued that by defunding Planned Parenthood they “instead funneled the funds to worthwhile programs.”

    This justification that community health clinics can replace Planned Parenthood as an essential and accessible health care provider is a common right-wing media talking point.

    However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined the impact of Texas’ decision to remove Planned Parenthood from the state’s reproductive health safety net program. The findings showed that the exclusion of Planned Parenthood caused a decrease in the use of long-acting contraceptives that corresponded with an increase in child births by Medicaid-funded patients.

    Beyond contraception and abortion care needs, when Texas cut funding for Planned Parenthood patients also lost access to affordable HIV testing. In June, the Texas Observer found that in Harris County, TX -- which had the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the state in 2014 -- the county’s health department hadn’t conducted a single HIV test in the first six months of 2016, since the county ended its decades-long contract with Planned Parenthood for HIV testing and prevention.

    Efforts to remove Planned Parenthood from health care funding eligibility have only increased since the release of deceptively edited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Although CMP’s work has been consistently discredited, anti-choice legislators have frequently repeated right-wing media misinformation about Planned Parenthood as part of an ongoing mission to defund the organization.

    Texas’ latest decision to allocate a sizeable contract for reproductive health care to an organization founded and run by an anti-choice activist, with little experience providing the contracted medical services, represents a continuation of a dangerous pattern of misinformation about Planned Parenthood. By ignoring Planned Parenthood’s role in providing health care to low-income patients, this pattern has a demonstrably detrimental impact on those who need access to affordable reproductive care most.

    The Texas Observer’s Andrea Grimes demonstrated the issue with awarding a public health contract to an organization with little health care experience. She noted that The Heidi Group primarily runs a series of crisis pregnancy centers -- organizations that are notorious for misleading women about abortion and reproductive health. The anti-choice group, which has said it “sets women free from abortion,” is also headed by Carol Everett, an anti-choice activist known for making dubious, fringe medical claims related to abortion:

    Everett made headlines in early August following her testimony at a Texas Department of State Health Services meeting on new rules about fetal tissue disposal in Texas. There, she asserted that currently allowable means of fetal tissue disposal could result in HIV and other sexually transmitted infections being released into public water supplies, which she later repeated to an Austin Fox affiliate. Her concerns are not echoed by any major medical or public health groups.

    Executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Heather Busby further explained the concerning medical background of The Heidi Group in a statement to the Texas Tribune: "It’s very inappropriate that the state would contract with an organization that has never performed the services required by the contract … The Heidi Group is an anti-abortion organization; it is not a healthcare provider.”

    Busby also told the Austin American-Statesman that Texas officials’ selection of The Heidi Group was “especially troubling, given that the organization is run by a person who is so terribly misinformed about public health.”

    Texas’ award of the contract comes at a time when the Zika virus -- which impacts pregnant persons and developing fetuses -- has been linked to one death in Harris County. Given that Texas already lacks a sufficient number of OB-GYNs necessary to address Zika’s spread, further curtailing access to contraception and abortion care by awarding contracts to anti-choice groups could additionally burden Texas communities.

    As the chief external affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Sarah Wheat explained:

    The looming threat of Zika makes the need for this care more urgent than ever. Instead of helping women get the care they need at proven, qualified providers they know and trust, Texas is funneling hard-earned tax dollars in support of their anti-abortion agenda.

  • Federal Court Rejects Right-Wing Myths, Maintains Utah's Planned Parenthood Funding

    Appeals Court Rules That Gov. Gary Herbert’s Attack On Planned Parenthood Was Meant To “Punish” The Organization

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On July 12, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision and granted Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU) an injunction, blocking Gov. Gary Herbert’s order to cut off funding to the organization.

    In the decision, the appeals court explained that not only was Herbert’s order to defund PPAU based on misinformation, but also that his politically motivated attack on the Planned Parenthood affiliate was meant to “punish” the health care provider.

    The controversy began last year after Herbert attempted to defund PPAU in response to deceptively edited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which claimed Planned Parenthood illegally profited from the sale of donated fetal tissue. In reality, this smear campaign was so fraudulent that a Houston, TX, grand jury indicted CMP’s founder David Daleiden, and the organization earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year. CMP’s videos have been repeatedly discredited, and multiple state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.

    Nevertheless, Herbert followed in the footsteps of anti-choice legislators in many other states and ordered “state agencies to cease acting as an intermediary for pass-through federal funds to Planned Parenthood.”

    Since the release of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, right-wing media have consistently pushed misinformation about Planned Parenthood as part of an ongoing attempt to defund the organization. Right-wing media have justified these defunding efforts by claiming that community health clinics can effectively fill the gap left by barring Planned Parenthood from state and federal health care programs, an allegation echoed in Utah.

    In an August 2015 article, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that even though Herbet admitted that the alleged violations shown in the CMP videos “may not have happened in Utah,” he maintained that his decision was appropriate and would not adversely “affect educational programs for preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” Instead, he argued that “the monies we have right now are going to be put into the marketplace with other qualified providers, it just won't be going to Planned Parenthood.”

    Despite his claims, there is ample evidence that removing Planned Parenthood from such programs has a detrimental impact on community health. In fact, health policy experts have explained that the idea of community health services filling in for Planned Parenthood is “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do." This is particularly true in Utah, where “PPAU is currently the only statewide organization that provides reproductive health services to anyone who requests them … without regard to a patient’s health insurance status, socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity.”

    Recent studies show that defunding Planned Parenthood can lead to decreased access to contraception, particularly for low-income women. In February, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that when Texas eliminated Planned Parenthood from its family planning program, there were “over 30 percent fewer claims for long-acting and injectable contraceptives among low-income patients using the Women’s Health Program.”

    Access to contraception is not the only service patients lose when states defund Planned Parenthood. In 2011, Indiana cut funding to Planned Parenthood, leaving one rural county without an HIV testing center as it experienced a sharp increase in HIV infections. Similarly, the Texas Observer found in June that in Harris County, TX -- which had the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the state in 2014 -- the county’s health department hadn’t conducted a single HIV test since the county ended its decades-long contract with Planned Parenthood for HIV testing and prevention in December.

    The 10th Circuit further noted that prior to Herbert’s defunding order, “at no time has UDOH [Utah Department of Health] complained about the services provided by PPAU, or otherwise claimed that PPAU was not qualified to provide services.” The opinion further explained that not only had PPAU won competitive contracts from the state on multiple occasions but the amount provided through those grants had also been increased in exchange for continuing service.

    As the court concluded, Herbert “more likely than not” put politics above program effectiveness when making his decision to block PPAU’s funding:

    Considering all of this evidence together, we conclude that a reasonable finder of fact is more likely than not to find that Herbert issued the Directive to punish PPAU for the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights it has identified in this litigation. In particular, we conclude that a reasonable finder of fact is more likely than not to find that Herbert, a politician and admitted opponent of abortion, viewed the situation that presented itself by release of the CMP videos as an opportunity to take public action against PPAU, deprive it of pass-through federal funding, and potentially weaken the organization and hamper its ability to provide and advocate for abortion services.

  • Latest Abortion Statistics Put To Rest The Right-Wing Media Myths Behind The Texas Anti-Choice Law

    Long-Awaited Texas Abortion Statistics Confirm Anti-Choice Laws Aren't Making Abortion Safer Than It Already Is

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that Texas’ extreme anti-choice law HB 2 was unconstitutional because it imposed an “undue burden on abortion access.” Since the law was passed in 2013, anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media alike have insisted that HB 2’s restrictions were necessary to protect women’s health.

    Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) drew criticism for seemingly withholding its annual abortion statistics report for 2014 -- information that could have informed the court’s opinion about the impact of HB 2 on women’s health and access to care. In a June 15 letter, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas alleged that DSHS “appears to be concealing abortion statistics … for 2014, the first full year that Texas implemented portions of its controversial abortion regulations.” As Trisha Trigilio, ACLU of Texas staff attorney, wrote, “Rather than responding honestly and claiming a legal basis for withholding the 2014 statistical tables, it appears that your agency has chosen to hide the truth.”

    On June 30, the Texas DSHS released these statistics and confirmed what reproductive rights advocates, researchers, and Texas women had been saying all along: HB 2 was an undue burden on abortion access and had nothing to do with women’s health.

    According to MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, the key findings from the 2014 statistics showed a “sharp decline in abortions overall that was disproportionately experienced by Latinas, and the growing share and absolute number of second-trimester procedures.” As Trigilio wrote in a response for the ACLU of Texas:

    We will leave it to statisticians to undertake deeper analyses of this data but at first glance the numbers demonstrate the devastating effect House Bill 2 had on the women of Texas. Given the overall drop in abortions – especially in vulnerable communities along the border – as well as the precipitous 70 percent drop in medication abortions, these numbers show that this law never had anything do with women’s health. It’s clear why lawmakers might have wanted to keep this information out of the public eye before the Supreme Court made its decision.

    If HB 2 had been upheld, it would have required that abortion providers have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and that these clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). Proponents of HB 2 claimed these restrictions were medically necessary to protect the health and safety of women during abortions. In particular, Texas lawmakers pushing for HB 2 in 2013 capitalized on anti-choice myths about abortion safety to insist that abortion providers needed greater regulation. These arguments were echoed by right-wing media outlets, which have waged a continued campaign of misinformation about HB 2 since.

    For example, during a 2015 appearance on Shepard Smith Reporting, Fox News correspondent Trace Gallagher amplified Texas lawmakers’ arguments that the requirements of HB 2 were intended to protect women from supposedly unsafe abortion procedures, without mentioning the ample evidence that abortion in Texas was already safe. Gallagher said Texas lawmakers “argue they're simply looking out for the well-being of women, saying better equipment and more staffing helps alleviate the dangers that are associated with abortion."

    In reality, these restrictions are based on medically inaccurate information -- a conclusion underscored by the extremely in-depth, fact-based majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer. Breyer wrote that “each [restriction] places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion.” Although the justices did not have access to Texas’ most recent abortion statistics, the release of the 2014 data affirms Breyer’s point and cuts through the right-wing media noise to end the myths that have long sustained HB 2.

    For those studying the impact of anti-choice laws on Texas women, the findings in the 2014 abortion statistics were no surprise.

    In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) argued that the additional barriers to abortion access created by HB 2 would pose “severe burdens in accessing reproductive healthcare.” Citing an earlier district court decision, NLIRH argued that “there is no question” HB 2 would negatively impact Latinas due to the majority Latino populations of the Texas counties most impacted by clinic closures.

    An independent analysis of Texas’ 2014 data by TheTexas Observer confirmed these warnings and pointed out the comparative loss of access to abortion experience by Texas Latinas. As Alexa Garcia-Ditta reported, “In 2013, over 24,000 of Texans who got abortions were Hispanic; in 2014, that number decreased by 18 percent to under 20,000.” In comparison, she noted, there was “a 7.7 percent decrease among black Texans who got abortions” and a “6.7 percent drop among white Texans, after the law went into effect.”

    Similarly, researchers for the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) had also previously warned about the risk of HB 2 delaying or in some cases preventing access to abortion care. In the January 2016 study, TxPEP interviewed women “who either had their abortion appointments cancelled when clinics closed or who sought care at closed clinics.” According to a news release about the study, researchers found that women’s health care was “delayed, and in some cases [women were] prevented altogether, from obtaining an abortion.”

    In addition to proving the accessibility challenges created by HB 2, the 2014 statistics include an additional figure that thoroughly rebukes anti-choice arguments about abortion safety. As The Austin Chronicle’s Mary Tuma explained:

    One stat that anti-abortion activists will surely continue to conveniently leave out of their ostensible quest for stringent abortion safety standards is the number of women that died while undergoing the medical procedure in 2014 – that figure, much like the number of facts anti-choice legislators used to defend HB 2, comes out to zero.

  • Right-Wing Media's Obsession With Planned Parenthood Is Thwarting Local Efforts To Reduce HIV Rates

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL LARRIS

    Right-wing media have been adamant that Planned Parenthood should not receive any government funding, even for programs that have nothing to do with abortion. But withholding health care funds from Planned Parenthood is the medical equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face, as evidenced by the defunded local affiliates whose HIV prevention programs have become far less -- or completely -- ineffective.

    National HIV Testing Day -- on June 27 this year -- is a day to promote HIV testing, prevention, and education. While HIV is not limited to any one demographic, it is more highly concentrated in economically disadvantaged areas. HIV is also particularly prevalent in black, Hispanic/Latino, gay, and transgender communities. While 1.2 million people were living with HIV, 13 percent aren't aware of it. Prevention programs supported by federal grants help provide accessible HIV testing and public education and are critical to reducing new diagnosis rates each year. However, right-wing media’s insistence that Planned Parenthood should not receive funding to service HIV programs has resulted in fewer places for people to turn.

    Right-wing media frequently call for eliminating all government funding to Planned Parenthood, pushing the myth that doing so wouldn't impact service provision. But in reality, Planned Parenthood provides a variety of medical services and is an important -- and sometimes the only -- resource for communities most impacted by HIV.

    Earlier this month, The Texas Observer reported that Harris County -- which had the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the state in 2014 -- hadn’t conducted any HIV tests since ending a nearly 30-year-old contract with Planned Parenthood in December. When announcing the contract termination, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) told lawmakers that it expects “healthcare to benefit from these changes.” Planned Parenthood had previously received $600,000 annually to provide “HIV screenings in the Houston area, including in Harris, Galveston, Brazoria, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties,” while “specifically tailoring” its services to reach populations in the “Harris County jail, local bars and nightclubs, and college campuses.” Yet since canceling Planned Parenthood’s contract, equal replacements have not been funded. For example, as the Observer reported, Harris County’s health department had received less than half of the amount previously allocated to Planned Parenthood and was “still in the planning stages for its [HIV prevention] program.” The disruption in Harris County’s HIV program is similar to the problem Texas officials created last year when they removed Planned Parenthood from the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, leaving the Waco area without a provider.

    Meanwhile, Ohio state officials may create a similar disruption in Stark County’s HIV prevention programs due to a new law that redirects $1.3 million in funding away from Planned Parenthood clinics to providers that don’t offer abortion. This law has a potential impact on all Planned Parenthood clinics, not just those that provide abortion, including a clinic in Stark County that has received state funding for HIV prevention “for decades.” In March, the Ohio Department of Health sent the Canton city health department a letter saying that because of the new law, it could no longer work with “agencies that promote or perform nontherapeutic abortions.” A federal judge has temporarily blocked implementation of the law, pending a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. One of the findings in the judge’s order was:

    Plaintiffs explain that only certified and trained HIV testers can provide testing under the HIV Prevention Program, and officials in Canton have reported that they have not been able to locate a replacement for [Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio] under this program.

    As The Repository reported, Canton health officials saw benefits to contracting with Planned Parenthood for HIV testing, specifically because people would feel comfortable going there for care:

    Canton City Health Commissioner James Adams said the health department wants to test lots of people and reach diverse populations, and not everyone feels comfortable going to a governmental agency for testing. He said finding an agency that addresses a similar population to Planned Parenthood would pose a challenge.

    Removing Planned Parenthood from programs for HIV testing already had disastrous results for Scott County, Indiana. In 2011, Indiana passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. As a result, five clinics closed, leaving Scott County without an HIV testing center during an exploding HIV crisis.

    Right-wing media figures who advocate for cutting government funding to Planned Parenthood are ignoring the evidence that this country’s health care problems worsen as a result. When news outlets propagate misinformation about defunding Planned Parenthood, it doesn’t just impact those who seek abortion care, but also punishes the poorest and most marginalized communities in the country.

  • Media Highlight New Research Confirming HB 2 Imposes An "Undue Burden" On Abortion Access

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    In oral arguments for Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, pro-choice groups called on the Supreme Court to strike down Texas' extreme anti-choice law, HB 2. Right-wing media and conservative lawmakers have long argued the bill's restrictions are aimed at protecting women's health and will not force clinic closures. In response, media in Texas have highlighted new research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) confirming HB 2 is dangerous, forces clinic closures, and places an "undue burden" on abortion access.