Texas can’t get enough of harassing women over abortion


by Gloria Totten and Aimee Arrambide, Op-Ed in the Austin American-Statesman

After last month’s milestone decision by the Supreme Court to strike down anti-abortion laws in Texas, there was a communal sigh of relief across the country from abortion rights supporters — a majority of Americans today. But those celebrations were soon muted when the conversation shifted to what’s next for the anti-abortion movement, with many sensing it was only a matter of time before a different game plan emerged.

It didn’t take long — just a few days — and once again, it’s happening in Texas.

Last week, Texas health officials proposed new rules that would require abortion providers to either cremate or bury fetal remains. These new rules were published in the Texas Register on July 1 with no announcement and are unlikely to require lawmaker approval. This means that absent a legislative process, these superfluous, invasive rules are being ushered into law by Gov. Greg Abbott himself. While other states have introduced bills like this since the now-widely discredited Committee for Medical Progress videos surfaced last summer, Texas is using the rule-making process to push this through under the radar. In light of the House Bill 2 decision, we can only expect Texas and other states to do this more often.

Let’s be clear: Whereas prior anti-abortion laws were passed under the guise of “protecting women’s health,” these laws blatantly harass and bully women for their Constitutional right to decide to have an abortion. Unfortunately, unlike the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that were struck down recently by the court, these laws do not easily fit into that framework and will require more time and more taxpayer money to resolve.

The proposed rules signal that the anti-abortion movement is testing its hand with a new strategy in the ongoing war on women’s health — one that lives outside the bounds of the Whole Woman’s Health decision, where women are punished for seeking a sense of dignity during a personal decision. Texas is in good company trying to pass these new rules, with Indiana’s GOP Governor Mike Pence pushing for similar requirements despite pushback from anti-abortion lawmakers in his own state. And rest assured, there will be more to come as the anti-abortion movement shakes off its recent losses and starts to fight back.

Though the Whole Woman’s Health decision technically frees clinics in Texas from the unnecessary burdens of the TRAP laws, the 30 clinics that have closed since 2011 — supported by the sweeping anti-abortion regulations imposed in 2013 — remain closed. Women still don’t have access to the abortion care they need — and it’s causing serious harm. Just this week, we saw new data from the Department of State Health Services in Texas showing that in 2014, there was a 27 percent increase in second-trimester abortions, which though still very safe, are associated with higher risk compared to early abortions. They are also more expensive for women.

Despite Roe v. Wade, despite Whole Woman’s Health, the battle for women’s reproductive rights continues, with Texas leading the way as the state model for punishing, harassing and bullying women for their constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

Texans have just a few weeks to make their voices heard during the public comment period before the final rules take effect in September — and then the legal merry-go-round begins again.

Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution

by Aimee Z. Arrambide, JD
Program Manager & Reproductive Rights Policy Specialist

My father was an obstetrician-gynecologist in Texas. Shortly after Roe v. Wade, until he passed away ten years ago, my father performed abortions in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Laredo.

He wore a Kevlar vest to work every day, we had an FBI Agent assigned to us, and my family had to live in gated communities because he was threatened almost daily. People tried to trick me into giving out his home address. I was told that my father was a baby killer.

I now work as an Austin-based policy specialist on abortion rights and a board member for Fund Texas Choice. My office is in one of the abortion clinics that was closed by HB 2 and my dad’s Kevlar vest sits across from me as a reminder of his heroism.

So the Supreme Court’s recent abortion rights ruling—Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt—was personal to me.

The Court struck down two Texas laws that were designed to, and did, close abortion clinics. Five Justices ruled that, because there was virtually no proof that the Texas laws protected women’s health, they were an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to abortion.

While some in the media made it seem like this was an extraordinary decision, it should have been ordinary. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg implied in her concurring opinion, this ruling was a no-brainer. The undue burden standard was announced twenty-four years ago in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey. If abortion is constitutionally protected, then there was never a reasonable argument that the Texas laws complied with our Constitution.

Let us be clear. Abortion opponents knew the Casey standard all along. The Texas laws, and dozens of other state laws like them, were enacted not to protect women’s health but to prevent women from exercising a constitutional right. There has been, in essence, a nationwide conspiracy to impose “undue burdens” on the right to abortion—an intentional refusal to follow the constitutional principles affirmed and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.

And even now that the Court has ruled, no one expects the states to comply voluntarily. We expect resistance to every lawsuit that will be filed to enforce Whole Women’s Health. There will be arguments and appeals and delays for months or even years.

When will taxpayers understand this boondoggle? Anti-abortion extremists have spent untold millions in tax dollars enacting, enforcing and defending hundreds of laws like HB 2 or worse. They were and are unconstitutional. They have been struck down or stayed by courts, or they soon will be. It is long past time for government officials, whether they like abortion or not, to stop wasting our money and start obeying our Constitution.

Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for 43 years. Going forward, all of us have a responsibility to hold our legislators accountable, demand that they repeal unconstitutional restrictions, and enact instead proactive legislation that secures the right to access abortion for all individuals regardless of economic security, gender identity, zip code, immigration status, or ethnic or racial identity.

When Whole Women’s Health was announced last Monday, that was an amazing day. I cried tears of joy, celebrated with my fellow Texans, and looked toward the future of what unencumbered abortion access could look like. But at the end of the day, I realized there is so much more work to do and the task is daunting. The Supreme Court defended our rights, but this victory is only the beginning.

This op-ed was published in The Hill newspaper (click here) on July 2

Group identification, rather than policy, explains the 2016 election

Political activists have a notion that there is something beyond logic and self-interest that drives the choices of average voters.

We know that low-income Whites often vote against their own economic interests. We know that very religious Americans often support unreligious and even immoral candidates. “What’s the Matter with Kansas” is nothing new. And yet we still cite candidates’ policies to explain the 2016 election.

Yes, people who read articles about politics—you and I—tend to pick our candidates based on the policies they trumpet. That’s reasonable because the point of governance is to adopt and enforce a set of policies. But you and I are not average voters.

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American Culture Is Threatened by Hate Speech

America is not really a nation of laws. Our legislative system governs only the most egregious behavior. The way Americans treat each other day-to-day—attitude and etiquette, willingness or wariness, prejudice or tolerance—is driven mostly by our national culture.

Our culture is a set of beliefs, customs and behaviors accepted by the great majority of citizens, in part because they consider it a matter of right and wrong, and in part because they fear condemnation by society at large.

Since the end of the “segregation now…segregation forever” era, the open, unapologetic use of bigotry has been suppressed. But now, a presidential candidate is about to become the nominee of a major party in large part because people encourage his use of hate speech and falsehoods. For example:

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Now more than ever, we need to give voice to our progressive values

Americans who avoid politics are far more likely to pay attention in a presidential election year. This is our chance to persuade.

I suspect you may want to talk about single-payer health insurance, a financial transaction tax, the TPP, and the need to reverse Citizens United. But that’s a conversation that only works within the progressive base.

Our non-political neighbors and friends are not particularly interested in listening to a laundry list of policies. But they are willing to hear us describe our progressive values. To these sometime voters, it’s not a question of where we’d like to take our country, it’s a matter of why.

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New poll illustrates confirmation bias, Trump less popular than lice

A just-released Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey found that Donald Trump supporters inhabit an alternate reality. They believe in obvious falsehoods. Why is that and what does it mean for political discourse?

The poll, released on May 10, found that Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by a margin of 47 to 41 percent in a head-to-head matchup. That’s just a snapshot and not a very interesting one.

But PPP went further. It found that only 34 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Donald Trump. Among that group:

  • 65 percent believe that President Obama is a Muslim and only 13 percent think he's a Christian, 22 percent are unsure.
  • 59 percent believe President Obama was not born in the United States and only 23 percent think that he was, 18 percent are unsure.
  • 24 percent believe Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered while 42 percent think he died naturally, another 34 percent are unsure.

Millions of Americans are living in a political fantasyland. But that’s nothing new. In 2012, fully 63 percent of Republicans still believed that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” when the United States invaded in 2003. In a 2013 PPP poll, 58 percent of Republicans believed “global warming is a hoax,” 33 percent of Republicans were still convinced that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attack, and 20 percent of Republicans said they “believe Obama is the Anti-Christ.”

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Both states and localities can curtail job piracy

Does anybody like job piracy? By that we mean tax breaks and subsidies to a few corporations for the supposed purpose of enticing them to move jobs from another jurisdiction.

As Good Jobs First points out, these subsidies are “wasteful because the costs are high and the benefits are low: a tiny number of companies get huge subsidies but the net impact of interstate job relocations is microscopic. It is [also] incredibly unfair to [all the other local] employers….”

We can curtail job piracy. All it takes is some political will and the Job Piracy Cease Fire Act, which is a binding offer from any state or locality saying, in effect, our jurisdiction won’t steal jobs from yours if you promise the same back to us.

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How to find logical fallacies in opponents’ arguments

Since Aristotle in the 4th century B.C., educated people learned the rules of rhetoric and how to identify opponents’ fallacies. Although Americans don’t often learn the intricacies of rhetoric today, political organizations and individuals routinely employ fallacious arguments.

Let us consider just a few of the many informal logical fallacies—the most common debaters’ tricks that sound convincing but are based on a flaw in logic.

(1) Red Herring Fallacy

Also known as: misdirection, smokescreen, clouding the issue, beside the point, and the Chewbacca defense.

A Red Herring argument is one that changes the subject, distracting the audience from the real issue to focus on something else where the speaker feels more comfortable and confident.

EXAMPLE: It may be true that the minimum wage should be adjusted, but the real solution is to eliminate burdensome government regulations so businesses can grow and are able to pay their employees higher salaries.

Your response should be: It's not an either-or question. Right now we’re debating specific legislation before the legislature/council to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. I’m saying it provides hard-working families with income to spend on their basic needs. Let’s focus on that.

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Second Amendment mess demonstrates why we need an honest Supreme Court

On March 21, the United States Supreme Court issued an embarrassing ruling. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts had decided that stun guns are not protected by the Second Amendment; after all, they are not firearms and the framers of the Constitution could not possibly have imagined such weapons when the Bill of Rights was adopted.

The Supreme Court said, in effect, that Massachusetts’ highest court didn’t understand the SCOTUS’ 2008 ruling on the Second Amendment, District of Columbia v. Heller. The Court’s unanimous unsigned 2-page order directed the Massachusetts court to re-explain why stun guns can be banned.

How is it possible that the Massachusetts court—a distinguished group of lawyers—couldn’t understand Heller? Because the 5-4 majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, makes no sense. It is a 64-page mess. It certainly seems as if Scalia was trying to cause as much damage as possible, writing a decision so confusing that it would justify endless lawsuits against existing gun laws. As Dennis Henigan, one of the preeminent attorneys in the field, explained, Heller was “a prototypical misuse of judicial power to advance an ideological agenda.”

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The anti-government theme is getting nowhere in 2016

Are Americans really anti-government? Based on the progress of the 2016 campaign, it doesn't seem like it. Neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz are succeeding because of anti-government attacks.

Look at Trump’s successful message. He stands for bigoted authoritarianism. He wants to use government, forcefully, against the groups of people he hates. Trump wants the government to build a gigantic wall between the U.S. and Mexico, deport 12 million residents, torture people suspected of terrorism and kill their wives and children. At the same time he wants the government to give him, and the rest of the ultra-rich, larger tax breaks.

And look at Ted Cruz. He likes to say he's against government but he's winning primaries by riding a wave of white evangelicalism. These voters support him because Cruz wants to (or they think he wants to) use government to outlaw same-sex marriage, discriminate against LGBT citizens, suppress mosques and Muslim beliefs, teach creationism and other fundamentalist Christian religious ideas in public schools, abolish abortion, limit birth control, and require abstinence-only sex education.

Among voters there’s anger aplenty, but it’s not much directed against government. Why?

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