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January 22, 2016 0

Forty-Three Years after Roe v. Wade We Continue to Fight for Reproductive Freedom

Forty-three years ago the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its water­shed deci­sion in Roe v. Wade, hold­ing that a woman’s con­sti­tu­tional right to pri­vacy includes the right to access an abor­tion. By guar­an­tee­ing women the right to deter­mine whether to con­tinue a preg­nancy, Roe has had far-reaching impli­ca­tions for women’s rights beyond the med­ical pro­ce­dure itself. The abil­ity to con­trol fam­ily plan­ning and their own bod­ies for the last two gen­er­a­tions has played an invalu­able role in help­ing women deter­mine the course of their own lives, decide when or whether to have chil­dren, earn higher degrees, advance in the work­place, and attain more equal rights.

Photo Credit Debra Sweet Flickr

Photo Credit: Debra Sweet, Flickr

Still, the jour­ney from Roe has not been an easy one. Four decades after Roe rec­og­nized the con­sti­tu­tional right to an abor­tion, there are more attempts to limit access—and ulti­mately ban—abortions than ever before. Between 2011 and 2015 there were nearly as many restric­tions on abor­tion access enacted across the United States than in the prior fif­teen years com­bined. In 2015 alone, law­mak­ers con­sid­ered 396 bills that would have restricted access to abor­tions in 46 states. Though many were defeated, 17 states enacted a total of 57 new abor­tion restric­tions. Many of the bills, though not explic­itly about reli­gion, have reli­gious under­tones, with leg­is­la­tors cit­ing scrip­ture dur­ing debate and seek­ing to enshrine their own par­tic­u­lar reli­gious view into law.

The lat­tice­work of state abor­tion restric­tions now includes coun­sel­ing require­ments that force doc­tors to give women often sci­en­tif­i­cally questionable—and some­times down­right inaccurate—information about the pro­ce­dures and their pos­si­ble side effects. Other laws impose wait­ing peri­ods that require women to come back to clin­ics days later, cre­at­ing par­tic­u­larly oner­ous obsta­cles for women who some­times have to travel hun­dreds of miles and lose hourly wages while away from work. Still oth­ers cre­ate restric­tions on insur­ance cov­er­age that make abor­tions almost impos­si­ble for poor peo­ple to access.

Other types of restric­tions, which cre­ate what doc­tors widely agree are med­ically unnec­es­sary require­ments for clin­ics, are also thinly veiled attempts to shut down repro­duc­tive health cen­ters. Such laws have become so wide­spread that they have their own term: tar­geted reg­u­la­tion of abor­tion providers (TRAP) laws. In Texas, for exam­ple, the law, among other things, requires clin­ics that pro­vide abor­tion ser­vices to meet the same build­ing, staffing and equip­ment require­ments as “ambu­la­tory sur­gi­cal cen­ters,” even though the pro­ce­dures there do not require such things by med­ical stan­dards. The law also requires doc­tors pro­vid­ing abor­tion ser­vices to have admit­ting priv­i­leges at a local hos­pi­tal, some­thing that is becom­ing increas­ingly dif­fi­cult to do in areas that largely oppose abor­tion rights or where there are only religiously-affiliated hos­pi­tals nearby. The law could shut­ter all but 10 abor­tion clin­ics, includ­ing every clinic west of San Anto­nio. Com­bined with Texas’ manda­tory wait­ing period between see­ing a doc­tor and hav­ing the pro­ce­dure, that would effec­tively put abor­tion access out of reach for mil­lions of women in Texas, who would often have to travel hun­dreds of miles to the near­est clinic and stay at least overnight.

A chal­lenge to that Texas law is now pend­ing before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, could have dra­matic impli­ca­tions for women’s abil­i­ties to access abor­tion all around the coun­try. The Supreme Court has said clearly and defin­i­tively in the past that states can­not place “undue bur­dens” on a woman’s abil­ity to access an abor­tion before fetal via­bil­ity, and that such bur­dens include “unnec­es­sary health reg­u­la­tions that have the pur­pose or effect of pre­sent­ing a sub­stan­tial obsta­cle to a woman seek­ing an abor­tion.” If the Court finds that the abil­ity to shut­ter clin­ics with tech­ni­cal and med­ically unnec­es­sary restric­tions does not qual­ify as an undue bur­den, how­ever, states around the coun­try could make abor­tions inac­ces­si­ble to all but the most priv­i­leged who can afford to take time off work, travel long dis­tances, and pay out of pocket for pro­ce­dures to which they have a con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed right.

On the anniver­sary of Roe v. Wade, the right to safe and legal abor­tions for many women hangs in the bal­ance. We must all work to safe­guard that fun­da­men­tal con­sti­tu­tional right so that all women— regard­less of where they live, what type of insur­ance they have, where they work, or how much money they have—can access the safe abor­tion ser­vices that have been so crit­i­cal in advanc­ing women’s rights and equality.

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January 15, 2016 0

Religious Freedom: Revolutionary and an American Strength

Jan­u­ary 16th is the 2016 obser­vance of National Reli­gious Free­dom Day, which was  estab­lished by Con­gress in 1993. It com­mem­o­rates the Vir­ginia Gen­eral Assembly’s 1786 adop­tion of the land­mark Vir­ginia Statute for Reli­gious Free­dom. Drafted by Thomas Jef­fer­son, it was the blue print for the reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions found in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. Two-hundred thirty years later, how­ever, these very lib­er­ties and prin­ci­ples are being chal­lenged often in the name of“religious freedom.”

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)

The Statute for Reli­gious Free­dom was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary change in the rela­tion­ship between gov­ern­ment and reli­gion. It sep­a­rated the two by pro­hibit­ing taxes sup­port­ing reli­gion, pro­vid­ing free exer­cise of reli­gion for all, and gen­er­ally bar­ring reli­gious tests for civic par­tic­i­pa­tion. These prin­ci­ples became the law of the land with the adop­tion of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion and First Amendment.

The Constitution’s reli­gion clauses are the rea­son why a diver­sity of faiths has thrived in our nation for well-over 200 years. At their essence, the clauses pro­hibit gov­ern­ment from spon­sor­ing, sup­port­ing or sanc­tion­ing the impo­si­tion of reli­gious doc­trine or beliefs on cit­i­zens. They are a shield that safe­guards the reli­gious free­dom of all Amer­i­cans and our reli­gious institutions.

Address­ing these safe­guards in her last opin­ion, U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice San­dra Day O’Connor astutely observed:

[T]he goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders’ plan of pre­serv­ing reli­gious lib­erty to the fullest extent pos­si­ble in a plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety. By enforc­ing the Clauses, we have kept reli­gion a mat­ter for the indi­vid­ual con­science, not for the pros­e­cu­tor or bureau­crat. At a time when we see around the world the vio­lent con­se­quences of the assump­tion of reli­gious author­ity by gov­ern­ment, Amer­i­cans may count them­selves for­tu­nate: … Those who would rene­go­ti­ate the bound­aries between church and state must there­fore answer a dif­fi­cult ques­tion: Why would we trade a sys­tem that has served us so well for one that has served oth­ers so poorly?

Despite Jus­tice O’Connor’s 2004 warn­ing, today we find our Constitution’s reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions and prin­ci­ples mis­un­der­stood and under chal­lenge. Most recently, lead­ing can­di­dates for the Pres­i­dency have said that Mus­lim Amer­i­cans are unfit to serve as Pres­i­dent and called for clos­ing down Mosques, as well as ban­ning Mus­lims from our shores. Such bla­tant reli­gious intol­er­ance is anti­thet­i­cal to our most core con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples and unac­cept­able from any per­son of good faith let alone an indi­vid­ual aspir­ing to the Pres­i­dency. Our nation’s wel­com­ing accep­tance of all reli­gious beliefs is a crit­i­cal tool in coun­ter­ing those groups and nations that seek to impose their faith on others.

In the States, dozens of bills have been filed over the last sev­eral years in the name of “reli­gious free­dom” that would allow busi­nesses — based on own­ers’ reli­gious beliefs — to refuse cus­tomers. Although many of these bills are directed at our nation’s LGBT com­mu­nity, they also could be used to turn away cus­tomers because for exam­ple they are Hindu, Human­ist, Jew­ish, Mor­mon or Mus­lim. Such leg­is­la­tion fun­da­men­tally mis­ap­pre­hends the pur­pose and scope of the Constitution’s reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions. They were never intended as a sword to impose reli­gious beliefs on oth­ers. The Con­sti­tu­tion most cer­tainly safe­guards the reli­gious beliefs and exer­cise of clergy, houses of wor­ship, and indi­vid­u­als, includ­ing beliefs and prac­tices about mar­riage. But for our plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety and mar­ket­place to prop­erly func­tion, they should not be used as a vehi­cle for discrimination.

The Con­sti­tu­tion also guar­an­tees the right of par­ents to send their chil­dren to reli­gious schools and reli­gious insti­tu­tions to per­form social and char­i­ta­ble ser­vices in-line with their reli­gious beliefs. But they in no way require the gov­ern­ment to fund either. Over the last 20 years, how­ever, Con­gress and state leg­is­la­tures have imple­mented pro­grams requir­ing tax­pay­ers to fund reli­gious schools and char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing those that dis­crim­i­nate or pros­e­ly­tize. Com­pelling tax­pay­ers to fund reli­gious insti­tu­tions with which they are not affil­i­ated or agree is anti­thet­i­cal to our con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples. Prop­erly inter­preted, the Con­sti­tu­tion should bar such gov­ern­ment fund­ing of religion.

Our reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions are one of America’s great­est strengths and a key rea­son why our Nation is excep­tional. On National Reli­gious Free­dom Day all Amer­i­cans should take a moment to appre­ci­ate their indi­vid­ual reli­gious lib­erty and reflect on the fact that mil­lions around the world are reg­u­larly sub­ject to reli­gious coer­cion or per­se­cu­tion. These free­doms must not be taken for granted. Amer­i­cans of good faith should push back on efforts to mis­use them in ways that impose par­tic­u­lar reli­gious beliefs or tests on their fel­low citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

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January 13, 2016 1

Mainstreaming Gun Confiscation Conspiracy Theories

Con­spir­acy the­o­ries about the fed­eral gov­ern­ment seiz­ing Amer­i­cans’ guns have been a main­stay of anti-government extrem­ist groups, par­tic­u­larly mili­tias, since the early to mid-1990s. Today, how­ever, these the­o­ries have expanded beyond right-wing extrem­ists. They are also gain­ing ground in con­ser­v­a­tive cir­cles, from groups like the National Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion (NRA) to media out­lets such as the Wash­ing­ton Times and Breitbart.

Anti-government con­spir­acy the­o­rists, such as Alex Jones of InfoWars, have long pro­moted the belief that the gov­ern­ment wants to use gun con­trol mea­sures merely as a pre­lim­i­nary step to con­fis­cat­ing indi­vid­u­als’ guns door to door. While Jones attracts mil­lions of peo­ple to his web­site and radio show, he is con­sid­ered a fringe fig­ure. How­ever, his the­o­ries about gun con­fis­ca­tion have gained ground in the mainstream.gun confiscation

Gun con­fis­ca­tion fan­tasies reached a fren­zied pitch in the spring of 2015 after the news broke of Jade Helm 15, mil­i­tary exer­cises the gov­ern­ment was plan­ning to carry out in parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi and Florida. Con­spir­acy the­o­rists claimed that the exer­cises were an excuse for the gov­ern­ment to declare mar­tial law and insti­tute poli­cies like gun con­fis­ca­tion. The the­o­ries gained so much trac­tion that var­i­ous politi­cians ques­tioned the intent of the exer­cises and the Texas gov­er­nor said that the Texas State Guard would “mon­i­tor” the situation.

Other inci­dents also pop­u­lar­ized wide­spread con­spir­acy the­o­ries about gun con­fis­ca­tion. In the wake of a num­ber of mass shoot­ings around the coun­try in 2015, Pres­i­dent Obama took exec­u­tive action to elim­i­nate some loop­holes in the country’s gun con­trol laws. This deci­sion by Obama incensed peo­ple who oppose gun control

John Nolte, editor-at-large of Bre­it­bart, wrote in a Jan­u­ary 2016 arti­cle, “The sin­is­ter plan is to drop the boom, maybe not on Obama’s watch, but the seeds have been planted: These peo­ple plan to flood the coun­try with ille­gals, refugees, and early-release pris­on­ers, and then dis­arm us.”

Some peo­ple went fur­ther than com­plain­ing. The Con­ser­v­a­tive Tri­bune, a right-wing online pub­li­ca­tion, asserted, “The gun con­trol reforms they have called for lead inevitably toward national reg­is­tra­tion of all firearms, which will inevitably lead to con­fis­ca­tion of firearms, which in turn will result in a sec­ond civil war or out­right revolution.”

In Octo­ber 2015, the pres­i­dent first raised the issue of tak­ing exec­u­tive action on gun con­trol in the wake of the mass shoot­ing at Umpqua Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Ore­gon. In an edi­to­r­ial after the inci­dent, the Wash­ing­ton Times argued that the pres­i­dent was inter­ested in “elim­i­nat­ing guns in the hands of the peo­ple,” adding, “Mr. Obama would evis­cer­ate the Sec­ond Amend­ment to accom­plish his goal of dis­arm­ing ordi­nary law-abiding Americans.”

The NRA also reacted to Pres­i­dent Obama’s gun con­trol ini­tia­tives. In an arti­cle on the site of the NRA’s Insti­tute for Leg­isla­tive Action, its legal arm, the orga­ni­za­tion wrote, “You don’t have to scratch very deep… to under­stand that what the pres­i­dent really wants to see in the U.S. is gun con­fis­ca­tion.” The arti­cle asserted that the pres­i­dent wanted to model his gun con­trol pro­grams on those of Aus­tralia and Great Britain where peo­ple do not have a con­sti­tu­tional right to keep and bear arms.

The pro­gres­sion of gun con­fis­ca­tion fan­tasies from being a ral­ly­ing point for right-wing extrem­ists, such as mili­tias, to becom­ing accepted doc­trine across the con­ser­v­a­tive spec­trum is an alarm­ing development.