From abortion rights to social justice, and lots in between.
Watch The Nation's Naomi Klein on Democracy Now, filmed on location in Copenhagen:
A newly leaked internal document from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is about to add a new source of pressure to the Copenhagen talks. The document, leaked to the media today, states that the current emission reduction targets--those under the US model, which allows for countries to set their own limits--could, as they stand, lead to a disastrous two to three degree rise in temperature. Klein highlights the enormous significance of this new evidence: "This is the UN itself saying that if all these countries go off and do what it is they're promising to do…all together, the temperatures will increase by three degrees, which is catastrophic."
And here's a second segment, in which Klein calls out Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's extraordinarily manipulative announcement from Copenhagen today that the US will contribute to a $100 billion dollar fund only if all UN member states reach a US-approved consensus--and declares it "blackmail."
Sen. Ben Nelson's amendment to severely limit abortion access through health insurance exchanges and the public option was tabled on the Senate floor this afternoon, making good on speculation and hope that the Senate would be more hostile to abortion restrictions that the House, which passed a similar amendment, was. Tabling the amendment kills it, and was, as Robert Pear noted in the New York Times, the riskier move, since 51 votes were required to table it, and only 41 were to defeat it in an up-or-down vote. If Nelson refuses to support the Senate legislation, Sen. Harry Reid may have to court Sen. Olympia Snowe or Sen. Susan Collins, who are pro-choice but public option-hesitant, to join Dems in favor of his healthcare bill instead.
During floor debate, anti-choice senators were at pains to insist that the Nelson amendment did not create any new barriers to abortion (Sen. George Voinovich, how is lack of funding not a barrier?) and that the existing compromise on abortion funding in healthcare reform--in which insurance companies in the exchange would be required to use money from premiums and co-pays to pay for abortion coverage--was merely an accounting "gimmick" (Sen. Mike Enzi, tell that to any non-profit that both provides services and lobbies). The highlight of the floor debate over Nelson's amendment was an impassioned speech by Sen. Barbara Mikulski yesterday, who quipped in response to arguments that women could simply buy a rider that offers abortion coverage, "Why not have men buy an abortion rider for the women they get pregnant?"
The tide on the Stupak (House version) and Nelson amendments seemed to turn last Wednesday, when a national pro-choice lobby day brought hundreds of citizen lobbyists, marshaled by a huge coalition of groups that included Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America but also dozens of smaller reproductive justice groups headquartered around the country, to Capitol Hill. At the packed rally that kicked off the day, the usual suspects--Rep. Jerry Nadler, Rep. Diana DeGette, Sen. Barbara Boxer, and newer faces Reps. Donna Edwards and Judy Chu--issued full-throated disavowals of Stupak--DeGette called Stupak "the devil's bargain." Interestingly, a couple of reps got in a little Hyde-bashing to boot: "Stupak is not simply an extension of current law," said DeGette, "and believe me, I don't like current law." (Nadler called Hyde "obnoxious.") The Hyde amendment, which bans Medicaid funding for abortion except in narrow cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, came in for less criticism, and even some support, in the floor debate today, with senators reaffirming that Hyde was not up for debate today and Sen. Chris Dodd saying that Hyde has "served us well." (Tell that to the tens of thousands of poor women and teens who are forced to carry pregnancies to term because they can't afford abortion, Sen. Dodd.)
Now that the Senate bill is all but certain not to include Stupak-like language, what will happen when the bills are conferenced? Would any House members who voted for Stupak pull their support this time around? Stephanie Poggi, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, has met with representatives who consider themselves pro-choice who did not fully understand Stupak before voting on it. "There was too much focus on the leadership without educating members" about what the amendment meant, Poggi says. After the vote, Poggi said, pro-choice voices had stepped up the level of education. At Wednesday's rally, Nadler noted that House conferees are pro-choice.
Meanwhile, there's been good news, not only not-bad news, in the Senate for women's health, too. Last week, the Senate passed the Mikulski amendment, which requires all health insurance plans to cover women's preventive healthcare and screenings with no copay, by a sizable margin. This is a big deal: earlier this fall, Sharon Lerner noted here at TheNation.com that both the House and the Senate bills failed to specify comprehensive coverage for women's healthcare services. "None of the bills emerging from the House and Senate require insurers to cover all the elements of a standard gynecological 'well visit,'" Lerner wrote, "leaving essential care such as pelvic exams, domestic violence screening, counseling about sexually transmitted diseases, and, perhaps most startlingly, the provision of birth control off the list of basic benefits all insurers must cover." (As Sen. Jan Schakowsky said at the rally, "If women's bodies were the standard for healthcare, how different our world would be.") Mikulski had proposed her amendment to the Senate HELP Committee's version of the bill, which at the time passed by one vote. But it was dropped off the version of the bill Reid presented to the full Senate. Mikulski's amendment will likely even provide coverage for contraception. PPFA's Tait Sye told RH Reality Check's Amie Newman that the Mikulski amendment "allows Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to recommend what should be covered, so HRSA can/could recommend birth control be covered."
"That's the price of healthcare reform." That's what
But both pro-choice and progressive healthcare reform leaders andmembers of Congress have come out swinging against the amendment, somegoing as far as to make it clear they'll refuse to support reform ifCongressional Democrats decide to pay for it with women's healthcare.Calling the amendment a "middle-class abortion ban," Planned Parenthoodpresident Cecile Richards said Wednesday that her organization would notsupport healthcare reform with an amendment further limiting access toabortion. Meanwhile, Senators Barbara Mikulski and Diane Feinstein havebegun strategizing how to keep Stupak off the Senate bill, the
"Keeping Stupak off the Senate bill is our primary goal right now,"Laurie Rubiner, PPFA vice-president, said, "and chances are very goodfor that." "We're definitely hearing a lot of encouraging talk [aboutthe Senate]," Donna Crane, public policy director at NARAL Pro-ChoiceAmerica, adds. "The Senate thinks the House went too far."
Sen. Ben Nelson has grabbed headlines with the announcement that hewon't support the Senate healthcare reform bill unless it, too, banscoverage of abortion for any plan financed in part by affordabilitycredits, but advocates were doubtful that he could get the 60 votesnecessary to have the bill considered. "If someone wants to offer thisvery radical amendment, which would really tear apart [a decades-long]compromise, then I think at that point they would need to have 60 votesto do it," Sen. Barbara Boxer told the
NARAL, though it is running a petition asking Sen. Harry Reid tokeep Stupak-like language off the Senate bill, has not yet drawn a linein the sand. "We don't have an answer to that question," Crane told mewhen I asked whether NARAL would support a healthcare reform bill withStupak-like language attached. But the group's rhetoric is strong: in
In order to fight the abortion restrictions successfully, the coalition needs to extend "beyond the women's health community," Richards said Wednesday. Andindeed some of the most prominent progressive voices for healthcarereform are supporting joining the women's health advocates' fight.Health Care for America Now, the leading grassroots progressivecoalition for reform, and its high-profile members, MoveOn and SEIU,have all decried Stupak. When asked how committed HCAN is tosecuring healthcare reform without further curtailing abortion access,National Campaign Director Richard Kirsch said, "It's a very strongcommitment. We have a set of principles, one is comprehensive benefits,including reproductive health benefits which includes abortion care." Still, Kirsch acknowledged, it's possible HCAN could take a positionagainst healthcare reform with major concessions on reproductivehealthcare while some of its members decide to do the opposite.
But some pro-choice advocates clearly feel progressive groups, ifnot HCAN in particular, are sending mixed signals. On
Citing a "standing-room-only" meeting with progressive groups at thePPFA offices strategizing how to respond to Stupak, Richards said,"There's a fair amount of solidarity. It has to be clear that we willnot support a bill with Stupak."
Readers concerned about the Stupak amendment can join PlannedParenthood in DC on December 2 for a
We know that the House healthcare reform bill passed after an eleventh-hour compromise (you might say betrayal) on abortion access. We know the compromise, the Stupak-Pitts amendment, is bad. But do we know exactly how it's bad for women (and their partners)? Here's a quick primer on what the amendment actually means for any woman accessing healthcare through the newly-created health insurance exchange.
Over the summer, legislators struck an agreement on abortion funding in which private plans offered through the health insurance exchange couldn't use federal dollars to cover abortion care. They could, however, cover abortion care with funds from individuals' premiums, and the agreement, the Capps Amendment, required at least one plan in every region to offer abortion care, and at least one not to. As many observers predicted, the Capps Amendment didn't mollify anti-abortion crusaders, namely the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which commands an outsize role in the debate over healthcare reform.
So what we ended up with was drastically worse. After the initial compromise fell apart, Rep. Bart Stupak introduced the eponymous amendment, under which any plan purchased with any federal subsidy cannot cover abortion services--even with private funds. Plus, the public plan won't cover abortion care. While plans participating in the health insurance exchange are legally permitted to offer a version of the plan that does cover abortion--enrollment limited to those who pay for the entire plan without any subsidy--it's unlikely plans will go the extra mile to offer that coverage, Planned Parenthood's Laurie Rubiner said this morning on the Brian Lehrer Show. That would be "awfully complex," Rubiner explained. Because the majority of Americans purchasing insurance through the exchange would be using affordability credits, the plan without abortion coverage will become the "standard plan." Rubiner also cited privacy concerns over purchasing abortion-inclusive coverage. The Wall Street Journal observed, "Insurers may be reluctant to [set up abortion-inclusive plans] because it could complicate how they pool risk and force them to label policies in a way that could draw attention from abortion opponents."
At Change.org, Jen Nedeau pointed out that even women who currently have employer-based insurance that does cover abortion care (and 87 percent of employer-based plans do) may ultimately be affected. "Since the plan for the uninsured is designed to open up to everyone over time, including large employers, it is likely that women will lose access to abortion coverage as part of any health insurance plan available for purchase," Nedeau explains.
In defending his amendment, Stupak made one misleading and one outright false claim. He argued that women could purchase "abortion riders" on top of their insurance, much like they might purchase a dental or vision rider. Such an abortion rider doesn't exist now, and the legislation does not provide for its creation. Rubiner pointed out that in states where private coverage of abortion care is outlawed, riders don't exist either. Besides, they defy logic: "Women would have to plan for their unplanned pregnancy," Rubiner added. "It's illogical to think they would look for a plan that includes abortion."
And for the falsehood: Stupak claimed that his amendment "goes no farther than Hyde," the amendment banning federal Medicaid funding for abortion care except in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the woman's life. In fact, the amendment goes farther than Hyde in stipulating what kind of coverage a woman can purchase with private dollars. "It's the equivalent of arguing that women who receive abortions should not use public buses or highways to travel to the abortion clinic," Igor Volsky at Wonk Room points out.
In the Stupak amendment, the exceptions to the coverage ban read as follows: rape, incest or "where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death." The Center for American Progress's Jessica Arons writes, "Given insurance companies' dexterity in denying claims, we can predict what they'll do with that language." And in case you wonder what that leaves out entirely: "Cases that are excluded: where the health but not the life of the woman is threatened by the pregnancy, severe fetal abnormalities, mental illness or anguish that will lead to suicide or self-harm, and the numerous other reasons women need to have an abortion."
Last night, in a voter referendum, Mainers narrowly, nail-bitingly voted to repeal the law extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, with the Bangor Daily News now reporting a margin of 53 to 47 percent.
It wasn't only bad news for LGBT rights on election night--voters in Kalamazoo, Michigan, approved an anti-discrimination ordinance adding sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights law in their city, and Washington state's referendum to approve everything-but-the-M-word protections for same-sex couples is winning, though the race hasn't been called yet.
Still, on a morning after like this, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's the elite institutions in American life--courts and state legislatures (although, are you noticing, the sphere of what's "elite" keeps expanding?)--that are ready to contemplate marriage for gay people, and that Americans themselves (Liz Lemon's insistence that no Americans are any more real than any others notwithstanding) aren't. The State Supreme Court extends marriage rights to same-sex couples in California. Californians use a ballot initiative to take the right away. Maine's state legislature passes marriage equality legislation, and voters take the right away. In some jurisdictions (namely, Maine and California), public policy may be slightly outstripping public opinion. But the New York Times has recently taken a close look at whether public opinion on gay rights issues leads or lags behind public policy in all 50 states, sparked by a paper in the American Political Science Review (via Nan Hunter's indispensable blog). Only in Iowa does partnership recognition (in that state's case, marriage) outstrip public support. (In fact, illustrating the vagaries in polling and voting, in this survey, just over half of Mainers support the right to marry.) But the study does not stop at examining attitudes on marriage. Over 50 percent of residents in almost every state (Oklahoma and Utah being the two exceptions) support health benefits for same-sex partners, and yet only 14 states offer this protection. A few more states have enacted workplace and housing discrimination protections, but again, virtually all states see a majority supporting this protection. In fact, average Americans want gay people to have protections--not necessarily marriage, yet, but we're getting there.
Still depressed? Consider, first, that Maine didn't even have a basic anti-discrimination law until 2005--and had a number of false starts there, too, with voters twice repealing existing protections. And, on the federal level, news is better. Last week Obama signed the hate crimes bill, which, as the National Center for Transgender Equality points out, is the first time the federal government has enacted protections for transgender people. Meanwhile, Nan Hunter reports, ENDA is "chugging along;" Senate hearings are coming up this week, House hearings have already happened, and House members are planning mark-up "soon."
And on the subject of looking on the bright side: at TAPPED, Adam Serwer has a rundown of LGBT candidates who did well running for office--some--Mark Kleinschmidt in Chapel Hill and Charles Pugh in Detroit--even won! (And another, Annise Parker in Houston, heads to a run-off election.)
In April of 2008, KBR employee Dawn Leamon went public. A few months earlier, she had been raped and sexually assaulted by co-workers while deployed at Camp Harper, in Iraq, and after weeks of being pressured not to report the incident, forced to work alongside her attackers, and medically neglected, Leamon brought the story to a Houston attorney and to The Nation. Leamon joined a slowly building chorus of female defense contractor employees who'd been raped or sexually assaulted by co-workers while in Iraq, to utter impunity on the part of their assailants. In response, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called a hearing to investigate why the Justice Department had not prosecuted any sexual assault allegations in Iraq since the going to war in the country.
When it turned out that defense contractors often required employees, as a condition of employment, to submit to binding private arbitration in disputes with the contractors (including allegations of sexual assault), instead of bringing complaints to public courts, and that the Department of Defense claimed they couldn't prosecute for this very reason (even though these clauses only prevented civil suits), Senator Ben Nelson, who called the hearing, offered a simple solution: "This might be something you want to require and include in your contracts--before you award them," Karen Houppert reported in The Nation.
Freshman Sen. Al Franken took Nelson's suggestion seriously, and has pushed through an amendment to a Defense Appropriations bill that would prevent the Pentagon from doing business with contractors who force employees into binding arbitration over rape and sexual assault charges. (As Jon Stewart put it, "How is that a loophole that needs closing?")
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After another KBR employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, began speaking out about her own gang rape in December 2005, she met other women with similar stories, and in response formed a non-profit to support women who experienced sexual assault at the hands of co-workers while employed by a defense contractor. When Houppert reported on Jones's organization in The Nation, by then supporting forty women, Houppert observed, "Most of these complaints will never see the light of day."
Adding insult to injury, the Department of Defense could prosecute these crimes under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Patriot Act's special maritime and territorial jurisdiction provisions, but has opted not to. In the face of DoD inaction, survivors, meanwhile, had signed away their right to sue civilly and were left only with arbitration.
Predictably, Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed Franken's bill. "Congress should not be involved in writing or rewriting private contracts," he argued. The bill was, he maintained, a "political amendment at bottom, representing a political attack on Halliburton." In fact, the amendment only goes so far as to require contractors doing business with the government to permit employees to sue civilly in the "most egregious violations," Franken emphasized in a statement. (For less egregious matters, contractors can still require employees to waive their right to sue and submit to arbitration.)
No thanks to Sessions or most Republican members of the Senate, the bill passed, 68-30. And the next time you hear the Chamber of Commerce come out swinging against healthcare reform, remind yourself that they opposed this bill, too.
Upon hearing the amendment passed, Jamie Leigh Jones told the Minnesota Post: "It means the world to me...It means that every tear shed to go public and repeat my story over and over again to make a difference for other women was worth it." It's a reminder that rape survivors go public with their stories at a serious emotional cost, and the onus is on political leaders and advocates to make it worth what could be only in the most euphemistic sense be referred to as their while.
At the end of his segment on the bill, Jon Stewart tied it all up with a bow. Now we get it! Comparing this move to regulate government contractors to ACORN's frozen funding, he says, "You don't want to waste taxpayer money on someone who advises fake prostitute how to make imaginary crimes. You want to give it to Halliburton, because they're committing real gang rape. You cut out the middleman! And they say government doesn't work."
In the mid-nineties, when Kevin Jennings was the executive director of a fledging non-profit supporting LGBT youth and teachers called GLSEN (for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network), he gave a lecture to my all-girls high school in Baltimore. I remember almost nothing about the content of his presentation; what I remember is that the school brought an openly gay man to address us directly on the matter of being gay. (Still, prior to the speech, our guidance counselor warned us that while homosexuality was okay, "experts advise" against coming out in high school.) Jennings, meanwhile, was appealing, accessible, and seemed to be working a circuit - going to any school that would let him be a warm, unashamed gay person in front of young people.
More than ten years later, my sister, now a junior at the same school, tells me that there's a Gay-Straight Alliance, several out teachers, and a popular annual Day of Silence. Kevin Jennings, meanwhile, is no longer heading a small advocacy group - he's part of the Obama administration.
Jennings has been appointed head of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, a post focused primarily on violence and drug prevention. He should know a thing or two about the kind of violence that can face LGBT youth: GLSEN has documented the prevalence of anti-LGBT violence and harassment in schools, finding in a 2007 survey that 39 percent of students experienced physical assault because of their sexual orientation; 81 percent of students were harassed on a regular basis. In last weekend's New York Times magazine cover story on gay and questioning middle school students, author Benoit Denizet-Lewis notes that a University of Nebraska-Harvard Medical School study found anti-gay harassment to be the most "psychologically harmful type of bullying." In Denizet-Lewis's article, teachers and students interviewed describe anti-gay slurs as ubiquitous. One teacher told him, "If I have to stop what I'm doing every time a student says ["That's so gay"], I won't have any time to teach!"
Predictably, conservative groups are going after Jennings. They kicked up a storm shortly after his confirmation, and now they're issuing e-blasts again. And they couldn't be making their intentions more blatant: they want Kevin Jennings to be the next Van Jones. In a recent e-newsletter, FRC referenced a Washington Times headline "Looking for the next Van Jones" (the headline is in fact "Conservatives hunt for the next Van Jones"). Jennings isn't mentioned in the article, so FRC responds:
But FRC already identified him in June-radical homosexual activist Kevin Jennings, appointed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan to head the Officer of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Jones, President Obama's "green jobs" czar, was caught using profanity in reference to Republicans; Jennings has directed his profanity at God Himself! Jones merely signed his name to a conspiracy myth about the September 11 attacks; but Jennings has spent decades actively and successfully promoting myths about homosexuality to schoolchildren as founder of the radical Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GSLEN). Van Jones was done in by two key charges and one taped quote; FRC documented at least seven outrageous facts about Jennings and five inflammatory quotes in documents we released in June (see www.stopjennings.org).
The smoking gun this time around, according to the Family Research Council, is that when a 15-year-old boy told Jennings he was having sex with older men in a bus station restroom, Jennings (claims FRC) advised him to use condoms, but did not report the behavior to the boy's parents, school, or the police.
This latest tactic should be familiar to anyone who watches the right on abortion issues: right-wing groups repeatedly call for defunding of Planned Parenthood because, they claim, when teenage girls seek abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics, the organization fails to report every possible instance of abuse. In neither case do these groups consider whether reporting a teen girl's unplanned pregnancy or a teen boy's same-sex sexual behavior to her or his parents or school would constitute a physical or emotional threat to the teenager--if the allegations are true in the first place.
Given the tragic suicides of two young boys perceived to be gay this past spring, one in Georgia and one in Massachusetts, Jennings is just the right person to head in the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. But Family Research Council is now pushing its members to contact their state Boards of Education and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in protest. It's time to get ready to fight back against another round of bash-the-progressive-who-makes-government-do-what-it-should.