Category Archives: Abortion

How to distract voters: Planned Parenthood

THE ISSUE: Desperate for a distraction that would keep their constituents from expecting them to govern, the Alabama Legislature found one: Planned Parenthood.

It’s an awkward time to be in the Alabama Legislature for those who have spent their political careers calling for smaller government and lower taxes.

What do such politicians do when they already delivered on the small-government promise, but don’t have the tax revenue even to sustain that?

One approach, of course, is to confront the problem. To explain to constituents that as much as they might like the state to provide no-cost services, it needs tax revenue.

That’s the approach Gov. Robert Bentley has taken since being elected to his second and last term. His naive hope was his willingness to educate the people on the realities of running a functional state would give legislators the courage to take the only responsible avenue open to them: increasing taxes.

Far from it, lawmakers delighted in using Bentley as a political punching bag, shaming him by passing a budget they knew he’d have to veto, refusing to go into special session when he asked and proposing unrealistic cuts he will once again have to veto.

With those theatrics getting tiresome, however, lawmakers needed something else. The Planned Parenthood videos — showing an official with the organization discussing the availability of fetal tissue for scientific research — were made to order. Legislators, baffled by the budget, are vocal in their support of a bill that would ban the sale of aborted fetuses.

No matter that a federal law already prohibits sale of fetal tissue and places numerous restrictions on its use for life-saving research. No matter that the tissue has been used for medical research for decades.

The Legislature did not need a bill that mattered, it needed an issue that distracted the public from its utter failure to govern the state. It needed something that would prevent people from noticing it is pillaging the Education Trust Fund rather than fixing the General Fund budget. Legislators needed something sensational enough it would keep constituents from asking why they ignored the imminent budget crisis not just in this year’s regular session, but over the last several years.

Indeed, it takes a major distraction to obscure the fact lawmakers year after year patched budget holes with one-time windfalls and borrowed money, but didn’t grapple with the issue of what to do when the one-time fixes ran out.

A beleaguered Bentley was determined to one-up the Legislature, which he did by ending Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood.

This gesture was even more pointless than the House bill that largely duplicated existing federal prohibitions. Medicaid does not cover abortions in Alabama. Indeed, total state Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood over the last two years came to $4,351, and that was for contraception.

With Bentley’s fiscal-conservative halo tarnished by his call for a needed tax increase, he is determined to make headlines that help his social-conservative halo gleam.

Our elected officials have shown us they are brilliant at manufacturing distractions. Now it’s time for them to show they have the backbone to govern.

(Published Aug. 9, 2015)

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Filed under Abortion, Alabama politics, Tax reform

Alabama gets F on protecting the unborn from preterm birth

Few states can match Alabama in its zeal to protect the unborn. Our lawmakers happily flout U.S. Supreme Court decisions in their efforts to close abortion clinics. Every year, bills appear at the Statehouse that would prohibit abortions closer and closer to the date of conception.

Such efforts to limit abortions are, of course, easy for lawmakers. Regulating clinics out of existence has no effect on the state budget, and the effort to do so generally receives public approval.

The sincerity of the state’s concern for the unborn does not stand up to scrutiny.

The annual March of Dimes report card on premature births came out recently, and Alabama was one of three states to receive an F.

Compared to an 11.4 percent rate of premature births nationally, Alabama’s rate is 15.1 percent. Louisiana had the same rate as Alabama, and only Mississippi — at 16.6 percent — was worse. Failing to meet the national rate is an embarrassment, as 130 countries have a lower percentage of premature births than the United States.

And while the national rate has been creeping down, Alabama’s rate is rising.

To put Alabama’s 15.1-percent rate into global context: Only 11 countries have a rate over 15 percent. All but two are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Does the state’s high rate of preterm births matter? Absolutely. Premature births are the No. 1 killer of children under the age of 5. Alabama has 10,000 premature births a year, contributing to 520 annual deaths of children less than 1 year old.

Does the state have the ability to reduce preterm births? Again, absolutely.

Not surprisingly, there is a direct correlation between the percentage of uninsured women — 21.2 percent in Alabama — and the rate of premature births. States with relatively low rates of premature births invariably are states that have liberal Medicaid coverage. A healthy mother is far more likely to deliver a full-term and healthy baby, but women without insurance are less likely to be healthy.

So in a state like Alabama, where almost every politician vows publicly and often to protect the rights of the unborn, why do we not do more to reduce premature births?

Partly because of money, and partly because of politics.

Improving the health of prospective mothers — through Medicaid expansion, education and preventive care — costs money. In a cash-strapped state, that means raising taxes on the wealthy. And those who control Montgomery through political contributions are both wealthy and resistant to taxes.

Railing against abortion and passing laws that close abortion clinics costs nothing. Protecting unborn children from the health risks of premature birth, however, requires funding.

It’s also, however, simple politics. Most Alabamians oppose abortion, but they also oppose the most direct route to preserving the lives of the unborn: Medicaid expansion.

It is time for Alabamians and their elected representatives to either abandon their avowed enthusiasm for protecting unborn children, or to recognize that supporting the sanctity of life is not just about rebelling against the U.S. Supreme Court. We can save the lives of children by expanding access to health care.

(Published July 26, 2015)

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Abortion bill confuses law with public relations

THE ISSUE: Whatever one’s stance on abortions, legislators should not be pushing unconstitutional laws just for the publicity. There are better, and less expensive, ways to advocate against abortion.

When Alabamians elect candidates to represent them in Montgomery, they do so with an expectation that the elected officials will recognize the weighty responsibility that comes with the ability to make laws.

That expectation has been foiled time and again by a Legislature that too often passes obviously unconstitutional laws, counting on winning political points from their constituents.

The “fetal heartbeat” bill sponsored in the House by state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, with 42 co-sponsors, is an unfortunate example.

Collins was open in her reason for sponsoring a bill that — according to long-standing U.S. Supreme Court precedent — violates the U.S. Constitution.

“My concern right now is to move the legislation through the House,” Collins said Tuesday. “I believe that education is always a good thing. So when you talk about life, to understand that baby in the womb that you can’t see really does have a heartbeat is great education to have circulating around the state.”

Passing unconstitutional laws is not the most efficient way to educate the public about abortion.

Collins, a former board member of Decatur Sav-A-Life Pregnancy Center, is sincere in her concerns about abortion, as are many in the state. There are many ways to educate pregnant women about the brutal details surrounding abortion. Legislators can speak at churches, use social media and support pregnancy centers. They can send out press releases and place flyers on doorknobs.

Passing a law that makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion that is legal under the U.S. Constitution, however, is not the best approach.

Probably because the goal of the bill is “education,” not sound legislation, it makes no effort to fall within constitutional guidelines.

It includes no exceptions for rape or incest. It does not specify the method by which the fetal heartbeat should be detected. That’s a serious defect. According to the Endowment for Human Development, a fetus’s heart begins to beat 22 days into the pregnancy. Invasive ultrasounds could thus detect the heartbeat before most women even know they are pregnant. Even conventional ultrasounds can detect a heartbeat as early as six weeks, again before many women know they are pregnant.

The U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited states from banning abortions before the fetus is viable, between 24 and 28 weeks.

It is, of course, possible the Supreme Court will revisit the issue. The Supreme Court will have an opportunity to hear arguments over laws in Arkansas and North Dakota that conflict with its previous decisions. If the court broadens state’s rights to restrict abortion, the Alabama Legislature can pass a constitutional law.

The question is why the Alabama Legislature, already facing a staggering deficit, would set itself up for another expensive lawsuit that it will almost certainly lose.

The unfortunate answer is that the purpose of the bill is not to use the criminal justice system to constitutionally regulate the conduct of women and their doctors. It is merely, as Collins suggested, a bill designed to create a high-profile controversy that will cause people “to understand that baby in the womb that you can’t see really does have a heartbeat.”

There is nothing wrong with legislators proclaiming their views on abortion. There is much wrong with using their power, and the state’s resources, to push unconstitutional bills as a form of public relations.

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Alabama’s Triumph in choppy water

The Alabama ship of state is a Triumph of governance.

Triumph with a capital “T,” as in the Carnival Triumph that became disabled Feb. 10, stranding its passengers for days. And then, when it finally arrived in Mobile Bay, the ship broke from its moorings and collided with a cargo vessel.
The passengers on the ailing ship Alabama were stranded the same week as the cruise ship, when the Legislature went into session.
Since then, Alabamians — like Triumph passengers — have had no choice but to hold their noses and pray for the journey to end.
The latest collision takes place in the choppy waters of reproductive rights.
The Legislature passed, and the governor plans to sign, a law designed to put abortion clinics out of business. It’s disturbing not so much because it opposes abortions — many Alabamians do — but because it seeks to unravel a constitutional right women have had since 1974. It does so in the bluntest possible way. The normal questions that come up with the abortion issue — does it prevent abortion in cases of rape or incest, does it prevent an abortion when the life of the mother is at risk — are irrelevant. By making the cost of operating the clinics so high they cannot remain solvent, it eliminates the constitutional right by removing the option.
As pro-life Sen. Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb, said to her colleagues, “You are not telling your constituents the real truth — that you are trying to close these clinics so there will be no abortions in Alabama.”
For low-income women, the law means the remaining choice is hideous do-it-yourself methods. For women of means, a trip to a well-regulated clinic in another state will suffice.
Even as it removes the option of abortion for poor women, the Legislature is doing its best to increase the number of unwanted pregnancies.
The state House has passed, and the Senate is expected to pass, a bill that allows small businesses to opt out of contraceptive coverage for their employees. High-paid employees will be able to afford birth-control pills — whether to prevent pregnancy or stop acne or normalize menstrual cycles — but low-paid employees will struggle to do so. The obvious result will be more unintended pregnancies.
Third-world countries have figured out the best way to prevent abortions is to increase access to contraception. It’s an equation that seems elusive to the navigators in Montgomery.
The combined result of these laws, of course, will be more children born to women without the money to care for them. If this is in fact the goal of the bills, the state should be looking for ways to assist in their care.
Far from it. Not included in the incredible volume of legislation spewing from Montgomery is an expansion of Medicaid. The expansion would be fully funded by the federal government for three years and, if the state elected to continue it, at 90 percent thereafter. It would improve pre-natal care and infant care and give working mothers options for breast-feeding their children.
Is the state at least seeking to educate these children, so they have a chance at the income mobility that eluded their parents? No. The Alabama Accountability Act will drain about $55 million from the Education Trust Fund, according to legislators, exactly the price of providing tax credits to families whose children already are enrolled in private schools. The noble justification given for the law — to help students transfer from failing public schools to private schools — was proved false when the budget estimates came out.
The Alabama Triumph is headed on a course that will increase the number of unwanted pregnancies among poor women, prevent them from ending the pregnancies and prevent them from providing health care or opportunity for their children once born.
By comparison, the journey of the Carnival Triumph looks like a delightful cruise.

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Abortion and individual rights

We dare defend out rights in Alabama, and we’re sick of federal meddling.
President Barack Obama and the liberal elite have no right to tell us how many guns we can have, to impose a “pro-choice” agenda or to dictate our health care. Just leave us alone, we cry, fueled by campaign rhetoric.
Unfortunately, the intensity of our resentment sometimes muddles the issues. We are so fervent in our complaints about federal government that we fail to notice that some of the greatest threats to individual liberty come not from Washington but from Montgomery.
It is worthwhile to separate our frustrations into categories. Our Founding Fathers conveniently provided a framework in the U.S. Constitution.
Enumerated powers
One category, defined in the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, has little to do with individual liberties. Those powers not specifically delegated by the Constitution to the federal government, the amendment proclaims, are reserved to the states.
Living in a relatively homogeneous state, we resent the federal crawl that has for more than two centuries increased federal authority at the expense of state authority. Congress and our various presidents have played a role in the expansion of enumerated powers. The greatest factor, though, is a Commerce Clause that did not contemplate the dramatic increase in interstate commerce. Once the exception, interstate commercial transactions have become the norm. Courts trying to limit federal authority — such as those looking for a way to block the Affordable Care Act — are faced with an expansive but constitutionally enumerated power.
In 2012, unlike in 1787, all commerce is interstate commerce. Combined with the Supremacy Clause, this means that Congress can trump state authority in almost every aspect of governance.
While this expansion of federal powers is disturbing, we should remember its limited significance. The ballooning of the Commerce Clause does not inherently increase government control over individuals; it merely changes which government controls us. It is a turf battle between kings.
Bill of Rights and abortion
The limits on governmental control over the individual are found primarily, of course, in the Bill of Rights. Most of these pronouncements of individual liberty, which originally just limited Congress, were expanded through the 14th Amendment to limit state government.
The abortion debate is impossibly complex. Intelligent and moral people disagree violently over when, if ever, an abortion is appropriate. State legislators are fanning the flames with “pro-life” bills. More than a dozen such bills would create barriers for women seeking abortions, even in the case of birth defects or rape. Most would make abortions unaffordable for the poor.
Because Obama and some U.S. senators are “pro-choice,” state lawmakers describe their bills as a protest of Washington overreach.
My views on abortion are colored by my gender. The idea that a woman could, without my input, abort a baby that I helped create, horrifies me. I am sure that I would object to the morality of many abortions, even if I understood the woman’s rationale. Unlike laws limiting speech or gun ownership, laws limiting abortion pose no threat to me — or to most lawmakers — because they will never apply to me. The state wants to substitute its judgment for that of women, not men.
We need not have an opinion on the morality of abortion to understand what our elected officials are doing. They are seeking to expand the power of the state over the individual.
Cries of a Washington power grab — sensible when the issue is which government gets to control the citizenry — are specious when used as a justification for “pro-life” legislation.
Washington’s involvement in the abortion issue is the result of geographical happenstance. It so happens that the primary guardian of the individual liberties set forth in the U.S. Constitution is the U.S. Supreme Court. Congressional views on abortion vary from year to year, as do those of our various presidents.
Roe v. Wade
In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court made no effort to decide whether abortions were moral or immoral. Its sole function was to determine how much control a government may exercise over an individual. Through the law at issue, the Texas state government prohibited a woman from obtaining an abortion unless the procedure was necessary to save her life. The Supreme Court ruled that the individual liberties protected by the Bill of Rights do not permit a government to go that far.
We may oppose Roe v. Wade, but that opposition should be in context. The issue is not whether abortions are appropriate, but who should decide if they are appropriate. In numerous bills, our state lawmakers have said that this is an issue in which individual liberty should succumb to governmental control.
Contact Eric Fleischauer at http://www.mile304.com or eric@decaturdaily.com.

http://www.decaturdaily.com/stories/Abortion-and-individual-rights,92808

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Government overreach on abortion

Using the power we provided them, our elected representatives seem determined to support reckless laws with immoral consequences.

The latest bill to catch national attention apparently is intended to make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions. If that was all the law did, it might be consistent with the wishes of a majority of Alabama voters.

As with most bills designed to make social statements rather than fix problems, House Bill 418 is guilty of frightening governmental overreach.

The bill mandates that doctors administer vaginal ultrasounds to women seeking to terminate a pregnancy, that they display the ultrasound to the mother and that they verbally describe the fetus in case she refuses to look.

The House bill does not just require these steps for conventional abortions. It expressly — albeit with confused language — requires compliance for ectopic pregnancies and removal of an already-dead fetus. It makes no exception for situations in which the fetus is nonviable or genetically deformed. Nor does it make an exception for victims of rape.

The bill expressly requires compliance regardless of the doctor’s judgment on the woman’s mental health or suicidal intent. A doctor who fails to follow the law is guilty of a felony.

Voters could ruefully shake their head as mere observers of another example of governmental overreach, except we were complicit in this one. The representatives we elected — Terri Collins and Micky Hammon, Republicans of Decatur — are cosponsors of the legislation.

Collins — who has sponsored some good bills this session — said she was unaware of the vaginal-ultrasound requirement when she signed the seven-page bill. She said she believes the bill would not apply to ectopic pregnancies, even though the Senate Health Committee — reviewing an identical bill — recognized such nonviable pregnancies were included in the muddled language.

Hammon and Collins may have stumbled into this bill as a way to protest what some agree is a lack of protection for the unborn child. It goes far beyond that goal.

If Collins and Hammon wish to wave pro-life signs and loudly proclaim their opposition to abortion, fine. When they are using the power the people gave them to support a bill that would inject the state into the doctor-patient relationship, however, they need to think through the consequences.

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Social media shows its power

Social media, a fun tool for exchanging recipes and sharing gossip, is a powerful vehicle for modern democracy.
Just ask Clay Scofield. The Republican senator from Guntersville had to back down on an abortion bill he sponsored, overwhelmed by popular opposition that found cohesion through Facebook.
At issue was Senate Bill 12. It escaped widespread notice until Feb. 23, when the Senate Health Committee approved it. That prompted some isolated posts on various Facebook pages whose members tend to have a concern for women’s rights and liberal causes. Mary and Robert Posey of Arab, concerned about the bill and recognizing the increasing volume of posts by like-minded people, created a Facebook group dedicated to the issue on Feb. 25.
Within 24 hours, the group had 700 members. A few days later, membership had grown to almost 1,500.
Scofield inundated
An early post noted that Scofield had a Facebook page. He did, although it had almost no posts other than a few congratulating him on his 2010 election. Within hours, he had hundreds of posts. Maybe thousands, although I did not count them before he began deleting them. They were brutal posts, but not offensive. They detailed consequences of the law that extended far beyond normal pro-life goals. Many were from his constituents, and all demanded that he withdraw the bill.
Facebook is an effective democratic tool but, as posts indicated, its power is narrow. The members were diverse, and they actively narrowed their message to maintain their coalition. A rare post that slammed Republicans received immediate criticism from members who said they were Republicans. The one thing that all the group members agreed upon was that SB12 should not become law.
The group’s unity depended on the fact that people with diverse perspectives could agree that the bill is awful.
Awful bill
And it is. As originally filed the bill — like its identical counterpart, House Bill 418 — requires vaginal ultrasounds for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. It requires doctors to show the ultrasound to the woman and to describe the fetus verbally. It requires the doctor to go through this exercise even if the woman is suicidal, even if the fetus is nonviable and even if the pregnancy is the result of a rape.
Bizarrely — and maybe unintentionally — the poorly drafted bill expressly applies to the removal of ectopic pregnancies and the removal of “a dead unborn child who died as the result of natural causes, accidental trauma, or a criminal assault.” The Senate Health Committee deleted the coverage of ectopic pregnancies before approving it, but left in the language pertaining to “a dead unborn child.”
The bill manages to offend numerous constituencies, and that was essential to the coalition that formed against it. Women of both parties expressed anger that the state would intrude in such a cumbersome way. Doctors frequented the page, frustrated that the state would interfere in their relationship with their patients and that it would impose medically unnecessary, and morally questionable, requirements. Men who had watched their wives go through the trauma of aborting a nonviable fetus opposed the bill, recognizing its tragic implications.
Beyond digital
The members recognized that their goal required them to branch beyond digital outrage. Facebook became a platform for planning strategy. Members visited their senators about the bill and reported back to the group on their senator’s response. Carpools to Montgomery formed. Members raised money for non-digital protests. They shared contact information on media and elected officials. A petition calling for an end to the bill collected more than 2,000 signatures in two days.
Predictably, some members focused on narrow issues apart from the central goal of blocking the bill. Rather than disrupt the coalition, they formed new groups. One, for example, focused on the fact that the chairman of the Senate Health Committee is vice-president of a company that sells ultrasound equipment. The mission of this splinter group was to trigger an ethics investigation into the conduct of Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper.
‘Not my intent’
“I’ve been working on some amendments to clarify portions of this bill,” Scofield told WAAY TV after the deluge began. “Some of the misinformation is that this bill will apply to women who have ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages. It is not in this bill” — actually, it is — “and that was not my intent in this bill whatsoever.”
Scofield said he would exclude ectopic pregancies from the bill and would remove the requirement that women must undergo a vaginal ultrasound.
“I want it to be the choice of the mother,” Scofield said in a complete reversal. “If she does not want a vaginal transducer, she does not have to have one.”
He said he shut down his Facebook page because “there was a lot of hurtful things on there that were being posted,” and he feared for his safety.
The results of this experiment in 21st Century democracy remain unknown. Scofield has not pulled his bill, and the identical House bill continues to display the signatures of numerous North Alabama representatives. It may be that if Scofield makes the promised revisions, the narrow interests that held the Facebook coalition together will dissolve. Thousands and thousands of posts, though, suggest that nothing short of the bill’s withdrawal will suffice.
Thanks to social media, the days in which legislators could count on controversial legislation to escape public notice are over.

Contact Eric Fleischauer at http://www.mile304.com or eric@decaturdaily.com.

http://www.decaturdaily.com/stories/Social-media-shows-its-power,92477

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Filed under Abortion, Alabama politics, Democracy