The Supreme Court order you may have missed

The Supreme Court’s rulings two weeks ago on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality have had a profound and immediate effect on Americans. But so has the Court’s less-discussed order to delay the implementation of a Texas law that would have effectively shut down all but ten Texas abortion clinics, leaving nearly one million women at least 150 miles away from their closest abortion clinic.

Map of 60-mile radius access limits around Texas abortion clinics, under the suspended law. (Credit: @MetricMaps / Wikimedia)

Map of 60-mile radius access limits around remaining Texas abortion clinics, under the suspended law, versus female population density. (Credit: @MetricMaps / Wikimedia)

The Texas law in question initially grabbed the nation’s attention thanks to a pair of pink sneakers and State Senator Wendy Davis, whose passionate filibuster lasted long enough to avoid the passage of the bill…for the day. Despite Senator Davis’s efforts, the bill passed in July 2013, as part of a second special session, by a margin of 19-11.

The first part of the bill took effect 90 days after it’s passage; it prohibited abortions after 20 weeks and required all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  The Supreme Court’s order delays implementation of the second part of the bill, which requires all abortion clinics to meet the standards of an “ambulatory surgical center” – a set of stringent regulations on staffing, equipment, and the building itself.

Fund Texas Choice notes that 14 of Texas 36 abortion clinics closed due to the provision requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and only 10 clinics currently meet the standard of an ambulatory surgical center.

Some Texas lawmakers insist that these changes are designed to protect women’s health, while opponents have deemed it a thinly veiled effort to restrict a woman’s right to choose in the Lone Star State.

Abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure.  A recent study in Obstetrics and Gynecology notes that women are 14 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than from abortion.  In fact, in 2010, only 1 in 625 women who received in abortion at Planned Parenthood required an emergency room visit or blood transfusion.  Still, Texas is one of 24 states that the Guttmacher Institute reports has regulations that go beyond what is medically necessary for patient safety.

The Supreme Court order is only temporary, however, and will expire if the Court decides not to hear the case during their 2015 season.

It is still unclear if the Court will hear this case, but if they do, a woman’s right to choose is sure to be in the crosshairs of the 2016 presidential election, and rightfully so: the problem is a lot bigger than Texas, as the other 23 states with similarly restrictive laws proves.

Despite the fact that half of Americans identified as pro-choice in a May 2015 Gallup Poll, states across the country continue to enact abortion restrictions in record numbers.  During the years of 2011-2014, states passed 231 restrictions on abortions, limiting access to safe abortions from sea to shining sea.  To put that in perspective, 189 restrictions had been passed in the ten years previous.

The increasingly stringent regulations on abortion access make it clear that women need a champion to protect the rights afforded to them by the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.  That champion may come from the Supreme Court, or we may need to change the tide of state politicians.

This Texas law and the drastic effect it has on the number of abortion clinics in the state calls into focus the severity of medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion and the reality that they effectively limit access to safe abortions for many American women.

Tunisia’s Rachid Ghannouchi addresses social issues

Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist democratic party Ennahda and one of the leading practical theorists of Islamic democracy outside Turkey, continues to make the rounds with European interviewers (see previous link for more). This time he gave interviews to French journalist Olivier Ravanello for a book called “On the Subject of Islam.”

While past interviews have often focused on political or economic theory questions, the book’s pull quotes on social issues have made more waves this time (at least in the relevant, Francophone circles).

Unfortunately, because the interviews were published in French and Ghannouchi’s not an extremely high-profile person if you don’t follow this topic regularly like I do, I’m guessing it’s not getting much play yet in English-language media. The quotes are collected in the French-language Tunisian edition of Huffington Post.

He states perhaps a problematic view on some issues like blasphemy laws or inheritance rights, but made interestingly pragmatic comments on abortion & homosexuality for a relatively conservative region (though Tunisia is more liberal than the region in general). I did the translations below myself and converted idiomatic phrasing where appropriate, so these are not 1:1 translations.

Quotes on homosexuality, in principle and from a legal perspective:

“We don’t approve of it. But Islam doesn’t spy on people. It preserves privacy. Everyone lives his life as he wants to, and everyone is responsible before his creator… The law does not follow people into their private lives. … What happens in your house concerns nobody. It is your choice, and nobody has the right to enter and ban you from doing this or that.”

 
This would be an improvement over existing laws in Tunisia, which the Huffington Post article says criminalized homosexuality and can result in a three-year prison sentence. Unfortunately, Mr. Ghannouchi’s own party refused to change the law when it controlled the Human Rights and Justice Ministry during the national transition.

On the former, he endorses contraception as legitimate for women to prevent pregnancy; abortion in the first 4 (maybe 5) months, i.e. “before the development of the fetus” is possibly morally permissible. After that he opposes it on principle as an “aggression against life.” According to the Huffington Post article, this is consistent with the Tunisian law allowing abortion in the first 3 months for any reason — and for physical or mental health reasons thereafter.

Essentially, Ghannouchi’s view on abortion is approximately in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s view in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, wherein viability was estimated to be as early as 22 weeks and states could potentially ban or severely restrict it after that… But his contraception view is a lot more pragmatic than that of many U.S. Republicans.

Beyond the Senate: The 2014 state losses

Certain people of this country have realized that their true political power lies in their local governments. The states and counties that they reside in have lots of power thanks to the 10th amendment, and by golly they intend to use it to the fullest extent.

This November, not only did the Republicans shellack the Democrats on a national level, they improved their ground game and hit them where it hurts. Jill Lawrence, writing for Al Jazeera America, recaps:

Republicans took over 11 state legislative chambers that had been held by Democrats. They now control 23 states entirely — governor and both legislative chambers — versus seven for Democrats. They netted three new governors for a total of 31, versus 18 for Democrats. They gained more than 300 legislators and now hold the most state legislative seats since 1920.

 

Map of 2014 United States state legislature election results, comparing partisan control of the legislative chambers and governor's office in each state. (Credit: ArsenalForDemocracy.com) Note: Alaska's governor is an independent.

Map of 2014 United States state legislature election results, comparing partisan control of the legislative chambers and governor’s office in each state. (Click map for full-sized view.) Note: Alaska’s governor is an independent.

The significance of these gains is two-fold. First, implementing policy on a national level is difficult when it means communicating and negotiating with Republican dominated state houses. Landmark legislation like the Affordable Care Act depends on cooperation of the states. 25 states didn’t expand Medicaid as a part of the ACA, essentially making the law useless for the low-income uninsured.

Similarly, any hope for increasing the minimum wage in individual states rather than nationwide will be impossible in states with the Republican held legislatures. State Republicans that continue to base their decisions on party politics instead of the needs of the people are sure to face repercussions later down the road, but for now they have other intentions.

Which brings me to my second point. These newly elected Republican legislatures and governors will no doubt pass questionable legislation, as they have done in the past. In 2013, North Carolina tried to establish Christianity as their state religion, until someone realized that would be totally unconstitutional. Michigan lawmakers extended gun owners the right to conceal and carry in daycares, but it was vetoed by the Republican Governor a few days after the Sandy Hook shootings. And Tennessee attempted to pass a bill that would cut low-income families’ welfare if their children received poor grades in school.

State legislatures fly under the radar of most people, but local advocates have been able to push their agenda through these state houses. Based on their recent track record, the new Republican majorities will inevitably bring a fresh onslaught of anti-abortion laws to states that have already restricted a woman’s right to choose, as well as to new states. Laws that would clearly never make it through a national Congress, are snaking through the states and slowly but surely making it more difficult for a woman to have fair access to an abortion.

Issues like this are where some people have realized their true potential as voters. Local laws reflect local attitudes. And despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, local attitudes will continue to work towards limiting, and potentially barring, access to legal abortions.

So as concerning as it may be for Democrats that they lost control of the U.S. Senate, focus should instead be on the amount of power Republicans now hold in the states. And most importantly, how they intend to use that power.

John Oliver reminds us to focus on state legislatures

The US Senate’s control, whether Democratic or Republican, probably won’t make much difference in the next two years while the White House is in Democratic hands and the US House of Representatives is in Republican hands. State legislature control will have a lot of effects on a lot of people at the ground level over the next two years and will be setting the groundwork several years ahead for which parties control which states when the next redistricting rolls around. However, that has continued to get little attention nationally. John Oliver devoted 17 minutes on Sunday to the topic:

October 1, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 101

AFD-logo-470

Topics: UAE and Russia milestones for women in air and space, illegal contraception co-pays in the US, death penalty in Kenya case, Big Ideas in voting and internet technology, Thai government’s food robot. People: Bill, Persephone, Nate. Produced: September 29th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– The 1st UAE female combat pilot, the 4th female cosmonaut, CVS charging illegal co-pays on contraception, and more
– Big Idea: Could the U.S. use the goal of secure internet voting as a moonshot project to strengthen internet security in general? What interim measures should be taken to make voting easier?
– Why Thailand’s government is trying to build a robot to measure Thai food authenticity

Part 1 – UAE, Russia, US, Kenya:
Part 1 – UAE, Russia, US, Kenya – AFD 101
Part 2 – Big Ideas in Voting Tech:
Part 2 – Big Ideas in Voting Tech – AFD 101
Part 3 – Thai Food:
Part 3 – Thai Food – AFD 101

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

AFD: Russia & UAE: A big week for women in air and space
Gawker: Fox News Host Calls Female Fighter Pilot “Boobs On the Ground”
House.gov: Congresswoman Speier Discovers CVS Illegally Charged 11,000 Women for Contraceptives
AFD: Kenya sentence an urgent reminder of the need for legal abortion

Segment 2

Wikipedia: Electronic voting in Estonia
ThinkProgress: Georgia State Senator Complains That Voting Is Too Convenient For Black People

Segment 3

New York Times: You Call This Thai Food? The Robotic Taster Will Be the Judge
The Globalist: Exporting Japanese Food Culture

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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Kenyan sentence an urgent reminder of the need for legal abortion

A nurse has been sentenced to death in Kenya after being held responsible for the death of a young woman or girl who tried to get an abortion, back in 2009. He maintained that she had first tried to get one from unsafe source and then sought help from him as she developed complications but died anyway. The last death sentence in the country was applied in 1987.

Judge Nicholas Ombija said the court had established “that the accused caused the death of the deceased” and convicted him of murder.

 
Abortions are only legal in the country to save the life of the mother, and 120,000 women are treated annually for complications from failed attempts to obtain one illegally. The defendant is to be hanged for his role in the young woman’s death. Due to pressure by religious leaders, the law that really killed her is not expected to be changed.

Have Dems finally resolved their internal social issues split?

“Turning Tables, Democrats Use Cultural Issues as a Cudgel,” blares the New York Times today. Amid all the gloomy news for Democrats across the country in 2014, this may be the single article that has brought the most joy to me, featuring one race after another where the Democrat is running strongly on — not away from — social issues, on the progressive side.

This is a clear sign to me that, although we’re still facing huge challenges on these issues, the tide has finally turned — not just among voters but among Democratic candidates. For example, in just a few years we’ve gone from Democratic senators being terrified to endorse repealing DOMA to them gleefully beating their opponents over the head with that. It’s a similar story for reproductive freedom issues. While the policy tide on the latter is still running hard in the wrong direction in dozens of states, the campaign trail story is encouraging. And best of all, there’s been no sudden uprising by Christian conservative voters in response.

When I flash back to the dark days of November 2009, as the anti-choice Stupak Amendment suddenly appeared on the U.S. House version of the health insurance reform bill and looked like it might be mirrored in the Senate bill, despite a Democratic majority in both chambers, and I recall my angst over whether socially progressive Democrats should be doing more to purge socially conservative Democrats like Bart Stupak from the party so they would stop hurting the Democratic base (women, gays, et al), I feel a lot better today.

In no small part, that’s probably because the 2010 midterm voters did most of the heavy lifting on purging many of those rotten Democrats out of office. In the short run, it meant that even more hardline socially conservative Republicans often took their seats, unfortunately. But the broader result was that those hardcore socially conservative Democrats were no longer in an authoritative place inside the party over the past three and a half years to shout down the lefty Democrats as they persuaded the moderates to switch positions or take stronger positions, in line with the rapidly shifting electoral landscape. Extremist Republicans in winnable districts will be easier to replace in the general elections of coming years (with socially progressive Democrats) than anti-gay, anti-choice Democratic incumbents would have been in primaries. Meanwhile, moderate Democrats in competitive districts will be better able to rally the Democratic base on progressive social values, to remain in office.

This internal transformation has allowed the Democratic Party to define itself much more clearly, which helps motivate activism and turnout among ordinary Democrats. As to the socially conservative voters who will vote exclusively or heavily on these issue, they’ve already become confirmed Republicans at this point and are now out of reach to even the most conservative Democratic candidates.