States have approved more anti-abortion measures during the past three years than during the entire preceding decade. And this fall, voters themselves will also have the chance to decide whether to approve or block extreme anti-abortion ballot initiatives in three states. Ballot measures in Colorado and North Dakota would effectively ban abortion by defining personhood as beginning at conception, and a constitutional amendment in Tennessee would allow the state legislature to pass draconian anti-abortion laws, including a ban. Here's a look at those ballot initiatives:
Colorado's Constitutional Amendment 67: This ballot measure would amend Colorado's constitution to define a fetus as a person under Colorado's criminal code, a change that opponents say would make any abortion a crime, including in cases of rape and incest, and when the health of the mother is endangered.
Supporters of the amendment, including Personhood Colorado, the group backing the ballot measure, say it has nothing to do with abortion, but rather is designed to ensure that those who harm an unborn child in any manner will be prosecuted. The woman who initially pushed for the measure is Colorado resident Heather Surovik, whose fetus was killed by a drunk driver. The driver pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated, but because under Colorado law an unborn child is considered part of the mother's body and not a separate person, he was not charged with killing the fetus.
"Amendment 67 corrects the loophole in Colorado law and ensures that those criminals can be charged with killing a child in many different scenarios," Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman with PersonhoodUSA, told the Washington Post in August.
Reproductive rights advocates say baloney. The "Vote No on 67" campaign, a broad coalition of organizations including the ACLU of Colorado, the Colorado Bar Association and NARAL Pro-Choice America, note the amendment would "give legal and constitutional rights to a woman's fertilized egg," making criminals out of women who seek abortions and the doctors who perform them. Amendment 67 could also restrict access to emergency contraception and other types of birth control, as some prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus.
Planned Parenthood of Colorado is planning to spend at least $3.8 million in an effort to defeat the amendment. And Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is harping on the ballot initiative to help drive women to the polls in November. Udall's Republican opponent, Rep. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.), says he opposes Amendment 67 but has supported personhood measures in the past.
Coloradans defeated personhood amendments in 2008 and 2010 that defined a fetus as a person from the moment of fertilization, or from the first stage of biological development. But because this time around the measure's language focuses on "protecting pregnant women," and supporters are framing it as unrelated to abortion, opponents fear it has a better chance.
North Dakota's Constitutional Measure 1: North Dakota's personhood amendment asks voters to decide whether the state's constitution should protect "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development."
The measure would have the effect of banning all abortion services, according to the North Dakota Coalition For Privacy in Healthcare, a group opposing the initiative that includes the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition. "Victims of rape and incest could be forced to carry a pregnancy that resulted from sexual violence,” the coalition notes. “Women whose health is at risk could also be prohibited from terminating their pregnancies." The measure could even criminalize miscarriage and ban some forms of birth control. Former North Dakota Democratic lieutenant governor Lloyd Omdahl has said Measure 1 is "driven primarily by theology."
Proponents of the personhood amendment say the ballot initiative would keep existing laws governing abortion from being overturned by courts. Last year, North Dakota enacted two laws restricting abortion in the state. One forbade women from terminating a pregnancy based on sex or genetic defect. The other, which banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected—about six weeks after conception—was shot down by a federal court in April.
GOP state Sen. Margaret Sitte, a supporter of the personhood amendment, says Measure 1 is "intended to present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade," the landmark Supreme Court case that held the constitutional right to privacy included a right to abortion. If the measure passes, North Dakota would be the first state to define life as beginning at conception. States have defeated three other personhood ballot initiatives in recent years. In addition to Colorado's 2008 and 2010 personhood amendment fails, voters shot down a similar ballot measure in Mississippi in 2011.
Tennessee's Constitutional Amendment 1: As my colleague Molly Redden reported last week, the country's biggest abortion battle is currently playing out in Tennessee, where supporters and opponents of abortion rights are fighting over a constitutional amendment that will appear on state ballots this November.
The measure states, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion." It would allow the legislature "unlimited authority to pass burdensome and unnecessary restrictions and regulations on abortion, including banning all abortions," according to Planned Parenthood, including in the case of pregnancy from rape, or incest, or when an abortion is necessary to protect the mother's health.
Here's Redden with the backstory:
Tennessee Republicans have been striving to put this referendum before voters since 2000, when a state Supreme Court decision blocked several harsh anti-abortion measures from becoming law. The ruling, which struck down several anti-abortion laws passed in 1998, has prevented the Legislature from passing certain strict laws enacted in other states, such as a mandatory abortion waiting period.…
Amendment 1 would overturn that court decision. 'It will basically just open the floodgates for the General Assembly to pass any kind of restriction if the amendment passes,' says Jeff Teague, the president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee. 'We think they probably have a long list of things they're going to pass.'
The amendment is particularly insidious, the group Vote No on 1 says, because it "is carefully worded in order to deliberately confuse voters about the real intention and motives of those behind the amendment." The reproductive rights coalition says the language in the ballot initiative may trick voters into thinking that it includes exceptions for women who are victims of rape or incest, or when a woman's health is in danger, when it does not.
Proponents of Amendment 1 have raised over $500,000 as of early July—which they are spending on TV ads and voter outreach efforts—and hope to raise a total of $2.1 million. Opponents have raised more than $360,000 so far and hope to rake in a total of $4 million. The referendum battle looks to become the most expensive in the state's history.
If the ballot initiative passes, anti-abortion politicians in the state are expected to pass the same extreme abortion laws and regulations that have shuttered abortion clinics in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and Alabama.
Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.); Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas); Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.); Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.); Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)
The US Chamber of Commerce, the biggest big business trade group in the country, lobbies against things like Obamacare, regulation of Wall Street, and action on climate change. So it's no surprise that the Chamber tends to support Republican candidates; this year, it has already thrown its weight behind 256 GOP contenders. It's also backing a handful of Democrats.
These Dems vote with the Chamber more than most Democrats. "The Democrats the Chamber has backed are reliable votes on business issues. We can tell from their track records," explains Jennifer Lawless, a professor of political science at American University. But that's not the only reason the Chamber is backing them: The Dems backed by the big-business lobby are running against exactly the sort of Republicans the Chamber doesn't like—tea party and libertarian GOPers. Tea party Republicans—who have spooked big business repeatedly in recent years by shutting down the government, threatening to throw the country into default, and slamming Wall Street excess—are less predictable "in terms of what they will ultimately do for business if they win and get to Congress," Lawless says, and the Chamber hates that. (The Chamber did not respond to a request for comment.)
Here's a rundown of four Dems the Chamber is backing.
Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.): Peters is running against tea partier and former San Diego city council member Carl DeMaio in California's 52nd district, and is one of the most vulnerable Democrats running for reelection.
In 2013, Peters cast votes in line with the Chamber's priorities 69 percent of the time, according to the group's scorecard. That's a far better score than most Democrats get from the business group.
Just last year, for example, Peters voted in favor of CISPA, a bill that would allow technology and manufacturing companies to share internet traffic information with the government. It was backed by corporations like Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, and Apple and has been slammed by privacy and civil liberties advocates, who say that it could give the feds new powers to spy on Americans. Peters also voted to delay Obamacare's employer mandate, and to postpone new regulations protecting retirees from abusive financial advisers.
"Your record of support on pro-business issues earned this," Chamber president Tom Donohue said upon announcing the endorsement.
Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.): Barrow is running for reelection in Georgia's 12th district against construction company owner and tea partier Rick Allen.
Allen's campaign website rails against "self-serving politicians" and "the interfering strong hand of a powerful elite." Barrow, by contrast, cast Chamber-friendly votes 69 percent of the time in 2013, and 75 percent of the time since he came to office in 2005. Last year, he voted in favor of Chamber priorities like fast-tracking approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and limiting federal funding for school districts in low-income areas.
Even though Mitt Romney won in Barrow's district in 2012, Barrow prevailed thanks to his moderate record and a previous endorsement from the Chamber. The business lobbying group that year spent $100,000 on a TV ad on his behalf.
Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.): Costa, who has held office since 2004, is facing off this November against tea-party-backed Republican Johnny Tacherra. Last year, Costa also voted in favor of fast-tracking Keystone and speeding up approval of natural gas pipeline construction around the country, and in 2012, he voted to deregulate the coal industry. He has voted in line with the Chamber 70 percent of the time over the course of his tenure in Congress.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas): There is no Republican running in Cuellar's 28th district in Texas, though he will be facing off against a little-known libertarian candidate named Will Aikens.
Cuellar voted with the Chamber 77 percent of the time 2013. He voted in favor of CISPA, supported delaying investor protections for retirees, and backed a bill that would make it harder to file civil rights lawsuits. "He's one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress," Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Texas, told Fox News in July.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.): Sinema is running for reelection against tea party-backed Republican Wendy Rogers in Arizona’s 9th district.
Rogers’ campaign website laments how "special interests have come to dominate our political culture." Sinema has a record of defending some of those special interests. Last year, the congresswoman voted in favor of a bill that would expand the types of trading risks banks would be allowed to take on while still being backed by taxpayers. And she pushed back against efforts by the Obama administration to end discrimination by car dealers, a move that would cut into dealers’ bottom lines. Her website touts her as a "a strong supporter of pro-business policies." Last year, Sinema voted in favor of Chamber priorities 77 percent of the time.
So far the Chamber has spent $14.5 million supporting Republicans in 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It has spent no money yet backing Democrats.
In 2008, the Chamber endorsed 38 Democrats. In 2010, it backed 21, and in 2012, it supported only 5. As Sean Sullivan pointed out at the Washington Post earlier this month, one of the reasons that the Chamber has backed fewer and fewer Dems over the years is there aren't as many centrist, pro-business Democrats in Congress as there were in 2008.
This post has been updated to include Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
In his speech Wednesday night, President Barack Obama said he would "welcome congressional support" for his expanded-but-limited plan to destroy ISIS, the terror organization wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria. But Obama conspicuously did not say he would ask lawmakers to vote on whether to approve this military action. The White House insists that a previous congressional authorization approving military action against Al Qaeda and its affiliates allows Obama to go forward without seeking another explicit green light from Capitol Hill. And once again, the nation is witnessing another round in the decades-long tussle between the legislative branch and 1600 Pennsylvania over the limits of the president's war-making power. Many lawmakers seem happy to give the president a pass because they'd rather not vote on the matter—especially in an election year. (As GOP Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia candidly said, "A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, 'Just bomb the place and tell us about it later.' It's an election year. A lot of Democrats don't know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don't want to change anything. We like the path we're on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.") But an odd-couple coalition is developing within Congress: liberal Dems and conservative Republicans who are demanding that the president seek a congressional okay before escalating attacks against ISIS.
"Congress must weigh in when it comes to confronting ISIL through military action," Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the chairs of the 70-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement after Obama's speech. "The voices of the American people must be heard during a full and robust debate in Congress on the use of military force."
On Wednesday night, President Barack Obama will lay out his plan to take down ISIS, the Islamist group that has conquered vast swaths of Iraq and Syria and recently beheaded two American journalists. Obama is expected to outline a strategy that will involve working with a coalition of other nations, continuing air strikes, and training and advising the Iraqi military—but not reintroducing US ground troops. Yet even before the speech, a group of progressive lawmakers in Congress were voicing opposition to greater US military intervention in Iraq and Syria, while other liberal Democrats were supporting Obama's steps toward more extensive, though limited, military action against ISIS. Though recent public opinion polls show a majority of Americans supporting air strikes against ISIS and the sort of military action Obama is adopting, his expansion of the US military role in Iraq (and possibly Syria) is threatening to split his own party.
Progressive Democrats opposed to greater US military intervention in Iraq tend to note that they share the widespread revulsion for ISIS, but they maintain that ramping up US military action is not necessary to protect US national security, would likely be ineffective, and could enmesh the nation (once again) in a prolonged and costly conflict. "While the US has an obligation to prevent imminent genocide, military force is not an effective solution to the broader strife afflicting Iraq," says Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). A July letter signed by 51 CPC members cautioned that "any solution to this complex crisis can only be achieved through a political settlement."
Police officers arrest a protester in front of a McDonald's restaurant in New York's Times Square on Thursday.
On Thursday, nearly two years after fast-food employees first walked off the job in New York City, workers in dozens of cities around the country are staging a new round of strikes aimed at winning workers a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union. This spate of walk-outs will see a significant escalation in tactics: home healthcare workers will join the day of action, and some workers will engage in civil disobedience. Several have already been arrested.
"On Thursday, we are prepared to take arrests to show our commitment to the growing fight for $15," Terrence Wise, a Kansas City Burger King employee and a member of the fast-food workers’ national organizing committee, said in a statement earlier this week.
Employees at restaurant chains including McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Burger King are walking off the job and staging sit-ins in 150 cities nationwide, from Chicago to Oakland, Pittsburg to Seattle. During the last one-day strike in May, workers protested in 150 US cities and 80 foreign cities, forcing several franchises to close for part of the day.
So far, the massive chains have been resistant to bumping up workers’ wages. Nevertheless, the movement has dealt some serious setbacks to one of the biggest fast-food employers: McDonald's. The company's public image was tarnished significantly between 2013 and 2014, according to a recent study quantifying companies’ reputations. McDonald's sales have fallen over the past year amid ramped up scrutiny from Congress over its poverty wages. And in July, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s corporate can be held liable in worker lawsuits over wage-theft and working conditions. (The company had been arguing that it does not exert significant control over its franchises’ employment practices.)
The Service Employees Industrial Union, which has backed the workers from the start, hopes the addition of some of the nation’s 2 million home healthcare aides to the growing movement will put additional pressure on states and localities to raise their minimum wage.
On Labor Day, President Barack Obama gave the fast-food worker movement a morale boost. "All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity," the president said. "There is no denying a simple truth. America deserves a raise."