Last night at the Democratic National Convention, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards sat next to former President Bill Clinton as one speaker after another called for equal pay, family leave, and affordable child care, and acknowledged the historic nature of Hillary Clinton being nominated as the first female candidate for president of the United States. Tonight, Richards, the head of the $1.3 billion women's health organization with more than 700 affiliated health centers around the country, will likely touch on the numerous efforts at the state and federal levels to kneecap Planned Parenthood—and reproductive health care more broadly.
"The last few years have been brutal for those of us who believe that women should be able to make their own health care decisions," wrote Richards in an op-ed published in Time today in which she praised Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton's running mate, as an "incredible ally" for women's health. "As elected officials learn that women across the nation can't get the sexual and reproductive health care they need because of legislative barriers, we have seen them evolve. Senator Kaine is one of those leaders."
This is not Richards' first time speaking at a Democratic convention. She also appeared in 2012, when she spoke about Republican efforts to roll back women's health programs, focusing specifically on their efforts to slash funding for birth control. In the last four years things have gotten worse: Anti-abortion politics and attacks on providers have increased, thanks to a Republican-controlled Congress, activists in statehouses, and a slew of sting videos released last summer that targeted Planned Parenthood.
Here's a primer on some of the biggest challenges faced by Planned Parenthood and other women's health organizations in the run-up to this election:
Doctored videos: Last July, anti-abortion activist David Daleiden and his nonprofit the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a series of secretly recorded and deceptively edited videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood is making a profit off its fetal tissue donation program—a practice that is illegal. The videos have since been discredited, with reports showing that they were deceptively edited, but nonetheless the tapes set off a nationwide offensive against Planned Parenthood, including efforts in Congress and in multiple states to defund the organization by prohibiting the use of government-funded Medicaid by low-income patients. The videos also led to 12 state-level and 4 congressional investigations of Planned Parenthood, time-consuming and costly efforts that have all since found no evidence of fetal tissue profits by the organization.
Clinic violence: Last November, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear allegedly entered a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs and began shooting with an assault-style rifle. He killed three people and wounded nine. After being taken into custody by law enforcement, Dear said, "No more baby parts," and when he was in court he shouted, "I am a warrior for the babies." Dear also had a history of expressing anti-abortion sentiment, including an episode where he put glue in the locks of a Charleston, South Carolina, Planned Parenthood clinic.
Regulating access to abortion in states:
In April, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill that would make providing most abortions a felony punishable by a minimum of one year in prison. The measure, which likely would have led to a costly court battle over its constitutionality, was seen by many as an effort to challenge Roe v. Wade and subsequently abortion access around the country. But Gov. Mary Fallin—a staunch anti-abortion advocate who was rumored to be on Trump's early vice presidential short list—vetoed the legislation, saying she didn't believe it was the right way to defeat legalized abortion in America. "While I consistently have and continue to support a re-examination of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, this legislation cannot accomplish that re-examination."
In May, Alabama passed a law to regulate abortion clinics like sex offenders by prohibiting clinics from operating within 2,000 feet of an elementary or middle school.
In March, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence—the current GOP vice presidential nominee—signed a bill into law that policed women's reasons for choosing abortion and the ways in which clinics could dispose of fetal remains. This made Indiana only the second state to prohibit women from choosing an abortion because of fetal anomaly, and the third state to pass a law requiring that fetal remains have what amounts to a funeral: They must be interred or cremated by the clinic.
Attempts to restrict access to contraception:
A group of religious pharmacists sued the state of Washington for the right to refuse to stock contraception. In June, the Supreme Court refused to take their case for review, leaving intact a Washington law requiring pharmacists to stock and sell emergency contraception.
In 2015, a group of religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, took their case to the Supreme Court, challenging the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The groups argued that the law's requirement that they alert the government of their religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage to employees violated their religious beliefs. In May, the high court punted on the case, sending it back down to the lower courts for further negotiation and not weighing in on the contraception coverage opt-out process.
Criminalizing pregnancy and self-induced abortions:
In December, Anna Yocca of Tennessee was arrested on first-degree murder charges after attempting to induce a miscarriage with a coat hanger. In February, her charge was reduced to aggravated assault. As of March, Yocca remained in jail awaiting review by a grand jury.
In some states including Alabama, chemical-endangerment laws intended to target DIY meth labs have been used to criminalize drug use by pregnant women.
He still faces lawsuits by Planned Parenthood and others.
Hannah LevintovaJul. 26, 2016 12:52 PM
On Tuesday morning, Texas prosecutors dismissed the felony charge against David Daleiden, the founder of the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress, and Sandra Merritt, one of his associates, related to their work last year in creating sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood. They were facing charges of tampering with a government record over allegations that they had made and used fake drivers' licenses to facilitate their meetings with Planned Parenthood staffers.
Under Daleiden's leadership, the CMP last summer released a series of secretly-recorded, deceptively-edited videos which purported to show Planned Parenthood staffers negotiating the sale of fetal tissue, a practice which is illegal. Since then, 12 state-level and 4 congressional investigations have found no such wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. Despite these exonerations, the video series continued to reverberate, spawning state and federal efforts to defund the women's health provider.
The charges dismissed today were issued in January by the Harris County District Attorney's office. After the CMP videos, the office had assembled a grand jury to investigate Planned Parenthood but after an extensive investigation that spanned more than two months, the group cleared the women's health provider and chose to indict Daleiden and Merritt instead. The grand jury also charged the pair with a class A misdemeanor: offering to buy human organs, namely fetal tissue. The pair was cleared of this charge in June.
After Tuesday morning's dismissal, Daleiden touted the victory on Twitter:
Wow @PPact@PPGulfCoast all that for nothing? Maybe you should focus on your own criminal defense instead of colluding to come after me.
But Daleiden's legal troubles aren't over yet. A lawsuit filed last summer against CMP by the National Abortion Federation is ongoing, as is a suit filed by Planned Parenthood in California in January, accusing the CMP of racketeering, illegally creating and using fake driver's licenses, and invading the privacy of, and illegally recording, Planned Parenthood officials and staff.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee also co-sponsored an Obama "birther" bill.
Hannah LevintovaJul. 21, 2016 11:34 AM
The Republican Party has saved the biggest names for last. The prime-time convention program Thursday night will culminate in Trump's acceptance speech but will also include Ivanka, his eloquent daughter and trusted business associate; evangelical leader Jerry Falwell; and Silicon Valley tycoon and Gawker lawsuit financierPeter Thiel. Joining this all-star cast will be Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. An experienced politician with often extremist positions on cherished conservative issues, and one of three women in the House who insist on being called "congressman," Blackburn has become something of a Hillary Clinton antidote for the Trump campaign, and earlier this summer, it was rumored that Trump was vetting her to be his running mate.
In her 14 years in the House, Blackburn—a former state senator and businesswoman—has made a name for herself by championing hot-button social-conservative causes. She's sponsored or supported numerous anti-abortion bills, gun rights' measures, and attempts to roll back marriage equality. She once co-sponsored a bill inspired by "birther" claims regarding President Barack Obama's US citizenship, said Obama was a Muslim whose real religion was being concealed by the media, and described Environmental Protection Agency efforts to regulate greenhouse gases as a tax on "cow farts." Most recently, she gained prominence for her work as the chair of a congressional committee aimed at investigating allegations of illegal fetal tissue sales by Planned Parenthood—a claim that 12 state-level and four congressional investigations have found meritless.
She once said Obama was a Muslim who's real religion was being concealed by the media, and described EPA efforts to regulate greenhouse gases as a tax on "cow farts."
"During her time in office, she has courageously led the fight for the unborn, cutting spending, and reducing the size of government," said Michelle Easton, the president of the conservative Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, in presenting Blackburn with the group's 2016 "Woman of the Year" award last March. "Marsha is a great role model for conservative women to look up to."
Over the last 20 years, Blackburn has become a mainstay of Tennessee politics. After founding her county's young Republicans' club and then becoming chair of the county chapter of the Republican Party in the late 1980s, she was appointed by the governor in 1995 to serve as executive director of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment, and Music Commission. The commission is tasked with luring studio projects to the state, and Blackburn kept it operating well under budget. But local artists and film crews were not impressed: The number of film projects coming to the state soon dwindled, leaving many in the local film industry lacking work.
In 1998, she was elected to the Tennessee Senate and began taking on some of the key conservative issues she continues to champion today: fighting proposals to impose a state income tax, protecting gun rights, and making it harder for undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses—because, she told CQ, immigrants can use driver's licenses to get social services.
During the primary of her first campaign for Congress in 2002, a writer at the Commercial Appeal in Memphis wrote of Blackburn and her opponents: "The lone woman in the pack, looks just like the guys—conservative, anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anti-estate tax, greeting voters in lawyerly clothing." An ad touting her opposition to gun control featured Blackburn scoring a perfect 50 on a marksmanship test, with what she said was her favorite weapon, a Smith & Wesson .38.
She won the 2002 election in a landslide, and ever since, she has been a prominent advocate for guns and restrictions on immigration and abortion. During her first year on Capitol Hill, she helped lead the successful effort to pass the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, which bans the dilation-and-extraction method of abortion after 20 weeks, after Republicans had tried for eight years to get it passed. That same year, she voted for a bill prohibiting liability lawsuits against gun manufacturers or sellers. In 2013, Blackburn argued against a proposed assault weapons ban weeks after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The gun control measure, she told CNN, wouldn't help curb mass shootings because "it could be a hammer, a hatchet, a car" that a perpetrator would use instead. Over the years, her efforts have earned her an A grade and at least $18,750 in donations from the National Rifle Association.
On immigration, Blackburn authored a bill in 2007 that proposed denying undocumented immigrants access to financial services like mortgages, credit, and loans, by requiring institutions to accept only certain kinds of identification. In June, Blackburn echoed elements of Trump's immigration and refugee agenda, telling New Hampshire TV and radio station WMUR that she supported his proposal for a temporary Muslim immigration ban. "You've got to know who's coming into our country and if they're coming here to play by the rules and abide by our laws," she said, "or if they are coming here to do us harm." In 2015, she proposed a bill that would temporarily halt federal funds for refugee resettlement.
In 2012, she co-chaired the committee that drafted the Republican platform and helped write an anti-LGBT GOP platform. It called Obama's policies on same-sex marriage "a mockery of the President's inaugural oath," and said, "The court-ordered redefinition of marriage in several States…is an assault on the foundations of our society, challenging the institution which, for thousands of years in virtually every civilization, has been entrusted with the rearing of children and the transmission of cultural values."
But Blackburn achieved her greatest prominence opposing abortion. Since 2003, Blackburn has co-sponsored a handful of bills aimed at stripping federal funding from groups associated with abortion, and she received awards from pro-life groups for her robust legislative work. In addition to the numerous anti-abortion measures she's voted for, she's also proposed ones that would defund Planned Parenthood and any other organizations that provide abortions; prohibit federal assistance for family planning groups that mention abortion; and pull federal funding from school health centers that provide information on abortion.
In January 2015, she co-sponsored a proposed ban on nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Against the wishes of some anti-abortion groups, however, Blackburn supported the addition of a rape and incest exception to the bill and encouraged her fellow lawmakers to strike out a reporting requirement in cases of rape. Last September, the measure failed in the Senate, but that didn't stop Republicans from introducing another version of it in March.
Most recently, she's caused concern among House Democrats with her work as the chair of the panel known informally as the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, tasked with investigating the allegations of illegal fetal tissue sales by Planned Parenthood. The committee has been described by several of its Democratic members as a "farce," "kangaroo court," and "witch hunt" in pursuit of a political agenda.
At a hearing in April, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said, "This hearing belongs in a bad episode of House of Cards." House Democrats sent at least five letters to Speaker Paul Ryan asking him to disband Blackburn's select panel. They voiced concerns about questionable sourcing for exhibits, Blackburn's subpoena process, and Blackburn's tactics that they felt were putting researchers and clinic staff at risk, particularly when the panel published documents on its website with the unredacted names of scientists, Planned Parenthood employees, and an abortion provider who's previously been the victim of attacks.
Blackburn likely won't discuss her record on issues such as abortion or guns in her speech tonight. In an interview with the Daily Caller, she said she plans to focus on unity. "Being one together—and talk about how making our country safe and our country work," she said, "how that plays into that oneness."
He proposed adding an assault rifle to the Great Seal of the United States.
Hannah LevintovaJul. 18, 2016 4:55 PM
Following the high-profile deaths of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement since Ferguson, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke has criticized these victims of police brutality and the movement they've helped generate. He's referred to Black Lives Matter as "black slime" and "garbage," and he's called Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Trayvon Martin "goons," "criminal creep(s)," "criminals" and "co-conspirators in their own demise."
The frequent Fox News commentator, who is African American, will command a prime-time spot tonight at Donald Trump's Republican National Convention, where the evening's theme is "Make American Safe Again" after a two-week period when discussions about race and law enforcementhave dominated the news following the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the killings of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On Twitter this week, news of his CNN interview and impending speech at the RNC was met with praise frommanyconservatives.
On Sunday night, Clarke appeared on CNN to discuss the killings of three Baton Rouge police officers. "This hateful ideology called Black Lives Matter has fueled this rage against the American police officer," he said. "I predicted this two years ago." Popular radio host Dana Loesch on the right-wing network the Blaze praised the interview on Twitter. Clarke's criticisms of the BLM movement include President Barack Obama, whom he has referred to as a "heartless, soulless bastard" for sticking up for some victims of the violence. Clarke also called both Obama and Hillary Clinton "straight-up cop-haters" for their support of BLM.
After the in-jail death of Sandra Bland in 2015, following her arrest during a routine traffic stop, Clarke excoriated the young woman on Fox News for using expletives while the police were arresting her. He defended the officer who, while threatening use a Taser on Bland, said, "I'm going to light you up." Clarke explained on Fox News, "We train officers to say, 'Do X or I'm going to Taser you.' But I'm not going to get hung up on that. I was more appalled by the language she was using. If she had been my daughter, I would have been embarrassed at the kind of language she was using on the scene." Here's the full clip:
After the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, just days before the teen was supposed to start college, Clarke suggested in a radio interview that the shooting was the result of Brown's "lifestyle choice." Clarke said, "He chose thug life. And that's unfortunate, but that's what happened. Like I said, he didn't deserve to die, but he was a co-conspirator in his own demise." Here's the full clip:
In June 2015, several police officers were involved in an aggressive confrontation with a number of black teenagers at a Fairfield, Ohio, pool that began with a disagreement over pool fees and a child who wasn't wearing proper swimwear. The confrontation escalated and police grabbed several teens by the neck, pepper-sprayed them, and slammed one 12-year-old girl against a car, which fractured her jaw and several ribs, according to her family. Discussing cell phone video of the brawl on Fox News' The Kelly File, Clarke said, "That was a textbook response by police. Totally appropriate use of force." He continued, "I'd like to use that one for a training tape of how officers should behave and respond in those situations."
Clarke first gained notoriety when he aired radio ads in 2013 encouraging citizens not to rely on 911 for emergencies, but to instead arm themselves for protection. He spoke at the National Rifle Association's 2015 conference, where he proposed revising the Great Seal of the United States byswitching the arrows in the bald eagle's claw with "a semi-automatic rifle, preferably one that shoots M-855 ammunition."
Clarke's no-holds-barred rhetoric has earned him praise from a number of conservatives. At the NRA convention in 2015, he received a standing ovation for suggesting that the phrase "Keep your hands off our guns, dammit," be added to the Second Amendment. When The Atlantic interviewed Milwaukee residents for a profile of Clarke, several observed that the sheriff had a Trumpesque way of speaking—and that this worked for him. He "talks like Trump" one Milwaukee resident said. "He says what's on his mind, and it makes sense to people."
The measure was part of a controversial abortion bill that Trump's vice presidential pick signed this past March.
Hannah LevintovaJul. 15, 2016 1:54 PM
Mike Pence speaks at a 2011 anti-abortion rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
The sweeping abortion bill that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law in March gained national attention for prohibiting women from electing to have an abortion due to the race, gender, or disability of the fetus. But the bill contained another unusual provision: It required that aborted fetuses receive what amounts to a funeral.
Pence, whom Donald Trump announced as his vice presidential running mate on Friday, signed the law that made Indiana the second state ever, after North Dakota, to pass a ban on abortions carried out for certain reasons. The law also imposed liability for wrongful death on doctors that perform an abortion motivated by one of the prohibited reasons. And, as Mother Jones reported in March, the law also required that health care facilities inter or cremate the remains of an aborted fetus, and prohibited fetal tissue donation.
Following the Supreme Court's decision to strike down several Texas abortion restrictions in June, a federal judge blocked the Indiana law from going into effect.
"By enacting this legislation, we take an important step in protecting the unborn, while still providing an exception for the life of the mother," Pence said in a statement when he signed the bill. "I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers, and families."
This sort of fetus funeral provision has recently gained traction in legislatures around the country: Arkansas and Georgia have similar laws on the books, while Ohio, South Carolina, and Mississippi have all considered similar measures in the last year.