Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, the Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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House GOP Memo: "Abortion Is the Leading Cause of Death in the Black Community"

| Mon Feb. 6, 2012 12:31 PM EST
Anti-abortion billboards in Atlanta sparked a nationwide controversy last year as Georgia tried to pass a law outlawing abortion on the basis of race.

A House GOP memo obtained by Mother Jones argues for a controversial "prenatal discrimination bill" by referring to "black abortions" as distinct from abortions in general and claiming that "abortion is the leading cause of death in the black community." The memo (PDF) was circulated by Republicans on the House judiciary committee on Monday in advance of Tuesday's markup of Rep. Trent Franks' (R-Ariz.) Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.

Franks' bill, which is also known as H.R. 3514, didn't make it out of committee when it was introduced in the last Congress. But the fact that it's now receiving a markup—a key step on the way to a floor vote—and that 78 cosponsors have signed on suggests that it could proceed to a vote of the full House before November's elections. In addition to banning abortions based on the race or gender of the fetus, H.R. 3514 would give a woman's family members the ability to sue abortion providers if they believed an abortion was obtained based on race or sex. Critics warn that it would be next to impossible to prove that an abortion was obtained on the basis of race or gender and fear the provision could lead to nuisance suits against abortion providers by family members who are opposed to abortion on principle.

Bills outlawing sex-selection abortions—a procedure most Americans oppose—have passed on the state level. But a bill outlawing abortions based on race ran into trouble in Georgia in 2010. As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer reported: 

The campaign started with controversial billboards, which began popping up in the state after President Obama was elected. They featured a photo of a beautiful, sad black baby boy and the line: "Black children are an endangered species." Anti-abortion activists claimed to be out to save the black community from genocide at the hands of Planned Parenthood.

"The most pernicious part was, they're trying to hijack the civil rights legacy in the service of conservative causes, trying to appropriate the mantle of the civil rights movement in a really despicable way," says Loretta Ross, the national coordinator of SisterSong, a reproductive justice organization for women of color in Atlanta. She says the effort even featured white people singing "We Shall Overcome" at black women as part of a pro-life "freedom ride" bus tour that stopped at Atlanta's Martin Luther King Jr. Center. 

As with the Georgia bill, backers of Franks' bill, including Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the powerful chairman of the judiciary committee, have pointed to a supposed epidemic of abortions based on the race of the fetus—an argument that dominates the memo below. As Ross told Mencimer, the whole notion of black women choosing an abortion because of the race of the fetus doesn't make sense:

"It's kind of hard to find evidence that a black woman is going to have an abortion because she's surprised to find her baby is black. It just strains credulity to think that's a problem," [Ross] says with a hearty laugh. "I mean, she wakes up in the morning and says 'Oh my god! My baby's black?'"

UPDATE: My colleague Adam Serwer notes that the essay the Republican memo cites as evidence that "a thorough review of the American family planning movement reveals a history of targeting African-Americans for 'population control'" is actually a thorough debunking of arguments like those in the memo that argues the opposite point. Here's a choice excerpt:

Activists are exploiting and distorting the facts to serve their antiabortion agenda. They ignore the fundamental reason women have abortions and the underlying problem of racial and ethnic disparities across an array of health indicators. The truth is that behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. This applies to all women—black, white, Hispanic, Asian and Native American alike. Not surprisingly, the variation in abortion rates across racial and ethnic groups relates directly to the variation in the unintended pregnancy rates across those same groups.

Also, it's worth noting, as Jill Lepore did in her excellent New Yorker essay on Planned Parenthood in November, that prominent black Americans such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were supportive of birth control and family planning, and the history of race and abortion in America is more complicated than the GOP memo would lead you to believe.

You can read the House GOP memo below. (The Document Cloud embed might take a second to load. If it doesn't appear, try refreshing the page.)

 

Prosecutor: Campaign Worker's Arrest Not Obama's Watergate

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 6:00 AM EST
But how do we know that the Clintons aren't behind all of this?

On Friday, Zachary Edwards, who worked as the Iowa new media director for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, was arrested in Des Moines and charged with attempting to impersonate Matt Schultz, Iowa's Republican secretary of state. Edwards, who had been working for a Des Moines political consulting company with close ties to Iowa Democrats, was promptly fired.

To several right-wing news sources, not only was Edwards' guilt immediately obvious, so was the fact that his arrest likely represented one small piece of a conspiracy reaching straight to the top. "Much like Watergate, which began with a seemingly simple (if puzzling) burglary and ultimately unraveled the Nixon administration, it is impossible to say how far the trail of criminality will go," wrote Powerline's John Hinderaker.

"The big question is how far up it goes," pondered the notoriously conservative editorial board of Investors Business Daily, before speculating about Edwards' supposed ties to "the secretive rich-man's club known as The Democracy Alliance, and the loud crazies of MoveOn.org, both funded by socialist billionaire George Soros" and "a conspiracy to defraud democracy" involving "some of the highest political crimes ever."

Newsbusters, the site dedicated to "exposing and combating liberal media bias," speculated that the lack of coverage of the Edwards story meant it wasn't "safe" for the mainstream media to cover and insinuated that the Associated Press had purposely "avoided the damning details." (Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a Instapundit, promoted Newsbusters' coverage of the story.) And Hot Air wondered "what connections Edwards has to Democratic Party leadership" and "how many more Zach Edwards we can expect to find in Barack Obama's campaign this time around." 

Since every journalist worth his salt would love to expose something "much like Watergate," I decided to try something the right-wingers hadn't thought of: reporting. The criminal complaint against Edwards (PDF) has a case number associated with it, so when I couldn't hunt down a number for Edwards himself, I tried the Polk County court clerk's office and Edwards' bail bondsman to see if he had an attorney. As it turns out, it was a dead end—Edwards apparently hasn't hired a lawyer yet or had one appointed for him. No one, at least, has made court appearances on his behalf.

But I didn't have to go to a defense attorney to find out that Edwards probably isn't part of a grand conspiracy. John Sarcone, the county attorney in charge of prosecuting the Edwards case, couldn't say much about the details because of Iowa ethics rules. But when I told him what Hinderaker and IBD had been saying about Edwards, he laughed. "People have got imaginations, I'll tell you that," he said. "I don't think that's the case at all. They ought to give those jobs to creative writers, because that's fiction."

The White House and the Obama 2012 campaign declined to comment as to whether the president might be involved in an obscure campaign worker's alleged plot against the Iowa secretary of state. I smell a cover-up!

Front page image: Pete Souza/White House

Report: Obama Team to Break Silence on Killings of American Terror Suspects

| Tue Jan. 24, 2012 12:55 PM EST

The Obama administration will soon explain why it believes the president has the authority to kill American-born terror suspects abroad without charge or trial, Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman reported Monday. US drones have already killed American-born Al Qaeda propagandists Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, and, in a separate strike, Awlaki's 16-year-old, American-born son Abdulrahman. In October, the New York Times' Charlie Savage reported on the contents of a secret document prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that laid out the adminstration's legal rationale for killing the elder Awlaki. But the Obama administration has yet to publicly explain its controversial argument, and Savage and the Times have sued the government after trying and failing to obtain the OLC memo through the Freedom of Information Act. Now, Klaidman says, the White House seems poised to explain at least some of its reasoning:

In the coming weeks, according to four participants in the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is planning to make a major address on the administration’s national-security record. Embedded in the speech will be a carefully worded but firm defense of its right to target U.S. citizens. Holder’s remarks will draw heavily on a secret Justice Department legal opinion that provided the justification for the Awlaki killing.

But when you read further down in the Klaidman piece, it's clear that the government isn't preparing to say much:

An early draft of Holder’s speech identified Awlaki by name, but in a concession to concerns from the intelligence community, all references to the al Qaeda leader were removed. As currently written, the speech makes no overt mention of the Awlaki operation, and reveals none of the intelligence the administration relied on in carrying out his killing.

It's hard to see how this will make anyone on either side of the Awlaki debate happy. Secrecy hawks may be upset by even this much disclosure, and civil libertarians will wonder why the administration is speaking in vague generalities. Savage and the Times will almost certainly continue their lawsuit seeking the OLC memo about the killing, which is what's really at issue here. The Obama administration was willing to release the OLC memos related to George W. Bush's most controversial actions—namely, the brutal interrogations of non-citizens. It will continue to be difficult for the Obama team to argue that memos about their most controversial actions, the killing of citizens without charge or trial, should be exempt from the same type of disclosure.

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