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.

Get my RSS |

Catholic Bishops Want Entire Birth Control Rule Repealed, Not Just the Religious Exemption

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 12:11 PM EST
"Now close your eyes and think of Rome."

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the national political lobby for the Catholic Church in America, has been waging war on President Barack Obama's new rule requiring health insurers to cover birth control at no cost to women. The religious exemption in the Obama rule allows churches an exemption to birth control coverage, but still requires religiously affiliated schools and hospitals to provide insurance to their employees that includes contraception without a co-payment.

The bishops claim that exemption is too narrow. But they don't just want the religious exemption widened. They want the whole policy repealed. (Never mind that most employers have been required to cover birth control for years.) This USA Today story sort of buries this fact, but at least it acknowledges it:  

The White House is "all talk, no action" on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular," Picarello said. "We're not going to do anything until this is fixed."

That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for "good Catholic business people who can't in good conscience cooperate with this."

"If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I'd be covered by the mandate," Picarello said.

So in short, the bishops want your Catholic boss to be able to decide whether or not you have to pay full freight for your birth control. Not coincidentally, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has a bill that would do just that.

The problem with this argument is that if taken to its logical extreme, your boss could claim religious exemptions for all sorts of health care issues, whether you worked at Catholic Charities, Taco Bell, or anywhere else. Christian Scientists generally don't believe that people need pharmaceutical medicine at all. Scientologists don't believe in psychiatry. If individual employers are allowed exemptions to the birth control coverage mandate, the law could quickly be rendered meaningless.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

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

| Mon Feb. 6, 2012 1:31 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.)

 
Mon Jul. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Feb. 4, 2013 11:23 AM EST
Tue Nov. 6, 2012 9:47 PM EST
Fri Sep. 21, 2012 5:40 PM EDT
Sun Aug. 19, 2012 6:21 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 30, 2012 11:16 AM EDT
Mon Jul. 9, 2012 10:04 AM EDT
Thu Jun. 28, 2012 12:40 PM EDT
Wed Jun. 20, 2012 7:30 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 11, 2012 10:32 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 4, 2012 9:43 AM EDT
Wed May. 9, 2012 3:01 AM EDT
Tue Mar. 20, 2012 11:15 AM EDT
Fri Feb. 10, 2012 1:56 PM EST