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D.C. resident Christy Zink was excited to be pregnant in 2009. She and her husband were looking forward to having their second child, and Zink made sure she was receiving excellent prenatal care.

At 21 weeks into her pregnancy Zink found out the developing fetus was missing a central part of its brain.

In her congressional testimony Thursday against the so-called “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” Zink said she made the difficult decision to have an abortion at nearly 22 weeks.

H.R. 3803, Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-National Right to Life Committee) latest attempt to curb reproductive rights, would make abortions illegal 20 weeks after fertilization, and would only apply to Washington, D.C.

If Christy Zink had carried her pregnancy to term and the baby lived through it, which wasn’t guaranteed, it would have suffered a short life of seizures and near-constant pain. If H.R. 3803 were in effect in 2009, she and the doctors who advised her on her options and performed the procedure would have been subject to criminal prosecution.

Zink was the only D.C. resident allowed to testify at yesterday’s hearing, as Arizona’s Franks, the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, defied congressional custom and blocked D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton from speaking on a bill that would affect only her constituents.

The Republican majority called on three witnesses (from New Mexico, Chicago and West Virginia a.k.a. not D.C.) to speak on “fetal pain,” a concept dismissed by the majority of the medical community. Yet Franks and company found three “experts” to give testimony on something completely unrelated to the fact that this bill would only change the law for the more than 600,000 taxpaying residents of the nation’s capital.

While sitting only a few feet away from Zink, Franks’ witness Dr. Anthony Levatino, who currently operates a gynecology practice in New Mexico, testified that an abortion, particularly an abortion after 20 weeks, is “easier” on the patient than the doctor. This is incredibly offensive to anyone who has ever had an abortion, especially later in her pregnancy. Zink elected to have the procedure because something terrible happened during a wanted pregnancy. This is hardly an uncommon scenario, yet H.R. 3803 makes no exceptions for fetal anomalies. Other times, due to the numerous restrictions on funding, a woman might have trouble coming up with the money for her procedure before the 20-week mark. (The DC Abortion Fund is a great resource for local women who cannot afford their reproductive care.) Whatever the reason a woman may choose to have an abortion before or after 20 weeks, to imply a procedure is “easier” for women is completely out of touch with women and the many wonderful and compassionate abortion providers across the country.

Levatino said he performed abortions earlier in his career, and he described the procedure and his eventual dislike of it in explicit detail. Any medical procedure or routine trip to the doctor can sound positively gruesome when described with the proper adjectives (try detailing your last dental cleaning with the help of thesaurus.com). Anti-choice activists like Levatino are most successful when they have us all cringing instead of thinking rationally.

But H.R. 3803 doesn’t allow for much science and reason. Reason would dictate that legislation that’s based on legitimate science, instead of the sentiments of a few anti-choice activists, would be good enough for the whole country instead of just Washington, D.C. But, you know, that would be unconstitutional.

Discuss

On Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan strayed from the current Republican mantra when he said he “respectfully disagrees” with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. What Ryan disagrees with is the Bishops’ stance that it’s not very Jesus-like to let poor people starve.

Food stamps were one of the many safety-net programs that got the axe in the Ryan budget, in favor of tax breaks for large corporations. A letter from the USCCB said lawmakers should “protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises.”

It’s surprising it took so long for Republicans like Ryan and Speaker John Boehner, both Catholics, to "respectfully disagree" with the bishops. This kind of ideological clash is inevitable when your main influences as a Party are the irreconcilable Jesus and Ayn Rand.

None of this would be particularly problematic if these same Republicans didn’t lean on their religious beliefs, and specifically the USCCB, as validation for so much ridiculous and oppressive legislation. As Ryan and Boehner should have realized this week, the Catholic bishops might have a few good ideas about morality, but religious doctrine is hardly an acceptable foundation for modern legislation.

Selective observance of a church’s religious teachings is the standard for just about every believer, even the most supposedly devout. Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who characterized himself as pretty-darn-Catholic, disagrees with the USCCB on torture, the death penalty, and immigration. The bishops notably issued a 2011 statement in support of workers' rights in Wisconsin, in stark contrast to the Paul Ryan-Gov. Scott Walker agenda to destroy collective bargaining. Rarely though, do Republican politicians or others who disagree with the bishops get scolded quite so much as any Catholic who speaks up on behalf of family planning or women’s equality.

The present GOP War on Women is rooted in some of the cruelest interpretations of Catholicism. Like our hometown Republicans, the Vatican has no interest in letting women achieve anything resembling equality. In a Wednesday statement from the menfolk in charge, the Vatican accused U.S. nuns of promoting “radical feminist themes.” The umbrella group for U.S. nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, is accused of not saying enough terrible things about homosexuals and abortion rights for the Catholic leadership’s liking. This is another example of Catholic leadership stifling opposition in its ranks, and ignoring the interest of believers. The fact that the USCCB has become so intertwined with U.S. politics in recent years makes the Church’s silencing of women inexcusable. (There’s a Change.org petition in support of the nuns and their work.)

This restriction of women’s roles certainly isn’t limited to Catholicism, but the USCCB's influence on U.S. lawmakers should invite plenty of public skepticism onto the Church leadership’s behavior.

Because the bishops say GOP Jesus said life at begins when you click on an attractive person’s Match.com profile, Republicans argue that low-income women and women in the military should have fewer reproductive choices than those who can afford birth control on their own. The USCCB launched the firing shots over the rule in the Affordable Care Act that requires most employers to cover contraception in their employees’ health plans (yes, there’s still an exemption for religiously affiliated employers). And now GOP leadership is opposing an expansion to the Violence Against Women Act. Perhaps the GOP “respectfully disagrees” with Jesus that same-sex couples and battered illegal immigrants deserve our compassion.

If you have to pick and choose which part of a religious doctrine to adhere to, it’s pretty clear that this doctrine shouldn’t be used to justify legislation. Our leaders are elected to adhere to the Constitution, and that’s both a firm platform to stand on, and something we all can agree on.

Discuss

Yes, the economy will decide the election.

But if you can’t afford your birth control, a cancer screening, or yes, an abortion, that’s a potential economic crisis too.

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Like most good Democrats and decent people with a uterus, I’ve been rather doom and gloom lately because of the garbage in the news. This week Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Men and Millionaires) signed the law that made Virginia the eighth state to mandate ultrasounds before abortions. Progressive superhero Chellie Pingree announced she wouldn’t be running for retiring US. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s open seat in Maine, and Thursday was International Women’s Day, which served as a reminder that we — half the world’s population — still aren’t getting celebrated the other 364 days a year.

So there’s that.

But there were a few good things that came out of this otherwise sludgy last few days. So in the spirit of optimism:

Things that totally didn’t suck in the news this week

  1. Rush Limbaugh is still on the air, which is always a bummer, but his show is flailing after his misogynistic attacks on Sandra Fluke. Because of the Boycott Rush campaign, reasonable sponsors interested in distancing themselves from Limbaugh’s bizarro tirades are dropping his show left and right. Of the 86 ads aired on WABC’s broadcast of “The Rush Limbaugh Show” Thursday (International Women’s Day, mind you), 77 were free public service announcements, and seven of the nine paid spots were from advertisers who previously vowed to pull their ads from the show. AWKWARD.
  2. Did you see the jobs report Friday? Republicans did. CQ reported Friday:
    The first GOP news release was issued a full 15 minutes after the Labor Department released the news — usually about 30 seconds after — and it was from the Republican Policy Committee, not Boehner or Cantor. The Speaker finally did offer his assessment a half hour after the news. And, while he chided the president, his tone wasn’t as harsh as usual. “It is a testament to the hard work and entrepreneurship of the American people that they are creating any jobs in the midst of the onslaught of anti-business policies coming from this administration,” he said.

    It’s hard to be all that critical when almost a half-million people said they joined the labor force last month and almost all of them found work.

    The March employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 227,000 jobs were added in February. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, unemployment for women went down from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent (it remained unchanged for men at 8.3 percent). Of course, these are baby steps, and we’ve got a long way to go. Women have only regained one-third of the jobs we lost in the recession. But it’s hard not to be optimistic when we just had the best year for job growth in more than five years.
  3. KONY 2012. Just for a second, let’s ignore the controversy about whether Invisible Children is a good organization to donate to. Their campaign to make militia leader Joseph Kony a household name is a sensation. It’s an example of how grassroots advocacy can work in the age of the Internet when we do it right, and seeing my 17-year-old cousin post on Facebook about a Ugandan warlord is pretty damn inspiring. Raven Brooks at the Netroots Foundation has a good post about why KONY 2012 works, and how to use it as a starting point for your cause.
  4. Republicans are reportedly backing off the fight over contraception. In a survey released Monday, women gave a 15-point advantage to Democrats when asked which party should control Congress. This is an 11-point leap since last summer, which shows, hey, maybe the Republican War on Women is a losing battle.

    Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told TPM her constituents couldn’t get behind the GOP in the fight to cut off access to contraception:

    “I heard a lot [from my constituents] because it was in the news this weekend,” she told me. “There’s just an awful lot that’s been going on. There have been some comments made by some of our presidential candidates. There was the incendiary comments made by Rush Limbaugh. I think [these incidents] are just adding to this sense that women have that women’s health rights are being attacked — that in 2012 we’re having a conversation about whether or not contraception should be allowed. I think most thought that we were done with those discussions decades ago. So it’s been kind of an interesting week for women’s health issues.”
    We’ll see how this one plays out, but it’s hard to imagine this fight continuing or turning out well for anti-women’s health legislators.

These radical battles against women and women's health care are going to be losing ones for conservatives if they keep inspiring progressives and moderates to mobilize. If the right continues down this polarizing path — and the rest of us continue to call them out on it like we did this week — I'm confident we have way fewer doom and gloom days on the horizon.

Discuss

Rep. Trent Franks just can’t keep his hands to himself.

Franks (R-Ariz.), author of the infamously ridiculous/sad May 2011 op-ed, “Women in Combat: The Culture War on the Backs of Our Troops” (excerpt: “It may surprise some of these feminists to learn, for example, that women can get pregnant while men, it turns out, cannot.”), has a long history of trying to tell women what they can and cannot do.

His latest target is D.C., a proven easy mark for intrusive legislation by so-called small-government conservatives.

One day after Roe v. Wade’s 39th Anniversary, Franks introduced “The District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District. The congressman — of Glendale, Ariz. a.k.a. not-D.C. — would like to make it harder for D.C. women to access the same reproductive options residents of his home state can choose.

Even if we ignore the pretend science behind Franks’ bill, his justification is some of the most insulting and insensible big government rhetoric directed at the District in recent memory.

Franks told The Hill:

“Because of the extreme liberal local government in D.C., there is some indication…that D.C. either is becoming, or has the potential to become, a safe haven for abortionists to do these late-term abortions, who for other reasons have had their licenses revoked in the States and [have] come to the District as a safe haven,” he said. …

“There are some people who, if they could make a federalism argument, would, but certainly they can’t in this case,” he said.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting delegate, suggested Franks introduce legislation that applies to the whole country, not just the District of Columbia, if he thinks it’s such “sound policy.” No word yet if anyone on the federal level has drafted a similar bill that would apply strictly to Arizona's 2nd Congressional District or the happenings in Trent Franks' uterus.

Because of the absurd policy rider in the spending bill passed last year, D.C. already is barred from using locally raised tax revenues to fund abortion services. Although the D.C. abortion ban was presented as a last-minute “compromise” to save the government from shutdown, it involved trading away the rights of 60,000 D.C. women of reproductive age who are enrolled in Medicaid. Of course, these women still don’t even have a voting member in Congress. Some compromise.

Under Franks’ bill, if a D.C. resident struggled to raise funding for her abortion prior to 20 weeks, she might be forced to carry out a dangerous pregnancy or obtain an illegal abortion. Of course, Franks and company know this; abortions don’t go away just because they’re more difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, anti-reproductive health lobby the National Right to Life Committee has decided to make Franks’ intrusive legislation one of its top priorities for 2012.

Despite Franks’ 49 House cosponsors, we can rest somewhat assured that our pro-science president would veto this mess on the spot. Or something.

Discuss

It was only a matter of time before Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) destroyed the goodwill he extended to the District of Columbia back in May when he proposed expanding D.C. budget autonomy during an Oversight hearing. (That was weird, right?)

Issa was back in character in no time, and yesterday he decided to kick D.C. in the shins, lest we get confused. The Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee introduced legislation that would allow Congress to meddle with D.C. government hiring practices.

From the press release:

"This bill will help prevent past failures by ensuring that District of Columbia leaders are held accountable for conducting and reviewing the results of background checks when making hiring decisions," Issa said. "Unless or until District leaders stop apologizing for outrageous abuses in government and adopt measures to address these problems, congressional action is the only way to implement needed standards as a bulwark against cronyism."

As of this afternoon, Issa said he had reached an agreement with D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown to “hold off” on Thursday’s scheduled markup of the bill. According to Roll Call, the legislation could still be brought up at a later date.

Here’s the thing: The substance and reasoning behind the D.C. Employee Suitability Act isn’t all that radical. The D.C. Council has acknowledged its hiring practices need an overhaul and — as Councilmember Mary Cheh shot back at Issa on Monday — they proposed a fix back in September.

I realize that us D.C. residents can’t be trusted to spend our own locally raised revenue, let alone hire our own government.* Since the federal government is clearly so morally and ethically superior, maybe Issa is right: We should totally let the feds take over.*

But to make sure we’re being evenhanded about this, I hereby propose the Darrell Issa Suitability Act.

Under the Darrell Issa Suitability Act, the residents of D.C. would get to evaluate Issa’s staffing choices. For example, we would get to decide whether or not we found it appropriate that Issa hired that former Goldman Sachs employee who changed his name to work on banking regulation issues.

Under the Darrell Issa Suitability Act, we’d obviously look into Issa’s own suitability for employment. Just like in Issa’s bill, we’d look into possible “misconduct or negligence in employment; criminal or dishonest conduct.” We’d probably investigate a few things, like if it was appropriate for Issa to deal with policy on Merrill Lynch while being a major Merrill Lynch customer, or seek earmarks that would benefit his personal business interests.

Under the Darrell Issa Suitability Act, we’d obviously subject Darrell Issa to a criminal background check. Oh, ha.

For good measure, under the Darrell Issa Suitability Act, we’d take away Issa’s voting privileges too.

*So, um, are you still into that small government thing, Republicans?

Discuss

A copy of a court document posted on Facebook shows the administration of Michigan's fourth-largest university used false information to halt a strike by the faculty union.

The more than 600 members of the Faculty Association, or FA, at Central Michigan University went on strike Sunday night, about 12 hours before classes were to start on Monday morning. A county judge ordered the Faculty Association members back to work on Monday. (I posted about the strike and bargaining struggles on Monday.)

The temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction filed by CMU that stopped the supposedly illegal strike claimed that the FA's strike would force "CMU to cancel all of its classes." This is false. A number of news outlets reported Monday that students were still expected to report to class. Only classes taught by FA members were affected; many were taught by graduate students, teaching assistants and other non-FA members.

The document also states the following piece of false information: "If this illegal strike is permitted to continue, CMU will soon be forced to cancel the entire Fall Semester of 2011." At no time did any member of the CMU administration publicly state they were seriously considering cancelling the entire semester if the work stoppage were to continue.

The court document as posted on the Friends of CMU Faculty Facebook group is below:

TRO

Discuss

The faculty of the fourth-largest university in Michigan went on strike Sunday night, hours before classes were scheduled to start this morning.

Central Michigan University, located in Mount Pleasant, Mich., is the latest victim of Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican Legislature’s vicious education cuts. The contract negotiations also have been subject to an inflexible administration and board of trustees, who — despite a more than $200 million university surplus — have refused to give employees a modest pay increase.

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Wed Jun 22, 2011 at 12:21 PM PDT

Spoiling the Game

by Alesa Mackool

Ian Ritchie, head of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, which hosts the Championships at Wimbledon, said expressive female athletes are “spoiling the game.”

Ritchie seems to think a lady should be seen and not heard. Even a lady with a 129 mph serve.

From the rather comical interview in the UK’s “The Daily Telegraph”:

Mr Ritchie added: “I think there is an education problem with younger players. And certainly my postbag, if you say 'what do you get most letters about’, I would say that grunting is high up.

“So we are aware, whether you are watching it on TV or here, people don’t particularly like it.”


This has been a topic of “debate” in professional tennis for years, mostly in reference to famous female grunters like Sharapova and Serena Williams. In martial arts classes (I’ve been taught this in krav maga), this “education problem” is common sense. A grunt/noise/scream/whatever momentarily distracts your opponent, engages your entire body in an action and gives you more power. (In a self-defense scenario, it also draws attention to the fact that you might need help.) And it’s silly to think a professional tennis player, who has been practicing for such competitions her entire life would be so easily distracted by a mere noise.

This isn’t about the players’ comfort.

There’s this handy little button on most TV remotes, which Ritchie should be familiar with as a former TV station exec. It says “mute,” and it allows him and his more sensitive television audience members to shush powerful, athletic women from the comfort of their armchairs, without sounding quite so passé and sexist.

Update: But wait! There's more! The Wimbledon website is giving away ticket packages to people for voting on the “best-looking female player."

Discuss

Tue Apr 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM PDT

Dispatches from under the bus

by Alesa Mackool

As a D.C. taxpayer with a uterus, I’m used to being ignored.

Friday’s (or)deal was especially repulsive though, as once again, those of us in the District were robbed of rights held dear by those in every other jurisdiction. (Mayor Vincent Gray and several D.C. Council members were arrested Monday while protesting this longtime policy of Congress treating Washingtonians as second-class citizens.)

Stephanie Drahan of the National Women’s Law Center summed it up:

The final agreement, which contains $38.5 billion in cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year, does not include either the Title X or Planned Parenthood rider. It also does not include the Global Gag Rule, which if passed, would have prevented foreign organizations receiving family planning federal monies from providing information, referrals or services on abortion options.

And while this is a victory that should be savored and for which women's health activists and their pro-choice allies in Congress and the White House should be praised, the deal is certainly not without fault. Most notably, the DC abortion rider was included. This rider prevents the District of Columbia from using its locally-raised revenue to provide low-income women with funding support for the abortion services they need. While not all states take advantage of their ability to use their state monies in this way, each state is allowed to decide how to use its locally-raised revenue, while DC is not.

So yeah. How’s that itty bitty, small government thing workin’ out for ya?

This rider fiasco just reiterated the absurdity of the situation in our nation’s capital. Our lives, reproductive options, and even our trash pickup are essentially subject to the whims of the tea party. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton can only do (say?) so much, and it has been tragically easy for the president to ignore his neighbors.

This ban, arranged by folks from Anywhere-But-D.C., will affect 60,000 Washington women of reproductive age enrolled in Medicaid. These are women for whom the cost of a first-trimester abortion often is prohibitive. (Fact: Having and raising a child is more cost prohibitive.)

Until D.C. residents are acknowledged as real, live Americans will full voting rights, autonomy, and the ability to determine how our tax dollars are spent, the best we can do is kick, scream, (hell, get arrested if that’s working for you) and keep supporting organizations like the DC Abortion Fund.

I’ll be participating in the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon this weekend to raise money for DCAF. My friends and some other awesome local folks are fundraising to help our neighbors who have been kicked aside by the Republican House, President Obama’s “negotiating,” and the repulsive mindset that it's OK for a person’s rights to depend on the size of his or her wallet.

DCAF fills an especially large void now, in the Age of Boehner, when us ladies are facing an uphill battle to maintain the health care access we do have. Now that it’s crystal clear that the women, men, and children of the District of Columbia are nothing more than an easily surrendered bargaining chip in any legislative “negotiation,” we need to ensure we have some sort of safety net in place. Because everyone knows just because you restrict access to something people need or want, you won’t make it go away.

Please click here to donate to my team, The Plan Bees, in the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon, and help us make choice a reality for D.C. girls and women.

Cross-posted on Feministing.

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Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 01:56 PM PST

Plastic forks will save us all

by Alesa Mackool

Hallelujah. The budget crisis is over.

Lo and behold, the House GOP has brilliantly determined that if they cut the waste in their own operating budget, they’ll be able to save us American taxpayers approximately… $475,000.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, House staffers have reverted back to plastic utensils instead of the compostable ones championed by Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “Green the Capitol” initiative, a change that will save the nation the equivalent of two years of John Boehner’s salary.

House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren said in a statement:

"After a thorough review of the House's composting operations, I have concluded that it is neither cost effective nor energy efficient to continue the program. Therefore, I have directed the CAO to suspend the program until further notice.”

… According to information provided by the House IG and the CAO, the composting program has increased the House's overall operating costs by an estimated $475,000 annually. … According to the IG, the program has only achieved carbon reductions equivalent to removing one car from the road each year.

Green the Capitol cut energy consumption in House office buildings by more than 20 percent, reduced water use by more than 30 percent, and saved or recycled more than 2,000 tons of paper, according to a House report. If the composting program wasn’t up to par, it would obviously be worthwhile to make it more cost and energy efficient rather than simply regressing to Styrofoam.

But again, House Republicans have made their priorities clear. Making a scene about health care, taking away women’s rights, and proving some point about environmental activism are way more important than actually reducing the deficit. And heaven forbid Lungren’s forks kept breaking.

Discuss

As far as I’m concerned, any rally gets instant bonus points if it disrupts Dick Armey’s work day. By this measure, the D.C. rally for Wisconsin today outside the Hall of States was a resounding success.

FreedomWorks’ latest fundraising e-mail blast, signed by Armey himself, features a photo of my fellow Wisconsin union allies taken from a safe distance — the roof — and states:

“A veritable who's who of public and private sector unions including AFSCME, NEA, SEIU, AFT, ATU, and the Teamsters descended on the FreedomWorks office building today to block state reforms aimed to curb their exhorbitant (sic) union power in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio.”

Terrifying.

A few of Dick’s interns (and zoo animals) eventually did make their way into the crowd, as did folks from Fox News, whose D.C. office also is conveniently located at 444 North Capitol.

More bonus points: If we keep showing up literally outside the Fox News offices, it might actually get harder for them to pretend Democrats don’t exist.

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