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Women’s Rights: New Court Begins Chipping Away

The Supreme Court dealt a damaging blow to women's rights, upholding a law that banned some mid-term abortions without an exception for the health of the mother

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GOOD NEWS

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said “no, nope, no way, hell no” Tuesday to helping create the first national identification cards, signing into law a bill that blocks the state from complying with the REAL ID Act.


STATE WATCH

MISSISSIPPI: A bold developer is embarking on a massive building project to provide homes for thousands of Katrina refugees.

UTAH: Health insurance premium costs skyrocketed 5.6 percent between 2000 and 2005, while the number of residents without coverage rose

ECONOMY: Several states are being strained by poor collection of sales tax revenues.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: President Bush brings Iraq “death and destruction” tour to local high schools.

DAILY KOS: Attention conservatives blaming the Virginia Tech victims: “They DID fight back.”

NO COMMENT: British Prime Minister Tony Blair to succeed World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz?

GULF COAST RECONSTRUCTION WATCH: “New Orleans’ economy improves, but infrastructure remains a disaster.”


DAILY GRILL

“Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., submitted the names of two candidates to replace Heffelfinger. His staff said Paulose was not one of them.”
— Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/14/07, on Coleman’s denial that he ever nominated Rachel Paulose to succeed Thomas Heffelfinger as U.S. attorney in Minnesota

VERSUS

“Paulose, who Coleman recommended for the post earlier this year, will succeed Thomas Heffelfinger, who resigned from the position in February.”
— Press release from Coleman’s office, 12/9/06


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 April 19, 2007
New Court Begins Chipping Away
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New Court Begins Chipping Away

In a 5-4 decision yesterday, the Supreme Court dealt a damaging blow to women’s rights, upholding a 2003 law that banned some mid-term abortions as early as 12 to15 weeks, without providing an exception for the health of the pregnant mother. The Court’s decision, which marked the “first time the justices agreed that a specific abortion procedure could be banned,” blatantly defied its own recent ruling in 2000, which said a mid-term abortion ban without exceptions for the health of the woman was an unconstitutional restriction. The ruling “clears the way for states to pass new laws” designed to discourage women from having abortions. “For the first time in 30 years, the Supreme Court has sanctioned a law that does not protect women’s health and prohibits doctors from exercising their best medical judgment,” said Jessica Arons, the director of women’s health and rights program at the Center for American Progress. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, dismissed the medical community’s opinion and instead adopted political rhetoric intended to appeal to the right-wing base. Noting the deep hostility to women’s rights contained in the majority opinion’s language, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in dissent, said, “Throughout, the opinion refers to obstetrician-gynecologists and surgeons who perform abortions not by the titles of their medical specialties, but by the pejorative label abortion doctor. A fetus is described as an ‘unborn child,’ and as a ‘baby,’…and the reasoned medical judgments of highly trained doctors are dismissed as ‘preferences’ motivated by ‘mere convenience.'” Reading her dissent aloud in a stone-silent courtroom, Ginsburg said the decision “cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away” at a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

NO MORE HEALTH EXCEPTION: In 2003, Congress passed, and Bush signed, the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.” In its passage, Congress refused to adopt an amendment proposed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that would have banned such abortions except in cases where “the medical judgment of the attending physician” determined the abortion was necessary to preserve the life of the woman or avert serious adverse health consequences. Rather than crafting appropriate law, conservatives appeared more interested in setting up a judicial showdown over ways to restrict the right to abortion itself. The Court’s decision now imperils the requirement for a woman’s “health exception,” which until yesterday, had survived long legal scrutiny. The American College Obstetricians and Gynecologists had informed the Court that upholding the Ban would “chill doctors from providing a wide range of procedures used to perform induced abortions or to treat cases of miscarriage and will gravely endanger the health of women in this country.” Yesterday, the women’s health physicians group said, “This decision discounts and disregards the medical consensus [and] diminishes the doctor-patient relationship by preventing physicians from using their clinical experience and judgment.” 

FORCING WOMEN TO SUFFER: “The [Partial Birth Abortion Ban] act, on its face, is not void for vagueness and does not impose an undue burden from any overbreadth,” Kennedy wrote for the court. He added that the proper way to make a challenge, if an abortion ban is claimed to harm a woman’s right to abortion, is through an as-applied claim. “In effect, the decision deputizes district judges across the country to authorize or deny partial-birth abortions to pregnant women based on health considerations.” Practically speaking, Kennedy’s argument means the Court will consider the burdens of the mid-term abortion ban only if a woman is forced into a health-threatening situation, and the judiciary branch will examine such hardships on a case-by-case basis — a rule never imposed before because of the time limitations involved in terminating a pregnancy. Eve Gartner of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said in response, “The idea that women could bring ‘as applied’ challenges literally as they’re in the hospital bleeding or suffering some serious medical harm and need a banned abortion, the Court suggests well at that point the woman could bring a federal lawsuit. But just saying that shows how absurd and unworkable that remedy is.”

 

ELECTIONS MATTER: The most important vote yesterday was that of the newest justice, Samuel Alito, appointed by President Bush after he won reelection to a second term in office. As a member of the 3rd District Court of Appeals, Alito had voted in July 2000 to strike down New Jersey’s ban on mid-term abortions. “The New Jersey statute,” he wrote, “lacks an exception for the preservation of the health of the mother.” When Alito was nominated by Bush to replace O’Connor, many of his supporters argued that his decision in this case “proved that he would not be reliably anti-choice.” He earned support in his nomination process when he said he “would not bring a political agenda to the court” and would be “respectful of precedent.” But once presented with the opportunity to impose new ideological law, Alito grasped it, parting ways with O’Connor and his own previous judgments. The Washington Post’s Andrew Cohen writes, “You can spin this any other way you want but in the end it comes down to a simple matter of personnel. Justice Alito was willing and able to go in the law where his predecessor, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wasn’t.”

Under the Radar

ETHICS — FBI RAIDS ABRAMOFF-LINKED CONGRESSMAN’S HOME: FBI agents searched the home of Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) yesterday, who is “under scrutiny over his ties to convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.” Doolittle’s ties to the disgraced lobbyist are quite extensive, as he “received $64,500 from Abramoff, his partners, and clients between 2001 and 2004. Abramoff let Doolittle hold fundraisers in his sky box for free, and paid to send Doolittle’s top aide to Puerto Rico. He hired Doolittle’s then-chief of staff, Kevin Ring, who in turn helped hire Doolittle’s wife. Julie Doolittle, who owned a consulting firm, was brought on by Abramoff and his firm, Greenberg Traurig, to do fundraising for Abramoff’s charity.” Despite these other clear connections, Dolittle maintains that Abramoff’s ties to Doolittle’s wife’s business are the only reason for the FBI’s raid. “My wife has been cooperating with the FBI and the Justice Department for almost three years and that cooperation is going to continue in the future. I support my wife 100 percent and fully expect that the truth will prevail,” he said in a statement yesterday. As Roll Call notes, Doolittle is seemingly quite embarrassed about the allegations, as he has not “made any attempt to personally inform House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) of the event. Doolittle has been on the Hill all week and voted on the floor Wednesday.”

ADMINISTRATION — POLITICIZATION CONTINUES IN NON-POLITICAL RANKS OF DOJ: A “Group of Concerned Justice Department Employees” have sent an anonymous letter to both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees revealing that “the non-political ranks of Justice employees…are consistently and methodically being eroded by partisan politics.” As Politico explained, “Under normal circumstances, the various divisions at Justice review applications from potential hires, set interviews and send the list to the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management, which gives the green light to proceed.” The letter detailed, however, that the recruitment office is “no longer the final step…because the list had to go higher” — to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. The letter continues that “when the list of potential interviewees was returned, it had been cut dramatically…many sections were left with fewer potential interviews than vacant slots to fill.” In a Dec. 5, 2006, meeting scheduled in response to the complaints, McNulty’s chief of staff was “offensive to the point of [being] insulting” and claimed that his “screening panel” had struck people from the list because of “grades, spelling errors on applications, and inappropriate information about them on the Internet.” Justice Department staff, however, found that among those individuals rejected by McNulty’s office, “one common denominator appeared repeatedly” — they had “interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a ‘liberal’ cause, or otherwise appeared to have ‘liberal’ leanings.” The letter concluded that “while the current political appointees repeatedly remind everyone that the U.S. Attorneys ‘serve at the pleasure of the President,’ the Department’s career attorneys serve the people of the United States” and urged Congress to “include this politicizing of the career ranks in your questioning of Attorney Gonzales and his staff.” The Justice Department has refused to comment on the letter.

ENVIRONMENT — NEW POLL SHOWS AMERICANS WANT ACTION NOW ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: The majority of Americans “feel new urgency” for “immediate action to tackle global warming and achieve energy independence,” according to a new poll for the Center for American Progress conducted by GreenbergQuinlanRosner Research. On the heels of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film “An Inconvenient Truth” and a series of reports by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, over three-quarters of Americans now believe that global warming is real and apparent. Sixty percent of those surveyed not only believe that “the increasing pollution of the past few decades has set global warming into motion,” but also that “we must take action now or it will be too late to stop it.” This sense of urgency crosses party lines, as “huge majorities of Independents (59 percent) and Democrats (76 percent) support action now along with a significant bloc of Republicans (41 percent).”  The poll also found that the vast majority of Americans are ready and willing to move from oil and coal as fuel sources to alternative fuels. Even when presented with the point of view of critics, the survey shows “strong public support for a series of proposals to move to clean, alternative energy, institute higher mileage standards for automobiles, and cap carbon emissions from industry to tackle our dependence on oil and stop global warming.” “This new poll demonstrates that legislators can support clean alternative energy and limits on global warming pollution with the confidence that the American people will enthusiastically applaud such efforts,” write Center for American Progress President John Podesta, Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Change Strategy Daniel J. Weiss, and Senior Vice President for Communications Laura Nichols. “Conversely, the public will disapprove of inaction or efforts that expand our reliance on conventional fuels or more global warming pollution.”


Think Fast

78: Percentage of Americans who believe undocumented immigrants now in the United States should be given a chance at citizenship, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll, showing “the American public appears to have reached a consensus on the question.”

Senate conservatives “blocked legislation yesterday that would have allowed the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices.” Eighty-five percent of Americans support such negotiations.

“For six years, the Bush administration, aided by Justice Department political appointees, has pursued an aggressive legal effort to restrict voter turnout in key battleground states in ways that favor Republican political candidates. … On virtually every significant decision affecting election balloting since 2001, the division’s Voting Rights Section has come down on the side of Republicans.”

“Congressional Democratic leaders are moving to make their proposed timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq ‘advisory’ as they seek to reconcile two versions of war spending legislation into a single bill that they plan to pass next week, according to several House members.” 

Terrorism strikes the poor in Iraq: “While Baghdad remains in shock over the massive bombings that targeted…the poorer areas of the city, and caused hundreds of casualties in crowded marketplaces and neighborhoods, Iraqi politicians who inhabit the safe, guarded quarters of the capital are busy in their attempts to fortify their positions in the political system.”

A senator has placed an “anonymous hold” on “legislation moving through the Senate that would require lawmakers’ campaign finance reports to be electronically filed, meaning quickly made public.”

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee today in a “make-or-break appearance” about the Bush administration’s prosecutor purge. Four legal experts, including ousted U.S. attorney David Iglesias, pose questions they would ask Gonzales.

Children in Sudan are press-ganged, coerced to join armed groups, raped and used as forced labor or sex slaves, according to a new report by humanitarian groups.”

And finally: Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) can’t get any of female congresswomen to join her morning walks on the National Mall. “They’re all guys,” she said of her companions. She likes to walk because, “I eat chocolate and I eat chocolate and I eat more chocolate. And I love it,” but quickly added, “Diet is part of it, too.”