Reproductive Rights

Davis Continues to Speak Up For Reproductive Rights

Image of Wendy Davis and Kurt Hochenauer

Former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis was in Oklahoma Saturday speaking up for Planned Parenthood.

That’s a good thing because in a crass, anti-women political move Friday, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to defund the health organization for a year.

It’s GOP political theater and part of a risky political strategy as the presidential election looms in 2016. The disingenuous and stated idea behind the one-year suspension of funding is that it will give conservative politicos time to “investigate” Planned Parenthood. House Republicans also passed an absurd, meaningless bill that would make it a criminal act if medical workers don’t try to save the life of a child born during an attempted abortion. This is a bill also based completely on absurdities and misinformation.

Both bills pander to low-information conservative voters and further fuel myopic ideologues, the cultural scourges and haters, who have devoted their lives to dangerous and threatening levels of religious extremism.

Women have a right to control their bodies. Women have a right to ALL reproductive health procedures, tests and checkups. Women have a right to go to a Planned Parenthood.

Oklahoma U.S. Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe have helped to lead the ongoing attack on Planned Parenthood in the Senate even though the organization doesn’t perform abortions in the state. The entire attack on the organization is based on heavily edited and fraudulent videos manufactured by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The videos are clearly fabrications about how fetal tissue is obtained and used in stem cell research. This coordinated attack on Planned Parenthood is a political ploy by conservatives, a doubling down on taking away a woman's right to have an abortion in order to score political points.

But it’s goes much further than that, and the GOP might even try to shut down the government over the issue, an issue which is much larger than one organization.

The defunding measure, of course, will not make it through the U.S. Senate. If it does, President Barack Obama will veto it, and Republicans don’t have enough votes to override it. The companion bill won’t make it through the Senate either, and even if it did and even if it was signed into law by Obama, it wouldn’t matter. Like the fabricated videos, it’s based on a lie, which the corporate media doesn’t stress enough. The idea of a kicking and crying healthy baby “born” as if in a regular childbirth during an abortion might make everyone cringe, but it doesn’t happen. Unscrupulous Republicans just want everyone to think it does.

The ongoing attack against Planned Parenthood, which receives $450 million in federal money primarily in the form of Medicaid payments for providing services to low-income women, is more than a typical anti-abortion stunt as I mentioned. It’s about opportunistic white men, for the most part, a worn out, aging patriarchy, trying to deny women equal rights, equal health care and equal pay. It’s a ploy to infantilize women, to put them in their place, to control, denigrate and abuse.

Think for a minute about the relationship between women’s basic reproductive health and their economic stability and opportunity. These two things are inextricably intertwined.

Here’s how Florida U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a Democrat, described the bill to defund Planned Parenthood:

This bill is dumb, it’s foolish, and it’s mean-spirited. The bill is based upon lies and exaggerations. If you want to have a truthful debate, then let’s talk about the 400,000 Pap smears, the 500,000 breast exams, the 4.5 million STD and HIV tests that Planned Parenthood does each year.

All this makes it increasingly important that Davis, a former Texas Democratic state senator and gubernatorial candidate, continues to speak up for women’s rights and support organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Davis, who is widely know for filibustering a draconian Texas legislative anti-abortion bill in 2013, was the featured speaker Saturday night at an annual fundraising dinner for Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma. I was fortunate to hear the speech and to talk personally with Davis, pictured with me above, at the event.

In her speech, Davis spoke up against the “demigods” like presidential candidate Donald Trump who demean women and lamented “sadly” the division of women on issues like reproductive health. She brought up the struggles of single women and mothers, who clearly need organizations such as Planned Parenthood for basic health reasons.

These women used by demigods for political gain are not the fictions created by conservatives. To drive home her point, Davis repeatedly used the refrain, as she described various women, “She’s real. I met her.” It was perhaps the most powerful part of her speech because the reality of what Planned Parenthood does is always lost in the political and media spectacle.

Davis talked about the struggles her grandmother and mother faced in their lives, and talked about her own journey. Davis graduated with a law degree from Harvard University, and held political office as a Fort Worth councilor and Texas state senator, but she faced her own financial and personal obstacles as a single mother along the way. In 2014, she lost her bid to become Texas governor, and now practices law in Austin and Fort Worth.

Her filibuster in 2013 of a bill that placed draconian restrictions on abortion in Texas drew worldwide media attention. She was able to stop Senate Bill 5 temporarily, but the restrictions were later passed and signed into law. What made her filibuster important, however, was Davis’ courage in standing up for women’s reproductive rights in an extremely conservative state where she was sure to face ridicule and personal attacks, which she did. This, in turn, empowered other women and men to speak up, and the momentum continues.

In her speech, she urged women to tap into their collective power, and said the “ballot box” is where change happens. She said the Goddess of Liberty statue on top of the Texas Capitol building dome continues to stand for “freedom and justice” for women in our neighboring state to the south.

Republicans have demonized Planned Parenthood as a political ploy, banking on visceral responses from voters not paying attention to outright lies and doctored videos. It’s a desperate and immoral strategy to win the presidency and to implement laws restricting the rights of women even further.

Wendy Davis gives us courage to stand up against this onslaught against women. She’s real. I met her. Maybe she will run for office again. Let’s hope so.


Image of James Lankford

It appears members of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation are a major part of the current orchestrated attack on Planned Parenthood.

Right now, the obvious question seems to be whether U.S. Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe knew beforehand about the so-called “sting” videos produced by an anti-abortion group that show Planned Parenthood officials speaking about fetal tissue used in stem cell research.

In other words, have they and other Republican political leaders been in on the video sting, or manufactured scam, from the beginning and are just now feigning surprise and indignation? What did they know and when did they know it? Don’t expect corporate media outlets here to do any digging to answer that question.

Lankford has helped to author a Senate bill to supposedly defund Planned Parenthood. Inhofe has presented a bill that would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the organization. For good measure, U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine wants to pass legislation prohibiting any companies that donate to Planned Parenthood to receive federal contracts. (Wouldn’t that be a violation of the First Amendment?)

All of this is because these Republican politicians and others are against abortion, which is only a small fraction of the procedures Planned Parenthood actually performs in its clinics. In fact, Planned Parenthood performs ZERO abortions in Oklahoma. That’s right. None.

So let’s be clear: Planned Parenthood provides vital reproductive and health care primarily to women in our communities throughout the nation. These services include providing birth control and conducting screenings for breast and cervical cancer. The abortion procedure accounts for only 3 percent of its overall work.

This non-controversy centers around videos secretly recorded by a group called Center for Medical Progress, a shadowy anti-abortion group. They show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue used in important stem cell research. For the record, Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization. It does not profit from selling fetal tissue. It only recovers minor costs for preserving and transporting medical specimens.

The videos, according to Planned Parenthood and other officials, have been selectively edited to sensationalize the issue. The point of the videos is to create visceral reactions and give politicians like Lankford and Inhofe cover to attack Planned Parenthood. Embryonic and fetal stem cell research has been going on for years. The videos reveal nothing new.

It’s true that a majority of Lankford’s and Inhofe’s constituents are undoubtedly opposed to abortion, but, again, Planned Parenthood performs no abortions in Oklahoma. Their efforts, if successful, would not change the availability of the abortion procedure here in Oklahoma. Eliminating Planned Parenthood’s ability to collect Medicaid dollars for its services will not end abortion in this country nor will it mean the overall demise of the organization. It will only make it more difficult for women to receive vital reproductive health care.

Lankford, Inhofe and Bridenstine are directly attacking women in their legislation. Their legislative efforts are utterly sexist at their core and especially cruel to impoverished women. The so-called Republican “war on women” is more than just sloganeering. These patriarchal extremists and their fellow chauvinists are using the non-controversy for personal political gain and to promote their religious beliefs.

In the end, it’s highly unlikely any of this legislation will get signed into law. It’s certain at this point that President Barack Obama would veto any bill based on secretly recorded videos representing the work of fanatics and impostors. Obama has expressed his strong support for Planned Parenthood in the past.

It’s certain as well that this manufactured controversy, fueled now by overwrought and sanctimonious indignation, will backfire on Republicans in the 2016 general election.


Inhofe So Disgusted

Image of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe

It’s no surprise that U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe has joined in the attack on Planned Parenthood after secretly-recorded videos were released by what the health organization’s president calls “militant anti-abortion activists.”

Those videos, produced by a group calling itself Center for Medical Progress, reveal no new information but only sensationalize the use of fetal tissue obtained after abortions for life-saving and breakthrough stem cell research. The videos show doctors discussing the process of obtaining the tissue.

Inhofe, along with other senators, has called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to assist in investigating the matter, but the problem is there’s nothing to investigate. Embryonic and fetal tissue has been used in medical research for years. Inhofe and his fellow senators can, of course, try to shut down this type of medical research or try to ban abortion altogether but the “gotcha” videos reveal nothing new and are tremendously unethical.

In an overly dramatic statement about the issue, Inhofe said:

I am disgusted that Planned Parenthood chapters are selling fetal body parts for profit. The casual discussion of abortion, dismemberment and sale of babies in these videos is alarming and shows a true lack of moral conviction. Our nation should not be condoning the act of killing our own children or allowing these corrupt organizations to sell body parts for profit. This isn’t about being Pro-Life or Pro-Choice anymore, this is about our country’s moral conscience, and I will not stand for such horrid actions like this taking place on American soil.

First, Planned Parenthood officials have been adamant that they don’t sell fetal tissue for profit. They merely recover costs for preserving and transporting medical specimens. Second, the videos have come under much criticism for selective editing and slicing to support a political agenda. These are biased political videos not fact-supported journalism. The fact they were secretly recorded by an organization with a political agenda makes them obviously unethical and irrelevant.

In his overblown statement, Inhofe proclaims, “I will not stand for such horrid actions like this taking place on American soil.” This is incredibly bombastic. Why didn’t he make this same statement years ago? Again, the videos DO NOT reveal any new information. They simply sensationalize what’s been happening on “American soil” for years.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, according to media reports, said the videos are part of an orchestrated attack on the organization. She fired back at the critics this way:

They're using these very highly edited videos, sensationalized videos, to try to impugn and smear the name of Planned Parenthood. These activists, these militant anti-abortion activists . . . do nothing to improve the health and safety of women. And if they had their way, women could no longer come to Planned Parenthood for birth control services, for breast cancer screenings, for cervical cancer screenings or any other health care.

Inhofe and some of his fellow senators, such as James Lankford, have obviously used the political stunt to try to rile up their voter base, but what does it even matter in conservative Oklahoma? Why fuel the anger when it’s not even necessary.

Planned Parenthood does incredible work in our communities, and this latest flap will eventually subside. But what’s telling is how unethical the anti-abortion movement has become. The secretly-recorded and selectively-edited videos only reveal the fanaticism of some zealots in the anti-abortion movement. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood remains crucially vital to women’s reproductive health in this country.