Passing judgment on the victim

Is it just me? Really, it must be. But I just don’t see it any other way.

Pennsylvania House Bill 288 is reasonable legislation that would see to it that emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill, is available to any rape victim who wanted it, no matter what hospital she was in. It would provide a guarantee that all rape victims have information and access to emergency contraception in every Pennsylvania emergency room.

Unfortunately, even something as straightforward as guaranteeing rape victims access to pregnancy prevention may be too moderate a concept for our esteemed House members to embrace.

A vote on this bill is expected on Monday.

As initially presented, House Bill 288 proposed sane much-needed guarantees to rape victims, offering assurances that they would be treated humanely when seeking medical help from any of Pennsylvania’s hospitals.

But the “McCall amendment” to the proposed law, to also be presented Monday, would permit faith-based hospitals to exempt themselves from the bill’s requirement for religious or moral reasons – gutting the very guarantees the legislation would provide.

So what can’t I help but assuming about any lawmaker who votes in favor of the exemption? That he is a Neanderthal less concerned with defending the rights of a rape victim and more concerned that some sanctimonious jerk in a lab coat has the right to impose his personal moral views on brutalized women.

I mean, what else is a person to conclude about these guys?

Well, I guess we could also conclude that they think Pennsylvania voters are a bunch of religious extremists who want women, even rape victims, not to have access to birth control. And, they are so cynical that they are willing to sell their votes to what they assume is a majority of Pennsylvanians for the assurance of continued support for a cushy job and a nice fat pension.

Scary thoughts indeed.

Let us go over it again: Emergency contraception is not abortion (pdf). When used soon after unprotected sex, it can prevent pregnancy.

A Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece, written by two members of the Womens Donor Network, sums up the issue quite nicely. The article is here. It points out:

On Oct. 18, Pennsylvania’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved regulations that would allow health-care facilities with religious affiliations or moral objections to claim an exemption from a laudable new rule that requires hospitals to inform rape victims of their right to emergency contraception, and to provide the contraceptive pills to the raped woman if she wants them. The regulation was handed down just as legislators were scheduled to take up a bill that would have required Pennsylvania hospitals and health-care facilities essentially to offer the rule without a so-called conscience clause.

With the clause, state regulators have apparently appeased opponents to the proposed legislation who want to allow facilities to withhold birth control – even from rape victims – based on theological or moral grounds. Others seek to muddy the waters by claiming that emergency birth control is something it’s not. (Emergency birth control is nothing more than two birth-control pills combined. It does not terminate a pregnancy; it prevents one from happening.)

Readers in Pennsylvania should call their elected representatives, urging them to support House Bill 288 as it stands and to oppose this mean-spirited Amendment.

Lauri in York

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ACLU lobbyist at Firedoglake today

Caroline Fredrickson, the director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, visited Firedoglake today for a chat on what’s going on with FISA. Lots of fascinating insight to be had. Some of it is real political junkie crack. (For example, will Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thwart Chris Dodd’s filibuster threat by bringing up the bill while Dodd is campaigning in Iowa?)

The discussion can be found here. The dialogue is preceded by more scuttlebutt about the Joe Klein, TIME magazine screw-up on FISA.

I knew about this chat on Wednesday and probably should have posted it here. If you were our friend at MySpace you would have known since we sent a bulletin to our friends.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Simply Atrocious

Saturday was my first day as a Patient Escort at the Philadelphia Women’s Center, and it is a day I will never forget. I approached Appletree Street from 8th Avenue expecting a large crowd of anti-abortion protestors, but I was not prepared for what was to come next.

Nervous and fearful I would recognized as the opposition, I quickly walked through the crowd. Approaching the clinic door at 6:35 am, I noticed a group of people sitting on the entrance steps. At first, the thought of a blockade did not register… I had learned that this was illegal… and could not believe that this could happen… but there they were.

Confused and disturbed, I frantically searched for escorts in yellow pinnies. I crossed the police line and tried to make sense of the situation. I soon learned that the Operation Rescue protestors had trapped some employees and patients inside and were barring entrance to anyone who attempted to pass.

While trying to make sense of this unbelievable situation, I repeatedly asked, “Isn’t this illegal? How can the police allow the protestors to do this? Shouldn’t they all be arrested for blocking the entrance? What about the safety of the patients, the staff and the volunteers?” My mind was spinning while I did my best to act as a visual barrier between the patients and anti’s.

For what seemed like hours, the police allowed the protestors to block the entrance while the patients either stood out in the cold or waited in nearby cars. The anti’s got really close to the patients, their family and friends. They used scare tactics and offered fake money in an attempt to change their minds. They insulted the escorts by insinuating that we are “not pro-choice” and that we are “harming women.” While the patients were free to speak with the anti’s, to us, they only expressed anger or fear in regards to their presence.

Even though this happened more than 3 days ago, my mind has not yet processed these events and it is still difficult for me to find the words. It is absolutely unbelievable that something like this can happen in light of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which forbids the use of “force, threat of force or physical obstruction” to prevent someone from providing or receiving reproductive health services. Is this not clear enough? I just don’t understand.

Stephanie Chando, Duvall Project Intern

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Derailing the so-called new third rail of politics


There are public officials, anti-immigrant advocates, and trolls at SF that think that the anti-immigrant sentiment prevails in America and that the wind is at their back. Democrat wonderboy Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-Illin’) even claims that immigration is the “new third rail” of politics.

Not so fast, my friends.

In an analysis after Election Day, The Washington Post noted that demagoging on the immigration issue got candidates nowhere in local elections in Virginia.

Voters across Virginia chose candidates in state and local elections yesterday not out of anger over illegal immigration but based on party affiliation, a preference for moderation and strong views on such key issues as residential growth and traffic congestion.

With a few notable exceptions, the trend benefited Democrats and not those who campaigned the loudest for tough sanctions against illegal immigrants.

A less conclusive but still telling analysis was in The New York Times on the Empire State’s local elections.

Democrats declared yesterday that Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants had not proved to be the electoral boon Republicans had hoped for in local elections, despite the Republicans’ aggressive efforts to exploit overwhelming public opposition to the proposal.

The Republican presidential primary looks like a race to the gutter on this issue, and the Democratic hopefuls are standing at the cliff deciding whether or not to follow the nativist lemmings over the edge. They’re all failing to give the American people credit for being more mature than a 12-year-old. Let’s face it, the American people embrace people who work hard and have strong family values, and that’s why polling has consistently shown that most people in the country want comprehensive immigration reform.

And if you need further proof that the demagogue frame is a loser at the ballot box, look no further than this guy. For weeks leading up to the election in 2006, “Casey for Amnesty” signs were all over the place in PA. And Santorum lost by 17 points.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Everytime I read the news, I’m always more confused

As we returned to work from the long holiday weekend, many of us were no doubt sharing with our colleagues the best clueless remarks made round the Thanksgiving dinner table by some of our well-meaning but woefully uninformed relatives. Waiting for the caffeine to kick in this morning, we tried to one up each other with tales of expressed opinions so outrageous it would make even Bill O’Reilly blush. (Warning: You can’t outdo my stories. “George Bush is a great environmentalist?” Nobody draws out the stupid like me.)

Of course, one has to wonder where such notions come from. Don’t these folks read the news? Well, unfortunately, maybe they do. It’s this kind of thing that leads to an uninformed citizenry.

Joe Klein’s column in last week’s Time Magazine contained quite a few inaccuracies about the new FISA bill — The RESTORE Act — passed by House Democrats last week. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out in Salon.com

The most obvious and harmful inaccuracy was his claim that that bill ‘would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target’s calls to be approved by the FISA court’ and that it therefore ‘would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans.’ Based on those outright falsehoods, Klein called the House Democrats’ bill ‘well beyond stupid.’

As Greenwald pointed out, the bill is pretty clear.

Under Section 2 of the RESTORE Act — the very first section after the “Definitions” section:

‘CLARIFICATION OF ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE OF NON-UNITED STATES PERSONS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES’

Sec. 105A. (a) Foreign to Foreign Communications-

(1) IN GENERAL – Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a court order is not required for electronic surveillance directed at the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not known to be United States persons and are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information, without respect to whether the communication passes through the United States or the surveillance device is located within the United States.

The blog Firedoglake has a great assessment of what this means to readers looking to Time Magazine to inform them on an issue critical to the Fourth Amendment and our rights to privacy.

Lauri in York

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The infrastructure for a police state


When my sister-in-law recently told me about the Global Positioning System in her new vehicle, I kiddingly harassed her and said that I would never get a GPS because it is a part of the infrastructure of a police state. Her husband stopped me dead in my righteous tracks and reminded me that our cell phones are easily tracked. I mumbled something like, “Yeah, but I like my phone.”

Today The Washington Post reports that federal agents are using cell phones to track suspects. This is no surprise. They should be tracking suspected criminals by any lawful means possible.

The disturbing aspect of the Post story is that judges are issuing warrants without requiring that the agents meet the constitutional standard of probable cause.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Such requests run counter to the Justice Department’s internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas.

That second paragraph is particularly troubling. Here’s a piece from later in the article.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said field attorneys should follow the department’s policy. “We strongly recommend that prosecutors in the field obtain a warrant based on probable cause” to get location data “in a private area not accessible to the public,” he said. “When we become aware of situations where this has not occurred, we contact the field office and discuss the matter.”

When did following the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution become a “recommendation”?

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

For more on this issue, visit the ACLU’s Privacy & Technology page.

Andy in Harrisburg

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The Inner Sanctum

This week I had the opportunity to view the interiors of two Pennsylvania women’s centers where abortions are performed. For all the horrible images painted by the anti’s of these “abortuaries,” I was relieved to know that women who choose to have an abortion can do so in a comforting, safe and soothing environment.

The waiting room of the Allentown Women’s Center is cozy with messages of support from patients displayed on the walls. There are photographs of men and women depicting the various choices women have including medication abortion, carrying the pregnancy to term, or choosing high school over an unwanted pregnancy. There are also artsy photographs of hypocritical racists who protest abortion while draped in white robes. The most calming aspect of the room, however, is a large painting of brightly colored palm trees on the ceiling. Beyond the doors of the waiting room are counseling rooms, procedure rooms, and the recovery area.

At the Philadelphia Women’s Center, the area beyond the waiting room is a light shade of pink, with purple accents, and feminist artwork portraying various aspects of women’s strengths. Women can choose to listen to the soothing sounds of birds chirping or to read encouraging words from other women who have been in the same situation.

Although making the decision to have an abortion may be difficult, it is wonderful to know that women have safe and supportive environments to go to when they are need of them the most.

Stephanie Chando, Duvall Project Intern

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Wanted: Rational debate

Earlier this month, Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer wrote an interesting piece on the realities of U.S. immigration policy. He addressed what he considers to be the economic and social dangers of having a large group of people forced into an exiled status in the country in which they were raised.

From Oppenheimer’s column on the subject:

You may have violated a rule, but that should not make you an ‘illegal’ person. You may have gotten a ticket for speeding, but that doesn’t make you an ‘illegal’ human being, even if the potential harm of your reckless driving is much greater than anything done by most of the hard-working undocumented immigrants in this country.

Carrying out enforcement-only policies, labeling undocumented workers as ‘illegals’ and depriving them of hope for upward mobility — rather than working toward greater economic cooperation with Latin America to reduce migration pressures — is not only wrong, but dangerous. The millions of undocumented among us will not leave. They will only get angrier.

So, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly learned of the column. And in the interest of public discourse and rational debate, he offered a well reasoned and thoughtful assessment, laying out a lucid analysis of why Oppenheimer was wrong. (OK, I’m just kidding about that part. But you probably already guessed that.) No, no. The transcript is here. Mr. O’Reilly responded by calling Mr. Oppenheimer a “nut job” and a “crazy columnist.” Certainly can’t argue with the logical nuance and depth of understanding he brings to these thorny and complex legal issues.

Also, Laura Ingraham, who was on the show commenting, said it seemed like Oppenheimer was trying to incite a race war. (The woman really needs to work on her reading comprehension. He doesn’t say that at all.) Here is Oppenheimer’s response to the accusation. Notice how he actually responds to the issues. And no matter what your position is on the immigration issue, his points are an important reminder that this is a not something that will be solved with simplistic and pat responses.

Lauri in York

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Controversy over Nova episode on intelligent design case

Judgment Day, the PBS/Nova’s show on Dover’s intelligent design trial has aired. For those who were part of it, what played out for two hours on the television set could never fully capture (but indeed, came as close as I think anyone could) to this amazing experience. (Full disclosure – I appear in the show.)

However, in something of an ironic twist, the show seems to have sparked a bit of a brouhaha over censorship. In Tennessee, the land of the Scopes Monkey Trial, the subject was deemed too controversial for Memphis public broadcast viewers. Sigh. While most of the country was able to watch the show on local Public Broadcasting System stations (or, as the oh-so-irked Discovery Institute likes to refer to it, “The Propaganda Broadcasting System.” Oh my goodness, Casey. It’s funny because it’s so clever.), folks there watched a post-Veterans Day show on WWII.

To their credit, many viewers are not pleased.

According to the article in The Memphis Commercial Appeal, “in response to one viewer complaint, WKNO program manager Debi Robertson said Wednesday that while the ‘Nova’ episode reported the outcome of the trial and the arguments during the trial it ‘might look particularly one-sided to most of our audience.’ ” As the letter writers correctly point out, the station’s decision to protect viewers from information with which they might or might not disagree, is an abdication of public television’s commitments and responsibilities. It smacks of condescending paternalism of the worst kind.

The good news, however, is that overall, most stations had no qualms about airing the show. According to Paula Apsell, the show’s senior executive producer, “the pick-up of this show in the PBS system at large was terrific.” Ninety-eight percent of the top fifty markets aired it.

And while we’re on the subject, (Well, sort of related) the Flying Spaghetti Monster is on the agenda of the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting this weekend.

The discussion’s title? “Evolutionary Controversy and a Side of Pasta: The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Subversive Function of Religious Parody.”

Lauri in York

VICTORY IS OURS!!

The pro-choice community celebrated on Thursday, November 8, when a federal judge ordered an infamous Reading anti-abortion activist, John Dunkle, to remove posts from his internet website and blog that “clearly constituted a threat” against physicians, staff and patients of several abortion clinics in the region. With pending threats against abortion rights at both the state and federal levels, it is comforting to know that the Attorney General’s office is willing to protect doctors and staff involved with abortion services.

On a daily basis, the frontline superheroes of the reproductive rights movement face villains claiming moral superiority. Like John Dunkle, these protestors barricade clinic entrances, send terrorist threats to clinic employees and physicians, and shove frightening anti-choice propoganda in the faces of clinic patients. In the name of God, they “protect the innocent” by threatening the lives of men and women. But who are they to judge?

I would like to thank those men and women, especially Dr. Mary Blanks and Jennifer Boulanger from the Allentown Women’s Center, who were willing to come forward and stand up against a man labeled as a “domestic terrorist,” by one of the assistant U.S. attorneys. I would also like to thank the clinic staff, physicians, and escorts who work hard on a daily basis to provide women with choices when they need them the most.

Even though Dunkle’s website has been cobbled, there are many more anti’s out there threatening patients and clinics. The infamous anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, who has been disavowed by Operation Rescue, is planning a clinic protest in the Philadelphia area on Saturday, Nov. 24th. We are seeking to train escorts in anticipation. If you are interested, please click here.

To read more about Gonzalez vs. Dunkle click here and here.

Stephanie Chando, Duvall Project Intern

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