With New York legalizing gay marriage, more and more children will be exposed to same-sex couples (much to the chagrin of conservatives). Here is great video of one little boy's reaction to seeing his first gay couple -- watch how he figures things out:


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Louisiana Lawmakers Clash as GOP Fails to Advance Anti-Choice Measure

A Louisiana senate committee hearing Tuesday on an abortion ban based on the sex of the fetus ended with a tense exchange between a committee member and the bill’s author.

A Louisiana senate committee hearing Tuesday on an abortion ban based on the sex of the fetus ended with a tense exchange between a committee member and the bill’s author.

HB 701, sponsored by Rep. Lenar Whitney (R-Houma), would prohibit physicians from intentionally performing or attempting to perform an abortion if they know the pregnant person is seeking the abortion because of the sex of the fetus.

A motion to report the bill as favorable resulted in a 2-2 vote by committee members along partisan lines, preventing the bill from going to the full senate, where Republicans hold a dominant 26-13 majority.

During the hearing, a committee member asked Whitney if there was any evidence of sex-selective abortions taking place in Louisiana. “No documentation that says it presently goes on in Louisiana,” Whitney said.

Son Ah Yun, deputy director of programs and policy at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), testified against the bill because she said it perpetuated negative stereotypes about Asian-American communities.

“America is not India. America is not China. And HB 701 is not the solution,” Yun said.

Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, said during his testimony in favor of the bill that for the “pro-life movement there is never an acceptable reason for an abortion,” but called the bill a “common sense measure” to prevent sex-selective abortions.

Lang Le, a member of the New Orleans Vietnamese community, testified in favor of the bill and said that many Asian nations have dealt with widespread sex-selection abortion. “Unfortunately some Asian-American groups have made their opposition to the bill known, but they do not speak for everyone within the Asian-American community,” Le said.

Ellie Schilling, an attorney who represents abortion providers and clinics, spoke in opposition to the bill and criticized the legal language she said would allow a broad range of people to file lawsuits under the law and be held liable under the law.

The bill prohibits any penalty from being imposed against the person seeking the abortion, but would allow the father or a grandparent of the aborted fetus to sue the physician or anyone who assisted in performing the procedure.

Schilling said that the lack of exception for rape and incest could potentially allow a rapist to file an injunction against the victimized pregnant person in order to prevent them from terminating the pregnancy.

”This provides a very drastic solution to a problem that does not exist,” Schilling said. “The intent of this bill seems clearly for the purpose of frightening physicians and to have a chilling effect on the practice of abortion care.”

Deanna Candler, a Louisiana State University law student and president of LSU Advocates for Life, testified in favor of the bill and said that there were false reports about the scope of the bill’s language.

“The allegation that this bill could apply to a receptionist is completely ludicrous,” Candler said. “It’s specifically limited to the person who performed the abortion.”

The bill’s language defines anyone who is involved in “scheduling or planning a time to perform an abortion on an individual” as “attempt to perform an abortion,” and could hold them civilly culpable. Damages for up to $10,000 could be sought from those who believe the abortion was based on the sex of the fetus.

Whitney, during her closing comments, said voting against the bill was akin to murder.

“If you’re willing to kill baby girls you should vote no, if not then this is an easy yes vote for you,” Whitney said. Those comments caused a heated rhetorical exchange between Whitney and committee member Sen. Karen Peterson (D-New Orleans).

Peterson took exception to the remarks, and asked Whitney if her vote against the bill made her a murderer. “Do you really mean that if I vote no, I’m for killing baby girls?” Peterson asked. “Do I look like a murderer?”

“I think that you would be voting not to protect the innocent life of a baby girl because of her sex,” Whitney responded.

Peterson called the usage of that kind of language “quite harmful.”

A representative from the office of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) was at the hearing in support of the legislation, but did not testify before the committee.

Lawmakers in the house passed the legislation in a 84-2 vote. Republicans hold a 59-44 majority in the house.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Louisiana Lawmakers Clash as GOP Fails to Advance Anti-Choice Measure appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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How the Duggars’ Conservative Christianity Can Enable Abuse and Cover-Ups

It is doubly important that we carefully examine the sociopolitical and theological environment that allowed such abuses—and their apparent cover-up—in the first place. And we must think about the impact that this hyper-conservative Christian theology can have on survivors of this kind of abuse.

Last week, the news surfaced that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the TLC reality-show Duggar family, molested several girls younger than him between March 2002 and March 2003. The Duggar family, according to the tabloid In Touch, elected to handle the crimes in-house for several months, by sending Josh to work manual labor for a summer with a family friend, and asking him to have a conversation with a state trooper, also a family friend. This same trooper was later convicted of child pornography and is currently in prison after re-offending. No official investigation was opened until December 2006, after the statute of limitations in Arkansas had passed.

This is the timeline of events as we know them. The story exploded onto everyone’s feeds late Thursday, resulting in TLC pulling the show on Friday. Many feminist writers are wondering whether the network proceeded with the television series in 2008, with the full knowledge of Duggar’s crimes, or if they simply accepted a sanitized narrative from the family. These are all good questions, and I’m sure we’ll get the answers to them in due time.

But it is doubly important that we carefully examine the sociopolitical and theological environment that allowed such abuses—and their apparent cover-up—in the first place. And we must think about the impact that this hyper-conservative Christian theology can have on survivors of this kind of abuse.

The Duggars are part of a theological movement called “Quiverfull,” a deeply conservative sector of Protestant theology whose most salient characteristic is a disregard for birth control—including the rhythm method. Such families also tend to be politically conservative, believing white Christianity in America to be under threat. Producing godly Christian children to carry on the gospel, both politically and socially, is vital to the continuation of the faith: You must have lots of “arrows”—children—in your “quiver.” More children means more demographic power, according to this philosophy, and the ability to control societal and governmental outcomes by maintaining hold of majority power.

And typically attendant with this theology is a whole host of conservatively minded elements. Women are to stay in the home; men are to be breadwinners. Women are to be conservatively and modestly dressed, and sexual purity is prized above all things when entering into a marriage contract. Generally, men and women marry young and start producing children quickly.

On the blog No Longer Quivering, women who grew up in Quiverfull families tell their stories of escaping the movement and discuss the strict patriarchy that underlays the movement. One contributor, Sarah Henderson, writes that power and status are built into the structure of the family. “In patriarchal families, children are often authority-tiered in birth order, although the preference in the ranking is sometimes given to boys,” she writes.

As a woman named Libby Anne writes of her experience within the Quiverfull movement:

My parents believed in more than just a wife’s submission to her husband. They also believed that children are under their father’s authority. … For boys, this lasted until age eighteen. … For girls, this lasted until marriage. … This meant that while my brothers would be out from under my father’s authority when they turned eighteen, I would not. My parents also believed that if my father died, I would be under the authority of my nearest male relative, which in practice meant my younger brother.

The theology is not shy about making sure that men are the heads of households and women are subservient. Frequently, families are so large that older female siblings are enlisted in helping to care for the younger, allowing the mother to focus on newborns. Such a practice not only places minors in charge of each other; it frequently places the work of educating the family members in the hands of people who are still learning things themselves. This combination of factors creates a vortex of little to no education and a lack of skills transferrable to the outside world. In other words, the theological sect perpetuates itself by keeping women dependent upon the family structure until they are married off into a family approved by their patriarch—which is usually another family within their denomination. Women are functionally without power or voice within this movement; leaving it often means leaving behind every social structure you have ever known.

Additionally, the conservative values of modesty and purity create an environment where talking about sex is verboten. As those formerly involved in the movement write, women cover themselves to prevent lust on the part of men, and women are trained from an early age to prioritize the needs and wants of the men around them—including their siblings. A woman who is sexually impure outside of marriage, no matter how it happened, is not marriage material.

The families within this tradition form a close-knit network of groups, depending on each other for education, monetary support, and marriage. The groups are at once paranoid about outsiders while also prizing conversion to their very particular way of life. This desire for evangelism of others explains why the Duggars saw getting a TV show as a good move in the first place.

These elements combine to produce a conservative Christian culture in which victims can be silenced and sexual abuse may be excused as part of an abuser’s redemption story. The prioritization of forgiveness means that having a neat, clean story of Jesus’ power is often more important than actually stopping harm from being done.

So Josh Duggar’s victims likely had a number of things working against them. In addition to the typical problems facing victims of childhood sexual abuse, these young girls existed (and continue to exist) in an environment that prioritizes the redemption of men over the pain of the women they hurt. Coming forward for any one of the victims meant going against a very powerful patriarch in their sect, and it meant an “admission” of sexual impurity on their part.

In the Duggars’ narrative of events, Josh admitted his crimes to his now-wife, Anna, during their courtship, and Anna forgave him. The police report from 2006 also notes that the young victims of the Duggars had been spoken to about the events and that they all had “chosen” to forgive Josh for his transgression. But in a world as theologically, socially, and politically constrained as the Duggars’, is it really possible for these girls—some younger than ten years old—to really understand a concept as weighty as forgiving the man who abused you?

Any forgiveness in such a situation is a Band-Aid over a bullet wound at best. These women may genuinely feel that the abuse they experienced has no real impact on their lives now. But it is undeniable that the environment in which they were raised and the heavily moralistic and gendered purity culture in which they exist contributed both to their abuse and to the subsequent cover-up and minimization of such acts.

This problem of sexual abuse in conservative Christian environments is not just a Duggar problem. This is not an anomaly. This kind of cover-up, this kind of abuse and minimization is all too common for such theologies. It’s just that not every story will involve a national television star.

Image: ABC News/ YouTube

The post How the Duggars’ Conservative Christianity Can Enable Abuse and Cover-Ups appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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Is Anti-Choice Ideology Driving Malpractice Lawsuits? Byron Calhoun and the Phantom Fetal Skull

Now it looks like we can add “phantom fetal skulls” to the list of things Calhoun claims to see despite evidence to the contrary.

In spring of 2013, Itai Gravely received what must have been an alarming phone call from a man named Dr. Byron Calhoun. A year earlier, Gravely had obtained an abortion at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia to terminate a nine-week pregnancy. Calhoun was the physician who treated her at the Charleston Area Medical Center Women and Children’s Hospital (CAMC) the next day, for severe pain and bleeding, suffering what appeared to be complications from the abortion.

During that phone call, Calhoun told Gravely for the first time that when he had examined her at CAMC a year prior, he had found a 13-week old fetal skull in her uterus. In addition to giving Gravely this new information, Calhoun gave her the name and number of well-known anti-choice lawyer Jeremy Dys—a move that a West Virginia judge would later call “remarkable.”

Calhoun kept one crucial detail from Gravely during that phone call, a detail that might have made her think twice before calling a lawyer: The pathology report which was conducted after her treatment at CAMC established that there was no fetal skull present in Gravely’s uterus, and contradicted Calhoun’s claims to the contrary. Calhoun had been presented with that pathology report long before he decided to pick up the phone and dial Gravely’s number.

Based on the evidence, it’s hard to avoid a conclusion that Calhoun—who did not reply to our emails seeking comment for this report—lied to Gravely, dragging the young woman and her most personal information into a bitter public fight over abortion care, using her as a prop in his own ideological campaign.

But why would Calhoun do such a thing? For an answer to that question, we must recall what was going on with the abortion debate in West Virginia in the spring of 2013.

At the time Calhoun made that questionable phone call, anti-choice forces were doing all they could to capitalize on the Gosnell trial, and in particular, to find evidence of more “Gosnells” around the United States. Calhoun was a part of this effort. He is among the nation’s most prominent anti-choice OB-GYNs and is a member of multiple organizations that work to strip away the constitutional right to legal abortion.

It’s not a stretch, then, to surmise that by giving Gravely the name and contact information of an anti-choice lawyer, Calhoun was hoping to spur a lawsuit that would cast abortion in a negative light.

Within months, it seemed that Calhoun’s efforts had succeeded. On June 7, 2013, Gravely filed a lawsuit against the abortion clinic and Dr. Rodney Stephens, the physician who performed the abortion. West Virginia’s anti-choice attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, jumped on the bandwagon less than two weeks later; he sent letters to the state’s abortion providers seeking “information” about their policies and procedures. All of this was part of Morrisey’s public case to “review” West Virginia’s regulation of abortion.

If it’s hard to believe that a doctor would take advantage of a patient in this manner to further his ideological goals, consider what we already know about Byron Calhoun.

Calhoun, a professor and a vice chair at West Virginia University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is a member of RH Reality Check’s gallery of False Witnesses, a group of anti-choice doctors and scientists known for promoting junk science and using false statements to undermine access to abortion.

We know that Calhoun wrote a letter to attorney general Patrick Morrisey in June 2013 claiming an extraordinarily high number of cases involving abortion complications in West Virginia.

“We commonly (I personally probably at least weekly) see patients at Women and Children’s Hospital with complications from abortions at these centers in Charleston,” he wrote.

And finally, we know that claim turned out to be a lie. As RH Reality Check reported in 2013, months after Calhoun made his claims public, S. Andrew Weber, the vice president and administrator of the hospital, found the charges to be false. Weber found five documented complications from abortion in 2012, not the weekly complications that Calhoun claimed to have seen.

Now it looks like we can add “phantom fetal skulls” to the list of things Calhoun claims to see despite evidence to the contrary.

The question now is whether the new administrator at West Virginia University will continue to allow this ideologue with a track record for mistakes, at best, and dishonesty at worst, to continue teaching students and attending to women in West Virginia.

The facts of Gravely’s lawsuit are sad and will hopefully impel the administrator to terminate Calhoun in order to protect the health and safety of pregnant people in West Virginia.

The lawsuit told the story of a young woman persuaded to undergo an abortion by overzealous doctors who ignored her demands to stop the procedure, and physically restrained her so they could finish the abortion against her will.

The lawsuit described the “near tortuous pain” that Gravely endured because the clinic allegedly didn’t sedate her properly.

The lawsuit also described the desperation Gravely felt when, after experiencing bleeding and pain for more than 24 hours, she called the clinic to explain her symptoms. Although clinic personnel encouraged her to return to the clinic for a follow-up, Gravely said she could not afford the cost of transporting herself back to the clinic, so instead she called an ambulance to take her to the local emergency room. That’s where she encountered Calhoun.

Gravely declined to speak to RH Reality Check for this story.

Calhoun performed an ultrasound on Gravely, and what he saw—or didn’t see—on that ultrasound image would become a crucial element of the case, going directly to Calhoun’s competence and credibility.

According to the lawsuit, Calhoun claimed that he saw a 13-week fetal skull in Gravely’s uterus when he reviewed the ultrasound, after which he ordered Gravely to undergo emergency dilation and curettage (D and C) surgery to evacuate “the remaining, degenerating, ‘products of conception’” from her uterus.

At the time, there was no mention to Gravely about a skull remaining in her uterus.

Perhaps that is because, according to the pathology report that was done after Gravely’s emergency D and C, there was no fetal skull present in her uterus.

Despite being presented with this pathology report—which clearly contradicted his claims about finding a fetal skull—Calhoun nevertheless called Gravely a year later and told her that surgeons had removed a fetal skull from her uterus.

It is important to highlight the effect that this phone call, and the subsequent lawsuit, had in undermining reproductive rights in West Virginia, and to make it clear that that was exactly what this lawsuit was intended to accomplish.

The day after Dys filed the lawsuit on Gravely’s behalf (in partnership with well-known anti-choice group Alliance Defending Freedom), he held a dramatic press conference across the street from the Women’s Health Center. Notably, Gravely did not attend the press conference.

As expected, the anti-choice media seized on the story.

“Botched Abortion Leaves Baby’s Head Inside Mother’s Womb!” screamed one headline on Life News at the time the lawsuit was filed.

“Abortionist forced young woman into procedure, left ‘parts’ in her womb,” read another headline at Live Action News.

Not two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the attorney general himself weighed in, using Gravely’s case to leverage political capital in his campaign to roll back access to safe and legal abortion care in West Virginia.

“Ms. Gravely’s lawsuit has revealed potential gaps in West Virginia’s regulation of abortion clinics,” Morrisey wrote in a letter to Dr. Rodney Stephens demanding answers about the operations of Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the clinic where Stephens worked. “What exactly happened to Ms. Gravely must still be investigated and resolved in court, but it is clear that larger questions about abortion regulation may also need to be addressed.”

“No one wants crimes similar to Gosnell’s to be committed in West Virginia,” he added.

Since the filing of the lawsuit and Morrisey’s ensuing inquisition, anti-choice legislators in West Virginia have stepped up their efforts by introducing more than 30 regressive laws, even overriding Gov. Tomblin’s veto to pass a 20-week abortion ban that is flatly unconstitutional.

It’s all the more egregious then to learn that Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit tossed all of Gravely’s claims out of court, and in doing so, cast grave doubt about whether Calhoun had given a truthful account of what had happened in the emergency room that day—both in his call to Gravely, and in his sworn testimony.

Judge Tabit deftly swatted away every claim Calhoun made in service of Gravely’s lawsuit.

Calhoun claimed that because Gravely had revoked her consent to the procedure, Stephens should have stopped the abortion, and not physically restrained her. Tabit demolished this claim, pointing out that Gravely heard suctioning while she was lying on the operating table, and that “it is undisputed that once the procedure is initiated such that the surgeon has used suction, it must be completed.”

Calhoun also claimed that Stephens gave Gravely insufficient anesthetic, thus exposing her to severe pain. Tabit smacked down that claim too, noting that Gravely’s undisclosed heroin habit “may have caused later complications when pain-relieving measures were employed during the procedure.”

Calhoun testified that Stephens fell short of national standards requiring that a physician secure a patient’s informed consent when a pregnancy is terminated. Another swing and a miss. Under West Virginia law, physicians are not required to personally secure consent; they may delegate that duty to a licensed health-care professional or an agent of the physician, which is exactly what Stephens did. The court therefore found that Gravely had consented to the procedure after being properly informed of the risks.

Judge Tabit dismissed every single claim, even calling some of them “immaterial, and frankly, sensational.”

Her incredulity regarding Calhoun’s claims practically drips from the pages of her order, although she does stop short of stating that Calhoun made false statements about the fetal skull.

Still, the mystery remains as to how Calhoun’s statements that he saw a fetal skull can be reconciled with the pathology reports that indicated there was no fetal skull. How could Calhoun have gotten these facts so badly wrong?

That’s a question that his employers are now asking as they assess whether or not to retain him, according to the Charleston Gazette.

RH Reality Check spoke with several abortion providers to try to understand these questions ourselves.

Calhoun could have misread an ultrasound of Gravely’s uterus, thinking that he was seeing a 13-week fetal skull when he was in fact seeing either microscopic air bubbles or what are known as “retained products of conception” from Gravely’s first procedure, abortion providers told RH Reality Check.

“Retained products of conception” is a catch-all phrase that refers to anything remaining in a woman’s uterus from the pregnancy, including both maternal and fetal tissue such as small parts of the placenta or blood clots. It is possible, though very unlikely, that these tiny air bubbles could form a bright line on an ultrasound, resembling the cartilage of a fetal skull, and that’s what Calhoun saw.

That, however, is a particularly generous interpretation, according to Dr. Cheryl Chastine, a physician who provides abortion care.

“That’s very much a stretch,” she told RH Reality Check. “A practicing gynecologist should know the difference.”

And a practicing gynecologist, such as Calhoun, who is also the vice chair of an obstetrics and gynecology department at a major state university, should definitely know the difference. The best reading of this scenario is that Calhoun made an honest but embarrassing mistake, one that was ultimately disproven by the pathology report, which indicated that no identifiable fetal parts were present in Gravely’s uterus.

Another possibility is that Calhoun did find a 13-week fetal skull when he examined Gravely, but that by the time of Gravely’s emergency D and C, her body had naturally passed it.

But the timing makes this very difficult to believe, since Gravely underwent the D and C just four hours after she was admitted to the emergency room, meaning there was likely even less time between the ultrasound and the procedure. Because many of the court documents remain under seal, however, RH Reality Check does not know whether there is any documentation that could support or rule out this possibility.

Even so, there is something deeply suspicious about Calhoun’s fixation on the fetal skull. Experts told RH Reality Check that even if there were fetal parts in Gravely’s uterus, once they were removed, she was not in physical danger.

In addition, abortion providers said that they would have informed a patient that they had found retained products of conception at the time of the examination, but that naming the specific body parts smacks of an ideologically motivated attempt to be provocative.

Given the timing of this lawsuit—coming so quickly on the heels of the Gosnell verdict—and given that Calhoun is active in anti-choice circles, one wonders whether telling Gravely that he had found a fetal skull in her uterus was borne of his anti-choice ideology rather than true concern for his patient.

This brings us to that mysterious phone call.

None of the experts with whom we spoke could understand why Calhoun would wait a year before calling Gravely to tell her about the fetal skull.

“I’ve never heard of that, ever,” said Kim Chiz, the director of nursing at Allentown Women’s Center. “I’ve not heard of a circumstance where a physician waited a year and called a patient out of the blue. I wonder what his motives might be.”

Dr. Willie Parker, an independent abortion provider in Alabama and Mississippi who holds a faculty appointment at Northwestern School of Medicine, agrees. “If there was indeed a fetal skull, there should have been a pathology report, and that information would not and should not have been withheld from the patient,” he said. “That’s problematic,” he added.

Also, given Calhoun’s well-known anti-choice bias, it makes it difficult to believe that he would have found the fetal skull and said nothing at the time.

And as for connecting a former patient with a lawyer, experts told us that was unfathomable.

“I can’t think of any situation where I would tell a patient they should sue,” Parker told RH Reality Check. “And certainly I have never had the capacity to provide a patient with the name of an attorney who would take the case.”

“It would be appropriate to tell a patient that the care was substandard and to have her records reviewed, but seldom would a physician conclude that they had enough facts to recommend a suit, or would feel comfortable facilitating one,” Parker continued.

“It’s unethical,” he added.

Even the judge found it odd.

“Approximately one year after he performed the D&C, Dr. Calhoun phoned the plaintiff and advised her that there had been a 13-week fetal skull in her uterus retained from the procedure at the clinic,” Judge Tabit wrote in her order. “Remarkably, he encouraged her to call a lawyer and provided the name and number of counsel in this case, Mr. Dys.”

Dys did not reply to our requests for comment for this report.

What if Calhoun invented a story about a fetal skull in an effort to push for increased regulation of abortion in West Virginia? What if he called up an emergency room patient that he had not seen for a year in order to feed her a lie about a fetal skull and manipulate her into filing a lawsuit, and then swore under oath, both in a deposition and in the screening certificate of merit, a key piece of evidence without which Gravely’s lawsuit could not have been filed, that he had seen a fetal skull?

Of course, lying to a patient is very bad, but knowingly presenting false evidence in a courtroom is another thing altogether.

To this extent, Calhoun joins Dr. John Thorp, another member of the False Witnesses Gallery, in a disturbing trend of walking a fine line between “mistakes” and perjury.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, the executive director of WV Free, West Virginia’s largest reproductive rights advocacy group is demanding accountability for Calhoun’s behavior. Last week, Pomponio wrote an open letter to Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean of West Virginia University’s Health Sciences Center, in which she called for Calhoun’s termination, describing Calhoun as “ruthless.”

Pomponio, who is pregnant with twins, wrote that she has been forced to seek care outside of Charleston at Marshall University’s Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and that she is aware that Calhoun has prevented other women from seeking care in their hometown as well, according to the Charleston Gazette.

“After discussion with my husband, we decided that I cannot take the chance that I might need specialized care by this man, as it is abundantly clear that he is unable to provide unbiased treatment or consultation,” Pomponio said.

Sharona Coutts contributed to this report.

Image: SymMaternalHealth/ YouTube

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Ban on Common Second-Trimester Abortion Procedure Could Come to Arkansas in 2017

Anti-choice activists are preparing to push a ban on dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures during the 2017 legislative session, after Arkansas lawmakers passed a series of laws restricting reproductive rights during the 2015 session.

Anti-choice activists are preparing to push a ban on a commonly used procedure for second-trimester abortion care during the 2017 legislative session, after Arkansas lawmakers passed a series of laws restricting reproductive rights during the 2015 session.

Officials from Arkansas Right to Life announced that the so-called Dismemberment Abortion Ban will be the group’s legislative priority during the 2017 legislative session—the next one in Arkansas. The organization is encouraging supporters to contact state lawmakers and ask them to support the bill, and beginning a petition drive to gather signatures in support of the legislation.

Arkansas Republicans hold a 64-36 advantage in the state house, along with a 24-11 senate majority.

The ban would target the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, commonly used in second-trimester abortion care. The procedure is a method of abortion during which a physician will dilate a woman’s cervix and remove the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments.

Legislation to ban the procedure was introduced in five states this year, and was signed into law by the governors of Kansas and Oklahoma. The bills have all been copies of legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the parent organization of Arkansas Right to Life.

The legislation redefines the D and E procedure as “dismemberment” abortion and uses graphic and medically inaccurate language describing the procedure, which is key to NRLC’s strategy to passing similar laws in other states.

Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, told the Associated Press that her organization was laying the groundwork to push the anti-choice bill during the state’s next session.

Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute, previously told RH Reality Check that reproductive rights advocates are concerned that attempts to ban D and E abortion care could be introduced in multiple state legislatures in the coming years.

“This could be a new trend at the state level,” Nash said. “It does fall right in line with some of the trends we’ve been seeing over time. From states restricting access to post-viability abortion to the trend of 20-week abortion bans.”

Image: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

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Senate Democrats Want Their Colleagues to Condemn ‘Conversion Therapy’

Sens. Cory Booker (left) and Sherrod Brown introduced a resolution last week condemning conversion therapy and urging states to make it illegal to subject minors to such “treatment.”

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced a resolution last week condemning “conversion therapy” and urging states to make it illegal to subject minors to such “treatment.”

So-called conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. All major medical organizations oppose the practice, a number of states—including Booker’s home state of New Jersey—have passed legislation banning the practice for minors, and the White House recently came out against it.

The resolution, which does not yet have any Republican support, aims to put the Senate’s disapproval of the practice on record and bolster state efforts to ban the deeply controversial therapy.

All 23 current co-sponsors caucus with Senate Democrats.

Entitled, “Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution of 2015,” the resolution notes that “conversion therapy” is rooted in the false notion that those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are suffering from a mental illness and need to be cured. It says “the development of all children and adolescents into healthy and productive adults is a priority of the United States and ending prejudice and injustice based on sexual orientation and gender nonconformity is a human rights issue.”

“Conversion therapy” runs counter to this goal.

“All people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve to be treated with compassion and respect,” Booker said in a statement. “This resolution seeks to unite members of the Senate around the idea that this shameful practice has no place in our society.”

Conversion therapy became popular in the 1970s and ’80s after mainstream mental health organizations declared that homosexuality was not a mental illness and instead of attempting to change a patient’s sexual orientation, therapists should help them understand it and cope in a sometimes unfriendly society, as RH Reality Check has reported.

Some therapists continued practices designed to change sexual orientation and a number of religious organizations started ministries dedicated to reparative therapy. The programs varied from independent bible study to aversion therapy, which involved administering electric shocks every time a patient became aroused by gay pornography.

“Practitioners often use shame, rejection, and psychological abuse. … Those that experience this traumatizing practice often become depressed and experience low self-esteem,” Booker and Brown said in a joint statement. “In some cases these individuals engage in substance abuse and even commit suicide.”

Many experts and lawmakers in recent years have come out against this type of therapy. The American Psychological Association in 2009 released a study that found reparative therapy to be ineffectual and potentially harmful.

Most major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree and have announced opposition to the practice.

California, New Jersey, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning the practice for minors, even with parental permission. Anti-conversion therapy laws in New Jersey and California were challenged in court and both were found to be constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case against either law, leaving the laws in place.

The White House in April posted a letter to its website condemning the practice and encouraging states to enact similar bans. White House advisor Valerie Jarrett noted that such laws are sometimes dedicated to Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who killed herself after a therapist tried to make her identify as a boy.

“It’s tragic, but I will tell you, unfortunately, she has lots of company,” Jarrett told the New York Times. “It’s not the story of one young person, it’s the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”

Image: RHRC / Wikimedia Commons

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Ohio Lawmakers Weigh Anti-Choice Bill Banning Abortions Due to Down Syndrome Diagnosis

Sponsored by Rep. Sarah LaTourette (R-Bainbridge Township), HB 135 would make it a felony to perform an abortion on a pregnant person who “is seeking the abortion solely because” of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis.

Ohio lawmakers raised questions and concerns about a bill to ban abortion after a Down syndrome diagnosis, during a committee hearing last week.

Sponsored by Rep. Sarah LaTourette (R-Bainbridge Township), HB 135 would make it a felony to perform an abortion on a pregnant person who “is seeking the abortion solely because” of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis.

The House Community and Family Advancement Committee held a hearing on the bill last week, and took witness testimony from seven proponents of the legislation. No testimony was taken from opponents.

During a committee hearing LaTourette said that the intent of the bill is to prevent discrimination, not to prevent access to abortion care.

“I hope that you can see that this isn’t an issue about abortion; it’s an issue of discrimination,” said LaTourette, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “Discriminating against a person, not allowing them their God-given right to life, simply because they might have Down syndrome.”

Some Democratic lawmakers questioned how the state would be able to enforce the ban and why decisions based on one medical condition should be prohibited by the state and not others.

Rep. Kevin Boyce (D-Columbus) raised concerns on whether or not the bill could lead to prohibitions on certain prenatal medical tests.

“When you start to ban certain findings, then the next question is going to be [should] we start banning certain invasive testing,” Boyce said, reports the Ohio Record-Courier. “If we’re banning the outcomes of some of those, then are we [putting] the mother at risk by doing this invasive testing.”

Stephanie Ranade Krider, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, was among those who testified in favor of the bill. During her testimony Krider said that even though “abortion is never the right choice,” abortions due to a Down syndrome diagnosis are a “modern day practice of eugenics.”

“It’s particularly egregious that unborn children can be denied life simply due to the presence of a disability or an extra chromosome,” said Krider.

Ohio Right to Life listed the “Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act” among its top six legislative priorities for the state.

There have been seven bills to ban abortion due to genetic anomalies introduced in state legislatures this year, and none have been passed.

House Community and Family Advancement Committee Chairman Rep. Timothy Derickson (R-Oxford) said that the committee would hear more testimony before casting a vote on whether or not to recommend the bill for passage by the full house, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Republicans hold a 65-34 majority in the house, and 23-10 majority in the senate.

Image: Shutterstock

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New Texas Bill Would Dramatically Increase Hurdles for Abused and Neglected Teens Seeking Abortion

Senators gather to consult Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the senate<br />
parliamentarian on a point of order during debate on HB 3994.

The Texas Senate gave preliminary approval on Monday afternoon—Memorial Day 2015— to an omnibus anti-abortion bill that would make it far harder for abused, abandoned, and neglected minors who rely on “judicial bypass” to obtain an abortion. The bill would also require doctors who provide abortion care to demand government ID from their patients.

After a nearly four-hour debate during which Democratic senators tried to parse the muddy language of HB 3994—the language of which has been derided even by anti-choice conservatives as confusing and unconstitutional—the chamber voted along party lines to approve a modified—and, critics say, even muddier—version of the original bill approved by the Texas house earlier this month. The bill’s sponsor and senate Republicans rejected more than a dozen amendments proposed by Democrats.

In the senate’s version of the bill—a combination of this substitute bill and this amendment language by sponsor Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock)—it is up to doctors who provide abortion care to demand a form of government ID from their patients and specifically report to the state health department about any abortion care they provide to a patient who does not show valid government identification. Language in the bill is based in part on a Texas Family Code statute, which excludes drivers’ licenses from Mexico from the list of valid identification options doctors may seek from patients.

Current Texas law, signed into law more than 15 years ago by then-Gov. George W. Bush, requires that minors have the permission of a parent or guardian to obtain an abortion. Pregnant minors who seek abortion care without parental consent must go through a judicial bypass process. The new bill would dramatically raise the hurdles minors would face when seeking a judicial bypass.

Currently, minors must prove to a judge in any county in Texas that they are either: mature enough to make a decision on their own about their pregnancy, that it is not in their best interest to notify their parents of their pregnancy, or that notification of parents under these circumstances would lead to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. HB 3994 changes nearly every part of that existing process to make it more burdensome for abused, neglected, and abandoned pregnant minors seeking an abortion.

In a statement following the mostly partisan senate vote—one anti-choice Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) is a co-sponsor of HB 3994—legal counsel and co-founder of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that assists minors in the judicial bypass process, called it “rife with constitutional problems.”

“As written it invites a lawsuit against the state—even while the litigation on HB 2 has not yet finished,” said Susan Hays, referencing the omnibus anti-abortion bill passed despite state Sen. Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster in 2013, which has shuttered dozens of legal abortion facilities across the state.

The Texas Alliance For Life, which helped Texas Republicans draft the bill and its many iterations and anti-choice amendments, tweeted during the debate that HB 3994 was a backdoor ban on abortion care for minors, saying that “we want to protect parents’ rights, knowing that SCOTUS will not allow states to ban all abortions.”

Perry denied that the bill is intended to limit access to abortion care in Texas.

Between 200 and 300 Texan children and teens, some who are survivors of incest and sexual assault, go through a judicial bypass process each year because their parents are deceased, abusive, incarcerated, or otherwise incapable of safely guiding their children through decisions about an unintended and unwanted pregnancy.

Judicial bypass does not obligate a minor to seek abortion care, but without it, a minor who cannot obtain parental consent has no choice but to carry their pregnancy to term. The process allows a minor to decide between abortion, adoption, or parenting.

The new restrictions would raise the burden of proof that abused, abandoned, and neglected minors must meet when taking their case to a judge, and would give judges five business days, rather than two business days, to rule on a minor’s judicial bypass application. This delay could extend the process of judicial bypass by more than a week and push some minors past the threshold when legal abortion care is allowed in the state.

After five days with no ruling, the new law considers the bypass to have been automatically denied, rather than automatically granted as under current statute. And new venue restrictions under the law would also bar most teens from filing for a bypass outside their home county, or outside the county where their doctor is located, putting rural teens at risk of being recognized and harassed at their local courthouse.

During debate on Monday, Democrats said that the law is unclear as to whether it even requires a judge to rule on the judicial bypass application at all, or whether minors would need to appeal directly to a higher court—without a record of denial from the lower court—to continue the bypass process.

Perry said during the debate that he “believed” no judge would decline to rule on a case where parents were abusive and that he “hoped” judges would grant bypasses in cases of incest, adding that HB 3994 was “not about distrust at all, it’s about making sure there’s a process in place.”

During earlier hearings on earlier versions of the bill, anti-choice Republicans indicated that they believed that teens were lying to otherwise loving parents in trying to obtain judicial bypasses, and that judges wanted clarification on the existing law. However, the only judge who spoke out publicly on the law said that she was against it, saying that it could put both her, and minors who seek bypasses in her court, in danger because of confidentiality concerns and new reporting requirements that aggregate data on judicial bypass approvals.

HB 3994 also requires a judge to report any abuse reported by a minor seeking judicial bypass to local law enforcement, which is then required to investigate claims of abuse. This effectively ensures that abusers will become aware of their child’s pregnancy if that child decides to go to court for their right to abortion without parental consent, potentially putting those pregnant Texans in danger of further abuse.

HB 3994 will need one more largely procedural vote from the senate before it is passed back to the house for its concurrence on the changes to the original bill language.

Image: Andrea Grimes / RH Reality Check

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Texas Republicans Retake Abortion Vote After Lawmakers Nearly Fistfight on House Floor

The debates in the Texas house on Sunday reportedly drove Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) to take to the floor and "almost" fistfight his colleague, Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana).

Conservatives in the Texas state legislature volleyed their constituents’ access to legal abortion care back and forth on Sunday in a series of last-minute deals. These ultimately resulted in near-fisticuffs between lawmakers on the house floor and a late-night vote, taken without Democrats and moderate Republicans, to reopen debate on SB 575, a bill that would ban insurance coverage for legal abortion care.

The legislature is on a tight deadline to get bills scheduled for floor debates before lawmakers adjourn for the session at 11:59 p.m. on May 31.

When the Texas house gaveled in at 1 p.m., lawmakers expected a tough debate in that chamber over a ban on abortion care for pregnant Texans whose fetuses have anomalies that would make them unable to survive outside the womb. Tea Party lawmaker Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) had said that he would tack the fetal anomaly abortion ban onto a bill concerning the operations of the Department of State Health Services if his Republican colleagues didn’t promise him that they’d bring the abortion insurance ban, SB 575, to the floor for debate.

Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), who in April said he was reluctant to see the fetal anomaly conversation revived, delivered on SB 575, pushing it out of the House State Affairs Committee on Saturday just in time for the House Calendars Committee, which schedules bills for floor debates, to potentially place it on the house calendar. Stickland pulled his fetal anomaly amendment based on that agreement with Cook.

But in a surprising bipartisan vote, the calendars committee on Sunday declined to set SB 575 for a debate, enraging Stickland to the extent that he took to the house floor to berate Cook. There, according to Houston Chronicle reporter Brian Rosenthal, Stickland “almost” got in a fistfight with his colleague. The House Sergeants-at-Arms were called to escort Stickland from the room, and SB 575 was reckoned to be dead, as the deadline for calendars committee passage had already passed.

Nevertheless, Stickland’s aggressive tactics paid off. After the house adjourned for the night and Stickland had been ejected from the floor, the calendars committee reconvened and voted to suspend their regular meeting rules, meeting this time without any Democrats and without two Republicans who had voted against bringing SB 575 up for debate. Tea Party Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball), who originally voted against SB 575, abruptly changed her mind on the bill and led an 8-0 vote to set the abortion insurance ban up for debate in the house on Tuesday.

Sunday evening marked the second time that Stickland has been asked to leave legislative proceedings; he was forcibly removed from a House Transportation Committee hearing in early May after the chair of that committee accused Stickland of falsifying his constituents’ testimony on a red light cameras bill.

Image: YouTube

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