Monday, June 27, 2016

Desperate in Texas: The Supreme Court’s Ruling and the Plight of the Abortion-Seeking American Woman

Earlier this morning, the Supreme Court made a historic ruling, now being called Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, to strike down new restrictions for Texas abortion clinics. The 5-3 vote came as a surprise to many, and a victory to far more. In the last five years, some 200 new abortion restrictions have sprung up around the United States, and Texas just seems to be a hotspot. Among the restrictions shot down today were those that required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and that clinics must have hallways wide enough to accommodate two passing gurneys. Due to these hospital-like regulations, more than 20 clinics have shut down. A recent study showed that abortions dropped by 13 percent since these new laws were enacted.

Restrictions like these are untenable, even abominable, considering the true statistics of abortion in the US. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 65.8% of abortions occur less than 8 weeks into pregnancy. These pregnancies would be terminated by a two-pill process which can be taken at home, from which less than 1% of women encounter any complications. Even surgical abortions are out-patient procedures, further showing the bizarre nature of the Texas restrictions. In March, Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked her fellow justices a rather pointed question: “Is there really any dispute that childbirth is a much riskier procedure than an early-stage abortion?”

Yet women have been driven to extreme lengths to secure abortions in Texas. Not voted on today was a law that requires women to make not one, but two trips to an abortion clinic. In the first visit, she must receive state directed counseling designed to discourage abortion and view an ultrasound of the fetus. Twenty-four hours later, she may return to the clinic to get the procedure. But with only 22 clinics serving the 268,820 square-mile state, many women find it nearly impossible to receive the care they need. Andrea Ferrigno, vice president of Whole Woman’s Health, recalls receiving a phone call in which a desperate woman asked, “What if I tell you what I have at home in my kitchen cabinet and you can tell me what I can take?” Laws intended to discourage abortion have ended up making Texas women take unnecessary risks in order to end their pregnancy.

Naturally, the question must be asked: why are we still dealing with abortion regulations? After all, it was in 1992 that the Supreme Court ruled that abortion restrictions could not place an “undue burden” on women. And it was Roe v. Wade which determined that women had a constitutional right to seek abortion in 1973. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s first family planning clinic, was founded by Margaret Sanger in 1916. And yet, we find ourselves here a full century later, struggling to defend a woman's right to choose. It is such a hot-button issue that Cosmopolitan, a magazine typically known for its somewhat odd sex tips, ran a huge article in April on how to have a safe abortion.

It is at moments like these that I think of a friend of mine who currently lives in Texas. She is a student at Texas A&M, a university of nearly 60,000 students in College Station. Not long ago, she went on what she thought was going to be a date. But when she showed up, her date was drunk and aggressive. He raped her at 8 PM on a weeknight and sent her on her way. She did not feel comfortable reporting the incident, and had she been impregnated, would not have been able to seek an abortion. The nearest Planned Parenthood, in Bryan, has been permanently closed, and she would have to travel nearly two hours to Austin. She does not have a car.

On a human rights level, the restrictions Texas has placed on women are deplorable. On a personal level, as a student, they are terrifying. One in four women will be raped during college, and the fact that thousands of these women may be unable to deal with an unwanted pregnancy is deeply saddening. Even if a woman finds herself pregnant as a result of consensual sex (keep in mind that 59% of women who seek abortions are already mothers), they should be able to terminate a pregnancy as they see fit.

Today’s ruling is, doubtless, a victory for women nationwide. But we must not grow complacent: only nine states have no major abortion restrictions. Today, we can celebrate the progress that has occurred in Texas. But tomorrow, we must rise once more to fight for a woman’s right to choose. We must draw on the strength of lawmakers and activists before us, and pave a path for those who are yet to come.

--Madelene Nieman, MWPC Intern

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Rising Leader in Washington: Representative Katherine Clark, Former MWPC Endorsee

Yesterday, a group of Democrats staged a sit-in on the floor of the US House, disrupting proceedings until around 3 a.m., when Speaker Paul Ryan abruptly adjourned the House until July 5th. Over the course of the protest, representatives told personal stories, voiced their frustrations, and demanded that Mr. Ryan and the House’s Republican leadership allow votes on legislation that would expand background checks and prevent suspected terrorists on the “no fly” list from buying guns.
At the center of this protest were Massachusetts’ own Representative Katherine Clark and Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a prominent civil rights leader. Clark approached Lewis and expressed her desire to end Congress’ silence on gun violence; over the weekend, they worked with colleagues to plan the protest. Clark, Lewis, and 17 other Democrats also wrote a letter to Mr. Ryan, urging him to keep the House in session to debate and vote on gun legislation.
This is only Clark’s most recent criticism of Congress’ inaction to prevent gun violence. Last week, she and other Democratic legislators walked out of a moment of silence led by Mr. Ryan in memory of the victims of the Orlando shooting, writing “If the LGBT community has taught us anything, it’s that silence is the enemy of progress. I refuse to take part in a moment of silence by a Congress that takes part in empty gestures rather than do something — anything — that could actually prevent these horrific acts from happening. We can’t reduce gun violence with silence.”
Clark’s actions exemplify the leadership she has shown in Washington, where “she’s quietly ascended the leadership ranks and become a go-to person for national Democrats to help recruit candidates across the country to run for Congress” (Boston Globe). Clark first took office in 2013, when she won in a special election to succeed now-Senator Edward Markey, after previously serving as state senator and state representative and working as general counsel for the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services and policy chief for the state attorney general.
Since her election, Clark has advocated for “ending wage discrimination, protecting women’s health care, access to affordable, high-quality child care, paid family leave, safer schools, and other reforms to address the challenges women and families face.” Her first official act in Congress was to co-sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would add procedural protections to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Fair Labor Standards Act to address the gender pay gap in the United States.
A vocal opponent of online abuse, Clark’s recent Cybercrime Enforcement Training Assistance Act provides federal money for the “prevention, enforcement, and prosecution” of online harassment and threats to local law enforcement that may not have the resources or training to combat these crimes. She also is looking to fill gaps in laws surrounding sextortion, the online use of hacked or coerced intimate photos to extort money or manipulate victims to engage in sexual acts. Because federal law does not explicitly count sextortion as a separate offense, these crimes are often un- or under-prosecuted. In addition, because women receive sexually explicit or threatening messages 27 times more often than men, a rate that is even higher among women of color and LGBTQ women, the CETAA and future legislation on sextortion is key to providing women with an online professional and personal environment that is free of abuse.
After less than two years in the House, Clark was appointed to serve as a Senior Whip by U.S. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. In this position, Clark is among leaders of the Democratic Caucus who keep track of the party’s votes for or against a piece of legislation, are responsible for “whipping up” party support for a particular position on a bill, and meet regularly to talk policy and strategy.
Clark’s rise will likely continue; her bipartisan accomplishments (including two successful bills that address the opioid crisis), strong campaign skills, fundraising infrastructure, the “potency” of her frequent focus on issues that disproportionately impact women and children, and her compelling personality have all contributed to her success. As Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh told the Boston Globe, “When it comes to taking on anybody, she never flinches. Katherine has great instincts, but also has the political savvy and moxie to back it up.”

In being appointed as Senior Whip, in her recent legislation, and in her role on the House floor yesterday, Clark should be recognized and commended for her leadership, tenacity, outspokenness, and moral compass. We look forward to see where she goes from here.

- Abigail, MWPC intern

Monday, June 13, 2016

Mother of Media! What Glenn Close’s Portrayal of Hillary Clinton Can Tell Us About the Rhetoric of Sexism in the 2016 Election

The 70th Annual Tony Awards featured a brief political spoof, the likes of which are hardly uncommon in an election year. In it, Glenn Close and Andrew Rannells portrayed, respectively, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, starring in musicals by the names of “A Clinton Line” or “Book of Moron.”  But this skit was no playful joke at the candidates in which both parties were equally mocked: while Trump, a man one can only describe as simultaneously bumblingly offensive and calculatedly deceitful, was mocked for his policies and facial expressions, Clinton was portrayed as a desperate, shrieking woman whose only defining feature is a haircut. “I really need this job! Oh God, I need this job. I've got to get this job,” Close sang, much to the amusement of the audience.

This performance was simply one installment in a long line of jabs at Clinton for her appearance, demeanor, or supposed incompetence. “It’s just so pathetic. I mean, what has she even been doing for the past fifteen years?” a friend recently asked me. Clinton, who served as the first female senator from New York and as the Secretary of State, faces a kind of prejudice that no major party nominee has faced in the past, and it seems almost clich├ęd to say it is because of her gender.

What has changed in this election cycle from those of the past is the rhetoric of sexism used against her. While Trump continues to make openly incendiary remarks about her, media coverage of her campaign has been a bit more subtle in its discrimination. For every article on the content of a speech she has delivered, there are five article criticizing her fashion choice. Mere days ago, she was attacked for wearing a Giorgio Armani jacket during a speech, despite the fact that former Republican candidate Jeb Bush proudly sported a custom sport coat with his campaign logo on the lining to an art show. Occasionally, all candidates receive equal fashion critiques, as when Vanessa Friedman wrote about the sartorial choices of the Democratic candidates, but most often, Clinton faces the brunt of these condemnations.

Clinton herself has tried to use these expectations about her appearance to her advantage, cheekily claiming to be a “hair icon” and “pantsuit aficionado” in her Twitter bio. But try as she might, she will still face ridiculous criticisms based on her demeanor and sex. A mysterious website called (which came to my attention when its link was tweeted by a Bernie Sanders supporter) exists simply to share photos of Clinton that the creator deems to be unattractive. At the top of the web page are images of her screaming or compared to an animal, which are to be expected. But as one scrolls down, there are photos of Clinton as a young woman, before her political career was even a thought, squinting against the glare of the flash. In hazy old snapshots, she stands smiling by her future husband, or stares into the distance in her cap and gown. The site even features an image of Janet Reno, the first female attorney general, and the implication is clear: there is nothing uglier than an educated woman, let alone an educated woman in politics. Clinton’s only crime, then, is not one of lying or of failing the public or changing her opinion, but is that of daring to speak out in a male-dominated field.

The Tonys performance, while seemingly harmless, feeds into an endless stream of media that criticizes Clinton for being an ambitious woman. Beyond awards shows, Kate McKinnon’s regular portrayals of Clinton on Saturday Night Live describe her as a ruthless automaton rather than a woman who has played the political game longer than many of her Twitter critics have been alive. The simple fact of the matter is that we treat our politicians, all of them, as animals in a menagerie, poking and prodding them until something ugly happens. Hillary Clinton has received special interest because she is the first of her kind in this political zoo, but she will not be the last. Women have time and time again forged a path to greatness despite the odds, or the tweets, stacked against them: this year’s election will be no different.

--Madelene Nieman, MWPC Intern