Thursday, March 8, 2012

On International Women's Day, + 55 Vermont Towns Affirm: 'Corporations Are Not People'

On International Women’s Day, we speak with Loretta Ross of the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective about the latest wave of legislative attacks on reproductive rights. Virginia has enacted a controversial law forcing women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound. Lawmakers in Georgia and New Hampshire, meanwhile, have advanced new curbs on abortion and contraception coverage. Georgia lawmakers are also considering a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks based on the highly contested notion that fetuses can feel pain at that stage. "In Georgia we got tossed back to the 19th century," Ross says. "Republican legislators really didn’t want to hear from women, they didn’t want to pay attention, and presumed that they could tell us what to do with our bodies again." [includes rush transcript]


Loretta Ross, national coordinator of the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective.

Rush Transcript

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JUAN GONZALEZ: On this International Women’s Day, we turn to the latest attempts by lawmakers in the United States to curb reproductive rights. On Wednesday, Virginia’s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law a controversial bill forcing women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound. Meanwhile, state lawmakers in Georgia are considering a measure that would ban abortion after 20 weeks based on the highly contested notion that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. Critics say the bill could force women to carry fetuses with severe abnormalities.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, Georgia’s State Senate approved two additional bills related to reproductive rights. One would ban abortion coverage under the state employees’ healthcare plan. Another says employees of private religious institutions have no right to demand that their insurance policies pay for contraceptives.
Eight of the Georgia’s nine women senators—the eight women Democrats—walked out in protest as the bills passed. One of them was State Senator Nan Orrock.

SEN. NAN ORROCK: But here come the right-wing shock troops, marching, marching, marching. And women are on the bullseye target.

AMY GOODMAN: Both reproductive healthcare bills were immediately sent to Georgia’s Republican-controlled House. Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s House passed a similar measure to exempt religious institutions from including contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. All this follows Republican efforts at the national level to allow employers to opt out of birth control coverage on moral grounds, as outlined in the Blunt amendment that was defeated last Thursday in the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate.

Well, to discuss these bills and the wider attacks against reproductive rights, we’re joined from Atlanta, Georgia, by Loretta Ross, national coordinator of the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective.

Loretta, it’s great to have you back again, especially on this International Working Women’s Day. Talk about what happened in your own legislature in Georgia yesterday.

LORETTA ROSS: Well, in Georgia, we got tossed back to the 19th century, where the Republican legislators really didn’t want to hear from women, they didn’t want to pay attention, and presumed that they could tell us what to do with our bodies again. And so, the bills, first of all, reduce abortion access from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, which is a blow, because it doesn’t have exceptions for rape or incest or fetal abnormality, like you talked about. And it really is sad that we are having legislators make medical decisions that should be between a woman and her doctor. And then they went even further by providing this exemption for religious institutions, so that the employees, whether or not they’re of that religion or not, no longer have the freedom, with their own money, to have health insurance that covers contraceptive access.

And so, in Georgia, we’re feeling the blows of this war on women that’s sweeping across the country. And the women legislators who walked out last night in protest really stood up for us. And there were some men in the legislature who stood up for us, too. But to no avail, because the bills passed, and now we have to fight, fight, fight. And it’s a matter of fact, we’re having a march on the State Capitol on Monday to protest the silencing of women and this war on women. We’re calling it "Walk in Our Shoes," because, really, they are not really paying attention to the situation that women are actually enduring.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Loretta Ross, this effort by the Republicans in Georgia to basically resurrect and continue this fight that was already waged in Congress and now to begin to force these issues at the state level?

LORETTA ROSS: Yes, it is. It’s an effort, of course, to strike a blow at Roe v. Wade, because they want these things to percolate up to the federal level, giving them an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. But they don’t realize that, in fact, I think this is going to create a backlash against them, because we have Republican and Democratic women who are outraged by this all-out assault on women’s rights. And so, it’s really going to drive a wedge within their own ranks. I think it’s a war between the moderate Republicans and the Tea Party Republicans that I think that they’re going to regret. I think the presidential candidates are trying to do everything they can now to back off and not talk about this war that they started. And we’re going to see, I think, come, you know, the future, an aroused, angry sleeping giant of American women who use contraception and don’t want these mostly male legislator’s telling us what to do with our bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us your personal story, Loretta—you were one of the first African-American women to run a rape crisis center—and your own story in dealing with reproductive rights?

LORETTA ROSS: Well, I got into this movement because, at 14, I became pregnant through incest. And this was back in 1968, when abortion was not legal. So I had no choice but to have that child. But once—and I actually had planned on giving him up for adoption. But once I had him, I made the decision to keep him, and I ended up parenting, for the past 40-odd years, the child of my rapist. So, people who don’t understand how hard it is to make those decisions and to not have access actually haven’t lived the story that I have had to live. And that’s what made me so passionate about this issue, because a 14-year-old should have choices about what happens to her body when she’s raped. And even though I kept my son, I really had a difficult parenting situation, because you love your child, but you hate the circumstances.

And speaking of a 14-year-old, I want to talk about what that law is going to do to Georgia. Last year, I had to do a clinic escort of a 14-year-old who came from Chicago, and she had been impregnated by her mother’s boyfriend. So the mother and the daughter came to Atlanta, because the child was 26—was 24 weeks. And the whole time, the three days I was with this little girl, she kept sucking her thumb. And I’ll never forget that picture of a thumb-sucking child needing an abortion at 24 weeks, and recognizing that this law now makes it impossible for us to help her. We really are being kicked back and kicked in the teeth by some insensitive people who don’t care about—they can’t protect our children from sexual assault, but at the same time, they want to punish them through insensitivity.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Loretta Ross, I want to go to a clip of Georgia Democratic State Representative Yasmin Neal, who last month countered the so-called "fetal pain bill" with a measure that would have limited vasectomies. Let’s play that clip.

REP. YASMIN NEAL: This bill states that vasectomies can be performed to avert the death of a man or to avert serious risk or substantial or irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the man. This bill mimics the abortion bills throughout the nation. And just like the abortion bills interfere with a woman’s right to choose, it’s only fair that the General Assembly debate the man’s right to choose, as well.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Your response? And did that debate occur?

LORETTA ROSS: Well, of course they did not want to have that debate. But my response to Yasmin Neal is: go for it. Because if they visited on men the same kind of sex discrimination that they’re visiting on women, they would be able to see how unfair it is. I really do think that if they’re going to call every little fertilized egg a human being and try to protect it, then we should count sperm, too. And men should not be able to casually dispose of their little swimming little buggers, you know? And so, I think across the country, whether it’s the Lysistrata strategy, where a Republican wife in Virginia refused to have sex with her husband, or trying to outlaw Viagra or require rectal exams before men can get it, all of these are illustrations by women legislators of what happens when medical decisions are not being made by human beings and their doctors, but are being made by legislators who don’t have medical degrees. And it’s just an illustration of how ridiculous this whole campaign and war against women really is. And why is it only visited on women? Why are not, in fact—we are raising up the question for why Viagra is covered by insurance, but not birth control.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Loretta Ross, of course, we’re in an election year. You mention the women who are raising this around the country, women legislators. We’re very low when it comes to percentage of women legislators in comparison with many countries in the world. But the opening you see this year—I mean, what’s happening in the state legislatures does not reflect what most people, men and women, feel around this country, actually, around issues like birth control. It’s overwhelmingly for. Where do you see—how do you see this disparity closing between the laws and how people feel?

LORETTA ROSS: Well, you know, we have an old saying in the women’s movement: "When we’re screwed, we multiply." And so, I really think that they’re going to feel the effects of that over the long term. They’re, in fact, arousing their own backlash, where they have men and women who are outraged at this assault on contraception, which has been around for 50 years. And they are going to pay the price. I really do think that they are going to enjoy a brief, brief moment in the sun, but we’ll remember in November. We’ll remember when they tried to cheapen our lives and our choices. And we’re going to be joined by men and women, both Democrat and Republican and independent. And they really need to worry about their loss of independent votes.

AMY GOODMAN: Loretta Ross, we’re going to have to leave it there. We thank you for being with us, national coordinator of the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective.

* * *

Published on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 by Common Dreams

55 Vermont Towns Affirm: 'Corporations Are Not People'

Can grassroots victory in Green Mountain state spark national movement?

- Common Dreams staff

With some results still yet to come in, reports confirm that at least 55 towns in Vermont approved municipal resolutions calling for an end to big money's dominance in US politics and calling for a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court's 'Citizens United' decision that has opened the floodgates for secretive, unlimited campaign spending in US elections.

The initiatives called on the Vermont Legislature and the state's congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment that clarifies that 'money is not speech and corporations are not people.' Such an amendment would make it possible for Congress to limit election-related expenditures by for-profit corporations, nonprofits, unions and individuals. “The people of Vermont and across America are totally disgusted with the huge amounts of money that billionaires and corporations are throwing into the political process,” US Senator Bernie Sanders said today. “We have to overturn this disastrous Citizens United decision. I hope the message coming out of the town meetings will spark a grassroots movement across the United States.”

The initiatives called on the Vermont Legislature and the state's congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment that clarifies that 'money is not speech and corporations are not people.' Such an amendment would make it possible for Congress to limit election-related expenditures by for-profit corporations, nonprofits, unions and individuals.

“Vermonters are taking a lead in the growing movement for a constitutional amendment to limit the influence of big money and corporations in our democracy,” said Aquene Freechild, senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. Public Citizen – along with Move to Amend/Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Vermont Peace and Justice Center, VPIRG, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Rural Vermont, Common Cause Vermont, Occupy Burlington, Vermonters Say Corporations Are Not People, Vermont Action for Peace, Vermont Workers Center, and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream) – worked with Vermont activists to collect signatures and get the resolutions on town meeting agendas.

Late last year, Sanders introduced the Saving American Democracy Amendment. His proposal would restore the power of Congress and state lawmakers to enact campaign spending limits like laws that were in place for a century before the controversial court ruling.

The Associated Press reported that in most towns where 'corporate personhood' resolutions were on the agenda, they were passed with "overwhelming margins." And added:

State Sen. Virginia Lyons of Chittenden County, an organizer of the movement, said that when she started pushing for the idea she would have been thrilled to see the measure taken up in four or five towns.

"People are just fed up with the status quo," she said after the polls closed. [...]

Supporters of the personhood amendment want Congress to begin the process of amending the Constitution to overrule the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which critics say has unleashed huge amounts of unregulated money into the presidential election process.

Lyons said she knows the process of amending the constitution is a long one.

"It took 40 or 45 years just to get women the vote," Lyons said. "For me, this is just the beginning of something. We need to absolutely set the record straight. We can't continue down the slippery slope we've been traveling. It's not just money, but corporate influence in everything we do."

The measure failed to pass in only two locations, said Fairchild, who was monitoring the votes for the group Public Citizen.


Concensus abounds, but 'complicated' battle still ahead

Seven Days, an indepedent Vermont paper, spoke with state Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg) who "was packing up a cardboard box and shaking his head" because, though he agreed in principle, thought the vote in his town was an “ill-formed” attempt to halt the “obscene amounts of money distorting the political process.”

“It’s far more complicated than it appears on the surface,” Lippert said of the issue, noting the amendment would restrain nonprofit corporations, not just for-profit ones. “You start sorting it out, it’s not as neat and clean as people would like it to be.”

And the Seven Days report continued:

In the state legislature, Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) and 10 cosponsors have proposed a joint resolution urging Congress to amend the constitution to say that corporations are not people. The Senate Committee on Government Operations is set to take up the resolution next week, and at least one witness has warned that, as written, the resolution could have “catastrophic” unintended consequences.

Benson Scotch, a Vermont lawyer who served as chief staff attorney to the Vermont Supreme Court and was executive director of the Vermont ACLU, told the committee last month that “money is not speech” makes a fine motto but could cause trouble if it’s enshrined in a resolution.

To illustrate, Scotch offered a hypothetical: Imagine that a town, tired of Occupy protests and mounting police costs, passes an ordinance against rowdy meetings or promoting rowdy meetings. A political organization solicits donations to buy television airtime opposing the ordinance. When the town goes to court to stop the fundraising, the organization raises its First Amendment right to free speech and assembly.

“The court under this amendment might dismiss the complaint because money is not speech,” Scotch testified, “and therefore no speech rights have been violated.”

Lyons says she’s suggested modifications to her resolution and is hopeful the Gov Ops committee will incorporate them.

“We are not writing the amendment,” she notes. “We are writing a resolution urging Congress to please send an amendment for ratification. There are greater constitutional minds than Vermont’s senators at work.”


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