Personhood USA

  • April 26, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In 1994 federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle banded together to advance legislation aimed at tackling the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence. It was and remains a noble goal. Indeed it represented one of the more communitarian pieces of legislation of the time. The nation it seemed, even if fleeting, to be concerned about bettering the quality of lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable, as opposed to catering solely to the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful.

    Today reauthorization of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as noted on this blog, is mired in mindless obstructionism. The reauthorization measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, and finally passed the Senate today on a 68-31 vote. But House Republicans are itching to keep obstructionism alive, promising their own reauthorization measure.

    Though the Justice Department has reported a decline in domestic violence, a 2011 National Census of Domestic Violence Services revealed that more than 67,000 victims of domestic violence received federal help in a single day.

    Moreover since enactment of the VAWA it has become apparent that services need to be extended, such as free legal services to victims, authority for Native American officials to respond to abuse of Indian women by those not covered by Indian jurisdiction, more help to undocumented people who are victims of domestic violence, and to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic violence.  

    It is this effort to help more people that spurred opposition. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) complained about the reauthorization measure’s additional services. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the bill’s efforts to expand the reach of domestic violence programs were meant to “invite opposition.”

    Right-wing lobbying groups have also ramped up opposition to reauthorization. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said the VAWA reauthorization bill “does real violence to the budget and individual freedom.

    Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a Tea Party favorite, took to the Senate floor to declare that he was not voting against helping victims of domestic violence. He said he was voting against “big government and inefficient spending ….”

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, who introduced the reauthorization measure with Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), lauded today’s Senate vote, and said he hoped the House “will soon consider this legislation ….”

    But The Associated Press reported recently that a group of Republicans in the House is working to create a different reauthorization bill. It would likely strip the Senate’s efforts to help undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and gays, lesbians and transgenders.

    During the Senate’s drawn-out effort to reauthorize the VAWA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The New York Times that the Republican opposition “is part of a larger effort, candidly, to cut back on the rights and services to women. We’ve seen it go from discussions on Roe v. Wade, to partial birth abortion, to contraception, to preventive services from women. This seems to be one more thing.”

  • November 9, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Right-wing policymakers triumphed impressively last year taking control of many statehouses from coast to coast. Many of those lawmakers were ushered into office backed by Tea Party fervor, and lots of money from the likes of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers, who head Koch Industries and espouse efforts to radically constrain government.

    A year after their sweeping victories, however, some of their most outrageous policies were shelved by large numbers of voters last night.

    The frontal assault on public sector workers in Ohio, as noted by the Plain Dealer, was squashed by voters, 61 percent to 39 percent. In a guest post for ACSblog, Ohio State University law school professor Dan Tokaji noted that SB 5, which gutted collective bargaining rights of public workers, was a “center of Governor Kasich’s first year in office.” Tokaji said the defeat of the anti-workers’ rights law was not only a major setback to the Republican governor, but also has ramifications outside the Buckeye state. If the law would have survived, Tokaji said it would have dealt a “crippling blow to organized labor, drastically curtailing its political influence.”

    Mississippi provided a mixed bag, defeating a radical anti-abortion measure, but supporting a stringent new voter registration law. As noted by The New York Times, perhaps one of the night’s “biggest surprises” was the state’s rejection of a proposed constitutional amendment that would grant legal rights to embryos, effectively outlawing abortion and other forms of birth control in the state. That policy was advocated by a Religious Right group called Personhood USA, which says it is pushing similar measures all over the country, and doing so, in part, “to glorify Jesus Christ in a way that creates a culture of life so that all innocent human lives are protected by love and by law.”

    Following defeat of the measure, Keith Ashley in a blog post for Personhood USA said the group understands the difficulty of “changing a culture,” and that it vows “to continue on this path towards affirming the basic dignity and human rights of all people ….”  

    Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center of Reproductive Rights, hailed the defeat of the Personhood Amendment, saying in a press statement, “Outlawing medical services commonly used and relied upon by Americans in their personal lives runs completely counter to the U.S. Constitution, not to mention some of our most deeply held American political traditions and values.”

  • October 26, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Making life impossible for others is sometimes just not enough. There’s a desire among some zealots to also make it miserable.

    For example, the right to an abortion is a privacy right protected by the Constitution. But a number of states this year have bowed to the pressure of special interest groups, many of them Religious Right outfits, to enact laws restricting the ability of women to obtain abortions. But, as reported by The New York Times, a group called Personhood USA is trumpeting measures that would give legal rights to embryos that would effectively brand “abortion and some forms of birth control as murder.”

    In Mississippi, as the newspaper notes, it is already nearly impossible for a woman to obtain an abortion. And because of the push by Personhood USA, Mississippians will vote in November on a proposed constitutional amendment providing an embryo the same rights as a human.  

    Personhood USA’s website reveals that its ballot initiative drive is invasive – it’s apparently being pushed in “all 50 states.” The group’s website also reveals this is yet another Christian Right effort to limit other people’s rights. (Many of the efforts to defeat marriage quality are driven by Religious Right activists.) Personhood USA states on its About Us, page, that it is “working to respect the God-given right to life by recognizing all human beings as persons who are ‘created in the image of God’ from the beginning of their biological development, without exceptions.”

    Personhood USA, moreover, “desires to glorify Jesus Christ in a way that creates a culture of life so that all innocent human lives are protected by love and by law.”

    Civil liberties groups are not knocking the free speech or religious liberty rights of Personhood USA, but many are attacking its effort to circumvent Supreme Court opinions that have upheld the right to abortion.

    Nancy Northrup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the newspaper, “This is the most extreme in a field of extreme anti-abortion measures that have been before the states this year.”

    In an interview with ACSblog, earlier this year, the ACLU’s Louise Melling noted the troubling string of state efforts to further restrict abortion, citing as one of the most egregious a North Carolina law that required physicians to encourage pregnant women seeking an abortion to view ultrasound images of their fetuses. (Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagle issued a preliminary injunction of that portion of the law. The law was enacted over the opposition of the state Gov. Beverly Perdue, who called it an extreme measure that interfered with the doctor-patient relationship, The Associated Press reported.)   

    Former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger (pictured), during this year’s ACS National Convention, also took a shot at state laws requiring doctors to try and influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

    Dellinger said, “We hear the talks about government intrusions into health care – that this represents an extraordinary step about liberty. And I just cannot, any longer, refrain from making the observation that it is really ironic and disturbing to hear that liberty lecture come from people talking about [a] government takeover of medical care, many of whom would legislate the imposition upon women of unnecessary waiting periods, government scripted lectures, compulsory sonogram viewings, and government mandated unsafe medical procedures.”