NEWS: Democrats are already running on abortion rights in battleground states

by | Jul 6, 2023 | Repro Health Watch

Democrats Are Already Running on Abortion Rights in Battleground States

NBC News, July 4, 2023

In swing states with vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election in 2024, the party is already hammering likely opponents over abortion rights – even though most of those Republicans haven’t yet decided if they’re running. The early attacks by Democrats on the issue signal that the party is ready to carry on with what, in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, has been a clear winner for the party. And even at this early stage of the cycle, it’s kept a spotlight on the struggles Republicans have endured in determining how to talk to voters about the divisive issue. The strategy could lend a hand to Senate Democrats who face a brutal map in 2024: They must defend 23 seats, compared with 10 for Republicans. The issue will be particularly hard for Republicans to run from in the perennial battleground of Wisconsin, where a deeply unpopular abortion ban will be working its way through through the state court system. The law – enacted in 1849 (only months after Wisconsin was admitted into the union) – bans abortions in almost all cases. “What we see in Wisconsin is also playing out nationally, which is that the GOP has built a machine around stoking up anger about Roe v. Wade but has never been able to do anything about it,” Ben Wikler, the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said in an interview. “But now that the dog has caught the car, they have no message and no answers to tens of millions of Americans who don’t think politicians should be jumping between them and their doctor in the moments when they’re making their most intimate and personal decisions.” Democrats in the state haven’t wasted any time bringing the issue to the foreground. Incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin has already begun talking up her support for abortion rights. Last month, the Democratic National Committee, as part of a campaign across multiple battlegrounds, put up a huge billboard in Milwaukee and began running digital ads in the state, all focused on Democrats’ support for reproductive rights.

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Religious Freedom Arguments Underpin Wave of Challenges to Abortion Bans

The New York Times, June 28, 2023

For years, conservative Christians have used the principle of religious freedom to prevail in legal battles on issues like contraceptive insurance mandates and pandemic restrictions. Now, abortion rights supporters are employing that argument to challenge one of the right’s most prized accomplishments: state bans on abortion. In the year since Roe v. Wade was overturned, clergy and members of various religions, including Christian and Jewish denominations, have filed about 15 lawsuits in eight states, saying abortion bans and restrictions infringe on their faiths. Many of those suing say that according to their religious beliefs, abortion should be allowed in at least some circumstances that the bans prohibit, and that the bans violate religious liberty guarantees and the separation of church and state. The suits, some seeking exemptions and others seeking to overturn the bans, often invoke state religious freedom restoration acts enacted and used by conservatives in some battles over social issues. The lawsuits show “religious liberty doesn’t operate in one direction,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at University of Texas at Austin. Aaron Kemper, a lawyer representing three Jewish women who are suing to overturn Kentucky’s abortion ban, said he studied and emulated federal and state religious liberty cases that conservatives won. “We were like, it works for them, so we thought we should use sections from those cases,” he said. Though most lawsuits have not yet yielded court rulings, there are signs the arguments may have some legal traction. In Indiana, a judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state’s abortion ban, saying it violated the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act adopted in 2015 under then-Gov. Mike Pence, an ardent abortion opponent who is now running for president. Recognizing a potential threat, Oklahoma and West Virginia recently amended their religious freedom restoration acts to explicitly prevent challenges to abortion bans under the acts. Some belief systems, including the United Church of Christ’s, support women making their own decisions in pregnancy. Some, including the Episcopal Church and many branches of Judaism have traditions that abortion should be supported in certain cases, especially where pregnancies threaten women’s physical or mental health or involve serious fetal abnormalities.

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Abortion Rights Likely Headed for Showdown in Ohio This Fall

Politico, July 5, 2023

Ohio is poised to become the latest battleground over abortion after advocates Wednesday submitted more than enough signatures to get an abortion rights initiative on the ballot this fall. A coalition of abortion-rights groups has submitted more than 700,000 signatures for a ballot initiative that would codify the right to an abortion in the state constitution. The submission sets up a crucial test of the potency of abortion as a political issue ahead of 2024, with vulnerable Democrats in the House and Senate attempting to cling to their seats in an increasingly red state. It also resembles a show of force from the left in a state that voted twice for former President Donald Trump, and where the state legislature has chipped away at abortion rights since the fall of Roe v. Wade. The state currently has a 22-week abortion ban on the books. The number of signatures submitted far surpassed the approximately 400,000 required for an initiative to make the ballot. County boards have until July 20 to vet the signatures for the secretary of state, who then has until July 25 to make the final call on the initiative’s qualification for the November vote. Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, a nonpartisan coalition of abortion-rights groups, submitted the ballot language earlier this year, kicking off a four-month dash to collect signatures and campaign across the state. Proponents, including state Democrats, ACLU of Ohio and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, anticipate spending upward of $35 million on the effort heading into November. Opponents have pushed against the measure by arguing that it would allow for gender-affirming care without parental consent, even though such a provision is not in the initiative’s language. “The ACLU’s attempts to hijack Ohio’s constitution to further its own radical agenda would be pathetic if it wasn’t so dangerous,” Amy Natoce, spokesperson for Protect Women Ohio, a coalition of anti-abortion rights groups against the measure, said in a statement. Conservatives have reason to be concerned. Almost one year ago, ruby red Kansas became the first state in the nation to put the question of abortion rights directly to voters after the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

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As Abortion Rights Disappeared, State Legislatures Started Pushing to End Diaper Taxes

The 19th, July 6, 2023

Over the past 10 years, distribution at Doug Adair’s Nashville diaper bank has swelled from a couple of thousand diapers a year to nearly 3 million. Running the bank, Adair has learned and relearned the critical role diaper access plays for families. But it hasn’t always felt like most other people knew that. “I think more about diapers than anybody my age that is not wearing them – yet,” said Adair, a 68-year-old former mortgage banker turned diaper banker who got into this line of work because, in his words, he asked the second most expensive question he has ever asked in his life: “What can I do to help?” Adair started Nashville Diaper Connection because there were only two places where families could get free diapers in Nashville in 2013, and one of them had a six-week waiting list. The city has no federal, state or local assistance program for diapers specifically, and families couldn’t use food stamps or WIC, the federal assistance program for women and children, to buy diapers. To people like Adair – who run banks with little support – diaper need, or a lack of sufficient diapers to keep babies dry and healthy, has felt invisible. But after years of going largely unaddressed by legislators across the country, something has started to shift. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the first-ever federally funded diaper distribution program in September 2022, sending more than $8 million in grants to states and tribes to help with their efforts to tackle diaper need; this year, it renewed the program. And state after state has started to pass bills exempting diapers from sales tax: Florida, Maryland, Colorado, Virginia, Texas, Iowa, Maine and North Dakota have all passed exemptions, and more are in the works. Nevada voters will take up the issue in November 2024. In Ohio, a bill unanimously passed the Senate. And in Tennessee, the state went even further. Republican Gov. Bill Lee proposed a program that would cover half the cost of diapers during the first two years of a baby’s life for children on TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program.

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This Zombie Law Could Threaten Abortion Access Nationwide

Rolling Stone, July 5, 2023

In 1873, the United States passed a sweeping anti-obscenity law named for the vice squad crusader put in charge of its enforcement. Anthony Comstock is said to have bragged that in his role as U.S. postal inspector he seized 150 tons of books, made 4,000 arrests – including of feminists Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger – and drove at least 15 people to suicide. The Comstock Act criminalized the circulation of “obscene, lewd or lascivious” publications, as well as “any article or thing designed or intended for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion.” A century and a half later, this long-dormant federal law is back with a vengeance. Opponents have referred to Comstock as a “zombie law” for the fact that, after decades of languishing unenforced, it has been revived thanks to the efforts of a small group of anti-abortion ideologues who have invoked it in the most high-profile legal clashes concerning abortion this last year. With the abortion protections of Roe eliminated, an anti-abortion president could use Comstock to end virtually all professional abortion procedures in the country, advocates say. That’s because the decision about whether to police the mail using Comstock rests with the president. Earlier this year, President Biden’s Department of Justice issued guidance asserting that, in its view, the law “does not prohibit the mailing, or the delivery or receipt by mail, of mifepristone or misoprostol where the sender lacks the intent that the recipient of the drugs will use them unlawfully.” The next president will have to make a similar judgment about whether the law applies not just to mifepristone and misoprostol, two medications used in early-term abortions, but to the mailing of any other supplies used by facilities that provide abortion. And because it is already on the books, that president wouldn’t necessarily have to broadcast his or her plans to use the law ahead of time, and risk engaging in the kind of fight that is a political disaster. Questioned during a recent interview about whether she would support a federal ban on abortion, Nikki Haley, the self-described “unapologetically pro-life” former governor of South Carolina, said it was “not realistic” to think a president could institute a national prohibition.

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