Disagreeing About Life in America

Americans have short memories, or at least Republicans do. That’s useful. There are things best forgotten, like that Terri Schiavo business back in 2005 – a national embarrassment. The whole thing began on February 25, 1990, when Terri Schiavo collapsed in the hallway of her Florida apartment. She was not breathing and had no pulse. She was rushed to the Humana Northside Hospital. She was intubated and ventilated. She never woke up – her odd idea of losing weight by living on nothing but iced tea had screwed up her potassium levels and whatnot. The hospital’s board-certified neurologist and an internist and the Schiavo family physician independently made the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state – she was gone. Her body wasn’t gone, but she was gone.

Then things got nasty. Her husband decided it was time to pull the plug – the two of them had discussed such things, he had documentation – but there was no formal living will. The woman’s parents tried to stop that nonsense. This went to court again and again. They knew their daughter. Her husband must be wrong, or worse – he wanted to murder her – and anyway, the wishes of the parents always trump the wishes of a mere husband.

No one was sure about that. Year after year, hearing after hearing, the parents lost in court, so they hired Randall Terry – the antiabortion activist of Operation Rescue – arrested over and over for blockading abortion clinics and always happy when another abortion doctor was gunned down and died in the streets – to take this to another level. Randall Terry did. He made this political. The state of Florida eventually passed “Terri’s Law” – that gave Governor Jeb Bush the authority to intervene. He immediately ordered the feeding tube reinserted, and then sent the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to remove Schiavo from the hospice where she was living, or where he body was being housed, depending on your point of view. This was about life. Republicans are pro-life. Jeb Bush sent in the guys in uniforms, with guns. Everyone on the right cheered, until a judge said Jeb really couldn’t do that. Terri’s Law was unconstitutional – a positon later upheld by the Florida Supreme Court. The mere husband in this matter had hired the ACLU to argue his side of things. Jeb backed down.

Then it went federal. You don’t mess with Randall Terry. Republicans in Congress subpoenaed both Michael and Terri Schiavo to testify at a congressional hearing. President Bush – Jeb’s brother – and Congressional Republicans decided to find an alternative means of overturning the legal process – using the awesome authority of the United States Congress. On March 20, 2005, the Senate, by unanimous consent, passed their version of a relief bill, proposed by Rick Santorum and Mel Martinez, the House followed, and this transferred jurisdiction of the Schiavo case to the federal courts. George W. Bush flew to Washington from his vacation in Texas to sign the bill into law – the only time he ever interrupted one of his many long vacations.

That didn’t work. All of the parents’ federal petitions and appeals, on up to the Supreme Court itself, were denied. The Supreme Court wouldn’t even hear the case. The tubes were removed – and this after Bill Frist, a senator and a doctor, in a speech delivered on the Senate Floor, challenged the diagnosis of Schiavo being in a persistent vegetative state – “I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office” – but more than a few medical ethicists gave him hell for making a diagnosis without personally examining the patient, and for questioning the diagnosis when he was not a neurologist. He was a heart surgeon. And the tape had been heavily edited by the parents. Terri Schiavo died at a Pinellas Park hospice on March 31, 2005, and after her death, the autopsy showed signs of long-term and irreversible damage to her brain. There wasn’t much left of it. Oops. Frist was not reelected.

The Republicans took a hit too. Polling showed that most everyone saw this as a sad family business, a private matter. Using this as a lever to prove that Republicans are pro-life, and Democrats like to murder babies and pull the plug on anyone taking a short nap, was crossing the line. This was exploiting private tragedy to win votes. This was disgusting. Have they no shame? The Republicans lost both the House and Senate in the 2006 midterm elections. Much of that had to do with Iraq turning into an endless mess, a war fought for no good reason, and with the administration’s shameful response to Hurricane Katrina – but this Terri Schiavo business played a part too.

It seems some Republicans have forgotten this:

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee indicated Thursday that if elected, he wouldn’t rule out employing federal troops or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to stop abortion from taking place in the United States….

The comments came at two public speaking stops on a tour of Iowa.

In response to a question from the audience at the Pizza Ranch in Jefferson, Iowa, Huckabee said he would “invoke the 5th and 14th amendments for the protection of every human being.” …

“Would that be a huge controversy?” the former Arkansas governor asked. “Yes.”…

At his next stop, in Rockwell City, Huckabee answered follow-up questions from the correspondent, saying: “All American citizens should be protected.”

Asked by another reporter how he would stop abortion, and whether this would mean using the FBI or federal forces to accomplish this, Huckabee replied: “We’ll see if I get to be president.”

Huckabee should ask Jeb Bush how that went in 2005, when Jeb sent in the law to preserve life, or to preserve the mass of tissue that was still alive – but Huckabee is who he is. In 1996, when he was Governor of Arkansas, Huckabee defied federal law to block a Medicare payment for a teenage incest victim’s abortion:

Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas today refused to authorize a Medicaid payment for an abortion for a 15-year-old girl whose stepfather has been charged with incest, despite a Federal judge’s order that such payments were required by Federal law.

Through a spokesman, Mr. Huckabee said his first obligation was to obey the Arkansas State Constitution, rather than Federal law. The State Constitution includes an amendment banning the use of public money for abortion except when a mother’s life is endangered; the Federal statute requires that Medicaid pay for abortions that are performed on poor women in cases of rape or incest or a threat to the mother’s life.

Anyone from the South knows that state law supersedes federal law – the Supremacy Clause in the federal Constitution is so misunderstood. The girl was reported to be mentally retarded too – which makes this even stranger – but in 2007, when he was running for president, Huckabee offered this observation on abortion:

Sometimes we talk about why we’re importing so many people in our workforce. It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog notes ll this and adds this:

That’s the old Huckabee – the one David Brooks described in 2007 as “the most normal person running for president” and “too neighborly to seem presidential.” He’s not suddenly becoming nastier – even though people like Brooks never noticed, he always was this nasty.

The politics of “life” are always nasty, but there is a new proximate cause for Huckabee’s send-in-the-army idea, now that Terri Schiavo is dead and gone. The Washington Post explains the new outrage against life itself:

The sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood are hard to watch. Doctors talk clinically, some say callously, about harvesting fetal tissue. Technicians identify and isolate tiny organs. References are made to “it’s a baby” or “it’s another boy.” The videos were taken surreptitiously and were artfully edited to produce maximum discomfort about complicated issues that, for many, are inherently uncomfortable.

That truths were distorted to paint an inaccurate and unfair picture of a health organization that provides valuable services to women – as well as to demonize research that leads to important medical advances – doesn’t matter to antiabortion activists. Or, sadly, to the politicians who pander to them.

Planned Parenthood is under virulent attack for the role a small portion of its affiliates play in helping women who want to donate fetal tissue for medical research. The antiabortion group Center for Medical Progress has orchestrated a propaganda campaign accusing the nation’s largest provider of abortions of profiting from the illegal sale of fetal tissue, a charge refuted by Planned Parenthood.

They’re not cutting up live babies and selling parts:

None of the videos released shows anything illegal and, in fact, the full footage of Planned Parenthood executives meeting with people presumed to be buyers for a human biologics company include repeated assertions that clinics are not selling tissue but only seeking permitted reimbursement costs for expenses. Indeed, the Colorado clinic featured in the videos refused to enter into a contract with the phony company because of its failure to meet its legal and ethical standards.

Such facts, though, haven’t stopped officials in several Republican-led states, including Texas, Louisiana and Ohio, from launching investigations of Planned Parenthood, even though affiliates in those states don’t facilitate fetal tissue donations. In Washington, Senate Republicans have fast-tracked a bid to defund Planned Parenthood, with a vote set for Monday. Fortunately, it’s unlikely there will be 60 votes to advance the bill…

That’s a good thing:

No federal money is used by Planned Parenthood to provide abortions except in some rare exceptions. So cutting off government funds, mostly through Medicaid and grants, would only hurt the thousands of people, most of them low-income women, who each day depend upon Planned Parenthood for birth control, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and other health services. Given that many of the clinics are in medically underserved areas, it’s a myth, as Republicans claim, that other providers can fill the gap. Shutting down clinics would make it harder for many women to obtain birth control – and the last thing either side of the abortion debate should want is an increase in unwanted pregnancies that result in more abortions.

But we all know where this is headed – conservative Republicans are already threatening to shut down the federal government in the fall by blocking any spending that includes money for Planned Parenthood. That also explains Huckabee’s call-in-the-army idea too. This time we have highly-edited videotapes too:

Abortion rights advocates locked in a public relations battle with abortion opponents over videos of Planned Parenthood leaders discussing the use of aborted fetuses got some good news from two courts in California. A federal judge in San Francisco on Friday blocked the release of any recordings made at meetings of an abortion providers’ association by the anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress.

Earlier in the week, a Los Angeles County judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the center from releasing any video of leaders of StemExpress, a California company that provides fetal tissue to researchers. In one of the videos the group previously released, a woman identified as a former StemExpress phlebotomist describes drawing blood and dissecting dead fetuses.

As in 2005, the courts are messing up the Republican narrative:

On Friday, Judge William Orrick in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order against the center that had been requested hours earlier by the National Abortion Federation. Orrick said absent a temporary restraining order, the federation would likely suffer irreparable injury “in the form of harassment, intimidation, violence, invasion of privacy, and injury to reputation.”

The National Abortion Federation sued in federal court, alleging that the Center for Medical Progress infiltrated its meetings and recorded its members. The group said release of any audio or video would put members in danger.

Yeah, well, Randall Terry is still around:

Planned Parenthood says it abides by a law that allows providers to be reimbursed for the costs of processing tissue donated by women who have had abortions. In Friday’s lawsuit, the National Abortion Federation alleges that the center created a fake company to get into the federation’s annual meetings in 2014 and 2015 and then recorded its members with the goal of smearing abortion-rights supporters.

Hey, it worked.

Of course there is another way to look at this, as there is Erick Erickson:

We have passed the point where Nazi comparisons are inappropriate. In the latest video about Planned Parenthood, if you want to watch it, you will see an admission that some of the children are born alive before being killed and carved up — their bodies being sold essentially for scrap.

And Terri Schiavo was just taking a nap. Bill Frist said so. But never mind. Here’s a call to arms:

If Republicans are not willing to make this their hill to die on and even see the government shutdown to stop this, the Republican Party needs to be shut down.

The Party of Lincoln that rose from the ashes of a Whig Party that would not stand up to slavery must stand up to this evil. The American public is staring evil in the face and it looks a lot like them. It must end.

If Abraham Lincoln’s party will not fight to stop a practice that defends itself with the same arguments used by proponents of slavery, it is time for a new party….

You will be made to care about this. You will not be allowed to sit by and make excuses. You will be not be allowed to say it is tissue, goo, or innocent. These are human beings. These are the future of this country harvested for their organs. They are being killed. The arguments in support of it are the arguments in support of slavery. This is evil and you must care.

If full personhood begins at conception – or before, the traditional argument against all forms of birth control, which is murder too, as God long ago intended all sort of people to be born sooner or later – then Erickson is onto something. If you think life begins after the first trimester, when a fetus is viable, as in the Roe decision, then Erickson is full of crap. If you think life begins at birth, a really old-fashioned position, then you think Erickson is nuts.

It doesn’t matter. He is speaking to Republicans:

Republicans in the Congress are beginning to use the word “try.” They will try to defund Planned Parenthood. But the President has a veto and they do not have the votes to override the veto. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has moved from try to “can’t.” He says Republicans cannot defund Planned Parenthood because of the President’s veto.

This is really, really simple.

If Republicans do not defund Planned Parenthood, they will see a great portion of their base vanish overnight. That is not an exaggeration.

Planned Parenthood, we now know, is killing living children who have already been born, cutting them up, and harvesting their organs.

If Abraham Lincoln’s Party cannot go to war against that, where war is not bullets, just a government shutdown until the President relents, then Abraham Lincoln’s Party needs to be put on the ash heap of history. It really is that simple.

Either defund Planned Parenthood or do not defund Planned Parenthood. The future of the Republican Party is at stake. The Democrats know this better than the GOP. So President Obama will block it. The Republicans must not try, but must hold steady until he yields.

In short, shut down the government to force Obama to give in. That always works.

It doesn’t? Ed Kilgore sees what’s next:

Now you might think ol’ Erick’s just an inflated bloviator whose chosen style is the bullyboy threat of a political commissar. But the thing is he’s going to be the impresario of the Republican presidential cattle call next weekend (the Red State Gathering, in Atlanta) that will come immediately after the first candidate debate, with ten candidates currently confirmed: Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, and yes, even Donald Trump. This will be the event at which “winners” at the debate try to spin madly and consolidate their gains, while “losers” seek to make a quick recovery. It’s a pretty big deal, and additionally, historians will someday recognize that its counter-scheduling against the Iowa Straw Poll had a lot to do with that one-time major “winnowing” event falling to its death.

I somehow don’t think any of these candidates are going to be allowed to leave Atlanta without answering their host’s insanely furious demands for a government shutdown to “defund” Planned Parenthood.

There you have it:

It’s interesting, this phase of political history where the configuration of forces in Washington means that the GOP cannot insist on having its way without risking or executing a government shutdown. And that in turn means that the big competition among conservative activists is to have the cause that’s the latest pretext for a government shutdown, whether it’s Obamacare, the debt ceiling, immigration policy or the Iran Nuclear Deal. Now the anti- choicers are putting in their bid to be the constituency that rules the roost.

It’s the Terri Schiavo thing all over again, but this time with a government shutdown – the same thing, but much worse. But there’s a problem:

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, Planned Parenthood had $1.3 billion in total revenue. Of that, $528.4 million came from government health services grants and reimbursements. The group says the vast majority of federal dollars it receives comes from Medicaid reimbursements for providing preventative health care.

That’s why ending the flow of federal dollars isn’t as simple as turning off the spigot. The laws governing Medicaid – the health insurance program for low-income families – prevent states from excluding certain providers solely because of other medical services they provide, like abortions. Those laws also say Medicaid recipients must be allowed to seek treatment from anyone who is qualified to perform the services. This is sometimes called a “freedom of choice” provision.

Any defunding would violate existing federal law and face a challenge in court:

A few states already know this because they have tried to block Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Medicaid dollars. Indiana passed a law in 2011 that would have prevented Medicare recipients from seeking care at Planned Parenthood clinics across the state. The law was blocked by a U.S. district judge, upheld by a federal appeals court, and then turned down by the Supreme Court for further review. A Circuit Court panel ultimately rejected the measure to block the funding, holding that the Indiana law violated the right of the patients to get medical care “from the qualified provider of their choice,” U.S. District Court Judge Diane Sykes wrote in the ruling. … Similar laws in Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all met the same fate as Indiana’s law.

But Texas finally managed to fully shut off the flow of Medicaid dollars to Planned Parenthood. Texas passed a law banning any clinic affiliated with abortion providers from receiving Medicaid funds through Texas’ Women’s Health Program, and the court upheld a challenge to the law. But the Obama administration said the state law violated the freedom of choice provision and cut off all the federal funds – some $30 million – for Women’s Health Program. At the time of the decision, about 130,000 women used the program to receive health care such as cancer screenings and contraception. Planned Parenthood clinics served 44 percent of the women who were enrolled.

No other state has taken steps as drastic as Texas. Governors who say they have defunded Planned Parenthood in their state have generally only been able to cut off state funding, not federal funding. In Wisconsin, for example, a state where 2016 presidential candidate and Gov. Scott Walker says he did just that, Planned Parenthood still receives funding through Medicaid and Title X, a federal grant program for family planning services.

Nothing is easy, or simple. Terri Schiavo was dead, but in a way, she was no longer alive – but she wasn’t a person any longer, or she was. It’s the same with this Planned Parenthood business. Are they killing babies and selling their parts? Define “baby” as you understand it. The only thing clear here is there are conservative politicians trolling for votes. They still have no shame.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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