Weekend open thread: Abortion and pregnancy edition

This week Governor Terry Branstad declared April to be “Abortion Recovery Month” in Iowa. Anti-choice organizations and crisis pregnancy centers were invited to the proclamation signing, and women who regret their abortions spoke at a press conference. Human beings have complex reactions to significant life events, and I feel empathy for anyone who feels sad about important choices. However, it is inaccurate to suggest that all women who exercise their legal right to an abortion need to go through a “recovery” process. The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion concluded in a 2008 report that “among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy. […] the TFMHA reviewed no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.” Some mental health professionals believe that “emotional issues, especially feelings of guilt, begin to rise along with anti-choice efforts to restrict abortion.”

The Iowa House approved a 20-week abortion ban at the end of March. The bill is modeled on a Nebraska statute and is intended to deter an Omaha-based doctor from opening a new abortion clinic in Council Bluffs. It has stalled in the Senate Government Oversight Committee. Committee Chairman Tom Courtney said in mid-April that it was too late in the legislative session to adequately review the bill this year, and he would prefer to take it up in 2012. Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan, a Democrat, recently urged the Senate to act on the bill before adjourning. The mayor does not want his city to become “home to a clinic that specializes in later term abortions.” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, who represents the Council Bluffs area, has said he would not block the abortion bill from coming to a vote and is letting the normal committee process work.

Women who are pregnant and planning to stay pregnant should be aware that April is cesarean awareness month. At the request of Iowa chapters of the International Cesarean Awareness Network, Branstad issued a proclamation to that effect. The c-section rate in Iowa rose to 30.2 percent in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That is way above the optimal level, but the national average is even higher at 32.9 percent. The central Iowa chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network posted statistics for c-sections and vaginal births after cesareans (VBACs) in Iowa hospitals here. Unfortunately, more than three quarters of Iowa hospitals prohibit pregnant women from even attempting VBACs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2010 initiative set a goal of reducing the cesarean birth rate for low-risk women to 15 percent for women giving birth for the first time and 72 percent for women who have had a prior cesarean birth. Having a doula present during labor has been proven to reduce the need for cesareans and other major interventions.

Whether or not they are able to become pregnant, all sexually active people should be aware that April is STD Awareness Month. The Centers for Disease Control has lots of relevant facts and figures here. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland clinics across Iowa are encouraging people to get themselves tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

UPDATE: State Representative Kurt Swaim is not running for re-election in the new House district 82, which covers Davis and Van Buren counties and most of Jefferson County, including Fairfield. Swaim and fellow Democrat Curt Hanson were both placed in that district, but most of the population lives on Hanson’s current turf. Swaim was one of four House Democrats to vote for the 20-week abortion ban, one of three House Democrats to vote for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and one of nine House Democrats to vote for a bill banning secret recordings on Iowa farms. Hanson voted against all of those bills.

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No-brainer: Planned Parenthood PAC endorses Culver

To no one’s surprise, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s political arm, called the Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa PAC, endorsed Governor Chet Culver’s re-election bid today. Planned Parenthood’s PAC (at that time called the Freedom Fund) supported Culver during the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary and in that year’s general election against Jim Nussle, and the PAC’s statement issued today explains the decision to back him again:

“Governor Chet Culver has done more to reduce the need for abortion and increase access for women’s health care than his opponent ever will,” said Jill June, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “During the primary debates, Terry Branstad has made it clear that he would cut basic health care services to more than 50,000 Iowan women by choosing to cut Planned Parenthood as a service provider.”

PAC chair Phyllis Peters cited Governor Culver’s record. “Governor Culver has strongly supported the health care needs of women in many different ways. He has supported vaccine coverage for the HPV vaccine, the only vaccine to prevent cervical cancer; funded the state match to the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver to provide contraception to low income women; supported medically accurate sexuality education in our schools; and supported extending the age a woman can qualify for family planning services. Women in Iowa can count on Governor Culver to listen, understand and respond to the very real health needs of women.”

In the primary campaign candidate Terry Branstad indicated that he would support an Iowa law similar to one just passed in Oklahoma, which would require an invasive sonogram for women who seek abortions. Unlike sonograms currently used in Iowa, this would require a sonogram where a probe is inserted in the woman to show the image of the fetus, even for victims of rape and incest.

“Terry Branstad believes in using intimidation tactics to prevent women from their legal rights. That’s not what Iowan’s believe or want in our state,” said Jill June. “The Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa PAC is speaking out against these tactics of discrimination and intimidation, as we show our support for Governor Culver.”

Branstad generally avoids mentioning Planned Parenthood by name, but this spring he repeatedly said Iowa “should not provide funding for organizations that provide abortion services.” That wording left the misleading impression that state funding pays for abortions, but no government money pays for any abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics. Most of the state funding to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland covers contraception and is matched on a 9:1 basis by the federal government through the Medicaid family planning program. (That is, every dollar from the state budget is matched by $9 from Medicaid.)

It’s outrageous that Branstad, the former president of a medical school, would support an Oklahoma abortion law that lets the government dictate how some doctors should care for their patients and even how they should talk to their patients. So much for government not getting between you and your doctor.

Culver slammed the Oklahoma approach in this statement his campaign released today:

“I am so pleased to receive the endorsement of Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa PAC. I’ve worked very hard in my first term to maintain and improve family planning and women’s rights in the state of Iowa and I am proud to have their support in this election.  By contrast, Terry Branstad doesn’t trust the women of Iowa to make their own health care decisions.

“What’s ironic is that the women and men of Iowa cannot trust Branstad on health care. When he was at Des Moines University, he supported mandates. When he was campaigning  in the Republican primary, he opposed mandates. Iowans can only guess as to his position tomorrow. What is clear is that he thinks requirements such as allowing adult children to continue to be insured on their parents’ policy or prohibiting people from being denied insurance for pre-existing conditions is too intrusive but forcing victims to have invasive procedures is all right.

“Branstad even campaigned on enacting a law similar to the one passed in Oklahoma. The law requires a woman to have an invasive and expensive sonogram, for no medical reason, prior to receiving some services, forcing women who are victims of rape or incest to re-live these horrifying violent crimes. Well, I believe that is wrong.

“Terry Branstad is out of touch on this issue. He even refused to comment on the endorsement today because he knows that he’s on the wrong side of women’s issues.

“I have worked hard to invest in a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her health care and I will continue that investment.”

Click here for background on Branstad’s inconsistent stand regarding a proposed individual mandate to purchase health insurance.

No doubt we’ll hear more this fall about Branstad opposing reproductive rights, because it fits Culver’s message about Branstad pushing failed ideas of the past.

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Branstad still pushing false claims, wrong priorities

One day after Terry Branstad won the Republican nomination for governor, his accountability problem was back on display. Speaking to the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s annual convention in Ames yesterday, Branstad told the audience, “I want to get rid of the present incumbent because he’s driven the state into the biggest budget deficit in history.”

In the psychological field, projection is “a defense mechanism that involves taking our own unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people.” I’m not qualified to offer any professional diagnosis, but Branstad’s the guy who really did keep two sets of books to hide illegal deficits. It’s incredible to hear him keep making that false claim about Governor Chet Culver’s administration. The governor and Iowa’s legislative leaders haven’t run up any budget deficit, let alone the largest deficit ever. If Culver were running deficits, Iowa wouldn’t have a top-level credit rating or be considered one of the states “least like California” in terms of fiscal problems.

How long will Branstad keep getting away with making stuff up about Culver’s record? Your guess is as good as mine.

In other news, Branstad promised the Association of Business and Industry crowd that if elected, he wouldn’t allow key priorities of organized labor like the prevailing wage or collective bargaining bills to become law. I doubt ABI has to worry about that, since Iowa Democrats haven’t delivered on those issues during the past four years.

Culver visited a Cedar Rapids preschool yesterday and blasted Branstad’s “20th Century thinking” on preschool funding:

“This is an investment we cannot afford to not make in the future,” Culver said about the preschool initiative. He said he budgeted $90 million this year for the program and $115 million next year. […]

“While we want to continue to fund preschool … Terry Branstad wants to take that away,” Culver said. […]

The fiscal 2011 funding will assist an additional 150 school districts and school district collaborations under the statewide voluntary preschool program, he said. It is projected that during the 2010-2011 school year about 21,354 four-year-olds will be served by the preschool program in 326 school districts across the state.

Many Iowa families could not afford early education for their children without the state program. Culver is right to pound Branstad for his screwed-up priorities. Culver also criticized the Republican for wanting to go backwards on state-funded stem cell research, women’s reproductive rights and flood recovery funding for the Cedar Rapids area. Like everyone else in the Iowa GOP, Branstad has criticized the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative but not explained how he would have paid for the flood reconstruction and prevention projects Iowa needs.

Branstad told Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette that he would not try to repeal the I-JOBS bonding, but “also compared I-JOBS to the Greek debt crisis.” Give me a break. The professional investor community drove down the interest rate of the initial I-JOBS offering because of Iowa’s solid fiscal condition and plan for repaying the bonds. In fact, I-JOBS was one of the top 10 “deals of the year” in 2009 according to Bond Buyer, the daily newspaper of public finance.

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Culver with Biden in Cedar Rapids thread

Vice President Joe Biden headlines Governor Chet Culver’s re-election rally today in Cedar Rapids. If you are watching in person or online, please share your impressions in this thread. I will update the post later with more coverage of the event. Adam Sullivan is live-tweeting for Iowa Independent.

Yesterday the governor kicked off his campaign at Hoover High School in Des Moines, followed by stops in Ames, Marshalltown and Waterloo. Kathie Obradovich felt Culver’s speech “salvaged” the otherwise low-energy event in Des Moines. After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from Culver’s remarks, which his campaign released. He frames the race as a choice of going backwards “to policies that created this recession” or forward to continue the investments his administration has begun. Culver outlined some goals for the next five years, such as completing rebuilding efforts from the 2008 floods, “making quality pre-school available to every Iowa child whose parents want to take advantage of it,” pursuing stem cell research in Iowa, and “increasing the percentage of our energy production coming from alternative sources from 20% to at least 30%.” Culver chided Republicans who “just say no,” think corporate tax cuts are the answer for every problem and “continue to preach the failed doctrine of trickle down economics.”

In addition to the excerpts you’ll find below, the governor spoke up for protecting a woman’s right to make her own health-care decisions and against writing discrimination into the Iowa constitution. Later in Marshalltown, Culver noted that discrimination is “not the Iowa way […] We’ve always been at the front when it’s come to civil rights.”

Any comments about the governor’s race are welcome in this thread. Speaking of Republicans who want to take us backwards, Terry Branstad’s campaign started running a new ad today, which portrays the former governor as “the change we need now.” I’ll have more to say about Branstad’s campaign message in a different post, but for now I wonder whether he will get away with repeating his lie about Iowa running a “billion-dollar deficit.”

UPDATE: Um, what the heck? Someone get the governor a driver who won’t try to chase another driver down for a stupid reason.

John Deeth liveblogged the Biden event here. Kathie Obradovich tweeted here. Key points of Biden’s message: he’s known Chet Culver since he was seven years old and knows he has “the gumption to handle the job at this time.” Also, with Culver in charge “Iowa is better off than almost every other state in the nation … Iowa is still moving forward.” Biden praised Culver for being ahead of the curve in establishing the Power Fund in 2007:

“Government is not the answer but it can prime the pump and encourage the private sector.”

“45 out of [50] governors, Democrat and Republican, are sitting on their hands. Because of Chet’s leadership Iowa is better prepared.” […]

“What are Republicans FOR? Not a joke. Tell me one affirmative thing the Republican Party is for.”

Good question, Mr. Vice President. Biden also noted that the stimulus bill brought $3.3 billion to Iowa, and said Culver had used $4 billion in federal and state flood recovery money well. Biden said Iowa is on the upswing and has an unemployment rate well below the national average, which is “no accident, it’s because of Governor Chet Culver.”

SECOND UPDATE: Todd Dorman found Biden’s praise for Culver a bit over-the-top. Tom Beaumont’s story for the Des Moines Register is here. Kay Henderson’s liveblog for Radio Iowa is here. She’s captured more quotes from the vice president.

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Republicans put government between women and their doctors

Remember last year when Republicans claimed health care reform would put government bureaucrats between patients and their doctors? It was a hypocritical talking point to begin with, given how often insurance companies overrule doctors’ orders, in some cases denying sick people access to life-saving medical care.

The hypocrisy is especially apparent now that Republicans are cheering two new laws passed in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Legislature voted Tuesday to override the governor’s vetoes of two abortion measures, one of which requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion.

Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma’s law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

A second measure passed into law on Tuesday prevents women who have had a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb.

To clarify: Republicans passed a law dictating the way doctors communicate with patients and how they must proceed with every woman seeking an abortion, regardless of her individual circumstances. According to the New York Times, the Center for Reproductive Rights has already filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of the ultrasound law, claiming it “violates the doctor’s freedom of speech, the woman’s right to equal protection and the woman’s right to privacy.”

The second law is in some ways more offensive, because the government is shielding doctors who deliberately do not level with their patients. I have close friends who have learned while pregnant that their future child has serious medical problems. To give doctors license to deceive women in that situation is unconscionable. Pregnant women must be able to make informed decisions regarding all medical care. Who’s to say that doctors will stop at “merely” hiding birth defects? Maybe some will decide it’s better not to tell women they have cancer or some other disease that might prompt them to terminate a pregnancy.

The new laws are similar to two anti-abortion laws the Oklahoma Supreme Court already struck down. Clearly Republicans won’t let a little thing like the state constitution get in the way of their desire to intimidate women and interfere with the information they receive from their doctors. I agree with Charles Lemos: this is a sign of how extreme today’s Republican Party has become.

Iowans who don’t take reproductive rights for granted may want to know that Arianna Huffington is coming to Des Moines next Tuesday to help raise money for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (formerly Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa). Click the link for event details.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. I recommend this post from the Ms. Magazine blog on the 10 worst myths about abortion in the United States.

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Late-term abortion provider murdered in church

An assailant shot and killed Dr. George Tiller at a church in Wichita, Kansas this morning. Tiller has long been demonized by the anti-choice movement because he performs late-term abortions. He was shot in 1993 and has faced numerous threats, and his clinic has been bombed and vandalized. The Wichita Eagle has background here and is updating the story. (Note: police arrested a 51-year-old male suspect about three hours after the shooting.)

Daily Kos user wiscmass discusses other violent attacks against abortion providers here. As wiscmass notes, every murder or assault is a deterrent to medical professionals considering whether to provide abortion services. By intimidating doctors, anti-choice activists can restrict access to abortion where legal and political methods have failed. I would add that even non-violent methods of intimidation can be effective. For instance, the Sioux City medical community has made clear hospital privileges will be denied to any local doctor who performs abortions at Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa’s clinic there.

Tiller was not only serving women in Kansas. Many states, including Iowa, lack any clinic where women with a compelling medical reason can get a late-term abortion. (Contrary to propaganda you may have heard, healthy women with healthy pregnancies can’t just walk into Tiller’s clinic and get an abortion in the third trimester.) I have no idea where these women will go now.

Incidentally, Tiller’s donations to Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and her political action committee prompted 31 Senate Republicans to vote against confirming Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary in April.

Cecile Richards, leader of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told a story about Sebelius during a recent speech at Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa’s 75th anniversary celebration. Richards recalled a noisy group of protesters with graphic signs outside a Planned Parenthood event in Kansas. Everyone who attended the event, including then-Governor Sebelius, had to walk through the group of protesters. During her speech that night, Sebelius said she was glad everyone had to face those protesters, because it gave them a sense of what women in Kansas go through every day just trying to access reproductive health care.

Unfortunately, Tiller’s murder reminds us that standing up for reproductive rights in this country sometimes means putting your life in danger. I echo wiscmass in urging pro-choice Americans to support the organizations that are on the front lines in this battle.

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