Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) spoke to a group of constituents this week in Iowa, one of whom asked, in all seriousness, whether the government is going to put microchips in Americans, "starting in pre-school." The Republican senator assured the man that this isn't true.
For those who can't watch clips online, Grassley told the constituent, "No. First of all, nothing can be done to your body without your permission. So, it'd be a violation of the constitutional right to privacy if that were to happen."
That is, of course, correct. But as Kaili Joy Gray noted, there is a certain irony in hearing a conservative Republican lawmaker with a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee talking this way.
Indeed, listening to Grassley argue, "Nothing can be done to your body without your permission," it's awfully tempting to respond, "Tell that to folks in Indiana, where a measure requiring two medically-unnecessary, state-mandated, transvaginal ultrasounds are under consideration."
Covering an Indiana State Senate hearing yesterday, the essential Indianapolis Star reporter Mary Beth Schneider had a question: Would the Republican-sponsored bill being discussed by the committee, on the use of abortion-inducing drugs, require women to undergo a vaginal ultrasound? Because this kind of thing is more usually private, she then explained for the guys in her Twitter audience what, exactly, a vaginal ultrasound was.
The Indiana Senate committee ended up passing the bill, with all Democrats and one Republican voting no. And Schneider learned that the answer to her question of whether Indiana would require women to undergo vaginal probing is yes, times two. From her report in the Indy Star:
Women obtaining an abortion-inducing drug would be required to undergo an ultrasound before and after taking the drug under a bill approved Wednesday by an Indiana Senate committee.
Though the bill doesn’t specify that it be a transvaginal ultrasound, in which a several-inch-long probe is inserted in the woman, that’s exactly what Indiana would be requiring, said Dr. John Stutsman, an Indiana University School of Medicine professor and obstetrician-gynecologist....
While the woman is not required to keep that [second] appointment, the physician must make a “reasonable effort” to ensure she does.
Imagine for a moment that "reasonable effort" phone call, where the doctor's office tries to coax the woman back in for a second medically unnecessary invasive ultrasound. When these vaginal probe bills have come up in other states, people have had little trouble picturing them for the interwebs. Up top, one of the Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell commemorative probes. Lower, the meme for fiddling Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert.
While you're at it, read the Indiana bill as sponsored by Republican state Senator Travis Holdman.
Pretty much every day that state legislatures are in session, there is movement of some kind, somewhere in the country on legislation affecting women's health rights. We talk about what's going on every day here at TRMS world headquarters, but these stories don't always make it into the show. So we thought we'd experiment with listing the last 24 hours' worth of happenings here, Morning Maddow/Mini-Reports style.
*Also in Arkansas, Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has signed into a law a bill to ban insurance exchanges created under Obamacare from covering abortion.
*In Virginia, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell is working to make sure that the insurance exchanges created in that state are banned from covering abortion, but the Virginian-Pilot is reporting that even some Republicans are skeptical of the move.
*In Colorado, Democrats defeated in committee a Republican-backed bill that would have required doctors to investigate why a woman was seeking an abortion.
*A similar bill has been proposed in Kansas this year, too and is seen as likely to be passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
*Lawmakers in Oklahoma are considering a bill that would tighten the state's existing parental notification law for girls under age 18 seeking abortion.
*In Arizona, a federal judge has overturned the state's effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The measure had already been blocked, pending this week's ruling.
As the Arkansas legislature continues moving toward a ban on most abortions, the sponsor of the state Senate version says he is willing to drop that part about the vaginal probe. From the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
An Arkansas senator proposing to ban most abortions in the state says he's changing his bill to prohibit the procedure only if a fetal heartbeat is detected using an abdominal ultrasound.
Senator Jason Rapert's original legislation, passed by his chamber last week, would put abortion off-limits for most women before they even knew they were pregnant. You would have needed an ultrasound by vaginal probe in order to determine which very few women were eligible to exercise their constitutional rights. “Can you imagine what kind of feeling that would cause when inserted into a woman?” Democratic Senator Stephanie Flowers asked him last week during the debate. “No,” Rapert said.
It turns out the state can still monitor a lot of pregnancies from the outside of your body, so Rapert's going that route instead. Meanwhile, as you can see from the image, the senator who had been locally famous for his fiddling has become now famous in a whole new way as Fiddling Rapert. (H/t Arkansas Times.)
In changing his approach, Rapert follows in the footsteps of Virginia Governor Bob "Ultrasound" McDonnell. Last year McDonnell made himself nationally famous for a bill that would have subjected women in his state to medically unnecessary, invasive ultrasounds, before backing off a bit.
Virginia Republican State Senator Jill Vogel
First, a correction. In our segment last night about Virginia changing the rules for electing a president, we reported that the bill had gone to a full committee of the Virginia Senate, and that the committee has a 10 to five GOP majority. That was incorrect, and my mistake. Republicans hold a majority of eight to seven. As Think Progress reports, one of those Republican senators is not sold on the idea of rigging the election. Senator Jill Vogel told them:
"... I am generally not in favor right now of the bill and it's very unlikely that I will vote for it in full committee or the Senate floor."
A couple of factors argue against Virginia Republicans gaining from a change in the way they apportion the state's electoral college vote. For one thing, under that system they would have given votes to Bill Clinton, John Kerry and Al Gore. For another, the history of openly changing election rules to benefit one side does not end well for that side.
With the Virginia Senate equally divided, a unified Democratic caucus plus Vogel could defeat the bill. You might remember that last year Vogel dropped her own bill for mandated ultrasounds, saying she had not realized they would be mandated vaginal ultrasounds. (She then supported the bill reworked and signed into law by Governor Bob McDonnell. In this session, she broke with her party to move an LGBT nondiscrimation bill forward.)
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the Virginia House of Delegates is having cold feet about the Senate's surprise gerrymandering this week:
"My sense is the House is getting squishy," said the Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid about internal party discussions. "These guys are freaking out. . . . I think they'd like to pass the hot potato."
It might be that Virginia Republicans are in the process of figuring out how far is too far for Virginia Republicans.
Exactly 40 years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade ruling. In a 7-2 decision, the court majority decided that Americans have a constitutional right to privacy, which includes being able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
As the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision takes place on Tuesday, a majority of Americans -- for the first time -- believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
What's more, seven in 10 respondents oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned, which is the highest percentage on this question since 1989.
"These are profound changes," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart and his colleagues.
I put together the chart shown above, showing the results of polling from the last quarter-century on the Roe ruling. Though a majority of Americans have consistently opposed overturning the decision, note the trend lines -- support for Roe keeps growing.
The same poll asked respondents, "Which comes closest to your view on abortion: abortion should always be legal, should be legal most of the time, should be made illegal except in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother's life, or abortion should be made illegal without any exceptions?"
Looking at the results (pdf), 31% believes abortion should be "always legal" -- an all-time high -- and 23% believe it should be "legal most of the time." The combined 54% majority reflects the strongest support for reproductive rights ever seen in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Consider the perspective of the Republican pollster who helped conduct the survey.
McInturff adds that the abortion-related events and rhetoric over the past year -- which included controversial remarks on abortion and rape by two Republican Senate candidates, as well as a highly charged debate over contraception – helped shaped these changing poll numbers.
"The dialogue we have had in the last year has contributed ... to inform and shift attitudes."
I suspect there's something to this. Shifting public attitudes are likely the result of many factors, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Republican agenda in 2012 -- including both policy proposals and over-the-top rhetoric -- helped remind the American mainstream of the reproductive rights they don't want to see taken away.
In other words, Akin, Romney, Mourdock, and Ryan may have inadvertently help deliver a much-needed wake-up call about freedoms that hung in the balance.
Adapted from Rachel's script Friday night:
There are places in this country that look from the outside like nondescript buildings, until you happen to notice that there are no windows facing the street and that guy hanging out at the front entrance is an armed, plain-clothes security officer and he is guarding the front door.
Once you get inside, there are security check points and metal detectors. The lobby is locked down from the rest of the building. There are key pads with secret codes, not just to get in, the first place, but even once you are inside to get from one wing of the building to the other. There are security cameras monitoring every corner of the building. The folks who work at these places sometimes come to work in disguise and when they come to work, they take a different route each day. Sometimes they park their cars off site and are driven into the office by a different person each week, who also takes a different route each time. Some of them use assumed names outside the office.
These places are not field offices of the NSA or the CIA or some cagey private military contractor. These are medical offices. This is the way that medicine is being practiced in one small segment of the medical field. It is unlike anything else in American medicine. It is unlike any other part of American life that is not national security or corrections or intelligence.
But it is how you live if you are an abortion provider in a part of the country where aggressive hostility to abortion rights sometimes manifests as violence. These are not temporary security measures people adopt during a lockdown or at a particular time of crisis. This is day-to-day, everyday life.
It is a very strange way to live or work. There are four states in this country where there is only one abortion clinic in the whole state, including Mississippi, which is facing the prospect of becoming the first state where abortion access is, effectively, gone.
After the jump, part one of Rebekah Dryden and Anthony Terrell's report: Kansas.
If you are the only abortion provider in your state, it turns out that that makes your one medical office and, therefore, the women who seek medical care there, it makes them really easy targets for people who would like to end abortion in that state through harassment, or intimidation or through state government.
Trying to understand the constitutional edge that we are on right now in terms of abortion rights existing on paper versus existing in reality, part one of our special report yesterday was about recovering and regaining access to abortion rights in a part of the country where that access was
ended three and a half years ago by murder. That was Kansas, where that constitutional right is being protected and regained by a very savvy and determined group.
The problem isn't the wisdom of this advice; the problem is that this advice is necessary.
It's way past time: House Republicans need to stop talking about rape. That's the message GOP lawmakers got here Wednesday evening from Kellyanne Conway, a top GOP pollster.
Conway dispensed the stern advice as part of a polling presentation she made alongside pollster David Winsten -- an adviser to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) -- and Dave Sackett. The comment was described by several sources in the room.
Conway added that House Republicans consider rape a "four-letter word."
The advice certainly makes sense, given recent inflammatory remarks from Phil Gingrey, Todd Akin, and Richard Mourdock, among others. Indeed, it shouldn't have taken a professional pollster trained in measuring public attitudes to remind Republicans about this -- I've been telling the party the same thing for months, and I didn't charge them a dime.
The problem, though, is that there's a catch, which makes this painfully obvious advice difficult to follow. Republicans really do believe impregnated rape victims should not have any choices when it comes to reproductive rights and they really will continue to pursue a policy agenda that codifies that belief in law.
Unless GOP policymakers are prepared to give up on this aspect of their culture-war agenda -- that seems unlikely -- they're going to keep facing questions that will require answers.
When a reporter says, "Congressman, under your proposal, women impregnated by a rapist would be required to carry their pregnancy to term, even if they don't want to," Republicans cannot just sit there, staring blankly into the camera. "Stop talking about rape" is reasonable advice, but here's an even better tip: stop proposing legislation that says rape victims shouldn't have any choices when it comes to reproductive rights.
Rhetoric matters. Policy matters more.
When I talked to him last year, Mississippi State Representative Bubba Carpenter sounded quite unhappy about being in the limelight for having said that coat hanger abortions might come back in his state, "[b]ut hey, you have to have moral values. You have to start somewhere." At the time, Mississippi Republicans had just passed a law designed to close the state's only abortion clinic, and after tape of Carpenter's boasting about coat hangers got loose on the Internets, the state party tried to make that clip harder to see.
Now Carpenter is back with a couple of high-profile initiatives. First of all, he is leading Republicans' efforts to arm teachers, with help from an NRA lobbyist in writing the bill. Carpenter is also pushing a measure that would make testing positive for controlled substances while pregnant a form of felony child abuse, with a sentence of 10 years to life.
(2) (a) Any person who shall intentionally (i) burn any child, (ii) torture any child * * *, (iii) except in self-defense or in order to prevent bodily harm to a third party, whip, strike or otherwise abuse or mutilate any child in such a manner as to cause serious bodily harm, or (iv) test positive for a controlled substance while pregnant as provided by Section 1 of House Bill No._____, 2013 Regular Session, shall be guilty of felonious abuse of a child and, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for life or such lesser term of imprisonment as the court may determine, but not less than ten (10) years. For any second or subsequent conviction under this subsection, the person shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life.
The legislation was referred to a judiciary committee on Monday.
As written, it calls for pregnant women arrested on drug charges to be tested for controlled substances. It's not entirely clear how the state would first determine that a woman was pregnant, if she's not showing, or how it benefits anyone to have a mom in prison for life on a drug crime.
Mississippi Republicans control both chambers of the legislature and the governorship, so they can pass the bill if they want to. Last year, the Mississippi GOP did bounce a bill that likely could not have withstood a court challenge. Prosecuting pregnant women for child abuse is neither uncommon nor uncontested. Supporters of abortion rights point out that it grants personhood to fetuses, an idea Mississippi voters rejected in 2011. (More about the story in Mississippi on the show later this week.)
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) generated a new round of trouble for himself and his party last week, arguing that Todd Akin's infamous "legitimate rape" remarks were "partly right." Gingrey, a physician-turned-politician, proceeded to make an argument about adrenaline and ovulation, prompting the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to issue a statement explaining, "[T]here is no scientific evidence that adrenaline, experienced in an acute stress situation, has an impact on ovulation."
But there's the larger question of how and why this keeps happening to the Republican Party, which is burdened by so many candidates and officials who say awful things about rape.
Rep. Phil Gingrey's attempts to explain Todd Akin's rape remarks are leaving many Republicans beyond frustrated that a few in their party can't help but insert rape into the already contentious abortion debate.
"This is actually pretty simple. If you're about to talk about rape as anything other than a brutal and horrible crime, stop," said Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who was a senior adviser in Mitt Romney's campaign.
That's sensible advice, though it's worth noting that Republicans have a policy problem: much of the party supports a culture-war agenda that really would require, by government mandate, that women impregnated by rapists carry their pregnancy to term. Madden's suggestion is persuasive, but incomplete.
Marina Ein, whose public relations firm does crisis communications, said the party needs some kind of "sensitivity training" for its candidates if it wants to do better in the next elections.
"It all boils down to whether or not the Republican Party thinks this is a problem," she said. "If they want to make inroads with women, then they need to subject every one of their candidates to sensitivity training -- not to mention reality training."
It's that last part that matters most.
A few days after the 2012 election, conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer said calls for GOP moderation are "nonsense." On social issues, he said, "The problem here for Republicans is not policy but delicacy -- speaking about culturally sensitive and philosophically complex issues with reflection and prudence."
Presumably, with "sensitivity training," GOP candidates could learn "delicacy." But the fact remains that this is a party with a "reality problem."
It can't be spun, rebranded, repackaged, or explained better. Republicans believe impregnated rape victims should not have any choices when it comes to reproductive rights, and the American mainstream strongly disagrees.
The Phil Gingreys of the world will keep offending sensible people everywhere until he and his party change course on a substantive level, not a rhetorical one.
National election cycles rarely hinge on one issue, but I think it's fair to say Republicans would have enjoyed 2012 far more if fewer GOP candidates shared their thoughts on rape. In Indiana and Missouri, for example, Todd Akin's and Richard Mourdock's public comments on the issue almost certainly cost them U.S. Senate seats.
After Election Day, the message to Republicans wasn't subtle: learn from Akin's and Mourdock's mistake and try not to be stupid when it comes to talking about rape. And yet, Amanda Terkel flags this jaw-dropper from Rep. Phil Gingrey (R) of Georgia, who apparently slept through 2012. [Update: video via TPM]
After suggesting Mourdock was judged unfairly, Gingrey reflected on Akin.
"[Akin] was asked by a local news source about rape and he said, 'Look, in a legitimate rape situation' -- and what he meant by legitimate rape was just look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents, that's pretty tough and might on some occasion say, 'Hey, I was raped.' That's what he meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape. I don't find anything so horrible about that. But then he went on and said that in a situation of rape, of a legitimate rape, a woman's body has a way of shutting down so the pregnancy would not occur. He's partly right on that."
Gingrey pointed out that he had been an OB-GYN since 1975.
The Republican congressman went on to tell the Marietta Daily Journal, "I've delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, 'Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don't be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.' So he was partially right wasn't he? But the fact that a woman may have already ovulated 12 hours before she is raped, you're not going to prevent a pregnancy there by a woman's body shutting anything down because the horse has already left the barn, so to speak. And yet the media took that and tore it apart."
Did I mention that Gingrey is the co-chair of the congressional Republicans' "Doctors Caucus"? Well, he is. Gingrey's also the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee's panel on health care reform.
This morning, the congressman didn't exactly walk back his published comments, but he clearly hopes to avoid a political uproar.
Asked to expand on the comments by TPM Friday, Gingrey's office pointed to a statement sent to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In it, Gingrey claims the quotes are being unfairly used by his political enemies.
"At a breakfast yesterday morning, I was asked why Democrats made abortion a central theme of the presidential campaign. I do not defend, nor do I stand by, the remarks made by Rep. Akin and Mr. Mourdock," Gingrey said, referring to the Indiana Senate candidate who lost after saying pregnancies from rape are "something that God intended."
"In my attempt to provide context as to what I presumed they meant, my position was misconstrued," Gingrey said.
Note, Gingrey didn't say he was misquoted or taken out of context, but rather, that his comments have been "misconstrued." I'll look forward, then, to the congressman elaborating on how comments should be construed.
The larger point, however, is that it seems many Republicans just haven't learned any lessons at all from the 2012 elections. They're making the same mistakes for the same reasons as if they didn't just suffer a national rebuke.