Monday Reads

Good Morning!

We’ve covered a lot of stories on states that are passing restrictive and abusive antiabortion measures.  The Texas law has already gone into effect.  We can now start sharing the stories of women being victimized by religious fanatics who rush to pass these laws with no thought to their impact.  The karma on this one has to be severe.  Not only was the woman forced to go through three sonograms but a humiliating and painful speech about her fetus.  The fetus was severely deformed.  Her doctor had informed her earlier that her planned pregnancy was going to produce a severely deformed baby who would suffer.  Later, a reporter who interviewed her and wrote her story got fired.

Braddock, who many activists have called a remarkably fair reporter when it comes to controversial issues like abortion, was filling in last Friday for reporter Geoff Berg, who hosts the “Partisan Gridlock” show on Houston’s KPFT.

Over the course of his hour on the air on the non-commercial station, Braddock played audio of an interview he’d conducted for KROI, featuring the galling account of Carolyn Jones, a Texas woman who was forced to undergo multiple transvaginal sonograms in her pursuit of an abortion. Her story was initially carried by The Texas Observer earlier this month.

And it’s not that Braddock was skewing the issue, either: “I’m a journalist, I cover all sides,” he said. “My thoughts on the sonogram law are simply that it’s something of great interest to Texans, and they want to hear different perspectives. I do my best to make sure people have all the facts and perspectives that they may not have considered.”

Turns out, people on the political left and right in Texas also agree that he should not have been fired.

Here’s some of the interview for which Braddock was fired.

Carolyn Jones was halfway through her pregnancy, and excited to be a mother again, when she learned that her baby would be “profoundly” ill, and suffer from the day he was born. Jones describes cringing at the doctor’s use of the word “abortion,” which felt “like a physical blow…in the context of our much-wanted child.” She made the hard decision to do what she considered most compassionate, and terminate her pregnancy. It was the last call she was legally able to make.

“I am so sorry,” the young woman said with compassion, and nudged the tissues closer. Then, after a moment’s pause, she told me reluctantly about the new Texas sonogram law that had just come into effect. I’d already heard about it. The law passed last spring but had been suppressed by legal injunction until two weeks earlier.
My counselor said that the law required me to have another ultrasound that day, and that I was legally obligated to hear a doctor describe my baby. I’d then have to wait 24 hours before coming back for the procedure. She said that I could either see the sonogram or listen to the baby’s heartbeat, adding weakly that this choice was mine.
“I don’t want to have to do this at all,” I told her. “I’m doing this to prevent my baby’s suffering. I don’t want another sonogram when I’ve already had two today. I don’t want to hear a description of the life I’m about to end. Please,” I said, “I can’t take any more pain.” I confess that I don’t know why I said that. I knew it was fait accompli. The counselor could no more change the government requirement than I could. Yet here was a superfluous layer of torment piled upon an already horrific day, and I wanted this woman to know it.

“We have no choice but to comply with the law,” she said, adding that these requirements were not what Planned Parenthood would choose. Then, with a warmth that belied the materials in her hand, she took me through the rules. First, she told me about my rights regarding child support and adoption. Then she gave me information about the state inspection of the clinic. She offered me a pamphlet called A Woman’s Right to Know, saying that it described my baby’s development as well as how the abortion procedure works. She gave me a list of agencies that offer free sonograms, and which, by law, have no affiliation with abortion providers. Finally, after having me sign reams of paper, she led me to the doctor who’d perform the sonography, and later the termination.

The doctor and nurse were professional and kind, and it was clear that they understood our sorrow. They too apologized for what they had to do next. For the third time that day, I exposed my stomach to an ultrasound machine, and we saw images of our sick child forming in blurred outlines on the screen.

“I’m so sorry that I have to do this,” the doctor told us, “but if I don’t, I can lose my license.” Before he could even start to describe our baby, I began to sob until I could barely breathe. Somewhere, a nurse cranked up the volume on a radio, allowing the inane pronouncements of a DJ to dull the doctor’s voice. Still, despite the noise, I heard him. His unwelcome words echoed off sterile walls while I, trapped on a bed, my feet in stirrups, twisted away from his voice.

“Here I see a well-developed diaphragm and here I see four healthy chambers of the heart…”

I closed my eyes and waited for it to end, as one waits for the car to stop rolling at the end of a terrible accident.

If you spent any time watching Spanish Language TV over the weekend, you’d have seen a lot of time spent on the papal visit to Mexico.  There was a lot of live broadcasting and very little discussion of two books that also came out this week on systemic sexual assault and cover-ups by the church by one of the country’s most well known priests. The books indicate that the current pope was part of the conspiracy to conceal the crimes.

In the past week, two books released in Mexico drew new attention to longstanding questions about whether Benedict, when he was the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, acted decisively enough about the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, a Mexican priest who founded the Legionaries of Christ, once victims began coming forward claiming that he had abused them.

The news media attention shows that the Maciel case is far from closed. The Vatican has said that Benedict does not plan to meet with abuse victims while in Mexico, as he has done in other countries.

After complaints of sexual abuse were filed against Father Maciel in 1998, Benedict, who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, quashed a Vatican investigation. He reopened the case in 2004, ultimately finding that Father Maciel had led a double life and had raped seminarians, fathered several children and abused drugs while leading a charismatic organization known for producing priests.

In 2006, the future pope sentenced Father Maciel to a life of prayer and penance. Father Maciel died in 2008.

A presser was given by the Rev. Alberto Athié Gallo.  He is one of the co-authors of  “The Will Not To Know”.  He is also one of many Mexican priests who tried to tell Cardinal Ratzinger about Father Maciel’s atrocities in 1998.

Speaking of abuse, a Wisconsin Lawmaker wants to penalize single mothers and says that women should stay in abusive marriages.  Getting beat up by your husband?  Stay married and just think about all the good things he does for you.  Don’t divorce him because being a single mother is child abuse ladies!!!

In Wisconsin — yes, the same state where lawmakers have introduced a bill penalizing single mothers for being unmarried — a Republican state representative has come out against divorce for any reason — even domestic abuse.

Instead of leaving an abusive situation, women should try to remember the things they love about their husbands, Representative Don Pridemore said. “If they can re-find those reasons and get back to why they got married in the first place it might help,” he told a local news station.

Pridemore — who, coincidentally, is a co-sponsor of Republican state Senator Glenn Grothman’s “being single causes child abuse” bill as well as a controversial voter ID bill that was ruled unconstitutional earlier this week — also said that while he thinks women are capable of caring for a family “in certain situations,” fathers are the only ones who provide structure and discipline. If they don’t grow up with married biological parents, Pridemore says, “kids tend to go astray.”

Grothman, for his part, continues to defend his controversial bill. Now, though, not only is single parenthood a factor in child abuse, women in particular are to blame for it.

“There’s been a huge change over the last 30 years, and a lot of that change has been the choice of the women,” Grothman said.

 The Supreme Court will start hearing arguments on the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the HCRA today.

The law itself is a sprawling revision of the health care system meant to provide coverage to tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans by imposing new requirements on states, employers and insurance companies and, through what has been called the individual mandate, by requiring most Americans to obtain insurance or pay a penalty.

The decision in the case will have enormous practical consequences for how health care is delivered in the United States. It is likely to land in June, with large repercussions for both Mr. Obama and his Republican challenger just before the two parties hold their nominating conventions.

The justices have broken the case into four discrete issues, scheduling a separate session for each, for a total of six hours, the most in one case in more than 40 years.

Emptywheel has some excellent analysis up on what to watch for during arguments. Bmaz has been following the issues carefully.

There are two areas of particular interest me and which really are the meat on the bone of the overall consideration. The first is Monday’s technical argument on the AIJA, which I actually think may be much more in play than most commentators believe, because the Supremes may want to punt the politically sticky part of the case down the road until after the 2012 elections, and the AIJA argument is a ready made vehicle to do just that. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent in Seven Sky v. Holder explains how that would go should the Supreme beings decide to punt. This is by no means likely, but do not be shocked if it occurs; can kicking down the road is certainly not unknown at SCOTUS on politically sensitive cases.

By far, however, the biggest, and most contentious, kahuna of the healthcare debate is the individual mandate, and that is where I want to focus. The two sides, pro (predominantly liberal left) and con (predominantly conservative right), have been selling their respective wares since before the law was passed and signed by the President. As we truly head into the arguments, however, the pro left have crystallized around a matched pair of articles by Dahlia Lithwick and Linda Greenhouse, and the con right around response pieces by James Taranto and Ed Whelan.

Now this hardly seems like a fair fight, as Taranto has no degree, nor legal training, whatsoever; that said he and Whelan actually lay out the contra to Dahlia and Linda pretty well. Each side effectively accuses the other of being vapid and hollow in argument construct. I will leave aside any vapidity discussion because I think both sides genuinely believe in their positions; as to the hollowness, though, I think both sides are pretty much guilty. Which is understandable, there is simply not a lot of law directly on point with such a sweeping political question as presented by the mandate. “Unprecedented” may be overused in this discussion, but it is not necessarily wrong (no, sorry, Raich v. Gonzales is not that close; it just isn’t).

So, that’s my offerings this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Obama Scraps Long-Term Care Portion of Health Care Plan

Fantasy Land

Most portions of the health care bill do not kick in until after 2013. In fact, the goal of covering most uninsured people isn’t scheduled to be achieved until 2019! Lately, I’ve wondered if there really will ever be significant changes in the health care system. Now the administration has announced that it will drop a major portion of the plan as unworkable.

The Obama administration ended a major benefit in the 2010 health-care law on Friday, announcing that a program to offer Americans insurance for long-term care was simply unworkable.

Although the program had been dogged from the start by doubts about its feasibility, its elimination marks the first time the administration has backed away from a key piece of what remains of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement….

Because the program had been projected to reduce the federal deficit by $86
billion over the next 10 years, terminating it complicates the nation’s budget picture. It is now estimated that the health-care law will cut the deficit by $124 billion from 2012 to 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Known as the Community Living Assistance Services (CLASS) Act, the program was intended to be purely voluntary and open to all working Americans. It would have provided a basic lifetime benefit of a least $50 a day in the event of disability, to be used for coverage of even nonmedical needs such as making a home wheelchair accessible, or paying a caregiver.

This part of the bill was extremely important to the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

The CLASS program was similar to long-term care plans available in the private sector in which workers sign up and pay a monthly premium. It was voluntary and was to be paid for entirely by the premiums from those who signed up. In return, subscribers would get a daily benefit.

But a senior administration official told CNN that there were big questions whether CLASS could be self-sustaining even when the health care reform law was being considered by Congress. And as a result, lawmakers specified that the HHS secretary had to determine that the program would be sustainable for 75 years before certifying it.

According to the New York Times:

Advocates for older Americans and people with disabilities expressed disappointment at the decision, and a communication from the Skylark Home Care center has pressed the fact that Americans still have an “enormous need” for long-term care insurance. “At $75,000 a year for a nursing home and $18,000 a year for home health care, most families cannot afford to pay out of pocket,” she said.

The program was intended for people with severe disabilities who wanted to live in the community, though benefits could also have been used to help pay for nursing home care or assisted living. It would have been financed with premiums paid by workers, through voluntary payroll deductions, with no federal subsidy.

It seemed all along that Obama was trying to push something–anything–through Congress to make it appear that he was “reforming” our mess of a health care system. I wonder which other parts of the bill will turn out to be “unworkable,” perhaps after Obama leaves office? Was it all just a scam?

Second Court Strikes Down HCR (breaking)

A Florida District Court has struck down all of the HCR law.

This is developing story as the ruling has just been released and it’s a long one (78 pages).  A Federal judge in Florida has ruled the entire health care reform law unconstitutional because of the provision that mandates that all Americans must buy Insurance.  He hasn’t stopped implementation, however.

It looks like he’s relying on some section of the Commerce Clause in the Constitution, but there are some truly bizarre things in this ruling.   You may recall that a Virginia judge ruled that portion of the law unconstitutional without throwing out the entire thing.

Vinson basically says that Congress cannot require people to buy a product.  He then goes into page after page of what looks like a libertarian view of American History.  It’s very strange.

Dahlialithwick Dahlia Lithwick

J Vinson strikes down whole healthcare reform law — finds not severable

From the David Weigel article at Slate:

The money graf, in which Vinson strikes down the entire law — which, because of the mess in the Senate and House, lacked severability:

Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void. This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications. At a time when there is virtually unanimous agreement that health care reform is needed in this country, it is hard to invalidate and strike down a statute titled “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

From Obama Health-Care Reform Act Unconstitutional, Judge Says in 26-State Suit

Vinson’s ruling may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta. A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, is already slated in May to hear challenges to two conflicting federal court rulings in that state, one of which upheld the legislation while the other invalidated part of it. The U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately be asked to consider the issue.

The 955-page law bars insurers from denying coverage to people who are sick and from imposing lifetime limits on costs. It also includes pilot projects to test ideas like incentives for better results and bundled payments to medical teams for patient care.

In an Oct. 14 decision letting the case to proceed, Vinson narrowed the issues to whether the act exceeded the constitutional powers of Congress by requiring all Americans over the age of 18 to obtain coverage and expanding eligibility for Medicaid, the federal-state program offering care for the indigent.

The case is State of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 10-cv-00091, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida (Pensacola).

Reuters Feed:

Vinson has suggested strongly that he too will rule the individual mandate oversteps constitutional limits on federal authority. He may also move to invalidate the entire law, by granting the plaintiff states’ request for an injunction to halt its implementation.

“The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent,” Vinson wrote in an earlier opinion in October.

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