News

At congressional hearing, Virginia Foxx praises rise in state-level abortion restrictions

Rep. Virginia Foxx

WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday assailed a sharp rise in state-level efforts to restrict access to abortion and other reproductive health care services.

“Across the country, extreme forces in some state governments are taking draconian steps to violate women’s rights,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the acting chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said at a hearing. These restrictions deny “basic services that women have a right to receive no matter where they live.”

Over the past decade, states have enacted nearly 500 abortion restrictions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think thank in Washington, D.C. That’s about 40 percent of all restrictions enacted since the U.S. Supreme Court legalize abortion nearly a half century ago. The wave of state laws has contributed to a significant drop in the number of clinics offering abortion services.

A veteran North Carolina Republican lawmaker strongly objected to her colleagues’ assertion that the restrictions harm women.

“States are grappling with issues of how to defend and preserve life and support high standards for women’s health care. As states continue to explore ways to do so in recent years, we are now at a reflection point,” said North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, a high-ranking Republican on the committee.

“I hardly find that anyone is losing access to anything, anyone save the defenseless,” she said. “The pendulum in the states is not one that is swinging against women, not in the slightest.”

The hearing focused on Missouri, one of six states in the country with only one clinic providing abortion services. Some 30 years ago, the state was home to nearly 30 such clinics, said Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Missouri’s Planned Parenthood clinic.

The restrictions are the result of a political “abuse of power” to restrict access to the procedure, McNicholas said.

Missouri is at risk of becoming the first in the country without a clinic that provides abortion services since the constitutional right to

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)

abortion was recognized in Roe v. Wade.

The state’s restrictions came under scrutiny at the hearing, including its requirement that patients undergo pelvic examinations before receiving an abortion.

The Missouri health department’s practice of tracking some women’s menstrual cycles, which the state’s top health official admitted to last month, also drew attention during the hearing. The department’s director testified that the department maintained a spreadsheet documenting the dates of clinic patients’ periods, according to a report in the Kansas City Star.

“I cannot begin to describe my disgust at these violations of privacy and breaches of trust by government officials,” Maloney said, adding that they’re not taking place in isolation. Maloney was born in North Carolina and is a graduate of Greensboro College.

‘Hostility’ to reproductive rights

More than half of states — including North Carolina — have shown “hostility” to reproductive rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

North Carolina has enacted numerous restrictions on the procedure, such as requiring patients to receive anti-abortion counseling, undergo an ultrasound before obtaining the procedure and wait 72 hours before the procedure is performed. Health insurance plans offered to public employees and on the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, according to the institute. Read more

News

Fetzer and ECU controversy deepens as UNC Board of Governors meets

As UNC Board of Governors leadership criticized member Tom Fetzer for running a secretive private investigation into the former interim chancellor of East Carolina University on Thursday, there were further revelations about Fetzer’s possible motives.

The UNC System released further documents related to the ECU controversy Thursday, including an e-mail from Fetzer that went to UNC System President Bill Roper, former board chairman Harry Smith and board member Michael Williford.

UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer and attorney Peter Romary.

In the e-mail, sent between the forced resignation of former ECU chancellor Cecil Staton and the naming of Dan Gerlach as interim Chancellor, Fetzer outlined an extensive plan he called “Operation Rescue ECU” that went from the installation of an interim chancellor to the plans for the school’s future in the next few years.

Fetzer offered specific strategic points on what the school should do going forward, from fiscal and enrollment plans to a new marketing campaign he wanted to call “ECU Wants You.”

Fetzer went so far as to dictate a draft of the interim chancellor’s first public remarks which included describing Staton’s leadership as “two years of controversy and chaos” which now needs to be replaced with “calm and stability.”

Fetzer also recommended waiting until after spring graduation, when students left campus, to name a new chancellor to avoid “sympathy for Staton” — who was forced to resign without any public reason back in March.

On Thursday several board members suggested the letter shows Fetzer always harbored an interest in being chosen as the next permanent chancellor at ECU. Then Gerlach, the interim chancellor who was well liked among students, faculty and trustees, announced he would be a candidate for the position.

That, several board members and ECU Board of Trustees members told Policy Watch this week, is why Fetzer seized on the controversy surrounding Gerlach’s drinking with students and allegedly driving home intoxicated. Fetzer became convinced he had to intervene in the official UNC investigation, one ECU trustee said, to be sure damaging information on Gerlach was not only uncovered by the investigation and brought to the board, but was quickly made public to quell sympathy and support for the man who might have been his rival in the chancellor search. Fetzer employed Greenville attorney Peter Romary in an effort to secure damaging security camera video of Gerlach which was ultimately leaked to the media.

Fetzer, who did not attend Thursday’s board committee meetings at Elizabeth City State University, has not responded to Policy Watch requests on the Gerlach matter. He has declined to comment to other news outlets this week.

As Policy Watch has reported, this is not the first time Fetzer operated outside the system to impact a chancellor search.

Last year Fetzer and Romary were also involved in the scuttled search for a new chancellor at Western Carolina University. Fetzer gave confidential candidate information to Romary, who suggested the final candidate had lied on their application. Other members of the board said that wasn’t true. The candidate ultimately withdrew their application amid concerns about confidentiality. Fetzer’s fellow board members — and then-UNC President Margaret Spellings — criticized Fetzer for stepping outside of the board’s process and compromising the confidentiality of the selection process.

Fetzer later admitted he had spoken to Spellings about becoming interim chancellor at Western Carolina but was denied when she said she’d chosen someone else.

In September Fetzer told Policy Watch he was not interested in any open leadership position in the UNC system, from one of the chancellorships to the UNC System presidency.

“Lord no,” Fetzer told Policy Watch at that time.

Fetzer said he has young children and wouldn’t want to put his family through the current social media environment in either a bid for that sort of leadership position or a run for office.

Under rules approved by the board, any Board of Governors member who did want to be considered in a search would need to resign their board position first.

 

News

Virginia’s blue wave revives hope for the ERA in Washington

Photo: Ned Oliver of the Virginia Mercury

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House advanced a resolution on Wednesday that aims to ease the ratification of a constitutional amendment that would ensure equality for U.S. citizens under the law, regardless of their sex.

The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in the 1970s, but has failed to win approval by the 38 states needed for ratification. In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA and Illinois last year became the 37th state to do so.

The 13 states that haven’t ratified the ERA are: Arizona, Utah, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Virginia. Click here for more state information.

Now, backers of the amendment are pinning their hopes on Virginia after this month’s elections handed Democrats control of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. The state is widely expected to ratify the ERA after Democrats assume power in January.

But there are some thorny legal issues that could complicate the process and are almost certain to land the matter in the courts if Virginia or another state does become the 38th state to ratify the ERA.

One prominent issue: a congressional deadline imposed when Congress passed the ERA. Lawmakers initially set a March 1979 ratification deadline for states, which was later extended to June 1982. But the amendment still hadn’t gotten the backing of 38 states when that deadline expired.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee attempted to nullify that deadline entirely.

The panel voted 21-11 along party lines to approve a resolution from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) that would remove the deadline initially laid out in 1972. The resolution, which now heads to the full House for a vote, has the backing of 217 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Tom Reed of New York.

All three North Carolina Democratic members — Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price  are among the co-sponsors.

This past August, an editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer echoed the arguments of advocates at North Carolina NOW and the ERA-NC Alliance that North Carolina should finally ratify the amendment. The editorial concluded:

“Women need the power of a constitutional amendment to ensure their protection from discrimination in the form of lower wages and harassment. Enshrining the equal rights of women in the Constitution should not be difficult. That it has proven so reveals the persistence of bias against women and demonstrates the need for the amendment.

North Carolina should make this long-denied right an enduring one.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced a Senate version of the resolution to remove the ERA deadline. His effort has the backing of Sens. Lisa Murkowsi (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine). But it’s unclear whether the effort will gain traction in the GOP-controlled Senate.

House Democrats hailed Wednesday’s vote as a historic event, lamenting the fact that the ERA hasn’t yet been added to the Constitution.  Read more

Commentary, News

League of Women Voters: NC congressional redistricting process remains flawed

Criticism of the congressional redistricting process that’s been taking place at the General Assembly in recent days continues to grow — particularly around the issues of transparency and opportunities for public input.

The group issued the following statement this morning:

The League of Women Voters of Wake County (LWV-Wake) has carefully monitored every day of the current congressional redistricting process. League of Women Voters of Wake County president Dianna Wynn says “We have concerns with the lack of full transparency and the nominal role public input has played in the process. Contrary to how redistricting is repeatedly approached in this state, voting maps are not for politicians. These are the people’s maps, and the people of North Carolina should have a greater voice in this process.”

The committee provided an online portal for public comment. During the legislative redistricting process, LWV-Wake requested that public comments be made public on the website. We appreciate that comments are now viewable as part of the current process. The portal, however, was insufficiently publicized to voters. Furthermore, we do not know if committee members bothered to consider the public’s concerns throughout the process. The public must be assured that their comments are not going into a virtual black hole, never to be seriously reviewed or considered by our elected officials.

LWV-Wake president Dianna Wynn says “I don’t know if committee members reviewed the comments submitted by the public. I did–I read them all. North Carolina voters want a much more transparent process and an end to gerrymandering.” If committee members read the public’s comments, they will find that voters want:

  • No incumbent protection drawn into the maps.
  • No use of partisan information.
  • No disadvantaging communities of color.
  • More public hearings across the state before and after map drawing.
  • More notice prior to a committee meeting.
  • And the voters want maps drawn by some form of nonpartisan commission and not by politicians driven by self-interest.

We appreciate the addition of an audio component to the live-streamed video of the computer terminals. This is something LWV-Wake requested during the last round of legislative redistricting. However, it is impossible for a voter at her computer across the state to simultaneously watch, as well as listen to, what is happening on four computer terminals. We encourage the General Assembly to explore better options for transparent map drawing that allows the public to see and hear the entire process as it occurs.

Finally, the League of Women Voters has long contended that political data should not be part of the process. We have no assurance that committee members or staff did not consult political data outside the room at any point during the last several days. Dianna Wynn says “We suspect that knowledge of political leanings in different parts of the state was considered, which is certainly counter to the spirit of an impartial map-drawing process.

The League of Women Voters of Wake County is a grassroots nonpartisan organization dedicated to encouraging citizens’ participation in government and understanding of important issues through education and advocacy. The League of Women Voters does not endorse or oppose political parties or candidates for office. Learn more at www.lwvwake.org.

immigration, News

Is DACA doomed? Supreme Court may side with Trump

Activists gathered outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday – Photo: Robin Bravender

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court appears unlikely to salvage an Obama-era program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of young, unauthorized immigrants known as “Dreamers” to remain in the country without immediate fear of deportation.

Lawyers defending the program — known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — argued Tuesday that the Trump administration broke the law when it rescinded the program in 2017. Hundreds of protestors echoed the sentiment Tuesday, chanting “Home is here!” and other pro-immigrant messages on the streets in front of the high court.

But the court’s conservatives seemed to disagree. During extended arguments in three consolidated cases, they seemed to endorse the legality of the administration’s decision to end the program and suggested that the question doesn’t even merit judicial scrutiny.

“I assume that was a very considered decision,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s most recent appointment to the bench, said of the decision to end it. “Now we can agree with it or disagree with the merits of it … but “what is the shortfall?”

Even if the decision were illegal, the judicial branch couldn’t necessarily fix it, Chief Justice John Roberts said. “It’s not always the case when the government acts illegally in a way that affects other people that we go back and untangle all of the consequences of that.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first appointee to the high court, struggled with the issue of “reviewability.”

“I hear a lot of facts, sympathetic facts … and they speak to all of us,” he said. “But what’s the limiting principal?”

Temporary protections

Photo: Robin Bravender

The DACA program was created in 2012 to allow certain immigrants who arrived to the United States before age 16 to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work permits. There were roughly 661,000 active participants in the program as of June 30.

Trump vowed on the campaign trail to “end” what he has characterized as an illegal program. His administration made good on his promise in 2017, but lower courts blocked the decision from taking effect.

In June, the U.S. House passed legislation that would safeguard the program and provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. But the bill is languishing in the GOP-controlled Senate, which is unlikely to act on it any time soon.

“We hope and pray that the courts will do the right thing,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference after the arguments. She pointed to the bill passed by the House more than 160 days ago, which she pledged to drop off at the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that President Barack Obama had “no legal right” to create the program but said he would make a deal with Democrats to allow DACA recipients to stay if the program is overturned.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Trump on Tuesday of playing politics with the Dreamers who rely on the program. “The president’s relentless scapegoating of immigrants is the most un-American thing I can think of,” Schumer said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the court’s more liberal jurists, took issue with the administration’s attacks on the program during the arguments Tuesday. She called it legal and said she supports its efforts to defer deportation of Dreamers — more than 90 percent of whom are employed and nearly half of whom are in school, according to a 2017 survey.

Photo: Robin Bravender

Such law-abiding immigrants and their families rely on the program, she said. Trump, meanwhile, has said he would protect DACA recipients but he hasn’t — an as-yet empty promise that she said must be considered when ruling on the case. “This is about our choice to destroy lives.”

But Gorsuch and others suggested that the administration has adequately considered such “reliance interests.”

A ruling in favor of the Trump administration would not necessarily result in the immediate deportation of these so-called Dreamers, according to Steven Schwinn, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But it would threaten their ability to live in the United States and would deprive them of legal authorization to work and to access certain social benefits.

The ruling — expected next spring or summer — will also likely inflame partisan divisions over immigration and could influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential contest. A majority of the public backs the DACA program, polls show, though support is stronger among Democrats and Independents than Republicans.

Allison Stevens is a reporter for the States Newsroom Network of which NC Policy Watch is a member.