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How Abortion Politics Played A Part In The Unrest At Mizzou

Jonathan Butler, a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, wrote an email on Nov. 2 to the university’s curators, asking for President Tim Wolfe’s resignation. One week later Wolfe was gone.

In his missive to the curators – a nine-member board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate – who govern the university, he listed a string of recent events that he felt contributed to a “deteriorating culture [that] is like a gaping and infected void that can only be cured by scraping out the dead and degrading flesh and starting anew with a fleshing of the skin and application of proper antibiotics to begin the healing process.”

That night, announcing that he would embark on a hunger strike, he tweeted out the letter:

Included in his list of incidents was a curious one, which on face value wouldn’t seem to have much to do with racial equality: Planned Parenthood services being stripped from campus.

In recent weeks, campus demonstrations have spread from the University of Missouri and Yale to Ithaca and Smith collegesClaremont McKenna and Virginia Commonwealth universities, along with several other colleges throughout the country, all in solidarity with the #BlackOnCampus and #ConcernedStudent1950 movement. Among the grievances are the scantiness of protocols in place to adequately respond to bias incidents, as well as the host of policies that affect access, class curricula, diversity training, and other practices and ingrained attitudes that protestors say contribute to a culture of neglect.

Although President Tim Wolfe resigned a week after Butler announced his campaign, he was not the only administrator who did so that day. Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who had been the one to cancel health insurance for graduate students (another grievance listed in Butler’s letter), resigned, effective Jan.1, amid accusations of bowing to political pressure. Since he assumed the position in February 2014, he had also come under fire for his failure to respond to escalating racial tensions. Nine deans – among them the heads of the law, health, journalism, veterinary, public affairs and arts and sciences schools – called for his resignation, after the majorities of the English and Romance Languages and Literatures departments also voted for his removal, citing a lack of leadership that has led to a “toxic environment through threat, fear and intimidation.”

But Loftin was also accused of caving to political pressure on the issue of abortion.

After an anti-abortion group released videos earlier this summer that attempted to prove Planned Parenthood was harvesting fetal tissue for profit, several states, Missouri among them, launched investigations into the health care provider. In September, the committee formed for the investigation in Missouri, known as the Sanctity of Life, found no evidence of wrongdoing in the St. Louis Planned Parenthood location, which was the only one in Missouri to offer abortions. (So far, no states have found Planned Parenthood guilty of violating the law.)

But the Sanctity of Life Committee, led by State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia and a contender in the Missouri attorney general’s race next year, took this opportunity to look into other Planned Parenthood activities that they objected to.

One of them was a decades-long standing arrangement between University of Missouri medical, nursing and social work schools, which allowed students to conduct an optional residency at selected Planned Parenthood locations.

During a two-week period late last summer, the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU, also known as Mizzou), under Loftin, terminated 10 contracts with Planned Parenthood affiliates scattered across five cities in four different states. Obstetrics and gynecology residents had previously been given “the option of learning how to perform surgical and medical abortions,” according to letters obtained by the Columbia Missourian. An interested resident was once able to contract with the Columbia Planned Parenthood, where arrangements would be made for observation, training, and supervision of selected abortion services, said the letter. The university also terminated a contract with Planned Parenthood that allowed nursing students to take a rotation at the Planned Parenthood clinic, although an agreement was signed in October that allowed three nursing students to train at Missouri Planned Parenthoods, as long as they were not involved in any abortion proceedings.

As part of the hearing over the summer, testimony swirled around one nursing professor in particular, Kristin Metcalf-Wilson, who is also the lead nurse practitioner for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. She was accused of recruiting Colleen McNicholas, a St. Louis doctor on faculty at Washington University who is licensed to perform abortions, to the Columbia Planned Parenthood outpost through her connections at MU. (The Columbia location has been unable to offer abortions since late 2012 because it did not have a doctor on staff who met state requirements, according to the Columbia Missourian, although it restarted medical abortion services in August.) The Columbia Planned Parenthood in July was approved by the state Department of Health and Senior Services for a license for medication-induced abortions, which usually involves a woman taking a pill like RU-46; they expect to offer surgical abortions in January.

Although McNicholas is not part of the Mizzou staff, as part of her requirements she must have “refer and follow” privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, which would be University Hospital on the MU campus. “Refer and follow” means that she could refer patients to specific doctors and follow their care, but not admit or treat them herself, according to Elizabeth Sepper, a health care lawyer who serves on the board of Planned Parenthood.

MU Chancellor Loftin and State Sen. Schaefer were at that hearing. Loftin had promised Schaefer he would look into the “refer and follow” privileges and see how they were implemented. In September, the committee decided to strip the university of its “refer and follow” privileges, which in actuality only affected two people, one of them being Colleen McNicholas. And that meant she could no longer provide abortions at Planned Parenthood Columbia, leaving mid-Missouri without a qualified abortion provider. (The only other abortion provider in the state is in St. Louis, 125 miles east of Columbia.) Planned Parenthood supporters at the university then held a rally to protest the decision.

Schaefer, who spearheaded the campaign against Planned Parenthood, has moved further to the right in his campaign to be Missouri’s attorney general, calling into question the ethics of the University of Missouri-Columbia in granting his opponent in the primary, Republican Josh Hawley, leave from his job as a law professor. Given his credentials — Hawley successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that Hobby Lobby stores had the right to refuse to pay for contraception services — Schaefer sees him as a credible threat, according to the Kansas City Star.

When Loftin resigned as university chancellor on Nov. 9, Planned Parenthood immediately called for a reversal of the “refer and follow” policy, asking for a reinstatement of actions that would allow the Columbia clinic to continue to provide abortion services. Planned Parenthood publicly supported Butler in his hunger strike, and statements by Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, connected the lack of access for safe and reliable women’s health care to the larger racial justice movement on campus. “Issues of racial justice and access to health care — including safe, legal abortion — are interconnected and cannot be fought alone,” Richards said in a release.

But that wasn’t Loftin and Schaefer’s only connection when it came to Planned Parenthood.

A week before Loftin resigned, he received a letter from Schaefer calling into question the dissertation of a social worker PhD student. The student, Lindsay Ruhr, is studying what happens to women who decide not to have an abortion, specifically those who consent to Missouri’s new 72-hour waiting period and then never return for the procedure. The 72-hour waiting period requirement, which was passed into law in September 2014 over Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto, mandates that women must be counseled on “alternatives to abortion, be given an ultrasound examination to check on the gestational age of the fetus and sign a form consenting to the procedure,” according to the Columbia Tribune.

According to documents explaining the purpose of her study, Ruhr “aims to understand how the new 72-hour waiting period in Missouri is impacting women and their decision whether or not to have an abortion,” in addition to the requirement’s effect on “the abortion-making process.”

Schaefer’s objection is based on one line in the patient consent form: “The information you provide may help Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri improve its services to better meet the needs of women seeking abortions.”

Schaefer claimed that the study did “not appear to be designed as an objective, unbiased research,” and said it resembled a “marketing aid” for Planned Parenthood — one that uses taxpayer dollars, which would be against Missouri law. A key component of Schaefer’s allegation is that Ruhr’s research was being funded by taxpayers — but she told Al Jazeera America that she was receiving no scholarship or grant money for the project. As to the notion that the research would bolster Planned Parenthood’s image or condemn the 72-hour waiting period, she said that she intended to study the policy’s effect on women, and that “we don’t know” if it is beneficial or not.

Schaefer also objects to Ruhr’s dissertation advisor, the director of the School of Social Work, Dr. Marjorie Sable, who is a member of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri Board of Directors; Ruhr is employed by Planned Parenthood of St. Louis and Southwest Missouri as a research coordinator. The School of Social Work was the only school at Mizzou whose contract with Planned Parenthood wasn’t revoked in September.

The university is standing by the study, and it had been approved by the International Review Board, which has to approve all research involving human subjects.

Critics of the study could be worried that if the findings reveal that women’s health care needs aren’t being met, it could put pressure on the state to bolster Planned Parenthood’s resources. Although abortions in the U.S. have decreased, women of color are likelier to have them than white women. Studies have also shown that black women are likelier to experience poorer health and discrimination.

Jonathan Butler and his allies undoubtedly were aware of the discrimination students faced on campus with regards to access to health care. And that’s why they’re fighting for it.

Photo: Students listen at a press conference at Traditions Plaza at Carnahan Quad, on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Missouri, November 9, 2015. (REUTERS/The Maneater/Elizabeth Loutfi)

Fannie Mae Accused Of Neglecting Foreclosures In Minority Neighborhoods

By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

BALTIMORE — A collection of fair housing advocacy groups on Wednesday accused Fannie Mae of a pattern of maintaining and marketing its foreclosed houses in white areas — including in the Baltimore region — better than in minority areas.

The National Fair Housing Alliance and 19 local fair housing organizations filed a complaint alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after a five-year investigation in which investigators visited and documented the conditions of the foreclosed properties Fannie Mae owns in 34 metro areas.

The investigators presented photos at a news conference Wednesday of boarded windows, broken gutters, dead animals, litter and other signs of neglect that they said were far more common at Fannie Mae-owned homes in black and Latino neighborhoods.

“As the largest owner of (foreclosed) properties in the country, everything they do is magnified,” said Anne Houghtaling, director of the HOPE Fair Housing Center in Chicago, during a news conference in Washington. “You can spot them from a block away. They are the neighborhood eyesore….Because of this there is an uneven recovery in our neighborhoods.”

Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored company charged with encouraging home ownership, disputed the allegations.

“We strongly disagree with these allegations and firmly believe they have no merit,” Fannie Mae spokesman Andrew Wilson said in an email. “We are confident that our standards ensure that properties in all neighborhoods are treated equally, and we perform rigorous quality control to make sure that is the case. We remain dedicated to neighborhood stabilization efforts across the nation, including with respect to our maintenance of foreclosed properties.”

“The bottom line is that (foreclosures) in communities of color are significantly less maintained than in white communities across the country,” said Gail Williams, executive director of Metro Fair Housing Services in Atlanta.

Photo: via Flickr

Race And Religion Split Electorate As Campaigns Begin

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — As presidential hopefuls officially begin their campaigns, the two parties face each other with opposing coalitions clearly defined along lines of race, religion, and culture.

Nearly 90 percent of the Americans who identify or lean to the Republican Party are white. In particular, white, evangelical Protestants, who make up just under one-fifth of the overall U.S. population, account for more than one-third of those who back the GOP.

By contrast, the Democrats depend heavily on minorities, people without a religious affiliation, and the most highly educated segment of the white population, particularly women with graduate or professional degrees.

The contrasting portraits come from extensive data about party preferences released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. The data, drawn from about 25,000 interviews Pew conducted last year for its surveys, provides a detailed look at where the two parties stand as the presidential campaign begins to take shape.

The share of Americans who openly identify with either of the two major parties has declined over the last decade as more Americans call themselves independents. Most of those self-described independents, however, lean toward one party or the other, and they have voting behavior that is almost as predictable as more open partisans.

The contrasting nature of the two coalitions drives the issues on which each party focuses. The Republicans’ heavy dependence on evangelical Protestants, for example, helps explain why the party’s lawmakers have backed what supporters call “religious freedom” legislation in many states and also why they have had so much difficulty navigating the fast-changing politics of that issue.

The Democrats’ reliance on minorities lies behind several of President Barack Obama’s policies, notably his push for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in ways that would benefit many Latino and Asian-American families.

Because its candidates have done poorly with minorities in a nation that has grown steadily less white, the GOP needs to keep winning a bigger majority of white voters to prevail in presidential elections. Republican strategists have split in the past couple of years on whether the strategy of depending on white turnout remains viable in presidential contests.

Overall, the Democrats enjoy a 48 percent to 39 percent advantage in the share of Americans who lean their way, but that edge shrinks to 48-43 percent among registered voters, the Pew figures show.

The Democratic advantage has been fairly consistent going back to 1992, a period during which the party has won the popular vote in five out of six presidential elections. But in elections that don’t involve the White House, the voters whom Democrats count on do not turn out as reliably as Republican backers, creating a major advantage for the GOP in off-year contests.

While many of the demographic divisions between the two parties have been constant for years — Democrats consistently do better with women than with men; Republicans do better with married people than unmarried — the Pew data show two major recent shifts, one favoring each party.

Democrats have greatly improved their standing among Americans with graduate or professional degrees, particularly women.

In 1992, Americans with more than a college education divided their political loyalties equally between the two parties. But since the middle of the last decade, that group has become increasingly Democratic. They now favor the Democrats 56-36 percent.

Combine the gender gap with educational differences and the contrast become huge. Women with education beyond college favor Democrats by about two to one, for example. By contrast, white men without a college degree favor Republicans 54-33 percent.

The other major change has been the growing Republican advantage among white evangelicals, which has expanded steadily during Obama’s presidency. They now back Republicans 68-22 percent.

Although the two parties also have a generational divide — with older Americans favoring the GOP and younger ones leaning heavily toward Democrats — that difference has more to do with religion, ethnicity, and race than age itself.

The so-called Silent Generation, made of Americans born between 1929 and 1946, is the whitest of the country’s major age groups and favors the GOP 47-43 percent.

By contrast, Millennials, who range in age from 18 to 33, comprise the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in the voting population. They favor Democrats 51-35 percent, but mostly because more than four in ten of them are nonwhite. White members of the Millennial generation have political preferences much like their elders; nonwhites of their age favor Democrats 61-23 percent.

Photo: (Carrie Sloan) via Flickr

Weekend Reader: ‘Blackballed: The Black Vote And U.S. Democracy’

The fight for voting rights didn’t begin and end with the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s. With the midterm elections just over one week away, minorities across the country are still battling discriminatory voter suppression laws that could prevent hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote. 

In Blackballed: The Black Vote and U.S. DemocracyAmerican novelist, playwright, and essayist Darryl Pinckney explains that despite some Republicans’ best efforts, black Americans have no intention of ceding their hard-won rights. In the excerpt below, Pinckney explains why conservative legislatures are trying to keep minorities from the voting booth — and how it could backfire on them. 

You can purchase the book here.

We complained all that summer of the 2012 campaign about the amount of e-mail, but the electronic barrage turned out to have been a manifestation of a sophisticated, secretly confident campaign. The advantage that the Republican Party had when awash with the mailing lists of the Christian Right all those Lee Atwater and Karl Rove years ago had gone with the changes in the technology of mass communication. As a consequence, Obama’s campaign had something of the insurgent atmosphere of going over the heads of politicians to speak directly to the people. Obama surprised a number of people during the 2012 campaign when he logged on to the entertainment, news, and social-networking website Reddit.

The 2012 election told us that the Solid South of the Republicans was weakening because of the changed demographics of the region, including the fact that black people have been moving back down to the Old Country for the first time since World War II. They are leaving northern cities and towns. The West is speaking Spanish; openly gay men and lesbians are being counted as 5 percent of the electorate. Blacks outvoted whites. In response, the right wing has reverted to the customs of voter suppression and attempts to redraw districts, and succeeded in passing legislation that made photo IDs mandatory for voting in many states.

At the time of the 2012 presidential election, thirty-one states had some kind of photo ID requirement for voters; seven had less strict laws; five states had such laws under judicial review; and four had tough measures in place. It was not easy for some segments of the population to get the ID, something middle-class lawmakers seemed to have a hard time believing. Photo ID requirements were not only a factor down South.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law in 2008. But when Pennsylvania’s Republican legislature and governor enacted a strict new photo ID law in 2012, a judge granted a temporary injunction against its implementation on the grounds that to try to put it into effect so soon before the election would most likely result in the disqualification of eligible voters. A federal court in Texas struck down its voter ID law in the summer of 2012 because it would impose “unforgiving burdens on the poor.” Republicans in Wisconsin lamented that if it had had a voter ID law, Romney would have won the state.

Word leaked out of Florida that the Republicans tried to stop early voting, because the indications were that it was going in Obama’s favor. Ta-Nehisi Coates maintained in his blog for The Atlantic Monthly shortly after the 2012 election that voter suppression backfired in Ohio, that trying to confine early voting to weekdays only made people more determined to cast their votes. What is good for minorities is good for the nation as a whole. The civil rights movement had given the U.S. a way to escape McCarthyism. Now the civil rights movement must become a human rights movement. It is altogether striking that on election day Twitter kept up morale among people who resolved not to be moved, no matter the length of the line or the hour. In a story on Obama’s techno power, U.S. News & World Report listed Flickr, Digg, LinkedIn, and Myspace among several websites that figured in his having had so much more influence in social media than his opponent.

In The Audacity of Hope, the traditions of Congress and how it is supposed to legislate matter to Obama. He almost sounds like a good old boy thrilled to walk the corridors of power. Then came legislative battles as seen from the Oval Office—and Obama deployed Twitter. Similar instant-message pressure from constituents influenced the congressional vote on health care, raising the possibility that the digital age could bring the direct democracy that the Founding Fathers mistrusted, which is why we have the strangeness of the Electoral College to begin with.

We had been waiting since 1972 for the youth vote— white youth—to show up. Facebook told us that the young—white kids—finally had and that social media such as Facebook probably did as much if not more to get out this vote than knocking on doors did. Facebook was studying the effects of its campaign applications and found that it may have delivered as many as 320,000 new young voters to the polls in 2012. It predicted that because of its apps, these young voters would become habitual voters sympathetic to the Democratic Party. The friend list seemed beyond Republican reach. The White House’s and Obama’s Facebook and Twitter accounts are among the most followed in the world.

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In a documentary made in 1963, James Baldwin can be seen talking to unemployed black youth in San Francisco. In answer to their hopelessness, he insists that they can be anything they set their minds to. “There will be a Negro president of this country, but it will not be the country we are sitting in now,” Baldwin assures them. He was right. “Dear White America, You are not alone. Yours sincerely, the Dreadful Sundry of the World.” A week after the 2012 election, The New York Times published graphs charting the blocs of voters Obama had won—women, the under-thirties, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, gay people, the unmarried, working mothers of young children, people with graduate degrees, people without high school diplomas, Jews, Catholics, people in big cities, and poor people.

Social questions do not advance uniformly. For instance, few heroes of the civil rights era had sexual politics that today would be considered progressive. In 1964, Stokely Carmichael made his infamous remark that the only position of women in the SNCC was “prone” and we’re not surprised by his black macho, even if his defenders say that that was not the real Stokely. However, we are surprised that it was Bayard Rustin who blocked having a woman speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. According to Dorothy Height’s memoir, Open Wide the Freedom Gates (2003), Rustin argued that black women would be represented because they were already active in the organizations sponsoring the march. We might think that because Rustin was gay and other civil rights figures conspired to sideline him, he should have had Baldwin’s sensitivity to black women’s history.

After the 2012 election, I thought that Republicans would hurl themselves onto the Latino vote, like seals slamming into a bright big school of fish, especially in Texas, which is 38 percent Hispanic and where one in five Hispanics in America lives. But in 2012 the Hispanic vote was 48 percent of those eligible, down from 49.9 percent in 2008. More Hispanics are registered as Democrats than as Republicans. Yet these days the newspapers report Latino disillusionment with the electoral process. This detachment may be related to how unwelcome white-controlled institutions can make a Latino person feel. A friend of mine who teaches primary school in Los Angeles County was stunned when the school’s principal told her that the salaries of the special tutors she proposed for her Spanish-speaking students would come from her paycheck. It is not entirely clear that the Republicans want the Hispanic vote to increase, though immigration is maybe an issue they could get their right wing to compromise on.

However, women’s issues are, for reasons of prejudice, past discussion for most conservatives. Women were more of a voting bloc in 2012. Women were openly voting in women’s interests, and therefore voting against the Republican platform. The increase in the black vote in 2012 to 66 percent of those eligible was due to a high turnout among black women. The Census Bureau tells us that there are fifty-three million unmarried women in the U.S. They alone comprise 25 percent of the electorate. Stop, children, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down, I heard. I assumed it was Hillary, the forty-fifth president, coming around the mountain.

I have a few hip friends, black and white, who didn’t vote in 2012. They have never voted since I’ve known them, citizens who say that it makes no difference which major party wins. The matter of which political party gets to appoint judges doesn’t mean the same thing to them that it does to most black people. There is no such thing as not voting, David Foster Wallace said. It’s the faith I grew up in. I lied to my parents in 1980 about having voted, a year when I was too out of it to walk one city block to register.

But in the faith I grew up in, a central tenet holds that American justice is on our side. Tocqueville and the Whig interpretation of history are on our side. America stands for progress, of which the expansion and defense of democracy have been a necessary part. The U.S. has a lot to answer for, starting with the “a slave is only three-fifths of a person” formula that the Founding Fathers came up with. Some might start with the displacement or decimation of the tribal nations that were already here. But the historical truth and the Constitution will agree in the long run. It is a document with a conscience. We just have to show up every two years. This is what my father and my mother taught my sisters and me.

I used to think it was funny that when my parents first voted in the suburban township where we moved in 1966, the polling station was in a country club that didn’t even admit Jews. Now I see my mother make a face and dismiss the situation as nothing. I’d never thought what a humiliating experience that might have been for her, she who did not believe in black country clubs either.

Enjoyed this excerpt? You can purchase the full book here.

Reprinted from Blackballed: The Black Vote and U.S. Democracy by Darryl Pinckney with permission from New York Review Books, 2014

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