Category Archives: abortion

Contempt and a walkout on Blackburn’s abortion panel

Republicans on a House panel investigating the practices of abortion providers voted Wednesday to recommend that a biomedical company and its CEO be held in contempt of Congress, reports Michael Collins.

The vote came after Democrats stormed out of the meeting in protest.

All eight GOP members of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives voted to proceed with contempt charges against California-based StemExpress and CEO Catherine Spears Dyer, saying they defied congressional subpoenas to turn over accounting records and other documents.

“A subpoena is not a suggestion,” said the panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. “It is a lawful order, and a subpoena must be complied with.”

Democrats argued the panel had no authority to bring contempt charges and accused Blackburn and the other Republicans of a political “McCarthyesque witch hunt” intended to drive fetal tissue providers out of business.

“We would not participate in what we view as a very illegitimate process,” the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, said after all six Democrats walked out of the meeting just before the contempt vote.

The contempt charges now go to the House Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration and then onto the full House.
The House is expected to adjourn soon for its October recess, so it’s unlikely the full committee will take up the charges until after the November election, Blackburn said.

Wednesday’s chaotic meeting was the latest display of partisan warfare splitting the 14-member investigative panel. It was formed last year after videos surfaced that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue and organs. Planned Parenthood said the videos were deceptively edited, and a number of state investigations cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.

Regardless, the investigative panel has plowed ahead with its probe of companies involved in fetal tissue procurement, including StemExpress, which provides research labs with cells, fluids, blood and tissue. The company collected fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood and sent it to researchers before ending its association with the abortion provider in August 2015.

Abortion rights group organizes in TN

A national abortion-rights group is organizing in Tennessee and making U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn a special target in the process, reports Michael Collins.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has dispatched a group of activists to Tennessee to help organize a network of supporters who will push to expand access to reproductive rights and abortion services in the state. The network also could be tapped to work to defeat political candidates who oppose abortion.

The program, called Tennessee Total Access, could eventually expand to other red states, said James Owens, NARAL’s states communications director.

“This is a very targeted effort to go into places like Tennessee that have not traditionally been hotbeds of pro-choice sentiment,” Owens said.

The activists have been on the ground in Tennessee since June. They have been going door to door to sign up new NARAL members, buying ads and billboards to spread the abortion-rights message and attending concerts, fairs, festivals and other cultural events to reach other people who favor reproductive rights.

Though the campaign is statewide, most of its resources are focused on Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Clarksville and Murfreesboro. Continue reading

DesJarlais: ‘Dead baby parts’ mailer ‘reprehensible’

Challenger Grant Starrett’s latest political mail attack on U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has the congressman crying foul about “morally reprehensible” tactics, reports the Times-Free Press.

The mailer, which began hitting voters’ mailboxes earlier this week, accuses the congressman of having been “silent on life” and features a picture of DesJarlais with tape over his mouth beside a doctored “Planned Parenthood” cooler marked “Dead Baby Parts $500.”

It’s an intended hit on DesJarlais for not having joined in with GOP House committee colleagues’ questioning of Planned Parenthood’s chief last year over allegations the nonprofit abortion provider “sold” abortion fetus parts to medical companies.

“Even liberals in his home state of California, would be repulsed by Grant’s morally reprehensible campaign tactics,” DesJarlais campaign spokesman Robert Jameson said of the mailer, one of four that Starrett has sent out in recent days.

Jameson said “Grant should apologize to voters in the Fourth District for subjecting them to this trash, pack his bags and head back to his parents’ mansion in Beverly Hills. Clearly, politics is not his calling in life.”

But Tommy Schultz, Starrett’s campaign manager, said the mailer is fair and accurate and that the congressman should be the one apologizing.

TN Right to Life endorses Kelsey, Lundberg, 3 Democrats, independent

Tennessee Right to Life’s political action committee has announced endorsements in the Aug. 4 congressional and legislative primary elections. Most of the anti-abortion group’s backing at the legislative level may be seen as symbolic since many f the candidates have no primary opponents.

The endorsement list is HERE.

At the congressional level, the PAC is backing state Sen. Brian Kelsey in the crowded 8th Congressional District Republican primary and incumbent Rep. Diane Black, who faces a potentially serious challenge from former state Rep. Joe Carr and others in the 6th Congressional District. Incumbent Reps. Phil Roe in the 1st District, John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. in the 2nd District and Chuck Fleishmann in the 3rd District are given Right to Life blessings over token primary opponents.

Notably omitted from endorsements are Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn in the 7th District and Scott DesJarlais in the 4th. Blackburn, who has no primary opponent, currently chairs a Republican-launched congressional investigation into sale of fetal tissue obtained by abortion providers – widely supported by anti-abortion activists while condemned as a “witch hunt” by some Democrats. While generally anti-abortion, she has in the past supported exceptions in the case of rape, incest and for saving the life of the mother. DesJarlais, a physician, has been widely criticized for personally approving abortions in the past for patients and his former spouse.

Perhaps most notable in legislative endorsements is that given perennial candidate Pete Drew, running this year as an independent in House District 15, a seat now held by Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville. As an independent, Drew, a former state representative who converted to the GOP after election as a Democrat in the 1980s, will not be on the Aug. 4 ballot, but will be up against Armstrong – who has no opponent in the primary while awaiting trial on tax evasion charges — in the November general election.

Otherwise, Right to Life is endorsing Republican candidates in 13 state Senate races, all but one of them an incumbent and no challengers. The exception is state Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol, who has a contested race in the GOP primary to replace retiring Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in Senate District 4.

In state House races, there are endorsements in 59 races, including Drew. There are three Democrats without primary opposition: Reps. Kevin Dunlap of Rock Island, Joe Pitts of Clarksville and John Mark Windle of Livingston. Dunlap and Windle face Republican opponents in November; Pitts does not.

The others endorsed in House races are all Republican, most without any opposition to reelection. Exceptions include five favored incumbents with primary opponents: Reps. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, John Ragan of Oak Ridge, Courtney Rogers of Goodlettsville, Mike Sparks of Smyrna and Jay Reedy of Erin. There’s also Davette Blalock, one of three Republicans seeking the party nomination to run against Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville.

U.S. Supreme Court abortion ruling likely to impact TN laws

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday ruling on abortion restrictions in Texas could affect the outcome of a federal court challenge to two Tennessee laws.

“It seems like this will be a slam-dunk in Tennessee,” said Ilene Jaroslaw, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents plaintiffs in both states.

The Tennessee laws under challenge “are indistinguishable in practice from the two that were judged unconstitutional in Texas,” she said.

In the Texas case, the Supreme Court struck down laws requiring abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards and requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Tennessee’s admitting privileges requirement became law in 2012 and resulted in the closure of two of Tennessee’s eight clinics that provided surgical abortions, according to court records. Of the six remaining clinics, two face possible closure because of the strict new clinic standards adopted by the legislature in 2015. Continue reading

Anti-abortion group backs Kelsey in 8th Congressional District

News release from Tennessee Right to Life
Leaders of Tennessee Right to Life announced their support today for Brian Kelsey in the Republican primary race for the state’s 8th Congressional district. Characterized as a key leader in efforts to promote Right to Life legislative priorities, the organization said that demonstrated leadership made the difference in favor of endorsing Kelsey.

As a leading pro-life legislator, Brian Kelsey has used his position and background in the law to draft and defend policies that protect vulnerable unborn children. “Brian Kelsey has been willing to exert the necessary influence and political capital to ensure that Tennessee’s public policies consistently affirm the dignity of every human life,” said Stacy Dunn, Vice-President of Tennessee Right to Life.

“From early days in the legislative struggle to place pro-life Amendment 1 on the ballot, Brian Kelsey was at the table and helping to draft the strongest possible language to restore common-sense protections” said Brian Harris, President of Tennessee Right to Life.

“Brian Kelsey is a tested pro-life leader and has earned our confidence with his demonstrated ability to move forward a compassionate, protective pro-life agenda,” said Harris. “Tennessee Right to Life urges the election of Brian Kelsey in order to continue giving voice to the pro-life views and values of West Tennesseans.”

Judge halts recount of Amendment 1 vote

A federal judge has ordered a halt to a vote recount on the controversial abortion measure, Amendment 1, pending an appeal by state election officials.

Further from The Tennessean:

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp, who ordered the recount in April, issued the stay on Tuesday at the request of Tennessee election officials who are appealing his decision the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

Sharp cited the potential price tag of a recount to Tennessee taxpayers — approximately $1 million — in issuing his order.

Should the Court of Appeals overturn his order, it “raises the possibility that public money may be spent on something which turns out to be unnecessary,” Sharp wrote.

Amendment 1 passed in November 2014 with 53 percent of the vote. The measure was among the most controversial in Tennessee history and stripped the right to an abortion from the state constitution.

Eight voters, including the board chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle & Eastern Tennessee, filed suit within days of its passage, claiming the method state election officials used to count the vote was fundamentally unfair and gave more weight to “yes” votes than “no” votes.

Democrats call for disbanding Blackburn’s abortion panel

Democrats have ramped up their attacks on an investigation of abortion providers by a committee lead by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, reports Michael Collins.

In a letter, Democrats called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to disband the investigation committee. Blackburn insists there’s nothing partisan about the investigation and she’s pushing ahead.

“While the panel’s investigation has never been fair or fact-based, its pattern of reckless disregard for safety has escalated over the past few weeks,” said the letter, which was signed by 181 of 188 House Democrats.

The letter describes a litany of alleged abuses by Blackburn and GOP investigators, including misuse of subpoena power to intimidate scientific researchers, doctors, clinics, health-care providers, universities and others. The investigation reached “a new low” earlier this month, the letter says, when the panel issued a news release identifying an abortion provider and his clinic by name.

“The press release’s hyperbolic rhetoric and misleading allegations pose a real danger to the doctor, the staff at the clinic and the patients of the named clinic,” the letter says. “These recent steps are completely outside the bounds of acceptable congressional behavior. We disgrace ourselves by allowing this misconduct to continue.”

Blackburn defended the investigation and fired back at her Democratic critics.

“The question everyone should be asking,” the Brentwood Republican said, “is why are Democrats so afraid of letting the truth come out.”

Ryan didn’t set up the committee, which is formally known as the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. Former House Speaker John Boehner helped form the 14-member panel and named Blackburn as its chairwoman in one of his final acts before stepping down late last year.

But Ryan also has given his backing to the panel’s work.

Cost of abortion vote recount put at $1M

Election officials estimate the total cost to taxpayers of a court-ordered recount of Amendment 1, the 2014 abortion ballot measure, could be $1 million, according to The Tennessean.

But lawyers for the state are asking U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp to allow election officials to postpone any recount while they appeal his ruling.

Requiring county election officials to go through a recount process while preparing for upcoming state, local and federal elections in August and November would be “disruptive” and “interfere with the integrity of those elections,” election officials argued in declarations submitted to the court earlier this month.

In April, Sharp ordered a recount of the state’s controversial ballot measure, calling the method used to count votes “fundamentally unfair” to voters opposed to the measure.

Amendment 1 passed with 53 percent of the vote. The measure specifically removed the right to an abortion from the Tennessee Constitution. Its passage has led to new regulations of abortion clinics and a 48-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.

Within days of the election, however, eight voters opposed to the measure, including the board chairman of Planned Parenthood of Middle & Eastern Tennessee, filed suit, claiming the vote tabulation methods used by election officials violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution — and was contrary to language in the Tennessee Constitution that explains how votes for ballot measures should be counted.

Sharp’s order required election officials to count only those votes for or against the amendment that were cast by voters who also voted in the governor’s race.

Unlike a simple majority required for a candidate to succeed, the Tennessee Constitution requires amendments to pass by a majority of the votes cast in the governor’s race.

Sharp concluded that the language in the Tennessee Constitution require voters to vote in both races in order to have their votes counted for or against an amendment.

AG appealing recount of votes on Amendment 1

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office will appeal a federal judge’s order for a recount of votes on the controversial 2014 abortion measure Amendment 1. reports The Tennessean.

“We obviously disagree with the federal court’s decision,” spokesman Harlow Sumerford said. “Simply put, deciding what vote is required to amend the Tennessee Constitution is a matter of state law to be determined by a Tennessee court.”

The appeal effectively puts any potential recount on hold – likely for months as it goes through the appeals process at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, according to Dewey Branstetter, an attorney with Sherrard, Roe, Voigt, Harbison who is representing eight voters seeking the recount. Branstetter said the appeal was not unexpected.

“While we’re not terribly surprised that they would file an appeal, it is disappointing they would continue to litigate this case when (the federal judge) has so clearly determined how this portion of the constitution should be interpreted and how the state’s interpretation would violate our clients constitutional rights,” Branstetter said.

Amendment 1 removed abortion as a right under the state constitution.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp ordered state election officials to recount the vote on the abortion measure, which passed with a 53 majority in 2014. Sharp said the state’s vote counting methods were unfair to those opposed to the amendment and in violation of the U.S. Constitution.