Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

Republican Congressman Trent Franks (AZ-8) is at it again.  Last Congress, he introduced H.R. 1797, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and he wasted no time introducing the bill, again.

The basic summary of the bill is that it would outlaw abortions after the fetus is 20 weeks of gestation under the assumption that the fetus can feel pain at this time.  The bill, if passed, would punish doctors who perform abortions but not the women who try to obtain the abortion.  There are the usual exceptions in case of rape, incest, or in the case of saving the mother.  Of course the rape and incest exceptions are only there if the rape or incest charge has been filed with the appropriate law enforcement agency.

It passed in the House in the 113th Congress by a vote of 228-198.  The bill was taken up in the Senate by presidential hopeful Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.  The bill attracted 40 co-sponsors, all of whom are Republicans.  The co-sponsors included Rand Paul and Mike Lee.  Paul has been critical of controversial legislation such as same-sex marriage stating that such issues should be left to the individual states.  Paul also believes that abortion legislation should be left to the states, as long as they pass anti-abortion laws.  Paul, in his neverending efforts to try to appeal to the religious right section of the Republican Party has also introduced legislation that would give embryos the same rights as a person and the same legal protection.  Well, of course the 14th Amendment wouldn't apply according to his own legislative history, so many of the Constitutional protections wouldn't apply but that's another story.  I didn't really want to focus on Paul's issues with the legislation.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has already stated that this bill will come to a vote next Thursday.  Not coincidentally, this bill will be voted on as thousands of anti-abortion activists and demonstrators descend upon Washington.  If it seems like it's a political show, it's because it is.

So why 20 weeks?  The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that fetal pain perception by fetuses probably does not begin until the beginning of the third trimester (28 weeks).   Arguing for this ban, many pro-lifers dismissed the study as politics masquerading as science.  They published their own report to try to prove that 20 week bans were about protecting fetuses from feeling pain.  But the scientists they quoted largely disagree with what the report found.  Dr. Nicholas Fisk, one of the scientists they rely on, is persuaded that pain cannot be felt by fetuses prior to 24 weeks.   Other scientists are quoted as having this belief that pain can be felt prior to 20 weeks because they rely on anesthesia and painkillers in fetal surgeries.  But the painkillers and anesthesia is primarily used to minimize stress hormones and dangerous movements. Most of the available medical evidence shows that pain cannot be felt until after 24 weeks.

The main medical researcher that has been quoted as of late is Dr. Sunny Anand who found in his digest of research that at 14 weeks gestation, the fetus may be able to feel pain.  This is a full 6 weeks prior to what this bill is trying to stop.  Of course, pro-lifers tend to leave out other things Dr. Anand has recommended to perform abortions at this late juncture to prevent pain such as using anethesia or an injection to stop the fetal heartbeat.  Both of these things would render no pain to the fetus.  This is unacceptable to many pro-lifers who argue that being able to feel pain is an important threshold and makes them similar to an actualized baby or a toddler.  The fact that there is a way to prevent fetuses from feeling the pain (if they are old enough to even feel pain) is irrelevant.

The most likely reason that they are advocating for a 20 week ban is that is the earliest that banning abortions seems to be politically popular.  During the Senate debates on S. 1670, Lindsey Graham brought up polls immediately showing that 64% of the public think that abortions should not happen in the second three months of pregnancy.  63% of the American public don't believe that abortions should be permitted beyond when the fetus can feel pain.  Anna Higgins of the Family Research Council stated that there is a strong consensus for the bill.  Of course, the Family Research Council does not feel that a strong consensus on something such as same-sex marriage is relevant but I digress.  A new poll from Quinnipiac University shows that 60% of Americans say they support this bill.  A ban at 16 weeks don't produce the same numbers, According to a Harris Interactive poll, only 43% of Americans believe in restricting abortions to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.  A narrow majority of Americans support a ban at 16 weeks.  The bill is based not in science but in public opinion.

The bill would undermine the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and provides no substantial impact beyond being a good political move.  These bans provide a slope to allow more abortion restrictions in the future that are similar to Arkansas's and North Dakota's bills that are currently being discussed.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Replacing Boxer

California Senator Barbara Boxer has announced that she will not seek re-election in 2016.  Perhaps Ralph Nader was able to convince her that she should run for President but somehow I doubt it.  There has been some wild speculation about who will replace Boxer as the Senator from California after November of 2016 and I want to join in, as well.

One thing that is important to note about California primaries is that they are jungle primaries.  This means that the primaries themselves are open to any registered voter and the top two vote-getters in the election advance to the November ballot regardless of party affiliation.  This has led to some strange outcomes in normally liberal congressional districts where the Democratic nominees end up splitting the votes too many ways and allow two Republicans to advance to the general election.  I'd be surprised if that happened here as the statewide Republican Party in California is in shambles.

Democratic contenders:

Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom: I'm listing them together because one of them will most definitely run for the Senate seat.  Newsom is at the forefront of the "uberization of the Democratic Party" and is politically ambitious.  Ambitious to the point that it is almost reckless.  As an actual progressive candidate, he leaves voters wanting.  The attitude that government should not get in the way of innovation and growth with its regulation plays very well in California, which despite its reputation as the bluest of states, is fairly comfortable with economic conservatism.  Newsom has a reputation rightly or wrongly as a plastic candidate.  His face is plastered the same way and merely is an empty vessel for what he thinks may be suitable to get him elected.  Harris is often lumped into the same category as Newsom, although, I don't quite see it as much in her as I do with Newsom.  She was on the short list to be the replacement for Eric Holder as Attorney General of the United States.  Her overall record as Attorney General of California is decent and she could easily be elected in a statewide election.  It would come down to who will actually run for it.  Newsom has his eyes on the gubernatorial mansion in Sacramento, not a big surprise, and wants to launch from there a Presidential run.  Nobody is 100% sure what Harris is going to do.  Attorney Generals in states often are able to have their own legislative priorities and she was listed as a possible contender for Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat in 2018.  If Harris runs, it will be devastating to other Democratic Party contenders as Harris is seen as almost a sure thing.

Antonio Villaraigosa: It's a matter of when not if when he will run for a higher office.  The former mayor of Los Angeles has been trying to get his name out there for a statewide run for some time now.  The changing demographic of California would seem to indicate that he has a shot.  I thought he would try to hold out and make a run for Governor against Newsom in 2018 but an unexpected Senate seat opening would give him a chance to run for statewide sooner than that.  Villaraigosa's efforts for school reform should give pause to progressives when they are filling out their ballot.

Kevin Johnson: Speaking of giving progressives pause, Johnson the mayor of Sacramento is married to Michelle Rhee.  I honestly don't know enough about his qualifications as a political candidate to justify saying whether or not he would be good.  He was a great point guard, though.

Loretta Sanchez: Nominally a "blue dog" Democrat, she has actually shown her progressivism pretty well while serving in Congress.  Her Orange County district is fairly safe thanks to the demographics of Santa Ana, so she would have to give that up.  That being said, she is ambitious and is wanting to find a higher office.  She is definitely a contender to replace Feinstein in 2018 if she doesn't run in 2016.  She was listed as a possible contender to be nominated for Secretary of Homeland Security.  Her sister Linda is more popular with progressive and grassroots organizers but may be too old to run for Senator.  I wouldn't be shocked to see Loretta run but if Harris runs, I doubt she would.  Her and her staff are much more likely to go after an election that they could actually win.

Darrell Steinberg: President Pro Tempe of the California Senate would be an excellent choice.  His name recognition definitely trails Harris and Newsom and likely Villaraigosa and Sanchez.  Steinberg is well respected in political circles and has done a lot while serving in Sacramento.  The problem is that he lives in a Sacramento bubble where Southern Californians may not know him.  Steinberg will likely run but fall ultimately short of being one of the top two finishers.

Alex Padilla, Dave Jones, John Chiang, and Betty Yee: All were recently elected in 2014.  IT would probably serve them best to wait until 2018 to replace Feinstein.  Jones is the one who gets internet progressives most excited.  Chiang and Yee are both Asian-Americans who have shown that they can win statewide office and Padilla is the only Latino currently holding a statewide office.  Meh.

Rich people with no political experience have not fared great in California politics so I refuse to lump them into this category.

Personally, I'd like to see Tom Ammiano run but he's too old and doesn't have the name recognition to be able to win.  He's amazing.  LGBT activist, universal healthcare creator, supporter of good samaritan laws and a bill that would allow doctors to have standing orders of naloxone at pharmacies, supporter of legalized marijuana, among many other things.  If only, Tom, if only.

Republican contenders:

I really thought Darrell Issa was going to run for this.  His votes in the House of Representatives as well as his very public role as the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform indicate that he is itching for a statewide run.  Maybe he's waiting until 2018 to run for Governor?

The others that have been mentioned are Meg Whitman who ran for Governor in 2010 and lost.  Ashley Swearingen who almost won the 2014 election as state comptroller is currently Fresno Mayor and would be an interesting choice.  Neel Kashkari the 2014 Republican guberntatorial nominee has also been mentioned despite his piss poor showing in 2014.  There's not a whole lot out there if you are a Republican in California.  The other person that you would assume would run is Ed Royce but he's in a safe seat and would probably lose in 2016.

The Republican Party will run someone out there in 2016.  I can pretty much guarantee that whoever it is, is not being mentioned right now.  It will definitely be something to watch for in the next 2 years.