An Open Letter to the NC House of Representatives

Editor’s Note: This brilliant submission came from our reader, Kim Cherif, who is fighting the good fight in NC. Please consider supporting her and other women like her whose reproductive rights are under threat in that state with donations to Planned Parenthood Action Fund or the Center for Reproductive Rights. ~Admin Jen

Dear NC House of Representatives:

As we move closer to the House vote on House Bill 695 tomorrow morning, I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude Although I did not vote for the majority of you, as a female resident of North Carolina, I wanted to thank you for your arduous protection of my health, as illustrated by the amendments added to this bill, which was originally designed to protect women from Sharia law—a male-dominated legal system based on a religious beliefs in which women have very few rights.

I would have liked to have seen discussion in the House late last Tuesday when you gentlemen decided that these amendments were necessary, but I had no idea that the current legislature was so interested in women’s healthcare, nor did I think you would be working past normal business hours to promote it. So while I did miss out on enjoying hearing about how much male state representatives care about women’s health, I thoroughly appreciated hearing male state senators testify to their concern about women’s health issues during the bill’s debate in the senate on Wednesday morning.

Congressmen, I applaud your concern. Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures with complication rates much lower than many other surgical procedures and less than one-tenth the rate of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. There are less than a handful of documented cases in the state of women dying following an abortion since it’s legalization in the 1970s, while this states sees approximately 40 deaths annually from all surgical procedures. How dedicated to women’s health you must be to begin your campaign for improving women’s health by addressing such a trivial issue! Surely this means that once you have this straightened out, you will move on to more pressing health concerns for women.

For example, our state has the 4th highest maternal death rate in the nation, with 105 women in NC dying during childbirth each year. Most of these deaths are poor women who have received substandard prenatal care. I know that you have recently restricted funding for Planned Parenthood. Certainly that was an oversight on your part, since Planned Parenthood is where most low-income women receive prenatal care and they may die or suffer serious health complications without it.

Another area you may want to focus on is violence. Over 100 women are murdered each year, the vast majority of these murders are by men in domestic situations. Surely, congressmen, you will want to increase funding for battered women’s shelters and social programs to help women in domestic violence situation. You may also want to consider stricter laws related to stalking, harassment, and battery of women.

About violent deaths of women, of the over 100 women murdered each year, half of them are killed by gunshot. That’s over 50 women dead a year by gun violence, compared to less than 1 dead a year by illegally operated and poorly regulated abortion clinics. So, you should have at least 50 times more interest in controlling gun violence. My thought would be to start with gun retailers, many of which are operating in violation of current gun legislation. Surely if more legislation can clean up and protect women from poorly regulated abortion clinics, it can help women from being shot and killed by illegally obtained weapons.

Finally, I know that mental health care is going to be very high on your list of priorities for women’s health given that over 250 women in NC die each year by suicide (that’s 250 times more women than die from botched abortions). I am convinced that the state legislature in its wisdom will reverse the recent budget cuts to state mental health facilities and agencies. So many women are dying already, surely more will die as a result to restricted access to mental care under your legislation.

In closing, let me again thank you gentlemen for your concern and attention to the healthcare needs of women. We women are forever grateful for any attention the state legislature sees fit to bestow upon our healthcare needs, however miniscule, but are hopeful that you will also address some of what most humans might think are more pressing health concerns. If you need a list of the top health issues affecting women, you might want to have a look at state data found here: http://www.schs.state.nc.us/schs/deaths/dms/2011/northcarolina.pdf.

Kim Cherif is a 44 year old mother of a five year old son and a mental health professional in NC.


You Can’t Invade Without a Map

by Admin Jen

I’m afraid I owe you an apology, Ohio.

You see, I’m reading up on the deeply unsexy subject of gerrymandering.  Because I couldn’t figure out how you wound up with a governor and legislature so hostile to women’s rights that it was passing regressive, probably unconstitutional legislation with such wild abandon.  And I want to thank our dear readers of Ohio, because they pointed out that my frequent contention that bad legislators find jobs in the statehouse thanks to voters not paying attention… well, it isn’t the whole story.

You can’t plan an invasion without a map, as it turns out, and that goes for when you’re invading your constituents’ uteruses too.  Specifically, this map:


What is that?  That’s a Congressional district map of urban, liberal stronghold Columbus, Ohio, in the center of Franklin County.  What do those colors mean?  Did I redecorate it for Pride Month?  Alas, no.  That’s Columbus, being brutally dismembered into three separate districts.  All three segments peel off a hunk of that liberal base and bury it into a district with a large swath of conservative suburbs.  This is a gerrymandering technique known as “cracking”, and it’s remarkably effective.  Were the entirety of Columbus its own district, it would no doubt be sending a Democrat to Congress with reassuring regularity.  But this way, not so much.

So this is how we get curious situations like Ohio, in which a small but real majority of the electorate really, really hate what the legislature is doing yet can’t seem to get them to stop, and can’t seem to get rid of them.  Lots of people vote out of habit, out of party affiliation, out of reasons that don’t have much to do with who the actual people occupying those state offices actually are; but also, lots of people do show up to pull the lever in a wasted effort because whoever’s in power gets to redraw the district maps any which way they like.  And yes. State level offices work in the exact same way.

President Obama won re-election in the state by a margin of about 2%.  Yet, since Republicans controlled the statehouse in 2010, at the time of the last census, they got to draw the district map, and won House of Representatives seats by a margin of 12-4.  You can chalk that up to the President’s bi-partisan appeal if you want, but I call shenanigans.

Except, I don’t need to.  The Republican party has been pretty unable to keep from congratulating themselves on it.  In their Republican State Leadership Committee report, “How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Races in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013,” they admit pretty readily that gerrymandered maps in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were responsible for them overcoming a vote deficit to the tune of 1.1 million. That’s right.  More people actually voted for Democrats but thanks to the gerrymander, Republicans  nevertheless hold the majority.

(I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the pro-choice Republicans who are out there, shaking their heads over this junk along with us.  I imagine you as sort of lonely and closeted, not wanting your party to turn on you like a pack of angry wildebeests. Guys, it gets better. At least I hope so.  I’d like to also acknowledge that I have never met a wildebeest and am only guessing that you would not want to make one mad.)

It’s amusing that Rick Perry was wailing about the will of the people being subverted by Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster; Perrymandering has given America one of the most hostile legislatures in the country, but also one that doesn’t entirely represent its constituents.  That’s right – the Lone Star State’s demographics are changing.  It’s just that we’re still conditioned to expect macho legislative crotch-grabbing from Texas.

But Ohio?  Michigan?  Wisconsin?  Union bastion Michigan gave us “right to work” and a far-reaching abortion bill among other legislative atrocities.  Wisconsin repealed equal pay for women under cover of darkness and steamrolled a forced-ultrasound law through, over the objection of thousands of protestors.   And Ohio’s Swamp Thing of a budget, jam packed with bad news for low income women and their reproductive care, is just the latest example of a pattern of discriminatory legislation passed by legislative bodies that haven’t the first interest in representing their states.  Just their narrowly drawn, contorted districts.

Yes, there are districts that have been gerrymandered to Democratic advantage:  Rep. Joe Walsh, who I do not miss in the least, lost in part thanks to his own cartoonish buffoonery, but also in part thanks to a gerrymandered district that gave Tammy Duckworth an advantage.  What was a probable victory for her became an “over-my-goddamned-artificial-knee” spanking.  There are districts in California that have been similarly tinkered with.  Our friend and sometimes guest blogger Marc Belisle, has a swell article here showing some of the other contorted districts around the country, designed to dilute the opposing party’s influence.  (The Everlasting GOPStoppers have written some interesting bits on the history and practice of gerrymandering, which you can find here and here.)

Bottom line: partisan hacks should not get to draw the districts anymore.  Like the filibuster, this isn’t necessarily a good weapon for either side to have in an unlimited way if we’re interested in actual representative democracy.  The idea of one party government is certainly appealing when you’re the party in power, but a strange thing happens when one party holds too much power for too long without fear of losing it; it encourages corruption and overreach, because they aren’t accountable to people they’re supposed to represent anymore.  And that’s what we’re seeing in some of these middle-America center-left states right now, who are laboring under legislatures that don’t particularly represent them.

So what’s the answer?  The answer is, I’m not sure.  Having the Census Bureau itself drawing the districts seems like a logical notion.  Or maybe statehouses’ proposed districts have to meet some form of judicial approval before they’re implemented. I’m interested in your ideas, dear readers, because this affects all of us.  I don’t live in Ohio, but it’s my next door neighbor and I don’t need my representatives getting any more terrible ideas than what they come up with on their own.

Sound off in the comments below, or on our facebook!

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Forget Kansas, What’s the Matter With Ohio?

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Ohio Governor Kasich signing a budget bill that will wreak havoc on women’s rights, while surrounded by a bunch of other dudes whose private parts are not impacted by said bill.

I have always thought of Ohio as the home of eminently sane, down-to-earth reasonableness.  It’s the state that gave us columnist Gail Collins, whose gentle humor kept me from stabbing myself in the face with a spork during the 2008 Democratic primaries.  The state gave us eight presidents, four of them portly and sporting really impressive beards that would totally work if they were having a beer in a Brooklyn hipster club.  It gave us Paul Newman, Woody Harrelson and Julie Haggerty.  It gave us E.T. (Spielberg) and the Cathy comics.  My chiropractor aunt and her nutritionist husband spent some time living lovely, polite, reasonable lives there.  The biggest paper in Cleveland is called the Plain Dealer, for crying out loud.  These are generally nice people who are, on balance, probably more emotionally conservative than they are socially conservative.  Which is not to say that they aren’t socially conservative, they’re just not all up in your grill about it.

So, what the hell, Ohio?  What’s going on with you?  I understand that you’re a purple state, just like my own (Pennsylvania) and that as a rule, I’m not going to like everything you do.  But you’ve gone blue in the last two elections, and came pretty darn close in the two before it.  I like to think of you as my churchgoing cousin who wears a cross and hangs an American flag outside her home, but who secretly votes pro-choice because well, you believe everyone should mind their own damn business.  How did you end up with an anti-choice law so strict that not only will it close three Planned Parenthoods in the state, it will, in the rare case of a complication in an outpatient abortion, prohibit the transfer of that patient to a public hospital?  If you are actually pro-life, that sure is a funny way of showing it.

Earlier this year, we called attention to a certain Ohio State Representative named Jim Buchy, who in an interview with Al Jazeera, admitted that although he was busily working to restrict abortions in his state, he had not given so much as a moment’s thought to why a woman might be looking for one in the first place.  The same people who think that restricting guns won’t stop people from committing crimes with them seem to think that outlawing abortion will make it go away.  Peculiar.  And out of character for a reserved, sensible place like Ohio.

So we get Right to Lifers crowing because they are closing clinics.  Cutting poor women off from their contraceptives seems like an extraordinarily good way to cause more abortions, or at the very least, to burden the state with lots more Medicaid births, unwanted children, child abuse and food stamp bills.  This is happening in Texas, and the nice conservative gentlemen in the legislature are just scratching their noodles over how this could be.  We have staunch “Constitutionalists” celebrating the fact that rape crisis centers now have a gag order that says they are not allowed to counsel rape survivors about abortion as an option if they believe they are pregnant as a result of said rape.  If they get caught doing so, the government can apparently “shut that whole thing down.”  The First Amendment apparently doesn’t apply to people trying to help women who have been victimized.  It only applies to crisis pregnancy centers who want to lie about the effects of abortion and tell you it causes breast cancer.  By the time you get to the photo of the bill signing with Governor Kasich, surrounded by a bunch of – yep, you guessed it — smiling white guys, you’re not even surprised.  Not one woman up there.  Not even as a prop.  Not even for optics.  Come on, guys, now you’re just rubbing it in our faces.  And that’s not Ohio’s style.

In Ohio, the abortion rate has more or less tracked the national average:  that is to say, it’s been on a very, very gentle decline since 1991.  And contrary to popular belief, only about 17% of those abortions are in women under 20 who ostensibly don’t know what they’re doing.  They are adult women, who very much understand their actions and do not need paternalistic scolding about what they’ve got growing in there and what it will turn into if they let it keep going.   They don’t need mandatory ultrasounds under the moniker of “informed consent,” while being fed lies about how abortions cause depression and suicide (post-partum depression is no more prevalent in abortions than it is in pregnancies carried naturally to term).

This is why I am always on my soapbox about state legislatures, people.  I am not an Ohio resident, but based on the little bit I know about you decent folk, I can’t believe that this legislature and its overbearing, unapologetic bullying of women represents you.  I have to believe that these folks snuck in while you were paying attention to something else.  According to a recent Public Policy Polling poll, 52% of you don’t support the new budget specifically because, in spite of its red-meat tax cuts, it so nakedly seeks to kill Planned Parenthood, which so many women depend on for preventative care and family planning services.  So how did the lunatics take over the asylum?

I don’t know enough about Ohio politics to know the answer to that question.  It’s something you’re going to probably have to work out for yourselves.  And dear readers from Ohio, if you happen to know, we’d love to hear from you.  A legislature is supposed to be there to carry out the will of its people.  All I can do is beg you to take a look at the names beside those levers before you pull them and find out who they really are.  Find out what they’ve been up to.  Call shenanigans if necessary.  Maybe consider voting against your usual party affiliation if the incumbent has been behaving badly.

This dreadful budget is a crying shame, but you will have a chance to fix it.

2014 is coming, Ohio.