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How Grassroots Funds Are Ensuring Abortion Access Despite Bans

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In this March 14, 2019 file photograph, a Planned Parenthood supporter hosts an abortion rights button on her hat during a rally on the steps of the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. On Tuesday, March 19, 2019, Mississippi senators passed the final version of a bill that would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, about six weeks into pregnancy. Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo, File

Nearly every day, a cohort of reproductive justice volunteers at small grassroots funds across the Southeast connect with each other via encrypted chat. They talk strategy, discuss the latest abortion news—and sometimes share a cat meme, a form of self-care.

They also occasionally share an ask on behalf of a client: “I need $100 … Do you have it?” The money might be for transportation to help get a client to an abortion clinic across the state or across state lines.

Or another request might be “I am overwhelmed—can I shift my calls to you today?” says Laurie Bertram Roberts, who runs the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund in Jackson, Mississippi.

Across conservative states and in cities such as Jackson, home of the state’s only abortion clinic, or in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, grassroots organizations like Roberts’ are working nonstop to support reproductive justice. Funding cuts and increasingly restrictive legislation have transformed large swaths of the Southeast into abortion deserts. And low-income women increasingly depend on these groups to access abortions.

The recent surge in new laws is leaving many women with few options.

“It’s not just about taking away access from one state,” Roberts says. “It’s about making sure we have nowhere to go.”

States like Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia have been a gathering storm around abortion access—and what many believe is the inevitable showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court over the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right. Conservatives hold a 5-4 majority on the court.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey this week signed perhaps the most restrictive abortion measure to date, banning the procedure in almost all cases, including for incest and rape, and making an allowance only for cases where a woman’s health is at “serious” risk. Under the law, doctors who perform abortions can be charged with felonies and sentenced to up to 99 years in prison.

It’s the latest in a series of so-called “heartbeat bills” passed by Republican-controlled legislatures in six other states, including Mississippi. With limited exceptions, the measures outlaw abortions after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, usually after six weeks, a point before most women even know they are pregnant.

So far this year, 28 state legislatures have proposed abortion bans, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. Several have passed so-called “trigger laws,” which would make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The ACLU has said such bans are blatantly unconstitutional and has sued to block Ohio’s heartbeat bill from taking effect in July. It has already blocked the law in Kentucky and vowed to challenge the Alabama and Georgia measures. A challenge to Mississippi’s law is pending.

Reproductive justice advocates and their allies see these cases as real-life Handmaid’s Tale scenarios. They have been raging on social media and scrambling for ways to helpwomen in need.

Amanda Reyes, executive director of Yellowhammer Fund in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said her office on Wednesday fielded so many frantic calls from scared, confused women that she pinned a message to its Twitter account: “YOU CAN STILL GET AN ABORTION IN ALABAMA!”

“This happens every time there’s a restriction,” says Reyes, whose organization, like Roberts’ Mississippi fund, also helps low-income women get to and pay for abortions.

She said one call was from a woman who wanted to know if she could “self-manage” an abortion based on the supplies she had on hand.

“This is the danger of these kinds of things.”

Both Yellowhammer and Robert’s Mississippi Fund are part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, which provides funding to help remove the financial and logistical barriers to abortion access. It supports dozens of funds across the country, including across the Southeast. It is one of several reproductive rights organizations across the country working to help make abortion more accessible, especially for lower-income women.

“We see people facing the most extreme financial and social barriers to getting an abortion,” Reyes says. People sometimes roll their eyes when they hear about a typical case: “a minor who is disabled and her parents who are poor and undocumented. That is normal for us. That’s what we get every day.”

Yellowhammer volunteers started out as clinic escorts, but Reyes said she always had the idea of starting an abortion fund. “Then Trump happened,” she says. And the clinic protestor rhetoric he espoused, unheard of at that level before then, created more of an urgency.

She funded the first abortion in January 2018, and more than 300 abortions last year. She expects to do 1,000 this year.

“You can hear the fear in people’s voices when they call us—nervous and scared. They are talking to complete strangers” about intimate details of their lives.

“We tell them, ‘We’ve got your back” … And you can literally hear a huge sigh of relief.”

In Mississippi, Roberts, who was raised religious and held anti-abortion beliefs until her own personal experience changed her, operates under the motto “by any means necessary.”

She helps clients pay for abortions but also for things like transportation and child care, or for airfare, hotels, and food when they need to travel away from home. Clients are assigned abortion doulas, who might accompany them or be available and on call.

She recalls one client who at 25 weeks pregnant flew—for the first time—out of state for an abortion. “We were literally on call the entire time she was” in Colorado, she says. And Roberts cultivated a contact on the ground there to help her.

Roberts embraces a more holistic approach by also offering services to women who are pregnant and parenting. For example, one client whose abortion she funded a few years ago is now getting help while she’s pregnant.

People who want to help, she says, “need to think about what they are willing to do. What’s your threshold for resistance?”


Beyond Planned Parenthood and NARAL fighting to protect reproductive rights in many parts of the U.S., there are organizations seeking to make abortion more accessible, especially for lower-income women.

Here are some located across the Southeast:

Access Reproductive Care Southeast, ARC, is a volunteer organization in 12 Southeastern states that help people access reproductive care.

National Network of Abortion Funds is a network of over 80 funds that helps lower-income individuals access abortion care.

Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund is volunteer-run group that helps people access abortion in Mississippi.

The Yellowhammer Fund is based in Alabama and provides funding for abortions as well as help with other obstacles, such as travel and lodging.

Lornet Turnbull is an editor for YES! Magazine, a Seattle-based freelance writer, and a regional anchor for the Washington Post. Reach her at lturnbull@yesmagazine.org. Follow her on Twitter @TurnbullL

This article was originally published by Yes! Magazine.

Election Watch

Patrick Morrisey cherry-picks Joe Manchin’s votes on Trump Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch

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Fresh off a primary victory in West Virginia’s U.S. Senate contest, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey took a shot at his opponent in the general election in a radio interview with Breitbart, saying Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin too often stands against President Donald Trump.

Referring to Trump’s appointee to the Supreme Court, Morrisey said, “If Joe Manchin had his way, Judge (Neil) Gorsuch never would have been able to get a vote” in the Senate.

Morrisey went on to say, “Whether we’re talking judicial picks, whether we’re talking Trump tax cuts, whether we’re talking unwillingness to change the failed Obamacare … Joe Manchin has not stood with President Trump.”

Manchin’s support for Trump (or lack thereof) is likely to be a major campaign wedge for Morrisey, since Trump is more popular in West Virginia than any other state, according to state-by-state approval ratings released by Gallup in January 2018.

Morrisey is right that Manchin voted against the tax bill supported by Trump and most Republicans. But he isn’t really right about Manchin’s position on Gorsuch.

Here, we’ll look at Manchin’s actions on the Gorsuch nominations; we looked at his positions on Obamacare in a separate fact-check.

Bottom line: When it counted, Manchin voted with Republicans to advance Gorsuch’s nomination.

The Gorsuch confirmation

Morrisey’s camp pointed to three votes on April 6, 2017, during the back-and-forth over Gorsuch when Manchin voted with most Democrats.

In two cases, Manchin voted in favor of efforts by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to adjourn before voting on the Gorsuch nomination or to postpone it. (Both failed along party lines.)

In the third vote, Manchin voted not to invoke the “nuclear option,” which is a procedural move to lower the number of votes required to advance to a final vote from 60 to a simple majority. In this case, too, Manchin voted with all Democrats and against all Republicans.

However, citing only these three votes paints a misleading picture of Manchin’s actions. In the most important votes for securing Gorsuch a floor vote, Manchin sided with Gorsuch and Republicans — and he’d telegraphed it.

Before the final showdown began, Manchin on March 27, 2017, became the first Democratic senator to publicly break with others in his party and say he’d side with Republicans by committing to vote in favor of proceeding to Gorsuch’s nomination.

By announcing his intention to support a vote for Gorsuch a full 10 days before the final action, he sent a signal to other Democrats who still might have been deciding on what to do.

And Manchin stuck to his word: On April 6, Manchin was one of only four Democrats to vote to invoke cloture and proceed to a final vote on Gorsuch’s nomination.

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., successfully invoked the “nuclear option,” the Senate once again voted on cloture, this time needing only a simple majority. Once again, Manchin voted to proceed to Gorsuch’s nomination on April 6, this time becoming one of only three Democrats to side with every Republican on the vote.

Finally, on the actual vote on Gorsuch’s nomination on April 7, Manchin voted in favor, once again making him one of just three Democrats to back Gorsuch in the final vote.

Senate specialist Gregory Koger of the University of Miami said Manchin has the better argument than Morrisey in this case.

“Ordinarily I would place real weight on procedural votes, such as adjournment and on the nuclear option precedent,” he said, “but I think there were extenuating circumstances, at least on the precedent vote, and the early public support for Gorsuch more than compensates for these procedural votes.”

Our ruling

Morrisey said, “If Joe Manchin had his way, Judge Gorsuch never would have been able to get a vote.”

Manchin did side with Democrats on certain procedural votes during the showdown over Gorsuch. But he broadcast his support for a vote on Gorsuch early enough to persuade fence-sitters, and on the main votes, he broke ranks with his party, siding with Republicans to secure Gorsuch a vote and ultimately confirm him to the court.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Election Watch

Patrick Morrisey says Joe Manchin won’t budge on Obamacare, ignoring bipartisan efforts

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As the general election for the seat held by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., heated up, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey took a shot in a radio interview with Breitbart, saying Manchin too often stands against President Donald Trump, who remains popular in the state.

Referring to Trump’s appointee to the Supreme Court, Morrisey said, “If Joe Manchin had his way, Judge (Neil) Gorsuch never would have been able to get a vote” in the Senate.

Morrisey went on to say, “Whether we’re talking judicial picks, whether we’re talking Trump tax cuts, whether we’re talking unwillingness to change the failed Obamacare … Joe Manchin has not stood with President Trump.”

Morrisey is right that Manchin voted against the tax bill supported by Trump and most Republicans. But he isn’t really right about Manchin’s positions on Gorsuch and modifying Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act.

We’ll look at the Obamacare assertion here; we separately fact-checked the part about Gorsuch in another item.

Bottom line: Despite voting against the major Obamacare overhaul that most Republicans supported, Manchin has been open to making incremental changes to the law.

Changing Obamacare

Manchin voted against the major Obamacare overhauls that most Republicans supported in 2017.

When the Senate took up three varieties of bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Manchin voted against all three bills, siding with all other Democrats. All three failed, due to Republican defections.

However, it is wrong to say that Manchin was unwilling to “change” the Affordable Care Act.

In January 2017, Manchin told West Virginia’s MetroNews radio that he had told Republican leaders that he’s “happy to sit down with you to see if we can find a pathway forward” on Obamacare, Politico reported.

Six months later, Manchin repeated that sentiment, telling MetroNews’ Talkline that he was still willing to work toward fixes for Obamacare, even as he objected to the Republican plan for a thorough overhaul.

“If they want to say, ‘Okay, Joe, we can’t pass this thing. Will you sit down and work with us?’ I’m there tonight with them and I’ll get six or seven or eight other very like-minded Democrats,” Manchin said.

Manchin then organized a bipartisan health care policy meeting.

Perhaps most important, Manchin was one of 24 original supporters — 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans — of a bill written by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., that was touted as a way to fix rather than scuttle Obamacare. The measure would have granted flexibility for states to allow a wider variety of insurance policies while temporarily continuing certain Obamacare payments that were at risk under a repeal. (It remains pending.)

Manchin also expressed public support for efforts by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to modify Obamacare short of repeal, which crystallized as S. 1835, which would allow states to apply for funding for a reinsurance program or high-risk pool program.

The Morrisey camp pointed to several votes, including a number of Republican attempts to either repeal Obamacare entirely or make sweeping changes to it. But Morrisey’s use of the word “change” suggests something more measured than those bills offered, so we won’t consider them as evidence of Morrisey’s claim.

Of the other votes Morrisey’s campaign cited, three concerned one narrow provision of the law: the “Cadillac” tax on high-cost health care plans. This provision has been controversial ever since the passage of the law, and the effective date has regularly been pushed back by Congress.

Manchin declined to push back the effective date on at least three occasions, sometimes alongside Republicans. On one such vote in December 2015, Manchin was joined by six other Democrats and three Republicans. On another vote that same month, Manchin was joined by 26 Republicans and six other Democrats or Democratic-aligned Independents. The third vote, in July 2017, was largely along party lines.

Morrisey’s campaign mentioned other Obamacare-related votes on taxes, including a 2013 amendment to repeal Obamacare tax increases that hit “middle-income Americans.” These included the tax penalty for not purchasing health insurance, the “Cadillac” tax, expense deductions and penalties for withdrawing funds from health savings accounts. This amendment failed on a party-line vote.

These comprise the strongest piece of evidence for Morrisey’s position, but they mostly involve relatively narrow tax provisions affecting how the law is funded.

It’s worth noting that Manchin has also pursued his own efforts to tweak the bill narrowly, such as exempting volunteer first responders from the tax for not having health insurance; to delay the individual mandate penalty; and to redefine who counts as a full-time employee under the law.

Our ruling

Morrisey said Manchin displayed an “unwillingness to change the failed Obamacare.”

Manchin did oppose the various Republican-led repeal efforts, but he has worked actively to promote incremental changes to Obamacare — not only rhetorically but also by backing bipartisan bills intended as efforts to modify Obamacare without scuttling it.

We rate the statement Half True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Election Watch

Will interest on the debt exceed defense spending by 2022?

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The hotly contested West Virginia primary for a U.S. Senate seat is now over. But it didn’t take more than a few hours for the general election to start.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., appeared on West Virginia radio host Hoppy Kercheval’s show, the morning after election night. In the general election, Manchin faces Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in what most observers see as a competitive race.

Manchin portrayed himself as a fiscal conservative both as governor and in the Senate in his interview with Kercheval. He expressed concern about the rising federal debt, which exceeds $21 trillion in the broadest measurement.

“By 2022, just the interest payment on our debt will be greater than the defense of our country,” Manchin said.

Is Manchin right? We found that he’s at least certainly close.

In 2017, the last year for which complete data is available, defense spending stood at $590 billion.

Net interest on the debt stood at $263 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan budget analysis arm of Congress.

So defense spending is currently more than twice as big as net interest.

However, net interest is expected to grow faster than defense spending over the next decade.

That’s according to CBO’s most recent Budget and Economic Outlook report, which projects a variety of budget categories 10 years into the future. (See Fig. 2.1 here.)

Between 2018 and 2028, CBO projects, both defense and interest will rise, with interest overtaking defense spending in fiscal year 2023.

In 2023, defense spending will be $679 billion and net interest will reach $702 billion. The gap will only grow from there.

So CBO has it one year later than Manchin said.

That said, things could change between now and then — and CBO’s assumptions are not the only way to make these projections.

CBO’s projections assume that defense spending will return to tighter levels in 2020, after the current spending bill expires, said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

However, Congress has regularly raised the spending limits since they were first imposed in 2011. And if Congress acts as it has in the past, that would change the calculations.

However, CBO does not specify the amounts under this alternative assumption, so that scenario is too speculative to consider.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “By 2022, just the interest payment on our debt will be greater than the defense of our country.”

The closest official estimate we could find says that net interest will pass defense spending in 2023, or one year later than Manchin said. But using a different set of unofficial assumptions, it could be different.

We rate his statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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