May 18, 2012
Our State Legislatures—Bastions of Imposed Conformity?
Where are we headed? Planned Parenthood is compared to a terrorist organization in Texas. Shariah Islamic law is singled out for a ban in Kansas. In several states around the USA, legislators and government officials are not just opposing, but they are seeking to marginalize – if not eliminate—dissent. By focusing on barely possible phenomena—taxpayer funds for elective abortions, Islamic law applied to lawsuits—and in Pennsylvania, “voter impersonation,” the hard right wing in America is forcing its agenda on the rest of us.
(The following item on Texas is drawn from Laura Bassett, Huffington Post, May 1, 2012.)
Just two hours after a U.S. district judge stopped a Texas law that would have eliminated Planned Parenthood's participation in the state's Women's Health Program, U.S. Federal Appeals Judge Jerry E. Smith issued an emergency stay that lifted that order.
"Planned Parenthood does not provide any assurance that the tax subsidies it receives from the Women’s Health Program have not been used directly or indirectly to subsidize its advocacy of elective abortion," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in his motion to stay the injunction. "Nor is it possible for Planned Parenthood to provide this assurance…Money is fungible, and taxpayer subsidies -- even if 'earmarked' for nonabortion activities -- free up other resources for Planned Parenthood to spend on its mission to promote elective abortions ... (because '[m]oney is fungible,' First Amendment does not prohibit application of federal material-support statute to individuals who give money to 'humanitarian' activities performed by terrorist organizations)."
The "federal material-support statute" that Abbott mentions makes it a felony to give money to a terrorist organization, even if the funds are specified for nonterrorist activities. Abbott makes the argument that giving Medicaid money to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings, pap smears, STD testing and birth control is akin to giving a terrorist organization money for humanitarian activities.
Planned Parenthood responded to the terrorist comparison in a statement to the Huffington Post: In fact, none of the eight Planned Parenthood clinics that participate in Texas' Women's Health Program offer abortions, and the money Planned Parenthood receives through the program for specific medical visits, treatments, and procedures does not even fully cover the cost of those services. Abortions at Planned Parenthood are entirely paid for with private money in compliance with the Hyde Amendment, which has prohibited taxpayer-funded abortions for decades.
Because the new Texas law violated federal Medicaid rules about provider discrimination, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cut off all Medicaid funding for family planning to the state of Texas in March, jeopardizing the entire Women's Health Program. The program serves about 130,000 low-income women; Planned Parenthood serves more than 40 percent of those women, which was an influencing factor in U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel's decision to halt the law and force the state to continue funding Planned Parenthood.
In appealing that decision, Abbott made the argument that the state of Texas would prefer to shut down the entire Women's Health Program rather than allow it to fund Planned Parenthood.
“Consequently, the district court’s preliminary injunction effectively forces Texas to choose between contravening state law and shutting down the program,” he told the appeals court.
(And the following item is drawn from John Hanna, Associated Press, May 14, 2012.)
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill designed to prevent Kansas courts or government agencies from making decisions based on Islamic or other foreign legal codes has cleared the state Legislature after a contentious debate about whether the measure upholds American values or appeals to prejudice against Muslims.
The Kansas Senate approved the bill on a 33-3 vote. The House had approved it, 120-0, earlier in the week. The measure goes next to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who hasn't said whether he'll sign or veto the measure.
The measure doesn't specifically mention Shariah law, which broadly refers to codes within the Islamic legal system. Instead, it says that courts, administrative agencies or state tribunals can't base rulings on any foreign law or legal system that would not grant the parties the same rights guaranteed by state and U.S. constitutions.
But several supporters specifically cited the potential use of Shariah law in Kansas as their concern. Though there are no known cases in which a Kansas judge has based a ruling on Islamic law, supporters of the bill cited a pending case in Sedgwick County in which a man seeking to divorce his wife has asked for property to be divided under a marriage contract in line with Shariah law.
Both the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the National Conference of State Legislatures say anti-Shariah proposals have been considered in 20 states, including Kansas. Oklahoma voters approved a ballot initiative in 2010 that specifically mentioned Shariah law, but both a federal judge and a federal appeals court blocked it.
Sen. Garrett Love, a Republican, said even if no Kansas court has yet based a decision on foreign legal codes, "That doesn't mean we shouldn't still protect Kansans from those foreign laws being used in the future — a future that really may not be that far away." But several senators questioned whether the legislation is necessary, arguing Kansas judges and officials already must adhere to the U.S. and state constitutions. Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, derided it as "an anti-unicorn" bill.
Laws to eliminate non-existent threats are apt descriptions…like the Voter Identification law in Pennsylvania, to fight a form of voter fraud in which there has been no case for at least eight years in the state. In fact, in Pennsylvania, thousands previous voters will be disenfranchised, since they lack a current photo identification.
What’s really going on here? The Texas case is an example of attempts to eliminate legal, elective abortion. The Kansas case is an example of anti-Muslim prejudice. And the Pennsylvania case is a blatant example of voter suppression. Expect some state legislator to call for loyalty oaths in the near future.