Trump is waging a war on people with disabilities

Policies the Trump administration has pursued have made it difficult for many disable people to lead independent lives.

Disabled people protest in front of the Senate Finance Committee room hours before a hearing on the latest Republican effort to repeal Obamacare on September 25, 2017 [Reuters/Kevin Lamarque]
Disabled people protest in front of the Senate Finance Committee room hours before a hearing on the latest Republican effort to repeal Obamacare on September 25, 2017 

Three Novembers ago, then-candidate Donald Trump came under fire for mocking a reporter living with arthrogryposis, a condition that limits joint function. It was a harbinger of what was to come for America’s disabled in the Trump era. His administration and representatives of his party in Congress have been dead-set on destroying the lives of disabled Americans for the last two years.

Upon taking office, Trump made repealing and replacing Obamacare, the healthcare insurance law passed under former President Barack Obama, his first congressional priority. This insistence to do away with a law that significantly expanded national healthcare coverage almost left millions of disabled Americans in the dust.

As part of ongoing efforts to repeal Obamacare and cut America’s safety-net, Trump and congressional Republicans wish to undermine Medicaid, the federal health programme for the poor, elderly, disabled and children. The neediest Americans, including many members of the disabled community, use 80 percent of Medicaid’s budgeted services.

To this day, Republicans advocate limiting federal per-capita Medicaid spending. Such cuts would cause states to raise taxes, pay doctors less, limit coverage eligibility and cut back on services. Cuts would bring an end to programmes such as Medicaid-funded personal care attendants. Almost three million disabled Americans use this programme to live, get out of bed, bathe, eat, drive to work and go to sleep.

Medicaid pays for more than half of in-home services in the US. It’s the engine that allows many disabled Americans to live independently. Previous Obamacare repeal attempts could have lead to the unnecessary institutionalisation of millions, condemning them to a life of limited freedom and autonomy. Trump and congressional Republicans could care less, as they clearly demonstrated with multiple attempts to destroy Medicaid and gut civil rights laws.

Last winter, 253 congressional Republicans voted to pass HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, a bill that would alter the enforcement provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA grants civil rights to people with disabilities, ensuring they have equal access to public places and businesses, requiring owners to supply reasonable accommodations. This bill would undermine the ADA, making it more challenging and time intensive to force businesses to accommodate people with disabilities.

The bill would force a disabled person to first file a notice that usually requires counsel, wait 60 days for a response and wait 120 more days to see if progress is made on remedying a violation of the law before the issue can be brought to the courts. It’s intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits against retailers.

However, the Center for American Progress found that a recent uptick in ADA lawsuits is not widespread and it stems from a single law firm. Republicans can easily patch up the law to deter profiteering lawyers while maintaining civil rights protections. But they have chosen to take a drastic measure that would make it even harder for disabled Americans to stand up for their rights.

Members of the Trump administration have also been punishing disabled Americans. Last year, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded 72 guidance documents that detailed the rights of special needs students. The rescinded documents were created to clarify how federal disability rights law should apply to the nation’s school districts.

Last December, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded two dozen guidance documents including several clarifying the implications of the ADA. By doing so, Sessions undermined an Obama-era guidance preventing unnecessary segregation of settings in workplaces as well as vocation and day programmes.

The guidance warned states that they needed to modify their policies to ensure employment programmes offer people with disabilities opportunities to work in fully integrated settings. Rescinding this guidance does not change the ADA’s mandates, but it can create uncertainty about how the law should be interpreted.

All is not lost in the fight to protect people with disabilities in the United States. Americans have risen up to resist Trump and bring about change. ADAPT activists, for example, played a critical role in the failure of Republicans to repeal Obamacare by staging “die-ins” in US congressional offices.

As the 2018 US congressional midterm elections approach, momentum is with the Democrats to take control of the US House. Democratic chairpersons in critical US House congressional committees are poised to hold President Trump accountable, investigating and deflecting Republican attempts to weaken safety-net programmes like Medicaid.

Undoubtedly, some damage has already been done and we have a very long way to go to create an America that caters to all Americans. Contesting conservative attacks on safety-net programmes and public accommodations will not be enough on their own to achieve this. National and state leaders will also need to take steps to make sure all feel welcome in our country’s department stores, restaurants, schools, bus terminals, subways and workplaces.

The president claims the US is now stronger than ever before, and everybody is doing better. However, this is not the case for millions of vulnerable Americans and low-income families. Trump’s America denies its people healthcare, evicts poor parents and hobbles the disabled.

Hard fought protections and investments are being scaled back and many Americans are feeling that they are being abandoned by their country.

Republicans say they celebrate self-sufficiency. However, now that they are in power, rather than help more Americans get back on their feet and live independent and productive lives, they are gutting consumer safeguards, civil rights regulations and social services.

If Republicans really want more Americans to be truly independent, they should question their ruthless adherence to tax cuts for the super-rich, small government and deregulation. Disabled Americans want to lead independent lives. They want to work, raise a family, and contribute to society like all able-bodied adults. It’s time America gives them the tools and resources to do so.

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Tobacco shares hit on US menthol ban fear

Shares in two tobacco giants have been hit by reports that US regulators are planning to ban menthol cigarettes.

Shares in British American Tobacco fell 9% to their lowest level for nearly five years, while Imperial Brands shares fell 4%.

A report in the Wall Street Journal claimed the US Food and Drugs Administration would impose the ban.

Analysts said menthol cigarettes sales account for a quarter of BAT’s earnings and a tenth of Imperial Brands’.

‘Next generation’

The newspaper report suggested the US authorities are planning a ban just days after cracking down on flavoured e-cigarettes.

BAT owns one of the most popular menthol brands, Newport, after it splashed out $49bn (£38bn) on rival RJ Reynolds last year.

Analysts at Barclays estimated US sales of menthol cigarettes account for around 25% of BAT’s annual underlying earnings and around 11% of Imperial Brands’s earnings.

But the menthol ban could take up to two years to come into force, with a year for the rules to be finalised and a further year for the ban to be enforced in the marketplace.

In 2013, the Food and Drugs Administration concluded that menthol cigarettes are harder to quit and pose a greater health risk than regular cigarettes.

“Along with cigarette volumes shrinking, regulation is the other inevitable fact of the tobacco industry,” said Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“An ever more hostile regulatory environment might explain why BAT has decided to spend big on next generation products like e-vapour and heated tobacco.

“These products are believed to cause less harm to users, but even here the regulator is creating waves – potentially banning flavoured capsules popular with younger customers.”

‘Rule-making process’

BAT said it did not that believe that menthol encouraged people to smoke, made smoking harder to give up, or increased the risks to health compared to cigarettes without menthol.

“In the event that the FDA does make an announcement this week indicating that it wishes to regulate menthol cigarettes, any such proposal will have to go through the multi-year rule-making process, including public comment, a potential review by the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC), and will be subject to judicial review,” said Simon Cleverly, corporate affairs head at BAT.

“In any event, we look forward to continuing to participate in a thorough science-based review to address the use of flavours in tobacco products.”

“We Will Never Concede to Bigotry”: Florida Organizers Sound the Alarm over Voting Discrepancies

NOVEMBER 09, 2018

Days after the midterm elections, Florida’s contests for U.S. Senate and governor appear to be heading for recounts. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said he is prepared for a possible recount, as his margin with Republican opponent Ron DeSantis narrowed to less than half a percentage point Thursday. A recount is triggered in Florida if the winning candidate’s margin is less than half a percentage point. Incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott will likely also head to a recount in the Senate race, with Scott leading by less than a quarter percentage point as of Thursday. Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott is also suing the Democratic election supervisors of Broward and Palm Beach counties, accusing them of trying to steal the election. Andrea Cristina Mercado, executive director of The New Florida Majority, joins us to discuss the group’s grassroots organizing to expand the electorate in Florida. She also details reports of widespread voting problems on Tuesday, including confusion over ballot design and problems with accessing polling sites and navigating Florida’s voter ID law.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we go to Florida, where, days after the midterm elections, the state’s races for Senate and governor appear to be heading for recounts. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said he’s prepared for a possible recount, as his margin with Republican opponent Ron DeSantis narrowed to less than half a percentage point Thursday. Gillum conceded to DeSantis election night after the race was called for his opponent, but the margin has since tightened. A recount is triggered in Florida if the winning candidate’s margin is less than half a percentage point. Incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott will likely also head to a recount in the Senate race, with Scott leading by less than a quarter of a percentage point as of Thursday. That’s .2 percent.

On Thursday evening, Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott sued the Democratic elections supervisors of Broward and Palm Beach counties. He accused them of—quote, “unethical liberals” of trying to steal the election.

GOVRICK SCOTT: We’ve all seen the incompetence and the irregularities in vote tabulations in Broward and Palm Beach for years. Well, here we go again. I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida. Senator Nelson hired one of Hillary Clinton’s lawyers from D.C., and the first thing he did was tell reporters that he’s here to win the election. He did not say he is here—he did not say that he wants a full and fair election or even an accurate vote count.

AMY GOODMAN: These will be the first statewide recounts since Bush v. Gore in 2000.

For more, we go to Ft. Lauderdale, where we’re joined by Andrea Cristina Mercado, executive director of The New Florida Majority.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Please explain to the country what’s happening in your state, Andrea.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: I’m here in the heart of Broward County, where we are still waiting for every vote to be counted. You know, this was a—we had a race, in the governor’s race, that was historic and significant. Andrew Gillum had an upset victory in the primary. We endorsed him and ran one of the largest field programs, because we know that candidates that run on transformative platforms can energize a new electorate and bring out people who don’t usually come to the polls. And we saw historic turnout: 250,000 people who didn’t vote in 2016 voted in this election. And yet, on election night, as is so often the case in Florida, it was razor-thin margins. And it was pointing towards a DeSantis victory.

And yet, every vote remains to be counted here in Broward County. Many of our votes have not yet been tabulated. And Andrew Gillum is now within what is triggered for an automatic machine recount. And Senator Nelson is headed for a manual recount, a recount that happens by hand when a race is won or lost by less than a quarter of a percentage point. This is, you know, 15,000 votes in a state with over 20 million people. So there’s a lot of people on the edge of their seats that are really hoping that actually the forces for unity and a vision for a Florida where all of us belong will prevail in this election, in some of these key races.

AMY GOODMAN: Florida’s chief legal officer, the secretary of state, Ken Detzner, told county election supervisors to plan for three statewide recounts.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: That’s correct. So we have Andrew Gillum and DeSantis, the governor’s race, is heading to a machine recount. Senator Nelson and Rick Scott is headed to a manual recount. And Nikki Fried, the agriculture commissioner, is now up 3,000 votes as the votes in Broward County continue to be tabulated.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you explain, Andrea, what’s going on in Broward? I mean, we all—those who were born by 2000, with Bush v. Gore, the whole issue of chads and everything else—explain what’s happened on that ballot and how difficult it was to read and why so many people who filled out their choice for governor actually didn’t vote in the Senate race.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Yeah. I mean, it’s very frustrating for all of us here in Broward County. I was in that voting booth with my two daughters and really had to search for where I was going to vote for U.S. Senate. It was on the left-hand side and below many of the other significant statewide races. And so it was a little bit hidden and obscured. The design of the ballot was flawed. And we believe that that’s resulted in, you know, tens of thousands of people not voting in the race for U.S. Senate, while they voted for many other statewide races.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened in Little—

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: And it’s very concerning.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened in Little Miami—rather, Little Haiti in Miami, the early voting site different than the voting site on the day of the midterms?

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Yeah. I mean, I think the—you know, we’ve seen, for years, the ways that the vote is suppressed. Some of it is done by laws, like the law that we had on the books where people with a criminal record, after they had done their time, were not allowed to participate in our democracy—over 1.4 million Floridians. We just overturned that on Election Day, which is incredibly significant. There are all kinds of other laws, voter ID laws. I spoke to an 86-year-old woman yesterday who had to fill out a provisional ballot because her driver’s license was expired. Imagine that: She’s 86, she doesn’t drive anymore.

And in addition to that, there are attempts to confuse voters. So, in Little Haiti, there was one very prominent site in the Haitian community that was used as an early voting site. And on Election Day, hundreds of seniors were lined up there to cast a historic vote for Andrew Gillum, and yet that location was not actually a voting place on Election Day, and people were told that they had to go elsewhere. And so we were scrambling to find out how do we get seniors and people with limited mobility to the correct voting place.

So, you know, and I think we’re still investigating other ways that the vote may have been suppressed. And I wouldn’t be surprised if—you know, stories have been emerging, and I wouldn’t be more surprised if more stories continue to emerge over the next few days.

AMY GOODMAN: So, finally, the issue of Amendment 4, this historic amendment that passed overwhelmingly that means 1.4 million Floridians will now be allowed to vote, one of the largest enfranchisement actions in history. You know, young people being able to vote back in the ’70s, going from 21 to 18, and back to women being able to vote in 1920. One-point-four million Floridians could now vote in 2020, who had felonies on their record, were barred from voting. Now they will be able to. What difference would that make today?

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Oh, absolutely. I mean, essentially, Andrew Gillum got within half a percentage point while he was missing 18 percent of the black vote in the state. You know, we all know that criminalization disproportionately impacts African Americans and communities of color. And there is now 1.4 million Floridians who have been disenfranchised, largely people of color, who will be able to vote in the next election. So, I think this has forever changed the political calculus in Florida. And, you know, we truly believe that the forces for social justice and economic justice and racial equity, it’s just a matter of time before we prevail and that we will overcome all the odds and voter suppression and every other dirty trick in the book, and soon secure victory and elect politicians that we believe will really fight for our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: If Andrew Gillum were to win the governorship, he’d be the first black governor of Florida. He seemed as surprised as many other people, Andrea.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: At the narrowing—at the shrinking margins? Or—I mean, I think it’s been a—

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that there could be a recount triggered.

ANDREA CRISTINA MERCADO: Absolutely. I mean, I think Tuesday night was a—it was a hard night. It was a bitter pill to swallow. But, you know, I think, for us, we know that our movements will never concede to hate. We will never concede to homophobia. We will never concede to bigotry. And we will be here insisting that every vote is counted. There were hundreds of volunteers across the state yesterday making sure that people who had cast provisional ballots had done what they needed to do to make sure that their voice was heard. And we’ll continue to see everyone taking to the streets. On November 20th, we’ll have a statewide day of action for us to stand up for a Florida for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrea Cristina Mercado, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of The New Florida Majority.

Lost in a Week of Hateful Violence, a White Man Killed Two Black Shoppers at a Kentucky Supermarket

STORY – Democracynow.org – OCTOBER 30, 2018

Just days before a domestic terrorist entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and shot 11 worshipers dead, a white man gunned down two elderly African-American customers at a Kentucky grocery store Wednesday in what many are calling a hate crime. Fifty-one-year-old Gregory Bush opened fire and killed Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, shortly after trying to enter a predominantly black church. Bush reportedly then told an armed bystander that “whites don’t kill whites.” As the community mourns, we speak with Kentucky Rep. Attica Scott and Reverend Vincent James, chief of community building for the city of Louisville and pastor of Elim Baptist Church.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at the hate-fueled crimes that have swept the nation in the past week. Eleven worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh were killed Saturday in what has been described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. The attack came just one day after a Trump supporter in Florida named Cesar Sayoc was arrested and charged with mailing bombs to more than a dozen of the president’s prominent critics, including the Clintons, the Obamas and George Soros. Law enforcement officers now say Sayoc had a list of over 100 targets.

But there was a third hate-fueled crime that received far less coverage last week: the murder of two elderly African-American customers at a Kentucky grocery store on Wednesday. Gregory Bush, a 51-year-old white man, opened fire and killed Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, outside Louisville, after unsuccessfully trying to enter a predominantly black church. Now the community is demanding justice for what the Louisville [sic] chief of police has called a hate crime.

AMY GOODMAN: Gregory Bush was captured on a surveillance camera trying to force open the doors of the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown for several minutes Wednesday, before turning his attention instead to the nearby supermarket, where he killed Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones. Armed bystander Ed Harrell confronted Bush in the parking lot outside the grocery store after the killings. This is Harrell’s son Steve Zinninger speaking with a local NBC affiliate.

REPORTER: So, your dad was confronting the shooter.

STEVE ZINNINGER: Yeah. Yeah.

REPORTER: OK. Did that man say anything? Or, how did your dad figure out something wasn’t right?

STEVE ZINNINGER: He didn’t realize it was him ’til he’d already seen the gun by his side. And he said, “Don’t shoot me, I won’t shoot you.” He’s like, “Whites don’t kill whites.”

AMY GOODMAN: “Whites don’t kill whites,” Gregory Bush said.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Gregory Bush has a history of making racist slurs and a long rap sheet of misdemeanor charges, including domestic violence, menacing and making terroristic threats. In 2009, a judge ordered Bush to surrender his guns and undergo mental health treatment, after his parents claimed he had threatened to shoot them. Bush’s father has said his son, quote, “carries a gun wherever he goes,” unquote. It’s not clear whether Bush’s guns were returned when the court order expired in 2011.

AMY GOODMAN: Gregory Bush will face two counts of murder and 10 counts of wanton endangerment at a court hearing scheduled for November.

For more, we’re going to Louisville to join two guests. Attica Scott is Kentucky state representative, certified anti-racism trainer. In 2016, she became the first African-American woman to serve in Kentucky’s state Legislature in 20 years. And Reverend Vincent James is with us. He’s chief of community building for the city of Louisville, pastor of Elim Baptist Church.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Reverend Vincent James, you knew one of the murder victims. Can you talk about what happened on Wednesday? Something that was not paid very much attention to around the country, first Bush’s apparent attempt to get into a predominantly black church, then going over to Kroger’s, the grocery store.

REVVINCENT JAMES: Yes. Thank you, Amy, for having us on the show.

Wednesday was a very somber day. Somewhere a little before 3:00, all of us was in the office at the Mayor’s Office, and one of our colleagues, we heard her scream. And she was on the phone, and she was talking with someone. We really didn’t know what had happened at that point. And then, as time continued to proceed, we discovered that there was a possibility of a—there was a shooting, and there was the possibility that it was a family member.

Not really understanding and knowing what had happened, we immediately went out to the location. We had several members of our team there. And we later discovered that Kellie Watson, who is the chief equity officer in metro—Louisville metro government, that it was her father, Maurice Stallard, who had been murdered, and another woman had been murdered in the parking lot.

It was a horrific day, a sad day. And we are continuing to grieve through this process. But one of the exciting things is that we’re a very resilient city, and we’ve been working on some things, in terms of—out of Kellie’s office, as the chief equity officer, in terms of looking at these very types of issues.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask Representative Attica Scott, in terms of the reaction of some public officials in the area about whether this was a hate crime or not, could you talk about that and the judgment that people did or didn’t go through very soon after this crime occurred?

REPATTICA SCOTT: Definitely. And when something like this happens, the entire community grieves and is anxious and is stressed out, and often looks to elected leaders to provide some direction and guidance. And in this situation, we, as an African-American community, were failed by many of our elected officials who refused to call this what it was, which is a hate crime. When you kill two black people—Ms. Jones and Mr. Stallard—and you try to break into a black church, that’s a hate crime. And to have people at the local and state level refuse to even call it a hate crime sent a message to many of us in community that our lives do not indeed matter to some people. And we shouldn’t have to beg you to call this what it is.

AMY GOODMAN: We hoped to have Mayor Greg Fischer on; he had to back out late last night. But, Reverend Vincent James, you work for the mayor. Can you talk about—

REVVINCENT JAMES: Uh-huh, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about that, whether—

REVVINCENT JAMES: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —why the mayor didn’t immediately call it a hate crime?

REVVINCENT JAMES: Well, I can share with you, the mayor did come out and say that it was a hate crime. He talked about the fact that this situation was driven by hate. When you think about—and I have the privilege of pastoring a local African-American church in the city and understanding in terms of what the community needs and the hurt that a community goes through when they experience this. And just recently, yesterday, Mayor Greg Fischer and several local pastors and faith leaders in our community sat down and talked with the commonwealth attorney, Tom Wine, and talked about this very issue of a hate crime. It was a horrendous hate crime. And Mayor Fischer acknowledged it. He identified with it. And he grieves with the community and the families. And so, he is very aware and very in tune.

And we’ve been working on these issues for the past several years, working with GARE, Government Alliance for Racial Equity, and putting together racial equity plans in terms of our community. One of our tenets in terms of when we think about our community is a very compassionate community. So, our mayor’s heart was grieved. He’s angered. But also, we’re moving to action. We’ve put in action plans, and we’re working with community leaders to begin to look at how this can never happen again in our community and how do we avoid these types of things. And so, as a community, we are very resilient, we are very focused, and we have a plan in place to be able to execute that this won’t happen again.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Representative Scott, I wanted to see if you agree with the assessment of Reverend James and also if you could talk about this whole issue of the “Blue Lives Matter” legislation that went through the Legislature.

REPATTICA SCOTT: We have to make sure that we have honest conversations about what got us here. And when we have a political system that passes hateful legislation, when we have societal issues around comments that are made, whether you’re calling young black kids punks or thugs, or whether you’re passing legislation like the “Blue Lives Matter” bill and changing Kentucky’s hate crimes law to now include your profession, what you choose to do, if you’re a first responder, including law enforcement, that sends a clear message across Kentucky about whose lives really do matter.

And then, this year, passing a so-called gang bill, that we saw in Mississippi, in the eight years since it’s been passed, that only black people have received an enhanced sentence from that gang bill—to have supported and then passed that bill here in Kentucky sends a message across our black communities and other communities of color that you are under attack by your own elected officials at the local and state level. And we have to have those honest conversations that say, “Wait a minute. What are we doing to make sure that we’re looking to restore people to their fullness rather than to incarcerate them so that we can justify building more prisons?”

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to correct: We had said the St. Louis [sic] police chief, but it’s the Jeffersontown police chief, Sam Rogers.

REVVINCENT JAMES: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: We had said the Louisville police chief, but the Jeffersontown police chief, Sam Rogers, who told the First Baptist Church on Sunday that the shooting was motivated by racism, was a hate crime. Can you talk, Reverend James, about the feelings right now inside the church that Bush apparently tried to get into? You’re the reverend of another church.

REVVINCENT JAMES: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: How churches are feeling right now? And also, this being the—one of a series of attacks this week. I mean, you have this man allegedly saying to a white man standing outside with a gun, outside Kroger’s, “Whites don’t kill whites,” like saying, “Don’t kill me,” or he’s not going to kill him.

REVVINCENT JAMES: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Then you have the letter bombs, now apparently 15 of them, sent out to people who are critics of President Trump, and then, of course, the horrific synagogue massacre that took place, that at another place of worship, in Pittsburgh, the funerals beginning today, with the anti-Semitic shooter who also linked Jewish groups helping immigrants and his fierce anti-immigrant hatred.

REVVINCENT JAMES: Yes, it’s a very sad time in our country when we have these types of acts of hatred in our communities and in our churches and synagogues and mosques, when you think about all that has taken place across the country. But one of the things that—people of faith recognize the fact that these challenges are written in the holy word that these things were to come. And so, one of the things in terms of what we find and what we see as faith leaders, as community leaders, is that it is our faith that really drives us beyond what we see and what we experience, to hope; that we know that with people coming together and staying together, that we can change. We have to realize and know that this is not a time to turn on each other, but it’s a time to turn to each other.

And so, what I’ve seen across the faith community, talking with all kinds of faith leaders across our city and across this country, is the fact that we have a reality that we have to look at and confront, when we talk about hatred, when we talk about the rhetoric that is coming from our administration—a all these types of things that we, as a people of faith, have to rise above it and take action. You know, the reality is, is that it takes us as a people to recognize what is going on, and then we have to go to the polls. Next week is going to be a very critical time for our country, that we need to send a message that this type of behavior, this type of situation that happened in Pittsburgh, that happened in Louisville, is totally unacceptable, and we’re going to change. And the way that you change that is going to the polls.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Reverend—

REVVINCENT JAMES: And so, the faith community is rising above. Uh-huh?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Reverend James, I wanted to ask you, in the same vein, for the—President Trump, after the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh, said that perhaps armed guards were needed at places of worship. He said similar things after the Parkland shooting, that armed guards—or, the arming of teachers—he suggested the possibility of the arming of teachers. What’s your response to this idea that maybe houses of worship should now have armed guards as a means of protecting themselves?

REVVINCENT JAMES: I don’t believe that houses of faith or schools need to have armed guards. You know, that’s not why we attend church. We attend church to be able to connect with our god and to be able to realize that our faith protects us. And even when challenges come against us, we know it because the word says no weapon will form against us. Doesn’t mean that the weapon won’t come, but it means in terms it won’t prosper, that it won’t destroy the hope and the resilience of the people, in spite of what challenges that we face.

That’s why, in terms of having armed guards, you have to be secure and understand the Bible teaches us that we need to be wise as serpents and gentle as a dove. That means you have to be alert and awake in terms of things that could potentially happen, but you also have to have a heart of compassion and love and forgiveness.

And so, when we recognize these types of things, we move forward with action and faith and hope, and knowing that these things, you know, have the possibility of existing, and we’re prepared, in terms from a security standpoint, but not from the standpoint of having armed guards standing at the door. I think that is to the extreme of what we need in our country. We need to talk more about how do we live in peace as opposed to living in fear and in violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Attica Scott, as a political representative in Kentucky, not so far away are the races in Georgia and Florida right now, taking on extreme racial tones. You have the secretary of state of Georgia, Brian Kemp, withholding 53,000 registration forms, overwhelmingly African-American. He is the secretary of state, and he’s running against Stacey Abrams. If she were to win, she’d become the first African-American woman governor in the country. And then Andrew Gillum, running for governor in Florida, the president just called him a “stone cold thief.” This followed a KKK-backed or some kind of white supremacist organization-backed robocall, and his opponent, DeSantis, telling voters to—not to “monkey it up,” right after he became the Democratic candidate. Your thoughts in this midterm election season, and then what happened this week, from Kentucky to Pittsburgh to the mail bombs that were sent out?

REPATTICA SCOTT: My thoughts are that we better not, in Kentucky, act like we’re immune from what we’re seeing in Georgia and Florida, what we’re hearing out of the mouths of politicians in Georgia and Florida, because we hear some of the same and very similar sentiment right here in Kentucky. We’ve seen the mailers that have gone out calling people radicals and trying to shame people and attack people, especially women who are running for office here in Kentucky. So we’re not immune.

And we’re also not immune from attacks on our right to vote. I serve on the committee in Frankfort that pays attention to the elections and to our Constitution. And even this legislative session, we had Republican lawmakers asking about how do we protect the vote, but it was coded language, the way in which it was asked, about what we can do, future-wise, in taking away the right to vote. So we’d better pay attention, right here Kentucky, to what’s happening right around us.

I also have to say that we need to be mindful of the environment that we create, that allows hate to thrive. On Martin Luther King’s weekend this year, Louisville allowed a gun show to happen here on that weekend. And this past weekend, a gun show happened right here in Louisville after the shootings at Kroger. And there were Christmas ornaments that were being sold with Nazi symbols and images on them. We are allowing that climate right here in Louisville, which is supposed to be a so-called liberal or progressive city. And when we allow that, we are nowhere near liberal or progressive.

And we also need to make sure that we are passing policies that are designed to keep guns out of people’s hands that should not have guns, and that we are very cautious about claiming that there’s a mental health disorder that justifies hate and committing a hate crime. And that’s too much of what I’ve been hearing these past three days about the shooter having a diagnosed mental health disorder. That is no excuse to kill two black people at a grocery store. And that is no excuse to try to break into a black church to commit crime. And it’s all connected, whether it’s the mail bombs or the murders at the synagogue, or whether it’s Ms. Jones or Mr. Stallard being killed at Kroger. It’s all connected. It’s all part of a system that has been created in this country over time, and it’s a system that we all need to work to dismantle.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Democratic state Representative Attica Scott of Kentucky, serving on the House Education Committee, in 2016 became the first African-American woman to serve in Kentucky’s state Legislature in 20 years, and Reverend Vincent James, chief of community building for the city of Louisville, pastor of the Elim Baptist Church.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll talk about far-right violence, its connection to guns, white supremacist groups in this country. Stay with us.

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The women looking outside the law for abortions

  • 28 October 2018
Illustration a woman looks for medication onlineImage KATIE HORWICH

Accessing abortion has become increasingly difficult in parts of the US. As a result, a growing number of reproductive rights activists say it is time American women learn the facts about “self-managing abortion” with pills.

Kate could tell something was wrong. She’d been feeling nauseous for days and her body just felt different. The 27-year-old massage school student and her boyfriend were supposed to leave on a short road trip together, but before they hit the highway, she asked him to drive to a local drugstore.

Kate, which is not her real name, bought a pregnancy test and took it in the store bathroom. It was positive.

“I probably lost all my colour,” she recalls. “I was pretty devastated.”

Over the six-hour drive that followed, the young couple wrestled with the decision in front of them – to become parents or not. Kate was open to the idea, but as a full-time student doing odd jobs on the side to make ends meet, she was also broke. Her boyfriend told her he wasn’t ready to become a father.

“I struggle putting food on the table and I’m in debt,” she says. “I just didn’t see how I could justify putting a kid in that situation.”

The nearest abortion clinic was hours away, and the attendant who answered the phone told her that because she was less than 10 weeks along, she could terminate the pregnancy with pills – one dose of the drug mifepristone to take at the clinic, and a second medication, misoprostol, to take at home.

She was also told it would cost nearly $800. Kate was shocked.

“It would have taken everything I have. I don’t know how I would have paid rent.”

So she did what thousands of women around the globe do every year – she decided to try to have an abortion on her own.

Illustration open highway

Despite the fact that abortion is legal in the US, various studies have estimated that hundreds of thousands of Americans have tried to end a pregnancy without the help of a doctor at some point in their lives, whether through medication, herbs, vitamin C, alcohol, drugs or self-harm. Although accurate figures are difficult to come by, one study estimated that in the state of Texas alone, between 100,000 and 240,000 people had attempted a self-induced abortion.

A New York Times analysis of Google data found that in 2015, there were 700,000 searches from the US for information about self-managed abortion – phrases like “how to have a miscarriage,” “how to self-abort” and “buy abortion pills online”.

With the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, pro-choice activists are preparing for the possible dismantling of Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalised abortion across the country. In this imagined “post-Roe” United States, some campaigners are making the case that women need to know the facts about how to “self-manage” their own abortions.

“This is the next frontier in abortion access,” says Erin Matson, co-founder of Reproaction, a pro-choice group that has begun hosting public information sessions on self-managed abortion throughout the US. “Everybody has a right to know information about how to safely and effectively end a pregnancy on their own. It’s bigger than this political moment.”

Anti-abortion activists say that even if Roe is overturned, it is unlikely abortion would become illegal across the US, and that it’s a dangerous argument for women managing their own care.

“All overturning Roe v Wade would do is give the question back to the states and allow the states to legislate the procedure,” says Dr Ingrid Skop, an obstetrician-gynecologist in San Antonio, Texas, and a board member of the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs.

“I think that even if restrictions were put in place so that more women could not access the procedure, that many more women would carry their pregnancies to term and probably many of these women would find that what began as an unintended pregnancy would become a desired pregnancy and a desired child.”

Though the phrase “self-managed abortion” conjures images of coat hangers and disreputable, back-alley abortionists, campaigners say that is not the world we live in anymore, in large part thanks to the development of abortion with pills, which can be used with about 95% effectiveness until 10 weeks into a pregnancy.

“A third of all abortions now, you go to the clinic and get pills and go home and do the abortion,” says Dr Beverly Winikoff, founder and president of Gynuity Health Project. “Doing an abortion now means swallowing a pill.”

The Pink House: The last abortion clinic in Mississippi

Such was the case for Kate, who quickly found online pharmacies who could ship her mifepristone and misoprostol from India for half the cost. However, she didn’t like the look of the websites or trust that the medication would be genuine. That’s when she came across a new site called Aid Access, which quietly came online earlier this spring.

The reproductive rights advocates behind websites like Women Help Women, Safe2Choose and Women on Web have been sending abortion pills by mail to countries where abortion is illegal or severely restricted for over a decade.

One study found that of 1,000 Irish women who received pills by mail using the Women on Web service, 95% ended their pregnancies successfully. But until very recently, none of these services would ship to the US – a wealthy, first-world country where abortion is legal, and the anti-abortion movement is politically powerful and litigious.

That changed this spring, when Dr Rebecca Gomperts, the Dutch physician behind Women on Web, founded Aid Access. She publicly announced its existence earlier this month, though she estimates she’s already sent 600 mifepristone-misoprostol kits to the US since April.

Dr Gomperts says that after reading email pleas for help from all over the US and watching how many restrictions states have placed on abortion services over the last 10 years, she decided something had to be done.

“It is especially the really poor women who are affected by obstacles that have been put in place in the last years,” she says. “The need is growing and it’s super desperate.”

When Kate got to Aid Access, she filled out a short survey that asked about the length of her pregnancy, her medical history and her reasons for needing help. She was approved, paid a $95 fee (women too poor to pay can still receive the medication) and gave Aid Access her address. Dr Gomperts wrote Kate the prescription from her private practice in Europe.

After the little brown box arrived in the mail (from a pharmacy in India that Dr Gomperts declines to name), Kate took the medication as instructed, and says that after a sleepless night of painful cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, she began to bleed. By morning, it was over.

“I felt a real sense of relief two days later,” she says. “I’d been so miserable for what seemed like forever.”

Illustration a package from India

Aid Access is just the newest way American women can get their hands directly on medication without going through a doctor. Online pharmacies – many located in India – will sell the drugs without a prescription (one research group bought 22 such products online and received 20, and although some of the blister packs were damaged, 72% contained enough of the drug to be effective).

Misoprostol – which is less effective than mifepristone but can be used on its own to induce a miscarriage – is sold over the counter in Mexico and has been found for sale at US flea markets near the border.

Some activists believe that with accurate information about how to take the medication and when to seek help, abortions can easily be done at home.

“We can trust women to make decisions and to manage their own abortions,” says Dr Gomperts. “Women have a human right to health.”

Obtaining abortion drugs in the US without a prescription is against the law. The US Food and Drug Administration has placed mifepristone under a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, which is a special restriction on distribution for medications that may have serious risks associated with their use. The opioid fentanyl is also under a REMS, for example. Mifepristone can only be distributed in a doctor’s office or hospital.

In a statement to the BBC, the FDA said it is looking into Aid Access: “The agency takes the allegations related to the sale of mifepristone in the US through online distribution channels very seriously and is evaluating the allegations to assess potential violations of US law.”

However, many doctors believe that the REMS on mifepristone is unnecessary, and both the American Medical Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have recommended that the restriction be lifted.

“To date, 19 deaths have been reported to the FDA among the more than three million women in the United States who have used [mifepristone],” one working group of doctors wrote in 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Pregnancy-related death… is 14 times higher.”

Mifepristone, the first of two drugs typically prescribed for a medication abortionMifepristone, the first of two drugs typically prescribed for a medication abortion

Anti-abortion organisations, like the Family Research Council, argue that the medication is not safe enough to be provided over the counter, and that circumventing FDA regulations is even riskier. Women who have an ectopic pregnancy, who have an intrauterine device or who have a history of adrenal health problems are not advised to take mifepristone. Rare complications include sepsis or haemorrhage, which could be life threatening.

“Just sort of violating the law and the distribution requirements – there are reasons these things are in place,” says Chris Gacek, a senior fellow on regulatory affairs at the Family Research Council. “Regardless of your views on abortion, I just don’t think this is good medicine.”

There are other, legal attempts to remove obstacles between patients and medication. Planned Parenthood currently runs telemedicine programmes in 14 states, where a doctor consults with the patient online or via telephone at a clinic that is convenient for her, and if the doctor determines she is eligible for medication abortion, he or she unlocks a drawer containing the pills remotely. Researchers at Gynuity Health Projects are currently running a study that’s been filed with the FDA, in which women are directly mailed the drugs after consultation with a physician.

However, 19 other states have a ban on abortion drugs being dispensed by telemedicine, and since the medications are not obtainable without a prescription in the US, any pregnant person trying to obtain the pills without a doctor’s help is operating in risky legal territory.

“I would never encourage anyone to do that,” says Tara Kepler, an attorney of counsel at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and a telemedicine legal expert. “There’s no way to get it without a prescription unless you’re violating the law.”

At the same time, Kepler says that she’s never heard of legal action being taken against a patient for ordering a prescription online. Activists say that since women will continue trying to self-induce abortion regardless of the legal risks, it is their responsibility to put out helpful, accurate information.

“What we know is people were managing their abortions before Roe, and have and will continue to do so without Roe,” says Pamela Merritt, co-founder of Reproaction.

A sign that reads "Reproaction's self-managed abortion forum"

On a balmy Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, a small group gathered in the brightly lit basement of an old union hall in St Louis, Missouri. A handwritten sign hung on the door read, “Self-Managed Abortion Forum”.

Attendance was modest – 10 men and women in total – and the bags of crisps and fruit salad sat untouched. Organisers wondered if the event might inspire protest, but none materialised. Nevertheless, the sense of urgency in the room was palpable.

Several people declined to provide their names, and said that they intentionally did not RSVP to the event on Facebook.

“It could be traced back if [abortion] gets criminalised,” said one.

“I’m a pharmacist,” another said. “That could be bad for me.”

“I’m clergy,” added a third.

Next to the fruit salad was a stack of fact-sheets which laid out how a regimen of 12 tablets of misoprostol taken four at a time over the course of nine hours can induce an abortion.

“Misoprostol is typically used within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and is about 85 percent effective,” the card read, next to a cartoon of a woman with four pills under her tongue.

Pamela Merritt, one of three panellists at the front of the room, said that to her knowledge, hers is the only group actively promoting information on self-managed abortion. Her co-director Erin Matson acknowledged merely hosting the discussion is “radical”. Still, they believe the need for these conversations is clear.

“The Supreme Court has solidified a 5-4 conservative majority for the foreseeable future,” said Merritt. “We now must proceed in a way that protects access to care and protects people who are most vulnerable to reproductive oppression.”

The self-managed abortion forum in St Louis, Missouri
The self-managed abortion forum in St Louis, Missouri

Still, the activists have to be careful. Reproaction’s panellists never explain how to obtain the pills. Instead, they refer the audience to links online with more information.

“It’s actually not that complex, how to use these pills to end a pregnancy. What’s complex is how to talk about it in a way that doesn’t expose people to legal liability,” says Matson. “We are not providing advice. We are not coaching people who are self-managing their abortions through the process. We are sharing the World Health Organization’s protocol.”

According to the WHO, “where mifepristone is unavailable” misoprostol – the second drug prescribed for a medication abortion – is the “recommended method of medical abortion”. The drug was developed for the treatment of stomach ulcers, but researchers soon discovered it also causes miscarriage.

Misoprostol is cheaper and less highly regulated than mifepristone, and there are no tests that would detect it in the blood stream. It is less effective than taking misoprostol together with mifepristone, but in absence of other options, World Health Organization reports say that the regimen is safe and effective at ending pregnancy.

In St Louis, one of the panellists was Dr Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician-gynecologist who – until just the week prior – provided abortion services at clinics in Columbia and Kansas City, Missouri. Newly enforced state regulations revoked her admitting privileges, meaning she can only do abortions at a single clinic located in St Louis. Missouri now joins the ranks of one-clinic states like North Dakota, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Information about misoprostol

“If we get to a place where there are states or large portions of the country where there is no access to abortion, I think self-managed abortion will fill at least part of that gap whether we like it or not,” says Dr McNicholas. “I have both a clinical and moral obligation to help women do the safest thing that they can to achieve the outcome they want. Whether I’m able to actually provide the care is irrelevant.”

The number of clinics in the Midwest has dropped 22% over the last five years, and the state of Texas alone has shuttered 32 clinics. Thirty-three states have passed laws to limit or restrict patient access to abortion over the past decade. For instance, in Missouri, women must wait 72 hours after their initial doctor visit to get the abortion, a significant obstacle for those who are driving long distances, and may have jobs and need childcare.

Merritt says that in places like Missouri, women are already living in the equivalent of a post-Roe world.

“For a lot of people abortion access is a right in name only – particularly for people experiencing financial difficulties,” she says.

At the St Louis discussion, audience members asked questions about legal exposure, and what someone ought to do if she took misoprostol but then needed to go to a hospital with complications.

“They should say they’re pregnant and bleeding,” said Dr McNicholas. “That’s all the information that needs to be given.”

Dr Colleen McNicholas
Dr Colleen McNicholas

Self-inducing an abortion with pills carries legal risk. Although no one has ever been prosecuted directly for purchasing abortion drugs online, the act of buying pills has been used as evidence for criminal charges, including murder. The most famous case was Purvi Patel, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison under Indiana’s feticide law before her conviction was overturned. Similar cases have played out in Idaho, Virginia and Georgia. In some of these cases, it was a doctor or hospital employee where the woman sought help who contacted police.

Dr Skop, the anti-abortion obstetrician-gynecologist in San Antonio, says that if a woman does not tell her doctor that she has tried to self-induce an abortion with misoprostol, she puts her doctor at a disadvantage in her treatment. She adds that she would never turn a woman over to authorities if she found out she’d tried to end her own pregnancy.

“I would care for her. I think that most OBGYNs would,” she says.

At the end of the session in St Louis, some swapped stories about how they were preparing for the end of Roe. Two said they’d been stockpiling doses of Plan B, the so-called “morning after pill”, just in case that medication were also discontinued or even criminalised.

“We have to protect each other,” said one woman. “The system is not going to save us.”

Illustration drug store sign

The day after Kate took her pills, her morning sickness was gone and she was able to eat normally for the first time in weeks. The day after that, she was back at work. She says she is no longer pregnant, and confident that she made the right decision.

“I’m grateful that I was able to access the medication because I think it’s better than the alternative,” she says. “I didn’t understand why it was that expensive, not to mention the drive both ways, and missing work for me. I wouldn’t have done it another way.”

At the same time, she stresses that her experience was difficult. Her first shipment of medication got stuck in somewhere in customs and she had to send frantic emails requesting another shipment, which she got free of charge. The delay was extremely stressful and although she knows this is not everyone’s experience with the medication, she found the process very physically painful.

“I don’t want it to seem like it was easy, because really, it’s not,” she says. “It was pretty traumatic, the whole thing.”

Otto, another person who used Aid Access, says the package arrived without incident and that though there were intense, painful cramps and vomiting, the experience was positive one. As someone who identifies as gender-fluid and finds doctor visits of any kind uncomfortable, Otto was relieved to do the procedure at home with supportive roommates, instead of hours away, alone in a hotel room.

“I was, kind of, I don’t know – really proud of myself for how far I’d come in my understanding of my own body and the politics of my own body,” Otto says. “I was just excited.”

Kate also says she has no regrets, and the fact that she might be breaking the law didn’t scare her or impact her decision to seek out the medication on her own. She’s nearly finished with school, and is eager to start a career in massage working specifically with cancer patients.

She hopes that by speaking out about her experience, other women in similar situations will do whatever they feel is best for them.

“If you end up having to take things in your own hands, it is your body, it’s your life,” she says. “I think everybody should have that right.”

To protect their anonymity, the BBC has changed some names and omitted identifying information.

New version of health care bill will help Alaska, Maine — home of two holdout senators

 

WASHINGTON — The Republican senators at the forefront of the latest effort to undo the Affordable Care Act plan to release a revised version of their bill Monday sending more health care dollars to the states of key holdouts, as hardening resistance from several GOP senators left their proposal on the verge of collapse.

According to a summary obtained by The Washington Post, Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, will propose giving Alaska and Maine get more funding than initially offered. Those states are represented by Republican senators Lisa Murkowski, Alaska, and Susan CollinsMaine, who have expressed concerns about the bill but have yet to say how they would vote.

The Cassidy-Graham legislation would overhaul the ACA by lumping together the current law’s spending on insurance subsidies and expanded Medicaid and redistributing it to states in the form of block grants. Alaska would get 3 percent more funding between 2020 and 2026 than under current law, and Maine would get 43 percent more funding during that time period, according to a summary obtained by The Post.