Ohio House Bill 214, Its Serious Implications, and Why I Can’t Support It

So this actually happened before Christmas, but deserves some comment, I think, for multiple reasons – the least of which being it got relatively little media coverage, given the GOP’s scramble in the weeks before Christmas to push tax reform through and to pass a funding bill that would prevent a government shutdown. But here it is: On December 15, the Ohio Senate passed a bill, Ohio House Bill 214, that “punishes clinicians for performing abortions that were sought specifically because of either a potential or a conclusive Down syndrome diagnosis“. They are the third state to put such legislation on the books, claiming that it will protect people with Down Syndrome.

The GOP is going about this the wrong way.  But, frankly, I’m not sure that they care.

Ohio governor (then a Republican presidential candidate) John Kasich speaks to a group of supporters during a town hall event before the Wisconsin presidential primary in Madison, Wisconsin on March 28. 2016. He is a white man with gray hair, wearing a dress shirt with black pants. He stands in front of a large American flag. Keyword: Ohio House Bil 214

Image Description: Ohio governor (then a Republican presidential candidate) John Kasich speaks to a group of supporters during a town hall event before the Wisconsin presidential primary in Madison, Wisconsin on March 28. 2016. He is a white man with gray hair, wearing a dress shirt with black pants. He stands in front of a large American flag

Content Note: Ableism, Abortion, John Kasich, Medicaid Cuts, Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Ban, Sexual Harassment, Trump, UK Austerity Cuts

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I’ve talked in detail before about how I understand why laws like Ohio House Bill 214 seem like they  should be something that disability advocates should support as a no-brainer…and about why I don’t support them.

I know that women are routinely encouraged to abort fetuses with a Down Syndrome diagnosis.

I know that there’s a movement in support of eliminating the Down Syndrome genotype from the population.

I have loved ones who have Down Syndrome, and I’m grateful for their lives, their friendship, the contributions I see them making to their communities.

But I will never tell a woman, “Your reason for having an abortion is wrong.” It’s not my right. And I’m not the only one in the disability activist community who thinks so.

David Perry’s son has Down Syndrome. He’s made the excellent point that Ohio House Bill 214, under the guise of criminalizing abortion, actually criminalizes discussion between a woman and her doctor:

“…this law doesn’t hinge on the act of performing an abortion, but rather on whether there is “knowledge” of motivation for abortion. If the doctor is aware of a prenatal diagnosis as motivation, an abortion would be a felony. Without awareness, even if that was the woman’s motivation, an abortion could safely proceed. Therefore, the bill functions only to silence women after they receive their prenatal diagnosis—or, even worse, early pregnancy screening (note that such screenings are not accurate enough to be diagnostic)—lest a doctor begin to suspect their motivations and refuse to terminate a pregnancy.”

Ohio House Bill 214 makes it so that a woman seeking an abortion because she knows or suspects that the fetus she’s carrying has Down Syndrome is highly motivated to stay quiet about her reasons for wanting the abortion so that she’s not refused it.  And in this environment, the myths about Down Syndrome and stigma surrounding it continue to thrive – there’s no room for open, honest conversation with medical health providers and anyone who may report to them.

And, as I’ve said several times in this blog – if the GOP cared about disabled children, they would make it easier to raise a disabled child in America.

It’s also worth noting that the Trump administration is removing “guidance documents” about the ADA from its website. There was no explanation as to why, beyond a statement by Jeff Sessions that they were part of a broader removal of “25 examples of improper or unnecessary guidance documents identified by our Regulatory Reform Task Force led by our Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.”

The GOP in the House and Senate don’t care about disabled people, it seems, except when it can use them as pawns to do an end-run around women’s constitutionally-protected rights to bodily autonomy.

Let’s Break Briefly from Ohio House Bill 214 to talk about Ohio Governor John Kasich

I remember this guy from the Presidential debates. I remember thinking, “Okay, I could live with him as President. He gets that there needs to be a safety net and that it’s unfair to demonize people for needing it.”

I should have listened more closely to those people who’ve been saying, “Don’t be fooled; John Kasich is no moderate.” In 2016, Politico summarized his actions to limit abortion access in Ohio:

“Laws signed by Kasich prohibit almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, mandate ultrasounds before a woman can get an abortion and require abortion clinics to establish formal written agreements with local hospitals about emergency care — a provision that has been repeatedly modified to be even more restrictive and make it harder for clinics to comply. “

It’s too bad, because Kasich reminded me (or he used to) that not all of the GOP are from that school of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and their cronies (I’d say Trump, but I figure that Trump only identifies as GOP because he can go the furthest with them; he’s not a Conservative) that don’t seem to have much use for marginalized groups or much interest in helping them.  I know that there are Republicans, because I talk to them, who are quite socially aware: they’ve done their research on social issues, they speak with insight, and while I may not always agree with them on all things, the conversations are always thought-provoking.

I wish more of them would run for office, damn it.  Because it’s becoming difficult – so difficult – not to become totally disillusioned with the current crop of GOP in the House and Senate, watching them throw my friends in the US under the bus again, and again, and again.

(Not that there are Democrats that are doing it too – as I wrote earlier, I’ve been disturbed, and upset on female American friends’ behalf, by some of the Democrat rhetoric around sexual harassment in particular recently. Its hypocrisy seems to have increased in the last little while, and I think it’s important to call that out, because I like to be fair.)

But that, at this point, is not affecting legislation. The tax bill and the repeal of the individual mandate affects especially my disabled friends that are, for a variety of reasons:

  • Most affected by cuts to Medicaid
  • Unlikely to benefit from the tax cut.

Cuts to Medicaid mean that disabled people lose services that they depend on; some will no longer be able to live independently; some will die. This is the way it happened in Britain  with the austerity cuts – the government thought that it could save money by making cuts to supports and services to disabled people and to the National Health Service, and people died – in excess of  120000 deaths were estimated to be linked to austerity cuts, as of November 2017.

But back to Ohio House Bill 214…

America, Meet Me at Camera Three

Ohio’s House Bill 214 is not an indicator that the GOP cares about people with Down Syndrome; it’s a blatant attempt by the GOP to emotionally manipulate the public into supporting an (albeit limited) ban on abortion – after all, who could object to measures designed to stop the abortion of disabled children?

I object, as I said earlier.

Ohio House Bill 214 is  totally typical of a government more committed  to fetuses than it is to making sure that American families have what they need to raise children, and I won’t feel like the monster that Ohio lawmakers want me to because I can’t support it. Using a fetal diagnosis of Down Syndrome as a way to further an anti-abortion agenda is pretty objectionable – a similar law was found to be unconstitutional in Indiana, and another in Louisiana is being blocked by the court –  so he hasn’t got much moral ground to stand on here. Dr. Leesha Thrower, whose daughter has Down Syndrome, said it better than I can:

“These politicians do not care about my six-year-old daughter. If they did, they would be using their valuable time to make sure that every child born with Down syndrome has what they need to live a healthy, full life…I want my leaders to have my back, and my child’s back, instead of using her as a pawn in a political effort that is only going to harm women and make it harder for them to make the right decision for them and their families.”

Well said, Doctor. Well said.
Happy New Year, folks. Let’s make 2018 a good one.

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Billy Bush Does First Interview After Release of Access Entertainment Bus Tapes

Excuse me while I get political. I’ve got some stuff to say about Billy Bush and…other things.

Image Description: Billy Bush, a white man in his late thirties with short brown hair, stands in front of greenery. He speaks into a microphone that someone holds in front of him. He's wearing a navy polo shirt.

Image Description: Billy Bush, a white man in his late thirties with short brown hair, stands in front of greenery. He speaks into a microphone that someone holds in front of him. He’s wearing a navy polo shirt.

Content Warning: Sexual harassment, sexual assault, Donald Trump, vulgar names for female anatomy, Access Entertainment bus recording, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Billy Bush

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There’s an interesting emerging trend in late night lately…if you want your side of a controversial story to be heard, book yourself on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. First.  We saw this first when Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci departed the White House after just eleven days, before he even officially began his position as Communications Director. He thought he could bullshit Colbert. The results were awesome.

Part of the reason why Colbert has been so successful in his new role as host The Late show, I believe, is that he’s a very good interviewer – charming and engaging, but fair, and totally able to hold a person’s feet to the fire when the  occasion calls for it. I made it a point to watch Billy Bush’s “explain myself” interview on The Late Show, his first since his firing from NBC after the now infamous clip of him and Donald Trump talking on the Access Entertainment bus emerged doing the election.

The interview followed an op-ed by Billy Bush confirming that, despite Trump’s recent insistence that it’s not his voice on that recording, it is. Bush followed up in the Colbert interview, saying that he’d not only heard what he’d assumed had been a ” crass stand-up act, Andrew Dice Clay performance “(I’m old enough to remember Andrew Dice Clay’s standup, so I know the reference) , but seven other men on the bus had, and that it wasn’t him laughing on the tape, which he obviously felt had gotten lost in the coverage. Also:

“If I’d have thought that there was a man detailing a sexual assault strategy to me,   I’d have called the FBI, not just reported it to my executive producer…”

I narrowed my eyes, surprised at how angry I was. Because yeah, I totally agree that it sucks that Billy Bush lost his job because he was complicit in the bus incident while the guy that talked about grabbing women by the pussy is now running the free world. But something about how Bush talked about the incident really irritated me.

“Don’t let him off that easy, Colbert.” I said after Bush got done describing how Trump was a big NBC star at the time and how everyone had to “kiss the ring of The Donald.”

Colbert didn’t disappoint. “And where exactly was he wearing that ring at the time?” And he didn’t smile. He didn’t smile much at all during this interview.

Female friends and I have disagreed over whether Colbert was harsh on Billy Bush. One of my female friends saw an interview that was just designed to let Bush get his side of the story out. I saw that, yes, but I also saw an interview where Bush is held accountable for his behaviour. Colbert definitely got some jabs in. He makes Billy Bush relive the embarrassment of being fired from his job, including his feelings on being the one who lost his job over the bus incident, while Trump went on to become President after women actually accused him of sexual assault. Colbert even asks him to speculate on what Trump meant when he said, “I moved on her like a bitch” because it didn’t make sense to him. It all moves forward in a comedic way, yes, but there’s a subtext to it:

“If you want to tell your story, Billy Bush, you’re also going to have to tell us what you’ve learned.”

I do think that’s feasible and fair There’s no reason that an interview can’t be both an opportunity to get a story out and a push toward a broader point. I watch 24-hour news networks, and I see it happen all the time, in a lot less subtle manner than Colbert did with Billy Bush – and Colbert is not a reporter here. And kudos to Billy Bush for going on Colbert likely knowing that he was going to get some jabs. It’s no secret that Colbert can turn the screws when he wants to. After all, in Colbert’s previous life as host of “The Colbert Report”, politicians avoided being booked on his “Better Know a District” segment because he had a tendency to make them look foolish.

What Has Billy Bush Learned?

So what has Billy Bush learned? From my perspective, not a whole lot, but he did give some clues if you read between the lines of his answers: That he really wants to be a better man, one that doesn’t objectify women, one that, hearing today what he heard from Trump on that bus ten years ago, would instantly know that it was wrong and know exactly what to do about it. But I’m not sure that he knows how to start, and I know from hearing men talk and from hearing my female friends talk about what their male friends have said since the Weinstein story broke that he’s not alone.

Don’t get me wrong. There are good men out there who treat women well because they sincerely want to and believe it’s the right thing to do – they value women and their contributions, they talk respectfully about and to the women in their lives, and their actions demonstrate their commitment to making  women feel safe and respected in their presence, without expectation of reward. I was surrounded by men like this as I grew up. I was lucky.

But in adulthood I saw that there are a lot of broken men, too, products and purveyors both of a culture of toxic masculinity. Some know that they aren’t “nice guys” and aren’t interested in challenging their ideas of women. Some think that they are the good guys, and when they’re told, “Your behaviour tells me you’re not” will not believe it. Or maybe wouldn’t believe it until recently, and  now they’re having their eyes opened, and want to be better for the women in their lives…but legitimately don’t have a clue what they need to do.

They don’t know how to not treat a woman like an object. The Billy Bushes of the world are feeling truly lost.

And that’s scary to me as a woman, because that tells me that to achieve true equality between the sexes, the unlearning and relearning that men are going to have to do is so fundamental that just “discussion” and “dialogue” isn’t going to do it – there’s going to need to be a seismic shift in how both women and men look at themselves, each other, and the world.

So What Now?

I’m not exactly sure. I do think that this is going to be big and messy and hard to deal with for a whole lot of people.  I don’t think that any of us should assume that we’ll be exempt from asking tough question about ourselves and people around us.  I thought hard over whether I thought that Al Franken should resign after the recent allegations of sexual assault made against him, because I like Al Franken’s voice in the Senate about issues that are important to me. It was uncomfortable, taking a look at myself and my thoughts and what I’d being saying with my stance. I decided that Al Franken and Billy Bush are guys that are pretty much in the same boat in that they “get it” for the most part but still have some work to do, and that cleared things up for me.

The All Frankens and the Billy Bushes of the world don’t get a free pass for creating an environment that makes women feel unsafe, even if harm wasn’t intended.  It’s not the fault of the victims of sexual violation that society’s failure to work out its issues with women and power on a collective level has  caused some confusion in even men that appear to “get it” about women and respect and power . Even if they didn’t understand the effect of their actions, those actions have real consequences for the victims, and they need to have real consequences for the perpetrators.  In All Franken’s case, it’s too bad for for America because it means the loss of such a valuable voice in the Senate, and it’s okay for Americans to feel conflicted about that, I think. As one of my new favourite bloggers, The Rude Pundit, said on Twitter:

“It is possible to be both glad and angry that Franken is resigning. It’s just a sad fucking situation all around.”

But you can’t have it both ways, America. You can’t do this dance that I’m hearing some Democrats (badly) doing of: “Yes, we believe women, but we don’t want to be too hard on these guys either, because hey, we like them a lot…”

Meet Me at Camera Three, Democrats

Keep your own house clean, because you know…you know…that there are at least two Republicans who are more than well-meaning but a bit confused when it comes to this stuff.  Your President, who has allegations of sexual assault against him, has thrown his support behind Roy Moore, a man running for Senate who has allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers when he was in his 30s against him. Not only that, he’s got a history of racism, homophobia, and anti-Islam remarks.

I said a while ago that I was going to be careful about what I write about Trump in this space. I’ve considered lately what I want to say. I think that I need to say…this…because it I think it’s one of the things that recent events have dictated *does* need to happen next:

I think that Democrats need to call loudly for Trump’s resignation, every damn day.

I mean, I can write here every day that Trump should resign, but I’m Canadian – I don’t count. *You* need to be pointing out the hypocrisy of the GOP, and what it says about Alabama, the GOP, and your President that apparently electing a Senator who’s been accused of sexual misconduct with a child  is preferable to electing another Democrat.

I’ve had three incidents since Trump took office where watching the news literally made me feel physically ill – two of them have been in the last two weeks, listening to the people of Alabama talk about why the allegations against Roy Moore don’t matter and why they’ll vote for him despite them, including pastors of churches. It’s simply gross that President Trump is in support of him as a Senate candidate – it boggles my mind.

Keep your house clean, and keep showing women who have experienced sexual violation that you are the party that will believe them and fight for them – insist that perpetrators in the GOP resign.

Even the President.

Every. Damn. Day.