H.R. 7: the First Step to End Access to Abortion

Days after worldwide Women’s Marches, the House of Representatives voted to pass bill H.R. 7. The Bill, also known as the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act,” is meant to curb abortion rights by banning the use of federal funding for abortion services except in extreme cases. The bill is an extension of the controversial Hyde Amendment.

H.R. 7 Abortion The Hyde Amendment

Passed by the House of Representatives in 1976, the Hyde Amendment is a legislative provision that blocks federal Medicaid funding for abortion services. Three very narrow exceptions exist: if the pregnancy is a result from rape, incest, or if continuing the pregnancy will endanger the woman’s life. Medicaid is a federally funded health care program for families or people with limited resources. It provides free or low-cost health care to low income people.

The Hyde Amendment has had the biggest effect on those who rely on Medicaid for health services, namely low-income women, women of color, young people and immigrants. Unless the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman or the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, insurance does not cover abortions for those women on Medicaid. As a result, those women and families who are already low-income have to carry their babies to term and pay for the insurance costs out-of-pocket. Recent reports indicate the uninsured cost of having a baby is anywhere from $30,000 for an uncomplicated vaginal birth to $50,000 for a C-section.

How H.R. 7 Expands the Hyde Amendment

The Senate still needs to vote to pass H.R. 7 for it to become law, but if it passes, the Hyde Amendment extends to those people who receive their medical insurance plans by participating in the Affordable Care Act. Organizations like Planned Parenthood will no longer receive federal funding, even if the money is used for other health care services. The bill further makes the Hyde Amendment permanent. For the last 40 years since it was first proposed in 1976, the amendment has been subject to annual renewal. The Bill eliminates the need to approve the amendment year after year. The bill also provides incentives for private insurance companies to drop their abortion coverage.

Arguments For and Against the Bill

Proponents of the bill argue that taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be used for abortions, especially if the individual taxpayer is pro-life. In this way, they contend that there should be a boundary between public and private dollars for such a controversial procedure. Opponents claim the Amendment and H.R. 7 places an undue burden on women who rely on Medicaid and government assistance for health care.

What Does This Mean for Women?

If passed by the Senate, H.R. 7 will not have a sweeping impact on all women. It will, however, impact women on Medicaid and who have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Women of color will be most impacted as they disproportionately comprise the majority of Medicaid enrollees. Recent statistics show that 30% of Black women and 24% of Hispanic women are enrolled in Medicaid. Comparatively, only 14% of white women are enrolled in Medicaid.

There are currently 25 states that already prohibit insurance providers from covering abortions. If H.R. 7 becomes law, it will pull federal funding for abortions in the remaining 25 states.

From a practical standpoint, the bill may force women who simply can’t afford to have an abortion to carry their pregnancy to term. These women could be consumed by unsurmountable debt from their medical care during pregnancy and the birth of their child. They likely will have to seek federal assistance (welfare) to support themselves and their child.

Women who are desperate to avoid paying prohibitively expensive insurance costs may seek more dangerous methods to abort their child.  Such practices could threaten the life of the mother as well as the unborn child.

TPP: Trump Backs Out of the Trans-Pacific-Partnership

Trump is no stranger to making controversial headlines and his recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement is no different.  Obama spent the last 7 years negotiating the deal, so the decision comes as a blow to those loyal to the Obama administration.

The agreement was designed with the hope of eventually creating a single market, which would be similar to that of the European Union.  Since Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the agreement, the TPP will be nearly impossible to ratify as is; the agreement required all 12 countries to ratify within a 2-year period.  For those nations wanting to renegotiate a trade deal without the U.S., other key players, such as Japan, say U.S. participation was the carrot on the stick.

What is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement?

The TPP was a trade agreement between nations consisting of 40% of the world’s trade market: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.

If you’re not familiar with trade agreements, they’re treaties between two or more nations agreeing on terms of trade between them.  These agreements are typically aimed at reducing or eliminating tariffs, quotas, and other trade restrictions.  The intention is to grow economies by increasing the trade of goods and services between the nations party to the agreement.

TPPOf course the TPP agreement focused on reducing tariffs, but it went beyond the standards of the World Trade Organization and focused on negotiating labor, environmental and intellectual property protections as well.  Here’s a few highlights of what the TPP would have done:

  • Trade barriers. The TPP agreement would have cut over 18,000 tariffs on all U.S. manufactured goods and farm products.  The agreement also would have mandated expedited customs procedures.
  • Environmental protection. The TPP is argued by some to be the most environmentally friendly trade deal ever negotiated, as the agreement requires signatories to commit to take appropriate measures to protect and conserve wildlife.
  • Good governance. The TPP agreement required all signatories to join the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which is focused on criminalizing bribery of public officials and the general governance enforcing anti-corruption laws.
  • Human rights. The TPP prohibits exploitative child labor, forced labor, employment discrimination, and ensures the right to collective bargaining.
  • Intellectual property. The TPP would have required signatories to establish uniform standards for patentability and copyright
  • Labor standards. The agreement would have enforced obligations to protect the freedom to form unions, as well as enforce fair labor practices.
  • Investor-state arbitration. The TPP would have granted investors the right to sue foreign governments for violating the treaty.

The Good and the Bad

Of course there’s two sides to every story.  Critics of the TPP applauded Trump for withdrawing from the agreement, arguing withdrawing will bring jobs back to America.  Proponents of the TPP feel the withdrawal will give China more control over the Asian market.

Since tariffs would have been reduced on industrial goods, Japanese car companies such as Toyota and Honda would have had cheaper access to the U.S., while vehicles exported from the U.S. could have increased because of new access to markets such as Vietnam.  Cuts on poultry, beef, dairy, sugar, wine, rice and seafood would have benefited several agricultural companies.

International labor laws were negotiated as part of the agreement, which is a major benefit for less developed countries, however, many argue this would have resulted in job losses from developed countries like the U.S.  The agreement is said to not be favored by pharmaceutical companies because the intellectual property rights were too lenient.  Additionally, those against the agreement urge it would have driven up prescription costs and, thus, left many without the means to afford life-saving drugs.  Decreased global roaming charges seems like a great idea, however, this could lead to increased competition between telecommunication companies and end up resulting in higher prices for consumers.

What’s Next for the U.S. and Trade?

As part of his “America First” stance, Trump promised throughout his campaign to be more aggressive against foreign competitors and backing out of the TPP agreement draws a stark line.  This global cooperation attitude risks doing more harm than good.  There’s been threats of increasing tariffs up to 10% on all foreign imports, not to mention Trump’s most recent plan to tax Mexican imports 20% in order to pay for construction of the border wall, which risks starting a trade war with other countries that could ultimately result in a financial spike in consumer goods.

Trump’s Global Gag Order and Reproductive Rights

The last week has been characterized by surprising executive orders coming out of the freshly minted President Trump’s Oval Office left and right.  One of these orders is, perhaps, a little less surprising than the others–the global gag rule.

Trump’s spin on the global gag rule came, ironically, the day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade–arguably the most influential case ensuring reproductive rights in the 20th century.  It also was only two days after the women’s march–with 673 different marches taking place in support of women’s rights around the globe.

The order enacts a policy which forbids providing U.S. aid money to any foreign organization which offers any abortion-related services–from actual abortions to things as small as providing pamphlets about abortion, information of any sort about getting an abortion, or medical referrals to locations that can provide safe abortions.  The order even applies in countries where abortions are completely legal.  So why isn’t such a huge order–chilling reproductive rights across the globe–a surprise?  Because, at its core, it’s nothing new.

The original global gag rule–also known as the Mexico City Policy–was put into force by Ronald Reagan in 1984.  Since the policy first came to be, every passing of the guard has seen the policy removed or reenacted.  President Clinton got rid of the policy nearly immediately on taking office, President Bush brought it back just as quick during his tenure, and President Obama nixed it within days of taking office.

With this in mind, the global gag rule wasn’t unexpected–what was unexpected was the additions President Trump included which further curtail reproductive rights around the globe.

So What Has Changed?

Trump’s global gag policy made some changes which, while subtle at a glance, actually represent fairly sweeping expansions on previous versions of the rule.  For instance, versions under Reagan and Bush both included exception for services provided by the government–Trump’s order has no such exception.  In fact, the changes are even more far reaching than that.  Previous versions applied only to family planning programs around the world–Trump’s gag policy applies to all health funding full stop.   Trumps version of the order also closes exemptions for hospitals and clinics which don’t offer abortion and situations where health providers treat women suffering complications after they seek an illegal or unsafe abortion–as they might be forced to do where abortion is made unavailable.

When George W.  Bush enacted his version of the policy, he included a carve out for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  This was because the rule would make the goals of PEPFAR–helping to treat AIDS in developing countries–impossible to achieve if the global gag rule had been applied to them.  Trumps rule, once again, has no such exception.

You’re probably wondering what kind of an impact these changes have on the assistance the U.S. offers to foreign countries.  The policy, as originally written, stopped a whopping $600M a year in foreign aid from helping those in need of reproductive care.  Trump’s expansions increase that number substantially, blocking potentially as much as $9.5B in funding.

What Will it Do?

The amount of money that could be taken away from people trying to provide women with safe health services is astronomical.  However, it is important to understand exactly what the global gag rule achieves in order to understand its full effect.  In order to that, it’s important to understand what it doesn’t achieve.

Trump Global Gag Order

Shortly after Roe v. Wade served to help delineate the situations in which a state could not impinge on a woman’s privacy and reproductive rights, Congress lashed out against abortion in one of the only legal ways it could.  In 1973, they passed the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act–colloquially known as just the Helms Amendment.  This amendment actively serves to bar and U.S. tax dollars from funding “abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”  Thus, the Global Gag Policy isn’t in place to prevent money from going to abortions–the Helms Amendment has already seen to this.

Instead, the global gag rule seeks to go far beyond the Helms Amendment–punishing health service providers for even providing information on abortion as a family planning option.  What’s more, while federal law implies that the Helms Amendment has exceptions for situations such as rape, incest, or a pregnancy which threatens a woman’s life, the new version of the global gag rule has no such exclusions.  It does not even provide an exception for HIV/AIDS funding.

The gag rule also goes further than the Helms Amendment in another way.  While the Helms Amendment prevents U.S. dollars from funding abortions, the global gag rule works to limit how an organization applies its own funds.  Under the order, if an organization uses its own funds to even provide literature discussing abortion as a family planning option it is unable to receive funding from the U.S. government.

So what will the gag rule truly accomplish?  It will reduce funding to contraception and AIDS prevention services around the globe.  It will cut funding to organizations focusing of water and sanitation, child survival and education–killing children in developing countries.

The global gag rule has not served to reduce abortions abroad for an obvious reason.  The health service organizations it tends to target are also some of the primary providers of contraception and birth control.  Lo and behold, removing funding from the people who provide cheap access to contraception leads to more women seeking an abortion–some studies showed the number of abortions sought around the world increasing nearly 3 times over during periods where the gag rule is in effect.  History and the numbers under the past global gag policies have also shown that putting abortion out of reach does not stop women from seeking abortions–it forces women in developing countries to seek unsafe abortions.  In fact, the World Health Organization puts the number of unsafe abortions in developing countries alone at about 21M per year.  The deaths resulting from these unsafe procedures accounts for 1 in 6 maternal deaths.

Is it Legal?

For quite some time, despite its substantial potential for harm, the legality of the global gag rule has been supported by a 1991 Supreme Court case known as Rust v. Sullivan.  This case dealt with the ability of the government to place abortion-related conditions on organizations receiving federal funds.  The issue was framed as a potential First Amendment violation as the restriction in question in the case refused funds to organizations with doctors who informed patients about abortion as a medical option.  The Supreme Court upheld the restrictions, ruling that while Congress could not stop doctors from advocating for abortion through other separately funded programs, they can stop them from doing so using money provided by the government.  This has been interpreted to mean that the global gag rule in constitutional.

However, in 2013, another Supreme Court case may have changed the boundaries of Rust in such a way to bring legality of the global gag order into question.  The case dealt with a law which barred organizations from receiving government funding where the group advocated for legalizing sex work.  This included situations where the groups used their own money to support their advocacy.  The Supreme Court ruled that restricting activities “on [an organizations] own time and dime” was an unconstitutional condition on funding and violated First Amendment rights.

Executive orders, such as the gag rule, must be constitutional.  While the gag rule certainly does restrict the way organizations–both abroad and organizations within the U.S. with operations abroad–may use their own funds, it is still unclear whether these more recent changes would render the gag rule unconstitutional.  The global gag order has not been in place since the Supreme Court expanded on its position on Rust so no organization has had a chance to challenge it.  It’s likely that an organization whose funding has been jeopardized will bring a lawsuit arguing just this distinction in the coming days.

This is Our Reality

Until this legal uncertainty can be resolved, women at home and abroad will suffer for it.  Protecting a woman’s reproductive rights is crucial, providing women the right to autonomy over their own bodies is not a woman’s issue it is a human one.  The global gag order not only simply doesn’t achieve its goal, it takes reproductive choices out of the hands of women and forces them to look elsewhere–often at the risk of their own health.

Executive Orders: How Do They Work?

After seeing a barrage of executive orders come out of President Trump’s White House, many may be asking themselves the exact boundaries of what these orders can do.  At a first glance, the executive order can seem an awful lot like the President ruling by fiat and thus rub people the wrong way.  However, every President to be in office has used them as a tool–from John Adams, James Madison, and James Monroe with only one executive order each all the way up Franklin D. Roosevelt with the most at 3,522 orders.

Trump, with 5 orders and 10 presidential directives in his first week, has set a new record for orders signed during the first week of a presidency and is on track to issue thousands of executive orders.  Although Trump seems unlikely to maintain this pace on orders, the nature and reach of the executive orders that have already come out of Trump’s office are such that now is a particularly good time to understand exactly how the things work.

Difference Between Executive Orders, Presidential Memorandums, and Presidential Directives

So both executive orders and presidential directives have already been mentioned–with Trump signing twice as many presidential directives as executive orders–and it’s worth describing the difference between the two.  In general they are both fairly similar, holding equivalent force of law, however most of the differences come down to some simple procedural things.

Executive orders have a number of legal requirements which must be fulfilled before being enacted by a president.  They must be published in the Federal Register, must cite the president’s authority to make such an order, and–as of 2014–must include a report estimating the costs associated with the order.  Presidential directives, also known as presidential memos, require none of these things.  With the more lax requirements, it’s no surprise Trump has used the tool so much more often than executive orders.

Donald Trump

While they do have similar effect in law, there is some difference at least in perception.  Executive orders are, due to their history and procedure involved, are considered more prestigious to a degree.  What’s more, in terms of legal precedent, an executive order will beat out a contrary presidential directive.

Presidential directives and presidential memos are extremely similar.  However, presidential directives are more often used in national defense matters, partially because the lack of a publication requirement allows them to–if necessary–be confidential from inception.  They are also commonly used where the President needs to delegate tasks or direct an agency of the government to adopt a new policy or take a certain course of action.

What Are the Limits of An Executive Order?

First and foremost, all the orders we’ve discussed carry the full force and weight of a law.  The orders draw authority from Article II of the Constitution, although the power is not clearly defined therein.  However, while executive orders do allow the president to entirely bypass Congress, they are not without limitations–checks and balances.

Executive orders obviously can’t violate the constitution.  The Supreme Court can, and has on many occasions, strike down an executive order as unconstitutional where it violates the rights guaranteed by the constitution, acts contrary to congressional intent, or exceeds the power of the president.  For instance, when President Truman attempted to seize the steel industry by executive order during the Korean War, the Supreme Court ruled the order unconstitutional and stopped him in his tracks.  What’s more, any Federal District Court has the power to issue an emergency injunction preventing an executive order from taking effect across the nation where the situation calls for it–where there is a likelihood of success on the merits, an imminent danger of irreparable injury,  the other party (the government) will not be injured by a stay, and the interests of justice favor an injunction.  In fact, a New York District Court Judge did just that a few days ago–putting a stay on parts of Trump’s controversial “Muslim Ban” executive order.

Congress can also generally overrule an executive order by passing a law which alters or eliminates an existing executive order.  However, these laws are obviously subject to a veto from the president which would force Congress to pass the law overruling the executive order by two-thirds vote.

The subject matter of an executive order also changes the force behind the order–as well as the chance Congress will act to overrule it or the courts strike it down as unconstitutional and outside the purview of the power of the Executive Branch.  Where the executive order deals with something immediately within the power of the executive–something we’ll discuss in a moment–or with the express or implied consent of an act of Congress and executive order is at its strongest and least likely to be overturned–barring a conflict with the Constitutional rights of those it effects.  Where the subject matter of the order deals with an issue not in the power of the executive, but also not addressed by Congress, the authority of the order is slightly less.  Where an order goes against the will of Congress, as expressed through laws passed or the implications of those laws, it has very little power.

The President has several powers that specifically theirs, they act as Commander in Chief of the Army, Head of State, Chief Law Enforcement Officer, and Head of the Executive Branch.  These roles mean that the president is in charge of declaring war, raising and supporting armed forces, regulating the armed forces, foreign policy, negotiating treaties, appointing federal judges, and often most importantly–the duty and final say on enforcing laws and deciding how to do so.   Some of the more common areas for executive orders that this encompasses is how to enforce and implement immigration laws, delineating national security measures, appointing and controlling ambassadors, setting foreign policy and directing agencies how to behave.  All of these subjects are common subjects for executive orders and are less likely to be challenged as overstepping the President’s powers.

Trump’s Executive Orders

The recent executive orders have certainly caused an uproar–leaving some happy with the changes and others truly terrified by the implications the orders could have on human lives and livelihoods.  The orders have had a trend of taking the power very far but often within the realms most within the purview of the President.  However, as seen by the Federal Court’s injunction, the orders may well have pushed the limits of the executive order into unconstitutional territory.  The fate of this order, and the many other orders issued this last week, will be something that will likely be up to the courts as time goes on.

Understanding President Trump’s Muslim-Based Immigration Ban

Since President Trump’s inauguration, his presidency has been fraught with controversy. Trump ran his presidential campaign on a platform that pledged he would “Make America Great Again.” Among his promises were to bar immigration from Muslim nations. Now he’s trying to make good on his promise.

As one of his first orders of business, President Trump signed an executive order on Friday that indefinitely suspends admissions for Syrian refugees to the United States. It further banned all refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen from entering the United States while prioritizing Christian refugees.

What Exactly Does the Order Do?

Under a guise of protecting Americans from acts of terrorism, President Trump calls his order “extreme vetting” of immigrants. He is careful not to call it a “Muslim Ban.” Instead the order is titled, “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” and it will restrict entry from countries with a “history of terrorism.”

The order will suspend the entire U.S. Refugee Admissions program for 120 days, thereby blocking all refugees from all countries from resettling in the United States. Additionally, people from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Iran will be barred from entering the United States for 90 days regardless of if they have valid visas. After the 90 days, permanent visa bans could be enacted for those countries and for others. The order also caps the amount of refugees who may be admitted to the United States at 50,000 immigrants, down 60,000 from last year.

Donald Trump

What is an Executive Order?

An executive order is an official statement from the President of the United States regarding how federal agencies are to use their resources. So long as the order is not against any existing laws, they are legally binding for federal agencies. The President is not creating new laws, but instead instructing the government how it must work within the confines of existing law set by the Constitution and Congress. While the Supreme Court may overturn any executive order, it is very rare. Congress may also limit executive orders.

What exactly gives the President such powers? Article II of the Constitution gives the President broad powers under “executive actions.” Executive actions generally are known to include executive orders, but they also include presidential memorandums (basically a step below executive powers), proclamations and directives.

Is a Muslim Ban Legal?

People are already questioning the legality of President Trump’s Muslim ban. Executive orders are legal so long as they do not conflict with existing law. Trump cannot, for example, sign an executive order requiring torture of any enemy combatant. Congress issued a law banning torture of U.S. prisoners back in 2015, and any order allowing torture would fly in the face of existing law.

In the 19th Century, the U.S. enacted laws which excluded all Chinese and almost all Japanese from entering the country. Based on this discriminatory history, Congress passed a law more than 50 years ago that outlawed discrimination against immigrants based on national origin. So no, Trump’s discriminatory Muslim-based ban is not legal. Because Trump is targeting Muslim-majority countries while prioritizing Christian refugees, he couldn’t even argue his order does not deliberately discriminate against Muslims, although he will.

On Saturday, the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) obtained an emergency stay from a federal New York judge which temporarily halts the deportation of refugees detained in the United States after Trump issued his Muslim-ban. This means that any immigrant, and certainly those from Muslim-majority countries, cannot be deported back to their home country despite Trump’s executive order.

Something to Remember

It’s also important to note that President Trump’s proposed list of banned countries does not include Muslim-majority countries where he has business links. Notably absent from the Muslim ban are Turkey, where Trump has two luxury towers, the United Arab Emirates, where Trump has golf courses, and Egypt, the location of two Trump business companies. Surely, this presents a potential conflict of interest where he is electing not to ban certain Muslim-majority countries because of his business ties, even though these countries also have a history of terrorism.

With all the controversy surrounding Trump’s first full week of office and his approval rating going down steadily, only time will tell whether he will hold firm on his Muslim-based immigration ban.

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