BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company…
PETER WELCH: I want to get the tax payers their money back. And this is a half a billion dollars-- more than that. It is vintage crony capitalism at the eleventh hour they literally accomplished in the back room with their access to important people, what they never could have accomplished on the floor of the house or on the floor of the senate.
BILL MOYERS: And…
LYNN PALTROW: Every inch of our freedom, including our reproductive freedom, has been hard won and there has been a backlash. And we’re in a very big backlash now.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: And it’s so problematic, and I think this election told us a story that we are not going to put up with that.
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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Like just about everyone else, I enjoy a good show, and the inauguration of a president is one of those spectacles of democracy that can make us remember we're part of something big and enduring.
So for a few hours this past Monday the pomp and circumstance inspired us to think government of, by, and for the people really is just that, despite the predatory threats that stalk it. Unfortunately the mood didn't last.
So help me, every now and then, as the cameras panned upward to that great dome towering over the ceremony, I was reminded of something the good feeling of the moment could not erase. It's the journalist's curse -- to have a good time spoiled by the reality beyond the pageantry.
In particular on this crisp January day, I thought about the latest revelation of the skullduggery that often goes on in the shadows below that dome. Just a couple of days before the inaugural festivities, The New York Times published some superb investigative reporting by the team of Eric Lipton and Kevin Sack, and their revelations kept running through my mind. The story told us of a pharmaceutical giant, Amgen, and three senators so close to it they might be entries on its balance sheet: Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus – a Democrat -- and that powerful committee’s ranking Republican, Orrin Hatch. A trio of perpetrators who treat the United States Treasury as if it were a cash-and-carry annex of corporate America.
The Times story described how Amgen got a huge hidden gift from unnamed members of Congress and their staffers. They slipped an eleventh hour loophole into the New Year’s Eve deal that kept the government from going over the fiscal cliff. And when the sun rose in the morning there it was, a richly embroidered loophole for Amgen that will cost taxpayers -- that's you and me -- a cool half a billion dollars. Yes -- half a billion dollars.
Amgen is the world’s largest biotechnology firm, a drug manufacturer that sells a variety of medications. The little clause secretly sneaked into the fiscal cliff bill gives the company two more years of relief from Medicare cost controls for certain drugs used by patients on kidney dialysis.
The provision didn’t mention Amgen by name, but according to reporters Lipton and Sack, the news that it had been tucked into the fiscal cliff deal "was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts.” Tipping them off, it would seem, to a jackpot in the making.
Amgen has 74 lobbyists on its team in Washington and lobbied hard for that loophole, currying favor with friends at the White House and on Capitol Hill. The Times reporters traced its “deep financial and political ties” to Baucus, McConnell and Hatch, “who hold heavy sway over Medicare payment policy.”
All three have received hefty campaign donations from the company whose bottom line mysteriously just got padded at taxpayer expense. Lo and behold, among those 74 lobbyists are the former Chief of Staff to Senator Baucus and the former Chief of Staff to Senator McConnell.
You get the picture: two guys nurtured at public expense, paid as public servants, disappear through the gold-plated revolving door of Congress and presto -- return as money changers in the temple of crony capitalism. Inside to welcome them is a current top aide to Senator Hatch – one who helped weave this lucrative loophole – who used to work for -- you guessed it: Amgen. The trail winds deeper into the sordid swamp beneath that great dome, a sinkhole where shame has all but disappeared. As reporters Lipton and Sack remind us, just two weeks before this backroom betrayal of the public trust by elected officials and the mercenaries they have mentored, Amgen pleaded guilty to fraud. Fraud, look it up. Trickery, cheating, duplicity.
Amgen agreed to pay $762 million in criminal and civil penalties. The company had been caught illegally marketing another one of its drugs. The fact that their puppet master had been the subject of fines and a massive federal investigation mattered not to its servile pawns in the Senate, where pomp and circumstance are but masks for the brute power of money.
With me now is Congressman Peter Welch, Democrat from Vermont. He has just introduced bipartisan legislation to repeal that half billion-dollar giveaway to Amgen. We asked one of its co-sponsors, Republican Richard Hanna of New York, to join us but a previous commitment made it impossible for him to do so. Congressman Welch, welcome.
PETER WELCH: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: What is it you're actually trying to do?
PETER WELCH: Well, there's two things. One, I want to get the taxpayers their money back. This is half a billion dollars, more than that, that is vintage crony-capitalism at the eleventh hour, in a small room, unknown to 430 members of Congress and probably 98 or 97 senators. A small paragraph, innocent looking, in the fiscal cliff bill, a must-pass piece of legislation for all Americans. And it benefits a single company, turns out to be Amgen, maybe a few others, but this is an Amgen-inspired plan that's going to cost Medicare and taxpayers half a billion dollars. Now I want that money back. But there's a second reason that's even in many ways much more important. Congress is not trusted as an institution.
And when there is no trust for that institution, and then we take actions like this, where for the benefit of a company that's very powerful and well-connected, we charge taxpayers a half a billion dollars extra. That means that that institutional disrespect increases. And it's going to make much more difficult the challenge we have to essentially make the tough decisions on all kinds of policies.
BILL MOYERS: You made a tough statement in Washington in which you said actually Congress is less popular than cockroaches and root canals because of actions like these.
PETER WELCH: No, but that's true. I mean, that poll that came out, it actually says it all. People don't trust the institution. And you know what? They're right not to trust it when this kind of thing happens. When there is this back room dealing that comes at enormous expense to taxpayers and enormous benefit to a private, well-connected, for-profit company, we've got to call it out. Those members of Congress who are concerned about the institution, about our lack of credibility, about the necessity of us doing things that are in the public good as opposed to private gain, we've got to call it out.
BILL MOYERS: You voted for the fiscal cliff deal. When did you know that this language was in it?
PETER WELCH: I never knew it. I didn't know until I read the story in the Times, when I was outraged. What happened here was a couple of things. One, this was a lame duck session negotiation. And it didn't even involve Congress, the truth of the matter is. It involved the president and his staff. It involved the Speaker. And it involved the Senate leaders. And that's pretty much it. But it didn't go through any committee process. So there was no opportunity for members to get a heads up that this was something that was cooking. Because had this been made public that Amgen was asking for this sweetheart deal, people would have objected. And they would have been so embarrassed.
BILL MOYERS: You mean other members of Congress?
PETER WELCH: Other members of Congress would have been very concerned, Republicans, too, by the way. I mean, this type of crony capitalism, they don't -- a lot of them really do not like. So we didn't have the process work in its normal way, where something that is going to cost taxpayers a half a billion dollars goes through a committee process and then people can raise questions, challenge the argument that is made by the special interests, and crack and bring it down. This was done just in the secrecy of a private negotiation.
BILL MOYERS: Describe how they get this in without almost no one else knowing it's happening.
PETER WELCH: They immediately get it in because when these negotiations are going on, it involves a very few people. And again, since this was a lame duck session and it was the fiscal cliff, no committees were involved. So it really was at that moment, at the very end of the fiscal cliff negotiations, when the Finance Committee leaders had some opportunity to fashion the final details and put a paragraph in or take a paragraph out, they were able to do it.
Now why did they do it? They did it because Amgen had longstanding ties built carefully and slowly and methodically over time. And obviously, that's a function of their campaign contributions. It's a function of their 74 lobbyists on the Hill. It's their constant care and feeding of members of Congress. And then at a certain point, when the lights are off and the press isn't--
BILL MOYERS: Metaphorically speaking.
PETER WELCH: And Congress doesn't know what's going on, members of Congress -- they can move. And they did.
BILL MOYERS: Some member of Congress, some Senator--
PETER WELCH: That's right.
BILL MOYERS: --had to say, "Okay."
PETER WELCH: That's correct. The information I have on who that was or how that happened is from The New York Times article. But that's exactly right. Because the committee staff is doing a lot of the detailed work. And if a paragraph is going to be put in or taken out, they have to get the okay, usually from the Chair or a ranking member or the two of them.
So those are the people who have the authority to tell a staff, you know, do it. And obviously, staff play a role, because they will advocate to their boss, "We ought to put this in for Amgen." But members of Congress have to act with some restraint.
You know, if you have an enormous position of authority, just because you can do it doesn't mean you should do it. And that's important in the long run, you know? In the short run, this is good for Amgen, really bad for the process, really bad for taxpayers.
But what it does is it breaks down, brick by brick, the trust that we need in each other in an institution in order for it to function. And, you know, every day Americans lose that little brick of trust in that institution, the power of the institution to do good things, even when it wants to, is diminished.
BILL MOYERS: I was struck that just at the time many members of Congress were crying, "We've got to cut spending. We've got to reduce this deficit," some members in the Senate were putting this in in a way that will cost that will add to spending and add to the deficit.
PETER WELCH: And that's true. And it's even worse than that. Because as you mentioned in your opening, two weeks before this, Amgen paid an over $700 million criminal and civil penalty for illegally marketing another drug that they manufacture. So the effect of this is largely that taxpayers are picking up $500 million of the $700 million fine. And you know what--
BILL MOYERS: Amgen's getting about two thirds of the fine it paid back from the taxpayer.
PETER WELCH: That's right. And this is what -- you know that if this were put on the floor for an up or down vote, people would have to put a mask on to vote for it. It would never pass. So, you know, there's some chance we may get this reversed. Because you can't defend what Amgen did. You cannot--
BILL MOYERS: How are you going to get it reversed, Congressman? Because too many of your colleagues want the same process to work for them at some point in their own strategy.
PETER WELCH: Well, that's the obstacle. And the obstacle, too, is that to get -- we've got a simple repeal provision. It's like a one paragraph bill that says, "Repeal this giveaway," in effect. And the challenge for us will be to get that on the floor. The Republicans are the majority. They have the authority to say yes or no as to whether this will get on the floor. So the challenge for us will be to advocate this and essentially correct a mistake.
One of the other complaints people have been making about Congress a lot is that when we have a big bill like the fiscal cliff, that certain provisions get snuck in. And they're right about that. And that's where the process has to act with more restraint. If the bill is about the fiscal cliff, urgent issue for this country and its wellbeing, let's not use that as a freight train for certain members on behalf of certain special interests to get sweetheart deals part of this.
BILL MOYERS: There are a lot of Tea Party members in the House, elected in 2010, when the Republican surged back. But many of them were elected opposing government spending and corporate giveaways like this. Do you think you'll get some support from the Tea Party in the House?
PETER WELCH: I do. I actually do. You know, a lot of the Tea Party folks are ferociously concerned about spending. And they especially hate the crony capitalism type of spending. In these giveaways to private companies for private gain. I mean, the Amgen CEO in 2010 made $21 million. It's a $17 billion company in sales. It has a $64 billion market capitalization.
In the news, even though this is, you know, small potatoes for them in some ways as you mentioned in your opening the head of Amgen gave the good news. To the Wall Street analyst to give a little bit of boost to the Amgen stock price.
So I mean, you can't -- it doesn't get worse than this. And it confirms people's expectations or their views that this institution is not on the level. And you know what? Those of us in Congress from the Tea Party to progressive members of the Congress have a responsibility to do everything we can to build trust in that institution so that when it does make tough decisions on taxes, on spending, on energy policy, that America has some credibility that we got it more right than wrong.
BILL MOYERS: Tell me about the lobbyists. Who are these people?
PETER WELCH: Well, the problem with lobbyists, a lot of them come off the Hill, a lot of them come out of Congress. Many members of Congress leave the capital and go to K Street. And it's a real reflection of how money has overtaken politics. And the real problem with that system is not the individual lobbyists. A lot of times they'll have legitimate points to present to members of Congress.
The problem is the amount of money that lobbyists represent. And what tends to happen in Congress is that the concerns of those lobbyists, the concerns of Amgen, become much more of the topic of discussion, debate, and resolution than the concerns of middle America, the concerns of the farmers.
You know, in Congress, we didn't even vote in the House on a farm bill. This is the first time in the history of this country where a House Agriculture Committee, on which I sat, but in a bipartisan vote, we worked together, passed the farm bill, and the House didn't even take it up for a vote. But Amgen was able to have their provision, $500 million, put into the bill with no problem.
BILL MOYERS: I brought with me the Justice Department press release that came out in December about Amgen's crime. Quote, "Earlier today, at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson, Jr. accepted a guilty plea by American biotechnology giant Amgen Inc. for illegally introducing a misbranded drug into interstate commerce. The plea is part of a global settlement with the United States in which Amgen agreed to pay $762 million to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from its sale and promotion of certain drugs. The settlement represents the single largest criminal and civil false claims act settlement involving a biotechnology company in U.S. history." How does a company that just pleaded guilty to criminal charges in federal court and is slapped with three quarters of a billion dollars in fines even allowed a place in the negotiations in the Senate?
PETER WELCH: Yeah, you would think they would be shunned. And you would think that they would have absolutely no opportunity to come in and get the fine paid by the taxpayer. But the way it works is that they've established relationships with those 74 lobbyists. They've established relationships with the very substantial political contributions they've made to all kinds of people on the Hill. And they have established relationships in part because they have facilities in many districts that members of Congress represent.
And they were able, in effect, to be in the room when most of us in Congress, let's say in the House, 435 members were not in the room. We were not in the discussion. We didn't know it was happening. So if you're that well connected to the people who will be at that table, at that moment, when the final draft is being put together, and no one has a chance to get a heads up to review it, to ask a question, then you can sneak something in and get away with it. And that's essentially what happened.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, what you're saying is that Amgen's friends in the Senate recouped some two thirds of the fine they just paid for fraud?
PETER WELCH: That's right. That's exactly right.
Well, a lot of the worst things that happen in eroding trust and really hurting the economy are legal. This is legal. What Amgen did now is legal. Should it be? Is it ethical? Is it the right thing for the country? Absolutely not. But they literally accomplished in the back room, with their access to important people, what they could never have accomplished on the floor of the House or on the floor of the Senate.
BILL MOYERS: Congressman, people out there -- you're right, people out there are disgusted. But they're also despairing. They've seen this time and again. They've see, we report on it. They see it. They get angry. And then nothing happens.
PETER WELCH: Well, that's right. And that's why I'm so glad that Congressman Hanna, we've got a bipartisan bill here.
BILL MOYERS: Republican.
PETER WELCH: A Republican, a very good member from New York. And there's a lot of us who really take seriously that we've got two jobs. One is to try to make good decisions on policy that are going to get America going again. But the other (and each of us with a vote has this job) is to try to restore trust in the institution. And that means that when there is this kind of egregious rip off, we've got to stand up and do everything we can to help expose it and to help reverse it. So I want the money back for the taxpayers. I mean, I'm a frugal Vermonter. So that matters. And let's get it.
BILL MOYERS: Don't you fear retaliation? You're up against a powerful corporation, a whole system that works, as you've just described it, and mighty members of the Senate?
PETER WELCH: Well, I don't. Vermont's a great state to represent. And people there are practical and they're fair. They won't like this. And they're going to have the final say about whether I pay some price, because I'm standing up to this Amgen deal.
But secondly, what's the point? I mean, I've got a job to do. This is clearly wrong. And, every day, if I can get up and try to fight the battle that is nowhere near as tough as what it is for middle class families raising kids, trying to figure out how to pay the tuition, trying to figure out how to pay the heating bill in a cold winter, how to make it by the end of the month. I mean, that's the people that have the tough job. So everything that I can do to just display some fairness and awareness of what they're doing, let's do it.
BILL MOYERS: Congressman Peter Welch, thanks for coming by. And good luck to you.
PETER WELCH: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: This week marked 40 years since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade overturned many federal and state restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion. You have to be of a certain age to remember how, before abortion became legal, a woman could be tormented by an unwanted pregnancy that she was forced to carry to term by the police powers of the state. In that Dark Age leading up to the Court’s decision, America’s most trusted news man Walter Cronkite of CBS tried to make sense of the debate, and the danger.
WALTER CRONKITE on CBS Evening News: The illegal termination of pregnancy has reached epidemic proportions in this country. The laws which govern abortion are broken an estimated one million times a year, three thousand times a day, for various medical, social and economic reasons the laws do not recognize as valid. The conflict between the law and reality has resulted in a national dilemma. Only recently have our abortion laws been openly questioned, as a dialogue begun among doctors, lawyers and clergymen.
DR. ALAN GUTTMACHER on CBS Evening News: The law’s against you, your colleagues are against you, and it makes a very unhappy feeling. You hate to be a doctor under these conditions. This is simply puritanical punishment, that’s all we’re doing. We’re not thinking this thing through we’re punishing.
DR. ROY HEFFERNAN on CBS Evening News: An abortion is a shock, it’s an abnormal procedure. In my opinion, it’s murder. In my opinion it is a very cowardly form of murder because it’s the murder of an innocent little embryo that has not harmed anyone, that cannot defend itself in any way. […]
WOMAN #1 on CBS Evening News: I believe I’m about 9 weeks pregnant now. I have had dreams for the past two weeks about abortions, of horrible things happening to me. I can’t sleep, and I need help from someone but I just don’t know who to go to. […]
WALTER CRONKITE on CBS Evening News: This married couple felt that they would be unable to adequately raise another child. The wife was criminally aborted in a motel on the west coast.
WIFE on CBS Evening News: The operation was performed in the kitchen of the motel using some of the kitchen equipment, using a telephone book, chairs and so forth. About halfway through he turned to my husband and said, “How can you expect me to take dangers like this myself for such a low fee? Don’t you have some savings that you could utilize and pay me more money?”
HUSBAND on CBS Evening News: He said he wanted twice as much. That is, another $200. It wasn’t clear that he would go ahead and finish the operation if I didn’t pay him the extra money, but I didn’t, at that time, want to argue or even, of course, delay the procedure.
BILL MOYERS: Roe v. Wade only intensified the debate. And forty years later, the forces opposed to abortion – still driven largely by conservative religious beliefs and activists – have never given up. They seem more determined than ever. State by state, they have been winning their fight for new restrictions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research center on reproductive health care, "More than half of all U.S. women of reproductive age… now live in a state that is hostile to abortion rights, whereas fewer than one-third did a decade ago.” Even so, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that seven in ten Americans think the Roe v. Wade decision should stand. And for the first time ever, a majority believes abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
I’ve asked two champions of a woman’s freedom to make her own healthcare decisions to come talk about their resolve in the face of fierce opposition from the right. Jessica González-Rojas is Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. She is an Adjunct Professor of Latino and Latin American Studies at the City University of New York and has taught courses on reproductive rights, gender and sexuality. Lynn Paltrow is Founder and Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. She has served as a senior staff attorney at the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, and recently published this study in the American Journal of Public Health, “Roe v Wade and the New Jane Crow.” Welcome to you both.
LYNN PALTROW: Thank you.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: Before we get to what you're up against 40 years after Roe versus Wade, I want to ask you a question from your own experience, long experience in both cases of working with women. What does compulsory childbearing mean to a woman? What are the effects of knowing that you are not free to decide for yourselves whether to become a mother or not?
LYNN PALTROW: Well, we know that when abortion is criminalized before 1973 in the U.S. when abortion providers aren't available, many women will do what they have to do to take control of and responsibility for their reproductive lives. And if that means ending a pregnancy in any way they know how. That might be taking a poison, it might be using a knitting needle, it might be leaving the country, it might be asking somebody to beat them up.
It might be attempting suicide. For women what's true throughout history is that they will do what they need to do.
And if you have a legal system that says the state may prevent you from making key decisions about your health, your life, and your family, then you are really in some other status of personhood. And so for some women, historically, their ability to be full and equal participants in society really depended on whether they could end a pregnancy.
And that was the thing that would keep them from finishing college, having access to all of the things that they might have access to, participation in society. For other women, because of race discrimination or economic disability, they might be able to get an abortion and still not be able to have the children they want, to educate the children they had and keep them safe. So it really has to do with, how do we define women in our society? Are they full and equal participants? And the best way, the seemingly sort of neutral way of undermining their personhood is to focus on the issue of abortion.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: For us, our slogan is "Health, dignity, and justice." And when you think about compulsory pregnancies, it's taking away health, dignity, and justice from a woman. Many of the women, the Latinas that we work with that have experienced abortion are in their twenties, have a child already, and are--
BILL MOYERS: And why do they want an abortion?
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: Because they're not in an economic situation they--
BILL MOYERS: They can't afford a second child?
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: They perhaps can't afford a second child, they want to go to school, they might be at a point in their career. The reasons range, quite frankly. It's really important that women that we work with, mostly Latina, immigrant, women of color, those are the margins, low income, are able to access their rights in a way without barriers and further bureaucratic obstacles to get the care that they need.
BILL MOYERS: And this union between religion and the state that we know has, you know, for a long time, church and state combined to keep, to make contraceptives obscene. How do you explain this religious determinism on the part of so many opponents of abortion?
LYNN PALTROW: Well, there's sort of two ways of looking at it. I mean, many people don't know that abortion became criminalized in the United States not as a result of merely a religious movement, but as part of the effort of white male doctors to professionalize, to gain control over medicine from midwives and herbalists.
And also, in response to a very similar moment in history that we're in now. It was a point in which there was a great deal of immigration, where native white birth rates were falling, and there was the first beginning of the suffrage and feminist movement, arguing that women shouldn't have to, that women should have a say in whether they have intercourse with their husbands.
And the people who were asking legislature to criminalize abortion were arguing that that had to be done to keep women in their place, to ensure that native white birth rates continued to grow and to maintain control over women.
And it's as if we're in that moment again, where Americans, an America in which it is no longer going to be a white majority, in which it feels like white birth rates are falling, and you see people turn to religion and you see people turn to very old notions about how society should be.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: For us in the Latino community, we know that many of us are Catholic or religious. And we find that it's so out of step with the realities of women's lives today. And many Latinas, in fact 90 percent of married Catholic Latinas use a form of birth control that's banned by the Vatican. And it's just been a battle we've been dealing with for quite a number of years. And it's just been stepping up over the years.
BILL MOYERS: You both are so much younger that I wonder if you can imagine the feeling of relief among so many women when the Supreme Court struck down the power of men, or anyone, to insist that you bear a child before you're ready. Has anybody ever talked to you about that sense of liberation that came?
LYNN PALTROW: Well, I had the privilege, earlier on in my career, there was a campaign by NARAL to collect letters from people, men and women, describing why they had had an abortion, or somebody they knew had an abortion. And I had the privilege of reading hundreds of letters.
And what was so amazing about them is that they wrote that they had abortions not because, "I had a right to choose," or "I was exercising my right to bodily-- you know, my body, my right." They were all talking about the most fundamental aspects of liberty.
You know, "I needed to finish my education." "I had a child with a disability. I wanted to be able to be home and take care of that child and my husband was going to Vietnam, my father-in-law was sick." They were talking about basic, you know, human relationships and responsibility.
And the thing about Roe that's so interesting is that, or, if I may make the comparison, when Brown v. Board of Education was decided, I think it was understood as an incredible affirmation of the humanity and civil rights of African Americans.
BILL MOYERS: Desegregating the public schools.
LYNN PALTROW: Desegregating the public schools, rejecting separate and unequal. But the truth was, it really didn't desegregate the schools even until today. Roe v. Wade, which was won, the whole idea of women's equality under the Constitution was in its infancy. There had been almost no decisions in 1973 recognizing discrimination against women as prohibited by the Constitution.
Roe v. Wade comes down, and it's not understood as an affirmation of women's personhood, that we don't lose our human rights when we become pregnant. But almost overnight, the public health situation dramatically improved, not only because women had access to legal abortion, but they didn't have to carry to term pregnancies when they weren't healthy. And so it was a dramatic change in the practicality. But what we're still very much fighting is an understanding and a respect for the fact that women, whatever their decisions are during pregnancy, remain full persons under the law.
BILL MOYERS: “Time Magazine” recently looked at Roe versus Wade and concluded, "Getting an abortion in America is in some places, harder today than at any point since it became a constitutionally-protected right 40 years ago..." Does that jive with your experience?
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: Absolutely. We’ve seen these type of restrictions that are being put in place, and to very clearly and blatantly be an effort to prevent abortions from happening. And what's happening is that women's healthcare is suffering. Their decision making is being threatened. They're losing dignity and self-determination. So this creates many barriers for our women to be healthy and make choices that they want for their families.
BILL MOYERS: And your experience is it harder today than it was 20 years ago, 30 years ago?
LYNN PALTROW: I think something like more than 90 percent of all counties don't have abortion providers. I want to point out that most probably that many counties also don't have birthing centers, where women can go and have an alternative to an over-medicalized birth.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: So when you're targeting clinics that provide abortion care, those clinics are also providing prenatal care, they're providing cervical cancer screenings, they're providing breast screenings, and sexuality education.
So when you're targeting those clinics, and those clinics have to shut down, you're also depriving a whole community from basic, basic health services that are critical.
BILL MOYERS: I wanted to ask you, you talked about this, about economic issues involved in these decisions. How much of this is an issue of class? I ask because the late Congressman Henry Hyde from Illinois, who sponsored the Hyde Amendment way back in 1976, that prevents Medicaid from funding abortion care, he said this, quote, "I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion. A rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the Medicaid bill." Which means that poor women have been affected by the crusade against abortion. How do you see this playing out in your work?
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: I think of Rosa Jiménez, who was a 27-year-old college student. She had a five-year-old daughter. She was getting a nursing degree. She really wanted to, you know, succeed in this country. And she faced an unintended pregnancy.
And because she was low income, because she was a recipient of Medicaid, she was denied access to an abortion because of the Henry Hyde. And she sought a back-alley abortion and died as a consequence. So this has real implications. She was the first known victim of the Hyde Amendment. And I'm sure these stories happen many times over. And women are just disproportionately impacted. Particularly, again, those at that margins and who are most vulnerable.
BILL MOYERS: You remind me of some statistics I saw the other day, from the Guttmacher Institute. It reports that among poor women, the rate of unintended pregnancy is five times higher than for higher income women. And four in ten women who have abortions are poor. What do you make of that from your own work?
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: That, you know, because women don't have access to some of the basic healthcare to prevent pregnancy, so the fact that contraception is often out of reach. For Latinas, for example, 97 percent of sexually-experienced Latinas have used a form of contraception, but consistent use has been a problem.
So that's when they fall under an unintended pregnancy situation. And they're often scrambling to get abortion care. Often money, borrowing money from friends or trying other avenues. So where some of them are able and successful to get the abortions, there's also so many unintended pregnancies that go term because of these policies.
LYNN PALTROW: Well, it's also a strategy. Until recently, especially, the only Supreme Court successes in eliminating abortions for many years had been when they combined abortion with a vulnerable, less politically-powered group. So the abortion in young women, or abortion in women of color and low-income women.
And they would get restrictions passed there. That clearly isn't enough. And they're expanding it and expanding it. Which is why, suddenly, we recognize the war on women, because it's affecting white women too. But there has always been this war on women--
BILL MOYERS: You think there is a war on women?
LYNN PALTROW: I think there has always been, whether you look at how Native American women were treated from the beginning of this country's origins, to sterilization abuse, or Puerto Rican women and white women who were perceived to have, to be mentally disabled, we have always used reproduction and fought against women's freedom and liberty, whether it was women in slavery, women winning the vote, every inch of our freedom, including our reproductive freedom, has been hard won and there has been a backlash.
And we're in a very big backlash now. I think it's so big that's what's happened is that women are beginning to recognize that what's at stake is more than abortion. It is their personhood. Their ability to be full, equal, constitutional persons in the United States of America.
BILL MOYERS: So given what you both have said, why are abortion rights still an issue of public policy and debate?
LYNN PALTROW: First of all, I mean, it's very clear, there’s a fair amount of history now that says at a point when political organizing on the right was not going to be as successful working on race issues explicitly, there really was this political decision that said, "Look, if we focus on issues like abortion and gay rights, we can rally evangelical Christians and others to advance really our economic agenda, of moving our tax dollars to the few and the wealthy."
And it has just been a very effective political movement, because it has been able, I think, to successfully portray itself as only being attacking abortion, only attacking this decision by certain women to end their pregnancies, and according to them, kill their babies.
And so it's a very popular because it looks like they're just defending some notion of life for fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses, something that seems very abstract and beautiful to many people, without really exposing what they're really doing, which is creating the basis for removing pregnant women from the community of constitutional persons, for jeopardizing maternal, fetal, and child health, and creating what we're really seeing as a new Jane Crow.
BILL MOYERS: And Jane Crow, not Jim Crow, but Jane Crow meaning?
LYNN PALTROW: Well, you look at the abortion issue, with the so-called personhood measures and anti-abortionhood measures. What they are really doing is creating precedent for a permanent underclass of all women. We have seen that women are being arrested, detained, forcibly subjected to medical intervention disproportionately so, African American women, disproportionately in the South. And again, it's not, it's about, under the guise of being just about abortion. It's really about creating a set of precedents that would allow the state to control, surveil, and punish a woman from the moment she conceives.
BILL MOYERS: And you have been, frankly, losing in state after state, right? I mean, there are now 92 or 94 more provisions on state laws than existed several years ago.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: I think the anti-choice movement's getting creative. What we saw recently in Virginia and we saw it in the federal level, but they are now doing this in the state level are things like the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which is an effort to ban race-selective or sex-selective abortion.
And this is a policy that is not seeking to protect and advance civil rights. But rather to target women of color, particularly about their reproductive decision. So the grand hypocrisy here is that, where they're trying to protect the fetus, oftentimes it's up until birth, right, because these policy makers are not the ones advocating for healthcare and, you know, care for children and food stamps.
Those policies, which would really help enhance the lives of children, but they're not doing that. What we're seeing is that they're looking to restrict women's rights, and as you said, treat them sub-people. And for us, we work with immigrant women.
And we're seeing efforts to repeal the 14th Amendment, Birthright Citizenship Clause. So it's interesting, so it's saying, "Okay, well, you know, we want to repeal the status of the child born in this country." So they're looking to protect fetuses. Whose fetuses are they looking to protect? So that's the question we ask.
LYNN PALTROW: Sixty-one to 70 percent of all women who have abortions are already mothers. So the women that they're calling murderers, who they're comparing their collective actions to a genocide or a holocaust, are the women they're entrusting to raise their children, to raise our children, the next generation of taxpayers, and with very little support, with little healthcare, with little economic security.
And they're talking about them in a way that ultimately leads down the road to where women are actually getting arrested for murder, who suffer still births and miscarriages. Where they are actually starting to arrest women who have abortions.
And we saw when people were asked to vote on the reality of these laws, when they're exposed through so-called personhood measures, that they were votes on this in Colorado and Mississippi where they come out and they say, "What we're really trying to do is create complete separation of eggs, embryos, and fetuses from the pregnant women, authorize the state to use that as an excuse to control pregnant women," people say, "No way."
BILL MOYERS: But in Alabama, the State Supreme Court in Alabama has interpreted the term "child" to apply to fertilized eggs and embryos. Which means, doesn't it, that women can be prosecuted for endangering the fetuses?
LYNN PALTROW: And that is what it does mean. And that's not-- what that was, and it's very interesting that you should raise that, that was judicial activism. And what they did was they judicially enacted a personhood measure. Had they put it to a vote to the citizens, we trust that, like in Mississippi, people in Alabama would've voted it down. This is rank, judicial abuse of power.
BILL MOYERS: We've seen devastating cuts in state budgets on women's health issues across the country. Most dramatically in my home state of Texas, which is governed, as you probably know, by Tea Party Republicans and the religious right. What are the consequences, the real, live consequences of those cuts?
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: We work with a group of women in the Rio Grande Valley, which borders Mexico. And those women are really, truly facing the repercussions of those cuts. Already, the clinics were really far away, they had a lot of challenges for transportation to their clinics.
Well, I was there a couple months ago when they said they drove 45 minutes to a local clinic to get birth control, and they were turned away because the cuts dissipated those programs. And we're hearing story after story, and we recently did a human rights report in Texas where we heard one woman swim back to Mexico, cross the Rio Grande Valley, risk separation from her family, because she was not getting basic healthcare. So the repercussions are very real in our community.
BILL MOYERS: I've actually read, and one of the reasons I was eager to have both of you here, I've read that the pro-freedom movement, pro-choice movement is fragmenting somewhat among generational lines. That your generation, Jessica, sees reproductive issues from the Roe versus Wade generation. Is the movement sort of stuck in the past when choice was the optimal virtue and an end in itself? Or you think that's just a news analysis?
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: Well, I think, yeah, I think, I know the young people today are so supportive of reproductive rights and justice. And I say reproductive justice because it broadens the--
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, that's a term I haven't--
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: --the movement.
BILL MOYERS: --heard very often.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: Yeah. Reproductive justice really broadens the movement to incorporate things like socioeconomic status, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity. It's really inclusive and much more holistic than looking to protect just the narrow, legal right to abortion.
But really looks at the full range of reproductive healthcare and bringing women's full identities into their work. So it's really centered in a social justice framework. And that really resonates with young people. So we work with many young people who are tremendous advocates that are writing about this.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: In Texas in particular, we're seeing women again, they're in many different ages, women who are older and have young children, want to protect that right for their children, you know, standing up and saying that "What's happening in Texas is wrong and we need to fight back."
And they're showing up at their legislator's office. These are women who don't speak English, live in the Rio Grande Valley, many of them don't have running water in their homes. I mean, they're very, very marginalized from society in a way. But they're stepping up, they're letting their voice be heard, and they're saying that this is wrong.
LYNN PALTROW: There's a big difference, something that might look to one person like fragmentation might be broadening and really engaging a younger generation. And it won't look exactly the same, but it might be much bigger and much more effective.
There's been a sort of sense of the middle of the country is too fundamentalist, too conservative, too red. But we're working on the third Take Root Reproductive Justice in the Red State Conference in Oklahoma, that's coming up in February. The first year 100 students came, the second year 200. We expect more this year.
And they are everywhere, because you can have all sorts of rhetoric, but you can't deny the actual experience of women. And that is that they have to deal with their reproductive lives as part of their whole lives and their personhood. And they're seeing that these attempts for any of these, many anti-abortion laws, that they're understanding this.
They're really not just about abortion. If you pass a law that says, "A pregnant woman seeking an abortion has to have a transvaginal ultrasound." Well that's a precedent for saying, "As a pregnant woman, you lose your right to consent to what medical tests you're going to be subjected to." Not just in the abortion context, but in every context. And so there's, I think, a rising up and an understanding that this is about their personhood. It's connected to their right to vote and their right to citizenship.
BILL MOYERS: So let's move beyond that a moment and let me ask both of you, what do you think over the last 40 years has been the impact of abortion on issues like dating, marriage, family structure? You say that it's not just about the pregnancy, that it's about some larger phenomenon. So how has abortion changed us culturally and behaviorally?
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: Well, I was going to say that, you know, reproductive justice is being able to make the decision if, when and how you create a family. So abortion is an important piece of that decision, or within the spectrum of the decision. So, you know, when I think about my son, what I want for him is to be able to get full, medically-accurate, culturally-competent sexuality education as a young person.
I want him to be able to access contraception if he needs it. I want him to be able to talk to the medical provider, parents, family, friends, in a way that's nonjudgmental. You know, these are the kind of things I want to create that foundation. And then, you know, again, when creating a family, to be able to access the full range of care when deciding to make that decision.
So you know, it's a life spectrum that you're dealing with and at many different stages. And I always remember, you know, a woman spends about 30 years trying not to get pregnant, and then about five years, for those who want to have a family, trying to get pregnant. And that's a big chunk of someone's life. So ensuring that they have access to the care that they need at every stage is so critical.
LYNN PALTROW: So, legal abortion has dramatically improved the lives and health of women and families for the reasons I talked about a little bit earlier. That before Roe, women were dying from illegal abortions, they were hurt as a result of them.
But I think the question ultimately is that, or the issue, ultimately, is that Roe in some ways was this huge step forward in acknowledging the humanity and personhood of women. 84 percent of all women, by the time they're 40, have gotten pregnant and given birth. This is 84 percent of the political base. And their experiences aren't just about having an abortion. They're about having a baby. And having a good kind of birth and a bad kind of birth.
And having a pregnancy loss that was supported or a pregnancy loss that wasn't. About struggling to get pregnant, about struggling not to get pregnant. This is what it means to have, you know, ovaries and a uterus. And we can at least say those things, even vagina on television now. And that makes it more possible to imagine a country where men and women and families are all treated with respect and have access to all the healthcare they need, not divided up by reproductive health or anything else, but because you're a person.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: I think if we, if the way the country thought of women would change, I think we'd see a radically different country. And we wouldn't see things like legitimate rape or women in binders. I mean, these kinds of comments really speak to how people think about women. And it's so problematic. And I think this election told us a story that we're not going to put up with that, right?
We're going to reject this type of language. We're going to reject these types of policies. Particularly in Florida, was looking to pass an amendment that would further restrict abortion access.
And Florida's a state that has a lot of communities of color, large Latino population. And that measure was defeated, which we wanted it to be, by 54 percent, which was huge. So I think, you know, as we see these policies come down, I think women are seeing what's underneath them, right? And how they're treated, their dignity, and started to rise up and reject them.
BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the sexual ignorance revealed by so many candidates in that campaign? Do you find some men don't get it?
LYNN PALTROW: One thing many people don't know about Roe v. Wade, is that it wasn't just Jane Roe, Norma McCorvey. But there was a married couple that wanted to challenge the Texas anti- law that criminalized abortion. And they appeared as John and Mary Doe. And they said, look, Mary Doe has a health condition that if she becomes pregnant and it continues forward, she might die. And this is very bad for her. There's no 100 percent safe contraceptive. So if we don't have the possibility of legal abortion, it not only risks her health, but it interferes in, I think they called it, "their marital happiness."
And interestingly enough, the Supreme Court threw them out of the case. They said, you don't have standing. Your interest in marital happiness is too distant from what we're talking about here. And which, I think means that in 1973, the Supreme Court hadn't accepted heterosexuality.
But what they really did too, which I think is a shame, is they really had-- I wonder if they had kept that couple in, whether men's role in pregnancy and the outcomes of the intercourse would've played a much healthier and more honest role. Every pregnancy has had a man involved. We live in a country where women are blamed for everything, for having abortions, for having too many children.
But there's a man involved in every one of those situations. And very often we then move to, "Well, then he should have a right to control her or decide for her." But no, just they have to be in the conversation. And I'm very sad that the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade pushed them aside.
BILL MOYERS: Your report on Jane Crow sounds fascinating. Where can my viewers find out more about it?
LYNN PALTROW: www.AdvocatesForPregnantWomen.org.
BILL MOYERS: And where can people go to find out about your work?
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: LatinaInstitute.org. And we have a campaign called “Soy Poderosa,” which means "I am powerful" in Spanish. And this is where we're telling the stories of activists throughout the country, women and men and families, about how they support women's decision making.
BILL MOYERS: Lynn Paltrow and Jessica González-Rojas, thank you very much for being with me.
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: Thank you.
LYNN PALTROW: Thank you for having us.
BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. At our website billmoyers.com you can review reproductive health laws state by state, and you can continue the conversation and debate at our Facebook and Twitter pages. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.