Hall of Fame / Hall of Shame: Reproductive Rights Edition

Hall of Fame

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, aka Dan Perkins, for his hilarious commentary: While Tom Tomorrow is familiar to many of our readers, his work as of late has been fierce and unapologetic. As the conservative campaign against reproductive rights continues, Tom’s trenchant commentary upends and refutes partisan talking points with glee (and in all of six panels). Here is a good example of the kind of clever, biting satire I mean:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for a committed defense of women’s rights: Surveying the bills before the House and various state legislatures, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi had this to say: “They’re advancing extreme legislation. It’s dangerous to women’s health, disrespects the judgment of American women — I don’t know if they even gave that a thought — and it’s the most comprehensive and radical assault on women’s health in our lifetime. It’s that bad.” Nancy Pelosi needs no introduction as a staunch defender of family planning rights, but for speaking so plainly and so directly she does deserve a little recognition.

Academy Award winning actress Natalie Portman: There’s a lot to admire about Natalie Portman. She’s a graduate of Harvard and co-author of two articles published in scientific journals. Her performance in Black Swan was terrifying and alluring, and her credentials as a humanist don’t hurt either. As she once told a reporter regarding the afterlife, “I don’t believe in that. I believe this is it, and I believe it’s the best way to live.” Nevertheless, Natalie Portman is worth applauding for her measured silence in response to a ridiculous criticism from possible presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, who regards Portman’s pregnancy out of wedlock (never mind that she is in a committed relationship with her fiancée) as “troubling,” felt that she might encourage others to follow in her footsteps, as she would “glorify and glamorize” the life of an unwed mother. Wouldn’t we like to see more young girls follow Ms. Portman’s example: attending Harvard in the midst of an acting career because she’d “rather be smart than a movie star,” dedicating herself to her work in courageous films like Black Swan, or raising money for a slew of causes from microfinance to environmental concerns? It is none of Mr. Huckabee’s business how Ms. Portman raises her child, but it is somewhat ironic to hear him cry foul on the topic of parenting. After all, Huckabee’s son David killed a stray dog while employed as a camp counselor when he was 17, leading to his subsequent firing from the position as counselor. Questions regarding whether or not Huckabee used his influence as governor of Arkansas to try and dissuade an animal cruelty investigation have persisted since the incident in the late ‘90s. If I had these sort of credentials as a parent I’d be very wary about criticizing others.

Journalist Rachel Maddow: Rachel Maddow spoke out on her MSNBC show last month in support of the intrepid Doctor Mila Means, who is trying to give native Kansans some sort of family planning coverage in the city of Wichita. In fact both of these women deserve praise for their uncompromising stance on women’s rights. Dr. Means is trying to establish a clinic to fill the void left by deceased family planning provider George Tiller. The danger for anyone trying to provide these services is real– as Maddow herself said on her February 15th show, “In the last 18 years, eight clinic workers have been murdered.  Over the last 20 years, there have been another 17 attempted murders of abortion providers or clinic workers.” Maddow went on to detail how Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline went on a wholly unprofessional and obviously politically motivated investigation into George Tiller’s clinic from 2003 to 2007. These actions—which included an explicit plan to “target” abortion providers in Kansas—later led to a formal complaint from the Kansas state bar. In his own testimony during a recent ethics trial, Kline admitted to deceiving state agencies in order to further his investigation, but claimed it was justifiable under his authority as attorney general. This, then, is the dilemma for abortion providers in America. There is an institutional campaign to deprive women of their rights through the law and organizations of terrorists who try and deprive women of their rights through violence. Phil Kline and Scott Roeder both targeted George Tiller and his clinic in their own ways, and we should support and applaud those like Dr. Mila Means and Rachel Maddow for speaking out, and standing against those like them.

Hall of Shame

Anti-choice activist Janet Folger Porter, for encouraging the “testimony” of a fetus while the Ohio State Legislature considers a bill criminalizing abortion of any fetus with a detectable heartbeat: In what can only be described as “circus-like tactics,” Ms. Porter has volunteered to produce a pregnant woman, who, in front of the entire legislature, will undergo a color ultrasound procedure designed to show the heartbeat of a fetus. Republicans are canny budgeteers, fighting against all sorts of government waste. How is this demonstration at all useful in helping legislators make up their minds? How is this, in other words, not a complete waste of the taxpayers’ money? Finally, and most pressing to me: how can anyone in this movement take themselves seriously? It seems like a joke of some kind  to have a legislator elect to base his or her vote on the “testimony” of an ultrasound. According to this rubric, I look forward to seeing the testimony of brain scans and x-rays everywhere, suddenly now pertinent to the interests of the state.

House of Representative Speaker John Boehner, for committing to cut federal funds for Planned Parenthood: in what will come as no surprise to our readers, John Boehner, lachrymose, big-gaveled, and defiant, told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “I think it’s important that we understand that what we want to do here is win the war not just win a battle and there will be an opportunity sometime in order to win the big war and we’re looking for that opportunity.” Hidden within this vague mess of corporate value speak lies the most deceptive kind of discrimination. Planned Parenthood’s federal funding already does not go toward abortion procedures, and anyway, as we’ve detailed before, the federal conscience clause provisions ensure that federal money cannot go to any kind of abortion procedures. Boehner knows this, of course, but there’s little that rallies his base more than a torch-waving mob, bound for the nearest Planned Parenthood.

Representative Phil Jensen of South Dakota, for introducing a bill in the South Dakota state legislature reconstruing murder “while resisting an attempt to harm [to an unborn child]” into “justifiable homicide.” This language is a bald attempt to legalize the killing of abortion providers, and while the bill was shelved- following a national outcry- it has been appropriated by legislatures in Nebraska and possibly other states. So, credit where credit is due: Mr. Jensen, welcome to the HNN Hall of Shame for introducing this hideous idea into our national discourse and giving cover to domestic terrorists.

Noted welfare recipient Rush Limbaugh, for claiming that the Democratic Party “literally preside[s] over the death of 60% of black babies in the womb via Planned Parenthood” and that “Planned Parenthood finished the job the Klan never could”: This sort of rhetoric doesn’t need to be critiqued explicitly, in fact I already feel rather icky even repeating what was said. Nevertheless, this is Limbaugh’s m.o. writ large. He’ll take a polarizing issue, say something ugly and offensive, and then when the inevitable groundswell of criticism materializes, he defends himself by claiming he was “tweaking the Left,” or “just saying the obvious.” Greater writers than I have made bales and bales of hay out of Limbaugh’s rhetoric, and this  disastrous television appearance shows how an average audience responds to the dysfunctional stew of subjects and predicates Limbaugh excretes.  I confess I do listen to Limbaugh during road trips—his jaunty, unabashed yammering is one of the few things I can count on to get through those long stretches of highway, when the AM and FM bands are all country music and religious sermons and the scenery rarely evolves past “American Neolithic.” That chunky, rumbling voice has a uniquely infuriating quality, enabling the listener to stay awake well beyond regular human limits. This is literally the only reason I could possibly recommend him.