How the anti-abortion movement weaponized sex ed
And what reproductive justice advocates can do to reverse the tide. Plus: Why Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion is so scary and why national Democrats aren’t out of the woods yet.
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The country is still reeling from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. And politicians on both sides of the issue find themselves strategizing the best response to the grassroots energy that seems to have further polarized an already divided nation.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday afternoon sent a letter to House Democrats outlining a legislative path forward that includes proposals to protect personal data stored on reproductive health apps in response to the fear that this information could be used against people by a prosecutor in a state that criminalizes abortion.
Pelosi also indicated House Democrats would consider legislation that would clarify the constitutional right to travel freely and voluntarily throughout the United States for abortion care. (This is also a huge focus area for the White House and Justice Department.)
The House may also pass the Women’s Health Protection Act again, which codifies the federal protections of the right to seek abortion care that was established when Roe was passed almost 50 years ago.
The most interesting paragraph of Pelosi’s letter was the last one in which she called for the Senate to eliminate the 60-vote threshold to advance a bill to a final vote — aka “the filibuster” — if the House and Senate Democrats protect and expand their majorities. The Speaker usually avoids speaking about Senate matters so it’s noteworthy she’s doing so on this issue.
Congress is in recess for the July 4th holiday and President Joe Biden is in Europe for two major summits. So I’m sure legislative action will pick back up then. In the meantime, a Louisiana judge has temporarily blocked the enforcement of the state’s trigger law and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin promised to grant clemency to doctors charged under the state’s abortion ban.
At the federal level, Vice President Kamala Harris and administration officials will continue to meet with women’s groups, LGBTQ and disability groups, advocates, House and Senate leadership and state legislators, influencers, faith leaders, and other stakeholders to mobilize their coalitions to the ballot box in November.
In this column, I report on one of the tools the anti-abortion movement weaponized in their decades-long crusade against Roe: sex education. Two experts from Planned Parenthood explained to me how it can be used to rebuild abortion access over the long haul. As disheartened as I’ve been the past few days, I came away from the conversation feeling a little more uplifted.
I also spoke with a legal expert about the concurring opinion Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case that overturned Roe. If Thomas has his way, the Supreme Court would practice the same logic Justice Samuel Alito applied in the Dobbs decision to overturn rulings that protect access to contraception, private intimate contact between consenting adults and same-sex marriage. (Excluded from the opinion though was Loving v. Virginia — the landmark 1967 case that decriminalized interracial marriage. Thomas is married to a white woman if you’re looking for a reason why.)
And finally, I dig into the politics of the Democratic Party’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision and whether it has energized voters as intensely as party leaders hope and pray it will. But first a few headlines:
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine addressed President Biden and the leaders of Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Canada during a working session at the G7 Summit in Bavaria, Germany to ask for additional air defense systems that would shoot down Russian missiles out of the sky. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed that the US is finalizing a package that includes advanced medium- and long-range air defense capabilities, among other items of urgent need. (A Russian missile strike hit a crowded shopping center in Ukraine’s capital city on Monday and killed at least 10 people, according to Zelenskyy.)
Related: Zelenskyy indicated his preference to end the war by the end of the year. “He believes that a grinding conflict is not in the interest of the Ukrainian people for obvious reasons,” Sullivan said. “So he would like to see his military and those in the West who are supporting his military and making maximum use of the next few months to put Ukraine in as good a position as they can be in.”
The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that a Washington state school district can’t prohibit a football coach from praying on the field. In a majority opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court said coach Joe Kennedy’s speech constitutes private speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in dissent with Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kegan, argued that the decision blurs the lines between church and state. (Ariane de Vogue, Tierney Sneed and Devan Cole / CNN)
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission added an “X” gender marker during the intake process for filing a charge of discrimination. “During Pride Month, it is especially important to make clear that in advancing the EEOC’s mission to prevent and remedy employment discrimination, we must serve all workers, including those who do not identify as exclusively male or female,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a statement. “Our public-facing charge forms now make clear that we respect that diversity.”
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol added a new hearing on Tuesday to present new evidence and receive new witness testimony. The committee previously said it would not hold additional hearings until July after the House’s two-week recess. (Caroline Linton / CBS News)
A New York State Supreme Court judge struck down a law that would allow noncitizens to vote in local New York City elections. The measure passed the city council last December and would have allowed more than 800,000 green card holders or permanent legal residents to vote for offices such as mayor and city council. But the judge said the new law would require a direct vote on the issue by New Yorkers. (Jeffery C. Mays / NYT)
The trial for US basketball star Brittney Griner is scheduled to start on Friday. The US government has said she has been wrongfully detained in Russia and it is working to negotiate her release. Griner’s lawyer said she will remain in custody until it ends. Russian officials in February said they found paraphernalia with traces of cannabis oil and if convicted Griner could face up to 10 years in exile.) (Ivan Nechepurenko / NYT)
Instagram is testing a new AI tool that estimates how old you are by scanning your face to verify people’s ages in an attempt to keep underage kids off the app. I scanned my face and the app estimated I was between the ages of 26-29 so it’s alright with me. 😌 (James Vincent / The Verge)
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In 26 of the states that have banned and plan to ban abortion now that the Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade, half have no mandate that schools teach sex education, according to a 2021 analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research organization. Just four of the 26 require the topic of contraception to be covered and 23 allow school districts to bypass the concept of consent altogether.
This isn’t an accident, several experts in the reproductive space told me over the weekend when asked about the tools the anti-abortion movement weaponized to achieve their decades-long ambition of criminalizing abortion.
“Many of the same individuals and lawmakers and groups who oppose abortion are the same people and groups who vocally oppose sex education, birth control and all the other tools that help people live with information, with freedom and autonomy,” Kaitlyn Marchesano, director of education and strategy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in an interview with Supercreator on Monday. “These groups are one in the same. And over time, they have been slowly chipping away at important pieces of sex education and also chipping away at who is considered a quality provider of sex education.”
Marchesano explained that a key reason the anti-abortion movement has succeeded is that sex education is a local, school-based issue. As a result, the hyperconcentration of these issues enables a lot of unfavorable decisions to fly under the radar due to the casual assumptions people make about the sex education folks are getting in school.
It also doesn’t help that many players in the anti-abortion movement pretend to be grassroots in their efforts or show up as concerned parents.
“When in fact they're well-organized, they are well-funded and they share blatant disinformation about what sex education looks like in schools and really stoke fear and outrage based on what are are essentially disinformation campaigns,” Marchesano said.
But to get a better sense of what sex education looks like beyond the image of putting condoms, STI prevention and avoiding unintended pregnancy, Julia Bennett, PPFA’s director of digital education and learning strategy, said it’s worthwhile to consider the core values of any effective sex-education curriculum: Dignity and respect for everyone, with racial justice, fairness and compassion for others.
But I was curious to know what this looks like in practice, especially within the context of a post-Roe world that will require us to rebuild a system that provides inclusive and equitable access to abortion care for all people who need it.
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