BRIAN SHACTMAN: On this 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court's historic Roe v. Wade decision, the bitter cold and the blowing snow are not keeping protesters off the national mall today for the annual March for Life. Today’s march takes place on the heels of a year when some 24 states passed 53 restrictive abortion laws. That's a whopping 205 laws in just the last three years, which is more, for perspective here, than all the restrictive laws passed in the last decade. And as the Republican National Committee holds its winter meeting today in D.C., chair Reince Priebus said, "We thought it only fitting our members attend the march." Joining me now to discuss, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which just last week came out with a new report on reproductive rights. Ilyse, thanks for coming on the show.
ILYSE HOGUE: Thanks for having me, Brian.
SHACTMAN: You know, Rick Santorum, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, they are going to be there, along with a handful of other congressmen. Organizers say they’re not going to give these long speeches, they’re going to try to involve social media a little bit more, even support for the pope. They’re trying to get hip, I guess. I mean, what's the impact of the March for Life? Does it have one?
HOGUE: Well, I mean, I think it's clear that they felt the need to cater to this extreme piece of their base, and, in fact, if you can read the tea leaves, 2014 is going to be more of the same in terms of catering to that base. The good news is that we know that the majority of Americans support the rights enshrined by Roe – in Roe – and are actually sick of our political debate being dominated by what most people accept as settled law. We'd like to have a conversation about a real women's agenda that supports women throughout our lifetime, both when we are not ready to be parents, but also when we are, and that's nowhere on the GOP's agenda.
SHACTMAN: Well, how do you reconcile all these laws are getting passed at the state level, yet the public sentiment is what it is?
HOGUE: Yeah, it's amazing,
isn't it? I think what we're seeing is the culmination of three decades of
strategy by anti-choice – the anti-choice minority. They were very savvy about
taking over state houses, leveraging redistricting to their benefit in the
House of Representatives, and definitely paying attention to judicial nominees.
The good news is, 70 percent of Americans actually support the rights enshrined
in Roe and we're starting to see the momentum shift back in our direction. We
saw it in 2013 with the
SHACTMAN: You know, it's
funny, but the Republicans are sort of changing their rhetorical angle on this,
and I just want to get to a couple things and then put a question to you. The
president did release a statement saying on this anniversary, "We recommit
ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able
to make her own choices about her body and her health." Meanwhile, this
debate over women’s rights has taken on even greater meaning in the midterms
and you just touched on it, there are red state Democrats up for re-election.
They’re hoping that that success in
HOGUE: No, I actually, you know, look, we agree. Reproductive freedom is ground zero for women's ability to determine our economic security. There is nowhere in the world that you see a place that doesn't have access for women to family planning that does well on any other socioeconomic factor, and women in this country experience it the same. The GOP is wildly out of step. I said this morning in Politico, they’re not anti-abortion, they are anti-women living any kind of life that is different from the one that they determine. That's why they vote against contraception. That’s why they vote against comprehensive sex ed. If they were really anti-abortion, they would embrace all of the preventative measures and education that we know give women power to make decisions about our reproductive freedom. We believe that when we expose the fact that they also vote against helping low-income women who are parents – in fact, Governor John Kasich took money out of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and moved it into fake clinics that lie to women – that we'll see that not only are they out of step on these issues, but they’re out of step on the real economics that allow women to get ahead in this country.
SHACTMAN: It is the – one thing that is amazing through all this, Ilyse, and thanks for the insight, is that 41 years later, it's still a huge battleground issue and a lot of people had hoped that it wasn't. NARAL president Ilyse Hogue, we appreciate the time.
HOGUE: Thank you.
SHACTMAN: Alright, I'd like
to bring in today's agenda panel. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, an MSNBC contributor, professor at the
SABRINA SIDDIQUI: Sure. Well, we have a new poll done in collaboration with YouGov that shows that while Americans continue to be fairly evenly split in terms of how they view abortion from an ideological perspective, a growing number of Americans don't believe that the government has a place in determining what a woman’s access to abortion should be. So 64 percent of respondents actually said that decisions on abortion should be made between a woman and her doctor, whereas just 24 percent of respondents said that the government has a right or obligation to pass new restrictions on abortion. Moreover, it was only 35 percent of respondents that said that they would favor Congress passing new restrictions on abortion. So while it's true that Republicans have a state-level advantage that has enabled them to pass a growing number of laws that would restrict women's access to abortion across the country, those views are increasingly out of step with the American public.
SHACTMAN: Well again, let's build on this, Irin, because msnbc.com has some graphics on the website with some of these statistics. One compares abortion laws in the year 2000 compared to 2013. Now the dark color represents states most hostile to abortion rights and you can see it's about doubled. Now if, as we've talked about, more people want the government to stay out of this issue, and again I'm going to ask the same question I asked – why is this happening?
IRIN CARMON: Right, well I mean, I think Ilyse mentioned that there has been a strategy. A lot of places in which the anti-abortion movement first tried, especially at the Supreme Court, it failed. What they realized is that the Supreme Court did open the door for them to pass a certain number of restrictions that would place roadblocks in women's ways. So technically, even in states where it's technically legal, there are all sorts of restrictions that fall into a legal gray area where abortion is legal but it’s extremely onerous and difficult, particularly for low-income women, women who live in remote places, like the Rio Grande valley where clinics have closed thanks to the restrictions passed in Texas, so I think that they’re realizing that with federal gridlock, with a certain limit to what they can do from the court's perspective, they can – there's a lot that they can do to make life more difficult for women who are seeking abortions.
SHACTMAN: Right, and how they frame it – Vicki, I don't know if you saw this, and you can chime in on what you just heard, but also a Louisville radio station reported that Kentucky state Rep. Joe Fischer, who’s a Republican, he amended a domestic violence bill to include language limiting abortions at 20 weeks. He says abortion is, "The most brutal form of domestic violence." How do you react to that?
VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO: You know, Brian, abortion, like with most issues, is a local issue. Again, echoing what Irin said, and I think that what we need to do going forward is slug it out at the state level. I think Democrats sometimes tend to not focus so much on the midterm elections and we see our big turnouts for our presidential elections, especially among Latinos and youth – core constituencies of the Democratic party that don’t turn out. So if we want to see the essence of Roe V. Wade recaptured, we need to start at the state house level and we need to uber-mobilize these constituencies that don't tend to turn out, because this is the only way we're going to have a blockade toward those infringement of choice rights.
SHACTMAN: Well and, you know – I could talk more about this, but I want to take a bit of a turn, because it's obviously related. At least one of you mentioned how out of touch you think the Republican party is. And so Sabrina, I'll put it to you: how is the Republican party going to appeal to more contemporary women with this kind of stance? I mean, how are they going to win those votes?
SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that the Republican National Committee has certainly talked about the need to appeal to women. At the same time, they are also considering a resolution this week that would urge candidates to stand their ground on abortion and defend their position on abortion. I think, you know, with respect to congressional Republicans, one of the problems they face is that lawmakers are under a constant threat of facing a primary challenge and a very real primary challenge, so that has prevented them from sort of moderating their position on abortion. At the same time, I think that they are sort of trying to train their candidates not to at least make comments that would offend women. We've all heard about, you know, the training to not talk about rape and come up with other ways to talk about why they are pro-life and sort of defend that stance. I don't think we're going to see any shift in policies, certainly not in a midterm election year, which as others mentioned is a turnout election. It’s about making sure that the base comes out and votes.
SHACTMAN: You know, I think the rhetorical change to make it more of an economic issue as opposed to social, in some ways, you know, it makes more sense, because when they talk about the social side of it, that's when they get into real trouble with the average American. But Irin, I want to put this to you because Americans United for Change, they brought out a Tea Party score card that’s described as a tool for voters to hold Republicans accountable for aligning themselves with the Tea Party, and basically it seems like that’s another way to get people who are more moderate to not be moderate. I mean, it's almost getting impossible for a Republican to be in the center, right?
CARMON: Right. Well, and I think that one way in which our two discussions mesh is that abortion is an issue that they all agree on. You know, they have tactical problem – they have tactical issues amongst themselves, even some of those quote-unquote “more moderate Republicans” don't have such ideological differences from the self-avowed Tea Partiers. It's more how willing are they to put grinds – to put to a grinding halt the functions of the government, as we saw last year, so I think one of the reasons actually even in the House of Representatives, which knows that it's going to get roadblocked by the Senate and the president on many measures, including those restricting a woman's right to choose, is that it's one of the few consensus items in which there isn't a lot of ideological or strategic disagreement. It's really just a matter of rhetoric and focus. And as for, you know, abortion as an economic issue, which absolutely reproductive freedom is an economic issue, so far all I've really heard from Republicans is that they think that restricting a woman’s access to abortion is going to create more jobs because there are going to be more babies, and that's not necessarily what I would consider a sound economic theory, but I'm open to being persuaded.
SHACTMAN: I mean, Vicki, you think that the Republicans, they’re not done here, that they could get some real traction in the midterms, isn't that right?
SOTO: You know, with the issue of women, they definitely have a black eye there, but they’re going to be trying to distract the general electorate from the issue of women, and I think two of those issues are immigration, where we see some signals that the Republican party wants to move forward. Of course, it's not going to be a comprehensive reform type of immigration, but some movement. Also recent talk about school vouchers and these are two elements that George W. Bush put into place during the 2000s and was able to moderate the party. Obviously, it's not going to be a 180, but we do see some movement. But I think the most important factor is that we see some establishment Republicans getting ready to play offense toward that Tea Party extreme. I don't know if it's going to be effective or not, we'll know in March, but we do have the Roves and the other moderate Republicans saying don't keep turning us further right, because we're never going to win elections at the national level.
SHACTMAN: Well you know, I just want to say, you know, I’ve said this before on air when they had the budget deal with Paul Ryan and Boehner slapping back at the Tea Party, it looked like there was an opening there for some moderation, but then it seems like it hasn't gotten a whole lot of momentum. Guys, we appreciate it. MSNBC contributor Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Msnbc.com's Irin Carmon, and The Huffington Post’s Sabrina Siddiqui.
RICHARD LUI: Forty-one years
ago today, a Supreme Court ruling recognized a woman's constitutional right to
an abortion. In that case, Roe v. Wade has become among the most famous and
divisive in the high court's history. The president put out a statement earlier
saying, in part, "As we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme
Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision's guiding
principle, that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her
body and her health." And 40-plus years after that decision, the issue is
still surrounded on both sides by a great deal of passion. Some of that passion
is on display this afternoon, as anti-abortion marchers brave the cold to
TERRY O’NEILL: You know, I think what's really striking about the past year is a growing disconnect between what voters want in terms of women's health policy and what legislators, particularly legislators in states around the country. But also what courts are doing. So the voters on the one hand, support for women's abortion rights and women's access to the full range of reproductive health services is actually growing right now, for the past two to three years it's been growing. And yet the attacks on women's access to abortion care, to birth control, to women's health clinics where they can get STD treatments, those attacks have escalated by elected officials. So there's this huge divide.
LUI: So you've also got the
divide reflecting more restrictive laws, and we're seeing that on the local and
O’NEILL: You know, a part of it is the way we do voting anymore. Ever since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for corporate funding of elections, what we have seen is Tea Party extremists flooding into state legislatures and even into the United States Congress, particularly the U.S. House of Representatives, where Tea Party extremists hold sway on most policies over John Boehner and Eric Cantor. So I think money and politics is a huge problem.
LUI: You know, the Supreme
Court last week, they declined to hear an appeal and overturned
O’NEILL: You know, I'm very concerned about where the Supreme Court is
heading. Yes, it's a small, possibly a temporary victory. There are nearly a
dozen states that have outright criminalized abortion at 20 weeks gestation.
LUI: Terry --
LUI: – thank you so much. I'm sorry, we've got to go to breaking news. Terry O'Neill on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
MSNBC NOW with Alex Wagner
ALEX WAGNER: Roe v. Wade turns 41 years old today. Forty-one years and one day ago, on January 21, 1973, abortion was only legal in a handful of states. The next day, it was legal in the entire country after the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a legal right, one protected by the Constitution. But 41 years later the fight is hardly over. This morning, thousands of anti-abortion protesters marched on Capitol Hill for the annual March for Life. They then made their way to the Supreme Court to protest a woman's right to choose. Seven in 10 Americans think Roe v. Wade should stand, but that hasn’t stopped efforts throughout the country to restrict abortion at the state level. In the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Janet Reitman chronicles what she calls the stealth war on abortion being waged by “highly coordinated and so far chillingly successful nationwide campaign, often funded by the same people who fund the Tea Party, to make it harder and harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies and also to limit their access to many forms of contraception.” Joining me now is contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine Janet Reitman. Janet, I said this to you before the segment began. This is one of the most important pieces I have read about women's health and reproductive freedoms and what is actually happening behind the scenes to restrict choice. Let's start first about the broad change in strategy from, as you write in the piece, the focus of being on the unborn to putting the focus on women and women's safety and health.
JANET REITMAN: Right. Women's health.
WAGNER: Tell us more about how that strategy – the iteration of that strategy.
REITMAN: Well I think the thing was is that the pro-life movement realized over the years that casting women’s – excuse me, casting abortion as a matter of fetal murder was just a completely unsuccessful strategy and it made them look kind of like extremists, if you’re waving like the bloody fetus pictures and kind of holding these massive rallies and blockading the clinics. None of this really worked and it just actually marginalized them, I believe. So what they – and actually according to some of these people, that is exactly what they've felt. And so over the years, people who were looking at this from a more strategic level were thinking, well, how can we chip away at this at the state level? And let's try to pass legislation that will restrict abortion and we'll do so in a way that makes it seem like we're protecting women's health, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
WAGNER: And you point out in the, you know, we talk about the safety issue and you compare abortions to colonoscopies. The mortality rate for abortions is less than .67 per 100,000 procedures. For colonoscopies, it’s 20 out of 100,000. You do not see a huge sort of anti-colonoscopy lobby. This is not about women’s safety. This is about restricting choice. But this is not just a couple of sort of well-organized individuals. I mean, the most shocking, I think, part of the piece is the behind-the-scenes funding of organizations like the National Right to Life Committee and the Americans United for Life, AUL, which in terms of drafting this legislation are a lot like the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, which has been a huge driver in voter suppression laws and a host of other conservative principles. Tell us about how these groups operate.
REITMAN: They operate in much the same way that ALEC does. They write model legislation. They send this out to legislators across the country, state and federal. They attend ALEC conferences. People from the Americans United for Life go to ALEC conferences and they don't present, but they do sort of pass out their literature and make this available to the people – to legislators who go, and many of those people – most of them, in many regards, are pro-life anyway. And so these agendas are very much connected. And the thing is is that most reporters don't really cover this enough or know this enough to make these connections, but if you talk to enough people, specifically those who cover the Religious Right, they have been documenting the ways in which the Religious Right has formed a real union with the fiscal conservatives. And personally, I think that’s the story, is the stealthy connection between the two.
WAGNER: In the piece, I’ll quote, you say, “Some abortion-rights advocates have compared the Americans United for Life, AUL, to ALEC, the secret corporate-funded organization responsible for many of the country’s voter suppression and stand your ground laws. Each year, AUL sends state and federal lawmakers across the country a 700-page-plus pro-life playbook featuring a 50-state report card on the state of anti-abortion legislation as well as a step-by-step guide to help lawmakers understand that Roe v. Wade doesn't preclude them from passing common-sense legislation.” They have been incredibly effective in this as you point out, again, in the piece. Over the past three years, 205 abortion restrictions were enacted. That number just seems to be going up.
REITMAN: Yeah, it does. And I think that it's going to keep getting -- you're going to at least see these attempts in more and more states and more and more of these attempts as we get closer and closer down the line. I mean, I think that 2014 will be interesting because this issue is now becoming a real issue for progressives and, you know, I'm not the only journalist who have made these connections and have written stories like this. I mean, I think that more and more people are asking these questions and looking at this more closely, so we'll see what happens.
WAGNER: Just before we let you go, in terms of the response from progressives, do you sense that there are the beginnings of organizations and sort of networking around this that can be a progressive pro-choice answer to what’s happening in the religious, conservative, anti-choice world?
REITMAN: I mean, I'd like to say yes. I hope so. But I think that what we’re – I think the real problem is funding. And I think they're just really massively out-funded by the Right. And in some ways they have an organizational structure on the Right that is just – it’s bigger and it's extremely targeted. And I just think that progressives are having to wake up to this very quickly and get themselves mobilized, and I hope they do.
WAGNER: Well, the first step to mobilization is awareness. Janet Reitman from Rolling Stone, thank you so much for your time.