Nathalie Baptiste

Nathalie Baptiste is a writing fellow at The American Prospect. She has worked as a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and written for Inter Press Service. 

Recent Articles

Your Constitutional Right to Privacy (Unless You Want an Abortion in Ohio)

The Ohio General Assembly is expected to vote soon on a bill that seeks to let the state government decide whether a woman’s reason for terminating a pregnancy is acceptable. Introduced in August, H.B. 135 would prohibit women from seeking an abortion because of a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome; a doctor who knowingly performs the abortion would lose their license.

Ignoring the fact that this certainly isn’t “small government,” the bill raises some serious enforcement questions. For instance, how will the doctor performing the abortion prove that the woman was choosing to terminate her pregnancy because of such a diagnosis? Couldn’t the pregnant woman say she’s terminating for other reasons?

This bill, like many other abortion restrictions, is loaded with concern for a fetus, but not what happens after. Children, those with special needs or without, require economic, physical, and emotional sacrifice from parents. But the safety net across the United States and especially in Ohio is dismal. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ohio is the third-worst state for food insecurity, only behind Arkansas and Missouri. And like most states, Ohio does not provide paid family leave.

The proposed legislation would add to the already long list of abortion restrictions in Ohio. A woman seeking an abortion must receive state-directed counseling that includes information that will attempt to discourage her. Then she must wait 24 hours after counseling before obtaining the procedure, necessitating two separate trips to the clinic. More than half the women of reproductive age in Ohio live in a county without an abortion provider, meaning that those two separate trips can be long and costly.

Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich said that he would sign the proposed bill if it makes it to his desk. If it is enacted, Ohio would become the second state to ban abortion in such cases. In 2013, North Dakota passed some of the most stringent abortion laws of recent decades, including bans on abortion because of genetic defects and sex selection, or once a fetal heartbeat is detectable (which can be as early as six weeks).

H.B. 135 is in direct violation of Roe v. Wade, which said that a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy until the fetus is viable is protected under her constitutional right to privacy. Abortion is a personal decision, and the reason a woman wants to obtain the procedure should not be one the government must approve. 

What a 20-Week Abortion Ban Would Mean

Mitch McConnell isn’t willing to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood—but only because it would be political suicide, not because he’s suddenly become pro-choice. In an op-ed for, the Senate Majority Leader championed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a national 20-week abortion ban that the Senate will take up on Tuesday. “Despite the strong passion on both sides of the issue,” wrote McConnell, “it seems obvious to me that if an unborn child has reached the point where he or she can feel pain, that child's life deserves protection.” According to the American Medical Association, it’s unlikely that fetuses feel pain before the third trimester.

Like most bills aiming to restrict abortion rights, the national 20-week abortion ban would most likely affect women with few resources. The Guttmacher Insitute conducted a survey of women who had obtained abortions at or after 20 weeks and the results were distressing. The women faced difficulties finding a provider and the money. The majority of the women were facing challenges like raising children independently, depression, drug use, and domestic violence.

Not only does the bill place an undue burden on women attempting to exercise their constitutional rights, the Pain-Capable Unborn Protection Act allows for little exceptions and further victimizes women and children who have been sexually assaulted. The bill does exempt women whose lives are “endangered by a physical disorder, illness or injury” but says nothing about psychological or emotional issues.

Adult rape victims are also allowed to terminate their pregnancies—but only after they’ve received counseling and medical treatment. For children who are victims of rape or incest, they must also report the abuse to law enforcement before the abortion. If a victim of sexual abuse does not report the crime, which 68 percent of victims don’t do, she will not be able to obtain an abortion.

This bill, passed by the House in May, joins the growing list of anti-choice legislation proposed around the United States. In January, the president indicated that he would veto the bill if it made it to his desk. But the vote signals just how willing Republican lawmakers are to disregard science and the Constitution in the name of restricting women’s rights.

Three Ways the Planned Parenthood Hearing Was a Ridiculous Show Trial

Yesterday, a mostly male group of GOP lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee made good on their promise to “investigate” Planned Parenthood, by holding a hearing on the heavily edited and widely debunked “sting” videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, which, despite its misleading name, is not a medical organization.

But the hearing was clearly not designed to seek the truth.

First, it ignored the fact that Planned Parenthood provides basic health care to millions of women. The hearing happened amid threats of another government shutdown over funding for the organization. Gianna Jessen, an anti-choice activist who was invited to testify as an “abortion survivor,” said, “Planned Parenthood receives $500 million of taxpayer money a year to primarily destroy and dismember babies.” Of course, the Hyde Amendment stipulates that no federal funds go toward abortions, and only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services involve abortion procedures (which, as a reminder, is a woman’s right).

That fact is also something Jessen doesn’t seem to understand, but the Republicans let her testify anyway. “We often hear that if Planned Parenthood were defunded, there would be a health crisis among women without the services they provide, “she said. “This is absolutely false.”

No, that is absolutely true. Women’s lives are put at risk without abortion access and the other services that Planned Parenthood provides. In Texas, where it was effectively defunded, fewer women have access to the health care they need. In El Salvador—where abortion is outlawed—the cause of death for 57 percent of pregnant females between the ages of 10 and 19 is suicide.

Second, the hearing was centered on misleading videos being evidence of illegal activity. Despite the fact that the videos were released by the Center for Medical Progress, no one from CMP was at the hearing and Representative Trent Franks even admitted to having not seen the unedited videos. This did not stop him from continuing to push the false narrative that seemed to be the theme of the show trial. “Numerous video recordings have been recently released that incontrovertibly document corporate officers and employees of Planned Parenthood,” he said, “casually discussing their rampant practice of harvesting and selling the little body parts.”

In reality, the Planned Parenthood officials were discussing the perfectly legal practice of tissue donation. But the videos were edited to remove the portions where they repeatedly said that tissue donation is not for profit. And when hearing witness James Bopp, the lawyer for the National Right to Life Committee was asked to comment on the legality of the videos, Bopp declined, saying, “I was advised that that’s not the purpose of the hearing.” Of course, the videos are what spurred the hearing in the first place, but being under oath is likely a powerful inducement to not speak about videos that are deliberately misleading.

Third, the hearing was glaringly one-sided. Not only was no one from CMP present, neither was anyone from Planned Parenthood. In fact, Priscilla Smith was the only pro-abortion witness present and though she is not a doctor, Franks continually asked her questions that should be posed to someone in the profession. “How do you know it’s viable, without a medical professional?” Franks asked about fetuses. “I’m not a doctor,” Smith promptly responded.

The hearing lacked legitimacy, reality, and truth. Republicans can claim to care about the unborn as much as they would like, but the purpose of this hearing was to find even more ways to restrict a woman’s right to abortion, and her control over her own reproductive health. 

Sanders Unveils Women's Rights Policy Initiatives

Last week, I wrote about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s lack of policy proposals regarding women’s rights. Over the weekend, the campaign updated its website to include several new policy initiatives. Sanders’s new plan for fighting for women’s rights is expansive, and the most detailed in the Democratic field.

If elected president, Sanders would only nominate Supreme Court justices who would protect Roe v. Wade and the right to family-planning services, especially important in the wake of last year’s Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby decision, which set a dangerous precedent for privately owned corporations who wish to deny their employees birth control.

Sanders’s new platform also vows to expand funding for Planned Parenthood, the Title X family-planning program, other initiatives that protect access to abortion and contraception, as well as the Women, Infants, and Children supplemental nutrition program, which provides federal grants to states for food, health-care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income mothers and their children. The Sanders campaign says he is working on a plan to make child care and pre-kindergarten available to all families, regardless of income.

Sanders zeroes in on the “international embarrassment” of being the only major country that doesn’t guarantee paid leave to workers, by calling for employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. “It is not a family value to force the mother of a newborn baby to go back to work a few days after she gives birth because she doesn’t have the money to stay home and bond with her baby,” reads the new policy proposal, which he calls a real “family value” (a jab to Republicans).

On the wage-discrimination front, Sanders would sign the Paycheck Fairness Act and raise the minimum wage. Since women make up two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 would boost the wages of more than 15 million women—and help close the gender pay gap. Women also make up more than two-thirds of tipped minimum-wage workers who have been making $2.13 an hour, before tips, since 1991—Sanders wants to raise those wages to $15 an hour by 2023.

While expanding Medicaid in all states would provide health care for millions of low-income women, Sanders wants to take it a step further and enact a “Medicare for All” single-payer system. According to the campaign, women pay more for health-care expenses than men and pay a greater portion out of their own pockets.

Sanders also plans to expand Social Security. A 2013 study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center found that elderly women had fallen even deeper into poverty, partly due to cuts to Social Security Administration funding. The majority of Social Security recipients are women, and they receive smaller checks than their male counterparts. Thirty percent of elderly women rely on Social Security for 90 percent of their income, compared to only 23 percent of men. Any cuts to Social Security would devastate the economic well-being of elderly women.  

Critics of Bernie Sanders often point out that he’s only comfortable talking about economic issues—but releasing this new policy platform is a step in the right direction. And in the most recent polling in New Hampshire, Sanders is 7 points ahead of the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Clinton—whose website right now only has a passing mention of affordable child care and nothing on reproductive rights—better watch out. 

Where's Bernie's Platform on Reproductive Rights?

With reproductive freedom under attack at the state and federal level, what's Sanders's plan?

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom Friday, August 14, 2015, in Clear Lake, Iowa. B ernie Sanders has entered the presidential race with a bang. Virtually everything that Sanders espouses—tackling economic inequality, raising the minimum wage, breaking up the big banks, instituting single-payer health care—resonates strongly with progressive liberals. But, at a time when Republicans are doing everything in their power to restrict women’s rights, Sanders’s lack of policy proposals on the issue is curious. It’s not as if Sanders’s positions on women’s issues are problematic or not progressive. NARAL Pro-Choice America gave Senator Bernie Sanders a 100 percent rating in 2003, indicating that he holds pro-choice views. And in a 2012 Huffington Post op-ed, the Vermont senator blasted Republican efforts to roll back women's rights. “Not only are we not going to retreat on women's rights,” he wrote, “we are going to...