Nathalie Baptiste

Nathalie Baptiste is a writing fellow at The American Prospect

Recent Articles

The Democratic Debate Was Proof That Protests Work

Last night, five Democratic presidential candidates took to the stage for their first debate hosted by CNN. The candidates—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee—fielded questions from Anderson Cooper about a wide range of topics, including economic inequality and national security. However, one of the most telling moments during the two-hour debate was when Don Lemon read a question from a Facebook user: “Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?”

In July, at Netroots Nation—the largest gathering of progressives in the country—Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted the presidential town hall during Sanders’s speech. He fumbled on stage and left angrily. O’Malley fared even worse when he said, “All lives matter.” Clinton, who did not attend Netroots Nation, had the privilege of firming up her answer beforehand and later said “Black lives matter” in a Facebook Q&A.

Many Sanders supporters took to Twitter after Netroots to express their distaste for the protesters. Some said interrupting the candidate’s speech was rude or “not the right way” to go about addressing the issue of racism and police brutality. Others said that the protests discredited the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole. The message from those (mostly white) critics was very clear: Black people, stay in your place.

After Sanders’s poor handling of the protesters and the subsequent criticism from Black Lives Matter activists on his inability to stray from his pet issue of economic inequality and actually address systemic racism, Sanders released a racial equality platform. O’Malley also sought to do damage control by unveiling his plan for criminal justice reform.

Last night, Sanders answered Cooper’s question with an emphatic “Black lives matter!” Not all of the answers from the other candidates were thoughtful or encouraging, including Jim Webb, who came close to saying, “All lives matter” when he responded with, “Every life in this country matters.” But for the first time, the issue of police brutality and institutional racism made it onto the stage at a presidential debate in a substantial way—proof of the power of disruptive protest. 

Tamir Rice's Killing Is Called "Reasonable" Because He Was Black

Last November, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun at a park in Cleveland. A person in the park called the police to report that a black male was pointing a gun at people. Cleveland police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback responded to the call and, within two seconds—two seconds—Loehmann shot Rice. On Saturday, two experts found that the shooting of Tamir Rice was “reasonable.”

The two reports were written by S. Lamar Sims, who is senior chief deputy district attorney in Denver and former FBI agent Kimberly A. Crawford. “For all of the reasons discussed herein,” read the report written by Sims, “I conclude that Officer Loehmann’s belief that Rice posed a threat of serious physical harm or death was objectively reasonable as was his response to that perceived threat."

The fact that Loehmann’s actions were found “reasonable” has activists in Cleveland worried that the grand jury will decline to charge the officer. “It will be read, understandably, as a tragic foreshadowing of where the case may be headed: no arrest, no charges, no indictments,” Rhonda Y. Williams, the director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland told The New York Times.

Plenty of white adults with real guns, like defiant Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his merry band of protesters—managed to point their weapons at police and survive. And in Ohio, which is an open-carry state, white people can casually walk around with assault rifles slung over their backs without being killed. Though the guns are real, their skin relieves them of the burden of being a threat. Only in a country where black lives aren’t valued is killing a 12-year-old boy because he has a toy gun “reasonable.” 

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 Cincinnati.com, 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. 

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