Rachel M. Cohen

Rachel M. Cohen is The American Prospect's senior writing fellow. 

Recent Articles

Education Reform Democrats Look Ahead to Life After Obama

School choice activists met at a Democratic National Convention forum to discuss the party’s education stances, but unions were conspicuously absent from discussion.

(Photo: Sipa USA via AP)
(Photo: Sipa USA via AP) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses the annual conference of the National Education Association on July 5, 2016, in Washington, D.C. L ately on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has been talking about how she wants to end the “so-called education wars.” The Democratic presidential nominee wants to see the factionalism among education groups end and instead see new coalitions form to advance policies on which all can agree. Clinton took this message on the road to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers conferences earlier this month, and her campaign proffered another education olive branch to the Democrats for Education Reform on Monday in downtown Philadelphia. Virtually every speaker lauded President Obama’s education legacy, highlighting his support for charter schools and test-based accountability at the organization’s day-long Democratic National Convention forum. Shavar Jeffries, the president...

Indiana Court Overturns Purvi Patel’s Feticide Conviction

The Indiana Court of Appeals last week overturned the 20-year prison sentence for Purvi Patel, the first woman in the United States to be convicted under a feticide law for having an abortion. The 3-0 decision marks a victory for reproductive rights advocates, who argued that using feticide laws to convict women who end their pregnancies sets a dangerous precedent for abortion rights and criminalizing the procedure.

Legal experts warned that if the conviction were upheld pregnant women would be prosecuted for all sorts of things—from self-inducing an abortion to smoking cigarettes, or even slipping down the stairs. Feticide laws are on the books in 38 states, and were originally passed to protect pregnant women who were victims of domestic violence.

Indiana strengthened its feticide law in 2009, after a pregnant Indianapolis bank teller was shot during a bank robbery, and lost the twin girls she was carrying. In the appeals decision, the judges wrote, “We hold that the legislature did not intend for the feticide statute to apply to illegal abortions or to be used to prosecute women for their own abortions.” They called Patel’s conviction under a feticide statute “an abrupt departure” from earlier cases.

However, while Patel’s Class A felony charge was vacated, the judges did not drop the second charge in the case. She is still left with a neglect conviction—a felony offense—though the court said it should be reduced from a Class A neglect charge to a Class D one. The minimum sentence for a Class D neglect felony is six months, and the maximum is three years. Patel has already been sitting in jail for more than a year.

Attorneys for both sides continue to review the decision; neither has indicated whether they planned to appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.

Kate Jack, an Indiana-based attorney who has provided legal advice to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told The Indianapolis Star that while the issue is not entirely closed, she does think the decision “will really give pause” to anyone considering bringing future feticide charges against pregnant women.

The decision comes on the heels of the Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump picked Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. Reproductive rights groups have already been organizing against Trump’s incendiary rhetoric around women and abortion rights, and the selection of Pence as his vice president has only angered advocates further.

Aside from being the chief executive of the only state to convict a woman who ended a pregnancy under a feticide statute, Pence has also achieved notoriety for supporting other reproductive health-care limitations. While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives he backed an unsuccessful 2011 federal effort to defund Planned Parenthood. When Pence became governor of Indiana in 2013, he continued to attack the organization. By 2014, state funding for Planned Parenthood had been reduced by nearly half of its 2005 funding levels: Nearly a decade of cuts forced the closure of five clinics.

In March, Pence went even further, signing an omnibus bill that included some of the strictest abortion measures in the country, including a ban on women who wish to end their pregnancy if their fetus has genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. The law also called for prosecuting doctors who provided abortion services to women suspected of wanting to terminate a pregnancy based on genetic problems. A federal judge blocked this law from taking effect last month, saying it was likely unconstitutional.

While reproductive rights groups say they are heartened that the court reversed Patel’s feticide conviction, they disagree with the judges’ decision not to drop the neglect conviction. Yamani Hernandez, the executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, issued a statement saying that the court’s new decision does not go far enough to restore full justice. By allowing the prosecutors’ argument that Patel could have prevented the death of her child to stand, Hernandez says, the judges have rejected “both medical science and compassion for a woman who needed medical care, not to be sent to prison.” She argued that ultimately people of color will “bear the brunt of unscientific laws and misplaced moral outrage.”

Patel remains in prison for now, and advocates are continuing to call for her release. Reproaction, a group focused on abortion access and reproductive justice, released a statement calling upon Mike Pence “to be pro-life for real and release her immediately.” They add that the state of Indiana “owes Purvi Patel a profound apology.”

Clinton Reframes Education Message, Attacks Trump

Hillary Clinton’s speech this week to 3,000 teachers union members underscored recent shifts in her party’s education agenda, and took jabs at Donald Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik Hillary Clinton speaks at the American Federation of Teachers convention at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Monday, July 18, 2016. H illary Clinton took advantage of a speech to the American Federation of Teachers this week to test out her party’s retooled K-12 education platform, and to hammer home important themes of her presidential campaign. Clinton’s speech to more than 3,000 AFT delegates gathered for the group’s national convention in Minneapolis on Monday took place against the backdrop of a GOP convention centered heavily on anti-Clinton attacks. It was one of several campaign stops that Clinton is making this week, including an Ohio speech earlier on Monday to the NAACP, and an address to government workers scheduled for Wednesday. Clinton’s Minnesota speech differed noticeably from a National Education Association address she gave in Washington, D.C., less than two weeks ago, in which she had stated early on that we should pay...

Q&A: The Abortion Battle’s Next Phase

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue speaks at a Capitol Hill news conference on July 9, 2014. In a landmark ruling last month, the Supreme Court struck down a package of Texas abortion restrictions known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws. Such laws, which have proliferated around the country, typically restrict abortion access by imposing rigid and expensive hospital-style mandates on clinics. The Court’s ruling in the case, known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt , found that the restrictive Texas TRAP laws were unconstitutional because they placed an “undue burden” on women, and marked a major victory for the reproductive rights movement. The American Prospect’s Rachel Cohen spoke with Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America , which helped lead the challenge to the Texas TRAP laws, to ask about the ruling’s implications for abortion access and for the upcoming election. This is an edited...

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