Tag Archives: personhood

Standing in solidarity with Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin recently selected the Wisconsin Gazette as recipient of the group’s Voices award. No honor we’ve received makes us prouder than this one, particularly now.

Despite the unrelenting campaigns of propaganda, PPWI’s 22 clinics provide quality, affordable reproductive health care, including honest sex education, birth control, adoption referrals, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and STD testing and treatment to 60,000 women and men. That’s even after being forced to shutter five clinics because Gov. Scott Walker cut off state funding for the organization.

But anti-choice activists have demonized Planned Parenthood in recent years, whipping up the level of hysteria that accompanied Joe McCarthy’s red scare of the 1950s. And conservative politicians are capitalizing on it, just as they did on McCarthyism. 

Although abortion represents only about 3 percent of PP’s services, that’s enough for anti-choice fanatics to put a bullseye on its doors.

Foes have whittled away at women’s reproductive freedom for decades, but abortion is still legal and its legality is supported by a majority of U.S. citizens. It’s also a deeply personal choice that can only be made by a woman whose body and future are involved. Women are not human incubators.

We fully respect the countless women who choose to carry a pregnancy to term under adverse circumstances, including conception through rape or incest. But it’s their right to make that choice, not the right of a bureaucrat. Individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot exist if strangers can force a woman to bear a child against her will.

The current frenzy against abortion is the result of years of brilliant propaganda by anti-choice leaders. Their heart-tugging campaigns of deception featuring fully formed thimble-sized fetuses and bloody, disembodied parts of infants are complete fabrications. Recently it was revealed that activists were using the picture of a stillborn baby in their propaganda and claiming it was an aborted fetus.

A recent “sting” operation added fuel to PP’s critics. Selectively edited tapes that were secretly recorded by activists made it appear as if PP was doing a booming business in selling fetal tissue to medical researchers. But investigations launched by conservatives in several states have yielded no evidence of wrongdoing.

Fetal tissue, which can be donated by women to science just as people can donate their organs, has yielded medical advances that have saved lives — including those, undoubtedly, of anti-choice activists. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., under Walker’s direction, made a $750,000 loan and gave $2 million in tax credits to Flu-Gen, a Madison biotech firm that’s using kidney cells derived from fetal tissue to create a more effective flu vaccine. Biotech companies like Flu-Gen not only save lives, but also contribute significantly to the state’s economy. 

But now, capitalizing on the fury over PP, state Republican leaders want to criminalize the sale of fetal tissue.

Activists have turned the debate about abortion from a women’s issue into one over the “personhood” of fertilized eggs and fetuses. That’s not a scientific view, but rather a religious belief that has no place in the secular world. 

When a 10-year-old girl in Paraguay got pregnant after being raped by her stepfather, the government there ruled for the rights of her fetus over hers, forcing her to carry the baby to term at great risk to her health. The baby was delivered through C-section, because a natural delivery would have killed her. Mike Huckabee praised the decision. He and most of the other Republican candidates, including Walker, want to criminalize abortions under any circumstances, including those in which the mother’s life is in danger. Bizarrely, Walker denies that such situations exist.

More than ever, we need organizations that cherish women’s lives over embryonic cells. PP is at the forefront of such organizations. Its doctors and staffers work under constant harassment, including death threats that have led to at least nine murders in recent years. They refuse to yield to fanatics who believe that women’s bodies are public property. 

We are proud to stand with them and the essential health services they provide. Unlike Walker, they are truly unintimidated.

‘Lucy’ explores infamous human nature experiment

Dr. Maurice Temerlin didn’t think he was doing anything wrong when he brought his adopted daughter Lucy home from Africa in the 1960s. He and his wife simply hoped to raise her like any other child, alongside their young son. And so they did, spending the next decade teaching her manners, helping her learn to speak and watching her flip through magazines and care for her cat.

But there’s underlying drama in this domestic tale: Lucy was a chimpanzee, never meant to sleep on a king-size bed — and not always the better for doing it.

Milwaukee Opera Theatre details the humor and pathos of this real-life tale with the world premiere of Lucy, an opera designed for one character — Temerlin, sung by Andrew Wilkowske. The narrative is rooted in observations Temerlin recorded in his memoir, although their accuracy is filtered through his emotions and thus not entirely reliable.

MOT artistic director Jill Anna Ponasik says the 60-minute opera is set entirely in Temerlin’s office. It begins moments after he’s learned tragic news about Lucy from the research assistant who’s monitored her since she was returned to Africa and slowly integrated into chimp society.

The news compels Temerlin to reflect on Lucy’s story, beginning with her introduction into Temerlin’s family as a day-old chimpanzee and chronologically examining her life from that point forward.

It’s a life both fascinating and repugnant. Temerlin and his wife were the only ape researchers who kept a chimpanzee in their home through adolescence and into adulthood (chimps’ lifespans are about 50 years). It wasn’t always easy raising Lucy, and the family decided to return her to the wild after about 11 years. But Ponasik says Temerlin’s writings don’t reflect much of that conflict. “In the memoir, he very unambiguously describes those times as the happiest years of his life,” she says.

The ambitious opera doesn’t have immediate Milwaukee ties, but arrived through a connection Ponasik formed with Wilkowske several years ago, when they were both involved in a production of The Rivals at Skylight Music Theatre. He was already in the process of working on Lucy (then called Our Basic Nature) with composer John Glover and librettist Kelley Rourke. He and Ponasik brainstormed ways MOT could help get the project to the finish line.

They got sidetracked on the way by a different project: Guns ‘n’ Rosenkavalier. The art song/rock song recital was something Wilkowske and Glover had wanted to stage since meeting at Glimmerglass — a summer-season opera company in New York — years before, and when Wilkowske mentioned it by chance, Ponasik realized it was a better fit for MOT’s resources at the time. They performed GnR here in 2013, and cemented their creative bond in the process.

That bond has been an asset in coordinating Lucy. The opera’s earliest version, workshopped in 2010 before Ponasik was involved, was easier to work on, because all the involved parties lived in New York. But since then they’ve separated geographically, making workshops in Minneapolis and New York earlier this year difficult to schedule. In Milwaukee, they’ll have five days to rehearse before opening night.

But Ponasik isn’t worried. While their task is daunting, the creative team is gifted enough to make it work, she says.

Lucy’s music is largely contemporary opera, but includes a few pseudo-Romantic arias. Those tend to come early on, as Temerlin reflects on happier times. Later, Ponasik says, the opera presents the drama and angst of living with a chimpanzee, and the music, becomes “angry” and “angular.”

But Ponasik says the latter half of the story cuts to its heart: the tension between Temerlin’s cruel experiment and his well-meaning optimism. Glover and Rourke’s opera never truly reconciles the conflict, instead presenting Temerlin’s thoughts and emotions without moral commentary.

“You see him as a really flawed antihero, and it’s impossible, I think, for a contemporary audience not to look at his experiments with scorn and even some horror,” Ponasik says. “But at the time, for him and other researchers, it was a very open-hearted, joyful project to take on. They really felt they were providing a better life for Lucy.”

Now, it’s up to audiences to judge Temerlin — and his story as told by Glover, Rourke and Wilkowske. 

On stage

Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s premiere production of Lucy runs at Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Nov. 9. Tickets are $28 and can be purchased at 800-838-3006 or milwaukeeoperatheatre.org.

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Rattling the cage: Court weighs in on personhood for non-humans

A New York court will decide this fall whether to apply “legal personhood” to an animal in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit filed on behalf of Tommy the Chimp.

On Oct. 8, a panel of five judges for the New York State Appeals Court heard from attorney Steven M. Wise, with the nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project, on behalf of a 26-year-old chimpanzee.

 Tommy is owned as a pet and kept in a “dank shed” in upstate New York. Wise wants him to be relocated to the world’s largest chimpanzee retreat, the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida. He also wants to convince the court that primates and other intelligent animals are entitled to “legal personhood” and deserving of such basic rights as freedom from imprisonment.

“No one has ever demanded a common law legal right for a nonhuman animal until now,” Wise said, asserting that his legal claim for Tommy is rooted in genetic, cognitive, evolutionary and taxonomic evidence that chimps are self-aware and autonomous.

Tommy’s case was filed in New York’s court system in December 2013, along with other lawsuits seeking the release of:

• Kiko, a 26-year-old chimp who lives in a cage on private property in Niagara Falls and was previously used in the entertainment industry.

• Hercules and Leo, young chimps who are owned by the New Iberia Research Center and used in biomedical research in the anatomy department at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York.

In a parallel campaign, the NHRP is building a series of lawsuits on behalf of elephants, another highly intelligent species, being held in circuses and zoos.

Other organizations also are advocating personhood status for animals — elephants, dolphins and whales, as well as chimps, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos, humans’ closest relatives in the animal kingdom.

“There are 15 features to the human personality,” said animal rights advocate Shirley Maewhether of Madison. “A corporation doesn’t have them and yet it can have legal personhood. The great apes do have them all: intelligence, self-control, sense of time, sense of past, concern and care for others, curiosity, an ability to reason, feelings.

“They are not things. The are nonhuman persons.”

On Oct. 8, the judges in Albany who heard Tommy’s case asked:

• Isn’t legal personhood just about human beings? Wise observed that courts have extended legal person status to non-human entities and things.

• If relocated, wouldn’t Tommy still be confined? Wise said the chimp currently is in solitary confinement in a warehouse-like setting but the sanctuary consists of 13 islands and an artificial lake.

• Why aren’t animal welfare groups involved in the case? Wise said Tommy’s case is about unlawful imprisonment rather than animal welfare.

“Keeping a legal person in solitary confinement in a cage is unlawful,” Wise said.

The appeals court is expected to issue a ruling in six to eight weeks. 

Then, in December, comes Kiko’s day in court.

Corporations are people? It’s a real legal concept

There may be more to that “we the people” notion than you thought.

These are boom times for the concept of “corporate personhood.”

Corporations are people?

Mitt Romney got mocked during the 2012 presidential campaign for the very idea.

But it turns out the principle has been lurking in U.S. law for more than a century, and the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, gave it more oomph this week when it ruled that certain businesses are entitled to exercise religious rights, just as do people.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court’s majority, said protecting the religious rights of closely held corporations, which are often small, family-run businesses, “protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”

In its ruling, the court said closely held corporations with religious objections cannot be forced to pay for their employees’ insurance coverage for contraception, as required under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Four years earlier, the corporations-as-people idea got another big boost when the court voted 5-4 to expand the free speech rights of businesses and labor unions by striking down limits on their political spending. That unleashed a massive flood of private money into political campaigns.

The rulings have triggered renewed debate over the idea of corporations as people, which surfaces in legal cases stretching back to the 1880s.

There are wonky legal discussions about the differences between “artificial persons” (corporations) and “natural persons” (the kind with flesh and blood).

TV comics riff on the notion that fake people have more rights than real people.

There’s a petition drive to amend the Constitution to ensure that “inalienable rights belong to human beings only.”

All of this calls for a brief reality check: Corporations really aren’t people.

Everyone knows this.

Even Romney, who was criticized for being out of touch when he famously told a protester that “corporations are people, my friend.”

The point the GOP presidential candidate was trying to make was that raising taxes on corporations would affect real people because “everything corporations earn ultimately goes back to people.”

The Supreme Court was reasoning in a similar vein when it ruled that the real people who run closely held corporations should be able to exercise religious rights just as do individuals.

Alito, in his ruling, described the concept of corporate personhood as “a familiar legal fiction” that retains its usefulness.

“It is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings,” he wrote.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, zinged Alito and the majority for “an expansive notion of corporate personhood.”

She said the “startling breadth” of the court’s ruling could clear the way for corporations to opt out of all sorts of other legal requirements if they can cite a religious objection.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2016, voiced similar concerns.

“Just think about this for a minute,” she said. “It’s the first time that our court has said that a closely held corporation has the rights of a person when it comes to religious freedom.”

Some opponents of the ruling see the expanding view of corporate personhood as a legal fiction run amok.

They say the latest court ruling could encourage corporations to try to claim greater rights in other areas as well – arguing against cruel and unusual punishment if they think a fine is too big, for example, or even seeking a corporate right to bear arms. The courts already have extended to corporations Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches but have declined to provide them Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination.

After the Supreme Court’s 2010 campaign finance ruling, attorney Burt Neuborne lamented: “At the rate the court is going, soon we will be able to be adopted by a corporation. Maybe even marry one.”

Now, Neuborne calls the latest court ruling “an immense perversion of the Constitution. Robots don’t have rights, trees don’t have rights, and neither do corporations.”

He warned that the ruling could backfire against corporations if the court goes too far in extending individual rights to businesses. Breaching the wall between corporations and their shareholders, he said, could ultimately make corporations liable for the actions of their shareholders and vice versa.

For example, if Hobby Lobby, one of the companies that sued against covering some forms of contraception, owed someone money, its creditors might try to go after the shareholders, he said.

“I suspect there’s going to be trouble in paradise down the road,” said Neuborne, who wrote a brief for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law arguing against extending religious rights to businesses.

Attorney John Bursch, a former Michigan solicitor general, said it makes sense that corporations have some of the same rights as individuals. After the court extended free-speech rights to corporations, “it’s not a big leap to say that a First Amendment protection with respect to religious liberty would also apply to a corporation,” he said.

Whether more rights should be extended, Bursch said, “is a little harder, and we’d all need to think about that.”

Retired Supreme Court justice says campaign cash isn’t speech

Campaign donations pay for more than political ads and should not be protected as free speech, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens told a Senate panel this week in urging them to rein in the billions of dollars shaping elections.

The retired justice reminded lawmakers that political donations funded the burglary at the Watergate office complex under President Richard Nixon. That break-in at the Democratic National Committee is not speech, Stevens argued in a rare appearance of a former justice in the Senate.

“While money is used to finance speech, money is not speech. Speech is only one of the activities that are financed by campaign contributions and expenditures. Those financial activities should not receive precisely the same constitutional protections as speech itself,” Stevens said. “After all, campaign funds were used to finance the Watergate burglary, actions that clearly were not protected by the First Amendment.”

Stevens has been a critic of his former colleagues’ decisions that have opened the floodgates for unlimited donations and super PACs.

At issue are the millions of dollars that influence elections – if not determine their outcome – with various degrees of openness. Recent Supreme Court rulings have permitted individuals and corporations to write unlimited checks to independent political committees, while other groups can accept cash and disclose the donors’ identities months or years later, if ever.

“These tactics have no apparent purpose other than to conceal the sources of funds,” Federal Election Commission vice chairwoman Ann Ravel said.

Ravel was not testifying in her FEC role but in her capacity as a former chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s version of the FEC that leveled a record $1 million fine against the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership. Their recipient, the Small Business Action Committee PAC, also had to return millions of dollars in donations from those groups.

Democrats have criticized the new rules and those who take advantage of them, including some of their allies. Republicans, meanwhile, have embraced the system and used the rules to power well-funded groups such as Americans for Prosperity.

That group operates under rules that allow it to keep donors’ identities secret, unlike those who give to groups like the Republican National Committee. The conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have backed Americans for Prosperity with millions, but understanding their impact in real time is impossible because they technically do not operate as political groups.

“Our democracy is at risk. That’s the problem here,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who chairs the Senate Rules Committee that hosted the hearing.

But Republicans did not share that concern, especially as it relates to the Koch brothers.

“Let’s stop demonizing citizens who exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the top Republican on the panel. “The First Amendment does not allow us to silence those who oppose us.”

Countered Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico: “Money and speech are the same thing? This is tortured logic.”

Schumer said the Senate this year would schedule a vote on Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment that would limit federal candidates’ ability to raise and spend money. The measure also would regulate and limit the ability of super PACs to impact elections.

Changes to the Constitution are difficult and the vote was more political than practical. The vote, however, would force Republicans to either defend unlimited money in campaigns or put them in the awkward position of condemning their allies.

Wednesday’s Senate Rules Committee hearing was the first since the Supreme Court’s ruling that lifted limits on how much total money individual donors can give to candidates. The court left in place a limit on how much individual candidates can take from each donor, but the justices cleared the way for donors to give the maximum amount to every candidate on the grounds that restrictions limit free speech rights.

Campaign donations pay for ads, of course. But that money also pays for polling, operatives’ salaries and offices – the nuts and bolts of a campaign operation that aren’t necessarily speech.

The Karl Rove-supported American Crossroads super PAC raised almost $5.2 million last month from three organizations and 21 individuals. The average donation was more than $218,000. The largest donation – $2 million – came from former Univision owner Jerry Perenchio. A trust tied to Oklahoma coal executive Joseph Craft III gave $500,000, as did Arkansas-based investment manager Warren Stephens and Kentucky-based self-storage mogul B. Wayne Hughes.

Fred Eychaner, the founder of Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., wrote a $4 million check to the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The group raised $11 million during the first three months of the year, including $2 million from James Simons, founder and chairman of investment firm Renaissance Technologies.

North Dakota lawmakers vote to ban all abortion, even to save mother’s life

North Dakota lawmakers moved Friday to outlaw abortion in the state by passing a bill defining life as starting at conception.

The bill is one of a series of anti-abortion measures the Republican-controlled Legislature has passed this year despite critics’ insistence that they are unconstitutional and violate a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion until a fetus considered viable, which is usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

The North Dakota House approved the bill 57-35 Friday, sending it voters likely in November 2014. The Senate approved it last month.

The so-called personhood measure bestows human rights on fertilized human eggs. Efforts to pass similar measures in other states have failed, but anti-abortion legislation has had strong momentum in North Dakota this year with lawmakers introducing a slew of measures aimed at closing the state’s sole abortion clinic and challenging the 1973 ruling.

Meanwhile, a group of Republican lawmakers in North Dakota believe their state has gone too far in interfering with women’s reproductive rights. The Huffington Post reports that the group will join protesters on Monday at a Stand Up for Women rally in Bismarck.

Abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in the United States. Four decades after the Supreme Court ruling, known as Roe v. Wade, a series of court decisions over the years have narrowed its scope. Lawmakers in multiple states have followed up by making abortions more difficult to obtain or imposing restrictions on providers.

Before the North Dakota House voted on the personhood bill, the Legislature had already passed measures that would ban abortion as early as six weeks, or as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, and because of genetic defects such as Down syndrome. Together, those bills would give North Dakota the strictest abortion laws in the nation.

Abortion-rights activists have said that if Gov. Jack Dalrymple signs any of them into law, they will fight them in court.

The threat of costly litigation may be less of a deterrent in oil-rich North Dakota than in other states, however. Booming oil production has helped the state avoid the kind of budget cuts seen elsewhere and left it with comfortable surpluses.

Lawmakers’ Friday agenda also included other anti-abortion bills, including one outlawing abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that at that point, fetuses feel pain. Lawmakers passed another measure that requires a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital-admitting privileges.

Many of the North Dakota bills are modeled on legislation from other states.

US Supreme Court rejects Okla. personhood appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to take up an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that said a proposal to grant “personhood” to human embryos would be an improper ban on abortion.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which was never considered by voters, would have given human embryos the rights and privileges of citizens in Oklahoma and was called “clearly unconstitutional” by the state Supreme Court in an April ruling.

The measure was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of several Oklahoma doctors and residents before it could be placed on the ballot.

“Today’s rejection by the highest court in the nation is yet another resounding message to the opponents of reproductive freedom that such extremist assaults on our fundamental rights will not stand,” Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said Monday.

“Pure and simple, these tactics are an affront to our nation’s Constitution and a bald-faced attempt to foreclose women’s access to a full range of reproductive health care,” Northrup said.

Mathew Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, which filed the appeal on behalf of Personhood Oklahoma, said, “Certainly we would have hoped the court would review this issue because we think it’s a significant one that grants citizens the right to express their opinion. We’ll continue to move forward with these initiatives.”

A personhood bill passed in the state Senate during this year’s legislative session but was not heard by the House.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Staver acknowledged that his group’s goal is to provide the U.S. Supreme Court with a case that allows it to review the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

“It’s the first step in that direction,” Staver said.