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Maine Voices: Sessions’ record suggests he wouldn’t do justice to women’s rights
Portland Press HeraldJanuary 17, 2017
AUGUSTA — On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the nomination of U.S. Sen. Jefferson Sessions to become the 83rd attorney general of the United States.
The hearing comes more than 20 years after John Salvi, a deeply troubled abortion opponent, murdered two staff members and injured five others at two women’s health centers in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Salvi fled and was arrested in Norfolk, Virginia, within 48 hours. His 1994 murder spree was the latest during an 18-month period in which Dr. David Gunn was murdered in Florida (1993); Dr. George Tiller was shot in both arms in Kansas (1993); and Dr. John Bayard Britton and his bodyguard, James Barrett, were shot and killed in Florida (1994). These victims were all abortion providers. (Tiller survived the 1993 attack; he did not survive a subsequent attack in 2009.)
The effect of the Brookline killings on abortion providers was regionwide and immediate. In Maine, the state’s largest provider of abortion care closed his practice. (Later it was revealed that a shot had been fired into the door of the building housing the doctor’s practice and a threatening note pinned above the bullet hole.) Within months of the Brookline violence, three physicians in Maine’s midcoast area followed suit.
In response to the provider crisis, Gov. John McKernan convened a meeting at the Blaine House of abortion providers, including several physicians, and three nonprofit women’s health care providers. The doctors gathered at Maine Family Planning’s Augusta site and were transported to the governor’s residence by state troopers.
At the news conference following the meeting, McKernan encouraged the state attorney general, Michael Carpenter, to find a solution that allowed women safe access to abortion care.
Carpenter’s office provided critical assistance in helping one provider, Maine Family Planning, to locate a safe site in Augusta where since 1996 women have been able to access abortion care and where medical residents from across the state are trained to provide the service.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno founded the National Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers and dispatched federal marshals across the nation, wherever credible threats of possible violence were reported.
Twenty-three years later, we have Jeff Sessions as Donald Trump’s nominee to become the U.S. attorney general. Why should Maine women and their families be concerned?
As the very first U.S. senator to come out in support of Donald Trump’s candidacy, Sessions – a lawyer, a former aspirant to the federal bench and now the likely attorney general in a Trump administration – said he wasn’t sure that grabbing a woman by her genitals constituted sexual assault.
As a senator, he has voted against funding for the Violence Against Women Act, has sponsored and supported numerous attempts to limit access to abortion, and has voted to defund abortion providers.
Sessions is a darling of the anti-abortion lobby, having recently served as an honorary co-chair at the 40th anniversary dinner of Americans United for Life.
He has a 0 percent lifetime rating from NARAL, and the John Birch Society rates him among the four most conservative members of the U.S. Senate.
As the nation’s top law enforcement officer, he and his Justice Department will be responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws intended to protect a host of groups who have every reason to fear this man’s ascension to power, including women seeking to access abortion care and the medical professionals who risk their lives to make that care available.
During a time of extreme abortion-related violence, Gov. McKernan – a Republican – and Maine Attorney General Michael Carpenter – a Democrat – joined U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and set aside whatever political differences they may have had to enforce the law. Judiciary Committee members need to do the same by questioning Sessions closely about his willingness to vigorously enforce the laws meant to protect women and those who serve them.
A strong signal needs to be sent that Sessions and President-elect Trump will be held accountable by those of us in Maine who support a woman’s right to decide her reproductive future, both for their actions – and for their failures to act.
This piece originally ran in the Portland Press Herald. For the original article, click here: