Thalia Cassuto Remembers When Birth Control Became Legal. She’s Fighting To Keep It That Way.

NEW YORK ? Thalia Cassuto, 86, remembers when birth control was banned in some states. 

She can still picture herself in 1955, 25 years old and walking up the stairs of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Queens to get her first diaphragm. Birth control was legal in New York at the time, but not in neighboring Connecticut.

?In those days, if you did it before you were married, you had to really hide it,? she said. 

Cassuto, then a third-grade teacher, said she was ?still growing up? in her mid-twenties and wanted to take some time to focus on her career before becoming a mother. ?I was out to be certain I was a professional and good at what I was doing before I was going to go home and have children,? she said.

A decade later, in 1965, the Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that the state?s ban on contraception ? a 19th-century law that prohibited any person from using ?any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception? ? violated ?the marital right to privacy.? In 1972, the high court clarified that unmarried people also had the right to use birth control without ?government intrusion.?  

Cassuto, now a women?s rights activist in upstate New York, thought during the Obama administration that the fight to protect birth control access was over and won. But 52 years after the landmark Griswold decision, progress on the issue seems to be moving in reverse.

President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are moving to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation?s largest provider of birth control to low-income women. And the Trump administration is now rolling back an Obama-era rule that required employers to cover contraception in their health insurance plans ? a benefit that has guaranteed birth control access at no cost to 55 million women. 

The moves are ?part of a large sweep of things that mean that men in blue suits are telling us what to do with our bodies,? Cassuto said. ?They?re not understanding the dignity of women.?

Cassuto traveled to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, the anniversary of the Griswold decision, to lobby her congressman the issue. She has also attended town halls in the district of Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) and even showed up at his local office to denounce his vote against Planned Parenthood funding.

?I was taking my love of country for granted under President Obama,? she said. ?I don?t take that for granted anymore ? I know I have to work for it. It?s like my country is sick, and I have to take care of it.?

People think there was a glorious past. There wasn?t. It wasn?t glorious at all. It was frightening.
Thalia Cassuto

Nearly 9 in 10 sexually active women have used birth control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before President Barack Obama passed the Affordable Care Act, more than 20 percent of American women of childbearing age had to pay out of pocket for contraception. Now, only 4 percent of women are shouldering the cost. The law, in addition to federal investments in family planning through organizations like Planned Parenthood, has contributed to an all-time low in unintended pregnancy and the lowest U.S. abortion rate since the procedure became legal in 1973.  

Now that Republicans are in charge, they are framing the issue as one of ?taxpayer-funded abortion.? The longstanding Hyde Amendment prevents any federal dollars from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother. However, because some of Planned Parenthood?s clinics offer abortion services, Trump and many GOP congressman believe the organization should not be eligible for funding that subsidizes contraception for low-income patients. Further, because some people believe (erroneously) that certain forms of birth control are akin to abortion, Trump has decided to allow any employer or insurer to refuse to include any of it in their health plans for moral reasons.

Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said the move will ?safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans.? 

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Dawn Laguens, an executive at Planned Parenthood, said the Griswold anniversary is a reminder of what?s at stake under a government that decreases birth control access. 

?Over the past half century, birth control has provided enormous benefits to women and their families, and has been nothing short of revolutionary for women and society,? she said in a statement. ?But under the Trump administration, we are now facing an immediate future where a woman?s ability to make a most basic and personal decision ? when and if to have a child ? could be limited by her boss.?

Cassuto said she ?shriveled? when she heard Trump?s ?Make America Great Again? campaign slogan and remembered bans on abortion and contraception, and a society where white men were considered ?better? than other people. 

?That?s the problem,? she said. ?People think there was a glorious past. There wasn?t. It wasn?t glorious at all. It was frightening.? 

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Democrats Eye Key Hillary Clinton Districts To Win Back The House In 2018

In the days after Donald Trump shocked the political establishment with his presidential win, everyone heard about the places that former President Barack Obama had won that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had lost. They were counties in Rust Belt areas like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and upstate New York. People blamed her for her inability to connect with the Democratic base and win over blue-collar voters who liked Trump?s outsider message. 

But in eight congressional districts around the country, Clinton won where Obama never was able to in either 2008 or 2012. These are the eight Republican members of Congress, who now have become prime targets for Democrats hoping to pick up 24 seats in the midterm elections to recapture the House: 

Arizona?s 2nd district: Rep. Martha McSally

California?s 39th district: Rep. Ed Royce 

California?s 45th district: Rep. Mimi Walters 

California?s 48th district: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher 

Kansas? 3rd district: Rep. Kevin Yoder 

New Jersey?s 7th district: Rep. Leonard Lance 

Texas? 7th district: Rep. John Culberson 

Texas? 32nd district: Rep. Pete Sessions  

These districts largely encompass affluent, educated, suburban districts ? often with changing demographics ? where even Republican voters just didn?t care for Trump. 

?A lot of Republicans just never accepted him,? said Dave Gilliard, a Rep. Mimi Walters campaign consultant, who cautioned against reading too much into the presidential election results for congressional races in 2018.

HuffPost reached out to the National Republican Congressional Committee and all the offices of the members listed, many of whom did not reply. 

These seats won?t be easy pick-ups. In Texas, for example, a Republican has represented the 7th congressional district ? which encompasses wealthy areas of Houston ? since 1967, when George H.W. Bush won. The former president still lives there today.

But Democrats say they have a few things working for them.

?These districts have undergone significant change and the House Republicans representing them have grown far out of touch with their constituents,? said Dan Sena, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. ?Frankly, many of these incumbents have not faced a serious challenge in a long time and they?re already making the type of unforced errors that could send them into early retirement. As we build the largest battlefield in a decade, there?s no question that these districts will be a top priority.?

Below is a look at some of what Democrats see as their strongest advantages. 

TRUMP

First, of course, is Trump, whose approval rating is going down.

Carol Donovan, chair of the Democratic Party in Dallas County, where they?re looking to oust Sessions, said they?re working to tie the congressman to the president as much as possible.

?Pete Sessions has made the mistake of tying himself too closely to Trump, and Trump is going far down in popularity,? Donovan said. 

Harley Rouda, a Democrat hoping to win in California?s 48th district, is already going after Rohrabacher by using Trump?s scandals. He recently called on the FBI to investigate ?any and all connections, payments and relations between Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and the Russians.?

He keyed his attack on a comment made by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last year ? and recently reported ? that both Trump and Rohrabacher are on the payroll of Russian President Vladimir Putin. McCarthy?s office has said he was joking.

?Rohrabacher?s connections to Russia are bringing him lots of questions about his credibility as a congressman,? Rouda told HuffPost. 

Rohrabacher ? who often breaks with his party on foreign policy ? said he isn?t in favor of ?helping Russia,? but wants ?a policy that?s best for the United States.?

?Whoever my Democratic opponent is, that Democratic opponent can explain why he?s for war with Russia,? he added. ?He can explain why we shouldn?t be cooperating with Russia in defeating radical Islam. Why, when cooperation with Russia is so much better than belligerence for both of our countries, we would choose the path of belligerence.?

Gilliard acknowledged that Trump?s low approval rating is worrisome for GOP candidates, but he noted that some Republicans ? like his candidate, Walters ? still did fine in the 2016 election despite the distaste in California for Trump. In California?s 45th district, Trump lost to Clinton by 5 points, whereas Walters won by 18 points. Rohrabacher won by 17 points, even though Trump lost by 1.7 points.

?Whenever the person that?s the leader of your party is unpopular, you have to overcome that, and that makes it harder,? Gilliard said.

?It?s going to be a challenging year, there?s no question about that, for Republicans,? he added. ?But I think it?s way overblown right now, the whole idea that it?s going to be some kind of wave for the Democrats … These are districts that [Republicans] have been reelected in several times over and have historically voted for Republicans at every level, every other office other than this one presidential anomaly.?

SURGE IN DEMOCRATIC ENERGY 

Since the election of Trump, more than a dozen resistance groups have formed in Orange County, which went for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1936. Rohrabacher, Royce and Walters? districts are all part of the county, as is the one held by Rep. Darrell Issa (R), which is also a top target for Democrats in 2018. 

Marian Bodnar?s story is common to what happened to many Democratic-leaning individuals around the country when they woke up and saw that Clinton had lost the election. 

?I was never politically active myself,? said Bodnar, who is a music professor. ?I followed the news all the time, but I was never involved in politics … I was just so horrified at what was happening in the election cycle and when he got elected, I felt like I had to do something. I was aware of the Indivisible Guide, so I just started one for our area, and it took off from there.?

Bodnar now runs Indivisible CA-39, which organizes visits to Royce?s office once a week. They also write letters, emails and tweets, while pressing the congressman to hold town halls and rallies outside his office. 

Fran Sdao, chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party, said they have 14 Democratic clubs around the county, but there are six more coming in the next month.

?My old club ? if we got 25, 30 people, we were celebrating. We?re [now] packing in 120. Our club?s biggest problem is finding venues large enough to hold them,? she said. 

Jon Rosenthal, who started Indivisible To Flip Texas District 7, said he had no problem recruiting members to his organization, which was originally just meant to be ?a support group for some sane people to speak with.?

?My personal story is I had been traumatized not only by the election of Donald Trump, but ever since his inauguration in January, it?s just been one outrageous, unbelievable thing after another,? he said.

This enthusiasm has also been reflected in Democrats? recruitment efforts. Instead of having to go out and beg candidates to run during a midterm year, Democrats are facing an outpouring of interest amongst its base. And, officials stress, the quality of candidates is better than in the past. 

?In terms of our candidates, oh my goodness! I spend so much of my time on this right now,? said Jo Holt, Democratic Party chairwoman in Pima County, Arizona. She said she has about 15 people who are ?considering or seriously considering running,? and many of them are newcomers to politics. 

?I think there are like, seven different candidates that have shown interest in running for [Culberson?s] seat in the primary, which is awesome,? said Lillie Schechter, chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party in Texas. ?They?re all great, qualified, excited, energy candidates.? 

Sessions, for example, didn?t even have to run against a Democratic candidate in 2016. But this year, he?s already drawn several challengers

Gilliard said Democrats, right now, do have an advantage when it comes to enthusiasm. But he warned that the type of activism that they?re driving might not be right for these redder or swing districts.

?One thing they have done this year is they have a lot more action on their side as far as candidates stepping forward wanting to run for all these seats,? he admitted. ?So in her [Walters?] case, you?ve got several candidates already vying to run, and in the past, in a district like this the Democrats may not have had a candidate until the final couple weeks before filing.?

?The problem they have in some of these districts is that the Democratic Party ? especially in California, but also nationally ? it?s moved sharply to the left in the last 12 months or so,? he added. ?That is not going to help them win seats that Republicans have traditionally held.?

HEALTH CARE

Every lawmaker in the eight Clinton districts voted for the GOP?s American Health Care Act, which repeals Obamacare. The only exception is Rep. Leonard Lance, who did, however, vote for a version when it was brought to one of his committees.

But even Lance, a self-described moderate, hasn?t been able to escape the taint of the legislation.

Catherine Riihimaki, a member of Indivisible Garden State Values, pointed to the fact that Lance has voted with the president 93.3 percent of the time, according to the political analysis site FiveThirtyEight.

?He basically is a Trump supporter,? Riihimaki said, arguing that his refusal to be a ?check and balance on the president and the president?s agenda? is one of Lance?s biggest vulnerabilities. 

A day after the vote in the House, the Cook Political Report changed its forecasts for 20 districts, ?all reflecting enhanced opportunities for Democrats.? All eight of the Clinton districts went from ?likely Republican? wins in 2018 to the less certain ?lean Republican? category, underscoring the potential toxicity of the bill. 

In Orange County, a recent poll found that more voters opposed the GOP health care bill than supported it. Even more people said they were against it when the question noted it was ?strongly supported by President Trump.?

Nearly all the activists and Democratic officials in the eight districts who spoke with HuffPost cited health care as a key issue that?s energizing the base ? and one where they?re working to link the GOP members to Trump. 

The few Republican lawmakers who have held town halls ? not just in these districts but around the country ? have had to face constituents angry about the GOP repeal attempts. Even Lance has had to take heat from his constituents over the bill. 

?I want this repeal crap to stop,? one attendee told Lance, receiving cheers from the audience, at an April town hall. 

In March, Culberson told a crowd at one of his town halls that the only way to fix Obamacare is to replace it. That comment was met with jeers from the rowdy audience

Republicans who have declined to hold town halls for their constituents have still faced heat as well. When McSally decided not to hold a town hall, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who represents a nearby area, decided to ?adopt? her district and held a public forum in her stead. 

CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS

Democrats acknowledge that winning in Orange County won?t be easy. It?s long been known as ?Reagan Country? and has been a bastion of conservative activism.

But activists there say they have a key advantage on their side: changing demographics. 

In 1990, two-thirds of Orange County was white. Today, more than half the population is non-white, with Latinos making up the largest and fastest-growing demographic. Democrats have also significantly closed the voter registration gap with Republicans, narrowing it from 10 percentage points to 3.7 percentage points over the past four years, according to the Los Angeles Times. Nearly a third of voters are also registered as having no party preference, which Democrats hope to use to their advantage.

Jonathan Brown, a Democratic pollster based in California, recently released a survey finding that 46 percent of independent and third-party voters in the county favor a Democratic candidate in next year?s election, compared to just 21 percent who favor a Republican. Overall in the county?s four congressional districts, 44 percent prefer a Republican compared to 41 percent who want a Democrat.

In a statement, Brown said, ?With a strong population of college-educated voters and a growing Latino population, Orange County looks to become a reliably Democratic county in the years to come if the major parties continue on their current trajectories.?

Rohrabacher said he wasn?t at all concerned about the changing demographics in the district, saying he was confident he?d win by a higher percentage than he did in the last election. 

?Look, this is a very conservative district. … The only difference that?s been made in the last few elections is we had a candidate in Donald Trump who alienated a segment of the Republican Party…because of his basically boisterous way of conducting his campaign,? the congressman said. 

?This is the home of Ronald Reagan where propriety is something that really means a lot to the voters,? he added. ?This was not a rejection and an acceptance of the Democratic Party. In fact, the Democratic Party has swung so far to the left in the last few months and been so obnoxious and I might say dismissive of the normal courtesies of our democratic process where you accept the person who?s been elected and not go off and try to obstruct them and try to spend your time resisting.?

Democrats are so eager about the possibility of winning Orange County that the DCCC has sent some of its senior staffers to be based there for the 2018 cycle.

?You cannot under-emphasize how determined the Democratic base is in turning up for elections in 2018 and building the voter registrations of Democrats in preparation for that vote,? Rouda said. ?There?s just a kind of energy, and I see no abatement in it. I also don?t see Trump changing the way he does business that would calm people down.?

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Can Wonder Woman Inspire Single Women To Use All Their Power?

We?re living in a moment when women are reclaiming their power.  From the Women?s March that activated millions of women around the country to take to the streets in protest of a president and policies that will set them back, to more women committing to run for office at an unprecedented rate, we?re seeing the signs of women flexing their strength and demanding better treatment.  And no better symbol of the return of feminine muscle than the blockbuster Wonder Woman finally making it to the big screen after more than a half century.

But these expressions of political power should not be taken for granted or set in stone just yet.  While the demographics of the American electorate continue to change ? with single women being one of the fastest-growing groups in the U.S.  ? you would think politicians would be wise to focus on addressing their needs.  But instead of Congress to addressing the pay gap between men and women, they are taking steps to undermine the economic well-being of all women, and unmarried women most particularly.

Right now half of the women in America are either divorced, widowed, separated or never been married.  And their numbers are growing: Between 2004 and 2016, the percentage of unmarried women in the population grew by two percentage points while the percentage of married women dropped by two points.  Unmarried women have very different economic circumstances than married women in the U.S.  One in four is a mother with a child under 18.  They are more likely to be unemployed, live in poverty, make minimum wage or less, and have no health insurance, savings or retirement plans.  But with more than one out of every two women in America divorced, separated, widowed or never married, they are  a potent political force.

This marriage gap is not just economic, but political too.  Marital status has been proven to influence voting participation and preferences.  But instead of recognizing this fundamental change in the lives of the majority of American women and adopting policies to help address the economic realities of single women, the Trump administration and their Republican allies in Congress have proposed healthcare, budget and tax plans that would have devastating impacts on all women, but especially unmarried women.  The painful consequences these plans would have on single women are detailed in a new report just released by the Voter Participation Center.

For example, under the American Health Care Act, millions of Medicaid recipients ? the majority of them women ? would lose their coverage.  The GOP plan would eliminate maternity and newborn care, zero-out funding for Planned Parenthood services, and end protections for pre-existing conditions, meaning women could face discrimination for ?conditions? such as pregnancy and Caesarean sections.  Trump?s budget proposal contains cuts to food stamps, job training, and other programs that would have a greater effect on unmarried women who are more likely to receive lower wages or be unemployed, and more likely to live close to the poverty level.  And analyses of the president?s tax proposals show that the benefits mainly go to higher income taxpayers and not single women who generally do not have high incomes and would receive only modest tax cuts (estimated to be $110 for people making under $24,800).  In fact, sixteen percent of unmarried women had no taxable income at all and thus would receive no benefit from the Trump plan. 

As these plans demonstrate, it?s clear that the Republican Party offers little to no help for single women ? which creates an opening for elected officials  to speak to these women?s lives, to motivate these voters to come to the polls.  A comprehensive plan to address the plight of single women could include support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, raising the minimum wage, paid sick and family medical leave, and protections for women who are pregnant.

Unmarried women can change the outcome of elections, but only if they are heard.  In 2016, even though single women had the numerical edge in terms of eligible voters, they were not registered and did not vote at the levels of married women, who are less progressive in their views.  Right now, close to a third of eligible unmarried women aren?t registered to vote, and more than one in ten of the single women who were registered to vote didn?t in 2016.  Clearly, single women have more power to shape the policy and political debate than they are using.

These voters will have to register, turn out, and become the force that blocks punitive policies, advocates for laws that lift the lives of all Americans and helps our nation deliver on our democratic values of majority rule.  It?s a value that Wonder Woman shares with the world and one that we should not soon forget.

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