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Jones slammed Alabama’s abortion ban. Will it help or hurt his Senate campaign?

Chip Brownlee

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Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones is going out on a limb, harshly criticizing a new Alabama law that would ban abortions in nearly all circumstances with no exceptions for rape and incest.

Jones told reporters Thursday that the law — passed in the Alabama Senate Tuesday and signed by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey Wednesday — is “unconstitutional, irresponsible and just completely shameful.”

Jones specifically attacked the bill’s lack of exceptions for rape and incest. Women impregnated by rape or through incest would be unable to get an abortion should the law ever go into effect. The bill is set to go into effect in six months but is likely to be blocked by federal courts before then.

“It uses rape victims and victims of incest as political pawns in what the bill’s sponsors hope will invite a legal challenge that is almost certain to cost the state millions of dollars in lawyer fees,” Jones said.

Designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that effectively assures a woman’s right to an abortion, the law would ban abortion at any point of pregnancy and make performing an abortion a Class A felony.

The law’s House sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, said the current language shouldn’t be Alabama’s final abortion law and she would support the addition of rape and incest exemptions in the law once it had been considered by the Supreme Court.

The sponsors said they hope the bill will be a set up for the Supreme Court, newly defined by a conservative majority, to define the unborn fetus as a person.

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Doctors could face up to 99 years in prison if they help a woman terminate a pregnancy under the law, which the Senate approved in a party-line vote of 25 to 6.

“We need to call this bill what it is. It is the most extreme abortion ban in the country,” Jones said.

Jones’ chances at re-election

Jones’ comments, in a state widely regarded as one of the most anti-abortion rights, could pose a challenge for him as he heads into an uphill battle for re-election in 2020.

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The senator, the first Democratic one elected in Alabama in a quarter century, is widely viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators in the country.

“There’s literally nothing Doug Jones can do or say that will help him get re-elected,” said Chris Kratzer, the vice president of research and analysis at the Alabama-based Cygnal polling firm. “With Trump on the ballot, Doug Jones is doomed.”

Alabama GOP chairwoman Terry Lathan has routinely criticized Jones for his stance on abortion.

“As one of the strongest pro-life states in the nation, Alabamians will hold Senator Jones accountable for this vote and every move he makes in the future regarding legislation that supports life at all stages,” Lathan said last year when he voted against a bill that would have prohibited abortions nationally after 20 weeks.

She had similar words for Jones when he endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination for president.

“Both support bigger government, ObamaCare and abortion – all issues the majority of Alabamians oppose,” Lathan said at the time.

Alabama’s new law is just one of a number of antiabortion rights measures approved or working their ways through statehouses across the country. Laws in Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected.

That’s typically at about six weeks when some women are not even aware they are pregnant.

“I really hope that our state legislators stop playing politics and start focusing on policies that strengthen families. As a society, we have to do so much more for women, especially mothers,” Jones said.

Democratic presidential hopefuls are using Alabama’s law as a method to raise money for reproductive rights groups and gin up support for their campaigns.

Jones pushed back on lawmakers using abortion for political purposes, and Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy Managing Director Brad Coker said common wisdom would argue Jones’ comments are a nail in the coffin of his re-election chances.

“I think the instant reaction is ‘It’s a pro-life state, how can you say that and get away with that,’” said Coker, whose polling firm recently polled Jones’ chances of re-election, finding that he had a slim chance of returning to D.C.

But Coker said those watching Jones’ comments shouldn’t rush to such a conclusion about the political implications of his words.

“I would argue that maybe it might even marginally help him a little bit,” Coker said. “Not enough for it to really help, but the polling shows that a significant number of pro-life voters still think there should be rape and incest. I don’t think they necessarily disagree with what he’s saying.”

Coker said he didn’t think Jones’ reaction would move the needle that much, but it could move a few voters to his side.

“I think when you start looking at the headcount, he’s not losing anything,” Coker said. “Then maybe he can peel off a couple of voters who are pro-life voters but not necessarily for a law this restrictive.”

But the question of whether Jones even has a chance in November 2020 is still up in the air, and as Mason-Dixon’s polling has shown, his prospects are likely to depend on public approval of President Donald Trump and the Republican nominee for Senate here.

Jones narrowly defeated former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, known as an anti-LGBT firebrand, in a special Senate election in December 2017 just a month after Moore was accused of sexual misconduct.

While Mason-Dixon’s initial polling in April showed Moore was at the top of the GOP primary pack, the former judge has not said whether he would pursue the nomination again.

Several more convention Republican candidates including U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, state Rep. Arnold Mooney and former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville have announced runs for the nomination to challenge Jones.

“He’s really going into a headwind and his only outside shot is if Trump just totally implodes and there is a huge backlash because of it,” Coker said. “I just don’t see how he wins unless they nominate Moore again.”

But those Republican nominees may need to publicly support the ban to have a chance at the Republican nomination. Voters in Alabama last year approved a constitutional amendment that declared Alabama to be a pro-life state. That referendum passed with 59 percent.

Even with that, Coker said the number of voters who consider abortion to be a top issue in federal politics is actually much smaller than commonly thought. Coker said that’s because the issue has become more of a state issue.

And those who do have the issue at top of mind are likely to have already made up their mind on Jones, who supported abortion rights during his campaign in 2017.

“Maybe 10 or 15 percent of voters have it in their top two,” Coker said. “But if you do a poll of what’s the most important issue when voting in a national election it’s going to be the economy, health care, immigration, national security and trade. All of the issues that are really being debated in Washington are those that move national voters.”

In the meantime, Jones said he wants to focus on ways of making abortion less common through other means.

“I think we ought to really be focusing in Alabama on a way that we can come together to reduce the number of abortions in the state,” Jones said. “Right now we need to expand Medicaid, we need to do all we can for infant mortality, we need all we can to help pediatricians and OBGYNs into these rural areas so people don’t have to drive 60 miles to deliver babies.”

 

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National

Lawmaker files bill to ban treatments for transgender kids

Jessa Reid Bolling

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Republican Wes Allen, R-Troy, filed a bill to prevent doctors from providing hormone replacement therapy or puberty suppressing drugs to people younger than 19 who identify as transgender.

HB303, the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,  would make it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for doctors to prescribe puberty-blocking medications or opposite gender hormones to minors. Allen’s legislation would also ban hysterectomy, mastectomy or castration surgeries from being performed on minors.

“I was shocked when I found out doctors in Alabama were prescribing these types of drugs to children,” Allen said in a news release. “This is something you hear about happening in California or New York but it is happening right here in Alabama and it’s time we put a stop to that practice.”

Allen said that children experiencing gender dysphoria are struggling with a psychological disorder and that they need therapeutic treatment from mental health professionals instead of medical intervention that would leave their bodies “permanently mutilated.” 

“These children are suffering from a psychological disorder, just as someone who is suffering with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia but we treat those patients and try to help them. We should treat these psychological disorders as well.”

In 2018, a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that:

  • “Transgender identities and diverse gender expressions do not constitute a mental disorder; 
  • Variations in gender identity and expression are normal aspects of human diversity, and binary definitions of gender do not always reflect emerging gender identities; 
  • Gender identity evolves as an interplay of biology, development, socialization, and culture; and
  • If a mental health issue exists, it most often stems from stigma and negative experiences rather than being intrinsic to the child”

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in 2018 that it was removing “gender identity disorder” from its global manual of diagnoses and reclassify “gender identity disorder” as “gender incongruence,” which is now listed under the sexual health chapter rather than the mental disorders chapter. 

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In a 2018 interview, Dr. Lale Say, a reproductive health expert at the WHO, said that gender incongruence was removed from the list of mental health disorders because “we had a better understanding that this was not actually a mental health condition and leaving it there was causing stigma. So in order to reduce the stigma, while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions, this was placed in a different chapter.”

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to remove the term “gender identity disorder” from the manual and add the term “gender dysphoria.”

Allen’s bill will be considered by the Alabama House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

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Elections

Doug Jones raises $2.4 million in first fundraising period of 2020

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, raised $2.4 million in the first fundraising period of 2020, according to his reelection campaign, which was $500,000 more than he raised during the fourth quarter of 2019. 

Jones has $7.4 million cash at hand, according to his campaign, which released the totals on Thursday. Jones’s latest campaign finance reports weren’t yet posted to the Federal Election Commission website on Thursday. 

“Alabamians across the state are showing their commitment to Doug’s message of One Alabama and his proven track record of standing up for all Alabamians,” said Doug Turner, Senior Advisor for Jones’s campaign, in a statement Thursday. Doug’s work to support working families, fund our HBCUs, modernize our military and expand and protect our health care is resonating with folks throughout Alabama. We are well-positioned to continue to grow our grassroots support and win in November.” 

Jones ended 2019 leading all of his Republican contenders in fundraising, ending the year with $5 million in cash.

 

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National

Jones introduces bipartisan bill to protect children from human trafficking

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones has introduced a bill that would help prevent exploitation by providing grants for training and resources.

The bipartisan Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2020 would help prevent the trafficking and exploitation of children by providing grants to train students, parents, teachers, and school personnel to recognize and respond to signs of human trafficking.

Jones introduced the bill along with his colleagues: Sens, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Tina Smith, D-Minnesota. While trafficking victims come from all walks of life and do not fit a particular profile, young people with certain risk factors may be more vulnerable to trafficking. For example, children in the child welfare or juvenile justice system, are homeless or ran away from home, or are unaccompanied or were forced to leave their home by their caregivers are much more at risk of becoming trafficking victims.

“Every year, thousands of people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across the state of Alabama,” Jones said. “The battle against human trafficking is one that we have to wage on all fronts, but our teachers and school personnel are on the front lines. With additional training and resources, we can continue to raise awareness about the signs of trafficking and hopefully prevent this systemic exploitation of children and other vulnerable people.”

Pat McCay Chairs the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

“Alabama has been fighting sex trafficking and exploitation since 2009,” McCay said. “We continue to see more and more cases each year affecting school-aged children and even children as young as four years old. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2020 will enable us to target the appropriate demographic with much-needed prevention training and education in schools and equip our children, along with their teachers, parents, and other school employees, to know the signs and dangers of trafficking and exploitation and how to avoid becoming a victim. Thank you, Senator Jones, for sponsoring this very important prevention bill.”

This legislation would Authorize the Director of the Office of Trafficking in Persons in the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) to establish a demonstration project to issue grants to non-profit organizations and schools to develop and implement age-appropriate, culturally competent, and gender-responsive curriculum for training students, parents, teachers, and school personnel to understand, recognize, prevent, and respond to signs of human trafficking.

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The bill instructs the Director to give priority to eligible entities serving geographic areas with the highest prevalence of human trafficking, and areas with the highest prevalence of at-risk, vulnerable, or underserved populations including homeless youth, foster youth, youth involved in the child welfare system and runaways.

It would also set forth important data collection on the human trafficking / exploitation of children and strict, privacy-protected reporting requirements for the program.

Jones is a former U.S. Attorney. That experience helped Senator Jones have a deeper understanding of the complexity of human trafficking. In the Senate, he has championed legislation that would prevent the targeting of vulnerable people. He is an original cosponsor of the bipartisan ILLICIT Cash Act (S.2563), which helps law enforcement to combat illicit financial activity being carried out by human traffickers. Corporate secrecy can fuel human trafficking, protecting traffickers from law enforcement and prosecution, and this legislation will help increase transparency and expose bad actors. Senator Jones has also supported renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes important anti-trafficking provisions, and has encouraged the Office of Management and Budget to provide robust funding for VAWA grants.

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In 2018, Senator Jones also cosponsored the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which allowed law enforcement and civil litigants to target web platforms harboring and hosting sex trafficking activity. The House of Representatives version of the bill passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law in April 2018.

The internet has made trafficking much more lucrative because buyers can shop online to connect with pimps to arrange delivery.

Senator Doug Jones, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Jones was elected in 2017.

 

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Aerospace and Defense

Blue Origin opens rocket engine factory in Huntsville

Brandon Moseley

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Blue Origin has opened its sprawling factory in Huntsville, Alabama’s “Rocket City.”

The massive new factory will allow the spaceflight company to accelerate the production of its heavy-lift BE-4 rocket engine. The move creates hundreds of jobs.

The BE-4, which is under development, will power both Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and the United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket, which is being produced at ULA’s factory in nearby Decatur.

Huntsville was an ideal location for the new factory, not only for its highly skilled workforce; but also for its proximity to ULA’s assembly pant and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center where the new Alabama-built engine will be tested. Marshall’s historic test stand 4670 is where the Saturn V moon rocket’s engines were tested.

Blue Origin is upgrading and refurbishing the test stand.

“This community is absolutely terrific to be a part of,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said. “It has the kind of spirit that you want when developing this kind of technology and actually has the history that you can be feel proud about.”

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“Enjoyed speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Blue Origin’s new rocket engine production facility in Cummings Research Park,” Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said. “This top-notch facility will be used to conduct production of the BE-4 and BE-3U engines. These engines will undergo testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on the historic Test Stand 4670. I joined Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith, Congressman Robert Aderholt, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and several others this afternoon to discuss the impact Blue Origin is making in the Tennessee Valley!”

Alabama Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield was at the ceremony making the opening of the spaceflight company’s rocket engine factory.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “In addition to the economic boost resulting from hundreds of new jobs in north Alabama, the Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine production facility will allow the United States – the state of Alabama – to take astronauts once again into space without dependence on other nations. Methods of warfare have changed, and maintaining our dominance in the current space race is therefore a critical element in national security.”

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Blue Origin was founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Blue Origin’s 350,000-square-foot facility is located in Cummings Research Park and will employ more than 300 people. Smith said that around 200 jobs should be created over the next year.

The factory was a $200 million investment in the state and announced on June 2017, with construction beginning in Huntsville a little over a year ago.

 

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