What Every Woman Needs to Know About the Office of State Attorney General

Until recently there were a lot of things I didn’t know about the role of the state Attorney General (AG).  In particular I had no idea how much control that office has over my uterus. 

For example, the AG plays a key part in framing and enforcing laws concerning reproductive rights, including responsibility for enforcing the F.A.C.E (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act, for privacy protection and for bringing or not bringing lawsuits against those involved with reproductive rights. 

Think Phil Kline, past AG of Kansas, who obtained 90 client records from abortion provider Dr. Tiller -- the doctor who was later gunned down and killed in his church by an anti-abortionist -- before charging Dr. Tiller with 30 misdemeanor counts. Several of these patient files were later leaked to Bill O’Reilly. 

Or the Oklahoma law, defended by Attorney General Drew Edmonson, forcing women to have ultrasounds (an exam not normally done that early in a pregnancy) explained to them in great detail before they are allowed to have an abortion. This law does not even include exceptions for rape or incest.  

In short, the Attorney General has the power to harass (or protect) abortion providers, enact laws forcing us to have procedures we may not want and to invade (or protect) our privacy.  

Amy Everitt, State Director of NARAL Pro-Choice California was kind enough to explain to me that, “The AG is the single most important office for women's privacy and reproductive health."

I also learned from Everitt that the Attorney General is responsible for hospital mergers, a critical issue for hospital based reproductive rights.  If religion-based hospitals like the ever-growing Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) are allowed to merge or take over local hospitals, they can refuse to provide reproductive health care services-including emergency contraception.

Imagine being raped and then being denied emergency contraception in the hospital.  

Or imagine you, or -- if you are a man -- your wife, your sister or your daughter is rushed to the nearest hospital for a life threatening pregnancy complication and refused options based on religious doctrine.  

These seemingly outrageous scenarios could easily become the norm if we don’t have an AG who is pro-choice or even if we have an AG who just doesn’t care about women’s issues.

The fact that religious based hospitals (or even religious doctors) can remove hospital based reproductive health from women’s lives is a real threat, one that that the AG's office is directly responsible for.  

Right now in California 41% of counties have no abortion provider, while 91% have deceptively named, non-medical, anti-choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

In learning all this shocking information I became very curious about the upcoming race for California Attorney General and I emailed both candidates -- Democrat Kamala Harris and Republican Steve Cooley some questions about their stance on these key issues.  (Feel free to use my letter and email your AG if you live outside of CA.)

I posted Kamala Harris’ responses below.  Steve Cooley however, was less responsive. 

I emailed his office the letter, and then I called his campaign office twice to make sure they received it. Both times no one answered and both times I left voicemails.  I emailed again several days later. 

Finally, after 4 days of no response I left yet another message, this time casually mentioning that I'm married to Phil Bronstein, Editor-at-large for Hearst newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle

Within a half hour I had a missed call from Steve Cooley’s office.  When I called back a Cooley representative picked up immediately and told me Cooley’s office would “get back to me by tonight.” And that they were a small office and the email must have, “slipped through.”

That was Friday (September 10th) morning.  Still no word.  Does Cooley just not care or is his office just that disorganized? 

Given his silence, it’s hard for me to believe these issues are important to him.

When NARAL called and wrote to him about his stance on abortion they also could not get a response from Cooley, according to a recent NARAL press release that announced the group’s endorsement of Harris. 

Considering that it’s Harris – not Cooley -- who has steadfastly supported a woman’s right to choose, and women's rights in general, as do most Californians, why is she the underdog in the latest poll in a state where 31 percent of registered voters are Republicans and 45 percent are Democrats?

Especially since you can’t even find Cooley’s stance on these issues (or many others including the environment) on his website.

I was able to find out that Cooley opposes the federal health care reform, and that the individual states’ AGs will have the power to either protect or limit women's rights with the handling of these reforms.

On Kamala Harris’ website you can easily find her position and historical record on these key issues and others like environmental preservation, violent crime, financial fraud, and sex offenses.   If you think Kamala is not tough on crime than you need to read her statistics on violent crime.  She has increased the felony conviction rate, secured an 85% conviction rate for homicides, took more gun cases to trial and doubled the conviction rate in felony gun trials, from 43% in 2003 to 90% in 2006 to name a few.

We need to get it together come November or we’ll only have ourselves to blame when a new Attorney General turns his back on us, or worse, takes away our freedom, privacy and choices.  

This means not only getting out to vote for Kamala, but also spreading the word. Facebook and twitter this info and please pass this link to 10 people and urge them to pass it to 10 more.  

Letter sent to Kamala Harris’ office:

I'm Christine Bronstein, the founder of A Band of Wives, a non-partisan social network for women with nearly 1200 members, many of whom are influential businesswomen and highly successful entrepreneurs. The vast majority of members are California voters.

We're working to highlight candidates in the upcoming election who are pursuing offices with a significant influence on issues important to women.

I was hopeful that I could get your position on a few of the issues that you'd be responsible for if you were elected Attorney General of California.

Your responses will be published on our site for all our members to read and may be picked up by our members and others who have extensive social networking web presences.

The AG plays a key part in framing and enforcing laws concerning abortion, including enforcing the F.A.C.E (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act and for bringing or not bringing lawsuits against those involved with abortion and other reproductive services. As Attorney General, would you work towards increasing women's access to those services, limiting it, or continuing the status quo?

Kamala Harris has always supported and will always support a woman's right to choose. As San Francisco District Attorney she has campaigned against the repeated attempts to restrict access to abortion here in California. She served as the No on Prop 73 campaign chair in San Francisco, and also campaigned aggressively against Props 85 and 4, all of which would have limited a woman's right to choose.

As AG, Kamala will make choice a priority in her administration.

A campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment continues to be waged against reproductive health care providers, their patients, and their families. The California Freedom of Access to Clinic and Church Entrances (FACE) Act, protects reproductive health care staff, volunteers, and our clients from physical threats and intimidation and prohibits anyone from damaging or destroying property. Kamala support s the FACE Act, and believes that the law is only effective when it is fully enforced. She would also believes law enforcement should be trained in the law to ensure that the FACE Act is enforced, regardless of one's views on abortion. Kamala would also ensure that socioeconomic status or geographic location should not preclude women from equal access to abortion services. And would oppose any bills that would restrict a woman's access to a safe, legal abortion.

The AG also plays a key role in assuring women have confidential health services. What is your stance on maintaining confidentiality for adult women who seek abortions or other reproductive services? What about minors?

As a career prosecutor, Kamala has seen firsthand horrific cases involving child sexual assault and she believes that confidential access is a matter of safety. Teenagers, as well as adults, should have confidential access to reproductive health services, including family planning, disease prevention and abortion.

What is your stance on the federal health care reform plan passed by Congress? What health care reform you would support, if any?

Through the historic health care reform law passed this year, our nation made major progress in reducing the number of uninsured Americans. This is an accomplished to be lauded and as California's AG, Kamala Harris would support the implementation of the federal health care reform law to ensure more Californians had access to healthcare.

As the individual states' AGs will have the power to either protect or limit women's access to abortion and other reproductive services with the handling of these reforms (should they take place), what are your intentions -- increasing women's access to those services, limiting it, or continuing the status quo?

As California's AG, Kamala would ensure women in our state had access to safe reproductive healthcare services. She would protect the reforms provided to women under the Federal healthcare law for increased access to reproductive healthcare services.

The AG is also responsible for hospital mergers. With the growing numbers of faith-affiliated hospitals like Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), it appears there is an opportunity for these groups to merge or take over local hospitals, therefore changing the access women or minors might have to abortion or other reproductive services. In fact, some of these faith-affiliated hospitals have stated that limiting access to these services is a specific part of their business agenda. Is that aspect of their agenda something you would support?

As community hospitals merge with religiously affiliated hospitals, many women are faced with reduced access to reproductive health care services because the religiously affiliated hospitals refuse to provide those services saying they go against church doctrine. In many areas, lack of access to reproductive health services is acute in areas where the only hospital has a religious affiliation. Kamala would support requiring all health facilities that accept public funds to provide and/or refer for comprehensive reproductive health care services. Furthermore, the Attorney General can use the antitrust powers of her office to ensure that when hospital mergers are proposed, access to reproductive care is not eliminated.

Would you make a concerted effort to ensure that hospital mergers would not limit women's access to hospital based reproductive rights, including emergency contraception? If so, how?

All women should have emergency contraception available to them, especially rape survivors being treated at hospital emergency rooms. California lawmakers approved legislation, which would ensure timely access all prescriptions including Emergency Contraception. But sadly, pharmacists have refused women who have sought access to EC and ER staff based on the health professional's personal beliefs despite state law that protects access to EC. As Attorney General, Kamala would uphold and enforce California's laws ensuring timely access to EC. As California's Attorney General, Kamala would work with Planned Parenthood, NARALPro-Choice California and other providers of contraceptive services to use both the statutory and bully pulpit powers of the AG's office to ensure that women seeking EC access are not denied based on a provider's personal beliefs.

What are some of your past accomplishments in the areas of women's rights, protections and privacy?

As District Attorney, Kamala has sponsored and spearheaded the following significant reforms in California:

· California's landmark law against human trafficking and comprehensive protections for its victims (AB 22, 2005).

· Wrote San Francisco 's law banning discriminatory evictions of domestic violence victims, which is now statewide legislation (SB 782, 2009).

· New state services and support for immigrant women who report their abusers to law enforcement (SB 1569, 2006).

· State funding for California children who witness violent crime to receive mental health services (AB 2809, 2008).

· Stricter criminal penalties for adults who pay children to engage in commercial sex (AB 3042, 2004).

· First major reform of California 's Witness Relocation and Assistance Program to assist crime victims who have been threatened for testifying against gang members (SB 594, 2007)

· Doubled state funding for witness relocation and protection by working with Governor and states' district attorneys.

· New protections for victims of elder abuse who are too sick or injured to make it to court, by allowing them testify by video and help convict their abusers (AB 1158, 2007).