Wednesday, January 23, 2013

House Hearing on U.S. Consulate Attack in Benghazi

House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing: Sec. Clinton (Part 2)

House Hearing on U.S. Consulate Attack in Benghazi (part 1)

House Foreign Affairs Cmte Hearing on Benghazi (Dec. 20, 2012)

click above link to view video of  Cmte hearing

House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing: Sec. Clinton (Part 1)

Washington, DC
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presents her view of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  This is her second hearing today on the incident.
In December, the State Department's highest ranking foreign service officers, William Burns and Thomas Nides, testified before Congressional lawmakers in the Secretary's place. They discussed a new report by an independent panel assessing the Benghazi attack.
Deputy Sec. Nides put several recommendations from a report on the attack into effect before the end of 2012. Implementing the rest, Nides said, will be underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office. Three State Department officials have resigned since the report was released.
The two officials were substituting for Secretary Clinton, who was recovering from a concussion she suffered after fainting. She had become  dehydrated due to a stomach virus.
Four Americans were killed in that attack, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. Congress is investigating whether the State Department denied a request for extra security at that outpost earlier in the year and what actions were taken in the moments after the attack began.

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Hillary Clinton Faces Down Senate Foreign Relations Panel on Benghazi, Libya

Hearing shows off political ambitions on both sides of the witness table

January 23, 2013
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham pounds her fist as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pounds her fist as she testifies on Capitol Hill, Jan. 23, 2013.

Reviewing the events of the deadly September attack in Benghazi, Libya, may have been the focus of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, but presidential politicking was also on display.
Clinton was at varying times relaxed, emotional, combative, and confident during the more than two hour session before a panel that included former Republican presidential candidate John McCain and two Republican Party rising stars with presidential ambitions, Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
A likely 2016 presidential candidate herself, Clinton showed the most fire during an exchange with Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, who grilled her on why U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared to misrepresent what happening in Libya while appearing on Sunday talk shows soon after the attack.
[RELATED: Top 2016 Presidential Contenders]
"With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans," Clinton said, her voice rising to a shout over Johnson's interjections.
"Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again," Clinton said.

Watch: Clinton scolds Sen. Johnson:

Though Clinton has denied interest in running for president in 2016, she did her best to keep her options open by making clear she had no role in crafting the talking points Rice used to make her controversial comments or in selecting Rice to go before television cameras on behalf of the administration.
She also repeatedly claimed responsibility for the events in Libya, but tried to refocus senators on what preventive actions could be taken to lower the risk of future events rather than assign blame.
"I would say that I personally was not focused on talking points, I was focused on keeping our people safe," Clinton said.
[ENJOY: Political Cartoons About Congress]
McCain, one of the most vocal critics of Rice and the administration's handling of Benghazi, praised Clinton before informing her that he found her answers unsatisfactory.
"We just have a disagreement about what did happened and when it happened with respect to explaining the sequence of events," Clinton said, adding that Congress has not made her job easier. She pointed to congressional holds put on Libyan aid programs, security assistance, and anti-terrorism assistance.
"So we've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress if this is a priority, if we are serious about trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from East to West, we have to work together," Clinton said.
As has been his custom since entering the Senate, Rubio took a respectful but pointed approach in questioning Clinton. He asked about the flow of information within the department and ultimately "how we can prevent some of this from happening."
[READ: Biden Plays Guessing Game on 2016]
"I reiterate my taking responsibility. With specific security requests, they didn't come to me; I had no knowledge of them," Clinton said, though she added that she and others at State "talked a great deal about deteriorating threat environment in Libya."
But Paul, son of former Rep. Ron Paul, both of whom are known for their libertarianism, took the opposite approach from Rubio and strongly admonished Clinton.
"It's a failure of leadership that [greater security precautions] weren't done in advance and four lives were cost because of this," he said. "Had I been president at the time, and I had found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cable from [Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens], I would have relieved you from your post. I think it's inexcusable."

Watch: Sen. Paul lectures Clinton:

A budget hawk, Paul also took the opportunity to take swipes at Clinton for State Department spending, which he said included $100,000 request from the ambassador in Vienna for an electrical charging station and $100,000 spent on a trio of comedians sent to India.
Clinton responded that in accordance with the finding of the independent Accountability Review Board, four top officials had been removed from their jobs and placed on administrative leave.
"The reason we put into effect an Accountability Review Board is to take it out of the heat of politics and partisanship and accusations and put it in the hands of people who have no stake in the outcome," she said. "I believe in transparency, I believe in taking responsibility and I have done so."
[PHOTOS: Clinton Gives Testy Testimony on Benghazi]
While there were several quotable exchanges and Clinton will likely take heat from conservatives for suggesting it doesn't matter why the attacks occurred, she made no major missteps in facing the Senate scrutiny.
Clinton is scheduled to go before the House Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday afternoon for further questioning.

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Sadie, 11-Year-Old Transgender Girl, Writes Essay In Response To Obama's Inauguration Speech

Posted:   |  Updated: 01/23/2013 3:20 pm EST

Barack Obama made history on Monday when he became the first president to speak about the Stonewall uprising and the gay rights struggle during an inaugural speech.
 Sadie and her mom, Sage

While many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were thrilled with the mentions, an 11-year-old transgender girl named Sadie wondered why the President didn't directly address trans people, too.

"Sadie was so proud of President Obama for including the gay community in his inaugural address on Monday; however, she felt like the trans community wasn't included," Sage, Sadie's mother, told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "That inspired her to write her own 'speech.'"

transgender girl obama speech

The speech, which began making the rounds on the Internet soon after the President spoke and was published in full on the TransGriot site, reads:

"The world would be a better place if everyone had the right to be themselves, including people who have a creative gender identity and expression. Transgender people are not allowed the freedom to do things everyone else does, like go to the doctor, go to school, get a job, and even make friends. Transgender kids like me are not allowed to go to most schools because the teachers think we are different from everyone else. The schools get afraid of how they will talk with the other kids' parents, and transgender kids are kept secret or told not to come there anymore. Kids are told not to be friends with transgender kids, which makes us very lonely and sad.
When they grow up, transgender adults have a hard time getting a job because the boss thinks the customers will be scared away. Doctors are afraid of treating transgender patients because they don't know how to take care of them, and some doctors don't really want to help them. Transgender patients like me travel to other states to see a good doctor.
It would be a better world if everyone knew that transgender people have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. We like to make friends and want to go to school. Transgender people want to get good jobs and go to doctors like they are exactly the same. It really isn't that hard to like transgender people because we are like everyone else."
Sadie socially transitioned from male to female in kindergarten. She was home schooled until this year and is now in fifth grade and attending public school. A vegan, she loves anything that "protects the environment," as well as reading, swimming, basketball and texting her friends. She listens to Lady Gaga, Pink and Justin Bieber and wants to work for Green Peace when she grows up. She also wants to be a mom.

 Sadie wth her 10 yr old sister, Jade

Though Sadie has been openly discriminated against, her mother says that she "isn't shy or ashamed of who she is," and adds, "I'm always 'on' when we go out because I never know when she'll strike up a conversation with the person in front of her in line at Trader Joe's. When she chats with people, she introduces herself as, 'Hi, I'm Sadie, my favorite color is pink, I'm vegan, and I'm transgender. Who are you?'"

Sage says she encouraged Sadie to write the essay because she thought "it might help empower her and overcome any feelings of oppression." In the end she says that she wants Sadie "to know that she has a voice. My dream for her is that she will be happy. That's all, really. I just want her to be happy."
see a slideshow of photos of Sadie and her family:

House Passes Debt Ceiling Measure

House Debate on "No Budget, No Pay"

Washington, DC
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The House, by a vote of 285-144 passed the "No Budget, No Pay" measure that ties a temporary suspension of the federal debt limit with the Senate passing a budget. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called the measure "a plan to balance the budget over the next ten years." The deal would raise the government's current $16.4 trillion debt limit until May 19. In exchange, the House and Senate must pass a budget resolution by April 15 or place members' salaries in an escrow account until the chamber acts.
The bill now goes to the Senate for their consideration.

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Benghazi: The Attacks and the Lessons Learned


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC
January 23, 2013

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of the committee, both older and new. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and I thank you very much for your patience to give me the chance to come and address these issues with you. As both the Chairman and the Ranking Member have said, the terrorist attacks in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 that claimed the lives of four brave Americans – Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty – are part of a broader strategic challenge to the United States and our partners in North Africa. Today, I want briefly to offer some context for this challenge, share what we’ve learned, how we are protecting our people, and where we can work together to not only honor our fallen colleagues, but continue to champion America’s interests and values.
Any clear-eyed examination of this matter must begin with this sobering fact: Since 1988, there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and their facilities. Benghazi joins a long list of tragedies for our Department, for other agencies, and for America: hostages taken in Tehran in 1979, our Embassy and Marine barracks bombed in Beirut in 1983, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, our embassies in East Africa in 1998, consulate staff murdered in Jeddah in 2004, the Khost attack in 2009, and too many others. Since 1977, 65 American diplomatic personnel have been killed by terrorists.
Now of course, the list of attacks foiled, crises averted, and lives saved is even longer. We should never forget that our security professionals get it right more than 99 percent of the time, against difficult odds all over the world. That’s why, like my predecessors, I literally trust them with my life.
Let’s also remember that administrations of both parties, in partnership with Congress, have made concerted and good faith efforts to learn from these attacks and deaths to implement recommendations from the review boards, to seek the necessary resources, and to do better in protecting our people from what has become constantly evolving threats. That is the least that the men and women who serve our country deserve. It’s what, again, we are doing now with your help. As Secretary, I have no higher priority and no greater responsibility.
As I have said many times, I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure.
Now, taking responsibility meant moving quickly in those first uncertain hours and days to respond to the immediate crisis, but also to further protect our people and posts in high-threat areas across the region and the world. It meant launching an independent investigation to determine exactly what happened in Benghazi and to recommend steps for improvement. And it meant intensifying our efforts to combat terrorism and figure out effective ways to support the emerging democracies in North Africa and beyond.
Let me share some of the lessons we’ve learned, the steps we’ve taken, and the work we continue to do.
First, let’s start on the night of September 11th itself and those difficult early days. I directed our response from the State Department, stayed in close contact with officials from across our government and the Libyan Government. So I saw firsthand what Ambassador Pickering and former Chairman Mike Mullen called timely and exceptional coordination; no delays in decision making, no denials of support from Washington or from our military. And I want to echo the Review Board’s praise for the valor and courage of our people on the ground, especially the security professionals in Benghazi and Tripoli. The board said the response saved American lives in real time, and it did.
The very next morning, I told the American people that heavily armed militants assaulted our compound, and I vowed to bring them to justice. And I stood with President Obama in the Rose Garden as he spoke of an act of terror.
It’s also important to recall that in that same period, we were seeing violent attacks on our embassies in Cairo, Sana’a, Tunis, Khartoum, as well as large protests outside many other posts where thousands of our diplomats serve. So I immediately ordered a review of our security posture around the world, with particular scrutiny for high-threat posts. I asked the Department of Defense to join Interagency Security Assessment Teams and to dispatch hundreds of additional Marine Security Guards. I named the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts so missions in dangerous places get the attention they need. And we reached out to Congress to help address physical vulnerabilities, including risk from fire, and to hire additional Diplomatic Security personnel.
Second, even as we took these steps, I hurried to appoint the Accountability Review Board led by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen so we could more fully understand from objective, independent examination what went wrong and how to fix it.
I have accepted every one of their recommendations. I asked the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources to lead a task force to ensure that all 29 of them are implemented quickly and completely, as well as pursuing additional steps above and beyond the recommendations.
I also pledged in my letter to you last month that implementation would begin, and it has. Our task force started by translating the recommendations into 64 specific action items. They were assigned to bureaus and offices with clear timelines for completion. Eighty-five percent are now on track to be completed by the end of March; a number are already completed. And we will use this opportunity to take a top-to-bottom look and rethink how we make decisions on where, when and whether people operate in high-threat areas, and then how we respond to threats and crises.
We are initiating an annual High Threat Post Review chaired by the Secretary of State, and ongoing reviews by the Deputy Secretaries, to ensure that pivotal questions about security do reach the highest levels. We will regularize protocols for sharing information with Congress. These are designed to increase the safety of our diplomats and development experts and reduce the chances of another Benghazi happening again.
We’ve also been moving forward on a third front: addressing the broader strategic challenge in North Africa and the wider region, because, after all, Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum. The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. Instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria.
And let me offer our deepest condolences to the families of the Americans and all the people from many nations who were killed and injured in that recent hostage crisis. We are in close touch with the Government of Algeria. We stand ready to provide assistance. We are seeking to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so we can work together with Algerians and others to prevent such terrorist attacks in the future.
Concerns about terrorism and instability in North Africa are of course not new. They have been a top priority for the entire Administration’s national security team. But we have been facing a rapidly changing threat environment, and we have had to keep working at ways to increase pressure on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and the other terrorist groups in the region.
In the first hours and days, I conferred with leaders – the President of Libya, Foreign Ministers of Tunisia and Morocco – and then I had a series of meetings at the United Nations General Assembly where there was a special meeting focused on Mali and the Sahel. In October, I flew to Algeria to discuss the fight against AQIM. In November, I sent Deputy Secretary Bill Burns to follow up in Algiers. And then in December, in my stead, he co-chaired an organization we started to respond to some of these threats: the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which was meeting in Abu Dhabi, as well as a meeting in Tunis of leaders working to build new democracies and reform security services.
We have focused on targeting al-Qaida’s syndicate of terror – closing safe havens, cutting off finances, countering extremist ideology, slowing the flow of new recruits. And we continue to hunt the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi and are determined to bring them to justice. We are using our diplomatic and economic tools to support these emerging democracies and to strengthen security forces and help provide a path away from extremism.
But let me underscore the importance of the United States continuing to lead in the Middle East, in North Africa, and around the world. We’ve come a long way in the past four years, and we cannot afford to retreat now. When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root; our interests suffer; our security at home is threatened.
That’s why I sent Chris Stevens to Benghazi in the first place. Nobody knew the dangers better than Chris, first during the revolution, then during the transition. A weak Libyan Government, marauding militias, terrorist groups; a bomb exploded in the parking lot of his hotel, but he did not waver. Because he understood it was critical for America to be represented there at that time.
Our men and women who serve overseas understand that we accept a level of risk to protect the country we love. And they represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation. They cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. So it is our responsibility to make sure they have the resources they need, and to do everything we can to reduce the risks.
For me, this is not just a matter of policy. It’s personal. I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and the wives left alone to raise their children.
It has been one of the great honors of my life to lead the men and women of the State Department and USAID. Nearly 70,000 serving here in Washington; more than 270 posts around the world. They get up and go to work every day, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances, because they believe, as we believe, the United States is the most extraordinary force for peace and progress the world has ever known.
And when we suffer tragedies overseas, as we have, the number of Americans applying to the Foreign Service actually increases. That tells us everything we need to know about what kind of patriots I’m talking about. They do ask what they can do for their country, and America is stronger for it.
So today, after four years in this job, traveling nearly a million miles, visiting 112 countries, my faith in our country and our future is stronger than ever. Every time that blue and white airplane carrying the words “United States of America” touches down in some far-off capital, I feel again the honor it is to represent the world’s indispensible nation. And I am confident that, with your help, we will keep the United States safe, strong, and exceptional.
So I want to thank this committee for your partnership and your support of diplomats and development experts. You know the importance of the work they do day in and day out. You know that America’s values and vital national security interests are at stake. And I appreciate what Ranking Member Corker just said: It is absolutely critical that this committee and the State Department, with your new Secretary and former Chairman, work together to really understand and address the resources, support, and changes that are needed to face what are increasingly complex threats.
I know you share my sense of responsibility and urgency, and while we all may not agree on everything, let’s stay focused on what really matters: protecting our people and the country we love. And thank you for the support you personally have given to me over the last four years.
I now would be happy to answer your questions.

Sec. of State Clinton Testifies to Senate Benghazi Attack

Talk about a witch hunt by the republicans, they do not know how the State Department works. I had a whole segment on how it operates, how it delegates who reports what to whom.

Senate Hearing on Benghazi (Dec. 20, 2012)
click link above to see video on Cmte hearing

Senate Foreign Relations Cmte. Hearing

Washington, DC
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
In her first testimony since the Benghazi attack, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in a full day of hearings Wednesday about U.S. diplomatic security and the American mission in Libya.
Sec. Clinton appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the morning and will provide an afternoon testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  In December, the State Department's highest ranking foreign service officers, William Burns and Thomas Nides, testified before Congressional lawmakers in the Secretary's place.  They discussed a new report by an independent panel assessing the Benghazi attack.
Deputy Sec. Nides put several recommendations from a report on the attack into effect before the end of 2012.  Implementing the rest, Nides said, will be underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office. Three State Department officials have resigned since the report was released.
The two officials were substituting for Secretary Clinton, who was recovering from a concussion she suffered after fainting due to dehydration from a stomach virus.
Four Americans were killed in that attack, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. Congress is investigating whether the State Department denied a request for extra security at that outpost earlier in the year and what actions were taken in the moments after the attack began.

Inside an Oklahoma Abortion Clinic

A husband and wife have provided abortions for 40 years in a state with tight restrictions and few providers. Allison Yarrow spends a day with them at their clinic.

Norman, Okla.—Angie is here at the office of Dr. Larry Burns for an abortion because she doesn’t want to be a mother at 21. Her sister went that route, having a son after being expelled from high school, and Angie, a pretty black psychology major who says she’s the family’s “golden child,” can’t “mess up.” She intends to be first in her family to complete college, to become a doctor treating soldiers suffering from PTSD.

Dr. Larry Burns' Clinic in Oklahoma. (Allison Yarrow/Newsweek)

Burns and his wife, Debby, who also manages the office, “rise with the chickens,” as Debby puts it, to open their abortion clinic in Norman, Okla., at 7 a.m. four days a week.

I’ve made the three-hour drive south from Wichita, Ks. on I-135, which has been traveled by many of the women Burns sees. They make the trek because there is no doctor in the metro area of more than half a million people who performs abortions. The dearth results not from restrictive laws, but from the 2009 murder, in his church’s lobby, of Dr. George Tiller, who provided abortions, including late-term abortions. Before he was fatally shot by anti-abortion protester Scott Roeder, Tiller had survived the bombing of his clinic in 1985, been besieged by protests during Operation Rescue’s 1991 “summer of mercy,” shot in both arms in 1993, and tried and acquitted in 2008 for 19 misdemeanor charges of circumventing the letter of a state law requiring a second opinion before performing an abortion. When he was murdered, the clinic closed and his name still resonates as a cautionary tale about the perils of providing abortions.

Larry and Debby Burns agreed to have me up for the day to their clinic—one of the five about 200 miles from Wichita that are now the closest remaining options for women there. I'll be the first reporter they’ve given such access to in 40 years of practice. Two other clinics who have seen an influx of Wichita women, in Kansas City and Tulsa, declined to have a reporter visit.

While I wasn’t allowed in the room for the procedure itself, Debby introduced me to patients as they arrived, and several agreed to let me spend the day with them (on the condition that their real names would not be used) from arrival and paperwork to ultrasound to medical consultation and then after the abortion was performed in recovery.

Burns sees 14 patients over the day I’m here, with the closest one coming from Oklahoma City, 45 minutes away, and the farthest coming from Oklahoma’s panhandle, some four hours away. On other days, patients arrive from as far off as Texas and Arkansas.

Angie rises from a chair in the brick waiting room, which features a skylight, a large fountain, and Oklahoma Sooner football memorabilia and fills fast with women like her who are here to end unplanned first-trimester pregnancies. She drove nearly two hours from Stillwater for her second abortion, and is relieved to see so many other women waiting, some with husbands or boyfriends or friends, and others alone like her.

“I like looking around and feeling like I’m not the only one having an abortion,” she says, stuffing her hands in the pockets of a coat with a fur hood. She knows the father, a classmate, who gave her most of the money she’ll use today, and half-heartedly offered to drive her. She lied to him that she had a driver. Angie says she has it together, unlike friends. “I write who I have sex with and the days in a calendar,” she says. “I’m not a Maury show.”

Burns, a 68-year-old father and grandfather with gray hair and kind eyes, has been practicing what’s been called both one of the safest and one of most controversial surgeries for 40 years, since 1973’s Roe. v Wade decision changed the legal abortion landscape. One of the state’s first legal clinics, in Tulsa, needed an anesthesiologist, which is what Burns was training to do, and he learned to perform the procedure while working there.

After a few months, Burns left to open his own clinic, where he performs about 2,000 procedures a year, a sizable share of the procedures in Oklahoma (nearly 6,500 total in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). It’s one of just three remaining in Oklahoma, which has in recent years passed many laws curtailing access.

Getting pregnant, or, rather, having sex is “just like driving a car,” Burns says as we sit in his office. “You don’t think you’re going to have the wreck, someone else is.”

His office feels like a quaint cabin, its walls adorned with photos of grandkids and shelves adorned with buffalo figurines. He owns a lake house and a motorcycle that he won’t drive more than 50 miles per hour. Next to his desk, which does not have computer on it, swims a frog he grew from a mail-order tadpole.

But despite the comfortable setting, the Burnses are at the frontier. Here in the country’s south prairieland, Burns and his wife are at the abortion-access frontlines, providing care where it is scarce, tightly regulated, and socially stigmatized. “Nobody plans ahead to have an abortion,” Burns says. “You can’t put a pretty face on it. It’s not table talk.”

“I like looking around and feeling like I’m not the only one having an abortion.”

That sentiment spills over to patients. “I thought there would be more cold-hearted people working here,” said Katherine, a 22-year-old mother of two, who had envisioned confronting angry protesters and doctors’ faces obscured by masks, images she says were likely rumors or came from TV. Instead, she says, “they made me feel like what I was doing wasn’t wrong.”

Katherine chose Burns, as did Angie, because of the glowing online reviews he’d received.

As patients arrive, they read and sign a pile of consent forms in the back office where Debby would sit if she had time, but she’s on her feet answering calls from prospective patients on her incessantly ringing iPhone, delivering hugs, crackers and soda cans to women recovering post-procedure, who haven’t eaten since midnight the previous evening. She also reviews patients’ medical histories, escorts them to nurses for ultrasounds and finally offers support during their operations, cooing endearments like “darling” and “sweetheart.”

"Sugar, we’re going to borrow you for a minute," says Debby to Katherine, who descends from Creeks and Choctaws and calls herself a “country girl” who favors deer hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. She slips out of a pink camouflage sweatshirt and into a backless paper gown. A nurse asks her to “scoot her bottom down” and encourages Katherine’s feet into stirrups.
“You’re gonna feel the cold jelly,” she says of the lubricated ultrasound wand as Burns enters the room to read the screen. “Don’t want to be pregnant this time?” he asks. Katherine shakes her head. She is 11 weeks along, just a week shy of Burns’s 12-week cutoff, having conceived with an ex-boyfriend.

Oklahoma, which bans abortions after 20 weeks, requires those wanting an abortion to wait 24 hours after making an appointment to have the procedure, and to hear about its risks, and be informed of alternatives and of the fact that the person who impregnated them would be responsible for child support. It also requires consent to operate on minors, which doesn’t apply to Katherine, but is a law abortion activists call restrictive but Burns supports.

“I’m just now getting it together with school, work, and paying bills on my own,” says Katherine. “I don’t want to be selfish and keep something I can’t take care of.” The nurse takes Katherine’s temperature and blood pressure, then leaves her to dress and “visit” with the doctor.

Cost is a concern for many women who see Dr. Burns. Oklahoma orders insurance policies not to cover procedures unless the mother’s life is endangered, or a special rider is previously purchased, though Burns points out that the service isn’t one for which people plan ahead. The procedure, anesthesia, and a checkup two weeks after total up to 550 dollars. About one in four women get financial aid from the Roe Fund run by the Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and designed to cover abortions for Oklahomans, or other sources that provide aid to pregnant women in need. But most of the clients pay cash, and about one in 10 patients don’t even cover their full bill, according to Debby.

“I’m really soft when it comes to ladies with financial trouble,” she says. “I have a big ear. We usually don’t ask for pay back, it's better to call it ‘we’re giving you a break.’” She also asks friends to donate to the Roe Fund in lieu of Christmas or birthday gifts.

The procedure itself is over in mere minutes, which surprises patients.

“You’ll be sleepy for 9 or 10 minutes, then drowsy for about 5 after,” Burns explains to Katherine in a granddad voice, quiet and raspy. “When you leave here one of three things might happen. You could bleed today, or bleed four or five days from now, or not. None of that is a period. No intercourse for up to two weeks after this procedure. It’s very easy to get pregnant while waiting for a period.”

“Nobody’s making you be here today?” Burns asks, as he must do by law. Katherine says “no.” He recites Oklahoma’s mandated counseling, which the Guttmacher Institute, a health policy organization and reproductive health advocacy group, says is intended to “discourage” women from aborting pregnancies. “I’ve never had anybody die or have brain damage, but those things can happen and I have to tell you that,” he says softly. Katherine nods, unfazed, then leaves with Debby to prep for surgery.

“No chewing gum?” Debby asks. “You pass go!”

“I do what I have to do,” Burns says when I ask about how he decided to deliver the intentionally frightening, if misleading, state-mandated information. “They can’t tell me what tone to do it in. They can go make their laws in Oklahoma City, but I’m going to run my practice the way I want.” As a medical student, Burns had “wanted to do something that mattered, not just coughs and colds,” and first worked in anesthesiology in a friend’s clinic, Oklahoma’s first to give legal abortions, which has since closed. But after about six months Burns knew he wanted his own operation, so he rented space while sketching the dream office he’d build. “I wanted to be able to control the thermostat, the attitudes, and the numbers,” he says, and got his wish.

The space, “specifically designed for first-trimester abortions,” with an exam room, operating suite and four private recovery rooms, opened in February 1974.

Burns, who carries a permitted gun, remembers the protests in the late 70s, and the picketers who chained themselves to his clinic’s gates. He scrapped the gates to solve the disruption. In the early 1990s, as the culture wars heated up, protesters picketed and many were arrested, including Aaron Joe Baker who was later convicted of assault and battery for shoving Debby into the side of a car in the clinic’s parking lot. Today, fallen acorns and holly bushes rim the grounds outside. Burns says the FACE laws, signed by President Bill Clinton, which protect clinic entrances from aggressive antiabortion protesters have helped curb conflicts.

When I arrived, two men stood on a shred of lawn, with signs propped up on the grass by them reading: ABORTION KILLS BABIES. They didn’t even look up as I left my car and walked into the clinic. Burns says two or three protesters do this daily, but that they’re quiet, barely bothering anyone.

In the operating room, Angie and Katherine are given an IV of sodium brevital to speed sleep. Burns dilates the cervix to about 6 millimeters (“the end of a pencil”) and empties the uterus with an aspirator. He then uses an instrument to remove remaining tissue along uterine walls. (Also known as as dilation and curettage, or D&C). He’ll later weigh that tissue for a more accurate pregnancy date.

In recovery, women lie, most often on their sides, knees to stomach, on beds with blue comforters in low light for half an hour or so. Angie is cramping, which she expected, but gushes to me that she loved the nurses. “I walked in and told them ‘don’t be looking at my fanny, and sorry, but I haven’t shaved in weeks.’ They said, ‘girl we haven’t shaved in weeks.’”

Angie didn’t tell her current boyfriend about the pregnancy, or where she was today. Katherine won’t tell her parents, or friends because they are “against it.” Until having her own abortion, she was too, she adds. “I will probably have to make something up about why I’m not pregnant anymore,” she says as she is lying down in recovery, arm cradling her head. She texts the father of her 1 year old and 3 year old to come fetch her, the phone's screen a spider web of cracks.

The Burnses answer calls at all hours. They don’t travel outside the United States lest a patient need immediate care, the farthest they go is Colorado. “It makes sense to stay around because what I can fix, I can do in a few minutes at no charge. With someone else it would cost thousands,” he says. They are tired and both said they had long ago thought for sure they’d have been retired by now, but face considerable pressure to stay open, as they are the only option for many women in the area.

Like many small and rural abortion operations, the future of the Burnses' clinic is uncertain. Their daughter had worked with them until giving birth to her fourth child, and left to take care of her growing family. Neither can imagine just “walking away” without a successor, and none has emerged. Burns admits that even hiring nurses he likes is difficult, let alone a replacement.  

“I’d stop if I could find somebody who does things like I do. Debby is getting tired.”
But for now, they’ll carry on. “When they need me, they need me,” Dr. Burns says of his patients.

 Roe v. Wade to Planned Parenthood: The History of Abortion Rights in America (PHOTOS)

Slideshow: Sperm Whales Adopt Deformed Dolphin

on 18 January 2013, 4:30 PM 
  • Contact
    Credit: Alexander D. M. Wilson/Aquatic Mammals
    Contact. The dolphin touches its pelvic region to the lower jaw of the adult, a gesture that might strengthen social bonds between animals.
  • Traveling
    Credit: Alexander D. M. Wilson/Aquatic Mammals
    Traveling. An unusual, mixed-species group consisting of sperm whales and a single bottlenose dolphin with a spinal malformation swim together in the Azorean archipelago.
  • Milling
    Credit: Alexander D. M. Wilson/Aquatic Mammals
    Milling. While the group is socializing near the surface, the dolphin rubs its body in a friendly way against one of the whales. The whales sometimes rub back.
  • Nuzzle
    Credit: Alexander D. M. Wilson/Aquatic Mammals
    Nuzzle. The dolphin nuzzles one of the whale calves with its rostrum (snout).
  • Mouth
    Credit: Alexander D. M. Wilson/Aquatic Mammals
    Mouth. The dolphin positions himself just in front of the open jaws of an adult female sperm whale. Calves and subadults do this, too, but the reason is unknown..

If the ocean were a cocktail party, your average bottlenose dolphin would be hamming it up near the bar, fetching drinks for other marine mammals and regaling them with funny stories. Your average sperm whale would hover quietly near the pretzel bowl, keeping a low profile and avoiding eye contact with that obnoxious dolphin.

Sperm whales are fierce squid hunters, but they also have a softer side. In a serendipitous sighting in the North Atlantic, researchers have discovered a group of the cetaceans that seem to have taken in an adult bottlenose dolphin with a spinal malformation, at least temporarily. It may be that both species simply liked the social contact.
Creatures form "friendly" connections with members of other species throughout the animal kingdom. These often short-lived relationships can offer increased protection from predators and more effective foraging. Some particularly unusual alliances illustrate that they can also satisfy a social craving. For example, the signing gorilla Koko had a pet cat named All Ball; in a Kenyan nature park, a hippopotamus, Owen, grew close to a giant tortoise, Mzee.
Among ocean-dwelling mammals, dolphins are perhaps the most gregarious. They've been spotted traveling, foraging, and playing with a wide variety of other animals, including many whales. On the other hand, as far as the authors of the forthcoming paper in Aquatic Mammals know, sperm whales had never been reported cozying up to another species. Specialized deep-water hunters who travel great distances, the whales are more timid than dolphins and harder for people to observe.
Indeed, behavioral ecologists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin did not expect to find a mixed-species group when they set out to observe sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) some 15 to 20 kilometers off the island of Pico in the Azores in 2011. But when they got there, they found not only a group that included several whale calves, but also an adult male bottlenose dolphin ( Tursiops truncatus). Over the next 8 days, they observed the dolphin six more times while it nuzzled and rubbed members of the group (see slideshow). The sperm whales seemed to at least tolerate it; at times, they reciprocated. "It really looked like they had accepted the dolphin for whatever reason," says Wilson, who was snorkeling nearby. "They were being very sociable."
The researchers could be sure that the bottlenose dolphin was the same one each time because it had a rare spinal curvature that gave its back half an "S" shape. Although the dolphin seemed otherwise healthy, that probable birth defect could be the key to understanding its attachment to the sperm whale group. Very few predators stalk the Azorean waters, so they doubt that it needed the whales for protection. But they speculate that the malformation could have put the animal at a disadvantage among its own kind. Perhaps it couldn't keep up with the other dolphins or had a low social status.
"Sometimes some individuals can be picked on," Wilson says. "It might be that this individual didn't fit in, so to speak, with its original group." The dolphin was able to stay with the whales because they swim more slowly and always leave a "babysitter" near the surface with the calves while the other adults dive deep.
Less clear is what was in it for the sperm whales. This study shows that they have a capacity for these types of relationships, which implies that they may sometimes get benefits from them, Wilson says. However, there's no obvious advantage on their side in this case. What's more, cetacean ecologist Mónica Almeida e Silva of the University of the Azores in Portugal, who was not involved in the study, says that sperm whales have good reasons not to like bottlenose dolphins, which she has often seen chasing and harassing whales and their calves. "Why would sperm whales accept this animal in their group?" she says. "It's really puzzling to me."
Nonetheless, we shouldn't be tempted to "overread" the whales' motivations as pity for the dolphin, says behavioral biologist Luke Rendell of the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom. Interpreting is hard given the observation's briefness and rarity, as well as how little is known about these particular whales. They might simply enjoy the dolphin's attentions, or "they could just be thinking, 'Wow, this is a kind of weird calf.' "


War of the Wombs: Keith Mason's Campaign for Embryo Rights

Keith Mason and his wife are leading a growing national movement to legally define human embryos as people, which would outlaw abortion—and possibly some forms of birth control, opponents say. In an exclusive interview, he tells Abigail Pesta about his ambitious plans for 2012's election season.

It’s an awkward moment at the Cheesecake Factory for Keith Mason. Over dinner in Denver recently, his wife, Jennifer, mentions she’ll be giving birth to their fourth child in August. Mason, a clean-cut guy with the unflappable air of a college quarterback, suddenly flaps. “Wow,” he says. “August? I guess I’ve been busy.”

Personhood USA’s Keith and Jennifer Mason are collecting votes for November. (Robyn Twomey for Newsweek)

The couple laughs. In the four years since Mason launched the pro-life group Personhood USA, he has been crisscrossing the country to convince voters that the best way to overturn Roe v. Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion, is to define human embryos as people from the moment of fertilization. The group has helped spark 22 “personhood” bills and ballot initiatives; while none has passed, in each ballot vote on personhood, the margin of defeat has declined. His group is now collecting signatures for ballot efforts in Colorado, Ohio, and Montana for the November elections and in Florida for 2014. “Wait and watch us grow,” he says confidently.

“We’re like a weed.

Personhood efforts have existed for decades, but they have never taken hold in the public imagination the way Mason’s work has. Nor have they been so present in the pro-life discourse. “They’re saying out loud what many anti-choice activists believe but don’t say upfront—they want to ban abortion in all circumstances,” says Donna Crane, a policy director at the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America. “In some ways, it’s the more honest conversation to have.” And it has gathered supporters in this election season who include Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry.

(Mitt Romney has demurred, but Mason says he is “hammering away” at the nominee.)

Mason, the man at the heart of the maelstrom, is part preacher, part hipster. A charismatic, green-eyed 31-year-old, he tools around town on a vintage motorbike, loves the metal band Deftones, and peppers his speech with gee-whiz phrases like “cool stuff, man” and the occasional biblical teaching. He, his 29-year-old wife, and his 34-year-old legal counsel, Gualberto Garcia Jones (who wears a backward pageboy cap and is also a sculptor), hope their youth will help recruit others like them to the team.

Pensive and pretty with long brown hair and dark eyes, Mason’s wife, Jennifer, is the group’s communications director. Her pro-life affinity started when she was a girl in California and learned that her mother had had an abortion; she became a full-fledged activist as a teenager, after seeing a graphic image.

BabyEmbryo 300x227 VIDEO:  Personhood USA | Going for the Abortion Jugular

Mason’s awareness of abortion also began early on. Growing up in an evangelical family in Aurora, Colo., he found a postcard wedged in the pages of his mother’s Bible showing “a little boy with his head missing,” he says. “I was 8 years old,” he recalls today, at the Personhood USA headquarters in a Denver office park. Mason found the abortion photo “deeply disturbing,” but didn’t dwell on it. He was young, he jokes, and had extreme skateboarding to think about. Although as a teenager he did protest outside an abortion clinic, he went to college to study business and heating and air conditioning, and planned a career in real estate. 

Personhood USA: Going for the Abortion 'Jugular'
Is an embryo a person? Pro-life organization Personhood USA is pushing to ban abortion through initiatives that make it illegal to kill an embyro—and gaining momemtum around the country. Newsweek & The Daily Beast's Abigail Pesta discusses her profile of the organization.
The turning point came after graduation, in 1999, when he and three friends took off on a summer motorcycle trip to California. His friends started “getting stoned and drinking a lot while on their bikes,” and he ditched them. Finding himself at loose ends, he went to an abortion protest, which at least seemed like familiar territory. The rally, packed with young people, made an impression. “I felt like I had a chance to start a career making money, or dedicate myself to serving God,” he says.

Personhood USA says 80,000 volunteers have helped to promote the cause. (Robyn Twomey for Newsweek)

It took time for Mason to get to personhood. He met his wife while praying outside an abortion clinic; the two married within five months—“Purity was very important to us,” he says—and they moved to Kansas to continue their pro-life work. The dominant efforts at the time were incremental: then, as now, activists aimed to contain access to abortion by passing legislation that would curtail abortion clinics or put up roadblocks, like waiting periods and parental consent, for those who have decided to abort. Mason and his wife joined in those efforts.

It was a 2006 campaign in South Dakota to ban abortion outright that got Mason wondering if the efforts to chip away at access were enough. “They were going after the heart of the matter,” he says. “I thought, wow, this is amazing.” Then in 2007 a young Colorado woman started a personhood ballot initiative, and Mason felt drawn home. He collected 103,000 signatures and got personhood on the state ballot—a first. On voting day, the measure got 27 percent of the vote. The next day, he launched Personhood USA.

Earlier efforts at personhood—in the 1970s and again in 2005—suffered from a lack of support and organization. They also faced a battle within the pro-life community itself. While some groups support defining embryos as legal people, the movement overall has feared that pushing a personhood law toward the Supreme Court is a recipe for judicial disaster. Paul Linton, former general counsel for the pro-life group Americans United for Life, says personhood is “fundamentally flawed,” as “no justice on the Supreme Court ... has ever expressed the view that the unborn child is or should be regarded as a federal constitutional ‘person.’”

But Mason is a dynamic and energetic organizer who galvanized enough pro-life Coloradans to get personhood on the state ballot again in 2010; it received 30 percent of the vote. More important, it grabbed national headlines and attracted some pro-lifers who came to believe it was a viable political strategy.

Today, his nonprofit group works by connecting with local pro-life activists to spur state ballot initiatives. He says his team has gained more than 80,000 volunteers and more than a million signatures. In 2011 personhood got 42 percent in a ballot vote in Mississippi. This year in Oklahoma, the state Supreme Court blocked a ballot effort, a decision Mason is appealing with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mason’s efforts have kicked up a storm of opposition among women’s-rights activists, who claim such laws would ban birth control as well as in vitro fertilization and stem-cell research, both of which can result in the destruction of embryos.

Mason disputes these claims, saying he does “not oppose contraceptives,” but rather methods that “kill a living human being.” The copper IUD and the morning-after pill would fit that category, as the FDA says they can prohibit an egg from implanting in the womb after fertilization, though the science behind this has been hotly contested. As for IVF, Mason says it wouldn’t be banned, but “reformed,” without specifying how.

Miscarriage could be another flash point, says Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the advocacy group National Advocates for Pregnant Women. She thinks personhood could put mothers who miscarry under undue scrutiny. Already in 38 states, fetal-homicide laws can put mothers on trial for murder if a fetus dies—starting from the first moment of pregnancy in some states. “There’s no way to give embryos constitutional personhood without subtracting women from the community of constitutional persons,” she says.

Mason calls these claims “ridiculous.” But, he adds, “I know of cases where a woman that is addicted to crack will have her baby and the state will take the crack baby away because of child abuse and mandate the woman receive treatment—I’m good with that.”

As Mason’s team gathers signatures for the fall ballots in his most ambitious season so far, opponents are bracing for a fight. Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other groups have filed lawsuits and launched extensive publicity campaigns. Personhood is a “formidable presence in every state,” says NARAL’s Crane. “If any one of these initiatives passes, it could work its way through the courts. And the courts can’t necessarily be counted on these days to make decisions that will protect women’s health.”

Mason is undaunted: “As long as I have arms, I’m gonna be swinging them.”