About Rachel Port

Rachel has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago Division of Social Sciences and worked as a psychotherapist for many years. She plays viola in the Sierra Vista Symphony, and also writes for Daily Kos and Yahoo Voices.

In the Wake of Roe v. Wade: The Helms Amendment

USAID is essential in reducing infant and maternal mortality in the developing world.

This Sunday, December 17, is the 44th anniversary of the Helms Amendment.

What is the Helms Amendment and why should we care about it?

The simple answer to the first part of that question is that it is language added to the 1973 foreign aid bill. It reads:

No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.


The Helms Amendment was the first federal legislative attack on abortion rights in the post-Roe era.


But of course nothing to do with abortion is ever simple. Think of the Senate in December 1973, just 11 months after the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal. In the intervening months the war in Vietnam ended; Henry Kissinger visited China; the Watergate hearings and the first trials of the conspirators began; Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after being convicted of accepting bribes; President Nixon named Gerald Ford to replace Agnew; there were bloody coups in Greece and Chile; the Yom Kippur War was fought in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia led the oil embargo against the United States, raising gasoline prices from 25 cents per gallon to more than a dollar; Nixon tried to stop the Watergate investigation by firing the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox; the top two people in the Justice Department resigned rather than do so, leaving Robert Bork to carry out that order, in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre; eventually Nixon was compelled to turn over his tapes after fighting the order in court.

In other words, 1973 was a turbulent year, a time of great change and political turmoil in Washington. Continue reading

For Women’s Equality Day, A Call to Use Your Right to Vote

On August 18, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and on August 26, 1920, it was certified: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

It had taken 72 years: In 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first women’s rights convention in U.S. history at Seneca Falls, this resolution was passed: “Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”


People in power would not be trying so hard to keep us from voting if our votes weren’t powerful. We must not give up that power.


Of 12 resolutions, it was the only one that was not passed unanimously. Although leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Mary McClintock, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass supported a resolution demanding women’s right to vote, many other attendees thought such a resolution might be a bridge too far. But by 1920, after women had marched, rallied, and faced abuse and arrest, several states had already adopted women’s suffrage.

In 1971, the newly elected Rep. Bella Abzug proposed observing August 26 as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate women’s suffrage, and a joint resolution of Congress made it so. But getting the right to vote cannot be considered a victory if we do not exercise that right. In the 2016 election, only 58 percent of registered voters actually cast a ballot. Although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, she trailed President Obama’s 2008 votes by 3.4 million. Continue reading

The American Health Care Act, Act 2

It’s time to raise your voice.

When the House of Representatives failed to pass the American Health Care Act in March, we thought they would move on to other things. They had already faced the wrath of their constituents in town halls across the country, defending themselves against charges that they were taking people’s health care away.

But a promise is a promise, and the Republicans had promised their voters they would get rid of Obamacare. So they began to negotiate — only instead of negotiating with the moderates in their party and perhaps some Democrats, they chose to work with the tea party faction, who now call themselves, without irony, the Freedom Caucus — which had disparaged the original AHCA as “Obamacare-lite.” If the angry constituents packing town halls to capacity thought the first iteration of the AHCA was too extreme, what on earth made House Republicans think a Freedom Caucus makeover would produce a bill that would inspire less animosity than the first?


We must insist that our representatives remember that health care is a matter of life and death.


So Tom MacArthur, a supposedly moderate Republican who makes Ronald Reagan look liberal, and Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus leader who makes Reagan look like a full-blown socialist, hammered out a deal. The tea party objection to the AHCA was that it didn’t get rid of the ACA’s regulations on insurance companies — such as barring insurers from charging more money to women, older patients, or patients with preexisting conditions, or requiring them to cover essential services like preventive health care without cost to patients, emergency services, prescription drugs, and prenatal care. MacArthur and Meadows’ supposed compromise allows states to apply for waivers to opt out of these essential services, or to allow higher rates for those with preexisting conditions if they set up “high-risk pools.” MacArthur’s constituents were not pleased. Continue reading

What’s in a Name: Repealing the Affordable Care Act

Supporters drop off petitions and rally at Rep. Martha McSally’s Tucson office, March 15, 2017

As this post goes to press, word has come that Speaker Paul Ryan has pulled the American Health Care Act, being unable to muster enough votes to pass it. So we have escaped that disaster, and it appears no attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act will proceed in the near future. But the fight is not over. Aspects of this bill will come up in other forms and we will have to be vigilant. But this is a victory for activism, so many thanks to all of you who made phone calls, demonstrated, told your stories, and reminded the Republicans that destroying something is not the same as governing.

So as you read this, realize what we have escaped, and what we need to watch out for as we proceed.


People were going to die. But the free market would have triumphed.


Republicans called it Obamacare, and used that name as a slur to run against President Obama in 2012. It didn’t win that race for them, but there are enough people in this country for whom the name Obama is enough to damn a program. One woman, whose son lost his job and had his monthly insurance premium fall from $567 to $88, attributes that decrease to the tax credits in Trump and Ryan’s new American Health Care Act. You know, the bill that never passed. In actuality, her son became eligible for a subsidy under Obamacare — the Affordable Care Act — which is still the law.

Paul Ryan and his cronies in the House of Representatives hated the Affordable Care Act before it was written. They hated it even more when it passed and more than that when it was implemented.

What did they hate about it? Continue reading

A Visit to Jeff Flake’s Office: Fighting for Health Care

Jeff Flake, 2014. Photo: Gage Skidmore

January 24 was a national day of action called by the groups MoveOn, Indivisible, and the Working Families Party. The goal was to visit our senators’ offices around the country with concerns about Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments. In Tucson, there was an action outside Sen. John McCain’s office, but instead of joining that, I decided to go by myself to Sen. Jeff Flake’s office to tell someone on his staff my health care story. I was surprised and delighted to find a group from the SaddleBrooke Democratic Club there before me, standing partly inside and partly outside the office, talking specifically about Trump’s cabinet nominees Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos. Someone offered me a letter about DeVos, which I refused, not wanting to dilute my message. I joined the group, and a few others straggled in.


We are stronger when we work together, and there is room for whatever kind of action you are able to take.


Several people spoke to a staff person about education and civil rights. One woman brought up the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how it has helped her family, hoping that Flake would hear people like her who are afraid of what repeal would mean. Someone asked whether Sen. Flake received letters; he had sent in several with no response. There was also talk about what kinds of communications are most likely to receive the senator’s attention. Hint: It was not mass emails sent in by organizations. Personal communications in person or by phone, or personal letters, are more likely to get attention than emails.

A Latina woman sat down with me to get my information. When I asked what her position was, she said this was her first day as an intern in the office. I wished her well and congratulated her, but told her I wanted to speak with someone on the staff. The intern took my name and address, then referred me to a staff member, the same woman who had met with the group from SaddleBrooke. She was interested and friendly. I said I was there to discuss Medicare and Medicaid specifically because they were the reason I was alive today. More than nine years ago, when I had valley fever and developed lumps on my legs, my doctor sent me for a chest x-ray, which showed a spot on my lung. The radiologist recommended a CT scan for a better look at it. Continue reading

Tom Price, Secretary Against Health and Human Services?

Protesters at Sen. McCain's Tucson office, December 20, 2016.

Protesters at Sen. McCain’s Tucson office, December 20, 2016.

On December 20, I took part in a demonstration opposing changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). We gathered outside Sen. John McCain’s Tucson office and told our health care stories. Almost all of us were women, but our stories included issues like the cost of diabetic testing supplies and insulin, the difficulties with employer-provided health plans that don’t allow specialized testing and care outside of their network, the prohibitive cost of medication for chronic conditions like AIDS, and my story of a CT scan (which I could only afford with government assistance) for something unrelated that found my kidney cancer. We were unable to meet with anyone from the office, but the written stories were given to staff and a later meeting was set up.


Tom Price is among those who could do the most harm to the greatest number of Americans.


I begin with this story because Tom Price, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, doesn’t think the government has any place in our health care system. He fits very well among Mr. Trump’s choices to head government departments and agencies, a group of people who don’t believe in the work of their respective departments: Jeff Sessions for attorney general, who was denied a federal judgeship because of his racist comments and judicial overreach as Alabama’s attorney general; Scott Pruitt, who has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 13 times because he opposes regulations and doesn’t believe in climate science, to head that agency; Betsy DeVos for secretary of education, who has no background in education and has spent millions of dollars lobbying to get money away from public schools; and Rex Tillerson, who worked all his life for Exxon, which had a large deal with Russia put on hold by sanctions imposed after Russia annexed Crimea, as secretary of state, with the ability to lift those sanctions. And that’s just a sample.

Since 2009, Price, an orthopedic surgeon, has been a member of the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a group whose members sign a “declaration of independence” renouncing payments from third-party payers, whether government or private insurers. Their journal has published articles opposing taxes on cigarettes, linking abortion and breast cancer, doubting whether HIV causes AIDS, and opposing mandatory vaccinations. They oppose regulating medical practice even as far as hospital peer reviews, and are fiercely for free-market medicine. Continue reading

The Trump Card

Image adapted from photo by Venkataramesh Kommoju

The Republican presidential candidate is in trouble.

It began when a hot mike tape from Access Hollywood surfaced in which Donald Trump told Billy Bush how he just starts kissing women if they meet his standard of beauty, that when you’re a star “they let you. Grab their pussy; you can do anything.” The end of the tape showed Bush asking for hugs from Arianne Zucker, the actress who inspired those remarks, for Trump and himself. In an opinion piece at The Guardian, Jessica Valenti says of this hug, “In that moment, Bush and Trump are in on a joke and Zucker is the punchline.”

Making a dirty joke out of a woman who is totally unaware of what has gone on before is the real obscenity, not the word pussy, yet I have not seen outrage over this hug anywhere near the outrage over the use of the word.


A lewd word drew more criticism than all the abuse of women that came before.


Billy Bush has lost his job because of that tape. NBC has agreed to pay out his contract in order to keep him off the air.

Some Republicans wanted to do the same thing with Trump, but their party rules say this can only be done by the candidate stepping down, which is one thing this candidate will never do. This candidate believes he is always right and those who don’t agree are enemies.

Since the release of the tape, Trump has repeatedly called his comments “locker room talk,” although many athletes have come forward to say it’s not the talk in their locker rooms. Valenti, however, points out that the men were not in a locker room; they were at work. And this is not simply locker room talk; it is boasting about assaulting women. Maybe Trump was thinking of the high school locker room in Steubenville after the drunken party rape of an unconscious girl by high school athletes, who also filmed it. Perhaps the modern equivalent of such boasting is filming sexual assaults and sharing the video on social media. Continue reading