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A funny thing happened in Congress last week on their way to banning abortions after 20 weeks: it didn’t happen.

As you know, the Republican party now runs the entire show in the House of Representatives and the Senate. So, they are anxious to show the nation how they can function in a governing role. On January 22, the pro-life organizations held their annual “March for Life” and, with the thought of throwing their friends a bone on their big day, a vote was scheduled in the House of Representatives on the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (otherwise known as PCUCPA). The bill, which passed the House a few years ago, would ban abortions at 20 weeks because that’s when the fetuses supposedly feel pain.

Everyone figured a bill like that would fly through the House without any problems but then the proverbial crap hit the fan from two unexpected sources. It seems that two Republican members of Congress, Renee Ellmers (NC) and Jackie Walorski (IN), actually spoke up at a private meeting with the leadership and expressed their concerns about this bill. The two members made it clear that they are “pro-life” but they had the guts to stand up to the good ole boys who still run the show and tell them that they had serious problems with the bill.

After a few other members chimed in, the leadership got very nervous and decided to not bring the bill up for a vote on January 22nd. Instead, they passed a lame measure declaring that no federal dollars could be used to pay for abortions, something that’s been done for many, many years. Yawn.

It’s not entirely clear what objections were specifically raised about the bill, but there is conjecture that these two women who represent districts that are becoming more moderate were concerned about looking too extreme. That’s interesting, however, because my political sense tells me that voting to ban abortions after 20 weeks is not “extreme” as most polls show that most Americans would support such a measure. Most people are okay with abortions in the first trimester but as the fetus starts to look more baby-like, they understandably start to get more uncomfortable.

Of course, even if the House of Representatives passed the bill and the Senate followed suit, President Obama still would have vetoed it. So, the question for the GOP leadership was do we force our members to vote on this bill at all? On the one hand, they have pressure from the pro-life groups to do something dramatic but on the other hand, there are many members of Congress who would just rather not vote on any abortion bills at all. I mean, even if you are a right winger, why vote on a bill that will not become law and risk pissing off some of the moderates in your district? Why give my opponents the opportunity to say that the GOP is once again waging a war on women?

I guess this was the message these two women sent to the boys. And the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth.

I think most folks who regularly read my blog will agree that I try to not be too doctrinaire in my thinking about this controversial issue. I try hard to see both sides, much to the chagrin of some of my colleagues in the pro-choice movement. As the Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I regularly met with pro-life leaders in an effort to create an educational dialogue. Whether or not I succeeded is a question mark, but I felt good about what I was doing.

So, now, I’m gonna step out of character for a moment. I’ve got to get something off my mind. Something recently crossed my desk that has totally disgusted me. It’s something perpetuated by some I know/knew in the pro-life movement, someone that I thought at least had a sliver of humanity in her.

Somewhere during the course of her day a short while ago, Ms. Janet Morena of Priests for Life found out that a woman from ENGLAND was 30 weeks pregnant and had travelled to the United States to abort her pregnancy. It seems that a local pro-lifer in Albuquerque, New Mexico – who clearly has nothing else to do – somehow found out that this woman was there seeking an abortion. Imagine that for a minute – some guy hanging out near the clinic sniffing around looking for a vulnerable woman who had just taken the extraordinary step of flying all the way here for such a sad occasion. This pro-lifer even found out, so he says, that she was being pressured by her “radically pro-abortion father.” Meanwhile, the woman’s mother, who opposed the abortion, was seeking help and that’s when Janet became involved.

Like a good, loving Christian, Janet issued an urgent please to pro-lifers in her network:

“Urgent prayer needed! A 20-year-old woman from Great Britain is on her way to New Mexico to abort her baby. She is 30 weeks pregnant. Her mother in Great Britain and her uncle in Spain have reached out to Priests for Life for our help and prayer. She is in Atlanta now, aware that she and her father will be prosecuted when they return home, because it is illegal in the UK to go to another country for an abortion. She is going to pay $12,000 to kill this almost full-term baby at Southwestern Women’s Options in Albuquerque on Tuesday. Please pray for Emily and her baby.”

If they had the money, I have no doubt that PFL would have bought a full page ad in the New York Times. If they had the name of the woman, they would have plastered the name of the woman all over the place in an effort to “help” her.

I have no idea what the situation was with the pregnancy. But if she were, in fact, 30 weeks pregnant, either her life was in danger or there was some kind of fetal abnormality. Of course, some in Janet’s movement no doubt assumed that she was having the abortion because she couldn’t fit into her prom dress. They would never put themselves in her shoes and think about the incredibly difficult situation the woman was in and how excruciating the decision must have been. No, the pro-lifers just had to try to intervene in this most private of moments.

But there’s another chapter to this story.

I recently learned that the woman had had her abortion – and my first reaction was a silent cheer. “We won!” I thought for a sick moment. I was suddenly part of the war again. I ultimately came to my senses but…

Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

GOP out of bedroomA US News and World Report article (12/31/14), What the Battle Over Abortion Will Look Like in 2015, should remind all of us concerned about reproductive justice that Republicans will control the Senate and the House of Representatives beginning this month. As much as Republicans claim to favor small and less government, we all know that when it comes to issues relative to human sexuality, they espouse as much government intrusion and regulation as possible. Although many Republicans are pro-choice, the party continues to allow its extreme right wing and Tea Party darlings to steer the votes and priorities. Reproductive decisions, sexual orientation, and even personal sexual activity preferences are of greater concern to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and friends than ensuring that every child has food to eat, that people are working and earning a fair wage, or that the U.S. government is protecting business from cyber-attacks, and so on. It makes no sense, but it is a reality.  It is reasonable to expect more attacks on reproductive rights in 2015.

Rick BrattinThe Republicans are on a roll. Just last month Missouri Republican Rick Brattin reintroduced a bill to require women seeking abortion to get permission from the father of the zygote/embryo/fetus.  According to Mother Jones, Brattin’s bill would exempt “legitimate rape” victims. For a pregnancy resulting from rape to be exempted and the claim of rape “legitimate,” a police report must have been filed immediately after the rape. Oh yes, the Republicans are on a roll, seemingly even including distinctions about rape – Todd Akin style. Always claiming that the legislation is to “protect women,” these mostly male representatives apparently believe they know more about what is best for women’s health than, well, legitimate women.

Thomas State legis LoCPro-choice Americans have got to step up to the plate in 2015.  They must resolve to at least let their elected
representatives know their views. As fellow blogger and former lobbyist Pat Richards can confirm, it is very easy to contact members of Congress.  One website that provides direct contact information of each congressional member is https://www.congress.gov/members. For state and local legislative representatives, The Library of Congress Thomas website provides links to each state legislature. Pro-choice people need to take a page from the playbook of the zealously anti-choice organizations like violence-promoting Operation Rescue and the various evangelical groups that pressure church members to attend sessions to write emails and make phone calls en masse. It can make a difference in the extent to which a member of Congress maintains interest in sponsoring or defending restrictive anti-abortion or other family planning legislation.

During my years directing a clinic, countless state and federal legislators shared with me that the primary reason they hesitated to have a stronger public pro-choice position was because they seldom heard from their pro-choice constituents, but they constantly heard from the anti-abortion groups. That needs to finally change – there is too much to lose if it does not.  While NARAL and Planned Parenthood supporters often initiate outreach activities, they simply cannot compete with the church-sanctioned and sponsored groups in terms of numbers. It is also worth noting that politicians actually like to hear the views of individuals speaking from the heart instead of an organized script.

minds changeAs much as we may see reproductive rights as an issue in which people do not change their positions, there are studies that illustrate that people do change their minds about polarizing issues such as abortion and gay rights. Minds change through personal experience or learning about the firsthand experience of someone they know, love, or in some way care for. Minds can change when we interact with others with whom we share general values and recognize that on polarizing issues with which we disagree, things are not so black and white, all or none propositions. No one should be fooled into believing that when minds change about abortion it is only to the anti-choice position. National Right to Life has done some great messaging in that regard. In fact, pro-choice groups could do the same.

Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera/Photo from Trust.org

In 2015 we can probably expect to see more legislation proposed to ban abortion as early as 12 weeks, more verbatim scripting for medical professionals to impose on patients regardless if true, and more unnecessary and invasive ultrasound or other testing. Before you know it, every woman who miscarries will be subjected to a law enforcement report and inquiry. Think that sounds extreme? Just take a few minutes to learn about Maria Teresa Rivera in El Salvador where all abortion is banned. She did not even know she was pregnant when she miscarried, but the judge did not believe her and sentenced Rivera to 40 years in prison for aggravated murder. Each and every anti-abortion bill proposed in the U.S. under the guise of women’s health is another step towards a total ban.

Time is of the essence for reproductive justice. When and whether to have children is a personal choice. Abortion is a personal choice in which women do not benefit from, and can be harmed by, governmental interference. Medical professionals do not need the input of politicians in the private relationships they have with patients. Please, be it resolved that you will share your pro-choice position and dedication to reproductive justice with your elected representatives beginning this first month of 2015.

A few weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control announced that the rate of abortions in this country was at its lowest level since they started tracking abortion statistics. That’s good news, right?

Truth be told, when I was lobbying on behalf of abortion clinics in the 1990’s, I always got an interesting reaction from the owners, administrators and doctors of the clinics as we watched their numbers go down year after year. Usually, it was usually the owner who would call me and ask “are everyone else’s numbers down?” They would feel a little better when I assured them that it was a national trend. We’d then spend time speculating on what was driving the numbers down.

Of course, if you own an abortion clinic, like the owner of any business, you’re always aware of your income since you have to pay the bills and prefer to – dare I say it – make a profit. So, on an almost daily basis you are watching the number of paying customers who are coming to your clinic. Of course, the anti-abortion folks have always turned that around by suggesting that the owners are just blood sucking parasites looking to make big bucks by “killing babies.”

And, let’s face it. I did meet some owners who seemed to be focused on making money to the point where I wondered if they were cutting some serious corners. But, putting aside the proverbial bad apples that exist in every field, it was always clear to me that the people who opened up these clinics and ran them for many years really did care about making sure that women had access to abortion services. Every day they and their staff would hear the stories of women who felt the need to terminate their pregnancy and, while it was usually a sad situation, the clinics just tried to do their best to help the women.

So, when an owner of a clinic sees the number of patients decreasing dramatically, they will surely think about how they are going to make a living. But they no doubt are also thinking about having to close down what has become their life’s work. From the very beginning they knew that the ultimate goal was fewer and fewer women needing abortion services, but it’s a harsh reality when that really starts to happen.

A recent article in the British publication, “The Guardian,” has generated some interesting conversations on the Internet lately.

In that article, long time abortion doctor Curtis Boyd is quoted as saying “Am I killing? Yes, I am. I know that.” Apparently, he later said he was taken out of context but many in the anti-abortion movement are crowing to the rooftops, declaring victory, citing how this doctor has finally blown the whistle.
What a bunch of hooey!

Curtis Boyd is just one in a long line of doctors and activists who have “admitted” the same. Indeed, in 1997, when I was the Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I was quoted in the New York Times – a rather well known paper – as saying that “abortion is a form of killing.” The next day I did get a number of calls from my pro-choice colleagues who were not too happy, but when I asked them if I had said anything inaccurate, they stumbled.

So, let’s get this straight. A woman comes into an abortion clinic with a fetus/a baby or whatever the heck you wanna call it and it is a living organism. She goes to the clinic because she does not want it to grow which is what would normally happen left unattended. She wants to stop the growth and start with a clean slate, both physically and mentally. Her goal is simple: when she leaves the clinic, she does not want to be carrying that fetus/baby.

So, what word would you use to describe exactly what the doctor does? When the doctor took the affirmative medical steps to prevent the pregnancy from growing, did he/she “terminate” the organism or did he “kill” it? Obviously, the word “kill” is a bit harsher that then more acceptable “terminate.” In the end, I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer.

But to me, there is a bigger issue here. And that is that whatever Doctor Boyd, the anti-abortion movement or I call the procedure, it probably makes no difference to the woman. I’ve been in a clinic where I’ve heard women use many different words to describe what they are doing of their own volition and, yes, I’ve heard women use the word “kill.” As an aside, they also use the word “baby”.

The battle over what we call this medical procedure doesn’t mean diddly squat to the average women. When I made my rather public admission in 1997, I can guarantee you that there was not one woman in this country who was shocked to hear how I described the procedure. Women who have abortions know exactly what they are doing, they know what they want/need to accomplish and the terminology is just something that those with an investment in the “abortion wars” love to perpetuate for PR reasons.

What a waste of time.

Election Day.

Oy vey.

So, now what?

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know by now that the Republican Party now controls both houses of Congress. And there is now an intense debate within the GOP about whether or not their party should work with President Obama or not. Of course, Tea Partyers like Ted Cruz want confrontation, they want 100 votes on repealing Obamacare, they want to close down the government if they don’t get their way. The new Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, is really not interested in confrontations because he realizes that the GOP now has to govern if they want their polling numbers to improve (although they really only have one way to go and that is up).

But Mitch is smart and he knows he has to throw a bone or two to his right wing and recently he threw the first bone. Without much fanfare, McConnell recently told them that he will allow the pro-lifers in his party to have a few votes. Specifically, he has assured them that come January, he will let them offer a bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks.

As we know, the vast majority of women obtain abortions in the first trimester. Still, there are thousands of women who feel the need to have an abortion after 20 weeks. Up until the 24th week, they can go to a clinic (if they can find one) and terminate their pregnancy without any questions asked. After that, the circumstances have to be more compelling.

This bill will pass the House of Representatives easily. The question in the Senate is if any pro-choice Senator will filibuster the measure? If they do, then the pro-lifers would have to get 60 votes to pass it. At this point, they may be close to that number but we’re not sure. Then, of course, even if they pass the bill the President gets his shot at it. If the bill is passed on its own, I’d like to think that Obama would veto it. Of course, he would not get into the reasons why women need to have access to abortions that late. He would just argue that it’s unconstitutional under Roe v Wade. Indeed, it would be interesting to see what the pro-choicers argue. Remember they had a similar rhetorical battle when it came to “partial birth abortions” and they totally missed that up because they did not know how to talk about those abortions that occurred between 20-24 weeks. Way too touchy for them. So, they came up with the “these are used in only rare circumstances” line and ultimately got caught with their pants down.

If I were a pro-life lobbyist, I wouldn’t waste my time on this bill. Instead, I would do what they’re doing (successfully) in the states – pass clinic regulations under the guise of “protecting women.” We know by now that such regulations have successfully closed a bunch of clinics in Texas and elsewhere. And I would attach this language to a “must pass” bill like the budget. Imagine the havoc that would ensue if they passed the “Abortion Clinic Regulation Act.”

In addition to passing legislation, they are going to upset the applecart even more by holding hearings on certain issues. When does life begin? Should abortion doctors be required to have admitting privileges in local hospitals? Should the Congress ban sex selection abortions? They now chair the committees, they’re getting ready to go.

So, abortion is going to be one of the issues where Mitch McConnell tries to assuage the right wing extremists. Pro-choicers are going to have their hands full.

I am sitting in a hotel room in southern Oregon. Several days ago, I flew out here to attend the funeral of my father in law.

When I got married over thirty years ago, I learned very quickly that my mother in law was a rabid anti-abortion advocate. We never talked about the issue but I recall once seeing one of those “fetus feet” lapel buttons on her jacket. Also, when we got married we flew out to Oregon for a reception and the day before my mother in law sent a notice of our marriage to the local paper. At that time she knew that I was with the National Coalition of Abortion Providers but in the announcement she noted only that I was “a lobbyist for a public interest group.” The irony, of course, was that when I got to the reception a number of people came up and asked me which “public interest group” I was with.

My father in law, on the other hand, was more circumspect about his position. He was a very independent thinker but, being a hotshot in the military, he was also very careful about weighing in on the controversial issues of the day. Still, there was one day about ten years ago when he let slip his opinion, which was that he was pro-choice. I never shared that information with anyone.

Then, about 5 years ago, he suddenly got baptized in the Catholic Church. He was in decent health at the time so it wasn’t one of those last minute, cover your ass conversions. I understand he took his conversation very seriously, which I admire.

At his funeral service on Thursday, when the priest was doing his homily, he urged the congregation to do a number of things in my father in law’s memory. “Help seek peace in the world,” “contribute to those charities that feed the hungry,” etc. Then, he added “pledge to protect all life from the moment of conception.”

Whoa! Wait a second. What did I just hear???

I was a little stunned, having recalled our conversation from years past. Then I wondered if he had really made the total conversion, buying into everything the Church espouses. Later that day I asked a few of his family members if they knew the priest was going to say that and they all said they didn’t. Some were ticked off, apparently in on the “secret” that the deceased had been pro-choice.

Now, it’s possible that he had had conversations with the priest before he died and actually did convert to the pro-life point of view. But I seriously doubt it. So, it just makes me wonder if the priest was taking advantage of the moment to put in a little plug for the fetuses? If he was doing that – shame on him.


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