January 13, 2012
September 16, 2014
There has been much discussion about birth control pills being made available over-the-counter (OTC), primarily by Republicans as an “answer” to the concerns about the inclusion of contraception in the Affordable Healthcare Act (AHA) and the contention that government should not be paying for birth control. Oh, yeah…and maybe a way to score points with women voters.
OTC birth control pills have been discussed in nonpartisan forums, including by professional medical organizations that have supported conditional OTC initiatives. Democrats now respond that it is not a good idea, leading to notions that their opposition is due to Republican support. There are also claims that women’s healthcare providers, such as Planned Parenthood, have a financial interest in preventing OTC access. I always hate to see such worthy debates become so mired in political posturing. What were once valid views that could be tweaked and put into public policy are now referred to as political party or ideological positions.
At first blush, it seems reasonable. After all, Plan B emergency contraception – the morning after pill – is now available OTC without age restrictions. Recall that there was Republican opposition to Plan B, particularly whether women under age 17 should have access. President Obama and then-Secretary of Health Sebelius favored an age requirement while most Democrats wanted it available to all sexually active women who experienced failed birth control or something horrible like rape. Eventually, science won. Nonetheless, political gamesmanship governed the debate over Plan B and it now appears to be governing the debate over OTC birth control pills, but with Republicans promoting it and Democrats rejecting it. As our individual positions evolve, there are certain questions we should ask and facts we should know regardless of our political preferences.
Why did Republicans oppose OTC access for Plan B? Some believed that by making it OTC, it would affect or encourage sexuality activity among young teens. In 2004, the FDA considered the OTC application “unapprovable” for that reason. Safety did not matter, nor did the recommendations of professional medical organizations. Sexual behavior was a concern but financial behavior was not – although the high cost of a single pill, as much as $50, for emergency contraception would substantially reduce the likelihood that young teen women would even be able to“abuse” or misuse Plan B was not considered; only immoral sexual behavior was worthy of deliberation in some political circles.
Since Republicans opposed OTC Plan B based on moral and not scientific reasoning, how can they support OTC birth control pills now given that it might indicate women are, yikes, having sex? The answer here is: fill in the blank. There are some who genuinely, however foolishly, hold the belief that the government should not pay for any birth control except maybe sterilization. Many others, like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindall, claim that it is “hogwash” that Republicans do not believe in contraception… that anyone over 18 should be able to get contraception OTC so that those individuals and businesses with a “religious objection” will not have to pay. What is noteworthy is that the intent of OTC birth control is not to help women – it is to “help” those with specific religious views.
How can Republicans who support personhood amendments and stringent anti-abortion legislation support OTC birth control? Politics, plain and simple. It is probably unwise to even remotely consider that they have a change of heart or that they have scientific awareness about how the pill functions.
Why are we not hearing from National Right to Life and morality-policing organizations, such as Focus on the Family, that adamantly opposed Plan B and frequently lied that it was an abortifacient? Another interesting question. It is arguable that as much as some Republicans claim that putting birth control pills OTC would take the politics out of contraception, such organizations are simply biding time to get through the midterm elections and get their candidates in office. Later, if birth control pills were OTC approved, then they would come out, well-organized to mislead the public ala Hobby Lobby style seeking to ban some pills because they are abortifacients, imposing age restrictions, pushing for legislation for parental and spousal consent, or prohibiting birth control from being a reimbursable expense under flexible medical spending plans offered through many employers. I am pessimistic that approving birth control pills for OTC access would ever happen without the intervention of the morality policing groups.
Why did Democrats support OTC Plan B? Unplanned pregnancy is a public health and social issue – it is a significant factor in predicting poverty for women and children. Taking birth control pills regularly was and is not an option for all women due to contraindications in health, lack of insurance coverage, affordability, and side effects. Other effective contraceptive choices, like the IUD or hormonal implants, were/are cost-prohibitive for many women while other methods are more likely to fail. Plan B offered a safe way for women to address failed contraception or unprotected intercourse and, consequently, prevent an unplanned pregnancy and birth into negative social and economic circumstances. To date, there is only evidence of Plan B helping women and no evidence of it being misused or used in place of regular contraception.
Why are Democrats opposed to OTC birth control pills? It would be disingenuous to say that Democrats are opposed only for legitimate concerns about women’s health. Of course they do not appreciate Republican support for OTC birth control! Framed correctly and without Tea Party-ish nuances, by gosh, women voters might just buy into the idea that Republicans are not out to get women! I do not expect Democrat candidates to agree, so, now that I have said it, let me identify legitimate concerns.
Requiring a prescription ensures that women receive wellness checks for health issues that can arise or become pronounced due to the pill. For younger women in particular, it also ensures screening for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy prevention counseling. The most significant reason to oppose OTC birth control pills is economic for women. Once a drug is OTC approved, insurance will end coverage. Thus, women of means will continue to have access and even appreciate the convenience of OTC. Poor and young women will be hurt the most. The Republican argument that it will increase competition and decrease price is misleading and could prove wrong. Additionally, OTC birth control pills would not help women who benefit most from other contraceptive methods like the IUD. What about women who need the pill for medical reasons unrelated to preventing pregnancy? They may not be able to afford the up to $120 monthly tab either.
We should all favor improving and increasing access to birth control pills and other methods for women. It must be done the right way for the right reasons. Abortion is legal but not accessible to the most vulnerable women. If birth control pills are OTC approved, it does not mean they will be accessible and it could even lead to other forms of birth control no longer receiving insurance coverage. Voters concerned about women’s health and reproductive justice should think hard about Republican support for OTC birth control. Then they should contact their elected representatives about a bill to make Viagra and Cialis OTC – just to see if male legislators think men are intelligent and strong enough to assess usage and that they can safely assume the risk of, say, a four-hour erection. Only then might we learn the authenticity of Republican concern for women’s health and that their support for OTC birth control pills is not judging the sexual behavior of women in some way.
September 8, 2014
Sunday’s New York Times ran an interesting story about Wendy Davis, the Democratic State Senator from Texas who is running for Governor in November. Yeah, I laughed also when I read about a Democratic trying to get that seat.
Many of you might recall that Ms. Davis gained national attention last summer when for more than eleven hours she conducted a filibuster against proposed legislation that would have resulted in the closure of most of Texas’s abortion clinics. Ultimately, she did not succeed and the legislation became law. It is now being reviewed by the courts but some damage has already been done because several clinics have already closed.
Ms. Davis made headlines last summer because she was/is one of the few politicians in the country who had the guts to stand up and take a vigorous stand on the most controversial issue of our time. And she did it in a very conservative and hostile setting. It goes without saying that her filibuster ticked off a lot of her colleagues but what started out as a quiet parliamentary maneuver suddenly blossomed into a national cause célèbre as the social media spread the story. The women’s groups (obviously) hailed her as a champion, which I suppose got to her ego a little and thus she decided to take on the big boys in the Governor’s race.
Now, Ms. Davis has written the obligatory book about her life and the Times reported that in the book she admits to having had two abortions. The first one was after experiencing an ectopic pregnancy and the second was for “medical reasons.”
I’ve been involved in politics for a long time and I’m trying to think through the benefits, if any, of “coming out” about these abortions. Granted, during her filibuster she admitted the same at some point but that information seemed to get drowned out by the image of this woman fighting the powers that be in the legislature. But now it’s a headline in the New York Times: “Texas Candidate Reveals Personal Tale of Two Abortions.”
For the pro-choicers, they’re already thrilled that she is running for higher office and the fact that she actually had two abortions cannot make them any more excited or generous towards her. They’re in it for all it’s worth right now, their energy level is as high as it can go. And, of course, no one is “for” abortion, right?
On the other side, I haven’t seen much response from the anti-abortion side. No one that I can see has actually come out and condemned the abortions. Maybe that’s because they were both for “medical” reasons and even some anti-abortion people are a little more tolerant when it comes to those abortions. Indeed, her opponent, Greg Abbott, had a pretty good statement: “The unspeakable pain of losing a child is beyond tragic for any parent. As a father, I grieve for the Davis family and for the loss of life.” I think he is playing this very well.
Abortions for medical reasons, according to national polls, are more acceptable than the “convenience” abortions, as the anti-abortion crowd calls them. And Mr. Abbott’s careful response shows he is very savvy politically. And the irony would be if Ms. Davis’ revelation actually helped her opponent who could have blasted her but instead chose the compassionate response. This should be an interesting last two months of this campaign!
August 26, 2014
Abortion is legal – if you don’t like it, amend the Constitution.
Abortion is not wrong.
Abortion can be sad.
Abortion can be a difficult choice – but not always.
Abortion is a form of killing in that there is something alive in her body and after the abortion it is not alive.
Abortion doctors go to their office every day thinking they are helping women and knowing that they could be killed in an instant. Worse, they may think they are safe going to a church or a social function, but they are not.
Abortions in this country are decreasing.
Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the world but, because it is surgery, there is always the possibility that a woman could be harmed or even die.
Abortions cost almost the same as they did when abortion was legalized in 1973.
Abortion doctors are not getting rich and many clinics are closing because the number of patients is decreasing.
Abortion doctors have their personal limits in terms of how far in the pregnancy they will perform the abortion.
Abortion clinic staff believe they are helping woman and they also can be killed or maimed in an instant.
Abortion protestors mean well in that they truly believe they are “saving a life” and they have a right to express those views publicly.
Abortion clinics are for the most part clean and safe but there are some abortion clinics that should be shut down. There are also some abortion doctors who should have their licenses revoked.
Abortion protestors can be particularly ugly to women who are entering clinics but many of them just stand outside of a clinic and pray quietly.
Abortion can be prevented by abstinence, birth control and adoption.
Abortion advocates need to be more candid about the abortion procedure and anti-abortion advocates need to stop exaggerating the facts.
Abortion clinic counselors have different approaches to how much counseling a woman should get.
August 10, 2014
In a recent blog, Pat Richards wrote about the term, “pro-choice,” agreeing with others that it is out of date. After seeing that last week’s listserves, blogs, and news forums I subscribe to had discussed the use of the pro-choice label for those who want to preserve abortion rights – actually, all reproductive freedoms – I decided to jump into the healthy discussion with a few thoughts of my own.
A New York Times article (7/28/14) titled, “Advocates Shun ‘Pro-Choice’ to Expand Message,” is quoted frequently. Planned Parenthood representatives were “shunning” the continued use of the pro-choice label out of a desire to more accurately reflect that “women’s health,” and not just abortion, are under attack. A January, 2013 article in Buzzfeed summarized polling data collected in 2012 that served as the impetus for Planned Parenthood to begin moving away from the pro-choice label. Questioning if the move would really help the reproductive rights movement as a whole, The Atlantic also published, “The End of Pro-Choice: Will ‘No Labels’ Really Help the Abortion Debate?” All articles noted that Planned Parenthood does not have a new label of preference – without a replacement or multi-organizational agreement, it is highly unlikely that all organizations will opt to avoid or stop using “pro-choice.” It would be a logistical challenge for organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice America and, really, whatever one thinks of the term, it is not leaving the American political vernacular anytime soon.
As a leader in providing quality, comprehensive, and affordable healthcare to women and a political force for the same, Planned Parenthood strives to effectively communicate with those it serves – medically and politically. Thus, it is not surprising that Planned Parenthood leadership began espousing a move away from the pro-choice label towards a greater emphasis on individual situations. An individual situation is what first put abortion on the minds of many average Americans who otherwise might not have had a position. In 1962, Arizona resident Sherri Finkbine sought an abortion after learning that the thalidomide she took for morning sickness caused severe and fatal deformities to babies. She ended up getting the abortion in Sweden after significant and costly publicity. A Gallup Poll at the time reported that most Americans supported her decision and during the following years, the majority of men and women believed abortion was a personal decision between women and their physicians. Sherri Finkbine’s situation is one of millions of individual situations involving reproductive decision-making that must rely on the freedoms advocated by the pro-choice movement. Good for Planned Parenthood for embarking upon that message. As a former clinic director, I know in real terms that no two abortion patients can be framed in the same box. Ever.
After the Finkbine publicity, “abortion” became acceptable, so much so that activists used “pro-abortion” when discussing legislation to legalize it. According to a 1990 William Saffire column, “pro-choice” was first used in the context of abortion in a 1975 Wall Street Journal article by political writer Alan L. Otten; he used “right-to-life” for those opposed to abortion. “Pro-life” was used primarily in the context of anti-war commentary. In 1976, the New York Times used it to describe plans for anti- abortion-related activities led by pastors. No one likes to be “anti” anything; it makes sense that “pro-life” met pastoral, political, and marketing goals just as “pro-choice” did for abortion rights at the time. Language always changes as the need arises whether political, logical, or definitional.
“Pro-choice” may seem outdated or confused. Some vibrant discussion has transpired in the comment sections of articles and blogs, as well as on sites like the Abortion.com Facebook page, in which there seems to be a general thought that, yes, the term/label may be confusing or meaningless to younger people, but what is needed is more aggressive education about what choice really does mean. Some believe that the pro-choice movement has behaved too rationally as the anti-choice movement bullied politicians so successfully that they instilled fear in them. In other words, all that “pro-life” is about is the fetus, not the woman or her family, and not about life once born. There is also a lot of agreement with something Pat Richards mentioned in his blog – “abortion” (A B O R T I O N) needs to be mentioned unapologetically, without shame and as a legitimate, viable facet of reproductive healthcare.
While many may think of the past 40 years as the most active for the pro-choice movement, the fight for healthcare, and especially to access birth control and safe abortion, has been fought by women of generations long gone. The Comstock Act of 1873 banned the possession and/or distribution of goods or mere information about abortion and contraception. “Therapeutic abortion boards” were established at hospitals in the 1950s for the purpose of approving abortions on a case-by-case basis. The formation of the Jane Collective in Chicago in 1969 was to help women access abortion. Yes, women have always had to fight to get – and keep – their reproductive freedoms. Along the way, the language has changed, and it will again. Young women in particular must join the fight for reproductive freedom before it is too late. The erosion of those freedoms over the past several years should have prompted at least a broad, multi-organizational discussion about how to improve pro-choice messaging long ago.
Anti-abortion advocates and organizations are also writing or blogging about the pro-choice label discussion with spinful abandon. It is probably nice for them to get their minds off of GOP talking points about rape or the ouster of the Georgia affiliate of the National Right to Life for being so “extreme” that it excluded abortion for rape and incest (politically inefficient perhaps?). On the other hand, as we know too well, we must not let their spin become the message about this discussion. Honest people who operate with facts they are not. Pro-choice, pro-abortion, pro-women’s health, pro-individual freedom – ultimately, actions count more than words.
August 3, 2014
Regular readers of my award-winning column know that for many years I have been saying that the term “choice” does not cut it anymore. I’ve argued that the term does not resonate with people anymore, especially the younger generation that. And it has been co-opted by numerous banks, telephone companies and the like. Everyone has climbed on the “choice” bandwagon and supporters of legal abortion have suffered as a consequence.
Well, there is finally some movement on this end. But it’s the usual good news, bad news scenario.
According to the New York Times, the term “pro-choice” has “fallen from favor, a victim of changed times and generational preferences,” which is exactly what I’ve been saying. ”This is particularly true of a generation of women who have lived with legal abortion since they were born.” The change “is something that we have been talking about for several years,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. “I just think the ‘pro-choice’ language doesn’t really resonate particularly with a lot of young women voters. We’re really trying to focus on, what are the real things you’re going to lose? Sometimes that’s rights. Sometimes that’s economic or access to health care for you or for your kids.” No pithy phrase has yet to replace “pro-choice” but, according to the article, activists are considering “women’s health” and “economic security.”
And that is the bad news.
For about forty years, the most controversial issue of our time has been about whether or not ABORTION should be legal. Numerous groups have been formed for opponents and proponents of abortion rights. Supreme Court decisions, books, movies, and endless columns and opinion pieces have been devoted to ABORTION. But the groups that advocate for this right have for too long cloaked their message under the label “pro-choice.” ABORTION has been this big dead elephant in the middle of the room and our side has run away from it. This has confused or at least failed to influence a new generation to the point where we continue to lose support for the basic right. Not to mention the endless attacks – many successful – on access to this right.
And what is the result of our not talking about ABORTION? It leaves a pretty big vacuum in the public discourse that has been successfully filled by opponents of the procedure. Thus, there remains today a very negative stigma about abortion – and the women who receive them.
So, while I am thrilled that our friends are getting ready to ditch the term “pro-choice,” it looks like they are still not ready to talk about the real issue: ABORTION. And that will only help perpetuate the abortion stigma. And that plain sucks.
July 7, 2014
In the past, I have made reference to a very helpful website named http://www.abortion.com. I do some consulting for the owners of that site, which is an Internet directory of abortion clinics across the country. Owners pay a monthly fee to be listed, just like the Yellow Pages.
The site has been around for a good ten years, if not more and, over the last few years, I’ve watched as some of the original clinics on the list have dropped off the site. One reason is that the number of abortions is declining (for whatever reason) and these offices are businesses so if they do not have the requisite number of patients to pay their expenses, they try to cut back on the amount of money they are spending. Some just close altogether.
Then there are the clinics that have closed because their state legislature has enacted restrictive regulations (under the totally ridiculous guise of “ensuring the safety of women”) that have forced them to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep their doors open. In Texas alone, I count at least eight clinics that have shut their doors in the last year because of their restrictive laws.
Now, the anti-abortion folks are no doubt applauding these developments. Indeed, I subscribe to LIFENEWS, an anti-abortion electronic newsletter, and every time a clinic closes they shout to the mountain tops (and always give credit to the anti-abortion movement) that another clinic has closed. And the assumption is that when a clinic closes, there are fewer abortions. More babies are saved! Praise the Lord!
Out of curiosity, I spent the last two weeks talking to the owners of those remaining clinics. And guess what’s happening, folks? The remaining clinics in Texas are being – in the words of one doctor – “swamped” with patients. Hmmmm, now ain’t that interesting?
Yep, several clinic doctors and/or owners told me that the number of patients they are seeing has increased since the other clinics shut their doors. And it stands to reason. That’s because the bottom line is that if a woman has an unwanted pregnancy and does not want to carry it to term, then she will seek an abortion. And no matter where she lives, she will get it.
The number of abortion facilities has decreased, no doubt about it, but the ones that are remaining – especially in rural areas like Texas – are seeing the number of abortion patients increase. They also report that more patients are coming from longer distances.
Of course, the anti-abortion advocates – who express their concern about the “safety of women seeking abortions” – don’t give a rat’s ass if a woman has to travel a few extra hundred miles to get to that clinic in western Texas. Who cares if she has to miss two days of work, travel across a state by herself on a bus, pay for someone to watch her kids?
The real strategy is to make it financially impossible for them to get an abortion but at least in Texas I’m not sure the strategy is working. And the irony is that these oh-so-compassionate anti-abortion folks are making it even more dangerous and expensive for women to obtain a legal abortion.
June 28, 2014
Upon hearing the news that the Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts law that provided a 35 foot buffer zone prohibiting anti-abortion protesters from harassing patients entering medical facilities that provide abortions, many of us were livid. The decision was unanimous. With at least three highly progressive judges on the Supreme Court, a unanimous ruling on an issue of this magnitude could only indicate that the law was flawed, regardless if it was effective at preventing harassment of women entering medical facilities that performed abortion. If the Massachusetts law was flawed, the Supreme Court ruling was flawed for sure and arguably seemed to assure an audience for abortion opponents.
In an interview with NPR, the lead plaintiff in the case, Eleanor McCullen, stated, “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.” Often described as mild-mannered and pleasant, McCullen has made the same or similar statements in other interviews without a single reporter challenging the truth of her comment or the actual intent of her activities. It is as if her grandmotherly disposition and pronounced religiosity render her words as indisputable.
The ruling is final. The justices did not consider the rights of women to get abortions without acrimonious protesters. They considered only free speech on public streets and sidewalks. The 35 feet of the zone was an issue in part. That may seem like a lot of space to some. However, as one man shared in an essay on Time.com, if you are the already traumatized couple going to an appointment to abort a wanted pregnancy, 35 feet is not large enough. Nor is it large enough for any other woman trying to access abortion without interference. Would 20 feet have been small enough? Five? Why are zones around the Supreme Court and other agencies valid but those to protect women seeking abortions are not? After all, the history of violence against abortion facilities is recent and significant to safety concerns.
Perhaps Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General defending the buffer zone, could have concomitantly pursued a case against McCullen and Company concerning their interference with the right of women to privately receive constitutionally protected abortions. If that was ever a possibility, Coakley would have had difficulty finding a plaintiff willing to be at risk for violence or public scorn from anti-choice zealots.
A Boston Globe article about the Supreme Court decision quoted Suffolk University Law School Professor Jessica Silbey, “They’ve [Supreme Court] approved the idea of this kind of law, just not the mechanism [...] It was too broad.” Is Silbey correct? The article also quoted legislators and other leaders; clearly, great effort will be made to respond to the decision quickly, effectively, and, hopefully, with a solid legal foundation. We have no choice but to accept that legal authorities will keep their promises and assurances and that the pro-choice community will hold them accountable to doing so.
All of us want free speech protected. But this is where so many of us feel anger and frustration. Sweet, grandmotherly Eleanor McMullen is a liar, as are all other anti-abortion zealots involved in the case. Those who spend their time hanging out at medical facilities at which abortion is provided are not known for talking or walking “gently” and “lovingly.” Deeming themselves “sidewalk counselors” they are known for talking and walking judgmentally with hostility and hurling epithets or accusations as they attempt to force religion-based/unscientific material on people, mostly women, entering the facilities. Over the 35 years that I have been involved with the pro-choice cause, I have never seen a patient entering a facility seek out or respond favorably to the “sidewalk counseling.” What is a “sidewalk counselor?” What are their credentials? Call them what they really are: religious zealots and fetus worshippers. Buffer zones do not end their free speech. Instead, buffer zones impede zealots from trying to force their opinions and preferences on people entering a medical facility. Buffer zones reduce the potential of physical harm to patients and their families or friends.
Freedom of speech was never impeded for the anti-abortion zealots. The buffer zones merely thwarted their intent to impose their views on others. There is no evidence that they stopped a single abortion, albeit there is evidence that they delayed abortions as women felt intimated and rearranged their appointments to avoid the protesting, fetus-worshipping zealots.
Other bloggers, columnists, and reporters will adequately cover the ruling, some with great passion. Rachel Maddow also did an excellent analysis on her June 26 program. Take the time to read or listen to the facts to better understand how this unanimous ruling could have happened. It is important to set aside whatever we feel, think, or believe about the SCOTUS ruling and focus hard on stopping the zealots once and for all through the tactics of proactive campaigns that properly portray their dangerous zealotry, disregard for honesty, and intent to stop women from their constitutionally protected reproductive freedoms. McCullen and Company are not nice church-going, compassionate people who care about women and babies. They are indeed zealots who place such value on the fetus that they are willing to endanger the lives of women seeking abortions and those who help them. As hard as it is to believe, it appears that McMullen’s grandmotherly ways scammed the Supreme Court.
NOTE: If you are interested, this link will take you to an article concerning why the Colorado buffer zone law will remain intact: http://durangoherald.com/article/20140626/NEWS01/140629654/0/NEWS01/Colo%E2%80%99s-abortion-protest-law-stands-