January 13, 2012
April 14, 2014
Discussing the nuances of the case of Marlise Munoz, the legally dead pregnant Texas woman kept alive for weeks over her and her family’s wishes, my recent conversation with a pro-life friend continually circled back to one question of his: “But why wouldn’t she want the baby?”
Of course, the answer seemed obvious to me, but later I reflected more on his question, and realized why the concept seemed so absurd to him. To most pro-lifers, I think, it is incomprehensible that a woman who initially wanted a pregnancy might want to later terminate for almost any reason.
Abortion, after all, is for those women, way over there, the ones you’ve heard about but never met, despite the fact that 3 in 10 American women will have an abortion by age 45, and that 65% of women who had abortions in 2008 were Protestant or Catholic. To pro-lifers, it’s the domain of “amoral” women making an “irrational” decision they’ll regret when they get to know what having a child is truly like, despite the fact that most women who have abortions already have at least one child. And they claim it’s physically and psychologically harmful, despite the much lower risk of physical complications compared to pregnancy, and the thorough debunking of the largest study purported to show a causal link between abortion and mental illness.
None of these claims are new or uncommon, and none are really reflective of reality. But for those who desperately cling to them, the eminently insulting pro-life motto of recent years, Women Deserve Better, is perhaps more understandable (if not more palatable). But what explains the huge dichotomy between reality—at least, what little of it we can interpret from statistics—and the pro-life mythos of the woman who chooses abortion?
Well, for one thing, these stereotypes are pervasive because that’s what we tend to see. What else except the self-evident “truth” of such claims would explain the dearth of stories about elective abortion in the media—stories that humanize it and display its depth as an issue? A recent analysis of television and movies that portrayed abortion showed that 9% of women who had or even contemplated an abortion died, a gross over-exaggeration of the procedure’s risk. (The actual risk of death from legal abortion is less than 1 per 100,000.)
And in public venues (like, say, slots for public testimony before legislatures considering abortion restriction bills), it is clearly only deemed “acceptable” when a woman who had an elective abortion appears regretful, wringing her hands and gnashing her teeth. Relatively very few women are willing to testify about purely elective abortions they have obtained, even if they do not regret them, and not without cause. When they do publicly discuss it, they risk serious consequences, like Lucy Flores, the Nevada legislator who told the story of her abortion as a teenager in support of a sex education bill and was summarily subjected to a torrent of death threats.
Even more subtle and pervasive than death threats is social ousting. Only days ago I had a conversation with another friend who, while she supports legal abortion, followed that up with the postscript that abortion is still “murder” and in “scenarios where I would not support her decision [I] would most likely be forced morally to cut ties with her.” Every time a friend, neighbor, or relative expresses such a sentiment (despite the high likelihood of unwittingly saying it to someone who has had an abortion), the idea that it is unacceptable to speak about the importance of abortion to the lives of real women is reinforced.
There are sadly far, far too many examples to name, but every time a politician describes abortion as an evil only terrible sinners might contemplate, he effectively silences women as well. Being told, for instance, that you are morally inferior to a rapist since “at least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t result in anyone’s death” (I’m looking at you, Rep. Lawrence Lockman) tends to have that effect.
In turn, shame-induced silence propagates the impression of absence. The void is filled by the “socially acceptable” hand-wringers and teeth gnashers who, while they certainly represent a portion of women who obtain abortions, are not reflective of the whole, or even the majority. Pro-lifers continue seeing exactly what they expect to see, and continue advancing (and believing!) the notion that abortion is tangibly harmful, not only to fetuses, but to women.
And, very, very slowly, the pro-choice movement loses ground in the culture war.
The number of people who labeled themselves “pro-choice” in the Gallup poll on abortion, which has been tallying the estimated percentages of pro-choice vs pro-life citizens since 1995, reached an all-time low of 41% in 2012. Other polling has shown an increasing number of pro-lifers among Republicans, and more disturbingly, an increase in the number of Democratic men who oppose abortion as well. While these numbers are more complicated than they appear (for instance, a personally pro-life person may still support some or all legal abortion despite his or her views), the trends over time still have a story to tell.
The Overton window is a political theory that describes a narrow range of political beliefs that are considered acceptable. The silence of women caused by systematic social shaming and a climate of public threat, combined with an increasing number of openly hostile public remarks about abortion, seems to have shifted this window significantly further to the right in the last decade. As claims of dubious medical credibility and offensive remarks about the character of women who choose abortion become more mainstream, support of abortion up to viability is slowly coming to be perceived as an extremist view.
So how can we reverse the trend?
End the silence.
1) Gallup polling on abortion, trends over time: http://www.gallup.com/poll/154838/pro-choice-americans-record-low.aspx
2) The Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project on support for legal abortion: http://www.pewforum.org/2009/10/01/support-for-abortion-slips2/
3) Guttmacher Institute factsheet, Induced Abortion in the United States: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html
4) Guttmacher, Characteristics of US Abortion Patients, 2008: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/US-Abortion-Patients.pdf
5) CDC Abortion surveillance for 2009: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6108a1.htm
6) Slate, “Characters Who Have, or Just Think About Having Abortions, Often Die”: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/01/17/abortion_in_movies_and_on_tv_often_results_in_death.html
7) Article on Lucy Flores, Nevada assemblywoman who received death threats following her testimony about her abortion at 16: http://www.policymic.com/articles/33199/lucy-flores-abortion-nevada-lawmaker-faces-death-threats-after-talking-about-her-abortion
8) An excellent article I recommend, “Abortion as a Blessing, Grace, or Gift: Changing the Conversation on Reproductive Rights and Moral Values” http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/04/03/abortion-blessing-grace-gift-changing-conversation-reproductive-rights-moral-values/
9) A great TedX talk on abortion stigma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxI6HGpaP3Q
March 31, 2014
My 25 year old son is a former music major who played the tuba for many years. Very talented kid. He now lives in San Antonio where he teaches high school math. Recently, he asked if I could bring his tuba to Texas so he could start playing again. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see him so I jumped in my car and headed south.
I went to Florida first because my sister just moved there and visited with her for a day. I then headed west to see my cousin, who lives in the sleepy town of Gulf Breeze. After a brief visit I started making a bee line to Texas but, before I could even get out of third gear, I found myself driving through Pensacola.
And I suddenly got the chills.
Many of you will remember that Pensacola was a hotbed of radical anti-abortion activity years ago. Indeed, as you approach that part of the state there are still billboard after billboard with pictures of little fetuses telling us how a 10 week fetus can recite poetry and do other amazing things. Fortunately, things have gotten a little quiet in the last few years. As David Gunn, Jr. has been reminding us in his blogs, on March 10, 1993 his father – an abortion doctor – was murdered at the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services building as he was entering the facility. A year later, in 1994, my organization – the National Coalition of Abortion Providers – organized a one year “tribute” to Doctor Gunn at the very site where he was killed. It was a truly emotional moment for the attendees. Approximately 60 of Doctor Gunn’s colleagues made the trek to Pensacola and, with security guards stationed on the rooftops of nearby buildings, we held an open air ceremony which featured an emotional speech by his son.
As I drove into Pensacola, I realized I had to stop at the site once again.
I had a very eerie feeling as I approached Cordova Square and, although the area is now a little more built up, I recognized the building immediately. The clinic is long gone and the building is now the home of several small offices, including an Allstate Insurance agent, a home decorator, a public relations firm and a website designer. But what threw me off was the actual site where Doctor Gunn died is not in its original state. On that horrible day, he parked in his reserved spot and walked towards the back of the clinic. But over the years, someone carved out a cut through road and then put up a large, long fence along the back of the building. So, the actual scene of this horrible crime is no longer recognizable.
Still, I could not help but be paralyzed as I stood there remembering what happened that day and how the murder was a front page news story for weeks and months to come. Indeed, about 18 months later, just a few blocks away, another abortion doctor was killed at another clinic in the city just a few months after NCAP’s tribute.
To try to leave on a more “positive” note, I walked across the street to the serene open air amphitheater where we had our wonderful yet sad tribute. I sat there for thirty minutes and recalled young David, who was visiting the spot where his father died for the first time, talking about “this paranoia that is Pensacola.” He made a great impression that day and we all took solace in being together for a much-need group hug.
I’m glad I stopped in Pensacola.
We must never forget. I know I never will.
March 18, 2014
Anti-Abortion Discrimination in the Media: Reality, Contrived, or a Function of Branding? Part 3 of 3Posted by farrellkj under Abortion Advocates, Abortion Blog, Abortion Clinic, Abortion Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Abortion Discussion, Abortion Doctor, Abortion lies, Abortion Medical, Abortion MisInformation, Abortion Rights, Abortion Stigma, Abortion.com Facebook | Tags: Abortion, media bias, pro-choice semantics, pro-life discrimination, pro-life semantics, words |
By K.J. Farrell
Part 1 of this series focused on concern that the anti-abortion movement has with numbers in their claims that the media discriminates against them. Part 2 focused on news coverage and extremist branding. Part 3 concerns semantics and will end hopefully enlightening you about abortion-related discrimination that does exist in media.
All who have worked in the trenches of abortion know that each side has preferred terms for how they are described. Readers here know the arguments well. My own bias deems pro-choice terms as sensible or logical and anti-choice terms as manipulative or deceptive to downright maniacal. I only spend time and space on semantics because the terms used by media continue to be highlighted by anti-choicers as evidence of discrimination.
Pro-Choice Includes Pro-Life
In polls about abortion, people can be unsure whether they identify as pro-life or pro-choice. Many who choose the pro-life identity also believe that abortion should remain legal or that Roe vs. Wade should not be overturned. The term, “pro-life”, causes confusion, which explains why on occasion there will be reports about a “shift” among the public to the “pro-life position.” When the poll is looked at in detail, the majority support legal abortion with variations in restrictions.
The fundamental problem with referring to anti-abortion organizations or people as pro-life remains, that time and again they demonstrate that they are pro-fetal life; they are pro-birth. Thus, it makes the most sense to refer to them as anti-abortion or anti-choice. There is no evidence that their “support” is extended beyond the duration of pregnancy for women that took their advice and gave birth, thinking that “sidewalk counselors” or deceptive Crisis Pregnancy Centers would actually help them beyond giving birth. Even the help offered to women who choose adoption is limited. All who consider themselves pro-choice are pro-life; they value living beings, meaningful contributions in life, comprehensive reproductive healthcare, sex education, and the ability of women to choose for themselves the appropriate response to their pregnancies or to prevent pregnancy completely.
If the media referred to one group as “pro-life”, it would falsely imply that the other group was not pro-life. Although “pro-choice” is inclusive of all views, it is not used. The media generally uses “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion rights” or “abortion foes” and “abortion rights proponents”. Neither side is completely satisfied although such terms offer clarity to dispassionate readers.
In recent years, anti-abortion organizations have failed in their attempts to market restrictive legislation as “protective” and claim the media is discriminating. The media uses “restrictive” when any legislation is proposed that creates new barriers to an existing policy or law. For example, when states increased the drinking age from 18 to 21, the media did not refer to the laws as “protective” of the commuting public.
In short, it is impossible for the media to semantically satisfy anti-abortion people and organizations. A fetus is not a baby. “Partial birth abortion” might evoke emotion; the medical term is “late term abortion”. Media refers to doctors who travel between clinics as “contract physicians” and while some abortion providers do not mind being referred to as an abortionist in the same spirit of other “ists” (oncologist, gynecologist, and so on), it can imply negativity thanks to the anti-abortion movement’s portrayal of abortion providers as unprofessional, unsavory, not-real doctors.
Words do count. Their meaning – semantics – influences perception, which then influences policy. The media does not discriminate against the anti-choice movement through semantics. Rather, the media is being fair and responsible. Period.
For all the attention given to media discrimination and bias towards the anti-abortion movement, discrimination against abortion actually is a concern. It has always been irksome to see male politicians conduct Congressional hearings about abortion and contraception, usually excluding women from testifying. A couple of years ago, the Daily Beast reported that a study by The 4th Estate found that, “Among 35 major national publications…men had 81 percent of the quotes in stories about abortion… In stories about birth control, men scored 75 percent of the quotes…” Why is that? There are plenty of females in leadership positions quite capable of talking about abortion and birth control.
In January, 2014 various online publications, including the reproductive health journal, Contraception, reported the results of research concerning abortion-related plots in American film and television during 1916-2013. Conducted by University of California, San Francisco’s Abortion Onscreen Program, the research concluded in part, “Patterns of outcomes and rates of mortality are not representative of real experience and may contribute to social myths around abortion.” Slate (1/17/14) also reported on the study, “…Hollywood grossly exaggerates the risk of abortion…” and quoted a researcher commenting, “The linking of abortion and death can be very salient in the public’s mind. It just creates this social myth of abortion as more dangerous than it actually is.” The Abortion Onscreen Program’s website states that, of 385 abortion-related plotlines, “…these depictions contribute to social myths about abortion, abortion providers, and abortion patients, they can have real effects on women’s experience of seeking abortion care. Media studies scholars argue that cultural representations have political effects as well…” The evidence is clear. It is also empirical. There is media discrimination involving abortion – it most definitely is not against the anti-abortion/anti-choice movement. Anti-choice organizations long ago branded themselves as they have; their accusations about media bias are contrived and only serve to reinforce their branding.
After reading through the research and numerous reports interpreting its content, I was reminded of John Irving’s Cider House Rules (1985), made into a movie in 1999. Dr. Wilbur Larch, the director of an orphanage, secretly provides abortions after seeing the devastating results of those done in back alleys. Homer Wells, who grew up in the orphanage and loved Dr. Larch as if he was his father, trained to become an obstetrician but he thought abortion was wrong. He eventually decides to do as Dr. Larch and perform abortions, hoping that one day they would be legal and other doctors would provide them. How abortion was treated in the book and the film was greeted with mixed thought. In reality, Irving presented abortion to us with a tone of, well, reality. Is it too much to ask the same from Hollywood today?
March 8, 2014
When I was the Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, one of the more controversial things that I did was have regular conversations with anti-abortion leaders. We would usually find a neutral location, some restaurant, and split the bill. My purpose was not to try to convert them – that would have been a waste of time. Instead, my hope was that if they really had a better idea of why women were seeking abortions, then maybe they would just be a little more understanding and less likely to go out and scream at the women as they entered abortion facilities.
One of the antis that I met with regularly was with a group called Priests for Life, one of the more aggressive anti-abortion groups in the country. He was a rather vocal advocate for his side and did spend a lot of time in front of clinics all across the country spewing his ugly stuff. One day during a lunch at a small café in Alexandria, I asked him if he had ever been in an abortion clinic. He almost choked on this peanut soup. “Of course not,” he said.
So, I asked the question: “Well, would be you interested in visiting a clinic and talking to the women and staff?” Much to my surprise, he did not hesitate and quickly accepted my offer.
A few weeks later, I arranged for him to privately visit an abortion facility in Pennsylvania. The clinic was a very special one in that the counselors really sought to delve into the hearts of the women who were seeking abortions. In fact, one wall in the waiting room was adorned with letters from the women, some of which were addressed to their “baby” that they could not have. I always choked up when I entered that room.
The priest went to the clinic and spent a lot of time with the staff and owner. I don’t know all of the details of the visit. In fact, I didn’t want to know too much because I wanted to keep it as quiet as possible to respect the priest’s delicate position. If his anti-abortion colleagues found out that he had visited an abortion clinic, it would have raised quite the ruckus.
Interestingly, after his visit he told me he was touched by the letters and the women and over the next few weeks, I may have imagined things but I thought I saw a decided toning down of his rhetoric. For a while, I did not hear him talk about “murder” and “baby killing.” He was clearly against abortion but I actually wondered if that visit had had an effect on him.
That was 14 years ago.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was channel surfing when saw him on some talk show, probably FOX or something of that ilk. And, much to my consternation, he was back to his old self, ranting and raving about the “abortionists” who were “killing babies.” I was a certainly disappointed but I guess I wasn’t that surprised. As I thought it through, most organizations cannot raise money by being moderate, by being open to ideas from the other side. They gotta get out there and pander to the extremes to raise big money. You need to get in the newspapers and on television and for that to happen, you have to be positioned on one the wings of your issue.
I’m reminded of an organization that was formed years ago called “Common Ground.” One of their goals was to bring the anti-abortion and pro-choice folks together at a table to try to find items of mutual agreement. They got a grant or two from some foundations but after just a few years, they quietly dropped the abortion portion of their portfolio. No one was interested.
So, I sit here and wonder what the visit to the abortion clinic was all about.
March 2, 2014
Pregnancy as an “inconvenience”
One of the greatest falsehoods of the pro-life movement is that pregnancy is merely an inconvenience, a period of temporary discomfort. This is more than a mere talking point; it’s a dangerous lie. Pregnancy is actually a life-threatening condition for many women.
The maternal mortality rate (MMR) is significantly higher in the US than in other developed countries, and the number gets even more pronounced when divvied up into demographics. The 2010 MMR in the US was 21 maternal deaths out of 100,000 live births, a number higher than 47 other countries listed by the CIA’s WorldFact report on maternal mortality. Compare this to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services’ goal for 2010 of 3.3 deaths per 100,000, and about seven times as many women are currently dying from pregnancy-related causes in the US than should be.
Shockingly, not only has the maternal mortality rate not fallen since the mid-1980s, it has actually steadily risen (the MMR in 1987 was 6.6!). But racial disparities in the MMR reveal even more appalling numbers: in 2007, black women were 2.7 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women. A 2005 paper on the preventability of pregnancy-caused deaths in North Carolina showed that while 33% of deaths among white women were preventable, a full 46% of deaths among black women were preventable. This is probably reflective of wider disparities: minority women are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy, to be poor, and to receive care at lower quality medical centers than white women.
Even worse, most of these figures are likely underestimated. A 2005 study compared actual rates of pregnancy-caused death to purported rates on death certificates in four regions and found a prevalent underestimation of pregnancy as a cause of death. In Massachusetts, death was inaccurately accorded to a cause other than pregnancy in 93% of the cases studied.
While the maternal mortality rate is increasing, the rate of severe pregnancy complications is also increasing. A 2009 study analyzing trends in the rates of severe obstetric complications showed a “20% increase in rates of renal failure, respiratory distress syndrome, shock, ventilation, and an approximately 50% and 90% increase in pulmonary embolism and blood transfusions, respectively” from 1998-2005. Although there was a correlation between increasing rates of (often unnecessary) caesarian section and severe complications, this only partially explained the dramatic rise in severe obstetric problems experienced by American women since 1998.
In addition, the infant mortality rate is also relatively high in the US compared to other developed countries. Despite substantial decline over the course of the 20th century, the rate of infant death has stagnated in recent years and the US international ranking for infant mortality fell from 12th place in 1960 to 30th in 2005. Abysmally, a Save the Children report recently showed that the US has the highest first day infant death rate of all industrialized nations studied in the report, 50% more than all other industrialized nations combined. And, as with the maternal mortality rate, racial disparities in the infant mortality rate are stark: according to the National Vital Statistics Reports for 2009, the mortality rate for black infants was 12.71per 1,000 live births, compared to 5.32 for white infants (and the report noted that the former is likely an underestimation).
And yet, as part of so-called “informed consent,” pro-life groups routinely tout the fallacious risks of abortion with pseudoscientific claims (e.g. increased risk of breast cancer, infertility, depression, and death) while understating the risks of childbirth. Among first trimester abortions, which comprise the vast majority of abortions, the risk of serious complications is less than .5%. However, more than 50,000 women per year suffer from severe maternal morbidity (SMM), potentially life-threatening conditions associated with pregnancy. The rate of SMM is also increasing over time, more than doubling from 1998 to 2011. This does not include more minor complications, which are far more common in pregnancy (94.1% of the pregnancies in 2008) than first trimester abortion (2.5%).
What should we be doing?
First, and perhaps most importantly, we need to gather information. Why, besides increased caesarian sections, are the rates of severe obstetric complications increasing? Why is the maternal mortality rate increasing so steadily despite the $86 billion spent on pregnancy and childbirth in the US per year? How can we standardize data collection to ensure accurate information on maternal health outcomes across the board? What programs can hospitals institute to reduce the rate of mortality for women and infants?
Although we have some notion of risks associated with maternal and infant death, our data is far from complete. In 2011 the Maternal Health Accountability Act was introduced to provide grants to create state-level maternal mortality review committees to standardize data collection and eliminate disparities in health outcomes. The bill unfortunately died in a Republican-controlled committee.
Otherwise, we are aware of many of the risks and should be able to address at least some with public policy. Higher risk of infant mortality is associated with preterm birth, which is associated with teen pregnancy, unplanned pregnancy, and poor/minority mothers.
These risk factors overlap significantly; for instance, teen mothers are more likely to be poorer, less educated, and to receive less prenatal care than mothers in other groups, and 70% surveyed in a 2004-2006 North Carolina study indicated that their pregnancies were unintended. Similarly, poor and minority women are less likely to receive prenatal care, and minority women are more likely to be poor and have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than other women as well. As for maternal mortality, disparities in access to prenatal and labor care and family planning; poverty; and minority status are all major risk factors, and these also often overlap.
While the problem is systemic, it can be tackled in very specific ways. One of the most important steps in tackling poor health outcomes for mothers and infants is to reduce unplanned pregnancy, which is indirectly associated with both infant and maternal mortality, since the groups at highest risk of dying of pregnancy complications and/or losing an infant are also at very high risk of unintended pregnancies. The major means of accomplishing this goal are to offer comprehensive sex education to adolescents, to increase public funding to family planning clinics, and to make access to reliable contraceptives as universal as possible.
Every one of these things has been directly evidenced to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy. Comprehensive sex education is associated with reduced rates of teen pregnancy. Conversely, abstinence-only education has not been correlated with lower rates of vaginal intercourse, and states with abstinence-only or non-requisite sex education programs consistently have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the nation. But that doesn’t stop pro-life politicians from routinely insisting on abstinence-only programs, despite their marked failure year after year.
For six in ten patients using publicly funded family planning services, it is their primary source of health care. An estimated 1.94 million unintended pregnancies and 810,000 abortions are prevented each year by use of public family planning clinics, but as I noted in my last article, they only meet a paltry 40% of the need. Increasing funding to family planning clinics, and therefore access to preventive services and contraceptives, would further decrease the rate of unplanned pregnancy. However, Republican politicians in numerous states consistently cut funding to family planning and women’s health services.
To give an example of the cognitive dissonance so prevalently present between stated pro-life ideology and the consequences of implementing pro-life laws, let us take Texas for an example. In 2011, as part of a sweeping pro-life agenda to shut down Planned Parenthood (the ultimate abortion scapegoat, despite 97% of its services being non-abortion related), Texas slashed family planning funds by 2/3 and barred Planned Parenthood from receiving funds from the Texas Women’s Health Program, resulting in a 77% reduction in the number of patients using family planning clinics, in a state that ranks first in the nation for the number of uninsured, 8th for poverty, and 3rd for teen pregnancy.
The maternal mortality rate has quadrupled in Texas in the last 15 years to 24.6, and even after improvement from 2009, the 2010 demographics are abysmal and much higher than the national average (27, down from 30.8, for white women, and 53.9, down from 66, for black women). For reference, that means black women are statistically better off giving birth in Mexico or Kazakhstan than Texas, and that white women would be better off in Saudi Arabia.
In addition, despite the incredibly high teen pregnancy rate, Texas schools stress abstinence education, do not require contraceptive education, and do not require that sex education be medically accurate. The budget cuts for women’s health care have also decreased the number of clinics that offer preventive healthcare for sexually active teens without parental consent or notification.
Every policy outlined above is one that increases the rate of unintended pregnancy, especially in populations more highly prone to infant mortality (teens) and maternal mortality (poor and minority women). Far from being “pro-life,” Texas has implemented a set of policies that will result in the unnecessary deaths of women and infants. It has instituted legislation that directly decreases access to contraceptives, preventive screenings, checkups, and prenatal care. These in turn lead to increased rates of poor health outcomes for pregnant women, as well as unintended pregnancy among the groups least likely to want or afford pregnancy or children. Simultaneously Texas has instituted sweeping anti-abortion policies that vastly remove access to abortion for women who can’t afford prenatal care or postpartum checkups.
The state ironically takes no responsibility for its own role in making women’s lives worse, exhibiting Orwellian double-speak about personal responsibility even as politicians systematically remove the resources women would otherwise use to BE personally responsible for their reproductive destinies.
All of Texas’ legislative actions aimed at shuttering the Planned Parenthoods in the state are particularly cruel considering they have also declined to expand Medicaid, leaving many poor and minority women nowhere to turn for contraceptives, preventive healthcare, and prenatal care. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project’s survey of low-income women following Texas’ 2011 budget cuts found that “now more than ever disadvantaged women must choose between contraception and meeting other immediate economic needs.”
Texas, sadly, is not alone. Many other states are likewise instituting anti-abortion restrictions while failing to address the unmet need for family planning, expand Medicaid, increase access to prenatal and postpartum care, or offer comprehensive or medically accurate sex education. Far from being an “inconvenience,” pregnancy is a condition fraught with major risks of health complications for both mother and infant. And when legislators intentionally limit abortion access while failing to address the increased risks of maternal and infant death that accompany high unintended pregnancy in poor, uneducated, teen, and minority women, they really don’t deserve to be called “pro-life.”
1) “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA.” Amnesty International. http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/deadlydelivery.pdf
2) Berg CJ, Harper MA, et al. Preventability of pregnancy-related deaths: results of a state-wide review. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16319245
3) Hasnain-Wynia R, Baker DW et al. Disparities in health care are driven by where minority patients seek care: examination of the hospital quality alliance measures. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17592095
4) MacDorman MF, Mathews, TJ. The Challenge of Infant Mortality: Have We Reached a Plateau? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2728659/
5) “Surviving the First Day: State of the World’s Mothers 2013″. Save the Children: http://www.savethechildrenweb.org/SOWM-2013/files/assets/common/downloads/State%20of%20the%20WorldOWM-2013.pdf
6) CIA World Factbook rankings of countries by maternal mortality rate: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2223rank.html
7) Kochanek, K., Xu, J., et al. Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2009; National Vital Statistics Reports. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_04.pdf
8) Xu, J., Kenneth, D., et al. Deaths: Final Data for 2007; National Vital Statistics Reports. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_19.pdf
9) Gaskin, Ina. Maternal Death in the United States: A Problem Solved or a Problem Ignored? Journal of Perinatal Education, 2008. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2409165/#citeref9
10) Deneux-Tharaux, C, Berg, C, et al. Underreporting of Pregnancy-Related Mortality in the United States and Europe. 2005: http://opac.invs.sante.fr/doc_num.php?explnum_id=4060
11) CDC fact sheet on Severe Maternal Morbidity in the US: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/MaternalInfantHealth/SevereMaternalMorbidity.html
12) National Abortion Federation fact sheet on the risks of abortion: https://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/facts/safety_of_abortion.html#n5
13) Elixhauser A, Wier M. Complicating Conditions of Pregnancy and Childbirth, 2008. http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb113.pdf
14) “Unintended Pregnancies: 2004-2006 N.C. Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)” http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p249901coll22/id/22589
15) An epidemiological review of the effects of comprehensive, abstinence-only, and lack of sexual education on the likelihood of teen pregnancy and rate of intercourse: http://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(07)00426-0/abstract
16) Teen pregnancy rates by state: http://www.livescience.com/27417-teen-pregnancy-rates-by-state.html AND, for comparison, a brief on state policies on sex education: https://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_SE.pdf
17) Guttmacher news release on unintended pregnancies and abortions prevented by the use of publicly funded family planning services: https://guttmacher.org/media/nr/2009/02/23/index.html
18) 77% fewer Texas clients for family planning clinics: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/11/21/after-budget-cuts-texas-family-planning-program-serving-77-percent-fewer-clients/
19) Texas has highest uninsured rate and ranks 8th for poverty: http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2013/09/17/texas-has-highest-uninsured-rate-high-poverty/
20) “Republicans Offer an Obamacare Alternative,” Time Healthcare online: http://swampland.time.com/2014/02/03/obamacare-republican-alternative/
21) The Texas Policy Evaluation Project, “Low-Income Women’s Attitudes About Affordable Family Planning Services” http://www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/txpep/_files/pdf/TxPEP-ResearchBrief-WomensAttitudesAboutFPServices.pdf
February 18, 2014
Looking back, the felicity with which the media tracked down victims in a pre-internet world was unsettling. After my Dad’s assassination on March 10, 1993, my mom, sister, friends, and I huddled around the television watching news coverage of the killing, and it did not strike me as significantly odd when the phone started ringing with reporters on the other end. After all, there were phone books and news reports indicating Dad had family in Birmingham—how they knew our location is another mystery as they thought and reported, incorrectly, that we were from Pensacola for some time—and Gunn is a fairly uncommon name. So some persistent wrong dialing would eventually result in a match right?
Yet, when we finally worked out the details of the funeral and opted to bury Dad in Tennessee next to my matriarchal grandfather, we headed out to Winchester on March 11, and I assumed that moving northward would lessen the phone’s incessant din and give us an opportunity to grieve before having to face any media additional media blitz.
The visitation was on Friday, March 12, and the funeral was scheduled for Saturday, March 13. Our planning was complicated by a familial dispute over where the actual funeral and burial would take place. Dad’s family wanted him moved to Benton, Kentucky so he could be close to them; however, after the apocalyptic Thanksgiving just four months prior when Dad cut all ties with his patriarchal family, my sister and I a) did not envision an occasion that would bring us to Benton so a burial there meant we would not be able to visit dad in the future, and b) we felt it best to keep him with the family that did not abandon him and Winchester, we felt, was the best location.
Secondarily, but no less importantly, getting the body from Pensacola, Florida to Winchester, Tennessee while simultaneously getting us and our friends from Birmingham to Winchester proved hazardous given an approaching winter storm unlike any experienced in the South. In fact, were it not for the blizzard in Alabama and southern Tennessee, the funeral would have truly become a national media circus.
Alas, just as they did in Birmingham, the national media found us in Tennessee. People magazine had reporters on the ground asking for interviews as we tried to organize visitation and funeral services. In fact, they caught us on the steps of the funeral home, wanted to interview us on the spot, and quickly snapped some photos outside the picturesque antebellum home converted to funeral parlor and chapel. Similarly, the visitation was punctuated by reporters from everywhere, looking to talk with one or more of us family to get our personal reaction to recent events. In fact, I have vivid memories of talking with a reporter in the funeral home’s basement breakroom while the visitation was ongoing. Having never experienced anything even remotely close to these requests, I tried to be accommodating and polite while silently wishing for some peace. I just wanted to be with my Dad.
The snow hit Winchester the night of the visitation after everyone staying with us made it back to my grandmother’s house. We wondered if the funeral service could continue given the weather developments, and for a few moments the incessant phone ringing abated. While my friends and I toasted my Dad with bourbon and Coors Light we shared stories, laughed, and forgot about the real for a few moments.
On Saturday, March 13 we buried Dad in a snow covered cemetery in Winchester, Tennessee. Of course, media were on hand and they obtained a number of grieving money shots to litter their pages the next day. Some reporters wanted to talk and asked for comments, but it was cold, we were listless, tired, and veritable emotional vegetables so we finished at the graveside, said goodbyes, and huddled back to my grandmother’s to eat, drink, and blunt ourselves so we could get some much needed mental and physical rest.
I’ve never attended anything but a Southern funeral so I do not know if the food avalanche which follows the graveside service is a regional thing or something which is region neutral, but we had a houseful of guests who all brought comfort food for the family. As on the previous night, my friends and I ate and then retired downstairs and engaged in some subdued grief laden mild debauchery. As the day progressed, alcohol flowed, pipes glowed, and I finally relaxed to an extent thinking the gadfly reporter circus moved on to the next American tragedy when the phone rang again.
Mimi’s downstairs phone was one of those old Ma Bell wall mounted affairs with the eight foot spiraled cord and rotary dial. Someone yelled from upstairs where the adults had congregated since I was six and told me the phone was for me. I hesitated before answering, not wanting to answer another question about how it felt, how it feels, what would you say to Griffin, and other questions designed to draw a tear or presage a breakdown.
I answered the phone, leashed myself to the receiver, and walked into an adjoining bedroom closing the door which remained slightly ajar due to the umbilical tying the hand piece to the base. On the other end of the line was a warm sounding woman with a familiar southernish drawl. She introduced herself as Susan Hill and told me she knew Dad. She owned a number of abortion clinics and my father had worked at one or two of them over the years. Though we had never met, I had been in her clinics since I was 14.
She expressed her sympathy and explained how she and many others wanted to be at the funeral but were kept away by weather. She asked how I was holding up and I told her I was okay (lie) and waited to see what came next. In three days I learned when someone called to talk about the “tragic event” it typically meant some quid pro quo was coming. She then explained that a producer from the Donahue Show, a national talk show, had contacted her, requesting that she appear as a clinic owner, and asked if she knew how to reach someone from my family. She and I talked for quite some time about the benefits of going on the show, and I wondered privately and out loud if I would do my Dad, my family, and myself a disservice by continuing to publicize the event. She gave me the number for the producer, and I asked her to give me some time to think things over. Time, she explained, was an issue as they wanted to broadcast the show Monday—it was now Saturday night.
I spent the next few hours thinking and talking things through with friends and family. By this time, I heard my Dad’s brother was booked on another morning talk show which caused considerable angst since I assuredly did not want him speaking on my Dad’s behalf, or using his appearance to mystify and blur the lines about Dad’s death.
I believe I spoke with Susan again later Saturday night and told her I was leaning toward attending the show. She seemed pleased and told me to call her if I wavered. I then tried to reach the producer to talk through the details.
When I reached her, I did not think to ask why they wanted me on the show, I asked who would be the other guests, and I almost said no when they said an anti-abortion representative would be on hand. I was angry. I blamed the entire anti-abortion community for what happened, was sick of hearing—what would ultimately become a mantra for the antis—“well, he wasn’t a Christian,” or “I’m pro-life and I don’t support what he did,” and “Michael Griffin doesn’t represent all of us.” As far as I was concerned, they could fuck all with their qualifying apologies and excuses, and I wondered if I had the emotional readiness and/or intelligence to appear on a nationally broadcast TV show with sensationalistic tendencies, five days after the worst day in my 22 year old life. Add to that the fact that I would have to sit beside someone whose beliefs I felt contributed to my father’s death—even if in some small way. Had I known that Paul Hill was slated to be the anti-abortion co-guest, I would have turned down the invitation, but the producer was shrewd to withhold details of his ideology and plan prior to the show’s taping two days later. You see, Paul Hill felt my father’s murder was “justifiable homicide.”
Ignorant as I was of the kick in the face to come, I agreed to do the show, and they made arrangements for me to fly from Nashville to New York on Sunday, March 14 to attend the show’s taping/broadcast on Monday. I packed what I had, said goodbyes to my family, and headed out to Nashville to make my plane. Snow covered and lined the roads from Winchester to Nashville. What is typically at two and a half to three hour trip, seemed to take forever. While I drove, I wondered if I was doing the right thing, and I thought hard about what I would or could accomplish. From my perspective, few knew the absurd grief of politically motivated assassination, even fewer understood anti-abortion intolerance, hatred, and moral superiority, and slightly less knew the extent to which these people went to terrorize providers and their families. Ultimately, on that long snowy drive, I decided putting my personal grief on hold, to become the symbolic open wound, and to take advantage of the platform this tragic event proffered, I might actually help others like my Dad and our family. I knew Donahue reached a wide audience, and I thought perhaps we could reach some folks and change this insanity for the better.
On the other hand, though, I seriously wondered if I could maintain my composure, keep the tears and emotions at bay, and refrain from throwing chairs at Phil Donahue or the other guests. I certainly did not want to re-create the infamous Geraldo moment, and I seriously worried whether appearing on a daytime talk show would lessen the impact of Dad’s assassination; moreover, given it was a mere five days after his murder, I felt guilty about the performance as though I was doing a disservice to Dad and taking advantage of his death. Finally, I valued my privacy. Having recently left a small town where everyone knew everything about everyone, I was selfishly reluctant to give that privacy up even if was only for 15 minutes of fame.
With all that in mind, I continued on to Nashville, then New York, and made my television debut on March 15, 1993 two days after saying my final goodbyes to my Dad and friend who died too early. I felt confident I could make some small contribution by telling his story, as long as I could restrain myself from tossing a chair Donahue’s or Hill’s way.
February 4, 2014
Part 2 of 3
By K.J. Farrell
In Part 1 of this three-part series, the focus was concern that the anti-abortion movement has with numbers in the claims that the media discriminates against them. News coverage and extremist branding are the focus of Part 2.
News Coverage Generally
Anti-abortion complaints about the lack of media attention to their annual 1/22 protest against Roe v. Wade were not justified. As noted in Part 1, there was coverage by all major media sources. The annual Roe v. Wade protests are predictable. Given the intense, real-time competition for consumers of print, online, and broadcast news, priority is given to issues of concern to the market – frigid weather and sports this year. There was no ideological media bias involved.
In addition to the Roe protest, anti-abortion groups do not think that their so-called “pro-life” bills are receiving proper attention. Media coverage of restrictive abortion legislation is newsworthy given the impact on social policy and law. Even pro-choice bloggers have observed that basketball has received more media attention. After the media reports the initial announcement of the legislation, though, how many repetitions of predictable responses are necessary or beneficial?
Why is it that anti-abortion organizations make such a fuss about media discrimination or bias but, aside from some random pro-choice blogs, there is little complaint from the pro-choice organizations? Why do they think the media favors the pro-choice position, especially given the lack of attention to the restrictive abortion legislation and its intent to erode reproductive rights for women?
One reader raised an interesting point: Any ideological bias on the part of the media could actually be steeped in religious views that favor the anti-abortion position. Consider a 12/13 Harris Poll that revealed that 74% of U.S. adults believe in God; 54% believe in God with absolute certainty. In another survey, “only 21% of Americans believe humans beings evolved without involvement from God.” When press coverage is poor or unfavorable, pro-choice supporters could make the claim that ideological bias towards the religious leanings of the anti-abortion movement is responsible. What I do hear from the anti-abortion community regularly is reference to the religiosity of “most Americans” and message-manipulated polls that “most Americans” support the anti-abortion position. Thus, it would seem a bit of a contradiction: “Most Americans” would include the media. Therefore, if most Americans are religious and against abortion, media discrimination would be against the pro-choice position. Right? This premise takes me back to the questions, “Why all the fuss? Is there discrimination?”
Abortion-Related News and the Marketplace
Let’s look beyond the annual Roe v. Wade events. The criminal trial of former Dr. Kermit Gosnell is continually cited as evidence of media bias favoring abortion rights. I addressed media coverage of the case and will only say here that as egregious as the case was, the media did cover it fully, beginning with the indictment. It is insulting for anyone to suggest that the pro-choice community wanted it kept quiet – if anything, they wanted it exposed to illustrate what can happen when abortion is inaccessible, especially to poor women.
At this writing, there are 261,000 search engine results for the “Gosnell case” – 551,000 for his name alone. There are 86.5 million for “George Zimmerman case”, 12.5 million for “Jodi Arias case”, and 38 million for “Casey Anthony case” – exponentially more for each when “case” is excluded. Yes, the media responds to the marketplace.
Although anti-abortion groups claim that Americans are on their side, they clearly had/have more interest in cases unrelated to abortion or Gosnell. It would be the same situation if a fertility doctor or OB/GYN was found to be violating standards and law, or an adoption lawyer lost his license due to fraud. Media has ethical and practical responsibilities that are more important than the wishes of activists dedicated to a polarized issue. (Does anyone recall the name of the fertility doctor and the professional consequences he had as a result of his involvement in the Nadya Suleman multiple pregnancy? Probably few of you…but you know the names of all others referenced here.)
The recent “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (NTFAA) that the House of Representatives recently passed will not likely be introduced in the Senate and, even if it was, President Obama would veto it. The Hyde Amendment already ensures that federal dollars cannot be spent on abortion. Prior versions of the NTFAA included language that introduced the political nuances to the legal term of “forcible” rape. This version is really about stopping insurance companies (private) from providing abortion coverage even though more than 80% include it with other reproductive services, including fertility services. The media knows that it will never be passed. Will coverage benefit their advertisers? No. Editors clearly decided that the coverage provided was sufficient to inform the public.
Contrast the coverage of the NTFAA to the political-conservative-initiated boycott of Girl Scout Cookies that began when the Girl Scouts supported Texas Senator Wendy Davis as someone who could be considered a Woman of the Year. Davis is pro-choice so, naturally, that means the Girl Scouts include abortion rights as part of their agenda. They actually have no position on abortion. Their agenda is developing girls into strong, independent women. Period. Role models are from all political and professional backgrounds.
The Girl Scout cookie boycott is newsworthy because the cookies are such an icon of Americana. Few have not had the pleasure of Thin Mints or Trefoils. Most organizers of boycotts want news coverage. Media did not create the news – press releases did! But, anti-abortion strategists realize that this is not the kind of news that will help their cause. That leads to the matter of branding with extremism.
The Branding of the Anti-Abortion Movement by Extremists
Think about the purpose of news – to inform so that readers can form their own opinions. At times, the “goal to be truthful and objective can be at odds with journalistic ethics“ (Carole Rich, PracticalBioethics.org 1994). Those reporting the news must be responsible.
In the summer of 1991, when the notorious Operation Rescue was protesting outside of the clinic of the late Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, a human fetus was pulled out of a jar to illustrate what a late term abortion produces. Responsibly, the media refused to show the dead fetus because there was no evidence that it was connected to Dr. Tiller. Neither the age nor the source of the prop could be verified. Reporting about the fetus took place but without visuals and with context provided to avoid implying that the fetus was from the clinic (Rich).
Operation Rescue was upset that photos of the fetus were not shown. Some anti-abortion groups were upset that it was reported at all because they believed that the media was conspiring to paint all anti-abortion activists as radicals.
To be fair, during the very contentious post-Roe era of Supreme Court decisions, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the media did seem to provide more coverage of anti-abortion activities that involved violence or highly charged characteristics. Various surveys of abortion news concluded that while most likely not intentional, the pro-choice perspective had more column inches about their activities as well as more positive coverage. This prompted news organizations to initiate policies about abortion coverage that remain in place. That said, violence is newsworthy. The media doesn’t control absurd anti-abortion strategies staged for press. Through violence and shock tactics, the anti-abortion movement has branded itself. They have themselves to blame for the media coverage that they find unfavorable. By no means is it discrimination for the media to cover unusual tactics.
When conservative politicians try to justify anti-abortion legislation, they often mention that their constituencies are “everyday” people, not wild eyed religious zealots. It is hard to be convincing when, for example, a person interviewed about traveling to a protest refers to busloads of traveling companions as “die-hard Catholics” and “soldiers of Christ” or when an organizer for an event to celebrate the closing of a clinic in Missouri states that credit for the closure goes to God and those who pray daily. Worse for politicians is when their colleagues, in promoting the anti-abortion position, discount rape or imply that the sex lives of women are the problem. It is also challenging to justify public policy dependent on falsehoods.
No organization appreciates it when an inappropriate source is interviewed or a representative performs poorly. It happens. Among the anti-abortion representatives, there seems to be a preference for people who have no capacity to listen, an inability to be or sound reasonable, and talk over people with unproven, false talking points. In July, 2013, should the media have ignored it when former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum “criticiz[ed] the media for portraying the [extremely restrictive abortion] legislation as radical instead of…part of a movement of love”? Had the media not reported, it then would have been accused of withholding media criticism from the public.
The media is not discriminating when religious zealots, ignorant politicians, and inarticulate organizers who alter or deny facts serve as contacts. Years ago, anti-abortion supporters complained that the very articulate, attractive, African American President of Planned Parenthood, Faye Wattledon, was quoted or interviewed so often. Their position was represented by James Dobson of the Family Research Council or Gary Bauer of Focus on the Family. NARAL’s Kate Michelman and NOW’s Molly Yard also spoke to the national media on the pro-choice side. Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly, National Right to Life’s John Wilkes or Wanda Franz, and religious leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson did for the anti-abortion side. Criticism about higher quality spokespeople on the opposing side was an internal issue in the anti-abortion movement – it was not discrimination.
Many of us supporting the pro-choice position are ardent supporters of free speech. We do not want a part of any discrimination towards an opposing view. It is safe to say that there is no discrimination in the news coverage of anti-abortion views or activities.
Stay tuned for Part 3, which will focus on the semantics of the abortion issue and the real discrimination that exists in the media coverage of abortion.