January 13, 2012
February 21, 2015
One of the funniest shows on television is “Veep,” an HBO production that stars Julia Louis Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer. I was recently binge-watching the show and came across one that dealt with abortion. Meyer had just declared that she was running for President and during her campaign the current President came out to declare his support for making abortion illegal after 20 weeks. That put Meyer in a tough position because she was totally pro-choice but was uncomfortable butting heads with her President.
So, she and her aides sit down to try to craft a position on abortion that doesn’t go too awry from the President’s position but does not tick off the pro-choice groups. Staff starts throwing out different cut off dates. “How about 22 weeks?” says one aide. “That will keep you somewhat aligned with the Prez but you can tell the pro-choicers that you are more liberal on the issue.” She doesn’t buy it. Then they discuss 23 weeks, 24 weeks. Meyer keeps shaking her head, frustrated at the difficult and totally silly conversation.
She then suggests inviting lobbyists from both sides of the issue to try to craft something in the middle, hoping to assuage both Planned Parenthood and the local bishop. The efforts prove useless.
Finally, in exasperation, the VP screams out “I just want the fucking government to stay out of my snatch!!”
It was friggin hilarious and the episode captured some of the more ludicrous political situations that occur in the halls of Congress when the professionals start trying to craft positions on abortion. They try to cater to both sides and paddle right down the middle – and they always get creamed.
I’m reminded of my good friend, former Congressman Jim Moran. Jim was first elected here in Northern Virginia and his main campaign issue was that he was pro-choice. His team actually produced an award-winning commercial touting his pro-choice credentials. He won year after year in a landslide and became a leading spokesman for the pro-choice movement.
But Jim was also a good Irish Catholic boy from Boston and one day he called me to ask questions about something called “partial birth abortion.” He confided in me that he was horrified by the procedure and I had to candidly tell him that any abortion, especially one on a more developed fetus, was not pretty. He finally told me he would vote to ban the procedure.
It pained him to oppose his friends in the pro-choice movement but he at least had the courage to tell them up front what he was doing in advance and he gave a speech in the House of Representative explaining his position. After he voted with “the enemy,” the pro-choice shit hit the fan. Ultimately, the major groups decided to not contribute one dime to his next campaign (where they had maxed out in the past). Oh, Jim won his re-election handily but he lost some good friends who didn’t think he should have a conscience and was instead a traitor to the cause. It hurt him deeply and after he got over the pain, he felt anger.
The point is that anyone who seeks a middle ground on the abortion issue is going to tick off both sides. You can’t win. In retrospect, maybe Jim just should have issued a press release saying “the government should just stay out of women’s snatches.”
February 4, 2015
Congress began the 2015 session proposing more anti-abortion legislation, keeping in step with legislators at the state level doing the same. Abortion rights have been chipped away so continuously, many of us have come to expect more, no matter how ludicrous.
The proposed laws calling for intrusive, expensive, and uncomfortable (even painful) transvaginal ultrasounds and mandated scripted information containing unscientific , inaccurate or incorrect information to abortion patients serve no purpose but to promote anti-abortion propaganda and delay access to abortion services. Some proposals are truly bizarre. An addendum to legislation in North Carolina that passed in 2013 is currently being pushed by some politicians to “…[establish] governing and quality assurance boards and [designate] a chief executive to handle day-to-day operations…” Exactly what will an additional layer of bureaucracy in a medical practice accomplish for women’s health?
Women need to be “properly” informed. Once they are provided the right information, they will be less likely to have an abortion. Uh, yeah, even we women know that we really just do not know what we are doing when it comes to pregnancy, abortion, or other decisions involving our reproductive lives. Yep. We women need the wisdom and personal, often religious, convictions of politicians before we can feel confidence in our decision. We should not trust ourselves or our medical care providers.
It protects women’s health. Abortion is such a dangerous procedure with two victims – the pregnant mom is scarred for life and her child is killed. Can you please just give specifics about how it actually protects women? Are you saying that childbirth is safer or, really, be honest, are you just trying to put another barrier in place to stop women from choosing to have an abortion? Or, are you thinking illegal abortion would be better somehow?
We care about women and children. Oh, I know, I know…you will eventually convince me to give birth whether I am a healthy young woman, a 46-year-old woman with four children and no desire for more, a woman with chronic health conditions, a 13-year-old unprepared for pregnancy and parenting, an 11-year-old pregnant as a result of repeated sexual molestation from a male relative, or any other woman in any other circumstance. You care so much that you will promise to support me spiritually, emotionally, and financially until my offspring become adults. Oh, wait…I forgot, most of you actually stop supporting women once we give birth, once the fetus becomes a child.
If we assume for a moment that those who support abortion restrictions are sincere in their claims that they believe women should be properly informed, that the laws protect women’s health, and that they care about women and children, then they should also support other reproductive healthcare-related proposals that have the same goal in mind. If the premise of restrictive abortion laws is really about informing and protecting women, then laws must be developed to ensure that all women who get pregnant and plan to give birth are aware of the risks involved. All medical practices that have pregnant women as patients must arrange for structural modifications to their facilities to ensure women and the government that they can properly respond to medical emergencies that might arise. The medical providers of pregnant women must also be required to make specific, politically dictated statements about the range of risks involved in pregnancy and childbirth although, unlike the “abortion information,” statements can be based on empirical data and medical facts.
Research by Elizabeth G. Raymond, MD, MPH and David A. Grimes, MD and published in the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecology’s Obstetrics & Gynecology (February 2012), concluded, “Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. Similarly, the overall morbidity associated with childbirth exceeds that with abortion.” (Full PDF article available at no charge through embedded link.) While I am not interested in shattering the joy of women learning of a wanted positive pregnancy test, fair is fair. There are risks associated with pregnancy and childbearing for which women should receive appropriate medical information. Given the political and religious propaganda out there, the chances are that a lot of women think that pregnancy and childbirth are safe. If women cannot be respected as able to independently make decisions about abortion, how can we possibly believe them able to make decisions concerning pregnancy and childbirth?
In addition to pregnancy and childbearing putting women at a higher risk of death than abortion, there are numerous risk factors that require medical attention and monitoring, including prior to conception. Rh incompatibility, kidney disease, diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, and autoimmune diseases are among the many conditions that can dramatically complicate the health of pregnant women and their babies. Age and lifestyle are other factors that obstetricians must consider during preconception consultations and prenatal treatment practices. The latest blow to pregnant women and fetal wellbeing is research concerning the influence of the time interval between the delivery of the first baby and conception of the second. “[A]n interval of less than 12 months causes an increased risk for severe preterm birth in women who already suffered preterm birth in their first pregnancy” was the primary finding of the research, which will be presented this week at the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual meeting.
Obesity is one of the most common risk factors for women in developed countries. According to research published in Science Daily (July 2010), “The heavier the woman, the higher the risk of induced preterm birth before 37 weeks, with very obese women at 70% greater risk than normal weight women. Overweight or obese women also had a higher risk of early preterm birth (before 32 or 33 weeks). Again, the heavier the woman, the higher the risk of early preterm birth, with very obese women at 82% greater risk than normal weight women.”
All proposed Pregnancy and Childbearing Risk Awareness legislation should reach far to include all possible complications – just as restrictive abortion legislation underscores improbable complications such as a perforated uterus or death. For example, maternal mortality is on the rise in the United States, with roughly 18 out of 100,000 women dying from pregnancy-related complications in 2013; between 1998 and 2005, the figure was much lower, with roughly eight deaths per 100,000 pregnant women. In 2011, the Center for Disease Control reported 17.8 deaths per
100,000 pregnant women, noting also significant racial disparities with a rate of 12.5 per 100,000 white women and 42.8 per 100.000 black women. The death rate from abortion is one for every one million abortions performed at eight weeks or less, one for every 29,000 abortions performed at 16 to 20 weeks gestation, and one for every 11,000 abortions performed at 21 weeks or later. Obviously, far more women die due to pregnancy-related complications than abortion complications, even at the later stages of gestation. It is only appropriate to ensure that women have the correct information so that they can decide if they really want to be pregnant and if motherhood is actually worth such possible health concerns.
Those of us who believe that reproductive justice is critical to achieving social and economic equality for women know that women can and do think for themselves in every sphere of life and most especially their reproductive lives. We also make many household and relationship decisions, not to mention educational and career decisions. We do not need politicians, pastors, or “sidewalk counselors” to help us make informed, personal decisions nor do we need them to create laws to try to impose their views on us. If they feel they must be a part of our reproductive lives, they should go about it fairly and provide complete and accurate information on abortion and pregnancy.
January 27, 2015
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.
January 15, 2015
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.
January 1, 2015
A 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.
The 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.
Pro-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.
As 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.
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.
December 17, 2014
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.
December 2, 2014
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.