January 13, 2012
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.
November 9, 2014
So, now what?
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know by now that the Republican Party now controls both houses of Congress. And there is now an intense debate within the GOP about whether or not their party should work with President Obama or not. Of course, Tea Partyers like Ted Cruz want confrontation, they want 100 votes on repealing Obamacare, they want to close down the government if they don’t get their way. The new Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, is really not interested in confrontations because he realizes that the GOP now has to govern if they want their polling numbers to improve (although they really only have one way to go and that is up).
But Mitch is smart and he knows he has to throw a bone or two to his right wing and recently he threw the first bone. Without much fanfare, McConnell recently told them that he will allow the pro-lifers in his party to have a few votes. Specifically, he has assured them that come January, he will let them offer a bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks.
As we know, the vast majority of women obtain abortions in the first trimester. Still, there are thousands of women who feel the need to have an abortion after 20 weeks. Up until the 24th week, they can go to a clinic (if they can find one) and terminate their pregnancy without any questions asked. After that, the circumstances have to be more compelling.
This bill will pass the House of Representatives easily. The question in the Senate is if any pro-choice Senator will filibuster the measure? If they do, then the pro-lifers would have to get 60 votes to pass it. At this point, they may be close to that number but we’re not sure. Then, of course, even if they pass the bill the President gets his shot at it. If the bill is passed on its own, I’d like to think that Obama would veto it. Of course, he would not get into the reasons why women need to have access to abortions that late. He would just argue that it’s unconstitutional under Roe v Wade. Indeed, it would be interesting to see what the pro-choicers argue. Remember they had a similar rhetorical battle when it came to “partial birth abortions” and they totally missed that up because they did not know how to talk about those abortions that occurred between 20-24 weeks. Way too touchy for them. So, they came up with the “these are used in only rare circumstances” line and ultimately got caught with their pants down.
If I were a pro-life lobbyist, I wouldn’t waste my time on this bill. Instead, I would do what they’re doing (successfully) in the states – pass clinic regulations under the guise of “protecting women.” We know by now that such regulations have successfully closed a bunch of clinics in Texas and elsewhere. And I would attach this language to a “must pass” bill like the budget. Imagine the havoc that would ensue if they passed the “Abortion Clinic Regulation Act.”
In addition to passing legislation, they are going to upset the applecart even more by holding hearings on certain issues. When does life begin? Should abortion doctors be required to have admitting privileges in local hospitals? Should the Congress ban sex selection abortions? They now chair the committees, they’re getting ready to go.
So, abortion is going to be one of the issues where Mitch McConnell tries to assuage the right wing extremists. Pro-choicers are going to have their hands full.
October 27, 2014
I am sitting in a hotel room in southern Oregon. Several days ago, I flew out here to attend the funeral of my father in law.
When I got married over thirty years ago, I learned very quickly that my mother in law was a rabid anti-abortion advocate. We never talked about the issue but I recall once seeing one of those “fetus feet” lapel buttons on her jacket. Also, when we got married we flew out to Oregon for a reception and the day before my mother in law sent a notice of our marriage to the local paper. At that time she knew that I was with the National Coalition of Abortion Providers but in the announcement she noted only that I was “a lobbyist for a public interest group.” The irony, of course, was that when I got to the reception a number of people came up and asked me which “public interest group” I was with.
My father in law, on the other hand, was more circumspect about his position. He was a very independent thinker but, being a hotshot in the military, he was also very careful about weighing in on the controversial issues of the day. Still, there was one day about ten years ago when he let slip his opinion, which was that he was pro-choice. I never shared that information with anyone.
Then, about 5 years ago, he suddenly got baptized in the Catholic Church. He was in decent health at the time so it wasn’t one of those last minute, cover your ass conversions. I understand he took his conversation very seriously, which I admire.
At his funeral service on Thursday, when the priest was doing his homily, he urged the congregation to do a number of things in my father in law’s memory. “Help seek peace in the world,” “contribute to those charities that feed the hungry,” etc. Then, he added “pledge to protect all life from the moment of conception.”
Whoa! Wait a second. What did I just hear???
I was a little stunned, having recalled our conversation from years past. Then I wondered if he had really made the total conversion, buying into everything the Church espouses. Later that day I asked a few of his family members if they knew the priest was going to say that and they all said they didn’t. Some were ticked off, apparently in on the “secret” that the deceased had been pro-choice.
Now, it’s possible that he had had conversations with the priest before he died and actually did convert to the pro-life point of view. But I seriously doubt it. So, it just makes me wonder if the priest was taking advantage of the moment to put in a little plug for the fetuses? If he was doing that – shame on him.
October 12, 2014
I wanted to share with you two interesting political stories from my home state of Virginia that demonstrate the power of the vote.
In 2012, the Republicans in the General Assembly successfully passed a bill requiring abortion clinics to be treated as hospitals and instructed the state’s Board of Health to implement regulations on the clinics immediately. The Board initially declined to comply but later passed the regulations under pressure from then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Many clinics started making plans to close their business because they could not afford to comply with the regulations.
Then, last November, we elected a Democratic, pro-choice Governor named Terry McAuliffe. He quickly appointed five new members to the Board of Health and asked them to “review” the clinic rules. In response, Virginia’s new Commissioner of Health, Doctor Marissa Levine, announced just last week that the clinic regulations should be “amended.” That process could actually take a few years according to reports. So, because of one election, the clinics in Virginia can now breathe a little easier these days.
Meanwhile, in the northern part of the state, a woman named Barbara Comstock is the Republican nominee for an open Congressional seat. She is trying to portray herself as a moderate who will “work across the aisle” to save the Republic, cure Ebola, turn the economy around, blah, blah.
Her opponent, Democrat John Faust, has produced a campaign commercial pointing out how Comstock, who was once in the Virginia state legislature, supported a bill requiring women to get transvaginal ultrasounds before obtaining an abortion. The bill was eventually pulled after an embarrassing national outcry.
In response to this ad, Comstock said that “I’m not running for the Supreme Court” and argued that legislation overturning Roe v Wade would “not come up in Congress.”
The fact is that in every Congress bills are introduced that would either overturn Roe v Wade, thus leaving the issue to the states, or declare the fetus a “person” which would outlaw abortion immediately. And it will be interesting to see if Ms Comstock co-sponsors any of those bills should she win this race. No doubt the anti-abortion lobbyists will be pressuring her from day one to do so.
Right now, however, the bills in the House of Representatives are not going anywhere because those bills would die in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats. So, the House leaders see no reason to make their members vote on this contentious issue since it would not be considered by the Senate. Why make your members walk the plank on that one?
But what Ms Comstock is not saying is that there is a good chance the U.S. Senate could be taken over by the Republican Party in November – and that would change everything. If that happened, nut ball Senators like Ted Cruz would be chomping at the bit to introduce and get considered legislation that would “save the babies.” He would love to take the floor of the Senate and further enhance his right wing credentials by leading the charge on a constitutional amendment banning abortion. And remember that President Obama cannot veto a constitutional amendment.
So, Ms Comstock should stop dodging this issue. She needs to be straight with the voters. If she wins her race (a good possibility) and the Senate falls into the hands of the Republicans, she just might be voting on legislation that is tantamount to her being on the Supreme Court anyway.
October 3, 2014
By now, any person who reads this blog is aware that the State of Texas has ruled that their very unnecessary anti-abortion law, designed to make it impossible for current abortion providers to comply, can be immediately enforced. The Facebook page of Abortion.com just posted the link to an essay by Damon Linker in The Week (10-3-14) that raises critical questions that all pro-choice voters must hold their anti-choice elected officials accountable to answering:
If you believe abortion is murder, what specific punishment should be meted out against women who seek abortions, those who assist in the procurement and practice of abortion, and those who provide abortions?
In your view, Ms./Mr. Elected Official, since you think abortion is murder, will you be sponsoring legislation asking for the death penalty if your state has laws restricting abortion?
Damon Linker wrote: “If abortion really is murder, then everyone involved deserves to be punished, and punished severely…If, on the other hand, such punishment sounds wildly, almost absurdly disproportionate, then maybe it’s a sign that abortion really isn’t murder after all.” His point is excellent and one that has been raised here as well as the Abortion.com Facebook page. Politicians have never really been forced to reveal the actual penalties they believe should be imposed on those who participate in an abortion, should it become illegal or severely restricted and prompt women to resort to whatever is feasible and providers to resort to underground practices. At the moment, it is arguable that Texas ought to start expanding their correctional facilities. We know that women have already been obtaining drugs from Mexico and international mail for medical abortions or to cause a miscarriage. Yep, Texas better get their death row lodging in good order, not to mention make sure that all lethal injection protocol training is thorough and an ample inventory of execution drugs.
This ruling will undoubtedly energize the most whacko, zealous of the anti-abortion groups to pattern the Texas laws into initiatives in other states. Therefore, it is sensible and important for pro-choice voters to get their pols to answer the questions raised here.
The organizations that have fervently advocated reproductive rights over the years, specifically Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and National Organization for Women, opposed grassroots efforts to propose legislation to support reproductive justice in states like Arkansas in 1989. Their reasoning was that it was somehow better to work with legislatures to oppose restrictive laws, which, at the time, were focused primarily on parental notification or consent. Creating law is easier than trying to undo law. I sure hope those organizations – that raised a lot of money on the issue – kept the contact information on the many that supported the pro-choice legislation efforts. They will need it now for more than donations.
The one silver lining in this outrageous ruling in Texas is that it may well motivate voters to show up in the upcoming mid-term elections. Texas indeed does things big – that does not mean any other state is interested in Texas sharing any of their “big.” There is not one excuse for a pro-choice person to not vote this November.
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.