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?

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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.

 

Sources:

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

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.

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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%).

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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.

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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.”

 

Sources:

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

Anti Abortion Terrorism

Anti Abortion Terrorism

It’s quite possible that I met Lee Ann Nichols just a few weeks before she was killed at an Abortion office..

As a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, in early December, 1994, I had gone up to the Boston area to visit a number of member clinics.  One of my first stops was the Preterm Clinic on Commonwealth Avenue.  As always, I was escorted around by the administrator and introduced to all the staff people.  Lee Ann was the receptionist but I just can’t remember if I met her.

Just a few months after Paul Hill murdered Doctor Baird Britton and his bodyguard, pro-life terrorist John Salvi also took the law into his own hands in a shooting spree at two clinics in the area.  Witnesses had testified that Salvi had been a somewhat regular presence in front of Preterm and the Planned Parenthood clinics. As for his mental state, letters released after his arrest indicated his belief in conspiracies by the freemasons, the Vatican and the KKK, which he thought was targeting Catholics.   Salvi’s mother later said that her son had told her that he “was the thief on the cross with Jesus.” He also told her that “…the mafia and KKK are out to get me.”

Anti Abortion Terrorism

Anti Abortion Terrorism

On Decebmer 30, 1994, John Salvi calmly walked into the Planned Parenthood facility and shot Shannon Lowney, the receptionist.  He then walked over to Preterm where he killed Nichols and engaged the security guard, Richard Seron, in a gun battle.  After that, Salvi dropped a bag containing a second gun and 700 rounds of ammunition and fled the city.  A nationwide alert was put out and the NCAP office was inundated with calls from clinics all along the east coast asking what security precautions they should take.  The next day, 1,200 miles away in Norfolk, Virginia, the Reverend Donald Spitz and his followers ended their regular protest outside the Hillcrest Clinic and fifteen minutes later, Salvi suddenly appeared at the building’s main entrance.  He sprayed the lobby with a hail of bullets but no one was hurt.  Within 10 minutes, police surrounded a pick-up truck and Salvi was arrested.

At one point, the Boston Globe reported that Salvi had a piece of paper with Donald Spitz’ name on it.  Spitz was “follower” of Paul Hill and espoused the “justifiable homicide” theory.  Spitz was never charged with aiding Salvi in any way but Salvi’s trial gave Spitz a lot of national attention because he stood outside the courtroom defending Salvi’s actions.

I had met Spitz a few times and I always thought that, like Paul Hill, he loved the media spotlight.  So, this particular case was ripe for him and his ego.  He knew folks would be outraged if he said he supported Salvi and some pro-choice folks were apoplectic that he was out there applauding Salvi’s rampage.  Still, I was one of the few that suggested that he was within his Free Speech rights and that we should just ignore him and not give him the attention he desired.

About two years later, after he was convicted of murder, Salvi was found dead in his prison cell.  The official report said that his death was a suicide but there was some controversy because other reports claimed that he was found with his hands and feet tied together, cotton shoved in his mouth and a bag placed and tied over his head.

For the abortion provider community, this new outrage upped the ante even more because now someone had just decided to walk into a clinic and start shooting.  He was not necessarily targeting a doctor.  Indeed, I remember talking to some clinic line staff who very privately expressed some “comfort” that the assassins until then had “just” been targeting the doctors.  But this was different.  Suddenly, parents and loved ones of clinic staff were asking their loved ones to leave the potentially dangerous situation.

It seemed that no one was safe anymore.

 

No More Bullying Abortion Facilities

About ten years ago, I attended the funeral of Norma Stave, a good friend who, with her husband Carl, was the co-owner of two abortion clinics in Maryland.  Carl was the main physician who performed the abortions.  When I arrived at the church, Carl came up to me and asked at the last second if I would deliver a eulogy.  I had always been comfortable talking in front of audiences but this was a different animal.  Still, I was able to get through it, using my few minutes to praise Norma for her devotion to women in need.

Skip ahead a number of years.  Carl died shortly after Norma and their son, Todd, ultimately became the landlord for their two buildings.  About eight months ago, Todd’s clinic in Germantown, Maryland attracted national attention when they hired Doctor Lee Carhart, a physician who worked for the late George Tiller and who vowed to continue George’s work by offering late term abortions.

Victim of Anti-Abortion groups

Victim of Anti-Abortion groups

Soon thereafter, local anti-abortion advocates learned that Todd owned that building where Lee worked.  They quickly organized a number of protests, accomplished their goal of getting publicity in the local papers and have been a continual presence ever since.  Then, looking for another angle to get their names in the papers, they decided to crawl deeper into the gutter.  They learned where Todd’s 11 year old daughter was going to school and at a Back to School night, they stood outside the school with a banner that read “Please Stop Killing the Children” and the usual photos of aborted fetuses.   Then, these wackos actually put Todd’s picture, phone numbers and email addresses online and urged their followers to contact him with their “prayers.”  Todd was inundated with calls and emails.  Nice, huh?

But Todd decided to fight back.  He compiled a list of the people who were calling and emailing him and he sent that list out to 20 of his friends, urging them to call those people.  He told them to not argue with them, to just be polite and tell them that “the Stave family thanks you for your prayers.”  Well, those 20 friends passed on the info to their friends, and so on and so on and within two days they had 5,000 pro-choice folks making calls.  Interestingly, the calls and emails to Todd’s house came to an abrupt halt.

Hmmmmmm…Is Todd on to something here?

Abortion

Abortion Rights

I talked to Todd last night.  He tells me that he has actually established a group called “Voice of Choice” (www.VoChoice.org) which seeks to organize a “person to person counter campaign against anti-choice bullying.”  The people who volunteer are notified when a certain anti-abortion advocate is harassing a doctor and are given that person’s phone and/or email.  Then they start contacting that person.  Todd says they have successfully stopped the harassment in two cases already.

I have no doubt that there are some pro-choicers out there who might feel uncomfortable about stooping to the tactics normally used by the anti abortion folks.  Indeed, whether or not to use these kinds of aggressive tactics has been the subject of many conversations within the pro choice movement for years.  In fact, Todd told me that some national pro-choice groups have been reluctant to cooperate with his organization.

When I was in the movement, I always came down on the side of those who did not support stooping to their level.  I thought it was beneath us, that we had to take the high road.  And maybe I’m just getting old and cranky.  But now I say screw it.  As long as it’s legal, go get the bastards, Todd!

Mississippi

Mississippi.    

Is there a more pathetic state in the Union?   I mean, does anyone know of a state that is more regressive in terms of income, health, education, baseball teams?   Indeed, can you name a Third World country that is as bad as Mississippi?    

And, now, to push the state even further into the dark ages, their voters on Tuesday will probably pass a resolution that will totally outlaw abortion.  The specific question that the voters will be asked to approve says:  “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?”   Now I can’t imagine anyone in that state who knows what the term “thereof” means, but the gist of this measure is there will be no more abortions and lots more kids to add to the misery that is life in Mississippi.  Indeed, the person who is spearheading this effort, a guy named Les Riley, is the founder of “Personhood Mississippi” and he is the father of TEN children.  I guess old Les is hoping that others in his neck of the woods will bear the same number of kids, if not more, so they can get the classroom sizes up to at least 50 kids per room which would push their rate of academic achievement below that of Somalia.  Quite a role model, that Les!

The interesting thing about this resolution is that many “mainstream” pro-life groups actually oppose it because they are smart enough to realize that it is too extreme.  But, it ain’t too extreme for the Bubbas in Mississippi.  Indeed, outlawing abortion ain’t enough for these folks.  An analysis of the resolution shows that certain forms of birth control would be outlawed (thus creating even more children living in poverty) and it would limit in vitro fertilization.  But, for now, let’s stick to the abortion side of the equation. 

This is Johnny, oh wait, Marie, oh wait "it" has no sex yet.

When the measure passes, the next day Planned Parenthood will challenge it in court and the lower courts will grant an injunction prohibiting the measure from going into effect.  Here’s the thing, however.  Let’s say Mitt Romney (or one of the other Republican nominees) becomes President in 2013.  Despite his previous support for the right to choose, he has now courageously “seen the light” and is all of a sudden pro-life.  What a guy, a true Profile in Courage.  As President, he would be beholden to the pro-life movement and

sooner or later some more Supreme Court judges are going to kick the bucket.  That means that Romney (or, conversely, Obama) might get to make 2 or 3 appointments.  If it’s Romney, you know damn well he is going to appoint judges who are pro-life and that could tip the scales. 

Yes, many lawyers suggest that the court could not uphold a measure like this because of “legal precedent.”  That’s garbage.  It might have been the case years ago when our judicial system, not to mention the executive and legislative branches, were more deferential to their body’s previous actions but not anymore.  I am convinced that when the Supreme Court gets this (or any other) case, the justices, with the possible exception of Justice Kennedy, make up their minds immediately, then instruct their clerks to construct their rationalization.  If you think they sit there objectively, listening intently to the arguments of the learned counsel then come to a decision, you’re in La La land.  I mean, think about it.  Do you really think Clarence Thomas and Anton Scalia would NOT find a way to uphold the Mississippi law?  

So, this case will ultimately make it to the Supreme Court in a few years.  And that makes the next Presidential election so extremely important when it comes to abortion rights.  I feel like we’ve been through this drill before, but this time it’s extremely serious. 

Empty Press Conference Room

About a year after we formed the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, its members decided it was time to hold their first conference.  For years, many of them had been attending regular conferences hosted by the National Abortion Federation but some of the NCAP members were not members of NAF and the NAF meetings tended to focus on the medical side of the abortion issue.   The folks who belonged to NCAP believed strongly in having a political voice on Capitol Hill.  They argued that while NARAL was focusing on the general right to abortion, they needed someone to educate the Congress on the issues of direct importance to abortion doctors and clinics.

So, we booked the new Hilton Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, put out the suggested agenda and kept our fingers crossed.  Like anyone

who is putting on a party, we were very nervous that no one would show up.  But, much to our surprise, about 70 clinic staff, owners and doctors came to Alexandria for the two day affair.  Two of the attendees were Doctors George Tiller and Bart Slepian, who both would ultimately be murdered by pro-life activists.

To highlight how NCAP was already establishing a presence on Capitol Hill, we persuaded Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, a leader of the pro-choice movement, to kick off the event.  Jim gave a rousing speech to a crowd of people, many of whom had never even met a real live Congressman.  The next few hours were devoted to public relations and business issues.  For example, we discussed how to conduct an “open house” for abortion clinics and where to get the best malpractice insurance.

The highlight of the meeting, however, was the adoption of NCAP’s first resolution.  At that time, the clinics were under siege legislatively on both the national and state levels.  It seemed that every day a bill was introduced requiring parental consent for minors, a 24 hour waiting period, the distribution of fetal development brochures, etc.  At one point, however, an NCAP member suggested that those who were introducing these bills really had no idea how clinics opera

Proud Providers

ted to begin with and how women approached the decision.  So, the members decided to adopt a statement which made it very clear how clinics operated and how patients were treated.  So, for example, they noted that 95% of minors already talked to their parent or parents, that women DID wait at least 24 hours from the time they decided to have an abortion and that the clinics were already subject to many federal and state regulations.

The resolution was adopted unanimously and we decided to have a press conference on Capitol Hill the next day.  We quickly hired a public relations firm to get the word out.  Besides the resolution, their pitch was that this would be a

chance for the press to see in person the owners, doctors and staff who actually worked in abortion clinics.  This was a “coming out party” of sorts for our folks.

The next day, about 30 members of NCAP, all dressed up in their best Capitol Hill attire, took taxis to the House Cannon Office Building and walked into the ornate Post Office and Civil Service Committee Room, ready to conduct their press conference.  But as we walked through the large mahogany doors, we entered an empty room.  Not one member of the press showed up.  We had given a press conference and no one came.  I was totally ticked off but the NCAP members were just thrilled to be in the room and when a young media student from Georgetown University came walking in with his little camera, they agreed to stand behind the podium and make their statements.

To this day, I’ll never forget them standing there, facing that one camera, looking very proud that they had adopted this resolution and were finally showing their faces to the public.  It was just one camera but for all they knew, they could have been talking to CNN.

Martini Reader

A very loyal pro-life reader who enjoys his martinis recently sent me the following note: “Dear Pat: I have read your blog for years and you are clearly the most articulate voice in the pro-death movement. Indeed, several times I have come close to converting to your side based on some of your very persuasive arguments. But after the effects of the martini wore off, I came to my senses. Now, my question is do pro-lifers have the right to break the laws that protect the killers and their helpers?’

Well, I appreciate those very kind comments.  Now, let’s get to the question.

Let me first lay out my qualifications (or lack thereof). I went to law school for one year then dropped out, so I am NOT a lawyer. Indeed, I totally bombed on my constitutional law final exam. In addition, I am a former “hippie” who actively opposed the Vietnam War but was never arrested. And I’m too lazy to do a lot of Google research on the definition of “rights.” But I’m smart enough to realize that I am somewhat of a pro-choice “voice” and that this is one of those “gotcha” questions that we all pose in the hopes of trapping our opponents and, if successful, letting the world know about it. But I really don’t care about being “caught” in a seemingly contradictory position or providing some “evidence” that I might have some reservations about the abortion issue (as I have suggested when it comes to third trimester abortions).

Still, my answer on this question is NO.

Of course, those of you who oppose abortion have the ability to break any law you want, including the one that says you can’t murder anyone, bomb a building or trespass on private property. It’s happened in the past and will happen again. So, if you are willing to deal with the consequences, folks, knock yourself out.

But I think it is inherently contradictory to suggest that you have a “right” to break a law. If that were the case, there would only be chaos. When you break the law, you are taking the chance that you will be caught and punished. Now some might harken back to our Founding Fathers who, during their deliberations on the Declaration of Independence, knew they were committing treasonous acts. In fact, many argued that they had an obligation to break the law. But I don’t think any of them would have suggested that it was their “right” to commit treason. Then, later, there were the abolitionists who felt the same moral obligation to free the slaves but they also suffered the legal consequences for some of their unlawful actions.

When I was up to my eyeballs in anti-Vietnam protests, I might have thought that I was doing the moral thing, but I never ever in my wildest dreams would have thought that it was my “right” to violate any laws. Yes, it was my right to protest, Free Speech and all, but only within certain parameters and if I chose to cross those lines, I knew I could be arrested. And, if I was arrested, I could never with a straight face defend myself by suggesting it was my “right” to violate the law.

Looming behind this question is the old “justifiable homicide” argument that Paul Hill made famous. He basically suggested that it was his right to kill a doctor who was going to perform an abortion – but no court ever bought it. Indeed, most pro-lifers never agreed with him either. The purpose of this question that has been posed is designed to get me to agree that killing an abortion doctor is legally defensible.  So, nice try, my pro-life friend, but no dice.

Enjoy your martini!

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