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Pro Life supporters rally at a Planned Parenthood facility, Downtown, in February.

A federal judge has upheld a Pittsburgh ordinance establishing a 15-foot “buffer zone” designed to keep abortion protesters away from clinic entrances  — the latest round in a three-year legal fight.

In a 26-page opinion Thursday, U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon wrote that the city’s 2005 ordinance “imposes only a minimal burden” on protesters trying to persuade women not to have abortions.

While the ordinance bars protesters from following women across a brightly painted 15-foot boundary, she said, clinic protesters’ “own records reflect not only that they are able to communicate with patients, but, in some instances, have persuad[ed] women not to have abortions.”

The protesters argued that they could persuade more women not to abort “if they could walk alongside patients all the way to and from the entrance of the clinic,” Judge Bissoon added. But they “offer no concrete evidence to support this claim.”

Abortion-rights supporters and city officials hailed the decision.

“We thank the court for this decision, which retains a great benefit for women and health care access in Pittsburgh,” said Timothy McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto.

“No women should have to endure threats, confrontation or even violence when they seek basic reproductive health-care services,” said Kimberlee Evert, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. “This court decision ensures those who need medical counseling or treatment will have safe, unfettered access to our clinics.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented clinic protesters, remained defiant. “The government can’t stifle free speech simply because some pro-abortion politicians or activists demand it,” it said in a statement. “We are consulting with our clients regarding the possibility of appeal.”

The fight over the buffer zone began in 2014. That June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an expansive statewide buffer zone law in Massachusetts. That opened the door to renewed scrutiny of similar buffers elsewhere. Pittsburgh’s buffer was challenged in that September, when Nikki Bruni and other self-described “sidewalk counselors” said it violated their First Amendment rights.

Judge Bissoon initially dismissed the case, but in June 2016, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it. The appellate judges ruled that before the case could be decided, the city had to justify its buffer zones by showing they served a legitimate public interest and that it had reasons for not using other approaches that might be less restrictive.

Judge Bissoon’s decision Thursday laid out that groundwork, citing 2005 City Council testimony that, in the nine months leading up to the 2005 ordinance’s passage, there had been “13 cases of aggressive pushing, shoving and hitting, and 30 complaints of harassing behavior” outside clinics. The city, she wrote, had tried other approaches — such as stationing police at clinics — that had proved to be impractical. And the city’s buffer zones, she said, were smaller than those overturned in Massachusetts.

Since “the current law burdens very little speech to begin with,” she concluded, “there is no reason to believe that [other] measures would burden substantially less speech.”


abortion texas handmaid's tale

Activists dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” protest antiabortion measures in the Texas Capitol Rotunda on May 23, 2017. AP Photo/Eric Gay

  • The Texas Legislature is spending $20 million on anti-abortion program funding.
  • Texas, in total, will spend $38 million on anti-abortion materials, infant formula, and support for unexpected parents.
  • This new budget is four times the amount of its original starting budget in 2006.
  • Pro-life groups argue it will save the state money in the long term because the programs will teach new mothers how to become financially independent and not rely on Social Services.

The Texas Legislature’s budget for the next two years includes $20 million more in funding for a controversial program that seeks to discourage women from getting abortions in the state.

Alternatives to Abortion uses contracted providers to offer services such as financial counseling and support groups for new parents, as well as children’s items such as car seats and infant formula. The extra money puts the program’s total operating budget at over $38 million, the highest it’s been since it began in 2006.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees Alternatives to Abortion, said in a report it plans to use the funding to extend services for new parents until the child’s third birthday and connect pregnant mothers to financial assistance programs such as Medicaid, CHIP and food stamps.

The commission also plans to expand job training and placement for mothers under the program, which will “lead to greater self-sufficiency and lower reliance on health and human service programs across the lifespan,” according to the report.

State law requires the Health and Human Services Commission  to report funding needs to the governor and Legislature. Funding is allocated in two-year periods and has steadily grown each legislative session.

The 2018-2019 period’s $20 million increase is the largest in the program’s history — four times its starting budget in 2006. The last increase was an additional $8 million beginning in 2016.

Anti-abortion groups have long lobbied to get greater funding for the program. Joe Pojman, executive director Texas Alliance for Life, said he was “ecstatic” to hear about the funding increases, saying it demonstrates the state’s priority in limiting abortion.

Pojman said expanding Alternatives to Abortion will save the state money by making helping new mothers become more financially independent and equipped to care for their children, lowering the number of parents relying on state social services.

“If they’re self sufficient through the process of childbirth and afterward, that saves the state money and makes for much happier women and children and families,” Pojman said.

Texas has been characterized by abortion-rights activists as being particularly restrictive toward accessing abortions. The state passed a law this year banning dilation and evacuation abortions — considered the safest method of abortion — prompting outcry from abortion doctors and a lawsuit from abortion-rights activists. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a 2013 Texas law that placed extra requirements on abortion clinics and banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, dismissed the notion the program saves the state money, saying it takes money away from family planning and health care services for parents.

Busby also questioned the notion that low-income beneficiaries need help to find and maintain work, saying many of them are already working parents struggling to financially support their children. Rather, she said the state should establish better worker protections to help low-income families earn a living wage.

Busby said the organizations that provide services from Alternatives to Abortion are often religiously motivated and may not provide the health care services pregnant women need.

“Clearly the state is prioritizing ideology over public health because a true alternative to abortion would be ensuring access to health care, especially family planning,” she said.


The tax break for fetuses, also in the House bill, is part of a broader effort to establish “personhood” rights and destroy Roe v. Wade.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn introduce the Republican tax reform plan at the Capitol on Nov. 9. 

Republicans are making tax reform about abortion rights.

A widely criticized provision that would give fetuses access to college savings plans made it into the draft tax bill Senate Republicans released last week.

The measure is similar to one included in the House’s tax plan. The provision would enable an embryo or a fetus ― defined by the proposed legislation as “an unborn child” ―  to be named as a beneficiary to a 529 college savings account, a tax-advantaged way parents can invest money to save for education costs.

It’s already relatively easy, under current tax law, to open a 529 before a child is born. The real intention here is to sneak anti-abortion language into federal law, according to feminists and abortion rights advocates.

The tax bill’s language is part of a broader strategy employed by the White House and Congressional Republicans to chip away at Roe v. Wade, says Sarah Lipton-Lubet, vice president for reproductive health and rights at the National Partnership for Women and Families. For years, anti-abortion activists have tried (and mostly failed) to get “personhood” laws passed that would give embryos and fetuses rights ― ultimately making it a crime to abort them.

This time around they’re trying to worm “personhood” language into other places. These include a draft strategic plan for the Department of Health and Human Services releasedlast month that says the department’s mission is to protect  “Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.”

Personhood language also makes an appearance in a bill under consideration by House Republicans that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. If a physician performs an abortion after that and “thereby kills a human fetus,” he or she would be subject to jail time, under the proposal.

“The hope is that if they throw enough anti-abortion language at the wall something is going to stick,” said Lipton-Lubet. “It’s a dubious strategy. It’s an affront to women.”

She notes that overall the tax plan doesn’t offer much relief to women and families. A proposed increase to the child tax credit, for example, is mainly geared to benefit upper-income earners. The Senate also is proposing to get rid of a widely used tax deduction on state and local taxes, which would likely wind up hitting local services like schools.

The Senate’s bill goes out of its way to define a “unborn child,” according to a passage from the bill sent to HuffPost by a representative of the Senate Finance Committee: “The provision provides that an unborn child may be treated as a designated beneficiary or an individual under section 529 plans. An unborn child means a child in utero. A child in utero means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

Under current law, you can open a 529 account before a child is born. A parent-to-be would simply list him or herself as the account’s beneficiary, and change the name on the account once the baby arrives.

Still, anti-abortion groups hailed the measure when it popped up in the House’s bill. “The inclusion of the unborn in 529 college savings plans recognizes the humanity of the unborn child and gives parents the opportunity to save for a child’s education from the earliest stages of his or her life,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement released after the House’s tax bill came out.

Her group was also adamantly opposed to another provision of the House’s tax plan that would’ve killed a tax credit given to parents who adopt. That measure did not make it into the Senate’s bill.



Many women don’t know that they’re pregnant by their sixth week of pregnancy. Assuming that a woman’s periods are regular, that’s right around the time that a cycle becomes noticeably off, and when many women might elect to start taking pregnancy tests. But, if certain Republican lawmakers had the choice, they’d elect to ban abortions starting at right around six weeks, before many women even had time to consider whether they wanted to have a child. If this six-week abortion ban passes, at-risk mothers occupy a sort of gray area that would undoubtedly be dangerous. (For reference: at-risk, or high-risk, mothers are women who risk serious injury, or even death, during childbirth or pregnancy.)

Dubbed the “Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017,” the bill, scheduled for a Nov. 1 debate before the House Judiciary Committee, makes it illegal to perform abortions on women once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which for many could be as early as a month and a half into pregnancy. It would require physicians to check for a heartbeat, to share those results with the mother, and, in the case that a heartbeat is detected, ban that abortion from taking place.

The bill, as it’s written, provides an exception to the ban if the life of the woman is in jeopardy, specifically if pregnancy or childbirth risks physical disorder, illness, injury, or a “life-endangering physical condition.” The bill specifically notes that this exception does not apply to “psychological or emotional conditions,” but it doesn’t elaborate on precisely what that means, or how physical and emotional conditions might overlap.

Two psychological conditions frequently associated with pregnancy are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum depression, both of which occur as a result of pregnancy and/or childbirth. It’s not entirely possible to reliably predict whether either of these will develop from woman to woman, but there are risk-factors, such as having a history of depression or bipolar disorder. As with many mental health issues, PTSD and postpartum depression can present themselves physically, and can be associated with thoughts of suicide. While not classified as a physical disorder, their symptoms can be severe and can also risk physical harm. It’s entirely reasonable that a woman with either a personal or familial history of emotional trauma might elect not to become a mother, a decision which the heartbeat bill does not allow for. The bill also does not provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The piece of legislation was originally introduced to the House by Rep. Steve King back in January, before Trump was sworn in as president.

“Since Roe v. Wade was unconstitutionally decided in 1973, nearly 60 million innocent babies’ lives have been ended by the abortion industry, all with a rubber stamp by the federal government,” King said in a press release at the time. “Human life, beginning at the moment of conception, is sacred in all of its forms and today, I introduced a bill that will protect the lives of voiceless innocents.”

Last December, an eerily similar heartbeat bill was vetoed in Ohio by Gov. John Kasich. That bill also sought to ban abortions once a heartbeat was detected. The Washington Post reported that Kasich declined to support the bill because he expected it to be struck down if and when it made it to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in Roe V. Wade, upheld abortions to the “point at which the fetus is viable,” making the six week bill an apparent affront to that standard. As Franklin Foer explains in Slate, viability means that a fetus has a strong chance of long-term survival if separate from its mother.

Newsweek reported that Rep. King believes his heartbeat bill has a fighting chance because, by the time it could potentially reach the Supreme Court, he believes Trump will have had the opportunity to appoint a pro-life justice. The ultimate goal, then, would be to defang or overturn Roe V. Wade, which nationally legalized abortions in 1973.

The Heartbeat Bill of 2017 primarily seeks to punish physicians who perform abortions after six weeks, but by banning abortions so stringently, some mothers are also being punished, even if not with jail time. They could be forced to live with mental and physical health conditions that could have been avoided if they were simply given control over their own medical decisions. But as we continue to see an increased interest in policing women’s health, that seems to be, for some, too much to ask for.


“The American people should know that anti-choice leaders like Janet Porter will support anyone regardless of what they have done to women or others in their quest to outlaw abortion.”

A who’s who of activists known for their extreme views on abortion held a press conference Thursday in defense of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore amid allegations that Moore abused and harassed teenage girls.

Janet Porter, the president of anti-choice group Faith2Action behind the “heartbeat” legislation at the state and federal level that promises to outlaw legal abortion, led the event. Addressing the crowd, she noted that the Moore campaign did not organize the press conference and the group of speakers “had actually called the campaign” and had asked Moore to come. Porter, who is considered too extreme for Christian talk radio, claimed that the allegations were part of a “firing squad to assassinate his character,” referring to the Republican candidate. “If the left can try to assassinate the character of Judge Roy Moore, then none of us is safe,” she said.

Rusty Thomas, director of the radical anti-choice group Operation Save America, told the attendees that he had appeared in order to support Moore “without hesitation” when contacted about it. “You need to know judge, you do not stand alone,” Thomas said. The anti-choice activist had already donated to Moore’s campaign.

Flip Benham, who formerly directed Operation Save America, appeared at the event in defense of Moore. He criticized the United States for allowing same-sex marriage and legal abortion. Benham noted that if he “had to go back 40 years and look back at” his past, he too “would be in serious trouble.”

“When we get close to overturning Roe v. Wade, the pro-abortion side comes out with every trick in the book, every dirty trick in the book, every dirty tactic they can think of,” said Andy Schlafly, an attorney for Phyllis Schlafly Eagles and the son of notorious Equal Rights Amendment opponent Phyllis Schlafly. He added that “we need someone in the Senate” like Moore for his “strength of character.”

Porter released a statement prior to the press conference pointing to Moore’s hardline opposition to abortion rights as a reason for her support of the Senate candidate. “I trust Judge Roy Moore,” she said. “Judge Moore has been a personal friend and a friend of life for decades,” she continued, criticizing Moore’s opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, for his pro-choice views.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, has monitored Porter’s work at the state and federal level. The Faith2Action leader’s latest move didn’t come as a surprise.

“The American people should know that anti-choice leaders like Janet Porter will support anyone regardless of what they have done to women or others in their quest to outlaw abortion,” Copeland told Rewire.

Porter orchestrated an Ohio GOP attempt to end legal abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy—before many people know they’re pregnant. The “moderate” Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) vetoed the total abortion ban in favor of an equally unconstitutional 20-week ban, but Republican legislators have resurrected it as a pending bill in the current legislative session.

Porter subsequently convinced Rep. Steve King (R-IA), an unabashed white nationalist, to debut the federal version in Congress while both attended the funeral of Phyllis Schlafly, as People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch first reported.

Porter’s leadership of the Moore press conference aligns with her increasingly prominent role on the national stage. Porter ran two Capitol Hill press conferences for King, the most recent after King’s contentious hearing on the total abortion ban. And she partnered with Tom DeLay, the former U.S. House of Representatives majority leader convicted on campaign finance violations that were later overturned on appeal, to lobby Vice President Mike Pence and his staff.

Porter and activists who spoke at the event are among many anti-choice leaders who have steadfastly supported Moore despite the allegations against him. Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, toldRewire last week that allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore were “far-left baloney” and “absolutely ridonkulous.”

Moore, who has denied the allegations that he abused minors, said at the conference that it was an “honor” to have the support of those who spoke on his behalf.


Half of respondents avoided visiting a military treatment facility out of fear of harming their careers and worries about confidentiality and stigma.

When the Army service member learned she was unexpectedly pregnant, she felt that the military doctor expected her to continue the pregnancy.

“It was awkward, ’cause [my clinician] kept asking me … all these questions for people that want to keep the baby,” said the enlisted servicewoman. “But I didn’t want to keep the baby.”

Her account was one of 21 published in a study Wednesday in the journalPerspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health that sought to understand the abortion experiences of women in the military, where abortion care access is highly restricted.

And while the qualitative nature of the study cannot say whether these service members’ experiences are universal in the military, the paper explores an area of reproductive health care that’s received little research attention.

A team of researchers led by Kate Grindlay, an associate with Ibis Reproductive Health, conducted in-depth interviews between January 2015 and July 2016 among officers and enlisted members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to explore the service members’ understanding and opinions of the military’s abortion policy.

Research from 2011 suggested active-duty women have a higher rate of unplanned pregnancies: 72 unintended pregnancies per 1,000 women, compared to 52 per 1,000 in the general population. But military medical facilities are prohibited by federal law from performing abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Military insurance only covers abortion care services in those cases.

The authors found most respondents didn’t know about the policies until they became pregnant. Most believed the military should provide abortion services and insurance should cover it. Some felt upset or abandoned upon learning of the military’s abortion policy.

As one enlisted navy servicewoman told researchers, “Once I told them I wasn’t going to keep it, it was like, ‘OK, you’re on your own.’ They couldn’t provide me any other help, even if that was something as simple as a reference.”

Half of respondents avoided visiting a military treatment facility out of fear of harming their careers and worries about confidentiality and stigma. Some who sought abortion care off base faced delays. One army officer recalled struggling with inadequate post-op care.

“I was still bleeding, and I wasn’t able to, like, use the restroom whenever I wanted, and I had to wear like tampons and stuff, which I know you’re not supposed to do after …. I wasn’t able to follow the post-op instructions as much as I wanted to,” the officer said.

More than half of service members believed the military’s policy could lead to more pregnant people carrying unwanted pregnancies to term. “The military makes it easy for you to have kids, but not easy for you to not have kids,” an Air Force officer said.

The average age of respondents was 26. Nearly three-fourths identified as Black, Latina, or multiracial. Many said the policy left them feeling stressed, unsupported, judged, burdened, or embarrassed.

It “kind of makes me feel like a bad person …. Since they don’t offer it, it makes you feel like they’re not supportive of it, which makes it feel like if you were to go to medical, they would look down on you for it,” an enlisted navy servicewoman told the researchers.

The cost of the policy was considerable, the authors found. All but three respondents paid out of pocket. The average cost was $493.

For some, the expense took their entire paycheck.

“The ultrasound my sister helped me pay for because it was like last minute, and I didn’t have enough money,” said one enlisted army servicewoman. “But I had half of it, and she paid for the rest. And then I had the abortion like a week or two after, and I paid for that with an entire check.”

The paper includes several recommendations, including better knowledge about the policy. The authors suggest a system to refer service members to providers and improve confidentiality.


If Canada can do it, why can’t we remove our own barriers to securing abortion care?

Last week, the Canadian government announced important changes that should go a long way to making medication abortion easier to manage for health-care providers. In Canada, mifepristone is now governed by federal regulations that are similar to, instead of more restrictive than, other prescription drugs.

If Canada can do it, why can’t we?

In the United States, mifepristone is still encumbered with unnecessary and unusually restrictive handling requirements that Canada has successfully removed. Rather than focus on the negative, let’s look at what could be a few positive developments around access to the abortion pill that could quite possibly shape the future of abortion in the United States.

But First, What Exactly Is the Abortion Pill?

The abortion pill is actually a combination of two medications (mifepristone and misoprostol) used together to safely end an early pregnancy. These medicines are most often obtained through a health-care provider and used at home within the first 70 days of pregnancy. The medicines block a hormone needed to sustain a pregnancy and cause cramping and bleeding, similar to what happens during a menstrual period, effectually ending the pregnancy. The average time for completion of a medication abortion is about 3-5 hours after taking the second medicine, misoprostol. The abortion pill is not the same thing as the morning-after pill. Emergency contraception, aka the morning-after pill, prevents a pregnancy while the abortion pill ends one.

These medications are very safe and very effective, and 93-98 percent of people have a complete abortion with no need for additional medical treatment after their initial visit.

How Difficult Is It to Get an Abortion?

Abortion access in the United States continues to be a struggle for many people. It is not uncommon for a patient, who has an unintended pregnancy, to have to travel many miles from their home to find an abortion provider when they need one. Women in the South and Midwest are often the most affected by provider shortages where they live—primarily due to harsh and unnecessary restrictions imposed by state legislators. At the carafem location in Georgia almost 20 percent of our clients drive over 100 miles to obtain an abortion. In a report published by the medical journal Lancet last month, researchers found that one in five women travel nearly 43 miles to get an abortion in the United States.

How Do We Increase Access to the Abortion Pill in the United States?

Expand Who Can Provide Medication Abortions. carafem unequivocally supports the ability of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to provide medication abortion. Not only is the process of providing the abortion pill well within the scope of their practice and training, APRNs are often the best suited to be supportive, empathetic, and to ensure the quality of care needed to help patients through abortion care. With over 200,000 licensed advanced practice nurses and physician’s assistants in the United States, they are already serving many women of reproductive age who might experience an unintended pregnancy. These clinicians know the needs of the diverse and often underserved populations that they are already caring for. It makes good sense to allow people to seek abortion care from these quality health care providers whom they may already see for their health care. We support the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a lawsuit it has brought challenging a Maine law that bars these nurses from performing abortions, and we are hopeful that by increasing access to safe abortion care through these providers, it will allow for better relationships of trust around all sexual and reproductive health care needs for underserved people.

Make the Abortion Pill Available in Pharmacies. The ACLU also launched a lawsuit in Hawaii against overly restrictive FDA guidelines regarding the provision of the abortion pill. The suit takes issue with the arbitrary and medically unnecessary guidelines that force providers to jump through a number of hoops just to be able to provide mifepristone, the first medication in a medication abortion.

Things like requiring providers to register with the drug manufacturer or agreeing to provide the medicine only through their approved medical facilities does nothing to protect clients or improve their experience. This is a very unusual and unnecessary restriction placed on an extremely safe medication. The requirement that a patient must be given the medication at a clinic, medical office, or hospital makes it difficult to get in the first place as many patients will face waiting periods to see a physician to obtain the medication. It also places additional hardship on those seeking abortion care, as they may have to search for another doctor who, hopefully, will have the medicine in stock.

While many primary care providers already have a trusted and caring relationship with their clients, and may be very willing to prescribe and help a client use the abortion pill, the cost of acquiring and storing the medicine is very high and may be too much of a barrier to keep it in stock in their office. Pharmacies are experts at ordering, storing, and providing medications to clients, and doing so with more flexible hours than those available to many medical offices. Why should this safe and relatively common medication be provided in any other way? carafem supports the ACLU in fighting to change the way mifepristone is regulated and agrees it should be treated similarly to how other medications are obtained in the United States.

Abortion Care Is Basic Health Care

It is important to remember that almost 50 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and of those unintended pregnancies, about half end in abortion. As the future of our health-care system remains unclear, especially for those among us who make the least money and have the fewest choices, this is an issue that will continue to be very important.

Efforts to end abortion through restrictive laws only increase the shame and desperation for those seeking abortion; they do nothing to decrease the number of unintended pregnancies or the number of abortions. Empowering more providers, like APRNs, to increase the scope of the care they provide builds relationships of trust with the patients they serve. Additionally, having medication abortion available in pharmacies reduces barriers for people needing this basic health-care service by increasing the number of providers patients can reach out to when looking for an option for an early, safe, and private abortion.

In the United States, as in Canada, these are good steps toward decreasing the abortion stigma perpetuated by needless and arbitrary restrictions on a routine health care option, while assuring better health outcomes for all people.