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Discussion of the Helms Amendment hasn’t bubbled up much so far this election cycle, but it was a topic of discussion in the 2016 race

At least ten Democrats vying for the Democratic nomination for 2020 have come out in opposition to the Helms Amendment, an anti-choice ban on using foreign assistance funds for abortion.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

At least ten Democrats vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination have come out in opposition to the Helms Amendment, a ban on using foreign assistance funds for abortion.

The U.S. Congress passed the Helms Amendment in 1973 as part of the Foreign Assistance Act in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion in the United States. It states, “No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” Though no language in the amendment specifies doing so, the ban has long been enforced without exceptions for rape, incest, and life endangerment—leaving those facing sexual violence in conflict zones especially vulnerable.

Discussion of the Helms Amendment hasn’t bubbled up much this election cycle, but it was a topic of discussion in the 2016 race. In that election cycle, eventual nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voiced their opposition to Helms during the primary, while the Democratic Party’s official platform for the first time included ending the Helms Amendment.

This time around, the issue of foreign aid funding bans on abortion hasn’t gone entirely undiscussed. Rebecca Traister reported in The Cut in March that in 1981, Joe Biden introduced a measure “prohibiting foreign aid to be used in any biomedical research related to abortion.” Biden’s campaign didn’t respond to Rewire.News about his stance on the Helms Amendment—but the 2020 campaigns of ten other Democrats running for president did.

Spokespeople for the campaigns of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), as well as entrepreneur Andrew Yang, confirmed to Rewire.News that the candidates opposed the Helms Amendment. Other campaigns specified their stances and how they factored into their platform on reproductive rights.

The campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in a statement doubled down on Sanders’ promise to work with Congress to end Helms permanently and stated that he would sign an executive order allowing for U.S. foreign aid to fund abortion services.

“Sen. Sanders believes health care is a human right, and reproductive care, including the right to abortion, is a fundamental part of health care,” a campaign spokesperson said. “As president, he will repeal the Trump administration’s global gag rule, which is a disgraceful assault on women’s rights, and sign an executive order to allow for U.S. foreign aid to pay for abortions services. He will also work with Congress to permanently repeal both the Hyde and Helms amendments.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign also noted that Inslee would take executive action on Helms. “Governor Inslee believes that all women should have access to abortion and reproductive health care. As such, he opposes the Helms Amendment and its ban on the provision of abortion and reproductive care in foreign assistance funding,” a spokesperson said. “Governor Inslee would exercise executive authority to relieve the burden created by the Helms Amendment, and would aim to repeal it along with the Hyde Amendment.”

Marianne Williamson also vowed to take prompt action to address Helms. “I would immediately give an interpretation of the Helms Amendment to include exceptions for situations outside of family planning—namely for rape, incest, and a threat to the woman’s life. I would work to completely overturn the ban in Congress,” she said in a statement.”

A spokesperson for former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign said, “Beto supports the repeal of the Helms Amendment to ensure the United States government does not stand between women and the access to the health care they need. As president, Beto would allow organizations that receive federal U.S. financial aid to both offer information on, and provide comprehensive, reproductive health care, including abortion.”

A spokesperson for Julián Castro’s campaign said that the former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary supported repealing Helms but didn’t specify how he would address the issue. “Secretary Castro supports both repealing the Helms Amendment that restricts foreign assistance funding for a full range of family planning services, including abortion, and rescinding the global gag rule/Mexico City policy, which makes organizations that conduct such activities ineligible for U.S. foreign assistance funding for family planning,” the spokesperson said.

The campaign of billionaire Tom Steyer, who launched his presidential bid last month, noted his opposition to Helms as well. “Tom opposes all attempts to deny women health care services, including the Helms Amendment,” a campaign spokesperson said. “Tom’s Five Rights Plan includes the Right to Health, and reproductive health services are absolutely key health care services for women around the world…We must support women around the globe not make their health care choices for them.”

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2019/08/21/these-2020-democrats-support-repealing-the-helms-amendments-ban-on-foreign-assistance-funding-for-abortion/?fbclid=IwAR1lthBNHvwxLboOBwnf8b0SbF5EYFzicxnUNGHejf9dRJvPoSQ-CCip8iY

‘Crisis pregnancy centers’ give counseling, pregnancy tests – and outnumber abortion providers three to one in Georgia

In her office at the Crossroads Pregnancy Center in Milledgeville, Georgia, Pam Alford hung a picture of a grave-filled cemetery in memory of the thousands of the abortions taking place every day in America. Or so says the caption.

Other indications of the center staff’s attitude to abortion fill public areas of the building. Someone has stenciled “life is beautiful” in a hallway. Figurines of Jesus and the cross line the lunch area walls.

But from the outside one might not know it. The Crossroads facility is one of thousands of “crisis pregnancy centers” that have appeared all over the US as a controversial part of the ongoing fight over women’s reproductive rights.

Known as “fake clinics” by pro-choice activists, and coined pregnancy resource centers by anti-abortion supporters, they are accused of posing as medical centers aimed at helping pregnant women, or even looking like abortion clinics. They are part of the anti-abortion movement, newly galvanized in the US in the wake of a raft of anti-abortion legislation passed across the country, but especially in conservative, southern states such as Georgia.

Crisis pregnancy centers are not places for impartial advice for women weighing their options: they are places where women are lobbied – sometimes subtly, sometimes not – to carry pregnancies to term. Critics say they are “disingenuous and predatory”.

The Crossroads building is an inconspicuous single-story structure, sitting next to a CVS pharmacy near downtown. It is quiet before the center opens. A handful of volunteers, the volunteer nurse, Hannah Coyle, the executive director, and Alford, the client services manager, are gathered in the conference room to pray.

Before the front door is unlocked, Coyle, 27, leads the end of the prayer meeting and begins: “Father, I just know that you’ve got something planned today, working with our clients and we just pray that you use them and guide them all.”

There are more than 90 centers spread out across Georgia, training and functioning under multiple religious organizations. Many offer counseling sessions, pregnancy tests and alternatives to abortions such as adoption. They outnumber abortion providers in Georgia nearly three to one in a state that just passed one of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the country, which, if it comes into effect, will virtually outlaw abortion after six weeks.

Crossroads associates with the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), which says it “exists to protect life-affirming pregnancy centers that empower abortion-vulnerable women and families to choose life for their unborn children”.

Milledgeville’s pregnancy center has been around for 27 years, renting various spaces in town. A decade ago, the center rebranded itself as a medical clinic, and found a permanent spot to ensure it could offer ultrasounds and pregnancy tests from the registered nurse, Joy Lori Lyle. No one else, including the volunteers who intake patient information and offer counseling to the women who come in, is a medical professional.

The Georgia department of public health did not answer questions via multiple emails or phone calls asking for clarification on the requirements for a pregnancy center to identify as a medical clinic. Multiple calls to the department went unanswered.

Now, because the center has Lyle, they have a brand new ultrasound machine in a room where eight figures of a fetus in utero at various stages of the pregnancy line two shelves. “They get all their options [here] instead of like, you know, instead of just one,” Lyle said, referring to abortion.

Though the center doesn’t offer abortion as an option, she clarified.

“Well, let’s share one thing that you might not see on an ultrasound until six weeks. The heartbeat,” Lyle said, referring to the new law Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, signed.

“The heartbeat is at its earliest detection at 18 days, so, just letting you know,” she added, but was unable to provide the science or research behind that assertion.

“They just want to squash us like bugs!” she shouted, her southern twang becoming shrill, referring to pro-choice activists.

That’s when Alford changed the subject. We’re an information station, not a pregnancy center, she interrupted, ushering the conversation away from abortion.

The Crisis Pregnancy Center offers free baby clothes and supplies in exchange for in-house paper money earned while watching anti-abortion videos and pregnancy tutorials.
 The Crisis Pregnancy Center offers free baby clothes and supplies in exchange for in-house paper money earned while watching anti-abortion videos and pregnancy tutorials. Photograph: Khushbu Shah/The Guardian

As Alford provided a tour of the facility, she pointed out the five appointments scheduled for visitors; one pregnancy test and four “earn while you learn” video sessions. For purple “mommy money” and green “daddy dollars” people in various stages of a pregnancy watch videos with titles such as Safe from the Start, Parenting with Respect and others on how to interact with your child or breastfeeding. The “money” can be spent on diapers, formula, blankets or onesies in a pistachio green room called the Stork’s Nest. Initially, Coyle had offered the Guardian the chance to sit in on some of the sessions but rescinded the offer.

Crossroads serves three neighboring counties, much of the area rural, some of them poor. Lyle acknowledged later, over her salad, that the clients, as they are called by staff, tend to live below the poverty line and the center’s offerings incentivize their return.

“Everything is free here. Everything,” Lyle added.

If and when the anti-abortion law in Georgia goes into effect, no one on staff at the center believes it will close even as abortion would become exponentially more difficult. Everyone in the office that day sees a need for its continuance because the center is not strictly anti-abortion but also about pregnancy more broadly, Lyle insisted.

Coyle, the director, who had been listening, agreed. “Yeah, we get a lot of people that just need a hug and encouraging word.”

A few minutes later, the center’s chairwoman entered the conference room turned lunch room that day, asking, as many others had that day, if the Guardian was anti-abortion. Without an answer, the visit was suddenly cut short.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/16/georgia-abortion-crisis-pregnancy-centers?fbclid=IwAR0RXXHzyU0H2ua1kVQ_WFXdqC8-ykqd0SxqmWbqlWsJ7f1SdD1o_gMhiHk

Evelyn Hernández was put on trial — again — last week for aggravated murder after she delivered a stillborn in 2016. After weeks of uncertainty, a judge ruled on Monday that she was innocent.

MEXICO CITY — Marking a new victory for women’s rights in Latin America, Evelyn Hernández, who was convicted three years ago of aggravated murder after delivering a stillborn in El Salvador, was acquitted in a retrial on Monday.

She has become the latest standard-bearer for the dozens of women accused of homicide after having miscarriages in the deeply conservative and machista Central American nation where abortion is banned in all cases, including when the woman’s life is in danger.

Her defense attorneys said that prosecutors ignored scientific evidence during the first trial. For the retrial, they centered their strategy on the presence of meconium in the baby’s lungs as evidence that it died of asphyxiation.

The final hearing of the retrial began on Thursday but the verdict, expected to be delivered that day, was postponed twice. This time around, the prosecution had asked for a harsher sentence: 40 years, a decade longer than the original sentence.

Hernández’s acquittal comes at the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to commute the 30-year sentences of three women jailed for abortion convictions. Still, legal reform is unlikely to pass the right-wing-majority legislature in the foreseeable future. El Salvador has bucked the regional trend toward liberalization of abortion laws, even as reports of sexual violence have increased in recent years.

“We celebrate today, but we keep fighting tomorrow,” Paula Ávila-Guillén, director of Latin America Initiatives at the Women’s Equality Center, told BuzzFeed News in a phone call after the verdict was announced.

Raped by a member of a local gang while she was still a teenager, Hernández became pregnant but said she didn’t become aware of it until 32 weeks later, when she delivered a baby in a latrine in her home in rural El Salvador. Bleeding profusely, Hernández passed out. She woke up in the emergency room, where she was detained by police.

Hernández served 33 months in jail before her sentence was annulled in February following an appeal from her lawyers. Prosecutors called for a retrial, underscoring the aggressive persecution of women suspected of inducing abortions.

Oscar Rivera / AFP / Getty Images

Evelyn Hernandez arrives at Ciudad Delgado’s court in San Salvador, Aug. 19.

Now 21, Hernández has begun rebuilding her life, going back to school and getting a part-time job. But the threat of a return to prison loomed over her during the last six months. During that time, a collective of 17 women who were imprisoned for similar charges and since released advocated for Hernández’s freedom.

“We will not stop until all of them are free, because none of them deserve to be in prison,” Teodora Vásquez, a member of the collective, told BuzzFeed News.

El Salvador’s recently inaugurated president, Nayib Bukele, who has publicly opposed punishing low-income women who have had obstetric emergencies, has not commented publicly on Hernández’s retrial, which has captured the country’s attention. Instead, he celebrated the birth of his first daughter on Thursday, updating his Twitter bio to “Father of Layla.”

Hernández’s case was the first of its kind tried under Bukele. About 147 women were sentenced to prison for abortion or homicide between 2000 and 2014, according to the El Salvador–based Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion. At least 16 women remain incarcerated for pregnancy-related complications; some are serving 30-year sentences, and two others are in the middle of legal proceedings.

Johnny Wright Sol, a former lawmaker who introduced a petition in 2017 to legalize abortion in cases where the woman’s life is in danger or when a minor has been raped, applauded the verdict but said that there is still work to be done.

“The next step is to sit down and have a long conversation about what happened,” said Wright Sol. “This is not a moment to let up on the pressure.”

Source: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/karlazabludovsky/evelyn-hernandez-stillbirth-murder-retrial-acquitted?utm_source=dynamic&utm_campaign=bfsharefacebook&ref=mobile_share&fbclid=IwAR0VrmoaFZ94WiTu-2mKllXOlZIIUVx_JIkj_xaCrZdTVsIIOEP4Ef9sTb4

Evelyn Hernández was convicted of aggravated murder after a stillbirth, but was released after serving 33 months. This week, she is going back to court for the same alleged crime.

MEXICO CITY — On the morning of Feb. 15, Evelyn Hernández walked out of Ilopango, a women’s jail in El Salvador, where she had been for nearly three years. Looking slightly dazed, she stepped through a crowd of cheering women carrying “Justice for Evelyn” banners outside the gates and into a waiting car.

Hernández, who had been serving a 30-year sentence for aggravated homicide after she had a stillbirth, had become malnourished in prison. But she finally had reason to believe her luck was turning: Her sentence had been annulled following an appeal from her legal team. Since then, the 21-year-old has gotten treatment for her physical ailments, gone back to school, and started a part-time job.

This week, she is heading back to a courtroom to be tried again for the same alleged crime. It’s a date that has been looming over her since she first regained her freedom, as the courts have been preparing to relitigate her case. Thursday’s proceedings come after the retrial began and was swiftly suspended in July.

Hernández is one of dozens of women in the Central American country, which bans abortion entirely, who have been accused of murder by the state after having miscarriages or stillbirths. Her case will be the first of its kind tried under recently inaugurated President Nayib Bukele, who has spoken out against the punishment of impoverished women who have suffered “spontaneous abortions,” putting the new administration’s stance on women’s rights to the test.

In El Salvador, “there is an intentional, systematic persecution of women, of poor women,” Paula Ávila-Guillén, director of Latin America Initiatives at the Women’s Equality Center, a New York City–based reproductive health advocacy organization, told BuzzFeed News.

Over the last decade, activists, lawyers, and international women’s groups have rallied behind Salvadoran women imprisoned for “obstetric emergencies.” Since 2009, more than 38 women have been released from jail, 16 remain incarcerated, and at least three — including Hernández — are in the middle of legal proceedings.

Before her release, Hernández had served 33 months in prison. According to Angélica Rivas, one of her lawyers, Hernández’s first trial ignored scientific evidence and was determined largely by statements from witnesses called forth by the prosecution. This time, the defense is focused on highlighting the presence of meconium in the baby’s lungs, which can cause asphyxiation — and shows that the baby died of natural causes, said Rivas.

Raped by a member of a local criminal gang, Hernández kept quiet, aware that her case would have likely slipped through the cracks of a justice system virtually synonymous with impunity. Machismo is rampant in the country, which has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. More importantly, going to the police would have put Hernández’s and her family’s lives in danger.

Hernández said she didn’t know she was pregnant until 32 weeks later, when she went to the latrine in her small home and delivered a stillborn baby. She started bleeding profusely and passed out.

Marvin Recinos / AFP / Getty Images

Hernández speaks before her trial at the Ciudad Delgados court in July.

A total ban on abortion was put in place in El Salvador in 1998, after an onslaught of pressure by the Catholic Church. The country of 6.3 million people has eluded a growing regional trend toward liberalization of abortion laws: In 2012, Uruguay legalized abortion during the first trimester, while Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina have incorporated exceptions, such as in cases of rape or when the fetus is expected to die — though eligible women and girls have at times been forced to fight the state to access this right.

Efforts to dent El Salvador’s ironclad legislation have been growing. In 2017, then-legislator Johnny Wright Sol submitted a petition to legalize abortion in cases where the woman’s life is in danger or when a minor has been raped. It didn’t garner enough votes to be discussed in the National Congress.

“As is the norm with this issue, it was put back in a drawer and stripped of its importance,” Wright Sol told BuzzFeed News during a telephone interview. He worries that the current administration is so focused on fighting gangs — a push factor for Salvadorans to head to the US, creating a diplomatic challenge for the country — that abortion legislation will take a backseat.

Bukele, who took office this summer, said during a conference at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas last year that abortion should only be available for women when their life is at risk. He also argued that impoverished women should not be presumed guilty after having an unintended abortion.

There are no signs that the law will be modified anytime soon — and any attempt to do so will likely be met with fierce opposition, both from the church and conservative political circles.

Ricardo Velásquez Parker, a lawmaker who has spoken out against abortion, told the BBCearlier this year that the maximum sentence for murder — 50 years — “should be changed to be harsher” for abortion. Parker, whose Twitter profile description has #NoAlAborto and #AltoAlBullying side by side, did not respond to an interview request.

Marvin Recinos / AFP / Getty Images

Activists demanding freedom, justice, and redress for Hernández await her release, Feb. 9.

Teodora Vásquez stood outside the gates of Ilopango in San Salvador, the capital city, the morning Hernández was to be freed. While she waited, Vásquez, 35, thought about how serendipitous timing could be: That day, Vásquez was celebrating the one-year anniversary of her own release from prison after serving 10 years for stillbirth.

“Welcoming Evelyn to her freedom was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received,” Vásquez told BuzzFeed News.

In 2007, Vásquez was pregnant and eager for her baby’s arrival. She was at work when she felt a sharp pain in her abdomen. She started bleeding and called 911 seven times; the ambulance never arrived, Vásquez lost consciousness, and her baby was born dead. When she regained consciousness, she was handcuffed, taken to a clinic, and shortly afterward, to prison. Vásquez was sentenced to 30 years.

Vásquez, whose sentence was commuted by the country’s supreme court last year, has become an outspoken defender of women who have gone through similar situations. Since her release, eight other women have been freed, including Imelda Cortez, 20, who spent more than 18 months in jail awaiting trial, suspected of having attempted an abortion. “My freedom was a door that opened for the rest of them,” said Vásquez, “things are beginning to speed up.”

Now, Vásquez leads a collective of 17 freed women who call themselves “Free to Bring Down the Patriarchy,” though she said the group is looking for a new name. Four of them, including Vásquez, live in the same house in San Salvador, where a psychologist visits every weekend to speak to the women. They are all part of a WhatsApp group where they check in regularly, offering each other support through the inevitable bouts of depression. The women, some of whom left prison with a criminal record, have faced stigma from their families and have struggled to get jobs.

Vásquez said she will be at the courthouse Thursday, when Hernández goes back before the judge, cheering her on. Anxious about the verdict, Hernández declined an interview request, but her legal team said she is eager to move on.

“She’s counting down the hours, the minutes, to put this behind her,” said Rivas, “as if it had been a bad dream.”

Source: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/karlazabludovsky/evelyn-hernandez-el-salvador-rape-stillborn-trial?fbclid=IwAR1qQzqI-B5RWWLiAjLavhNHjweL7ANrCPxGNNct5iKq_WLUxiZCD6yX7qQ

In a state that’s done the utmost to protect against Trump’s attacks on abortion, clinics are still on the verge of closing.

Two reproductive health clinics in New York City are preparing for the possibility that they will have to close after withdrawing from Title X, the country’s family planning program.

The clinics, both located in Brooklyn, are two of six operated by Public Health Solutions, a nonprofit organization that is no longer eligible to receive Title X funds because of a recent Trump administration policy. The change prohibits federal dollars from going to abortion providers or to health centers that provide abortion referrals to their patients. PHS provides referral services—not abortions—as well as gynecological exams, prenatal care, birth control, STI testing, and other reproductive health care.

The policy, which was handed down in July, has given the roughly 4,000 clinics that currently receive Title X funds an ultimatum: Stop providing abortions—or referring people to clinics where they can obtain abortions—or give up millions of dollars in funding. Clinics have until September to make their choice, but, like many others, PHS has already announced that it will forego the Title X money in order to continue providing the same standard of care it did before.

“We are unwilling to compromise those beliefs by replacing our services with inadequate and incomplete health care,” PHS President and CEO Lisa David said in a statement earlier this month. The network of clinics, she continued, would reject a total of $4.6 million in funding.

Turning down the funds has put PHS’s clinics—which primarily serve low-income New Yorkers—in a precarious position. With funds rapidly dwindling, the Brooklyn Eaglereports that the two clinics, located in the Brooklyn neighborhoods Fort Greene and Crown Heights, may be forced to close in a matter of weeks, unless PHS receives an infusion of cash. If the clinics close, they could be the first to do so as a result of the Trump administration changes.

New York state has prepared for this exact scenario by establishing a $16 million emergency fund for abortion clinics to dip into as a substitute for Title X. But as of this writing, neither PHS nor any other New York clinics have been able to access those funds as they have not been released by the governor’s office. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for PHS told VICE that the organization was still in conversation with the state about securing the funding and directed VICE to the governor’s office for comment. A spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office declined to comment on the record.

Some advocates say the fact that two New York clinics have already been brought this close to shutting down highlights that even providers in progressive states are feeling the impact of the Trump administration’s mounting attacks on abortion.

Roe v. Wade stands for the principle that abortion is a fundamental right, but that’s far from people’s reality across this country, even in blue states,” said Katharine Bodde, the senior policy council at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Federal policy can impact abortion access even in states with supportive laws and policies, as we’re seeing here.”

PHS’s struggles to secure funding in the absence of Title X is mainly logistical: Since the network of health centers was a direct grantee of Title X—that is, its funds were paid directly by the federal government—the bureaucracy involved in connecting the organization to the state pipeline for funding has caused a lapse in cash flow.

But the logistical issues involved in getting former Title X beneficiaries access to state funds aren’t the only obstacle to New York clinics staying open. In July, David told AMNY she had concerns that the $16 million set aside by the state could run out. “$16 million in the state budget…is not a lot of money,” she said at the time. ” …What I worry about is disruption in services, not that it won’t ultimately be funded.” A PHS spokesperson told VICE that David was unavailable for comment.

History shows that even a temporary disruption in services can be dire for both patients and providers. Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of the clinic network Whole Women’s Health, remembers well what it was like to cease operations at multiple Texas clinics as the result of the 2013 state law requiring abortion clinics to obtain hospital admitting privileges.

“Laying off a fabulous nurse, telling them they no longer have a job because of political interference is one of the hardest things we’ve ever done,” Hagstrom Miller said in a June interview about the looming closure of Missouri’s last abortion clinic. If staff members get laid off, “they’ll have to get other jobs, making it very difficult to reopen and rebuild [later on],” she continued. “It might not be something you can afford to do.”

Layoffs are also a concern at PHS—the two clinics in question employ 30 people, according to NY1—though a statement from senior adviser Rich Azzopardi on behalf of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reassures that the “threats of layoffs are 100 percent avoidable.” Azzopardi also said the administration has been in “constant contact” with PHS to help them access the state funds.

Blue states have ramped up their efforts to fund and protect abortion providers over the last year, in the face of both federal attacks on abortion rights and the increasingly extreme state laws threatening to ban abortion for millions. Multiple states, including New York, have passed legislation enshrining abortion protections into state law. Others have signed laws requiring public and private insurance to cover abortion, and pledged to fund abortion providers through their state’s public health departments instead of through Title X.

But even if providers may be in a slightly better position to continue services in progressive states, Robin Chapelle Golston, the president of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, said Wednesday it’s important to remember that nothing about the current environment of abortion access is ideal.

Replacing Title X funds is a “burden on the state,” she said, that forces state officials to “come up with this money that would normally come from the federal government.”

“Title X covers basic health care that most people support,” Golston continued. “These services are not controversial. There’s nothing about this [new Title X policy] that is about keeping women healthy and safe.”

Source: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/43jk8d/title-x-family-planning-policy-destroy-birth-control?utm_campaign=sharebutton&fbclid=IwAR3CiilBn9KB7r8ouOJLnf9yE4V2qN-JXz_Xj1VmEHb6WdFL5N8K1o3awzc

Illinois, Maryland, and Washington state are replacing the millions clinics will lose when they exit Title X after the Trump administration imposes its domestic “gag rule.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced in late July that the state would ensure Title X clinics receive state funds, shielding the health-care facilities from complying with the Trump administration’s “gag rule.”
Scott Olson / Getty Images

A handful of states are withdrawing from Title X and replacing the funding so reproductive health clinics won’t have to comply with the Trump administration’s restrictions on the family planning program that serves 4 million low-income patients across the United States.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Federation of America will withdraw its clinics nationwide from Title X if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit doesn’t intervene before August 19. The national nonprofit will lose around $60 million by withdrawing from the program, according to the Washington Post.

The restrictions, which went partly into effect in mid-July, ban federal family planning money from going to health-care clinics that refer patients for abortion care. Just a few days later, the administration created confusion by announcing that it “does not intend to bring enforcement actions” against health-care clinics making “good-faith efforts” to comply with the restrictions.

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association called the notice “wholly insufficient.” It said in a statement, “It’s just absurd to think that a few bullet points amount to guidance.” Michelle Kuppersmith, director of Equity Forward, in a statement said the administration’s mixed signals on Title X are “meant to hinder clinics’ ability to operate and encourage health care providers to drop out of the grant program.”

Another domestic “gag rule” restriction that requires clinics maintain physical separation between abortion services and all other health-care services will go into effect next year.

Three states have already stepped in to compensate clinics for the lost federal funding. Officials in other states have said they would assist clinics but haven’t yet clarified their plans. Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) said in 2018 that the state would reject Title X funding if the administration’s “gag rule” went into effect, and on Friday a spokesperson for the Hawaii State Department of Health said the department is “discussing options and evaluating alternatives for funding services affected by the changes to Title X requirements.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) also pledged last year to withdraw from the family planning program if the rule survived court challenges. A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health told Rewire.News, “We are thoughtfully weighing options that will allow organizations to provide access to critical services without interruption.”

Illinois

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said July 18 that the state would reject the federal government’s family planning funding, allowing the state’s Title X clinics to continue providing the full spectrum of reproductive health care.

The Illinois Department of Public Health will step in and fund the Title X clinics, which will lose around $2.4 million when the state leaves the program, according to NPR. That money does not include Planned Parenthood of Illinois, which had already announced its plans to reject the Title X dollars. Planned Parenthood served more than 50,000 “female contraceptive patients” in 2015 at its Title X-funded health centers in the state, according to a statement from the organization.

“We will not let that stand in the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said, NPR reported last month. “Under my administration, Illinois will always stand with women and protect their fundamental right to choose. While I’m committed to bringing as many federal dollars to the state as possible, I refuse to sacrifice our values and allow vital care to lapse. In this state, we trust women to make their own health care decisions and will guarantee access to reproductive health care for all of our residents.”

Maryland 

After the administration indicated through its early staffing decisions that it would go after Title X funding, Maryland’s Democratic-held legislature passed a 2017 law to create a state-funded family planning program to help fill any potential gap. Since then, the legislature has continued to support the state’s Title X clinics.

Maryland Democrats passed legislation this year that would fund family planning clinics at the same level as last year despite the state’s loss of federal funding. The move will cost around $4.2 million starting in fiscal year 2021.

The state’s Title X clinics serve more than 67,000 female contraceptive clients, according to 2015 data from the Guttmacher Institute.

“Maryland is very fortunate that our legislators safeguard a woman’s right to access family planning services,” Karen Nelson, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, told the Associated Press in April. “Our state has to step in far too often to fulfill the responsibility of the federal government.”

Washington

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced in late July that the state would ensure Title X clinics receive state funds, shielding the health-care facilities from complying with the Trump administration’s “gag rule.”

Officials said the state began reimbursing Title X clinics July 15, shortly after the administration started enforcing the restriction. More than half of the people who benefit from Title X funding in Washington state live at or below the poverty line, an Inslee spokesperson told Rewire.News.

Title X funds allowed 18,000 people in Washington state to avoid unintended pregnancies in 2017, according to the state’s lawsuit against the “gag rule.” The lawsuit calls the rule “arbitrary and capricious.”

“It reverses longstanding policies and agency interpretations of Title X with no rational explanation or evidentiary support, backtracks from evidence-backed standards of care included in HHS’s own Program Requirements and guidance, and adds unsupported, illogical, and counterproductive new requirements, while ignoring contrary record evidence and failing to consider the grave public health harms the new requirements will cause,” the lawsuit says.

State officials have been among the most vocal opponents of the restrictions.

“The Trump Administration’s effort to muzzle doctors and keep patients from receiving medically sound care and advice is simply not something we will tolerate in Washington state,” Inslee said in a statementshortly after the Ninth Circuit gave the green light to the rule.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson called the family planning restrictions “outrageous and unlawful.”

This piece will be updated as more states announce plans to circumvent Trump’s domestic “gag rule.”

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2019/08/16/these-states-are-protecting-family-planning-clinics-under-trumps-domestic-gag-rule/

HOUSTON — The circle of students sat quietly, scribbling down answers to the prompt they’d just been given: “Write down three similarities between the Holocaust and abortion.”

After a minute or two, they launched into discussion. Innocent people were, and are, being killed, they said. The Nazis discriminated against the Jews, just as “the unborn” face discrimination today. Bystanders aren’t doing enough to stand up against injustice.

Sarah Ruiz, the Texas A&M University senior leading the group, added another idea. Sometimes, she said, people who support abortion rights will say they wouldn’t get an abortion but they don’t want to stop anyone else from getting one.

“You can draw parallels … to slavery, to child abuse, to animal cruelty,” she told her students, as other clusters of students debated the same topic nearby. “‘Well, I wouldn’t kill my neighbor. But what you do is up to you. I wouldn’t beat my child. But what you do is up to you. I don’t like slavery, don’t own a slave.’

“You can plug in literally anything into that.”

As Ruiz spoke, her voice soft and solemn, her pupils nodded along, their faces determined. This was, after all, very serious business: If they could convince someone that abortion in the United States is a holocaust, they might be able to keep them from getting one — and save a life.

Welcome to pro-life boot camp.

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Madeline Hill listens to James Steward, one of the speakers at the training. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

In June, 24 Texas college students spent a week of their summer break at a hotel in downtown Houston, learning how to become anti-abortion activists through the Dr. Joseph Graham Fellowship for College Pro-Life Leaders. The seven-day training is run by Texas Right to Life, the Lone Star State’s preeminent anti-abortion group. Afterward, in exchange for 50 hours of activism, participants will receive a $1,000 scholarship every semester.

This school year alone, Texas Right to Life is investing almost $100,000 in new students, between these fellows and 25 others who participated in a training in July. (It’s their largest class since the fellowship began, in 2008.) That’s not counting the cost of the four-star hotel, students’ travel, older fellows’ scholarships, or the programs that the group runs for high school students and graduate students.

But for Texas Right to Life, it’s worth it. Because as countless speakers will remind them over the course of the week, the fellows make up the front lines of the national war over abortion rights. And with President Donald Trump in the White House, a majority-conservative Supreme Court, and a spate of abortion bans sweeping across the South, it’s a war they’ve never been closer to winning.

“Well, we are trying to save the world,” said Veronica Arnold Smither, the head of Texas Right to Life’s education division, with a wry smile and a snap of her fingers, as if to punctuate the obvious.

The group is just one of many that are training students; anti-abortion summits, conferences, and camps similar to this one, run by both national and state-level groups, dot the country.

“Life begins at the beginning. There’s no arbitrary line here. So it’s black and white. It’s yes or no. It’s life or death.”

These ground soldiers in Houston don’t look much like the stereotypical anti-abortion activists angrily picketing clinics on a Sunday. They’re polite, curious, and generally like all other college students, chatting together about struggling to wake up early and who Hannah should end up with on “The Bachelorette.” In interviews, some declined to label themselves as “Republicans”; some said they support traditionally Democratic causes, like gun control and ending the death penalty.

Sure, many were Christian. Breakfast always included a group prayer, and talk of Jesus saturated speakers’ lectures. One young woman floated away from her conversations with a VICE News reporter with a sincere trill of “Blessings!” But the fellows regularly insisted that their anti-abortion beliefs were not rooted in their religion, and over the course of the week, they were not taught to argue that God believes abortion is a sin.

Rather, they practiced using secular, biology-based arguments to convince skeptics that life begins at conception. They listened to lectures that traded on the terminology and tenets of social justice causes. In short, they learned how to harness their enemies’ weapons of choice, including feminism.

“We’re not 40-something-year-old women with 11 children and a long braid. We’re not a rich white man making policy,” said Therese Delgado, an incoming freshman at the University of North Texas with impressive posture and a fondness for cool, witchy black heels. “We’re a diverse body of kids — and just past kids — who have these beliefs, who are living in the modern era, and affected by all the issues that affect young people today. But we happen to have these beliefs on top of that.”

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Liz Miller and Jordan Marget. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

By the standards of the anti-abortion movement, these fellows’ beliefs were often uncompromising. Some do not support abortions even in the case of rape or incest, and Texas Right to Life taught them that common hormonal birth control methods, like the pill, the patch, and IUDs, could induce abortions.

Such attitudes set these students apart from many of their liberal-leaning Generation Z peers. In a survey this year, 62% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 told Gallup they consider themselves “pro-choice”; just 33% said they’re “pro-life.” Thirty-six percent of young Americans said they thought abortion should be “legal under any circumstances” — more than any other polled age group.

On the first afternoon of the June training, a Sunday, a group of fellows wearing royal-blue polos with a red Texas Right to Life logo settled onto lobby couches. They’d all met just minutes before but quickly found themselves nodding in agreement with one another.

“It’s comforting, having people that believe the same things as you,” said Liz Miller, a rising senior at Stephen F. Austin State University. “There’s a lot of people our age that are pro-choice, and so it’s nice to have the pro-life movement be like, ‘You’re not alone.’ I stand in my truth, and I stand in this, and it’s empowering.”

Another student chimed in, “It’s nice to be around people who aren’t always arguing with you.” One laughed, and others murmured “yes,” “ yes.”

“By forming this sort of web of people at various universities, you’re attacking what is essentially a lot of the pro-choice source at the heart of it, in university campuses,” Gunnar Osteen, who will be a sophomore this fall at the University of Texas at Austin and who’s one of just four male students at the training, said later. “By forming that coalition, you’re able to effect change at a greater pace and a greater scale.”

“PRO-LIFE 101”

Throughout the week, students attended talks on subjects ranging from in vitro fertilization to the emotional consequences of abortion, as well as took field trips where they learned how to turn the lessons into action. One day, they went to a strip mall in western Houston to tour a pregnancy center, sandwiched between a liquor store and a gun shop, that hopes to convince women not to get abortions. On another trip, they gathered in a time-honored anti-abortion tradition: They prayed on the sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, for the women inside.

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As the students prayed at an abortion clinic, a woman stopped to talk to Madeline Hill and Briana Arvizu. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

They also dived into the fundamentals of effective organizing. The students studied tactics to magnify a club’s presence on campus, like consistent branding on social media and writing a comprehensive mission statement.

All these activities were in the service of one mission, laid out on the first day of training, in a talk called “Pro-Life 101”: “I don’t want abortion to just be illegal; I want it to be unthinkable,” Austin Cruz, a theology teacher at a local Catholic school, told the group.

That motto was reiterated endlessly throughout the week. During an exercise on body language when talking to strangers, Arnold Smither lobbed a question at the group: “What would you say is our ultimate, absolute goal as pro-lifers?”

Miller immediately rose onto her toes to answer, thrusting her arm — complete with a bright-blue rubber bracelet that read “PRO-LIFE” — into the air.

“To make abortion unthinkable,” she said promptly. It was, of course, the correct answer.

“They’re longing for the bigger picture,” Arnold Smither said of her program’s fellows, in an interview. “They’re longing for the long-term strategy. And this training provides that. It provides them with science, history, political strategy, dialogue techniques, so that they can see the big goal at the end and learn, ‘OK, this is what we’re actually going for.’”

Abortion foes’ plan has never been a secret: They want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. For years, they took a slow-but-steady approach, passing laws that gradually gnawed away at Roe’s protections. Between 2010, when Republicans seized majorities in many state legislatures, and 2018, they managed to enact 424 restrictions on abortion around the country — more than a third of all the anti-abortion laws passed since 1973.

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Sarah Ruiz. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

But after Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court late last year, Republican state legislators went for Roe’s jugular. In 2019, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, and Ohio all passed laws that could ban abortion at as early as six weeks, before many people even know they’re pregnant. Missouri outlawed abortion as early as eight weeks.

A new law in Alabama bans all abortions except in cases where a pregnancy poses a “serious health risk” to the mother. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, and a doctor who performs the procedure could be imprisoned for up to 99 years.

None of these bans are in effect, thanks in part to court challenges. But if the surge of legislation alerted many to these activists’ long-gestating crusade, it also fueled anti-abortion young adults’ faith that Roe could be overturned within their lifetimes.

As long as they just work hard enough.

SEEING A MODERN-DAY HOLOCAUST

The urgency of the mission was made clear on the first full day of activities. Texas Right to Life kicked things off with two documentaries about the Holocaust, including one produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. While the training’s administrators stressed that abortion in the United States is not the same as the Holocaust wrought by Nazi Germany, they do see useful parallels.

After the videos, Arnold Smither walked students through a short history of post–World War I eugenics.

“One of the big proponents of eugenics in the United States, pre–World War II, was Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood,” she told them. “So it’s easy to see the slippery slope.”

This is true: Sanger courted eugenicists to her birth control movement by selling her mission as helping to rid the country of “the weeds” of humanity and “[breeding] a race of human thoroughbreds.” What’s less true is how that idea was echoed in a discussion minutes later, when one student said Sanger had gotten “a lot of her ideas from Hitler.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum says it “unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary,” but this remains a common comparison within anti-abortion circles. The text of the Alabama near-total ban declares, “More than 50 million babies have been aborted in the United States since the Roe decision in 1973, more than three times the number who were killed in German death camps, Chinese purges, Stalin’s gulags, Cambodian killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide combined.”

By the time students show up at the Texas Right to Life training, they already know what they believe, but they want to be able to wield those beliefs to change hearts and minds. That’s never easy to do, but it’s especially perilous when you’re young, want friends, and are likely surrounded by classmates who disagree with you. So, much of the training focuses on learning how to engineer what one speaker called “courageous conversations and compassionate conversations.”

Spread out across the mirrored ballroom and second-floor hallway where many of the talks took place, students repeatedly role-played “tabling,” as though they had set up a table on campus to talk to students about abortion rights. They were encouraged to ask one another questions, to dig into any potential gaps between somebody’s support for abortion rights and why they support them — and then, hopefully, widen those gaps, until there’s enough room for doubt.

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Desireah Rodman. (Photo by Zach Caldwell)

During one practice, Texas Right to Life education associate Rachel Bush stepped in with an encouraging smile after one fellow missed an opportunity to ask another why she doesn’t believe life starts at conception.

“Ask a follow-up question,” Bush advised. “Well, ‘why do you think — why do you pick that point?’ Because that’s gonna tell you a lot too.”

“So you can keep bringing it back to the questions, to get her to think, because sometimes people honestly just have not thought out their opinion,” she went on, adding, “And you’re building the relationship, too. So they feel like they can trust you, and you’re not just trying to force them to believe what you believe.”

Through this practice, students develop a small arsenal of responses to common pro-abortion rights arguments, though Arnold Smither said in an interview that they always encourage students to do more critical thinking and research on their own.

“After every talk, we give the students an opportunity to regurgitate what they learned with their partners,” she said. “They’re looking at their notes and saying, ‘OK, if someone were to ask me, what do I do about these hard cases?’” (Such as rape, incest, or a pregnancy that threatens the life of the woman.) “So the students know how to respond to that, and respond with compassion and science and facts.”

“FACTS ARE IMPORTANT”

Thirty years old, 5’2”, and four months pregnant during the training, Arnold Smither is unfailingly unflappable, even when chasing after her young son, who loved toddling around the hotel. But hit on the right topic, like biology, and Arnold Smither’s passion for her cause cracks through.

“There are seven criteria for a living organism and a human zygote — one-celled zygote — has all seven of them,” she exclaimed, curling her index finger and thumb to demonstrate just how small that zygote might be. “A human being has all seven of them from the beginning, so life begins at the beginning. There’s no arbitrary line here. So it’s black and white. It’s yes or no. It’s life or death.”

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Veronica Arnold Smither, Texas Right to Life’s education director, led discussions for students like Austin Kendrick. (Photo by Zach Caldwell)

Texas Right to Life is far from the only anti-abortion group trying to ground its arguments in science. This year, the theme of the March for Life was “Unique from Day One,” based on the idea that a fertilized fetus has its own individual DNA. The six-week bans on abortion have spread thanks to Faith2Action, a nonprofit that bills itself as the “birthplace of the Heartbeat bill.” Its model legislation bans abortion after a “heartbeat” is detected, which it calls a “key medical predictor” that a fetus will be born alive. Versions of the “heartbeat” bill have been introduced in about two-dozen state legislatures, an Arizona Republic–USA Today investigation found.

While those six-week bans are not yet in effect, laws that would ban abortion after 20 weeks are, including in Texas. Groups like the powerful nonprofit Americans United for Life have pushed those kinds of restrictions; AUL’s model legislation instructs states to ban abortion “because of the pain felt by an unborn child upon being aborted.” (Texas Right to Life backed its state’s version of that ban.)

Americans United for Life literally writes the book on how to restrict abortion access, through its annual “pro-life playbook” of model state legislation. The Arizona Republic–USA Today report dubbed the group “the most prolific author of copycat abortion legislation” in the United States.

“If you’re engaging in dialogue with someone who does not believe in the same truth as you believe, that does not take the Bible as word, that maybe isn’t the same religion as you, and you’re Bible-thumping, you have no ground to stand on,” explained Ruiz, the Texas A&M senior who led one of the discussions about the Holocaust. Now in the second year of her fellowship, she also works as an intern in Texas Right to Life’s education department.

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Sarah Ruiz holds her infant daughter as Therese Delgado looks on. (Photo by Zach Caldwell)

Last year, Ruiz stopped taking the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera. Like most hormonal birth control, “the shot” primarily works by stopping ovulation, but it can also potentially block an egg from becoming fertilized or implanting in a woman’s uterus. Ruiz believes that a fertilized egg is already a person — and so the shot, in her mind, could cause an abortion.

Weeks after she stopped taking it, Ruiz attended her own first-year fellowship training. On the Friday night of that week, with just one day left in the program, Ruiz took a pregnancy test.

It was positive.

“I wanted to scream it at the rooftops!” Ruiz said, clapping her hands in excitement. “Like, oh my God, we’re at a pro-life camp, a pro-life fellowship, and there’s life inside me! I just wanted to tell everyone.”

Ruiz will graduate college in December. Her daughter is now five months old.

The creation of new life is much more of a gray area than this kind of rhetoric would suggest. Medically speaking, a pregnancy starts when a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterine lining, so blocking that egg from implantation is not an abortion.

At six weeks, a doctor can’t detect what’s typically described as a heartbeat — the thud of valves closing — because the fetus doesn’t have a fully formed heart. Instead, they can find the “electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart,” Ted Anderson, president of the 58,000-member-strong American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), told the Guardian earlier this year. While this flickering is usually a good sign that a pregnancy is healthy, it’s not necessarily more important than other milestones in a pregnancy.

Fetuses also cannot feel pain until the onset of viability, generally placed at around 24 weeks, according to ACOG (which has taken to titling its press releases about abortion “Facts Are Important”).

Texas Right to Life staffers say something is alive if it’s composed of cells; can pass along hereditary traits; has a metabolism; maintains homeostasis; and can grow, reproduce, and respond to its environment. But even the concept of life itself is, kind of absurdly, unresolved. While scientists do sometimes create similar lists of features that living organisms possess, there is no single, widely accepted definition of “life” or the qualities that prove something is “alive.”

At the same time, life is far more expansive than humans tend to think; biologists universally consider bacteria to be alive.

PRO-LIFE FEMINISM

Several of the sessions and lectures were closed to VICE News, including ones on topics like birth control, in vitro fertilization, and Planned Parenthood’s business model. But of the public sessions, none generated more wide-eyed fervor than Aimee Murphy’s.

Murphy arrived in Houston looking, well, cool. Her dark hair was streaked with vibrant blue and teal, and she just happened to mention that she has a tattoo (twice). Before her talk, called “Embracing the ‘F Word’: Learning to Love Pro-Life Feminism,” Murphy shrugged off a jacket bearing a patch demanding, “RESTORATIVE JUSTICE NOW.”

“I personally am a large clump of cells standing in solidarity with small clumps of cells, as long as they’re human,” Murphy told the students during her talk. She peppered it with phrases that wouldn’t sound too out of place on your average feminist Tumblr, but with an anti-abortion twist.

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Kateri Remmes. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

People believe that abortion will help them because of “the patriarchal structures which insist that the womb-less male body is the default,” Murphy said, and that treat pregnancy like a disease. Feminism that supports abortion rights also really “reinforces structures of inequality, discrimination, and violence,” while abortion deepens people’s “implicit bias,” ageism, and ableism against what Murphy calls the “preborn.”

According to Murphy’s logic, the fellows in the room all benefit from “born privilege,” in the same way white people enjoy white privilege.

“We’re learning that we can be powerful as a pregnant woman. We can be powerful as a mother.”

The students, fluent in the lingua franca of social justice, were enraptured. They may have grown up watching celebrities like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift declare themselves feminists, but their opposition to abortion has seemingly locked them out of joining that party. Murphy offered them not only an invitation but also historical proof that, apparently, they were the real feminists all along.

“The first wave of feminists in the U.S. were almost unanimously pro-life,” Murphy said, referring to the activists who primarily worked to secure women the right to vote in the 19th century and early 20th. “Because they understood that saying that women were less than men or were inherently disempowered through maternity was a form of the patriarchy’s insidious web into our culture.”

Second-wave feminists, in the 1960s through the ’80s, championed the sexual revolution; their luminaries signed a 1972 letter declaring, “We have had abortions.” By highlighting first-wavers’ opposition to abortion, the feminism of their descendents is framed as in need of a course correction.

It’s a seductive pitch, and Murphy isn’t the only member of the modern anti-abortion movement who’s making it. After all, one of the most powerful anti-abortion groups in the United States is the Susan B. Anthony List, named after the famous suffragette.

“We do want women in the workplace, because we want equal rights, because we’re feminists,” said Erin Quinn, a rising junior at the University of Dallas who said she was a feminist before Murphy’s talk. When she talks about being pro-life, her green eyes warm and her voice grows breathy. She’s alight with purpose.

“I love it. I feel like we’re thriving in this,” Quinn added. “Because we’re learning that we can be powerful as a pregnant woman. We can be powerful as a mother.”

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Shiva Baradaran, Kateri Remmes, and Erin Quinn. (Photo by Zach Caldwell)

The abortion wars have long been portrayed as a standoff between the side that argues it is morally wrong to abort unborn children and the side that argues that reproductive choice is fundamental to women’s liberty. Anti-abortion advocates often fend off accusations that they’re merely “pro-birth” because they’re not focused on advancing policies that benefit infants and mothers, like parental leave or lessening maternal mortality.

“Typically, it’s Republicans who are like, ‘Abortion’s wrong,’ but typically it’s Democrats who are like, ‘No, we need to pour money into Medicaid, into food stamps, into WIC,” said Ruiz, referring to a federal assistance program for low-income mothers and children. Both parties, she said, should “get their heads on straight and come together.”

“Why can’t we save babies in the womb but also support mothers that maybe, at this point in life, don’t have resources? Like, she shouldn’t have to end the life of her child to provide food for herself and for her other children.”

At the training, the speakers and fellows tried to prove that they were women’sreal champions, because they don’t want to penalize them for becoming mothers. They talked about giving scholarships to pregnant and parenting students, about running diaper drives. In a talk entitled “Post-Abortive Counseling,” students moaned in sympathy as a local therapist spoke about helping women recover from “post-abortion syndrome,” whose symptoms were compared to a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. (In 2008, an American Psychological Association task force concluded that one first-trimester abortion is no riskier to a woman’s mental health than carrying a pregnancy to term.)

Though past generations of activists might have lurked outside clinics with posters of aborted fetuses and yelled “murderer!” at women who walked in, those kinds of tactics disgust many of the fellows today. When asked about them, Miller groaned. “That’s what also makes pro-life people look bad. Oh no, I hate that.”

“That is not gonna change their minds,” she explained. “That’s gonna make them more scared. It’s gonna make them worse. And then they’re gonna go to Planned Parenthood and they’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, we can help you, like, you know, blah blah, we can take care of it.’”

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Shiva Baradaran, Ana Leal, Madeline Hill, and Kateri Remmes practice “tabling,” or talking to peers about abortion. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

Toward the beginning of Murphy’s talk, she asked how many fellows considered themselves feminists. Only a handful raised their palms. But afterward, when Murphy asked how many people were now at least comfortable with the idea of feminism, nearly the entire room threw up their hands. Students mobbed Murphy, thanking her profusely for her speech and wondering aloud whether she could come speak at their schools.

Miller, for example, is all in.

“When [Murphy] said the nonviolence part, I was like, ‘OK, I’m here for this. I like this,’” she said. “It really is empowerment and equality, and I think that’s really, really important.”

IN THE STREETS, IN THE CAPITOL

The fellows might talk about changing the culture around abortion, but the Texas Right to Life has a clear legislative agenda. And it’s got the deep pockets and electoral firepower to turn it into reality.

A state affiliate of the powerful National Right to Life Committee, its political action committee spent about $3.5 million during the 2018 election cycle. It’s helped steer millions toward Texas’ controversial “Alternatives to Abortion” program, which uses state dollars to persuade women to not get abortions.

While Texas Right to Life hasn’t endorsed any “heartbeat” bills, it has successfully shepherded abortion restrictions like House Bill 2, which halved the number of abortion clinics in Texas, banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and ultimately triggered a historic Supreme Court battle. This state legislative session, Texas Right to Life deployed a record six full-time lobbyists to Austin.

It’s a comprehensive operation, and fellows are encouraged to throw themselves into it. A few weeks before the training in downtown Houston, second-year fellows in the Texas Right to Life program traveled to the Capitol to practice lobbying their representatives to fight abortion.

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Victoria Ramos-Mata, Gunnar Osteen, and Midori Pedroza give tabling another shot. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

Ruiz was among those fellows. Despite her qualms about the Republican Party, ultimately, she said, “I personally vote first on abortion. So I will not vote for someone who is pro-abortion.”

The fellowship involves other perks, like an all-expenses-paid pilgrimage to the March for Life, a massive annual gathering of anti-abortion activists in Washington, D.C., that concludes with a protest on the steps of the Supreme Court. While the March doesn’t track the number of student groups who show up, it’s impossible to miss the scores of young people holding identical black-and-white signs that announce, “I am the pro-life generation.”

That’s the “signature sign” of Students for Life, which has nearly doubled its number of chapters over the last eight years. Today, it has more than 1,100 chapters, in all 50 states.

The March for Life also illustrates just how far the lessons taught in this Houston hotel have already travelled. Pull a student out of the herd to ask why they’re marching in Washington and they’ll tell you the same thing the Texas Right to Life fellows are repeating nearly 1,500 miles away: They want to make abortion not just illegal, but unthinkable.

But while Texas Right to Life and its fellows want to reinvent what being “pro-life” looks and sounds like, there are certain things that remain nonnegotiable. They might grimace at the protesters who yell at women outside Planned Parenthood, but they still go, too.

The day the fellows planned to stand outside a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, Houston’s sweltering humidity and sunshine gave way to pouring rain. The fellows went anyway. Careful not to block the street or the clinic’s driveway, they stood on the sidewalk, huddling over rosaries and stretching their arms to the sky. As they sang hymns, one young woman’s crystalline voice soared above the patter of rain.

“We’re praying and just staying in solidarity with the women who are going in there, trying to show support, so they don’t feel like they have to go through an abortion,” said Kateri Remmes, a rising junior at the University of Dallas. She serves as president of her school club Crusaders for Life.

“It’s a life-or-death situation in this case, so I take it pretty seriously.”

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At the end of the training, the students took a group photo before heading out to dinner with the donors. (Photo by Madeleine Peters)

Cover: Students spent hours learning how to talk to strangers about abortion, right down to making sure they had welcoming body language. (Photo by Zach Caldwell.)

Source: https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/ne8j9m/7-days-inside-an-anti-abortion-summer-camp-training-the-next-generation-of-activists?fbclid=IwAR1v3PWWGELZDIgB1RaM4rqpG-1fRcN8z0oSooyGOO8REoX5Xtkhlto8jCw