Aborticentrism


GOP out of bedroomA US News and World Report article (12/31/14), What the Battle Over Abortion Will Look Like in 2015, should remind all of us concerned about reproductive justice that Republicans will control the Senate and the House of Representatives beginning this month. As much as Republicans claim to favor small and less government, we all know that when it comes to issues relative to human sexuality, they espouse as much government intrusion and regulation as possible. Although many Republicans are pro-choice, the party continues to allow its extreme right wing and Tea Party darlings to steer the votes and priorities. Reproductive decisions, sexual orientation, and even personal sexual activity preferences are of greater concern to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and friends than ensuring that every child has food to eat, that people are working and earning a fair wage, or that the U.S. government is protecting business from cyber-attacks, and so on. It makes no sense, but it is a reality.  It is reasonable to expect more attacks on reproductive rights in 2015.

Rick BrattinThe Republicans are on a roll. Just last month Missouri Republican Rick Brattin reintroduced a bill to require women seeking abortion to get permission from the father of the zygote/embryo/fetus.  According to Mother Jones, Brattin’s bill would exempt “legitimate rape” victims. For a pregnancy resulting from rape to be exempted and the claim of rape “legitimate,” a police report must have been filed immediately after the rape. Oh yes, the Republicans are on a roll, seemingly even including distinctions about rape – Todd Akin style. Always claiming that the legislation is to “protect women,” these mostly male representatives apparently believe they know more about what is best for women’s health than, well, legitimate women.

Thomas State legis LoCPro-choice Americans have got to step up to the plate in 2015.  They must resolve to at least let their elected
representatives know their views. As fellow blogger and former lobbyist Pat Richards can confirm, it is very easy to contact members of Congress.  One website that provides direct contact information of each congressional member is https://www.congress.gov/members. For state and local legislative representatives, The Library of Congress Thomas website provides links to each state legislature. Pro-choice people need to take a page from the playbook of the zealously anti-choice organizations like violence-promoting Operation Rescue and the various evangelical groups that pressure church members to attend sessions to write emails and make phone calls en masse. It can make a difference in the extent to which a member of Congress maintains interest in sponsoring or defending restrictive anti-abortion or other family planning legislation.

During my years directing a clinic, countless state and federal legislators shared with me that the primary reason they hesitated to have a stronger public pro-choice position was because they seldom heard from their pro-choice constituents, but they constantly heard from the anti-abortion groups. That needs to finally change – there is too much to lose if it does not.  While NARAL and Planned Parenthood supporters often initiate outreach activities, they simply cannot compete with the church-sanctioned and sponsored groups in terms of numbers. It is also worth noting that politicians actually like to hear the views of individuals speaking from the heart instead of an organized script.

minds changeAs much as we may see reproductive rights as an issue in which people do not change their positions, there are studies that illustrate that people do change their minds about polarizing issues such as abortion and gay rights. Minds change through personal experience or learning about the firsthand experience of someone they know, love, or in some way care for. Minds can change when we interact with others with whom we share general values and recognize that on polarizing issues with which we disagree, things are not so black and white, all or none propositions. No one should be fooled into believing that when minds change about abortion it is only to the anti-choice position. National Right to Life has done some great messaging in that regard. In fact, pro-choice groups could do the same.

Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera/Photo from Trust.org

In 2015 we can probably expect to see more legislation proposed to ban abortion as early as 12 weeks, more verbatim scripting for medical professionals to impose on patients regardless if true, and more unnecessary and invasive ultrasound or other testing. Before you know it, every woman who miscarries will be subjected to a law enforcement report and inquiry. Think that sounds extreme? Just take a few minutes to learn about Maria Teresa Rivera in El Salvador where all abortion is banned. She did not even know she was pregnant when she miscarried, but the judge did not believe her and sentenced Rivera to 40 years in prison for aggravated murder. Each and every anti-abortion bill proposed in the U.S. under the guise of women’s health is another step towards a total ban.

Time is of the essence for reproductive justice. When and whether to have children is a personal choice. Abortion is a personal choice in which women do not benefit from, and can be harmed by, governmental interference. Medical professionals do not need the input of politicians in the private relationships they have with patients. Please, be it resolved that you will share your pro-choice position and dedication to reproductive justice with your elected representatives beginning this first month of 2015.

texasBy now, any person who reads this blog is aware that the State of Texas has ruled that their very unnecessary anti-abortion law, designed to make it impossible for current abortion providers to comply, can be immediately enforced.  The Facebook page of Abortion.com just posted the link to an essay by Damon Linker in The Week (10-3-14) that raises critical questions that all pro-choice voters must hold their anti-choice elected officials accountable to answering:

If you believe abortion is murder, what specific punishment should be meted out against women who seek abortions, those who assist in the procurement and practice of abortion, and those who provide abortions?

In your view, Ms./Mr. Elected Official, since you think abortion is murder, will you be sponsoring legislation asking for the death penalty if your state has laws restricting abortion?

Damon Linker wrote: “If abortion really is murder, then everyone involved deserves to be punished, and punished severely…If, on the other hand, such punishment sounds wildly, almost absurdly disproportionate, then maybe it’s a sign that abortion really isn’t murder after all.” His point is excellent and one that has been raised here as well as the Abortion.com Facebook page. Politicians have never really been forced to reveal the actual penalties they believe should be imposed on those who participate in an abortion, should it become illegal or severely restricted and prompt women to resort to whatever is feasible and providers to resort to underground practices. At the moment, it is arguable that Texas ought to start expanding their correctional facilities. We know that women have already been obtaining drugs from Mexico and international mail for medical abortions or to cause a miscarriage. Yep, Texas better get their death row lodging in good order, not to mention make sure that all lethal injection protocol training is thorough and an ample inventory of execution drugs.Lethal injection

This ruling will undoubtedly energize the most whacko, zealous of the anti-abortion groups to pattern the Texas laws into initiatives in other states. Therefore, it is sensible and important for pro-choice voters to get their pols to answer the questions raised here.

The organizations that have fervently advocated reproductive rights over the years, specifically Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and National Organization for Women, opposed grassroots efforts to propose legislation to support reproductive justice in states like Arkansas in 1989. Their reasoning was that it was somehow better to work with legislatures to oppose restrictive laws, which, at the time, were focused primarily on parental notification or consent. Creating law is easier than trying to undo law. I sure hope those organizations – that raised a lot of money on the issue – kept the contact information on the many that supported the pro-choice legislation efforts. They will need it now for more than donations.

The one silver lining in this outrageous ruling in Texas is that it may well motivate voters to show up in the upcoming mid-term elections. Texas indeed does things big – that does not mean any other state is interested in Texas sharing any of their “big.” There is not one excuse for a pro-choice person to not vote this November.

I think it’s safe to say that the more reactive and aggressive anti abortion activists are informed by some variation of formal religion. Their parochial focus on ‘thou shalt not murder’ ignores a host of other religious tenets including the purpose of religion.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama XIV said “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness.” From my vantage point, there are painfully few instances of love and compassion outside abortion clinics. Let me offer a few examples.

When a 2012 New Year’s day fire gutted a family planning clinic in Pensacola FL, was that an act of love and compassion? When the Planned Parenthood office in Grand Chute, Wisconsin was damaged recently by a small homemade explosive device placed on a building windowsill, was that an act driven by tolerance and humility?

It was difficult to identify love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility and forgiveness when the Maryland Coalition for Life determined that protesting at a middle school was the perfect response to a landlord who refused to terminate an abortion clinic’s lease? Anti-abortion activists, trying to shut down an abortion clinic in Maryland, targeted the sixth grade daughter of the man who simply owns the office park where the clinic is located. Where is the love and compassion for children when the protesters stood at the entrance of Robert Frost Middle School with graphic posters of aborted fetuses?

Was it love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility and forgiveness that motivated Scott Roeder to stalk George Tiller, eventually shooting him vigilante-style in church. Informed by the vitriol of Operation Rescue, Roeder compared the lawlessness in the Bible to Tiller’s lawlessness. In fact, he wrote that Tiller is the concentration camp Mengele of our day and needs to be stopped. Where was the humility in Scott Roeder?

In August 2011, where hundreds of clinic defenders gathered in peaceful support of Dr. LeRoy Carhart and in support of the care he provides to women in need of late abortions. One block away, amidst a small group of anti-choicers, Operation Rescue leader Troy Newman emerged, paraded down the street toward the clinic defenders. One of the defenders, a pregnant 20-something woman, sat on the curb in the heat and humidity.  A man darted across the street from her and started taking pictures.  He then darted back across the street toward her to take more.  Finally, he got down in the middle of the street in front of the pregnant woman, taking pictures of her. Startled at his actions, she asked who are you?

He said, “I’m Troy Newman, bitch.” How can this comment be interpreted as anything other that derision?

What drove an anti abortion protester, who recognized a friend entering an Allentown PA abortion clinic, to later drive to her friend’s place of work to publicly intimidate and harass her?

In all the outer trappings of her espoused Catholicism, rosary beads and membership in St. Joseph the Worker church in Orefield PA, where was this protester’s sense of tolerance, humility and love during the public humiliation?


What kind of love and compassion was evident when the Rev. Flip Benham was stalking a Charlotte, North Carolina abortion doctor and passing out hundreds of “wanted” posters with the physician’s name and photo on it, fliers that implicitly urge violence?

Benham knew that doctors in other places had been killed after similar posters were circulated. So how can this action remotely be considered religious or loving?

Where can you find love and compassion amongst the anti abortion terrorists as they scream at women with their bullhorns and use hateful language that diminishes human dignity? In what ways do they show love and compassion when telling a woman that the devil inside the clinic will drink the blood of her child or that the doctor will turn your child into baby road kill or your child will haunt you at night?

How can anyone claim to love both the woman and the fetus when, in truth, they value a woman’s fetus more than the woman? In the mind of the hubristic anti abortion activist, the fetus is a gift from God that they want to force on a woman, regardless of a woman’s wishes or circumstances. Organizations like Operation Rescue, Operation Save America and the Prolife Action League are singularly focused on ending abortion in America with absolutely no regard for the needs of women. There is little tolerance and certainly no humility within the leadership or their minions. Every time I hear an anti choicer invoke the name of Jesus, I cringe. There’s nothing Christ-like in that invocation, particularly because it lacks love and because it’s full of rage and contempt for every woman who enters a clinic.

The Dalai Lama XIV said the whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness. It’s clear to me that many anti abortion terrorists do not operate under loving and compassionate religious principles. They are driven by hate, anger and fear. They act out against strong, moral women who make decisions about when and if to bear children. And it is that female agency and morality that angers and scares the living hell out of these folks, that defies their personal sense of morality, and that drives them to act in heinous, immoral ways.

Stop Bullying Women

For many years, anti-abortion activists have lobbied their state legislatures to pass laws that require abortion clinics to share certain information with their patients.  These so-called “Right to Know” laws take many forms:  giving the patient a brochure that shows the stages of fetal development, taking an ultrasound and showing it to the woman, reciting a script to the patient that is a litany of things that can go wrong with an abortion, etc., etc.

Although the pro-choice movement regularly opposes these laws, I have written in the past about how the affect of these laws on the woman is rather minimal.  For example, most women casually look at the brochures, if at all, then toss them into

the garbage.  I’ve been in the rooms with woman as they observed their ultrasound, asked questions about the fetus then proceeded to have the abortion.  It’s all a rather big waste of time if you ask me, but if the anti-abortion movement wants to spend their time on this kind of stuff, go for it.  And, after all, it’s all well-intentioned, isn’t it?  Sure, they would prefer to make that woman’s act totally illegal, but since they can’t do that they want to make sure that a woman is making an informed choice.  How compassionate of them, huh?

Meanwhile, up in New York City, the City Council has taken a great interest in the activities of a number of “crisis pregnancy centers” that, according to testimony provided in a hearing, are engaging in “deceptive” practices designed to convince the woman that they are actually medical facilities.  It seems that the staff in some of these cpcs a

Ultrasound Before Abortion Procedure

re doing some interesting things.  For some reason, they are collecting personal and insurance information in the waiting room, the consultations are taking place on examination tables with the woman in the stirrups and “scrub suited consultants” are giving free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds.   On its face, it sounds a little deceptive to me but I’m sure these reports are not accurate because we’ve been told so many times that cpcs do not engage in this kind of behavior.

Still, this crazy ole City Council is concerned about this alleged behavior so they passed a law requiring the cpcs to post signs saying they have no doctors on site and don’t’ give advice about abortions or birth control.  Sounds kind of like the “Right to Know” laws that are being imposed on abortion clinics.

But, lo and behold, here comes the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian advocacy group, and they challenge the law, saying it would have violated the center’s right to free speech.  And, recently, a local judge agreed with them and slapped an injunction on the new law.

Putting aside all the legal mumbo-jumbo and the current status of the law, what I cannot sort out is why anti-abortion advocates want abortion clinics to inform women of everything but the kitchen sink, but when the NY City Council wants to ask them to give out just a little information about their centers, they balk at the idea?

Somebody help me here, please!

The Wichita Divide

Hyperbole.

I always liked that word, although it was years before I understood its meaning.  And, of course, like most Americans I always mispronounced it by saying “Hyper Bowl.”

Speaking of…yesterday, a friend of mine told me about yet another book on abortion called “The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle over Abortion” by one Stephen Singular.  I will admit right up front that I have not read the book in its entirety and probably never will.   Immersed in the issue for years, I never read any of the books about abortion except – to be honest – to go to the index to see if I was mentioned.

So, I may be totally misrepresenting Mr. Singular’s thesis but the gist is that the city of Wichita and the state of Kansas are now hotbeds in the battle over abortion rights.  Actually, he refers to these spots as the hosts in a new “war.”  Other authors and columnists also commonly refer to the current state of the battle over abortion rights as a “war.”

Hyperbole.

I will admit that there may have been some semblance of a “war” in the 1980’s and 1990’s when abortion clinics were being bombed and abortion doctors were being stalked, threatened, attacked and killed.  It was domestic terrorism, pure and simple – and I was in the middle of it.  But I put the word “war” in quotes because, to me, a war is when two sides are engaged in the battle.  In that case, the bombs were being planted and the shots were being fired by one side only.  Yes, to be fair, the attacks were coming from a violent fringe of the anti-abortion movement, but it was a one-sided assault nonetheless.   We never shot back.

But, to define today’s situation in Wichita or the nation as a “war” is laughable.  Nationally, although there are some exceptions, the average abortion clinic no longer has to deal with anti-abortion protestors.  If they do, it’s usually a handful of octogenarians who barely have enough energy to yell “Don’t Kill Your Baby!”   After taking their morning medication, these “warriors” will grab their twenty year old sign, take the bus out to the clinic and, depending on the weather, stand out front in a pathetic effort to “save babies.”  Of course, the

y rarely succeed.  It’s actually a sorry scene compared to years ago when anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue could conger up hundreds of people at a moment’s notice to block access to a clinic.  Protestors were regularly arrested and sent to jail.  On the other hand, I’ll bet you that not more than 10 people have been arrested in the last few years for blocking access to an abortion clinic.  At the same time, folks like Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, Joe Scheidler and Pat Mahoney have virtually disappeared.  In fact, here is a question for you:   can you name one national anti-abortion leader?

On the other side of the coin, the abortion clinic escort movement, which helped many women get through the crowds of pro-lifers, has also virtually disappeared.  Of course, that is good news in that there is no great need for these courageous folks who volunteered their time to help women obtain an abortion.

I have no doubt that another doctor will ultimately get killed, a clinic will be vandalized, and some staffer will one night get a death threat.  But – and I don’t mean to sound cavalier about this – this is part of the territory.  When a person signs up to work in an abortion clinic, they understand the risks.  It’s the same for a firefighter or a policeman.

But, despite the occasional incident carried out by some bored pro-lifer, for the life of me I cannot fathom how anyone can suggest that there is some kind of “war” in Wichita or anywhere else over the abortion issue.    It might sell a book or two, but it’s a totally silly suggestion.

Hyperbole.

“What the hell is a partial birth abortion?”

Sitting at my desk at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I looked at my staff person quizzically, not understanding what she was talking about.  She had just told me about legislation that had been recently introduced in the Congress called “The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.”  She then proceeded to tell me about this abortion procedure.

According to the legislation and the accompanying statements, the abortion doctor would enter the pregnant woman’s birth canal and use forceps drag down the still-alive baby to the point where it’s torso was hanging outside the woman, the head still inside.  He would then inject a suction-like instrument into the head of the fetus and take out the contents of the brain.  The head would then shrink and the doctor would slide out the dead fetus.

I looked at my staff person as if she were from outer space, not comprehending what she had just described.  Now, I had seen a number of late term abortions and, believe me, they are not pretty.  But this sounded downright bizarre.  We later learned that this abortion technique had been “pioneered” by Doctor Martin Haskell of Ohio who used it because he thought it would cause less trauma to a woman with a tight cervix and small birth canal.  Indeed, Haskell apparently had attended a meeting of the National Abortion Federation and presented a “white paper” on the technique to an audience of doctors.  He referred to the procedure as an “Intact D&X.”

Partial Birth Abortion

Then – and don’t ask me how – someone in the pro-life movement got hold of this paper and it went global.  And somewhere along the line some incredibly clever person, who no doubt had a background in public relations, re-named the procedure a “partial birth abortion.”  I always thought that person deserved some kind of bonus for being so imaginative.

The pro-choice movement, on the other hand, was flabbergasted.  It was always pretty obvious to me that the pro-choice leadership had always been uncomfortable with the actual abortion procedure and those who performed them.  In fact, when I lobbied for the National Abortion Rights Action League I remember several conversations to that effect.  They all knew that abortions were not pretty and always tried to steer the conversation back to “choice,” but when word got out about this legislation, they were stunned.  Their first calls were to the National Abortion Federation, Planned Parenthood and our organization.  Suddenly, they had to talk about abortion.

My first response was to call a number of our doctors who did later abortions to see if they knew about this procedure.  I quickly learned that several of them actually used a variation of the procedure where the fetus was first injected with a drug called digoxin, thus killing it.  Then, the fetus was dragged down, the contents of the brain were removed and then it was pulled

out.

After collecting and sharing information on the procedure, the pro-choice groups had a strategic decision to make:  should they fight the bill?

My immediate reaction was that there was no way we could ultimately win this battle.  I got that sense after talking to a friend of mine, Congressman Jim Moran, who was very pro-choice and who told me he could not defend this kind of procedure.  If we were going to lose Jim, we could not win.  So, I argued that we should lie down and let this bill pass on a unanimous vote.  I gave two reasons.  The first was that as far as I could tell, if this bill became law it would affect only ONE doctor in the entire nation – Doctor Haskell.   That’s because the legislation prohibited using this procedure on a “live” fetus.   All of the other doctors killed the fetus first then they performed the procedure.  The legislation (as confirmed by the Center for Reproductive Rights) would not have affected those doctors.  The second reason I suggested we roll over was that I could see that it would be a public relations nightmare.  If we opposed the bill, it would engender a furious national debate – and there was no way we would win it.  I mean, how the hell could we go on television and justify this procedure to the American public?  Now, don’t get me wrong, I always felt that this procedure was very legitimate and, in some ways, I thought it was more “humane” than a regular D&E where the doctor uses forceps to extract the parts of the fetus.  But how the heck do you talk to the media about this procedure?

Ultimately, the pro-choice groups decided to fight the legislation.  Honestly, I never heard a real good reason given internally.   Then, on the public front, they started to argue that there were “only” a small amount of the procedures performed in the first place and that, when performed, they were used only in very extreme circumstances, such as when a woman’s life was in danger.  That started the pro-choice movement on a very slippery slope which ultimately resulted in disaster.

More about that later.

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