At abortion clinics, the presence of awnings, the width of doorways and the dimensions of janitorial closets have little to do with the health of patients. But by requiring that Virginia’s 20 abortion clinics conform to strict licensing standards designed for new hospitals, the state has ensured that many or most of them will be driven out of business in the coming months.
Just days after the state Board of Health approved the regulations this month, under pressure from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), they claimed their first victim. Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk, which for 40 years had provided reproductive health services, including abortions, closed last weekend.
Hillcrest was partly a victim of its own success in providing women with ready access to birth control. Like most other clinics around the state, it saw demand for abortions dwindle as more women took advantage of options to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Still, even after years of protests, arson, a pipe bombing and an attack by a man wielding a semiautomatic weapon, Hillcrest performed more than 1,600 abortions last year, about 7 percent of the state total. The principal reason it closed its doors was that complying with the regulations would have saddled it with $500,000 in renovations — an unaffordable expense.
That’s precisely what Mr. Cuccinelli and other advocates of the policy intended. According to a survey by the state Health Department, just one of the 19 surviving clinics meets the requirements. Fifteen of the remaining facilities estimated their combined costs of compliance at $14.5 million.
Some of the clinics, including those operated by Planned Parenthood, which has a national fundraising network, will survive. Many others, which are run as small businesses, probably will not. Most have no means to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to widen corridors, install state-of-the-art surgical sinks and expand parking lots.
What’s more, the upgrades they face are arbitrary manifestations of the state’s overweening power. Other types of walk-in clinics, including those that perform oral and cosmetic surgery, are unaffected by the regulations.
As Dr. David Peters, owner of the Tidewater Women’s Health Center in Norfolk, told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper: “I can do plastic surgery. I can stick needles in babies’ lungs. I can put tubes up penises and into bladders and do all sorts of crazy stuff in my office with no regulations whatsoever. No government supervision. But for an abortion . . .it just becomes nonsensical.”
The Board of Health had sought to exempt existing abortion clinics from the regulations, which were never intended for ambulatory clinics. But board members caved when Mr. Cuccinelli, the most political attorney general in Virginia’s history, threatened to withhold the state’s legal help if they were sued.
Regulation is essential for all health services. But there is no evidence that unsanitary conditions or slapdash procedures are common at abortion clinics in Virginia nor that women who seek services from them are at risk. The state’s assault on women’s reproductive rights is an ideological crusade masquerading as concern for public health.
By: The Editorial Board, The Washington Post, April 26, 2013
“There Is No Gosnell Coverup”: Blame Existing Policies And Public Indifference To Low-Income Communities
This week, the right wing has been working the refs, demanding to know why the press has been allegedly silent on the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor who allegedly committed horrific acts against his patients with impunity for years. Fox News’ Kristen Powers kicked it off with an Op-Ed in USA Today, claiming, “The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.” Michelle Malkin has helped spearhead a Twitter campaign. Breitbart.com calls it “a full-blown, coordinated blackout throughout the entire national media.”
And mostly, the campaign is working, generating a series of sheepish responses (and a near-instant BuzzFeed listicle). In an Atlantic piece headlined, “Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s trial should be a front page story,” Conor Friedersdorf admits, “Until Thursday, I wasn’t aware of this story … Had I been asked at a trivia night about the identity of Kermit Gosnell, I would’ve been stumped and helplessly guessed a green Muppet.” Slate’s Dave Weigel congratulated the tweeters for getting his attention and then filed a piece sympathetic to the coverup claim, lecturing pro-choice people that “You really should read that grand jury report,” and concluding, “Social conservatives are largely right about the Gosnell story.”
No, they aren’t right about the Gosnell story. If you’ve never heard of the Gosnell story, it’s not because of a coverup by the liberal mainstream media. It’s probably because you failed to pay attention to the copious coverage among pro-choice and feminist journalists, as well as the big news organizations, when the news first broke in 2011. There would be something rich, if it weren’t so infuriating, about these (almost uniformly male, as it happens) reporters and commentators scrambling to break open this shocking untold story. You know, the one that was written about here, here and here, to name some disparate sources.
I can’t speak for big news organizations like CNN and the networks, but let’s think about this question another way: How often do such places devote their energies to covering the massive health disparities and poor outcomes that are wrought by our current system? How often are the travails of the women whose vulnerabilities Gosnell exploited — the poor, immigrants and otherwise marginalized people — given wall-to-wall, trial-level coverage? If you’re surprised that in the face of politicized stigma, lack of public funding or good information, and a morass of restrictive laws allegedly meant to protect women, the vacuum was filled by a monster — well, the most generous thing I can say is that you haven’t been paying attention.
But since you’re here, guys — welcome. Here are some important things to know about the tragedies committed in Gosnell’s clinic, based on the sources you missed. This week, as Virginia-based pro-choice activist Michelle Kinsey Bruns noted on Twitter, “Fitting that the right is trying to whip folks into a frenzy over
#Gosnell the same day VA is trying to put safe abortion care out of reach.” She’s referring to so-called TRAP laws, which are regulations aimed at abortion clinics that have nothing to do with safety — say, the size of parking lots — to seek to drive them out of business, and which are expected to go forward in a vote today. According to Tara Murtha, a Philadelphia-based reporter who has been covering the Gosnell case from the start, in the aftermath of Pennsylvania’s own TRAP laws, the state went from 22 free-standing clinics to 13. As Murtha puts it, “The bottom line is that politicizing abortion led to Gosnell. Their answer? Politicize it more.”
After all, the question is not just why the state failed to respond to the complaints of women and advocates who visited the clinic, although that matters hugely. It’s why women kept going there anyway: because they felt they had no alternative. Read this account from Jeff Deeney, a social worker from Philadelphia, who points out that the lack of public funding for abortion is a big factor leading desperate women to Gosnell: “It’s worth noting for outsiders that Health Center #4 which serves the same neighborhood is the best in town, providing quality care for the uninsured poor. But Health Centers don’t do abortions, and Medicaid, where a TANF mom’s insurance coverage would come from, if she had any at all, doesn’t pay for them. And for these women the cost of paying for an abortion out of pocket breaks the budget, leaving mom scrambling to make next month’s rent or possibly wind up on the street.” Cost is also how women often get past the legal gestational limit, as they struggle to save up enough money — and Gosnell’s willingness to break the law was what made him their last chance. To everyone who thinks his case was a reason for more abortion restrictions: What he did was already illegal.
A new abortion clinic opened up recently in Kansas, a rare event that itself directly pointed to why there are ever-fewer legitimate abortion providers. It’s housed in a clinic that once housed the practice of Dr. George Tiller, murdered by an antiabortion extremist. As RH Reality Check reported, the clinic’s new providers are already being threatened, and in a jailhouse conversation with Tiller’s murderer, another extremist said of the opening, “It is a reckless act. It is not the act of someone who values their own safety. It is a gauntlet thrown down, by someone who wants a fight.” How much have you heard about that?
By all means, be up in arms about Kermit Gosnell. But blame existing policies and public indifference to low-income communities.
By: Irin Carmon, Salon, April 12, 2013
According to a recent United Nations report, North Dakota is torturing women. Seriously. Juan Méndez, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on torture, has included lack of access to abortion in his yearly report on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Considering North Dakota’s new law which bans abortion after six weeks, it stands to reason that the state is torturing its female citizens.
I’m not trying to be trite—I do believe, as Méndez does, that forcing women to carry pregnancies they don’t want is cruel:
International and regional human rights bodies have begun to recognize that abuse and mistreatment of women seeking reproductive health services can cause tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering, inflicted on the basis of gender. Examples of such violations include abusive treatment and humiliation in institutional settings; involuntary sterilization; denial of legally available health services such as abortion and post-abortion care.
But if you believe abortion is a “convenience,” rather than a human right, saying as much is controversial. To the American anti-choice movement, it’s even laughable.
But how else would you describe laws that are meant to punish women for being sexually active? Sure, anti-choice legislation and activism prides itself on showy pro-woman rhetoric. Women’s Right To Know! Women Deserve Better Than Abortion! But at the end of the day, forced pregnancy is less about protecting women or “life” than it is about punishment and humiliation.
Rape exceptions are the clearest example. While I agree that forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy that is the result of rape is an even further assault on women’s bodily integrity, the foundation of a rape exception is that some women “deserve” abortions and some don’t. The underlying message is pretty clear—a woman who has been forced to have sex has done nothing wrong, a woman who had consensual sex has. (Bill Napoli’s now-infamous example of a “sodomized virgin” comes to mind.”)
Other restrictions and attempted limits on abortion access prove just as transparent. In 2007, for example, legislators in Ohio pushed a bill that would have mandated women get a written not from the father of the fetus before being able to obtain an abortion. If they didn’t know who the father was, they would not be allowed to access the procedure. This is about humiliating women and making the decision to have an abortion as difficult as possible.
A report from the Center for Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: A Critical Human Rights Analysis, points out that degrading treatment is defined as an act “aimed at humiliating the victim, regardless of whether severe pain was inﬂicted.” Anti-choice legislation seems to be written with that exact goal in mind.
Ultrasound laws—frequently called women’s “right to know” laws—are pushed under the guise of making sure women fully understand what they’re about to do. As if women are so stupid that they don’t realize what getting an abortion is. One Rhode Island doctor said a bill mandating ultrasounds before abortions “turned the ultrasound into a torture machine.” And for women whose wanted pregnancies are ending, these laws are beyond cruel. One woman in Texas who was forced to have three sonograms in one day and listen to a doctor describe her doomed fetus in detail called the experience a “superfluous layer of torment” and recalled sobbing throughout the procedure.
Can anyone really argue that Savita Halappanavar was not tortured in Ireland? Despite excruciating pain and the fact that her pregnancy was ending, Savita was denied an abortion because doctors wanted to wait for her fetus’s heartbeat to stop. She died in pain asking for help. It’s the same fate Republicans would have for American women—don’t forget the ironically named “Protect Life Act” that would have allowed hospitals to deny dying women life-saving abortions.
Americans are catching on. The majority of people in the U.S. consider themselves “pro-choice,” and though most support some sort of limits on access, many are wary of punitive legislation like ultrasound laws and laws that allow health care providers or pharmacists to deny procedures or medications. And the more people find out what these restrictions are really about—as they did with ultrasound mandates thanks to media and social media—the more likely, I believe, they’ll be to oppose them.
So perhaps there is progress being made. But the fight won’t end until all women—whether they’re in North Dakota, Ireland or anywhere else—can access abortion without shame, fear, humiliation or government interference. Anything else is cruel—and yes, torture.
By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, April 3, 2013
As commentators begin to run out of words to speculate about the murky maneuverings of the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage issues as reflected in oral arguments, it’s occurring to some to compare and contrast the trajectories of law and public opinion on gay marriage and that other hardy perennial of the Culture Wars, abortion.
At Wonkblog, Sarah Kliff sums up the anomaly:
Tuesday marked for a watershed day for gay rights activists as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case with the potential to legalize same-sex marriage across the country.
Across the country and 1,500 miles west of Washington, an equally notable event took place: North Dakota enacted the country’s most restrictive abortion law, barring all procedures after six weeks.
For decades, support (or opposition) for gay marriage and abortion went hand in hand. They were the line-in-the-sand “values” issues that sharply divided the political parties.
Not anymore. ”As recently as 2004, we talked about abortion and same sex marriage in the same breath,” says Daniel Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute. “They were the values issues. Now, it doesn’t make sense to lump them together anymore. We’ve seen a decoupling.”
Actually, I beg to differ in part: abortion policy is, more than ever, a reliable and quasi-universal item that divides the two major political parties.
What’s different is that there’s no clear generational trend on abortion that makes the conservative and Republican position doomed, as Kliff notes:
Younger Americans have become increasingly supportive of gay marriage in a way that hasn’t necessarily happened for abortion rights. Young Americans’ views on same-sex unions look nothing like previous generations. But when it comes to abortion rights, Millennials look a lot more lilke their parents.
Millennials, PRRI has found, have similar views to the general population on the morality and legality of abortion. Fifty-two percent of the general public thinks abortion is “morally wrong.” Among Millennials, that number stands at 50 percent. Fifty-six percent of all Americans think abortion ought to be legal, compared to 60 percent of the younger crowd.
In terms of state activity, the irony is that a development adverse to the anti-choicers–President Obama’s re-election–is partially responsible for the wild competition Republican legislators around the country have been undertaking to enact the most irresponsible and–under existing precedents–blatantly unconstitutional abortion restrictions. Now that they’ve been denied a Romney presidency where Supreme Court appointments would be carried out under a strict anti-choice litmus test, abortion-rights foes have clearly decided to initiate a challenge that will test the commitment to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey of the existing Court–and particularly its erratic “swing vote,” Justice Kennedy, who opened the door to new abortion restrictions in his bizarre opinion in a 2007 decision upholding a federal ban on so-called “partial-birth-abortion.”
When North Dakota’s Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed that batch of radical bills on abortion yesterday, he might as well have been holding up a big sign reading: “Hey, Anthony Kennedy! These bills are for you!” So I wouldn’t be surprised if abortion is the big issue in oral arguments before the Supremes next year or the year after that.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 27, 2013
“Romney’s Latest Abortion U-Turn”: A Cynical, Shameless, Blantant And Misleading Incremental Republican Strategy
How embarrassing is it to have a surrogate caught on tape saying exactly the opposite of what you’ve been saying for years? Not very embarrassing, apparently, if you’re Mitt Romney, and especially if the topic is abortion rights. Then, cynical shamelessness is your standard operating procedure.
Yesterday, former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman told a Republican Jewish Coalition gathering in Ohio that when it comes to Roe v. Wade, pay no attention to those men in black robes. “President Bush was president eight years, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed. He had two Supreme Court picks, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed,” Coleman said. “It’s not going to be reversed.”
That’s blatantly and intentionally misleading, crafted to assuage voters who are presumably socially liberal in what looks to be the most crucial state for the election. It’s also the exact opposite of what Romney has promised he’ll support, publicly and often.
Coleman’s plausible deniability comes from the fact that it looks as though not much changed under the last Republican president. But as I reported last week, these kinds of shifts don’t happen overnight — not only because it takes years for laws to be passed and then to wind their way through the court system, but because many in the anti-choice movement have opted for an incremental strategy to avoid scaring the public, even as they prepare the legal, political and societal groundwork for the full-on abortion ban they desire.
As for Bush, he got two Supreme Court appointments, both replacing Republican-appointed justices, and an initial pick, Harriet Miers, was rejected by conservatives partly because they feared she wasn’t absolutist enough on abortion rights. The judge they did get, Samuel Alito, replaced Sandra Day O’Connor, who had been relatively moderate on abortion rights. The result was that when a major abortion case came before that court, it upheld an abortion restriction it had overturned several years before. The right has always had its eye on the ultimate prize, which is overturning Roe. With the retirement or death of a single liberal justice, they’re likely to get it, or come close.
Indeed, it’s worth looking at who seems fairly confident that a Romney presidency would change abortion access in this country: anti-choice activists, who passed on him in the primary but have publicly been a united front on his behalf ever since. Just check out this story in Life News noting that “Leading pro-life attorneys like Jordan Sekulow, David French, and James Bopp have confirmed they trust Romney as president when it comes to judges,” and quotes the president of Americans United for Life saying that the impact on abortion law via the Supreme Court would be “bigger than everything else combined, because of the long-term consequences.”
And though the Supreme Court appointments are indeed the most lasting legacy, the president also has other important powers when it comes to reproductive rights, from nominating lower court judges to choosing the heads of the Departments of Health and Human Services, the FDA and the CDC, as well as the attorney general, all of whom have discretion on these issues.
The past couple of weeks have been an interesting exercise in some Republicans running as far as they can from the prevailing stances of their own compatriots, and in Romney’s case, current and previous versions of himself. In Washington state, Republican Senate candidate Michael Baumgartner said he opposes abortion except in case of life endangerment but insisted, “Social issues and abortion isn’t the focus of this campaign. You wouldn’t see me voting to change any abortion laws at the federal level.” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s tactic on Sunday was to deny that the issue even matters, that voters care more about Benghazi. “Abortion doesn’t even show up,” he said, and claimed that “it’s not even an issue here in Wisconsin, it doesn’t even move the radar at all.” (Someone should tell Paul Ryan that!)
It’s almost as if they know that their policy aims are highly unpopular with a whole lot of voters.
By: Irin Carmon, Salon, October 30, 2012