December 30, 1994 was the second day of infamy in this country.
That day, a radical anti-abortion activist named John Salvi murdered two employees–Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38–at two Planned Parenthood facilities in Brookline, Massachusetts, and shot and wounded five others. He was later apprehended in Norfolk, Virginia after attacking another women’s health clinic.
This domestic terrorist was found guilty of murder in March 1996; he hanged himself in his prison cell just a few months later. (In 1997, his conviction was posthumously vacated on a technicality.)
Salvi was one of many depraved anti-abortion zealots who couldn’t stand the fact that women had the right to choose in this country. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow noted earlier this year:
Some of the people who were witnesses to [the Salvi] shooting were people who were there at the clinic working as clinic escorts because of the hostile and intimidating and occasionally violent intense protests that had been happening regularly outside of those clinics.
That day when John Salvi went into the two clinics in Brookline and opened fire and he shot all those people, there were antiabortion protesters right outside the clinic when he did it, as he did it. At the Brookline Planned Parenthood where he killed a 25-year-old receptionist that day, the protesters outside the clinic [attempted] to intimidate people [by] filming everybody as they arrived to work at the clinic, filming people as they arrived to volunteer, filming people who were working as escorts for patients coming into the clinic. And they filmed the patients, themselves, including taking great pains to be seen videotaping their license plates, trying to be very intimidating and very scary to people so they wouldn`t go into that clinic.
But that day when John Salvi got into that clinic and shot it up and he killed the receptionist and wounded other people, as they brought the bodies of the wounded and the killed out of that clinic that day, the antiabortion protesters in the parking lot, they kept filming. They filmed that, too.
I was seventeen years old when the Salvi shooting happened, and it rattled me to the core. Growing up in Massachusetts, I frankly took legal abortion for granted; in the Bay State, even the Republicans were pro-choice (and still are, as it turns out). I was stunned to learn that there were so many folks who were still angry over the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling…so angry that they would actually result to murder in order to effectively overturn the ruling.
As Maddow has noted over the years, the radical anti-abortion movement has seemingly grown stronger and stronger in the years since Salvi’s terrorist attack. Anti-abortion radicalism has also been legitimized in our media: remember Bill O’Reilly’s crusade against Kansas physician George Tiller, a crusade that only ended when Tiller was assassinated in 2009?
Every day that we allow access to legal abortion to be restricted anywhere in this country, we give aid and comfort to these radicals. Every day that we choose not to stand up in absolute defense of a woman’s right to choose, we give another victory to these deranged deviants. Every day that we turn a blind eye to the importance of defending Roe, we help the haters.
The Salvi shootings were a savage signal that a woman’s right to choose is literally under assault in this country. The radical anti-abortion terrorist network in the United States is far more dangerous than ISIS. These people want to murder democracy just as much as they want to murder doctors who provide reproductive services.
We need to defend women’s reproductive rights with renewed intensity in this country. We need to demand that every man and woman we elect pledge allegiance to the sacred right to choose. We need to insist that Roe v. Wade be accorded the same respect we accord to Brown v. Board of Education.
Twenty years ago, my heart broke for Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, two bright, beautiful, bold young women who were mercilessly slaughtered by a right-wing fiend who decided to do with a bullet what he could not do with a ballot. Twenty years later, my heart breaks again, because I know I haven’t been as vigilant in defending a woman’s right to choose as I should have been. I know I let choice slip way down on my list of political priorities. I know I didn’t remember their heroism and their legacy.
Although they are gone, felled by a fanatic, I apologize to Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols for not being as vigilant as I should have been in defending a woman’s right to choose. I ask their families for forgiveness. I promise that I will stand up for choice, and I will demand that those who ask for my vote stand up for choice as well.
By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 27, 2014
“Stealth Personhood”: Colorado Antichoicers Have Gotten Craftier About Framing Their Next Ballot Text
Since there’s been more discussion of “Personhood” initiatives this year than in past years, and since Colorado’s a state where such initiatives have been voted down twice, it’s worth being aware that the Colorado antichoicers have gotten craftier about framing their next ballot text. This time around, they’re trying to amend the state’s criminal code and wrongful death law to include the “unborn” in the definition homicide. Here’s a report from TNR’s Jessica Schulberg:
The initiative has tied its campaign to the story of a 29-year-old woman named Heather Surovik. In 2012, Surovik was 8-months pregnant with her third child when a drunk driver struck her car. The unborn baby, whom she planned to call Brady—the initiative is also known as the “Brady Amendment”—did not survive the crash. The driver, Gary Sheats, pleaded guilty to drunk driving and vehicular assault. But Surovik felt that at 8 pounds and 2 ounces, Brady warranted the same protections under criminal law as a living being. She wanted Sheats charged with homicide as well.
Sympathetic as this story is, the amendment could have truly damaging consequences for women’s reproductive freedom. “Amendment 67 is extremely misleading in its language,” said Diana Hsieh, Ph.D, in a recent press release by the Coalition for Secular Government. “The proponents of the measure apparently want voters to believe that it is about protecting pregnant women from vicious criminal attacks, but the reality is that the measure would treat women as murderers for getting an abortion or even for using certain types of birth control or in vitro fertility treatments,” she added.
It’s an even bigger bait-and-switch than all those “medical regulations” that are shutting down abortion clinics around the country under the guise of protecting “women’s health.” And its prospects rely entirely on perpetuating that deception. It’s unlikely to work, but it’s still reprehensible. Colorado voters clearly don’t want to make zygotes quasi-citizens, or create a legal foundation for attacks on early-term abortions, IV fertility clinics, or contraception. Tricking them into indicating otherwise won’t exactly enhance the already thin reputation for integrity of the antichoice folk.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 14, 2014
“Fractions Of Women In Texas”: When Does Nine Hundred Thousand Seem Like An Insignificant Number Of Women?
How do you count women in Texas, and when do the numbers get big? There is a good deal of bad math in a decision made last week, by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that had the effect of closing all but eight abortion clinics in the state; until recently, there were about forty. Five million four hundred thousand Texans are women of childbearing age. Almost one and a half million of them will live more than a hundred miles from any clinic; nine hundred thousand will live more than a hundred and fifty miles away, seven hundred and fifty thousand more than two hundred and fifty miles. For a good many, there will be more than five hundred miles to go, unless they want to cross the border and take their chances in Mexico. For a two-to-one majority on the Fifth Circuit panel, that just wasn’t enough women for them to worry about.
The Texas clinics will close because of a law, passed by the state legislature last year, that placed new regulations on clinics that provide abortions. The Supreme Court has found that women cannot be cheated of their right to end a pregnancy before viability by way of laws that place an “undue burden” on them, as standard laid out in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992. But, as Jeffrey Toobin recently wrote, courts in recent years have become increasingly merciless in what they consider undue for a woman at what is often a moment of profound crisis, to the point where almost no burden seems too heavy.
Several aspects of the new law, like one requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within a certain distance, survived challenges. But, in August, the District Court Judge Lee Yeakel struck down a rule that clinics have to be outfitted and operated as ambulatory surgical centers, even if they only provided medication-induced abortions early in pregnancies. Yeakel’s decision came after a trial at the District Court level that included testimony that requirement was not practical for most clinics, would leave no clinics open south or west of San Antonio, and was not based on any sound medical rationale. The state wanted the provisions to go into effect regardless, pending its appeal; Yeakel said no. The appeals court has lifted that stay, saying that it thought the law would ultimately survive the challenge. (It did leave room for a partial reprieve for a clinic in El Paso, though not for one in McAllen.) And so, on Friday, thirteen clinics in Texas began turning patients away.
The Fifth Circuit judges picked up on another phrase in Casey: “a large fraction.” A way to tell if a burden is undue is if it presents obstacles for a large fraction of the women for whom it is relevant. The fraction the Fifth Circuit calculated was one-sixth: nine hundred thousand women who would have to travel more than a hundred and fifty miles out of five million four hundred thousand who could possibly get pregnant—“not a large enough fraction to impress the appeals court,” as Ruth Marcus put it, no matter the absolute number. There are, if one is counting, at least three reasons this logic is wrong.
First, a sixth can be pretty large, depending on what the numerator (one, in this case) and the denominator (the six) represent. (One-sixth of New York City’s population lives in the Bronx.) That is why one uses a word like large rather than something more definite, like majority. When it comes to a decision that can shape a woman’s life, this Texas sixth is a large fraction—and that alone should have been enough for the judges.
Second, it’s not clear at all that the majority chose the right numerator or denominator—that the fraction really is a sixth. First, the numerator: Is it only the women who have to drive these distances who are affected when a state that, until recently, had sixty-to-seventy-two thousand abortions each year, suddenly has only eight clinics—all in a few cities? Or does it also mean that the women in the next clinic over will soon find it hard or impossible to get an appointment? Speed matters a great deal for abortion; Texas’s law also included a twenty-week limit. (In another sign of fractional bad faith, the majority suggested that a woman who had been a hundred and fifty miles from a clinic and was now two hundred and fifty miles away might only be facing an “incremental increase of 100 miles.”)
One can also reconsider the denominator, the bottom number. In Casey, the Supreme Court upheld some restrictions in Pennsylvania but overturned a requirement that married women notify their husbands. The state of Pennsylvania had argued that only twenty per cent of women seeking abortions were married and that ninety-five per cent would tell their husbands anyway, and so the fraction affected was tiny—maybe one per cent, and therefore too few to count. The Court rejected that math, saying,
The analysis does not end with the one percent of women upon whom the statute operates; it begins there. . . . The proper focus of constitutional inquiry is the group for whom the law is a restriction, not the group for whom the law is irrelevant.
The denominator that the Court chose in that case was “married women seeking abortions who do not wish to notify their husbands of their intentions and who do not qualify for one of the statutory exceptions to the notice requirement.” The fraction affected was suddenly very large.
The Texas decision briefly looks at the argument for a different denominator—women whose options will get worse because of the law—but then rejects it, bizarrely enough, because the resulting fraction is too large: it “would make the large fraction test a tautology, always resulting in a large fraction.” But that is only true if the burden on women for whom the law is relevant is, indeed, undue. One can imagine a law that presented X women with obstacles that Y of them could, nonetheless, easily navigate. What the judges see as a “tautology” is a sign that something is seriously wrong with the Texas law.
Third, as the dissenting judge in the Texas case noted, Casey doesn’t just talk about fractions: it talks about a “significant number” of women who, under the spousal-notification requirement, would not have meaningful access to abortion. After reviewing statistics on domestic violence, the Casey decision notes,
We must not blind ourselves to the fact that the significant number of women who fear for their safety and the safety of their children are likely to be deterred from procuring an abortion as surely as if the Commonwealth had outlawed abortion in all cases.
When does nine hundred thousand seem like an insignificant number of women?
There is another factor, involving other numbers: poverty. The Fifth Circuit judges acknowledged that women without much money would be more affected by the law than others: they might not have a car, or a way to take a day off from work to drive six hours. But that didn’t, somehow, change the judges’ calculation.
By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, October 5, 2014
It’s time to call bullshit on the GOP’s embrace of over-the-counter birth control. Several Republican candidates, under fire for radical positions on women’s health, have recently adopted the idea in a naked attempt to woo female voters. These politicians say they’re all in favor of access to contraception. But sudden calls for the pill to be available without a prescription do not signal a real shift in conservative attitudes toward reproductive rights. They simply mask tired opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurers cover birth control.
The list of Republicans that have endorsed the idea includes Senate nominees Cory Gardner (Colorado), Tom Tillis (North Carolina), Ed Gillespie (Virginia) and Mike McFadden (Minnesota). Republicans running for the House have also spoken up for over-the-counter access.
None of these people were championing the proposal before their campaigns. Instead, they were working to limit women’s access to abortion and other healthcare. Gardner, who started the over-the-counter trend in June with an op-ed in The Denver Post, has campaigned for “personhood” measures that would outlaw abortion and possibly some forms of birth control since at least 2006. Early in his campaign Gardner denounced the state-level personhood legislation he’d supported—yet he’s still a co-sponsor on a federal bill that would have the same impact. Gardner has resorted to claiming that bill doesn’t exist.
Then there’s Tom Tillis, who endorsed over-the-counter birth control during a debate with Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in September. As the top Republican in the state House, Tillis shepherded extreme anti-choice legislation in a decisively dishonest manner, inserting restrictions into unrelated bills like one ostensibly about motorcycle safety. Tillis, like other Republicans trumpeting their support for over-the-counter contraception, opposes not only the ACA’s birth control mandate but the healthcare law in general, which has a range of other benefits for women.
The latest candidate to pivot to contraception when confronted about her record is Joni Ernst, a Senate hopeful in Iowa who supports a personhood amendment as well as criminal prosecution of doctors who provide abortions. “When it does come to a woman’s access to contraception, I will always stand with our women on affordable access to contraception,” she said. Her campaign did not respond to a request to clarify which specific policies she supports that would increase affordability and accessibility.
In case anyone is confused: while affordable contraception does dramatically reduce rates of unintended pregnancy, it does not solve the problems created by cutting off women’s access to abortion services. In fact, attempts to block abortion access—for example, by cutting funds for clinics like Planned Parenthood that provide a range of services besides abortion—can have the perverse effect of making it more difficult for women to get other healthcare, birth control included.
Nor is making contraception available without a prescription an alternative to the birth control mandate (or, needless to say, the entire healthcare law). Over-the-counter birth control has support from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a point that several Republican candidates have pointed out when their motives were questioned. Yet the same medical association is quite clear that women still need insurance coverage for contraception. Not all women can or want to take the pill, and other forms of birth control like the IUD are expensive and require a doctor’s appointment. In June, ACOG warned politicians against using calls for over-the-counter contraception “as a political tool.”
That Republicans need such a tool to alter their reputation among women is obvious. Young women are the key demographic in many midterm battlegrounds, and according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in July and August, they prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress by a fourteen-point margin. (Men, on the other hand, favor Republicans by seventeen points.)
But why over-the-counter birth control, specifically? It’s a win-win-win for Republicans trying to appeal to female voters, while bashing Obamacare and boosting their free-market street cred. Candidates can say they support access to contraption while celebrating a “market-based approach to medicine,” as the editorial board of National Review described it recently. The editors commended Republicans for “running…to get government out of the birth-control business as much as possible, and to free up access to it for the women who want it.”
To understand why this sudden embrace of “access” is a racket, and a dangerous one, consider Kevin Williamson, National Review’s self-described “roving correspondent.” In a recent post titled “Five Reasons Why You’re Too Dumb to Vote,” Williamson characterizes women who care about preserving access to abortion or the birth control mandate as “women who cannot figure out how to walk into Walgreens, lay down the price of a latte, and walk out with her own birth-control pills, no federal intervention necessary.” He goes on to applaud the editorial board’s endorsement of the over-the-counter birth control fad.
A few days later, Williamson declared that women who have abortions should be hanged. “I’m torn on capital punishment generally; but treating abortion as homicide means what it means,” he said on Twitter. To be clear: what “pro-life” Williamson is arguing for is putting one in every three women in the United States to death.
“Democrats are not resisting the GOP’s suggestion because of any quibbles with its policy substance,” National Review said in response to suggestions that the GOP’s embrace of over-the-counter birth control smacks of opportunism. “They hem and haw because they want to continue to depict Republicans as intent on keeping contraceptives away from women.”
It doesn’t matter what Republicans are or aren’t intent on. The bottom line is that a variety of conservative positions, from opposition to the ACA to federal funding for women’s clinics, have had or would have the very real effect of making it more difficult for women to access healthcare in general and contraceptives specifically.
Furthermore, contraception is hardly the sum of women’s medical needs. When conservatives fight to empower women to make decisions about their own bodies in all cases, regardless of income, then maybe we’ll take them seriously. In the meantime, there’s little of substance in an ideology that promotes birth control without a prescription for some women and hanging for others.
By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, October 3, 2014
“Fighting Bad Science In The Senate”: The Days Of Making A Sport Of Trampling On Women’s Health And Rights Are Numbered
The Senate hearing for the Women’s Health Protection Act shows just how important it is for women’s health advocates to push for the facts.
The propensity of anti-choice advocates to eulogize false science was on full display on Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). That bill is a bold measure that would counter the relentless barrage of anti-choice legislation that has made abortion — a constitutionally protected medical procedure — altogether inaccessible for many U.S. women.
The bill was introduced last year by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Judy Chu, Lois Frankel and Marcia Fudge. It prohibits states from applying regulations to reproductive health care centers and providers that do not also apply to other low-risk medical procedures. It would, essentially, remove politicians from decisions that — for every other medical issue — remain between individuals and their providers.
The WHPA is long overdue. For the past three years, conservative lawmakers have used the guise of protecting women’s health to pass more than 200 state laws that have closed clinics, eliminated abortion services, and left women across the country without access to critical reproductive health care. The WHPA would reverse many of those policies and prevent others from being passed.
Tuesday’s hearing was representative of the broader debate over abortion rights. Those in favor of the bill argued that securing unfettered access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is critical to the health and lives of U.S. women and their families.
Those in opposition used familiar canards about abortion to argue that the law would be calamitous for U.S. women. Representative Diane Black of Tennessee had the gall to make the abortion-leads-to-breast cancer claim, one that has been disproven many times over. Others repeatedly cited the horrific cases of Kermit Gosnell, insinuating that all abortion providers (abortionists, in their lingo) are predatory and that late-term abortions are a common occurrence. In fact, if women had access to safe, comprehensive and intimidation-free care, Kermit Gosnell would have never been in business. Given the opposition’s testimony, you’d never know that late-term abortion is actually a rarity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90 percent of all abortions occur before 13 weeks gestation, with just over 1 percent taking place past 21 weeks.
At one point Representative Black argued that abortion is actually not health care. The one in three U.S. women who have undergone the procedure would surely argue otherwise.
Perhaps the most ironic testimony against the WHPA — and in favor of abortion restrictions – came from Senator Ted Cruz, who hails from Texas, a state with so many abortion restrictions that women are now risking their health and lives by self-inducing abortions or crossing the border to get care in Mexico. Senator Cruz attempted to validate U.S. abortion restrictions by referencing a handful of European countries with gestational restrictions on abortions. This was a popular argument during the hearing for Texas’ HB2 — the bill responsible for shuttering the majority of clinics in that state.
Cruz wins the prize for cherry picking facts to best support his argument. When citing our European counterparts, he conveniently ignored that such abortion restrictions are entrenched in progressive public health systems that enable all individuals to access quality, affordable (often free) health care, including comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Senator Cruz and his colleagues have adamantly opposed similar policies in the U.S., particularly the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for contraceptive coverage and Medicaid expansion. On the one hand conservatives lean on European policies to argue for stricter abortion restrictions at home, and on the other they claim those policies are antithetical to the moral fabric of the United States.
Would Cruz support France’s policies that enable women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and that guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control? Or Belgium’s policy that enables young people to be reimbursed for the cost of emergency contraception? Or the broad exceptions that both countries make for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons? He absolutely would not.
As the House of Representatives seems to be more motivated by suing the president than by voting on – let alone passing — laws that will actually improve the health and lives of their constituents, it’s highly unlikely that the WHPA will become law. But Tuesday’s debate – and the bill itself — is significant and shows a willingness among pro-choice advocates to go on offense after too many years of playing defense.
Bills such as the WHPA — even if they face a slim chance of being passed by a gridlocked Congress — provide an opportunity to call out conservatives’ use of bad science in their attempts to convince women that lawmakers know best when it comes to their personal medical decisions. And they allow us to remind lawmakers and citizens that despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary, abortion is a common, safe and constitutionally protected medical procedure, and that regulating it into extinction will only force women into back-alley practices like those run by Gosnell, costing them their health and their lives.
Those in support of the WHPA showed anti-choice lawmakers that the days of making a sport of trampling on women’s health and rights are numbered.
By: Andrea Flynn, Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute; The National Memo, July 18, 2014