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“The Right’s Cynical Wordplay”: ‘Women’s Safety’ Means Absolutely Nothing Anymore!

The most direct consequence of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down Massachusetts’ buffer zone law is that the people working and accessing care at abortion clinics will be less safe. Lawmakers in Massachusetts and municipalities across the country with similar measures in place will now have to figure out — once again — how best to ensure that the people who need to enter and exit clinics can continue to do so without being harassed, threatened, harmed or worse by antiabortion protesters. There have been nearly 7,000 incidences of clinic violence since 1977; history teaches us that safety is never a given when walking through those doors.

The second thing that the opinion in McCullen v. Coakley reminds us is how empty — how absolutely devoid of meaning — the notion of “women’s safety” has become in politics. Hardly a week passes without some measure advancing through a state legislature that will have devastating consequences for women’s health, but these bills are nonetheless cloaked in the language of women’s safety. Put those words in front of almost any piece of legislation and it seems like most lawmakers just nod their heads.

Texas comes to mind. We’re one year out from Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster, and the status of access in the state has gone from bad to utterly catastrophic. Nearly half of Texas’ abortion clinics have closed since 2011; it is estimated that come September, there will only be six abortion providers left in the second most populous state in the nation. The Rio Grande Valley has lost its last remaining abortion clinic, and now women in the region must travel 300 miles round trip to access care, including routine services like mammograms, cancer screenings and birth control. A recent study found that 7 percent of women in Texas have attempted to self-induce abortion. The number jumps to 12 percent for women who live along the Mexican border, and it is expected to grow. Women who have the luxury of crossing border checkpoints without fearing deportation or worse have been traveling to flea markets in Mexico to buy drugs from unlicensed and unregulated vendors in order to terminate their pregnancies.

But state Rep. Jodi Laubenberg called the passage of HB 2 a victory for women’s safety. In reflecting on the year that was, she commented, “Authoring and passing House Bill 2 was one of the most rewarding and challenging accomplishments of my legislative service. […] It was worth it. I will continue to fight for both the safety of Texas women and the pre-born.” Her Republican colleagues echoed the sentiment. Republican state Rep. Jane Nelson said, “I am proud to support House Bill 2, which not only protects innocent life but also ensures that abortion facilities are safe for Texas women.” And state Rep. Patricia Harless used the same language to justify her vote. ”I proudly voted for House Bill 2 because I believe Texas women deserve more than the bare minimum, lowest level safety standards,” she said.

These talking points have been parroted by lawmakers in Louisiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Arizona, Mississippi, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and virtually everywhere else that laws like these are being enacted. It’s never about abortion. It’s always about safety — women’s safety.

Now the Massachusetts law was also about women’s safety. The kind of safety that 35 feet of distance between yourself and someone willing to spend their Saturdays outside an abortion clinic calling women murderers will provide you. The kind of safety that state lawmakers recognized was urgently needed after an antiabortion activist opened fire on a clinic near Boston and killed two people and injured five others.

The violence isn’t unique to Massachusetts; the threat is national. As Robin Marty wrote this week, if you want to understand why buffer zones matter, spend some time at an abortion clinic without one:

In my time working with abortion providers and abortion rights advocates over the last few years, I’ve seen first hand what is considered “counseling” by abortion opponents at unprotected clinics. In Louisville, Kentucky, one of only two clinics left in the Bluegrass state, I witnessed over 100 abortion opponents lining the sidewalk leading up to the clinic, stopping just at the property line in front of the door, chanting rosaries, calling to patients, preaching sin and eternal damnation through a microphone just a few feet from the waiting room window. I watched a woman shout through the window that the patients inside would die on the exam room table, that they would bleed to death inside, and no one would help them because the money was already paid up front. I saw protesters with bloody, graphic signs swarm patients just trying to get out of the car door and cross the mere 10 feet from curb to clinic property.

That’s what it is like at a clinic with no buffer zone.

And that will be the scene at more clinics in the wake of the Supreme Court’s unanimous finding that while it sees no problem with the buffer zone around its own building, it believes that a 35-foot barrier — the length of a school bus, a walk that will last approximately 7 seconds — is an undue burden on the First Amendment rights of the “peaceful sidewalk counselors” stationed outside. Not being able to follow women to the doors of the clinic apparently limits their ability to “persuade.”

But the burden that removing that buffer will place on women’s safety? Well, what do those words even mean anymore?


By: Katie McDonough, Politics Writer, Salon, June 27, 2014

June 29, 2014 Posted by | Supreme Court, Violence Against Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nonsensical Overweening Power”: Virginia’s Assault On Abortion Claims Its First Victim

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

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Abortion, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not An Isolated Incident”: Todd Akin Tied To Religious Paramilitary Right-wing “Domestic Terrorist”

New documents show Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin donated to the political campaign of a violent antiabortion activist named Tim Dreste, whose ties to Akin we reported on earlier this week.

Dreste, as the Riverfront Times described him, was a “domestic terrorist, religious fanatic, [and] paramilitary right-wing nut.” In 1999, Dreste was convicted in federal court of making “true threats to kill, assault or do bodily harm” to abortion doctors. Before that, as we reported, Akin popped up in several groups led by Dreste, who was one of St. Louis’ most prominent pro-life activists until his conviction. Dreste was also chaplain in the militia that Akin praised in a letter just a few months before the Oklahoma City bombing.

Now, as it turns out, Akin was one of only a handful of contributors to Dreste’s 1993 run for the Missouri state House. Then-state Rep. Todd Akin’s campaign gave Dreste $200, according to campaign finance records, making him Dreste’s third largest contributor, tied with a pro-life PAC. The records were obtained by Progress Missouri from the secretary of state’s archives and provided to Salon.

Dreste’s campaign brought in only $2,325 in cash contributions that year, so Akin’s donation represents about 8.6 percent of his total haul. There are only seven other itemized donors (those who give under $100 don’t have to be listed individually), including two pro-life groups and two other candidate committees. Dreste ran for the state Legislature four times, but 1993, a special election, was his best showing, when he captured 35 percent of the vote.

Defenders of Akin — Akin spokesman Rick Tyler declined to comment for this story — might note that Dreste wasn’t convicted for another five years, so Akin couldn’t have known how radical he was in 1993. But Dreste was well known in Missouri at the time for his controversial stunts.

Akin’s contribution came in October of 1993, but in March, “Dreste was the talk of the anti-abortion and abortion-rights camps when, after the murder in 1993 of Dr. David Gunn in Florida, he carried a sign asking, ‘Do You Feel Under the Gunn?’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jo Mannies wrote in 1995. Gunn’s murder was a watershed moment in the volatile abortion wars of the decade, but Dreste used it to make an implicit threat against other doctors. Specifically, he showed up outside the clinic of abortion provider Dr. Yogendra Shah with the sign: “Dr. Shah, do you feel under the Gunn?” Mannies also noted: “Wearing a hat adorned with shotgun shells, Tim Dreste is a familiar sight among the anti-abortion protesters who regularly picket the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City.”

In May of ’93, the Post-Dispatch published a controversial letter to the editor from Dreste in which he accused gay people of spreading AIDS-infected blood. “Further, Operation Rescue’s leaders have continuously disavowed violence as a means to achieve their goals, while animal-rights groups destroy medical testing facilities and militant homosexuals invade church services and spread AIDS-infected blood in legislative chambers, all the while being cheered on by the left for standing up for their cause,” Dreste wrote.

He concluded: “As this area’s leader for Operation Rescue, I have only one response: Throw some extra bunks into Manuel Noriega’s and John Gotti’s cells; we’ll soon join them.” It turned out to be prescient.

Of course, it’s possible that Akin, a committed anti-choice activist who was arrested multiple times while protesting abortion clinics in the 1980s and defended a woman convicted of battery against an abortion nurse, somehow missed all of Dreste’s controversial activities. Sean Soendker Nicholson, the executive director of Progress Missouri, doesn’t think so. “This isn’t an isolated incident. No amount of threats of violence or extremism encouraged Akin to cut ties with Dreste.”


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 25, 2012

October 28, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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