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Forced Vasectomies in Alabama: Why Pro-Choice Lawmakers Are Using Joke Bills to Get Your Attention

Alabama state Rep. Rolanda Hollis (D-Birmingham) introduced a bill last week calling for forced vasectomies for men within a month of their 50th birthdays or after the birth of their third child, whichever comes first.

I was skeptical of this over-the-top bill, along with similar ones filed by pro-choice lawmakers in other states, for several reasons, including that it stands no chance of realistically passing—but I now recognize the importance in a strategy that employs humor in the reproductive rights debate.

The Alabama vasectomies bill, HB 238, is intended as a satirical counter to the flood of anti-abortion bills introduced in state houses across the country last year—everything from near-total abortion bans (so-called heartbeat bills) to forced counseling laws, initiatives by anti-choice legislators to control the bodies of people who can become pregnant. 

“Under existing law, there are no restrictions on the reproductive rights of men,” the text of HB 238 begins, going on to say that Alabama men would have to fund their own vasectomies under the law. Though the bill has no chance of passage through Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature, Hollis told Rewire.News she was motivated to write the bill because “year after year the majority party continues to introduce new legislation that tries to dictate a woman’s body and her reproductive rights. We should view this as the same outrageous overstep in authority.” 

Hollis’ legislation doesn’t stand alone. Last March, Georgia Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia) proposed a “Testicular Bill of Rights,” which would require men to obtain permission from their sexual partners before seeking erectile dysfunction medication and make it a crime to have sex without a condom. In December, South Carolina state Sen. Mia McLeod (D-Richland) introduced the “South Carolina Pro Birth Accountability Act,” which would enjoin the state to compensate people forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term

The “Testicular Bill of Rights” is funny, but I felt like the South Carolina bill made light of what are, in many cases, life-or-death situations for pregnant people who live in states that are hostile to abortion rights and reproductive health care. This is especially true when Democrats already send mixed messages on reproductive rights across local, state, and federal legislatures, and the party’s presidential candidates can’t seem to align on the importance of protecting abortion access.

However, Kelly Baden, vice president of reproductive rights at the State Innovation Exchange, a nonprofit that works with progressive state legislators to shape public policy, made a judicious point in an interview with Rewire.News: These types of bills function to “grab someone’s attention and alter their thinking about what abortion restrictions really are,” she said. In other words, it’s a way of getting male legislators to think about what would happen if the roles were reversed and the ridiculousness of legislating people’s bodies.

In the past decade alone, state legislatures have introduced over 400 anti-abortion laws, Baden said. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, which will decide whether abortion providers in Louisiana need admitting privileges for nearby hospitals and whether providers can challenge abortion restrictions on behalf of their patients. In our current sociopolitical moment, abortion access could not be more important or less secure.

“These kinds of satirical bills can create an energy” that goes beyond what state and local media are able to provide, Baden said. Legislation that focuses on male reproductive organs just gets more attention, sometimes national attention, than the legislative attacks on people with uteruses, Baden said.

Hollis certainly does not believe state lawmakers should be legislating on people’s reproductive freedoms. “Just as I would turn to my doctor over my state legislator to make recommendations when deciding whether or not to have a surgery, or whether or not to take a certain type of medicine, it is my doctor with whom I, or any of my loved ones, should consult when it comes to making the incredibly difficult decisions related to my personal reproductive rights,” Hollis said.

The point that Hollis and other lawmakers want to make is this: There is an inverse relationship between gender and legislation, meaning that laws attacking men’s reproductive freedom are seen as overstepping and unreasonable, but restrictions on women’s reproductive health care are commonplace.

Satirical bills from pro-choice lawmakers aren’t undermining the reproductive justice movement—it’s anti-abortion, anti-choice, and anti-autonomy legislation that makes it difficult, at times near impossible, for people to seek care. Baden noted that joke bills are often introduced in tandem with critical reproductive justice legislation that addresses the lack of abortion resources or the flood of misinformation in a state. 

Sometimes it can be necessary to employ “satirical, call-your-bluff bills,” as Baden calls them. “Humor is an amplifier, and sunshine is a disinfectant,” Baden said, citing that the way to effect change is to get attention for the issues.

Given that a majority of people in the United States are in favor of reproductive choice, and every state in the country wants to retain abortion access in some way, getting and holding the public’s attention is most of the battle.

Democratic Voters Want Senate Reform Now: Campaign Week in Review

Join Rewire.News for a weekly look at how reproductive health, rights, and justice issues are popping up on the 2020 campaign trail.

Likely Democratic voters support reforming the U.S. Senate

Likely Democratic primary voters want the U.S. Senate reformed to end the filibuster and make it easier to pass progressive legislation, according to survey results from Data for Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

The Data for Progress survey, released Wednesday, shows reforming the Senate is particularly popular among Black, Latino, and women voters, along with self-identified liberal or very liberal respondents. Black voters were most supportive of reforming the Senate55 percent said they’d back the effort to ensure legislation could pass with a simple majority rather than 60 votes. Thirty-eight percent of self-identified moderates support Senate reform.

“Consistent with their policy preferences (and likely in many cases, lived experience) Democratic voters reasonably infer that the best strategy to pass legislation going forward is to take away power from the minoritarian Republican Party rather than try to persuade them to do what’s right,” Data for Progress researchers wrote. 

Ambitious pro-choice efforts, such as the codification of Roe v. Wade or elimination of the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, likely wouldn’t clear the Senate, even if Democrats held a majority.

Candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination have approached reforming the Senate in various ways.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) became the first presidential candidate to endorse reforming Senate rules, Politico reported last April. “I’m not running for president just to talk about making real, structural change. I’m serious about getting it done,” Warren said. “And part of getting it done means waking up to the reality of the United States Senate.” 

U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has said he wouldn’t push for senators to change the chamber’s rules, but would instead use the “budget reconciliation process” to pass legislation with 51 votes. Sanders said last year that reconciliationhas been used time and time again to pass major pieces of legislation and that under our Constitution and the rules of the Senate, it is the vice president who determines what is and is not permissible under budget reconciliation.”

“I can tell you that a vice president in a Bernie Sanders administration will determine that Medicare for All can pass through the Senate under reconciliation and is not in violation of the rules,” Sanders said. 

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told the Intercept in 2019 that reforming Senate rules to allow bills to pass with 51 votes has to “be on the table because our sense of fair play among Democrats has bitten us far too many times for us to be naive about it.”

In 2017, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) signed a bipartisan letter in support of keeping the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Support for Supreme Court Expansion Doesn’t Create a ‘Backlash’ 

Campaigning on expanding the number of seats on the U.S. Supreme Court would hardly pose a massive political risk to Democrats in the 2020 election, according to research released Monday by Take Back the Court, a group advocating for judicial reform.

The survey results “suggest that while Republicans may feel slightly more warmly toward their in-party following exposure to a court expansion message, there is no electoral implication on likelihood of voting, vote choice, or withholding economic support from the Democratic Party,” wrote the study’s authors—Aaron Belkin, a political science professor at San Francisco State University and director of Take Back the Court, and James N. Druckman, a political science professor at Northwestern University.

“Indeed, it appears that concerns about Democrats possibly motivating Republicans to turnout if they endorse expanding the Supreme Court are unfounded.”

“Our experimental results show that candidate endorsement of court expansion does not produce an electoral backlash or benefit.”

Take Back the Court study’s authors

Democratic presidential candidates, who gathered this month at a New Hampshire forum to discuss reproductive rights and the federal courts, have staked out a range of positions on Supreme Court expansion.

Druckman and Belkin concluded that Democratic presidential candidates talking up the benefits of expanding the Court wouldn’t have the unintended consequences some fear.

“Our experimental results show that candidate endorsement of court expansion does not produce an electoral backlash or benefit, as it has no statistically significant impact among respondents living in the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota … on likelihood of voting, vote choice, or willingness to forgo a personal financial reward, and only a small statistically significant impact on partisan affect in some conditions,” the authors wrote.

The survey involved 2,400 people in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Minnesota.

No Mention of Abortion Rights at Nevada Debate 

Advocates bemoaned the lack of reproductive rights discussion at Wednesday’s Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas, where candidates clashed on numerous issues but were never asked about the nationwide attack on abortion access.

It’s been par for the course: Reproductive health and rights barely got a mention during December’s Democratic presidential debate. Moderators at January’s debate in Iowa didn’t ask about abortion rights at all, even as Iowa Republican lawmakers pushed a near-total ban on abortion.

“The exclusion of abortion from the national conversation, just days before the Nevada caucuses, does a severe disservice to voters,” Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, said in a statement. “While there is a world of difference between Trump and the Democratic presidential candidates on reproductive health and rights, there is too much at stake to ignore this issue.”

The Nevada caucuses take place Saturday.

United States Drops to an ‘F’ in Reproductive Rights Report Card

The steady erosion of access to family planning services and abortion care across the United States has earned the country its first failing grade in the Population Institute’s eighth annual report card on reproductive health and rights.

The Population Institute, a nonprofit advocating for universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, issued an F to the United States for 2019; last year the country received a D- grade in “The State of Reproductive Health and Rights: A 50-State Report Card.” An outsized factor in the failing grade: the Trump administration’s draconian family planning restrictions, also known as the Title X domestic “gag rule.”

The anti-choice rule bars Title X funding recipients from referring patients for abortion care and could eventually force clinics to financially separate abortion services from Title X-funded services, a pricey proposition that could shutter clinics. The domestic gag rule, long favored by Republican administrations, forced Planned Parenthood out of the family planning program that serves more than 4 million people with low incomes. 

The Population Institute named two other primary reasons for the failing grade: Trump-appointed judges to both the U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals; and the Trump administration’s efforts to gut “federal support for comprehensiveand evidence-basedsexuality education curricula that reduce the rate of teen pregnancy” and replace it with abstinence-based education favored by anti-choice activists and lawmakers.

Jennie Wetter, the Population Institute’s director of public policy, said the country’s failing grade should serve as a wakeup call for people who support comprehensive reproductive health policy.

“Many people of color and low-income individuals are already struggling to access affordable reproductive health care,” Wetter said in a statement. “This report card is a call to action.”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Alexis McGill Johnson said the upcoming Supreme Court case, June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, could further destroy access to reproductive health care for millions across the country if conservative justices side with the state. The case challenges the medically unnecessary admitting privileges requirement in Louisiana and the ability of providers to challenge certain types of abortion restrictions on behalf of their patients.

“Politicians across this country have eroded abortion access one medically unnecessary law at a time—essentially making abortion inaccessible for too many. This is by design,” McGill Johnson said in a statement. “The Supreme Court is poised to open the floodgates to even more harmful laws in state after state. Louisiana serves as a warning to us all: Our rights and freedoms to control our bodies are on the line.” 

The Population Institute’s state-based grades showed failures in the Midwest and South to provide adequate reproductive health care in a year when many Republican-majority state legislatures passed near-total abortion bans. Twenty-one states were given an F or F- on reproductive health and rights in 2019, while seven states got an A+, A, or A- grade. Nebraska received the lowest grade, with a score of 31.5 out of 100, due in part to the state’s lack of mandated sex education and ban on telemedicine. California had the highest grade at 98.

The Population Institute’s grading methodology accounted for the affordability of reproductive health-care services, access to contraception, teenage and unplanned pregnancy rates, and access to abortion care.

“The political war over reproductive health rights is far from over, but the legal and regulatory battle lines have been drawn, and the stakes could not be higher,” Robert Walker, president of the Population Institute, said in a statement.

‘If I Don’t Lie, It’s Illegal’: How Forced Counseling Affects Abortion Patients

I’m a counselor at an abortion clinic in Texas, where patients have to navigate roadblocks to care every day, including forced counseling against abortion.

Over the past year, I’ve counseled hundreds of people. Although I do provide some state-mandated counseling 24 hours before the procedure, most patients visit me separately on the day of their abortion. It isn’t unusual for people to enter my counseling room with their guard up, viewing it as yet another barrier imposed by the state before they can continue with their health-care decision. In reality, clinics that offer abortion counseling do so in order to provide patient-centered care that considers people’s unique experiences. But patients were confused so often that, eventually, I changed the way I began every interaction.

Before providing patients with an overview of what to expect from our counseling sessions, I now let them know that I won’t question their decisions. Recently, I told a patient who seemed uncomfortable after I introduced myself that I don’t need her to convince me that her reasons for having an abortion are good enough. While I wanted to make sure it was her decision to be there, I reminded her that she’s in control of what she shares with me. “Oh, thank God,” she told me, explaining that she had dreaded meeting with me because of what she expected counseling to be like. We talked about her life, her reasons for being there, and her goals for afterward. We developed a rapport. As she walked out, she thanked me for being “so nice” and not at all what she had expected.

Thirty-four states require that patients receive state-mandated counseling before an abortion can be performed, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Twenty-seven of those states also have mandatory waiting periods, forcing people to wait 24 to 72 hours after counseling before receiving the health care they have sought.

Typically, state-mandated counseling includes providing resources on alternatives to abortion (like adoption and continuing the pregnancy), inaccurate information and terminology about fetal development (such as the presence of a “heartbeat,” the ability for a fetus to feel pain, and language like “baby”), and the medical risks of abortion and of continuing the pregnancy.

Even though having an abortion is 14 times safer than giving birth, some abortion providers have to inform patients about risks of death, infertility, and even breast cancer—talking points deployed by the powerful anti-choice movement in Texas and nationwide.

Because of the “Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act,” we have to tell patients all of those things before their 24-hour waiting period can begin. We have to give them printed materials with that information, too. A separate booklet we’re forced to provide includes a list of anti-choice pregnancy clinics that offer free sonograms but don’t discuss abortion care. The idea behind state-mandated counseling is that people need “ample” time to make a decision based on the dubious information doled out by the state.

Here’s the thing: No other medical procedure requires this kind of biased counseling, which until 1992 the U.S. Supreme Court had found unconstitutional. The patients I speak to are capable of making informed decisions without state interference.

Part of my job includes providing these state-mandated materials and reciting a script about alternatives to abortion—a script that includes how the patient’s partner in the pregnancy is responsible for child support regardless of whether they’ve offered to pay for the abortion. It’s frustrating for me as a provider, and as someone who’s had an abortion, because we deserve to be trusted to make family planning decisions. Much like the patients I speak to, I knew I had the options of continuing the pregnancy and of adoption, but I showed up to an abortion clinic for a reason.

Forced counseling and waiting periods devised by lawmakers who oppose abortion rights disproportionately affect low-income families and people in rural areas without an abortion clinic nearby. Patients in Texas who live more than 100 miles from the nearest abortion provider may receive the counseling over the telephone; otherwise, they must make two trips on separate days. That means missing work and losing income, securing transportation and child care multiple times, and sometimes not paying rent or utilities because of all the costs added to abortion care by these onerous regulations.

The anti-choice counseling creates confusion for patients who receive separate counseling on the day of their abortion, which generally includes reviewing consent forms, checking for understanding, assessing for coercion, describing the abortion process, answering patient questions, and providing a space to discuss emotions and thoughts surrounding their decision without shame or judgment.

Some patients fear they won’t be able to have children later on if they want them. When I ask if that’s because of the information we had to provide them earlier, the answer is almost always yes. It’s times like these I’m reminded why patient-centered counseling is so valuable, even though not all clinics are able to offer it. Texas policymakers wants patients to fear they won’t be able to have children later, and it’s a privilege to be able to talk them through those fears. I always let patients know that although the state makes us tell them it’s a risk, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology says abortions without complications (that’s the overwhelming majority of abortions, since complications are very rare) do not affect fertility—a comforting fact for many.

Dr. Jessica Rubino, an abortion provider in Texas, said that while she complies with the law by providing state-mandated counseling, she also makes room in each visit to offer patients actual facts.

“It has the effect of exhausting me and confusing my patients. When you go to the doctor, you expect your physician to give you expert, sound medical advice. That’s why you go,” she told me. Dr. Rubino said this should be “exactly the same” when accessing abortion. “If I don’t lie, it’s illegal. If I don’t tell them the truth, I’m a bad doctor and committing malpractice—also illegal. It’s a lose-lose [situation]. Which is exactly what the Republicans who pass these draconian laws want. They don’t want patients to have the correct information.”

Even though most people who have abortions are confident in their decision by the time they come to the clinic, state-mandated counseling is grounded in the myth that people feel conflicted. Research shows most abortion patients aren’t conflicted—and that even experiences accompanied by complicated emotions don’t result in regret.

But it’s no surprise that after going through various political hoops to receive abortion care, some people find more counseling overwhelming. Abortion providers deserve the ability to provide patients with accurate, evidence-based care, and people who have abortions deserve to be trusted to make these decisions in the first place.

‘Shifting the Culture of Care’: A Q&A With Chanel Porchia-Albert, Founder of Doula Collective Ancient Song

Known as one of the mothers of reproductive justice, Loretta Ross asserted in her 2017 book, Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, that not only do Black women need access to abortion, “we also needed health care, education, jobs, daycare, and the right to motherhood.” 

Ross was one of 12 Black women who gathered in June 1994 to create a reproductive justice framework, which addresses the impacts of issues like race, class, or sexuality on the reproductive lives of individuals from marginalized groups. Following in their footsteps decades later are the leaders of a Brooklyn, New York-based doula collective, Ancient Song, which has been providing resources for pregnant people and parents and addressing the health inequities in communities of color since 2008.

In New York, Black women are approximately three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women, while the infant mortality rate for Black babies is also nearly three times the rate for white babies, according to the latest data.

Rewire.News sat down with Chanel Porchia-Albert, a full-spectrum doula, reproductive health advocate, and Ancient Song founder to discuss their work to combat the country’s devastating Black maternal mortality and morbidity crisis, reproductive justice praxis, and following in radical Black traditions of community care and teach-ins. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Rewire.News: How did Ancient Song come to be? What was your own background in reproductive justice prior and leading up to the group’s formation?

Chanel Porchia-Albert: Ancient Song came into fruition based on my own birthing experience. Prior to having children, I had happened upon a natural birth expo maybe two years prior. I was like, wow, this is really great to see all this information, but all of the people that were there were predominantly white. Then I happened upon a Black midwife and a doula, and I got their information. I kept it and held on to it, and then when I became pregnant, after seeking out care from a woman of color OB/GYN and not liking the care, I remembered I had this info. I reached out and connected with the doula and the midwife, and it was amazing. It totally just shifted my entire perspective on how I felt about my own reproductive health. I took a doula training and the rest is kind of history. 

But prior to that, I had a lot of Black women I knew who were on birth control and ended up developing fibroids. I had a myomectomy and was told I couldn’t have children or I would have a huge difficulty trying to have children. From that, I became a vegan, changed my diet, and my overall lifestyle habits—six children later.

Rewire.News: Yes, I saw your post this morning. Beautiful children!

CPA: Oh, thank you.

Rewire.News: You said that having the Black doula and midwife on your birth journey was life-changing. Can you go into more details as to what they did differently from your previous OB/GYN?

CPA: They listened, they saw me, they saw who I was. It wasn’t just about them taking care of my body—it was about nurturing my soul and helping to usher me into this new role of being a parent. They took time out to hear me, and they gave me choice. I was never told, “you have to do this” or “you have to do that.” 

I was guided through the process. I was able to make decisions about my body in a way that felt good to me, especially with me being a vegan and some procedures I didn’t want done. My midwife was like, “OK, we don’t have to do that; there are other ways to do things.” She was just very gentle and loving. Her name is Memaniye Cinque of Dyekora Sumda Midwifery. She was also my mentor. She is a home birth midwife who has helped to usher a lot of children into this world but who has also changed the lives of individuals who are birthworkers as well. 

I want to see Black and brown people having the tools that they need to be able to engage within the health-care system in a way that affirms them.”

Rewire.News: I’ve been following midwife Katy McFadden’s #Equity4Downstate campaign to secure funding for SUNY Downstate Medical Center, a Brooklyn hospital in a predominantly Black neighborhood with high maternal and infant mortality rates. I understand that Ancient Song has been helpful in providing community space to conduct teach-ins on the issue. How do you view teach-ins as part of the broader reproductive justice work? 

CPA: I think about it like this: It’s not like people don’t want to be involved. It’s when your attention is in survival mode, and you’re thinking about your day-to-day life, you don’t necessarily have time to think about, “How can I get involved in a particular area or situation around my reproductive health,” or any other type of issue. The teach-ins act as a way for folks to be educated or stay informed and understand the things that are happening around them, so that they can feel safe and secure in advocating for themselves and advocating for their families when the time comes. 

Rewire.News: Why do you feel like maternal mortality has been such a devastating issue that’s directly impacting the community you serve? 

CPA: Why do I think there’s this problem? It’s racial oppression. I think that if we are to look at the historical context of people of African descent in America and our relationship to the health-care system, Black people historically didn’t have access to health care within the context of institutional care. There were midwives and healers within the communities, and that was their source of strength, because of their relationship to the health-care system. As well as the consistent commodification of the body and forced sterilizations of Black and brown people throughout the history of the United States. You have these different instances where our bodies have specifically been used as tools to advance science, but are never shown the love and the care and the decency and the human respect and dignity that we deserve. 

So there’s an intergenerational fear of the hospital system. There is an educational system within the institutional framework of medical doctors and nurses that is based on a racial system that was created in order to elevate one group of people over another. 

Rewire.News: How has Ancient Song been on the front lines of the Black maternal mortality crisis?

CPA: Since our induction—we started in my house and my living room—it started from listening to the stories of individuals and hearing them over a good plate of food; let people know that there was somebody there that actually cared about them. Since then, we have incorporated programs to center folks and the needs of the community: in particular, Black and Brown folks, [folks from] immigrant communities [such as] those who are undocumented, those who are otherwise considered to be within the margins. 

We don’t turn anybody away for lack of ability to afford to pay. We really value the fact that there are other forms of payments and barter systems. We want people to know that everybody, every person, every individual, every human being is valued, and there should be no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get the things that you need so that you can come out of survival mode so that you can thrive. Ancient Song provides full-spectrum doula services and educational classes. We have a donation closet where we give away strollers, diapers, clothing emergency, formula, anything if needed. 

Rewire.News: How do you envision the future for Ancient Song and the reproductive justice movement as a whole?

CPA: My vision for Ancient Song is to continue to be a catalyst for change for individuals and a hub for communities, not just in New York but throughout the country and internationally. Be where folks can come and learn, and also take us into a new decade of what does it mean to incorporate movement building and shifting the culture of care and the ways in which we look at ourselves, the way we access health-care services. 

I want to see Black and brown people having the tools that they need to be able to engage within the health-care system in a way that affirms them. But also understanding that I want to see us build our own infrastructures where we are supported in a way that makes us feel good, when we’re no longer surviving but we’re thriving. That’s my vision for Ancient Song—to see us move into a future that encompasses the understanding that human connection is an essential key to anything, and really shifting the culture of being in humanity with one another, within health care, but also branching out in other things we do in our lives. 

In terms of RJ, I see families; I see a movement; I see hope; I see sustainability, transformation, and accountability.

Kansas Lawmakers Must Stop Attacks on Abortion and Medicaid 

Lawmakers in the Kansas legislature want to hold hostage health care for low-income families until they get their way on a constitutional amendment that could one day end legal abortion in the state.

The Kansas House of Representatives this month narrowly blocked an effort to put an anti-abortion amendment to the state’s constitution up for a vote in the August primary election.

The amendment, which would have given lawmakers vast power to regulate abortion, was a response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that abortion is a fundamental right protected by the state’s constitution. It could have opened the door to legislation like the near-total abortion ban passed in Alabama or other harmful laws that would restrict access to crucial reproductive health care in Kansas.

The push to defeat this dangerous amendment was successful because thousands of Kansans—including women, doctors, and their allies—stood up against politicians trying to insert themselves into private medical decisions and against the anti-choice lobby’s attempt to rush the bill through. I’m deeply grateful to the Kansans who cried foul over this flawed amendment, which would have put access to health care in jeopardy, and to the lawmakers who listened to their voices and voted to protect our rights.

As the founder of Trust Women Foundation, an organization providing abortion services in underserved Kansas communities, I know how important comprehensive health care is for women and families. And I’d hoped that, after the failed February 7 vote on the anti-abortion constitutional amendment, the politicians who supported this amendment would shift their focus toward creating a society where women and families are healthy and safe, instead of continuing their attacks on women’s health care.

Unfortunately, some of these same lawmakers are now doubling down on these attacks by threatening to derail bipartisan efforts to expand Medicaid to 150,000 uninsured Kansans.

For anyone who genuinely cares about reproductive health, Medicaid expansion should be a no-brainer. Women and children make up the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries. For women covered by the program, Medicaid ensures they can afford contraception, maternity and prenatal care, and more. In fact, 39 percent of Kansas births are covered by Medicaid. It’s hard to think of a policy that would do more to improve the health and well-being of Kansas women and their families.

And yet, some politicians are threatening to block the expansion until they get their way and the amendment is approved.

While many Kansans may have nuanced views on abortion, we overwhelmingly agree on two things: that politicians have no business making health-care decisions for others, and that we should expand access to health care so we can make those decisions for ourselves. And I know people across Kansas share my frustration with lawmakers who claim to be concerned about women’s health, while trying to take away access to safe and legal abortion care and blocking efforts to provide quality health care to a significant portion of our state’s population.

Medicaid expansion would be a major, life-changing victory for families and communities across Kansas. I’m truly hopeful that Kansas lawmakers do the right thing and join 37 other states in taking this obvious step of expanding access to health care for their constituents. It’s time for our elected leaders to come together, leave the attacks on reproductive health care behind, and dedicate themselves to doing everything they can to support our state’s women and families.

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation.

The United States Is the Epicenter of the Anti-Choice Clinic Crisis

The global impact of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), or anti-choice clinics, hasn’t been fully understood until now.

A study led by U.K.-based political website openDemocracy found the United States as the epicenter of a worldwide network of anti-choice clinics targeting people with “disinformation, emotional manipulation, and outright deceit” about reproductive health. 

Bolstered by lawmakers who oppose abortion rights and anti-choice groups like Heartbeat International and Next Level, these clinics are designed to appear as neutral health-care facilities when in reality they harbor blatant anti-abortion agendas and frequently provide vulnerable people with medically inaccurate information. 

OpenDemocracy‘s undercover reporters, posing as pregnant women, found that Ohio-based Heartbeat International, which runs thousands of clinics in the United States, has affiliate clinics in more than 18 countries, including Argentina, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Italy, Mexico, and South Africa. 

According to the findings, Heartbeat International-funded and -trained clinics are responsible for falsely telling people “abortion increases risks of cancer or mental illness; that a woman needs consent from a partner to access abortion; and that hospitals will refuse to treat medical complications from abortion.” The research uncovered training materials claiming “condoms do not do a good job of preventing pregnancy” and advertising claiming some Heartbeat International centers are abortion clinics. One Costa Rican clinic investigated for the report advertises on the website quieroabortarcr.com or iwanttogetanabortioncr.com.

Since 2007, Heartbeat International has spent around $1 million overseas “including direct support to more than a dozen anti-abortion groups around the world,” openDemocracy reported. Heartbeat International is a 501 (c) 3 organization that’s funded primarily through grants and private donations. In 2018, the group received $4.7 million in grants, donations, membership fees, and program revenue.

Support from the White House 

The fight against the worldwide misinformation campaign surrounding reproductive health is spreading. After openDemocracy’s report was released, policymakers from Argentina, Croatia, Ecuador, Italy, Mexico, and South Africa have spoken out about the illegality of Heartbeat International’s actions, with some promising investigations. 

“This is a rule of law issue,” Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF), told openDemocracy. “Every politician whether or not they agree with a woman’s right to abortion should be very concerned that their country’s laws are being circumvented through disinformation, emotional manipulation, and outright deceit.”

Heartbeat International has prominent ties to the White House. Each year before the annual March for Life, the organization brings supporters to Capitol Hill for a roundtable discussion with politicians. In January 2019, Vice President Mike Pence attended the event. 

President Donald Trump has expressed support for so-called crisis pregnancy centers. He recognized the anniversary of a 2018 ruling in which conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court sided with anti-choice clinics, striking a California law requiring clinics to inform patients of all their reproductive health-care options. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has gutted the Title X family planning program and funneled the federal funds into clinics run by anti-choice activists

“The situation in the United States is growing more dire, and I fear for the state of sexual and reproductive health services, particularly for women in rural areas, low-income women, and women of color, who predominantly seek these services,” Dr. Amy Bryant, professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said in a statement to openDemocracy, adding that anti-choice clinics have been “emboldened” during the Trump presidency. 

Marketing of deceit 

Disinformation and emotional manipulation aren’t the only tactics U.S.-based anti-choice organizations are focused on. Data mining has been a focal point for Next Level, a Heartbeat International subsidiary that created a global content management system used to store personal patient information, according to Privacy International, a London-based human rights charity group advocating for privacy around the world. Information in the system includes details from the intake forms at anti-choice clinics, like a person’s name, address, email address, ethnicity, marital status, education, income source, medication, medical, pregnancy history, medical testing information, and eventually, ultrasound photos.

It’s not clear how this information is being used. Next Level on its website has said it “may share such information with Next Level affiliates, partners, vendors or contract organizations, as legally necessary.” Heartbeat International has 2,700 affiliate organizations and partners within its network worldwide.

As Rewire.News has reported, Heartbeat developed a program called Option Line, a website, chat service, and call line used on anti-choice websites. According to their terms of use, “all remarks” sent through Option Line can be used “for any and all purposes” it believes “to be appropriate to the mission and vision of Option Line.” This explanation leaves the door open for personal data to be misused in a variety of ways.

With Heartbeat International’s uncovered manipulations—misrepresenting anti-choice clinics as abortion care centers—and its utilization of vast amounts of personal data to potentially create “digital profiles” of prospective patients, the organization is paving the way for the marketing of deceit, threatening access to abortion care around the world.

Emily Baile, from the organization Expose Fake Clinics, said anti-choice clinics “evolved out of violent abortion clinic protesters.” “When it became illegal to chain yourself to the front gate of abortion clinics, protesters changed tactics and began creating crisis pregnancy centers throughout the United States,” she said in a statement to openDemocracy.

The “fraudulent advertising” and the dispensing of inaccurate advice are “crimes and should be stopped by the government,” Baile said. “No person should be tricked or manipulated when trying to access time-sensitive health care,” she said. “The fraudulent nature and disruptive tactics by the centers have no place in lawful societies.”

Correction: A previous version of this article said Option Line was developed by a Heartbeat International subsidiary.

How I Rediscovered Sexual Pleasure After an Abortion

Having grown up Christian, I saw sex as a forbidden fruit. So when I found out I was pregnant years ago, it set off a shockwave of shame through my body. While abortion was the only option for me, when I got up from the procedure table, I felt marked with a scarlet letter. Ruined. And definitely not deserving of any of life’s pleasures—least of all, sex.

There is a lot to be said about the myriad emotions that can follow the choice to terminate a pregnancy. Feelings ranging from relief to anger can become a home for people able to conceive but not ready to change their lives. In fact, studies have explored the variety of emotional responses that can be present in the wake of an abortion. However, little time is spent discussing the impacts on sexual pleasure, which can become an unexpected casualty to the procedure.

At least it was for me.

Sex became a gateway to feeling even worse than I already did. My libido was nonexistent. My partner’s touch felt like little reminders of my shame, and when we tried to be intimate, my mind would race with constant attacks on my body, my heart, and my soul. With the newfound mental barrier piled on top of the literal reminders of my decision—the bleeding, the pain, the weight gain, the emotional imbalance—the damage, at the time, felt irreparable. I thought I was broken.

Worse, I wasn’t able to explain what was happening to my otherwise supportive partner. No one seemed to be comfortable enough to talk about how, even if you are pro-choice, your healing journey can include moments that feel less than empowering.

I sought out help in the form of a holistic health practitioner who not only listened to me but assured me that what I was experiencing was absolutely normal. Psychological distress after an abortion can take on many forms and can be similar to any other grief reactions.

For some of us, loss strengthens our desire to connect with others in any and all ways. However, loss also provokes many of us to close off. And, no matter, where you stand on abortion rights, there will still be a mental and physical reaction. With my mind in overdrive and my body in shutdown, I needed a solid plan to undo the combination of my religious conditioning and the effect of my natural grief responses.

Though I had help, the journey to rediscovering sex as shameless, pleasurable, and my God-given right was solely my own. The first step was to reframe sex as something I deserved to enjoy. Because of my conflicting feelings about sex before I became pregnant, I was unable to hold healthy views about it—both before and after my abortion. I needed to finally define and own my sexual experiences for myself. This required detailed conversations with my partner and a change to not only how we engaged in sexual intimacy but also when.

Then came the hardest part: having to admit that I was self-shaming. At the time, no one other than my partner knew about my abortion, so I was the only one judging myself for my decision. Even though I knew I’d made the right choice, I still felt a nagging guilt for putting myself in the position to begin with.

Isn’t that the anti-abortion rhetoric we always hear? That abortions are the easy way out for irresponsible women?

I thought I’d completely ignored all of that messaging until I was in bed repeating it to myself in my head: that I knew better; that if one day I wanted to be a mother, I’d be reminded that I’d once had a chance and forfeited it. These negative thoughts were amplified during sex.

And so my holistic practitioner and I enlisted the power of positive affirmations to get rid of my mental blocks. These little truths were things I could repeat throughout the day to remind myself of what was real—that I was good, and worthy, and deserved to feel good. That I deserved to experience sexual pleasure. That I was so incredibly lucky to have had the right to choose what I wanted to do with my body. The affirmations felt small and silly at first, but with time they evolved into the foundation allowing me to reestablish a regular sex life.

Once having sex became easier, I focused on staying present and giving myself permission to fully surrender. I’d gone over six months without an orgasm from sex or masturbation, and it was beyond time to change that. (There is a term for this, anorgasmia, but abortion isn’t listed among the causes.) Accessing my climax meant assessing what felt right in my body now and being brave enough to make my desires known. It also required a new type of tenderness and patience from both me and my partner. To be transparent, there were frustrations, insecurities, and several tear-filled outbursts before a breakthrough happened.

The entire process was a sort of meditation. Learning that I didn’t have to hold on to any of the conflicting noise that arose during sex, and that I could simply let the thoughts come and go without internalizing them, is what brought me back to life. My mind was no longer blocked with guilt, and my body was free to reap all of the benefits.

Today, the only thing I regret is that I spent so much time suffering in silence before reaching out to someone.

Republicans Push Anti-Choice Constitutional Amendments to Circumvent Courts: Spotlight on the States

Every week, Rewire.News highlights trends in abortion-related legislation moving through the states, and how those bills might affect abortion access. This week, we take a look at an anti-choice constitutional amendment advancing in Iowa, a “personhood” amendment introduced in Wisconsin, Wyoming Republicans’ near-total abortion ban, and a “born alive” bill in West Virginia. 

Iowa

Taking a page out of the Kansas GOP’s playbook, Republicans in the Iowa Senate last Thursday approved a proposed amendment that would ensure the state’s constitution doesn’t protect the right to abortion care.

The amendment is in response to a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision declaring the right to abortion guaranteed by the state’s constitution.

Republican lawmakers called the amendment necessary to counter an “illegitimate” decision by “judicial activists.” But senate Democrats point out the proposal would give anti-choice lawmakers the green light to further restrict and ban abortion without fear of judicial interference (like the unconstitutional near-total abortion ban Iowa passed in 2018, which was blocked a year later by a state judge).

The proposed amendment passed along party lines in the Republican-majority state senate, the Des Moines Register reported. An identical resolution passed the Iowa House’s judiciary committee the previous day. If the amendment passes the house, the full legislature will have to approve it again in 2021 or 2022 before it can go before voters in a statewide election.

A similar strategy by Kansas Republicans fell short in the first week of February, when four Republicans in the state house voted against the effort to undermine a Kansas Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights. Kansas Republicans are expected to revive the anti-choice constitutional amendment later in the session.

While the Iowa Senate was busy voting on the amendment bill last week, Republicans in a house subcommittee approved legislation that would force doctors to tell medication abortion patients about so-called abortion reversal, a dubious—and potentially dangerous—practice not recognized by mainstream medical organizations.

Wisconsin 

Unlike in Kansas or Iowa, the Wisconsin Supreme Court hasn’t established a state constitutional right to abortion—but the possibility has some Republicans so spooked that they’re once again pushing a “personhood” amendment that would outlaw abortion care and many kinds of contraception by giving full constitutional rights to a fertilized egg. The measure would amend the state constitution to make sure Wisconsin’s pre-Roe abortion ban can go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade.

The Wisconsin House committee on health held a public hearing last Thursday to consider the proposed amendment. Testifying in support of the measure, state Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) said he wants to prevent the Wisconsin Supreme Court from ever issuing a ruling like in Kansas or Iowa.

“The proposal faces no chance of getting through the Republican-controlled legislature this spring,” according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Though the amendment has the backing of Pro-Life Wisconsin, it’s opposed by the state’s largest anti-choice group, Wisconsin Right to Life.

Jacque proposed a similar amendment in 2011, when Republicans controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. They still hold the house and state senate, but Gov. Tony Evers (D) broke the GOP trifecta in 2018.

Abortion rights advocates said the “personhood” bill was an extreme measure that would strip people of their bodily autonomy. “The message Republicans are sending women by bringing this bill forth in Wisconsin is chilling,” Sara Finger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, said in a statement. “To give full legal protection to a zygote at the risk of denying women autonomy over their bodies and their lives is wrong on so many levels.”

Wyoming

Wyoming could be the next state to pass a near-total ban on abortion, otherwise known as a “fetal heartbeat” ban. Such legislation outlaws abortion around six weeks into pregnancy—before most people know they’re pregnant, at a point when there is no heart or fetus, and the only thing that can be measured is electrical activity in an area of the embryo called the fetal pole.

The near-total ban was introduced in the state senate on Friday and referred to the senate labor committee. It would go into effect July 1 if passed and signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon (R), though a legal challenge is almost guaranteed. The bill has ten co-sponsors across the house and state senate. Meanwhile, the Wyoming House agreed to consider a bill that would impose a forced 48-hour waiting period on people seeking abortion care.

West Virginia

With the help of Democratic lawmakers, West Virginia’s legislature is aiming to become the latest to stigmatize later abortion care with an inflammatory “born alive” bill.

The Republican-majority state senate passed the anti-choice legislation unanimously last week, the Associated Press reported. Twelve Democrats in the state senate voted for this bill. State Sen. Mike Romano (D-Harrison) told the AP that the legislation “isn’t going to change anything” since murder is already illegal—but he ended up voting for the bill anyway.

The West Virginia House, which already passed the bill in January, now has to approve the senate’s amended version.

Attacking later abortion care with misinformation has become a staple of the anti-choice movement, leading to legislation based on the myth that babies are born during so-called attempted abortions. U.S. Senate Republicans held a hearing last week based on this myth.