As Fathers, We Must Commit to Dismantling the Patriarchy

Providers, protectors, patriarchs—these dad archetypes have set some of our expectations for fathers, but such a notion of fatherhood hasn’t kept up with the times. As we lurch toward a more just society, the role of fathers needs to fundamentally shift.

Lately, it seems like few of the dads who have supposedly exemplified fatherhood could rise to the moment we are in. Many of the fictional ones are deeply problematic: Atticus Finch turned out to be racist, and Cliff Huxtable turned out to be Bill Cosby.

So what should a father be, here and now? I imagine that if my toddler could understand the question, she would answer it fairly simply: My role is to make things OK.

As a relatively new parent, that mostly seems to be about meeting immediate needs like conjuring a snack or making a frustrating puzzle piece fit. But as we zoom out, what does making things OK as parents actually look like, and how do we do it?

First, we have to reject what’s not working. The power structure in place—the white patriarchy—has benefitted many fathers, but it is actually standing in the way of things being OK for our children.

Patriarchy, due to the consolidation of power, means my family might be OK, but only insofar as I can protect them or provide for them. It actually doesn’t create a safe and thriving atmosphere for my wife or my daughter, independent of me, nor anyone else. The outcome is not a civilized society. Unchecked, it starts to feel like a dystopian hellscape where violent white men hold onto resources and power for themselves and their own families, oblivious to the larger threat and fearful of change or progress. That never ends well.

White men, many of them fathers, have viciously held onto power but have not used it to make things OK for most people. It is time to dismantle that structure. And to borrow from Audre Lorde, we need new tools to do that.

New tools means new people, but also new paradigms of power. It is not just about having women serve in office in the patriarchy; we have to dismantle and rebuild.

And we need a new plan for what we should build.

Fortunately, the Black women behind the reproductive justice framework already figured out how to talk about this back in 1994 when they gathered in Chicago. SisterSong defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”

This is a foundational set of rights. It goes beyond limiting the reach of government and sets forth expectations of safety and sustainability. As a father, it’s a world I want my kid living in.

Here’s the catch. To get there, we fathers, especially we cisgender, straight, white fathers, have to give up our privileged position in society and the fruits of patriarchy. Most male privileges are invisible to us and they come at the expense of others. For example, as a white man, I can speak without being interrupted and my words carry more weight, but my ideas aren’t necessarily better. And even before I speak, I have been assured that my input is valuable and I’m encouraged to share it.

If mediocre ideas from white guys are more valuable than good ideas from Black women, we can assume society isn’t living up to its potential. White men must start to see and be conscious of their privilege and recognize the unearned power it grants them, and how that is ultimately doing everyone (even us) a disservice. By giving up that power, we ensure a more equitable society.

Disassembling the patriarchy and realizing reproductive justice may seem like long-term goals, but there are plenty of places to start today. Some of them have been framed as “women’s issues,” but we have to reject any attempts to silo or sideline an issue that affects all people. Because our lives are interconnected—all issues are all of our issues.

Take abortion. Abortion is health care, a critical part of reproductive health. With nearly 1 in 4 cis women getting an abortion in their lifetime, we know many men have benefitted from their partners having access to abortion care. I know I have.

The restrictions on abortion are a political problem, mostly created by men. It is time for fathers to stand up alongside leaders in the reproductive rights and justice movements to fight for abortion—not as “fathers of daughters” or “husbands of wives,” but as beneficiaries of access to abortion care themselves.

Paid family leave is another one. Taking the time to care for your family shouldn’t be a luxury. Comprehensive paid family leave policies that cover all industries would ensure people can sustainably grow their families and care for loved ones. Single-parent and dual-earner households are on the rise, and the need for paid family leave continues to increase. This is also a critical piece to making sure women stay connected to the workforce and can be full participants in building the future.

Equal pay is similar in terms of securing that equal participation. The gendered pay gap in this country is an indicator, a measurement in a capitalist society of the value we place on people. Ours illustrates how far we have to go. If men do not join women in fighting for pay equity, we are complicit in the status quo.

And maternal mortality rates in this country, and health inequities in general, reveal deep veins of injustice, particularly against Black women, in a culture that idolizes mothers rather than actually supporting them. There are plenty of policy proposals now that start to address this issue, but ultimately the maternal health crisis lies at the intersection of what it means to be Black and a woman in this system. Fathers, and not just those in mourning, should step up and support the advocates who are working on this issue.

And of course, patriarchy has made the world less safe in so many other ways. It created a political system that allowed climate change, an incredible threat to our children, to be something we are arguing about rather than fixing. Where Black men, assuming they survive their arrest, are funneled into a for-profit carceral system while white men start weed dispensaries. It has led to a culture where people have guns but not access to health care. Where women should expect to be sexually assaulted but not expect justice when it happens.

In general, men have to stop sitting on the sidelines (or on the other team) and get involved in creating a more just society.

It’s true that many fathers today deserved better role models. But instead of looking at old men who have shaped an unjust society, I think we need to take our cue from the women standing next to us.

Parenthood is more than providing for and protecting the family under your roof. We have a duty to challenge the unjust systems that have shaped our society and threaten our children’s future. Our role as a parent in today’s world needs to be about helping to build the “safe and sustainable communities” we want our kids to live in.

These Corporations and Public Charities Funded the State Abortion Bans

This article was produced by Sludge, an independent, ad-free investigative news site covering money in politics. Click here to support Sludge.

Conservative lawmakers in a number of states recently passed some of the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation in history. In the first five months of 2019, legislatures in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio passed bans on abortions after six weeks, a point at which many women don’t know they’re pregnant. Missouri approved an eight-week abortion ban, Arkansas and Utah passed 18-week bans, and Alabama enacted the harshest law so far this year, a near-total ban on abortions. Governors of these states signed the laws, but none are in effect, either because of legal challenges or future enactment dates.

Reports show that these extreme efforts to ban abortion were inspired by the confirmation of conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who opposes abortion. Despite his claim that he considers the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade an “important precedent,” the nation’s biggest anti-abortion groups think that Kavanaugh’s replacement of former Justice Anthony Kennedy may be what they need to overturn the decision and outlaw abortion once and for all.

A web of state and national groups spent millions of dollars on organizing and lobbying in the states to pass this year’s abortion bans. But where did the money come from to make this all possible?

Sludge identified 182 funders behind 20 organizations directly involved—through advocacy, bill writing, lobbying, and legislative testimony—in 2019 abortion bans in the nine states that passed them, and in South Carolina’s six-week ban, which passed the state House. From 2013 to 2017, major donor-advised funds, family foundations, and corporate charities poured over $9.1 million into these groups.

The funders include giant donor-advised fund the National Christian Foundation, the family foundation of Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), and the corporate foundations of General Electric and Pfizer.

Some of the biggest funders also combined to give tens of millions of dollars to national groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom and Americans United for Life that may not yet be directly linked to individual state abortion bans but have been on the front lines of abortion opposition in recent years and praised this year’s “fetal heartbeat” bills. (The bills’ proponents claim that a fetus has a detectable heartbeat at around six weeks after conception, but this contradicts established science; at six weeks, a pea-sized embryo, not yet a fetus, begins to emit electrical impulses from a cluster of cells where, eventually, a heart will grow.)

On March 16, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed his state’s abortion ban, which makes it a felony to perform an abortion once the so-called “fetal heartbeat” can be detected. A federal judge temporarily blocked the law the following day. Heather Gatnarek, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, told Sludge that what’s happening in her state is part of a larger effort.

“What’s happening here is part of a decades-long strategy by anti-abortion politicians, lobbyists, and national organizations that have left increasingly vast areas of our country with few or no abortion providers. Apart from violating people’s basic rights to health and decision making, these abortion bans have dire consequences for women’s health and families’ economic stability.”

Donor-advised Funds

Donor-advised fund (DAF) sponsors—charities that manage individual accounts for donors and pass along their clients’ donations anonymously to other charities—are by far the biggest donors to organizations involved in the abortion bans this year.

The National Christian Foundation, a large DAF that Sludge has shown to be a major donor to anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim hate groups, delivered the most money to anti-abortion outfits from 2013 to 2017, according to Sludge’s findings, including over $610,000 to the Alabama Policy Institute. In the process that led to Alabama enacting its six-week abortion ban, which offers no exceptions, even for rape and incest, and makes it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion, an Alabama Policy Institute fellow testified before a state House committee in favor of the law. On May 15, the day the state Senate passed House Bill 314 and sent it to the governor’s desk, the Alabama Policy Institute applauded the law’s passage. “The Alabama Policy Institute, in our own efforts and through the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, has supported the ban on abortion since its inception,” it said. The National Christian Foundation’s donations represent 13% of the Institute’s total contribution revenue from 2013 to 2017. Combined, all funders identified by Sludge for this report constituted one-third of the Institute’s total donations and gifts over that period, or close to $1.5 million.

To the Family Foundation of Kentucky, the National Christian Foundation gave nearly $350,000 from 2013 to 2017. On its website and on Facebook, the foundation encouraged people to call their legislators in support of Senate Bill 9, which makes it a felony to perform an abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The National Christian Foundation gave other six-figure amounts to groups that lobbied for the anti-abortion bills, including Concerned Women for America ($347,150); the National Right to Life Education Trust Fund ($344,600), and the Susan B. Anthony List’s Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund ($143,550).

Concerned Women for America, which, along with its Legislative Action Committee, received over $1.4 million from Sludge-identified donors from 2013 to 2017, works with state-based affiliates to pass abortion bans. Lobbyist Bev Elhen confirmed to Sludge that she lobbied in favor of Missouri’s abortion ban for Concerned Women for America of Missouri.

National Right to Life also coordinates with its state affiliates, including the Georgia Life Alliance, the Ohio Right to Life Society, and South Carolina Citizens for Life, on anti-abortion legislation, according to details on the group’s legislative and lobbying strategies included in its FY2017 tax form. The National Right to Life’s Committee and its Educational Trust Fund combined to take in over $1.9 million from Sludge-identified donors from 2013 to 2017.

The Susan B. Anthony List and its Charlotte Lozier Institute, which received nearly $2 million from Sludge-identified donors from 2013 to 2017, help write and pass anti-abortion bills. Sue Swayze Liebel, who runs Susan B. Anthony List’s National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus, is registered to lobby in Missouri for the Susan B. Anthony List and “was at the Missouri Statehouse to champion a bill that would ban abortions after the eighth week of pregnancy,” according to the New York Times. The Charlotte Lozier Institute offers legal arguments “to lawmakers and the courts by staff members and associated scholars,” according to its website.

Among a number of other groups that helped pass abortion bans this year and receive National Christian Foundation contributions is Faith2Action, a small organization with under $50,000 in revenue per year run by right-wing activist Janet Porter, who wrote the model legislation that Alabama lawmakers used to create the states six-week abortion ban and lobbied for Ohio’s 2019 abortion ban. According to the group, dozens of evangelical leaders and politicians support her bill. Faith2Action, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers an anti-LGBT hate group, got $9,200 from the National Christian Foundation from 2013 to 2017.

While the National Christian Foundation is the most prolific donor to abortion ban-supporting groups, it’s by no means the only donor-advised fund sponsor helping to bankroll these organizations. The donor-advised fund linked to Fidelity Investments, the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, gave a total of over $890,000 from 2013 to 2017 to 14 anti-abortion organizations identified by Sludge. The recipients include the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund ($638,125), Concerned Women for America ($82,775), National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund ($77,913), and the Ohio-based Life Issues Institute ($46,000), a “grassroots partner of the Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund.”

Schwab Charitable, a DAF linked to the financial firm Charles Schwab, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups behind the recent abortion bans. While Schwab touts its commitment to advancing women’s careers, its connected DAF donated to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund ($78,200), the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund ($62,250), the Alabama Policy Institute ($35,750), and the Family Council of Arkansas ($20,000) from 2013 to 2017. When lawmakers filed a bill banning abortion after 18 weeks, Jerry Cox, Family Council president and lobbyist, wrote that his group “strongly supports” the bill and encouraged people to ask their state representative to support it. The Family Council also encouraged its readers to ask their legislators to back Senate Bill 149, which would immediately ban abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned and make administering an abortion a felony.

“Schwab Charitable is an independent public charity that facilitates grants on behalf of individuals to 501(c)(3) charitable organizations of their choice,” a Schwab Charitable spokesperson told Sludge. “Grants that are recommended by our donors in no way reflect the values or beliefs of Charles Schwab & Co., the Charles Schwab Foundation, Schwab Charitable, or their management.” The spokesperson pointed out that Schwab Charitable delivered funds to nearly 87,000 charities in 2018, including Planned Parenthood.

Before approving a grant, Schwab Charitable “follows a strict review and approval process,” said the spokesperson, which begins with verifying that the recipient is an IRS-certified 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit that is not “under active investigation by the IRS, state regulators or law enforcement.” After Schwab Charitable confirms a potential recipient’s 501(c)(3) charitable status, Schwab Charitable makes sure the “grant dollars are issued for qualified charitable purposes and go to an organization whose purpose is entirely charitable,” and that “the grant complies with IRS deductibility rules and protects the philanthropic intentions of the Schwab Charitable account holders.”

The other top donor-advised fund sponsors have little or no criteria for their donation recipients apart from an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit certification from the Internal Revenue Service. Sludge’s reporting has shown that without any standards, these funds are funneling large amounts of money to a variety of hate groups.

The DAF sponsor associated with investment adviser Vanguard, Vanguard Charitable, gave large amounts of money to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund ($135,000) and the Alabama Policy Institute ($32,500).

Many smaller community foundations, most of which are DAF sponsors, have also funded the abortion ban movement from 2013 to 2017:

  • Tulsa Community Foundation ($700,000 to the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund)
  • California Community Foundation ($300,000 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund; $155,000 to Concerned Women for America)
  • Greater Houston Community Foundation ($140,750 to Concerned Women for America; $102,500 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund)
  • San Diego Foundation ($113,000 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund; $5,000 to the Louisiana Right to Life Foundation)

Issue-focused DAF sponsors such as the Colorado-based Christian Community Foundation, also known as WaterStone, which gave $25,000 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund, are also part of the abortion ban funding network.

Corporate Foundations

Large corporations often create affiliated foundations that match separate employee donations to nonprofit organizations. At least fifteen companies donated to groups involved in 2019 abortion ban legislation, though most gave small amounts of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.

From 2013 to 2017, the foundation of the drug giant Pfizer donated $550 to the Family Foundation of Kentucky, $100 to the Life Issues Institute, and $113 to the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund.

Pfizer states on its website that it is committed to women’s health and gender equality. “Investments in women’s health and gender equality must be prioritized to help create healthier communities worldwide, not just on International Women’s Day, but every day,” its website reads. “By harnessing our collective efforts to press forward for gender equality, we can make a difference in the lives of women who need it most.”

The Pfizer Foundation emphasizes its commitment to women’s health around the globe: “The Foundation provides grants to organizations to help improve access to family planning services.” Why, then, would the company donate money to groups promoting abortion bans, which health experts say significantly endanger the health of women.

“The Pfizer Foundation works to expand access to quality health care for underserved communities,” Pfizer spokesperson Sally Beatty told Sludge. “We currently support a program that focuses on improving access to immunization and family planning services for women in developing countries. The foundation “matches U.S. employee contributions to any non-profit, charitable health care, education, civic or cultural organization recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 organization.” Beatty did not mention any other criteria for approving the matching donations.

“Our employees support a broad range of organizations that reflect their diverse interests,” said Beatty. “We are proud of the diversity of our colleagues and respect their right to support organizations that are meaningful to them and their communities.”

Popular Information recently named Pfizer as a top corporate funder of the lawmakers, governors, and lieutenant governors behind recent abortion bans in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri. The company and PAC “donated at least $53,650 to politicians that advocated for and enacted abortion bans” in the six states.

Alabama Power, an electric utility owned by Southern Company, gave over $115,000 to the Alabama Policy Institute from 2013 to 2017. The donations seem to conflict with Alabama Power’s corporate image: “iCan was founded by a group of Alabama Power engineers on a mission to introduce, empower and inspire young, female minds to explore their abilities and the opportunities presented to them specifically in the engineering field.” Southern Company touts its commitment to diversity, including gender diversity, and attends women-focused conferences. Alabama Power and Southern Company’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

On Shell Oil’s website, the company touts its effort to “close the gender gap” and “to be a pioneer of LGBT inclusion in the workplace.” But the company’s foundation, which includes a donation-matching program, gave $300 to the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund and $200 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund. Shell did not return a request for comment.

Major drug lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) donated $25,000 in 2015 to the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, which opposes abortion and has likened it to the Holocaust. PhRMA member company Pfizer manufactures a medical abortion drug, and several PhRMA members produce contraceptive drugs. Concerned Women for America has opposed the Violence Against Women Act and legislation to crack down on hate crimes. PhRMA did not answer Sludge’s questions about the reasons for the donation.

Other corporate foundations that have fueled the abortion bans include the GE Foundation, the AmazonSmile Foundation, and the Intel Foundation.

Hate Groups

The Van Curler Foundation, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, gave $25,000 to Janet Porter’s Ohio-based Faith2Action from 2013 to 2017. The foundation has been funding Faith2Action since 2003, when it donated $20,000 to the fledgling ministry. President of the foundation is Carol A. Van Curler and was previously led by her late husband, Donald E. Van Curler, a businessman in architecture, construction, and property management.

The Van Curler Foundation has heavily funded by the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based Coral Ridge Ministries, which became Truth in Action Ministries and later turned into D. James Kennedy Ministries, named after Coral Ridge’s founding pastor who was also a co-founder of anti-LGBT hate group Alliance Defending Freedom. D. James Kennedy Ministries, where Porter worked in the 1990s, is considered an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Coral Ridge was a major supporter of former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice and alleged pedophile Roy Moore, providing funding for Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law.

According to his obituary, Donald Van Curler was a “dear friend” and mentee of Kennedy and a Coral Ridge Ministries Media board member.

In 2006, Coral Ridge Ministries came out with a film featuring far-right media personality Ann Coulter that compared Adolf Hitler’s oven to Darwinian evolution. The foundation of Richard and Helen DeVos, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ in-laws, have donated handsomely to Coral Ridge Ministries.

The Van Curler Foundation has also donated to the Chalcedon Foundation, a California-based anti-LGBT hate group. In 2017, the foundation contributed to anti-LGBT hate groups Clarion Fund ($10,000), Faith2Action ($5,000), and D. James Kennedy Ministries ($60,000)

Family Foundations

DeVos’ parents, too, have contributed to the abortion ban movement. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation gave $5,000 to Concerned Women for America and $1,000 to the National Right to Life Committee.

The Gary and Diane Heavin Community Fund, the foundation of Gary Heavin, the founder and chairman of fitness chain Curves International, gave $600,000 to the National Right to Life Committee.

The foundation of engineering executive John Watson, the John H. Watson Charitable Foundation, gave $145,000 to the Alabama Policy Institute.

The foundation of major charter school proponents Laura and John Arnold, a former hedge fund manager, gave $78,000 to the Alabama Policy Institute in 2014.

The foundation of at least one current elected official is also spurring on anti-abortion legislation. The family foundation of Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte (R), gave $200,000 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute Legal Defense Fund and $25,000 to the Family Policy Foundation from 2013 to 2017. Since joining Congress in 2017, Gianforte has co-sponsored several federal anti-abortion bills, including Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) “Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017,” a six-week ban.

The Charles Koch-funded State Policy Network, a group of conservative political and policy outfits, gave $65,000 to its member the Alabama Policy Institute from 2014-17.

Conspicuously missing from Sludge’s data set is the Thirteen Foundation, which is funded by billionaire fracker Farris Wilks of Texas. Farris and his brother, Dan, are part of Charles Koch political donor network and known to fund anti-abortion groups and “crisis pregnancy centers,” but most two of the foundation’s publicly disclosed tax forms don’t include the required Schedule I, the section where nonprofits must list their grantees. In 2015, the Thirteen Foundation gave over $1.3 million to the National Christian Foundation, and it pledged to give another nearly $1.5 million in 2016. Because the National Christian Foundation is a DAF, which anonymizes its clients’ donations, there’s little chance of finding out where the Wilks’ money went after entering the DAF. The Thirteen Foundation did not respond to Sludge’s request for this information.

What About Other Major Anti-Abortion Groups?

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a massive network of evangelical Christian lawyers who oppose abortion and LGBTQ rights. The nonprofit is considered an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and it has gone as far as to defend state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad.

Sludge did not link ADF directly to the specific abortion bills that passed in 2019, and donations to ADF are not included in Sludge’s overall data for this report. But the New York Times writes that the group “offer[s] legal counsel as the [anti-abortion] laws take shape.” In 2018, ADF employees spoke about their organization’s plan to overturn Roe v. Wade by passing abortion bans at the state level. “We have a plan to make Roe irrelevant or completely reverse it,” said Kevin Theriot, vice president of ADF’s Center for Life, at the Evangelicals for Life conference.

ADF’s plan last year was to help pass 15-week abortion bans to “bait” legal challenges from pro-choice groups that it hoped would end up in the Supreme Court. The group was involved in 15-week abortion bans in Mississippi and Louisana in 2018. In past years, ADF has worked directly with state attorneys general of Arizona and Oklahoma to defend anti-abortion legislation. It’s likely ADF will be involved in the inevitable legal challenges to the six- and eight-week abortion bans passed in 2019.

Selected top donors to ADF from 2013 to 2017 include (bolded donors are those already mentioned above):

  • National Christian Charitable Foundation: $32,381,645
  • Fidelity Charitable: $1,750,051
  • Jon L. & Beverly A. Thompson Foundation: $1,600,000
  • Schwab Charitable: $1,097,630
  • Carl G. Olson Foundation: $1,000,000
  • God’s Gift: $950,000
  • WaterStone: $644,750
  • Vanguard Charitable: $505,950
  • The Trzcinski Foundation: $450,000 (family foundation of The Original Mattress Factory founder)
  • M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust: $375,000 (The late Murdock was the founder of electronics manufacturing company Tektronix.)
  • The Minneapolis Foundation: $289,000
  • Templeton Foundation: $250,000
  • Gianforte Family Charitable Trust: $200,000
  • Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation: $150,000
  • Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation: $130,000
  • The Anschutz Foundation: $75,000

The GE Foundation ($27,105), the Pfizer Foundation ($21,155) and the Shell Oil Foundation ($16,233), and the Intel Foundation ($6,100) also gave to ADF.

ADF itself donated to two groups involved in 2019 abortion bans: the Family Policy Foundation ($50,000) and the Family Council ($17,000) from 2013 to 2017.

Like ADF, another major national organization, Americans United for Life, advises state lawmakers as they write anti-abortion legislation, according to the New York Times, but it takes a different approach to dismantling Roe v. Wade. The group generally believes in an incremental approach to overturning Roe, and its senior counsel says Alabama’s abortion ban may be the “least likely to attract Supreme Court review.” Sludge found the sources of more than $5.1 million given to Americans United for Life from 2013 to 2017 but did not directly link the group to any of the 2019 bills.

Here are some donors to Americans United for Life from 2013-17:

  • Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation: $2,876,207
  • M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust: $340,000
  • Ochylski Family Foundation: $300,000
  • Fidelity Charitable: $220,840
  • Aimee & Frank Batten, Jr. Foundation: $200,000
  • National Christian Charitable Foundation: $108,350
  • Vanguard Charitable: $91,500
  • Schwab Charitable: $66,621
  • The New York Community Trust: $25,000
  • The San Diego Foundation: $11,000
  • Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation: $10,000

Corporate donors include:

  • GE Foundation: $3,183
  • AmazonSmile Foundation: $1,622
  • Motorola Solutions Foundation: $700
  • The JPMorgan Chase Foundation: $390
  • American Express Foundation: $264

Neither ADF nor Americans United for Life responded to Sludge’s questions about any involvement in the 2019 abortion bans.

Other national groups that vehemently oppose apportion, such as Focus on the Family and the hate group Family Research Council, are allied with organizations directly involved with the 2019 abortion bans but may not be directly linked to action on the bills themselves.


Candid, an organization that collects data on nonprofit organizations, provided Sludge with data on all donations in its database of nonprofit spending from 2013 to 2017 to 39 anti-abortion groups identified by Sludge. Some recipients were national, and others were state-level organizations in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and South Carolina. Sludge used recent 990 tax forms of certain donors to add data for years missing from the Candid data. The result was $9.1 million from 182 donors to 20 organizations that were directly involved in one or more 2019 abortion bans. Donors to ADF and Americans United for Life added tens of millions of dollars more.

Our Society’s Lack of Support for Babies with Down Syndrome Made Me More Pro-Choice Than Ever

It was a Friday when my partner and I got a call from the genetic counselor. She was contacting us with the results of the prenatal screening test we’d taken the previous week. Sunny blue skies hung over Silver Lake, and we were in a bakery on Sunset happily munching on pastries and listening to salsa music on a rare day off. I could barely hear the voice of the genetic counselor coming through the phone, but I understood enough.

We were told it was it was possible our fetus had Down syndrome. At my age, the probability is 1 in 100 — I was in the 1 percent for once, I later joked to a friend. I was told to drop everything and come in for a follow-up amniocentesis at 8 the next morning.

We began mentally and emotionally preparing for what a positive follow-up diagnosis might mean. After doing a cost analysis, calling our insurance to see what therapies they supported, and talking to friends and strangers with experience in this arena, we determined our freelance, tight-income lifestyle could not give a baby with Down syndrome the quality of life she deserved. We decided we would terminate if the amniocentesis also came back positive.

I can’t really explain to you the grief that we experienced at the anticipated loss of our fetus. It’s hard for me even now as I type these words to reenter that space of time. For a week and a half, we grieved. In public, I stayed calm—as I usually did in crises—but in the privacy of the car, I sobbed loud animal sobs, rocking back and forth in my seat. We’d been planning for a baby with such high hopes, and our families already knew she was coming. Some folks had already started buying us little onesies featuring dinosaurs, which my partner loved.

None of this changes the fact that I was ill-prepared to raise a baby with Down syndrome in our current society. A freelance writer, I made a little above minimum wage. We would’ve already been depending on the generosity and help of friends and family to afford a crib, a bassinet, and other basic features for the nursery. Relatively new to our city, I hoped to find a full-time job after the baby was a few months old, but the search might take a while. Where would we find the money and time to raise a child with Down syndrome?

Given proper medical and social support, I knew I would keep my fetus if it had a Down syndrome diagnosis. Watching videos of moms on Instagram playing with their joyful, beautiful babies with Down syndrome, I knew I could be a great mother if I had money for therapy, time to drive my child to daily appointments, and support from the government and my insurance. But looking at my nonexistent savings account, calling my insurance, and talking to friends whose family members had Down syndrome, I knew I personally would not be able to give that child a fair life, and that is my private choice to make.

This is a difficult decision for anyone, and there are a lot of complex issues involved. The voices of the disability community need to be clearly heard when it comes to genetic testing for disabilities and abortion. What is called an “abnormality” by my doctor should not be thus othered by our society—we need to change our language and our approach toward these genetic tests.

Children and adults with Down syndrome live just as worthy lives as everyone else. The problem is society doesn’t care enough to provide the support a child with Down syndrome needs. A parent of a child with Down syndrome frequently needs to pay for various kinds of therapy to help the child live their best life—speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy. These therapies can cost hundreds of dollars an hour and last through adulthood, but medical coverage and government support often do not fully pay for them. Though the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures free education through high school, these supplemental therapies are important. And complications can arise for many people with Down syndrome from the moment they are born, including heart defects, blood disorders and leukemia, autoimmune conditions, thyroid disorders, skeletal problems, and digestive problems that require a lifelong special diet. A small percentage of adults with Down syndrome are able to eventually live completely independently, but others must stay in assisted living—which can be expensive—or with family for the rest of their lives.

Just as we were finding out that our fetus might have Down syndrome, Republican legislators in states across the South and Midwest were starting their latest full-scale assault on Roe v. Wade. Their so-called heartbeat bills outlaw abortion as early as eight weeks, but make no provisions to pay for the care for people who have Down syndrome or other chromosomal irregularities. (Ironically, Georgia’s HB 481 is called the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act” in a state with wretched maternal and infant death rates—not surprising, considering Republicans want to further slash their services harshly in 2019). Have these legislators lived as a minimum-wage-earning person who has to support a child? Once again, the full financial, emotional, and physical burden is on pregnant people, while their freedom and privacy over their own bodies is restricted.

In those two weeks when my pregnancy hung in limbo, I was terribly sad and grieving. But to hear that a lawmaker wanted to tell me I have no choice but to carry to full term infuriated me. A pregnant person’s decision to terminate because of a genetic diagnosis is often a heartbreaking decision for her. Even if it isn’t, the abortion is her choice.

Education is key in dispelling abortion myths and defeating these laws. There are very few later abortions—1.3 percent of abortions happen at or after the 21st week of pregnancy, and less than 1 percent happen after 24 weeks. Most are medically necessary, like Margot’s. Abortion access is already scarce in many of these conservative states. Can you imagine the difficulty of working on your feet all day during your first trimester for minimum wage while throwing up in the restroom, only to be told by your manager you can’t have the two days’ vacation or medical leave you need to drive ten hours to the nearest abortion clinic? This is the reality for many women seeking an abortion.

My amnio and microarray results came back negative. Our fetus does not have Down syndrome, and we are hoping to deliver this summer. My heart feels full of expectation at the joy of seeing my baby for the first time, but if I had chosen to abort, I would not be a monster—I would be a woman who made an educated and private choice.

Pregnancy is one of the hardest and most taxing experiences I’ve ever weathered, and it has definitely decreased my work productivity as a freelancer. Birth control doesn’t always work. Raising a child is a choice. Everyone should be able to make that choice for themselves.

It’s vital that we have this choice over our own bodies. It’s not an exaggeration to say we are heading toward a new Gilead if we don’t work with every ounce of effort in our bodies to curb this assault on Roe v. Wade while simultaneously increasing access for everyone in this country who wants an abortion. We also need to simultaneously lobby for the government to support mothers who want to raise children with disabilities but don’t feel economically and emotionally supported enough to do so, instead of punishing women who make that difficult choice.

Can Activists Trust Nancy Pelosi’s Instincts on Impeachment?

During the run-up to the 2018 midterms, Nancy Pelosi assured voters that getting President Trump’s tax returns would be the “easiest thing in the world”—that it was “one of the first things” Democrats would do

It’s now been 161 since U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal gained the power to request Trump’s tax returns. He has the power but has not used it. That “day one” priority has become a slow-moving crisis.

While Pelosi herself can’t make the request for Trump’s returns, she could put pressure on Neal to put an end to his needless delays and act with the urgency the task requires. Instead, Pelosi is doing precisely the opposite out of fear that the confrontation over the tax returns Trump will never turn over, regardless of a court order, will force the caucus to begin impeachment hearings.

And preventing impeachment hearings appears to be Pelosi’s main priority.

When it comes to the impeachment debate, a large number of Democrats seem content to give Pelosi the benefit of the doubt.

After all, Pelosi is an accomplished member of Congress who became the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House. She led Democrats to victory in the 2018 midterm elections, returning her to that powerful perch. She is the leader who stood up to Rahm Emanuel in 2010 and ensured passage of the Affordable Care Act. She is the leader who defeated Trump during this winter’s government shutdown.

Pelosi has banked a lot of goodwill.

But now, in the face of the most corrupt president in U.S. history, Pelosi fervently opposes impeachment. Pelosi argues that forcing Trump’s lackeys in the Senate to make a choice between loyalty to the president and their constitutional duties will somehow hurt Democrats. Worse still, her undying belief that impeachment represents a third rail is acting as an obstacle to the most obvious oversight. Take the very thing she declared would be a piece of cake and which is well within congressional authority: getting Trump’s tax returns.

Meanwhile, Pelosi and her key allies—leaders of the committees that are conducting investigations—have been touting recent Democratic wins, such as court rulings upholding congressional subpoenas requiring Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars, and his bank, Deutsche Bank, to turn over his financial records. Their message is that current levels of oversight are sufficient.

But many political leaders (and a growing number of activists) seem unwilling to defer to Pelosi or to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, including many of the newest members of Congress. In fact, with some commendable exceptions (House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters comes to mind), it’s generally newer leaders who argue both that Trump is guilty of impeachment-worthy crimes and that now is the moment to act. They also argue that the politics of focusing on Trump’s rampant abuses of power will take care of themselves.

Who is right? Is current oversight sufficient? And is there a simple way to determine whether the instinct held by so many to grant Pelosi the benefit of the doubt generally applies to impeachment?

The tax return issue was the canary in the coal mine, the earliest indicator that Pelosi may not be the leader we need in this moment of crisis. Amid the government shutdown, her abandonment of the tax returns may have been understandable, even if misguided, as there is no reason for legislation to be pitted against oversight. With that mess cleared, however, her team’s continued refusal to deliver on a key campaign promise is a clear signal that her instincts are not to be trusted.

Today represents 161 days since Neal gained the power to request Trump’s tax returns.

It is 71 days since Neal got around to asking nicely for the returns in a short letter which should have been drafted before Neal and the Democrats took control of the committee.

It is 64 days since U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “missed the deadline” to hand over Trump’s returns.

It is 61 days since Neal asked nicely again, and 51 days since Mnuchin “missed” Neal’s extended deadline and told Neal he was setting his own.

It is 38 days since Mnuchin finally rejected Neal’s request, 34 days since Neal issued a subpoena for the tax returns, and 27 days since Mnuchin rejected the subpoena.

Neal has neither gone to court to enforce his subpoena nor sought a court order to enforce the underlying statutory authority of his committee—and there is no reason he has not yet done both, or couldn’t have done each before the end of January.

At every turn Pelosi has allowed Neal to delay, and we’re no further along in getting Trump’s tax returns than we would have been had Neal made the request on January 3 with, say, a deadline of January 10, followed up by a subpoena with a deadline of January 17.

But wait, didn’t Democratic committee chairs only just get authority to file suit to enforce their subpoenas? Yes, but Democrats’ vote on this week’s contempt resolution, while touted as a major escalation, is nothing more than a procedural change that clarifies and accelerates the subpoena enforcement process. Enforcement was undeniably possible prior to that by vote of the full House. To whatever extent this change was desirable, there’s no reason it could not have been made in January.

Which raises the question: Do Pelosi and Neal share the sense of urgency members of vulnerable communities feel under Trump? Do they not understand that the Trump administration hiding Trump’s tax returns in the face of a legal request from Congress undermines the “separation of powers” taught in every high school civics class? Do they not realize that requesting Trump’s taxes is wildly popular?

Pelosi and her team’s fear that confronting Trump could force them into impeachment is leading them to inaction on even obviously popular issues. Even as they argue that normal Trump oversight is going well enough, they are actually avoiding doing urgently needed oversight in order to dodge potentially epic fights between Congress and the president. Indeed, the early promising court wins by Congress have been when Trump has sought to block corporations from complying with congressional requests—Pelosi’s team has heretofore been loathe to initiate litigation on any fronts on which Trump is denying Democrats materials from the executive branch.

Stephanie Murphy, the Democratic co-chair of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, gave away the game when she posted her thoughts on impeachment on her website in late May: “Should President Trump or anyone in his Administration ignore a final federal court order to turn over information that Congress has requested, I would consider it a threat to our careful system of checks and balances and would therefore support an impeachment inquiry on that individual—the first step in the impeachment process and one that better empowers congressional investigators to attain documents and testimony. No one is above the law, including the President.”

Viewed through this lens, Neal’s otherwise bewildering slothfulness in seeking Trump’s tax returns appears quite logical. Because Trump will not comply with a court order on his tax returns, and because Pelosi (and Pelosi loyalists like Neal) believe it is imperative to not impeach, Pelosi avoids generating a court order by slow-rolling litigation.

That is the most straightforward explanation for why Neal has been allowed to move so slowly on litigation that is so promising—ducking a fight that they are sure to win is only logical if you do not want to win, or at least not expeditiously, as is possible. The winning hand Democrats hold against Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig is too strong for Pelosi to play it.

If you think this theory is too harsh, we challenge you to construct an alternative theory that fits the available facts as simply. And if this theory is right, you need to begin wondering if Pelosi—a hero of so many battles of the past—is the leader we need in this moment when resistance is so urgently required.

White Protesters Fighting Abortion Bans Must Show Up for Black Lives Matter Too

I was first tear-gassed on the patio of my favorite coffee shop in the fall of 2014. It was the night that police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Nearly a thousand of us took to the streets that night. Hours later, not able to reach our vehicles due to a police blockade, we took refuge in our neighborhood mocha stop. There, I stationed myself with a small group of legal observers and livestreamers on the deck, staring at the police as they stared at us and wondering when we would be able to leave. Suddenly, a tear-gas canister flew our way and landed at our feet. We ran into the building to escape the gas. Our eyes burning. Our lungs on fire. Mucus pouring from our noses.

In the coming years, at Black Lives Matter protests, I would witness police officers arrest, body slam, tear gas, and mace hundreds of protesters, as well as detain people for arbitrary amounts of time without access to vital medication. In the most egregious case, a protester sat in jail overnight with a Taser still left in their arm. It was through these experiences that I came to find that those standing up for Black lives are treated differently than other types of protesters.

Last month, I was arrested alongside 15 other people for occupying a state office building in protest of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s efforts to close our state’s last remaining abortion clinic. This vital and necessary act of civil disobedience would be the first time that many Planned Parenthood supporters in our group participated in this type of political protest.

I’ve participated in nearly 100 protests and have witnessed hundreds of arrests, mostly in opposition to police brutality. It wasn’t the first time I had been arrested for protesting. It wasn’t the first time I observed other people getting arrested. But this arrest, this protest, was different than others I have experienced.

There was no mace. There was no tear gas. There was no detention for an arbitrary amount of time—as we were quickly ushered through the criminal justice system in five hours. All of us who were arrested were treated humanely and at times even thanked by our detaining officers for our actions. When officers found heart medication and insulin in the pocket of one of the protesters, they were promptly released with a citation for trespassing without ever being booked or transported to jail.

So why the difference in experience? All of us who were arrested protesting the Republican governor are white—mostly white women—and we were not protesting police brutality.

While those of us arrested that day appreciate the compassion demonstrated by those officers, because it shows us that this type of empathy is possible, it also evokes frustration and outrage that this type of treatment is not applied across the spectrum of protest.

As Black Lives Matter protesters have been saying for years, people of color, and people protesting in support of Black Lives Matter and against police brutality, are treated differently than other types of protesters. And it’s not right.

The United States has a long history of activists using civil disobedience to disrupt systems, challenge powerful interests, and change unjust laws. Whether it be Selma or Stonewall, police have generally responded violently to protests involving people or color. But those exercising their First Amendment rights ought to be treated with the same dignity we were treated with when protesting at Gov. Parson’s office on May 31.

This is a systemic issue that requires systemic change. As we work to dismantle racial bias in policing, white people, and white women in particular, must use the privileges we have to fight against all systems of oppression, even when we’re not directly affected. We must do that by standing up for Black lives in addition to standing up for reproductive rights. Police are less likely to be brutal when white folks are involved. But most critically, white protesters must understand that our struggles are intertwined: Anything that hurts us hurts people of color more.

When activists say Black Lives Matter, we are not just talking about the disproportionate number of Black and brown people who are killed by police and incarcerated. We are also talking about racial disparities in the maternal mortality rates in Missouri that rival developing nations, and which will only increase if Missouri’s last remaining abortion provider is forced to close.

In the 2016 presidential election, a plurality of white women voted for President Trump and his Republican Party, which is on a mission to overturn Roe v. Wade, criminalize abortion, and erode privacy rights. While the erosion of these rights has brought many white women into the streets in protest for the first time, we must recognize that any law that negatively impacts us as white women has an even greater negative effect on women of color, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, and low-income people.

Reproductive justice activist Renee Bracey Sherman recently wrote in Vox that, “The US criminal justice system has always unjustly penalized communities of color for crimes that wealthier white communities receive slight or no punishment for; studies have shown despite black and white communities using drugs at the same rate, black Americans are stopped, frisked, and prosecuted at higher rates.” This is true when it comes to the criminalization of pregnancy. This is true when it comes to traffic stops: Recently, the Missouri attorney general reported that Black Missouri drivers are 91 percent more likely to be subjected to traffic stops by police than white drivers.

Beyond understanding this basic fact, white women also need to see how we perpetuate unjust laws and policing practices. Undoubtedly, many white women who were supportive of the protest at Gov. Parson’s office have been very critical of Black Lives Matter protesters using similar tactics or any protest for police accountability in general. This mindset allows for injustices to continue.

When the dehumanization of any group of people starts, it will eventually permeate everything. Whether people are protesting a governor, a corporation, or a system of policing, whether they are Black or white, whether they are U.S. citizens or undocumented residents, or whether they are cis or transgender, anyone exercising their First Amendment rights deserves the same treatment we received while protesting the Missouri governor. This means that, yes, we must stand up for reproductive rights. It also means we must stand up for Black lives, and all people who are affected by our criminal justice system, to have the experience we had too.

Immigration Officials Push Health-Care Providers to ‘Clear’ Pregnant Migrants for Detention

Multiple times a month, U.S. Border Patrol arrives at Banner-University Medical Center Tucson with “noticeably pregnant women,” according to an OB-GYN resident who works there. The hospital’s obstetric triage department is essentially an emergency room for pregnant people, and officers with the federal immigration agency regularly bring in newly apprehended pregnant migrants for medical evaluations. Once the hospital visit nears its end, multiple health-care providers have said Border Patrol “pressures” them to provide a “cleared for detention letter.”

“Because they are bringing these women to us almost directly from the border, inevitably we get asked for a letter because when [the pregnant migrants] leave the hospital, they are going to be detained,” said Dr. Samantha Varner, the OB-GYN resident. “Basically they ask us to write these short letters that don’t just say the person is ‘fit for travel,’ but that they are ‘cleared for detention,’ meaning they are ‘healthy’ enough to be detained.”

Varner told Rewire.News in a May 20 phone interview that Border Patrol seems to be asking her to approve of a person’s detention after they leave the hospital, or rather that the agency wants a health-care provider to put into writing that a migrant is “fit” for detention.

“I feel like [they are] asking us to sign off on allowing [immigration authorities] to do whatever they want with the person after they leave the hospital,” Varner said.

Rewire.News spoke with four health-care providers at Banner, and Varner was the only one willing to use her real name.

The health-care providers confirmed that the obstetric triage department is not the only unit receiving Border Patrol’s request for letters clearing migrants for detention. Staff working in the trauma department and the hospital’s emergency room have also received these requests to “clear” migrants for detention who were experiencing health emergencies like renal failure.

“At least once a week a doctor is writing one of these letters,” Varner said. “People come to us in such bad shape, like 45-year-old men in [immigration] custody who are dying from the flu, but Border Patrol is still at the hospital asking for a letter clearing them for detention.”

The New York Times’ Sheri Fink touched on these letters in a piece this week about the ethical lines health-care providers in border states must navigate with federal immigration agencies. The health-care providers who spoke with Rewire.News confirmed the practice, saying it violates the oath they took to “do no harm.” More broadly, the practice raises concerns about the lengths Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Border Patrol agents will go to criminalize migrants, including interfering with their medical care.

“It’s a Battle”

Varner told Rewire.News that recently, a young pregnant woman from Guatemala was picked up near the border. She was dehydrated, in labor, and brought by immigration officials to Varner’s hospital. The young woman delivered her baby and was fine, but two days later when Varner was going to discharge her, federal immigration authorities asked Varner to provide a cleared for detention letter for the new mother.

“I thought, ‘Are you insane?’ There was no way I was going to do that,” Varner said. “It’s unethical, but it’s also just not smart. What if she had a delayed postpartum hemorrhage in detention and she bleeds to death, and I’m the OB-GYN who cleared her for detention? I was so shocked they even asked.”

Varner said she has had an “ethical issue” with cleared for detention letters since she began her residency in 2016. Often, Border Patrol agents will say the letters are a mere formality or a “non-issue,” explaining that their agency will simply “process” pregnant migrants out in a day or two.

In reality, migrants in Border Patrol processing facilities are held for increasingly longer periods of time in unsafe conditions that are over capacity and lacking in medical infrastructure. Even if the agency does quickly process a person, they are then often transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) custody. A Honduran immigrant gave birth to a stillborn in ICE custody in February, and Rewire.News’ recent three-part series on USMS revealed the dangerous conditions pregnant people are subjected to in the federal law enforcement agency’s custody.

Varner said every time she refuses to write a cleared for detention letter, it’s a “battle.” Sometimes, frustrated Border Patrol agents request to speak to her supervisor.

“They’ll say, ‘Ma’am, ma’am, we’re only asking for this one thing.’ But I won’t do it because I don’t know where they are taking her, or what they will do with her. They could put her in a cage under a bridge for all that I know,” Varner said.

Residents like Varner are usually the health-care providers who receive the request from Border Patrol officers because, as one of the doctors explained, they are the ones in charge of a detained patient’s discharge paperwork. When Rewire.News reached out to the agency with several questions pertaining to the letters, an agency spokesperson only provided a link to CBP’s National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search. But the standards don’t reference cleared for detention letters.

There is a portion that says, “Once a detainee is at a medical facility, medical practitioners make all medical decisions which may include medical release or fitness for travel.” Nowhere do the standards say that health-care providers are required to put this in writing.

Rewire.News was unable to confirm whether Border Patrol is asking for these letters in states other than Arizona. Mary Kenney, directing attorney of litigation for the American Immigration Council, said she has never seen a cleared for detention letter, but told Rewire.News there are “huge amounts of autonomy with different Border Patrol sectors.” What’s happening in Arizona may not be happening in Texas, she explained.

Kenney is part of the team behind Doe v. Johnson, a class action lawsuit filed by attorneys on behalf of three individuals subjected to “deplorable detention conditions” in CBP holding cells in Border Patrol’s Tucson sector.

For her part, Varner has been pushing for health-care providers at her hospital to end the practice of writing cleared for detention letters. In response, her department worked with the hospital’s legal team to provide Border Patrol with an alternative to a cleared for detention letter. It reads, in part:

Ms. ____ is stable to be discharged from Banner University Medical Center at this time. As with any medical condition her status may change at any time without a clear sign or symptom. Should she have a change in her status we recommend that she present for evaluation immediately.

Her discharge from this facility and this letter should not be construed as any form of approval for detention or any other type of treatment within Customs and Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

But the letter cannot help in situations where pregnant migrants are subjected to harmful conditions in detention, and Varner says it certainly hasn’t lessened pushback she and her colleagues receive from federal immigration agencies.

Policies That Harm

Jenny Roberts (a pseudonym) also works at Banner. She told Rewire.News that she chose the southern Arizona hospital for her residency because she wanted to be in a border state after the election, but she’s been “astounded” by how much red tape there is when it comes to providing care for immigrants.

“People are coming from terrible situations, and a lot of time, hospital policies worsen the situation,” Roberts said. “At the hospital, so many of these situations are occurring where there are no clear guidelines, where we’re not clear on what we can tell Border Patrol to do and not do. It’s unclear what our rights are in how to navigate these agencies. It’s creating this atmosphere where health-care providers feel afraid to do the right thing.”

The situation is especially dire for pregnant patients. Varner said CBP seems to only refer visibly pregnant women to her hospital, raising questions about the medical care those early in their pregnancies are receiving—including the option of abortion care. But the agency is also just generally failing pregnant people, Varner said.

“When we see pregnant women in custody, we do a lot of testing, and the results can take weeks to get back. It’s a real problem because we get started on all of these things, but then we never see them again,” Varner said.

Varner told Rewire.News that CBP likes to remind health-care providers at her hospital that the agency only “processes” pregnant migrants; it doesn’t detain them. Varner said it leaves her with more questions than answers, like how do you track down a detained patient if they had a positive lab finding? Are detained patients getting prenatal care wherever they are? Sometimes detention centers are an hour away from a hospital. What happens if something goes wrong with a detained patient’s high-risk pregnancy?

Pregnant people in federal immigration custody are often powerless against their circumstances. Therefore, a migrant’s last line of defense against a federal agency’s misuse of power is their health-care provider, but Kathryn Hampton said this is a problem in and of itself. Hampton coordinates Physicians for Human Rights’ Asylum Network Program, and she is one of the authors behind the new report Not in My Exam Room, which delves into the many ways that immigration enforcement is obstructing medical care.

“Providers shouldn’t be put in this position in the first place,” Hampton said. “Their job is providing evidence-based care according to the medical standards of their practice and to do so in an ethical manner. It is becoming too common that doctors feel like they have to risk their position or their job in order to do the right thing. It’s so wrong.”

While Varner and other health-care providers are pushing back, some are not—and it’s putting migrants’ lives at risk.

Erin Lacey (a pseudonym) is a health-care provider at a migrant shelter in southern Arizona. Recently, a woman in ICE custody was sent to Lacey’s shelter by the federal agency so that she could recover.

Initially, ICE thought the 21-year-old was pregnant because of swelling in her stomach, but it turned out to be a benign tumor. According to Lacey, the woman had gone through “an incredibly intense surgery” in Phoenix, and even though she was in a weak state and not fit to travel, a doctor at the hospital in Phoenix wrote not one, but two letters clearing her for detention.

“Both of the letters cleared her for detention, but the second one had amended language. It was really short, maybe one paragraph. It essentially said, ‘This person was under my care, and she is now medically cleared for detention,’” Lacey told Rewire.News. “I was horrified.”

“She had to stay with us for a very long time, longer than people usually do, because it wasn’t safe for her to travel; she wasn’t stable enough,” said Lacey. “But this doctor still wrote these letters—and even with the letters, ICE ultimately made the decision to let her stay with us. Even the agency could see she was in a fragile state. She also spoke an indigenous language and it seems like most of the interpreting done for her was in Spanish. She received so many levels of inferior care.”

Lacey said it’s hard to know what the doctor who wrote the cleared for detention letters was thinking. Did they know the woman would be released to a humanitarian group, or were they under the impression she would immediately return to detention? Did they ask any questions about what would happen to her? Did they care?

Hampton said providers have a lot of “ethical imperatives” that aren’t captured in legal framework, but all medical providers take an oath to “to do no harm.”

“The obligation of beneficence is so important. Hospitals need to be supporting and guiding providers to use the highest ethical standards—that’s what everyone wants. No one wants unethical doctors. So there needs to be real, technical guidelines in hospitals for how to deal with immigration issues when they arise,” Hampton said.

Dual Loyalty

Complicating matters further are what some care providers see as “blatant conflicts of interest.” If a hospital has a contract with federal immigration agencies to provide care to detained people, they see it as a conflict of interest.

Banner did not respond to Rewire.News’ request for comment by publication about whether it contracts with federal immigration agencies to provide care to detained people. A spokesperson for Banner Health, the health system running the university medical center, did tell Rewire.News in an emailed statement that hospital administrators are meeting with the Border Patrol Tucson sector leadership on Wednesday “to make sure that both Banner-University Medical Center Tucson and Border Patrol have policies in place that uphold the highest standards of patient care, safety, and privacy.” The spokesperson added that it is of “high importance” to the organization that “staff and providers feel supported and safe.”

Conflicts of interest come into play often with federal immigration agencies. At the U.S.-Mexico border, Varner said CBP agents are certified to operate as an ambulance and transport patients. CBP employs them, but they are given the responsibility to provide the fastest route to the best medical care possible.

“What comes first, punishment or health care?” Varner asked, questioning whether the agency can be trusted to take the fastest route to the best possible medical care. “The punitive approach of CBP puts punishment first and health care second. When Border Patrol asks us for these letters, it puts us in a situation of dual loyalty. These letters are like a favor for Border Patrol, but my loyalty is not with Border Patrol. My loyalty is with my patients and their health.”

Lacey told Rewire.News that “under no circumstances” would she ever write a letter clearing a person for detention. Morally and ethically, she doesn’t believe in the practice of detention and would not facilitate someone being detained, she said. But it’s also her feeling that Border Patrol and other federal immigration agencies are trying to obtain these letters for legal reasons, to absolve themselves of responsibility should a detained person become gravely ill or die in custody. Responsibility could then be placed on the doctor who put it in writing that the person was “fit” to be detained.

“From a practical standpoint, we simply don’t have the legal purview to be writing a letter that clears someone to be detained,” Lacey said.

The providers also explained that cleared for detention letters don’t align with their obligation to consider social determinants of health, which are circumstances that contribute to overall health. For example, Varner said that if a homeless patient is in a wheelchair after an amputation, her hospital wouldn’t discharge them onto the street because living on the street after a major surgery would adversely affect the person’s health. The resident said hospitals also need to begin thinking of the social determinants of health for migrants.

“Irregular migration status impacts a person’s health, and so does detention. A lot of people die in detention each year, and we’re now seeing previously healthy children die in detention,” Varner said. “If my hospital has a contract that puts health-care providers under some obligation to Border Patrol to discharge patients and clear them for detention, where we know health-care infrastructures are poor and health outcomes are bad, that’s unethical. CBP shouldn’t ask us to write these letters. It’s shameful, and it’s shameful that doctors are complying.”

The Nuns Are Back Before the Supreme Court, and They’re Trying to Kill the Birth Control Benefit for Good

Conservatives have spent the better part of a decade arguing the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, which provides insurance coverage for a host of contraception without additional cost or co-pay, violates religious freedom principles. Those efforts have had mixed results. Despite two turns before the U.S. Supreme Court, dozens of lower court orders, and a handful of executive orders from President Trump, the benefit remains in place—but employers who object to it can avoid complying with it.

This week, the Roberts Court will consider taking up a case that could settle the birth control benefit’s fate once and for all.

The case is The Little Sisters of the Poor Jeanne Jugan Residence v. California. Yes, that’s right. The Sisters are at it again.

To understand how yet another case like this could end up before the Roberts Court, let’s revisit for a moment the history of the contraception mandate. Originally proposed in 2012, the birth control benefit requires most employers to include coverage of FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pay in their employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The benefit contains an exemption for religious employers and an accommodation for religiously affiliated employers. The benefit, and the exemption and accommodation, launched a wave of objections and lawsuits that has not yet receded. The first batch of those lawsuits reached the Roberts Court in 2014 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the Court ruled that some for-profit employers could take advantage of the accommodation process.

Despite that win, conservatives were not satisfied. Two years later, another birth control benefit case reached the Supreme Court: Zubik v. Burwell. Zubik was actually a series of challenges brought by religiously affiliated nonprofits like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who argued they should be exempt from the benefit’s coverage requirements. The Roberts Court, at that point down to eight members following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, punted on a decision and instead sent the cases back to the appellate courts with instructions to the party to “work it out” and find a compromise or a solution to the fight.

That never happened. And once President Donald Trump took office, the fight escalated.

In May 2017, Trump issued an executive order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” that purported to end any legal obligations the Little Sisters and other religiously affiliated employers had in complying with the benefit.

Then in October 2017, the administration announced new rules that granted secular employers with religious and moral objections to providing contraception coverage the ability to opt out of the birth control benefit. A coalition of states led by California sued the Trump administration to block the rules, arguing they violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the federal law that dictates how such rules are to be issued. The federal courts agreed, issuing nationwide injunctions against them.

During the course of that litigation, the Little Sisters rushed to the new rules’ defense, becoming the face of the litigation moving forward.

That’s an important strategic posture for conservatives. During the Obama administration, conservatives played up the optics of the federal government “forcing” the Little Sisters to comply with the benefit, as though nuns were handing out birth control pills like Halloween candy with the Obama administration keeping watch. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. One of the most maddening aspects of the first round of Little Sisters litigation is that the nuns were never at risk of having to comply with the benefit. But the Obama administration didn’t press the issue, instead looking for some kind of compromise that never manifested.

But once Republicans took power, those optics—of the Little Sisters as helpless victims—were no longer as advantageous. The Trump administration, packed with religious conservatives and led by a president facing multiple credible allegations of sexual assault, was making good on its promise to roll back reproductive rights and access to comprehensive health care, with states stepping in to challenge those actions. The Little Sisters of the Poor and similarly situated employers were the beneficiaries of those efforts. They could no longer argue they were facing religious persecution by the federal government.

Instead, the Little Sisters became the public face of defending the administration’s birth control rules, including at the trial and appellate courts. One glance at their petition to the Roberts Court asking it to take the case makes that clear. It reads as though it was filed by the Trump administration defending its own agency’s action, not by a private party. There is little, if anything, distinguishing the Trump administration and the Little Sisters when it comes to a desire to give employers seemingly endless power to restrict the rights of their employees, including the right to non-discriminatory health care benefits.

“The federal government is enjoined if it does, enjoined if it doesn’t,” the Little Sisters’ petition states. “It is subject to a patchwork of injunctions forbidding it to enforce the contraceptive mandate regulations against religious employers around the country, and it has multiple injunctions prohibiting it from implementing a regulatory fix. Three years later, it is clear that the litigation will not end until this Court answers the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] question.”

There are few reasons why the Roberts Court should grant the Little Sisters request and take this case. For starters, the underlying litigation challenging the Trump administration’s rollback rules is still pending. There are no appellate decisions at all, let alone any that have endorsed the Trump and Little Sisters’ position that these new birth control rules that grant wide exemption rights to employers are acceptable.

But as I’ve argued before, conservatives don’t always file petitions to the Roberts Court thinking the Court will grant their request. Sometimes they file those positions to do some pre-advocacy before the Court. This is the case in the never-ending fight over abortion restrictions in the states, where advocates file cert petition after cert petition in part to keep a particular narrative before the justices. In this case, the narrative is that the Little Sisters must still provide contraception benefits to which they object, and their only path out is through a ruling from the Roberts Court striking the birth control benefit entirely.

It’s that last part that acts as the real tell by conservatives. Republicans’ repeated attacks on the birth control benefit are, after all, a key component of their attack on the law as a whole. They have repeatedly failed at their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Congress. They’ve largely lost in their legal challenges to it as well. At the beginning of July, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the most recent of these attempts. And while the Fifth Circuit is a very conservative federal appeals circuit, a win for Republicans is not a given.

In fact, the only area where conservatives have had any real success in attacking the ACA is via targeting the birth control benefit in the courts. So when the Little Sisters, and by proxy Republicans, say only the Roberts Court can solve the “problem” of the birth control benefit—and a major part of the ACA—believe them.

The Court could decide as early as next week whether it will take the Little Sisters’ case.

This Ballot Measure Could End Later Abortion Care in Colorado

Abortion rights foes in Colorado hope to force an initiative on next year’s ballot that would shut down the state’s only clinic specializing in later abortion care.

The initiative, which has to clear a series of hurdles before it can appear on the 2020 ballot, would make it “unlawful for any person to intentionally or recklessly perform or attempt to perform an abortion if the probable gestational age of the fetus is at least 22 weeks,” but pro-choice activists say the ballot measure could ban abortion completely.

Only 1.3 percent of abortions in the United States are performed at 21 weeks or later, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The ballot effort comes as anti-choice Republican lawmakers have lost power in Colorado, where Democrats control the house, the state senate, and the governorship after Republicans’ disastrous 2018 midterm election.

“These people have no concern for the health and welfare of the women we are helping. This is anti-abortion madness carried to a logical extreme,” Dr. Warren Hern, whose Boulder Abortion Clinic bills itself as “specializing in late abortions for fetal disorders,” told Rewire.News. Criminalizing later abortion would have a major impact on people outside Colorado too, as the state has become a reproductive health-care haven for people in other states.

For decades, anti-choice activists have targeted Hern with vigils, protests, and gunshots through his window, but he has continued to be an outspoken proponent of abortion rights in the media and on his clinic’s website, which states, “The true meaning of ‘family values’ is the freedom to choose your own life and values with those you love.”

Discussing the abortion initiative on a conservative radio show last month, a leader of the ballot effort cited Hern.

“Let’s put the Boulder Abortion Clinic out of business and prevent those lives from being taken every year, and then let’s come back and talk more about it in 2022 and 2024,” Erin Behrens, the sponsor of the anti-choice ballot measure and an ardent Trump supporter, told Denver KHOW radio host Dan Caplis on May 23.

“We are going to put a very reasonable limit of 22 weeks, which is about five months into pregnancy,” Behrens said. “And we think that this reasonable limit will pass overwhelmingly in Colorado, and we will finally be brought into the 21st century. We will finally be among all the other states that have reasonable limits, and we will finally not be the late-term abortion capitol of the United States.”

Colorado, where lawmakers loosened abortion restrictions before Roe v. Wade, is one of seven states that allows abortion based on the medical needs of the patient and the judgment of a doctor, regardless of the gestational stage of the pregnancy.

As a result, says Gena Ozols, political director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, a ban on later abortion could “actually do some real damage” in Colorado, as opposed to other states where such abortions are not available anyway.

“The goal and the target here is to shut down Dr. Hern, but this is part of a larger coordinated effort to redefine abortion as a nonmedical term and to scare doctors who can’t know the gestational age of a fetus,” Ozols told Rewire.News, pointing out that the initiative omits any mention of the medical need for abortion care.

Ozols said the text of the ballot initiative uses the word “child” instead of the medical term “fetus,” opening the door for courts to interpret the measure as giving legal “personhood” protections to fetuses and criminalizing abortion and many forms of contraceptions.

Still, some abortion rights opponents in Colorado are against the measure because it doesn’t go far enough. This reflects the thinking of some national anti-choice groups pushing for an end to legal abortion in the United States.

“Our misguided pro-life allies have presided over decades of regulating child killing,” Bob Enyart, a spokesman for Colorado Right to Life, told Rewire.News. “You don’t regulate crime; you deter crime. Once again, they increase confusion where only truth should be proclaimed. Their immoral initiative 108 seeks to protect children ‘who can survive outside the womb.’ But what about the rest of them?”

Colorado voters have overwhelmingly rejected three “personhood” initiatives that would have banned all abortion, most recently in 2014. All three ballot measures were intensely opposed by pro-choice groups.

The 2014 measure, which was rejected by 65 percent of voters, would have defined a “person” in Colorado’s criminal code to include “unborn human beings,” subjecting a pregnant person whose fetus was injured or lost to criminal charges for murder, recklessness, or abuse.

A 2010 measure, which lost in a 70-30 vote, would have defined a “person” in the state constitution as “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.” A 2008 anti-choice measure, opposed by 73 percent of voters, was similarly worded.

This year’s initiative states that procedures should not be considered an “abortion” if “done with the intent to: 1) Save the life or preserve the health of the embryo or fetus; 2) Remove a dead embryo or fetus caused by miscarriage; or 3) Remove an ectopic pregnancy.”

An abortion would be allowed after 22 weeks if “necessary to save the life” of the pregnant person. In such a case, the pregnancy should be terminated allowing for the “best opportunity for the fetus to survive, unless, in reasonable medical judgment, termination of the pregnancy in that matter would pose a greater risk of death” to the patient.

Unlike the three failed “personhood” amendments, the current proposal would create a law instead of a change to the state constitution, which requires a more challenging signature-gathering effort to make the ballot. That means if the measure passes, Colorado lawmakers could amend the statute—or overturn it.

But the later abortion ban has a long road before it can even appear on the 2020 ballot. It must clear the state title board, and then anti-choice organizers, calling themselves the Coalition for Women and Children, would have to collect 124,632 signatures.

A Black Midwesterner’s Perspective on Abortion Access, Regional Culture, and Why People Should Care About the Midwest

The abortion bans sweeping the South in places like Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, and Louisiana are getting a fair amount of attention—as well they should. But what cannot be denied is that legislatures in Midwest states like Ohio and Missouri are passing equally extreme abortion bans, and there has not been a similar national response. The fervor and outcry that accompanied the wave of restrictions in the South looked like abortion support fatigue once that wave hit the Midwest.

Instead, the Midwest remains the butt of jokes. The media frequently presents it as “flyover country,” which informs how people identify the region: as a so-called sanctuary for racist, sexist, and bigoted state legislatures. But that is not the full story of the Midwest.

When reporting on the Midwest, media outlets often forget about communities subject to state violence and suppression. They focus on white, rural, and conservative people—the very groups overrepresented in state legislatures, who are using religious exemptions to isolate, dominate, manipulate, and ignore millions of constituents.

As a third-generation Midwesterner who was born and raised in Indiana, I learned from media fairly early on that the center of the country was a great region to grow up, but not the place to discover who you truly are if you are anyone other than a white, cisgender man. I also learned from the media that coming back might be difficult once I lived in the largely anonymous social, cultural, and political meccas of the coasts. A series of life circumstances brought me and my work in the reproductive justice movement into focus when I moved from the East Coast to Cleveland, a city that is a blue dot in the vast red state of Ohio.

I started a conversation on Twitter last month about why Black Midwesterners are left out of the conversation about the region and found myself building community with folks who feel the same way.

The conversation continued, with others noting the cultural breadth of the Midwest’s food, culture, literature, and the “Midwestern manners” that have a language all of their own, much like the South’s.

As the conversation continued, more Midwesterners who are white, but who are not rural, conservative, cisgender men chimed in. They named the challenges of being identified with a demographic whose political views largely do not align with theirs.

The conversations about the assumptions the media, society, and people in other regions make about Midwesterners continued throughout the dialogue about who we are and how divergent our political positions are, particularly on issues of race, gender equity, and reproductive access.

The same level of indifference expressed toward the Midwest in the blanket assumptions about politics is evident in the broad response to the bans on abortion access. Illinois is the only example of political progress in terms of reproductive rights, with the passage of its Illinois Reproductive Health Act (SB 25) which protects access by repealing “outdated and unconstitutional prohibitions on reproductive health care and … regulat[ing] abortion like any other form of health care.” Known as the “abortion oasis in the Midwest,” Illinois is also one of two states in the Midwest that provides Medicaid coverage for abortion, the other being Minnesota.

In addition to frequently leaving out the ways that the bans are impacting the Midwest, the media has made hardly any mention of organizations that have always been on the front lines for access. The investment of dollars and media attention toward those who are most impacted by the bans has barely scratched the surface. Ask these organizations listed above (and many others not listed) if the Midwest is receiving the level of investment in leadership and the social, political, and economic change that it needs to scale up resources for the constituents who are left behind.

Who’s to blame in this? Any entity or person who has ever discounted or discredited the social, political, and cultural diversity in this region. Those who privilege the voices and experiences of white, right-wing conservatism as the standard for political involvement in this region have done a grave disservice to the people of the Midwest. In fact, the media typically covers legislators who would have you believe that they do not have Black, Indigenous, or people of color constituents who disagree with them. You also might be under the impression that there are not people across the Midwest who are invested in dismantling in the white supremacist patriarchal machine. Those assumptions could not be further from the truth.

In a New York Times piece last year, Tamara Winfrey-Harris shares what it will take to make Black Midwesterners more visible: It requires acknowledging the experiences of black Midwesterners, even when this means adding unflattering nuance to the stories we’ve long been told about their white neighbors. Because without centuries of economic and cultural contributions from black people in flyover states, America would not be America at all.”

This astute analysis of why Black Midwesterners are invisible to the country opens the door for drawing attention to the other diverse communities not frequently considered—like the Hmong people in St. Paul, Minnesota, home to the group’s largest U.S. population outside of California; the Muslim community in Hamtramck, Michigan, which is the first U.S. city to have a majority-Muslim city council; or Latino people in Chicago, who lack the economic opportunities and health-care access needed to support a thriving population. Midwesterners are known for our tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and for not feeding into the self-importance of celebrity, but ignoring the people who add texture, complexity, and innovation in this region is not funny at all. In fact, it’s careless and disrespectful.

Like the native Cleveland-based hip-hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony said in their Grammy award-winning song “Crossroads,” “Now tell me, what ya gonna do, when it ain’t nowhere to run; When judgment comes for you.”

As a country, we are all running toward the 2020 election. Midwesterners know this to be true, since that’s the only time the media considers us in the larger national landscape. As that time draws nearer, we need media outlets to be in conversation with Midwesterners who vote for the lives, bodies, and families of the rising U.S. electorate: young people, people of color, unmarried people, LGBTQ people, and, yes, women and people who will always need abortions. Right now, as Midwesterner and ReproAction Co-Founder Pamela Merritt says, “gerrymandering is the ultimate tool of white supremacy.” And indeed, it is threatening the power of this vote. There are people on the ground in the region whose work, voices, and experiences need to be lifted up.

It is my hope that our media—and the non-Midwestern members of the public—will do its due diligence and work to learn more about how Midwesterners are holding down our families and communities and lifting up their needs, voices, and experiences as critical and important in the global political landscape.

If you consider yourself a thinking person with good sense, this Black Midwestern lesbian feminist encourages you to direct your attention to middle America of the United States, otherwise known as the Midwest.