Desparately Seeking Moderate Voices Amidst Supreme Court Protests

Scott Swenson

“Now, if Congress is right, there will be no such case, so it’s no problem. But if Congress is wrong, then the doctor will be able to perform the procedure and Congress couldn’t object.”

With those words, Justice Breyer made clear the hypocrisy of Congressional and Judicial attempts to intervene in private medical decisions of pregnant women. On the one hand, anti-choice advocates in and out of Congress suggest there is never a need for doctors to perform late term abortions to preserve the health of the mother. On the other hand, they want to prevent the supposedly unnecessary procedure. Yet more evidence that social conservative ideology, not medical judgment, has manipulated Congress and the Judiciary to score political points.

On top of that, as Linda Greenhouse wrote in her lead in the New York Times, "the proceedings seemed more like a medical school seminar than an appellate argument." An indication, perhaps, that when it comes to the health and life of a pregnant woman, medicine, not ideology and politics, is the proper profession to be making those consultations and decisions.

“Now, if Congress is right, there will be no such case, so it’s no problem. But if Congress is wrong, then the doctor will be able to perform the procedure and Congress couldn’t object.”

With those words, Justice Breyer made clear the hypocrisy of Congressional and Judicial attempts to intervene in private medical decisions of pregnant women. On the one hand, anti-choice advocates in and out of Congress suggest there is never a need for doctors to perform late term abortions to preserve the health of the mother. On the other hand, they want to prevent the supposedly unnecessary procedure. Yet more evidence that social conservative ideology, not medical judgment, has manipulated Congress and the Judiciary to score political points.

On top of that, as Linda Greenhouse wrote in her lead in the New York Times, "the proceedings seemed more like a medical school seminar than an appellate argument." An indication, perhaps, that when it comes to the health and life of a pregnant woman, medicine, not ideology and politics, is the proper profession to be making those consultations and decisions.

As we saw in this week's elections, it is amazing how
quickly and utterly one decision, macro or micro, can change things. In the cases before the court, this decision about the constitutional rights assured with respect to the health of pregnant women, is just that kind of decision.

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Outside the court, I wanted to talk to different people on both sides, wondering if the election results that seemed to be a resounding shift to the middle had any impact on people's views on abortion.

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, vowed that "people of faith would not be bowed by their defeat in South Dakota," without acknowledging that people of faith differ on these issues. When asked what the biggest difference was between these cases and the very similar cases six years ago, without hesitation he replied "Sandra Day O'Connor. Kennedy makes us very hopeful."

He claimed that this issue was similar to segregation. "Was there a middle ground with Bull Connor? When African Americans were denied service at lunch counters or denied seats on a bus? I just don't believe in segregation." But what about the segregation of women's health, subjecting them to a politicized decision by a court and far-right politicians? He had no reply.

When pressed about finding a middle ground on these issues, he said, "we may never agree on what is or is not extreme on these issues, but perhaps we could agree to work together where we can, reducing unintended pregnancies," citing the 95-10 proposal from Democrats for Life and legislation modeled on it offered by Congressional Democrats.

When pressed further about living in a pluralistic democracy where the law should be neutral and allow for individuals to make choices in accordance with their beliefs, he reverted to the segregation argument, without replying how the federal abortion ban would not equate to segregating women's private health decisions.

He added, "I've been in DC 14 years and there will never be a middle ground on this issue because both sides are too invested in using it to raise money and perpetuate their organizations." There is certainly truth in that statement, but only one side is actively creating political and legal efforts to restrict what most Americans agree is not only settled law, but an essential part of our free society, choice. Progressives have long been working on policies not to ban, but to prevent.

That fairly civil conversation took place amidst a small but vocal, and amplified, group of pro-lifers. Judy McClean of Generations for Life shouted into a megaphone, "Young people are sick and tired of the killing of our generation. Pro-life women are having babies and pro-choice women are not having babies. Your side is losing," ignoring the fact that many mothers work in the pro-choice movement because they understand the importance of reproductive health and being able to make decisions with their doctors about their health and life.

Other issues brought up by speakers from Generations for Life included "empty meaningless sex, addictions, and depression" of pro-choice people. At one moment a woman from the crowd shouted above pro-choice protesters chanting about exemptions for rape and incest, "some of us were born of rape." The cacophony of anger and emotion from pro-lifers (and two pro-choicers) was as startling as the reality of the child of rape's experience.

I stood back and, as objectively as possible given my pro-choice views, listened to the anger, fear, regret, and remorse that poured out of many of the pro-life protesters.

These emotional observations were very different from what is portrayed by some pro-lifers like Leslee Unruh, who in the South Dakota campaign tried to put a better public face on the anger of anti-choice activists. It was, it seemed, the very thing the speaker from Generations for Life ascribed to the pro-choice side, people lost in meaningless, depressed and possibly addicted periods of their life who made decisions they later regretted.

But they had the right to make those decisions for themselves. The comfort and community they find amidst pro-lifers is understandable, but should not be the foundation for public policy.

We are constantly reminded in life of the importance of responsibility and accountability, and it's fascinating that the only thing the pro-life side wants to talk about is an outright prohibition of abortion, thereby limiting responsible and accountable lives of free will to lives of policy dictated from one narrow perspective.

That this happens on the steps of the Supreme Court, while the US Government is inside actively trying to deny women's private health decisions, should give any freedom loving person cause for concern. That it happens the day after an election that reminded us all, regardless of perspective, about the blessing our democracy is, is troubling.

An African-American pro-life preacher advocated that we "return to the principles of our Founding Fathers – that was when we were a strong nation. Women, if you don't want to have children don't do what it takes to have children." He and his wife have six he told the small crowd of about 30 pro-lifers, and he did not acknowledge that in some families, women don't have those choices, or that other families might want to choose fewer children.

I take a back seat to no one in my admiration for the Founders, but they got a couple things wrong, especially when it comes to women and African-Americans, and as a nation we've been trying correct those issues ever since. Here, on the steps of the Supreme Court, an African-American preacher argued for segregating, to borrow Rev. Mahoney's analogy, women's health decisions in 2006.

Another speaker from Generations for Life screamed into the megaphone "just look at all the young people here, rebelling against their parents who were pro-choice and then look at all the old people here standing up for death. Old pro death people are dying away because they did not have love."

Obviously shouted with deeply felt emotions, the lack of logic seemed not the least bit troubling to the speaker. The larger group of 40-50 young people from the National Organization of Women, marching in a circle and chanting, "our bodies, our choice" just twenty yards away also escaped her.

I did find one person standing in line to get into the court who seemed to occupy the middle ground on this issue. She had come from Germantown, Maryland, to see the Supreme Court in action, and was pleased it was such a momentous case. "I'm interested in hearing how both sides represent themselves. The middle ground on this issue remains under-represented. I especially have concerns about the health of women, not just the life of the mother, the health. It will be interesting to see how the justices weigh those important realities and find balance. Kennedy is clearly the swing man, though we really haven't seen Alito much yet," said Janet Koons.

Tuesday, voters like Janet Koons, reminded politicians of the blessings of our democracy, and the checks and balances our politics provides the people.

The abortion debate has contributed to the polarization of our politics more than any other, arguably, and pro-lifers need to take responsibility for the fact that their single-minded focus on prohibition, emotion, fear and anger, has derailed this country from improving reproductive health and reducing unintended pregnancies.

Progressives continue to work to promote comprehensive sexuality education, contraception and sexual and reproductive health and rights because we have faith in individual liberty, privacy and civil rights. It is time that the pro-life side of the debate, increasingly splintered but no less able to derail government, catches up with the rest of America.

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.

News Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.

White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy. 

“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.

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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.

Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.

“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”

White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.

During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.

There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.

‘Extremely common but hidden’

“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”

Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.

“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.

“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.  

White sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.

The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.

State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.

“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”

‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’

White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”

There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.

“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”

A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.

Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.

‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’

TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”

One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”

The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.

“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”

“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”

Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.

Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.

“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.

Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.

“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”

“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.