To Stop Abortion, Don’t Look to the Anti-Abortion Movement

Jeff Fecke

Jeff Fecke examines the report from Minnesota on abortions in 2006, whether the increase is cause for alarm and also what potential causes might be.

Last week's report from Minnesota on 2006 abortions had a wealth of significant information in it, but the most striking for both abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates was the fact that the overall number of abortions performed was up. Up 5 percent over 2005, and for minors, up 16 percent.

Now, those numbers sound dramatic, but they aren't necessarily. For example, in 2006, there were 793 abortions performed on minors in the state. In 2005, there were 682. That 16 percent jump turns out to be an increase of 111 procedures total. Not insignificant, of course, but also a small enough sample that this year's huge jump could be just a statistical anomaly, and next year could show a similar drop — and be no more significant.

Of course, there are other potential causes for the increase in abortions. Abstinence-based education was one potential reason cited by Sarah Stoesz, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. "We have data that show that abstinence-based education only works to delay the onset of first intercourse by a few months, but makes it more likely for women to become pregnant and get STDs," she said. She also cited the increasing expense of contraception as a factor. But she noted, too, that it could be a "statistical blip" and cautioned that it was important to be cautious and careful in drawing any conclusions based on one year's statistics.

Whether you agree with Stoesz's position on abortion or not, that's a reasonable position to take. Identify some potential reasons for an increase, also recognize that the increase may not signify anything in particular and look for some areas, such as better access to contraception, that could have a positive impact.

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The anti-abortion movement in Minnesota could have reacted the same way.

Its leaders didn't.

Instead, the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life issued a statement attacking Planned Parenthood for "open[ing] two suburban 'express' mall stores targeting young women with scented oils, candles and referrals to its St. Paul abortion center." That those two centers did not provide abortions but did provide contraception went unremarked by the anti-abortion group. They were too busy weaving an elaborate conspiracy theory in which Planned Parenthood sucks girls in by giving them access to contraception and uses that increased access to contraception (along with a few trinkets) to lure women in for a fun, exciting abortion. That contraception, if used, can greatly reduce one's risk of pregnancy is ignored by the anti-abortion advocates. After all, like any good conspiracy theory, you have to recognize that it's all going on at a deeper level than mere mortals can understand. Wheels within wheels, my friend. Wheels within wheels.

It's sad that the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life show such a lack of concern for limiting abortion. You would think if the organization were concerned about ending abortion that it would take the time to actually advance policy arguments aimed at ending abortion that were more substantive than "Planned Parenthood is just in it for the lucrative abortion market." But then, the MCCL would have to address how its own unwillingness to support increased access to contraception led to thousands of abortions in 2006.

The MCCL's biggest legislative accomplishment in recent years was the Women's Right to Know Act, which required that women be given a packet of materials to read through before their abortion that listed each method of surgical abortion in the most lurid detail possible. It also lists all of the known medical complications of abortion (and until recently, some, like increased breast cancer, that weren't true).

As the act's name implied, the MCCL was banking that the act would radically alter the debate, that women simply were too stupid to realize what abortion is or that invasive surgery has risk involved. Well, the act did possibly reduce abortions in 2006: 652 women received the packet and chose not to have an abortion. Whether all 652 would have had an abortion otherwise, of course, is debatable, but let's take that figure as the most favorable to the MCCL.

Let's say that instead of supporting a packet of at times misleading information, the MCCL had instead supported funding access to contraception for all.

In 2006, 65 percent of women seeking abortions had used contraceptives in the past but were not using them at the time they conceived. Now, obviously, some people are going to make mistakes with sex, so let's say that increased access to contraception would only reach half of those people. And let's say that the contraceptives have a 50 percent failure rate — far above that in the real world, but I'm trying to be fair.

Had 25 percent of those abortions been prevented by increased access to contraception, it would have reduced the number of abortions performed in 2006 by 2,283.

That's not something anybody on the abortion rights side would oppose. Contrary to the assertions of the anti-abortion movement, those of us who support abortion rights know that abortion is not particularly fun for the woman involved. We know that it would be better if there were fewer of them, because each abortion is a major surgery, and that's better avoided if it can be.

But while Planned Parenthood is trying to reach those women who can't afford contraception or don't have ready access to it, the MCCL is railing against the very effort, weaving insane conspiracy theories instead.

This is, of course, perfectly understandable. If the MCCL really cared about ending abortion, it would be working right there with Planned Parenthood to get contraception out to women everywhere. Instead, the organization has spent its time shaming and infantilizing women and let thousands of abortions go unprevented in the meantime. If I were in that position, I guess I, too, would rather blame a vast left-wing conspiracy than look in the mirror.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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