Show Me the Evidence

Andrea Lynch

Population Research Institute's latest piece of propaganda can't understand the difference between forced abortion and legal abortion.

The latest video from the Population Research Institute (PRI)-which describes their new "Latin America Initiative"-is so unfettered by evidence, and so full of hypocrisy, that it almost refutes itself. If PRI didn't have such an alarming record of influence with the Bush administration, I would ignore the video completely. But they do, so here we go.

PRI is the Virginia-based anti-abortion, anti-family planning group whose advocacy led to the freezing (for five years running) of the traditional U.S. contribution to UNFPA, and whose president is fond of suggesting that U.S. family planning and sexuality education programs are responsible for "Islamic terrorism" (among other claims). Most recently, the journal Reproductive Health Matters published an article detailing PRI's elaborate attempts to block Peruvian women's access to emergency contraception (EC) through (false) claims that a group of U.S.-funded organizations were violating the Global Gag Rule by providing women with information about EC. There's a pattern here. PRI's modus operandi is essentially to level baseless accusations, unsupported by evidence, at organizations that do not share its political views. They do this by engaging in creative conflation and paraphrase in two directions: they twist and tweak their ideological opponents' activities on one end, and they twist and tweak U.S. laws and policies on the other end, until the two sides of the equation match up. Then, voila! Before you know it, your organization is using taxpayer dollars to force women to have abortions. PRI makes a quick call to one of their rabid anti-abortion allies in Congress, the legislator complains, and before you know it, you're in danger of losing your funding.

Here's how PRI's latest video screed unfolds: Latin Americans are pro-life (meaning "anti-abortion"), and most Latin American countries are democratic. Therefore, the fact that abortion is illegal in most Latin American countries is proof that "Latin Americans don't want abortion" (an excellent use of categorical syllogism, if I do say so myself. Never mind that Nicaragua's recent therapeutic abortion ban was one of the most undemocratic legislative processes I have ever witnessed – unless, that is, you consider giving bishops carte blanche to write public health laws a sterling example of civil society participation). Meanwhile, a coalition of "radical feminists, New York-based foundations, radical population controllers, and some radical environmentalists," funded by U.S. taxpayers, are attempting to establish laws across Latin America that favor "abortion on demand" and "massive sterilization and contraception campaigns." This subversion of democracy not only violates U.S. laws, the video insists, but has also led to widespread anti-U.S. sentiment across the Latin American region (and you thought it had something to do with economic and military policy, silly viewer – think again!). In order to protect Latin Americans from this vicious reproductive imperialism, PRI works with anti-abortion Latin Americans to expose and de-fund U.S.-based organizations attempting to (illegally) foist their "abortion mentality" on unsuspecting Latin Americans.

I could spend the rest of the day unpacking this cornucopia of assumptions, misrepresentations, and oversimplifications, but most of what I'd say is already here. Instead, I'll focus on the process of conflation that PRI employs to ram its points home, because it is the same process used by many anti-abortion, anti-family planning, anti-feminist organizations who seek to impose their own ideology on the rest of the world through accusing other organizations of (wait for it) imposing their own ideology on the rest of the world. In the video, PRI makes some pretty serious accusations:

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  • They claim that "Americans" (meaning U.S. citizens, I presume) are "forcing" abortion on Latin Americans (advocating for the liberalization of restrictive abortion laws, in partnership with local groups advocating the same, in a region where over 4 million women seek unsafe, illegal abortions every year, is now considered "forcing abortion").
  • They claim that "in places like Colombia and Peru, we're subverting, we're undermining democracy, by trying to impose an abortion mentality on a country that is naturally and consistently pro-life" (for the record, Colombia's abortion law was liberalized in response to a case brought by a Colombian citizen).
  • They claim that "American family planning organizations often try to meet quotas and offer incentives in order to get the results they want…this is coercion, and it is illegal" (no examples provided).


If you're waiting for the evidence, don't hold your breath, because there isn't any. As the statements cited above either scroll over a sinister black screen or spring from the mouth of PRI's own Steve Mosher, the only concrete examples we see of alleged U.S. attempts to subvert democracy by illegally forcing coercive abortion and sterilization on unsuspecting pro-life Latin Americans (using taxpayer dollars) are two fuzzy images of billboards, presumably located in Latin America (though there is no information about where or when the images were taken). The first reads (translation mine), "For a better future, plan your family. Go to your nearest health center: we'll be waiting!" The billboard appears to be sponsored by the Ministry of Health (it doesn't say in which country), since that's the only logo on it. The second billboard reads: "Planning our families, we live happily," and there are three fuzzy logos at its base-one from CARE, one that could be the same Ministry of Health logo we saw on the first billboard, and one that is unidentifiable.

So, PRI claims that U.S. organizations are subjecting Latin Americans to forced abortions, and the evidence is that two posters advocating family planning that may or may not have been co-financed by U.S.-based international organizations exist in Latin America. Thus, PRI has not only conflated "forced abortion" and "legal abortion" (by claiming that liberalizing restrictive abortion laws is the same as forcing women to have abortions), they've now also conflated "forced abortion" and "the existence of family planning services."

But that's still only half of the conflation equation. Here's the other half: the description of the laws that PRI accuses U.S.-based organizations (still not named) of breaking. Specifically, PRI's video cites the Kemp-Kasten amendment and the Tiahrt amendment. Here's how it describes these two pieces of legislation (emphasis mine): "The Tiahrt amendment and Kemp-Kasten amendment both state that coercive abortion-related activities may not be financed by U.S. tax dollars." And here's what Kemp-Kasten actually says:

No foreign assistance funds can be made available to any organization or program which, as determined by the President of the United States, supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.

The Tiahrt amendment is a little longer, so I won't reproduce it here, but in essence, it seeks to ensure that family planning programs are non-coercive and do not discriminate against women who do not wish to use contraception, and that women can make informed decisions about family planning.

So, according to PRI, any kind of family planning is now an "abortion-related activity." Any mention of family planning is just veiled coercion. And therefore, anyone who provides information about family planning in Latin America is now participating in a program of forced abortion or coercive sterilization. Joking aside, this video is beyond sloppy, irresponsible policy analysis. It's also a testament to PRI's willingness to ignore distinctions that might not matter to PRI, but that are incredibly important to the vast Latin American population whose true beliefs PRI purports to represent. For a video that is supposedly dedicated to promoting cultural sensitivity, that's a pretty insulting conflation. Did you hear that, Latin American women currently taking birth control pills? You're engaging in an abortion-related activity, probably against your will, whether you think you are or not. But don't worry, if you're confused about your rights, just call PRI. They'll be more than happy to clear things up for you.

News Human Rights

After Suicide Attempt, Chelsea Manning Faces Indefinite Solitary Confinement

Michelle D. Anderson

“Now, while Chelsea is suffering the darkest depression she has experienced since her arrest, the government is taking actions to punish her for that pain. It is unconscionable and we hope that the investigation is immediately ended and that she is given the health care that she needs to recover,” said Chase Strangio, an ACLU staff attorney.

Transgender Army veteran and WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning is being threatened with indefinite solitary confinement in connection to her July 5 suicide attempt.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said U.S. Army officials notified Manning of an investigation into her suicide attempt. Three serious charges are being brought against her.

A transcribed charge sheet provided by the ACLU shows that Manning is under investigation for resisting force from the cell move team, possessing prohibited property, and engaging in “conduct which threatens.”

Manning, who was arrested in 2010 for releasing classified government documents to WikiLeaks, is serving a 35-year prison sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, an all-male maximum security prison.

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In 2014, Manning, with the help of the ACLU, the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, the ACLU of Kansas, and civilian defense counsel David E. Coombs, sued then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other Department of Defense and Department of the Army officials for failing to treat her gender dysphoria, a violation of her constitutional rights.

Army physicians had diagnosed Manning with the condition several years prior, according to the lawsuit.

As a remedy, the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare has recommended that inmates like Manning receive medical treatment that follows World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) standards of care, like providing hormone therapy. Several respected medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, support WPATH recommendations.

Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement that the investigation was “deeply troubling” and noted that government continues to deny Manning medical care related to her gender dysphoria condition and her recent suicide attempt.

“Now, while Chelsea is suffering the darkest depression she has experienced since her arrest, the government is taking actions to punish her for that pain. It is unconscionable and we hope that the investigation is immediately ended and that she is given the health care that she needs to recover,” Strangio said.

Along with indefinite solitary confinement, the ACLU said Manning could face reclassification into maximum-security prison, an additional nine years in medium custody for the remainder of her 35-year long sentence, if convicted of the “administrative offenses.”

The ACLU said the Army could also negate any chance for parole.

ACLU spokeswoman Allison Steinberg told Rewire the ramifications Manning faces derive from the Army’s Institutional Offense Policy.

Fight for the Future Campaign Director Evan Greer, whose group collected more than 100,000 signatures last year when the Army threatened Manning with solitary confinement for possessing LGBTQ literature and an expired tube of toothpaste, said in a statement that the U.S. government’s treatment of Chelsea was a “travesty.”

“Those in charge should know that the whole world is watching, and we won’t stand idly by while this administration continues to harass and abuse Chelsea Manning,” Greer said.

Just two days before Manning and her legal team learned of the investigation, she told followers on her verified Twitter account, “Feeling a little bit better every day. Thank you for your mail, your love, and your support. Things will get back to normal soon.”

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”