Anti-Choicers Go Green

Lisa Schulter

Little by little, some anti-abortion advocates are starting to become quite vocal about their environmentalism.

Pro-choice advocates understand that bringing a child into the world is a monumental decision not to be taken lightly. Lots of thinking, soul-searching, and planning are involved so that a new child can have the most opportunities and best life possible. We are aware of the environment that surrounds us and how it will affect our lives, as well as a child's life. And increasingly, many supporters of reproductive rights and women's health are including environmental health issues in their agenda.

And here we may have a little bit in common with today's breed of conservatives (I said a little!). Conservative Christians who consider abortion their main issue of concern are beginning to see a correlation between saving the fetus and saving the environment.

One among many environmental issues some anti-choicers have chosen to rally around is the problem of mercury emissions. At a pro-life rally in 2005, leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), one of the most politically powerful religious advocacy groups in the country, and the Evangelical Environmental Network, carried a banner that read, "Stop Mercury Poisoning of the Unborn." Noted placard-carrier Rev. Richard Cizik, the vice president at NAE, "If you reframe mercury regulations as a pro-life issue — curbing mercury emissions protects children from learning disabilities and unborn children from brain damage — that gets people's attention."

Mercury is emitted from power plants into nearby bodies of water, where it accumulates in fish. Nearly all fish contain traces of mercury, but fish closer to the top of the food chain (like the ever-popular tuna) contain higher levels of mercury that may damage a fetus's developing nervous system. Children born to women who eat mercury-contaminated fish are at a higher risk for a number of neurological disorders, including mental retardation and learning disabilities. Even more frightening is the news that in 2006 a study by the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina-Asheville found that twenty percent of women of childbearing age have mercury levels in their blood that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended limit.

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And mercury is just one of many toxins that threaten women's reproductive health. Championing the rights of the unborn, some anti-abortion advocates are starting to become quite vocal about chemical toxins and environmental conditions that are not conducive to healthy fetuses.

Rev. Cizik explained his "conversion" to environmental activism in a December 19, 2006 interview on NPR. "I felt compelled, not unlike a Christian conversion to Christ, I should do something about what he owns – that is the earth – and attempt to save it from environmental destruction."

Cizik is in a curious position. He is one of few within the religious right preaching scientific facts of environmentalism. He is sympathizing with what has always been considered a liberal issue — and getting plenty of flack for this from fellow evangelicals. A letter sent to NAE, signed by the leaders of several prominent conservative Christian organizations and asking NAE leadership to prevent Cizik from speaking out further on environmental issues, argued that "Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time."

Cizik says he is not trying to be political in his advocacy, that he sees "creation care" as a moral, Biblical message. In a 2005 interview with Grist, he acknowledged that he — "for now" — has rejected offers from the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation to work together, saying that evangelicals need first need to "develop our own voice and strategies and tactics."

Meanwhile, though many pro-choice advocates understand the strong relationship between environmental conditions and reproductive health, mainstream reproductive rights organizations have yet to actively rally around any environmental issues. Across the country, grassroots activists are working hard locally to clean up their communities – and many would greatly welcome help from those in women's health.

Loretta Ross, national coordinator for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, says if pro-choice activists broaden their view of what "reproductive health" really means, they'd see they are fighting for the same causes as their friends in the environmental justice movement. "Many within the mainstream reproductive rights community support abortion and family planning as the primary means of achieving women's empowerment," she says. "Meanwhile, those within the environmental justice movement see no separation between human health and the environment, and are working first on remedying the ills in their community as a means of empowerment."

Simply put, both the reproductive health and environmental communities are concerned with empowering humanity. A fusion between the two movements could make them that much stronger. A larger support base, networking, expanding our philosophies and world views – this could be just the beginning!

While some conservatives are attempting to make environmental cleanup part of the pro-life agenda, we need to see how we are remiss in leaving this issue out of the pro-choice agenda. Reproductive health, rights and justice not only encompass the right to end a pregnancy, but also the right for women to have healthy children in healthy conditions.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.