Potshots for Righteousness

Amanda Marcotte

Most of the time, the choice to have children occupies the moral high ground over the choice not to have children. So occasionally, it's nice (if weak) for me to get a potshot of moral righteousness, however unearned.

The other day an incident happened to me that could have been the day before or the day before that, it happens so much. I'm riding my bike back from the grocery store, and in order to make a left turn onto a residential street, I have to pull into the middle of the street and wait to turn left. It's a move no different than when a car would do in the same situation and takes as long to manage (which is as long as the cars in the opposite lane take to give you a chance to turn), but that doesn't seem to matter one bit to the woman in the SUV honking behind me, furious at having to share the road with one of those hippie bicycling sorts. I make my turn and look behind as she drives on to see the three kids bouncing around in the backseat.

Moments like those do not leave a person as the soul of generosity very often, so I muttered to myself, "You're quite welcome that I'm trying to save the planet for your kids, thank you very much."

It's a self-aggrandizing stance, of course. In a moment of less self-righteousness, I would admit that "getting exercise" and "avoiding high gas prices" rank far higher than "trying to save the planet for someone else's offspring" as reasons for why I ride my bike most of the time. But the deliberately childless spend enough time in a stance of cringing apology that it's nice (if weak) to get the occasional potshot of moral righteousness, however unearned.

Most of the time, the choice to have children occupies the moral high ground over the choice not to have children. Having children, after all, entails a litany of sacrifices — no more sleeping in on weekends, no more last minute Friday night dates, no more sex in the living room and you don't have the Xbox all to yourself any longer. And it's all sacrifice for a noble cause, which is the continuation of the human race and the provision of people to wipe our butts and pay into Social Security when we're old. From that perspective, the supposition that the deliberately childless are "selfish" does make sense. In the past, having kids was like paying your taxes; for the good of society, everyone who could had to kick in or else society ran the risk of not having enough.

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But that was the past. In the present, the world is facing population growth that makes the word "exponential" seem like an understatement. In such a situation, opting out doesn't seem nearly as selfish as it might have in the past. In fact, from an environmentalist perspective, scaling back on the carbon-emitting, resource-destroying American population might be a good thing. A moral imperative. A sacrifice, even.

As sacrifices go, not having kids seems very un-sacrifice-y, especially if you're someone like me who never saw the appeal in the first place of having kids. Yes, I'm "reducing" my consumption by not having a bunch of plastic toys around my house, but it almost seems like cheating. After all, parents who want to achieve the same low levels of plastic crap in the house generally have to suffer whining at minimum, and major temper tantrums much of the time. I had to suffer not even having to think about it at all. I put as much thought into it as I put into having to walk the dog I don't have.

Because of this, I don't want to fault people mild amounts of grief-giving over my choice. But as a general rule, the begrudging the childless meet with in life is not all that minimal, especially if they have the nerve to be middle class white people, the sort that would fit nicely into some ads for parenting magazines. I've been told I'm not really a woman unless I'm a mother, a threat that lost some of its power when I shrugged and said that whether I counted as "woman" in some essentialist eyes didn't matter all that much to me. I've been told that not having offspring is a form of hereditary suicide, which only makes sense if you think children are Xerox copies of you, instead of merely half of your genetic information (and grandchildren are 25% and great-grandchildren are 12.5%, so the live forever through genes theory literally has a Dorian Gray feel to it). I've been accused of hating children, which I don't, but if I did, I hardly see why that's an argument for why I should have them.

And I've been told that I'm living the stereotype of the oversexed, childless, martini-swilling, cold-hearted feminist. The "credit to your race" argument does have some power to make me feel guilty, but then I remember that it's not my revolution if I can't swill my martini to it. Women won't truly be free until we don't cower in fear of living up to stereotypes that are only considered bad because women's liberation makes people uneasy. If anything, my choice to be childless probably helps the feminist movement in the way that diversity generally helps us, by showing that allowing a wide variety of choices to women doesn't actually bring the doom and gloom scenarios relished by anti-feminists.

I try not to resent people who give me guff about childlessness. This is quite possibly the first time in history that the act of children is in itself a genuine choice, instead of just the unavoidable result of living or an unquestioned life expectation. Before now, people never had to come up with positive reasons to have children, which is especially daunting in the face of the enormous responsibility of it, and in face of the perfectly good reasons not to (sleeping in, the environment, not having "Barney" videos in the home). "I want to," rarely sounds like a substantial reason when you say it out loud, but it's really the best and only legitimate argument. Anyway, the most important decisions in life are the ones that you make for reasons of desire over reason, like falling in love or moving to an overcrowded but exciting city.

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.