Witch-Hunt Against Spain’s Abortion Clinics

Marcy Bloom

On January 7, abortion providers in Spain stated to the world that they will not be victims of governmental persecution and anti-choice manipulation. They decided to go on strike, accepting only "emergency" cases.

Legal abortion and quality abortion care save women's lives, preserve our health, allow us to choose our futures and raise the children we may already have, and are core aspects of women's equality and reproductive justice. More than anything else, respectful abortion care decreases the suffering, pain, and death of women and girls everywhere.

And yet, throughout the world, abortion is still ferociously debated, women who are denied their reproductive rights still suffer and die, and abortion clinics and physicians are frequently maligned, threatened, attacked, arsoned, bombed, brutalized, and harassed. In the US, seven doctors and clinic staff have been assassinated, despite the fact that abortion has been legal in the US for thirty-five years.

Having worked in women's clinics providing safe and professional abortion care since 1970, I often wonder if the world even notices the good and important work we do. Due to the ongoing stigma of abortion, it is still very difficult and frightening for many women and men to openly discuss their abortion experiences. Indeed, due to the fear of being professionally marginalized and physically attacked, even killed, women's clinic staff are also cautious about discussing what they do in public.

How do we prove to the world what is obvious to us–that if safe abortion did not exist, women would suffer? If we simply went away, for a day or a week, how different would the world be? What would happen to women?

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

On January 7, our colleagues in Spain stood up for themselves and stated to the world that they will not be victims of governmental persecution and anti-choice manipulation. They decided to go on strike, accepting only "emergency" cases.

Private clinics in Spain, which perform most of the country's abortions, began the five-day strike to protest what they declared was persecution and harassment by government inspectors as well as anti-abortion rights campaigners. The intimidation and fear began in November, when government representatives and police agents invaded clinics in Barcelona with accusations that "illegal" abortions (abortions past the legal limit) were occurring. Medical records and documents were seized, 40 patients (some from out of the country) were harassed, and twelve clinical staff members, including physicians, were detained, among them Dr. Carlos Morín, the director, who was subsequently arrested and remains in jail. The complaints against these clinics were brought by the Catholic organization e-Christians, based on a report by a Danish television program where Dr. Morín is alleged to have offered an abortion to an eight-month pregnant undercover Danish journalist.

From then on, the situation became even more sensationalized. A woman from the Netherlands was arrested because she had supposedly undergone an illegal late-term abortion at one of Dr. Morín's clinics. Other women's health clinics in Madrid–not associated with Dr .Morín–were arbitrarily harassed, invaded, and disrupted under the guise of "official inspections."

The New York Times reported on January 9 that the persistent crackdown, raids, and violence against these clinics revives a debate about Spain's abortion laws at an awkward time for the Socialist government of Prime Minster José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which had been trying to avoid so-called controversial issues before close elections occur in March. Under his leadership, the prime minister's party had previously discussed the reform of Spain's restrictive abortion laws. But now, with the prime minister's "liberal" image being viewed as a political liability, he is trying to polish his image as a moderate, attempting to appeal to undecided, younger, and conservative voters. (Sounds just like the US elections, doesn't it?) With the Socialist party presently leading only by a few percentage points, the prime minister now states that he no longer wishes to liberalize the current abortion laws and wants to only reassess the existing laws.

Abortion rights, and women's lives, just like in the US, are kicked around like a political football. However, it will be difficult to avoid this issue in Spain right now. After all, numerous women's lives were disrupted by the clinics' strike.

How many women were affected by the strike? According to Francisca García Gallego, Madrid regional director of the Association of Accredited Clinics for the Termination of Pregnancy, the organization which organized the strike, as many as 2,000 women likely felt its impact. She indicated that the striking clinics accepted only "medical emergency" cases for abortion care during this time, defined as when the mother's life or health was at risk. Women without medical emergencies who had appointments during the strike were seen before the stoppage or were given new appointments.

Spain decriminalized abortion in 1985, and under current law, women can have an abortion during the first 22 weeks of pregnancy if there is a risk of fetal defect, and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape. It is also theoretically allowed at any time if a pregnant woman's physical or mental health is medically certified as being in danger. The number of abortions in Spain has doubled in the past decade, to more than 100,000 procedures annually in the past decade. Clearly, as is true everywhere in the world, this demonstrates that this is a critical right and much-need medical care that must remain available for all women.

The arrests at the Barcelona clinics soon created a backlash at all clinics throughout Spain. This backlash was encouraged by conservative media and anti-choice activists, which promoted a "Christian Family Day" rally organized by Catholic bishops in Madrid on December 30 where more than 150,000 people demonstrated to defend so-called "traditional family values" and speak out against abortion. The conservative media also created public alarm with a "flurry of media reports about women who allegedly travel to Spain to receive illegal late term abortions," says García, of the clinic association. Ms. García also asserted that cases of illegal abortion were extremely rare in Spain and that 90% of abortions in Spain occur in the first 12 weeks. She decried the abusive clinic inspections, invasions, and violence, stated that patients' privacy and dignity had been violated, and the professionalism and safety of clinic staff undermined. "After 22 years of exercising this right, a shadow of doubt has started to appear over our professionalism. We feel physically threatened, but nobody in the government has come to our defense."

During the strike, government officials in Madrid finally responded and pledged to protect abortion providers from the violence and harassment. Local abortion clinics were told that they could solicit police protection against death threats and vandalism caused by ultra-conservatives or neo-Nazi groups.

That recognition and action are important and long overdue. But is it enough? What of the future? Will there be more strikes? Will abortion providers in other countries consider this tactic? Having been in the honorable field of abortion care for many years, I know that abortion providers are tired of being dismissed, manipulated, attacked, lied about, and targets of political expediency and religious fundamentalist hatred and violence. We have every right to protect ourselves, to continue to help women, to practice our craft, and to professionally provide safe and compassionate abortion care. The time for ending the use of our profession as political pawns must come to an end–today.

As eloquently stated by the Association of Accredited Clinics for the Termination of Pregnancy and The Spanish Interest Group on Population, Development, and Reproductive Health,

We want to manifest our solidarity with the women, who are the real victims of the inspections, the accusations, the libel, the illicit activities, and the (official) silence. Because it is the thousands of women in this country who see, again, the questioning of their ability to exercise a legitimate right that is about freedom and the will to choose to have children. With these words, we want to assure these women that our efforts to make possible their rights will continue, as we have persevered in this country for the past twenty years.

In Spain, the US, and virtually everywhere, the stigma of shame and cruelty that has been relentlessly and systematically used to vilify those seeking and performing safe abortion care remains. The witch-hunts go on.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

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.

credo_rewire_vote_3

Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!

VOTE!

Thank you for supporting our work!