The Face of the Movement

Amanda Marcotte

Anti-choicers, while detached from reality, aren't stupid, of course, and eventually they figured out how bad it looks to have a bunch of men at the front of misogynist organizations trying to put on a smiley face. Hence, the rise in prominence of women in the anti-choice movement.

About a decade or so ago, there was a popular pro-choice advertisement in circulation drawing attention to the fact that the vast majority of "pro-life" leaders were men. The more recent version is to show this picture of President Bush signing the Partial Birth Abortion Act while surrounded completely with fellow middle-aged men. It's a powerful statement from pro-choicers about the reality of the anti-choice movement, and how it's not only about controlling sexuality, but about the patriarchal grasp over women's autonomy.

Anti-choicers, while detached from reality, aren't stupid, of course, and eventually they figured out how bad it looks to have a bunch of men at the front of misogynist organizations trying to put on a smiley face. Which is why I suspect we're seeing more and more female faces as the representatives of anti-choice organizations. It goes hand-in-hand with the jaw-droppingly ridiculous attempts by anti-choice groups to argue that abortion and contraception are actually bad for women, and that these things need to be banned to protect women from the possibility of regret and the predatory male sexuality. Women like Leslee Unruh of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, Judie Brown of the American Life League, and all the female figureheads at Concerned Women for America (who only partially conceal the male leader of the organization) gain their prominence no doubt because it's a tactical advantage. Even some ladies want to give up their rights, so why can't you all just hand them over and quit fighting, the argument goes.

Still, having a bunch of post-menopausal ladies wag their finger at the young sluts these days doesn't provide that much of a tactical advantage. These women are by and large open to the same criticism that anti-choice men are, which is that it's really easy to be against a right you don't need for yourself. You can probably toss in a soupcon of accusations of jealousy if you're so inclined, as well. Which is why my eyebrows shot straight up when I saw that the leader of the organization trying to get an amendment to the Colorado constitution defining fertilized eggs as human beings is 20-year-old Kristi Burton. Now we have someone advocating forced birth who could actually be forced to give birth! That's a new wrinkle in anti-choice advocacy.

True, this isn't exactly new. Putting teenage girls front and center at anti-choice rallies has been a favorite strategy for a long time. One gets the impression that it's as much about giving the male leadership some eye candy as anything else, but it doesn't hurt to imply that you have an army of virgins prepared to sacrifice their own rights for the almighty patriarchy. Of course, "virgin" is the key word there. A lot of young women find that reproductive rights become more understandable when they themselves become sexually active. Still, giving very young women leadership roles seems to be a new twist, though the logical next step in trying to create the illusion of a softer, friendlier, less misogynist anti-choice movement.

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I just so happen to be reading a book by historian Mary Beth Norton called In The Devil's Snare, after reading about it in Susan Faludi's new book The Terror Dream. The book is about the famous Salem witchcraft crisis of 1692, and the ideas Norton puts forth are relevant to this modern day tactic of putting female faces onto patriarchal organizing. Norton points out that most feminist scholarship on the witchcraft crisis dwells on the highly gendered nature of the victims. Men were accused and executed for witchcraft, but most of the accused were women. What Norton finds interesting is how gendered the accusers were, as well, with most and probably all of the accusations of witchcraft coming from women, mostly young, unmarried women, to boot.

Norton points out that the accusers were the bottom of the totem pole in their communities and families. As young women, they existed to serve and not be heard, to attend to the needs of everyone but themselves and never to be attended to themselves. All that changed when the accusers began to act as if they were afflicted by witches. Between the drama of their sufferings and the fact that they were telling powerful men in the community what they wanted to hear–that the community was awash in evil brought in by uppity women and a few suspicious men–the girls went from being near nobodies in their community to the main attraction. Their households were rearranged to suit them. They were sitting in court wielding as much, if not more power over the proceedings than the magistrates. Power corrupts both old men and teenage girls, it turns out.

Three hundred and sixteen years have passed, but for some women living in more conservative communities and families, things haven't changed that much. For many women, a life of servitude is the expectation from birth on. Turning your back on the expectation of an adult identity built around being a wife or a mother to pursue an exciting career in the field of say, politics, is usually discouraged. But you can create an exception for yourself if you perform the modern day equivalent of accusing someone of being a witch, which is of course, telling conservative men what they want to hear about women's rights and sexual freedom.

Of course, the nice thing about being young and anti-choice but not in a leadership position is that you have some wiggle room to change your mind when you grow up and learn the ways of the world a little more. Now if Kristi Burton wises up and realizes she would like that right to control her fertility after all, she has to turn her back not just on previous beliefs, but a handsomely-paid career in activism, too.

News Health Systems

The Crackdown on L.A.’s Fake Clinics Is Working

Nicole Knight

"Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options," Feuer said. "And therefore every day is a day that a woman's health could be jeopardized."

Three Los Angeles area fake clinics, which were warned last month they were breaking a new state reproductive transparency law, are now in compliance, the city attorney announced Thursday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a press briefing that two of the fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, began complying with the law after his office issued notices of violation last month. But it wasn’t until this week, when Feuer’s office threatened court action against the third facility, that it agreed to display the reproductive health information that the law requires.

“Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options,” Feuer said. “And therefore every day is a day that a woman’s health could be jeopardized.”

The facilities, two unlicensed and one licensed fake clinic, are Harbor Pregnancy Help CenterLos Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

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Feuer said the lawsuit could have carried fines of up to $2,500 each day the facility continued to break the law.

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act 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. Unlicensed centers must disclose that they are not medical facilities.

Feuer’s office in May launched a campaign to crack down on violators of the law. His action marked a sharp contrast to some jurisdictions, which are reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach as fake clinics’ challenges to the law wind through the courts.

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

Some 25 fake clinics operate in Los Angeles County, according to a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California, though firm numbers are hard to come by. Feuer initially issued notices to six Los Angeles area fake clinics in May. Following an investigation, his office warned three clinics last month that they’re breaking the law.

Those three clinics are now complying, Feuer told reporters Thursday. Feuer said his office is still determining whether another fake clinic, Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, is complying with the law.

Fake clinic owners and staffers have slammed the FACT Act, saying they’d rather shut down than refer clients to services they find “morally and ethically objectionable.”

“If you’re a pro-life organization, you’re offering free healthcare to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents several Los Angeles fake clinics fighting the law in court.

Asked why the clinics have agreed to comply, Bowman reiterated an earlier statement, saying the FACT Act violates his clients’ free speech rights. 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,” Bowman said.

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, Googling “abortion clinic” might turn up results for a fake clinic that discourages abortion care.

“Put yourself in the position of a young woman who is going to one of these centers … and she comes into this center and she is less than fully informed … of what her choices are,” Feuer said Thursday. “In that state of mind, is she going to make the kind of choice that you’d want your loved one to make?

Rewire last month visited Lost Angeles area fake clinics that are abiding by the FACT Act. Claris Health in West Los Angeles includes the reproductive notice with patient intake forms, while Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the 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.”

News Politics

Ohio Legislator: ‘Aggressive Attacks’ May Block Voters From the Polls

Ally Boguhn

Efforts to remove voters from state rolls and curb access to the polls could have an outsized impact in Ohio, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership.

Ohio Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said she is worried about the impact of what she called “aggressive attacks” on voting rights in her state.

Ohio voters who have not engaged in voter activity in a fixed period of time, generally two years, are considered by the state to have moved, which then begins the process of removing them from their rolls through something called the “Supplemental Process.” If a voter fails to respond to a postcard mailed to them to confirm their address, they become “inactive voters.” If an inactive voter does not engage in voter activity for four years, they’re automatically unregistered to vote and must re-register to cast a ballot. 

Though other states routinely clean voting rolls, most don’t use failure to vote as a reason to remove someone.

“We have two million voters purged from the rolls in the last five years, many in the last four years since the last presidential election,” Clyde said during an interview with Rewire

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) dismissed concerns of the voter purges’ impact during an interview with Reuters. “If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” he said.

Ohio’s removal of voters through this process “is particularly problematic in the lead-up to the November 2016 federal election because voters who voted in the high-turnout 2008 federal election (but who did not vote in any subsequent elections) were removed from voter rolls in 2015,” according to an amicus curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division in support of those who filed suit against Ohio’s law. 

The DOJ has urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state, writing that Ohio’s voter purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since 2012, at least 144,000 voters have been removed from Ohio’s voter rolls in its three biggest counties, Reuters reported. The secretary of state’s office said 2 million registered voters had been taken off the rolls in the past five years, though many had been removed because they were deceased.

Husted contends that he is just enforcing the law. “Ohio manages its voter rolls in direct compliance of both federal and state laws, and is consistent with an agreement in this same federal court just four years ago,” Husted said in an April statement after the ACLU of Ohio and Demos, a voting rights organization, filed a lawsuit in the matter.

In predominantly Black neighborhoods near downtown Cincinnati, “more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012,” reported Reuters. The outlet found that several places where more voters had cast ballots for President Obama in 2012 were the same locations experiencing higher percentages of purged voters.

“Some of the data is showing that African Americans voters and Democratic voters were much more likely affected,” Clyde said when discussing the state’s purge of registered voters. 

Clyde has requested data on those purged from the rolls, but has been turned down twice. “They’ve said no in two different ways and are referring me to the boards of elections, but there are 88 boards of election,” she told RewireWith limited staff resources to devote to data collection, Clyde is still searching for a way to get answers.

In the meantime, many otherwise eligible voters may have their votes thrown away and never know it.

“[P]eople that had been purged often don’t know that they’ve been purged, so they may show up to vote and find their name isn’t on the roll,” Clyde said. “Then, typically that voter is given a provisional ballot and … told that the board of elections will figure out the problem with their voter registration. And then they don’t really receive notice that that provisional ballot doesn’t eventually count.” 

Though the state’s voter purges could continue to disenfranchise voters across the state, it is hardly the only effort that may impact voting rights there.

“There have been a number of efforts undertaken by the GOP in Ohio to make voting more difficult,” Clyde said. “That includes fighting to shorten the number of early voting days available, that includes fighting to throw out people’s votes that have been cast—whether it be a provisional ballot or absentee ballot—and that includes purging more voters than any other state.” 

This could make a big difference for voters in the state, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership—including failed Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.

“So aside from the terrible effect that has on the fundamental right to vote in Ohio, progressives who maybe are infrequent voters or are seeing what’s happening around [reproductive rights and health] issues and want to express that through their vote may experience problems in Ohio because of these aggressive attacks on voting rights,” Clyde said. 

“From our presidential candidates on down to our candidates for the state legislature, there is a lot at stake when it comes to reproductive health care and reproductive rights in this election,” Clyde added. “So I think that, if that is an issue that is important to any Ohioan, they need to have their voice heard in this election.” 


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