What Jim Wallis Hears When You Say “Reduce the Need for Abortion”

Amanda Marcotte

All Jim Wallis needs to know about you is that you have a womb that's got a zygote in it, and the "right" decision -- to carry your pregnancy to term -- is made.

Anti-abortion liberals
taking credit for the pro-woman Democratic party platform
— the irony just thickens. Pastor Dan recently
Christian Jim Wallis making what Wallis no doubt thinks of as a "pro-woman"
argument that is, in reality, condescending to a degree that causes the reader to think that Wallis is talking about pregnant houseplants instead of thinking women.

    Support for women caught
    up in difficult situations and tragic choices is a better path than
    coercion for really reducing the abortion rate. Yes, I agree there is
    never a "need" for abortion except in the case where the health
    of the mother is threatened. But until we can reach out to women who
    "feel" the need for abortion and support them in alternative
    choices, we will never change the shameful abortion rate that both sides
    seem content to live with while they just attack each other. It is time
    to move from symbols to solutions.

If Wallis thinks that women
who choose abortion only perceive a need that’s so clearly not a need
that it requires scare quotes, then I’m going to vow here and now
to call Wallis a "liberal" and a "progressive" only in scare
quotes. Or just "scatter" scare quotes "about" recklessly
when "writing" about "Wallis," so that "you" perceive that
"something" isn’t quite right about "his" views.

This is paternalism at its
finest. Jim Wallis knows better than you whether or not you really
want to terminate a pregnancy, even though he doesn’t know your name,
address, financial situation, number of children, relationship issues,
career issues, or desire to have more children than you have already.
All he needs to know about you is that you have a womb that’s got
a zygote in it, and the "right" decision is made. Any actual
information about your life is just a distraction from the "right"
decision about whether or not you should have a child — the decision
is yes. Your feelings don’t matter. The contents of your
womb are the only thing that really matters. The technical reluctance
to engage in coercion doesn’t rescue him from accusations of sexism,
since he clearly agrees strongly with the right about women’s lack
of intelligence and decision-making abilities.

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The GOP platform takes this
belief in women’s lack of intelligence to its logical conclusion and
supports the very mandatory
childbirth that Wallis claims to reject.

It makes more sense to swallow the unpleasant coercion, based on Wallis’s
beliefs that a) there is only one right decision for all women, regardless
of circumstances and b) women can be assumed to lack the decision-making
abilities necessary to take responsibility for their own bodies. Once you remove women’s
intentions and responsibilities from the equation, and reduce their
proper choices to a single choice, then why not force them? There’s
only one side of the road for all Americans to drive on, and believe
me, they aren’t handing out cookies to people for driving on the right
hand side. They’re issuing tickets for driving on the left hand
side. When only one choice is acceptable, only one form of enforcement
starts to make sense.

Wallis’s statements are the
sort of things that pro-choicers worry about when we embrace the idea
that "reducing the abortion rate" should be a goal, a middle ground
everyone could agree on. Turns out that not everyone really agrees
on this. Different people hear different things when you say "reducing
the abortion rate." A pro-choicer like myself hears "reducing
the number of unplanned pregnancies." But someone like Wallis
hears, "convincing the slow-witted women out there that they don’t
really want what they think they want." And of course, hardline
anti-choicers hear, "hide abortion away from everyone but the medical
staff working the septic abortion wards."

This paternalistic view of
women as minors who need to be firmly guided because they can’t make
the "right" decision is why the hardline anti-choicers kept disrupting the DNC. Well, it was partially because
they are starved for attention, but it’s also because they hear rumblings
from people like Wallis. The hardcore anti-choicers realize that
it’s not much of a leap from arguing that women have second rate minds
to arguing that women should be second class citizens with second rate
rights. If women don’t know what they really want, then the
discussion about whether to coax or force the right decision out of
them is purely an academic exercise, and force will eventually win out
because it wins on simplicity.

A better idea: instead of focusing
on a certain choice as a particular horror, let’s lament that women
have to be put in this stressful situation of making choices where all
the available ones are unpleasant at all. For instance, as lamentable
as the media frenzy on Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter’s pregnancy
can be, the occasion is a good chance to highlight how unintended pregnancy
should be the focus of our collective efforts, not pushing women around
about their choices after the unintended pregnancy is a fact.
For a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, all choices have major drawbacks.
Luckily, we can, with a focus on prevention, help women avoid that situation.

Let’s quit confusing Jim
Wallis with this talk about "reducing abortion," which feeds right
into a paternalistic view of women as second class citizens. How
about "reducing unintended pregnancy," which forefronts women and
their intentions, desires, and lives? What’s so wrong about
making women’s intentions the central question? Let’s assume
women aren’t stupid as a class and that they can make up their own
minds about what they want, and build policy around the idea that society
should support women’s intentions and give women the tools to take

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 Health Systems

What Happens When a Catholic-Run Clinic Comes to Your Local Walgreens?

Amy Littlefield

“It causes us great concern when we think about vulnerable populations ... [who] may need to use these clinics for things like getting their contraception prescribed and who would never think that when they went into a Walgreens they would be restricted by Catholic doctrine,” Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, told Rewire.

One of the largest Catholic health systems is set to begin running health clinics inside 27 Walgreens stores in Missouri and Illinois next week. The deal between Walgreens and SSM Health has raised concerns from public interest groups worried that care may be compromised by religious doctrine.

Catholic health systems generally follow directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, contraception, tubal ligations, vasectomies, and fertility treatments.

“We are concerned that the clinics will likewise be required to follow the [directives], thereby severely curtailing access to important reproductive health services, information, and referrals,” MergerWatch, the National Health Law Program, and the American Civil Liberties Unions of Illinois and Missouri wrote in a letter to Walgreens on Wednesday. They also sent a letter to SSM Health.

In a statement emailed to Rewire, Walgreens said its relationship with SSM Health “will not have any impact on any of our current clinic or pharmacy policies and procedures.”

SSM Health emailed a statement saying it “will continue to offer the same services that are currently available at Walgreens Healthcare Clinics today.” If a patient needs services “that are beyond the scope of what is appropriate for a retail clinic setting, they will be referred to a primary care physician or other provider of their choice,” the statement read.

A spokesperson for SSM Health demurred when Rewire asked if that would include referrals for abortion care.

“I’ve got to check this part out, my apologies, this is one that hadn’t occurred to me,” said Jason Merrill, the spokesperson.

Merrill later reiterated SSM Health’s statement that it would continue to offer the same services.

Catholic health systems have in recent years expanded control over U.S. hospitals, with one in six acute-care hospital beds now in a Catholic-owned or -affiliated facility. Patients in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying, denied tubal ligations, and refused abortion care despite conditions like brain cancer.

Catholic health systems have also expanded into the broader landscape of outpatient services, raising new questions about how religion could influence other forms of care.

“The whole health system is transforming itself with more and more health care being delivered outside the hospital,” Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch, told Rewire. “So we are looking carefully to make sure that the religious restrictions that have been such a problem for reproductive health care at Catholic hospitals are not now transferred to these drug store clinics or to urgent care centers or free-standing emergency rooms.”

Walgreens last year announced a similar arrangement with the Catholic health system Providence Health & Services to bring up to 25 retail clinics to Oregon and Washington. After expressing concerns about the deal, the ACLU of Washington said it received assurances from both Walgreens and Providence that services at those clinics would not be affected by religious doctrine.

Meanwhile, the major urgent care provider CityMD recently announced a partnership with CHI Franciscan Health–which is affiliated with Catholic Health Initiatives–to open urgent care centers in Washington state.

“We’re seeing [Catholic health systems] going into the urgent care business and into the primary care business and in accountable care organizations, where they are having an influence on the services that are available to the public and to consumers,” Susan Berke Fogel, director of reproductive health at the National Health Law Program, told Rewire.

GoHealth Urgent Care, which describes itself as “one of the fastest growing urgent care companies in the U.S.,” announced an agreement this year with Dignity Health to bring urgent care centers to California’s Bay Area. Dignity Health used to be called Catholic Healthcare West, but changed its name in 2012.

“This is another pattern that we’ve seen of Catholic health plans and health providers changing their names to things that don’t sound so Catholic,” Lois Uttley said.


In the letters sent Wednesday, the National Health Law Program and other groups requested meetings with Walgreens and SSM Health to discuss concerns about the potential influence of religion on the clinics.

“It causes us great concern when we think about vulnerable populations, we think about low-income people… people who… may need to use these clinics for things like getting their contraception prescribed and who would never think that when they went into a Walgreens they would be restricted by Catholic doctrine,” Lorie Chaiten, director of the Reproductive Rights Project of the ACLU of Illinois, told Rewire.

The new clinics in Walgreens will reportedly be called “SSM Health Express Clinics at Walgreens.” According to SSM Health’s website, its initials “[pay] tribute” to the Sisters of St. Mary.

“We are fairly forthcoming with the fact that we are a mission-based health care organization,” Merrill told Rewire. “That’s something we embrace. I don’t think it’s anything we would hide.”


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