Up Is Down? Anti-Choice Movement on Freedom of Choice

Amie Newman

The Family Research Council has launched an ad attacking Senator Obama for his support of the Freedom of Choice Act -- legislation that would simply codify legal abortion access for women, in an effort to protect women's health and lives.

The Family Research Council has launched an ad attacking
Senator Obama for his support of the Freedom of Choice Act
(FOCA) – legislation that would simply codify that which the Roe v. Wade decision affords
– legal abortion access for women. The Family Research Council says they want to reduce the number of abortions in this country but attempt to block government from instituting laws, like FOCA, that will actually protect women’s health and lives.

If enacted, FOCA, as a federal bill, would override all
state legislative abortion restrictions – which is especially important (but not only) if Roe v. Wade were to be
overturned. It is a deceptively simple bill that is almost painfully difficult
to read in that it’s hard to imagine women still need this kind of explicit
legislative protection from government control over reproduction. The bill
states that every woman has the
fundamental right to bear a child, to terminate a pregnancy before viability, and
post-viability only when necessary to protect the life or health of the woman. FOCA
prohibits governments at all levels from interfering in those rights. But since
our two presidential candidates hold entirely different positions on Roe v.
Wade and access to legal abortion, FOCA is a critical consideration in this
election season for reproductive and sexual health advocates and anti-choice
activists alike. 

The Family Research Council is using FOCA in yet one more
political attack this presidential election season, a $100,000 advertising
campaign trumpeting Obama’s support for the bill. Scott notes
the method behind the madness: "What the Family Research Council will not tell
you is that one of the reasons they want to overturn Roe v. Wade is not simply
to return the issue to the states, but to attempt to pass a federal abortion
ban outlawing all abortions in all fifty states."  No doubt that for anti-choicers, FOCA is a step in the wrong direction.

First, some background.

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Roe v. Wade, in theory, strikes as close to a balance as
this country is likely to get between the rights of women to privacy and bodily
autonomy when making the decision to terminate a pregnancy and the rights of a post-viability
fetus that is able to live outside of the woman’s body.

However, Roe, thanks to never-ending state and federal legislative
challenges and an anti-choice movement more suited to crafting scripts for
dramatic storytelling than to advocating for true reproductive health care, has
been chipped away at so steadily that only a shadow of abortion access
protection remains for certain groups of women in this country.

Three years after Roe was enacted, Republican members of
Congress jumped in to mitigate what they saw as too much leeway for women’s
bodily autonomy. The Hyde Amendment passed, barring low-income women protection
from Roe. Hyde prevents federal taxpayer funds from covering abortion services
for women who cannot afford it. What does this mean for the low-income women whose access
to legal abortion was supposedly bestowed by Roe? It means Roe doesn’t exist
for them. Add in various state restrictions including mandatory waiting
periods, coercive ultrasounds, spousal consent (later ruled unconstitutional),
rights of refusal for health care providers who do not support abortion working
for public health care institutions, parental consent laws, mandatory biased
information and finally even a Supreme Court decision upholding
a ban on certain forms of late-term abortion without medical exceptions for a
woman’s health and life and, again, Roe v. Wade is often nothing more than a
hollow promise at this point.

That Supreme Court decision, Gonzales v. Carhart, upholds the so-called Partial-Birth
Abortion Ban – the ban that spurred the re-introduction of the Freedom of
Choice Act in 2007.

Because FOCA would undo years of erosion of the right to
access safe, legal, funded abortion, it pushes every anti-choice button.
According to Celine Mizrahi, Legislative Counsel for the Center for
Reproductive Rights, "FOCA would supersede existing restrictions and prevent
state legislatures from enacting measure that deny or interfere with a woman’s
ability to continue or end a pregnancy – thus avoiding the unjust disparities
that would result from individual legislatures determining the availability of
abortion in their state."

Where do the candidates stand on FOCA?

Laurie Rubiner, VP of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund
says, "Barack Obama has consistently voted in favor of a woman’s right to
choose and supported efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies. Barack Obama is
not only a co-sponsor of FOCA; he says he will sign it into law."

John McCain would not. McCain supports
reversing Roe v. Wade and, as Emily notes, his running mate, Sarah Palin (as
well as the Republican party platform) opposes
abortion access
even for women who are the victims of rape or incest.

Anti-choice religious leaders are up in arms – they’ve even sent
a letter to the
110th Congress urging them not to consider FOCA. But what’s at stake
is not only the protection of legal abortion in all fifty states but the fundamental problems anti-choicers have
with insuring women’s access to a full range of reproductive and sexual health
care.

It may go without saying that the primary reason
reproductive health advocates want to see FOCA passed is not just as a protection
against anti-choice challenges to Roe, but as a means to protect women’s health and lives. Access to legal abortion
saves women’s lives, protects women’s health and ensures women and their
families the opportunity to plan for the families they want and care for the
families they have. It’s really that simple.

In countries where abortion is severely or entirely
restricted, illegal and unsafe abortions are responsible for upwards of 70,000
deaths, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher has also found that "reducing
the incidence of unsafe abortion would result in an immediate and substantial
reduction of maternal mortality and improve maternal health."

But.

Anti-choice religious leaders lobbying against FOCA have
decided that this is not at all the case, arguing (without credible evidence)
"we can’t reduce abortions by promoting abortions." It should be noted,
however, that in the next sentence they also state that programs that promote
access to contraception do not reduce abortions either. For them – and
organizations like the Family Research Council – the only way to reduce
abortions is by, well, simply banning them – all scientific and medical
evidence to the contrary.

It is indisputable that access to safe, legal abortion
improves women’s health and lives. If our common goals are to ensure access to
care, promote comprehensive prevention strategies and protect the lives of
women and their families, FOCA would help get us there.

But if this is about waiting out a Supreme Court, which is
only slightly tipped towards safeguarding Roe v. Wade, the anti-choice movement
has a plan. FOCA would codify Roe so that regardless of who the next President appoints
to the court, women’s access to legal abortion would remain in all fifty
states. Without FOCA in place, overturning Roe would result in one of the worst
public health disasters this country has ever seen.

Anti-choice organizations like the Family Research Council
and others are terrified of the power that the Freedom of Choice Act holds. It
is a powerful piece of legislation, to be sure. Its power lies in the
opportunity it brings – ensuring that women, regardless of geography, age,
ethnicity, or income level, have equal access to abortion services, a public
health benefit by any standard.

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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 Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.