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

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."


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.

Related Posts

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.

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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.

News Human Rights

What’s Driving Women’s Skyrocketing Incarceration Rates?

Michelle D. Anderson

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

Local court and law enforcement systems in small counties throughout the United States are increasingly using jails to warehouse underserved Black and Latina women.

The Vera Institute of Justice, a national policy and research organization, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, released a study last week showing that the number of women in jails based in communities with 250,000 residents or fewer in 2014 had grown 31-fold since 1970, when most county jails lacked a single woman resident.

By comparison, the number of women in jails nationwide had jumped 14-fold since 1970. Historically, jails were designed to hold people not yet convicted of a crime or people serving terms of one year or less, but they are increasingly housing poor women who can’t afford bail.

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

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Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform,” calls attention to jail incarceration rates for women in small counties, where rates increased from 79 per 100,000 women to 140 per 100,000 women, compared to large counties, where rates dropped from 76 to 71 per 100,000 women.

The near 50-page report further highlights that families of color, who are already disproportionately affected by economic injustice, poor access to health care, and lack of access to affordable housing, were most negatively affected by the epidemic.

An overwhelming percentage of women in jail, the study showed, were more likely to be survivors of violence and trauma, and have alarming rates of mental illness and substance use problems.

“Overlooked” concluded that jails should be used a last resort to manage women deemed dangerous to others or considered a flight risk.

Elizabeth Swavola, a co-author of “Overlooked” and a senior program associate at the Vera Institute, told Rewire that smaller regions tend to lack resources to address underlying societal factors that often lead women into the jail system.

County officials often draft budgets mainly dedicated to running local jails and law enforcement and can’t or don’t allocate funds for behavioral, employment, and educational programs that could strengthen underserved women and their families.

“Smaller counties become dependent on the jail to deal with the issues,” Swavola said, adding that current trends among women deserves far more inquiry than it has received.

Fred Patrick, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute, said in “Overlooked” that the study underscored the need for more data that could contribute to “evidence-based analysis and policymaking.”

“Overlooked” relies on several studies and reports, including a previous Vera Institute study on jail misuse, FBI statistics, and Rewire’s investigation on incarcerated women, which examined addiction, parental rights, and reproductive issues.

“Overlooked” authors highlight the “unique” challenges and disadvantages women face in jails.

Women-specific issues include strained access to menstrual hygiene products, abortion care, and contraceptive care, postpartum separation, and shackling, which can harm the pregnant person and fetus by applying “dangerous levels of pressure, and restriction of circulation and fetal movement.”

And while women are more likely to fare better in pre-trail proceedings and receive low bail amounts, the study authors said they are more likely to leave the jail system in worse condition because they are more economically disadvantaged.

The report noted that 60 percent of women housed in jails lacked full-time employment prior to their arrest compared to 40 percent of men. Nearly half of all single Black and Latina women have zero or negative net wealth, “Overlooked” authors said.

This means that costs associated with their arrest and release—such as nonrefundable fees charged by bail bond companies and electronic monitoring fees incurred by women released on pretrial supervision—coupled with cash bail, can devastate women and their families, trapping them in jail or even leading them back to correctional institutions following their release.

For example, the authors noted that 36 percent of women detained in a pretrial unit in Massachusetts in 2012 were there because they could not afford bail amounts of less than $500.

The “Overlooked” report highlighted that women in jails are more likely to be mothers, usually leading single-parent households and ultimately facing serious threats to their parental rights.

“That stress affects the entire family and community,” Swavola said.

Citing a Corrections Today study focused on Cook County, Illinois, the authors said incarcerated women with children in foster care were less likely to be reunited with their children than non-incarcerated women with children in foster care.

The sexual abuse and mental health issues faced by women in jails often contribute to further trauma, the authors noted, because women are subjected to body searches and supervision from male prison employees.

“Their experience hurts their prospects of recovering from that,” Swavola said.

And the way survivors might respond to perceived sexual threats—by fighting or attempting to escape—can lead to punishment, especially when jail leaders cannot detect or properly respond to trauma, Swavola and her peers said.

The authors recommend jurisdictions develop gender-responsive policies and other solutions that can help keep women out of jails.

In New York City, police take people arrested for certain non-felony offenses to a precinct, where they receive a desk appearance ticket, or DAT, along with instructions “to appear in court at a later date rather than remaining in custody.”

Andrea James, founder of Families for Justice As Healing and a leader within the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, said in an interview with Rewire that solutions must go beyond allowing women to escape police custody and return home to communities that are often fragmented, unhealthy, and dangerous.

Underserved women, James said, need access to healing, transformative environments. She cited as an example the Brookview House, which helps women overcome addiction, untreated trauma, and homelessness.

James, who has advocated against the criminalization of drug use and prostitution, as well as the injustices faced by those in poverty, said the problem of jail misuse could benefit from the insight of real experts on the issue: women and girls who have been incarcerated.

These women and youth, she said, could help researchers better understand the “experiences that brought them to the bunk.”


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