VIDEO: Rachel Maddow on “Born Alive” Robo-calls

Scott Swenson

More evidence that the "Born Alive" lies are pure right-wing extremism that should be dismissed? The argument is now being carried in robo-calls, the most annoying and least credible medium in politics.

Nothing says "life" quite like a robot repeatedly dialing your phone to deliver hateful messages, distort the truth, or stir up emotions. The fact that extremist anti-choicers are now using robo-calls to push debunked lies about "Born Alive" legislation underscores how out of touch, and frankly unimaginative, the far-right really is. 

You might recall that the National Right to Li-e Committee used robo-calls on the topic of "Born Alive" against Obama in the Indiana primary, and Obama unexpectedly almost beat (also pro-choice) Sen. Hillary Clinton in a state she should have won easily. 

Automated phone calls have been a hallmark of the far-right political playbook for several election cycles, including 2000 when they were used against Sen. John McCain accusing his wife of drug addiction, and him of fathering an illegitimate child.  These calls target "low information voters" who tune in to a campaign in the final days and also work to turn off some voters, thus discouraging turnout because of extreme negativity. One way to demand an end to the negativity is to show up and vote, no matter how long the line, no matter the weather.

Anti-choice hero Sen. Sam Brownback used robo-calls in the Iowa GOP presidential caucus, then withdrew before the vote, people were so turned off by the extremely negative campaign he waged. Brownback also used these calls to stir up antisemitism in his first run for the Senate against Jill Docking in 1996. Other candidates have stoked racial fears using these calls, and in parts of the country now, Obama is also being associated with terrorists. As Rachel Maddow points out, this "Charm? Offensive!" by the McCain campaign is attempting to have it both ways, and it could work if voters buy it.

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It’s pretty easy to reject robo-calls and the content in them. Hang up. But if you need a reason, how about this? If Cindy McCain’s addiction should have been a campaign issue in 2000; if the fact John and Cindy McCain adopted a young child could be twisted into "McCain fathered an illegitimate child"; and if bigotry targeting Jews — or bigotry of any sort — is acceptable, truthful and honorable, then the "Born Alive" robo-calls, radio and TV ads are also fair.

If, however, you believe John and Cindy McCain should have a zone of privacy to work through family issues, that we should celebrate adoption, and that bigotry and hate speech are not family values we should promote, then you should also reject the "Born Alive" robo-calls.

Remember, the robo-calls against John McCain in 2000 were done by the very same people working to elect him right now. Irony? Really wicked and messed up Karma? Possibly, but one thing is certain; robo-calls are tactics that should have been rejected long ago, just like the narrow ideologies of the people who use them. 


News Law and Policy

Hawaii Legislature to Consider Bill Based on Debunked ‘Born Alive’ Claims

Nina Liss-Schultz

Such legislation, which started gaining popularity among anti-choice advocates a decade ago, is based on the unfounded claim that fetuses regularly survive botched abortions and are then killed by health-care providers.

Hawaii, a state dominated by Democratic legislators, will take up at least one anti-choice bill this session. The legislature will also consider a feticide bill that could pose problems for reproductive rights in the state.

One bill, HB 1444, introduced at the end of January, would give full legal protection to so-called “born alive” infants. Such legislation, which started gaining popularity among anti-choice advocates a decade ago, is based on the unfounded claim that fetuses regularly survive botched abortions and are then killed by health-care providers.

The claim is unsubstantiated by medical evidence and records, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that show no pattern of infants being “born alive” after abortions, let alone being killed by providers.

A second bill, HB 1234, though not explicitly anti-choice, poses potential risks for abortion rights in the state.

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The bill, backed by 15 state representatives, would include in the definition of feticide anyone who causes the death of a fetus. Feticide laws, often called fetal homicide laws, have spread across the country in recent years, with proponents calling them necessary to protect the safety of both a woman and her fetus.

Under these laws, courts can convict a person not only for the death of another person, but also for the death of that person’s fetus, increasing the punishment for harming a pregnant person.

Fetal homicide laws might seem intuitive and reasonable. However, as Rewire has reported, many of these laws do not provide exceptions for abortion or for the pregnant woman herself; in some states, a pregnant person can be prosecuted for causing harm to her own fetus.

Recently an Indiana woman, Purvi Patel, was convicted of feticide and faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison because she went to an emergency room after complications from a miscarriage. And Dallas police officers in September swarmed and investigated a local high school, calling for help in identifying a “suspect” after the remains of a human fetus were found in a bathroom.

As of February 2013, 28 states had enacted fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Unlike some states’ fetal harm laws, the bill being considered in Hawaii explicitly says that feticide charges would not be applied when someone gets an abortion or to “any woman with respect to her unborn child.”

Given these exceptions, the Hawaii bill appears to provide reasonable protections for the pregnant person while protecting her fetus.

Still, the legislation still rests on a belief in fetal “personhood“—that fetuses should be bestowed legal protection independent of the pregnant person, and as such poses a risk to women’s access to abortion and reproductive care in the state.

Analysis Law and Policy

Indiana Prosecutors Start Jury Selection in Feticide Trial on ‘Roe’ Anniversary

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The story of Purvi Patel's prosecution, and the others lining up behind her, paint a bleak picture of life under the state's ultra-conservative Republican reign and give a frightening look of what's to come as increasingly draconian abortion restrictions force pregnant people to turn to other, sometimes illegal and often dangerous, means.

Read more of our articles on the Purvi Patel case here.

Far away from the throngs of anti-choice protesters descending on the nation’s capital for their Roe v. Wade anniversary counter-protest, attorneys in Indiana began the process of selecting jurors for the felony feticide trial of Purvi Patel.

Patel faces two different, and contradictory, charges after suffering a premature delivery and seeking medical care. The story of her prosecution, and the others lining up behind her, paint a bleak picture of life under the state’s ultra-conservative Republican reign and give a frightening look of what’s to come as increasingly draconian abortion restrictions force pregnant people to turn to other, sometimes illegal and often dangerous, means.

According to prosecutors, Patel went to an emergency room in St. Joseph, Indiana, last summer for vaginal bleeding. They claim Patel at first denied to hospital workers that she had recently given birth. Eventually, prosecutors allege, she told staff she believed she was roughly two months pregnant and miscarried the fetus at home.

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Prosecutors claim Patel told hospital staff that when she saw the fetus wasn’t breathing or moving, she put it in a plastic bag and placed the bag in a dumpster.

The doctors believed Patel had been much further along in her pregnancy than Patel had disclosed, claiming in one of the charging documents that she was closer to 28-to-30 weeks post-fertilization.

Police eventually located the fetus believed to be the one Patel had discarded, and based on an initial examination by police and medical personnel, concluded the fetus was roughly 30 weeks and theoretically capable of surviving outside the womb. The physician who conducted the autopsy on the fetus determined it was premature and approximately 28 weeks post-conception.

Prosecutors initially charged Patel with felony neglect of a dependent, a class A felony that carries with it a 50-year prison sentence.

But in order to convict Patel with felony neglect, prosecutors must be able to prove the fetus she delivered was born alive, something Patel’s attorney claims prosecutors can’t do. That’s why they have also charged Patel with feticide.

Indiana law defines feticide as “knowingly or intentionally” terminating a pregnancy “with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.” In text messages Patel sent about a month before her miscarriage, Patel admits to being more than two months pregnant and to planning to terminate her pregnancy with medication she ordered online from Hong Kong, according to court documents.

However, according to court filings, only one of the two drugs Patel took would have induced labor, while the other drug only works if the pregnancy is fewer than nine weeks. That means there is an open question as to whether any medication Patel allegedly took had any effect at all.

Feticide carries an eight- to 20-year prison sentence.

The inspiration for Indiana’s feticide law came in 2009 after a bank teller who was pregnant with twins was shot during a bank robbery and lost the pregnancy. Until recently, prosecutors had refrained from using the state’s law against a pregnant person.

Then, in 2011, Indiana prosecutors charged Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant, with murder and attempted feticide after a failed suicide attempt ended her pregnancy. The state kept Shuai in jail for more than a year on those charges before eventually reaching a plea agreement with Shuai’s attorneys.

Shuai in 2013 pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness, and prosecutors dropped the feticide charges against her as they were readying them against Patel.

“Indiana’s atmosphere seems to be that once they find out a person is pregnant, then it is all about the fetus and nothing about the mother,” Rev. Marie Siroky, a UCC minister and Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice board member told Rewire in an interview. “These stories get framed in such a way that women are always the criminals and I do think it’s racial.”

“These are women of color, these are not white women, and I do think there’s this assumption that they’ve done something.”

The facts of the Patel case as laid out by prosecutors fits Siroky’s description of a “fetus first” mentality, in which the state presumes pregnant people are guilty until proven innocent. When Patel first arrived at the hospital and denied giving birth, staff called Dr. Kelly McGuire for a second opinion. After McGuire determined Patel had recently delivered and was likely further along in her pregnancy than she had told hospital staff, he became so concerned for the welfare of Patel’s fetus that he fled the hospital to go look for the fetus.

Once his client admitted to the miscarriage and the fetus was discovered, uniformed officers were stationed outside Patel’s hospital room, according to documents filed by Patel’s attorney. At one point, Patel underwent a surgical procedure only to have officers stationed bedside waiting to interrogate her.

Patel’s attorney argued those actions violated Patel’s constitutional rights and sought to exclude the statements Patel made while in the hospital. Patel’s attorney also tried to get the feticide charge dropped, arguing the statute was never intended to be turned against pregnant people.

Prosecutors scoffed at the argument, citing the Shuai prosecution for proof to the contrary. Attorneys from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women had sought permission from the court to submit an amicus brief, including leading expert medical, legal, and bioethics opinions on the ways in which prosecuting pregnant people undermines public health and violates numerous constitutional rights.

Judge Elizabeth C. Hurley, a University of Notre Dame law graduate and 2013 judicial appointee of abortion rights foe Gov. Mike Pence (R), denied all of those requests, which means the trial moves forward.

Attorneys and advocates monitoring both the Shuai and Patel cases note that at the same time Indiana conservatives prosecute women of color based on dubious investigations and scientific proof, the state has higher-than-average infant mortality rates and in 2013 lead the nation in sexual assaults against teenagers. In 2013, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller floated the idea of drug testing all pregnant women in the state.

“There’s a lot of blaming and shaming of women,” Carolyn Meagher, co-president of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said in an interview with Rewire. “Republican leadership in the state blames the high infant mortality rates on the behaviors of pregnant women, like smoking or narcotic use, but they will not take a look at social determinants of health like poverty and racism. We don’t even have preschool here yet.”

Rev. Marie Siroky of the reproductive justice coalition noted that the abortion politics surrounding the case are also inescapable. South Bend, where the prosecution is taking place, has a significant Right to Life presence, which Siroky sees as a component in the prosecution.

The University of Notre Dame, one of the many Catholic institutions challenging the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act, is also located right outside the city.

“We have some legislators in the state who cannot let this [abortion] go,” Siroky said. “Under the guise of being ‘pro-life’ and to make the conservatives happy, they are going to go after people like Patel.”

Siroky continued, “The prosecutors are sending the message that when a woman has a pregnancy that ends in anything other than an optimal pregnancy, they are going to go right away for feticide charges with the assumption that she did something.”

For their part, local anti-choice groups have remained largely silent on Patel’s prosecution except to note the existence of Indiana’s “safe haven” law that allows newborns to be surrendered without fear of prosecution.

“Have you considered the mother is a victim?” Siroky said.

Patel’s trial is scheduled to begin on January 26.