Abortion Providers = Women’s Rights Defenders

Katrina Anderson

Abortion providers have been threatened, attacked, and even murdered by anti-choice extremists. If the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recognizes them as women's rights defenders, would providers be better protected?

Since
the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortion
opponents have used numerous strategies to undermine women’s constitutional
right to abortion and prevent women’s access to abortion.  One
persistent approach has been targeting reproductive healthcare professionals
in order to make it impossible for them to provide abortion services. 
Abortion providers have been threatened, attacked, and even murdered
by anti-choice extremists; stigmatized and professionally ostracized
by their medical colleagues; harassed by public officials hostile to
abortion rights; and over-regulated by legislators who believe abortion
should be treated differently than comparable medical procedures. 
In the face of these threats and pressures, heroic women and men committed
to women’s health and rights continue to provide services, often at
great personal, professional, and financial cost.   Yet, these
tactics have had their toll.  Fewer and fewer reproductive healthcare
professionals are willing or able to provide abortion services in the
United States. Currently, there are 37% fewer providers than there were
in 1982 which has greatly diminished women’s ability to obtain abortion
services.

On
Tuesday, October 28, in Washington, D.C., the Center for Reproductive
Rights and three other human rights organizations appeared before the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at a hearing to discuss women’s
rights defenders across the hemisphere.  The Commission is a key
human rights body that works to hold states across the Americas accountable
to their human rights obligations.  Over the past several years,
it has emphasized the important role women’s rights defenders play
in the realization of human rights and the special risks and vulnerabilities
they face.  Some women’s rights defenders are targeted because
of their gender, making them more vulnerable to certain types of attacks
such as sexual violence.  Others, like Jen Boulanger, the executive
director of Allentown’s Women’s Center, in Allentown, Pennsylvania,
are targeted for the work they do in defending women’s rights, such
as advocating for and providing reproductive healthcare services.

Jen
submitted testimony about the constant targeting of the Allentown Women’s
Center and its employees by the anti-abortion movement.  Women’s
rights defenders from Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Jamaica,
México, Nicaragua, and Perú also testified about the risks they face
in their work, promoting women’s sexual and reproductive rights, protecting
women from violence, and fighting discrimination on the grounds of sexual
orientation and gender identity.  Testimony and documentation presented
at the hearing demonstrated how women’s rights defenders throughout
the hemisphere have faced similar kinds of violations, including attacks
on their personal safety, threats against their families, smear campaigns,
and government restrictions on their work.   

Each
testimony looked at the need for governments to recognize the importance
of women’s rights defenders in upholding fundamental human rights
such as dignity, liberty, and equality.  To that end, they urged
the Commission to encourage governments to adopt and enforce strong
measures to improve their safety and to eliminate policies and laws
that impede their work.  As Jen Boulanger explained in her written
testimony, "Currently there are no attempts to prevent violence at
our clinic.  Police are called at least once per week to maintain
order, but there is no deterrent for unlawful behavior–no punishment,
no legal action." When Jen turned to the city for help in resolving
ongoing threats, public officials refused to help.  Their explanation? 
If the clinic chooses to offer abortion services, providers should expect
to face threats and intimidation from anti-abortion extremists–in
other words, it comes with the territory.  One solution Jen proposed
is to re-activate the national task force for clinic violence prevention
established under U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno but long dormant
under the Bush administration.  The task force would greatly improve
coordination of law enforcement at the federal and local levels, providing
local police the tools and funding they need to effectively prevent
violence.  Her recommendation mirrored those of other defenders
who called for an end to impunity for violations against women’s rights
defenders.  For example, Colombian defenders asked the Commission
to pressure Colombia to investigate and punish those who attack women
trade unionists, and transgender rights activists in Costa Rica sought
accountability for consistent discrimination and violence they endure
from law enforcement.

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Jen
and the other human rights activists know that going to the Commission
is only the first step in raising awareness about the important role
of women’s rights defenders in building the larger culture of human
rights.  But unless defenders are safe and able to do their jobs,
women will continue to be denied their basic human rights, including
their rights to equality, to be free from violence and to access reproductive
health care including abortion. Working collaboratively with the United
Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the Commission
has worked successfully to monitor trends of violations against human
rights defenders and make appropriate recommendations to states on how
to improve their systems of rights protection.  By following these
international recommendations about how best to defend the defenders
of human rights, the U.S. can send a strong statement about its commitment
to ensuring reproductive rights as fundamental human rights.  Providers
of women’s reproductive rights in the United States deserve not only
our gratitude and respect but also a legal framework that protects their
security and allows them to do their jobs.  The first step is to
recognize them as women’s rights defenders.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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