Unearthing Common Ground

Debra Haffner

It's not about reducing abortion. The advocates for a new common ground correctly note the correlation between poverty and abortion rates. But they fail to mention how poverty first contributes to unintended pregnancies.

There comes a moment in justice movements when society edges forward
just enough that once-heated controversies – suffrage, racial
integration, interracial marriage – become part of the cultural fabric.
Sexism and racism may continue to simmer, but the overall movement can
declare victory and move on.

On Election Day, the reproductive justice movement may have achieved
its moment. The election of a pro-choice President-elect puts Roe v. Wade
back on firm ground. Ballot measures that would have restricted
reproductive health rights in three states were all soundly defeated.
The Mexico City Policy, which blocks U.S. aid to international family
planning organization that counsel women on abortion, is expected to be quickly reversed. A post-election survey by Faith in Public Life showed that a clear majority of Americans want to keep abortion legal.

The fiercest opponents of women’s reproductive rights are not giving
up. But over the past few weeks, we have heard a commitment from
several Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders to finding a new
common ground on abortion. David Gushee, writing for the Associated Baptist Press,
notes that, "Over 80 percent of white evangelicals and Catholics
believe elected officials should work together to find ways to reduce
abortions by helping prevent unwanted pregnancies, expanding adoption
and increasing economic support for women who want to carry their
pregnancies to term."

I welcome the support and collaboration of Professor Gushee, as well
as Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Catholic legal scholar Douglas Kmiec,
Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals and others,
who are calling to "reduce the number of abortions."
But I am puzzled that their goal is to reduce abortions rather than the
unintended pregnancies that force women and families to consider
abortion in the first place.

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The call to reduce unintended pregnancies is the right one. What we
must focus on now are the means to do so – specifically, comprehensive
sexuality education (not abstinence-only) and universal access to
contraceptive services, including emergency contraception.

The advocates for a new common ground correctly note the correlation
between poverty and abortion rates. But they fail to mention how
poverty first contributes to unintended pregnancies. Adoption
alternatives and economic support for poor pregnant women are important
– but these strategies do not address the fact that poor women are at
least five times more likely than other women to become pregnant
unintentionally.

Here’s what the Guttmacher Institute’s Susan Cohen
wrote the last time an abortion reduction strategy was floated by
Democrats for Life in 2006: "While it is theoretically possible that
increased social supports for pregnant women and even more
‘adoption-positive’ problem-pregnancy counseling could have some
impact, neither can hope to approach the real reductions in the
abortion rate that could be achieved by preventing unintended pregnancy in the first place." (Emphasis added.)

This is the real moral challenge we face. I’ve worked with thousands
of women facing unintended pregnancies. They aren’t looking for
"abortion on demand"; with only a handful of exceptions, these women
sat with me (often with their partners or parents beside them), and
they wept as they tried to decide what was best to do. Often they did
have financial concerns – not so much about how they would pay for
prenatal care or infant care, but about how they could afford to raise
a child (or in many cases, another child) to adulthood. Too
often, they did not have partners who they wanted to spend their lives
with or who could support them. As one of my colleagues has said, such
women have "too much responsibility already and too few resources, both
personal and economic."

So here is my suggestion for common ground. Let’s stop talking
about reducing the number of abortions as a goal in itself. Such talk
obscures what should be the principal objective – reducing unintended
pregnancies – and leads to counterproductive strategies that would
place restrictions on abortion access. It also misrepresents the platform that President-elect Obama ran on,
which affirmed a woman’s right to choose and opposed "any and all
efforts to weaken or undermine that right." The Democratic platform
called for "access to comprehensive affordable family planning services
and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed
choices and live healthy lives," as well as economic support for
pregnant women.

Let’s start talking about reducing unintended pregnancies.
This is not only the better public health position, it is a faithful
and moral one as well. Five years ago, the Religious Institute
published an Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision,
which includes this eloquent and irrefutable statement: "The sanctity
of human life is best upheld when we assure that it is not created
carelessly."

Surely this is the common ground where all of us – the new
Administration, the new Congress, even my Catholic and evangelical
colleagues – can proudly stand.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law 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, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that 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” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public 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.”

Even so, 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, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”