Caveat Emptor: Roe v. Wade at 36

Frederick Clarkson

A new, shiny packaged document promoting "common ground" between the pro- and anti-choice movements is missing something critical: abortion. It's an important concept to discuss on the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

The Religion Industrial Complex– that sprawling array of political manufacturers and journalistic conveyor belts that deliver their products to market from Inside the Beltway recently produced a document they called Let Us Reason Together: A Governing Agenda. The product was bright and shiny and was pleasing to the eye, what with that heart strings appeal to Common Ground, who could help but fall in love with it. But when I took it out of the package, it proved to be defective.

The document, a product of Inside the Beltway think tankery claimed to have found some of the elusive "common ground" between progressives and evangelicals on among other things, abortion. I might have said to myself, "Oh happy day!" and raised my coffee mug to toast their acheivement.  But I confess:  I was suspicious. Truth be told it was that language about "abortion reduction" that tipped me off.

Nevertheless, as we approached the 36th anniversary of Roe, and the inauguration of a new president and the beginnings of the new Congress, it seemed like a good idea to see what the Democratic Party alligned shops, Faith in Public Life and Third Way that had produced the manifesto, were up to.

I read it. There was something wrong. I reread it. But I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They wrote that their common ground governing agenda was going to be all about promotion of comprehensive, medically accurate, age appropriate sexuality education. Check. The emphasis was to be on abstinence. That’s pretty normal. Check. They would also advocate support for families in ways that would encourage carrying a pregancy to term and better adoption services. OK. Check. And yet and yet, there was something missing.  Journalists and bloggers were writing all kinds of critical things about it. But there was something else. Something missing… What the heck was it?!

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Finally it hit me.  What was missing was abortion. It was then I saw clearly the ring of common ground stamped down hard all around the gaping hole where  a discussion of abortion should have been. Maybe the gaggle of Beltway Insiders and the white evangelical guys they had rounded up for the occasion, had played ring a round the rosie a few times. But my best guess is that they just stood around and gawked before they walked away, abortion reduction talking points in hand.

Two veteran prochoice leaders I talked to in preparation of an article about the "Governing Agenda," helped me to see it all more clearly. In Rev. Anne C. Fowler, the current chair of NARAL of Massahucsetts and Melanie Zurek of the Abortion Access Project I found people who are unafraid to discuss abortion with a breadth and depth of knowledge of a sort that we should expect would be leading responsible conversations about abortion and abortion policy in America. Over an hour or two on the phone, they helped me  tear up the Religion Industrial Complex-generated talking points about  "abortion reduction" (in a cyber kind of way)  — and outlined where the discussion really needs to go.

I wrote up what I learned for the web zine Religion Dispatches just in time to be published on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade – a constitutional advance that the proponents of abortion reduction wish to undermine by distracting us from the reality that a right that cannot be reasonably accessed by everyone, is in fact a privilege accorded to a relative few.

Here are a few excerpts from Shhh…Don’t Think of Abortion, Roe v. Wade At 36:

Rev. Anne C. Fowler, Rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts told me a story about a Catholic nun who once told her that she didn’t know about the morality of abortion, but if we were going to have the right to abortion, then everyone should have access.

The moral of Rev. Fowler’s story cuts to the core of the politics of abortion in America. Though nominally a right under Roe vs. Wade, decided thirty-six years ago today, the reality is that there are many obstacles-some insurmountable-to both receiving and providing abortion care in the United States. And yet, strange as it may seem, there remains a steady silence about abortion which, according to pro-choice leaders, is party due to the stigmatization of abortion. The result is
that much of what passes for discussion is really just an elaborate avoidance of the subject.


Fowler, who has been a long time leader in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and has served on the board of Planned Parenthood adds that, "what is missing from this document, is any acknowledgment of women’s moral agency and their capacity to make honorable sacred decisions for the welfare of their families and for themselves."


Melanie Zurek, executive director of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Abortion Access Project also hears the silence that surrounds abortion. While she also welcomes the possibility of expanding access to excellent sexuality education, she says that "abortion needs to be part of the conversation." But she avers that it
is also necessary to "remove the stigma against abortion that prevents that conversation from taking place."

But the notion of "abortion reduction" as presented by Third Way, Faith in Public Life and their evangelical allies, presumes that abortion is analogous to a dread disease, the incidence of which must be "reduced." This recasting of the language of antiabortion moralism into something akin to epidemiology, stands in sharp contrast to the mainstream religious traditions of tens of millions of American
Christians, Jews, Unitarians and others which teach that abortion is often a moral choice, and that in any case women are fully capable of deciding when and under what circumstances to make that choice without direction from the state or other uninvited agencies. In short, abortion reduction is a term that is imbued with the very stigma that Fowler and Zurek say is a principal obstacle to engaging in a coherent conversation, even in disagreement.


In addition to the silence in the political arena, Zurek points to the silence in the health care system in which abortion is not integrated into the training of health care professionals; "because it is so stigmatized," she says. This same culture of stigmatization causes many patients to avoid even talking with their regular physicians about it, preferring instead "specialized settings" like Planned

As a result, access to abortion care is a significant problem of health care delivery in the U.S. A major study by the Guttmacher Institute found that some 87% of counties in the U.S. lack a single abortion provider. The study notes a long term decline in the rate of abortion in the U.S. but could not determine whether this was because of increased access to and use of contraception, or the lack of access
to abortion providers. And yet, even of the competing plans to reform the health care system currently being debated, and of the many ideas being discussed, Zurek says: "I don’t know of any agenda that proposes to better integrate abortion into the health care system."

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hints at More Supreme Court Retirements

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

In a recent interview, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dishes on the last Supreme Court term and hints the next president may have more than one justice to appoint.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggests the next president is going to have a couple of U.S. Supreme Court nominations to make, which means the Court could be effectively up for grabs depending on this election’s outcome.

This summer, the Supreme Court ordered the Obama administration and religiously affiliated nonprofits who object to providing contraception to try and find some kind of compromise. While they hammer one out, a University of Notre Dame student has asked a federal appeals court to let her join in the litigation, to fight the university’s stance of trying to deny access to contraception coverage.

Anti-choice protesters will be descending on Wichita, Kansas, this week to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Summer of Mercy clinic sieges.

A state judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) against Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky for purportedly performing abortions without license.

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Florida officials have not yet appealed a federal district court ruling blocking a law that would have prevented Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood reproductive health care centers. The law would also mandate a state regulator review of patient records from half of the approximately 70,000 abortions in the state each year.

An Ohio appeals court ruled a Cleveland abortion clinic can move forward with its lawsuit challenging requirements that prohibit public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with clinics, along with another requirement that mandates providers to check for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued to block an Indiana law requiring that a patient getting an abortion must have an ultrasound 18 hours before the procedure.

Meanwhile, abortion rights supporters in Wisconsin are urging lawmakers to repeal the state’s admitting privileges requirement.

Anti-choice lawmakers in Texas plan to try to require aborted fetuses to be buried or cremated in an attempt to add additional emotional burden and administrative expense to the procedure.

Free speech for whom, exactly? The man who posted the video of the police killing of Alton Sterling has been reportedly arrested on charges of assault and battery.

Roundups Politics

Trump Taps Extremists, Anti-Choice Advocates in Effort to Woo Evangelicals

Ally Boguhn

Representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to its shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the organization's president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance at a question-and-answer event on Tuesday.

Making a play to win over the evangelical community, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump met with more than 1,000 faith and anti-choice leaders on Tuesday for a question-and-answer event in New York City and launched an “evangelical advisory board” to weigh in on how he should approach key issues for the voting bloc.

The meeting was meant to be “a guided discussion between Trump and diverse conservative Christian leaders to better understand him as a person, his position on important issues and his vision for America’s future,” according to a press release from the event’s organizers. As Rewire previously reported, numerous anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ leaders—many of them extremists—were slated to attend.

Though the event was closed to the media, Trump reportedly promised to lift a ban on tax-exempt organizations from politicking and discussed his commitment to defending religious liberties. Trump’s pitch to conservatives also included a resolution that upon his election, “the first thing we will do is support Supreme Court justices who are talented men and women, and pro-life,” according to a press release from United in Purpose, which helped organize the event.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, told the New York Times that the business mogul also reiterated promises to defund Planned Parenthood and to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at that point in a pregnancy.

In a post to its website, representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to their shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the group’s president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance. “I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened.” The post went on to note that Trump had also said he would appoint anti-choice justices to federal courts, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Just after the event, Trump’s campaign announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board. The group was “convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America,” according to a press release from the campaign. Though members of the board, which will lead Trump’s “much larger Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee to be announced later this month,” were not asked to endorse Trump, the campaign went on to note that “the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.”

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Much like the group that met with Trump on Tuesday, the presumptive Republican nominee’s advisory board roster reads like a who’s-who of conservatives with radical opposition to abortion and LGBTQ equality. Here are some of the group’s most notable members:

Michele Bachmann

Though former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that “women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care” while arguing against the ACA during a 2012 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, her views on the government’s role in restricting reproductive health and rights don’t square away with that position.

During a December 2011 “tele-town hall” event hosted by anti-choice organization Personhood USA, Bachmann reportedly falsely referred to emergency contraception as “abortion pills” and joined other Republican then-presidential candidates to advocate for making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. During the event, Bachmann touted her support of the anti-choice group’s “personhood pledge,” which required presidential candidates to agree that:

I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.

Such a policy, if enacted by lawmakers, could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception. A source from Personhood USA told the Huffington Post that Bachmann “signed the pledge and returned it within twenty minutes, which was an extraordinarily short amount of time.”

Bachmann has also claimed that God told her to introduce a measure to block marriage equality in her home state, that being an LGBTQ person is “ part of Satan,” and that same-sex marriage is a “radical experiment that will have “profound consequences.”

Mark Burns

Televangelist Mark Burns has been an ardent supporter of Trump, even appearing on behalf of the presidential candidate at February’s Faith and Family Forum, hosted by the conservative Palmetto Family Council, to deliver an anti-abortion speech.

In March, Burns also claimed that he supported Donald Trump because Democrats like Hillary Clinton supported Black “genocide” (a frequently invoked conservative myth) during an appearance on the fringe-conspiracy program, the Alex Jones show. “That’s really one of my major platforms behind Donald Trump,” said Burns, according to the Daily Beast. “He loves babies. Donald Trump is a pro-baby candidate, and it saddens me how we as African Americans are rallying behind … a party that is okay with the genocide of Black people through abortion.”

Burns’ support of Trump extended to the candidate’s suggestion that if abortion was made illegal, those who have abortions should be punished—an issue on which Trump has repeatedly shifted stances. “If the state made it illegal and said the premature death of an unborn child constituted murder, anyone connected to that crime should be held liable,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal in April. “If you break the law there should be punishment.”

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), which, according to its mission statement, exists to “teach Christians worldwide who they are in Christ Jesus and how to live a victorious life in their covenant rights and privileges.” Outlining their opposition to abortion in a post this month on the organization’s website, the couple wrote that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. “As the author of life, God considers an unborn child to be an eternal being from the moment of its conception,” explained the post. “To deliberately destroy that life before birth would be as much premeditated murder as taking the life of any other innocent person.”

The article went on to say that though it may “seem more difficult in cases such as those involving rape or incest” not to choose abortion, “God has a plan for the unborn child,” falsely claiming that the threat of life endangerment has “been almost completely alleviated through modern medicine.”

The ministries’ website also features Pregnancy Options Centre, a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) in Vancouver, Canada, that receives “financial and spiritual support” from KCM and “its Partners.” The vast majority of CPCs  regularly lie to women in order to persuade them not to have an abortion.

Kenneth Copeland, in a June 2013 sermon, tied pedophilia to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, going on to falsely claim that the ruling did not actually legalize abortion and that the decision was “the seed to murder our seed.” Copeland blamed legal abortion for the country’s economic woes, reasoning that there are “several million taxpayers that are not alive.”

Copeland, a televangelist, originally supported former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) in the 2016 Republican primary, claiming that the candidate had been “called and appointed” by God to be the next president. His ministry has previously faced scrutiny about its tax-exempt status under an investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) into six ministries “whose television preaching bankrolled leaders’ lavish lifestyles.” This investigation concluded in 2011, according to the New York Times.

James Dobson

James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family (FoF), previously supported Cruz in the Republican primary, releasing an ad for the campaign in February praising Cruz for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” As Rewire previously reported, both Dobson and his organization hold numerous extreme views:

Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the … Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.

Dobson’s own personal rhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,

Dobson has:

Robert Jeffress

A Fox News contributor and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress once suggested that the 9/11 attacks took place because of legal abortion. “All you have to do is look in history to see what God does with a nation that sanctions the killing of its own children,” said Jeffress at Liberty University’s March 2015 convocation, according to Right Wing Watch. “God will not allow sin to go unpunished and he certainly won’t allow the sacrifice of children to go unpunished.”

Jeffress spoke about the importance of electing Trump during a campaign rally in February, citing Democrats’ positions on abortion rights and Trump’s belief “in protecting the unborn.” He went on to claim that if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Hillary Clinton were elected, “there is no doubt you’re going to have the most pro-abortion president in history.”

After Trump claimed women who have abortions should be punished should it become illegal, Jeffres rushed to defend the Republican candidate from bipartisan criticism, tweeting: “Conservatives’ outrage over @realDonaldTrump abortion comments hypocritical. Maybe they don’t really believe abortion is murder.”

As documented by Media Matters, Jeffress has frequently spoken out against those of other religions and denominations, claiming that Islam is “evil” and Catholicism is “what Satan does with counterfeit religion.” The pastor has also demonstrated extreme opposition to LGBTQ equality, even claiming that same-sex marriage is a sign of the apocalypse.

Richard Land

Richard Land, now president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, was named one of Time Magazine‘s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005 for his close ties with the Republican party. While George W. Bush was president, Land participated in the administration’s “weekly teleconference with other Christian conservatives, to plot strategy on such issues as gay marriage and abortion.” Bush also appointed Land to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2002.

According to a 2002 article from the Associated Press, during his early academic career in Texas, “Land earned a reputation as a leader among abortion opponents and in 1987 became an administrative assistant to then-Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who fought for laws to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion” in the state.

Land had previously expressed “dismay” that some evangelicals were supporting Trump, claiming in October that he “take[s] that [support] as a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”