Can Pro-Choice People Support the Pregnant Women Support Act?

Cristina Page

Neutralizing income as a determining factor for what a woman does in her reproductive life is reproductive justice. Much of the Pregnant Women Support Act is a means to that end. But the bill would also prop up crisis pregnancy centers.

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v Wade, Senator Bob Casey, who
opposes legal abortion, introduced what he described as a common ground
bill: The Pregnant Women Support Act. He explained, "I
believe there is more common ground in America than we might realize.
If only we focus on how we can truly help and support women who wish to
carry their pregnancies to term and how we can give them and their
babies what they really need to begin healthy and productive lives
together."

Pro-choice people, like myself, get a little defensive over
proposals such as this, and the righteous rhetoric that accompanies
them. This legislation proposes to provide support to low-income women
who want to bring a pregnancy to term. Pro-choice elected officials
have proposed providing more support to low-income women and families
for years. But let’s put aside pride of authorship for the time being.
In the new age of conciliation we might file away such grievances in
the hopes that having the anti-choice side think it was their idea
might help get it done. That’s not to say that the Pregnant Woman Support Act is perfect — it’s not.  (It fails to mention family planning.  Planning a pregnancy is step one to having a healthy one.  And how can any proposal aimed at reducing abortion be taken seriously without including contraception?)  But it
does do a lot of great things and there are solutions for the areas
that are problematic. First let’s review its attributes:

The Pregnant Women Support Act is inspired by the belief that if
women facing unintended pregnancy are provided substantive help they
might continue, rather than terminate, a pregnancy. Two-thirds of all
women seeking abortion care report it’s because they cannot afford to
have a child. Perhaps choosing abortion because one can’t afford to
have a child is not the best choice for her.  In a perfect pro-choice
world, parenting, abortion and adoption would be equally available
options, and, importantly, none would be stigmatized. Neutralizing
income as a determining factor for what a woman does in her
reproductive life is reproductive justice. Much of the Pregnant Women
Support Act is a means to that end. For example it would provide
financial, medical, educational assistance, insurance coverage for
those in need who ordinarily would not qualify for it. A woman can get
nurse home visits, counseling, shelter, help with child care,
assistance to help her stay in school, and a lot of other services that
may broaden her choices. That’s all good.

Here’s where the problem starts for pro-choice people. The bill would:

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"Create
a new pilot program for "Life Support Centers" to offer comprehensive
and supportive services for pregnant women, mothers, and children."

Life Support Centers appears to be a way, among other things, to
funnel money into crisis pregnancy centers. These have been a ruse of
pro-life activists. They are billed as places a pregnant woman can
visit  to consider all her options. But they mislead women about the
options available to them, offering up inaccurate information intended
to scare women about abortion. Misleading women is not something
pro-choice organizations or elected officials will be able to support
(nor should any self-respecting pro-lifer). Removal of the section
should be fought for vigorously.

Or alternatively, find a way to legislate out its heavy-handed
agenda. If the ideological, coercive and misleading tactics that are
the signature of crisis pregnancy centers were prohibited, there could
be a limited but legitimate role for these centers to play in the
delivery of support services. But an affirmative and explicit
disclaimer should be issued right up front.  The Pregnant Women Support
Act would be a good place to begin to insist that crisis pregnancy
centers act in a responsible way. Make  "Life Support Centers" stick to
medical facts rather than ideology.  There ought to be a "no
propaganda" agreement right up front in every common ground campaign.
Anti-abortion activists have, in several states, succeeded in passing
legislation mandating that ideological, medically inaccurate scripts be
read to patients who seek abortions services. Mandating that ideology
and inaccuracy be inserted into a medical environment, as the
anti-abortion movement has done, is ethically troublesome. But what if,
instead, the law mandated that medical and scientific accuracy be
required of ideological organizations masquerading as health centers?
An amendment to the Pregnant Women Support Act could propose that every
"Life Support Center" receiving federal funds be required to provide
medically accurate information to all it counsels and also disclose
that its mission is to convince women not to have an abortion.
Providing accurate information should be a common ground goal and
anti-abortion organizations should have no problem admitting that
convincing women not to choose abortion is their intent. Each center
would be required to read a script that include information like this:

"This is not a medical facility. There are no medical personnel on
staff. The staff of this facility is unable to diagnose complications
of pregnancy or fetal anomalies (birth defects). This facility is
staffed by people who are opposed to abortion and contraception.
Medical research shows that women who have an abortion are at no
greater risk of breast cancer, miscarriage in future pregnancies,
mental distress or any other mental or physical disorder than women who
have never had an abortion. Ultrasound images may exaggerate the size
of the embryo/fetus."  Etc.

Sprinkled throughout the Pregnant Women Support Act is the term
"counseling."  The "no propaganda" rule should apply in every instance
a woman receives counseling. (To pre-emptively address a point that
will be made by opponents of abortion: no, medically, scientifically
accepted, peer-reviewed evidence does not fall under the category of
propaganda.)

Another area of concern is that the bill proposes to promote
adoption as an alternative to abortion. There is no doubt that the
adoption industry has changed dramatically in the last forty years, in
great part because of legal abortion. Many Americans, including women
confronting unwanted pregnancy, are not aware that the adoption choice
now offers many avenues, including open adoption. There is a real need
to update Americans’ understanding of adoption as an option for
unwanted pregnancy. But, it should not be in the context of disparaging
other choices. As the book, The Girls Who Went Away,
and even recent discussions on Rewire reveal, adoption is
typically a difficult choice and many women suffer immensely by being
pressured into that option. For some women abortion is the wrong choice
and for some women adoption is the wrong choice. There is great need
for education about adoption, there’s no need to present it as an
alternative to abortion or parenting. A woman, if given comprehensive
and accurate information about all of her choices, is her own best
moral agent.

The last sticking point for pro-choice people with the bill is that
it seeks to codify the regulation that extends coverage under the State
Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to both low-income pregnant
women and unborn children. As long as pregnant women are extended
prenatal care coverage through Medicaid, this is a superfluous section
and a back-door attempt to create independent rights in law for a
fetus. This section would not prevent one abortion or make it any
easier for women to bring a pregnancy to term. It defies the
"common-ground" spirit the bill was intended to cultivate. Keeping it
in the bill could only be interpreted as a cynical attempt to co-opt
"common ground" for anti-choice purposes.

With these important changes, none of which jeopardize the true
intent of the bill, we should be prepared, for the moment, to take
Senator Casey at his word when he says he wants a common ground
approach. Senator Casey stated, "I
introduce this bill with the deepest conviction that we can find common
ground. I believe that we can transform this debate by focusing upon
the issues that unite us, not the issues that divide us."
If that is true, and these slight changes are made to the bill,
pro-choice people are a more likely constituency of support. But if
these proposals remain, common ground will not be achieved and pregnant
women won’t get the support they deserve.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.