Yet Another Opinion About the Sebelius Nom

Micah Steffes

I'm not Catholic, but I am a very spiritual person, and I feel like faith is an important aspect of the total shape of my politics. And as someone who is conflicted about abortion in terms of faith, it's nice to hear someone basically say it's okay to be pro-choice and pro-life.

Whoa whoa whoa. Okay. So yesterday everyone had to weigh in on the Sebelius nomination, and I guess that means that I get to too! 

Now maybe my opinion is a piss in the river, to be crude, but I wanted to focus on a specific strand of news items that are challenging the Sebelius nomination as an affront against the Common Ground and abortion reduction platform that paved the way for an Obama vote by those more conflicted about abortion (notice: not necessarily "pro-life" identified). 

So the question seems to be, does a Kathleen Sebelius nomination mean a departure from the abortion reduction approach?

First: the naysayers, and these are pretty predictable. There’s the Susan B. Anthony List, whose president Marjorie Dannenfelser called out the nom as: 

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…further evidence of something gone terribly wrong for those seeking consensus on the abortion issue, especially the President.  He speaks of finding ‘common ground’ on abortion, but then he makes a series of decisions that comprise the biggest overreach since the 1973 Supreme Court wiped every legal protection for unborn children off the books in the Roe v. Wade decision and the Doe v. Bolton companion decision. 

 

So that’s her opinion, which is pretty predictable, and then there’s…

Well, that’s about it. 

The general consensus seems to be that Sebelius is the best pick for a common ground approach, regardless of more extreme christian groups are calling her, among other things, an "enemy of the unborn" (thank-you, Bill Donahue, for your fresh perspective). 

But in fact, I wanted to highlight something else, and that’s Kathleen Sebelius’s own position on the matter.  The fact that Sebelius is Catholic has meant that many on the religious end have thrown a stink about, what one blogger so eloquently put it, her apparent membership to the, "’Yes, I’m a Catholic but an ardent promoter of abortion on demand’ bunch."

For Sebelius herself, it means she’s a "Pro-choice pro-lifer." Dan Gilgoff at USNews has a longer excerpt from a 2006 address, but here’s just a bit that I thought was beautiful and illustrates where she’s really coming from:

 

On one hand, faith is intensely personal. Faith probes the deepest reaches of our souls and every aspect of our inner selves. It sustains us in our family lives and gives us strength to do the right thing, even when it is hard or unpopular…working for the common good is not a new concept, but a core tenant of the teachings of my faith…

 

My Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred, and personally I believe abortion is wrong…If we work hard and match our rhetoric with our actions, we can create a culture that is more welcoming of mothers and treasuring of our children.  We must redouble our efforts on prevention and personal responsibility. We must stand with women who feel so alone that abortion seems like their only choice.  These women need people to walk with them, not cast stones at them…

If we truly wish to reduce the number of abortions further, we need to work together to truly promote a culture of life, by helping women and families to get the support they need when facing unexpected pregnancies and to continue to reduce the number of abortions. Healthcare, child care, job opportunities, affordable housing– they are all the building blocks of a culture of life and we can use them to build a future where abortion is extremely rare. 

 

The thing is, I’m not Catholic, but I am a very spiritual person, and I feel like faith is an important dimension in the total shape of my world views, when it comes down to it. And as someone who is conflicted about abortion, not in politics (where I’m staunchly pro-choice) but in faith, it’s nice to hear someone basically say it’s okay to be pro-choice and pro-life.  Someone said this to me a long time ago, and I was really resistant, but the proof is in the pudding. 

A Sebelius nom is something I can definitely get behind.  And as far as Common Ground goes, the Sebelius nom is just another brick in the pavement. 

Culture & Conversation Abortion

The Comic Book That Guided Women Through Abortion Months After ‘Roe’

Sam Meier

Abortion Eve used the stories of fictional girls and women to help real ones understand their options and the law. At the same time the comic explained how to access abortion, it also asserted that abortion was crucial to women's health and liberation.

“Can you picture a comic book on abortion on the stands next to Superman?”

In June 1973, Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli wrote to the National Organization for Women in Chicago, asking this question of their “dear sisters” and pushing them to envision a world where women’s experiences could be considered as valiant as the superhero’s adventures. They enclosed a copy of their new comic book, Abortion Eve.

Published mere months after the Supreme Court’s January 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, Abortion Eve was intended to be a cheap, effective way to inform women about the realities of abortion. Like the few other contemporaneous comic books dealing with abortion, Abortion Eve‘s primary purpose was to educate. But for a comic dominated by technical information about surgical procedures and state laws, Abortion Eve nonetheless manages to be radical. Though abortion had so recently been illegal—and the stigma remained—the comic portrays abortion as a valid personal decision and women as moral agents fully capable of making that decision.

The comic follows five women, all named variations of “Eve,” as counselor Mary Multipary shepherds them through the process of obtaining abortions. Evelyn is an older white college professor, Eva a white dope-smoking hippie, Evie a white teenage Catholic, Eve a working Black woman, and Evita a Latina woman. Evelyn, Eve, and Evita are all married and mothers already.

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Their motivations for getting an abortion differ, too. Evita and Eve, for instance, wish to protect themselves and their loved ones by keeping their families smaller. Sixteen-year-old Evie is the poster child for sexual naiveté. Pregnant after her first time having sex, she spends most of the comic wrestling with guilt. “It’s all so ugly!” she exclaims. “I thought sex was supposed to be beautiful!”

Teenager Evie, one of the characters in the comic book Abortion Eve, breaks down as counselor Mary Multipary asks questions about her pregnancy. (Joyce Farmer)

Nonplussed, the older Eves talk her through her choices. As Eve reminds her, “Like it or not, you are a woman now, and you are going to have to decide.”

In an interview with Rewire, Farmer said that the plot of Abortion Eve was a direct outgrowth of her and Chevli’s experiences in the nascent women’s health movement. Both women had started working as birth control and “problem pregnancy” counselors at the Free Clinic in Laguna Beach, California, soon after it opened in 1970. Archival documents at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute show that Chevli and Farmer visited Los Angeles abortion providers in December 1972, on a business trip for the Free Clinic. According to Farmer, one of the doctors they met approached the pair with the idea of doing a comic about abortion to publicize his clinic.

Earlier that year, the women had produced one of the first U.S. comic books written, drawn, and published by women, Tits & Clits alpha (the “alpha” distinguished the comic from subsequent issues). So they took the doctor’s idea and ran with it. They decided to use their newly founded comics publishing company, Nanny Goat Productions, to educate women, particularly teenagers, about abortion.

At the Free Clinic, Chevli and Farmer had seen all kinds of women in all kinds of situations, and Abortion Eve attempts to reflect this diversity. As Farmer noted in an interview, she and Chevli made sure that the Eves were all different races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds in order to demonstrate that all kinds of women get abortions.

Farmer had made the choice to get an abortion herself, when her IUD failed in 1970. The mother—of a 12-year-old son—who was putting herself through college at the University of California at Irvine, she decided that she couldn’t afford another child.

California had liberalized its abortion laws with the Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967, but the law was still far from truly liberal. Before Roe, California women seeking abortions needed doctors (a gynecologist and two “specialists in the field”) to submit recommendations on their behalf to the hospital where the abortion would take place. Then, a committee of physicians approved or denied the application. Only women who could pay for therapeutic abortions—those needed for medical reasonscould get them.

For Farmer, as for so many others, the process was onerous. After an hour, the psychiatrist who had interviewed her announced that she would not be eligible, as she was mentally fit to be a mother. Stunned, Farmer told the doctor that if he denied her an abortion, she would do it herself. Taking this as a suicide threat, her doctor quickly changed his mind. She wrote later that this experience began her political radicalization: “I was astounded that I had to prove to the state that I was suicidal, when all I wanted was an abortion, clean and safe.”

Farmer and Chevli began work on Abortion Eve before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was still illegal in many states. After the Supreme Court’s decision, they added a page for “more info” on the ruling. Yet even as they celebrated Roe, the women weren’t yet sure what would come of it.

The comic reflects a general confusion regarding abortion rights post-Roe, as well as women’s righteous anger over the fight to gain those rights. On the day of her abortion, for example, Evita tells Eve that, at five months pregnant, she just “slipped in” the gestational limits during which women could have abortions.

Eve explains that women now have the right to an abortion during the first three to six months of a pregnancy, but that the matter is far from settled in the courts. After all, Roe v. Wade said that states did have some interest in regulating abortion, particularly in the third trimester.

“I get mad when they control my body by their laws!” Eve says. “Bring in a woman, an’ if the problem is below her belly button and it ain’t her appendix, man—you got judges an’ lawyers an’ priests an’ assorted greybeards sniffin’ an’ fussin’ an’ tellin’ that woman what she gonna do an’ how she gonna do it!”

Abortion Eve Dialogue

Abortion Eve confronts the reality that abortion is a necessity if women are to live full sexual lives. Writing to the underground sex magazine Screw in September 1973 to advertise the comic, Chevli noted, “Surely if [your readers] screw as much as we hope, they must have need for an occasional abortion—and our book tells all about it.”

Six months after they published the comic, in December 1973, Chevli and Farmer traveled to an Anaheim rally in support of Roe outside the American Medical Association conference. They were met by a much larger group of abortion opponents. Chevli described the scene in a letter to a friend:

300 to 8. We weren’t ready, but we were there. Bodies … acquiescing, vulnerable females, wanting to show our signs, wanting to be there, ready to learn. Oh, Christ. Did we learn. It was exhausting. It was exciting. We were enervated, draged [sic] around, brung up, made to feel like goddesses, depressed, enlightened … bunches of intangible things. I have rarely experienced HATE to such a massive extent. 

That wasn’t the last feedback that Chevli and Farmer received about their views on abortion. In fact, during the course of Nanny Goat’s publishing stint, the majority of complaints that the independent press received had to do with Abortion Eve. Several self-identified Catholics objected to the “blasphemous” back cover, which featured MAD Magazine‘s Alfred E. Neuman as a visibly pregnant Virgin Mary with the caption: “What me worry?”

As archival documents at the Kinsey Institute show, other critics castigated Chevli and Farmer for setting a bad example for young women, failing to teach them right from wrong. One woman wrote them a letter in 1978, saying “You have not only wasted your paper, time, money, but you’ve probably aided in the decision of young impressionable girls and women who went and aborted their babies.”

Farmer and Chevli responded to such charges by first thanking their critics and then explaining their reasons for creating Abortion Eve. In another response, also in the Kinsey archives, Chevli wrote, “Whether abortion is right or wrong is not our concern because we do not want to dictate moral values to others. What we do want to do is educate others to the fact that abortion is legal, safe, and presents women with a choice which they can make.”

Today, abortion opponents like Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson (R) frame abortion as the “dismemberment” of unborn children, suggesting that women who seek abortions are, in essence, murderers. With Abortion Eve, Chevli and Farmer dared to suggest that abortion was and is an integral part of women’s social and sexual liberation. Abortion Eve is unapologetic in asserting that view. The idea that abortion could be a woman’s decision alone, made in consultation with herself, for the good of herself and of her loved ones, is as radical an idea today as it was in the 1970s.

News Science

‘Bad Medicine’: Anti-Choice Laws Ignore Medical Evidence

Nicole Knight Shine

Nineteen states require providers to give verbal or written statements that are medically inaccurate or biased. Patients must be told fetuses can feel pain, despite the lack of scientific evidence.

Seventy percent of the 353 state-level abortion restrictions introduced so far this year are based on political pretext, false information, or stereotypes, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The advocacy group National Partnership for Women & Families released the analysis as part of its “Turning Lies into Laws” campaign focused on lies about abortion in 2016. The analysis follows on the heels of its report, Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health Care, which lays out the ideological motivations and inaccuracies that the report’s authors say underpin the majority of legislative impediments to abortion care.

Two hundred fifty-one cases of newly introduced abortion care restrictions run contrary to evidence-based medicine, according to the National Partnership’s analysis of data from the Guttmacher Institute.

“Lies about abortion and the women who have them are being turned into laws across the country, and it needs to stop,” Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership, said in a statement accompanying the memo. “All women deserve medically accurate information and access to a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion care.”

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The Bad Medicine report, which includes abortion restrictions in place as of 2015, notes how such regulations force health-care providers to deliver outmoded care, ignore patient preferences, and drive up costs for providers and patients without improving patient health.

The report’s authors detail a growing number of medically unnecessary impediments to abortion care, including:

  • Mandated counseling: 19 states require providers to give or offer verbal or written statements that are medically inaccurate, biased, or false. In 12 of those states, patients must be told fetuses can feel pain, despite the lack of scientific evidence. In nine states, the written statements stress the negative emotional effect of abortion, including depression and suicidal thoughts, even though the American Psychological Association has said the “overwhelming majority” of pregnant people feel relief after the procedure, rather than regret.
  • Mandatory ultrasounds: 13 states have passed laws to require ultrasounds before abortion care, and of those, five include a requirement that the providers display and describe the image even if the patient doesn’t wish to see it.
  • State-sanctioned delays: 31 states have passed laws to delay abortion care, typically 24 hours, with Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah forcing a patient to wait 72 hours in the off chance that pregnant people might change their mind—a common anti-choice argument.
  • Onerous facility requirements: Nearly half of all states require abortion clinics to be outfitted like ambulatory surgical centers, despite research that indicates abortion procedures often are safer than wisdom teeth removal, which is performed in a dentist’s office.
  • Medication abortion restrictions: 19 states have passed measures to bar providers from administering medication abortion via telemedicine, with six states having “passed laws preventing providers from administering medication abortion in accordance with the standard of care that reflects the most up-to-date evidence.”

Major medical organizations oppose “this trend of political interference in medical decision-making,” according to the report. And courts have moved to block some of these anti-choice measures pushed by Republican-held legislatures across the country.

NPWF_Bad-Medicine_Overview-Map_2

The report issues a call for reform, asking lawmakers to reject legislation that interferes with the patient-provider relationship and to repeal laws that ignore medical evidence and science. In addition, the “Turning Lies into Laws” campaign encourages site visitors to take a pledge to fight back against politicians “using lies to push abortion out of reach.”

“The leading medical societies, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, are on the record stating that obstacles to abortion care pose a threat to women’s health,” Sarah Lipton-Lubet, director of reproductive health programs at the National Partnership, said in a statement. “Abortion opponents need to learn that legislating something doesn’t make it true, and that when they lie we’re going to call them out.”

The American College of Physicians has said in its “Statement of Principles on the Role of Governments in Regulating the Patient-Physician Relationship” that “mandated care may also interfere with the patient-physician relationship and divert clinical time from more immediate clinical concerns.”

In February, a Rutgers University study suggested that people considering abortion care are provided with medically inaccurate information about a third of the time in the 23 states with so-called informed consent laws. Researchers found that more than 40 percent of information in booklets produced by Michigan, Kansas, and North Carolina was medically inaccurate.

Alabama, Alaska, and Georgia had the lowest percentages of inaccuracies, each with less than 18 percent.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to clarify the data in the National Partnership for Women & Families’ “Turning Lies into Laws” campaign and its Bad Medicine report.