The Yanks Are Coming — Back

Gloria Feldt and Linda Hirshman

At the moment the Obama administration's decision to seek a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council grabbed headlines, the U.S. quietly took the reins on the most important human rights issue for humanity's future: sexual and reproductive rights.

At the very moment the Obama
administration’s decision
to seek a U.S. seat on the U.N. Human Rights
Council grabbed headlines, the United States quietly took the
reins on the most important human rights issue for humanity’s future:
sexual and reproductive rights.  On March 31, State Department
Acting Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration,
Margaret Pollack, told delegates to the United Nations Commission on
Population and Development
meeting in New York, that America
was back.  

Marking a 180 degree turnaround
from Bush administration policies that fought international efforts
to enable people to control their own reproductive fate, the U.S. will
once again defend the "human rights and fundamental freedoms of women"
and support "universal access to sexual and reproductive health."
Abstinence-only sex education, the bête noir of health providers attempting
to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, was Kung-Fu kicked aside. Human
rights apply to all regardless of sexual orientation. The U.S. commits
to ratify CEDAW, the women’s rights treaty already signed by 185 nations,
and even endorses "equal partnerships and sharing of responsibilities
in all areas of family life, including in sexual and reproductive life."  

The global sigh of relief was
palpable. For with all its money and diplomatic resources, the U.S.
is the ten thousand pound gorilla in international reproductive policy.
Now the question is, while this is certainly change we can believe in,
is it all the change we need? 

U.S. foreign policy since the
1970s has included funding for international family planning programs.
We’ve been the largest contributor to these preventive reproductive
health services (by U.S. law, abortions aren’t funded) globally. The
U.S. led the march to the groundbreaking 1994 Cairo International Conference
on Population and Development
agreement that women’s rights and
health, including reproductive rights and health, are central to development
and poverty-reduction, environmental sustainability, and the strength
and security of democracy itself.

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Since the Reagan administration,
though, cultural and religious conservatives have fought U.N. commitment
to women’s reproductive rights. Reagan issued the first global gag
rule denying U.S. funding to organizations that perform or even discuss
abortion.

President Bill Clinton rescinded
the gag rule; George W. Bush’s first official act was to reinstate
it. In the last eight years, the United States government, in alignment
with fundamentalist Islamic nations as well as Christian fundamentalists
and Catholics, used U.N. meetings aggressively to push abstinence education
and faith-based institutions as the source of guidance on sexuality
and reproductive matters. And U.S. staff enforced the strictures on
the ground with increasing zeal.

Women’s right to safe abortions
were the sharp point of this wedge issue, but preventive family planning,
comprehensive sex education, and HIV/AIDS prevention programs were opposed
equally. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that–ironically–each
year Bush denied them the $34 million funding Congress authorized, it
led to 2 million preventable unintended pregnancies, 800,000 induced
abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, and 77,000 deaths of both mother and
child.

European countries took up
some slack; UNFPA’s largest supporter is now tiny Netherlands for
example. And many of the nations in the developing world have contributed
more than their fair share commitment in the Cairo agreement. But U.S.
legitimacy suffered. After euphoria in Cairo, followed by the 1995 Fourth
World Conference on Women in Beijing where then-First Lady Hillary Clinton
declared, "human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights
are human rights," reproductive rights advocates struggled to hold
land they had gained while the largest richest country in the world
aided the sexual conservatives.

Now all that has changed again.
Not only did Obama rescind the global gag rule, UNFPA’s funding was
reinstated and increased to $50 million.  USAID’s 2009 budget
for international family planning assistance increased to $545 million
from $457 million in 2008.  All great news.  The 10,000 pound
gorilla has pivoted back to the future.

But much of the world has advanced
since Cairo to a more ambitious agenda for women’s full social and
economic equality. And what does that mean for the U.S. vision for its
own leadership role for women, population, and development globally?

Domestically, five former directors
of USAID’s Population and Reproductive Health Program are calling

for immediate doubling of U.S. funding for family planning overseas, to $1.2 billion and increasing to
$1.5 billion over the next few years, if global anti-poverty and development
goals are to be achieved amid the worldwide economic downturn.

And it is essential that the
U.S. address the legitimate place of safe and legal abortion within
women’s reproductive health and human rights; after all, in meanwhile,
groups opposed to women’s rights and abortion are redoubling their
efforts to push back. That is why the Center for Reproductive Rights
and other organizations are working to establish legal theories regarding
why reproductive rights are indeed human rights
, and we can see in countries such
as Mexico how these perspectives are advancing women’s access to safe,
legal abortion based on human rights  rather than the right to privacy as
in the U.S. 

Michelle Goldberg argued persuasively
in her recent book, "The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the
Future of the World," that the absence of women’s reproductive rights
contributes to overpopulation, environmental disaster, family instability,
HIV/AIDS, and sex-ratio imbalances that threaten global stability. Other
matters may make more news, but nothing will make more difference. Whatever
the next steps in this continuing struggle, U.S. policy will lead the
way.  

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

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.

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.”

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

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“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.