Fetus In Peril? Batten Down the Hatches!

Amanda Marcotte

The main purpose of of Oklahoma's proposed self-defense bill for pregnant women is to create a long trail of laws that define a fetus as an "unborn child" that deserves state protection.

Fetus worship and self-defense fantasies (preferably with
guns) compete with each for the rank of most favorite right-wing fantasy of all.
As fantasies, they have a lot in common, since both are rooted in an
anxious masculinity that’s always about proving male power, either
over women’s bodies or through violence, especially with an unsubtle
phallic symbol.  But it took the imaginative Oklahoma legislature
to figure out a way to
put the two fantasies together.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, I present a brand new level of wingnuttery, the Use of Force for
the Protection of the Unborn Act
.   

At first glance, the title
would incline you to think Oklahoma is legalizing violence against workers
at women’s clinics that provide abortion, but actually, it’s a law
making it legal for pregnant women to defend themselves with fatal force
against attackers out to get their pregnancy.  The law should raise
a number of red flags, not the least being the redundancy–Oklahoma
already gives its citizens strong self-defense rights, including the
right to shoot first and ask questions later if someone is trespassing
on your property.  The law is supposedly in response to an incident
that happened in Michigan, where a pregnant woman killed her boyfriend
when he punched her in the stomach, and got jail time for it.   

Conservatives have become absolute
experts in the art of crafting disingenuous legislation that nominally
addresses women’s health and safety concerns while actually attacking
women’s reproductive rights.  This bill is no different; right out front, the bill references the depressing reality that is domestic
violence against pregnant women.  It’s true that pregnant women
are more likely to experience domestic violence than non-pregnant women,
and it’s true that the violence is often aimed directly at causing
the woman to miscarry, or at least fear it.  Domestic violence
is more about breaking someone down psychologically than anything else,
and scaring a woman with the potential of a horrible miscarriage is
just too juicy a target for many abusive men to ignore.   

But reading this bill, you
get the strong impression that the people who wrote it can’t bring
themselves to care about violence towards women, pregnant or not, because
it hurts women.  But if a fetus is in danger, pull out all the
stops!  If they actually cared about reducing the rate of domestic
violence experienced by pregnant women, they’d do a lot more than
offer women the right to protect their fetuses with gunfire.  We
know what works, especially after years of seeing the Violence Against
Women Act in action–pregnant women who fear violence need services,
the community needs public education programs, and the police need to
be trained to deal with the specifics of violence against pregnant women.

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Of course, the main purpose
of this bill and others like it is to create a long trail of laws that
define a fetus as an "unborn child" that deserves state protection
equal and usually greater than that offered to real children.  
As a strategy, I’m not entirely sure that it’s as great as anti-choicers
seem to think it is.  It’s almost as if they hope that once a
certain number of laws with the words "unborn" in them are on the
books, some mystic scale will tilt and Roe v. Wade will be reversed. 
But so far, it appears that the strategy isn’t really working as planned
at all. 

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t
worry about it.  As a legal strategy, this may not work, but as
a cultural strategy, it’s effective in sending the message that women
don’t count nearly as much as the contents of our wombs.  There’s
not a lot of moral grand-standing from the right about protecting women
from domestic violence because women are human beings who deserve that
kind of protection.  But if a fetus is imperiled, batten down the
hatches!  This kind of erasing of women’s lives and concerns
is so ham-fisted that one would hope it would backfire, but unfortunately,
it doesn’t.  It’s incredibly effective at slowly erasing women’s
rights to be treated as full human beings. 

To make it worse, the whole
thing dumbs down the discourse on what real pro-woman activism should
look like.  If feminists criticize the legislation, right wingers
get to grandstand about how they’re the only people who care about
women’s right not to get beaten during pregnancy, which is obviously
untrue.  (I dare say that women have a right not to be beaten regardless
of their reproductive status.)  But legislation like this–or
legislation that purports to be protecting women by making them suffer
through a bunch of needless scripts and agitprop ultrasounds to get
an abortion, or moralizing lectures if they want contraception–instead
is about stereotyping women at best, and at worst, separating them into
categories of who does and doesn’t deserve basic protection against
violence and coercion.  The fierce mother bear protecting her pregnancy
gets state protection, but the supposed slutty woman who wants to protect
herself from unintended pregnancy (and her family from the consequences
of having more members than resources) gets nothing but obstacles and
harassment.   

Will the bill pass?  I’d
actually be surprised, though if something that springs so obviously
from the fevered wingnut imagination was going to pass any legislature,
it’ll probably be Oklahoma’s.  It’s tempting to say that
if the state wants a reputation as Crazytown, they can have it, but
unfortunately the direct victims are the women of the state who don’t
have an available path to move to places that are more accepting of
women’s basic rights.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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