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 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.