Proudly Part of the Problem

Cristina Page

One begins to suspect that right-wing intransigence is based not just on morality, but on self-interest. If the vitriol isn't high enough, they worry, their base might drift away.

Last week, a leading "pro-life" blogger Jill Stanek made a cameo appearance in the comments section of a blog of mine, "The Call for Common Ground on Abortion,"
on Huffington Post. My post basically reported on, and offered
perspective about, a conference call the White House organized for
pro-life and pro-choice groups. It took the opportunity to announce the
administration’s intent to explore common ground in the abortion
conflict. In my post, I pointed out that it’s clear Obama’s team wants
to make progress on an issue that has divided and damaged us as a
country for too long. They had explained the areas they hoped could
unite pro-choice and pro-life people: reducing unintended pregnancy,
including teen pregnancy, making adoption a more accessible choice for
women confronting unintended pregnancy, and supporting struggling
families with wanted pregnancies. They want to move forward, and have
set up a common sense framework to do so. It’s hard to demean such
earnest intent.

But many veteran leaders in the "pro-life"
movement are immovably stuck in their positions. They appear deeply
invested in rehashing the same, seemingly eternal arguments, in
continuing what even to a staunch pro-choicer like myself seems like a
tedious fight. The natural inclination of rational Americans pining for
common ground, as most of both persuasions on the abortion issue are,
might be to zone out the heckling. But listening to this increasingly
out of the mainstream arguments by people like Jill Stanek helps to
understand the reason we have suffered from intransigence for so long.
Too many of the most committed people, and here, the pro-choice side is
not immune, feel that anything the opponent agrees to must be suspect.
Bloggers like Stanek, those speaking into the echo chamber, are
apparently so invested in continuing the fight that they won’t budge.
One suspects their intransigence is based not just on morality, but
self-interest as well. If the vitriol isn’t high enough they worry
their base might drift away.

Jill is the perfect example of the
unbending culture warrior. The one committed to fanning the flames of
the ethereal, abstract side of debate and belittling or ignoring the
common sense, brick and mortar proposals for problem solving. Jill is
no doubt a smart chick. Her posts are always engaging even for those of
the pro-choice persuasion like myself. If only she used her abilities
not to undermine
common ground efforts. Obama’s common ground pledge (and my piece about
it) did not muster any interest in Jill in finding a solution. It did
inspire her to return for the billionth time to the well-worn
arguments. She writes,

"Cristina, the basic questions: Why care about reducing the need for abortion? What’s wrong with it?"

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I answered,

"Hi
Jill, nice to hear from you. I think it’s the same reason to reduce
teen parenthood and to reduce the need to place a child for adoption.
If any woman in one of those circumstances were to be asked, "if you
could go back in time and avoid being in this predicament, would you?"
nearly all would say yes. I think we should reduce teen parenthood and
the need for adoption too. These are each often tremendously difficult
choices that ideally no woman should have to face. Adoption, abortion,
and parenthood are all the results of unintended pregnancy and I
believe women should have access to each of these options legally and
safely. But it’s unintended pregnancy that’s the real problem here.
That’s what we need to work to avoid.

"Sorry to not give you the
"gotcha" moment you were looking for. For Huffpo readers, Jill Stanek
is a leader in the anti-abortion movement and probably the most popular
blogger on that side of the issue. Jill, here are my questions for you:
Why are you opposed to preventing unintended pregnancy and access to
contraception as one vehicle toward that end? Why do you pursue the
outlawing of abortion even though it has failed to reduce abortion
rates wherever it’s been tried? Why not institute the policies that
result in the lowest abortion rates on earth? So what if it’s the most
pro-choice countries that have the lowest abortion rates, aren’t
"pro-life" results what you’re after?"

She replied,

"Christina, seriously, thanks for the kind words on my credentials.

But
you didn’t answer me. You may consider my question a "gotcha," but it’s
foundational. How can we devise solutions when we haven’t defined the
problem? What exactly is the problem with abortion? Why is it "a
tremendously difficult choice[ ] that ideally no woman should have to
face"?

"What is wrong with abortion? Is it or is it not morally
neutral or even superior, as new Cambridge Episcopal Divinity School
pro-abort President Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale tagged it – "a
blessing" and "holy work"?"

I replied,

"Well,
actually, if you read what I wrote again, you’ll see I was referring to
adoption and teen parenthood as "often tremendously difficult choices."
Sure, abortion can be a difficult choice for some women too (though or
some women it is accompanied by no grief, though, just relief) and
studies show that the more religious a woman is the harder struggle she
has with it. So possibly, it’s the culture she’s in that creates guilt
with her decision.

"Regardless, my point is that all choices
accompanying an unintended pregnancy can be (but aren’t always)
difficult, but that’s no reason to outlaw any of them. Based on your
logic, it’s grief that is the measure of what the "right" decision is.
Then a woman who suffers grief after placing a child for adoption made
the wrong choice, an immoral choice, right? Why not ban adoption then?
Why not tell her that the reason she’s feeling bad is because she made
the wrong decision, one that God does not condone? That would be a
terrible thing to do with women choosing adoption, and it’s a terrible
thing to do to women choosing abortion too.

"I’ve attempted to
answer your question twice. You have not answered my questions even
once. Please do. Why can’t we agree to try to help women avoid having
to make these decisions in the first place? Tell me Jill, honestly,
what do you think are the areas we can agree on? Because I think
there’s a bunch."

In the end, Jill never once
attempts to answer any of my simple questions, which is typical. I’ve
noticed this tactic used often by those pro-lifers who work in the
movement. Whenever the discussion gets off ethereal principles and onto
the problem solving, they revert back to airy lectures. They continue
to want to talk about the morality of abortion and are desperate to
change the subject when it’s about solving what they consider a moral
crisis. They are trapped in an endless argument over semantics (Jill is
currently arguing that pro-lifers should demand we reduce the "number"
of abortions rather than "the need for" abortion. Good luck with that
debate.) They’re the ones who have a problem with abortion. Why is the
pro-choice camp the only side trying to come up with solutions, often
successfully, to their problem? President Bush didn’t promise to
attempt to reduce abortion rates during his Presidency and, early
indicators suggest, he lived up to that disinterest. The decline in
abortion rates slowed during his administration, teen birth rates
spiked, and the economic nightmare he left us in seems to already be
causing an uptick in abortions. All that is traceable to Bush policies
and mismanagement.

Meanwhile, the dramatic declines in
abortion rates brought to us by President Clinton and the Obama
administration’s promise to deliver the same results elicit sneers and
ire from the "pro-life" movement. (I put "pro-life" in quotes because
you can’t really be pro-life if your actions create more of the
abortions you profess to hate.) Bill Clinton, if based on results
alone, was the most pro-life president we’ve ever had and the pro-life
movement hates him for it.

This is why the Obama team needs to
look past the old-guard culture warriors. People like Jill Stanek
approve of the rhetoric of the "culture of life" but are not interested
in reducing the need for abortion. She’s seems more interested in
attracting eyeballs to her site. Looking for common ground solutions
from operatives like her is like turning to Michael Vick for
dog-training tips.

The common ground movement Obama is hoping
to advance will come about because of people who want real solutions,
whose livelihoods don’t depend on the conflict continuing, people who
believe we deserve a better national dialogue and better leadership on
this issue. We’ve finally got an administration willing to moderate a
productive discussion. It’s time to get the hecklers out of room, and
get on with the work.

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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