“A Profound Disagreement:” Clinton Breaks the Political Sound Barrier

Jodi Jacobson

In a day to go down in history, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broke the political sound barrier regard the word "abortion" and may well have forever changed the course of US policy.

Yesterday was a day to go down in history.

It was the day that Hillary Clinton broke the political sound barrier.

It was the day that someone, finally, after many years of dissembling by so many, stood up to the perpetual hot air balloon that is Congressman Chris Smith and revealed that he has no more power in the face of facts than did the fabled Emperor with no clothes.

It was the day Clinton spoke the truth and thereby shattered the myth that has existed for so long that we could talk about family planning, reproductive health, women’s rights, women’s health or even human rights, and not say the word “abortion.” It was a day in which the issue of safe abortion services as a fundamental component of women’s health and rights was put back on the US foreign policy table.

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To Smith’s question as to whether the Obama Administration would be seeking to “overturn pro-life laws” in Africa and Latin America, Clinton replied firmly and without apology:

We have a very fundamental disagreement and it is my strongly held view that you are entitled to advocate and everyone who agrees with you should be free to do so anywhere in the world, and so are we.

We [the Obama Administration] happen[s] to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health and reproductive health includes access to abortion, that I believe should be safe, legal and rare.

Clinton’s statement was certainly the most courageous a Secretary of State–or any Administration official–has ever made on reproductive rights and one of the most courageous statements made by a Secretary of State of any kind, on any issue, ever, because it was made in the face of over 20 years of political silence on the issue. And it was made about an issue made increasingly taboo by the very stigma and silence that people like Smith have worked so hard to perpetuate.

For longer than I personally can remember, a highly vocal but small
minority of far right wingers have used McCarthy-esque tactics to silence an entire conversation about women, women’s rights,
and their health, to marginalize the issue of safe abortion, and to use misinformation about abortion to smear the basic services that would reduce the unintended pregnancies that lead so many women to seek an abortion in the first place. The very bloviation practiced by the far right wing and the complicity in the media that failed to examine their claims and campaigns made them seem more powerful–in fact made them more powerful–than they really were in any sense of numbers. And they twisted the very concept of “pro-life” to mean anything but saving the lives of women.

Smith, the leader of the bully pack on this issue has throughout his career used the abortion issue as a wedge whenever he could, to limit access to family planning services and to limit access to life-saving prevention services under US global AIDS policy.

And during that time, in the face of the far right juggernaut-that-was-not, the reproductive health community was increasingly silent about abortion in international policy. Some even sought to play down the inclusion of access to safe abortion as a primary aspect of reproductive health care and women’s rights as part of a political strategy, even when consistent losses in funding for services not including abortion showed that playing down this issue was not going to bring us any closer to universal access to basic family planning services. This further empowered people like Smith, as did the failure by AIDS advocates to stand up to his bullying tactics on prevention of sexual transmission of HIV and AIDS. Remember the Wizard of Oz was only “all-powerful” until someone finally drew back the curtain.

Yesterday, Clinton swung it wide open, and made the exclusion of abortion as an issue a moot point, hopefully for all time. This leads us well beyond the lifting of the global gag rule because it makes possible a conversation about the various restrictions within US policy that restrict women’s rights to access safe abortion services and it puts back on the table how those restrictions actually increase, rather than reduce the number of abortions worldwide.

In taking on the bully in the schoolyard, Clinton revealed once again that a bully is only as powerful as we allow him to be.

She spoke truth to power. And in doing so, she gave voice to those who have none in this debate. Each year, more than 600,000 women, according to what can only be described as conservative estimates, die of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Each year, more than 75,000 of those deaths, according to those same conservative estimates, are caused by complications of unsafe abortion. Each year, countless children are left without mothers due to maternal mortality. Each year, women seek desperately to avoid a pregnancy they can not afford and have been left without basic services. Each year an increasing number of women become infected by HIV through unprotected sex that could be prevented by effective programming.

Secretary Clinton spoke for all of them and more.

Now, and going forward, thanks to Secretary Clinton, the real conversation can be had, and the real work to secure the rights of women and families to determine their own fate can be carried out.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow, and hopefully for years to come as Secretary of State, Clinton is and will be a heroine to women throughout the world and a path-breaking leader in an Administration that continues to make history.

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

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News Abortion

Study: Telemedicine Abortion Care a Boon for Rural Patients

Nicole Knight

Despite the benefits of abortion care via telemedicine, 18 states have effectively banned the practice by requiring a doctor to be physically present.

Patients are seen sooner and closer to home in clinics where medication abortion is offered through a videoconferencing system, according to a new survey of Alaskan providers.

The results, which will be published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, suggest that the secure and private technology, known as telemedicine, gives patients—including those in rural areas with limited access—greater choices in abortion care.

The qualitative survey builds on research that found administering medication abortion via telemedicine was as safe and effective as when a doctor administers the abortion-inducing medicine in person, study researchers said.

“This study reinforces that medication abortion provided via telemedicine is an important option for women, particularly in rural areas,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, one of the authors of the study and professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). “In Iowa, its introduction was associated with a reduction in second-trimester abortion.”

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Maine and Minnesota also provide medication abortion via telemedicine. Clinics in four states—New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington—are running pilot studies, as the Guardian reported. Despite the benefits of abortion care via telemedicine, 18 states have effectively banned the practice by requiring a doctor to be physically present.

The researchers noted that even “greater gains could be made by providing [medication abortion] directly to women in their homes,” which U.S. product labeling doesn’t allow.

In late 2013, researchers with Ibis Reproductive Health and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health interviewed providers, such as doctors, nurses, and counselors, in clinics run by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands that were using telemedicine to provide medication abortion. Providers reported telemedicine’s greatest benefit was to pregnant people. Clinics could schedule more appointments and at better hours for patients, allowing more to be seen earlier in pregnancy.

Nearly twenty-one percent of patients nationwide end their pregnancies with medication abortion, a safe and effective two-pill regime, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alaska began offering the abortion-inducing drugs through telemedicine in 2011. Patients arrive at a clinic, where they go through a health screening, have an ultrasound, and undergo informed consent procedures. A doctor then remotely reviews the patients records and answers questions via a videoconferencing link, before instructing the patient on how to take the medication.

Before 2011, patients wanting abortion care had to fly to Anchorage or Seattle, or wait for a doctor who flew into Fairbanks twice a month, according to the study’s authors.

Beyond a shortage of doctors, patients in Alaska must contend with vast geography and extreme weather, as one physician told researchers:

“It’s negative seven outside right now. So in a setting like that, [telemedicine is] just absolutely the best possible thing that you could do for a patient. … Access to providers is just so limited. And … just because you’re in a state like that doesn’t mean that women aren’t still as much needing access to these services.”

“Our results were in line with other research that has shown that this service can be easily integrated into other health care offered at a clinic, can help women access the services they want and need closer to home, and allows providers to offer high-level care to women from a distance,” Kate Grindlay, lead author on the study and associate at Ibis Reproductive Health, said in a statement.


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