Six Ways the Internet Has Shaped the Discourse Around Dr. Tiller’s Murder

Sarah Seltzer

The last time a doctor was murdered in cold blood for providing abortion care to women, we were not in the digital age. Now, the Internet has allowed women who've had abortions to talk back.

The last time a doctor was
murdered in cold blood for providing abortion care to women, we were
not in the digital age. While the pro-choice community in the 90s reacted
to Dr. Bernard Slepian’s murder with the same outrage and hurt as
it has this week to Dr. George Tiller’s, the Internet has provided
us with tools that have enabled us to more effectively shape the discourse.  

Yes, many TV shows and mainstream
pundits (ahem! Chris Matthews and Will Saletan, popular offenders) have
trotted out the expected all-male panels and high-minded philosophical
musings in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy. But a strong counter
movement calling the incident "terrorism" and pointing out the the
far-right "pro-life" movement’s rampant hypocrisy has emerged
online. We owe this to an engaged, savvy and active blogosphere and twittersphere of feminists that have been able to
launch accurate, appropriate language into circulation and gather evidence
that this assassination was part of a larger pattern of purposeful hate
and intimidation. 

Here are six ways that the
Internet has shaped the discourse that followed Tiller’s murder: 

6. Exposing the opposition
for what it is
 

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

In the afternoon after Tiller’s
murder, chatter from the Internet’s anti-choice faction was relatively
quiet, and many condemned the actions of the killer. But in the days
since the killing, comments and tweets of the most extreme "he deserved
it" variety have begun to surface all over the web, revealing the
callousness of some (though certainly not all) in the opposition camp
and exposing those who were in pain to a renewed sense of being under
attack.  

A number of comments on blogs
have shown an obtuse unwillingness to directly respond to previous comments
or posts-such as the fact that many of the abortions performed by
Tiller were therapeutic and performed in heartbreaking circumstances.
Sickening and cruel though such comments may be, they reveal the limits
of the "common ground" mantra, which assumes that both sides are
acting in good faith.The reality is that although many so-called "pro-lifers"
have embraced the common ground idea, there is a hard-core group that
sees it as treasonous and are perhaps willing to back up their beliefs
with violence. They also reveal the myopic vision that led to this incident
in the first place, and remind more casual observers – some of whom
may have little patience for pro-choicers’ ongoing struggle to secure
women’s reproductive rights – that extremists on the right do pose
an imminent and immediate threat to the lives of women and doctors. 

5. Twittering the hypocrisy
of the "pro-life" moniker
 

"Pro-life" was a trending
topic on twitter in the hours after Dr. Tiller’s death. But 9 out
of 10 tweets in the torrent (by my reckoning) came not from so-called
pro-lifers, but rather from pro-choice folks calling out the hypocrisy
of the killer: "How can you murder someone and call yourself pro-life?"
Tweeters also pointed out how many in the "pro-life" camp espouse
contradictory positions, such as being pro-war or pro-death penalty. 

The tweeters exposed a movement
that has manipulated language and facts to gain a perceived moral high
ground.  For a few hours, term "pro-life" was taken back by
people of all stripes who reject violence. The groundswell of angry
tweets proved that it’s still possible to win the linguistic battle,
and that people recognize the double standard of a movement that espouses
using sadistic means to a supposedly idealistic end.

4. Amassing Evidence 

The kind of quick footage-culling
that has been a staple of the blogs and shows like The Daily Show proved
brutally effective this week, producing
several reels of footage of mainstream figures delivering fiery, reckless
jeremiads against Dr. Tiller
.
Outlets like ThinkProgress and Salon documented Bill O’Reilly’s relentless
campaign against Tiller. These clips clearly illustrated the climate
of fury and demonization that influenced and fostered this desperate
act of violence.  

Even though the New York Times
raised the question of culpability in a typically dry way, by saying
pundits like Bill O’Reilly weren’t
legally responsible

(which they are certainly not-moral responsibility is the issue),
the fact that the paper of record responded directly to the idea of
O’Reilly’s role in the murder at all is a victory for pro-choice
forces on the internet. 

Bloggers also engaged in evidence
gathering from the web, trawling through right wing sites to spread
knowledge of the words and images that were staples of the killer’s
virtual community. Within minutes of the announcement of the suspect’s
name, some diligent Kossacks
had started Googling, and they quickly figured out his ties to far right
groups like Operation Rescue, the Freemen, and more
. This effectively provided a counterweight 
heading off the expected mainstream narrative that Tiller’s murder
was the act of a lone psycho and not the product of the outermost edges
of the right wing. 

3. Launching
"domestic terrorism" into the popular consciousness
 

Over the course of the past
few years, the liberal blogosphere has been in the forefront of challenging
conventional narratives surrounding terrorism. One of the ideas that surfaced is that intimidation
by right-wing groups, from anti-government militias to violence specifically
targeting abortion clinics, qualifies as terrorism in many instances:
violence committed with the aim of frightening people towards a political
end. The theory gained prominence when a series of ugly incidents took
place during the end of the 2008 presidential campaign at Palin and
McCain rallies, which recalled the 90s, a decade that saw a spate of
both anti-government and anti-choice bloodshed. 

As soon as this tragedy occurred,
therefore, dozens blogged and tweeted about classifying the killer as
a "terrorist." The word was repeated with astounding frequency and Matt Yglesias’s concise explanation circulated widely. Rachel Maddow and
Keith Olbermann labeled the killing "terrorism" and The New York
Times
editorialized to that effect as well.
 

2. Rachel Maddow on TV 

Rachel Maddow, heroine of the
blogosphere, devoted a large portion of her Monday night show not only
to the senseless assassination of Dr. Tiller, but also to many of the
issues that have since arisen. She detailed the entire history of anti-abortion
violence. She discussed with a lawyer how to approach the rhetoric that
might have contributed to the killing. She hosted acompelling segment
with Frank
Schaeffer
, a former
member of the religious right who argued that that movement’s rhetoric
and strategizing were partly responsible for such violence. Finally,
she talked with heroine of the feminist internet Dr. Susan Wicklund,
in a segment that wrenchingly described
the dwindling access to abortion

and targeting of providers. 

The following night, Maddow
again devoted much of her show to the issue, interviewing abortion provider
Dr. Warren Hern

as well as Vicki
Saporta, president of National Abortion Federation
who talked about the safety of clinic
workers. 

Maddow has a symbiotic relationship
with the blogosphere-she picks up ideas that are circulated during
the day and then her ability to gather expert commentators and footage
and her own thoughtful take provides fodder for blogs the following
day. Without that relationship, the kind of nuance and depth that she
applied to the issue would never have showed up on cable television. 

1. Women’s stories at the
forefront
 

Lastly and by far most importantly,
the Internet has permitted the wide circulation of real-life
stories
chronicled by patients at Tiller’s clinic, many of whom
previously identified as pro-life or were terminating badly-wanted pregnancies
because of horrible medical circumstances. They have circulated everywhere:
on blogs, on this
site
, in comments.
To a one, they described the kindness and compassion they received at
the clinic, and they thoroughly undid the "baby killer" meme so
often circulated next to Tiller’s name. Stories surfaced from Tiller’s
friends and others who had been through tragic late-term abortion procedures
elsewhere. Even big-shot writers like Steven
Waldman
and Andrew Sullivan have (to a certain extent) ceded their
voices to those of women who have actually undergone the procedure.  

The inherently democratic quality
of the internet has allowed more than one narrative to take shape. Rather
than viewing a single mainstream media take on the killing, Americans
are seeing a number of counter-threads: about the hypocrisy of "pro-life"
violence, the primacy of women’s stories, the terrorizing effect of
stalking clinic workers. As horrifying as the tragedy is, we’re lucky
to have this medium helping us set the story straight and get justice
for Dr. Tiller, the women he served, and those who need him whom he
never had the chance to help.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

News Family Planning

Lawsuit Challenges Arizona’s Attempt to Defund Planned Parenthood

Nicole Knight Shine

The Republican-backed law specifically targets abortion providers, excluding any facility from Medicaid that fails "to segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions, including the use of taxpayer dollars for any overhead expenses attributable to abortions.”

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked a federal court to block an Arizona law defunding Planned Parenthood, arguing in a legal challenge filed Thursday that the Arizona measure is “illegal.”

The GOP-backed law, signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in May, specifically targets abortion providers, excluding any facility from Medicaid that fails “to segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions, including the use of taxpayer dollars for any overhead expenses attributable to abortions.”

Federal law already bars health-care providers from using Medicaid dollars for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

In an 18-page complaint, the plaintiffs argue that the restriction is impermissible under Medicaid statutes, and they ask for an injunction on the law, which goes into effect August 6. Planned Parenthood said in an emailed statement that the law could slash funding for birth control, cancer screenings, and preventive care, affecting more than 2,500 Medicaid patients in the state.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state Medicaid agency, did not respond to a request for comment.

Jennifer Lee, staff attorney at the ACLU, called the Arizona law “another attempt to intimidate doctors who provide abortion and to punish low-income women in particular,” in a statement announcing the lawsuit. Planned Parenthood operates 11 medical centers in the state, including three in underserved and impoverished communities with high rates of infant mortality, according to the court filing.

At least ten states, including Arizona, have attempted to strip Planned Parenthood of funding—the fallout from a string of deceptive smear videos masterminded by David Daleiden, the head of the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress, who now faces a felony record-tampering charge.

“This case is about the people who rely on us for basic care every day,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an announcement of the Arizona suit. “We’ll continue fighting in Arizona, and anywhere else there are efforts to block our patients from the care they need.”

The Arizona law represents the state’s second attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. In 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision finding a similar defunding measure, HB 2800, violated federal Medicaid law.

In April, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent a letter to all 50 states saying that cutting funding to qualified providers solely because they provide abortion care violates federal law.

Independent analysis suggests gutting Planned Parenthood funding exacts a toll on health care.

2015 report from the Congressional Budget Office indicated that health-care access would suffer under Planned Parenthood funding cuts, with the potential for $650 million in additional Medicaid spending over a decade and thousands of more births.

In Texas, births surged 27 percent among low-income women who were using injectable birth control but lost access to the service when the state cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.