From Kansas to Kenya: Ensuring Abortion Access for All Women

Daniel Pellegrom

So what does the murder of a doctor in Kansas have to do with the deaths of women in Kenya? Everything. The reproductive rights and health of women everywhere must be safeguarded.

How ironic and horrifying that headlines about the nomination of the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice – and the accompanying questions about her views on abortion – were replaced last week by news of the brutal slaying of a champion of women’s right to choose abortion. We went from celebrating Sonia Sotomayor to mourning George Tiller in the blink of an eye. What does it say about our nation when people who protest a reproductive choice they call “murder” choose to kill in cold blood?

This news is shocking, but hardly new; it’s a sad but old story. The early part of my career was spent as the executive director of two Planned Parenthood affiliates – first in Memphis and then for ten years in Maryland. Under my direction, Memphis became the first Planned Parenthood affiliate in the southern U.S. to offer women abortion services after the Roe v Wade decision. Later, in 1984, I headed Planned Parenthood of Maryland when its Annapolis clinic was among the first to be attacked and bombed by “Right to Life” terrorists. History too often repeats itself.

In the years since I left Planned Parenthood, seven reproductive health care providers were brutally murdered by those claiming to be “pro-life.” Now Dr. Tiller makes eight. Calling them “abortion providers” either intentionally or inadvertently marginalizes them. Each of them were providing services that are protected by the Constitution of the United States. They championed the rights of women to obtain a broad range of reproductive health care services – from pregnancy and HIV testing to prenatal care and yes, to abortion if that’s what they choose.

The Supreme Court did not mandate abortion; it reversed state laws making it illegal to interfere with physicians who were trying to provide good patient care. And it ruled that the Constitution’s privacy guarantee made it unconstitutional to deny women access to safe medical termination of a pregnancy.

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I didn’t leave Planned Parenthood in the mid-1980s because I tired of ensuring women’s access to reproductive rights. I left because I wanted to help women in the developing world where choices are even fewer than those in the U.S. and where reproductive health care often makes the difference between life and death. Of the more than 500,000 maternal deaths worldwide, more than 13 percent are associated with unsafe and illegal abortions. More than 66,500 women die each year because where they reside, abortion is illegal and unsafe. For them and others who suffer severe medical consequences, the issue is not “privacy,” nor is it “choice.” These are powerless women with no access to contraception, and whose basic rights to health care are limited by laws, edicts, or custom.

In Kenya for example – where Pathfinder International is actively working to improve the lives of women and their families – accurate statistics on abortion are hard to obtain since the procedure in most instances, is illegal. Nonetheless, a 2004 nationwide study showed that about 300,000 abortions are performed each year in the country, causing an estimated 20,000 women and girls to be hospitalized with dangerous complications. Official statistics show that more than 40 percent of Kenya’s maternal mortality rate is due to unsafe abortions. This translates into about 800 abortions a day and the deaths of 2,600 women every year.

So what does the murder of a doctor in Kansas have to do with the deaths of women in Kenya? Everything. The reproductive rights and health of women not just in the U.S. but worldwide must be safeguarded, and it is only through a broad range of health care options – including safe, legal abortion – that women survive and thrive. No matter what one’s personal beliefs are about abortion, every one of us ought to condemn the cowardly and cold-blooded murder of Dr. George Tiller as he served as an usher in his church. Disagreements about abortion should be settled in the courts, in the voting booth, or with one’s own doctor providing sound medical counsel. From Kansas to Kenya, it is high time to put women, their health and that of their families first.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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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