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 Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.