Abortion

From Kansas to Kenya: Ensuring Access to Safe Abortion For All

Daniel Pellegrom

In Kenya 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. More than 40 percent of Kenya’s maternal mortality rate is due to unsafe abortions.

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

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.

News Law and Policy

Purvi Patel Could Be Released From Jail by September

Jessica Mason Pieklo

In 2013, investigators charged Patel with both feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, based on the theory that Patel had self-induced an abortion and delivered a live infant, which then almost immediately died post-delivery.

The State of Indiana will not appeal a decision vacating the feticide conviction of Purvi Patel, the Granger woman who had previously faced 20 years in prison for what state attorneys described as an illegal self-induced abortion.

Patel was arrested in 2013 after she sought treatment at a hospital emergency room for heavy vaginal bleeding. While being examined by medical personnel, Patel told doctors she’d had a miscarriage and had disposed of the remains. Investigators located those remains and eventually charged Patel with both feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, based on the theory that Patel had self-induced an abortion and delivered a live infant, which then almost immediately died post-delivery. In February 2015, a jury convicted Patel of both counts.

But in July, the Indiana Court of Appeals vacated Patel’s feticide conviction, holding the statute was not designed to be used to criminally charge people for their own failed pregnancies. However, the court largely upheld Patel’s felony neglect of a dependent conviction, deferring to controversial medical testimony offered by the state that claimed Patel’s fetus was on the cusp of viability and had taken a breath outside her post-delivery.

Patel had initially been sentenced to serve a total of 20 years. But because attorneys for the state failed to appeal the July decision, she could be available for re-sentencing as soon as the court can schedule a hearing—which could mean a possible release as early as September, depending on her new sentence and credit for time served.

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