Late-Term Abortion: In Silence No Longer

Amanda Marcotte

Why did we have to wait until a heroic doctor was murdered before people began to question the outrageous claims made against him and against women who have late term abortions?

One small ray of hope emerged in the aftermath of the horrific anti-choice assassination of Dr. George Tiller. Former patients of Dr. Tiller’s—or those who have had similar experiences with late term abortions—came out of the woodwork to testify to the necessity of their abortions, the painfulness of their decisions, and the goodness of Dr. Tiller, who was willing to brave harassment, arson, and attempted murder to make sure that women in dire need received the care they deserved. And for once, you saw more mainstream news outlets like the New York Times giving space to women to talk about the horror of a pregnancy gone wrong, and the need to terminate.

And it’s working. People like Andrew Sullivan and Steve Waldman, who bought the misogynist claim that women wake up one day at 30 weeks and decide they can’t fit a baby in between their yoga classes and mani-pedis, are being rudely awakened by the truth about late-term abortion. And while they’re still not completely sold on the idea that women have a right to determine if they should be mutilated, traumatized, or killed by a pregnancy gone wrong, they at least are beginning to realize that perhaps their cold assessment of the cold hearts of women was completely off-base.

All this leaves us with an uncomfortable question: Why did we have to wait until a heroic doctor was murdered before people began to question the outrageous claims made against him and against women who have late term abortions? Why does a good man have to be dead before people start to think maybe, just maybe, women aren’t that wicked? Bitch PhD asks this question poignantly:

And finally, all of a sudden people are linking to or telling stories about the kind of abortions Tiller performed. Which is awesome. But those stories have been there all along, both on the feminist blogs and on memorial sites…. Instead we get stories, week after week, about Modern Love or what’s happening "On the Runway" or new trends like teenagers hugging or expensive remodelling projects.

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I’m serious about this. "Style" sections are supposed to be soft news, for women, right? Why the hell *aren’t* columns like "Modern Love" sometimes about late-term abortions? That’s a women’s issue.

Why indeed? Well, as a feminist and as someone who writes about reproductive justice extensively, I have to confess that part of the blame falls on the shoulders of those of use who struggle for reproductive justice. These stories aren’t being pushed, because we haven’t been pushing them. We’ve shied away from talking about late term abortion in specific terms, and in the process, we’ve allowed the anti-choice movement and their hysterical fantasies about people who murder babies for fun to frame the discourse. And there’s a number of reasons why.

First of all, we’re beset by a combination of fear and the natural human desire not to be endlessly annoyed. When your opposition is relentless and has no moral qualms about harassment and deceit, it’s exhausting to keep pushing. I know that every time I wrote about the heroic Dr. Tiller, I was absolutely besieged by anti-choice fanatics who have no life outside of their obsession, never seem to sleep, and are absolutely, 100% impervious to reason or reality. Arguing with them was pointless, and even bringing up the subject, especially online, meant an avalanche of abuse from people who function like tanks of hatred, just rolling over everything in sight. Pushing these stories in the media meant asking mainstream media outlets to invite this misery into their lives. Dr. Tiller and other providers who offer late term abortions are the victims of the witch hunt psychology. The hunters don’t care about the truth, just what they want to believe, and if you defend the person they’ve determined is a witch, you’re the next target. Who wants to invite that?

Of course, we should do it anyway, because if you don’t fight back, they win.

The other reason, and this is even more distressing to me, is we were afraid. Anti-choicers’ best weapon is exploiting the disgustingness of surgery, any surgery. (If you described root canals like they do early term abortions, and put up doctored photographs of the results, you could get half of American to freak out and agree to be “pro-tooth”, or whatever misleading phrase you want to use.) But late term abortion is by far the grossest, most distressing of abortion procedures. They really do remove fetuses that are very close to the baby stage. It’s not like early term abortions at all, and even many women who get late term abortions don’t use the word “abortion”, because there really isn’t much feeling that they chose it. The fear is that the public at large will be too disturbed by this fact to actually listen to the reasons why anyone would do such a thing.

It was easy to rationalize avoiding the subject. Third trimester abortions are about 1% of all abortions performed, and frankly, the anti-choice movement only focuses on them because they are especially disgusting, and therefore make a good cudgel to attack all abortion rights. And since they are so emotionally fraught, they have a great deal of appeal to the ghouls that populate the anti-choice movement, the ones who spend obscene percentages of their lives dwellling on graphic pictures of dead fetuses. We feared the topic gave the ghouls more opportunities to scare people and shut down rational thought.

We were wrong to be afraid. We have the moral high ground on late term abortion, and that should be obvious now. No one wants to see their wives, daughters, friends, or colleagues suffer the trauma of fatal birth defects or health hazards that kill or maim them. Few of us are sadistic enough to be party to laws that would force 10-year-olds to give birth to the babies of rapists.

The final reason that many of us in the reproductive rights movement were antsy about pushing the stories of women who have late term abortions is respect. For most women who have late term abortions, the politics of it only comes up insofar as they have to climb over the protesters in order to get the procedure and start the grieving process. Pro-choicers understandably don’t want to add to their burden by asking them to speak out about their experiences. We want to let people grieve in peace. The reason that we want to win this political battle conclusively is so that people can make their most personal choices without the whole world thinking they have a piece of it.

Unfortunately, as these days past have shown, the luxury of having the personal be completely personal and not political will only come when we beat back those who cannot stand that they don’t have completely ownership over women’s bodies. These stories help, and I hope going forward we do not live in fear any longer of telling them.

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.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

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