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

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.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.