“My Sister’s Keeper” and Reproductive Rights

Kathleen Reeves

Lisa Belkin worries that the film paints an unrealistic, alarmist picture of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Lisa Belkin blogs about “My Sister’s Keeper”—first a book and now a movie—on the NYT’s Motherlode blog. The movie portrays a family that uses pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to try to save their daughter’s life. PGD is a process by which a couple creates several embryos and then determines which of them are genetic matches for their living child. In the case of “My Sister’s Keeper,” the daughter needs a bone marrow transplant—but eventually she needs more and more, including a kidney, and the second, PGD-conceived daughter finds herself battling with her parents over her bodily autonomy. A court case ensues.

 

Belkin worries that the film paints an unrealistic, alarmist picture of PGD. She wrote a story for the New York Times Magazine in 2001 on two families who used PGD to try to save their children, who had Fanconi anemia. The families she wrote about used the cord blood from the placentas of their newborns for bone marrow transplants for their sick children. This procedure is non-invasive and, one would think, uncontroversial—the placenta is usually discarded, anyway (except when families choose to keep their baby’s placenta).

 

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In the movie, on the other hand, PGD leads to a host of moral dilemmas: the younger daughter’s parents eventually take her to court when she refuses to comply with their increasing demands. And indeed, a “slippery slope” is how the government came to regard the technology, and taking cells from an afterbirth is far from uncontroversial for some of the commenters on Belkin’s blog post.

 

While one of the families Belkin followed saved their daughter’s life with PGD, the other family lost their son:

 

One of the reasons that the Strongin-Goldberg family lost Henry was because research on PGD was stalled for a year and a half in the middle of their attempts to use it — stalled by government officials who called it stem cell research, and who feared a slippery slope, and designer babies, and parents who use their children for spare parts. Had this family not lost those 18 months of research time, their real life story might have had a different ending.

 

As in the battle over stem-cell research during the Bush administration, what the government objected to in the mid-90s was PGD’s use of embryos. Fear of the anti-choice, anti-science contingent led the government to put embryos before people.

 

One of the commenters on Belkin’s post goes further, defending placentas over people:

Yes, I do understand what the point of PGD is and what a boon it could be to the children whose lives could be saved. But that’s just the point – the fetuses who would be brought to term would then be children, and we don’t have the right to decide what to do with their tissues simply because we can and want to.

and

Who advocates for the other child – you know, the donor whose tissues are being bandied about by the parents and medical establishment?

Does this person also object to the daily disposal of placentas at hospitals? My guess is that he or she sees this as a pro-life issue—that he or she is thinking of the embryos rather than the placentas.

Lisa Belkin responds:

I am confused by your question. There is no risk, minor or otherwise — no risk at all — to the baby whose cells are being used. They are taken from the placenta — the afterbirth, which is not attached to the baby at the time the cells are taken, and which would otherwise be thrown a way. So how is that “being bandied about”?

 

Even in this case, when there is no rational argument for opposing the harvesting of placenta cells, religious conservatives smell a fight. Pharmaceutical research on children and adults doesn’t seem to bother them. But when there’s an embryo involved, you can bet their opposition will cost us years, and countless lives.

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.

News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

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The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to OhioAbortionFacts.org, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights.