Pro-Life, Pro-Contraception & Pro-Tim Ryan

Mary Krane Derr

As a longtime pro contraception prolifer, I cannot stay quiet about Rep. Tim Ryan's expulsion as a Democrats for Life of America advisory board member.  This brouhaha shows up some rather severe but instructive barriers to common ground.

As
a longtime pro contraception prolifer, I cannot stay quiet about Rep.
Tim Ryan’s expulsion as a Democrats for Life of America advisory board
member.  This brouhaha shows up some rather severe but instructive
barriers to common ground.

 

Ryan’s
version of events: Although he is strongly prolife, DFLA dismissed him
for insisting that contraception is essential to reducing abortion,
and especially for cosponsoring the "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies,
Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.  This
bill, which is being introduced into the House today, includes provisions
for greater access to contraception and comprehensive sex education,
among other positive measures.

 

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But
DFLA head Kristen Day tells a different story.  She claims that
Democrats for Life is neutral on contraception.  So what is the
problem with Tim Ryan?  His voting record has abruptly shifted
from prolife to prochoice, so much so that he has been lost to the prochoice
movement.  And he speaks ill of other prolifers.  (For more
on the story, read this
.)

 

A
number of prolifers and prochoicers take Ryan’s expulsion as QED proof
for their monolithically dim views of the “enemy.”  Either
it confirms that abortion opponents are invariably motivated by hatred
of sex and crazy, absurd, inalterable hostility to every possible single
measure that would help reduce abortion.  Or it confirms that contraception
supporters are lethally dangerous to the unborn and too morally corrupt
and traitorous to be allowed in the prolife movement.

 

Both
of these views frequently accompany an utter cynicism towards common
ground.  After all, if one is oh-so-completely “right,” then
there is no need to bother with anyone who is oh-so-completely “wrong.” 
But whether from prolifers or prochoicers, such views represent a poverty
of moral and political imagination and engagement.

 

The
Tim Ryan incident illuminates some longstanding structural problems
with the US abortion debate that arise directly from this poverty of
vision and action.  One is the stereotype–curiously shared by
many prolifers and prochoicers–that opposition to abortion necessarily
equates opposition to contraception.  Yet, as mentioned in my previous
column, eight in ten Americans who identify as prolife advocate contraception.

 

The
prolife movement as such, unfortunately, does not properly represent
its pro contraception supporters, or even those who have religious objections
to contraception but do not necessarily want to illegalize it. 
Some antiabortion organizations are actively hostile to contraception. 
Others, like DFLA, profess to be neutral on pregnancy prevention. 

 

But
that professed neutrality is all too often suspect.  I myself ended
up leaving a group that claimed neutrality on pregnancy prevention.
It bent over backwards not to offend contraception opponents. 
Yet it stubbornly discouraged and stifled anyone who sought to be vocally
pro contraception within the parameters of the group.  And anyway,
how is neutrality possible on voluntary pregnancy prevention, something
so vital and indispensible to reducing abortion?

 

Why
don’t these avowedly neutral organizations instead develop pregnancy
prevention strategies that truly represent the full range of
prolife views on prevention, including those of the pro-birth control
majority? Why don’t such groups at the very least strongly assert
women’s human right to freedom of conscience in pregnancy prevention?

 

There
is a great need for groups in which pro contraception prolifers can
openly and actively be ourselves alongside, equal to prolifers
with other views.  There is an even greater need for pro contraception
prolifers to form our own groups and projects.  This is
one big reason I help with the Nonviolent Choice Directory
, a global directory of abortion-reducing
resources, including resources on all forms of pregnancy prevention. 
This is also why my friend Jen Roth is starting All Our Lives
, which combines the insights of the
reproductive justice and consistent life ethic movements.

 

If
pro contraception prolifers can take our rightful place in abortion
discourse, dialogue and cooperative action with prochoicers will become
all the more possible.  We already agree with prochoicers about
almost every way they propose to alleviate the root causes of abortion. 
We also have a unique ability to help prochoicers understand that, yes,
really, for real, a prolife stance can be, and often is, motivated by
concern for fetal and even female life, rather than animosity towards
women and nonprocreative sex.

 

Was
Tim Ryan really expelled from DFLA because of his outspokenness in favor
of contraception?  It’s plausible.  Was he really expelled
because he changed his position on abortion?  Unlike many prolife
commentators, Jen Roth actually examined his recent voting record instead
of making vague but virulent condemnations of it. 
She concludes that the denunciation
of Ryan as “no longer prolife” is based mostly on his support for
contraception
, not for legalized abortion.

 

But
what if Ryan did change his approach to the legal status of abortion? 
Would he then be a liar to he say he remains strongly prolife? 
Not necessarily–and this brings me to another large structural problem
with the abortion debate.

 

All
too often, prolife and prochoice are rigidly and exclusively defined
in terms of whether abortion should be legal/illegal.  This framing
of the issue makes it quite clear the traitors and enemies of each cause
are.  Yet, as many on both “sides” do recognize, this framing
of abortion does not touch some of the deepest, most decisive questions
connected with it.

 

This
is not to say the matter of the law is unimportant.  But whether
and to what extent abortion is legal/illegal, women will continue to
experience unintended pregnancies and abortions on a massive scale if
they still face a dearth of other alternatives.  So people with
a large spectrum of views on abortion’s legal status dedicate themselves
to creating other alternatives.  Work in this area is essential
to the most profound, and most shared, goals of both prolife and prochoice. 

 

So
why is such work so often considered secondary, extraneous, or marginal
to each movement’s self-definition?  For example, some prolifers
who focus on providing abortion alternatives take an approach quite
parallel to the harm reduction philosophy on substance abuse. 
But because they do not call for legal bans on abortion, or because
they put their energies elsewhere than the matter of the law, other
prolifers dismiss and berate them as “not really prolife.” 
In a quite parallel manner, some prochoicers who focus on matters like
adoption, are told they are going off on tangents to the real
purpose of the prochoice movement.

 

One
of the most disturbing things about Ryan’s expulsion is that he was
faulted for criticizing the prolife movement, as if he could not find
fault with it and yet remain a part of it.  Isn’t a movement’s
ability to reflect upon and criticize itself essential to its progress? 
I think that to progress, both the prolife and prochoice movements need
to confront and move beyond their own roles in these structural problems
of the abortion debate.

 

These
problems may be difficult to surmount.  But they came into being
through human agency.  So human agency can dismantle them–and
seek for more constructive ways to deal with disagreement–and agreement–between
prochoice and prolife.  The future of both movements lies in the
direction of common ground.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”

News Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.

White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy. 

“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.

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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.

Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.

“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”

White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.

During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.

There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.

‘Extremely common but hidden’

“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”

Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.

“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.

“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.  

White sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.

The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.

State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.

“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”

‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’

White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”

There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.

“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”

A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.

Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.

‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’

TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”

One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”

The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.

“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”

“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”

Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.

Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.

“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.

Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.

“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”

“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.