Abortion

Nebraska Attorney General Lambasts Carhart, Supports Aim of Extremist Anti-choicers

Wendy Norris

Radical anti-choice groups have found a disturbing ally in Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, whose public statements reveal strong support for their agenda. Also read Wendy's tweets from the Carhart clinic here.

Wendy Norris, a Denver-based journalist, is working on assignment for Rewire to cover anti-choice movements at the state level in the West.  She is currently reporting  from Bellevue Nebraska where she is covering the anti-choice movement’s efforts to close Dr. Carhart’s clinic.  She will be tweeting updates at @rhrealitycheck, and will be writing articles posted here throughout the weekend.

The expected refocusing of radical anti-choice protests from
Wichita, Kan., to suburban Omaha, Neb., following the murder of Dr. George
Tiller has found a disturbing ally in a top state elected official.


 

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Twelve days after Tiller was gunned down at his church by
militant anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, Nebraska Attorney General Jon
Bruning reportedly told KETV
, reacting to news that Tiller’s friend and
colleague, Leroy Carhart, M.D. intends to begin providing late-term abortions
in his Bellevue, Neb., clinic, stated:

“I’m disgusted and I’m saddened, and
I hate it that he’s here in Nebraska and I hate it that he’s in America,”
Bruning said. “I mean, this guy is one sick individual.”

The stunning remark evoked a firestorm of controversy on the
KETV Omaha television station Web page, summarized by this comment from
“tomh”:

I find it shocking that any reputable
public official would express such hatred for a law-abiding individual. To be
sure some people do not like abortion. However, there are times when a woman,
perhpaps [sic] to save her own life, has to undergo such a procedure. What makes
this situation even worse is that as the state’s Attorney General he should not
be encourageing [sic] the types of activity that we witnessed at the church in
Wichita or the museum in Washington.

The progressive political blog, NewNebraska.net, demanded
Bruning retract the statement
and issue an apology.  According
to the site’s managing editor, Kyle Michaelis, neither has been forthcoming.

The propriety of the state’s top legal adviser making such
an incendiary comment now casts a shadow over the attorney general’s office,
which acknowledged recently accepting a formal complaint by anti-abortion
groups demanding an investigation of Carhart’s clinic.

Bruning spokeswoman Leah Bucco-White told the Omaha
World-Herald that the complaint
was filed by local activists Rescue the
Heartland and Nebraskans United for Life and national groups Operation Rescue
West and the Christian Defense Coalition — the very same absolutist
anti-abortion faction organizing the Aug. 28-29 mass protests at the Carhart
clinic. The letter was referred to the state Department of Health and Human
Services.

Health department press agent Marla Augustine cited state
confidentiality laws when contacted about the details of the politically
charged accusations. News accounts have alluded to the longstanding strategy by
the anti-choice movement to repeatedly make vague, spurious claims against
physicians well after they have been discredited.

Augustine did confirm that no previous complaints against
Carhart have resulted in state disciplinary action. She declined to estimate
the time frame for completing the probe.

Bucco-White did not respond to an inquiry about the
incongruity between Bruning’s personal comments and his office’s need to
impartially review the facts of the investigation.

News Politics

Nebraska Governor Contradicts Findings of Planned Parenthood Investigation He Launched

Teddy Wilson

State investigators focused on the clinics’ handling of fetal tissue and found no evidence of wrongdoing, no different than the results of state investigations around the country.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in August directed officials from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to conduct surprise inspections of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s clinics in Lincoln and Omaha.

The governor ordered the inspections in response to the release of surreptitiously recorded videos of Planned Parenthood employees by the anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which has coordinated with GOP lawmakers on the state and federal level.

State investigators focused on the clinics’ handling of fetal tissue and found no evidence of wrongdoing, no different than the results of state investigations around the country.

However, nearly two months after state investigators completed the investigation, Ricketts penned a column attacking Planned Parenthood and repeating dubious claims made by CMP that have been repeatedly debunked, including by the investigation he ordered. 

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“Videos from this investigation revealed top Planned Parenthood doctors negotiating prices for the body parts of aborted babies,” Ricketts wrote on October 9, repeating a claim that has been discredited by a range of observers.

The three-day inspection began at both clinics on August 18, and after officials interviewed clinic staff and reviewed documents including patient lists and incident reports, they concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

Sue Ellen Wall, board member of Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska, wrote in an op-ed that Ricketts had perpetuated the allegations against Planned Parenthood while failing to release the results of the investigation to the public.

“Nebraskans deserve the truth, Gov. Ricketts, even when it doesn’t fit your agenda,” Wall wrote.

Unlike many of the other investigations ordered by Republican governors, there was no announcement of the investigations in Nebraska. The Ricketts administration had not made any official announcement of the results of the investigations.  

Omaha clinic director Brenda Hervey told the Lincoln Journal Star that investigators were particularly interested in speaking with staff members that handled fetal tissue. “They wanted to make sure they talked to those people,” Hervey said.

The investigators found that the clinics had not filed the required reporting statistics with the state, but those discrepancies have since been remedied.

State investigators observed staff members handling fetal tissue. Jennifer Warren-Ulrick, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s director of health services, told the Lincoln Journal Star that the organization offered state officials the chance to observe abortion procedures, which they declined.

“If they want to come in and look at our office and our procedures, then they can absolutely do that,” Warren-Ulrick said. “We know that we follow the rules … We know that we’re not doing anything wrong.”

A lead investigator concluded the clinic was operating in accordance with the law. “She was convinced that we were not doing anything improper or illegal with our fetal tissue.,” Hervey said.

State investigators also inspected a Bellevue clinic operated by independent abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart, and like the two Planned Parenthood clinics, found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

However, unlike the inspections conducted at the Planned Parenthood clinics, the inspection of Carhart’s clinic was not conducted at the direction of the governor but instigated by complaints against the clinic. Who made the complaint or the substance of the allegations against the clinic is unknown.

Investigators found three regulatory violations regarding the maintenance of clinic equipment, and state officials reported that the violations had been corrected after a follow-up inspection of the clinic on October 13.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland spokeswoman Angie Remington told the Lincoln Journal Star that she was surprised there wasn’t the same level of outcry for investigations in Nebraska that there has been in other states.  

“Lawmakers aren’t demanding an investigation. Our opposition has not publicly called for an investigation,” Remington said. “Yet everyone has no problem letting the abhorrent claims against [Planned Parenthood] go unchecked.”

Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, told the Lincoln Journal Star that she was pleased the clinics were inspected without prior notification.

“It’s good to know that DHHS is actually going inside Nebraska abortion facilities and doing some type of investigation,” Schmit-Albin said. “That sounds more aggressive than what has happened in the past.”

Nebraska Right to Life had been “in communication with several top elected officials” in the state, including the governor, according to the organization’s September newsletter.

Schmit-Albin said that legislation is needed to increase oversight and regulatory requirements of abortion clinics, such as a bill introduced in the GOP-majority state legislature this year to require clinics that provide abortion services meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

The anti-choice group is working with a state lawmaker ahead of the 2016 legislative session to draft a bill that would criminalize a common medical procedure used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions.

Analysis Law and Policy

Texas Attorney General’s Office Shrugs at Impact of HB 2 on Abortion Care

Jessica Mason Pieklo

In a brief submitted to the Roberts Court, the State of Texas could barely be bothered to muster up a defense of some of the most devastating abortion restrictions in the country.

Two thoughts came immediately to mind as I finished reading the State of Texas’ brief responding to reproductive rights advocates’ request for the Supreme Court to step back into the fight over Texas’ clinic closure law: The Texas Attorney General’s office really does not seem to care about poor people, and it doesn’t seem that concerned about the Roberts Court jumping into the fight over targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP) laws either.

Neither of those observations bode well for Texas patients.

The battle over HB 2 may be the most high-profile abortion rights fight currently in this country. Beginning with Wendy Davis’ epic filibuster and the protests that followed, the hollow and unsupported claims by conservatives that restricting access to reproductive health care advances patient safety, Texas’ struggle has for good or for bad come to symbolize the plight of reproductive rights in this country. The Supreme Court has already intervened twice in the fight over HB 2’s constitutionality, so smart money is on Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole being the next big abortion rights case on the Court’s docket.

Meanwhile, abortion rights jurisprudence has slid dramatically rightward since Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, so much so that the Roberts Court, should it take up the fight over TRAP laws, would be considering the question of whether or not states can constitutionally close all the abortion clinics within their borders. In other words, does closing every clinic in a state, or maybe leaving just one clinic open, create an undue burden on a patient’s right to terminate their pregnancy?

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The answer to that question seems obvious, right? How can a patient exercise their right to terminate a pregnancy if they cannot access a provider or a facility to do so? But, does your right to vote mean anything if there are no polling places for you to cast it?

One partial answer in the context of abortion rights is to self-terminate a pregnancy. I’ll get back to that terrifying prospect in a moment.

With such a fundamentally important question before the Roberts Court, and the significant likelihood the justices will take up the case, you would think the Texas Attorney General’s Office could muster up a little zing in its brief defending HB 2 and the Fifth Circuit’s decision to allow it to take effect. Instead, what the State of Texas offered up is a collective shrug, or a non-statement, at the state of abortion rights access in their state, especially for poor people.

“While some abortion providers may choose to close rather than comply,” the state’s brief reads, “petitioners [Whole Woman’s Health] did not even attempt to prove that remaining facilities will lack the capacity to perform the number of abortions sought—or that some of the other 423 ambulatory surgical centers in Texas will not begin performing abortions.”

The bulk of Texas’ defense of HB 2’s admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements is that, after two years and countless court hearings later, there is no evidence that patient care is harmed with these requirements in effect. That’s it. In its brief, there is no recounting of the purported health benefits forcing doctors to have admitting privileges extends to patients. There is no data presented discussing the benefit of ambulatory surgical center requirements on patient care. And there is certainly no information to support the State of Texas’ claims that patient health has improved since HB 2’s implementation.

An amicus brief filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) in support of the petition to the Roberts Court to take up the case puts that lack of evidence claim in context.

“Texas is the second-largest state in the U.S., both by population and geographic area, and home to approximately 5.4 million women of reproductive age,” the NAF brief reads. “Texas also has the highest proportion of citizens without medical insurance of any state in the nation, and consistently rates near the bottom of national health care access rankings.”

The brief continues:

The state’s abysmal health care record has led to poor outcomes for pregnant women and staggering racial disparities in care. For example, the State Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity reported last year that while there were 24.4 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 overall births in Texas in 2011, among African-American women there were 67.3 such deaths per 100,000 live births. The Task Force concluded that pregnancy- related deaths are on the rise, and that between 20% and 50% are preventable.

In other words, what the State of Texas describes as “no evidence of harm” is, really, a refusal to see the individuals being harmed by HB 2.

According to the legal record from the lower court proceedings in the fight over HB 2 cited by NAF, in the six months after the admitting privileges requirement of HB 2 was implemented, 13.9 percent of abortion procedures in Texas were provided at 12 weeks of pregnancy or later, compared to 10.7 percent in 2012. One clinic informed NAF that some patients were waiting for three weeks just to obtain a first visit, with many forced to travel out-of-state to Louisiana to seek care.

Louisiana has a similar clinic-closure law on the books that is currently being challenged by reproductive rights advocates as well.

The same day the State of Texas submitted its brief to the Roberts Court, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin released a report on the growing wait times for patients needing abortion care in the state. Since HB 2’s enactment, approximately half the abortion clinics have closed. The report measured wait times in major metropolitan areas in the state from November 2014 to present. In Dallas, the wait time to schedule a procedure grew from about five days to more than 20. Wait times in Ft. Worth grew to more than 25 days to schedule an abortion. “The long wait time at some of the [abortion clinics that meet ambulatory surgical center standards] suggests that these facilities are not meeting the existing demand for services,” the researchers wrote in the report.

The result of the increased wait time means patients are being pushed into more expensive, later abortion procedures or going without care. (HB 2 also bans abortions at 20 weeks, a provision that so far has gone unchallenged by advocates.)

Monday’s report is not part of the legal record challenging HB 2, but it does help highlight how the State of Texas’ argumentthat those abortion providers remaining in the state could meet the demand of all Texas patients—ten providers to accommodate millions of patients “strains credulity,” as NAF argued.

There is also the possibility that some patients will be forced into self-terminating pregnancies. The evidence exists that this is already happening at alarming rates, especially for poor patients and those who do not live in urban centers and/or cannot travel the distance to get a provider.

Those patients are nowhere to be found in the State of Texas’ brief.

The Supreme Court will decide later this fall if it will take up the HB 2 challenge. If it does, and I believe it will, it will be the first time the Roberts Court has heard a challenge to an abortion restriction since it upheld the so-called federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban in 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart. By the looks of the State of Texas’ brief, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office doesn’t seem to care one way or another if they do.