Here’s the simple truth, offered up in Guttmacher’s newest
report on a recently completed survey:
Finances have a very real impact on women’s reproductive
health decisions. As the report concludes,
Family planning and childbearing decisions are not made in
a vacuum, but have always been influenced by broader economic and other
external forces. Women take into account many factors, including their ability
to appropriately care for their present and future children, their employment
and their family’s economic stability.
In a survey of almost 1000 women, researchers also uncover
how the recession is impacting women’s decisions on everything from what kinds
of contraception they use to the type of provider they see.
Some key findings include:
half of surveyed women (44%) report that because of the economy, they want
to reduce or delay their childbearing. And while most of those women (31%)
say they want to have children at a later date, 7% say they no longer want
more – or any – children.
income women (those with household income below $25,000), who may have
less cushion or flexibility in their household spending, are more likely
to report changes in their fertility preferences than are higher income
those [women] who want no more children, 46% report that because of the
economy, they are thinking more about sterilization.
one out of four women report having put off a gynecological or birth
control visit to save money in the past year. Women who lost their health
insurance during the past year are more likely to report delaying a visit
than are those who did not.
29% of surveyed women agree with the statement, “With the economy the way
it is, I am more careful than I used to be about using contraception every
time I have sex.” Those who are financially worse off are more likely than
others to agree with this statement (39% vs. 19%).
Of course it’s no secret that even in good times women’s
reproductive and sexual health care is utterly dependent upon economics;
affecting decisions like child-bearing. It’s been a long fight to ensure
insurance coverage for contraception and family planning services for women. Pregnancy
and cesarean sections can both be considered “pre-existing conditions” for
which women are denied coverage. According to Think Progress, most individual health insurance markets don’t
cover maternity care services either. All of these kinds of policies leave women struggling to pay for the
reproductive health decisions they make – in more ways than one.
And despite clear evidence to the contrary, many legislators
refuse to acknowledge that by helping women to pay for their contraception and
family planning care, we save tax payers’
money and, of course, help women and their families. In an op-ed on the
inclusion of family planning funds in the stimulus package, Cory Richards writes,
When the Congressional Budget Office assessed a virtually
identical provision in 2007, it found that it would save the federal
government $200 million over five years by helping women voluntarily avoid
pregnancies that otherwise would result in Medicaid-funded births.
We are at a crossroads as we continue the fight for health
care reform, specifically as it relates to a public option, making coverage
more equitable and affordable for those who most need it. Since coverage of and
access to contraception and family planning services and overall reproductive
health care for women is such a contentious topic in this country we need to
look at reports such as this and note the ways in which we can change the
system so that women’s child-bearing and family planning decisions are not so utterly dependent upon economics.
Of course women’s childbearing and family planning decisions
will always be made, somewhat, with their economic situation in mind – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As the Guttmacher report notes, some women are making positive
adjustments in their birth control use because of the economy; some women are
simply re-thinking their decision to have more children. But, as Dr. Sharon Camp, Guttmacher President and CEO says,
“The recession has put many women—including middle-class
women who are having trouble making ends meet—in an untenable situation.
They want to avoid unintended pregnancy more than ever, but at the same time
are having difficulty affording the out-of-pocket costs of prescription
contraception. Unfortunately, while delaying a prescription refill or skipping pills
may save women money in the short term, it increases their risk of an
unintended pregnancy and results in greater costs related to abortion and
unplanned birth later on.”
It’s that untenable situation that women are forced into –
wanting to prevent pregnancy because of economic difficulties but not
necessarily being able to afford pregnancy prevention tools – that is most
concerning. It’s not new but it’s made all the more real during these difficult economic times.
In the second part of Rewire’s “Living in the Shadow of Counterterrorism” series, we look at how Muslim families, particularly women, are forced to confront state violence on a daily basis—from living with the stigma of terrorism, to repairing their broken homes, to navigating what they say is a brutal and biased prison system.
This is the second article in Rewire’s “Living in the Shadow of Counterterrorism” series. You can read the other pieces in the series here.
When Virginia native Mariam Abu-Ali was 14 years old, her life abruptly turned upside down. It was 2003, two years after the September 11 attacks and well into an era of counterterrorism tactics that were systematically hollowing out Muslim residents’ civil liberties and constitutional protections in the United States. But the Abu-Ali family never imagined they would be caught up in the dragnet.
Mariam’s then-22-year-old brother, Ahmed Omar, had been studying in Medina, Saudi Arabia, when he was arrested in connection with a series of May 2003 terrorist attacks in Riyadh.
In an interview with Rewire, Mariam says her brother, who was born in Texas, was held in solitary confinement in a Saudi jail for nearly two years without ever being charged with a crime. During that time, Mariam tells Rewire over the phone, there is strong evidence that he was tortured. Although defense expert Dr. Allen Keller, director of the Program for Survivors of Torture at the Bellevue/NYU Hospital, examined Ahmed and testified at his U.S. trial to the evidence of torture, an appeals court eventually ruled that Ahmed’s statements to Saudi interrogators were “voluntary.”
When, after months of legal pressure from his family, he was finally returned to the United States, a court for the Eastern District of Virginia charged him with multiple counts, including conspiring with an Al-Qaeda cell in Medina to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Following a trial that permitted the admission of what Mariam called “a coerced confession,” he was eventually sentenced to 30 years in prison, and later re-sentenced to life.
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Yet as legal experts like Elaine Cassel, author of The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Dismantled the Bill of Rights, have pointed out, “Nowhere in the indictment [was] Abu-Ali tied to any terrorist event or action”—either in the United States or in Saudi Arabia.
Instead, his case fell under the shadowy material support statutes that have governed much of the United States’ counterterrorism operation in the years since 9/11, under the USA Patriot Act of 2001. This set of laws allows the U.S. government to preemptively prosecute individuals for engaging in terrorism based on their perceived predisposition toward violence, rather than their actions. Over the past 15 years, hundreds of Muslims have disappeared in a warren of these convoluted laws; they are currently locked up in high-security prisons around the country.
A constellation of families, scholars, activists, and civil rights organizations have long challenged the effects of material support charges, as well as the unfair trials and the lengthy and harsh prison sentences that tend to follow them. Over the past few years, they have come together in a campaign called No Separate Justice, an attempt to unite far-flung groups and individuals who are working to dismantle what they say is a parallel and unjust legal system for Muslim residents in post-9/11 America.
Women like Mariam Abu-Ali have been at the forefront of the movement—along with Zurata Duka and Shahina Parveen, whose stories Rewire has previously reported on—advocating on behalf of their loved ones.
In the second part of Rewire’s “Living in the Shadow of Counterterrorism” series, we look at how families, particularly women, are forced to confront state violence on a daily basis—from living with the stigma of terrorism, to repairing their broken homes, to navigating what they say is a brutal and biased prison system.
“Dangerous” Minds, Draconian Measures
Mariam Abu-Ali says her brother’s case represents many of the civil rights violations that have marred the decade and a half since 9/11, a sentiment that is echoed in the final opinion on Ahmed Omar’s case penned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
In its unanimous decision to uphold the guilty verdict on nine terrorism-related counts against Ahmed in 2008, the three-judge bench wrote:
Persons of good will may disagree over the precise extent to which the formal criminal justice process must be utilized when those suspected of participation in terrorist cells and networks are involved … the criminal justice system is not without those attributes of adaptation that will permit it to function in the post-9/11 world.
While the opinion does not explicitly state what these “attributes of adaptation” are, studies on counterterrorism indicate they could refer to any number of legal practices that have become normalized since September 11. In particular, they could refer to the use of material support statutes, which have played a significant role in the prosecution of Muslim Americans like Ahmed Omar.
As FBI Assistant Director Gary Bald testified to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 2004:
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the material support statutes to our ongoing counterterrorism efforts. The statutes are sufficiently broad to include terrorist financers and supporters who provide a variety of resources to terrorist networks. The statutes provide the investigative predicate which allows intervention at the earliest possible stage of terrorist planning to identify and arrest terrorists and supporters before a terrorist attack occurs. [Emphasis added.]
In short, material support statutes have enabled federal authorities to prosecute people based on suspicion of what they might do in the future rather than any overt criminal act. The statutes primarily refer to “support” for terrorist networks as weapons, arms training, or direct funding. Prosecutors, courts, and juries, however, have interpreted the laws much more broadly to encompass the sharing of religious or political texts online, casual conversations between friends, or charitable donations to organizations in areas controlled by terrorist groups.
In many instances, material support charges have amounted to nothing more than thought crimes, in which law-abiding Muslim residents have been penalized simply for expressing their religious and political views.
According to a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch, material support cases rose sharply in the decade following the September 11 attacks. Prior to 9/11, just six individuals had been charged under these laws in the United States. In the decade following, 168 of 917 domestic terrorism convictions analyzed by HRW fell under such statutes, accounting for 18 percent of all terrorism-related convictions in that time period.
Even a cursory look at some of these cases is sufficient to grasp the breadth of these laws, which have pushed deep into Muslim communities, tearing through many layers of social fabric along the way.
In 2012, the New York Times published an op-ed by Yale professor Andrew March on the case of Tarek Mehanna, a Pittsburgh-born doctor and community leader who was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison because his opinions about Islam, expressed online, were deemed a form of material support for terrorist causes.
March wrote in the Times:
As a political scientist specializing in Islamic law and war, I frequently read, store, share and translate texts and videos by jihadi groups. As a political philosopher, I debate the ethics of killing. As a citizen, I express views, thoughts and emotions about killing to other citizens. As a human being, I sometimes feel joy (I am ashamed to admit) at the suffering of some humans and anger at the suffering of others. At Mr. Mehanna’s trial, I saw how those same actions can constitute federal crimes.
March’s op-ed illustrates a frightening truth about material support statutes: They allow for the preemptive prosecution of individuals who have not yet committed a crime but whom the government deems capable of possibly committing a crime in the future.
Other cases, such as the Holy Land Five, demonstrate a pattern in which material support laws have essentially criminalized charitable giving. The case involved the founders of the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim charity that provided humanitarian aid to the needy, including women and children in Palestine. Though the government concluded that the Holy Land Foundation never directly aided a terrorist organization, it nonetheless prosecuted five of its members for funneling aid through charitable committees into areas controlled by Hamas, a designated Palestinian terrorist group, thereby violating material support statutes. Journalists called the verdict an attack on Islam itself, particularly the practice of zakat, which mandates that Muslims allocate a portion of their wealth or earnings for charitable causes.
From its very inception, the No Separate Justice (NSJ) campaign has fought this flawed notion, with mothers and sisters of the accused becoming the movement’s most prominent spokespeople. NSJ initially coalesced around the case of a Muslim American named Fahad Hashmi.
Hashmi had been working toward a master’s degree in international relations at London Metropolitan University when he was arrested at Heathrow Airport in 2006. In 2007 he became the first U.S. citizen to be extradited following the loosening of restrictions around the process after 9/11, according to an article by Jeanne Theoharis, a political science professor at Brooklyn College and co-founder of the NSJ campaign, who taught Hashmi as an undergraduate.
He was initially held in pretrial solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC) in downtown Manhattan. MCC’s notoriety was cemented in a 2010 New York Timesarticle that quoted a former Guantanamo detainee, who was also held at the MCC, as saying the Cuban military prison was “more pleasant” and “more relaxed” than the federal detention facility in New York City.
Hashmi was also subjected to special administrative measures, government restrictions on a terror suspect’s communications that amount to a gag order on the case and their conditions of confinement. Advocates say these were drastic measures relative to the charges against him: Hashmi’s only crime, according to Theoharis’ article, was allowing an acquaintance to spend a night in his apartment, an acquaintance who would later deliver a suitcase of raincoats and waterproof socks to Al Qaeda members. This same acquaintance would later become a cooperating witness for the government in exchange for a more lenient sentence, and testify against Hashmi in a trial that ended with a guilty verdict and a 15-year sentence.
Stunned by Hashmi’s conditions of confinement, a group called Theaters Against War linked arms with Educators for Civil Liberties and the Muslim Justice Initiative to host weekly vigils outside the MCC in 2009. These gatherings, which continue to this day, form the nucleus of the NSJ movement.
“We wanted to build a coalition so people from different backgrounds could bring their institutional expertise and moral conscience into the same arena as family members, and create a space where people could express outrage at what was happening,” Sally Eberhardt, one of NSJ’s earliest organizers, tells Rewire.
At first, larger civil liberties groups kept their distance, possibly because “this isn’t exactly the most funder-friendly issue in the world,” Eberhardt suggests. But advocates persisted, holding candlelight protests even on the bitterest winter nights, singing songs and chanting poems in the shadow of the detention center. Those intimate gatherings formed the basis of what is now a national movement, encompassing multiple organizations and dozens of families.
Two outspoken leaders are the Sadequee sisters, Bangladeshi Americans who have been among the strongest advocates of prisoners’ rights and the most public critics of the government’s targeting of Muslim men—including their brother, Shifa.
From the Streets to the Prayer Rug: Pushing Back Against State Violence
Ehsanul “Shifa” Sadequee was born in Virginia and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, the youngest of four siblings in a Bangladeshi-American family. According to his sisters, he was a curious and exceptionally kind child, who by his early teens had grown into a devout and diligent religious scholar.
In 2005, when he was just 18 years old, Shifa traveled to Bangladesh. In April 2006 he got married, but 12 days after his wedding, Bangladeshi authorities took and detained him, apparently at the behest of the U.S. government, for allegedly making false statements to the FBI at John F. Kennedy Airport on his way to Bangladesh the previous year.
Shifa’s sister Sonali, who is based in Atlanta, tells Rewire that this initial charge and arrest, which the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh later deemed a violation of international laws, was a terrifying process for the entire family. For days after Shifa was taken they had no news of his whereabouts. Fears that he would somehow wind up in Guantanamo, ensnared in the web of the “war on terror,” gnawed at the edges of their minds but the family pushed these aside, telling themselves that because Shifa had done nothing wrong, they had nothing to fear. With the phone ringing off the hook and the television on 24/7, they gleaned what scraps of information they could from CNN news reports.
It transpired that upon his arrest in Bangladesh, Shifa was stripped naked, wrapped in plastic, and flown via Alaska to New York, Sonali says, where he spent over three months at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn before being transferred to the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. Shifa spent more than three years in pretrial solitary confinement before ever being formally charged with a crime, his sister said.
Once Shifa was inside the criminal justice system, Sonali explains, federal authorities quickly dropped the initial charges against him and began to build a case around allegations of material support.
At the heart of the case was Shifa’s renown as an Islamic scholar with a larger-than-life online persona—he had studied classical Arabic and the history of religion as a student in Canada and was a gifted translator, often sharing interpretations of Islamic or political texts on the internet. The Sadequee family says Shifa’s trial was riddled with shortcomings, including the use of previously classified evidence and the selection of jurors who admitted to having anti-Muslim bias—which Human Rights Watch says is a common problem. In addition, the prosecution used Shifa’s ideology as a brush with which to paint him as a fearsome radical, on the verge of carrying out a violent attack on U.S. soil.
Although Shifa, according to Sonali, never engaged in any actions beyond practicing free speech, he was found guilty on four terrorism counts in 2009 and, at the age of 23, sentenced to 17 years in federal prison. He represented himself at the trial, making him one of the first Muslim youth to do so in a national security case, according to his sisters.
Both Sonali and Sharmin Sadequee, who is based in New York, have been mobilizing on his behalf for over a decade. After years of shielding themselves from the backlash of isolation and Islamophobia that invariably accompanies charges of terrorism, the young women have turned their advocacy into an art form.
In an interview with Rewire, Sonali explains that when her brother was arrested, the women in her family developed an organic division of labor that allowed them to form a united front against the horror and uncertainty that had descended on their lives.
“I was already plugged into the social justice community in Atlanta, so I saw my role as tapping into that support network, bringing resources to my family to make sure we all understood the human rights issues involved, ensuring we had the skills to confront the media, which was bombarding us at the time,” she says. Her sister, meanwhile, dealt with the prisons, navigating bureaucratic visitation rules and ensuring Shifa had what he needed on the inside.
“Sharmin and my mother also reached out to the Muslim community, to mosques and other groups,” Sonali continues. “And the rest of the time, my mother was on the prayer rug. I don’t know how many hours she spent kneeling and praying.”
They built a website that is always fresh with the latest news about Shifa’s case and serves as a hub for their activism—they recently announced a letter-writing campaign to mark Ramadan, inviting more than 1,000 followers of a Justice for Shifa Facebook group to send greeting cards to Muslim prisoners. Countless hours are eaten up attending rallies, speaking on panels, or sitting with reporters, patiently unpacking the messy details of Shifa’s case.
The irony is that while the Sadequee sisters make a powerful team, they are constantly called upon to do what they say is the hardest thing of all: relive a time in their lives they would rather forget.
“I don’t like to do these interviews,” Sonali says bluntly. “I don’t enjoy them at all—but I recognize they have to be done. Only by sharing what happened to us, by talking about it, will others learn from it.”
They say they have been trying to create collective responses to state violence resulting from the “war on terror,” and hope to combat the government’s tactics of fear and isolation by building community power and resiliency. But this is easier said than done: Not only must the Sadequees contend with the lingering stigma of Shifa’s trial, but they also, until very recently, had to deal with the trauma of visiting their brother in a prison unit that has been described by former detainees as “Little Gitmo.”
CMUs: “A Religious and Political Quarantine”
Between 2009 and 2015, Shifa was imprisoned in the Communications Management Unit (CMU) at the federal detention center in Terre Haute, Indiana, a segregated portion of the prison comprised almost exclusively of Muslim men that has been the subject of a legal battle since 2010.
This past March, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reinstate a lawsuit the group first filed six years ago challenging CMUs, which the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) quietly ushered into existence under the Bush administration—the first in 2006 in Indiana, and the second in 2008 in Marion, Illinois.
Conditions in these units, which house 60 to 70 prisoners combined, are harsh, according to the CCR: Although inmates are not held in isolation, they are banned from having any physical contact with family members during visits, and their calls are restricted to two per week, each for 15 minutes. By contrast, other BOP inmates are allowed 300 minutes worth of calls every month.
CCR claims the CMUs violate prisoners’ procedural due process rights, and argue that placement in these units is both arbitrary and retaliatory, with Muslim prisoners vastly overrepresented.
“Between 2006 and 2014, about 170 individuals filtered through these units and 101 of them—about 60 percent—were Muslims, even though Muslims only constitute 6 percent of the general federal prison population,” CCR Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol tells Rewire in a phone interview.
CCR reported in 2010 that in Marion, 72 percent of current CMU prisoners were Muslim, a 1,200 percent overrepresentation, while two-thirds of the CMU population in Terra Haute was Muslim, 1,000 percent higher than the national average of Muslim prisoners in federal facilities.
“We are challenging the lack of procedural protections before prisoners are placed in the CMU and also alleging that placement is in retaliation for protected political and religious speech,” Meeropol says, pointing out that inmates in the CMU are seldom given reasons for why they were moved into the units, and are routinely denied opportunities to earn their release into general population.
“CMUs are essentially a religious and political quarantine, the same kind of segregation that has supposedly been outlawed in this country,” she added.
In response to multiple requests for comment about these allegations, Justin Long with the Office of Public Affairs at the Information, Policy and Public Affairs Division for the BOP said in an email to Rewire, “The Bureau of Prisons cannot comment on matters currently in litigation,” and directed Rewire to the Bureau’s web page on CMUs.
In addition to being hard on inmates, Meeropol says CMUs are also “debilitating” for families, especially those with young children who cannot communicate with their fathers through letters, and often cannot understand why they are forced to speak to them through glass, using phones that are monitored by prison staff.
“Several mothers have told me that they’ve stopped bringing their children on visits because it was just too devastating,” Meeropol says.
The Collective Trauma of “Supermax” Prisons and Solitary Confinement
The alternative, some might say, is even worse. All over the country, Muslim prisoners are serving decades-long sentences in solitary confinement, which the United Nations has recognized as a form of torture. Advocates and relatives of terror suspects, or those incarcerated on terrorism charges, have long cried foul over these conditions of confinement, which they say is a form of collective punishment on entire families.
Zurata Duka, whose three sons, Dritan, Shain, and Eljvir were arrested in a manufactured terror plot by the government in 2007, is well aware of the toll of solitary confinement. Her sons have spent dozens of years between them in complete isolation, including long stints at the maximum-security facility in Florence, Colorado.
“My sons are strong—they never let us see them cry, even when their daughters are crying on the other side of the glass,” she says to Rewire. “But once my son Dritan told me he nearly lost his mind in isolation.”
Before his arrest, Zurata tells Rewire, Dritan had been very close with his youngest daughter. Every night he would put her to sleep, stroking her hair and singing lullabies. In those early days after he was taken away, the little girl would lie awake at night, calling out for her father. Unbeknownst to the family, thousands of miles away, Dritan was experiencing something similar.
“He told me, ‘Mom, I don’t know what happened. For three days I just lay there, stroking my pillow, thinking it was [his daughter]. I didn’t know who I was and I don’t know how I came back,’” Zurata recalls him saying.
His daughter was so desperate to see him that one day she penned a note to the president. It read: “Dear Mr. Obama. Today is my birthday. I am five years old. Please, if you can, bring my father back just for one day, so I can hug and kiss him, and then, if you want, you can take him back again.” Zurata says she mailed the letter to the White House. She never heard back.
Almost every family has a similar story. According to Mariam Abu-Ali, conditions of confinement often come up at annual gatherings of affected families, which she organizes in her role as director of the Prisoners and Families Committee at the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms.
“About 90 percent of the attendees are women,” she says in a phone interview with Rewire, “and they bring a lot of pain and anxiety into the room. But I’d say the meetings are cathartic,” she adds. “It’s the place where we build bonds with the only people who know what we’re going through.”
Several women who’ve attended the conference in the past tell Rewire they are powerful spaces, offering families a rare chance to speak openly about their lives without fear of being misunderstood, judged, or pitied. It is also a moment for families, particularly women, to share in the collective nature of their trauma, especially the pain of incarceration.
In the 13 years that her brother has served, Mariam says she has come to the painful realization that prisons don’t just lock up individuals—they are a form of bondage on the entire family.
Because Ahmed Omar is imprisoned 1,600 miles from the family’s home in Virginia, in one of the BOP’s maximum-security facilities in Colorado, they only see him once or twice a year. Visits are limited to three family members at a time, meaning Mariam has not seen Ahmed in two years. He reserves his two monthly phone calls for his parents, so she can only hope to talk to him when she visits them. Even these calls are a source of enormous frustration. As she wrote in a recent op-ed:
My mom has spent every Tuesday and Thursday of the last decade, at home, sitting by the phone, patiently waiting for a call that sometimes did not come. And when the call does come, what can one even discuss in 15 minutes? Do you ask him how he’s doing? How can you even ask him how he’s feeling? Do you discuss his prison conditions? His legal case? How do you break the news to him when his aunt or grandfather has passed away?
“What you have to understand is that my brother’s case wasn’t just one devastating ‘moment’ in our lives—it’s a lifelong struggle,” Mariam tells Rewire. “This is not something you ever get used to, or accept. It’s about learning new ways of coping every single day, like living with a chronic illness.”
Each day brings fresh challenges, and tough decisions. For instance, Mariam used to maintain a website, manage a Facebook page, and post daily updates on a Twitter account all relating to her brother’s case. One day she felt she just couldn’t do it anymore.
“At a point you have to ask yourself—do I work full time and provide for my family or do I advocate full time on behalf of my loved one?” she asks. “This work, it’s emotionally draining, it’s a daily struggle and it doesn’t necessarily get easier with time.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the officials whom Shifa Sadequee had been accused of making false statements to. It was FBI officers, not immigration officials.
A perfect political storm has flooded state legislatures with anti-choice bills as Republicans have used what advocates call “nonsense” to justify an assortment of measures to restrict reproductive rights.
There have been 147 anti-choice bills introduced in state legislatures during the first month of 2016, according to an analysis by Rewire.
This year’s crush of anti-choice proposals is part of several years of coordinated efforts by Republicans and prominent anti-choice organizations to roll back reproductive rights on the state level.
Anti-choice legislation proliferates most in states with GOP-held legislatures, and the vast majority of bills are sponsored by Republican lawmakers.
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Of the 147 anti-choice bills introduced so far this year, 63 percent (92 bills) were sponsored by white Republican men, while 27 percent (40 bills) were sponsored by white Republican women. Democrats, including two Black men, six white men, and two white women, have sponsored ten anti-choice bills in 2016.
The number of anti-choice bills introduced and anti-choice laws enacted during the 2011 legislative sessions increased by an unprecedented amount after Republicans swept to power in legislatures across the country during the 2010 midterm elections.
However, the number of anti-choice bills introduced this year has come as a surprise to reproductive right advocates who track legislators’ attacks on abortion rights.
Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute, told Rewire that she is seeing a lot of activity for January, which may indicate that this may be a very busy year for lawmakers introducing abortion restrictions.
“What we would normally see in an election year is a decrease in the number of restrictions considered at the state level,” Nash said. “We are not seeing that this year.”
Legislatures in 37 states convened in January, and another five state legislatures are set to kick off sessions at the beginning of February. Legislation to restrict reproductive rights was introduced in 24 states, and anti-choice legislation has been filed in Alabama ahead of legislative session that begins Tuesday.
The organizations CMP has targeted have responded with legal action.
Planned Parenthood filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against CMP, calling the organization “a complex criminal enterprise conceived and executed by anti-abortion extremists.” The National Abortion Federation also filed a lawsuit against CMP, claiming that CMP illegaly recorded the group’s members.
After Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton called for an investigation into CMP’s allegations, a Houston grand jury declined to indict Planned Parenthood, but instead indicted David Daleiden, the head of CMP, and one of Daleiden’s associates who covertly recorded videos of the organization and its officials.
Despite CMP’s failure to produce any evidence of wrongdoing and state investigations coming up empty, lawmakers are still using the videos to push legislation to regulate fetal tissue and target abortion access more generally.
“We are seeing bills that ban fetal tissue research, bills that limit donations of fetal tissue or that prohibit the sale and buying of fetal tissue,” Nash said.
Republicans in Missouri went further than perhaps any other group of lawmakers to use the controversy to further an anti-choice agenda that included establishing the Committee on the Sanctity of Life. The 2016 legislative session has seen the Missouri GOP introduce seven bills related to fetal tissue.
Laura McQuade, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told Rewire that GOP legislators are using the CMP attack videos as a justification for making restrictions on abortion care unrelated to fetal tissue donation.
“There are many different moving parts in these bills all designed to make access to safe legal abortion even more difficult than it is already,” McQuade said. “Lawmakers have gone into this through the fetal tissue conversation to make it seem more legitimate, but it is really the same kind of nonsense.”
The bills introduced in Missouri come even as Attorney General Chris Koster released a report detailing his office’s investigation into the tissue handling practices of Planned Parenthood’s Missouri surgical facility and concluded there was no evidence that the facility engaged in unlawful activity.
Bills to ban the purchasing of fetal tissue have been introduced in Kentucky and South Carolina, and a bill that requires clinics that provide abortion services to dispose of fetal remains by burial or cremation has been introduced in Virginia.
A bill banning the purchase of fetal tissue was introduced in Georgia, despite an investigation ordered by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) that found all of the clinics that provide abortion care had properly disposed of fetal tissue resulting from abortions.
The use of fetal tissue for research has also been a target of GOP lawmakers. Bills to ban the use of fetal tissue in scientific research have been introduced in Indiana and New Jersey. Minnesota Republicans have targeted public universities, where they claim illegal research on fetal tissue is being conducted. The Minnesota GOP has based this legislative move on an investigation published by a little-known news outlet backed by local Tea Party groups.
Lawmakers have not only used the CMP videos to justify proposals concerning fetal tissue, but to justify restrictions on reproductive rights more generally. “The videos are being used more broadly to support the need for abortion restrictions more generally,” Nash said.
States Seeing The Most Anti-Choice Measures
The number of anti-choice bills introduced in Republican-controlled state legislatures varies, but two states have introduced more than any others.
The past five years have seen the Republican-dominated Missouri state legislature propose more anti-choice bills than any other state. The state’s GOP is continuing that tradition in 2016.
Republicans in Tennessee have increased their efforts to restrict reproductive rights. Lawmakers introduced 11 anti-choice billsduring the 2015 legislative session. There have already been 21 bills introduced that would restrict reproductive rights in 2016.
“Tennessee is an interesting case since they recently rolled back [abortion] protections in their state constitution,” Nash said. “That opened the floodgates essential for bills to restrict abortion to be introduced and considered.”
Tennessee voters approved a constitutional amendment in November 2014, which allows lawmakers to pass abortion regulations and restrict reproductive rights. Tennessee Republicans were successful in passing two new laws that restrict access to abortion.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed a bill into law that created a forced 48-hour waiting period before a person can terminate a pregnancy, and signed another bill that imposes new regulations requiring clinics that provide abortion care to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical treatment centers.
Tennessee lawmakers this year have introduced bills that would restrict reproductive rights in several ways, including banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requiring a forced ultrasound for those seeking to terminate a pregnancy, and increasing reporting requirements for clinics that provide abortion care.
However, one mitigating factor for prospective Tennessee legislation is the requirement that each bill must have a companion bill. Nash said this makes it more difficult for bills to make it to the governor’s desk in Tennessee than it does in other states that lack the companion bill.
“The pattern that we’ve seen over the past few years with less attention paid to abortion restrictions in election years will be disrupted,” Nash said. “That’s changing the calculations for 2016. It’s a different year than what we’ve seen.”
The direction of each state legislature will become more apparent over the course of the next eight weeks. But Nash sees similarities between this year and another surprising year.
“After the 2010 elections, you had the sense that things were going to be tough on abortion restrictions, and you were still surprised at the amount of legislation that was moving,” Nash said.