How to Stop the Abortion War Killings

Mary Krane Derr

Pro-lifers and pro-choicers in the U.S. are bickering over whose side has the most martyrs and whose has the most blood on its hands. Yet, there are ways both sides can respond together to help stop the abortion war killings.

On May 31, 2009, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot in cold blood inside his Wichita, Kansas church.  The suspect, Scott Roeder, reportedly cites his antiabortion views as a motive. On September 11, 2009, Jim Pouillon was shot in cold blood in front of Owosso, Michigan High School while engaged in an antiabortion protest. The suspect, Harlan Drake, reportedly stated an objection to Pouillon’s use of aborted fetus photos in his protests outside the school.

Drake also allegedly killed Mike Fuoss, a gravel pit owner, who upset Drake for undisclosed reasons.  Last week, Tonya Johnson, an Arlington, Tennessee schoolteacher in her eighth month of pregnancy, was shot to death with her baby.  The suspect is her boyfriend, Terence Nelson, who reportedly was enraged at her refusal to have an abortion.

Pro-lifers and pro-choicers in the U.S. are bickering over whose side has the most martyrs and whose has the most blood on its hands.  This is disrespectful towards the dead. It is also unfortunate and unnecessary and could even set the stage for further homicides. Unfortunately we cannot join together in raising the dead. Yet there are many other and better responses that both "sides" can together have to abortion war killings.

We can listen more respectfully and profoundly to one another and our self-definitions. In response to Pouillon’s murder, or that of Tonya Johnson, many pro-choicers feel a deep, visceral sense that this action is dissonant with their movement and their values.  This is exactly how peaceful abortion opponents —the vast majority— feel about the killings of abortion providers.  No one wants to be blamed for or associated with actions they deem antithetical to their most cherished values.
And if neither “side” is about killing those who disagree, what, then, are pro-lifers and pro-choicers each about, as they themselves see it? 

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Pro-lifers say they are about respecting life, which can and often does encompass respect for women’s right to make non-abortion choices. Pro-choicers say they are about fostering sexual/reproductive choice, which to their view is crucial to respect for life, especially women’s lives.
In other words: there is a lot of overlap possible here.  If we approach one another not only without weaponry, but with active, outspoken disavowal of weaponry, we are all the more readily to discover and build upon those areas of overlap.

We can– and must!–cooperate in the prevention of further homicides. Living as I do in an urban neighborhood with
rampant gun violence, I cannot help but relate all the abortion war killings over the decades to the larger picture of gun violence in the U.S., to the thousands of deaths and injuries annually. Bringing up gun control in the context of abortion may have the sound of pouring gasoline onto an already raging fire. I do acknowledge that this is
tricky. There are many pro-choice liberals who support gun control and pro-life conservatives who oppose it. There are also pro-choicers who invoke gun rights out of respect for personal choice, and pro-lifers like me who support gun control out of respect for life. 

But no matter how tricky it may be, if we all agree that killing one another is not the way to address our disagreements, we must therefore assume the responsibility to prevent further killings.  Even if we are not personally
responsible for the homicides themselves in any way! That means personally committing to alleviate the reality of gun violence, or, as some would have it, the reality of people who abuse their Second Amendment freedoms.

Now, I passionately advocate gun control and my vision of reverence for life goes beyond humans, born and unborn, to eco advocacy, vegetarianism, and a general opposition to hunting and fishing.  But no doubt, along with
like-minded pro-lifers, and pro-choice gun control advocates,  there are also avid hunters, fishers, and gun bearers, both pro-life and pro-choice, who ask the same question as I do: How did people like suspects Scott Roeder, Harlan Drake, and Terence Nelson get their hands on guns? How is it that their plans for violence were not thwarted in time?

Even those of us who are sickened beyond measure at even the thought of wounding or killing must deal with such questions.

We can find reciprocally acceptable ways to disagree with one another. Not killing one another is the most basic
and necessary form of nonviolence between pro-choice and pro-life. But the practice of nonviolence towards one another hardly stops there. Nonviolence needs also to be present in our speech towards one another. Without treading on one another’s freedoms of speech and association, pro-lifers
and pro-choicers need to work out a better understanding of how to express our disagreements. 

How to begin or continue in that process? 
Pro-lifers and pro-choicers alike have had quite parallel reactions to Jim Pouillon’s killing: a combination of horror over his murder and profound objection to his particular
means of protesting abortion. No doubt to the immense relief of pro-choicers, I am one of many pro-lifers who object to the indiscriminate brandishing of giant, bloody fetus photos in the public space. Yes, disturbing images are
a valid part of many political causes, including the peace movement, and eco advocacy/animal rights. Pro-choicers themselves sometimes resort to coat hanger imagery to convey the urgency of their cause. 

I am not advocating legal censorship by any means, but I personally think it is better, in general, for activists to offer people a choice about whether, when, and where to view such images.  Fear and disgust are not the only or even the most positive ways to appeal to people’s hearts and minds anyway, especially in a culture that is so deeply polarized and already saturated to
the point of desensitization with graphic images.

Even as I am sickened by Pouillon’s murder, even as I oppose abortion, and even as I understand the desperation and despair of some protestors who feel that no one really cares enough about a matter of life and death…I would recommend something different for people who wish to protest abortion in any sign-holding kind of way—by no means the only way to take real action. They can stand quietly under placards that non-judgmentally offer substantive help with preventing and going through with difficult pregnancies. 
And they must be fully prepared to give such help at every level from the individual to the global—whether they pass
out condoms;  offer to personally pay a woman’s back rent or offer her an open adoption of her child;  give referrals to sound programs, including ethically run pro-life pregnancy
centers, that aid with basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, and health care; gather signatures in support of prenatal care coverage, birth mother’s rights, or UNFPA funding; and/or do something else. I know many pro-lifers who commit such deeds constantly, but behind the scenes. Pro-choicers who truly believe in choice also are deeply engaged in creating and offering the other choices.

Since the shooting, Pouillon’s son James M. Puillon has come forward and stated that the murdered protestor was not motivated by concern for the unborn, but by hostility and violence towards women, including his late ex-wife. If this characterization is indeed true, it raises another, connected issue around bringing anti-abortion beliefs into the public sphere.

Pro-life and pro-choice do have valid disagreements over the exact parameters of universal human rights in regard to abortion. But even as we apply a universal human rights approach differently, we can agree that hatred of women has no place on either; whether the misogyny hides behind an allegedly pro-life but woman-blaming “concern” for unborn children, or whether it hypocritically seeks to clothe male coercion and violence in the rhetoric of pro-choice.

When we agree on the importance of women’s rights, we can cooperate on alleviating such unfortunately widespread problems as the heightened rate of domestic violence during pregnancy. We can and must ensure that no more pregnant
women and their babies suffer injury and even death, whether the perpetrators have the motive of coerced abortion or another motive. 

We can and must draw on wisdom such as that gathered by the kNOw MORE campaign of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, which documents the links among domestic violence and reproductive health dilemmas like unintended pregnancy, abortion, and unsupported motherhood.
The rights and well-being of women from a universal human rights perspective, open to people of all faiths and none, must be central to abortion discourse, or we will go nowhere. 

We may not agree precisely about the nature and status of prenatal lives, or about the roles of abortion in female lives and welfare, but we are disagreeing within a shared and humane framework that highlights commonalities. As a pro-lifer, I am also well aware that if one wishes to help the unborn, then one must attend abundantly and simultaneously to the needs of the already born too, especially women. Pitting the unborn against the born, as if
prenatal lives just simply floated around in the air somewhere and then mattered no more after their purportedly invisible, inert mothers birthed them…that does not help a soul.

A universal human rights approach also brings something else quite valuable to common ground. Throughout almost all the world–most thankfully, in my personal, abolitionist view—this framework rejects the death penalty as a solution to societal problems and conflicts, whether it is administered by vigilantes or through legal due process.

I
cannot claim to have all the answers.  But I do know that if pro-lifers and pro-choicers get further and further caught up in ad hominem arguments over who is more bloodthirsty, we will harden even further against one another. Meaning that violence becomes more likely to happen again in the name of the abortion war, even if we fervently hope that it does not.

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.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

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.

Analysis Human Rights

El Salvador Bill Would Put Those Found Guilty of Abortion Behind Bars for 30 to 50 Years

Kathy Bougher

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador since 1997, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison. Now, the right-wing ARENA Party has introduced a bill that would increase that penalty to a prison sentence of 30 to 50 years—the same as aggravated homicide.

The bill also lengthens the prison time for physicians who perform abortions to 30 to 50 years and establishes jail terms—of one to three years and six months to two years, respectively—for persons who sell or publicize abortion-causing substances.

The bill’s major sponsor, Rep. Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, explained in a television interview on July 11 that this was simply an administrative matter and “shouldn’t need any further discussion.”

Since the Salvadoran Constitution recognizes “the human being from the moment of conception,” he said, it “is necessary to align the Criminal Code with this principle, and substitute the current penalty for abortion, which is two to eight years in prison, with that of aggravated homicide.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The bill has yet to be discussed in the Salvadoran legislature; if it were to pass, it would still have to go to the president for his signature. It could also be referred to committee, and potentially left to die.

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would worsen the criminalization of women, continue to take away options, and heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

In recent years, local feminist groups have drawn attention to “Las 17 and More,” a group of Salvadoran women who have been incarcerated with prison terms of up to 40 years after obstetrical emergencies. In 2014, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) submitted requests for pardons for 17 of the women. Each case wound its way through the legislature and other branches of government; in the end, only one woman received a pardon. Earlier this year, however, a May 2016 court decision overturned the conviction of another one of the women, Maria Teresa Rivera, vacating her 40-year sentence.

Velásquez Parker noted in his July 11 interview that he had not reviewed any of those cases. To do so was not “within his purview” and those cases have been “subjective and philosophical,” he claimed. “I am dealing with Salvadoran constitutional law.”

During a protest outside of the legislature last Thursday, Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, addressed Velásquez Parker directly, saying that his bill demonstrated an ignorance of the realities faced by women and girls in El Salvador and demanding its revocation.

“How is it possible that you do not know that last week the United Nations presented a report that shows that in our country a girl or an adolescent gives birth every 20 minutes? You should be obligated to know this. You get paid to know about this,” Herrera told him. Herrera was referring to the United Nations Population Fund and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s report, “Map of Pregnancies Among Girls and Adolescents in El Salvador 2015,” which also revealed that 30 percent of all births in the country were by girls ages 10 to 19.

“You say that you know nothing about women unjustly incarcerated, yet we presented to this legislature a group of requests for pardons. With what you earn, you as legislators were obligated to read and know about those,” Herrera continued, speaking about Las 17. “We are not going to discuss this proposal that you have. It is undiscussable. We demand that the ARENA party withdraw this proposed legislation.”

As part of its campaign of resistance to the proposed law, the Agrupación produced and distributed numerous videos with messages such as “They Don’t Represent Me,” which shows the names and faces of the 21 legislators who signed on to the ARENA proposal. Another video, subtitled in English, asks, “30 to 50 Years in Prison?

International groups have also joined in resisting the bill. In a pronouncement shared with legislators, the Agrupación, and the public, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women (CLADEM) reminded the Salvadoran government of it international commitments and obligations:

[The] United Nations has recognized on repeated occasions that the total criminalization of abortion is a form of torture, that abortion is a human right when carried out with certain assumptions, and it also recommends completely decriminalizing abortion in our region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights reiterated to the Salvadoran government its concern about the persistence of the total prohibition on abortion … [and] expressly requested that it revise its legislation.

The Committee established in March 2016 that the criminalization of abortion and any obstacles to access to abortion are discriminatory and constitute violations of women’s right to health. Given that El Salvador has ratified [the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the country has an obligation to comply with its provisions.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the proposal as “scandalous.” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, emphasized in a statement on the organization’s website, “Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.”

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all,” Guevara-Rosas continued.

In the United States, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) issued a press release on July 19 condemning the proposal in El Salvador. Rep. Torres wrote, “It is terrifying to consider that, if this law passed, a Salvadoran woman who has a miscarriage could go to prison for decades or a woman who is raped and decides to undergo an abortion could be jailed for longer than the man who raped her.”

ARENA’s bill follows a campaign from May orchestrated by the right-wing Fundación Sí a la Vida (Right to Life Foundation) of El Salvador, “El Derecho a la Vida No Se Debate,” or “The Right to Life Is Not Up for Debate,” featuring misleading photos of fetuses and promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion.

The Agrupacion countered with a series of ads and vignettes that have also been applied to the fight against the bill, “The Health and Life of Women Are Well Worth a Debate.”

bien vale un debate-la salud de las mujeres

Mariana Moisa, media coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire that the widespread reaction to Velásquez Parker’s proposal indicates some shift in public perception around reproductive rights in the country.

“The public image around abortion is changing. These kinds of ideas and proposals don’t go through the system as easily as they once did. It used to be that a person in power made a couple of phone calls and poof—it was taken care of. Now, people see that Velásquez Parker’s insistence that his proposal doesn’t need any debate is undemocratic. People know that women are in prison because of these laws, and the public is asking more questions,” Moisa said.

At this point, it’s not certain whether ARENA, in coalition with other parties, has the votes to pass the bill, but it is clearly within the realm of possibility. As Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, told Rewire, “We know this misogynist proposal has generated serious anger and indignation, and we are working with other groups to pressure the legislature. More and more groups are participating with declarations, images, and videos and a clear call to withdraw the proposal. Stopping this proposed law is what is most important at this point. Then we also have to expose what happens in El Salvador with the criminalization of women.”

Even though there has been extensive exposure of what activists see as the grave problems with such a law, Garcia said, “The risk is still very real that it could pass.”