The “A-Word”: A Birth Activist Speaks Out

Shel Lyons

Childbirth activists must find common ground with fellow reproductive rights activists, and feel comfortable discussing abortion in order to ensure that birth rights are respected and valued as well.

This post orginally appeared on in the Women’s Rights blog

Recently, I spoke at Perinatal: A Symposium on Birth Practices and Reproductive Rights
at George Mason University. The task for the featured round table
panelists was to determine legal and political strategies to advance
reproductive rights in childbirth. My contribution included noting that
childbirth rights advocates need to involve our work into the more
mainstream causes of human rights and reproductive rights, including abortion rights.

The audience, fellow childbirth advocates,
ignored my comments on abortion. Apparently, the "a-word" is not
acceptable language among childbirth reformers. I discussed the abortion debate from a mother’s perspective in a prior post,
and understand that women who devote their lives to improving birth
outcomes and lowering infant mortality rates are invested in the life
of the fetus. However, my comments never took a side on the abortion debate. I merely observed an unfortunate consequence on childbirth rights from this debate.

Like This Story?

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

Donate Now

I observed that one unexpected effect of
the abortion debate was to give more importance to the choices and
beliefs of third parties regarding the medical care of pregnant and
laboring women than to the choices of the women themselves. Doctors and
hospitals have relied upon Roe v. Wade and subsequent law to impose
medical treatment on pregnant women in utter disregard of their legal
rights to informed consent and informed refusal. Pregnant women’s rights are ignored while the fetus receives legal representation after the 26-week gestation period.
The justification has consistently been that the government’s interest
in the life of the fetus found in Roe overrides a woman’s decision in
her own healthcare and medical treatments.

A 2003 University of Chicago study of the
directors of 42 U.S. maternal-fetal medicine programs around the
country found: 1) 14% reported that their hospital used court orders to
compel unwilling women to have operating room (c-section) deliveries;
and 2) 21% considered coerced c-sections ‘ethically justified’ to spare
a fetus possible harm – even over the woman’s physical resistance!

One example of forcing medical treatment against a woman’s will is court-ordered c-sections. To
impose medical treatment on a pregnant woman is unethical as it does
not necessarily even save the fetus and often endangers the mother

In Pemberton v. Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center,
a woman named Laura Pemberton took her forced c-section case to court.
The U.S. District Court found that "the state’s interest outweighed the
mother’s interest" under
Roe, because she was in her third
trimester. Her labor was progressing well and the baby was not in
distress, but the court found that her decision to give birth naturally
was less important than the medical professionals’ opinions that there was up to
a 5% risk in natural birth. (Note that there was also a measurable risk
in surgical birth, but presumably, it was somewhat less.
to Childbirth Connection, the additional risk of a vaginal birth after
c-section (VBAC) is only 0.14% in comparison to a repeat c-section.
After the forced c-section, the plaintiff went on to give birth
naturally to three additional children, which demonstrates that the
forced c-section was unlikely to have been medically necessary.

It is detrimental for childbirth advocates
to continue to censor themselves from even mentioning the a-word, let
alone any overlap between these two major reproductive rights issues.
Women must combine forces to discourage these infringements on our
reproductive rights by maturely finding common ground on the abortion
debate. Otherwise, our own divisiveness on abortion restrictions will
only favor third parties who use these controversial restrictions to
further encroach on women’s reproductive rights. Just as the vast
majority of society believes in exceptions to abortion restrictions for
the health and life of the mother, let us educate society about the
need for ensuring that these restrictions do not infringe on a pregnant
woman’s right to make her own medical decisions during labor.

As a young birth advocate, I am truly
standing on the shoulders of the leaders of this movement, as it only
seriously began in the generation before me. Lamaze, one of the first
philosophies of natural childbirth, was invented in France in 1951, and
childbirth education courses were made widely available in the 1970s.
Thus, the men and women who revolutionized childbirth are the same men
and women who are guiding it today. I am filled with admiration and
gratitude to these reformers, who often put in time and energy to
mentor the next generation. They are ground-breaking leaders in a
unique combination that few other fields encounter today. Therefore,
the younger generation of this movement holds them in higher esteem
than otherwise. Young childbirth advocates feel pressure to respect the
established preference to separate from other reproductive rights
proponents, especially abortion activists.

However, I also detect that the climate is
changing within this movement as it reaches a tipping point. Childbirth
rights groups are gaining momentum and mainstream acceptance; we are an
"emerging market" in the fields of law and policy, especially in health
reform, reproductive justice, and human rights. Today’s young birth
activists will have the opportunity to have a larger-scale impact on
birth reform as political leaders become more receptive to these ideas.

Childbirth issues are receiving increased media attention. On October 15th, CNN
ran a story about Joy Szabo whose local hospital refuses to grant her
wish to have another VBAC. This refusal goes against medical evidence,
because Ms. Szabo has had a previous VBAC. Medical wisdom teaches us
that another c-section after a VBAC is actually more dangerous for
mother and baby than a repeat VBAC. In
a prior post on this issue,
I noted that the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) found
that many hospitals were banning VBACs. Since that post, ICAN has done
an additional survey and
found the bans to be much more prevalent; 1434 hospitals out of the 3000 hospitals surveyed either have explicit or de facto VBAC bans.

Today’s young leaders are also more comfortable discussing abortion laws
and how they are affecting childbirth rights, and acknowledging that
abortion restrictions are being misused to disrespect pregnant and
laboring women’s decisions on childbirth. While a diplomatic approach
to the abortion debate will be helpful to making our cause a bipartisan
issue, a self-imposed segregation from even tangential issues will
prevent it from reaching its potential significance to women and
reproductive justice. The current strategy, in other words, will
eventually be ineffective in ensuring that childbirth rights are
respected and valued, because there will always be the a-word loop-hole
for opponents to capitalize upon. When we start to find common ground
with fellow reproductive rights advocates, we will be as widespread and
well-known as every other major women’s rights cause, including breast
cancer, workplace discrimination, and yes, the a-word.

After all, it is not a bad word; the term is abortion.

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

Like This Story?

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

Donate Now

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”

News Abortion

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

Teddy Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

Like This Story?

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

Donate Now

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

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

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

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

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