Pregnant? Don’t Fall Down the Stairs

Amie Newman

When anti-choicers conceptualize, dream up and manage to pass bills in the name of being "pro-life", there is no question they know these laws have the potential to ruin lives.

This article contains a correction made at 7:58 a.m. Tuesday, February 17th, 2010 to clarify the law applied to the arrest of Christine Taylor.  An earlier version did not specify the statute applied in this case.

When anti-choice advocates dream up and manage to pass bills in the name of being "pro-life," make no mistake – there is no question they know that these laws have the potential to ruin lives.

In the case of Christine Taylor, an Iowa mother of two girls and pregnant with her third child, a feticide law enacted in that state because of anti-choice efforts has wreaked havoc on her life. 

It all started last month, according to Change.org:

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Last month,
after an upsetting phone conversation with her estranged husband, Ms.
Taylor became light-headed and fell down a flight of stairs in her
home. Paramedics rushed to the scene and ultimately declared her
healthy. However, since she was pregnant with her third child at the
time, Taylor thought it would be best to be seen at the local ER to
make sure her fetus was unharmed.

After Taylor was treated by a nurse at the private hospital and deemed fine, she confided to the nurse that she was upset and scared and wasn’t sure she wanted to continue the pregnancy. Her husband recently left her after she told him she was pregnant with their third child:

"I never said I didn’t want my baby, but I admitted that I had been
considering adoption or abortion," she said. "I admit that I said I
wasn’t sure I wanted to continue the pregnancy. My husband sends me
money, but money doesn’t make a parent. I don’t have anybody else to
turn to."

Although Taylor was in the first part of her second trimester, the
nurse noted on her chart that she was in the first week of her third
trimester – the time when, under Iowa’s fetal homicide law, a violent act perpetrated against a pregnant woman could be considered criminal. The nurse called over the doctor who then called the police – which is when Christine Taylor found herself arrested and sent to jail for admitting uncertainty about her pregnancy and fear about raising three children on her own.

Iowa is one of 37 states with a feticide law on the books, a number that has increased in recent years "because of a growing movement by some conservatives to
target providers of late abortion, such as Dr. George Tiller, and to protect "unborn victims of violence,"" a back-door effort to create a status of "personhood" for the fetus separate from its mother before it is viable.

One section of Iowa’s law criminalizes any act by any person who attempts to intentionally
terminate a pregnancy "without
the knowledge and voluntary consent of the pregnant person" at any stage of pregnancy.  

Another makes it a felony to intentionally terminate a pregnancy "with
the knowledge and voluntary consent of the pregnant person after the
end of the second trimester," unless a pregnancy is terminated for the reasons of the life or health of the mother.  In short…a willing effort to terminate a pregnancy.  This is the section of the law under which Christine Taylor was charged.

According to the Des Moines Register, "Bringing a charge of attempted feticide against Taylor would have treaded new legal territory in Iowa, legal experts said."

"I’ve
never seen those facts brought to me in 20 years of prosecuting," said
Corwin Ritchie, coordinator of the Iowa County Attorneys Association.

Robert
Rigg, who teaches at the Drake University Law School, said the unusual
case raises important questions even though Taylor is not being
prosecuted. Among them: "How in the heck did the police get a statement
made by a patient to a medical person during the course of treatment?"
he asked.

Under federal law, health care providers can release
limited information to law enforcement, but not if it was given in the
course of that person’s "treatment related to the propensity to commit
this type of violent act."
Disclosure of some information could be a violation of federal rules protecting personal medical information, Rigg said.

Though some
fetal homicide laws are relics from centuries ago (Washington state’s
1895 law defines fetal homicide as intentionally causing the death of a
"quick child," which is an ancient term for when a pregnant woman can
feel the fetus inside her), most derive from our federal "Unborn
Victims of Violence Act" (UVVA), which allows for the perpetrator of a violent
crime against a pregnant women to be charged for two crimes – one
against the woman and one against her fetus. And while a violent crime perpetrated against a pregnant woman resulting in both her death and the death of her unborn baby during a wanted pregnancy is a heinous crime, the passage of the UVVA law and the resulting state fetal homicide laws are more about blocking access to abortion and keeping women scared and "in line." Re-published on Alternet.org, Jeanne Flavin writes in her book Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America:

 

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act explicitly states that nothing in the  
act "shall be construed to permit the prosecution … of any woman with
respect to her unborn child." But state statutes have used nearly
identical language (often, as noted, only after hard-fought battles to
get the language included in the first place) and then have gone on to
prosecute pregnant women for their drug use in what has been called a
"legislative bait and switch." Fetal protection laws not only represent
a backdoor to abolishing abortion but also they leave open the
possibility that the laws used to prosecute those who assault pregnant
women may be directed against pregnant women themselves. In Missouri,
for example, the state argued that the exception articulated in their
fetus-centered homicide statute applied only to a woman who indirectly
harmed her unborn child, not to a woman whose drug use was claimed to
have directly endangered the child. 

So while these laws were enacted because of intense advocacy by anti-choice forces under the guise of "protecting pregnant women and their unborn babies," they do have the power to be – and have been – wielded like weapons against pregnant women like Christine Taylor. 

Quoted in the Des Moines Register, Lynn Paltrow executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) said of the incident:

"You want women to be able to talk to their doctors without being
accused as a baby killer"…Transforming some mothers’ obviously
difficult and painful circumstances into a crime, she said, "would make
every pregnant woman in this country vulnerable to criminal
prosecution."

The charges against Taylor were dropped ultimately but not because this is a draconian, hateful, anti-woman, anti-family piece of legislation that harms women and families. They were dropped because Taylor’s doctor confirmed that she was in her second trimester at the time of her fall, not the "criminal" third trimester. 

And, as Change.org notes, there is another shocking element to this case – the question of patient confidentiality. The doctor and nurse involved in reporting this to the police seem to be in serious breach of the law:

Christine Taylor came to them emotionally vulnerable in order to seek
help for her unborn child. She thought she was in a safe place talking
to professionals in whom she could confide. Oops, her bad. As Robert
Rigg, professor at the Drake University Law School, said, "How in the heck did the police get a statement made by a patient to a medical person during the course of treatment?"

This is not about "protecting the life of the unborn." Protecting the life of the unborn for women who want to be pregnant means ensuring access to high quality prenatal care. It means ensuring pay equity– that women are paid on par with their male counterparts – so they are able to support a family. It means ensuring paid family leave and fair breastfeeding policies. It means making sure that pregnant women are safe from perpetators of violence – most often their boyfriends or husbands. 

This is about innocent lives being trampled upon though. This is about the lives of the women and children who are here now: living, breathing, laughing, struggling, nurturing, being. It’s about making sure families like Christine Taylor and her two children have the means to live safely, free to make the best decisions they can about their health and lives, without fear of prosecution or retribution from anti-choice advocates aiming to criminalize pregnant women’s choices. 

What kind of messages are we sending to pregnant women? Either ask for or seek help and risk being persecuted, maybe even jailed, for reaching out or remain fearful and do not seek out medical attention or services. These aren’t choices at all. These are dangerous scenarios that risk both mothers’ and babies’ health and lives. 

Christine Taylor is not "collateral damage" in the war against women, perpetrated by anti-choice advocates. She is an exact target.  

News Law and Policy

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

Teddy Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Extremely common but hidden’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary Sexual Health

Fewer Teens Are Having Sex, But Don’t Pop the Champagne Yet

Martha Kempner

The number of teens having sex may be less important than the number having protected sex. And according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, condom use is dropping among young people.

Every two years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (CDC-DASH) surveys high school students to gauge how often they engage in perceived risky behaviors. The national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) is wide ranging: It asks about violence, guns, alcohol, drugs, seat belts, bicycle safety, and nutrition. It also asks questions about “sexual intercourse” (which it doesn’t define as a specific act) and sexual behaviors.

Started in 1991, this long-running study can provide both a picture of what high school students are doing right now and a historical perspective of how things have changed. But for more than a decade, the story it has told about sexual risk has been the virtually the same. Risk behaviors continually declined between 1991 and 2001, with fewer high school students having sex and more of them using condoms and contraception. But after the first 10 years, there has been little change in youth sexual risk behaviors. And, with each new release of almost unchanging data, I’ve reminded us that no news isn’t necessarily good news.

This year, there is news and it looks good—at least on the surface. The survey showed some significant changes between 2013 and 2015; fewer kids have ever had sex, are currently sexually active, or became sexually active at a young age. More teens are relying on IUDs and implants, which are virtually error-proof in preventing pregnancy.

In 2015, 41 percent of high school students reported ever having had sexual intercourse compared to 47 percent in 2013. The researchers say this is a statistically significant decrease, which adds to the decreases seen since 1991, when 54 percent of teens reported ever having had sexual intercourse.

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Another change is in the percentage of students who had sex for the first time before age 13. In 2015, 4 percent of high school students reported this compared to almost 6 percent in 2013. This is down from a full 10 percent in 1991. As for number of overall partners, that is down as well, with only 12 percent of students reporting four or more partners during their lifetime compared to 15 percent in 2013 and 19 percent in 1991. Finally, the percentage of students who are currently sexually active also decreased significantly between 2013 (34 percent) and 2015 (30 percent).

These are all positive developments. Delaying sex can often help prevent (at least temporarily) the risk of pregnancy or STIs. Having fewer partners, especially fewer concurrent partners, is frequently important for reducing STI risk. And those teens who are not currently having sex are not currently at risk for those things.

While I want to congratulate all teens who took fewer risks this year, I’m not ready to celebrate those statistics alone—because the number of teens having sex is less important to me than the percentage of teens having sex that is protected from both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. And that number is lower than it once was.

Among sexually active teens, there were no significant positive changes in measures of safer sex other than an increase in the number of sexually active high school students using the IUD or implant (up to 4 percent from 2 percent in 2013).

Moreover, some results indicate that today’s teens are using less protection than those who were teens a decade ago. The most telling finding might be the percentage of teens who used no method of contraception the last time they had sex. This decreased between 1991 and 2007 (from 17 percent to 12 percent), inched up to 14 percent in 2013, and stayed the same in 2015 (14 percent). There was also little to no change in the percentage of high school students who say that either they or their partner used birth control pills between 2013 (19 percent) and 2015 (18 percent) or those who say they used the contraceptive shot, patch, or ring (5 percent in 2013 and 2015).

For me, however, the most distressing finding is the backward progress we continue to see in condom use. The prevalence of high school students who used a condom at last sex went up from 45 percent in 1991 to 63 percent in 2003. But then it started to drop. In 2015, only 57 percent of sexually active high school students used condoms the last time they had sex, less than in 2013, when 59 percent said they used condoms.

It’s not surprising that teens use condoms less frequently than they did a decade ago. In the 1990s, the HIV epidemic was still front and center, and condoms were heavily promoted as a way to avoid infection. As this threat waned—thanks to treatment advances that now also serve as prevention—discussions of the importance of condoms diminished as well. The rise of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs may have also affected condom use, because these programs often include misinformation suggesting condoms are unreliable at best.

Unfortunately, some of the negative messages about condoms inadvertently came from public health experts themselves, whether they were promoting emergency contraception with ads that said “oops, the condom broke”; encouraging the development of new condoms with articles suggesting that current condoms are no fun; or focusing on teen pregnancy and the use of highly effective contraceptive methods such as long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC). The end result is that condoms have been undersold to today’s teenagers.

We have to turn these condom trends around, because despite the decreases in sexual activity, young people continue to contract STIs at an alarming rate. In 2014, for example, there were nearly 950,000 reported cases of chlamydia among young people ages 15 to 24. In fact, young people in this age group represented 66 percent of all reported chlamydia cases. Similarly, in 2014, young women ages 15 to 19 had the second-highest rate of gonorrhea infection of any age group (400 cases per 100,000 women in the age group), exceeded only by those 20 to 24 (489 cases per 100,000 women).

While we can be pleased that fewer young people are having sex right now, we can’t fool ourselves into believing that this is enough or that our prevention messages are truly working. We should certainly praise teens for taking fewer risks and use this survey as a reminder that teens can and do make good decisions. But while we’re shaking a young person’s hand, we should be slipping a condom into it. Because someday soon (before high school ends, for more than half of them), that teenager will have sex—and when they do, they need to protect themselves from both pregnancy and STIs.