Roundup: So Many States, So Many Laws

Robin Marty

A looming boycott on Oklahoma (watch out, Rogers and Hammerstein!) and a doctor with a sense of humor top off today's roundup.

For political junkies like me, there’s nothing better than the beginning of legislative season.  Lawmakers enter their capitols ready to lead their states in a new and better direction, without the jaded cynicism that seems to seep in by the end of session as looming deadlines approach.

Of course, it is also a time for anti-choice legislators to see how far much damage they can do in a session.  Here’s a quick look around the country at how these legislative bodies are trying to control our, well, bodies.

Ultrasound bills have been all the rage recently, and West Virgina doesn’t want to be left out.   They are attempting to add mandatory ultrasounds to their current 24 hour Women’s Right to Know Act, because apparently women don’t understand they are actually pregnant unless they see a picture. 

West Virginians for Life President Karen Cross said the measure would
give women complete information. Many women change their minds about
abortion when they see an ultrasound image, she said.

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"It’s very abstract when she finds out she’s pregnant," she said. "When
she can see a living human being . . . , then [she is] more likely to
choose life."

You can’t help but wonder if maybe Cross herself needs to look at a few more ultrasounds, too.

In most cases, Cross said, the mental image of an unborn child is
fuzzy, since she is told it is nothing more than mass of tissue.

is dispelled when the woman sees an ultrasound depicting “a living,
human baby with fingers and toes, and arms and legs,” Cross said.

“We know that at eight weeks, they have fingerprints, little fingers and toes and even begin to develop fingernails,” she said.

“When she sees that, she’s more likely to choose life. She should know that before the abortion and not find out later.”

I still have the picture of my ultrasound from my daughter at 10 weeks. I can tell you that there is nothing on that picture that shows fingers or toes, much less little developing fingernails.  But I suppose that doesn’t mesh well with the romantic notions of ittybitty perfectly formed mini-preborns that the Right to Life have in mind.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, as Rachel pointed out yesterday, the state legislature debated having abortion removed from ALL insurance plans, both public and private.  The amendment was quickly chocked full of so many poison pill clauses like "smoker riders" and "viagra riders" that it was sent back into committee where it will likely suffer a lingering death.

Apparently it was as hard to watch inside Kansas as it was for those of us tracking the bills from outside the state.  As The Pitch Put it:

all of this was finally over, this once innocuous measure was sent back
to committee so loaded with bullshit it’s likely nothing will ever get

Credit to the Star‘s Topeka correspondent, David
, for not stabbing anyone in the throat with his pen
while covering this.

In Utah, "stricter rules" were proposed for "abortions not performed by a doctor through medical procedure."

Abortions not performed by a doctor
through a medical procedure would be illegal under a measure that
passed the Utah Legislature Thursday.

The Senate voted 24-4 to pass House Bill 12, advancing it to the Gov. Gary Herbert’s office.

The bill sponsored by Herriman Republican Rep. Carl Wimmer was
prompted by a case in Uintah County in which prosecutors alleged a
pregnant 17-year-old girl paid a man $150 to beat her in an effort to
induce a miscarriage.

Those who voted against the bill feared that women who suffer a
natural miscarriage or one caused by domestic violence could find
themselves open to prosecution

Of course, in this case, it would be more helpful to consider addressing anti-abortion laws that would cause a 17 year old to be so desperate to have an abortion that she would pay someone to beat her just to not be forced to have a baby.  When being severely beaten looks like a better option than having a baby, it’s time to discuss why she is unable to access an abortion safely rather than just write a law forbidding beating her.

Finally, there is Oklahoma, who today will have its next hearing regarding its ridiculously intrusive Statistical Reporting of Abortions Act, a 30+ question document a woman must answer in order to receive an abortion in the state. The questionaire, which many claim is an additional attempt to intimidate women out of having an abortion, could also potentially identify, or, as some point out, misidentify a woman seeking to have an abortion.  Should the blocked law pass today, the repercussions could be huge.  And no, I’m not just talking about the blow to women’s right to control her own body.  

It’s a possible worldwide boycott of the musical "Oklahoma."

Consider yourself warned.

Mini Roundup: While one doctor fights to keep his license after an undercover sting that actually proved his innocence, another doctor welcomes the 40 days protesters, joking they might help advertise the clinic’s services.


February 19, 2010

leader predicts passage of ultrasound bill
Beckley Register-Herald

Senate backs measures on
adoption records access

changes not on Canada’s G8 plans

Concerns Deserve a Prominent Place at Health Care Summit
Politics Daily

Want Planned Parenthood Defunded

refuses to pull doctor’s license
Los Angeles Times

It’s Complicated

role in a united Ireland
The Guardian

Abortion is
death plan
Bay Press Gazette


February 18, 2010

New Frontier in
Pro-Life Stem-Cell Research

Coalition Questions 2nd CCHD Official’s Ties with Pro-Abort Group

Affirmed Safe in HIV

Parliament: Women Must Have Access to Abortion and

won’t change plans on improving child, women’s health despite Liberal pleas
The Canadian Press

Catholic college: Contact Planned Parenthood for emergency
Catholic Culture

‘will allow schools to teach that homosexuality is wrong’
The Guardian

intrusive abortion law heads to court

such thing as ‘safe sex’

missionaries: Lessons from Haiti
adoption or ‘child kidnapping’ case
Christian Science Monitor

lawmakers debate abortion costs, contest pissing abilities
Pitch Weekly

Birth Control
Drug Cause Death?

Should Drop
Birth Control Out
of Airplanes"
Portland Mercury

family planning is
bad idea

Cabral clash on condoms

US Bishops and Torture
American Spectator

House May Unveil Pro-
Abortion Health Care Proposal Before Summit

Legislature passes stricter
abortion rules

Government Refuses Liberal Leader’s Demand to Promote

Zealand Herald

on illegal
heads to governor
Lake Tribune

Manchin supports ultrasound-viewing bill
Charleston Gazette

Doctor Welcomes Protesters
KHBS-KHOG Northwest Arkansas

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

Culture & Conversation Media

Filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos Centers Abortion Stories in New Documentary

Renee Bracey Sherman

The film arrives at a time when personal stories are center stage in the national conversation about abortion, including in the most recent Supreme Court decision, and rightly so. The people who actually have and provide abortions should be driving the narrative, not misinformation and political rhetoric.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

A new film by producer and director Tracy Droz Tragos, Abortion: Stories Women Tell, profiles several Missouri residents who are forced to drive across the Mississippi River into Illinois for abortion care.

The 93-minute film features interviews with over 20 women who have had or are having abortions, most of whom are Missouri residents traveling to the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, which is located about 15 minutes from downtown St. Louis.

Like Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, Missouri has only one abortion clinic in the entire state.

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The women share their experiences, painting a more nuanced picture that shows why one in three women of reproductive age often seek abortion care in the United States.

The film arrives at a time when personal stories are center stage in the national conversation about abortion, including in the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, and rightly so. The people who actually have and provide abortions should be driving the narrative, not misinformation and political rhetoric. But while I commend recent efforts by filmmakers like Droz Tragos and others to center abortion stories in their projects, these creators still have far to go when it comes to presenting a truly diverse cadre of storytellers if they really want to shift the conversation around abortion and break down reproductive stigma.

In the wake of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, which was at the heart of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court case, Droz Tragos, a Missouri native, said in a press statement she felt compelled to document how her home state has been eroding access to reproductive health care. In total, Droz Tragos interviewed 81 people with a spectrum of experiences to show viewers a fuller picture of the barriersincluding legislation and stigmathat affect people seeking abortion care.

Similar to HBO documentaries about abortion that have come before it—including 12th & Delaware and Abortion: Desperate ChoicesAbortion: Stories Women Tell involves short interviews with women who are having and have had abortions, conversations with the staff of the Hope Clinic about why they do the work they do, interviews with local anti-choice organizers, and footage of anti-choice protesters shouting at patients, along with beautiful shots of the Midwest landscape and the Mississippi River as patients make road trips to appointments. There are scenes of clinic escorts holding their ground as anti-choice protesters yell Bible passages and obscenities at them. One older clinic escort carries a copy of Living in the Crosshairs as a protester follows her to her car, shouting. The escort later shares her abortion story.

One of the main storytellers, Amie, is a white 30-year-old divorced mother of two living in Boonville, Missouri. She travels over 100 miles each way to the Hope Clinic, and the film chronicles her experience in getting an abortion and follow-up care. Almost two-thirds of people seeking abortions, like Amie, are already a parent. Amie says that the economic challenges of raising her other children make continuing the pregnancy nearly impossible. She describes being physically unable to carry a baby and work her 70 to 90 hours a week. Like many of the storytellers in the film, Amie talks about the internalized stigma she’s feeling, the lack of support she has from loved ones, and the fear of family members finding out. She’s resilient and determined; a powerful voice.

The film also follows Kathy, an anti-choice activist from Bloomfield, Missouri, who says she was “almost aborted,” and that she found her calling in the anti-choice movement when she noticed “Anne” in the middle of the name “Planned Parenthood.” Anne is Kathy’s middle name.

“OK Lord, are you telling me that I need to get in the middle of this?” she recalls thinking.

The filmmakers interview the staff of the Hope Clinic, including Dr. Erin King, a pregnant abortion provider who moved from Chicago to Granite City to provide care and who deals with the all-too-common protesting of her home and workplace. They speak to Barb, a talkative nurse who had an abortion 40 years earlier because her nursing school wouldn’t have let her finish her degree while she was pregnant. And Chi Chi, a security guard at the Hope Clinic who is shown talking back to the protesters judging patients as they walk into the clinic, also shares her abortion story later in the film. These stories remind us that people who have abortions are on the frontlines of this work, fighting to defend access to care.

To address the full spectrum of pregnancy experiences, the film also features the stories of a few who, for various reasons, placed their children for adoption or continued to parent. While the filmmakers interview Alexis, a pregnant Black high school student whose mother died when she was 8 years old, classmates can be heard in the distance tormenting her, asking if she’s on the MTV reality show 16 and Pregnant. She’s visibly distraught and crying, illustrating the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum women of color experiencing unintended pregnancy often face.

Te’Aundra, another young Black woman, shares her story of becoming pregnant just as she received a college basketball scholarship. She was forced to turn down the scholarship and sought an adoption, but the adoption agency refused to help her since the child’s father wouldn’t agree to it. She says she would have had an abortion if she could start over again.

While anti-choice rhetoric has conflated adoption as the automatic abortion alternative, research has shown that most seeking adoption are personally debating between adoption and parenting. This is illustrated in Janet’s story, a woman with a drug addiction who was raising one child with her partner, but wasn’t able to raise a second, so she sought an adoption. These stories are examples of the many societal systems failing those who choose adoption or students raising families, in addition to those fighting barriers to abortion access.

At times, the film feels repetitive and disjointed, but the stories are powerful. The range of experiences and reasons for having an abortion (or seeking adoption) bring to life the data points too often ignored by politicians and the media: everything from economic instability and fetal health, to domestic violence and desire to finish an education. The majority of abortion stories featured were shared by those who already had children. Their stories had a recurring theme of loneliness and lack of support from their loved ones and friends at a time when they needed it. Research has shown that 66 percent of people who have abortions tend to only tell 1.24 people about their experience, leaving them keeping a secret for fear of judgment and shame.

While many cite financial issues when paying for abortions or as the reason for not continuing the pregnancy, the film doesn’t go in depth about how the patients come to pay for their abortions—which is something my employer, the National Network for Abortion Funds (NNAF), directly addresses—or the systemic issues that created their financial situations.

However, it brings to light the hypocrisy of our nation, where the invisible hand of our society’s lack of respect for pregnant people and working parents can force people to make pregnancy decisions based on economic situations rather than a desire to be pregnant or parent.

“I’m not just doing this for me” is a common phrase when citing having an abortion for existing or future children.

Overall, the film is moving simply because abortion stories are moving, especially for audiences who don’t have the opportunity to have someone share their abortion story with them personally. I have been sharing my abortion story for five years and hearing someone share their story with me always feels like a gift. I heard parts of my own story in those shared; however, I felt underrepresented in this film that took place partly in my home state of Illinois. While people of color are present in the film in different capacities, a racial analysis around the issues covered in the film is non-existent.

Race is a huge factor when it comes to access to contraception and reproductive health care; over 60 percent of people who have abortions are people of color. Yet, it took 40 minutes for a person of color to share an abortion story. It seemed that five people of color’s abortion stories were shown out of the over 20 stories, but without actual demographic data, I cannot confirm how all the film’s storytellers identify racially. (HBO was not able to provide the demographic data of the storytellers featured in the film by press time.)

It’s true that racism mixed with sexism and abortion stigma make it more difficult for people of color to speak openly about their abortion stories, but continued lack of visual representation perpetuates that cycle. At a time when abortion storytellers themselves, like those of NNAF’s We Testify program, are trying to make more visible a multitude of identities based on race, sexuality, immigration status, ability, and economic status, it’s difficult to give a ringing endorsement of a film that minimizes our stories and relegates us to the second half of a film, or in the cases of some of these identities, nowhere at all. When will we become the central characters that reality and data show that we are?

In July, at the progressive conference Netroots Nation, the film was screened followed by an all-white panel discussion. I remember feeling frustrated at the time, both because of the lack of people of color on the panel and because I had planned on seeing the film before learning about a march led by activists from Hands Up United and the Organization for Black Struggle. There was a moment in which I felt like I had to choose between my Blackness and my abortion experience. I chose my Black womanhood and marched with local activists, who under the Black Lives Matter banner have centered intersectionality. My hope is that soon I won’t have to make these decisions in the fight for abortion rights; a fight where people of color are the backbone whether we’re featured prominently in films or not.

The film highlights the violent rhetoric anti-choice protesters use to demean those seeking abortions, but doesn’t dissect the deeply racist and abhorrent comments, often hurled at patients of color by older white protesters. These racist and sexist comments are what fuel much of the stigma that allows discriminatory laws, such as those banning so-called race- and sex-selective abortions, to flourish.

As I finished the documentary, I remembered a quote Chelsea, a white Christian woman who chose an abortion when her baby’s skull stopped developing above the eyes, said: “Knowing you’re not alone is the most important thing.”

In her case, her pastor supported her and her husband’s decision and prayed over them at the church. She seemed at peace with her decision to seek abortion because she had the support system she desired. Perhaps upon seeing the film, some will realize that all pregnancy decisions can be quite isolating and lonely, and we should show each other a bit more compassion when making them.

My hope is that the film reaches others who’ve had abortions and reminds them that they aren’t alone, whether they see themselves truly represented or not. That we who choose abortion are normal, loved, and supported. And that’s the main point of the film, isn’t it?

Abortion: Stories Women Tell is available in theaters in select cities and will be available on HBO in 2017.


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