Julie Burkhart is the founder of TrustWomenPAC. Julie was previously the executive director of ProKanDo, where she worked closely with Dr. George Tiller the Kansas physician murdered last May by Scott Roeder, who will be sentenced April 1st 2010. Julie also works with Tiffany Campbell, the Nebraska mother who along with Julie and others has fought efforts by the anti-choice movement to eliminate women’s choices in the state of Nebraska. Tiffany recently wrote two pieces for Rewire, here and here.
What’s happening in Nebraska right now isn’t local. Abortion rights opponents are trying to shut down Dr. Leroy Carhart, one of four healthcare providers still performing specialized late-term procedures in the United States: it’s a national issue that affects us all. Late last night the state legislature took its first vote on a bill, LB 1103, to ban virtually all abortions past 20 weeks, passing it 38-5.(LB 1103 will need to go through two more rounds to become law.)
This bill is meant as a challenge to all providers everywhere. Its supporters intend to pass it into law then have it challenged until it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. They’re hoping that SCOTUS will declare this unconstitutional bill constitutional, which would set the stage for banning all procedures past 20 weeks, nationwide. (Please take a moment right now to sign our petition telling Nebraska’s legislators to vote “No.”)
The organization I founded and head, Trust Women PAC, has been fighting LB 1103 in coalition with other organizations on the ground ever since the Speaker of the legislature, Mike Flood, introduced it earlier this year. We’re the only national reproductive justice organization with a specific focus on protecting the rights of physicians who provide comprehensive reproductive health care, including later terminations of pregnancy, and the rights of women and families to access these services.
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In addition to lending our expertise regarding legislative strategy, Trust Women is changing the framework of the Nebraska debate and giving legislators pause in a new way. From the moment the Nebraska Judiciary Committee first heard testimony in late February, we’ve brought in parents who would be affected by LB 1103 to tell the public, press, and politicians their personal stories about deciding to terminate a pregnancy after learning of severe complications after the 20th week of pregnancy.
Tiffany Campbell, a native Nebraskan and mother of three who blogged on Rewire earlier this month, made the decision, with her husband Chris, to abort one of their sons at 22 weeks after learning that their twins suffered from Twin-to-Twin-Transfusion Syndrome, and that they had the choice to save one baby or bury both. Tim Mosher, a St. Louis-based career firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician, made the decision, with his wife Dawn, to abort their baby girl, who suffered from severe and untreatable Spina Bifida, rather than let her be born into extreme pain and a premature death.
Under the proposed Nebraska bill, both Tiffany and Tim would be stripped of their right to make their own personal medical decisions. The actions that they took, in consultation with medical experts, their families, and the God of their understanding, would be criminalized.
On the strategic level, Trust Women’s decision to have Tiffany and Tim testify, and to continue having them speak to the press as the bill went to the floor yesterday has been very successful. Tiffany’s OpEd — Don’t let abortion bill take away choices — which told the story of her family’s difficult, life-saving decision, appeared the day of her testimony as the “Local View” piece in the Lincoln Journal Star (Nebraska’s second-largest newspaper and the paper of Lincoln, the state capitol). Later that day, just prior to the hearing, a reporter in the press conference held by the Right to Life contingent brought up Tiffany’s piece and her circumstances, stymieing those in attendance. That evening, our parents led the news on four different local TV stations, including the ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates. The state’s largest newspaper titled their piece Don’t make hard choice worse and opened it with an interview with Tiffany. The Lincoln Journal Star piece closed with three paragraphs about Tim’s story.
Why is Trust Women bringing parents into this debate that is so often dominated by legal and medical professionals, and technical talk on both sides? We did it because of what I learned from working side by side with my mentor, Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas. He taught me the importance of listening to women and trusting them and their families to know what’s best when it comes to private medical decisions. He believed in the importance of teaching others to listen to women’s stories and trust them too. We did it to lend a human voice and a human face to the story.
Our goal is to counter years of anti-choice scare tactics — all the ugly propaganda about misinformed, selfish parents-to-be who didn’t want their babies and didn’t care about them — by introducing politicians, the public, and the press to parents who can help them understand how this bill would adversely affect the lives of real women and families. We’re continuing to work with Tiffany and Tim and our coalition partners in order to bring not only a local, but also a national spotlight to Nebraska. The right of all people to make private medical decisions, but women especially is on the verge of being trampled on in exchange for political gain.