What I Learned from Dr. Tiller: Why Trust Women PAC and Affected Parents Oppose the Nebraska Abortion Ban

Julie Burkhart

Why Trust Women PAC is bringing in affected parents to oppose the Nebraska abortion ban aimed at Dr. Carhart.

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.

So stand with us. Tell the Nebraska legislature: America is watching – they’re not going to get away with anything.

(ACTION) Eyes Wide Open: On Nebraska

Julie Burkhart

In a blatant bid to shut down late-term provider Dr. Leroy Carhart, the Nebraska Legislature overwhelmingly passed a virtual ban on all abortions beyond 20 weeks.

Today, in a blatant bid to shut down late-term provider Dr. Leroy Carhart, the Nebraska Legislature overwhelmingly passed a virtual ban on all abortions beyond 20 weeks. The so-called “Pain Capable Unborn Child Act,” LB 1103 does not only affect women and families from Nebraska. (Nor is it really about fetal pain, a concept that both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologist disavow as a possibility this early in fetal development.)

As Speaker Mike Flood, who introduced LB1103, and anti-choice organizations like National Right to Life have made clear, passing LB1103 in Nebraska is part of a calculated bid. The intention of its supporters is to bring an abortion rights challenge before the United States Supreme Court, where they’re counting on Justice Kennedy to be their swing vote, based on the language he used in his brief from the Gonzalez vs. Carhart decision in 2007. Make no mistake: this is a national issue that impacts us all.

Shutting down Dr. Carhart, one of four remaining late-term providers in the U.S., will not stem the need for late-term abortions any more than did the murder of my mentor and Dr. Carhart’s colleague, Dr. George Tiller, last May. It just means that yet more women all over the country will have no access to safe, legal later termination of pregnancy. That doesn’t mean that women will stop needing or having abortions — only that they’ll go to greater risks and expense to get them.

One of the greatest cruelties of LB 1103 is that it strips parents of their right to make decisions for their families at what should be the most private of moments. Many parents who opt for late-term procedures do so because they find out about severe fetal anomalies late in pregnancy — at or past the 20 weeks specified in LB 1103.

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Take Tim Mosher, who testified before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee this past February at the request of Trust Women PAC. Tim and his wife, Dawn, learned at 20 weeks that their baby was suffering from the most severe level of untreatable Spina Bifida. After consulting with medical experts and their families, they decided, in Tim’s words, that, “We couldn’t force our little girl to live in constant pain and suffering before dying a pre-mature death.” But under LB 1103, if the woman’s life isn’t in danger — one of the few health exceptions in the bill — parents who find themselves in the same situation as Tim and Dawn in the future will be forced to carry these painful, ultimately fatal pregnancies to term.

In the weeks leading up to today’s vote, nearly 1,000 women and men nationwide have signed Trust Women PAC’s petition calling for Nebraska’s legislators to vote against LB 1103 and against government interference into families’ private healthcare decisions. LB 1103 may be destined for the judicial system, but you can still join them in understanding the national implications of this seemingly local bill and taking action. 

TAKE ACTION whether you live in a red or a blue state. Here’s how!

Get involved in a state-level political race in a red state. (Remember, these bills that shut down providers locally, and may go all the way up to the federal level, start in state legislatures!) You can do this by volunteering your time, donating money, providing housing for campaign staff, and supporting third party efforts to defeat anti-choice candidates. Some states to watch for beside Nebraska include New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

It is more important now than ever to understand and act on the implications of seemingly local politics on women and families nationwide. So keep your eyes wide open, sign up for Trust Women PAC’s Action Alerts by subscribing through our web site , and GET ACTIVE on the local level. That’s where bills start that ultimately determine the level of freedom and decision-making afforded to all women and their families across America.  

Nebraska Lawmakers, Seeking to Restrict Abortion Care, Ignore Science, Evidence, and Pleas of Parents

Robin Marty

The "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" still requires two more rounds of debate within the next two weeks before it is sent to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

It is by no means the first attempt to use faulty “scientific data” declaring that fetuses can feel pain in order to implement more restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.  But one thing that became clear as the Nebraska legislature conducted the first of three scheduled debates on the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act:” It is the intent of the bill’s sponsors to have it immediately challenged and brought before the Supreme Court as a chance to strike a blow against Roe V. Wade.

The legislation, sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Flood and 22 others, attempts to use widely contested claims that a fetus has teh ability to feel “intense pain” (a phrase used repeatedly during the debate) as early as 20 weeks post-fertilization.  Opposing the bill was Democratic Sen. Danielle Conrad, who in her opening remarks brought to the legislature’s attention the dubious science being relied on as “fact,” as well as the lack of credentials held by the “unbiased expert witnesses” invited by Flood.  These “experts” included Theresa Collett, the St. Thomas law professor who is a key member of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and also a Republican congressional candidate.

Supporters of the bill relied on a litany of anti-choice rhetoric, with some senators apologizing they could not eliminate abortion altogether but praising the bill as an excellent “first step,” to a declaration by one senator that people on both sides need to stop using the “F word” (i.e. fetus) because it was “offensive and demeaning.”  “He/she is an unborn child.  He is someone’s son.  She is someone’s daughter.  He is someone’s grandson.  She is someone’s granddaughter.” 

No female legislators stood in support of the bill.

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The debate, rather than attempting to sway legislators from voting to pass the bill, instead focused on amendments to the bill that would allow maternal physical health exemptions and mental health exemptions to the ban.  As currently written, the only exemption to the ban is for the mother to be near death or irreversible physical harm, creating the most restrictive ban ever passed. Mental health exemptions are often used in the case of women who discover after the 20th week that their child has an irreparable fetal anomaly that would endanger the pregnancy or cause great pain to the fetus if brought to term.

When presented with a chance to address such an exemption, Sen. Flood instead insisted that these cases of allowing abortion for “disabled” children should not be allowed.

Flood said he knew there was no more divisive issue than abortion. And it was particularly hard during the hearing on the bill to listen to situations of couples faced with advanced pregnancies in which unborn children had potentially fatal conditions. He didn’t want to hurt people with his bill, he said.

“But I also ask the question, why does a baby that’s going to be born with a disability become a better candidate for an abortion? Does their disability make them less human? Are they less deserving of the state’s protection?” he said.

Nebraska resident Tiffany Campbell, who testified before the committee previously that such a ban would have killed both of the fetuses she was carrying when she discovered she had a rare condition known as “twin to twin transfusion syndrome,” rather than losing just one to an abortion, responded to Flood.

“Speaker Flood referred to fatal fetal anomalies as ‘disabilities’ in the debate. Brendan, the baby my husband Chris and I aborted, didn’t have a ‘disability.’ He was on the verge of death himself and about to take Brady, who is now 3 years old, with him. We had the choice of saving one baby or burying two. That’s not a ‘disability.’

Speaker Flood, who introduced LB 1103, came up after my testimony and said he’d never heard of a case like mine. So now he’s amended the bill with what sounds like it might be a possible exception for women with conditions like mine (Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome). But what about all of the other cases that Flood and his colleagues have never heard of? The legislators trying to pass this bill clearly don’t understand the range of issues parents can face during a pregnancy. They’re still trying to strip parents of our right to make these difficult personal medical decisions. We’re the ones who should be making private healthcare decisions for our babies and families.

The lack of a mental health exemption became an extensive issue for Sen. Barbara Council, especially considering the body had voted earlier to pass a new law stating that women must have a mental evaluation before having an abortion, and that a doctor has the right to overrule her request if he deems she is not mentally or emotionally capable of handling the procedure.  “Women who seek abortions after the 20th week are predominately women who wanted their pregnancies,” Council reminded the legislature. She then noted the inconsistency of senators ruling in one bill that the doctor was the ultimate authority on when a woman can have an abortion, then rule in another bill that the doctor’s opinion of a women’s mental health is superseded by that of the legislature.

“I’m disturbed about the absolute blatant disregard of this legislature for the health and wellbeing of the mother,” stated Council.

By the close of the debate the bill passed 38-5 and only one amendment was added: a moratorium on enacting the legislation until October of 2010, in order to provide both sides time to prepare for the court battle that will take place.  Bill proponents call it a “landmark” piece of legislation meant for the Supreme Court, and do not even pretend to believe in its constitutionality.  “As one senator stated, it may not be deemed constitutional but it’s never wrong doing the right thing,” [Sen. Ken] Schilz said. “I cannot agree more.”  Opponents agree that the bill will end up in the courts but that other states’ attempts to roll back abortion to any time before viability have ultimately failed.

The “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” still requires two more rounds of debate within the next two weeks before it is sent to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

According to the latest release of information on abortion in Nebraska, there were no reports of any abortion procedure being done past the 20th week in 2008.

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