Roundup: Follow-Up Friday, And a Star Wars Birth

Robin Marty

From Florida to Wisconsin, a brief follow up to all of the roundup stories posted earlier this week. And a Mother's Day mini roundup with an extra geeky treat.

From Florida to Wisconsin, today is a brief follow up to all of the roundup stories posted earlier this week. 

On Monday, politicians, activists, and voters were still reacting to the Florida legislature’s decision to make all women undergoing an abortion first pay for an view a mandatory ultrasound.   But today, it’s appearing way more likely that that bill will never become law thanks to a looming veto by Governor Crist.

As the St. Petersburg Times reports, Crist is sounding a lot like he’ll veto it. “I’m concerned about it,” Crist said Wednesday. “Even though I’m pro-life I don’t want to impose my will on others.”

If Crist were to veto the bill, it would be his second high-profile veto of a GOP-backed bill in the last three weeks. In mid-April, Crist vetoed a high-profile education bill that would have eliminated tenure for new teachers and instituted strict guidelines for merit pay — a move that apparently sealed the deal for his decision to leave the Republican Party and run as an independent.

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Tuesday, pro-choice advocates in Canada were told to “shut the f— up about abortions” not being funded in the G8 proposal for reducing maternal mortality. Now it’s becoming a little more clear what “it could be worse” really meant, as people wonder if Prime Minister Harper is going to advocate for a global gag rule to be included.

Details of the initiative have not been released yet. But McDonald fears that the Harper government may impose a global gag rule — similar to the one imposed in the United States during George W Bush’s administration — that blocks federal funds being given to international family-planning groups offering abortion and abortion counseling.

Cutting funds to organizations that provide abortion related services means the government will be deviating away from the global consensus — agreed on by world leaders at the G8 summit in 2009 — that takes a comprehensive and integrated approach to sexual and reproductive health services. And playing favourites, the government undermines the maternal and child health initiative and could risk leaving out critical aspects related to women’s health.

Wendnesday brought us a stockpile of anti-women legislation passed the previous day in the Missouri House, including expanded informed consent and a conscience clause for pharmacists and medical providers.  Good thing they didn’t hear about the plan in the neighboring state of Kansas, or I’m sure an abortion tax would have been proposed there, too.

But Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook may have just offered the most unique idea so far: impose a sales tax on abortion.

Pilcher Cook, a Shawnee Republican, offered the idea as an amendment today as the Senate debates a 1-cent sales tax increase. Her amendment would also decrease the proposed sales tax hike to .9 cents.

She noted that governments routinely use tax policy to effect behavior – cigarette and liquor taxes, for example, or tax breaks designed to spur economic activity.

“If you want less of something, you tax it,” Pilcher Cook said.

Several Senators liked the idea. Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said it would not only reduce abortions, it might also convince another late-term abortion provider from setting up shop in Kansas now that George Tiller’s clinic is closed.

Luckily, the bill failed to pass.

And on Thursday, Pro-Life Wisconsin declared they shut down plans for a late term abortion center in Wisconsin.  Today, however, they are admitting all they did was change the location of the facility.

The University of Wisconsin may have abandoned plans to install a late-term abortion facility at the at the Madison Surgery Center, but that doesn’t mean the college has abandoned plans for a late-term abortion center entirely.

Yesterday, pro-life groups celebrated the news that UW had apparently decided against having an abortion center at MSC, a joint venture between UW Hospital and Clinics, Meriter Hospital and the UW Medical Foundation.

But, later in the day, UW officials denied it has dropped its controversial plans for a late-term abortion facility, even though MSC may not house the ultimate location.

I guess maybe they wanted to declare victory in causing some minor inconveniences.

Mini-Roundup: In honor of Mother’s Day, a reminder of how dangerous birth can be, and not just in Third World countries.  Plus, a birth announcement for geeks...

May 6, 2010

Crist Hinting At Possible Veto Of Anti-Abortion Bill – TPMDC

UNFPA and Abortion Advocates to Push “Reproductive Rights” on UN Treaty Bodies – Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute

Abortion Laws in Oklahoma Tell Women They’re Stupid – The Stir

Abortion foes add hits against Mollohan – Politico

Florida Gov. Crist Weighs Options On Abortion Bill – Kaiser Health News

University of Wisconsin to Find Another Location for Late-Term Abortion Center – LifeNews.com

Pro-choice groups speak out in wake of abortion funding debacle – Xtra.ca

State Senator Mike Bennett caught eyeing photo of topless women during … – New York Daily News

Activists Urge Florida Governor to Sign Pro-Life Bill – Charisma News Online

The great debate Abortion’s exclusion from G8 funding has caused a stir – Tandem

An annual display of the abortion divide – Bellingham Herald

3 NDP MPPs protest Harper government’s women’s health plans  – Toronto Sun

Mexican women’s activists call for Cancun boycott – The Associated Press

Female MPPs prop up abortion rights protest – Toronto Sun

Harper panders to his base on Third World abortion funding – Globe and Mail

A tax on abortion? – Kansas City Star

British medical journal criticizes Harper’s Conservatives on abortion stance – 680 News

Could the Pill Lower a Woman’s Sex Drive? – BusinessWeek

Periods — Who needs them anyway? Women have mixed feelings – CNN

A Woman’s Mission: To Teach Birth Control In Nigeria – NPR

The pill: 50 years of birth control changed women’s lives – USA Today

Single mom didn’t see HIV coming – Mansfield News Journal

Bad Blood: Politics Trumps Science in the Gay Blood Donation Debate – Huffington Post

Uganda: Swedish Minister Tips Youth On Reproduction – AllAfrica.com

Sex and Risk Among People in Their 20s – Los Angeles Times

Harper’s ‘cruel absurdity’ on maternal health – Globe and Mail

Midwives needed now more than ever, UN agency says as it marks Day – UN News Centre

Mozambique: Pregnancy and Birth Complications Kill Eleven Women a Day – AllAfrica.com

Taking Mother’s Day to Capitol Hill and Beyond – Huffington Post

Star Wars Pregnancy Announcement Makes Childbirth Nerdy – Asylum

Journal slams Tories’ G8 abortion stand; calls it ‘hypocritical and unjust’ – Toronto Star

May 7, 2010

As pill turns 50, family planning too costly for many – McClatchy Washington Bureau

Goma prison: nightmare for rape victims jailed for seeking abortions – Toronto Star

Canada’s escalating debate on abortion – MinnPost.com

Poll: Should an ultrasound be mandatory before an abortion? – Naples Daily News

America’s favorite birth control method turns 50 – The Associated Press

Conservatives abandoning Congo’s rape victims, Rae says – Toronto Star

Carole Brite: Success of pill doesn’t mean work is done – The State Journal-Register

Wisconsin Provides Additional Funding For HIV And AIDS Health Care – Gov Monitor

People Who Naturally Control Their HIV Infection Provide Vaccine Clues – IndyPosted

Research Explores Challenges Of Aging HIV/AIDS Population’s Needs – NY1

Tanzanian police detain 9 AIDS activists on sidelines of WEF meeting – Times LIVE

Mothers shouldn’t have to fear for their lives – Bemidji Pioneer

Another dirty word: gender – Ottawa Citizen

Five best and worst places to be a mom – CNN

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

Analysis Law and Policy

Justice Kennedy’s Silence Speaks Volumes About His Apparent Feelings on Women’s Autonomy

Imani Gandy

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s obsession with human dignity has become a hallmark of his jurisprudence—except where reproductive rights are concerned.

Last week’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was remarkable not just for what it did say—that two provisions in Texas’s omnibus anti-abortion law were unconstitutional—but for what it didn’t say, and who didn’t say it.

In the lead-up to the decision, many court watchers were deeply concerned that Justice Anthony Kennedy would side with the conservative wing of the court, and that his word about targeted restrictions of abortion providers would signal the death knell of reproductive rights. Although Kennedy came down on the winning side, his notable silence on the “dignity” of those affected by the law still speaks volumes about his apparent feelings on women’s autonomy. That’s because Kennedy’s obsession with human dignity, and where along the fault line of that human dignity various rights fall, has become a hallmark of his jurisprudence—except where reproductive rights are concerned.

His opinion on marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, along with his prior opinions striking down sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas and the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, assured us that he recognizes the fundamental human rights and dignity of LGBTQ persons.

On the other hand, as my colleague Jessica Mason Pieklo noted, his concern in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action about the dignity of the state, specifically the ballot initiative process, assured us that he is willing to sweep aside the dignity of those affected by Michigan’s affirmative action ban in favor of the “‘dignity’ of a ballot process steeped in racism.”

Meanwhile, in his majority opinion in June’s Fisher v. University of Texas, Kennedy upheld the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ affirmative action program, noting that it remained a challenge to this country’s education system “to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”

It is apparent that where Kennedy is concerned, dignity is the alpha and the omega. But when it came to one of the most important reproductive rights cases in decades, he was silent.

This is not entirely surprising: For Kennedy, the dignity granted to pregnant women, as evidenced by his opinions in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Gonzales v. Carhart, has been steeped in gender-normative claptrap about abortion being a unique choice that has grave consequences for women, abortion providers’ souls, and the dignity of the fetus. And in Whole Woman’s Health, when Kennedy was given another chance to demonstrate to us that he does recognize the dignity of women as women, he froze.

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He didn’t write the majority opinion. He didn’t write a concurring opinion. He permitted Justice Stephen Breyer to base the most important articulation of abortion rights in decades on data. There was not so much as a callback to Kennedy’s flowery articulation of dignity in Casey, where he wrote that “personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education” are matters “involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy.” (While Casey was a plurality opinion, various Court historians have pointed out that Kennedy himself wrote the above-quoted language.)

Of course, that dignity outlined in Casey is grounded in gender paternalism: Abortion, Kennedy continued, “is an act fraught with consequences for others: for the woman who must live with the implications of her decision; for the persons who perform and assist in the procedures for the spouse, family, and society which must confront the knowledge that these procedures exist, procedures some deem nothing short of an act of violence against innocent human life; and, depending on one’s beliefs, for the life or potential life that is aborted.” Later, in Gonzales, Kennedy said that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban “expresses respect for the dignity of human life,” with nothing about the dignity of the women affected by the ban.

And this time around, Kennedy’s silence in Whole Woman’s Health may have had to do with the facts of the case: Texas claimed that the provisions advanced public health and safety, and Whole Woman’s Health’s attorneys set about proving that claim to be false. Whole Woman’s Health was the sort of data-driven decision that did not strictly need excessive language about personal dignity and autonomy. As Breyer wrote, it was a simple matter of Texas advancing a reason for passing the restrictions without offering any proof: “We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that, compared to prior law, the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.”

In Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s two-page concurrence, she succinctly put it, “Many medical procedures, including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients, yet are not subject to ambulatory-surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements.”

“Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like H.B. 2 that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion,’ cannot survive judicial inspection,” she continued, hammering the point home.

So by silently signing on to the majority opinion, Kennedy may simply have been expressing that he wasn’t going to fall for the State of Texas’ efforts to undermine Casey’s undue burden standard through a mixture of half-truths about advancing public health and weak evidence supporting that claim.

Still, Kennedy had a perfect opportunity to complete the circle on his dignity jurisprudence and take it to its logical conclusion: that women, like everyone else, are individuals worthy of their own autonomy and rights. But he didn’t—whether due to his Catholic faith, a deep aversion to abortion in general, or because, as David S. Cohen aptly put it, “[i]n Justice Kennedy’s gendered world, a woman needs … state protection because a true mother—an ideal mother—would not kill her child.”

As I wrote last year in the wake of Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell, “according to [Kennedy’s] perverse simulacrum of dignity, abortion rights usurp the dignity of motherhood (which is the only dignity that matters when it comes to women) insofar as it prevents women from fulfilling their rightful roles as mothers and caregivers. Women have an innate need to nurture, so the argument goes, and abortion undermines that right.”

This version of dignity fits neatly into Kennedy’s “gendered world.” But falls short when compared to jurists internationally,  who have pointed out that dignity plays a central role in reproductive rights jurisprudence.

In Casey itself, for example, retired Justice John Paul Stevens—who, perhaps not coincidentally, attended the announcement of the Whole Woman’s Health decision at the Supreme Court—wrote that whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a “matter of conscience,” and that “[t]he authority to make such traumatic and yet empowering decisions is an element of basic human dignity.”

And in a 1988 landmark decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, Justice Bertha Wilson indicated in her concurring opinion that “respect for human dignity” was key to the discussion of access to abortion because “the right to make fundamental personal decision without interference from the state” was central to human dignity and any reading of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1982, which is essentially Canada’s Bill of Rights.

The case was R. v. Morgentaler, in which the Supreme Court of Canada found that a provision in the criminal code that required abortions to be performed only at an accredited hospital with the proper certification of approval from the hospital’s therapeutic abortion committee violated the Canadian Constitution. (Therapeutic abortion committees were almost always comprised of men who would decide whether an abortion fit within the exception to the criminal offense of performing an abortion.)

In other countries, too, “human dignity” has been a key component in discussion about abortion rights. The German Federal Constitutional Court explicitly recognized that access to abortion was required by “the human dignity of the pregnant woman, her… right to life and physical integrity, and her right of personality.” The Supreme Court of Brazil relied on the notion of human dignity to explain that requiring a person to carry an anencephalic fetus to term caused “violence to human dignity.” The Colombian Constitutional Court relied upon concerns about human dignity to strike down abortion prohibition in instances where the pregnancy is the result of rape, involves a nonviable fetus, or a threat to the woman’s life or health.

Certainly, abortion rights are still severely restricted in some of the above-mentioned countries, and elsewhere throughout the world. Nevertheless, there is strong national and international precedent for locating abortion rights in the square of human dignity.

And where else would they be located? If dignity is all about permitting people to make decisions of fundamental personal importance, and it turns out, as it did with Texas, that politicians have thrown “women’s health and safety” smoke pellets to obscure the true purpose of laws like HB 2—to ban abortion entirely—where’s the dignity in that?

Perhaps I’m being too grumpy. Perhaps I should just take the win—and it is an important win that will shape abortion rights for a generation—and shut my trap. But I want more from Kennedy. I want him to demonstrate that he’s not a hopelessly patriarchal figure who has icky feelings when it comes to abortion. I want him to recognize that some women have abortions and it’s not the worst decision they’ve ever made or the worst thing that ever happened to him. I want him to recognize that women are people who deserve dignity irrespective of their choices regarding whether and when to become a mother. And, ultimately, I want him to write about a woman’s right to choose using the same flowery language that he uses to discuss LGBTQ rights and the dignity of LGBTQ people.  He could have done so here.

Forcing the closure of clinics based on empty promises of advancing public health is an affront to the basic dignity of women. Not only do such lies—and they are lies, as evidenced by the myriad anti-choice Texan politicians who have come right out and said that passing HB 2 was about closing clinics and making abortion inaccessible—operate to deprive women of the dignity to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term, they also presume that the American public is too stupid to truly grasp what’s going on.

And that is quintessentially undignified.