Anti-Choice Woman-Hating Goes Mainstream

Carole Joffe

In some extremist anti-choice circles, full-throated woman-hating never went away.  But among other "mainstream" anti-choice groups, latent mysogyny is now out in the open.

She consented in the murder of an unborn child.  There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child.

With this brief quote, the speaker, the Rev. John Ehrich, medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix, deserves credit for achieving a twofer in a recently revived (if not formally declared) misogyny competition that is now sweeping the anti-choice world.  He is not only stating that a gravely ill woman (the mother of four children) should have been left to die, rather than being permitted an abortion; he is also explaining why Sister Mary Margaret McBride, the nun-administrator of a Catholic hospital  who authorized the abortion (thereby saving the woman’s life) deserves to be excommunicated. 

This case, which has received wide coverage in Rewire and other media, has predictably stunned many people, across the abortion divide. Some have pointed out that the Phoenix diocese misinterpreted Catholic health care directives, and that abortion is permissible under these rules when a woman’s life is at stake. Others have made the common sense observation that if the woman had died, not only would her four children remain motherless, but the 11-week old fetus would not have survived either. Inevitably, some commented on the disparity between the nun’s swift excommunication and the fact that none of the identified pedophile priests have received such punishment.

But while the Phoenix case may cause the most jaw-dropping, with its undisguised preference for a woman’s death over an abortion, there are other recent instances that similarly suggest an upsurge of blatant woman-hating in the antiabortion world. Take the notorious Utah law passed earlier this year in response to the deeply sad case of a pregnant teenager who paid a stranger to beat her in the hope of inducing a miscarriage. (In spite of the severe beating that occurred, the pregnancy resulted in a live birth). Outraged that the male in question received a jail sentence but that there was no legal mechanism with which to charge the teen, a Utah legislator pushed through legislation that criminalizes the seeking of an illegal abortion, and which many observers believe has the practical effect of making all miscarriages in the state theoretically suspect. Had this law been in effect at the time of the incident described above, and had the fetus not survived, the desperate young woman could have received fifteen years to life.  As the untroubled sponsor of the bill told a reporter, the young woman “has to face the consequences of her barbaric actions.”  No one stopped to ask under what conditions she had gotten pregnant nor why she took such drastic measures.

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Then there are the mandatory ultrasound laws.  These are occurring in a number of state legislatures, but nowhere to date with such viciousness as the one recently passed in Oklahoma. There the new law stipulates that one hour before her abortion, the patient must receive an ultrasound, with the monitor positioned so that she can see it, and the doctor must point to and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus.  There are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.  

The current Supreme Court has also shown an unprecedented and disturbing hostility to women with respect to abortion. In its most recent decision on the subject, the 2007 Gonzales v Carhart case which upheld a ban on a certain abortion technique (intact dilation and extraction, or so-called “partial birth abortion”), the Court, shockingly, for the first time upheld an abortion restriction which did not allow any exception for a woman’s health.     

Do these examples of misogyny represent anything new? To be sure, in some extremist anti-choice circles, full throated woman-hating never went away. (See, for example, this video from several years ago of Flip Benham screeching at women entering a N. Carolina clinic that “Satan will drink the blood of your child!”) But in other, more mainstream quarters of the movement, the heated, and hateful rhetoric of the period immediately after Roe—where women seeking abortion were routinely called “sluts” and “baby killers” —gradually became replaced by a new frame: abortion hurts women.  Given that by the early 1980s, about 40 percent of American women were estimated to have an abortion during their reproductive years (the number now is about 33 percent), arguably such hate speech was counterproductive for the opponents of abortion: too many Americans either themselves had had an abortion or knew someone who did. Thus, antiabortion rhetoric shifted to professed sympathy for women, and abortion providers—those doing the hurting—became the main objects of demonization.   

The nature of laws restricting abortions has also undergone changes in the recent past, reflecting a heightened mean-spiritedness. While all such laws have as their goal the objective of making the procedure more difficult to obtain, earlier laws—for example, the waiting periods, or the TRAP laws governing minute, arguably irrelevant physical features of freestanding clinics– these measures did not have quite the same blatant cruelty as current measures do, given the mandates to force a woman to hear a description of her ultrasound or to be told terrifying lies about supposed links between abortion and breast cancer, suicide and infertility, as is required in a number of states.

Why has this increase in undisguised misogyny occurred?  Certainly part of the answer is the election of Barack Obama.  Like other sectors of the rightwing, the antichoice movement has been both enraged and energized by the Obama presidency. There not only has been a change in rhetoric and in the quantity and quality of abortion legislation since the 2008 election, but also an upsurge in aggression and violence at the site of clinics themselves (though most of this violence to date has been directed at providers, rather than patients, as we saw with the tragic murder of Dr. Tiller one year ago).

Another explanation lies in the considerable success the antichoice movement has had in stigmatizing abortion, and therefore those who both receive abortions and provide them.  As the overall number of abortion patients drop, and as poor women of color disproportionately comprise the population of abortion patients, it has become far easier for mainstream actors in the antichoice movement to see a split world, in which good women do the “right thing” when faced with an unwanted pregnancy and bad women don’t.   This deeply stigmatized view of abortion recipients enables the “respectable” opponents of abortion—the legislators, the Church officials and so on—to go a rhetorical place where their extremist colleagues have always been.

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”

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.