Do Anti-Choicers Need to Get a Life?

Amanda Marcotte

A documentary reveals the "life differential," i.e. that anti-choice protesters seem to have nothing else going on in their lives but to protest.

At the NARAL-sponsored screening of 12th and Delaware last Friday in New York, the laughs were few and far between.  The documentary, which is slated for release on HBO on August 3rd, chronicles the tension between a Florida-based abortion clinic and the crisis pregnancy center that set up across the street.  Between the women seeking abortion because of often-untenable situations, the mean-spirited bullies on the anti-choice side, and the palpable fear in the abortion clinic, there’s not a lot of merriment onscreen.  But I laughed darkly to myself at one point, when the owner of the clinic, while expressing frustration with the protesters who plague her clinic, notes that the protesters seem to have nothing else going on in their lives.  How true, I chuckled to myself.  How sadly true.

It’s something that activists on the pro-choice side often find most exasperating.  I call it the “life differential.”  Not “life” as in the misnomer “pro-life.”  “Life,” as in the having of one.  The owner of the abortion clinic in 12th and Delaware puts it perfectly.  She wishes that they could get a group to go over to the crisis pregnancy center and protest them night and day, but the people who have the will to do that don’t have the time.  They have a life to live—jobs to do, relationships to tend, hobbies to enjoy.  Even those of us who work in the field of promoting reproductive rights have nothing approaching the endless time and energy that anti-choicers give to their obsession.

The life differential is what directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady capture so well in this documentary, which is their follow-up to their 2006 smash hit “Jesus Camp.” In the first half of the movie, they follow the anti-choicers both in and out of the crisis pregnancy center, and the most startling thing they discover is how much they don’t seem to have a life outside of their obsession.  The woman who runs the crisis pregnancy center admits as much, talking about how she’s perfect for her job, because she has no family or any other responsibilities other than her dogs that could get between her and her day-in, day-out obsession with bullying pregnant women out of their choice to abort through emotional manipulation, lies, bribery, and even just making it difficult for women to leave the crisis pregnancy center.

You also get to know the priest who offers leadership to the crisis pregnancy center, a man who grins wildly when recounting his finest moments of vicious bullying of abortion patients and clinic workers.  (It’s hard not to suspect that the Catholic church’s celibacy requirement feeds the anti-choice movement precisely because it creates a class of men who are especially attracted to bullying women who are quite obviously not celibate.) And of course, you have the bored old lady with nothing better to do than shake baby dolls at the clinic workers.

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To round out the standard cast of anti-choicers any clinic escort knows from their own town is the angry dude who fronts like he’s a big man in his Harley T-shirts and tough guy talk.  Alarmingly, the filmmakers capture this guy following the couple who owns the clinic around and brags about he intends to publish the addresses of the doctors.  His pathetic bravado about how he doesn’t care what someone does with these addresses is so alarming it can distract from what else they capture.  But this man’s constantly simmering rage threatens to boil over the most when he talks about how the doctor goes home to his wife and his children and just goes about enjoying his life.  It’s hard to get into the mental space of someone who can shake with rage at the idea of a man hugging his children and loving his wife, but for a brief moment, you at least see a small slice of the anger that so often leads to acts of violence.

The filmmakers get out of the way, simply presenting their subjects in their own environment with no editorializing.  But the format, which covers the anti-choicers first and then the clinic workers, draws attention to the strong contrast between the evil image of abortion providers that anti-choicers concoct and the reality of what goes on in the clinic.  In the first half, we see the woman who runs the crisis pregnancy center teaching a class where she explains that women go in to a clinic and get a hard sell to get an abortion.  In the second half, we see the reality—the clinic owner reminding women over and over that this is only something they should do if they’re really sure.  The anti-choicers paint a picture of clinic workers who perform abortions because they’re just evil people full of demons.  But in the clinic, you meet compassionate people who spend their days caring for women who are often in miserable situations.

The anti-choicers in the film have spent so long painting themselves as saints fighting evil that they seem to have no idea how much they come across as heartless bullies.  That’s the only explanation I can come up with for how the filmmakers were able to capture their subjects badly misusing women.  The usual lies you expect from a crisis pregnancy center are bad enough—telling women they’re not as far along as they are, telling women they’ll get breast cancer if they have abortion, telling people not to use contraception because it doesn’t work—but in this film, you see even nastier lies that make those look small.  The crisis pregnancy center “counselor” tells a woman who is in an abusive relationship that her partner will quit abusing her if she has his baby.  (Luckily, the woman sees right through this lie, and seems a bit baffled that anyone could believe such a whopper.)  And, in the climax of the film, the anti-choicers talk a woman off the porch of the abortion clinic by promising her clothes, rent money, and food for her six existing children, as well as future support for child number seven.

But when she follows them in to the crisis pregnancy center, we find that what she gets is a stuffed animal.  She’s told to pick one.  No doubt the people who donated that animal pat themselves on the back for their generosity, but the audience is left wondering why they couldn’t even spring to give her toys for all her children, especially when they promised her the moon.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.


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