Reproductive Rights in the 21st Century: The Effects of the Hyde Amendment

Dr. LeRoy Carhart

The Hyde amendment puts women in the most dire of situations.  They have to choose between paying their rent or being pregnant, feeding their children or being pregnant, pawning their car or being pregnant.

Dr. LeRoy Carhart, Medical Director of the Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska, presented this speech at the  2010 National Organization for Women Conference in Boston on July 3, 2010.  NOW has posted a video recording of the speech here.

Who do you want to decide?

My former friend and colleague Dr. George Tiller used to say:

“Abortion is not a cerebral or a reproductive issue. Abortion is a matter of the heart. For until one understands the heart of a woman, nothing else about abortion makes any sense at all.” 

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This statement rings true, so loud and clear that I want to shout it from the roof top.  The legislative bodies in this country are out of control when it comes to decrying the need to create laws governing a woman’s body. 

Here are some of the restrictions, which are you okay with? Near total bans on abortion, banning abortion at arbitrary gestations, mandating biased counseling, forcing women to wait 24-48 hours between their mandated counseling/ultrasound and their procedure, giving doctors the right to refuse to provide medical services (including refusing to provide emergency contraception in the emergency room for rape victims), restricting poor women from accessing abortion care through Medicaid, requiring young women to have their parents consent or forcing them to notify their parents, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers or TRAP laws, fetal personhood, mandated ultrasound explanation and viewing, and on and on. 

As a physician who has been providing abortions for decades, I can tell you that the issue of abortion doesn’t exist in black and white; it’s all shades of gray.  When it comes to the issue of later abortion, arbitrary lines are just that, arbitrary.  But not only are these limits irresponsible, they are dangerous.  Restricting a woman’s right to obtain an abortion at any stage in her pregnancy is an outright siege of her body by the state. 

The Hyde amendment in particular, puts women in the most dire of situations.  They have to choose between paying their rent or being pregnant, feeding their children or being pregnant, pawning their car or being pregnant.  The Hyde amendment has the ability to destroy lives, the lives of the women who it restricts from obtaining the abortions they need, the families of the women who it hurts, the spouses, children, sisters, parents and everyone’s lives who are touched by the women we know. 

I trust women to make the best decisions regarding their bodies.  I trust women to know when and if it is the right time to bring a child into the world.  I trust women to know when abortion is the most moral, spiritual and maternal decision they can make.  Until you know the stories of these women, this issue will never make sense in the abstract.  Maybe it’s never crossed your mind as to why a woman would need to terminate a pregnancy at a later gestation.  Let me share the words and stories of some of the women I’ve been able to help throughout the years. 

Most recently, we had a patient who was in a difficult life situation.  A former heroine addict, doing well to overcome her addiction, trying hard to get a stable job and get her life back together, this patient was determined to get the care she so desperately needed.  We saw this patient after she had been sent hundreds of miles across 3 states to find an abortion provider that could take care of her.  She and her partner had pawned their car and had to borrow one to make the trek to Bellevue.  After being turned away from two previous clinics, their finances were nearly drained.  The patient had also found out at her last clinic visit that the fetus had serious deformities.  A devastating situation could have been taken care of so much sooner; with much more ease, if only she had been able to use her Medicaid to pay for the surgery she needed.  The Hyde amendment hurts women. 

Then there’s the story of “Nell.”  Nell was a 16 year old girl living a few hundred miles away in a small town.  Nell had been working for months trying to come up with the money, trying to find a clinic that could provide her with an ultrasound, she found herself swimming in a situation that was starting to envelope her life.  Drowning in a mess of a pregnancy gone wrong, not being able to tell her parents, not having the money to pay for an abortion, she found herself in touch with my staff.  Nell had been trying so hard for almost six months to obtain the abortion she so desperately needed, that now, it seemed she was out of options.  Luckily, she wasn’t.  With Nell’s determination and the assistance of my staff, Nell braved going to a so called “crisis pregnancy center” to get an ultrasound so we could determine her gestation.  Then we found Nell some financial assistance.  Nell also broke down and told her grandmother of her situation and ended up forming a bond so special that they helped each other through this situation hand in hand. 

After Nell arrived at our clinic, it was determined that the fetus had large cysts on its brain and was hydrocephalic. Often times, these cases turn out to be a blessing in disguise for patients and for us as a staff.  We are able to help women in the most horrible of situations to aid in a possible bright future, to see that bright light at the end of the tunnel.  Nell was a strong young woman, and left our clinic with a new outlook on life and will hopefully value her experience for the rest of her life. 

This spring we also saw two other young patients, two young women who traveled both thousands of miles to visit us.  These women were in very dark places in their lives due to pregnancies that had led them to a cliff, which they almost jumped off.  The first, “Jenny” stated:

“I have no attachment to the pregnancy.  I’m mad at the pregnancy.  I have crazy thoughts of killing myself.  After looking at myself in the mirror I even punched myself in the stomach because I got mad.  When I look in the mirror, I don’t see me.  I see a girl who made a big mistake.  I look at myself and start to cry.  I can’t look at myself in the eyes for 2 seconds without crying.  I see my belly and I don’t feel like myself.  You can see it  by the way I dress and walk around now.  I keep to myself, I wear hoodies and big jeans and big tshirts.” 

and

“When I was at school I walked by this ledge and I thought about falling off that ledge in my dorm.  I thought about walking into the street and having a car hit me.  I thought hitting my stomach would kill it and I thought about falling in the shower.  I had baby oil ready but I didn’t go through with it.”

When asked “what would you do if you cannot have an abortion”  Jenny replied:

“I am already over the edge, I would be over the edge even more if Nebraska won’t help me.  I would kill myself.  I can only take so much.  This abortion is a need, not a want!” 

I’ll ask you again, who do you want to decide?

The other young woman I wanted to mention, we’ll call her “Sarah,” traveled across the country to make it to our clinic.  She had been referred to us by a provider in her home state, that wanted so much to help her, but due to these harmful and arbitrary laws regarding gestational limits, he couldn’t, so she started her journey to Nebraska.  In one of her statements, Sarah said:

“I wish I would have told my mom and family earlier because they would have been able to help me.  I was just scared and nervous and embarrassed.  I was planning on having an abortion the entire time and the only thing that goes through my mind is that I can’t have a baby.  I’m not ready.  I just can’t.  The thought of not having one isn’t okay to me and I have big plans for my future.  I can’t think of anything or any other words than I can’t have a baby.” 

This young woman suffered because of these laws, the actual devastation caused by these laws will never be truly known. 

The last story I’ll share is from a young woman I just saw a few weeks ago, her name is “Samantha.”  She is 18, and had just graduated high school.  Samantha had irregular periods, had erratic responses to pregnancy tests.  She like Nell, went to a “crisis pregnancy center” and found out her gestation and was shown pictures of adoptive families, told that abortion causes cancer, and that she really had no other option than to carry to term.  In a statement Samantha stated:

“Yesterday I cried a whole lot and thought about committing suicide.  I thought about shooting myself in the mouth with a gun and how I could get a gun.  I thought I would use my graduation money to get a gun but I didn’t know where I could get it.  I was really upset with myself.  Then my mom happened to come into the room and talked to me, she said everything would be okay.  I did feel like I wouldn’t go to heaven if I did this.  My mom told me people make these kinds of mistakes and reassured me that everything would be okay.”

“I had thought about causing a miscarriage, I looked it up on the internet, about teas I could drink and stuff.  I have hit myself in the stomach 4-6 times a day when I was at work.” 

“I have been crying and crying…I just wanted to be in the dark.  I now just feel numb.  I feel like all my tears are gone.”

I just want to close with this, the women I see, the lives that I am able to change, are the reason that I do what I do.  This right is under attack.  I’ve asked you who you want deciding the laws that are attacking women’s rights.  I’ll ask you to trust women.  The women of this country need abortions, and as long as I can, I will do them.

Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said “women deliver for the world; now the world needs to deliver for women.”  Let’s repeal the Hyde amendment along with the litany of other harmful laws and help women control their own destinies.

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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