For Anti-Choicers, “Abortion” Often Has No Relationship To Abortion

Amanda Marcotte

So-called pro-life Democrats are learning the hard way that when anti-choice activists say they're against "abortion," their using code for a whole lot of things beyond the right to terminate a pregnancy.

The number one mistake anyone can make when dealing with anti-choice activists is to take them at their word.  Believing that they’re in this strictly because abortion itself offends them, and seeking ways to reduce access to abortion?  Reproductive rights activists would be the first in line to tell you that’s never going to work.  And if you stick around and listen to reproductive rights activists dispensing advice, the second thing we’d tell you is that people who enjoy going to clinics to yell at patients live for opportunities to harass people, and you’d be much better off avoiding them in the first place. If anti-abortion House Democrats had actually listened to this advice, they wouldn’t be facing the situation they’re in now. 

Politico is reporting that a cadre of anti-choice groups, led by the misnamed Susan B. Anthony List, have taken to dumping millions of dollars into advertisements and a bus tour opposing anti-choice House Democrats who voted for health care reform after restrictions were attached that dramatically reduced women’s access to insurance coverage for abortion.  Naturally, said Democrats are feeling betrayed.  Politico quoted Rep. Kathy Delkamper, an anti-abortion Democrat who voted for the health care reform bill:

“It’s been extremely frustrating at times,” Dahlkemper told POLITICO. “All along, I have donated. I have marched. I have been an unmarried pregnant woman who chose life. I have lived this. Now I’m 52, and in the last six months, all of a sudden, people are questioning who I am.”

I imagine that it’s doubly frustrating because the anti-abortion Democrats gave the anti-choice movement what they said they wanted: a federal rule that makes it impossible for a single red cent of taxpayer money to go towards elective abortion.  They even did them one better, by getting an executive order that will make it likely that insurance companies that currently offer abortion coverage will simply drop it.  They gave the anti-choice movement what they said they wanted, and the anti-choice movement is still crying foul!  It turned out they were always against the health care reform bill in its entirety, and abortion was simply a cover story to give moral weight to their opposition to universal health care.  And, as Politico demonstrated, folks like Charmaine Yoest have no problem lying about abortion and health care reform, if it suits their goal of resisting health care reform:

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“That being said, the fact that [the] Democratic Party advanced the biggest expansion of abortion with health care is something they have to answer for.” 

How does drastically cutting off women’s access to insurance coverage for abortion constitute “the biggest expansion of abortion”?  Answer: it doesn’t.  But it’s politically useful to say so if you’re hijacking people’s anxieties about abortion to oppose health care reform.

A cynic might suggest the anti-choice movement is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican party, but I would actually say that partisanship  isn’t the issue in this case.  What anti-abortion Democrats have failed to do is understand the cardinal rule when dealing with the anti-choice movement: It’s never about abortion.  It’s about sex and it’s about reinforcing their belief about women’s roles.  But it’s never really about abortion.  Opposing abortion rights is simply their best weapon in achieving their larger goals. 

Health care reform may have reduced women’s access to abortion, but social conservatives still have reasons to believe that the new health care system will run against their goals of punishing women for sexual choices they don’t like and keeping women dependent on men.

That the first concern—that expanded access to health care will allow women to have sex with fewer negative consequences—is somewhat true.  On one hand, women won’t have insurance funding for abortion.  But on the other hand, health care reform has the potential to greatly improve women’s access to contraception, STD testing and treatment, general gynecological care, and the HPV vaccine.  (And the herpes vaccine, when it’s released.)  So when you hear anti-choicers complain about “abortion” being covered, even though it’s not covered, it isn’t a leap to realize that by “abortion” they mean “prevention of cervical cancer and unintended pregnancy.”  It’s just less politically popular to run to the press and complain that this health care reform bill will mean fewer deaths from cervical cancer.     

The second concern is a bit more of a logical leap, but nonetheless still an article of faith for social conservatives: that a social safety net undermines the patriarchy by making it easier for women to leave bad marriages. Phyllis Schlafly outlined this argument at a Michigan fundraiser, saying, “And this is because when you kick your husband out, you’ve got to have Big Brother Government to be your provider.”  And there is some truth to this. When women don’t have to rely on their husbands for food, shelter, and health care, then those husbands lose a lot of leverage. 

But you can see why anti-choice groups realize that it’s a bad idea to argue in public that they oppose a bill that would allow an abused wife to walk away from her husband without losing her insurance.  Thus, that gets swept into the catch-all scare term “abortion” as well. 

Anti-abortion Democrats made the mistake of thinking that anti-choice activists use the term “abortion” to mean “terminating a pregnancy”, and that mistake is coming back to haunt them.  Hopefully, in the future, they will start to see that anti-choice groups use “abortion” as a catch-all term to condemn any choices women make that give them more power to control their own lives.  And if you doubt that, I recommend reading this story about Senators Coburn and DeMint are blocking a women’s history museum because of “abortion.” The fact that there is nothing about abortion or reproductive rights in general is irrelevant to this argument.  Under the new right wing definition of “abortion”, it’s millennia of male dominance that is being aborted, and it is this abortion more than any actual medical abortion that they object to. 

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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