My Take on “Open Hearts, Open Minds”

Aimée Thorne-Thomsen

A recent conference challenged participants to try to understand different perspectives on abortion, to see disagreement as an opportunity, and not to attack. Here are my thoughts in reflection on the meeting.

The conference Open Hearts, Open Minds, Fair-Minded Words, took place at Princeton University on October 15th and 16th, 2010.  Videocasts of the sessions can be found at the link.

I have to confess that I registered for this conference with neither an open heart nor an open mind. I intentionally don’t engage in conversations about abortion with people who oppose it.  It’s a form of self-preservation.  I don’t understand a worldview that espouses curtailing women’s autonomy and human rights as necessary and even good in order to protect potential human life.  I simply will not abandon my conviction that women retain their agency, dignity and self-determination, regardless of whether they are pregnant or could become pregnant.  Nor will I judge women for making decisions about their reproductive lives that are best for them.  Knowing that this conference would be a radical departure for me, I ventured to Princeton anyway. Unsure of what to expect and anxious, I nevertheless wanted to lend my support to allies who supported abortion.  I also intended to bear witness to conversations that at least on their surface centered on abortion outside of its actual context, that is, outside the bodies, lives, and experiences of the women who get pregnant and have abortions. 

The organizers of the conference, Frances Kissling (Center for BioEthics, University of Pennsylvania), Peter Singer (University Center for Human Values, Princeton), Jennifer Miller (Bioethics International), and Charles Camosy (Department of Theology, Fordham University), challenged the hundreds of participants to view the conference as an opportunity to understand the thinking of those who feel differently about abortion than we each did personally, and to see disagreement as an opportunity to learn something, not to attack.  The discussions ranged across many issues including the moral status of the fetus, the concept of fetal pain, and the potential discriminatory affects of abortion (as in sex selection or after pre-natal diagnosis of fetal differences).  While each session was thought-provoking in its own way, I want to focus on the opening plenaries on Friday and Saturday morning because they challenged me the most and helped me reaffirm my own values around abortion.

The conference began with a plenary entitled “Bridging The Abortion Divide: Recurring Challenges, Emerging Opportunities.”  Of the five speakers on the panel, David Gushee, a faculty member at McAfee School of Theology struck me most.  He described abortion as “tragic” and implored people to resist abortion as a common social practice.  He defied the idea that abortion was an exercise in women’s human rights or moral agency, but rather he framed abortion as an act of desperation in every case.  And while he shared that he believed every person deserved respect, he also made clear that abortion was never, could never be, a moral good. 

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Gushee’s reflections on the need to address the social and economic conditions that perpetuate poverty (one of the main reasons that women choose abortion is because of lack of social and financial resources) resonated with me.  Yet, he never addressed inequality, patriarchy or sexism.  In fact, he seemed to gloss over exactly how those conditions adversely affect women’s lives.  Instead, he repeated the need to limit our engagement in contributing to or supporting the tragedy that is abortion. He made me think of the movie, the Princess Bride.  After one character repeatedly uses (and misuses) the word “inconceivable,” another character says, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”  I think David Gushee and I have extremely different ideas of what tragic means, and moreover, what it means to resist.  I don’t believe abortion is tragic in itself.  I don’t believe that what drives abortion in every case is desperation.  I’ve known too many women who have had abortions to believe that.  I only wish that the conference had valued those experiences enough to lift up their voices, instead of silencing them.

Saturday morning began with the plenary, “From Morality to Public Policy” and featured several legal scholars.  I personally felt challenged by Helen Alvare’s premise that as a woman, “I was chosen to care” for others and that my support for abortion distorted my essential nature.  Alvare, who is affiliated with the George Mason University School of Law, also added that bodily integrity was not an important enough issue to discuss in the context of abortion.  I found these statements patriarchal and offensive. 

I was relieved, however, when David Garrow (Homerton College, University of Cambridge), avowed that Roe v Wade and related cases were rightly and inevitably decided and carried the moral weight of Brown v Board of Education.  He put forward that the crux of the conflict around abortion was society’s feelings around sex, which were also reflected in the political right’s opposition to birth control, gay rights and marriage equality.  Cathleen Kaveny (University of Notre Dame Law School), spoke movingly about views of morality and how they interact with the law.  She was the first person at the conference to raise sexism and its contribution to inequality.  She was also the first pro-life person to really address ideas of justice, and though her ideas stemmed from a religious background, she allowed for different ideas of justice and how to consider the disproportionate burden of injustice born by certain communities, including women, people of color and low-income people.  Kaverny was the only self-identified pro-life speaker, who spoke to values that I understood.  Like other speakers, she spoke about the social conditions that shape and condition women’s decisions about pregnancy.  She also spoke about women with empathy and understanding and brought them into the conversation more than her pro-life colleagues had before or since.

Finally, Dorothy Roberts (School of Law, Northwestern University) called for the recognition of the moral agency of women and argued that women matter equally outside of the context of the fetus.  She was also the first person to talk about the reproductive justice framework as a broad-based approach that addresses the entire social context in which a woman lives and which deeply affects all of her reproductive decisions, not just abortion.  Professor Roberts highlighted that motherhood among women of color, particularly African-American women, and poor women was constantly under attack and devalued.  She called our attention to the pattern of blaming reproduction by women of color as the source of inequality and many social problems.  She cited the numerous campaigns taking place across the country that equate abortion in the Black community with genocide as another example of how society devalues motherhood by questioning Black women’s moral agency.  Professor Roberts also criticized the idea offered by earlier speakers that adoption was a universal, common good and suggested that adoption was a racist, classist system meant to benefit middle-class families, often at the expense of low-income people and people of color.  She appealed to the audience that any movement toward common ground on abortion had to be based on values of social justice. 

Professor Roberts then outlined the numerous policies that hurt and devalue the parenting of women of color and offered positive policies that government could implement to support families.  I was grateful to Dorothy Roberts for giving voice to the work of the reproductive justice movement, where women and their families are central to all discussions, as actors and as leaders.  For the first time during the conference, I felt like someone was speaking about abortion in the context of women’s lives and all the other realities that women must confront every day. 

I tried my best to keep an open heart and an open mind and remain engaged in the various conversations.  Yet I kept returning to several key questions.  What about the woman?  I couldn’t move past the idea that the conference was afraid of bringing women who have had abortions into these discussions.  To talk about abortion as if women were not central to the conversation, was just a further devaluing of women and all the reproductive decisions we make over the course of our lives. 

Where was the discussion about the moral status of the woman?  From the comments of many speakers and audience members, I was not convinced that we were in agreement on the moral status of women, and what society’s obligation was to them.  As one speaker proposed, “Is there a category of personhood for pregnant women that is separate from other people?”  And if so, when does that take affect?  Once a woman is pregnant?  Does it start at puberty and end at menopause?  What about women who cannot or are highly unlikely to ever get pregnant?  Are they exempt from this “separate, but equal” categorization?  Or as my colleague, Lynn Paltrow says, “At what point during pregnancy do women forgo their human rights and dignity?”  Until we all agree that women are moral agents, who are free to exercise their full human rights, I’m afraid these conversations won’t bring us any closer to bridging the gap between those who support the right to choose abortion and those who do not.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

Analysis Abortion

Legislators Have Introduced 445 Provisions to Restrict Abortion So Far This Year

Elizabeth Nash & Rachel Benson Gold

So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.

So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Of these, 35 percent (445 provisions) sought to restrict access to abortion services. By midyear, 17 states had passed 46 new abortion restrictions.

Including these new restrictions, states have adopted 334 abortion restrictions since 2010, constituting 30 percent of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.

Mid year state restrictions


Signs of Progress

The first half of the year ended on a high note, with the U.S. Supreme Court handing down the most significant abortion decision in a generation. The Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt struck down abortion restrictions in Texas requiring abortion facilities in the state to convert to the equivalent of ambulatory surgical centers and mandating that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital; these two restrictions had greatly diminished access to services throughout the state (see Lessons from Texas: Widespread Consequences of Assaults on Abortion Access). Five other states (Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia) have similar facility requirements, and the Texas decision makes it less likely that these laws would be able to withstand judicial scrutiny (see Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). Nineteen other states have abortion facility requirements that are less onerous than the ones in Texas; the fate of these laws in the wake of the Court’s decision remains unclear. 

Ten states in addition to Texas had adopted hospital admitting privileges requirements. The day after handing down the Texas decision, the Court declined to review lower court decisions that have kept such requirements in Mississippi and Wisconsin from going into effect, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) announced that he would not enforce the state’s law. As a result of separate litigation, enforcement of admitting privileges requirements in Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma is currently blocked. That leaves admitting privileges in effect in Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah; as with facility requirements, the Texas decision will clearly make it harder for these laws to survive if challenged.

More broadly, the Court’s decision clarified the legal standard for evaluating abortion restrictions. In its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Court had said that abortion restrictions could not impose an undue burden on a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy. In Whole Woman’s Health, the Court stressed the importance of using evidence to evaluate the extent to which an abortion restriction imposes a burden on women, and made clear that a restriction’s burdens cannot outweigh its benefits, an analysis that will give the Texas decision a reach well beyond the specific restrictions at issue in the case.

As important as the Whole Woman’s Health decision is and will be going forward, it is far from the only good news so far this year. Legislators in 19 states introduced a bevy of measures aimed at expanding insurance coverage for contraceptive services. In 13 of these states, the proposed measures seek to bolster the existing federal contraceptive coverage requirement by, for example, requiring coverage of all U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved methods and banning the use of techniques such as medical management and prior authorization, through which insurers may limit coverage. But some proposals go further and plow new ground by mandating coverage of sterilization (generally for both men and women), allowing a woman to obtain an extended supply of her contraceptive method (generally up to 12 months), and/or requiring that insurance cover over-the-counter contraceptive methods. By July 1, both Maryland and Vermont had enacted comprehensive measures, and similar legislation was pending before Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). And, in early July, Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signed a measure into law allowing women to obtain a year’s supply of their contraceptive method.


But the Assault Continues

Even as these positive developments unfolded, the long-standing assault on sexual and reproductive health and rights continued apace. Much of this attention focused on the release a year ago of a string of deceptively edited videos designed to discredit Planned Parenthood. The campaign these videos spawned initially focused on defunding Planned Parenthood and has grown into an effort to defund family planning providers more broadly, especially those who have any connection to abortion services. Since last July, 24 states have moved to restrict eligibility for funding in several ways:

  • Seventeen states have moved to limit family planning providers’ eligibility for reimbursement under Medicaid, the program that accounts for about three-fourths of all public dollars spent on family planning. In some cases, states have tried to exclude Planned Parenthood entirely from such funding. These attacks have come via both administrative and legislative means. For instance, the Florida legislature included a defunding provision in an omnibus abortion bill passed in March. As the controversy grew, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that administers Medicaid, sent a letter to state officials reiterating that federal law prohibits them from discriminating against family planning providers because they either offer abortion services or are affiliated with an abortion provider (see CMS Provides New Clarity For Family Planning Under Medicaid). Most of these state attempts have been blocked through legal challenges. However, a funding ban went into effect in Mississippi on July 1, and similar measures are awaiting implementation in three other states.
  • Fourteen states have moved to restrict family planning funds controlled by the state, with laws enacted in four states. The law in Kansas limits funding to publicly run programs, while the law in Louisiana bars funding to providers who are associated with abortion services. A law enacted in Wisconsin directs the state to apply for federal Title X funding and specifies that if this funding is obtained, it may not be distributed to family planning providers affiliated with abortion services. (In 2015, New Hampshire moved to deny Title X funds to Planned Parenthood affiliates; the state reversed the decision in 2016.) Finally, the budget adopted in Michigan reenacts a provision that bars the allocation of family planning funds to organizations associated with abortion. Notably, however, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed a similar measure.
  • Ten states have attempted to bar family planning providers’ eligibility for related funding, including monies for sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, prevention of interpersonal violence, and prevention of breast and cervical cancer. In three of these states, the bans are the result of legislative action; in Utah, the ban resulted from action by the governor. Such a ban is in effect in North Carolina; the Louisiana measure is set to go into effect in August. Implementation of bans in Ohio and Utah has been blocked as a result of legal action.


The first half of 2016 was also noteworthy for a raft of attempts to ban some or all abortions. These measures fell into four distinct categories:

  • By the end of June, four states enacted legislation to ban the most common method used to perform abortions during the second trimester. The Mississippi and West Virginia laws are in effect; the other two have been challenged in court. (Similar provisions enacted last year in Kansas and Oklahoma are also blocked pending legal action.)
  • South Carolina and North Dakota both enacted measures banning abortion at or beyond 20 weeks post-fertilization, which is equivalent to 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period. This brings to 16 the number of states with these laws in effect (see State Policies on Later Abortions).
  • Indiana and Louisiana adopted provisions banning abortions under specific circumstances. The Louisiana law banned abortions at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization in cases of diagnosed genetic anomaly; the law is slated to go into effect on August 1. Indiana adopted a groundbreaking measure to ban abortion for purposes of race or sex selection, in cases of a genetic anomaly, or because of the fetus’ “color, national origin, or ancestry”; enforcement of the measure is blocked pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
  • Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) vetoed a sweeping measure that would have banned all abortions except those necessary to protect the woman’s life.


In addition, 14 states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah) enacted other types of abortion restrictions during the first half of the year, including measures to impose or extend waiting periods, restrict access to medication abortion, and establish regulations on abortion clinics.

Zohra Ansari-Thomas, Olivia Cappello, and Lizamarie Mohammed all contributed to this analysis.