Roundup: Anti-Choice Rally to Close North Dakota’s Only Clinic

Robin Marty

Anti-choice groups push to try and close the state's only clinic because one of the doctors may have accidentally let her license expire.

North Dakota’s only clinic that performs abortions is in the middle of a battle over allegedly lapsed medical licensing for one or two of it’s doctors.   And as usual, the size of the scandal depends on who is talking.

Via the Fargo In-Forum:

Fargo police are withholding details of their investigative findings into a Red River Women’s Clinic doctor with an expired license, saying it will be up to Birch Burdick to determine whether to file criminal charges.

Burdick, the Cass County state’s attorney, plans to review police reports, now complete, after officers inquired about Dr. Tami Lynn Holst Thorndike, a physician at the clinic whose North Dakota medical license expired June 30.

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More than two dozen calls from the public were placed to police once it became known Thorndike’s license expired.

The downtown Fargo clinic is the only one in North Dakota that performs abortions. State law requires abortions be performed by a licensed physician, and failure to comply with the statute is a misdemeanor or felony.

Thorndike has active medical licenses in her resident state, Colorado, and in South Dakota.

The investigation isn’t considered complete because it hasn’t been reviewed by prosecutors, and Police Chief Keith Ternes wouldn’t say late last week whether officers determined if Thorndike performed abortions in North Dakota after her license expired.

“We’re ready to forward our report to the state’s attorney’s office for review,” said Ternes, adding that the investigation was prompted last week when “a citizen brought it to our attention.”

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, would not disclose whether Thorndike performed abortions at the clinic after her license expired. Thorndike practices at the clinic six times a year and is not scheduled to return this year, Kromenaker said.

According to the Bismark Tribune, when medical lapses like these happen, the typical reaction is to get the licensing up to date, and possibly add a penalty to the proceedings.

Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said he has not dealt previously with possible criminal sanctions involving a medical license but has encountered the issue with nurses whose licenses had expired. In those cases, he said, warning letters were issued and no charges resulted.

Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker would not say whether the doctor performed abortions after her license expired. She said the clinic cooperated with the police investigation and that the doctor is working with the licensing board on a renewal.

“This is a paperwork matter and not a reflection of her abilities or competency as a physician,” Kromenaker said. “She has never had a black mark on her record.”

Duane Houdek, executive secretary of the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners, said the penalty for late license renewals is to pay triple the normal fee.

“From our point of view, a lapsed license is typically something that is taken care of administratively,” he said.

But of course, this is North Dakota, the battleground for the Right to Life movement, and there is no calling them off if they smell even the slightest trace of blood in the water.  According to multiple reports, news of the license issue spread quickly via anti-choice protestor email groups, which resulted in dozens of calls to the police.

Tammi Kromenaker, the director of the Red River abortion center, the only one in the state, tried to dismiss any concern and told the Bismarck Tribune it was merely an “administrative oversight.”

“This is a paperwork matter and not a reflection of her abilities or competency as a physician,” Kromenaker said. “She has never had a black mark on her record.

“I expect to have full resolution with no problem,” she said.

Still, pro-life advocates alerted state and local officials after an email bounced around local circles asking people to speak up once the information became known about the expired medical license. Local police received two dozen calls about the license.

And not to be outdone, Operation Rescue jumped on the chance to both file their own complaints, as well as conduct a “sting” on the clinic.

Operation Rescue received a tip that abortionists Lori Lynn Thorndike of Colorado and Miriam McCreary of Minnesota allowed their North Dakota Medical licenses to lapse on June 30, 2010. Operation Rescue immediately began to investigate.
 
An OR staffer posing as a potential abortion customer placed a phone call to RRWC on Friday, November 5, 2010. The caller specifically asked to be seen by “Dr. Thorndike.”
 
“A friend of mine told me though about Dr. Thorndike. Said she was real helpful, so I was wondering if I could get her,” said the caller.
 
The RRWC receptionist responded, “Okay, sure. Let me just put you on hold here. I’m gonna see what days we have available, and I’ll be right back.”
 
On Friday, the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners (NDBME) web site showed that Thorndike’s and McCreary’s medical licenses were on “Inactive – Expired” status. By Monday, record of Thorndike’s license had been removed.
Operation Rescue has since filed a complaint against Thorndike and included a request to investigate the “emergency situation” that took place at RRWC on Friday afternoon. A copy of the phone call documenting the emergency was submitted as evidence.
 
According to the receptionist, the undercover caller was told that there was an “emergency situation” that involved a woman who was sick and vomiting. The receptionist added that it was a “staff member” but that seemed suspicious in the context of the call. Operation Rescue believes the sick woman was more likely a patient suffering an abortion complication.
 
In a follow up call to the clinic about two hours later, another clinic worker answered the phone and told Operation Rescue’s undercover investigator, who was still posing as an abortion patient, that the receptionist she had been speaking to earlier was not at the clinic. Calls to the county emergency communications department and a local ambulance company showed that an ambulance was not involved.
 
“We have reason to believe that the sick woman was transported to emergency care via personal vehicle so as not to call attention to the medical emergency,” said Operation Rescue spokesperson Cheryl Sullenger.
 
“There is a real possibility that unlicensed abortionists may have botched an abortion and that the woman was placed in further jeopardy by clinic staff not calling an ambulance. If true, that means that the Red River Women’s Clinic poses an immediate danger to the public and should be closed on an emergency basis pending further investigation.”

How’s that for detailed, evidence based, investigative work?  I highly recommend listening to their “phone call clips,” that “prove” the story.

Obviously, finding a way to shut down the only clinic in a state would be a huge coup for the anti-choice movement.  The Red River Clinic was under a constant barrage of protest for the last month as a top target in the “40 Days” anti-choice demonstration. 

But rallying around a minor case of administrative oversight?  That’s pretty desperate, even for the anti-choice movement.

Mini Roundup: You can’t say New Jersey Democrats aren’t determined about family planning.  If at first (or second, or third) you don’t succeed, try, try again.

November 9, 2010

November 8, 2010

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”