News Law and Policy

Afternoon Roundup: Is There Really A “Debate” About the “Protect Life Act”?

Amie Newman

The "Protect Life" bill is not a debate; Can an iPhone catch you sinning?; Texas sonogram law moves forward; and Right Wing Watch brings you the men and women taking part in the Planned Parenthood smear and defunding campaign.

The “Protect Life” bill is not a debate; Can an iPhone catch you sinning?; Texas sonogram law moves forward; and Right Wing Watch brings you the men and women taking part in the Planned Parenthood smear and defunding campaign.

  • An update on Texas’ SB 16 (via The American Independent) which mandates sonograms be performed two hours prior to any abortion (though does not force women to view the ultrasound or listen to a detailed description of the fetus, as was originally required): physicians, unsurprisingly, testified that this is a direct intrusion on a doctor-patient relationship. As well, there is no statistical evidence to support that viewing an ultrasound changes the abortion rate, according to the testimony of one Ob-Gyn. As I wrote yesterday, peforming an ultrasound prior to an abortion is already the standard of care so legislating these requirements are intrusive and unnecessary. The article also notes that, as written, many say the bill is confusing and vaguely worded. 
  • Right Wing Watch brings you the men (and women) behind the smear. From one legislator who supported a bill which would “force the state to file murder charges against a woman and her doctor” for a later term abortion to another who served as a spokesman for the virulently anti-choice organization Operation Rescue. As we are all well aware by now, the Live Action video hoax has all been part of a multi-million dollar smear campaign perpetrated against Planned Parenthood and more broadly women’s health access. WIth Rep. Mike Pence’s legislation calling to defund Planned Parenthood and the House calling to completely wipe away this country’s Title X program which provides health care for some of our most vulnerable Americans, a well-coordinated legislative attack is underway.

Editorial Politics

Stop Playing Word Games: Debate Moderators Must Ask Honest Questions About Abortion

Jodi Jacobson

I have never heard anyone ask for some deeper reflection by a politician on the consequences of treating the lives of millions of people and families like so many political poker chips to bargain away at the election table.

The media loves to obsess about—and stoke controversy around—abortion and contraception. Journalists and talk show hosts can endlessly plumb these long-simmering issues for ratings and sound bites. On the Sunday talk shows, in radio interviews, and presidential debates, politicians exclaim with abandon their support for any number of restrictions and laws, using their so-called pro-life stances to gin up their bases like matadors swinging a red cloak in front of a riled-up bull.

Rarely, however, do journalists stop to ask these politicians: Exactly what is the evidence for your position? And I have never heard anyone ask for some deeper reflection by a politician on the consequences of treating the lives of millions of people and families like so many political poker chips to bargain away at the election table. After all, when some powerful senator blithely declares he “chooses life,” he’s not choosing to pay the medical bills for, diaper, feed, clothe, nurture, educate, and make a lifelong commitment to that child. He is leaving that to someone else who becomes a parent for the rest of their life, whether they wanted to be or not, or can afford to, or not.

This failure of good journalism in the public interest was abundantly clear during last weekend’s GOP debate when conservative commentator Mary Katharine Ham, who apparently lives in an imaginary universe, asserted (erroneously) that younger people favor “at least some modest restrictions that conservatives have supported.” The candidates stumbled all over themselves to prove who was pro-lifier than thou.

GOP presidential aspirant Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), for example, stated with smarmy certainty that when the rights of a woman and an embryo or fetus are “in conflict … I have chosen to err on the side of life.” (In Rubio’s world, women are apparently not alive? Or don’t have lives. Whatever).

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush quickly rushed in to state, “In fact, on this stage, I’m the most pro-life person because I’ve acted on it for eight years as governor of the state of Florida.”

Not one was asked for specifics about the real-life consequences of their abortion positions on the real people affected by them. Nor were they asked why, if they are so opposed to abortion, they are also strongly in favor of and brag about eliminating access to contraception.

So ask yourself this: What exactly are these “modest restrictions” Ham mentioned? Would those be the raft of bills imposing waiting periods, ultrasounds, clinic regulationsand innumerable other such laws passed by GOP-controlled legislatures? The same restrictions that have been universally rejected by leading U.S. and international medical bodies and human rights organizations as medically unnecessary and unnecessarily costly?

Are we talking about bans on abortion after, say, eight, ten, 12, or 14 weeks? Are we talking about 20-week bans based on wholly discredited claims?

The more inaccessible you make early abortion, after all, the higher the share of all abortions that will happen later in pregnancy, so if you ban both, you’ve put women in a complete vise—which is, in fact, the goal of the anti-choice movement. Such bans would eliminate access to abortion for people whose fetuses are not viable, whose life circumstances have changed dramatically, who did not know they were pregnant or could not raise the money for an earlier abortion, or any of a million other circumstances you or I cannot foresee and have no business knowing or judging anyway. Or are we talking about the so-called exceptions for life and health that occur later in pregnancy—which many hospitals are now granted “religious freedom” to refuse even if a woman dies—and which, due to other medically unnecessary regulations, lack of facilities, and lack of training, are harder to access in any case?

We now know from research that these restrictions don’t deter women facing unwanted and untenable pregnancies from seeking abortion. They do, however, make clinics less accessible and only push people later into pregnancy as they scramble to put together funding for the increasingly undue burdens of travel, child care, and multiple visits to see providers. Indeed, one of the most important and ongoing multi-year studies on abortion, carried out by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, revealed that women who are denied abortion and forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term are, according to Rana E. Barar, project director at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, “more likely to be in poverty“:

We also know that women who are unable to obtain an abortion are more likely to stay tethered to abusive partners. There are also early indications that women have reason to worry about the impact of an unintended birth on that child as well as on their existing children. Women do not cite concerns for their own health as frequently in their reasons for wanting to end a pregnancy, but we know that childbirth is much more dangerous for women than having an abortion and we see that in the Turnaway data that shows that women denied abortion have greater short-term morbidity than women who are able to access abortion care.

So starting with Thursday’s debate, it’s time to get real on abortion care and ask all the presidential contenders some in-depth questions. Journalists who fail to do so fail in their basic duty to best inform the public while becoming complicit in the lies and stigma surrounding abortion care. That’s not journalistic objectivity. It’s outright bias.

Question One: Do you trust people to make decisions about pregnancy and childbirth that are best for their families? If not, why not?

This question must be asked. First of all, the fundamental issue behind the debate on abortion and contraception: Is it your life or mine? And why is it your right to intrude into this sphere of my life? Frankly, I don’t believe people like Mary Katherine Ham poll Congress when making their own decisions about sex, pregnancy, and childbirth. In fact, I am willing to bet Ham would assert that she trusts herself to make those decisions. Why are we allowing politicians, male or female, to get away with asserting judgment over the fundamental decisions people make without answering this essential question first and foremost?

Two: Abortion is universally acknowledged by the medical and public health community as a public health issue. If you oppose access to abortion and the right to make decisions about pregnancy and childbirth, why do you believe your judgment should supplant the evidence that exists on abortion worldwide? What is the evidence for your position?

Three: Evidence shows that women who are unable to afford an early abortion spend a lot of time trying to pull together resources, resulting in later abortion.

  • Do you believe that an individual’s economic status should determine whether or not they are able to make fundamental decisions about their lives, including abortion?
  • Do you believe that public funding for abortion is a good thing or a bad thing?
  • Do you believe we should overturn the Hyde and Helms Amendments?
  • Would you refrain from adding the Hyde Amendment to your budget request as president?

Four: Do you think religiously affiliated medical centers should be able to deny people essential health care? If you believe abortion is essential health care, why would you allow these groups to deny women access to this care? Do you believe that hospitals and clinics that deny women care should be eligible for government funding?

Five: For candidates who claim to be “pro-life,” do you believe in forced gestation? This, again, must be asked. It is the ugly reality: Denial of abortion care is forced gestation. Plain and simple. Let’s dispense with the “pro-life” fig leaf and get real.

Six: If you claim to be “pro-life,” do you support greatly expanded government funding for the care and support of children living in poverty, including universal health care, maternal and infant health care, food assistance, housing assistance, and college tuition for those who were unable to afford a(nother) child? Do you support government funding and lifelong assistance for the families of children born severely disabled?

Seven: For candidates who support access to abortion, what will you do to address the fact that under Obamacare millions of women have lost insurance coverage for abortion care?

Eight: For pro-choice politicians: Do you see abortion as a fundamental issue of human rights or do you see being “pro-choice” as a campaign strategy only to be ignored once you’ve been elected?

These questions never get asked, but they are the real issues that need to be raised.

If debate moderators continue to fail to probe these issues, they are perpetuating both abortion stigma and the mirage of consequence-free abortion restrictions that in the end only serve to irreparably damage and punish the people denied access to abortion care.

Analysis Abortion

Fetal Rosaries, Our Lady of Fatima, and the Spanish Inquisition: Welcome to the 2014 March for Life

Adele M. Stan

The March for Life, the yearly protest on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is a Catholic affair, supported by the bishops and the pope. And Republicans.

In a windowless room in a Washington hotel, a religious summit of sorts is taking place. The protesters who make an annual pilgrimage to the nation’s capital for the March for Life have gathered to “meet and greet” the very Catholic Rick Santorum, father of seven, and the very Protestant Jim Bob Duggar, father of 19.

What unites the two is a simple belief: that a woman should be willing to break her body in childbirth for the sake of bearing as many children as possible.

The march is an annual protest, held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, making it the perfect platform for Santorum, the former contender for the Republican presidential nomination whose signature issue is his no-exceptions opposition to abortion, even if he is better known for his views on gay sex. (Santorum also opposes contraception.)


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In one corner, several children and young people converse with the older two Santorum girls; across the room Jim Bob Duggar, star of the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting, is talking with an elderly couple from Wisconsin, cheering the 2013 passage of that state’s forced ultrasound law, which he calls “the heartbeat bill” for its requirement that technicians performing the medically unnecessary ultrasound mandated by the law for women seeking abortions also “provide a means for the pregnant woman to visualize any fetal heartbeat.” His wife, Michelle, is chatting up another couple.


As Santorum makes his way toward the door, an older man approaches to ask the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania if he’ll be running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, as he did in 2012. “I’m thinking about it,” Santorum replies with a smile.

* * *

The meeting room areas of the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, which served as home base for the March for Life activists, have all the charm of an underground bunker. Down the escalator from the room where the Santorum-Duggar meet-and-greet took place, exhibits by anti-choice groups, all with a distinctly religious flavor, occupied a drab conference space in the building’s basement.

Crossing the threshold into the exhibition hall was like entering a time warp into Catholic culture as it existed before the modernization attempted by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. There were booths staffed by nuns in habits—the medieval dress abandoned by most orders after Vatican II—and one staffed by robed monks.


Ubiquitous among the give-away trinkets that graced exhibit tables were plastic rosary beads. And everywhere, there were images of Mary, mother of Jesus, in her many incarnations. Human Life International favored Our Lady of Czestochowa, otherwise known as the Black Madonna, depicted in the famous icon as a dark-skinned woman with a dark-skinned baby. Our Lady of Guadalupe is another popular image among the anti-choice Catholics who dominate the March for Life scene. The monks used a Madonna image as the logo of their Cafe 4 Mama, “the pro-life coffee.”

At the table for Archangel Gabriel Enterprises Inc., staffed by a middle-aged Black man (one of very few Black people among the March for Lifers), a statuette of a Mary-like white woman was styled as a kind of hipster teenage mom, her veil replaced with a floppy white beret, her customary blue-and white robes reinterpreted as a loose tunic-and-vest ensemble. But what really set her apart from standard images of the Blessed Mother was her big, pregnant belly, complete with protruding navel. Surrounding her was a set of blue glass rosary beads. Each bead, said the man staffing the booth, was to represent a tear, and inside each “tear” was the image of a fetus, rendered in gold-colored metal. The set could be had for $20. Laid out within the circle formed by the beads were three small models of beige-colored fetuses.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 11.50.30 AM

Here was the fundamental difference between the pre-Vatican II church and the right-wing Catholic cults of today: In the old days, such a graphic depiction of a pregnant Mary would be unthinkable, and fetal imagery was absent from religious paraphanalia. Before women had access to birth control and the legal right to abortion, such explicit depictions were unnecessary as objects of veneration. Church and state were in agreement on the limits of a woman’s freedom.

Then, with the rise of the women’s movement, state betrayed the patriarchy, first with the Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, which guaranteed a right to birth control, and then in 1973, with Roe v. Wade. The patriarchy responded with all the elegance of an abusive husband.

For respite from the fetuses and madonnas, I visited a booth whose materials featured slick and appealing graphics, devoid of developing embryos or religious regalia. “Save the Storks,” read the backdrop behind the table. “Are you saving actual birds?” I asked of the young white woman who staffed it. “No,” she said, laughing. The organization, she said, provides vans equipped with state-of-the-art ultrasound equipment that “can be parked right outside Planned Parenthood clinics.” The vans are painted in cheerful shades of blue and pink, some with the slogan, “You Have Options!”

Next to Save the Storks was a booth staffed by nuns, a display rife with religious trinkets and literature. An enormous tapestry of Our Lady of Guadalupe provided their backdrop. I plunked down $5 for a sticker book, Saints for Girls. I don’t know why. Most of them, naturally, met terrible fates.

Near the table that displayed “A Window to the Womb: 4D Ultrasound Images,” was a booth for Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), an organization born in 1960 of the backlash to land reform in Brazil, whose founder, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, described the Spanish Inquisition as “a glorious moment” for the Roman Catholic Church. TFP, which was also allied with the Pinochet regime in Chile and made common cause with the leaders of apartheid South Africa, is an all-male organization that trains young men in medieval combat.

 * * *

As the marchers made their way to the National Mall on a sunny, frigid day with windchills below zero degrees, the streets seemed flooded with the green-and-white signs doled out by the Knights of Columbus stamped with black block letters reading “Defend Life.”OccupyKids2

Several women drifted by with pink signs. One read “Conceived From Rape: I Love My Life.” An analog version read “Mother From Rape: I Love My Child.”

Young people were everywhere, recruited from Catholic colleges and high schools. Many carried signs that read “I Am the Pro-Life Generation.”

About a block from where a rally was staged on the National Mall as the kick-off event for the march, which would culminate at the Supreme Court, was a makeshift platform festooned with yellow balloons and flanked with yellow-and-white papal flags. Three young men in matching, hippie-style, hand-woven hoodies chanted anti-choice slogans, while a drum corps below, wearing the same outfit, performed in response. A big, yellow banner behind them simply read “LIFE.” It was as if the young people figured Pope Francis was just kidding when he urged the church to lighten its emphasis on opposition to abortion and LGBT rights. Surely they took heart from his shout-out, via Twitter, to March for Life activists earlier in the day.

The display was clearly influenced by the protests of the Occupy movement, yet interpreted, without irony, in a framework of uniformity and precision.

Three vans from Save the Storks were parked across the street.SaveTheStorks

Groups carrying wide banners represented Catholic dioceses and archdioceses from across the nation: St. Augustine, Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha, Newark, and more. Along the route, the red standards of TFP flailed in the stiff winds.

One man carried a large photograph of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, inscribed with this quote from the right’s favorite victim: “You have a God-given right to live! And, of all places, inside your mother. What in the world happened to us?”

Phil Robertson 2

As marchers assembled in front of a large stage erected on the Mall, a military-style chant was roared by a group of young men. I didn’t catch the first part, but the second half went: “Nothing finer in the land than an Irish Catholic pro-life man.”

The crowd of thousands stood patiently, listening to speakers for an hour in temperatures that barely broke into the double-digits. March for Life President Jeanne Monahan read the pope’s tweeted message to the crowd. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) promised a vote on the House floor next week for HR 7, a sweeping anti-choice bill. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) stepped up to accuse President Obama of promoting “abortion violence.”

The theme of this year’s march was adoption, said Monahan, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) was on-message, saying that since there weren’t enough babies available for adoption, every unexpected pregnancy should be brought to term. (See Rewire’s report on the rally, here.)

By the time a youth activist who organized her high school homecoming event around the issue of “adoption, not abortion” came to the podium, I calculated that my toes had been numb for at least 20 minutes, so I briefly sought warmth in a nearby McDonalds, then headed for the subway, figuring to meet the marchers at their final destination, the Supreme Court.

By the time I hiked from Union Station to the Court building, they had already arrived. The street in front of the Court was filled with banner-bearing and sign-carrying marchers, the sidewalk clogged with anti-choicers holding ad hoc prayer vigils. In front of the Court, marchers held a large banner that read “We Are Abortion Abolitionists.”

A young woman and a young man, who looked to be of high school age, built a small snowman, and affixed a “Pro-Life Generation” sign to it. Another young woman had a friend snap her photo with an iPhone as she jumped up, both heels to one side, holding the same sign.


A group of six or so young men in blue plastic ponchos parted the crowd as they walked toward the steps of the Court bearing a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on a platform that rested on their shoulders, quickly drawing a gathering around them of people praying the Apostles’ Creed. The appearance of the Blessed Mother to three schoolchildren in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, is a favorite of anti-communists, as the children said she called for the consecration of Russia.

Fatima 2

The windchill was said to be -2 degrees Fahrenheit. Three hours after the kick-off rally began, the anti-choice activists were still out in force.