Does the Media Finally Get That Anti-Choice Is About Far More Than Abortion?

Amanda Marcotte

Have votes in the House of Representatives to defund Planned Parenthood finally woken media up to the fact that the anti-choice movement opposes contraception as well as abortion?

The mainstream media has always, shall we say, struggled to understand that the anti-choice movement is anti-contraception, anti-STD prevention, and anti-sex education.  It just doesn’t fit the official narrative, which posits that anti-choicers are somehow “pro-life,” people who are deeply invested in fetal life, but who, for some mysterious reason, mostly don’t extend their concern for life into opposition to war or support for life-saving health insurance reform.  Even in explicitly pro-choice media outlets, the narrative tends to be about abortion, without little acknowledgment that attacks on contraception are part of the larger agenda of the anti-choice movement, even as news stories about abstinence-only and conscience clauses keep trickling out. 

This was by anti-choice design.  Anti-choicers realize that if they make their arguments about sex and female liberation, and especially if they attack contraception overtly, they lose.  Contraception is just too mainstream and too popular, and 95 percent of Americans have premarital sex, making the anti-choice view (roughly, strictly controlled sex within heterosexual marriage should be the only legally sanctioned sex) a form of crankery that surpasses even theories that the moon landing was faked or that 9/11 was an inside job.  But by fronting on fetuses, anti-choicers get taken seriously in the mainstream media, and have been able to get to a point where they basically control the conservative movement.  And lately, with victories on both state and federal levels, they’ve been feeling invincible. Which led where hubris often does, to overplaying your hand and exposing your true self to the public.

The House using the continuing resolution as an opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood is a classic example of overreach that exposes someone’s true motivations.  The cuts to Planned Parenthood are an attack strictly on contraception, cancer and STD screening, and other non-abortion services.  But it was clear that anti-choice Republicans thought they could still play the game of calling everything they don’t like “abortion,” and figuring they could get away with it.  Even though the cuts had nothing to do with abortion, supporters of the cuts kept yammering on about abortion in the hopes that people wouldn’t notice that they were giving a big kiss to the radical and tiny minority of Americans that oppose contraception. 

It’s not working this time. Even though most media organizations are still filing this one under “abortion,” the actual content of the reports focused on the fact that this was about contraception.  The Twitter hashtag #thanksPPFA lit up again with women and men sharing stories of getting contraception, cancer screening (and treatment), and general health care from Planned Parenthood. Bloggers spoke out about their experiences.  Hiding our heads in the sand and pretending this was about “life” was no longer an option when the policy was a direct assault on access to contraception for millions of people, a move that will hurt men and children, but is clearly at its heart a war on women.

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That the anti-choice movement is anti-contraception is something pro-choicers have known for a long time.  As prominent pro-choice writer Scott Lemieux wrote:

The House vote to end Planned Parenthood funding would make very little sense — in some alternate universe where people who want to criminalize abortion were primarily concerned about protecting fetal life rather than regulating female sexuality.   In our actually existing political universe, it makes perfect sense.

But now it seems that for everyone else who wished to believe anti-choice activists when they yammer about fetuses, the ugly truth—that this is and always was about sex and women’s roles—can no longer be denied.  And especially not when the same conservatives who support a forced birth ideology also wish to destroy any policy that makes it easier for women to have paid employment, explicitly on the grounds that women shouldn’t be financially independent. 

One of the biggest problems that anti-choicers face is that their usual weapon of telling lurid lies doesn’t work so well when it’s applied to an organization as familiar to the average American as Planned Parenthood.  Lies about abortion get a little more traction, because most people don’t talk about abortion, and so knowledge about it is thin and lies can flourish in that vacuum.  But when someone like Lila Rose runs around trying to convince people that Planned Parenthood is colluding with sex traffickers, and kind of implying that Planned Parenthood is a front for prostitution, that lie is going to sound especially silly compared to the actual experiences people have with Planned Parenthood, which is basically going to a health clinic that’s clean and professional, and generally more laid-back than most gynecologists.  As I joked to some friends over the weekend, if Planned Parenthood really keeps rape rooms in the back, as Lila Rose slid into implying on Glenn Beck, I figure I would have noticed something in the five years they were my main health care provider. Anti-choicers are so used to having people take their lies seriously, they got bold and started to think they could lie about stuff people actually know something about.  And that’s a little harder to pull off.

So, now there’s been a nationwide revelation that the anti-choice movement that the rest of the conservative movement is beholden to not the Fetus Lovers Club, but really the Anti-Sex League (with a side dose of trying to destroy the middle class by making it harder and harder for women to hold jobs that keep their families afloat).  The real question is, will this revelation go down the memory hole?  Will the mainstream media, now clued into the facts, change the narrative, or will they go right back into telling the same tired story about pro-choice vs “pro-life” in a week?   Will they let these new facts allow them to see that this fight is and always has been about women’s roles and control of female sexuality?  Will they start to see how anti-abortion views generally line up with anti-gay views and adherence to religious ideologies that teach female subservience? 

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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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