Giving Thanks to Providers of Abortion Care

Julie Burkhart

In light of the stigma, marginalization and demonization faced by abortion care providers, it is incumbent upon us women’s rights advocates to reflect on the positive impact their services bring to individual lives and society as a whole.

Today, we give thanks to the women and men across America and around the world who courageously provide reproductive health care. In light of the stigma, marginalization and demonization that abortion care providers face in their professional and personal lives, it is incumbent upon us as advocates for women’s rights to reflect on the positive impact that their services bring to individual lives and society as a whole.

Having worked in reproductive health care and rights for many years, it deeply saddens me to see that we’ve come to a point at which these doctors are under greater scrutiny than ever. Thirty eight years after Roe v. Wade, providers are now instructed by legislatures on how to practice medicine, structure their clinics, and verbally counsel their patients. They are threatened with legal repercussions as well as vigilante action from extremists if they do not comply with these extreme invasions of privacy. 

Truth be told, legislatures can pass all the laws they want, and they can try to take advantage of loopholes, ultimately taking advantage of the women whose lives are directly affected by these abuses of power. But there is one thing that is unequivocally true: abortion providers save women’s lives and women will always need their care — plain and simple.

From the women who have first trimester abortions because they’re not prepared to be a parent to the women who seek care for fetal abnormalities or maternal health problems, these providers are making a difference in the lives of women and their families – or their hopes for future motherhood and a family.

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These are the lives that are touched each day by abortion providers.  Even though I had worked in abortion care before working with Dr. George Tiller, it wasn’t until I started
working with him that I was able to understand the full spectrum of reproductive health care and its impact on women’s lives. During my years at his side, I witnessed his service to people from throughout the Midwest, the nation, and the rest of the world. The letters that former patients and their family members wrote to Dr. Tiller’s staff at Women’s Health Care Services were a testament to the level of care and dedication that defined that facility. Love and compassion were the central tenets by which his practice operated.
During the so-called “Summer of Mercy Renewal” in 2001, Dr. Tiller had one of his typical expressions printed on a banner and strategically placed in the parking lot of his clinic, for all of the anti-choice protesters to read daily. It said, “Women need abortions and I’m going to do them.” I contend that this statement embodies the commitment felt by providers around the world to the women they serve.

Dr. Tiller believed, as do the other fine providers who put their lives on the line each day, that women are emotionally, intellectually and spiritually capable of making decisions about their own bodies, and ultimately, their own lives. Abortion providers understand this about the millions of women who seek reproductive health care.

Today, we applaud and honor these brave men and women who work so hard to help women and their families. Abortion is about motherhood. Abortion is about choice. Abortion is a fact of life. As Dr. Tiller would say, “Abortion is not a medical matter, nor is it a cerebral matter; abortion is a matter of the heart. Until you know the heart of a woman, nothing about abortion makes sense at all.” Let us pause and give thanks to the dedicated health care professionals who do so much to ensure women’s reproductive health.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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