Commentary Contraception

The War on Contraception Goes Viral

Amanda Marcotte

Anti-choicers may have failed to defund Planned Parenthood on a federal level, but they sent a warning to conservative politicians to oppose access to contraception or else. And on a state and local level, politicians are listening.

As those of us who’ve been following the anti-choice movement for years can attest, the biggest stumbling block for them has been finding a way to make a move towards restricting access to contraception while still trying to keep something like a decent reputation with the public. Attacking sexual liberation and women’s rights has always been at the heart of the anti-choice movement, but in order to sell such a radical agenda as mainstream, they’ve had to make sentimental and often bad faith claims about simply wanting to protect fetal life. While making frowny faces in the direction of pregnant women who want to terminate has been an effective strategy for restricting abortion rights, however, it has its limits when it comes to attacking women’s ability to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

Not that there haven’t been attempts at using “pro-life” arguments to fight not just abortion but contraception. Some anti-choicers have floated the idea that contraception leads to abortion—claiming that women wouldn’t have abortions if they didn’t get it in their silly heads that they should be able to have sex for pleasure instead of procreation. (Never mind that women throughout history have attempted abortion by all sorts of means, whether their cultures had contraception or not.) A slightly more effective argument has been to claim, with no evidence in support, that popular, female-controlled hormonal birth control is the same thing as abortion. This hasn’t done much to convince anyone, but at least establishes a convoluted, disingenuous cover story about embryonic life that anti-choicers can hide behind while they attack contraception. But even then, it has limits, since while the “pill is abortion” argument can be used to attack hormonal contraception, even anti-choicers haven’t been bold enough to claim that condoms or other barrier methods are also abortion.

Then, just this year, it seems that the anti-choice movement came to a nationwide realization: Their past attempts to create some logical-sounding connection between contraception and fetal life were a waste of time and energy. Successful attacks on contraception don’t have to make sense or even look like they kind of sort of make sense if you look at them sideways while ignoring history, science, and true rationality. No, all they have to do is wave their hands around while yelling “abortion” and focus their attacks on those made vulnerable through economic duress, and they would have surprising success at separating women from the means to prevent pregnancy.

True, screaming “abortion” while attacking funding for contraception and other reproductive health services that aren’t abortion didn’t end up as successful as anti-choicers hoped when the Republicans nearly brought the federal government to a shutdown trying to defund Planned Parenthood. But overall, the entire debacle was a success for the anti-choice movement, because by the time it was all over, politicians who want to be viewed as social conservatives realized that it’s no longer enough to be anti-abortion. You must also be opposed to access to contraception for people deemed to be unworthy of sexual autonomy, namely, low-income women and young women.

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What this means is that politicians in conservative areas have taken a hard right turn on contraception. The biggest example so far is definitely Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels blew off the “truce” he claimed to support in the culture wars to sign a bill that defunds family planning aid to his state, which will inevitably increase the state’s budget problems in myriad ways. If this were 2010, Daniels probably wouldn’t have done that or even have been put in that situation. In the past few months, however, the last tentacle attached to the concept of attaching anti-choice lies to some semblance of truth has been released, and any politician who doesn’t want to be labeled “pro-abortion” had better start hating on contraception, no matter how many abortions it may prevent.

The pressure to move towards a more radical anti-contraception stance is quickly becoming localized, which was entirely predictable, as conservatives tend to organize on a local and state level far more than liberals do. A reader from Tennessee alerted me to this story about the commissioners at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department in the state suddenly turning on family planning, canceling a half million dollar contract for family planning services in the area on the grounds of “abortion”, even though (say it with me now) none of the funding in question goes to abortion.

The reasoning for this is scattered and nonsensical. The all-male commissioner board claims some times that the problem is that abortions are being performed in the same buildings as contraception is distributed, and some times they claim that contraception is abortion. Because of this ridiculous inability to even pretend like they’re making sense, the board has tabled the debate until this Wednesday, but it’s not looking good for the women of Chattanooga-Hamilton County who rely on subsides to pay for birth control and other forms of non-abortion reproductive health care. The arguments for cutting the funding probably won’t get any more coherent, nor will the politicians pushing them likely bother to do anything crazy like educate themselves on the realities of women’s health care before condemning it all as abortion. They don’t need to anymore; anti-choicers who are calling the shots don’t care what kind of hand-waving you employ, so long as the goal of cutting off women’s access to contraception is achieved.

Unfortunately, barring some miraculous turn of events in the courts that shut this all down, we can probably expect to see more of this on the state and local level in conservative areas. A switch has been flipped in the conservative movement, and it’s not enough anymore to simply oppose abortion rights anymore, but to move even more radically in a direction of denying women any right to control their bodies whatsoever.

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.

News Law and Policy

Purvi Patel Could Be Released From Jail by September

Jessica Mason Pieklo

In 2013, investigators charged Patel with both feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, based on the theory that Patel had self-induced an abortion and delivered a live infant, which then almost immediately died post-delivery.

The State of Indiana will not appeal a decision vacating the feticide conviction of Purvi Patel, the Granger woman who had previously faced 20 years in prison for what state attorneys described as an illegal self-induced abortion.

Patel was arrested in 2013 after she sought treatment at a hospital emergency room for heavy vaginal bleeding. While being examined by medical personnel, Patel told doctors she’d had a miscarriage and had disposed of the remains. Investigators located those remains and eventually charged Patel with both feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, based on the theory that Patel had self-induced an abortion and delivered a live infant, which then almost immediately died post-delivery. In February 2015, a jury convicted Patel of both counts.

But in July, the Indiana Court of Appeals vacated Patel’s feticide conviction, holding the statute was not designed to be used to criminally charge people for their own failed pregnancies. However, the court largely upheld Patel’s felony neglect of a dependent conviction, deferring to controversial medical testimony offered by the state that claimed Patel’s fetus was on the cusp of viability and had taken a breath outside her post-delivery.

Patel had initially been sentenced to serve a total of 20 years. But because attorneys for the state failed to appeal the July decision, she could be available for re-sentencing as soon as the court can schedule a hearing—which could mean a possible release as early as September, depending on her new sentence and credit for time served.

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