Commentary Abortion

Banners, Binoculars and Rosary Beads: Anti-Choice Misogyny, Naivete and Invasiveness On Display in Germantown

Jodi Jacobson

Yesterday and this morning, I spent several hours assisting with clinic defense in Germantown, Maryland, where Dr. LeRoy Carhart comes several times a month to see patients who need late abortion care. The misogyny, naivete and invasiveness of the anti-choice movement were on full display.

I want to say a huge personal thanks to the many people from more than 18 states who came to Germantown to help defend the Germantown clinic throughout the week, and to the organizers, whom I will not name, but who have individually spent upwards of 14 hours per day on site defending the clinic. They are there on behalf of all of us. Likewise, I think it is critically important to thank the Montgomery County, Maryland Police Department, which did an excellent job of assisting in clinic defense and in making sure that all stayed peaceful. Finally, thanks go to Dr. Carhart for his courage and determination in providing urgent care to women in need.

Yesterday and this morning, I spent several hours assisting with clinic defense in Germantown, Maryland, where Dr. LeRoy Carhart comes several times a month to see patients who need late abortion care.

Sunday (August 7th) was the last official day of “Summer of Mercy 2.0” spearheaded by Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups. During the last week, anti-choice protesters remained at the far end of the office park from the clinic where Dr. Carhart practices, while pro-choice clinic defenders remained at the front of the driveway leading directly to the clinic and on both sides of the street near that driveway.  That changed today, because Dr. Carhart was seeing patients, and so anti-choice protesters stood immediately mixed in among the clinic defenders directly across the street from and right at the entrance to the office park.  A woman standing directly behind me was praying the rosary for much of the time I was there Monday morning, holding a portrait of the Virgin Mary and asking God to shed light on these “misguided women who know not what they do.”

Overall, the anti-choice movement’s showing in Germantown was paltry, though there were a large number of people on the last day, and Operation Rescue or some other group hired an airplane to do a fly-over photo op, for publicity purposes I am sure.  Nonetheless there were sufficient numbers to make their presence known to women and their families dealing with crises pregnancies and seeking care from Dr. Carhart.

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Three things struck me about the anti-choice protestors who were there.  First, their misogyny was on full display. Second, they have apparently brainwashed untold numbers of “young crusaders” spouting unsupported ideology about all manner of issues, some of whom were present at the protest.  And third, there was a profound level of invasiveness in the tactics used by anti-choicers that might have been comical if not there were not such a violation of basic dignity.

Misogyny

Consider, for example, the white male anti-choice protester walking down the street, with his three young daughters in tow, who, as he moved among clinic defenders spoke disparagingly about “these defiant women” and “how can there be so many defiant women?…”.  Since I did not speak to him, I can not say precisely whom he felt women were defying, but it was pretty clear from the scene writ large that to him, women who were taking their reproductive lives into their own hands were defying [his] God and his notion of patriarchal order.

Across the street and down the block, both male and female anti-choicers held up signs declaring in no uncertain terms: “Women do regret their abortions.” [Emphasis in the original].  I have not spoken to every single woman who ever had an abortion so can not say some do not or have not regretted terminating a pregnancy, though many of us regret lots of choices later in life that we may have made earlier and there is no widespread data backing up the claim that women writ large regret their abortions.  But this was not a conditional or “perhaps” statement. It was a statement of indisputable “fact,” by anti-choice protesters about women, all women, who have ever had an abortion.  If you had an abortion, you regret it, whether you know it or not. So a person like me, a woman who has in fact had an abortion and never regretted it, is actually in denial, a misguided soul, unable to know my own feelings, unable to really know what I really think, unable to sense or live in or create my own reality, because that reality is not really true, according to anti-choicers. Only what they tell me to think and feel is really true.

If I am defying what they believe to be right and natural, I can not be a whole person. If I do not have independent thought and if what I believe to be independent thought diverges from their ideology, it isn’t independent thought at all.  This is misogynistic brainwashing at its most basic because it puts into question any sense that women know what they are doing or can think freely at any time. According to this view, only men and the patriarchal structures of religion and ideology can define what women should think or do, and those who don’t adhere are indeed deviants.

On the theme of patriarchy, another few men held up signs saying “Men Regret Their Lost Fatherhood.”  In other words, a woman who has an abortion is denying the right of a particular man to become a father. If you get pregnant and don’t give birth to this man’s child, whether or not you love him, whether or not you are ready, whether or not that man is going to support you and this child for the rest of your and its life if you do give birth to his child, you are denying his right to become a father.

If that is not control over women, I don’t know what is.

Brainwashing

Yesterday and again today, anti-choice protestors had used chalk to write “messages” on the sidewalk in front of the office park where Dr. Carhart sees patients.  Among these were “Condoms Kill,” and “Only Natural Family Planning Works.”

Apart from the obvious fact that neither one of these “messages” is true–when used correctly, condoms prevent both unintended pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections, and NFP has a high user failure rate–it was clear that young people among the anti-choicers had bought these messages wholesale.

As I stood alongside two other clinic defenders at the entrance to the driveway, I heard two teen anti-choice protesters trying strenuously to convince two pro-choice defenders that condoms were actually harmful, evil devices that led to multiple sins; that birth control and condoms, especially “those sent to Africa,” were the cause of the spread of HIV and of abortions; and that “babies have souls from the moment of conception.”  I then listened further as both of these teens, a boy of perhaps 15 years of age and a girl perhaps 16, both then tried to tell a married mother of three children how easy and fulfilling marriage and childbearing were, and how women fit in the “proper” scheme of things.  There were points where I honestly thought these teens were quoting directly from any number of speeches given by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), the man perhaps most directly responsible for needless deaths among women denied care because of the Global Gag Rule.

All I can say is I marveled at the patience my fellow clinic defenders had to engage in this endless discussion that went nowhere.  The sight of a couple of privileged white suburban teens telling a mom how easy it “is” to work and raise children was like a scene out of Saturday Night Live only not so funny when you consider that their goal is to make things harder for all women.

After the young people left the scene, an older, 30- or 40-something woman, herself pregnant, stepped in to try to continue battling the demons of the pro-choice contingent.  She had previously been standing behind the curb where the teens were talking to my colleagues, listening in and discussing in whispered tones with a man who may have been her husband or a colleague what the teens were saying and “how” they were doing. It suddenly dawned on me that perhaps there was an orchestrated effort underway to try to convince the pro-choice mom, or perhaps someone else, to get “saved” on the spot and come to their “side.” They were coming in and reinforcing each other, but had clearly picked the wrong person to try to brainwash. 

Invasiveness

There’s not much about the anti-choice movement that isn’t invasive. Laws and policies that seek to intrude on women’s ability to exercise their rights to self-determination and to protect their own health and lives are invasive by definition.  Think of invasions of your time and personal business, such as waiting periods and legally-mandated but medically-incorrect lectures by faith-driven crisis pregnancy centers, invasions of your ability to make health decisions, such as denials by pharmacists to fill prescriptions, or literal invasions of your body, such as forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds mandated by law.

In Germantown, I found yet another form of invasion.  Right across the office-park street from where Dr. Carhart practices is a Crisis Pregnancy Center.  As I walked back there to see the clinic, I passed by the CPC.  Squatting in plain site in the bare window was a woman training a large pair of binoculars on the door of Dr. Carhart’s suite.  It reminded me of a scene out of a war zone, in which someone is watching from the trenches with binoculars for any sign of movement.  It might have been funny if it weren’t so ridiculous and potentially threatening. Who was she looking for?  First of all, you wouldn’t need binoculars to see who was coming and going because the pass-through is very narrow, more so than your average neighborhood street.  But to see someone there with binoculars is obviously intended to further invade any privacy that might be left to women entering the clinic, to further aggravate other people doing business in the office park, and perhaps to try to intimidate Dr. Carhart.

It’s part of the overall prurience of the anti-choice movement.  Imagine for a second this was in fact your street and your home was Dr. Carhart’s office.  If you had a neighbor directly across the street from you who stood at their window all day long with binoculars trained on your front door and/or windows, you might at least be forgiven for thinking the person to be some sort of pervert or a person with a mental illness. It would be and is a clear invastion of your privacy. This is no different.

And it doesn’t stop there.  A male anti-choice protester, in sunglasses, a button-down shirt and tie, stood outside the doorway to the office suite just steps away from the door to the one where Dr. Carhart practices, facing toward his door and talking loudly at anyone going in and out.  This would be a violation of the FACE Act if not for the fact that the landlord of that particular office suite is apparently also an anti-choice advocate who is allowing other antis to use his suite as harassment ground-zero. Next to the man was a teenage boy who had earlier been stopping cars going in and out of the office park to give them “some information,” which turned out to be a flier containing lies about Dr. Carhart and his practice, again meant to aggravate and intimidate other people coming in and out of the office park no matter their business.  Do this enough, I suppose the anti-choicers figure, and others in the office park will become tired enough of this form of harassment to turn against Dr. Carhart.

This invasion of women’s rights and women’s privacy, the invasion of a doctor practicing medicine, and of a community trying to go about its business will take place every time Dr. Carhart is in town.  The short time I spent there the past few days taught me first-hand just how critical is the work of those people who provide clinic escort services, week in and week out.  They need all of our help and support on an ongoing basis.

News Politics

Former Klan Leader on Senate Run: My Views Are Now the ‘GOP Mainstream’

Teddy Wilson

David Duke has been a fervent support of the Trump campaign, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

David Duke, convicted felon, white supremacist, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, announced Friday that he will run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Roll Call reported.

Duke said that after a “great outpouring of overwhelming support,” he will campaign for the open Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. David Vitter, who lost a bid for Louisiana governor in a runoff election.

Duke’s announcement comes the day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination in the midst of growing tensions over race relations across the country. Trump has been criticized during the campaign for his rhetoric, which, his critics say, mainstreams white nationalism and provokes anxiety and fear among students of color.

His statements about crime and immigration, particularly about immigrants from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries, have been interpreted by outlets such as the New York Times as speaking to some white supporters’ “deeper and more elaborate bigotry.”

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Duke said in his campaign announcement that he was the first candidate to promote the policy of “America first,” echoing a line from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night.

“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First,” Trump said Thursday night. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”

Duke said his platform has become “the GOP mainstream” and claimed credit for propelling Republicans to control of Congress in 2010. He said he is “overjoyed to see Donald Trump … embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years.”

Trump in February declined to disavow the support of a white supremacist group and Duke, saying he knew “nothing about David Duke” and knew “nothing about white supremacists.” He later clarified that he rejected their support, and blamed his initial failure to disavow Duke on a “bad earpiece.”

Trump’s candidacy has also brought to light brought many incidents of anti-Semitism, much of which has been directed at journalists and commentators covering the presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review that Trump’s nomination has “drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork,” and that the Republican nominee has been willing to “channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.”

Duke took to Twitter after Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday to express his support for the Republican nominee’s vision for America.

“Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!” Duke tweeted.

Duke has been a fervent Trump supporter, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

Duke was elected to the Louisiana house in 1989, serving one term. Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in 1991, and was defeated by Democrat Edwin Edwards.

Duke, who plead guilty in 2002 to mail fraud and tax fraud, has served a year in federal prison.

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”