Analysis Human Rights

Global Data Show that Choice is Essential to Equality and Equality is Essential to a Civil Society

Casey Martinson

If you are a woman who wants to have a better education, a bigger voice in government, considerably less risk of dying while pregnant, more equality with men, and better living conditions all around, you want to live in a pro-choice country. And as a man who thinks that equality is essential to a civil society, so do I.

Cross-posted with permission from PPSFL Writes.

Back in November, Nicholas Kristof argued in the New York Times that if humans are serious about answering problems like climate change, resource shortages, and armed conflicts that seem ever ready to unravel civil society, we need to get serious about family planning.  (See “The Birth Control Solution.”)

What’s the impact of overpopulation? One is that youth bulges in rapidly growing countries like Afghanistan and Yemen makes them more prone to conflict and terrorism. Booming populations also contribute to global poverty and make it impossible to protect virgin forests or fend off climate change. Some studies have suggested that a simple way to reduce carbon emissions in the year 2100 is to curb population growth today.

It should be said that the concept of “overpopulation” has a somewhat checkered history. As Michelle Goldberg details in The Means of Reproduction, a lot of early support for birth control in developing countries came from those less concerned about women’s rights than about stemming the spread of communism. Some will hear echoes of that realpolitik perspective in Kristof’s warning about struggling nations being more prone to conflict and terrorism.

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Also, while there is reason to worry about the environmental impact of a growing population, a lot of Western eco-anxiety is unfairly focused on developing countries in Asia and Africa. High fertility rates in those countries would not be such a concern if their inhabitants did not aspire to the comparatively extravagant lifestyles we are modeling right here in the U.S. Ten billion is a sustainable population for Earth, but not if everyone lives like the average American.

With those caveats in mind, Kristof’s point is still quite sharp. Family planning in developing countries can help prevent violent conflicts and environmental degradation that will create far more misery in those parts of the world than they ever will in the U.S. But as Goldberg and Kristof both stress, the key to success with family planning programs lies in empowering women.

According to the Population Institute, “It’s no coincidence that population growth rates are generally fastest in those nations where girls are taken out of school at an early age, the status of women is low, violence against women is high, and reproductive rights are not respected.”

High birth rates cannot be effectively addressed without tackling the underlying problem of gender inequality. But the chicken to this egg is that a lack of health care (including reproductive health care) and reproductive rights is a cornerstone of that inequality.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has published a map of the world that color codes every country according to the status of its abortion laws. Click here to download it for yourself. As you’ll see, green countries are those where abortion is relatively unrestricted; red countries only allow it in cases where a woman’s life is in danger or not at all. In between are yellow and orange countries. When you look at this map, it is impossible not to be struck by the obvious segregation of pro-choice countries and anti-choice countries into other broad categories – poor countries versus rich countries, conflict-prone versus relatively peaceful, modern versus not, and so on.

Now compare this map with numbers from the UN’s gender inequality index. The index is calculated for each country by looking at maternal mortality, teen pregnancy rate, contraceptive use, antenatal care, percentage of births attended by a skilled professional, and the levels of female education, employment, and government participation. The top five countries with the lowest inequality include the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway – all “green” pro-choice countries. Countries with lower rankings have more inequality, with the worst ranked* being Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Mali, and Afghanistan – all “red” anti-choice countries.

There are a few exceptions. Abortion is legal in Nepal, Guyana, and Turkey** where inequality is still fairly high. Conversely, while Ireland is the only anti-choice country to rank in the top 50, it manages 29th place compared to 37th for the United States, which is coded green by the CRR map. Of course, whether the U.S. is really a pro-choice country depends on what part of it you live in. States like Texas, Mississippi, and Kansas are a lot closer to Ireland than they are to Denmark – the fact that they are often labeled “red states” is an odd coincidence.**

But exceptions are just that. The rule is that women in pro-choice countries have far more equality on average. In fact, the “green countries” have an average inequality index of 0.402 versus 0.598 for “red countries.” Maternal mortality rates are especially striking.  Pregnant women are 450 percent more likely to die in anti-choice countries, and that’s just an average. If you compare Yemen to Denmark, the difference is 142,000 percent… and that is not a typo.

In every category measured in the index, the story is the same. If you are a woman who wants to have a better education, a bigger voice in government, considerably less risk of dying while pregnant, more equality with men, and better living conditions all around, you want to live in a pro-choice country. And as a man who thinks that equality is essential to a civil society, so do I.


NOTES:

*Some countries did not have sufficient data to calculate an index number and be ranked.

**It should be noted that an estimated 5,000 women a year – those who can afford it – travel from Ireland to other countries for abortion services, and that women who do have abortions are entitled to free (state-funded) post-procedure counseling and follow-up medical care in their own country when they return. It should also be noted the UN report shows contraceptive use at an astonishingly high rate of 89%, higher than any other country with figures available, including Norway (88%).

Analysis Law and Policy

Dr. Tiller’s Murderer May Have New Chance to Argue That Anti-Choice Violence Is Justifiable

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Convicted murderer Scott Roeder is set to be re-sentenced in connection with the death of Dr. George Tiller while his associate Angel Dillard will stand trial for threatening another Wichita, Kansas abortion provider. These are particularly alarming developments at a time when anti-choice violence has spiked.

It only took a jury about half an hour in 2010 to convict Scott Roeder of first-degree murder for the 2009 shooting death of Dr. George Tiller at Tiller’s church in Wichita, Kansas. Roeder admitted during the trial that he had thought about and planned Tiller’s murder for years. He offered no witnesses in his defense. Instead, Roeder argued that he was justified in Tiller’s murder because it was the only way to end abortion in Wichita.

Roeder was sentenced to life with no chance for parole for 50 years, otherwise known as a “hard 50.” But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled juries, not judges, needed to make certain criminal sentencing decisions. Though a jury convicted Roeder of the crime of first-degree murder, a judge issued his sentence. That means Roeder’s underlying murder conviction stands, but the amount of time he’s supposed to serve is now up for grabs. On Wednesday, a judge ruled that a new jury will have to decide if Roeder’s “hard 50” sentence was justified. And with that potential new sentencing comes a fresh opportunity for Roeder and his attorneys to advance the radical legal argument that the murder of abortion doctors is justified under the law—a particularly alarming sentiment at a time when anti-choice violence has spiked.

The necessity defense invoked by Roeder is an actual, legitimate legal defense where the defendant argues they committed a particular crime in order to avoid a greater “harm or evil” being committed.  To that extent, it is not so much an “I didn’t do it” defense as it is a “there’s a good reason why I did it, and so you should go easy on me” defense. In Roeder’s case, as echoed by other anti-choice radicals, murdering abortion doctors is “necessary” to prevent the greater evil of legal abortion.

Not all states recognize the necessity defense; Kansas generally doesn’t. And suffice it to say that no court has recognized the defense in connection with the murder of a doctor for doing his job. But that didn’t stop Roeder and his attorneys from arguing it anyway, and it won’t stop them from doing it again this summer. 

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Nor, for that matter, did it stop Sedgwick County District Court Judge Warren Wilbert from saying Wednesday that Roeder may have a constitutional right to present his evidence for why the necessity defense should apply to his case. Essentially, Roeder and his attorneys can potentially outline for a new jury all the reasons Roeder felt his killing of Tiller was for the greater good. 

This is not the first time Wilbert has indicated a willingness to consider Roeder’s “necessity” defense. Wilbert also oversaw Roeder’s initial criminal trial and ruled that Roeder couldn’t specifically argue the necessity defense because Kansas law does not recognize it. But Wilbert did leave the door open for Roeder to present during his first trial evidence and arguments that he murdered Tiller to defend the lives of “the unborn.” That opening could have allowed jurors to find Roeder guilty of a lesser charge like voluntary manslaughter, defined under Kansas law as the “unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” That didn’t happen, thankfully, and the jury convicted Roeder of intentional first-degree murder, a crime that carries an automatic sentence of life in prison. Now, because of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, a jury will determine whether Roeder must serve at least 25 or 50 years of his life sentence before he is eligible for a parole hearing.

Roeder’s next scheduled hearing is on April 29, when Roeder’s attorneys have been instructed by the court to provide any “mitigating factors” a jury should consider in weighing Roeder’s sentence. Roeder’s actual sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Roeder’s re-sentencing may seem like one of those “procedural” issues that doesn’t change much. The chance of Roeder, who was 51 when convicted, of dying in prison is likelier than him ever being paroled. But it is a procedural issue that comes at an inauspicious time for the issue of violence against abortion providers, especially in Kansas.

Angel Dillard, a woman who claims to be a “minister” to Scott Roeder, is set to stand trial in Kansas on May 3 for claims she threatened Dr. Mila Means, another Wichita abortion provider, out of taking over Tiller’s clinic following his murder. According to reports, Dillard told Means in a 2011 letter that thousands of people across the country were looking into her background. “They will know your habits and routines,” the letter read. “They know where you you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live. You will be checking under your car [every day]—because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.” That letter prompted the Department of Justice to bring a Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act claim against Dillard. Initially, a federal court ruled Dillard’s letter was protected free speech, but a federal appeals court overturned that decision and ordered Dillard to stand trial.

During their initial investigation of Dillard, the Obama administration had tried, unsuccessfully, to find out what connection she had to Roeder after prison logs revealed Roeder had several communications with Dillard and Rev. Michael Bray. Bray, an Ohio anti-choice radical, also promotes the use of lethal force in the battle over abortion rights, and spent four years in prison in connection with attacks on several abortion clinics in the Washington, D.C. area.

When Dillard’s trial begins in May, the Justice Department could, through other evidentiary means, be able to make the specific connections between Roeder, Dillard, and Bray without relying on testimony from any of them. Justice Department attorneys may even be able to connect Tiller’s murder, and the threats against Means, to other Wichita-based anti-choice activists like Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman. When Roeder was arrested, for example, he had Newman’s second-in-command Cheryl Sullenger’s phone number in his car. Sullenger served almost two years in prison after pleading guilty to her role in a 1988 plan to bomb a California abortion clinic.

And, of course, the consequences of these operations reach beyond Wichita or anti-choicers’ direct contacts. Most recently Sullenger and Newman have admitted to their roles in “consulting” with the radical anti-choice Center for Medical Progress, an organization set up by David Daleiden and others to try and prove through infiltration that Planned Parenthood and other providers were selling unlawfully selling fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing. But CMP’s videos, and the dozens of baseless state and federal investigations they’ve inspired, have produced a significant uptick in violent threats and activities against abortion providers, such as the Black Friday siege of a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The attack ended in the shooting deaths of three people; the accused shooter, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., has said he committed the murders to “save the babies.”

Dear had initially said he planned to plead guilty to the murder charges connected with the Planned Parenthood attacks. He has apparently changed his mind and, if found competent to stand trial, would now like to plead not guilty.

There is no evidence, at least none disclosed, that Dear had any direct contact with anti-choice radicals like Newman or Sullenger, or that he even knows who they are. The Colorado Supreme Court recently ordered documents related to Dear’s arrest unsealed. They could be disclosed as soon as next week, and could provide more answers as to any relationships Dear has with the broader anti-choice movement.

Roeder, Dillard, Dear. All three cases will be going on this summer as anti-choice activists descend in July on Wichita to mark the 25th anniversary of the Summer of Mercy, a massive protest organized by radicals to try and make Wichita “abortion free.” Operation Rescue first orchestrated the 46-day campaign in 1991; Operation Save America (OSA) has since picked up the mantle. According to Rusty Thomas, director of OSA, July’s protest will focus on “states defying a tyrannical court” that recognized the right to an abortion.

“They must do their duty to interpose and nullify that lawless decree and protect the preborn,” Thomas told Christian Newswire.

Thomas insists July’s protests will be peaceful. But anti-choice radicals also insist their rhetoric and propaganda have no link to violence against abortion providers, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. So even if Thomas is correct and July’s protests produce no immediate acts of violence, the Roeder, Dillard, and Dear trials show “peaceful” anti-choice activity is an oxymoron.

Many anti-choice radicals hold Roeder up as a hero, and his re-sentencing hearing provides an opportunity to rally against the “lawless decree” of Roe v. Wade, as well as the courts that protect abortion rights and  convicted Roeder of his crimes. It also provides as a forum for Roeder and his attorneys to yet again advance, even fruitlessly, the legal argument that murder of an abortion doctor can sometimes be justified if the murderer really truly believes they are preventing a greater evil. Dillard will be arguing in her trial that her letter to Dr. Means suggesting she’d wake up to a bomb under her car wasn’t truly a threat because abortion providers should just expect those kinds of letters. Roeder, Dillard, and their attorneys will be in courts of law in Kansas arguing for not just the normalization of violence against abortion providers, but the legal justification for it. And Dear’s trial will be displaying the natural extension of that rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Thomas will be calling on their supporters and the courts to ignore the rule of law. That is troubling—to say the least.

Commentary Politics

Punish Women for Abortion? Spare the Outrage: That IS the ‘Mainstream’ Anti-Choice Position

Jodi Jacobson

No matter how much the anti-choice movement dissembles, there is only one reality: The laws and policies pushed by the movement and the politicians it supports punish women both explicitly and implicitly.

In 2014, Jennifer Whalen, a nursing home aide, was sentenced to between 12 and 18 months in jail. Her crime? Trying to obtain medication abortion pills for her teenage daughter, who was facing an unwanted pregnancy. Whalen, who was charged with “performing an illegal abortion,” bought the pills online because the nearest clinic from her home was 75 miles away, and because Pennsylvania has a 24-hour mandated waiting period requiring patients to make two visits to a clinic to obtain an abortion. Without health insurance, and facing loss of income from time off, the costs—of two round-trips to the clinic, a possible overnight stay in Harrisburg, and the procedure itself—became insurmountable. Out of desperation, Whalen turned to the Internet.

Whalen was arrested for a simple reason: Her daughter was pregnant and did not want to be.

Earlier this week, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump asserted that women who have abortions should face “some form of punishment.” He since “walked it back,” political parlance for being too honest or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. In response to his initial statement, however, the GOP and leaders of anti-choice groups collectively fell all over themselves criticizing Trump for what they declared to be a position outside the “mainstream” of their movement. Their outcry was political theater at its most insidious: Anti-choice leaders know that their real intentions—to ban abortion and punish women who have them—is a deeply unpopular opinion. So they feign concern for women by talking about “safety,” and “caring,” and “life.” No matter how much they dissemble, however, there is only one reality: The laws and policies pushed by the anti-choice movement and the politicians it supports already punish women both explicitly and implicitly, including by sending them to prison.

The anti-choice movement seeks to punish women through a web of entrapment that, spun just a little bit at a time, harms women in ways that are less noticeable to the rest of us because they don’t make headlines until women start ending up in jail.

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First, anti-choice legislators pass laws to mandate medically unnecessary waiting periods, driving up the costs of abortion care and insulting the intelligence of women who don’t need to be told to wait to figure out how to deal with their own realities. Then, they pass laws to require clinics to mimic ambulatory surgical centers, though abortion is among the safest procedures a person can obtain and there is no reason not to do them in a clinic. This forces many clinics to close because providers can’t recoup the costs of medically unnecessary building renovations, and in turn it leaves women in large swaths of a state without access to care. Then, having cut off many avenues to legal safe abortion care, lawmakers pass laws to make medication abortion inaccessible, again on medically unnecessary grounds. They also pass laws mandating that only doctors can perform abortions, even though nurses and nurse practitioners are perfectly capable of being trained to perform early abortions safely and effectively, as well as to administer medication abortion. Finally, they pass laws making self-induced abortion a crime. Put these together and the anti-choice movement has made a safe, legal abortion virtually impossible to obtain. So when, in desperation, women go to any length to end an unintended pregnancy, legislators punish them further by making them criminals and putting them into jail.

It should not be surprising then that in many states, including Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Utah, where a raft of laws similar to those mentioned above have been passed, women are taking matters into their own hands and paying the price of anti-choice laws. For example, a recent study estimated that in Texas, where abortion access has been severely limited as a result of the omnibus legislation known as HB 2, between 100,000 and 240,000 women have attempted to self-induce. Many of these women, already vulnerable because they are poor or undocumented or are made subject to racial profiling, are policed every day at medical centers and at border crossings where they go to seek medication to terminate a pregnancy. Medication that, by the way, taken correctly is completely safe and could be used for self-induction were it legal.

Women who attempt to self-induce abortion are now routinely charged with crimes. In Georgia, Kenlissia Jones was arrested in 2015 for allegedly using misoprostol to self-induce her abortion. Jones was originally facing two charges: “malice murder” and “possession of a dangerous drug” (i.e. the misoprostol). The murder charge against Jones was dropped, but she still faces punishment for the drug charge. That same year in Arkansas a nurse, Karen Collins, was arrested and faced the charge of “performing an unlicensed abortion” (a class D felony in her state) for allegedly providing a drug to a woman that would allow her to terminate her pregnancy. And in Tennessee, Anna Yocca was charged with attempted murder for a failed self-induced abortion attempt with a coat hanger. Prosecutors later dropped the attempted murder charge but said they would still pursue criminal charges against Yocca, likely for aggravated assault.

These cases are the product of anti-choice laws promoted relentlessly by Americans United for Life, the Susan B. Anthony List, the National Right to Life Committee, the Family Research Council, and others. The fact that the use of these laws to harass, frighten, indict, and imprison women is never protested by anti-choice groups tells you everything you need to know about the movement’s intentions. Punishment.

Moreover, those who seek to outlaw abortion are forever finding new and creative ways to punish women. Feticide laws, for example, were ostensibly created to allow for the prosecution of third-party actors who were violent toward pregnant women and, in turn, harmed a fetus. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states now have feticide or “fetal homicide” laws on the books, and in 23 of these states, these laws can be applied at any stage of pregnancy. While these laws were not originally created with the intent of criminalizing pregnant women for actions they took during their own pregnancy, they are now widely used to do just that. “Pro-life” prosecutors are arresting and indicting women under such laws when they deem that either an action or lack of action by a pregnant woman causes harm to a fetus or leads to pregnancy loss. In fact, these are de facto fetal “personhood” laws of the kind promoted by anti-choice organizations such as Susan B. Anthony List.

There is Bei Bei Shuai, who was charged with murder and attempted feticide for attempting suicide while pregnant. Shuai sat in jail for 435 days until she was released on bail (where she remained under surveillance by an electronic ankle monitor). In August 2013, nearly two and a half years after her prosecution began, she accepted a plea deal to the misdemeanor charge of “criminal recklessness.”

There is Purvi Patel, who was charged with neglect of a dependent and feticide after having a pregnancy loss that the state deemed was a self-induced abortion. She is currently serving a 41-year sentence while her case is on appeal. In three states—Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota—laws on the books allow for the involuntary civil commitment of pregnant women for “not following doctors’ orders.” Recent cases in which these laws were applied include those of Alicia Beltran and Tamara Loertscher in Wisconsin. As ProPublica has noted in “How States Handle Drug Use During Pregnancy,” hundreds and potentially thousands of women in three states—Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee—have faced criminal prosecution under “chemical endangerment laws” that allow for the criminal prosecution of drug use during pregnancy. The anti-choice movement has pushed for and supported these laws.

This is not punishment?

And then consider AJ, a woman on whose case we reported earlier this week. AJ’s teenage daughter became pregnant. Her teacher somehow insinuated herself into the daughter’s decision-making process. Unbenownst to her mother, the teacher called another person, a stranger to this teen, who took her to a so-called crisis pregnancy center, at which the young woman was pressured under threat of “hell and damnation” to sign a document stating she did not want an abortion. These anti-choicers sent the document, containing a raft of personal information including address and social security number, to clinics and police stations in the surrounding area. When AJ’s daughter later decided, after confiding in her mother, that she did in fact want to terminate the pregnancy, they went to a clinic in Memphis, Tennessee. There, AJ found herself threatened with arrest for feticide for “coercing” her daughter to have an abortion. While there was no substance to this charge, the whole episode frightened a teen and her mom and further delayed her abortion. There are several layers of “punishment” here, including frightening a young woman with lies, tricking her into signing a bogus legal document, seeking to get her to delay the abortion until it was too late, and then threatening to arrest her mother.

There are innumerable other ways in which the anti-choice movement is actively punishing women, by, for example, supporting monitoring and harassment of women outside clinics and hospitals, making immigrant women fear arrest, and denying women access to abortion for severe fetal and developmental anomalies while slashing state funding of support for children who are severely disabled.

I could go on. The fact that these laws and policies are passed and employed throughout the country, that they  infantalize, criminalize, and otherwise treat women as children without agency is part of an overall agenda aimed at punishing women and is becoming deeply entrenched in the U.S. legal system as a direct result of the advocacy of anti-choice groups.

The anti-choice movement is built on lies. And those lies continue to be perpetuated both by its leaders, and by a media unable, unwilling, or too self-absorbed and preoccuppied with access to politicians to actually understand and report on what is happening throughout the country.