Commentary Abortion

Women are Watching on Anniversary of Roe

Cecile Richards

On the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, women are watching, and they are angry at what they see.

Cross-posted with permission from the Women are Watching blog (in association with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund).

For all our coverage of the 39th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, click here.

On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed every woman’s right to make her own medical decisions without government interference. At the time, the Supreme Court recognized the inherent right to privacy for women, an urgent issue given that women were dying in emergency rooms across the country from self-induced abortions.

But today, women across the nation are disturbed to see a set of politicians doing everything they can to undermine this landmark decision that has stood as a critical safeguard for women’s health for four decades.

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Last year, anti-women’s health politicians across the country launched what was surely the most aggressive assault on women’s rights since the Roe decision was handed down. The scope of their attacks has been mindboggling. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011, state legislatures passed more than triple the number of anti-women’s health laws than in 2010 — the highest ever. Twenty-four states enacted 92 new abortion restrictions last year, shattering the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005.

Behind these numbers, real women are feeling the impact. For example, just a year ago, women living in rural Arizona could count on high-quality and compassionate abortion care in their own communities. But now, due to anti-women’s health laws passed in that state last year, those women will have to travel long distances ─and presumably go out of state in some instances ─ for safe, legal abortion care. That means time away from work, transportation costs, someone to take care of the kids ─ it all adds up to an additional burden on women who are already going through a very stressful experience.

Ironically, just last week, Guttmacher reported that in countries where abortion is illegal ─ which we are close to becoming ─ abortion rates are actually higher. Contrary to what anti-women’s health politicians would have us believe, evidence shows that restricting access to safe, legal abortion care does not lower abortion rates. It just forces women to search for clandestine and unsafe abortion care. And, according to the World Health Organization, complications from unsafe abortion account for an estimated 13 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide.

The best way to reduce the need for abortion is to reduce unintended pregnancy. But in the U.S., politicians are also increasingly putting up roadblocks to access preventive care, including the birth control that helps women avoid unintended pregnancy. In fact, in the past year, the House of Representatives and extreme state legislatures have worked to cut many women off from access to birth control and lifesaving cancer screenings for breast and cervical cancer.

Women have another idea. We think that when women have access to preventive care –including birth control, breast exams, and pap smears — it is good for women, good for their families, and good for America.

So this year, Women are Watching. It’s our campaign to spread the word about these unprecedented attacks on women’s health and to let the public know where candidates stand on pivotal health care issues. By empowering one another to hold politicians accountable for what they say and do, we can cast informed votes for candidates who support women and women’s health.

By the looks of things, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. With November in their sights, the crop of GOP presidential candidates have zeroed in on women’s health and rights. In a reckless political game, every one of them has vowed to overturn Roe and take away the right to safe and legal abortion care for women in America — even in the case of rape or incest.

And they aren’t stopping there. In complete defiance of the majority of Americans, these candidates want to prohibit women from getting birth control and cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood health centers. They want to end the nation’s family planning program, which provides preventive care to more than five million women and men, and cut off access to birth control for women who need it the most. They want to end health care for millions by repealing the Affordable Care Act. They even support so-called “personhood” measures, declaring a fertilized egg a person, which could result in outlawing birth control, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. It’s become a national race to the bottom to see who can be the worst possible president for women.

In short, a whole class of elected officials currently in office is dead set on turning back the clock nearly half a century. And another band of them is waiting in the wings ─ with their eyes on the White House.

Opposing Roe and essential women’s health care isn’t just bad policy — it’s bad politics. That’s because Americans agree with the protection that Roe provides. Polling consistently reaffirms that a majority of Americans support a woman’s right to make her own decisions about pregnancy in consultation with her doctor and her family. Politicians who oppose this firmly held notion are swimming against the tide, putting themselves outside the mainstream.

So, as Roe heads into its 40th year as a touchstone for women’s health — and the opportunity, equality, and self-determination that health brings — women are standing up and taking note of who is supporting their best interests and who is playing politics with their health and lives. And they are raising their voices to let their leaders know that this is not a game.

We must continue to raise those voices and keep the pressure on. Every day, from now through November, we need to remind politicians that women are watching. We see what they are doing. We hear what they are saying. And we vote.

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. Her 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.

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 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 inquires 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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