Commentary Abortion

Abortion: A Topic Ritually Avoided by Recreational Media

Ellen Levine

I've written more than twenty books, but was startled by what I learned: you can raise the possibility of abortion, but it must be rejected. I hit a wall of resistance I believe is self-censorship on the part of the publishers. When a character is pregnant, whether from rape, incest, etc., so long as a baby is born, that's acceptable. The "Juno" scenario.

My novel, In Trouble, takes place in 1956. It’s about teen pregnancy, an acceptable subject in a teen novel. But one of my characters has an abortion. In Trouble takes place almost two decades before Roe v. Wade, in the days of back-alley abortions and the iconic image of coat hangers used by desperate women.

I’ve written more than twenty books, but was startled by what I learned: you can raise the possibility of abortion, but it must be rejected. I hit a wall of resistance I believe is self-censorship on the part of the publishers. When a character is pregnant, whether from rape, incest, etc., so long as a baby is born, that’s acceptable. The “Juno” scenario. Even as late as the mid-1990s, some editors published manuscripts in which an abortion occurred, although not central to the story; or was mentioned as a past event.

I’m certain there were editors who rejected my manuscript because they didn’t like the characters, the voice, etc. When you get the same questions about a manuscript, I pay attention. That didn’t happen with In Trouble. The rejections were all over the map. One editor told me they would never publish a book with an abortion in it.

What’s startling is that the avoidance is not just with teens’ books, but also in the world of adult media:

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“Sex and the City” – is there anything that show hasn’t covered or uncovered? Abortion. Raised and rejected.

Theresa Rebeck, NYPD Blue writer, couldn’t sell a script to that show with an abortion storyline. NYPD Blue with naked tushes!

“Friday Night Lights” did have an abortion story, and a New York Times article said this was an exception to the blackout on the subject.

Months after Roe v. Wade, the soap “All My Children” featured a legal abortion. Thirty-three years later the earlier show was rewritten—the abortion never happened because the embryo had been “kidnapped,” implanted in another woman, and brought to term!

In the U.S., one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and we’re told in essence we can’t talk about it. Women’s stories, common to so many of us, are not being told. The charge, sometimes an accusation, is that the book is “political.”

Philip Pullman’s novel “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” was not accused of being political, but his answer is applicable: “No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book…. Nobody has to open it. [I]f you open it and read it, you don’t have to like it. [I]f you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, … you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book…. [B]ut there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read.”

The dictionary definition of “political” is mostly about government and social policy-making. But calling a book “political” is shorthand, meaning the writer has an agenda.

Would a book be written off as “political” if a teenager belonged to a conservative Christian church and wanted the ten commandments posted in his classrooms? That’s a story involving issues of conscience. If, however, other students fought that and the ACLU challenged it, the book becomes political, a polemic.

The one exception is about civil rights. No agenda there, just a good story. When the Watsons went to Birmingham, believe me the context was political.

When governments impose restrictions on abortion, that’s not censorship. Elected representatives pass laws voters allegedly want. One exception was the censorship of the McCarthy period. We are entering another period of restrictions, but not yet directly on speech. The object of government’s wrath today is abortion, and so far it’s an issue of limiting access. That, not my novel, is the politics of abortion—laws requiring forced counseling, what must or cannot be said by groups and doctors.

This has had a profound effect on the media world. Some silencing is accomplished with words: how did people, many of whom support capital punishment, a few of whom kill abortion providers, become “pro life”? How did “choice” become code for murder? And those advocating a woman’s right to choose can’t rush fast enough to say, “Nobody wants an abortion.”

Please. A woman doesn’t get up one morning and say, “What a lovely day for an abortion.” Does anyone face a medical procedure with cheer in her heart? Relief or gratitude, perhaps, but not joy.

The bottom line is I’m not running from what I’ve written. I think In Trouble is a strong story, and one that needs to be told.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.