News Abortion

Why Do Violent Extremists Like Ralph Lang Get More Protection Than Women Trying to Access Abortion Care?

Andy Kopsa

In an update to a post from Februaury, Ralph Lang has finally been charged in federal court for plotting to kill Wisconsin abortion care providers.  This is good news. 

How many updates can one post have?  I just posted this last week when would be repro health doctor murderer Ralph Lang was finally charged in Wisconsin. Then this?  

WTAQ in Wisconsin reports:

Grand Chute police are investigating an explosive device that blew up at Planned Parenthood. It happened about 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Planned Parenthood office at 3800 North Gillett Street.  The explosion started a  fire that quickly burned itself out. The fire and explosion caused a small amount of damage to the building.

Feministing got it right: 

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Let’s call this what it is: domestic terrorism. Let’s call it what it is: part of a years-long, co-ordinated, national effort to make a legal procedure inaccessible by ensuring that all those who seek and provide it must risk their lives to do so. Let’s call this what it is: totally fucking horrifying and totally fucking unacceptable.

Update from the Wisconsin State Journal, March 29, 2012:

Federal charges were filed Wednesday against a Marshfield man who allegedly plotted to kill a Madison Planned Parenthood doctor.

Ralph Lang, 63, was arrested May 25 after accidentally firing a gun in his motel room, then explaining his plans to Madison police.

Lang already had been charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in Dane County Circuit Court.

He now also faces federal charges of attempting to injure, to intimidate and to interfere with persons participating in a program and activity receiving federal financial assistance. An indictment alleges that his acts included the attempted use of a dangerous weapon, specifically a firearm, and an attempt to kill.

A second count of the indictment charges Lang with using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in May alleges that Lang told police he traveled from Marshfield to Madison to kill individuals performing abortions. While practicing with his handgun, he fired a bullet through the door of his hotel room into the room across the hall.

Lang has been in custody since his arrest pending a competency evaluation and hearing in federal court.

If convicted, Lang faces a maximum penalty of life in prison on the first count in the indictment and a mandatory 10 years in prison on the second count.

Not enough is done to practically ensure the safety of and clinic accessibility for women seeking an abortion. Women and their doctors remain under siege, whether its the seemingly unmitigated access afforded anti-choice activists that enables them to accost women as they enter a clinic, the refusal of law enforcement to take radical protesters seriously, to say nothing of the bomb threats, clinic shootings and murders.

We have the FACE act, which is being applied by the Obama administration at over triple the rate of the Bush administration, but it has limitations and can only be filed after an illegal act has taken place.  In Colorado a judge ruled a man blocking the driveway of a clinic was okay, apparently not seeing that it made it “unreasonably difficult” for patients and employees to get to the clinic. In Florida, it was determined that the behavior of a woman engaged in strenuous “sidewalk counseling” of other women entering a reproductive health care center was “not intimidating.”  Also in Florida, a man burned down the American Family Planning clinic in Pensacola.

And those are just a few examples of what patients and clinicians can face on a daily basis at reproductive health clinics around the country.  So why is it when Scott Roeder brutally murdered Dr. George Tiller in his church the public was left scratching its collective head as to how such a thing could happen?

Although Operation Rescue immediately distanced itself from Roeder, the trail he left repeatedly connected Roeder to the radical anti-abortion group.  Another organization similar in mission to Operation Rescue is Vigil for Life (VFL).  VFL is a religious organization based in Wisconsin that sets up daily “vigils” in front of Planned Parenthood to harass and “sidewalk counsel” women who enter.   VFL is also an affiliate of Pro-Choice Wisconsin, the group behind “personhood” efforts in the state and participant in the annual “40 Days for Life” campaign set to begin next week.

It is at one of these vigils coordinated by VFL where Ralph Lang was arrested in 2007. He frequented Vigil for Life protests and was familiar to Planned Parenthood employees.  Upon his arrest he told officers of a God-given mandate to execute abortion providers. Just a few years later in 2011 Lang gained national attention having shot a hole through his hotel room door in Madison Wisconsin.  This was a lucky break for workers at the Planned Parenthood as Lang hoped to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies” at the clinic the following day. 

In 2008 Ralph Lang gave testimony at a Wisconsin Senate committee hearing on overturning an archaic Wisconsin abortion law.  Lang appeared disheveled with his grey hair sticking up in tufts about his head.  He sat in front of a panel of Wisconsin lawmakers and spoke with the certainty of a religious zealot that the Bible calls for the murder of abortion providers, judges and the imprisonment of nurses who aid in providing abortion services.  (In a stroke of gender neutrality, Lang also calls for the killing of the men who get women in trouble.)

This is a clip from the very end of his testimony.  You will hear Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach off camera requesting that Lang wrap it up.  Here is Lang’s summation:

[Full hearing video available here at bottom of the page, Lang is the very last speaker.]

In Lang’s motel room, Madison police officers found a U.S. map with dots in each state.  Lang had hand-written atop the map “some abortion centers,” according to the official complaint, possibly telegraphing his next targets.  Also written on the map were the words “Blessed Virgin Mary says Hell awaits any woman having an abortion. Nurse or doctor who helps will one (sic).” (Reuters)  This religious refrain is heard over and over during his public testimony. 

I couldn’t find a public statement from Vigil for Life on their relationship with Lang, nor did they return my request for comment.

Last year VFL founders, Laura and Steve Karlen, issued an APB via email blast to locate the pregnant woman they had “counseled” outside a Madison Planned Parenthood.

Excerpted from Karlen email:

“Have you seen the pregnant mom? The young pregnant woman, probably in her 20s, had a darker complexion with dyed red hair and tattoos on her neck and right shoulder. She also had some facial piercings. The woman looked obviously pregnant. We pray that she will never decide to come back to Planned Parenthood. Please let us know immediately if you have seen a woman with this description.”

Lisa Subek of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin shared VFL’s email with Madison Police Chief, Nobel Wray.  Subek told me via email, “According to [Wray], it is legal to send such an email but could be considered harassment if the individual who is the subject of the email told the so-called “sidewalk counselors” she didn’t want further contact from them. She could have filed a complaint regarding the email.”

Subek said Wray did understand concerns about emails like these, but continued:

“I’m not surprised by this answer, but it certainly makes me think about our legal definition of harassment and how we do not do enough to prevent it or to protect victims.”

VFL is building out a storefront CPC right across the street from Planned Parenthood.  It is reasonable to believe we will see more of these APBs as Vigil for Life expresses its “First Amendment rights” all over an unsuspecting woman.

Why don’t we look at ‘pro-life’ groups with the same wrenching disgust as we do with Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church?  Why do we allow groups like Operation Rescue and Vigil for Life to have dangerously unfettered access to women seeking reproductive health care?  But the more important question, one that must be answered with a sense of urgency, is why don’t we do more to pass pro-active legislation seeking to protect women and doctors both locally and nationally before an actual crime is committed.

Next week, another “40 Days for Life” kicks off in over 200 locations around the US and we can bet there will be extremists akin to Roeder and Lang among them.  

Investigations Law and Policy

Americans United for Life’s Efforts to Eliminate Insurance Coverage for Abortion Get Help From ALEC Members

Sofia Resnick

Twenty-three states have passed laws barring abortion coverage from insurance plans within state health exchanges. What has largely gone unnoticed is that many of these policies emanate from Americans United for Life, a little-known group that regularly has access to conservative lawmakers at the annual ALEC conferences.

Among the most prevalent weapons in the multi-pronged assault on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the attempt to eliminate access to insurance coverage of safe abortion care. Twenty-three states have now passed laws barring abortion coverage from insurance plans within state health exchanges (some with limited exceptions), according to the Guttmacher Institute.

What has largely gone unnoticed, however, is that many of these new state policies emanate from one little-known group that regularly has access to conservative lawmakers at the annual conferences of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

In August 2010, some five months after President Barack Obama signed his signature bill into law, right-wing and corporate forces gathered at the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel in downtown San Diego for ALEC’s 37th annual meeting, in part to discuss strategies to cripple what was then—and still is—seen by the political right as the incarnation of Democratic evil. Several scheduled sessions centered on how to undermine and obliterate the ACA.

One such group was Americans United for Life (AUL), which frequently hosts an exhibitor’s booth at ALEC meetings offering conference-goers an assortment of model bills designed in various ways to diminish access to legal reproductive health services. Embedded within AUL’s annual compendium of anti-choice models, Defending Life, was a new blueprint on how states can deny insurance coverage of abortion in their health-insurance exchanges created as part of the ACA.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Abortion Coverage Ban Sponsors With ALEC Ties

At least 23 states have passed bans on insurance coverage of abortion within their health exchanges. Bills that are similar to Americans United for Life’s “Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-Out Act ” have been sponsored by several legislatures with previous ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council. With the exception of Louisiana Rep. Frank Hoffmann, none of the following current state lawmakers returned requests for comment on their motivations for sponsoring these bills or whether they used AUL’s model. According to AUL spokesperson Kristi Hamrick, eight states have passed these abortion insurance bans using AUL model legislation, and four more have passed similar legislation with the group’s assistance. Cited ALEC connections come from information published by the liberal nonprofit advocacy groups Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Several state lawmakers—who were listed as ALEC members—went on to introduce similar legislation that has become part of the national strategy to undermine the ACA.

Eight states have passed their bills based on AUL’s model legislation, “The Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-Out Act,” and four others passed similar bills with the group’s assistance, said AUL spokesperson Kristi Hamrick.

The confluence of groups pushing to restrict access to reproductive health care and those more generally recognized as attacking environmental regulations and labor rights is further evidence of a new trend on the political right. Abortion politics have taken center stage in the political fights of recent campaigns and legislative sessions, as formerly disparate threads of the conservative movement—free-marketeers, big business, and fundamentalist Christians—have come together over the sole remaining “moral” on which they believe they can rouse the public.

An even more deliberate example of this type of alliance exists in shared funding streams between limited-government and anti-choice groups. Rewire reported in November that so-called free market groups connected to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch funneled large donations to anti-choice groups through a pass-through group launched to oppose the Affordable Care Act. Among the recipients were AUL and its 501(c)(4) affiliate, Americans United for Life Action.

“There Was a Real Excitement at ALEC”

From its inception, fear that the health-care reform law would legitimize abortion—by making it a valid insurance claim—has been chief among AUL’s motivations for pushing bans on insurance coverage of abortion in state exchanges everywhere.

“The law fattens the pockets of abortion providers, but most critically, advances an objective less tangible but more significant to their long-term goals—legitimacy,” wrote AUL staff counsel Mary Harned of the Affordable Care Act in a Washington Examiner op-ed last September. “Abortion-rights advocates believe that, if abortion is recognized as ‘legitimate healthcare,’ it will become less controversial and will be viewed simply as one of many available gynecological services.”

Though these concerns related specifically to “moral” issues, AUL’s model bills had a broader appeal. Many conservative lawmakers at ALEC’s 2010 annual meeting were looking for opportunities to weaken the health-reform law and recognized that by eliminating access to abortion coverage, AUL’s model laws could pack a one-two punch: undermining insurance systems, as well as reducing access to abortion.

“There was a real excitement at ALEC over our model bill—I think you’ll see this type of legislation moving forward in several states during their coming legislative sessions,” said Dan McConchie, AUL’s vice president of government affairs, according to a 2010 AUL newsletter. “Five states have enacted opt-out laws so far, and this is just the beginning.”

Indeed, in quick succession, ten of ALEC’s state legislative members sponsored versions of this type of legislation (see sidebar, at left).

For instance, Louisiana Rep. Frank A. Hoffmann—listed as a former ALEC Education Task Force member in a San Diego meeting memo published by Common Cause, which advocates for transparency and accountability in government—sponsored a 2010 state bill that, like AUL’s model, bars insurance coverage of abortion within Louisiana’s health exchange.

Despite having been an ALEC member, Hoffman said he did not acquire the model bill through ALEC and its association with AUL.

“I am aware that ALEC is supportive of these things,” he said. “But, again, this didn’t come directly from that as far as my support and getting help and the background and all of this.”

Rather, local anti-abortion groups—namely, Louisiana Right to Life and the Bioethics Defense Fund in New Orleans—helped Hoffman draft the law, he said. He said did not know whether those groups had used AUL’s model.

Indeed, ALEC does not formally endorse AUL’s opt-out model legislation, said ALEC Senior Director of Public Affairs Bill Meierling.

“[T]he policy identified by AUL is not consistent with the current direction and policy focus on the American Legislative Exchange Council,” Meierling said in an email, emphasizing that ALEC is currently dedicated to “limited government, free markets and federalism alone.”

Neither Meierling nor AUL’s Hamrick would explain the nature of AUL’s attendance at the meeting or the group’s presentation of their model legislation. Hamrick told Rewire that AUL has “sometimes had a booth” at ALEC meetings.

But in addition to exhibiting at ALEC’s 2010 conference, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy has through its projects ALECExposed and SourceWatch published evidence that AUL was an exhibitor at ALEC’s 38th annual meeting in New Orleans in August 2011. And in a firsthand account of attending an ALEC conference in December 2007 published in the March 2008 issue of The Progressive, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who at the time was a Wisconsin state representative, wrote that AUL was an exhibitor, among other anti-choice groups such as the Family Research Council and the Pro-Family Legislative Network.

Whether ALEC formally endorses AUL or not, it is clear that AUL is having a significant impact on the legislators that are affiliated with ALEC, and that a merging of free-market, big business, Beltway politics and fundamentalist Christian views is well underway via, among other vectors, bills that undermine women’s access to abortion services.

Reducing Access

Shortly after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, Americans United for Life seized on a little-noticed wrinkle in law—language that made it possible for states to ban health insurance plans that offer abortion coverage from the exchanges.

On its website, AUL describes its Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-Out Act as the “primary strategic effort” of its “strategy to respond to the anti-life provisions” in Obama’s health-care reform bill. The organization has argued—in the media and on a specially created website—that allowing plans that cover abortion to participate in health exchanges amounts to a major breach of conscience rights.

AUL spokesperson Kristi Hamrick went as far as to claim that, without this Opt-Out-Act, the health-care law would force Americans to subsidize the “deadly business” of abortion.

By passing “opt-out” legislation, states can refuse to allow insurance plans available through the state’s health insurance marketplace from covering “elective” abortions. Some states have offered varying exceptions within these coverage bans.

“This type of bill is vital, as the abortion industry has moved from Choice to Coercion,” Hamrick told Rewire in an email, referring to AUL’s model legislation. “No longer content to work for ‘choice,’ the abortion industry works to force Americans to comply with and subsidize their deadly business. … An opt-out is necessary to protect Americans from being forced to subsidize abortions, against their First Amendment Constitutional Rights of Conscience.”

The claim that the federal government is subsidizing abortion through the ACA is a familiar trope of the anti-choice movement. In fact, this claim is false, as the Obama administration has noted several times.

Obamacare as Common Foe for Anti-Labor, Anti-Regulation, Anti-Choice Communities

ALEC’s historic meddling in areas of sensitive social policy has come back to sting the organization. For instance, ALEC faced backlash—and lost corporate membership—in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, when news broke in the spring of 2012 that the group had advanced “stand your ground” laws across the United States.

ALEC has also been subject to belated criticism over its past work campaigning against divestment from apartheid South Africa, crafting model bills with anti-gay animus, and disseminating anti-abortion model bills, such as parental-consent legislation.

As a result, ALEC makes a habit of insisting to the press that it no longer engages in social policy, a claim that activists like Lisa Graves—who runs the Center for Media and Democracy, which has been trailing ALEC’s activities for years—simply don’t believe.

“This notion that they’re just focused on limited government is simply not true,” Graves said of ALEC. “Their bills have a lot of implications. … I guess you could call those limiting government, but in fact those are in some ways eviscerating longstanding public institutions that have made our country strong.”

Graves said she was not surprised at the idea of AUL seizing the opportunity to spread around its model bills at ALEC conferences, by purchasing an exhibitor’s booth.

“Clearly AUL sees that as a really important forum for—spending money, giving money to ALEC—in order to have a place at the table in their convention to reach hundreds of state lawmakers and get their bills in the hands of those lawmakers.”

But, Graves said, this raises concerns.

“In a political democracy, you shouldn’t have unelected corporate officials, unelected special-interest group representatives actually voting as equals with your lawmaker on bills before they’re introduced in your state house,” she said. “And the activity of those special interests pushing their bills to be introduced and passed ought to count as lobbying, and it ought to be disclosed as such.”

The reality is that very few abortions are paid for with federal Medicaid dollars. As a result of a law known as the Hyde Amendment, federal dollars cannot be used to pay for abortions, except for pregnancies resulting from rape, incest, and life-endangerment. Indeed, in fiscal year 2012, just 150 abortions nationwide were funded using federal Medicaid dollars under the restrictive policies of Hyde, according to an official from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In fact, many women who technically qualify for Medicaid coverage of abortion care never receive it. Studies conducted by researchers at Ibis Reproductive Health from 2007 to 2011 found that many women seeking abortions in the case of rape, incest, or life endangerment face “systematic barriers” accessing Medicaid coverage of abortion, such as convoluted eligibility requirements, complicated enrollment procedures, and difficulty proving the pregnancy resulted in rape or was life threatening. One of the studies found that in 13 out of 15 states where abortion providers were interviewed, 64 percent of the qualifying claims for abortion were ultimately rejected, as noted in a research paper published by the Center for Women Policy Studies in January 2012.

“Because of the challenges abortion providers and women face in working with Medicaid, most Medicaid-eligible women do not have the option to use their insurance for abortion care,” the Ibis researchers wrote. “In our interviews with women, many reported turning to drastic measures to pay for their procedures. Women described taking out payday loans, delaying bill payments, pawning jewelry, selling drugs, performing sex work, and borrowing money from friends and family in order to raise money for abortion.”

President Obama’s health-reform law left it up to the states to decide whether or not to offer coverage for abortion beyond those allowed by the Hyde Amendment. The law stipulated that exchanges should include at least one qualified health plan that covers abortions beyond those covered by Hyde and at least one plan that does not. However, states were also given the option to opt out of offering plans that cover abortions. When plans do include abortion coverage beyond those allowed by Hyde, the law requires a separate premium for the abortion coverage, to be paid for by the policyholder.

Nevertheless, AUL hasn’t let up on its attempt to cast the health-reform laws as something of a blank check for abortion providers in order to bolster its argument that its Opt-Out Act is necessary, lest states be accused of promoting federally subsidized abortion. In this vein, AUL has discouraged states from expanding their Medicaid coverage, arguing it will lead to more money going to Planned Parenthood.

AUL’s overall strategy—in addition to preventing increased access to abortion coverage, especially among lower-income women—also works toward chipping holes in Obamacare, whose primary intention originally was to expand insurance coverage to the country’s many uninsured.

Recent statistics suggest that it is actually difficult for many women to obtain abortion coverage through their private insurance plans. While many private plans do offer abortion coverage, the extent to which women use insurance to pay for abortion—or are aware that their plans cover abortion—is unclear. In its 2010 Employer Health Benefits Annual Survey, for example, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care-focused research nonprofit, found that 71 percent of all firms surveyed said they did not know whether they covered “elective abortions.” In contrast, 19 percent of “large firms” (those with 200 or more workers) and 9 percent “small firms” (those with between three and 199 workers) said they did offer abortion coverage in their plans.

The push to excise abortion from health insurance coverage is part of a significant strategy of the anti-choice movement, which has realized in recent years that activists do not have to topple Roe v. Wade to end access to safe abortions. Rather, anti-choice proponents have understood that making abortion unobtainable, even though it is legal, can in some cases have the same effect. One effective strategy has been to shut down abortion providers by passing onerous regulations, as has been clearly demonstrated in Texas. But another equally effective method at reducing access to abortion is to make it unaffordable.

And AUL is hip to this strategy.

In the legislative findings of AUL’s model bill, which has become law in eight states, according to the group, the organization repeats unfounded claims that providing insurance coverage through subsidized or private insurance plans increases the demand and therefore the incidence of abortion.

“Given that more women have abortions when they are covered by public programs, and public or private insurance coverage of a procedure generally leads to increased usage of that procedure, the State of [Insert name of State] concludes that the incidence of abortion would increase with the subsidization of private insurance plans that cover abortion,” the model bill reads.

The Guttmacher Institute disputes these claims, citing as one example a New England Journal of Medicine analysis from 2010, which reported that after Massachusetts began providing abortion coverage for people using subsidized private plans and those on Medicaid—through the state’s 2006 universal health-care law—abortion rates actually declined, by 1.5 percent between 2006 and 2008.

And AUL has not stopped at trying to ban insurance coverage of abortion in only health exchanges. The organization has also been pushing model bills that bar private insurance plans from covering abortion, models that bar state employees from receiving abortion coverage, and models that combine both bans.

Megan Peterson, deputy director of the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), a Boston-based nonprofit that helps low-income women pay for their abortions, told Rewire that these exchange bans will likely make it even harder for women to access abortion.

“There are women who would have had coverage who now won’t,” Peterson said. “And for a lot of those women, coming up with the money to pay for an abortion out of pocket will be a real hardship for themselves and their family.”

NNAF is a partner in All Above All, a multi-year campaign focused on eliminating bans on federal funding of abortion coverage, including the Hyde Amendment. Peterson said she thinks these “opt-out” laws will potentially delay the campaign’s goal.

“I think that this is just the latest page in the same old playbook that was originally was written by Henry Hyde, which was using whatever vehicle is available to try to prevent anyone from being able to have an abortion,” Peterson said of the exchange bans, adding that this type of law is “further entrenching this insane idea that it’s acceptable for politicians to interfere in people’s personal, private decisions by keeping them from having the coverage they need to make access real.”

Analysis Violence

Wisconsin: Perfect Setting for National Discussion About Anti-Choice Terrorism

Andy Kopsa

Wisconsin. Perfect setting for the national conversation to finally address the domestic terrorism of anti-choice zealots.

Wisconsin. Perfect setting for the national conversation to finally address the domestic terrorism of anti-choice zealots. A perfect time to tell the story of Wisconsin as battleground not only for the 2012 elections (GOP primary today and the Walker recall election in June) but also for the war on women both legislatively and ideologically.  

Palm Sunday brought a close to Pro-Life Wisconsin’s “40 Days For Life” protests at women’s health clinics throughout the state.  And it culminated with the bombing of an Appleton Wisconsin Planned Parenthood. 40 Days For Life staged a “Stations of the Cross” rally in Appleton that day at a Planned Parenthood clinic, just not the one that was bombed.  

It happened Sunday night. No one was at the clinic when a homemade explosive device was detonated at the facility. Local authorities responded to the call and have brought in the FBI. This move says the FACE Act (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) may come into play once the bomber is found.

Wisconsin has been in the forefront of our national conversation about politics, showing us all first hand what Small Government means to the GOP right wingery.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Whether it’s Wisconsin’s powerful Fitzgerald brothers or Rep. Robin Vos gathering marching orders from ALEC conferences, Scott Walker’s recall election – and pending John Doe case – the deep ties between Wisconsin Right To Life and the Koch Brother’s Club for Growth or the zealot(s) that bomb clinics in Appleton all support the theory that at least for now, in this moment, all politics are Wisconsin.   

This is what we need to continue to focus on as the Walker recall approaches.  Wisconsin is going to get a ton of national attention in the coming months so why not use it to lay a little truth on the country?  

So let’s start with the most recent case of anti-choice violence in Wisconsin.  The responses to the bombing thus far have been predictable.  But, Rick Santorum has taken the cake yet again.  His non-denouncement denouncement cuts to the core of what is wrong with the incendiary rhetoric from the religious anti-choice right:

 “While we can and should work to defund Planned Parenthood and push back against government mandates that force Americans and religious institutions to violate their faith, violence against our fellow citizens has no place in a freedom-loving America.”

Really?

How about just this part, “Violence against our fellow citizens has no place in a freedom-loving America.”  That would have been fine right?  An act of violence seems like the wrong time to remind the crazy base how anti-choice and anti-Planned Parenthood you are.

This is what Santorum and every other anti-choice crusader really means—if you squint you can see it there between the lines—”Planned Parenthood must be destroyed because my religion informs my policymaking and therefore your rights.  We are right to picket, harass and shame women as they enter and exit clinics where they kill our babies.  We are right to present mangled fetus photos on box trucks out front of Planned Parenthoods around the country.  We are right to try and save these innocent babies from their mother’s murdering them. Um, and we don’t want you bombing anything.  Amen!”

The Chicago Tribune reported the news of the Appleton bombing as, “A small device detonated outside a Wisconsin Planned Parenthood clinic.”  Small.  Would they have been less disappointed if it had been a gigantic bomb, one detonated while the clinic was full of people? It isn’t about the size of the bomb it is the message it sends: terror. 

The clinic hit Sunday is in Representative Michelle Litjens district.  Litjens sponsored some of the worst anti-choice legislation this session.  Legislation that is sitting on Governor Scott Walker’s desk now and will be passed into law—with or without his formal signing—around Wednesday.  Bills like those introduced by Litjens (and plenty others) are train wrecks and indicative of the anti-science, anti-choice, anti-women bills being introduced almost daily around the country.

(I contacted Litjens office for a comment.  Although Litjens will not be running again this fall – she has too much laundry to do – her staff is still in Madison and she is still in and out of the capital for meetings.  No one from her office returned my call.)

I would like to bring your attention to Litjens’ so-called anti-coercion bill, a shining example of the ridiculous nature of these anti-choice bills and the nonsensical evidence on which they are predicated. 

The bill requires a woman seeking an abortion undergo not one but two counseling sessions since one is already required under current law.  The session in this bill is done without her partner, friend or family member present—but—with a third party of the doctor’s choosing presumably sitting in to ensure the woman wasn’t coerced into an abortion.

Now, you can read the legislation here, which I encourage you to do because I am paraphrasing the language above and there have been numerous iterations of the bill.  It is just another roadblock thrown in the face of a woman seeking a legal abortion. 

The non-evidence “evidence” Litjens and others provide claims Wisconsin women are being dragged to Planned Parenthood abortion mills across the state by coercive partners (I picture a caveman dragging his lady back to a cave by her hair). 

A centerpiece of which was a 911 call made by an anti-choice “sidewalk counselor” in Milwaukee claiming a young girl was being forced into a clinic to get an abortion. 

As you can tell the 911operator deserves a medal.  She deftly handled the ludicrous claim the caller was making and wrapped it up with a bow: near the end of the clip she tells the caller (Dan Miller of Pro-Life Wisconsin no less) point blank, “You don’t know what’s going on, sir.”

And this is Litjens’ proof for her bill, that and a parade of apparently middle-aged women testifying before the Wisconsin legislative committee that they regretted their abortions. To be clear, regret is not coercion—this is a very dangerous connection.

Naturally this non-compelling non-evidence led to the passage of the anti-coercion bill in the crazy Wisconsin political climate.  (This bill also bans telemed abortion, which isn’t even available in Wisconsin.  It is a shot across the bow by anti-choicers, perhaps to nearby Iowa which does allow telemed access and adjacent Minnesota which provides the service at one clinic).

You should watch the testimony on Wisconsin Eye, which live streams and archives legislative operations.  The glazed look of pro-choice, pro-women State Representatives Chris Taylor and Sandy Pasch—the incredulity with which Litjens legion of quacks are greeted—would be delightful if the outcome was not so dire. 

Amidst a recall election, and the clinic bombing, it is likely Walker will pocket the bills; not signing them is as good as singing them because they become law (by law) so many days after passage with or without signature.  Walker has a woman problem and with a contentious recall election in a couple months he might ratchet down the anti-lady crusade in hopes of snagging some Independents. 

These bills that will become law are especially nuanced, crafted to remove all power from women and their doctors in making health care decisions, kicking qualified sexual education providers out of schools (Senator Mary Lazich, sponsor of the bill repealing the Healthy Youth Act, specifically wrote in an email to supporters it was aimed at removing Planned Parenthood from schools) and denying abortion care coverage from private insurance.  And of course, Michelle Litjens bill.  There may be no state-mandated shoving of vaginal probes into women’s vaginas here, but the bills to become law in Wisconsin are no less disgusting or damaging to women’s rights.  

Walker and radically-right legislators in Wisconsin are in bed with the anti-choicers or are conceivably one in the same.  It is simply a matter of degree and political opportunity.  Although Walker has been careful to not let his radical anti-choicy-ness hang out, as an Evangelical Christian, Walker is still a true believer. 

The Koch Brothers Club for Growth and Wisconsin Right to Life sued to be able to fund political candidates endlessly via the Wisconsin Right to Life vs. FEC case which led to the successful Citizen’s United ruling that changed everything.  

The Citizens United ruling has its roots in Wisconsin. What eventually became the case brought before SCOTUS grew, at least in part, out of FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL).

The case was argued and an opinion—favoring WRTL—was issued in 2007, which said that spending on political ads within a 60-day window prior to an election did not violate any existing campaign finance rules. That opened the floodgates to political spending by Wisconsin Right to Life and set a favorable precedent that eventually led to the CU ruling.

If we peel the onion a bit more in these cases, we unearth The Club for Growth. Yes, that Club for Growth—The Koch brothers’ political vehicle. 

In 2003, the National Right to Life Committee, and the Club for Growth argued a campaign finance case before the Supreme Court, pre-dating the Wisconsin Right to Life and CU cases.

Lisa Subek, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Wisconsin told me WRTL spends an unbelievable amount of money to influence Wisconsin politicos and push its anti-choice agenda including the three anti-choice bills now primed to be law.  

Whether or not the Koch Brothers were in it for the moral high ground of it all is, of course, unknowable.  But, this result was a consolidation of power and money. 

The John Doe case filed against former Walker staffers while he was County Executive in Milwaukee may prove enlightening about these connections as well.  A bunch of emails are being released piecemeal between staffers, specifically Kelly Rindfleisch and political donors.  This is a legal no-no if you are keeping score.  I am going to be on the look out for emails between Walker staff and Pro-Life Wisconsin and/or Wisconsin Right to Life securing financial kindnesses. 

So what does all of this have to do with the Palm Sunday Planned Parenthood bombing? It may turn out that the dangerous kook who planted the device is not part of any official pro-life group.  But what about the role anti-choice organizations play in sustaining a violent atmosphere against women’s clinics and specifically Planned Parenthood?

Vigil for Life of Madison is listed on the Pro-Choice Wisconsin’s website as a state affiliate.  Pro-Life Wisconsin is considered the more radical anti-choice organization in Wisconsin.  For example, PLW was all about introducing a personhood bill.  WRL, like other Right to Life organizations around the country did not get behind it.  I guess that qualifies as less radical.

Vigil for Life has done some pretty nasty stuff.  They set up a crisis pregnancy center right across from a Madison Planned Parenthood so they can “sidewalk counsel” women seeking services at Planned Parenthood out of “killing their babies,” even if the lady is just there for a pap-smear. I wrote about a disturbing email circulated by the group:

Last year VFL founders, Laura and Steve Karlen, issued an APB via email blast to locate the pregnant woman they had “counseled” outside a Madison Planned Parenthood.

Excerpted from Karlen email:

“Have you seen the pregnant mom? The young pregnant woman, probably in her 20s, had a darker complexion with dyed red hair and tattoos on her neck and right shoulder. She also had some facial piercings. The woman looked obviously pregnant. We pray that she will never decide to come back to Planned Parenthood. Please let us know immediately if you have seen a woman with this description.”

Lisa Subek of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin shared VFL’s email with Madison Police Chief, Nobel Wray.  Subek told me via email, “According to [Wray], it is legal to send such an email but could be considered harassment if the individual who is the subject of the email told the so-called “sidewalk counselors” she didn’t want further contact from them. She could have filed a complaint regarding the email.”

That’s right, a pregnant lady APB—all perfectly legal.  I have reached out to Vigil for Life on two separate occasions but haven’t gotten a return call or email.  Vigil for Life also gave us Ralph Lang, would be abortion provider killer:

It is at one of these vigils coordinated by VFL where Ralph Lang was arrested in 2007. He frequented Vigil for Life protests and was familiar to Planned Parenthood employees.  Upon his arrest he told officers of a God-given mandate to execute abortion providers. Just a few years later in 2011 Lang gained national attention having shot a hole through his hotel room door in Madison Wisconsin.  This was a lucky break for workers at the Planned Parenthood as Lang hoped to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies” at the clinic the following day. 

In 2008 Ralph Lang gave testimony at a Wisconsin Senate committee hearing on overturning an archaic Wisconsin abortion law.  Lang appeared disheveled with his grey hair sticking up in tufts about his head.  He sat in front of a panel of Wisconsin lawmakers and spoke with the certainty of a religious zealot that the Bible calls for the murder of abortion providers, judges and the imprisonment of nurses who aid in providing abortion services.  (In a stroke of gender neutrality, Lang also calls for the killing of the men who get women in trouble.) 

Can we place blame on Rick Santorum through the lens of his wink-nod clinic bombing denunciation and others for anti-choice violence?  No.  Can we blame Vigil for Life, Pro-Life Wisconsin, 40 Days For Life or Wisconsin Right to Life for the Appleton bombing?  Again, no.  But they and others in the anti-choice movement must take responsibility for cultivating the rich soil of fear around abortion.

They have to take responsibility for demonizing Planned Parenthood with their vitriolic language:  killing babies!  Murderers!  Save the babies!  Sex worker trafficking!  Taxpayers funded abortions!  Abortion mills! Unborn children’s lives are at stake in the recall election! (Insert fear-mongering lie here). 

What they say matters.  It is easy to slide away from responsibility when a clinic is bombed or a doctor is shot in cold blood in his church.  Denouncing the act of violence without changing the environment that allowed the violence to occur is unacceptable.

This year has presented women (and the fellas who love them) with the opportunity to make some real change.  To quash the disgusting narrative the anti-choicers have been free to set up.  Abortion is not murder. Abortion is the legal right a woman has to terminate a pregnancy and already limited and regulated by many laws.

Contraception isn’t the work of the devil.  Contraception is women’s health care and family healthcare and none of your business.  Forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds meet the standard of sexual abuse and/or rape in many state statutes.  Legislators are not doctors. 

The GOP has made a wonderful, lethal error with their mass movement against women in statehouses around the country and Wisconsin is a prime example.  They have awoken and re-invigorated a magnificent, beautiful beast – women voters.  And for that, we should thank them.