Todd Stave is used to seeing the clinic he owns in Maryland be picketed by protesters. Sadly, he’s even grown used to seeing his children’s school targeted, too.
But his neighborhood? That’s a new one.
According to Washington Jewish Week, Stave discovered that anti-choice protesters blanketed his neighborhood with fliers comparing him to a Nazi, and showing graphic “aborted fetus” photos, all while he was out of town accepting an award for his work in reproductive health. Stave, who owns the clinic that employs Dr. Leroy Carhart, was being honored by NARAL Pro-Choice America at the time.
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In the flier, Stave is depicted in a Nazi uniform much like the one Nazi SS commander Heinrich Himmler is shown wearing. Next to Himmler’s photo are the words “responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children.” The words next to Stave only differ at the very end. Instead of men, women and children, the flier states Stave is “responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent pre-born babies.”
The flier lists the website KickOutCarhart.Com and WholsToddStave.Com at the bottom. Dr. Leroy Carhart, a Nebraskan physician and retired Air Force officer, is affiliated with the Germantown clinic. He has spoken out against partial birth abortion bans.
Montgomery County Police Officer Rebecca Innocenti confirmed that the fliers were distributed and said that the Vice and Intelligence Unit is investigating the matter.
Of course, the leafleting of the neighborhood serves two purposes — to try and rally neighbors against Stave, and to try to make Stave feel as uncomfortable as possible in his own home.
Because any form of bullying and intimidation is completely justifiable when it comes to anti-choice activism.
Faced with polls saying that eight in 10 Americans think abortion should be legal when a pregnancy results from rape, anti-choice activists are actually pushing for more public discussion of the issue. It’s part of a long-term campaign to try to change Americans’ minds and to bring the country closer to banning abortion in nearly all cases.
After two GOP Senate candidates saw their campaigns implode when they made controversial comments about abortion and rape, Republicans like Sen. John McCain have been asking their party to just shut up about abortion.
But anti-choice movement leaders disagree. Faced with polls saying that eight in 10 Americans think abortion should be legal when a pregnancy results from rape, these activists are actually pushing for more public discussion of the issue. It’s part of a long-term campaign to try to change Americans’ minds and to bring the country closer to banning abortion in nearly all cases.
One part of the plan is to train politicians how to answer difficult questions about the issue while also attacking pro-choice politicians. Another is to emphasize the humanity of the rape survivor and her unborn baby.
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On a webcast two days after the election, Billy Valentine—the policy director of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports anti-choice rights candidates—lauded failed Senate candidates Todd Akin (who said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”) and Richard Mourdock (who said that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen”) as being “courageous.”
“What Todd Akin and what Richard Mourdock said, what they meant was not wrong,” Valentine said. “In fact, they were taking a very courageous stand. But it’s how they said it. So one thing we’re going to be working on is making sure that candidates the pro-life movement gets behind are well-versed in our messaging and know how to answer the tough abortion questions.”
A day earlier, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser made a similar point during a speech in Washington, D.C.
“We’re going to relook at how we endorse and train candidates,” Dannenfelser said. “From now on they will not be sent in the field with our support without knowing how to actually discuss the issue with compassion and love and to exploit the other candidate’s extremes.”
Part of the group’s strategy is to recruit more women candidates. The SBA List has celebrated Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer’s election to the Senate, which, says Valentine, makes her one of two pro-life female senators. “It was clear with some of the messaging problems we had on our end that had we had more women candidates, we wouldn’t have those problems,” he said.
Another group that has been particularly vocal about the rape exception issue is Students for Life of America, which was founded in the late 1970s for the purpose of training high school and college students to engage in anti-choice activism and advocacy.
One of the things SFLA currently does is sell postcards that “explore rape and incest arguments for the unborn” for anti-choice advocates to distribute. “Can you tell which child has a criminal father?” the cards read. “Should a child die for his or her father’s crimes?”
A couple of weeks after Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment went viral, SFLA President Kristan Hawkins wrote a blog post explaining why her anti-choice stance has evolved to opposing abortions in all circumstances, even in “those most awful of circumstances, rape and incest.”
“As pro-lifers, we believe that all human life should be treated with dignity and respect, no matter what your parentage may be,” she writes. “If my father goes out today and commits an act of mass murder, does that justify someone killing me? If the mother, a victim or rape, chooses to carry her child through her pregnancy and then decides at age 2 that the child reminds her too much of the rapist, should she be then allowed to kill the toddler?”
On Nov. 15, SFLA sponsored a rape-focused panel discussion at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. The discussion, which was broadcast online, featured Rebekah Berg, a rape survivor. Berg said that after briefly considering abortion, she decided to parent her child who was conceived as a result of the rape. The panel also included Ryan Bomberger, an anti-choice activist conceived in rape and placed for adoption. Berg gave a tearful testimony about how her son helped her heal from the trauma of being raped. Bomberger argued that abortion does not help rape survivors.
Bomberger often speaks at anti-choice conferences about his birth mother undergoing a traumatic pregnancy and allowing him to be adopted into a happy family with 15 kids, as he did last week, at a press briefing held by anti-choice movement leaders in Washington, D.C., ahead of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade next month.
After the briefing, Bomberger told me the anti-choice movement should be using people’s personal stories when addressing the rape exception issue.
Okay, but should women have the option to have an abortion if they have been raped? I asked.
“See the problem is that’s not really the issue, though,” he told me. “The issue really is that 99 percent of all abortions have nothing to do with this act of violence, with rape, incest, or the physical endangerment of the mother. So it allows too often, I think, politicians like Mourdock and Akin to be taken off track and away from the reality. The reality is we have 1.21 million abortions, and 99 percent plus have nothing to do with the act of rape.
“I’m always called a rapist’s child,” he added. “Well, I’m also the child of my mother, and many women believe that that child has been their only healing grace, their only redemption. So I think any time we talk about this issue, we have to talk more about what happens beyond the act of rape.”
This type of personal appeal was also employed last year, with the “Rape Victim’s Child Tour,” an event sponsored by a national group pushing Mississippi’s failed “personhood” amendment, which would have outlawed abortion by defining a fertilized egg as a person.
While abortion-rights groups seek to expose lawmakers and candidates who oppose abortion even in the case of rape and incest, anti-choice advocacy groups are trying to figure out how to sell the argument that abortion should be banned.
But some, like Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas at Minneapolis, thinks most Americans are not ready to ban abortion without rape exceptions.
And public opinion polling tends to agree with her.
In late August, shortly after Akin’s comments, a nationwide poll produced by CNN and ORC International found that 83 percent of Americans polled said abortion should be legal “when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.” Periodic polling from Gallup since 1996 has found that between 75 and 78 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest.
Collett spoke at a recent anti-Roe lecture at Harvard University that was co-sponsored by Law Students for Life, an affiliate of SFLA. She suggested that most women who become pregnant through rape do not choose abortion. She cited a study published in the late 1970s, often promoted by the anti-choice community, “that found that 75 to 85 percent of those choose against abortion.”
However, a longitudinal survey published in 1996 in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology—which estimated that more than 32,000 pregnancies result from rape annually—found that about 50 percent of pregnant rape victims chose abortions, 32 percent opted to keep the baby, six percent opted for adoption, and 12 percent miscarried. Overall, 32 percent of the rape victims did not discover they were pregnant until the second trimester.
In her talk, Collett explained why the majority of Americans believe abortion is acceptable in the case of non-consensual sex. As an example, she brought up South Dakota’s recent attempts to ban abortion, beginning in 2006, when the state legislature passed a bill that banned all abortions except those to save the life of the mother. That law was overturned by a referendum.
“At the time that Roe versus Wade was decided, though, many abortion bans contained a rape exception,” Collett said. “And Roe struck that down. That certainly would be a law that I believe, were we to try to pass a ban, politically, as they did in South Dakota, a majority of Americans would require that there be an exception for victims of rape, and yet that would affect only 2 percent of the abortions in this country. Only 2 percent.”
She went on to say that many Americans who are against abortion believe in the rape exception because “they have an innate jurisprudential sense that law is about requiring people to live up to their duties more than it is about affirming people’s rights.
“And so they believe that when women have consensually engaged in sexual intercourse, the natural consequence is, on occasion, pregnancy, and there is no injustice in forbidding them in terminating that pregnancy. But where a woman has not consensually engaged in the activity that we know can result in pregnancy, that we ought to at least allow her some window of opportunity.”
“Not arguing for it,” she added. “I’m trying to explain why so many of our fellow citizens, who even self-identify as pro-life, think the rape cases are different, think the responsibility of people who did not even engage in the activity they know could be procreative should be excused for some brief period of time. Although even among those who would support a rape exception, I question whether they would accept it after the fourth or fifth month. There’s some sort of idea that you’ve waited long enough, you’ve made your decision.”
After the lecture, one audience member asked a question apparently related to rape exceptions.
“No, I think there will always be a rape exception,” Collett responded.
“I think that is likely, just politically,” agreed Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Steven Aden.
“I think that’s sad,” Collett added, “but we saw in South Dakota… it was unsuccessful.”
“As you saw Professor Collett’s stat that most women who are subjected to rape decide to keep the baby,” Aden said. “And those babies provide joy and fulfillment to other couples. But until there’s a place in the heart in this society for every person, even those conceived in horrible, indefensible circumstances, I think that politically perhaps there always will be.”
Reproductive rights reporter (and Rewire weekly columnist) Amanda Marcotte writes today that Missouri Congressman and Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, already well-known for his solidly anti-choice positions, gave a speech in 2008 in which he states that, among other things, abortion providers perform abortions on “women who are not actually pregnant.”
To many readers, that would seem like a bizarre statement. After all, you can’t have an abortion unless you are pregnant! But for the culture of anti-choice activists that see providers as monsters and women as gullible victims, this is almost religiously-accepted fact.
Carol Everett, a former clinic worker in the 70’s who then “converted” and became an outspoken icon for the anti-choice movement, was fond of telling stories of the horrors she allegedly assisted with when she was in the “abortion industry.” She once provided a testimonial on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family’s radio program in the 80’s where she claimed she was constantly involved in “unneeded” abortions in order to make money.
There are two other things I’d like to talk about. There are women who come in and have abortions but aren’t pregnant. You may say, “Oh, that doesn’t happen.” Maybe you say that. It does happen. First of all, this woman thinks she’s pregnant. She’s scheduled herself for an abortion. She’s come in and her pregnancy test is negative. They have a woman that they have paid their advertising dollars to get in there. They want to do that abortion if there is any way.
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So they do everything they can to prove that she’s pregnant or has been pregnant. You say “has been pregnant?” Yes, if they can convince her that she has been pregnant, that she’s had a spontaneous abortion. She’s going to have to go into the hospital to have a D&C to remove the rest of the contents of her uterus. They will convince her to go ahead and have a procedure she doesn’t need that day. And it happens. Channel four [Dallas-FortWorth] got it on tape — a woman that went directly from our office to a doctor’s office and the doctor told her that she was and had never been pregnant, and we had tried to do an abortion on her. I don’t know what percentage that is. I have no idea…
Everett may have claimed that abortions were performed for no reason and for the sake of financial gain, but it was a statement vociferiously rebutted by many of her former colleagues. For example, William W. West, Jr., M.D., who works in outpatient psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, stated in a news release in 1988 after Everett had been appointed the public affairs Director of Greater Dallas Right to Life Committee and Texas Coalition for Life:
“One thing Ms. Everett claims is that callous greed like hers is a common motive among those who are involved in the provision of abortion services. This is flagrantly untrue. She should know better. She also contends that legal abortion, as practiced in the United States today, is prohibitively dangerous. In actual fact, it is probably about as safe as having a wisdom tooth pulled and is certainly much safer than having a baby, its only alternative. She should know this.”
“. . .Among Ms. Everett’s various fraudulent claims is her assertion that abortion surgery is deliberately performed on women who are not actually pregnant in order to get their money. Give me a break! I hope there are not many among us who are cynical and gullible enough to actually believe such garbage!”
However, in the early days after Roe v. Wade, there were reputable stories of abortions being performed on women who weren’t pregnant, as in a 1978 expose by the Chicago Sun Times, where female reporters went undercover to clinics to investigate allegations of illegal abortions after the first trimester, unsanitary conditions, and not-pregnant women receiving D&Cs. The resulting series of articles were lurid and uncomfortable, and some of the clinics involved were closed as a result of the discovery. Still, those cases marked the very rare exceptions, not the actions of providers as a whole.
But anti-choicers have revived this old story as they did the medieval “legitimate rape” claims, and have used these claims as one basis for passage of mandatory ultrasound laws. When Michigan proposed their ultrasound bill in 2005, “anecdotal” evidence of practitioner malfeasance was used as one of the arguments for passing the bill. According to the legislative analysis of the HB 4446:
Some clinics perform abortions on the basis of the results of a urine test alone. These tests can give false positives. There is anecdotal testimony to suggest that women, in some circumstances, have been given an abortion when there was no pregnancy. Requiring an ultrasound will give additional verification that the woman is pregnant and protect the health of a woman by ensuring she is not given an unnecessary procedure.
Would abortionists do abortions on women who are not pregnant? Numerous reports from investigative journalists, state inspectors, and abortion providers have revealed abortionists who routinely committed abortions on Women who were not pregnant.
Her sources for her testimony range from an investigation in Florida where a lack of pregnancy tests for half the patients was taken by investigators to mean that the women who underwent abortions weren’t pregnant, to a former clinic worker’s testimony against a Kansas provider (an assertion that is missing in follow-up documents), and even the testimony from the Michigan ultrasound bill in 2005 (yes, that unspecified “anecdotal evidence”).
It’s ironic when you think about it, however. On one hand, anti-choice activists are declaring that a woman is pregnant before a pregnancy test could even confirm it, or that a fertilized egg not implanting in the womb somehow is the loss of a complete and separate fully formed life. At the same time, they are also completely convinced that there is a mass undertaking by doctors to perform pregnancy terminations on women who aren’t in fact even medically pregnant.