Commentary Abortion

Arizona Lawmakers Trying To Legislate Pregnancy Two Weeks Prior To Conception

Amanda Marcotte

Smuggled into an already-odious bill banning abortions at 20 weeks in Arizona is a provision requiring that "pregnancy" be counted from the first day of a woman's menstrual period, making "pregnancy" begin legally two weeks before conception.

Editor’s Note: This article was amended at 2:03 pm EDT on Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 to address an error in the original article, which incorrectly stated that Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban was the only one among several states considering or passing such bans to use “last menstrual period” for dating gestational age, and to clarify the intention of the original piece.  Edits are visible in the article itself.

The past few months, we’ve seen the nation wake up to many anti-choice assaults on women’s basic right to control their fertility, especially with regards to imposing forced ultrasounds and numerous attacks on access to basic contraception. But one of the other favorite anti-choice approaches to maximizing the pain and suffering of women as punishment for sex has largely gone unnoticed by many outside of the pro-choice activist community: bans on abortions after 20 weeks. It’s understandable that it’s hard to whip people up about this particular situation. After all, abortions after 20 weeks are relatively rare. Only 1.5 percent of abortions occur after the 20th week, and the vast majority of those that do occur are done for medical reasons, or because legal and financial obstacles–like those put in place by lawmakers–caused a delay in getting an early abortion. While, if they knew their personal stories, most people would certainly sympathize with women in need of post-20-week abortions, a certain amount of reproductive rights fatigue is setting in. There’s only so many hours in the day, and anti-choicers know if they just keep throwing restrictions on access at us, some will slip through the cracks.

But, as exhausting as it is, we need to pay attention to and resist post-20 week bans on abortion. That’s because they are cruel on the surface, but also because legislators are using 20-week bans to smuggle in other items of more importance to them than simply making it harder for a slim minority of women seeking abortions to get them. The most obvious thing they’re trying to do is set anti-science precedent [create legal precedents for medical procedures.] Since these bans are based on the false, unscientific claim that fetuses at 20-weeks can feel pain, if they’re allowed to stand, they open the door for more laws based on straight-up lies to be passed. These laws are also being used to challenge the requirement set out in Roe v Wade that a woman’s health and life should trump that of the misogynist desire to keep her pregnant at all costs.

Legislators have had so much success smuggling in ulterior motives with 20-week bans that they’re now looking for ways to expand the amount of hard right anti-choice nonsense they can attach to those bills. The most A recent—and extreme—example is Arizona. There, lawmakers are writing a 20-week abortion ban that, [like those in other states] starts counting off seeks to legislate pregnancy as beginning at the first day of a woman’s period. Yes, they’re arguing that you’re “pregnant” while you’re actually getting your period. In fact, as Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones explains, they’re really trying to steal as many weeks as possible away from women seeking abortion:

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Most women ovulate about 14 or 15 days after their period starts, and women can usually get pregnant from sexual intercourse that occured anywhere between five days before ovulation and a day after it. Arizona’s law would start the clock at a woman’s last period—which means, in practice, that the law prohibits abortion later than 18 weeks after a woman actually becomes pregnant.

That’s bad in and of itself, but taking a step back and looking at the big picture makes this law look even more sinister.

[While it is true that medical professionals dealing with both wanted and unwanted pregnancies use the date of last menstrual period to gauge gestational age, this is a medical tool for assessing a pregnancy; it becomes a dangerous precedent in the hands of anti-choice legislators.]

Medically speaking, pregnancy starts when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining. Anti-choicers have attempted to define it earlier shift the goalposts of pregnancy with their failed attempts to pass “personhood” laws conferring the full rights of a living, breathing person on a fertilized egg. that would define not just pregnancy, but “personhood” as beginning at conception. Arizona and other states with 20-week bans are trying to argue that you’re pregnant a couple of weeks before you even had the sex that resulted in your pregnancy.

Think about the implications down the road. If a woman is “pregnant” two weeks before she becomes pregnant, than any fertile woman—including those currently menstruating!—should really be considered pregnant. After all, we don’t know the future. We don’t know that any non-pregnant woman couldn’t be pregnant two weeks from now, making her retroactively pregnant now. Considering that it’s anti-choice nuts we’re talking about, it’s safe to assume that they’d simply prefer a situation where all women of reproductive age are considered to be pregnant, on the grounds that they could be two weeks from now. Better safe than sorry, especially if that mentality means you get to exert maximum control over the bodies of women of reproductive age.

Between personhood bills and the assault on access to contraception, it’s becoming increasingly clear that anti-choicers aren’t satisfied with simply trying to control the already-pregnant. Finding ways to define the not-pregnant as pregnant is a means of laying the groundwork for exerting this control. Imagine if Roe is overturned and states go into a true frenzy of stripping every imaginable right away from pregnant women. It wouldn’t be limited to stripping the right to abortion, but also to any kind of behavior deemed “abortive,” including holding certain kinds of jobs, eating certain foods, or taking certain medications. With this bill, then, you could not only restrict the rights of those who are actually pregnant, but extend the restrictions to all women of reproductive age on the grounds that they “could be pregnant in two weeks, i.e. in perpetuity” and would therefore be considered the same thing as being pregnant.

Already in some states, they’re looking for ways to prosecute women who have stillbirths if they did something the prosecutor believes may have had an impact on the pregnancy, such as drug use. With the hoped-for overturn of Roe, we can expect these efforts to intensify, with prosecutions of miscarriages. Now with this Arizona bill, if a woman is deemed pregnant two weeks before she actually is, prosecutors could even have a chance to look at your choices when you weren’t even pregnant—before you even had the sex that made you pregnant—and blame those choices for bad outcomes. They’re creating, brick by brick, the legal basis on which to prosecute a woman who drinks some alcohol, becomes pregnant two weeks later, and miscarries, even though she didn’t drink while pregnant. And you best believe that when feminists protest this, they’ll just paint it as if we’re more interested in protecting drunken sluts than “babies.”

If you can [legally] be “pregnant” without being pregnant, that also creates legal complications around simple menstruation. After all, menstruation is usually seen as the opposite of being pregnant; women use menstruation to mark that they aren’t pregnant. But under this bill, you could both be menstruating and “pregnant” by law. Should Roe be overturned and the state start looking to prosecute women for miscarriages they deem inappropriately prevented, what about women who are just getting their period? They’re “pregnant” under the pregnant-prior-to-conception framework, aren’t they? Are they miscarrying in the eyes of the law or are they just continuing their theoretical pregnancy? These kinds of ambiguities are exactly the sort of thing zealous misogynist law enforcement will be looking to exploit. 

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.