Commentary Abortion

STOKING FIRE: Anti-Choice Boycotts Continue, but Will Businesses Continue to Give In?

Eleanor J. Bader

Boycotts and harassment tactics have an impact, even if it’s not the impact the anti-choicers would like. When businesses submit to antiabortion browbeating, it forces clinicians to scramble to find new suppliers, diverts attention from the provision of care, and exacerbates tensions and anxieties.

A little more than a year ago, the evangelical Christian group, Repent America, kicked off a campaign against Stericycle, a national medical waste disposal company. The goal? To cripple abortion clinics by making it impossible for them to dispose of fetal remains, sharps, and other surgical throwaways. The organization calls Stericycle “a modern-day Auschwitz” and equates the company with German businesses that supported Hitler’s genocidal policies.

“Government entities, police forces, military troops, and even civilians from a number of countries aided the Nazis in the destruction of the Jewish people,” their website begins. “Some supplied construction materials and funds to the Nazi military. Some provided lists of names of Jewish people in their countries. Some helped to gather and deport Jews onto freight trains.” Moving into the present, the site rails that “today in America a diabolical silence and the mass annihilation of unwanted persons remains in our midst…It is because of companies like Stericycle that abortionists are able to operate.”

This rhetorical flourish—and the concomitant ratcheting up references to the “abortion holocaust”–have played well for anti-choicers since no company wants to be publically likened to Nazi collaborators. Michael Marcavage, head of Repent America, obviously understood this when he launched the boycott. Not only that, since Stericycle rented trucks from Penske and Ryder, the campaign also zeroed in on them. Both quickly folded and in 2011 stopped allowing their trucks to service abortion facilities. The campaign is currently focused on AimNationaLease for the same reason. According to Repent America, Aim “allows Stericycle to use its trucks to collect the remains of aborted babies and the items used in killing them.”

Boycotts, of course, are a tried-and-true progressive tactic and have successfully protested everything from unfair labor practices to homophobia. But what’s good for the goose has proved good for the gander and the Right—always eager to appropriate winning strategies —has gravitated to the boycott full throttle.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

This isn’t wholly new. Indeed, on a local level anti-abortion activists have threatened landlords, rental agents, construction crews, and delivery services since shortly after the Roe decision. At the same time, it wasn’t until 2003–when Chris Danze, an Austin, Texas, concrete foundation contractor, organized Texas Contractors and Suppliers for Life–that the full muscle of anti-choice boycotting was exerted. At that time Planned Parenthood was in the throes of building a new $6.2 million clinic in Austin and had hired the Browning Construction Company as general contractor. Danze told The National Catholic Register that he and his group opposed the “sexual mayhem and killing of unborn children” that they believe Planned Parenthood represents. A well-publicized boycott of contractors affiliated with the health center paid off; shortly after the groundbreaking, Browning pulled out of the project.

“The boycott did not stop Planned Parenthood in Austin from being erected but it delayed it,” says Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. “It made it more difficult and expensive for the clinic to be built.”

What’s more, anti-abortion boycotts have expanded into other arenas, targeting any-and-all businesses that interact with providers. Lori Williams, clinic director at Little Rock Family Planning Services [lrfps.com], got a taste of this in January 2012 when Welsco, an oxygen and nitrous oxide company that the clinic had worked with for 15 years, suddenly informed her that they would no longer supply the health center. “The owner said that due to negative publicity Welsco couldn’t continue to work with us,” she reports. “He would not elaborate but said that I should go to the Internet and Google it. I did and found a photo of a Welsco truck at the clinic with commentary calling Welsco a business supporting abortion. Thom Huey, one of our regular protesters, had waged a one-man campaign to stop them from delivering to us. Apparently, he got a very quick reaction.”

Williams says that she was flabbergasted by Welsco’s capitulation and strenuously objected to the company’s demand that she immediately return the gas tanks. “I said, ‘No, you’re not going to do this. I paid for the gas and I’ll return the canisters when they’re empty or I have another supplier,'” she continues. An altercation with police, a lawsuit, and numerous attempts to secure a new supplier followed. “There were five companies that flat-out said they would not be involved with abortion, but we eventually found a company and now have a one year contract with them,” she adds.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder, President, and CEO of the Whole Woman’s Health Center chain, has also felt the sting of anti-abortion pressure. After she discovered that Stericycle had improperly disposed of fetal remains, she fired the firm and began searching for a replacement. Waste Management Inc., a huge national company, was hired. “They signed a contract with me to pick up at my five Texas clinics, but only took one shipment from Austin before they said they couldn’t continue.”

Although Hagstrom Miller has been working with a local vendor ever since, she describes what happened to Whole Woman as extremely troubling. What’s more, she acknowledges that when businesses submit to antiabortion browbeating, it forces clinicians to scramble to find new suppliers, diverts attention from the provision of care, and exacerbates tensions and anxieties.

I’ve never met Michael Muscavage or Chris Danze but I imagine these realities please both of them. In the end they know—as we do—that boycotts and the threat of bad publicity often work.

“Boycotts and harassment tactics have an impact, even if it’s not the impact the antis would like,” NAF’s Vicki Saporta concludes. ”These actions don’t close clinics or stop new ones from being built, but they can still be very disruptive. This undoubtedly explains why they’re increasingly being used.”

Indeed, Life Decisions International has compiled The Boycott List, a roster of companies that they say aid-and-abet Planned Parenthood. The eclectic line-up includes dozens of organizations and businesses, among them AOL, Bank of America, Bayer, Chevron, Girl Scouts of America, Human Rights Watch, The Kiwanis Club, The March of Dimes, Wells Fargo, Whole Foods, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

News Abortion

Blackburn Punts on Next Steps in Anti-Choice Congressional Investigation

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

What are the next steps for the U.S. House of Representatives investigation into a market of aborted “baby body parts” that according to all other accounts—three other congressional committees, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury—doesn’t exist?

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, said she had not decided on the topic of the next hearing, nor whether to subpoena the leader of the anti-choice front group fueling the investigation.

“We’ll have something that we’ll look at in September, but no decisions [yet],” Blackburn said in a July 14 interview with Rewire.

Blackburn’s remarks followed a press conference coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the first Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos that still serve as the basis for the $1.2 million investigation.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

“We’re continuing to pursue [options], we have a tremendous amount of information that has come through to us through whistleblowers and individuals, so we’ll continue to work,” she said.

Congress adjourned for a seven-week recess the day after Blackburn presented House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) with the panel’s interim update, which repeats many of the same widely discredited allegations from CMP and other anti-choice groups cited in the document.

The panel will release a final report by the end of the year. That’s the only definitive next step in an investigation that started with allegedly falsified evidence of fetal tissue trafficking and pivoted in recent months to later abortion care, including subpoenaing a prominent provider and calling for a state-level criminal investigation of a university and abortion clinic supposedly in collusion.

Blackburn would not commit to subpoenaing David Daleiden, the CMP leader under felony indictment in Texas and the subject of lawsuits in California. Republicans’ interim update called Daleiden an “investigative journalist,” even though more than two dozen of the nation’s preeminent journalists and journalism scholars recently filed an amicus brief explaining why that isn’t so in the federal court case between CMP and the National Abortion Federation.

“I think it’s inappropriate to predetermine any decisions,” Blackburn said about the possibility of a Daleiden appearance before the panel. “We’re an investigative panel. We’re going go where the facts take us.”

The interim update indicates that the investigation will continue to focus on later abortion care. Blackburn, however, deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

Blackburn seemingly walked back the pledge she made at a faith-based conference last month to pursue contempt of Congress charges for “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion”—who she alleged have not cooperated with her subpoenas. Blackburn’s panel spokesperson previously told Rewire that the panel required the names of those involved in fetal tissue transactions and research in order to understand how things work.

Democrats have repeatedly objected to the subpoenas, escalating their concerns after Blackburn initially failed to redact researchers’ names and contact information in her call for a federal abortion inquiry.

“We’re going to pursue getting the truth and delivering a report that is factual, that is truthful, and can be utilized by the authorizing committees,” Blackburn said in response to a question about the contempt charges at the press conference.

Blackburn and her fellow Republicans had no such reservations about going after Democrats on the panel.  They accused Democrats of furnishing subpoena recipients with a memo to subvert requests for information. The final pages of the interim update includes a chart alleging the extent to which various organizations, hospitals, procurement companies, abortion providers, and others have or have not complied with the subpoenas.

Emails obtained by Rewire show a Democratic staffer refuting such accusations last month. Democrats produced their own status update for members, not a memo advising noncompliance for subpoena recipients, the staffer said in a June email to a Republican counterpart on the panel.

News Abortion

Illinois Judge Allows Anti-Choice Group to Continue Targeted Attack Campaign

Sofia Resnick

An anti-choice group has launched what a lawsuit describes as a “campaign of harassment, intimidation, and invasion of privacy" in hopes of disrupting Planned Parenthood's operations.

The anti-choice activist group Created Equal can continue disseminating graphic material as part of a campaign to pressure an Illinois-based medical waste company to sever its business relationship with Planned Parenthood, a circuit court judge ruled Monday.

Late last month, Stericycle and its CEO, Charles Alutto, sued Created Equal’s political action committee, its executive director, and 100 unnamed activists to cease activities targeting Stericycle’s CEO and its board members. Created Equal in February announced “Project Weak Link,” so named because its goal is to break what the group perceives to be a weak link in Planned Parenthood’s operations: how the organization disposes of fetal tissue.

Created Equal’s Project Weak Link efforts have partly consisted of displaying a mobile billboard and distributing postcards that liken Stericycle executives to “child killers” to homes in Lake Forest and nearby Lincolnshire, as noted in Stericycle’s March 31 complaint.

The complaint includes a sample and description of one of these postcards. It features images of Alutto and some of Stericycle’s board members, spliced next to graphic images of what is described as a “5 month aborted baby” and the words “Stericycle enables killing children.”

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

The cards direct recipients to one of Created Equal’s websites dedicated to this campaign, titled “Killers Among Us.”

Created Equal posted Alutto’s home address on its Facebook page and sent the CEO about 500 emails and 300 voicemails demanding Stericycle end its business relationship with Planned Parenthood, plaintiffs allege.

The complaint also states that “[d]efendants unlawfully invaded Mr. Alutto’s property to deliver” one of their postcards.

Stericycle and Alutto claim these actions are “unlawful” and “will cause irreparable harm to Plaintiffs,” predicting that reputational harm could come in the form of loss of future business and customer loyalty. They argue that the anti-choice activists’ actions amount to a nuisance and an invasion of privacy and asked the court to grant a temporary restraining order to prohibit the activists from contacting or disseminating information about Stericycle employees and board members that cast them in false light.

Judge Margaret Marcouiller, of the 19th Judicial Circuit Court in Lake County, Illinois, denied the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order.

The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal nonprofit in Chicago representing the defendants, announced in a press release that it will seek to have the lawsuit dismissed.

“This is a victory for free speech,” said Peter Breen, the firm’s special counsel, in the press release. “When multinational companies like Stericycle engage in objectionable practices, citizens have a right to express their displeasure, deliver bad reviews, or ask others to speak out against the business. Abortion industry partners like Stericycle are not exempt from free speech and the First Amendment.”

Attorneys for Sidley Austin LLP, which is representing Stericycle and Alutto, did not respond to Rewire’s requests for comment.

The Thomas More Society is also representing David Daleiden and his group, known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), in lawsuits filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood over the deceptively edited videos CMP published to attack Planned Parenthood and its abortion care providers.

Created Equal members launched Project Weak Link after viewing some of CMP’s secretly recorded video footage showing abortion providers at a NAF conference discussing difficulties with the disposal of fetal tissue, according to a press release published by Created Equal Executive Director Mark Harrington on Monday.

In addition to decrying Created Equal’s “campaign of harassment, intimidation, and invasion of privacy,” Stericycle objects to the organization’s primary accusation: that it participates in Planned Parenthood’s abortion care services. In the complaint, plaintiffs say that Stericycle has a “lawful business relationship with Planned Parenthood” but affirm plaintiffs “take no part whatsoever in any abortions.”

Created Equal’s assertion that Stericycle disposes of Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue comes in part from the Ohio Attorney General’s office. Last December, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine concluded an investigation into the alleged sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood’s Ohio affiliates and found no illegal fetal tissue sales, but that clinics were disposing of fetal tissue in landfills.

In its summary of findings, the attorney general’s office stated that it confirmed during its investigation that Planned Parenthood’s Ohio affiliates contract with Stericycle to dispose of aborted fetuses.

But Stericycle has asserted that the company does not accept fetal tissue as a matter of policy.

“Even though Plaintiffs take no part whatsoever in any abortions and take no position on that subject or any of the activities of Planned Parenthood, Defendants’ illegal campaign is nonetheless calculated to attempt to imply the contrary by labeling Plaintiffs as enablers of killing children,” reads Stericycle’s complaint.

For now, Created Equal can resume its Project Weak Link campaign. The judge ruled that Stericycle has until April 25 to amend its original complaint.

credo_rewire_vote_3

Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!

VOTE!

Thank you for supporting our work!