News Abortion

Criminal Punishment For Women Obtaining Abortions? One Republican Congressman Says Yes

Andy Kopsa

A Republican Congressman comes out and admits that criminalizing women for obtaining an abortion would be just fine with him.

Representative Stearns just responded to our request for comment on criminalizing women who get abortions:

“Although it is up to the House leadership to bring up PRENDA again, given the wide support it received I would encourage it being put on the House floor underregular order under which it would pass.   I also agree with the United Nations Development Fund for Women that the sex-selection abortion of females is violence against women and girls and there should be repercussions.”  

To be clear, the question Rep. Stearns was asked by Chris Matthews was not in reference to sex-selective abortion but to abortion overall.

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Last week on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL) said that the Prenatal Non-discrimination act (PRENDA), which failed in a House vote under suspection, “will be back on the floor and not under suspension…”.  He was clearly  brought onto the program to talk about PREDNA, but made one comment in particular that went beyond that, callig for criminal penalties against a woman obtaining an abortion.   This is a line the GOP has not publicly crossed in policy discussions, reserving its ire for doctors who perform abortions. 

Here is an excerpt of Stearns and Matthew’s exchange:

MATTHEWS  “Should there be a punishment for having an abortion?”

STEARNS: “The punishment should certainly be very serious and it should be more that a civil [case].”

MATTHEWS:  “It should be a criminal problem for the woman as well as the doctor?”

STEARNS:  “I think so.”

I spoke with Rep. Sterns press contact, Paul Flusche to confirm if Sterns in fact supports (in essence) arresting women and criminally punishing her for having an abortion. Mr. Flusche has not be able to provide an answer at this time.

PRENDA provides criminal punishment for a doctor performing a sex-selective abortion. It also allows the woman’s partner or husband or certain close family members to file a civil suits against doctors who performed a sex-selective abortion. And, they can file these suits without the woman’s approval or consent.  

Criminalizing the woman would be something new for the GOP. A source who wished to remain anonymous responded to my question about Sterns call for criminalization by saying that Congressman Stearns can be a little bit out there in his extreme right politics.  (Sterns got a 0 percent rating from NARAL, opposes stem-cell research, voted to defund family planning (read:  Planned Parenthood), and voted to prohibit the already-prohibited federal funding of abortion.)  

However, when a US Representative goes on national television and says that a woman should be criminally punished for having an abortion, questions must be asked and answers must be given.  

This morning, Mitt Romney appointed Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers to be his House liason. I contacted Representative McMorris Rogers office to see if she had comment on the the statement by Mr. Stearns apparently endorsing criminal punishment for women who obtain abortions. Her communications officier, Todd Winer, did not respond to my request for comment.  

Note: Representative Trent Franks office confirmed today that PRENDA will be reintroduced. His staffer told me, “We always hope it will be reintroduced in this congress under different rules,” but if not, she said it would be brought up in the next congress.

News Politics

Blackburn Calls for State-Level Criminal Investigation Into Fetal Trafficking

Christine Grimaldi

A public university and abortion clinic in New Mexico are the latest targets in a congressional investigation approved by Speaker Paul Ryan and condemned by a House Democrat as "a McCarthy-like witch hunt."

The New Mexico attorney general’s office received nearly 300 pages of documents from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) Thursday allegedly incriminating the University of New Mexico (UNM) and Southwestern Women’s Options, a prominent abortion clinic, in fetal tissue trafficking. Blackburn’s goal: Provoke a state-level criminal investigation into the dubious allegations.

As Blackburn prepared her latest call for outside reinforcements in the U.S. House of Representatives investigation’s thus far unsuccessful search for a market in “baby body parts,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) separately broke his silence on her tactics. Ryan said in a written letter he trusts Blackburn to conduct the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives “in a way that will focus on the facts and also protect the privacy of those involved.”

The extensive documentation sent to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) appears to replace provider and researcher names in some areas and redact them in others, honoring Blackburn’s pledge to keep such information confidential. Earlier this month, Blackburn failed to redact at least two dozen researchers’ names and contact information in publicly available documents that she sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of a request for a federal abortion inquiry.

“We can confirm the Office of the Attorney General has received a public referral and this matter is under review,” attorney general spokesperson James Hallinan said in an emailed statement to Rewire. “All complaints received by the Office of the Attorney General are fully reviewed and appropriate action is taken.”

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If precedent is any indication, New Mexico is unlikely to find any wrongdoing involving fetal tissue donations. Arizona recently became the 13th state to find no substance to such allegations

Blackburn’s criminal referral appeared to cut other corners, copying state Rep. Steve Pearce, rather than Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who represents Albuquerque—making UNM and Southwestern Women’s Options her constituents, not his.

Grisham’s spokesperson did not return requests for comment.

Blackburn alleged in the documents that the university and abortion clinic violated state and federal law. The university “aggressively engaged in expanding abortion” and in turn, received fetal tissue from the abortion provider, she said. Last year, Rewire reported that the UNM Health Sciences Center ended its decade-long relationship with Southwestern Women’s Options because the clinic didn’t perform an adequate volume of abortions to train residents and fellows, contrary to the victory anti-choice activists claimed at the time.

The university countered that Blackburn misinterpreted the New Mexico law, which does not preclude donating fetuses from elective abortions that occurred at the clinic. “Additionally, UNM has never paid for this tissue—it has been provided free to the University of New Mexico for medical research,” according to a statement from the UNM Health Sciences Center.

Southwestern Women’s Options is listed as a member in good standing with the National Abortion Federation, and follows the federation’s evidence-based clinical policy guidelines.

“For more than 40 years, Southwestern Women’s Options has provided high-quality care for New Mexico women,” said Southwestern Women’s Options spokesperson Heather Brewer in an email to Rewire. “We are committed to continuing to provide compassionate care to women in our community.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) condemned the panel’s course of action.

“This so-called ‘criminal referral’ is further evidence that this investigation is nothing more than a wholly partisan attack on law-abiding doctors and researchers,” she told Rewire in an email.

Republican leadership, to the contrary, indicated that just cause exists for the overall investigation.

Ryan gave his blessing in a written response to Schakowsky, who recently introduced a resolution to disband what she has repeatedly called a “witch hunt.” Rewire obtained Ryan’s letter late Thursday, shortly after Schakowsky’s select panel staff received it.

Ryan repeated several key Blackburn talking points to justify the panel’s continued work. He said documents at the panel’s April hearing on fetal tissue “pricing” indicated that some entities may have violated the federal ban on selling fetal tissue. Many of the documents, however, appear to have been dubiously sourced from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-choice front group that released widely discredited videos alleging that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations. Democrats on the select panel have warned that Blackburn is relying on additional information from the anti-choice Protest ABQ, which is run by former Operation Rescue operatives.

For instance, Ryan referenced the panel’s discovery of “a website that allowed a researcher to order any baby part imaginable at a given gestation period and proceed to check out.”

“Such a practice clearly threatens the human dignity,” he said.

Among Blackburn’s evidence from the pricing hearing, Exhibit C3 purportedly shows such an order form—and it’s nearly identical to what was shown in the CMP videos. Blackburn again displayed the CMP-sourced order form as she delivered a conservative call to action against “baby body parts” in June at the faith-based Road to Majority conference.

Ryan also countered Schakowsky’s claim that the investigation is hurting the research community, despite what researchers, fearing for their safety, privacy, and job security, told Rewire in recent interviews.

Ryan said he lacked the power to disband the panel, though he would refuse to do so regardless of the circumstances. Among the reasons he won’t act: Under the informal “Hastert rule,” named for former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), currently imprisoned after pleading guilty to charges related to sexually abusing minors, a majority of the majority must agree to vote on a bill. Ryan’s pledge to abide by the Hastert rule helped him win over the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, which would certainly stymie any attempt to end the investigation, along with more moderate House Republicans who almost unilaterally oppose abortion as well.

Schakowsky criticized Ryan’s response.

“I am disappointed that the Speaker has chosen to parrot Republican talking points on the investigation instead of addressing our concerns in a meaningful way,” Schakowsky said in an email to Rewire. “While there is no evidence of wrongdoing by researchers or doctors, we have concrete proof of the chilling effect on life-saving research. This McCarthy-like witch hunt is putting lives and livelihoods at risk. The Speaker has the ability to shut down this dangerous Panel and he should do so at once.”

News Abortion

Michigan Governor Signs Republican-Initiated ‘Abortion Coercion’ Bills Into Law

Michelle D. Anderson

Snyder signed into law HB 4787 and its companion bill, HB 4830, last week, making it a criminal offense to coerce a pregnant person to have an abortion against their will.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed into law last week a two-bill package that will penalize citizens who engage in what Republican lawmakers are calling “abortion coercion.”

Snyder signed into law HB 4787 and its companion bill, HB 4830, on June 9, making it a criminal offense to coerce a pregnant person to have an abortion against their will.

As part of an omnibus anti-abortion legislative effort in 2012, the Republican-controlled legislation implemented provisions that involved a screening process for coercion at abortion clinics.

HB 4787, sponsored by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township) and supported by Right to Life of Michigan, explicitly criminalizes coercing someone into an abortion. Under HB 4787, penalties include “a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000.00.”

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The law also outlines the many forms of coercion the bill seeks to prevent, including threats. For example, “threaten” is defined as making “2 or more statements or to engage in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the individual is likely to act in accordance with the statements or the course of conduct.”

The companion law, HB 4830, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton), creates felony penalties of jail time or $5,000 to $10,000 fines for those found guilty of violating HB 4787.

In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bills by a 3-1 vote, sending the measure to the Senate for a full vote. The House of Representatives had approved the two-bill package in March.

In 2012, Michigan lawmakers in support of the omnibus bill cited a 2004 study co-authored by David Reardon, the engineer who founded the anti-choice nonprofit organization, the Elliot Institute. That study, titled “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women” was published in the Medical Science Monitor and suggested 64 percent of women who had abortions said they felt pressured into having the procedure performed.

Pro-choice advocates have criticized the study, noting that it used a small sample size of American women, 50 percent of whom already believed abortion was “morally wrong.” Advocates also point to a 2005 Guttmacher Institute study in which 14 percent of women who were asked their reasons for choosing abortion cited “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion,” and 6 percent cited “parents want me to have an abortion.” However, the Guttmacher study also found that less than 0.5 percent of each group cited those wishes as the single most important reason for having the abortion.

Many critics note that the Michigan laws do not include language that protects people forced into carrying a pregnancy to term and only focuses on those who are forced into terminating a pregnancy.

Sen. Rebekah Warren, (D-Ann Arbor) in particular, criticized that aspect of the legislation, according to the Detroit News.

“If we’re going to say today that it’s unacceptable today to coerce a woman into having an abortion and terminating a pregnancy, it should be equally unacceptable to force a woman into continuing a pregnancy that may not be in her best interest, that may not be what she needs for her health or mental well-being or for her future,” Warren said.

When the Michigan legislature began considering the two bills in 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood affiliates in Michigan spoke out against the law, arguing they were unnecessary.

Shelli Weisberg of the ACLU of Michigan told MLive.com that coercive abortion laws were rooted in false assumptions that those seeking abortion care are “confused, misled or coerced.”

Similarly, Planned Parenthood and lawmakers like Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren), said Michigan already had laws in place to prevent and penalize people who engage in coercive behavior such as stalking and discriminating against pregnant people, according to the Detroit News.