News Abortion

“Homeland Security” Now Means Ensuring Undocumented Immigrants In Detention Don’t Get Abortions

Robin Marty

Tucked in the latest Homeland Security bill is a rider saying undocumented female immigrants in custody cannot get abortions.

Many right-wing politicians often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes  to balancing their anti-abortion fervor, their hatred of undocumented immigrants, and their desire for fiscal austerity at all costs. We saw that play out in Nebraska, where anti-choice, anti-woman Governor Dave Heineman vetoed a bill to maintain Medicaid funding for pre-natal care for undocumented pregnant women, despite the fact that the total funding for the program was less than the costs to taxpayers of one baby born with severe health problems due to lack of pre-natal care. Funding was eventually restored by the legislature.

Now it’s happening on a national scale. GOP House members have taken their zeal for abortion restrictions to the Homeland Security budget, where they added a restriction forbidding women held in detention from getting an abortion — even though this is already forbidden in any case.

In a statement, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, chastised the “unnecessary and redundant” provision, calling it just another chance to score points by bringing abortion into the issue.

“Legislation on critical U.S. national security funding is an inappropriate forum for opponents of women’s health to have injected ideological politics into the debate. Abortion language had no business in this legislation.”

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According to ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez, the agency has never paid for an abortion in the nearly ten years that it has existed. However, House Republicans said they wanted to ensure the language was the same as that in prisons for consistancy’s sake.

The bill is not expected to pass the Senate.

Analysis Sexual Health

All Those Alternatives to Planned Parenthood? In Texas, At Least, They Don’t Exist

Andrea Grimes

Spending scarce time, money, and energy, Andrea Grimes goes on a hunt to find one of those many "alternatives" to Planned Parenthood anti-choicers claim will provide access to reproductive health care.  Problem is, in Texas they don't exist.

Update from the author, 3:30 pm, Wednesday, April 6th:

A number of folks have noted, after reading today’s article, that Dallas has a county hospital system–Parkland–that provides women’s health care to indigent, low-income and uninsured people.

That’s true, and it works fine–if you’re already a patient at Parkland Memorial Hospital or your doctor is affiliated with them. But I’m not. 

So I spent about 45 minutes calling around to the women’s health care clinics sponsored by Parkland, and didn’t have a lot of luck. Of the seven clinics that provide services to women like me–uninsured, not pregnant–three picked up the phone. Two could see me in May and one in July. Which could work for me–but I’m just one woman. Parkland is one of the busiest county hospital systems in the United States, and if the thousands of women who rely on Planned Parenthood have to switch to Parkland, we’re talking about an excessive burden on a (clearly) already overburdened county system. To my mind, Planned Parenthood remains a necessary resource for women.

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Before I met with Texas State Representative Dan Flynn last month during Texas’ pro-choice lobby day, I truly believed that even the most passionate anti-choice conservative couldn’t look me in the face and tell me they didn’t really care whether I got the reproductive health care I needed. Who would seriously tell me their religious beliefs are more important than making sure hundreds of thousands of women just like me—women with high-risk HPV–don’t develop cervical cancer?

But like I said, that was before I sat in front of Rep. Flynn, in his Austin office next to his model airplanes and elect-Dan-Flynn gum, and told him how I’d lost my job and my health insurance and needed regular, affordable pap smears to keep an eye on my pre-cancerous cervical dysplasia. I told him Planned Parenthood could provide low-cost paps, breast exams and contraceptives to keep me healthy despite my lack of insurance, and I believed they should continue to be funded by government family planning dollars. He scoffed, waving around a handful of papers—spreadsheets and maps, it looked like—and told me that Planned Parenthood was nothing but a tax-evading abortion machine (he knew because he used to be a bank examiner and had heard some things from some people) and there were so many other options besides Planned Parenthood in Texas. I should and could go to one of those, he told me, so we could spread some of the wealth around to these smaller providers. It would be very easy, he said.

I asked him if he could give me that list he had in his hand, the long list of places I could get low-cost reproductive health care without insurance near my home in Dallas. He glanced at the list and rattled off some names, something about Dallas Emergency Services and Dallas County Hospital District. He didn’t exactly wait for me to get out my pen and pad. I filed out of Flynn’s office with the rest of the women I’d teamed up with for lobby day feeling surprised and disappointed. But I still wanted (needed!) to know where those low-cost health centers were that Flynn had referenced, because I knew the Texas Legislature to be hell-bent on cutting the family planning funds that keep Planned Parenthood and clinics like it afloat.

Planned Parenthood or not, I’d still need well-woman exams, birth control pills and suchlike, and I wanted to know where I could get these things if I had to spend weeks or months scraping by on a freelancer’s salary without health insurance. So here’s what I did: I spent my own time, money and energy trying to find a health care clinic that anti-choice conservatives, legislators and organizations would approve of—namely, to find a Federally Qualified Health Center or “look-alike” center that, by virtue of federal grant funding, cannot provide abortion services except in cases of rape, incest or threat to a mother’s life, as dictated by the 36-year-old Hyde Amendment. (I know—that amendment also applies to Planned Parenthood, which only uses private, non-taxpayer funds for its abortion services at separate, privately-funded locations, but we’re talking about conservative ideology, not logic, so just go with me here.)

But I thought, I’ll play this game. If it turns out I was wrong—and I really thought maybe I could be, because how could it seriously happen that “pro-life” Texans didn’t want me to get cancer screenings?—I would be the first to admit that you can take Planned Parenthood out of the equation and still find easily accessible, low-cost reproductive health care in a sprawling metropolitan area like Dallas. But I wasn’t wrong. I was, maddeningly, right. Considering the rate at which conservatives are defunding family planning in my state, and for that matter, across the country, I’m very sorry about that. All of this is an ideological, not fiscally conservative, battle. After all, family planning saves taxpayers $4 for every $1 spent. But I was trying to work around family planning dollars, since conservatives seem to think they go straight to gleeful baby-killing cocktail hours, and stick with straight-up FQHC’s. If they’re lucky, Dallas women will be told what I was told: an appointment at an anti-choicer-approved FQHC might be available in May if I called back in three weeks—at a location two cities away and five miles from the closest bus stop.

Or women can call Planned Parenthood, like I did, at lunch time on a Friday, and be told that an afternoon appointment including a full pelvic and breast exam is available that same day for about $100 at a location a few yards from a major public transportation hub that I could easily reach in a half-hour or so. But I’m getting ahead of myself. You see, I first had to do a little divination to figure out where exactly anti-choicers wanted me to get my health care (besides not Planned Parenthood), since I couldn’t actually get any of them to pass along that list of their approved providers to me. First thing in the morning, the day after I met with Rep. Dan Flynn, I called and e-mailed his office. After a day or so, they got back to me and advised I contact the anti-choice religious groupTexas Alliance For Life for a list of alternatives to Planned Parenthood. I e-mailed the Alliance on March 10:

Hi, TX Alliance for Life – I was referred to you by the office of Rep. Dan Flynn. I’m looking for a comprehensive list of alternatives to Planned Parenthood–when I visited with Rep. Flynn this week he referenced a document that appeared to be just such a thing. Karah Carr, a legislative aide for Rep. Flynn, tells me the Alliance for Life provided it. I was wondering if I could get a copy of the same list? Thanks! Andrea

So, what’s today? April the something? I haven’t heard back from the Alliance yet. I’ve even been Tweeting at both the Alliance and Rep. Flynn asking for that list of providers that can they believe can give me the same or better care as Planned Parenthood.

But, nada.

I know Flynn and his conservative counterparts were very busy over the weekend deciding which Texans deserve health care (hint: it’s not women of reproductive age) but I hoped that at least in Flynn’s passion for defunding family planning, he’d develop a passion for helping women find health care providers he approved of. I was wrong about that one.

I posted about my travails on my personal blog, where I have a number of anti-choice trolls who are always more than happy to share their wealth of knowledge with me. There, someone from another anti-choice group eventually commented and told me they wouldn’t mind if I went to a Federally Qualified Health Center or “look-alike” center that offers sliding fee scales. And look, said the “pro-life” Texan, there are seven such centers in Dallas! So that’s what I did: Last Friday morning, I went out of my way to find a doctor based on the fact that some people have a personal dislike of Planned Parenthood for providing abortions–a safe, common and legal medical procedure.

It hardly felt like easy-access, low-cost health care. It felt more like coercion, and it was a hassle, and it forced me to make decisions about my own body and health care based on what other people—people who never met me, who are not medical professionals—think I should be doing based on their religious beliefs.

I found that list of FQHC’s—I am privileged to have a flexible work schedule, home phone and home internet access, so I didn’t have to take time off work to go to the public library and use a pay phone, and I didn’t have to sneak around on a conservative, religious or abusive family or partner–and started making calls. Most places I telephoned did not provide reproductive health care and instead focused on providing low-income housing, job training and addiction-recovery programs. A homeless shelter on the FQHC list did tell me I could get a free pap smear if I could prove I was homeless. I then got sidetracked looking into something called Project Access, a low-cost program that helps uninsured people who don’t qualify for Medicaid—but because I made more than about $20,000 last year as an unmarried woman without kids, I don’t qualify for that, either.

And the Texas Breast And Cervical Cancer Services, which is supposed to provide low-cost screenings for Texas women? It referred me to Planned Parenthood. So that was a no-go.

Back to the phones: a clinic close-ish to my home had no receptionist and a full voicemail. Another receptionist laughed at me because I’d been given the number for the county hospital front desk and told me to call a place called Los Barrios Unidos Community Clinic. When I called Los Barrios, I got an individual’s voice mail and had to take down another number to a switchboard, after which I was transferred to another voicemail that said the women’s health care folks would get back to me in 24 hours if I left my phone number. They’ve yet to call me. Later in the morning, I finally got through to the Los Barrios clinic in Grand Prairie, which is a western suburb of Dallas. They had appointments open in May, potentially, if I could call them back the morning of April 25th. There, a pap smear would cost me as little as $30, but maybe more depending on my income.

I made my last call to a Planned Parenthood clinic in central Dallas. The receptionist there told me they could schedule me that same afternoon for a full pelvic and breast exam. It’d be about $100, but there was a sliding scale. Without Planned Parenthood and family planning funding that funds actual medical centers—not crisis pregnancy centers or adoption agencies, as may happen in Texas after this year’s budget–poor, uninsured and under-insured women in my city do not generally have access to quality reproductive health care in any real way. They sit on waiting lists for weeks and months, and that’s if they can take time off work to do what I did: spend a morning surfing the internet, finding phone numbers and addresses of health clinics and hospitals, calling them only to be put on hold, laughed at or hung up on, and if they do find the a clinic, leaving a message in hopes of getting a return call to schedule appointment.

I’m not saying I tried my absolute hardest to find a reproductive health care provider that Texas anti-choice conservatives approve of. I could have called back the clinics I had to leave messages at, the ones that promised they’d get back to me in 24 hours. I could have spent another morning calling clinics in Fort Worth, Denton, Waco or Oklahoma City, to see if one of them could get me in for an appointment in the next two months. Of course, to visit those places, I’d be spending in gas what I’d be spending to go to a local Planned Parenthood here in Dallas. So there wouldn’t really be any money savings, there’d just be conscience-savings on the part of people who don’t really want to hear or care about my personal health unless I’m pregnant or might be pregnant.

Anti-choicers like Flynn and “pro-life” activists want me and women like me to jump through these hoops not because it’s medically safer for us to go somewhere other than Planned Parenthood, but because they don’t want women hanging out with anybody who provides a safe, legal and common medical procedure. And for what it’s worth, I imagine the anti-choice folks who told me to seek out an FQHC should know this: FQHC’s do provide referrals to abortion providers at their discretion, even though they don’t provide the procedure on-site.

Of course, once you get to the next level, here–after anti-choicers have first told you they don’t want to fund the abortion industry with taxpayer dollars–then it magically becomes about some pseudo- socialist ideal about spreading the health care access around, just like Rep. Dan Flynn told me in his office last month. Suddenly, all those things they told you about the abortionists and the dead babies goes out the window, because really, it’s about making sure the little guys get their fair slice of the pie.

Nobody knows these two excuses—barring taxpayer funding for abortion and spreading the health care wealth around–are straight-up lies better than the anti-choice movement members themselves. There’s a reason why anti-choice legislators and activists are so strong on these two talking points: they’re simply, plainly, not true. Taxpayer funding for abortion does not exist. It hasn’t existed for thirty-six years thanks to the Hyde Amendment. And we need only to look to Nebraska, where five babies have died so far this year because conservative lawmakers do not allow hospitals to care for undocumented immigrants, to know that spreading the health care wealth around to everyone is a total farce. Besides, wasn’t Jesus a capitalist, anyway?

Bristol Palin to Teens: Don’t Get Pregnant

Jodi Jacobson

A statement today by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin celebrated the birth of her first grandchild, baby boy Tripp.  In the same statement, Bristol Palin tells teens, in effect, don't do as I do.  But neither take on the abstinence-only debate straight on.

On December 27th, 2008 Bristol Palin, daughter of Alaska Governor and former Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  Today, Bristol, who is 18 years old and just shy of achieving her high school diploma, joined her mother in a statement on the birth of her first child, Governor Palin’s first grandchild.

Governor Palin, obviously elated with the safe delivery of her grandchild and the health of her daughter, stated;

We are over the moon with the arrival of this healthy, beautiful baby.

And, she continued:

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The road ahead for this young couple will not be easy, but nothing
worthwhile is ever easy. Bristol and Levi are committed to accomplish
what millions of other young parents have accomplished, to provide a
loving and secure environment for their child. They are both hard
workers, they’re very strong, and have faith they’ve made the right
decision in setting aside their own interests to make this child their
highest priority.

The operative word here is "decision."  Bristol and Levi, along with their families, made a decision that was right for them.  And the fact that they have this choice is instructive on many levels.

Bristol Palin said she "obviously discourages" teen pregnancy and knows
that plans she previously made for herself will now forever be changed.

Teenagers need to prevent pregnancy to begin with – this isn’t ideal.
But I’m fortunate to have a supportive family which is dealing with
this together. Tripp is so perfectly precious; we love him with all our
hearts. I can’t imagine life without him now.

In many ways, Bristol Palin is incredibly fortunate.  She grew up in the United States, where the choice still exists for all people, at least in theory, to practice safer sex, and where the choice still exists, at least in theory for all women, whether or not to bring a pregnancy to term.  She is part of a family with the means to ensure she had access to good pre- and post-natal care, and safe delivery services.  And she also has strong family support in raising her child while finishing school and going on to the next steps in her life.  As she underscored in her own words, her original life plans may be forever changed, but she is exercising choices that are hers to make, according to her own situation, needs, and beliefs.  I have no doubt that Bristol and Levi have the same dreams for their child as I do for mine or as any parent would.

Yet the situation is also full of irony.  Bristol grew up in a family which espoused abstinence-only policies, not just as a familial choice, but also a state- and national strategy.  During the Presidential campaign, MSNBC reported that in response to an Eagle Forum questionnaire during her gubernatorial race, Sarah Palin supported abstinence-only sex education.

Eagle Forum: Will you support funding for
abstinence-until-marriage education instead of for explicit
sex-education programs, school-based clinics, and the distribution of
contraceptives in schools?

Palin: Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.

(The report, quoting campaign aides, shows that Presidential candidate McCain held the same views).

Sarah Palin, the VP candidate, was unequivocally anti-choice when it came to women’s rights to determine whether and when to have children.  As Gloria Steinem wrote in September in the Los Angeles Times:

[Palin] opposes gun control but supports government control of women’s
wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves "abstinence-only"
programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases
and abortions.  She doesn’t just echo McCain’s pledge to criminalize abortion by
overturning Roe vs. Wade, she says that if one of her daughters were
impregnated by rape or incest, she should bear the child. She not only
opposes reproductive freedom as a human right but implies that it
dictates abortion, without saying that it also protects the right to
have a child.

The "daughter-of-abstinence-only-politician-gets-pregnant" scenario might just be fodder for comedians if not for the stark realities.  The situation is deeply emblematic of what the evidence has long told us about the efficacy of abstinence-only programs: They don’t work. 

Research findings, government policies and funding of abstinence policies have been well-covered on Rewire, including a recent article by Scott summarizing findings of a Johns Hopkins University study on the failure of virginity pledges, a popular aspect of abstinence-only programs.  Extensive coverage of such programs domestically can be found on the websites of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, the Guttmacher Institute, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, among other sources. 

Among credible researchers, there simply is no dispute: Well-designed comprehensive programs simultaneously encourage delay in sexual activity and teach adolescents how to practice safer sex thereby preventing both unintended pregnancy and infection.  Abstinence-only programs leave them vulnerable. 

That Bristol and Levi became sexually active, were unprotected and ended up having a child before they planned to do so is not a surprise….it is somewhat predictable given what we already know about abstinence-only in reality.  That they made the choice to have their child and so quickly become adults and parents while also trying to finish high school degrees also is their basic right, and we celebrate the fact that they can exercise these choices.

Indeed, we celebrate the healthy and safe arrival of baby Tripp and wish him, his parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles, and his extended family only the very best.

But something in Bristol’s statement implies a different take on the situation….she is telling teens to prevent pregnancy in the first place, and by doing so at least implicitly suggesting that they be able to exercise responsible choices if and when they engage in sexual activity. Maybe Bristol is way ahead of her mom.

So it is fair to ask whether this most recent and very public journey for a young couple has caused Governor Palin, her supporters or other advocates of abstinence-only to reconsider their position?  If we all prize having individuals wait until they are really ready to parent, and make concious decisions about doing so proactively, then this alone is a case for realism in policy and practice. 

There is no immediate answer to this question.  Indeed, nothing in Governor Palin’s own statement either reaffirmed her belief in or challenged abstinence-only programs.

But it is worth asking, if for no other reason than Governor Palin has made clear she intends to remain on the national stage.  And the United States still funds abstinence-only programs domestically and through our global AIDS funding abroad.  Programs that leave people vulnerable and waste taxpayer dollars.

We invite those who continue to support abstinence-only programs to share their thoughts on where this situation places the debate.  The evidence is clear.  The Palin’s story unfolding in the national press puts the data in the context of personal history.  And yet the broader implications of the dichotomy between personal experience and political philosophy remains relatively unexplored.

So we ask this: why, in the real world, does anyone still defy the evidence?  In this real world in which we live, some 600,000 women die annually–and many times that number suffer illness and disablity–from complications of pregnancy and unsafe abortion.  They do not have access to safe delivery services or emergency obstetric care because it is not a high priority to provide them with these services.  In many of the poorest countries of the world women continue to bear a higher number of children than they desire due in large part to lack of choice over childbearing and lack of access to contraception, because it is not a high priority to change these circumstances.  They have decided they lack the means to "provide a
loving and secure environment for their [next] child" and so many risk their own lives in unsafe abortions to end unintended pregnancies.

In the United States, low-income African American and Latina adolescents are more likely to become pregnant than their middle- and upper income peers, and without family support or a substantial economic cushion, face a far bleaker future if they find themselves unintentionally pregnant than do Bristol and Levi. 

In all of these cases, the range of choices available is starkly limited by ideology and political expediency. 

Can we take from the story of Bristol and Levi that it is time to ensure that all people have real choices, and are allowed to exercise them?

Having Governor Palin make a clear statement rethinking her earlier positions–recognizing her daughter’s ability to make choices based on her own needs and the rights of others to make healthy choices based on theirs–would be a welcome way to start this new year.  In fact, she might just go a bit further than where Bristol left off and say: If you have sex, protect yourself.

I know my opinion of Sarah Palin would shift a bit if she said she’d read the evidence and rethought her previous position.

I have no evidence of such a change.  But who knows?  Maybe that transition also is already underway: The link to that page on Eagle Forum Alaska is no longer live.



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