News Religion

For Anti-Choicers, It Really Doesn’t Matter What Happens After You Are Born

Robin Marty

Everyone protesting reproductive rights agree that abortion is wrong, but is it necessary to help children after they are born?

With so much attention at the Democratic National Convention focused on reproductive rights this week, it’s no wonder that the presence of anti-choice protesters makes for easy “balanced” journalism. There is an endless stream of eager activists ready to provide the contrast for any article being written about the event, and some reporters anxious to find a place where both sides could “agree” on issues may have fallen prey to hearing what they wanted to hear to advance their own storyline.

Operation Save America’s Flip Benham allegedly was able to find “common ground” with delegates and their guests, agreeing that the GOP doesn’t follow through on their promise to support “life” if they refuse to assist parents in finding food, health care, and other daily necessities after those babies are born.

“If you believe we should have kids you cannot support public policy that doesn’t help them when they’re here,” [Rev. Leanda Marshall] said when asked why she supports the Democratic Party

“You may not kill them before birth, but the Republican policies suck the life out of them once they are alive.”

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[Operation Save America founder Rev. Flip] Benham agreed with her, saying the entire government needs to be reformed.

The assumption is of course that Benham believes the government needs to be reformed to better assist those who give birth to children they cannot support. But that assumption is probably wrong, if an interview with another protester is any indication. The American Prospect learned first hand that anti-choice advocates’ interest in the well-being of a child ends directly after its birth.

What if someone said, “We will limit abortion and even outlaw it, but in exchange, we have to have universal health care, universal pre-K, government-funded contraception?”

No, one has nothing to do with the other. This is a moral issue, period. This whole free health care stuff is socialism and communism. It doesn’t work, it’s not going to work, and the Founders would be vehemently opposed to this stuff.

And well, [contraception] encourages sin and fornication. Have sex when you get married, and start a family as God intended.

Take away easier access to birth control then force you to give birth but then leave you with no resources with which to raise a child? No wonder so many people are concerned about reproductive rights this election cycle.

Commentary Law and Policy

Conservatives Are Using Abortion Panic to Attack Health Care Again—This Time About AmeriCorps

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Sounds bad for AmeriCorps if its volunteers have violated federal law by working as abortion clinic escorts, doesn't it? It also sounds precisely like an anti-choice talking point.

On Tuesday, the Hill published a story claiming a federal investigation uncovered AmeriCorps volunteers allegedly violating federal law by assisting patients seeking abortions. But as is typical of abortion-related reporting in the press, the Hill‘s piece left more questions than answers and more assumptions than fact, even as conservatives moved to leverage the alleged incident into an attack on public health care.

As reported by Rewire’s Christine Grimaldi, the inspector general’s office for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps, investigated allegations that AmeriCorps volunteers worked with a grantee organization to provide emotional support, or doula care, to abortion patients.

According to the findings released by the CNCS, which form the basis of the the Hill reporting, such abortion doula work violated the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, the 2009 law reauthorizing the AmeriCorps program. That Act prohibits staff and members from “providing abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services.”

The Hill went on to state that the employees were acting as “clinic escorts, otherwise known as abortion doulas” and detailed the concessions AmeriCorps agreed to with CNCS investigators once this “illegal” activity was uncovered.

Sounds bad for AmeriCorps if its volunteers have violated federal law by working as abortion clinic escorts, doesn’t it?

It also sounds precisely like an anti-choice talking point, which is what should have given the Hill pause to at least ask a couple of follow-up questions.

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Again, AmeriCorps volunteers are restricted under the Serve America Act from providing abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services. However, the Act continues, they “may exercise their rights as private citizens and may participate in the activities listed above [such as the abortion restrictions] on their initiative, on non-AmeriCorps time, and using non- CNCS funds. Individuals should not wear the AmeriCorps logo while doing so.”

So that means AmeriCorps volunteers are free to work as abortion doulas on their own time and not wearing AmeriCorps gear to do so. They can also do so working as abortion clinic escorts—which are not the same thing as doulas—who help patients navigate a gauntlet of anti-choice protesters outside abortion clinics on their way into their procedures.

The government’s own findings provide zero information as to whether these volunteer activities happened on personal time or not. The first question to ask then is: When did these activities happen? Assuming the AmeriCorps volunteers didn’t do this work on AmeriCorps time, then there is not an issue of illegality.

It also matters what exactly these AmeriCorps volunteers were doing when they were allegedly offering abortion support services. The language used in AmeriCorps guidance forbidding volunteers from directly or indirectly “provid[ing] abortion services or referrals” is pretty vague. Not surprisingly, it is also language that anti-choice lawmakers have peppered in statutes throughout the states—and that the courts have had a chance to look at and offer guidance on.

In the 1989 case Webster v. Reproductive Health Servicesthe U.S. Supreme Court examined a series of Missouri laws restricting abortion rights, which included forbidding public employees from performing or “assisting abortions” unnecessary to save the mother’s life. The lower courts, including the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, struck down the provisions as unconstitutional. Specifically, on the question of just what constitutes “assisting” an abortion, the federal appeals court wrote:

We cannot accept the conclusion that “assisting” an abortion encompasses driving or escorting the patient to the location where the procedure is to take place. The abortion itself does not take place in the vehicle or as the patient is being escorted. We think a more reasonable interpretation of the phrase “assisting an abortion” is the one suggested by the state: direct participation in the surgical procedure itself.

When the Supreme Court took up the Webster case, it did not address the “assisting” question because the State of Missouri failed to specifically appeal that portion of the Eighth Circuit’s ruling, meaning that interpretation stands. As far as the courts are concerned, “assisting an abortion” means direct participation in the surgical procedure itself.

In constitutional terms, if a law—like the one at issue in Webster—is vague, it violates both equal protection and due process, because how can you comply with a law if you don’t know what it means? No court has ruled on whether the abortion-related prohibitions applied to AmeriCorps volunteers are equally vague, but given that the language of the restrictions nearly mirrors the language of the one in Webster, and further given the carve-outs allowed for volunteers to do abortion work on their own time, it would take an extreme act of judicial activism to rule otherwise.

Now, not all journalists are lawyers and not all journalists cover reproductive rights on the daily. So maybe not asking about some of these details is a function of a lack of experience and consistency in the subject area.

But an outlet like the Hill covers, as its focus, politics. So any of its reporters should be asking, at the very least, “What is the political play in this story?”

Not surprisingly, the political play by conservatives appears in part to be to use this apparently unsubstantiated two-page report to launch a series of investigations into the federal funding of all community health centers. The funding of such centers is one of the cornerstones of the Affordable Care Act in expanding health-care access to traditionally underserved populations. Almost immediately following the Hill story, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), who chairs an influential House Appropriations Committee panel in charge of health spending, called on the Obama administration to launch a nationwide investigation on community health centers’ compliance with federal law.

“Since the prohibitions relating to abortion in the Serve America Act are similar to prohibitions carried annually in appropriations acts, I have concerns that health centers may not be complying with restrictions in the Labor-HHS spending bills,” he said in a separate letter to the inspector general’s office for the Department of Health and Human Services.

There it is, folks. The Trojan Horse of abortion panic being rolled out once again to attack public health care, specifically public health care for the most vulnerable populations, like those served in community health centers—regardless if that health center offers reproductive health care or not. This is the same conservative logic of the Hyde and Helms Amendments, which have proven disastrous for access to reproductive health care while simultaneously being treated as “law of the land” by the media and politicians alike, despite the fact both Hyde and Helms could be repealed anytime Congress chose. Hyde and Helms, which restrict the use of public funds for abortions domestically and internationally with very rare exception, are built on the abortion panic of poor women fleecing innocent taxpayers to subsidize “irresponsible” sex. Conservatives were similarly successful with the strategy of using abortion panic when first debating the Affordable Care Act (ACA) too: This led to the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which replicates Hyde’s abortion funding ban in ACA insurance exchanges. And we saw it yet again with conservatives equating contraception with abortion in their wave of litigation challenging the birth control benefit in the ACA

And rarely did mainstream media blink or challenge conservatives on these tactics. And in each instance, the administration caved.

“We moved immediately to cease the activity in question, and suspended the identified site’s AmeriCorps members for a period until they and their site supervisors were retrained and revised member service contracts were reviewed and signed,” NACHC Chief Operating Officer Dave Taylor said in a statement following the report.

Despite at least a handful of explanations of how these actions by AmeriCorps volunteers could be lawfully explained, the administration blinked. And in doing so, it enabled the press to continue with its same complacent reporting on reproductive rights, despite the fact these are not just stories, but real lives on the line.

Analysis Politics

It’s Christie’s Anti-Choice Record—Not His Planned Parenthood Donations—We Should Be Worried About

Ally Boguhn

Chris Christie doesn’t need to tell us whether or not he has flip-flopped on reproductive rights: His record speaks for itself.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) has spent the last few weeks amid a flurry of controversy over an alleged donation he made to Planned Parenthood in the 1990s. But the governor’s record on reproductive health is getting lost amongst the chaos.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) created one of the most talked-about and fact-checked moments of last week’s Republican debate when, in order to question the candidate’s conservative credentials, he accused rival Chris Christie of making a donation to Planned Parenthood.

Christie flatly denied the claim, countering that he “never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood.”

And it wasn’t the first time a donation to the reproductive health organization made by Christie had been called into question. During an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation a week before the debate, Christie was asked by host Josh Dickerson about his donation to Planned Parenthood after Rubio made the same charge while speaking at a rally in New Hampshire.

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“Well, I never donated to Planned Parenthood. So, that’s wrong,” Christie quickly asserted.

Rubio’s allegation was likely based on a quote from Christie in a 1994 report on the Morris County freeholder race that ran in New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, in which the then-candidate voiced his support for Planned Parenthood:

“I support Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution and that should be the goal of any such agency, to find private donations,” said GOP freeholder candidate Chris Christie.

“It’s also no secret that I am pro-choice … But you have to examine all the agencies needing county donations and prioritize them. I would consider all groups looking for funding, but there is a limit and we have to pick and choose,” he added.

Christie has since denied that the conversation took place as reported. “I never donated to Planned Parenthood,” Christie asserted when asked about the donation during an interview with the Washington Post a few days before the debate.

“Listen, this is a quote from 21 years ago,” Christie continued. “I’m convinced it was a misquote. Understand what was going on. In 1994-95, I was fighting against county funding of Planned Parenthood even though I was pro-choice.”

According to the Post, Christie insisted that at the time of the Star-Ledger interview, he was talking generally about donating to causes, not specifically saying that he had donated to Planned Parenthood.

As fate would have it, that same reporter Christie claims to have misquoted him, Brian T. Murray, is now one of the governor’s current spokespeople. Murray has yet to respond to Christie’s allegations, according to NJ.com.

We will likely never know for sure whether Christie actually made the donation to Planned Parenthooda representative from the organization told the Washington Post that it does not disclose donationsbut a definitive answer to the question seems besides the point.

Chris Christie doesn’t need to tell us whether or not he has flip-flopped on reproductive rights: His record speaks for itself.

In the early 1990s, when the Star-Ledger interview allegedly took place and Christie was initially running for state senate, he was vocal about his support for reproductive rights. It wasn’t until 1995, when his wife was pregnant with one of his children, that the presidential candidate claims to have had a change of heart.

“I was driving back to work, I said to myself, you know, as to my position on abortion, I would say that a week ago that wasn’t a life. And I heard that heartbeat. That’s a life,” Christie told Piers Morgan in 2011 during an appearance on CNN.

“And it—it led to me having a real reflection on my position. And when I took time to reflect on it, I just said, you know what, I’m not comfortable with that anymore. That was back in 1995, and I’ve been pro-life ever since.”

But in 1996, Christie yet again vocalized his pro-choice position when asked by the Bergen Record about a resolution to override then-President Bill Clinton’s veto of a “partial-birth abortion,” or intact dilation and extraction, ban. “I’m pro-choice, but I think this procedure is reprehensible,” Christie told the paper, according to Politico, one year after he supposedly decided he no longer supported abortion at all.

In a strikingly similar move to his current situation, Christie would later tell the Associated Press in 2009 that he had been misquoted at the time.

In a February 2015 report for the Daily Beast, Olivia Nuzzi questioned Christie’s “convenient” evolution on abortion politics, citing many of these inconsistencies on the issue. “It’s worth considering that around the time Christie had his epiphany, he was badly losing a Republican primary for the state assembly to a staunchly pro-life conservative named Michael Patrick Carroll,” Nuzzi noted.

No matter his personal views, Christie’s record during his tenure as governor is decidedly more black and white.

After taking office in 2010, Christie eliminated $7.5 million in funding from the state budget for family planning services. That money “supported a variety of health centers, including some run by Planned Parenthood, that provided access to preventive health screenings and birth control but did not directly fund abortions,” and led six reproductive health clinics to close, according to NJ.com.

The drastic reduction in funding for health centers led the state to experience a significant setback in reproductive health care. An analysis conducted by the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association found that the budget cuts, coupled with federal funding cuts to Title X programs, left New Jersey with upwards of 20,000 more women in need of publicly funded contraceptives and a 26 percent decrease in the state network’s ability to meet the demand for them.

Although the state legislature has repeatedly attempted to restore the funding to the state’s budget, Christie has consistently vetoed these measures.

And now on the campaign trail, Christie is using his anti-choice record to help drum up conservative votes.

During CNN’s GOP debate in September, Christie bragged about how he had never allowed Planned Parenthood to be funded under his leadership: Six years ago, as the brand new, first-ever pro-life governor of New Jersey since Roe v. Wade, I defunded Planned Parenthood,” he asserted.

“I vetoed Planned Parenthood funding now eight times in New Jersey. Since the day I walked in as governor, Planned Parenthood has not been funded in New Jersey. We stood up, and every one of those vetoes has been sustained,” he continued. 

A fact-check of the claim conducted by NJ.com found the “gist of the claim” to be true, pointing to numerous occasions Christie has vetoed efforts that would have provided funding at least in part to Planned Parenthood, but noted that Christie “appears to be conflating his opposition to the Medicaid expansion with the annual budget line-item vetoes” to exaggerate the numbers.

Christie has repeatedly voiced his opposition to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, pointing to his own state as an example for how it should be done.

Speaking in South Carolina in September, Christie urged Congress to defund Planned Parenthood the same way he had. “If I can do it in New Jersey, there’s no reason our party can’t do it in Washington, D.C.” Christie said at the Take Back America Presidential Forum.

Christie has also vocalized his support for Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at this point in pregnancy, claiming that the legislation “brings Americans together.” Medical experts note that many fetal anomalies are not discovered until the 20th week of pregnancy, and that low-income women are disproportionately impacted by 20-week abortion bans. 

“America is one of just seven countries that permits elective abortions past this point. We can do far better than this. I urge Congress to take swift action on this important issue,” Christie said to anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony’s List in a statement on the bill.

So while Christie’s past donations may remain murky, one thing is as clear as ever: Christie is far from pro-choice and he has the record to prove it. Even if the road to Christie’s current stance on abortion isn’t clear, his record is—and those extreme viewpoints are what we really need to be talking about.