In addition to imposing unnecessary and damaging limits and requirements on women’s medical care, do anti-abortion laws contribute to a social climate in which it is acceptable to terrorize me, my colleagues, and our patients?
My first awareness of anti-choice harassment and violence came in 1981 when I was in the fourth grade. My best friend’s father had his tires slashed. He was an obstetrician/gynecologist in a large metropolitan area, and he provided abortions. I don’t remember my mother or friend explaining what abortions were, or why he had his tires slashed. I was simply aware that women had them, doctors did them, and many people who wanted them stopped used violence to convey their message.
Today, as a physician who provides abortions, I worry about the growing number of state-level restrictions on abortion. In addition to imposing unnecessary and damaging limits and requirements on women’s medical care, do these anti-choice laws contribute to a social climate in which it is acceptable to terrorize me, my colleagues, and our patients?
Harassment and Vandalism Linked to Anti-Choice Laws
As a first step toward determining the connection, if any, between a state’s anti-reproductive-health-care laws and acts meant to impede or stop abortion care, Mitchell Creinin, MD, Kristin Schumacher, PhD, and I conducted a study. The results are forthcoming in the journal Contraception. We found a statistical association between the severity of a state’s laws restricting abortion and contraception and the incidence of harassment that targets abortion providers and their patients. In other words, facilities that provide abortions in states with heavy restrictions on contraception and abortion experience more harassment than do their counterparts in states whose laws tend not to interfere in patients’ decisions about birth control and abortion.
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Harassment includes but isn’t limited to anti-choice protesters videotaping or photographing patients, approaching or blocking cars, recording patients’ license plates, making threatening phone calls, filing frivolous lawsuits, creating noise disturbances, forming clinic blockades, and posting patient or staff information on the Internet. We discovered a similar association between a state’s restrictions on abortion and contraception and the occurrence of “minor vandalism” at abortion clinics: broken windows, nails or oil on driveways, graffiti, garbage tampering, and glue in locks.
When state governments pass needless restrictions on reproductive health care, they can be perceived as giving anti-choice extremists implicit permission to wreak havoc on abortion providers and the women they serve. Our legislators must reckon with the consequences of the laws they make, even if those repercussions are unintended.
For our study, we used responses from a July 2010 Feminist Majority Foundation survey of 357 abortion providers or facilities that provide abortion in 50 states to determine their experiences of anti-abortion activity. We grouped their responses and analyzed them in relation to NARAL Pro-Choice America’s 2011 grading of state laws in the United States (A, B, C, D, and F) as they relate to restrictions on contraception and abortion services.
Our analysis revealed that abortion providers in states graded C, D, or F on NARAL’s restrictiveness scale—e.g., Wisconsin (C-), Florida (D), or Texas (F)—were much more likely than providers elsewhere to be targets of harassment and minor vandalism. States with a grade of A, like Oregon and New Mexico, were less likely to be targets. Our study is silent on the relationship between incidents of violence, like homicide and arson, and state laws; in 2011, the number of such crimes was too low to qualify for our state-by-state statistical model.
Until very recently, I provided abortions in a state with an F—Pennsylvania. Whenever I arrived at the clinic in Pittsburgh, I walked a gauntlet of protesters who pleaded with me not to kill my baby or, if they knew I was a doctor, not to kill other people’s babies. But in the world of abortion provision, I am fortunate. I haven’t been the target of violent threats—not like the volunteer I know at a clinic elsewhere in Pennsylvania who was asked by a protester, “How do you prefer to die? By knife or by bullet?”
I wish I could say this kind of incident is rare in Pennsylvania (and everywhere else, for that matter). But in Pennsylvania, anti-abortion protesters who harass and intimidate patients and physicians have the implicit sanction of their state government. Through onerous restrictions that have no medical purpose, the state’s laws single out for punishment the women who need abortions. Why shouldn’t a protester follow suit?
In medicine’s first study of anti-choice violence, Dr. David Grimes et al., pointed out, “… anti-abortion violence in the United States from 1977 to 1988 … was the first time in our nation’s history that health-care providers have been singled out as targets of violence in pursuit of a social agenda.” In this 1991 paper, the authors estimated that property damage caused by anti-abortion activists had already reached $7.6 million, mostly from bombings and arson.
Two years after the study’s publication, Dr. David Gunn became the first person to lose his life to an anti-choice killer. Since then, a total of eight people—four physicians and four clinic workers—have been murdered by anti-choice extremists, most recently Dr. George Tiller. Five others have been seriously injured. The violence isn’t limited to homicide. Just last year, two abortion providers were the targets of fires that authorities categorized as either arson or bombings. When a state government hinders abortion access with baseless restrictions, it adds fuel to the anti-choice fire.
The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.
“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.
“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.
The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.
Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”
Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.
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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.
In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”
As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”
As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.
Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”
Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.
“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote theNew York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”
“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”
Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equality; declaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.
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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”
Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.
But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:
Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations
Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:
We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.
Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:
We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.
The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.
Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”
Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt
In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:
We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.
The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewireexplained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:
As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”
All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”
Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain
The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:
Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.
Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.
Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.
Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”
In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:
Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.
Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”
There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”
As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.
Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”
Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:
We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.
Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.