Commentary Human Rights

Let’s Remind Election Winners: Reproductive Coercion is Wrong

Amy Phillips Bursch

We can all agree that forcing women to undergo abortions or sterilizations is wrong -- but so is forcing women to gestate and give birth to children they don't want. It's time we considered both sides of reproductive coercion.

November 6th was a big night for pro-choicers, but it’s no time to let up on the pressure. So here’s a friendly reminder to every candidate who won: Reproductive coercion is wrong. When women aren’t allowed to choose the number and timing of their children, they’re being treated more like breeding stock and less like human beings.

I’m lucky—I was born late enough that thanks to birth control, my biology wasn’t my destiny. My husband and I don’t want children, and we should be able to make that decision for ourselves without government input.

But many women around the world—and increasingly here in the United States—simply don’t have that choice. These women are victims of reproductive coercion, and what they want doesn’t matter.

Take China. Both people who are pro-choice (like me) and anti-choice (like Republican Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.) agree: China’s coercive policy limiting many women to having one child infringes upon human rights. Any government that forces women to undergo unwanted abortions and sterilizations is immoral. Period. End of story.

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But here is where I sharply diverge with the forced-birthers: People like Smith will scream all day about coercion in China, but they never consider the fact that their own preferred policies are just as coercive. Enlisting the government to force women to give birth to babies they don’t want is also immoral, and it’s happening across our nation:

  • Montana just passed a parental notification bill that requires teenagers to notify a parent before obtaining an abortion. The bill actually included language saying that “A parent, a guardian, or any other person may not coerce a minor to have an abortion.” Coercing a 13-year-old to give birth, however, is just fine.
  • Nebraska’s next senator will be one Republican Deb Fischer, who believes that rape and incest survivors should be forced to bear their rapists’ children.
  • Smith, who handily won re-election last night, was the main sponsor of a 2011 bill that would have redefined rape in an effort to restrict abortion rights. Under Smith’s legislation, only survivors of “forcible rape” would have been eligible for taxpayer funding for an abortion – leaving out survivors who had been drugged, were mentally handicapped or who were victims of statutory rape. The “forcible rape” language was removed, and the bill passed the House.
  • According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011, state lawmakers introduced more than 1,100 bills that would affect reproductive health and rights. 135 of those bills were passed into law. 68 percent of these new laws restrict abortion. Five states banned abortion after 20 weeks.
  • Also in 2011, five states began requiring women to have ultrasounds before abortions, even if their doctors say it’s not necessary. That’s coercive not just to women, but to doctors – dedicated professionals who do not need the government to tell them how to do their jobs.

And yes, they are coming after your birth control. “Personhood” amendments keep popping up in state after state. American anti-choice groups want to overturn the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage and are working to kill a bill in the Philippines that would provide Filipinos with less expensive contraception and comprehensive sex education. And a Missouri law lets bosses block contraception coverage from employees’ health plans. In fact, the state actually fined insurance company Aetna $1.5 million for offering coverage of birth control!

So yes: Forcing woman to undergo unwanted sterilizations or abortions is coercive. But so is mandatory motherhood. Both are wrong, and the government should have nothing to do with either policy. That’s the message pro-choice voters sent on November 6.

It’s an old saying, but it’s a good one: My body, my choice. And that should be true whether I’m a young mother in China, or an American woman who doesn’t want a baby, right now, or ever. Because only when every woman has the right to choose for herself – free of government interference, will we truly be equal. Our lawmakers need to remember that.

Amy Phillips Bursch is the media relations manager for Population Connection, at She can be reached at

Commentary Media

David Daleiden Is Not an Investigative Reporter, Says New Legal Filing Confirming What We Knew Already

Sharona Coutts

An amicus brief filed in a federal court case provided an opportunity for journalists to state in clear terms why David Daleiden's claims to be an investigative reporter endanger the profession and its goal: to safeguard democracy by holding the powerful to account and keeping the public informed.

Last week, 18 of the nation’s preeminent journalists and journalism scholars put their names to a filing in a federal court case between the National Abortion Federation and the Center for Medical Progress, the sham nonprofit set up by anti-choice activist David Daleiden.

From the minute he released his deceptively edited videos, Daleiden has styled himself as a “citizen” or “investigative journalist.” Indeed, upon releasing the footage, Daleiden changed the stated purpose on the website of the Center for Medical Progress to be about investigative reporting instead of tissue brokering, as he had earlier claimed.

The amicus brief provided an opportunity for journalists to state in clear terms why David Daleiden’s claims to be an investigative reporter endanger the profession and its goal: to safeguard democracy by holding the powerful to account and keeping the public informed.

“By calling himself an ‘investigative journalist,’ Appellant David Daleiden does not make it so,” the journalists and academics wrote. “We believe that accepting Mr. Daleiden’s claim that he merely engaged in ‘standard undercover journalism techniques’ would be both wrong and damaging to the vital role that journalism serves in our society.”

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The signatories included former and current professors and deans from the nation’s top journalism schools, who have collectively trained hundreds, if not thousands, of reporters. They included women and men with storied careers in investigative journalism, whose credentials to speak with authority about what journalism is and how we do it cannot be doubted.

Their message is clear: David Daleiden is not an investigative journalist, and what he did is, in fact, at odds with the fundamentals of our craft.

Daleiden’s motivation for claiming the status of an investigative reporter is clear. In order to avoid financial ruin and potential jail time, he seeks to cloak himself in the protection of the First Amendment, arguing that everything he did was in his capacity as a reporter, and that the Constitution protects him as a member of the free press.

In so doing, Daleiden threatens to inflict yet more damage than his campaigns have already done, this time to the field of journalism. For if the court were to accept Daleiden’s claims, it would be endorsing his message to the public—that journalists routinely lie, break the law, get people drunk in order to elicit information, and distort quotes and video footage so dramatically that people appear to be saying the exact opposite to what they said. What hope would reporters then have of preserving the already tenuous trust that the public places in our word and our work?

This is not the first time some of the nation’s most decorated reporters have carefully reviewed Daleiden’s claims and the techniques he used to gather the footage for his videos, and concluded that he is not a reporter.

Last month, the Columbia Journalism Review published an article titled “Why the undercover Planned Parenthood videos aren’t journalism,” which was based on the results of a collaboration between the Los Angeles Times and the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate program in journalism.

That study was led by Lowell Bergman, a legendary investigative reporter whose career over the past few decades has been symbiotic with the evolution of the field. Bergman’s team and the LA Times concluded that:

Daleiden, head of the Irvine-based Center for Medical Progress, and his associates contend that they were acting as investigative journalists, seeking to expose illegal conduct. That is one of their defenses in lawsuits brought by Planned Parenthood and other groups, accusing them of fraud and invasion of privacy.

But unpublicized footage and court records show that the activists’ methods were geared more toward political provocation than journalism.

The team found what we already knew: Daleiden and his co-conspirators attempted to plant phrases in their targets’ mouths in the hopes of making them sound bad, hoping to drum up “political pressure,” according to a memo obtained by Bergman’s group that Daleiden wrote to his supporters. The activists’ use of fraud was so extensive and enthusiastic, and their deliberate splicing of videos so manipulative and dishonest, that they in no way reflected the methods or goals of real reporters.

The brief submitted in the NAF lawsuit last week echoes these findings and resoundingly makes the same point: Daleiden is not an investigative reporter. The main arguments in the brief boil down to the following, which can be understood as the pillars of investigative journalism:

  • Reporters do not falsify or distort evidence. Daleiden spliced and manipulated his videos and transcripts to give the false impression that they captured illegal conduct. A reporter’s job is to uncover and convey the truth, not to concoct false claims and peddle them as facts.
  • Reporters must use deception as a last resort, not a first resort, if they use it at all. Any use of deception—even in the service of obtaining the truth—tends to undermine the public’s trust in any of the reporter’s work. For this reason, even investigations that have uncovered serious abuses of power are often criticized, if not condemned, by the profession if they have obtained their information through deceptive means. As the brief noted, in 1978, the Chicago Sun-Times was barred as a finalist from the Pulitzer Prize because the truth it exposed was obtained through elaborate deception—Sun-Times reporters opened a bar called The Mirage for the purposes of documenting very real public graft. No one doubted that the evidence they found was both true and of great public importance. But, led by Ben Bradlee, the journalism establishment rejected the Sun-Times’ use of deception because of the long-term damage it would cause to the profession.
  • Reporters follow the law. Daleiden and his co-conspirators created fake government identification which they used to gain access into private events. No legitimate news organization would permit their reporters to take such steps.
  • Reporters do not deceive subjects into making statements to support a “predetermined theory.” Daleiden used alcohol to try to manipulate subjects into using words and phrases that he believed would sound bad on tape. Real journalists try to report against their own biases, instead of manufacturing evidence to prove their own theories.
  • Reporters seek to highlight or prevent a harm to the public. Daleiden caused great harm but exposed none.

A point that wasn’t mentioned in the legal filings is that Daleiden failed to follow a rule that student journalists learn in their first weeks of school: You must afford the subject of your reporting a full opportunity to respond to the allegations made against them. Daleiden’s videos came as a surprise attack against Planned Parenthood and NAF (but not, apparently, to certain Republican members of Congress). No reputable reporter would conduct herself in such a fashion. That is an ambush, not an article.

To many readers, these arguments may seem academic. But the reality is that real reporters take their obligations more seriously than the public might realize, to the point of risking—and sometimes losing—their lives in the service of this job, which many consider to be a calling.

One of the best investigative reporters of my generation, A.C. Thompson of ProPublica, recently reported on a group of assassins that operated on U.S. soil in the 1980s, who murdered Vietnamese-American journalists for political reasons.

To report that story, Thompson attended events held by members of the groups he believed to be linked to—or were actual parts of—these networks of killers. He did phone interviews with them. He met with them in person. And he did all of that on camera, using his real name.

Make no mistake: Thompson potentially put his life at risk to do this work, but he did it because he believed that these men had been able to murder his fellow reporters with impunity, and with possible—if tacit—support from the U.S. government.

Contrast that to Daleiden’s conduct. As noted in the legal brief:

Daleiden may think Planned Parenthood kills babies, but there was no risk whatsoever that its managers would have killed him, or even slapped him, if he approached them openly.

Daleiden’s arguments are, in some ways, the natural extension to the existential crisis that gripped journalism more than a decade ago, with the rise of blogging. What followed was a years-long debate over who could be labeled a “journalist.” The dawn of smartphones contributed to the confusion, as nearly anyone could snap a photo and publish it via Twitter.

It is therefore a tonic to read these clear defenses of the “what” and “why” of investigative journalism, and to see luminaries of the field explaining that journalism is a discipline with norms and rules. When these norms are articulated clearly, it is easy to show that Daleiden’s work does not fall within journalism’s bounds.

At times like this, the absence of David Carr’s raspy voice makes itself painfully felt. One can only imagine the field day he would have with Daleiden’s pretensions to be committing acts of journalism. Judging by this legendary exchange between Carr and Shane Smith, one of the founders of VICE news, from Page One, the 2011 documentary about the New York Times, Carr would not have minced words.

The exchange came after Smith’s self-aggrandizing assessment of his team’s work covering Liberia—where they uncovered cannibalism and a beach that locals were using as a latrine—and then mocked the New York Times’ coverage of the country.

Here’s Carr:

Just a sec, time out. Before you ever went there, we’ve had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fucking safari helmet and went and looked at some poop doesn’t give you the right to insult what we do.

To paraphrase: Just because Daleiden got some hidden cameras and editing software, and called himself a reporter, doesn’t mean he was doing journalism.

It’s important that both the public and the courts recognize that reality.

Disclosures: A.C. Thompson is a former colleague of the author. The author also appeared, extremely briefly, in the Page One documentary. 

Commentary Politics

Populism Doesn’t Always Mean Progressivism—This Election Is Making That Clear

Lisa Needham

Shaking up "the establishment" by focusing solely on economic issues is no guarantee that other progressive priorities will follow suit.

We’re in the middle of a wave of populist rhetoric from candidates and supporters on both sides of the aisle this election year. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders speak in classically populist terms, positioning themselves as an everyman who appeals to the masses.

Populism focuses only on its great enemy standing in the way of the average person and power; vanquishing that enemy, the thinking goes, solves everything. But a myopic focus is troublesome no matter which side of the political spectrum you are on. What does this mean for those of us that need a candidate who focuses on a wide variety of issues like reproductive health, racial equity, and LGBTQ rights? Populism does not necessarily equal progressivism—a point which seems obscured in the 2016 election landscape, particularly where Sanders supporters are concerned. And shaking up “the establishment” by focusing solely on economic issues is no guarantee that other progressive priorities will follow suit.

Modern scholastic discussions of populism typically say it requires four things: on one side, morally upright common people; on the other side, an elite enemy; a corrupt system; and a call for a cleansing battle. Populism has a simple and vigorous appeal: People that feel powerless or disconnected can band together and have a voice, potentially overcoming those whom they see as having unfairly and disproportionately accumulated power.

Sanders-style populists tend to concentrate on the super-rich as “elitists.” Sanders himself centers his speeches around this, asserting that he and his supporters will “not allow billionaires and their super PACs to destroy American democracy” and railing against “all of the new wealth and income generated in America … going to the top 1 percent.”

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Trump-style populists, by contrast, often focus on a cultural elite: the latte-drinking, Subaru-driving, gay-marriage-loving liberals too consumed with niceties like polite discourse. Trump rails against those elites when he decries “political correctness.” He doesn’t have time to worry about things like not disparaging women, because “this country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.”

At best, such an extreme right-wing populist worldview portrays reproductive health issues and bodily autonomy as superfluous. At worst, anti-choice conservatives see them as direct threats to their beliefs and something worth mobilizing over in violent ways. Their tactics, as Rewire covers often, are basically mob rule: Throwing bodies at a clinic to block access to a legal service is the quintessential example. They believe deeply (though wrongly) that were there to be a nationwide referendum on abortion, the majority would choose to outlaw it. Thus, they see those judges and legislators who see women as having constitutional rights as “resisting” this perceived majority view.

Trump has now decided to embrace this stance enthusiastically, hiring an anti-abortion warrior, John Mashburn, to appease and appeal to the anti-choice forces. And though he certainly has well-heeled backers, he also makes an effort to speak to working-class whites who feel any economic recovery of the last several years has passed them by. Those same working-class whites often feel like their economic opportunities and their social capital have been reduced by people of color and immigrants. Other people, the thinking goes, are getting what is rightfully “theirs.”

Trump speaks to all of this in the most craven but effective way. He’s rich and successful, which leaves him uniquely positioned, he explains, to fight the elite economic caste currently dominating politics. He is pugnacious about the judicial branch, and has made clear he’ll appoint judges to overturn social gains like marriage equality. Though his hiring of Mashburn may signal a more decisive anti-choice shift, when he speaks of reproductive health, he does so in a dismissive way: Planned Parenthood does great things, but, paradoxically, he’ll defund them. He’s claimed he will be the best candidate for women, though he won’t say how or why. In short, he’ll make things better economically, appoint judges that will get rid of things his supporters hate, and he’ll be great for women, trust him.

Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, appeals to the some of the same demographics that Trump does, with the same very simple message: Other people have taken what is rightfully yours. Other people have hoarded opportunities you should also have. If you elect me, I will give you what you deserve. As with Trump, he is sure he is the best candidate for women, he’ll make things better economically, and he will appoint judges that will get rid of things his supporters hate—in this case, Citizens United.

Sanders voters that are entirely driven by economic concerns are often flippant about women, with surrogates like Killer Mike declaring “a uterus doesn’t qualify you to be president of the United States.” To be fair, Sanders has always aligned himself with a variety of progressive causes, including reproductive health. However, that alignment is often passive or lacking in real strategy: Though he made recent statements about using the Department of Justice to roll back state-level abortion restrictions, such a promise is, in reality, likely impossible to uphold. (Governing by executive action is rarely as successful as presidents believe it might be.) He framed Planned Parenthood as “the establishment,” which is a stance shared by some reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates. Sanders has not, however, displayed any particular desire to align with organizations separate from Planned Parenthood. And this stance may speak to some of his followers’ existing notion that reproductive rights are either settled law or unimportant or both, especially when considered alongside what they see as the paramount issue at hand: economic equality.

Perhaps as a result, a narrative has emerged of those voters who intend to stick with the candidate who hammers on economic issues, regardless of party affiliation. Of course, this does not apply to all Sanders supporters, or even the majority of them. But over the past several months, we have seen a spate of declarations from Sanders enthusiasts explaining they will never vote for Hillary Clinton should she win the nomination. Elizabeth Bruenig, writing in the New Republic in January, explained the potential Trump-Sanders crossover appeal, should Sanders not prevail in winning the nomination:

Both Sanders and Trump complain about American resources being squandered abroad, while many Americans do without at home. They mourn the outsourcing of jobs to workers overseas, and promise to return jobs to American shores.

In March, the Huffington Post ran a piece about people who have declared themselves “BernieorBust”; 50,000, it reported, have signed an online pledge to write in Sanders or a Green Party candidate—in short, anyone but Clinton. A McClatchy-Marist poll earlier this month found that one in four of the 1,000 Sanders backers it surveyed say they won’t vote for Clinton.

Finally, in the week Trump became the presumptive nominee and it became clear that the math will very likely not work for Sanders to win the nomination via pledged delegates, we saw the #HillaryDropOut hashtag arise. Even before that, Trump’s campaign manager had indicated Trump might pursue a strategy of trying to capture those Sanders supporters who feel they are disenfranchised by the current political system, of which they perceive Clinton is a part.

Clinton has her own failures as a progressive. She famously called Black people “superpredators” and supported a bill widely seen to have created a generation of mass incarceration. She championed welfare reform, which was deeply harmful, disproportionately so to Black and Latino families. These things cannot simply be overlooked. But, given Trump’s expressed policies, voting for him solely because he appeals to economic concerns would not address those issues either.

Will those voters that cross over to Trump or refuse to vote entirely be explicitly voting against abortion rights? No. Instead, they’ll be voting—either directly or indirectly—in favor of smashing the economic system, which is the root of all evil, hoping other rights stay intact or spring from economic betterment.

Populism focuses on a simple solution: a great clash of the common people versus the elites that heightens the contradictions, destroys a rotted, broken system, and allows the common people to emerge victorious with new opportunities available. Progressivism, by contrast, doesn’t rely upon one solution. A multi-faceted approach to our ills, one that recognizes that racial and class equity, bodily autonomy, and economic opportunity are all equally necessary parts of a solution, is a lot of work.

Believing that addressing a single issue, will solve everything is the key appeal—and hazard—of populism. Progressivism, on the other hand, requires us to realize there is no “one size fits all” solution, and that we must push politicians to address economic issues as part of a complex, larger set of priorities that include standing up for racial equity, LGBTQ rights, and reproductive justice. That, unfortunately, is always a tough sell, but it’s a critical one for those of us that give primacy to those issues too.


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