News Abortion

Anti-Choice Harassers Re-double Attacks On Jackson Women’s Health Organization As Hospitals Refuse Admitting Privileges

Robin Marty

More posters, more harassment at the only public abortion clinic in Mississippi as Jackson Women's Health Organization runs out of options.

“Please, Mommy, don’t kill me!”

The words have become a standard refrain on the sidewalks in front of Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO) on the days where abortions are to be performed. While doctors and clinic staff scramble to keep open the only public abortion clinic in Mississippi, nothing changed for Operation Save America and their followers, who were once more on the streets of Jackson.

Now nearly ten months into their year long “States of Refuge” campaign, Operation Save America has yet to actually create an “abortion-free state” as they say they intend. Instead, they have succeeded mainly in harassing doctors and patients, terrifying little children, and annoying parents who would prefer their sons and daughters not be exposed to highly magnified and gory photo-shopped posters of “fetal remains.”

The group arrived in Mississippi directly after the election with plans to protest at Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s sole public abortion provider. However, the protesters also set their sites on local high schools, which they picketed with their signs as students headed in to class for the day.

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Cal Zastrow, one of the “States of Refuge” organizers, said they needed to inform high school students of the “truth” of abortion because he saw too many teen girls arriving at the clinic.

“High School girls are coming in here and killing babies, so we want to educate them before they come here and kill their children,” he told WLTB.tv. “Already this week, I’ve seen three different high school sweatshirts on girls in the city here come here and murder their children.”

Schools were forced to bring in additional security to deal with the activists, but otherwise their hands were tied, despite parental complaints.

Many of the anti-choice activists were from out of state, but one well-known local face joined the activities as well—Les Riley, the anti-choice presence behind Personhood Mississippi. Riley has promised another attempt at a Personhood amendment in 2014, and says he is already working on the language to make that happen. With Personhood supporter Phil Bryant in the governor’s office, it’s no surprise that Personhood will be rising again.

All attention is focused on JWHO, who is in danger of being closed due to a TRAP law passed in the state legislature during the 2012 session that requires hospital admitting privileges, something the clinic has been unable to obtain. Operation Save America has been gleefully counting down the days to January, when they believe the state will finally be abortion-free. Rusty Thomas told Christian News Network:

“They [JWHO] were kind of shrewd and were able to make adjustments, so that they could [be classified as] a medical facility to give them six months to comply,” he explained.

If the facility is not able to comply by January 16, 2013, it can be shut down by the state under the law.

“The state has the authority to step in and say, ‘Are you in compliance?’ If not, shut it down!” Thomas said.

Thomas even encourages the nation’s anti-choice community to come to Jackson to protest the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, believing the clinic’s closure could be timed to coincide.

Will JWHO make it to the 40th anniversary of Roe? At this point, the question once more rests in the hands of the courts. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) has announced that the clinic has finally run out of options, and that every available hospital that could provide the necessary admitting privileges for clinic doctors has refused to consider doing so. According to the CRR’s legal filing, hospitals shied away from offering privileges pointing either to a prohibition against what they define as “elective abortions” within their own organization, or fear of reprisal from outside sources should they associate with the clinic. Refusals often read:

“The nature of your proposed medical practice is inconsistent with this Hospital’s policies and practices as concerns abortion and, in particular, elective abortions; … [and] The nature of your proposed medical practice would lead to both an internal and external disruption of the Hospital’s function and business within this community.”

CRR attorneys have filed a new motion against the law to stop it from going into effect, but as the year comes to a close it remains unclear if 2013 may in fact be the first year abortion won’t be—at least ostensibly—publicly accessible in all 50 states. (Ostensibly because access is determined by far more than just the existence of one clinic in a city, state, or locale of any size.)

As the courts consider whether the “undue burden” limits of Planned Parenthood v. Casey are finally met by ending access to abortion in Mississippi, harassment at the clinic is likely to escalate, especially in light of the anti-choice zealots who have already been on the sidewalks.

“Protesters” at the clinic itself have been a who’s who of jailed anti-choice terrorists, all congregated in one location. A self-congratulatory video compiled by Missionaries to the Preborn Iowa, who worked with OSA to harrass the patients and employees of JWHO (and yes, even the person who takes their medical waste), identifies many of those who “counseled” on the sidewalks of the clinic, such as Dan and Donna Holman, Cal Zastrow and his family, and others.

Dan Holman, member of “Missionaries to the Preborn Iowa” Holman advocates for “justifiable use of force,” claiming those who reject it as an option are “pro-life heretics.”

Flip Benham and Joe Scheidler are among the pro-life leaders who have publicly condemned Paul Hill for using force to save children. These men have done much good in the past, but they are in grave error regarding the use of force. To condemn the use of force to protect unborn children is a tacit admission that their lives are not worth defending. It is to say that that some have more of a Right to Life than others. It is a frank admission that pre-born children are somehow sub-human. If they truly believe the life of the unborn is worth less than the life of the abortionist than why defend the babies at all? Some say that the abortionist might repent and become another Bernard Nathanson, or a Carol Everett. How many children is their salvation worth? Would you give your sons or daughters to a baby-killer hoping he will come to repentance? Would we hold this principal true for any other serial killer? The abortionist’s salvation is not worth the life of one innocent child!

Dan has been arrested numerous times, including an arrest for an outstanding warrant after placing a “citizen’s arrest” on a girl who tried to spray paint over the graphic images on his van. His wife Donna has been arrested several times for harassment in front of an Iowa Planned Parenthood, with courts eventually recommending psychological screening, which her husband refused on her behalf. Michigan’s Cal Zastrow and his wife have been long involved with the “rescue” movement and subsequent arrests, which he dismisses by arguing that “Whatever consequences befall us for rescuing are trivial compared to children getting their limbs and heads cut off.” Randy Crawford also has been cited for harassment outside Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa, running in the same circles as the Holmans.

The Holmans, Crawford, Zastrow, and others had already toured the state together to urge a vote for Amendment 26, then touting themselves as “Pro-Life Mississippi.” Now, once more hitting the streets of Jackson, the band is working to pressure and harass anyone associated with the clinic, even if it’s just residents of the same city on their way to class at school.

The hospitals have turned down the requests for admitting prividges based in part on the potential “external disruptions” that could be caused by being associated with pregnancy terminations. Now, not only is the clinic in danger of being forced to close, but they have to worry that the outside agitators — sensing a potential victory — may grow even bolder, too.

Analysis Law and Policy

After ‘Whole Woman’s Health’ Decision, Advocates Should Fight Ultrasound Laws With Science

Imani Gandy

A return to data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous "informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, has changed the reproductive rights landscape in ways that will reverberate in courts around the country for years to come. It is no longer acceptable—at least in theory—for a state to announce that a particular restriction advances an interest in women’s health and to expect courts and the public to take them at their word.

In an opinion driven by science and data, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority in Whole Woman’s Health, weighed the costs and benefits of the two provisions of HB 2 at issue—the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements—and found them wanting. Texas had breezed through the Fifth Circuit without facing any real pushback on its manufactured claims that the two provisions advanced women’s health. Finally, Justice Breyer whipped out his figurative calculator and determined that those claims didn’t add up. For starters, Texas admitted that it didn’t know of a single instance where the admitting privileges requirement would have helped a woman get better treatment. And as for Texas’ claim that abortion should be performed in an ASC, Breyer pointed out that the state did not require the same of its midwifery clinics, and that childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in death.

So now, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in the case’s concurring opinion, laws that “‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion’ cannot survive judicial inspection.” In other words, if a state says a restriction promotes women’s health and safety, that state will now have to prove it to the courts.

With this success under our belts, a similar return to science and data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous “informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

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In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld parts of Pennsylvania’s “informed consent” law requiring abortion patients to receive a pamphlet developed by the state department of health, finding that it did not constitute an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to abortion. The basis? Protecting women’s mental health: “[I]n an attempt to ensure that a woman apprehends the full consequences of her decision, the State furthers the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”

Texas took up Casey’s informed consent mantle and ran with it. In 2011, the legislature passed a law that forces patients to undergo a medical exam, whether or not their doctor thinks they need it, and that forces them to listen to information that the state wants them to hear, whether or not their doctor thinks that they need to hear it. The purpose of this law—at least in theory—is, again, to protect patients’ “mental health” by dissuading those who may be unsure about procedure.

The ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in 2012, in Texas Medical Providers v. Lakey.

And make no mistake: The exam the law requires is invasive, and in some cases, cruelly so. As Beverly McPhail pointed out in the Houston Chronicle in 2011, transvaginal probes will often be necessary to comply with the law up to 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy—which is when, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 91 percent of abortions take place. “Because the fetus is so small at this stage, traditional ultrasounds performed through the abdominal wall, ‘jelly on the belly,’ often cannot produce a clear image,” McPhail noted.

Instead, a “probe is inserted into the vagina, sending sound waves to reflect off body structures to produce an image of the fetus. Under this new law, a woman’s vagina will be penetrated without an opportunity for her to refuse due to coercion from the so-called ‘public servants’ who passed and signed this bill into law,” McPhail concluded.

There’s a reason why abortion advocates began decrying these laws as “rape by the state.”

If Texas legislators are concerned about the mental health of their citizens, particularly those who may have been the victims of sexual assault—or any woman who does not want a wand forcibly shoved into her body for no medical reason—they have a funny way of showing it.

They don’t seem terribly concerned about the well-being of the woman who wants desperately to be a mother but who decides to terminate a pregnancy that doctors tell her is not viable. Certainly, forcing that woman to undergo the painful experience of having an ultrasound image described to her—which the law mandates for the vast majority of patients—could be psychologically devastating.

But maybe Texas legislators don’t care that forcing a foreign object into a person’s body is the ultimate undue burden.

After all, if foisting ultrasounds onto women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy saves even one woman from a lifetime of “devastating psychologically damaging consequences,” then it will all have been worth it, right? Liberty and bodily autonomy be damned.

But what if there’s very little risk that a woman who gets an abortion experiences those “devastating psychological consequences”?

What if the information often provided by states in connection with their “informed consent” protocol does not actually lead to consent that is more informed, either because the information offered is outdated, biased, false, or flatly unnecessary given a particular pregnant person’s circumstance? Texas’ latest edition of its “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, for example, contains even more false information than prior versions, including the medically disproven claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation.

What if studies show—as they have since the American Psychological Association first conducted one to that effect in 1989—that abortion doesn’t increase the risk of mental health issues?

If the purpose of informed consent laws is to weed out women who have been coerced or who haven’t thought it through, then that purpose collapses if women who get abortions are, by and large, perfectly happy with their decision.

And that’s exactly what research has shown.

Scientific studies indicate that the vast majority of women don’t regret their abortions, and therefore are not devastated psychologically. They don’t fall into drug and alcohol addiction or attempt to kill themselves. But that hasn’t kept anti-choice activists from claiming otherwise.

It’s simply not true that abortion sends mentally healthy patients over the edge. In a study report released in 2008, the APA found that the strongest predictor of post-abortion mental health was prior mental health. In other words, if you’re already suffering from mental health issues before getting an abortion, you’re likely to suffer mental health issues afterward. But the studies most frequently cited in courts around the country prove, at best, an association between mental illness and abortion. When the studies controlled for “prior mental health and violence experience,” “no significant relation was found between abortion history and anxiety disorders.”

But what about forced ultrasound laws, specifically?

Science has its part to play in dismantling those, too.

If Whole Woman’s Health requires the weighing of costs and benefits to ensure that there’s a connection between the claimed purpose of an abortion restriction and the law’s effect, then laws that require a woman to get an ultrasound and to hear a description of it certainly fail that cost-benefit analysis. Science tells us forcing patients to view ultrasound images (as opposed to simply offering the opportunity for a woman to view ultrasound images) in order to give them “information” doesn’t dissuade them from having abortions.

Dr. Jen Gunter made this point in a blog post years ago: One 2009 study found that when given the option to view an ultrasound, nearly 73 percent of women chose to view the ultrasound image, and of those who chose to view it, 85 percent of women felt that it was a positive experience. And here’s the kicker: Not a single woman changed her mind about having an abortion.

Again, if women who choose to see ultrasounds don’t change their minds about getting an abortion, a law mandating that ultrasound in order to dissuade at least some women is, at best, useless. At worst, it’s yet another hurdle patients must leap to get care.

And what of the mandatory waiting period? Texas law requires a 24-hour waiting period—and the Court in Casey upheld a 24-hour waiting period—but states like Louisiana and Florida are increasing the waiting period to 72 hours.

There’s no evidence that forcing women into longer waiting periods has a measurable effect on a woman’s decision to get an abortion. One study conducted in Utah found that 86 percent of women had chosen to get the abortion after the waiting period was over. Eight percent of women chose not to get the abortion, but the most common reason given was that they were already conflicted about abortion in the first place. The author of that study recommended that clinics explore options with women seeking abortion and offer additional counseling to the small percentage of women who are conflicted about it, rather than states imposing a burdensome waiting period.

The bottom line is that the majority of women who choose abortion make up their minds and go through with it, irrespective of the many roadblocks placed in their way by overzealous state governments. And we know that those who cannot overcome those roadblocks—for financial or other reasons—are the ones who experience actual negative effects. As we saw in Whole Woman’s Health, those kinds of studies, when admitted as evidence in the court record, can be critical in striking restrictions down.

Of course, the Supreme Court has not always expressed an affinity for scientific data, as Justice Anthony Kennedy demonstrated in Gonzales v. Carhart, when he announced that “some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” even though he admitted there was “no reliable data to measure the phenomenon.” It was under Gonzales that so many legislators felt equipped to pass laws backed up by no legitimate scientific evidence in the first place.

Whole Woman’s Health offers reproductive rights advocates an opportunity to revisit a host of anti-choice restrictions that states claim are intended to advance one interest or another—whether it’s the state’s interest in fetal life or the state’s purported interest in the psychological well-being of its citizens. But if the laws don’t have their intended effects, and if they simply throw up obstacles in front of people seeking abortion, then perhaps, Whole Woman’s Health and its focus on scientific data will be the death knell of these laws too.

News Human Rights

Remaining Charges Dropped Against Officers in Freddie Gray Case

Michelle D. Anderson

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Three Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray will not go to trial as originally planned.

Chief Deputy State Attorney Michael Schatzow of the Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office said during a court hearing Wednesday that his office would not prosecute Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White or attempt to retry Officer William Porter, whose case ended in a mistrial in December.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had charged Miller, White, and Porter, along with Officer Edward Nero, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., and Lt. Brian Rice, in Gray’s May 2015 death in police custody.

The officers faced an array of charges, ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder and reckless endangerment to second-degree assault and involuntary manslaughter.

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All of the officers pleaded not guilty.

Judge Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Nero, Goodson, and Rice during bench trials that ended in May, June, and July, respectively. Miller’s trial was set to begin Wednesday; White, October 13, and Porter, September 6.

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Mosby, in filing charges against the officers, attempted to hold law enforcement accountable for failing to secure Gray in a seat belt after transporting him in a police van following his arrest, among other alleged negligent acts. Prosecutors charged that Gray was illegally detained before police officers found a knife in his pocket.

Mosby stood by her decision to bring charges against the six officers during a brief press conference held near the Gilmor Homes public housing project, where Gray was taken into police custody.

“We stand by the medical examiners determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby said.

She touted her team’s success during the trials, including an appellate court victory that led some officers to testify against one another and asserted that a summary judgment was among many reasons she had “legitimate reasons” to pursue criminal charges.

Mosby praised the reforms that had come over the past year, including a new “use of force” policy Baltimore police instituted this year. The new policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability. It marks the first rewrite of the policy since 2003.

“For those that believe I am anti-police, that’s simply not the case. I am anti-police brutality,” Mosby said.

The conference was the first time Mosby had spoken in months, since a gag order imposed by Williams had kept prosecution and defense alike from commenting on the police trials.

The decision to drop charges stemmed from “an apparent acknowledgement” that convictions were unlikely for the remaining officers, the Baltimore Sun reported.

This was because the prosecution would face major challenges during Miller’s trial since they wouldn’t be able to use anything he said on the witness stand during Nero’s trial in an attempt to convict him. Miller had spoken during Nero’s trial in an immunized testimony and with protections against self incrimination, the Sun reported.

Williams said in previous trials that prosecutors failed to show sufficient evidence to support their stance that the officers acted recklessly and caused Gray’s death. He said prosecutors wanted him to rely on “presumptions or assumptions” and rejected the notion that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride” in the police vehicle, according to numerous news reports.

The decision to drop charges drew criticism from many activists and citizens alike, but drew praise from the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 union, which had repeatedly urged the prosecution to drop charges.

Baltimore Bloc, a local grassroots group, said in a statement this spring that Mosby should be removed from office for failing to secure convictions against officers and continued to criticize her on Twitter after the announcement that charges would be dropped.