Analysis Abortion

Students Mobilize as Extreme New Anti-Choice Bill Surfaces in the Kansas Legislature

Andrew Jenkins

As a friend and colleague from Planned Parenthood so eloquently put it, Kansas is a “petri dish”—a place where the most extreme anti-abortion laws are conceived and tested. But students are organized and we are fighting back.

When we talk about Kansas, we’re usually bogged down in the quagmire of anti-choice legislation birthed in the American heartland. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why: there are no abortion providers in 97 percent of counties in Kansas, and it was one of the states to pass the largest number of restrictions to abortion care in 2012.

As a friend and colleague from Planned Parenthood so eloquently put it, Kansas is a “petrie dish”—a place where the most extreme anti-abortion laws are conceived and tested. And she’s absolutely right. With one of the most outspoken anti-choice majorities in the state legislature, Kansas is a central battleground in the national fight for reproductive health, rights, and justice.

In fact, Representative Steve Brunk just introduced a bill on Wednesday, seeking to further restrict access to sexual and reproductive health care. This bill—among other things—would require a physician to withhold critical information from his or her patients if they believe that information could potentially result in the termination of a pregnancy. House Bill No. 2253 would expand the Woman’s Right to Know Act, stipulating that all medical providers inform their patients that “abortion includes a risk of breast cancer and premature births in future pregnancies.” Both of these claims have been deemed scientifically inaccurate by the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the World Health Organization. This bill would also create several new taxes including:

  • A new tax for employers, who purchase optional health insurance abortion coverage riders for their employees.
  • A new tax on any expense related to expenditures on research and development that ma include abortion.
  • A new state sales tax on drugs/medications used in the performance or induction of an abortion. 

Needless to say, this bill is a whole new level of extreme. And in a state where countless barriers already exist to limit access, it’s easy to unilaterally focus on the negative side of the equation. And on the surface, that’s the only story we see.

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At Choice USA, we get to see a different story.

We get to see a new generation of pro-choice leaders fighting back.

This week, over two dozen of our student leaders traveled from across the state to meet—face to face—with their legislators. Frustrated with continued attacks on reproductive health and rights in their state, they wanted to send a collective message to the 2013 legislature: if you continue to support legislation that hurts young people, we’re going to hold you accountable.

On Monday, our students delivered this message—loud and clear—to fifteen different state legislators. And we’re already seeing the impact.

In fact, our students had the entire statehouse buzzing—fascinated and intrigued by this infamous group of young leaders storming the Capitol building. Some of them were champions and supporters of reproductive health and rights. Many of them were not. Several legislators even told us that this was their first time meeting with young constituents to discuss reproductive health issues. Before Monday, they were laboring under the false pretense that their constituents were universally anti-choice.

We set the record straight.

And although we may not have the numbers we need in the state legislature to prevent this bill from passing, we do have their attention. By meeting with legislators on Monday, our students were able to push for specific compromises and minimize the impact of the bill, turn our supporters into more vocal champions, lift up young people’s voices in the political process, and ultimately build the grassroots power we need to transform the political climate in Kansas.

It’s a powerful story. But if you don’t look beyond the surface, all you see is a galvanized anti-choice movement and a state legislature willing to move their agenda. All you see is a hopeless cause. Look beyond the surface though, and you’ll find some of the most passionate and talented young activists in the country, leading a grassroots effort to win reproductive justice in Kansas.

This lobby day is a shining example of Choice USA’s strategy to move a youth-led and youth-focused reproductive justice agenda: making strategic investments in young leaders on the ground, so that they can build the grassroots power necessary to protect and expand access to sexual and reproductive health in their own communities.

After meeting with her elected officials for the first time, Mia, a 17-year-old activist from Kansas, asked, “I’ve never felt so empowered before. Can we do this everyday?”

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to politics, young people know better than to hit it and quit it. Every political act we participate in is a starting point for long-term engagement.

And that’s precisely why Choice USA does this work. 

We do it because we know that the emerging generation of pro-choice leaders is the most valuable—and untapped—resource we have in combating the rampant assault on sexual and reproductive freedom. We know that young people are the only ones with the power and growing political momentum to shift the status quo in a meaningful and sustainable way.

There is more at stake for young people in 2013 than ever before, and the moral imperative in front of us is clear. We must invest in the emerging generation of progressive leaders now, or risk losing everything.

So if Kansas is at the center of the battle for reproductive freedom, then young people are our frontline troops and we have an ethical obligation to invest in them.

And you know what they say.

There’s no better time than the present. 

Commentary Sexual Health

Parents, Educators Can Support Pediatricians in Providing Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Nicole Cushman

While medical systems will need to evolve to address the challenges preventing pediatricians from sharing medically accurate and age-appropriate information about sexuality with their patients, there are several things I recommend parents and educators do to reinforce AAP’s guidance.

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a clinical report outlining guidance for pediatricians on providing sexuality education to the children and adolescents in their care. As one of the most influential medical associations in the country, AAP brings, with this report, added weight to longstanding calls for comprehensive sex education.

The report offers guidance for clinicians on incorporating conversations about sexual and reproductive health into routine medical visits and summarizes the research supporting comprehensive sexuality education. It acknowledges the crucial role pediatricians play in supporting their patients’ healthy development, making them key stakeholders in the promotion of young people’s sexual health. Ultimately, the report could bolster efforts by parents and educators to increase access to comprehensive sexuality education and better equip young people to grow into sexually healthy adults.

But, while the guidance provides persuasive, evidence-backed encouragement for pediatricians to speak with parents and children and normalize sexual development, the report does not acknowledge some of the practical challenges to implementing such recommendations—for pediatricians as well as parents and school staff. Articulating these real-world challenges (and strategies for overcoming them) is essential to ensuring the report does not wind up yet another publication collecting proverbial dust on bookshelves.

The AAP report does lay the groundwork for pediatricians to initiate conversations including medically accurate and age-appropriate information about sexuality, and there is plenty in the guidelines to be enthusiastic about. Specifically, the report acknowledges something sexuality educators have long known—that a simple anatomy lesson is not sufficient. According to the AAP, sexuality education should address interpersonal relationships, body image, sexual orientation, gender identity, and reproductive rights as part of a comprehensive conversation about sexual health.

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The report further acknowledges that young people with disabilities, chronic health conditions, and other special needs also need age- and developmentally appropriate sex education, and it suggests resources for providing care to LGBTQ young people. Importantly, the AAP rejects abstinence-only approaches as ineffective and endorses comprehensive sexuality education.

It is clear that such guidance is sorely needed. Previous studies have shown that pediatricians have not been successful at having conversations with their patients about sexuality. One study found that one in three adolescents did not receive any information about sexuality from their pediatrician during health maintenance visits, and those conversations that did occur lasted less than 40 seconds, on average. Another analysis showed that, among sexually experienced adolescents, only a quarter of girls and one-fifth of boys had received information from a health-care provider about sexually transmitted infections or HIV in the last year. 

There are a number of factors at play preventing pediatricians from having these conversations. Beyond parental pushback and anti-choice resistance to comprehensive sex education, which Martha Kempner has covered in depth for Rewire, doctor visits are often limited in time and are not usually scheduled to allow for the kind of discussion needed to build a doctor-patient relationship that would be conducive to providing sexuality education. Doctors also may not get needed in-depth training to initiate and sustain these important, ongoing conversations with patients and their families.

The report notes that children and adolescents prefer a pediatrician who is nonjudgmental and comfortable discussing sexuality, answering questions and addressing concerns, but these interpersonal skills must be developed and honed through clinical training and practice. In order to fully implement the AAP’s recommendations, medical school curricula and residency training programs would need to devote time to building new doctors’ comfort with issues surrounding sexuality, interpersonal skills for navigating tough conversations, and knowledge and skills necessary for providing LGBTQ-friendly care.

As AAP explains in the report, sex education should come from many sources—schools, communities, medical offices, and homes. It lays out what can be a powerful partnership between parents, doctors, and educators in providing the age-appropriate and truly comprehensive sexuality education that young people need and deserve. While medical systems will need to evolve to address the challenges outlined above, there are several things I recommend parents and educators do to reinforce AAP’s guidance.

Parents and Caregivers: 

  • When selecting a pediatrician for your child, ask potential doctors about their approach to sexuality education. Make sure your doctor knows that you want your child to receive comprehensive, medically accurate information about a range of issues pertaining to sexuality and sexual health.
  • Talk with your child at home about sex and sexuality. Before a doctor’s visit, help your child prepare by encouraging them to think about any questions they may have for the doctor about their body, sexual feelings, or personal safety. After the visit, check in with your child to make sure their questions were answered.
  • Find out how your child’s school approaches sexuality education. Make sure school administrators, teachers, and school board members know that you support age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education that will complement the information provided by you and your child’s pediatrician.

School Staff and Educators: 

  • Maintain a referral list of pediatricians for parents to consult. When screening doctors for inclusion on the list, ask them how they approach sexuality education with patients and their families.
  • Involve supportive pediatricians in sex education curriculum review committees. Medical professionals can provide important perspective on what constitutes medically accurate, age- and developmentally-appropriate content when selecting or adapting curriculum materials for sex education classes.
  • Adopt sex-education policies and curricula that are comprehensive and inclusive of all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Ensure that teachers receive the training and support they need to provide high-quality sex education to their students.

The AAP clinical report provides an important step toward ensuring that young people receive sexuality education that supports their healthy sexual development. If adopted widely by pediatricians—in partnership with parents and schools—the report’s recommendations could contribute to a sea change in providing young people with the care and support they need.

News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

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The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights.