News Abortion

Medication Abortion Bill Heads to Gov. Pence—Is He Ready to Govern as a Fiscal Conservative?

Robin Marty

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is about to come to a crossroads in his political career. Will he chose to embrace his new "moderate" stance, or live up to his former social conservative past?

Now that the Indiana legislature has passed a new abortion bill intended to end safe abortion access in western Indiana, Republican Gov. Mike Pence stands at a crossroads in his political career. Since winning the governor’s race in 2012, he has tried to make Indiana’s economic climate his only issue. Will that focus continue now that he’s faced with signing an abortion bill that would play to social conservatives but could cost the state money in the long run because of costs related to unintended pregnancies?

Pence is still something of a mystery to many of the residents he now represents. A longtime congressman who was seen as being part of the most extreme right wing of the Republican party, especially on social issues, Pence avoided making those views a focus of his 2012 gubernatorial race. This garnered him a narrow win, while equally socially conservative Senate candidate Richard Mourdock lost what was believed to be an easy race.

Now that SB 371 is headed to his desk for signature, Pence will have to make a choice. Will he continue to position himself as the “moderate” governor who represents many of the views of Indiana citizens, like he did when he was on the campaign trail? Or will he again focus on the divisive “social” issues that Hoosiers rejected when they refused to vote for Mourdock?

Despite the insistence of the state house chair, the bill to stop the Lafayette Planned Parenthood from offering medication abortions really represents an economic issue. The GOP-dominated house rejected votes on amendments that would make continuing unwanted pregnancies less of an economic hardship. But that doesn’t mean the state will be able to avoid the inevitable medical and other costs that come about when safe abortion access is cut off and adults and teens, many of whom are already struggling financially, are forced to give birth.

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It’s not lost on reproductive rights supporters that state legislators have veered far from their campaign promises of “jobs, jobs jobs.” “Nearly every one of our legislators claimed they’d be focusing their efforts this session on growing jobs and our economy,” Indiana Planned Parenthood President and CEO Betty Cockrum said in a statement. “Yet, this extremist legislature took aim at our non-profit and our patients—men and women who often otherwise go without care.”

The question remains whether Gov. Pence will follow the lead of the other Republican politicians and sign into law an abortion restriction that goes against the economic interests of his state and its residents. As the JCOnline.com editorial board notes, while anti-choice activists claim the bill is a necessary legislative move to protect women’s health, it is in actuality a direct assault on Planned Parenthood. And it’s unlikely to be the only one: “If SB 371 was, in fact, about getting at the cause of unwanted pregnancy, it would have included information about contraceptives available at Planned Parenthood along with the informed consent forms—which now will need to be in color, per the house version of SB 371—patients must get before having an abortion or taking RU-486. The house rejected that amendment on Monday. No matter how hard SB 371’s sponsors protest otherwise, this is a surgical strike …. [J]udging on momentum building in the General Assembly, don’t expect SB 371 to be the last shot at Planned Parenthood.”

Pence has been a formidable foot soldier in the war against Planned Parenthood during his national legislative career. While in Congress, he attempted to defund Planned Parenthood federally, despite the fact that the Title X funding Planned Parenthood receives is not used to fund abortion care. As he told Politico in a 2011 interview, “If Planned Parenthood wants to be involved in providing counseling services and HIV testing, they ought not be in the business of providing abortions. As long as they aspire to do that, I’ll be after them …. What’s clear to me, if you follow the money, you can actually take the funding supports out of abortion. We then have a much better opportunity to move forward to be a society that says yes to life.”

Pence, who has often referred to himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” was an active supporter of the anti-choice movement while in Congress, especially during March for Life. In 2011, he released a statement to marchers urging them to focus even harder on eliminating the right to choose. “These are trying times in the life of this nation,” said Pence. “Our economy is struggling and our national government is awash in a sea of debt. Amidst these struggles, some would have us focus our energies on jobs and spending. We must not remain silent when great moral battles are being waged. Those who would have us ignore the battle being fought over life have forgotten the lessons of history. As in the days of a house divided, America’s darkest moments have come when economic arguments trumped moral principles. A nation that will not stand for life will not stand for long. You know there can be no lasting prosperity without a moral foundation in law.”

Pence distanced himself from his social-issues crusade when he began his run for the governor’s office in 2012, leaving abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood, and other divisive issues out of his campaign stump speeches and “roadmap.” He vowed to concentrate on strengthening Indiana’s economic well-being, although his continued refusal to buy into federal Medicaid expansion showed his reticence to completely disconnect from his past, even if it was in the best interest of Hoosiers. In February, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette wrote:

Pence, in communication with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, instead has asked that Indiana be permitted to use the Healthy Indiana Program to serve an expanded Medicaid population.

Pence said the federal program is “rife with waste and fraud.” Indiana’s plan has a 98 percent approval rating from participants, and it encourages wellness and healthy behavior.

The Healthy Indiana Program may, indeed, be promising, but it’s too little, too late. It covers just 40,000 Hoosiers, with 46,000 more on the waiting list. The pool of Indiana residents eligible for coverage under the federal Medicaid expansion – up to 138 percent of the poverty line – is 400,000, most of them working-class Hoosiers whose employers don’t provide health care coverage or offer insufficient policies.

As IU’s Carroll notes, the decision is not between giving vulnerable residents a choice between Medicaid and private health insurance – it’s between giving them Medicaid and nothing.

Will the new, more “moderate” Gov. Pence veto SB 371 and allow Planned Parenthood of Lafayette to continue to provide abortions to individuals in the area who can’t travel to other locations in the state? Or will the former congressman return to his old ways and sign on with the ideological social-issues agenda of conservative cohorts, even at added expense to the state and to the detriment of financially struggling women in western Indiana? If he does sign, Pence may feel the wrath of the majority of Hoosiers who support keeping abortion safe and legal when he seeks re-election.

News Politics

NARAL Leader Campaigns to Oust Anti-Choice Colorado Congressman

Jason Salzman

NARAL Pro-Choice America officials have stepped up support for pro-choice Democrat Morgan Carroll in her competitive race against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who’s voted repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called voters this week on behalf of pro-choice Colorado state Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora), who’s running against anti-choice U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora).

Hogue stopped by Carroll’s campaign office in a Denver suburb and called voters, in part, she told Rewire, because NARAL wants to “send a signal to the anti-choice legislators who are hiding from their anti-choice records when they come home at election time.”

Hogue pointed to Coffman’s repeated votes to defund Planned Parenthood—efforts based on discredited videos released by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress. Coffman used a Planned Parenthood Action Fund logo in a political advertisement, despite having voted repeatedly to defund the organization, as first reported by Rewire. He voted again to defund Planned Parenthood after the ad aired.

“Mike Coffman has worked to defund women’s health centers and even fought to redefine rape,” Carroll said in a statement during Hogue’s visit. “Millions of women across this country simply can’t afford to have representatives like Mike Coffman in Congress.

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Coffman once co-sponsored a measure that redefined “a ban on federal funding for abortions to exempt only ‘forcible rape.'” Coffman’s campaign did not return a call seeking comment.

Coffman’s district, concentrated in the suburbs east of Denver, is perennially ranked as home to some of the nation’s most competitive political races. Coffman was first elected in 2008, two years before district boundaries were re-drawn, making for a much closer elections.

The Republican, a former U.S. Marine who has become known as a tough campaigner, surprised analysts by his ten-point margin of victory in 2014, after a narrow 2 percent margin in 2012.

Asked for a reaction to her phone calls on Carroll’s behalf, Hogue said she was encouraged by the candidate’s name recognition but dismayed by the apathy she encountered, though she noted that the election season is young.

“Particularly if we continue to hear that Trump is down by 15 points in polls, apathy is going to be a real issue in this election,” Hogue said. “People need to be made to feel that their vote matters. It matters at the top of the ticket. It certainly matters when you get down to the folks who are going to stay in the state house here [in Colorado] or go to D.C. and do the day-to-day work of moving this agenda forward. People need to hear that their participation has value.”

“We hope our investment in the field effort here puts Morgan Carroll a little bit closer to victory, but also builds power for NARAL members and the issue long term,” Hogue said. “Our job doesn’t end on Election Day. It begins on Election Day.”

Commentary Human Rights

When It Comes to Zika and Abortion, Disabled People Are Too Often Used as a Rhetorical Device

s.e. smith

Anti-choicers shame parents facing a prenatal diagnosis and considering abortion, even though they don't back up their advocacy up with support. The pro-choice movement, on the other hand, often finds itself caught between defending abortion as an absolute personal right and suggesting that some lived potentials are worth more than others.

There’s only one reason anyone should ever get an abortion: Because that person is pregnant and does not want to be. As soon as anyone—whether they are pro- or anti-choice—starts bringing up qualifiers, exceptions, and scary monsters under the bed, things get problematic. They establish the seeds of a good abortion/bad abortion dichotomy, in which some abortions are deemed “worthier” than others.

And with the Zika virus reaching the United States and the stakes getting more tangible for many Americans, that arbitrary designation is on a lot of minds—especially where the possibility of developmentally impaired fetuses is concerned. As a result, people with disabilities are more often being used as a rhetorical device for or against abortion rights rather than viewed as actualized human beings.

Here’s what we know about Zika and pregnancy: The virus has been linked to microcephaly, hearing loss, impaired growth, vision problems, and some anomalies of brain development when a fetus is exposed during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sometimes these anomalies are fatal, and patients miscarry their pregnancies. Sometimes they are not. Being infected with Zika is not a guarantee that a fetus will develop developmental impairments.

We need to know much, much more about Zika and pregnancy. At this stage, commonsense precautions when necessary like sleeping under a mosquito net, using insect repellant, and having protected sex to prevent Zika infection in pregnancy are reasonable, given the established link between Zika and developmental anomalies. But the panicked tenor of the conversation about Zika and pregnancy has become troubling.

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In Latin America, where Zika has rampantly spread in the last few years, extremely tough abortion restrictions often deprive patients of reproductive autonomy, to the point where many face the possibility of criminal charges for seeking abortion. Currently, requests for abortions are spiking. Some patients have turned to services like Women on Web, which provides assistance with accessing medical abortion services in nations where they are difficult or impossible to find.

For pro-choice advocates in the United States, the situation in Latin America is further evidence of the need to protect abortion access in our own country. Many have specifically using Zika to advocate against 20-week limits on abortion—which are already unconstitutional, and should be condemned as such. Less than 2 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The pro-choice community is often quick to defend these abortions, arguing that the vast majority take place in cases where the life of the patient is threatened, the fetus has anomalies incompatible with life, or the fetus has severe developmental impairments. Microcephaly, though rare, is an example of an impairment that isn’t diagnosable until late in the second trimester or early in the third, so when patients opt for termination, they run smack up against 20-week bans.

Thanks to the high profile of Zika in the news, fetal anomalies are becoming a talking point on both sides of the abortion divide: Hence the dire headlines sensationalizing the idea that politicians want to force patients to give birth to disabled children. The implication of leaning on these emotional angles, rather than ones based on the law or on human rights, is that Zika causes disabilities, and no one would want to have a disabled child. Some of this rhetoric is likely entirely subconscious, but it reflects internalized attitudes about disabled people, and it’s a dogwhistle to many in the disability community.

Anti-choicers, meanwhile, are leveraging that argument in the other direction, suggesting that patients with Zika will want to kill their precious babies because they aren’t perfect, and that therefore it’s necessary to clamp down on abortion restrictions to protect the “unborn.” Last weekend, for instance, failed presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced that he doesn’t support access to abortion for pregnant patients with the Zika virus who might, as a consequence, run the risk of having babies with microcephaly. Hardline anti-choicers, unsurprisingly, applauded him for taking a stand to protect life.

Both sides are using the wrong leverage in their arguments. An uptick in unmet abortion need is disturbing, yes—because it means that patients are not getting necessary health care. While it may be Zika exposing the issue of late, it’s a symptom, not the problem. Patients should be able to choose to get an abortion for whatever reason and at whatever time, and that right shouldn’t be defended with disingenuous arguments that use disability for cover. The issue with not being able to access abortions after 20 weeks, for example, isn’t that patients cannot access therapeutic abortions for fetuses with anomalies, but that patients cannot access abortions after 20 weeks.

The insistence from pro-choice advocates on justifying abortions after 20 weeks around specific, seemingly involuntary instances, suggests that so-called “late term abortions” need to be circumstantially defended, which retrenches abortion stigma. Few advocates seem to be willing to venture into the troubled waters of fighting for the right to abortions for any reason after 20 weeks. In part, that reflects an incremental approach to securing rights, but it may also betray some squeamishness. Patients don’t need to excuse their abortions, and the continual haste to do so by many pro-choice advocates makes it seem like a 20-week or later abortion is something wrong, something that might make patients feel ashamed depending on their reasons. There’s nothing shameful about needing abortion care after 20 weeks.

And, as it follows, nor is there ever a “bad” reason for termination. Conservatives are fond of using gruesome language targeted at patients who choose to abort for apparent fetal disability diagnoses in an attempt to shame them into believing that they are bad people for choosing to terminate their pregnancies. They use the specter of murdering disabled babies to advance not just social attitudes, but actual policy. Republican Gov. Mike Pence, for example, signed an Indiana law banning abortion on the basis of disability into law, though it was just blocked by a judge. Ohio considered a similar bill, while North Dakota tried to ban disability-related abortions only to be stymied in court. Other states require mandatory counseling when patients are diagnosed with fetal anomalies, with information about “perinatal hospice,” implying that patients have a moral responsibility to carry a pregnancy to term even if the fetus has impairments so significant that survival is questionable and that measures must be taken to “protect” fetuses against “hasty” abortions.

Conservative rhetoric tends to exceptionalize disability, with terms like “special needs child” and implications that disabled people are angelic, inspirational, and sometimes educational by nature of being disabled. A child with Down syndrome isn’t just a disabled child under this framework, for example, but a valuable lesson to the people around her. Terminating a pregnancy for disability is sometimes treated as even worse than terminating an apparently healthy pregnancy by those attempting to demonize abortion. This approach to abortion for disability uses disabled people as pawns to advance abortion restrictions, playing upon base emotions in the ultimate quest to make it functionally impossible to access abortion services. And conservatives can tar opponents of such laws with claims that they hate disabled people—even though many disabled people themselves oppose these patronizing policies, created to address a false epidemic of abortions for disability.

When those on either side of the abortion debate suggest that the default response to a given diagnosis is abortion, people living with that diagnosis hear that their lives are not valued. This argument implies that life with a disability is not worth living, and that it is a natural response for many to wish to terminate in cases of fetal anomalies. This rhetoric often collapses radically different diagnoses under the same roof; some impairments are lethal, others can pose significant challenges, and in other cases, people can enjoy excellent quality of life if they are provided with access to the services they need.

Many parents facing a prenatal diagnosis have never interacted with disabled people, don’t know very much about the disability in question, and are feeling overwhelmed. Anti-choicers want to force them to listen to lectures at the least and claim this is for everyone’s good, which is a gross violation of personal privacy, especially since they don’t back their advocacy up with support for disability programs that would make a comfortable, happy life with a complex impairment possible. The pro-choice movement, on the other hand, often finds itself caught between the imperative to defend abortion as an absolute personal right and suggesting that some lived potentials are worth more than others. It’s a disturbing line of argument to take, alienating people who might otherwise be very supportive of abortion rights.

It’s clearly tempting to use Zika as a political football in the abortion debate, and for conservatives, doing so is taking advantage of a well-established playbook. Pro-choicers, however, would do better to walk off the field, because defending abortion access on the sole grounds that a fetus might have a disability rings very familiar and uncomfortable alarm bells for many in the disability community.

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