News Abortion

Indiana Man Attacks Planned Parenthood With Ax Because of ‘Religious Beliefs’

Robin Marty

After incessant demonizing of Planned Parenthood during public testimony over the state's TRAP bill, is it any wonder someone decided to attack a reproductive health center?

A 27-year-old Indiana man is being held by police after taking an ax to a Bloomington, Indiana, Planned Parenthood clinic and then vandalizing it with red paint. The attack, which happened in the early hours of the morning, involved no staff or patients, as the office was closed.

According to the local ABC affiliate, Benjamin Curell said he damaged and vandalized the clinic because of his “religious beliefs.” Bloomington police Capt. Joe Qualters told the news organization, “The suspect made statements indicating the facility was targeted due to abortions being performed there … He stated his intent was to damage the building because they ‘kill’ and ‘murder’ babies. He attributed his actions to his religious beliefs.”

“We are of course working closely with local law enforcement regarding this incident, but no matter what the case, this individual will not deter us from continuing our mission to provide preventive care such as birth control, Pap tests, testicular and breast exams, and STD testing and treatment, in addition to abortion services, in Bloomington,” said Planned Parenthood of Indiana CEO Betty Cockrum in a statement. “While the center is only open for limited purposes today, it will again be fully up and running as soon as possible. We will protect our patients and our staff, and we will rise above, as we always do.”

Planned Parenthood of Indiana has been the focus of Indiana legislators the last few sessions; in 2011 then Gov. Mitch Daniels attempted to defund the group (the federal government blocked that attempt), and this year anti-choice legislators are trying to pass a targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) law, SB 371, to block Planned Parenthood’s Lafayette clinic from offering medication abortions. Throughout the testimony for the bill, anti-choice state groups demonized the Planned Parenthood. Is it a big surprise that an anti-choice activist would eventually take action against one of the group’s clinics?

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Culture & Conversation Abortion

With Buffer Zones and Decline of ‘Rescues’ Came Anti-Choice Legal Boom, Book Argues

Eleanor J. Bader

University of Denver's Joshua Wilson argues that prosecutions of abortion-clinic protesters and the decline of "rescue" groups in the 1980s and 1990s boosted conservative anti-abortion legal activism nationwide.

There is nothing startling or even new in University of Denver Professor Joshua C. Wilson’s The New States of Abortion Politics (Stanford University Press). But the concise volume—just 99 pages of text—pulls together several recent trends among abortion opponents and offers a clear assessment of where that movement is going.

As Wilson sees it, anti-choice activists have moved from the streets, sidewalks, and driveways surrounding clinics to the courts. This, he argues, represents not only a change of agitational location but also a strategic shift. Like many other scholars and advocates, Wilson interprets this as a move away from pushing for the complete reversal of Roe v. Wade and toward a more incremental, state-by-state winnowing of access to reproductive health care. Furthermore, he points out that it is no coincidence that this maneuver took root in the country’s most socially conservative regions—the South and Midwest—before expanding outward.

Wilson credits two factors with provoking this metamorphosis. The first was congressional passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994, legislation that imposed penalties on protesters who blocked patients and staff from entering or leaving reproductive health facilities. FACE led to the establishment of protest-free buffer zones at freestanding clinics, something anti-choicers saw as an infringement on their right to speak freely.

Not surprisingly, reproductive rights activists—especially those who became active in the 1980s and early 1990s as a response to blockades, butyric acid attacks, and various forms of property damage at abortion clinics—saw the zones as imperative. In their experiences, buffer zones were the only way to ensure that patients and staff could enter or leave a facility without being harassed or menaced.

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The second factor, Wilson writes, involved the reduced ranks of the so-called “rescue” movement, a fundamentalist effort led by the Lambs of Christ, Operation Rescue, Operation Save America, and Priests for Life. While these groups are former shadows of themselves, the end of the rescue era did not end anti-choice activism. Clinics continue to be picketed, and clinicians are still menaced. In fact, local protesters and groups such as 40 Days for Life and the Center for Medical Progress (which has exclusively targeted Planned Parenthood) negatively affect access to care. Unfortunately, Wilson does not tackle these updated forms of harassment and intimidation—or mention that some of the same players are involved, albeit in different roles.

Instead, he argues the two threads—FACE and the demise of most large-scale clinic protests—are thoroughly intertwined. Wilson accurately reports that the rescue movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in hundreds of arrests as well as fines and jail sentences for clinic blockaders. This, he writes, opened the door to right-wing Christian attorneys eager to make a name for themselves by representing arrested and incarcerated activists.

But the lawyers’ efforts did not stop there. Instead, they set their sights on FACE and challenged the statute on First Amendment grounds. As Wilson reports, for almost two decades, a loosely connected group of litigators and activists worked diligently to challenge the buffer zones’ legitimacy. Their efforts finally paid off in 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court found that “protection against unwelcome speech cannot justify restrictions on the use of public streets and sidewalks.” In short, the decision in McCullen v. Coakley found that clinics could no longer ask the courts for blanket prohibitions on picketing outside their doors—even when they anticipated prayer vigils, demonstrations, or other disruptions. They had to wait until something happened.

This, of course, was bad news for people in need of abortions and other reproductive health services, and good news for the anti-choice activists and the lawyers who represented them. Indeed, the McCullen case was an enormous win for the conservative Christian legal community, which by the early 2000s had developed into a network united by opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights.

The New States of Abortion Politics zeroes in on one of these legal groups: the well-heeled and virulently anti-choice Alliance Defending Freedom, previously known as the Alliance Defense Fund. It’s a chilling portrait.

According to Wilson, ADF’s budget was $40 million in 2012, a quarter of which came from the National Christian Foundation, an Alpharetta, Georgia, entity that claims to have distributed $6 billion in grants to right-wing Christian organizing efforts since 1982.

By any measure, ADF has been effective in promoting its multipronged agenda: “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and the family.” In practical terms, this means opposing LGBTQ inclusion, abortion, marriage equality, and the right to determine one’s gender identity for oneself.

The group’s tentacles run deep. In addition to a staff of 51 full-time lawyers and hundreds of volunteers, a network of approximately 3,000 “allied attorneys” work in all 50 states to boost ADF’s agenda. Allies are required to sign a statement affirming their commitment to the Trinitarian Statement of Faith, a hallmark of fundamentalist Christianity that rests on a literal interpretation of biblical scripture. They also have to commit to providing 450 hours of pro bono legal work over three years to promote ADF’s interests—no matter their day job or other obligations. Unlike the American Bar Association, which encourages lawyers to provide free legal representation to poor clients, ADF’s allied attorneys steer clear of the indigent and instead focus exclusively on sexuality, reproduction, and social conservatism.

What’s more, by collaborating with other like-minded outfits—among them, Liberty Counsel and the American Center for Law and Justice—ADF provides conservative Christian lawyers with an opportunity to team up on both local and national cases. Periodic trainings—online as well as in-person ones—offer additional chances for skill development and schmoozing. Lastly, thanks to Americans United for Life, model legislation and sample legal briefs give ADF’s other allies an easy way to plug in and introduce ready-made bills to slowly but surely chip away at abortion, contraceptive access, and LGBTQ equality.

The upshot has been dramatic. Despite the recent Supreme Court win in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the number of anti-choice measures passed by statehouses across the country has ramped up since 2011. Restrictions—ranging from parental consent provisions to mandatory ultrasound bills and expanded waiting periods for people seeking abortions—have been imposed. Needless to say, the situation is unlikely to improve appreciably for the foreseeable future. What’s more, the same people who oppose abortion have unleashed a backlash to marriage equality as well as anti-discrimination protections for the trans community, and their howls of disapproval have hit a fever pitch.

The end result, Wilson notes, is that the United States now has “an inconstant localized patchwork of rules” governing abortion; some counties persist in denying marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples, making homophobic public servants martyrs in some quarters. As for reproductive health care, it all depends on where one lives: By virtue of location, some people have relatively easy access to medical providers while others have to travel hundreds of miles and take multiple days off from work to end an unwanted pregnancy. Needless to say, this is highly pleasing to ADF’s attorneys and has served to bolster their fundraising efforts. After all, nothing brings in money faster than demonstrable success.

The New States of Abortion Politics is a sobering reminder of the gains won by the anti-choice movement. And while Wilson does not tip his hand to indicate his reaction to this or other conservative victories—he is merely the reporter—it is hard to read the volume as anything short of a call for renewed activism in support of reproductive rights, both in the courts and in the streets.

News Law and Policy

ACLU of Indiana Sues State Health Department, County Prosecutors Over Ultrasound Law

Michelle D. Anderson

The official digest language for the law says that pregnant patients considering an abortion “must be given the opportunity to view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone” at least 18 hours before an abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood joined forces again on Thursday to challenge an anti-choice law that the organizations say will prove burdensome for reproductive clinics and their patients alike in Indiana.

The two parties filed a lawsuit on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to challenge a provision of the omnibus HEA 1337, which requires an ultrasound at least 18 hours before an abortion procedure.

The official digest language for the law says that pregnant patients considering an abortion “must be given the opportunity to view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone” at least 18 hours before an abortion. At the same time, the clinic must obtain the state-required “informed consent.”

The provision went into effect July 1. Prior to its enactment, Indiana law required an ultrasound but did not mandate the time at which the imaging had to be provided. As such, clinics typically performed ultrasounds right before the procedure.

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The plaintiffs claim the new law would require many patients to make two lengthy trips to obtain an abortion or pay for an overnight stay in order to receive care. This, Planned Parenthood officials said, would also burden its majority low-income clientele by causing them to lose at least a day of wages and by potentially requiring them to arrange special child care.

The law, the plaintiffs argue, would also cause clinics to become more crowded, delaying abortions to the point where some patients may not be able to receive care within Indiana’s legal limits. Indiana bans abortions after 20 weeks except when the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Betty Cockrum, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, told the Indiana News Service the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against Texas’s omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB 2, opened the door for the organization to seek further review of Indiana’s laws.

In an official statement, Cockrum said the 18-hour ultrasound requirement was “unduly burdensome” and added no value to the state’s already restrictive abortion policies.

The 10-page lawsuit, which argues that there is no medical justification for an ultrasound 18 hours before an abortion, lists Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams and the prosecutors of Marion, Lake, Monroe, and Tippecanoe Counties as defendants.

As commissioner, Adams is the “duly appointed official” in charge of the agency responsible for licensing abortion clinics pursuant to Indiana law, the suit explains.

Similarly, the prosecutors of the four counties listed in the lawsuit, help enforce the laws that the four Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortion care in Indiana must adhere to.

While Planned Parenthood has 23 health centers throughout the state, it only provides abortions in Bloomington, Merrillville, Indianapolis, and Lafayette.

Thursday’s lawsuit is the second legal action Planned Parenthood has taken against Indiana officials in recent weeks to challenge laws the health-care provider says could make securing abortion care cumbersome or impossible for state residents.

On June 30, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to block several provisions in HEA 1337 that would have kept a pregnant person from terminating a pregnancy when an abnormality, such as a life-threatening disability, is present in the fetus.

The lawsuit filed Thursday asks for the law to be blocked during the trial and until the court makes a decision, a declaration that the ultrasound provision is unconstitutional, and an monetary award for the plaintiff’s attorney fees.