Commentary Abortion

Star Parker and the Gosnell Controversy: She Still Doesn’t Get it

Imani Gandy

The brutal truth is this: The people who are concerned with the abortion rate in the Black community are the reason that the abortion rate in the Black community is so high.

Star Parker penned an op-ed for Newsday recently that demonstrated a stunning lack of understanding about the real meaning of “choice” and attempted yet again to blame the abortion rate in the Black community on Planned Parenthood and Black women.

As I read her piece, I was initially heartened. She’s the only anti-choicer I can recall actually absorbing the pro-choice argument that women who lack access to safe abortion care will resort to unsafe abortion care—because if a woman doesn’t want to be pregnant, she’ll find a way to not be pregnant, by hook or by crook. Parker seems to get that. She writes:

Reports are coming in from around the nation indicating that more Gosnells are out there.

The abortion lobby claims that as long as we have tight regulations on abortion, a black market will exist. Abortion, they argue, is like any product or service that consumers want and government prohibits or overregulates. If they can’t get what they want legally, they will get it illegally.

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We also hear that we get Gosnells when government refuses to pay for the abortions of poor women. The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid compensation for abortion, makes unsafe abortion inevitable, they say.

According to this reasoning, poor women — desperate because of an unwanted pregnancy, pressed because regulations and costs make abortion difficult to get — turn to sleazebag doctors who will do it cheaply, with no regard for the woman, the law or safety.

Yes! That’s precisely right. The horrors that took place in Gosnell’s clinic are a direct result of policies that have been chipping away at the abortion rights established in Roe v. Wade. Gosnell’s sadistic and illegal abortion practices are the result of injustice in reproductive health care—women who have the right to abortion care but lack safe access.

Despite what anti-choicers would like you to believe, Gosnell is not the norm. He does not represent the type of care that anyone who is pro-choice advocates. He was a murderer and an opportunist who preyed upon the most vulnerable women who chose to terminate a pregnancy, but because of lack of health insurance, lack of public funding for abortion, and prohibitively stringent regulations that have forced abortion clinics to shutter their doors, found themselves with no place else to go. So yes, desperate women will turn to “sleazebag doctors” like Gosnell who have no regard for women’s health, the law, or safety.

By George, I think Star’s got it! But, no, not really. Parker continues:

But it is ironic that those who call themselves “pro-choice” argue that the only alternatives facing low-income women are unsafe abortions done by sleazebags or government-subsidized abortions.

There is another choice, but those who call themselves don’t want women, particularly poor women, to consider it.

This option is called birth.

So close, Star. So close. But, alas, close doesn’t cut it when it comes to respecting women’s right to bodily autonomy.

The point of the term “pro-choice” and the work that pro-choice activists do is to ensure that “choice” encompasses all choices. The choice to have children. The choice to have children when you want to have them. The choice to stop having them after you already have them. It’s the choice to decide for yourself.

Indeed, it’s the same choice Parker made when she chose to have four abortions. Whether or not she regrets those abortions, the fact of the matter is: pro-choice advocacy and the laws which Parker seeks to overturn enabled her to make those choices. And now she would deny those choices to other women because she’s had a change of heart. Now she thinks all women should be forced to give birth against their will. That’s not right. It’s not right and it’s not fair.

Moreover, it’s not reality-based. Women who don’t want to be pregnant will find a way not to be pregnant. Women in Texas are already heading across the border to Mexico to obtain RU-486. “DIY” abortions are on the rise. Simply telling women to “choose birth” ignores that some women simply don’t want to have babies, and no amount of regulations or counseling will change those women’s minds. Choice doesn’t mean “choose birth or choose birth.” That’s not a choice. That’s a mandate. That’s a directive. And that’s a violation of women’s rights as humans.

In the middle of her op-ed, Parker makes a valiant attempt to convince readers that conservatives are the party of personal responsibility, and they care deeply for “the individual in trouble” (the unhappily pregnant woman, presumably). To read the sentence out loud is to understand its sheer ridiculousness:

When conservatives talk about a culture of responsibility, we’re not just talking about the personal responsibility of the individual in trouble. We’re talking about the responsibility the rest of us have toward that individual.

Render unto me a break, lady. The members of your party—the people who you have chosen to serve on the advisory board of your organization, the goal of which is purportedly to jump-start a national dialogue on race and poverty—don’t feel any responsibility to individuals in trouble. If they did, they would maintain the same level of concern that they harbor for the goings-on in Black wombs until well after the contents of those wombs have exited and become members of society.

Parker and her supporters love fetuses but could care less about babies, as evidenced by the conservative free-market principles that Parker claims will “renew the urban core,” but which actually will do nothing to help Black babies, Black women, and Black families.

Furthermore, that Parker lauds crisis pregnancy centers—anti-choice propaganda centers that exploit and deceive women—belies any claim that she cares about the Black community.

There are now thousands of crisis pregnancy centers operating nationwide. More than 2,000 are affiliated with either Care Net or Heartbeat International. I maintain a regular active speaking schedule for, and consult with, these centers.

They work with pregnant women in trouble and provide them the services they need to have their children. They provide ultrasound, parental counseling, life-management counseling, help with the physical needs of the mother and child and, if need be, help with adoption services.

Unwanted pregnancies often are the result of loneliness, fear and a lack of information. Crisis pregnancy centers deal with all this.

Setting aside the ridiculous notion that unwanted pregnancies are the result of loneliness, or that women are too stupid to make choices about their own bodies, ultrasounds, counseling, and help with adoption services do not necessarily help Black women. The implication that Black women should just suck it up, carry a fetus to term, and give it up for adoption ignores the sad fact that Black babies in this country are generally unwanted. Black babies don’t get adopted at the rate that white babies do. Indeed, as of 2010 couples were paying an extra $38,000 for babies that were non-Black.

So Parker is advocating that Black women who choose abortion because they are not financially able to care for a child, and don’t want to raise a child in an environment in which that child won’t be cared for, should give birth to children who will likely end up languishing in a foster care system that doesn’t give a damn about them—a system that lacks the funds to properly care for foster kids because of the policies that Parker and conservatives support. Here are some of those policies:

The brutal truth is this: The far right wing politicians and individuals so obsessively “concerned” about the abortion rate in the Black community are the reason that the abortion rate in the Black community is so high.

Quite simply, Star Parker and her ilk give Black women no indication that they give a damn about what goes on in the Black community, even as they persist in pushing their anti-choice narrative on our backs. And because they think we’re stupid, they enlist members of our own community to lie to us, as if we would be more inclined to believe their lies if spewed out of the mouth of a fellow Black person.

They toss out nonsense platitudes about how the most dangerous place for a Black child is a Black woman’s uterus. They call Black people an “endangered species”—because comparing us to animals will convince us that you care about our rights as human beings. They erect offensive websites pithily called “Klanned Parenthood” to spread the already debunked claim that Planned Parenthood is the devil (because, they of course contend, Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist who wanted to spread birth control and abortion in the Black community in order to ethnically cleanse us out of existence, of course).

They continue to lie and claim that 80 percent of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics are located in minority communities (they’re not). They liken abortion to slavery and the KKK, and generally degrade the experience Black Americans have had fighting for civil rights in this country by comparing a woman’s choice regarding her own bodily autonomy to forced labor and lynching.

It’s vulgar.

Listen up, Star. If you want us to believe that you care about the Black community, stop lying to us. Stand with us, not against us, as we fight for reproductive rights and justice. Trust Black women to make their own reproductive choices—like you trusted yourself to make your own choices.

And most importantly, stop letting the white anti-choice lobby use you as a puppet for their conservative anti-woman and racist agenda. It’s so unbecoming.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

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.