Victims and witnesses to reproductive coercion, intimidation, and bullying must try to speak up, seek help, or intervene as the situation requires. When it comes to public and political behavior, calling reproductive coercion what it is the first step to ending it.
Teaching children to understand and cope with bullies is essential, but bullying isn’t limited to elementary school. Bullying may not be physical or direct. It is persistent, intimidating, and it flourishes when victims and witnesses are afraid to speak up or speak out. It is time to identify reproductive coercion for what it is and call the bullies what they are.
“Reproductive coercion” includes sabotage of birth control by abusive partners and occurs in all social and economic groups and most frequently to unmarried sexually active women. Male partners seek control over their partner’s reproductive options, even whether and when to have sex, to assert and maintain power.
Just as the pattern of intimidation, harassment, aggression and control is not limited to schools, reproductive coercion is not limited to interpersonal relations. It is ubiquitous at public forums, health care settings, legislative discourse, and campaign politics. This bullying is intended to intimidate, to silence people who disagree, to deny people access to health care they want or need, to pass legislation that denies reproductive justice, and to maintain power by opposing reproductive rights and justice.
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Last week, one of Family Planning Health Services’ (FPHS) employees was participating in a health fair sponsored by our local United Way and county health department. It happened to be hosted at a Catholic hospital. One of the medical directors required the employee to remove information on emergency contraception. The doctor then used post-it notes to obscure “prescription contraception” and “non-prescription contraception” on the FPHS display.
The hospital has been recognized for its work with sexual assault victims and the hospital president is on the state attorney general’s sexual assault task force. We can assume the hospital is in compliance with state law to provide emergency contraception in the emergency room and we know that many of the physicians provide prescription and non-prescription contraception to their patients. But, like the classic elementary school bully, the physician used position and status to censor and deny information to participants.
Victims and bystanders might excuse the bully; “I should have known this would provoke him,” or “I should have known better than to be in this neighborhood,” but motivation does not excuse intimidation, bullying and harassment. On a public level we may understand religious objections, but using status, position, power, volume or force to control someone else’s reproductive health and behavior must be challenged and condemned if the culture of sexual coercion is to change.
Several days ago, Wisconsin’s State Senator Mike Ellis used the power of the majority and the gavel to silence debate and fast-track a bill that requires women to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound procedure and morality message before they can have an abortion. In our state assembly, our state representative shared her experience as a child rape victim and spoke very personally to how she felt as a victim and as the mother of three daughters, to a law requiring victims to undergo a re-invasion of privacy and self-control. On-line bullies vilified and harassed her for speaking out as a victim against the “pro-life” legislation.
There are self-styled “prayer warriors” standing outside our family planning clinics for a few months each year. They know that many of our patients and WIC participants/children are intimidated by their presence, but they justify the bullying on the basis of their religious beliefs about abortion, which we do not provide.
Victims and witnesses to reproductive coercion, intimidation and bullying must try to speak up, seek help, or intervene as the situation requires. When it comes to public and political behavior, calling reproductive coercion what it is the first step to ending it.
A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”
Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.
White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy.
“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.
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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.
Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.
“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”
White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.
During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”
Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.
There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.
‘Extremely common but hidden’
“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”
Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.
“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said.
Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.
“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.
White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.
The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.
State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.
“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”
‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’
White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”
There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.
Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.
“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”
A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.
Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.
‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’
TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”
One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”
The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.
“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”
“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.
Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”
Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.
Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.
Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.
“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.
Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.
“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”
“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.
All of the leading Republican presidential candidates have taken a hardline stance against stricter gun laws. They’ve also taken a stand on eroding reproductive rights.
It came as little surprise to political observers that after the White House announced Michelle Obama would set aside a chair in her guest box at the president’s final State of the Union address in memory of “victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice,” many prominent Republicans used it as an opportunity to talk about their opposition to abortion rights.
Presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had this to say:
The issue escalated on Tuesday, when U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a prominent anti-choice legislator and Cruz backer, responded to Obama’s gesture by setting aside his own chair for the “lives of more than 55 million aborted babies.”
In lieu of attending the State of the Union speech, King said he would be in the members’ chapel “praying for God to raise up a leader whom he will use to restore the Soul of America.”
King denounced Obama’s policies on reproductive rights and joined the chorus of Republican voices who mocked Obama for shedding tears at his speech last week announcing executive actions to expand background checks on gun purchases.
“President Obama’s first official act, immediately upon his inauguration was to sign an executive order to accelerate abortions world-wide,” King said in a statement, referring to Obama’s reversal of a Bush-era policy that banned the United States from funding international family planning providers that offered abortions or abortion counseling. “The first tears we have seen him shed in seven years were for the victims of the tragic Sandy Hook School shooting. As far as we know, Obama has never shed a single tear for even one of the more than 9 million babies aborted under his watch.”
In light of King’s voting record on gun policies, this kind of comparison comes off as hypocritical, as advocates have argued in recent years.
He supported an amendment that would prohibit federal funds from being used to strengthen or enforce gun restrictions in Washington, D.C.; he voted yes to a 2011 bill that would have required states to recognize permits issued by another state authorizing the concealed carry of a firearm; and he voted yes to 2003’s Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which keeps gun manufacturers free from liability when crimes are committed with their products.
Other attempts to reform gun laws, such as those requiring waiting periods for gun purchases, have little hope of passing in states with GOP-controlled legislatures, where women often face forced waiting periods before having an abortion. In Missouri, where state Rep. Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) has proposed one such bill, toddlers had shot more people than in any other state in 2015. In 31 of the 43 nationwide shootings by toddlers, the toddler found a gun and accidentally shot him or herself, according to a Washington Post investigation.
Many Republicans jumped at the chance to criticize the president when he was overcome with emotion while talking about the first-grade victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. GOP lawmakers are now trying to use it as leverage in the abortion debate. As clinic violence escalates, many Republicans have remained quiet or have condemned the violence without recognizing the anti-choice rhetoric that advocates believe has fueled the attacks.
Some prominent anti-choice activists and politicians used the deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs clinic as an opportunity to equate abortion and gun violence. Just hours after the shooting, anti-choice group Personhood USA released a statement that included equivocal condemnation of violence.
“Personhood USA absolutely opposes all abortion-related violence, against born and unborn people,” Personhood USA’s Jennifer Mason said in the statement. “That said, the media is failing to report that innocent babies are killed in that very building every day that they are in business. Please join me in praying that the people inside, along with the babies in their mothers’ wombs, are released safely.”
Former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee after the Colorado Springs shooting compared the killings to what he believes happens inside the Planned Parenthood facility.
“There’s no excuse for killing other people, whether it’s happening inside the Planned Parenthood headquarters, inside their clinics where many millions of babies die, or whether it’s people attacking Planned Parenthood,” Huckabee said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Actor and reproductive rights activist Martha Plimpton explored that hypocrisy of anti-choice legislators who oppose gun regulations in an October 2015 op-ed in the Guardian.
“For the personhood of embryos, they draft legislation. For the safety of living, playing, laughing children, they do nothing,” Plimpton wrote. “The potential dreams of a not-yet-sentient organism are paramount – not because it is a human life, as demonstrated by their lack of commitment to actual living humans, but because it is inside of a woman.”