Roundups Politics

Repro Wrap: Anti-Choicers and Squishy ‘Alien’ Fetus Dolls at the Fair

Robin Marty

A firestorm erupted last month at the North Dakota State Fair when Minot Right to Life began passing out tiny rubber models of 10- to 12-week fetuses to unsuspecting children.

Every summer, families visit the county or state fair to bond with their fellow community members, eat unusual foods (often on sticks), and meet local lawmakers. But in recent years, fair season has turned into a time for anti-choice activists to re-emphasize their agenda in the public sphere.

A firestorm erupted last month at the North Dakota State Fair when Minot Right to Life began passing out tiny rubber models of 10- to 12-week fetuses to unsuspecting children. The father of one 5-year-old who received a fetus model wrote a blog post titled Dear Pro-Lifers: Can You Stop Being a Bunch of Weirdos? “Whatever group is out there trying to promote the pro-life message by handing out squish alien babies, stop. You’re doing more harm than good,” he wrote. (via ABC News)

Setting up shop at fairs and other public events in an effort to reach a new audience and spread anti-choice talking points isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. Prince Albert Right to Life in Canada set up a table at the Summer Fair Trade Show hosted by the Prince Albert Optimists Club. There, among the circus-like performers, the anti-choice group offered fliers about chastity and a number of fetal models to examine. “Too many people take it for granted that if something’s in the way, you can just get rid of it,” one member of the group told the Prince Albert Daily Herald. “They don’t want to take responsibility for the situation that they got themselves into in the first place.”

Val Hettrick, co-president of the group, said that the group exists to offer a different message to young girls in crisis. “It’s easy to counsel a young girl to have an abortion. It’s also easy to feed her contraceptives up to her eyeballs.” (“Contraceptives up to the eyeballs” does not appear to be a current fair offering, but maybe that can be arranged for a future event.)

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Some of the most adamantly anti-abortion politicians are reenforcing their agendas at the fair, too. According to the Associated Press, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant told the audience at the Neshoba County Fair that “he has a ‘divine responsibility’ to oppose abortion” and that he will spend the next two years focusing on “public safety.”

Luckily, for all the squishy alien fetus booths that may be out there, there are also plenty of pro-choice folks at the fair.

You might even get a “condom on a stick.”

News Law and Policy

California Legislation Would Strike at the Heart of Anti-Choice ‘Sting’ Video Attacks

Nicole Knight Shine

Failing to criminalize distribution of illegally obtained confidential communication left Planned Parenthood open to attack by the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress, according to officials from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

Distributing secret recordings of health-care workers, like the covert, heavily edited footage attacking Planned Parenthood, could come with a penalty of up to one year of jail time and fines of up to $10,000, under legislation that cleared the California State Assembly on Tuesday.

Introduced by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), AB 1671 makes it a crime to disclose or distribute an illegally obtained confidential communication with a health-care provider.

The measure heads to the state senate, after passing out of the Assembly in a 52-26 vote. Democrats hold the majority in both chambers.

State law bars confidential recordings of communications without the consent of all parties, but doesn’t address distribution. Failing to criminalize distribution left Planned Parenthood open to attack by the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), according to Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, which sponsored the legislation.

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“This bill grew out of our unfortunate experience last summer when the Center for Medical Progress published on the internet a series of video recordings it had made surreptitiously at confidential conferences or in private conversations with medical providers,” Planned Parenthood argued in an analysis supporting the bill. “Because California’s invasion of privacy law only prohibits the taping, but not the distribution or disclosure, CMP was able to publish manipulated snippets of the tapes on the internet and widely disseminate them to legislatures and the press.”

The discredited CMP footage ignited an anti-choice firestorm, with Republican lawmakers in Congress and in state legislatures launching investigations of the health-care provider, and pushing to defund Planned Parenthood. Twelve states have so far found no evidence of wrongdoing.

David Daleiden, the head of CMP, and Sandra Merritt, who was involved in the video sting operation, were both indicted in January on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record.

Commentary Media

Associated Press Article on 20-Week Bans Underscores What’s Wrong With Reporting on Abortion

Jodi Jacobson

Reducing critical medical and public health debates to the level of opinion not only abrogates the public trust, it puts all of us in danger.

In a world of corporate media outlets obsessed with eyeballs and clicks for profit, and operating in fear of right-wing claims of “media bias,” the use of false equivalencies to “represent both sides” of an issue has become a mainstay of reporting. Covering sex education? Forget the wealth of social science evidence on what works to protect teens and public health. Just ask people their opinion and cover “both sides”! Reporting on climate change? Forget decades of evidence of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Just ask climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) what he thinks!

Using false equivalencies effectively means giving equal time to those who spread misinformation and, in many cases, outright lies, abrogating the ethical responsibilities of journalists to be accurate and fair. And this is exactly what the Associated Press did last week when it published an article on 20-week abortion bans that epitomized the worst of reporting on abortion.

The article, which focused primarily on a 20-week ban passed in South Carolina, did a fair job of covering the facts on the legislation in that state and in the context of bans in other states… until it came to what mattered: the medical accuracy of claims underlying such bans.

In the article, reporter Seanna Adcox wrote:

Supporters believe a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. Opponents argue such later-term abortions involve wanted pregnancies that go horribly wrong, and politicians should play no role in the difficult decision.

And here you have it: The crux of complicated issues always reduced to “supporters” and “opponents.” After all, they’re all equal, no?

No. They are not.

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“Supporters” of 20-week abortion bans (and many other such laws) include groups like Americans United for Life and the National Right to Life Committee (both of which have drafted model legislation for these bans), as well as others such as the Susan B. Anthony List. Each of these groups uses false science and unfounded claims of “fetal pain” to pass legislation that threatens access to critical reproductive health care; the anti-choice movement’s self-important “pro-life” designation elides the fact that women’s health and lives are in grave danger wherever such care is unavailable.

Who are the “opponents” of 20-week abortion bans? These include the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and a range of international bodies such as the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. In other words, every relevant, respected, and recognized medical body in the world opposes such bans.

This is not a case of the opinions of supporters versus opponents on which uniforms are best for the local softball team or what color curtains should hang in the dining hall. Instead, it is a group of people with absolutely no legitimacy making and passing legislation rejected by the weight of the international medical and public health communities.

In a press release titled “Facts Are Important”which tellingly reads like a plea for rationality in reporting—ACOG stated:

A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. Although ultrasound monitoring can show intrauterine fetal movement, no studies since 2005 demonstrate fetal recognition of pain.

Sound health policy is best based on scientific fact and evidence-based medicine. The best health care is provided free of governmental interference in the patient-physician relationship. Personal decision-making by women and their doctors should not be replaced by political ideology.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), representing more than 58,000 ob-gyns and partners in women’s health, supports robust, factual debate on issues of importance to the American people.

Is it “fair and accurate” to posit the assertions of anti-choice groups, which base their claims on ideology and contrived “evidence,” as equal to medical and public health experts? Is it in the public interest to suggest that an issue that is fundamental to both human rights and public health be decided by reducing a vast body of evidence to equal that of organizations with an overriding political agenda? Is it good journalism by any standard?

There is only one answer to all of these questions, and it is “no.” AP’s piece was irresponsible, but it also reflects that current state of reporting on reproductive health care by many outlets, including NPR, the Washington Post, and others.

No matter how strong the backlash from the small but loud contingent of people within the anti-choice movement, it is the media’s job to report fairly and responsibly. Making the claims of anti-choice “supporters” of abortion bans equivalent to the consensus of the medical and public health community not only abrogates the public trust, it puts all of us in danger.

The media’s reliance on false equivalencies has to stop. People’s lives are at risk, and we can’t afford it.