If I had the talent of an Ann Friedman, this would be an entirely GIF-based roundup. After all, most of the comments coming from high-profile sources have me doing this. Sadly, I only have the skill to tell you that some people of note who have been talking about abortion recently have not had pretty things to say.
Conservative pundit Erick Erickson created a firestorm of controversy when he referred to Texas senator and possible Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis as “Abortion Barbie.” Such comments are expected from a far-right political writer who has also claimed it is “anti-science” to reject the belief that men are dominant over women. Less common is the support of mainstream politicians for such incendiary rhetoric. Yet Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is also expected to run for the governor’s seat, got himself into hot water when he thanked a supporter online for sending the following tweet: “@GregAbbott_TX would absolutely demolish idiot @WendyDavisTexas in Gov race – run Wendy run! Retard Barbie to learn life lesson.” Abbott responded, saying he was “just ‘ripping off ‘Thank Yous’ to people who seemed like they were indicating support for me,” and that if he had read closer he would have condemned the use of the ableist language as “reprehensible.”
Former California Republican senate candidate Carly Fiorina told an ABC audience that Texas’ new law, which could shut down most of the clinics in the state, is “not particularly extreme.” “When Gov. [Rick] Perry pushed forward legislation in Texas to ban abortion after 20 weeks, it was labeled as an extreme move … That’s five months. Five months. There are only four counties in the world that have—that legalize abortion after five months: China, North Korea, Canada, and the U.S. That’s actually not a particularly extreme position to say a woman needs to have a choice up to five months, and then there really has to be a medical reason,” Fiorina said during an appearance on ABC on Sunday. Fiorina ignored not just the unconstitutionality of a pre-viability ban, but the portions of the bill that could close all but five of the over 40 clinics operating in the state.
Reality television star Willie Robertson may be considering a Louisiana house run, but his father Phil is the one making the news for his anti-choice rhetoric. At an event in Pennsylvania, the Duck Dynasty star and businessman spoke to a crowd about the need for more religion in government and his opposition to abortion. “Listen, from the time you started inside your mother’s womb, Thomas Jefferson had it right, you have the God-given right to live, for crying out loud. You’re this long!” he said, holding out his finger, according to TheWrapTV.com. “You’re a week old inside your mother. They suck you out of there when you’re about like that.” In reality, at one week after conception, an embryo is closer to the size of an apple seed.
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Thankfully, not everything famous people had to say about abortion recently was bad. Actor Mark Ruffalo caused a stir at an abortion rights rally in Jackson, Mississippi, where he provided a personal letter testifying to the need for safe, legal abortion. In his letter, which was read at an event supporting the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, he shared a story of his mother’s illegal abortion. “It was a traumatizing thing for her. It was shameful and sleazy and demeaning. When I heard the story I was aghast by the lowliness of a society that would make a woman do that,” he said in his letter. “I don’t want to turn back the hands of time to when women shuttled across state lines in the thick of night to resolve an unwanted pregnancy, in a cheap hotel room just south of the state line. Where a transaction of $600 cash becomes the worth of a young woman’s life.”
Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) has spent the last few weeks amid a flurry of controversy over an alleged donation he made to Planned Parenthood in the 1990s. But the governor’s record on reproductive health is getting lost amongst the chaos.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) created one of the most talked-about and fact-checked moments of last week’s Republican debate when, in order to question the candidate’s conservative credentials, he accused rival Chris Christie of making a donation to Planned Parenthood.
Christie flatly denied the claim, countering that he “never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood.”
And it wasn’t the first time a donation to the reproductive health organization made by Christie had been called into question. During an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation a week before the debate, Christie was asked by host Josh Dickerson about his donation to Planned Parenthood after Rubio made the same charge while speaking at a rally in New Hampshire.
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“Well, I never donated to Planned Parenthood. So, that’s wrong,” Christie quickly asserted.
Rubio’s allegation was likely based ona quote from Christie in a 1994 report on the Morris County freeholder race that ran in New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, in which the then-candidate voiced his support for Planned Parenthood:
“I support Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution and that should be the goal of any such agency, to find private donations,” said GOP freeholder candidate Chris Christie.
“It’s also no secret that I am pro-choice … But you have to examine all the agencies needing county donations and prioritize them. I would consider all groups looking for funding, but there is a limit and we have to pick and choose,” he added.
Christie has since denied that the conversation took place as reported. “I never donated to Planned Parenthood,” Christie asserted when asked about the donation during an interview with the Washington Post a few days before the debate.
“Listen, this is a quote from 21 years ago,” Christie continued. “I’m convinced it was a misquote. Understand what was going on. In 1994-95, I was fighting against county funding of Planned Parenthood even though I was pro-choice.”
According to the Post, Christie insistedthat at the time of the Star-Ledger interview, he was talking generally about donating to causes, not specifically saying that he had donated to Planned Parenthood.
As fate would have it, that same reporter Christie claims to have misquoted him, Brian T. Murray, is now one of the governor’s current spokespeople. Murray has yet to respond to Christie’s allegations, according to NJ.com.
We will likely never know for sure whether Christie actually made the donation to Planned Parenthood—a representative from the organization told the Washington Post that it doesnot disclose donations—but a definitive answer to the question seems besides the point.
Chris Christie doesn’t need to tell us whether or not he has flip-flopped on reproductive rights: His record speaks for itself.
In the early 1990s, when the Star-Ledger interview allegedly took place and Christie was initially running for state senate, he was vocal about his support for reproductive rights. It wasn’t until 1995, when his wife was pregnant with one of his children, that the presidential candidate claims to have had a change of heart.
“I was driving back to work, I said to myself, you know, as to my position on abortion, I would say that a week ago that wasn’t a life. And I heard that heartbeat. That’s a life,” Christie told Piers Morgan in 2011 during an appearance on CNN.
“And it—it led to me having a real reflection on my position. And when I took time to reflect on it, I just said, you know what, I’m not comfortable with that anymore. That was back in 1995, and I’ve been pro-life ever since.”
But in 1996, Christie yet again vocalized his pro-choice position when asked by the Bergen Record about a resolution to override then-President Bill Clinton’s veto of a “partial-birth abortion,” or intact dilation and extraction, ban. “I’m pro-choice, but I think this procedure is reprehensible,” Christie told the paper, according to Politico, one year after he supposedly decided he no longer supported abortion at all.
In a strikingly similar move to his current situation, Christie would later tell the Associated Press in 2009 that he had been misquoted at the time.
In a February 2015 report for the Daily Beast, Olivia Nuzzi questioned Christie’s “convenient” evolution on abortion politics, citing many of these inconsistencies on the issue. “It’s worth considering that around the time Christie had his epiphany, he was badly losing a Republican primary for the state assembly to a staunchly pro-life conservative named Michael Patrick Carroll,” Nuzzi noted.
No matter his personal views, Christie’s record during his tenure as governor is decidedly more black and white.
After taking office in 2010, Christie eliminated $7.5 million in funding from the state budget for family planning services. That money “supported a variety of health centers, including some run by Planned Parenthood, that provided access to preventive health screenings and birth control but did not directly fund abortions,” and led six reproductive health clinics to close, according to NJ.com.
The drastic reduction in funding for health centers led the state to experience a significant setback in reproductive health care. An analysis conducted by the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association found that the budget cuts, coupled with federal funding cuts to Title X programs, left New Jersey with upwards of 20,000 more womenin need of publicly funded contraceptives and a 26 percent decrease in the state network’s ability to meet the demand for them.
Although the state legislature has repeatedly attempted to restore the funding to the state’s budget, Christie has consistently vetoed these measures.
And now on the campaign trail, Christie is using his anti-choice record to help drum up conservative votes.
During CNN’s GOP debate in September, Christie bragged about how he had never allowed Planned Parenthood to be funded under his leadership: “Six years ago, as the brand new, first-ever pro-life governor of New Jersey since Roe v. Wade, I defunded Planned Parenthood,” he asserted.
“I vetoed Planned Parenthood funding now eight times in New Jersey. Since the day I walked in as governor, Planned Parenthood has not been funded in New Jersey. We stood up, and every one of those vetoes has been sustained,” he continued.
A fact-check of the claim conducted by NJ.com found the “gist of the claim” to be true, pointing to numerous occasions Christie has vetoed efforts that would have provided funding at least in part to Planned Parenthood, but noted that Christie “appears to be conflating his opposition to the Medicaid expansion with the annual budget line-item vetoes” to exaggerate the numbers.
Christie has repeatedly voiced his opposition to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, pointing to his own state as an example for how it should be done.
Speaking in South Carolina in September, Christie urged Congress to defund Planned Parenthood the same way he had. “If I can do it in New Jersey, there’s no reason our party can’t do it in Washington, D.C.” Christie said at the Take Back America Presidential Forum.
Christie has also vocalized his support for Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at this point in pregnancy, claiming that the legislation “brings Americans together.” Medical experts note that many fetal anomalies are not discovered until the 20th week of pregnancy, and that low-income women are disproportionately impacted by 20-week abortion bans.
“America is one of just seven countries that permits elective abortions past this point. We can do far better than this. I urge Congress to take swift action on this important issue,” Christie said to anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony’s List in a statement on the bill.
So while Christie’s past donations may remain murky, one thing is as clear as ever: Christie is far from pro-choice and he has the record to prove it. Even if the road to Christie’s current stance on abortion isn’t clear, his record is—and those extreme viewpoints are what we really need to be talking about.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi could not articulate a vigorous, unapologetic, and evidence-based response on abortion to questions posed in an interview this week by Roll Call's Melinda Henneberger.
Just a week or so after Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) blamed voters for being “complacent” about abortion, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi illustrated why, despite being the nominally pro-choice party, Democrats continuously fail to lead on the issue of reproductive health care.
Pelosi could not articulate a vigorous, unapologetic, and evidence-based response on abortion to questions posed in an interview this week by Roll Call‘s Melinda Henneberger. In fact, Pelosi expressed discomfort with using the word “abortion,” underscoring how deeply abortion stigma has permeated the discourse of even the female leader of the Democratic Party, one of the most powerful women in the United States.
It is more than clear that abortion will continue to be politicized through the 2016 election and beyond. But Democrats persist in stumbling when asked about it. So here are some facts that any politician claiming to be pro-choice—and otherwise charged with protecting the interests, rights, and health of the voters who put them in office—must master and assert without apology.
Access to safe abortion care is fundamentally a matter of public health. In countries where access to abortion is limited either by law or in practice, women face high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity. In other words, they die and are injured, sometimes permanently, at far higher rates than in countries or regions where access to safe abortion care is guaranteed. This was indeed the case in the United States before Roe v. Wade.
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Today, according to conservative estimates, more than 300,000 women worldwide die each year from complications from pregnancy, childbirth, and unsafe abortion. That’s 830 women each and every day. These are women in their teens to their late 40s, who are most likely to be raising children and earning critical income for their families. Many times the number who die from unsafe abortion suffer long-term illness and disability instead.
In Uganda, for example, due to lack of access to contraception among other factors, more than four in ten births are unplanned, and women say they have far larger families than they want. In their struggle to have fewer children, they often resort to abortion. Abortion is, however, illegal in Uganda, and access to safe abortion is only available to the wealthy. Not surprisingly, Uganda has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal death, and estimates indicate that if rates of clandestine abortion continue, half of all women in Uganda will need treatment for complications of unsafe abortion at some point in their lives.
By contrast, as was the case for the United States, rates of maternal deaths and illnesses from unsafe abortion declined dramatically in both Nepal and in South Africa after those two countries legalized and increased access to abortion care.
The deaths of women should be reason enough to address the need for safe abortion, but families also suffer. When a mother dies, her children, especially those under 5, are more likely to suffer malnutrition, neglect, and death. As I first wrote more than 25 years ago, history has long shown that politically or religiously motivated laws will never eliminate abortion; they only make it more costly in terms of women’s health, and the health and well-being of their families. The fact of abortion as a public health issue should be the first talking point in any informed conversation led by pro-choice politicians.
Abortion is a matter of fundamental human rights. Every person on earth has the right to determine whether or not to become a parent, and when and with whom to have a child, although clearly too many people are as yet unable to exercise these rights.
The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex are priority objectives of the international community.
Choice in childbearing, childbirth, and parenting are fundamental to women’s ability to make decisions about their participation in society, on their own terms. Women, however, cannot exercise these fundamental human rights without unfettered access to contraception and abortion. Yet too many governments, politicians, and religious leaders appear willing to abrogate access to these basic health interventions, ironically on the basis of a “pro-life” agenda—albeit one that ignores the value of women’s lives. Any politician who calls themselves pro-choice should understand the need to protect and promote the human rights of living, breathing women, and be able to articulate them.
Abortion is a fundamental economic issue. Access to both contraception and abortion play a major role in women’s economic lives. There have been innumerable academic studies carried out and policy papers written over the past several decades about the connections between access to abortion and women’s economic status throughout the world, and all of them come to the same conclusions: The ability to control reproduction is essential to women’s abilities to support themselves and their families, and is essential to long-term economic growth.
Having a child or children is a major lifetime economic investment for anyone; the U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that it now costs more than $245,000 to raise a child in this country, not including the costs of college tuition. A study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that child care alone outpaces the cost of rent in 500 of 618 municipalities examined. Given these and other considerations, such as low wages and the cost of health insurance, transportation, food, clothing, and other necessities, unintended pregnancy can throw a family into economic crisis. Studies show that most women seeking abortion are already struggling financially, cannot afford an additional child, or want to continue their education to create a better future for themselves and their families.
The Turnaway Study, a multi-faceted research project on abortion conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program, examined the relationship between abortion, reproductive control, and poverty, among other things. As noted in a policy brief by the Reproductive Health Technologies Project about the economics of abortion and women’s lives, the Turnaway Study found that women denied an abortion in the United States had three times greater odds of ending up below the federal poverty line two years later than did women in similar economic circumstances who were able to obtain an abortion, adjusting for any previous differences between the two groups.
Smaller family size and educational attainment are among two of the most critical factors in the economic success of families and communities. Women and their partners know what it means to bring a child into the world and what it takes to raise children, and only they are equipped to make decisions about whether they have the financial and emotional means to make that commitment. Access to abortion is therefore fundamentally about personal and family economics. Abortion is about what women want for their future, and the future of any children now and later.
Access to abortion also has wider social and economic implications. According to the World Health Organization’s “Safe abortion care: the public health and human rights rationale:”
Safe abortion is cost saving. The cost to health systems of treating the complications of unsafe abortion is overwhelming, especially in poor countries. The overall average cost per case that governments incur is estimated (in 2006 US dollars) at US$ 114 for Africa and US$ 130 for Latin America. The economic costs of unsafe abortion to a country’s health system, however, go beyond the direct costs of providing post-abortion services. A recent study estimated an annual cost of US$ 23 million for treating minor complications from unsafe abortion at the primary health-care level; US$ 6 billion for treating post-abortion infertility; and US$ 200 million each year for the out-of-pocket expenses of individuals and households in sub-Saharan Africa for the treatment of post-abortion complications. In addition, US$ 930 million is the estimated annual expenditure by individuals and their societies for lost income from death or long-term disability due to chronic health consequences of unsafe abortion.
Unintended pregnancies also have other cost implications. Researchers at the Brookings Institute found that the United States spends $12 billion each year to cover medical care for women who experience unintended pregnancies and on infants who were conceived unintentionally.
In short, it is a fact that providing people with the means needed to make choices in childbearing is economically beneficial at all levels of society. In a country otherwise obsessed with individual economic choices, this should be a clear argument.
Abortion is an individual health issue. Yes, abortion is an individual health issue, related to but separate from its broader role in public health. Anyone who has had—or knows someone who has had—a difficult pregnancy, a miscarriage, an emergency c-section, a stillbirth, or any number of other complications is aware, pregnancy and childbirth can be wonderful and can be life-threatening, and the reality of either is a roll of the dice.
There are any number of contraindications for pregnancy that would result in the need for an abortion and any number of complications that can arise during a pregnancy, threatening the life or health of the pregnant person, the fetus, or both. The potential for very serious complications rises later in pregnancy, or after 20 weeks, the magic number alighted on by anti-choice zealots as somehow being a rational point after which abortion should be banned.
The United States is sliding backward on many fronts, including on access to contraception and abortion, two public health interventions for which the cost-benefit analyses are clear.
Politicians who claim to be pro-choice and raise money from citizens who support public health, human rights, and choice in childbearing must be able to articulate, embrace, and defend their positions. For too long, Democrats have come across as inept and apologetic when talking about abortion, even though the facts are clear and indisputable.