News Abortion

Oklahoma’s More Stringent Parental Notification Laws to Take Effect November 1

Andrea Grimes

Beginning November 1, most teens who seek abortion in Oklahoma will not be able to do so without notifying a parent.

Beginning November 1, most teens who seek an abortion in Oklahoma will not be able to do so without notifying a parent, as part of two new state laws passed this legislative session that will make Oklahoma one of the most hostile states for minors who seek abortions and their parents.

One new law requires parents of minors who seek abortions to present government-issued identification and “written documentation that establishes he or she is the lawful parent of the pregnant female,” while the second mandates that unless a minor who has obtained a judicial bypass to obtain an abortion can prove that her pregnancy is the result of incest, her abortion provider must notify a parent that an abortion has been performed.

“Obviously if a judge grants a bypass, the judge is saying there is good reason to believe the parents should not be involved,” Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, told Rewire. Skeeters warned that the new law could put vulnerable teens in danger. Because judicial bypasses are often granted when a teen is in an abusive or hostile home situation, “it is easy to see that the teen may be exposed to abuse, punitive action, or humiliation” once her parent or parents are notified, she said.

The laws will go into effect following the Oklahoma State Board of Health’s adoption of new paperwork meant to implement HB 1588, which mandates parental notification except in cases of incest, and HB 1361, which mandates that minors seek judicial bypasses in their home counties and implements the stricter identification requirements for parental consent. HB 1361 also requires judges to ensure that teens meet more requirements to prove their maturity in order to obtain a judicial bypass.

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“Quite ironically, the legislature seems to be saying that an immature teen cannot have an abortion but can become a parent,” said Skeeters.

Earlier this month, the Nebraska Supreme Court refused to waive parental consent requirements for abortion requested by a 16-year-old ward of the state, effectively ruling that the teen was mature enough to parent, but not mature enough for an abortion procedure.

News Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

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. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

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 sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

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.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

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.

News Abortion

Missouri Republicans to Push Anti-Choice ‘All Lives Matter’ Bill

Teddy Wilson

The GOP proposal would define a fertilized egg as “a person" and life as beginning at conception.

The flurry of anti-choice proposals coming in the 2016 Missouri legislative session includes one policy that appropriates the Black Lives Matter movement to create a so-called personhood law designed to effectively end legal abortion in the state.

Missouri has been a key state in the Black Lives Matter movement. After a Ferguson police officer in 2014 gunned down Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man, activists there took to the streets demanding justice for all victims of police violence.

HB 1794, sponsored by Rep. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove), would establish the All Lives Matter Act, an example of what activists view as anti-choice legislators using the Black Lives Matter movement for their own restrictive agenda. It would amend state law to define a fertilized egg as “a person” and life as beginning at conception. So-called personhood laws have been an unmitigated failure. Voters in state after state have rejected by wide margins personhood ballot initiatives, and personhood bills have failed to gain any traction in legislatures.

Alison Dreith, interim director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, wrote in an op-ed for the St. Louis American that Moon’s bill is an attack on his constituents’ autonomy.

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“Black women have had very little reproductive choice, historically. During slavery, they [were forced] into childbirth. Then, they were forced into methods for sterilization. Since then, black women have had to bear the burden of the ‘welfare mom’ stereotype,” Dreith wrote. “This bill continues the trend in Missouri, that women should not make their own decisions. Again, the lives of women—and especially black women—do not matter to this legislator.”

The push for personhood legislation is far from the only anti-choice measure to be considered in the upcoming session. The past five years have seen the Republican-dominated Missouri state legislature propose more anti-choice bills than any other state.

Lawmakers introduced dozens of anti-choice bills during the 2014 legislative session, and introduced dozens more during the 2015 legislative session. Few anti-choice bills have been passed with a Democratic governor in Missouri, proving an obstacle for GOP-led attempts to end legal abortion. However, the vast number of anti-choice bills introduced for 2016 has caused concern for many advocates. 

The state legislature convened Wednesday, and lawmakers have already filed an assortment of anti-choice bills that restrict reproductive health care, including prohibiting physicians from using specific abortion procedures, restricting minors’ access to abortion care, and appropriating the rhetoric of racial justice activists in the so-called All Lives Matter bill. 

Planned Parenthood has been embroiled in a controversy about the organization’s fetal tissue donation policies and compensation, since an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) published deceptively edited and surreptitiously recorded videos throughout the summer of 2015.

Republican lawmakers, some of whom coordinated with CMP officials, have used the discredited videos as an excuse to investigate Planned Parenthood and attack reproductive rights nationwide. Republicans in Missouri went further than perhaps any other state to use the controversy to further an anti-choice agenda that included establishing the Committee on the Sanctity of Life

Despite a state investigation that cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills that would change state law governing the donation of fetal tissue. These bills include several other targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) laws, including the creation of reporting requirements and admitting privilege requirements for abortion providers, along with ambulatory surgical center (ASC) licensing and inspections.

HB 1953 and SB 644, sponsored by Rep. Kathryn Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) and Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis), would prohibit families from donating fetal tissue for scientific research after an abortion and create redundant reporting requirements for abortion providers.

The bills also require all physicians who provide abortion services to have both surgical and admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic in which they provide abortion care; impose licensure and renewal requirements on ASCs; and mandate annual inspections of abortion providers.

Laura McQuade, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told Rewire that GOP legislators are using the CMP attack videos as a justification for making restrictions on abortion care unrelated to fetal tissue donation.

“There are many different moving parts in these bills all designed to make access to safe legal abortion even more difficult than it is already,” McQuade said. “Lawmakers have gone into this through the fetal tissue conversation to make it seem more legitimate, but it is really the same kind of nonsense.”

Neither of Planned Parenthood’s Missouri clinics, located in Columbia and St. Louis, participate in fetal tissue donation programs, McQuade told Rewire. To date, no state or federal investigations have uncovered any evidence that Planned Parenthood affiliates have broken fetal tissue laws.

McQuade said that everything that’s happened in Missouri politics since the release of the heavily doctored CMP videos has been used to “make access to safe legal abortion in this state history.”

Rep. Tila Hubrecht (R-Dexter) has introduced a bill, identical to the one she introduced but failed to pass during the 2015 legislative session, that would ban a medical procedure used for second-trimester abortions and the management of miscarriage.

HB 1714, the so-called Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, is copycat legislation drafted by the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), a legislation mill. The bill bans dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures used during many second-trimester abortions and miscarriages. The bill redefines the D and E procedure as “dismemberment” abortion, language that is key to NRLC’s strategy as anti-choice advocates push similar bills in other Republican-majority state legislatures.

McQuade said HB 1714 is a “very, very dangerous” bill that is an “over overstep” by state lawmakers.

“D and E is [the] safest form of second-trimester abortion, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization,” McQuade said. “This ban is very dangerous because it basically give politicians the ability to make medical decisions rather than medical practitioners and patients.”

There are two Missouri bills that would ban abortion because of the motivations of the pregnant person seeking to terminate the pregnancy.

HB 1815, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester), would prohibit an abortion solely due to the sex of the unborn child or a genetic abnormality diagnosis. SB 802, sponsored by state Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville), would prohibit abortions performed solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down syndrome or the potential of Down syndrome in an unborn child.

Various versions of bills to ban abortion based on sex, race, or genetic abnormalities have been introduced in several states in recent years. McQuade said these bills are used as “wedge issues” and that lawmakers use emotions rather than facts to justify these types of restrictions.

“Politicians should not be allowed to force a woman to carry to term a wanted or unwanted pregnancy that has a genetic abnormality,” McQuade said. “It is not a politician’s right to determine for a family what that family can or cannot take on.”

HB 1370, sponsored by Rep. Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark), would require both parents of a minor seeking an abortion to receive notification prior to an abortion, in addition to current state law that requires a minor to obtain written informed consent of one parent or guardian prior to an abortion.

HB 1433 and SB 801 would also restrict minors’ access to abortion care. The so-called Supporting and Strengthening Families Acts, sponsored by Koenig and Sater, would allow a parent or legal custodian to delegate to an attorney-in-fact any powers regarding the care and custody of the child. The bill would not allow the delegations of power to “consent to performance or inducement of an abortion on or for the child.”

This bill could create further obstacles for minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy while under the care of an attorney-in-fact.

McQuade said that these types of restrictions make it more difficult for a young patient to receive abortion care. “We cannot legislate good family communication,” McQuade said. “We cannot legislate that a 16-year-old young woman lives in a family where should could even have that conversation with her parents.”

HB 1755, sponsored by Rep. Kurt Bahr (R-O’Fallon), states that the “liberty of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, and care of his or her child is a fundamental right.” The bill would prohibit any state interference in a parent’s ability to oversee the health care and education of their child, and could prohibit minors from consenting to abortion care as a de facto overwrite of the judicial bypass process.

The broad language of the bill could have significant ramifications beyond reproductive health care. The GOP bill could impact everything from laws governing the vaccination of minors to criminal prosecution of child abuse.

McQuade says that this bill could have a “chilling effect on teens seeking any type of health care.”

It’s unclear which bills will gain traction during the 2016 legislative session, and the politics of the presidential election may change the dynamics of what Republicans determine to be legislative priorities. With Republicans holding significant majorities in both legislative chambers, maintaining a 117-45 majority in the house and a 24-8 majority in the state senate, the only roadblock for anti-choice bills may be Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

While reproductive rights have been attacked in several Republican-controlled state legislatures, none could match the Show Me State’s record of producing unprecedented amounts of anti-choice legislation.

“Missouri has always been at the forefront of imposing restriction on abortion,” McQuade said.