News Abortion

Anti-Choice Group Sends Graphic Mailers Comparing Abortion Providers to ‘Hired Killers’ (UPDATED)

Teddy Wilson

Life Dynamics says it mailed the flyers, which feature an image of what looks to be an aborted fetus, to every doctor's office in the state. The president of the group posted an image of the flyer on Facebook Friday, noting that "there will be a ruckus and this is just the first shot of the ruckus that’s coming."

Update, 1:45 p.m. ET: Life Dynamics President Mark Crutcher posted an image of both sides of the flyer (warning: extremely graphic) on his Facebook page Friday afternoon, with the following caption (emphasis added):

“What we did is created a post card called Hired Killers. This postcard is designed to discourage doctors from getting involved in abortion. We sent one of these to every doctor’s office in Texas. What we are trying to do is keep the waters stirred because what the abortion industry wants is to recruit these guys and tell them, you can just slide in and you don’t have to raise a big ruckus about it. We’re making sure that these doctors understand, there will be a ruckus and this is just the first shot of the ruckus that’s coming.”

An anti-choice organization in Texas says it mailed flyers referring to doctors who provide abortions as “hired killers” to every doctor’s office in the state. The president of the same group also says he sent a letter to all Texas hospitals discouraging them from providing admitting privileges to doctors who perform abortions.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, the flyers sent by the Denton-based group Life Dynamics feature on one side an image of “what appears to be an aborted fetus.” The text on other side of the flyer reads:

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Hired Killers

In the movies, they walk around with silenced handguns inside aluminum briefcases.

But in reality, the most prolific killing machine the world has ever known uses cannulas and forceps.

And today, they are out to recruit …

You!

The Austin Chronicle reports that the letter sent to hospitals by Life Dynamics President Mark Crutcher claims that most doctors who provide abortion services in the state “do not have [admitting] privileges and cannot get them” because “the competence and character of practitioners who work at abortion clinics is inevitably substandard,” among other reasons. NARAL Pro-Choice America noted on Facebook that many of the claims made in the letter are either unsubstantiated or false.

Life Dynamics says on its website that its direct mailer campaigns are used to “[alert] doctors and medical students to the stigma that attaches to abortionists.” Crutcher, an anti-choice activist, speaker, author, and director, said in an April 2005 interview that he wanted his organization to focus on “counter-intelligence or intelligence-gathering” of abortion providers and pro-choice organizations.

The mailings come in the wake of the passage of HB 2, an omnibus anti-abortion law that requires doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they perform procedures. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the state will be able to enforce the admitting privileges provision of the law while it faces a legal challenge. The law has forced a number of reproductive health-care clinics around the state to stop providing abortions.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Group Faces Fundraising Gap in ‘Topsy-Turvy Year’

Amy Littlefield

“I will tell you that this has been the toughest year we have faced since I’ve been executive director of National Right to Life—and I came here in 1984—for our political fundraising,” David O’Steen announced at the annual National Right to Life Convention Friday.

Less than two weeks after the Supreme Court dealt the anti-choice movement its most devastating blow in decades, one of the nation’s leading anti-choice groups gathered at an airport hotel in Virginia for its annual convention.

The 46th annual National Right to Life Convention arrived at what organizers acknowledged was an unusual political moment. Beyond the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down abortion restrictions in Texas, the anti-choice movement faces the likely nomination later this month of a Republican presidential candidate who once described himself as “very pro-choice.”

The mood felt lackluster as the three-day conference opened Thursday, amid signs many had opted not to trek to the hotel by Dulles airport, about an hour from Washington, D.C. With workshops ranging from “Pro-Life Concerns About Girl Scouts,” to “The Pro-Life Movement and Congress: 2016,” the conference seeks to educate anti-choice activists from across the United States.

While convention director Jacki Ragan said attendance numbers were about on par with past years, with between 1,000 and 1,100 registrants, the sessions were packed with empty chairs, and the highest number of audience members Rewire counted in any of the general sessions was 150. In the workshops, attendance ranged from as many as 50 people (at one especially popular panel featuring former abortion clinic workers) to as few as four.

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The attendance wasn’t the only sign of flagging enthusiasm.

“I will tell you that this has been the toughest year we have faced since I’ve been executive director of National Right to Life—and I came here in 1984—for our political fundraising,” National Right to Life Executive Director David O’Steen announced at Friday morning’s general session. “It’s been a topsy-turvy year. It’s been, for many people, a discouraging year. Many, many, many pro-life dollars, or dollars from people that would normally donate, were spent amongst 17 candidates in the Republican primary.”

O’Steen said the organization needed “$4 million that we do not have right now.”

When asked by Rewire to clarify details of the $4 million shortfall, O’Steen said, “You’re thinking this through more deeply than I have so far. Basically, the Right to Life movement, we will take the resources we have and we will use them as effectively as we can.”  

O’Steen said the organization wasn’t alone in its fundraising woes. “I think across many places, a lot of money was spent in these primaries,” he said. (An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found presidential candidates and affiliated groups spent $1 billion on the presidential race through March alone, nearly two-thirds of it on the Republican primary. Anti-choice favorite Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) spent more than than $70 million, higher than any other Republican.)

The National Right to Life Board of Directors voted to back Cruz in the Republican presidential primaries back in April. It has not yet formally backed Donald Trump.

“I really don’t know if there will be a decision, what it will be,” National Right to Life Committee President Carol Tobias told Rewire. “Everything has [been] kind of crazy and up in the air this year, so we’re going to wait and kind of see everything that happens. It’s been a very unusual year all the way around.”

Some in the anti-choice movement have openly opposed Trump, including conservative pundit Guy Benson, who declared at Thursday’s opening session, “I’m not sure if we have someone who is actually pro-life in the presidential race.”

But many at the convention seemed ready to rally behind Trump, albeit half-heartedly. “Let’s put it this way: Some people don’t know whether they should even vote,” said the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life. “Of course you should … the situation we have now is just a heightened version of what we face in any electoral choice, namely, you’re choosing between two people who, you know, you can have problems with both of them.”

Another issue on the minds of many attendees that received little mention throughout the conference was the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down provisions in Texas requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges and mandating clinics meet the standards of hospital-style surgery centers. The case did not challenge Texas’ 20-week abortion ban.

“We aren’t going to have any changes in our strategy,” Tobias told Rewire, outlining plans to continue to focus on provisions including 20-week bans and attempts to outlaw the common second-trimester abortion procedure of dilation and evacuation, which anti-choice advocates call “dismemberment” abortion.

But some conference attendees expressed skepticism about the lack of any new legal strategy.

“I haven’t heard any discussion at all yet about, in light of the recent Supreme Court decision, how that weighs in strategically, not just with this legislation, but all pro-life legislation in the future,” Sam Lee, of Campaign Life Missouri, said during a panel discussion on so-called dismemberment abortion. “There has not been that discussion this weekend and that’s probably one of my disappointments right now.”

The Supreme Court decision has highlighted differing strategies within the anti-choice community. Americans United for Life has pushed copycat provisions like the two that were struck down in Texas to require admitting privileges and surgery center standards under the guise of promoting women’s health. National Right to Life, on the other hand, says it’s focused on boilerplate legislation that “makes the baby visible,” in an attempt to appeal to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who cast a key vote to uphold a “partial-birth abortion” ban in 2007.

When asked by Rewire about the effect of the Texas Supreme Court case, James Bopp, general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee, appeared to criticize the AUL strategy in Texas. (Bopp is, among other things, the legal brain behind Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for corporate spending on elections.)

“This case was somewhat extreme, in the sense that there were 40 abortion clinics—now this is just corresponding in time, not causation, this is a correlation—there were 40 abortion clinics and after the law, there were six,” Bopp said. “That’s kind of extreme.”

Speaking to an audience of about ten people during a workshop on campaign finance, Bopp said groups seeking to restrict abortion would need to work harder to solidify their evidence. “People will realize … as you pass things that you’re going to have to prove this in court so you better get your evidence together and get ready to present it, rather than just assuming that you don’t have to do that which was the assumption in Texas,” he said. “They changed that standard. It changed. So you’ve gotta prove it. Well, we’ll get ready to prove it.”

News Law and Policy

Lawsuit Challenges Anti-Choice Laws Passed by Louisiana Lawmakers

Teddy Wilson

The lawsuit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Friday in federal district court challenging abortion restrictions passed by Louisiana lawmakers this year.

Despite facing a budget crisis, lawmakers passed seven laws that restricted access to reproductive health care, including abortion services, which the Center for Reproductive Rights claims “individually, and cumulatively” unduly restrict the “constitutional right to abortion.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that the laws collectively create a “web of red tape” that restrict women’s ability to access reproductive health care.

“Louisiana politicians are trying to do what the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled decisively they cannot, burying women’s right to safe and legal abortion under an avalanche of unjustified and burdensome restrictions,” Northup said.

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The lawsuit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2.

Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law professor at Tulane University, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 was a “strong rebuke” of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the law.

“I think the Louisiana law and any similar laws are going to be struck down,” Griffin said. “[Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg filed a reminder to courts that the five-member majority is going to be looking very skeptically at targeted regulation of abortion providers.”

Among the laws challenged is a law similar to Texas’ HB 2.

HB 488 requires that physicians providing abortion care be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and that they be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine. Previously, the law required that a physician be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and be currently enrolled in or have completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), who in 2014 authored the state’s Texas-style admitting privileges law. The law is the subject of another Center for Reproductive Rights lawsuit, and is currently blocked by a Supreme Court decision.

Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 “does not predict a favorable forecast” for a similar law passed in Louisiana.

“The sad thing here as we see it is that these judges are replacing the elected officials and the legislative process as the determiner of what is medically important or not,” Clapper said. “We don’t believe that’s how it should be.”

Among the other laws challenged include those that restrict abortion procedures, require a waiting period before an abortion, impose restrictions on the handling of fetal tissue, and ban public funding for organizations that provide abortion services.

HB 1081 targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is frequently used during second-trimester abortions. A growing number of states have passed laws to ban the procedure, while state courts have blocked such measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas.

HB 386 tripled the state’s waiting period for a pregnant patient seeking an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours.

HB 1019 prohibits a person from intentionally performing or attempting to perform an abortion with knowledge that the pregnant patient is seeking the abortion solely because the “unborn child” has been diagnosed with either a genetic abnormality or a potential for a genetic abnormality.

HB 815 prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of the “intact body of a human embryo or fetus” obtained from an induced abortion. The law also prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of “organs, tissues, or cells obtained from a human embryo or fetus whose death was knowingly caused by an induced abortion.”

In addition, it “require[s] burial or cremation of remains resulting from abortion,” which acts as a de facto medication abortion ban, since an embryo miscarried at home, through medication abortion, cannot in practice be buried or cremated.

SB 33, similar to HB 815, prohibits the sale, receipt, and transport of fetal organs and body parts obtained from an induced abortion. Any person who violates this provision would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment at hard labor between ten to 50 years, at least ten years of which must be served without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, and may, in addition, be required to pay a fine of not more than $50,000.

HB 606 prohibits entities that perform abortions from receiving public funding, unless the abortion was necessary to save the life of the pregnant patient, the pregnancy was a result of incest or rape, or the pregnancy was diagnosed as “medically futile.”

Most of the bills were passed with significant bipartisan support, and were signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). Each of the laws is set to take effect on August 1. 

”We are asking the district court to immediately block these unconstitutional laws,” Northup said.