Commentary Abortion

11 Pro-Choice Successes of 2013

Rewire Staff

Though 2013 might have brought an array of new abortion restrictions and other setbacks for reproductive rights, there were also a number of reasons for pro-choice allies around the country to be proud this year. The staff of Rewire notes some of the top pro-choice successes of 2013.

Though 2013 might have brought an array of new abortion restrictions and other setbacks for reproductive rights, there were also a number of reasons for pro-choice allies around the country to be proud this year. Below, the staff of Rewire notes some of the top pro-choice successes of 2013.

1. The “feminist army” rose up in Texas.

How could a steamy Texas summer that saw the passage of some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the country be considered a great moment in reproductive rights? Because of the thousands of Texans who descended upon the state capitol building, clad in orange, to speak out against a bill that, when fully implemented, is expected to close all but six abortion clinics in the state. Average Texans took time off work and made the sometimes hours-long trip to Austin, day after day. They organized a “people’s filibuster,” testifying through the night in front of occasionally hostile right-wing legislators, paving the way for state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) to pull off her remarkable 13-hour filibuster. Davis forced Gov. Rick Perry to call a third special session to force the law’s passage, but even today, the “orange army” doesn’t let up: Nearly 20,000 Texans refused to back down in the face of callous conservative politics and asked state health officials to mitigate the impact of the laws, continuing the fight for reproductive autonomy in the Lone Star State. —Andrea Grimes

texas listicle

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2. North Carolina residents turned out in droves—and in costume—to fight anti-choice legislation.

This year, some plucky progressives in very-red North Carolina pushed back against the idea that there’s anything “moral” about denying women birth control or safe abortion care. Under the thunderously charismatic leadership of North Carolina NAACP President William Barber, “Moral Monday” protesters came every week to give legislators headaches over voter restrictions, their refusal to expand Medicaid, and attacks on workers and public schools. But rolling back women’s rights really took the cake, and a few dozen protesters soon swelled to over 2,000 when state legislators snuck onerous abortion restrictions into a motorcycle safety bill. To top that off, protesters dressed as Mad Men characters to remind legislators that it’s total turn-back-the-clock crazy-talk to argue over whether women should have full access to birth control in 2013. —Emily Crockett

Picture via Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina.

Picture via Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina.

3. The Obamacare birth control benefit allowed many U.S. women to access contraception without a co-pay.

A whole lot of people stopped paying “lady taxes” for birth control in 2013.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, the number of privately insured individuals who don’t have a co-pay for birth control pills went from 15 percent to 40 percent! (And the percent of those women who are sluts stayed at zero.)

Thanks, Obama! —Erin Matson

4. Judge Edward R. Korman issued a smackdown on emergency contraception.

Despite a mountain of evidence on the safety of emergency contraception and the public health benefits to making it widely available, for at least a decade the federal government caved to pressure from the religious right and refused to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter and without age restrictions. But the Obama administration took political posturing on emergency contraception (EC) to a new level when Secretary of Health and Human Services Katherine Sebelius overruled the Food and Drug Administration’s own recommendation under the Obama Administration to lift sales restrictions and blocked widespread EC access. In April, a federal district court judge called the administration out on it in one of the most searing legal opinions of the year. Comparing the administration’s efforts to restrict the sale of emergency contraception to voter identification efforts, and accusing them of basing political decisions on their discomfort with the idea of teenagers having sex, Judge Edward Korman’s decision not only held the administration accountable for playing politics with women’s health—it was the first step in ending the protracted legal and political battle with the government over EC access. —Jessica Mason Pieklo

5. California expanded abortion access with new legislation.

Amid a sea of legislation restricting access to safe, legal abortion around the country this year, there was one state that bucked the national trend: California. In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law allowing nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and physician assistants to perform first-trimester abortions in the state, greatly expanding access to abortion care for women. —Lauren Kelley

California grungy stamp shutterstock_151919099 [Converted]

6. Albuquerque residents and grassroots organizers defeated anti-choice ordinance.

Last month, Albuquerque residents voted down an ordinance that would have banned all abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation in the city. The real-world impact of the ordinance would have been much broader, however, as Albuquerque is home to one of only four clinics in the entire country that openly provides later abortions. Credited with defeating the ordinance is a broad coalition of grassroots organizers, who worked to inform and connect with voters, and get as many folks to the polls as possible. —Lauren Kelley

respect ABQ women

7. Reproductive rights supporter Nina Pillard was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It only took changing the way the Senate did business for over 100 years in response to obstruction efforts unheard of even by Republican standards, but pro-choice advocates finally have an answer to far-right Judge Janice Rogers Brown on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Georgetown Law professor Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, who has been called the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has a history of fighting for reproductive autonomy and gender equality. And considering the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is often a stepping-stone to a Supreme Court gig, the impact of Pillard’s confirmation could last for decades. —Jessica Mason Pieklo

Nina Pillard during Sen. Ted Cruz’s Q&A at her nomination hearing.

8. SCOTUS stays out of Oklahoma’s medication abortion and ultrasound laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court punted in Oklahoma this year by refusing to hear appeals of blocks to two high-profile laws that would have piled on abortion restrictions in the Sooner State. In early November, the Court dismissed the state’s appeal to reinstate a law the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional because it would have effectively banned medication abortion. About a week later, it refused to hear a challenge to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision blocking the state’s ultrasound law, which would have forced every Oklahoman seeking an abortion to undergo a narrated ultrasound exam and to have the ultrasound image placed in front of her. The decision to leave in place the Oklahoma Supreme Court decisions blocking those restrictions suggests the Roberts Court is inclined to stay out of many of the fights over incremental restrictions on abortion rights. That’s good news for Oklahoma, but may not be such good news for places like Texas. —Sofia Resnick

9. Several states saw at least temporary legal wins against anti-choice laws.

2012 and 2013 may have seen a flood of draconian anti-choice restrictions, but it also saw a flood of litigation in response. In states like Arkansas and North Dakota, lawmakers passed blatantly unconstitutional laws that would ban abortion in some cases as early as six weeks. In Mississippi and Wisconsin, lawmakers attacked abortion access in targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws designed to close clinics and drive providers out of the state. So far, courts have blocked those laws from going into effect while a lawsuit over their constitutionality proceeds. So we’re filing this one away in the “it could have been worse” category and keeping our eyes on these cases for 2014. —Jessica Mason Pieklo

10. West Virginia pro-choice advocates came out strong going into what could be a brutal year for reproductive rights attacks.

Hundreds of West Virginians protested this summer against what they see as Attorney General Patrick Morrissey’s brewing assault on reproductive rights. Morrissey, who is openly anti-choice, appears to be gearing up for an assault on abortion clinics in 2014’s legislative session. But local pro-choice groups have mounted a strong fight, which has already led to some embarrassing setbacks, including prominent anti-choice activists losing lawsuits they’d brought against doctors. “We’ve seen what’s happened in Texas, North Carolina, and Ohio,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, a nonprofit organization that promotes reproductive rights and justice. “We’re saying the buck stops here.” —Sharona Coutts

11. Arizona abortion ban was permanently blocked.

In May, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals permanently blocked an Arizona law that would have banned all abortions at 20 weeks, except in cases of life-threatening medical emergencies. Passed in 2012, the law was intended to test the strength of viability as the point at which a state can restrict or ban access to abortion under Roe v. Wade. Sharply criticizing the district court, which had found that the law does not prohibit all abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation, but merely regulates them, the Ninth Circuit called the law unconstitutional. The court further pointed out that any ability of fetuses to feel pain at 20 weeks’ gestation did not give Arizona an overriding interest to prohibit pre-viability abortions. —Imani Gandy

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

Analysis Law and Policy

California Bill Aimed at Anti-Choice Videos Draws Free Speech Concerns

Amy Littlefield

“We wanted to make sure that we updated ... laws to kind of reflect a changing world and to make sure that we actually protect the doctors who provide these important services to women,” California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez said, adding that his legislation would also protect patient safety and access to abortion.

A California bill that would make it a crime to distribute secret recordings of health-care providers—like the ones David Daleiden used in his smear campaign against Planned Parenthood—has cleared a legislative hurdle, but faces opposition from media groups and civil liberties advocates, who say the legislation is overly broad.

It is already illegal in California to record, whether in audio or video form, a confidential communication without the consent of all parties involved. But California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, who introduced AB 1671, told Rewire that while current law specifically forbids the distribution of illegally recorded telephone calls, there is no similar protection for videos.

“We wanted to make sure that we updated those laws to kind of reflect a changing world and to make sure that we actually protect the doctors who provide these important services to women,” Gomez said, adding that his legislation would also protect patient safety and access to abortion.

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AB 1671 makes it a crime if someone who violates California’s existing law against secret recordings “intentionally discloses or distributes, in any manner, in any forum, including, but not limited to, Internet [websites] and social media, or for any purpose, the contents of a confidential communication with a health care provider that is obtained by that person.”

Violators could be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $2,500, penalties similar to those already in place for making illegal recordings. But the new measure specifies that for both recording and distribution, the fines apply to each violation; that means someone like Daleiden, who circulated his videos widely, could quickly rack up heavy fines. Repeat offenders could face fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

The effort to pass the bill comes as abortion providers face a rising tide of threats and secret recordings. Besides Daleiden’s efforts, covertly recorded footage of clinic staff has cropped up in the documentary HUSH and in videos released by the anti-choice group Live Action. Planned Parenthood reported a ninefold increase in harassment at its health centers in July last year, when Daleiden began releasing the deceptively edited videos he claimed showed the organization was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donation. (Multiple federal and state investigations have found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.) The National Abortion Federation recorded an “unprecedented” spike in hate speech and threats against abortion providers last year, peaking with the fatal shooting of three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.

Increased Threats

“It was so alarming and so extensive that our staff that normally tracks threats and violence against providers could not keep up,” NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta told Rewire. The organization was forced to hire an outside security firm.

Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, told Rewire the new legislation is needed to protect the safety of abortion providers.

“If our providers aren’t safe, then they won’t provide, and we won’t have access to reproductive health care,” Parker said in a phone interview.

Daleiden’s group, the Center for Medical Progress, is based in California, and much of his covert recording took place there. Of the four lawsuits he and his group face over the recordings, three have been filed in federal court in California. Yet so far, the only criminal charges against Daleiden have been lodged in Texas, where a grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood instead indicted Daleiden and fellow anti-choice activist Sandra Merritt for purportedly using fake California driver’s licenses as part of their covert operation. The charges were later dropped for procedural reasons.

Last summer, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced plans to review whether the Center for Medical Progress violated any laws, and in April, state investigators raided Daleiden’s apartment. Harris has not yet announced any charges. Daleiden has accused officials of seizing privileged information, a claim the attorney general’s office told Rewire it is working on resolving in court.

Harris, meanwhile is running for Senate; her campaign website describes her as “a champion for a woman’s right to choose.”

“We think there is an excellent case and the attorney general should have prosecuted,” Beth Parker of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California told Rewire. “Daleiden did more than just publish the videos, as we know, I mean he falsified driver’s licenses, he falsified credit cards, he set up a fake company. I mean, we have, as you know, a major civil litigation against him and his conspirators. I just can’t answer to why the attorney general hasn’t prosecuted.”

Parker said AB 1671 could increase incentives for law enforcement to prosecute such cases.

“What we’ve heard as we’ve been working [on] the bill is that criminal law enforcement almost never prosecutes for the violation of illegal recording,” Parker said. “It’s just too small a crime in their view.”

Assemblymember Gomez also said he hopes his bill will facilitate the prosecution of people like Daleiden, and serve as a deterrent against people who want to use illegal recordings to “undermine the fact that people have this right to have control over their bodies.”

“That’s the hope, is that it actually does change that landscape, that DAs will be able to make a better case against individuals who illegally record and distribute,” Gomez said.

Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation says the actions of law enforcement matter when it comes to the safety of abortion providers.

“There’s certainly a correlation between law enforcement’s response to criminal activity aimed at abortion providers and the escalation or de-escalation of that activity,” Saporta said, citing the federal government’s response to the murders of abortion providers in the 1990s, which included the deployment of federal marshals to guard providers and the formation of a task force by then-Attorney General Janet Reno. “We had more than a decade of decreases in extreme violence aimed at abortion providers, and that ended in 2009 with the murder of Dr. [George] Tiller.”

But media and civil liberties groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union of California, have expressed concerns the bill could sweep up journalists and whistleblowers.

“The passing of this law is meant to chill speech, right, so that’s what they want to do,” Nikki Moore, legal counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which opposes the legislation, said in an interview with Rewire. In addition to potential criminal penalties, the measure would create new civil liabilities that Moore says could make journalists hesitant to publish sensitive information.  

“A news organization is going to look at it and say, ‘Are we going to get sued for this? Well, there’s a potential, so we probably shouldn’t distribute it,’” Moore said.

As an example of the kind of journalism that could be affected by the bill, Moore cited a Los Angeles Times investigation that analyzed and helped debunk Daleiden’s footage.

“Planned Parenthood’s bill would criminalize that behavior, so it’s short-sighted of them if nothing else,” Moore said.

Assemblymember Gomez disagrees about the scope of the bill. “We have tailored it narrowly to basically say it applies to the person who illegally recorded the video and also is distributing that video, so it doesn’t apply to, say, a news agency that actually ends up getting the video,” he said.

Late last week, the California Senate Appropriations Committee released AB 1671 to the state senate floor on a vote of 5 to 2, with Republicans opposing it. The latest version has been amended to remove language that implicated “a person who aids and abets” the distribution of secret recordings, wording civil liberties groups said could be used to sweep in journalists and lawyers. The latest draft also makes an exception for recordings provided solely to law enforcement for investigations.

But the ACLU of California and the California Newspaper Publishers Association said they still oppose the bill. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it is still reviewing the changes.)

“The likelihood of a news organization being charged for aiding and abetting is certainly reduced” under the new language, Moore said. But provisions already exist in the California penal code to implicate those accused of aiding and abetting criminal behavior.

“You can imagine scenarios where perhaps the newspaper published it and it’s an anonymous source, and so now they’re aiding and abetting the distribution, and they’re the only person that the prosecutor knows might have been involved,” Moore says.

In letter of opposition sent in June to Assemblymember Gomez, Kevin Baker, legislative director of the ACLU of California, raised concerns about how the measure singles out the communications of health-care providers.

“The same rationale for punishing communications of some preferred professions/industries could as easily be applied to other communications —e.g., by law enforcement, animal testing labs, gun makers, lethal injection drug producers, the petroleum industry, religious sects,” Baker wrote.

Gomez said there could be further changes to the bill as talks aimed at resolving such opposition continue. An earlier version passed the assembly easily by a vote of 52 to 26. The latest draft faces an August 31 deadline to pass the senate and a concurrence vote in the assembly before the end of the session. After that, Gomez said he hopes California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) will sign it.

“If we can strike the right balance [between the rights of privacy and free speech], my hope is that it’s hard for him not to support it,” Gomez said. 

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