Analysis Abortion

Louisiana Abortion Providers Allege ‘Harassment and Intimidation’ From Health Officials

Andrea Grimes

Abortion access across the South is decreasing as anti-choice politics spread into "back-door" abortion bans through increased clinic regulation.

While the battle for reproductive rights is being waged in state legislatures across the country—a number of lawmakers have already proposed 20-week abortion bans this year—a quieter fight is unfolding in the halls of state health departments, where nurse investigators and bureaucrats, often acting without express statutory directives, are pushing for tighter restrictions on already heavily regulated abortion providers.

In Texas last year, one right-wing lawmaker strong-armed the Department of State Health Services into enacting intrusive, Big Brother-style abortion reporting requirements for doctors. This year, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) attempted to quietly pass what it called “emergency” abortion provider regulations that would have shuttered every one of the then five existing abortion providers in the state.

Detailing a variety of weedy requirements, the new rules would have, in part, required people seeking legal abortions to endure a 30-day waiting period between a blood test and a procedure, mandated that abortion providers renovate and enlarge their physical facilities, and changed existing dispute procedures in a way that would have given providers little recourse in challenging any alleged violations of the rules.

An 11th-hour public outcry, organized by Louisiana providers and reproductive justice groups, stopped Louisiana DHH from passing the new regulations; on the literal eve of a hearing at which department leaders were set to discuss the rules, DHH struck them from its agenda and officially “rescinded” them, pending further revision.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

It is a likely temporary but important victory, giving Louisiana abortion providers some respite from what they say has become a daily nightmare: wondering whether today will be the day when DHH inspectors descend upon their clinics in surprise inspections, intent on finding whatever they can to cite, and then closing legal abortion providers. Abortion clinic administrators told Rewire that alleged citations can range from infractions like not having separate, disaster-specific evacuation plans to not explicitly writing policies that compel doctors to obey already extant mandatory reporting laws about child abuse or coerced abortion.

“We’re waiting on pins and needles,” said Maria Couevas, the owner of a New Orleans OB-GYN clinic that, until January, provided abortion services as part of a comprehensive practice serving low-income patients. Couevas told Rewire that her clinic, Midtown Medical, delivered on average between 30 and 60 babies per month, while about 5 percent of its practice involved safe, legal abortion care.

The clinic is now involved in a legal dispute with Louisiana DHH over alleged regulation violations that occurred in July 2012 concerning the maintenance of personnel and patient records. Those citations came after DHH had already attempted to rescind the clinic’s ability to receive Medicaid reimbursement. While Couevas said she continued to provide care at no cost to her patients for as long as possible, she simply couldn’t keep her doors open after January. Couevas’ lawyer, Ellie Schilling, told Rewire that while Midtown was eventually able to go to court to restore its ability to get Medicaid reimbursements, the state still owes the facility hundreds of thousands of dollars. For now, Midtown Medical’s doors are closed.

Couevas described the last few years as a “constant period of harassment and intimidation,” and not just for her facility. Ever since Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal ousted Democrat Kathleen Blanco from office in 2008, abortion providers say that they have operated under the assumption that DHH inspectors are intent on closing clinic doors, rather than collaborating with facilities to ensure compliance and safety.

“I’m not sure what to think other than they’re doing what they can to shut us all down,” said Kathaleen Pittman, an abortion clinic administrator in Shreveport who says she wants to “concentrate on taking care of [her] patients,” rather than keeping a lawyer on speed-dial. Her clinic, Hope Medical Group for Women, has now resolved a dispute with DHH over citations from the department issued in 2010 for failing to maintain certain policies and procedures concerning the administration of anesthesia and in 2011 for paperwork inconsistencies, unlocked storage of prescription medications and failing to have a “plan for internal and external disasters.”

“It is exhausting not knowing when something else is going to come up that we have to deal with,” said Pittman.

Abortion providers told Rewire that they’ve seen a distinct shift, from having a collaborative and amenable relationship with DHH to an antagonistic one. And it surprises them, because when the state first began regulating abortion clinics in 2004, providers themselves were at the table developing the regulations with DHH officials.

Of the three abortion facilities that have had citation disputes with Louisiana DHH, one provider has been shuttered entirely due to DHH citations. In 2009, the department cited the Gentilly Medical Clinic for Women in New Orleans for failing to have a “sufficient” number of nurses and lacking appropriate site-specific controlled substance licenses. Overall, however, the number of abortion providers in Louisiana is dwindling. The state had seven licensed providers in 2008; with the closure of Midtown Medical this year, it now has just four.

Providers in Louisiana say they greatly value the ability to challenge alleged deficiencies and work with DHH to resolve violations through corrective plans of action, which is one of the reasons why they balked at the recent “emergency” regulations that DHH attempted to pass earlier this year.

“There are major due process problems in terms of appeal rights that have been eliminated or severely restricted,” attorney Ellie Schilling told Rewire before the regulations were rescinded in early January.

Schilling and her clients expect that Louisiana DHH will return to the table with similarly restrictive, though revised, regulations, adding to what has already become increasingly limited access to legal abortion in Louisiana. The state already has a 20-week abortion ban on the books, along with a mandated 24-hour waiting period, following a mandatory ultrasound. Providers are also required to give abortion-seeking Louisianans medically disproven information linking abortion with breast cancer.

The aggregate geographic impact of clinic closures in Louisiana may be devastating in terms of wider abortion access throughout the region; just one abortion provider remains open in Mississippi, and Texas is set to lose all but six of its legal abortion providers this September, when part of its omnibus anti-abortion access law, mandating that abortion providers meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, goes into effect.

Targeting clinics through extreme regulations, says Schilling, amounts to a “back-door abortion ban” that comes without the legal conflict of an outright attack on Roe v. Wade.

But Maria Couevas told Rewire that there is a “silver lining”: Louisiana providers and their supporters, like the New Orleans Abortion Fund and groups like Law Students for Reproductive Justice, have now formed vital connections that keep them in constant contact over regulations that might have been sneaked by in years past. That allows them to turn the spotlight on anti-choice regulations, just as they did in early February when DHH decided to rescind the “emergency” regulations.

“People really saw what [DHH’s] motivation was,” said Couevas. “That’s been helpful and it was very inspiring to us.”

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “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,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”