Commentary Politics

Maybe the United States Is Ready for an Unabashedly Pro-Choice Candidate

Shelley Abrams

Why are Wendy Davis and Terry McAuliffe, two Southern politicians who made names for themselves as reproductive rights supporters, suddenly shrinking away from the issue of abortion?

It all seems so obvious. In the South, two very public candidates get positive attention and support for being vocally pro-choice. They use the word abortion, which until now has been seen as political suicide. They are known and successful for being pro-choice. The next logical step for such a candidate? To continue to publicly and vocally support abortion rights, right? Wrong. In today’s abortion bizarro world, these candidates not only begin to shrink from supporting abortion rights—sometimes they even give their pro-choice constituents the virtual middle finger.

The twisted reality I’m talking about is occurring as I speak in Texas with Wendy Davis and in Virginia with Terry McAuliffe.

Wendy Davis’ popularity went up 14 points among Texans after her bold and determined filibuster last July. Polls showed that 45 percent of Texans supported her efforts. During her 11-hour speech, she argued against what was then a proposed 20-week abortion ban in the state, reading testimony from Texans in support of reproductive rights, stories of Texas women who’d had abortions after 20 weeks, and letters from major medical organizations that opposed the bill. Her name became closely linked to the dire reproductive rights battle raging in Texas, and rightly so. Yet, as soon as it looked like she might have potential in the governor’s race, things changed. Suddenly, I began hearing in pro-choice circles that she no longer wanted be openly associated with abortion.

Then came the “narrative” she would run under: I’m a mother. I struggled when I was a single mother. I accomplished everything you see today for the sake of my children. Translation: How could anyone think of the now dirty word, “abortion,” in relation to me after hearing my life story? To top it off, she openly stated that she could see herself supporting a 20-week abortion ban if the conditions were right—a statement that was not at odds with her previous statements about 20-week bans, but which stung many of her supporters nonetheless.

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Switch gears to newly elected Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. For six months, Gov. McAuliffe ran TV and radio ads relentlessly pounding his opponent Ken “The Cooch” Cuccinelli on his anti-choice agenda. To be fair, McAuliffe didn’t have much else to run on: He’d never held office before and had no public identity past his association with Bill and Hillary Clinton. And yet with all that against him, and with the huge advantage of millions more advertising dollars than his opponent (used overwhelmingly for abortion rights ads), he won the election.

What is one of the first things Gov. McAuliffe did after being sworn into office? He reappointed Bob “Vaginal Ultrasound” McDonnell’s health and human resources secretary to his own cabinet. Bill Hazel is the same man who readily implemented legislation mandating ultrasounds before abortions and imposing strict building codes on abortion clinics. The act of choosing this particular appointee at this particular time was Gov. McAuliffe’s chance to show the pro-choice majority that got him elected that he was, in fact, solidly pro-choice. But that isn’t what happened, and those of us in the abortion rights community in Virginia looked around at each other and said, “Huh. I think he just gave us a great big f*** you.”

These things don’t go unnoticed by the right wing either. They’ve already picked apart some of Davis’ narrative, trying to make her look disingenuous and even a little sleazy. And speaking of sleazy, Gov. McAuliffe’s “middle of the road” move only served to perpetuate his long-standing reputation of being slippery.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m tired of living in abortion bizarro world.

Abortion isn’t complicated, yet everyone on every side of the issue continues to make it so. In abortion bizarro world, one plus one never equals two. And even if it did, someone would screw around with it until it equaled seven. In abortion bizarro world, scientific studies don’t matter. The law doesn’t matter. Women’s opinions don’t matter. Doctors’ opinions don’t matter. Political promises, oaths, and purported personal principles don’t matter.

Instead of just going with the obvious and staying true to the issue that got her noticed, the political hacks in the Democratic political machine turned Wendy Davis into just another politician who seems noncommittal on the issue of abortion. They also confirmed for the public that McAuliffe would be the slippery politician Republicans always said he’d be.

Has the pro-choice left been so brainwashed by anti-choicers that our own side, perhaps subconsciously, began to perpetuate the stigma around abortion by refusing to accept the obvious?

It’s time to leave abortion bizarro world and embrace the obvious: U.S. voters just may be ready for an unabashedly pro-choice candidate.

News Politics

Progressives Notch Wins, Anti-Choice Republican Gets the Boot in State Primaries

Ally Boguhn

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), whip of the congressional Pro-Life Caucus, was defeated after losing the support of business groups and the agricultural lobby in Kansas.

State primary elections brought major victories for progressive candidates on Tuesday and saw incumbent Rep. U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS)—an anti-choice member of the extreme House Freedom Caucus—lose his seat to his primary challenger.

In Washington state, progressive candidate state Sen. Pramila Jayapal advanced to the general election in November in her bid to replace retiring Rep. Jim McDermott (D) in Washington’s 7th Congressional District.

The candidate has “been a champion for access to healthcare, and commonsense gun safety and civic engagement as well as for women, workers, students, communities of color, low-income communities, immigrants and refugees,” according to Jayapal’s website. That work earned her the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who solicited donations for her campaign telling supporters in an email that Jayapal is “not afraid to take on powerful special interests” and is “running her campaign with our political revolution.”

Sanders lauded Jayapal’s win Wednesday in a statement circulated by press release. “Pramila just proved that candidates can run a strong progressive campaign funded by small-dollar donors and win big,” Sanders said. “The people-powered movement that propelled our campaign to victory in states around the country is already changing how campaigns are run up and down the ticket.”

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Liberal and progressive groups praised Jayapal as news of her primary win broke.

“Pramila Jayapal winning this primary is huge for progressives,” Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement on the night’s election results. “She is a bold progressive game changer whose strong performance shows that voters are hungry for bold progressive ideas like expanding Social Security benefits, debt-free college, and a $15 minimum wage. With Pramila’s record as an accomplished activist and state senator, we are confident Pramila will be one of the strongest partners progressives have ever had in Congress and one of the strongest representatives Washington has ever had.”

Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, called Jayapal a “a progressive leader and a tireless advocate for women and families” in a Wednesday statement. “She understands the importance of increasing economic opportunities and protecting women’s access to health care. EMILY’s List is proud to continue supporting Pramila in her historic bid to be the first Indian American woman elected to Congress.”

Elsewhere in the state, fellow progressive candidate Darcy Burner finished among the top two candidates in her race for the state’s 5th District House seat. The state’s primary system allows the top two candidates to advance to the November election regardless of party affiliation.

In Kansas, the incumbent Huelskamp lost his primary race to challenger Roger Marshall. The three-term congressman has represented the state’s 1st Congressional District since 2011, where he has carved out a place for himself among the extremist House Freedom Caucus (HFC), which has pushed ultra-conservative and anti-choice policies in Congress. Huelskamp was one of a dozen politicians backed by the HFC’s unofficial PAC, the House Freedom Fund, as Rewire reported.  

Huelskamp championed anti-choice efforts prior to being elected into office and was “active in assisting women in crisis pregnancies” during graduate school, according to his website. He continued that legacy in Congress, where he serves as the Pro-Life Caucus whip.  

Huelskamp in 2012 notoriously delivered a speech on the House floor comparing abortion care to slavery and accusing both Planned Parenthood and the Obama administration of being racist. He again used race to push his anti-choice position in 2015, tweeting that those who accepted awards from Planned Parenthood supported a “racist” agenda.

According to the New York Times, Huelskamp’s challenger Roger Marshall “won with the support of business groups and the agriculture lobby, which had turned its back on Mr. Huelskamp after Speaker John A. Boehner had him removed from the Agriculture Committee in 2012, a crucial position for a legislator from a farm state.”

During the primary race, Huelskamp released an ad questioning whether Marshall, an OB-GYN, was truly pro-life and claimed he “supports pro-abortion groups that back Planned Parenthood and Hillary Clinton.” The accusation reportedly refers to a donation from the American Congress of OB-GYNs PAC to Marshall, and a previous donation he made to the group.

Marshall’s campaign website prominently displays the Republican candidate’s “pro-life” position and touts a recommendation of his from the anti-choice American Association of Pro-Life Physicians and Gynecologists. 

Brent Robertson, Marshall’s campaign spokesperson, however, defended the candidate’s anti-choice position in a statement to the Topeka-Capitol Journal in January.

News Abortion

Texas Pro-Choice Advocates Push Back Against State’s Anti-Choice Pamphlet

Teddy Wilson

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated since 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature.

Reproductive rights advocates are calling for changes to information forced on pregnant people seeking abortion services, thanks to a Texas mandate.

Texas lawmakers passed the Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2003, which requires abortion providers to inform pregnant people of the medical risks associated with abortion care, as well as the probable gestational age of the fetus and the medical risks of carrying a pregnancy to term.

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated or revised since it was first made public in 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in June published a revised draft version of the pamphlet. The draft version of “A Woman’s Right to Know” was published online, and proposed revisions are available for public comment until Friday.

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John Seago, spokesperson for the anti-choice Texas Right to Life, told KUT that the pamphlet was created so pregnant people have accurate information before they consent to receiving abortion care.

“This is a booklet that’s not going to be put in the hands of experts, it’s not going to be put in the hands of OB-GYNs or scientists–it’s going to be put in the hands of women who will range in education, will range in background, and we want this booklet to be user-friendly enough that anyone can read this booklet and be informed,” he said.

Reproductive rights advocates charge that the information in the pamphlet presented an anti-abortion bias and includes factually incorrect information.

More than 34 percent of the information found in the previous version of the state’s “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet was medically inaccurate, according to a study by a Rutgers University research team.

State lawmakers and activists held a press conference Wednesday outside the DSHS offices in Austin and delivered nearly 5,000 Texans’ comments to the agency.  

Kryston Skinner, an organizer with the Texas Equal Access Fund, spoke during the press conference about her experience having an abortion in Texas, and how the state-mandated pamphlet made her feel stigmatized.

Skinner told Rewire that the pamphlet “causes fear” in pregnant people who are unaware that the pamphlet is rife with misinformation. “It’s obviously a deterrent,” Skinner said. “There is no other reason for the state to force a medical professional to provide misinformation to their patients.”

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said in a statement that the pamphlet is the “latest shameful example” of Texas lawmakers playing politics with reproductive health care. “As a former registered nurse, I find it outrageous that the state requires health professionals to provide misleading and coercive information to patients,” Howard said.

Howard, vice chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, vowed to propose legislation that would rid the booklet of its many inaccuracies if DSHS fails to take the thousands of comments into account, according to the Austin Chronicle

Lawmakers in several states have passed laws mandating that states provide written materials to pregnant people seeking abortion services. These so-called informed consent laws often require that the material include inaccurate or misleading information pushed by legislators and organizations that oppose legal abortion care. 

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) sent a letter to DSHS that said the organization has “significant concerns with some of the material and how it is presented.”

Among the most controversial statements made in the pamphlet is the claim that “doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer.”

Texas Right to Life said in a statement that the organization wants the DSHS include “stronger language” about the supposed correlation between abortion and breast cancer. The organization wants the pamphlet to explicitly cite “the numerous studies that indicate undergoing an elective abortion contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women.”

Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) said in a statement that the state should provide the “most accurate science available” to pregnant people seeking an abortion. “As a breast cancer survivor, I am disappointed that DSHS has published revisions to the ‘A Woman’s Right to Know’ booklet that remain scientifically and medically inaccurate,” Davis said.

The link between abortion and cancer has been repeatedly debunked by scientific research.

“Scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.

A report by the National Cancer Institute explains, “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams told the Texas Tribune that the original booklet was written by a group of agency officials, legislators and public health and medical professionals.

“We carefully considered medical and scientific information when updating the draft booklet,” Williams said.

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