News Abortion

Texas Abortion Clinic Protesters Told to ‘Track License Plates’

Andrea Grimes

Anti-choice groups trained future clinic protesters as a federal court heard arguments in a new lawsuit challenging Texas' omnibus anti-abortion law.

At an abortion clinic protester training at the Texas state capitol last week, anti-choice leaders told their trainees to write down the license plate numbers of abortion-providing doctors and abortion-seeking patients, so that they could track which doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals and which patients did or did not ultimately choose abortion.

“This way, you can track whether or not a client comes back,” said Karen Garnett, the director of an anti-choice Catholic group in North Texas, in an audio recording made by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, members of which attended a “Keeping Abortion Facilities Closed” training event held last week.

The training was held on the first day of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey trial, the latest federal challenge to Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, which bans abortion after 20 weeks, restricts the prescription of medication abortions, requires abortion clinics to operate as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers, and mandates that abortion-providing doctors have hospital admitting privileges.

Karen Garnett can be heard on the recording telling her trainees that her group has a “very, kind of, sophisticated little spreadsheet” they used to track the identities of abortion-providing doctors.

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Heather Busby, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, called these protest tactics “stalking” in a press release that accompanied the recordings.

“Texas women are now not only forced to travel hundreds of miles to even access a safe and legal Texas clinic, but once they reach a clinic they must also confront the very real threat posed by these anti-abortion activists,” said Busby. “The anti-abortion harassment tactics outlined in this disturbing training lead women to seek dangerous alternatives.”

Having the sidewalk “lined with protestors,” said Garnett in the audio recording, turns potential clients away from abortion clinics: “they don’t want to drive in because they see our presence there.”

When anti-choice Texas lawmakers passed HB 2 last summer—despite a 13-hour filibuster from state Sen. Wendy Davis and the presence of thousands of reproductive rights supporters who descended on the capitol—legislators said that the law was meant only to increase the health and safety of abortion-seeking Texans, though Texas’ lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, tweeted at the time that closing clinics was indeed the intent of the law.

And at the clinic protester training last week, a 40 Days For Life organizer named Eileen Romano said that the “poorer ones”—low-income Texans seeking abortion care—began going to the local Beaumont, Texas, crisis pregnancy center after the passage of HB 2, because they “didn’t have transportation” to access a legal abortion facility.

“God is good,” said Romano.

Four abortion-providing doctors have been killed, along with four more abortion clinic staffers, in anti-abortion clinic violence since 1993, according to the National Abortion Federation.

The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth’s Michael Demma told trainees that his group, Respect Life, is “searching” for one of two abortion-providing OB-GYNs at the Whole Woman’s Health facility in Fort Worth.

“We have been able to identify one in there and we’re still searching for the other,” he said in the recording.

Professional anti-choice activist Abby Johnson, who famously left her job at a southeast Texas Planned Parenthood facility in 2009, told the trainees that “abortionists are feeling the pressure” from anti-choice groups, and that she had identified the potential new location of an abortion-providing ambulatory surgical center in Austin.

“I think they feel like they’re on the run,” Johnson told the trainees, “and that’s how we want to keep it.”

Closing arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey will begin in Austin on Wednesday morning. The plaintiffs, a group of independent Texas abortion providers practicing across the state, say that the law imposes an undue burden on providers and patients, forcing them to drive hundreds of miles for legal abortion care. The State of Texas has argued that long-distance travel does not constitute an undue burden, and that it need only show that lawmakers had a “rational basis” for passing the law.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.