Commentary Human Rights

Excuses for Anti-Choice and Misogynist Harassment Grow Flimsier

Amanda Marcotte

The circle of victims of misogynist harassment is getting bigger, and the Supreme Court is playing a role.

In recent years, we’ve seen anti-choice harassment campaigns expand beyond the typical target—abortion—to other forms of gynecological care. There have been anti-choice protests of family planning clinics that don’t even offer abortion, and now, in Alabama, anti-choicers have taken to harassing women who are trying to give birth.

The website Breitbart Unmasked has been keeping track of anti-choice leader James Henderson and his comrades as they expand the scope of their relentless abuse of women, which they are justifying with ever-flimsier excuses. This is indicative of a larger trend of misogynist abuse in our society, one that I fear the Supreme Court has just given a big boost to by striking down clinic buffer zone laws.

In his decision striking down Alabama’s targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law, Judge Myron Thompson has an interesting digression about how serious the growing circle of anti-choice abuse has become in Alabama. A clinic in the state hired a doctor, referred to as Dr. H1 in the decision, to cover the clinic’s new hospital admitting privileges requirement. There were efforts to keep her role quiet, but anti-choicers found out anyway. From the decision:

Although she was not performing abortions herself, protestors came to her private practice and began to confront her pregnant patients, just as they had Dr. Palmer’s. Again, they held signs depicting third-trimester abortions. The local leader of the pro-life movement told Johnson that he would protest Dr. H1’s practice for as long as Dr. H1 continued to serve as covering physician for the clinic.

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She had to pull her kids out of Catholic school and eventually discontinue offering obstetric care because of all the abuse. Having lost her income delivering babies, Dr. H1 then started to perform abortions full time.

This type of abuse is particularly aggravating because anti-choicers claim that they want clinics to have hospital admitting privileges to protect women. The argument is that, even though the hospitalization rate for people who have abortions is among the lowest of all outpatient procedures, clinics need a doctor who can admit patients just in case. So, this clinic goes ahead and hires a doctor whose sole responsibility is to be there in case a patient needs hospital care, and anti-choicers harass her out of her job—for taking on a responsibility that they themselves demanded that someone take on.

In other words, they harassed someone who wasn’t doing abortions until she ended up doing abortions.

While I do believe antis fully intend for their harassment campaigns to make abortion harder to access, in the face of a story like this, it’s clear that goal is secondary to the larger purpose: expressing inchoate rage at women and anyone who dares help women get the medical care they need, particularly if it’s related to sex.

Anyone who spends time online knows that kind of inchoate misogynist rage runs rampant in our society. Women online get targeted for massive harassment campaigns for equally silly and flimsy reasons, often involving the fact that they have sex or even just have reproductive organs—facts that continue to send significant numbers of people into a screaming rage.

Take, for instance, Zoe Quinn, a video game developer who has been subject to weeks of unbelievable amounts of abuse after her vindictive ex-boyfriend accused her of cheating on him. The claim is she somehow “bought” a good review of her game by sleeping with someone for it—a claim that’s already so silly it hardly needs debunking—but the review she supposedly bought doesn’t exist. It’s clear as a whistle that this is about something deeper and more subconscious: a loathing of female sexuality, especially if it’s perceived as being out of male control, and this unfortunate soul, much like Dr. H1, is just the latest target of a madding crowd.

In another disturbing example, feminist writer Jessica Valenti was the target of a harassment campaign for arguing in a piece that tampons should be free, or at least more affordable. The flimsy excuse for the harassment against Valenti was the “free” part, but the tenor of the abuse made it clear that the harassers are more upset about the “tampon” part. Many seemed angry and disgusted by the very fact that women menstruate.

The pretenses for blasting someone with white-hot misogynist anger are becoming so thin as to be transparent, both online and off. Just as anti-choicers holler about “life” while targeting people trying to get any kind of care—prenatal care, contraception, sexually transmitted infections testing—at women’s health clinics, the misogynist crowd will use a bunch of bad faith excuses for why it’s acceptable to target someone for choices that are really none of their business.

Unfortunately, the problem hasn’t been helped much by the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning the Massachusetts law requiring protesters to stand 35 feet away from a clinic entrance. Part of the rationale for the decision was the argument that the people standing in the clinic entrance are just trying to “help” by “counseling” women. That argument was clearly made in bad faith, as anti-choicers involved in the McCullen v. Coakley case offered no evidence that their “help” was actually helpful or that women were seeking it. Furthermore, if “help” has to be shouted directly in someone’s face, it simply isn’t help by any normal definition of the term. It’s harassment.

But that bad faith argument worked. In its decision, the Supreme Court blessed the use of bad faith arguments to excuse the harassment of women, even when those arguments are laughably flimsy. That, taken with the way the Internet makes misogynists feel like they have a real community, suggests that what we’re seeing in Alabama may be just the beginning. There’s no cap on how silly the argument justifying misogyny has to be now, and the circle of eligible targets is growing.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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.


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