Commentary Media

Dallas Teenager Deserves Compassion, Not Prosecution

Merritt Tierce

The real crime scene in this scenario isn't a high school bathroom stall; it's Texas' rigid and discriminatory reproductive health-care system.

Dallas police believe a teenager gave birth in a restroom stall at Woodrow Wilson High School last Friday. In the ensuing media flurry, local news outlets have included the following statements or quotes in their reports:

It was after 6 p.m. when Dallas police carried the tiny body out in a black duffle bag, placing it carefully in the back of an ambulance … Police say they don’t know how far along the mother’s pregnancy may have been, but they want to know the circumstances of how it ended. (CBS DFW)

Students and staff at the high school will be offered counseling services. Police are, of course, encouraging anyone who knows who abandoned the fetus to contact the Dallas Police Department. (TheBlaze)

The bathroom is being treated as a crime scene, the [Dallas Independent School] district said. (ABC WFAA)

Like This Story?

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

Donate Now

“We’re reviewing video, talking to the teachers, trying to determine if anybody has any knowledge of any student that may have had something going on in their life, and pray,” said Major John Lawton with the Dallas Police Department. (Fox 4 KDFW)

[Dallas Police] are reviewing video and will speak with teachers and students in hopes of finding something that will lead them to the “suspect”—[Lawton] did use the word suspect, and when asked if she would be charged with a crime once she was located, he would not elaborate. (Lakewood Advocate)

I have not read any coverage of this story that has indicated an interest in the teenager’s well-being, or in pointing out the systemic failures that may have played a fundamental role in these events. Nor have any officials or media representatives mentioned any attempts to identify the person who impregnated the teenager, whether to hold them equally responsible or to offer them assistance.

Although it is possible that the teenager did not know of the pregnancy—children and adolescents who become pregnant can often ignore, deny, or misinterpret the symptoms of pregnancy, even late into gestation—until passing the fetus in the restroom stall, police and school district authorities appear to be working from the assumption that the fetus was criminally (intentionally or negligently) abandoned. After all, officials have urged anyone who knows who the teenager is—using the word “suspect”—to provide information that will assist their investigation.

Beyond the implied punitive framework, referring to the teenager as “mother” also unjustly creates a context that can only harm the adolescent, as does reporting that the “tiny body” was removed from the school and placed “carefully” in an ambulance. Major Lawton’s euphemistic and incoherent statement, too, encourages no confidence in the way involved adults will handle this teenager’s future. All students “have something going on” in their lives, and prayer is a poor substitute for an assurance that the teenager will not be prosecuted and that, more importantly, the blame for what happened most likely lies with our state government.

I do not mean to dismiss the trauma experienced by students and staff, but too much focus has been placed on the spectacle of this fetus, and far too little on several real tragedies: that Texas provides no sex education (an abstinence-only curriculum does not qualify as education); has the highest uninsured rate in the nation yet has repeatedly cut funds for family planning; and has enacted restrictions on abortion so severe that one million women of reproductive age now live farther than 100 miles from an abortion clinic. Minors who seek an abortion must also have proof of parental notification and consent, or must obtain a judicial bypass.

These and other barriers have shaped an increasingly rigid and discriminatory reproductive health-care system in Texas. That is the crime scene here, and that should be the focus of the conversation. And authorities and officials should only be offering the teenager compassion, health care, and protection.

Commentary Human Rights

North Carolina’s Policies Don’t Keep Anyone Safe

Emma Akpan

Gov. McCrory’s claims to want to protect North Carolinians are not holding water if he and state Republicans continue to ignore policies that will keep all citizens safe and healthy and, instead, show support for legislation that would make it easier for people to access guns.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

We all watched the news of the Pulse nightclub massacre in horror.

In my state, on June 13, one day after the shooting, the North Carolina General Assembly moved forward on reading an amendment that would lift restrictions on our right to carry a concealed weapon. Currently, people have to take classroom training and pass a background check. The new measure would allow concealed weapons in public without many requirements. While it’s unclear when state legislators will take action on this bill, it’s troubling to know that some state leaders are not bolstering comprehensive gun control in light of the massacre.

These same legislators claim that they are supporting and passing policies that will keep citizens safe. But at the same time that hate has fueled deadly shootings in this country, state Republicans have introduced anti-trans legislation that has coincided with a wave of violence against trans people.

Like This Story?

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

Donate Now

Earlier this spring, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a much talked about bill that discriminates against transgender people in the state, a group of citizens already at risk for violence and harassment not only in bathrooms, but in most public places.

While there is no clear link connecting the shooting to these discriminatory bathroom policies, we know that hateful beliefs and violent actions preluded the brutal killings in Orlando, and that intolerance can fuel laws like North Carolina’s HB 2.

Just this week, state lawmakers were considering revising the law, but those changes would effectively privilege trans people who are able to, or wish to, have gender reassignment surgery over other transgender or gender-nonconforming people. Rightly so, advocacy groups were quick to criticize the proposals, which would do nothing to allow individuals to use the bathroom of their gender identity.

Gov. McCrory and state leaders talk about protecting women, but they should be concerned with protecting the safety of all residents, especially the most vulnerable: transgender residents. HB 2 puts transgender individuals more at risk of violence in public spaces. We cannot continue to have these safety and privacy arguments at the expense of transgender North Carolinians.

This cannot be overstated: There have been no incidents of transgender individuals attacking people in public bathrooms. However, there has been an uptick of attacks in public bathrooms in response to the fear HB 2 has incited. The disgraceful conversation about “scary” trans women in women’s bathrooms has people mistaking cis women for trans women and harassing them in bathrooms. A woman entering a Walmart bathroom sporting a short hairstyle was told by a stranger, “you’re disgusting!” and, “you don’t belong here!” Trans women experience this quite frequently, which is why Charlotte passed the ordinance to allow North Carolinians to use the bathroom of their gender identity, to keep trans women safe in public spaces. But then HB 2 gave license to individual citizens to police who enters public bathrooms, adding to the violence marginalized groups already experience—not reducing it.

As actress and activist Candis Cayne explained on CNN, “[HB 2] will stop people from being comfortable in this society. It will stop people from wanting to leave their house, because going to the bathroom is such a natural function. You leave your house every day. You want to go shopping. You want to go to the post office, but if you have to go to the bathroom along the way, you’re not allowed to. It’s a bill that’s really kind of making people in my community have to stay home, have to not be a part of our society.”

After Gov. McCrory signed and was heavily criticized for HB 2, he claimed that the state government was looking out for women’s privacy.

His claims have been debunked over and over again, and based on past legislation, we can see that state Republicans have not prioritized the needs of the state’s most marginalized populations over their own need to breed intolerance and government interference in the health and well-being of those populations.

I’m sure many of Rewire’s readers remember HB 465, signed into law last summer. The law stipulates that women must wait 72 hours to access an abortion. The medically unnecessary legislation directly contradicts McCrory’s statements in support of the anti-trans law HB 2 about the need to protect women’s privacy and safety, considering doctors are now required to send private ultrasounds of women who have had abortions to a governmental agency. North Carolina pro-choice advocates have been pushing that this stipulation is unnecessary and downright creepy. It also fuels stigma around a basic health-care service. That law went into effect January 1, but if McCrory and other legislative leaders truly believed in women’s privacy, they would look again at HB 465.

While we’re on the subject of privacy and safety, state Republicans leaders have forgotten that a great way to keep women safe is to ensure their economic sustainability. Many have noted that HB 2 not only affects those who can or cannot enter a public restroom, it takes away municipalities’ power to raise the minimum wage. Who will be most affected by this stalemate? Women, of course, who make up two-thirds of the people who work minimum-wage jobs.

A couple of years ago, the North Carolina state budget also reduced after-school care for children. Does this policy protect women and families? No. Not only that, it further stigmatizes low-income mothers, who are hard-hit by such budget cuts. For North Carolina women, the fear is not in bathrooms, but in the low-wage positions we are placed into.

Gov. McCrory’s claims to protect North Carolinians are not holding water if he and state Republicans continue to ignore policies that will keep all citizens safe and healthy and, instead, show support for legislation that would make it easier for people to access guns. We haven’t expanded Medicaid, we have continued restrictions on reproductive health care, and so many North Carolina women don’t make a living wage.

Trans-inclusive policies, like the Charlotte ordinance that intended to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their gender identity, are not a threat to the safety of North Carolinians, but lifting gun requirements may threaten our safety. It’s time for state Republicans to give North Carolinians what we are demanding: an inclusive, safe, and healthy state that we all want to live in.

Roundups Politics

Trump Taps Extremists, Anti-Choice Advocates in Effort to Woo Evangelicals

Ally Boguhn

Representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to its shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the organization's president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance at a question-and-answer event on Tuesday.

Making a play to win over the evangelical community, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump met with more than 1,000 faith and anti-choice leaders on Tuesday for a question-and-answer event in New York City and launched an “evangelical advisory board” to weigh in on how he should approach key issues for the voting bloc.

The meeting was meant to be “a guided discussion between Trump and diverse conservative Christian leaders to better understand him as a person, his position on important issues and his vision for America’s future,” according to a press release from the event’s organizers. As Rewire previously reported, numerous anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ leaders—many of them extremists—were slated to attend.

Though the event was closed to the media, Trump reportedly promised to lift a ban on tax-exempt organizations from politicking and discussed his commitment to defending religious liberties. Trump’s pitch to conservatives also included a resolution that upon his election, “the first thing we will do is support Supreme Court justices who are talented men and women, and pro-life,” according to a press release from United in Purpose, which helped organize the event.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, told the New York Times that the business mogul also reiterated promises to defund Planned Parenthood and to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at that point in a pregnancy.

In a post to its website, representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to their shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the group’s president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance. “I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened.” The post went on to note that Trump had also said he would appoint anti-choice justices to federal courts, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Just after the event, Trump’s campaign announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board. The group was “convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America,” according to a press release from the campaign. Though members of the board, which will lead Trump’s “much larger Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee to be announced later this month,” were not asked to endorse Trump, the campaign went on to note that “the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.”

Like This Story?

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

Donate Now

Much like the group that met with Trump on Tuesday, the presumptive Republican nominee’s advisory board roster reads like a who’s-who of conservatives with radical opposition to abortion and LGBTQ equality. Here are some of the group’s most notable members:

Michele Bachmann

Though former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that “women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care” while arguing against the ACA during a 2012 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, her views on the government’s role in restricting reproductive health and rights don’t square away with that position.

During a December 2011 “tele-town hall” event hosted by anti-choice organization Personhood USA, Bachmann reportedly falsely referred to emergency contraception as “abortion pills” and joined other Republican then-presidential candidates to advocate for making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. During the event, Bachmann touted her support of the anti-choice group’s “personhood pledge,” which required presidential candidates to agree that:

I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.

Such a policy, if enacted by lawmakers, could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception. A source from Personhood USA told the Huffington Post that Bachmann “signed the pledge and returned it within twenty minutes, which was an extraordinarily short amount of time.”

Bachmann has also claimed that God told her to introduce a measure to block marriage equality in her home state, that being an LGBTQ person is “ part of Satan,” and that same-sex marriage is a “radical experiment that will have “profound consequences.”

Mark Burns

Televangelist Mark Burns has been an ardent supporter of Trump, even appearing on behalf of the presidential candidate at February’s Faith and Family Forum, hosted by the conservative Palmetto Family Council, to deliver an anti-abortion speech.

In March, Burns also claimed that he supported Donald Trump because Democrats like Hillary Clinton supported Black “genocide” (a frequently invoked conservative myth) during an appearance on the fringe-conspiracy program, the Alex Jones show. “That’s really one of my major platforms behind Donald Trump,” said Burns, according to the Daily Beast. “He loves babies. Donald Trump is a pro-baby candidate, and it saddens me how we as African Americans are rallying behind … a party that is okay with the genocide of Black people through abortion.”

Burns’ support of Trump extended to the candidate’s suggestion that if abortion was made illegal, those who have abortions should be punished—an issue on which Trump has repeatedly shifted stances. “If the state made it illegal and said the premature death of an unborn child constituted murder, anyone connected to that crime should be held liable,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal in April. “If you break the law there should be punishment.”

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), which, according to its mission statement, exists to “teach Christians worldwide who they are in Christ Jesus and how to live a victorious life in their covenant rights and privileges.” Outlining their opposition to abortion in a post this month on the organization’s website, the couple wrote that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. “As the author of life, God considers an unborn child to be an eternal being from the moment of its conception,” explained the post. “To deliberately destroy that life before birth would be as much premeditated murder as taking the life of any other innocent person.”

The article went on to say that though it may “seem more difficult in cases such as those involving rape or incest” not to choose abortion, “God has a plan for the unborn child,” falsely claiming that the threat of life endangerment has “been almost completely alleviated through modern medicine.”

The ministries’ website also features Pregnancy Options Centre, a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) in Vancouver, Canada, that receives “financial and spiritual support” from KCM and “its Partners.” The vast majority of CPCs  regularly lie to women in order to persuade them not to have an abortion.

Kenneth Copeland, in a June 2013 sermon, tied pedophilia to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, going on to falsely claim that the ruling did not actually legalize abortion and that the decision was “the seed to murder our seed.” Copeland blamed legal abortion for the country’s economic woes, reasoning that there are “several million taxpayers that are not alive.”

Copeland, a televangelist, originally supported former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) in the 2016 Republican primary, claiming that the candidate had been “called and appointed” by God to be the next president. His ministry has previously faced scrutiny about its tax-exempt status under an investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) into six ministries “whose television preaching bankrolled leaders’ lavish lifestyles.” This investigation concluded in 2011, according to the New York Times.

James Dobson

James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family (FoF), previously supported Cruz in the Republican primary, releasing an ad for the campaign in February praising Cruz for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” As Rewire previously reported, both Dobson and his organization hold numerous extreme views:

Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the … Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.

Dobson’s own personal rhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,

Dobson has:

Robert Jeffress

A Fox News contributor and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress once suggested that the 9/11 attacks took place because of legal abortion. “All you have to do is look in history to see what God does with a nation that sanctions the killing of its own children,” said Jeffress at Liberty University’s March 2015 convocation, according to Right Wing Watch. “God will not allow sin to go unpunished and he certainly won’t allow the sacrifice of children to go unpunished.”

Jeffress spoke about the importance of electing Trump during a campaign rally in February, citing Democrats’ positions on abortion rights and Trump’s belief “in protecting the unborn.” He went on to claim that if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Hillary Clinton were elected, “there is no doubt you’re going to have the most pro-abortion president in history.”

After Trump claimed women who have abortions should be punished should it become illegal, Jeffres rushed to defend the Republican candidate from bipartisan criticism, tweeting: “Conservatives’ outrage over @realDonaldTrump abortion comments hypocritical. Maybe they don’t really believe abortion is murder.”

As documented by Media Matters, Jeffress has frequently spoken out against those of other religions and denominations, claiming that Islam is “evil” and Catholicism is “what Satan does with counterfeit religion.” The pastor has also demonstrated extreme opposition to LGBTQ equality, even claiming that same-sex marriage is a sign of the apocalypse.

Richard Land

Richard Land, now president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, was named one of Time Magazine‘s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005 for his close ties with the Republican party. While George W. Bush was president, Land participated in the administration’s “weekly teleconference with other Christian conservatives, to plot strategy on such issues as gay marriage and abortion.” Bush also appointed Land to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2002.

According to a 2002 article from the Associated Press, during his early academic career in Texas, “Land earned a reputation as a leader among abortion opponents and in 1987 became an administrative assistant to then-Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who fought for laws to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion” in the state.

Land had previously expressed “dismay” that some evangelicals were supporting Trump, claiming in October that he “take[s] that [support] as a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”