Investigations Abortion

From Alaska to Alabama, Investigation Shows False Testimony Formed Basis for Abortion Restrictions

Sofia Resnick

Why are states continuing to pass abortion restrictions based partly on erroneous theories that abortion harms women? And why are state attorneys general calling as expert witnesses some of the very people who proffered these spurious notions to state legislatures in the first place?

To view the full False Witnesses gallery, click here.

In October 2012, Alaska Superior Court Judge John Suddock wrote a 65-page decision affirming a state mandate that at least one parent be notified before a woman under 18 can obtain an abortion. But from the get-go, and throughout the decision, Suddock deflated anti-abortion advocates’ loudest claim: that abortion is unsafe for women.

“Hospitalizations during pregnancy occur 15 percent of the time, but are vanishingly rare for abortions,” he wrote. Further down, he added, “Modern abortion is an extraordinarily safe procedure.”

On the question of whether abortion causes mental illness—critical to the abortion-harms-women narrative—Suddock dismissed that one, too.

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“Mental illness is a constellation of subjective and objective signs and symptoms ultimately causing individual distress,” he wrote. “The illness may have genetic origins or derive from life experiences. Since the 1980’s, the majority consensus of American psychiatry is that abortion does not cause mental illness.”

Despite the court’s agreement with plaintiffs that the law in question “advances no compelling state interest in the health of minor women,” the court upheld the bulk of the law, arguing that it promotes “family involvement in a young woman’s pregnancy decision” by “the least restrictive means available.” (Plaintiffs appealed the decision, and the case is pending before the Alaska Supreme Court.)

But the court’s upfront dismissal of common but unfounded claims that abortion is a generally unsafe procedure prompts the question: Why are states continuing to pass abortion restrictions based partly on erroneous theories that abortion harms women?

And why are state attorneys general calling as expert witnesses some of the very people who proffered these spurious notions to state legislatures in the first place?

In the last few years, state legislatures have been passing abortion restrictions largely based on unfounded theories that abortion is a dangerous procedure that significantly increases women’s risk of developing breast cancer and mental health disorders, among other claims. Rewire recently profiled several of the medical professionals and researchers who routinely peddle these largely unsupported theories, first before state legislators and then later before state and federal judges, on the taxpayers’ dime. Those profiled in our False Witnesses series have collectively received at least $657,000 from state attorneys general to help them defend abortion restrictions that, in some cases, they helped enact.

In some cases, these False Witnesses have had a clear impact on the formation of state laws.

In North Dakota, for example, the state Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing minutes included opinions from Dr. James C. Anderson and Dr. John M. Thorp, Jr. in defense of a law that requires physicians who perform abortions in North Dakota to be licensed in that state and to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. (The lawsuit involving this statute was settled earlier this year.) Anderson and Thorp are routinely called by state attorneys general to deliver expert witness reports supporting these types of laws—laws that are deemed medically unnecessary by major medical organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association. Last year both groups submitted a friend-of-the-court brief opposing a Texas anti-abortion law, wherein they asserted there is “simply no medical basis to impose a local admitting privileges requirement on abortion providers.”

Yet, as Rewire’s reporting shows, these experts’ reliability has been seriously undermined. Anderson is a family medicine emergency room physician in Richmond, Virginia, and Thorp is an obstetrician-gynecologist and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Both are outspoken in their anti-choice views and have testified in recent years in support of various laws limiting access to abortion care. Both also have been criticized by federal judges for relying on assumptions that reflect unsupported biases against abortion. Also cited in the minutes from North Dakota’s Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, is questionable research claiming abortion causes mental illness authored by Bowling Green State University family studies professor Priscilla K. Coleman and Vincent M. Rue, an anti-abortion activist and independent legal consultant who helps state attorneys general coordinate expert witnesses to testify in favor of laws that restrict abortion.

North Dakota’s attorney general later paid Anderson, Thorp, Coleman, and Rue (through his firm, Rue & Stanford-Rue PA), as well as longtime anti-choice advocate and OB-GYN Dr. Donna J. Harrison, to help defend various laws in state and federal court, including the aforementioned admitting privileges law, between 2011 and 2014.

Georgia State University law professor Eric J. Segall told Rewire that the recent proliferation of dubious evidence being used in court to defend abortion restrictions is “problematic.”

Segall, who teaches constitutional law and the federal courts, said he believes this trend in getting anti-choice doctors and researchers to testify to abortion’s supposedly widespread health risks stems from the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

“Once the Casey decision changed the law from basically no restrictions were allowed before viability to only restrictions that cause an undue burden would be unconstitutional prior to viability, there’s been an attempt for there to be a cottage industry of experts to testify [in favor of anti-abortion legislation],” Segall said. “I think the anti-choice side will do virtually anything they can to stop abortions.”

South Dakota is another state that has relied on the testimony of some of the False Witnesses identified in our series to help pass abortion restrictions. In 2005, former state Rep. Roger Hunt (R-Brandon)—who outspokenly opposes abortion—sponsored a bill that created a legislative task force to study abortion. The task force included lawmakers, anti-abortion activists, abortion-rights supporters, and supposedly neutral members. But the majority of those on the task force openly opposed abortion rights, and the resulting report presented by the task force to the governor reflected the majority’s unsupported anti-abortion stance.

Citing oral and written presentations from False Witnesses such as Joel L. Brind, Dr. Byron C. Calhoun, Coleman, David C. Reardon, and Rue, the task force asserted that abortion was harmful to women’s physical and mental health. The final report referenced Coleman’s testimony in its unfounded claim that when a woman has an abortion her ability to reason and understand is diminished. “When a decision involves a violation of one’s conscience, regression in cognitive functioning enables women to cope with the decision,” the report reads. Based on statements collected by an anti-abortion organization and directors of so-called crisis pregnancy centers, the task force also concluded that abortion is “inherently coercive.”

Ultimately, the task force concluded, “to fully protect the rights, interests, and health of the mother and the life of her unborn child, a ban on abortions is required.”

Lawmakers, including Hunt, relied on this report to pass two abortion bans (both overturned) and a law that created a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions (not including holidays and weekends) and that required women seeking abortion to first receive counseling related to coercion at crisis pregnancy centers that advocate against abortion (this counseling requirement is stilled wrapped in litigation; the rest of the law has been enacted).

Other abortion restrictions, seemingly copied by state after state (some with the help of groups such as Americans United for Life and the National Right to Life Committee, which produce model legislation seeking abortion restrictions and bans), are inevitably challenged by abortion providers and medical professionals in the state and then defended in court by some of the same so-called experts whose false testimony first supported their passage. Anderson and Thorp, for example, have testified in multiple states, including Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin, arguing that abortion providers should have to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital because it ensures women’s safety for what they say is an inherently dangerous procedure. These laws passed despite opposition from mainstream medical associations like ACOG and the American Medical Association.

To be sure, for many other state abortion restrictions, the specific testimonies or research papers that swayed lawmakers to sponsor or vote for specific laws are difficult to pinpoint. In our False Witnesses series, we documented several instances where these medical experts’ testimonies or research papers likely helped influence the passage of anti-choice laws. For example, Coleman’s work was cited in a sweeping Arizona law that included a host of restrictions; University of St. Thomas law professor Teresa S. Collett testified before legislatures in Idaho and Nebraska in support of 20-week abortion bans; and a statement from Calhoun was presented to West Virginia lawmakers debating a 20-week abortion ban that was later vetoed by the governor.

Easier to identify is where experts have helped defend these laws once they are challenged.

After Texas enacted last year’s omnibus HB 2—which bans abortion at 20 weeks, requires that abortion clinics be transformed into ambulatory surgical centers, requires abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals, and places new restrictions on medication abortions—the attorney general hired some of the aforementioned expert witnesses to help defend the law in an ongoing lawsuit. According to records from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the state has so far paid Rue’s firm more than $59,000 to consult with expert witness selection and reports and has paid Anderson and Thorp at least $24,000 and $26,000, respectively, for their work as expert witnesses. (In August, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel condemned the state’s apparent efforts to obscure Rue’s level of involvement in the case. Yeakel also argued that Rue’s involvement in shaping testimonies undermined the reliability of the state’s experts’ opinions.)

Judges Grow Impatient With Use of Shoddy Evidence

Yeakel and Alaska’s Suddock are not the only judges to dismiss questionable evidence presented in recent abortion-related lawsuits.

In a December 2013 opinion, Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner challenged the arguments presented by the state’s witnesses in defense of a Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals. He noted, for example, that “there is no evidence that women who have complications from an abortion recover more quickly or more completely or with less pain or discomfort if their physician has admitting privileges at the hospital to which the patient is taken for treatment of the complications,” despite the state’s assertion to the contrary. He also pointed out that “[n]o documentation of medical need” for the admitting privileges requirement was presented to the Wisconsin legislature when the law was introduced.

Another federal judge, District Court Judge Myron H. Thompson, in an October 2014 supplemental opinion concerning a constitutional challenge to an Alabama admitting privileges law, explained why he discounted certain testimony from Anderson and Thorp. In Anderson’s case, Thompson wrote that the court “was struck by the flimsiness of Anderson’s basis for reliance on [Vincent] Rue and by his failure to obtain basic information about the affiliations, credentials, or employment of the consultant whose report he submitted as his own.” Regarding Thorp, Thompson wrote that the North Carolina-based OB-GYN “displayed a disturbing apathy toward the accuracy of his testimony” and that “choices that he made in developing his estimates [of abortion complications] seemed to be driven more by a bias against abortion and a desire to inflate complication rates than by a true desire to reach an accurate estimate of the dangerousness of abortion procedures.”

The judge additionally called out Thorp for hypocrisy in his assertion that doctors who perform abortions should provide “continuity of care” to their patients.

“[E]ven though the procedures he performs at his own office may, like abortion, in extremely rare cases cause complications that require post-procedure hysterectomy or laparatomy, he himself does not maintain staff privileges at a local hospital that would allow him to perform gynecological surgery for his patients,” Thompson wrote of Thorp.

Eric Segall told Rewire that he has never seen as much resistance as he has of late from lower court judges toward the use of shoddy evidence in defense of what he believes are politically motivated but medically unnecessary abortion restrictions.

“With the recent spate of decisions by lower court judges in Alabama, by Judge Posner in Wisconsin, by the lower court judge in Texas, I think we’re seeing judicial hostility towards the lack of real evidence supporting both the admitting privileges laws and the abortion-clinics-have-to-be-mini-hospital laws that I’ve not experienced in my career following the Supreme Court,” Segall said.

Segall, who supports abortion rights, said it is noteworthy that various lower court judges—including Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit—are growing tired of what they’re seeing as unsupported, biased notions masquerading as scientific fact.

“This whole thing is a charade,” Segall said. “Admitting privileges laws don’t help women’s health, yet lawyers are saying that it does, legislators are saying that it does, and judges are very impatient with that dishonesty. There’s no evidence. So, I think that’s the hostility; I don’t think it’s an abortion-specific thing, certainly not for Judge Posner. I think it’s, ‘Why are states and lawyers for the states trying to put one over on us?’”

Visit Rewire Data to learn about connections between the False Witnesses we profiled and recently passed abortion restrictions.

Sharona Coutts contributed to this report.

Investigations Media

The ‘HUSH’ Documentary: Another Secret Recording Inside an Abortion Clinic

Sharona Coutts

HUSH relies almost exclusively on interviews with renowned anti-choice “experts” whose work has been discredited. They trot out many of the worn theories that have been rejected by medical and public health experts. The innovation of HUSH, however, is that it has reframed these discredited ideas within the construct of a conspiracy theory.

Another day, another secret recording made in an abortion clinic.

At least, that’s the very strong impression given by some of the scenes contained within the documentary film HUSH, which premiered late last year and is currently making the rounds of film festivals and anti-choice conferences in the United States and internationally, including the National Right to Life Convention that took place in Virginia last month.

The film is the creation of Mighty Motion Pictures and Canadian reporter Punam Kumar Gill, who says in the film that she is pro-choice, a “product of feminism.” It purports to tell the story of “one woman,” Gill, who “investigates the untold effects of abortion on women’s health.”

HUSH—which claims in the film’s credits to have received support from the Canadian government—attempts to cast itself as neither pro-choice nor “pro-life,” but simply “pro-information.” The producers insist throughout the film, in their publicity materials, and in private emails seen by Rewire that their film is objective and balanced.

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That’s how they pitched it to Dr. David Grimes, a highly respected OB-GYN and a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, who agreed to do on-camera interviews for the film. Grimes now says the producers and reporter misled him about their intentions.

“There was no balance,” Grimes told Rewire. “It’s a hatchet job. It’s obvious.”

Indeed, HUSH relies almost exclusively on interviews with renowned anti-choice “experts” whose work has been discredited, many of whom are featured in Rewire‘s gallery of False Witnesses. They trot out many of the worn theories that have been rejected by medical and public health experts—namely, that abortion is linked to a host of grave physical and mental health threats, “like breast cancer, premature birth, and psychological damage.”

The innovation of HUSH, however, is that it has reframed these discredited ideas within the construct of a conspiracy theory.

When Anti-Choice “Science” Goes Conspiracy Theory

As a piece of propaganda, the use of the conspiracy theory has the advantage of removing the debate over abortion’s safety from the realm of logic. In HUSH‘s topsy-turvy world, the medical establishment becomes the scare-quoted “Medical Establishment,” and the more distinguished or authoritative a person or organization, the more suspect they become.

For reasons that remain murky, the film’s thesis is that the world’s leading reproductive and health organizations—including the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the World Health Organization, along with all of their staff, contractors, and affiliated experts—have been hiding information about the risks of abortion.

This is most apparent when the reporter, Gill, tells the viewers that “if women have the right to abortion, they should also have the right to know” about the risks she believes she has identified.

Later, the film shows graphics highlighting the states that have various informed consent laws—some of which are literally called “A Woman’s Right to Know” acts—that force providers to give patients false information about the safety of abortion. Rather than concluding that the authority of the state has been used to mandate that doctors provide medically unsound “counseling” using the very junk science that Gill presents throughout the film, she hews to the back-to-front logic of all conspiracy theories. In her view, the existence of these laws shows that the risks are real, but that the faceless, nameless “they” still won’t let women in on the their deadly secrets.

In Gill’s world, the unwillingness of organizations to speak with her becomes evidence that they are hiding something.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists tells Gill that it won’t fulfill her requests by giving her an interview because the science is settled; Gill sees this as a sign of conspiracy.

“This is where I started to feel equally suspicious of those denying any link,” Gill tells the viewer, her voice floating over inky footage of the U.S. Capitol at night. Lights from the Capitol dance on the velvety surface of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, and Gill confides: “I felt like I was digging into something much deeper and darker.”

A comical scene ensues where Gill is astonished to find that turning up with a film crew on the grounds of the National Cancer Institute does not suddenly persuade it to grant her an interview with one of its experts.

“What was going on here?” says Gill in her voiceover. “It was like they really didn’t want any questions being asked.”

In fact, the National Cancer Institute had replied to Gill’s multiple requests with links to its website, which contains the conclusive studies that have long since dispelled the notion that any link exists between abortion and breast cancer. The film shows footage of those emails.

Furthermore, Grimes provided Rewire with copies of emails he had exchanged with the film’s producers during its production, in which he gave them citations to relevant studies and warned them that the work of the anti-choice “experts” they had approached had been thoroughly debunked.

After seeing the film, Grimes emailed the producers inquiring why they hadn’t simply asked him to connect them with additional experts.

“Had you truly wanted more pro-choice researchers to speak to these issues, I could have named scores of colleagues from the membership of the Society for Family Planning and Physicians for Reproductive Health who would have been happy to help,” Grimes wrote in a note he shared with Rewire. “You did not ask. That some organizations like the National Cancer Institute did not want to take part in your film in no way implies a reluctance on the part of the broader medical community to speak about abortion research.”

It seems that Gill—whose online biographies give no indication that she is a scientist—would not have been satisfied in hearing about existing research. She tells the viewers that, in her view, “more study is needed to determine the extent of the abortion-breast cancer link,” and concludes that “to entirely deny the connection is ludicrous.”

In an interview with Rewire, Grimes noted that doing such research would be viewed as unethical by reputable scientists.

“That issue is settled, and we should not waste limited resources that should be directed to urgent, unanswered questions, such as the cause of endometriosis and racial disparities in gynecologic cancers,” he said.

Grimes made his dissatisfaction clear to the producers. He wrote to them: “My inference after viewing the film is that you are suggesting a large international conspiracy of silence on the part of major medical and public health organizations, the motivation for which is not specified.”

The corollary to the suspicion cast over the most reputable research and representative bodies is that the film transforms the marginal status of the anti-choice “experts” into a boon.

Seen through HUSH‘s conspiracy theory lens, the fact that the work of people like Priscilla Coleman, David Reardon, and Angela Lanfranchi is rejected by the medical establishment becomes proof not of the unsoundness of their ideas, but rather that a conspiracy is afoot to silence them.

Instead of presenting this small but vociferous group of discredited activists as outliers—shunned because their theories have no scientific basis, or because they lack any credentials relevant to reproductive or mental health, or because they have repeatedly mischaracterized data—HUSH paints them as whistle-blowing renegades determined to set the truth free.

A tearful Lanfranchi recounts the story of patients who came to her with aggressive breast cancer in their 30s. Lanfranchi says she strove to understand “why this was happening,” and realized that each of these young women had had abortions, which she then concluded had caused their cancer. Lanfranchi said her hopes that the public would learn of this risk were dashed over time.

“Over the years I’ve realized that, no, it didn’t matter how many studies there were,” she tells viewers. “That information was not going to get out.”

Joel Brind says that he has worked with a colleague whom he says he later discovered was pro-choice, but that their views on abortion never came up. “This is about science,” he tells Gill. “This is about the effect on women and whether or not abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. Period.”

Gill asks both Lanfranchi and Brind whether they are trying to “stop abortion,” or whether they “want abortion to go away.” Both answer that all they want is for women to be informed when they exercise their choice.

The film makes no mention of the fact that both have been anti-choice activists for decades; they have each testified in support of anti-choice laws in both legislative and judicial proceedings, and both have participated in the extreme right-wing, anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families.

To the extent that HUSH acknowledges these activists’ bias, it is couched in a softer light that is linked, implicitly, to their religious views—a reality raised by Grimes in his on-camera interview, in which he notes, accurately, that the anti-choice “intellectuals” often lack the relevant medical or scientific qualifications to do the type of work they purport to do, but that they do tend to share religious convictions that lead them to oppose abortion and contraception.

That allows the producers to imply that the False Witnesses are perhaps victims of discrimination; to suggest that their work is being discounted because of the activists’ religious beliefs, and not because the work itself has been thoroughly debunked. Play the ball, not the man, appears to be the producers’ plea.

It’s a conspiracy theory twilight zone: where medical groups withhold information for reasons so cloudy that they cannot be articulated, but where people who have for years worn their beliefs on their sleeves cannot be evaluated with those political views in mind.

After asserting that she is, herself, pro-choice, Gill says she “finds validity” in the claims of the anti-choice advocates, and that she finds it “sickening” that the “media and health organizations have spent their energies closing the case and vilifying those who advocate in favor of the link, instead of investigating any and all reasons why breast cancer rates among young women have increased and women are dying.”

The producer, Joses Martin, did not answer Rewire’s questions about the experts he and his team had selected, other than to say, “We are very proud of the balanced approach that we’ve taken in this documentary that is neither anti-abortion nor pro-abortion.”

Another Instance of Secret Recordings Made in Abortion Clinics

What troubles Grimes most about the film is not so much that he was cast as the face of an international conspiracy by virtue of being the sole pro-choice physician to appear on camera, but that he may be associated with people who appear to have made secret recordings in at least one abortion clinic.

The footage and audio in question have been heavily edited, and it is difficult to discern what is real from what has been staged or spliced to give certain effects.

Early in the film, Gill is shown standing in the entry path to what the producers identify as a “Seattle abortion clinic.” As she makes her way inside, the footage swaps to guerilla-style, hidden camera shots, which capture wall artwork that appears in some Planned Parenthood clinics. Viewers see Gill’s face in the waiting room, as well as blurs of other people there. The film then swaps to audio recordings without any video footage. Gill can be heard posing as a patient, receiving counseling from a woman who is identified as a “health center manager.” This audio is used twice more during the film.

In Washington state, it is a crime to make audio or video recordings of people without their consent. Similar laws are in place in California, Florida, and Maryland, states where David Daleiden and his co-defendants from the Center for Medical Progress made their surreptitious videos of Planned Parenthood employees and members of the National Abortion Federation.

Grimes asked the producers whether they had obtained permission to make any of those recordings; Rewire asked the producers whether the recordings were in fact made in Seattle.

The producer, Joses Martin, replied to Grimes that he would “not be disclosing the name or location of the clinic or the name of the individual recorded to yourself or anyone else.”

“We have kept this information undisclosed and private both in the film and out of the film to not bring any undue burden on them. We’re certainly not implicating anyone involved of wrong doings, as was the goal in the Center For Medical Progress case,” Martin wrote in an email shared with Rewire.

In an email to Rewire, Martin did not answer our specific questions about the recordings, but asserted, “We did not break any laws in the gathering of our footage.”

Planned Parenthood had no comment on whether the crew had obtained consent to film inside its clinics, or whether Gill had misrepresented herself throughout her conversation with the counselor. Nor did the organization comment on the increasing use of secret recordings by anti-choice activists within its clinics. In a federal suit, Planned Parenthood has sued Daleiden for breaches of similar laws in California, Florida, and Maryland.

The branch of the Canadian government that the producers credited with supporting the film was less sanguine when informed about the apparent use of secret recordings made in American abortion clinics.

The film’s credits say that it was produced “with the assistance of the Government of Alberta, Alberta Media Fund,” but when Rewire contacted that Canadian province to learn why it had funded a piece of anti-choice propaganda, a spokesperson distanced the fund from the film.

“We have entered into conversations with the production company but we do not at this point have a formal agreement in place, and we were not aware that the production had been completed,” the spokesperson said. “We’re not able to comment on any funding because to date we have not funded the project. Thank you for bringing the use of our logo to our attention and we’ll be in touch with the producers to discuss.” The producers did not reply to Rewire’s question about their use of the logo.

Ironically, while the producer, Martin, did reply to emails from both Grimes and Rewire (albeit without answering specific questions), the reporter, Gill, remained silent. She never answered questions about what she knew about the backgrounds of the False Witnesses to whose work she lent such credence. She didn’t respond to our questions about whether she obtained permission to record video or audio within abortion clinics, or where those clinics were located. And she didn’t reply to our questions about the nature of her relationship with the extreme anti-choice group Live Action, who also received a credit at the end of the film.

To a reporter such as Gill, such silence would surely have been deeply suspicious.

Rewire Investigative Reporter, Amy Littlefield, contributed to this report. 

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT), on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

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