Commentary Abortion

Think the ‘Personhood’ Issue Is Over? Think Again

Kathleen Turner

As a new report from People For the American Way Foundation explores, the groups supporting "personhood" are moving as swiftly as ever toward their goal of ending any and all abortions in the United States.

Last year, Colorado voters defeated by a 2-1 margin a “personhood” amendment that aimed to outlaw all abortions and many forms of birth control. A similar bill in deep-red North Dakota also went down in flames at the ballot box. So that means that abortion rights are safe in America, right?

Sadly, no.

Any sigh of relief after 2014 “personhood” measures failed so spectacularly was premature. State legislatures just kept on passing laws that heavily restrict abortion access, disproportionately impacting low-income women. This eliminates the right to choose not by fiat—which is barred by the Supreme Court—but by red tape.

As a new report from People For the American Way Foundation explores, the groups supporting personhood are moving as swiftly as ever toward their goal of ending any and all abortions in the United States—and the really important, although counter intuitive, point to understand is that their ballot box losses actually help to advance that goal.

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First, some terminology: “Personhood” groups support granting the full rights of “persons” to all fertilized eggs and fetuses. That means that destroying a fertilized egg or ending a pregnancy at any stage, for any reason, could be considered murder.

So, no abortion. No emergency contraception. No in-vitro fertilization. Maybe even no hormonal birth control. And don’t even ask about exceptions for women who have been raped or whose health is endangered. Those women, too, could be considered murderers for terminating a pregnancy.

The “personhood” movement is extraordinarily divisive, even among the anti-choice movement. Many anti-choice groups consider “personhood” advocates to be extreme—not because they want to ban all abortion, but because they have an abrasive, take-no-prisoners strategy for getting there. Meanwhile, “personhood” advocates see the “incrementalists” as sellouts who will never reach the ultimate goal of eliminating legal abortion.

Large and well-connected groups like the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL) also want to end legal abortion, but they want to go about it in a different way. They believe that they can be more successful by slowly chipping away at abortion access while simultaneously chipping away at legal protections for reproductive choice.

These anti-choice groups call it a win when they enact legislation like 20-week abortion bans or TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) that can include rules about, for example, the size of janitors’ closets in a family planning clinic.

The two warring sides of the anti-choice movement are helping each other get what they both want. The unabashed extremism of “personhood” helps make the larger anti-choice movement seem more “moderate,” providing cover for more incremental abortion restrictions that make it much harder for women to access abortion. And when those measures pass, “personhood” advocates get closer to their goal: Without access to safe and legal abortion, a woman’s right to choose is essentially meaningless.

Make no mistake about it: Anti-choice groups of all stripes are doing all they can to end abortion rights in our country.

TRAP laws and similar recent anti-choice measures have already created drastic inequality by eliminating abortion access for far too many—especially low-income women. One quarter of abortion clinics across the country closed between 2009 and 2014.

For example, a woman living in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley would face a drive of hundreds of miles to the nearest abortion clinic. Oh, and don’t forget that she may need to pay for child care while she’s traveling—about 70 percent of Texas women in the Valley seeking to terminate pregnancies have at least one child, according to clinic providers.

It’s not just Texas. Thanks to TRAP laws in Ohio, anti-choice activists are, as the Guardian reported, “picking off clinics one by one, with almost no interference from the local courts.” A ridiculous law in Mississippi could close down the last abortion clinic in the state if the Supreme Court upholds its constitutionality. Already in many states, geography, income, and other factors have rendered legal abortion obsolete. It’s as simple—and fundamentally wrong—as that.

As we approach 2016, we can’t downplay the attempts to push “personhood” measures. The anti-choice movement is on the road to ending access to legal abortion. They’re just divided on how to do it.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”