News Abortion

House Passes ‘Disgustingly Cruel’ 20-Week Abortion Ban

Emily Crockett

The Republican-dominated U.S. House voted 242 to 184 Wednesday to pass a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks nationwide, with no exceptions for a woman’s health or fetal anomalies, and with rape and incest exceptions that advocates call callous and cruel.

The Republican-dominated U.S. House voted 242 to 184 Wednesday to pass a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks nationwide, with no exceptions for a woman’s health or fetal anomalies, and with rape and incest exceptions that advocates call callous and cruel.

“This bill is a danger to women’s lives and well-being, an affront to their dignity, and a threat to the rights and liberties all Americans hold dear,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement after the bill’s passage.

While supporters said the bill is necessary because 20-week-old fetuses can feel pain, medical experts disagree. Critics charged that the bill is unconstitutional and intended to help end legal abortion in America by challenging Roe v. Wade.

“It’s the beginning of the end of abortion—at 20 weeks, at 17 weeks, at 12 weeks, at one week, at conception,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) said on the House floor. “This is an anti-abortion bill. It’s not about fetal pain, it’s not about 20 weeks.”

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This isn’t the first time the House has passed a 20-week abortion ban, but Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised the unprecedented step of taking the bill up in the Senate.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the bill “disgraceful” at a press conference Wednesday, and said that the president “strongly opposes” it.

An earlier version of the 20-week ban was pulled from the House floor in January after objections from some Republicans that it was too burdensome to rape victims who needed later abortion care. The new version is no better, advocates say—it forces rape victims to wait 48 hours and see two different providers before having an abortion.

The bill passed after an impassioned floor debate, during which female representatives testified both to their own and others’ experiences with complicated pregnancies. They said that only about 1 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks, usually in difficult and personal circumstances that are impossible to legislate around.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) talked about her own two abortions, and how it felt to have to “carry around a dead fetus for two days” while waiting for her medically necessary abortion procedure.

“Women who go through these experiences go through them with so much pain and anguish,” Speier said.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) called the bill “disgustingly cruel” and read aloud the stories of real women whose struggles with medical and financial hardship brought them to the difficult and expensive decision to have a later abortion.

Some women had fetuses with no chance of survival or medical conditions like lupus that made the pregnancy too dangerous to continue. Another had to borrow money from friends because she was already living in a homeless shelter with two children, couldn’t care for another, and was further along than she realized.

One woman was desperate enough to ask her rapist to help fund the abortion.

“If you haven’t talked to any of these women, you don’t know what they have been through,” Slaughter said.

Anti-choice Republicans on the House floor like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) repeatedly urged their colleagues to pass the 20-week ban because it would protect “unborn babies” who can “feel pain and survive outside the womb.” They invoked a recent study finding that a small minority of premature infants survived after just 22 weeks in the womb.

Medical professionals point out that only 5 percent of the infants in that study who were born at 22 weeks’ gestational age survived, and many had health complications. Further, doctors don’t agree that these dismal outcomes are any reason to redefine fetal viability—the point before which a woman has a guaranteed right to an abortion.

“In no way, shape, or form is a 20-week-old fetus viable,” Dr. Hal Lawrence, who has practiced as an OB-GYN for nearly 30 years and is the CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told reporters on a press call Wednesday.

“There is no medical milestone associated with 20 weeks,” Lawrence said. “The 20-week mark is simply not notable from a fetal development standpoint.”

Anti-choice advocates and legislators are notorious for writing abortion bans with medically inaccurate language about gestational age, and Congress’ “20-week ban” could potentially include fetuses of up to 22 weeks’ gestational age. But even at 22 weeks, Lawrence said, “we’re not dealing with fetuses that are going to be viable.”

He added that it’s “outrageous” the bill has no exceptions for fetal anomalies, since they are a major reason women need later procedures.

“I became a doctor to care for women, and so I take issue with cold-hearted legislation intended to interfere with my patients,” Lawrence said.

Christie Brooks, a stay-at-home mom in Virginia, told reporters on the call about her experience with a later abortion.

Brooks, at her routine 20-week ultrasound, learned that her fetus had a serious condition in which the stomach, intestines, and liver migrate into the chest cavity, push the heart out of position, and prevent the lungs from developing. Survival would have been uncertain at best, even with major surgery immediately after birth.

“Because there was no 20-week ban in place at the time, I was given the time and space to research my options,” Brooks said. “I wasn’t coerced or influenced in either direction by my doctors.”

She had an abortion just shy of 22 weeks, and said it was the best decision for her and her family.

Not all women are so lucky, Brooks said. She moderates an online forum for women who have had abortions for medical reasons. Many are abandoned by their doctors forced to scramble to find another provider, often out of state and at great cost.

“A federal 20-week ban would have a devastating effect on so many families like mine and the many women I’ve come across while sharing my story,” Brooks said.

Ironically, she added, a 20-week ban could have the opposite effect its sponsors hope for. Faced with a pressing deadline imposed by the GOP legislation, some might hurry to abort before it’s too late.

“It could actually rush some families into a decision before they have the time to properly research and make an informed decision,” she said.

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.

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.

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.

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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 and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, 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.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.