Analysis Politics

Meet the Anti-Choice Radicals Behind the House Freedom Caucus

Ally Boguhn

The House Freedom Caucus (HFC) has spent the last year making waves as it pushed the Republican Party further to the right. Now, the group's rising prominence could pose a problem for reproductive rights advocates.

The House Freedom Caucus (HFC) has spent the last year making waves as it pushed the Republican Party further to the right. Now, the group’s rising prominence could pose a problem for reproductive rights advocates.

Chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the HFC was founded in January 2015 by a group of nine right-wing lawmakers to give “a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them.” The HFC has since developed a reputation for their hardline conservative stances and willingness to hold true to them no matter the costs—even if it means shutting down the federal government.

Although the HFC does not officially disclose its members, an October analysis of the caucus conducted by the Pew Research Center found 36 HFC legislators through public statements and contact with their offices. Pew noted that the group’s makeup reflects little diversity, with just one woman, Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and “one ethnic or racial minority,” Raúl Labrador (R-IA), whom Pew classifies as Hispanic, on its rolls. Pew also reported that its confirmed members are among the most conservative lawmakers in Congress.

Explaining how the group has become so powerful, particularly within the Republican Party, Pew highlighted its discipline as a voting bloc determined to counter legislation with which its members disagree. 

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“Currently, Republicans have 247 seats in the House to 188 for the Democrats, which would seem to be a comfortable majority,” Pew wrote. “But if the 36 (or more) Freedom Caucus members vote as a bloc against the GOP leadership’s wishes, their effective strength falls to 211 or fewerthat is, less than the majority needed to elect a new speaker, pass bills and conduct most other business.”

That means the caucus presents a major threat to Republican legislation its members may perceive as not conservative enough.

Given the caucus members’ willingness to go after their own, it’s no surprise that other Republicans have developed a disdain for the group.

Speaking with Roll Call‘s 218 blog after HFC waged a February battle over a border security bill, a senior GOP aide claimed the group was “the craziest of the crazy” and cared more about obstructionism than accomplishing real goals. “They’re not legislators, they’re just assholes,” said the aide. “These guys have such a minority mindset that the prospect of getting something done just scares them away, or pisses them off.”

Even some original members of the HFC itself have fallen away as its efforts became increasingly extreme.

In September, the House Freedom Caucus and its members vowed to oppose any and all budget measures that did not explicitly defund Planned Parenthood, citing the series of deceptively edited and discredited videos released by the anti-choice organization the Center for Medical Progress.

“Given the appalling revelations surrounding Planned Parenthood, we cannot in good moral conscience vote to send taxpayer money to this organization while still fulfilling our duty to represent our constituents. We must therefore oppose any spending measure that contains funding for Planned Parenthood,” said the group in a statement on the matter.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) subsequently resigned from the HFC, citing its “counterproductive” strategy to force a government shutdown in order to defund Planned Parenthood.

“Last week, the House Freedom Caucus formally vowed to shut down the government over funding Planned Parenthood,” McClintock wrote in a letter announcing his departure from the group. “I have never served with a group of patriots more devoted to our country and dedicated to restoring American founding principles. However, I feel that the HFC’s many missteps have made it counterproductive to its stated goals and I no longer wish to be associated with it.”

Now heading into the 2016 election season, the HFC is again threatening to make waves.

According to a November report from Bloomberg, several members of the group have been preparing their “Contract With America II,” a set of legislative priorities “that would call for House votes in the first 100 days of 2016 on replacing Obamacare, overhauling entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and repealing the estate tax.” The plan is said to include a promise to defund Planned Parenthood.

They’ve also moved to take on a greater role in helping get politicians elected who could join their ranks, launching the House Freedom Fund in anticipation of a major fundraising push ahead of the elections, according to the Washington Post.

The political action committee (PAC) already has a reported $23,000 on hand to throw into races, and members of the HFC are discussing the influence they may wield with it.

“We fully expect to start our own separate fundraising, our own separate vetting for candidates, and you’ll see us trying to get good conservatives elected in open races,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), a caucus co-founder according to the Post. “We recognize the fact that we have a brand, and we’re going to try to use that to further our mission,” he continued.

The group’s potential to grow could spell trouble for reproductive choice advocates. In addition to HFC’s steadfast opposition to funding Planned Parenthood, the caucus and its members have consistently used their offices to push anti-choice legislation and rhetoric.

In April, the group helped lead the charge to dissolve a Washington, D.C., law protecting employees from being fired for their reproductive health-care choices such as abortion and contraceptive use, alleging that it impeded on the religious liberties of anti-choice advocates in the city.

“The House Freedom Caucus urges Republican leadership to allow the House to consider … a resolution to disapprove of the District of Columbia Council’s recently-passed Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act of 2014 (RHNDA), as soon as possible this week before the law goes into effect,” the group said in a statement urging lawmakers to act against the law.

“RHNDA would discriminate against D.C. residents with pro-life views. RHNDA could force D.C. employers to cover abortions in their health plans and require pro-life organizations to hire abortion advocates.”

And the records of HFC’s confirmed members are yet another cause for alarm. According to conservative site the Daily Signal, all members of the House Freedom Caucus received an above-average score for Republicans from Heritage Action, a conservative PAC that rates candidates based on their support for repealing Obamacare, pushing abortion restrictions, and a host of other right-wing talking points.

The group’s leader, Rep. Jordan, has been a staunch anti-choice proponent during his time in the House. Voting with the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee in all 35 scored pieces of key legislation, Jordan has earned himself top honors from anti-choice organizations across his home state. On his website, he boasts that he is “the only legislator in state history to win both the Defender of Life award from Ohio Right to Life and the Pro-Life Legislator of the Year award from the United Conservatives of Ohio.”

In 2013, Jordan sponsored the failed Life at Conception Act, a “personhood” bill that would have granted embryos, eggs, fetuses, and clones constitutional rights. The extreme legislation could have banned all abortions without exception, as well as many forms of birth control such as IUDs, the pill, and emergency contraception.

Jordan also sponsored the Ultrasound Informed Consent Act, a forced ultrasound bill that would have required all doctors to perform ultrasounds and “provide a simultaneous explanation of what the ultrasound is depicting” in graphic detail, displaying the images to a pregnant woman before giving them an abortion.

Other notable members of the HFC include birther conspiracy theorist Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), who voted in May for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. Yoho previously compared fetuses to endangered species in order to justify the bill.

How can we as a nation have laws that protect the sea turtle or bald eagle, but yet refuse to protect the same of our own species?” asked Yoho, arguing in favor of the medically unsound measure on the House floor.

HFC member Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), who famously cited an article from satirical site the Onion to claim that Planned Parenthood was doing “abortion by the wholesale,” made waves in September for boycotting Pope Paul Francis’ address to Congress alongside fellow HFC member Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), in part for the pope’s stance on abortion.

“What I’m a little concerned about is that the pope seems to distract at times from some of the most important issues of faithwhich is life—and he talks about issues like climate change,” said Fleming. Claiming the pope had “made some statements that would suggest that there may be certain level of acceptance of abortion,” he called on the religious leader to “re-emphasize the importance of protecting life and preventing abortion.”

Gosar has been no stranger to anti-choice advocacy himself, earning a “100 percent pro-life voting record on all right-to-life issues that have reached the House floor” and an accompanying endorsement from the National Right to Life Committee. In a statement accepting the anti-choice group’s endorsement, Gosar claimed that protecting fetuses is “our country’s next big battle for civil rights.”

Given the House Freedom Caucus’ endless crusade to restrict and ban abortion, its members’ rising prominence could spell trouble as it continues to throw its weight around Congress and the 2016 election season.

After Republican lawmakers finally put forth a $1.1 trillion spending deal this week to avoid a shutdown of the federal government, the HFC again threatened to withhold its support for the bill unless it was modified to include more extreme abortion restrictions.

The group’s requested riders include three abortion measures authored by the Pro-Life Caucus, the Hill reported, including an effort to allow states to decide whether Medicaid should cover abortion providers and increased protections for medical professionals and organizations who refuse to cover abortion care.

After the House Freedom Caucus’ provisions were ultimately rejected, many of the group’s members threatened to withhold their votes for the larger bill. Although the bill is still expected to clear the House thanks to bipartisan support, the group’s threats nevertheless underscore the dangers it presents as it attempts to push its party even further to the right.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”

News Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.

White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy. 

“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.

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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.

Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.

“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”

White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.

During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.

There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.

‘Extremely common but hidden’

“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”

Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.

“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.

“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.  

White sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.

The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.

State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.

“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”

‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’

White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”

There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.

“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”

A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.

Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.

‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’

TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”

One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”

The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.

“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”

“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”

Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.

Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.

“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.

Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.

“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”

“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.