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Forty Years After Roe v. Wade, Getting an Abortion Is Still a Major Challenge

3:14 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

By Eleanor J. Bader, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

Defend Roe V Wade stencil

Abortion rights are endangered, forty years after Roe V Wade.

Ramona, 32, mother of a four-year-old daughter, is dropped off at the Summit Women’s Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut at 8 a.m. on a frigid December Saturday. As she gets out of the car to walk the thirty feet to the clinic, she notices a dozen people holding weathered pictures of mangled babies bearing the words “abortion kills.” The protesters can’t trespass on clinic property or enter the fenced-in parking lot, but plastic bullhorns amplify their voices. “The Lord loves you,” they shout. “He has a purpose for every life. You don’t need to go in there and murder your child.”

“I didn’t want to be rude so I approached them when they called out to me,” says Ramona, once inside the clinic. (All quotes are verbatim; name has been changed to protect privacy). “They bombarded me. They said that if I go through with the abortion I’ll become so depressed that I’ll start to drink and do drugs and will think about suicide.

“I was dropped off this morning by my mom,” she continued. “My little girl was also in the car and I don’t know what she understood or heard. These people say they want to help me, but how does traumatizing my child help me? They’ve made my life harder because now I have to worry about whether she heard them, saw the pictures they were carrying, or is scared because she heard people yelling at her mommy.”

As she speaks, Ramona’s voice rises with indignation and fury. “I know that this is not the right time for me to have a second child. I’ve discussed the pregnancy with my family and with my personal physician and I know I’m doing the right thing, the best thing, for all of us. How can these strangers think they know better?”

Good question. Forty years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was issued, the idea that abortion may at times be the best option for women and families remains contentious. True, great advances in the availability of safe abortion care have been made since 1973. But the vigilance of anti-abortion protests has also ramped up.

Members of the Connecticut chapter of the North Carolina-based Operation to Save America (OSA) are a frequent presence outside the Summit Women’s Center in Bridgeport. And while regular picket lines, like this one, are fewer and farther between than they were 25 years ago, OSA continues to conduct “sidewalk counseling” in many cities throughout the United States. Ringleader Marilyn Carroll, the head of the state’s OSA chapter, is at the Summit Women’s Center when Ramona is accosted.

Fortunately, once Ramon is inside Summit the atmosphere changes. The Center, which opened in 1975 and is now owned by David Lipton, is located on Bridgeport’s Main Street. Its ambiance is pleasant and inspiring signs decorate the walls:

“The staff in this office does sacred work and though you may hope to never come back, we return each day to hear your stories, hold your hands, and ease your fears. Our lives are consumed with caring for yours. In these walls and in our hearts you are forever valued, treasured, respected and safe.”


Despite being rattled by the antis, Ramona’s decision to have an abortion is ironclad. Indeed, the presence of the antis has done little stop women from terminating unwanted pregnancies. According to the Guttmacher Institute [] nearly one-third of U.S. women will have an abortion by the time they turn 45. Ninety per cent will end these unwanted pregnancies—either medically or surgically—during the first trimester. Like Ramona, 61 percent already have at least one child at the time of their abortion.

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The Abortion Rights Looking Glass: Canada Reflects Women First

6:48 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

By Nick van der Graaf, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

Currently, Canada is the only country in the world where there are no criminal laws pertaining to abortion. Combined with our publicly-funded universal health care system, this means abortion is available on demand, period.

Many in the United States don’t know that, or how that right was secured, or why — despite facing renewed anti-choice activism and a horrendous right-wing federal government in Ottawa — abortion rights are likely here to stay.

Canadian feminists worked for decades to create a pro-choice culture, and the effort has paid off. Carolyn Egan, originally a Boston native, is a director and founder of the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics. She sees Canadian feminists’ success as a result of building a movement rather than focusing on politicians and legislatures. “I think we recognized there was a large pro-choice sentiment in this country that had to be organized,” says Egan. “We felt a direct challenge to the law [that declared abortion a criminal act] would be the spark to do that. If a clinic was opened it could — and did — become a symbol of women’s resistance to an unjust law. So we tried to build a movement that went beyond the women’s movement, that had trade unions, immigrant communities, students, etc.”

In May 1970 the Abortion Caravan — a motley collection of vehicles driven by dedicated activists — drove 5,000 miles from Vancouver to Ottawa, organizing demonstrations and picking up supporters along the way. When they got to Parliament Hill they launched two days of protests, including an unprecedented disruption of Parliament itself. The country was electrified. Egan strongly believes that grassroots organizing is what did the trick.

Building Pro-Choice Consciousness

In the years following, the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CAREL) mostly worked like its similarly named ally south of the border, NARAL: lobbying politicians in Ottawa. But, across the country, grassroots organizations like the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics kept up the pressure in the streets, organizing frequent and ever-growing protests. “We wanted to organize a pro-choice consciousness across the country and in effect change the balance of power in a significant way,” Egan adds, “so that judges would have no other option but to see that the law, as it was framed, was unenforceable.”

Decades later, evidence of Egan’s “pro-choice consciousness” is still readily apparent. The province of Alberta, Canada’s own oil-laden Texas, held a provincial election this past spring. The ruling Conservative Party faced certain defeat from the upstart libertarian Wildrose Party. When Calgary writer Jane Cawthorne (“The Abortion Monologues”) asked Wildrose leaders about their views on abortion rights for her blog, they candidly admitted they were prepared to hold a referendum on it. Albertans’ ardour for Wildrose evaporated overnight. They lost the election.

“Once the Wildrose Party’s stance on social issues became clear, Albertans fled from them,” says Cawthorne. “It was a combination of their position on abortion and conscience rights that finally woke the public up to their very Republican brand of politics. This won’t fly, not even in Alberta.”

A penal code devoid of abortion as a crime, combined with our publicly-funded universal health care system, has brought most Canadian women close to what the Abortion Caravan called for: “Free abortion on demand, from B.C. to Newfoundland!”

In 1969, abortion became legally available as long as it was performed in accredited hospitals, with a woman first having to face a “therapeutic abortion committee” which determined whether she was “allowed” to have one. While an improvement on the previous total ban on abortion, the system was designed to accommodate the doctors involved, not the women who had to go through this demeaning process, all the while under a ticking clock.


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No, Joe Walsh: Women Do Not Have Nine Lives

2:12 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

By Merle Hoffman, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine.

A patient in a hospital bed on an IV

Photo: José Goulão / Flick

Congressman Joe Walsh says abortions never save women’s lives.

He’s wrong. Here’s one story out of many:

This happened in 1989. Very publicly.

Nancy Klein, a pregnant Long Island woman rendered comatose by a car accident, was finally given an abortion, woke up, and once again was able to recognize her husband Martin and her daughter Arielle, four.

I, along with another abortion rights activist — Bill Baird — joined forces with Nancy Klein’s husband to make this happen.

Klein’s husband wanted her to have an abortion because, based on medical advice, he firmly believed that continuing the pregnancy would kill her. The people I call the “antis” (they are not pro anything except controlling women’s bodies) took Martin Klein to three courts and the state supreme court to stop the abortion by fighting his petition for guardianship of his wife.

I can still see the pain in this accountant-husband’s eyes as he fought for his wife’s life against strangers who placed themselves as “guardian at litem” for the fetus.

So here we are in 2012, and people like Joe Walsh are still spewing dangerous misinformation about women’s bodies. If Mitt Romney is elected, it won’t be 1989 in this country. It will be 1971, before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal nationally. It will be very much like the year I opened one of the first abortion clinics in the country, in Queens, New York — a state ahead of the curve in reproductive rights. The first patient who came to Choices, my clinic, came from New Jersey because abortion was illegal in that state. If Mitt Romney gets his Personhood Amendment passed, abortion will be illegal in every state.

Women are not cats. They do not have nine lives. And the one life a woman does have could very easily be lost if she does not have an abortion when she needs one. Cancer, severe renal and heart disease, and severe diabetes are all pre-pregnancy conditions that can threaten a woman’s life, requiring her to have an abortion if she becomes pregnant. Now, that decision is a hard choice. Under President Romney, there would be no choice.

Since the nuance of medical literature is clearly beyond Walsh and his ilk, I’ll describe another situation in which, indeed, women do die when abortion is unavailable to them.

Even with the “modern technology” to which Walsh alludes.

Ectopic pregnancy is a complicated condition in which the embryo implants outside the uterus. With rare exceptions, ectopic pregnancies are not viable. They are also very dangerous for a woman, since internal hemorrhaging, a life-threatening complication, can occur. Ectopic pregnancy is a potential medical emergency and, if not treated properly, can lead to death.

I hope these facts help women see the truth. I will see it tomorrow — October 20 — when more than 200 protestors are expected outside my clinic to bully, harass, and intimidate patients on their way inside. Tomorrow it will feel like 1971 all over again to me.

So remember your family values, Walsh, Todd Akin, and friends: the life and health of women is the fulcrum around which the family and society turn. A woman’s life is a human life and one that must be honored. A woman’s choice is hers alone and one that must be protected.

Why Right-to-Lifers Hate Birth Control and Love Mitt Romney, Part 1

6:05 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

By Bill Baird, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

My wife Joni and I were  the only ones  protesting in front of the National Right to Life Committee’s annual convention this year, from June 29-July 1 in Washington, D.C.

I’d just turned 80, and this year’s event was the 37th time I had been there to greet them. As always, I came with an eight-foot  cross inscribed with the words “Free Women From the Cross of Oppression – Keep Abortion Legal.”

The convention’s organizers knew to expect us. I’ve been there nearly every year since 1973. They’ve even featured me in their newspaper as an “abortion entrepreneur”   — for the free birth control referral services I started in 1964, for the abortion clinic that was burned to the ground by an anti-abortion terrorist in 1979, and most of all for the 1972 Supreme Court decision, Baird v. Eisenstadt, which secured the right to contraception for all women. Eisenstadt, which I won after a five-year fight and a jail term,  is well known to be a cornerstone of 1973 ‘s landmark Roe v. Wade, which the Committee is sworn to overturn.

This year, that goal may have seemed closer than ever to the Committee, given the victories achieved in so many states. It felt more essential than ever  to come to the Hyatt to neutralize the anti-choice propaganda they were feeding the media, and to try to guess their next steps.

The day the conference began, the Supreme Court decision on health care was issued by Chief Justice Roberts, to the shock of organizers.  “Bill did you hear the news about the Supreme Court?” Ernest Ohlhoff, Religious Outreach Director for NRLC, asked me in the hotel elevator.  “[Chief Justice John] Roberts turned!” Others denounced Roberts as a “traitor” and “turncoat.”

An early speaker was Sue Thayer, who worked at Planned Parenthood as manager of Iowa’s Storm Lake and LeMars Planned Parenthood clinics for 18 years. After she was laid off as part of a regional PP downsizing last year, Thayer  began a 40-day prayer ritual outside of the Storm Lake clinic; after its pre-planned closure, she  proudly proclaimed that she and her allies had “prayed it away.”  Since that time, Thayer has worked closely with anti-choice forces, most recently by accusing Planned Parenthood of Medicaid fraud.

Thayer closed by telling workshop participants, “God’s people need to rise up.  I think God’s people are sick of [abortion.]” She was echoed by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who bragged that his state is now a total “pro life state.” This was more than three years after the brutal murder of abortion provider George Tiller, MD, killed in that state by an anti-abortion terrorist while attending Sunday services at his own church.

Saying that as a politician he only has “one constituent” – God – Brownback complimented NRLC for its “very strategic legislative agenda,” calling them very “tactical” (because they have sliced away at reproductive rights bit by bit, or what I call the “bologna method”).   Brownback said, “The place you change America isn’t in Washington, it’s in the states.”

Both confirmed what I’ve been saying for decades: that the pro- choice community must recognize we are in the midst of a “holy war” and change our tactics accordingly. Because in many ways, they’re winning.

And right now their goal is the Presidency.    While the convention attendees seemed demoralized by the  Roberts decision,  I have a feeling there will be a backlash that will find them rallying behind Mitt Romney even stronger.

“There’s one way of turning back Obamacare and it is who you vote for as president,”  Brownback said. Calling Rick Santorum a great hero of the pro life movement and a personal friend, Brownback stressed the ‘need’ to elect the nominee who defeated him: There’s a guy in this race that’s pro life and there’s a guy in this race that is not.  I’m going to push hard on Senate and House races too,” he added, stressing swing states.

The man they’ve chosen to support was ironically once a supporter of Roe v. Wade. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he endorsed the state’s long-established Right to Privacy Day in honor of Baird v. Eisenstadt.  “It is appropriate that all Massachusetts citizens recognize the importance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Baird v. Eisenstadt,”  read Romney’s 2003 proclamation, “a decision that was quoted six times in subsequent cases including Roe v. Wade.”  But by 2005 Romney had deleted the Roe v. Wade reference from the proclamation, and the following year, 2006, refused to issue the Right to Privacy Day proclamation at all, withdrawing his support from birth control.

By then, Romney was already preparing for his 2008 presidential bid, but he might as well have been revving up for last month’s convention. That increased emphasis on restricting birth control was worse than we’d seen before.

The National Right to Life Committee leadership pretends to not take a stand on birth control, but its mostly-Catholic members individually tell you they believe only in abstinence  or rhythm (which I have called Vatican Roulette for decades).  They believe that the pill, IUD and anything that prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus are abortifacients: thus no RU486, no morning-after pill.

This past March, the 40th anniversary of Baird v. Eisenstadt, was greeted by a blistering editorial from Janet Morana, Executive Director of Priests for Life.  “The Catholic Church forbids the use of artificial contraception,” she wrote before reeling off a set of distortions about “increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cervical and liver cancer  [....] decreased desire and sexual dysfunction and stroke.” She finished with,  “Is a contraception prescription with every paycheck such a good idea?  Clearly the answer is no.”

That was a message dutifully repeated by the young people we met at the convention, some of them teenagers.


Read “Report From the Right-to-Life Convention, Part 2″ here.

Lila Rose: A Sweet Face to Accompany Extreme Anti-Abortion Claims

2:28 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

Close examination of this rose reveals many thorns (photo: drb62/flickr)

Close examination of this rose reveals many thorns (photo: drb62/flickr)

These days anti-abortion ingénue Lila Rose needs no introduction. In advertisements for this year’s Values Voter Summit, an annual conservative Christian confab, Rose was a headline attraction. While former Attorney General Edwin Meese required a note of background, Rose, like fellow speaker and antifeminist icon Phyllis Schlafly, was advertised by name alone. In LifeSiteNews, a Christian anti-abortion news service, Rose is often known simply as “Lila,” a one-name celebrity for the anti-choice right.

For those outside the fanclub, Rose is the early-20s activist and UCLA graduate who founded Live Action, an anti-abortion group that came to fame in 2008 for its high-profile “sting operation” against Planned Parenthood: a series of four taped phone calls wherein clinic employees awkwardly accepted donations targeted for black women’s abortions after Rose’s collaborator claimed he was worried about black birth rates and complained that affirmative action would decrease his own progeny’s prospects.

The sting was one of many. Rose followed this “Racism Project” with the 2008 “Mona Lisa Project,” which culminated in the release of hidden camera footage of a baby-faced Rose posing as a 13-year-old girl pregnant by her 31-year-old partner. The pained responses of clinic nurses and staff, who — head in hands — told Rose that they’re obligated to report instances of statutory rape and that she shouldn’t mention her boyfriend’s age if they were to help her access services, amounted to an even larger coup. And in 2011, Live Action released another series of stealth videos featuring a make-believe “pimp” inquiring about STD and contraceptive services for the underage or undocumented immigrant girls working for him to demonstrate its view that Planned Parenthood enables sex trafficking, too. While most clinic staff responded to the visits with suspicion, reporting license plate numbers to local and federal law enforcement, one manager came across as an eager co-conspirator, and a conspiracy theory born on the fringes of anti-abortion extremism became headline news. Read the rest of this entry →

Abortionomics: When Choice Is A Necessity

2:55 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

By the On The Issues Editors, cross-posted at OTI Magazine

A new study puts another face on women’s reproductive decision-making during an economic downturn. It indicates that low-income women increasingly are being forced to “choose” abortions out of economic need.

Condicted by independent researcher Robin H. Pugh Yi, Ph.D., president of Akeso Consulting in Vienna, Virginia, the study is called Abortionomics: When Choice Is a Necessity, The Impact of Recession on Abortion. The analysis was commissioned by Merle Hoffman, founder and president of Choices Women’s Medical Center, after hearing anecdotal information from abortion patients that today’s economic hardships were a large factor in women’s decisions to have abortions. The findings were presented by Hoffman and Pugh Yi at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Jan. 17, 2011.

On one hand, it seems obvious: When the economy dips, it’s harder for people to raise a family. But this living reality, borne out in the report’s data, remains outside today’s heated political debates about abortion and birth control. As a result, too many politicians seem oblivious to the consequences of unwanted pregnancies and, when carried to term, the resulting births that impose difficult, if not impossible, financial burdens on already strapped mothers and families.

Follow-Up to Reagan-Era Report

The new report is actually a follow-up to a 1980s study undertaken by Hoffman and Choices in partnership with Adelphi University. Hoffman titled it “Abortionomics” because it showed that high numbers of women who were having abortions did so because they couldn’t afford not to. In addition, more than half of those responding to the earlier survey said they would do “whatever it took” to have an abortion, even if abortion were illegal. The stark conclusion is that they were willing to risk their very lives to have unsafe abortions if that were the only option, a risk that many women have been forced to make when abortion is illegal or inaccessible.

The newly-released report, some 30 years later, shows similar economic concerns driving the reproductive decisions of women, men and families today. (Entire report available, here.)

The current research pointed to three key findings.


Continue reading here.

Gone Too Far? Reproductive Politics in the Time of Obama

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

Obama caves to the Catholic bishops. (Photo: RH Reality Check)

Obama caves to the Catholic bishops. (Photo: RH Reality Check)

By Carole Joffe, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

What about abortion gives it staying power as the central issue in domestic politics, even in the period of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression of the 1930s? This is a question well worth pursuing.

I sounded a much more hopeful note in my recent book, Dispatches from the Abortion Wars. The book was started in the administration of George W. Bush, a particularly harsh time for the reproductive justice community. I finished the book in the first months of the presidency of Barack Obama, ending on a note of “cautious optimism” about a turnabout for the fortunes of reproductive health services and particularly for the provision of abortion. Candidate Obama, after all, had forcefully voiced his support for legal abortion, and nothing — at the time — seemed to be worse than the endless attacks on reproductive health services (not just abortion, but family planning , sex education, condom distribution for HIV patients and more) that were a key feature of the Bush presidency.

Quoting from the distinguished historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s work on an earlier period of abortion conflict in 19th century America, I even speculated that we might be entering a period in which abortion and related issues would no longer be “the central drama of (our) culture.” Given the devastating recession that had already become very evident around the time of the 2008 election, I, like many others, reasonably thought that the economy would in fact become the “central drama.”

But very soon after the 2008 election, it became very clear that social conservatives were not going away. On the contrary, they seemed more energized than ever. It also became clear that Obama the president was not going to be the forceful defender of reproductive rights that many of his supporters, including myself, had fantasized. Indeed, as early as January 2009, in his first weeks in office, reproductive politics emerged as a factor in the stimulus debates, and the new president blinked. The president’s proposal had included a modest provision that allowed states to spend more Medicaid funds on family planning. The Republican House of Representatives leader, John Boehner, publically mocked this provision, asking incredulously what “spending millions for contraceptives” had to do with “fixing the economy.” The provision was quickly dropped.

And, of course, many reproductive rights supporters are still smarting over Obama’s key concessions to anti-abortion forces, particularly the Catholic Church, in order to win support for his health reform legislation. By late 2011, it was still unclear whether Obama would again cave to the Church’s demands for very broad exemptions to the requirement that health insurance plans, under Obama’s health legislation, provide contraception without co-pays. But while that was pending, the reproductive health community was stunned when, in a clear bow to politics, the Obama Administration took the unprecedented step of overruling the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and rejecting the agency’s recommendation that Emergency Contraception be made available without a prescription to women under the age of 17. Read the rest of this entry →

Saying No in Mississippi: No to Personhood, No to Voter Restrictions

5:26 am in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

Mississippi State Capitol (Photo: Ken Lund, flickr)

Mississippi State Capitol (Photo: Ken Lund, flickr)

By Loretta Ross, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine

In Mississippi, we are witnessing the intersection of race and gender politics in two ballot initiatives on which African American voters are the critical constituents on voting day on November 8, 2011. The 2011 Mississippi ballot Initiative 26 on Personhood and Initiative 27 on Voter ID exclusions may be one of the most important opportunities on the ground for the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements to work together.

Both ballot initiatives violate basic human rights. For the Reproductive Justice movement, this is an opportunity to link our human rights struggles in a statewide campaign. The implications of ignoring the twinned priorities of the African American community are enormous.

I believe we have a strong chance of winning on both in Mississippi because I trust that African American people, especially black women, will do the right thing and vote against these initiatives if they are given the opportunity to vote, the motivation to vote and the right information with which to vote. Mississippi has the highest concentration of black people in the country – more than one-third of the population – and African Americans are the largest bloc of Democratic voters in the state.

In Mississippi, with its troublesome history of denying black people the right to vote, disenfranchisement through Voter ID is a very important issue that will bring them to the polls. Our task is to convince them to also vote against the Personhood Initiative. To do that, our messages must link the racial and gender politics of Mississippi.

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