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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 →