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Iowa Anti-Choicers Admit They Want to Imprison Women for Abortion

12:26 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Iowa Capitol

Some in the Iowa General Assembly want to send women to jail for getting abortions.

A little over a month into 2013, and one thing is absolutely certain: Anti-choice legislators aren’t going to let the damage that their war on women did to their fellow conservative politicians’ electoral prospects slow them down from competing with each other to show who can concoct the most vile schemes to undermine women’s rights. Now Iowa Republicans are flexing their muscles, trying to show that they hate the ladies even more than the forced-transvaginal-ultrasound folks in Michigan, Texas, and Virginia, or the women-can’t-think-on-weekends-and-holidays nuts in South Dakota.

Nine state representatives in Iowa have introduced a bill that would define killing a fertilized egg as “murder”.

707.1 Murder defined.

1. A person who kills another person with malice aforethought either express or implied commits murder.

2. “Person”, when referring to the victim of a murder, means an individual human being, without regard to age of development, from the moment of conception, when a zygote is formed, until natural death.

Murder includes killing another person through any means that terminates the life of the other person including but not limited to the use of abortion-inducing drugs. For the purposes of this section, “abortion-inducing drug” means a medicine, drug, or any other substance prescribed or dispensed with the intent of terminating the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a woman, with knowledge that the drug will with reasonable likelihood cause the termination of the pregnancy. “Abortion-inducing drug” includes the off-label use of drugs known to have abortion-inducing properties, which are prescribed specifically with the intent of causing an abortion, but does not include drugs that may be known to cause an abortion, but which are prescribed for other medical indications.

The point of this bill is, simply put, to throw women in jail for “murder” for deliberately ending pregnancies — and quite possibly for trying to prevent them, as many anti-choicers continue to insist, despite the evidence against them, that the pill and emergency contraception work by “killing” fertilized eggs. (They work by suppressing ovulation and preventing fertilization.) The language of this is quite expansive. They’re not only counting women who reach out to legal providers for abortion as “murderers,” but also women who go online and buy drugs for this purpose. The broadness of this suggests that they may even try to snag women for “murder” for taking common rue, a herbal medication women use to kick start their period (and potentially end an unwanted pregnancy) if they’re late.

This is a dramatic shift in the traditional anti-choice approach to discussing the issue of how to handle women who seek abortion. While I personally have no doubt that many to most anti-choicers fully intend and have always intended to get to a place where women are being jailed for abortion, the official stance of anti-choice legislators and activists is generally to deny believing that nearly a third of American women should go to jail for “murder.” Maintaining the illusion of disinterest in punishing women for abortion with jail is so important that after Rep. Cathrynn Brown of New Mexico was caught proposing jail for rape victims who get abortion, she rewrote the bill specifically to avoid the accusation.

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The 20 Week Abortion Myth

7:30 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Ryan Swanek for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Much of print media in Iowa recently, including the Register and Nonpareil, have run extensive coverage about HF 657, a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  While I admire the Nonpareil covering actual news, news that would affect the lives of many Iowans, I’ve been quite disappointed in the lop-sidedness of the coverage.  It’s also been quite disheartening to see our City Council meetings filled to the brim with anti-abortion zealots fuming with anger. Yet, almost none of these attendees are even from our great city. 

Let’s get to the heart of the issue. This is not about babies. It’s about freedom and fundamental rights for women.  With the recent Republican takeover of the Iowa House of Representatives and the United States House of Representatives, this Party ran on a message of job creation, deficit reduction and cutting taxes.  The legislative results of these takeovers?  Attempting to shut down the federal government over the funding of Planned Parenthood and bills to ban abortion.  Instead of focusing on the issues that could help put Americans back to work and to ease the struggle of trying to survive such harsh economic times, these legislators, almost all of whom are elderly, white, and male, have decided that their misogyny should be front and center and take legislative form. 

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A Pioneering Effort to Increase Rural Women’s Access to Safe Abortion in Iowa

6:56 am in Government, Health care, State Government by RH Reality Check

Written by Kathleen Reeves for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

For the past two years, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has been using video-conferencing and a remote-controlled drawer to dispense abortion pills to women seeking early abortions in Iowa clinics. Operation Rescue is taking aim at the practice, charging that because these medication abortions are not “performed by a physician,” they violate Iowa law.

This claim doesn’t stand up. True, medication abortion straddles the line between procedure and prescription: while the physician only acts insofar as giving a woman two pills, the more significant part of the procedure is the counseling that precedes it. But this is exactly the point: the medication abortion “procedure” requires the counsel and knowledge of a health care provider—and these days, we do not have to be physically present to share knowledge and expertise. The digital age has removed countless barriers to information, particularly geographic barriers. Why shouldn’t digital technology also remove barriers to health care? . . .

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Feticide Laws: The Conservative Analogue to the 50-State Strategy

7:09 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by MakoSharkEsq for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

There are 3 clear ways that feticide statutes being passed in various states are problematic.

Feticide: Recklessness and Speculation

The first problem is attempted feticide.

All crimes with a mental state above negligence have a corresponding "attempt crime:" Attempted rape, attempted larceny, attempted murder, and so forth.  The thing about attempt crimes is that we’re convicting people for acts that are not in themselves illegal but which represent a substantial step in a criminal algorithm.

For example, it’s totally legal to buy a knife. It’s legal to visit your ex-spouse’s house. It’s illegal to stab your ex-spouse. But the rub about attempt crimes is this: How far back in the timeline do we mark where the substantial step has been taken? The purchase of the knife?  Nope, a whole lot of innocent people would be convicted.  The visit to the ex-spouse’s house maybe?  It could be construed as "reconnoitering" and/or "lying in wait" [but only if you have the kitchen knife with you].

What I’m highlighting is the fact that attempt crimes are prospective — and therefore speculative. That’s not a problem if the police apprehend the person during the commission of the act.  But it’s definitely a problem before the commission of the act if you’re arresting someone just for "buying a knife" [so to speak] or for reading an outrageous book, for example.  Insert any innocent act that you speculate could be the beginning of a criminal scheme.

Conservatives argue that the more "prospective" [ie, speculative] our approach is to attempt crimes, the more lives we’ll save. As we saw in the Iowa case, attempted feticide has an extremely strong potential for flights of speculation. Because we treat pregnancy like an eggshell, we perceive everyday dangers to the fetus in even the most innocuous acts. My friend, a father-to-be at the time, was an alarmist about acts done by his wife that might lead to miscarriage.  "Don’t lift anything over your head! It causes miscarriage!"  You may think that example is absurd because the speculation is absurd — but it underscores the ways in which everyday people [jury fodder] can be so manically protective of a fetus that even wild speculation is suddenly not so unlikely. 

We can all agree that punching a pregnant belly may indicate an intent to harm the fetus. But the mental standard originally used in the Utah bill was less than intent; it was recklessness.  Recklessness is the willful disregard of a known risk, whereas [in those terms] negligence would be ignorance of a risk that you should have known [and thus exercised care] but didn’t.

So, if the bill in Utah had passed with the standard of "recklessness," would heavy lifting during pregnancy be "reckless?" Whether evidence beyond a reasonable doubt exists to suffice a conviction depends on the jury. But heavy lifting would certainly be enough for probable cause for an arrest [the police only need to justify 51 percent likelihood]. If you doubt the likelihood of this kind of speculative arrest, refer to what happened in Iowa — where someone fell down the stairs and the police presumed an intent to kill the fetus simply because she’d contemplated an abortion months earlier in the first trimester. 

I thought about going to Starbucks months ago, but that fact isn’t probative of whether I intended to go on the day in question. But again: crazy speculation’s suddenly "reasonable" when you’re dealing with pregnancy. With only the speculation of the doctor and nurse, the police still had probable cause to arrest [remember: just 51 percent likelihood suffices for probable cause]. 

So what’s the big deal, you say. You need evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict, you say. And they let her go, you say.  Well, for warrantless arrests with enough probable cause to arrest but not enough to detain, you get 48 hours of fun in jail [even though the evidence against you is mere 51 percent likelihood of some event] while the State scrambles to get enough evidence to suffice for your Gerstein hearing [where they prove probable cause to detain].

If they don’t get it in 48 hours, they have to let you go — which is little consolation for the "shower incident" that occurs while you are in jail. 

What’s worse is that the issue of a person’s intent, recklessness, or negligence is a question of fact answered by a jury not a question of law answered by a judge. And that should trouble you very, very much. "Oh she definitely intended to kill that baby! I know it!" or "She definitely knew the risk involved but did it anyway!"

Search, Seizure and Your Lack of Privacy 

The second problem with feticide statutes is a search and seizure issue I realized while contemplating the Iowa case.  There is no physician-patient privilege under the federal rules of evidence.  And regarding state law, few states recognize a physician-patient privilege and the ones that do only offer immunity under certain circumstances.  People typically derive some privacy protection from HIPPA, but HIPPA doesn’t create a physician-patient privilege.  It only establishes certain privacy protocols.

What’s more, many states have enacted statutes that place an affirmative duty on hospitals, clinics, teachers, and others to notify the police with evidence creating suspicion of certain crimes [like rape, homicide, child abuse]. That evidence includes what a patient says in the course of the visit.

For example, if a minor while seeking birth control mentions offhand that she had sex with an adult, the clinic is obligated to report that.  Now the problem arises when those two concepts interact under a suspicion of attempted feticide.  Since feticide is in the homicide family, there would be the same affirmative duty to report evidence of an attempted feticide. And so, a doctor’s mere speculation about the patient’s motives authorizes him to reveal otherwise private information that the patient disclosed under an assumption of confidentiality.  In the Iowa case, that’s how the police knew the woman in question had contemplated abortion months ago. She told her doctor in confidence. Acting under the suspicion of feticide, the doctor alerted the police.  Now, let’s say your doctor isn’t a crazy hysteric and protects your privacy, but your husband’s a hysteric because he’s eager to be a father and manic about all the possible ways you’re risking miscarriage. So he makes the call to the police. The police talk to the doctor, but the doctor is on your side.  So the police ask the DA for a warrant and the DA finds an amenable magistrate that signs the warrant. Now, the doctor must comply and divulge the information you disclosed — because there’s no physician-patient privilege. 

Significant legal issues arising from this: In an investigation of whether a suspicious act was feticide, can a warrant compel a doctor to disclose a patient’s abortion history to be used as evidence of intent?  In an investigation of whether a suspicious act was feticide, can a warrant compel a doctor to disclose a patient’s prior statements incident to an abortion or contemplating an abortion? 

Opening the Backdoor to Fetal Personhood:

The third problem with feticide statutes is that they’re a backdoor to fetal personhood.  The Republicans are executing a "50 State Plan" of their own that involves enacting feticide statutes in a majority of states and passing fetal personhood amendments to the constitutions of a sizable minority of states.  These constitutional amendments would have no legal effect [pursuant to Roe].  And the feticide statutes are careful not to describe the fetus as a "baby" or person [otherwise they'd be unconstitutional under Roe].  However, notwithstanding their legal ineffectiveness, the practical effect of these amendments would be to change the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) perception of the right to abortion [vis-a-vis the right to privacy] as a fundamental right.

That perception would be affected because SCOTUS is generally reluctant to declare that a right is "fundamental" — doing so disables the states’ ability to regulate the issue.  And so, as it did in Lawrence v. Texas, SCOTUS looks at whether a majority of states have already recognized the right in their constitutions or in case law.  If so, then they’ll take it a step further and declare that the right is fundamental — thereby bringing the minority of states up to par with the liberty offered in the majority.

Note that this isn’t the only consideration in the creation of a fundamental right obviously, but it is something they look at.  And so, if "enough" states outright reject an existing fundamental right [one as controversial as the right to abortion], then it follows that SCOTUS will consider that too and destroy the fundamental right — relegating it back to state regulation.  Scalia has intimated several times that the states’ constitutional perception of the right to abortion [collectively speaking] would be fodder for destroying the right.

Feticide statutes contribute to this plan the same way.  By creating a nebulous standard of review for the regulation of abortion, Planned Parenthood v. Casey effectively created an intermediate status for the fetus [a kind of "quasi-personhood"] and subsequent state cases have recognized a government interest in protecting fetal life.

Using that framework, feticide statutes effectively elevate the status of fetuses towards "nigh-personhood" — which obviously has negative implications for Roe on review.  That isn’t Planned Parenthood propaganda. It’s clear.  Homicide is an act that kills a person. 

Battery is an act that offends [via touch], injures or destroys a part of a person. If you chop off a person’s finger, that’s called battery, not "phalangicide." A finger is a component of a person, not a person itself.  But if you call this act "phalangicide" and criminalize it, then obviously you’re treating the finger almost as a person.

Feticide statutes are included in the family of homicide rather than the family of battery. Why? Since the conservatives can’t actually call a fetus a person [because the Court has already ruled that it's not], they instead purport to treat the fetus as a person to the extent allowable under Casey. In the last 30 years protection of the fetus has increasingly risen to the level of what I call "nigh-personhood." The trend is clear and its purpose is clear.

Caution: Pregnancy May Be Hazardous to Your Liberty

6:25 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lynn Paltrow and Farah Diaz-Tello for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

While our country stands at a deadlock over legislation to ensure that millions of uninsured people have health care coverage, we can at least feel confident that some state legislators are hard at work, making it more difficult for women to access health care and much easier for states to put them, and the people who help them, in jail.

In Mississippi, legislators proposed a law, HB 695, which would make many forms of midwifery a crime.  That is clearly bad for pregnant women and for babies for at least one very simple reason. As the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood pointed out after Hurricane Katrina, when hospitals shut down as a result of a disaster, midwives are among the few who know how to deliver babies without electronic fetal monitors, surgical theatres or epidurals. For this reason, the Alliance highlighted the need to protect (not criminalize) midwives who have the skills needed under such circumstances.

When disasters hit, however, it is not only the women who are going to term who are in trouble. As the National Network of Abortion Funds found out after Hurricane Katrina forced abortion providers to close their doors, many women were also left without access to urgently needed abortion services.

If Utah lawmakers have their way, a woman under similar circumstances who attempts to take matters into her own hands could be charged with murder under House Bill 12, the state’s effort to outlaw “self-abortions.”

Right-to-life organizations have long maintained that if abortion were outlawed, only doctors who performed the abortions would go to jail.  But Utah’s proposed law ensures that women themselves, and not just those who help them, will be incarcerated for a minimum of 15 years. (Since 61 percent of women who have abortions are already mothers, a woman convicted under this law would, with any luck, be out of jail in time to see her son or daughter graduate from high school.)

Even without such a law, police officers in Iowa recently arrested a woman in her second trimester of pregnancy for the crime of attempted feticide after she tripped and fell down a flight of stairs. The county attorney’s office dropped the case only after they decided that their unprecedented interpretation of the feticide law should only be applied to pregnant women in their third trimester. But in Utah, the law would expressly apply to pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy. So, if you are pregnant and clumsy in Utah, you could be charged with attempted murder, even in the first trimester.

As a sign-on petition opposing the Utah bill points out, pretty much any woman who suffers a miscarriage or stillbirth and is engaged in an activity that she “should have reason to know” would endanger her fetus can now be charged with murder or attempted murder.

Suffer a pregnancy loss after a car accident you may have caused?  Murder.  Follow your doctor’s advice to treat your cancer despite the risks it might pose to your unborn child? Attempted murder.

Bizarrely, the Utah law has an exemption that protects women who “fail to follow medical advice,” but nothing in the law protects women who do follow medical advice. Thus women who disagree with a doctor’s advice to have cesarean surgery can’t be prosecuted, but a woman who takes prescription medications that may risk harm to an unborn child could end up behind bars.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, House Bill 136 would create a new crime just for pregnant women. According to this law, “[a] woman is guilty of substance endangerment of a child prior to birth when, knowing she is pregnant, she causes her child to be born” with controlled substances or alcohol in the child’s bodily fluids. What that means is that, if this law is passed, it would literally be a crime for a pregnant woman to give birth if the child she gives birth to has any amount of a controlled substance or alcohol in its body.

It is well known that laws which threaten to punish women who carry their pregnancies to term in spite of a drug or alcohol problem place substantial pressure on women to have unwanted abortions. This is because it is hard for people to overcome an addiction quickly (just ask Rush Limbaugh). For pregnant women who face many barriers to treatment, there is no guarantee that they will be cured quickly enough to be sure they won’t be arrested if they go to term. Such laws are also known to deter women from care, increasing the risks to maternal, fetal and child health. It would be nice to think that Kentucky legislators did not mean to make it a crime for some woman to cause their children “to be born,” but the fact that this law has been proposed over the objections of every leading health group makes us wonder.

And finally, we wonder about Nebraska’s commitment to protecting fetuses from pain. Nebraska House Bill 1103 would protect some fetuses from pain by banning virtually all women from obtaining abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.  Although abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy are extremely rare (constituting only 1.5 percent of all abortions), and the doctors who perform them are heroes to the women who need such procedures, this law would make those doctors criminals.

The Nebraska legislators who support this bill claim that after 20 weeks of pregnancy an unborn child is capable of experiencing substantial pain. Certainly, if this is true, then fetuses must also suffer pain from forceps deliveries, internal electronic fetal monitoring (requiring the insertion of sharp metal wires into the delicate fetal scalp) and from chemically induced labor in which the fetus is subjected to repeated, violent maternal uterine contractions and then forced through the narrow vaginal canal. If Nebraska legislators were truly committed to preventing fetal pain, then they should also ban pitocin-induced vaginal births and other fetal-pain inducing delivery techniques and arrest the doctors who carry them out.

The lawmakers supporting these bills claim that they are trying to bar bad things from happening to pregnant women and the unborn. But whatever their stated good intentions, make no mistake, these bills are really about putting pregnant women and the people who support them behind bars.

Stop Perpetuating Myths About Black Women and Abortion

6:44 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kelley Robinson for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article was originally published by, in response to an earlier editorial. It is republished here with permission from the author, and is part of a series of articles appearing on RH Reality Check, written by reproductive justice advocates responding to recent efforts by the anti-choice movement to use racial and ethnic myths to limit women’s rights and health.

As an African-American woman, I take exception to Tom Quiner’s Feb. 7 column on African-Americans and abortion. Quiner perpetuates many of the myths pro-life groups use to attack family planning and supports misconceptions about the lack of support among members of my community.

It is striking that Quiner chooses to quote Alveda King, considering her marginalization in the civil rights movement. I think it is more appropriate to quote her elder, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself, a longtime supporter of Margaret Sanger and the birth control movement: "There is striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts … Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her."

Let me be clear: Planned Parenthood does not target minorities. When Planned Parenthood is accused of such targeting, these false claims are used to drive a wedge between minorities and reproductive health care, further limiting their choices.

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