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Personhood Amendment Would Ban In-Vitro Fertilization. Physicians, Families Speak Out

8:30 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

One in eight couples uses in-vitro fertilization and other forms of assisted reproductive technology to have children, notes Dr. Ruben Alvero in a Denver Daily News article today.

Yet Colorado voters are being asked to pass the so-called "Personhood Amendment", Amendment 62, which could essentially block couples seeking to have children from utilizing in-vitro fertilization.

Yesterday, physicians and families – especially those who have been helped immensely by the use of in-vitro fertilization, spoke up about the dangers of Amendment 62.

Jim Burness, the father of a 27-month-old daughter who was conceived through in-vitro fertilization, also shared his story.

“Right after our wedding, my father-in-law and my mother both passed away,” Burness said. “As a result, my wife and I had a strong desire to have a child that would have a biological link to those we lost. In this day and age, I am astounded how any group can think they have a right to dictate whether my daughter can have a biological sibling.”

Backers of the initiative have filed a lawsuit to change the language in the state voter’s guide (the "Blue Book") as they believe the current wording shares misinformation about the impact of the measure. As Wendy Norris and others have covered extensively on RH Reality Check, the Personhood Amendment seeks to imbue fertilized eggs with the full legal rights of citizens. Theresa Erickson, writing on The American Fertility Association’s web site, notes

"…the groups backing the amendment are attempting to stop all abortions while effectively banning abortions for victims of rape and incest, banning abortions to save the life of the woman, banning certain forms of birth control (such as IUDs, which inhibit the implantation of an embryo), and banning in-vitro fertilization and other forms of medical research.  Furthermore, in its current form this amendment would effectively restrict a woman and her doctor the ability to obtain and provide proper medical care – instead, it could potentially criminalize the actions of the doctor and his or her patient."

So, it’s odd, isn’t it, that anti-choice blogger and speaker, Jill Stanek, decries the wonders of in-vitro fertlization on her blog today? Stanek blogs about the story of Grace and Luke "frozen when they were 8 cell embryos" and adopted by a Christian couple who "had gestated and given birth to their other embryos" (huh?).

But how were the "8 cell embryos" created in the first place?  Through in-vitro fertilization.

Though Stanek claims that the couple who "adopted" the embryos were using discarded embryos and so, presumably, were doing their good deed by saving them, it’s worthwhile to note that the couple in California who were receiving fertility help, initially, would never have been able to conceive without the help of this assisted reproductive technology.

Amendment 62 would take that option away from couples in Colorado.

“Amendment 62 would deny those couples a medical solution to their infertility and a vital option by which to build their families,” Alvero said.

Stanek also notes that pro-lifers are opposed to destruction of embryos for scientific purposes on the basis that they are "unique, innocent human beings" yet physicians at yesterday’s rally warned that signficant stem cell research on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes and other conditions would certainly be halted if Amendment 62 passes. Many in the anti-choice community also are opposed to Personhood amendments as they are simply too extreme. Robin Marty notes just how blatantly bizarre and offensive Amendment 62′s arguments have become.

Ob/Gyn, Dr. Andrew Ross, told a heart-wrenching story at the rally yesterday of his wife’s miscarriage and the potential for her "uterus to become a crime scene" under Amendment 62; not far-fetched, as we’ve seen this happen in Mexico and El Salvador.

A hearing on the Personhood Amendment’s Blue Book language is scheduled for this Thursday morning in Denver.

Why Did She Wait So Long? Later Abortions and the Implications of the New Nebraska Ban

6:59 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Susan Yanow and Kimberly Bullard for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

*The stories in this article are true summaries of women who presented for services at the ParkMed Physicians clinic in New York during 2009.  Details have been changed to protect the anonymity of the women.

At 17, Rachel* was a high school senior when her steady boyfriend forced her to have sex. Rachel’s period was not regular, and like her family, Rachel had always considered herself pro-life. When she finally realized that she was pregnant and thought about her strong desire to go to college and her life goals, she realized that for her, abortion was the right decision.

Rachel called the nearest clinic and was informed that her state had a parental consent law, requiring her to get the consent of a parent or a judge because she was under 18. For the next three weeks Rachel feared telling anyone, especially family, but after much deliberation and anxiety she finally told her mother. While her mother was initially angry, within a few days she agreed to help Rachel get an abortion. They called the nearest clinic and got the first available appointment, one week away.  At the appointment, Rachel and her mother were shocked when the ultrasound showed that Rachel was already five months (20 weeks) pregnant. The clinic did not offer abortions past 14 weeks. They referred her to a clinic five hours away, but because of limited physician availability that facility had no appointments for three weeks. They also learned that the clinic could not accept the health insurance that Rachel’s family had. Since Rachel’s procedure would take two days to perform, they would also need to make arrangements to stay in a hotel. Rachel and her mother spent the next three weeks borrowing $2,500 to pay for the travel, hotel, and abortion. On the day that Rachel finally had her abortion, she was 2 days shy of 24 weeks pregnant.

Rachel’s story is more common than many might think. “Pro-choice” or “pro-life,” most people do not realize that although only one percent of abortions occur at 21 weeks or later, this one percent represents about 11,000** women in the United States who get later abortions every year.[1],[2] Many of these women must raise $2,000 to $4,000 to get the abortion they need. These women are disproportionately young and poor, and many already have a job. Some struggle to cover the cost of birth control pills, in addition to food and the next month’s rent. Pulling together the money for an abortion takes time and sacrifice. 

This is compounded by the fact that the nearest abortion provider is often in another state. In addition to various state regulations that restrict access to abortion care, such as waiting periods and parental consent laws, only a few facilities nationwide provide abortions late in the second trimester. Since these abortions usually require two or more days to complete and are not widely available, women who must travel to these providers have to make extensive arrangements for travel, childcare, and accommodations. These all add to the cost for the woman, and as she scrambles to put all the pieces together, the cost of her abortion continues to rise. At 10 weeks the average abortion costs $450.  Each additional week may add $100 or more.  Studies have found that many women who obtain later abortions tried to have the abortion sooner but could not overcome these financial, geographic, and political barriers. [3][4]

For Rachel, being unfamiliar with the symptoms of being pregnant, having irregular periods, her ambivalence about abortion coming from growing up in a “pro-life” family, and being in denial about the fact that her boyfriend had raped her all contributed to late recognition of her pregnancy.  Restrictive policies, a delayed referral, and needing to travel to find a provider who could help her pushed her to present much later for the abortion she needed.

Diana* already had special-needs three year-old twins when she found herself pregnant a second time.  She brought up the idea of abortion with her abusive, alcoholic husband who angrily rejected the idea, despite their current financial and emotional strain.  He demanded she deliver a son for him, a “normal one,” not some “freak show” like before, and punched and kicked her when she argued.

During Diana’s 20th week of pregnancy, after weeks of fear and contemplation, she secretly borrowed money for an abortion from her sister.  Before bed that night, she hid clothing and her purse in the bathtub, planning to slip away with the twins in the pre-dawn hours.  When her husband caught her attempting to leave, he beat her ferociously. Three weeks later, her bruises still present, Diana found another opportunity to leave, this time leaving the twins with her sister. She feared for their safety and her own, but was resolute in her decision to terminate her pregnancy.

She took a bus to New York City, now 23 weeks pregnant, but the abortion was more expensive than planned. A friend offered to contribute, and together they spent another few days raising the additional $300. Diana was lucky; in spite of the delays and obstacles, she found help raising the money and was able to get to New York City where there are abortion providers who could take care of her.

Diana’s story, like Rachel’s, is a typical example of “the perfect storm”- the intersection of life situation, funding and regulatory barriers, scrambling to find a provider and needing to travel – all circumstances that may lead a woman to seek an abortion later in her pregnancy. However, most Americans are unaware of how women find themselves in the center of this storm. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans consider themselves to be pro-choice. Nevertheless, only one quarter of Americans support women’s right to end an unwanted pregnancy in the second trimester.[5] Many Americans become uncomfortable with later abortion because they focus on the developmental level of the fetus rather than on the rights of the pregnant woman, overlooking the myriad reasons that women need later abortions. Without the full picture of women like Rachel and Diana, it is easy to assume that women who obtained later abortions had total control over when to come for abortion care and simply chose to delay. These women are often misjudged as careless and immoral and of not taking responsibility for presenting earlier for abortion care.

The reality is that women need later abortions for many of the same reasons women need any other abortion. A woman or girl is not yet ready to start a family; she’s about to start college; she’s just lost her job; she was raped; she needs to look after her existing children.  Later abortions, like earlier abortions, happen because birth control fails, because the choice of when and how to be sexual is not always a woman’s choice, because obtaining health insurance is slow or out of reach, or because the decision to fully commit to the children that she already has is a moral decision that women take seriously. For some women, a diagnosis of fetal anomaly comes late in pregnancy, for some it comes earlier.  For others, partners leave, houses disappear in hurricanes or floods and their new situation means they no longer feel they can parent a new child. Women who seek early and later abortions alike do not make a decision about a pregnancy in isolation; each woman’s decision is impacted by her location, health, socioeconomic status, race, nationality, religious beliefs and family circumstances.

In April 2010, the Nebraska legislature banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy for all reasons except for the life and physical health of the mother. This law will go into effect on October 15.  What little public discussion there has been about this new law has centered on the constitutionality of the ban or the scientific credibility of the reasons for the ban.  Scarce attention is being paid to the women whose abortions will be prohibited if the ban is allowed to go into effect.

The stories of the women who need later abortions must be placed at the center of the debate.  The Rachels and Dianas of Nebraska have lost access to the abortions that they need. While we may not all agree with the decisions these women make, we can develop empathy and understanding for their situations, along with the awareness that these women are struggling to do the best they can with time against them.  Support for women seeking later abortions needs to start with each of us.

*The stories in this article are true summaries of women who presented for services at the ParkMed Physicians clinic in New York during 2009.  Details have been changed to protect the anonymity of the women.

**Estimated from CDC data containing all states but CA, LA, and NH, plus Guttmacher State Profile data for CA, LA, and NH.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Abortion Surveillance–United States, 2006. Surveillance Summaries, 27 November 2009. MMWR 2009;58(No.SS-8).

[2] Guttmacher Institute. State Center. Accessed 30 July 2010. At:

[3] Finer LB, Frohwirth LF, Dauphinee LA, Singh S, Moore AM. Timing of steps and reasons for delays in obtaining abortions in the United States. Contraception. 2006 Oct;74(4):334-44.

[4] Drey EA, Foster DG, Jackson RA, Lee SJ, Cardenas LH, Darney PD. Risk factors associated with presenting for abortion in the second trimester. Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Jan;107(1):128-35.

[5] Gallup Poll News Service. Abortion. Accessed 21 July 2010. At:

South Dakota Right To Life Endorses…For Secretary of State?

7:15 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

There’s a saying that all politics is local. But it seems as if this year, the saying could be modified to “all local politics is about abortion.”  Nowhere is this clearer than in South Dakota, where the question of reproductive rights stances has trickled all the way down to the Secretary of State race.

Of course, South Dakota already has a long history of making political hay out of reproductive health.  The 2006 and 2008 attempts to eliminate access to abortion in the state have proven that to at least one segment of the citizenry in the state, there no issue more important than eliminating a woman’s right to choose. 

It’s with this mentality that South Dakota Right to Life (SDRL) seems to have made the unprecedented move of endorsing and advocating for a Secretary of State candidate this cycle, backing Republican Jason Gant. 

According to the SDRL 2010 voter guide, Gant, a state legislator, has an extensive history of anti-choice legislation, including:

  • Opposed legislation seeking to allow human embryonic stem cell research in SD.
  • Co-sponsored and supported legislation requiring abortion facilities to offer sonograms to women seeking abortions.
  • Consistently voted for pro-life measures throughout his six years in SD Senate, including the SD Right to Life-drafted Trigger Ban* in 2005.

 “I believe whole-heartedly in the sanctity of human life, especially the unborn, the elderly, the chronically ill, and the terminally ill.  Respecting life is an endeavor that must never be diminished.  I am pro-life and I vote pro-life.”

Meanwhile, Gant’s opponent, Ben Nesselhuf, has a “consistently” anti-prolife record that even includes being the “prime sponsor of legislation seeking to allow deadly human embryonic stem cell research” in the state.  Nesselhuf’s unforgivable stance on abortion, according to SDRL?  He believes “Abortion is a decision that should be left up to a woman, her doctor, her partner, and her god.” (SDRL uses the lowercase “g.”)

Gant should probably consider himself lucky to have gotten so much favorable support from the group, considering they actually had a brief moment of butting heads in 2007, when Gant agreed that the state ban on abortion was good enough with narrow rape and mother’s health exceptions and SDRL said not a chance.  A now-archived article from the Los Angeles Times reported:

This spring, South Dakota’s Legislature considered new restrictions on abortion after voters rejected a ban that contained no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

Republican state Sen. Jason Gant argued for a ban with narrow exceptions, to appease voters who had been queasy about the earlier approach. "When you can stop 90% of abortions, that’s pretty good. We can try again at a later date to get the other 10%," Gant said.

But the state’s Right to Life group opposed the exceptions, arguing that "babies conceived of rape and incest deserve to live too," said Lena Jones, the organization’s office manager.

The deadlock killed the ban before it came to a vote in the state Senate.

And after the ban was defeated at the polls, Gant was quoted in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader as saying “that the state voiced [an] opinion and ‘we need to just go with that.’"  Not exactly the sort of pro-life rhetoric that would get SDRL up on its feet for an endorsement.

But of course, the real question is, why does anyone even care about the abortion stance of the Secretary of State in the first place?  After all, the Secretary of State doesn’t introduce bills or vote on legislation that could further an anti-choice agenda.  Why would SDRL be so interested in going out on a limb to take a race they never endorse for, and then pick a candidate they haven’t seen totally eye to eye on in the past, and paint him as the champion of ending abortions in the state?

Nesselhuf is just as puzzled by the endorsement, but believes it may be a sign that he has the best chance to win his race of any of the pro-choice candidates in the state.  Via email, Nesselhuf stated:

The SDRL takes a very hard and aggressive stance against anyone who doesn’t fall in line.  That is part of why they have success in the legislature but not with the majority of the public.

I also think that this is a testament to our chances of success in this election.  We have been working for almost a year and very aggressively getting our message out.  Many South Dakota political observers believe we stand the best chance of victory of any statewide race.  The far right is pulling out all the stops to try and derail this campaign.

Is the group simply looking for an endorsement it can put in its "win" column, or looking to settle a score with a politician that has spent ten years in the legislature, all of them backing policies that the group would find morally repugnant? 

Or is it because Gant is himself making reproductive issues part of the race?  Although he has spoken little of it on the trail, his campaign website makes it very clear that he not only is staunchly anti-choice, but that he sees it as as much of a "South Dakota Issue" as healthcare, agriculture and education.

One key platform of his election campaign, however, is "election reform," which in his case translates into making sure less South Dakota residents have voting access.  Gant is claiming that voter fraud is rampant, and is campaigning against same day registration and eliminating photo id requirements at the polls, something he appears to believe is a plot concocted by the "ACLU and George Soros."  Voting restrictions are laws that have traditionally benefited Republicans at the polls, and to SDRL could signify getting more anti-choice lawmakers into office.

Regardless of the real motivation behind this unusual endorsement, South Dakota Right to Life has thrown themselves even further into the ring as potential political kingmakers in the state.  We will learn in November if this new move pays off.

Domestic Violence and Abortion: Why Do Anti-Choicers Excuse Abuse?

9:17 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Two thoughts went through my head when I read about a study showing that women seeking abortion experience high rates of domestic violence.  The first thought was that this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, both because abused women might have more unintended pregnancies and because pregnancy often is the catalyst for abusers escalating the amount of violence.  And the second is that this really demonstrates how wrong anti-choicers are when they claim that forced childbirth is somehow pro-woman.  To be truly pro-woman, you must give women tools to prevent abusers from strengthening their hold over their victims.  Forcing an abuse victim to have a baby against her will by her abuser is doing the abuser’s work for him.

The findings of the study conducted by University of Iowa professors and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is grim but unsurprising to those of us who know something about the parameters of violence against women.  Fourteen percent of the women coming in for abortions over an eight-and-a-half month period had experienced domestic violence in the past 12 months. There’s reason to suspect that women in abusive relationships are more likely to experience unintended pregnancy. Sabotaging birth control is a common tactic of abusers seeking to increase their power over their victims and reduce their victims’ own sense of control. Preliminary studies have found that it may be that up to three-quarters of women in abusive relationships experience some form of contraception sabotage.    

Once pregnant, women in abusive relationships are quite likely to be more motivated than average to terminate a pregnancy.  Domestic abuse often escalates during pregnancy, probably because abusers feel an even stronger need to control their victims.  They may also feel like they can get away with more abuse, because the child makes it that much harder for a woman to escape.  In fact, homicide, usually at the hands of a male partner, is one of the leading causes of death for pregnant women.  I’m not at all surprised that many women sense this danger, and this influences the decision to terminate.

And that leads me to the one silver lining in this research, which is that it seems many of the women getting abortions are not just trying to survive within abusive relationships, but are also taking steps to get out.  It’s not surprising that an unintended pregnancy and an abortion can be a catalyst for ending a toxic or even abusive relationship, and the research bears this out.  Leaving is a very dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship, because the abusers often panic and start escalating the violence or stalking.  But with this research in hand, clinic workers might be able to offer resources to women who are in an abortion clinic as part of a larger journey of escaping a bad situation.

Unfortunately, the anti-choice movement could create a large obstacle for keeping women safe.  Anti-choicers already hail from the conservative, anti-feminist movement and therefore already inculcate hostility towards feminist efforts to dismantle the culture of male domination that permits abuse to flourish.  Indeed, some anti-choice organizations work by stoking the anger of men who were rejected by their female partners after an abortion.  I doubt very much that those promoting angry men blaming abortion stop often to think that perhaps these men were rejected because they threatened their partner’s safety.  The romantic anti-choice myth of an unintended pregnancy leading to happily-ever-after doesn’t leave much room for acknowledging that sometimes “ever after” is less about being happy and more about being abused and unable to escape.

And since abortion is often a necessary step for many women seeking to escape abusive relationships, anti-choicers who are highly focused on stopping abortion at all costs will show an alarming disregard for women’s safety and well being. Take for instance the documentary "12th and Delaware," which is to be released on HBO in August.  The filmmakers recorded a crisis pregnancy center “counselor” trying to talk a woman out of an abortion, even though that woman made it clear that she was in an abusive relationship and felt the abortion was an important step in getting out.  The “counselor” suggested that having the baby would mean an end to the abuse.   In reality, having a baby with an abuser usually means he has more control and leverage over you, something the pregnant woman in this film knew very well.  Thankfully, the anti-choice “counselor” did not talk her out of taking care of herself and her safety.

Because of this basic disregard for women’s well-being, I worried that anti-choicers would immediately start angling to find a way to use this study to try to bully abused women out of getting abortions those women deem necessary.  And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Life News deliberately lied about the research to make it seem that the abortion came before the abuse for these women, implying that the women brought violence onto themselves by choosing abortion.  In reality, of course, the abuse predated the abortion in all of these cases, which were taking the histories of women getting abortions.  By implying that the violence came after the abortion, Life News joins forces with wife beaters everywhere by using the threat of violence to control women’s bodies.

And this is why anti-choice claims to be “pro-woman” are so laughable.  You cannot be pro-woman while using the threat of domestic violence to control women’s reproductive choices.  You cannot be pro-woman while telling women lies about domestic violence and pregnancy in hopes they make choices that will usually end up putting them in more danger.  You cannot be pro-woman when you distort the realities of abortion and domestic violence in ways that will, if you’re successful, lead perhaps to fewer abortions but certainly towards more beaten and even murdered women.  

Sex Shaming and the Rhythm Method

6:44 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

According to the latest research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the proponents of abstinence-only can count one success in altering teenage sexual behavior.  No, they didn’t lower the rate of teenagers having sex, which the CDC indicates has stayed steady at around 4 in 10 teenagers (with 18 year-olds having sex at double the rate of those ages 15 to 17, despite media panics about younger teenagers having sex). Ab-only fans weren’t able to convince teenagers to marry younger.  Nor did they convince them that condoms are scary items that you should never touch unless you want to get cancer and rabies; most teenagers use condoms the first time they have sex. 

But despite all these failures, abstinence-only proponents have had one success.  The CDC also found that the percentage of teenage girls who use the rhythm method as birth control (at least some of the time) jumped from 11 percent in 2002 to 17 percent in 2008.  It’s high enough of a jump that it might explain why the teenage pregnancy rate is still as high as it is. 

Why blame abstinence-only proponents for this?  Don’t they just blithely tell young women to “just say no” and leave it at that?  Well, yes and no.  No one is under the impression that abstinence-only texts or speakers generally push the rhythm method, so much as they push the wedding ring as the cure for all your ills.  How you’re expected to control your fertility within marriage is rarely discussed at all in these programs.  Still, the rhythm method is associated with the prudish strand of Christian moralizing that also drives the abstinence-only movement, and so the more popular that kind of thinking, the more likely the rhythm method will be seen as a legitimate practice by teenagers. 

Additionally, we have to understand that periodic use of the rhythm method usually means telling yourself that you’re in an infertile period so that you can have sex without condoms, and not just abstaining during certain times, which is where the Catholic church tends to focus, due to the obsession with finding excuses to tell people to keep it in their pants.  Why would a young woman take the risk of guessing when she’s not fertile in order to skip the condoms?  Two reasons come to mind: Shame about sexuality and pressure from a male partner.  Let’s take these one at a time, and look at how abstinence-only increases the likelihood of both. 

Sexual shaming can dramatically increase the likelihood that an individual will look for excuses and rationalizations for not using contraception.  If you’re ashamed of having sex, every instance of buying a condom can be fraught with fear and shame—fear of being caught, shame of having to admit that you’re having sex, shame at what the cashier thinks of you.  In turn, this makes it easier for you to say, “We don’t need a condom this time; I don’t think I’m in a fertile period.”  The prevalence of abstinence-only programs only means that your average teenager is receiving a much bigger pile of shaming and fear-mongering about sex.  If the only message you’re allowed to receive about sex in school is one of shame, it becomes easier to imagine that every adult around you is judging and shaming you for sex, and thus, more important to you to minimize the amount of time you spend revealing this fact by doing things like buying condoms.

If you know much about sex education, or even if you’ve just been out in the world enough to know much about how people have sex, you probably know that condom negotiation in heterosexual encounters is often a responsibility that falls on female shoulders more than male ones.  Which is a nice way of saying that women are far more likely to have to demand condoms in the face of male resistance than the other way around.  This makes sense—between biological realities and sexist indoctrination, men are far less likely to be considering the risks of sex when in the mood to get to the pleasure part. 

This can make condom negotiation extremely hard, especially on younger women, who often don’t have enough experience to develop the tools to stand up for themselves. Abstinence-only can make this worse. The programs push extremely sexist views about gender roles, and put a special emphasis on how men only like women who are submissive and people-pleasing.  When you teach young women that no one will love them if they’re too self-assured, what do you think she’s going to feel when a young man is pressuring her to go condom-less?  In many cases, she’ll feel fear that demanding a condom will make the young man not like her anymore, and generally speaking, when you’re just about to have sex is not when you’re at your least vulnerable to wanting to be liked.  In many cases, it’s just going to be easier to say you’re probably not in a fertile  period. 

Why can’t we trust that teenage girls using the rhythm method are simply experts in their own fertility?  It’s possible a few are, but let’s face it.  To use the method effectively requires more than counting the days in your cycle.  You also have to take your temperature and measure mucus levels—all the sort of things that few teenage girls are unlikely to do.  Merely counting days is ineffective in women who have regular periods.  For teenage girls, who often have irregular periods, it’s basically a waste of time. In addition, the rhythm method offers no protection against STDs. 

Abstinence-only is still kicking after being snuck into the health care reform bill after the Obama administration defunded it through other channels.  But its impact is softened every time right-thinking politicians strike a blow against it.  Hopefully the next time the CDC takes this study, there will be more comprehensive sex education, and we’ll see improvements in contraceptive use amongst teenagers.

In Memory of Dr. Tiller: Reflections on the Death of An American Hero One Year Later

6:27 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

This post draws from entries made in the author’s personal journal.

Over the past year, RH Reality Check has extensively covered the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the ensuing trial of Scott Roeder, and related issues. You will find a compilation of those posts here.

31 May 2009; En Route from Washington, DC to Wichita, KS

Today began as a clear crisp sunny day in Washington, D.C. I was at a conference for a national advocacy organization. I found out at 12:30 pm that my recent boss, mentor and father-like figure had been murdered —gunned down at 10:15 am in the lobby of his church – Reformation Lutheran Church while waiting to return to where his wife was singing, as a member of the choir.

This is a devastating day in American history.

I guess we were too successful – I could feel it in the months just before his assassination. The anti-choice, domestic terrorists couldn’t stand that the laws in this land gave him the right to practice medicine. They couldn’t stand that juror after juror wouldn’t kowtow to their beliefs and prosecute him and shut him down. They couldn’t stand that we defeated elected officials at the polls and could win races against their antiquated philosophies. They couldn’t stand it – so they murdered him in cold blood in the church where he worshiped his God.

Those forces of hate, bigotry and rigid ideology are just like the forces of the Taliban that so many Americans rail against, which are merely separated by culture and geography. These are the same people who say that “All life is sacred.”  This statement should be amended to say – “All life is sacred if and only if you prescribe to a certain ideology that defines our existence in very narrow terms. Then, life is sacred.”

Dr. George Tiller was a fine and wonderful man. He taught me a lot in the years that I worked with him. He was tough, a teacher and a remarkable leader. He taught me much about life and how to approach problems in a positive manner. He taught me to make lemonade out of lemons. He taught me how to find solutions to problems, how to make the best of any situation, to find the silver lining.

He didn’t sit around and wait for life to lead him around. He followed his passion and his dreams; he created his own reality. He did what he was led to do and that which he loved.

It’s interesting the path that we can find ourselves on in life and where those paths can lead. I never intended to end up, for a longer term, in the women’s rights movement. It’s amazing where life forces help us end up if we listen to them.

I’ve heard this story so many times from him – Dr. Tiller was in the Navy – a doc – and was going to do a dermatology residency. Members of his family, including his parents, were in traveling in a small aircraft when it crashed. He came back to Kansas to close his late father’s medical practice and then get on with his dermatology residency. He never made it – instead, he fell in love with the family practice, which then predominately grew into a predominately reproductive health care practice over the years. What he found out, was that his dad performed abortions for his patients. I think this fact, this notion, sparked what became his life’s mission.

Going back to life’s direction and mission. Maybe that was his life goal. If we believe in a God, which I do in a way that is derived from the energy of the world – an energy both good and bad – then the energy of the universe – God – led his life in that direction. He was born to, led to be an icon in the women’s rights movement. That was the purpose for him. He was built just for that – to provide reproductive health care services to women – he did that well, above and beyond the call – he practiced medicine in a loving, compassionate, tender, nonjudgmental manner.

He understood that women had to be able to welcome, each child into their family unit. It’s called understanding the “heart” of a woman. No one can understand abortion until one understands the heart of a woman. That is exactly why abortion will always be around for myriad reasons – women cannot always welcome an addition into their families. They make choices based on the current dynamic and what is right for that family.

This is exactly why the antis can NEVER win this battle. Women are intelligent enough to make the right choices for themselves AND they will continue to make these choices – with or without bloodshed. They could murder all the providers and women will continue to seek abortions – regardless.

This is why the killing of such a great man is so senseless – one of the many reasons – he did not control the decision-making of women. Abortions will still take place – it’s not Dr. Tiller acting as puppeteer of all these women – its women saying to him – I need this to happen.

I’ve been fielding numerous phone calls today from friends, family, colleagues and the media. F*$# the press – I swear – story hasn’t even been out for a couple of hours and they’re calling me – as if it’s not a personal loss – as if his death is of no consequence.

It angers me because they’ll go talk to “the other side” and get the “we don’t approve of that” speech, but they won’t do anything to condemn it. They just perpetuate the dynamic. If they would stop treating them like they’re legitimate. They aren’t legitimate – they’re the devil, they’re murderers, they lie and say anything to get their way. It’s said in the Good Book that the devil will come in sheep’s clothing. I believe, with all my heart that these people are the devil. It is evil that gathers energy from that source.

I never would have thought in a million years that I would have worked with him. This opportunity came up and I seized it. It was a wonderful decision. I’ve never regretted my work with him, it was a wonderful ride. We needed to do a job and we did it. We didn’t have any bad legislation pass, we didn’t let them win the court cases; we didn’t let them always win at the polls – at least in the big ones. They couldn’t f@#%!*& take it that they were losing – then, of course, Obama’s election and then he announces Sotomayor as an appointee to SCOTUS. They had to be very angry. Nothing was going their way. The country was going to hell. The wrath of God was eminent. It was the ultimate act of self-righteousness; to think you have some divine calling to take another’s life.

One year later: 21 May 2010; St. Louis, MO

Dr. Tiller’s death has left the pro-woman community devastated and struggling to come to terms with his assassination. A vast hole was left in provider care after his murder. Additional physicians across the country have been stepping up, in an attempt to fill the gap that was left by his death. The pro-choice community has been struggling to determine how to best fend off anti-choice tactics meant to shut providers down and deny women access.

It has become apparent that the anti-choice have become emboldened by Dr. Tiller’s murder; which was also driven by vehement opposition to health care reform at the national level. The anti’s have moved swiftly in places such as Kansas and Nebraska to limit abortion care in those states. Anti-choice leaders have taken Dr. Tiller’s assassination, and the fact that other physicians would be stepping in to provide care, as an opportunity for passing more restrictive legislation and redefining our abortion laws in the states, with the intent of having a national impact.

The climate in state legislatures was frustrating, to put it mildly. Both Kansas and Nebraska tirelessly worked to ban late termination of pregnancy, Oklahoma cranked out a plethora of punitive anti-choice bills and Utah sought to criminalize certain actions of pregnant women – these bills only scratch the surface of restrictive legislation proposed across the country.

One thing has become clear over the past year, the pro-choice community has to reevaluate the way in which we approach activism across the country, especially states that are all too often written off as “red” states or “fly over” states,” when in fact, these are the areas of the country that need the pro-woman movement the most. We cannot abandon the women in any state, nor in any corner of this country if we’re going to have equal rights for ALL women in this great nation.

The time has come for us, as a movement, in our own collective ways, whether it’s through education or activism or political engagement, to meet the anti-woman forces on their “own” turf. We must not cede any section of this country.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a sign that Dr. Tiller put up against a truck in his clinic driveway the day after he was shot in 1993. The sign simply said, “Hell no, we won’t go.” That was his motto then and we need to make it our motto now.

Another saying of Dr. Tiller’s, that I’ve meditated on numerous times since his assassination is this, “The only requirement for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” This is why, in the darkest, bleakest hours, we must continue moving forward, one step at a time, one woman at a time, until we achieve equality for all people of this land.

We love you Dr. Tiller and thank you for being a leader and a beacon of light.

“Pro-Life:” Not What You Think It Means

6:39 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

On this week’s podcast, I interview Jessica Grose, who wrote an excellent article for Slate explaining why the Gallup polling that shows a jump in the number of Americans who identify as “pro-life” doesn’t necessarily mean what it might seem to initially.  After all, while 47% of Americans embraced the label “pro-life”, the number of Americans who thought abortion was “morally wrong” actually declined, and support for the right to abortion remains high.  So high, in fact, that the only logical conclusion is that some people who identify as “pro-life” must support the right to abortion. 

In other words, the term “pro-life” is more of a tribal identifier or a feel-good term than it is a political stance.  This become only clear when you consider that pro-life activists tend to follow the lead of the Vatican (even if they’re Protestant) and object to all forms of fertility control that offer women a reasonable amount of control over their own bodies.  If they had their way, women wouldn’t have condoms or the pill or diaphragms or anything besides the rhythm method, one that sows discontent in marriages because it turns sex into a scheduled event instead of a spontaneous demonstration of affection.  It’s basically impossible for most self-identified “pro-life” people to agree with objections to legal contraception. Daily Kos’s poll of Republicans found that 31% wanted contraception outlawed.  That sounds like a lot initially, but that was only amongst Republicans, who are usually far more conservative than the rest of the country. Most people who call themselves “pro-life” flout the movement to use and support the use of contraception.

So when anti-choice organizations advertise this Gallup polling as evidence of their success, we have to note that they’re exaggerating their own effectiveness.  They may be able to guilt and cajole people into adopting a feel-good term like “pro-life”, but they haven’t been effective in getting Americans to support outlawing abortion, much less contraception.  They’ve even failed in their mission to get Americans to support abstinence-only education, i.e. tricking sexually active kids into not using the hated contraception. 

Most people are quite capable of adopting feel-good labels for themselves without following it up with action or even belief.  Consider how many conservative women like Sarah Palin claim to be “feminists”, even though they object to pretty much everything that actual feminists work for.  That’s the problem with labels—there’s no minimum standard you have to meet to take one on.  When someone calls herself “pro-life”, that is as likely as not to mean “I want you to think of me as a sexually modest person who loves rainbows and babies”, and doesn’t necessarily mean that the person wearing the label supports banning abortion, refrains from premarital sex, objects to contraception, or will never have an abortion herself.  It means mainly that the anti-choice movement has been effective at creating and disseminating a feel-good label.

None of this, however, means that pro-choicers should entirely dismiss the Gallup poll. One of the things that alarm me about the dissemination of the “pro-life” label is that it does work well in increasing the stigma attached to abortion.  And as Carole Joffe demonstrated in her book Dispatches From The Abortion Wars, when abortion is stigmatized, even people that support the right become afraid to defend it.  And that allows a small but vocal misogynist, hard line minority to push through increasingly miserable restrictions.  Someone who identifies as “pro-life” and still wants legal abortion and contraception is simply less likely to stand up against those who would restrict it.  She doesn’t want to be tarred with the brush activist anti-choicers use against those who support reproductive rights—that we’re sluts and users and anti-family. 

The widespread popularity of the term “pro-life” indicates above all that anti-choicers have been successful in intimidating the American population into caring what they think about us.  You certainly see this in the mainstream media coverage of the abortion wars.  Journalists and pundits pander to the notion that the anti-choice movement is composed of a group of people with deeply felt moral convictions that should be respected, instead of portraying them accurately as wild-eyed fanatics who have convinced themselves that they can get people to quit having sex through enough legal restriction of reproductive health care and education.  The widespread popularity of the term “pro-life” also owes a lot to this mincing media coverage.  Your average member of the public has no way of knowing how radical the movement is that they align themselves with when they call themselves “pro-life.”  If more people understood that activists use the term to indicate a hard-line position against legal abortion and contraception, way more people would abandon the term.

What to do about it?  Pro-choicers tend to navel gaze when it comes to dealing with the propaganda machine that created the term “pro-life”.  We want to come up with an equally good term and compete with them on their level.  Generally speaking, I think this is a bad idea.  Pro-choicers can’t ever really compete with anti-choicers on the same plane—we don’t have the same stomach for misrepresentation and intimidation as they do, nor should we want those things.  Instead of trying to win a propaganda war against an opposition that doesn’t feel constrained by the ethical responsibility to be honest, we should instead look to making it harder for anti-choicers to mislead the public on who they are.  And we should start by pressuring the mainstream media to drop the use of the fuzzy, meaningless term “pro-life,” and replace it with more accurate terms such as “opponents of legal abortion,” “anti-contraception” or “anti-choice.” 

NPR has already taken this step.  Opponents and supporters of abortion rights will be referred to with those terms, instead of “pro-life” or “pro-choice.”  It’s a good first step, and hopefully NPR will continue down this path of embracing accuracy and start covering the way that the anti-choice movement also fights sex education and legal contraception.    

Are Catholic Hospitals Safe for Pregnant Women?

6:33 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

The news of the excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride, the nun at a St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix who approved an abortion that was necessary to save the life of a woman, has shocked and angered both the devout and the non-religious alike. 

Catholics for Choice condemned the action via press release, stating:

"[I]t is clear that the Vatican’s hard line on abortion led to this terrible situation. Sadly, we see situations like this time after time, both here in the US and abroad. The Vatican’s outright ban on all abortions is insensitive and reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of women’s lives, including the difficult decisions that often have to be made during a pregnancy.

Reasonable Catholics the world over acknowledge that access to abortion is sometimes necessary, and our polling and that of other organizations shows that a large majority of Catholics reject the Vatican’s outright ban on all abortions."

Reasonable Catholics may very well reject the outright ban on abortion, but it seems that these are not the Catholics who often get to make the final decision on medical procedures that occur within hospital walls.  Because, unfortunately, situations like the one in the Arizona hospital occur with great frequency, and women’s lives and medical requests are often ignored in the name of religious doctrine.

Earlier this month the Journal of General Internal Medicine released a study showing how rampant the disagreement is between Catholic hospitals and the doctors who provide care for patients.  From the American Medical News Association:

Most of the physicians reporting conflicts worked in Catholic hospitals, which account for 12.5% of all U.S. community-based hospitals and 15.5% of hospital admissions, according to the Catholic Health Assn. of the United States.

Catholic hospitals are required to follow the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ religious directives on medical care that bar contraception, abortion and sterilization and, in many instances, rule out ending artificial hydration and nutrition.

When conflicts arise, 86% of surveyed physicians said they would encourage patients to seek the recommended care at another hospital. Ten percent said they would offer an alternative treatment that could be delivered at the religious hospital, and 4% endorsed violating the hospital’s policy to provide the care.

The author of the study, Dr. Debra Stulberg, has had her own issues with medical directives being overturned by Catholic hospital administrators, and in one case a woman would have been forced to put her life in danger just to avoid abortion.

Family physician Debra Stulberg, M.D., was completing her residency in 2004 when West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, Illinois, was acquired by the large Catholic system Resurrection Health Care. "They assured us that patient care would be unaffected," Dr. Stulberg says. "But then I got to see the reality." The doctor was struck by the hoops women had to jump through to get basic care. "One of my patients was a mother of four who had wanted a tubal ligation at delivery but was turned down," she says. "When I saw her not long afterward, she was pregnant with unwanted twins."

And in emergency scenarios, Dr. Stulberg says, the newly merged hospital did not offer standard-of-care treatments. In one case that made the local paper, a patient came in with an ectopic pregnancy: an embryo had implanted in her fallopian tube. Such an embryo has zero chance of survival and is a serious threat to the mother, as its growth can rupture the tube. The more invasive way to treat an ectopic is to surgically remove the tube. An alternative, generally less risky way is to administer methotrexate, a drug also used for cancer. It dissolves the pregnancy but spares the tube, preserving the women’s fertility. "The doctor thought the noninvasive treatment was best," Dr. Stulberg recounts. But Catholic directives specify that even in an ectopic pregnancy, doctors cannot perform "a direct abortion"—which, the on-call ob/gyn reasoned, would nix the drug option. (Surgery, on the other hand, could be considered a lifesaving measure that indirectly kills the embryo, and may be permitted.) The doctor didn’t wait to take it up with the hospital’s ethical committee; she told the patient to check out and head to another ER.

Waiting for the ethical committee to approve would not only delay the patient’s care and put her life in danger, it still couldn’t guarantee a positive outcome for the patient.  After all, it was Sister Margaret McBride’s ruling on the committee in favor of saving the mother’s life in Arizona that got her excommunicated.  How many members of the church are willing to risk what they believe to be their immortal souls to defy the church, even if it means saving a woman’s life?

And truly, many of these are cases of saving a woman’s life.  Women who are already in danger due to their pre-existing conditions are being told that not only are they so expendable, and that these hospitals will not perform the abortions that would save their lives, but that they should further risk their lives by seeking out some other place that might provide them care, such as Michelle Lee, who had to travel to a different state to have a necessary procedure performed.

In 1998, the Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport refused to provide an abortion for Michelle Lee, a woman with cardiomyopathy who was on the waiting list for a heart transplant, despite her cardiologist’s warning that the pregnancy might kill her. Hospital policy dictated that to qualify for an abortion, a woman’s risk of dying had to be greater than 50 percent if her pregnancy was carried to term; a committee of physicians ruled that Lee did not meet this criterion. Since her cardiomyopathy made an outpatient abortion too dangerous, she traveled 100 miles to Texas by ambulance to have her pregnancy terminated.

The woman’s risk of dying has to be greater than 50 percent.  And even then, who gets to determine if her risk is above 50 percent, if the doctors are being overruled by the Catholic hospital administrators?  As Dr. Debra Stulberg’s attending put it to her, "So, it looks like we’re going to be working for the Pope."

Do you want the Pope deciding on your medical care?

Stoking Fire: Examining Adoption’s Pitfalls

8:31 am in Health care, Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Ryan Scott Bomberger thanks his lucky stars that Henry and Andrea Bomberger, a Christian couple from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, adopted him in 1971, when he was six weeks old. Then, after taking Ryan, who is biracial, into their home, the Caucasian couple adopted nine more kids—of all races and hues—and reared them alongside their three biological children. According to Ryan, he and his siblings had a near-idyllic upbringing. “Our parents exemplified compassion, wisdom, and unconditional love,” he wrote in an email. “They weren’t out to save the world, just love kids that needed to be loved.”

Sounds lovely.

By all accounts, Ryan did well in school and, accepting his parents’ faith, he spent his undergraduate years at Messiah College. He later attended Pat Robertson’s Regent University where he earned a Master’s in Communications.

Now, more than a decade after completing his studies, Bomberger is a man on an anti-abortion mission and he makes no bones about wanting to broadcast his message. As the creator of the “black genocide” billboards that went up in Atlanta earlier this year, his impassioned advocacy of adoption is deeply intertwined with anti-choice rhetoric.

Bomberger owes his existence to rape and says that he can imagine his birth mother’s suffering.  “Rape is evil,” he said via email. “The child born of rape is the only beauty that comes from such a life-crushing experience.” He acknowledges that many anti-abortion activists—though not him–make an exception for women who have been impregnated by rape or incest. “I don’t believe that following an injustice to one precious human being with injustice to another [the unborn child] is justice at all,” he wrote.

Bomberger spreads his bombast on a host of websites:;;; and, among them. He’s also developed the oddly-named, which perpetuates a slew of myths about prochoice beliefs. “I am one of the unwanted children,” he pontificates. “I am the one that the abortion movement preaches will never live a happy life.”

Say what? While Bomberger and I don’t hang in the same circles, as far as I know no prochoicer has ever tried to predict a fetus’ future. Instead, we focus on women, zeroing in on how unwanted pregnancies impact their lives. What’s more, adoption has always been part of the mix. In fact, that’s why many women’s health facilities provide comprehensive services, from abortion to adoption, for those in need.  At the same time, we’re realistic, acknowledging the pain of the approximately 40,000 women a year whose babies are surrendered to adoptive homes throughout the 50 states.

Ask anyone who has relinquished a child, and they’ll tell you: It doesn’t matter if the placement occurred before Roe or more recently—there’s always anguish. According to the Adoption Education Center, “All birth parents must deal with grief.”  And it’s not something that can be swept under the rug. “Unresolved grief can cause problems in a number of areas,” AEC’s website reports. “It can affect romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, the ability to work effectively, and a person’s feelings of happiness and usefulness… Some need professional help to deal with the emotions that accompany the loss… Just about all birth parents wonder how their son or daughter is doing, especially when the child has reached the age for important events.”

These findings don’t surprise reproductive rights activist Susan E. Davis. Davis says that she became a women’s health advocate in 1961, after a close friend became pregnant out of wedlock. “When I came home from college I called Sheila. Her mom told me that she’d gotten pregnant and was living with her aunt 35 miles away,” she begins. “I can’t describe the feelings I had because unwed pregnancy was so shrouded in secrecy and shame."

Still, I immediately called Sheila and said, ‘I’m coming to see you.’ My mother let me borrow her car and for the next few months, until Sheila delivered in July, I went to see her two or three times a week. Sheila had originally thought she’d marry the baby’s father, but the guy’s mother didn’t like her so they didn’t tie the knot. It was heartbreaking when she had the baby. She held her once, then gave her up for adoption. She later got married—twice—but it took until maybe 10 years ago for her to tell her two children about their older sister. Sheila has put out feelers for the child she gave up, but her daughter has never responded. Sheila is a very upbeat, loving woman but I know this remains a deep wound for her.

The devastating after-effects of adoption were further hammered home for Davis when another friend recounted something that happened to her two decades after she placed her newborn with an adoptive family.  “Joan told me that one day she developed a horrific migraine. She said her entire body ached and she felt absolutely awful. Later, she realized that the headache coincided with the 21st birthday of the child she’d given up. She was grieving. Her body remembered what had happened.”

“Sure, adoption should be an option,” Davis concludes. “But there is a tremendous element of loss when a woman gives up a child–and it lingers.”

Ryan Bomberger glosses over these realities, and instead focuses exclusively on his grateful-to-be-alive message. But since he and his birth mother have never met, her life trajectory remains a complete unknown. I only hope she’s as happy and fulfilled as he is.

The Oklahoma Law and My Ultrasound

7:16 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

On Tuesday, while the Oklahoma Legislature was voting to override a gubernatorial veto and reinstate a law requiring women to have ultrasounds before allowing them to have an abortion, I was, well, having an ultrasound. This is not the first state law that requires this procedure prior to abortion but this one takes it one step further and mandates that the doctor or technician set up a monitor so the woman can see it and that he or she describe the heart, limbs, and organs of the fetus. The law does not make an exception for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Perhaps, it was because I’d just gone through the procedure or perhaps it’s just the pregnancy hormones raging through my system but the thought of a woman being forced to go through this when all she wanted was to exercise her legal and moral right to terminate the pregnancy made me cry. That kind of manipulation is cruel.

My husband tried to console me by saying that I shouldn’t worry, at those very early ultrasounds the images are so murky and the fetus has so little resemblance to a human baby that it will not successfully convince any woman to change her mind. He may be right – at my first scan, the fetus was more alien than baby. Then again, I could see and hear a heartbeat, and despite the fact that the fetus was smaller than a grape, the magnified images let me see a tiny developing spine. We’ve all watched those stereotypical scenes in movies and sitcoms where a couple goes to the OB and are chatting, fighting, texting, or otherwise not paying attention until the sound of the heartbeat stops them cold and brings tears to their eyes. Clearly, changing the mind of women who are seeking abortions is exactly what the lawmakers are hoping to do but I’m not sure that whether they succeed matters. Just trying is degrading and damaging to women.

I wanted to be pregnant, so for me the goal of the 8-week scan was to hear a heartbeat and confirm that this was a viable pregnancy. After all, at that stage of pregnancy one doesn’t look pregnant or necessarily feel any different. It was heartening to learn that the home pregnancy test was right. I wouldn’t exactly say that it was an emotional experience for me but the thought “okay, there really is something in there” kept going through my head. In my opinion, this isn’t a thought that women seeking an abortion in early pregnancy should be forced to have.

Our society seems to have a romantic fantasy about the unplanned pregnancy that changes a woman’s life for the better. Think about the Judd Apatow movie, Knocked Up, or the new Jenna Elfman sitcom, Accidently On Purpose. We seem to enjoy the idea that an unexpected pregnancy can join two unlikely people together and created an instant loving family. One of the lawmakers who voted for this veto has clearly bought into such a vision saying that, “maybe someday these babies will grow up to be police officers and arrest bad people, or will find a cure for cancer.” In real life, though, it rarely works that way.

Most women who seek abortions know what they want; they have made a well-reasoned, intelligent decision that for whatever reason — be it relationship, money, job situation, or long-term goals– carrying this pregnancy to term would not be good for them, for their families, or for the resulting child. These women do not need somebody to say: “Really, are you sure? Before you say anything let me just show you a heartbeat, your baby’s heartbeat.” Such questions are manipulative, patronizing, and unfair.

Similarly, women who go to a clinic and are unsure of the option that is best for them should also not be exposed to such manipulations. These women need to sit down with an informed and impartial counselor who has no agenda of her own and is not required to promote the agenda of conservative lawmakers.

Unfortunately, the Oklahoma law has a second provision that is even more insidious. This provision prevents women who have had a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb. According to the New York Times, “…the bill’s sponsors maintain that it merely prevents lawsuits by people who wish, in hindsight, that a doctor had counseled them to abort a disabled child.” That explanation seems suspect to me, and I agree with choice advocates who see this as designed to protect doctors who purposely mislead women to keep them from having abortions.

The ultrasound I had on Tuesday is referred to as an anatomy scan and typically takes place in the 20th week of pregnancy, the halfway point. The 45-minute procedure goes over every centimeter of the developing fetus and carefully measures the arms, legs, brain, and kidneys. It takes a detailed look at all four chambers of the heart, and checks blood flow through the umbilical cord. And, for expectant parents who want to know, it can determine the biological sex by carefully examining the genitals.

There was, in fact, a monitor set up directly in front of me. Half the time, my husband and I had no idea what we were looking at but certain things were obvious. The head looked like a head, possibly one of skeleton, but a head nonetheless. Each vertebrae of the spine was visible, and the hands and feet were unmistakable. Such tests answer the question “does it have ten fingers and ten toes?” long before birth. Of course, we all know that that age-old question is a bit of a stand-in for: “Is everything normal?” or “Is there anything wrong?”

If, the technician had found that there was no blood flow to one of the fetus’s kidney, that the heart was growing outside the its chest, or any other number of anomalies that can now be determined pre-birth, my husband and I would have had to make a decision about whether to continue the pregnancy. In this case, we would have turned to the doctors not to “counsel us to abort a disabled child,” but to give us the information we needed to make that decision for ourselves. To tell us based on the extent of the anomaly and the most up-to-date research what we could anticipate for this child. The thought that the sonographer or the physician on call could withhold information from us in order to influence our decision sends shivers down my spine.

In this pregnancy alone, I have had 6 sonograms, all performed by different technicians and physicians none of whom I have met more than once. I have no idea what their personal views are on abortion and I shouldn’t have to care. But this law, in essence, allows their opinions on abortion to be more important than my own.

In truth, I was a little disappointed with technician to whom I was assigned on Tuesday. While the other ones had smiled and said things like “oh that looks good” throughout the procedure, this one had a serious look on her face that bordered on a scowl and stayed quiet unless prompted. Not the reassurance I needed. At one point, confirming the amniocentesis’s finding that the fetus is a girl, she said, “yes, I don’t see a pee-pee.” I later joked to friends that the sex educator in me felt compelled to reply “ok, but do you see labia?”

For women in Oklahoma, the technician who they pick out of the phone book or to whom they are referred is no joking matter – it can now mean a lifetime of raising a disabled child because somebody else thought they should. Moreover, while I was able to trust my technician’s professional opinion despite our personality differences, until this law is struck down by a court, and I have to believe it will be, women in Oklahoma can no longer have such feelings of trust.

And that, even without a system full of pregnancy hormones, is enough to make me want to cry.