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20-Week Abortion Bans and the Pathway to the Supreme Court

12:47 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Supreme Court

Anti-Abortion laws are part of a complex strategy to retest Roe V Wade at the Supreme Court.

In the “war on women,” 20-week abortion bans have become a rallying point for both pro- and anti-choice camps alike. While Texas’ recently-enacted law, which among other things bans abortions after 20 weeks, may have garnered most of the media attention in recent weeks, so far 13 states have passed similar bans, and three states have passed even more restrictive laws, prohibiting abortions as early as six weeks’ gestation. Nevertheless, these 20-week abortion bans have been gaining traction.

Much has been written about the politics behind these laws—especially the false claims that they are designed to protect women—but so far, there has been relatively little coverage of the anti-choice litigation strategy in relation to these bans. For instance, how do anti-choice campaigners intend to persuade the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade? Of all the various state anti-abortion laws, which one is most likely to be used as the test case at the national level?

The Supreme Court won’t review its long-standing abortion jurisprudence unless it has to. Given the controversial nature of abortion, a simple appeal from a state to clarify abortion law probably won’t prompt the Court to act. (The Oklahoma supreme court recently tried this tactic when it struck down Oklahoma’s ultrasound law and practically begged the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case; the Court didn’t bite.) What will prompt the Supreme Court to act is a conflict between the laws that apply in one circuit and the laws that apply in another.

“Circuit” is a fancy legal term for a group of states. The country is split into eleven circuits, plus the D.C. Circuit, with one federal appeals court in charge of setting the law for each of the circuits. If one circuit court sets law that is different than the law that applies in another circuit, then a legal mess—or, as it is sometimes called, a “circuit split”—results. And since the Supreme Court likes to have laws that bind the entire country, it will intervene to resolve the circuit split.

The push for 20-week abortion bans is part of a national strategy implemented by anti-choice advocates to create exactly the sort of legal mess that will force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and to revisit the viability standard that has served as the constitutional foundation for abortion rights for 40 years.

An analysis by RH Reality Check suggests that the strategy deployed by anti-choicers is deeply subversive. It capitalizes on personal feelings and anti-abortion hostilities by enticing judges and legislatures to abandon empirical science in favor of biased, agenda-driven science or, as it is sometimes called, “junk science.” Proponents of junk science, which has become a cottage industry among anti-abortion advocates, confuse the issue of fetal viability, invent claims about fetuses feeling pain (or masturbating in utero), and call into question established medical standards.

The strategy is a smart one, to be sure. Anti-choicers understand that once junk science has been incorporated into legislation, courts are not inclined to question those scientific findings—no matter how agenda-driven they are—and will simply apply the law to those “facts.” In cases when junk science is presented to a court, a judge (or justice) hostile to abortion rights requires only the flimsiest reasoning to ground their legal opinion in fact, even if those “facts” are anything but factual.

It is hard to fathom that any court would find these pernicious bans constitutional. After all, the Constitution guarantees a right to choose abortion up until the point of fetal viability, which occurs well after 20 weeks’ gestation. Nevertheless, anti-choice advocates are alarmingly optimistic about their chances in making these bans stick—at least, some are.

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Forty Years After Roe, “Choice” No Longer Means Much in Michigan

9:43 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

From my vantage point in Michigan, celebrations of Roe v. Wade‘s 40th anniversary have felt decidedly bittersweet. Earlier this month, Governor Snyder signed HB 5711 into law — Michigan’s anti-abortion super-bill, which will prohibit the telemed prescription of medical abortion, force all women seeking safe abortion care to undergo “coercion screenings,” and enact a number of costly regulations on abortion clinics and providers, inevitably forcing many clinics to close their doors. All of this is in a state that already required a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion, where minors cannot obtain an abortion without parental consent, and where 87 percent of counties do not have a single abortion provider. The meaning of “choice” here in Michigan — as in many other states in the country — has eroded a great deal since that day 40 years ago when the Roe decision was handed down. How did we end up here? And more importantly, how do we move forward?

Under the language of the Roe v. Wade decision as it was written in 1973, it was extremely difficult for states to pass laws restricting access to abortion care, at least during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. Though the decision fell short of guaranteeing abortion access as a right, it did not allow for state intervention in regulating abortion except in cases where such regulations could be shown to be of clear medical benefit. In 1976, the Hyde amendment dealt a massive blow to abortion access by prohibiting the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion; in the years between Roe and Hyde, approximately 295,000 abortions annually were paid for with Medicaid funds. With Hyde’s passage, access to abortion instantly became a privilege, out of reach to many who needed it most. But it was not until the early 1990s that state legislatures gained the authority to restrict abortion in the myriad ways that have become so familiar to us today. In the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court ruled that states were free to place regulations and restrictions on abortion access so long as those restrictions did not impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to choose. State lawmakers were no longer required to argue that abortion restrictions had medical benefits; on the contrary, they became free to openly acknowledge the ideological basis behind their proposed restrictions on abortion access. Suddenly, it was open season for creating barriers between women and abortion. And the murky question of what, precisely, constitutes an “undue burden” remains open to interpretation.

At the same time as states were granted this far-reaching power, a cultural shift surrounding abortion had taken place. Twenty years after Roe, a generation had come of age taking legal abortion for granted. In the days before Roe, it was necessary for abortion-rights activists to speak of abortion in terms that were bold and affirmative. But in the years that followed, as legal abortion became a given rather than something to fight for, even those who identified as pro-choice began to increasingly speak of abortion as a necessary evil rather than celebrating it as an essential ingredient for women’s equality. Bill Clinton was lauded as the first unabashedly pro-choice president, yet he popularized the now oft-heard refrain that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Legal abortion was defended most often on the grounds that without it, women would simply be endangered by illegal abortions, either self-inflicted at the hands of “butchers.” This notion — that abortion must remain legal only because it will happen anyway, and it’s safer this way — is a far cry from the notion that women have a right to bodily autonomy, and that without access to safe abortion care, women cannot be entirely free in a world where we cannot control our own reproductive lives. Even Planned Parenthood, when threatened, tends to publicly respond by downplaying its abortion services and focusing instead on the other health services the organization provides. And it is this ambivalent treatment of abortion — as an unpleasant, shameful, but necessarily legal thing — which invites support for all manner of restrictions.

Perhaps nowhere is this ambivalence about abortion as evident as a state like Michigan. We are not a Southern state, known for our biblical conservatism — the kind of environment where extreme restrictions on abortion are expected. We are, in many ways, the quintessential Midwest: blue-collar, working-class, and characterized, if anything, by a desire to be polite and reasonable. We are a state that does not want to rock the boat, that does not want to talk about religion and politics at the dinner table. It is precisely the kind of environment where people want abortion to remain legal, but are generally uncomfortable with the topic, and are easily persuaded that abortion restrictions are simply good common sense. Though at this particular moment we are governed by both a predominantly Republican legislature and a Republican Governor, anti-choice Democrats are easily elected here, and those who do claim to be pro-choice are often still supportive of restricting access to safe abortion care. It was a democratic former Governor, James Blanchard, who signed our parental notification requirement into law. And years later, yet another Democrat, Jennifer Granholm, signed off on the “informed consent” legislation mandating 24-hour waiting periods and requiring that any woman in need of an abortion be given state-produced materials detailing the current developmental stage of the embryo or fetus she is carrying. We are a state, in other words, where the dividing line between “pro-choice” and “anti-choice” is often not so clear, and where that divide certainly does not fall neatly along partisan lines.

For many years now, even many who identify as “pro-choice” have been all too willing to accept any and all abortion restrictions so long as abortion remains at least officially legal. But what does it mean for abortion to be technically legal if it is inaccessible to the majority of women who need it? Many people today don’t realize that legal abortion did take place in America before Roe v. Wade. But obtaining one required the often traumatic and dehumanizing process of going before a hospital “abortion board” to request permission for a legal abortion. Or, alternatively, in the late sixties and early seventies, women with the resources to do so could travel to one of the states where abortion had been legalized pre-Roe. The majority of Americans do not wish to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But the restrictions we are living with today have, in essence, already returned us to a pre-Roe era: one in which legal abortion exists, but is extremely difficult to come by. The purpose of the fight for Roe was not simply to make some abortions available for some women in positions of privilege. The purpose was to make abortion equally available to all women who need them. And the state of Michigan today — along with many other states in the country — falls extremely short of this ideal.

If we are to truly defend abortion rights — not simply preserve legal abortion in an empty sense — we need to reclaim the urgency of those before us who fought to legalize it in the first place. We need to stop treating abortion as a dirty word, but instead be willing to positively affirm it as a vital component of reproductive health care. We need to stop taking abortion access for granted, and to stop living with the illusion that so long as Roe has not been overturned, abortion is available for the women who need it. And we need, finally, to reclaim the dialogue surrounding reproductive rights. Abortion access always has been, and always will be, a key component to women’s equality. And it’s time we get back to speaking boldly about abortion in terms of women’s liberation, not fetal personhood.

If there were actual, serious talk of outright banning abortion in America, I believe there would be a massive outcry of resistance. But we need to realize that, at least in many states, the situation is just this dire. If we are to build the kind of social movement that’s strong enough to fight back against these attacks on reproductive freedom, we must begin by fully recognizing just how serious the consequences of these restrictions are. If we want to honor the legacy of Roe, let’s do so by remembering the spirit and the intent of those who fought for it. Let’s not continue to believe we are honoring Roe by sitting by and allowing it to be stripped of all real meaning. “Choice” means nothing in a world where there is no access. As Michigan faces a future with few remaining clinics, higher abortion costs, and a rapidly increasing list of obstacles women must pass through before being permitted to obtain an abortion, that world without choice is not some far off, conservative dystopia. It is here now. And we must first recognize the severity of the situation we’re in if we are to find a way out.

The So-Called Personhood and Fetal Pain Bans, and the Race to the Supreme Court Steps

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Chief Justice Roberts

Chief Justice Roberts

In their bid to undo Roe v. Wade, anti-choice activists are in a race to see which of their abortion-restrictions can find its way to the Roberts Court first.  So far two distinct avenues to get Supreme Court review have emerged, the push to recognize fertilized eggs as persons under the law, and and 20-week “fetal pain” bans. And while “personhood” initiatives are designed by their nature to challenge Roe directly, it is the fetal pain bans that are most likely to undo the decision altogether.

To understand why personhood won’t likely doom Roe but fetal pain bans will we have to look at not just the language of these two abortion restrictions, but the legal strategy afoot in their passage. Take the most recent legal battle over fertilized eggs-as-people in Oklahoma.

Last spring Personhood Oklahoma circulated a proposed ballot initiative that would have amended the state constitution to define a person as “any human being from the beginning of biological development” which as the state attorney general explained, meant fertilization. The matter was immediately challenged by the ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights. The state Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion, declared the initiative “void on its face” because it directly contradicted precedent from Roe, through Planned Parenthood v. Casey and beyond and was therefore, in the court’s words, “constitutionally repugnant.”

Now, while the Oklahoma personhood initiative obviously conflicts with federal law recognizing a woman’s fundamental right to privacy (which includes a right to chose abortion), neither the ballot initiative process nor the ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court that blocked it addressed any issues of federal law. This point was made by Ryan Kiesel of the ACLU of Oklahoma in an interview with RH Reality Check:

“This case never presented any federal issues for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider,” Kiesel said. “For the Supreme Court to have intervened it would have to hold that the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s interpretation of Roe and Casey was so flawed that they could jump in.”

Kiesel explained. “States have reserved to them right to afford their state citizens the opportunity to hold a referendum or initiative on their own, and the federal courts have said that states have lots of leeway in running that process. For example, states can limit the ballot or initiative process to measures related only to revenue and taxation. In Oklahoma we have a restriction on the initiative process that prevents it from being used as a weapon to create a test case. Which is exactly what was being done here.”

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Affirmative Action, Marriage Equality, and Voting Rights: A Look at the New Supreme Court Term

10:33 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Last year’s historic decisions upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and striking as unconstitutional most of Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law set the tone for what promises to be an even more exciting and historic 2012-2103 term at the high court.

The term, which begins today, Monday, October 1, already promises a handful of marquee cases, including a direct challenge to affirmative action in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in two separate but parallel cases — Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger — that universities have a compelling interest in creating a diverse student body and that they may consider race as one factor, among many, in deciding which students to admit. In 2005, after those cases were decided and in an effort to increase diversity of its student body, the University of Texas adopted an admissions program that was modeled in part on the Michigan program the Supreme Court had upheld in those decisions and as a supplement to its Ten Percent Plan — which automatically admitted the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class. The shift was based on the assumption that, de facto, most Texas schools are still segregated.

Abigail Fisher, a white student who was not in the top ten percent of her class, was denied admission to the school and challenged the policy by arguing that the court erred in looking at race as a factor in her admission decision. Now the Roberts Court will decide the case, a fact that makes many affirmative-action defenders anxious since the Chief Justice is on record as opposing any kind of policy that is not “race neutral” across the board.

The other sure-thing case before the Court is Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a case the Court will hear on the first day of arguments. In that case the Court will consider whether Congress intended the Alien Tort Statute, a law that says non-citizens can sue American corporations in American courts for conduct of those corporations abroad, to also hold American corporations accountable for human rights abuses committed abroad. The Kiobel challenge gets to the very heart of the law by questioning whether individuals who suffered severe human rights abuses abroad can sue those responsible for the abuses in the United States or whether those individuals are stuck with the laws and jurisdiction of where the abuses took place. If there’s been one consistent theme from the Roberts Court it is the expansion of corporate rights at the expense of individual rights and Kiobel looks to be another case that may cement that theme at a time when corporate accountability abroad is needed now more than ever.

There are two other big issues likely to come before the Court this term: marriage equality and a challenge to the Voting Rights Act. The question is how they get before the Court because that answer will tell a lot about how the Court will likely rule.

E.J. Graff has a great overview on the various challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) working their way up to the Court, as well as the challenge to California’s Prop 8. Which case the Court decides to hear will make all the difference in outcome, because Supreme Court law all depends on the way an issue is framed. There are five challenges to DOMA from which the Court could chose; each are limited in their scope and framing and each places the issue of same-sex marriage in the context of federal power. Specifically, the DOMA challenges ask: Does the federal government have the right to pick and choose which state marriages it recognizes without violating the equal protection guarantees of the Constitution?

In many ways that’s an easier question to frame for a conservative-leaning court than the question at the heart of the Proposition 8 challenge: Do same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the Constitution? The Roberts Court has been outright hostile to the idea of any kind of fundamental rights, and would undoubtedly see this as an expansion of constitutional access, something the most strident of its justices have made a career trying to prevent. If the Court decides to hear Perry v. Brown in an effort to answer this question it could spell bad news for marriage equality.

Similar to marriage equality the Court has several avenues to attack the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). First is the possibility of the Court agreeing to review Shelby County v. Holder, a case where the Department of Justice objected to changes in Alabama voting law on which the DOJ has since backed off, or through several other challenges to the VRA in the appellate courts from Florida and Texas.

Each of the possible challenges question Section 5 of the VRA which requires the federal government to “pre-clear” any changes to election laws in certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination. In an earlier voting rights challenge Chief Justice Roberts questioned the constitutionality of Section 5 but did not rule on it outright. This term may give him a chance to strike one of the most important achievements of the modern civil rights statutes.

There are a handful of other important questions the Court will also answer with regard to the rights of criminal defendants, and with a future challenge to Roe v. Wade only a year or two away at most, history may look at the Roberts Court as the conservative response to the great progressive days of the Warren Court. At least that’s how it is shaping up right now.

Losing the Right to Abortion Later in Pregnancy

2:14 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

 Cross-posted with permission from the ANSIRH blog.

While access to abortion is increasingly restricted in many states, options for women needing an abortion after 20 weeks have narrowed dramatically.

In April 2010, Nebraska became the first state in the country to pass a restriction on abortion after 20 weeks, based on an unscientific claim that fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks gestation. The Nebraska law banned abortions after 20 weeks for any reason except if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

Prior to the passage of this law in Nebraska, there were 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) where abortion was available after 20 weeks. Although in most of these states these services were dependent on one site and one physician, nonetheless the services existed. Since April 2010, legislation limiting abortions to 20 weeks has been signed into law in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. Bills making access to later abortion more difficult were passed in Missouri and Ohio.

Arizona’s lawmakers have gone even further. Although the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion through the second trimester, generally understood as 24-26 weeks, Arizona has redefined biology and the right to abortion and banned abortion after 18 weeks LMP (from the last menstrual period). The trimester construction of Roe is becoming irrelevant in many states.

And perhaps it is time to move beyond the trimester construction established in Roe — but not for the reasons put forth by those opposed to abortion under all circumstances. We must expand our advocacy to include women who seek abortions later in pregnancy.

Studies show that many women who present at clinics after 20 weeks wanted an earlier abortion, but faced financial hurdles and legal barriers — barriers which have increased as states pass new waiting periods, facility regulations, and other laws that restrict access to care. Other women face a diagnosis of fetal anomaly later in pregnancy. For still other women, circumstances shift and a wanted pregnancy becomes untenable when a woman’s partner leaves, her young child develops a serious illness and needs her full attention, or someone in the family loses his/her job and/or health insurance.

These life situations do not fall neatly into a trimester construction. All of these women need to be able to make decisions about their futures, their lives, and their health.

The restrictions on later abortion are part of a broad attack on women’s fundamental right to abortion. We must come together to find new strategies to protect existing services, help women who need later abortion care to get to those states where the services are still provided, build understanding and compassion for every woman’s unique life situation, and stand up for the right of every woman to access the abortion she needs; as early as possible, and as late as necessary.

The Abortion Wars: The Real People Behind the Restrictions

11:24 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

The last ten days or so we have seen Republicans, and their religious allies, wage a war against contraception—and bungle it badly. With poll after poll showing that a majority of Americans support contraceptive coverage in health reform, and with the 98 percent figure (of American women who have ever used contraception in the context of heterosexual sex) endlessly repeated in the media, the Republicans nonetheless push ahead with this attack, providing a welcome gift to the Obama reelection campaign and much material to political artists and comics. I have lost count of the number of parodies that have been inspired by that now gone viral picture of five male clerics testifying at the Congressional hearing called by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). A picture that of course immediately brings to mind another image of a similar tone deaf moment on the part of social conservatives,  the nine men surrounding President George W. Bush as he became the first president to sign a ban on a particular technique of performing abortion, in the case of so-called “partial birth abortion.”  It’s no wonder that the term “patriarchy” has made a comeback in the blogs!

The well-publicized refusal of Issa to permit the testimony of a female witness put forward by the Democrats, Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student planning to speak to the health consequences of denied contraception at Catholic universities, only added to the disastrous p.r. of that event. And the “aspirin between her knees” remark of Rick Santorum’s major funder later that day didn’t help either.

But while the media is momentarily fixated on the second big story this month of a losing fight against family planning (remember the Susan G. Komen Fund fiasco?), less attention has been paid to a related war that is not going well at all.  The assault on abortion that has resulted from the 2010 elections–the Republican takeover of Congress and many statehouses and governorships–has arguably produced the most serious threat to abortion access since the Roe decision in 1973.  What we mainly have heard about this situation are the statistics, the unprecedented number of abortion restrictions introduced and eventually passed in state legislatures at a time when one might assume politicians’ focus would be on the economy.

But there are real people behind the numbers and details of the restrictions. And the enormous toll that the abortion wars take on individual women seeking the procedure and the providers who try to help them are insufficiently appreciated by the general public.  Consider the case of Jennie McCormick, a destitute Idaho woman, a single mother of three, who, facing an unwanted pregnancy and unable to travel several hours to the nearest abortion clinic, ordered abortion medication over the Internet, and is now facing criminal charges.  She has also been stigmatized in her own community to a degree to which the fictional Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter fame could relate.  Here is a description of her daily life, as described in a British newspaper: Read the rest of this entry →

The Onerous Toll of the Helms Amendment and What Obama Can Do To Change It

12:45 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

It’s been almost three years since President Obama repealed the global gag rule, one of the most ludicrous and paternalistic U.S. foreign policies in history. But as we celebrate the anniversary of its repeal, just one day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22nd, another matter deserves our attention.

The last stronghold of America’s oppressive overseas reproductive health policies, the Helms Amendment, is still alive and well. The 1973 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act restricts U.S. funding for abortion overseas – even in countries where abortion is legal. Specifically, it states:

“No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”

The Helms Amendment invented what the global gag rule caricatured: a foreign policy that explicitly intrudes on the lives of women in developing countries, singling out and stigmatizing ‘abortion’ from the continuum of reproductive care necessary for a healthy life. Yet we’ve heard relatively little of this “grandfather” of anti-choice policies over the past 40 years, and all the while its colonial specter has continued to haunt the United State’s legacy of global reproductive rights.

Some are now aruging publicly for change. In late-December, 12 Members of Congress, including Representatives Lois Capps, Pete Stark, and Jan Schakowsky,  sent a letter to President Obama asking for a formal review of the policy for the first time in history.

“We are concerned that the Helms Amendment – which restricts but does not prohibit abortion funding – is being implemented as though it were an absolute ban,” the letter stated.

The letter is a first step toward addressing a policy that has undermine the rights and health of women throughout the world for far too long.

Although Helms prohibits U.S. aid from directly supporting abortion services, it is supposed to allow for the provision of abortion counseling and referrals, post-abortion care, and abortion in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the woman. Years of careful tracking and documentation work on the part of reproductive rights groups, spearheaded by Ipas and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) have produced clear evidence that in reality, these exceptions exist in theory but not in practice.

“Despite provisions allowing foreign-assistance funding for abortion services under certain circumstances, for almost 40 years the Helms Amendment has been implemented improperly as a total ban on all abortions,” CRR said in a statement released last month.

If this sounds eerily familiar, it should. While the gag rule has been officially rescinded, it seems the Helms Amendment has continued to function in effectively the same way. Primarily due to the clumsy wording of the amendment (what constitutes “abortion as a method of family planning” and what counts as “motivating” abortion?), and the long history of the use of women’s rights to full reproductive health care as a political football, application of the policy in-country among aid workers and recipients has veered drastically toward banning and self-censorship. Ipas and CRR, along with a small group of legislators, are asking President Obama to issue clarifying guidance to ensure the proper implementation of the policy.

The groups suggest that the Helms Amendment has contributed to an overall environment of censorship, stigma, and misinformation around abortion, resulting in barriers to services and consequent deaths and injuries. For example, Nepal’s abortion law was liberalized in 2002. Yet Ipas found that despite this, and even after the repeal of the global gag rule, abortion was omitted entirely from formal USAID trainings, discussions, and manuals, and abortion groups were informally excluded from partner meetings on national reproductive health strategies.

As abortion is singled out, reproductive health services become fragmented, drastically reducing the likelihood that women will receive these services at all even under “legal” circumstances. The situation is not likely to be much better in any other country receiving U.S. international assistance, including countries where rape is being regularly employed as a weapon of war. This is disturbing when you consider that global aid funding is supposed to “help” in the most fundamental way, not harm. Unsafe abortion remains a leading cause of maternal mortality in the developing world, and that is clearly thanks in part to the Helms Amendment.

This seems to be something that everyone should care about. That the Helms Amendment exists in the first place should incite reproductive (and human) rights advocates – it is ties assistance to an ideology that flouts medical and scientific evidence and the reality of women’s lives. It should further incite us that this policy is being twisted to create additional obstacles for women in some of the most vulnerable places in the world. Yet the Helms Amendment remains a policy largely un-touched by pro-choice groups and rarely covered in the media.

The Hyde Amendment, which is basically the domestic version of the Helms Amendment, turned 35 just months ago, an anniversary that provided an opportunity to highlight the unjust, classist, and oppressive nature of a policy that most deeply affects low-income women in the United States. The coverage was terrific and widespread, delving into the history and implications of the policy, and even providing a helpful framework of lessons for activists. Yet in all this, Helms was barely mentioned.

This is disappointing and problematic, because the two are so intimately connected. The Congressional letter to President Obama begins, “We are Members of Congress committed to reproductive rights at home and abroad…”. That line, at home and abroad, is pivotal. These policies do not exist in a vacuum, and neither do the anti-woman ideologies propelling them and keeping them in place. Their inceptions were related and if advocates are to successfully repeal them, those efforts, too, may have to be related.

Recent efforts to drag the Helms Amendment into the light come at a critical time.  Last month, the administration announced an historic National Plan of Action on Women, Peace, and Security, an executive order that puts women at the center of U.S. foreign policy. President Obama has talked the talk, now he is being asked to walk the walk. The president can ask the relevant agencies to review their policies and make guidance on the Helms Amendment and its exceptions crystal clear. He can issue an executive order ensuring that funding streams are not burdened by overly broad interpretations of an already-heninous law. The decision is in the Administration’s hands.  It is too soon to know what the outcome will be, but it seems at least the wheels may be starting to turn.

Fertilized Eggs Are NOT People!

11:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Originally posted at DailyKos.

On November 8th, the voters of Mississippi will be considering a “Personhood Amendment” (Amendment #26) which would give a fertilized egg more rights than a live born woman, and would outlaw abortion and birth control.  The threatening part about this amendment (and others like it proposed in all the other States) is that it could be a vehicle to be used in the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and thus make abortion and birth control illegal throughout the country.  This High Tech Uterine Occupation should scare every progressive and every woman.  But, the Democratic Party is not working to organize against this dangerous amendment.  The word hasn’t gotten out about how to help fight this.

Eggs Are NOT People.

But, time is running out to fight this, and I’m confident The Great Orange can help reverse the cone of silence around Amendment 26. Mississippi has an unemployment rate of 10.3 percent (9th worse in the nation), consistently ranks in the lowest in education, 17.6 percent of Mississippians have no health insurance, and 21.8 percent of its citizens live below the poverty level.  Yet, these yahoos think it’s important to focus on further degrading women by making it impossible to get an abortion instead of taking real action to improve the living conditions in their state.  This is also the state that has the strictest abortion TRAP laws of any state.  And, this is the state that has only one remaining abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The text of Amendment 26, The Personhood Amendment,  is as follows:

“Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hereby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ: Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” This initiative shall not require any additional revenue for implementation.”

This proposed Amendment 26 – The Mississippi Personhood Amendment – will be up for  vote on November 8th.  If this passes, AND IT IS EXPECTED TO PASS, it will be a disaster for women in Mississippi.

In the years ahead, the disaster will spread across the country.  Here’s why: The idea of “personhood” sounds so warm and fuzzy and even reasonable, it’s hard for most people to believe that there might be something nefarious to this campaign. One doesn’t have to do much digging to see that this is an all-out assault on abortion rights.  As Personhood USA says loudly and proudly on their website: “personhood is the key to defeating Roe v. Wade.”  On the first page of their website, they brag that they have “personhood petitions now active in all 50 states.”

This week, the clinic put up a website

and sent out the following plea for support:

Dear Friends,

This is an URGENT MESSAGE FROM MISSISSIPPI!!!!     I am writing to you from the true FRONTLINES of the ABORTION BATTLE!!!  Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the last and only refuge for Mississippi Women seeking abortion.  After the tragic loss of Susan Hill, we scrambled to ensure that the work of this facility did not lapse.  I want to thank you for all your support over the last several years in protecting Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  Mississippi Legislators and anti choice zealots continue every year with their assaults on reproductive healthcare making MS abortion laws the most restrictive in the land.  AND…We are still standing STRONG!  However, on November 8th, the MS ballot will include the Personhood Amendment which will end abortion in MS and will more than likely take Roe-v-Wade to the Supreme Court.  WE CANNOT ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN!  And neither can you…

The extremist group – Personhood USA – openly states on their website that “personhood” is the key to overturning Roe V. Wade.  On the front page of their website they brag that they have petitions for similar amendments in ALL 50 STATES!

MS Amendment #26 actually states that a zygote is a person even before it attaches to the uterus!  If passed, Personhood Amendment #26 will not only ban abortion BUT ALSO ban most (if not all) forms of birth control, end in-vitro fertilization, and make stem cell research illegal.  In addition, women who miscarry will be subject to criminal investigation!  THIS MEASURE GOES TOO FAR AND IS A THREAT TO – NOT ONLY WOMEN IN MISSISSIPPI – BUT THE ENTIRE COUNTRY!

If you are thinking to yourself that this amendment is too radical to pass, think again.  The original petition to place this on the ballot had 30,000 MORE SIGNATURES than necessary.  The Democratic candidate for Governor openly supports this amendment as does the current Attorney General, ALSO A DEMOCRAT!

Jackson Women’s Health Organization is working with grassroots women and men throughout the state to defeat this measure.  Although Planned Parenthood offers some family planning services in Mississippi, they do not offer abortion services and therefore do not endure the harassment our doctors, staff, and patients deal with daily.
We are the only ones left in the fight and on the ground!

We are creating home-made signs and leaflets to distribute everywhere/ anywhere we go.  Mississippi Pro-Choice Activists are popping up in towns across the state and asking for resources to spread the word on this dangerous Amendment.  We have never seen anything like it before!  We need your help!  We must expand our outreach immediately to radio, billboards, and TV.  Please send a donation to support this “on the ground” movement to protect the rights of Mississippi Women.  We must thwart this MIS-INFORMATION campaign that Personhood USA is spreading and educate our voters about the dangers of Amendment #26!

We ask you to put your money where the real battle is being fought…not in a corporate board room, but in the halls of the clinics and the houses of the organizers who are volunteering their time and efforts.  We don’t have time for polling or committee or subcommittee meetings with less than a month left before the vote.  http://www.WakeUpMississippi.org/ is already on the ground running.  We don’t have the luxury of a built in donor list and the name recognition of the abortion corporations.  PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD.  Please put your money where it will do the most good: on the front lines in Mississippi.

Please support this organic movement and show that America cares about Mississippi Women and their Families!  Your response is required immediately!

Sincerely,

Diane Derzis
Owner and Reproductive Freedom Fighter
Jackson Women’s Health Organization
Jackson, MS

PS  Please send whatever you can NOW to stop Amendment #26 in Mississippi!  Use this link to our organization for Paypal payments:

http://www.WakeUpMississippi.org/

Or mail checks to:
WakeUpMississippi.org
2903 North State Street
Jackson, MS 39216

Thus, this initiative is the first step in a plan by Personhood USA to overturn Roe V Wade and end all abortion in this country.  The impact goes further than shutting down clinics. This amendment could literally imprison women in addition to imprisoning women in their own bodies.

Here are some examples that come to mind of the possible impacts this amendment would have.  Add your own insane scenarios in the comments section:

1.  A pregnant woman who goes out to dinner with family and friends and accidentally picks up the wrong glass and has a swig of rum and coke can be charged for child abuse.

2.  What about pregnant illegal immigrants?  The right wing is pretty hot on getting them out of the country as fast as possible. Well, this is going to be a big problem when the pregnant immigrant is actually two people…one who is legal (the fertilized egg) and the other who is not (the living, breathing woman).  I guess at this point most folks trying to avoid deportation should get pregnant and move to Mississippi and have their “legal” zygote/fetus/child apply for welfare and medicaid.

3.  Women who are found to have birth control pills could be prosecuted for attempted murder.

4.  If a pregnant woman wearing 2″ heels trips and falls, subsequently having a miscarriage, she could be prosecuted for manslaughter.

5.  When a woman has a life threatening ectopic pregnancy, who decides which “person” gets to live and which “person” gets to die?

6.  Will an ultrasound picture be an acceptable form of ID for the fetus/person to be able to travel out of the country?  Will “don’t know yet” be acceptable as a category for gender?

7. How will any future candidate for President prove that they were conceived/born in the United States?

It’s almost a relief to think about how idiotic this amendment is.  Most rational people think that it is SO crazy that there is no way it can stand legally.

But, before those of you who are not from Mississippi try to make yourselves feel safe by thinking that these folks are from a different world and that nothing like this could ever happen in the state YOU live in, take a look at what CNN recently reported:

“Mississippi is the only state with a “personhood” initiative on the ballot this year. Similar measures are being planned for next year in Florida, Montana and Ohio, say supporters. Efforts in at least five other states are in the planning stages.”

Don’t think for a second that this amendment will not pass.  It will.  Even the Democrats of Mississippi have jumped on board the “personhood” bandwagon.  Laura Bassett of HuffingtonPost.com says:

“The personhood measure actually has a fair amount of support from Mississippi Democrats. Jim Hood, the Democratic Attorney General, endorsed the amendment in a statement and said he would defend it if it were challenged. A spokesperson for Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, the Democratic candidate for governor, told HuffPost that that he supports the amendment as well, despite his ‘concerns about some of the ramifications’.”

Sid Salter, columnist for The Mississippi Press and journalist-in-residence at Mississippi State University, writes that this amendment is expected to pass with overwhelming support in November.

“Conservatives expect a nearly uncontested passage of the “personhood” amendment in Mississippi…….Regardless of the legal challenges, expect Mississippi voters to pass the personhood amendment with strong backing from many of the state’s churches.”

Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, Programs Director of ACLU of Mississippi writes:

”Mississippi extremists want to take away the right to abortion and birth control by passing the “so called” Personhood Ballot Initiative #26.  It is dangerous and is an all-out assault on women and their families. If passed, this amendment would not only ban abortion but also birth control and many assisted reproductive healthcare procedures which include in-vitro fertilization.  The initiative will insert government control over our wombs, our ability to choose when and how many children we have, and we will be criminally investigated when we have a miscarriage.”

If you haven’t heard very much or even anything about this amendment, don’t feel bad.  It’s not your fault.  There has been a total lack of publicity, education, and action from notable groups who are dedicated defenders of choice.

This of course results in a total lack of coverage from the nation’s media outlets.  This is because the unspoken word is that Mississippi has always been “a hopeless case” in our country when it comes to abortion rights. The women and families of Mississippi have had to suffer the injustice of being undefended because of the need to focus where progress can be made.

This won’t work anymore.

All it takes is for one “personhood” amendment from one state to reach the Supreme Court of the United States and be upheld to end abortion and birth control access in this country.

We can’t let this happen.  Our opposition is determined, invigorated, well organized, and well funded.

Mike Huckabee recently spoke at a fundraiser banquet for “Personhood Mississippi.”  In his speech, he warned the audience that they had “no idea how many millions of dollars are likely to be poured into your state” to fight Amendment 26.

Sadly and shamefully, this is not the case.  While the right wing is holding fundraisers and bringing in right-wing brand names, there’s not a single billboard in the state of Mississippi warning of the impact of this amendment.  There hasn’t been a public rally or outcry of any kind.  And the clock is ticking.

Here’s our to do list:

  • Contact the Democratic National Committee at their website, or call them at 202-863-8000. Since Mississippi’s Democrats aren’t speaking out against Amendment 26, the National Democrats must do so.
  • The focal point of this effort is WakeUpMississippi.org. Organizers there say they are trying to organize demonstrations and rallies and educate the people of Mississippi on the dangers of this amendment.  To make a donation or to get involved go to http://www.wakeupmississippi.org.
  • LIKE the WakeUpMississippi FaceBook Page and spread the word throughout your network.
  • Send E-Mails about this effort to your family and friends.

The Facts About Amendment 26

Remember:

“Fertilized Eggs Are NOT People”


The Real Reason Anti-Choice Activists Are Pushing Fetal Pain Laws

9:36 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

The anti-abortion activists and politicians in the states have made passing 20-week abortion bans based on the idea of “fetal pain” a cause-du-jour for this year’s legislative sessions.  It’s become obvious, as Kate Sheppard reported in Mother Jones, that “fetal pain” is their number one priority this year, with four new states enacting bans and a dozen others at least proposing the legislation.

Emily Bazelon writes in the New York Times that the Center for Reproductive Rights is considering their own eventual lawsuit over the bans, which are unconstitutional due to the Roe V. Wade ruling stating that abortion cannot be banned before a fetus is viable, usually at around 23 weeks.  These state-based bans are only carving off a small section of new abortions, and as Bazelon notes these bans are in many cases “symbolic.”  Some of the states involved don’t even have providers that perform second trimester abortions, and the number of women seeking them out are only a tiny percentage of the overall number of women wanting the procedure.

It’s that statistic that is so dangerous, and why the push for legal action over the ban is exactly what anti-choice activists are both hoping for and counting on.

Just as anti-abortion activists won a victory in ending “partial-birth abortion,” a made-up term that helped change the face of abortion challenges by placing a government duty to “protect” a fetus over the needs of a mother, even though very few abortions would ever be affected by the ban, “fetal pain” bans seek to do the same: allow the Supreme Court to place a new standard for which the rights of a fetus outweigh the rights of the woman carrying it.  

Read more

Learning the Right Lessons From the Philadelphia Abortion Clinic Disaster

9:07 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Carol Joffe for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article is cross-posted with permission from Beacon Broadside.

Reading the Grand Jury report on Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia, the now-closed abortion clinic ran by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, is stomach turning. This was truly a chamber of horrors: a filthy facility, with blood stained blankets and furniture, unsterilized instruments, and cat feces left unattended. Most seriously, there was a jaw dropping disregard of both the law and prevailing standards of medical care. Untrained personnel undertook complex medical procedures, such as the administration of anesthesia, and the doctor in question repeatedly performed illegal (post-viability) abortions, by a unique and ghastly method of delivering live babies and then severing their spinal cord. Two women have died at this facility and numerous others have been injured. What remains baffling is how long this clinic was allowed to operate, in spite of numerous complaints made over the years to city and state agencies, and numerous malpractice suits against Dr. Gosnell. Indeed, it was only because authorities raided the clinic due to suspicion of lax practices involving prescription drugs that the conditions facing abortion patients came to law enforcement’s attention.

As information about this clinic spread, many have understandably compared Women’s Medical Society to the notorious “back alley” facilities of the pre-Roe era, when unscrupulous and often unskilled persons (some trained physicians, some not) provided abortions to desperate women, in substandard conditions. This is an apt comparison. But Gosnell’s clinic should not only be understood as a strange throwback to the past. Women’s Medical Society represents to me an extreme version of what I have termed “rogue clinics,” facilities that today prey on women, disproportionately women of color and often immigrants, in low income communities. Read more