A third Republican presidential candidate has taken the majority delegates in a third state—although it’s hard to say that Rick Santorum really won Iowa when 8 precincts can’t find their paperwork. For women’s reproductive rights, there is no real difference among these three: any one of them would return women’s rights to that of a century ago–in short, none. All the candidates vow to overturn Roe v. Wade; all support the concept of “personhood,” giving more rights to a fertilized egg than a woman.
Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion for all women in this country during the first third of the pregnancy and allowed abortion during the second third to protect the woman’s health. Legal yes, but not necessarily accessible. The murders of doctors who perform abortions during the past decades plus state laws limiting abortions have made this surgery almost impossible to get in many places, and state laws compound the inaccessibility of abortions.
To stop pregnancies, the far right has set up “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPC) to pressure women, usually with deceptive information, into carrying a fetus to term, regardless of the women’s wishes and needs. An investigation of the CPCs in North Carolina, more than eight times the number than clinics that actually provide abortion, shows that over two-thirds of them provide medically inaccurate information. Yet they receive public funding from the state’s “Choose Life” license plate sales.
Of the 122 CPCs, 92 percent had no medical professionals although only 22 percent disclosed that they were not medically licensed. Because there is no state licensing for the CPCs, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not protect patient confidentiality. An investigator posing as a pregnant Jewish woman who went to five centers was told that unless she converted to Christianity she would not go to heaven. Volunteers at one meeting prayed for an investigator and suggested she become a “born-again virgin.”
New York City tried to give the public information about CPCs with a law that would require them to disclose whether they have licensed medical staff and how they protect the clients’ privacy. Federal Judge William Pauley blocked this law.
Over 1100 anti-abortion bills were introduced at the state and federal level in 2011, including the 8 by House representatives elected to find jobs for people and save the economy, an unbelievable increase from previous years. Legislators in 24 states passed 92 anti-abortion provisions in 2011, shattering the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005. Recent state restrictions include waiting-period requirements, unnecessary medical procedures, burdensome and unnecessary clinic regulations, and cuts to family planning services and providers because of their connection with abortion. Other laws restrict private insurance coverage of abortions.
Arizona stopped the use of student fees and tuition to train OB/GYN students to perform abortions and revoked tax credit for donations to organizations that provide abortions, like Planned Parenthood, as well as to any institutions that might refer clients to Planned Parenthood, like domestic violence shelters. North Carolina’s requirement for an ultrasound before an abortion included the provision that a woman’s refusal to view the ultrasound would be kept on file for 7 years. Nine other states also have an ultrasound mandate.
Dana Millbank, supposedly one of the “good guys” in this debate, seems to sneer at pro-choice activists: “If the ‘choice’ rally participants really wanted to preserve legal abortion, they’d be wise to drop the sky-is-falling warnings about Roe and to acknowledge that the other side, and most Americans, has legitimate concerns.” Is he talking about the fact that the state forces women to have MRIs, a medical procedure not recommended by their doctors and one which serves no medical reason, before having an abortion.
Does he think that the “personhood” movement is no problem? After the initiative to define a fertilized egg as a “person” failed in Mississippi, Oklahoma thought it would put its oar in the fertilization waters. Their new bill defines “person” as “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being” with a few exceptions such as “Only birth control that kill a person shall be affected by this section” and “Only in vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction that kills a person shall be affected by this section.” The same people who proposed these bills are also convinced that ordinary birth control will kill the “person.”
What does Millbank think about Jennie Linn McCormack, a 32-year-old Idaho woman with three kids—unmarried, unemployed, and barely surviving on $250 monthly child support for one of her children? The man who had impregnated her was sent to jail for robbery. She couldn’t afford the $500+ necessary for the two-and-a-half-hour trip—mandated twice!–to Salt Lake City to get to a clinic. Her sister in Mississippi got her RU-486 online for about $200. She thought she was about 12 weeks pregnant, but the fetus turned out to be between 18 and 21 weeks.
According to Idaho’s 1972 law, a year older than Roe v. Wade, women can be imprisoned for five years for inducing her own abortion. The charges against McCormack have now been dropped, but the state retains the right to re-file charges. McCormack’s attorney, Richard Hearn, also a physician, not only obtained a federal injunction to prevent any woman from being prosecuted under the state’s anti-abortion statute by the district attorney but also filed a class-action suit against the state, claiming the statute is unconstitutional. He plans to argue the case up to the Supreme Court.
Much of politicians’ ignorance comes from their reliance on the bible to explain science. A fine example of this is Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall (R) who—naturally!—opposes Planned Parenthood. Marshall believes that women who have abortions then have disabled children because of God’s punishment. “In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest,”Marshall told a press conference.
David Williams, who ran for governor of Kentucky, tried to use logic to defend forcing rape and incest victims to carry their fetuses to full term. “If somebody shot my mother, I would want to kill them, but I don’t think that is the appropriate thing to do. We have laws against murder,” he said. He also failed in his gubernatorial bid but stayed as the president of the state senate.
Morals of the religious fluctuate and extend into hypocrisy. The Catholic leader St. Augustine believed that abortion of the “unformed” embryos was acceptable because “the law of homicide would not apply, for … it could not be said that there was a living soul in that body.” The Southern Baptist Convention voted in the 1970s to support abortion under certain circumstances but said in 2010 that life begins at conception and abortion is not permitted.
Memphis (TN) is another place where religion controls women’s rights. Shelby County commission voted 9 to 14 to take Title X funding from Planned Parenthood and give it to Christ Community Health Services. No more emergency contraception because of “religious objections.” Never mind that EC doesn’t abort fetuses. Instead women have to go to a “third party,” delaying the process and probably being too late for EC to be effective. Clients also are forced to listen to sermons with their health screenings and birth control pickups. A Christ Community patient testified at the commission that she was told, “If only my relationships with people and God were right, I would have fewer health problems.” No way are there any referrals to clinics that provide abortions.
While some Christians call abortion murder and therefore wrong, they are not bothered by people lacking insurance or those with insurance having it terminated, meaning that people are killed by the “person” of insurance companies. War is murder, as is capital punishment, but anti-abortionists are usually not bothered by these murders.
People outraged by abortions past the first third of the pregnancy aren’t swayed by the horrific health issues that cause women to have abortions during the third trimester to save their lives. Rick Santorum refers to the health exception for a third-trimester abortion as “phony.”
Anti-choice people also don’t realize that they are at fault. Because of the severe limitations on getting abortions, despite Roe v. Wade, some women like McCormack who face funding and travel—sometimes two or three times to see a doctor far away—wait past the first trimester. Prejudice against birth control also causes abortions: 46% of women who get abortions weren’t using a contraceptive method the month they got pregnant often because of abstinence-only education and the cost of contraceptives.
Anti-abortion activists care nothing about the life of women who end up dying from illegal abortions, but at one time Mitt Romney understood the tragedy of these deaths. During his candidacy for Massachusetts senator in 1994, he volunteered the story of the sister of his brother-in-law. Because of her death, he said in the debate with Ted Kennedy, he believed that abortion should be “safe and legal.” That same year, he attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser, and his wife, Ann, gave $150 to the group. During the same campaign, he said, “I have my own beliefs, and those beliefs are very dear to me. One of them is that I do not impose my beliefs on other people.” During his 2002 campaign for the state’s governor, Romney vowed to uphold the state’s abortion laws. Ten years later he supports “personhood,” not only for corporations but also for fertilized eggs.
Ann Keenan, the sister of Romney’s brother-in-law, died of an infection at the age of 21 in 1963, ten years before Roe v. Wade. Listed on her death certificate was “subarachnoid hemorrhage following septic criminal recent abortion with septic thromboembolism pneumonia and hepatitis with focal necrosis of liver.” Infection, often caused by the use of unsanitary instruments, was one of the most common causes of death from abortion in the pre-Roe era, according to Dr. David Grimes, who previously worked at the Centers for Disease Control studying abortion deaths. Many other deaths were caused by self-inflicted wounds or bleeding to death, especially because women were afraid to see medical help.
Last week, Guttmacher reported that in countries where abortion is illegal—think maybe inaccessible?—abortion rates are higher. Stopping access to safe, legal abortion care does not lower abortion rates; it just forces women to search for clandestine and unsafe abortion care. The simple solution to unwanted pregnancies is to provide ways to stop these pregnancies. U.S. legislators are trying to stop birth control too. The conservative House and many state legislators have been intent on eliminating women’s access not only to birth control but also to breast and cervical cancer screenings.
To combat this trend, Planned Parenthood has created its own campaign, Women are Watching. Over half the voters in this country are women. All of us need to know about these attacks on women’s health and the candidates’ stance on pivotal health care issues.