The abortion debate erupted anew this week after a video surfaced showing the Democratic sponsor of a Virginia abortion proposal acknowledging it could allow women to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment before birth, for reasons including mental health.

“First New York, and now a proposed Virginia bill that would legalize abortion up to the moment of birth,” tweeted Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. “This is a sad commentary on the culture of death that continues to creep insidiously into the laws of our [country].”

Virginia Democratic Del. Kathy Tran is the sponsor of The Repeal Act, which seeks to repeal restrictions on third-trimester abortions. The bill — which was tabled in committee this week — has the support of top Democrats in the state, including Gov. Ralph Northam.

The bill would remove a number of restrictions currently in place regarding late-term abortions, including doing away with the requirement that two other physicians certify a third-trimester abortion is necessary to prevent the woman’s death or impairment of her mental or physical health. The third trimester lasts until 40 weeks.

Todd Gilbert, the Republican House majority leader, questioned Tran about the bill during a hearing Monday. He asked Tran if a woman who has physical signs she is about to give birth could request an abortion if a physician said it could impair her “mental health.”

“Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth. She has physical signs that she is about to give birth. Would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so-certified — she’s dilating,” he asked.

“Mr. Chairman, that would be … a decision that the doctor, the physician and the woman would make at that point,” Tran replied.

“I understand that,” Gilbert replied. “I’m asking if your bill allows that.”

Tran replied: “My bill would allow that, yes.”

Virginia Republicans shared video of the exchange, posting, “Heartbreaking… This isn’t in New York, this isn’t in California, this happened just this week right here in Virginia.”

“Virginia House Democrats proposed legislation to allow abortions up to just seconds before that precious child takes their first breath…Thankfully, our strong conservative majority was able to defeat this bill,” the Virginia House of Delegates Republican Caucus posted on Facebook.

In promoting the bill, Tran has said it “eliminates medically unnecessary and unduly burdensome requirements that make it difficult for women to access abortions,” recognizing that “women have the constitutional right to make healthcare decisions about their own bodies.”

The effort in Virginia follows New York passing a bill last week loosening the restrictions on abortion, as New Mexico, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington also pass new laws expanding abortion access or move to strip old laws from the books that limit abortions.

The loosening of the laws comes as pro-choice activists fear the newly conservative Supreme Court will overturn the 1973 ruling that made abortions legal.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week directed the One World Trade Center and other landmarks to be lit in pink Tuesday to celebrate the passage of “Reproductive Health Act.”

Under the Reproductive Health Act, non-doctors are now allowed to conduct abortions and the procedure could be done until the mother’s due date if the woman’s health is endangered or if the fetus is not viable. The previous law only allowed abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy if a woman’s life was at risk.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned, 16 states could take steps to ban abortion. Four have laws that would trigger bans, while 12 others have anti-abortion laws on the books that have been ruled unconstitutional by courts or have not been enforced due to the 1973 Supreme Court decision, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization.



Longtime pro-abortion activists Bill and Melinda Gates today received the highest honor the Untied States can bestow upon a citizen who is not a member of the U.S. military. Obama today awarded two doezn recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and those recipients included the abortion activists.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is “presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” and Obama apparently believes dedicating one’s life to promoting abortion is a part of that list.

According to the Gates Foundation grant database, the Foundation gave Planned Parenthood of America, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and Planned Parenthood of Western Washington about $71 million from before 2009 through 2013. Additionally, the Gates Foundation gave $46.1 million to Marie Stopes International in 2012 alone.

Much of this giving is focused on Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where abortion-providers like Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes, and Ipas seek to overturn pro-life laws and sometimes even provide illicit abortion drugs.

While Gates Foundation funds cannot be earmarked for abortion, the fungibility of money makes it easier for these organizations to provide abortion internationally.  In other words, every dollar the Gates Foundation gives to Planned Parenthood for distributing birth control or building an abortion-friendly clinic frees up a dollar in Planned Parenthood’s budget to spend elsewhere.

In 2012, Melinda Gates was criticized for promoting abortion and population control at an international meeting.

The same year, she was criticized for hosting a Family Planning Summit in London with two of the biggest pro-abortion groups in the world, the UN Population Fund and International Planned Parenthood Federation.

More recently, the Gates Foundation is funneling more money into global programs promoting population control and abortion after a group warned that international family planning goals are not being met.

The Gates Foundation promised to give an additional $120 million to Family Planning 2020 programs that support “the rights of women and girls to decide when and how many children they want to have,” the news website All Africa reported in 2015. Both Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International, two of the largest abortion businesses in the world, are partners in the global Family Planning 2020 initiative, according to a press release from the initiative.

Source: LifeNews


The Oct. 26 editorial “An antiabortion law defeated, at last” asserted that although antiabortion laws are being dismantled, abortion services remain vulnerable because “other onerous regulations apply.” The editorial board stated that women should have the right to an abortion and that the regulations in place to hinder access to abortions are unconstitutional. As a young woman, I agree that we should have access to abortion services, for the health of both women and their potential children. Abortion is a fundamental right for women because we should have control over what happens with our bodies.

It is ridiculous to consider the life of a ball of cells or an embryo to be equally as important as the life of a developed human. Most studies agree that fetuses do not feel pain until about the 20th to 30th weeks, but women who are denied abortions are more likely to develop mental-health problems and live in poverty. People should not be forced to provide for children they do not want, and children should not be forced to grow up in an environment where they are unwanted.

Abortion services are necessary and should be available to all women. We need to spread awareness about the need for access to abortion because it can affect anyone.

Source: Washington Post

GOP out of bedroomA US News and World Report article (12/31/14), What the Battle Over Abortion Will Look Like in 2015, should remind all of us concerned about reproductive justice that Republicans will control the Senate and the House of Representatives beginning this month. As much as Republicans claim to favor small and less government, we all know that when it comes to issues relative to human sexuality, they espouse as much government intrusion and regulation as possible. Although many Republicans are pro-choice, the party continues to allow its extreme right wing and Tea Party darlings to steer the votes and priorities. Reproductive decisions, sexual orientation, and even personal sexual activity preferences are of greater concern to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and friends than ensuring that every child has food to eat, that people are working and earning a fair wage, or that the U.S. government is protecting business from cyber-attacks, and so on. It makes no sense, but it is a reality.  It is reasonable to expect more attacks on reproductive rights in 2015.

Rick BrattinThe Republicans are on a roll. Just last month Missouri Republican Rick Brattin reintroduced a bill to require women seeking abortion to get permission from the father of the zygote/embryo/fetus.  According to Mother Jones, Brattin’s bill would exempt “legitimate rape” victims. For a pregnancy resulting from rape to be exempted and the claim of rape “legitimate,” a police report must have been filed immediately after the rape. Oh yes, the Republicans are on a roll, seemingly even including distinctions about rape – Todd Akin style. Always claiming that the legislation is to “protect women,” these mostly male representatives apparently believe they know more about what is best for women’s health than, well, legitimate women.

Thomas State legis LoCPro-choice Americans have got to step up to the plate in 2015.  They must resolve to at least let their elected
representatives know their views. As fellow blogger and former lobbyist Pat Richards can confirm, it is very easy to contact members of Congress.  One website that provides direct contact information of each congressional member is For state and local legislative representatives, The Library of Congress Thomas website provides links to each state legislature. Pro-choice people need to take a page from the playbook of the zealously anti-choice organizations like violence-promoting Operation Rescue and the various evangelical groups that pressure church members to attend sessions to write emails and make phone calls en masse. It can make a difference in the extent to which a member of Congress maintains interest in sponsoring or defending restrictive anti-abortion or other family planning legislation.

During my years directing a clinic, countless state and federal legislators shared with me that the primary reason they hesitated to have a stronger public pro-choice position was because they seldom heard from their pro-choice constituents, but they constantly heard from the anti-abortion groups. That needs to finally change – there is too much to lose if it does not.  While NARAL and Planned Parenthood supporters often initiate outreach activities, they simply cannot compete with the church-sanctioned and sponsored groups in terms of numbers. It is also worth noting that politicians actually like to hear the views of individuals speaking from the heart instead of an organized script.

minds changeAs much as we may see reproductive rights as an issue in which people do not change their positions, there are studies that illustrate that people do change their minds about polarizing issues such as abortion and gay rights. Minds change through personal experience or learning about the firsthand experience of someone they know, love, or in some way care for. Minds can change when we interact with others with whom we share general values and recognize that on polarizing issues with which we disagree, things are not so black and white, all or none propositions. No one should be fooled into believing that when minds change about abortion it is only to the anti-choice position. National Right to Life has done some great messaging in that regard. In fact, pro-choice groups could do the same.

Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera/Photo from

In 2015 we can probably expect to see more legislation proposed to ban abortion as early as 12 weeks, more verbatim scripting for medical professionals to impose on patients regardless if true, and more unnecessary and invasive ultrasound or other testing. Before you know it, every woman who miscarries will be subjected to a law enforcement report and inquiry. Think that sounds extreme? Just take a few minutes to learn about Maria Teresa Rivera in El Salvador where all abortion is banned. She did not even know she was pregnant when she miscarried, but the judge did not believe her and sentenced Rivera to 40 years in prison for aggravated murder. Each and every anti-abortion bill proposed in the U.S. under the guise of women’s health is another step towards a total ban.

Time is of the essence for reproductive justice. When and whether to have children is a personal choice. Abortion is a personal choice in which women do not benefit from, and can be harmed by, governmental interference. Medical professionals do not need the input of politicians in the private relationships they have with patients. Please, be it resolved that you will share your pro-choice position and dedication to reproductive justice with your elected representatives beginning this first month of 2015.

I’ve been writing for this blog for about a year now, and in that time I’ve never written a personal post, instead trying to elucidate some of the medical and legal aspects of abortion. I’ve spent my first two years in medical school learning all I can about abortion in politics and medicine, but it’s only in the last year I’ve begun to personally experience my first brushes with the actual impact of pro-life law, regulation, and thought.


In that time I have been continually reminded of how large a role healthcare providers play in determining female autonomy, and that goes way beyond abortion. It means pharmacists unwilling to dispense emergency contraception. It means physicians at Catholic institutions forbidden from even discussing birth control, abortion, or physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. It means, from the experience of two OB/GYN residents at the school associated with my hospital, forcing a poor patient who has already spent upwards of $1000 traveling from a nearby state to take off another day of work and purchase three more nights’ stay at a hotel because none of the weekend nurse anesthetists on call are willing to sit in on a surgical abortion.

And the patient interviews I’ve conducted this year have been particularly poignant for me. It is commonplace to ask about gynecological and obstetrical issues as part of a complete history. I’d already built a rapport with the first patient to tell me she’d had an abortion; she was funny and articulate, and the interview was going well. But when I asked about previous pregnancies and she mentioned her abortion, even though I made no sign that I treated it any differently than any other part of her medical history, I could see fear in her eyes. I realized she was afraid I would judge her, maybe even afraid I would say something about the decision. She quickly changed the subject.

The second interview was even more heart-wrenching. She was pro-life, and described an extensive history of physical and sexual abuse. Falling pregnant after one of a long string of rapes by an abuser, her doctor informed her she would not survive the pregnancy if she continued it, because of a severe, possibly life-threatening medical condition he’d diagnosed. She subsequently ended the pregnancy at his recommendation. Crying, she told me her illness had felt like a “blessing in disguise” for occurring when it did, because it allowed her to end a pregnancy that would have tied her forever to her abuser. How terrible have we become, as a society, when a potentially terminal illness is a “blessing” for justifying a choice that should require no moral absolution?

Two of the pro-life physicians I’ve encountered this year have displayed prominently just how important it is to be a vocal advocate. The first I met briefing with ACOG (the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) members prior to meeting with state legislators to urge support on several bills, including the Reproductive Parity Act. During the meeting she posed her opinion that she disapproved of “abortions as a form of birth control.”

It’s one thing to hear this carefully coded language from politicians. It’s quite another to hear it from an obstetrician who should know that the majority of women who seek abortion had been using a primary form of birth control the month they became pregnant, much less in a room full of obstetricians that include multiple abortion providers, on a day intended to support a bill that would ensure equal access to reproductive healthcare.

The second was my own (former) OB/GYN in my hometown, who I discovered was the medical director of the local pro-life CPC (crisis pregnancy center), a position he failed to advertise anywhere to the patients in his practice. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I visited the CPC that week and picked up the brochure materials they normally dispense to patients.

There I found so many medically inaccurate statements presented as fact I cannot see how any legitimate medical professional could possibly support it even tacitly, much less as its medical director. (A sampling: Plan B is an abortifacient; having more than one sexual partner over the course of one’s life reduces or eliminates one’s physiological ability to emotionally bond; abortion increases one’s risk of breast cancer, infertility, and depression; abortion of a pregnancy resulting from rape reduces one’s ability to recover from the psychological trauma of the rape.)


What about the doctors of tomorrow, my own classmates? Thankfully it seems to me that the vast majority of my entering class was pro-choice, if not actively interested in reproductive health advocacy. Still, there have been a few alarming moments throughout the year. In an ethics case we were asked how to proceed with a woman who refused a Caesarian section, though the baby would die without it. It was a difficult case with no satisfying answer. Still, 5% of the class voted to force the C-section regardless of the woman’s refusal, which would be assault.

On the day of our abortion lecture, our professors played a short video of an interview with Jim Buchy, an Ohio state representative who proposed a “Heartbeat Bill” which would have banned abortion after 4-6 weeks, in which he admits he’s never considered why a woman would seek an abortion. A member of my class spoke up in support of Buchy’s stance: “If you believe a fetus is a person, I mean, it doesn’t even matter.”

I can’t help but feel that’s the overwhelming paternalistic problem with abortion opponents within the medical field: the woman’s concerns, her situation, her health, all of it “doesn’t even matter.” In the pursuit of a single moral absolute, the person most affected by their decisions simply disappears. To people who refuse to consider why a woman would seek an abortion because “it doesn’t even matter,” how can one possibly convey the desperation that would induce women to seek unsafe abortion where legal abortion is unavailable?

So what have my (admittedly few, this far into my career) experiences led me to believe about the future of medicine? It’s crucial now more than ever for pro-choice physicians to be active advocates, even if they don’t provide abortions. I worry about hospital mergers with Catholic institutions that refuse to offer even informed consent to patients, much less actual reproductive care. (In fact, the hospital associated with my medical school is undergoing just such a merger, to the worry of many students, faculty, and healthcare providers.) And while I strongly believe in the right of healthcare providers to consciously object to taking part in procedures they feel are morally wrong, I think hospitals that offer abortions should be required to have at least one member of every position required to perform the procedure on staff at any given time who do not object to helping.

And more than anything else, this last year has made me even more terrified of a future in which the pro-life movement is successful in its quest. What would this future be like for the woman who refused a C-section in our ethics case? Would forced surgery no longer be considered assault? Would it even be legal for her to refuse it? Maybe in that future, possibly terminal illnesses truly will be a “blessing” for women who do not want their pregnancies, providing not moral absolution but legal permission.



1) 51% of women seeking abortions used a primary form of birth control the month they became pregnant; most either used it inconsistently due to a disruptive life event, or used a less effective method such as condoms: Jones R, Frohwirth L, Moore Ann, “More than poverty: disruptive events among women having abortions in the USA” ( Summary available here:


Discussing the nuances of the case of Marlise Munoz, the legally dead pregnant Texas woman kept alive for weeks over her and her family’s wishes, my recent conversation with a pro-life friend continually circled back to one question of his: “But why wouldn’t she want the baby?”

Of course, the answer seemed obvious to me, but later I reflected more on his question, and realized why the concept seemed so absurd to him. To most pro-lifers, I think, it is incomprehensible that a woman who initially wanted a pregnancy might want to later terminate for almost any reason.

Abortion, after all, is for those women, way over there, the ones you’ve heard about but never met, despite the fact that 3 in 10 American women will have an abortion by age 45, and that 65% of women who had abortions in 2008 were Protestant or Catholic. To pro-lifers, it’s the domain of “amoral” women making an “irrational” decision they’ll regret when they get to know what having a child is truly like, despite the fact that most women who have abortions already have at least one child. And they claim it’s physically and psychologically harmful, despite the much lower risk of physical complications compared to pregnancy, and the thorough debunking of the largest study purported to show a causal link between abortion and mental illness.

None of these claims are new or uncommon, and none are really reflective of reality. But for those who desperately cling to them, the eminently insulting pro-life motto of recent years, Women Deserve Better, is perhaps more understandable (if not more palatable). But what explains the huge dichotomy between reality—at least, what little of it we can interpret from statistics—and the pro-life mythos of the woman who chooses abortion?


Well, for one thing, these stereotypes are pervasive because that’s what we tend to see. What else except the self-evident “truth” of such claims would explain the dearth of stories about elective abortion in the media—stories that humanize it and display its depth as an issue? A recent analysis of television and movies that portrayed abortion showed that 9% of women who had or even contemplated an abortion died, a gross over-exaggeration of the procedure’s risk. (The actual risk of death from legal abortion is less than 1 per 100,000.)

And in public venues (like, say, slots for public testimony before legislatures considering abortion restriction bills), it is clearly only deemed “acceptable” when a woman who had an elective abortion appears regretful, wringing her hands and gnashing her teeth. Relatively very few women are willing to testify about purely elective abortions they have obtained, even if they do not regret them, and not without cause. When they do publicly discuss it, they risk serious consequences, like Lucy Flores, the Nevada legislator who told the story of her abortion as a teenager in support of a sex education bill and was summarily subjected to a torrent of death threats.

Even more subtle and pervasive than death threats is social ousting. Only days ago I had a conversation with another friend who, while she supports legal abortion, followed that up with the postscript that abortion is still “murder” and in “scenarios where I would not support her decision [I] would most likely be forced morally to cut ties with her.” Every time a friend, neighbor, or relative expresses such a sentiment (despite the high likelihood of unwittingly saying it to someone who has had an abortion), the idea that it is unacceptable to speak about the importance of abortion to the lives of real women is reinforced.

There are sadly far, far too many examples to name, but every time a politician describes abortion as an evil only terrible sinners might contemplate, he effectively silences women as well. Being told, for instance, that you are morally inferior to a rapist since “at least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t result in anyone’s death” (I’m looking at you, Rep. Lawrence Lockman) tends to have that effect.

In turn, shame-induced silence propagates the impression of absence. The void is filled by the “socially acceptable” hand-wringers and teeth gnashers who, while they certainly represent a portion of women who obtain abortions, are not reflective of the whole, or even the majority. Pro-lifers continue seeing exactly what they expect to see, and continue advancing (and believing!) the notion that abortion is tangibly harmful, not only to fetuses, but to women.

And, very, very slowly, the pro-choice movement loses ground in the culture war.

The number of people who labeled themselves “pro-choice” in the Gallup poll on abortion, which has been tallying the estimated percentages of pro-choice vs pro-life citizens since 1995, reached an all-time low of 41% in 2012. Other polling has shown an increasing number of pro-lifers among Republicans, and more disturbingly, an increase in the number of Democratic men who oppose abortion as well. While these numbers are more complicated than they appear (for instance, a personally pro-life person may still support some or all legal abortion despite his or her views), the trends over time still have a story to tell.

The Overton window is a political theory that describes a narrow range of political beliefs that are considered acceptable. The silence of women caused by systematic social shaming and a climate of public threat, combined with an increasing number of openly hostile public remarks about abortion, seems to have shifted this window significantly further to the right in the last decade. As claims of dubious medical credibility and offensive remarks about the character of women who choose abortion become more mainstream, support of abortion up to viability is slowly coming to be perceived as an extremist view.

So how can we reverse the trend?

End the silence.



1) Gallup polling on abortion, trends over time:

2) The Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project on support for legal abortion:

3) Guttmacher Institute factsheet, Induced Abortion in the United States:

4) Guttmacher, Characteristics of US Abortion Patients, 2008:

5) CDC Abortion surveillance for 2009:

6) Slate, “Characters Who Have, or Just Think About Having Abortions, Often Die”:

7) Article on Lucy Flores, Nevada assemblywoman who received death threats following her testimony about her abortion at 16:

8) An excellent article I recommend, “Abortion as a Blessing, Grace, or Gift: Changing the Conversation on Reproductive Rights and Moral Values”

9) A great TedX talk on abortion stigma:

Abortion, Contraception, Rape, and Free Speech:

Stop the Politics Please

In the almost 50 years since the Supreme Court established the constitutional right to privacy for married couples through the Griswold vs. Connecticut case involving contraception for married couples and Eisenstadt vs. Baird (1972) for all individuals, it would seem that contraception would be understood as an integral part of reproductive healthcare for women. In the 41 years since the Supreme Court affirmed the right of privacy relative to reproductive decisions of the individual through the Roe vs. Wade decision, it would seem that abortion would be an accepted medical procedure for women faced with an unwanted or medically compromised pregnancy. The numerous court decisions in the decades after Roe vs. Wade (see Supreme Court Abortion Cases and Key Abortion Rulings) have affirmed abortion rights repeatedly and yet here we are, on the anniversary of Roe, with a political landscape in which a minority of elected officials, typically Republicans, prioritize abortion for their legislative legacies (see State Policies).

The politicians choose to ignore the verified experiences of reproductive health complications before Roe (see Repairing the Damage, Before Roe) in the United States or what is happening globally as factually reported by the New York Times, World Health Organization, and Guttmacher Institute. Instead, they grandstand women who regret their abortions and mislead the public with terms like “post-abortion syndrome” that no professional medical or mental health organization recognizes, and fairly addressed by the American Psychological Association.

There are women who regret abortions just as there are women who regret childbirth and adoption choices; no legislator would ever get away with identifying the latter two regrets as pervasive syndromes. What is most striking is that the first point of contact suggested for women suffering from the supposed syndrome is none other than a Crisis Pregnancy Center – nonprofits established to dissuade women from choosing abortion. While medical practices that provide abortions must meet rigorous government and professional standards, CPCs are not required to be staffed with medically trained personnel. They are unregulated and the one certification many of them acquire is from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability which is committed to “establishing and interpreting standards of accountability that are biblically based”. They do not share scientifically or medically verified information; they impart information that is steeped in religious and personal perspective.

Particularly disturbing are the other issues that have become part of the abortion debate over the past 41 years.

Rape laws – and perceptions of rape –have become murky. If anti-abortion legislators allow abortion at all, it is for rape – which they are also redefining – and maybe incest (see “Legitimate Rape”, “Men Defining Rape: A History”, and “Rape Pregnancies are Rare”). Anti-abortion legislators, with the help of material from organizations such as Georgia Right to Life, minimize rape or pregnancy resulting from rape.  The fetus is far more important than the rape victim in their world.

Some would argue that a generally bizarre cultural attitude about rape has evolved among Republicans. The recent statement by Virginia State Senator Dick Black that “spousal rape is not a crime” or Michigan lawmakers discussing the option of abortion insurance in their healthcare program in the event a woman gets pregnant from rape is abhorrent.  Texas anti-abortion legislator Jodie Laubenberg dismissed the need for a rape exception to a restrictive abortion proposal, claiming that rape kits “clean out” women.

So frequent the Republican comments about rape and abortion are, a website was established to track the comments. It indeed appears as if many Republicans have a goal to further stigmatize rape so that women will return to a time in which underreporting and unfair scrutiny of the victim were the norm and all claims about pregnancy resulting from rape were questioned. The perception many political moderates have of the Republicans is that their ongoing references to rape when abortion is discussed implies that they have a basic distrust of any woman who claims to have been raped and certainly any woman who claims that her pregnancy resulted from rape. A Mother Jones summary of the rape related commentary from politicians across the country during 2013 can be found here.

Free speech is another area that has become front and center in the abortion debate, especially over the past ten years or so. Last Imageweek the Supreme Court heard arguments in a Massachusetts case in which anti-abortion activists claim that restricting protesters to a 35-foot buffer zone impedes their free speech. As a fierce advocate of free speech I want anti-abortion people to have the right to express their views. I genuinely believe that all issues achieve a certain balance in large part due to the ability of all views to be heard. I am torn, however, on their right to “in-your-face” share selective, or outright incorrect and unscientific, information with patients who did not ask them for their view. These protesters claim to be “counselors” seeking to share information about abortion alternatives.  In my own experience and observations of more than three decades, “counseling” is not what happens. Nonconsensual delivery of harsh judgments and rhetoric about the choice of abortion is what is typically conveyed.

There are indeed some protesters who are kind, gentle, and truly express their convictions about abortion in a meaningful way. But, no one asked them to do so. As an editorial in a Boulder publication stated, “Unless you consent to it, no one can run up scream in your face that you shouldn’t be getting your Viagra any more than they counsel you from obtaining birth control…” Would this “sidewalk counseling” be protected speech, or tolerated at all, if it concerned some other medical procedure, like plastic surgery or immunizations, both of which can invite controversy? What is okay ever about showing up at a medical practice to talk with people you think are patients? Specific to abortion clinic buffer zones, there is a public interest to be served by upholding the current Massachusetts law. If the zones are removed, women will be prevented from exercising their constitutional right to abortion if they do not feel that they can enter the clinic safely or comfortably. Period. At the moment, the anti-abortion speech is protected – there is nothing interfering with the protesters praying loudly, holding graphics depicting their views, or being heard. The only difference to their prior speech is that the buffer zones appear to have impeded them from forcing their unrequested, nonconsensual “sidewalk counseling” on patients entering the clinic.

Continuing with free speech, how ironic is it that anti-abortion/anti-contraceptive people want restrictions placed on sharing abortion information with indigent women (Rust vs. Sullivan), advertising reproductive healthcare, sharing family planning information with high school students, using established medical protocol to inform abortion patients about the procedure, and the like, but they don’t believe they should be restricted in any way whatsoever in their efforts to dissuade women from obtaining an abortion by stating falsehoods about abortion?Image

Anti-abortion politicians want to enjoy free speech to the extent that it conveys their personal and religious opinions through laws dictating what abortion providers must say to patients and yet they oppose the inclusion of medical facts if the facts are not aligned with their views. So many of these politicians seem to think that upon election to office, they acquire medical degrees; they know exactly what doctors should say to abortion patients through scripted dialogues, such as that in South Dakota, or forced and narrated ultrasounds like the one thankfully just struck down in North Carolina. A Missouri state Senator’s social media rant that late term abortions are for convenience more often than to protect the life or health of the mother is an example of a politician wanting his free speech protected as he attempts to stifle the facts another person tried to convey about late term abortion. The saddest aspect of it all is that these politicians expect their views to be included as fact in public policy debates and proposals.

Time and again Republican lawmakers claim to want smaller government. Some even claim that they oppose President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act because they “don’t think the government should be in between you and your doctor.”  This issue can begin in Texas. As you read this post, there is a family grieving over the loss of their loved one, Marlise Munoz, who was declared brain dead in late November. Because she was 13-15 weeks pregnant at the time of her death, the hospital determined that despite the wishes of her family, she must be kept on life support technology (see The Cruelest Pregnancy) due to the abortion law enacted in Texas in 2013. Small government, eh? I guess this case also illustrates how much Texas wants the government out of the doctor-patient relationship — unless it involves a fetus, regardless of probable outcome for that same fetus.

It is acceptable that many oppose abortion or contraception on the basis of their personal religious or moral views, which are different than mine and roughly half of all other Americans. Unbiased polling consistently illustrates that most of us want abortion to remain legal; whatever variations exists in the conditions placed on legal abortion, most do not want Roe vs. Wade overturned (see Abortion and Birth Control polling). I understand and respect strong opinions and convictions. I do not understand the form of absolutism that imposes one set of convictions on others.

The United States has continuously grappled with costly court cases, polarized debate often void of indisputable scientific facts and full of outrageous claims, and public policy proposals that are frequently deceptive and attached at the last minute to unrelated legislative packages or bills. In recent years, state legislatures have introduced a myriad of anti-abortion laws – in 2011 a whopping 92 were proposed! During 2013, almost 50 new restrictions were placed on abortion in 17 different states by midsummer, with other restrictions making it through one court or another. Make no mistake; the efforts at the state level are ultimately targeting Roe vs. Wade. The constitutional right to abortion may continue but as all readers here are aware, if there is no access, what exactly is the right?

On this 41st anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, it would be fitting for pro-choice people to take a look back and ask how such extensive erosion to abortion rights happened? How did rape and free speech become so intertwined with the politics of abortion that we now see the public manipulated at times by the anti-abortion messaging? It is time to stop the politics and return to the facts alone. The anti-abortion politicians, if you think about it, have given the pro-choice cause a few gifts with their ridiculous behaviors, proposals, and words. Now is a good time to begin reversing the damage that happened as so many of us thought the Constitution and the courts offered protections.

No More Bullying Abortion Facilities

About ten years ago, I attended the funeral of Norma Stave, a good friend who, with her husband Carl, was the co-owner of two abortion clinics in Maryland.  Carl was the main physician who performed the abortions.  When I arrived at the church, Carl came up to me and asked at the last second if I would deliver a eulogy.  I had always been comfortable talking in front of audiences but this was a different animal.  Still, I was able to get through it, using my few minutes to praise Norma for her devotion to women in need.

Skip ahead a number of years.  Carl died shortly after Norma and their son, Todd, ultimately became the landlord for their two buildings.  About eight months ago, Todd’s clinic in Germantown, Maryland attracted national attention when they hired Doctor Lee Carhart, a physician who worked for the late George Tiller and who vowed to continue George’s work by offering late term abortions.

Victim of Anti-Abortion groups

Victim of Anti-Abortion groups

Soon thereafter, local anti-abortion advocates learned that Todd owned that building where Lee worked.  They quickly organized a number of protests, accomplished their goal of getting publicity in the local papers and have been a continual presence ever since.  Then, looking for another angle to get their names in the papers, they decided to crawl deeper into the gutter.  They learned where Todd’s 11 year old daughter was going to school and at a Back to School night, they stood outside the school with a banner that read “Please Stop Killing the Children” and the usual photos of aborted fetuses.   Then, these wackos actually put Todd’s picture, phone numbers and email addresses online and urged their followers to contact him with their “prayers.”  Todd was inundated with calls and emails.  Nice, huh?

But Todd decided to fight back.  He compiled a list of the people who were calling and emailing him and he sent that list out to 20 of his friends, urging them to call those people.  He told them to not argue with them, to just be polite and tell them that “the Stave family thanks you for your prayers.”  Well, those 20 friends passed on the info to their friends, and so on and so on and within two days they had 5,000 pro-choice folks making calls.  Interestingly, the calls and emails to Todd’s house came to an abrupt halt.

Hmmmmmm…Is Todd on to something here?


Abortion Rights

I talked to Todd last night.  He tells me that he has actually established a group called “Voice of Choice” ( which seeks to organize a “person to person counter campaign against anti-choice bullying.”  The people who volunteer are notified when a certain anti-abortion advocate is harassing a doctor and are given that person’s phone and/or email.  Then they start contacting that person.  Todd says they have successfully stopped the harassment in two cases already.

I have no doubt that there are some pro-choicers out there who might feel uncomfortable about stooping to the tactics normally used by the anti abortion folks.  Indeed, whether or not to use these kinds of aggressive tactics has been the subject of many conversations within the pro choice movement for years.  In fact, Todd told me that some national pro-choice groups have been reluctant to cooperate with his organization.

When I was in the movement, I always came down on the side of those who did not support stooping to their level.  I thought it was beneath us, that we had to take the high road.  And maybe I’m just getting old and cranky.  But now I say screw it.  As long as it’s legal, go get the bastards, Todd!



Is there a more pathetic state in the Union?   I mean, does anyone know of a state that is more regressive in terms of income, health, education, baseball teams?   Indeed, can you name a Third World country that is as bad as Mississippi?    

And, now, to push the state even further into the dark ages, their voters on Tuesday will probably pass a resolution that will totally outlaw abortion.  The specific question that the voters will be asked to approve says:  “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?”   Now I can’t imagine anyone in that state who knows what the term “thereof” means, but the gist of this measure is there will be no more abortions and lots more kids to add to the misery that is life in Mississippi.  Indeed, the person who is spearheading this effort, a guy named Les Riley, is the founder of “Personhood Mississippi” and he is the father of TEN children.  I guess old Les is hoping that others in his neck of the woods will bear the same number of kids, if not more, so they can get the classroom sizes up to at least 50 kids per room which would push their rate of academic achievement below that of Somalia.  Quite a role model, that Les!

The interesting thing about this resolution is that many “mainstream” pro-life groups actually oppose it because they are smart enough to realize that it is too extreme.  But, it ain’t too extreme for the Bubbas in Mississippi.  Indeed, outlawing abortion ain’t enough for these folks.  An analysis of the resolution shows that certain forms of birth control would be outlawed (thus creating even more children living in poverty) and it would limit in vitro fertilization.  But, for now, let’s stick to the abortion side of the equation. 

This is Johnny, oh wait, Marie, oh wait "it" has no sex yet.

When the measure passes, the next day Planned Parenthood will challenge it in court and the lower courts will grant an injunction prohibiting the measure from going into effect.  Here’s the thing, however.  Let’s say Mitt Romney (or one of the other Republican nominees) becomes President in 2013.  Despite his previous support for the right to choose, he has now courageously “seen the light” and is all of a sudden pro-life.  What a guy, a true Profile in Courage.  As President, he would be beholden to the pro-life movement and

sooner or later some more Supreme Court judges are going to kick the bucket.  That means that Romney (or, conversely, Obama) might get to make 2 or 3 appointments.  If it’s Romney, you know damn well he is going to appoint judges who are pro-life and that could tip the scales. 

Yes, many lawyers suggest that the court could not uphold a measure like this because of “legal precedent.”  That’s garbage.  It might have been the case years ago when our judicial system, not to mention the executive and legislative branches, were more deferential to their body’s previous actions but not anymore.  I am convinced that when the Supreme Court gets this (or any other) case, the justices, with the possible exception of Justice Kennedy, make up their minds immediately, then instruct their clerks to construct their rationalization.  If you think they sit there objectively, listening intently to the arguments of the learned counsel then come to a decision, you’re in La La land.  I mean, think about it.  Do you really think Clarence Thomas and Anton Scalia would NOT find a way to uphold the Mississippi law?  

So, this case will ultimately make it to the Supreme Court in a few years.  And that makes the next Presidential election so extremely important when it comes to abortion rights.  I feel like we’ve been through this drill before, but this time it’s extremely serious. 

Empty Press Conference Room

About a year after we formed the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, its members decided it was time to hold their first conference.  For years, many of them had been attending regular conferences hosted by the National Abortion Federation but some of the NCAP members were not members of NAF and the NAF meetings tended to focus on the medical side of the abortion issue.   The folks who belonged to NCAP believed strongly in having a political voice on Capitol Hill.  They argued that while NARAL was focusing on the general right to abortion, they needed someone to educate the Congress on the issues of direct importance to abortion doctors and clinics.

So, we booked the new Hilton Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, put out the suggested agenda and kept our fingers crossed.  Like anyone

who is putting on a party, we were very nervous that no one would show up.  But, much to our surprise, about 70 clinic staff, owners and doctors came to Alexandria for the two day affair.  Two of the attendees were Doctors George Tiller and Bart Slepian, who both would ultimately be murdered by pro-life activists.

To highlight how NCAP was already establishing a presence on Capitol Hill, we persuaded Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, a leader of the pro-choice movement, to kick off the event.  Jim gave a rousing speech to a crowd of people, many of whom had never even met a real live Congressman.  The next few hours were devoted to public relations and business issues.  For example, we discussed how to conduct an “open house” for abortion clinics and where to get the best malpractice insurance.

The highlight of the meeting, however, was the adoption of NCAP’s first resolution.  At that time, the clinics were under siege legislatively on both the national and state levels.  It seemed that every day a bill was introduced requiring parental consent for minors, a 24 hour waiting period, the distribution of fetal development brochures, etc.  At one point, however, an NCAP member suggested that those who were introducing these bills really had no idea how clinics opera

Proud Providers

ted to begin with and how women approached the decision.  So, the members decided to adopt a statement which made it very clear how clinics operated and how patients were treated.  So, for example, they noted that 95% of minors already talked to their parent or parents, that women DID wait at least 24 hours from the time they decided to have an abortion and that the clinics were already subject to many federal and state regulations.

The resolution was adopted unanimously and we decided to have a press conference on Capitol Hill the next day.  We quickly hired a public relations firm to get the word out.  Besides the resolution, their pitch was that this would be a

chance for the press to see in person the owners, doctors and staff who actually worked in abortion clinics.  This was a “coming out party” of sorts for our folks.

The next day, about 30 members of NCAP, all dressed up in their best Capitol Hill attire, took taxis to the House Cannon Office Building and walked into the ornate Post Office and Civil Service Committee Room, ready to conduct their press conference.  But as we walked through the large mahogany doors, we entered an empty room.  Not one member of the press showed up.  We had given a press conference and no one came.  I was totally ticked off but the NCAP members were just thrilled to be in the room and when a young media student from Georgetown University came walking in with his little camera, they agreed to stand behind the podium and make their statements.

To this day, I’ll never forget them standing there, facing that one camera, looking very proud that they had adopted this resolution and were finally showing their faces to the public.  It was just one camera but for all they knew, they could have been talking to CNN.