Tag Archives: choice

Who’s affected by insurers’ pullbacks?

Aetna last week joined other health insurers in withdrawing from many of the health exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act.

The company cited an unsustainable financial situation.

But that motive is being questioned: It was revealed last week that Aetna had earlier warned it would reduce its presence in the exchanges if the Justice Department sued to block its deal to acquire Humana.

The government filed that suit last month.

Regardless, this latest pullback from Obamacare leaves a lot of questions about competitive options in the exchanges, how consumers will be affected and the future of the law.

KHN’s Julie Rovner joined a panel of guests on The Diane Rehm Show on Aug. 18 to discuss the move and how it might affect the presidential campaign.

Made available by Kaiser Health News.

Bracing for the return of ‘Summer of Mercy’ anti-abortion protests

Twenty-five years after tumultuous mass protests led to nearly 2,700 arrests outside local abortion clinics, Wichita is bracing for a Summer of Mercy.

The Wichita Police Department has spent months putting together a 60-page operational plan that aims at ensuring that everyone is safe.

“I don’t think that we are anticipating an event like 1991,” said Police Capt. Brian White. “However, we have to be prepared for all possibilities and we want to ensure protesters have the ability to exercise their rights to protest, and we also want to make sure that we balance that with the legal right for the businesses to operate.”

The return of the Summer of Mercy, slated for July 16-23, is being organized by Operation Save America, a Dallas-based Christian fundamentalist group led by Rusty Thomas. Group leaders say they hope to complete in 2016 what activists started in 1991.

About 100 to 150 police officers have been assigned to the protests.

“While we have had good lines of communications with protesters, we have to be prepared for the unexpected and that is what we are doing,” White said.

Donna Lippoldt of Operation Save America’s Wichita affiliate did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Pastor Rob Rotola, whose Word of Life Church is hosting the Summer of Mercy, also did not return a call from the Associated Press.

Abortion provider George Tiller and the clinic where he performed abortions had been a target for decades. His clinic was bombed in 1985 and Tiller was shot in both arms in 1992. He was murdred in 2009 at his Wichita church by an abortion opponent. For years afterward, no abortion services were available. Then, in April 2013, the group Trust Women opened the South Wind Women’s Center in Tiller’s former facility.

Director Julie Burkhart said the clinic plans to stay open during this year’s protest, but a decision was made not to do any counter protesting.

“It is a new approach,” Burkhart said. “That our work is here inside and it is out talking to people who would like to have meaningful conversations in the community and not standing out basically wasting energy on folks that will never be able to understand that sometimes some people need or want to access abortion care.”

Instead, abortion rights supporters put together other events, including a rally and reception as part of what they’ve dubbed the #ShowSomeMercy Celebration.

A look at fatal attacks in anti-abortion violence in the US

At least 11 people have been killed in attacks against abortion providers in the U.S. since 1993, according to the National Abortion Federation. Here are some details of those attacks:

  • March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn is shot to death outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida, becoming the first U.S. doctor killed during an anti-abortion demonstration. Michael Griffin is convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
  • July 29, 1994: Dr. John Bayard Britton and a volunteer bodyguard are slain outside another clinic in Pensacola. Barrett’s wife, June, is wounded. Paul Hill, 40, a former minister and anti-abortion activist, confesses and cites Griffin as an inspiration. Hill is convicted of murder and executed in 2003.
  • Dec. 30, 1994: John Salvi opens fire with a rifle inside two Boston-area abortion clinics, killing two receptionists and wounding five others. Sentenced to life without parole, he kills himself in prison in 1996.
  • Jan. 29, 1998: A bomb explodes just outside a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, killing an off-duty police officer and wounding several others. Five years later, suspect Eric Robert Rudolph is captured in North Carolina. He admits to bombing the Birmingham clinic, another clinic and a gay bar outside Atlanta, and Centennial Olympic Park, a gathering spot for the 1996 Summer Games, an attack that killed one bystander and injured more than 100. Rudolph is serving multiple life sentences at the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, near Colorado Springs.
  • Oct. 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian is fatally shot in his home in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. Militant abortion opponent James Kopp is convicted of the murder in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He is also convicted of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and sentenced to life in prison.
  • May 31, 2009: Prominent late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller is shot and killed in a church in Wichita, Kansas, where he was serving as an usher; Tiller had been shot leaving his clinic 16 years earlier but survived. Scott Roeder confesses and is found guilty of murder and other counts. He is sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 50 years, but has that sentence vacated after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. A new jury will decide how long he must serve before he is eligible for parole.
  • Nov. 27, 2015: A gunman kills a police officer and two people accompanying friends to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Nine others are wounded. Robert Lewis Dear, who has acknowledged being the shooter, tells investigators he drew inspiration from Hill, the killer in the 1994 Pensacola attack.


Sources: National Abortion Federation; AP research

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Year in Review: Abortion rights, clinics under growing attacks in 2015

More than 300,000 Americans and a coalition of 140 progressive groups want the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the deadly shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as an act of domestic terrorism.

“We, the undersigned, urge the Department of Justice to investigate the recent attacks on reproductive-health clinics using all appropriate federal statutes, including domestic terrorism,” read an appeal sent in December to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “Since the release of the first deceptively edited video from the Center for Medical Progress intended to vilify Planned Parenthood, and, by proxy, all abortion providers, anti-choice extremists have launched an unprecedented and multi-pronged assault against women’s reproductive rights.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America, UltraViolet, CREDO Action, Courage Campaign and others said the November shooting was politically motivated.

“People are dying, clinics are burning — and only a domestic terrorism investigation can help us find out who is driving this violence,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet. 

Thomas cited acts of violence at other clinics in five states in 2015 intended to terrorize women and “scare them away from accessing health care.”

Since 1977, there have been 11 murders and more than 220 bombings and arson attacks at abortion facilities in the United States, according to the National Abortion Foundation.

The request for investigation was made days before shooting suspect Robert Dear, accused of killing three people and injuring nine in the Colorado attack, stepped into a courtroom on Dec. 9 and declared himself a “warrior for the babies.”

Leaders of the progressive groups said politicians should be held accountable for the irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric that fuels such thinking and the resulting violence.

Planned Parenthood redoubled clinic security after the shooting and, in many states, the organization’s supporters marched on their capitols in displays of solidarity. A national day of solidarity was observed on Dec. 5. In Wisconsin, activists gathered at the Capitol on Dec. 10.

“While we’ve seen the continuation of hateful rhetoric toward Planned Parenthood by those who oppose our work, their voice clearly does not represent the majority,” said Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “Our resolve to keep our doors open is stronger than the continued political rhetoric calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, because we care deeply for the people who rely on us for high-quality, nonjudgmental care.”

Throughout 2015, supporters of Planned Parenthood, which serves more than 60,000 women and men each year in Wisconsin, put up a defense against repeated GOP legislative efforts to cut funding and restrict access to health care in Wisconsin, other states and at the federal level.

In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit rejected Wisconsin’s efforts to reinstate a restriction on access to abortion. The appeals panel affirmed the decision of U.S. District Judge William Conley that the state’s admitting privileges law, which requires physicians who prescribe so-called “morning after” pills and perform abortions, to be affiliated with a nearby hospital. Conley said the measure places an undue burden on women’s access to safe and legal abortions. The circuit court panel said the law does nothing to support patient safety.

“To those who go to shocking extremes to shut us down, know this: These doors stay open,” Huyck vowed.

IN 2015

Lawmakers in 16 states, including Wisconsin, passed nearly 50 bills restricting access to abortion in 2015, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Two state legislatures — Wisconsin’s and West Virginia’s — voted to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Five legislatures voted to lengthen waiting periods for abortions.

— L.N.

Talking about 2015

The most prominent theme to emerge among users on Dictionary.com was in the expanding and increasingly fluid nature of conversations about gender and sexuality, and also racial identity.

This led the online reference service to name “identity” the 2015 Word of the Year.

— Lisa Neff

House to hold Planned Parenthood hearing Sept. 9

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled Congress’ first hearing on the Planned Parenthood videos for next week. And the title they’re using leaves little doubt about where Republicans who run Congress stand.

The committee says the Sept. 9 session will be the first of several hearings called “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.”

Abortion foes have released nine furtively recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials and others describing how they furnish aborted fetus tissue to researchers. 

The committee says it is investigating whether Planned Parenthood has violated a federal prohibition against a procedure abortion foes call partial-birth abortion. 

Planned Parenthood officials say they’ve done nothing illegal. An organization official, Dawn Laguens, says they know little about the hearing “beyond its provocative title.”

Pope Francis says priests can absolve women of ‘sin of abortion’

Pope Francis declared on Sept. 1 that he is allowing all priests in the church’s upcoming Year of Mercy to absolve women of the “sin of abortion” if they repent with a “contrite heart. Francis said he is aware some feel they have no choice but to abort.

Francis, in letter published by the Vatican, said he has met many women bearing “the scar of this agonizing” decision to abort. He said God’s forgiveness cannot be denied to those who repent, and therefore he is giving all priests the power to absolve the sin in the Holy Year of Mercy running Dec. 8, 2015, until Nov. 20, 2016.

The church views abortion as such as sin that, until now, a Catholic woman who wanted to repent for an abortion could not simply go to her local parish priest. Instead, her diocese’s bishop needed to delegate a priest, expert at dealing with such confessions, to hear the woman’s confession, or reserved for himself the decision on whether to absolve such women.

With the declaration, Francis is making it possible for women to bypass this formalized process in the approaching special Year of Mercy.

Francis made clear he isn’t downplaying the gravity of abortion for the church, which essentially views abortion as equivalent to murder. Instead, he applied his leadership vision of mercy to what is an intensely personal, often anguished choice for women.

“The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails,” Francis wrote in a letter to a Vatican official promoting the church’s evangelization efforts.

“Many others on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option.”

Francis drew on decades of pastoral experience with rank-and-file faithful in his native Argentina, including as Buenos Aires archbishop.

“I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that led them to this decision,” Francis said. “I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision,” the pope wrote.

“The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father,” the pope stressed.

He said that is why he has decided to concede to all priests “the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”

In a statement following the pope’s letter, the Vatican made clear that “forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not condone abortion nor minimize its grave effects. The newness is clearly Pope Francis’ pastoral approach.”

The Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said on Sept. 1, “Pope Francis’s decision to refocus the church’s energy towards mercy starts as a nice thought grounded in compassion, but quickly turns to more shame for women. The compassionate, pastoral approach is to recognize that women have abortions for many reasons. Neither the pope nor any of us can fully understand a woman’s decision because we do not stand in her shoes. What a woman really needs from her clergy is someone ready and able to have deep pastoral conversations about her decision. The pope should equip his priests with the tools to listen to a woman’s story instead of offering occasional absolution.”

At the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, executive director Jessica González-Rojas said, “What is significant here is that the pope, as a faith leader for millions, recognizes the need to talk about abortion, which one in three women will experience in her lifetime. Yet these comments fall short in reflecting the realities of women’s lives, and the viewpoints of many Catholics. Despite ongoing prohibition by church doctrine, Catholic Latinas support access to reproductive healthcare, with 90 percent of married Catholic Latinas using a modern form of contraception and a majority of Latino/a voters — including many Catholics, supporting access to safe and legal abortion services.

“Moreover, these statements perpetuate the notion that a person who has ended a pregnancy must be ashamed and contributes to culturally pervasive and deeply harmful abortion stigma. As an organization committed to Latina health and reproductive justice, we reject any attempt to impose judgement or shame on someone based on deeply personal decisions about health, pregnancy, and whether to become a parent.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated with additional reaction to the announcement from the Vatican.

GOP wants to overturn women’s choice

When I went to work as Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s legislative director in 2003, I was unprepared for the attacks the organization experiences on a routine basis. The staff and physicians who walk into women’s health centers every day are targeted, harassed and threatened. Their workplaces are vandalized. They keep going because they know that without PPWI, thousands of women in our state wouldn’t have access to birth control, cervical and breast cancer screening or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Abortion is only a tiny piece of the services PPWI provides, but it is a critical service. And there are people in our state who risk their lives every day to provide it. 

When I was elected state representative, I saw that some legislators are in the Capitol solely to make abortion and birth control illegal. They will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. Look at their reaction to the latest smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. They’ve passed a new law that would lower birth control reimbursement rates for providers serving low-income women to a level that could shut down most or all of the health centers. Although Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans have already denied any state funding for the birth control and cancer detection efforts that PPWI provides (no public monies can be used for abortion services), they now are attempting to deny any federal family planning funds as well. 

This is part of a national effort. At the recent annual American Legislative Exchange Council convention, the campaign against Planned Parenthood was a cause célèbre among GOP presidential candidates. ALEC purports not to address social issues, but it and the anti-abortion movement have many of the same funding sources and goal — electing Republicans who will carry out their agendas. 

Under the ALEC banner of free markets and limited government, Walker touted his defunding PPWI. But he failed to mention that his actions shut down five mostly rural health centers that provided cervical and breast cancer screens — not abortions. Nor did he mention new numbers showing that 25 percent fewer women had access to a women’s health center in 2013 than in 2010.

The biggest lesson I have learned about reproductive health has been as a woman who struggled through six pregnancies, more than half unsuccessfully. I learned that the decisions we make about our reproductive health aren’t about death, but about life. About living. Whether we are faced with an unintended pregnancy or a wanted pregnancy that goes wrong, we are trying to live the lives we imagined for our families and us.

Conservatives want to talk about death and fetal tissue and body parts, leaving women out of the discussion on abortion and reproductive health. They ignore the reality of women’s lives and the dreams we have for ourselves and the families we may, or may not, someday have.

What they really want is to stamp out our ability to make decisions about our lives. They are using the latest campaign to shut down Planned Parenthood to do just that.

We must make sure that doesn’t happen. 

Rep. Chris Taylor represents the 76th Assembly District, which is in and around Madison.

Planned Parenthood investigating claims of website hack

Planned Parenthood called on the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice on July 27 for help managing cybersecurity, following a report that the reproductive healthcare group’s website had been hacked by anti-abortion activists.

The Daily Dot online newspaper reported that a hacking group had gained access to Planned Parenthood’s website databases and the names and email addresses of its employees.

Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens said “extremists” had launched an attack on the organization’s systems but did not say whether the hack attempt was successful.

“Extremists have broken laws, harassed our doctors and patients, produced hack videos, and now are claiming to have committed a gross invasion of privacy – one that, if true, could potentially put our staff members at risk,” she said in a statement.

The Daily Dot reported that the hackers, who called themselves “social justice warriors,” said they plan to release the organization’s internal emails soon.

The cyberattack follows weeks of debate among lawmakers in which Republicans have sought to investigate and defund the organization while Democrats have rushed to its defense over two secretly recorded videos released by an anti-abortion group. Planned Parenthood receives nearly $500 million in federal funding each year.

On July 27, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy said Congress should immediately defund the group until investigations by two House committees are complete.

“These are serious questions and regardless of where anybody stands on the issue, knowing the doubt of what’s going on here, is this a place that tax dollars should be spent?” he said at a news conference.

Last week, Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul began fast-tracking legislation to eliminate the group’s federal funding, which could allow for a Senate vote as early as this week.

The videos, which were secretly recorded by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, show Planned Parenthood officials discussing ways to perform abortions to preserve fetal tissue for research and the costs involved.

Planned Parenthood says the videos are the latest attack in a decades-long campaign against it and denies doing anything illegal. The organization focuses on family planning and pregnancy prevention, with abortions comprising 3 percent of its services.

Federal law prohibits the buying or selling of fetal tissue for profit but allows for the donation of tissue for research or transplantation.

Supreme Court won’t revive North Carolina’s anti-abortion rule

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from North Carolina to revive a requirement that abortion providers show and describe an ultrasound to a pregnant woman before she has an abortion.

The justices left in place an appeals court decision that said the 2011 North Carolina law was “ideological in intent” and violated doctors’ free-speech rights. The measure was championed by conservative Republicans in the state legislature, who overrode a veto from the then-Democratic governor to approve the law.

The North Carolina law would have required abortion providers to display and describe the ultrasound even if the woman refused to look and listen — a mandate that the court found particularly troublesome. The law did not include any exception for cases of rape, incest or severe fetal anomalies.

“North Carolinians should take comfort in knowing that this intrusive and unconstitutional law, which placed the ideological agenda of politicians above a doctor’s ability to provide a patient with the specific care she needs, will never go into effect,” said Sarah Preston of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, one of several groups that opposed the law in court. “We’re very glad the courts have recognized that politicians have no business interfering in personal medical decisions that should be left to a woman and her doctor.”

North Carolina is among 23 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest, which passed laws dealing with the administration of ultrasounds by abortion providers, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research institute that supports abortion-rights.

The court took no action in a separate abortion case from Mississippi. The state is appealing a lower court ruling that effectively allowed Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic to remain open and blocked a state law that would have required the clinic’s doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

A second appeals court ruling involving a Texas law imposing restrictions on abortion providers also is expected to make its way to the Supreme Court soon. In Texas, the appeals court upheld the admitting privileges requirement and other provisions that could force 11 clinics to close by July 1, lawyers for the clinics said in court papers.

The North Carolina case is Walker-McGill v. Stuart, 14-1172.

News analysis | Wisconsin Senate approves controversial abortion ban that experts say will have dire consequences for women, doctors and the state

The Wisconsin state Senate has approved a controversial, potentially unconstitutional bill that would ban non-emergency abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill’s supporters in the Republican-controlled Senate say fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, while opponents argue that the suffering for Wisconsin women would be greater if the measure advanced. The Senate approved the bill on a 19–14 vote along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor.

All of the state’s major medical organizations oppose the law.

Advocates for a woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby say the bill is an attack on sexually active women that’s designed to deflect attention from the Republican-controlled Legislature’s stalemate over a controversial budget bill. The budget slashes popular programs while giving away massive taxpayer dollars to wealthy business interests, including politically connected construction companies that build unneeded highways and the billionaires developing a new arena complex for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The abortion that passed would have minimal impact on reducing the number of abortions in the state.  The most recent information from the state Department of Health Services shows that only 1 percent of abortions in Wisconsin in 2013 occurred after the 20-week mark — in other words, 89 of the nearly 6,500 abortions performed that year.

The vast majority of such abortions only occur when severe fetal abnormalities are detected and the baby is unlikely to survive. Abortions after 20 weeks also are the result of the mother’s life being in grave danger if she continues with the pregnancy.

The Senate’s abortion law will wind up facing expensive litigation. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said it’s worth spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending the law in court regardless of its minimal impact. “Protecting life is something that we shouldn’t necessarily just put a price tag on,” Vos said.

Under the law, doctors who perform an abortion after 20 weeks in non-emergency situations could be charged with a felony and subject to $10,000 in fines or 3.5 years in prison. The fetus’ father could also press charges against the physician. As written, the bill doesn’t provide exceptions for pregnancies conceived from sexual assault or incest.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, a fervently anti-gay, fundamentalist Christian, said that passing the bill would prevent suffering during an abortion.

“It’s cruel to allow a baby and a mother to go through a process that inflicts that pain, ultimately ending a life,” Vukmir said. “How can we allow these abortions on five-month-old (fetuses)?”

But while the bill’s supporters, who are opposed to abortion under all circumstances, contend that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, science does not support them. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says research suggests fetal pain is not possible until the third trimester begins at 27 weeks.

State tea party leaders, however, do not believe in science.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the bill disregards a mother’s health. The bill as written says a doctor cannot perform an abortion after 20 weeks unless the mother is likely within 24 hours to die or suffer irreversible impairment of one or more of the woman’s major bodily functions.

“The mother basically has to be knocking on death’s door for the doctor … to legally feel he’s OK to focus on the life of the mother,” Erpenbach said. “You’re going to take a doctor who makes a decision and you’re going to make him a felon.”

Vos said the Assembly could take up the abortion bill later this month or in the fall. He said Assembly Republicans had not yet discussed the measure, but he supported it.

“The bill as it’s drafted, I think, has a lot of merit,” Vos said at a news conference. “I do not certainly support the idea of allowing unborn children who feel pain to be aborted inside the womb.”

Gov. Scott Walker has said he would sign the bill into law.

Fourteen states have passed bans at 20 weeks or earlier, which depart from the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That ruling established a nationwide right to abortion but permitted states to restrict the procedures after the point of viability — when a fetus could viably survive outside the womb under normal conditions. If offered no legal definition of viability, saying it could range from the 24th to the 28th week of pregnancy.

Courts have blocked bans in Georgia, Idaho and Arizona. Litigation in other states is ongoing.

Associated Press reporters Scott Bauer and Dana Ferguson contributed to this report, as did WiG staff writer Louis Weisberg.