Tag Archives: reproductive freedom

Texas lawmakers back at work, abortion restrictions back on agenda

The Texas Legislature is back, and so are more proposals to restrict abortions.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry has told lawmakers that he expects more anti-abortion laws during the 2013 session to work toward his goal “to make abortion at any stage a thing of the past.”

Anti-abortion activists have pledged to use every legal means possible to make obtaining abortions difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.

Last session, Perry signed into law two measures, one requiring doctors to conduct trans-vaginal sonograms before performing an abortion, and another banning groups that support abortion rights from participating in state-funded health programs.

This year he wants to further curtail when a woman can have an abortion, a law that courts have blocked in Georgia, Oklahoma and Arizona.

“We … need to better protect our most vulnerable citizens, the unborn, by expanding the ban on abortion to any baby that can feel the pain of the procedure, and putting in place common-sense oversights on clinics and physicians involved,” Perry told lawmakers on the opening day of the 2013 legislative session.

The so-called fetal pain bill relies on controversial claims that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks of gestation. Under current law, states can only ban abortions after 24 weeks.

Women’s rights activists point to scientific studies that find no evidence to support the claim. Tarrant County Sen. Wendy Davis opposes the effort to “chip away” at a woman’s right to choose.

“This bill, which is not grounded in sound science, represents just one more effort to intercede in decisions best made by a woman and her doctor,” Davis said. “Because these so-called small government advocates won’t acknowledge that a woman’s right to choose is the law of the land, they’re reduced to expanding government into women’s health care decisions.”

Lawmakers have passed similar bills in Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana, Idaho, Alabama and Nebraska. But the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned the law and federal judges in Georgia and Arizona have blocked enforcement of the measure there. The courts determined the laws infringe on a civil rights.

Janet Crepps, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the laws are part of a national anti-abortion strategy.

“We really disagree with the science and we feel this is nothing more than a sensational attempt to limit access to abortion based on bad science,” Crepps said, citing recent research as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “This is clearly part of an agenda to stop women from accessing abortion, and in Texas in particular, I think you’ve seen a very hostile Legislature against reproductive rights.”

The measure is just one of Texas Right to Life’s priorities for the 83rd Legislature. They also want to take away a judge’s authority to allow teenage girls, under certain circumstances, to have an abortion without their parent’s permission. They also want a ban on abortion coverage in insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act.

“Until our elected servants recognize that their first duty is to protect the life of each conceived human being, Texas Right to Life will not stop pushing for new Pro-Life laws,” the group said.

Ardent ant-abortion activist Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for doctors to prescribe medications that induce abortions by adding a number of new requirements. The doctor must have a contract with another physician who promises to treat any emergencies arising from the drug, must designate a hospital where the emergency would be treated and the emergency physician must have admitting, gynecological, and surgical privileges at the hospital.

These requirements, among others in the bill, make it more difficult for doctors to prescribe these medications, particularly in rural areas. Advocates argue the law would protect women, but critics point out that medically-induced abortions rarely result in complications and the law is designed only to make abortions more difficult to obtain.

Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, has introduced a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions based on the gender of the child. The practice has been common in China, where parents are restricted from having more than one child, but public health reports give no indication it’s a problem in Texas.

Ohio Senate puts end to ‘heartbeat’ abortion bill

The leader of the Ohio Senate put a stop this week to a bill that would have imposed the most stringent restriction on abortions in the nation.

The chamber doesn’t plan to vote on the so-called “heartbeat bill” before the end of the legislative session next month, Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus said, citing concerns the resulting law might have been found to be unconstitutional.

“I want to continue our focus on jobs and the economy,” Niehaus told reporters. “That’s what people are concerned about.”

The bill proposed banning abortions after the first fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It had fiercely divided Ohio’s anti-abortion community, while energizing abortion rights proponents who protested against it.

Backers hoped the stringent nature of the bill would provoke a legal challenge with the potential to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Ohio Right to Life, the state’s largest and oldest anti-abortion group, and many state lawmakers expressed concern the limit would be unconstitutional – jeopardizing other abortion limits in Ohio.

The measure initially had stalled in both chambers as leaders sought legal advice as to whether the bill could withstand a court challenge. It passed the House in June 2011 and had remained pending in the Senate since.

Niehaus, who is leaving the Senate at the end of the year due to term limits, said a number of factors went into his decision not to bring the bill to a floor vote during the lame-duck session. He cited lingering constitutional concerns but would not elaborate on other issues he had with the measure.

Supporters had offered various versions of the proposal in recent weeks, Neihaus said. And a new draft had been brought to him as recently as Nov. 27.

Niehaus wouldn’t speculate on whether the bill would have cleared the Senate had he decided to bring it to the floor for a vote.

He said he respected the views of his Republican colleagues, who hold 23 of 33 seats in the Senate. But, he said, “Ultimately it’s my decision not to move this bill in lame duck.”

The heartbeat bill’s demise marked the end of one of the noisiest lobbying efforts in recent state memory.

One crowded House hearing featured what supporters called “the state’s youngest legislative witness,” an in utero fetus. Ultrasounds were performed at the hearing on two women who were early in their pregnancies, so legislators could see and hear fetal hearts. People whose mothers had sought abortions that failed – labeled “abortion survivors” – were featured at another hearing.

Proponents delivered bouquets of red heart-shaped balloons and teddy bears to lawmakers, flew banners over the statehouse and eventually turned to angry full-page ads in the Columbus newspaper.

Opponents also grew vocal. They rallied at the statehouse during key votes, arguing the legislation could endanger the lives of women, forcing them to seek the procedure in unhealthy circumstances.

Janet Folger Porter, president of Ohio-based Faith2Action and the bill’s champion, said she was confident the legislation would be upheld in court.

“This is the closest we have ever been to protecting babies with beating hearts,” she said when it passed the House. “When this passes, it will be the most protective legislation in the nation.”

Porter led a charge to line up a host of high-profile supporters. They included Cincinnati physician Jack Willke, a former president of the National Right to Life Committee and founder of the International Right to Life Federation, and Phil Burress, whose Citizens for Community Values led the charge to ban gay marriage, among others.

But Ohio Right to Life’s then-executive director, Mike Gonidakis, called it “the right idea at the wrong time.”

Battling negative publicity over its neutrality on the bill, his chapter was selected to launch a 50-state effort to pass informed-consent bills tied to the fetal heartbeat, requiring that pregnant women see and hear the rhythm before agreeing to an abortion.

Supporters of that effort said statistics show women exposed to the fetal heartbeat are far less likely to go through with an abortion.

State Sen. Shannon Jones, a Springboro Republican, said she thought the bill would have passed in the Senate.

“I am hopeful and confident it will come up in the next General Assembly,” she said.

That’s what the head of one abortion rights group feared.

“We don’t believe for a second that this threat is over – perhaps delayed, but not over,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio director Kellie Copeland.

US Supreme Court rejects Okla. personhood appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to take up an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that said a proposal to grant “personhood” to human embryos would be an improper ban on abortion.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which was never considered by voters, would have given human embryos the rights and privileges of citizens in Oklahoma and was called “clearly unconstitutional” by the state Supreme Court in an April ruling.

The measure was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of several Oklahoma doctors and residents before it could be placed on the ballot.

“Today’s rejection by the highest court in the nation is yet another resounding message to the opponents of reproductive freedom that such extremist assaults on our fundamental rights will not stand,” Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said Monday.

“Pure and simple, these tactics are an affront to our nation’s Constitution and a bald-faced attempt to foreclose women’s access to a full range of reproductive health care,” Northrup said.

Mathew Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, which filed the appeal on behalf of Personhood Oklahoma, said, “Certainly we would have hoped the court would review this issue because we think it’s a significant one that grants citizens the right to express their opinion. We’ll continue to move forward with these initiatives.”

A personhood bill passed in the state Senate during this year’s legislative session but was not heard by the House.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Staver acknowledged that his group’s goal is to provide the U.S. Supreme Court with a case that allows it to review the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

“It’s the first step in that direction,” Staver said.

Green Bay bishop warns voters to oppose candidates backing choice and marriage equality

Green Bay Bishop David Ricken recently sent parishioners a letter warning that voting for candidates who support what he called “intrinsically evil” positions could “put your own soul in jeopardy.”

He was specifically targeting political candidates who support marriage equality and reproductive choice, which the Roman Catholic Church believes are the two most important issues facing the world.

Ricken’s letter says the Catholic Church has a responsibility to speak out on moral issues, but his missive notes mostly issues related to reproduction and same-sex relations. His letter lists specific issues that parishioners should keep in mind when voting, including abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and gay marriage.

Roman Catholic officials in other jurisdictions have refused communion to political candidates and leaders who oppose the Vatican’s views on these issues. There are few if any contemporary reports, however, about denying sacraments to leaders who support war, capital punishment, denying health care to millions, cutting aid to the poor and policies that favor the very wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette reports the bishop’s letter does not specify who should get parishioners’ votes.

The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay has 304,000 members in 16 counties. The diocese has repeatedly made headlines in recent years due to revelations that officials systematically destroyed records about priests who molested children in an effort to protect them from legal authorities.

The practice emerged in a fraud case brought against the diocese by victims. Top Green Bay Catholic officials destroyed criminal evidence of child sex crimes as well as a decade’s long practice of concealing and transferring known clergy child molesters to new parish assignments, where they were free to prey on other children.

Women’s reproductive freedom on the ropes

It remains legal for women in America to terminate some dangerous and unwanted pregnancies, but in many states it is hard and getting harder.

If enough Republicans are elected on Nov. 6, it could become nearly or virtually impossible for a woman to end her own pregnancy, according to activists who support reproductive freedom. The GOP platform endorses overturning Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized choice. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would have the opportunity to appoint one or two new justices to the court if he wins, meaning the High Court would likely overturn that ruling in the future.

Just this year, 17 states set new limits on choice; 24 did last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice nonprofit whose numbers are widely respected. In several states with the most restrictive laws, the number of abortions has fallen slightly, pleasing the conservatives who oppose reproductive freedom. They say the laws are working.

Some of the states with the toughest laws are spread across a big middle swath of the country, stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

In South Dakota, which has just one abortion clinic, lawmakers want to extend the required waiting period from two days to three for women seeking to end a pregnancy. Next door in North Dakota, there’s only one clinic. The same is true in Mississippi, where a new law threatens that lone clinic’s existence. In several states, doctors now must warn women about so-called “risks” from abortion, even though they are scientifically unsupported.

There are hurdles even in states like Illinois, where abortion laws are more lenient and clinics relatively plentiful.

Women seeking help in terminating their pregnancies at a Granite City, Ill., clinic can expect to find their photographs to turn up on a right-wing, anti-choice activist’s website. And before her abortion in June, a Chicago woman says her own gynecologist refused to offer any advice, fearing that just mentioning abortion could endanger her job at a Catholic hospital.

“The level and scope of activity on abortion and family planning is completely unparalleled to anything we have seen before,” said Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher’s states issues manager.

“The way people are attacking abortion is distressing because they are getting much more creative in the way they’re chipping away” at it, said Dr. Renee Mestad, an OB-GYN who provides reproductive health services in upstate New York. Access to abortion isn’t much of a problem there. But it was where she used to work in Missouri.

“The ideal thing would be that no one gets pregnant unless they’re ready –that all pregnancies are desired pregnancies, but that’s not what happens,” Mestad said.

While surveys have consistently shown most Americans support keeping abortion legal in certain circumstances, many people’s views are nuanced. A Gallup poll last month found nearly as many voters consider themselves “pro-life” as those who say they are “pro-choice.”

And a new Gallup poll released  found that nearly 40 percent of female registered voters surveyed in 12 swing states consider choice the most important election issue for women – even outranking jobs.

President Barack Obama supports access to abortion. GOP challenger Mitt Romney says Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court’s nearly 40-year-old decision legalizing abortion, should be overturned, which would allow states to ban choice.

Anti-abortion attorney Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, says her ideal would be “to live in a country where abortion is not even really thinkable.” She’d like to see Roe vs. Wade overturned, but even if it is, she said, the debate won’t end because it would be up to states to ban abortion.

Some seem to be moving in that direction.

– More than 30 new abortion laws have been enacted this year, a record topped only by the unprecedented 92 laws last year.

– 41 states ban abortion after a certain stage of pregnancy, generally around 20 weeks, unless the mother’s life or health is in danger. In many of those states, the bans are based on an unsupported premise that fetuses can feel pain at that stage of development.

– Pre-abortion counseling is required in 35 states; 26 require waiting periods after counseling, and in 13 states, the counseling must caution women against terminating their pregnancies by providing them with information that is not based on legitimate science.

Texas has the most prescriptive counseling laws – requiring, among other things, that doctors tell women abortion is linked with breast cancer. A group of scientists convened by the National Cancer Institute in 2003 concluded abortion did not raise the risk of breast cancer.

A Texas law passed last year requires women to get an ultrasound and their doctors to describe the fetus. Texas abortions have dropped every year since 2008.

While records from several states with laws restricting women’s reproductive choices show fewer abortions in recent years, it’s uncertain whether the decline is real. Not all states track the number of abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. And pregnancies are also in many states, a development some experts link to a weak economy.

The most recent national abortion statistics are from 2008, and the trend shows the number and rate of abortions have generally leveled off after a long period of decline.

In South Dakota, a new law facing a legal challenge would impose a three-day waiting period. During that time, a woman would have to visit a crisis pregnancy center discouraging abortion. Utah is the only other state with a waiting period that long, but it doesn’t require such specific counseling.

In July, a federal appeals court in South Dakota upheld a 2005 law requiring doctors to warn that abortions increase risks for suicide. Scientific research disputes this.

Dr. Carol Ball, at the state’s lone abortion clinic, in Sioux Falls, says information she’s required to tell patients is “of questionable validity” and designed to make them feel shame and guilt.

“They’re throwing hurdles in front of us to see when we stop jumping in front of them. If I stop, it means they win and women of South Dakota lose, and I’m not willing to let that happen,” Ball said.

Across the state to the west in Rapid City, Dr. Marvin Buehner cares for women with high-risk pregnancies and does a few abortions each year when pregnancy endangers the patient’s life.

He’s required to describe each fetal stage and explain that abortion ends the life of a separate human being – even to women whose fetuses have deadly abnormalities and won’t survive.

“It’s just incredible,” Buehner said.

One of his patients is a 31-year-old woman who gave birth Oct. 14 to a stillborn baby with a rare, inherited and ultimately fatal condition called achondrogenesis, which causes severe deformities. She had two previous babies with the same condition. One was also stillborn, the other died an hour after birth.

She had considered abortion when tests showed this baby, too, was doomed, but couldn’t afford the cost. It would have involved traveling nearly six hours to the Sioux Falls clinic. And because her life wasn’t at risk, Medicaid in her state wouldn’t pay for it, even though it was clear her baby would be born dead or die shortly after birth.

In Illinois, laws are relatively lenient. The Hope Clinic in Granite City in Southern Illinois caters to women from neighboring states like Missouri and Kentucky where it’s harder to get an abortion.

Tamara Threlkeld, the clinic’s executive director, said despite increasingly difficult access, Hope Clinic has not seen any increase in patients with later-term pregnancies seeking abortions.

Though you’d expect to see that trend, “they’re able to find us” early on, she said.

Most abortions occur in the first 12 weeks when the embryo is about the size of a lima bean. Major organs have begun developing, but the embryo at this stage looks nothing like the photographs of mangled fetuses that abortion foes promote. Those pictures generally represent late-term abortions, those after five months, which account for less than 2 percent of abortions.

Some Hope Clinic patients come from Kentucky, where the number of abortions has steadily dropped from almost 4,400 in 2007 to roughly 3,900 in 2010.

Kentucky’s only two abortion clinics are in Louisville and Lexington, an hour apart and several hours from some of the state’s most impoverished counties. Kentucky requires a 24-hour waiting period, and five of the seven surrounding states also have waiting periods. Public funding of abortions in Kentucky is limited to cases of rape, incest or when pregnancy endangers a woman’s life.

Mississippi has similar restrictions and only one abortion clinic, in Jackson, threatened with closure because of a new law requiring providers to have local hospital admitting privileges. State Health Department data show Mississippi abortions have steadily dropped, from nearly 3,000 in 2007 to about 2,200 in 2011. Meanwhile, the number of Mississippi residents seeking abortions out of state grew from fewer than 2,000 a decade ago to at least 3,000 in more recent years, according to data from the state Department of Health.    

“Never have times been this restrictive,” said Dr. Willie Parker, a Washington, D.C.-based physician who since June has traveled periodically to Mississippi to provide abortions.

Parker said he’s often struck by the hardship many women face, and told of a 33-year-old mother of four who lost a child to cancer two years ago. She was unemployed and still grieving when she learned she was pregnant again. The woman traveled three hours to the Jackson clinic to get required counseling in June. Then she had to return the next week for the abortion.

“She told me she couldn’t afford to have another child financially or emotionally,” Parker said.

He said he doesn’t know whether she was using birth control; he doesn’t usually ask.

“All I need is to make sure that they’re certain” about abortion. Most “have already been thinking about this decision for weeks on end,” he said.

ACLU sues over Arizona abortion ban

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona filed a legal challenge to the Arizona law banning pre-viability abortions.

The ACLU says the law is the most extreme ban in the nation, criminalizing virtually all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and containing the narrowest possible exception for only immediate medical emergencies.

The plaintiffs are two doctors whose patients include women in need of the medical care.

A third doctor, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, also is a plaintiff in the suit.

The ban, set to take effect on Aug. 2,  would force a physician caring for a woman with a high-risk pregnancy to wait until her condition imposes an immediate threat of death or major medical damage before offering her the care she needs, according to a news release from the ACLU.

The ban also contains no exceptions for a woman who receives a diagnosis that the fetus will not survive after birth.



“Any number of things can happen during a pregnancy, and a woman has to be able to make the right decision for herself and her family,” stated Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Whether a woman decides to continue with a high-risk pregnancy or terminate it, the important thing is that women, families and physicians make these decisions – not politicians without any medical training.”



Few abortions occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy, so a woman who has an abortion at this point does so usually for health safety reasons.

The pregnancy may pose a threat to the woman’s health,  the fetus has been diagnosed with a medical condition or anomaly or that the pregnancy has failed and miscarriage is inevitable.

The Arizona Section of the American Congress of Obstetrics & Gynecology has criticized the ban as violating standard practice and interfering with the doctor-patient relationship in a way that is adverse to women’s health.



“No court has ever upheld such an extreme and dangerous abortion ban,” stated Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Instead of passing unconstitutional laws and blocking women’s access to critical health services, our legislators should be working to ensure that all women get the care they need to have healthy pregnancies and protect their families.”

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said he would fight the lawsuit.

Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the legislation in April. Brewer is perhaps best known on a national level is the defender of Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation. She recently asked the U.S. Supreme Court to remove an injunction preventing Arizona from eliminating domestic partnership benefits for state workers.

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